Monday, August 31

Back To Work

West Wycombe
Since it is the last summer "bank holiday" Monday, I settle in for the rain (good for the tomatoes, I reassure myself) and the latest instalment of Wallace & Gromit.  Sonnet offers Earl Grey tea, taken with milk and a few crackers. We fortify ourselves with a brisk walk in Richmond Park so the dog can take exercise.

The UK shows a remarkable resilience this time of year: it's back to work and the British do so with a vengeance.  The kids return to school, the workers the salt mines, and anybody in finance to a prison of their own making, regardless - or because of - the pay. Traffic returns to normal which is to say it was quicker to cross Central London via horse-and-carriage 100 years ago than today in a black cab. True fact.

Me: "Are you looking forward to school?"
Eitan: "Uhhh looking forward to it I guess. The only bit I'm not looking forward to are the mornings. But otherwise I can't wait to get back into the swing of things."
Me: "Which classes?"
Eitan: "English, Spanish, maths, physics and biology. "
Me: "Why those?"
Eitan: "They're interesting. And fun."
Me: "How about football?"
Eitan: "Yep, it's going to good to play for Hampton this year."
Me: "What are your goals?"
Eitan: "To score more goals. To win a trophy. To win the ISFA or the Surrey Cup."
Me; "Lot of good things to ahead of you."
Eitan: "Yeah."

Bedfont Friendly

Back flip, soft touch
Autumn can mean only one thing: The Lions are back in action.  Yesterday our U15s take on Bedfont in a "friendly."

The pitch notable for its proximity to Heathrow and us Dads marvel at the Airbus 380s and the 747s taking off - holy Jesus, how can anybody live so close to the airport ? Of course it is a human rights violation to build a 3rd runway. I digress.

Eitan the team captain, chosen by his teammates, and a nice honour. He is determined to put one in the net against Bedfont and sees a 30-yard free-kick hit the top goal post and several other shots barely miss the outside corners. Finally, satisfaction, as a chip shot hits the top left corner leaving the goal keeper frozen.  All the sweeter as Bedfont pummelled the Lions 9-1 last year in the same pre-season match.

A moment for optimism - sport, family and work.

W Wycombe

Happy reunion
Halley and Ava spend Saturday night following a football match cancelled as a commuter plane hits a motor route, bursting in to flames, and creating a traffic problem to Bristol. Same as it ever was. 

Ava now plays for the Arsenal U15 squad and the kid is wired for the game: powerful body, gentle touch. She taps the ball constantly. I ask her record for picky-uppies and, while she unsure,  it has to be over 400. Easily.

Sunday we reunion with Nita, Alain and the wonderful Three Zeds for a hike in West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. Unsurprisingly Zebulon crushed his GCSEs with 12 A*, the very highest possible outcome. He contemplates a future of computer sciences or math. He already has a live gaming app to his name.

Alain continues to dish out applied math PhD projects like M&Ms from the jar. To what reward? I ask. The satisfaction of answering the unknown, his reply. This year his team solved the puzzle of the chameleon tongue, whose force velocity relationship made no sense.  Still doesn't, but at least there is an equation now.


Gentle reminder: Do not fuck around with the elevator
In all the cities I visit elevators are a Big Deal since my meetings seem to be above the 40th floor. China had about three million elevators in operation at the end of 2013.

I am reminded of a trip to Nairobi for HTWS where the building elevators did not work. Nobody seemed to mind and 20 floors easily walked (which we did).


Still sane - barely
My week ends in Seoul where our hotel overlooks the skyline from the many rolling mountains that surround the city.

Stephane and I run to the top of Namsan Mountain, where the Namsan Tower located, and the highest point in the city. It's kinda straight up and, since it's not like competitive or anything, we over-exert ourselves and, again, I must remind myself that these things no longer come easily.

Of course we get lost on the route back, starts to rain and the sun goes down. Sat nav not working.

Eventually, after a reasonable run becomes a long run, we are back in time for an evening drink. A highlight : passing a floodlit baseball pitch where professionally youngsters play into the after-evening hours, regardless of the weather.

Sunday, August 30


Westward; on a clear day one can see Mt Fuji
Tokyo goes on forever.

From the cereal box: In striking contrast to the ethnic and racial diversity that characterize large American cities, Tokyo, like the rest of Japan, is overwhelmingly mono-racial. The largest non-Japanese minorities that live in Tokyo as Japanese citizens are Korean and Chinese nationals, who are never considered Japanese even though some of these families have lived in Japan for centuries. Tokyo has always attracted Japanese from areas beyond its borders, mostly people from the rural areas to the north and east who come in hopes of benefiting from Tokyo's economic prosperity, which is often in stark contrast to the depressed economies of much of rural Japan. Many of these newcomers, and many native Tokyoites, are young people, who throng the streets at all hours of the day and night, infusing the city with an atmosphere of youthful vitality.

Sushi san

While extremely polite, the Japanese are also very difficult to read. They are often poker faced in meetings and react to facial expressions, instead of jokes or words, which can be disconcerting. I'm bewildered when saying "online dating" results in a senior figure throwing his head back laughing. His junior colleagues take their cue and also howl with laughter.

I learn a few sushi etiquettes : never dip the rice-side in soy sauce, which absorbs the liquid (and is insulting to the itamae). Never rub one's chopsticks together. Do not mix wasabi in soy sauce. Ginger is a palate cleanser and should be consumed between each sushi, not with it. Never use chopsticks to take or pass food from another's plate. Infractions will likely result in being ignored by the itamae.

I had a friend in business school named Jushi. Only I called him "sushi" for one semester and he never corrected me.

In Europe, the migrant crisis continues - Merkel says it is a test for the union greater than Greece.


Bento bo 
Tokyo : Stephane is a super dude who recently made partner at Astorg.

Our arrival too late for restaurants so we find a 24 hour sushi joint near our hotel in the Shiodome, not far from the fish markets. It's honestly the best sushi I've ever had - better than London's Akeda or Umu, which nets a check for several hundred pounds for dinner. As cool is the hustle-bustle at 2AM : businessman, revellers, couples. No tourists.

Tokyo is the most modern of all cities - there are multiple skylines in different districts, putting Manhattan to shame. The streets are clean, it feels safe, and the Japanese don't speak English (though the signposts are also in English even if they make no sense). If asked for directions or anything else in English, the Japanese will walk away - not rudeness but embarrassment for not being able to answer.

The Japanese remarkably polite. My favourite : upon departure, the hosts wait in a bow until the elevator doors are closed.  


B2 - two levels below surface
I arrive Taipei at midnight, time for a swim before bed.

Of my meetings, most impressive is WTT, the family office of Tsai Wan-Tsai (public record) who founded the Fubon Group, the biggest and most profitable insurance company in Taiwan which recently overtook Cathay for the  No. 1 spot ( Cathay remarkable founded and run by by Tsai’s brother).

Not moved ? The family further owns Taiwan Mobile (#2 mobile co in Taiwan), the largest cable TV company, the biggest TV shopping network and China Bank (regional license for Taiwan). All in, WTT controls over one-third of the Taiwanese economy.

Unusually (to me), much of daily life takes place underground as restaurants and shops and fitness centres must take advantage of the free-space beneath the city streets. 

Taipei, compared to Tokyo, Singapore or Seoul, has shabby infrastructure despite its $45k per capita. Most expect China to invade one day - why invest ?

Last time I was here was 1994 sourcing eye-glass frames for Help The World See.


View from my room
Beijing traffic is surprisingly sparse as we make our way around the city's tourist sites and to meetings. I learn that many of the main roads closed for a military parade (joint, with Russia) for 3 Sept, which requires practise and planning: public not allowed. The celebration marks the 70 year anniversary of the Second World War's end. Interestingly this is the first time for the parade - a signal of strength, perhaps ?

Also: the World Athletic Championships taking place at the Beijing "Birdcage" National Stadium and factories ordered shut to reduce pollution. It works, too. No smog.

Beijing's population is ca. 21m or world's 8th largest (Tokyo number one with 37m). I arrive as 2015 H1 growth below expectations while Xi Jiping's anti-corruption campaign has caused a serious political  wobble inflicting pain on equity exchanges around the world : Hong Kong down 30% from its May peak; the NYSE around -10%. Yet it is only calm with the investment professionals I meet. Of course concern, but otherwise only confidence.

From Beijing to Taipei.

Center Of The Earth

Visiting The Center Of The Earth
Stephane and I pay a visit to the China Investment Corp with its $600bn of assets under management. If one wants to know where the power is in China, have a look at the Board of Directors and Board of Supervisors, all public on Wiki, a website not available in China. Nor is Facebook, Google or Youtube. 

From CIC it is CICC, the largest investment bank in China. 

We meet only women, as is JJ, who shows us around. She tells us in China, a male dominated Asian culture, women have equal opportunity. 

Back home, the Shakespeares enjoy summer - Eitan has pre-season football practice while Madeleine "chills out and nothing else" (Me: You must have done something? Madeleine: Nope) which makes me feel good.

"NBA games are exciting to watch and have global appeal. They are very popular in China. I do watch NBA games on television when I have time."

--Xi Jinping

Temple Of Heaven

Temple of Heaven
I catch the direct from Heathrow to Beijing Capital Airport, the sixth largest building in the world by area AND a third runway built in no-time-flat for the 2008 Olympics. Heathrow may get a third runway after 20 years in 20 years.

I depart London on Saturday, 2PM, arriving in China on Sunday, 12 noon, a bit disorienting : travelling East always the difficult direction.  At our hotel I swim on the 59th floor (the building once the tallest in China and now it is No. 2) before joining Stephane and Laurent for lunch on the 68th floor. At this height, inside an atrium, everything a bit weird like the trees or the floor-to-ceiling wine on display behind glass walls.

From the Park Hyatt we go to the Temple Of Heaven (pictured), a medieval complex of religious buildings visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest.

"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."

Saturday, August 22

Railroad Tracks

One year of braces
We go for a day hike Alpes Maritimes which are remarkable for the rock formations that tower above the path.

Madeleine finishes re-reading "Fault In Our Stars" and when I get a bunch of "dunknows" to my questions regarding the book, I ask her to make up the sequel. She entertains me for a several miles of walking. Her creative mind always at work.

S. France

Eitan about as excited for Manchester football as about anything and we plan the evening around ManU vs. some unheard-of-team which is broadcast on the cable channel. The kids beg for McDonald's and Sonnet relents meaning they enjoy the perfect night in France.

We are on the beach for one week.

Eitan reads the biography of Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary Manchester United coach. Joyce's 'Dubliners' stays in the suitcase. Fair enough.

Turn Around

We arrive home from a long-drive from Scotland to catch a plane to Provence.

Madeleine: "Do they call you forehead because it is as big as four fingers ?"
Me: "I'd not thought of it like that before."

In the line at customs we ponder the notice, "P before Q"
Me: "What the hell does that mean?"
Madeleine: "Pee before queuing. Go to the bathroom before the line."
Me: "You are a genius."

Coastline Of Muck

We do a hike circling Muck and ending on its peak or ca. 421 feet from sea level.  This entails a mild/ slushy hike across fields, along the coastline, through ferns and finally up a sharp path that takes us to the summit. It ain't Rakaposhi.

The kids are mostly good sports about it but happy when the walk behind us. At the tea house Madeleine feeds a cow. The dog is in his element.

Welcome To The Isle of Muck

"Come to the Isle of Muck to get away, relax, and enjoy the wonderful wildlife and scenery."
For many years I have wondered about the islands off Britain and so Sonnet puts things in motion: We visit the Isle of Muck in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland (we cross Rum and Eigg on the ferry). 

Muck measures about 2.5 miles east to west and has a population of around 30, mostly living near the harbour at Port Mor. The other settlement on the island is the farm at Gallanach. There is a small hotel, a tea shop and not much else on the High Street.

Tom picks us up at the ferry station in an ancient Land Rover meant not for Chelsea but the unpaved roads of the isle. With us are 12 or so visitors here for a family reunion which means the local accommodations are otherwise sold out (this would qualify as "packed"). Tom and his family live here 365 days a year for the peace and solitude. They own a bunch of sheep, which Rusty chases with joy to Sonnet's horror, on a farm estate that stretches to the water. Amazon delivers the essentials. Of course it is rainy and window but that is the point.
I find an unexpected emerald bay to skinny dip.

Sunday, August 16


Sound of Sleat looking at the Isle of Rum
Eitan and Madeleine survive camp and we pick them up outside Ft William and drive to Maillaig, a fishing town founded in the 1840s, where we catch a ferry to The Isle of Muck.

Sonnet, Eitan and I have visited Maillaig before - for a day-trip in October, 2001 - or shortly after Eitan turned one-year old. We were visiting Fort William so I could climb Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain at 1,344 meters located on the western end of the Grampian Mountains in The Highlands. The summit can be reached with a vigorous day hike up. So I and Eitan (dutiful strapped in a backpack) set out for the base in the pouring rain and spring snow. The taxi driver suggests it might not be an optimal day for a climb and Eitan's howls convince me the reasonable - safe! - thing to do is to not do it. Probably the right call.

So Maillaig. along with being the busiest Herring port in Europe during the 1960s, is famous for its scallops and the family restaurant where we dined in 2001 still there and we enjoy a meal while I ask myself the inevitable question : where did the time go ?

Dad's factoid: The Mallaig railway - Hogwarts Express - used during the filming of the Harry Potter

Loch Hourn

Self Portrait XXXXVII
Sonnet finds a charming hiking station at Loch Hourn where we hole up for the night following a day trekking along a section of the 200 mile Cape Wraith Trail.

Loch Hourn runs inland from the Sound of Sleat (about right) opposite the island of Skye for 14 miles to the head of the loch at Kinloch Hourn. At the entrance, it is 3 miles wide, becoming less than 1.5 mile wide for much of its length, with successive narrows in the upper reaches and reducing to a 300-metre-wide basin at the head, where we start our walk.

The Loch is fjord-like and mostly steep-sided, with Beinn Sgritheall to the north and Ladhar Bheinn rising from the southern shore. The sea floor has been shaped by glaciation into five progressively deeper basins with relatively shallow sills; combined with the narrow and sheltered aspect of the loch and the high local rainfall, these result in an unusually wide variation of salinity and sea habitats over the length of the loch.

The Highlands

The kids shipped off to Scotland and Outward Bound for a week of outdoor activities including hiking, camping, canoing and surviving [Dad's note: Outward Bound founded in the UK, now more popular in the US, and aims to foster the personal growth and social skills of participants by using challenging expeditions in the outdoors. Bill is on the Board]. Madeleine: "Do I have to go?"

Sonnet and I drive to The Highlands for some hiking before picking up the Shakespeares. Despite the population density of Britain (64m people in an area half the size of California), most of Scotland is remote, beautiful .. . and wet. Our rainy days punctuated by brilliant sunshine that warms one to the bones.  Unusually for so far North (56.8 degree latitude) the fauna is tropical thanks to the jetstream, which dumps warm damp weather across the British Isles.

The Berkeley Way

This dude a fixture in my and many friends' memories from years ago. Every morning, rain or shine, Jeremy stood on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr Way (formerly Grove Street until 1984) and Russell Street waving to motorists and encouraging us to have a good day. This was the 1970s and not everything hunky-dory btw. He made the corner a better place. Where have guys like this gone ? (photo from Laurel, 3rd grade friend)

Madeleine and I go to the local pool. A cartoon poster of an overweight balding sunburned middle age man exhorts us to "get in shape this summer."
Me: "Does that guy look like me?"
Madeleine: "No."
Me: "Well, phew."
Madeleine: "You don't have a sunburn". 

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Jotting Joe has left and gone away.
--Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends

Still Crazy After All These Years

Park and 57th
I am in New York for a few meetings, travelling with JL from Astorg. JL a founder of the firm and charismatic like few people I know: he draws a room's attention without saying a word. He could easily be in the movies, playing an enforcer or ruthless assassin. I mean this as the highest complement.

A joy of visiting Manhattan is seeing Katie which works out to a bunch of times a year. I always make sure to plan my trips around at least one dinner with her, solo. She is doing the most interesting things and the only little sister I have. One of those things that makes life worth living and I cherish all the more with age.

In college Katie and I spent a night dancing at the Palladium (1986!) then hanging out in an all-night  diner, me smoking, waiting for the first morning train from Grand Central Station to Bronxville. Pretty cool, youth.

Manhattan Sunrise

OK, seriously catching up on my blog. I am feeling the loss of momentum - whereas until recently I pounced on each missive, I now find myself resisting, a drag - like running in water. So why the inertia ? Partly, perhaps, there is less to blog about : not that the daily humour of life and kids diminished (my main subject matter of course) but rather I find a greater need to filter what the Shakespeares say and do. No teenager wants their Dad writing over their shoulder.

Also this is a crunch period : kids becoming adults, parents aging - I'm aging - and work requiring full-on attention.

So, that aside, here is a Manhattan morning taken from the southside of Sheep's Meadow. Like nowhere else, a new day in New York City can change one's life.