Thursday, October 7, 2010

Life Changing Experiences

Cipriani Banquet Hall on Wall Street
View of Central Park from Top of the Rock
The last four weeks has been a number of first experiences for me encompassing everything from bad, good, eye-opening, and humbling experiences.  Beginning with Labor Day weekend, I got to attend a wonderful wedding on at the luxurious Cipriani’s banquet hall on Wall Street.  I also got to see some old friends, hang out with my girlfriend, see a Yankees game at the new stadium and attend the US Open at Flushing Meadows.  It was a fun and great weekend filled with eating at The Oak Room Restaurant at the Plaza Hotel and Peruvian Chinese fusion restaurant in Uptown near Columbia.

Oak Bar from The Oak Room

Russian Tennis Player

Everyone was rooting for the better looking tennis player, but she lost.  So I guess the world is just.

Wedding Hall

Following Labor Day I traveled to my company headquarters for a graduation ceremony from the leadership program.  Right after graduation a group of us went to West Virginia for a thrilling Class V white water experience of the Gauley River.  In September the Army Corp of Engineers let down the Dam and the river overflows taking rafters for a ride of their life.  In my boat in particular we had a great time as we paddled aggressively towards each rapid with thrill and excitement.  I am sure the rapids stroke fear into some of the boaters but we conquered one Class V after another.  On the second to the last Class V rapid called the Lost Paddle; I was unfortunately ejected from the raft after we collided onto a rock head on.  After I was ejected from the raft, my boat ran over on top of me and I was stuck there under the boat for around 12 seconds.  I held my breath as long as I could before I ingested some water.  My fellow rafters including my guide were looking all over for me and they were pretty nervous when they couldn’t find me anywhere.   I finally popped out from under the boat and the guide pulled me back in.  We were told never to panic and always stay calm.  I would say I was calm for most of the time stuck under the water.  Panic was setting in towards the end but I popped up right on time.  The experience was exhilarating and without being there the grand dichotomy of the experience cannot really be conveyed.     

Class V Rapids

I also forgot to mention that on one of the rapids our guide lied to us and said we all had to get out because there was a danger zone coming up.  We all got out of the boat and started walking along this cliff.  At this point the water is extremely calm and no danger zone can be seen.  Eventually the path ends and there is about a 20 to 25 feet drop.  The guide says, ok now you guys all have to jump to get back in the boat.  The guide later one told us that he was worried after he made all of us get out of the boat and didn't tell us the truth.  He was worried that one of us would freak out and not jump.  I am not that great of a fan of heights.  Plus I am not a good swimmer.  Without a life vest on, I don't think I would have ever jumped, but I did jump, kinda hurt when I landed, but I survived another day.

Main Street WVA Town

Next was traveling in Ithaca, NY for a career fair to help recruit students at Cornell University.  It was a great two day experience as I got to meet a lot of students with various backgrounds.  Some of the students definitely had a prodigious amount of experiences and awards.  After a two day stay there I was flying back to my home in Florida.  When I came back to Florida I had to get ready to move my apartment.  After moving all the stuff I could over 3 or 4 days, I was back to traveling for work in Canada.  Here is where everything got really crazy.  I am going to allow you to skip the details and you can jump to the next paragraph.  On Monday I noticed black stool.  Then on Tuesday two more times including dizziness, weakness, fatigue, and blurred vision.  I decided to check in to the hospital to see what’s going on.  Because I was a foreigner, I could not see a doctor until I paid a fee of $575.  Since it was a small town, the hospital had no ATM or credit card machine.  Plus the doctor wasn’t going to be until another hour and a half.  After going to the ATM and getting the maximum amount I have, which was $480, I was able to see the doctor who admitted me and gave me some IV and an antacid drug.  I was doing pretty well for most of the day and the next morning.  They were going to allow me to check out and go back home when another dizziness session hit and I became unresponsive.  The next thing I saw was 7 nurses at my bed including the doctor; he was profusely yelling at someone to “squeeze the bag squeeze the bag”.  I was feeling much better and stable after the fast injection of IV.  They also gave me two bags of blood on my way to a major hospital as they were only a regional hospital with limited expertise.  I arrived at the Regina hospital in stable condition.  They scoped me and didn’t find any bleeding ulcers.  They did see one ulcer, but it was not bleeding.  They did a second scope the next day and still did not find anything. I am now safely back in the states where they will treat me even if I didn't have any cash, which I guess is an improvement at least. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

NPR: How Interesting?

So I was listening to NPR today on my way home after a long day at work and a story came on about a traffic jam.  It was no ordinary traffic jam.  Traffic was at a standstill for more than 60 miles at one point.  The reporter interviewed a truck driver who said at that he had actually been on the road twice this week and that at one point he was stuck for 3 days; yes, 3 days.  So where is this place and what's causing all the traffic?  The location is a few hours north of Beijing, China towards Inner Mongolia.  Inner Mongolia has become the coal capital of China and as far as the eye can see its a ton of coal trucks hauling coal to the insatiable Chinese thirst for energy.  This three lane way, currently under construction to improve road conditions, is worsening the traffic. By the way, there are ALTERNATIVE routes that are not used because of the toll coal trucks are required to pay.  Apparently it's cheaper to wait three days then to use the alternative route.  At least it's creating a side economy for the local peddlers who can sell some water and some white rice.

Traffic Nightmare: Road to Inner Mongolia

Anyway, what makes this story so interesting to me is that I was on this road in the summer of 2006 while studying abroad in Beijing.  You would then ask how and why would I go to Inner Mongolia.  Very good question.  Well, a good friend of mine (Louise) who was a fellow student really wanted to see the grassland and the desert for some very odd reason.  Somehow she convinced my Chinese roommate (who was very perplexed at this request) and I to help plan and guide the trip.  Even though I was a fluent Mandarin speaker, we need my Chinese roommate to help translate from whatever dialect they were speaking up there to Mandarin, so that I could translate then to English.  So, we took a bus that my invaluable roommate previously checked the route.  A couple of hours outside Beijing the bus pulled over and dropped us off.  Apparently the bus no longer goes where we needed to go, which is towards Inner Mongolia.  We negotiated with some drivers who had anticipated that a group of ignorant foreign students would need a ride after a changed bus route caused them to be stuck next to a highway.  They agreed to take us to our destination, and that's how we ended on this nightmare road where we were the only non-coal vehicle on the road.  Our trip took at least twice as long and we ended up sleeping in a village motel with wooden beds once we arrived late into the night.  Later that weekend I was not sure if the excruciating pain in my lower back came from the beds or riding the horses.  I guess I will never know.  In the end the trip was a great experience for us and I think for the people we met.  They loved the fluffy hair of one of our friends and insisted that it was definitely fake.  We went boating, horse back riding, sand surfing (not sure what you call it), and hiking.  It was a memorable trip and thanks to NPR today, many memories encompassing my experience as an Engineering student studying poetry and history in Beijing came flowing back to me.
Link to story on NPR:

Return to the Sunshine State

Battle River

I finally returned home back to the sunshine state from a 8 day stint in Alberta, Canada.  I was doing a prodigious amount work on trains and took just a little bit of time to watch the bison, elk, deer, and bears through the prairies and plains.  Actually, I was kidding about the bears, I actually didn't see any.  I wish I did though because I felt pretty safe surrounded by nothing but steel and was at least 12 feet off the ground.  If we hit anything we probably would have the upper edge.  The long stretches of nothing but plains was a site to see.  I was also very thankful that the time frame was August and not January when it would be 30 below.

 I was looking forward to the return as I really needed the rest.  While I was laying around in my condo, I realized that my lease on my ocean side condo was ending soon and that I better start taking advantage of the beach by actually walking downstairs through the garage and through swimming pool and setting my right foot in the sand.  Yes, I was going to take a sunset walk along the beach by myself.  It was not very romantic and quite lonely at first as many couples walked by, but the ocean was very calm and peaceful.  After about a quarter mile I came upon a group of birds.  Someone had left a big chunk of bread or part of a donut.  It was surprising to see the birds fight over this even though the food was quite plentiful to share.  I was able to get a nice action shot of the bird in attack mode.  I watched them for a while and got bored and walked back to my condo.  Its a beach I guess.