Thursday, April 26, 2007

I got bumped! (It's a good thing)

Yeah! Just got bumped to business class! Lots of leg room, free beer, and those warm hand towels to wipe your hands and face. I'm a superstar, baby! Now, sing to yourself:

"I have a mansion forget the price
Aint never been there they tell me its nice
I live in hotels tear out the walls
I have accountants pay for it all.

My maserati does 185
I lost my license now I dont drive
I have a limo ride in the back
I lock the doors in case Im attacked.

I go to parties sometimes until four
Its hard to leave when you cant find the door
Its tough to handle this fortune and fame
Everybodys so different I havent changed."

Going Home

Finished the Fiscal Law course I was attending today at Camp Zama and I am finally on my way back home. Still sitting in Tokyo Narita airport, taking advantage of their wireless connectivity. $5 for all day, not bad.

This was probably one of the better courses I have ever attended. Fiscal law is very important in the military, as you can imagine. It is also very complex. Guess who senior leaders turn to when they need it deciphered? Yep, JAG's.

The course was taught by three Majors from the Army's JAG school in Charlottesville, VA. Flew in just to teach this four-day course. They did an excellent job, in my opinion - well worth the trip.

I can now tell you the primary rule about spending money in the military - Purpose, Time, Amount. You can only spend money for the purpose congress intended it to be spent, only during the time that money is authorized (usually one fiscal year), and only for the amount congress authorized. Sound simple? If it was, I wouldn't have had to spend four days in the BASIC course. Truth is, one could dedicate their life to understanding the nuances of budgeting.

I picked up some gifts for Anna and Drew, as always. Also got a gift for Alana and her family, and one for Mark Arquette and his family. Hope they enjoy them - I am not the best shopper.

Never Leave Home

Once again I am on the road when Mary could use my company. I was sitting at a counter in the Tokyo Narita airport, eating a traditional Japanese meal and drinking a Guinness when I read Mary K's post below. Her post hit me pretty hard. I should be there now, but I won't be for another 10 hours.

I know from experience that Mary takes these tragedies personally. She will rerun that terrible day over and over again in her head, searching for any clue she believes she should have caught, believing she can somehow alter reality or stop the inevitable. She knows deep down there was nothing she could have done, even if she were Super Nurse. If, somehow, she had brilliantly deduced that her patient was going to experience a stroke in advance, something numerous other doctors and nursed didn't do either, that still would not have been enough. She couldn't stop it. She knows this. But she will still continue to search for that elusive clue she believes she missed, so that she will know the next time.

You want a nurse like this taking care of you.

She's unfortunately been through losses like this before, as has any health care provider. It's the nature of the healthcare business, trying to prevent the unpreventable. I will never understand how they do it, these doctors and nurses. Working so hard to learn everything there is to know about the human body in a futile effort to control it and prevent it from doing what it is destined to do.

We, you and I, those of us not in the health care profession, owe them a deep debt of gratitude. They work so hard, with so little recognition, and rarely get the thanks they deserve. They do it because they care.

No one remembers the doctors and nurses that cured them of disease or eased their pain or delivered them at birth or removed their wisdom teeth or game them flu shots or set that bone or removed that appendix or did countless other things to make their passage through life more comfortable. We only think of them when we believe they screwed something up. Well, guess what, life is not guaranteed, and even God never promised you a life without pain. How we ever came to believe that doctors and nurses were somehow at fault when they failed to insulate us from being human I will never know. But I thank God they try.

Both my sister and my wife are nurses and I have tremendous respect for them. I like to think there is nothing I can't do, but they do something far beyond what I could ever do. They endure the inevitable health care crises that occur every day just so they can be there when their presence does makes a difference. I once read a story about a doctor who dedicated his life to helping the deaf hear. He combined technology with medicine and developed a device that, in certain individuals, would help them hear when they couldn't before. I remember it because he tells the story of a young woman who had been deaf since birth that he once had the opportunity to work with. He was standing in her room, post-surgery, when she heard her mother's voice for the first time. He said he had worked his entire life for that one moment, and it was worth every bit of it. Can you imagine?

Here's to my wife and sister. Thank you.

Dealing with Fears

This is one way to handle fear. On a smaller scale, we could use the whiteboard in the kitchen. On second thought, maybe not.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Off to Japan

On the road again

I am traveling to Camp Zama in Japan today to attend a fiscal law course. United States Army Japan (USARJ) is stationed at Camp Zama, 25 miles southwest of Tokyo. It is supposed to be a beautiful area - I am really looking forward to it.

Of course, the downside is I have to leave Mary alone with the kids during a particularly brutal week for her. She is scheduled to work 6 12-hour shifts over the next seven days. In other words, I couldn't have picked a worse time to travel. I would have turned down the course if I didn't need it for my professional development.

I really have to hand it to Mary. She bears the brunt of my travel. It wouldn't be so difficult for her if her job wasn't so demanding. She has to be at work at 7:00 am normally, but must be there even earlier when she stands a 12-hour shift. This makes it impossible to drop off the kids at school, since they can't arrive any earlier than 7:00 am. She has to rely on friends and babysitters to help her make everything work. Making matters worse, when she stands a 12-hour shift, she doesn't usually get home before 7:30 pm, but the kids have to be picked up from school before 5:30 pm. Again, she couldn't do it without the help of others. All this becomes a management nightmare, but she weathers it pretty well.

The fiscal law course at Camp Zama should be a real help. As I'm sure you can imagine, fiscal law and policies are a huge concern within the DoD. There are literally volumes of rules and regulations governing who can spend how much on what, and when. Many people devote their entire career to trying to master the subject. For me, I just keep those folks' phone numbers and email addresses handy.

I plan to do some video-taping and photography while in Japan. One of my life-long best friends, Mark Arquette, has a son Preston who really wants to visit Japan some day. I promised him some photos and video quite some time ago, but managed to lose everything I had in an unexpected hard drive failure. Ugh. Six months of pictures lost. Anyway, I should be able to get some good stuff on this trip that I can forward to Preston.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Pain Before Breakfast - Episode III

Revenge of the Ache

We ran our third family 5K race today. Anna sat this one out, instead reading a few pages from Abraham Lincoln's biography. More on that later.

The race was held by a new non-profit organization in Guam dedicated to environmental protection. Good cause, but new, so few participated. Worse yet, there were two other big races today as well, causing the number of runners to be even fewer. There were only 80 or so people in this race. But that was a good thing for Drew.

Once again, Drew ran the race from start to finish without stopping once. He cut his time from 35 minutes down to 29 minutes, 58 seconds, and managed to place 2nd in the youth bracket (12 and under). Very exciting for him. Drew was 2 minutes behind a 10 year old, and beat out an 8 year old for 2nd place by a minute. Not bad for a 6 year old on his third race. Must have been the new shoes be bought him.

I will scan the certificate he won when I get back from Japan. I'm traveling there tomorrow for a fiscal law course.

About Anna and the Abraham Lincoln book. She has been saying for the last two or three months that she wants to be president. I'll post about her quest at length later on. About two weeks ago, she found a biography of Abraham Lincoln I had on our book shelf and asked if she could read it. I said yes, of course, but expected her to put it down after getting bored with it. But she has been carrying it around for two weeks with her wherever we go. She hasn't read a lot so far, but she already is telling us things about Lincoln that she has read in the book. Very cool. She says he is her favorite president because he helped people. Wise words for a young scholar. I think the world would be a better place if she was our president. But, then again, I'm a little biased, as you can imagine.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Drew Parker - Pinewood Derby Champion

Guam Islandwide Pinewood Derby Championship

Since Drew won his pack's Pinewood Derby race, he was automatically entered into the Guam Islandwide Pinewood Derby Championship. The race was scheduled for 10:00 am on the 14th, which was only about four hours after we got home from our eight-day trip to Hong Kong. So we were dragging.

The race was only supposed to have the champions from each pack, but since some packs had not held their elimination event yet, the council opened it up to all those who had not yet raced. So, instead of only six cars, there were 19.

After the preliminary round, the top four cars advanced to the championship. Drew made the cut. The championship round consisted of four heats between the four cars, with each car running on each of the four tracks. Drew won three of the four heats and easily won the championship. As you can imagine, he was pretty happy.

I've posted a short video of the race on our home website. You can visit the video page here:

Once there, click on the picture to launch a Windows Media Player file that is about five minutes long. There are a few other videos worth checking out as well.

Hong Kong Day 8

Heading Home

At last, we were heading home. But our flight didn't leave until 10:30 PM, so we had some time to kill after checking out of the hotel. This worked out pretty well, however.

We headed over to the Hong Kong side to give Mary one last chance to purchase some fabric. She had been shopping for fabric since we arrived, but couldn't find what she was looking for. So, we headed to Western Market, where we had been told there was a good restaurant and perhaps some fabric stores. We hit the jackpot. Mary found just the type of fabric she had wanted, and the restaurant turned out to be an excellent place to eat.

After finishing lunch, we headed back to Kowloon so Drew could visit the space museum. The museum was a big disappointment, unfortunately. We had set aside two hours to spend there, but walked through in less than an hour. Not much to see, and all the interactive exhibits were broken. Too bad.

We then stopped by a tailor Mary had ordered two dresses and some shorts from and picked up the merchandise. Then back to the hotel to pick up our bags and have dinner before heading to the airport.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. Five hour night flight, arriving in Guam at 5:00 am. Got home about 6:00. Not much time to sleep, though. Drew was due to race his Pinewood Derby car in the Guam championships at 10:00 am. See my next post.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hong Kong Day 7

Shenzhen, China

We decided to take a day trip to Shenzhen, China, more out of curiousity than anything else. Many go to Shenzhen to shop - primarily for namebrand knockoffs. We, however, spent the day on a "cultural tour" of Shenzhen.

Our trip was part of a coordinated tour of Shenzhen, which is really the only practical way to go. Otherwise, we would have had to apply for visas on our own, which I'm told is a very difficult process. The tour was scheduled to last 10 hours, but did not start until noon. Which meant it was going to be a long day.

We started our tour on a fast ferry from Kowloon to Shenzhen, travel time about 1 hour. Drew loved it, of course.

During the transit, our tour guide filled us in on what we would be doing during the day, and warned us to be very careful of pickpockets and scam artists. After that, we all tried to take a nap to prepare for the rest of the day.

On arrival, we quickly passed through customs and immigration, then met our official tour guide, a Chinese government agent. That's right, China requires all tours be guided only by officially-designated agents. Hmmmm.

Our first stop was a shrine dedicated to some watery goddess holding a piece of broken sky, nothing spectacular. But, we had our first opportunity to speak with our official Chinese tour guide, Benny. He was nice enough, but the way in which he spoke and the things he said made it perfectly clear that Benny was reading from a prepared script written to mislead tourists.

That hotel over there? A five star hotel, the first of fifteen so-called five-star hotels in Shenzhen. The bus we were riding in? Why, it was a brand new bus designed and built by the people of China. The shopping centers and parks? All five star, of course. Benny then proceeded to tell us that China was a modern socialist republic, compared to Hong Kong's democracy. Not communist at all, no.

Everyone was happy, everything was clean. Shenzhen seemed to be the ideal place to live. Of course, the reality was dramatically different.

Everywhere I looked, I saw a people suffering from poverty and repression. Although the bus stayed carefully away from the poorer side of town, we did pass by one high rise housing unit that was so obvious Benny had to say something. That building, he told us, was where laborers from other parts of the country would stay while they were in town to work in the industrial plants. Which helped explain how the city grew from a population of 50,000 in the early 90's to over 10,000,000 today. People were coming in from all over China to work in probably the only semi-socialist (as opposed to communist) city in the country. But not to worry, Benny explained, everyone had a nice apartment elsewhere.

We visited a park along the way to the "cultural" spot we would visit. Here is a photo of Anna and Drew with Shenzhen in the background.

Along the way we stopped at what was called a mineral museum, which turned out to be a jewelry store with some jade sculptures out front. The place was pretty dismal, given that it was supposedly the official "Chinese Mineral Museum."

We finally arrived at the "cultural" spot on our tour, which turned out to be a garden-like amusement park, without the rides. It was called Miniature China, and had miniature villages spread throughout the park that represented the 22 different regions of China. Here is a shot of one of the miniature cities.

Now, don't get me wrong, it was a nice park and provided plenty of interesting sights for the family. But, again, as a cultural experience, it was more like visiting Disney's Epcot Center and calling it a United States cultural tour.

We had dinner at the park restaurant, which I'm told was pretty tasty. Unfortunately, I had developed a stomach bug and couldn't even drink the water. But Mary, Anna and Drew loved it.

We then walked around the park for a bit and took some pictures.

Next we went to the evening show, which was a recreation of a Chinese New Year's celebration. This was very beatiful, and as Anna said, very elaborate.

We caught a train back to Hong Kong, cleared customs and immigration, and headed for the hotel. Finally made it to bed around mignight.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hong Kong Day 6

Hong Kong Disney

We decided to go ahead and give Hong Kong Disney a try, and am I glad we did. We all had a lot of fun, particularly Drew. He rode his first roller coaster - the Hong Kong version of Space Mountain, and I couldn't drag him off it. We rode it 5 times in a row before we had to leave.

The Disney park here is a blast. Not nearly as big as Orlando Disney, but setup the same way. You can make it around the park at a brisk walk in about 30 minutes. The best part is, there are not that many people. We never had to wait more than 20 minutes for any ride, even Space Mountain.

Another major difference was the food, as you might expect. As soon as we entered the park, Anna and Drew said they were hungry. So, we stopped at the first kiosk we saw. Our choices? Corn on the cob, sushi, pickles, some sort of doughnut on a stick. Drew and Anna went for the corn and loved it.

I locked in on the popcorn and bought some, only to find out it had some sort of caramel/fishy kind of coating. Uck.

But, it was a great day. Far better than we had at Ocean Park. If you come, I recommend going to both if you can, but if you can only go to one, make it Disney.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hong Kong Day 5

Shopping Extravaganza

The day started off rather uniquely. I was at the front desk talking with the receptionists as Mary K booked a day-trip into China for Thursday. I heard a small comotion, looked behind me and saw Drew on the shoulders of a Chinese gentleman with Anna standing beside him. The gentleman's friends were taking photos, so I decided to snap a few as well.

That is one of the great things about Hong Kong - everyone is so friendly and so polite. A few days ago one gentleman gave Drew an origami swan as we stepped off the Star Ferry, and Anna had another gentleman give her an Easter basket after brunch.

We shopped all day long, starting with the Fleet Arcade, a small mall for US military-only. Spectacular bargains on lots of Hong Kong and Asian merchandise. I dropped a bunch of cash on gifts and household items. Then it was off to Poddinger Road and the Lanes for fabric and clothes shopping. Mary K found some great fabric shops, so I took the kids and headed back to give her a chance to do some solo shopping.

She showed up some two hours later with receipts for two dresses and two pairs of tailored shorts, as well as a few yards of silk and Asian fabrics. Still, she didn't spend nearly as much as I did. Needs to practice, I guess.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Hong Kong Day 4

Ocean Park

When we intially planned our trip, we planned to visit Hong Kong Disney on one of the days. However, everyone we have talked to since we arrived recommended Ocean Park instead. So, we decided to give it a shot. Not too bad, but nothing like Disney back home. Not too many rides, but all-in-all, a great way to spend a day.

It is located along the south side of Hong Kong Island, providing a spectacular view of the South China Sea. Here is a photo we took as we rode the cable car from one side of the part to the other.

Later I caught Drew as he stood in line for the Frog Hopper ride.

Anna and Drew then rode the Frog Hopper and had a blast.

We were all so tired we came home and vegged-out on room service and watched the Discovery Channel, which had a great show on about Chinese History.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Hong Kong Day 3

Easter Sunday

On Easter Sunday, we spent the morning at the Methodist International Church - Hong Kong. Excellent sermon by the pastor, who actually managed to quote Stephen Hawking as he explained how science and religion were not necessarily in conflict.

We then stopped by the Hong Kong Club for brunch. The Hong Kong Club is a reciprocal club to the Union League Club of Chicago, our private club. The view was spectacular - the 48th floor of 2 Central Building. We ate out on the patio - check out the view.

Next we went to the Hong Kong Museum of Art on the Kowloon side. We then spent the rest of the day touring the neighborhood around our hotel, the Regal Oriental, in Kowloon.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Hong Kong Day 2

Star Ferry - Stanley Market - Night Market

What an incredible first day in Hong Kong. We took our first ride on the famous Star Ferry, then boarded a double-decker bus bound for Stanley Market.

The double-decker bus is an amazing experience in its own right. We moved to the front four seats on the upper deck, sitting directly above the driver. This gave us a completely unobstructed view of the road ahead and all the beautiful sights along the route, including Hong Kong traffic and the South China Sea. It felt like we were flying.

We passed by Repulse Bay on our way. Repulse Bay is a beautiful beach community on south Hong Kong island.

Eventually we made it to Stanley Market, where we shopped until we dropped. Drew picked up a warm jacket that he rarely takes off. Anna, Drew and Mary K also bought stamp sets, which are customized stamps with their English and Chinese names carved into jade-like sandstone. I picked up a stylish pair of Crocs.

After a full day of shopping, we made our way back to our hotel in Kowloon. On the way, we stopped for photos of the family with Hong Kong in the background.

We also picked up some snacks on the way home. Anna is seen here eating some of her favorite dried fish. Uck.

Then, after dinner, we decided to do some shopping in one of the many night markets. We took a taxi to Lady's Market for dinner and shopping. Drew got tired, so Mary K took him back to the hotel. Anna and I stayed for a bit longer. I snapped this pic of her just before we left.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Hong Kong Day 1

And they're off! We are at the airport, waiting to board the plane. Drew is so excited he can't sit still. Don't know how he is going to last on the plane for 5 hours. Ugh.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

'Break' Dancing

My evil twin goes dancing. Seriously, if you've seen me dance, you'll understand.

Red Wings Update

This is not good. With the playoffs just around the corner, the Red Wings' defensive line is taking some serious hits. First Lebda, now Kronwall and Lidstrom. Lidstrom should be back to full health by playoff time, but Kronwall is going to miss the entire post-season. It's never a good sign when a team has to call up a defenseman from the minors with one week left in the regular season.

Still, the Wings have been playing outstanding hockey all season, and they have amped it up at just the right time. With luck, they'll take the President's Trophy and lock in home ice advantage for the playoffs.

Monday, April 2, 2007

The Little Storm that Couldn't

After all the preparation and running about like boonie chickens with our heads cut off, turns out it was much ado about nothing. Kong-rey has turned north and will leave Guam relatively unscathed. Maximum sustained winds are not expected to exceed 40 mph here.

Of course, our gain is Saipan's loss. The Eye of the Typhoon (hmm, sounds like a song), will pass directly over Saipan in about 18 hours. Keep them in your prayers. Kong-rey is a small typhoon, by recent standards, but winds are expected to top 110 mph and can still do significant damage.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Big Giant Voice

Big Giant Voice (hereinafter BGV) spoketh:

"COMNAVMAR is in Condition 3. High winds are expected in less than 48 hours. Remove all missile hazards from yards. Secure your personal property."

BGV is a loud speaker system that reaches all Navy housing across the entire island. The system itself is not that unusual, but the effect is seriously unsettling. There you are, working in your yard, thinking you are alone, when out of nowhere, this booming voice from the heavens begins to give you orders. I fear the operators of BGV may one day recognize the absolute power they have and begin to demand other things:
  • "Mow your lawn at least twice a month"
  • "Separate your trash from your recycables"
  • "Eat your vegetables. I'm watching you."

I also imagine what I would say if someone left the door to BGV unlocked:

  • "Bueller ... Bueller ... Bueller"
  • "And I say unto you, you shall mow the lawn and trim the hedges of your neighbor, especially that one bald guy who is a Navy lawyer"
  • Karaoke - "American Pie" - enough said

Cold Sushi and Warm Sake

Is there anything better than warm sake? I doubt it.

Mary K said, "Hey, let's go eat sushi tonight since we're not going to be able to for a few days." Why not? So, off we went to our favorite restaurant in Guam - Rotary Sushi. Actually, the real name is Super Kaiten Sushi Taiyro (Kaiten-Zushi is the Japanese term for conveyor belt sushi, Tairyo is Japanese for 'fish harvest'). You sit at a counter while a moving belt carries fresh sushi around the restaurant. See something you want, just grab it. Each plate is color-coded to indicate how much that particular dish costs - $1, $2, or $3. For a family of four, we spend about $60 each time we go.

Drew likes the salmon, whereas Anna likes the salmon roe. I stick to fish, mostly salmon, but sometimes white fish or tuna. Mary K - she eats anything. Just like Mikee.

The best part is the warm sake. I used to order it by saying "hot sake," but I kept getting "Asahi." (Say it to yourself, you'll understand.) My Japanese is terrible.

Anyway, the sake really mellows you out. Mary has to drive home every time, while I sit in the passenger seat and pontificate on how lucky we are to be living on a tropical island where we can enjoy strange foods and meet interesting people.

Kong-rey Cometh

Hatches battened? Check.
Generator tested? Check.
Fuel cans filled up? Check.
Candles and flashlights? Check.
Food and water stocked up? Check.
Beer stocked up? Ooops, be right back.

Looks like we will finally have an opportunity to use that emergency generator I purchased last year "just in case" a typhoon came through. We've been here for a year and three months and I thought we would never see one. But, Kong-rey (gotta love that name) is about 35 hours away and promises to bring winds over 100mph.

Yep, that's Guam under that menacing purple ampersand labeled 03/00Z, which means midnight Zulu time on 3 April.

We went to Typhoon COR 3 a few hours ago, and are staged to go to COR 1 tomorrow at 1400. Our base will be locked down then, and only necessary personnel will be allowed to move about. As a lawyer, I'm really not that important. Which means I'll be staying home, eating popcorn, and live-blogging what happens (if we keep power) .

As for Mary K, well, she is one of those important personnel, but is designated a COR 4 person, meaning she will stay home until the typhoon passes, then will be off to the hospital to relieve those that stood watch through the storm.

The kids think it is a big camping expedition. They are a little afraid, since no one knows what to expect, but they look forward to camping out in the living room, playing games by candlelight, and watching the typhoon pass overhead. All-in-all, should be an interesting experience for them. How many 6 or 8 year-olds do you know that have been through a typhoon? Well, a lot out here in the Western Pacific, actually.