Monday, June 16, 2008

A Different Perspective on Father's Day

While I was watching Kung Fu Panda with Corey and Larry, two guys at my office were having unique Father’s Days of their own. It reminds me of how very different all our lives can be.

David and Chuck both have offices down the hall from me. David actually reports to Chuck and they are golfing buddies. Both hold management positions within my organization and I interact with them often.

David became a father for the first time on Saturday. His wife gave birth that afternoon allowing him to celebrate his first father’s day just a few hours later. David has been so excited about becoming a dad. He’s emailed the whole office with picture of an infant in that all-too-familiar blue & pink blanket and has been talking about preparing the nursery for months. He spent most of Father’s Day holding his son for the first time.

Chuck held his sons for the last time on Sunday. He’d been fighting colon cancer for the past 10 months and had recently progressed to stage IV. His eldest son just finished his first year of college and had made it home in time to say goodbye to his dad. After months of chemo and radiation, Chuck lost his fight with his family by his side.

David’s wife spent Sunday cradling her son in her arms. So did Chuck’s mom.

I remember both of them at my colleague’s wedding. David’s wife had not yet announced her pregnancy but was beaming with excitement; soon-to-be parents laughing and smiling at the endless possibilities that lie in front of them. Chuck and his wife were there as well. He was rolling his eyes as his wife danced the traditional Indian stick dance being performed by the bride and grooms family. He was tired from the initial treatments he had just begun, but you’ve never seen a happier man.

Tears of joy and sorrow crossed our office this morning. A new life came into our company as a treasured one disappeared from our lives forever.

Two dads; each with so much ahead of them. David is 40 and Chuck was 43.

One dad has a lifetime of memories to create for his son while the other can look down from heaven at the ones he created for his three sons.

Chuck, you will be dearly missed. It was an honor to call you my friend.


Father's day

It took about four days to rid myself of the jet lag. Seriously, 14-hours flights are ridiculous.

A quick recap on the last day, we opted to take the sunset tour of Angkor Wat, which is actually done from the neighboring temple of Phnom Bakeng. The temple sits way above Angkor Wat and offers a much better view of the complex. Unfortunately, it was overcast, but we did compensate by taking another elephant ride up to the top.

The temple was still another opportunity to appreciate what these people built hundreds of years ago. I was constantly in awe. Sadly, my reflective moments of silence were interrupted by Ceci who joined us for this excursion. Holy crap does that woman talk.

Ceci also doesn't seem to have a clue what to wear for these trips. Here she is on the ADA required steps up to the top of the temple. Clearly, her 'closure of the escape 27 years ago' included a clutch bag and capris.

But every dark cloud has a silver lining. As we left Phnom Bakeng, we were greeted by this amazing view of Angkor Wat at night.

We enjoyed one more evening of Cambodia and their downtown night life. We ate our last meal at the Red Piano, which prides itself on having served dinner to Angelina Jolie. People here are obsessed with her and Brad. Sad to think that is the cultural influence we provide.

Another weird obsession here is Pringles. They are everywhere. Now I'm not bitching because they were a nice reminder of home, but come on...Pringles? Why not Starbucks?

Once I finally arrived home, it was nice to just settle into my old routines. Going back to work was tough; not because I don't like it but rather the petty issues seemed so small after seeing whole families live on boat and peddle fruit. We never really appreciate what we have in front of us.

The experience left me a little humbled if anything. Not to fear, I'm still sarcastic as hell, but it was humbling nevertheless.

Corey came over this past weekend for Father's Day. It was a great weekend for all of us. We got haircuts on Saturday and then went to a birthday party that afternoon. The goody bags included a Speed Racer helmet which he wore the rest of the weekend.

On Sunday, we made pancakes for breakfast and then the three of us went to go see Kung Fu Panda. Jack Black totally makes this movie and we were all laughing our butts off.

My father's day present was another gem. When kids hear something you say, they hang onto it forever. So it'd better be something you are proud to have repeated. This is what he wrote for his Father's Day card and had laminated. I'm going to soon run out of wall space with all of these framed items.

My daddy hugs and he loves me. He is funny when he says look at my big fat belly.

Here's wishing all you dads a great Father's day and shouts out to the women who made us all fathers.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Angkor Wat

Cambodia Time 3:38 PM Sunday
DC Time 4:38 AM Sunday

Last night was pretty magical. The five of us went to the world’s best Cambodian-Mexican restaurant called Viva. For the record, it seems to be franchised; we found another one just three blocks away. It freaking rocked. We had chips & salsa, chimichangas, tostados and fajitas. They were as good, if not better, than what you find in the states.

After dinner, we walked downtown Siem Reap which was hopping with restaurants and vendors. The highlight was finding an ATM that dispensed US dollars.

This morning, the group opted for the sunrise tour of Angkor Wat. Thy picked us up at 5:00 AM and despite the van breaking down and shuttling over in Tuk-Tuks, we were able to make the sunrise along with 1,000 of our closest friends.

Angkor Wat means “city that is a temple”. The entire complex is surrounded by thick walls and a wide moat which is supposed to represent the outer edge and ocean of the universe. The five-towered temple is shaped like a lotus flower and is covered with carvings that must have taken years to create. Every wall is adorned with carvings and reliefs that sometimes can be 10 feet high.

As we left we discovered a family of monkeys playing by the temple. The usually come out at dusk and dawn since it is coolest them. Thy said that many of them will spend the nights in the temple as well.

We walked around the entire compound and left at 8:30 am to arrive back in time for breakfast. After a quick meal of French toast and hash browns, we decided to venture into town for the old market. If you thought Vietnam prices were good, holy shit, you should see this market. Scarves and runners were going for $2; purses and tablecloths for $8-10. I bought two small paintings for $15. Even if you don’t want the item, they will cut the price in half just to have you buy it.

The Tuk-Tuks cost about $1 per person to get anywhere in town. They are fairly safe, though we still can’t help ourselves from leaning every time they turn a corner. It’s still the easiest way to go the two miles downtown.

This afternoon was spent lounging. Ceci seems to have made it to town though I have yet to see her. She & Mark went on a hike to some temple near some river. The girls are getting more spa treatments and I’m just taking it easy. We’re supposed to go on a sunset visit with Thy this afternoon. Since he mentioned $15 elephant rides, we all jumped on it though no one is really certain what we’ll be seeing. It’s been raining all afternoon, so we’ll have to see if this works out or not.

Tonight is our last group dinner and then we fly out tomorrow afternoon. I have a 5:30 PM flight out of Siem Reap to Saigon, then a 7-hour flight to Seoul, Korea and a 14-hour flight after that to Dulles. My guess is that this will be the last posting until I return.

I’ll probably take a few days off from blogging to catch up on things and overcome my jet lag. Thanks for following along on my journey. See you stateside.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Angkor Thom & Ta Prohm

Cambodia Time 5:00 PM Saturday
DC Time
6:00 AM Saturday

A quick cab ride to the Saigon airport and we were flying Vietnam airlines to Siem Reap. The 45-minute flight was simple and even included a sandwich.

The airport looked remarkably like the Polynesian village at Disney World and after passing through customs & immigrations, we were scurried off by a drive from the Le Meridian hotel. Stephanie & I found this resort three months ago. Three of other people traveling with us were looking for something cheaper than the $125/night+ breakfast but hell, when else are you going to stay in room that has this view of the pool and a bathroom with a pass-through window to the bedroom.

Steph, Stacey and I arrived yesterday at 1:00 pm, promptly had lunch delivered to the pool. After three hours, we all went for spa treatments where I received a Back Reviver. My back was totally fine, but I couldn’t pass up the Kaffir Lime Scrub followed by the Herb &Spice Body Recovery Warp. I laid there for an hour and just got pampered for less than $50. Can you think of a better way to prepare for a day of temple viewing?

Mark & Becca arrived about 7:30 pm after touring the Cu Chi Tunnels. They raved about the experience and even got to shoot AK47’s. The five of us had a nice dinner in the hotel and then hit the sack for today’s big adventure.

Strangely, Ceci has booked this trip with us as well. She doesn’t arrive until today (Saturday), but she’s not even staying at this hotel. She’s mad with most people on the program because she thinks we’re being mean to her. In all fairness, she kept apologizing to speakers for “her embarrassing classmates.” Hmmm, maybe that might be why people don’t like you.

She decided to come to Cambodia since she escaped through here from Vietnam 47 years ago. She spent 9 months in this country before she made it to Thailand and finally ended up in the US. She has told us this trip is to provide closure for her.

That’s a wonderful story but as Stacey pointed out, “unless her escape included spa treatments at a 4-star hotel”, this probably won’t be giving her much closure.

This morning, Thy (“Tee”) our guide picked us up at the hotel. We at taking two half-day tours and this morning we toured Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. The temples of Angkor consist of 17 miles of building, walls, and monuments all built between 875 AD – 1240 AD. The most efficient way of seeing the temples is with a guide in an air-conditioned car. We got a mini-van for us with a driver and English speaking guide.

The first stop was Angkor Thom, which means “great city”. These are the most recent of the temples and are best known for The Bayon, which lies in the center of the complex. The Bayon has 54 towers and over 200 faces carved into the stone.

We decided to spurge for elephant rides around the complex. OK, that was absolutely the coolest thing EVER!

Directly north of The Banyon is the Terrace of the Elephants. This was used for royal reviews of the military and other parades.

We jumped in the van and headed over to Ta Prohm which was first used as a monastery. It is the most mysteriously looking of the temples because of how the jungle is taking over the structures. In its time, over 80,000 people lived in this complex, but now all that remains are these ancient ruins. You may also recognize this from Lara Croft Tomb Raider.

After a long day of trekking through the ruins, we treated ourselves to lunch by the pool. We slept, read and just enjoyed the afternoon. OK, more tomorrow. I’m off to my pedicure.

PS I can only purchase internet access for an hour so I apologize in advance for the typos.



ANGKOR THOM







TA PROHM




VIDEOS

ANGKOR THOM

video

TA PROHM

video

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Goodnight Saigon

Vietnam Time 4:45 PM Thursday
DC Time
5:45 AM Thursday

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Saigon and we are winding down our visits. There was a last minute substitution and we met with KPMG Vietnam. It was interesting to see the challenges of a well-known American company with expanding its practices into a developing country like Vietnam.

We also met with a Venture Capital company and discovered how they pick start up companies to invest in. Most of these companies are internet-based, though their concepts are not unique. The VP's indicated that Vietnam doesn’t really have the ability to create content, but rather takes current foreign initiatives and copies them to Vietnam. So their investments are Vietnam versions of eBay, Skype, ICQ, Craigslist and Match.com.

We all agreed this meeting could have been more interesting had we even covered Venture Capital in any of our classes. For some of us that was the first time we discussed this topic and it showed in the meeting. The executives weren’t really impressed with us.

Today was our last meeting. We met with the Director of Research & Development for the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange (HASTO). HASTO was created in 2000 and now has 151 stocks and 82 member firms. Trades occur for only one hour each day and no trade can be in excess of 5% of what the stock began at that morning. Institutional investors account for 60% of all trading even though they make up less than 1% of the total investing population.

After lunch, I went shopping with Mean Girls. OK guys, this is TOTALLY why I don't have a wife. We shopped for over four freaking hours and all I did was sit and watch. They bought purses, scarves, dresses, blouses, suits and hats. All I got was two linen shirts. Seriously, does it always take this long?

The program officially ended today with our final lunch. I speak for most people saying that the trip was amazing in parts, underwhelming in a few areas, but everyone is ready to leave the business side of the program tomorrow. Half the group will be dividing their time between tours of either Mekong Delta River and the Cu Chi Tunnels. The remainder of us will be departing for other countries. Four of the meatheads are going to Thailand and one guy is touring North Vietnam.

Six of us will be going to Siem Reap, Cambodia, home of the famous Angkor Wat temples. We will be staying at the Le Meridan Hotel for three nights before heading back to the states.

This has probably been the #1 destination that I have always wanted to visit so look forward to many entries and pictures. Angkor Wat is the single largest religious monument in the world and was built around 1080 AD. There are approximately 20 temple complexes all located within a few miles. If you’ve seen Lara Craft Tomb Raider, a number of scenes were filmed here.

Cambodia played a prominent part of the Vietnam War. Communists used Cambodia as a staging post and the US responded with large-scale bombings, killing thousands of Cambodians. The country is also known for the movie, The Killing Fields which portrayed the massive extermination of many of the country’s people during the Khmer Rouge regime.

See you in Cambodia!

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