Thursday, April 9, 2015

I Predict...

...that the Apple smartwatch will be the biggest product flop for the company in a long time.  Let's see if I am right or wrong.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Starkey Mission to China, 2014 - The Journey Home

Well, that's it.  The Starkey Mission to China has come to an end for Rosaline, David and I.  It has been an incredible two weeks, and I think that all three of us would agree that it was the experience of a lifetime.

The journey home was fairly uneventful.  We took a plane from Lijiang airport to Beijing (and our tickets were valid this time!), then had a final flight home from Beijing to Toronto.  The unusual thing was the flight home from Beijing was half-empty!  That never happens!  So Rosaline and I had an empty seat between us, and David had lots of room as well!

It was a pretty easy flight home, all things considered, and I made it back to my house before 8 pm.  I was very glad to see my family after being away for so long, and I was extremely happy to be sleeping in my own bed! 

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Starkey Hearing Foundation, as well as my employer for allowing me to participate in such an experience.  I would also like to say "thank you" to Rosaline for being such an excellent travelling companion and bailing me out in all those situations where I could not speak the language.  I also want to thank David as well for being such a cool guy to travel and share a drink with.  I'm really glad I met you, and I hope we meet again (preferably at a pub!) in the future!

Finally, I would like to say thank you and best of luck to all the wonderful people I met on this journey.  From the film crew to the audiologists to Bill and Tani.  At the risk of missing someone, I'll try to name as many as I can.  To Bill, Tani, Kevin, Mark M., Tony, John, Britta, Maricela, Henry, Laura, Sonia, Gary, David, Rosaline, Joe, Bridget, Dennis and Leslie, Wayne and Todd, Patricia and Sabrina, Eric H., Mark M., Marti, Pam, Scott, Dave, Eric B., Robert, Chris, Jimmy and Jennifer as well as all the translators (especially Jessie!), Starkey China employees and the wonderful people of Yunnan province - THANK YOU!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Starkey Mission to China, 2014 - Day 14 (Part 2)

After the tour of Snow Mountain, Rosaline, David and I hopped in a cab and headed for Old Town. David had already been to Old Town the first day, but was eager enough to go back. Rosaline and I had not seen any of the sights yet, and apparently the view from Black Dragon Pool is world famous (not to mention highly recommended by David) so we were definitely looking forward to that.

Right away the view was astounding.

We started out looking down on Old Town, and slowly wended our way down through alley-ways and back passages. We came across a group of older ladies carrying baskets filled with bricks up a fairly steep incline. Remind me not to complain about my lower back problems any more!

There were tiny hotels, restaurants and bars nestled in every nook and cranny; it sort of reminded me of Europe. If you got rid of the Chinese characters, you would think you were in a different country!

Live eels for lunch, anyone?

About half-way down we came across the Wang Pi-Zhen Memorial Hall. Apparently this guy was a prolific writer who was born in Old Town Lijiang, but didn't start writing until after his retirement! I guess it is never too late. :)

We finally made it down to the merchant area of Old Town and Rosaline and I were desperately trying to find some last-minute gifts.  David had already bought everything he wanted so he was ready to find a place to grab a beer.  Unfortunately, Rosaline and I weren't having much luck so while David went in search of a pint we went in search of more shopping.

After we found each other again, Rosaline and I had found pretty much everything we needed, and David had also found his beer, so it was time to head to the Black Dragon Pool. On the way we came across a famous music theatre - the Naxi Concert Hall.

I thought this photo was particularly artsy-looking.

Old Town had many sights to see.  The canals looked beautiful with all of their well-tended gardens.

There was also the famous waterwheel.  I was intrigued by this device as the two wheels move at different speeds, and I was envisioning all sorts of gears or clever routing of the water to make this happen, until I really thought about it - they're different diameters.  Duh.

The other thing to note was the presence of both a McDonalds and a Pizza Hut in the main square!  This is Old Town, right??

We finally made it to the entrance of Jade Spring Park, where we would find the Black Dragon Pool. We had to pay 80 yuan to get in, but it was worth the price of admission.

I assume this means "Garbage"?

So here it is.  The million dollar view.  This is the mountain we hiked up this morning. Now that we were here, I was starting to realize just how tired my legs and back were from all of the walking I had done today. There was plenty of other things to see in the park, but we were all getting very tired and looking forward to having some supper (and sitting down!). You just can't not take pictures of this kind of view though!

There apparently was a large pagoda in the area and David and I went on a bit of a "backwoods trek" to find it and stumbled across this building.  I'm not sure what it is, but it looked like it may have been a hotel or even apartments as people seemed to be staying in it.  It had a really nice central garden.

At this point, it was around 5 pm and we were tired and hungry.  We decided to go to the Maya Cafe, which gets big reviews on TripAdvisor, and which David and the rest of the gang had visited on the first day.  This little restaurant is a really cool place.  It is run by an Indian couple (Mamuana and Maya), and the food and atmosphere are fantastic!

When we arrived they looked closed, but apparently there was an unexpected power outage.  We were told the beer was cold and the curry was already made for the day, so we decided to stay.  We had incredible curry by candlelight, while Stevie Ray Vaughan blasted out in tinny splendour from the owner's cellphone.  It turns out he is a guitarist and was hoping to also release an album of his own songs in the future.  I left him an Audiofab business card. :)

Mid-way through the meal the power came back on, and we enjoyed ice cream cheesecake for dessert.  What an awesome ending to a great day.

The view from the Maya Cafe.

As it was getting dark we decided to find our way out of Old Town and get a cab back to the hotel. On the way out, we passed this appetizing attraction outside one of the restaurants. I believe that is (was) a goat?  I imagine this is what I was eating the other night in Chuxiong.

After exiting Old Town, we decided to walk around downtown Lijiang for awhile and do some more shopping.  I was still hoping I would get lucky and come across a costume store where I could pick up an Assassin's Creed costume for Drew.  While we did not find a costume store (big surprise), we did see downtown Lijiang and Rosaline picked up some more gifts.  There was an incredible deal on The North Face jackets as well, but I was all shopped out.  We ended up walking around for another hour or so and then found a cab back to the hotel ready for some much-needed rest for our journey home in the morning.

Starkey Mission to China, 2014 - Day 14 (Part 1)

Today is our last day in China.

It has been a fantastic experience, and today's planned activities should be the proverbial "cherry on top" as we are heading to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain to take a guided tour, and then Rosaline, David and myself have the entire afternoon to ourselves as we don't fly out until tomorrow morning. Everyone else is leaving today and either going home, or continuing on to the next leg of the marathon, multi-country journey that the Starkey Hearing Foundation is in the midst of at the moment.  Some people (Jimmy!) are missing out on the mountain tour as they are headed off immediately to Nairobi for a few days of training, and others are off to Afghanistan (yikes!) and then on to Kenya. Between war and ebola, there are some brave and special people involved with the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

Going through my pictures of today...this is going to be a long post!  Let's get started!

We got up in the morning and said some emotional "good-bye"s to the people that were leaving right away. Then we loaded into two different buses and headed out to Snow Mountain. Our bus driver was insane. I think he must have been a failed Formula 1 driver as he we driving like a maniac, honking his horn at anything that moved, and passing everything on the road, including the other bus.  We passed some gorgeous scenery on the way there, including a spectacular gorge that I would have loved to get some photos of, but we were going so fast, I couldn't even pull off a crappy picture through the window of the bus. I wish we would have been able to stop for a few minutes at one of the many scenic areas along the way.  Oh well.  Surprisingly, we made it to the mountain alive and piled out to start our tour.

We were given oxygen canisters and parkas (if we wanted them), and then we were able to bypass the very long public line for the gondola as we were VIPs.  It was great, but I must admit I did feel a bit douchey cutting ahead of everyone.

At the top of the gondola there were a bunch of shops, and a marker indicating we had just rode another 1100 meters up from the already high base station.

We were told we had 20 minutes and that would be plenty of time to walk to the top and back.  We na├»vely started out, but I came to the conclusion pretty quickly that making this journey in 20 minutes was never going to happen.

I decided that I was going to try to make it to the top without using any oxygen. People all around me were sucking it back like crazy, and I must admit, I started out too quickly - but slowing my pace and stopping fairly regularly for pictures, I was able to make good time and I ended up not using any oxygen during the climb. It was great to get some real exercise after being relatively sedentary for two weeks.

Halfway up there was a guy with a hawk that allowed you to have your picture taken with the bird. This adventurous fellow decided to remove his shirt and take advantage of some props, much to the amusement of his cronies.

After about twenty minutes of climbing, the end was in sight.

I finally made it to the top! It sure seemed much farther than 175 meters, but I guess that is a significant climb (especially in thin air!). After taking a few more pictures, it was time to head back down. I had some BBMs from Eric that the group (the ones who didn't climb) had already gone down the gondola, and he was waiting for the rest of us. There were quite a few people behind me that were still climbing, so I figured I had time to take some more pictures on the way down. The view was awesome, despite the cloud cover.

After we hiked back down and rode the gondola back to the bottom, there was time for a couple glamour shots with the incredible scenery as a backdrop.

After that we piled into the buses and our lunatic driver raced us back to the hotel in record time. At this point, pretty much everyone else was leaving. Only Rosaline, David and I plus a few of the Starkey China employees were staying one more night.  We said our farewells to the group, wished them well, exchanged contact info, and Rosaline, David and I went back to our rooms to prepare for an afternoon and evening in Old Town.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Starkey Mission to China, 2014 - Day 13

Lijiang, China
Patients fitted: Over 700?

Today was our final day of fitting! 

Rosaline and I split up and worked alone as there were enough fitting chairs to do so, and I was paired up with a new translator named Amanda who was quite good! The day went smoothly and we fitted all of the patients who showed up, but we did have to scrounge like crazy for hearing aids at the end. Because we had so many walk-ons, and because most of the patients here in China required lower power hearing aids, we really ran low on low power units. At the end if the day we fit a few people with power 4's turned down very low that would have been better served with a power 1, but it all worked out in the end and no one was left wanting. We even finished up before 4:00 pm.

Rosaline and I walked back to a street vendor we saw last night and picked up a bunch of necklaces as they are extremely cheap and will make great gifts. Tonight we have our final group dinner and then tomorrow we have an organized tour of Snow Mountain. We're hoping that afterwards we will have enough time to go to the much larger Old Town, and then finally the next day we head home.

Update: Tonight's dinner was actually a closing ceremony and the sponsors that were present for the entire trip (including Rosaline, David and I) were set at the head table! 

The food was excellent (for traditional Chinese), and there were some incredibly moving performances by disabled Chinese persons. I must admit I teared up when the hearing impaired girl that Bill recently fitted performed for us on the flute as a thank you. It was incredible. Her father is blind and she is hearing impaired and they work together during the performance - her father conducting so she can keep time, and her playing (which was incredible). 

There was also a man with no arms who painted some Chinese art on the spot by holding the brush in his mouth. 

I certainly am a lucky man to have the use of all of my limbs and faculties, and to have been born and live where I do. That's probably the most profound thing I have learned and focused on over the past two weeks. I may think I have "problems" in my life, but I don't. Not even close. I am unbelievably blessed.

There was also a troupe of hearing impaired dancers (mostly children) at the dinner who, for some reason, did not come to get fitted with hearing aids. So immediately after the dinner, Bill and Tani opened up their hotel room and turned it into a temporary fitting area and we worked until almost midnight putting hearing aids on all of the kids that performed at the dinner. It took an unusually long time as we basically had very few hearing aids left and Bill and Tani had to scrounge through the leftovers from the mission to come up with hearing aids of the correct power for all of the children. It certainly was not ideal, but in the end everyone who wanted hearing aids got them, and all of the kids were extremely grateful. It was a great way to end the mission and it really underlined what the Austins and the Starkey Hearing Foundation is all about.