Thailand: The Land of Smiles?

I’ve been to Thailand a few times and with each trip i look forward to much of the same things: warm weather, blue skies, great food, and the smiles of the wonderful Thai people.  If you’re so lucky as to fly Thai Airways into Thailand then you’ll be greeted with their polite bow and big smiles when boarding the plane and then you instantly know that you’re now in the land of happy.  But, wait, i found the catch. I found the trouble in paradise.  I went to Krabi, a southern beach town, and discovered something that has changed my perception of Thailand.  I found all the locals in Krabi to be cranky, rude, and eager to rip off the tourists.  Okay, so ripping off tourists is not uncommon in any tourist trap anywhere in the world, but come on, at least steal my money with a smile and one of those cute Thai bows.  Here’s the thing: i don’t want to deter anyone from traveling to Krabi because it’s a beautiful place, but be warned, the locals are not happy people.  So much so that the first few cranky people i encountered i just assumed that they were having a bad day and i have grace for that because we all have bad days.  But then i started being more observant and i noticed that everyone is rude and in a bad mood.  I’d probably go back to Krabi if given the chance, but i wish i had known in advance that Krabi isn’t full of the smiling kind-hearted Thai people like in Chiang Mai and the Thai Airways flight attendants.

Anyone have similar experiences in Thailand?

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A Short Lesson on Being Ethnocentric

I live in China, which may be the center of the universe for ethnocentricity.  My girlfriend is Korean American, but she is always looked at to be the fluent Chinese speaker in any situation we go into.  Taxis, restaurants, airports, train stations, or Starbucks; it doesn’t matter, they always speak to her in Chinese and ignore me and then are frustrated and confused when she gives a blank stare back to them (although her Chinese is not bad, she often refuses to speak because they are viewing her as a Chinese and not Korean).  The thought process for them goes like this: she looks Asian so surely she is Chinese. And if she is Chinese then surely she speaks Chinese.  To our unending frustration i’m always having to butt in to say that she’s not Chinese and that they need to speak to me if we’re going to get anything accomplished.  And, without fail, they look at me and then look back to her for translation or clarification as though now she magically can speak Chinese because she’s Asian.  That would be what we call Ethnocentric.

So i’m in Krabi, Thailand for a few days of R&R after an intense several months of work.  Actually, since i’ve been here i’ve realized that this might be my first true vacation as an adult.  Sometimes growing up feels good.  I need to make this a habit.  But i digress.  Since being in Krabi i’ve quickly realized that we might be the only Americans in this whole town.  Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of white people, but certainly no other Americans.  Hearing English spoken is a rare occasion, but if we do hear English then it is spoken through a thick European accent.  So why do i expect all these people to act American?  Well, because they are white of course.  Why do i get bothered by their very European cultural tendencies and habits?  Because i expect them to act American of course.  I consider myself well traveled and well cultured, but the last few days have thrown me off course a little.  I’m realizing that maybe i’m not any different than my ethnocentric Chinese friends.  When someone looks like people from my culture then i expect them to speak and act like people from my culture.  And when they don’t, i’m annoyed.

Here’s to being more culturally aware and sensitive.  Not all white people are from America.

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$2 in Thailand

How far does $2 take you in a country like Thailand?

I’ve been amazed at what i can buy for just $2 here in Thailand.  Here’s a short list (feel free to add others in the comments if i left something out):

  • A plate of Pad Thai with chicken, shrimp, or pork.  Pad Thai is a staple dish in Thailand that includes vegetables and fried noodles.  Yes, you can eat a whole meal for $2!
  • A delicious tall glass of Thai iced coffee.  It’s the perfect blend of sweet and bitter.  It’s not like a latte. It’s so much more.
  • A fresh mango shake. Or pineapple. Or strawberry. Or banana. Or any other fresh fruit you may desire.
  • An entire load of clean clothes. Washed, dried, and folded.  Just drop it off and then pick it up 24 hours later.
  • A ride in a tuk tuk (Thai taxi) to anywhere in town.  Or 3-4 rides in a red truck (sorta like a Thai bus, but it’s a pickup truck).
  • An hour or two on the internet at any of the hundreds of internet cafes.

I’m confident there are many more cool things you can get for $2 or less in Thailand.  I’m always amazed at how far money goes down here!

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A Fly Fishing Dream

I don’t often tell people about my dreams because i usually don’t like hearing other people’s dream stories.  They are often boring and irrelevant to real life and, frankly, most dreams have that “you-had-to-be-there” feel.  However, recently i had a dream that left me puzzled when i woke up, but while contemplating the scenes in my head while taking a shower the meaning suddenly came to me and it all made sense.  i think the meaning applies to us all.

When i think about this dream i feel like it’s making me a better leader.

I was walking through a small mountain town with two fly fishing rods strapped to my backpack when i was approached by a group of locals asking me if i knew how to fly fish.  When i told them that i love to fly fish i then found myself surrounded by a crowd of curious local villagers.  They were fascinated by the idea of the graceful art of fly fishing.  I was pleased to walk with them to a local stream so they could observe what fly fishing looks like and feels like.  In real life, I’m always pleased to share my knowledge of casting a fly with anyone who’s interested.

As we got to the stream i realized the small crowd had now grown to a large crowd and they were pressing into me with eager anticipation of what was about to happen.  Literally, i could feel the crowd of people pushing into my back as i got closer to the stream.  Now, at the edge of the stream, i was trying to walk along the bank, but the pressure from the crowd pressing in on me would often cause my foot to slip off the slippery bank and into the water.  I had to quickly regain my balance on the banks of the stream.  There was nothing i could do to get them off my back and the balancing act to stay out of the water felt like i was a tightrope walker, not a fly fisher.

Finally, at a place where i could cast a line, i pulled out my rod and began casting.  At first it was tough to raise the line high enough to get my backcast over the heads of the eager onlookers.  They continued to press into me as i was casting.  They gave me no room to make the perfect graceful casts that i love so much.  As i adjusted my cast to compensate for the crowd i found myself making beautiful, soft presentations onto the slow-moving water in front of me.  As i slowed down my breathing and began to relax and have fun i found that the casts were gorgeous and graceful just like i love them.  With every cast the fly would lay gently on the water and the crowd was in awe.

Then i woke up.

I jumped in the shower still confused and humored by such a strange dream.  But when the meaning came to me while i was brushing my teeth i knew this was a lesson worth remembering.  When leading anything – whether big or small – the pressures will mount.  You will feel the crowd pressing in and you will often feel your foot slipping off the path and into the cold water below.  Despite the mounting pressure, we must perform with grace and elegance.  Not distracted by the pressure, but focused on the goal, we can achieve unbelievable results that defy the odds that are against us.

So that’s my little dream. I hope it encourages you today.  People are observant so take a deep breath, slow down, and lead well.

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A Wallet out to Sea

Somehow my friend’s wallet ended up on a U.S. Navy battleship that’s somewhere in the middle of the ocean.  He was in Dubai a few days ago before jumping on an Emirates flight to Thailand to help me with a conference i’m working on.  The day before getting on that flight he was enjoying a sunny day in Dubai and in the midst of the excitement he accidentally left his wallet in the backseat of a taxi.  Credit cards, driver’s license, social security card, credit cards, and $500 in cold hard cash. Gone.

He got to Thailand and this was one of the first stories he told me when i greeted him at the airport.  Despite the significant financial loss he wasn’t too down and out. He mostly went on about the hassle of canceling and reordering credit cards, the inconvenience of not having his company credit card for ongoing projects that he’s managing, and the hassle of transferring money to another friend’s account so that he can withdraw money while in Thailand.  I felt his pain.  I can’t imagine a more helpless feeling than being in a foreign country and suddenly every sense of financial security is totally stripped from you.  It can be a paralyzing feeling.

Yesterday (only 1 day after his arrival), we needed to keep everyone in our group on their feet and caffeinated because some are struggling with jet lag and the worst thing for jet lag is to lay around the hotel.  So we went out for coffee.  I had been craving another Thai Iced Coffee so i convinced the group to walk around the corner to a nice local cafe that i found a few days ago.  The place had free wi-fi so everyone was taking a few minutes to check email.  Suddenly, without warning, Nate starts shouting in excitement and when all of us fixed our attention on him he started reading an email to us: “Hi, my name is Jeff and i’m a U.S. Navy officer on the USS Russell.  I found your wallet in a taxi in Dubai.  I can assure you that all of the contents are in tact and i see that you live in Tennessee.  I’m the head of the mailroom on the USS Russell so i will be sure that your wallet is mailed back to you.”

Wow!  At that point we were all shaking our heads and laughing in amazement.  The unbelievable odds of that happening are mind blowing.  In shock and excitement, my friend called the phone number on the email.  Turns out the ship is already back out to sea, but our new friend Jeff is mailing the wallet.  Oh, and there’s icing on the cake.  Turns out that Jeff’s wife is on vacation in the exact same city as us in Thailand so we’re hoping for an opportunity to treat her to dinner to thank her for her husband’s incredible honesty and integrity.

I want to publicly thank the officers of the U.S. Navy and particularly the officers of the USS Russell.  I’m blown away by this story.

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Happy Chinese New Year

It’s the year of the dragon.

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It’s a Little Awkward Because I’m Not Exactly On Vacation

I’m in Thailand. It’s beautiful. The weather is warm and that warmth speaks to my soul.  The town i’m in is known for it’s tourists.  Tourism accounts for almost 100% of the income here.  I’m staying in a small guesthouse for backpackers and foreign tourists.  Everyday people are coming and going from some sort of crazy adventure. Boat rides down the river, scooter rides through the mountains, elephant treks, cruises down the Mekong River to see Laos and Cambodia, and guided tours through Buddhist temples.  I don’t fit the mold. I don’t fit in. I’m not exactly on vacation yet.  I sit downstairs by the pool every morning chipping my way through emails and creatively working on the next thing on my plate while scores of college-aged people sit at the tables nearby with their Lonely Planet book in hand planning the adventure for the day.

I’m not exactly on vacation yet, but i sure love the vibe of where i get to setup shop.  It’s nice to mix things up, to work in different environments and around different people.  It makes me think differently.

If you’re into specifics and want to know what i’m working on, here’s a little sampler:

- Creatively planning a conference for 650+ coworkers.
- Planning a banquet for those same coworkers to celebrate 30 years of work in China.
- Planning a 30th anniversary celebration in Hong Kong that immediately follows the conference.
- Several other odds and ends, but those 3 are the majors right now.

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Where in the World am I?

Hey blog readers… let’s catch up!

I’ve been hopping around quite a bit lately so if you aren’t following me on Twitter (which is where i most frequently put updates) then it’s likely that you don’t have any idea where i am or what i’m up to.  Let me start from the top:

I was in Beijing for a long while.  A very long while.  I was part of a massively important event in October, i stayed through the November cold (celebrating my birthday and Thanksgiving), and even most of the December deep freeze (celebrating Christmas).  If you know me well at all then you know that i hate cold weather.  I was made to live in San Diego, South Florida, or Chiang Mai, Thailand.

In late December a last-minute trip to the US popped up.  I spent 4 days in Chattanooga, TN meeting new people and speaking about China at a conference.  Then i spent 4 days in Atlanta meeting even more people at another conference (which changed the world in 4 short days. For real.).  Then i spent 2 days with my family (where i saw my grandmother for the first time in 6 years!!) before flying back to Beijing.  I spent 2 1/2 days in Beijing before flying to Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Now i’m nestled comfortably in 70 degree Chiang Mai.  Life is good.  I’ll be here for the next few weeks preparing for a conference, putting on a conference, and then to Hong Kong for one day to put on another event to celebrate our organization’s 30th anniversary (pics to follow).

It feels like a busy time, but it’s a glorious time as i bask in the sun, sipping on Thai ice coffee, and spending quality time with a few people that i only see a few times a year.

Hopefully, i’ve had the chance to see a few of you during these travels.  If not, then hopefully our paths will cross soon.

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My Current Reading List

I’m not a brilliant reader. I’m not one who gets up at 5 a.m. every morning to read 3 chapters of whatever book is at the top of my list.  Heck, i hardly even crack open a book while on long flights (i know, the travesty, right!!??)  However, for as long as i can remember, i’ve loved to read.  There was a day when people actually called me or emailed me to ask for book recommendations.  And there was a day when i had an answer.  For now, i don’t know if i can recommend any books with any level of wisdom, but i can tell you what i’m reading at the moment.

Currently, on any given day (with maybe a few days in between) i could be seen with one of these books in my hand:

  • The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice
  • The Confessions of St. Augustine
  • Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China
  • The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age

What are you reading?  Anything you’d recommend?

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Simple Joys of Chinese Living

One good thing that the Chinese have going for them is that they seem to be easily pleased.  Sure, this poses a problem when it comes to pursuing excellence, or innovation, or some of the bigger things we want to see this great country accomplish.  However, when it comes to the simpler things in life it’s nice to see how easily pleased they can be.

Ever since moving to Beijing I tend to most often observe their easy-to-please nature while riding the subway.  And i saw it again today.  It always cracks me up, even to the point of audibly laughing to myself.  Let me keep this short and just tell you what happens.  I want to warn you first though, because it’s likely you won’t think it’s very funny or entertaining until you see it for yourself.

Imagine you’re in a subway car and all the seats are taken, there are few people standing, but this is far from the crammed subway cars people often imagine when they think of Asian public transportation.  It’s just a normal day.  It’s 2 p.m. on a Tuesday and a small army of people are trying to move across the city.  This is not a big deal.  Just pop in the headphones, know how many stops you’re riding, and hold on.  So here’s where the easy-to-please Chinese concept comes in.  I see this all the time.  All. The. Time.  Someone gets up from their seat and the nearest person to that seat rushes over and shoves their butt into the seat as fast as possible.  The next moment is the golden moment.  More often than not, that person who just sat down starts beaming with a smile like they just found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  If their excitement can’t be contained in their face then they start bouncing their legs up and down.  It’s like they just got a fortune cookie saying they will inherit a million dollars – or i guess Ren Min Bi in this case.  It’s simple, it’s a normal everyday occurrence, but it’s like their whole day or week or month was just made perfect by that one moment where they got a seat on the subway.  And so i usually let out a soft chuckle and feel a little warm happiness inside for them and their accomplishment.  All is right in the world when the longings for the subway seat gets fulfilled.

And now i realize that perhaps i am the one who is far too easily amused.

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