Recently, I launched a new website, Thriving Vets, to help veterans to live a fulfilling life. Our men and women make a lot of personal sacrifices in serving our country, so this site is dedicated to serving them.
Meanwhile, I spoke with Heather Morrow of Aspen Tango about the immigration crisis that started when President Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from certain countries from entering this country. One unexpected repercussion was rejecting people with valid green cards. Here’s the replay for more –
On Sunday I will be chatting with Clay Nelson of Portland Tango about why dancers return to Portland year after year like some migratory birds –
Also, I’ve started to do a vlog of sorts to talk about the realities of freelancing and working my way into the digital nomad lifestyle –
Meanwhile, I’ve posted some food recipe videos and plan to write more about this.
Recently, I started to read Eddie Huang’s biography Fresh Off the Boat. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s nothing like the television story, which was watered down quite a bit for mass audiences, of course.
Some of you probably know that I’m a big fan of audio books, especially when the author is the narrator. This is no exception, as Huang tells his own story in a way that no one else can.
Even though I grew up much further north, I can definitely to the harassment and bullying that Huang faced, as well as the identity crisis. Sometimes I felt too Chinese; other times, too American. We first generation immigrants often found ourselves trying to straddle both cultural worlds.
..and you’ve got to figure that he knows what he’s talking about.
Having done the whole “it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure thing” with the Navy, I’ve had the blessing / curse of seeing the world both by choice and by circumstance.
So, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and own experiences with Uncle Tony’s travel advice –
Right away, Mr. Bourdain starts with advice to dress for the role. Getting through airports security is key to starting off your trip on a good note. Believe me, you don’t want to struggle with what you’re wearing – having to turn over that prized wedding gift pocket knife or losing that iPod in the security shuffle.
Oh, and yes, comfortable shoes are a big part of this, because never mind the need to put them in the security bin with your other items, your feet will swell. The longer the flight, the more you will wish you had clown shoes!
No matter how much you luggage you check in – what you put in your carry-on is essential, both for access during the fight, and let’s face it.. the more you travel, the more likely the airlines will lose your luggage. If you’re lucky it’ll be for a day or so; if not so much.. well, what you have in your carry-on may be all you have until they return your luggage or you buy replacements.
As Mr. Bourdain mentions, my iPad stays with me – between the audiobooks, Kindle app, music and videos.. oh, and a few offline games (let’s face it – wifi is great but not still available everywhere) – Angry Birds anyone? And as he points out, you may not care for the in-flight selection.
I don’t necessarily read fiction set in the location I’m headed but it’s a cool idea I’m sure I’ll try. But I do like to catch up on that pile of magazines that has built up since my last trip.
While he talks about people struggling with the overhead, here’s where I’m one of those guys who will only check in luggage only when I absolutely have no other choice.
As for food in the airport, there’s only been a few exceptions over the years where I’ve seen some improvement of value and quality. Overall, I still prefer to eat local outside the airport whenever possible. Even a food court in a shopping mall is usually a better option. Mr. Bourdain says that he’ll get ramen in Tokyo and something from the airport’s hawker center in Singapore.
It’s interesting that this Travel Channel celebrity says that he won’t try to weasel upgrades with his status. You’ve got to admire that. I think a lot of folks wouldn’t hesitate in his position.
Generally speaking, I will sleep a lot on long flights, but I avoid drinking myself like Mr. Bourdain, preferring lots of club sodas with lime and an occasional ginger ale for that anti-nausea effect. No sleeping pill needed for me!
Well, as you can imagine, Mr. Bourdain looks on airplane food with disdain. Me personally? I’ve been lucky to find most stuff edible. Maybe I’m easy that way. Heck, sometimes I’ve asked for seconds and gotten it because they often have extra!
Now I have to laugh at Uncle Tony’s fascination with inflight plumbing. Maybe the memories of multi-thousand dollar wasted on air force toilets still linger in my mind, but to me as long it flushes what it’s supposed to, that’s good enough for me.
Over the years I’ve stayed on four or five-star hotels as well as the $10 backpacker hostels. So I’m not afraid to rough it but I’m no stranger to luxury nor uncomfortable to rub shoulders with the rich and not-so-famous. If anything, I tend to splurge if I’m with someone special.
Like Mr. Bourdain, I avoid the knick knacks that people love to buy and bring home. But I’ll write postcards to family and friends who love when I share my latest destination instead of souvenirs. Sometimes I’ll bring back some fun snacks that I can get through customs or a bottle of some local beverage.
Now the meat of his advice has to be how Mr. Bourdain finds the best places to eat. I’ve got some of my tricks which I’ve shared from time to time. Sure, some of it is common sense – avoid the tourist-trap places. Going to the central market is something he’s done again and again on his shows, but getting up early will be my windmill to tilt.
As I travel more, I hope to connect with more locals around the world. Mr. Bourdain offers a fun, controversial way to stir the pot and find out what they say is “the best.”
So.. how about you? What are some of your travel tips?
The woman looked on confused. Finally she asked “what are you guys doing?”
“It’s tango,” I replied, “Argentine tango.”
Molly and I had been dancing to a Calo vals (a waltzy classic) while waiting for our clothes to finish drying. Amazingly this laundry mat even had wifi so I got caught up on emails.
Because the dryers were so loud, we simply plugged ourselves into my ipod – each sharing an earbud. So it must’ve been quite an unusual sight. Two people dancing to the beat of some silent orchestra.
This was day 7 out in the “wilderness” of the Portland coast.
We’d stretched our fresh clothes as far as possible. Heck, I was proud that we’ve been surviving on cooking by camp fires and managing to entertain ourselves.
What was really nice with staying in one campsite for a few days was not needing to break down and set up camp each day. Although we’d gotten down our routine, it was still painful to go through that same routine day after day.
Probably the most unusual part was that we had barely known each other before this trip. Sure, we had seen and danced with each other at annual tango festivals in Portland but other than a few phone calls and online chats, Molly and I went from spending no time together to nearly every waking minute. Yet somehow things clicked, and it felt very natural.
Now I have to admit that other than running around with the Marines on a few field training exercises, the most time I had spent in the woods growing up was a couple of overnight canoe trips with friends. And even with the grunts we just plopped down our packs and slept in our sleeping bags on cement slabs inside a prepared tent.
So, the first day out involved quite a learning curve. I had to learn 1) how to build a fire 2) how to set up a tent.
Building a fire wasn’t too bad. We had picked up some fat wood and firewood. Because fat wood was soaked with dried sap it burned pretty quickly and pretty hot. So, you use it to get the firewood going and thus have your base.
It was already late in the day, because most of the day had been spent on getting supplies. There wasn’t much time to find a camping spot – much less to set up a tent before nature was going to turn off the lights out.. literally.
Luckily, we found a spot right across the Columbia River, and had the same thought ”hey, why don’t we stay here? It also helped that Molly was already familiar with the tent. (Talk about anti-sexism, right? I was the helpless one!) She walked me through what we needed to do, so I mostly just followed her lead.
Further reversing roles I made myself useful by preparing a Caprese salad with the tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella, olive oil and balsamic vinegar we picked up. Some ripe avocadoes added a nice twist to this classic.
We toasted our first night in the wilderness with a nice, crisp Riesling kept chilled in the cooler. (Hey, roughing it doesn’t mean living like savages in my book..) A bright moon covered the campsite as fell sound asleep.
The next morning we woke to passing barges in the misty morning before stopping by the office and paying for our camp spot. Soon we were off again with no idea what was next.
“I’m just not getting what you’re trying to show us!” I yelled in frustration. It’d been weeks now since I started taking lessons from Miller. He was both a brilliant dancer and teacher. Yet something was just not connecting.
While I had learned the basics from my Argentine tango teacher, I wanted to do the “advanced stuff” – the moves that seemed like all the cool kids knew and kept to themselves. I was ready, or so I thought..
Originally, I had started learning tango as way to improve my aikido practice. But pretty soon I was hooked and never looked back. Unlike swing dancing and other activities, I soon learned that I couldn’t just “dabble” in tango – it was all-in or nothing.
A pivotal moment came early on, when I attended a fairly advanced workshop. Although the instructors themselves were incredibly patient with me, an older Chinese lady pulled me aside between lessons. “Do you speak Mandarin?” she asked in a hushed whisper. Er, yes, why? She then proceeded to berate me in my native tongue, essentially asking what the hell I thought I was doing.
Because of my lack of understanding of the fundamental movements, I had been resorting to “winging it” whenever I floundered with learning a particular sequence. I thought I was being creative, but looking back I have to admit that it was the equivalent of scribbling gibberish in a college level writing course.
Too often we’re more interested in getting to the final destination than the actual journey. In the 1980s kaizen became all the range in the business world, as Americans marvelled at Japanese productivity. Ironically, this process of improvement came from an American (Deming) who taught them this methodology during the post-war rebuilding of the country.
While calling it “kaizen” gave it an Asian mystique that blended well with Eastern philosophy and culture, the scientific methods were very Western. The bottomline was that developing a process of improvement that not only provided short-term results, but also ensuring that success was more than just a matter of luck.
When life forces us into situations where self-improvement is the only way out (like learning to walk) we tend to comply. But other times we resist or avoid it altogether.
Sometimes our personal tastes lead us to have an interest or passion for improving. That was the case of cooking for me. In the age before YouTube and celebrity chefs the only real choices I had available were to find recipes and occasionally catch a public television show with a quirky chef.
Both dancing and cooking involved mastering basics before taking on more elaborate performances. In tango if you couldn’t lead a follower into a cross step, then it was pointless to be shown a more complicated sequence. In cooking if you didn’t know how to prep ingredients, then it was a lot harder to cook even the most basic dishes like an omelet.
Here’s the ironic part – learning to *be* a better dancer also made me a better cook AND ultimately, dare I say, even a better lover in bed. (Come on, ladies, help me out here!)
“How you do anything is how you do everything..”
– Derek Sivers
So, when we focus on the process, success becomes just a side effect of the results. The swordsmen learns to cut through the object. The archer focuses on the draw and lets the arrow hit its mark.
“Goals are for losers” – Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert
In travel, of course, it is definitely about the journey. Some of the most memorable moments on trips have been the drives or the plane rides.. or often the misadventures when things don’t quite go as planned.
How do you focus on the process, not just the results?
What Bill hoped to show the audience was a live demo of how to get results with content marketing. Something that none of the other speakers could do.
It was a brilliant idea. But there was just one problem – everything was set up on his computer. and without knowing all the details the bottom line was that the AV system didn’t want to play nice with his computer.
So being the entrepreneur that he is, Bill worked to find a solution.
Normally, there’s time but when you’re on stage in front of hundreds (not counting the live audience watching the streaming video) seconds turn into minutes.. which seem like hours..
Bill has apologized profusely for this glitch. I feel like we all let him down.
The speaker shouldn’t have to struggle with a technical issue when we have an audio visual crew PAID to take care of this.
I sat too far back and didn’t jump up to assist because I took the typical passive audience mode we get into.
The host didn’t say anything except an occasional joke to keep things entertaining – he could’ve used his position to ask for help, and I’m sure any number of his staff or even a room full of internet entrepreneurs could’ve helped.
But instead of any of this – the clock kept ticking, and poor Bill was left to struggle along on that big stage under the hot lights, sweating it out –
Oh, yes, you definitely REALLY feel the heat in a moment like this – BELIEVE me.
And that’s the thing.. once the fight-or-flight kicks in, our bodies tense up, our hearts pump more blood and the monkey brain starts screaming at us.
At this point it’s game over for the rational site. The Elephant has officially started her freakout mode. All the Rider can do is hold on for dear life.
There are way too many stories of bystanders that watch as someone is attacked. It’s too easy to judge, and too easy to say “no, that’s not me – I’d be different.”
But really – how we do one thing is how we do everything else. Too often we sit back and wait for others to act first. I’ve been just as guilty of this as the next person. Being passive is a habit just like procrastinating or leaving things unsaid.
I was hesitant to try the mix my girlfriend had made.
“Aww.. come on – you’ll love it!” she said unconvincingly.
Well, here goes. Bracing myself for the gag factor, I took the spoonful and..
photo: via Unsplash
Like most of us my earliest memories of the kitchen growing up was mom cooking. Maybe the dishes are slightly different from culture to culture but we all have some comfort foods that stay with us through life.
Coming to this country opened up my parents to things they had never experienced back in Taiwan and China. I still remember the shock and confusion when our family discovered that what looked like ice cream was in fact yogurt!
Cheese – the pungent smell took some getting used to. But being a kid I took to it like a happy duckling playing in the rain, and pizza became one of my favorite foods.
Occasionally, mom would need a break from the kitchen, and I stepped in as sous-chef to cook what I liked and what the rest of the family had to learn to appreciate.
For some reason Italian food was my passion as a kid. So much so that in sixth grade I even wrote a 137-page treatise (er, did someone forget to read the memo? it was supposed just be a geography report..) on Italy. Years later, I would actually travel to Rome, Venice, and Florence with my family. Let’s just say that I raised my expectations so high there was only one way to go..!
Later in college I went out with a girl who opened me up to what Asian food had to offer. Up to then my idea was Chinese food. Suddenly, I learned there was Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, even Laotian (her culture).
We would make some unbelievable dishes using just a very illegal hot plate and some utensils (some from home and others “borrowed” from the cafeteria).
Nope. No generic ramen for this homeboy. We cooked noodle dishes using all types – rice, pasta, thin, thick.. boiled, stir-fry.. you name it! We made egg rolls (that does require deep frying, right? .. er, yup!)
While I never saw myself as a chef or working in restaurants, my love and passion of food only grew through the years. Sometimes I looked for excuses to work with the hard-working folks that sweat out the details to provide amazing experiences.
With the rise of celebrity chefs I’ve noticed that slowly there is a greater appreciation of what happens in the kitchen. It’s something that I have carried with me into other areas of my life – whether as an author or entrepreneur, here are some key lessons:
Follow recipes.. before improvising – success leaves clues. Any musician knows that mastering the chords is needed before playing jazz or “jamming.” Unless you understand which ingredients work well together and “how” to bring out their flavors, you’ll either go hungry or have to stomach a lot of failed experiments!
First, master the basics – whether it’s how to chop and prep ingredients or understanding how to let dough rise before baking, anything we do requires fundamentals. This is true in flying – where you need to learn how to take-off and land before trying aerobatics, and this is true in work – where any profession has core competencies.
Good ingredients are essential – unless you’re Jesus, don’t count on making water out of wine. It’s really difficult to make an appetizing dish out of less than quality ingredients. That said, while fresh helps out a lot, you can take an old banana and make a decent smoothie, as the ripeness actually enhances the flavor. But that whole thing about the sow’s ear – yeah, don’t try this at home!
Taste, taste, taste – one of the most shocking things on Restaurant: Impossible with Chef Irvine is when he asks the restaurant owner to taste their own cooking, and they are surprised. If you don’t know how it tastes, how can you serve it to others? Learning to test how the world responds to you is another key life skill.
Passion is everything – we’re not machines, and I’ve learned that even the best intentions lead to that proverbial road to hell.. UNLESS you have the commitment that comes with passion. Do we need to make adjustments to our plans depending on the feedback we get? Absolutely. But if faith without works is dead, then intention without passion isn’t too far behind!
Hmm.. not bad. It was actually edible.
“Well, what do you think?” she asked expectantly.
“I’m still alive,” I smiled with a hint of sarcasm, feeling my chest in mock testing.
So, these are lessons that I’ve found to carry over not only to work, play, relationships but life as a whole.
What about you? Are there things you’ve learned from the kitchen or other crafts that stay with you?
Join me in talking with Chris Hill on Cinco de Mayo Tuesday, (05/05/15) about his personal journey from the corporate world to the kitchen.