Sunday, July 27, 2008

0807271400 Mission to the Trade Commission.

0807271400 Mission to the Trade Commission.

My friend Alvan Ormsby is an interesting chap. He works as a computer programmer for a company called Meridian Systems that writes software for emergency services. Seeing as he is in Hong Kong on holiday, he decided to arrange a meeting with the good people at the Hong Kong office of Trade Queensland to see what was needed to expand into China. I tagged along to show him where the office is located and seeing that I had nothing planned I thought that I might be able to help by taking some notes during the meeting. That seemed to be the extent of my role – show Alvan where to go and then keep quiet. This is his project and his job – just don’t stuff anything up. I have been to meetings with Ericsson and Alcatel where contracts, livelihoods and dollar values using the sort of numbers common to astronomers were at stake, but this was different, these people are my friends, I actually care about them.

The meeting was with Angela To, the Deputy Commissioner for Trade Queensland and Mandy Shing, the Business Development Manager. The office overlooked the Hong Kong harbour and was adorned with pictures of the trade commissioner with famous people from Queensland industries and past, present and I dare say future Premiers of Queensland.

We were not kept waiting long before introductions were over and the Deputy Commissioner went straight to the point. Why were we there, what did we want and how can we show her exactly what it is that we are doing. She mentioned that she had just arrived from Queensland that morning, so she must have left Brisbane at midnight and been on a late night flight. She was in no mood to be stuffed around by a bunch of amateurs. Her time was clearly precious. I was notably quiet during the exchange of business cards and this was explained that mine were not ready yet.

“What is the scope of the product, who are your current clients, what customer references do you have?” asked the Deputy Commissioner, obviously calling on years of business management experience and expecting an answer in a similar caliber.

It was soon apparent to the Deputy Commissioner and the Business Development Manager that Alvan had done some impressive research into the Hong Kong fire service in preparation for the meeting and he was there for advice on what to do next as part of a wider plan to expand into Asia. He explained how the Hong Kong Fire Service compared to the Queensland Fire Service and that Meridain Systems have been working with the Queensland Fire Service for the last ten years or so. The Deputy Commissioner seemed visibly relaxed when she recognized that Alvan was representing a company that has a real and viable possibility to be as big as Mincom. It was not long before Meridian Systems being mentioned favorably in the same sentences as Mincom, Octopus card and IBM.

Alvan clearly demonstrated his knowledge and passion for the product. He was excited and animated when he explained how this version of the emergency services software was a step up from the automated paper of the first generation. This version uses maps instead of addresses and displays the incident information with animated location cards similar to Monopoly title deeds.

It takes more than a fair bit of effort to pique a woman’s interest in computer programming, but that is exactly what Alvan achieved with his lively and enthusiastic explanation.
“Do you have a working demonstration?” asked the Deputy Commissioner showing more than a little interest. Alvan looked at me and I looked at him – no we didn’t. I noted it down that he needs to make a working demonstration and have it ready by the time China and Hong Kong are no longer distracted by the Olympics.
“Do you have a representative in Hong Kong?”, came the next question – well, once again Alvan looked at me and I looked at him as if to say “Sure I’ll help out where I can” we will discuss the details later.

“What is David’s role?” asked the Deputy Commissioner for Trade Queensland.
“I’m a technician” was my modest reply.
“He has been working for Telstra for 15 years” added Alvan.
“Oh that’s good - It is very important that there is local support.” – came more welcome advice from the Business Development Manager while taking note.

They made a few assumptions about my role because they kept adding to my “job description” as the meeting progressed. I had automatically been included in meetings with the Hong Kong Fire Services and IBM in China. The next part was unexpected – they started to offer money. It seems that a Queensland company can apply for a grant to expand into other parts of the world that are not Queensland. This was the part of the meeting when I started to say “we” when I mentioned Meridian Systems.

The meeting ended with Angela To, the Deputy Commissioner for Trade Queensland and Mandy Shing, the Business Development Manager happily offering, volunteering, actually telling us that they are now be the marketing department in Hong Kong for Meridian Systems.

Alvan left the meeting very happy and excited saying that it was more than he had expected. It was more than I had expected. We went to a nearby restaurant for a strawberry milkshake to collect our thoughts and discuss the future.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

08072200 Beijing compared to Paris

Carolyn had a visit from one of her teacher friends from Hong Kong. She is also on holiday in Paris and so Carolyn went off with Hugo on the bike tour of Paris.

I took a break from our usual routine and stayed home and had a relaxing nap until three in the afternoon. This strange sleep patern is caused by the combined effects of jet-lag, time zone disruption, holiday sleep-in, daylight saving and the northern hemisphere summer where the sun does not set until ten o'clock. The result of being effected by these numerous phenomenons is that we are all askew with our internal clocks. We have kids up at midnight having breakfast and we have lunch together at four PM. On some mornings I get up before everyone, at about ten o'clock, and go to the local bakery. When they wake up there are fresh baguettes, so fresh that sometimes they are still warm, that we all have with our breakfast. I have been for a few long walks around the Paris suburbs to get familiar with the place and look at scooters. I have decided to get a Vespa.

I have noticed a few things about a few places that I have been: Here is an over-generalised comparison between Beijing and Paris.

Traffic in Beijing vs traffic in Paris

Monuments to great people in history in Beijing vs monuments to great people on history in Paris.

Kids playing in the park in Beijing vs kids playing in the park in Paris.

Bicycles parked on the street in Beijing compared to bicycles parked on the street in Paris.

A couple out for a bike ride together in Beijing compared to a couple out for a bike ride in Paris.

Here is a small section of court-yard in the Forbidden City in Beijing. The Chinese designed the surface to have a rough texture to provide traction for the horses.
Here is a small section of court-yard in the Castle Amboise in France.The French designed the surface to have a rough texture to provide traction for the horses..

Police in Beijing compared to Police in Paris. The police in Beijing use modern vans capable of transporting eight troops to the scene in a swift and efficient manner.
The police in Paris use modern vans capable of transporting eight troops to the scene in a swift and efficient manner.

Here is picture of Hugo standing in the political center of China - all distances to other places are taken from this point - it is in their spiritual centre called the Temple of Heaven.
Here is a picture of Hugo standing in the political centre of Paris - all distances to other places are taken from this point - it is in their spiritual centre, a church called Notre Dame.

If I was in charge of a country, and when you hear this it will be obvious why I'm not, I would make it a rule that before a candidate could be the Prime Minister, he or she would have to go on world trip and work for a month in at least six different countries, any six will do, and see for themselves that the only real difference between people is the sound they make when they speak.

Here are few of the TED talks that I watched today.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

0807052030 “Parisian Buying Jambone“

0807052030 “Parisian Buying Jambone“

The Louvre Museum in Paris have knowledgeable tour guides that can tell an hour-long story for every picture, statue and artifact for each of the museum’s thousands of exhibits. I have been getting used their style.

This is one of my pictures of the day, I call it:

“Parisian Buying Jambone“.
What the camera cannot convey here is the delicious aroma of the ham, potato salad, olives and fragrant Mediterranean fare. It is the welcoming waft that accompanies a happy family reunion at Christmas.

Our scene depicts a distinguished Parisian gentleman dressed in clean comfortable smart attire that suggests he is not wanting for the necessities of life. The style of his clothes suggests that he may have a military background and has planned to visit the local markets for his regular casual and relaxed search for a satisfying meal at a bargain price. The picture shows him stopped at a colourful, vibrant delicatessen arrayed with a bewildering selection of summer salads from all over the world. The wide range of products on offer is typified by the ox tongues in the foreground. The green reflection on either side of the ox tongues highlights that this particular item is different, out of the ordinary, they certainly belong with the other fine products but are considered different. They are shown escaping their boundary, spilling out of their tray as if they choose to behave in a manner contrary to the order around them.

Our Parisian gentleman is shown leaning forward in eager anticipation of receiving his hefty handful of exotic Jambone. We can see his aged, chubby finger pressed so hard that the last joint of his finger is pushed out of alignment as it is forced against the cold hard glass in an effort to indicate to the shopkeeper that he would really like that, no that, exact piece of ham. His gaze is fixed upon the object of his desire, while his expression shows a mild concern, perhaps impatience. The dutiful shopkeeper skilfully balances the order of exotic ham in one hand while calling upon her years of experience to efficiently estimate its weight.

The shopkeeper is wearing a plain white pinafore of starched, crisp cotton indicating efficient, almost ruthless cleanliness as does the spotless glass of the display cabinet while the glass reflects the summer sun over Paris giving the scene an airy light ambiance. The shopkeeper’s jewelery is modest and yet conveys that she, and by association her delicatessen, have good taste and traditional refinement.

There is a mutual respect between the two that is indicated by the framing of the picture - our subjects are framed so that one is neither above nor below the other - they are framed as equals. There is a bond or an affinity between the Parisian customer and the shopkeeper. They both have wise worldly experience, an understanding and a passion for the delightful fare on display.

The picture is balanced on one side of the counter with our robust and rounded Parisian against the several disproportionately large wholesale-sized cured salamis on the shopkeeper’s side.
The delicatessen disappears into the distance towards the left indicating that this is a typical routine that is ‘endless’ ongoing and timeless.

This is the style of explanation delivered by the wonderful tour guides for every exhibit the Louvre.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

0807032330 Alex’s 18th Birthday Dinner.

0807032330  Alex’s 18th Birthday Dinner.

Alex has been a man for a while, and now, according to local time, he is ‘legally’ a man. It has been almost a year since Alex has demonstrated his manliness by living away from home while finishing his final year at school and driving solo in an all expenses paid Ford Falcon.

Parenthood has a distinct and defining point where it all begins - there is an urgent rush to the hospital so the parents can be in time for the anxious 27 hour wait during labour, but after the fairly dramatic start, significant events seem to fade out.  As a parent I cannot remember the last time that I tied a bib on a kid before a meal.  I cannot remember the last time that I picked a kid up from school nor can I remember the last time I packed a school lunch.  I wonder if I would regard these everyday events as a special occasion if I had known that I was doing it for the last time?

My mother, who died a long slow horrible coughing death because of smoking, tried to remember the last time when all her children were in the same place at the same time.  As my mother remembers it, there was an insignificant everyday family dinner with eight people sitting around a small round kitchen table eating burned chops and three veg in a housing commission house in a small Victorian town where my dad sold second-hand tractors.
There was no ceremony, no speech, no last goodbye and no awareness that this family meal time was anything other than yet another ordinary meal at the end of another long line of insignificant days.

Alex is now eighteen and soon he will going off on his own fabulous adventure to BYU.  We will only see him on special occasions.  The family meal together will become a special occasion simply because Alex will be home.  To mark this particularly special auspicious occasion we had a family dinner together at the restaurant on the Eiffel Tower.  

The kids loved the whole evening. They were all so happy and laughing and, this is the clever bit, so well mannered and polite at the same time.  

There is a certain age, a turning point, when a parent loses creative control of a child.  That point is when they can speak.  Alex, this new man sitting with the family at the table, talked about his views on US politics, his observations on the customs of his friends from the US, China and Australia.  The kids were talking and agreed that it is highly probable that within the next five years Alex will be married.

Sunrise, sunset.  Tevye, I am starting to know what you mean.

We all had a great time.  The meal was superb.

The Meal.
Amuse Bouche
Main Course.  
Dessert.  Cheesecake.

Our happy waiter.
The waiter was delightful.  He really enjoyed working at the Eiffel Tower.  He laughed and joked with Hugo about the availability of chocolate dessert and he talked to Rachel Ruby in French.
At the end of the meal, we asked for the bill for the drinks - the waiter replied in a happy French accent and with a comical dismissive shrug ‘comme ceci comme ca’ (‘its OK’ it doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it’.)  It was if the restaurant was not going to demean itself by asking us to pay for a few miserly bottles of lemonade.

Our family now consists of two parents, one boy, one girl and one man.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

0807012330 - Scooters

Paris is full of scooters. Here a few scooters that zoomed passed me today. I have been looking forward to a new motorbike ever since that dreaded day when a big white movingvan carrying my K1200S disappeared into the distance leaving me alone and motorbikeless.

First up, here is a mess of thoughts :I used to have a motorbike and I would like to have another. I live in Hong Kong where the entire island is a 60 km/h zone. I have a regular job and so I need to get to work everyday. Although I am quite happy to take Hong Kong’s magnificent MTR to the Kowloon side, I would also like to be able to ride from Stanley into the city and be able to explore Hong Kong on weekends. I do not need, nor would I like to have, another sport/touring bike like a BMW K1200S while I live in Hong Kong. Riding a sport bike at 50km/h would be torture - I don’t know why anyone in Hong Kong would buy a Ferrari and have to idle that V12 engine around in second gear.
Choosing my next bike is a problem that I am very happy to have. The process of figuring out the code used by BMW for describing the engine and model was entertaining and after about an hour in the BMW showroom I had a good idea of what I wanted. I have gone through a similar process finding a new Scooter. Research into my next trusty steed began in a slow progressive way, first simply noticing what scooters were available and then looking for a scooter that had that certain special something - one that looked good. I did a Google image search for scooters just to see what I liked then I applied these simple principles:
Step one - clear my mind of all motorcycle prejudices.
Step two - disregard external opinions, I am buying a motorbike for me.
Step three - consider everything, even if only briefly, even if it is a scooter.
Step four - I am a contracted Native English Teacher with a limited income.
I gradually dwindled the list of possible bikes down to four scooters for serious consideration.
The Yamaha TMax 500, the Gilera Nexus 500, the Piaggio MP3 or the Vespa GTS 250ie.
I really liked the 2007 Yamaha TMax but Yamaha made a few style changes that I believe appeal to a different demographic. I just didn't like the 2008 model because of changes the wheel design from a sporty alloy to an all black cast metal style that makes the Tmax look cheap and agricultural. A simple silver rim would have clinched the deal for Yamaha. The Gilera Nexus 500 - why get a scooter that looks like a sports bike? Why not just get the sport bike? Nice scooter. The Piaggio MP3 - very interesting front end - that amazing three wheel setup is a work of a genius. A three wheeled bike that tips over - why didn’t anyone think of that before.
I am seriously considering a Vespa. The Vespa GTS 250ie with ABS. Blue, maybe silver-grey like my old K1200S, the old standard issue Ford Falcon and the old Hyundai.
The Vespa was designed by an aeronautical engineer who did not like motorbikes. Seriously - the story is all here.

0807011830 A Parisian Barber.

I had a haircut in Paris today. We found a nearby barber and after discovering that it is not open on Monday, I returned at a reasonable time of nine in the morning only to find that he is not open until ten. When I returned at the reasonable time of ten in the morning I stepped into the fine Parisian barbershop resplendent with two barber chairs that may have been used by Louise VII himself. There was one customer settling his account and in a few minutes I had the place to myself and the full attention of two Parisian barbers. “Do you have an appointment?“ was one of the questions. “I am sorry, I do not have an appointment”The Parisian barber looked at his magnificent leather bound appointment book and told me that I could have a haircut at four o’clock on Wednesday. “On Wednesday?” I said with surprise as my question echoed through the empty customer-less fourteenth century barber shop.I figured that this must be how barbers work in Paris, he has been a barber for years and this seems to be a successful formula. Turn away a customer because he does not have an appointment. I suppose it keeps out the riffraff. I left the fourteenth century barbershop with its two idle barbers, to wait for the next customer to keep his appointment.
I continued my solo exploration of Paris. The job of exploring is so much easier when solo - I can, walk at my own pace and look at scooters and other shops that capture my attention. I saw a shop that filled me with fear - it was a shop that sold shoes to clowns.
There a few words that I have picked up in French and one of them is “coiffeur” - the rough translation is “the person that can give you a haircut”. I started a random search of the local area - I am in no hurry, I am on holiday. I stumbled on to a coiffeur while taking a photo of a particularly interesting Vespa. Among the jumble of foreign words that I can not understand was “masculine” - that applies to me - this place does blokes.
I stepped inside and greeted the manageress in French and she seemed less hostile than the previous barber. Of all the languages that I have tried to learn, there is one that has baffled me - it is the language of hairdressers. It seems to me that no matter how hard I have tried to tell them that I wanted “short back and sides” they have all had a different interpretation. I have tried pointing to photos and although that approach helped a bit, the result sometimes looked like I was wearing Leonardo DeCaprio’s toupee. I have found it easier to show the hairdresser a photo of me with my preferred hairdo. I can now be assured that this technique works in at least three counties.
Things that I thought would be the same, but turned out different. Instead of wrapping me in a cape, the Parisian Coiffure used an interesting kind of smock with sleeves - which meant that I had the freedom to point at things and make hand gestures when speaking. They also used what I can only describe as a type of lead collar that is used by x-ray technicians. The purpose of which I can only guess.
The manageress described the delicate and complicated process of giving a customer a number one clipper cut to her young apprentice who dutifully said “Oui Madam’ regularly and often.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

0806301800 Paris - some odd things in pictures.

0806301800 Paris - some odd things in pictures.

I saw this guy letting his kid ride his Yamaha TMax 500 by sitting behind him and letting his kid steer - come to think of it, all the controls are on the handlebars so the kid really was in control.

This is the spiral staircase that leads to the top of the Arc de Triumph.

This is the view of the CBD of Paris from the top of the Arc de Trumph. it seems to me that the Parisians built a new modern city away from all the old tourists attractions so that they could get their work done without battling their way through crowds of camera wearing visitors all day.

This is me on top of the Arc de Triumph looking at the Eiffel Tower - it is a typical been-there-done-that picture.