January 31, 2009
All of you on Facebook must have already seen dozens of these "random things" lists go by; after being tagged a few times, I figured I should finally write mine. This is a lot like the "Five Weird Habits" thing that went around a few years ago. I'll try to not to repeat anything from that post or write other stuff that's already on the blog.
Some obligatory instructions for the Facebook crowd:
Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.
To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page (look under the plus sign), paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.
OK, so there you go.
January 27, 2009
The remarkable thing about this photo is that you can see Mount Fuji. While Tokyo is hardly a clean-air city, it's definitely cleaner right now than Beijing. It's been a nice relief to not be able to taste the air for a little while.
I snapped this picture from our hotel room the other morning. It's not a great shot technically or even artistically, but I love it. There are so many little stories here: the happy couple and their friends, the old guys at the back chatting amongst themselves, the woman in the geisha just out of the top of the frame getting her photo taken, the ladies at the back of the crowd laughing.
Since I arrived in Tokyo last week, I've been on a minor ramen frenzy. I'm guessing many of you have only had instant ramen in a styrofoam cup. As I wrote before, I love them, and the Japanese voted the instant noodle the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th Century. I agree. That said, real well-made ramen is a thing of beauty and way, way better than the instant stuff.
Like many good things in the world, ramen comes from China originally (la mein in Chinese). Then, like many other good things in the world, the Japanese took someone else's idea and made it really great. It was all I could do this week to not drag my family and friends to ramen for every meal (it turns out the Japanese have other good food too...)
I've written about these guys before after I went last summer. This time, I went to two different locations. The first was in Akasaka near the Live Search team's office. This was much smaller than the Harajuku location, with just a few seats. My foodie colleagues and I actually went after the team dinner, even though we were totally stuffed, just because we wanted to eat the yummy ramen. This time I had the Bonshan ramen, an even richer, whiter pork broth full of tongue coating collagen and deep flavor (they claim that it's good for your skin too!). It's really simply luscious. I think it's even better than the signature Kyushu Jangara. Like a junkie, I actually went back to the Akasaka Jangara after the next night's dinner, but cooler heads prevailed this time. (Wimps.) I later reprised our summer visit to the Harajuku Jangara with Michelle, the boys, and my cousin Jessica, who is working in Japan. The line was long, but it was worth the wait. They have English menus, and the staff handled my English/Japanese/pantomime ordering with ease.
My colleagues Jill, Helen, and John outside the Akasaka Jangara Ramen.
A bowl of Bonshan ramen at the counter. (Sorry for the lousy pic.)
We chose Testugama mostly out of convenience since it's close to our hotel in Roppongi Hills. Like Jangara, it's Kyushu style (so pork-based soup) but theirs are lighter tasting. Like many ramen places, you actually order at a machine first, putting in money and then pushing buttons for the things you want. You get a stack of little tickets which you then hand to the waiter.
I ordered the spicy soup with hard noodles. (You can order hard, medium, or soft noodles. This isn't a statement about the doneness of the noodles; rather it's about the type.) This was so good Michelle claimed eminent domain and took the bowl. I enjoyed her shio (salt) based ramen instead. Their gyoza (dumplings) were also delicious. We really liked the feel of the place -- very friendly. I'm sad we discovered it so late in our trip; I'm pretty sure we would have gone back again otherwise. They do not have English menus, but the waiter did a fine job pointing out the major things we might want on the order taking machine.
Michael (8) in front of the order machine.
My (soon to be Michelle's) spicy ramen. (I started eating before I realized I should take a photo, so the lovely presentation is a bit messed up.)
I should also note that we had a great soba dinner at Restaurant Kurosawa, another repeat visit from our summer trip (I didn't write about it that time, mostly out of laziness.) Kurosawa makes handcut soba with great buckwheat texture and taste. It's really different from the ramen noodles I mentioned above. Michael (8) loved the cold soba (dipped in sauce) so much that he ate half of another order. They also have other delicious dishes including a simple yet amazing tomato salad. For a noodle joint, it's not cheap, but boy, it's good. They have English menus.
Roppongi Restaurant Kurosawa storefront
The amazing tomato salad
I want to go out and eat more now...
Happy Chinese New Year! 2009 is the year of the Ox (BTW, "ox" is "niu" in Chinese and pronounced like "new", hence the multi-lingual pun in the title. I admit it's less funny after all of the explanation.) The Chinese horoscope website I've quoted in years past seems to be stale now, so I found OnlineChineseAstrology.com instead. Maybe it will be more accurate... Here's what they forecast for the year:
The Ox is the second sign of the Chinese zodiac. Like its predecessor and complement, the Rat, it signifies new beginnings. The main difference is the Ox is associated with building to last and slow but sure action. Even more so than last year we all have to make good choices, as that which is begun now is likely to have long term consequences.
As with last year, this is an Earth year. The difference is this one is yin rather than yang. It is thus likely to be less tumultuous. On a personal level, better results are more likely to be achieved by reacting to circumstances and going with the flow rather than aggressively charging forward and initiating a lot of action.
Unfortunately Earth has a destructive relationship with the Ox's fixed element, Water. In fact this is the fourth in a run of six years governed by an unlucky conflict of elements. This fact should come as no surprise to those who have followed US and world financial markets or the unspeakable horror that has persisted in Iraq.
The combination of Earth and Ox, however, is not at all a negative combination. Its primary characteristic is durability. It suggests an environment dominated by cautious pragmatism rather than quixotic dreaming. Things will get done.
Furthermore, they will generally be successful if done in harmony with the spirit of the Earth Ox. This applies both to the type and amount of new projects as well as the approach to accomplishing them. That means focusing on just a few, long term projects. It also suggests proceeding in a cautious yet determined manner. Finally, it counsels avoiding taking unnecessary risks and yielding to the temptation to seek short term gains.
Since this is an Earth year, those people born in a Metal year will generally fare better than others of their animal sign, while those born in a Water one are likely to do worse than those born in Wood, Fire, and Earth years.
The year 2009 will be a period of lasting accomplishments. This is true for individuals, societies and the human race in general. There may be times when motivation appears to be lacking. In fact the big challenge everyone faces is to generate the enthusiasm and desire to act. Those individuals and organizations that do will create enduring benefits for themselves and the world.
It seems a little crafted for current events, but whatever, I'll take it. For me as a monkey the guidance is pretty clear and seems good most of the time:
How the Monkey fares:
This year offers the Monkey some opportunities to go far with talent. Your generous nature may leave you stretched in several different directions, so it is important to stay focused in order to achieve the goals you have set for yourself this year. You will be given the opportunity to impress the right people in business as well as in your personal life. Don't hold back this year, for this could be one that will leave an impression over the course of the next few years.
So, time to let loose in 2009 and be impressive in a focused way!
Ironically, we're in Japan during the first Chinese New Year since we moved to China, so we missed all of the fireworks. We hope to catch some of the temple fairs and such when we get back later this week.
Happy New Year!
January 19, 2009
Sorry for not posting last week. We finally moved from our temp housing downtown to the suburb of Shunyi. This was really a multi-part process. On Thursday the week before the movers took our things from the apartment; this was the stuff we carried on the plane, our air shipment, and the few things we had bought to date. Then, on Friday, we received our sea shipment with our furniture and the balance of our stuff. We were excited by the prospect of finally having all of our things in one place.
Unfortunately, our new house was not ready to move into. There were still workmen inside patching up a few things, the place was very dusty and dirty (with sand and bugs in our bathtubs for instance), and (as we discovered later) many systems not ready for prime time.
As we started cleaning and unpacking, we had to debug these systems one-by-one: getting the heat turned on in every room, getting hot water to come on in the master shower, turning on the dishwasher, and so on. Pretty much each of these problems involved one or more visits from our neighborhood maintenance staff. Thank goodness for these guys. I can't think of a analogy in an American neighborhood; I suppose it's more like the kind of thing you might have in an apartment. You call the office with a problem and sometime that day, the guys come over and try to fix your problem. They were largely successful despite my weak Chinese explanations; I hope I understood their responses too...
Now, a week later we have most systems working pretty well, and we're liking the house a lot (this was not the case during some parts of the past week). The biggest remaining issue is that the phone and CAT-5 wiring in the house is messed up in many locations. I had beat my head against the wall until two or three in the morning trying to get the network working one night; when the maintenance guys came over, they found a bunch of the jacks were miswired and others were not passing any signal at all. I've got wireless working on the first floor now and have bridged to another wireless adapter on the second floor (although this is a slow/spotty connection). It will take some more doing to get this last part fixed.
In the US, I doubt the house would have passed the bank inspection, but I understand this level of construction quality is normal in China. It seems like people settle for "good enough" quickly here; even the maintenance guys seemed confused why I wanted more heat in the house, implying that I was expecting too much to be in short sleeves in my house in January. This is somewhat understandable I suppose since the house is so much nicer than how 99.99% of the country lives, but it will still take some getting used to.
I'll post some photos soon...
January 8, 2009
One of the seemingly attractive things in China is that it's relatively inexpensive to hire people to do service work like cleaning. Given how dusty and polluted the air in Beijing is, you always have to be cleaning here. These two facts seem to match each other well.
However, based on our limited sample size to date, the low price may not actually be much of a value. The quality of the cleaning jobs we've seen in our temporary apartment, the new house we're moving into, and even good hotels like the Grand Hyatt has been pretty uniformly poor. According to Michelle, who has been in the apartment while housekeeping was cleaning up, the housekeeper goes through the motions of cleaning but isn't especially particular about actually getting anything clean. She would move the vacuum cleaner around the floor but not hit each spot on the rug, for instance. After the housekeeper leaves, the place is neat but not clean. She seems to be optimizing on following the process without regard to the results.
As with any population, I'm sure this one has a curve with good, average, and incompetent cleaners. I don't know where these folks were on the curve, but I'm not optimistic. We'll have to be very selective about who we work with going forward, but I suspect that once again, we may get what we pay for.
January 7, 2009
I haven't written too much about my new job in Live Search yet, so I thought I'd share a cool thing we just shipped. The time around Chinese New Year is called Spring Festival (春节 - chun1 jie2). For this year's festival, we've started showing custom background images on the Chinese Live Search home page. As you mouse over the image, little hotspots will appear linking to fun and useful information. This is similar to functionality we have on the US Live Search page, but it's really the first time we've done this kind of thing outside the US. I think the images are really beautiful and worth checking out every day. Here's the first image (click it to see a full sized version):
In addition, we've built a custom page that combines a lot of features we have to help users with their Spring Festival activities. For instance, lots of people travel home to be with their families (it's the largest human migration in the world), so we have a service to search for train tickets. We also have a fun activity built by our partners in Microsoft Research Asia that helps you compose and share couplets (对联 - dui4 lian4) -- traditional poems. OK, I'm told it's fun. Since I can't really read Chinese, I don't know. Anyway, if you can read Chinese, check out the page at http://chunjie.live.com/
These are the first of what I hope will many efforts by our team to really make Live Search feel and work like a service really built for Chinese users. I don't think that's the case today with a lot of products built by American companies.
January 3, 2009
I snapped this shot last week near Houhai (the old Beijing lakes area behind the Forbidden City.)
Andrew (11) and I went ice skating today at the China World mall near our apartment; Michelle and Michael (8) watched (Michael wanted nothing to do with it.)
Andrew has only been ice skating once in his life and that was when he was two, so he struggled a bit, especially at first, falling a lot.
As they watched Andrew falling repeatedly, Michael said to Michelle: "This is better than watching TV!"
Schadenfreude is a bitch.
It's Saturday night here in Beijing, and I'm getting ready to go to work tomorrow. Now, for a lot of Microsoft folks (and others in our industry to be fair) working on the weekend isn't unusual (unfortunately). Tomorrow, however, is an official work day in China.
Here's my understanding: The Chinese government realized it was a good thing to give people three day weekends; it's good for the economy since people will travel more. However, when a holiday like New Year's Day falls on a Thursday, what do you do? Easy -- give everyone Thursday and Friday off and then have them work on Sunday! This way, there's a three day weekend and there's no lost day of work!
I give the Chinese government high marks for creative thinking here. Definitely out-of-the-box.
January 2, 2009
The pollution is Beijing is certainly well-known and well-discussed; the term Greyjing has emerged to describe it (even making the New York Times 2008 Buzzwords list -- worth a read, btw.) You've all probably seen the photos of the horrible air, but here's something that surprised even me. There's so much dust in the air, even indoors, that our printer is covered in dust every day.
Michelle cleaned this printer less than a day ago. You can see how it's covered in dust again. I'm guessing the dry air isn't helping -- lots of static electricity. We're living in a brand new apartment on the 30th floor, so it's not like this is a drafty old building near the dirt.
I can only imagine what it's doing to our lungs. I'm looking forward to receiving our air purifiers in our sea shipment soon.
Man, how did another year slip by? I think I need to count 2008 as a good year. I made reasonable progress on everything I set out to do in my blog post kicking off last year. A quick recap:
In addition I feel good about the progress we made on IE8 including getting the betas out. It's a good product and will be a solid release I think.
Of course, the biggest news from 2008 was our move to China. This idea was no where on my radar in January 2008; in fact, we had just bought a house and new cars and were ready to continue our nice life in Bellevue. I'm actually pretty proud of all of us for seizing this opportunity instead of doing the easy thing. It's already been a great experience.
I think my personal (non-work) goals for 2009 will center around taking advantage of our new surroundings as well as continuing some of the themes from 2008.
Here's to a great 2009!