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Archive for April, 2010

Trip to the RTP Area

I’ve been on a roll with the trips lately, and this past weekend I visited the Research Triangle Park area, known as RTP, which consists of the three cities of Raleigh (State Capital of North Carolina), Durham, and Chapel Hill.  Connecting these three cities together on a map, you get a triangle for which this growing area of the country is known.  Believe it or not, the State of North Carolina has a special office in Tokyo for attracting Japanese businesses to North Carolina. As with much of the Southeast, the state tries to create a low-tax, business friendly environment.  Unions are not welcome in this part of the country, and employment is at-will.

Raleigh is home to NC State University, the top engineering school in the state, and it is also serves as a base for large software companies like IBM, Microsoft, and Red Hat, as well as a growing biomedical research industry.  Durham is home to Duke University, currently the top school for college basketball, and home to the famous Duke University Medical School and Hospital.  It is also home to Duke University’s Fuqua Business School, a top 25 business school offering a world-wide recognized MBA.  Chapel Hill is home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the premier liberal arts school in the state, and the college where Michael Jordan made a name for himself.  The town is a cultural and historical center in the state of North Carolina, and it supports a thriving arts and cultural scene enjoyed by students and adults alike.

I have two brothers, one at Duke and one at Chapel Hill, so I took the opportunity to crash their campuses and see how things go down in the Triangle.  On Friday after work I drove five hours from ol’ Boot into North Carolina, with nothing between Charleston, SC and Raleigh, NC.  After a relaxing Saturday morning, we headed to Duke University’s campus to check out the gardens, the chapel and the campus.

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Mid April – spring is in full bloom and all of its glory.  The pollen is also out in attack mode…

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Parts of the garden where complemented with Japanese garden lanterns

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Orange, not just an autumn color

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A fenced off section of the garden, which was not open on Sunday.  We never could figure out what was in the fenced in area.  The gate was beautifully constructed, nonetheless.

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There was a small bamboo grove, just like some of the wild bamboo I’ve seen growing around the area.  The sound of the leaves in the wind is heavenly, and it is hard to believe that bamboo is considered as a forest pest

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Duke Chapel – unfortunately the sun was not helping me out at this time of the day

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Tenebrae?

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Duke Chapel is non-denominational and has services for various types of Christianity, but compared with protestant churches there is much more decoration

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The high ceilings were breathtaking and amazing, truly marvelous works of architecture, engineering, and religious design

On Saturday Evening we enjoyed dinner at a Turkish restaurant on Franklin St. in Chapel Hill, just fifteen minutes from Durham by car.  Franklin St. is a typical main street in any southern city, a busy road with restaurants, watering holes, shops and much more.  After a long night of conversation, we had another late start on Sunday, a much needed late start considering I would have to drive back to ol’ Boot later in the day.

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The delicious amber ale at the “Top of the Hill” restaurant, which offers a nice view of Chapel Hill and the foothills in the distance.

Chapel Hill has a nice traditional red brick feel that you don’t get at most universities.  Rather than a few larger buildings with an eclectic architectural style, Chapel Hill has lots of small buildings that are architecturally homogeneous.

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Inside this dome is a water fountain that the students at Chapel Hill are very proud of.  If you drink from it at the beginning of each semester, luck will be on your side when it comes to your grades.

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The main library – my brother showed me an interesting gallery at the bottom that shows some of the history of the university.  Must of the history of North Carolina seems to be tied to this university.

We walked around the main part of campus and I got a good feel for the school.  It was getting late, however, and I still had a five hour drive back to ol’ Boot.  I stopped back at my brother’s apartment to gather my things, preparing to face the highway, a trying drive with nothing but a lake to look forward to.

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My brother’s dog was enjoying the cool weather on Sunday.  She was happy to see me go I think, I introduced too much stress into her daily schedule.  Sorry about that, dog.

I’ll have to go back to the area again, I’m sure that there is more to see and enjoy.

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A walkabout in Washington DC

I last visited Washington DC in 2004 while trying to find a job after just graduating from the university.  I recently returned to DC for business and arrived early on a Sunday morning.  Rather than sit around and watch cable TV all day, I decided I would have a walkabout around Washington DC and enjoy my second favorite city, only behind Taipei in my list of favorite cities I’ve visited to date.  I love DC because it is not a skyscraper wasteland like NYC or Tokyo, yet it is still an urban area with urban living and a decent amount of green space and trees to ensure a good quality of life.  Without further delay lets jump a train to the city!

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Board the metro at Vienna/Fairfax, the end of the orange line that goes from Northern Virgina (NOVA) and into Washington DC

Fairfax is fairly suburban and home to a decent population of civil servants, government contractors, and private sector employees involved in technology.  Believe it or not, NOVA is home to a large and growing technology economy on the East Coast.  Unfortunately, it is very heavily related to government services.  I cannot knock Fairfax, however.  There are many international restaurants, and the county is home to large Korean and Indian immigrant communities.

It was nice to be on public transportation again.  As the train approached, the familiar smell of the train grinding and burning steel as the train slows to a halt at the station brought me back to my time in Japan.  A year has not yet passed, but it feels so far away.  Am I really in the USA?  The train was full of the usual types: interesting people going somewhere important, quiet men sitting alone, suits, people texting away on their mobile phones, noisy teenagers…it was refreshing.  A man can go insane driving a car from point A to B all his life.  This train was alive with life!

Twenty minutes later, the train came to a halt at Foggy Bottom.  I disembarked from the metro to begin my trip.  The goal was to travel from Foggy Bottom in central Washington DC and make my way to Bethesda, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC.

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An apartment building on the edge of the GWU campus in Foggy Bottom, just a few blocks from the White House.  I thought it might be students, but it looked like professionals exiting from this building.

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Hello there GW.  If I had financial freedom, I’d love to get enroll in one of the international trade master’s degree programs here. Pipe dreams…

Being just a few blocks from the State Dept., imagine all of the lectures available for students to appreciate!

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Speak of the devil!  Just kidding, the devil (the Pentagon) is across the river from Foggy Bottom in Arlington.  I wouldn’t mind working at the State Dept…Pipe dreams…

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Just a few blocks from the State Department is the World Bank, typically headed by Americans, while the IMF is typically headed by an EU citizen

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Love them or hate them, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are across the street from the World Bank.

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The IMF building looks much nicer than the World Bank, no?

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A vespa in front of the IMF…how fitting!

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A modern office building downtown DC

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After walking a more blocks, I found myself in Dupont Circle, an area of Washington DC with lots of art galleries, coffee shops, clubs, and the cultural scene of the city

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From Dupont Circle I wandered into Georgetown, home to the prestigious Georgetown University, and home to many politicians, high ranking government officials, high flying lawyers and lobbyists that make the city grind.

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Georgetown is populated with beautiful row houses, some converted into museums or law offices, but many converted into student housing, apartments, and family quarters.

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While I could spend all day in Georgetown, my goal was Bethesda, which is to the North, rather than more of Georgetown to the West.  I found this bison along the way back to Massachusetts Avenue, but I have no idea of the meaning of the bison statue.

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Massachusetts Avenue is home to a large portion of the foreign embassies, ambassador’s residences, and foreign government emlpoyees.  I couldn’t recognize the flag on this embassy, but I could very much appreciate the French architecture on this building.

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The South Korean Cultural Center

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Cherry trees in full bloom outside of the Japanese Embassy

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The visa section of the Japanese Embassy — with true Japanese functionality, this building reflects much of what you will see of government buildings in Japan.  FYI, the ambassador’s residence is MUCH nicer looking.

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The Turkish Embassy basking in the joy of being modern – by now I guess I’m on the watch list of all of these embassies for taking pictures of the buildings from the public sidewalks

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This beautiful building seemed to be not an embassy but an Islamic cultural center.  I can’t read Arabic, so I really don’t know.  The architecture is so beautiful though.

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Her majesty’s embassy … I refrained from taking a photo of the ambassador’s residence which was very beautiful and stereotypically “British”.  I probably should have taken the photo though…oh well.

As the street of embassies faded into the area surrounding the Naval Observatory, I ducked into the suburbs to make my way North towards the Cleveland Park metro station.  In the neighborhood one can find international schools, the National cathedral, and lots of beautiful old houses populated with young and wealthy families.

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Cleveland Park has lots of traditional homes and is very quiet.  It is hard to believe that just fifteen minutes south by bicycle and you’re in the action of Dupont Circle.

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Near the station at Cleveland Park, the foot traffic is still high and there are plenty of restaurants and shops on the major streets, such as the one above, Connecticut Avenue.

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Though Bethesda was just a few more stops North, after walking uphill for over two hours my feet were killing me and I decided to jump the metro.  I began the descent into the hole.

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The DC metro system is very clean and I love the high ceilings.  New York’s subway system is much gritter, though many times more convenient.  For DC’s size, the metro is very reasonable and a real treasure.  Larger cities in the USA have much poorer infrastructure, and DC should be a model to other American cities.

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Bethesda!  Known for the medical industry, the Naval hospital, and many small high tech companies, Bethesda is an expensive yet very livable city just outside of Washington DC in the state of Maryland.

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Central Bethesda has many outdoor restaurants and cafes lining the streets.  The shopping is very high scale and international, with major brands and stores lining the streets.  Being April, the weather was beautiful and the locals were out enjoying their beer along the slow Sunday traffic.

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With all of the high fashion and clothing shops, I felt like I might be in parts of Harajuku, the modern fashion district of Tokyo.  The traffic sure was similar!

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Outdoor restaurants all over the place.  This photo reminded me of one I took in Akasaka at night.

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I stopped for dinner at Penag restaurant in Bethesda.  I had the Nasi Lemak, which consists of coconut flavored rice, chicken curry, spicy anchovies, and the assorted stuff on the left.  While the meal was delicious, the richness of the coconut rice went right to my stomach and made me full for almost twenty-four hours.

After dinner I walked around Bethesda so I could get a better feel for the city.  While the central area has lots of condos, office buildings, shopping areas, and restaurants, just a few minutes walk in any direction leads to urban “suburbs”, neighborhoods that are very walkable and close to the city center yet full of single home construction.  There were also numerous parks and the voices of laughing children enjoying a lazy Sunday echoed through Bethesda.  Bethesda seems like an ideal place to raise a family.

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It was almost 20:00 after I finished eating and walking around, so I headed back to central Bethesda, boarding the metro, and taking it all the way back to Vienna/Fairfax in NOVA. It was great to see Washington DC again, and I’m so happy that it has only improved since I last visited DC in 2004.  Hope to see you again soon, DC!

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Organic sustainability for farmers

I recently stumbled onto an interesting video about organic farming in Liuzhou and Nashe in China.  If you have the time, do take a look, it is quite interesting.  To summarize, a group of city dwellers from Liuzhou are trying to support organic farming in a poorer rural area, Nashe.  The rural farmers struggle between growing organic produce or the usual chemically fertilized produce.

I found it very interesting that the farmers in Nashe chose to stick with chemical fertilizers and the regular way of farming rather than the organic method of farming.  While the city dwellers already had a fairly decent standard of living and could afford to choose between organic and regular produce, the farmers in Nashe found the “old” way of doing things to be more valuable.   Producing organic produce could make a name for their village, but the methods of organic farming took too much of their time to yield enough produce, and at the end of the day they wanted to improve their economic outlook.

While driving back from Atlanta in February, I was quite surprised at all of the farms and how much agriculture is still in the USA.  Of course in recent times, farmer’s markets are all of the rage, and grocery store chains such as Whole Foods and Earth Fare are expanding nationwide.  So the video about Liuzhou made me wonder, how much of the produce from the farms I saw on the roads of Georgia and South Carolina is organic?  Just something to think about on a dull day.

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