The End of Summer in the Heart of Texas

Under the big Texas sky: U.S. Highway 87 east of Eden

Under the big Texas sky: U.S. Highway 87 east of Eden

The fourth and final customary August trip began on the Friday of Labor Day weekend. Robin dropped me at National Airport and I flew to DFW, then on to Lubbock. Met Jack at 3:00 outside the terminal, hopped in his blue Subaru. A buddy of his, Wes, was in the back seat, and was riding with us part of the way, to pick up his now-fixed car in San Angelo – five days earlier it had broken down. In no time we three were chirping like magpies. Wes works in the same treatment facility, the Ranch at Dove Tree, as Jack. We stopped briefly in Post, Texas (regular readers know that although I understand that it’s not necessary to add the state name, I always hew to local custom), to pick up shakes and malts at Holly’s, a traditional drive-in with car hops. Total quality – we like Dairy Queen, but Holly’s was a step up.

Holly's Drive-in, Post, Texas

Holly’s Drive-in, Post, Texas

 

Wes with his fixed VW

Wes with his fixed VW

We arrived San Angelo about six, found the car-repair shop, said goodbye to Wes, and headed east 85 miles to Brady, Texas, home of the World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off. I’ve been judging since 1991, 24 consecutive years, and Jack was headed for his 7th competition. The big Texas sky was full of little storm cells, and it was a fascinating array of cloud and light. We arrived Brady, checked into the hotel, and made fast for – where else? – a nearby barbeque called The Spread. No goat that night, but some splendid smoked turkey, jalapeño sausage, and sides. Mandy, one of the owners, remembered us from 2013, and we had a nice chat. I was full, but needed some exercise, so pounded out some miles on a bike at the hotel, then clocked out.

Cloud-1

Up at six Saturday morning, back to the gym, then out to the kickoff event, the judges’ brunch in Melvin, Texas, population 189, 18 miles west of Brady. It was so great to be back with a bunch of good ole boys (and, this year, five women judges), long friends all the way back 20+ years, people like Jim Stewart of Lubbock, Kinnan Goleman from Austin, and my original Brady host, Kim King. We ate well that morning, listened to the guidance for rookie judges, and headed out. Most of the group headed to Richards Park on the edge of town, site of the event, but I stopped briefly at the West Sweden Cemetery, halfway back to Brady. I first visited a decade earlier. The ground was overgrown, but the headstones told some stories: of a settlement that seemed to have begun in the last decades of the 19th Century; and mainly of the brevity and unpredictability of life back then – lots of infant mortality, and plenty of lives ended after just a few decades.

A couple of views of a little place: Melvin, Texas

A couple of views of a little place: Melvin, Texas

 

West Sweden Cemetery

West Sweden Cemetery

I arrived at the cook-off just before 11, and ambled around, admiring cooking rigs and encampments of varied design and comfort. Paused to visit with a couple of teams. Lots of the people who attend or participate in the cook-off have a family connection to this little town of 5,500, folks like Frank Brawley from Houston, Texas, grandson of Houston O. Brawley, who long operated a dairy farm just west of Brady. Back at the shady judging site, I yakked with veteran judge Eddie Sandoval, part Comanche, part Hispanic, and a total character; with John Johnson of Lubbock, Texas; with some rookies, including Daniel Vaughn, the barbecue editor of Texas Monthly (now there’s a job!); and with Paul McCallum, a fellow judge from the 1990s who had returned after years away. Paul grew up on a station in far western New South Wales, Australia, and is another interesting fellow.

TeamDiptych

Happy competitors; the team at right proudly displayed trophies from previous cook-offs, winning handsomely in the Best Showmanship category

Eddie Sandoval

Eddie Sandoval

 

Your scribe and Aussie judge Paul McCallum

Your scribe and Aussie judge Paul McCallum

At two it was time to stand and deliver, or in this case to chew. First event was “mystery meat” judging, and this year it was rabbit, one of my favorites. There were some truly wonderful samples, moist, tender. The mystery meat judging, now in its fifth or sixth year, is a bit more permissive, and there was some creativity in sauces and preparation. At three, and already feeling a bit full from 40+ rabbit chunks, we began the main event. I was captain of table two, and we four (including Jack) were a good crew, disciplined, fair-minded, and sober (well, mostly; some of us were enjoying a Coors or two). It’s a lot of work, but we got through it in about an hour, with a high degree of unanimity in our 1-to-7 scoring. No sevens, no ones, and a lot of twos and threes. Jack and I agreed that the best of the rabbit was tastier than the best of the goat. But we kept that view to ourselves!

Heart of Texas princesses

Heart of Texas princesses

 

Some "plated theater" in the Mystery Meat competition: rabbit dressed up as armadillo!

Some “plated theater” in the mystery meat competition: rabbit dressed up as armadillo (you might have to look at it for a bit, but you’ll see the armored critter sculpted in tortilla!)

We hung out for a bit longer, but were in the car and pointed northwest by 4:45, happy to keep tradition alive in the Heart of Texas. It is an awesome experience, and I am so glad that it’s an indispensible end to summer not just for me, but for our son. When I’m gone, Jack will carry on the Britton judging tradition. And perhaps his son.

Your scribe and son

Your scribe and son

The ride back to Lubbock was fast. We paused at Sweetwater, Texas, for a Dairy Queen shake, and were home by 8:45. Took showers, tuned in some football, and were asleep around ten.

Wind turbines are breeding like rabbits in West Texas; right now there's 12,755 megawatts installed -- the equivalent of about 15 nuclear power plants

Speaking of rabbits (see above!), wind turbines are breeding like them in West Texas; right now there’s 12,755 megawatts installed — the equivalent of about 15 nuclear power plants.  This scene was 20 miles south of Sweetwater

Mesa south of Post, Texas

Mesa south of Post, Texas

We were up at seven Sunday morning, Jack over to the gym, and me out on his Trek mountain bike, north to the huge Texas Tech campus, past the big new stadium, remembering that the Lone Star State is a windy place. Sixteen miles was plenty that morning, back for a shower and over to Jack’s favorite coffee place, J&B. Sat outdoors, enjoying a jolt and a good chat. Headed to the car wash, then to an early Asian lunch at Pei Wei. Passed the afternoon lazily, watching golf and yakking, then drove to dinner at Chuy’s, a favorite Tex-Mex chain.

They love the Texas Tech Red Raiders all over Lubbock, no less in this bit of front yard decor on 3rd Street

They love the Texas Tech Red Raiders all over Lubbock, no less in this bit of front yard decor on 3rd Street

Chile rellenos, Chuy's

Chile rellenos, Chuy’s

Jack had to work Labor Day, so he departed with a hug at 6:25. I waited until first light at seven, then took the Trek back out, feeling stronger than the day before, back toward the Tech campus, north into some neighborhoods. After 14 miles I stopped at Starbucks on University Avenue for a big coffee and a donut, then east on Glenna Goodacre Ave., named for a prominent contemporary sculptor. The area had been redeveloped in the last several years, and on earlier trips I had seen a lot of walk-up apartments for students, but further east were some wonderful two-unit and single family homes in Western farmhouse and craftsman styles, a very agreeable neighborhood.

Early-morning scene at the Ranching Heritage Center; the depot was from Ropes, Texas, the locomotive from the former Fort Worth & Denver Railway

Early-morning scene at the Ranching Heritage Center; the depot was from Ropes, Texas, the locomotive from the former Fort Worth & Denver Railway

 

Wonderful old-but-new farmhouse right in town (no outhouse in the back!)

Wonderful old-but-new farmhouse right in town (no outhouse in the back!)

Back to the house, shower, change, and at ten I met Samantha Kelly, one of Jack’s friends, who kindly agreed to drive me to the airport. Sam is a second-year law student at Tech, and we hit it off instantly, chirping at high speed in the car, at J&B for a second day in a row, and on out to the airport. I have long been partial to women lawyers, and those aspiring to be, and Sam was a quality example. I look forward to getting to know her better on future trips.

Sam Kelly

Sam Kelly

It was Labor Day, and I thanked the people who served me for working on a holiday. Halfway from Lubbock to Dallas, one of the flight attendants who I thanked when I boarded sat down next to me and offered a handful of cookies and packaged snacks. “You’re the only person who thanked us,” she said, and we had a nice chat. I told her I worked for American for 22 years, asked about her work and family. It was a nice T-t-S moment. On the flight back to Washington, I thanked all the flight attendants, and one of them replied, “I’m just grateful to have a job.” A good attitude, for sure.

By eight that night I was home, on the night before the first day of school. Summer was over, and it was a wonderful season.

Staying cool at the cook-off

Staying cool at the cook-off

Going home

Going home

 

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The Minnesota State Fair and “Up North”

Concession stand, Minnesota State Fair

Concession stand, Minnesota State Fair

On Thursday morning, August 21, way, way before first light, Linda drove me to National Airport and I flew west to Chicago, arriving just after 7:00 in rain and storm. Hopped on a connecting American Eagle flight north to Minnesota – time for the third recurrent trip of the month, to the Minnesota State Fair – but things derailed, to change transport metaphors. After taxiing around O’Hare for an hour, we returned to the gate and the flight canceled, because of bad weather northwest of us. I was on standby for the next flight, at noon, and I whooped noisily when the gate agent called my name, hopped on, and took off. The plan was to spend the afternoon at the fair with pals Rick Dow (my amigo from SABF in Argentina) and high-school buddy Bob Woehrle. But with a 2:30 arrival we scrubbed that mission, opting for an early start Friday morning. Unhappily, Bob had other plans, so it would be just Rick and me.

I picked up a Hertz car and headed to a Dairy Queen in suburban Richfield for a late liquid lunch, an enormous chocolate malt, then headed to Southdale, a shopping mall. Say what? Rob in a mall? I didn’t buy anything; it was a pure nostalgia trip, back to a place we frequented when we were young. Indeed, we were there the day it opened in July 1956, my mom, brother, and I, admiring what was the first indoor shopping center in the nation. Any mall 58 years old will have gone through waves of renovation, and I was curious: were the two large, abstract brass trees still in the center atrium. Indeed they were, as was a huge, 1950s-style wall clock. Way cool!

The original brass trees, Southdale Center, Edina, Minnesota

The original brass trees, Southdale Center, Edina, Minnesota

I motored around my hometown, Edina, an affluent place (and looking more so in recent years), and by 4:30 was in the driveway of Murph and Rick Dow’s cool Edina home. They lived in Minnesota for some years, raised their three kids there, but for more than a decade lived in an analogous suburb of Chicago. Murph opened the door and it was so great to see her – I see Rick quite a bit, but for her it had been eight years. Rick was running errands, so Murph and I sat in the kitchen and got caught up. It was great fun.

An hour later, we were sitting on their deck enjoying a drink and some really fine hors d’oeuvres that Murph made. An hour after that we were tucking into a seriously large and delicious salmon dinner and an Oregon pinot noir. And a lot of great conversation, some focused on the outstanding folk art that Rick collected on his many trips through the South. After dessert I was plumb wore out, and was asleep not long after nine.

BedroomView

Up early, fair time. I was so excited. Said goodbye to Murph, and Rick and I motored around traffic, only to get stuck in a massive jam waiting to park at the fair (I made a silly decision to divert from my usual parking area; won’t do that again). But we were in the gates by eight, and made fast for a sit-down breakfast. The fair is filled with on-a-stick-food, but we wanted a traditional start, and found the old-school (“Since 1937”) dining hall of the Robbinsdale Order of the Eastern Star. Robbinsdale is a Minneapolis suburb, and the OES is the women’s part of the Masons; on the napkin holders at table was a short description of their good work, and Rick and I felt good about the meal and their charity. Volunteerism at its best.

4H

Regular readers know that my fair visits – haven’t missed one since the mid-1980s and I guess I’ve been nearly 50 times – are formulaic. Five or six stops and were done. So we ambled up to stop one, the fine arts exhibition, where for nearly 30 years we’ve bought wonderful art. We got there early, and had a nice yak on a bench in front about Rick’s mom and dad and other kin; he’s a great storyteller, and it was a pleasant wait. At 9:00 we headed in, and I was again reminded that it pays to get to the show the first or second day, because I found an absolutely outstanding oil, entitled “Making Concessions,” by Jennifer Horton. Sold! Rick also bought art, a way-cool photograph.

A rather poor photograph of Jennifer Horton's oil painting "Making Concessions"

A portion of Jennifer Horton’s oil painting “Making Concessions”

On our way to stop two, the Creative Activities building, we paused and had a nice chat with Bob, a 92-year-old former small-town newspaper publisher (Rick shares my zeal for Talking to Strangers) staffing the small Minnesota Newspaper Museum, then walked through the 4-H building. As it is every year, the diverse stuff on view in Creative Activities was eye-popping. Layer cakes, cookies, knitwear, woven rugs, woodworking, stuff by men, by women, by kids. The aggregate hours spent making all of it were close to infinity, or so it seemed. As always, people were demonstrating their skill, and I chatted with a young woman who taught herself bobbin weaving.

Bob Shaw, lifetime newspaperman

Bob Shaw, lifetime newspaperman

Craft-1

Bobbin weaver

 

From whimsy to serious composition in the Creative Activities building (the oeuvre at left are crocheted hamsters)

From whimsy to serious composition in the Creative Activities building (the oeuvre at left are crocheted hamsters)

The Homel Company, makers of Spam canned pork shoulder, dispatched a couple of ambassadors to promote in advance of judging the best Spam recipe of 2014

The Homel Company, makers of Spam canned pork shoulder, dispatched a couple of ambassadors to promote in advance of judging the best Spam recipe of 2014

Stop three was the Horticulture Building, a splendid WPA-era building with six or eight wings showcasing all sorts of stuff. Crop art for starters, then flowers, then something I had not seen in all my years at the fair: an exhibit of the Minnesota Mycological Society, mushroom people. Two true-believer volunteers explained and answered questions, and one of the pair wase delighted to meet a couple of curious souls. Like a sea-siren, the Minnesota Craft Brewers’ Guild beckoned, with its opportunity to sample from dozens of small producers. It was only 10:30, but the opportunity could not be passed, so we shared two “flights” of four small glasses. There were some weak brews, but some splendid stuff, too, especially from the up-and-coming (and curiously named) Surly Brewing Co. More T-t-S while we tippled.

Specimens at the Minnesota Mycological Society exhibit

Specimens at the Minnesota Mycological Society exhibit

Cottage Grove Strawberry Festival ambassadors

Cottage Grove Strawberry Festival ambassadors

State Fair police, keeping order

State Fair police, keeping order

Final stop, for more than 90 minutes, were the animal barns. For the first 4 days of the 12-day fair the 4-H kids hold forth, and they were all great fun. We began with chickens, ducks, and geese, then rabbits, then into the sheep barn, where judging of the large, solid Columbia breed was underway (for a city guy, I know my animals). We watched the final winnowing, saluted the blue-ribbon winner, and moved on. By ritual, I paused at the table where visitors can help themselves to newly-shorn fleece and picked up a chunk, squeezing it for the lanolin that protects the beasts in rain and snow, and smelling the earth in the fiber. Domestic animals are such a gift, and the chance to see, touch, smell, and hear them each year is a true blessing, and a nice reminder that long before the supermarket there are families willing to endure a lot of uncertainty and hardship to bring forth food and fiber.

Rooster

4-H member from Hubbard County with her Australorp rooster

4-H member from Hubbard County with her Australorp rooster

4-H member awaiting the judge's decision on the best Columbia sheep

4-H member awaiting the judge’s decision on the best Columbia sheep

In the cattle barn, kids were hosing down their beasts in the “shower stalls,” and in the aisles they were prettying their best, spray-painting hooves, drying, trimming, shining. Time was running out, so we zipped quickly through the hog barn, admiring the sow with a litter of 12, then heading out. Rick had a call at 1:00, so we hugged and parted. I grabbed a corn dog, then headed to the car. It was one of the better fair visits ever, I think largely because Rick and I are so simpatico and share a lot of values.

Heifer

4H-4

In no time I was zipping northwest on Interstate 94, then U.S. Highway 10, then Minnesota Highway 25, through Foley, Buckman, Pierz, and Genola. Past Brainerd, and onto Crow Wing County 3 through Crosslake to my pal-since-1963 Tim McGlynn’s cabin on Big Trout Lake. Got there at 4:30, hugs and smiles. I missed him in 2013, so it was great to be back. We yakked a bit, then I jumped in the lake to clean off the road dirt. Grabbed a beer on the dock, yakked some more, then hopped in his boat and motored a mile east to a big dinner of walleye, a wonderful Up North fish, at a local lodge.

Sunset, Big Trout Lake, Crow Wing County, Minnesota

Sunset, Big Trout Lake, Crow Wing County, Minnesota

I woke Saturday to the cry of the loon, one of my favorite. It is the sound of the North Woods. Had a cup of coffee and more chatter, then borrowed one of Tim’s cool mountain bikes for a ride into Crosslake and breakfast with George Rasmusson, a former colleague from Republic Airlines and one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. We had a great meal and a better yak, laughing hard. It had been three years. To keep busy, he’s become an excursion boat captain on Pelican Lake, and had some great stories from that job, and the airline biz before that. He’s a character.

George Rasmusson

George Rasmusson

Rode back to the cabin, hopped in Tim’s new, scaled-down motorhome (his house in the winter, which he spends out west, skiing and snowboarding), and headed north and west to look at a building lot he’s considering. He wants to downsize to a summer-only place, in a quieter location. The lake district in central Minnesota was always pretty built-up, and the retirement of baby boomers is making it more so.

Tim McGlynn and son Charlie

Tim McGlynn and son Charlie

At three we got back in the boat and headed through a chain of lakes to Bill and Sally Terry’s cabin, picked up four passengers, and headed to Moonlite Bay to listen to the Elements, a rock band of older guys and one of their kids. Way fun. Drank beer, met old pals, danced a bit (my knees felt in for days), carried on like we were young again. Not! At 6:30 we motored home, washed up, and headed by car to the Terrys for dinner – it’s a traditional annual event, and it’s always big fun, with plenty to eat and drink. I had to be up early the next day, so we were home by 11.

I planned to take a bike ride at dawn Sunday, but a storm came through at four, so I packed up, had a cup of coffee, hugged Tim, and headed back to the Twin Cities in driving rain. I took a different, more interesting route home, skirting the shore of the vast Mille Lacs Lake, third largest in a state of big lakes. It was still stormy, and the water looked angry. It was a cool sight. Stopped for breakfast at a small-town café, K-Bob’s in Princeton, then headed into town. I had just a bit of extra time, to I parked at Lexington and University and hopped on the new Green Line light rail, riding seven stops west to Stadium Village, in the shadow of the new University of Minnesota football field. Nice system, and well-planned new development along the line, on a street long in need of fresh blood.

GreenLine-2

Green Line train at the new U of M stadium, and new transit-oriented development along University Avenue

At 11, I met another decades-long pal, Bob Woehrle, for a cup of coffee near our old house in St. Paul. Had a great catch-up yak, plenty of laughs, then zipped back to the airport and flew home.

 

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Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Sunrise, Willet Pond

Sunrise, Willet Pond

Descending into Charleston, the view below was emerald. It rains a lot in South Carolina, and with the powerful sun trees grow quickly; the pine plantations below destined to become paper of all kinds. Linda, Robin, Dylan, and Carson picked me up in a rented minivan and we made fast for one of my favorite restaurants in the South, the Hominy Grill. When we turned off the freeway onto a local street, I smiled broadly, for here was an authentic landscape in that historic town. A young black man rode by on a bicycle, grocery bags hanging from the handlebars; leafy trees crowned the road, and flowering shrubs on the verges below; clapboard homes built 150 years earlier lined the streets on both sides; and deep potholes invited us to slow down.

Flower

In no time we were toasting our good fortune, me with a local pale ale. Tucked into a vegetable plate, shared dessert, and left the Hominy in a good spot. Drove to Kiawah at dusk, unpacked, and slept hard. Rose before dawn and hopped on a rented bike; they’re clunkers, but after four previous vacations on the island I knew them well, and was happy to be on a two-wheeler after days on foot in Argentina.

Vegetable plate, Hominy Grill, Charleston

Vegetable plate, Hominy Grill, Charleston

Riding east toward the end of the island, I got thinking about new places and familiar ones. Although I like to discover the former – like Jakarta several weeks earlier, what a cool experience – returning to well-trod paths is also good. I thought about childhood vacations, when for almost a decade we returned to the same rustic resort in northern Minnesota. The ladies all like Kiawah, and I do, too.

Cheers in the Sanctuary bar

Cheers in the Sanctuary bar

Carson at the beach

Carson at the beach

 

Dylan at the pool

Dylan at the pool

The days fell into a rhythm: biking 15 or more miles before breakfast, out to admire the green and especially the remarkable fauna, principally water birds and a lot of alligators (at a distance). We alternated between a fun, kid-oriented swimming pool and the lovely wide beach, the latter walking distance from our villa. Nap after lunch, a beer on the porch with a good book, out to dinner, and more reading before bed. The days passed quickly. It was fun to be with Carson and Dylan, who love the place.

Early morning on the wetlands on the east end of the island

Early morning on the wetlands on the east end of the island

The view from our bedroom

The view from our bedroom

Kiawah teems with wildlife: deer, water birds, and lots of alligators; Dylan, Carson, and I were fascinated by this guy, who climbed out of the pond to warm up his cold-blooded body

Kiawah teems with wildlife: deer, water birds, and lots of alligators; Dylan, Carson, and I were fascinated by this guy, who climbed out of the pond to warm up his cold-blooded body

We flew home on Sunday, August 17, and it was good to be home after 12 days.

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Buenos Aires and the South American Business Forum

The baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), Buenos Aires

The baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), Buenos Aires

On the way home from Indonesia, I was feeling about a quart low, and indeed I contracted shingles, sort of like chicken pox for older adults. Didn’t have anything to do with tropical pathogens, the doctor said stress often triggers the onset (well, yeah, like getting your phone stolen, leaving your passport at the hotel, etc.!). It’s uncomfortable, to me not debilitating, but persistent.

Persistence meant I still had some symptoms when I departed Tuesday, August 5 for Buenos Aires and my seventh appearance at the South American Business Forum. But the show must go on, especially at that student-run conference where I have become something of a senior leader and proud cheerleader. The journey south had a few complications that were not my doing. The Washington-New York flight was severely delayed, which would have meant missing my connection to B.A. I was rebooked on another flight that was also late. The original schedule gave me almost three hours at JFK. I arrived 9:40, waited five minutes for my gate-checked bag, and walked as fast as I could across American’s big Terminal 8. As I dashed, I heard them paging me to go to gate 8 “for immediate departure,” to which I responded “I’m coming, I’m coming” (I’ve never been paged as a tardy passenger). At the top of an escalator a man asked if I was Robert Britton, and escorted me to the gate. I was on the Silver Bird 10 minutes before departure time, and they closed the door right behind me. Whew, that was close.

Arrived into winter in the Southern Hemisphere, met one of the conference volunteers, Lucas Diaz, and my sidekick Rick Dow (see earlier posts, a longtime friend and marketing genius), who was making his second SABF appearance. Hopped in Lucas’ car and were soon yakking across a bunch of topics, not least what sounded like an awesome presentation Rick would give the next day. It was a pleasure to be in B.A., a place that has become familiar. Rick and I checked into the hotel, changed money, and headed to lunch at one of the city’s cool bares notables, the Bar Britanico in the San Telmo neighborhood just south of downtown. We spent a couple of hours yakking, ate a good meal, had a beer.

Rick Dow at the Bar Britanico

Rick Dow at the Bar Britanico

We then headed to a high-rise that has long been the site of the first day plenary, met some of the conference organizers, and tested Rick’s presentation. At six, we walked a few blocks south to the compact campus of ITBA, the Buenos Aires Institute of Technology, the SABF host institution, and plunged into the first forum event, a noisy and lively “tea party.” Organizers asked the roughly 100 participants (50 from Argentina, 25 from elsewhere in Latin America, and 25 from other places) to bring some nonperishable food from their homelands, so we were able to tuck into geitost (caramelized goat cheese from Norway), savory crackers from Paraguay, the sweet cookie from Argentina called an alfajon, and lots more. Taste was great, but better was the exuberance of the youngsters. We met Kulani and Mokgohloe, two women medical students from South Africa, Daniel from Venezuela, Ariadne from Ukraine, and many more.

SABF's kickoff tea party

SABF’s kickoff tea party

Next stop was dinner with long friends Martín Siniawski and his partner Valeria Luna, and Juan Trouilh and his girlfriend Barbara. The two guys were part of the SABF founding team, and we’ve become close through the years. Dinner was at Caseros, a delightful restaurant Juan’s cousin owns (unhappily, she wasn’t there). We shared wonderful appetizers, ceviche and grilled sweetbreads, then I tucked into a ribeye steak. I am not a big red-meat eater, but when I’m in Argentina I really appreciate the superior flavor and texture of grass-fed beef, so much better than the grain-pumped feedlot animals in my native land. Yum! The day ended just after 11, with me as cheerleader, addressing the SABF organizing team on the eve of the conference. I got ‘em fired up!

Next morning the conference began, a full day of plenary, six speakers, including Rick’s stupendous preso. Met lots more students, including Artem from Russia, Menzi from South Africa, Thijs from the Netherlands, and more. As good as the sessions were, the chatter during coffee breaks, lunch, and dinner may have been better. So many remarkable life stories, like from Aslan, born in Iran but now a proud Oklahoman. The day sped by, as did the next one, Friday. I moderated a student presentation in the morning, continued yakking. Rick and I left a bit early, grabbed a short nap, then returned to a group dinner.

SABF

Before dinner, we ambled across the street to an agreeable neighborhood restaurant, El Establo, for a beer. It’s got a great local feel. I thought I knew Rick pretty well, but he told me lots of new stories, of him living in Paris as a teenager, and more color on his first real job, selling pool chemicals in the Southeast. Just one colorful story: he loves music (his first job – not a real one, he says – was owning and running a live-music bar, Vegetable Buddies, in South Bend, Indiana), so often on his selling trips he’d check out various music venues in the Carolinas, Georgia, etc. That included breaking into a closed, old hotel in Macon, Georgia, to “commune” with the spirit of Little Richard, one of the black musicians who hugely influenced rock and roll; Rick knew that Little Richard had been a dishwasher in the hotel. I could listen to his stories for hours!

On Saturday morning,we started a bit later, so the Transport Geek hopped on the subway for a short ride; the now-privatized system is old and in need of investment (judging by the Japanese characters on windows, my train began life across the Pacific).  Stations have wonderful old art, mosaics, paintings, and tiles.

Subte

Tile art, Buenos Aires subway

Tile art, Buenos Aires subway

The city is filled with these contrasts of old and new -- it's one of the things that makes B.A. so cool

The city is filled with these contrasts of old and new — it’s one of the things that makes B.A. so cool

We did a cool group activity that morning, basically an hour of dance with a wonderful and inspiring moderator. My big job, for the third time, was to summarize and close the conference that afternoon, a task I have come to relish, for it gives me the opportunity for a full measure of inspiration. I also was able to meet and thank parents of six or seven organizers, which was lovely, and pose for countless pictures with the youngsters. It was sorta rock-star treatment, and I kept telling them that I was getting far more than I gave. Once again, a colossal conference. I am just so happy to be associated with the group. They are like family.

At 6:30 Rick and I met a former organizer, Josue, now a management consultant, for a beer and a good yak. He still wants to get into the airline business, and Rick (a former VP at Northwest Airlines) and I dispensed some advice. The airline theme continued at 8:15, when we met Christoff Poppe, the Argentine country manager for United Airlines. I met Christoff when he was a MBA student at Kellogg a few years back, and we reconnected earlier in the year. Three airline guys, two former and one current, made for a lively dinner at Al Carbon, a steak place around the corner from our hotel. We covered a lot of topics, including our industry, Argentine economics and politics, and lots more. Really fun. And another steak.

I was plumb wore out, but we promised students we’d show at the end-of-conference party, so at 11:30 Rick and I hopped in a cab and motored west to the Palermo neighborhood and the Liv night club. A night club! I don’t think I had been in such a place for at least 25 years. It was lively, the kids were having big fun, but it was way too noisy for this old guy. Still, we moved around, getting into digital snapshots, hugging and one-cheek-kissing almost everyone (Rick and I do like the Latin way). On the way out, I ran into another old SABF hand, Agustín DiLuciano, a telecoms engineer who told me he’s spending more and more time as an artist – a good thing, because he has huge talent.

A sample of Agustín's talent

A sample of Agustin’s talent; you can see more at http://www.facebook.com/dilucious

 

 

But we weren’t done. Nope. At 1:45, we left the club and headed to La Catedral, a tango club that Juan Trouilh told us about. It was exactly as he described: dumpy, funky, but totally local and totally memorable: I will long remember ordinary Porteños (as locals are known) moving around the dance floor, filled with energy, and a lot of passion. The tango is such a cool dance. We left just before three, and I felt pretty local. I’m an early-to-bed guy, and have been for decades, but lately I have discovered – perhaps better late than never – that if I stay up late from time to time I’m not gonna die! So 4.5 hours of sleep was better than zero. And, oh, did we have fun.

Tango2

Up Sunday morning, packed my bag, and met Rick for breakfast at 9:30. We hopped in a taxi and headed to Recoleta, pausing to admire the baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), then into the huge cemetery where Eva Peron and lots of others are buried. It’s a fascinating place, with elaborate burial vaults and structures, some in poor repair.

Altar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Altar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

FatherFahy

Rev. Fahy’s grave, however, is in fine shape!

Man and friend, Recoleta park

Man and friend, Recoleta park

Flower power, Recoleta park

Flower power, Recoleta park

The latter are a sort of metaphor for the local economy, which has been on a down slope for more than seven decades. As I have written in these pages after previous visits, Argentina 110 years ago was as rich as the United States, but the decline began with the election of Juan Peron in the 1940s. His populist approach, with lots of state intervention (and ample corruption) has become entrenched, and has destabilized an economy with enormous resources and potential. The collectivist urge has actually engendered an absence of togetherness, and the evidence is plainly visible on the street (for example, in disrepair and dog turds on the sidewalk).

The fawning praise for Juan is everywhere

The fawning praise for Juan is everywhere

You must feel invincible if you brand a government ministry with an image of Eva Peron, the former first lady

You must feel invincible if you brand a government ministry with an image of Eva Peron, the former first lady

We walked the rows and rows of the cemetery, then headed into the nearby park, filled with what seemed like an oversupply of artists and craft vendors. Hopped in a cab for a (to us) late lunch with Martín and Vale, at a sensational local parrilla (barbecue), more steak, some spicy chorizo, and more. After the meal, we walked a few blocks to their high-rise apartment and rode up to the 31st floor for stunning views of the city. Had a coffee and a short yak in their apartment, then headed out for another amble around Palermo.

True amigos: Martín Siniawski and Valeria Luna

True amigos: Martín Siniawski and Valeria Luna

The view from Martin's and Vale's apartment

The view from Martín’s and Vale’s apartment

Rick shares my delight in spending time in ordinary landscapes, so the hour or more walking the streets of an interesting neighborhood was to both of us a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Some scenes from the neighborhood:

PaintedDetail

Modern apartments are replacing these two- and three-story traditional houses

Modern apartments are replacing these two- and three-story traditional houses

The replacement structure (to the above); note the stylish variant on burglar bars

The replacement structure (to the above); note the stylish variant on burglar bars

Bookstore window

Bookstore window

In a city filled with annoying spray-painted graffiti, we very much liked this transitory paper and foil version!

In a city filled with annoying spray-painted graffiti, we very much liked this transitory paper and foil version!

We hopped in a taxi back to the airport, I said goodbye to Rick, and hopped in a private car (I planned to take the bus, but the SABF, always hospitable, organized a nice ride). The driver spoke no English, so it was the perfect moment to thank Don Miguel, my first Spanish teacher, way back to 1960 (I actually murmured a “Gracias, Don Miguel” the night before in the steakhouse, where I ordered all courses in Spanish). The driver was my age, a friendly fellow, and we exchanged basics – my job, my family, his family. He explained that he was in his second marriage, and had children aged 6 to 40. It was a fun ride, a nice variant on Talking to Stangers. Flew to Dallas/Fort Worth, arriving early Monday morning. I was headed to family vacation in South Carolina, and had a seven-hour layover, so I took a welcome shower, worked a bit, and at 1:50 flew to Charleston.

A welcoming sight: the cockpit of an American Airlines Boeing 777, Buenos Aires

A welcoming sight: the cockpit of an American Airlines Boeing 777, Buenos Aires

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A Reflection on Flight, In the Wake of Tragedy

OneworldJet

All of us who work in the airline business have made it easy: the ability to traverse our nation, or perhaps the whole world, in just hours.  I did it just last week, flying nearly halfway around the world, to Indonesia.  Our mission is simple to understand: we work hard each day to bring the people of the world together, safely, reliably, and at a fair price.   Many of us who have worked in the business for our entire lives see it as a calling, something noble.  We are pilloried for a late flight, a cancellation, or a lost bag, but we shrug off the criticism, because we believe in what we do.

So when terrorists strike, as they did a few days ago, bringing down a magnificent flying machine cruising from Europe to Southeast Asia, it is deeply upsetting.  Perhaps we should pause and give thanks that this is the first such crime since September 11, 2001. But that gives us no comfort.  Instead, we find ourselves weeping at the photos and stories of the victims profiled in today’s New York Times. 

The grief must surely be enormous in The Netherlands, a nation I have long admired and frequently visited.  It’s a relatively small place, which means proportionally, the impact there was greater than in the U.S. on September 11 (it would be the equivalent of about 3,800 deaths in the U.S.).

This morning, I rode my bike to Washington National Airport, 16 miles.  I wanted to get close to our business, to remind myself of what we do.  I dismounted just north of the end of the runway and watched a few takeoffs and a landing.  Routine.  Seemingly easy, though to us quite complex.  We’ve gotten very good at it, but the tragedy in Ukraine reminds us that there are some in the world who would exploit this noble and capable business to advance their own twisted agenda, sacrificing innocents and trying to scare us.  But we will not be frightened, because to show fear is to give those thugs what they want.  And we will not do that.

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Jakarta, Indonesia, and a short stop in Hong Kong

Tropical flora, Jakarta

Tropical flora, Jakarta

 

The first journey wholly in the latter half of 2014 began on July 8, way before dawn, up to New York Kennedy and over the pole on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, more than 8,000 miles and 12 time zones. Happily, a longtime colleague at Cathay kindly got me upgraded to business class, which was sensational. The service was great, flight attendants among the best anywhere. My westbound transpacific approach is only to sleep a couple of hours, which meant I had time to watch five movies. We arrived HKG at 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon, but I still had more than 2,000 miles to my destination, Jakarta. Lucked out with another big seat on the next flight, and arrived in Indonesia’s capital at 8:00 pm.

 

How you get from New York to Hong Kong (courtesy of Great Circle Mapper)

How you get from New York to Hong Kong (courtesy of Great Circle Mapper)

It was their presidential election day, which offered both a good conversation starter when Talking to Strangers (not just that night, but for days after), and meant that there was little of the infamous traffic that chokes the huge metropolis. The taxi driver was the first exemplar of Indonesian friendliness; he spoke pretty good English, and we had a nice chat about his four children, his vote earlier in the day (I did not ask and he did not offer his choice), Ramadan fasting (he was hungry), and his 12-year stint behind the wheel. The two young front-desk clerks at the Holiday Inn Express downtown extended the welcome – on first impression, a very hospitable place – and I asked them to show me their inked little fingers, evidence that they too had voted. I snapped a picture, only later realizing that one held up one inked finger and the other proudly displayed two. In this case, the V-for-victory gesture meant she supported the reform candidate, Mr. Joko, who was thought to be the winner (in the world’s fourth-most-populous country, islands sprinkled across 3,000 miles of water, it would take until July 22 for the official results).

The next morning, The New York Times included this gem: “Katherina Setiadi, a 95-year-old who grew up under Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia, said she voted for Mr. Joko because she felt he was a good man. ‘There’s so much energy today compared to’ Mr. Suharto’s regime, said Ms. Setiadi, sitting in a wheelchair and accompanied by family members. ‘You just feel it – feel the democracy.’” It was a good time to be in country.

Evidence of the election was everywhere: at left, a billboard for the projected loser, and a shoeshine bench promoting the likely winner

Evidence of the election was everywhere: at left, a billboard for the projected loser, and a shoeshine bench promoting the likely winner

My time-zone approach worked perfectly: I was asleep by 9:30 and did not wake until 5:30. Headed to the gym for 10 miles on a bike, then down to breakfast: fried rice with dried fish, chicken soto (soup), and a bowl of muesli for East-West balance. Back in my room, I discovered an oops: two days earlier, I packed my bag in some haste, and forgot the pair of dress shoes for my client meetings. Failure recovery was relatively fast: thanks to the Internet, I located a Rockport (my favorite brand, totally comfy for all the walking I do when on the road) store in a shopping mall a few kilometers away, which would give the Transport Geek a first opportunity to use the city’s varied public transport. I walked a few hundred meters to the Sudirman commuter-train station and bought a chipcard ticket.

The view looking north from my hotel room

The view looking north from my hotel room

Putting my wallet away, I heard a voice, in great English, “excuse me, sir, but what is AirLearn?” Fahd had spotted the laminated business card on my backpack, and this launched a nice T-t-S (by the way, an essay on the joy of T-t-S was just published, in the July issue of American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines, here). I described my little firm and my airline background, and he said he had lived in the U.S. for 12 years, learned to fly, loved aviation, but didn’t think he could find a pilot job. We chatted a bit more, and I peeled off, down the stairs to the train platform and a short ride to the Tebet station. From there, it was a mile walk along Jalan Kh. Abdullah Syafe’i, through the ordinary landscapes that I always find interesting: past little shops, a couple of banks, and a lot of small garages for repairing some autos, but mostly the thousands of motorcycles that are solid – and noisy – evidence of the nation’s rapidly-rising living standards. I also passed a number of small restaurants, and if they were open the workers looked glum, for Ramadan is bad for daytime business.

An ordinary neighborhood

An ordinary neighborhood

 

Car repair guys, proud of their work

Car repair guys, proud of their work

The Kota Kasablanka mall, frigid air, gleaming floors, global brands, was further proof of growing affluence, though the place was pretty empty. I found the Rockport store, and a pair of dress loafers that fit my bunioned paws. I asked the friendly young clerk to show me his proof-I-voted inked finger, and he held up two fingers for my iPhone camera. Nice!

The flashy mall

The flashy mall

Retraced my steps back to the station. On the return train, a middle-aged man spotted me looking at the route map and asked if I needed help. Another nice T-t-S with a fellow who lived in Sydney, Australia, for 15 years. He, too, had voted the day before. So nice to meet people who do not take democracy for granted. I changed clothes, slipped on my new shoes, and set off on Transjakarta, a set of bus lines that operate on (more or less) dedicated lanes, bypassing some but not all traffic jams. Hopped off and walked several blocks, then realized I would be late for my client meeting if I kept on foot, so I hailed an ojek, unlicensed motorcycle “taxis.” My first ride was a good introduction: fast but slightly scary, especially when the driver slipped between lanes of stopped cars, with a few inches of clearance on each side.

I entered the posh Bodobudur Hotel, met my client Betti, and had a good chat about the one-day seminar that she had organized for two days hence. She was impressed by my public-transport experiences in just 16 hours; yes, she recognized the word “geek,” and I then told her I was in fact a Transport Geek. She laughed. I headed back to the busway and a 30-cent ride back to the hotel. Grabbed a short siesta.

Rush hour traffic; note the motorbikes squeezing through at right

Rush hour traffic; note the motorbikes squeezing through at right

At about 5:30, I headed back to Sudirman station. Rush hour, jammed platforms, packed trains. I fell into the pushed wave of commuters flowing onto a train. This was the definition of crowded, tighter than I had ever experienced – even in Tokyo, in India. When I got off one stop east in Manggarai, I still had my wallet, in my buttoned back pocket, but someone managed to steal my iPhone in a front pocket. Well, shit. I thought perhaps I left it in the hotel room, but when I returned it was not there. Nope. Well, shit, but there was nothing to do but go to the Apple website, report it stolen (the “Find my iPhone” app only works if the phone is on), then suspend AT&T service.

No reason to mope, it was a replaceable thing, and the reality is that there have only been two thefts in more than 40 years of international travel – some travelers’ checks in Munich in 1973 (replaced on the spot), and a big ripoff, March 2006, my briefcase (laptop, camera, car keys) on a Dutch train. That’s a pretty good run.

I headed downstairs, jumped on an ojek and headed to dinner. Even with the street address and district name the driver did not know where he was going (the iPhone and GPS map would have helped). A two-mile ride took 40 minutes, circling, stopping to ask ten other drivers and strangers on the street (but unlike U.S. men he did stop to ask, and frequently). In the end, I spotted the street sign for Jalan Teuku Cik Di Tiro 4 and ten seconds later the restaurant, Lara Djonggrang. He looked unhappy when I gave him the agreed fare; I was not interested in paying for a sightseeing ride, though the district we traversed and traversed again, Menteng, was pleasant, full of large old houses and embassies.

Lara Djonggrang was, from the first moment, outstanding. A warm greeting from the staff, my name and “welcome” painted in white on a broad green leaf at my table, smiles all around. The menu was like a book, and it took awhile to get through it. I was not in a hurry, so I chose course by course. Appetizer was otak-otak, marinated ground fish in an egg batter; then a squid satay from Sulawesi; main course was a Balinese dish, nasi kajongan wayan, steamed rice with six small dishes of slow-cooked duck, grilled vegetables, seafood salad, grilled coconut, and more; and dessert was pisang ramee, a banana and raisin crepe, with coconut and palm sugar syrup. When you’re eating alone you normally are in and out, but I stayed two hours, not just enjoying the food but admiring the museum-like décor – painting, sculpture, folk art. I wished I had my iPhone to snap pictures; it was a nice reminder always to store images in your brain, too. Lara Djonggrang was a sensational experience. Hopped back on an ojek and zoomed home. In the elevator I had a nice, albeit brief, conversation with a couple of Indonesians in their 30s; can’t recall how the topic of the elections came up, but they quickly made it clear they were elated with the result, and the language they used “zeitgeist,” for instance, suggested they were academics. Wished that T-t-S could have continued!

Slept well again, up before dawn, down to the gym, then out the door for a day of touring. The major hassle of the iPhone ripoff was not having a city map with GPS “where you are” dot, so I had to revert to the old paper map, and the free version was not very good – too many ads and not enough street detail, but I jotted down my destinations on small piece of paper (for the ojek drivers), and set off, first on a Transjakarta bus north to the main railway station, Kota, then onto the first motorbike to Petak Sembilan, a street market. I love Third World markets, and this one was a gem, vendors hawking live cobras, turtles, and chickens, skinned frogs, flowers, fruits and vegetables. A little further on, the Jin de Yuan Buddhist temple – the area seemed mainly Chinese, who form a minority community in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries – plus old-school rickshaws, ladies gossiping in the shade, the works.

Detail, government building from the late (Dutch) colonial era

Detail, government building from the late (Dutch) colonial era

Modern and not, in the main railway station

Modern and not, in the main railway station

Scenes from the market street

Scenes from the market street

 

Just a small sample of the array of produce for sale: frogs and chiles

Just a small sample of the array of produce for sale: frogs and chiles

The chicken seller, unloading his wares

The chicken seller, unloading his wares

 

Roofline, Buddhist temple

Roofline, Buddhist temple

Next stop was Sunda Kelapa, the old harbor. This was for sure not the container port, but a narrow channel lined with old freighters with hulls of massive wooden beams and a house-like superstructure in the rear. They ran the range from less rickety to more rickety, but I am not an expert in marine science! An old man beckoned, pointing to his narrow green boat in the murky water below. “Ride?” he asked. Why not, I reckoned. We bargained to the equivalent of $4.32, and set off. The motor putt-putted us into the channel, and about a half-mile to open water, where we turned around. I don’t think his vessel had an Indonesian Coast Guard certificate, nor even a lifebuoy, but people who have lived in an archipelago for centuries know their way around the water. The boats were transport for basic goods: guys were loading bags of cement, carboys of chemicals, stacks of air conditioners. When not working, crewmembers waved, hung their wash on drying lines, showered on deck behind a little privacy gate. It was fascinating.

The traditional two-masted schooner called a Pinisi

The traditional two-masted schooner called a Pinisi

 

The view from the harbor

The view from the harbor

The boatman

The boatman

Back on land, it was a little hard to find an ojek at the port gate. Bicycle “taxi” guys beckoned, and even though I was only traveling a mile or so they looked pretty slow. Soon a fellow with a brightly-painted machine showed up, and I hopped on. A few blocks from my destination, Kota railway station, I spotted some interesting buildings from the Dutch Colonial era. When we arrived, the driver, the most honest one to date (in terms of fare), posed for a photo, and I threaded my way across busy streets, back toward the stuff that caught my eye. I was getting good at crossing jammed thoroughfares; the skill required the same nerve as riding an ojek, plus both eye contact with oncoming drivers and slower moves than I normally make!

Jakarta's most honest ojek driver

Jakarta’s most honest ojek driver

The Dutch governor's building

The Dutch governor’s building

Museum Wayang

Museum Wayang

According to the map, I was at Taman Fatahillah, a historic square and center of the original Dutch Colonial administration. I walked into the Museum Wayang, described in guidebooks as having a solid collection of traditional Indonesian puppets. Here was one of the finest T-t-S experiences in a long time. It was pure serendip that the ticket seller, Daniel Roy, also happened to be from a family of puppeteers – both makers and performers – who date to the 10th Century! As I was putting away my wallet and folding the bulky map, he asked where I was from. “Ah, Washington,” he replied, “we were there on a 38-day tour of the U.S. some years ago.” Daniel spent the next hour showing me around the museum, describing characters of the stories. Here was the Indonesian equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, there Gacot Kaca, the “Superman of Indonesia,” and Bima, the dragon-snake man. The total character set totaled nearly 6,000!

Indonesia's Superman

Indonesia’s Superman

Detail from a shadow puppet depicting the circle of life

Detail from a shadow puppet depicting the circle of life

Daniel explained how the puppets were made, the larger ones with highly durable wood that will last more than 300 years without repainting; shadow puppets made with buffalo skin, also durable for hundreds of years, intricate patterns cut from the hide, a single mistake ruining the work. He also told about some of the performances, like one that could last up to 10 hours, with as many as 250 different puppets – and a minimum of 120, all presented by just a few people, who could not pause for a bathroom or water break. Whoa! In addition to the U.S. tour, Daniel had visited Paris to accept a UNESCO award, and took a marathon 5.5-month trip across Africa, using puppets to dramatize the need for smaller families. The building was originally a Dutch Reformed Church, and had gone through several incarnations. After we finished the museum tour, we walked a block to his workshop, and he explained that he teaches puppet-making four times a week. I bought a couple of small shadow puppets – how could I not? It was a remarkable experience.

Daniel and one of his creations

Daniel and one of his creations

Dutch headstone inside the museum

Dutch headstone inside the museum

To prevent damage to the puppets, I returned to the hotel, and the three-mile ride south took an hour. Traffic had ground to a halt because of a huge demonstration near the national monument, a couple of thousand people protesting Israeli military action in the Gaza. Palestinian flags, chants, something being burned (likely an effigy of Binyamin Netanyahu). The delay made me cranky, but was a reminder that our (read: Bush, Obama and other U.S. leaders) unwillingness to broker a durable peace and a viable nation-state in Palestine reverberates around the world, and especially in the huge swath of earth that is Muslim.

Street protest

Street protest beside a huge fountain

Plaza Indonesia, a flashy mall; needless to say, I did not shop there!

Plaza Indonesia, a flashy mall; needless to say, I did not shop there!

I finally arrived, washed my face, dropped the goods, and headed out for a late lunch, then a small shopping trip – I told Robin I would buy Dylan and Carson a couple of batik headscarves, so I rode escalators through Sarinah, a department store, and was able to find them without much trouble. Check and done. It was hot, and I contemplated a siesta, but the “must tour” urge prevailed, and I hopped an ojek toward what the Lonely Planet guide website described as a nice collection of buildings from the colonial era. Indeed they were, but they were behind fences with sentries at checkpoints, so that mission failed. I ambled back toward the Transjakarta line. The protest had moved, but was still disrupting traffic.

At six I walked just a few blocks to Seribu Rasa, another highly-regarded Indonesian restaurant, but, drat, I did not make a reservation and they were full. In retrospect, I should have persisted, or asked to sit at the bar, but I left, and more or less wandered for 30 minutes, up a busy street looking for something, anything, local. I was hot and cranky and hungry and thirsty, and I’m not proud to report that I ate a McDonald’s chicken sandwich with cheese, fries, and a Coke, and a Mango frappe for dessert. Well, it was cheap and filling. I was worn out, and needed to be on form the next day, so was asleep way early.   Cities in the developing world wear you out!

Saturday dawned, finally time to stand and deliver. Put on my suit, ate a good breakfast, and rode a taxi – not an ojek – back to the Borobudur. Met Betti and a number of her colleagues, as well as my co-presenter, Professor Paul Dempsey (my McGill law school host, who invited me onto the project). The day went quickly, and well. When we finished at 5:30, the group invited Paul and me to join them for Iftar, the big meal to break the daytime fast.   Was back at the hotel a bit after seven. I considered going out for some Saturday night fun, but was plumb wore out.

Up Sunday morning at 5:30, quick breakfast and out the door. Jakarta Sunday morning was traffic-free, and even with pelting rain was at the airport in about a half-hour. Checked in, lucked out with another upgrade to Cathay Pacific business class, and hopped on a 777 back to Hong Kong. The purser, Lucy Kessler, recognized me from the southbound flight three days earlier. We got to know each other quite well on the flight, chatting off and on for an hour, maybe more. A couple of small-world stories: first, her husband grew up in Richardson, Texas (our hometown for 20 years); and second, she knew my Cathay Pacific colleague Charlie. She showed me a bunch of pictures on her phone: her favorite Jakarta restaurant (she was from there), her daughter Samantha, and eye-popping decorated cakes that she made. She had serious talent as a baker, and was a sensational purser to boot. I spent a bit of time in the galley, a part of the plane I remember fondly from my inflight days, and got to know some of the rest of the crew. It was a really nice ride.

With some of the cabin crew on CX718 to Hong Kong.  Purser Lucy Kessler is in the center

With some of the cabin crew on CX718 to Hong Kong. Purser Lucy Kessler is in the center

Lucy subsequently emailed a picture of one of her wonderful decorated cakes, this one for her daughter's 8th birthday

Lucy subsequently emailed a picture of one of her wonderful decorated cakes, this one for her daughter’s 8th birthday

Arrived Hong Kong at 2:45, and instead of flying on, I hopped on the super-speedy Airport Express train, then a free shuttle to my hotel (breaking up the journey, even a little, made sense). Checked in, washed my face, and zipped back out. First activity, a ride on the slow but funky double-decker tram west to Kennedy Town. The top deck of the tram is a great vantage point for street life and the changing urban landscape, especially the gradual replacement of 1950s and ‘60s high-rises with slick new ones. You pass fancy shops with global brands and 50 feet later a traditional store, like one selling only nuts, or herbal medicines. Bought a can of Coke at Kennedy Town and hopped back on the tram, taking photos in the splendid late-afternoon light.

Older housing, Kennedy Town

Older housing, Kennedy Town

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Traditional retailing, Des Voeux Rd.

Traditional retailing, Des Voeux Rd.

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Back in the district called Central a protest was in progress, streets blocked for a sit-down of hundreds of immigrant temporary workers, all women, unhappy about changes to local labor laws, insurance cost, and other woes. It was impossible to conceive of such an event across the border, or in other parts of Asia that rely on cheap female labor to cook, clean, and look after children. And it was a reminder that Hong Kong’s democratic traditions – under some threat from Beijing – are not to be taken for granted. I happened upon the protest by accident, because my destination were the two bronze lions, named Stitt and Stephen, that stand guard at the entry to the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, HSBC. Petting the big cats, and snapping a photo, is also part of my H.K. formula.

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Street protest, Central district

Street protest, Central district

 

The HSBC cats had become part of the protest!

The HSBC cats had become part of the protest!

Global retailing, IFC Mall

Global retailing, IFC Mall

At 5:30 I met a new guy, Adam Cowburn, with the aviation consultancy SH&E/ICF. We were introduced by email last year and indeed worked a bit on a couple of proposals (that were not successful). The original plan was dinner with him and his wife, but a last-minute meeting diverted him to Kuala Lumpur, so we settled on tea in the flashy IFC Mall just above the Airport Express train station, so he could zip out. We had a good, quick yak, he peeled off, and I headed down to the water and onto the famous old Star Ferry for the short ride across the bay to Kowloon.

The Kowloon skyline

The Kowloon skyline

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The Star Ferry departing Kowloon

The Star Ferry departing Kowloon

I had been moving quickly, and it was time to relax, so I walked two blocks east to the venerable and posh Peninsula Hotel. I hadn’t been there since my last visit a decade earlier. I literally chilled, because the A/C in the lobby bar was working well. Enjoyed a Guinness Stout and some free nuts and chips (included in the $12 beer), jotted a few journal notes that I otherwise would have tapped on my iPhone. Nicely relaxing. As someone – okay, perhaps an old fuddy-duddy – who believes in at least modest rules of attire, I cheered on the lobby maitre d’, who dispatched a couple of young European men in shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. Nice that the Peninsula upholds the old standards. I could not hear what the slob was saying when he left, but he looked very unhappy.

Lobby of the Peninsula Hotel

Lobby of the Peninsula Hotel

Next stop, according to formula, was a couple of blocks north on Nathan Road, the Chungking Mansions (built 1961), a seedy high-rise warren of cheap rooms, eateries, money exchanges. The building façade was less crumbly than I recall, but the ground floor was much as I remember, a United Nations-like mix of working people – Arabs, Africans, Chinese, a few Western tourists slumming it. I bought a beer from a young black man with dreadlocks and a shirt that said “Bob Marley.” Sat down in his tiny back room, next to two Arab guys drinking fruit juice spiked with a small bottle of rum and a large smiling fellow from Benin, whom I engaged briefly about the World Cup. It was a nice yin-yang experience. As I was enjoying my $1.10 San Miguel (way cheaper than the Peninsula!) I recalled passages from one of Jo Nesbø’s novels; his protagonist, Norwegian detective-cop Harry Hole, had spent time on the upper floors, and quite possibly had drunk a beer in my chair.

Hopped the train, not the boat, back across the water (er, under it), and walked a block to Yung Kee, the traditional Cantonese restaurant where Adam, his wife, and I were to dine. It was getting a little late, so I opted for a lighter meal. First course was fried tofu with bean sprouts (the poached pig’s aorta caught my eye, but), and a main of fried noodles with shredded pork. The Chinese families nearby were all enjoying themselves hugely. Walked two blocks to the hotel, and clocked out. I contemplated setting the alarm for 3 AM, start time for the World Cup final, but Zzzzzzzs had priority.

Got up Monday morning, checked the score (Germany 1, Argentina 0), ate breakfast, and left for the airport with my passport still in the room safe. Yet another snafu this trip – when it rains, it pours! No excuse for dumbness, but ever since the iPhone departed, I had been extra-vigilant. Brenda, the kindly helper at Cathay Pacific’s ticket desk, got me on the standby list for Chicago flight, and I returned to the city and the hotel to fetch my document. Aieeeeeeeee!

Not only did I clear the standby list, but I once again got upgraded to business class, four for four. God bless Cathay Pacific.   By rights, the passport mistake should have put me in the penalty box, between two tubby people in economy class, smoking section (well, okay, they don’t allow smoking, but you get the idea!). Had a great ride to O’Hare, landing at 2:00 (crossing the dateline, it was still Monday), and arrived Washington at 7. It was great to be home.  A few snafus along the way, mostly my fault, but a wonderful journey.

 

Homeward: coastal mountains on the British Columbia-Yukon Territory border

Homeward: coastal mountains on the British Columbia-Yukon Territory border

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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England and Germany, and the Last Teaching of the Spring Term

 

The Five Rise Locks, Shipley, West Yorkshire, a feat of 18th Century engineering, and a lot of hard labor

The Five Rise Locks, Shipley, West Yorkshire, a feat of 18th Century engineering, and a lot of hard labor

I was home a little more than 24 hours, then headed out again, Saturday the 28th, west to Chicago, then turning east to Manchester, England, and my last teaching trip of the spring semester. The day was the centenary of the start of World War I, and on the first leg I read several good articles in The New York Times that looked back a century. There was analysis of events, of impact on today, of what it all meant. But to this warrior’s son, it comes down to the people asked to fight. The following says it all:

The headstones [of a small American military cemetery adjacent to a huge British one] tell the stories of first- and second-generation Americans, their names redolent of the Europe their parents left to make a better life, who returned here to die. Like Giuseppe Spano, a private from Pennsylvania, and Angelo Mazzarella, a private from West Virginia, and Emil P. Wiser, a private from Montana, and Ole Olson, a private from Wisconsin, and John Dziurzynski, a private first class from Ohio.

At 34,000 feet, I thought of a great-uncle I never met, Uncle Maurice, who was killed in France just a month before the war ended in November 1918.  Then I prayed for peace.

I had a bit of time at O’Hare to bring this journal up to date, work some emails, and watch a little of the Colombia-Uruguay World Cup match. At 5:45, I climbed aboard the Silver Bird to Manchester. Watched a movie, slept four hours, woke up pumped for touring. Chatted with an old lady across the aisle, who lived in a village in the Yorkshire Dales. She and her son were amazed I was headed to Bradford as a tourist. And indeed that was my destination that Sunday morning, a once-booming textile town now working to redefine itself. Twenty minutes after landing, a short conversation in the lift (elevator) with two locals, who subsequently asked “why are you here?” “Too much time spent in London and the Southeast,” I replied, and they nodded. Indeed, as someone from the Midwest, in many ways the U.S. equivalent of the North, I really like the idea of getting away from the alleged center.

Hopped on the 8:44 train into central Manchester, then onto one east to Leeds, and a third short ride to Bradford. The train cut through tunnels in the hills called the Pennines, a pleasant ride. Was in my (free) room at the Holiday Inn Express by 10:45, shower, and out the door before noon. Ambled around the city center, past a splendid town hall, and over to the Wool Exchange, where traders bought and sold fleece for decades; it’s now a Waterstone’s bookshop and café. You could tell from the downtown landscape and some people you saw on the street that Bradford was a bit hollowed out. As they did in the U.S., the textile jobs went offshore starting in the 1970s.

Splendid Gothic Revival architecture: Bradford Town Hall and the Wool Exchange

Splendid Gothic Revival architecture: Bradford Town Hall and the Wool Exchange

 

Ceiling, Wool Exchange

Ceiling, Wool Exchange

 

Starting over: building a shopping mall to replace older retail in the center

Starting over: building a shopping mall to replace older retail in the center

I climbed on a bus north to Shipley, then a short train ride up the Aire Valley to Crossflats. Walked a half-mile north to the top of the Five Rise Locks on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. In researching what to see a few weeks earlier, I totally stumbled upon the locks, a feat of late-18th Century engineering, dropping 59 feet in 302 feet. Because traversing them is a bit tricky, the Canal and River Trust, the charity that now manages Britain’s inland waterways, employs full-time lock keepers. I asked one of them about how many boats use the Five Rise in a typical day. “About 10,” he replied, “and there’s one just up the top now.” That was the info I needed, and in three minutes was introducing myself to the captain, David Croston, and asking if I might ride down. Without hesitation he welcomed me on board, then introduced me to his partner Claire and her dog Sam. We bonded quickly, chatting about lives and jobs. He was an expert in livestock production, chiefly sheep, and had a long career in the private and public sector; like me, he chose early retirement, though later than your scribe.

Lock-Diptych

The descent, with the help of able lock keepers

The descent, with the help of able lock keepers

Claire and David

Claire and David

Sam having a rest in the lush canalside grass

Sam having a rest in the lush canalside grass

Earlier boatmen on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

Earlier boatmen on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

 

He and Claire, who have lived in the same Northamptonshire village for years, each lost their spouses, and were happy to be together.   Between exchanges with both, I became friends with Sam, a 14-year-old Springer spaniel. We descended the five quickly – professional handlers help a lot – then three more linked locks that were also staffed. Below those, we were on our own, and my modest experience and strong back helped a lot (the latter was pretty sore the next day!). Three hours after boarding, we moored in Saltaire, a mid-19th Century “new town” built by Sir Titus Salt, a textile magnate and reformer. Said goodbye to David, Claire, and Sam and hopped off. I hadn’t eaten since the flight (glad I had the omelette), so I grabbed a Yorkshire pasty (a pastry filled with ground meat and vegetables, solid basic fare for the equivalent of $1.80) and a soda. Fortified, I set off for an amble around the village. First stop was a lovely Reformed Church that Salt built, modeled on a church he admired on his honeymoon in Italy.

Saltaire Reformed Church

Saltaire Reformed Church

Saltaire-3

Saltaire was interesting. Sir Titus was determined to improve the lot of the working class by building housing, schools, a church, essentially a whole village adjacent to his canalside woolen mill. Cynics can decry paternal capitalism, but I’m sure that 150 years ago quality of life for the working man was far better in Saltaire than nearly anyplace else. The village is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Salt's Mill

Salt’s Mill

Bradford native and well-known contemporary artist David Hockney has a large gallery in Salt's Mill; here's his colorful take on the place.

Bradford native and well-known contemporary artist David Hockney has a large gallery in Salt’s Mill; here’s his colorful take on the place.

Workingmen's housing

Workingmen’s housing

School

School

Detail, Victoria Hall

Detail, Victoria Hall

Got the bus back to Bradford, and to The Sparrow, an agreeable small pub with a bewildering array of beer. Relaxed for 90 minutes with some nice ales, walked back to the hotel, washed my face, and set out for dinner. I had read about Karachi, a no-frills canteen that opened in the 1960s to cater to Pakistanis who had come to work in the textile mills (the city still has a huge Asian population). Perhaps it was my white face, but the staff was possibly the most sullen service workers I’ve encountered in a long time. Ate a small plate of chicken vindaloo (just okay) and three chapatis, paid the bill, and departed. A bad vibe, for sure. I was still hungry, so walked a couple of blocks to another Indian-Pakistani place I found online, the Kashmir. Staff was marginally, only barely, nicer there, but the food was better: a spicy vegetable stew, some pappadams, and I was full. Walked back to the hotel, and barely had enough energy to brush my teeth.

Signs of the city's huge Asian population are everywhere, including shop windows

Signs of the city’s huge Asian population are everywhere, including shop windows

Mosque

Mosque near the center of Bradford

 

Street sculpture, Bradford

Street sculpture, Bradford

Slept hard, up at 5:30, breakfast, and on the 6:55 train to London. Arrived at 10:10, hopped on the London Overground train out to Kensal Green, then a few blocks on foot to Scott and Caroline Sage’s house, my new digs in London (I am so fortunate to have friends there). They had just returned from the U.S. Had a quick yak and headed back into town, reconnecting at lunch with a former UK-based American Airlines colleague, Iain Burns. It had been nearly 20 years, and we had fun recalling all that had happened in two decades. A lot. Iain subsequently worked for BA and Etihad Airways, and is now with a large P.R. firm. A good meal, too.

I had a few hours before meeting the next friends, so hopped the Tube one stop to The British Library; it had been more than three years since the last visit. They’ve got free wi-fi, so I did a bit of work, then took a good look at a temporary exhibit, “Enduring War: Grief, Grit, and Humor,” one of many planned activities to mark the centenary of World War I. Lots of interesting stuff from the library collection; one touching example: a last letter written home before a soldier was killed in action in the Somme – he was quite certain he would die the next day, and wanted to send a goodbye. And, indeed, he was killed. In an adjacent gallery (and I was amazed I had never seen it) were a large set of photosensitive documents entitled “Treasures from the British Library.” Whew, what a set; just in music alone, they exhibited Paul McCartney’s penciled lyrics to “Yesterday”; the score of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.” The stuff was mainly, but not exclusively, British, for example, pages from several of Da Vinci’s notebooks. Way cool.

World War I poster, British Library

World War I poster, British Library

At five, I walked a couple of blocks to St. Pancras Station and met my pals Martin and Tara Cunnison (you may remember we worked together at a start-up company several years earlier). We hopped in a cab – something I never do in London, because of traffic – and motored south and west to Frith Street in Soho and Barrafina, an outstanding tapas bar. At 5:30, the place was already packed, but Martin said it would be worth the 45-minute wait, and it was. Absolutely outstanding small plates, varied and flavorful. We sat on stools at a counter and tucked into fried squid, tomato salad, and lots more. Best of show was a piquant morcilla, like blood sausage only better. And along the way we had a great conversation. Was totally fun. Said goodbye, hopped the Tube back to Kensal Green and was asleep by 9:45.

Slept hard again (no time zone woes), up and out the door with Scott. Set myself up with free wi-fi at and coffee in central London and worked the morning. I then headed to Imperial College London, my lecture venue. Almost every year when I visit they have an exhibition set up in the large business-school reception area highlighting student work in science, engineering, medicine, or entrepreneurship. That day there were student projects in “innovation design engineering,” like Anna Wojdecka’s Lumo, an innovation to enable blind people to read shapes, graphs, diagrams, and colors directly from books, and to draw in color, all as a means to encourage more blind people to enter design, engineering, and other professions where visual ability is required. Way cool. Imperial is a brain-power place.

The Lumo display and the larger scene at Imperial; the hum of brainpower was evident!

The Lumo display and the larger scene at Imperial; the hum of brainpower was evident!

At one, I met my familiar (three schools in six weeks) host Omar Merlo, had a quick lunch, and presented an advertising talk to out 30 MBA students – a highly varied group. We had two hours, which is a great luxury, and enables lots of interaction. They clapped loudly, I bowed, hugged Omar, and thus ended the spring semester, a bit into summer. The end of term always feels a bit empty, and it did that first day of July. I needed a grounding experience, so I hopped the Tube one station west to Earl’s Court and one of my favorite London pubs, The Blackbird. A glass of London Pride ale was perfect.

The Blackbird, out and in

The Blackbird, out and in

Back at the Sages’ house I changed clothes, chilled a bit, and at seven ambled north to Chamberlayne Road and a pub of the same name, met Scott (Caroline was busy) and tucked into a chicken pie, mashed potatoes, and greens – English comfort food – and a couple of pints. Scott is a hugely interesting young man, and we had a great yak about business. Walked home, helped assemble a new living-room table, and clocked out.

It was a short night, up at 4:30 and out the door, Tube to Paddington Station, Heathrow Express to the airport, and a short flight to Düsseldorf. I had flown there many times, but had never been there, always hopping on the train north to Münster or somewhere else. A day visit to the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most-populous state, was in order, and a good way to (as I did a month earlier) not pay the confiscatory UK air departure tax, which as noted was more than $250 for flights to the U.S. We landed in bright sunshine and cool temps, a perfect day for touring. Bought a day ticket on the VRR, the public transit authority that operates an almost-bewilderingly huge network (so vast it’s hard to figure out what “day ticket” to buy from the platform ticket machines!), and zipped into town.

As I am doing more and more, I booked a room through Airbnb. Katrin, my host, was busy at work – she had just become a physician – so she left the key at a little shop owned by Poles about 50 feet from her apartment building on Merowingstrasse. The friendly Polish owner handed me the yellow envelope, and he smiled broadly when I thanked him in his language. A simple dziękuję can go a long way. Walked back to #45, in the door, up two flights to a sunny and spotlessly clean apartment. Unpacked a bit, had a quick cup of coffee and out the door to explore Düsseldorf.

The Düssel River, really a creek, from which the town gets its name; it flowed just north of my “house”

My neighborhood, Bilk, was funky, with lots of cool murals; note the Euro coin as the sun!

My neighborhood, Bilk, was funky, with lots of cool murals; note the Euro coin as the sun!

"My" house, Merowingstrasse 45

“My” house, Merowingstrasse 45

Redevelopment in Bilk

Redevelopment in Bilk

First stop, the Landtag, or state parliament. I had hoped to be able to get a tour (even in German) and see the legislative chambers, but I needed a reservation. Before leaving, I paused in front of the building and thought about how well Germany as a nation and its individual states have built rule of law since the painful reset button was pressed in May 1945.  The Landtag was close to the river, and the city has nicely redeveloped the former harbor (river shipping is still important, but they’ve moved the facility away from the center), with lots of cool buildings along the water, many of which have corners and “bows” suggesting a ship.

The State Parliament (Landtag) of North Rhine-Westphalia

The State Parliament (Landtag) of North Rhine-Westphalia

 

Ship-shaped building

Ship-shaped building

The Zollhof, three adjacent buildings by Frank Gehry in the redeveloped river harbor

The Zollhof, three adjacent buildings by Frank Gehry in the redeveloped river harbor

Redevelopment in the former river port

Redevelopment in the former river port

Whimsical architectural detail, or new meaning to the phrase "they're climbing the walls"!

Whimsical architectural detail, or new meaning to the phrase “they’re climbing the walls”!

I hopped on a tram back to the main railway station, the hauptbahnhof, had a fish sandwich and a drink, and jumped on the U-Bahn east a short way to the new campus of WHU, a business school I’ve visited many times since 2000, but always at the original campus further south on the Rhine. Said hello to a few people and continued on to Oberkassel, a very pleasant and prosperous neighborhood across the Rhine from downtown. A friend had sent me an article from The New York Times that suggested an amble down three streets with lovely art nouveau houses, and I did that, marveling at their graceful lines and wonderful details. Then back to the house for a quick late-afternoon nap, because I was plumb wore out.

Lovely Art Nouveau homes in Oberkassel

Lovely Art Nouveau homes in Oberkassel

Architectural detail, Oberkassel

Architectural detail, Oberkassel

Rested, I zipped out about 5:30 for dinner in the old town, the Altstadt. On the way, I stopped to buy a couple of tubes of Voltaren, wonderful analgesic gel that helps my arthritic knees. Almost nothing is cheaper in Germany, but this was, and a lot, so I bought two tubes. The kindly clerk put them in a cotton bag that was the German flag. I thanked her for the souvenir, and wished Germany well in the World Cup quarterfinals. As in 2006, when the nation hosted the event, there were lots of German flags flying on cars, draped from apartment windows, even worn as capes. National pride is not the same as nationalism, something almost all Germans want to avoid. As you know, I believe pride in place is important, and the flags made me smile.

Splendid promenade along the Rhine near the Altstadt

Splendid promenade along the Rhine near the Altstadt

I had done some research on dinner venues, and ate at the zum Schiffchen, in business since 1628. The place was empty, which was not a good sign. Dinner was just alright. I walked around the corner and found the place where I should have eaten, Uerige, a town brewery and restaurant. That really doesn’t capture the place: it was an entire beer street, with people of all ages and classes sitting on benches, a huge restaurant, music, noise, commotion, life. I took a seat on a terrace bench a bit above the street to give more perspective. Soon a couple of young Germans sat down across from me. I didn’t speak with them initially, but at some point there was an opening for Talking to Strangers, and we carried on for about 45 minutes. They were medical publishers from Heidelberg, in town for a conference. We covered a bit of ancestry (his grandparents were war refugees from Hungary and Romania, German speakers who were no longer welcome in those countries, so were resettled in Germany). We agreed that we didn’t want to go back there again. When I told them that I had traveled in Germany for 42 years and had much respect and admiration for their country he was surprised.

The evening scene at the Uerige Brewery

The evening scene at the Uerige Brewery

I said goodbye, and as I walked through the throng, a scene of prosperity and contentment, you could not convince me that social democracy is not the best way to organize an advanced nation. Or in my favored shorthand, these folks had no trouble keeping the lights on!

Slept long and hard, out the door and out to the airport for a very pleasant breakfast with Tobias Hundhausen, a young friend I met more than a decade ago at the WHU business school. It had been too many years, and it was great to catch up. He’s a seriously bright guy who gets it, and is already a senior officer at Air Berlin Technik, the maintenance arm of Germany’s second-largest airline. We got caught up, but we ran out of time. He headed to a meeting and I climbed on the Silver Bird to Chicago, then a bit of trouble: the connecting flight home to Washington at 1:25 canceled (after we taxied to the runway), because of bad weather in back East.  They rebooked me the next morning, ugh.  Other flights canceled, others went out full, but I snagged one of the last chairs on a flight that arrived DCA well after midnight.  I was glad when my head hit the pillow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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