62 Minutes of Air

China II

(second trip to China in five weeks)

There is something about writing that is subtly satisfying. I don't know if it is the process of slowly producing something or if it has to do with taking more time for thoughts to formulate before they are poured out on paper.

November 1-5, 1998

I'm sitting in seat 6B of a United 747-400 airship. These things still amaze me with their massive size yet sleekness. 6B is on the upper deck - first time riding up here and just ahead of me I can see the stately silver haired crew methodically working through their preflight proceedure. I'm returning from an unplanned flight that has brought me to China for the second time in five weeks.

So, it's Friday afternoon and I am sitting in one of those intermnible staff meetings that we seem to have been holding on a regular basis - one of those that would never need have occurred had the right plan been laid initially but since it wasn't there will be an unending string of meetings which will never solve the problem. We were trying to figure out how to avoid an ambush by certain executive staff in the upcoming marketing review meeting.

Ed was to leave for China Sunday morning and we were scrambling to come up with something that was cohesive for executive staff. He was flitting from meeting to meeting hoping we would come up with something brilliant in his absence. Suddenly he burst into the room and said, "I'm not going to China and we're looking for someone to replace me.' With the thought of another several days of these meetings, I quickly said, "There just happens to be someone here with business cards printed in Chinese with the title 'Vice President' AND one more entry left on his Chinese visa.' Within 45 minutes the tickets had been reissued and although I was looking at 48 solid hours of travel in a four day period, it was much more bearable than those meetings!

Tammy got me the schedule of events and Ed's presentation. I looked through it trying to see a thread of logic to the message and couldn't. 'Ed, is there a script for this?' I asked. He just smiled and shook his head. Oh well….why was I not surprised?

Friday night I helped a family on our ward move to American Fork. Moving is always a painful experience - mainly to see what kind of pack rats we are as humans. He had tons of books and she had boxes and boxes of fabric. There was a cold front coming in and I got chilled carrying stuff into the new house. It was a good workout though and felt good to be outside in the fresh air.

Saturday was Halloween and with cleaning up some work at the office, getting a new office chair for home, arranging to have Sunday commitments covered, and packing I pretty well shot the whole day. The deluge of costumed kids started around five p.m. and went to ten - burned through about $30 worth of penny (really dime now) candy. The Littlefields came over and Frank kept the kids busy in the basement making cardboard slides down the stairs that landed them on the mattress.

It just seems sort of odd that you can travel all the way from Orem to China and back and only be outside for sixty-two minutes - that almost seems like a punishment of some sort. I left at seven Sunday morning and drove to the airport. Traffic was amazingly open and I was there in much less time than usual. Lately, the road construction for the 2002 Olympics has made arrival times very unpedictable. Walking from the car to the bus stop and waiting in the long term parking was two minutes in the open air. There was a little chill in the air and the sky was gray with hazy inversion. Stepping from the bus into the terminal didn't warrant enough open air time to count.

I called Mom and Dad from the Crown Room and told them I was on my way. Climbing out of the clouds in Salt Lake we cleared the inversion and could see the Wasatch Mountains glistening with new snow in the morning sunlight.

Several Novell people were on the plane. They were goin to LA to an auto race for the day - some sort of team building activity. Can't remember how long it's been since we had one of those! Another Novell guy was on the plane on his way to Mexico City.

From the Crown Room in LA I left Angela a message letting her know that I would miss dinner at the Shields that evening as I was on my way to China. Most of the time there and on the next flight I spent trying to make up dialogue to go around Ed's presentation slides. It was a mismash of corporate strategy presentation, some of his thoughts and a few random product points. I knew I had to rehearse it well to be successful and have it long enough (50 minutes). Most of it was 'directory' based and even though I have serious doubts about Novell's ability to rule the directory world, I at least had enough thoughts about it to make it sound like they could. Throw in a few stories and Internet experiences, run through it six times and that about took care of the whole trip right up to show time!

The Last of the First

Willy used to say, 'When you fly first class international, you fly with rock stars!' Well, if my fellow first class passengers were celebraties, I sure didn't recognize any of them. Since Ed was a 'real' vice president, he got to make his arrangements for business class. Since I had a system wide upgrade coupon (and there were seats available), I jumped at the chance to upgrade his seats from business to first class.

I didn't really think there could be that much difference between business and first but let me detail what I noticed. First, for ten of us passengers there were three stewardesses. My 'service coordinator' knelt beside my seat, called me by name, and introduced herself as, 'Betty'. She was a black, middle aged woman with a wonderfully pleasant personality.

The seats! Now here's what I want for my living room! All leather, wing backed, and three motored controlled switches for reclining, extending the leg rests, and adjusting back support. It made those manual things in business class look like medevial technology. And there was so much space! Front, back and on either side… Two bathrooms for 10 people. And quiet ride. The MD11 close to the cockpit was smooth and free from the vibration back by the engines. The menu was different with more exotic selections and (from what I could tell) a higher quality and larger selection of wine. I had appetizers of sushi and caviar and a main course of swordfish. The plates were china with a Delta blue border and gold edging.

Instead of a plastic kit with eyepatches and toothpaste, first class passengers got a leather-like shoe bag complete with toiletries. The only bad thing was that my inseat video (where I could watch any one of six different movies) shut down during one of the movie cycles. That was OK because I needed to run through the presentation again.

During the flight, one of the services crew asked me if I had been notified by Delta that they were doing away with first class for international flights shortly. They wanted to contact frequent first class customers and let them know of a meeting to resolve concerns. I felt lucky to at least sample the service for possibly the first and last time.

After 11 hours and 30 minutes of pampered attention, we landed at Tokyo Narita. I found an electrical plug in the Akibono business lounge and ran through the presentation one more time while my battery charged. From Tokyo to Beijing I was in United business class and promptly went to sleep as the plane was pushed back and slept till we started descent into Beijing. We were bussed from the terminal to the plane and so added a minute of 'air' time while waiting in line to climb the stairs to the plane. It was dark and local time was about six p.m. with overcast skys.

The flight was about thirty minutes early and being one of the first ones off I sailed right through customs and was at the front door looking for the hotel car when I ran into Geoff Borrman, Novell marketing for Asia Pacific. Fortunately he had been contacted that Ed was not coming so I didn't have to make up some excuse (Ed said it was 'a family crisis') or take the brunt of his wrath. I said I didn't think it was serious but didn't know anything. A black hotel car picked us up at the curb but it was under an awning so that didn't count as air time.

Brainshare, the Novell Developer Conference, was held at the New China World Hotel - a Shangri La property where they change the rugs in the elevator everyday to indicate what day it is (Monday, Tuesday, etc.). The Novell foreign party was staying on the Horizon Club level on the top floor. Since Novell was renting all the halls and many rooms, the reigning event executives had the special floor with private dining room and a couple of conference rooms for use.

I met the other Novell people, Kieth, sales manager for Asia, Michelle over marketing, Nicole over events, Walter over security, etc. By 11 p.m., I was in my room, took three Melatonin and was drifting off to sleep.

Rehersal was at 7:30 a.m. It was mainly a sequence drill to show us where to go on stage and after what queues. I got up at six and ran through the presentation one last time. Dressed in a suit and then went to the conference center which was located on the lower level of the hotel. One large auditorium was set up with a large screen, stage, spotlights and the Novell Brainshare logo that looks like Gumby with a hangover.

The event launched with a video welcome from Novell's CEO. Ralph Liu, country manager for greater China welcomed them, then Keith gave a short speech. He was followed by a Dr. Chen Chong who we had briefly met earlier in the VIP room. He was a ministry head for the overseeing of computer technology in China. After him was a short 30 second video segment to wake everyone up and then I was announced by 'the voice of god' as the Chinese technician called it in his broken accent. I stepped through the black curtain, up the platform steps and into the spotlight.

Presenting to a foreign audience isn't quite the same as speaking in church. You never know how the translations will go across. Humor is out of the question. You are hoping that the translators located in the little glass booth in the back of the room are getting it right. They hear your voice through the speaker system and then those that need translation are wearing little radio recievers with headphones. Everything you say gets delayed by at least several seconds.

All in all, I think the presentation went well. I kept high energy, stayed smooth, and was thankful that I had practiced as much as I did. I was miked with a portable mike and could walk around the stage. In front of me was a large monitor with my presentation in English. Behind me was a large screen with it in Chinese. At one point I turned to the screen to make a point, hesitated and said, "I can't read any of that!" It was funny to a few in the audience. I ended right on time and the only think I didn't do was remember to grab my watch off the stand as I left.

The schedule for the trip was entirely full for two days. After the presentation, we held a press conference for about 50 reporters and a television crew. I did a second presentation (which I didn't have any time to prepare because I didn't know it was coming) which was shorter and turned out all right I think. The main point we wanted to make was that Novell was a 'directory' company and that our strategic direction was to directory-enable the Internet (whatever that means).

After the presentation, we took questions. They were mostly directed to 'Mr. Peter' and were not too difficult to answer. We were seated across the front of the room at a long table with our names, glasses of water and a flower boquet in the middle.

From here, we grabbed a quick bit of lunch in the hotel restaurant and then headed to the executive floor up top for more press interviews. These were one on ones and were with news and computer magazines which had hundreds of thousands of subscribers. The questions were very good and I was impressed with how closely editors watched the market, competitors, and knew what trends and happenings were taking place. One asked me if I was aware that there had been a major bug found in NetWare 5 and 'What we were going to do about it?' I had to say I hadn't heard about it but that we have one of the quickest bug response teams on the planet and that most likely within a day a fix would be posted to the Internet. We sat in high back leather chairs, around a solid wood table in a wood panelled room with a picture view of the city, making notes on gold engraved stationary in leather binders about percieved problems that I knew we were never going to solve.

With the print reporters covered, we then moved to the television interview for CCTV. CCTV is a technology news station that is very popular in China right now as there is such a big push to become technology enabled. Geoff had said that it would only be a couple of questions and last for five minutes. We repaired to the Beijing suite of the hotel for the interview. This was emporer/presidential suite (depending on the government). A large formal dining room, receiving room, office, gargantuan marble bathroom, and a master suite with walkin closets. All types of artwork and Chinese antiques.

We found a comfy corner and then the interview process began with a couple of simple questions about Novell technology. Then the reporter turned to my thoughts on the Internet and wanted to know how it would change society, the way people work, the economy, etc. Twenty questions and 45 minutes later we finally wrapped it up. His comment was, 'This is quite a different world that you see for us." I told them about my experience of looking for a video card and how that I comparativley evaluated, price shopped, checked availability and inventory, and purchased all in a matter of minutes. They liked that.

Now the group was going for dinner. I couldn't not go even though I didn't want to but fortunately it was for Thai food. Two more minutes of open air from the taxi to the restaurant and back to the taxi although I don't know if Beijing air should count - it's so full of particulate. Basil Thai was the name of the restaurant. It was contemporary décor and I couldn't detect any Thai natives on the service staff. Everyone decided they wanted to order family style but no one knew what to order. I finally said I had lived in Thailand and was immediately given the assignment to order for everyone. We had the papaya salad, coconut ginger soup, and serveral main courses of massaman, curry, noodles, vegetables and rice. It really wasn't very good Thai food and was also very spicy. I hate it when you order for all and then the food doesn't taste good - it makes it look like you don't know what you are talking about. But, what else is new? What they might have missed in food, they made up for in wine. Since, there is always question over who is going to pick up the tab for a larger group, I told them this one was on Ed (in his absence) to whom they gave a hearty toast.

I sat next to David Smythe who is Novell realestate for Asia. He had come to check out the new office that Novell China was moving into. On the other side was Nicole who handled special events for Novell. The aussie crowd were very interesting. A sarcastic and insulting lot but when we started talking about the way that things get done at Novell, I fit right in with cynnacism and sarcasm. Geoff was railing on how everything gets done because 'well Eric said….!'. I can totally relate to that. Back to the hotel by eleven, a couple more melatonin and I was out for most of the night.

I woke up at about six a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep so opened the curtains of the full wall plate window and watched it get light. It was such a world of contrasts. Beijing was completely 'smogged' in and had been since I got there. I understand that there is lots of coal heat so the air is heavy and polluted. It was a clear day above and I could faintly make out a tint of blue looking up. As the sun came up, it cast a reddish orange hue through the thick air. Toward the sun I could make out what appeared to be a power plant with two large condensation towers and steam trailing upwards. I sat on the window bench of my top floor luxury hotel taking in the mass of humanity before me. 12 million people in Beijing and the center of government for 1.2 billion. Bikes, motorcycles, trucks, busses, and taxies jammed the streets below. The city appeared to be smouldering in the early rays of the sun. I would imagine that from the street, people on the top floor look very powerful but I felt pretty powerless.

Day two the drill started a little later. I showed up backstage at 8:50 for a mike setup and a quick look at my slides. The coordinator said they were running a little behind and wanted to know if I could shorten my presentation a little bit. I thought that could be done easily and I did shorten it but lost some of the flow. I don't think the guy from Compaq that followed me was expecting that and as I came off, he commented, 'that was fast!' Good thing he was there.

To the top floor again for a meeting with the director of CCID and his staff. He represents a group of Chinese computer magazines, analayst groups, testing centers, and consulting services. He started with a lengthy dialogue and then pointed out four major problems that Novell has in China (nothing that we didn't know). He closed by saying that his company could really help if Novell would involve them (and of course pay them some money).

I now had my minutes of freedom. I had heard that not far from the hotel was a place called Silk Alley. The night before, I changed some money and got a map. I raced to my room, threw on my casual clothes and got directions from the Horizon Club concierge as I was going down the elevator. I walked about half a mile in the sunlight and open air along the busy street. There was the smell of baking sweet potatoes and roasted nuts.

As I approached the market area, people would casually approach me and whisper, "CDs. Music, computer." Apparenlty the government is cracking down and they are not open with the sales of black market CDs. A newspaper article showed a confiscated haul of 500,000 CDs that were to be destroyed because they were pirated.

Silk Alley is a tightly packed market for all kinds of things that are made in China and imported to the US. There were racks of name brand shirts, jackets and shorts from designers like Tommy, Nautica, Polo, North Face, etc. Hanging lines of silk scarves. Hangers full of silk blouses, dressses, pajamas, and childrens clothes. Sports shoes, designer watches, leather goods, etc. Each booth is about 5 feet square and completely full. I was surprised at how polite the sales people were with no one grabbing your arm and dragging you in. Since I had less than an hour from the time I left the hotel until I needed to be back, it was a foot race. I cruised the main area once and then cycled back looking for something that would make good Christmas presents for the nephews. I grabbed a couple of scarves and shirts along the way.

I sort of knew what I wanted, found a shop that would negotiate and then gave her the order for 13. Never do quick currency calculations for mass shipments when you are in a hurry! When I went to calculate the money realized that I didn't have enough; even when I added in all my US cash I was still short. I had to leave one behind. Oh, and of course, they were very heavy.

I carried them back to the hotel walking as fast as I could. My arms felt longer and my fingers on both hands were numb from the plastic bags cutting circulation. That added another 53 minutes to my time outside. I raced to the top floor, threw back on my suit and as I came into the lobby ran into a frantic Ralph Liu (the country manager) wondering where I was and why I didn't answer my phone.

We went back to a special conference room that had been set up for a distinguished group of Chinese movers and shakers in the Information Technology (IT) industry. This session had been debated and there was concern by the regional management in Australia that the Chinese Novell people weren't sure what they were doing here and the session could backfire. Invited guests included heads of university computer science centers, heads of ministry IT groups, and people from the government council on computer technology implementation.

I started as the invited guest (and only white guy in the room) with a thirty minute presentation on Novell's directory strategy. Then it was opened up for questions which I fielded with the aid of the translation headphones. For some reason, the radio signal wasn't strong enough to hear at the front of the room so I would go to the back of the room to hear the question and then to the front to provide an answer. Ralph opened it up for questions and general discussion after a comment from Dr. Ho, the leading authority on networking in the country. The session lasted for three hours and fifteen minutes and I think generally it was well received. Most of the leaders were pro Novell and with their comments I think there was influence for those that were undecided or uninformed.

From this meeting I went back to the executive floor conference room for a meeting with a member of the Hong Kong press. Everyone wants to know if we know that Microsoft is kicking our butts, and then they want to know what we are going to do about it. Talking to the locals, we are out manned and out spent by at least ten to one by each of the major IT vendors like Microsoft, Cisco, Informix, etc. It really boils down to whether Novell wants to make a stategic investment in China for long term growth or see if the current effort can bootstrap itself. If our hope is that things will magically takeoff like NetWare used to, Microsoft will eat our lunch. There is great opportunity with just the school system alone (K-university) adding 200,000 million users in the next few years. That's twice as big as the entire Internet is today.

Finally, finally done! I changed into slacks and a sports jacket, looked through the gift shop in the hotel and then all the Novell Brainshare staff boarded a bus for a closing dinner at the Royal International Club where we had held the NetWare 5 launch event a few weeks earlier. It was a Cantonese meal but somehow included sashimi (Japanese version of raw salmon). It was very good and consisted of many courses being placed on a giant marble lazy susan in the center of our round table.

I sat next to Nicole and we had a great conversation. She had been in business on her own as an event planner but was struggling to keep consistent work. Getting a job at Novell had been a lucky break. We talked a lot about her 'walk about' where she went for two years to Europe and just backpacked and worked her way around. She has a fun personality with an adventurous spirit.

When they started kareoke, I started looking for a way home. I don't know why it's such a big deal but Asians get into it and tonight the aussies started it all with a group performance of the Beatles. George Chang kept pressing me for an ISP and E-commerce strategy presentation. He knows we don't have one but keeps up the pressure in hopes that something will come through. I guess I could make one up. Anyway, we got George to get us a cab back to the hotel where I prepacked and then quickly fell asleep on my own. Add two more minutes of air time standing on the porch in the cool air waiting for a cab.

The car was scheduled for 8 a.m. and was there and ready when I came down. The ride to the airport only took about thirty minutes but the extra time was needed to wend my way through the weird boarding process. First you have to pay an airport construction and administration fee and get a reciept before entering the ticket area ($12). Then you have to wait at the entrance until your flight number shows up. Security baggage check and then ticketing. Fortunately I was in United's business class and had line preference. Once you get the boarding pass, you go through international departure and then through another security check. I waited in the business lounge and read the paper noticing that for things like tax fraud, smuggling, etc. people get the death penalty in China. Leaving the terminal was a total chaos. There were two full 747 loads of people trying to go in opposite directions through a single door. We were bussed to the waiting ship and I was pleasantly surprised to find my seat on the upper deck where I started writing this dredge. Add another minute for walking to the bus and climbing the stairs to the 747.

The flight to Tokyo was fine. As we got off and I looked in the flight deck where the captain and crew were coming out. He remarked that getting in and out of China was always an adventure. Instructions were never consistent and when directions were given they were always changed. One officer mentioned that he only had three more flights and he was retiring - going to move from Hawaii to North Dakota.

Three hours in the lounge reading the international versions of Time and Newsweek. Such a different perspective on what's happening in the world. It seems like there is corruption every where - nowhere do you read of good things happening.

I had the same seat back to the US in what I think was the same plane I came over in. A seven course Japanese meal, followed by Godiva chocolates. I have eaten so much that crumbs fall on my belley like a tabletop. I must get in shape - and get motivation and a schedule to do so. I watched part of one movie and then slept most of the trip. We made good time and the pilot said we had 170 mph tailwinds.

Now sitting in the Crown Room in Portland waiting for the flight to Salt Lake. There was an earlier flight leaving just as I came out of the customs but I had checked baggage so I didn't have to carry all those balls and would need to wait for my scheduled flight anyway. Inside the airport, with transfers or connections, there's no leaving the building without a lot of hassle.

The flight to Salt Lake was uneventful - just read a book I picked up in the airport bookstore. Someday I'd like to walk into an airport bookstore and see one of my books on the best seller shelf. I found my car and paid the parking fee - no more weekly rate so rates have gone up again. Two more minutes of air walking from the shuttle bus to the car. Driving back through Salt Lake I hit a pretty bad storm with some black ice but made it home safely.

Back home I found a picture on the counter that Frank had left me. It was a world map with me flying from China and him flying to Europe. He had just left that morning with his class for 12 days on the continent. I had a stick Chinese guy on my side and he had French artist looking guy on his. All in all, the total time I spent in the open a complete trip to China and back was roughly 62 minutes!