Friday, April 25, 2008

A Taste of Sabbatical

A sabbatical is a chance to get away from it all, collect your thoughts, explore new places and ideas, and think deeply about what your life should be like once you return. My co-worker and friend, Mark, was currently enjoying this benefit that is offered by our company to US-stationed employees. They get a two month paid sabbatical for each seven years of service. I too was once logging my years towards a sabbatical when I was working in the US, but as mentioned previously, sabbatical benefits are for US-based employees only; so when I moved to Asia, my sabbatical stop watch clicked off. I've pretty much washed away from my mind the notion that I will ever get my own sabbatical. So what to do, you might ask, about this great injustice? The best thing that I could think of was to live vicariously through my friend Mark's sabbatical, just as many have told me that they enjoy living through my words and adventures here on this blog. Mark had decided that several weeks of his two month sabbatical would be spent in Asia, and he knew just who to come calling on to get some tips on where to go and what to see. Mark asked if I wanted to come along and join him on his trip. Of course I could not take off for such a long period, but I could take a long weekend and discover along with Mark a place I had never been before.

Mark spent a week in Singapore and the nearby Indonesian island of Bintan. He did so along with his daughter, Shannon, who was interested in the possibilities of a summer internship in Southeast Asia, and thought this trip with her dad would be a great way to see this unique part of the world. Seeing Mark with his daughter was a remarkable vision for me. I, and most of my colleagues who know Mark, often joke that he lives, breathes, and eats work on virtually a 24 hour basis. Yet the sabbatical was doing its job. It was taking Mark away from work, giving him an opportunity to decompress and most importantly from my vantage point, allowing him to take pleasure in being a very proud and loving father.

Mark had booked several days at the recently opened Venetian Casino and Resort in Macau. This mega-resort is of course the Asian sister of the famous Venetian that is located on the Las Vegas Strip. The only difference is that the Asian version is about two-thirds larger and has become the new benchmark amongst the explosive western style casino expansion that has helped Macau claim the recent distinction of overtaking Las Vegas as the #1 gaming revenue generating casino location in the world.

I had never been to Macau before and had the impression that this once former colonial outpost of Portugal and now part of China, was nothing more than a grimy and dirty place where people went to gamble. In actuality, it still was a place for people to go gamble, however western style casinos now had introduced fan fair, entertainment value, and prestige elements to Macau; giving it a gleam and sparkle that it had never had previously. An interesting observation however, was that western influence wasn't always so quick to be adopted by Asian guests. For example, the Venetian had a myriad of up-scale and high-end retail shops touting some of the most exclusive brand names in fashion and accessories; however virtually all of these shops were consistently empty because Asian guests come to casinos with one express purpose in mind, and that is to gamble (not shop).

Mark and I are not big gamblers. We really just wanted to come to Macau to see what all the fuss was about and to spend some down time catching up. The one great thing about Mark, is that he can strike up a conversation with anyone no matter what situation or cultural background. Such was the case when Mark and I indulged our craving for American fast food one afternoon by dropping into the Venetian's food court. Proudly situated there was the first asian store of the American West Coast hamburger institution known as Fatburger. Mark quickly struck up a conversation with the manager of the store, an enthusiastic young man named Jimmie, who simply oozed excitement and passion for what he was doing. Mark and I couldn't help but be inspired by Jimmie as we listened to his story of being raised in mainland China, having the chance to study and work in Europe, and then getting a chance to manage Fatburger's very first store in Asia.

Jimmie didn't see his role as solely a job but was rather a firm believer in the product and saw great growth options for the business as mainland Chinese begin to develop taste and interest in western style food. He went on to explain his own personal management and leadership style that he uses with his young staff to inspire them to first understand the uniquely American culture of Fatburger and how it should be operated, and secondly to take pride in their individual work while ensuring that it blends well with the entire team's effort. Mark and I glanced over at each other several times during our conversation with Jimmie. He was exactly the type of person we would love to have working for us and we were sure he was going to be wildly successful. He offered Mark and I free coffee and french fries and urged many times to get our feedback on the food's quality and taste, since he knew that we were familiar with the American Fatburger. Jimmie invited us to come back and chat with him throughout our stay at the Venetian, which we did many times. Meeting people like Jimmie really make me buzz with energy. They are hungry, driven, and enthusiastic in their approach and outlook on life. Mark and I knew that if we were to drop back in on Jimmie in 10 years, he will surely be the owner or CEO of a large hospitality company.

The future is bright and endless for people like Jimmie. Mark and I realized after meeting him that he actually taught us a lesson in the process. Being passionate about what you are doing is essential. Your internal enthusiasm transcends everything that you do and others feel your energy and either follow you or want to be a part of what you are working on. Sabbatical is definitely a time to reflect but it is also a time to be inspired. Although my small taste of a sabbatical, thanks to Mark, was brief; it did allow me to reflect on my planned path. I should never look to settle and take what is handed out or what comes easy if that option doesn't move me in my gut. I am using that approach today and striving to make choices that lead me to either be energized or scared, or both. Sometimes a small taste can ignite the hunger within. Anyone up for the next course?


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