Friday, June 29, 2007

Home Sweet Home! (Again)

I'm back! Morocco was a little better the second time. Fewer surprises and disappointments. And this time my computer stayed together and the software demo went off as planned. Even hear we did a better demo for lower cost software than the demo earlier in the day. Cool!

But now, even though it's a bit before 3 in the afternoon, I'm going to bed. Woke up at 4:30 this morning to pack, checkout, catch the 30 minute taxi to the airport and make my 7:50 flight. Make it I did, and now I feel as though I've already had a full day. I need a rest before heading into town for a full night.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hurry hurry, here we go again!

I don't have time to blog right now as I'm about to race off to the airport. Just finished packing and monthly bill paying and now I'm off to Morocco for another 3-days / 2-night stay.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I can't believe I'm enjoying this video so much!

I'm watching the DVD training video for the PADI Open Water Scuba Diver course. And I'm hooked! Instead of one of my new Hollywood blockbusters, or favourite comedies, I spent Saturday night eating tiramisu, sipping red wine, and watching diving videos. Hehe.

I bought two copies of this video yesterday. One is my Dad's. It will be his belated birthday gift. (68 years old and he's taking up diving again!) The other copy I hope to leave with Yann, my first perspective scuba student.

I won't be rereading the complete student manual. But these videos are great! I have an overwhelming desire to go out and take a beginner scuba course! Although perhaps I should teach it instead; given all the time, money and effort invested to that end.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Home, praise the LORD I'm home!

My flight, after multiple details (you saw them posted 'live' from the Vienna airport) got cancelled.

I returned from dinner and they told me at the (completely empty) gate that the flight was cancelled and that I'd have to go to the ticket sales window to perhaps rebook onto the 8:30 flight that was also delayed and perhaps not flying.

I walked through the airport, found the ticket sales window, and beheld the 200 other passengers in line in front of me. I stepped to the end and began to wait, when I suddenly remembered I had a number to call to reach the corporate travel agent!

I called and immediately booked onto one of the last seats of the 8:30 flight. But I was told by the agent that I had to go to the ticket sales counter in the airport. The one I was in line for at 8:20 which hadn't moved since 8:00. So I bolted. I went straight to the check-in counter and stood there in the much shorter line.

At the end of a long wait, I managed to be one of the last persons to pass the gate and board the bus to the plane. The plane with tons of empty seats. The airline didn't even bother to fill the plane with their stranded passengers, it took off as soon as the weather allowed. And I and about 6 other passengers from the cancelled flight were on it.

How do I know there was seven of us? Simple, none of us got our luggage and we all met up at the luggage claims off together. We'd spent hours in the airport(s) together, and none of us were happy... except for the little grin from the knowledge that we were some of the few who made it. Roughly 190 others are staying in Vienna tonight and for most that won't be good.

The luggage will probably return by tomorrow. Sunday at the latest. So I'll have my shoes and pants and shirts back soon. In the mean time, I'm home. And that is more than enough for a small grin.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Vienna has Starbucks!

Greetings from Vienna. It's just an airport. Just a typical flight delay. But unusually, there are two things here I wasn't expecting. Obviously (?) one is free wireless internet! Cool. The other is Starbucks! Very cool!

I don't have anything more to say about the airport. But since constant travel is becoming a recurring theme on this blog... might as well ennumerate the places I be at.

By the way, that's a Venti Cafe Mocha with half-fat and low-whip. It's been years and years since I've lived with Starbucks, but the classics never die.

Update: Thunderstorms, delayed arrivals, and power failures at Vienna airport are making life... slow. Thank goodness for real-time blogging and digital photography! As the board suggests, the flight may take off with one hour delay. But the attendants are actually telling us to return to the gate at 18:30 to get the latest info. Note the '?' after the time.

Updated update:
Uppitist date:
Fun fun fun!!!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I'm tired and I wanna go home

I haven't been in good health since Casablanca. Last weekend it was nasty. Now, well I'm getting better but I'm still not feeling well.

I should have slept in this morning. But I had a meeting scheduled for 8:30. I was in the shower at 8:00 when that got cancelled.

So I wasn't impressed when today's afternoon meeting went totally inside out. For starters, I was told my hotel was a ten minute walk from the meeting. Out the door, left, right, straight, left, left. Forty minutes of walking (dressed for business) in a humid 35C and I eventually found out it should have been right, right, straight, left, left.

Then in the meeting I discovered that the potential customer in question had not a single question related to things I know. He had questions on stuff other people handle and after I explained the process of how such things are handled we parted ways. 40 minutes of walking (and a 15 minute drive) to go to a 10 minute meeting. With a 15 minute walk back to the hotel after that.

I came in, ate a very late lunch, then slept for at least two hours.

Now I've just finished dinner and it's time for sleep again. Although it's not really time to sleep, I certainly could... and probably should. I've got The Wedding Crashers on DVD. I've seen it before, so if I choose I can simply click the remote and drift off.

At least I did have time to do last week's expense report (I need the money back!) and catch up on some (not all) of my emails. And I editted one of my pictures from yesterday. Check it out, the old upper city in Zagreb still uses gas lights to light the streets. And just around sunset yesterday I caught a picture of a man armed with a long pole running (jogging) through the streets; the gas lighter. Or is he the gas man? I don't know, his job hasn't existed any where I've ever been before. Still... cool job!

Now if you'll excuse me, they're about to launch the live music here in the hotel bar. I normally love live jazz, but my nose is running and my head hurts, so I'm about to flee.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Croatia is beautiful! Not 5 minutes from the airport I decided I like this place. It's green and lush, with old Mediterranean architecture, warm and sunny, and when I really need, everyone knows a bit of English.

And clearly any place with a licensed drinking establishment entirely devoted to J.R.R. and his writings has be to cool!

Not sure why. I just like the look of the streets. This ones a little dark as the sun was near setting.

And believe it or not, I was walking down the street (taking pictures of graffiti) when I spotted Sneaky the dragon! What are the odds???

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Beautiful Weekend

This was a really nice weekend. It started with a chat to an exciting new friend, and ended with a dragon!Born at the Franklin Mint, and originally adopted by Quilly, he's going to come live in Europe for a while. His magic blue crystal seems to inspire people pondering moves to magical tropical blue places.

Alas, I still have packing, and prep for packing to do. But I instead fit in a weekend with friends and errands and shopping and cleaning and lots and lots of laundry. So packing feels like something that can still wait.

I hope I've got internet access through the week in Croatia. I'm looking forward to more chats.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Allergies makes for better home care.

It's sad but true. I keep my home clean because too much dust kills me. I would happily use dust piles to leave notes for my roommate (like," Clean Me") but I can't. I can't wait.

In Morocco something hit my allergies harder than I expected. And I wasn't taking the daily medicine that takes 3 days to fully work. So by the time I had spent some time at home, in the dust that has built up in the past month of travel, my head was completely blocked. I looked sick, yesterday at work. And I was going to get sicker if I didn't attack the dust bunny army.

And I was going to get sicker if I did attack the dust.

But today I braved it. It takes a long time to get all the window blinds. Twenty three million tiny horizontal slats; each laughing with the certainty I wouldn't have the patience to clean them all. They laugh no longer.

The army of dust morphed into an air force, and certainly did it's best to attack from all directions. But today was a cool humid stormy day, with strong windows. The brief rays of sunshine showed my enemies being lifted up to and out the window with remarkable efficiency.

But with hardship comes reward. My place is shiny! (Largely due to the roommates absence, but...) And I can intermittently hear through my left ear. Lovely! My head is clearing. Clearing through my nose; but clearing.

I'll wake up tomorrow and be thankfully for the price paid today.

Home Sweet Home

And once again, the best part of the trip is, coming home.

Seeing all my friends (Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday night) is a bonus. Although sleep would be good too. (Joby isn't in town, so it hasn't been that late.)

FYI, the food in Morocco was so good, I lost more than one kilogram in just 3 days. I was exploring the new culture by fasting?

Alas, now I have to tend to the laundry inorder to be packed Sunday night.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Casablanca! Fun like a root canal.

Greetings from Casablanca! An ancient oasis in northern Africa's deserts; this is a land rich with history, culture, ancient buildings, modern luxuries and so much more. Which makes me wonder why my time here so far has been about fighting with computer software.

While still in the airport in Amsterdam I started to get "bad vibes" about this trip. It might have been the flight attendant who emphatically told me to watch my wallet and where I was after dark. Or perhaps it was the dutch lady working security at the airport who, in response to "I'm going to Casablanca", laughed and said "Better you than me!" It probably had nothing to do with my roommate's story of how two Dutch tourists were murdered here last week.

Of all the things I was told to expect (having my passport confiscated, having customs officers demand bribes, and more) my only real problem was getting charged dramatically over the usual taxi fare from the airport to the hotel. The moment the man in the airport walked up and said "You need taxi?" I knew what was going to happen.

Strangely enough, the customer I'm here to work with was also standing at the airport waiting to drive me to the hotel. He emailed as such about the time my plane was taking off.
Within minutes of arriving at the hotel, the customer did to. I literally had no time at all before I was in their small office working away through the evening.

But while I'm happy to work nights, my laptop apparently is not.

I'm here to demonstrate software. We sat down, discussed how the demonstration should go, and I started working. But something was funny with the software. So I started again. Then things got really weird with the software. So I started again, and then the software don't run AT ALL! Hmmm, not a good sales demo if I can only produce error messages.

I returned to their offices this morning and tried again. No better. A flurry of mobile phone calls from Morocco to Holland and England produced no happy results. Our software troubleshooters simply recognized the problems I was describing as "serious".

We had a three hour demonstration/meeting scheduled for 2pm this afternoon. We cancelled the meeting around 1pm.

And it gets worse. I have exactly one working day in Holland to have my laptop hard drive backed-up, re-imaged, install Oracle, have the software reloaded, and so much more before I catch a plane Monday morning to do "another" customer demo in Croatia. Yeah flippin right!!! Any one of those steps is a half day to a day.

But while the business purpose of this trip has been a TOTAL write off, it hasn't been a total loss. For example, I've now been to Africa, I've experienced a bit of French (a long lost language to me), and have tried a wide variety of truly terrible foods. (At least I tried.)

Tonight (it's around 5pm now) I think I'll watch CNN all night. I can't justify an expensive dinner out, or a long taxi trip to the centre of the old city. Not when the business purpose was such a failure. And frankly, after riding a few local taxi cabs, I'm not sure the idea of a one-hour trip into town would be physically tolerable. My cab this morning had windows that didn't roll down, and no seat belts. On the bright side, the 15 minute trip cost roughly $1.40 for which I paid the driver $2 out of pity. (The ride from the airport cost me $30... oops.)

Oh, and perhaps a bit of email and blogging tonight? This blog has been pre-written offline to save time on my 60 minutes of WiFi access.

How is it that $20 worth of taxi costs $1.40 but normally-free hotel internet is over $10 per hour?

Thankfully, in about 12 hours, it's time to wake up (5am) and head to the airport for my 7:50am flight home. Sure, I have to go into the office and start "fixing" my laptop, but right now any where in Holland would feel like home. Wish me luck.

One last note: From my current vantage (through my hotel room window) I've been watching people get on and off the city buses. But I haven't seen a bus come to a stop yet. The bus slows to a crawl and people run along and jump into the bus while it's moving. This observation feels some how analogous to my whole experience in Morocco.

Monday, June 11, 2007

All booked!

The weather in Casablanca, Morocco:

Uhm, what? I thought I was going to a north African desert in the summer time. Apparently not? I know Casablanca is right on the coast, but wow. 90210 weather. And by the time the rain arrives on Friday, I'll be back home and well rested.

It turns out my reason for going is a 2pm meeting on Wednesday. So definitely not more than 3 hours, and probably 2 hours long or less. I've got Tuesday evening and Wednesday to explore. And while I have to be up early Thursday for my flight, at least I'll be home (and done work for the day) early.

Oh, and the Croatia flights are now booked too!

In both cases the hotels are efficient for business, not tourist pleasure. But it'll be nice to at least have been to two exciting new destinations. Camels probably won't figure prominently. Neither will diving. But if nothing else, it's about 7 working days out of 10 that I won't have to be in the office!

The Joby Story Part 2 and the Birthday Weekend

That was a lovely weekend! It started hectic, and a few times I just wanted to give up all plans and sleep, but I'm glad I didn't.

Friday I went to the Scuba Center's swimming pool (Floraparkbad) and had a great time! It took the whole evening to logistically fit in 55 minutes in the pool. But I think I'll be doing that a lot of Thursday/Friday nights over the summer and fall. The pool is really nice and big, and fully 3.5m deep. There's room for more than one class at a time and still some left over for people to practice and play.

I've already got it planned out that I'm going to teach a refresher course to my friend Adam, and a bouyancy course to Carlos from work. Then they are both interested in a Rescue Diver course which I can teach including the CPR. Even if that takes the whole summer, afterwards I'll have two enthusiastic divers who may make good divemaster candidates. They'll thus be able to help out with courses I teach in the fall.

And I met some nice divers, at least one of whom was positively thrilled by the skills practices we did underwater. He hasn't had dive gear on for three years and now feels way more confident about taking up the sport again.

So after a lot of walking around town lugging my dive gear Friday night, it was easy to sleep in Saturday. And good thing too, since I ended up not getting home until 4am Saturday night.

I met up with Joby about 9pm Saturday. I waited at Centraal Station while his train came in from the airport then we went down the street (just a little) to his new apartment in Dam square. The heart of Amsterdam!

As we walked, I couldn't get a clear understanding of how close his apartment was to the square. Was it one street away? Two? Down which side alley? But when I saw it I understood. His living room is looking directly out onto the square. He's RIGHT there.

A few years ago such a place (fully furnished) would have bankrupted small countries. Some how his wife (C.) managed to negotiate a rent only a bit higher than what I'm paying out in the 'burbs. Their place small, but not tiny. The ceilings are high, the moldings are all finely detailed and the finishes (paint, wallpaper, marble surfaces) are all excellent. Nice!

So I met up with Joby and C. in their new place. C.'s resume was on her laptop. She's currently looking for work to avoid going crazy sitting in a small apartment waiting for Joby to come back. We went out (along with my friend Humaira) and drank for what became hours. We closed a patio at 2am, and a bar at 3am. I think C. was happy to get out, talk to people, and get a feel for her new town. And I *think* Joby was chomping at the bit to party. But C. holds his leash well. Hopefully this means no more earth shaking hangovers just 'cause Joby's in town.

Sunday was more mellow. I didn't really even start my day until 5pm. I met up with friends in town (they twisted my arm) and had a much more mellow and slower evening than Saturday night. Gezellig.

I didn't feel the energy to do anything, when I got a call Sunday afternoon to go out, but I'm glad I got up and went. Sometimes special moments can make your whole weekend, and this weekend I had three such examples.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Joby Story (part 1)

Joby is an enigma. Someone beyond full describability. And suddenly, he's practically a neighbour too! What, who, how?!? This is going to be fun!

I've known Joby as long as I've been working in telecommunications. He was there on my first day of work, and I've worked with him on a number of contracts since then, including many months in the U.S. last year. We have a tendency to work too hard then relax over drinks.

Some time ago I blogged about the weekend Joby came by for the weekend. I remember the wild weekend and the intense hangover afterwards. I don't think that Russian vodka was right.

So while away on vacation for two weeks, I find out that Joby has not only picked the country he's moving to, but he now has an apartment in Dam Square... the heart of tourist Amsterdam. It'll be his home base from which he travels and explores other countries. Joby does business trips almost to the same level most people do dinner. Almost every day.

But tonight he's flying in to "home" and he and I will go out and have a few drinks.

At first I had no idea if his wife was with him or not. She had just been offered a new job elsewhere and they were considering keeping two households, as they have done often thus far. But an SMS earlier today mentioned that she's in town already. I can't wait to find out the rest of the story. Are they both here? Part-time here? What is my friend up to and what are his plans? And better still, what's this new place he's living in???

Tonight we get drunk and hear the details. Those will have to wait for The Joby Story part 2.

Kus me, ik ben jarig!

In Holland the birthday celebrant is expected to organize their own birthday. You throw the party and invite everyone. You bring your coworkers cake and treats on your birthday, etc.. So unlike in North America, I think its acceptable here to say," It's my birthday!"

In fact, a popular Dutch phrase is "Kus me, ik ben jarig." "Kiss me, it's my birthday." I'll have to try this tonight. >:-)

I must admit though, I'm actually feeling a year older today. I took my complete dive gear (including lead weights) on a one-hour public transit mystery tour to the pool. The pool was awesome and the people I met were fun! But the muscles I pulled getting there will haunt me for days.

Thanks to Anonymous (yeah right) and Irene who had birthday wishes posted before I myself was awake and posting. Very kind! And I should thank FaceBook too, as it automatically notified a ton of other people who also sent wishes.

Thanks all!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Okay, June is full.

Wow, it didn't take too long for life to get busy again. I'm still waking up jetlagged and tired each morning, but that hasn't stopped my schedule from filling up.

Tonight I'm off to the pool. My first outing with Scuba Center Amsterdam. They'll bring a tank, I'll bring all my equipment, and for one hour tonight I'll be playing in the rented pool. Very cool! The only trouble is, I should just barely have enough time to get home from work, get my gear packed, and get on a bus for the 45 minute trip to the pool.

But that's not busy. Real busy is the business travelling that my employer wants me to do. London's trip is cancelled. For me. The boss will be there next week, but I was to stay in Holland. Now suddenly (Thursday night after 5pm) a customer *needs* someone there Tuesday for a meeting.

So suddenly I'm flying to Casablanca next Tuesday, returning Wednesday night or Thursday.

The week after I will be three days in Zagreb Croatia. I thought the Croatia trip, planned earlier this week, was a short notice thing. But I guess we're trying to explore new definitions for "last minute". Who plans international business meetings with two working days notice?!?

Worst of all, I'd love to have time to dive and relax in these places. But with short 2-3 day trips, and my credit cards still being warm from Bonaire, diving isn't practical. *sigh*

So I think I should enjoy my weekend at home. Because I'm going to be travelling most of the next month.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Scuba Center Amsterdam

This is going very nicely! When I landed in Amsterdam with my new PADI certification in hand, I didn't just sit back and stare at it in wonder. I managed to hit the ground running (or at least, rolling quickly enough as to keep some speed up.)

So Monday I wrote my "diving CV". A chopped up version of my normal resume, the heading "Diving Experience" takes precidence over my education and my past jobs. And the last 7 jobs have been grouped into a heading called "engineening career".

I don't actually have a lot of diving experience. Or very high credentials. So personal sales will be the thing here.

That's why Tuesday I emailed my new CV to my nearest PADI dive shop and then last night dropped in there to meet and talk. I arrived at 6:40. The shop closes at 7pm. We talked until 8:30 or so. Very cool!

Laszlo, the owner, seemed almost negative because he doesn't have need for any more instructors until (get this) July. LOL! July sounds like "right away" to me.

But even better, Laszlo deals a lot of independant instructors who use his shop resources to teach students they find themselves. And this is something I was looking for. He has price lists all drawn up, showing pool times, equipment rental prices, prices for books and DVDs and PADI paperwork and applications.

So if I want to take a friend diving in the pool some Wednesday or Friday night, all I have to do is call the shop that afternoon. If I want to teach people an entire course, I can plan pool sessions weeks in advance. And when someone needs a book to study from, they're sitting in the shop. No ordering over a website required!

So perhaps I can start right away?!? I just need my first victim to sign up and we can do a private class between now and the end of June. Then hopefully, if I can certify an average of four divers a month for 6 months, I'll be a speciality instructor by the end of the year.

My classmates from the Bonaire course will have their first 25 certified students in no time flat. I'll have to work all year and perhaps longer. But 25 is significant as this is the number required to "self-certify" in certain specialities. For example, deep diving, night diving, navigation, dry suit diving and perhaps one or two others are specialities I can already qualify for... save for the lack of 25 certifications. Once I have 5 such specialities I can move past speciality instructor and reach master scuba diver instructor (MSDT). This is the median point.

Just about every instructor out there is an MSDT. It's an easy level to reach. It doesn't pay any better than a humble OWSI, but it makes it easier to get the preferred job. They can teach more and thus are more marketable.

So that's the next step. Get as many students certified as possible.

And now that I've been to Scuba Center, I'm thinking this isn't such an impossible dream.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Handicapped Scuba Association

The HSA is focused on helping handicapped divers to enjoy scuba. One way to deal with all the disabled people in society would be to line them up along the river and dump them in. And apparently they love it! (Provided we fit them with scuba equipment first.)

Like all good organizations, there are multiple levels. "Normal" divers are trained to handle special needs and are classed by how much they've learned. In some cases, a handicap on land is no handicap at all in the water. In other cases, two trained HSA diving assistants tend every need of a handicapped (e.g. quadriplegic) diver.

Last week I went diving with a German man named Honas. He is a polio victim and on land he needs two crutches to slowly move himself along. Underwater, however, Honas has no handicap. Instead of fins on his feet, he uses gloves with webbed fingers and swims with his arms. And believe it or not, he can get up to quite a pace! While enjoying a recreational dive, he actually moved along more quickly than I would on my own.

Honas can't walk with scuba gear on his back. So like many divers he enters the water then dons his gear; doffing it before he exits again. The only help he required was getting the equipment up and down the stairs from the dock.

Now that I've been diving with Honas I understand the full extent of his diving handicap. He can't get an off-the-rack wetsuit to fit. The size differences between his legs, for example, are such that no wetsuit will keep him as warm or protected as a custom fit would. But other than that, I just couldn't see any disability or handicap. At least not once underwater!

Where else can a challenging adventure sport bring so many different people together, and make them all equals?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Instructor's Creed

As written on the back of my shiny new PADI Instructor's Certificate, the Instructor's Creed:

As a scuba instructor I have the opportunity to see:
  • Fear changed to courage.
  • Faint-heartedness converted into accomplishment.
  • Timidity transformed into confidence.
  • Anticipation turned into a passion.
As a scuba instructor I can:
  • Open hearts and minds to the hidden beauty of nature's creation and our obligation to protect it.
  • Foster self-esteem in another person.
  • Teach the value of character and integrity.
  • Tranform another human being and change a life for the better and forever.
I'm Back!!!

I arrived in this morning at 4:45am. Due to a fairly late 7am arrival home I've decided to fight the impending jet lag by simply (?) staying awake to a normal schedule. I'll be wiped out by the time I go to bed tonight. It's been a really busy two weeks, but I've had so much fun, learned so much, done so many exciting things, underwater, that I don't expect to do much today any how. Rest is the only order of business. Perhaps unpacking, which I've already started. The laundry is disgusting! Everything smells of a mix of salt water, sweat, bug spray, suntan lotion and aloe.

But that hardly matters! I passed the 8-day course and the 2-day exam, and got my OWSI certificate! (Open Water Scuba Instructor) I got in a few days of beautiful relaxing diving on Bonaire and a lot of rigidly regimented, physically-challenging, always-stressful instrutor's training and testing dives.
We made the local paper! My class, Jinny, Zsuzsanna and I were presented with certifcates from the resort (Capt Don's of course) as well as from PADI. The local language is Papiamento. Appearing is Jack Chalk (GM at Habitat) and Kyle my Course Director (our trainer). The article describes how Jinny is only the second Antillean woman to become an instructor. The bottom left photo is Jenny (the first instructor) and Jinny.

A lot of people worked hard just to make sure the course went forth. Three is a really small number for an instructor examiner to fly in for two days. Thanks Jack! Habitat is by far my first pick/choice on Bonaire.

At the end of it all, foremost on my mind are the purely recreational dives I made after graduation*. (*Graduation was a drinking festival of tropical island proportions.) I don't think even my best dives in November and December compared to how little air I used and how smooth and easy everything felt when underwater. Unlike the training dives, where I was accustomed to returning either a completely full or empty tank. One day involved 5 hours of training geared up and in the water. We spent so much time bobbing around my whole face was burned (just dark now) inspite of waterproof 30 sunblock. But it was all so much fun!

I didn't meet as many divers as I did on the last trip, of course due to all the class time, but the people I did meet are now my friends. I know most if not all of us will meet agian. That makes it easier to say good-bye to paradise.

It's nice to be home.