Monday, December 10, 2007

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [SPANISH STEPS]

My tour group's last stop in the city of Rome was the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna), located at a short walking distance away from the Trevi Fountain.

It owes its name to the Spanish Embassy, the first to be permanently established in Rome, in Palazzo Spagna by Antonio del Grande in 1647.

The square was completed with the building of the Spanish Steps in 1725. Designed by Italian architect, Francesco de Santis, the project was financed by King Louis XV of France.

The steps consist of twelve flights of masonry steps of varying widths, leading up to the Franciscan Church of Trinita dei Monti at the top, from the Piazza di Spagna at the base.

Today, it is considered the longest & widest staircase in Europe.

The entire area surrounding the Spanish Steps is Rome's fashion haven & a shopper's dream come true.

The shopping streets - via Condotti, via Borgognona, via Frattina, via del Corso - ringing &/or criss-crossing the area are chic & trendy streets, home to antique dealers, art galleries, exclusive boutiques, & designer stores, drawing throngs of both locals & tourists alike.

Fashion is, after all, an universal language.

Immediately after the completion of the itinerary for the day, every one in the group disappeared into the surrounding shopping streets around the Spanish Steps.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [TREVI FOUNTAIN]

By the time the tour group had arrived at the famous Trevi Fountain, it was already quite late in the afternoon, just after 5pm or so.

The Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) became a famous household name following the Oscar-winning 1960's movie, 'La Dolce Vita', in which the voluptuous Anita Ekberg was shown frolicking in the water.

[In fact, the fountain was featured earlier in the 1953 movie, 'Roman Holiday' (with Gregory Peck & Audrey Hepburn), followed by the 1954 movie, 'Three Coins in the Fountain', about three American girls in search of romance in Rome, while working for the US Embassy. The movie's signature song won the Oscar for 'Best Original Song' in 1954.]

The fountain dates back to ancient Rome. It was rebuilt many times throughout the millennia. It was completed by Nicola Salvi in 1762.

[As you can see, the central figure is Neptune, flanked by two Titons, one trying to master an unruly sea horse, the other leading a quieter beast, symbolising the two contrasting moods of the sea.]

Today, the fountain represents the largest & most ambitious of the Baroque fountains of Rome.

The rushing waters come from the Aqua Vergine aqueduct, which was commissioned by Aguppa, a general of Augustus in 19BC.

The seemingly blue-green water cascades over the ornate Baroque stone figure of Trevi, making it a beautiful sight to behold.

The aqueduct transports the water from the Salone springs, 30 km from the city of Rome. It is named after the young girl who supposedly took Aguppa's thirsty soldiers to its source. The name Trevi (from 'trevium') literally means 3 ways: the fountain was constructed at the intersection of 3 streets.

Legend has it that throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain will ensure a visitor's safe return to Rome. [About 3,000 Euros are thrown in the fountain daily & are collected at night.]

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [THE VATICAN MUSEUMS & THE SISTINE CHAPEL]

The visit to the Vatican Museums & the adjoining Sistine Chapel actually formed the principal highlights of the group tour to the Vatican City.

The Vatican Museums house one of the world's most impressive collections of arts, paintings & sculptures, embracing the period of every epoch.

According to the local tour guide, the museums consist of more than 1,400 rooms & 120 apartments, divided into five separate collections.

He said that touring the entire museums would take seven full days, not counting time just to pause at each exhibit.

As international visitors to the Vatican Museums, the group was shown only the primary exhibits, as follows:

1) The Room of Raphael;
2) The Gallery of Maps - really a cartographic fantasyland with all sorts of maps, charts & drafting tools!;
3) The Gallery of Tapestries;
4) The Octagonal Courtyard;
5) The Belvedere Torso;
6) The Sistine Chapel;

From the sculptures or fragments of sculptures to the very floors under our feet, & the walls as well as the ceilings high above our heads - they were a total infiltration of our senses.

The museums were originally intended to provide residence & protection for the Pope. In 1932, the private papal collections were open to the public as a way to generate financial means.

The museums see more than 30,000 visitors a day. In 2006, there were 4 million visitors.

Within the museums, there is the enormous Sistine Chapel (Capella Sistina). It is used for papal functions, including the conclave of cardinals (the election of the Pope).

The Sistine Chapel houses more than two dozens of distinct collections, any one of which could be a self-sustaining gallery.

For most visitors to the chapel, the masterpieces of Michelangelo, including his stunning frescoes of the 'Creation of the World' on the ceiling, & the 'Last Judgement' on the altar wall, form the most memorable & treasured experiences.

[Although the walls of the chapel are covered with beautiful paintings by a number of other Renaissance artists, including Botticelli, they became secondary in the company of Michelangelo.]

I have been to the Vatican Museums as well as the Sistine Chapel three times over the last twenty five years, & I am still amazed by what I had seen.

The Vatican Museums truly represent the testament to the power of papal patronage & curatorial talent.

By design, each & every itinerary in the Vatican Museums culminates in the Sistine Chapel.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [THE SQUARE & THE BASILICA OF ST PETER'S]

The vast dome of the Basilica of St Peter's is visible from nearly everywhere in the city of Rome. It really dominates the city skyline.

The Square of St Peter's (Piazza San Pietro) , with its fountains & semi-circular colonnades crowned with the statutes of the Saints frames the entrance to the Vatican City.

The Basilica of St Peter's, possibly the largest church in the world, is located on the site where St Peter was believed to be martyred & buried. [St Peter was crucified upside down as a criminal by Emperor Nero during pagan times.]

The first church was built on the site during the reign of Emperor Constantine.

Michelangelo deserves much of the credit for the massive reconstruction of the Basilica in its present form from 1546 when he was its chief architect.

Although it is not the Pope's official seat, it is most certainly his principal church as most papal ceremonies take place at the Basilica of St Peter's due its size, proximity to the Papal residence & location within the city walls of Vatican City.

Today, the Basilica of St Peter's holds the most beautiful masterpieces of Bernini, as well as the famous sculpture, 'Pieta' by Michelangelo.

[The 'Pieta' depicts the Virgin Mary holding the body of her son, Jesus Christ, after his death. Michelangelo, while he was still in his early twenties & relatively unknown to the world as an artist, was commisioned in 1498 to carve the two figures from a single slab of marble. It took him almost two years to complete.]

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [THE VATICAN CITY]



The city of Rome actually surrounds the Vatican City, which is the enclave of the Holy See.

[The Holy See refers to the Central Government of th Catholic Church, headed by a Bichsop of Rome, commonly called The Pope.]

Geopolitically, it is a separate sovereign state. It is considered the smallest independent state in the world.

The Vatican City hosts the St Peter's Square with the Basilica of St Peter's as its dominant structure.

Within the walled city, there are the prestigious Vatican Museums, with the adjoining Sistine Chapel, as well as the Vatican Library.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [CASTLE OF SAINT ANGELS]

Again, the tour group had only an orientation of this unique tourist attraction in Rome.

From a distance, actually sitting inside the tour coach, it looks like a huge cylinder block.

This towering structure, originally known as Castel Sant Angelo, was built as a funeral monument to the Roman emperors. It began life in 139 as Emperor Hadrian's mausoleum.

The building was later incorporated as an output bastion during Emperor Aurelius.

During the 10th century, the building was again transformed into a castle. Today, it is a museum.

According to legend, it was a place of safety for the Popes during times of political unrest. A corridor reportedly links it with the Vatican City, providing an escape route for the Pope.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [VITTORIO EMANUELE II MONUMENT]

As part of the orientation tour of the city of Rome, the tour group saw this beautiful structure which was built in honour of the first king of united Italy, Victor Emmanuel. It was designed in 1895 but completed in 1935. It also holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame.

Interestingly, it was featured in the 2003 sci-fi movie, 'The Core', in which the structure had collapsed, together with the Colosseum, under lightning strikes as a result of an electrical super storm.















HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [ROMAN FORUM]

Frankly, my tour group had only an orientation of the Roman Forum, located only a short distance away from the Colosseum.

The Roman Forum was the very centre of political, religious & commercial life in ancient Rome.

Today, it is one of the world's most important historical sites. It features the rostrum where Anthony made his impassioned speech over the dead body of Julius Caesar.

In reality, today it remains a vast ensemble of ruins that echo the grandeur of a vast empire that at one time embraced most of the known world.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [THE COLOSSEUM]

The Colosseum is one of the greatest of all Rome's historic monuments.

In fact, it was the largest amphitheatre ever built during the Roman Empire, representing the greatest work of Roman architecture & engineering.

Plan-wise, it is elliptical in shape, 189 m long & 156 m wide, with a height of 48 m for the outer wall.

The enormous arena with its imposing exterior once featured 76 numbered entrances, marble seats & subterranean passages. It had an original seating capacity for 50,000 spectators, & was used for gladiatorial combats & public spectacles.

Its construction was started between 70-72AD under Emperor Vespasian, & was completed only in 80AD under Emperor Titus.

Unlike earlier amphitheatres that were built onto hillsides, this one was an entirely free standing structure.

I read that very few knew that it was partly built with the loot of the destruction & sacking of Jerusalem by Emperor Titus. Jewish slaves were engaged to work on its construction.

According to historical records, gladiatorial combats lasted until 404 AD & animal combats were stopped toward the middle of 6th century.

Interestingly, in the 1972 movie, 'The Way of the Dragon', the legendary Bruce Lee fought Chuck Norris in a deadly showdown at the Colosseum.

The fight sequence was replicated in the 1997 movie, 'Double Team', during which Jean Claude van Damme (played counter-terrorism expert, Quinn) fought Mickey Rourke (played international terrorist, Stavros) in the Colosseum. The movie setting also featured a booby-trapped mine-field, plus a ferocious tiger.

The movie also starred bad boy Dennis Rodman, as Quinn's side kick.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [RIVER TIBER]

The River Tiber is the third longest river in Italy, rising in the Apennine mountains of Tuscany region & flowing over 400 km through the Umbria & Lazio regions, to the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Historically, the river has achieved lasting fame as the main watercourse of the city of Rome, founded on its eastern banks in 753BC.

Today, there are numerous modern as well as ancient bridges, most of which have already been confined to pedestrian use, across the River Tiber.




HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [CHURCH OF ST PETER IN CHAINS]

The first stop after the group's pick up at the airport upon our early morning arrival in Rome was a nondescript church located a few blocks north of the Colosseum.

The Church of St Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli) owes its name to the precious relic it hosts: the chains used to fetter St Peter during his prison days in Jerusalem & in Rome.

The original church was dedicated to the Apostles & was built in the 4th century. It was completely modified in the 15th century, which was further modified during the following century.

According to traditions, when the two chains were brought together, they were united miraculously.

In the exterior, the church has a portico with five arches. It has a plan of a basilica, being divided by twenty ancient marble columns in the interior, with a beautiful fresco painting on the ceiling.

Inside the church, at the end of the right aisle, is the complex of statutes created by Michelangelo. The Statute of Moses, a masterpiece of the Renaissance, is located right in the centre.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME

[continue from the last post:)]

To complete all the remaining snapshots & postcards of my recent holidays in Italy, I am now arranging all the belated posts that will follow, according to the following major tourist attractions in Rome, which my wife & I had seen (orientation, i.e. sightseeing from the bus without stopping, in group tour lingo) &/or visited (walking tour, in group tour lingo) on the first day:

1) Church of St Peters in Chains;
2) River Tiber;
3) The Colosseum;
4) Roman Forum;
5) Vittorio Emanuele II Monument;
6) Castle of the Saint Angels;
7) The Vatican City;
8) The Square & The Basilica of St Peter's;
9) The Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel;
10) Trevi Fountain;
11) Spanish Steps;

I should have completed these posts much earlier.

[Upon completion of the city tour of Rome, & after one night's stay at the outskirts of the city, the group proceeded with a new coach, on the next morning, to the lost city of Pompeii.]

TAKING ANOTHER SHORT BREAK FROM BLOGGING

My wife & I will be bringing & leading a bunch of our silver-haired buddies - twelve of them, making 6 couples - to Vietnam from 15th to 21st December 2007. Vietnam is my wife's homeland.

Besides visiting the city attractions & the Mekong Delta, the group will spend 3-days/2-nights in Dalat, a mountain resort.

However, my wife & I will leave earlier for Ho Chi Minh city on Tuesday 11th December, so that we can finalise the itinerary for the group.

We plan to stay back in the city after the group's departure as we want to spend our Christmas & New Year holidays in Vietnam.

We are scheduled to be back in Singapore on 4th January 2008.

So, from tomorrow onwards till 4th January 2008, I will not be writing my blogs for a change.

Upon my return, I will share the group's first time adventures in Vietnam with readers. Please stay tuned.

FUN PIX #2 FROM AROUND THE WORLD


TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"I think it is very important for you to do two things: act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; & when you realise that you are wrong, correct course very quickly."
(Andrew Grove, the brain behind the phenomenal success of The World Most Powerful Chip Company, Intel Corporation;)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

FUN PIX #1 FROM AROUND THE WORLD


AS I UNDERSTAND: ACCELERATED LEARNING

As far as I know, 'accelerated learning' has its origins from the work of a Bulgarian psychologist, Dr Georgi Lozanov, during the sixties & early seventies.

Dr Lozanov did not use this term, but instead, he coined the term 'Suggestopedia', probably at the University of Sofia, where it all started in 1967.

He apparently used his seemingly 'secret' methodology to teach members of the Bulgarian Foreign Service (& subsequently as well as probably including those from the USSR, during the Cold War days - it's natural to deduce that these people were part of their international spy network across the globe) to master the English Language within an accelerated time frame.

His pioneering work was first hinted in the book, 'Psychic Discoveries behind the Iron Curtain' in the early seventies, & then highlighted in more seemingly 'specific' details in the follow-up book, 'Superlearning' in the mid-eighties or so, both by Sheila Ostrander & Lynn Schroeder, two enterprising journalists from the United States.

The work of the journalists were always doubted since day one, as it was unbelievable that they could have easy access to the interviews & discoveries behind the Iron Curtain at that time.

In the seventies, Dr Georgi Lozanov was brought to the United States by the now-defunct Burklyn Business School based in Vermont, California, USA, to share his teaching methodology, known as 'Suggestology' by then to a group of business people.

As far as I know, the people who were apparently behind this venture was Marshall Thurber, Bobbi dePorter & Eric Jensen.

As most readers may already know, Bobbi dePorter went on to establish the 'SuperCamps' for students, while Eric Jensen started 'Turning Point for Educators' (now known as 'Jensen Learning Corporation') to teach the many teachers & educators across the United States, in the early eighties. The latter is the prime mover behind the 'Learning Brain Expo'.

Of course, there were many competent others that took off with different paths, but probably remained true to the early philosophy of 'accelerated learning', as originally conceptualised by Dr Georgi Lozanov, despite the many variations in approach.

Subsequently around the same period of time, one of major 'spin offs' was the advent of the Society of Accelerated Learning & Teaching (SALT, as it was called in short).

Today, SALT has been reorganised to form the 'International Alliance for Learning'.

I reckon most of the learning experts & research scholars in the United States continued to doubt that Dr Georgi Lozanov had actually shared his many 'secrets' on 'accelerated learning & teaching'.

I personally believe that much of the innovative work in 'accelerated learning & teaching' as it appears today actually has its vast intellectual inputs from the early pioneers in the SALT movement.

I began my initial personal interest in 'accelerated learning' after reading the foregoing two books, when they were first published.

Out of curiosity, I went on to search for & read more books on the subject. I also joined SALT in USA as well as SEAL in UK as a member.

I also subscribed to a lot of related organisations e.g. 'New Horizons for Learning', 'Consortium for Whole Brain Learning', as well as newsletters, journals & magazines. The 'Brain/Mind Bulletin' was one of the widely acclaimed newsletters I had subscribed.

I had followed the work of Bobbi dePorter, Eric Jensen & many others in the field quite closely.

In the early nineties, I left the corporate world to start my own little entrepreneurial venture, involving a small retail outlet, aptly called 'The Brain Resource', a newsletter to track my personal exploration in the field, entitled 'The Left-Brain/Right-Brain Newsletter', & a strategy consulting firm, under the trade name of 'Optimum Performance Technologies'.

I like to take this opportunity to share with readers my learning explorations in 'accelerated learning'.

[Next: Accelerated Learning II]

LESSONS FROM THE MOVIES: THE KARATE KID

The Karate Kid, starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Martin Kove

I had watched this entertaining movie during the late eighties or probably the early nineties when it was first released to the movie theatres.

Subsequently, I had watched it several times on cable television, as well from videos.

I had recently watched it again from a DVD, as I thought it offered wonderful life lessons.

First of all, it had a very straight-forward story.

A young boy, Danny (Ralph Macchio) & his mother had relocated from the East to Los Angeles. In search of new friends, he bumped into a bunch of ruffians from a local martial arts school.

Naturally, there was also this beautiful lady (played by Elizabeth Shue), whose deliberate presence in the movie seemed to complicate matters for him.

During one painful encounter with the ruffians, he was beaten up, but luckily was eventually rescued by an elderly handyman, Miyagi (Pat Morita), working in his apartment complex. Miyagi seemed to be well versed in unarmed combat.

Intrigued, Danny wanted to learn martial arts from Miyagi, even though he discovered than the old man was more adept in clipping bonsai trees & catching flies with chopsticks.

Miyagi reluctantly took Danny on & immediately delegated him to carry out a host of domestic chores, like sanding the floor decks, cleaning/polishing the cars & painting the fences. Unwittingly, they sparked off some sort of a father-son relationship.

These apparently inconsequential activities certainly reminded me of those compulsory routines, like sweeping floors, chopping wood & carrying water, that were often carried out by young disciplines of the Shaolin Temple in ancient China.

Danny was obviously very disappointed.

The story continued with Danny’s quest to take part in the local martial arts tournament.

What I like about this movie is the valuable lessons it offers to young people in search of their personal vision.

In this case, Danny wanted to become a martial arts champion.

For an instructor, Miyagi was obviously an unorthodox master. He taught Danny, to his chagrin, how to envision success by asking him to trim a bonsai tree.

The old man said: “Just trim the tree!”

Danny replied, “What if I don’t do it right?”

The old man told him: “ Close your eyes, picture a tree, & then, as soon as you have the tree, think of nothing else. Open your eyes & trim the bonsai tree to match the picture.”

Once again, Danny replied: “How do I know it is going to be right?”

The old man responded gleefully: “If it comes from inside you, it is right!”

It began to dawn on Danny that the real secret to martial arts laid in the mind & the heart, & not in the fists.

Once he realised the lessons he had learned from Miyagi - the hard way -, Danny became empowered & went on to beat the hell out of his seemingly stronger opponent in the martial arts tournament.

The fight sequences, especially the ending segment, in the movie were beautifully as well as spectacularly choreographed, but the principal message of the movie was very clear:

The compelling vision of where you want to go & the vivid image of achievement come from deep inside you!

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"That was rough.... Thing to do now is try and forget it.... I guess I don't quite mean that. It's not a thing you can forget. Maybe not even a thing you want to forget.... Life's like that sometimes... Now and then for no good reason a man can figure out, life will just haul off and knock him flat, slam him agin' the ground so hard it seems like all his insides is busted. But it's not all like that. A lot of it's mighty fine, and you can't afford to waste the good part frettin' about the bad. That makes it all bad.... Sure, I know - sayin' it's one thing and feelin' it's another. But I'll tell you a trick that's sometimes a big help. When you start lookin' around for something good to take the place of the bad, as a general rule you can find it."
(from the 1950's movie, 'Old Yeller', starring Dorothy McGuire & Fess Parker, about the great frontier adventure of a young boy & his yellow mongrel;)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

POINTS TO PONDER: MINDFULNESS vs MINDLESSNESS

I first came across this term when I read the book, 'Mindfulness' by Dr Ellen Langer of Harvard University during the early nineties. Her insightful ideas are still very relevant in today's fast-paced society.

In contrast to 'Mindfulness', mindlessness has been identified as a psychological block to personal change. When we act mindlessly, we behave like robots - we are in auto pilot mode - & personal change becomes difficult.

According to Dr Langer, mindlessness is rooted in mindsets - unquestioning attitudes formed when we first hear certain information.

"Don't pat the dog, he may bite," says Mother, or "Always finish what's in your plate." When we continue to accept such information at face value without thinking critically about it, we grow up afraid of dogs or overweight.

Dr Langer has argued that these inappropriate mindsets sit unobtrusively in our brains until a signal - perhaps a sight, smell or sound - calls them up again. This time the dog may be friendly or the banana split unwanted, yet often we don't reconsider the mindless attitude we accepted earlier.

Because they lock us into one interpretation of a bit of information, mindsets prevent the exercise of choice.

Without choice, change becomes difficult. As a resuit, we can't make the sensible, desirable change in our behaviour - pat the dog &/or reject the ice cream.

Before we can make important changes in our lives, we need to re-examine our old mindsets. That's hard, because in the entrenched routines of daily life, we rarely question what we do, or why, unless it's causing an emergency.

But if we learn to spot mindsets & test them, we gain insight into & control over our behaviours.

Suddenly, change becomes within our reach.

Dr Langer has stressed that changing - or even feeling empowered to stay the same - requires two things:

- learning to think about old situations in new ways;

- opening up & enlarging our frame of reference;

The fresh approach to life that this new style of thinking creates is what she called the mindful attitude or mindfulness.

Here are some of her expert tips:

1) seek out novelty i.e new ways of doing things;

2) be playful, as play is always mindful;

3) take some risks;

4) generate alternatives for as many outcomes as you can;

5) Intentionally ask yourself how the situation could look different from a different perspective;

6) most importantly, notice the power of uncertainty & respect it;


Dr Langer has concluded that, once we overcome the roadblock to mindfulness, our options open up.

We may even question the change we thought we wanted to make & with a new, open attitude, come to enjoy that old relationship, job or our plump selves. Or we may find another path, say turning into a happy walker than a frustrated jogger.

On the other hand, if we still want to make a basic change, it will be easier after we've liberated ourselves, one by one, from our tyrannical mindsets.

By recasting & refiguring our behaviour & others - by becoming mindful - we learn to step back, recategorise & review our assumptions.

Because we're now seeing from many perspectives, we find ourselves more in control of our lives & have more choices - the prerequisites for change.

[What Dr Ellen Langer calls 'mindfulness', Joel Arthur Barker calls it 'paradigm pliancy'. Interestingly, Michael Michalko calls for 'productive thinking', as opposed to 'reproductive thinking'. Recommeded readings, in addition to Dr Langer's book: 'Future Edge' & 'Thinkertoys'.]

NOW, WHERE DID I PUT MY KEYS?

When memory fails, take heart. Our older brain can outperform a younger one. This is provided that we know how to use our brain efficiently as well as effectively.

Here are some tips based on my own personal experience:

1) Carry a note book in your pocket: I have one in my gym bag. I also always carry one in my vest when I go hanging out with my buddies in the evenings. When I go window shopping with my wife, I don't leave home without my pocket note-book.

2) Set priorities: Don't expect to juggle six or more things at the same time. Prioritise. Even with daily T2D or Things to Do, I still prioritise all the various tasks, so that the most important ones for the day can completed first.

3) Practise focusing: Like a camera, our brain gets older as it gets a little out of focus & visual memory declines. For example, to remember where my car is parked in the basement, I always scan the environment & observe the positioning of my car in relationship to notable or colourful wall/column/floor structures for easy recall. As I enter the basement entrance to the shopping mall, or office building, I will always turn back to look in the direction of my car.

4) Think & plan ahead: In a nut shell, this is scenario planning. To get around the tip-of-the tongue syndrome, I always think or plan out my scenario before I speak. If I forget a particular phrase or word, I will use another one. Nobody knows what I am going to say, anyway.

5) Pause often: I always give myself ample time. It takes longer to record & remember information as we get older.

6) Plant visual/audio cues: This is a very powerful technique. To later recall the name of a person, let's say Donald Chan, I will picture him as Donald Duck making a ridiculous Gregorian chant in Chinese.

7) Ponder & articulate over material: Most of us can recall about a fraction of what we read. If we take a minute just to think about what we have read & make a comment or articulate on it, even mentally, recall will soar tremendously. That's why I always enjoy chatting with my gym buddy in the morning at the gym, during which I will often run through interesting stuff I had read in the papers or from books with him.

I have learned these simple strategies from memory expert, Danielle Lapp of Harvard University, whose book, 'Don't Forget: Easy Exercises for a Better Memory at Any Age' has been my constant companion for many years.

AS I UNDERSTAND: KNOWING ISN'T DOING; DOING ISN'T BEING

Reading a non-fiction book or listening to a motivational tape, or even attending a live presentation, are in reality very easy tasks.

I always hold the view that it's not what the author or presenter says or does that is important.

It's what the reader or listener or attendee does with what he or she has understood & what he or she has done with it to produce the intended results.

When one finds the learned material conceptually coherent, then understanding takes place immediately.

Better still, if one finds the learned material personally meaningful or relevant in many ways, deeper understanding then takes place.

I like to call this action the 'Initial Response (IR)'.

Many people like to stop right here. They have understood the material & probably choose to move on to something else, without any further thought about the stuff. At best, the stuff may continue to linger in their minds.

Sometimes, we pause to think or rather reflect on what we have read & understood. We ponder over possibilities (or even difficulties) of using the material in our own lives.

We search for ways or options to use the material in our personal &/or professional world.

I love to do personal reflection, especially after I have read a book or listened to a tape or attended a workshop.

I will often annotate when I read & also jot down quick notes in the margins for immediate application. I call them T2D or Things to Do.

Sometimes, I like to write down my own questions, in the form of Q2P or Questions to Ponder; Q2A or Questions to Ask. These actions allow me to probe further what I had understood.

I like to call all these little things, the 'Reflective Response (RR)'.

I am sure most people will spend some time to reflect on what they have done, especially after they have read a book or attended a workshop. It's a good habit.

Now, comes the real test.

What are you going to do with what you have reflected or pondered about?

If we make the final decision to act upon what we have learned & then put the knowledge to work in our own lives, real learning begins to takes its place as initial insights culminate into workable ideas.

In the process, we will know straightaway whether what we have learned will work or will not work. If they work , good, & if they don't, we probe to find out why.

Of course, a little help from our friends or even mentors if we are lucky, certainly help in priming the endeavour.

Putting ideas to work can be manifested in many physical forms. We can use the ideas in our correspondence e.g. emails; in our report writing; in our daily conversations with people; in training or coaching others, etc.

I like to call all these various activities, the 'Assimilative Response (AR).'

This is where knowledge is applied purposefully & meaningfully. This is where real power takes shape.

Therefore, knowledge is only power, when it is applied consistently to produce results.

This whole exposition now comes back to my thesis statement: Knowing isn't Doing; Doing isn't Being.

I believe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said it well (although it has often being wrongly attributed to Bruce Lee): "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do!"

Therefore, it is imperative that, whenever we read or learn something, we must always make it our habit to use the learned material as a continuing basis to inform our personal insights, & then put them into practical experimentation & real-world application.

Real learning comes from real doing or application.

Through doing & application, we probably gain more insights about our own path towards success. Success then becomes the journey, not the destination. We often can get a better understanding about failures, too, & as a result, we can get more ready to consider them as stepping stones to success.

I like what Buckminster Fuller or Bucky as he had often been referred affectionately by the world, once said: "There's no failed experiments; only unexpected results."

Anthony Robbins puts it in perspective: "There's no failure; only feedback."

For me, I like to treat failures or set backs as opportunities to make corrections in life's pursuits.

Readers probably have read or heard about this fact: Ocean going vessels have a small trim tab in their navigational systems to make corrections. Planes & even rockets to the moon have the same system in place to make corrections.

As the wise saying goes: "Success is always the function of correction."

Therefore, we should read or listen or pick up a bit, connect it to our prior knowledge & or past experience, reflect on it, experiment with it, monitor the progress, make corrections if necessary & act consistently to produce the results we desire.

If this expressed activity becomes our daily discipline, very soon it will be totally internalised to the point that it becomes the focus of our internal compass. Practice makes permanent, so to speak.

We become more fully aware of our own place in the world: knowing & doing.

As we readily share the gained knowledge with many others, we may begin to change the lives of others, without even realising it. In a way, I like to think of this as our being.

I always like to think about this phenomenon: 'Knowledge Shared is Power Squared'.

To back track a little: IR is our 'word experience', a term coined by Harry Palmer, the brain behind the powerful belief engineering technology, known as 'Avatar'. It simply means we have only textual understanding. Nothing else. [I like to think, having too much information in the head is actually a real burden!]

In the same vein, RR+AR is then our 'world experience', again from Harry Palmer. We have therefore gained true knowledge or power.

There is nothing wrong learning from the masters or experts out there, who often can provide valuable pointers.

The crux is to reflect more on them in our personal context, & to inform our own personal insights, & most importantly, to put them to work in our life in order to produce the outcome we so desire.

Actually, come to think about it, personal leadership is all about determining & following our own path - knowing, doing & being - & then, leaving a trail; not just adopting someone else's thinking - lock, stock & barrel.

TECHNOLOGY REVIEW: BIODOTS

During my heydays when I conduct creativity training, I often gave away packets of Biodots to participants as mementos. Participants were often amazed that, with the visual aid of the Biodots, they could have a quick way to know when they were under stress mode, real or perceived.

In those days, I had to import them into Singapore in bulk from Biodot International in the United States. I then repackaged them into small plastic bags, like those you get your medicine from the local doctor.

Today, Biodots are readily available from local pharmacies & health food stores.

In a nut shell, Biodots are quick acting accurate thermometers used to monitor blood flow & in turn to indicate possible stress.

They are structurally small circles of micro-encapsulated cholesterolic liquid crystals of a thermal range gauged to variance of skin temperature.

For optimal performance, I always recommend that a single biodot should be placed on the hand in the gentle dip between the thumb & the forefinger which affords the viewing & is naturally protected from undo abrasion.

By simple observation, you can immediately tell if your system is reacting adversely to a stressful situation i.e. if the single biodot shows a colour change as shown in the given chart.

You can then take steps to reduce the indicated stress by any of the recognised relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, etc.

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty & well preserved piece, but to skid across the line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil, shouting ‘GERONIMO!’ ”
(Bill McKenna, professional motorcycle racer, as reported in Cycle Magazine, February 1982)

Friday, December 7, 2007

TICKLE YOUR FUNNY BONE & LAUGH TO YOUR HEART'S CONTENT

1) One lady executive who took time off work one day to send her male colleagues a message via the the electronic mail system, ended up regretting thoroughly.

By mistake, she sent a message that said "!".

Her colleague replied: "!!".

She returned with three exclamation marks & got four in return.

After thinking for a while, she sent him another message: "What are you trying to tell me?

His reply: "Don't change the subject!"

2) The newlyweds were undressing together for the first time in their hotel room. The groom saw the bride looking at him approvingly &, with an attempt at manly pride, puffed out his chest & beat on it, saying: "Ninety five kg of solid mainframe."

"Yeah," said the bride, "with a little floppy disk!"

3) A salesman stood before an assembled group in a corporate conference room. They were there to observe a demonstration of his company's state of the art computer. The computer screen blurred & rolled. His attempt at a telecommunication link failed.

The salesman phoned his company for help, but his technician was gone for the day.

That's when he faced the group & said, "This concludes the demonstration of my competitor's product. Next week, I'll come back & show you ours."

4) A fellow was trying to fix a door that didn't hang right.

"Hey, son," he called to his boy, "get me a screw driver, will you please?"

After what seemed like a terribly long time, the youngster came back & said apologetically, "Gee, Dad, I've got the orange juice, but I can't find the vodka."

5) A gambler's seven-year-old son, asked to count in kindergarten, came up with "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King."

6) Salesman from the city: "What's that strange odour?"

Farmer: "Fresh air!"

[Photo Credit: Lucien Binder]

HEY! GOOD LOOKING!

I thought it would be a great idea to showcase my gym buddy in this blog from the standpoint of health & fitness. In fact, I had already introduced him in my earlier posts when I talked about 'The Second Cycle'.

As a gentle reminder, Yeo Chin Yin is his name. He is a practising professional electrical engineer.

He was a school-mate as well as a room-mate of mine, when both of us were studying engineering craft practice at the Technical Institute (Sekolah Menengah Teknik), Kuala Lumper, Malaysia, during the mid-sixties. He was in the electrical stream, while I was in the mechanical stream.

He is now at the beginning of the second cycle i.e. he has already crossed the 60th year mark, but certainly knows how to keep himself real fit & super trim.

For a man of his age, he definitely looks great, as you can see from the two portraits captured on 14th November 2007. Most fellow gym members are amazed at how he could keep himself in such superb shape.

We often meet each other, together with our spouses, at least twice a week for tea at my neighbourhood coffee shop. He lives about ten minutes' driving distance from my residence in Jurong West.

The following are quick snapshots of his disciplined fitness routines:

Exercise:

Before going to work, he practically works out every morning in the neighbourhood gym (under the auspices of the Singapore Sports Council), where he spends 1-2 hours;

His routines in the gym consist of:

- 1,3,5, for cardio, for example running on the treadmill, alternate with riding the stationary bicycle & the elliptical machine;

- 2,4,6, for weight lifting or resistance training;

At night after work, he joins his wife for line & social dancing in the neighbourhood community clubs, about 3-4 times a week;

Diet:

Having the advantage of running his own practice, & staying within 15 minutes driving distance from office, he eats practically all his three meals cooked at home or from special Bento lunch containers prepared from home;

Breakfast is usually half a slice of home-baked whole-meal bread, with self-grind walnut butter & olive oil, & then gulped down with oat bran drink, with a quick mixture of skim milk powder;

Lunch & dinner are usually steamed rainbow coloured vegetables, dried chillied salmon fish, curry skinned chicken breast, & home-made yogurt;

In between meals, he often snacks on raw walnuts, almonds, & fruits;

He occasionally has some controlled indulgences on home made moon cakes, baked with mixed almond nuts, pumpkin seeds, black sesame seeds with reduced sugar & olive oil;

Business lunches if required, are usually salads or baked fish;

He always avoids sugar, simple starches such as white rice, white bread & noodles;

By the way, he is 1.73 m tall & weighs 72.6kg at this moment of writing.

One of his hobbies, as you probably have guessed right, is reading books on health, fitness & longevity.

His other personal interests include experimental cooking with natural foods & social networking, locally as well as globally. He is trilingual - English, Chinese & Malay.

[My gym buddy has earlier been featured by the house magazine, September 2007 issue, of the Singapore Recreation Club, to which he is also a member. You can also read more about him in the article.]

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome."

(Samuel Johnson, 1704-1784, English author & lexicographer; often regarded as one of the most outstanding literary figures of 18th century England; famous for his wit, prose & aphorisms;)

SINGING, DANCING & SPORTS: A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

I love to listen to songs & music, especially those oldies but goldies from the 50's, 60's & 70's. I often hang out with my buddies on Wednesday nights ('The Wednesday Club') at the lounge - with its live band - in the NUSS Kent Ridge.

Personally, I don't sing or play any musical instrument. I have been to karaoke sessions a few times with my other buddies, but somehow they don't fancy me (or was it the other way around?).

I remember vividly one rather bad experience with singing - I was kicked out of the school choir during my early secondary school days in Yong Peng, Johor, Malaysia. My music teacher told me that I had always sung out of sync (or tune?) with the group.

Nevertheless, I still had one memorable experience: I won a third prize in a singing contest in the same school. I remember my song was 'Patches'.

Many months ago, with the encouragement of my wife, I took up dancing at the Jurong Green Community Club. We enrolled immediately in ten lessons of cha cha from a middle-aged dancing instructor, who seemingly had a little pouch in front of him. However, he was a good teacher.

The first few lessons went off quite well, even though I had to struggle very hard to keep in step with the tempo of the dance music as well as the fancy footwork on the dance floor.

Every time, I had to make a turn, my mind seemed to go haywire & I simply could not recall which foot I would need to put forward then.

By the seventh lesson, I told my wife that I wanted to quit. I told her that it was easier for me to play with new electronic appliances than dancing.

My wife, who seemed to be reasonably versatile on the dance floor, especially for a total beginner, reluctantly agreed. We therefore didn't turn up for the remaining lessons, although my wife had hinted earlier to the dancing instructor regarding my personal issue.

When I reflected on my medicore dancing experience, I realised that my body just simply could not follow the rhythm of the music.

This unpleasant encounter brings back some not-so-good sport experiences I had during my secondary school days.

When I was a young boy, I took up football, basket ball & even ping pong. To be frank, & to the dismay of my school buddies, I actually spent more time chasing - & picking up - the balls, instead of kicking, throwing or hitting the balls to their required targets.

I even dabbled in badminton for a while. That didn't work well either.

When I started to work professionally in the late sixties & seventies, my sports-loving colleagues encouraged me to play lawn tennis with them. I had a few basic lessons, & soon I discovered that I was spending more time with the errant balls flying off the fenced court. My colleagues were dumbfounded as well as bewildered.

When I was stationed in Bangkok, Thailand, as an expatriate professional, I took up golf, because golf membership in Thailand was relatively cheaper than Singapore. Best of all, my employer was paying for the fees.

During the first encounter with my golf coach, he was very intrigued by my stiff & inflexible body.

For me, this was the end result of a protracted sedentary lifestyle of a high-powered professional, spoilt by chauffeur-driven perks, & a seemingly unending flow - like the Chao Phraya river - of good food & tantalising entertainment in wonderful Bangkok.

After a while on the golf course, I soon discovered, to my utter disappointment, that I had spent more time swinging my golf sticks aimlessly, rather than spinning the golf balls to their defined path.

Not too long later, I was struck by a painful slipped disc while travelling on business. I then had to give up golf completely.

Looking back at all these - should I say - learning experiences, I have come to the conclusion that I don't have what Dr Howard Gardner of Harvard University had often classified as, the rhythmic/kinesthetic intelligence.

Some people have it, but some definitely don't have it. I belong to the latter category.

When I look at my own body, sad to say, it looks more like a stationary bull-dozer.

However, when I work on the tread mill, the elliptical machine or the stationary bike, it somehow can run beautifully, to my great delight. Maybe, I don't need to sync with the rhythm.

My gym buddy, a dance lover, continues to pester me to take up dancing again.

He has recently told me that he found a great dancing place at Rochor Central - the dance teacher as well as the dance participants, based on his initial observations - are professional & yet fun loving. The fees are a bit expensive - $120 for ten lessons, when compared to $80 in Jurong West. He even volunteers to drive me & my wife there for the lessons.

I just shook my head.

In reality, & with all honesty, I just don't have a personal interest in dancing. Richard Saul Wurman was right: "...interest permeates all endeavours & precedes learning...".

FOR LONGEVITY, FIT & FAT BEATS UNFIT & LEAN

According to a 1979-2001 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association recently, by University of South Carolina researchers, people over 60 who exercise & are fit live longer than their peers who lead sedentary lifestyles.

The study has focused on the relationship between cardiovascular fitness & adipostity & death rates among 2,063 adults aged 60 years & older.

The study also suggests that out of shape older adults start exercising.

This is great news, especially for me.

The study team adds this comment: "The recommended guidelines of 30 minutes a day, five days a week, of light to moderate exercise is a very good exercise...It will make you fit, & it will dramatically improve your health & function. And it does that whether you lose a lot of weight or not."

[Source: The Straits Times, Dec 6th 2007]

Thursday, December 6, 2007

WHY PEOPLE DON'T GET WEALTHY

Anthony Robbins, peak performance & success coach to CEOs, Heads of States, Olympic athletes & high performing professionals, offers 12 reasons why people don't get wealthy. They are covered in an article written by David Cameron, author of 'A Happy Pocket Full of Money'.

You can read the article at this website.

This widely-acknowledged world authority on leadership psychology as well as pioneering life coach certainly makes a tremendous lot of sense when he shares his wisdom.

I like the catchphrase on his corporate website, 'Change is automatic; progress is not!'. I also like his three pillars of progress, as follows:

1) Get focus & clarity;

2) Get the best tools for results;

3) Unlock what's stopping you;

By the way, the same article website has a few more interesting articles about creating wealth.

EYE CANDY III


EYE CANDY II


EYE CANDY I


WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE TO SEE?


TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"A fantastic analogy for the power of focus is racing cars. When your car begins to skid, the natural reflex is to look at the wall in an attempt to avoid it. But if you keep focusing on what you fear that's exactly where you'll end up. Professional racers know that we unconsciously steer in the direction of our focus, so with their lives on the line, they turn their focus away from the wall and toward the open track. In life, most people focus on what they don't want instead of what they do. If you resist your fear, have faith and discipline your focus, your actions will naturally take you in the direction you want. Release your fear and focus now on what you truly desire and deserve."

(Anthony Robbins, peak performance & success coach to CEOs, Heads of State, Olympic athletes, & high performing professionals;)

PRAGMATIC INSIGHTS FROM THE EXPERTS

"Strategy is shaped by strategic action."
(Andrew Grove, the brain behind the phenomenal success of the World's Most Powerful Chip Company, Intel Corporation.

He had coined the famous phrase 'Only the Paranoid Survive', which also happened to be the title of his insightful business book, in which he introduced to the world, the 'Strategic Inflection Point', a crisis point which could throw all the ordinary rules of business out of the window; & yet, when managed right, it could be an opportunity to win in the marketplace & emerge stronger than ever.

According to him, the strategy of a company should not be something different from the day-to-day life of the company: it should be integrally linked with that life.

In fact, he made very clear distinctions & recommended putting any strategy to this test:

• Is it just a statement of intention?
• Does it sound like a political speech?
• Does it have concrete meaning only to management?
• Does it deal with events far in the future?
• Does it have little relevance to today?

To him, any strategy which met the foregoing description would probably be doomed to failure.

Instead, he suggested constructing an action plan with these considerations:

• Are already taken or being taken;
• Imply longer-term intent;
• Consist of concrete steps which will immediately affect people's lives;
• Take place in the present & command immediate attention;
• Aim at 'Least Input for Most Output';
• Provide market-leading 'Value for Money';
• Include heavy, continuous investing in human capital;)


[The original phrase from Andrew Grove ran like this: "Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive." ]

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"If I had a formula for bypassing trouble, I would not pass it round. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it. I don't embrace trouble; that's as bad as treating it as an enemy. But I do say meet it as a friend, for you'll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it."
(Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1809-1894, American physician, poet, & humorist notable for his medical research & teaching, & the author of the “Breakfast-Table” series of essays;)

SINGAPOREANS LIVE LONGER BUT LIKELY TO SUFFER 8 YEARS OF POOR HEALTH

A recently released Ministry of Health study revealed that the average Singaporean male should live up to 78 years old, but he would likely spend 8 of those years in poor health. The Singaporean female would also spend 8 of their 81.8 years likewise.

This is rather depressing news.

The study confirmed that a lot of suffering & premature deaths would come from the following diseases that could be prevented:

4% chronic respiratory

5% musculoskeletal

6% injuries

11% neurological & sense disorders

11% diabetes mellitus

11% mental disorders

18% cancer

20% cardiovascular

14% others

It is imperative that each & every one of us must take ownership of our health if we really want to keep such illnesses at bay.

Here are some advice:

- go for regular screening;

- eat more vegetables;

- eat less salt;

- do more exercises;

- start eating more fish & less meat;

[Source: The Straits Times, Dec 3rd 2007]