Near Yellow Mountain

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The "4 AM" Syndrome

After almost two decades of  transoceanic travel, I have experienced many changes in the "long haul" flying experience - on the upside: flatbed seats and better entertainment. On the downside: post 9/11 security and declining service on most airlines including the once unbelievable service on Singapore Airlines.

For me, one aspect of travel that has not changed over the years is the "4AM" syndrome. Whatever my "home" time zone may be (China, Japan or the US) - when I leave home to cross the Pacific the first few days after my arrival have one constant - I wake up at 4AM. If I go to bed at 10 PM, I wake at 4, if I go to bed at 1am, I wake up at 4. The problem with waking up at 4 is that I am ready to go back to sleep about the time I am supposed to go to dinner with customers. Many of my friends from Japan use some kind of pharmaceutical solution. I don't prefer that option because I don't like the sluggish feeling it brings. In the interest of full disclosure, I do carry NyQuil cold medicine gel -caps for the occasional desperate situation when I need to drop off to sleep quickly but I probably only use that option one night in one-hundred.

When I first started traveling, mild sleep deprivation made me miserable by day three of a trip. I would toss and turn waiting until 6am to get up and start the day with a run. The fact my customers usually wanted to stay out until midnight or later made my days very long and made long meetings seem much longer. I had trouble speaking English let along trying to understand the Japanese or Chinese.

Over time I learned not to fight jet lag but to embrace it, I stayed on a schedule of getting up at 4 and doing email or reading until my 6am run. I learned to manage my schedule so I have at least 60 minutes between the last meeting and dinner. A 60 minute gap allows me to get back to the hotel and have  a 20- 30 minute power nap before the "evening shift". It doesn't sound like much but 30 minutes of sleep gives me enough energy to feel normal through the evening.

Last week when I was sending emails back to North Carolina at 4AM Taipei time, I got a return email asking why "after all the years oft travel why hadn't I learn to manage jet lag".  I didn't bother to reply but the answer is I learned how to manage jet lag by not trying to fight it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Around the world (and more) in 18 days

November 27th, 2011

In the past 18 days, I have been in Switzerland, China (Shanghai and Sichuan), Singapore, Japan (Tokyo and Osaka), Charlotte, Augusta, Georgia and NY. My return date from Japan was on the anniversary of my move back from Asia one year ago which sparked a bit of reflection while I was on the Singapore Airlines A380 from Tokyo to LA.

Traveling to so many diverse places in less than 3 weeks was a mini version of what I have experienced on a larger scale since early 2000. I transitioned from the "slightly stiff" Zurich to the wide open people of western China without a blink. Shanghai is an ever changing third home - everything changes but everything has the same feel. On the plane to Singapore I encountered a person experiencing the wonder of his first tour of Asia. He had so many comments and concerns that seemed childlike but were my own when I made my first tour of Asia in 1995. Singapore in some ways is the Asian Switzerland - everything is in order and runs on time but things like the street food hawkers prevent it from having the clinical feel of Zurich. Tokyo and Osaka are continually feuding cousins but I enjoy and appreciate both especially the little things like the fact that they use opposite sides of the escalators to stand and walk. I was back at home in the US for a day before going to Augusta, Georgia to play Augusta National Golf course. I stayed in a cabin on the property, ate among the "green jacket wearers"  in the clubhouse, visited the wine cellar, prepared to play in the locker room and met several members who represent the "Who's Who" of American business. You have to be invited to play this most exclusive of American courses. How did I get to this once in a lifetime opportunity??? From a Japanese customer with connections to an American member. Small world indeed.

The home stretch of the 18 days was spent in New York. My wife and I met our younger daughter who is at college in Los Angeles in NY to stay with our elder daughter who moved there after graduating from college in May. Her apartment is in a formerly gritty section of Queens that has become neighborhood that could be a poster for diversity. I detected six different languages on the street as we walked 400 meters to the subway.

We had a great time over the holidays - touring, shopping, eating, etc. The last night we attended a Broadway show called "Chinglish" aka Chinese/English which appealed to the entire family since we had lived through many of the circumstances in the play. Then we flew home......

Home is Charlotte, NC. A very nice mid sized city. We have a house on a golf course (my dream) and I have an easy commute to work - when I am here. Cost of living is very reasonable and the weather is nice. I still spend a good deal of time in Asia - I leave again in two days for ten days in Taiwan, Korea and Japan. Yet something is still missing. My wife and I talk about it from time to time. Part of it is the normal ex-pat dilemma. I ran a growing business in Asia with little "help" from HQ that saw the company profits in Asia increase almost 10 fold in a decade. I was the only American there. The team was closeknit with a family atmosphere.

My environment has definitely changed. The challenge of learning cultures, language, customs and working with a young team anxious to learn, achieve and grow has been replaced by office politics, reductions in force, the growing American feeling of entitlement and casting blame on others such as exhibited by the current  "occupy" movement, political correctness, etc. Many places in America no longer allow public Christian symbols or traditional religious Christmas songs to be played in public places. Yet in Shanghai you can hear "What Child is This?" from speakers on Nanjing Lu. Who is "free"?

When I set up this blog a year ago I mentioned deciding what to do "next" in the title. The transition to living in the US is complete, what to do "next" is the challenge for year 2.

PS: My current Global Lithium role was the answer to that challenge mentioned five years ago.