"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born." - Anais Nin.
During an Out of the Box Thinking class in China, some students asked, "Amongst daily hectic life, how and where do you meet new people and how to start a conversation?" Pardon me: This is one of the rare instances where Friday Reflections is longer than a page and also there is a frequent use of the letter "I" in the following notes from my personal diary.
The first and foremost, I have been fortunate to have met and kept in touch with thousands of people (YOU) through Friday Reflections and OBT classes. Additionally, in past six months’ travel, I met over 350 new people related to my job: fellow coworkers and supplier personnel in many countries. Top that with many more friends I made during after work hours.
In July, during the visit to Malaysia, a friend whom I met in 1984 during my first business visit to Penang and since have kept in regular contact, invited me to meet "an interesting fellow". During the lunch meeting, I found out that this 'interesting fellow', at the age of 44, per his Doctor’s strict order, started an exercise program; part of which was to climb Penang Hill. His aspirations grew when he saw the peak of Mount Everest while vacationing in Nepal a few years later. At the age of 51, Vincent Loh climbed the highest summit on earth and since then he has climbed two more of the seven great summits. During our conversation, I found out that he is the CEO of multimillion dollar corporation and he had used many management and leadership principles in planning and execution of his Mt. Everest conquest.
A few years ago, one of the readers of Friday Reflections sent me a note and a weblink stating that there is this fellow in Malaysia named Billi Lim who is a great motivational speaker, OBT and author of the best seller book: Dare to Fail. Visiting his web site, I noticed that Billi’s periodic articles ended with following words: Billi Lim, your fellow traveler in time. I started copying Billi on my weekly Friday Reflections. After about three months, I received an email from his secretary asking, "Mr. Lim wants to know who are you and why are you sending him Friday Reflections?" I replied, "I am his fellow traveler in time and I like to share my stories with him just the way he shares his stories with us; in the spirit ‘Things that are given away are never lost’" Since then Billi and I have become good friends and met several times.
It was late night in early November in Ireland, when I returned to Maynooth station from Dublin. After a long wait, I finally got a taxi. During travel to my hotel, I noticed that the taxi driver had a long last name that ended in Coelho. So I asked Luis if he had any connection with the world known author Paulo Coelho. He told me that the only connection was that he had read all of Paulo’s books. Luis is a very well-read person. That sparked the conversation between us that lasted for half an hour after we reached my hotel; us still talking in his taxi and him ignoring many calls for the service. On my last day in Dublin, Luis came to the hotel and gave me the book "The heart or the enlightened" by Anthony De Mello.
Anthony De Mello? The first time I had heard about him was only two weeks prior when I was in Costa Rica. I was at the hotel desk, inquiring about the tour to Arenal Volcano. Lee, a retiree of the American corporate world and frequent visitor to Costa Rica, happened to overhear my question and offered some tips. That started a conversation which converged to our common interests in books and travel, and him mentioning Anthony De Mello.
During the same trip, I contacted three colleagues at work, two with whom I had worked on an exciting project several years ago and the other who has sent many kind comments to FR; even though they were not connected in any way to my current job. Just before I had left for Costa Rica, a coworker had asked me if I would like to meet her father while there. The dinner meeting with her dad turned out to a memorable evening as we talked for hours about science, technology and many ideas. That gentleman was the president of Costa Rica’s institute of technology for over a decade. He is also very instrumental in formation of country’s technology policies and strategies. Recently he inherited a cattle ranch from his dad and he is using his experiences in technology field to improve productivity in the ranch.
I also met a couple from Portugal in a bus. The husband is in computer field so I seized the opportunity to talk about the merits of our microprocessors. The wife is involved in creating children’s programs for Television after previous career in Nursing.
Back to Ireland for a minute: As the fate would have it, three times as many people showed up than originally registered for OBT class. That offered an opportunity to meet several Irish, Israelis, Russians, Polish, Germans, British coworkers and a man from Morocco. Not to forget an IT consultant and a lecturer at local university; we had a nice dialogue during a train ride. An evening at the house of an Irish family of a work friend (Gavin) was the ultimate in Irish hospitality. They knew that the day was Diwali (Indian equivalent of Christmas) and had lighted the dining room with Diwa to make me feel at home.
During a brief stop over in India to wish Happy New Year to family, I met a very successful business man and his wife, friends of my sister’s family. After a brief warm up conversation, "How is the American Economy? Subprime fiasco etc", we diverged into talks about softer side of life. I discovered that he had horses as pets in his childhood: you can guess his upbringing. When he shared the stories about the loyalty of his father’s horse even until the moment before it died, we all had tears in our eyes. It reconfirmed my long held belief that even hard driving, logical and intense people in business also have a deep emotional side longing to surface if the opportunity comes up. At the request of my daughter, I paid a courtesy visit to the managing editor of a large publishing house. A thorough gentleman, he shared his years of experience in publishing and was kind enough to introduce me to the publisher, a young man with a vision, who had assumed the reins of the family business after returning from US.
During most of my visits to Singapore, I have dinner with friends Kai and Mina whom we met during our Stanford days in late 70s. I also had an opportunity to spend an evening with a bright engineer who had left my current company and moved to Singapore. Also discovering that a childhood college mate from India had recently moved her family business operations to Singapore from Shanghai, I called her; their office was very close to my hotel. Upon reaching there, I discovered that the company was owned by two ambitious bright young men, her 31 and 24 years old sons, who had left their well paying jobs in USA to follow their dream in the fast growing region of the world.
Going to Philippines has always been nostalgic: So many friends from my ex-pat assignment in the early 80s when we all had full dark hair; seeing our children grow up through the years; meeting colleagues from my current company who have moved on to other places; so many friends at current work place; and sad memories of losing three teenage brother in laws and father in law in a period of four years (1978-1982). I decided to spend Thanksgiving in Manila instead of going home for just a few days before returning to Asia. In the process, we made a new friend, a person from US who was with my company and now retired in Manila. Five hours stay at her beach house in Batangas was very fulfilling even though it took 7.5 hours to travel 120 miles round trip on that stormy day.
Taiwan was special in the sense that I met this 22 year old who worked in marketing department of a high tech company. At a very young age, this person had gone to Gambia to assist needy people and those experiences may have influenced this person’s broad views about the world and the level of maturity.
In early 90s, Jess was with a supplier in Hong Kong and I was with their major customer. We had presented a joint paper at a packaging conference in Santa Clara, USA. But we had lost contact after 1995 until during my visit to a supplier in China in 2003, one of their managers and I started talking about the old times. He informed me that Jess had moved to Thailand with another company. So during my business trip to Thailand in late November, Jess and I connected and did work related informal benchmarking while sightseeing on a Sunday.
China: After reading the weather forecast, my colleague from Oregon and I postponed our dreams of climbing the great wall and decided to stay in Shanghai. Our team members from local office were kind enough. On Saturday, one of them, sacrificing the normal shopping expeditions, showed us the secrets of Shanghai: Yu Yun gardens, a multi story Chinese book store, one of the few parks and Nanjing road area. The second day was an adventure in Hongzhou with another colleague. OBT learning helped in discovering that in order to get a Taxi from a busy location (survival of the fastest), it was good to go take a bus in the opposite direction of where every one is going and get off after a few stops. Taxi might be waiting for you instead of you waiting for it for hours in the busy location. One very valuable traveler tip: Don’t drink too much liquid if you are going to travel by car, and force yourself to go to the restroom before embarking on a journey during traffic hours. If you don’t follow this advice, things can get really embarrassing as they nearly did. Don’t tell then that I did not tell you so.
Korea: Meeting good old friends from previous work associations and having breakfast with a bright engineer who had left us and joined another company were the major attractions of this visit. Caught up on the story of a good friend whose son had returned from Nepal after an expedition to climb Mt. Shivaling.
Seoul to San Francisco: Before I could sit down in my plane seat and take an opportunity to introduce myself to the people sitting next to me as I customary do, the lady in the next chair introduced herself with a warm smile. Hello I am Catherine. She has been in charge of raising donation (in 100s of millions per year) for a major US university for the past twenty years. When she heard that I get bored during long flights, she loaned me a book: ‘Billionaire that was not. How Chuck Feeney secretly made a fortune and gave it all away’ and said “Try this.” The story was so captivating that I forgot all about sleep that I was desperately looking forward to. It reminded me of another similar experience in July on the way to Korea, a very engaging a few hours conversation about books with the air hostess who had recommended "Life of Pi."
Return home was very fulfilling in that my childhood penpal who later became my life partner picked me up from the airport. A few days later, I met three passionate young entrepreneurs who have created and own this Friday Reflections site with their personal investment of time and money. I told them about experiences of previous 42 days and they asked me to write them down.
People are everywhere. And every one, every life has a story. The text above talks about the chapters of six weeks of my life story. Each one of you has your own story in works, and I am sure that the New Year and beyond will enrich it with many people and experiences.
When I left home at the age of 17, my father’s words of wisdom were, "It is people who make things happen, not the machines. Most important relations are personal ones. Remember that while exploring this wonderful world"
Wishing you a very Happy and fulfilling New Year.