Sunday, February 27, 2011

About little houses and big dreams

I looked up yurt living on Google [in case you wonder why, this post written by a young woman I care about provides at least one clue!] and found Tiny House Blog and this particular post about living in a yurt.

A little more “wandering” on that blog led me to this blog that tells all kinds of stories about a young (40-year-old and 30-year-old) couple who move to Idaho to live in a very tiny house they are building on her parents’ property. . . .

Yeah. “Back to nature” and “let’s check out of modern life as much as possible” [“We're looking for somewhere we can reduce our costs enough so that we only have to work part-time and can spend the rest of our time as we want”—The Happiness Project and Desire Paths].

Hmmmm. . . .

Reminds me of a certain couple I know who moved to Virginia with their four sons and a dog!

Is that the Garden of Eden for today?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

We all have our roles in life . . .

There was a brief piece in this week's The Week about princess-to-be Kate Middleton. She's "starting to channel Princess Diana," said the author.

Two months before the April 29 wedding, we’re already seeing “that familiar coquettish glance at the camera,” coupled with some “rather dramatic weight loss.” But if Kate “has any sense,” she won’t model herself on her true love’s mother but rather on his stepmother, Camilla.

“When it comes to handling a royal husband,” Camilla is far savvier than Diana ever was. She has internalized the most important lesson for royal brides: “You always come second.”

Diana stole the limelight from Charles. She attended every gala, premiere, and awards ceremony she was invited to and “reveled in the attention.” What the prince needed, however, was a consort “by his side, or in the wings,” not standing in front.
And Camilla, by contrast?

She "has never tried to upstage her husband." She "even plays dumb when necessary, as when she famously pretended she couldn’t work a video camera and let Charles demonstrate it for her."

"Sure," the article concluded, "such behavior is old-fashioned, even anti-feminist. But if you want a marriage of equals, don’t marry a royal."

--Whew, boy!

It reminded me of something Sarita and I discussed with someone in southeast Asia. We were talking about the astonishing cooperative, "I'll do anything to please you" (or, at least, make you feel good), "let's all work together" spirit in that part of the world.

Our source has taught at the university level. He said students in his classes would find friends who would work like slaves, in awful--I mean, truly awful--circumstances for hours and days (and days!) on end . . . to help their friends complete certain creative projects.

He said he never heard them argue or bicker or fight. There was no ego involved. They simply did everything necessary to get the job done. Excellently.

Such a culture has real strengths that ours in the west lacks.

Wow! If you need massive manpower to complete a task, you will find it and the task will get done.

But at what cost?

I mean at what cost to the participants?

And, ultimately, to society as a whole?

With all the astonishing technical excellence and productivity, these Chinese/southeast Asian students, our friend said, just--for some reason (probably related to the sublimated ego, the almost non-existent "I")-- . . . they just seem to lack some of the artistic excitement, the creativity he has seen elsewhere.

Sometimes it's hard, even, to put your finger on.

But that portion of the conversation eventually wound around to talking about the differences between (most) American and (most) Chinese women: "If you want a partner, marry an American woman. If you want a servant, marry a Chinese woman."

I have been so blessed to be married to an American woman partner--someone who is willing, ready and able to stand up against me, call me on my foolishness, suggest better, smarter, more effective ways of going where we (together) have agreed to go.

How grateful I am for such a relationship! Instead of the almost obsequious, "Oh, my master! I will do whatever you say! Oh! You are so smart! You are so strong! You are so ______! Whatever you say, my dear!" complaisance of the supposedly ideal southeast Asian woman!


PS: Much as modern American evangelicals--and especially women--would like to suggest the Bible does not present us obsequiousness as "the" model taught in Scripture, isn't it taught?

Oh, yes! We can find plenty of counter-examples of the women who don't seem to fit the model--Deborah, Jael, Mary, Jesus' mother (and Mary, the sister of Martha, who sat with the men to listen to Jesus while her sister did all the kitchen work [and who got criticized?]!), Lydia and Priscilla and Junia and the Proverbs 31 woman, etc., etc.

But then we're stuck with the obsequious verses and passages as well: Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:13; 1 Peter 3:1-6; and so forth.

It does strike me that there is a big difference between being strong and obnoxious on the one hand, or between being obsequious and holy (or non-obnoxious) on the other! (Put another way: Just because you are obsequious doesn't guarantee you're not obnoxious. And just because you are strong doesn't mean you must be being offensive! Strong does not have to be obnoxious. And being a doormat doesn't mean holy.)

--Just a little side-thought . . . because, I'm afraid, I've met too many women who think they have to lay themselves down as doormats for their men to step all over or they won't be "godly"!

Forget it!

Maybe you will be most godly when you encourage your man--by standing up to him!--to quit being such a [jerk].

Afraid you might hurt his feelings?

He's a man! He needs to get over it!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Where am I going wrong? What are your thoughts?

A man I respect who is doing a lot of good work for international missions--especially work among the unreached peoples--has urged me to check out a new company that intends to begin offering "daily deals" like Groupon. (If you've not seen Groupon, it offers [usually local] deals like, "Get $20 worth of ____ for $10." --One of our recent Denver deals was "$29 for Standard Bicycle Tune-Up at The Bike Depot ($60 Value)." Another was "$89 for a Four-Room Carpet Cleaning from Ace Chem-Dry (Up to $208 Value)")

Hey. I signed up for Groupon. I guess I've been a member for about six months.

Sarita and I are not major consumers. Maybe that's our "problem." I think I've bought one thing through Groupon in six months. I think it was tickets to a children's play.


My friend has urged me to promote this new company for the sake of supporting mission efforts. If mission-minded people can sign up early, then . . .

Well, here's the way the new company, MooLaLa, "works"--or is supposed to work, once they start featuring coupons.

Unlike their competitors, they intend to offer incentives of two percent (2%) of all sales to people who promote their offers through social networks. And not just 2% of all purchases made by the first generation of those who sign up as a result of their efforts, but 2% of of the purchases of the second, third, fourth and fifth generations of those who sign up--a real, honest-to-goodness, multi-level marketing scheme.

And that's where, and how, and, for some reason, why, this just doesn't feel right to me.

I have drafted a reply to my friend. And I intend to send it the moment I post this here. But I thought I'd get you-all's perspective on what I'm thinking.

Where am I going wrong? Or . . .

Auggggggh! Why does this bug me?


Whew, boy!

I'm torn.

On the one hand, I see how this could really make someone a lot of money. Indeed, a few--especially the early-adopters--probably will make a load of money. But/and then . . . like all Ponzi schemes, it will quickly run out of gas: "Oh! I'm so sorry! I've already signed up!"

. . . So, for example, I just signed up under you but then realized ________________ had sent their request an hour and a half before you sent yours. But, in fact, I had heard about it first from you and I knew that they had heard about it from you and . . . Oh, well.

So. Okay. Whoever I sign up will benefit you. And that's fine. And whoever I sign up will benefit Sarita and me--and through us, whoever we support. . . .

But. . . .

But what?
  • Participants get 2% of the value of vouchers purchased.

    That can add up. A voucher may be for, say, $20 worth of food at Chipotle for $10. So it’s a $10 voucher and you get 2%--$0.20. Multiply that out and we could be looking at a few hundred dollars. Especially if you get a nice three- or four-level deep Paymatrix going and there are enough $10 vouchers that lots of people buy in a month.
  • I've been a Groupon member for about six months, so far. I've bought one deal, as I recall. No one is going to get rich off of me. Though they might if they had a million me’s. ($0.20 x 1,000,000 = $200,000. In six months. That would be very nice money, indeed!) BUT . . .
  • There are only about 200 million adults in the United States. And only the top few people in the MooLaLa Paymatrix will be able to get a million “down-market” Paymatrix members. You may be one of them. Maybe a few dozen more could do it as well. After that, the numbers will dilute very rapidly because “everyone else” will already be “taken.”
  • But I'm pessimistic for another reason. And maybe I shouldn't be. I wonder how many businesses will sign up to offer the kinds of 50% Off deals that Groupon offers when, obviously, part of the “deal” they have to agree to involves paying MooLaLa affiliates alone (not to mention MooLaLa itself!) at least 10% of whatever money MooLaLa collects. . . .

    I don't know. Maybe I'm not a very good businessman. Or maybe I'm just not in the kind of market that lends itself to MooLaLa/Groupon kinds of deals!
FWIW. My dismal thoughts at the moment.

Maybe there is one last (emotional) part that bugs me about this:
  • Some people we know are really into multi-level marketing schemes. And they are always trying to get us to buy whatever deal they have most recently adopted as great for getting rich if-you-just-tell-enough-friends-and-sign-them-up. Somehow this feels the same. And that doesn't feel good to me.

    I know they really believe in what they’re talking about, and they really believe that they can get rich, too. But . . . But I'm not sure what. Something. Something doesn't feel good about it to me.

    But maybe I shouldn't think of it in those terms.
Maybe I'm "just" really trying to over-think the situation?

Maybe we should all jump on the bandwagon . . . but/and be generous with whatever "extra" income this latest scheme may bring in?

To be honest, this post is partially an experiment to find out the reality of how "people"--you--will respond to this kind of thing . . . verbally in a comment/response, but also (and perhaps more importantly) in terms of action. Will you sign up (as I did--partially so I could see what my friend was talking about) even if you question the whole thing? I mean, what can it hurt, right? You're under no obligation!

Or are you? (Or am I?)

What's going on here?

My friend asked me for feedback, and this is about the best I've been able to come up with: "I expect it will make a few people very wealthy. Ultimately, however, I have a feeling it won't be a very big thing to more than a very few. It doesn't feel great, but that's probably just me. So . . . just do it. Promote it. See what happens."

Your thoughts?

Friday, February 18, 2011

An analysis of modern education by Sir Ken Robinson

Oh. My. Goodness. Back to listening to Sir Ken Robinson. (Last visited in October 2008.)

Stunned. And entertained. And inspired!

I'm bummed that the RSA Animate people quit animating before Sir Robinson finished his talk!

Below, I have also included the original, very much longer (and slower, but still extremely pleasant and inspiring!) version of the talk--including many more practical illustrations and sidelight bunny-trails.

If you want to "get right into it" from the point where he begins his talk above, start listening at 12:47:

The animated version "finishes" at 50:56 in the orginal!

If you want to see how he ends the speech, I'd suggest "checking back in" at 52:02.


--Thanks, Keith, for the initial link!

Oh. PS. At about 9:00 into the animated version, the illustrator fails to convey a few pieces of essential information that you know Robinson is showing his original audience. He's talking about the percentage of people, at different ages, tested at the genius level for divergent thinking.

By watching the original speech (at around the 49:00 mark), I discovered that the statistics were the following:


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Inflation . . . and foreign currencies

Several weeks ago while preparing for our Southeast Asian trip, and then again, two weeks ago, while in Vietnam, I got a good sense of what major inflation looks and feels like.

If you ever plan to buy something while you're in a foreign country, it's always nice to have some idea of whether the price is at least "in the ballpark." So before we took off, I did some research about exchange rates.

You want a "general idea" of what you should be looking for.

At the time, then, I found that, for Singapore, I could make the following General/Mental Conversion:

1 Singapore Dollar = US$0.75 (actual/exact US$ equivalent was 0.77)
13 SGD = $10 ($10.05)
100 SGD = $75 ($77.31)

10 Baht = 33 cents
30 Baht = $1 ($0.99)
100 Baht = $3 ($3.29)
2000 Baht = $65 ($65.78)

1,000 Riel = 1 quarter; 25 cents
4,000 Riel = $1 ($0.99)

Hong Kong:
1 Hong Kong Dollar = an eighth of a dollar; $0.125 ($0.129)
8 HKD = $1 ($1.03)
10 HKD = $1.30 ($1.29)
77.7 HKD = $10

Vietnam, however, blew me away. I've never had to deal with these kinds of numbers before, not while traveling:

20,000 Dong = $1 ($1.02; $1 = 19,400 VND)
1,000,000 VND = $50 ($51.06)

When your primary currency unit is worth about 1/20,000th of another country's primary currency unit, you can pretty well assume there has been some massive inflation! And having just done a bit of research, I confirmed the fact. According to the Vietnamese Embassy, "the inflation rate [in Vietnam] rose up to a record 774.7% [for at least a short time] in 1986." But according to Index Mundi's Vietnam Inflation rate (consumer prices), throughout the '80s Vietnam experienced high double- and triple-digit inflation:

Inflation, average
consumer prices
= 1VND on 1/1/80
Inflation, average
consumer prices
= 1VND on 1/1/80
Inflation, average
consumer prices
= 1VND on 1/1/80
Inflation, average
consumer prices
= 1VND on 1/1/80

Meanwhile, of course, the U.S. dollar has undergone some significant inflation of its own. I won't reproduce a chart and do the multiplication as I did, above. But you can find the "official" consumer price index on the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis' website (look over to the right). 

During the same period, from 1980 till today, the value of US$1 has been inflated to $2.68. 

Divide VND54,197 by US$2.68 and you should find how much "real" inflation (compared to US inflation) has occured in Vietnam. If the Vietnamese dong had been at parity with the US dollar back in 1980 (so that US$1 = VND1 in 1980), then USD1 should buy VND20,223 worth of goods today--very nearly what US$1 does purchase today (more or less, VND19,400 worth of goods or services).

While I'm on the topic, I should note that dealing with all those zeros can get confusing . . . and difficult!

When we first got into Vietnam, I realized that US dollars would likely be accepted at most places I went, but I wasn't carrying near enough dollars for my needs. (We intended to stay at a hotel one night, and we were looking for Christmas presents [for 2011] for Sonlight employees.) So I needed some dong. But not too much. (What good would they be to me--especially if Vietnam continues to inflate its currency faster than the US inflates its currency?)

Well, I figured I would need at least about US$300 to cover taxi fares for a couple of days, plus, if I wanted to pay in dong, the approximately $50 we were going to owe for our hotel room.

Quick! How much money--in dong--do you want to take out of your bank account back in the US via the ATM in Vietnam? You want enough but not too much. And, of course, if you take out too little, you are likely going to be able to find another ATM to get a bit more.

The ATM offered several standard withdrawal numbers, including a maximum listed withdrawal of VND2,000,000 . . . plus, of course, the option to enter your own value in increments of VND50,000 or 100,000. . . . And every withdrawal would incur a VND20,000 service charge on top.

I decided to go for VND5,000,000.

Didn't work.

Oh, no! Was my card being blocked by my bank back in the US? Did I enter a digit wrong?

Tried again. No success.

Is my total too high? The machine doesn't have enough dong?

I tried VND3,000,000.

No success.

Use the standard maximum?



Hmmm. But that's only about US$100. It won't get me very far with my taxi driver.

Maybe I should try it again.


So I finally withdrew VND5,500,000--dispensed in VND100,000 notes. 

I feel so foolish for not having taken any photos of the beautiful (but largely worthless) currency!


A few additional stories about money from our trip.

One about standing at an ATM. I think it was in Cambodia, though it might have been in Vietnam.

The taxi brought me to a two-ATM location. 

When I walked up, both machines were being used, and a man was standing to the side at the left one--not behind the person, but kind of in front of and to the left side of the person at the machine.

It appeared obvious to me that he was waiting. But he wasn't "in line."

When "his" machine came free, I motioned for him to do his business. Which he happily did.

Meanwhile, the machine on the right remained occupied.

When that guy finally began to move out of the way, stepping slightly to the right and turning away, I moved toward the spot. But a woman came from behind me on my right and stepped up to the machine!


Then she turned slightly to the right to give herself room to rummage in her purse to find her card.

I figured two could play the game of "jumping" in line.

I quickly leapt to her side--now, actually, behind her, on her left--reached across and slid my card into the machine.

She muttered something indecipherable under her breath--I don't have any idea whether it was something to the effect of "Well played!" or, "*&^@%#! foreigner!"--and stepped away.


When on cruises, you meet all kinds of people.

I found myself in conversation with a man from Holland. Somehow, we got into a conversation about money. Maybe it was because I asked him about his family, and he told me his son is working in Indonesia, and his daughter is looking for work in Australia: "There is no future for them in Holland," he said. "Taxes run between 80 and 90 percent. And the Euro has no future."

Then he told me: "Joining the Eurozone was one of the biggest mistakes Holland ever made."


"The guilder was a stable currency.

"Just before the conversion was made in January 2002, 1 guilder [the former Dutch unit of currency] purchased a cup of coffee. When the conversion was made, we received 44 cents Euro for every guilder. So our wealth was immediately reduced by a factor of more than two--we had less than half what we did the day before.

"At the time the conversion was made, a cup of coffee cost 1 Euro--effectively 2.2 times what it cost immediately before the conversion.

"Now, a cup of coffee costs EUR2.50."

Do the math: 2.2*2.5 = 5.5. That's pretty severe inflation--450%--for a period of nine years!

And what did the Dutch people gain for their troubles?

Similar stories could be told by West Germans, too, I'm sure, as they were first called upon to help the East Germans catch up after half a century of Communist rule, and now they are being called upon to bail out and support the "poor" French workers who want to retire with full pensions at 60 rather than 62 (!!!) . . . or the Italians and Portuguese, Greeks and Spanish. . . .


Okay. Enough financial stories for one day.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Using mechanical power to the max . . .

Sarita and I spent one day in Cambodia. We ran off the ship as soon as we could when it docked in Sihanoukville. We wanted to get up to Phnom Penh. The 150-mile trip took about four hours each way.

On the way, I was fascinated by the ingenuity--or was it desperation?--of the Cambodian people. It was extremely difficult to get decent photos of the various modes of transportation. We were absolutely "flying" compared to the speed of the (primarily motorcycle-driven) vehicles I was trying to capture. But I got enough for you to get some idea.

Imagine if people here in the United States put their vehicles to even half of the same stress that these vehicles experience in Cambodia every day!

For standard commuting or public transportation:

I think this one took the cake for number passengers. One motorcycle and--what? At least 22 passengers in the trailer, not to mention the driver of the motorcycle. And it appears they are waiting for at least one more to hop on!
For regular, everyday, household transportation:

Younger sister, Daddy, older sister, Mommy, . . . and don't forget Baby in Mommy's lap!

Not sure what the canes are--sugar cane? Bamboo?
For commercial enterprise of all kinds:

I think he's ready to outfit a concert somewhere. . . .

Motorcycles, obviously, do yeomen's work. But so do vans.

Some appear as if they are regular commercial vehicles, but, after a while, it seemed to me that most of them must be some form of "extreme taxi" for the locals. Plenty of hard goods hanging out the back, but packed with people on the inside. Sometimes.

I saw this guy and, based on what I had seen before, I realized it was possible the van was filled with people. But . . .

Nope. He was filled up with these bags of who-knows what!

I wish I had taken some shots of vans that had lost their rear hatches and had them patched on again. Those poor hinges took a lot of abuse!
Finally, I was astonished by this use of a motorcycle.

We were flying down the road and saw these guys obviously dragging something and stirring up a dust storm! What was it? . . . Oh! we figured it out as we flew by. And I got a better shot a few minutes later with another motorcycle dragging a similar burden. . . .

Two strips of wood, maybe 25-feet long. What are they for? Will there be any wood left after they have traveled down the highway dragging them in the dirt and on the pavement going 25 or 30 miles per hour?
But the creative use of vehicles--especially motorcycles without trailers--continued in Vietnam.

For people transportation, of course:
Home from school?

I took this picture on Saturday, January 22. It must have been determined an auspicious day for weddings, because we saw probably seven wedding celebrations in progress. Considering the fine dresses the women are wearing, I wonder if this family was headed to a wedding?

But also for commercial purposes.

On the outskirts of Saigon.

Positive social interaction.

Just don't speed up too much so the wind whips me off the back end!

How much do 22 cases of Heinecken beer weigh?

Saturday evening, we found ourselves on a ferry crossing the Mekong River. A bunch of entrepreneurs were bringing loads of fruit and vegetables back over to the city from the country where we had been. And again, I wondered: How many hundreds of pounds were these motorcycles carrying?

And then, among all the other commercial uses for motorcycles, I thought I would put together a short series that has to do with the transportation of food.

Heading toward their final resting place on a cold, cold, wet day!

And then, finally, two thematic series.
1. Trees on motorcyles.

First, just for fun: We saw this guy wheeling down the streets in Ha Long (northern Vietnam), carrying a sizable tree with small pink buds on it:

But his cargo was unique. Far more common were . . .

Oh. A bit of background, first.

New Years in Vietnam and China is like Christmas in the West. And though we were in Saigon almost three weeks before the New Year celebration was to begin, we could already see signs of its coming.

I mean, what would Christmas be without a Christmas tree? And what better way to bring home the Christmas tree but on the back of your motorcycle?

Well . . . It might be nice not to make the "little woman" hold it!

Or maybe not.

I think this guy has a slightly . . . more . . . ummmm . . . "civilized" answer!

Here, a guy is obviously bringing home a New Year's/"Christmas" present.
And, for a Grand Finale, . . . ummm . . . shall we call it, "Stupid behavior on a motorcycle"?

--This young woman wasn't the only one I saw doing this. She was merely the only one I was close enough to and riding beside long enough to capture on camera.
No! She's not really texting while riding her motorcycle, is she?!?

Oh! Apparently she is!