Archive for April, 2008

Beijing Update.

It’s 4:30 AM, I can’t sleep.  I think I’m upset because I lost my camera and all the pictures of my visit to the Great Wall, video of insane China driving and other stuff I can’t even remember now.  Total bummer.

So far, Beijing has been awesome:

  • Flight was uneventful and totally manageable
  • The Beijing airport is enormous and beautiful – huge open space, high ceilings, clean, amazing art, friendly, easy to navigate.
  • An old woman on the airport tram was carrying a black, bedazzled, playboy bunny purse.
  • Got my luggage (yay)!
  • Exchanged some money.  $150 USD is over 900 RMB – that’s kinda fun!
  • Took a cab to the hotel (handed him a piece of paper with some Chinese on it, exchanged nods and it was done).
  • People bike and walk everywhere: across freeway ramps, on freeway ramps, on the freeway.
  • Nobody drives in a lane.  Everybody honks…constantly.
  • The city-street policy carry big, old-school, orange life preservers in the back of their cars.
  • Great Wall Sheraton is a great hotel.
  • Took a shower…a long shower.
  • Crashed.  Slept 12 hours (up in the middle of the night).
  • Ate free breakfast at the hotel: full, awesome, buffet with American and Chinese food.  Ate like 11,000 vegetable dumplings.
  • Met Cynthia in the lobby.  My friend Jeannie and Rob sent their driver to pick us up and take us to the Great Wall. 
  • Visited the Great Wall during a tropical storm and got drenched.  (No pics – lost my camera).  It was amazing. (Oh, and like Half Dome, people visit the Great Wall in stiletto high-heels).
  • Ate lunch in the middle of nowhere.  Picture this: enter restaurant through plastic flaps (like in a carwash or meat locker).  Looks like small, normal restaurant.  Few locals smoking and hanging out.  Escorted through doorway with cloth flaps into a labyrinth of enclosed courtyards joined by hallways. Enter hallway of private eating rooms: all glass windows and doors (like an outdoor porch) and tile walls and floors.  Anthropologie-style metal stand with porcelain basin, soap and towel.  Fresh wild mushrooms, noodles, rice, tea, and red pepper wild chicken (spicy).  I think I ate a chicken foot.
  • Jeannie took me to a spa for massage: you wear red, wool scrubs and they kneed you like dough.   It may not sound like it, but it was honestly the best massage I ever had.
  • Back to hotel. 
  • Crashed.

I love it here.  Wish I could speak Mandarin.

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Beijing. Barely.

If you’re reading this post that means I’ve landed in Beijing, made it to my hotel and figured out how to connect to the Internet and was actually able to publish to my blog.  As if that was the hardest part about traveling to Beijing.

Actually, it’s a miracle that I even made it Beijing.  All signs were pointing to "no" until I actually got on the plane.

Tuesday (Beijing take off, minus 3 days)

Things started to unfold on Tuesday when I received an email from CIBT (the place that was issuing my visa) saying they were not able to process my credit card to pay for the visa and that they would not be able to issue the visa without charging my card.  Despite my relentless attempts to contact the dude that sent me the email to take care of business I could not get a hold of him. 

Wednesday (Beijing take off, minus 2 days)

I tried again to get a hold of "CIBT dude" in the morning before I got to the office.

When it became Wednesday afternoon I was getting really concerned: my passport was in San Francisco, I’m in Seattle and supposed to be on a plane by 7 AM on Friday.  I realize that there is a thing call "same day" delivery – but that only works when someone actually puts something in the mail. I was finally able to call around and find someone other than "non-responsive CBIT dude" to help me out.  It turned out that my corporate AMEX was rejecting charges.  So I got them new card information and prayed that my passport would somehow make it to Seattle before I left.

Then I got on the phone with the people at AMEX to figure out what was going on with my card.  They claimed there was some charge (though they couldn’t be specific about the charge) that apparently was "4 months past due" and the account had been "canceled".  They said if I paid the disputed amount ($16.14) that all would be fine.  Of course, I paid it.  Then they said I would have to talk with the AMEX program manager at my company to open my account again (Wait!  That wasn’t part of the deal!).  They said they would be "happy to transfer me".  After waiting 10 minutes they informed me that due to high call volume (surprise) they were not able to connect me and that I should try contacting them directly myself.

I can’t get anyone on the phone, and end up trying to go through a service request through my company’s web site.  Then I get receive an email address to ME that says:

Hello AMEX,

I’m not sure why Becky’s card was canceled, she was not 90 days past due and has been using her card. Can you please reactivate her card?

Hmmm…..

Thursday (Beijing take off, minus 1 day)

My plan for today was to (a) pick up traveler checks (they were recommended for better exchange rate) and (b) pack.  That would have been nice if those were the only two things I had to do (on top of a full day of work).  But my passport has still not arrived and my credit card ordeal was not resolved.

Made some calls to check on progress.  My passport was in Seattle and arrived at my desk around 1 PM, phew!  Thought, heard nothing from AMEX.  I send another email to them:

This mail is very confusing.  This mail is addressed to AMEX, but I’m on the To: line (and I’m not AMEX <wink>).

Can someone please explain what is going on with my AMEX card and the status of getting it activated?

PLEASE NOTE: I leave for a business trip in Beijing tomorrow and need to be able to use my card. I have spoken with AMEX and my account is now up to date (please see attached confirmation).

I leave work at 6 PM.  All banks are closed…that’s going to make travelers checks hard.  I manage to figure out that the Bank of America inside QFE is open much later (great thing to know for the future) and is a fully functioning branch and issues travelers checks (why they keep standalone branches open anymore is a mystery to me).

I get home and make dinner with whatever food is in the fridge.  That meant cheese + egg pannini’s with potatoes and asparagus (more like breakfast – which I’m totally down with).  Then packed.

Now…a little know fact about me is that when I was little, I used to cry when my parents got suitcases out for a trip (even if I knew I was going on the trip).  This is a little paradoxical given that I love to travel and feel as though I was born on this earth to do very few things and one of them is travel and experience other people and the world.  This is all relevant because while I love to travel, packing is…well…a long process for me.  I started laying out clothes on Tuesday and it still took me 2.5 hours to pack.  Don’t ask, don’t judge.  Just laugh at me, because I can only laugh at myself for being such a dork-nut.

Friday (Beijing take off)

I wake up at 4 AM and take a long shower (I hate feeling dirty on planes) and pack up the last few items.  I called my dad.  Made some oatmeal.  Rob and I got in the car around 5:30 AM.  Got to the airport with no trouble.  I get in the line to do self-checkin.  When my turn comes up, a United attendant ushers me up the desk and beings to check me in herself.  This turned out to be a blessing: before printing my ticket she realizes that the ticket has been issued with my unmarried name (Rebecca Levine) while my visa and passport are issued under my married name (Rebecca Levine Pezely).  She expresses concern that I may have trouble getting out of China with this discrepancy and asks for me to wait while she goes through a security door behind the desk to check on the matter.

Sidebar: you might be wondering at this point, "um, didn’t you realize which name the ticket was booked under when you made the reservation?"  And the answer is: yes, I knew.  And, (a) I had never considered this detail when I booked the ticket plus (b) I’ve traveled a bunch of times domestically with this discrepancy before without a problem so I’ve become desensitized to the whole thing.  I realize now that international travel, especially to China, is a whole different story, but I don’t travel internationally frequently enough to make these sorts of considerations.  I guess my re-branding saga hasn’t really ended.

So Paul Benson (the United agent) comes back out and says that she can’t change my name on the ticket, that I might have problems but the only thing she can do is issue my ticket and risk it.  I throw in that I can call AMEX corporate travel to see if they can change the reservation.  And Paula says that I have enough time.  So I call emergency assistance and get Patrice on the phone.  I explain the situation and she asks me to hold.  I hold for 20 minutes.  She finally comes back and says that I won’t be allowed out of China with the name discrepancy and that she has an agent on the line and they’re trying to change my ticket.  That I should wait on hold.  I wait another 20 minutes.  She then comes back to verify a few bits of information (like how to spell my married last name) and then puts me on hold again, another 10 minutes.  Then she comes back and says they’re trying to reissue a new ticket for me but my corporate AMEX is denying charges.  F*$%!!!  I have to give her another card. 

After that ordeal, I got personally ushered to the front of the security line (and they didn’t catch the Nalgene bottle full of water in my bag) and was the last person to board my flight from Seattle to San Francisco.

Once on the plane, I feel like things are going much smoother and try to start to be present and enjoy myself.  Honestly, as much as I’ve been excited to get to Beijing I’ve been really anxious about traveling so far alone, being away from Rob, not knowing the language and all that stuff that these other hiccups have been really distracting.

So, now the plane has taxied onto the runway and we’re waiting for takeoff. And we’re waiting….and we’re waiting….and we’re waiting…and then the flight attendant makes an announcement that if our cell phones are accessible we may use them…and we’re waiting…the the pilot comes on and says they’re conferencing with traffic control at SFO trying to work around delays…and we’re waiting.

My plane that was supposed to take off from Seattle at 7:20 takes off almost 1 hour late.  Meanwhile, I’m supposed to land by 9:30 and be able to make a connection through the SFO International Terminal to make a flight at 11:20 AM.  Sweet!

I make it to SFO by 10:20.  And figure out that I have to get a shuttle to the International terminal.  There is a long line and the people "managing" (hardly) the line tell me that not everyone will fit on the first trip.  Luckily there were a bunch of other folks like me on the same flight and they bumped us all to the front of the line.  However, this pissed one dude off so much that I fight nearly ensued.  Once I was on the shuttle it felt like I was already closer to Beijing.  Not because I was on the shuttle, but more because everyone around me was Chinese and not speaking English.

We all make it to our gate as it’s boarding and get on the plane.  So this was now really happening (although in the back of my mind I’m wondering if my luggage made it on the plane too).

As I type this I’m cruising at 34,000 ft at about 470 mph.  It’s been 7.5 hours on the plane and I’ve: read 1/2 my book (The Secret Life of Bees), napped, had lunch, watched August Rush (the movie sucked, but it was Keri Russell so I didn’t care), has a snack (Ramen noodles!  Even came with chopsticks), then tried to watch National Treasure (though the sound was all f’ed up).

Our route went over Alaska and I got some cool shots from the plane during that part:

China 061 China 069 China 070

Now I’m going to do some work.

How much longer do I have of this flight?  Actually, I don’t want to know.

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Writer Named Best Free Software in PC Magazine

The Best Free Software


Blogging


Blogger
www.blogger.com
Web | Mobile Blogger was one of the first blog-publishing tools. Years after Google bought it, it remains one of the best, especially for newbies. Create a brain-dead simple weblog and let Blogger host it (with a blogspot.com name) using the slew of provided templates, or use it to publish a blog on your own domain.

w.bloggar
www.wbloggar.com
Windows This post and template editor can handle multiple blogs, across multiple blogging systems.

Windows Live Writer
get.live.com
Windows Live Writer is not a word processor, but a universal, WYSIWYG blog-posting tool more powerful than most blog services’ own tools.

WordPress
www.wordpress.com
Web It lacks the simplicity of Blogger or Vox, but the commercial offshoot of WordPress.org offers some of the best tools of any hosted blogging service.

The Best Free Software – Reviews by PC Magazine

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10 Years At Microsoft

On February 16, 2008 I reached my 10-year anniversary with Microsoft.  Kind of hard to believe.  I actually forgot my anniversary until March 14th when I receive a mail saying that I had been awarded the customary 10 shared of Microsoft stock in honor of my anniversary.  Yipppeeee!

Then, last week, I received a box on my chair.  I knew this box was coming – I just didnt’ know when (they mystery around the whole thing is awesome). In the box was:

A phallic crystal statue designed by Hybrid 3 and produced by Weinberg Glass (the top point is so sharp I almost cut myself on it).

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A cloth for cleaning my statue.  Which reminds me of an article the Onion did about rappers that have "people" that clean their gold.

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"One young rapper I spoke with told me that he ‘be trading women like Eddie Murphy trading places’ and that he ‘got b****es cleaning my house, cleaning my gold, doing my shoelaces,’" Danziger said. "For a relationship to thrive, there needs to be a sense of shared responsibility and mutual respect. When one partner is cleaning the other’s house and gold, the partner who is doing the cleaning is likely to experience feelings of resentment over the imbalance. Inevitably, this will drive a wedge between the pair."

A banner sticker (that I think I’m supposed to put on the window of my office, but won’t).

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A fold out card / banner thing and 2 additional cards personally singed by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

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Awesome!

While the celebration of my anniversary was rather anticlimactic I did bring in the customary but-load of M&Ms (1 lb for every year) and bagels.  I also sent some mail out to the people I have worked with over the last 10 years – I do feel indebted to all of them for the experiences and positive growth I have accumulated.  The response I got from people in email and in marker on my office window was the most meaningful of all.

The questions that still plague me:

  • How much longer will I be at MSFT?
  • What do I do with the phallic statue after I leave (please, refrain from the shove it up your ass jokes).

I think if I’m here 15 or 20 years I get a blue phallic statue that matches the green one (so they can be…like…friends, I guess).  It reminds me of when I used to have …

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Why I’m Like Felicity

Recently, I leant MC my Felicity DVDs and I’ve been meaning to ask for them back.  And this got me thinking of my obsession with Felicity…and all the ways I’m like Felicity…and why Keri Russell and I should be best friends…well, we should be – right?  I mean, I did meet her in the airport when she was pregnant.  What else could it mean when I happen to meet the only famous person I know in the airport?  J.J. Abrams-style fate would say that we’re destined to be BFFs.

Anyway, if you know me at all, then you know that Felicity is my all-time favorite TV show and that I basically stopped watching television when they took Felicity off the air (though, admittedly, due to my allegiance to the brilliance of J.J. Abrams, I have picked up all 3 seasons of Lost on DVD – and I’m holding on Season 4 – so DON’T TELL ME ANYTHING. LA LA LA – I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!).

I think the reason I love Felicity so much is that the show somehow mirrored my life so much that I identified with it very deeply.  For instance:

1. If you morph picture of me and my sister together, it would look a lot like Keri Russell.

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2. My best friend Fiona looks a lot like Amanda Foreman (Felicity’s roommate, turned best friend, Meghan Rotundi) and is much like the character of Meghan Rotundi (though she denies this part).

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3. I had a Javier in college.

4. Rob (my husband) is basically Scott Foley and Scott Speedman

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Scott Foley

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5. My identity crisis in college involved an art major.

There’s a bunch more, but I’ll have to get to them later.

In the meantime, MC – I need my Felicity DVDs back!!  What’s up?  Are you hooked or what?

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My sister is on the radio!!

OK, granted, this was around superbowl time, but still….this is so cool!  She is my idol!

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Windows Live Writer Gets Love at BlogHer Business 2008

Here’s some live footage from the Microsoft Windows Experience Lounge during the 2008 BlogHer Business Conference.  Thanks Sara Ford!!

One correction to the video: Writer is not in Beta anymore.  You can install the official "out of beta" version at http://writer.live.com/.

Live From the Microsoft Windows Experience Lounge

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