Tag Archives: culture

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

Son of the High Chief


A friend of mine shared this story recently.  My friend is part Samoan and part Hawaiian.  He was born in Hawaii but moved to Samoa during his childhood.  Adjusting to the new cultures in this high-context society was difficult for his brother and him, but they made a friend in one of the locals.

Their friend, as it turns out, was the son of the High Chief.  We might expect the son of a high-class family in power to be arrogant and dismissive of foreign-born, mixed race kids who were new to the area, but he was anything but.  He was friendly and took a personal interest in helping my friend and his brother adjust.

He taught them local customs, like cooking the family meal on hot stones outdoors every Sunday.  He taught them local culture, like the need to show respect for elders.  He taught them the local language, and he helped them to fit in.  He was a good and faithful friend.

One day, the town drunk appeared as the three boys were playing outdoors.  Children knew him to be a violent and abusive man, and they avoided him whenever possible, but today, he caught the boys by surprise.  My friend could tell he was drunk again, and he could see the rage in his eyes.  This day, he had come for the two foreign-born boys.

But just as he moved to attack them, the son of the High Chief stepped between his friends and the man.  The man’s anger snapped, and he began to beat the boy mercilessly.  Several times, he knocked the boy to the ground, but each time, the boy would stand again, blocking the way to his friends.

My friend and his brother asked each time he fell if they should go for help.  Should they go to get the townspeople, who would come and rescue their friend, the son of their High Chief?  The townspeople wouldn’t allow such a crime to happen to their leader’s family.  In fact, they might have even killed the drunken man for what he had done.  But each time, the answer was, ‘No,’ and the boy would stand again to take the beating.

When the man’s anger had been spent, he left them alone, and the boy was taken to the hospital to treat his wounds.  My friend and his brother visited him the next day.  His face was unrecognizable under the bruising, the cuts and the swelling, but he was alive, and he would recover.  The boys looked at their bandaged friend and asked him to solve the mystery that troubled their hearts, “Why wouldn’t you let us go for help?”

He looked at them as the teacher who patiently tries to birth a new way of thinking in the minds and hearts of his students.  “I have taught you so much… This is what it means to be the son of the High Chief.”

The boys couldn’t have asked for a clearer picture.  Their friend, knowingly or not, had shown them an image of what Jesus Christ did for each of us when He went to the cross.  He stood between us and the evil one, who wanted to hurt us.  He took the beating that was meant for us.

Had Jesus wanted, legions of angels would have come to His rescue, yet he refused to call for them.  Each insult, each beating, each whip of the lash, each thorn of the crown He accepted as an act of love for us.  And each time He fell on the road to Golgotha, He stood again.  His purpose was set; His mind was determined; no matter the cost, He would stand in the gap for us, because This is what it means to be the Son of the High Chief.

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Filed under agape love, Christ, christianity, grace, Jesus, sacrifice, Salvation, Savior, Substitution

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

Why I Love My Mae Baan


You may remember my post about my confusion over a note our mae baan (Thai for house help) left us one day.  Here’s the note she left us this week:

I Want Comfort...Touch of Love...

It almost breaks your heart.  We must be the most heartless people she’s ever worked for in order for her to feel that she had to write out such a desperate call for love and attention.

I have to admit, I feel a little guilty every time I read it even though I know what she’s trying to say.  She’s learning some English, but it still doesn’t always come out the way she wants it to.

She wants the cleaning products, “Comfort” and “Touch of Love” to help her clean the bathroom.

(Even so, maybe we should tell her how much we appreciate her more often.)

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Filed under communication, culture, Culture Shock, funny, humor, Just for fun, Thailand

TTWWADI


Start with a cage containing five monkeys.  Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.  Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.  Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water.  Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.  The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.  To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.  After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one.  The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.  The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one.  The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.  Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.  Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.  Why not?   Because as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been around here.

Put people together for a long enough time, and we will repeat the illustration of the monkeys.  Seasoned veterans indoctrinate the up and comers.  While this process can save us time and wasted effort in meaningless pursuits, it can also kill creativity, innovation and ambition.  The up and comers are encouraged and pressured not to even try for new goals and new ways of doing things, because of the obstacles and failures experienced by the seasoned veterans.

TTWWADI (“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”) spells death to the spark of innovation and creativity that newcomers often bring.  TTWWADI spells a sometimes dangerous conformity.  If you’re a seasoned veteran, don’t be so quick to pick up the hose the next time one of the new monkeys reaches for the banana.

(NOTE: No monkeys were harmed during research for this article.)

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Filed under Change, comfort zone, culture, Fear, Group dynamics, group think, innovation, learned helplessness, paradigm, social faux pas

The Serendipity Effect


What do the following things have in common?

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Coca Cola

Ivory Soap

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Popsicles

Post-It Notes

Silly Putty

Give up?  They were all products of mistakes.  Had it not been for lack of planning, miscommunications, botched experiments or just plain irresponsibility, we wouldn’t have any of them.  (You can read their stories below.)  It’s called the Serendipity Effect, and it happens when you discover something new even though you were looking in a different direction.

But really, that’s oversimplifying the process.  A mistake doesn’t automatically turn into a breakthrough.  Certain conditions need to exist first.

1) An environment of accountability. If the person who made the mistake covers it up, its potential will never be discovered.

2) A blame-free culture. If mistakes are punished and those responsible labeled, it’s next to impossible to get individuals to act with accountability.

3) Individuals empowered to think creatively. Those closest to the mistake need to be able to exercise their possibility thinking when the error is made.  Teach them to ask questions like “What can this teach us?” and “How could we use this?” or “What problem does this solve?”

What would happen if we began to celebrate mistakes on our teams?  How would your team react if the next time they made a mistake, you said, “Fantastic!  I can’t wait to see what we’re going to learn from this.”  Their reaction might tell you a lot about the culture of blame or accountability on your team.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mrs. Wakefield was making cookies one day at the Toll House Inn and realized she was out of chocolate.  She substituted baker’s chocolate and realized that it didn’t melt in the baking.

Coca Cola

Dr. Pemberton was trying to make a health tonic that would relieve headaches and stress.  (The early version probably did, since it included a derivative of the cocoa plant, and it aided sales as people became addicted to the drink’s effects.)  He took it to Jacob’s Pharmacy and asked Jacob to add water and ice to it, but Jacob accidentally added carbonated water.  The two men tasted the result and decided it would sell better as a fountain drink.

Ivory Soap

While mixing soap one day at the Proctor and Gamble Company, a man responsible for operating the soap-mixing machine went to lunch, forgetting to turn it off on his way out.  When he returned and realized his error, he found that the extra mixing had worked air into the soap.  Assuming that it was a small mistake, he sent the soap mixture on for hardening and packaging.  Within a few weeks, Proctor and Gamble was getting letters from customers asking for more of the “soap that floats.”

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Pisano intended to build a bell tower in Pisa, Italy, in 1174.  However, during construction the soil beneath the tower began to loosen and the building efforts had to be stopped.  100 years later, construction resumed, but the tower began tilting more and more each year.  Even recent attempts to pump concrete underneath didn’t help.  To Pisano, the bell tower was a complete failure, but millions have been to see the tower who couldn’t name even one other tower in all of Europe (okay, maybe one other famous one in Paris).

Popsicles

Frank Epperson was eleven when he accidentally left his soda powder mixed with water in a cup outside his home.  Due to record low temperatures during the night, he awoke to find his drink frozen with the stirring stick still in it.  Many years later, he remembered his mistake and created Popsicles.

Post-It Notes

Scientist Spenser Silver was doing experiments to find stronger adhesives for 3M in 1970.  One experiment was a complete failure.  The adhesive was actually weaker rather than stronger.  Four years later, Arthur Fry, another 3M scientist was having trouble keeping his spot in his hymnal as he sang in his church’s choir.  He remembered his colleague’s weak adhesive and found that it worked terrifically for sticking and peeling off paper.

Silly Putty

The US government needed a synthetic rubber for airplane tires during World War II.  Scientist James Wright experimented with a rubbery substance by adding boric acid, and the result was bouncing rubber.  In 1949, he sold the rights to Peter Hodgson, who then marketed the rubber as a toy.

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Filed under Ideas, innovation, mistakes, paradigm shift

What a Coup!


I’m staying at The Linden Suites hotel in Manila, Philippines, this week. I’ve stayed here several times before, and it always strikes me as funny that they have the following plaque on the wall by the registration desk.

In case you have trouble reading it, it says,

THE COMMAND POST

at

THE LINDEN SUITES

January 16-20, 2001

The Linden Suites was privileged to have served as the “command post” of the brave men and women who led our people in a quest for truth and justice during the fateful days of January 16-20, 2001.

In the weeks before this historic event and during the days when Filipinos from all walks of life massed at the EDSA Shrine, THE LINDEN SUITES was the place where a broad, popular coalition was encamped to oppose a discredited administration. It was here that strategies were formed, momentous decisions were made, and millions were mobilized.

As media support was withdrawn from the discredited leadership and transfered to the constitutional incumbent, THE LINDEN SUITES hosted the transition leadership for the new government. During those historic days, this was the fulcrum on which power shifted. It was then that a new future became conceivable for the expectant people.

In the afternoon of January 20, immediately after she was elevated into the highest office of the country, GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO returned to THE LINDEN SUITES to begin the immense task of rebuilding governance in this country.

THE LINDEN SUITES is proud to have served those who made history.

It commemorates the dates that a coup d’etat was held against the government of then President Joseph Estrada by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, then vice-president. (It’s not always referred to as a coup, but that may be because it was well-organized and popular at the time.)

Coups are a fairly common occurrence in The Philippines, and they almost always involve the rebels holing up in some luxury hotel or luxury shopping center. (You’ve got to have the comforts of life during the stressful experience of overthrowing a government, you know.)

The plaque makes me grin whenever I see it, both for its shameless self-promotion and for its dubious value. There was a point in time when it probably brought notoriety to the hotel, but you have to wonder if people still think positive thoughts when they see it. As of July, President Arroyo’s approval rating sank to a new, all-time low (22%), making her “the country’s most unpopular president since democracy was restored in 1986” according to The Associated Press.

But still, she has withstood at least four coup and three impeachment attempts.  Popularity ain’t everything. Maybe the plaque can stay up a little longer.

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