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Life

We Are Always in the Sixth Grade

I spoke the truth. It was about a boy and a girl – of course. What I saw was real. What I said became the focus as if I had done something wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. I told what I saw to the wrong person. The girl was popular. As a result I got un-friended. This was not in the virtual sense. We didn’t have virtual then. I was un-friended in the real sense. In the “everyone else is invited” but now I wasn’t. Voted off the island. Alone.

Here’s the thing. I wasn’t in the sixth grade. I was in my 30s. It felt the same.

What is different is what I did afterwards. I invited every single woman who worked at the company (there were 20 or so) to lunch. Including that one. She had an excuse not to come.

One of the women cried when I invited her. She said nobody had ever invited her to anything. This was the first time. She was the receptionist and we ignored her.

It may have been a little late to learn this lesson but we are very aware of how much it hurts to be excluded. We are less likely to be aware of who we are excluding. Same as in the sixth grade.

 

Life

Pat Reed, Bas Vodde and Brené Brown inspired me this year, here’s why.

I had never heard of Pat Reed but last year I decided that I would average at least one MeetUp a week so I go to a lot of things that I know nothing about. Some are worth it, some aren’t. I try to pick out at least one thing that I learn each time. Pat was a pleasant surprise.

What inspired me about Pat was her humility in spite of her amazing accomplishments. She had an uncanny ability to evoke participation from the audience. I had the exact opposite experience at another MeetUp where a presenter kept saying ‘’I am an expert in presentations.’’  Pat didn’t say that.  She showed it. What I learned from Pat is to let the audience talk. I was preparing a presentation for the following week and I changed my presentation after watching Pat. I added space for people to speak. She only had a few slides. She really listened to what people had to say. She actually walked over and looked directly at people. Even those people who are prone to go on and on didn’t.  Because they were heard. Most of what happened was in the room. Amazing woman, amazing experience. She was one of those people who made me think “Hang on, what am I doing with my life?”

Bas Vodde inspired me because he had walked the walk. His book is based on hundreds of experiments. What he says is, “This is what we tried. It might work for you too. It might have failed for us and work for you.” I absolutely loved the simplicity in his approach. His story about “I want to go very fast in the wrong direction” was brilliant. If you haven’t seen that one, Google “Fireside and Bas Vodde”. The Sydney one was great but he has done the same speech other places.

Brené Brown has one of the most watched TED talks ever. I kind of thought maybe I shouldn’t bother going because I can just watch her online and I don’t have to sit in an uncomfortable chair at the end of a long day. I’m glad I did. You do get more out of it when you make the effort in person. She started interacting with the sign language interpreter on the stage; it was hilarious. Brené takes her own personal experience and combines it with an admirable amount of study and experience. I loved her story about thinking that she had totally screwed up her talk and her husband saying “don’t worry, nobody will ever see it’’.  Of course it now has over 24 million views. After watching her talk I was inspired to be more vulnerable. Those real, human moments are what make her so memorable.

Thanks to all of you for your inspiration.

Life

13 Things That Surprised Me About China

I took a small group adventure tour to China so I didn’t do much research. I just showed up with my wheeled backpack and followed along. So everything was a surprise, some things more than others. These are some of the aspects of my trip to China that I found most surprising.

People seemed reasonably open

China is changing extremely quickly. Young people – like our guide – are actually really positive about it. I felt that our guides were sincere and open. We heard a range of opinions from our guides – didn’t feel like a rigid party line.

Luxury Stores

On one of those tourist busses in Shanghai we passed a Prada store. A few minutes later, we passed it again. Actually, no, it was a different Prada store. And another one. It wasn’t just Prada either. Not only is every major luxury brand there, there are multiple stores for each brand.

The explanation I heard was that not all Chinese citizens are allowed to leave the country. So for many wealthy Chinese, Shanghai is where they get luxury goods. Our guide pointed out that while his parents generation is concerned about saving for retirement, the young people are buying luxury handbags.

Pollution

I am sure the air pollution is terrible but it didn’t seem that bad to us. We happened to hit some days with blue skies. Just for the record, I grew up in LA in the seventies so it is all relative. Are the skies as beautiful as Sydney? Absolutely not. Would I worry about raising children in Beijing? Absolutely! But spending a few days there it wasn’t as terrible as I expected.

I know there are environmental disasters in China. But we didn’t see them. In general things were cleaner than I expected

In saying that, I didn’t drink the water.

Hole in the ground toilets aren’t really that bad

Well, let me clarify that. CLEAN hole in the ground toilets aren’t that bad.

I made a few rookie mistakes the first few times but once I got the hang of it, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

Don’t expect toilet paper. Carry toilet paper or tissues everywhere. I found it hard to teach myself not to throw toilet paper in the toilet. Also hard to get used to the smelly bins.

It was rare to get decent sinks with hot water, soap and paper towels. I found myself using antiseptic wipes to clean my hands.

Going to the supermarket by myself was really challenging

How hard can it be? It’s a supermarket! But I wandered the aisles for ages trying to find food for our overnight train trip. It was just really hard to figure out what everything was. I bought some cheese that tasted like a combo of white chocolate, cheese and something fruity. Didn’t eat much of that one. Everything – naturally – was labelled in Chinese and the pictures weren’t always obvious.

Tiananmen Square

We went to Tiananmen Square on the anniversary of the “June 4th Incident” of 1989 but the only evidence of that was our guide asking us not to speak about the protests. One of the people in our group saw a news story abruptly stopped on the BBC channel when they referred to the protests. Other than that you wouldn’t know it had happened.

You have to go through several security checkpoints to get in to Tiananmen Square and sometimes you have to wait a while but I didn’t find that surprising. When we went it was really hot. There is no shade. Just a big, mostly empty place.

Lemon Chicken and Sweet & Sour Pork

I always heard that the dishes we eat in Chinese restaurants in Western countries aren’t authentic. On our small group tour we only went to local restaurants. So I thought we were cheating when we ordered Lemon Chicken and Sweet & Sour Pork. Maybe not. Apparently those dishes are authentic in that region. Food varied a lot in different places. Generally it tasted like – well – Chinese food.

Security on the subway

It was also surprising that they had security checks (airport style metal detectors for your bags) at the train and subway stations. I have a passport bag that I wear around my neck with my passport and wallet. I took a lot of subways and trains and only once did they ask me to take it off. Also noticed a lot of people walk straight past the security without putting their bags on. But it was there.


I can live without Google

Think about that. No Google. One thing I realised is that Google is not just google.com. It’s how I get to all the other websites. I don’t remember the whole URL anymore. I just type some of it in. It’s google that’s completing my words. Google is embedded in all sorts of sites and apps.

In saying that, I didn’t really need google on the Great Wall. Or anywhere else I visited. Instead of using my phone as a constant entertainment device, I paid attention to where I was (novel idea). I talked to people. There was a moment on the train when I realised every one of us was reading a book. An actual book! How retro.

I used paper maps. Actual paper. Pens. I wished I had a highlighter. An actual highlighter.

I did use the internet in hotel rooms. Every hotel we stayed in had wifi but it tended to be quite weak. Without Google, I found myself using Wikipedia a lot. I do have VPN on my iPad but getting VPN and Internet access working long enough to actually accomplish anything was rare. I usually wrote emails off line and just sent them when I connected. The pictures I tried to send just failed.

No Facebook either by the way. I didn’t think I used it much. But I was travelling and I wanted to show off my pictures. I only got one posted on the whole tour.

Infrastructure

I was flabbergasted by the infrastructure. Highways were well designed and had manicured plants along the edges. Subways led to pedestrian bridges and tunnels that got us where we needed to go. Particularly in Shanghai and Beijing, everything worked.

Trains

Seriously, some of the train stations were more modern than a lot of airports I have been to.

In major cities, they add new subway lines constantly. We complained that the maps they gave us at the hotel were old. Turns out the subway line near the hotel had just been added this year. I shrugged and drew it on the map.

The bullet trains were amazing. Our itinerary included a 13 hour overnight train but since a new bullet train was just added, the overnight train was replaced by a 3 hour bullet train.

We did take one overnight train which sounded a bit daunting but we had a great time. It wasn’t new but we had what we needed and we slept well

Planes

Honestly I was nervous about the internal flight we had. I was expecting a third world experience. Instead, I found myself at gigantic, modern airports. Everything was new. New planes, professional staff.

I only thought of Xi’an as a place where farmers found the legendary warriors. We were all surprised to arrive in a gigantic airport. Xi’an is a city of 10 million – of course it makes sense that it has a big airport. Walking through baggage claim was a huge eye opener.

Automobiles

Apparently you can’t register a car that is older than ten years. So much for my 18 year old Honda at home. Not the best environmental decision but it means the cars on the road are new. Our guide told us that one of the things that surprised him about Australia was all the old cars. Go figure.

Life

With Love and Respect

One of my treasured possessions is an inscription Professor Rassias wrote for me which continues to comfort me in times of doubt. He signed it “with love and respect, John.” With love and respect. That was how he treated everyone.

At night when the cleaners came in, we would be the only ones in the building and John was so supportive of their work (even though he would whisper to me that they didn’t do a very good job). The team that worked in Wentworth Hall told me he was the only professor who knew their names.

I consider myself fortunate to have worked in John’s office for years while I was at Dartmouth and after graduation. I had a rare glimpse behind the curtain of the most hard-working and loving man I have ever known.  I saw countless students come to Wentworth Hall looking for inspiration and understanding and receiving what they sought.

It means so much to me that he was able to see something in my twenty-two year old self at a time when I couldn’t see it myself.

“To Melinda, A truly authentic human being whose energy brightens our lives.”

Right back at you John.

With love and respect.

Life

Staring at Myself

I started taking selfies at the hairdresser because there is not much else to do and I am just sitting there staring at myself in the mirror. So, here it is, selfies at the hairdresser:

Life

Waltzing Melinda Goes Down Under

Three of my lovely and creative American friends, Holly, Alexis and Dyana, wrote the following Australian version of The Rules:

Some of us were wondering, “Why would Melinda want to go to Australia?”

Then we had the answer.  Because of all of the incredible contributions Australia has made to the world.

For example:

  • Mel Gibson
  • Foster’s Lager (it’s Australian for beer, you know)
  • Violet Crumble
  • Billy Tea
  • koala bears

Of course, there have been a few “misses,” like:

  • Air Supply
  • Men at Work
  • Crocodile Dundee

And now for a few excerpts from the soon-to-be-bestseller

“The Rules – Australian – Style”

RULE #29

Invent your own past.  For all he knows, your coworkers DIDN’T live alone in apartments with cats. Envision a room filled with sexy, well-dressed, sane people (kinda like Melrose Place except for that sane thing). Then tell him that’s who you worked with.

RULE #63

Never kiss a man right after eating a Vegemite sandwich.

RULE #88

Remind him often that you come from a superior country. Men love a challenge! Don’t let him think that you are in Australia because you want to be there.  Make frequent, unfavourable comparisons between Sydney and San Anselmo.

RULE #101

Don’t let the outback ruin your aura of mystery. Men love mystery! If he offers you a ride in his tractor across miles of scrub brush, reply with a coy “No, thanks.” Let him wonder who you might be meeting. After all, it may just be you and a few dead kangaroos, but HE doesn’t need to know that!

RULE #154

Create opportunities for him to do hard physical labor. Australia is a BIG country, with a lot of BIG things to lift. Occasionally slashing your own tires gives him a chance to change them for you and show he CARES. Remember, you didn’t come all this way to open your own jars of Vegemite!

We’ll miss you, Melinda!

Have a great life.