Saturday, March 25, 2006
So, after the post below, I just started idly wandering around the lounge looking for one of those flight status boards. No rush, I knew I had time. When I couldn't find one, I decided to go out to the gate area to look for one, again, taking my sweet time.
As it happened, my gate was directly across from the door of the airport lounge. When I exited, I looked at the gate, which had a big sign that said "Final Boarding." There was a man at the gate getting ready to shut it off. I ran up to him to confirm that indeed they were about to leave. Yikes!!! I ran back to my little corner of the lounge, slammed my laptop shut and ran to the gate where they closed the door behind me. Close call.
I'm now at LAX, happy to be back in the USA.
It was an amazing trip. For those who enjoyed the touristy stuff at the beginning of this travelogue, sorry I had to slip into a lot of FH business. But, given the fact that the company paid the significant expense of the trip, you'll understand why I had to actually do work.
Asia is an extraordinary place and I do hope to find ways to continue to be involved in the region. It is clearly very foreign in may ways, but it is remarkable how similary many of their challenges are. I was amazed to read in the paper on the way to the airport about the legislation pending in China that would criminalize unauthorized domestic spying. And listening to the local people who spoke to us in Beijing gave new meaning, really new meaning, to the phrase "All politics is local." Even in undemocratic societies, the opinion of the public matters and cannot be ignored.
That bodes well for the business I'm in.
I will return to ranting about George Bush and the Republicans after I get over my jet lag.
But it is clearly the most awesome of the four cities I visited. It is simply breaktaking in its scale. Vast numbers of high rise apartment buildings, a skyline that I believe beats out New York, an energy and confidence that is pervasive. The word that came to mind while driving in was "muscularity." It exudes strength and power. Everything is big and bold. Even the port impresses with row upon row of massive cranes that give you a hint of the amount of commerce that flows through this city.
My only activities were to go into the office for a brainstorm on a challenging public affairs client and then to go to dinner with a number of the staff from the office. Here's a picture of me with Bernd Buschausen from our Berlin office and Nancy Payne, formerly of the DC office, now general manager in Hong Kong. The picture doesn't do justice to the amazing view from her corner office.
Nancy took me on a whirlwind shopping tour that allowed me to check that last few items off my list. She clearly knows the system and is a tough negotiator. I not only found what I needed, I'm sure I saved a few bucks with Nancy accompanying me.
Here's a street shot that I liked. Nothing particularly significant, but seems to capture the scene a bit.
From shopping, we took the famous Star Ferry from Hong Kong to Kowloon.
Dinner was at a place called Hutong. It's on one of the upper floors in a high rise across the harbor provding a magnificent view of the Hong Kong skyline. Many of the building have neon lights whose only purpose is to show well at night. At 8:00 am every night, they do a laser show, which was somewhat obscured by the low cloud cover. You should click on the picture to get a large view.
The food was "fusion" food and I'm not really sure what food types were "fused." It all seemed pretty foreign to me. Of course, I mean that in a good way. Fortunately, we had our colleague An Wei to do the ordering. Many courses of mysterious dishes. A lot of good cheer for our final night.
I don't know if that ever happened in the Korean parliament, but those images came to mind when we entered the lobby of the hotel after dinner. Madame Doh greeted a man who wandered over very enthusiastically and he returned the expression. Yvonne told me that he was the leader of the opposition party. Then, moments later, another distinguished grey haired man arrived on the scene with the same lively reaction to and from Madame Doh and her husband. Turns out that guy was the head of the ruling party. They all seemed very comfortable together.
So, it looks like they follow the Tip O'Neill, Bob Michel model over here, kick each other's butt during the day, drink together at night. Here's a picture. Not sure what the significance was of the fact that Madame Doh stayed out of this picture. She did say at dinner that many of the male legislators chafed at her outspokenness. She clearly didn't give a shit.
After our tour of Seoul, I visited the FH office there. A beehive of activity as they prepared for what they expected to be the biggest pitch of the year, a nuclear power company. Too bad they had to host the visiting yankees, while preparing for that event. But they never gave a hint that our visit was an inconvenience. In fact, frankly, they ran us ragged....in a good way. Here's a picture.
Yvonne arranged dinner with a very influential woman, Madame Doh, the Korean Ambassador for Trourism. We met her and her husband, a famous former congressman, at a Korean restuarant in a hotel where she was attending some major event. Of course, with the horrendous traffic, it took us an hour to get there.
No sooner had we sat down than she launched into her description of the things she was doing as ambassador, asked me about myself and FH and just generally dominated the conversation. Her husband didn't utter a word during the entire dinner. But she was delightful. Funny, charismatic and very impressive. She's clearly a powerful force in Korean politics and I was very impressed that Yvonne had this connection.
Here we are after the dinner.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
We visited an old market, with a number of antique shops and art galleries. One of the galleries had the heads of famous people scattered around an alley on springs, kind of wierd. Here we are with the head of George Bush on a pike. Sorry the picture didn't come out too well, but, trust me, that's George Bush's head bouncing around. Right after we took this picture, a women ran up and, in a heavy accent said, "I love George Bush!" and embraced the head. Yvette commented dismissively, "She's Japanese," as though knowing that fact would explain her bizarre behavior.
We did have a concluding session for the PA meeting in Beijing that was lightly attended. Mickey Kantor showed up and here you can see him deep in conversation with Paul Johnson.
Then Paul and I boarded a plane for Seoul, Korea. We were scheduled to present to a symposium entitled, "Public Affairs in the Era of Legitimizing Lobbying." It would seem that lobbying has a bad reputation in Korea. Just a couple of days ago the Prime Minister had to resign because he was playing golf with lobbyists during a paralyzing rail strike. The challenge for our Seoul office is to try to generate public affairs business without getting tainted by the lobbying scandals that are pervasive in the country. We gave a very insightful presentation advising them to stop calling it "lobbying." Broaden their definition of advocacy and confine lobbying to a smaller piece of larger communications programs. Here are some pix of us speaking to the group.
Paul gave me the hook when I began to drift into "Delay bashing." Seemed appropriate to me, given the topic. But I recovered with a story about how my mother is schocked that I might associate with lobbyists. The people in the room seemed to identify with that problem.
The presentations seemed to be well received, but the consecutive translation was difficult to get use to. You couldn't really get a rhythm going because you had to stop periodically to wait for a lengthy, incomprehensible translation to occur. It seemed the translations took longer than it took to make my point.
I wonder what she was saying?
Not that I'm paranoid or anything.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
A strange thing happened at the end of the dinner in Beijing. Paul Johnson, apparently moved by the great camraderie the meeting engendered, launched into a song. Here he is belting out the finale of New York, New York, a rendition that was notable more for its enthusiasm than it's tunefulness.
I should admit that this post is a bit premature. Probably more appropriate for April 1.
Here I am with a special guest at our dinner after the meeting. I don't recall his name, but he was the first Chinese ambassador to the U.S. after the opening to China in the 1970's. He's 90 years old. When we first got the restaurant, he was sitting with his long time aide de camp, a man of 78 years old. The Ambassador spoke no English, but his aide did a bit. I was fascinated with the man and the things he must have seen during his lifetime. No one else wanted to sit with him. I had a fascinating evening. Not surprisingly, he had met Chairman Mao on a number of occassions. He talked about what it was like to enter Beijing after the liberation in 1949. He was responsible for running a particular area of the city and complained about all the paperwork involved.
I asked him what he did during the Cultural Revolution. Apparently, he had trouble getting with the program. He kept having his written "confessions" kicked back by the party bosses because he wasn't remorseful enough. It happened 8 times. They finally gave up on him when the Nixon Administration began secretly reaching out to the Chinese government in 1970 and they needed him to work on that project. He was set to go to Poland for some secret meeting with Kissinger and something intervened. I forget what. I just found it stunning to be sitting across the table from someone who knew Mao.
He was at the dinner because he was the local "partner" for Fleishman Hillard when they opened the Beijing office. He also had a great sense of humor. When asked what the secret to long life was, he said, "Eat whatever you want and never exercize."
Would that I could take his advice.
Here's the class photo of the fleishman hillard global public affairs leadership meeting. It went well. Mickey Kantor started things off with a smart talk on the issues involved in China/U.S. relations. He was surprisingly firm on the position that the U.S. needs to pressure Taiwan to start the process of reconciliation that will return the island to the jurisdiction of China. We gave a few presentations to ourselves and then brought in some external speakers. The sessions dragged a bit at the end of the day when we had to cope with consecutive translations for the speakers. The PowerPoint slides in Chinese were also a bit hard to follow.
But, we all learned things we didn't know and that's always a worthwhile use of time.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
I dropped off a bit, since I had to stop sightseeing, mostly, and go to work. I spend Monday kicking around the hotel, with a short aborted mission to a shopping area. After 45 minutes in smoggy bumper to bumper traffic to the recommended shop, I was unable to communicate with the clerks. I got back in a cab and spent 45 minutes in bumper to bumper smoggy traffic to get back to the hotel. I then spent the afternoon preparing for the FH meeting, which was to begin with dinner that evening.
Dinner was a lively and delightful affair at a restuarant on an artificial pond. Good food and lot's of bonding among the FH people from around the world. The picture above is of Paul offering a toast to Li Hong, our host for the meeting. That's Ed Manning from KP Public Affairs from Sacramento on the left.
High point of the night for me was when I finally got up the nerve to ask Li Hong about Tianneman Square. I've been reluctant to bring it up with any of the locals, not knowing whether it was politic. Well, as it happens, Li Hong was one of the demonstrators and he was very willing to discuss his experiences. He marched in two parades on the day of the massacre and knew people who were killed. He's convinced that history will overcome the governments unwillingness to confront the reality of this event. My esteem for Li Hong soared when I heard this story.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Funny moment on the cab ride back. Kurt was in the front seat, Fred and I in the back. Kurt was trying gallantly to get into a conversation with the cab driver, even though it was clear he didn't speak a word of English. There was some hysterical talk show on the radio, with a lot of Chinese chatter and sound effects. "Is this a hot talk show?" Kurt inquired. No response from the cabbie.
After a couple of other fruitless efforts, Kurt then said, in all earnestness, "So, you get much bird flu around here?" The cab driver just seemed puzzled.
Here's the group in front of the massive photo of our beloved leader, Chairman Mao. We had just toured the Forbidden City, which is a kilometer long with countless halls with names like the Hall of the Peaceful Benevolence of our Heavenly Intergalactic Emperor. Our tour guide explained that half of the forbidden city was for purposes of housing the Emperor's 3,000 concubines. Only the Emperor and the eunuchs were allowed in that part of the city. There was much jocularity about being responsible for 3,000 concubines and, I'm sure, not original joke uttered.
Where we are standing is facing Tiannemann Square. It is striking, but obviously not surprising, that the most historic event to have taken place there was unnoted. In the cosmopolitan environment that is Beijing, it takes an act of will to keep in mind the tumultuous politics below the surface of Chinese society.
After the Wall, we went to lunch at a factory that makes vases and "pottery" with some elaborate system using copper. We got a tour of the actual manufacturing process, which was very labor intensive. The product was mostly produced by hand. We watched the workers drawing intricate designs on the pottery, which went through a blast furnace 6 times before it went on the shelf.
This is a picture of Fred and Rob watching the process.
The workers ignored us, and it looked like pretty tedious work, but I was comforted by the fact that many of them were wearing small headphones. Also, according to the tour guide, they had complete artistic freedom on the colors and designs they would apply to the product. The job may have been more satisfying than it seemed.
Mostly, I was struck by what a throwback this factory seemed to be. The tour guide seemed to have stepped out of a 1950s Communist propaganda movie, a lot of rah rah stuff about the amazing process that produced these high quality vases and knick knacks. Mao would be pleased.
We then went to the Forbidden City, a spawling complex of halls and palaces. I've got some good pictures, but for some reason, I can't upload them right now. I hope I'll be able to do so if I get to the FH office tomorrow.
A group of us boarded a shuttle bus at 8:30 am for a trip to the Great Wall of China. It lived up to its impossibly high expectations, an unbelievable site. Imagine building a wall from New York to Los Angeles. Now, do it in the 3rd Century BC over mountains. I think it was build by aliens.
Of course, it's pretty touristy, but that does not take away from its grandeur. I don't have a lot of time, right now (we're off to dinner at the Green Tea Restaurant), but I wanted to get this posted.
Now, see below for proof that I was actually there. That's me with Fred Rohlfing, Jeremy Stewart and Rob Allyn.
I'm having serious problems posting pictures, but there's much more to come. We went from here to the Forbidden City.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Caught most of North Country on the flight. Boy, what an ending. Had me choked up.
Japan Air has a very cool feature. As we were preparing for landing, the pilot announced we were heading into turbulence and the flight attendants should take their seats. I hate that announcement. Then on the the TV screens a starscape appeared with some very new age music in the background. It was very relaxing, like something you'd see in a health spa in New Mexico. I assumed it was some kind of tape loop that they show when you think you're goinng to die. So, I was grooving on the image, waiting for the turbulence, watching stars go by, some big, some small, steadily crossing the screen, when up appears the lights of a city on the horizon. Turns out this was a camera on the front of the plane and those were real stars. So we were able to watch the entire approach, as the pilot sees it, with this tingling music as accompanyment. Very impressive. I've never seen a landing from that perspective before.
Upon our arrival, there as a representative from the hotel waiting for us at the end of the gangway. She took us under her wing and I've never been through an airport more quickly. Zoom, right through immigration, zoom, right through customs, checked bags waiting for me (these other experienced travelers had only carry-on). I swear we got from the plane to the hotel shuttle in less than fifteen minutes, including a rest stop. Nice to be traveling with the big boys.
Then the coolest thing ever happened. I took out my Blackberry, which didn't work in Tokyo (I'm told our technology is too primitive for them). Just for the Hell of it, I sent an email to my son Danny who had left for Spain the night before. I just reported that I was in Beijing and asked if he had landed. Within seconds, I got the following message back:
"Yeah, we just landed in malaga, and I'm actually still sitting in the plane, its pouring here."
What a world we live in that we can communicate instantly across the planet this way. I love technology.
So, today I'm off to the Great Wall. Stay tuned for some good pictures.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Very beautiful, no?
Then, I wandered over to a 13th century fort, reportedly one of the highest sites in Tokyo. I tried to imagine myself as a ruling shogun 700 years ago occupying this site with Geishas at my beck and call. No luck, it didn't move me at all. And Geishas just look wierd.
So, I started to make stuff up. I saw a stand of bamboo trees with a mysterious figure skulking in them. See the helmeted guy on the right? I think he's one of those dead enders still fighting World War II. He had a bead on me, but I slipped away quickly.
Then the real adventure began, taking the Tokyo subway back to the hotel. It's a very sleek system and I have to say, while I was very confused and bumped around aimlessly looking for someone who spoke English, I did, in the end, navigate my way back.
Not exactly the cultural excursion I had in mind. But what are you gonna do with two hours to spare?
On to Beijing!
We visited Fleishman Hillard Japan today. It is a very nice office right on the Sumida - gawa River. Very nice view from the offices. We were treated with the typically extraordinary Japanese hospitality. I presented a slide show on our global public affairs practice. In deference to the region, I added to my usual quotes from the U.S. Constitution and Aristotle, quotes from Confucius and the Buddha. Who'd have thought that they were advocates of the practice of public affairs?
FH Japan office head Shin Tanaka is very enthusiastic about growing his public affairs activities and judging from the people in the room, Ryo Kanayama, Sho Sakai and Mieko Iwasaki, he has the means to do so. Part of their presentation included a very sophisticated analysis of recent elections the performance of our client, the DPJ party. Shin was particularly interested in Rob's presentation on Vox Global and saw many opportunities both in and outside the political world to use their capabilities.
I concluded the meeting by presenting the U.S. House of Representatives platter, the American flag pins and a key chain to our guests. It was readily apparent by their reaction to these gifts that they hadn't received such largesse from Americans since MacArthur gave them back their country. They were equally grateful.
Getting back to the hotel was a bit of a challenge in that I had only slept aout 4 hours over the course of three days. A bit of weaving.
Then came dinner alone with very little English on the menu. While I'm warming up to Sushi, I think two meals in a row is enough, so I went for Tempura. The prices seemed very high, but I thought I might be doing the exchange wrong. I picked the cheapest thing on the menu. It was as series of appetizers that weren't particlarly filling. I was waiting for the main course, but it never came. The meal was over. The bill was 8,000 yen, which I learned later is $70! Incredible. No wonder you don't see may fat Japanese people. Highly priced and small portions, great anti-obesity program. The other part of the program discourages cab rides. I learned later that my cab ride from the airport was 29,000 yen, almost $300, more than the cost of my hotel room.
So, it's now 2 pm and I'm wide awake again. I'm sure I'll be dragging tomorrow by afternoon. Gonna have to get over this stuff somehow before Beijing.
I'll be touring the environs this morning and I hope to have some more interesting pictures than white guys talking to Asian guys.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
We visited the Tokyo Fish Market this morning. Left the hotel at 5 am. What a scene. Vast amounts of fish being shuttled around by men on little trucks. You proceed at your own risk. If you don't get out of the way, I imagine you end up on a hook somewhere being inspected for freshness. Every living thing from the sea is represented in all their bloody and slimy glory. It is stunning to think this goes on every day.
The pictures are in the area where the auction takes place. We got there just as the auction was ending. That guy standing still in the middle of all the activity is Jeremy Stewart. My other colleague Rob Allyn joined us, as well.
This is an offline post, so the date above is different from the blog post date. This will be typical of posts during this trip, since I may not be able to be online frequently enough to post regularly.
The trip started inauspiciously with a malfunction on the tiny jet that would take me to Chicago where I would tranfer to my Tokyo flight. After sitting a while the pilot announced that there was a problem in that an indicator light had "exploded" and they had to clean up the broken glass in the cockpit. That's right, he said "exploded." Don't they train pilots to avoid words like that when talking to passenger? Jeez.
Well, it was clearly more that an indicator light, since we sat for an hour. I was getting deeply concerned about making my connection until I realized I had a bonus hour given the different time zone. Even so, they were boarding the Tokyo flight by the time I got to the gate, so it was pretty close.
Right now, I'm sitting next to a sleeping Japanese man. He looks like the camp commandant in Bridge Over the River Kwai.
We won't be chatting much.
Here's something cool and new. In business class, they give you Bose headphones for the audio/video options. Nice. I've plugged it into my Ipod, so I have my entire music collection with me and am able to listen to it with crystal clear sound. It even drowns out the screaming baby in the next row. I'm listening to Elton John's Tiny Dancer. Sweet.
I wonder what the poor people are doing right now?
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
But, I'm about to embark on an adventure of historic, even galactic, proportions, so I think my readers, if there are any left, might be interested in the experience.
I'm at Dulles airport preparing for a trip that will involve visits to Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul and Hong Kong. Mostly business, but I do have a day off in Tokyo, Beijing and Hong Kong. I'm currently at the stage of a trip like this where I keep thinking of things I think I forgot. You have that flash of panic, then realize you did remember to pack it. Usually. Fortunately, I happen to be married to the Olympic Gold Medalist of packing, which gives me some assurance that whatever I forget, it wasn't that important. At least not important to her. We have different priorities. So, if I've forgotten anything, it's probably an electronic device or accessory.
One of them is a new digital camera, which I did not forget. This will be a new kind of international trip in which I can share photos in real time. Come on back for a look.
The story begins.....