Near Yellow Mountain

Saturday, February 26, 2011

to blog or not to blog - why am I still doing this.....????

I started this blog based on a cross cultural consultant's suggestion that I "write articles" about my repatriation experience. Writing an articles for publication isn't something I am familiar with so I decided to blog. Setting the blog up took literally less than five minutes and I was off. My goal was to have a written record of my transition back to life in the US that I would have in case my wife and I ever did write that book on ex-pat life we seemed to discuss about once a year.

I found posting on the blog to be a good outlet but as I think back, I would have to go re - read my posts to remember more than a couple things I have written about.

After a few posts, I stumbled on the part of the site where you can see how many people read your blog and what country they access the Internet from. I was surprised to see I had dozens of hits from several countries. I wondered how people found me so I typed in several differently worded attempts to find my blog via Google - no luck. It wasn't until I put the URL in that I found the blog. If you can't "Google yourself", how can you be found???? I seemed the blog equivalent of the invisible man.

 It remained a mystery how anyone from Malaysia or Belgium found the blog. Yes, I had told family and some friends that I was blogging. I also put the URL on Facebook but almost all my friends on Facebook are extended family. I could not account for the hits from Singapore or eastern European countries I have never had the opportunity to visit.

As time went on and the page views exceeded a couple hundred from 9 countries, I found the situation more and more curious. I re-verified the fact that my log-ins were not in that stats - it had occurred to me that I might be chasing my tail.

I am currently writing this from a hotel in Tokyo on a Sunday morning nursing a mild case of jet-lag. Today is the unusual day when I have almost nothing to do. Buy a ticket and take the shinkansen (bullet train) to Osaka and have dinner tonight with two colleagues. Customer golf was yesterday.  It is dawn and I am trying to motivate my self to run around the Imperial Palace before the streets are closed for the Tokyo Marathon that will pass by the hotel in a few hours. As I approach the half way point in a two week trip which will take me to 4 countries, 6 hotels and three overnight flights in 14 days. Writing this (or any other activity) is infinitely better than listening to Suze Orman - who was the talking head in my room when I turned on CNBC Japan this morning. One of the downsides of globalization is that CNBC re-runs in Asia are the most boring and locally meaningless fare they can find. My second best TV option was a month old LPGA golf tournament. "Blogs away"!!

I don't "tweet" but I have been horrified by the thought that writing this blog shows at least as much self absorption as an hourly "tweeter" or someone who feels compelled to voice every stray thought they have on Facebook. I am not anti facebook - it is great for posting pictures, keeping in touch with family or finding old friends but I think it is bizarre when I see a "news" feed with multiple posts everyday from the same people. To each his own I guess.

So why I am still writing this? I enjoy it - plain and simple. If anyone else enjoys reading my thoughts, so much the better. If you are reading this, come back in a week or two - likely there will be another post to read. In a competition vs Suze Orman re-runs; I like my chances and no, I don't know my current FICO score.

By the way...  "Pakistan Today" just came on CNBC. Certainly the final push to take my morning run.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On the road again

After three weeks in the office (an extremely unusual occurrence); it is time to take to the road again. Three straight weeks in the office was the work equivalent of lent. Lent, for those who don't know, is a 40 day period before Easter where Catholics generally give up (something like candy, carbs or single malt scotch) to deny themselves in spiritual preparation for Easter. For me, being in the office more than a few days feels a lot like lent.

By way of explanation, my job is to make sure the company's products are sold for the highest long term economic benefit to the company (and to our customers in an ideal world). Meaningful commercial activity for my business tends to take place in meeting rooms in Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul, Houston, and other business capitals (or on golf courses nearby) not in the office. Office time is often filled with inconclusive, mind numbing meetings and administrative stuff that I am happy to let others more passionate about the outcomes handle.

From a work perspective, I look forward to getting out, seeing customers, and meeting old friends but there is a dark side to my travel schedule - I am really enjoying being home; the surrounding nature and life in a golf community. A week of unusually warm weather found me getting fidgety about 3PM as I began to plan my office exit so I can rush home, change clothes and play a few holes of golf before dark. It seems I am a 4th grader again - rushing home, ignoring my homework, changing clothes and "playing" until dinner.

Now that our kids are both in college and we are new empty nesters and in a new location - I am surprised that the pull of home, especially a new one where we haven't developed a strong social circle, is so strong. I guess my rediscovery of "after school" play time was more significant than I thought.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A week of east and west

February 12, 2011

Another week passed. Over the past 15 years it has been very rare for me to spend two straight weeks in the office. I am still trying to get used to the US office which is a bit sterile and does not have the same comfortable feel as my Shanghai office. I like being around the people, some of whom I have known for over 20 years, but I miss my corner office in Shanghai with the city view (albeit often clouded by pollution); the churning mass of humanity below striving to make China a superpower.

I had a mid week break as some Japanese customers visited Charlotte for a meeting but more importantly golf. I have known the elder of my three guests, Yamaguchi san, since 1995. We have played golf from Shanghai to Pinehurst but most frequently in Tokyo.

The first time I played 18 holes in a foursome on my new home course in North Carolina was with three people from Japan - strangely appropriate I guess. We stopped on the 15th hole - walked over to my backyard (complete with a stone lantern and Japanese "kane" aka hanging bell) to introduce my wife, Connie, to my guests while Yuki - our Chinese dog with a Japanese name that we got from a French woman in an Irish bar in Shanghai barked at the top of her lungs. Seemed like a scene from a John Irving novel.......

The work week ended uneventfully. The weekend began comically as Connie and I attended a Chinese New Year dinner at the church we attend over the border in South Carolina. Not a Chinese face in the crowd but an excellent attempt to celebrate another culture. We enjoyed the Asian food - only one real Chinese dish in the mix but it didn't matter - the spirit was right. The ex Irish cop from Boston who was emceeing announced the traditional dragon dance and then the lucky draw took place. As newcomers we were asked several times where we came from. When we replied "China"; everyone got a good laugh. Nobody though we were serious. Connie won two prizes in the lucky draw. A Chinese New Year Party in South Carolina - great way to start a weekend.

Saturday morning was beautiful and sunny. I began the day with my weekend custom of logging onto the Financial Times website to read two things - Lunch with FT and Tyler Brule's column. Lunch with FT introduces me to many interesting people I might never otherwise heard of or cared about. I have nothing in common in with Tyler Brule except for logging a lot of flight miles and staying in some of the same hotels around Asia. Mr Brule in the editor of a fashion magaizine and anyone who knows me knows that fashion isn't something I pay much attention to. Nevertheless, I always find the commentary on culture and society interesting especially through a lens totally different than my home. Not sure why the habit started or when it will end but this bit of normalcy to my week helps me feel at home no matter where I am. If only the New York Times would bring Ben Stein back.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The "runs" and the Super Bowl

Feb 6th

Super Bowl Sunday morning was a beautiful, sunny day in Charlotte. It was 32 degrees F (which for those of you on the metric system means 0 C). A sunny cold day is perfect running weather for me - cold enough for running tights, warm enough for a short sleeve shirt as long as I have light gloves on. I run almost every day - in this case, "almost" is defined as about 29 days a month. The return to the US has changed my "running life" quite a bit. Although technically we live in a city, the reality is - our house is really in a rural development with a golf course providing a scenic venue for a 10 mile run. Unlike my runs in Shanghai, where even the suburbs take on a "Tinker Toys on steriods" look with all the looming construction cranes, concete trucks and mass of humanity; my new running ground is quiet, hilly and full of wildlife. A day without seeing a deer is an unusual one. Yesterday, the only "cloud" in the sky was the continual white steam cloud coming from the nearby nuclear power plant - sort of like Walden's Pond meets Three Mile Island. I like to call the eternal cloud -  "Oppenheimer's Geyser".  Nature meets cheap energy. Our house sits less than 1000 yds from the man made lake built when the reactor came to town. Actually I am thankful for the nukes on both sides of Charlotte. As long as those deer don't start glowing at night, I think we are good.

Runs in Shanghai were interesting - locals calling out to me, hoping to practice english; the tai chi groups in the park; people "walking" their birds; card games in the street; and the silent killer of Shanghai - electric scooters which are upon you before you hear them. My running courses in Shanghai were flat, busy and their was always something new to see - a old building being replaced, a new street being cut out of what had been rice patty just a few years ago, more and more cars with first time drivers trying to adjust to "no rules" driving.

I love the peaceful, lung and leg challenging, hilly runs my new home provides but I miss the energy and constant stimulation of running in a city of 20 million people......

After my run, I read my email and found out some graduates from the film school Cailin (younger daughter) is attending were finalists in the Doritos constest for best Super Bowl ad. I watched the ad on You Tube and remembered that even though we could watch the Super Bowl (on Super Bowl Monday morning) in Asia; we never got the commericals. The Super Bowl was a good football game but honestly I enjoyed the commercials as much as the game - a lot has changed in 11 years and it certainly shows up in the Super Bowl ads. Change isn't always positive but sometimes it is entertaining.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

IT "cops" - Merry Christmas and welcome home

Feb 1 2011

I have worked for the same American company for 22 years. The first 11 years in the US and the second 11 years in Asia. I am recently back in the USA and trying to adjust to the brave new "politically correct" universe.

Returning near year end made things even tougher as I had to learn many new corporate  "seasonal" realities. Such as...... having a Christmas party and playing Christmas carols, which are perfectly acceptably in Shanghai or Tokyo, can be "grounds for dismissal" in the "land of the 'free' ".  In much of America, saying "Merry Christmas" rather than "happy holidays" will get you an official corporate reprimand. Playing a "real" Christmas carol is potentially "a firing offense".  Translation: "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" is ok at the officially sanctioned "holiday party" but "Silent Night" is a major league problem in the corridors of HR / PC power. 

Ok - I can understand the PC/left leaning corporate types attacking what they perceive as the "religious right" but today I found two less likely American institutions that are also under attack.

Early this afternoon I heard the jack boots of the IT staff clicking outside my door. I welcomed the visitors in and asked if there was a problem. "In a word - 'yes' " was the reply. The corporate snooping software had detected Itunes on my PC. "Eliminate Itunes or perish" was effectively what I was told. My reply was "excuse my confusion but since HQ bought me this IPhone 4 that requires Itunes to activate; I am uncertain as to my egregious trangression". "Don't get smart with us" said the larger of the two. "Itunes can be used to activate your phone but then must be deleted" was the refrain of the shorter one. When I requested a further explanation I was told that "this order is from corporate" which of course meant logic played no part in the decision.

I asked if I would be spared the potential wrath of corporate if I agreed to delete my Itunes immediately - "not so fast", was the reply; "don't you also have Kindle software on your PC?" They had me. In the face of the evidence, I had to admit I actually read non business books.

My punishment is not yet determined.