There was a song by the group ‘The Who’ which goes “I’ve got a feeling 21 is going to be a good year”. I often reflect upon it at the start of a new year, as I look optimistically on the year to come, and reflect on the year that was past. 2007 was a good year … As in most years it saw lots of travel, many demands of work, but also many good moments with triathlons, cycling, friends and family.
Lis and I started the year in New Zealand. We had built a cottage near the ocean in Golden Bay and Lis was down there for the summer. The cottage is our ‘permanent’ home in NZ insofar as it is never rented out so we always have a place to stay. We said goodbye to our home outside of Auckland ‘Glenholme’ which we finally decided to sell. It has been rented since we moved to the South Island in 2000 and we (or more precisely me) decided that we would never move back to Auckland. When we do head back to NZ it will be to the top end of the South Island.
I managed to get permission do telecommute which mean that I could spend more time with her. It was challenging as we have no telephone connection, and the nearest Internet café was in Takaka, a 15 minute drive. Of course that just meant that I didn’t spend a lot of time connected which suited me! While in NZ we had a bit of a scare since Lis was found to have skin cancer on her face. We were fortunate to be able to get an appointment with a top doctor in Auckland and he chopped it out. Or at least that is what the final result looked like to a non-medical person like me!
Even though the summer was mediocre at best, it was still nice to spend time in Golden Bay. We would go for walks on the beach as well as cycling. I found a couple of local cyclists to train with and since they were much better than me it was character building as my father would say. I also linked up with the local swim club so I was able to continue all my triathlon training. We were blessed with visits from friends and family which was great, especially considering just how remote Golden Bay is.
We were both back in the USA for our 19th wedding anniversary at the end of February. Since we were married on 29th of February technically it was our 3.75 anniversary. Every year we go away somewhere special and this year we decided to head the the west of Maryland and do some cross-country skiing. Lis had never been so it was fun watching her learn to ski. We also went snow tubing which was basically sliding down a hill on a large inner tube. It was quite fun in spite of the cold. However, I’ve decided that with age winter sports are becoming less fun. I’d rather be sweating it out in the heat …
I turned 48 in September but unfortunately Lis was in NZ while I was working in Jiangxi China. The Jiangxi Provincial Communications Department went overboard with their hospitality, putting on a banquet in my honor with an amazing birthday cake. Afterwards we went out for Karaoke which was a first for me. I never knew that they sang the same tune ‘Happy Birthday’ but in Chinese. It was really fun, in spite of my inability to hold a tune. Our resettlement specialist Mr. Yang was an excellent singer and dancer; he put me to shame.
Work continued to be challenging and rewarding. In late winter I headed up to China from NZ where I had several projects under way. I was starting a new project—the Jiangxi III Highway—and we had the ‘Launch Workshop’. This was an opportunity to discuss the project with the contractors and tell them the types of things that the World Bank is interested in—especially environment and social impacts of the project. It was amazing to go back seven months later and see how much progress was made. The client’s team is excellent and they had a number of innovations that I had not seen on previous projects. One great aspect of working at the World Bank is that there are infinite opportunities to learn new things. The photo on the left shows my highway engineer, Jean-Marie Braun, myself and Mr. Wu Kehai, out counterpart, at the start of the project near Ruijin. This is where the famous ‘Long March’ started and nearby is the hill where Mao was residing when it was decided to stat the march.
I also led the work on the Taiyuan Urban Transport project in Shaanxi province. As my first urban transport project there was a lot to learn about how to integrate the different components which ranged from public transport to traffic management to building new roads. Since Taiyuan is one of the most polluted cities in the world, the city needs to improve their urban transport. Our challenge is to move people, not vehicles.
Another major project in China—the Shiman Expressway—continued to progress. The Governor had decided that the expressway would open 26 December and they were working flat out towards that goal. Unfortunately, Hubei had some of the worst weather in ages which caused flooding and landslides. The construction team worked wonders to overcome the challenges but fortunately for the project, it was decided to put off the opening until March 2008. The extra time will be well used by the very capable team and we will get an even better final product. I’m hoping that I can be in China for the opening and ride my bicycle again. It was fun doing it two years ago when my last expressway opened, and I think we’d have a lot more people participating with us.
Most of my attention in China was directed towards preparing the Hubei Yichang-Badong expressway. This is a 170+ km expressway in the west of Hubei, north the Yangtze river. Since the expressway is going through an environmentally sensitive area I have focused the project preparation on how we can make it as environmentally and socially benign as possible. To that end I have had three environmentalists working on my team and we are trying a number of innovative practices as part of the project. Fortunately, the client is very forward looking and has supported these innovations. There is potential for key aspects to be replicable on other projects around the world so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the project. For our work, my team was nominated for one of the Bank’s ‘Green Awards’ which I was very honored for. Even to be considered is great recognition for our efforts.
We had several visitors to Washington D.C. over the year. In April we had Margie come and stay with us for a few weeks before her marriage to Nathan Tidwell. She lived in India while he was working in Pakistan so this was the first time they were able be be together for a long period. They are both really nice people so we were pleased to spend some time with them. They have now moved to Chile so Lis and I now have an excuse to head down that way. Nathan’s parents Dean and Lila were in D.C. waiting for their new assignment with the State Department to start in India so we were able to see a lot of them. They joined us for Christmas along with Christa Peterson who had been staying with us while getting settled in Washington.
My niece Laura visited us from the UK before heading home to South Africa. Laura is an amazing young woman, very talented and beautiful. She has energy and drive, and is fun to be around. Laura enjoyed the USA, even the anti-war protest in D.C. she came upon! In spite of the cold weather she was out and about quite a lot – the photo to the right was taken at ‘Great Falls’. She was followed in May by Alison Kapma who is a close friend from NZ. Alison lived with us for a time in Auckland in the early ‘90s, then followed us to Thailand. We’ve caught up in different countries at different times and now she lives in Alaska. Alison and Lis had a particularly good time together catching up.
Alison was followed by Ruan, also from NZ, who was on his ‘OE’ (Overseas Experience). He was on his way to work in Canada for a year and spent 3+ weeks with us in late June, early July. Like Laura, Ruan is full of energy and we had a lot of fun together. As he arrived towards the peak of my triathlon training season, he found it humbling that someone twice his age could outlast him on a long run—especially following a 90 km bike ride. Did my ego the world of good 🙂 Ruan came along to West Virginia for a triathlon. The day before he and Lis went rafting while I chilled out. This is a photo of them before the rafting trip. From D.C. he moved up to Toronto and we caught up with him at the end of November. He was having a great time but finding it tough living on minimum wage. He decided to head out to Alberta where lots of money is to be made. At last count he was waiting to head up to Fort McMurray to start his new job. Great salary but not an easy life. The perfect situation for a poor ex-student with debts to be in.
After Ruan we were visited by Lis’ sister Laila and her two daughters Anita and Kimberly. We had not spent much time together since they were with us in NZ some 6 years ago so it was good to be able to reconnect with them. We had fun showing them around the D.C. area, especially going down to West Virginia. After their visit Lis went with them to Yosemite park in California for their bi-annual high school reunion which everyone enjoyed. It was the first I’d missed in about 10 years but I had to go to China and couldn’t get the two synchronized. Afterwards Lis went to NZ for a month to get her kiwi fix.
We enjoyed spending time with our friends when we were in D.C., especially our Bible study group. We have a good time together with our weekly meetings, and the socials are even more fun. It was extra nice to all go to the play ‘I love you, you are perfect, now change’. A good commentary on the relationships between males and females which many of us could relate to in one way or another. If you have the chance it is worth seeing. It was also fun to have friends over for meals and Lis regularly outdid herself with the cooking. I’m very spoiled, but I know it. One extra special treat was to have our dear friend Viwe for her birthday – twice! Once with some other South African friends and once with her sister who was passing through D.C.
Our unique cat Tia also often enjoyed the social evenings since she will take as much attention as she can get. As one of our house sitters observed, Tia is a very well socialized cat! She is now over 10 years old but still shows the spark of playfulness of younger felines. I just wish that she was not such a hair factory. She produces so much we could sell it I could retire from working!
During 2007 Lis was busy studying art history, as well as a special course run at the Smithsonian. She thoroughly enjoyed it (an often repeated statement as she studied) and this has rekindled her interest in art. D.C. is an amazing place for museums, and we were able to see major exhibits such as Turner an d Edward Hopper. For the latter I was fortunate to have a friend from work, Jerry, who is a professional artist. He as able to explain to me many technical aspects of the paintings which a simple engineer such as me would miss. Lis and I also enjoyed our regular visits to lectures and films at the National Geographic, especially the fellow who walked self supported to the North Pole in winter (i.e. the dark) and a documentary on electing the class prefect in a primary school in Wuhan, China. Since I work in Wuhan the latter was very familiar.
I had a great year sporting wise. I did the Cherry Blossom 10 mile run in the spring again, where I knocked two minutes off my last year’s time to score 68:48. This was followed by the Sally Mae 10k which was also a personal record at 41:31. It would be fun to do a sub-40:00 10 km race, but I think it’s beyond my abilities. My first triathlon was the ‘Liberty to Liberty’ which went from New York to Philadelphia. It was a funny distance as we swam just over a mile in the Hudson, cycled 76 miles (timed) and then ran 10 km. This photo was me finishing the ride in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the stairs that ‘Rocky’ ran up in the background. And yes, I did the ‘Rocky’ bit and ran them myself. I won my age group which was the first time I’ve ever done so well. This was followed by the MedExpress 70.3 half-Ironman in Morgantown West Virginia which didn’t go as well as hoped since I did a 5:18. As mentioned earlier, Ruan came along with us for the race and we had a fun weekend away—he even joined me at the end in the run to the finish line.
My big race was Ironman Korea in August which I’ve achieved infamy for due to my blog posting ‘How to do an Ironman without your wife finding out’. It’s a long story, but let’s say that Lis and I have pretty well worked through it (or so I delude myself). In spite of melting down on the run—it was blindingly hot—I managed to finish in 13h 38m and I was very pleased with the result. About 25% of the participants did not finish the race, including a number of professionals. I really liked the Ironman experience so for 2008 I enrolled in Ironman Switzerland. I figure that Switzerland will be better than Korea: cooler and no ocean waves to contend with. I’ve checked out the bike ride on my computrainer and it is easier than Korea. I am aiming for a sub-12 hour race so we will see if I can do it. The challenge will be the training as with the new job there is a lot to juggle—and a lot of the hotels don’t have pools.
After IM Korea I was kind of bereft for what to do so I decided that I would run the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October and try for a sub 3:30 time to qualify for Boston. In spite of a layoff after IM Korea I had enough residual fitness to do a 3:27 which means I’ll be doing Boston in April. I was joined by several others from our church including Viwe. Even though we didn’t see any of each other, it was fun to be part of a virtual team. The night before the race we had a get together at our pastor CJ’s place where I shared some information on how to fuel yourself for an endurance race. I’ve learned—especially by trial and error—when it comes to endurance sports. Still a long way to go, but at least I’m beginning to get the nutrition right.
After such a challenging year I then took off 6 weeks from training to allow my body to heal. I had been fortunate to get through the season with no major injuries, due probably in no small measure to my physical therapist Art and massage therapist Paul. When I started training again in December it was depressing to see just how much of my ‘uberfitness’ I had lost. Still, you need to give your body a break and hopefully it will be back.
While I did not go on an extended holiday after NZ in January, I was able to see some amazing places over the course of the year. We saw a little of New York when we went for the Liberty to Liberty triathlon—Lis hates big cities so we spent the minimal time there possible. The photo to the right was taken during the transition from the swim in the Hudson to the bike in New Jersey. We took the ferry and passed the Statue of Liberty. Morgantown West Virginia was also visited during another triathlon. We enjoyed the drive there, especially when Lis played John Denver’s song about West Virginia. Ruan was excited to note when we passed the place where the ‘Blair Witch Project’ was filmed, and when the three of us went walking in the forest he regaled us with stories of the film. As mentioned earlier, we also visited the Greenbrier area of West Virginia with Laila and the girls. They enjoyed a ride on the steam train while I was out for an 80 mile bike ride—which ended in a major downpour!
During my missions I managed to steal away and see some interesting places. These included Xi’an ancient city, the desert mummies of China and the Gobi desert where the photo below was taken (Flaming Mountains to be precise). I often think how fortunate I am to have a job which allows me to see such amazing things. I visited Paris in September for a few days to attend a conference where I was able to meet up with Shelley Steiner an old friend from my university days. She is living near INSEAD where her husband is lecturing. Was great to see her after so many years and meet her family. I particularly enjoyed escaping the city and spending a short time in the French countryside. Another nice aspect to the missions is my ability to fly back to Washington D.C. via Toronto. This has made it possible to regularly see my parents. It was especially nice in November when Lis drove up and we caught up with Ruan and my old friend Marilyn. My parents are both in good health for their ages, and in fine spirits. They will have their 60th wedding anniversary this June, so we will have to do something special.
Besides being with Lis, and eating her cooking, the one thing I missed most of all with all my travel was cycling, but I made up for it when I returned to D.C. Even when winter came I was able to keep on riding with a sufficient number of layers as the photo to the left shows. I don’t mind cycling in winter—especially when no flesh is showing and if you are interested in the gear one uses check out the December 2007 newsletter of my triathlon club www.tricats.org. For my sins I am still the editor (entering year number three) and did a story on it. So far nobody has expressed enthusiasm in following my lead. I can ascribe it to being a Canadian. We don’t find winter too daunting if we are dressed for it!
The year closed with a very pleasant Christmas season. We went to the Washington Chorale with our friend Barbara from the World Bank. It was held at the Kennedy Center and as always was superb. I bumped into Chris and Trish Hoban also from the Bank which was a surprise, as Chris is now based in Australia. He was back for a short visit. We enjoyed the Christmas program at McLean Bible Church, which is always great, as well as all the lights in the neighborhood. It really is a nice time with the houses all lit up. Our street was the best, especially our neighbors David and Cindy who even had an inflatable train with music playing. There is, however, one house near us which takes the award for the most festive, and a small sampling of it is shown to the left.
So what does 2008 hold for us? God willing it will be another good year. Lis is starting it off in style at the cottage in NZ, where she will be until late-March. Why put up with a D.C. winter when the beach beckons? She is putting all my frequent flyer miles to good use. I will be starting to work in a new region—Europe and Central Asia. I will be working in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia on road projects. There will be about a six month period of overlap with my work in China, so it will be challenging to say the least, but it will be worth it: I am very excited at the new countries and the new team. Lis and I will likely be in Germany at the end of June when there is a study tour for my new unit. Injury allowing, I will hopefully keep up with my triathlons and have booked myself in for the Cherry Blossom 10 miler and Boston Marathon in April, Columbia Olympic Distance Triathlon in May, and of course Ironman Switzerland in July. The plan is finish off the season with the Nation’s and Savageman triathlons in September and probably Marine Corps Marathon again.
If you’ve read this far you are a glutton for punishment so I’ll sign off with a Christmas photo from ‘the family’ and another of Lis and I in NZ taken in January while visiting our friends Glenda and Ross in Blenheim.