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?).