The first day of 2019 seemed like a good time to return to my long neglected personal blog. No, it’s not a New Year’s resolution; just something I always enjoyed and decided to make time for.
I started a blog several years ago to help me adjust to living back in the US after over a decade living in Japan and China. A respected Asia expert that advises many large International companies was hired by my former employer hired to “help” me decide to move to China from Japan. We became friendly especially after he told me that my employer “was terrible at supporting ex-pats” and I should only go to China if I “thought I could handle it without proper support from HQ”. You have to love a person with that level of honesty.
|Ex-pat life provided all sorts of interesting experiences|
We spoke again before I returned to the US after living for more than five years in China and five plus in Japan. He congratulated me on my success in Asia, told me I would have trouble adjusting to life both in the US and back at HQ and suggested I write a book about my experiences. A book seemed out of my wheelhouse but I thought writing blog posts might be both good therapy for me as I adjusted to life back in the US and if I ever changed my mind about a book about my ex-pat experiences it could be a good resource to draw from.
|No book yet but the my wife got the blog bound|
Time passed, my adjustment to life in the US took a couple years but my adjustment to life back at HQ never happened. Less than two years after returning I was jettisoned from the corporate world and got busy reinventing myself as an advisor to various stakeholders in the lithium world. I signed up for Twitter and Linked-In, starting writing business posts and my personal blog was, for the most part, neglected.
For me, the Christmas – New Year’s Holiday period is a time to reflect on where I am in life and where I want to go next. I have been extremely blessed to have been at the right place at the right time in the lithium world. The “survival” worries I had when I no longer had a “corporate master and safety net” are a memory thanks to the largesse of the growing lithium market.
|New Year's is a good time to "reboot"|
Like many “type A” people when I get into something, I tend to narrow my focus on the whatever the “new thing” is to the exclusion of other interests. Reading and writing for pleasure were one casualty of my focus on communicating with the world regarding lithium via social media and more recently a podcast. I may have fallen prey to those Silicon Valley types who have designed an ecosystem that has many of us behaving like gerbils on treadmill seeking small dopamine hits (whether we know it or not) as we collect more followers and “likes” on our social media sites of choice.
So I am planning 2019 to be a year of re-balancing how I spend my time – more quality time with my bride, books, hobbies, etc and less “screen” time with the “app” creations of teens and twenty somethings.
I am not retiring or leaving the lithium world just as things are getting really interesting in the transition from an oil based to a renewable energy economy. I just want more of my “flip phone” era lifestyle back. Of course this is both a personal as well as a general “first world” problem – that many readers of this blog probably have too.
Now that the lengthy preamble is over I can get to the topic I had in mind. Over the past 28 years I have accumulated over 5,000,000 frequent flyer miles. I have circled the globe 103 times on Around the World tickets. Including those trips plus normal point to point, round trip tickets I have crossed the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans more than 250 times. It takes absolutely zero skill to board a plane and accumulate miles but it is difficult to travel to six continents and not be humbled by what you don’t know.
The older I get the more it strikes me how many interesting people you come into contact with when traveling and how much you can learn just by engaging with the locals. I am still learning travel tricks on a regular basis because I started paying more attention a couple of years ago after having some obvious travel hacks I had been missing pointed out to me. I will save those tips for another day.
When I interviewed people for jobs during my days in the corporate world, I often asked people that said they had “five years” experience if they “really had five years’ experience of if they had one year of experience five times”. I wanted to know HOW they were better in their thinking and work in year five than they were in year one. Very few people have a good answer to that question but upon reflection I realized I need to constantly be asking myself a variation of that question – am I spending enough time learning new things and making sure I am having new experiences?
Last year I had a situation where my “normal” hotel in Tokyo was sold out and I had to stay somewhere else. It turned out to be a great hotel – much better than the one I was comfortable with and showed me I had gotten into a travel rut of always staying in the same hotels in various cities and eating in the same restaurants.
There is something to be said for making travel easy and as stress free as possible but there is also something to be said for walking into a place called “Champagne and Gyoza” at 1am in Tokyo with another gaijin and just seeing what happens. Turned out to be great gyoza and marginal champagne so we had beer instead. Ninety minutes and two dozen gyoza later I was back at the hotel with a memory I won’t soon forget.
Lately, when I am alone in Asia; I seek out places I have never been. It takes me back to some of the great experiences we had when my family first moved to China and we communicated with sign language, flash cards and a few spoken words. Almost every day brought a new experience when we first arrived in Shanghai.
My wife and I always tried to teach our kids to “ask for the order” when they wanted something whether it was a room upgrade, a discount or a pet sitting job. The best examples of this concept I ever saw were from kids selling things on the street in Cambodia and Viet Nam. Both times they were pre-teens who learned enough English to try to sell things to tourists. In both cases, they made eye contact, established where we were from, said something to establish credibility. One young lady sold us by knowing all the state capitals in the US, proving it to us and then using the positive impression to sell us a travel guidebook that was clearly printed locally. My wife started to leaf through the book and was stopped in her tracks by a firm response: “lady the book is $2, just buy it” which is what happened. It always amazed us how entrepreneurial kids were in places like Ho Chi Minh, Angkor Wat and Lhasa.
|This little guy rowed his bucket out to our boat and "asked for the order"|
On another occasion we were walking along the street in Ho Chi Minh a boy of about twelve came up to us with nothing to sell; he just wanted to beef up his language skills. We talked for about ten minutes and suddenly a late model BMW pulled up to the curb. Our new friend politely said “Oh that’s my mom, I have to go she drops me off near international hotels a couple times a week so I can chat up foreigners and improve my English”.
The passion for learning I found traveling in Asia and working with young people in China, taught me that I needed to consider how much time I was spending consciously focused on continuing to develop myself.
If nothing else writing this blog helps me re-live great memories of the time I have been privileged to spend traveling the world and living in Asia. Sorry if this was a little too much stream of consciousness but thanks for coming along.