from Sandy Needham

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New York Dispatch

Newton has extensive business dealings with China. (His little company of five partners sells the logic inside of integrated circuit chips, in partnership with a couple of development companies in Europe.) These Chinese transactions translate into many headaches: exasperating negotiations, untenable support demands, pleas from the Chinese distributor - who functions as the go-between - for Asian deference to the customer. Then, after all the pain, will the money be paid fully…or not? Japan it is not. A recent negotiation was with a partnership between the Chinese government and a Chinese laboratory. One of the demands was that a representative from the US company appear at “the ceremony.” No one from the Chinese distributorship would qualify. Originally, Newton’s partner got his Chinese visa in order to attend in early January, but then “the ceremony” date was postponed. Now it was possible for “the ceremony” to take place just ahead of Newton’s scheduled trip to Japan, so he got a current Chinese visa and planned accordingly. At the last minute, they changed the day again, but just from a Sunday to a Monday. Now Newton would have a couple of extra days in Shanghai he didn’t really need, and he’s been there already for plenty of sightseeing. He had found a great itinerary that put him from Natal to Shanghai via Lisbon and Frankfurt in just 25 hours. A couple of days before departure day, his laptop stopped working. Since laptops are two times more expensive in Brazil than in the US, and since Newt was not interested in buying a Chinese one, he ordered a new laptop over the internet for delivery to a partner in NJ and re-routed his trip to Shanghai via São Paulo and New York… with an overnight in NY between the two overnight flights.

When Newton and I arrived in Manhattan, Elise had just returned to her upper west side apartment from a week’s tour around the northeast as the videographer for a band called “Honor Society.” She was tired but happy to have had not only employment, but rollicking fun employment with a really nice group of musicians and crew. The three of us had a restful day, a great dinner at a Brazilian/French restaurant near her, and laughed out loud at a surprisingly funny DVD, “Night in the Museum 2, The Smithsonian.” Newton flew off to China the next morning, and Elise and I had a stretch of time before us to enjoy before another job started for her.

Having time with Elise to either run around the city or hang out in her apartment was just heavenly, as was meeting up with so many adored friends and relatives. These included:

>Jeff and Desiree Greene for a performance of Jeff’s group, Port O’ Monkeys, playing instruments of Afghani and other exotic origins – just beautiful! They took us out for Mexican food afterwards. Here’s their link:

>My nephew Todd, hSamis wife Jenny and their sons, Sam (12) and Ethan (almost 9). After an Italian brunch, we got to see Sam’s fantastic time machine inventions (a la Jules Verne) and hear about his birthday party plans with the time travel theme. Then I visited Jenny later at the boys’ school, The Studio School, a short walk from Elise’s apartment. Jenny is the Admissions Director – the same job I held at the Blue Rock School. The two schools are about the same size, share a similar learning philosophy and the honor of always having finalists in the Japan Society’s Haiku poetry project. The Studio School is in a new facility fashioned out of two adjoining brownstones and full of wonderful, open, light spaces.There is a state-of-the-art kitchen for Food Science and math via lunch preparation for the entire school! There may be some sort of ‘city mouse/country mouse’ exchange someday between corresponding grades at Blue Rock School (on three wooded acres in West Nyack) and the Studio School!

>And speaking of my beloved Blue Rock School, I bussed up the Hudson River to Nyack to have dinner with my beloved friends from Blue Rock, Lucia (kindergarten teacher) and Claudia (irreplaceable office person, etc.). I stopped by my favorite Nyack store, Maria Louisa’s, when I got off the bus. By the time I walked up Lucia’s front steps I was schlepping a new rug and a quilt for the wall that would have many more miles on them before making it to this beach house. After Indian food (!!!), I spent the night at Lucia’s and showed up bright and early for my day at Blue Rock School. I was introduced to the kindergartners by way of teaching them my old standard, “My Hat, It Has Three Corners” during morning circle. Then class visits and wanderings during recess afforded me the chance to recognize the changed, maturing faces of my old friends, growing and growing while I’m not watching! I chose the 6th/7th/8th grades’ lunch assignment, which ordinarily means reading their current ‘lunch book’ to them. I decided instead to tell them the story of the Nigerian Fishermen who floated to our shore after losing power on their boat. After school I went for coffee with more beloveds, Caty (director) and two former teachers. I had just enough time to pull off a little shopping for the inevitable items from our US list and catch a bus to a club down the Hudson where “Blue Rock Rocks” was taking place that evening. This was a program of music offered by current families and alumni – just perfect timing to see more old friends. The teenagers with their rock bands included one kid that I swore was his older brother and the shyest kid I ever knew coming over with utter high school confidence to give me a hug. Actually, I can say that the day stood out for hugs alone, from a range of ages! I noticed that the winter temperature was dropping as I waited for the last bus back to Manhattan with my purchases.

>My college friend Linda Doyle “Doyley” Calder and her husband John drove in to Manhattan from Westhampton, Long Island to meet me for a Saturday lunch near Elise’s apartment. We had no trouble filling the time with non-stop conversation on this, my first acquaintance with John. Doyley’s smiling disposition and incredible intelligence are a combo that never wears out! I am indebted to the two of them for such generosity and accommodation.nancy

>Our long-time friends Nancy Taylor, Joe and Guadalupe, and David, Helen and 9-year-old Amelia gathered at Nancy’s apartment for one of her (always) legendary dinners (Moroccan). Nancy had a trip to Lesotho in Africa to report on, Joe and Guadalupe have opposite takes on their recent retirements, and David, Helen and Amelia were returning early to Connecticut in preparation for Amelia’s solo with the county-wide chorus the next day at the Yale chapel. Joe and Guadalupe will now spend part of the year at their beaux arts apartment in Buenos Aires, so we’re looking forward to South American rendezvous’!

>My sister Donna and brother-in-law Larry greeted us in Lawrenceville, NJ with martinis and champagne. We brought the special ingredients for shrimp moqueca in our luggage from Brazil, adding the fresh ingredients from Manhattan and Newton’s skills in hopes of paying back Donna and Larry in some small way for years of outstanding feasts at their house.

The family was oddly cell phone-challenged on this trip. Newton’s cell was not working after getting doused by a salty rogue wave in Rio; he had ordered a replacement from eBay which did not arrive till mid-trip, but then, would not recharge after half-a-call. Elise had overshot her minutes by 100 for a tutorial download for work and couldn’t use her blackberry phone for four days. In the middle of this, Jake E-mailed that he had just run his cell phone through the laundry. Didn’t survive. Newton has permission from the seller to return his eBay phone next June when we return to the US; Elise paid up; Jake bought a blackberry, and Newton now uses a very old cell phone that was ‘mine’ for trips to the store in Brazil in case the car broke down. It doesn’t work in the US. Those old land lines were looking like a good idea for a bit there.

dinner Elise and I cooked, went out to several of the neighborhood haunts, braved ever more frigid wind to shop for a promised Christmas jacket and purse. We went to the new Broadway show “Fela!” about the Nigerian dissident musician-icon, Fela Kuti. The production, headed by modern choreographer Bill T. Jones, was of the highest quality. It is hard to imagine that the mesmerizing music of Fela Kuti and the incredible story of his life could be superseded by anything, but in the end it was the pure talent on stage that left us speechless. This is one Broadway production that has not been dummied down one iota for so-called commercial reasons!


One of my favorite days was after I got sick with my first cold in three years. I decided not to take any herbs or homeopathy for it in order to give my immune system a much-needed workout. Elise joined me in an all-day, pajamas-on-the sofa, three-DVD, bottle of red, bottle of white sick day. I was only sad about missing the chance to see my great friend Carolyn this trip. Elise and I watched “The Notebook,” a lovely, definitely ‘chick’ flick; “Up,” the wonderful Pixar animated story; and “Whip It,” a women’s roller derby story with ‘Juno’ star, Ellen Page.

We also enjoyed an oldie with Newton when he returned from Japan: Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Outsiders” from 1983. I wished to revisit this film because my junior high reunion in 2006 after 42 years produced renewed friendships and endless E-mail threads with such topics as S.E. Hinton. It turns out that Susan Hinton, the author of the novel and co-author of this screenplay, was in the class ahead of us in junior high school. She started the novel about the ‘greasers’ and ‘socia's (“soshes”) in Tulsa as a senior at the high school half the class moved on to. Several people knew her and were familiar, unlike myself, with the fights and drama between the two groups. The film has one scene at a bus stop right in front of my old church, Boston Avenue Methodist, a famous example of American Art Deco architecture from the early 1920’s. The story really holds up well and the cast is amazing.

Newton had plenty to tell about “the ceremony” in Shanghai. The distributor had asked him before the trip if he had ‘gifts’ to bring. Newton threw in some company pens from a trade show. Upon arrival, he was escorted to a conference room bedecked with name tags bearing Chinese or American flags, an elaborate flower arrangement and flowers to attach to lapels, plus actual American and Chinese flags standing behind the signing table. After a presentation by the president of the Chinese lab and then Newton, the signing of the agreement took place in duplicate red leather-bound folders. Cameras were snapping and videotape running throughout. Then Newton was escorted to a corridor, where a curtain was parted to reveal a plaque on the wall commemorating the deal. Luckily, the distributor had shown up with leather-bound notebooks which greatly embellished the pen gifts. Newton received a 12” high, heavy black plastic multi-panel screen with a Chinese scene. This reminded us, once again, that China ain’t Japan. The distributor nudged Newton to now invite the customer to visit the company offices…except that Newton’s company doesn’t have any offices. Newton more or less invited him to the offices of the product creators in Athens, hoping against hope that this was just another formality. The guy responded that he definitely intended to do this.

Alas, the bitter winds had not subsided in New York City when we bid farewell to our wonderful, talented daughter, but we arrived at the airport for our flight to São Paulo without seeing any snow. Fast forward to sitting on the plane on the tarmac where we beheld the arrival of a white wonderland while waiting in line for the wings to be de-iced.



P.S. It really sucks to be sick


  1. I must admit that you certainly have a much better time in NYC than I ever did on my many trips. But almost all of mine were business, held in some Midtown hotel with meetings all day and networking receptions in the evenings. I did make it to Broadway a couple of times and saw Le Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. My son, Matthew lived in NYC for quite a while, also on the upper west side, but his apartment was so small that there was no room for a second person, so we were always hotel bound and always in either Midtown or Downtown.

    I did negotiate one deal with a Korean company that required a signing ceremony. I went to Seoul with the company president and the signing was much as you described in China. I was warned and took gifts with me that were appropriate. You might say my job was to carry the bags and to make sure that the correct gifts went to the correct people. It was quite a ceremony with flags, special pens, and speeches.

  2. Your dispatches are so detailed, you write so that we, the readers, can imagine exactly what's going on. Just curious - do you keep a journal that you refer to when writing your dispatches?


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