THE FOUR SEASONS AND JAPAN

I am a Starwoods guy. Whenever I can, our family stays in their hotels because that is where I stay on business. A friend coached me when I first came out of university – pick a hotel chain and stick with it – that is how he gets a free week in Maui every year.

That qualifying statement complete, the Four Seasons is impressive. We stayed at the Four Seasons in Cairo years ago and it is one of the best hotel we have ever stayed at. The view helped.

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Recently we were speaking with someone who had managed the restaurant at the Four Seasons in Tokyo. We were discussing the Japanese culture, creativity and education. He provided the following insight (paraphrased from memory):

It was a real challenge at the restaurant because our staff struggled with the westerners. At a Four Seasons it is very common for the guest to not order off the menu. They expect to order what they want and have us prepare it.

This is very different than the Japanese clients. I cannot remember any Japanese client every asking to order outside the menu. It just isn’t how they think and our servers really struggled with dealing with the custom ordering.

It just isn’t how the Japanese were taught to think and as the world continues to change, I wonder as to what will be required out of the Japanese education system, is it being altered to deal with change? (I believe the answer is no). We all need a good dose of Finnish education.

EGYPT PART III: PYRAMID, SPHINX & THE EGYPTIAN MUSEUM

After the pyramids and the surrounding areas, including a quick view of the pyramid of the son Khafre, we jumped in the car and headed to a plateau called ‘the panorama’ – for obvious reasons.

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The individuals provide a sense of magnitude ….

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We drove here for a specific purpose, a camel ride. The cost was 50 L.E. each  (£10 or $20USD). It lasts for 20 minutes and gives you a great view of the pyramids. Plus, riding a camel is pretty cool. What is amazing about these camels is the noise, they bellow and grunt at a volume that can be a bit startling.

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While looking through the pictures I noticed that a twister formed and crossed the picture frames in about 10 seconds while the guide was taking our family photo. The first picture shows it starting, the second shows it over my right shoulder (hard to see). By my estimate, it is 200M high – as it is much higher than the pyramid …. cool.

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The camel camp.

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Our last stop (and it was getting time .. the 40 degrees was starting to take a toll) was the Great Sphinx. The history of the Sphinx is interesting. Many of the Egyptian statues were defaced over time by men, the ultimate insult being the removal of the nose. The head of the Sphinx was used for target practice for Napoleon’s cannons:

The one-metre-wide nose on the face is missing. Some legends claim that the nose was broken off by a cannon ball fired by Napoléon’s soldiers and that it still survives, as do diverse variants indicting British troops, Mamluks, and others. However, sketches of the Sphinx by Dane Frederick Lewis Norden made in 1737 and published in 1755 illustrate the Sphinx without a nose. The Egyptian historian al-Maqrizi, writing in the fifteenth century, attributes the vandalism to Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr, a Sufi fanatic from the khanqahof Sa’id al-Su’ada. In 1378, upon finding the Egyptian peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of increasing their harvest, Sa’im al-Dahr was so outraged that he destroyed the nose, and was hanged for vandalism. Al-Maqrizi describes the Sphinx as the “Nile talisman” on which the locals believed the cycle of inundation depended.

In addition to the lost nose, a ceremonial pharaonic beard is thought to have been attached, although this may have been added in later periods after the original construction. Egyptologist Rainer Stadelmann has posited that the rounded divine beard may not have existed in the Old or Middle Kingdoms, only being conceived of in the New Kingdom to identify the Sphinx with the god Horemakhet (citation needed-see ref.11&12). This may also relate to the later fashion of pharaohs, which was to wear a plaited beard of authority—a false beard (chin straps are actually visible on some statues), since Egyptian culture mandated that men be clean shaven. Pieces of this beard are today kept in the British Museum and the Egyptian Museum.

The last removal of sand was 1926 as the desert keeps covering up the Sphinx. The most natural state of the Sphinx is the body covered with only the head showing. Restoration continues ….

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I wonder who is buried in the tomb beside the Sphinx?

The next day we went to the Egyptian museum, but they won’t let you take pictures and are really tight on security. The benefit of the tour guide became apparent again as he took us from exhibit to exhibit. The most interesting were:

  • The mummies. Standing over the exhibit, looking at 3000 year old mummies – seeing remnants of their hair and features is amazing. I was struck by an odd thought while I looked on – imagine how distraught these ‘mighty men’ would be if they knew that millions of people walked by the remnants of their once mighty corpses every day. Not what they envisioned, I am sure.
  • King Tut:The only tomb that was never raided from a minor boy Pharaoh, it is the least impressive of all of the tombs but the only one to yield it’s treasures. To see those treasures makes you realize just how much has been lost to tomb raiders. The collection is amazing, one can only imagine what was in a major Pharaoh’s tomb ….
  • Of interest, there are 120,000 pieces of history on display and another 150,000 stored away. Unbelievable.

Of course, I may have snuck in a picture or two (without aiming so I would not draw attention):

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A great start – but only the start.

EGYPT PART II: THE PYRAMIDS

Our first 2 days in Egypt were in Cairo. It is a mad city – 27M people, crazy traffic, people hanging off buses, 20 year old cars belching out smoke. People often call Cairo dirty, I found it fascinating. Everywhere you turned you saw a different sight whether it was ultra wealth or ultra poverty.

We stayed in the Four Seasons right beside the zoo, which was a tactical mistake. It was my first time experiencing a Four Seasons and to say that I was blown away would be an understatement. The service was out of this world. Coincidentally, the week before I had Richard Abraham speak to my broad team about relationship selling and he referenced the Four Seasons as the penultimate in service – I have to agree. The problem … every hotel was disappointing in comparison.

The view of the Nile from the hotel.

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The Cairo skyline from the balcony, overlooking the zoo.

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The first day was the Pyramids of Giza. How do you describe this experience? Words like awesome, mind boggling, breathtaking seem to trivialize the experience. Simply put, you stand at the bottom of the tomb of Khufu and look up and you hear the facts – 4,000 years old, the highest standing building in the world for 3800 years (Lincoln Cathedral in London replaced it some time in the 1300s), each stone is approximately 2.5 tonnes, there are a little over 2M of these stones and it is just beyond comprehension. Consider these engineering details:

The accuracy of the pyramid’s workmanship is such that the four sides of the base have a mean error of only 58 mm in length, and 1 minute in angle from a perfect square. The base is horizontal and flat to within 15 mm. The sides of the square are closely aligned to the four cardinal compass points to within 3 minutes of arc and is based not on magnetic north, but true north. The design dimensions, as confirmed by Petrie’s survey and all those following this, are assumed to have been 280 cubits in height by 4×440 cubits around originally, and as these proportions equate to 2 x Pi to an accuracy of better than 0.05%, this was and is considered to have been the deliberate design proportion by Petrie, I. E. S. Edwards, and Miroslav Verner. Verner wrote "We can conclude that although the ancient Egyptians could not precisely define the value of pi, in practise they used it".[7]

The magnitude of effort when they had no form of mechanical support is unfathomable. Early theories on the use of slave labour have now been overturned and the current labour beliefs, based on archaeological study, are quite interesting:

In addition to the many theories as to the techniques involved, there are also disagreements as to the kind of workforce that was used. One theory, suggested by the Greeks, posits that slaves were forced to work until the pyramid was done. This theory is no longer accepted in the modern era, however. Archaeologists believe that the Great Pyramid was built by tens of thousands of skilled workers who camped near the pyramids and worked for a salary or as a form of paying taxes until the construction was completed. The worker’s cemeteries were discovered in 1990 by archaeologists Zahi Hawass and Mark Lehner. Verner posited that the labor was organized into a hierarchy, consisting of two gangs of 100,000 men, divided into five zaa or phyle of 20,000 men each, which may have been further divided according to the skills of the workers.[8]

The site is huge. You start the journey at the ticket office ….

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It is very steep, people are no longer allowed to climb it (I wouldn’t anyway!). When you stand at the bottom and look up, this is what you see (the woman provides perspective on angle and size of blocks):

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I did a lot of this – simply staring. Oh yes, I looked the tourist part (LOL)

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You can take a gander into the pyramid and we did climb into the entry point but did not wait (it was not open yet). Of interest, it was HOT. It hit 38 degrees that day so we had to remain well hydrated. There are vendors moving around – a bottle of water is usually 5 L.E. (Egyptian pounds) which is around £0.50 or $1 USD – finally a country that does not rip you off. Go to a museum in the UK and you can pay up to £4.

We moved around the side of the pyramid and were greeted by the camel owners trying to sell us a ride (our guide took us past these guys). They did everything they could to try and convince us to take a picture of their camel for only $1USD.

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You have a great view of Cairo. Amazing, I never saw a single cloud in Cairo or Luxor.

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We moved around the pyramid to the Eastern Cemetery and the tomb of Queen Hetepheres.  Our first stop was to enter into the tomb of the builder where no photos were allowed. It is important to note, if you want to take a photo or two – simply have a few USD with you. We saw our first hieroglyphics here. Standing outside his tomb you can see the 2nd pyramid which still has portions of the lime cover in place:

At completion, the Great Pyramid was surfaced by white ‘casing stones’ – slant-faced, but flat-topped, blocks of highly polished white limestone. Visibly all that remains is the underlying step-pyramid core structure seen today. In AD 1301, a massive earthquake loosened many of the outer casing stones, which were then carted away by Bahri Sultan An-Nasir Nasir-ad-Din al-Hasan in 1356 in order to build mosques and fortresses in nearby Cairo. The stones can still be seen as parts of these structures to this day. Later explorers reported massive piles of rubble at the base of the pyramids left over from the continuing collapse of the casing stones which were subsequently cleared away during continuing excavations of the site. Nevertheless, many of the casing stones around the base of the Great Pyramid can be seen to this day in situ displaying the same workmanship and precision as has been reported for centuries. Petrie also found a different orientation in the core and in the casing measuring 193 cm ± 25 cm. He suggested a redetermination of north was made after the construction of the core, but a mistake was made, and the casing was built with a different orientation.[5]

When the pyramids were first finished, one has to wonder – how did the limestone shine in that 40 degree sun? It must have been brilliant.

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A single standing column in the ruins.

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A view of the ruins in the eastern cemetery.

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We carried on to the Queens tomb which was VERY deep. The below shows how steep the climb was, but the tomb itself was unremarkable with no noticeable markings.

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So ends this entry … The Sphinx and our camel tour came next.

EGYPT PART 2: CAIRO SUNSET

Our hotel in Cairo looked out over the zoo and toward the pyramid. In the evening, this was our view at sunset. Breathtaking … I wonder if the Egyptians look out and see just another skyline ….

Pyramid at sunset

Sunset on Cairo

EGYPT PART 1: MY BROAD IMPRESSIONS

I have talked with many people about how my transition from Canada to the UK changed my view in many ways. The first change being my definition of old. In Canada I thought that our house was old – a 110 year old Victorian. When I came to the UK that changed dramatically as one of my first experiences in a pub was The Bull in Sonning built in the 1400s.

Over the last few weeks our family went on an 11 day trip to Egypt which changed my definition of old and expanded this simple Canadian’s view of the world dramatically.

The trip had 3 stages, a few days in Cairo (pyramids), a few days in Luxor (temples & tombs) and then 6 days on the beach in Sharm el-Sheikh relaxing. Over the week as I dig through the videos and pictures I will blog on each adventure, but thought to start with my impressions of Egypt:

1. Safety:  It was one of the first things that came up in conversation – is it safe? You have the terrorists who are from the region, the 1997 Luxor massacre of tourists and a lot of poverty which leads to crime as people do what they can to survive.

The first thing you notice when you land in Egypt is the armed presence. The military is not as prevalent as in other counties (most notable in Cuba) but the police are everywhere and heavily armed (the below was a common sight).

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Guards at the pyramids (They must have been hot, it was 40C that day).

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The end verdict? It is safe, probably one of the safest in the region. But you also need to be smart.

2. The people: The second thing that we noticed was how the people treated us. In all of our travels, the Egyptian people are the most tourist friendly we have ever encountered. In many of the conversations we had, there seemed to be a genuine appreciation of the tourist and the economy that they have created within Egypt. It has taken Egypt a long time to recover their tourist business and it is clear, they are working hard to protect it.

If you read the Luxor massacre story, the most interesting thing is that the Islamic terrorists turned the Egyptian public opinion against them after the event – and it is clear that the Egyptian government has used that opportunity to rebuild the tourism business and create an air of safety.

In conversation and in the newspaper, public opinion against the Islamic terrorists and the negative impact that they have had on the view of Muslims was a hot topic. After all, the Islamic law is that if you have a guest come to you (even if he is your enemy), you must shelter him.

Which brings up another topic – family. Both of our tour guides still lived with their extended family. One lived on the bottom floor of the house with his mother and sister (his dad had passed away). His brother lived with his wife on the second floor and the third floor was where they kept the pig and chickens. The family ties remain very strong in Egypt, I would imagine in part due to economic reasons and in part due to culture (the concept of the village bonding together to help each other).

3. BIG TIP – our tour guide: One brilliant thing that we did on the trip was pre-book all of our tourist events with a local company. Instead of doing the ‘mass tour’ thing where you get on a bus with you and 50 of your closest friends, we booked a private tour guide, driver and private car (usually a minivan). Four days and personalized airport pickup and delivery cost us about £550 for the trip. This made ALL the difference. The tour guide personalized every single outing (when we wanted to start, where we went) and helped us avoid the crowds and do things that others would not have done. For example, when in Luxor the guide said ‘We need to start at 730 am to beat the heat and crowds’. No thanks, we did not come on vacation to get up early. So, we started at 830 am. We did hit a hot time of the day but just took it slower and had more breaks in the shade … which the guide accommodated without issue.

The second biggest benefit was the experience at each site. Unlike the tour groups where the ‘pack’ listened with little interaction because of the unwieldy size, our tours were a dialogue where we asked questions, discussed and gained real insight. Turns out that to be a certified Egyptian tour guide you need to go through 3 years of University training on history, hieroglyphics, etc. They were VERY knowledgeable.

I cannot recommend this route highly enough, we did it through Carrier. Worth every single penny on a tour of a lifetime – it made the trip.

4. Side topic – the police: One last note on the police. In a conversation with our guide, he talked about the police and how the people respect them deeply. However, corruption does happen for one simple reason – income. These guys make nothing. To put it all into perspective, an Egyptian dentist makes $63 per month on average. So the tour guides were constantly tipping the police with one simple point – you can call it corruption but they called it doing the right thing. They provide a valuable service and are not adequately taken care of so the tour guides do what they can.

5. The hot topics in Egypt: Each day I read the Egyptian Gazette. It was a fascinating insight into the culture and what is going on in Egypt. It was also an interesting study in cultural differences. In the western world we are worried about housing prices and the stock market. In Egypt, the big election topic is the wheat and bread shortage. It definitely puts life into perspective – many people in Egypt are still at the survival stage. While I was there, a few interesting articles that caught my attention:

  • Dentists demand higher pay:  the starting monthly salary for a dentist is $23USD per month.
  • Donkey butcher caught red handed:From their web site: Are we heading towards a total moral disaster? The other day a butcher was found selling dead donkeys to restaurants and individual consumers after chopping them into minced meat, adding spices to hide the rotten smell.  (We only ate at places recommended by our guide!)
  • Bread crisis highlights income gap: More than 20 percent of Egypt’s 76M live below the poverty line according to the UN. In the markets, unsubsidised bread sells for more than 10X the subsidized price (sub $0.01 USD) and clashes began to break out due to long lines and waits (One man was killed in a fight). This quote was particularly poignant:  ‘Our life has become miserable’ said one worker … he said he and his coworkers can’t afford unsubsidised bread ‘or any food to eat with it’. The army had been called in to distribute bread and use their bakeries to improve bread output.

6. Infrastructure: This is a country of polarity. On one hand you have magnificent hotels and areas of strong infrastructure development (business communications capability, office buildings, modern shops) and then down the street you have abject poverty and feel like you are driving through 1820 where the people are riding donkeys, are without sewage and living in dilapidated apartment buildings. In no other place is this more obvious than in Cairo – a city of 27M with a huge gap between the haves and have nots. On our way to the pyramids, we drove through a poor part of town and it really did look like the 1800s. A few pictures below …

An open ditch in the city.

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A view of the apartments from the highway.

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An alley in the slum.

Alley in a poor part of Cairo

On the ‘other side’ of the Nile.

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The clash of old and new, the 700 year old Cairo aqueduct through old Cairo bordered by the slum.

Aquaduct in Cairo

The mode of transport for many in a city of 27M.

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It is a different world, so far away from how we live today in our clean homes, with Internet, lots of food, stores around us and 5 computers. A world away … be thankful. I also ran through a lot of cash in tips – I tipped everyone, frequently. It is the least we can do.

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