While on the phone today, I was speaking with my friend about utility bills and the process for payment. I was reminded that in Japan, you could take all of your utility bills to the local convenience store and pay them at the store.
In fact, on more than one occasion, I went on a vacation and came back to no house phone or no electricity. I simply took my bill over the the Family Mart near my house, paid the bill, and by the time I walked back to the house, my electricity would be on again. That’s true convenience!
I don’t know why we can’t do something similar here in the U.S. I realize we can pay bills online, but if you are late, normally your services are not turned back on again immediately after payment. Just a little something I loved from my Japanese life. Woo hoo for paying bills at the “konbini!”
I posted this quote on the On The Bright Side Facebook Page earlier today. Since it received lots of likes and comments, I thought I would share this here too.
USE YOUR EXPERIENCE – In a world obsessed with youth, experience is often undervalued. But your unique experiences are priceless. They give you many advantages. Cherish them. Use them wisely: at work, with your family, in relationships, in planning ahead.
What’s been interesting for me is that since I have returned from an 8 year stint abroad, I find it increasingly difficult to actually talk about the experiences I cherish, the moments that have changed my life forever and made me the person I am today. All that international travel experience is unique and it is priceless… to me. Very few people in the US can relate to living overseas, and in such places like Japan and Vietnam. It’s a shame, really. It’s those experiences I value the most and have made my life full of value.
Recently, I’ve made a few trips up to Los Angeles to meet with clients and prospects and do some Beaming Bohemian business. You may remember that I lived in L.A. for five years before I moved to Japan in July of 2002. As apprehensive as I was at the time to move from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, those five years provided excellent career opportunities and cemented numerous friendship and business contacts that have remained even during my eight years overseas.
The downtown revitalization had just begun when I left in 2002. At that time, many folks still drove downtown to work, and went home to the Westside. The reverse is true now. It is difficult to travel East in the evening and West in the morning. Heck, it’s tougher to travel anywhere at anytime, the housing boom even affected my little neighborhood where side streets like Ohio and Sawtelle are no-go’s by 5pm. L.A. traffic has always been, but seems even more nuts than I ever remember.
Even with L.A. drivers being more rude than San Diegans, for example, there are some disturbing trends that would really give me pause if I ever needed to move back there.
1. No one behind you for miles and you get cut off… pulls out in front of you or on the freeway or where ever. The space in front of you is just way more enticing than all the free space behind you. So much so that some folks even speed up to cut you off.
2. The folks that speed up to cut you off when you have miles of free space behind you have a tendency to do so right before an intersection where they slam on their brakes to turn right.
3. At a stop sign when you are angled to turn right, a car will pull up on your left, in what seems an effort to turn left. But the driver decides they don’t trust your judgement, nor do they want to wait for you and they turn right around and in front of you.
4. Also at a stop sign, and it seems particularly popular during the evening hours, the person behind you will pull up to the right of you and go through the intersection ahead of you instead of turn right.
5. There still seems to be no concern for crossing over five lanes on the freeway to narrowly make an exit that you know the driver takes probably everyday.
6. If a driver is in the wrong lane, it doesn’t matter where anyone else is, how it affects everyone else or how dangerous the maneuver is… it is clearly impossible to just go in the direction of traffic, out of the way for a block or so, make a u-turn somewhere and get back on track. I saw a guy in the left-hand turn lane on Overland and Pico who decided that he needed to turn right on Pico instead and bolted across the traffic at the green light so that he could go the direction he wanted.
7. The second the light turns green, everyone celebrates by honking.
8. If you do not have a green arrow to turn left, it is still expected that you will turn into oncoming traffic to make your turn. At least that’s what all the honking in the back screams. Nevermind it’s not clear, just GO!
9. If you are forced to park on the street and unlucky enough to not be able to put your front or rear bumper right up to a driveway, you will find that the kind people who have also parked on the street have made it impossible for you to move even an inch.
10. Even when the traffic is not heavy on the freeway, it seems that the general rule is to drive rightnext to the person in the next lane. Match their speed and leave no room for error.
Ten is probably enough. Truth be told, I never use my horn expect when I am in L.A. It is frustrating, it is stressful, and it makes me glad that I live in San Diego.
What L.A. driving habits have you seen develop over the last several years? Do they bother you or do you just let it roll off your shoulders?
Here’s a little story about how things work in Vietnam.
You see, we have these wonderful parties at the Press Club on the first Friday of the month called Friday Night on The Terrace. We hire a photographer for two hours and pay him $50 to take lots of photos of everyone having a great time. For a Vietnamese guy, this is a lot of money.
For reference, I should say that these pictures are used in our publicity, in newsletters and as historical data for the great occasions which take place at the Club.
I first took notice of his photographic ability after our New Year’s Eve party. It was such a great event, with balloons and glitter falling from the ceiling at midnight. But somehow, between about 11:50 and 12:20, there are but a few photos. And most of the photos we do have are taken from the same spot. Otherwise we have photos of an empty restaurant, people pointing at menus, people talking on their cell phones, and people standing in line to buy drink tickets. You’d never guess that they were all attending a fantastic party!
This prompted me to have a discussion with my Marketing Manager who had a chat with the photographer. Our January Friday Night on the Terrace photos were great. Very pleased. The pep talk seemed to work.
Then February came and the photo CD had just 112 photos. 11 of them were like the one in this post. And the rest? More of the boring bad stuff.
So I had another chat with my Marketing Manager. He told me that the way it works in Vietnam is that the relationships we create are very important. And the Club has always used this photographer. He suggested that we have a sit-down meeting with the photographer and show him which photos are good photos and which ones are bad ones.
Here was my line of questioning:
If you go to a flower shop and order a bouquet, should you have to teach the florist how to make the arrangement?
If your motor bike breaks down and you take it to a mechanic, should you have to teach the mechanic how to fix the bike?
If I hire a “professional” photographer to take pictures at a party, should I have to teach him how to use the damn camera?
Of course, my manager understood my positioning, but insisted that we need to give guidance to the photographer, to be more clear about the types of photos we want. He assured me that if we nurtured the relationship, we would see a good result. So I sat in the meeting with my manager and the photographer. The photographer’s cell phone vibrated the entire 20 minutes we met. He nodded as I showed him examples of good photos and bad photos, making sure to use a “helpful” tone in my voice so as not to have him loose face. Before he left, he said he agreed and that he appreciated the information. I explained to my manager that the March event was the big test.
Today when I returned to the office from my trip to Berlin, I had just 104 photos to view on the CD. That’s nearly $2 per photo. I paid for blurry, uninteresting, menu-pointing, line-standing, non-publishable photos. So I told the manager today that will will no longer use that photographer. He said he cannot just cut him loose (because that’s also loosing face and no one wants to be the bearer of bad news). He suggested that we should hire someone else first and see if they are better. The excuses flew as he told me that even a foreigner they used in the past could not take good photos. He let me know that Mr. Thanh is the only photographer he knows and that if I wanted to hire someone new, I had to search on my own. Never mind about that being unacceptable.
My new friend Muna, who is the editor of East West Magazine has already put me in contact with someone she finds talented and affordable. While I am thrilled at the prospect of a real, live, professional photographer, I know that this little drama is not over. I’m sure that I have stepped on toes and created discomfort. I cannot get my hands around the idea that my manager would rather continue to pay for a bad service, simply because he’s used the same guy for awhile and doesn’t want to make the guy feel bad.
My Marketing Manager and I are coming from two completely different worlds on this one. I refuse to pay for a bad service and he simply doesn’t want to rock the boat or loose face.
Welcome to Vietnam!
Chuc Mung Nam Moi – This means “Happy New Year!” in Vietnamese. As you see in the photo, these trees are being carted all over the place. By motorbike, bicycle, even carried by hand. It’s the lucky tree for the Lunar New Year.
I’m working from home today as we are now in the 3rd day of TET, the big celebration of the Lunar New Year.
I returned home from Laos on Saturday night after a wonderful and peaceful week. The entire time in Laos (as you’ll read in the post below) I didn’t hear a single horn honking. It was heaven!
On Sunday, I ran around town, stocking up on some groceries and cleaning supplies. The markets were all closed by about noon. In fact, at 10:30, when I was at the larger of the markets, the entire refrigerated section was being packed up; the frozen goods were already put away. I had a hard time getting around the market, as the employees were all mopping or sweeping the aisles. Such a different concept, you know? If we were to close a market for a week in the States, we’d wait until closing time to put away all the perishables and clean the floor.
But Tet is a big holiday for the Vietnamese. Many go into holiday mode a week before and stay in this relaxed mode until a good week afterward. “It’s Tet” has become the only excuse for things not getting done. I was supposed to have my guest bed delivered on January 17th, but my apartment manager used Tet as the excuse for the reason the bed wasn’t finished and couldn’t be delivered. A week before!
The photos I’ve included show many people on motorbikes or bicycles with large orange trees. They actually calls the cumquat trees. They consider them lucky, because like the Chinese, red is the lucky color and having these trees with brightly colored fruit on display in your home is lucky! You can also see in the photos that there are lots of other plants for sale during this time, again, all for their bright colors.
While I understand the significance of the trees and the plants, I just can’t get over how crazy everyone looks carting these big trees around on motorbikes! It cracks me up! I literally stood by the side of the highway there and snapped away!
Later in evening, actually at midnight on the 24th, fireworks and firecrackers went off all over town. From the comfort of my apartment, I watched a few different shows. What I liked more than the fireworks (because who are we kidding, nothing will ever beat the two-hour Fukuroi fireworks in summer in Japan) was the Chinese style lanterns which are lit with a candle and which float peacefully into the night sky. It is so beautiful.
While I may have been a day late, I started Tet with a cleaning streak, just like the Vietnamese. They clean their homes thoroughly and prepare all sorts of foods for the festivities. I swept and mopped and cleaned my entire apartment and squeaked in a couple loads of laundry (It takes 45 minutes to wash – cold water only – and 2 hours+ to dry. I kid you not. It’s an all-day affair). I also added some photos of the lane toward my house, so you can get a better feel of the neighborhood here.
On a feng shui/Chinese zodiac/horoscope kind of note, the Year of the Ox seems to lack a bit of fire, and therefore, 2009 will be a tough year financially. Boo. You can read this depressing outlook here:
Finally, I am spending most of this week working from home. I love being able to bundle up in my PJs with my new Laotian slippers and a cup of coffee. I really do think there is something very productive about working in PJs! Fire or no fire this year, I’m making marketing plans and will light a little fire of my own under our occupancy rates! Look out!
On the Bright Side,
We Want You to be Happy – This sort of sums up the Laotian spirit. This sign was on the retail shop in the Luang Prabang airport. You can also get a Smile Burger, if you need to step up the pep!
I love love LOVE Laos!
I “had” to go to Laos this past week for work. I know, I know. I can hear your shouts of sympathy already. Thank you. ;p The goal was to get familiar with our hotel, Villa Maly in Luang Prabang and Kamu Lodge, our eco-lodge 2 hours up the Mekong River, nestled in the Laotian forest. Have I mentioned how much I love my new job?
Not only did I fall in love with our properties, I found one of my new favorite places in the world. Going to Laos, and particularly Luang Prabang, is like stepping back in time. Slow pace of life, friendly people, buildings no more than 3 stories high, natural beauty, no honking horns and a general sense of peace and serenity. My kind of place.
While I mostly focused on work, Kurt and I did get out a bit to take in the night life. We stopped by the night market our first evening there, where we bought these super comfy slippers. I spent all of $8.00, but could have done a lot more damage had I really put my efforts into shopping. We then went to the main street and found a great Laotian restaurant. We tried 4 different dishes, all very tasty with unique flavors. I loved the Lao basil. It’s a great herb, somewhere between Italian and Thai basil. We also ate a fired bamboo. Yu-um-my!
With our terrific co-workers, Marie-Helene, Henri-Pierre, Aurora and Phone, we enjoyed some Luang Prabang night life in the way of the local disco. And here, too, was like a tour of the good ol’ days. When young men and women dance together, they first greet each other with hands together and a bow. And then they dance without touching. The Laos ladies and men move their hands around similar to a Hawaiian style hula. It’s wonderful. The young kids love to do line dances and I enjoyed trying to catch on. What a fun night.
Kurt is a running maniac (way beyond enthusiast, folks) and had all of us up at 5:30 in the morning for jogging in the dark. My first morning out, we ran 5k. Let me back up for a moment and tell you how much I dislike running. I’m good for a quick sprint, say from home to 1st base, a 50 yard dash, or running for my plane. But I don’t really run, unless it’s for my life! While HP and Marie-Helene may have become semi-hooked, I’m not giving in just yet! I like my walks and hiking and mountain biking!
Having said that, it was quite humorous to jog in the dark and climb the stairs of Phousi Mountain. How is that pronounced? Think kitty cats. There is even a Phousi Market. Both of these monuments are (unfortunately) named after one of the founders of the city. We all kept pronouncing it poo-say, just to avoid the giggles. But giggled anyway. How can you not? It’s not every day you say, “I climbed Phousi Mountain.”
After a couple of luxurious nights at Villa Maly, we took the boat up the Mekong River to Kamu Lodge. On the way, we stopped at the Pak Ou caves, home to more than 5000 Buddhas. It’s a religious site where even the King used to come to worship. You can see some photos HERE. I had a little too much fun taking photos of all those Buddhas. It was pretty cool to learn that some of them have been there a couple hundred years!
Kamu Lodge is an eco-lodge. We share the property with the local Kamu tribe. I LOVED visiting the village and meeting all the little kids. They got a kick out of seeing their picture on the LCD screen of my camera. Bless them. I hope you’ll take a look at my photos. At Kamu, there is no internet connection or cell phone reception. You unplug from all of that and get heavily connected with nature. The sky is black and the stars are bright and sparkly. You go to bed early, letting the crickets and frogs sing you to sleep. And in the morning, it’s the birds and monkeys which call you awake. If you really want to unwind, this is the place to go. Layers of life and complexity are quickly stripped away. I could have stayed a week and not gotten enough.
On our last leg of the week, Kurt and I traveled to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. I was pleased with the warm weather – a balmy 28C degrees (82F). And while it was the capital, there were still no honking horns. I met more of my colleagues and we all enjoyed a night out. We had Lao Beers (very tasty) at a restaurant where you were looking at Thailand across the river. And then enjoyed a sort-of-Korean-sort-of-sukiyaki style BBQ meal. Very nice.
We only managed to see one monument while in Vientiane, as our one day there was filled with meetings. But nonetheless, Laos captured my heart enough that I know I will be back soon. How nice it is that the flight from Hanoi to either city is a short 50 minutes! I am going to love to be able to say, “I’m going to Laos for the weekend!”
On the Bright Side,
Kurt, Marie-Helene and I had just returned from a lovely evening of gin & tonics at a quaint bar and then a terrific dinner at L’Elephante, a popular restaurant in Luang Prabang.
It was about 10pm and I cracked open my laptop to check messages and write my status on Facebook, “…can’t help but smile as she watches the Obama inauguration live from Luang Prbang, Laos!!!” And then I shut my computer down and got comfy in bed, excited to watch.
With all the pre-inauguration nonsense, (and a delightfully full belly and a few gin & tonics in me) I started to fall asleep. But I woke up about 11:30pm, ready to witness this great moment in history. Luang Prabang and Washington D.C. are exactly 12 hours apart. So where I was, Obama would be inaugurated at midnight.
At about 11:55, one speaker (forgive me, I lost track who was introducing who) said something like, “…who will swear in Vice President, Joe Biden.” And at that exact moment, right after Joe Biden was named, my screen turned to snow. I checked the cables, I changed the channels. Nothing. I called the front desk. I went to the lobby. All of the TVs in the hotel experienced the same problem.
I thought perhaps the cable box was turned off, but later learned that it was most likely censorship. Strange that we were allowed to watch all the pomp and circumstance, but not the swearing in? As peaceful as Laos is, it was a reminder that it remains a communist country.
I’m just really disappointed that I missed one of the most significant moments of my country’s history. Major bummer, dude.
On the Bright Side,