So, as fate would have it, my flight from Shanghai back to LA was delayed by Russian volcanoes. That’s right, after my swine flu quarantine, I got delayed by freaking volcanoes in Russia. I wish I were creative enough to make this up, but I’m not. So anyway, upon reaching Shanghai Pudong Int’l airport, we were whisked away in a van and sent to a nearby hotel…AGAIN. There I sat from 1pm – 8:30pm, before we were sent back to the airport for our flight back home. After +27 hours door to door, I’m happy to be home again, and mostly recovered from jet lag.
Instead of posting anymore about my over-documented stint at Hotel Quarantine, I wanted to wrap up my posts about China with some thoughts from Startonomics Beijing (I would post about the other events, but, well, this was the only event I made it to). For some background on that day, Mark Hendrickson has an excellent recap over at Tech Crunch, and you can see all the slide presentations over on SlideShare. Here are some of the topics of discussion that I found most interesting/thought provoking:
What South Park can teach us about localization
Dr. Kai Fu Lee kicked things off that day, and I thought one of the most interesting points he brought up was that most US companies simply think they can take what is successful in the US, translate it into Chinese, and then they will rule the Chinese market. Google, in his opinion, has fared OK, but not terribly like many other competitors in the Chinese market, because it has always tried to assume a more humble approach, choosing instead to listen carefully to the market and trying to meet the market needs rather than dictate based on their success in the US.
Ahh…the sweet, sweet fragrance of freedom (or is that the Beijing smog?). I’m at the airport now, and it appears that my saga is coming to a happy ending. Last night I went out and celebrated my new-found freedom with some new-found friends here in Beijing from my initial (but brief) stay in here Beijing. This morning, as I walked through the breakfast buffet at the Westin, I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I picked up food. They were playing that song “Delilah” (I think that’s what it’s called), didn’t really pay attention to the lyrics, but the song, combined with my mood, made it all feel like I was at the end of a movie, and the credits were just about to roll. But as I enjoyed my five star hotel breakfast, I couldn’t help but think of some of the staff at Hotel Quarantine, and how they are still going to be there for at least another month. They themselves don’t even really know when they’re done. And that kinda sucks. If you at least have an end, there is hope, but their stay is indefinite until further notice. And while the Westin staff is unbelievable, I have to say that the staff at the Yanxiang Hotel were also superb, and made a crappy situation much more tolerable. Amazing in light of their own circumstances. So, if you or someone else you know is headed to Hotel Quarantine, remember to be extra nice to the awesome staff there, and give them a little extra room too.
Finally, I can’t help but think that this could have all been avoided if they just scanned us before we got on the plane instead of after. If they found someone with a temperature, just send em home. That way they don’t have to be quarantined halfway across the world, and none of us would need to ever be quarantined. Seems like that would save everyone involved a ton of time and money. But nobody’s asked for my advice, and the cab driver on the way over didn’t seem to care too much about what I was saying either.
Well, I will continue to post on this blog, but it will likely go back to what I originally intended it to be about – Web x.0, product management, and other random musings that come into my head. It’s been fun people (no it hasn’t), but time for this geek to get on a plane and get back home!
As I sit here, in my last 9 hours of quarantine, it’s got me thinking a lot about how different things would be had I been quarantined five years ago instead of today. Keep in mind, five years is not a very long time. It’s the time it takes an overachiever to finish undergrad and tack on a master’s degree, or an underachiever to finish undergrad as a super-senior. Five years ago was 2004. But in what the crazies call “Internet time”, that is an entire generation. Seriously, think about it. Prior to 2004, these did not exist (apologies in advance to Andrew Lih – Wikipedia is the beginning *and* end of my research for these – I’d make a horrible journalist):
- Digg (founded in December ’04)
- Yelp (founded Oct ’04)
And these things happend in 2004:
- Google went public
- Facebook was founded
- WordPress turned 1 years old
- LinkedIn has been launched for 1 year
- MySpace turned 1
- Skype was four months old
Think about that for a minute. All of that has happend in the past five years. Back in the day, it took five years to get from New York to LA!
Flash forward to 2009, and it really is hard to imagine how boring quarantine would be without social media. Not that social media replaces or reduces the need for human interaction, but when you’re forced into a situation that specifically prevents human interaction, social media becomes your best alternative.
I’m over the hump! More days behind than I have ahead!
So life here is pretty mundane. There are two beds in my room. When I wake up, I roll out of bed, and into the other, which is affectionately known as my “office”. I log in, browse some headlines, catch up on twitter, and all the tweets from my fellow Geeks on a Plane to see the fun that I’m missing out on. I walk three feet over to the bathroom. One day I decided to brush my teeth after I went and picked up breakfast, thinking I’d be wearing a mask and nobody would know the difference. Well, turns out one person that definitely noticed was me. With that mask on, all I breath is my own recycled air. And actually, one thing I have learned is that it’s important to keep up with things. For the first few days, I just rolled out of bed, wandered around, always wore my PJs around the place (who cares anyway? it’s not like I’m trying to impress anybody, I’m only downstairs for a few minutes at a time etc.). Well, the past day or so I decided to actually get changed, and today I put in my contacts, and suddenly there was a little more normalcy to everything. So, for any of you fellow quarantiners out there reading this, don’t let The Man get to you. He WANTS you to mope around like a sloth. He WANTS you to stop shaving. Don’t do it, don’t let him break your spirit!!!!
Ah hem. Right. So anyway, the other thing that kinda sucks here is that there is no AC. The idea is that if anyone DOES have swine flu, it’s probably not good to be pumping that air through the entire building. So as far as choices go, yeah, I’d rather be hot than to have swine flu. I’d also rather have toothpicks jabbed in my eye than to have an elephant kick me between the legs (or would I? that’s a tough one). Anyway, so I spend most of the days with my drapes drawn to keep the temperature down, which makes for a pretty depressing vibe in the room:
I’ve also started to spend a little more time out and about. I watch the fish swimming in the pond:
It’s been good though…I guess they always say, in prison you have nothing but time for you and your thoughts. And I’ve been able to spend a lot of time thinking about stuff, which I may or may not blog about in more detail.
This morning we had some thunderstorms, which have done a great job of cooling down the summer heat. There’s also something very soothing about the rain.
Finally, I find it strangely amusing to see new people arrive at Hotel Quarantine. It’s always that same look, that “How could I be *this* unlucky” look.
I think I’m gonna order some pizza tonight to switch it up. Last dinner in the big house. Woo!!
Sorry, I would blog about more exciting things if there were more exciting things happening, but, you know, I spend 22 hours a day in a 200 sq ft room, not a lot happens.
Oh, last thing, a few of you have mentioned you have family members here. Tell them to feel free to knock on 1420 and say hello or if they want to borrow some DVDs. If you want me to write a message for them and stick it on the bulletin board, feel free to leave a comment as well. Just can’t deliver any hugs or kisses on your behalf…we’re in quarantine, afterall.
Having now spent almost 3 days here in Hotel Quarantine, and adjusted to life in the Big House, I’ve noticed some common patterns among the types of people I’m encountering and sharing these experiences with. Generally, they fall into one of seven categories:
Why He’s in China:
ABC’s are American Born Chinese. Most of the ABCs are here in China because they heard a friend of a friend of a friend moved out here to teach English and ended up becoming a VJ on MTV and gets tons of tail on a regular basis. His parents love it because they think their little twinkie (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) is finally interested in his cultural heritage, when in fact he’s just interested in going to a club and not being “that asian guy”.
What He’s Like In Quarantine:
After spending his entire adolescent life being the Asian dude that all the girls don’t mind hanging out with but would never date, fighting stereotypes of being a math whiz and battling dumb whities doing the whole Bruce Lee “waaaa taaaaa!!” sounds at him, he is now able take on his long repressed gangsta rapping alter ego. This is a major opportunity for some major street cred, and as he bounces his head to T.I. playing on his iPhone, he thinks to himself, “Yo T.I., I feel ya homeboy. Prison ain’t no joke.” Except, of course, he gets to listen to his iPhone and doesn’t have to be scared of being raped. You can spot him from far across the way by the way he throws that gangsta limp in his walk, and you can hear him using the N word when talking to staff that can barely speak English, much less ebonics.
Why They’re in China:
Most of the families here are actually Chinese families with their American born kids. For the parents, this is an opportunity to show their kids their roots. For the kids, this just sucks and they wish they could have just gone to Six Flags instead, like the Feldmans did.
Being quarantined by the Chinese government for any given amount of time sounds pretty ominous, particularly if it’s over what the World Health Organization has declared a Phase 6 pandemic (whatever that means). So I figured I’d shed some light on life in the Big House (aka Hotel Quarantine, aka YanXiang Hotel, aka Tha Big Hizzie).
Apparently some time about a month or so ago the Yanxiang Hotel was turned from a 3-star hotel into Quarantine HQ. The hotel has 7 floors and a bunch of now defunct retail stores (tried to write a Yelp review for them, but Yelp doesn’t have coverage in China).
When you arrive, the staff at the front desk “check you in”. It’s a little weird, cause everyone everywhere is wearing surgical masks. You don’t really appreciate seeing people’s faces until you go for days on end without seeing someone’s actual face. It feels kinda like you’re at a secret Ninja convention, except nobody is killing anybody.
Well, this blog was supposed to be about product management stuff on the web. Looks like the first few posts will be about something else entirely. As with almost everything in life, truth is far far stranger than fiction.
So last night, as I was feasting on an awesome dinner as part of the Startup 2 Startup dinner in Beijing, as Dave McClure was talking about erogenous zones and other NSFW topics as part of his “Startup Viagra: How to Give a VC a Hard-On” (like I said, truth is often way better/stranger than fiction), I get a tap on the shoulder to have a chat outside. Ominous, for sure, but I walk out just assuming either there’s some mix up or there’s some message for me at the front desk. Well, I’m halfway down the escalator and there’s Sean from the Westin waiting for me at the bottom with a look like he just had this for dinner:
I get to the bottom, and he lets me know that apparently the person seated in 44A on my flight over from LA has tested positive for H1N1 swine flu, and that I’m being quarantined, since I sat in 43A. At this point, I feel like I’m on an episode of Punk’d, except (a) I’m not famous and (b) we’re in Beijing. While it was definitely touch and go for a few minutes there as to whether I’d defecate in my pants, I fared much better than Justin Timberlake did on Punk’d. Nevertheless, I’m asking Sean 1001 questions as if he were the head of the World Health Organization. After peppering poor Sean with all my questions, I go directly upstairs to pack my stuff up.
Let me back up for a second (insert footage of all the events running in reverse double speed).
The reason I’m here in China is to be a part of the Geeks on a Plane tour. GoaP is a tour organized by The Founders Fund, Christine Lu and Web2Asia as a trip for tech investors and entrepreneurs to tour the East Asian tech industry and gain first hand insights on the local tech scene. The trip has been awesome so far, and I will likely blog in some more detail about that later. So anyway, I skipped the Tokyo leg of the trip, and decided to fly straight from LA to Beijing to meet the team there.
Tuesday I arrive at the airport and beg and charm my way into an exit row seat…of course, as luck would have it, the guy next to me is twice my size which kind of cancels out the benefits of having an exit row seat, and as it also turns out, the person behind me has swine flu, which kinda cancels out a whole host of other awesome things. So how did they find out that the person sitting behind me had swine flu? Well, each time an airplane lands, a crew dressed up in outbreak gear gets on the plane. They point a laser at everyone’s forehead to scan their temperature, and if anyone has a high temperature, they take them out back and shoot them have them tested for swine flu. If they turn out positive, then they are immediately quarantined, and the people three rows in front, and three rows behind are also sought out for quarantine (that makes me the lucky winner!).