Monthly Archives: October 2006

Web Designers, Video Ring Tones, Vancouver and New Delhi

Three housekeeping items.

1. I’m looking for a web designer to build a simple web site for my book and re-design this blog in a matching color scheme. Please email me if you know of anyone who is suited for the task (or if you want to suggest well-designed book web sites) and I can email the spec.

2. I have a friend who’s developed some awesome video ring tones. Not just sounds / music, but animated video that will play on the phone. This is the future of this market. If you have any contacts in the ring tone industry / mobile phone world, please let me know.

3. I’ll unexpectedly be in New Delhi, India and Vancouver, British Columbia in a week. If you live there and want to meet, email me. Thanks.

Asking for Water in China

I gave the Europeans a hard time over the summer for their assault on h2o.

China is worse.

First, you can’t drink from the tap. A pain.

Second, asking for water in a restaurant is too challenging. I ate at Steak King across the street from my apt in Shanghai two days in a row. Same waitress. On the first day I asked for water, and pointed to “water” on the menu (which had the corresponding Chinese characters below the English phrase). It cost 4 yuan so I assumed it’d be mineral water or something.

She brought me a mug of boiling hot water. No tea, no flavor, just hot water. Might I ask what anyone would do with a cup of boiling hot water? I told the waitress, No, I want cold water. She didn’t understand. I said, “Ice”. She brought me back the SAME MUG except with ice cubes in it. Now I had a cup of boiling hot water with ice cubes. Two counteracting forces fighting vigorously for what they believe in. 10 minutes later the ice won and I drank lukewarm water.

The next day I went through the same routine with the same waitress. Only this time i made it clear when ordering, “COLD water. ICE!” She nodded. She brought me a mug of boiling hot water. I sent it back. I said, “ICE”. She brought it back boiling water w/ ice cubes.

I know I’m doing something wrong…when Eisen ordered for me I got a tall glass of cold, iced water. Not boiling water. Maybe I should ask for boiling, hot water?

Talking With, At, or To Someone – Arrogance in Conversation

We’ve all met arrogant pricks whose pretentiousness takes your breath away.

Arrogance can often reveal itself in conversations. I see three types of conversation people: someone who talks with you, someone who talks at you, and someone who talks to you.

Someone who talks to you implies a lecture. A one way street. Mr. Busy Guy with Mr. No Name Who Should Thank God He Is Even In My Office. Someone who talks to you feels like his life is simply more interesting than yours.

Someone who talks at you still implies a one-way conversation, but I have more sympathy for these kinds of people. In this case the guy or gal may be too arrogant to ask what you think or let you say a word, but there’s a kind of raw energy flowing from them that can make it worthwhile. These kinds of people are usually so wrapped up in their own life and work that they forget they’re with someone else!

Someone who talks with you engages in a real two way conversation. This kind of person usually isn’t too arrogant, or at least he has the wherewithal to see each meeting as a chance to learn something new. He remembers that if you want to spend an hour bragging it’s better to call your mom than call a business contact. He remembers that people want to feel important and asking the other person what’s new in his life is a good start.

I want to add that some ego and arrogance is good. Staunch self-confidence can often border on arrogance, and that’s OK, since self-confidence is so important. Chris Yeh and I have joked about our own narcissistic personality disorders. Hell — most every blogger falls in this boat! But self-confidence in private is different than a live interaction with another ego-filled human being.

Also, just because someone is arrogant doesn’t mean s/he is not genuniely smart or right. As the line in the Big Lebowski goes, "You’re not wrong, Dude, just an asshole." For example, the word is that Larry Summers‘ preferred style of participating in meetings was to paraphrase what everyone said: "So what you’re really saying is…" And of course it was was they were really saying — Summers is a genius — but his style screamed asshole, and he ultimately lost his job.

Related Posts:

Ten Things To Keep In Mind When Making a Difference

Peter Singer, the famous animal rights activist and ethicist, writes about ten ways to make a difference when pursuing your cause (and changing minds). Here are the ten headlines. He offers details under each one. Thanks Ramit Sethi for the pointer.

1. Try to understand the public’s current thinking and where it could he encouraged to go tomorrow. Above all, keep in touch with reality.

2. Select a target on the basis of vulnerabilities to public opinion, the intensity of suffering, and the opportunities for change.

3. Set goals that are achievable. Bring about meaningful change one step at a time. Raising awareness is not enough.

4. Establish credible sources of information and documentation. Never assume anything. Never deceive the media or the public. Maintain credibility, don’t exaggerate or hype the issue.

5. Don’t divide the world into saints and sinners. [BTC: This is an excellent tip. Bifurcating the issue into good or evil is a recipe for disaster.]

6. Seek dialogue and attempt to work together to solve problems. Position issues as problems with solutions. This is best done by presenting realistic alternatives.

7. Be ready for confrontation if your target remains unresponsive. If accepted channels don’t work, prepare an escalating public awareness campaign to place your adversary on the defensive.

8. Avoid bureaucracy.

9. Don’t assume that only legislation or legal action can solve the problem.

10. Ask yourself: "Will it work?"

BusinessWeek Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25

BusinessWeek just published "Young, Fearless, and Smart," an article about young entrepreneurs, which includes a slideshow of the Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25, a lineup which includes yours truly. They’re asking their readers to vote for their favorite entrepreneur of the batch. Given that I’m by far the youngest person on there with another seven years of eligibilty, the rational person might give the charity vote to the 25 year old. But loyal blog readers know better! 🙂 Thanks to Atul Khekade of India (and anyone else) for nominating me, and kudos to my newly married friend Michael Simmons for also getting mentioned.

When Ben Casnocha was 12, Apple Computer’s "Think Different" ad campaign inspired him to become an entrepreneur—he wanted to change the world on his own terms. In 2001, after a string of ventures, including selling gumballs to his brothers, he started Comcate, a software company that focuses exclusively on improving operations for public agencies.

So far, more than 50 small and mid-sized government agencies around the country have hired the company and installed its Web-based software to improve customer service and office efficiency. Casnocha says Comcate is now focused on one thing: growth. He plans to have Comcate in more than 300 agencies by 2010 and predicts revenues will grow from close to $1 million now to $6 million by then. And there’s more to his story. He graduated from high school in June, and he’s already got a book coming out. My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley (John Wiley & Sons) is due in stores in May. He starts at Claremont McKenna College in California next fall.

To Think Good Thoughts Requires Effort

I must miss Japan. Tonight for dinner I found myself in a Japanese restaurant here in Kunming, China which offered everything China is not: tranquility, impeccable service, quiet voices. What a nice reprise from the grime of China daily life! While gorging myself on lots of sushi and hot sake, I came across this excellent quote in James Clavell’s colossal novel Shogun, which is about the Shogun era (1600) in the Asian Saga (set in Japan — yes, I must really miss that wonderful country):

Always remember, child, that to think bad thoughts is really the easiest thing in the world. If you leave your mind to itself it will spiral you down into ever-increasing un-happiness. To think good thoughts, however, requires effort. This is one of the things that discipline — training — is about. So train your mind to dwell on sweet perfumes, the touch of this silk, tender raindrops against the shoji, the curve of this flower arrangement, the tranquility of dawn. Then, at length, you won’t have to make such a great effort and you will be of value to yourself, a value to our profession — and bring honor to our world…

Do you have a stash of "good thoughts" you turn to when the going gets rough? One image I have in my head is a white swan swimming gracefully across a pristine, blue lake. I have no idea how why that has stuck but I turn to it when I need a quiet mind.

Optimism is a habit. Practice it!

Related Posts:
• Do You Believe Tomorrow Has the Potential to be Better Than Today?
• Cultural Pessimism Remains Flip
• Quote of the Day About Optimism

All I Want to do Is Play Ping Pong

You can probably imagine how excited I was to get in several good games of ping pong, my favorite sport, while I’m in China. But I haven’t seen a SINGLE PERSON playing. Apparently it’s only big in universities.

With only a couple more days left here, I resolved to find a game. In my hotel there’s a ping pong table but, alas, I have no one to play with and no one was around. So I headed over to a gym that was recommend to me. Sure enough, there was a table and paddles. First I did my workout (bike, treadmill, weights, elliptical) and then I resolved to find a playing mate.

No obvious candidates in the sparsely populated gym. There were of course 15 staff / trainers standing around doing nothing. I went up to one of the trainers and told him I wanted to play ping pong.

Six of them gathered and talked to decide how to fulfill my request. They said, “You want ping-pong?” I said I wanted ping pong, yes. The English speaking trainer came back and said, unfortunately, their boss won’t let them play ping pong with me because they’re supposed to be working.

I would have fought harder but I had already used my negotiating power to lower the daily fee from 98 to 50 yuan (my first successful negotiation in China).

Then, oddly, she came back and handed me two rackets and a ball. I walked over the table and waited awkwardly for five minutes. WTF is going on? Why can’t one of them just take a break for 10 minutes and give me their best stuff? Finally a woman came over and said “I’m very sorry, we’re not allowed to play since we must work.” I said, “Couldn’t you ‘train’ me on how to hold the racket?” She didn’t understand. I gave her back the paddles, embarrassed, and left the gym.

I feel like that kid who goes around and says “Will you be my friend?”

I’m sure if i was 5 inches shorter and 30 lbs lighter i would have had an opponent within minutes. What some call “our boss won’t let us” I call “the intimidation factor.” 🙂

When You Learn a New Word, You See it Everywhere

When I learn a new English word I immediately see it pop up everything. The book I’m reading just happens to have it, the newspaper article I read the next day uses the word, and so forth.

Driving through Kunming, China today, my host mentioned a Taiwanese brand name I’d never heard of. After he told me I immediately started seeing the brand name on signs throughout the city, signs I’m sure I’d looked at many times before and just didn’t recognize.

When I learn a new word or new idea, I always ask myself, “What did I do before I knew that word? What literally went through my head when I saw that word? Nothingness? Confusion? Did I just not see that sign with the brand name or did I see it and discern no meaning?”

The answer is I read right over the word and my eyes passed through the sign without a second thought.

This, to me, is proof that we can always engage with the world in deeper and deeper ways if our perspective (or vocabulary) is broadened.

Some people live as if the world is static and our job is to slurp it up until the bowl is empty. I don’t think this way. I see the bowl as bottomless because we all have the capacity to re-interpet the millions of images and words life throws at us in a more nuanced, compassionate, and smarter way. So many of these ideas pass through our head unchecked.

The best way to build this capacity, in my view, is to acknowledge the truth of the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” and then consciously commit to widening your perspective (through knowledge acquisition, travel, whatever).

If you don’t believe me on this one, learn a new, relevant vocab word and see if you find it pop up in your readings.

Welcome to Real China

I’m in Kunming, China in Yunnan Province, about a 2.5 hr flight west of Shanghai. Yunnan Province borders Southeast Asia and is a quick flight from Thailand, Vietnam, etc. I’m happy I’m here because, while Kunming is still a big city (6 million people and growing), it’s small and more remote when compared to Beijing, Shanghai, Guanghzo, and Hong Kong.

The best part about Kunming is its ethnic minorities. About 50% of the city is the majority Chinese race (Han Chinese) and 50% minorities. Most of the minorities have dark skin but some, near Russia, have pale white skin.

My contact Alan, who’s lived in Kunming his whole life and is the husband of a friend of a friend, met me at the Kunming Airport this morning and drove me to my hotel. I dropped off my stuff (I’m glad I upgraded hotels from the piece of shit place I had a reservation at….Dalian taught me to pay more and get English speaking front desk staff) and then headed back out with Alan. I didn’t really know what Alan had in mind for me or how much time he was going to spend with me.

Our first stop was to a local, authentic Yunnan restaurant (Yunnan cuisine is famous). While eating we watched the big stage in front of us while various ethnic minority dancers performed. Amazing stuff. All the dancing is built into the restaurant. "Now THIS is different," I told myself while slurping noodles and meats out of this big bowl of steaming soup which cooks the meat. The dancers from Tibet and all over China were dressed in stunning clothes with bright red and orange colors.Restaurant

Next we headed to Alan’s office so he could show me his work. He works with Kunming Municipal Government, so given my experience working with dozens and dozens of local governments we could chat about Chinese vs. American styles. He works in import/export, trying to get people in other countries to buy Kunming company products or set up manufacturing in Kunming. This place is growing like mad and there are tons of investment and development opportunities.Rest2

Then we drove to a beautiful, lakeside park and wandered through an art gallery. It’s all by this one famous local artist. The second floor is a tribute to America. Yep, a tribute to American troops who helped Kunming fight back against the Japanese during WWII. Pictures of American troops and Air Force planes.

We then took three cable cars up this huge mountain to get a birds eye view of Kunming. Beautiful! We hiked around in this mountain where paths and steps are carved out of rock. Nestled into the rock are various Buddhist and Taoist shrines. Kunming is already at a high altitude and going into the mountains made the air even thinner.Cablecar

All this brought us to dinner time where we dined at another local Yunan restaurant. Unfortunately I couldn’t enjoy the food because I had to go to the bathroom so badly. I tried to go to the bathroom but found it without toilets. It was the squat method. Having not done my homework, I freaked out and decided to hold it until back at the hotel. Oops. I did manage to hold it, but I was uncomfortable throughout our dinner.Meingarden

Kunming day 1 proved adventurous thanks to the generous hospitality of Alan. I’m here two more nights and will probably work on my book some, since cookie cutter tourism opps are scarce, but I will try to wander around a bit and try to get my head around western China.



Live Chickens in Shanghai

My Mom freaked me out when she told me I should expect to see a lot of live chickens running around in China.

It hasn’t been the case but in Shanghai I did, for the first time, see a guy biking with about 10 chickens on his back. A cop was giving him a ticket so it was probably illegal. I mean, they were hardly covered and if I wasn’t careful I could have been given a good peck and probably would have picked up some disease. Click the picture to enlarge.