Day 4 of RTW in 11 days

No PG rating today but some action movie stuff included today.  I managed to make it through to 2:30am this morning before I woke up so things are slowly improving.   Once again I was woken by my vibrating cellphone (it was the bank this time – Helen buying something as per usual).  A few minutes later and it was vibrating again – a number I didn’t recognize and it turned out to be the bank (I didn’t answer but they called Cecilia straight afterwards).  I managed to fall back to sleep again until 4am and then was awaken by another text from a SA client thanking me for the way the UK office treated him (they were hosting him).  Managed to go back to sleep again but at 5am I was wide awake and so got up and cleared the 55 work emails that had come through while I was sleeping.

It was an early start this morning as we had arranged to meet up with the leadership of one of the American Actuarial Associations (they have 6 in total).  We had breakfast with them at 7am.  The meeting over breakfast went extremely well and far exceeded our expectations.  They were also very nice people and clearly want to try and work closer with us.  A great start to the day and I was hoping that the rest of the day would continue in that vain.  I then had my first official committee meeting that I was a member of (the Professionalism committee).  It was a 4 hour affair and it was actually quite productive and well run.  Might have something to do with the fact that the chairman is a South African!  It did give me some thoughts about things we can do in SA.  Just as I wasn’t paying attention (and replying to a work email on my blackberry), the chairman kindly asked me to comment on an issue.  Not only had I not been listening but I only got the bit when he said “Peter Temple might like to comment on that.”  I am not sure if he did it intentionally because he saw I was on my blackberry or whether it was just timing (my suspicion is the former) but I think I commented on the right thing and everyone seemed accepting of my comments (or they were just being polite).  I was much more careful though after that when I looked at my blackberry.  The guy next to me (from Holland) was playing cards on his iPhone (with the shuffling sound on) and he got away with it throughout the whole meeting!

I skipped lunch because I had a large breakfast and need to maintain my athletic physique.  I don’t want my body to end up with Paul’s BMI.  After lunch was the President’s Forum and while I am not President yet I am allowed to backbench in the meeting.  It really was just a series of presentations.  The first one was from a professor from Wharton.  I thought it would be good but he actually didn’t really say anything I didn’t know already (and hadn’t been practicing for 10 years already at Gen Re).  I was quite surprised that everyone else thought what he was saying was groundbreaking.  He talked on managing risk and unexacting the unlikely.  Not really earth shattering stuff.  His best line was “It is a great being a pessimist because your expectations are always exceeded”.  I looked at the other 2 presentations while he was speaking and concluded that I wasn’t going to learn anything new from them either so I did a ’Themba’ and ditched the meeting at the tea break.  Paul went to the education meeting and he did the same thing at the tea break.

This evening I had arranged to have dinner with my sister, brother-in-law and niece.  My niece is graduating this week so my sister & brother-in-law were here for that.  My brother-in-law is also in fact graduating from another California based college (he is getting his masters) so it was good timing to see them all.  Only my niece actually lives in LA.  She decided that we should go to Little Tokyo for dinner to a restaurant called oomasa (I didn’t forget to make the o big, it is meant to be small).  I agreed to meet them their.  When I went down to take a cab, all the Guess delegates were waiting in reception to take buses to wherever they were going.  Of course they were dressed up ’to the nines’ (whatever that means) and I had to (slowly) weave my way through them.  Marcus would describe them as ‘beautiful people’.  Even the cab driver was intrigued and asked me if I knew them!  I gave the driver the address (he was Asian) and he told me that he didn’t know it.  How can an Asian cab driver not know where Little Tokyo is?!  I suggest that maybe he use the GPS that was attached to the windscreen in front of him.  Fortunately he took up that idea and we got there relatively easily.

I got there about 20 minutes before my family arrived so I planned to walk around and see what I could see.  However, before I go even a few steps down the road came a LAPD car chasing after a guy on bicycle.  He then cut off the bike, jumped out and jumped on the ‘American American gentlemen’ and proceeded to handcuff and arrest him.  During the process the gentlemen tried to palm off a package to another lady who the LAPD cop also then arrested.  The security guards from Little Tokyo also then got involved (they were Latin American) and they started yelling at the cop and telling him off for arresting the guy.  Then other people from the shops were coming out and giving their opinion on the matter.  Here I stood pretty amused.  I don’t think I have ever seen anyone arrested in SA and here I see it happen in downtown LA.  Dangerous place based on my experience.  The cop was still there with his two handcuffed suspects (only suspects because you’re innocent until proven guilty – I know my law) when my family arrived.  I think he was waiting for backup which was taking quite some time to arrive (especially since the LAPD office was only about 500 yards up the road).

We went into oomasa for dinner.  As you might have guessed it is a Japanese restaurant and so I headed for the sushi.  It was a nice meal and we had a good time catching up on various bits of family news.  (@Helen – I will fill you in when I get home – I don’t want to consume everyone’s time with all the details.)  The meal also cost us a fraction of what Paul and I paid the first night and I got a lot more sushi tonight.  But then the venue was much more high risk!  Fortunately they offered to take me back to the hotel (I had visions of wandering the deserted downtown streets looking for a taxi and getting mugged by one of the gentlemen’s friends).  And as it is now 11pm I think I might have beaten the jet lag problem.  Off to bed now so that I can get up early again tomorrow for another full day!

Day 3 of the Round the World in 11 days (PG rated including Helen and my parents)

Of course the inevitable happened.  Went to sleep at 9pm and I woke up for the first time at 1:45am.  The fact that was phone was vibrating because someone was calling me from SA didn’t help but I suspect I was waking up anyway.  I forced myself to try and sleep for another few hours and dosed on and off until at 4am I eventually gave up and started clearing emails on my blackberry.  It was going to be a long day because I had meetings until 7pm and then a dinner straight after that as well.  At 7am I was starving and so headed down for breakfast.  Of course breakfast choices are unlimited.  You could do an a la carte breakfast (with about 20 choices) or go buffet (with 3 choices).  I must have looked confused because the waitress made a suggestion what I should do and that is what I did.  And you never have to worry about going hungry in America because you know that whatever choice you make, the plate is going to big and full.  The best part of breakfast was the bacon (Apple smoked) – I just had visions of Michael loading up his plate and only eating bacon.  At the end of breakfast the waitress said that I could have a “coffee to go” if I wanted it (that was after I already had 2 mugs).  I declined but I probably should have accepted as I needed all the caffeine I could get.

I had the rest of the morning free as my first meeting was at 2pm.  I spent the morning working but at about 11:30 I had such a splitting headache I took some painkillers and lay down and got an hour’s sleep (which I reckon was a real winner to enable me to get through the rest of the day).  I had my first IAA (International Actuarial Association) meeting at 2pm.  Half way through the meeting a sent a text message to one of the other South Africans at the meeting which said “If I have to attend these meetings twice a year for the next four years I might commit suicide”.  It was incredibly boring and tedious.  Think of the worst meeting you have ever been to and then multiply that by 2!  It started with a spanish speaking person presenting telephonically from Washington.  That was followed by a presentation from a French speaking gentlemen from Togo.  As French is an official language of the IAA (who knows why), the chairman repeatedly invited him to do his presentation in French.  I thought once was being polite but he almost insisted.  Fortunately the man didn’t take him up but one of the other members did the presentation in English.  It was still bad and I caught myself wondering what it would have been like in French.

I was sitting next to a gentleman from Japan who slept though the whole meeting.  At once stage he was so deep in sleep that I thought he was going to fall off his chair and against me.  Fortunately he woke up and caught himself just at that moment.  I have never seen anyone sleep through a meeting like that before.  I had a lot of respect for him at the end of the meeting because if I could have fallen asleep as unashamedly as that I might have made it through the meeting a lot less painfully.  I have made a mental note not to ever attend that meeting again.  Themba (the President of the Actuarial Society of SA currently) left at the tea break and afterwards told me that you only make the mistake once of staying after tea!  I thanked him for warning me (I will get him back still).

After that meeting we had a 6pm meeting lined up with the Canadians.  Fortunately they didn’t speak French through that meeting (though 3 of the 4 of them were French speaking).  After that we had dinner lined up with the other South Africans present in LA.  We went to ‘The Farm’ which advertises itself as “Innovative American Cuisine” and “the food is like Mom would make, only better”.  I haven’t yet figured out what American Cuisine is so it was hard to place what was innovative about it.  And there definitely was any aspect of the menu that was ‘food like Mom would make’ let alone the ‘only better’ part (see Mom … still prefer your cooking to a restaurant … looking forward to my next meal at your home …).  Hopefully that bracketed bit will get me another favorite meal of tripe and onions when I next eat at my parents place!

So it is now 9:10pm and so I have made it at least to the same time last night.  I feel like I can go for another one or so before needing bed which is a good sign.  I have a 7am breakfast meeting tomorrow (for those of you who think international travel is glamourous).  What I haven’t told you about is that the hotel is not only hosting the IAA meetings but all a Guess conference (Guess of the jeans brand).  It looks like a much more interesting conference going purely on looks.  (This part is the PG rated part including Helen and my parents).  90% of the delegates are female and 89% either are or could be models.  If I wasn’t married to such a beautiful and lovely wife I might get distracted.  Paul (on the other hand) is constantly drooling.  I need to speak to Tina when I get back.

Until tomorrow.

Day 2 of Round the World in 11 days (PG rated)

If you are wondering what happened to Day 1, well that was spent in London doing my usual thing in the office so nothing really exciting or interesting to mention.  However, I did think it might be interesting to ‘blog’ the rest of the trip especially since I am heading into unchartered waters for me next week.

Today I left London at 12pm on British Airways heading for Los Angeles.  The flight was full (from what I could see).  My first taste of America was actually at the gate as we were boarding.  An American lady had taken it upon herself to instruct and organize the boarding of the plane.  She wasn’t a BA staff member – she was a passenger like the rest of us but I think she just couldn’t help herself.  Even the BA staff were amused.  She announced loudly that the flight was boarding and that first and business class could board on the right and the plebs (her word not mine) could board on the left but only rows 39-55.  It was quite amusing.

Once on the plane I realized that I had the unfortunate privilege of being in a cabin with at least two couples who had never travelled outside of the US before and they were now returning home.  They talked so loudly it became evident that they also had not travelled in that class before either.  So every new discovery was announced not only to their partner but also to the whole cabin.  They also shared their trip details with all the other passengers even if you didn’t want to hear them (like me).  I fired off a Whatsapp message to the family complaining about them (it was cathartic) and also asked the kids to predict how many movies I would watch and in return for the one who got it correct I would buy a present from LA.  Fortunately after we took off the champagne kicked in and the couples quietened down and went to sleep so that I could watch my movies in peace.  Having said that, they might have continued talking incessantly but my Bose headphones (the best thing I ever bought for myself) blocked them out.

After take off I stretched out and prepared to get stuck into the movie selection.  Of course I had already watched about 50% of them but I had cleverly held back on flights recently knowing I was going to need a store for this trip.  I selected ‘Girl with Dragon Tattoo’ (see S, M & C I remembered the title) and settled in to watch Daniel Craig in action.  I am probably one of only a handful of people that never read the book so I didn’t know what was coming.  It was a 2.5 hour movie and while I was watching we were served lunch (scallops to start, chicken-ala-king as main and ice cream for desert).  Lunch ended before the movie.  When the movie was finished we only had another 8 hours to go.  Everyone was by this stage asleep in the cabin but it was mid afternoon so I got down to reading some of the papers for my meetings in LA (Cecilia kindly printed them for me and gave me a stack 10cm high as I left the office last Friday!).  I managed to get through about 60% of them before getting bored (and I still have to get through the meetings this week).  Played a game or two on my iPhone and then decided I should try and get some sleep.  Managed to get about an hour before the chainsaw snoring from across the aisle woke me up and there was no way I was going back to sleep again.  It was 10am LA time so another 5 hours still to go.

I went to the toilet (this is the PG rating bit) and walked past one of the couples.  She was lying VERY close to him and he had both his hands under the blankets on her side of the seat.  She blushed profusely as I walked past.  I didn’t even need any imagination to know what was going on there….  On the way back I noticed they were still awake but very much watching out for my return.  I settled into movie number 2 – ‘We bought a zoo’ – which is a Hollywoodized version of a true story of a Guardian journalist who bought the Dartmoor Zoological Park in the UK.  It was quite good (Matt Damon and Scarlett Johannsen) – a warm, feel good movie.  After that I still had about 2.5 hours left so I watched another rubbish movie whose title I have already forgotten and the only reason I watched it was to consume 90 minutes.  We were then served English ‘Afternoon Tea’ – Scones with clotted cream (of course).  Some reading fitted in between, some more games on the iPhone and we were starting to descend into LA.  Passed the Grand Canyon (nice view from the air), over Las Vegas and lots of desert and then down into LA to land on time at 3pm.

Fortunately LA on the international side is not very busy and we were the only flight landing at that time.  So I managed to get right in front of the queue.  But of course the weren’t ready yet for passengers so we had to wait another 2-3 minutes while the guy unpacked and set up and placed everything in precisely the right spot.  They really do have to be the world’s grumpiest passport control people.  The guy just said “Why do you want to be let into the USA?” in a very demanding tone.  I wanted to reply “actually I have just changed my mind, I don’t want to come here” but instead just said “business”.  This was followed by “when will you leave” and I wanted to say right now but actually said “Saturday”.  Fortunately he didn’t read my thoughts and so he let me in.  My luggage came off almost immediately and I was through customs and out quickly as well.  Paul had arrived 40 minutes earlier (he came on Emirates via Dubai) and he didn’t want to pay for the taxi fare (those of you who know him will know he is a cheapskate) and so he was waiting at the coffee shop in the arrivals hall.

We got a taxi to our hotel which is in downtown LA.  It is a standard USA type hotel (Marriott) and is situated at the Staples Centre (sports arena) and there are a whole lot of restaurants, movie theatre’s etc in the area (called the LA Live area).  My room is on the 13th floor (I hope the fire alarm doesn’t go off).  The check in procedure restored my view of American service.  It was the slickest and quickest check in I have ever had.  Very pleasant and helpful.  It was 4:30pm when we arrived and Paul and I decided that an earlier dinner at 6pm was the way to go.  Given my head was already pounding I was wondering whether I could make it to 6pm but after a shower and starting to type this email the time vanished.  Paul and I headed for the Japanese restaurant which is famous for it’s sushi (meant to be the best in California).  American Idols have a set up in the square today and tomorrow and all “your favorite idols stars” are on hand.  Given neither Paul nor I have watched American Idols, we had no clue who were the stars and who were the help.  People kept cheering (or rather shrieking) and hold up their phones taking photos.  I felt like I should have joined in but I resisted.

Dinner was ok – tasted better sushi in SA.  At the price (R850 for the 2 of us), our whole family could have had sushi back home.  Just another reminder of how cheap eating out is in SA.  Paul wanted his mandatory after-dinner ice cream (hence why he has so high a BMI) and so he got 3 scoops in a waffle cone from some New Zealand ice cream shop.  I restrained myself and had nothing.  We walked around the block and tried to look impressed at the Idols people again but when Paul had consumed sufficient of his ice cream to ensure he wouldn’t drop it on the lobby floor of the hotel we came back to our rooms.  It is now 8:00pm and I can hardly sit upright and have no idea how I can keep going for another hour or so.  I know if I go to sleep now I will be awake at 3am or 4am so I really have to keep going for awhile longer.  Excuse any spelling errors or typos or missing words (my kids always critique me over those) – put it down to the jet lag.

Feel free to forward on if you know someone else might like to read it too (and let me know if they want to be added to the distribution list for the rest of the updates).  Until tomorrow.