Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2002

January started with “the big cold”. First, Audrey caught a cold while we were in the US. We worried that she would have a hard time on the flight back to Singapore, but she did fine. Instead, she used that time to give her cold to me, so I felt miserable the entire way back (more so than usual). Eventually, Foong-Ha caught it as well. Audrey’s cold developed into bronchitis while mine turned into a sinus infection. To make matters worse, Maggie developed a bad itchy skin problem with spots on her skin and raw feet. For a while, we were all taking our various medications at every meal… it became confusing to to keep track! Towards the end of January, we were all feeling much better.

We learned that one of Foong’s “baby buddies” will move to Europe in a few months. We are sad to see them go, since we do not really have a big circle of friends here in Singapore. It has been nice to talk to another family who had a baby the same age as Audrey.

The big news at the end of January was that Foong-Ha’s sister gave birth to a son! We went to visit them in Malaysia a few days after the birth. It was so neat to see the tiny baby and compare him to how big Audrey has gotten. Foong-Ha and Audrey stayed in Malaysia until Chinese New Year, but I had to come back and go to work.

Work has transformed into nothing like I imagined. When I first got to Singapore, I was writing embedded software for 3rd-generation phone (mock-up) prototypes. It was very exciting and challenging. However, now we have abandoned our research work with gadgets and turned into a strange technical marketing group for our network division. This is partially due to our tightening budgets, and partially because of the spin-off of Ericsson’s phone design work to the Sony-Ericsson joint venture. As an embedded engineer, I feel like a fish out of water. Needless to say, we will be watching the situation closely to see which way it heads.

One last item… Audrey is now smiling with a tooth!

February 2002

Gong Xi Fa Cai, it’s Chinese New Year!

We spent our holiday in Malaysia, where we visited family and friends. We spent most of the time in Seremban, but we also ventured out to Kuala Lumpur and Mentakap (a small town where Foong’s brother lives). One highlight of the week was a side-trip to Bukit Tinggi, a mountain resort town with a touristy “French themed village”. It felt like the Malaysian equivalent to Busch Gardens. While we were in Seremban, we called a handful of old high school friends to come visit one afternoon. They called more friends, and soon the house was full of guests! The best part of the trip was turning my phone off, and just hanging out with Audrey for a week.

Work continued on its strange path. We’re still doing “non-engineering” work, but at least it is keeping us busy.

March 2002

The party’s over. Ericsson Cyberlab has decided to send the expats home. It had to happen. Over the last few months, the technical projects have been drying up. And expats are expensive.

We’re now trying to work out the details of our return to the US. Specifically, I need to find out where I return to work, since my old department has moved to a new company, Sony Ericsson.

Foong and Audrey started March with a week in Malaysia. They went to a wedding and visited lots of remote family members. Audrey went swimming for the first time.

We got a chance to go out with our friend Roy Payne while he was in town for business. He stayed in Singapore for two weeks, and we managed to go out with him a few times.

Although we have been in Singapore for over a year, we have not met very many foreigners. For some reason, we just never cross paths with any other expats. However, while Roy was in town, he introduced me to an expat at his company, and we all attended a dinner gathering that the Singapore expats have every month. Funny that we only discovered this group about time we’re preparing to leave! They were very friendly, and we had a good time listening to their stories. I will keep in touch with this group.

Since we had a three-day weekend for the Easter holiday, we decided to make another road trip to Malaysia. Apparently, a lot of other people had the same idea, because when we left on Friday morning, we got caught in a huge traffic jam between the Singaporean and Malaysian immigration checkpoints. It’s basically a five kilometer stretch of road (and a bridge), but it took us two and a half hours to cross! The entire trip ended up taking six hours, when it normally takes only three.

The rest of the weekend went OK. On Saturday, we had lunch with some of Foong’s high school buddies (Chinese ladies chattering while I try to entertain Audrey). Another traffic jam on the way back from KL.

I stayed home on Sunday morning while the family woke up at dawn and visited their grandfather’s grave site. It is a Chinese tradition to visit the graves of relatives on this one particular weekend (which might explain why there were so many traffic problems). As a perfect ending to the weekend, we had a final traffic jam on the way back to Singapore on Sunday night.

April 2002

April is normally the month where you cram to do your taxes. Instead, our April was spent trying to figure out what’s next. I have been contacting people in Ericsson back home, trying to line up the next project. We’ll have to wait and see what fate has in store…

Audrey is now nine months old, and she’s very active. She crawls a lot, climbs on things, and gets into anything that’s within reach. To our surprise, she celebrated her 9-month birthday by saying her first real word. It was “Maggie”! Other than that one word, the rest has just been baby-language.

At the beginning of April, a family moved into the apartment next door, which has been vacant since last summer. Although nothing beats the silence of an empty apartment next door, it’s nice to have neighbors.

At work, there was a flurry of activity as we had another presentation for Ministers of Singapore parliament. They came to see what Ericsson has planned for “mobile internet, today and tomorrow”. I participated in a video conference using a “third generation” UMTS cell phone hooked to a laptop. Ericsson has one prototype UMTS base station in Singapore, and we used that to relay our signal back to the office. It was pretty neat!

We wrapped up the month with a weekend trip to Malaysia. This trip was uneventful, but it was nice to get out of town and relax.

May 2002

The big event in May was our trip to China. We visited Shanghai for ten days, with side trips to Hangzhou and Suzhou. Foong’s sister has been living in Shanghai for a few years now, and we have been meaning to visit them while we are still in Asia.

We spent a few days exploring Shanghai, which struck me as a city of contrasts. Much of the city is new, but there remains clear evidence of the city’s long history as a center for trade. It’s easy to forget that you’re in China, because a lot of the architecture is European (and the weather reminded us of London or Stockholm). But the food brings you quickly back to the East.

We ventured off to Hangzhou for an over-nighter, while Foong’s sister looked after Audrey (her first night away from Mommy and Daddy). Hangzhou is a two-hour train ride to the southwest. It is best known for the “west lake”, a scenic lake that is surrounded on three sides by mountains. There are plenty of pagodas and gardens to visit, and each one has an overly-poetic Chinese name like “fish overlooking lilies in the breeze with bamboo”.

We also took a day trip to Suzhou, where we visited the “Humble Administrator’s Garden”, a very scenic leaning pagoda (called “Tiger Hill”), and a silk factory. Suzhou was nice, but we could not spend much time there.

Coming back to Singapore was a harsh slap back to reality. We immediately started making plans for our return to the US. There’s a lot to plan, and very little time. Stay tuned.

June 2002

June was all about moving back to the US.

The first two weeks of June were spent packing up. This worked much like our move last year… we had to separate everything in our house into four categories: (1) ship, (2) hand-carry, (3) return to the rental company, (4) throw away.

As our move date approached, we decided that we had done this in the wrong order. We had the shippers pick up our household stuff first, and then the rental company came to pick up the furniture. That means that whatever was left needed to be hand-carried. In retrospect, we think it would have been better to move into a hotel with just the “hand-carry” items and then let the furniture people pick up their stuff. That way, we could go back to the house if we forgot anything. After a few days, we could just tell the shippers to pack up everything in the house. Hindsight is 20/20.

The trip itself was relatively uneventful, considering the fact that we were carrying our 11 month old girl and our dog (and all of that leftover junk from the house).

The first thing we did was visit my parents for a weekend. While we were there, Audrey decided to take her first steps! Her grandmother was thrilled.

Ericsson set us up in a corporate apartment to wait until our household things arrived. Our first task was to find a more permanent home. At work, I had a parallel task of finding a new department to work in (these days, finding a new home is a lot easier than finding a new job).

Hopefully, all of these things will be straightened out in July.

July 2002

July was the month of waiting.

WAITING: At home, we are waiting for our stuff to be delivered from Singapore. Until that arrives, we are staying in a corporate apartment and living out of a suitcase.

WAITING: At work, I waited for a job opening. Fortunately, I managed to find a new position at Sony Ericsson in the CDMA software group.

WAITING: At the bank, I waited several weeks for a wire transfer from Singapore. That was eventually rejected due to a clerical error. My second attempt was to write a personal check from my Singapore bank to deposit into my US bank account. Now I am waiting for that to clear.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. I am not a very patient person.

Meanwhile, July had it’s high points as well. Early in the month, we went to the beach for the long July 4th weekend. Audrey had a great time playing in the ocean, and then the pool. One of the highlights of the weekend was Audrey’s first birthday party. Cake on faces, toys that play music, dogs in party hats… it was wild.

A few weeks later, Audrey decided that she was ready to walk. One afternoon, she just stood up and started walking around the living room! She has not slowed down since.

Also, look out for Foong, who will now be zipping around town in her new mini-van.

August 2002

In August, we moved out of our corporate housing, and into our own apartment. It’s in the same complex… it’s just a few doors down). Although the management boasts of the “amenities” and the view of the golf course, I was only interested in two things: ground floor and garage.

On the first day in the new apartment, our stored goods arrived. In a way, it felt like home, since we now had furniture. But in another way, we were still living out of suitcases, since our clothes and our frequently-used things were still in transit from Singapore.

The Singapore shipment arrived a few weeks after we moved in. I told the movers to just drop the stuff in the garage (they were happy!). We spent the next few weeks going through boxes (both stored and shipped). Most of the time, I would just open a box, take a peek inside, label the box and close it back up.

The last delivery was Maggie. She stayed at my parents’ house for the first few weeks, until we moved out of corporate housing. She had a great time playing with my Mom’s dog, Beau. But she was also glad to be home. Audrey was thrilled to have a dog to play with (chase) again.

At work, I started climbing the learning curve for working on the CDMA products. Although the tools are a little different, I found that most of the software is the same as the GSM products that I had worked on previously. Ironically, even though I am the “new guy” in the group, I can answer a lot of questions that my colleagues have about the GSM software that we inherited from Sweden!

The phone that we are working on looks pretty nice. I am writing software that controls communication with accessories. I won’t give any specifics, but I will say “cheese”.

September 2002

We started off September with a trip to the beach. It was quiet and relaxing.

For fun, I decided to install a wireless LAN in the apartment. I have always wanted to try it out, and it seems pretty useful. In the process, I learned that many people run open systems (with no password protection). I was amazed that you can just fire up the laptop and surf the internet using your neighbors WLAN!

Work is starting to get a little more intense, and that is good (I’d much rather be busy than bored). I am currently working on the phone software, trying to get it to support our clip-on camera accessory. It can be fun and maddening at the same time.

My grandmother (“Nanny”) spent most of the summer in Alaska. Now that she has returned home, she visited us for a weekend. That was only the second time for her to see Audrey, so they had a lot of catching up to do.

The biggest event of September was that we bought a house. We decided that apartment life stinks, so we looked and looked for a place that we could be happy with. This house has plenty of room for our growing family and for guests, and we like the layout. It will take a few weeks before we can close on it, and we are anxious to get moved in.

October 2002

October was a very busy month.

At work, most of the people in my group started working long hours as we entered an extended “crunch time”. I worked many late evenings and ate supper at my desk. However, I found that working late just made me more tired in the morning, so I tended to come in to work later. I guess that’s some sort of perverse work-related daylight savings time plan. After a year and a half in sunny Singapore, it seems strange to come home from work in the dark.

My friend David Robinson joined Sony Ericsson in October. It’s nice to be working alongside my old buddy again.

We took Audrey to Joe Reter’s first birthday party. It was the first time for us to see Joe, and it was nice to catch up with Roy and Vicki. Like many birthday parties in the early years, Joe just sat back and absorbed all of the excitement. Audrey’s favorite part was blowing bubbles.

The last thing we did in October was say goodbye to our apartment. As apartments go, this one was nice. But we have been wanting to move into a house for the longest time, and all of our stuff is still in boxes in the garage. So on the last day of the month, we signed and signed and signed the papers for our new house. To celebrate, we went to the empty house and passed out candy to the treak-or-treating kids, and we took Audrey around the street (dressed in a pumpkin costume) to meet the neighbors.

November 2002

We spent the first part of November getting settled into our new house. Hanging pictures, getting new appliances, unpacking boxes, etc. We tried to work fast, because we knew that December would be pretty hectic (with a new baby, the holidays, Malaysian visitors).

It’s a good thing that we settled in pretty fast. Sydney joined us a week early. On November 23rd, Foong felt like it might be time. But unlike last time, we decided to have a nice leisurely breakfast at home before going to the hospital. After a brief labor, Sydney was born at 6:11 pm. It was a very civilized way to have a baby. I am glad that Sydney was considerate enough to join us in the daytime on a Saturday.

Mom and Dad (aka “Mimi” and “Pops”) came to visit for the entire week of Thanksgiving. We all had a great time – eating, changing diapers, and watching the dogs chase each other around the house.

December 2002

Our domestic bliss was short-lived. One Thursday morning in early December, we woke up to a cold and dark house. We had some icy weather the night before, and the power had gone out.

I turned on the radio, but since they were just playing the normal morning music and drivel, I assumed that everything was normal, and just our neighborhood was without power. We packed up the kids and hopped in the van to find a hot meal and to take them some place warm. To our surprise, we found that everyone had lost power, and that trees were down all over town.

We ended up going back to the house to pack for an over-nighter. But where to go? Everyone was in the dark. It turned out that our friend Rebekah still had power, so we camped out at her place. One night stretched into two, and we had to go back to the COLD house for more clothes and supplies. On Saturday’s supply run, Patrick called us to tell us that power had been restored to our neighborhood. Great! We packed up and drove back to the house, only to find that PATRICK had power, but our street was still dark!

Making matters worse, Foong’s relatives were on their way from Malaysia to visit with us and to help out with the new baby. They arrived on Saturday, while we were still trying to decide where to stay. We ended up staying at Patrick’s house… all eight of us (Foong and me; the two girls; Foong’s mom, sister and niece and nephew – don’t forget Maggie!). We stayed with Patrick and Tracy until the power came back on Tuesday morning, and by lunch time the house was warm again. After a few days of recovery time, things got back to normal. OK, not normal at all… we have a new baby and a house full of Malaysian relatives!

We give our deepest thanks to Rebekah and Michael, and to Patrick and Tracy, for giving us a warm place to stay.

Greg and Aline visited us for a weekend in December. We had not seen them in about two years. And they finally got to meet Audrey. They took a quick peek at Sydney, but she doesn’t make many social appearances these days. We had fun talking, as usual, mostly about Greg’s work.

The big event at work was that I finally found and fixed the bug that had been causing the camera accessory to not work. It had been plaguing me for two months. But when I found it, I knew immediately that it would work. What a feeling!

We finished off December with a wild frenzy of Christmas activity. Hurried shopping, packing up Santa’s mini-van and visiting Mimi and Pops. It was Audrey’s first “real” Christmas

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