Friday, August 21, 2015

Vietnam: Anh

It was not her car I was impressed with, although it was a very nice car. It was the driver. It is only the truly wealthy that have full time chauffeurs. Anh had her own chauffeur. 

Modern Hoi An is a beach town much like beach towns anywhere. The town lies on the clear waters of a river delta a short distance from the sandy beaches of the South China Sea. Hotels, restaurants and upscale boutiques targeting tourists abound. My friend Rich met Anh on a dive boat out of Hoi An and made a date to have lunch later in the week, in Ho Chi Minh City.

Hoi An, Central Vietnam.

Anh had attended UCLA, spoke English perfectly and gave me excellent guidance on how to navigate the Vietnamese bureaucracy to obtain a business visa. Anh’s family owned several hospitals. She was accustomed to moving amongst Saigon’s elite. Anh was an affable woman, intelligent, articulate, socially conscious and aware.  Were it not for a slight Vietnamese accent, it would have been easy to mistake her for an American. But even in a rich country such as the US, Anh would not be considered average. She had many gifts, including that chauffeur, a really nice perk.  In Vietnam, Anh was a dramatic outlier; there aren’t many in her class.

Ho Chi Minh was a determined guy. He led an anti-colonial effort to unite North and South Vietnam, a politically divided country long before Ho’s communist army drove out the French and Americans. Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 before the end of the war. But in 1975 his successors united North and South Vietnam under classic communism. The New Republic of Vietnam elevated Ho Chi Minh to iconic status and erected a bunch of Ho statues. About five years later, when the country was starving to death, they dumped the commie ideology and invited in Starbucks.

My friend Anh is emblematic of Vietnam’s growing wealth under the current political and economic hybrid emerging out of the communist era. Ambitious and enterprising, the Vietnamese are becoming players in the world economy.  However, new Vietnamese wealth is concentrated in a very small minority.  Much of the country struggles to survive. 

Saigon street vendor.

In my next story I will introduce Nhung, a more typical Vietnamese woman doing whatever it takes to live and prosper.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Travel Stories You Will Not Read in Lonely Planet

Oil paintings for sale on the wall of The Swiss Hotel Singapore

I like some of the popular travel books. But you sure don’t read the really interesting things about traveling in “Lonely Planet”.
Last week I met an old friend Rich in Hanoi, Vietnam. Rich is a computer training consultant between projects; he is also a kind of gregarious roving gourmet. Rich travels quite a lot, speaks four languages and loves engaging folks around the world in conversations, especially about food and drink.
Accompanying Rich was Dan, an old farm boy from Tennessee. Dan is now also a consultant specialising in computer security. After spending a few days in his company, I was convinced the CIA is one of Dan’s clients. Dan, of course, would not confirm that.
From Hanoi we traveled south to Da Nang, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by many locals. Having come of age in the nineteen-sixties, the names of these places are evocative for me, stirring memories of a more turbulent time. The American War, as it is known in Vietnam, was a war fought over ideology: communism verses capitalism. It seems to me since we stopped fighting our two countries have blended some aspects of both ideologies into each culture.
The night before Rich, Dan and I were to go our separate ways, we met at a Sushi restaurant in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, in a part of town frequented by visiting Japanese businessmen. The waitresses were dressed in school-girl costumes. Rich speaks Japanese and made friends with a somewhat inebriated Japanese guy who bought us all a round of sake. First we made a Japanese toast, then an American toast.
“Wait”! Said I. “We are in Vietnam”.
Having lived in Ho Chi Minh City for nearly four months, I considered myself the Vietnamese cultural expert in our group and taught them a Vietnamese toast.
“Mot, hai, ba (one, two, three) YO!
Our Vietnamese toast was met with approving laughter from the waitresses and a table nearby with two Vietnamese couples eating sushi. The Japanese guy bought the Vietnamese folks a round of sake as well.
So there we were: a computer consultant from Staten Island; a CIA spook; a drunk Japanese businessman; an old fireman from Brooklyn; and four Saigon locals out on a date surrounded by provocative waitresses in plaid, pleated miniskirts.
If Ho Chi Minh roles over in his grave we will hear about it. He is in Hanoi preserved and entombed under glass in one of those bizarre commie mausoleums that are open for viewing, like Lenin and Mao.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

When Traveling in Asia, Don't Order Meatballs

I was born, raised and lived most of my life in the United States of America. The US like many other prosperous and influential countries such as Canada; Australia; Singapore; New Zealand; Hong Kong and others, are former British colonies. Our language is basically the same, and many of our customs similar. British culture has influenced the world. I discovered it is easy these days for me to travel globally and really not truly experience foreign cultures. Observe and appreciate yes; but truly experience?

Not so much!

I have now travelled a little in this part of the world. Australia felt a little like my hometown Brooklyn: tough but good natured with an incomprehensible accent. In Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines I was a tourist staying in places that catered to English speaking customers. Not much in the way of assimilation challenges happening there.

My home for much of the past five year was Singapore. I once heard Singapore described as “Asia Lite’ because it is prosperous, English speaking and has many Western amenities.  However, when I first arrived in Singapore it took time to adjust. Climate, food and etiquette were Singaporean. In addition to English, most Singaporeans spoke Chinese as well. So it felt new and different to me. But I could always find a familiar restaurant and everybody spoke English. It was not until I moved to Vietnam did I start to really learn how to be part of foreign land.

Well-known Western business are present and growing in Ho Chi Minh City. But Vietnam has its own distinct way of being, a challenging language for an English speaker to learn, and a lot of pride in its national identity. I arrived here two months ago with an idea and a business plan. Putting the plan into action required me to let go of my ingrained ideas about how people think and act. I’ve learned to eat “local”. Truth is the coffee at the little mom and pop stall near my home is superior to the Western franchises. And the local shop is one-tenth the price. 

Really, one-tenth!

I am using the coffee shop as an example of the many learning experiences I have had recently as I seek out contractors, merchants, graphic artists, web site designers and all the folks needed to get a small business up and running. I have to communicate and negotiate with them in their language. And I must learn and respect their customs and etiquette. And the only way to do that is be part of it, not an observer. It is the only way to really lean the details. 

BTW: the title?  The thing about the meatballs?

 Ah yeah, I’m not kidding:)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A New Yoga Business Model

Imagine a young person applying for a job at a small business and the business owner tells them they have to pay $12,000 for training first. After training you may or may not get a job.
That's crazy!
But that is exactly what happens now in the yoga business. The most popular styles of yoga - the styles that can support independent studios - charge a lot of money to become certified in that particular style.
At Modern Hot Yoga we intend to turn that model on it's head. We are in the process of training hot yoga teachers in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. By January 2016 our first studio will open. We selected the current trainees based on their entrepreneurial drive and willingness to work hard. Our training method uses a senior teacher  who leads while practicing to an audio/visual presentation.  As the trainees progressed it became clear how backwards the old model of training can be. 
While many proficient teachers have come out of the guru led paradigm, many less than capable teachers emerge as well, weakening the system. And there is no follow through. Basically one pays a lot of money for a certification and then you are on your own.

As Modern Hot Yoga grows we intend to select teacher trainees based on ability and drive. We will pay them a stipend during training and when they are proficient we will employ them. As the system grows, Modern Hot Yoga will identify prospective small business leaders and invest in setting them up in partner studios. This model will create teacher loyalty to the style and promote quality services delivered in small boutique studios. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Lifting and Stretching

In Europe and India at the end of the 19th and during the 20th centuries physical fitness became an expression of national pride and was promoted as method of improving moral character and national superiority. The movement, called Physical Culture, was pursued in Sweeden, Germany, France and especially Great Britain. In India, especially in Mysore, Calcutta and Pune, anti colonialists adopted Physical Culture and  gave it an Indian identity by combining weigh lifting and calisthenics with Hatha Yoga.  By the mid 1900s several Indian gyms practiced weigh lifting and yoga. 

BYCH Hot Yoga practitioner Dawn 
Interested in more detail about the real history of yoga? Information presented here comes from "Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice" By Mark Singleton

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why is Yoga Special?

The best measure of psychological fitness is one's success in relationship. The calming effects and stress reduction from my yoga practice have increased my patience, tolerance and acceptance of others, strengthening all of my relationships.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Yoga Psychology: How does yoga affect consciousness?

Consider this:  in the 1980s Bell Labs and IBM combined their brainiac departments and, with a fairly high degree of accuracy, ascertained a human being's average sensory input measured in bits per second. *

What the research folks at these institutions discovered is that our body is capable of receiving approximately ten million bits per second of information.  That includes everything we are able to sense, our hearing; our sensual perception; our taste buds; olfactory sense (smell) sight; memory; gastric experience; everything!

Our consciousness, what we are able to perceive and experience in any given moment, measured at about sixty bits per second.  That's right, six zero, sixty!  Let's round that up to 100.  That means that while our bodies can receive ten millions bits of information in any given second we are only capable of knowing about one hundred.  That's a pretty big fraction 100/10,000,000.  Or one one hundred thousandth of what we receive, we get. What happens to the rest?

In our series of twenty-six postures at BYCH Hot Yoga, we concentrate on the physical postures, Hatha Yoga. With regular practice we stimulate an expansion of our sensory experience enhancing our somatic awareness and how we are moving. We simply feel more.

Done regularly, the physical demands; the heat; the commanding encouragement and corrections from the instructor;  all combine to increase sensual awareness while reducing cognition. We stimulate the more ethereal processing of our right cerebral hemisphere.  The words become like a song in the background directing our physical patterns and establishing increased awareness of who we are physically. We connect with those around us moving in synchronicity, with less of an ego state, more connected to each other. Our sense of who we are intensifies as the chatter of our ego mind lessens. Paradoxically, we experience more of ourselves with less thinking.

*Information about measures of consciousness used here comes from the best work I have ever read on the elusive subject of human consciousness: "The User Illusion" by Tor Norretranders.