Archives For April 2012

Time… to think

April 29, 2012 — Leave a comment

April 29, 2012

By the time many of you read this, I’ll be through surgery to repair my Achilles tendon rupture (ATR). I wrote this on Sunday because I knew I’d be hopped up on Percocet on Monday and unable to complete a coherent sentence… but maybe you’ll see me on Youtube after an entertaining gassed up conversation after surgery!

Many people have gone through a lot worse than my ATR, and I’m definitely not trying to receive special attention for this. I have examples around me of people who’ve gone through some very painful and long-term conditions, and I admire them very much. That being said, this does give me an opportunity to think about what it all means to me.

My friend, Susan Cooper, posterized a poem I previously wrote. I believe this poem is relevant in good times and bad.

Time goes by so fast_Susan Cooper

Based on my initial conversations with the doctor, I’ll be in a hard cast for four weeks, and then a boot for another 6 weeks before I can begin to recover physically. Many people say it takes months after that to get back to where they were before the ATR. Based on that, I’m hoping to walk on my own in 3 months and get back to running in 6 months.

Man, that sucks… especially for a guy who can’t stand sitting around and loves his runs around the neighborhood and park! It’s also going to suck for my wife who has to deal with me that whole time!

I can’t wait until I can at least get the casts off and start regaining strength. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a person to ever wish any time away, because I know we all have a limited amount. I do my best to acknowledge this and treasure every moment. However, no one likes to think about an extended time of being in a painful, saddened, or debilitated state.

This is where the advice of the great Economist and thinker Adam Smith comes in handy. He said, “In all irreparable calamities which affect himself immediately and directly, a wise man endeavors, from the beginning, to anticipate and to enjoy before-hand, that tranquility which he foresees the course of a few months, or a few years, will certainly restore to him in the end.”

It’s written in Old English, but it couldn’t be any more clear to me at this point. I know that I’m going to get through this rough patch, and I know that my life will return to normal. Instead of focusing on all of the downsides for the next six months, I’m going to try to keep in my mind how life will be after I’m better.

Smith’s advice applies to other life circumstances as well. It almost sounds like he wrote it after he broke up with his significant other!

That being said, I guess there is a fine line between keeping an optimistic mindset and ignoring reality. I know there will be hard times in all of our lives where we can’t always keep this positive mindset. As stated in Ecclesiastes, there’s a time to mourn and a time to dance. I will do my best to keep an optimistic and positive mindset while I acknowledge the truth of the current situation.

My next goal is to think about the best way to use this time of inactivity. I’ll be able to spend more time writing for YLTL, but what else… start a book… focus my ideas on what business to start…. learn a foreign language? What do you think, have you ever been through a time where you were thrown on your back and made the most of it? If so, I’d love to hear about it and what you did.

April 26, 2012

When I thought of writing this article, I planned to write about the inmates at the Angola State Prison Rodeo. It’s held at the Louisiana State Penitentiary with actual inmates as the rodeo participants! You can check out some pictures on my Facebook page.

However, before I had a chance to start writing this week, I had a new injury on Wednesday night. This injury is not to be confused with my broken hand that happened five weeks ago!

I’m in a kickball league, and I was running to catch a fly ball in the outfield when I realized I wouldn’t get it in the air and slowed down. At the same time, I stepped into a hole on the field and went down. I looked around and asked my wife what happened because I thought I got hit on the back of the ankle with a baseball or someone kicked me.

Long story short, I ruptured my Achilles tendon. I visit the surgeon tomorrow, but Achilles injuries are known as one of the longest healing times of any injury… so I’m not too excited about that. Now, time to tie in these two stories…

I mentioned earlier we talked to some of the inmates at Angola. The particular inmate that caught my attention the most was David. He was found guilty of second-degree murder in 1978. He admitted he did it, called it a mistake, and said he doesn’t really even remember it because he was on drugs. Obviously, he earned his way to prison.

I was able to talk to David because in addition to the inmate rodeo, there’s an area where you can buy crafts and handiworks from the inmates. We previously heard inmates were caged off from the public, but it turns out not all of them are. There are different levels of ‘trustee’ status for the inmates, and the inmates with the highest trustee status were standing by their tables and mingling with the public.

They sell the “crafts” they make, but the crafts are hand-made furniture, incredible paintings, jewelry, and many other items. They have some amazing artists, and David is included in this group. His art consisted of small sculptures, hand made wooden bowls, and professional paintings.

David studied engineering and architecture in college before he made his big mistake. He said he always had an eye for design and depth, but he never painted before he was in prison. It wasn’t until he got thrown in jail that he learned to hone in his artistic talents.

Then I asked him why he paints. He got emotional and paused for a minute. He said when people get thrown into prison for life, they have to make some decisions. Some turn to religion, others lift weights, and some go down the wrong route of increased violence and roguishness.

David doesn’t have a family and he didn’t know when he’d get out. However, he said he wants to leave a legacy in the world besides the violence he originally initiated. His goal is to leave his beautiful art as his legacy.

He never discovered his passion for art and painting until he was due to spend his life in jail. He may never experience the freedom that his art will.

Ok, back to tying these two stories together. I loved playing my 3 games of kickball before I got injured. It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I got into the “adult world”… something I’ve waited 8 years for. I finally got my chance in New Orleans and talked enough friends into joining me. My wife even plays, and we had some great bonding through the first three games.

I’m now going to go through ~3 months of pain before I can start getting back to normalcy. Surgery, casts, crutches, walking boots, and physical therapy. However, I still got to play the game.

David is stuck in the pen due to a climactic bad decision that was probably fed by many previous bad decisions. He didn’t do or find what he loved until he gave up his freedom.

My question for you. Are you playing it too safe in life in an attempt to prevent injuries – both physically and mentally? Are you like the inmates who don’t find what they love doing until after their free lives are forfeited – a love and passion that might have saved them from making bad mistakes in the first place?

Me and Warren Buffett

Can hanging out with rich people make you rich? As with many personal finance questions, the answer is usually “it depends” because there are two types of rich people.

The first type of rich people got there with many years of consistent saving and investing (slow and steady). The second group of rich people did it with a great salary or business idea (fast and furious). There are of course a combination of both, but we’ll keep them separate for discussion purposes.

One example of the rarer rich person who has the qualities of a great business mind and slow and steady is my friend Warren Buffett… and it’s so obvious that we’re friends because we bowl together (above).

I want to learn from the slow and steady group because they’ve created a strong financial base and stuck with it. However, I’d also like to learn from the fast and furious because they usually have a great business mindset.

The most dangerous part is picking up spending habits of the fast and furious and the slow and steady business acumen of the slow and steady!

Who are you hanging out with today?

Think about the group of ten people that you hang out with most. It could be your family members, friends, club members, or work associates. A common saying is that we tend to have a salary that is the average of this close group.

Does that mean if you start hanging out with rich people, you might get rich? As stated previously, if you hang out and learn the right things from rich people, it might happen.

The ten closest friends income predictor can also be viewed as the chicken or the egg problem. Do people become rich because they hang out with millionaires, or do they hang out with millionaires because they are rich? The latter might be true, but I think the former can be as well.

You hang out with friends that have similar interests as you. If all of your friends own their own businesses and are fast and furious type people, there is a good chance the group will talk a lot about their companies. This will get you in the entrepreneurial mindset, and you will keep your eyes open for opportunities. They will also have great connections that will enable you to start your own business.

If you hang out with the slow and steady group, you’ll also learn to take control of your money and invest wisely.

Do you need new friends?

This is often a taboo subject because we aren’t supposed to pick friends for our own benefit. However, if you have a friend who is constantly pushing you to do drugs and commit crimes, not many people would blame you for ditching that friend.

What if you had a friend that was a nice person but was constantly negative and was always played the victim? This isn’t very empowering and over time it will start to drag you down. They may not even want to see you succeed because they’re afraid you’ll leave them behind. As Charles Kindleberger said, “There is nothing so disturbing to one’s well-being and judgment as to see a friend get rich.”

I took an inventory of my ten closest friends and made some assumptions on their incomes, but as it turns out, their average income is still higher than mine. This means I still have room to grow! As alluded to earlier, just make sure you don’t try to match the spending habits of those who make a lot more than you and you should be fine.

Is this rule relevant for you? Is your income the average of your ten closest friends?

Overall, I had a great trip to Shanghai.  It whetted my appetite to visit additional Asian countries as well as additional Chinese cities.

Here are my final thoughts on Shanghai:

  • More beautiful at night
  • Impressive roads and highway infrastructure
  • Tall buildings everywhere
  • Continued building boom , but locals say it’s much smaller than the previous decade
  • Crazy drivers
  • People are very nice, but still somewhat shy

Some final pictures:

Shanghai shopping

Shanghai eating

Shanghai construction

Shanghai shopping

China motorbike

April 16, 2012

China is going through a revolution.

Not so much an Arab Spring, but more a cultural revolution somewhere between the Elvis type and Beatles type. A drastic change from what’s been for centuries to what will soon be…

As the grip of communism loosens from the throat of Chinese people, they begin to gasp the fresh air of capitalism and Westernism. The shift started slow with the generation that still remembers the tyranny and absolute control of the People’s Republic under Chairman Mao, but it’s in full force with the Chinese Millennials. This teen and twenty-something generation is one growing up with great Chinese pride… not forced pride under the demands of a dictator, but real pride. This pride resulting from watching their country step onto the world stage. A pride that could be seen and felt with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The interesting part is they’re trying to forget things like Tiananmen Square and reurbanization that forced everyone back into the fields in the 1970s. According to locals, they’re forgetting this by removing it from history books and not teaching it to the younger generations.

Another element in play is the limit of one child per family (unless you’re a wealthy family who can buy the rights to a second child). There’s a certain stereotype given to ‘only childs’ in the US that usually revolves around spoiled, self-centered, and inability to share. Don’t get me wrong, many of you only childs are well adjusted, but stereotypes are born from some truth! Or maybe I’m just biased because I grew up with three older brothers amid a daily struggle to kept myself from being squeezed out from the dinner table!

Either way, the only childs aren’t growing up with the same ideas of collectivism and sacrifice that the older generations grew up with. They want what they want and they want it now.

There are additional signs of Westernism slipping in as well. The same only childs are experiencing the fruits of their labor that can come from hard work in capitalism. Just as in the US, it’s not guaranteed but they’re working hard to try and achieve it.

There’s one-upness everywhere that previously could only be granted to the connected people in communism. People are driving around in Porsche’s and BMW’s and just as is the case in the US, it’s more of a want of show of wealth than actual wealth itself. However, as Bernard Mandeville explained, there are some collective benefits to this:

Luxury empoly’d a million of the poor,
And odious pride a million more;
Envy itself and vanity
Were ministers of industry;
Their darling folly, fickleness
In diet, furniture and dress,
That strange ridiculous vice, was made
The very wheel that turned the trade

Even with the introduction of capitalism, the Chinese government is still attempting to exert some control by policing thought and speech. They don’t allow Facebook and Twitter out of fear of the kind of revolution that’s happened in the Middle East.

China needs to embrace the new cultural pride and Capitalism and relinquish control of its people. Just as is the case in most relationships, battles for power only result in problems. When you have trust in each other and relinquish your need for control, incredible things will happen. It’s only if this happens that China will have the chance to overcome the US as a superpower. Until then, the full benefits of capitalism will be stifled by the possible actions of the next communist party.

China doesn’t need a government that tries to control everything. Adam Smith explained this with his point of the ‘invisible hand’ of a free market because “it is more beneficial and rational than ones put together by politicians or rulers, who are themselves creatures of their own passions and whims.”

In the 15th century, the Chinese were likely the most advanced society in the world. They were exploring the seas with great ships the size of current day cruise ships. However, ships were said to have been decommissioned when a new emperor took over and wasn’t interested in sailing and exploration. If that didn’t happen, the Americas could have been taken over by the Chinese instead of Europeans. Instead, the communist power flexed and stopped all progress.

What will happen this time?

I recently returned from a business trip to Shanghai where I captured by additional observations on China including Chinese bathroom habits, Shanghai glitz and glam, and Shanghai headlines.  Check them out!

When I say Chinese architecture, do you envision the ancient temples with the distinct roof structure and clay shingles?  Before I went to Shanghai, I expected this would be the normal building:

Shanghai Architecture

Instead, I didn’t see any major architectural themes in Shanghai.  It seemed my assumption might have been true in the past, but over the last few centuries Shanghai seems to have lost it’s identity to the influence of Western cultures.  Now, I could drop you in most places in Shanghai and it could pass for Chicago or even Dallas.  If not for the signs written in Chinese, I might not have believed we were even there!  Apparently, Beijing has much more of the traditional Chinese architecture.

Here are some examples of the modern architecture:

Shanghai Architecture

Shanghai Architecture
Then only place I found the traditional architecture is in a historic part of the city that was a former palace.  I like the bottom picture where you can see the old with the new in the background.

Shanghai Architecture

Shanghai Architecture

 

Every American company dreams of entering into the Chinese market and instantly accessing the 1 billion consumers.

However, as companies such as Best Buy have found out the hard way, it’s not easy.  The cities and regions are fragmented and just because you get into one city doesn’t mean you’ll get into anymore.  The other problem is companies are sometimes forced to give up their trade secrets in exchange for access to the markets.  Some companies have done this only to find new competitors selling copy-cat versions of their own products.

That being said, many US based companies have made it work with the right amount of regional customization and determination.  And when they do, they’re not afraid to show it:

Pepsi in China

Or how about KFC

KFC China

I spy Starbucks…

Starbucks China

And the trashy award goes to…

Budweiser China

Shanghai is a city full of haves and have nots… I’m sure it parallels most of the big cities in China (and the world for that matter).  The blue collar workers are stuck in labor jobs that are not advanced by the quickly growing and changing economy; while the white collar workers are riding the wave of prosperity.

To fulfill the needs of the haves, there are many high-end shopping districts within the city of Shanghai that include the most expensive stores you’d find in any city.  We visited Nanjing and stumbled upon a street full of Ferraris.

Street full of Ferarris

This is me getting into my Ferarri.  Rrrightt!!!!!!!!

Getting into my Ferarri

There are also many jewelry stores that specialize in China’s gems and precious metals including pearl, jade, and gold.

Shanghai jewelry store

This is another view of the shopping district

Shanghai shopping district

Shanghai also has one of the largest Apple stores in the world

Shanghai Apple store

Our offices are near the high-tech region in Shanghai called Pudong.  It’s a fairly new area of Shanghai with nice office complexes and neighborhoods filled with expats.  One of the neighborhoods is even named “Beverly Hills” – well done Shanghai 🙂

Shanghai nice houses

 

Shanghai Newsworthy

April 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

Shanghai Daily News

Surprisingly, Shanghai has more entertaining news than the US!  Check out the headlines from two days worth of newspapers.  Did you hear about the Ladyboys in the US?

Ladyboys OK'd for pageant

I don’t think we have thick yogurt in the US yet….

Leather in yogurt

Don’t go after the problem… just try to block it 🙂

Suicide stopper gate

This story isn’t what made the headline… it’s more that they used the term “freaking out” that made me laugh

Elevator plunges

This is why I like Tripadvisor… luckily it’s not my hotel!

Unsanitary Hotel Shanghai

Shanghai is a great city and the longer I’m here the more I appreciate it.  It’s a huge city that’s bursting at the seams with construction and potential.

However, I’ve noticed one big difference between it and ‘first world countries’.  Mainly, bathroom habits.  On the drive from the airport to the office, I saw two men urinating in public… thought it was strange but maybe just a coincidence.  Then I was walking with a coworker at lunch when I saw the unimaginable… a ~3 year old boy squatting and defecating right on the street under the supervision of his apparent grandmother!!  No worries, it was on piece of paper that she wadded up and threw in the bushes.

It made me realize how recent China has come into the ‘modern’ world.  Even in the office I work in they feel compelled to post this sign on the bathroom stall door:

Shanghai bathroom talk

Some might call the pose on the left an ‘upper decker’, but others have a different description of that.  Below is the toilet paper in my room… “Tender, For You From Heart!”  That pretty much wraps it up (pun intended).

Shanghai toilet paper