A few of you have been asking me where I am these days, so I'm going to keep you posted with a blog. I'll start with the first Philippines trip of 2010, and I'll be updating regularly. Life on the road is usually pretty boring - 12 hours of work plus dinner - so don't worry...you won't be reading an hourly journal.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Five Months Without Posts

Ridiculous. I got over-ambitious with the last round (brighter side of hot and humid?), and just blew the whole thing off.

The point of this blog was to answer a simple question: "Where in the World is Andy." So here's the answer:

July 13: New Jersey
July 14: Millerton with family!
July 15: San Mateo for 10 days

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Brighter Side of Hazy Hot and Humid

Hot humid days in a crowded and rushed city suck. Especially when I am in a hurry and under pressure. But on the weekend, when work is done and the city is just a residential area, it's a whole different experience.

Today, I took a walk...I walked very slowly, and Makati -- Manila's central business district -- became a neighborhood.

I strolled to a local outdoor food market (no pictures, sorry)...a tropical version of a US city's farmer's market. Overflowing with 2-foot-long jackfruits, tiny calamansis, sweet bananas, and another dozen fruits that I couldn't name. Breads and jams, lotions and potions (yes, really), and about 100 different cooked food stands, mostly local food, but including chinese, french, and more. I opted for the Cebu Lechon, which is slow-roasted whole pig, chopped and nicely sauced. Mmm...Reminds me of North Carolina barbeque, without the smoke. A much cleaner, pure fresh pork taste.

I wandered across the street to a Starbucks. (I swear, there's one on every block) and indulged my need for the home taste of coffee. Then wandered some more into the midtown commercial area. I found myself at Ayala Tower One, a landmark city building. I wondered into the covered plaza area, a very modern construction, where I saw a crowd of people running around furiously. On further investigation, in was a firemen's training class in hose techniques. You can't make this stuff up.

I thought the formality of it all was overkill. After all, hoses are just hoses, right? Here's one of the things I learned today: Before hoses are rolled up, they are folded to half their length, so that the ends are next to each other. When there's a fire, *2* firefighters each pull one end of the hose, and it unrolls in 1/2 the time. Seconds count. There were other subtleties to the process, but I won't try to expand on them here. I'll just be grateful for people who think of this stuff.

Here's a view from the plaza when you turn around and look in the other direction. A lot of attention was paid in planning out this city area.

Then around the corner to this little gem...

Looks like a little country house, yes? It's actually a library. But the interesting thing is that the building used to be the Manila Airport Control Tower. All of Makati -- the business district I've been describing today -- used to be the airport.

And look at the blossoms on this tree in the middle of the city...

...and the almost unnoticeable lamps hanging from the branch in the center of this one...

How often is the unique, interesting, and beautiful right in the middle of the common and mundane in front of us?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Prelude: The Commute from Hell

I'm off again tomorrow morning to Manila. Looking forward to this trip a lot, with a couple of promising leaders in place and a nice pipeline of candidates to meet. The PDOC (Philippines Development and Operations Center) is beginning to take shape!

Unfortunately, there's no non-stop to Hong Kong tomorrow, so my trip is as follows: 3:30AM pick-up to the airport. Then 4 flights: Newark/Houston, Houston/Honolulu, Honolulu/Guam, and Guam/Manila. I should arrive at my Manila hotel at about 10AM Monday morning, eastern time. So I have a 4-plane, 30-hour commute to look forward to. Let's see how cranky I can get...

I'll be in Manila about 8 days. Then a one-night stop in Hong Kong for a couple of meetings, then on to India, for 2 days in Pune with Synechron, our strategic staffing partner. Back home on the 27th. Will update this site with any adventures in the Philippines, hopefully none involving medical care!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Books Books Books

I've been reading a lot over the past year, and thought I'd jot down some of the books I read, along with a few words about each. I'm not sure if anyone will care, but that's what blogs are for. Here's a partial 2009/2010 book list...

America America - Ethan Canin - Pretty good coming of age novel set during the 1972 presidential election campaign, with one fictional candidate. Some mystery/intrigue, but mostly just a literate, good work.

South of Broad - Pat Conroy - I love Pat Conroy, period. I didn't think this was his best work...for that, read "Prince of Tides"or "Beach Music," but he paints Charleston, SC like no one else.

The Water is Wide - Pat Conroy - An early autobiographical tale of racism, poverty, perseverance, and love. I still love Pat Conroy.

An American Tragedy - Theodore Dreiser - Extraordinary tome (900 pages) that eloquently describes the not-so-pure ways of the mind that live within all of us.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin - Easy read. Pithy. It's unbelievable how smart this guy was!

The Help - Kathryn Stockett - Very good novel in the "Upstairs Downstairs" style. Set in the deep South of the 1960s. Huge 2009 bestseller...lots of other reviews out there...

Horse Soldiers - Doug Stanton - This is a great book. True story. After 9/11, a small number of CIA and Special Forces went into Afghanistan to help fight Al Queda and the Taliban. Reads like a Ludlam novel.

Red Planet - Robert Heinlein - An early (1949) book about Mars. He develops here many of the themes that he develops later in "Stranger in a Strange Land." Good background material. But if you have to pick only one, read "Stranger."

Walden - Henry David Thoreau - Now this guy is serious! I didn't get through the whole book, but he really makes a strong case defining our entire materialistic existence as chains that bind us.

The Imperial Cruise - James Bradley - The true (and highly footnoted) account of the largest diplomatic mission in history, which sowed the seeds of WWII. Suffice it to say that Teddy Roosevelt was not necessarily the gallant hero we learned about in school. His commitment to White-supremacy is difficult to read.

Time Enough for Love - Robert Heinlein - One of my favorite fiction reads...this was probably my 4th time through it. A 2,300-year old man and his curmudgeonly wisdom. Funny, smart, wise, and generally terrific.

Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein - Re-read for the first time since high school. Fantastic and amazing read. If you haven't read this, you should.

The Time Traveler's Wife - I am a huge time travel fan, and I thought this was a superbly executed book. I've actually read it twice. From everything I can tell about the movie, though, stay far far far away...

Unencumbered Earth - Jumpha Lahiri - Beautiful writing, author of The Namesake. Not an action book at all, but a wonderful look at universal family issues, as well as the Indian immigration experience. Reminds me a lot of my Jewish grandparents...

The Road - Cormac McCarthy - Great end-of-the-world book. Perfect read for a coast-to-coast airplane trip. Fast, dark, and magnificent writing.

Diary of a Bad Year - J.M. Coetzee - Another fantastic writer. Odd format, but I think it works really well. If you read it, tell me what you think.

Whiteout - Ken Follett - Trash. I enjoyed Pillars of the Earth and Eye of the Needle. But this is just too predictable.

When Things Fall Apart - Pema Chodron - A Buddhist monk's view of the opportunities provided to us by life's upsets. She's a very well-regarded leader in Buddhism and meditation. Highly recommended if you're interested in this stuff.

Leadership and Self Deception - The Arbinger Institute - Another one I've read/listened-to a half-dozen times. Always eye-opening...very easy read...fast-paced management fable. It might change the way you lead.

The Monster of Florence - Douglas Preston - I didn't think this was great. But it was one of those I read over a 2-month period, so I didn't keep up the momentum. Not exciting for me.

Healing Your Aching Back - Jeffrey Katz MD - A Harvard back specialist brings together all of the current information about back pain. If you have pain, you should read this book to educate yourself. If not, then no need.

In Defense of Food - Michael Pollan - I am a *huge* fan of his previous book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Read that one first. This one is kind of a shortened version that says similar things. But Omnivore is the original masterwork.

Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Foer - A lot of people loved this book. I thought it was good, and certainly an amazing first novel. You have to pay attention, though, and I read this one before bed for a month or two. Didn't work for me.

Passionate Presence - Catherine Ingram - About being in the here and now with yourself. I'm not done with it yet, but it's a nice companion so far.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

U.S. Update

A wonderful and peaceful weekend with a friend last week. Too short, but aren't all the good ones? Then off to Nashville, and a solidly productive week, which also feels good. There's a real gift in the balance between work and relaxation. Not always easy to achieve, to have enough of both...

Thursday evening, home. Hit by a 24-hour stomach bug, which is no fun. Lost a good bit of weight and strength, and couldn't do much Friday. But on the mend by this morning, and feeling pretty good now.

A foot of snow here in Red Bank, by the way. And an interesting surprise...somehow, all 4 of my car windows were open this morning, and my car had inches of snow throughout. And I mean everywhere. (I must have sat on the "unlock" button on the remote control, which opens the windows after a delay...) At any rate, all is cleaned up, the car is fine, and I'm settling in for the night. Getting the taxes done tomorrow, then a work-at-home week...Looking forward to it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Staying in the Country

Travels begin again this afternoon. I'm heading to the west coast to visit with friends, and then to Nashville next week, to spend some time at headquarters. Back in New Jersey next Thusrday night. And then I'm home for 10 days straight! Looking forward to that stability. All is back to normal, health-wise.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Isn't It Nice to be Home Again

What a delightful day. I flew home comfortably, flights were on time, and I am typing this from my own desk. Everything is fine. Sometimes, it's nice to have nothing to say.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Dreaded Stones - The Conclusion

So, a brief synopsis of the adventure since my last post.

Thursday 9AM appointment with a doctor, who gave me two choices. Have myself admitted, and get it all done quickly (like all testing complete same day), or be an outpatient and let it unfold over several days. I joined the ranks of the admitted.

Got to admitting, but…no beds. The admitting clerk subtly suggested I go to the emergency room complaining of pain and ask to be admitted there. Magic. I had my Stone Scan (CT scan) and x-rays by 2PM, the doctor reviewed them with me by 3PM and scheduled the surgery for 7AM next morning, and I was in my room by 5PM. While some of the facilities were a little old, all of the scanning equipment and procedures were first rate. My dearest friend and personal physician Fred followed the progress with me round-the-clock, and the care truly was in accordance with the most current US medical standards.

For those of you who care, there are two procedures for stones, other than waiting for them to pass. The non-invasive one has the unnecessarily long name of extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL). If the stone sits high in the body, above the pelvic bone, ESWL is pretty effective in smashing it up. No such luck for me...Mine was deeply inside the bones, so they had to get it with what is euphemistically called a “basket.” Just like bringing home a quart of milk on the front of your bike, right? Not exactly. The only good news, as the surgeon advised me, is that they don’t have to make any new holes in your body (enough said).

Friday 6:30AM I was in a modern operating room and at 7AM, the doc put me to sleep to the accompaniment of “Whiter Shade of Pale.” Quiz: who sang it…no searching allowed. Woke up with my lower body completely numb from an epidural, and slept most of Friday away. 

I’ll spare you all the rest of the details (those who want to know already do or are welcome to it), but suffice it to say the Saturday and Sunday morning SUCKED. But by late morning Sunday, I was off all pain killers, and just confined to bed. Monday morning, I was detached from all medical devices, and by 3PM, I was in a cab back to the hotel.

I have to say that the care was pretty top-notch all the way. My only complaint was the amount of time it took to get assistance from the nursing staff…but they’re busy. So maybe the best decision I made this weekend was to hire a private duty nurse. It’s bloody lonely in a hospital with no friends and family nearby. My good friend and colleague Kat Flores did what she could, but I needed a lot of help and some company. Kat found a great RN named Neil (a friend of her family), and he was a godsend. I paid more than his standard rate, and by U.S. standards, it’s still almost embarrassing to tell you what I paid. Neil was with me all weekend, and made a huge difference in my life for those 3 days.

It’s now Monday afternoon. I’m back in the hotel room, and about to make arrangements to fly home tomorrow. Quite a trip...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Dreaded Stones - The Beginning

I woke up at 1AM this morning. By 1:30, I was writhing on the bathroom floor. (I know, possibly too much information.) By 3:00, I called for help, and was taken to the emergency room. Diagnosis: Kidney Stones. It was pretty clearly the worst pain I've ever felt. I'm better for now, thanks to IV and oral pain meds. I'm off to a doctor in a few minutes for follow-up. I didn't go to Hong Kong this morning as planned. And I won't do a 15-hour plane ride until this is resolved. I'll post more later.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Yesterday, off to Tagaytay, for my first sightseeing trip in the Philippines. Sort of a cloudy day, the hostess in the hotel restaurant advised me to take a jacket. I didn't bring anything long sleeved to the Philippines, but that's OK...it's 80 degrees outside, right? The adventure begins...

90-minutes drive to the town of Tagaytay, with our driver Jeffrey. Everyone in Asurion's Philippine operation knows Jeffrey. There is no such thing as a speed limit, a red light, or even a proper side of the road on which to drive. No one gets there faster, and no one takes more years off a passenger's life than Jeffrey.

Arrival at Tagatay, which is situated on a cliff that looks to be about 2,000 feet high, overlooking a beautiful lake with the Philippines smallest volcano. Clearly, the thing to do is to go out to the volcano, right? To get there, you simply have to go down a series of the steepest, narrowest, most winding roads imaginable...with Jeffrey at the wheel! Just close your eyes and think about something else.

Arrival at the bottom of the cliff, and here's our transportation...EXCELLENT! (Yes, that's the volcano in the background.)

The water looks smooth, right? Think again. A 30-minute ride to the volcano. It's hard to see in the picture below, but we arrived soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone. Beautiful ride anyway, though.

On our arrival, though, we found out that it is an hour's ride -- on horseback -- to the volcano. We thought about it, but were just too cold and hungry. So...we turned around and went back across the lake, which was looking increasingly ominous. For a moment, I actually pondered if we were going to die out there. Here is the scene just before we got back on.

We didn't die.

Back safely on the mainland, Jeffrey took us confidently up the steepest, narrowest, winding roads imaginable (eyes closed, think of something else), and back to the main drag of Tagaytay. Something hot for lunch was clearly next on the agenda, and someone had heard of "The Palace in the Sky." Off we went.

Up the mountains...further up...into the clouds (literally) we went. Until we finally reached The Palace in the Sky...which is a little local shopping district with -- you guessed it -- no food. Turn around, Jeffrey.

We eventually wound up at Pamana, a wonderful restaurant overlooking the cliffs and the volcano, where we had some of the best local food around, including crispy pata (deep fried pork leg) and much much more. Satiated and warmed, we settled into the peaceful return to Manila, safely ensconced in the car with...Jeffrey!