Monthly Archives: February 2015

Simple Answers

Numbers: Met with 15 family members (immediate and extended). Got 2 people at the grocery store in downtown Vancouver to remember me (why grocery store, and not a bar? haha!) Met 5 factory engineers I currently work with. Ate lunch with 10 other engineers. Flew 5 flight legs, having now 2 more to go till I get back to Taiwan. Trained 3 hours of Aikido with 5 beefy and 2 skinny North Americans at a Vancouver dojo.

Invigorated by interacting with new people and living with family again, I have reflected and compiled this list of things learned or remembered. Maybe I’ll write in more detail about some of these.

Answers I give to other people when simplicity is easy for me:
Usually, the answer stems from relying on an internal resource, like health or creativity, rather than an external resource.

When I am packing lightly.
Q: What if it gets cold outside?
A: Walk faster to create more heat.

When deciding where to park a car.
Q: What if we park and it is far from where we want to go and we have to walk?
A: Aren’t we here to take a walk?
Q: What if the kids get tired?
A: I guess we’ll have to walk back to the car.

When deciding whether to eat to preempt hunger.
Q: What if you get hungry later?
A: I don’t feel like eating now, maybe later.
Q: What if you get so hungry that you eat fast and overeat?
A: I’ll chew carefully so as not eat too fast.

When deciding whether to pack a dinner.
Q: What if you get hungry when you get to the hotel at night?
A: I’ll have some tea and go to sleep.

When deciding whether to move to Japan from the states.
Q: What if you have trouble communicating with people?
A: I like Japan. I will be friendly and do my best.

When deciding whether to move to Taiwan.
Q: What if you can’t get used to it?
A: I guess I’ll have to leave.

When deciding whether to go on sabbatical.
Q: What if you can’t find as good a job?
A: I will leave with gratitude and respect and burn no bridges in case I need to come back, but there are other things I want to do now.

When trying to find a job after graduation.
Q: What if you are unemployed for too long and become unemployable?
A: Seriously? I just graduated.

When trying to find a job after sabbatical.
Q: What if you are unemployed for too long and become unemployable?
A: Seriously? I just had a bunch of unique experiences from my sabbatical.
Q: What if you run out of money?
A: I have money saved, plus as part of my martial arts training, I’m doing construction work. I am actually getting paid to train.

When deciding whether to pack something.
Q: Do I need this?
A: If I am having to ask this question, the answer is probably no.

When being asked about my martial arts skill level.
Q: What if someone pulled a gun on you and asked you for money?
A: I’d give him my money.

The voice of consumerism.
Q: Should I buy this toy?
A: No. It wouldn’t help her to grow. Give her a toy that improves her thinking skills, or let her learn to improvise something.

Questions that make me hesitate, and answers that I wish would come faster.
Usually they stem from a fear of failure.

When I need to ask permission.
Q: What if he says no?
A: So what? Ask.

When I need help.
Q: What if he will not help me?
A: So what? Ask in a friendly way.

When I fear rejection.
Q: What if she doesn’t say yes?
A: She won’t say yes if I wait.

When I am afraid of fear.
Q: What if I mess up because I am afraid?
A: So what? Learn the triggers and learn to relax.

When deciding whether to start.
Q: What if I don’t have enough time to finish?
A: Time is going to pass anyway. Do as much as I comfortably can.

When my opinion differs from others.
Q: What if I offend with my opinion?
A: What do I care what other people think?

When I am deciding where to sit in the office cafeteria and I don’t see anybody I know
Q: What if I am intruding?
A: If they wanted privacy, they wouldn’t be sitting here.

When I am debating whether to invite myself along with some people.
Q: What if I am intruding?
A: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Q: What if they say no?
A: So what?

When about to go into a situation or interaction that requires improvisation.
Q: What if I am unprepared?
A: The wrong preparation, plus over-thinking, could blunt my instincts. Do it now. Pay attention. Relax. Smile. Improvise.

Resources I am confident of:

  1. Health and strength
  2. Discipline
  3. Creativity
  4. Simplicity and improvisation as opposed to complexity and preparedness.

Resources I am less confident of:

  1. Being a jerk. I care too much about coming across as nice, but I should allow myself to be a jerk. Both “nice” and “jerk” imply inappropriate reaction to the situation at hand. Instead of losing a nice-guy attribute, I should think of it as gaining a jerk attribute and expanding my range of expression.
  2. Improvisation skills in a conversational setting. I should treat small talk like dancing or aikido and go for flow rather than precision. This does not mean not paying attention. Mistakes and bumps are made almost unnoticeable by timely redirection, and this is a cooperative effort.

Both these skills/resources require calibration as outlined in this article (分かるように調整する). Unless I make mistakes, I will not develop the right calibration. Mistakes should be interesting instead of something to be avoided. Interesting is a good word because interesting things can be looked at in a relaxed and insightful way.

Five principles for action: Do it now. Pay attention. Relax. Smile. Improvise.


Your Own Game

I was talking to a Japanese friend about an article I’d read (also by a Japanese person) about the benefits of living and working in Taiwan, and the opportunities for learning Chinese and English there, and the benefits of gaining a unique set of experiences, especially with Japanese companies expanding overseas. And then my friend said:

“What if one doesn’t know Chinese?” she asked.
“That’s an interesting question. What do you mean? I didn’t really know Japanese well when I moved to Japan.”
“Well, you’d be disadvantaged competing with locals for jobs, because you don’t speak Chinese, and then you’d be disadvantaged going to Japan because you lacked experience in a company.”

On the one hand I was flattered because I realized that my friend was thinking of me as functioning fully as a local in both Japan and Taiwan. I’m pretty adaptable, but not a local. I explained.

“One wouldn’t have to compete with them. One might not speak Chinese as well as a local, but he’d speak Japanese better than them. You could work for a Taiwanese company that is trying to establish links with Japan. And then, if you went back, you’d have a deep linguistic and cultural understanding that you could use to help Japanese companies that are trying to expand in to Taiwan or elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Why play by someone else’s rules when you can make and play your own game?”









Ups and Downs in Taiwan

In Taiwan people are mortally afraid of the downs. For example, the public health service makes doctor’s visits cheap, enabling people go to see the an ENT specialist every time they catch a cold, which they do.

Here’s a recent conversation:

“I have a cold.” I said.
“Have you seen a doctor?”
“You should go see a doctor.”
“I don’t typically see doctors for colds. They rest a little and are over it in three days to a week.”
“I guess rest will do the trick, but in Taiwan, we like to get well immediately.” He sat upright to suggest vigor. “Here, you should try this. I have a cold, too. I took this this morning, and I feel better already.”  He handed me some herbal medicine.

It seems I have not gotten used to the air and water here, as I have had two colds and a case of food poisoning since arriving in October. In none of the cases did I see a doctor, but made a quick recovery with rest and tea.

It’s not just that people really believe that they will get well faster with a doctor’s visit and some medicine. They are in a veritable rush to get well. “Get well immediately.” is a phrase often bandied about. Another conversation:

“Don’t you want to get well as soon as possible?”
“The infection is still there, the medicine just masks the symptoms.”
“But don’t you want your nose to stop running?”
“The nose is running to flush out the virus. If you mask the symptoms it could take longer to get well.”
A pause. “You have a very interesting way of thinking.”

So it seems to me that people are afraid of the down that a sickness gives, and want to put their bodies on the up, using whatever artificial means available.

There is a definite lack of negative space compared to what I am used to. Often when I am speaking with an a customer about something complex, he leaves no down-time for thought, and no verbal confirmation of “Do you get what I’m saying?” He does not even detect my body language when I am trying to gather my thoughts or when I am trying to say something.
I have to quite literally while he is talking say “Stop. Give me a moment to think about that.”

And then there is that incident that I wrote about here (in chinese), a phenomenon where people are really afraid of apologizing.

I would think this is an isolated incident, but I was speaking about it with a foreign friend of mine who has been in Taiwan for three years. Being a foreigner, people saw him as a neutral party, and he literally had people come into his office crying because someone else at the office was mean to them.

“It’s like their egos are really fragile, and they’re afraid that any little admission of wrong will cause their entire psychological edifice to come crashing down.”

Which brings me to the thought that the admission of downs as well as ups into one’s world requires a bit of fortitude and perspective, without which the downs will appear crippling. It is according to this is a belief that I have tried to cultivate myself: to rest when my body is telling me to rest, give pause to allow someone else to think, apologize when I have done something mean, and shrug when someone has said something that I’d like to ignore. All of these things require a silencing of the ego. I feel like this is something that I learned from Japan, and I feel like I’m bumping up against a society of people that hasn’t had as much practice.

For an example of how ego gets in the way, yesterday I was on the phone with the customer for nearly an hour an a half while he presented 11 slides about a problem and his proposed solution. The trouble was, he was so confident of his proposed solution that he brought it up frequently, and the entire presentation had a spin toward his proposed solution. It was hard sort through what was opinion and what was fact. At one point, I had to say. “Look, I know you feel that that would solve the problem, but I don’t understand what the problem is. Can we please talk about the problem first? Then, we can talk about proposed solutions.” I made my frustration very evident in my voice, and exaggerated the relief in my voice when I finally understood the problem.

Then, what he took 11 pages to explain, I typed up a 1-page email with two graphics that and sent it to our engineers.

I have been struggling with many things here, but I woke from a dream Monday with a thought that has made things slightly better. I noticed when I felt wronged, I often rehearsed what went wrong, and ended by rehearsing several alternate scenarios for putting them in their place and regaining the upper hand. My thought was – what if I rehearsed forgiveness? What if I ran through the entire scenario, and figured out what to say or do to put the other party at ease, build a bridge to lead him across, or simply shrug and send him off?

This sounds like a small change, but it’s been a revelation to me, and I wonder if I can hold it, where it will take me.

But I still yell at the motorcyclists when they pass too close (they speed away without looking at me), and I’ve noticed the motorcyclists and cars pass a little farther away when I am wielding a folded golf umbrella like a baton.