I arrived in Beijing late Sunday afternoon and successfully made it through the airport after standing in approximately 5 different long, slow lines. A driver, who had my name scrawled in black marker on the back of a piece of paper, was waiting in the crush of taxi drivers and others who were yelling at me to acquire my business. He spoke no English, drove like a man with a death-wish, but got me to my hotel in one piece. He held his steering wheel in what I believed to be a fairly unique way with his hands on the middle part of the wheel positioned such that he could either honk the horn or flash the brights in rapid succession with finger twitches. It didn’t seem to matter that he couldn’t work the turn signals from this position since he didn’t actually use lanes in the classic sense of actually driving in a particular lane.
I didn’t sleep particularly well that first night though I was incredibly weary, having been up for some 30 hours. It more closely resembled four consecutive naps than an actual night of sleep. The first day in the office went well, though around four in the afternoon I found myself vertically challenged as my body tried to shut down. That night I got an actual night of sleep, though it was far too short (perhaps 5 hours or so). Tuesday was more of the same, but culminated in several of us going out to a classy restaurant. We had a nicely appointed room to ourselves with great service and mostly excellent food.
Now, I like to try new things, so when they served the duck feet, I figured I wouldn’t reflect on it, I’d just eat one. Turns out that this restaurant was classy enough to actually remove the bones. What I discovered was that once you take out the bones, the only things left in a duck foot are all the parts I most despise in any form of fowl: fatty skin, ligaments, tendon, and cartilage. It was utterly disgusting, but I got it down. The picture of the moment was taken on a phone camera, so its not the best resolution, but it captured the moment fairly well. I was glad to have the whole episode behind me and went on to enjoy the remainder of the meal.
Near the end of May, the Nortel folks in Beijing that work the various Chinese accounts requested that we send someone over to discuss with them our network architecture evolution (background: I am the senior manager for Nortel’s GSM/UMTS media gateway product management team, but have a sort of side job keeping an eye on the overall network evolution on behalf of my boss). Two things quickly became evident: 1) that person would have to be me; and 2) the trip wasn’t likely given the SARS travel restrictions at Nortel.
The issue went back and forth for quite some time until the accounts managed to swing approvals from the relavent management types . However, this took place early in the morning on Wednesday June 4th, leaving very little time to pull off the trip given a planned leave date of Saturday June 7. By Wednesday afternoon, we managed to book my travel. On a whim, I happened to ask the travel arranger if she knew of any further arrangements I would need to make. Her answer was something along the lines of “just a passport and visa”.
At that point my admin, who was also on the call, said something like “I forgot about the visa” (as I had), so around 5 p.m. she (my admin) began frantically trying to make arrangements with an agency to pull off a two-day turnaround on a visa to China while I rushed off to get Visa pictures taken. She found an agency willing to guarantee a visa by early Saturday morning (right before my plane was to leave) but they reminded her we needed a letter describing the need for the trip and signed by HR. It was at this point that things got really complex.
A few nights ago, I was awakened from a sound sleep around 2:30am by moans. “Mommy, Mommy!” said the monitor under our north facing bedroom windows. That’s Jonathan’s monitor (if you recall from an earlier post, we have three child monitors in our bedroom.)
I made my way upstairs and found Jonathan sitting up in his bed, waiting expectantly for me. When I asked him what was wrong, he replied, “Mommy, sing The Ducks!”
Background: each night, last thing before we say goodnight to him, either Jay or I sing him the song, “Five Little Ducks”.
Greg Hewlett has a website now to chronicle his battle with cancer. For those who know him, there might be the expectation that it is a retrospective, since he lost a leg to bone cancer in high school. Alas, it is not.
I’ve known Greg since I was a freshman at Rice University. He was a senior that year, and I met him at a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting. That particular night a group of folks piled over to his dorm room after the meeting, and I happened to tag along. Upon entering the room several minutes after he had entered, I crossed over to say hi to him where he was sitting on the couch. Now, to understand this next part, you must know that Greg did extremely well with his prosthetic and had been wearing jeans that night. Quite frankly, I had no idea he had lost a leg (above the knee) to cancer� I merely thought he might have had a mildly sprained ankle that was causing him to limp a bit. Anyway, I crossed over to him as he sat on the couch. He was in shorts now, and had taken the leg off (though I had not seen it and still was not in a frame of mind that this was a man with a prosthetic leg), and it just so happened that the remaining portion of his amputated leg was in the crack between two of the sofa cushions.
I walked up to him and the first words I ever spoke to him (that I can recall, and spoken in total innocence thinking I was playing along with a joke) were, “Dude, you’ve got one leg.” I don�t remember exactly what he said (something like “Yep”) but I immediately realized what I had done. In response, I smiled and acted like I had meant to state an obvious truth� but how I burned inside.
Zip several years forward and I showed up at Town North Presbyterian Church upon graduating from college and moving to Dallas, where I soon ended up in a small group led by Greg. We’ve spent much time together in the intervening years, even taking Greek together prior to his time in seminary. We now serve together on the session at TNPC and continue to enjoy a steady diet of lunches with one another.
There are some friends from my past who I didn’t know all that well yet I wished I had had the opportunity to get to know better. Greg was just such a person, and by God’s blessing I have gotten to know him much better as the years have gone by. When I got the voicemail last week with the devastating news of the severity of his illness, I was at work on an elevator. As the message ended, I simply kept the phone to my ear so that no one would speak to me and tried to keep my balance as the world shifted.
I’ll have more to say in the future, but quite honestly I get choked up thinking about the whole situation and don’t really feel up to continuing at this point.