Monday, March 01, 2010

Little Cream Life Has Moved to New URL

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Meet Social Entrepreneurs in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Chiang Rai

Sowers Exchange is a new tour operator in Hong Kong focused on creating trips for people to meet innovative social entrepreneurs working throughout Asia. In the next six months, they have two unique trips planned:

21 to 25 May 2010 -- Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (Cambodia) with Pepy

30 June to 4 July 2010 -- Chiang Rai (Thailand) visiting Mirror Art Group, Population and Community Development Association, and Doi Tung Development Project

For details, feel free to email

WANLILU Play is a bespoke travel planner that does not normally represent any particular travel product, but we'd like to support Sowers Exchange's innovative tours. So we are helping to spread the good word on these inspiring journeys, and donating the commission that is usually payable to a normal travel agency to the social enterprises visited on each trip. Each trip already has a mandatory donation built into the price, but if you book your Sowers Exchange trip through us, you will increase your impact by another 10% of the trip price.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Interesting Juxtaposition: HSBC on Values and Value

Last week, at an Asia Society event in New York, HSBC Chairman Stephen Green discussed morality in the marketplace. He was discussing themes from his new book Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World. You can watch his conversation with Asia Society President Vishakha Desai here: Do Values Matter? (Complete)

Today, scanning headlines in the Financial Times, there's two articles on HSBC's perceived value of its bank executives: HSBC fails to escape pay furore and HSBC retreats on chief's pay award.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Peace in the Year of the Tiger

I am sitting here sipping a hot cup of skim latte and my nose and fingers are still freezing. It is 8C in Hong Kong today. With 87% humidity, the cold just creeps into the bones and feels much colder than subzero temperatures in NYC. Then, my mind wanders to warm and sunny Basra where my brother and sister-in-law have just arrived for their assignment. They are both officers in the US Army.

Here in Hong Kong, it's the first week of the Chinese New Year of the Tiger. I've been wishing everyone health & happiness, love & luck, peace & prosperity. Sitting here, it's easy to take "peace" for granted. Hong Kong does not have armed forces of its own. China is not involved in any wars (that I know of, at least). But in so many other parts of the world, Iraq being just one, armed conflict is a fact of life and mere survival a luxury. It's so difficult to fathom what that reality is like. I think back to a dinner I had with my brother and his wife and their Army friends. I was the only non-Army person. They were all speaking English, but I felt like I needed a translator. My brother would act as my translator for Army acronyms, but even then, their experiences seemed so remote, so foreign, like trying to explain colour to a blind person.

We all want a world without war, but for many of us who, thankfully, have never experienced the horrors of war, we take peace for granted and assume that it is the default state of life and that it takes effort to wage war. In fact, I think the opposite is true. It takes conscious effort, hard work and difficult choices to keep the peace, whether on the individual, organizational or national level. President Obama seems to understand that peace is actually much more complicated an endeavour than we care to admit. In President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, he said:
I'm responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill, and some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the costs of armed conflict -- filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.
I share his sense of internal conflict. I have nothing but admiration for my brother and his wife. Theirs cannot be an easy job. They are not people who believe in the "business of war" or in simplistic "it's either us or them" rationales for war. As someone who does not believe war is moral, I accept with great difficulty our rationalizations for war. Every person has a right to defend him or herself from threats, both real and perceived. The question is, can we do so without paying the price of our humanity for it. That is a choice that should not rest solely on the shoulders of any one man or even the men and women in our armed forces. Peace is a state (and a very precarious one at that) in which every single person has a personal stake. It should be a responsibility that each of us bears. It seems paradoxical to make soldiers (i.e. other nameless, faceless people) our proxies for peace.

So heading into this Year of the Tiger, with family in a war zone, I'm reflecting upon the true meaning of peace and what it takes to achieve it. My wish for peace is really a personal wish that I might have the strength, courage and perseverance to strive towards peace, especially since I am fortunate enough to be living in a place like Hong Kong where my greatest discomfort at the moment is how cold it is. But most of all, I wish everyone in warm and sunny Basra (and by extension, everyone around the world) that their greatest complaint be the weather.

Some links that have inspired me:
Peace One Day

Charter for Compassion

Fetzer Institute

Arbinger Institute -- A discussion on forgiveness

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A spectacular reason to layover in Dallas

On my way home for New Year's from Hong Kong to Phoenix, there was a 20-minute window when I thought I wouldn't make my connecting flight at DFW and I started to think of things I would want to do during my forced layover in Dallas. The only thing I came up with was a visit the Kimbell Art Museum, but that's actually in Fort Worth.

This morning, as I was catching up on TED talks, I finally came upon a reason to visit Dallas; a reason as good as the Seattle Public Library -- the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Both buildings were designed by the same architects. Architect Joshua Prince-Ramus' talk contains a lot of food for thought that I hope the master planners (OMA being one of them) and developers of Hong Kong's West Kowloon Cultural District will chew on and digest. More importantly, I hope they aspire to creating an infrastructure and environment that is as innovative, end-user sensitive and nurturing of culture, creativity and community as this:

I checked out the calendar at Wyly Theatre and was amused to see performances of It's Superman slated for this summer. What is it with this current trend for superhero musicals? It just seems like such a hokey concept. I am not a fan of musicals, but with Bono & The Edge writing the music, even I am intrigued to check out the big Broadway production of Spiderman that is slated to open some time soon, hopefully. Apparently, it is way over budget (it will take five years of full house sales each night just to break even) and late (original preview date had been set for 16 January this year). Will it be a superhuman hit or a fatal flop?

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama & Kipling

I woke up this morning with much anticipation. First, there was the iPad. Then, there was President Obama's first State of the Union address. The first disappointed slightly -- I won't be able to ditch my iPhone and MacBook just yet, but the iPad does have the potential to be a Kindle killer and more importantly re-write how we read, making it a richer multimedia, learning experience. The second did not. Obama was the voice of reason, optimism, and a "we will get this done even if it kills my chances for re-election" determination.

I was reading reactions to his address and came across Bruce Reed's article in Slate referencing this poem by Rudyard Kipling: If. A tall order of a poem, but nonetheless, ideals I hope our Senators, Congressmen and women will aspire to in this year of mid-term elections.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Empire State of Mind

Am back in Hong Kong after two weeks in the Big Apple, and the first thing I was grateful for is Hong Kong's super efficient airport. From the gate to the Airport Express took just 15 minutes, including waiting for luggage. Flying to and within the US is just such a drag these days. Having said that, New York City still has a great vibe. As the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys song goes:
New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Hear it for New York, New York, New York

There is plenty of inspiration to be had in New York. While I was in town, I celebrated Hannah Seligson's book launch, was mesmerized by Anish Kapoor's Memory at Guggenheim, saw two hilarious plays (The Understudy and Present Laughter), and got to take a yoga class with Baron Baptiste who will actually be teaching in Hong Kong next weekend at Pure TST.

Baptiste's class did not disappoint. It was a killer. He enjoyed telling us to just "be" as he ran us through a 15-minute series of core exercises and made us hold poses for countless breaths. While I still enjoyed Jules' classes at Jivamukti, I was introduced to Marco's classes at Pure East by JGK with a warning the class would likely piss me off because he likes to have his students hold poses. I ended up going to four classes by Marco. It was not until the last class, when Marco spent the entire class telling us ad nauseum to "inhale into the upper lung, exhale from the mula bandha (pelvic floor) to get rid of what you don't need from the root", did I finally manage to cruise through his class without wanting to curse him.

Noël Coward's Present Laughter, just opened on Broadway last night to rave reviews with Victor Garber (aka ALIAS' Jack Bristow) in the starring role. Coward's play is about a narcissistic actor and the drama he manages to stir up with more than one woman who has "lost/forgotten my latch key". There's plenty of wit to fuel 2.5 hours of jovial laughs, and Dodge's luscious Art Deco set is eye candy (the grain on the wood paneling is all hand-painted!). The play runs until 21 March at the American Airlines Theatre.

As for restaurants, I re-visited many of my usual haunts: Via Quadronno (sadly, the one in HK just does not compare), Candle Cafe, La Esquina. But my favourite meal was probably the post-yoga falafel and baklava lunch at Hummus Kitchen, while the most memorable was evening post-flight nibbles at Rock Center Cafe the day before the tree was to come down. The food and drink were nothing spectacular, but the view of the skating rink made for a very warm, festive welcome to the city.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chat with Hannah Seligson, author of "A Little Bit Married"

When I told Alex Harney that I would be in NYC for a couple weeks, she immediately made an e-intro to her friend Hannah Seligson, who just launched her new book A Little Bit Married: How to Know When It's Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door. When I chatted with Hannah last month, we touched on the inspiration behind her writing ALBM, her take on the "soul mate phenomenon" and why the stakes seem higher for her generation when they contemplate marriage. Last night, I finally met Hannah, in the flesh, at her book launch party. She's pictured here with her friends Trip and Edgar.

-- 16 December 2009

WS: so what are you doing in DC?
HS: i'm in dc because i can actually afford an office here
       and i thought i would try to break into some political reporting
       and i'm a little bit married (ALBM) and my boyfriend got a job here
WS: a little bit married?
HS: yes, it's the new romantic rite of passage for young people (born post 1980) today
       the unmarried long-term relationship
WS: is that why you wrote the book?
HS: in part. the book was inspired by a personal experience.
       but then it became about so much more
       it's such a murky life stage
       and i wanted to figure out how to wrap my mind around it
WS: how long have you been in this unmarried long-term relationship?
HS: we've been dating for about a year
WS: my mind...long-term is much longer
        i know people who have dated 12 years and still unmarried!
HS: yeah, there are many permutations of ALBM
       the baseline definition I came up with is a one-year monogamous relationship
       but it's really more about the attributes of the relationship than the duration
WS: what are the attributes?
HS: in other words, are you doing things that probably in another era would have signaled that you are headed for the altar
       intertwining in each other's families, living together, making career compromises and sacrifices for each other, plotting a future together
       but then there's always this sense that there are contingencies because you are "a little bit married"
       one of my favourite examples is of the couple that buys furniture together but splits the items "just in case"
WS: so why not just get married?
HS: great question
       there's a movement here in the US, among certain demographics, to put off marriage
       people want to establish themselves professionally before they tie the knot
       and cementing a career is a long and arduous process
WS: is it a guy or gal-driven phenomenon?
HS: it's both. but let me elaborate
       men and women are both pushing off marriage, but in most cases, women are still ready to get married before the guy is
       they want to focus on their careers, but they also have biology to contend with
       so being a little bit married has different implications for women
WS: i would imagine that guys don't even think of it in those terms -- ALBM
HS: how do you imagine they think of it?
WS: they don't?
        they just think -- i'm married or not
HS: i think that's true to a certain extent
       but from my research, i also found that men thought of it as batting practice for marriage
       they were not, as the awful saying goes, thinking "why buy the cow when you can get milk for free"
       one thing i found about men and marriage is that the time at which a man is ready to get married is very tied to his income
WS: why do people think being married hinders career advancement?
HS: well, for women, it actually does, because marriage is usually a stepping stone to children, which definitely stymies career advancement
       for men, i think it's a false perception
       because being married actually increases their earning potential
WS: but people can marry and not have children
HS: that's definitely true - so i think it's about being tied to another person
       the notion that you can't just pick up and move to beijing on a whim
       you have to operate as a unit
WS: but you moved to DC
HS: i did and it was a tough decision
WS: why did you decide to move?
HS: ultimately, i had to decide what was really important to me. and living in the same city as my partner won out
       remember that hillary clinton followed bill to arkansas, hardly the epicenter of opportunities for a recent yale school graduate
       not that bill and hillary are a shining example of a marriage
WS: so what was on your mind when making the decision?
HS: i tried my best to think about different scenarios
       how i would feel if we broke up
       if i didn't like the city
       if i felt there was a lack of career opportunities
       so i did all the rational thinking
WS: but NYC & DC are not that far...what about long-d for a little while?
HS: that could have worked -- the other part of this was my own personal frustration with not being able to afford new york
       dc is a better bang for the buck
       but the deeper issue here is how two unmarried people try to harmonize and sync their lives
WS: so it sound to me so far that ALBM is an economic phenomenon
HS: that is certainly one read
       we've seen more couples move in together as a result of the economic downturn
       but it's also important to remember that ALBM is a function of the dramatic changes in the institution of marriage
       people get married for very different reasons now than they used to
       it used to be an economic contract
       women needed a man
       or it was too risky to have sex outside of marriage because of birth control
WS: or is it a function of the statistic that 1 in 2 marriages (in the US) end in divorce?
HS: and yes, the legacy of that statistic is very real
       young people today don't want to repeat the mistakes their parents made
       so they spend a lot of time searching out the "perfect" person
       that's, of course, a generalization, but speaks to the soul mate phenomenon we see
WS: can you elaborate on the soul mate phenomenon?
HS: of course. people are looking for that perfect person, someone who has the comedic timing of jon stewart, the looks of javier bardem, and the intelligence of barack obama. it's high-stakes dating out there.
       when you look at national polling in the US, most young people want to marry their "soul mate"
WS: how is soul mate defined by most?
HS: a soul mate is a factor of fun!
       while i don't think there is one agreed upon definition, i think the main attributes are that it's a person with whom you never feel lonely, sad, angry, disappointed, anxious or upset around
       but we all know that relationships are riddled with incompatibilities and tensions
WS: i believe in soul mates, but not your definition
HS: you do? tell me your definition
WS: i believe i have many soul mates
HS: right, i can buy into that
       but what i'm talking about is a version of a person that doesn't really exist
WS: soul mates are people that you just click with...kindred spirits
HS: yeah, i like the idea of a kindred spirit
       but see, the stakes today are just so high
WS: why are stakes so high?
HS: because people don't need to get married
       you don't need a spouse for economic support
       women can have babies on their own
WS: then shouldn't they be lower?
       men feel less pressure to provide?
       people can just "be"?
HS: marriage is no longer a necessity
       so people look for partners to fulfill them in every way
       as my friend helen said to me
       "i want a boyfriend who will be my career coach, gym buddy, stand-up comic, and constant orgasm supplier
HS: so another reason for the soul mate phenomenon
       is that people are less connected to their communities than they were say even 40 years ago
       so there is more and more pressure on a significant other to fill the roles that were once filled by an entire community
WS: what did you get out of writing ALBM?
HS: great question
       i learned a lot about my generation
       i think looking closely at a generation's mating and dating rituals is a view into their soul
       so that was the intellectual part
       and even though it was inspired by a personal experience
       i was able to make it about something much bigger
       which is very gratifying
       to really delve into a subject and try to explore all the different facets
       it gave me a real appreciation for how difficult it is to write about relationships, not to mention dole out advice
       to answer your second question, yes, i am still ALBM
WS: advice is always clouded, or rather, limited by our own experience...whether lived/heard/seen/read
HS: right
       i think the other thing i got out of it was feeling like i was making a contribution by putting this relationship stage on the map
       so many young people drift in and out of ALBM for their 20s and into their 30s
       naming something is important
WS: LOL...that's another topic altogether...naming's an attempt to control/understand what we cannot control/understand
       do you explain in the book your own process for answering: "How to know when it's time to walk down the aisle or out the door?"
HS: i don't really -- what i do say is the advice i'd follow for ALBM round 2
WS: thanks. loved the chat!

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

A New Decade. A New Question?

HAPPY NEW DECADE! Happy 20-10.

For the new year, my sister-in-law left me with her copy of What We Believe But Cannot Prove. While I've been reading it, I've been also eagerly awaiting the 2010 question. Finally, the question, and answers by "leading minds", were published today: How Is The Internet Changing The Way You Think? I have to think about how (or if) the internet has changed the way I think, but I know it has definitely changed the way I live.

Of all the questions Edge has asked over the years, my favourite is: What Have You Changed Your Mind About? One thing I changed my mind about recently was Battlestar Galactica. I had avoided watching BG for the longest time because the original series had not been that impressive. But on New Year's Eve, my brother persuaded me to watch the pilot miniseries with him. He had a blast watching me get sucked into the show all the way up to the end, five minutes into the new decade. So, into the new decade, the question that has been on my mind, no doubt inspired by BG and recent news events, is: What do we believe is our nature and the nature of our reality, and are they really true? Not exactly a new question, but perhaps we'll come up with some new and interesting answers? So I wonder, how is the internet changing the way we think about these questions?

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