Sunday, March 11, 2012

Seeds of Values for an Economic Harvest

I’m six months into my Korea experience and soon coming upon the anniversary of eight years living in Asia. Today is my birthday, which seems to come around so much more frequently than I remember as a child. Birthdays always provide a time for introspection: How far we’ve come, what we’ve experienced, encounters with those who have shaped who we have become. I don’t know where the time has gone but I do feel like I’ve packed a lot of living into these last eight years. So what have I learned?

I think what grabs me right off the bat is that no matter how far we spread our wings and fly from the nesting place of our origins, we still carry with us those essential elements and values of our formative years. I remember visiting China and asking my girlfriend how many people lived in her hometown. She almost apologized and said that her city was not very big, and only had a population of 8 Million people! After picking my jaw up off the ground, I laughed and told her that my hometown growing up had around 18,000 people. She teased me and said I must have grown up in a village.

I guess she was right yet that village became the nutrient rich beginnings that spurred my curiosity, passions, and carved out attributes that have served me well as I ventured out into the world. I am a small town boy at heart. My chest bows with pride whenever my iPod lands on John Cougar Mellencamp’s "Small Town". Even though while growing up my hometown was in the suburbs of a moderately sized city, I would spend my summers visiting my grandparents in rural central Oregon nearby the town of Maupin where the state road sign announced the town's population at just over 400. Summertime always equaled wheat harvest time and I idolized the farmers who toiled in the fields to bring in the bushels of grain by the truck load from sun up to sunset. When these lean, chiseled, and earth-wise men would invite me to join them on their combine, swather, or grain truck, I’d jump at the chance to spend those hot dusty days with them. I found all of these men to be the strong silent types. They led with their actions, not their words, and they garnered respect from within the community because they were pillars of that very same community, as opposed to measuring their worth by the sheer number of dollar signs in their bank account. Looking back now, I feel honored that my first heroes were not billionaires, rock stars, or celebrities but rather instead the gentleman farmer.

Asia’s economic roots, like the US, are based upon the foundation of an agrarian society. Over the last eight years I’ve born witness to the extreme transition of many of these populations from agriculture to urban domains. As the former President of China, Deng Xiaoping, famously said to unofficially welcome capitalistic aspects into both the economic and social fabrics of China, “To become rich is glorious”. Those words echoed like a starting pistol in a 100 meter track & field sprint, as 1.3 Billion people set off to find their own glory for themselves and their families. China gets all the attention, due to its massive population, but other nations such as India, Vietnam, and Indonesia, aspire to join not only the Asian economic tigers of Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore but also their mature market counterparts in the West. The rate of progress and economic growth is palpable each time I visit these places. I feel so excited to experience this time in our economic and social history on-the-ground with my own eyes. Yet I worry that the perceived success of others becomes a dangerous distraction back on home shores.

Americans often get criticized for being insular and inwardly focused on themselves. It is hard on one hand to have a global perspective and yet at the same time focused on constructing solutions to the problem sets that exist at home. I’m here to say, like it or not, Americans must do both. Economic growth is not a zero sum game; meaning that if someone else is “winning” then we must be “losing”. Recent opinion polls in the US have Americans voicing their common perception that China is economically stronger than the US and that we are losing valuable manufacturing jobs to them at an alarming rate. This shows a disconnect with facts that show that the US economy is 8 times larger than that of China and that our manufacturing, at the high end of the value chain, still dwarfs that of any other industrialized nation. So why the disconnect of perception with reality? Is it envy, lack of understanding, or a clouded vision of where the US needs to go next? I’d say it is a combination of all of these.

First off, competition is a fantastic thing. I live in Korea, and absolutely nothing gets Korean business more fired up and focused then when they have a chance to stick it to neighboring Japan (economically of course). A strong Japan makes for a strong Korea. I am here to say that a strong China, or any other emerging market nation, will bring out the strength and pent-up capabilities of the US. That doesn’t mean the US can be blinded by historical accomplishments of the past, but what it does mean is that there is inherent value in focusing in on our strengths which include our higher education system, access to venture capital, protection for intellectual property, and yes even our often forgotten sense of pulling together as a common union. These factors must combine finally with our own “secret sauce”, and I am here to tell you what that is after eight years of living in Asia. The one thing, above all else, that America has as an advantage over many other nations is this: We Are Not Afraid to Fail.

There is a paralyzing fear of failure across the general population in Asia. Although entrepreneurs buck this trend in any country, the vast majority are socially bound to keep their heads down and avoid risk at all costs. This attitude is instilled from the short evolution of economic success amongst Asian nations and how short a period of time they have journeyed from poverty to prosperity within just one or two generations. My co-workers’ parents grew up with extreme poverty and even hunger. When this economic memory is so near the surface of one’s recollection, it causes people to be cautious and worried that despair could be right around the corner. Minimizing risk therefore takes precedence over betting the company (or your personal savings) on new ideas.

Americans on the other hand, for better or worse, have a horrible short-term memory. When things are good, we forget the lessons learned when things were bad. Conversely, when things are bad, we often forget the competencies that laid the foundations for success and that challenges are merely temporary conditions of our collective psyche. Our resilience comes when we finally remember that a great America never lets past failures encumber its creativity or dreams. Unlike the rest of the world, we celebrate and even embrace risk. We love the modern entrepreneur’s motto of “It’s ok to fail but do so quickly”. What I have observed is that our core strength relative to other nations, and the one that will lead us onwards to greater growth and innovation, is our unabashed belief that failure is a natural and inherent progression towards achieving eventual success.

To return home to the ideals of the Gentleman Farmer could illuminate the path to get us back on-track. He knows that working alongside Mother Nature always presents risks and unknowns, yet he never waivers or turns away in his belief that to get to a bumper crop there will be droughts along the way. He celebrates, rather than dwells upon, the success of a neighbor. He works hard, gets creative, and leverages the tools at his disposal. Most of all, he lets actions speak louder than his words.

The sun’s coming up upon a new economic day. From what I have witnessed and observed over the last 8 years, it’s time to wake up and recall the rush of adrenaline when we stare risk in the eye, feel the inspiring warmth of creativity fall across our face, go get our boots on, and grab our tool box as we head out for those bountiful fields of opportunity. It’s now harvest time once again!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Where to Next?

My time in Singapore is drawing to a close. 7 years, 2 months, and 12 days have passed since I touched down as a curious and optimistic foreigner anxious to see and do as much as possible so as to truly know and understand my surroundings. So much has transpired during this time. It shocks me to think that time has gone by so quickly, yet I can stand back proudly and say that my time in Singapore has been well-lived. I leave this island nation having earned it's approval to be a permanent resident in 2006 and was deeply honored when the nation offered me citizenship just two years later. I respectfully turned down the offer and maintain my US citizenship, however the thought does rekindle every April 15th each year when tax filings are due in the US.

Singapore for me, has always been the place where my goals were realized. My goal, clear back in 2000, was to live and work in Asia. It took a while and several twisting pathways to make that goal happen. When it did happen, it was Singapore that was my entry point and foundational rock within this fascinating part of the world. The dilemma one faces when accomplishing a major goal however, is to ask... What's next?

I was faced with just such a question posed to me by a Japanese economics student who was a pupil of my good friend from college days. Ibuki, who after all his rambunctious episodes when we were both friends in college at Oregon State, is now an esteemed professor of economics at one of Japan's top universities. He had asked me to present to his class on the path I had taken in my career and to give advice to his students. It was after hearing my presentation on the importance of goal setting when the female student raised her hand and asked me that since I had accomplished my major goal of living and working in Asia, what was my next goal? It was something I had silently dwelt upon numerous times but now here was someone calling me out on it.

When you are tracking down your goals, it can all become a blur. In our personal ambition we sometimes fly right over the top of goals after accomplishing them without dialing back in to re-set our coordinates for the next journey. I must admit that I have been operating in this cloudy haze for a while and the student's question shook me back to life. If anything, 2011 has thus far been a year of re-connecting with people who are both important to me and who have inspired me. I have used these moments this year to re-evaluate my goals and to set a new course.

My new journey takes me to Korea. Although the location may be different, the new-found importance of focusing on personal life and the relationships I hold dear will remain my new priority and goal. Life is not one-sided with just work alone. As I look forward to Korea, I also tip my hat in kind admiration to my adoptive home of Singapore. This place has seen me triumph, it has seen me fail, and it has seen me rise up again. The lessons learned here will be with me forever. Although I am leaving, I know deep down it is not a Farewell but rather a See You Soon.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Thanks Coach Valentine

Dear Coach,

I really wanted to join the masses that have gathered to celebrate your accomplished and inspiring coaching career in-person today but nowadays I am living in Singapore and even though I sincerely wanted to be there with you to celebrate, traveling half-way around the world can sometimes have its challenges. I have instead sent along my Dad as a trusted representative and have asked him to pass this letter onto you.

First of all, Congratulations on managing the clock and playing all four quarters of your coaching career with the kind of intensity, passion, commitment, and focus in the same way that you always asked of us as players. I feel very fortunate that I was able to play on your team during one of these important quarters of your career. Your time at West Linn High School was no easy one to step into I am sure. Continuing the successful traditions of Ernie McKey and Larry Doty while carving out your own coaching identity would be a challenge. I guess in a way, you and I were both “Freshman” entering West Linn High School and starting from the beginning that year.

You immediately set the tone and established your own brand of basketball at West Linn. Other teams we faced may have been taller, faster, or more athletic but they would never come up against a team that worked harder at maximizing their potential and using the skills at their disposal than a team coached by you from West Linn. Today, a lot of TV sports analysts talk about “Basketball IQ” and how players with this ability can see the game clearly and think one to two plays ahead of the action. These analysts should have stepped into your practices Coach because this was always a critical element of your style. We always ran game scenarios in practice so we knew what to do in given situations and how to respond and execute.

Along with being prepared and knowing how and when to respond in given situations, you were also a stringent proponent of fundamentals. The building blocks of any action on the court was always begun with the pursuit of refining and perfecting fundamentals in practice. No one probably liked being down in a defensive stance until our quads were about ready to explode but we did it to make us better and stronger in games and to allow us to play aggressive defense all four quarters in a manner that would tire out and frustrate our opponents. Your elevation of fundamentals, the importance you placed upon them, and the acknowledgment and recognition you would give to those of us that executed them helped us draw that important connection of how ones goes about building success.

A lasting component of your coaching was the emphasis placed on Teamwork. Everyone had a role to play and everyone worked selflessly to make each other better. I can honestly say Coach that I’ve never had a richer team experience or one where I felt as close to my teammates as I did with our team that played for the State Championship in 1990. We were melded as a true team out of the cauldron of adversity and strife that threatened to rip us apart earlier in the year. Most coaches could have easily gave up, began looking towards the next year, and written off the existing season. But you refused to give up on that team and in response, we refused to give up on each other. You composed for all of us an Affirmation that we read at the end of each practice, right before we took the court, and after the final horn had sounded. These words crafted by you gave us confidence, clear vision, and the blueprint for how we would go out and succeed together... And we did, game after game, sub-tournament game after sub-tournament game, playoff game after playoff game, disposing of top ranked teams all along the way. No one expected us to have come that far... except for you and all of us on that team. We proved to our opponents, and to the growing crowds that had come to watch this un-ranked team that was knocking off state powerhouses night after night, that we belonged. Again, through teamwork and the trust and confidence it produces, we maximized our potential and could hold our heads high having competed and succeeded at the highest level in the State.

Great coaches and great people transcend their existing professions and focus areas and have impacts in much larger spheres of influence. Coach, it is obvious that you have impacted me along with the other players you have had over the years because you not only developed us to maximize our potential on the basketball court but you also emphasized and worked with us to grow and become better men off the court as well. I will never forget your pleased and satisfied expression when you told a group assembly gathering that our team had the highest GPA and more people on the academic honor roll than any other sport at school. Kids in the audience were wondering why you started off your speech talking about academic performance rather than how successful we had been that year in the playoffs. You took the concept of Student-Athlete extremely serious and you made this a priority for all of us.

We have all learned valuable life skills from our playing days with you as our coach. For me, you role modeled integrity, preparedness, strength through unity, and never giving up against even the greatest of odds. These are absolutely the skills that I used on the court yet they are also the very same skills I use in my profession and in my personal life as well. You’ve profoundly shaped the person that I am today Coach and for that I just wanted to say Thank You!

Even after retirement from coaching, there will surely be an “over time” in the next phase of your life and career. I know you will make the most of this period, will relish in its challenges and opportunities, and help to make others better along the way. This is what coaches do you know. And you will forever remain our Coach!

Congratulations Coach and all the best!


Saturday, May 01, 2010

One Great Guy

Having lived in Singapore for almost six years now, I've come to accept that this place can at times be a revolving door for tourists, co-workers, Expats, and at times even close friends. Good friends, no matter where you live, are often times hard to come by and because they can be rare they are also cherished. It never gets easier to see good friends move away but it generally means there is one heck of a good Farewell Party to be thrown before that final departure. Last night we celebrated one of these rare and precious friendships for a person that has made my days in Singapore memorable, rich, and filled with fun at every turn.

I first met my friend Guy here in Singapore where we were respective business partners from two of Silicon Valley's most well known companies. He was a California Kid from the onset, full of enthusiasm and energy, and like me he had just moved to Singapore. We soon transitioned that formal business relationship into something that wasn't so buttoned down as Guy welcomed and introduced me into a network of like-minded people who shared our professional background but also that zest and interest in all things unique, special, and fun. It was thanks to Guy, and this network of free thinkers and spirits, that helped me get my social feet under me initially in Singapore. Last night this cast once again gathered to send one of it's own, it's energy source and guiding light, back home to San Francisco where exciting new challenges and opportunities await.

If you're ever out with Guy, you know that you better bring some great tunes along because music is the metronome from where he draws his seemingly unlimited energy. Whether it is re-creating Burning Man on the beaches of Bintan or ringing in his recent 40th birthday in Bali, pumping beats and hypnotic melodies are a steady constant. His Farewell Party was no different. Guy's good friend, and musical soul mate Doug, is an accomplished DJ who just happens to moonlight during daylight hours as an executive to one of the world's fastest growing software companies. Doug put together some great beats at the party and had people moving to the wee hours.

Saying goodbye to a friend is tough, especially one that I so closely relate to my many fun days here in Singapore. But leave it to Guy to make even his own departure something to look forward to with anticipation. You see, today's world is a much smaller place and we all left the party knowing that this would not be the last time we would see each other. The meant-to-be twist to Guy's leaving is that he is headed back to the Bay Area to start a new career with Facebook, where he will surely tap into his passion for creating life-impacting social events and networks into tools that we all will use someday soon. I'm going to miss him but I am thankful for our friendship and the incredible times we've shared. I look forward to keeping in touch and seeing how one person's boundless passions for connecting good people to good times will impact us all. Go Get 'Em Guy!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Birthday Blogging

Birthdays come around a lot faster than they used to. Games of Pin The Tail on the Donkey and richly frosted chocolate cake with brightly lit candles have transformed into pitchers of margaritas and deep fried Mexican chimichangas. Racing around the back yard chasing childhood friends in a sweaty game of Tag has turned into running around the office chasing down the latest sales update figures to include in the "ump-teenth" revision of the upcoming big presentation. Adding a new action figure to your G.I. Joe collection back then seemed so much more meaningful than the act of adding another virtual friend, who you've never actually met, to your Facebook page today.

Am I sounding reminiscent? Hey, I've got the right. I just had a birthday! Birthdays give us that time to pause and take stock in wondering where in the heck another year went. I was just getting used to the two digits that made up my age before my birthday and now I've got to change it once again to the next click on the odometer of life. Age doesn't bother me really. I am still young and I refuse to bend to chronology. I am in better shape now than I was 10 years ago (last week I did 8 one-arm push ups... Jack Palance, you are my inspiration).

In November last year, I accepted a major promotion and moved onto a new company after spending 9 fantastic years, having worked on three different continents, with my previous employer. The decision to move was no easy one to make and I didn't take it lightly. No matter what my age says about me, inside I am still that kid who likes to discover new things and challenge himself. And because of that youthful quest that never wanes, I took up the challenge to do something totally unproven and untested with a new organization that sought me out for my experience, perspective, and leadership. The stage has now been set and the curtain has just now risen on this new act but there is no doubt that I will learn a tremendous amount from this experience, and probably even more about myself.

The act of getting presents has changed since childhood as well. Back then, your parents were the source of your toy supply. Today, we are usually the ones that buy the bigger toys for ourselves. Many have said that the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. I would have to agree with that adage since recently I just bought myself a set of golf clubs. I must admit that I bought these clubs under complete duress. I was told in a staff meeting by my boss that I needed to learn the game of golf and that my first action was to go out and buy the best clubs I could find. This was not a joke and after this mandate was re-told by my boss several times in front of both fellow peers and customers, I decided I best hurry up and begin channeling my inner Ben Hogan. Now, I am no newbie to swinging a club but I've never actually had a formal lesson on the game in my life. I cut my teeth on the sport as a teenager taking up divots at the local Muni course wearing shorts with holes in them and ratty tennis shoes. In Asia, golf is something much more serious and is played for business and relationship building. Needless to say my credit card was put into overdrive to outfit myself last weekend with new irons, putter, bag, glove, and shoes. I've now appropriately achieved the Singaporean act of looking like I know what I am doing by outfitting myself in the latest gear. Time and much practice will tell the tale on whether I can actually deliver on the looks with real performance on the fairways. F-O-R-E !!!!

Although the activities, the presents, and even the food and drink that surrounds the act of marking another year of life are different today, you can't stop birthdays from happening and I don't think I would ever want to. Birthdays still provide that oh so brief reflective moment to see where we've been and maybe even that inspiration to guide us on where we may be headed next.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Chance to Inspire

I recently concluded a month-long sabbatical which allowed me to completely disconnect from the day-to-day grind of work. This precious time away, which was five years in the making, also provided a rare opportunity to slow down, take stock in what I truly value, and reacquaint myself with the good people in my life that have helped shape who I am today. There is no doubt about it, and I would be the first to admit, that I am truly fortunate in the places that I get to visit and the people, culture, and customs that I am able to observe and learn about. But this sabbatical was not about traipsing off to some distant foreign land, but rather it was about the act of coming home and reaffirming the roots that are so important to me and from which I take great pride and inspiration.

Over the years, I've certainly benefited from the many teachers, classmates, coaches, teammates, colleagues, and friends that I have rubbed shoulders with and who have pushed and inspired me. Yet I often wonder about the younger generation back in my home country. Who is inspiring them, who is moving the bar higher, who is opening their eyes to the broader world which we all now share and are directly tied to more than ever before? I seriously worry about the capacity and capability of my country to maintain and grow the prosperity that has been so dutifully cobbled together by the hard work, industriousness, creativity, and tenacity of America's earlier generations. I am not necessarily picking on today's young Americans but rather I am directly targeting the specific conditions that erode any nation's aspirations for greatness, which are Complacency, Entitlement, & Self Absorption.

When did "good enough" ever stir the passions of an organization, an industry, or a nation? The answer is never. Market forces reward the innovator and value creator and in turn punish the bloated and conceited. You can debate the appropriateness of the financial bail-out for two of America's most storied auto companies, but how many wake-up calls does a person, an organization, or an industry deserve in order to get the message? These companies have been here before in the early 80s when Japan was kicking their Detroit posteriors. What was learned from that experience? Fast forward 20 years later and they continue to crank out cars that neither inspire us to dream nor meet or exceed the new benchmarks established by the competition.

When did it become a Right for your kids to live better than you did? The answer is never. Improvements, progress, and prosperity are earned; not paid for on financial lay-away plans or horrific IOUs. We do nothing positive by placating to our kids' never-ending Want List. Our children are reflections of what they themselves see around them, and right now they see their parents and their country strapped with debt in an attempt to provide the American Dream for every man, woman, and child. The point is that the American Dream has never been about amassing "things" or providing a certain level of living standard. Instead, it has always been about taking bold chances and maximizing the unique opportunities that exist here to fulfill aspirations that are backed up by hard work, creativity, and innovativeness.

Self Absorption:
When did entertainment move from providing amusement to now becoming the lynch pin in our social fabric? Americans today find themselves in a fast-paced attention deficit creating environment where the night's Reality TV programing schedule, or celebrity worship, or the views of bickering and polarizing politicians have cannibalized and decayed our psyche into thinking that these are the things that matter.

I've painted above some real scary things that I have observed happening to my country while sitting half way around the world. I've also born witness to the speed at which other nations are racing to not just catch up with the US but also to surpass it. For a long time, I've wanted to sound the alert and voice these concerns to a group of American young people who are, in my belief, the best positioned to accept the challenge and respond positively. On my sabbatical, I finally got that chance.

My childhood friend, Stuart Foster, is a high school teacher. Stuart, or Stu as I have always called him, has teaching in his blood. His mother is a teacher as is his sister. Stu wasn't always an educator, as he started out professionally as a financial analyst but gave it all up to become a teacher. He takes it seriously and thank goodness he does. It is probably the most important job that any of us could have. Upon hearing that I would be back home in Oregon for the entire month, Stu reached out to me and asked if I would like to come into his Intro to Marketing class at Woodburn High School, to address the kids on core marketing concepts and strategies but more importantly to give them both global insight and perspective as well as to encourage and enlighten them on what can be achieved when you establish strong goals and lock in on ways to accomplish them.

I was really excited for this opportunity and like any good marketing guy, I assembled a presentation to help clearly illustrate my points that I wanted to leave with the class. This was no easy crowd by the way and I had a miserable time slot. I spoke to Stu's class during first period and on a Monday no less. It was early and the kids strolled into class yawning and were visibly tired. I had my work cut out for me.

My first step was to try and develop a degree of commonality with the class. They didn't know me and I didn't know them. The composition of the class was made up of 90% Latinos, 8% Russians, and 2% Anglos, which to me was quintessential America, a land that draws its heritage and success from its ethnic diversity. All these kids were Oregonians in my book and so was I. I went to high school myself less than 20 miles down the road from where we were standing, so I wanted to show them that a kid from Oregon can make it out in the world and so could they.

I took them on a not-so-short journey that had taken me from a high school student in West Linn, Oregon, to a college graduate at Oregon State University, to studying business at the feet of one of our greatest management minds, Peter Drucker, to joining the tech industry at one of the world's fastest growing PC companies, to working for the world's largest microprocessor company on three different continents (North America, Europe, and now Asia). The lesson was simple. I had a goal in mind and each individual step brought me closer and closer to meeting my objective. It wasn't so much about the stamps in my passport, which don't get me wrong have been some of the most rewarding experiences in my life, but it has more so been about the choices we are presented and more importantly the choices we create for ourselves that make the difference along the pathway that will guide us.

I then transitioned to an activity that required the class to be broken up into groups. Each group was given a different target customer profile and was asked to create a marketing program that would be tailored for that specific audience. Each team prepared their ideas and then reported out to the class. There were some real creative ideas which gave me hope and affirmed that these kids had the potential that I was looking for. I then showed them a short video that demonstrated how this activity played out in real life so that they could see how classroom theory really does have applicability in the real world.

As I moved to the last area of my discussion, I wanted to shock the class into the cold yet honest reality that I see from my vantage point living overseas. Nothing is guaranteed or certain. Dominant economies are based upon knowledge not commodities and this knowledge can now be sourced virtually from anywhere in the world. So the question was... Are You Ready?

I gazed into the eyes of this group of students before me. They were not much different than me when I was 18 years old. I want each and every one of them to succeed in career and in life. What I left them with were things I thought they could start doing right now to help set themselves up for success no matter what obstacles may get tossed in their way. Earning their college degree is going to have to be essential but from there, they have the opportunity to develop a sense of life-long learning which I think is so critical. I also wanted to compel them to become more globally aware. The US often times become insular and inward focused and I believe these kids can do a much better job of learning and reaching out with all the technology that is available today and get engaged with what life is like elsewhere. Lastly, I wanted the kids to develop a true sense of accountability and throw off the victimistic attitudes that so often plagues and demoralizes young minds. If you don't like your situation, then change it. Don't blame others for your circumstance but rise up and take positive actions to break out and change things for the better. In this vain, I once again referred back to my graduate business school professor Peter Drucker for his sage advice. Peter famously said,
"The best way to predict the future... is to create it!"
In the days that followed my presentation to the class, I received thoughtful emails of thanks from many of the students. I'm pretty sure Stu had asked them to write the notes, but I could tell from the varied responses that he didn't tell them what to write.

"I just wanted to thank you for taking time off from your busy and exciting life to enlighten a class of high school seniors about the in depth world of marketing. I appreciated that you didn't just talk about sticking to the confines of the U.S., you talked about how marketing ( in order to be successful) needs to expand throughout the world."
"I'm very interested in how you managed to travel the world, and get paid for it."
"Thank you for coming to our class yesterday and sharing your life story with us. Your experience helped influence me for my future in computer engineering, and opened my eyes to the world around me."
"Knowing that you were able to achieve your dream of working in Asia makes me think that if i work hard i can achieve my dreams as well."
"i just wanted to thank you for coming in yesterday and sharing your journey to success with us. it made me enthusiastic about my goals and also taught me to be patient as well. i will take your advise and look into how your game plan played out."
"i want to thank you for your speech yesterday. it was very informative and interesting. and it was waaaaaaaay better than doing class work. ha-ha!"
Having this opportunity to reach out and work with some young American students was one of the most rewarding experiences during my sabbatical. I feel like the kids really took to heart what I was trying to say. Even though the emails were nice, and at times made me break out with a grin, if just one of these kids takes a big leap and changes their situation for the better, than it will have been worth it.

I'll finish by leaving off with the closing slide that I gave to the students. I hope these kids will become strong, globally aware and compassionate, innovative, and ambitious leaders in whatever they set out to achieve. I've got renewed faith that if they do, America just may have deposited a few more coins into that piggy bank of continued growth and prosperity.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

5 Years in Singapore

Today marks the date five years ago when I touched down in Singapore and began my life overseas in Asia. As I scrolled back over all the posts from my blog over that time period, I came across the one-year entry and again the two-year entry commemorating these milestones in groupings of 365 days. Time has certainly marched on and I cannot believe that five years have elapsed. It got me wondering what has transpired.

Within that five year span:

A high school senior has now graduated from college
A US President completed a term in office & a new one has been elected
The S&P 500 Stock Market Index declided 12%
Ronald Reagan & Gerald Ford passed away
2 Olympics have been held
The Oregon State Beavers Baseball Team won 2 back-to-back College World Series
Iraq held free elections twice
Social networking has reconnected millions & squandered hours of productivty
Friends have got married, had kids, changed jobs, received degrees, & been promoted
I have had 4 different jobs, 6 different bosses, and visited 13 different Asian countries... one of which (Singapore) has offered me citizenship

Change is constant and it happens with or without us and with no regard as to what continent or time zone we find ourselves. When it's all been summed up, the changes and the experiences in these past five years have been phenominal. Amazing places, people, flavors, aromas, sites, sounds, cultures, and laughter. Hopefully it didn't take the entire five years to learn that... We are all more alike then the perceived differences that are often used to define us.

Happy Anniversary from your Global Vagabond

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Back to Basics - With a Twist

2009 was officially the year when everyone collectively jumped on the "Green" bandwagon. I personally think it's great that being more efficient, productive, and cleaner; while finding alternative sources of energy are now considered cool and mainstream. What I do love about this new green penchant is that people are rediscovering that tried and true methods are actually beneficial to the cause, such as the simple act of using a bicycle as an alternative or even primary means to transportation. On a recent trip to Taiwan, I found that the city of Taipei is taking bicycle transportation well into the 21st century.

At strategic locations all over central Taipei, Community Bike Centers have been established. At these locations, people can use smart cards which assist in the nominal financial transaction of renting a community bike. The transaction takes place at a free standing Kiosk which instructs the rider each step of the way. From here, the rider walks to any number of community bikes that are awaiting to be placed into service. The rider then swipes their smart card across the Sensor Device which operates as both a locking system for bike security and to register the bike to the specific rider. Only after the transaction is registered, is the locking mechanism automatically engaged and the rider is then free to take the bike and set out on their journey.

Once the rider is done with their bike, they can simply return it to any of the many Community Bike Centers that are all over town, swipe their smart card to calculate hours used and deduct the charge, inventory the bike at its new location, and safely lock the bike for its next use. It's a new take on an old and trusted method of transportation and is meant to encourage community bike riding in urban areas to help reduce traffic, improve air quality, as well as enhance physical fitness.

Taiwan has a wonderful bicycle culture and is the home of the bicycle manufacturer Giant. Many Taipei residents enjoy the city's bicycle connector paths which connect riders from the dense urban core to outlying suburban and scenic areas. It's great to see this country lead the way in bringing technology to something like urban bicycle transportation. I sure hope other countries can follow Taiwan's efforts.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Singapore Stop-Over

I can count on one hand the number of friends who have had both the flexibility in precious time and money to be able to swing by Singapore during my tenure here in the Lion City. But when a friend is able to align those variables and stop in for a visit, it is always a very good thing. My friend Caroline is part of the esteemed Munich Crew that many have read about in some of my earliest blog posts. Just over a year ago, Caroline resigned from her job, sold her house and car, and ventured off to see the world. Her travels eventually landed her in New Zealand where she worked different jobs to keep the cash flow positive. After close to a year in Kiwi Land, Caroline decided it was time to re-visit friends and family back in the UK. Singapore was the perfect transit hub to pause and take a breather during this marathon journey. It was Caroline's first visit to an Asian country and yours truly was her guide.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is quite a few things to do on our little island nation. To start things off, we attended a performance of CATS the Musical, which holds the title of the longest running play on Broadway. Well, we weren't in the Big Apple, but Singapore's Durians (the local nickname for the Performing Arts building because of their prickly fruit appearance and fortunately not their smell) were the perfect substitute. Neither Caroline nor myself had actually seen the show before, so we were both quite anxious to see what all the fuss was about.

The cast did a great job and their furry costumes and feline antics added to the appeal. The songs were catchy and I knew this to be true because I caught myself whistling them later that day long after the performance had ended. There was no time to cat-nap after the performance because the next stop on the itinerary was just a whisker away.

The Singapore Flyer is one of the newest iconic structures to appear upon the city's ever evolving skyline. It currently ranks as the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world, even taller than the famous London Eye. One round trip revolution on the observatory wheel takes 20 minutes to complete and some incredible views can be had along the way. Peering out one side of the glass-enclosed viewing pod, one can see the new Marina Barrage, which is one of Singapore's most ambitious national projects to date. The project attempts to aid in the nation's quest for water independence and sustainability so that Singapore no longer has to purchase water reserves from their foreign neighbors. How it works is that the Barrage acts as a physical barrier between Marina Bay and the South China Sea, which is the busiest shipping lane in the world and resides on the other side of the Barrage. With Marina Bay now sealed off from the sea a massive reservoir has now been created. As rain water falls into the bay, over an extended period of time, this reservoir will convert from salt water to fresh and provide the nation with a new source of precious H2O. The Barrage's unique design allows its walls to tilt and release water from the bay back into the sea when water levels rise because of heavy rains caused by seasonal storms, which helps protect against unwanted flooding.

Looking out on the other side of the viewing pod, you can look down on Marina Bay, the Central Business District, and the Esplanade Performing Arts Center (look for the Durians), which combine to create Singapore's modern skyline. But like a shark who will drown if it stops swimming, Singapore must always keep building and developing its skyline and business and tourist attractions. With a new special kind of cash-rich tourist in mind, development is well underway for a massive casino along Marina Bay which is scheduled to open in 2010. Formally known as an Integrated Resort by the government, the owner of the famous Sands Casino is building the Marina Bay Sands Resort that will hopefully attract gamblers from across Southeast Asia and maybe even nibble at the heels of both Macau and Vegas.

Caroline's visit not only allowed me to catch up with a good friend but also gave me a worthy excuse to look in on some of the normally more touristy sites around Singapore that I've tended to gloss over after having lived here for close to five years. It's always nice to see a place all over again through the fresh eyes of someone who has yet to become deafened and blinded to the amazing wonders that we often take for granted. And to my friends out there who have yet to visit my little island home that dots the South China Sea, please plan a trip and let me be your honored guide.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Boom not Gloom in Bangladesh

The global economy is struggling in what looks to be a race to the bottom. The financial crisis in the US is rippling across the globe, as the world's largest consumer market puts on its collective brakes, while the industries and countries who supply these consumables scramble to insulate themselves from the impending storm. I made my first trip to Bangladesh as the global market was in the grips of what could only be described as: Fear.

Having gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh today finds itself trying to establish new industries that can provide employment opportunities and move the nation up the value chain from its traditional agricultural based society. The recently democratically elected government knows that attracting foreign investment and accelerating GDP growth will take 21st Century skill development and stronger utilization of technology. The newly elected Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, captured the imagination of voters, during an election that saw her and her party sweep into office, with her vision of a Digital Bangladesh. My goal in coming here was to see how we could be a part of accelerating and making this vision a reality.

My colleagues and I took a trip three hours outside of the capital city of Dhaka to see the promise that is held within the aspiring spirit of one such young Bangladeshi, who is using access to technology and information to enhance the lives of his local community while also growing his own business. In what started as a simple iCafe, the young man has become a part of a franchise opportunity called i-Hut that provides him Internet connectivity, support, content, but also regular business management trainings so he can learn and adapt his business offerings to appeal to more users in his community while enhancing his revenue stream.

His once tiny iCafe has now transformed into a mult-service Telecenter which has expanded to take over two neighboring shop locations. The young man was also extremely proud to take me directly upstairs from his current location to show me an existing local library, which today is sparsely populated with old, dusty, and out of date books. Our young business owner will be converting this space into a digital learning lab, where his company will offer distance learning capabilities to locals from the community, allowing them to access courses taught by instructors hundreds of miles away. This is not charity but rather a money-earning going concern. People from the community are willing to pay nominal amounts for such services.

Our young business owner has even expanded into new business opportunities which are not generally well known. I am sure many of you who use the web for various transactions have come across this image above, which asks you to re-type certain words that appear on your screen for verification purposes. Well did you know that there are actually human beings that type these words, called a Captcha, so that you and I can complete our transactions? Because Captchas take human data entry, a small fee can be obtained by people who enter these Captchas for inclusion in the transaction process. Our young entrepreneur saw that he could hire people from his local community to perform this data entry task. He pays them a small commission based upon how many Captchas they enter, and he receives payment from organizations such as Yahoo who utilize the Captcha service. It was great to see the Help Wanted sign posted for Online Jobs which was providing extra spending money for those in the community.

The dire economic challenges that are now facing the world bring a tremendous amount of gloom and doom to our daily discussion. We often forget that in times like these we should resist the urge to ignore our risk-taking for entrepreneurism. Those who are bold in the face of crisis generally come out on top when the fearsome clouds eventually part and the sun shines down brightly once again. It is stories and experiences such as this one in Bangladesh which are encouraging and reinforce that the human desire to aspire can be nurtured and channeled for positive outcomes for the individual, the community, the nation, and even the global economy.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Getting the Band Back Together

17 years is a long time, even in Dog Years. But 17 years was exactly the amount of time that had passed since many of my high school friends and I had crossed paths back on graduation night in 1991. Back on that special evening, we all dawned caps and gowns and zoned off as boring speakers reminded us that for all that we had accomplished in our short 18 years of life back then, that the real adventure was just beginning. For most of us, we just wanted to grab our diplomas and head out to the Senior Party. Looking back now, those stiff and nameless speakers were definitely onto something. Even though my friends and I had been separated by so many years, time zones, and continents; we each had an adventure to share, a path that had been chosen, and stories accumulated.

Chalk up another kudo to technology innovation, for if it was not for the recent advent of Social Networking, none of my friends and I probably would have exhausted the effort to track one another down. But with Facebook gaining popularity, reconnecting, at least on a virtual level, was just a click away. Virtual was good but I figured the guys and I could do one better. I joked with all of them, via email, as I began to organize a Meet-Up. I started by saying,

"I know it is rather Old School and extremely 20th Century, but what do you guys think about setting aside the mouse and keyboard and actually meeting up?"
The guys responded with a fury and said they were on-board and encouraged me to put it together. The timing was perfect, as I was coming home to the US and everyone was still around from the recent holidays.

We decided to meet up at a place called Grand Central Bowl. which during our day was a dumpy, smelly, run-down bowling alley. Today however, this place has risen like a phoenix from the ashes and has transformed into the hippest watering hole in Portland. Guys started showing up one-by-one and the years between us were slipping away with each passing minute and with each raised glass. We shared stories of where we all ventured to after high school, talked about families, kids, and impending new arrivals. We even talked about classic characters, personalities, teachers, and of course hot chicks from back in the day.

Some of us had grown taller since graduation, some grew a bit side-ways, while some had lost hair, and others were just sporting their hair in new places. What was great for me personally, was that none of these guys had changed their core being. They were the same guys that had been brought up by hard working parents, had pulled together and sweated on the athletic field or court together, and had always put the team ahead of themselves. It was fantastic to still hear each of them speak in this manner and see the glimmer in their eye when they shared a moment about their kids and families.

Even though the Meet-Up was fun and a big success, there were still a few guys I hadn't seen or who couldn't make it. My friends, Mike and Jamin, were two guys I had just recently got back in touch with and it worked out great that during another business trip back to the US, I was able to grab lunch with these two and reconnect. Mike always had the sharpest wit back in school and we had volumes of inside jokes we had created over the years. As we broke bread around the lunch table, it made our sides hurt from laughing as we reminded each other of one-liners or pranks we had played. Jamin and I had continued our friendship past high school when the two of us were reunited as roomates while in college. I swear Jamin spent 90% of that year we were roomates sporting a velvetine robe, which we referred to as a "smoking jacket" in order to try and class it up a bit.

None of us wanted that lunch reunion to end. I kept asking Mike if he needed to go back to work. He just grinned and said no one was going to care, as his boss was out of the office today. A classic response from the same guy that coined the phrase during a miserable summer job back in high school,
"I'm not going to call in sick... I'm going to call in quit!"
As Mike, Jamin, and I headed out to the parking lot after what had turned into a three-hour lunch, we joked that if we were back in high school we would have surely burned rubber out of the parking lot. I smiled and pointed to my rental car, which just happed to be a Ford Mustang. As I belted into my seat and pulled to the corner of the intersection, I waited until Mike and Jamin were behind me. As the light turned green, I hammered the gas pedal to the floor and smoked the rear tires of the Mustang leaving a blue-ish fog in my wake. I got the big "thumbs-up" from Mike and Jamin and knew that the kid in all of us was still alive and well.

Reconnecting was the best thing that has happened to me in quite sometime. I've spent a lot of my time creating new memories and new adventures, but sometimes it's a lot of fun to take stock in where you've been and more importantly where you are from. Old friends help remind you of that, they keep you honest to yourself and to your values, and they also inspire you with what kind of great men they've all turned out to be.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Going Full-Circle in Hong Kong

Sometimes it's really rewarding to check back in on someone you've met previously on your travels and see how life is treating them. Some of you may recall my interactions several months ago with Jimmie, the friendly and enthusiastic manager of the Fatburger restaurant at the massive Venetian resort in Macau. Seeing a Fatburger restaurant, like I did back in Macau, had me yearning for the tastes of home. That's why recently when I was peering out through the window of a city bus in Hong Kong and saw the recognizable Fatburger brand as we continued to cruise down the street, I knew I had to find my way back.

Later that same evening, I was cozying up on a counter seat watching my burger being prepared at the newest Fatburger restaurant here in Hong Kong, which had only been open for seven days. The staff was buzzing about trying to keep the flow of food running as more and more ecstatic and reminiscent customers, hungry for that familiar southern California taste, came flooding through the front doors.

I noticed two western-looking staff members helping the local crew with their cooking and burger-building techniques. One of the guys spotted my Portland Beavers T-shirt that I was wearing and asked if I was from Portland. Sometimes the world really is so very small. The guy's name was Jake and upon seeing my T-shirt and learning that I was actually indeed from Portland, let out a big hearty laugh and said that he also was from Portland as well. After speaking for a few minutes, we came to know that we each had grown up not more than five miles from each other.

Jake and his boss, who were in Hong Kong to help with the launch of the new store, have what I consider to be exciting and enviable jobs. These two guys fly around the world helping new franchisee operators open up new Fatburger restaurants. In fact, they both were leaving on a flight that night which was taking them to Dubai where they were going to open up the first Fatburger in the Middle East. Talk about "hearts and minds"... now you can add stomachs!

I asked both Jake and his boss if they knew the Fatburger manager up in Macau named Jimmie. I told them that Jimmie was wonderfully enthusiastic and had all the characteristics of someone you would want leading a team. They told me that my assessment of Jimmie was spot-on and that actually Fatburger had recently promoted Jimmie to become the Regional Manager of all the Fatburger locations in China, which included the original Macau store, Beijing, and now Hong Kong. It was fantastic news to my ears and I was really happy for Jimmie. I told both Jake and his boss to tell Jimmie hello for me and congratulate him again on the big promotion. I couldn't think of a person who deserved it more.

Sometimes, your experiences and interactions with people during your travels do come full-circle. Hearing about Jimmie's success was one of those rare situations, yet it was one that left me feeling good and satisfied inside... just like the feeling you get after eating a delicious Fatburger.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cross Roads in Cambodia

Few Westerners have heard of the Khmer Civilization. The Khmer established themselves as one of the world's most innovative, advanced, and sprawling cultures which dominated and heavily influenced present day Southeast Asia for close to a thousand years. The Khmer Civilization spawned from what we know today as Cambodia, and its capital and spiritual center was located at Ankor Wat, near present day Siem Reap. Cambodians are rightfully proud of their cultural history and as ancestors and caretakers of past glory that placed Cambodia at the center of the Southeast Asian world.

Modern times have not been as glorious for Cambodians, having lived under the boot of French colonialism, and then later as a geographical door mat where proponents of both Capitalism and Communism wiped their feet while playing out their chess moves for ideological supremacy, leaving Cambodian citizens to bare the brunt of lying in the midst of the high-stakes cross fire. Cambodia remains to this day one of the most bombed countries in history, having tallied more TNT within its borders than all of what was used in World War II during the Allied campaign over Europe.

Most despicable was the vacuum of power and leadership created by these external struggles which presented the opportunity for Communist radicals, who were hell bent on creating a Marxist paradise within Cambodia, to seize power and send the nation to the utter brink of existence. Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime decimated the entire country from 1974-79. Educated in France, where he became infatuated with Marxist and Leninist ideals, he returned to Cambodia with his like-minded band and lived in the rural countryside awaiting the precise moment to spring their plan into action. Once power was seized in the after-glow of the end of the Vietnam War, massive relocation efforts were put into place by the Khmer Rouge. People living in the cities were transported hundreds of kilometers away to rural countrysides to begin their new life as modest and benevolent farmers. It didn't matter if people had no previous farming skills. They were forced to surrender all of their worldly assets (cars, houses, investments, clothes) and to move to the rural areas to begin a tortuous life of physical toil and eventual starvation.

Cities such as Phenom Penh, which was once known as the Paris of the Far East, were virtually empty of life due to the forced rural relocations. Scholars, government officials, journalists, ethnic minorities, even a few foreigners from western countries, were rounded up as suspected traitors and capitalist sympathizers and imprisoned and soon thereafter viciously tortured and executed. Tuol Sleng Prison, a converted high school, was operated by the Khmer Rouge's feared S-21 division. According to the Khmer Rouge's own ghoulish documentation, Tuol Sleng became hell on earth for over 10,500 prisoners in just four years of operation. Few if any of these prisoners lived to tell of their experience. Those who survived the torture of Tuol Sleng were eventually transported to places such as Choeung Ek, site of the ominous "Killing Fields".

On my trip to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, a sickening silence hung over all who walked the ground of these thousands of tortured souls. Depressions in the earth marked the spots where prisoners were ordered to dig their own graves before receiving either a fatal gunshot or blow to the head by a hammer or blunt farming implement. I could still see pieces of clothing half buried in the dirt. As I walked along a narrow trail, I spotted what first looked to be some loose gravel. Upon closer inspection it was apparent that what I had actually come across were human teeth.

The Khmer Rouge did not rest by taking away just a single member of a family who was suspected of being a traitor to the communist revolution, but would also imprison and eventually murder the person's spouse and most shockingly their children as well. It is estimated that Cambodia lost over 50% of its population to executions and starvation during this five-year time period. The Khmer Rouge shut the borders with neighboring nations and Cambodia turned dark as the blinds were pulled down on the outside world so as not to witness some of the most sinister acts of genocide ever known to man.

Contrast these recent horrors with the fresh opportunity to slowly build Cambodia back up from the ashes left behind from the Khmer Rouge, and you bare witness to a country filled with promise and potential. Although I had been to Cambodia twice before, first dating back to 1999, this trip represented my first ever visit to the capital of Phenom Penh. Unlike my other two trips, this time I was representing my company and was there to explore opportunities to develop business in a way that could also help spur on local economic development through the use of computing technology. My co-worker and friend Frank, who had traveled all the way from the US, and I visited with several officials representing different ministries within the government. None of the government officials that we met shied away from the country's economic deficiencies or infrastructural challenges and all appeared clearly focused on how to turn things around. The officials that we met were open to idea sharing and hearing about examples we had captured from other countries. There was an obvious desire to learn and apply solutions in a manner that could quickly help Cambodia climb out of its current situation.

Frank and I were able to tour a local learning lab that our company had sponsored which focused on providing teachers and educators in Cambodia with new skills on how to incorporate the use of computing within their teaching methods to help deliver high-impact education to Cambodian children. Education remains one of the fundamental building blocks to help establish competencies that can be used to create economic development. And with over 50% of Cambodia's 14 million population under the age of 25, it makes sense for the government to have a strong focus on education.

One of the true joys on this trip was getting to know Rada, my local co-worker in Cambodia. Rada has been with my company since 2005 and to this day remains the only in-country staff that we have in Cambodia. Rada is not only a ground-breaker and first-mover within the business community there, but more importantly he sees himself as an agent of change that can help improve things for the better in his native land. Rada's personal story runs the gamut from tragedy all the way to true-grit inspiration.

Rada was nine years old when the Khmer Rouge snatched power. His family had their personal land and assets absconded and were sent 250 kilometers away to the rural countryside with nothing of their own to begin farming the arid land to grow rice for the revolution. Brutal and back-breaking work followed along with starvation. Rada explained that they were just happy that their father was allowed to live which was highly unlikely for the time given his previous status as a former government official. At age 13, Rada and his family escaped over the border to Thailand and lived in a refugee camp there for close to a year. The family survived by selling noodles within the camp and bartering for whatever they could.

Rada and his family were then granted immigration to America and began sowing the seeds of a new beginning. For the next 13 years Rada learned to speak English and attended school, while he and his family took on the immigrant work ethic to build a business and a better life in their new adopted home. His family opened a restaurant and later an Asian grocery store, and as Rada explained, every free moment he had outside of school was spent in the family business. Rada went on to university and then after graduating worked for large corporations. Then at a certain point, Rada reached a cross road in his life. One path had him on a comfortable and stable path remaining in the US, the other presented him with an opportunity to return to his homeland and apply his skills towards the re-birth of Cambodia. In 1994, Rada took the harder path and returned to Phenom Penh.

Rada is equally passionate about his love for Cambodia and the opportunities that he had in the US. He is embodying the new spirit that this nation needs to begin the move towards economic growth and sustainability. He believes in his calling and is investing his own money in local businesses. Some of his overseas family members wondered why he would return, but Rada would have it no other way. Rada met his own cross road and chose a path less traveled. I only hope that Cambodia, having faced the bloody challenges of the past and the economic decay that ensued, now finds itself on the right path. Things are definitely looking up. Roads have been built, Hydro-electric dams are being planned, sub-marine fiber optic cable is being laid, and the country just recently discovered oil reserves within its borders. Last but not least, the country has people like Rada who see their own path uniquely interlaced with the homeland pride and energy that it will take in these important next steps.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Taiwan Typhoon

Living in Asia, we hear about typhoons each year around this time of year. I honestly never actually knew the difference between a typhoon, a hurricane, and a cyclone until I looked it up and learned that they are all essentially the same thing; it is rather where geographically in the world this type of storm occurs that determines which name it goes by. I had ominous timing as I arrived into Taipei, Taiwan, last weekend only to discover that the year's most powerful typhoon of the year was bearing down on the island nation.

Typhoon Jangmi, as it was called, was classified as a Super Typhoon and ranked as a Class 4 on the typhoon intensity scale, with winds clocking over 220 miles per hour. It reached landfall on the central eastern coast of Taiwan and caused flooding and landslides. By the time Jangmi reached where I was in Taipei, it was early Sunday afternoon, and the storm had lost a tiny bit of its ferocious bite, as it tracked over land moving northward. People in Taiwan are used to typhoons which batter the island each season, so it was no surprise when the city sprung into early action to batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst.

Inside where I was staying on the 19th floor, the wind howled with intensity and shook the window panes. These were not intermittent gusts, but rather sustained winds that blew for approximately three hours without interruption. The winds were accompanied by never-ending rain that pelted structures like bullets fired from a Gatling gun. Looking across a forested hillside from the window, I could see sheets of rain literally blowing sideways from the force of the winds. Palm trees flopped about in the wind like helpless rag dolls tethered only by their roots.

Monday morning, the winds had ceased and Jangmi had moved off to sea moving towards the mainland of China. The Taipei city government had cancelled office hours for the day as a safety precaution. There was no major damage to the city, as advance preparation and experience had proven successful once again. The rain never ceased on the day, but at least the cyclonic winds had moved on.

As I pondered the fact that I had now lived through a few earthquakes, a volcanic eruption, a tornado, an airport shooting, and now my first typhoon, I felt pretty lucky. Lucky that all had turned out for the best in all of these situations. I am not currently looking to add any more to my list outlined above, but at least this one came with a free day off which acted as a silver lining to an otherwise unique example of how Mother Nature can wield her strength.

Friday, August 15, 2008

48 Years of Frustration Vanquished

No one can really understand how much an entire country can want just one thing so badly. But after 48 years without an Olympic medal, Singapore has craved this moment for generations. Today, my co-workers gathered in our office pantry to watch the Singapore Women's Table Tennis Team earn a medal birth by defeating South Korea in the semi-finals and the video shows the winning moment and reaction. This win gave Singapore a Gold Medal match with China and guarantees the country no worse than a Silver Medal. The 48 year old drought is over. Stand Up Singapore... and CHEER!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Milestone: 5 years & 100th post

Today is a milestone in several ways. On one hand, today is the 5th anniversary of beginning this blog. On the other hand, this specific post that I am creating now at this moment represents the blog's 100th entry. And if I had more than two hands, the third would mark the special occasion of when my overseas life really all began back in August of 2005 when I prepared to ship off to Munich, Germany.

Five years, 100 posts, more than 34 countries visited, countless experiences and amusing tales amassed, and numerous friendships formed around the world. The blog has been a constant for me and at times an albatross. Writing, unfortunately and a surprise to many, is a painful process for me. Yet I have tried to stay disciplined and at least make an entry per month. To be honest, in the early days it was not hard to craft up new entries, as things were so new and unfamiliar. Today, I must admit, that it becomes tougher and tougher to document things that I think would be interesting to both myself and others. I do write for myself to document this fantastic time in my life but I also write for others. My biggest dread is that my entries become stale, humorless, and uninspiring. My biggest thrill is to share these times with all of you who read or even stumble onto this blog by accident.

Over these five years, I've received emails from random people in Iran, Sweden, Thailand, Israel, Australia, and many others who for one reason or another found themselves staring at my blog. Each of these people went an additional step further to send an email. Most were simply providing encouraging words to keep it up, others asked questions on a specific place, some asked for permission and rights to my photos (several were used in the opening scenes of a humorous and fun online expose on Shanghai... I even got my name mentioned in the closing credits), and one person even asked for the formula to the secret of my success (seriously!).

I've had a lot of fun with the blog over the years. It's one part torture, one part therapy. I look forward to continuing to document and share what I am observing, and I hope that it will always provide a perspective, a laugh, a thought, a smile, and just maybe an inspiration.

Your Global Vagabond

Friday, July 04, 2008

Baseball, Mom, and Apple Pie

There is nothing more American than the 4th of July. American Independence Day has woven its thread into the fabric of our being and has grabbed a prestigious position within the cultural idiom which is used to describe something as being uniquely American,
"That is as American as Baseball, Mom, Apple Pie, and the 4th of July."
It is odd for me to think that for something that has so much positive connotations and recollections for me as the 4th of July, that I would have let this important date slide by with relatively little fan fair for the past four years here in Singapore. In fact, if you were to reflect back to my first 4th of July in Singapore, you will find that I was feverish to pull in memories of the people, food, and fun that always surrounded this important time.

This year, the 4th was back to its rightful place as being an event and a destination. Thanks to my friend Linda, our resident social planner and conduit that pulls us all together in the name of fun, a group of us got together and took part in the Independence Day activities held in Sembawang, Singapore, which is sponsored by the local chapter of the American Association. I was literally giddy with excitement leading up to the event. So much in fact, that I refused to eat the entire day so that I would have plenty of room for traditional 4th of July Food which I had been craving. Upon arrival at the park where the event was hosted, we were greeted with a friendly, "Hello Folks, hope you enjoy the festivities", by an American Association volunteer. The whole thing felt like a Wall-Mart moment but it was endearing and heartfelt and put me in a comfortable mood that I was among friends.

After getting through the main gates, Tilden and I met some very famous Americans, in an even stiffer condition than usual. The two political parties' overseas chapters were helping Americans register to vote absentee in the upcoming election. The continuous din of the election coverage reaches us here in Singapore and most people are shocked to learn that we don't actually vote until November.

Politics aside, this was an event that brought together close to 5,000 people. My taste buds were rewarded by food tents that had been set up for local restaurants that were serving up hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue briskit, pizza, kababs, ice cream, beer, and margaritas. You may be shocked, and slightly sick to your stomach, to know that I had at least one of each of those items just mentioned while I was celebrating. There was even a live band cranking out classic Rock & Roll tunes while people who had laid out towels and blankets across the grass swayed and danced to the beat. It was fun to watch little kids, who most likely were not born in the US, get to experience a real 4th of July. And that was the whole point. The 4th of July belongs to everyone no matter what piece of soil you find yourself treading upon.

The evening wrapped up with an amazing firework display. The shells were exploding so close the ground that you really felt the concussion of each blast, while your eyes took in the palate of shimmering colors. There were "oohs and ahhs" from the crowd voicing their approval along the way, and when the grand finale occurred sending up multiple shells skyward with a machine gun-like staccato, I found myself cheering out loud.

Soon the display was over while the smell of gun powder still lingered in the air. The celebration had drawn to a close yet the smile on my face remained. Living overseas, you often try your best to soak in the culture of others, yet that should never stand in your way of celebrating and being proud of your own. This had been the 4th of July for which I was searching: surrounded by the comfort food of home, great friends, fantastic music, and 5,000 strangers, who no matter what their nationality or origin, on this specific night were all sons and daughters of the Red, White, and Blue.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Spring Fever

After four years living in a tropical country, where seasons ebb from either 1) Hot or 2) Hot with rain, I found myself craving the rebirth and renewal that comes with the Spring time. The fields of my parents' home in Oregon presented the perfect environment to indulge my senses and sensibilities in this craving. My parents now live on the farm that has been in my family for over 100 years. Growing up, this was the home of my grandparents where I spent numerous summers and times of great joy. It is a different place now that they are both gone, yet the land remains, and with it so lives on the fond memories that were made there.

My parents and I decided to have a picnic while I was back home. The scenic drive along the way revealed snow-capped Mount Hood and wildflowers in full bloom. Being outside was a blessing, as the air was warm and dry, without the ever-present humidity that I have become accustomed to back in Singapore. Mom had stocked the picnic basket with fried chicken, baked beans, chips, fruit and vegetables, and cold drinks. We set up our feast on the banks of the reservoir and watched holiday boaters troll around. The drive home had me sporting the sunroof wide open, as I had forgot about the longer days during this time of year. The sun stays out past 9:00 and provides for ample time to bask in its rays.

Because of the longer hours of day light, I still had time to take a stroll once arriving back home from the picnic. I set out on foot to take in the rapture of the colorful yellow fields of mustard that were in full swing. I stumbled across three horses that were in the midst of playing around in a nearby pond. At first they didn't see me and continued to horse around in the water, but soon the gig was up and I was spotted. The horses seemed to take on a new demeanor as if to say... please don't tell anyone about our games. Their secret was safe with me, as they had provided another great memory of a warm and rewarding day in the sun back on the farm that was far away from Singapore yet closer to home than I had seemingly been in ages.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

From Tropical Island to the Great White North

There are times in each of our lives when drastic change is the only thing that can shake out the cobwebs, reboot the system, and clear the slate from the status quo and mundane routines that we sometimes find ourselves. My close friend, Kevin, is embarking on a journey that will indeed challenge his will, his perceptions, and most definitely his comfort zone. Over six years ago, Kevin initiated the process of applying for immigration status to Canada. In a matter of days, his six year paper chase will be over, but his new life will just be beginning.

For over five years, Kevin and I have built our friendship. It started when Kevin was first hired by my company within our Singapore office and was asked to make a business trip to the US to meet his global teammates. I happened to be based in the US at that time and remember meeting this Asian guy whose accent had the strange lilt of one you might expect to hear in Ireland. Kevin soon corrected me and told me he was Singaporean (Man, was I way off). Little did I know it at the time, but I would later see Kevin again many months down the line when I myself was the strange foreigner just touching down into my new Singaporean home.

Kevin has been my savior and mentor on so many occasions since moving to Singapore. He acted as my cultural and business ambassador as I came up-to-speed with my surroundings and my new job after arriving in Asia. I quickly learned through observation that Kevin is a consummate professional from a business perspective that can formulate trust and partnerships that benefit both parties. I also learned and benefited from Kevin's commitment and loyalty to friendship that has endeared him to many. And of course let's not forget that Kevin is my crooning cohort, who has helped me bring the house down on many a nights while singing Frank Sinatra standards at Karaoke clubs across the region. I'm not the only one that has shared fond, fun, and sometimes embarrassing moments with Kevin; so in order to properly celebrate two momentous occasions at the same time, I decided to throw Kevin an evening with his friends to commemorate not only his 40th birthday, but also his send off to Canada.

It was a great evening of good food, drinks, and friends that came together to send off our man out into the reaches of the Great White North. Kevin is making a huge undertaking by immigrating to Canada. He goes there without an established network of friends, no business contacts, no place to live, and no job. All of these things will have to be created by Kevin upon touching down in Vancouver. These kind of uncertainties would paralyze most people, and I know Kevin himself is apprehensive at times about what this roll of the dice may deliver, but I am confident in Kevin's ability to thrive and conquer his fears and win over the hearts and friendships of those he will soon encounter, just as he has done with so many on this side of the ocean.

The girls made one last valiant effort to persuade Kevin (oh so subtly) to stay in Singapore with them, but the bags have been packed, the tickets have been bought, and the future is on the horizon. All engines are set ahead at full on Kevin's new life chapter as he leaves his diminutive and tropical island home of Singapore behind and looks to thaw out the frozen uncharted tundra of challenges and awaiting opportunities that are in store for him in Canada. Good Luck, eh!