Written May 1, 2001, the day before the trip.

The past days have been dizzying, to say the least. Along with attending to the myriad details necessary for leaving my home and office for 5 weeks abroad, I've been in daily contact with a variety of people and agencies in Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo and Australia in the search for official story and interview approval. At times, it's seemed like the trail of red tape would prove endless, plus searching websites, sending faxes and emails, having individual and conference calls, then getting it all entered into my laptop to maximize my ability to keep it all straight.

To add to the above, I was informed that, in the Asian countries, especially, there is a custom of gift-giving to deal with. For a proper introduction, customary procedure is to provide a small gift to those who one meets for the first time. Toward this end, I've been investigating what types of gifts would be appropriate.

These gifts are not to be confused with bribes but, rather, are a tangible way of exchanging thanks and recognition of the pleasure of meeting. I have been advised that these should be something that's not too expensive, more of a trinket-type item. This is, apparently, especially true in Japan where, I'm told, the host will be providing me with a gift, as well, and it's important that their gift be seen as the more expensive one. Best are items considered thoughtful, rather than cursory or extravagant, and they also need to be something with a good chance of getting through customs when I cross the borders. And, since my first stop will be in the heat of Hong Kong, where it's been in the 90's recently, it can't be something that I'm told is 'a natural' -- American chocolate -- since it will melt on the trip from my hotel to the recipient.

There have been so many details to wrap up that I've been wondering how people armed with mere pieces of paper, rather than a database, could ever keep track of it all. Even with the help of a computer, it's felt like my brain might overload before I can get onto the plane and finally relax for the first time in days.

Not that I'm complaining.

Courtesy of Schwarze Industries' (now former) president, Mark Schwarze, I've been offered the opportunity of a lifetime to check out sweeping in some very interesting parts of the world, places I've never before had a chance to visit. The schedule calls for a stop of between 4 and 6 days at each of Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo. Then, on to Sydney and Brisbane before taking a few days of personal R & R in the outback of Australia and, perhaps, Bali.

The goal: to learn more about how power sweeping is done in other parts of the world, then sharing the information with our readers. After a decade of covering the sweeping industry, I feel I'm a veteran at searching out sweeping stories. However, unlike in the U.S., where all it takes is a phone call or two in order to set up an interview, I'd learned I was in for a whole new ballgame.

First, for each country, there has been the challenge of finding the correct agency to ask first, so as to remain politically correct. Plus, unlike in the U.S., no one has ever seen an American Sweeper magazine, although the website, which I founded, has helped to establish my credentials.

Then, it's been a matter of getting the contact to agree to track down someone appropriate to interview and, then getting that contact to agree to meet with me. Gaining the requisite official blessings is the final step. As an example, you can take a look at how the Hong Kong contacts went.

I invite you to keep checking back to our website for updates on what I discover about sweeping in these foreign lands. It's sure to provide some interesting insights and, I'm sure, more than a few surprises.

And Now:

Day 1

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