YANGSHUO: THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES

Coming back from Nuremberg for a short four-day trip, I barely had time to touch base for 12 hours in Ho Chi Minh City that I had to head back to the airport for a business trip to Guangzhou, China. It’s funny how every time I plan vacation, there is always a business trip that places itself right after. Some might find it exhausting, but I actually enjoy flying and am always happy to travel. What gave it away, right? Besides, I haven’t set foot in China since last year’s short term assignment. I was quite excited to reconnect with the country that hosted me for three months in 2017. Despite all the beautiful places I had visited last year, there was still one on my list I had yet to discover. This place is called Yangshuo, in the Guangxi province, which is located about three hours West of Guangzhou by bullet train. I had plans to visit this scenic area last year, but it didn't work out. When I learned I was going back to Guangzhou for a week, I immediately planned a weekend getaway following the planned trip. I would finally discover the marvels of the Chinese Southwest.

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MOSCOW: THE '2018 FIFA WORLD CUP' FINAL

As the 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup in Russia is approaching its end, this also means the most watched sporting event around the globe will soon reach its climax and crown champion the federation that will win it all. Over a full month, 32 teams and 736 played several matches. In the fashion of a traditional Kalinka, the tension kept amplifying round after round, eliminating teams one after the other until there were only two. The golden ticket to the final match will give the two federations a title shot to the almighty FIFA World Cup Trophy (as per its official name). For this occasion, I am could not miss this chance of attending to the ultimate experience for any true lovers of the beautiful game. This was my second time to attend to a FIFA World Cup. My first experience was back in 2014, when I made the trip from Montreal to Rio de Janeiro and spent the first three weeks of the tournament in the emblematic 'Estadio do Maracana' watching four Group-stage matches and one Round of 16. I've always had it on my mind that I couln't attend to the final despite having witnessed the whole build up. This time, I did it differently. I watched the build up from home and flew to Moscow to attend to final chapter at Match #64!

The worst service ever

It's 5:00pm and I just had time to check into my hotel that I received a message from Arcadio to meet up for dinner. Arcadio is a well-established football journalist in Montreal, Canada and we have been friends for several years now. We both knew we would be in Moscow for the final, so it was a given that we would hang out together. This was the second time that we met at a World Cup. The first time being four years ago in Brazil, when we hung out together with other friends for three full weeks of pure fun on Planet Football.

My hotel is located by a very touristy walking street full of restaurants. We thought we'd walk it up and down to see if one of the choices available would inspire us to a delicious meal. Arcadio thought he'd spotted a nice restaurant further down, so we gave it a shot and went there. At the time, he thought he guessed right. Not only his memory was defective but the service was aweful to a level I had yet to experience before I set foot in that restaurant. As we entered the patio area, we waved at the waiter and requested a table for two. He asked for one minute for him to finish his task before fulfilling our request. Ten minutes later, we are still standing at the entrance with half of the tables around us empty. We finally decided not to wait and invite ourselves at an empty table. Although the waiter had acknowledged our proactivity, it still took us 20 minutes to get the menus, and another 40 to place our orders. Luckily, Arcadio and I had a lot of catching up to do. The last time we met wad at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Here is what we ordered:

Appetizers to share:

  • 3 steamed cheese dumplings
  • 3 steamed ground veal dumplings

Arcadio's meal:

  • Beef steak
  • Glass of red wine (included)

My meal:

  • Boneless lamb skewers with fries

As you can imagine, it took another 45 minutes before getting our food. The first items that came were the main courses. Arcadio's steak didn't look at all like the juicy and tender piece of meat advertuzed on the menu. For myself, I was served a completely different meal than the one I ordered. Instead, I had a few pieces of overcooked chopped lamb on bones, served with fries. Missing in action were Arcadio's glass of wine, any type of condiment for the fries, and of course the appetizers that should have come first. I decided not to complain about the wrong order and ate it anyway. I was simply too hungry. Although I was in the process of filling my stomach, anger was still eating my on the inside. We finally received our appetizers. Not only they didn't look as appetizing as the picture, but they were still dripping water from the steaming. Or did they boil them instead? It sure looked like it when the waiter cam to our table carrying a plate of dumplings sitting on half a centimeter deep of water. Throughout the meal, Arcadio must have asked for his glass of wine 10 times only for the waiter to give him the "one minute" treatment we were already accustomed to. When he finally got his glass, he took a sip, looked at me and simply said "Taste it!". As I kept asking him what was wrong he kept insisting that I took a sip too. When I finally did, I kidd you not, it was a glass of sweetened grape juice! Just like the ones we buy at the supermarket. Outrageous!

If there is one thing I don't miss from Germany, it's definitely the poor customer service. Apparently, Moscow is full of it. If you enjoy being served properly, make sure you do your research before choosing a restaurant, or you might also get hangry from the lack of professionalism some of those restaurants carry.

Red Square

The single item I had on my sightseeing list was the Red Square and its emblematic Saint-Basil's Cathedral.  The following day, I took advantage of my jetlag and woke up at 6:30am. At 7:00am, I was already on my way to the Red Square hoping I would beat the crowd of tourists for a perfect shot. Security is always amplified during any international football event. To access the touristic areas, we must go through an airport-like security scan. Usually, the process goes very smoothly and only takes a few minutes. In the blink of an eye I was walking on the Red Square with the Kremlin to my right and the Saint-Basil's Cathedral before me. What a beautiful scene, which was even more satisfactory that I beat the crowd to it.

Meet the Mexicans

Julio is a colleague of mine based in Herzogenaurach, Germany. I saw his post on Instagram in front of the church, so I decided to reach out to him and see if he had any sightseeing plans in mind. It turns out his travelling schedule was very similar to mine. Therefore, I decided to join him and his group of friends from his hometown in Chihuahua, Mexico. We ended up meeting in front of the ticket office. He was accompanied with his buddy, Luis. Later, after walking around the Kremlin's inner garden and seeing a caravan of 10 cars with tainted windows - which I could only imagine had President Putin in one of them - we left the area and met with the larger group. We continued the sightseeing a little bit more - including a very impressive exposition of collectibles such as a football jerseys from the winning teams and original match tickets from every single edition of the FIFA World Cup. As hunger kept building up, we headed to the Ararat Hyatt Hotel to collect our tickets for the final and heated to a restaurant with a nice patio to get the parry started. We were lucky enough to get a table for ten. At this point, rounds kept coming over and over again until we finally decided to order a bottle. We continued cheering and chsnting with the Croatians some of their chants they gladly taught us. Arcadio joined us a little later and our bunch of happy campers greeted him with the famous "Decime que se siente" chant that was made popular by the Argentinean fians during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. There was the festive l spirit I was eager to retrieve four years later. Although, it surprised me that while all bars were mostly occupied by Croatian fans, the French were nowhere to be found.

Izmailov Market

On gameday morning, I met the Mexicans at the Izmailov Market - the ultimate spot for souvenir shopping at very reasonable price. We're talking a fraction of what a tourist would pay for the exact same item in a souvenir shop downtown. Only problem.os that this market only operates on Thursdays and Wednesdays. In other words, this was our only chance to go shop there. It took me about 40 minutes of metro to reach the market. When I arrived, I found a colorful assortment of medieval towers that made the market look like a castle. It was quite impressive. After a good two-hour block of browsing, comparing and bargaining, we finally concluded our shopping session and grabbed lunch at a nearby hotel restaurant - also with a crappy customer service - before heading to the Luzhniki Stadium for the match.

Match #64: FRANCE VS. CROATIA

We were finally on our way to the reason that brought us to Moscow in the first place - the ultimate football match!: the 2018 World Cup Final! While riding the metro, all of a sudden we reached a station where all the French supporters seemed to be based. We hadn't seen any French people the whole weekend, but they indeed showed up for the duel. As more French supporters invaded the wagon, I fell face-to-face with two people from the UEFA EURO 2016 organizing committee I had the pleasure to meet in France, back when I volunteered for that very event. What are the chances? Quite a coincidence. But then again, great minds think alike, don't they? Besides, we are all lovers of the beautiful game!

Just out of the stadium, it was a true party with beer selling booths everywhere, brand activation centers for all majors sponsors of the event, street jugglers and DJ's to turn up the tailgate.  We allowed ourselves one last refill before crossing the security scan and turnstile. In the blink of an eye, the Russian military mounted a stage in the centerfield, ready for a performance by Nicky Jam featuring Will Smith and xxx. Once again, the very effective military demounted everything within seconds. It was now time for the main event.

Cafe Pushkin

After the hidious dinner at the restaurant (that shall remain anonymous) on my first evening in Moscow, I was looking forward to compensate by treating myself with a true gastronomic experience. What better way to end our trip in Moscow than to have dinner at Cafe Pushkin - the five-star restaurant ranked in the Top 100 restaurants in the world. While we didn't have any reservation and were left outside melting under 35 degrees at 4:00pm, the hostess worked on finding a table for eight people. She finally managed to place us under the condition that we needed to leave before 6:00pm. Two hours was plenty of time to enjoy a high end meal in a pre-Sovietized Russian aristocratic decor from the years circa 1825. Despite the full menu with items that all sounded delicious, most of us around the table selected a traditional Borscht soup with duck and apple as an appetizer, a Russian tasting menu as a main course, and a honey cake for dessert. The deliciousness of each course, as well as the tip top service, are memories I will cherish for a long time. It amazed me how every time I asked something to the waiter, I followed his answer with a polite "Thank you" and he concluded with a very distinguished "I am at your service, Sir". As you can see, we are very far from the "one minute" treatment from the first evening.

After dinner, we visited a super market that was located in a very ancient building. It was definitely the most beautiful supermarket i have ever seen. To the image of the metro stations and other building of Moscow which their purpose is meant to be functional, any other country would have placed a museum or anything more prestigious at those locations. From there we walked back to the Red Square to enjoy one last drink together - a Moscow Mule sounded like the perfect cocktail for the occasion.

 

SIX (6) WAYS TELSTAR18 GOT THE BALL ROLLING WITH MY CAREER

Last summer, I had the immense privilege to be sent out to China to take part in an employee rotation program called the 'Global Operations (GOPS) Ambassador Program' to support the production of TELSTAR18, our latest Match Ball for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Today, I live in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where I relocated about a month ago, to oversee the Manufacturing Excellence Footwear initiatives with all the Boost, Knit and Bottom Component facilities in Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. This post is my humble opinion on what I believe contributed to enabling my global mindset as part of our Global Operations department.

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HALONG BAY: CRUISING THROUGH THE DESCENDING DRAGON

On the occasion of yet another long weekend in Vietnam - for three days this time - I decided to fly North to Halong Bay. The UNESCO World Heritage Site. Max - a colleague from the headquarters in Germany and based in Vietnam for a three-month short-term assignment - and I decided to pair up to visit this magnificent sight that is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. Our very ambitious initial plan was to combine Hanoi, Ninh Binh, and Halong Bay in three days only. This itinerary was proposed by another colleague of ours who had been through this journey about a month ago. When Max first told me about this plan, my immediate thought was that this was simply not doable. My normal travelling style requires that I visit fewer locations, but in much more depth. Quality over quantity!

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COLOMBO: TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP ON PARADISE ISLAND

I just landed in yet another country for the weekend, as I am in Sri Lanka for the Regional Project Management Conference 2018 - organized by PMI Colombo Sri Lanka Chapter - under the theme of "Transformational leadership for project success". Indeed, I was invited to deliver a keynote titled "Scientific Project Management: The Horizontal PMO Concept". How did I end up being a headliner for such a highly regarded event in the Project Management international scene? Aliki (Aliki en route) from PMI Montreal whored me out on the international scene like fresh fish at the early morning market. All jokes aside, Aliki visited Colombo a few weeks back. While she was here, she was asked to deliver a presentation which went super well. When Ganesh W - President of PMI Colombo Sri Lanka Chapter - asked her if she could come back for the regional conference three months later, she unfortunately couldn't fit this trip into her itinerary around the globe. On the other hand, who has two thumbs and has experience talking in front of large audiences of hundreds of people ? This guy!

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HOI AN: A TALE OF RED LANTERNS

It's 6:30am on Saturday morning and I am sitting in the waiting area of the Saigon Airport. My friend Chau had insisted on bringing me to Hoi An on the occasion of the four-day weekend celebrating both the Vietnamese Reunification Day and the International Labor Day back to back. Since I am.new to the country and only had the chance to spend time in Ho Chi Minh City during two business trips, Chau insisted on showing me another face of Vietnam that is has a more traditional flavor to it. Getting the local experience is not an occasion that presents itself every day. Therefore, I seized the opportunity as it came. Although, I must admit I have hesitated before accepting this tempting offer. In the Western culture, bringing semi-acquaintances over to their parents does not happen precociously. Especially not in my family. Believe it or not, I have childhood friends who have never set foot in my family's house until my farewell party before I moved to Germany.

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THE RELOCATION STATE OF MIND

Here I am, back in Ho Chi Minh City for the third time. Although, this time is not only for a short business trip. In fact, I recently accepted a position based in the megapolis I have learnt to love over my first two visits here. How did I end up here, and what happened since my last post? I know it's been a long time since you've heard from me, but in my mind it all happened in a split second. Things seemed to have happened so fast that I must take a step back and reflect on the series of events that brought me to relocate to yet another country in three years only.

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BANGKOK: THE UNTOLD STORY

This post is not about ladyboys, hookers, snake blood or massages with a happy ending. It’s about that other stuff. Things people rarely talk about as they remain in the shadow of the good old recipe for sensationalism: sex, sports, and blood. There is more to Bangkok than the well-known Hangover picture stereotypes - an untold story I find much more interesting than basic tourist attractions and that’s exactly what I was hoping to find out.

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BALI (PART II): EXOTIC SHENANIGANS

Cath and I had spent our last afternoon walking around Gili T comparing prices between boats that would bring us back to Bali while Sophie and Joanie would pursue their adventure to Lombok. This time, our plan was to explore the southern part of the so-called “Paradise Island” that we are still yet to encounter after a very deceiving first leg in the center and north part. Our best bet to access Bali South was to cross the sea back to Padangbai and ride on a minibus to Jimbaran - where we have found a clean and cheap accomodation. Cath and I are not of the “glamourous” type and perfectly fine with getting regular accomodation, as long as it’s clean and strategically located. We had estimated that from Jimbaran we could access all major sights within 15 to 30 minutes by taxi.

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GILI TRAWANGAN: THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

The so-called Gili Islands are composed of three tiny islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. The term “Gili Islands” is a pleonasm on its own as “Gili” is the exact word-to-word Bahasa translation for “Island”. Nevertheless, the popular term used to describe the region in different sources of documentation still refers to this archipelago as “Gili Islands” (if you ever need to look them up online). Despite the reputation of “party island” Gili Trawangan has, we still chose it as our only destination out of three for its amazing scubadiving sites, an activity that was definitely on our to-do list while in Indonesia. For my part, I’ve been a certified Open Water Diver for 9 years. Cath did not seem so thrilled about sacrificing a full vacation week studying day and night to get certified. On the other hand, Sophie and Joanie made it their mission.

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BALI: LOST (ITS) PARADISE

After two hours of delay for our flight from Malang, we finally arrived in Bali. We have been up since midnight. That's 18 hours straight with substantial physical activities including a hike up a volcano. Landing in Bali already gave us a different taste of Indonesia. From the tarmac, we could notice the large road signs advertising some of the most beautiful sights on this very touristy island. Pictures of impressive resorts with swimming pools offering a stunning view on the Indian Ocean made us understand very quickly that our time on the so-called "Paradise Island" was meant to be very different from what we have experienced so far in Indonesia.

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EAST JAVA: FROM DUSK TILL DAWN


After eight hours spent on a train, we finally arrived in Malang, a city Cath and I judged to be the best access point in order to climb up Mount Bromo - one of the volcanos in East Java still active today. Malang and Probolinggo were the best suited options to access the volcano. Only, we had to think ahead about our next move in order to choose our destination wisely.

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CENTRAL JAVA: BAHASA BIRTHDAY BASH

With all the travels I have made this year, it's quite hard to believe - even for myself - that in this fourth quarter I am finally taking my first vacation. For the occasion, my good friend Cath and I have decided to meet in Indonesia for a full three-weeks of adventure with nothing planned but a first flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. I met Cath in Montreal during my first master's degree in Project Management. With her still living there and my short term assignment in China brought to a term, we coordinated both our flight schedules to minimize the waiting time at the airport before officially kicking off vacation season.

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HO CHI MINH CITY: BONUS TRACK IN SAIGON

Just like a rap album from the early 2000's, a bonus track was added to the regular listing. Indeed, I learnt last week that I would spend a few days in Vietnam to visit a newly settled factory around an hour driving outside of Ho Chi Minh City. This business trip within a business trip was not originally planned and I only had a little amount of time to figure out the visa, flight ticket and accommodation. Alls well ends well, I managed to book everything on time and off I flew from Guangzhou to the city locals still refer to as Saigon.

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MUTIANYU: THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA

Alejandro was a Mexican-American from the southern state of Georgia. He was on a two-month travel through Asia which started in Seoul a few days ago. He then made it to Beijing the same day I met him. He entered the hutong cantine the same way a Bandolero would step into a saloon in a Western Spaghetti. We shared a look and nodded at each other - a sign foreigners share between themselves while in an area predominantly frequented by locals. In China, although a lot of tourists come to see the wonders of this beautiful country, we foreigners are still highly outnumbered by the local population. Therefore, whenever we cross a "Western" (as they call us), we show some kind of acknowledgement.

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BEIJING: THE FORBIDDEN CITY

As my short-term assignment is coming to an end, I finally got the chance to travel to Beijing. I only had two main sights I absolutely wanted to visit while travelling to the North Capital: The Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. Based on my previous experiences while travelling through China, I knew that visiting the main sights during the Chinese summer vacations would guarantee large crowds, which would prevent me from fully enjoying my travel.

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ZHANGJIAJIE: THE FLOATING MOUNTAINS OF PANDORA

Zhangjiajie is about 12 hours away from Lushan - where I am currently located. This means the optimal way to get there was again the train. The first part of my commute was between Nanchang and Changsha and only took two hours on a G-Train - the Chinese bullet train. The second part was about 8 hours and left from a different train station. So I took a cab from the Changsha Railway Station to the Changsha South Railway Station for 30 minutes and 27 Yuan - a tiny detail which will be helpful toward the end of this post.

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HONG KONG: A GATE TO THE PAST IN THE FRAGRANT HARBOR

Just as stated in my previous post, Hong Kong is a city within a city. Therefore, I thought I'd tell another story within the same location as I literally opened a gate to the past during my weekend spent in Hong Kong. The main purpose of my visit was to reactivate my Business Visa which - although it allows me to enter the People's Republic of China through multiple entries - needs to be reactivated every 60 days. As a first-timer visiting the Fragrant Harbor, this was the perfect occasion to discover the city over a weekend.

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HONG KONG: URBAN JUNGLE

The sun is setting on the Cantonese skies of Shenzhen as I am saying my last goodbye to the factory team who have treated me like nothing but a king during my stay at their facilities. We have just finished dinner in a local joint nearby and I am now sitting in the back of an SUV - with the "itis" hitting me hard - while my driver is bringing me to the Shenzhen Bay Control Point to cross the border to Hong Kong.

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