Howard's Blog

This is Howard C. Park's blog. Interests: live music, simulations and modeling, languages, iPod, social and business networking, systems thinking, history of science, management, BBQ, trivia, good coffee, organizational learning, traveling, personal histories.

Monday, October 30, 2006

at the Client

We board the shuttle and make our way through the streets this morning. The light reveals more detail of the buildings and streets from the 1st night. Not more life, just more details. We pass by a bank of what look like diplomats' houses. Large, with spacious receiving areas in the front yard, gates and fances... except these buildings/houses/mini-palaces are deserted. They have a view to the beach... except that the beach is filled with trash, tents and propped-up corrugated metal that serve as shelters. Lagos used to be the capital, and has seen better days.

The shuttle weaves through streets of pedestrians, schoolchildren, food vendor-stalls, and motorcycles. Commuter traffic. I observe that not one light signal is working. Who needs it, anyway?

The shuttle takes a turn into a street between two tall buildings. It's much darker, not only because we lack sunlight on the streets, but becuase many buildings here are dark. They didn't start dark... they've turned dark from neglect. Paint falls, there is mold and dirt, tiles are broken.

Without warning, the shuttle stops and people start to make their way out. There are vehicles in front of us and on the other side of the street, so I can't tell where the client building is. No matter, I'll follow someone. I just hope I don't get lost.

I figure it out. The client building is the one with half dozen security guards around. They are observant, eyeing all the folks off the shuttle and the person-caravan that quickly walks down the street to the gate. My colleague and I are stopped; we don't have badges. He holds us just inside the gate and asks to check our bags. He passes a metal detector across our bodies. Then we are told to wait in the reception area.

See pictures here.
|| hcpark, 3:30 PM || link || (0) comments |

Sunday, October 29, 2006

1st day

Weather.com reported that Lagos will be mid 70's to mid 80's with a 60% chance of rain the entire week I am here. We saw thunder from the airplane during the initial descent. The rain held off when we arrived, but for most of this evening, there has been rain. Lots of rain. And thunder.

I was in the bathroom washing my face when all the lights went black. I opened my eyes to the silence as the TV and AC went dead. I thought, "OK, first, let's dry off and open the bathroom door. There will be some ambient light." I feel for the door, open it, and wait for my eyes to get used to the light.

I see nothing.

When I had worked in Taiwan, I had a colleague who was there during the 1999 earthquake. She told me that since then, she's always made sure that her backpack was "ready to go" with water & passport, in case she needed to run out the door. I decide to start packing.
Thanks to how the modern road warriers are equipped, there are several items that can provide light in my room. I run down a list of my devices, listing each location and status.
So I head out the bathroom. It is pitch dark thanks to the thick shades. I crouch down to reduce the liklihood of falling or knocking things over. I make it over to the circle table. Almost knock over the glass of water but somehow catch it. I open the laptop and tilt the screen 180 degrees from the keyboard, so it faces the ceiling. I look outside; this side of the street is dark, save for the Mercedes rolling its way to the front of what must look like one of the buildings I saw last night.

I start packing. I have fresh water from room service, but it's 1.5 ltrs. I saved the bottle from last night (0.75 ltrs) so I decide that I will refill the smaller bottle. I grab my passport and place it in the backpack. I start to think of clothes I will want to have on me if I need to leave. Jeans...all purpose. Short sleeve button-down. Walking shoes.

I start to think of all the other items I need as the laptop will be the last thing I will place in the backpack. Then the lights come back on. I wait, make a visual of the room, in case the lights go out again, and plan my path of device/clothes acquisition.

The lights stay on. I postpone my evening shower for an hour or so.

We will lose electricity one more time before I turn in. Something to get used to.

Read the next post: at the client.
|| hcpark, 7:30 PM || link || (1) comments |

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lagos

We arrive and find our contact, a man with a clipboard with our handwritten names. Our flight is late so we are the last on his list to be checked off. We board the company shuttle. The windows are double-paned and the ac is blowing but they do not keep out the cacaphony nor the wet air.

The shuttle is traveling faster than the other cars. Perhaps this is normal for the company shuttle; colleagues who have traveled to Iraq tell me that you can't take pictures en route simply because things are moving too fast. We are not in Iraq and I don't know if we are approaching Iraq speed, but we are moving at "convoy speed". And the other cars know to get out of the way.
I hear the pulses of a siren warning cars ahead and I realize that we are being accompanied by a modern SUV with flashing lights on top. Nice to have escort. We pass by many building that seem empty; in the dark it's hard to tell. So many seem to be half-built or half-torn, or half-rebuilt and forgotten. Dots of single low-wattage light bulbs reveal a small market, makeshift homes, and the in-between spaces.

We pass a nice buildboard for a Sony Wega. It's better lit than five acres it surrounds.

At regular intervals on the larger roads, there are many buses that wait on the side. Many have people waiting in them. I see no bus stop signs. Has the bus broken down? Is this a stop that everyone just "knows"? Or is there another reason that's too elaborate to explain?

I see walled compounds, barbed wire, and heavy doors. I also see something I remember at my grandmother's place in South Korea: sharpened glass cemented to the tops of walls. In the right light, it can look pretty, mosaic-like. But we are moving too fast for me to know.

Read next post: 1st day.
|| hcpark, 10:20 PM || link || (0) comments |

en Route to Amsterdam

I've done international trips before, but this trip has a few firsts. My first to have 3 flight legs. First time to Africa.

This is a work-related flight, but since we are footing our own expenses, we had decided to fly coach. We made up for it by making arrangements to sit in the airline clubs between flights. I have some long layovers on this intinerary.
After a few calls and research on the internet, we identified the "rules" associated with our quest to be allowed into World Clubs.
  1. Buy a one-year membership, and you have all the access you want. Nice, but expensive, and more than what we need.
  2. One-day memberships are avaiable, but are not accepted internationally. Not an option for us, as most of the wait time will be in Amsterdam.
  3. They have a 60-day membership that IS good internationally, but it must be purchased BEFORE arriving at the international location.
  4. Houston does NOT have a World Club.
The plan was to arrive in Newark, make my way into the World Club, purchase a 60-day membership, then enjoy the membership in Newark for whatever time remained before I had to make my connection for Amsterdam.

I arrive in Newark. I gather from the map that I am not in a terminal with a World Club. No problem. I leave the secure area, ride the tram to Terminal B. I call World Club and get info on the location of the club. When I arrive at the secuirty check-in, I see a line that would easily take 20 minutes to get through. The numbers don't work in my favor. I call World Club and explain my situation. "I need to get a World Club member before I leave the States, but I can't get to a World club and make it back for my connecting flight".


"I can enroll you over the phone" she tells me. She has dealt with desparate travelers before."But how do I tell the folks in Amsterdam that I have a membership? Can they look me up?""The international lounges can't look you up, you have to show up with a membership ID."There's a pause as we both consider options.She responds, "I can fax you a letter of introduction with your name and membership # and fax it to Continental's President Club, which you'll have access to once you're enrolled."

"Can Continental look me up and see that I'm a member?"
"Yes, the info is updated immediately, and you can enjoy benefits right away".
"And I guess they have a fax machine there?"
"They should, and I'll write the letter and fax it there".


I give my credit card info and receive a World Club membership #. I punch it into my PDA as I exit the tram. At the entrance to the President's Club, I give my #, ID and boarding pass. I am allowed entrance. I ask about the fax #. "It's in the business center."


The "business center" is one lonely fax machine, one or two copiers and some brochures. I see no instructions on the fax machine, no "my number is...." sticker, nothing. I pick up the phone and call my cell. "Please ring, please ring....". My cell phone finally vibrates with a New Jersey phone number. I call World Club again. I happen to get the same person who typed up the letter. "Thank you", I say as I read her the number. "I think that's it."


"I'll send it now.""OK, I'm standing right by the fax machine."We wait. Please ring.

I hear a ring, and I thank her again. She wishes me a nice flight. My letter arrives. I read it over, fold it up, and keep it with to my passport and boarding pass.

I write this from the World Club in Amsterdam.

Read next post: Lagos.
|| hcpark, 10:40 AM || link || (1) comments |

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Journey Starts

"Can you lose five pounds?" The attendant on the other side of the international kiosk asked as I punched thru the self-check-in menu. "A pair of jeans and some shoes should do it."
I had overpacked, as I usually do. My excuse was that I needed both my backpack and by computer bag; the former for the flight, the latter for the client meetings. "They are very British, you know," our associate had told us in one of the first meetings we had months ago. The black no-nonsense laptop bag was to help me appear more professional and formal than a blue Eastpak bag would.

I had also packed two small bottles of water. With our arriving late Saturday evening into Africa, I didn't know what kind of supplies would be available for us. OK, so we're staying at a western hotel with Internet access. However, I though bringing a few bottles of water would be a wise thing to do.

Five pounds or $25 surcharge. I had packed dense. I had distributed the weight properly, with heavier stuff at the bottom. There was more room in the suitcase, but thought that I had packed enough clothes. I headed off into the corner of the check-in area and proceeded to open my backpack (which I would take on the plane) and the suitcase (which I would check-in).
I took out a pair of jeans, but thought of no way of taking out shoes as well. I could carry the shoes in their shoe-bag, but wanted to avoid digging too deep into the suitcase where the shoes had been packed. I took out some shorts. I looked for other dense stuff. I had a limited amount of space in my backpack, already bulging with my laptop, power brick, and various power adaptors. I saw a belt. Then I remembered the water. "I'm thirsty", I said to myself, "and it's always good to stay hydrated, esepcially when flying through so many miles".

The scale shifted back and forth between 49.5 and 50.5 pounds. She let me go with it. "Checked in all the way to Africa." Then I remembered that I couldn't take water with me through security. "Oh well, better than losing my belt or jeans".

Read the next post: en route to Amsterdam.
|| hcpark, 9:30 AM || link || (0) comments |

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

more Jazz (part 3)

A few weeks back, we went to The Red Cat Cafe as part of Katheryn's birthday celebration. KTSU as hosting a band with New Orleans roots.

Bleu Orleans played a few sets. This was jazz, but the instrumentation, tempo, and repetition made me think of "funk jazz" or modern jazz. The keyboard and trumpet had most of the lead, with electric guitar and some sax taking turns as well. The tempo was mostly fast, and the structure of most of the pieces called for improv thru lots of measures (some passages were 10, 16 and more measures long).

I heard something encouraging.

During "Ocean View", I was able to recognize the repeating pattern. It was longer than the 4 measure repeating chords I was used to rock and roll. It also had an extra measure thrown in with some syncopated beats. BUT, I found that once I saw the pattern, I was able to follow along. Who cares about how difficult the chords could be... all "hard" chords could be reduced to easier chords.

I've been trying to figure out how I can "get into more jazz". My working thesis is: "I can only get into music that I have a chance to actively play". Just listening or watching someone play isn't enough. But how do I play jazz? I can't just pick up an instrument and play jazz, can I?

A few years back, I got myself a Yamaha QY70 (ebay thru some music store in NYC). It came with a nice surprise... a few songs in its memory. Maybe these were preloaded by Yamaha, but I'd like to think that they were used on a solo trumpet/sax player doing gigs around the city.

One progression caught my attention. A nice tempo and a easy jazz feel. I rearranged a few of the measures and cut it down to a repeating 8-bar phrase:

| F | FM7 | F#dim | C7 C7+b9 |
| FM7 | Dm7 D7 | Gm7 | C7 C7+b9 |

Now THIS is something I can wrap my hands around. F is a nice key, and I love those nice 7s. The tempo is right and there's enough room in the sparse accompanyment of easy set and bass to allow for "bad" notes.

So, in my quest for discovering the secret of jazz, I start with something that takes advantage of what I know. I can do easy chords.
|| hcpark, 10:08 PM || link || (0) comments |
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