With all that is going on in the world…

My little ramblings seem insignifcant and frivolous, and I’m not sure why I bother sharing them.  Still, I think it is important that ordinary people keep living their lives and not give in to hopelessness, despair, or disgust in the face of the acts of a few extremists who manage to wrest the attention of the world, either by shooting innocents or by shooting off their mouths – yes, I mean you Mr. Trump.

So, in this not very optomistic mood, I thought I would look back at our year in travel and see what good things I could find to focus on.  First, I do want to acknowledge that I do understand that we are deeply privileged to be able to do what we do and live how we live, and there are so many reasons we are grateful for that, no matter what else is going on.

In the spring, we traveled to Southeast Asia, stopping in one of our favorite places in the world – Singapore.  We happened to be there shortly after the death of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, and in the eulogies and articles and memorials to him, we found many lessons for all the worlds’ government leaders and, indeed, for ordinary citizens, in how to govern well and how to be a good citizen.  Mostly it is about taking responsibility and taking the long view, and putting the good of the many above advantage for the few.

Then we had the opportunity to visit two emerging nations – Myanmar and Cambodia – both nations with troubled recent pasts, but where we saw great optimism and hope for the future.  In Myanmar, hopes were high during our visit for a victory for Aung San Suu Kyi – whom they call “The Lady” -and her NLD party.  In November, the NLD did indeed win a landslide election, and slowly, the leaders of the ruling military junta do seem to be moving towards democratization of the country, with the former ruler Than Shwe, having stated his support the the NLD leadership on Sunday.  Due to a constitutional provision that was intended to keep Ms. Suu Kyi from becoming the official ruler (she has children who have British passports – the constitution forbids anyone with ‘foreign ties’ through family members from becoming president) it is expected that a proxy ruler will fill the position.  Nonetheless, Ms. Suu Kyi clearly intends to wield the power and it would appear that reforms in Myanmar are likely to commence soon.  The people we met there have, in common with the Singaporeans, a long view, and a willingness to sacrifice in the short term in order to achieve a more prosperous and free future for their children and grandchildren.  One can only hope for the best for the citizens of this lovely but troubled land.

Cambodia is a bit further along in terms of integration into the wider world than is Myanmar, but seems to be sliding backward into a more totalitarian and less democratic state than has pertained for the last few years.  Under the same ruler for over 30 years, Cambodia had made some progress since the horror filled days of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and, economically, at the least, had become a player in the modern world.  However, recently, opposition leaders have been harassed, threatened with arrest, and gone into exile, and further crackdowns seem likely.  I would not likely have known any of this, though, if we had not visited there.  Now, with knowledge of the country and its history, and with some personal relationships that we developed during our stay, I take a lot more interest in what is going on there, for good or ill.  I fear that the cautious optomism we saw from people will erode with these new sanctions on dissent.

From the emerging world to the Old World, we spent our late summer in Germany and England, topped off with a cruise through the lands of the Vikings.  Where we were in Germany, people are now struggling to accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war-torn Middle East, and the very towns we were in in the Lake District are now quite literally under water after the worst storms in decades.  Vikings, on the other hand, are a hot commodity  in the popular media – everything from tv series to games feature Vikings.  Having seen their homelands, I can certainly understand why they became traders and travelers – it would have been really tough trying to wrest a subsistence from the arable land in Norway, and their colonized lands in Iceland and Greenland weren’t much better.  Here again, it is travel that has opened our eyes and minds to the concerns (and ways of life) of others.  In the absence of our travels, I would likely be the same as most Americans I know, not venturing beyond the available broadcasts on CNN for my international news.  Instead, now, I keep up with local news from all over the globe on the internet.

All of which is another way of saying that, like Rick Steves, we will ‘Keep on Travelin” for all the benefits and blessings it brings to us, in spite of the fears and difficulties that can crop up, and to assure that those who would have us cowering in our homes, or, worse yet, engaging in some kind of Holy War, do NOT get to win!


Lessons from Singapore

Ran across this on Travel Weekly – a lovely tribute to Lee Kuan Yew and some good lessons for both individuals and governments:

By Yeoh Siew Hoon / April 14, 2015


March 23 to 28 was a cathartic week for those of us living in Singapore. It was the week we mourned the passing of its founder, Lee Kuan Yew.

In my 20 years living in this small island nation of 4.5 million people, I had never seen such unity and gratitude expressed for a man who took this place from a small fishing village to one of the world’s greatest metropolises.

In that time, too, lots of stories emerged about him, his life, his work, and it was heartening to note the impact and influence he had on the world.

Henry Kissinger’s tribute to him and Charlie Munger’s comments in a YouTube video were two that stood out for me

I suppose it is human nature that we never fully appreciate what we have until it’s gone, but in that week, many of us took time to reflect on his life and what we could learn from it.

It certainly made me realize that in many ways, Singapore is like a start-up and the late Mr. Lee its founder.

Here are the 10 lessons I feel we could take from him.

1) Surround yourself with people smarter than you.

In Lee’s case, he married a woman smarter than him. This is one of the points raised in the video of Charlie Munger. In his talk, Munger said that if we wanted to study a successful society, “study the life and work of Lee Kuan Yew. You’ll be flabbergasted.”

One example he gave was how Mr. Lee went against traditional Asian culture by not “marrying the younger woman with bigger boobs” but the smarter one. His wife was his collaborator and adviser throughout his life.

2) Don’t get discouraged by the first setback. Reboot, and plough on.

When Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia in 1965, for wanting to pursue its vision of a state where all races were equal, Lee was devastated. The image of him breaking down after separation played over and over again during the week. However he wasn’t defeated. He stuck to his vision but thought up a new model.

3) Be frugal. Every dollar spent is revenue.

Lee was known for his frugality. His house was simple, and he didn’t make changes to it. Furniture remained unchanged. The best example of this frugality was told during the funeral service when former Senior Minister of State, Sidek bin Sanaff, spoke of a trip to China. Lee asked him if he had a coat for the cold. He said he would buy one, but Lee said, borrow one, don’t buy. Then Lee asked him if he had boots, and he said no, and he would buy them. Same response: Don’t buy. Borrow. And so he went off to China with a borrowed coat and a borrowed pair of boots.

4) Pay attention to details because they reflect on you and your business.

Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong spoke of how, when Lee relinquished the prime minister’s role to him, he would appear at all functions before Goh. Even though Goh said it wasn’t necessary at unofficial functions, Lee insisted, saying that people might draw the wrong conclusion: that he didn’t respect Goh.

On another occasion, during a Chinese New Year ceremony, the firecrackers went off at the wrong time. Lee said, “If we can’t get this right, how can we run a country?”

5) Set strong and clear values from the start.

Former Cabinet Minister S. Dhanabalan said that from the start, Lee wanted an honest, corruption-free government. That set the tone for all decisions.

6) Don’t dictate. Argue and articulate to get your team’s buy-in.

Dhanabalan said that contrary to perception that Lee just ordered and people followed him like sheep, the truth was that Lee argued tirelessly to get people behind him.

7) Act pragmatically, but be driven by ideals.

Again, contrary to perception that Lee was a “complete political pragmatist,” Dhanabalan said was an idealist at heart. Pursuing his vision of a multilingual society, Dhanabalan said, was the act of an idealist. A pragmatist would have gone for the easier option.

8) Be a lifelong learner.

Lee took Mandarin classes all his life. On the day before he was admitted to the hospital, he had a session with his Mandarin teacher.

9) Collaborate, influence and stay relevant so you can punch above your weight.

Lee proved that size didn’t matter. He ran a small business really: 4.5 million people on a very small island. But he knew who to collaborate with, how to build and nurture partnerships, how to influence those whose views and friendships mattered. And he did this by staying relevant and keeping up with the times, trends and issues.

10) Don’t plan on running the show forever; have a succession plan.

Lee gave himself a long runway to develop a new generation of leaders. The man who took over the reins from him, Goh Chok Tong, spoke of that moment when Lee asked him to take over. He chose character, fortitude and ability over academic qualifications, Goh said. Some people were upset that they weren’t chosen, but each decision was made after much agonizing. He believed in leadership renewal.