Working From…

Working from Peter’s Tex-Mex, Beijing.

The biggest upside to my job is that I have reached a point in my career where technology and my position enable me to work from anywhere.

The biggest downside to my job is that I have reached a point in my career where technology and my position require me to work from just about everywhere.

So when I read an email from a colleague with a more conventional work geography that on Friday he would “WFH,” i.e., “work from home,” naturally, that made me think of all of the places from which I find myself working. As a result, I have begun to use a much richer range of acronyms to describe where I work.

My current glossary is as follows, based on frequency:

WFHWorking from Home – I’m at home, but I’m working. Really.

WFHOWorking from Home Office – At home, at my desk, doors closed, head down, ass up; not just sitting in the kitchen reading email on my phone or sitting on the back porch thinking about a client while watching the seagulls argue.

WFCWorking from Car – Stuck in traffic, or somewhere between major cities, probably on a conference call. Or two. Or three. I spend so much time working from my car that my wife has taken to calling me The Traveling Salesman. I know: sounds like the set up for a dirty joke.

WFAWorking from Airport – Trying to get everything done before my flight because a) the space between rows on the plane is too small for me and my laptop to occupy simultaneously, and b) I like to look out of the window.

WFPWorking from Plane – Will happen just as soon as a) I can afford to fly first class and b) I get tired of looking out of the window.

WFL – Working from Lodging – Some kind of Marriott. Brewing coffee. Probably not fully clothed. “Do Not Disturb” sign on door.

WFLOWorking from Local Office – They’ve found me a cubby. I’m trying to fit.

WFSWorking from Starbucks – Strictly for the baked goods and the Wi-Fi. Probably in China

WFTX – Working from Taxi – Holding on with one hand because there are no seatbelts. Definitely in China.

WFTWorking from Train – Roomy seats. Easy pace. No hassles. Arriving on time. But no Wi-Fi (oh, darn!)

WFMWorking from Meeting – Probably should be paying attention, but shooting off some emails anyway.

WFCOWorking from Campout – In a folding chair just outside my tent. I probably should be whittling or something. Hold on while I remind this scout to ask his Senior Patrol Leader.

WFRVWorking from RV – Somewhere beautiful, friendly, and comfortable. I love the hum of generators in the morning. Folding chair, lap table, under the awning.

WFOBWorking from Onboard – I’m on a boat. I’m working. Yes, I’m insane.

WFSSWorking from Son’s School – Getting condescendingly indulgent looks from High School kids, appreciative glances from overworked librarian. Wearing a tweed coat. Pretending to be the new history teacher.

WFULWorking from University Library – I can’t decide whether this is making me feel young again, or REALLY old.

WFPLWorking from Public Library – Watching a homeless guy read Kierkegaard’s Either/Or while talking to the ghost of Regine Olsen.

WFBWorking from the Bar – Email and Margaritas. Pathetic imitation of Hunter S. Thompson or Somerset Maugham, depending on part of the world I am in.

Nanjing South

Nanjing South is one of the points in China where North-South meets East-West, more of a junction than a destination. Which is a pity: this storied city deserves a train station that not only does a good job shunting bodies, but is also a tribute to the art and aspirations of a great metropolis.

Nanjing deserves more than huge and efficient: it deserves its own King’s Cross, Grand Central, or LA Union Station, an iconic transportation cathedral that ties the city’s past with its future. I suspect that one day it will get it, but only long after the nation has forgotten Beijing West Station, a failed attempt at creating an iconic station that is instead a monument to corruption, ugliness, gigantism, and ghastly architecture.



The Last Migas

Peter’s Tex-Mex has been my family’s go-to comfort-food hangout in Beijing for over a decade. It was a regular part of our routine when we were living there. Indeed, in the week or so between selling our house and moving back to the US in 2013, we were in the place daily.

The free-flow iced tea was more than enough to recommend, as were the large and fresh salads. But my favorite, day or night, was their rendition of migas, the mix of eggs, peppers, chiles, corn chips, and cheese that always seemed to be just the right amount of food.

I still stop by Peter’s on my frequent trips to Beijing, and it is a favorite place to do half-day business meetings.

Rumors are now circulating that Peters will be closing, and I wanted to capture this moment. This will likely be my last plate of migas from Peters, after what must now be over a hundred, and I will miss these – but, more important, the place – quite badly.

Beijing has plenty of choices for places to eat, but it has never been harder to find somewhere with booths, plugs, bottomless soft drinks, hearty western comfort food, modest prices, and management that was perfectly fine with you passing your day there.

I’m on the lookout for a new nook in Beijing. Any suggestions gratefully received. And if you have any in Shanghai, I’ll take those, too.

Old Guy, Old Haunt

Twenty-two years ago, I stepped off an airplane in Beijing and into my future. 

Many of the days that shaped my life were spent here, in a little neighborhood called Xibalizhuang in the western part of the city where my future wife lived with her parents.

As with most of Beijing, this area was a starkly different place. We lived in a PLA retirement compound next to a railroad siding at the end of a dark cul-de-sac, an area that was as much rural as it was urban. Taxi drivers were loathe to come this far out, and finding a cab on even the busiest days demanded a long walk to Fuxing Road.

We were young, we were poor, and we had nothing but each other and her family. And, of course, a shared determination to do great things.

It’s downright urban now, busier and greener, and steadily moving upmarket. The in-laws still live here, watched over by a small battalion of soldiers and uniformed physicians. And, truth be told, I don’t miss it.

But I am grateful beyond words for a time in my life where everything started coming together, especially the people who accepted me for who I was when they were under zero obligation to do so.

The Two Hour Holiday

When people ask me why I love Central California* so much, given that it is so different from the urban areas in which I grew up (Los Angeles) and spent most of my adult life (mostly Beijing, some L.A.), I seem to come up with a different reason every time.

Sometimes those reasons are better shown than said, and as Exhibit A I offer Boccali’s. Ojai’s delightful combination of an upscale pizza joint and roadside fruit stand soothes the palate with fully flavored comfort food even as it pleases the eye with views of citrus orchards girt with soaring mountains.

Washing down fresh pasta with a local vintage as you take in the surroundings, it takes very little imagination to transport yourself to an older time in California, thence to somewhere in Tuscany or Catalonia, and back again. A meal here is not lunch: it is a two hour vacation that will leave you sated, refreshed, and wishing away any thoughts of the road ahead.




* See my definition here.