LFM International Plant Trek '08
"It feels like business school has been one continuous trip around the world."
(In the Forbidden City, Beijing)
That comment from the LFM girl who did her six month internship in Switzerland with Novartis... and it expresses my sentiments exactly.
We all just got back from the LFM International Plant Trek, this year to China and Japan over two weeks. I have a lot of school stuff to do now, but my mind isn't into it, so I'll just blog the trip for now.
But on our layover in Minneapolis, before the 12 hour flight to Tokyo, we hit the SpongeBob Square Pants Rock Bottom Plunge roller coaster! Definitely worth the stop.
First we hit Hong Kong. I liked this city. Aside from the haze in the air, it felt a lot like a coastal California city, sort of like Long Beach, but surrounded with steep hill sides and apartment buildings instead of rundown housing neighborhoods.
My mind began slipping into a funk shortly before leaving, but I had so many things due for classes that I couldn't process any thoughts until I actually got on the airplane early Saturday morning. So I spent the first half of the trip half-vacant, trying to regain my bearings on the universe. After a few days I finally found which ways are Up and North in the universe, and found the" You Are Here" pointer. Then I just needed some time to let my mind settle with the rest of the world. However, with the whirlwind of activity we were running between, this was more difficult than it sounds.
So, while I may comment here and there on the countries and places, my mind really was elsewhere, only half-engaged in where and what we were doing. I have lots of good pictures though.
These invasive mind slips aren't necessarily bad, even though they're usually inconvenient. They're usually good for gaining perspective on where life is going. Early on in Hong Kong I happened into one of those unexpected moments that arrives, and is potent enough that it holds as an indicator of where my living-experience is headed if nothing fundamental changes in the way I live life. I scratched it out in my journal writing to try and grasp it, and I think I'll just paste it in here.
Nope. It's too convoluted to paste in a blog. Nobody other than the writer could understand it. But it was significant, so I'll summarize it.
In essence, it was a moment when I sat down, and without intending to, I woke up to the universe, and became acutely aware of my own existence, the momentary nature of my existence, and a certain fundamental consistency that is presently deeply integrated with my character.
It was in my hotel room on a pretty high floor in the hotel in Hong Kong. It was becoming evening, and the sun hadn't quite gone down yet. I had taken a semi-nap between running around the city and going out for the evening, but that was just a few dream cycles without really drifting to sleep. My mind was encumbered by a couple assignments I needed to complete on the trip, and the pervasive uncertainty sifting around about my worldview and self image (the funk that my mind sipped into). In sorting this out, I had been hashing through some character analysis of myself and friends, seeking to gain a handle on how I am living and want to live my life. I wanted to write instead of nap, but the thoughts weren't developed enough to pull them onto paper, so I let them float as I drifted through a few dream cycles. I pulled myself back to full consciousness and took a shower to go out for the evening. I had just got out of the shower and sat down on the bed, looking out the window with my elbows on my knees, and that moment is when this waking up occurred.
The moment after I sat down, I woke up (sort of epistemologically), lost outside my thoughts but finding myself right there and right then. I woke up to being me, Bryan Gardner, there and then, in this moment. always in this moment. In that moment, I lapsed twenty and thirty years forward in my mind, waking up to the recognition that in those future times, twenty and thirty years forward, I will still be Bryan Gardner in this moment. There will continue to be moments ahead as projections of what I expect myself to be, and moments in the past of which I carry a recollection, but I will always exist in this moment now. I woke up sensing the reality that I do not move forward through time, but I remain central to the passing of time. While there are future states which may represent what the world will be when time has passed, I will always be central, always exist as a moment, as an individual. Other people will move through time in reference to me, and the world will move through time in reference to me, but I personally do not move through time, because I fundamentally exist as the moment which I am. This is common to all individuals, in that they likewise exist as the moment which they are. a central reference point of the universe, which is that individual as a conscious existence.
(The most digitally documented trip ever.)
Ok, so, the words only sort-of embody the substance of this awakening. I think other people brush across such awakenings from time to time, and it impacts them differently according to their character and the poignancy and nature of the awakening, so if you think you can sort-of relate, you're probably right.
This awakening was particularly clear, full, concise, complete, and potent, but what really made it significant was my response to my awareness of myself in this awakening. The residual uncertainty that is consistently present to greater and lesser degrees (this period has been a moderate invasion of the uncertainty), was there with me. (Nothing about me or my mental state changed during this awakening; I just became acutely aware, and several understandings all coincided all at once). In the very moment that all this occurred, I simultaneously reacted, as though the reaction was already built in to this awakening.
(All the money in Hong Kong is printed by separate banks. England, Scotland, etc, use a similar system. An interesting difference to US cash all printed by the Treasury.)
My reaction was that of acceptance of this residual uncertainty as an ever present component of the moment which I am. It wasn't "acceptance" as in defeat, or settling for second-best, or accepting flaws in a work as "good enough." It was "acceptance" in the form of seeing, understanding, and acknowledging this component of who I am, and judging that it does not necessarily detract from the fulfillment I experience in the flow of my life.
I have often treated this residual uncertainty as a nuisance, since it clearly encroaches on my ability to execute at times, and to be "fully present." However, when I can rearrange my obligations (e.g. homework) such that I have enough time to deal with the residual uncertainty, I usually learn some pretty cool stuff, and see some beautiful. patterns. When I take the time to float my thoughts over the present substance of the uncertainty, it really is similar to climbing up a mountain and scanning the sweeping valleys, ridgelines, the transitioning weather, the interaction of the clouds with the mountains, the terrain with the plants allowing certain types of plants to grow here and there, as some plants try to extend beyond the boundaries the mountain has previously allowed.
Except this is watching the sweeping landscapes and interactions happen on the human landscape, throughout society and over history, and within individual people. It isn't an academic treatment of the subject, like a topographer charting the landscape, and historians or journalists documenting the occurrences of the world. It is exploring the smallest level of detail, as well as the broadest flowing trends, to savor and appreciate what is occurring and enjoy it. When I can treat it as a hobby, like running around the mountains, I really enjoy it. The only problem is it's a hobby that is sometimes very demanding. It's often just as impractical and useless, but my mind doesn't function until I let it deal with whatever pressing is there to be explored.
My reaction to awakening with this was unexpected. Carrying this residual uncertainty is definitely limiting to many things I believe I would enjoy doing with my life. For example, I don't think I'll ever be able to be a CEO of a major company simply because I can't hold the necessary singularity of focus. I am an effective designer and executer, but I can't be relied upon for routine execution of anything over an extended period (multiple months), simply because this residual uncertainty encroaches and my mind isn't present. There are other constraints this places on my opportunities for life, and that is why I have looked upon it as a nuisance. However, this time, waking up and seeing myself twenty and thirty years from now, as I am and always will be (of momentary existence), and sensing the accompanying realm of opportunity feasible given the nature of who I am. I had already accepted it. Furthermore, I am content that I had already accepted it. I didn't choose to accept it in that moment; rather, I became aware that I had already accepted it.
I enjoy exploring the human landscape, and I need time to explore the human landscape. This need may be inconvenient to certain attractive opportunities, but I am confident it will not be debilitating or impinge on opportunities wherein I will find complete fulfillment in life. Rather, is is a component of me which can contribute to the breadth of my own personal fulfillment.
China - Xi An
(Terra Cotta Warriors)
"It's difficult to keep up with the news on China when you're in China." From and ex-pat living in China.
The rumors are true. Wikipedia doesn't exist in China, and several interesting articles from the WSJ and CNN don't come through either.
Most notable to this trip, the riots in Tibet sprung up while we were flying over. In Minneapolis I talked with by Bro about it, who had been there last summer. In Tokyo I pirated an internet connection and got all the latest updates. Then in China. nothing. The only news available was the whole from page of an English newspaper talking about how the Western Media "distorts what's really happening" with pictures of the Chinese soldiers rescuing rioters from burning buildings. No second opinion could be found on the internet though. Very tight control of information.
I loved all the food we ate there. By the time we left, eating with chop sticks felt as natural as walking.
China - Beijing
Beijing was worth seeing. Loads of stuff. By the end I had delineated my personal hierarchy of three fundamental needs. These aren't generally applicable, just applicable to me only. And they're not needs I choose. These are needs that are ingrained in my nature, whether I like them or not.
1) I need to believe my actions are and will be aligned with my ethical intentions.
2) I need to believe I will have lasting affectionate companionship.
3) I need to be engaged in creating and/or achieving.
That's them. They're not as simple as they may seem on the surface. For example, companionship is different than company, the difference being a companion being someone who enjoys sharing life with me to the level that I will to live it in its several aspects, intellectually, socially, physically, and so forth. And "to believe I will have" is different than needing a second rate substitute right now. Hence, as soon as I believe I won't have "lasting companionship" with some particular girl, due to differences in interests or whatever, I'm more at peace being single and available to meet a girl with whom I hope to develop a lasting companionship.
And these needs arise in that order. Observing my past patterns of concern and endeavors, and the qualifiers of the nature of activities I undertake. anyway. Not interesting to write about, but it was really useful to me to learn that for myself.
(Summer Palace, gate to the water)
So that hierarchy of needs, combined with my earlier awakening to the nature of my existence as a moment, has given significant insight into how my life has progressed, and how it will progress. That's what my life has been, is, and will be. It won't be characterized as a series of phenomenal accomplishments or anything like that. It'll be scattered with accomplishments, but the overriding theme will be one of adventure, pursuits of purpose, always discovering, exploring, and achieving in the new importance presently in mind. It won't be a monolith of life, built up and culminating in a single purpose. It will be a life I live as it goes, moment to moment, with broad evolving themes and purpose. a life discovered as it unfolds.
(Summer Palace, side palace)
The color with everything was phenomenal. It'sll all been restored for the Olympics this summer.
Knowing the Egyptian temples were painted as thoroughly, I wonder if the colors had the same vibrance.
They had all kinds of structures stashed away in corners of the hills, and down the back side.
Not all the paint has been restored, but... I like the variety of weathered and renewed structures.
For as much acclaim as people give to sculpture and painting as beautiful art, I feel landscape and architecture are far superior forms of artistic expression, both in the expression enabled, and the many means of enjoying the art form.
(Summer Palace, Top)
Long days of walking.
I love the convergence of technology and old ways of living. Who woulde expect to see a monk taking pictures with a cell phone?
I always like bridges.
(Last pic from the Summer Palace)
Beijing was such a whirlwind. I've forgotten the order we saw things. This next set is from the Wild Goose Pagoda.
I usually enjoy visiting sites based in religion by myself. I usually find them soothing, and it just takes time to soak them in, and contemplate our existence... as they were designed for
(Front courtyard from the top of the Pagoda)
. A "temple" (in my rationalization) is intended to serve s a "template" of the universe, existence, how we can most effectively live our lives, etc.
They're pretty and interesting to run through, but they're made for putting life on pause... and that's where the real beauty comes through... in using them for their intended purpose. That's how their real beauty comes through.
Karaoke is huge in China, though it never really picked up in the states... until Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I'm convinced that Americans need competition in order to enjoy making idiots of themselves. Fun stuff.
Tiananmen Square was a interesting place. A huge courtyard with a few monuments, and government buildings around the perimeter.Everyone in the west knows what happened there, and I get the impression some of the Chinese know as well, but the government incredibly tight about anything being said about the events.
When I was in England, the process engineer I trained up to replace me was born and raised in China, and it was interesting learning her impressions and views of the US, and how our political systems "really work." She initially believed that westerners are heavily brainwashed, and she was afraid to say anything that might shock me out of my ignorance. Then she was surprised that the US allowed "The Motorcycle Diaries" by Che Guevara to be printed.
There's just no substitute for interacting with people of different backgrounds, to learn what their experiences and perceptions really are. At some level, we have to rely on authorities and experts, but must always carry a cuiriosity to challenge the valaidity of what we've been taught or learned.
It's always interesting sensing the loyalty people have to the causes they support. Dedication is an admirable trait, and part of what makes humanity so strong. It is my belief that the vast majority of us seek to dedicate our lives and efforts to causes that are worthy of what we judge to be good. Intentions and outcomes are not always aligned... and thus we have heated, passionate discord.But we're all individuals, doing what we (hopefully) judge to be best.
Monuments built to the grand intentions of influential leaders... In general, you can't argue with their intentions. But the destruction, death, and overall damage that can arise in pursuit of those ideals... People are capable of great accomplishment... but capable of even greater destruction.
Several times while listening to our tour guide, we had people dressed as civilians circle in like hawks, listening to everything that was being said. So many people vigilantly guarding the sharing of information.
From Tiananmen Square, you walk through the gates into the Forbidden City. This place is huge! Far more expansive than I ever expected.
(Forbidden City - Main Courtyard)
The expanse of these rooftops is phenomenal.
For as beautful as this is, the air in Beijing (and all China for that matter) is absolutely horrendous. Meny environmentalists in the US go way overboard, but if it's a choice between Beijing style polution and environmentalism excess, I think prefer the excess... though I do believe our environmental policy can be much more reasonable than it is, but that's another topic.
Returning to the normal city of Beijing (and the thick polluted air) it's surprising how they've taken "economies of scale" to the extreme. They built loads of these groves of apartment buildings, all exactly the same, housing their huge population moving in from the countryside as the country goes through their industrial revolution.
And you gotta love diversity in modes of transportation. Check out those wheels.
Then we visited some other places, though I don't recall their names.
This park in particular was interesting, as it appeared to be a regular daily gathering place for so many of China's older people. They came to play games, sing, and do all sorts of group passtimes. I infer that their one-child policy, significantly changing the traditional family dynamics the rest of the world experiences, has been a major driver of this type of association. People living their lives as they find most fulfilling, according to their circumstancs and opportunities. It really reminded me of recess back in elementary school... just a little less rough-and-tumble. Just entertaining themselves with simple passtimes.
Naturally, we joined in the festivities with a little feather-hackey-sack.
And I even got to the the hero of the day when the feather toy got stuck on the roof of the bus!
I love gardens. I guess it's the art of landscape. A living form of art... so soothing to the soul.
And of course, The Great Wall.
Fortunately, the haze blew out during our last hour there, so we could get some decent pictures.
China - Shanghai
Then to Shanghai. This is where the tourism part of our trip ended, and the business part began.
Pretty cool city. It's amazing how the building just keep going, and going, and going. If they were to get the air cleaned up over the next five or ten years, I could enjoy spending a couple years working here.
While here, we visited an Apple supplier where they make components for the Mac Book Air, Flextronics, and several other companies. It was actually nice to have a break from the tourist stuff, and see things more relevant to today and our careers.
We also met up with the China LFM class being launched through the Shanghai Jou Taong University, and had a more formal dinner discussion with several prominent business leaders in manufacturing and operations, several of the LFM alumni.
The Don - Director of LFM
My favorite building in Shanghai.
And of course., the food. Great food, and dirt cheap. And I grew an unexpected fixation with Szechuan food... especially those szechuan pepper corns that make your mouth feel like aluminum.
It's kind of fun picking the fish you're about to devour.
Japan - Tokyo
So, if this post is getting to seem long, just imagine how we were feeling by this point in the trip.It was like a whirlwind that kept going, and going, and going.
In Tokyo, we met up with well over a hundred other Sloanies... and had a blast.
It was just that time of the season when the Cherry Blossoms were in bloom, so we had some beautiful scenery in the parks. Even with all the commonality and beauty and fun times of this traveling, the history and roles of these countries on the world scene throughout history is something to ponder... especially in context of the beliefs and cultures of the individuals who make up these countries. Below is the gate to one of the more prominent Shinto Shrines.
At the end of WW II, part of the Peace we signed with Japan included the Emperor formally acknowledging that he was not the direct descendant of Deity. We understood the influence religion played in that war, and we addressed it as best we could, allowing the Japanese their religious liberty, while guarding our own religious liberty and holding global stability. The Japanese have come a long way, even with such a formalized defacement of their religion for which so many warriors killed and died. We acknowledged the threat to humanity embodied in their religion, and we dealt with it to protect global peace. It worked, and the world is better off for it.
It seems Religion is the great wildcard of humanity. You can never predict who it will affect, how they will relate with it, and in what way it will influence their life. It arises in so many forms and with so many faces. It's so general, and so detailed; universal and so personal. It encompasses broad sweeping principles in minutely specific rituals.
Religion is Humanity reaching for something uncertain.
If I were to live seven hundred years, I'm not sure I would fully grasp it, but even if I did, it wouldn't do much good to the rest of humanity who would, of necessity, have to continue reaching themselves. Religion is not something that can be understood, learned, or believed, for somebody else. It can only be carried and grown within each individual. Individuals can be guided and influenced by external sources, but their grasp of the uncertain occurrs with their own personal grasp.
Whatever their concrete form, religions have a universal commonality. It's disappointing that religion sometimes becomes a tool of division. But I guess that's the blessing and burden of a tool for reaching into uncertainty.
As a society, or as a race, we have become pretty effective at handing off the technology we develop from one generation to the next. I wonder if we're being as effective in passing on the religious progress we make. Just as there isn't a single technological solution universally relevant to all humanity at once, so I believe there isn't a universal religious / spiritual / philosophical solution universally relevant to all humanity at once. The marketplace allows technologies and products to make their way to the individuals who need them. Religion seems to be something that serves individual needs, but flows within cultures to serve those needs, serving the collective through the way it serves individuals. Religion cannot transfer through a marketplace in the same way technologies can. at least, it has not yet done so. except maybe under the Roman Empire, and now partially within American culture. Religions flow freely in American culture, as though in a marketplace. Does this religious marketplace enable us to build upon previous religious development, maintaining foundational elements and adopting beneficial modifications? Or does it produce more shortsighted religious development, throwing away tried and tested foundations in favor of the most recent popular trends?
Judaism seems to embody an effective method for holding foundations while allowing adaptations, which is why I've always enjoyed learning from the rabbinical writings I've taken the time to read. Protestant Christianity readily adapts to the changes in society, but does it effectively hold the critical foundations? Mormonism holds its foundations sure, and may still be too young to have faced a real substantial pressure to adapt to a changed society, so it's difficult to judge the ability of Mormonism to adapt. Regarding Islam, we have examples of ability to adapt, but more examples of rigid insistence on the form of its heritage. Such unyielding strength can serve society, as well as damn (halt progress) of the society it holds, and destroy other societies it encounters. There are many factors that influence the extent to which unyielding strength results in the emergent outcome. China is largely without religion in the Western sense of religion, but the people carry beliefs and practices adapted to their conditions which serve the same purpose. I haven't seen enough of the Japanese people to form a judgment.
The human existence is largely that of dealing with uncertainty at many different levels, and the way we individually and collectively reach out to deal with broad distant uncertainty shapes many aspects of our lives and experience on this earth. It will serve us well to seek understanding and continue developing improvements in the way we, as a society, carry religion.
All in all, I really liked Tokyo. It seems like a very livable city. And after the air in the cities of China, it was such a relief to my lungs to be able to breathe again.
Of course we hit the fish market at dark:thirty in the morning. Pretty cool. A bit over-rated, but I don't regret going.
It's always interesting getting a glimpse into the different lives and occupations people live.
The sushi was good, though now I'm entirely convinced that raw fish in the morning isn't the best idea.
And that was the trip... well, parts and pieces of it. After the 14 hour flight, plus the 3 hour and 5 hour connections, I don't think any flight will ever feel long again.