Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve Dinner

We had dinner reservations at M - On the Bund. It was a great dinner consisting of 6 courses and we were seated at a window table overlooking the city lights.

The dinner was excellent and was leisurely paced over about 2 1/2 hours.

Favor bags were distributed to each table just before midnight to get everyone in the party mood.

The restaurant has an outdoor balcony. This provided a perfect place to be at the stroke of midnight and view all the festivities below.

We stayed at the restaurant until 1 and then headed back to the hotel. Trying to secure a taxi was a bit challenging on New Years Eve. Jim found his way over to the Westin Hotel and by a slim chance we got a private car back to the Four Seasons. (It could otherwise have taken hours to find a taxi)

We stopped at the hotel bar where the evening was winding down from their party. This was a nice stop to end the evening before the elevator ride home.

Happy New Year - 2007

New Years Eve Day

Today we had a leisurely start. We spent about an hour in the spa at the hotel, in the steam room and whirlpool.
We took a cab ride to Pudong (new city) and went through the Shanghai Aquarium. Some of the pathways at the aquarium are glass enclosed, enabling you to have the illusion of being in the water. It is an odd feeling to have large sharks swimming right above your head.

We went for lunch afterwards to the The Hyatt, on the 56th floor. The view was clear and we were able to see the Bund where we walked yesterday and will dine tonight.
I enclosed a photo of the mens room. I thought it to be unique with the full window overlooking the city.

We walked through a large shopping mall that consisted of 7 plus floors. (Jim said it reminded him a bit of Woodfield Mall back home.) I was surprised to see the large numbers of restaurants in the mall. Many of them white table cloth and very crowded.

Construction is on the move here in Shanghai. We noticed that work is being done at all hours and 7 days a week. Those who are in the trades here have more than enough work to keep them employed for a few years.

Though communicating in English can be at times difficult on the street, people have no problem with the words Watches, Gucci, Rolex and good pens. We are usually bombarded with men and women trying to sell you anything that is fake.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

It is Saturday night. We have had a problem with Internet connection in China, so it makes it difficult to communicate .

Our flight was delayed on Thursday out of Chicago for over an hour due to some customs problems.

We were able to upgrade to business class at the last minute at a good rate. This made the flight much more comfortable.

When we arrived customs, that took another hour and a half. We took the Maglev train to the city. It travelled at 267 mph. Very modern and efficient.

Once we got to the Four Seasons, it was time for a few hours of sleep. We woke up around 9PM, had a light dinner in the Japanese restaurant in the hotel. We then relaxed at the hotel bar and met up with Johhny Walker from Hong Kong

Today, Saturday, we spent most of the day exploring the city on foot. Great weather day in the 50's.

Communications here is difficult. Very few people in shops and on the street speak English.

Traffic signals are just a suggestion. You must be aware at all times. The pedestrian, does not have the right of way. Horns from vehicles are heard all the time.

We had a great dinner at T8 and will do more walking tomorrow before the New Years Eve festivities begin.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The time to depart for China has arrived. Tonight we must do our 45 min pack marathon and get ready to leave early tomorrow morning for our 14 1/2 hour flight.

Since I will have so much time on the airplane, it will give me a chance to plan the menus for next years partie's.

Both hotels have high speed internet, so as usual I will keep this blog updated with information and photos.

Talk to you from Shanghai.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

We had a nice dinner and interesting conversations on Friday evening with the AmeriCorps group.
It was nice to be in a relaxed atmosphere and actually have a full conversation without the sounds of machinery in the background.

Saturday was a short day for me since I was heading to Houston by 1P for my flight home.

We were assigned to the Madison Avenue single home build. This was the site that we worked for one day last month. It is sponsored by State Farm.
Building is only done here on Saturday by local volunteers. This week it was a group from the United Methodist Church, mostly senior cititzens. I think they sent us there to try and do what ever they could to save me.

There was a short prayer in the future living room, led by a woman from the church. It was actually very nice and from her heart.
She asked God to protect the new owner, watch over the house and that all would be safe during the construction. She even mentioned Al & I, thanking us for being Beaumont and for our safe return travel home.

Al & I spent the rest of our morning building scaffolding around the perimeter of the house

(Al informed me that when he volunteers in Louisiana, every day begins with some sort of short prayer. Sometimes led by a local minister or by one of the volunteers. It is usually very short and is more of a reinforcement to work safe.)

Miss Latisha, will be the new owner of this home. Due to the time limit, I was unable to get all her story. Though I did have a comment for her regarding her hair style, and her wrap when she fired up the grill..
She was there to BBQ for the group and was getting started at 9A so everything would be cooked for the group by noon.

This week was productive. We were able to do many projects from start to finish.

Both of us left Beaumont, accomplishing more than we anticipated.

765 Madison

United Methodist Group

Miss Latisha

Miss Latisha at the grill

My place for gathering thoughts.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Today, it was a beautiful weather day in Beaumont. Though you would never have imagined with all the severe rain storms we had since early last evening.

Al & I spent the morning at Jenard Street, our usual site. We worked on some siding to prepare for the roof. It was very muddy and wet, so luckily we were only there a short time. The prisoners were there to do some major clean-up. They were not around for a few days because their van was in for repair. They are a scary a looking group, but they work hard throughout the day and do not bother anyone.

We joined the NCCC group at the warehouse around noon, where they have been working on a child's playhouse since yesterday. (Habitat is going to auction the playhouse to raise funds this weekend.)

Everyone worked hard to complete the project in two days. The pictures below show the progress.

This evening Al & I are going to dinner with the NCCC group. This is our last full day and the group will be leaving next Wednesday. All of them have completed their 10 month requirement and will be driving back to their base in Denver. They have two large vans and are only allowed to be driving in the van for eight hours per day.

I will work a half day tomorrow and drive to Houston for my return flight tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Yesterday, we spent the day removing front windows on two homes that were not installed correctly. We had to remove the window wrap, windows, frame and replace with the proper frame.This task did require much skill, but patience and time.

Just before we were finished for the day, Al went to assist the foreman install roof paper. They wanted to complete the roof before the rain that was due today. I was going to climb up, but changed my mind at the last minute. There was not much to be done and I did not want to take a chance, and fall.

Today, we have had rain since morning. We spent the day at the warehouse building sheds. The same will be occur tomorrow until noon.

Tonight we are getting some heavy rains, 1-2 inchs per hour. The rain is predicted to end by 6A.

Some random photos of the NCCC group, Al on the roof and the warehouse today.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Today, was one of the few Habitat occasions, where we were able to start a project in the morning and finish by the end of the day.
Al & I had to lift the roof on the left to shave down boards with a saw- zaw. After lowering the six foot length, the roof had to be reattatched.

If this was not corrected, the flashing and tin roof caps would not fit flush.

Weather is great, mid 70's and clear.

Me, cuting the boards with the saw-zaw.

Our finished product.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Great day to be in Texas.

The weather was cool this early, but by mid morning the temperature hit the low '70's.

Looks like shorts will be the attire for the rest of the week.

When we arrived at the site this morning, Miss Bea, the future homeowner from our last trip was delivering coffee. She was thrilled and surprised to see Al & I back in Beaumont. I wanted to bring her a small gift that she could have to remember in years to come. I brought with me a small cross as her first house warming gift.

Miss Bea could not have been more appreciative, and wanted a picture of us on her front porch. She has already selected the wall in her living room that it will be displayed.

She returned just before we were leaving the site, because she wanted to introduce me to her handicapped mother and teenage daughter.

Most of our work today was on the scaffold working on soffits.

Miss Bea and her gift

Miss Bea & I in front of her future home.

Al nailing the soffit supports that I am cutting.

House that we worked on last month, working on the gable.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I arrived in Beaumont Texas today for another week.

I will be here until Saturday Oct. 28th. Weather is cool, 67 degrees. A far cry from the heat a month ago.

Al, who is from San Jose, will also be joining me here this week.

We will be the only individual volunteers in addition to two (youth) groups that are already here.

I drove past our site this afternoon and almost did not recognize the street. The block is beginning to look like a new neighborhood with some families starting to settle in.

Looking forward to tomorrow morning.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Habitat Week 9/17/2006-9/23/2006

Habitat for Humanity – Beaumont, Texas
Katrina/Rita Relief Building

Sunday Sept. 17, 2006

I tried to update the blog, but it looks like the hotel has a block on access to certain websites. I will be forced to communicate the old fashion way via email.

I arrived this afternoon in Houston to a heat index of 105 degrees and rain storms on and off all day. This has been the first rain in a few weeks, so I hope it does not continue all week.

We met briefly in the hotel lobby this afternoon and were told what to expect tomorrow morning at the site.

There are a total of 5 volunteers, 3 women, 2 men, including myself.

We also have other groups that will be showing up throughout the week, and some locals who volunteer on a daily basis. In addition, we have a special group of eleven. They will be wearing white jump-suites. This group is on loan to Habitat, because they will be up for parole over the next few months. I am sure them were all convicted of minor crimes and are totally innocent.

No need to worry, there is a guard present.

Lunch break should bring some interesting stories.

If anybody would like a pen pal, just let me know. I am sure I can hook you up.

The site is about 10 minutes away. The homes that are being built are for those whose homes were destroyed by Katrina, the second wave that hit Beaumont. There are about 12 homes that are occupied and another 18 or so yet to be completed. The goal was to have all of them done by mid-August. Due to the heat this summer and lack of volunteers, they are behind schedule.

We report to the site at 8A on Monday. We have been warned that the heat and humidity can be brutal.

We shall see.

Monday September 18, 2006

This morning it was raining like hell. By 11A, it was sunny and quite humid.

We reported to the site along with the youth group, 18-24 year olds from NCCC. Their stay here is 3 weeks.

Due to the weather we were sent to the Habitat warehouse.

Here, walls are delivered, equipment is stored and a shop is open to the public for resale of household items.

My group, all three, cleaned out a trailer used to at the sites and reconfigured a wall in the trailer to accommodate a large tool chest. Though it took us until lunch, we were all pleased.

The convicts, three, kept to themselves are were working throughout the warehouse.(I was hoping for a short chat with one of them, but the missing teeth and scarred faces were not the most inviting to start a conversation.

We met a future homeowner who was at the warehouse fulfilling her volunteer sweat equity.

It was actually quite interesting to talk to her about her situation and she was very willing to share personal details. So I asked away.

Bea (47) is a single parent of 2 teenage girls. She also cares for her handicapped mother (74), They all lived in New Orleans and made their way to Beaumont before the storm hit. Her home was destroyed, except for 2 walls.

The program works as follows:

- Each home built is valued at about $110,000-$120,000
-You must qualify to be able to purchase and live in a Habitat home
-Your cost is 1/2 or about $52,000.
-Down-payment is $1700, or $700 plus 300 hours of service. 100 hours must be performed at the selected site.
-The mortgage is for 20 years, interest free. It can be extended 5 more years if needed.
-The holder of the mortgage has first option to purchase, if you decide to move or sell.

After lunch the 3 of us went with our Habitat foreman to finish some items on a house that is almost ready for final inspection. We did final touch - up painting and closet door hanging in the bedrooms.

The homes on this block, three are all the same. Large kitchen, dining room, living room, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath and laundry room. It is built on a slab and has a matching large shed. ( The group of kids today were building these sheds at the warehouse today)

Prospective owners are able to pick the colors of the siding. All homes come with appliances that are donated by Whirlpool.

We finished and were out at 4P. Time for a quick nap before dinner.

Tuesday September 19, 2006

Great weather day here in Beaumont. Temperature in the mid 80's, and a breeze. Sunny all day today. By the end of the week we should all have a Club Med tan.

Today we were at the site for the 30 homes.

We built a scaffold at the front of the house, my first experience. Then we used the scaffold that we built to reach finishing the gable with plywood and foam insulation. It was a little uneasy for my climbing up there. I was glad that we made the stepping secure.

It was also an experience for me to standing up on the scaffold and use a nail gun. The back blast kept blowing my hat off my head.

Lunch was catered by a local restaurant. We enjoyed BBQ chicken, a hot Texas style type sausage and baked beans.

The view during lunch was something we did not expect. While we sat on a bench in front of the house eating. the company for the "Johnny on the spot" (toilets) was servicing all the units. We were grateful that the wind was blowing in the other direction.

I attached a photo of the house I was working on today. I took it with my phone, so I am not sure how the quality will forward.

I now can relate to the type of job my son Todd does everyday.

Until tomorrow.

Wednesday September 20, 2006

Great weather day, in the mid 80's with a cool breeze.

Interesting to work inside a house today. We were cutting and nailing braces to the ceiling joists. There was a new regulation since the storm. All the new homes must be double reinforced on the ceiling. This is supposed to help prevent the roof from blowing off.

Jan and Al were the brains in measuring and I was the "legs", to climb the ladder and use the nail gun. They both had a bit of a problem climbing in the rafters. I am becoming an expert with that nail gun.

Habitat is big on safety, so we all must follow rules regarding safety glasses, ladder holding etc.. The foreman are very helpful with allot of patience.

Also learned that hurricane clips are used on all wall studs. Again, to help prevent damage.

My Team players:

Al is from San Jose, Ca. He has two teenage children and is retired. I thought he was in his early 50's, but is actually 64. He is third generation Japanese. He was born in Omaha Nebraska. This is third Habitat trip since August.

Jan is in her 50's, from Hartford, Connecticut. She has two grown children and is a computer consultant.

The inmates were present today. I found out a bit more information. They are not in prison for dangerous crimes...supposedly.
Habitat has been using prisoners since 1999.
They seem to be hard working and keep to themselves.
They are instructed to:

-Have limited conversation with the volunteers and no money, cigarettes, packages etc can be exchanged between the groups.
-They are strip search when they arrive back at the "Big House" every day. If they have any contraband in their possession, all the prisoners in that group will be put in solitaire for 5 days.
All of them would rather be working at the site than be in the prison Mon-Fri.

Thursday September 21, 2006

Today was a mixed up kind of day.

The weather was great this morning at 8:00AM when we reported to the site.

After pulling out all the equipment and trying to finish the project from yesterday, we hear "Ya'll, it's fixin to storm. Pack it up".

Everything had to be put back on the trucks after only 60 minutes of work. When we finished packing it started to rain in sheets.

Off to the warehouse for the rest of the day building up the trailer we worked on previously.

All the changing around today made for a long day. In addition the rain stopped about 1P, and the humidity kicked in at 98%.

Tomorrow, Friday is our last working day. We can return to the site on Saturday if we choose, when the homeowners and local volunteers usually work. We are all going to decide tomorrow, our flights home are on Saturday afternoon from Houston.

Friday September 22, 2006

It is hard to believe that 5 days have already passed.

The best way to describe today is MOIST and HOT. It was 81 degrees at 7:30 this morning, and reached a high of 92. Once again there was threat of rain so we had to shut down by mid-morning.

Since the rain never appeared, but blew right out, we were able to do much needed cleaning for some inspections next week.
Working in each house (three) sweeping, was enough to wear anyone out. We also did some major outside regrouping.
Our shirts were soaked within just a few minutes.

After lunch, we went to a single house site that had to be prepared for tomorrow. State Farm employees will be building this house on Saturdays. The foundation was laid but the surrounding grounds were mud and water.

Tomorrow, Al & I are going to work at the main site for the morning. I am looking forward to this because local volunteers and homeowners are usually present on Saturdays.
We both have afternoon flights out of Houston, so we should have plenty of time to stop back at the hotel.
I'll post some photos this weekend and wrap up some loose ends.


To be continued

Yesterday was actually the most productive solid 4 hours of work that we had all week.There was plenty of heavy lifting and sweat involved. We had to replace bottom boards of pre-framed walls the were built by companies up north. The bottom board was not treated wood.There were about 15 locals, many high school age students who volunteered on Saturday. This is probably a great opportunity for them to fulfill community service.The kids from NCCC are usually off on Saturday, some of them came out to work. I left at 11:30A to get ready to drive to Houston for my flight. Unfortunately, there were many storms all over the country, and my flight was delayed about four hours into ORD.(I will send the Few items worth mentioning:- Many of the victims from Katrina / Rita lived in homes that they may have inherited or were passed down from family members. Because of their personal economic conditions, many did not have or could not afford insurance on their homes. When their home was destroyed they really had little or no resources to fall back on, leaving them homeless.- Miss Bea. I forgot to mention, that not only was she without a home, raising her two daughters and caring for her handicapped mother but she was also involved in an automobile accident. Three years ago, while driving through north Dallas on a two lane road, a couple of kids were drag racing and hit her vehicle head on. The engine went through the firewall and crushed both of her legs. Fortunately, they were able to put rods in both her legs and do repairs to her face and injured arm. Though she has one ankle and some pain, she was there every day working off her hours.-Our Foreman- These four guys have patience that many companies envy. Every day brings them challenges with new people who have no idea what the hell they are doing in regards to building a home. Yet, they are upbeat and positive to keep everyone motivated and safe.There are so many more homes to be built on this block. There is going to be a blitz in October, where 3-5 homes are built in 6 days. They flood the site with as many volunteers as possible through various groups and organizations. I plan to return either for the blitz or to just continue where I left off.This week was eye opening for the three of us who worked together. Our physical presence at the work site meant so much to many people. They could not have been more appreciative over the fact that people who they never met, were willing to travel, spend time and money to help construct a home for their families. You could not ask for a better Thank You.

My Photos of Beamont/HFH


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Beaumont, Texas

Getting the supplies together for the trip on Sunday.

Leaving on AA at 8:30a. I should be in Beaumont around 1P.

Habitat for Humanity in Beaumont

Thursday, February 16, 2006

We made it home in one piece and arrived home 2P.

No problems in customs but it took about 90 minutes from the time we pulled into the gate until we were outside O'hare.

We left this morning (Thursday) Hong Kong time, and the weather was beautiful.

The flight was a little more tolerable coming home thanks to an Ambien. At least we both slept for a good 6 hours.

Though my first impression when I got off the airplane last week was that the flight was just too long, I have since changed my mind.

It was well worth the trip to see this part of the world and I am sure we will visit again.

Though I think on the first trip it would be great to have a full 10 days. The jet lag hits you after the second day and you really have to adjust your body to the time zone coupled with all the walking, you can get pretty tired.

We understand that the best time of year to visit is October-May. The summers can have temperatures well over 100 degrees with high humidity.

Time for a few loads of laundry and a short welcome home nap.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

On Tuesday, Valentines Day, we gad difficulty in getting reservations for dinner to the restaurant that we may have preferred. Every popular place was booked.
We finally decided on Harlans, recommends by the concierge located in the mall near the hotel.
It turned out to be a great dinner, though slightly pricey.

Yesterday was Jim's day of leisure and also our last full day in Hong Kong. The weather could not have been more perfect. Temperature was in the mid to upper '70's.

We started our day of adventure by taking the Tram (Jim's first experience) to Causeway Bay, where I had been the last two days.

Upon our arrival there, we walked and walked and observed as much as we could grasp.

Walking through the food markets was an experience. Live fish for purchase, more fruits an vegetables than you can imagine. To our surprise, chickens could be purchased and were still alive. Not quite sure what occurs at the time of purchase but at least you know they were fresh.

We ended our final evening at a Gaia ,an Italian restaurant walking distant from the hotel.

We are packing up now (it is 7A) and will be heading to the airport for out 11:30A flight back to Chicago.( Our departure will actually be at 9:30P Wednesday night central time and will arrive Thursday at 11:45A.)

I will do a final entry with some other thoughts and reflections once we return.

Next stop duty free shopping at the airport, then 15 hours of flying the friendly skies.

Live Chickens

Jim at the Fish Market


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Information not found in travel books on Hong Kong:

- Since we have been here in Hong Kong we have not ecountered one person in a wheelchair.
Those who may require a wheel chair refuse to be seen in one. They will do whatever they can to avoid the chair in public. Though a cane for balance is fine.

-Number of years you attend high School
The scheduled time is 7 years. If your grades are good and passing, you can graduate in 5 years.

-Hailing a Taxi
The only place that a taxi cab cab be obtained is at Taxi Stands. They will not pick you up at any other location.

-When asking directions from a local, I always ask if they speak English.
After doing this on 3 occasions, I found that though they were very helpful, but seemed to be insulted that I would ask. I have found out that English is taught in schools at an early age. Now, I just ask the question and hope for a response.

-Over all the city is very clean, cigarette butts are nowhere to be found.
A few years ago the local government decided that the city needed to be cleaned up, so they imposed fines for littering. The charge for throwing a cigarette butt on the ground if caught and ticketed- HK5,000.00 or $625.00. Looks like the program works.

-Toyota's everywhere
Though all the Taxi cabs are a Toyota model, they are not the only car driven here by the wealthy. I do not think we have ever seen as many high priced cars in one place. Mercedes, Lambroghini, Porche' and Rolls Royce are common cars on the street. Though we have seen the Mini Cooper darting around the city.

-Stairs width
No reason that we have found, but with all the climbing through the city, the stairs are narrow in width. I am thinking feet are smaller and my size 13 shoe is not the norm.

-Crossing on "Walk"
Crossing at intersections in the city on the walk signal must be obeyed. When green, a bell rings rapidly. Once the bell stops you had better have completely crossed the street. If you are half way or almost the curb when the bell stops, run like hell or you will be run over by any motor vehicle.

The Tram

Slight rain today

Monday, February 13, 2006

Today was my day to venture out on my own since Jim went to the office at 8A.

I started out the morning seeking out the corner newsstand where I could purchase a voucher to recharge minutes on my cellular phone. (Martha Stuart helpful Note: For anyone to ever has the need to travel outside the USA and has a world phone, (most of the cell phones now have the capability) you can purchase a SIM card locally or online before you depart. You swap out your SIM card from your phone with the replacement. This will enable you to make cellular calls to the US for calling card prices. I paid $8.00 USD for 350 minutes of use. When finished swap out the card)

The streets were quite busy as any large city is during rush hour. I am sure I irritate more than a few people stopping in from of shops trying to located the correct address. But I succeeded with my purchase and was thrilled that the voucher worked and was so convenient to obtain.

After I made my first call to my daughter Erin I thought for a moment on how amazing technology has made life so convenient and how much we take it all for granted.

Here I am standing on a busy street in Hong Kong, dialing my daughter in Dubuque Iowa and being instantly connected for pennies a minute. What happened to the postcard we sent years ago that arrived after we came back from our trip.

My next course of action was to get to Causeway Bay for a day of shopping. Since I was not entirely pleased with our few hours on Kowloon Saturday, I was not quite sure what to expect.

I chose to be adventurous and take the Tram. The Tram has been around since 1904 and is the oldest form of transportation. It is the streetcar version, which I have no recollection, of Chicago. The cost 2.00HK for a trip or about .25 USD. Such a deal.

The Tram gave me the opportunity to see the city from a different perspective. Traveling with people going to work or just crossing the city. The people are very helpful. Each time I have asked to directions from anyone they have been more than accommodating. On my Tram ride out the girl who I asked for directions was also on the same Tram. She went out of her way to ensure that I got off at my stop.

I spent the next 4 hours or so going to small street vendors and some excellent small local shops and department stores. There are bargains galore if you know what you are looking for and know your prices. I know that many of you who are reading this would have thought you had died and gone to Value City Heaven. This area is where locals shop and prices are slightly better.

I shopped til I dropped and eventually found the correct Tram to take back to Central, our area where the hotel is located.

Jim finished his day by 5:30, and we had a relatively early dinner at 8P. Our dinner choice tonight was Thai Cuisine. Not very spicy but excellent.

Below are some pictures of the Causeway Bay area.