Mike Grehan says...

Random musings about search marketing, flying around the planet, networking and people watching.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hong Kong, live it love it. Xiamen, live it love it.

Soooo, after taking a well deserved break, I decided it was time to get off my rear-end and start weighing up some options.

And I'm very lucky that there have been many. But one thing I wanted to do immediately was tie up some stuff in Hong Kong and China before ad:tech, Shanghai comes around. I'm on the advisory board with ad:tech and I've been helping new conference chair, Drew Ianni to program the search track.

And to be honest, I don't need much of an excuse to hop on a plane and head to Hong Kong, a city I've fallen in love with. And same applies to Xiamen, China which is rapidly becoming a bit of a second home for me as well.

I met with my friend and colleague Gerard M Jacobs (leading American businessman and former CEO with Think Partnership Inc.) also travelling on business in Hong Kong and he tagged along with me into China.

This was a great opportunity for me to catch up with him. Gerry is a very highly regarded businessman who has funded and headed up billion dollar companies. I have a huge amount of respect for him. And he's a great sounding board when it comes to new business ideas.

Apart from the fact that I suffered a very severe bout of food poisoning whilst in Xiamen, it was great to be back. This is a great and rapidly developing city which has a very "happening" feel about it. I have to say, the food poisoning had nothing to do with the excellent dishes served in that wonderful city. I believe it was down to some sandwiches served to us on the plane at Hong Kong airport. The flight was delayed by one hour when we arrived. I kind of expected that because the hotel had slipped a cyclone warning note under everyone's door the night before.

However, after boarding, we were then held on the runway for another threes hours as a typhoon hit the south of Hong Kong. Boy, we were in the middle of real dramatic, movie style storm. At one point, the cabin crew suddenly arrived with some finger style sandwiches to try and keep us occupied. They were wrapped in cling film, so they had obviously been prepared somewhere else, not on the plane. I wasn't even hungry, just bored stiff with waiting to get off the ground. So... yes, I ate them.

Eventually the plane got off the ground into huge amounts of turbulence as we bounced up and down in the sky over the south China sea on the way to Xiamen, arriving many hours later than expected.

That night, in the wonderful super-posh bathroom of my room at the Sheraton Hotel, in downtown Xiamen... all that could be heard was the aching and echoing sound of my head down the toilet calling very loudly for... Huey and Duey...

Inway to the rescue.

My great friend and colleague in China is Inway Ni, a very admirable guy who I love very much. He heads up one of the fastest growing internet marketing companies in China and is also JV partner for SES China.

Not only is he a very smart businessman, he's also been schooled in the ancient art of Chinese herbal medicine. So just when the last of the Immodium Plus I always carry with me ran out, he arrived with something so magical, if I hadn't tried it I wouldn't have believed it.

After a night of sheer hell, he came to my room (after discovering how ill I actually was) and dispensed five small round balls of what looked like rabbit droppings. I washed them down with a cup of hot water (which he insisted on) and 30 minutes later... BINGO, sorted!

I've always been a little sceptical of this whole herbal/alternative thing. But this was really something else. And I have never heard of anything like it in the west. Needless to say, from now on, these foul tasting, but magic pills will replace Immodium forever. And not only that, Inway is very big on Feng Shui, so he can certainly design my new office :-)

Due to my being ill, I missed a lot of conversation for one whole day. That being the case, Inway decided to come join us in Hong Kong and spend a little time hanging out there.

He and I and Gerry had a wonderful lunch at the Peak. This is a great touristy place in Hong Kong which provides the most breathtaking views over the city. We took some pics just before lunch. Here's myself with Inway to the left and Gerry to the right.

And later that night, we headed downtown for a wonderful dinner at Ruth Chris restaurant with my other big pal from Hong Kong, Eddie Choi (leading Expo and event management specialist). It became a bit of a long night, with us all ending up in a late, late bar in the ex-pat party area of Hong Kong, Lan Kwai Fong.

Saturday was a good day to do some touristy things. Neither Gerry, nor Inway, had been out into the country to see what's known simply as the "Big Buddah." This statue is the world's largest Buddha statue, made from bronze, it's 34 metres tall and weighs 250 tonnes.

It's set in the most wonderful countryside and is breathtaking. It looks over the most peaceful and serene Buddhist Monastery. Po Lin Monastery was initially a small temple constructed by three Buddhists in 1924. Over the years, more structures have been added, such as the big temple and the world's largest Buddha statue. It's situated in the mountainous area of Lantau Island.

The whole feeling of the place is like sweeping back in time. Or into the intro of a Kung Fu movie...

The temple is open to tourists. Your ticket for the Buddah visit also includes a Buddhist monk vegetarian lunch inside the temple.

The Buddha statue itself is so big it can take parties on a three level tour inside.

And so, we headed back to the city. Gerry, feeling a little tired decided on an early night. But by this time we had been joined by Yehoo (that's right, Yehoo), Inway's sworn brother who lives in Hong Kong. And so the three of us headed downtown again. And once again, many Mojitos were downed by the three of us. And because Yehoo hadn't had a night out with Inway for a while, I thought we should continue after dinner in Lan Kwai Fong and head off to a few more bars.

At one bar, we bumped into a crowd of ladies who told me they were sisters from the Philippines. I have to say, they didn't look much like nuns at all. I mentioned this and they told me that they were on leave for the weekend and so didn't need to wear their nuns outfits. It seemed fairly plausible to me!

I asked one of the nuns if it was a religious icon on the chain around her neck. She was extremely kind and offered me a closer look.

I'll be very honest here... I'm sure I can't think why... but I still have no idea what was on the chain.

That's it. As you read this, I'm on 747 heading back to the UK for ad:tech, London. And then it's back to the US to really get some wheels in motion.

Monday, September 04, 2006

San Francisco, San Jose, New York and then... Corfu!

Here we go with another retrospective entry to my blog. I think I'm coming to terms with the fact that, even though I've had a little extra time on my hands over the past few weeks, I'll never be a 'blog a day' person like my buddy Andy Beal and others.

Anyway, I was in one of my favourite places on the entire planet a few weeks back. I had a weekend in San Francisco before heading down to San Jose for SES. So, I looked up some old friends. Most of whom were interested in my current employment situation (or lack of it, should I say).

The show in San Jose is usually one of the biggest of the year. It certainly had all of the hallmarks of previous huge and successful shows. But I have no idea of the total figures.

Things I did do this year included everything I usually do. I did panels, I met and interviewed a number of people. And I met a lot of people that I stayed up late with and we all got very drunk. The usual sort of show.

Things I didn't so this year included the Google dance and not a single other sponsor/vendor party. I think going somewhere to stand in line for a free drink... to have to go back and stand in line for another one is not my idea of big-fun anymore.

Nope, not a party pooper at all. The shows are so big and therefore so are the lines. That's about it. Having said that, I did pull together quite a few little intimate groups and sneak out for some outstanding Indian food on a few of nights, so I thoroughly enjoyed the social side as usual.

And did I have more than one person ask me if I was forming a company with my pal Andy Beal (who coincidentally resigned the day after me). Not only are Andy and I not forming a company together, we didn't even get a chance to meet each other in San Jose let alone anything else. A little disappointing as I love Andy very much and we never miss getting together at the conferences usually.

Danny moved the organic session from its usual early morning slot to the last session on the last day. I know that we on "team organic" complain a lot that its murder getting up so early after a late night. But I think that actually added a lot to the session. The fact that everyone was always still a little drunk from the night before. I didn't really cross swords with my sparring partner Dave Naylor at this session. Usually we have a proper pop at each other which always leads to some of Dave's funniest one liners. However, I think we were being very civil with each other at this particular session.

I think I'll sneak a bottle of my wife's favourite *real* Russian vodka into the Chicago session and fill the water jug with it. That should set Dave and I off with a few verbal fireworks :-)

I didn't get a picture of the audience at any of the sessions because I'd forgotten to charge the battery for my camera. I did manage to get one shot of the panel (thanks to Thomas Bindl for taking it for me) but the flash was off so it's not a very good shot (from the left, Bruce Clay, Todd Friesen, Dave Naylor and you know who).

We were all having a big laugh at Danny having to fulfil a bet he had with Thomas on the world cup. I'm sure there must have been many pictures circulating of Danny attending the session wearing Thomas' Lederhosen. It was a little tight in certain places, judging by the fact that Danny's vocal moved up about on octave for that session :-)

I moved on to New York with my wife to meet up with some friends for a celebratory wedding drink. We took a long weekend so that I could catch up with a number of people in and around Noo Yaawwk.

My wife's favourite part of Manhattan is South Street Seaport. I used to hang around there a lot with my pal Larry Chase, until he moved into the country. It's just behind the financial district and virtually right underneath the Brooklyn Bridge . There are some great cafes and bars. As well as Pier 17 Mall and the tall ships, of course.

I spent the better part of the last day with a friend sitting outside a cafe drinking Mojitos. After I paid the huge bill, we both headed out to the airport to catch our respective flights. He dropped me a note the following day saying that he made the flight but missed dinner because he fell asleep. I couldn't help laughing... because I did exactly the same thing on my flight!

I swept into the UK for one day and then my wife and I headed off on a little surprise trip for her birthday, to the beautiful Greek island of Corfu.

This was my first time in Corfu, although I have visited a number of other Greek islands (in fact, my wife and I were married on the island of Cyprus).

I really needed some time to think about the future and generally just take a chill pill. We stayed in a magnificent little place half way up a small mountain on the north west side of the island. It's an idyllic place with the most wonderful bay and beach just a short walk down the hill (although, I did have a small car for the duration).

The view from where we stayed was fabulous, looking over the bay on one side and the olive groves on the other.

And so it was that I lay on the beach admiring the view there...

And enjoying the company of a relative of San Miguel, uncle Amstel.

We became very close friends, having lunch together every day.

One evening we attended a traditional Greek night. Here, the men wear short skirts and tights and fling each other around on the dance floor (a bit like some friends of mine in San Francisco, actually!)

We visited the old part of Corfu town a few times. The streets are very small and atmospheric and send you reeling back in time.

There's also a very old fort by the port area.

We didn't have a chance to visit it unfortunately. We were in and out of town as my wife was having a special necklace created by a local jeweller as a birthday present. It took a few fittings before it was exactly right.

On her birthday, we went for a special lunch.

It lasted until late in the day when we got back from the town at sunset.

And the following day we had the pool just to ourselves and just hung around playing music and having the odd dip. It was so laid back and relaxing. The pool is actually above the building and looks out over the mountains and olive groves. Very nice.

All in all, a spectacularly relaxing time... for my wife. Personally I had my laptop and Blackberry and spent most of my time on the beach or around the pool online. I know, I'm addicted.

So, what else is new? Well you'd have to have been on the moon for the past week not to know that Danny Sullivan had resigned. And yes, of course, he and I and Andy Beal are forming a company together... Yeah, right!