Saturday, December 06, 2008

winter update...

My mother has complained I haven't blogged in while and whether I still have a cold (that was so two months ago!! quite healthy right now). And I hope I stay health as things are too busy right now. Everything is going very well, just 9.5 out of 10 on the pace. Mostly work, but other things too. Maybe I'll start off with the work Xmas party a few nights ago. I'll share a few photos (there are some others, but there are some work photos that just don't need to be widely distributed!). The party was at the Kensington Roof Gardens, which are owned by Richard Branson and supposedly a posh venue. Unfortunately it was cold and we never really got to take advantage of the roof garden (except Christian and I sneaking out the staff door to see the flamingos).

(actually, the dialog box to add photos is showing up on my 2nd monitor, which isn't attached - despite clicking the right boxes on the driver settings, it's still not working, so maybe we'll add photos at a later time!)

I have another Xmas party this coming week for the Olympics in the London Dungeons space. Not the official dungeons, but an equally neat space of mazey type rooms. I've been there once before as it's also like a club / strange space on Friday and Saturday nights. I'm sure it will be fun and messy.

Work in Ireland is still going full speed, but I'm not making any more site visits (maybe till March when everyone gets together for a meeting onsite). The project is still humming and I'm trying to delegate and hire someone to delegate more. And the delegation is largely because I've taken the PM role for two projects in France, one of which is completely in French, and I'm about to get thrown into another. I'm off to Strasbourg on Dec 15 for a few days to kick off one of the projects. We're talking about renting a company flat in Lyon so myself and others can have a place to go and stay for a week at a time type thing.

Had my first visitor come for a visit (friend from California) and that was nice. I felt a bit guilty that I didn't have more time to "hang", but work blows up when I don't stay on top of things. I have another visitor coming next weekend, but just for a couple days on her way to Africa.

Let's see... other things... I was in Madrid for a few days of meetings and team chartering. (my boss from France came for the meeting and we went out partying till 3AM the day before I led the team chargering meeting... bad idea!) I spent a lot of hours building a Data Management team over the past couple months (all non-billable!) and managed to do what every said was impossible and get two of the key team members (one from Milan, one from Madrid) sent to California for two weeks of training. Now if things don't go smoothly it's my neck on the line. And the really sad things is when I was getting the funding approved by the Global Lead, he asked if I should also go to California to oversee the training and make sure all goes well. And the really really sad thing is, I'm so busy, I had to say no. How pathetic!! Oh well. One of them is in San Francisco tonight and he's being taken out by a few of my friends, so that should lead to some good stories!

I'm heading back to Winnipeg on the 19th for 12 days. (12 days of Christmas?) Then I'm off to Chicago for New Years! Chicago has always been on my list of cool cities to visit and a friend and I have excess Hilton points and we're staying at the Drake for 3 nights! I know nothing about the Drake except it was often the hotel you'd here at the end of Oprah or Wheel of Fortune or some show like that where they'd say "Our guests stay at the Drake located on the .... blah blah". Anyways should be fun.

Okay, must get a move on as I'm off to a French movie this afternoon with some friends. Have been going to this French conversation class thing every Monday and trying to practice as much as I can. I think in the new year I'll be taking proper classes, too. I better since the proposals and workplans and such on one of my projects is entirely in French. Yikes! Hope all is great with everyone!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

update from Northern Ireland

Well, I say update from Northern Ireland, but I'm actually back in London for 72 hours. And even then I went up to Birmingham yesterday. But I figured I'd visit my apartment to make sure it's in one piece. Quite a strange feeling to be coming back to London and have a sense of coming home (maybe not home home, but home none the less). Though the flat still does need some work to feel like home (like say something hung on a wall?!).

I've got a good set up in in Derry (aka Londonderry depending upon your religious & political persuasion) with a nice flat (5 of us in the same building), though it definitely wouldn't be my city of choice if I ever chose to live in Ireland (would definitely choose Belfast or Dublin). I'm really looking forward to having some more time in London, but as far as field jobs go, it's a good set up with good people. And the UK driving is coming along... I can now say I am 98% when shifting with my left hand and staying on the left (wrong) side of the road. I still find myself routinely trying to get in the passenger door to drive and can't reverse looking over my left shoulder, but will probably come.

Work has been quite intense lately. I'm managing the Northern Ireland project and doing very little "field work" despite the fact I'm in the field (I spend most my time sitting in the field trailer drinking lattes). But the budget has tripled since I took over and has gone from me managing 1 or 2 people to having a team of 4-5 people full time and many others part time with me trying to hold on to the reins. I've been working from site trying to train up the field team and deal with all the clients that want to come and see the site. Has sometimes felt like I'm getting very little done and everything is piling up. But everyone (including bosses and clients) and very happy with the status and prospects.

At the same time I was in Lyon for meetings a few weeks (month?) back and I'm now senior hydro for a project in Strasbourg. I need to do a site visit and kick off some work there in a few weeks. Apparently the client is sold that the N. Ireland project is going so well and was quite impressed at the meeting and Ireland site visit, so now they want me to the same in France. So I'm getting lots of kudos (literally told I have been the turning point for sealing the contract for the next 3 years across all of Europe), but lots of pressure to keep up the pace! Sheesh.

And then at the same time I've been given the task of recruiting another hydro for the London office and a data manager for the Milan office. I'll probably head over to Milan in late October for a visit while some staff are visiting from the US. The sacrifices I make... :) Starting to get involved in recruiting and my more regional roles are great for the career, but I have time to do this like I have money to burn (which obviously I don't with the stock market down - though I must say I've been hoarding cash in savings accounts for the past 18 months and I'm feeling like a genius right about now).

Well, that's a lot of babble all about work, but that's certainly been most of my life this past month. What else... I made some friends in Paris during my travels to Lyon and that could be fun in the coming months (especially as I have more upcoming work in France). And I've been on a couple dates with someone I met in London (though she's a doctor living in Birmingham, so definitely limitations). And I've bought my ticket home to Winnipeg for Christmas and Chicago for New Years (home to Wpg on Friday Dec 19 and leave Wednesday Dec 31). And there are 3 flies in my apartment.

Oh, almost forgot, I think I'm almost a Canadian employee again! At least they've screwed up and can no longer direct deposit my US paycheques / expense cheques - a sign the transfer really is happening!! Not sure if you can all follow this as I know I can't.... I'm currently a Canadian with a US work visa based in US but working in the UK with a UK visa (I'm double visa'd right now). Soon I'll be a Canadian employee being paid in Canada but paying taxes and living in the UK with a UK Visa. Follow? All I know is that the original UK offer was ~35% more than my US salary and the CDN expat offer is ~15% more than that and since I got CDN Expat offer the CDN dollar has gone up 5%, so I won't complain about the $1800 (!) plane ticket home at Christmas (should have worked that into the Expat contract!). Okay, heading back to Derry in a couple hours so must do some errands...

Friday, August 29, 2008

some Thailand photos finally...

Okay, I admit, I've been a little lazy with regards to any sort of photo taking lately. Phases and busyness? Is busyness a word? Has taken being home sick on the couch for 2 days get it done. Anyway, here's some photos from Thailand back in... May? Was there for Ben's wedding and travelled around a bit with Michelle from Calgary.

The trip started off in Bangkok, and I'm sure a bunch of photos were taken, they were all on Michelle's camera and she's been too lazy to share! And being it wasn't my first trip to Bangkok, I wasn't all that eager to snap away either. But it was a nice visit for about 5 days because Ben, Samantha and Connor were there and we did some touristy stuff, some good eating, some foot and back massages (envision myself, Ben and Michelle with beers in hand getting foot massages and some divey place... then envision Ben falling asleep and starting to snore!). The trip even involved me babysitting once (I hope the damage isn't permanent!).

So before I get started babbling and photo posting, here's a few map of Thailand, mostly from google maps:

After Bangkok, Ben et family headed to Phuket to start doing wedding prep type things while Michelle and I headed north. Our first stop was for one day (literally just the day) at Ayutthaya. Here's a snipped from Wikipedia...

The kingdom of Ayutthaya (Thai: อาณาจักรอยุธยา) was a Thai kingdom that existed from 1351 to 1767. Ayutthaya was friendly towards foreign traders, including the Chinese, Vietnamese (Annam), Indians, Japanese and Persians, and later the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French, permitting them to set up villages outside the city walls. In the sixteenth century, it was described by foreign traders as one of the biggest and wealthiest city in the East. The court of King Narai (1656-1688) had strong links with that of King Louis XIV of France, whose ambassadors compared the city in size and wealth to Paris. Before Ayutthaya fell to Burmese attack in 1767, its vassals included the Northern Shan states of present- day Myanmar, Lanna (Chiang Mai, Yunnan & Shan Sri (China), Lan Xang (Laos), Cambodian Kingdom, and some city- states in the Malay Peninsula.

At around 8 or 9 at night we caught the night train up to Chiang Mai. It was nice travelling with Michelle as neither our budgets were particularly tight (at least in the Thailand sense - I'm sure if we were in Hong Kong I wouldn't make this statement) and we got a first class cabin for ourselves. The 2nd class bunks didn't look too bad either, but then we heard stories of people partying all night and people snoring and people being sick and all of a sudden, $40 for a train ticket seems quite cheap! Was a little disturbing to wake up at 10AM and find Michelle already on her first beer (closeup of phone as proof... 12 MP has it's benefits)...


One of our first outings in Chiang Mai was a day trip to a temple in one of the hills surrounding the city. There were also waterfalls and some hikes to do, but it was rainy and we were pretty slow in getting going...

Another couple days in Chiang Mai were spent doing a 2-day trek in the mountains to the north. The first afternoon also included something I'm not so sure I wanted to do and still not sure I should have done (on ethical grounds), but none the less, I rode elephants for the afternoon. Actually, several aspects of this trek into the homelands of the hill tribes is rather ethically questionable. Tourism has radically changed these people, the tourism has resulted in roads being built which has changed the crops that people grow, erosion is a massive problem because the crops are being grown in large plantation for sale and export, etc. etc. I picked our guides brain about this and he thinks it's all beneficial as the farmers all used to grow poppies (i.e., heroin) and now they don't, and now they are getting civilized, which is a good thing I guess. Anyway, here's the photos...

More later...

Busy days...

It's Friday morning, about 9AM and I feel kind of crappy. Could definitely feel something coming on yesterday afternoon and I wasn't the only one in the office complaining of the exact same symptoms. So I'm set up in my home office today (i.e., lying down underwear on couch with blanket, pillow on lap for laptop and mouse on adjacent coffee table). Over the past few months of travelling I've led some pretty important conference calls from the funniest of situations. But I digress...

London is good, though weather is so so. Last weekend was fun with a trip to Stonehenge on Saturday with a friend and then a handful of us from the Olympics project got together for the London 2012 handover party in Trafalgar Square. Though the "party" was very non British and not much of a party as it had no booze. Not even a beer garden. Ummm... excuse me? Live music for how many hours without booze? What kind of alcoholics did they want to attract? So we all left half way and went to the pub. Which led to a bar. Which led to a club. All quite messy as usual...

Oh yeah, I don't think I had been to Ireland last time I blogged. Ended up flying into Dublin and driving to site up north (Derry). All went quite well and got to know some of the voices on the phone, had a good productive week of work and then got to spend a fun night in Dublin and they way home. I had come with another person from the London office and we were trying to figure out the best way to get home and I personally thought a night in Dublin was essential to work in. He was sure as it might cost a bit more or at least be questionable. Then I reminded him I was the Project Manager and I guaranteed his expenses would be approved. So all in all, I must say Dublin is a fun city and could definitely spend some time there (for those who've been reading my babble for a while, you'll remember they were pushing for me to relocate to Dublin many months ago).

Not too much else new... I've been extremely busy at work, but things are also going very very well. I've now tripled the budget forecast for the next 6 months (okay, I say "I" and clearly there is a team, but sometimes I spell teim with an i). I'm also working on my French and have even taken a couple lessons / tutorial type things. I'm going to France on Sept 8-10 for meetings and going to be managing a project just outside of Lyon, so I'm trying to get some practice. Going to a french meetup thing tonight actually which is just a thing where frenchies get together on Friday night at a pub and socialize, but a good way for me to practice (and when there happens to be some hot french women, such is life).

Last night was funny. I made Christian (friend mostly, but also landlord) come over to help me change light bulbs. I texted him saying can you come over and help me change a lightbulb and it sure sounded like it was a booty call! But the lights in the kitchen had only 1 bulb out of 4 working and I had bought the wrong bulbs which were pulls and the actual bulbs were push in (hard) and turn. Anyway, I thought that it was funny that I had to have someone come over to change my lightbulbs :) Okay, till later...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Returned with a Visa...

I'm back in London with work visa in a new passport. Getting both of these seemed like big challenges a handful of weeks ago, but actually the passport took ~72 hours and the UK Ancestry Visa even less (though it did require me going to Vancouver). If only now I could actually get a job contract now. While I was away, International HR got involved and now instead of being a UK employee, I might be a Canadian employee with an expat deal (it's my choice but the expat deal is slightly in the lead). Which is all kind of funny because I'm currently a US employee. Any volunteers to do my taxes this year? Anyway, both job offers are on the table and we're working through issues - mostly boring stuff like if I'm a UK resident (therefore non-resident in Canada) employed by the Canadian branch of the company, how do I receive my ~6% company-match RRSP contribution because I can not contribute to RRSPs as a non-resident. Seems the company is more familiar with US ex-pats and I'm sure by the time this is all worked out they should have just given me a $20,000 bonus, told me to sign and saved all the HR expenses. Anyway, there are about 6 or so good dilemmas / issues like the RRSP issue that must be figured out before agreement is reached.

With that said, I'm very busy working. In fact, flew in at 6AM and was at the office by 8AM. The $600K proposal I presented in Philadelphia at the start of the North America travels and then completed somewhere between Winnipeg, Calgary and San Francisco (literally) is full steam ahead and I'm off to Northern Ireland on Monday to kick off the work. So needless to say the 3 days this week in advance of this kick off have been intense. All this while having hour long meetings with HR interspersed. I can deal with work, I can deal with HR, dealing with both might kill me. I'm very thankful I kept my flat as dealing with hotels and unsettledness at home could have put me over the edge! (and yes mother, I know unsettledness isn't a word, but my english ain't always so good)

Had some good days this week catching up with some old friends and just getting settled. A fun evening at the Earl's Court beer festival where a few beers were sampled (about the only time drinking half pints is acceptable). Had some big plans Friday night (not really), but ended up not getting out of the office till 10PM. Now I know that sounds bad, but to be fair, I slept in till noon and 10PM is and still kind of feels like 2PM (Winnipeg time that is). And the hours after everyone left were incredibly productive and I know have less than 20 emails in my inbox!!

It's Saturday afternoon right now and I've had a relaxing morning followed by a wander around Brixton shopping. Brixton is a strange neighbourhood if I may say. I'm midway between Clapham and Brixton with both having a lot of energy, but Brixton being the more ethnically interesting (largely black with a lot of African and Carribean flavour). It almost feels like a black Chinatown or Thailand with a web of indoor and outdoor fair type booths all covered in tarps carrying everything from coat hangers to pigs heads intermixed with shops and dollar stores etc. etc. (it looks quite quiet in these photos, which it certainly wasn't this morning, so clearly I've stolen these photos as I'm too lazy to carry my camera, but here's the source)...

And Brixton is pretty neat. So far this morning I've learned Sharon Osbourne and David Bowie are from Brixton. And the Eddie Grant song Electric Avenue is based on the Brixton night life. And I found the Brixton Acadaemy which is quite a famous venue for live music (about 7 minutes from my flat). If you really want to know more about this history of Brixton... (P.S. I live a few flats off of Acre Lane).

My big purchases were a white wicker basket with lid for dirty clothes, a brown bean bag cube chair / foot rest and a stainless garbage can for the bathroom. Wild and crazy I now. That with some hangers ran me £40 ($80) on the nose at Woolworths. I'd give

I'm being a tad unsocial at the moment... not sure if I'll even call anyone tonight or just enjoy some more downtime. The last many weeks have involved visiting so many people which is really great, but absolutely no down time. Between unpacking and repacking, the last visit in Winnipeg didn't even leave time to visit the grandparents. What a bad grandson I am! Maybe Sam / Justin / Rob / Gabe want to have a beer and game of pool at the Elbo Room - wait, wrong city...

Okay, I'm going to go play with my Thailand photos (maybe they'll still get posted some day) and I'll give another update after Ireland - I hear there are 8 women for every guy, so maybe there will be some interesting stories, or maybe I'll schedule myself to do all the fieldwork? ;)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

West Coast Travels

Hi from San Fran. Having fun bouncing around visiting Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle and San Francisco so far. A lot of fun, but also a lot of work. Got the UK work visa taken care of and then the application mailed off in Vancouver, but this left me passportless so I had to do a land crossing to get into the US. And now training taken care of in SF and working here for a couple more days.

I'm heading to LA on Wednesday for a work medical and visit with friends and going to catch up with my brother's family in Anaheim Saturday night. And since my UK visa has been approved (in amazingly short turn around!), I'll be able to fly back to Calgary (was worried I'd have to do another passportless land crossing). Though Calgary will just be for a day to pack up furniture to move to Winnipeg (so much fun). Thinking furniture will be for a new cabin I'm buying with my dad in Arnes.

Must say I've taken on too much work and since I'm doing more work than I'd like. Seems management type work means I can't just disappear without responsibility anymore. Kind of sucks. With that said, I should be back in Winnipeg by ~Aug 29 and back in London August 6 for a meeting. Of course all the HR stuff hasn't been settled, which is a bit of a stress, but I assume it will get taken care of. So in the meantime, here's a couple fun links...

108 Occidental Gallery
My friend Justin has opened an art gallery in Seattle. Check it out if you're in Seattle!

3Prong Power Inc

Friend Dan in Berkeley has started up a company that upgrades Toyota Priuses to full electric. Saw one of the cars yesterday and was quite neat.
When the Hollywood writers went on strike last winter, it was speculated that television and film's loss would be the Internet's gain.

It's been several months since the strike concluded, but there's finally evidence that that lull in production has resulted in a game-changing online creation from Hollywood professionals looking for a new avenue.

The first episode of the three-part Web series “Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog” was posted Tuesday at, and it doesn't take a mad genius to realize its quality, its humour and its inventiveness signify a great leap forward for online video.

The series stars Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”) as Dr. Horrible, a wannabe mad scientist who blogs about his unrealized dreams for world domination and his refused entry into to “Evil League of Evil.” For example, he's working with a vocal coach on his maniacal laugh....

Saturday, June 14, 2008

London music and decisions made

I just ticked off #2 last night! ( Apparently the bar (and Camden) is the origin of Madness (of "our house, in the middle of the street.... our house......") judging by all the posters on the wall....

So when is help coming to check out the other venues? Pretty sure I've been to the Hope & Anchor, but didn't see any music. And the Windmill (Brixton) is minutes from my flat.

And speaking of my flat, I just got my transfer offer yesterday and looks like I''m a Londoner. And I think I've swung some deals (with work & landlord) so that I don't have to move out of my flat even though I'll be in US/Canada till Aug 1 (serious considerations at $1700/month). Anyone want to sublet for the next month? Or need a vacation flat in London this July? I'm leaving tomorrow for a week in Milan to "get to know the team" there, then Phillie for a meeting on the June 25-26th, then back Canada to get my Visa and relax (road trip out west for sure). And almost certain that I'll be rolling through SF on my way to London (late July / early August).

I'm kind of unwinding at the moment. Could be travelling to Italy today and enjoying a new city, but I've decided to take my time getting out of London (i.e., leaving tomorrow). Was all kind of stressful this week including balancing two jobs (Olympics and "normal" CH2M are in different offices, so it's almost like 2 jobs) and me rejecting the first transfer offer and having people freak out that I'd go home (which I contemplated, via Africa of course), but worked out in the end. Sort of. Even with a good raise, I'm sure my standard of living will be lower (my latte while writing this email was £2 / $4). Though 25 days of vacation, 8 statutory holidays and a seemingly weeks of sick time (which Brits do flagrantly abuse) will be nice. Not to mention my flight to Italy tomorrow, which I still haven't booked, will be $120 last minute - can't complain about that!!

I babble with my latte induced whir... so... I'll be back in US/Canada all of July and mid-late August till early September I'll be working in Northern Ireland, but besides that (and assuming I don't move, which isn't looking likely) I will have a 1 bedroom London flat with futon in the living room!! And there's lots of good live music! Hint hint :)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Leaving London, but just for a bit...

Hey folks. Just another quick update. I’ve been busy working in London the last month and a bit since Thailand. Mostly working on the Olympics project, but slowly working more on the DuPont projects (Ireland, Netherlands stuff). But only have another week here in London and then need to get out of the country to get my work visa and such. So I’ve given up my flat as of this coming Friday and I’ll be living and working out of our Milan office until flying to Philadelphia for a June 26th meeting. With all this said, I still don’t have my transfer offer, and if it really sucks, I won’t be coming back (my way of ensuring I get my 25% raise to adjust for $6 beer).

Life here has been quite good. I haven’t been travelling at all, mostly because I’ve been content spending time in my own flat and working. It’s been a while since I’ve been this settled in a place I call my own and just as long since I’ve really felt engaged and excited about work (field projects have a different excitement). I must admit that working on the Olympics is a bit energizing. I’m putting together quite a significant presentation for this Monday (dry run) and then Wednesday (to our client) that summarizes most of what I’ve been working on (and the entire team) for the last few months. The presentation will then continue forward (in some form) for a multitude of things (contractor initiations, other client meetings, etc.). So I’m heading into the office momentarily (yes, it’s Sunday) to finish off the presentation. Kind of sad, but since I’m not going to be around for the next month, I’m trying to NOT give the presentation, though it’s looking like I know the information too well and can’t delegate it all. But not much use getting my face up front with the client if I won’t be here to follow through.

And looking forward, I’m hoping to be back in Canada for the July long weekend. Yes I know, apparently this is not the best time to come home with other guests and such in town, but it seems that when you start making work commitments you have a little less say on things. Well, actually, it’s only the June 26th meeting in Philly that has really tied my hands. I could still end up being in Canada till the end of July depending on how long the work visa takes. And when I get back to the UK in late July / early August, I’ll only be here a week or two before heading to Northern Ireland for about a month. That’s it in Ireland though as I’ve kind of insisted on making London my home base for now. After making friends and getting to know the place, I just couldn’t bring myself to moving to Dublin right now. Especially since my company has a much bigger presence in London and isolating myself in Dublin just isn’t the right thing to do.

So hopefully I’ll have a flat in London again by September 1st? (important info for you travelling & likely-to-visit types) Though feel free to come and visit before then if you’d like, but I’ll probably be staying in hotels in either London or Dublin (could be worse). I thought about keeping the flat, and still a chance that I will if work pays for it (which they currently are, but until transfer letter gets in my hands and terms get settled...). Just keeping the flat seems the easiest, but flats seem easy enough to come by and at $1700/month, I don’t think I’ll be here enough in the next two months to justify me paying for it! But then again, moving my crap this week sure seems like a lot of effort too never mind having to look for a place in the future and the idea of hotels again… sigh…

Trying to think if there’s anything else somewhat exciting that I’ve forgotten... hmmm... I've seen a few shows lately including The Weakerthans this past week – a really good indie band from Winnipeg of all places (so had to go). I was supposed to go up to Inverness / Aberdeen this weekend to visit Pat & Stef and Pat’s brother Graham from Victoria (I knew Graham from elementry school / Camp Stephens), but work just got too nuts and I couldn’t take the days off (sheesh – I’m working Sunday!). But next weekend in Italy with my friend Jen from Amsterdam should be loads of fun, so I’ll quit my bitching. And I’ve made a few new friends in France, Spain, etc. that will all make wonderful visits sometime in the near future!!

But that’s it for now, must get to work!! Hope to see many of you in the coming month or so. Definitely those in Winnipeg & Calgary. Maybe those in Victoria? Maybe those in San Francisco / LA (not sure how the US visits might work as I will be passport-less while my visa application is in progress and the US has just put passport requirements in place - maybe on my way back to London, though not exactly on the way, are some work justifications i.e., ways to get work to pay for stop off).

If I had to vent right now... how come Europe is become less restrictive on passports and travel, work, etc. (I travelled from Poland to Germany without a passport!!) while North America is going the other way. Just a thought for the day...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I missed summer in London and what to do with my life :)

I have a few blogs in progress, but doing the photos takes too much effort!! So just thought I'd give a shout from London with no photo.

It's actually mostly sunny today, but cool. When I got here on Tuesday it was really nice, warm and sunny and I'm told it was like that all last week or even longer. And then it started to rain Wednesday and just stopped this morning for a bit (probably rain again this aft). Everyone is joking (sort of) that the last couple weeks were the London summer and that I missed it. Hmmm...

So I'm back working on the Olympics for the next few weeks. And then after that I'm supposed to start working with the usual CH2M HILL office (more commonly referred to as the Kensington office). Not sure how engaged I am in anything right now. Still wondering why I left Bangkok.... the money hadn't run out and there were beaches, massage courses, cooking classes and, well, lots of things to do! Sigh...

So instead of massage course tomorrow, I have a meeting with the regional business group manager that will largely resolve my future in Europe (?). Outcomes range from me saying "thanks, no thanks, I'm going travelling and back to North America to work in a coffee shop" to me getting a really sweet UK salary with paid accommodation (thanks Mum & Dad, I already know your vote!). Reality is probably somewhere in between, but closer to the latter as I'm more ambivalent about what happens right now and they're in dire need. You see, one of the key London hydrogeologists is in the Territorial Army (sort of like reserves) and just got called up to Afghanastan. So its gone from "we're interested in having you join...." to "we're desperate to...". Combined with my ambivalence, seems a good time for negotiating!

Since you're reading this, you get to think through with me what my key requirements are:

1. I'm going to be in London till late June and I'm sick of hotels. They're paying for the accommodation and this will continue (negotiating point #1a), but I want it to be in the form of a per diem that I can use for whatever (point #1b) i.e., there are a couple sublet opportunities that have come my way that will be much nicer than hotels - also, if the sublet is less than my per diem, then I pocket the cash.

2. They've requested I attend a meeting near Philadelphia on ~June 30th. I've already told them I'm taking 3 weeks off in North America after this meeting. I need to confirm this and make sure all tickets are paid for. I'm hoping work in San Fran will pay for a trip there too. And hopefully I'll just have to pay for 1 ticket to Winnipeg. And I need to move the meeting so I can make the Canada Day long weekend in Winnipeg.

3. Upon returning from North America in say late June, they want me to work in London for a bit and then work in Dublin. Ideally they'd like me to settle in Dublin for the rest of the year, but they'd accept a London residence if I resist (client is in Ireland and the client is pushing for "local staff" even the project site is in Northern Ireland and would still require flying to the site???). And they'd also like me to support the same client in the Netherlands and France. Which all sounds great in a lot of ways, but wow, I'm just starting to make a group of friends in London and thinking about which neighbourhood I'd like to settle in and now boom, time to change cities again! I've been living out of the same two suitcases since January and haven't been more than a month anywhere in probably the last two years!! And if I settle in Dublin then I won't be able to work on the Olympics project at all because they're in London and.... So many things to consider. If they want me to be mobile and live in Dublin, then we're seriously talking a "show me the money" type thing. Settling down somewhere is high on my priority list and this sounds like the opposite.

4. I'm a part time employee. Everyone seems to forget this including you, me, my boss, everyone I work with, etc. This is my attempt to make work a lower priority and other things (historically travel, relationships, volunteer work, etc.) a higher priority. I'm more or less failing and working too much and doing too little of the other things. Good for the bank account, bad for the life. How can I tell work people that I will commit to stuff but don't want to work too much? I pulled it off fine in San Francisco after working for many years and then people just accepted it because I did a good job when I did work (usually) and maybe more so just because it was San Francisco (more laid back than London). But I need to subtly bring this up tomorrow that I don't want to manage 3 projects, support 4 others and work on 60 hours per week. Or if I do work 60 hours per week, I take every second month off (which is fine when you work field jobs, almost like contract work, but not so hot when you're managing the projects with a high level of responsibility).

Okay, since I'm babbling after 2 cups of coffee, here's a funny one. This was my list of priorities from an email exchange between Laurel and myself a couple weeks ago (I've deleted her answers as I wouldn't want to influence anyone - also her response of "move to Ireland for the hot Irish chicks" while very true, I'm thinking going where the chicks are hottest isn't the best way to plan my life... though there is definitely more thought required on this point). She was requested to put these in order or priority and figure out what to do with my life. Feel free to take a stab and then I'll average responses and do what people say so that I don't have to make any decisions myself :) Cheers!

__ Work on Olympics project in London - committed (and now doing) May 13 - May 31

__ Start long-term commitment for Ireland/Netherlands/France project June 1

__ Support a project in Canada, ~1-2 week effort (could fly to Canada, but not
conducive with above European work commitments or Canada vacation schedule)

__ Visit friends (Jen L. and Darran & Jenny) in Netherlands (but might be
working there soon enough to make visiting now silly)

__ Visit Canada for at least 2 weeks (family in Winnipeg, move stuff in Calgary)

__ Visit Calgary to move possessions from friend's basement to ??? and to help
Mr. McNeil celebrate finishing his PhD!! Thinking of maybe putting my car
back on the road to drive out to Calgary, maybe Vancouver too in first weeks
of July...

__ Visit Laurel in Egypt? Ethiopia ? E....? some E country in Africa :)
Actually, it's Ethiopia, and could also do some Engineers Without Borders work
in Tanzania. But I don't think Africa is worth it unless I can take a full
month off and just not sure how to fit this into my upcoming work schedule.

__ Visit San Francisco to do training, have fun, etc. Could almost certainly
get work to pay for this if I was already in North America.

__ More travelling, maybe China, maybe India in October with a newly-made friend,
France to visit some new friends, maybe over there, how about there, how
about... (again, work commitments seem to inhibit my travel desires)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sliven, Burgas & Plovdiv

I finished up my stint in Bulgaria a couple days ago (actually, now a several weeks ago since I'm so slow actually finishing this post). I ended up working several extra days due to typical Bulgarian problems and because I told the next geologist I'd finish it off. I thought it would just be an extra day or two, but everything from drilling issues to simple stuff like getting shipping boxes and coordinating the shipping of samples to Italy seemed like heroic tasks. If you can believe it, the FedEx depot in Sliven doesn't take credit cards, only cash. And since the shipment was going to be 2300 Euros, I wasn't too keen on going to the bank machine 12 times and carrying a massive wad of cash around in a place notorious for mafia and people carrying guns (during the time I was in Bulgaria, my translator was robbed in Sofia - I know, law of small numbers but...). I could have paid with the corporate FedEx account, but then the price was a little over 4000 Euros. Interesting to say the least. Before I get on to more interesting things than work, here are some photos I took while "working" including a couple abandoned military watch tower buildings (gutted by gypsies for the copper), some scenery shots where I was drilling and me playing with the macro.

I did a half-day trip to the Black Sea on my last Sunday in Sliven. I worked the morning very hungover and things were mostly finishing up and I was annoyed at having to work my second weekend in a row that I called up Tara (a peace corp volunteer that I met from the nearby town of Yambo) and said let's go! She was up for it as she wanted the beach and I had the car. So off to the Black Sea (Burgas, to be more precise) we went. There are some much nicer and touristy towns right around Burgas, but she mostly took me to a nice beach and some cool places in town. The weather was sunny and 28 degrees C, but the water was chilly (at least too chilly for anything but my feet).

The town of Burgas was surprisingly nice. I guess I had become a little too settled in Sliven, a moderate sized town but quite rural. Not that Sliven is really small, but it's somewhat isolated and behind the times compared to Burgas which feels a bit more European / modern / happening even though it's further east. Burgas has blocks and blocks of walking streets, though this seems to be more the standard for Bulgarian cities. In fact, probably the most impressive thing about Bulgarian towns is that all the downtown cores I've been too have pedestrian streets that seem to rule the downtowns. And not just one block, but block after block that make turns, join at a big square / plaza and continue in multiple directions. Very nice. In Burgas, it was nearly 30 degrees out and all the streets and markets were packed.

A few things I like about these photos... doesn't the church look like it's leaning? I know it's some photographic / visual illusion whose name I can't recall, but... Also I was just looking at the brass sculpture photo and there appear to be two boys making out... how scandalous!! :) Lastly, I'd like to give a moment of photographic honor to Zagorka, a fine beer and my beverage of choice for many a day! The same can be said of McDonalds only once on the 3-hour drive from Sofia to Sliven, which has a McDonalds drive thru exactly half way and sadly proved too tempting ;(

After I finished up work I headed to Plovdiv, almost the half way point between Sliven and Sofia (Sofia being where I was flying out from). I had grandiose plans of spending one night in Plovdiv and another night in a monastery in the mountains (which comes highly recommended), but alas, work took too long and I was burnt out. I think this was about Day 16 without a day off - though granted I did take an afternoon here or there - and I was getting a tad grumpy and just repeating to myself "show me the money!" A good part of the drive from Sliven to Plovdiv was on a small secondary road that was ridiculous (map showed it as a highway, but that was a bit of an overstatement). I essentially travelled from a mountain range in the north down into the valley that runs (it seems anyway) nearly from Sofia to Sliven. Then Plovdiv is across the valley further to the south approaching the next (and bigger) range of mountains that are an extension of the Alps sort of? Anyway, my rental car was a fun little 1.4L (?) Spanish car with a stick shift (it drove and had several things about it that were very Volkswagon, so I'm guessing there had to be some joint something or other between the companies). I don't think I've ever driven such twisty roads with severe swtichbacks, 20% climbs / declines, obstacles (trees, animals, potholes that would swallow a truck, sudden changes to gravel or near disappearance of road, etc. etc. And was kind of strange as all signs of human life nearly disappeared for over an hour with only one logging truck being seen and there were no signs in any language I recognized so I was highly uncertain that I was on the "highway". In places the road was partially overgrown so I was trying to recall if any nuclear reactors had failed in Bulgaria. With such strange conditions, I naturally drove the crap out of the car and for about 1 hour (still not knowing if I was on the righ road) and it was either full on acceleration up hills, hard braking and downshifting (the car loved the redline) into a corner (or to avoid animal or tree or...) with the odd burst on very rare straight aways. Quite intense and I burnt off much of the work frustrations (as well as 20% of the engine life and 50% of the brake pads).

I took a few random photos of interesting things along the way, both in the hills and then upon hitting the valley. The randomness of the photos from the hills doesn't come across because several of these things had no sign of life for 20 km on either side and then all of sudden there was a fountain or a building or some ruins. I took a photo of the sign post because it was the first thing I had seen in english confirming I was in the right spot in quite a while. And I have no idea what the half naked woman on the billboard is trying to sell, but I find this kind of product endorsement / spokesperson is much more effective than say Tiger Woods.

I made it to Plovdiv around 5PM. Tara had hooked me up with a couple of Peace Corps friends in town and I had dinner and drinks with them that evening. Unfortunately the work requests to finish up this and that kept coming and I spent much of the next day in my hotel room scanning, faxing and tabulating until I was ready to tear someones head off. But finally I made it out for some more touristy things, which was quite easy since my hotel was in the heart of the old district (I had Roman ruins literally 300 feet from my hotel). I really liked Plovdiv, the former capital that had also been occupied by the Romans in times long long ago, then the Turks, then the XXX, then the XXX, etc. But somehow, the occupiers never leveled the place so it has become quite the architectural collaboration. Was a really nice city with some great hills overlooked by mountains, the aforementioned great architecture ranging from Roman to Islamic mosques to churches, to Japanese to Russian, and a nice balance between eastern and western Europe. Here's a handful of photos I snapped (yes, I admit, my blog is more of a photo album than a blog, but what's your point?).