Sunday, March 29, 2009

Where I've Been

Where My Feet Have Taken Me | It's amazing to look at this map and think about all the places in the world that my feet have taken me (shown in red)...and likewise, all the places they have yet to be. I would like to think that domestic and international travel has helped shape me into a well-rounded person, but who's to say what "well-rounded" really means? Experiencing what life is like in other countries is always an opportunity that I welcome with open arms. I've never really thought about it, but maybe I have this outlook because of my mom. When I was younger, it wasn't unusual for my siblings and I to come home to a packed car with a map of the U.S. in the passenger seat. I remember stages of my life through the road trips that we took. Mountain Dew, beef jerky, sunflower seeds, and mixed tapes...all staples to our cross country drives. I had an amazing childhood thanks to loving parents and siblings that I wouldn't trade for anything (though, that wasn't always the case : ). My mom taught me to be adventurous, and to love the idea of the unknown. She taught me to embrace other people, other cultures, and to "know no stranger." My grandma had the same philosophy in life, and if you had the privilege of knowing her, it's not hard to guess why my mom turned out the way she did...and why I, too, am growing into the person I am today.

My Grandpa Jack was the same way -- he loved exploring the world around him...from his backyard to wherever his feet took him. He was a builder who left his legacy standing in the sound structures he built with his own two hands, from the West Coast to the Midwest. My dad's parents traveled all over the states, so he, too, saw the world from the passenger's seat. Sadly, I think this is something that today's generations will not experience. Today, it seems like it's all about "hurry up and wait" and road trips take far too long versus the comfort of a cushy plane ride.

As I have often said, when people ask me about where I've been, I've traveled thousands of miles but hardly touched a speck of the world around me. Hopefully, in another 30 years of life, more and more of this map will turn red...but only time will tell where my feet will take me next.

Top 5 Places I'd Like to Visit:
1. Samoa
2. Scotland
3. Africa
4. India
5. Thailand

If you're wondering where I got this awesome map, Google "World 66," or just click here:

Friday, March 27, 2009

China Top 5

1. Climbing the Great Wall w/my Nemo Lung

Climbing the Great Wall is something I had on my Bucket List of things to do. I hiked to the highest peak that you can see behind my head, but once I got there, we realized that it was a dead end. A DEAD END on the Great Wall - who knew?!

2. Bonding with the group

More so than our Legislative Residency in D.C., our EMBA group really seemed to bond on this trip. Perhaps it was because we found unity in the experience of being the minority, for better or worse, in a different country. Or maybe it was just the relaxing night of Shanghai karaoke. Whatever it may be, this was a trip that will not soon be forgotten.

3. Watching Miller strut in his mini-me tailored suit

So this is what happens when you wait until the last day in Shanghai to have a suit made. It was a skin tight, shiny, polyester-looking, "sausage casing," as John called it. Though, our interpretation of that was much different than his. Nevertheless, he was a good sport and gave the late night crew a few turns 'round the Park Place catwalk. His catwalk was so impressive that I had to make a GQ cover to debut the "handsome suit." Here's to you, Mr. Miller : )

P.S. I love you John!

4. Wasabi Peanuts - thanks, Molly!

No, these aren't mints. These little green whipper snapper snacks were the key to burning the taste of unknown oil off your tongue after a long hard day of eating foreign foods. OK, in all honesty, the food wasn't THAT bad...but these wasabi nuts rock! I give them 5 stars. I loved them so much that I brought a bag of them home.

5. Drippy : ) a.k.a. Hai Bao

After a long day of walking the city, Hai Bao was a familiar face that we could count on...because he/she is everywhere!! This little blue character is the mascot for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, of which the U.S. does not have a presence (but don't get Ken started on that one--or actually, do. It's a conversation worth listening to). Hai Bao, which means "treasure of the sea," was created to accomplish the following functions: 1) embody culture of hosting country, 2) interpret theme "Better City, Better Life," and 3) posess the value of recreation. He's pretty cute, too!

Monday, March 23, 2009

To Squat or Not To Squat...

When traveling abroad and exploring foreign soil, you begin to realize that it's the little things you take for the comfort of your own toilet. Who knew that one of the things I would miss most while spending nearly two weeks in China was the shiny, white, porcelain toilet in my bathroom at home? Not a fancy toilet by any means, but one that is more than 1 inch from the floor, sit-able rather than squattable, and most importantly--a toilet that flushes toilet paper.

Whoever you are and wherever you roam, the saying goes that you should do as Romans do. While I have always considered myself someone who makes every effort to adapt to the local habits of the countries that I visit, I must admit that squatting over this toilet was not a pleasure that I endured. Not because I was disgusted that the toilet wasn't what I was used to back home (I honestly didn't expect it to be the same), but because I couldn't really figure it out. It's been nearly 20 years since I've been camping and thus, I truly believe that I have lost the ability and instinct to squat. It's no longer in my DNA. I mean, do you completely de-pant? Take one leg out? What if I fall in? All valid questions, in my opinion.

While struggling with the "To squat or not to squat" monologue running through my mind when I entered this stall, I began to wonder what the Chinese must think of Western toilets. I wondered if sitting down on a seat that a million other people have sat on seemed as unappealing as squatting over this toilet seemed to me. Arguably, the squattable seat actually is cleaner and more green friendly than American toilets (though, any of my family members will tell you that I'm a germaphobe and carry toilet seat covers in my back pocket).

Still, it lead me to the question of whether different is better or worse. The simple truth is that everyone's toilet is different. Yours is different from mine, ours is different from theirs, and better or worse depends on your preference. To be fair, not all toilets that I encountered were grounded like this one. For me, the lesson here was that the smallest insignificant thing that you wouldn't normally consider to be a luxury actually is. So next time you visit your bathroom, fully equipped with toilet paper, a little white seat that's a foot and a half from the ground, and flushability, be sure to send a little thanks to the toilet Gods of the Western World.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Day 2.5: Karaoke Bar

Last night, Montira arranged a group outing to a local Karaoke Bar. This is like nothing I have ever seen. Huge private rooms with leather couches, a dance floor, really bad music videos, and a Chinese menu of American song titles--most of which are lost in translation. One of my favorite titles on the menu was "Sugar in the Marmalade" a.k.a. "Lady Marmalade." I would speak about the rest of the night, but we all made a pact that what happens in Shanghai, stays in Shanghai. Let's just say that there was dancing, singing, spinning, being dropped on your head, and much, much more. Good times!

I see an EMBA Karaoke Reunion in our future...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Guanxi in Motion

Day 2: Fudan University

Guanxi is a word that we have come to know well in our EMBA Managing China class. According to Wikipedia, "Guānxi" is a central concept in Chinese society. It describes the basic dynamic in the complex nature of personalized networks of influence and social relationships. In other words, it's an informal social network formed with people you encounter, which sometimes makes it easier to do business in China. Angela, Jon S. and myself went on a taxi-cab journey today and put our Guanxi in motion.

Our cabby dropped us off at the gates of Fudan University and pointed down the street, as if we would know where to go. We had an interview set up with the professor of Health Economics and two of his graduate students, and an address on a piece of paper written in English and Chinese. If the buildings were numbered, or if there were street signs pointing one way or the other, we probably could have found the way on our own. But signs were as scarce as other Westerners on campus. Trapped in the middle of what looked like dormatories, we stopped to show our sign to a guard on the street. He also pointed in the same direction, but then made a gesture with his hand, as if to say turn left down there. So we kept walking...and walking...and walking.

Stopping for directions doesn't really help when you can't speak the native language, but we did so anyway. Walking into a convenient store, we played a charade-like game with the cashier to convey our ignorance and excuse our inability to communicate. In other words, "Americans LOST! Please help!"

It's amazing how well you can communicate even without common language. Sometimes, expressions like the deer in the headlights look of being lost seems to be universal. The man in the convenient store was clever enough to point to the phone and ask if we had a number for whomever we were trying to meet. After our hosts graciously came to collect us, we had a very delightful visit with the professor and his students. To say that they were prepared would be an understatement. They flipped through pages upon pages of research for the questions that Angela had sent, spoke with intriguing insight in English that was nearly perfect, and revealed cultural differences that neither party had thought of. It was beyond impressive. We left agreeing to collaborate on future projects, which both sides were excited about. I wouldn't be surprised if I have an email waiting for me when I get home.

Shanghai Afternoon

DAY 1: Shanghai - Renaissance Yuyuan Hotel

As we landed in the Pudong Airport, I was overwhelmed by the number of older Asian women who nearly knocked me over. They looked so cute from afar...until their boney elbows found their way into my rib cage. The last time I felt this violated was when I had the brilliant idea to venture out on a day after Thanksgiving sale at 4am. Elbows flying, bodies being shoved out of the way, people stepping over others just to get closer to the Wii aisle at Wal-Mart. The scene at the United Airlines terminal this afternoon was identical to that horrific day. Of a few things I am sure -- pushing isn't a crime in this city and personal space seems to be nonexistent.

The hotel, however, is everything that a Westerner could ask for - running water, western toilets and a room so clean that you don't feel like you have to walk around in your shoes. The view out my window is a cross between the streets of Chicago or New York and quaint villas that seem extremely out of place given the modern skyscrapers that tower their every side.

After a walk through the hutong (older courtyards and alleys surrounded by adjoined residences) adjacent to our hotel, we found a convenient market with shops, street vendors, food and guess what...Shanghai STARBUCKS!! It was as if I hadn't left home at all...until I realized that I couldn't order my iced grande nonfat no whip white chocolate mocha, and that my barista, Teresa, was replaced with a Chinese girl. But who needs coffee? I just got off of a 13 hour flight and it was only 2pm. My eye will stop twitching later, I'm sure.

Gordon took the 2nd crew to a local eatery just past Starbucks (you can see the corner of it on the left side of the Starbucks picture) which the 1st crew had eaten at the night before. Looking around the restaurant, every table was filled with at least 3 generations of family members: grandparents, parents and kids. It didn't seem like a special occasion that they had all gathered together for, but instead, like a routine Sunday dinner with the entire family. As I guzzled down the cashew chicken I had ordered, I was envious of the family life that seemed so engrained into the local people around me. Kids weren't texting on their cell phones, spouses were actually talking to each other rather than playing the silent game, and it seemed as if even the dishes that rotated in the center of the table were meant to be a bonding experience. It was fascinating and made me wish that life back home could be as simple as Shanghai after noon.