Listening to years past

On Christmas eve she plays songs from years prior, from just the year prior. They are familiar, favorites picked carefully for the moments they bring back. The first song takes me a moment to place, the reason I was so enamored taking longer to return than the lyrics, which are instantly on my tongue.

It’s a song I listened to on repeat while wandering miles alone at night in Taichung, trying to get some exercise and to see the city after long factory days and dinners with colleagues. It represents a freedom, a sense of possibility in the world. I walked to night markets and through alleys, stopped at FamilyMart for coffee, and listened to music. On work trips of more than a single day the routine of the job becomes a home in itself. Days in Taichung started with a 7 am swim, before most others were awake, usually with the pool entirely to myself. Then a shower and early morning coffee from across the street while checking email and texting with the family. And then gathering with the team for the taxi to the factory across town. Factory days are both long and slow, full of stress and meetings that are hard to do remote. We learn from watching and discussing with the operators, from revising methods and attempting changes on samples ourselves. We learn simply from the hours spent, a benefit that’s been rarely discussed the past year. Simply by being together, by working on a project at the same time as a group, we the customer and them the project team, gain from the days together. Future emails, calls, and sample photos will be clearer for these hours, and our goals will be more similar. In the end that’s what we pay for with the days on site, for aligning two groups of people. Three, in my case, the engineers from headquarters in San Francisco, the Taiwanese factory engineers, and myself, supply chain in from Hong Kong, benefitting from time with both sides.

In the evening we’d eat together, at least some combination of groups. And after that, around nine, I’d walk them back to the hotel and then head in a new direction, walking without goal but with intention until eleven. And I’d listen to that song. Last year.

The mix she’s playing we put together in Hanoi, in a boutique hotel for a week of escape just after New Year’s. It was a week of peace after the intense fall burn of new jobs. We read and laughed and walked and walked. Mostly we were so happy to be adventuring again in Asia, in a year that had so much promise.

Sitting on the floor in the sunroom writing this, now with Lizzo playing, I remember the joy of that trip, and the joy of the year it wrapped. In twenty nineteen we’d survived two startup crashes and gotten our own visas to a foreign country for the first time. We’d gotten new jobs while abroad, made good friends, and played a ton of disc. A week later we would head to LA for a tournament with our old friends.

A year later we are making a mix again. It’s been such a different year than we expected. We again got new jobs, the startups of twenty nineteen failing to keep us employed for even a year. We traveled so much, that trip to LA, India, Taiwan, and another swing for me through the US to LA, SF, and NYC before the flights stopped.

It’s been a year. And I still like these songs.

Gray skies and hotel windows

Sitting twenty two stories up above Shanghai, I watch the weather and listen to music. Or rather, I look into the weather, a fog of fading white that makes tall buildings invisible only a mile away. I look down at the roofs of shorter buildings, many still under construction. I look at the wall of the nearest tower, its surface covered in the soot of years in this air.

Shanghai’s view does not surprise, though friends ask when I post photos how I, asthmatic, cope with the air. I cope like everyone does, by breathing in, breathing out, and moving forward. By focusing on what there is to do in front of me rather than what there is all around me. Instead of focusing on what there is inside all of us.

It is Sunday, and I am relishing the peace in between weeks on the move. Sometimes that is the greatest gift of hotels in foreign countries.

In May of twenty thirteen I spent a week in Tokyo for work. Living out of a perfectly-designed-for-it’s-size hotel room, I wore a suit and went to izakayas with customers in the evenings. It was the culmination of years of dreaming; suddenly I had a job that took me to one of my favorite places, that gave me a place to stay and a view that I loved. Taking the subway around the city to meetings gave me a glimpse into being a business man in a network of concrete built for them. Pouring out of Hamamatsucho station with the crowd in the evening, walking the two blocks to my room at Hotel MyStay, and taking part in the Tokyo rituals again after so long left me in a perfect mood. With enough time spent alone, work travel has a way of building an atmosphere. After three days of this compact life I was ready for company, mentally.

The National’s Trouble Will Find Me was released that third day. Letting it play in that tiny hotel room for the three days that followed gave me a fresh environment to layer the new music on, to integrate it into. The album became a soundtrack to that week, to convenience store breakfasts and late night FaceTime calls. Now, two and a half years later, a lifetime away, sitting in a hotel room twenty two stories up above Shanghai, those songs still takes me immediately back to Tokyo.

Don’t make me read your mind
You should know me better than that

My current hotel room is much larger, China not lacking space the way Tokyo does. The residents also don’t enjoy the neat confinement of items, the precise layout required to maximize utility. There are extra mirrors and more wood than strictly necessary. Outside of this room China sprawls, with more huge buildings going up to demonstrate ability rather than fill need. Driving to Ningbo last week we crossed the long bridge that spans the bay, avoiding the even longer drive around its circumference through Hangzhou. That longer circle was the only option when I traveled this route frequently by bus in 06. Reaching the far shore, the bay’s south edge, we saw a cluster of towers, maybe thirty, residential and at least twenty floors each.

What are those,” someone asked, meaning what is that town, what is that city.

No one answered. A cluster of identical buildings, they were clearly built in a single go. There was no town nearby, nothing else on the shore of the bay. Why so many apartment towers then, and why so tall? Because space is not an issue in China, and size even less. There are millions of people within an easy drive, millions more within a few hours, all seeking housing and an opportunity. This is China.

In Tokyo everything is tightly constrained, each building wrapped in between all the others. So much so that buildings are often strangely shaped, L’s or T’s or other letters, unable to be squares or circles.

Jennifer you are not the only reason
My head is boiling and my head is freezing

And I remember steaming my suit before meetings, looking in the mirror while working through my pitch for the day. Organizing my notes in the evening and lying on the bed looking out the window as night fell on the city.

Tokyo will always be with me, part of the story of this music. Or this music will always be Tokyo. Some times blending a place and a feeling, a set of songs and a mood, shapes everything we do for years. Sometimes it is just a way of etching time into our minds, deeply enough that years later we are astonished to realize how long ago that was, May of twenty thirteen.

If I stay here, trouble will find me
If I stay here, I’ll never leave

Quoted lyrics from The National’s I Should Live in Salt’, Fireproof’, and the title track off of the 2013 album Trouble Will Find Me

List of mobile phones I’ve used

A Japanese Panasonic candybar model with a monochrome screen which, being old and cheap at the time (2001) I can’t find any information about online.

Nokia J-NM02 - A model that’s very hard to find information on, but in 2002 was pretty sweet.  Flip, color, camera, web, and that wonderful antenna.

Nokia 2100 - On moving to Shanghai in 2003 I bought the cheapest phone I could.

Siemens M55 - Quite an upgrade after about a year in Shanghai.

Nokia 6681 - An incredible phone.  A little slow towards the end, but with Opera Mini and the Gmail app the best phone experience I had ever had, by far.  Also synched with my Mac via Bluetooth, which was a huge win.

HTC P4350 - Windows Mobile.  Great hardware, worst software ever.  Only lasted six months before I got tired of having the messaging app crash while texting.  No sync.

BlackBerry Curve 8300 - An incredible phone, but by 1 year the trackball was breaking. Also better with Opera Mini and Gmail app.  Qwerty keyboard was great.  Used w/ Exchange.

iPhone 3G white 16GB - Fun, versatile, but hands down the worst phone I’ve used since the… ever.  Horrible reception, prone to crashes in the phone app, generally slow, and after 1 year the plastic is cracking at the edges.  Note that this is my first time on a US post-paid contract, though I did use T-Mobile pre-paid at times on the BB and the 6681.