Near Yellow Mountain

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Be careful what you ask for!

Last night I was having dinner in a restaurant in my hometown. I was with a colleague from my company and a Japanese customer. I go to this restaurant quite often so I know many of the waiters. Over the course of the evening, it came up that my Japanese customer and I are going to Argentina today and would be sampling the local beef and wine. It also came up that we often play golf in Tokyo and Shanghai. He said: “I want your life”. My response was “be careful what you ask for”.
I am now sitting in a crowded United lounge in Newark airport on a four hour layover. I will spend over 12 hours on an overnight flight (fortunately in first class). After clearing customs in Buenos Aires, my Japanese customer and I will wait for two and a half hours in the arrivals area for two other Japanese customers who are flying to Buenos Aires from Sao Paulo. Our connection to Salta (northern Argentina) in a cramped commuter plane doesn’t leave from the cross-town domestic airport until ten hours after our arrival. We will arrive at our hotel in Salta approximately 28 hours after we left for the airport. After a quick shower, we will meet the local staff from my company; have some excellent Argentine beef and Malbec before returning to the hotel around 11PM.
Almost all my Japanese customers want to see “where the lithium comes from”. Often this involves a couple days in Buenos Aires, a tango show, maybe golf…. The trip “up the mountain” from Salta to our lithium plant is usually in our company plane and takes 30 minutes. Normally we go in the Argentina summer (December to March). Unfortunately, an insistent customer wants to go in winter, the plane is out of service on routine maintenance and due to a tight schedule our guests cannot spend an extra day in Buenos Aires for a tour and tango show. This trip will be different……..
On Monday morning, at 6am we will get in a four wheel drive and spend seven hours driving on mostly dirt roads to a lithium plant at 4,000 meters in the Andes. We will go on a one and half hour plant tour and then drive down the bumpy mountain “roads” back to Salta. After we get back we will have a late dinner and try to show our Japanese guests a bit of the local culture.
On Tuesday, we leave Salta for Buenos Aires and after sending my guests on a flight to Japan via Europe; I will have six hours to kill at the airport before flying 12 plus hours back to Newark, arriving at 6am on Wednesday. After clearing customs, another Japanese customer who is based in New York will pick me up at Newark Airport and take me to play golf, a meeting and dinner…………. Not sure when I will work in a shower between Tuesday morning and Wednesday dinner – hopefully after golf……..
So to my waiter friend in Charlotte, I would say that in the space of 96 hours I will fly more than 12,000 miles, spend over 16 hours driving, and about 15 hours waiting in airports. Yes, I will have a couple nice dinners, some good wine and play a round of golf.  But work is work. Be careful what you wish for….. “My life indeed”
I am not complaining; I do the work I have chosen and for the most part enjoy it but people tend to see the highlights of other people’s lives without seeing that most good things come at a price.