Veteran’s Day in China

Veteran’s Day, 2013

Veteran’s Day has always been an holiday that I have respected. When I was young, it was because of my family’s military background as well as the fact that I was simply a patriotic kid. I joined the military shortly before September 11, 2001, so every Veteran’s Day after that took on a newfound significance. The last three Veteran’s Days have been a bit different though. Continue reading “Veteran’s Day in China”

Cry, Baby

The number one sign that I may be a bit emotionally withheld is that I cry at movies. Not just at legitimate movies that merit crying at, like The Lion King or Beasts of the Southern Wild. No, I cry at those movies AND terrible movies which have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, including their poorly staged cathartic moments towards the end which are meant to elicit an emotional reaction despite having been poorly executed. But damned if it doesn’t work. I don’t mean it works in that it redeems the movie or that it is well executed. I mean it works in that it makes a moronic lump well up in my throat even as I curse the stupidity of the entire affair.

Here’s a recent embarrassing example: I almost cried at the end of The Internship, a terrible Google propaganda comedy film, where a plucky underdog team stages an unlikely win over a “meanie team” through the power of teamwork and dumb luck. It was an offensive movie and an offensive ending to any thinking person including myself… but damned if I didn’t have to take a few deep breaths to hold the tears back during their idiotic undeserved victory scene, hating myself the whole time.

In addition to obvious tearjerkers like Steel Magnolias and the like, I’ve cried at action space porn movies like Armageddon, crappy mindless action movies like White House Down, and hideous comedy movies like Grown Ups 2 (why was I even watching that!?!?). Seriously, I have a real problem. You cue the sappy, heroic, or triumphant music and I’m pretty much done.


(Not even Adam Sandler watched Grown Ups 2)

The thing is, I very rarely cry outside of watching movies. I mean, as an adult I’ve had a few moments when dealing with close family or friends, but even those are few and far between. With movies though, it’s all the damn time. I do tend to be fairly stoic in my daily life (this is probably a combination of my personal upbringing and the stories that we as a culture tell about masculinity which have a nonconsensual influence on my actions), but not so much as to merit this kind of psychological and physiological backlash. What I mean is that I don’t feel that I’m overly emotionally stifled… but all the evidence is pointing in another direction.

But the more I think about it, among the films and scenes that elicit this annoying reaction, a common thread appears. It’s sincerity. Even the characters in terrible movies feign (poorly) sincerity, and I guess the intention means as much as the action to my primitive brain. And now that I think about it, even my own sincerity causes me to lose it! Thinking back over the last few times I’ve cried (aside from movie watching), it was because I was being unusually open and honest. How weirdly self-centered is that!?

So yeah, sincerity seriously cranks up the old waterworks. Maybe that’s because I feel it’s encountered so infrequently in daily life. Very rarely do people feel comfortable enough to say the things that really matter – to really communicate instead of just talking. Even among friends, it is rare to have the conversations that really mean something: The “I love you” conversations; the “I’m terrified” conversations; the “you complete me” conversations.

So maybe seeing those things in movies is what gets me; maybe they’re things I want for my own life, or even things I just desperately want to believe in. You know like love, and happy endings and such.


I think what it really comes down to is simple. Tyler Durden’s alter ego put it best in Fight Club: “Strangers with that kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one.” And let’s just leave it at that.

bitch tits

Stationary Wandering

Guest post by: Ain Bailey

She makes lists of fantastic things. Scrawls improbabilities on crisp sheets of unlined white paper, or yellow tablets, creased and lined. It doesn’t matter which, she is merely daydreaming. Nonchalantly she admires the slant of her letters or the swirls of her words, downplaying the concepts behind them. She focuses on her penmanship and distances herself from ideas that ache.

She thinks maybe she is hungry for milestones. Eager for big events to mark the passage of time, to document her evolution, to prove that she is moving forward in the world. What else could it be? She was not the child who grew up believing in fairy tales. She did not fancy herself the sleeping princess nor the one locked in a tower waiting to be saved. Her hair was not overly long and golden and her father was not king. If she had any part in make believe stories, she was a fairy or a mermaid; petite, autonomous, unattached and free or a unicorn; rare, ancient and alone.

In her past there was no thought of love and its attendant minions. To her weddings, marriage, baby showers, and all that came after, were not even real enough to be fantasies. Now these themes spill into her most mundane moments, caress her face distractingly, when she is focused on other things. It is a tickle, a distant glimmer, an un-sneezed sneeze.

Maybe she is just seeking tradition, longing for special events to break the monotony and give her something to anticipate. When she thinks about it a part of her does ache to bring magic back to a Christmas ruined by retail work, by far-flung family, by growing up. She imagines her preoccupation with love is because she wants something to look forward to.

Some meaning that can turn a random Tuesday, or weekend, into something more. This is not a thing she will analyze because it is not something she can control anyway. This is one thing she cannot do alone.

In her youth, she envisioned a future as a single mom, shepherding her two children from school to home. When she even thought about it, at three year intervals, maybe four. She used to wonder then if she would remember being twelve and imagining herself at thirty with her children’s school aged hands held tightly in hers. She is thirty now and there are no children, no prospect or planning for them either. She starts to feel wistful, disappointed and maybe just a little old, until she remembers that nothing about her life now, is how she imagined it then. Small relief, but enough to push the question away.

Maybe she just wants to belong, to someone, to something. She doesn’t believe in cliques, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need one. Maybe that is the reason why her pens run so quickly out of ink. She daydreams family, a small and new one, creating itself as it goes. She dreams of holidays that belong to only them. Plots them out on the calendar so that they fill in the days that society chooses not to celebrate. She names them, and then forgets the names.  She writes them down and then scribbles over them until it is like they never existed.

She dreams of vow renewals although she has never even been asked to speak them for a first time. She dreams of honeymoons each year, although she has yet to have the original one. She plans her wedding makeup and chooses wedding dresses in her head, accounting for her body type, of course. Her fantasies are realer than she would ever admit. But she is not admitting anything at all. She is nothing if not a realist.

She wonders if she should have stayed with those who were ready, who would have spoken, and meant in their way, the words she is just beginning to realize she wants to hear. Could she have swallowed her discontent for the promise of a dream that never used to exist and is still forming? Would that have been better than how she feels now, untethered?

She does not write these questions down. She is not analyzing this thing. Only scribbling meaningless words on the borders of pages and imagining how it might feel to believe in magic.



If you’ve read any of my previous posts, and let’s be honest, there aren’t many of you, you’ll recall a post about a 10-K.  In a nutshell, I compared life planning to a government mandated corporate fiduciary responsibility and transparency document for investors. In retrospect, that analogy may have targeted a niche audience that we in the “business world” would call, too small to break-even.  However, despite that, the intention and call for personal exploration that underwrote it make it worth revisiting, if only for me.

In it I talk about revisiting what’s important to you, since as the cliché says, “time is short”.  There is only so much time available to accomplish what it is you want.  That is, until Ray Kurzweil solves the whole mortality problem through the Singularity or some other mechanism – possibly involving mole rats… but I digress.


I made a list of important things that came up for me.  One of them was to be ranked by the USTA (the United States Tennis Association).  I didn’t have the (tennis) balls to actually pick a ranking to shoot for – i.e. #1 seemed to ambitious/arrogant and #100 would seem like I’m not really committed/invested.  Actually, my sports reel highlight ambition is much less grandiose.  I just want to play in a tournament that actually determines my play RATING.  In tennis, skill levels are defined by ratings from 1.5 = total beginner (baseball-tennis memories anyone?) to 7.0 = world-class player.  At my best, I can play at a 4.5 level which is better than your average bear…. playing tennis.


When I was younger and more obnoxious (hard for some to believe I know) I used to think that I enjoyed tennis because I was “good” or that I was “competitive” and I would win more often than not – which somehow proved how worthwhile I was as an athlete and as a person.  The fact that I didn’t bother to train consistently however, also proved just how committed I was to any of those things.

What I didn’t consciously realize was why I still wanted a USTA rating in the first place -not until I hit my first tennis ball in 2 years recently.  I had the opportunity to hit with a teaching pro – a talented woman who had made her mark in the southern tennis region of the US back in her day.  She has been teaching for over 40 years and her level of experience and patience is admirable.  Add to this, the fact that she recently had her spine fused to overcome a nasty and painful back condition and her dedication and perseverance become borderline inspirational and heroic.  But it comes down to this – she just loves tennis.  She loves playing it.  She loves teaching it.  She loves being on the court in almost any capacity.  And standing on the court with her, I realized why I love it too.

I don’t and probably never will have her level of skill and experience. I don’t think I will ever derive the joy she gets from teaching, but there is one thing I do get – the joy and wonder of hitting the perfect ball.

One of the “advantages” of not playing regularly for a few years is that the technology of the game changes.   One such change came in the form of a new robot that this pro had purchased recently for training students – the ball machine.

I’ve used ball machines off and on through my adult life, but this one was top of the line.  It was a giant, green box and held at least 100 balls.  It launched projectiles at almost any speed, with wicked spin.  Basically it is the pinnacle of relentless punishment and training futility that one experiences hitting against a wall.  But at least this torturer had a “safe word”.  And it was “remote”.   With a press of a button from across the net I was feeding myself topspin forehands, sliced backhands and overheads.  And when my stamina gave out and I was gasping for air and blood, a button press gave me the reprieve I needed.  It was glorious.


Most of my shots were ugly and in poor form.  My fitness, already wanting, was also ill suited for the hot/humidity of Florida’s gulf coast.  In short, anyone with a discerning eye could see that I had a ton of work ahead of me if I was going to get into any sort of competitive shape.  But amidst all the mishits and horrible foot placement/body positions were a few moments of perfection.  At unexpected moments, my mind would quiet from all the cacophony of self-doubt and expectations.  In this cathartic, brief silence my mind and body aligned in concert to a single purpose – chaotic motion coming together in a quantum moment of being Present and resulting in the most satisfying THWACK and subsequent ball action.  In those moments, hitting a ball was almost effortless – it seemed like cheating.

It was like the feeling that is described by Zen masters, where there is nothing else but the Now and Life is about being Present every moment.  THIS is why I love to play tennis and ultimately will be rated.  Because being Present is so hard in general that when you experience it, you want more of it.  For some people, this experience may be in martial arts.  For others, it may not be in sport at all, but maybe in programming, where you have a particularly ingenious solution to an intractable problem.  Life just WORKS in that moment – and then it’s gone.  And while some may spend their lives in 坐禅attaining this, I’ve chosen tennis among other methods.  What I’ve realized is that being Present doesn’t just happen – it takes practice – work.  But it’s work worth doing and ultimately/ironically it is the people who take pleasure in the thing itself and not the result who find the greatest success.  Roger Federer embodies this way of being.

Who knows, maybe I will be ranked someday, but it won’t really matter because I’ll just being enjoying/seeking every moment of Presentness I get while playing.  I wonder what else on my list Being Present will transform for me.  I’ll be sure to report back to the 3 of you when I find out.

Hey, at least this one wasn’t about your 1040 tax return – that’s NEXT week!



Wanderlust – Destination: Costa Rica

I hate the winter, so I’m moving to Costa Rica.

Well, there are other reasons, but chief among them is the fact that any weather which requires me to wear long sleeves makes me irritable.

Other reasons include: the lower cost of living (which will be important since I’m in the start-up phase of beginning a business and frugality is crucial), time zone proximity to my business partner in the US, cheaper cost of living, desire to learn Spanish (but not to be stranded in a place where I can’t function without it), and the need to sate my wanderlust which, if put it off any longer after 2 years of grad school, will demand that I move to Papua New Guinea for the next decade.

Costa Rica is one of the countries that US citizens can go to without a visa and stay in for up to 90 days (this also played into my decision). As luck would have it, the next major business milestone that requires my geographical presence will take place in Beijing after the holiday season; my 90 day excursion neatly falls between now and then.

Other than basing major life decisions entirely on first world problems and minor annoyances, I tend to be a very meticulous and organized person, so after choosing the destination (and buying my plane tickets to stomp out any last minute wishy-washiness), I went about researching everything I could about Costa Rica and ended up finding a fantastic sublet in Playas del Coco (pictured above) for the exact dates of my trip. Playas del Coco is a small town in the northwest of Costa Rica and my place is just a few short blocks from the beach.

Incidentally, I don’t know a single person in Costa Rica. This is new for me. As much as I’ve traveled and lived abroad, I’ve never really gone anywhere where I didn’t know anyone. I figured it might be a good challenge. Everyone seemed to be impressed that I moved out of the country 5 years ago but, though I had less of a life plan then than I do now, I did have a close friend to help me figure things out when I got to China. As glad as I am for that, and as confident as I am that I can survive without that type of crutch now, I want to actually DO it. And why wait?

The biggest question I get asked is why I feel the need to leave the country at all. The answer is complex, but what it boils down to is that there is nowhere in the US where I feel entirely comfortable. With the possible exception of my time living in Hawaii, I have never been entirely satisfied by what any one place has to offer.


I doesn’t only boil down to some existential need to find the “perfect” place. Really what it means is that, if I don’t feel a very strong connection to any one location, why settle when there’s a whole world out there to explore? Though I have many places that I love in the US and where I have family and amazing friends, for some reason none of them are very attractive to me as places to live permanently.

I don’t really know what it is that makes me want to GO. I just feel like there is so much that I have yet to experience, so many perspectives I want to better appreciate. Perhaps it’s the fact that every time I travel I feel like I come back a different person; I’m addicted to the changes in myself that travel brings, the shifts in understanding that learning new languages brings, the understanding of myself that being foreign brings.

Or maybe I just love the beach. In any case, next stop: Costa Rica. After that is anyone’s guess.

Shut Up and Talk


“So are you guys celebrities or something?”

At the moment I ask this question we’ve been sitting at cruising altitude for about 15 minutes in the crowded American Airlines flight. The 2 seats beside my exit row window seat are occupied by two pretty young women. They have been approached twice by the stewardess who is “a big fan of their show.” They look to be about Miley Cyrus age, so I quickly run through the list of celebrities in that category that I know. The list goes: Miley Cyrus. Begrudgingly.

Well, my curiosity was piqued. I cast sidelong glances at them for a few minutes wondering if they were anyone who I might recognize, but my peripheral glances give me no hint. Now, at this point, my usual MO is to take the urinal approach: eyes forward, attention anywhere but on anyone else. Been doing it on flight for years; hasn’t gotten me killed yet. But by the same token, it’s also never yielded an interesting experience… unless you count awkwardness as interesting, which I do not.

This time, though, I was stuck in a difficult position. See, I had recently made the pledge to myself that anytime I get that awkward antisocial feeling, I have to do the opposite of what my instincts tell me to do. Having been, for many years, the type of person who purposely and systematically avoided connection with other people, this is difficult for me. It requires a reexamination of situations and a reorganization of my priorities about life and what I want out of it.

At the end of the day, to quote the film Ghost Town (one of the better romantic comedies of recent years, btw. Watch it), “This business of… being such a fucking prick, what is it really getting me?”

The answer turns out to be: nothing, as you might expect. Hence the pledge, hence the situation which we now return to.

“So are you guys celebrities or something?” I ask the girl 1 seat away. The girl between us, her sister I would soon find out, had left to go to the bathroom. She turned towards me, a little embarrassed, and self-effacingly explained the situation:

She (Jill) and her sister (Jessa) were traveling back from Washington DC where they had been visiting their brother, Josh. They were 2 of the cast members on the reality TV show 19 Kids and Counting.

The Duggar family, which my single serving friends are a part of, is a fundamentalist Christian family who… well, you can read about them here (and may God have mercy on my soul for linking to TLC). Basically, they’re famous for their mom popping out an exorbitant number of kids, all with “J” names over the years. 19 to be exact, hence the name of the show (it started out in 2008 as 17 Kids and Counting).


After graciously answering my possibly indelicately asked query, the two sisters (Jill more so than Jessa who seemed a little shy, but who came out of her shell as time went by) and I talked for the remainder of the flight. They were both VERY nice, but not fake-nice, like the way you expect “celebrities” to act when confronted by people who recognize them, but genuinely so. They spent more time asking me questions about myself than they did talking about themselves, which is rare in anyone. I gave them ample opportunities to go back to not talking to the weird window seat guy, but they seemed perfectly content to chat, and I really enjoyed it.

They of course asked me if I went to church or was a Christian (no and no), but they weren’t pushy or invasive about it, just curious as anyone whose life revolved in a large part around Christianity might be. I didn’t even know they were fundamentalist until Jill gave me a postcard with their family photo, and it had more bible quotes on it than the actual bible. After that, I took notice of their long hair and skirts and realized that they were dressed about 90% Amish. I am not an observant person.

Anyway, for any fans out there, they didn’t give me any cool behind the scenes gossip or anything (I doubt there is any). The point of this story (Yeah, there is a point, shut up) is more about the interesting experiences I’ve found myself having more and more as I open myself up to actually talking to people. In some ways it’s a lot harder than just judging them, and going about my day, but in many more ways, it’s extremely rewarding and interesting. And, as someone who does like to challenge myself, it is also a challenge to step outside of myself and do things that are hard for me. You type A-ers and extroverts out there might not quite understand, but that’s cool. You’ve got your own issues, I’m sure.

In any case, this challenge has turned out to be one well worth undertaking, which I’m starting to notice is a trend. I’ve still never seen an episode of 19 Kids and Counting, and I probably never will, but now I’ve got a story to tell. And for the first time in a while, my airplane ride wasn’t just a nuisance.

Jeez, looking at the last three FYMPlanet entries this blog sure has gotten preachy, huh?? Don’t worry, I’ll bash some of your favorite movies soon.



As a younger man, I was considerably more prone to philosophical waxing in my writing than I am now. Though it is often embarrassing (usually when I’m confronted with horrifically trite high school era poetry) every now and then I find something that surprises me with its competence. What follows is one such example. Though its linguistic pretension is occasionally unsubtle, I’ve always loved this piece. It says everything and nothing about a subject of little interest to me, but which at one time I felt was worthy of this small exploration: God.


Currently, I am standing on a ball of infinitesimal size, hurtling through a vast and empty blackness, seemingly without end. I am standing on this ball and trying, in vain as always, to feel that movement. Alas, I cannot.  This does not stop me from standing, however, or walking, or sitting, as it were, all the while straining to feel that ineffable speed, awed by its scale.

Invariable I am confronted by a stranger perplexed or offended by my slack jawed mien. Whenever this happens I usually cease my sensory experiment and go about my daily routine which begins as follows: my first order of business is a visit to the bathroom to admire my haggard morning face, stretch, wash, et cetera, et cetera. When I am done with this, I commonly dress and begin my day in earnest.

This beginning to my day, as commonplace as it may seem, is anything but. Millions of cells working in concert are responsible for all of these actions.  They die by the thousands with every move I make, and are born in just as great a number synchronously. They themselves operate by mechanisms with strange names like mitochondria or Golgi apparatus which in turn are composed of even smaller particles called atoms which are made up of electrons, protons and neutrons and so on and so forth. In all likelihood, these atoms and ribosomes and cells, sad to say, do not care about me. This has no a reflection on my own intrinsic worth; it is merely a function of the nature of such things. I don’t much care about them ether, small stupid things that they are. And if I die, they die. It is also true, however, that if they all die I also die; so in that respect we are on even footing.

Digression aside, my contemplation of size on a universal scale is obviously futile. I have neither the frame of reference, nor the synapse strength required to fathom such a thing. I continue to try. This is not out of a stubborn refusal to accept my limitations, nor is it an innate arrogance which drives me to attempt the impossible. No, this is something much simpler: an inability, of sorts, to relinquish the nuances of a concept once introduced to the idea. Perhaps relinquish is the wrong word since, technically, understanding of the nuances was never really mine, nor anyone else’s for that matter. A man who could envision the boundlessness of space in its entirety would likely be driven mad. His insanity would not come from the vastness of his vision, but from his impotent fury at being trapped on this speck of a world hurtling through the heavens. And at the same time, his presumed insanity would merely be a function of our limited viewpoints. As sanity and its opposite have always been functions of the prevalent perspective, this, unfortunately, would make him no less a lunatic. And yet, still there are those like I, staring upwards into the night, worshiping that awesome gyration, gleefully attempting to calculate those eons of light, and clawing recklessly towards that beckoning madness.

Cells in my shins and femurs, eyes and nose, arms and heart, live and die almost infinitely, perhaps dreaming of endoplasmic reticula and cells, of bones and tissues… of organs at a stretch.

If they can imagine those things, and dream them as they are, as I, in my personifying arrogance might imagine, then they have transcended the scale of my dreams by fathoms; but still, they have never dreamed of me.

Why You Should Keep an Airplane Journal

When I was 21 years old I realized something about myself: I didn’t have what it took to keep a journal. Not the traditional kind of journal, anyway: the kind where most nights you open it up and write something about your day and your state of mind. I had tried before, and failed. I might write an entry or 3 over the course of a few weeks and then never pick it up again; ultimately, the perceived drudgery of most of my days (at that age) kept me from writing daily. Even now, when my life is much more interesting than it was then, I still can’t imagine having something worthwhile to write every day, or even most days.

And this is from someone who loves to write.

I did however want a log for posterity of what I was doing at that time in my life. I wanted to have something to look back on that would tell me what and how I was thinking so that I could compare and contrast. I wanted to know if I was changing.

So I invented the airplane journal. One thing I knew for certain, even then, was that I wanted to travel. A lot. I had traveled some up until that age, mostly in the United States, but also to the Caribbean a few times. And to me, at that age, those were the memories I cherished most. I associated travel with freedom and escape, two things I felt eluded me at the time. I’m glad now for that largely illusory powerlessness because it led to the creation of the airplane journal.

My Airplane Journal is a marble notebook that I take with me whenever I take a trip. I’m a fan of arbitrary rules, so for me the rules are: I can only write in airplanes, and only when the plane is off the ground. And I HAVE to write every time I fly.

I started off writing mostly rhapsodically about life and the world, but as I got older I began to write entries as letters to myself. I fill my future self in on the events that have taken place since my last trip, and also talk about where I’m going, both literally and metaphorically. Every entry is dated and tagged with both my destination and my departure point (ex: 11/9/2010 PEK –> SFO). I’ve been doing it for over 10 years now. I have over 60 entries now and have almost filled two books.

Anyone who has ever successfully kept a long term journal can attest to the feeling that comes from being able to take a glimpse into your own past. There is a catharsis in reading about the concerns of yesteryear and realizing how far you’ve come (and, occasionally, how little has changed).

Now, not everyone travels very often nor even has the desire to. In that case an airplane journal might not be the most suitable undertaking. However, a conditional journal, tied to a life activity which is relatively frequent and enjoyable, makes the process of keeping a log much easier and also gives you more bang for your buck. It’s easier to go back and review as it covers longer stretches of time, and it is linked to those milestone moments in life that are the most important to you.

Sometimes I go back through my journal and it’s like reading the words of some other person. I barely remember where I was living 8 years ago, much less what the most pressing concerns in my life were at that point. My airplane journal catches me up on who I was and also reminds me who I am.

Two noteworthy revelations have come from reading back through my airplane journals. 1) My handwriting is getting much, much worse; damn you digital age. And 2) on a whole I’m much more content than I used to be.

It’s nice to know that some things do change.

Above and Beyond

What feels like a lifetime ago, I was a height safety and rescue trainer for a German safety equipment manufacturer in China. A friend of a friend helped get me the job, for which my only qualifications were that I spoke decent Chinese and was of sound mind and body.

To teach me…well, everything about safety and rescue, the company first sent me to their home offices in Germany for two months of training.

On the flight over, after transiting Moscow on the way to Frankfurt, my plane encountered the worst turbulence I have ever experienced. The young Russian guy next to me gently and expressionlessly closed his laptop (playing Russian sitcoms) and vomited violently into the provided barf bag. Good start to the trip.

The fun-filled months I spent there included trying to get by in a tiny German town without speaking a word of German, and climbing up and down training towers for hours each day doing my best not to kill myself and others. I also got to visit a few nearby cities and reconnect with an old military friend who was stationed about an hour from where I was. Also, abseiling out of a 100 meter-high wind turbine is pretty fun, so it wasn’t all bad.


Once back in China, the training wheels were suddenly, and somewhat prematurely, ripped out from underneath me and I became the dedicated trainer for all of East Asia overnight. Almost immediately I began to get summoned away for 2 to 10 day training trips in parts of China I’d never heard of. Once there, I was presented with the challenge of training experienced industry workers on equipment that they used daily, mastering the entirely field-specific Chinese vocabulary used in the height safety/wind power industry, and doing both things while attempting not to embarrass myself or damage the good name of the company. I give myself credit for my overall success in rising to the challenge, but it didn’t always work out…

Though most of my training was geared towards the wind industry where most of our business was focused, I was occasionally called upon to perform demos or trainings for other industries on behalf of my company. These included areas which my trainers in Germany had almost completely glossed over believing it would not be of much relevance. And so it was that, with only a one-day training session on tree climbing under my belt, I was called upon to lead a tree climbing demo in Hong Kong.

I proceeded to resoundingly embarrass myself in front of actual professionals. I recall dangling exhausted from my ropes after managing to get 5 feet off the ground using my hand ascender, and looking up into the tree at the winner of the national rope tree climbing championship (yes, that exists – possibly solely to shame me) who I was supposed to be demonstrating equipment usage to. I also got bitten well over a hundred times on both arms by vicious mosquitoes. Overall, not one of my better days.

Despite those occasional glitches, I became fairly adept at conducting the training for the wind industry. The on-location trainings were almost always in tiny towns where the wind farms were located. The local turbine maintenance crews who were the recipients of the training were always so endlessly fascinated by this Chinese speaking foreigner with the fancy pants who came to train them that I’m certain that about 90% of the training fell on deaf ears. In any case, there was little chance that the stringent German standards I taught and advocated would be adhered to in the corner-cutting culture of the Chinese wind industry.


Like anything, the more I did it the easier it got. After a few months of training around China (and a random one in Uruguay) the 80 to 125 meter ladder climb was a breeze for me. I knew the various types of turbines inside out, and knew what course to take in almost any rescue scenario that might occur.

Once the stress of uncertainty was out of the way, I could just enjoy the process; and I lived for the silence at the top of the tower where I could briefly be alone with the wind.

I arrive for work and 30 minutes later I stand atop an 80 meter wind turbine in Inner Mongolia, 70 miles of gravel road between me and the nearest town, nothing but towers, sheep, and the open plains spread out below me. The nacelle sways gently in the wind, and the blades creak on their hinges, eager to turn. The wind whips around me like a living thing; it’s a sound like shouting, like rejoicing, like life.

And all the world is a flawless wonder.

I’ve had worse jobs.

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Sarutobi Parkour

What feels like a lifetime ago, I was a parkour instructor in Beijing, China. I was definitely the first foreigner to teach parkour there, but I may have been the first period. Back in 2009, when I started, there wasn’t anyone else teaching formal parkour classes, and there were only a few informal groups practicing around the city.

The classes were taught as martial arts classes with a strong focus on technique and real life practicality. That meant no flips, no showmanship – just how to get from one place to another as fast and efficiently as possible. The martial discipline made it easier to keep the kids in line in my younger classes, and the program (Sarutobi Parkour) fit well as the “flight” component for all the “fight” courses taught in the martial arts venues where I held classes.

I myself was never a freerunning daredevil, willing to scale tall buildings and risk life or limb jumping off of them in a single bound. Though those videos are often the most impressive and fun to watch on Youtube, I think parkour at its best is strictly utilitarian and minimalist; one of the benefits to this is that it is repeatable and teachable, like any martial art. Being a high level practitioner of parkour means you scale up the basic skills you’ve learned in practice to be effective in real life environments. It also means you can employ those skills effectively where it counts and when there are no second takes, not only for a highlight reel.

And on that note, here’s my highlight reel!

OK, so not technically a highlight reel. This video was meant more as a promotional piece to advertise for the class. It never made it out of pre-production (as you can see), but the friend of mine who produced it did a pretty awesome job of making it presentable in almost no time. Its main purpose was going to be to introduce students (and younger students’ parents) to what parkour was and to show some of the basic techniques taught in the classes.

After about 2 years of teaching parkour, several things happened that made me stop:

1)      I got bored of teaching.

2)      I hyperextended my toe doing a cat leap (it happened right before the first shot in the above video where I appear to be posing.. I’m really wondering how badly damaged my toe is and trying not to show how much agony I’m in.) It took about 2 years to fully heal.

3)      I decided I wanted to make some actual money.

Though I practice very little these days, I still love parkour. It embodies everything about fitness and working out that I am attracted to: functionality, fun, and total engagement. For people like me who find it almost impossible to sustain the long term motivation to go to the gym or run a few repetitive miles, parkour was a great way to keep active without feeling like I was working out.

It’s one of the best ways to get in shape that I know of and it’s also a great skill to have if you ever find yourself in a tight spot.

*For those of you who don’t know anything at all about Parkour, here’s an interview that explains a bit more about it.


I’m going to step out of my wheelhouse a bit and talk about something that has nothing to do with movement. Well, maybe a little bit, but not in the fitness sense. Regardless, the real motivation was finding this little gem I wrote a few years ago to sell my truck as I was going through some old documents on the computer. It won’t make sense without any background though, so let me tell you some old war stories.

I moved to Okinawa, Japan when I was 21 years old. I stayed there for a very long time. Life on this sub-tropical paradise was amazing thanks to lots of sunny weather, some great friends, tons of parties, but most importantly the seemingly endless jungle wilderness to explore. If you’re not familiar with Okinawa, go look at a map real quick. Look for it south of mainland Japan and just northeast of Taiwan. Zoom in. And zoom in again. Okinawa is TINY. Yet somehow there wasn’t a weekend when I could not find some old two-tracks to go off-roading down or another secret dive site that a buddy had heard of and wanted to check out.

“Okinawa may be small, but it sure keeps itself well-hidden,” as a co-worker of mine put it. This was after I showed him a beach he had never seen despite the fact that he had lived in Okinawa basically forever. Now, while I feel I’m justified in my confidence as an explorer, no amount of such skill is solely capable of getting to these places. There are some tools of the trade beyond borderline-McCandless wanderlust and the ability to use a compass. The tool that most facilitated my exploration was my 1995 Mitsubishi Pajero 4×4. To say that I loved this truck would be a ludicrous understatement.

The Pajero was nearly perfect. While living in Okinawa, I was only allowed to have one vehicle, so it had to get me through my morning commute to work at least as much as it had to smash through trees and plow through sandy beaches. Somehow, in 1995, Mitsubishi stumbled on the perfect combination of practical comfort and sheer off-road badassery that has not been seen since. I still vividly remember the first time I truly loaded it up for a SCUBA expedition. Don’t get me wrong, I had dived quite a bit before this day and many times that meant using my Pajero to get me to dive sites, but this day was a true exercise in dedication to the sport. I loaded myself and two of my friends along with all of our gear and nine SCUBA tanks. This is a two-door, short-wheel base vehicle. Somehow, with folding one-half of the split back seat, I managed to load up well over three-quarters of a ton of meat, metal and neoprene for the most epic series of dives ever, way up on one of the most inaccessible north shores of Okinawa. Amazing.

By now you get it, I loved that truck. It was fun, practical, and supremely capable. I would have kept it forever (though nearly 7 years isn’t too shabby), but alas it was time for me to leave my sub-tropical paradise and move back to the United States. That was a hard move for lots of reasons, leaving behind my Pajero included. Of course I toyed with the idea of shipping it home, but that simply was not an option. Unfortunately I was the last of most of my friends to leave, so there weren’t too many people I knew at the time that would have been able to properly handle this beast (the only real candidate already had his own Pajero). The search for a suitable owner was on.

On Okinawa, there is a yard-sale site called Bookoo that many foreigners used. At about the same time as I was getting ready to sell my Pajero (by getting ready I mean dealing with it emotionally), I saw an ad for a 2004 Honda Prelude. I have to give the seller credit, he came up with a pretty entertaining and attention-grabbing ad. However, I felt like the hubris he intentionally displayed for his Prelude to be misplaced on such a mediocre car. Taking a cue from his style, I wrote an ad that was semi in response to his. I didn’t keep a copy of his ad, but I did keep a copy of mine and I intend to share it here. As you read it, there are parts that seem kind of out of the blue or a bit non sequitur – they are direct call outs to the other guy’s ad or things specific to automotive processing in Japan, so don’t think about it too hard. Anyway, here it is in all its original, unedited glory:

Word on the street is that the world’s manliest vehicle is for sale here on Bookoo, but it’s a..ahem..Prelude?? This only goes to prove the confused world we live in! Speaking of a confused world, when things get real dicey during the incoming Zombie invasion, do you want to get caught thinking “only if I could climb over these rocks and drive on the beach with the world’s greatest 4×4 system and save the life of myself and those close to me?” Of course not! That is where the PAJERO! comes in.

This truck (truly an understatement if one was ever made) laughs at ninjas as it establishes dominion over Mother Nature. Tom Selleck? Please. The overpowered 3.5L V6 and short chassis design eschews cheap ’70s mustaches and simply reeks of glorious, third-fist hiding man-beards like that of Chuck Norris. In fact, the Walker Texas Ranger himself may have used this very Pajero to scale mountain roads north of Nago and storm beaches in Miyagi and Uruma. Surely if that happened, he did it while roundhouse kicking the brains out of any ninjas, terrorists, or glute hammering gym rats along the way!

As with any man-machine, the Pajero does not waste time on cute amenities like TV screens and navigation systems (use a compass! it comes with one, by the way) but focuses on what is really useful. It sports adjustable suspension, both in firmness (it even has a ‘soft’ setting, just in case you need to display your sensitive side) and in clearance. Since when can you flip a switch and gain more than 2″ of suspension clearance!! Only once upon a time when Sports Utility Vehicle actually meant something. On top you’ll find a luggage rack that can handle any cargo and in the back you will find an integrated tool kit (first aid for people? Don’t make me laugh; if it can’t be fixed with an included wrench, is it worth fixing?).

The ’95 short-wheel base Pajero represents an end to an era; an homage to the Greatest Generation in form and function. General Patton himself would be proud to storm any beach in this beast. Likely, he would have done it with 2 other friends and more than 9 SCUBA tanks and all associated gear while finding his way to only the most interesting and secret dive spots on Okinawa. Many before me have complained how inaccessible this island can be, and to that I say “I beg to differ.”

JCI is good until February 2013 when it will once again confound Japanese authorities with its inability to quit and amazing capabilities to pass the test with flying colors over and over. Only because I am being forced off this island am I considering letting go of such awesomeness, but if you feel that you can handle taking the mantle of the sheer over-whelming majesty of the ’95 3500 V6 Pajero, give me a call or shoot me an email.

Interestingly enough, I actually received many more requests from people for me to write ads for them as opposed to wanting to see the truck. Unfortunately, mere days after I posted the ad, some punk-ass Okinawan kids smashed the passenger window while trying to steal my girlfriends purse. Luckily we were walking back to the truck at the time and basically caught them in the act, but they had already thrown a brick through the passenger window. Even though I wanted nothing more than to Homer Simpson-style strangle that kid, I had to admire his canon of an arm – he put a baseball sized chunk of brick through the window so hard that it crossed over to the driver’s side, dented the steering wheel and tore a huge chunk out of the plastic molding and the upholstery of the driver’s door. Not bad for a kid who couldn’t have been more than 13 years old.

Anyway, nobody was willing to buy a truck that was short of a window and had a passenger seat covered in glass. I didn’t have the time to invest in repairs before leaving, so I unfortunately had no recourse but to recycle the truck. Thanks to it being Japan, I received a sizable chunk of change for recycling it, in fact the amount was nearly comparable to what I was asking for the truck. Regardless, I got way more than my money’s worth out of it during our nearly decade long run. That was a rough day…a friend went with me to drop it off and I could barely hide my near emotional breakdown after I received my money and stamped receipt. I still think of that Pajero often.

Aging, Body Odor, Sunburn and a Flippant Disrespect for Earth’s Gravity

So, last weekend was my birthday.  No big deal.  Really.  In fact, I’m old enough now that it actually requires effort to remember the exact number of times I’ve circled the sun.  This is no doubt due to the lack of any significant age milestones in between 25 and 40.  Twenty-one was uneventful because I had little interest in drinking.  No, the only birthdays I actually anticipated/dreaded were 17, whereupon my belief that being able to legally drive a car would somehow instantly and miraculously upgrade my “sexy” quotient was shattered (almost) beyond  emotional repair– it was just the new cost of doing business.  No car. No girl.

The other age was 25, which was a surprise.  Up until this point I had unconsciously been operating under the all too cliché notion that I had “all the time in the world” to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  Twenty-five blind-sided me with a rude awakening that brought that infantile, but wonderfully irresponsible, way of thinking to a morbid halt.  I realized that a full 1/4th of my life was over (if I was fortunate) and that the time to realize whatever nebulous dreams I had was actually finite.  Combine this fact with the somewhat inevitable inverse relationship with age and physical ability and my window for pursuing certain optimistic life-goals was actually smaller than a George R.R. Martin character negotiating with a Frey.


So while 25 definitely re-aligned my perspective in general, it didn’t change my perspective on birthdays.  This perspective hovered mostly between “it’s just another day” to “cool I get to justify buying myself a cool gadget”.  That is… until this last birthday.

G  = 9.8 m/s/s


Skydiving has been on my “bucket list” for as long as I can remember making lists and putting them into… buckets.  Ostensibly, most of my adult life.  However, there have always been reasons to NOT go skydiving – money, it’s “dangerous”, friends to go with etc..   However, with this last birthday fast approaching, my usual apathetic approach to what is really just another day for most people turned into a powerful force of will to make it happen – and drag my two best friends along for the ride.  These two friends had their OWN extremely reasonable excuses for not coming.  While I gave them an “out”, I made it my mission for them to experience something new and be a part of realizing one my aspirations as a human being – seeing the world from 15K feet in the open air.  The next step up will hopefully be at 20 times that height.

Skydiving is a personal experience that makes written description pale in comparison but I will share a few of the things I will never forget.

  • I have never signed so many duplicate forms of my personal information for liability purposes in my life – (POSSIBLY with the exception of when I joined the military)
  • The wait from check-in to actual free-fall was about 3 hours
  • My very cool, but poor English speaking, Italian tandem instructor had possibly the worst BO imaginable.  Since smell is the most powerful sense tied to memory, there is a chance I will never forget his particular brand of Stench – by Giorgio
  • I never got afraid.  Not on the ground.  Not in the air.  There was a palpable jump in heart rate and anticipation when the first person disappeared from the plane, but fear never struck me like I expected
  • Initial free-fall is one of the most exhilarating things you will ever experience.  It’s a roller coaster – cubed.
  • My instructor let me pull the cord to our chute (which I was told rarely happens).  This involved groping behind me and finding the hard golf ball sized handle attached to the release mechanism next to Giorgio’s leg. Despite the inherent homoerotic images this immediately presents, having been the direct cause of halting my inglorious plummet to the planet below was an incredibly satisfying thing.
  • Floating at 10K above Monterey Bay is one of the most peaceful/beautiful things I have ever seen/experienced
  • Having my instructor make quick adjustments for landing was also one of the more nauseous things I’ve ever experienced – his English apparently didn’t extend to understanding the words “I’m feeling a little sick” during our rapidly adjusting decent.  It’s ok, Giorgio, I don’t hold it against you – much
  • My kids’ excitement at having witnessed their dad literally fall from the sky was a joy to watch and be the source of
  • Having my friends share the experience with me, despite their initial misgivings, is also something that made the day one to remember

In closing, I don’t just want to impart how truly awesome the experience of skydiving is – which I do.  It is well worth the paperwork, horrible BO and nausea you might experience… and even the 3rd degree sunburn (if you’re as white as I am).  But I’d like to make a larger point.

The flaw in my perspective on birthdays was not in thinking they were just another day – they are.  The flaw was that my birthday doesn’t HAVE to be just another day.  Birthdays and other occasions aren’t just obligations or commercialism at its worst – they are these things of course  More importantly, they are a useful opportunity to make a day memorable – FYMP worthy if you’ll tolerate the conceit.  But how you approach these days is up to you.  Wouldn’t you rather they be awesome?

Now, I still don’t think I’m going to remember/care much about the number that is tied to my actual birthday in the future (it’s going to be 34 or 35 or something).  What I do know is that that day, among many others, is going to be FYMPing awesome!

C’est la Visa

When I first went to China, it was on a tourism visa which lasted for 3 months.  This was in the weeks following the Olympics, when visa regulations were just beginning to ease slightly.  I arrived unsure of what I would do at the end of those three months, or even of what the rules would be when the time came.

Friends all told me to simply wait and cross that bridge when the time came.  I was understandably less Zen, having never been through this process, and understandably nervous seeing as how that “bridge” had not yet been built at the time.  Thankfully, when the time came, I was able to obtain a 6 month visa with no trouble at all.

Almost a year later, my employers at the time began the process of obtaining a new work visa for me.  This proved problematic to say the least.  As any foreigner in China can tell you, visa troubles are a rite of passage.

In the lead up to the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2009, visas had begun to be increasingly difficult to obtain and renew.  Work visas had become almost impossible to come by for normal humans.  As heightened security measures were put in place during that time period, the procedure for obtaining visas of any kind had become considerably more complex and more expensive.  There is no recourse for visa-seeking residents but to comply.

In the days after the process began: I made over 4 trips to the local Kodak kiosk for visa pictures of varying size and background color as the regulations shifted by the moment; I scrambled to transfer money from my bank in the US to my local bank in China, a Sisyphean task I somehow managed to accomplish, only to be told it was unnecessary several days later; I cried uncontrollably for several hours every day; and, finally, I took a trip to the outer limits of Beijing to take a mandatory medical examination, presumably to ensure that I was indeed a human person and not a cyborg infiltrator.

The medical exam needed for gaining a work visa was once available at a more or less easily accessible location within the city.  Due to the 60th anniversary, however, that was no longer the case.  The only facility administering such tests was now out in the Northwest corner of Beijing near the mountains which, up until the time I went there, I had not known even existed.

The drive to the facility where the medical exams were given was an adventure in itself.  To begin with it was decided, by someone who has yet to receive the full extent of my wrath, that it would be a good idea to head out at 7AM: the exact beginning of Beijing rush hour.  The drive, which off-peak might have taken an hour or so, was thus stretched out to 2 and a half hours.  The five occupants of the compact car managed to go through all of the 5 stages of grief during the course of the drive, reaching acceptance only a few minutes before we actually found the place.  It did not help that our driver had never been before, and so we spent much of our time driving through back alleys, ditches, and hutongs.  To his credit, he finally got us there which, had I been driving, would never have happened.

Upon our arrival at the facility we were glad to find that the parking lot was nowhere close to full, perhaps we would get back before nightfall after all.

We walked in the door tired and afraid, still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder induced by our lengthy, hellish drive.  A small woman dressed in nurses white and a thin face mask sitting behind a counter beckons me forward.  Her eyes are smiling and I begin to relax, maybe the worst is over.  When I reach the desk, without explanation or preamble, the small woman pulls out a gun and puts it to the center of my forehead.

Due to the recent H1N1 scares, many schools, hotels, and office buildings have begun screening everyone who entered with fever detectors.  I had heard of this policy and, having never experienced it personally, had only some vague idea about disposable mouth thermometers.  It turns out that they actually use a temperature sensor in the shape of a small gun which they hold to your forehead for a few seconds after which it shows your temperature in a digital readout.  Pretty cool technology, actually.  Unfortunately, my indoctrination into its use was unfortunately abrupt and more closely resembled a mugging.  I only narrowly avoided the need for a wardrobe change.

When my heart began beating again, I filled out some paperwork and dove right into the exam.

We spend a few hours at the medical facility being bounced around to different rooms where we are poked and prodded by turns.  In one room I wore a lead vest and stood in front of a gigantic humming machine for a few minutes.  I cringed in mock fear as if the radiation burns me… The doctors were not amused.  In another room I was laid down on a table and had wet suction cups attached to my upper torso. I still have no Idea why.  The nurse seemed to find this process as amusing as I found it disturbing.  In yet another room I had my blood pressure taken by a man who looked to be about a thousand years old.

All in all, after the drive, things went pretty smoothly.  The trip back was uneventful and we were all able to laugh at the morning’s antics, though there was a certain harried tenor to our forced joviality.  And when, several days later, I found out that I hadn’t really needed the exam after all, even I couldn’t tell if I was laughing or crying.