Category Archives: culture

Wanted: Crocodile Hunters


Thailand, where I live, is suffering from the worst flooding in over 50 years.  My home in Chiang Mai flooded a few weeks ago, but now the floods are in Bangkok, and most of the city is under water.

An unfortunate side effect of the flooding is the escape of man-eating reptiles.  This from the New York Times World a few days ago:

Thailand is one of the world’s chief exporters of crocodile products, and farms some 200,000 of the animals at 30 farms and 900 small breeding operations, according to the Fishery Department. About 100 were reported to be on the loose in Ayuttthaya, to the north of Bangkok…authorities have put out a call for crocodile hunters offering a reported bounty of 3,000 baht, or about $100 dollars each. (Seth Mydans – New York Times World http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/world/asia/flood-waters-in-bangkok-shut-domestic-airport.html?_r=1)

“Don’t worry,” they say later in the article, “these are friendly crocodiles who move slowly and willingly submit themselves to capture.” (…or something to that effect.)

The three men in this photo apparently believed it, and maybe it was true.  The crocodile might have willingly slipped into their restraining system.  But I doubt it.  He looks really uncomfortable.  And he was free!  Surely the gastronomic choices outside the breeding farm were much better than the slop he was fed inside.

So, assuming that he put up a bit of a fight, do you think the approximately $33 apiece that each of these men earned for risking life and limb was sufficient compensation?  Not for this crocodile hunter.

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Filed under Challenges, culture, funny, humor, motivation, overcoming obstacles, Rewards, Thailand

There’s a WOMAN in my bathroom!


One of the most difficult challenges of living in Asia for me?  There is always a woman in the men’s public restrooms.  I appreciate that she is there to make the place as clean and comfortable as possible, but why is she always inside?

And she doesn’t leave when I come in.  She sticks around while all the men do their business, sometimes mopping around our feet while we go.

I think it’s because women don’t know about the male code related to bathrooms.  We have certain unwritten rules that all men observe.  I don’t know if we learn them from our dads or from inconspicuous observation, but we all know them:

  • Always skip at least one urinal between men.
  • If the only open urinal is between two men, use the stall.
  • Don’t talk to the guy next to you unless you know each other well.
  • Eyes to the front, elevated approximately 110 degrees.
  • Never shake hands in the restroom.

But the most important rule is….Don’t hang around if you are done with your business.  It’s creepy.  Get in and get out.  Quickly.  That’s the rule.  I don’t even like it when there is a male custodian in the restroom.

Of course, I know what my wife will say when she reads this post.  The woman is there to supervise the men, because no matter how old we get or how much practice we’ve had, we still miss the bowl.

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Filed under accountability, Challenges, culture, Culture Shock, discomfort, funny, humor

Visuals, Verbals, Vocals


“What’s wrong, Honey?”  I ask.

“Nothing!  Absolutely nothing!” she says between gritted teeth as she slams cabinet doors in our kitchen.

I have a choice to make at this point.  I can believe what she says (that nothing is wrong) and go about my business, or I can believe what her tone of voice and body language are telling me (that something is most definitely wrong).  I’ve taken a few lumps in our marriage, and I’ve learned to disregard what she says if it doesn’t match how she says it.  Saying, “Okay, Sweetheart.  I’ll be in the garage if you need me,” only gets me in a deeper stew.

Professor Albert Mehrabian (UCLA) has done research that would have been useful to me a little earlier in our marriage.  He analyzed where our messages come from when we communicate, and his findings are surprising.

  • 55% of our message comes from nonverbals, or Visuals, (i.e. our body language, gestures, facial expressions, posture…).
  • 38% of our message comes from our tone of voice, sounds we make, our rate of speech…, or Vocals.
  • 7% of our message comes from the words we use, or Verbals.

Only 7%!  Seems unbelievable, but I’ll tell you why I believe it…because we lie.  We are expert liars.  My wife was lying when she said nothing was wrong, even though she really wanted me to know that something was.  We lie all the time to avoid facing unpleasant circumstances directly.  Our boss brings us a huge project Friday afternoon and asks if we have time for it.  “Oh, sure.  I’ll fit it in,” we sigh, knowing that our plans for the weekend have gone out the window.  We’re told that team meetings will now be breakfast meetings and start at 6:30 a.m.  “Hey, there’s a great idea!” we tell a peer sarcastically.  A friend asks us what we thought of his presentation.  “It was terrific,” we lie, because we don’t want to hurt his feelings.

We’ve learned from experience that you can’t always trust what people say.  However, Visuals and Vocals are much more reliable.  People send signals through their body language, tone of voice and other nonverbals.  Sometimes they do it intentionally (my wife, for example), and sometimes they just can’t help it.  We bring the team together and tell them about a new change that means doing more with less.  As the leader, you know you have to put a positive spin on it, but your fake smile and monotone voice quality give you away.  People put your words on a shelf and judge your sincerity by your nonverbal communication.

Often, we are telling the truth, but people misread our nonverbals.  We ask a simple and sincere question, but our arms are crossed at the time, and the other person goes away with the idea that we are totally against her proposal.  We were up late the night before, and some of our team members perceive that we are in bad mood because we didn’t sound cheerful when we greeted them.  We are fast talkers, and we find that slower talkers distrust our message because we seem “slick.”

The key is matching your verbals and your nonverbals.  If we want our message to hit home, Verbals, Visuals and Vocals all have to be marching in the same direction.  It may take practice in front of a mirror or with a tape recorder, but you can improve how you communicate by increasing the consistency of these three components.

On the flip side, don’t allow yourself to accept what someone says as the whole story.  Watch and listen to their nonverbals to determine if they match the message.  If they don’t, respond to the nonverbals rather than the verbals.  Back to my example with my wife…a better response to her would have been, “You seem upset.  Would you like to talk?”  Notice that I’m disregarding the words she used and focusing on the underlying message.  You may need to make several attempts at this before the other person is willing to be honest Verbally, but their nonverbals have been telling the truth all along.

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Filed under communication, conflict, culture, emotions, feedback, Interpersonal, listening, public speaking, Relationships, speaking

Pakistan – Day 4


Today was the day to set up the games for tomorrow.  One of the games requires a semi-large flat surface, and the organizers of the event picked this plot of grass.

It was almost perfect, but it hadn’t been mowed in some time.  That’s why this gentleman was out there.  He was assigned the unwelcome task of mowing the lawn.

As you may notice, there is an old-fashioned lawn mower in the yard, but it didn’t work properly, so the poor man was left no choice but to mow the lawn with this:

I felt really bad for him and tried several times to communicate that it would be just fine if he just cut the really tall grass and plants.  I think I was making progress when the second mower showed up.

This mower needed a little bit of work, and then it was put into service….or….not.  It didn’t work, either.  So, after 15-20 minutes of fiddling with it, the original “lawn mower” (the man with the knife) went back to work.  I tried again to convince him that he didn’t need to cut all the grass.  This time, he understood me and just cut the highest parts.  Then, he swept up all the clippings and put them on a large tarp so that he could carry them to a place where he could dump them.

Unfortunately, by the time he got back, the third mower had arrived.

These guys were fully committed to making one of these mowers work!

The third mower was called a “Weed Eater,” but it didn’t look like any Weed Eater I had ever seen.  It worked better than the previous two mowers, but it required an incredible amount of force and momentum to get the blades to turn.  I suppose the original “lawn mower” man felt guilty watching the man push the Weed Eater around in his business suit, so he went back to work cutting with his knife.

Between the two of them, this is what the lawn looked like a few hours later (after we had laid out the rope for the game I had planned).

All-in-all, it was sooooo much more effort than I needed or expected out of these guys, but they take such pride in doing the job well, that it’s impossible to talk them out of it.

The game went really well the next day, and not a single person complained about the grass

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Filed under culture, Culture Shock, funny, humor

Pakistan – Day 3


To market, to market, to buy some fat rope…

I needed rope for a game that I’m facilitating on the fourth day of the conference, so we made a trip into the local market.  I don’t know why anyone would willingly escort me into town.  I attract a lot of attention, and I’m not sure all of it is positive.

But, I found one brave soul who was willing to go (and a driver, but the driver would just drop us off places and then go hide until we were ready to go someplace else).  We visited the local rope store, which as really cool – every kind of rope you can think of in all the colors of the rainbow.

I needed 40 meters.  Unfortunately, they don’t sell it by length; they sell it by weight.  They put it on one side of a balance scale (you know, the kind that Lady Justice holds) and then put weights on the other side of the scale.

So, I’m really not sure how much rope I purchased – about 10 kilos, I think.  Hope it does the trick.

Then, we visited the local hardware store.  It wasn’t Home Depot, but it still got the testosterone flowing.  Something deep inside me stirred, and I realized that men everywhere have a common bond in our love for tools.  (Ruh, ruh, ruh!)

We bought a few kilos of hook-screw-thingies (man-talk, ladies – you wouldn’t understand) and then waited for our driver to come out from hiding.  During this time, several children surrounded me and just stared, grinning and nudging each other.  They didn’t seem to want anything more than an opportunity to experience a large, white man out of his natural habitat, so I just smiled and took their photos.

Side note: when visiting a foreign country, a camera is a child-magnet, a trust-building mechanism, an icebreaker of the highest nature.  Take a child’s photo, and then show it to him, and you will have a friend for life.  Scratch that – you will have two dozen friends for life.  Because as soon as the other children hear the shutter click, they will come running from all directions and provinces to get into the photo.

We finished our trip with a visit to the local paper-seller, who didn’t seem too interested in our business but managed to round up what we needed.  Unfortunately, he didn’t weigh it out on the scales.  Instead, he typed out the price on his calculator.  A disappointment, I have to admit, but I suppose progress is inevitable.  Next thing you know, the Rattanabad market will become a Walmart with 200 checkout aisles and laser scanners.  I miss the olden days already.

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Filed under culture, Culture Shock, funny, humor

Pakistan – Day 1


I’m teaching at a leadership summit in Rattanabad, Pakistan, this week.  It’s my first trip to the country, and it has been an unfamiliar experience already.

It began when I got off the plane.  I was met by two men, holding a sign with my name on it.  I didn’t know at the time, but these men were airport security and a customs agent.  They had been sent by my hosts to whisk me through the immigration process and customs.  I was bringing 60 Bibles with me, and my host did not want any problems with the customs agents.

The two men said a few words, offered a handshake and occasionally a hug to each official we met, and I bypassed lines and interrogations.  At Immigration, they took me through one of the “Pakistan Visa” desks so that I didn’t have to wait in the “Foreign Visa” line.  At the luggage carousel, they had a man ready to lift and stack all 200 lbs of my luggage on a trolley (60 hard-cover Bibles are quite heavy).  At customs, one man ran interference with the uniformed agents while the other man led me out to meet my host.

It was all very efficient.  If only I could take these guys with me everywhere I go…

The car ride from Karachi to Rattanabad is about three hours down unlit highways deathtraps equipped with every kind of hazard you can think of…pot holes, uneven surfaces, pedestrians, rickshaws, own-the-road weaving commuter buses and high-beam-blazing oncoming traffic.  I found that it was easier on the nerves to just try to sleep through it, but my host was quite good-natured and chatty and kept me engaged in conversation for the better part of the ride.

Halfway there, we stopped at a McDonalds (because McDonalds has obviously done what no king or conqueror could manage and completed its conquest of the world).  I have never seen a place so busy!  There were easily 250 men, women and children present – half of them in the mosh pit that turned out to be the space where people ordered their food.  There was no semblance of a line.  People just mushed together as closely as they could, and the one who could get his money closest to the order-taker got served next – even if he was three rows back.

My presence attracted more than its fair share of curious stares, since I was the only large, white man in this particular restaurant, but my celebrity status was not enough to get us a table.  We tried to get help finding a spot but then gave up and ate outside, where it was surprisingly peaceful.  From this vantage point, I watched the chaos inside.   Twenty women were tightly packed into the McDonalds Play Place watching four children in the tubes.  Either the children were a fascinating watch or the mothers were excellent conversationalists.  I couldn’t tell which.  And where the hundreds of other children weren’t in the tubes also, I can’t tell you.  I assumed that these must have been the four children of a high-level diplomatic official, who forced all the mothers to serve as body guards for his kids.

Two of my new friends ate something called a “McArabia,” which looks like a pita sandwich.  They couldn’t believe that we didn’t have these in the U.S. or Thailand.  When everyone was done, we all loaded back into the car, and I willed myself to go to sleep in anticipation of the death-defying stunts we would do on the last hour of our journey.  I made it in one piece to a nice dorm-type building, where I’ll be staying and teaching over the next few days.  I’m hoping for more out-of-the-ordinary stuff for my next blog post.

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Filed under culture, Culture Shock, Pakistan