Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Playing catchup

Well... been back at work two days and playing catchup. Pete [my co-leader of the team] is off in another country in the Middle East. So I guess I am holding the baby again too.

Paula, our new administrator, has started and I spent Monday morning working with her to try to sort out some of the recurring charges and other admin issues we need to deal with [and delegate to her]. Actually already I am seeing how she will make a difference. She is noticing things that have been falling behind for some time and looking at ways of making them work.

In the afternoon I spent time with Phyo, our trainee programmer/designer catching up with what he has been doing and helping set his next priorities. The sort out a couple of technical things - one with a printer Pete had been having problems with while I was away and another with one of the radio streams that had stopped working because one of our partners had removed a file from the server...

Today... well... one thing we have been bad at is fund raising, but I have an invitation to the USA to meet some potential funders there. I have been sent a 28 page document to fill in, and today I have been wading through it. Some questions are easy, many need quite a lot of looking at. For instance a percentage break down of how we use our funds. We don't have those figures at our fingertips [maybe in a years time when Paula sorts us all out we will, but not now!]

Miracle of miracles the Internet banking is now working [started while I was away] so that has reduced the workload for our book-keeper somewhat. However, I dare not tell you the ongoing saga of the banking problems... this with our UK bank this time which has sucessfully forgotten to reply to my FAXes, failed to send out a bank card, failed to send it a second time, then sent two bank cards to a third wrong address... one day [maybe] all our banking facilities will work... including hopefully the Internet banking on our UK account.

Of course, although the Cyprus Internet banking is now working , the Bank of Cyprus did have to show how inefficient they were as well, by sending us a new Euro bank book for an account that is now closed!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Home after vacation

One of the things I wanted to do on my holiday was to try to catch up with my email. Email had been something that felt like the sword of Damocles over me, and as fast as I tried to catch up... I never got there and this 'thing' was hanging over me worrying me that I had missed something or not replied to something.

I had not managed to file emails for about a year and in the process of filing I found that I have been corresponding with 394 individuals and 136 companies and organisations.

I replied to many that I should have replied to over the year and after working hard at it managed to get down to 50 outstanding messages. I felt that was a possible number to clear over the remaining 10 days of my holiday - 5 per day. The trouble was more kept coming in and as I wrote between 5 and 10 per day, I never seemed to get down below the 50 outstanding messages. So the sword still hangs over my head!

The holiday has been really great - basically just hanging out with Daniel and at times his friends. Yesterday we managed to get a day sailing - the doctor from the ship he is on, Daniel and I rented a Hobie 14 [14 foot catamaran] and took it out for a couple of hours sailing. We were sailing in the South China Sea and the wind was light. Its a wonderful place to sail. I wish we had more opportunity to sail there.

Daniel is a natural sailor and I look forward to the time he will be back in Cyprus for a few months, when hopefully he and I can go out sailing at least once per week.

We also helped with the International Night for the ship - this is a presentation, this time done in the local Anglican Cathedral about what the ship is all about. Because so many people wanted to come they wanted to do a video relay to another building. Talk about following in father's footsteps... Daniel was directing the video relay and I was one of the camera operators.

It was great to see the vitality of the young people from the ship in this presentation, though like many church things they couldn't allow the creative presentation to stand on its own as a form of communication and had to have a talk as well. I guess nothing is perfect... except God!

Biggest problem they faced was lack of equipment - they had about 25% of the equipment they really need for this sort of presentation so everywhere people were trying their best... and struggling. Nevertheless, the audience enjoyed it. It would be interesting to see what these young people could do with the right equipment and the time and opportunity to develop the presentation fully.

By the time you read this we will be back in Cyprus. We're not really looking forward to the trip back. We have a 3 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, a 12 hour layover in KL, an 10 hour flight to Dubai, 3 hours in Dubai and finally a 5 hour flight to Cyprus. The flight from KL to Dubai is overnight... famously called the 'red eye' due to what the passengers look like at the end of it.

I guess it will be back to trying to feed the email beast now we are back in Cyprus... looking at what I was filing I think I read more than 22,000 emails per year and write at least 2,500 emails per year. Admittedly that is less than it used to be as so much is now done with IM. I haven't logged on to any of the IM systems while I have been away, though urgent messages have come via SMS [didn't count these, but more than 50 of these] and direct email to my phone [52 of those].

I was hearing how the the officers of Daniel's ship, like the officers of most ships these days have loads of emails back and forth to the company. Gone are the days of the master of a ship BEING the master. Accountability means communicating and involving decisions. The same is true in most lines of work these days. I wonder how much more we would achieve if we trusted people to make the best decision before God they can and didn't have all these extra layers of communication and accountability. My bet is we would gain between 1 and 2 days per week and possibly more.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hong Kong National Day

Yesterday was Hong Kong National Day. Some shops were closed, but many still open [to make money, a primary concern of most people in Hong Kong]. The ship that Daniel was on had to go out and anchor in the bay as a cruise liner was coming in to use the berth that they had been using. Apparently they get cheaper berths if they do this.

The reason I think the cruise liner was there was for National Day. It was absolutely ideally situated for the fireworks in the evening. I think the Chinese invented fireworks and certainly this display was the best I have ever seen, the the crowd control by the Hong Kong police was excellent... except that it meant we had a less than ideal view of the fireworks! However, the event was brilliantly organised, with visitor/tourist desks at street corners manned by people who told us why streets were closed off and where to go to be able to see what we did see.

Today was Daniel's day off this week, so we went over to Hong Kong island [we are on Kowloom now] and went up the tram to the peak. I'm not sure if Sue had her eyes closed for the tram up the mountain... she had threatened to do so if it got too scary. As we left the wind came up and we almost felt like we were going to be blown off the peak.

When we came down we visited Stanley Street looking for a camera for Timothy. We failed in the quest, but did manage to find a drawing tablet for Daniel which will be part of his 21st Birthday.

The ferry between Kowloom and Hong Kong is amazing... not much different from how it was 100 years ago. Great fun to see the harbour from the ferry, and to see Daniel's ship from the harbour.

We have come aboard Daniel's ship for the next 12 days and its wonderful to be in a cabin with space to sit and crash out, type on the computer, make coffee... and a bathroom with space to turn round in!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Hong Kong

We're now in Hong Kong, visiting our son Daniel. It's good to be here. The trip was not good though.

We flew Emirates from London through Dubai to Hong Kong. There were a number of flights shown as connecting flights one with a 2 hour layover in Dubai and one with a 9 hour layover in Dubai. Because flights that are shown as 'connecting' normally have accommodation provided I assumed we would get accommodation for the longer layover. No... we didn't. So we spent a long and boring night in Dubai airport, kind of drowsing, Tim somewhat sleeping on the floor, Sue curled up on a chair and me feeling very stiff and very painful in my back.

Why so painful in my back? Well... as soon as we got onto the aircraft in London I found the chair was horribly, terribly uncomfortable, with a bar across the back sticking into my kidneys/spine. Sue said this was the most comfortable airline chair she had ever sat on with support for her back whereas normally it wasn't. And she felt mine and said it was the same as hers. So I assumed that for the first time ever she has a comfortable chair and mine was painful.

I tried jamming the pillow below this bar, and that relieved it a little. I tried folding the blanket and jamming that below this bar, and that was slightly better. Both were still very painful. It was sufficiently painful I was gritting my teeth from the pain for part of the flight to Dubai. Since it was comfortable for Sue, maybe at least she would get a good flight.

Second flight from Dubai to Hong Kong, we found that the chairs had labels on the buttons... and one of them controlled this bar that digs into the bottom of your back (or makes it comfortable if your body is like Sue's and not like mine). So I could move the bar back and reduce the pain in my back. I couldn't eliminate it totally, but it was significantly better, and with a pillow below the bar it was nearly comfortable.

We finally arrived in Hong Kong. We had had problems finding appropriate accommodation. What we wanted was a good basic, cheap hotel/guest house, nothing fancy... and something that took bookings online. We had the Lonely Planet guide [great, we highly recommend these] and we were using that coupled with searches on Google.

Looking online and in Lonely Planet there seemed to be two choices: cheap or expensive. Nothing in the middle. Last year in Singapore we managed to find a couple of low/mid-priced hotels that were very good, but here in Hong Kong there seemed nothing in the middle at all and the expensive were very expensive. So we booked a couple of rooms in a cheap place... also we wanted en suite bathrooms rather than shared bathrooms. Oh... and we wanted it to be close to where Daniel's ship was moored.

The booking confirmation email was slightly alarming with warnings about people accosting you outside as you went in. Daniel visited the place and his comments were something along the lines of the place being basic.

We arrived... very very tired... could have slept anywhere.

The double room for Sue and me was 1.5 metres by 2 metres (5 foot by 6.5 foot) with an en suite bathroom [including toilet, wash basin and shower about 80 cm by 80 cm (2'6" by 2'6"). The bed was 4 ft wide which means there was a 1 foot gap to the wall alongside and 1 foot 6 inches at the end. Never mind... we slept.

Following morning Tim and I went out to check out another place up the road that was in Lonely Planet didn't have online bookings. Much better... still very very basic... we booked a room for that night but we would have to move rooms again the following morning. There was a bunk free in Daniel's cabin and so Tim moved in with Daniel and we moved to the new place.

Hong Kong seems like a dirtier, busier, very much more expensive version of Singapore. We have been here 5 days now. It's nice to see Daniel, but Hong Kong is nothing very much to write home about.

In order to do email/web we have to go to Starbucks as we bought a 30 day Internet card that works in some branches of Starbucks and some other locations which we have yet to find.

Starbucks here is cheaper than Cyprus or Lebanon, but still pretty expensive compared to other places, and the coffee nothing very much to speak of. In fact I think I shall be pleased if I don't have to visit another Starbucks for another year after this trip. One of the branches has plastic columns with millions and millions of coffee beans in them as a display. I thought what a waste... well maybe considering the quality of the coffee its not, but that's another story...

I am beginning to feel pretty fed up with the waste I see everywhere. On the ship Daniel is on they have had to change from containers for the margarine to individual sealed portions in plastic. So every meal there are hundreds of plastic containers thrown away.

I understand this on the aeroplane, as a necessary evil, but on the ship its ludicrous. And whenever we have one of these Starbucks coffees there's also loads of waste too... the plastic cup, the lid, the heatproof sleeve. And if its a cold drink then add a straw to the list [keep the heatproof sleeve so that you don't get frostbite on your fingers].

Why can't we wash things up and use them again?