Saturday, January 12, 2008

ADVENTURES IN VIETNAM 2007: XUAN HUONG LAKE, DALAT

Da Lat is famous for its many waterfalls as well as lakes, one of which is the Xuan Huong lake.

From our hotel, Hotel Anh Dao, we could catch a glimpse of the beautiful & serene Xuan Huong Lake. It was actually a short walk from the hotel, via the Le Dai Hanh street.

As a matter of fact, the central part of Dalat is clustered on the northwest side of Xuan Huong Lake, where the majority of restaurants, markets, banks, cafes & budget accommodations are found.

The 5 km2 sized crescent-shaped Xuan Huong Lake was originally created by a dam project on a branch of the Cam Ly River in 1919. This man-made lake was a site where many indigenous people of the Langbian plateau had made their homes. In 1984, the lake was emptied for renovation purposes. At the bottom of the lake, scientists found many relics belonging to the hill tribe that once lived in this area

It was named after a 17th century Vietnamese poet well known for her daring confrontation with the hypocrisy of social conventions & the foibles of scholars, monks, & feudal lords.

Peach & willow trees line the bank of the lake. The surface of the lake is as smooth as glass with the reflection of the surrounding trees.

The lake can be circumnavigated along a 7 km sealed path. It is possible to make a pleasant cycling or walking tour around the lake.

Paddle boats that look like giant swans can also be rented from the nearby restaurant.

Visitors to Da Lat & the local folks often use the lake as a place to meet & talk. The lake is also where many honeymooners from other parts of Vietnam come to visit.

On the first night in Dalat, we had our dinner at the western-style Thuy Ta Restaurant, mounted on stilts at the edge of the Xuan Huong Lake.

The night view from the restaurant was beautiful.

[Next: Bao Dai's Summer Palace]

ADVENTURES IN VIETNAM 2007: THE CENTRAL MARKETPLACE OF DALAT (CHO DALAT)

Located directly opposite of our hotel, Hotel Anh Dao, on Nguyen Chi Thanh, was the busy Central Marketplace, flanked more or less by the streets of Li Dai Hanh on the left & Phan Dinh Phung on the right.

It is a multi-storey reinforced concrete structure, comprising of two building blocks, with more than 1,300 market stalls.

On the ground floor of Block A, vendors sell flowers, household appliances & other specialties of Dalat. There are also various kinds of handicrafts, fabrics & clothes.

Meat, fruits & vegetables fill up the ground floor stalls of Block B. Cosmetics, footwear & foodstuffs are also sold in the block.

Day & night, the marketplace is always bustling with activities.

In fact, alongside the building & in the adjoining areas, one can easily find a eat-by-the-roadside concoction of local delights, as well as a wide array of jeans, bags, toys, handicrafts & souvenirs that jostle side by side for your attention.

I understand that this is the gathering place, where the local hill tribes, known as Montagnards, will come in every early morning to trade their produce with the market vendors.

The upper level of the marketplace is linked by a raised walkway to the top of Le Dai Hanh, one of Dalat's major thoroughfares.

In front of the marketplace is a large flowered round-about.

On one side, facing the round-about, is the open promenade of the marketplace, where local folks & visiting tourists can walk about, & on the other side, is a slope linking Hoa Binh Area with Xuan Huong Lake .

From the promenade, a wide staircase leads up to Le Dai Hanh. From this staircase, one can access the premises of Bistrot La Tulipe, which serves both western style & Vietnamese cuisine.

In fact, we had our quick picnic-type lunch with Vietnamese coffee at this friendly cafe on the last day of of visit to Dalat.

My wife took a motor-cycle taxi, called Xe Om in Vietnamese, to somewhere to purchase enough roasted pork, freshly cut cucumbers & freshly baked baguette, plus butter, to feed the entire group.

We then made our own Vietnam-style sandwiches with French-style baguettes.

My buddies never knew baguette with roasted meat could taste so finger-licking good.

[Next: Xuan Huong Lake]

FROM MY TOOLBOX: LOTUS BLOSSOM TECHNIQUE

The Lotus Blossom Technique was developed by Yasuo Matsumura of Clover Management Research in Japan over three decades ago.

Today, it is a popular brainstorming & project management tool.

To use the technique, you start with a nine-box matrix.

You write the principal idea, theme or question (or any clearly defined problem) in the central box & then determine 8 other related ideas to fill in the surrounding boxes.

To expand the technique, you can take each of the 8 ideas & replicate the matrix with 8 new matrices around the principal matrix, thus providing a total of 64 idea boxes for your project.

(If you expand further, say by using every one of 64 idea boxes as the centre of a new lotus blossom, you would give yourself scope for a further 512 idea boxes, so be realistic.)

The advantage is that everything is visible on a single sheet of paper, assuming you are using a large sheet of paper, say A2 or A1 size.

Using the Lotus Blossom Technique allows you to focus your attention on up to 8 major project areas or themes at one time.

Best of all, you can simultaneously view your whole project from a bird's eye view, home in on any detail from a ground level perspective, & remain sensitive to inter-relationships among all the elements in the global matrix.

CHASING A DREAM WITH PASSION

A recent Straits Times report featured the adventure of 3 American & 1 British young men (John Drury, Dan Murdoch, John Lovejoy & Tony Peres), who rode two unlikely vehicles, Trabant cars, made of plastic & produced in former East Germany, from Germany to Cambodia.

Can you believe it? The cars broke down 320 times during the journey, which also took them six months through 21 countries, including Siberia during winter.

Their dream? To raise US$300,000 for the impoverished country. Unfortunately, they fell short of the target as they could only raise US$16,000.

That didn't kill their spirits. One of them said: "We're passionate about this cause & knew we'd have to take an usual spin on traditional fund raising tactics to really get the word out."

This is another good example of the indomitable human spirit.

THE POWER OF FOCUS

A recent interview of former 2000 Miss Universe participant, Ms Eunice Olsen, by The BagPage/Urban supplement of the Straits Times caught my personal attention.

I was impressed by her pragmatic down-to-earth spirit in the light of her encounter at the pageant in Cyprus, as well as her unwavering fortitude against snide remarks when she became the youngest NMP in 2004 at age 27.

She said: "There was a lot of skepticism but you can't please everyone. And I can't expect to command people's respect unless I earn it first . . . At the end of the day, there will always be detractors. I'm just focused on what I want to achieve."

Well done! Eunice, keep it up!

ADVENTURES IN VIETNAM 2007: MAJOR ATTRACTIONS IN DALAT

The following places were the major tourist attractions which, we as a group from Singapore, had seen &/or visited while in Dalat for 3D/2N [not in any chronological order]:

1) Central Marketplace of Dalat (Cho Dalat);

2) Xuan Huong Lake;

3) Bao Dai's Summer Palace (Dinh Bao Dai);

4) Thien Vien Truc Lam (Bamboo Forest Zen Monastery);

5) Linh Phuoc Pagoda & vegetable garden (Chua Linh Phuoc & Vuon Rau);

6) Cable Car Station at Robin Hill;

7) Tuyen Lam Lake & Thung Lung Vang (Golden Valley) of the Langbiang Plateau;

8) Doi Mong Mo/Sinh Vat La (Amusement Park);

9) XQ History Village (XQ Su Quan);

10) Flower Garden(Vuon Hoa Thanh Pho);

11) Prenn Waterfalls (Thac Prenn);

12) Sofitel Dalat Palace Hotel;

13) Eiffel Tower (replica)

I will write some brief notes about these places in subsequent posts.

There were many other attractions, which were not included in our itinerary in the light of our short stay in Dalat.

[Next: The Central Marketplace of Dalat (Cho Dalat)]

OPPORTUNITY SPOTTING: A PERSONAL MUSING

For me, opportunity spotting or the ability to spot opportunities is a learnable skill set.

Firstly, you need to move your butt, because action & exploration breed opportunities.

You have an idea. It's just an idea & will remain so if you don't do something about it.

Go for it! Seize the moment! Kick a***, to put it bluntly!

Exploration allows you to move into unbeaten tracks. As an explorer, you will most likely encounter new discoveries, which may also help to enhance your original idea.

It may also give you the momentum or impetus to tweak your original idea.

While exploring, enjoy the spontaneity. Take what comes!

Oftentimes, we get too entrenched in our daily habitual routines that we forget there is a wonderful world out there.

Sometimes, it is good for the mind just to soak in what is happening around you. Have a sense of curiosity. Walk the streets. Check out corners. Smell the roses.

Learn to be comfortable with uncertainty & ambiguity.

The world is never black & white. There are always gray areas. There are no right or wrong answers. Only what works for you & me.

To be frank, it is not easy to embrace uncertainty & ambiguity. For me, I have learned just to welcome them with open arms.

I often like to use the word 'perturbation' (many thanks to Dr Ilya Prigogine!) to describe my life experiences with uncertainty & ambiguity. Perturbation gives me two choices - I can move to a higher order or I can go into entropy.

In reality, this is the university of hard knocks. Your degree is a fortitude to see & deal with more & better opportunities.

Try to be flexible in the way you approach things. This is very important.

You can stay focused on your desired outcome, but you must always remain flexible in your approach.

Flexibility allows you to try out different approaches. See the world with fresh eyes.

Hence, you can get to do more experimentation along the way.

Best of all, more learning experiences. In other words, more opportunities.

Creativity guru Roger von oech likes to use the analogy of racing drivers to describe mental flexibility. I like that.

Scan the environment beyond's one's horizon. That is, more exploration. Definitely, more food for thought.

This also includes reading, especially reading widely. Books, magazines, newsletters from the fringes, observing, listening, looking out for abnormalities, talking to people in social settings, checking out the Internet, attending conferences, are all part of the game.

Once in a while, get out of your comfort zone & move to the edge, into the stretch zone, so to speak.

New learning takes place at the edge.

I read from somewhere that Mother Nature works this way. A baby eagle takes its first step forward to the edge of the nest. Mother eagle gives it a nudge. More nudges as baby eagle stands at the edge. Mother eagle gives a final nudge. Baby eagle drops down from the edge with her wings fluttering furiously. In the next instance, it regains its posture & assumes its flight mode & then flies off happily.

Until you go over the edge, you just don't know you can fly!

The world is yours! It's full of opportunities.

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"It is not enough to have new ideas, they must lead to the successful production, assimilation & exploitation of novelty in society through innovation."
(Peter F Drucker)

Friday, January 11, 2008

7 WAYS TO RETHINK ABOUT LONGEVITY

Dr Joseph Coughlin, founder & director of the MIT Age Lab, shares his tips on how businesses can tap the opportunities of an ageing population & how people can age well, at the Silver Industry Conference yesterday:

1) Focus on health & wellness across one's lifespan, not disease;

2) Redefine old age as quality living;

3) Embed technology into education, health, leisure & daily life to help people live longer;

4) Do not develop products specially for the old; design services instead for convenience that can be used by people as they turn 50, 60, 70 & older;

5) Keep working; redesign your work, for instance, with a more flexible work arrangement; or try a different job;

6) Instill lifelong education;

7) Institutionalise the idea of innovation; build it around stakeholders & industrialise the process; export it to the rest of the world;

[Source: The Straits Times]

NOTES FROM MY SCRATCHPAD: EINSTEIN'S 3 RULES OF WORK

3) In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity;

If we clearly analyse the ingredients of any difficult situation, we come to understand that the real knot of the difficulty lies more in ourselves than in the situation outside.

A champion mountaineer will tell you that the greatest difficulty lies not in the steep slope that he negotiates, but in the fear in his own heart.

Likewise, a champion racing driver is more concerned with the steadiness of his nerves.

All difficulties call for a greater surge of energy in one's self. They call for greater involvement.

Difficulty challenges us to involve our higher capacities for thought & action.

"The people who get on this world are the people who get up & look for the circumstances they want, & if they can't find them, make them."

George Bernard Shaw

[Source: 'Reinventing Teenagers: The Gentle Art of Instilling Character in Our Young People', by John Cressler]

NOTES FROM MY SCRATCHPAD: EINSTEIN'S 3 RULES OF WORK

2) From discord, make harmony;

The second rule is an extension of the first rule.

The first step towards the search for harmony is to find coherence within one's own self in the context of work. This means that your head & heart must be together in the work that you do. If they are not, your work is not an extension of your self. In other words, what you do is what you love doing.

The next step towards the search for harmony in work is synchronicity. It is the alignment of our spontaneous work with the demand in the environment.

"Where your talents & the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation."

Aristotle

The choice of vocation is not an easy one in a society in which such a choice is guided by many extraneous considerations, such as money, security & social prestige.

The story about Isaac Newton not listening to his mother's advice is a classic example.

[to be continued]

[Source: 'Reinventing Teenagers: The Gentle Art of Instilling Character in Our Young People', by John Cressler]

NOTES FROM MY SCRATCHPAD: EINSTEIN'S 3 RULES OF WORK

1) Out of clutter, find simplicity;

This first rule implies recognition of a specific ideal toward which we wish to work.

The search for an ideal involves getting in touch with the deepest yearning of our nature. We need to understand what is it that we deeply care about.

Gandhi worked for the simple ideal of non-violence & his life was dedicated to that single cause.

Nelson Mandela & his life had been guided by the quest for freedom for himself & his countrymen.

The greater the depth of our perception of our lives, the greater is the power of an ideal.

At great depth, life simplifies itself into one or two basic laws or principles of existence.

Henry David Thoreau once said:

"Our life is frittered away by detail . . . simplify, simplify."


[to be continued]

[Source: 'Reinventing Teenagers: The Gentle Art of Instilling Character in Our Young People', by John Cressler]

NOTES FROM MY SCRATCHPAD: EINSTEIN'S 3 RULES OF WORK

1) Out of clutter, find simplicity;

2) From discord, make harmony;

3) In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity;

Out of the clutter of a multitude of observations & data, scientists attempt to find simplicity.

From this seemingly discord of tons of results, they create harmony: a simple set of mathematical equations that, not only can be used to explain their observations, but also can be used to make predictions about future experiments.

In the middle of the difficulty of wrestling with the equation, lies opportunity: a rare chance to gain insight into how the world works.

Einstein was describing the scientific method, & he was a supreme practitioner of the art of discovery.

His 3 rules of work could just as easily be applied to any endeavour, scientific or otherwise.

Seek simplicity, create harmony & find opportunity with all that you do.

[to be continued]

[Source: 'Reinventing Teenagers: The Gentle Art of Instilling Character in Our Young People', by John Cressler]

ADVENTURES IN VIETNAM 2007: THE GROUP FROM SINGAPORE

This is a group picture, taken in the city of Dalat, of me & my buddies; with my wife & I on the extreme right of the picture; followed by ST & Gek Wee; Poo-Cheong & Wee Kin; CS & Jane; Bosco & Alice; Peter & Janet; & finally, Jeffrey & Betty, on the extreme left of the picture;


[Next: MAJOR ATTRACTIONS IN DALAT]

ADVENTURES IN VIETNAM 2007: DALAT

After two nights in Ho Chi Minh city & visiting My Tho in the Mekong Delta, my group of thirteen Singaporeans, including me, plus my Vietnamese wife, boarded an air-conditioned coach for an anticipated long ride to the southern highlands.

All of us had already taken our complimentary breakfast at the hotel (Ha Hien Hotel, on Ly Tu Trong street, less than 5 minutes' walk from the Ben Thanh Market).

The coach ride, starting from Highway 1 as we departed the city, & then along Highway 20 to our destination, was quite pleasant although we thought that the driver was a bit too careful. He drove at a moderately fast speed, when compared to other vehicles.

We recalled passing through the causeway traversing the La Nga Lake, & the diminutive town of Dinh Guan, 125 km north-east of Ho Chi Minh city. There was an unusual rock formation which signalled our pathway through the town.

Besides the usual toilet stops at about every 1-1/2 hours, the coach made a mid-way pit stop at the plantation town of Bao Loc, surrounded by hilly ridges that yield to the tea, coffee & mulberry plantations of the Bao Loc Plateau.

We had a quick lunch, with Vietnamese cuisine, plus complimentary Vietnamese coffee. Conveniently, next to the multi-storey restaurant (Tam Chau Restaurant), there was a relatively large retail shop for tourists.

After passing through another diminutive town, Di Linh, then wooded slopes with tracts of primeval forests, & of course, more coffee, tea, rubber & mulberry plantations, the coach finally hit the city of Dalat towards the late afternoon.

We had traveled for almost eight hours, including stopping times for lunch & answering nature's call. We had also clocked about 305 km from Ho Chi Minh city.

What impressed us most upon our arrival was the fresh & colourful flower decorations all along the main streets in the city. Our visit had coincided with the annual flower festival in the city.

In a nut shell, Dalat is essentially a premier mountain retreat located on the southern highlands of the Truong Son Mountain Range, known as the Langbiang Plateau. It's about 1,500m above sea level.

It is believed that its name is a fancy acronym of the Latin, dat aliis laetitiam aliis temperiem, "offering pleasure to one & freshness to another", although most local folks would concur that its name came from the combination of the stream ("da") & the local hill tribes, the Lat.

According to history, it was Dr Alexandre Yersin, a Swiss/French bacteriologist/immunologist, believed to be a protege of Dr Louis Pasteur, who first discovered the therapeutic properties of Dalat's temperate climate on an exploratory mission into Vietnam's southern highlands in 1893.

Four years later, Dalat became the convalescent hill station for the French military forces from their base in Saigon. At that time, the region had formed part of French Cochin China.

Unfortunately, in 1954, following the Dien Bien Phu fiasco & Geneva peace talks, the French contingent had to abandon the hill station. By then, the cathedral, train station, villas, hotels, military colleges & boarding schools had been built.

Fortunately, during the Vietnam War, the site was spared from bombing by American forces, & the city remains much as it was half a century ago.

Today, Dalat, as the capital city of the Lam Dong province & occupying a land mass of 400 km2, has a population of almost 200,000.

Local industries include growing garden vegetables & flowers, which are sold all over southern Vietnam. But the largest contribution to the economy of Dalat is tourism.

In fact, Dalat is often considered by local folks, especially young couples, around the country as a viable honeymoon destination.

Foreign tourists, mostly backpackers, probably account for less than 10% of the total visitors to the city at this point in time. To them, Dalat & the surrounding areas offer tremendous opportunities for mountain trekking, rock climbing & rough terrain biking. [Dalat was once famous for its big game hunting during the 1950's.]

In total, Dalat receives almost 2 million visitors anually.

I fell in love with the city of Dalat straightaway when I first visited in 2005 during the summer months with my wife.

The climate was fantastic, cool & beautiful. Under the afternoon sun, temperatures were still in the mid-twenties.

No wonder, Dalat is often called the City of Eternal Spring.

When our coach had arrived at the hotel (Hotel Anh Dao), directly facing the central marketplace (Cho Da Lat), & more or less overlooking the man-made Xuang Huong Lake, the temperature was around 16 degrees C.

After checking into the hotel, the ladies made a beeline to the hairdressers, located just at the back of the hotel annexe. Some went to the central marketplace.

We regrouped at the hotel lobby at about 6.30pm. As my buddies had decided to go for French food, the coach driver, who somehow knew the place well, brought us to a supposedly French restaurant.

Unfortunately, to his as well as our surprise, it was closed down. With some tips from passers-by, we walked to another restaurant nearby, but it was not ready to cater to a group of fourteen.

Upon our enquiry, the boss of the restaurant was kind enough to suggest that we try the Sofitel Dalat Palace. Meanwhile, some of my buddies went off to buy some cheap Vietnamese wine, at about 80,000d per bottle.

As it was quite a distance away, the coach driver sent the group to the Sofitel Dalat Palace Hotel. Obviously, by first glance upon arrival, it was a luxurious hotel. Defintely five stars.

One buddy, my wife & I went into the hotel's gourmet restaurant (Le Rabelais) to negotiate a deal for fourteen hungry Singaporeans, while the rest of the group waited in the coach parked right in front of the hotel.

There were two set dinner options, one for US$49/- per head, & another for US$59/-. We thought that the second option was better. Also, we were told that corkage was US$15/- per bottle.

My buddy went off to inform the group. Meanwhile, my wife had also sneaked off. As I waited anxiously alone for the group, taking the opportunity to engage in small talk with the restaurant captain, I was somehow puzzled as to why all my buddies were taking so long to come for dinner.

As the captain excused himself, probably to check on his crew to prepare the table for the group, I went out to check.

I saw my buddy running up the steps, & he gave me the bad news. The group had got cold feet.

I thought, maybe the idea of paying US$15/- per bottle for some cheap Vietnamese wine would be crazy, or maybe, the financial damage for a complete meal with wine from the restaurant would be too hefty a sum for many of us.

Feeling more embarrassed than disappointed, I had to inform the restaurant captain. I went in alone to look for him, but could not see him, although I caught a glimpse of waiters, who were rather busy in setting up the table for us.

Seizing the opportunity of not having to face him with the disappointing news, I quickly scrambled to the coach.

When I told the group what had happened, they had a heartily good laugh. Anyway, I told them in no uncertain terms that I would definitely not join them, if they so decide to change their minds on the next evening.

We then adjourned to a small western style restaurant (Thuy Ta) located on the edge of the Xuan Huong Lake. The western steak meal for the evening was not bad, as each of us could order from an ala carte menu.

After that, we popped into a local French-style cafe (Cafe Galy) located on the side-walk of Nguyen Chi Thanh Street, near our hotel, for coffee & ice cream. From the cafe, we could actually watch the world go round.

The city skyline at night was apparently dominated by the elegantly illuminated, quarter-sized Eiffel Tower replica. The structure is located in the vicinity of the Sofitel Dalat Palace Hotel, behind the main Post Office.

[About a week later, I read in a travel magazine with a feature story on the Sofitel Dalat Palace Hotel, that it was voted the best hotel in Vietnam. On hindsight, we should have patronised their gourmet restaurant on that embarrassing night.]

[Next: THE GROUP FROM SINGAPORE]

THE POWER OF OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS

In the book entitled 'Business Transformed' by Paul Gossen, known as 'The Breakthrough Coach', the author shares seventeen powerful questions to help executives, managers & team leaders to build relationships, create accountability & drive breakthroughs in an organisational setting.

In the light of my own fascination for self-questioning, I realise that the same seventeen questions can also be used in a personal setting i.e. for driving personal change.

Here are the original seventeen open-ended questions from the author as outlined in his book:

1) CONTRACT: Can we talk?

2) RELATIONSHIP: How are you?

3) ENGAGEMENT: What do you want?

4) PURPOSE: Why is this important to you?

5) ACCOMPLISHMENT: How will you know when you do it?

6) PERCEPTION: What do you believe is possible?

7) ENERGY: What would be the breakthrough?

8) PERFORMANCE: Who would you have to be?

9) STRATEGY: How could you produce this result?

10) FOCUS: How will you stay on track?

11) REALITY: When will you do this?

12) ACTION: What if you don't do this?

13) CERTAINTY: Is that a promise?

14) ACCOUNTABILITY: Can I count on you?

15) PRESENCE: Where was the breakdown?

16) DEVELOPMENT: What did you learn?

17) RENEWAL: What's next?

Asking open-ended questions is like turning on the water tap. The ideas flow, we become curious & we start to think on a new level. The questions take us on an exploratory search, which in turn leads us into unbeaten tracks.

I fully concur with the author.

Undoubtedly, successful people, irrespective of whether they are in an organisational or personal setting, have the ability to ask searching questions.

For me, the last two foregoing questions are the most powerful.

ENTREPRENEURIAL TRAITS

According to a study done in 1985 by Prof Jeffry Timmons, considered one of North America's best educators in the field of entrepreneurship, these are the vital traits of successful entrepreneurs:

- total commitment, determination & perseverance;

- drive to achieve & grow;

- orientation to goals & opportunities;

- taking initiative & personal accountability;

- persistence in problem solving;

- veridical awareness & sense of humour;

- seeking & using feedback;

- internal locus of control;

- tolerance of ambiguity, stress & uncertainty;

- calculated risk taking & risk sharing;

- low need for status & power;

- integrity & reliability;

- decisiveness, urgency & patience;

- dealing positively with failure;

- team builder & hero maker;

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic."

(Author Unknown)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

10 SECRETS FOR SUCCESS & INNER PEACE

While surfing the net recently, I came across this book entitled '10 Secrets for Success & Inner Peace' by Dr Wayne Dyer, whose published works are familiar as I had read his earlier books, 'Pulling Your Own Strings' & 'Your Erroneous Zones' during the mid-seventies.

The two books had great stuff, as far I am concerned.

Since then, & for some strange reasons, I have not read any of his subsequent books, although I have come across many of his inspiring quotations in articles.

I have yet to read his foregoing book, published a few years ago, but thought that the ten secrets he had outlined make a lot of pragmatic sense in the context of today's rapidly changing & hyper-competitive world.

Let me recap them here, with my personal comments:

1) have a mind that is open to everything & not attached to anything - I fully agree - an open mind without any preconceived notions certainly allows one to keep on learning new things;

2) don't die with your music still inside you - yes, always seize the moment; I recall he once said this: "There is no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love; there's only scarcity of resolve to make it happen!";

3) you can't give away what you don't have - yes, no doubt about that;

4) learn to embrace silence - this is a good one, & I agree that some relaxation sequences will definitely help to still the mind;

5) give up your personal history & be free from the concept of failure - yes, it's not easy, but certainly, failure & setback are good learning experiences; I like what Buckminster Minster once said: "There's no failed experiments; only unexpected results.";

6) you can't solve a problem with the same mind that created it - this one is from Albert Einstein; we should always look for better ways to do things, as we can't expect different results if we keep on doing the same old things; to paraphrase Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, 'we should always go for the better view of the situation';

7) understand that there are no justified resentments in life - yes, like what he once said: "Be miserable or motivate yourself; whatever has to be done, it is always your choice."; I also like what Anthony Dallman-Jones once said" "Misery is also an option!";

8) treat yourself as if you're already what you'd like to become - yes, the brain can't tell the difference anyway; the image of achievement is a very powerful tool;

9) treasure your divinity - yes, even though I do not necessary agree with the author's religious beliefs;

10) understand wisdom is avoiding all thoughts that weaken you - yes; I like what he once said: "I cannot always control what goes on outside, but I can always control what goes on inside.";

MOTHER NATURE: MODERN TECHNOLOGY'S FIRST TEACHER

In the course of my personal as well as professional exploration of creativity, I have come to learn that Mother Nature is the logical playground of ideas.

She has long been the originator - inventor - of much of the technology & engineering we use today.

In other words, she has been modern technology's first teacher.

Here is a quick & random sampling:

falling apple -> discovery of gravitation (Newton);

body in bath tub -> principle of water displacement (Archimedes);

sounds from blacksmith's anvil -> musical notes (Pythagoras);

church bell, stone thrown into water -> wave effects of sound & water (Leonardo da vinci);

hollow tube in rye grass -> drinking straw (Marvin Stone);

butterflies. moths, chameleons, insects -> concealment techniques for army vehicles;

grapefruit -> New York's TWA air terminal;

shipworm tunneling through timber -> under water construction of tunnels (Marc Brunel);

human eye -> auto focus in camera;

rattle snake's fangs ->hyperdermic needle;

fish's bladder -> underwater ballast of submarine;

jack rabbit's ears -> evaporative air conditioner;

ultra-sonic waves of bats -> modern radar;

squid's propulsion in water -> jet propulsion;

large eye of the house fly -> geodesic dome (Buckminster Fuller);

front legs of the mantis -> articulated arm;

lilia in the mussel -> conveyor belt;

cheetah's long gripping claws -> sneakers;

burrs on a burdock plant -> Velcro fastener;

dandelion seed -> parachute;

dinosaur's vertebre -> I-beam;

ridges on the fingerprint -> tyre thread;

crab's claw -> monkey wrench;

ADVENTURES IN VIETNAM 2007: PHO BO OR BEEF NOODLES

One of my favourite Vietnamese dishes is actually pho bo or beef noodles.

Whenever I visit Ho Chi Minh city, my wife will bring me, on the Honda motor bike of course, to one of those pot-holed back-alley eating joints in the heartland, which, to me, serves the best pho bo in the city. [Sorry, private cars & public taxis can't go into the back alley.]

Best of all, it's cheap, too. Since I usually have a large bowl, it costs me 15,000d. In earlier years, it costs only 12,000d.

Unlike my wife & her Vietnamese friends, who prefer to stuff in a lot of fresh vegetables normally laid out on the table, plus chillies as well as all the funny looking gravy concoctions, I just like my pho bo as it is presented, plain & simple.

Sometimes, to the bewilderment of the hawker, I will take two large bowls to satisfy my craving.

Frankly, I have tried those Singapore versions in my home city, but they simply don't taste the same as those in Ho Chi Minh city. My wife certainly testifies to it.

Surprisingly, Ho Chi Minh city also has its own version of Singapore's favourite dish, the 'mee pok' soup.

There is one particularly small eating joint, located just next to a traffic light at a corner of a shop-house in the city, where my wife & I will hangout at least once or twice a week, whenever we are in town.

To us, that small stall, manned by a couple & daughter, serves the best 'mee pok' soup in town. [The husband looks after customers' motor bikes, while the mother & daughter serve the table.]
I reckon, what makes the simple food so delicious & appetising is that the soup stock is made from large pig bones. You can order a bowl of the pig bones, with tender meat still sticking to them, in soup for 10,000d.

As usual, I will gobble down two large bowls of my favourite Vietnamese 'mee pok' soup, when I am there.

Again, my wife & her friends, will stuff in all those fresh vegetables laid out on the table.

One interesting phenomenon I notice is that Vietnamese people simply love to consume a lot of fresh vetegables, plus fresh lime & fish sauce.

No wonder, the local damsels look so slim & great in their traditional tight-fitting ao dai, showing very little, but promising a lot.

[The pho bo at the outlet of the Pho24 restaurant chain in the central district is actually not bad, but each bowl costs three times as much.]

[Next: Dalat]

ADVENTURES IN VIETNAM 2007: VIETNAMESE COFFEE

Personally, I don't drink coffee at all. I have always been a teetotaller.

However, because of subtle influence from my Vietnamese wife, as well as the attendant exposure to Vietnamese culture, I have acquired a desired taste for Vietnamese coffee.

Now, I really enjoy having my regular dosage of Vietnamese coffee.

I find that drinking Vietnamese coffee is a totally different cultural experience. It's as much fun to make as it is to watch. A real treat, especially for those who enjoy their coffee strong & sweet.

The coffee power is put into a metal decanter & then boiling water is poured into it. Liquid coffee then gradually drips into the cup just below the decanter. Sweetened condensed milk can be added into the cup in advance. The final mixture is then stirred.

Undoubtedly, Vietnamese coffee really makes my day!

My wife - in fact, most of her girl friends- likes to drink her coffee differently. Instead of a cup, she puts a glass of ice cubes, pre-mixed with swetened condensed milk under the decanter. She really likes her coffee, iced cold.

[According to my wife, the best known & most sought-after brand of Vietnamese coffee powder is the Trung Nguyen brand. For more information, please visit their corporate website.]

[Next: Pho Bo or Beef Noodles]

ADVENTURES IN VIETNAM 2007: DEEP-FRIED ELEPHANT EAR FISH & SNAKE-HEAD STEAM-BOAT

This particular Vietnamese dish, known as 'Tai Tuong' to local folks, is actually a delicacy in the Mekong Delta.

We also had steamed crabs as well as a steam-boat with small snake-heads, among other common Vietnamese dishes.

At first, none of us dared to savour the snake-heads, until a food technologist among the group gave his OK after a quick bite, following which everyone scrambled for the fish.
















[Next: Vietnamese Coffee]

ADVENTURES IN VIETNAM 2007: THE MEKONG RIVER & THE DELTA

Topographically, the mighty Mekong River originates at the Qinghai province in China, & the central highlands of Tibet; enroute it traverses the Yunnan province, skirts Mynamar, then hugs the Laos-Thailand border before cutting down through Cambodia & flows into Vietnam.

By the time it reaches Vietnam, the Mekong has covered more than 4,000 km from its source.

Today, it ranks as Asia's third longest river, after the Yangtse & Yellow Rivers.

At the tail end of the river lies the vast delta region of the Mekong. a comma-shaped flatland, stretching from the urban limits of Ho Chi Minh city, southwest to the Gulf of Thailand.

The Mekong Delta is considered as the bottom half of Vietnam's two major rice bowls. The other half is the Red River Delta in the north.

Today, the Mekong Delta, covering a total land mass of about 40,000 km2, pumps almost 40% of the country's annual food crop from just 15% of its total land mass.

Rice may be the delta's staple crop, but coconut palms, fruit orchards & sugar cane groves also thrive in its nutrient-rich soil.

To the local folks, the region is known as Cuu Long (Nine Dragons), a reference to the nine tributaries of the Mekong River.

Life on the delta revolves much around the Mekong. The people living on the delta make their living as farmers & fishermen.

Another unique industry in this region is snake farms.

All the villages - & their attendant floating markets - are often accessible by rivers & canals, rather than by roads.

One of the most attractive aspects of the Mekong Delta is the sweeping panoramas of paddy fields (with conical-hatted farmers busy tending their land), fruit orchards & Khmer pagodas (as the region was an ancient Khmer territory), as well as the delta's myriad clusters of waterways, canals & creeks. They often form Vietnam's most enduring images in the eyes of international tourists across the world.

[Next: Deep-Fried Elephant Ear Fish & Snake-Head Steam-Boat]

ADVENTURES IN VIETNAM 2007: MY THO, IN THE MEKONG DELTA

After a hearty morning breakfast of pho (Vitenamese beef noodles) in one of the outlets of the famous Pho24 restaurant chain located near the hotel in the central district of Ho Chi Minh city, we commenced our day trip by air-conditioned coach to My Tho.

My Tho is an amiable market town located on the north bank of the Mekong River's northernmost tributary, the Tien Giang. Its proximity to Ho Chi Minh city - about 70km away, in the south-west direction - means that it soaks up much of the huge volume of tourist traffic headed for the delta.

That is to say, much of the organised tours into the seemingly endless patchwork of orchards, paddy fields & swamplands of the Mekong Delta more or less initiates from this location.

According to history, Chinese immigrants fleeing Formosa (modern day Taiwan) after the collapse of the Ming dynasty established the town in the late 17th century, along with a Vietnamese population keen to make inroads into this traditional Khmer-dominated region.

Two centuries later, the French took over the town, followed by American forces during the Vietnam War. The town was badly damaged during the war, but had since been rebuilt.

My Tho, with a population of about 200,000, has traditionally been a first stop for international tourists on a short day trip, like me & my buddies. I had in fact visited My Tho, also on a day trip, about four years ago.
In a nut shell, there are four nearby islands: Tan Long (Dragon) island, Thoi Son (Unicorn) island, Phung (Phoenix) island & Qui (Tortoise) island. All of them are accessible by boats only. Thoi Son (Unicorn) island is the largest of the four. On their shorelines, one can easily see the chaotic clusters of stilt-houses & boat-yards.

The principal highlights of the visit to My Tho are:

- firstly, a large ferry boat trip - clearly visible is the clot of cheery blue fishing vessels at the mouth of the Bao Dinh canal, while cargoes are humped up & down precariously bowed gangplanks;

- followed by a small sampan trip - a rare opportunity to weave through slender canals, with banks shaded by water palms - to Thoi Son (Unicorn) island for lunch (one of the local delicacies is the deep-fried Elephant Ear fish), folk music as well as some fresh fruit sampling;

Then, we also popped into a small, family run coconut candy factory located just opposite the Ben Tre coastline. Here, we were given the opportunity to see the coconut been pressed , & the extracted juice being mixed with with sugar & heated, then dried & cut into bite-sized pieces.

In reality, we only had a quick glimpse of the northern-most tributary of the Mekong Delta. We didn't even get to visit the town area.

I was told that to truly see the vast Mekong Delta with all its magnificent glory as one of Vietnam's two major rice bowls would probably need a week, 7D/6N, with visits to other towns on the delta, e.g. Ben Tre, Cao Lanh, Can Tho, Sa Dec, Vinh Long, & Chau Doc, located a stone's throw from the Cambodian border.

Nevertheless, & despite the fact that this was my second day trip, this time with my buddies who were first timers to Vietnam, after four years, I am still awed by what I have seen again. The next time I will certainly venture beyond My Tho.

[Next: The Mekong River & the Delta]

POINTS TO PONDER, AS YOU FACE THE DAILY GRIND

"There is no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love; there is only scarcity of resolve to make it happen."

(Wayne Dyer)

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one."

(Mark Twain)

"Every negative event contains within it the seed of an equal or greater benefit."

(Napoleon Hill)

“If you are not failing now and again, its a sign you’re playing it safe”

(Woody Allen)

"If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes."

(Andrew Carnegie)

"The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts . . . take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature."

(Marcus Aurelius)

"Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions."

(Albert Einstein)

"Believe and act as if it were impossible to fail."

(Charles F. Kettering)

"It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop."

(Confucius)

"It is not the will to win that matters - everyone has that. It is the will to prepare to win that matters."

(Paul "Bear" Bryant)

"It's never crowded along the extra mile."

(Wayne Dyer)

"I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life like a champion."

(Muhammad Ali)

"Life is often compared to a marathon, but I think it is more like being a sprinter; long stretches of hard work punctuated by brief moments in which we are given the opportunity to perform at our best."

(Michael Johnson)

"Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you're willing to pay the price."

(Vince Lombardi)

10 BIG LESSONS FROM LITTLE KIDS

I found this interesting & fascinating article from the ririanproject website while surfing the net.

Here it goes:


"You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.”

(Frank Jones)

Have you ever watched a child completely engrossed in a project? They have the unusual ability to be serious about what they’re doing without taking it too seriously. You can do the same with your life. You can live every day with more focus, and every week with more motivation.

Here’s what every child knows that you may have forgotten. See if you can apply some of these lessons to your adult life.

1. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Even when there’s not a prize in the bottom of the box.

2. Homework blows. Bring work home with you and it’ll ruin your night. And your marriage. And your family. And your life.

3. The only way to know how something works is to completely disassemble it. (This is still good advice when tackling a complex problem. Your plasma TV? Not so much).

4. There’s a reason they don’t give credit cards to 8-year-olds. You’re supposed to save up money before you buy a new toy.

5. Asking questions is how you figure things out. Lots and lots of questions.

6. The coolest adults were the ones who took the time to listen to you. You still want to grow up to be a cool adult, right?

7. Your body was designed for throwing baseballs, shooting hoops, and jumping off diving boards and stuff. In the secret language of children, the word “fitness” doesn’t exist. It’s called “having fun.”

8. Playtime is important and laughter feels good.

9. Too much of anything will give you a tummy ache. Like, say, bourbon.

10. Try to be the friend you were when you were 12: fun-loving and loyal, with no strings attached.


When you act more like a kid, suddenly the world opens up, and you start enjoying yourself again!

THE POWER OF WORDS

"The smart knows what to say, the wise knows whether to say it! "


Words are powerful. The words we use can heal or hurt. They can arouse enthusiasm, evoke joy, and unleash passion. But they can also provoke anger, inflict sorrow, and crush with despair.
When speaking to others, we can use our words as daggers to kill their spirits or we can use them as music to lift their spirits.

The choice is ours, but . . . Well, you can read the rest of this wonderful article by Chuck Gallozzi, a prolific author of inspiring articles, by moving your cursor to here.

One personal suggestion from me:

If you want a multi-sensory experience with the power of words, go & read one of my earlier posts, & then, watch the action movie, 'Rocky III', starring Sylvester Stallone! You will be delighted!

WHAT IS SUCCESS? By Ralph Waldo Emerson

To laugh often and love much;

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

To earn the approval of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;

To find the best in others;

To give of one's self;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;

To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived...

This is to have succeeded.

STRATEGY: A PERSONAL MUSING

I am always fascinated by the concept of strategy in all its many physical manifestations, as well as in all the intellectual processes that one has to go through in order to formulate a strategy.

From a personal perspective, strategy is simply the model I use to design & run the remaining years of my life.

More specifically, it is the mental model I use to design & run my life.

In a nut shell, a mental model comprises the movies & stories I often create in my head pertaining to designing & running my life.

Constitutionally, it comprises all my personal aspirations in the form of thoughts, assumptions, opinions & ideas as well as prejudices, biases, fears, & hopes I hold about myself.

So, putting it in another way, strategy is the process of modeling my personal life in many tangible forms.

Formulating a personal strategy or strategising is therefore the ongoing cycle of turning my mental models into tangible forms.

A personal strategic plan is actually one large tangible form. It is a consolidated statement of putting my mental models to work in my life, for the short-, medium- & long-term.

A completed goal setting work-sheet is just one small constituent. Likewise, a completed SPOT (strengths, problems, opportunities, threats) Analysis work-sheet is another one.

So is a completed SMART (specific objectives, metrics, accountability, resources, time for completion) work-sheet.

Strategic, operational as well as tactical advantage will come from continual improvement in the practical real-life experimentation of my mental models. This includes making corrections & managing changes that come along. It also includes fine-tuning my foregoing work-sheets.

Through the reiterative process of remodeling, I increase my personal chances of discovering more successful strategies in dealing with the world around me.

Come to think of it, the whole process I have just described is essentially personal strategic thinking at work.

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it."

(Michelangelo)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK

From my personal experience, and I am sure most readers will concur with me, luck is, in reality, OPPORTUNITY + PREPARATION.

Always remember this, opportunity only knocks once at every man's door.

So if it comes knocking at your door, & if you are not prepared to receive (in this case, hear) it, it's gone!

Some time ago in one of my earlier posts, I had mentioned about a book, entitled 'Make Your Own Luck: Success Tactics You'll Never Learn in B-School' by Peter Kash.

In the book, the author had shared numerous strategies in preparing oneself for luck.

This is my own personal summary of the strategies:

1) genuinely network with people;

2) take up public speaking;

3) read widely;

4) learn about & understand history of major world events;

5) master a second language e.g. Chinese;

6) set audacious goals to challenge yourself;

7) increase personal productivity with the help of technology;

8) participate actively in some competitive sports;

9) practise the attitude of gratitude at all times;

10) constantly seek out as well as value & nurture opportunities;

11) appreciate setbacks & failures as valuable learning experiences;

12) always be true to yourself;

13) make positive connections to people & events around you;

NOTES FROM MY SCRATCHPAD: SYMPTOMS OF INNER PEACE

A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experiences.

An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.

A loss of interest in judging self.

A loss of interest in judging others.

A loss of interest in conflict.

A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.

A loss of ability to worry.

Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.

Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.

Frequent attacks of smiling through the eyes of the heart.

Increasing susceptibility to love extended by others, combined with the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

An increasing tendency to let things happen, rather than make them happen.

[The original author of this wonderful piece of work is Saskia Davis based in Seattle, Washington, USA. I understand the author had written it during the mid-eighties, & can be reached at Saskialucia@earthlink.net]

BOOK REVIEW: 'LIFELONG CREATIVITY' & 'CORPORATE CREATIVITY', by Pradip Khandwalla

Actually, I was tracking on the net a creativity book, entitled 'Fourth Eye: Excellence through Creativity' by Pradip Khandwalla, a US-trained management consultant in India.

The foregoing book, originally written in the eighties, was out of print.

Nevertheless, I soon found out that it has been replaced by two newer books by the same author:

1) 'Corporate Creativity: The Winning Edge', published by Tata McGraw Hill in 2003, dealing with management creativity;

2) 'Lifelong Creativity: The Unending Quest', published by Tata McGraw Hill in 2004, dealing with personal creativity;

From my perspective, I reckon these two newer books would serve as an useful intellectual resource, as it is written somewhat from an Indian/Asian perspective, even though the author is US-trained.

The author has written both books from an exploratory standpoint, & he shares his personal journey through the realm of creativity with many refreshing ideas, clear insights, wonderful quotes, interesting stories, intriguing self evaluation quizzes, & best of all, what he calls 'mental gyms'.

He tends to be somewhat long-winded (the first book has over 300 pages, while the second book has over 400 pages), but I must say, he has done his homework (as well as global research) very well indeed, as the two books certainly cover a very broad spectrum, with an equally deep treatment.

In the end analysis, I particularly like his 'Model of Creative Intelligence' as a pragmatic platform for marshalling convergent & divergent thinking in problem situations.

If you are into creativity, personal &/or organisational, these two books should be immediately available on your bookshelf.