How to have a very happy birthday

In the summer of 2008, my husband and I traveled to the Dominican Republic for a week. On one day of that trip we signed up for a 4-wheel drive excursion. Our tour guide was a friendly local guy who agreed to show us around his home town, Palo Blanco. We had no idea what we were about to see.

My husband and I have a tradition of traveling during our birthday week. Our birthdays are two days apart in July, so it has always been a good time of year for us to get away together. Although we’ve gone on lots of great trips throughout the Caribbean, South America, Hawaii and Asia, this 4-wheel drive excursion stands out as one of the life-altering experiences I’ll never forget.

Our guide took us through town where we saw people carrying large loads on their heads. We saw laundry hanging on makeshift fences and children sitting along the roadside.

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We saw overloaded trucks passing by people on donkeys. As we got further out of the town, we saw cows, horses and chickens walking along the road.

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One of our first stops was at a farm where my husband and I got to ride a donkey. The man with the donkey didn’t speak English, so our guide translated for us and told him that we came here to celebrate our birthdays. Although I was curious to hear what his response might be, I didn’t ask this man what he would like to do on his next birthday.

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We saw his family’s home which was built with concrete block and rusty metal sheeting. When I asked if I could use their outhouse, one of the women ran into her home to fetch me some toilet paper. They had so little, but it didn’t stop them from being considerate and generous.

This was the scene from the outhouse. I assure you this is much prettier than the picture of the outhouse. This view is better than any I’ve ever had from any of my bathrooms! I suppose they let the stench fester just so people don’t sit around too long.

When it came time to leave, we exchanged waves with them and they greeted us back with smiles. I wished my Spanish was better.

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Next we rode through the hills to an area where our guide’s family lived. When we showed up at his home, we were welcomed by this adorable babe. He invited us to join them the outdoor eating area where his mother offered us some food.

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On the side of the house, there was a table and a few plastic chairs in different colors. From here I could see a fireplace where they cooked in the back. I’ll never forget stepping into his family home. It was a small structure made of concrete block. The floor was compacted dirt. There were a few beds and small tables inside. There were some books on a shelf and a few other items scattered around, but it was virtually empty by western standards. Yet his niece and mom seemed so happy.

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Next we stopped for a snack. We bought some bananas from a man who was probably about 50. Although he was wearing a New York hat, I doubted if he ever visited the USA or any other country. He told jokes we couldn’t understand. He was proud and at ease.

Some people have a (natural or learned) tendency to chuckle away their disappointments. They enjoy the small pleasures of each day, regardless of what they have or what circumstances come their way. It’s easy to spot people like this, especially as they get older and their smile becomes etched into their cheeks.

Happy people live among grumpy people in both modern and developing countries, I thought. 

Today I have the good fortune of reaching my 50th birthday. It sort of feels like a half-way point, but it also feels like every other day of life: a starting point.

After we ate some bananas, our guide took us to a water hole where locals go to cool off, bathe and socialize.

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Teens were jumping into the water from a cliff. I’m guessing they probably had very few possessions, but they all seemed to be practicing teamwork, challenging themselves, and overcoming their fears while having fun.

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Younger kids watched and kicked around in the shallow water. These kids didn’t have any plastic princesses made in China, but they seemed more content than many kids I’ve seen at Disney.

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When these kids started climbing into our ride, our guide tried to shoo them away, but we told him it was ok to let the kids play. We were having just as much fun watching them!

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On the sideline, one of the older girls was teaching some of the younger ones to dance.

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Several hours later, we ended our trip back at the surf. Our bodies were dirtier than when we left, but our spirits were cleaner. I felt sad and happy at the same time.

Although we only observed everyday life during this excursion, the overall experience planted a thought-seed in my mind and that seed quickly sprouted and began to grow. It’s possible to be simply happy. In the years that followed, my husband and I chose to drastically downsize our possessions and simplify our lives.

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Would you like to lift your spirits on your birthday? Here’s how. Go someplace intentionally to make a list of the things you appreciate most. This experience works best if you put yourself in an environment surrounded by people of a lower socioeconomic situation than you. You don’t need to go to another country to do this. You can probably do this a short distance from your home. I assure you that you’ll gain priceless insights.

Although I first considered writing a post about the 50 people I appreciate most, such as my husband, I quickly realized that it could upset some people who didn’t make the list. That’s why you won’t see family members, teachers or friends on this list.

Make a list: the goal here is to take your age in years and have that number be the same number of items you include in your list. You get to list 35 items on your 35th birthday and 75 items on your 75th birthday, for example. It’s sort of along the lines of a gratitude journal, but even simpler since you don’t need to write full sentences.

Your list probably won’t look anything like mine. We all go through very different life experiences that affect what’s most important to us now. But you may find it interesting to glance at my list to get your creative juices flowing.

If you really want to challenge yourself, try to prioritize the items in the order that they matter most to you. This isn’t an easy task!

I like to ask people on their birthdays what they hope for most in the upcoming year. The most common response is “good health.” Although this is a top priority for me as well, I avoided esoteric things like this on the list. Saying that you want good health is like saying you want to be rich. It’s all relative. Good health and riches are effects and pursuits that are never fully attained.

Here is a list of things I appreciate most in life as my oldometer rolls over to 50. Some of them include links to blog posts I’ve written.

  1. fresh air – Free fresh air: Hurry! Offer ends soon
  2. clean bodies of water – Dear Diary, this is the day I decided to drink distilled water
  3. indoor plumbing
  4. home – Michael Mobbs offers 9 tips for a more sustainable home 
  5. safe and comfortable bed – WAKE UP and read the label on your mattress
  6. community centers
  7. organic vegetables
  8. fresh fruits
  9. whole grains
  10. legumes
  11. spices
  12. sharp knives
  13. heat
  14. recipes
  15. toothbrushes
  16. sunshine
  17. electricity
  18. smart phones
  19. lightweight computers
  20. eyeglasses
  21. lights
  22. comfortable furniture
  23. handbags
  24. farmers markets
  25. wheels (on carts, luggage and so on)
  26. tea – Ten terrific reasons to drink tea
  27. bikes
  28. books
  29. trees
  30. blenders
  31. squat toilets – Why you ought to squat a lot: 7 benefits of squat toilets
  32. comfortable shoes
  33. backpacks
  34. public transportation (subways, light rails, buses, airplanes)
  35. healthy restaurants – Popular restaurant rating apps are missing some stars
  36. green design
  37. cultural diversity – WARNING: Old people and frogs may trigger culture shock
  38. documentaries
  39. plants
  40. refrigerators
  41. clothes made with natural fabrics – Choose natural fabrics over synthetics
  42. washing machines – Laundry study shows Americans have few hangups
  43. nonprofits
  44. music
  45. jokes – Jokes for your friends who are sick and tired
  46. lifelong learning – Tips on aging for all ages: more museums, less food
  47. henna
  48. photos
  49. art
  50. mirrors

Once you start making your list, you’ll see that the things you like most (nouns) tend to be the things that give you the opportunity to do the things you like to do (verbs) with the people you like to be around. So you could easily continue on with a list of the things you like to do, for example.

If you decide to make a list each year on your birthday, it would be interesting to save them and see how they change over time. What’s most important to you when you’re in your 30s will surely evolve by the time you’re in your 50s or 70s.

One of the best gifts you can give yourself each year on your birthday is time to reflect on the things that matter most to you. This exercise is more valuable than acquiring random gifts that clutter your physical and mental space. As you conduct a mental review of how much you have, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that you can get rid of some stuff.

After making my list, I gained clarity about some things I had to let go and some new things I had to put in place in order to accomplish my purpose. This year I realized that I needed to make some improvements in my work area so that I could be more efficient with my writing time.

After you make your list, please let me know what insight you discover.

I wish you a very happy birthday followed by many more happy and healthy ones!

How to make your vacation last a lifetime

Have you ever splurged on a vacation only to return home feeling remorse over how much money you spent? You try to convince yourself that it was worth it, but the hotel, restaurants or sites didn’t quite live up to your expectations. Or perhaps the weather wasn’t what you had hoped for. The time flew by and now all you have to show for it is a few tourist photos and a big credit card bill.

vacation beach picture cartoon PC Vey

“I just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime vacation,” my friend told me. “I’ll never go there again. It was a tourist trap!” RD

What if I told you there was a way you could avoid tourist traps and make your hard-earned vacation dollars last a lifetime?

Elley Ho showing Asante Africa students their pictures on the camera screen

Elley Ho showing Asante Africa students their pictures on the camera screen

Have you ever thought about donating your vacation to a cause? I recently met an amazing woman who not only thinks about it, but she actually does it. She’s the ultimate voluntourist who loves to travel to developing countries. Offering her photography and education skills, she volunteers her summers to reach out to help people in rural communities in countries like Peru, China, Nepal and Africa.

Here’s what Elley Ho said when I asked her about her recent trip to Africa:

Why do you choose to spend your vacation time volunteering?

I’ve always been fascinated about the worlds beyond where comfort is out of reach but I’m surrounded with plenty of simple beauty. Volunteering is the best way to enjoy this path less traveled. Whenever I give, I end up earning more and that fulfills my inner self.

Elley Ho preparing to shoot an interview with an Asante Africa teacher

Elley Ho spending time with Tanzanian students during filming at a local school

How did you apply your talents to help Asante Africa? 

With my previous volunteering experiences, photography skills and passion for education, I was invited by Art Director Heward Jue to pull together a project proposal for Asante Africa Foundation, a well established nonprofit based out of Oakland, CA. Subsequently, we were awarded the Getty Images Creative Grant of $20,000 which supports photographers who use imagery to promote positive change in the world. This grant helped us to actualize a film and print campaign for Asante Africa Foundation, showcasing how the work of the organization has profoundly transformed the lives of thousands of African children and their communities.

In July 2013, Heward and I went to Africa to film scenarios that highlight the transformations made possible through education. Thanks to the local Asante Africa staff in Kenya and Tanzania, we were able to locate the resources we needed to make the filming happen. They went out of their way to help us with our production. 

For example, one staff member from Asante Africa knew people who worked in the hospital, so we were able to do a shoot in the facility. The children featured in the film were also carefully selected by the staff who knew the potential of the students, all recipients of Asante Africa scholarships. 

Elley Ho and Heward Jue with Asante Africa students in Kenya

Elley Ho and Heward Jue with Asante Africa students in Kenya

What challenges did you encounter during the filming?

In one of the scenes we were looking for a rough neighborhood so we could portray the issue of child soldiers as a haunting reality in Africa. We felt uneasy about exposing ourselves and our equipment in the slum area while being barracaded by locals wondering what we were trying to accomplish there. Luckily, one of the staff members lived close by so he knew which people from the slum could help safeguard our visit.

When we were filming at a local village, one of the male villagers gave us a hard time because the school principal affiliated with Asante Africa reported him for marrying off his daughter at a young age. After hours of negotiation our local staff was able to come up with a solution with them and we got to accomplish what we needed to do. 

Behind the scene with Elley Ho filming at a slum in Narok Kenya

Behind the scene with Elley Ho filming at a slum in Narok Kenya

What did you learn about Asante Africa?

The thing that struck me the most about Asante Africa is that they have the best staff. The organization only hires local Africans. Their lives are empowered because of the job opportunities and training they’re given through Asante Africa. Not only are they super friendly, but these people are very dedicated to what they do. They aren’t afraid of trouble.

Asante Africa addresses needs at multiple levels to ensure the communities at large will grow as they open more doors for students to have the education and skills to become future leaders. Not only do they build infrastructure to improve the physical environment of the schools, they also look at other needs of the community at large. They provide training programs for students to become future leaders, and  programs to empower women to learn about women’s health, thus elevating their attendance in school. 

Elley Ho in Narok Kenya with a teacher and his family who volunteered to be actors

Elley Ho in Narok Kenya with a local teacher and his family who offered to be actors

What did you learn from your experience?

I learned that Africans are good problem solvers. They don’t get caught up in their emotions when dealing with hardships. They’re born into circumstances which teach them that life is difficult. They deal with what comes to them. They don’t give up easily.

We saw barefoot children walking miles back to home after school. As our car passed by them, they waved at us with big smiles. They didn’t ask if we could give them a lift. They know what they deal with is part of life and they accept the challenge.

Elley Ho shooting the local Maasai in Arusha Tanzania

Elley Ho shooting the local Maasai in Arusha Tanzania

What was one of the best things that happened during your stay in Africa?

We met a boy on the street in a rundown neighborhood in Arusha as we were scouting for a location for the filming. He kept waving at us with a million dollar smile on his face. We couldn’t resist but to walk over. It turned out that he spoke good English and was able to answer all the questions we asked. He told us that he lived with his aunt and sister. “My father died. He kept throwing up every time we saw him,” he told us. We asked him where he lived. He couldn’t give us an address, but he told us to turn this way and that way and walk straight and so on.

He said his favorite subjects were math and English and he wanted to be a pilot when he grew up. He said it all with full confidence on his face. When I looked into his bright beautiful eyes I couldn’t resist to believe that with a little help he could become a pilot. We talked to Albert, our scholarship coordinator, who proceeded to ask the boy more questions. After all was said and done, I asked Albert if this eight-year-old would qualify for Asante’s help. He said the boy met all the criteria and he would return do a home visit to get more information.

This boy’s life may be forever changed, all because of his eagerness to give us a big smile.

African way of praying in school

African way of praying in school

What advice do you have for people thinking about donating their vacation time to a cause?

Go abroad and interact with the locals in their reality. Contribute what you can to the local communities. You’ll come back feeling you have done something way beyond what a typical beach resort vacation can offer.

Who knows, you may even change a life for the better?

Learn more about Elley’s experience from her perspective on her blog post: Getty Images Creative Grant 2013.

Ossob Mohamud warns that you shouldn’t do something like this unless you’re truly invested in helping beyond your vacation days. You need to be willing to “help address the root institutional and structural causes of the problem,” he says. Guardian Africa Network

Mike Carter is a board member of Asante Africa who helped out with Elley and Heward’s award-winning film project. If you’re like Mike, Elley and Heward and there’s a voice inside you telling you to go and make a difference, then do something about it.

Go Away! And Other Good Advice Parents Should Give Kids

Elley Ho teaching in Nepal through the Nepal Education Initiative Organization

Elley Ho teaching in Nepal through the Nepal Education Initiative Organization

The next time you’re planning a vacation, check out your options with Global Vision International, The International Ecotourism Society or another similar voluntourism organization which offers trips starting at 7-10 days. Elley is a board member of the Nepal Education Initiative Organization and she welcomes you to go to the rural villages in Nepal to help out. Wherever you decide to go, do your homework to make sure you sign up with a reputable organization that’s a good match with your talents or interests. Your next vacation can be one that you and the locals will never forget.

Who knows, it might even change your life for the better.

Take a Big Sip of Water and Speak Up a Little Louder

Asante Africa logo

WARNING: Old people and frogs may trigger culture shock

Eric Chen Lorraine Wei Eddie Toastmasters

Lorraine with Naigui Chen (wearing a tie)

When I first met Naigui Chen in China, he introduced himself to me with his English name, Eric. I was immediately impressed with his fluency in English, but even more so with his hospitality and kindness.

My husband and I had recently moved to Shenzhen and decided to join the nearest English-speaking Toastmasters club. Eric happened to be the president of this club, Eloquence of the Elites (EOE). My husband and I became good friends with Chen and many others in the club.

At the end of summer 2013, my husband and I moved back to the US and, coincidently, Chen moved to Indianapolis for the MBA program at Kelley School of Business.

A few days ago, I received this note from Chen . . .

Hi Lorraine, I went to a nursing home to help move someone to a different facility because his health is deteriorating. It was the first time I saw such a thing as nursing homes. It’s so sad. On the way back home in the car, I cried my heart out. And then I thought about the Chinese belief of children taking care of their old parents is a good thing. It’s such an emotional time for me. I don’t think I will ever forget it. I thought I might share this special experience with you.

Thank you so much for sharing this story with me Chen. It means a lot to me! It’s the American way. Many people have compartmentalized lives. Can you please tell me more about your experience?

old people

Absolutely. My friend is a hospice consultant and I went to help him move a patient from a nursing home to an assisted living community for Alzheimer patients. What really shocked me was the dining room full of patients, people at the end of their lives, away from their children and taken care of by staff. In China we don’t have many of these. The children are supposed to take care of their parents no matter what happens. Although nursing homes are starting to appear in China, most people don’t send their parents to those places because of the social stigma. Seeing all these patients was just too strong an emotional impact for me. The good news is when we got back today, there were volunteers coming in to teach songs. Music made most of the time a little more tolerable for me.

When I heard Chen’s reaction to American culture, I immediately thought about the Boiling Frog Syndrome.

If frogs can be content in hot water, can seniors be content in retirement homes, apart from their families? Turns out that many seniors in retirement homes are happy as long as they feel connected to other people, regardless of whether or not they’re family. Pets and even social media sites such as Facebook also provide a satisfying sense of connection. AARP

Another factor that affects happiness in old age is a person’s perception. People who are happier in their younger years are likely to become even happier as they age. People who are irritable in their younger years are more likely to become grumpy old people. The same applies to health. People who are lively or athletic at a younger age tend to be healthier as they age. Our characteristics tend to become more exaggerated over time. Wouldn’t it be it great to know now How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free?

One of the things I like most about Chinese culture is the sense of community. In the daytime, you see the elderly pushing their grandchildren in strollers. They park the buggies and congregate in parks to talk with friends as the toddlers play. As the kids get older, you see grandparents waiting for their grandkids outside schools at the end of the school day.

Go Away! And Other Good Advice Parents Should Give Kids

In the subways you see all ages, young and old, moving about together to their next destination. These grandparents aren’t in wheelchairs. They stay active because they have purpose. Many of them also do the shopping and prepare meals for three generations. This aspect of Chinese culture, some gerentologists say, is one of the reasons why Hong Kong (with similar traditions) touts the greatest percentage of centenarians in the world. China Daily

In the evenings you see the elderly dancing in the parks or walking arm in arm with their spouses or adult children. It’s common to see an old person hanging on to their adult child for support, but very rare to see anyone in a wheelchair.

Since returning to the US, this sense of community and connectedness is one of the things I miss most about Chinese culture. Although I wasn’t anyone’s child, parent or grandparent there, the people in my neighborhood who recognized me would smile at me every day, acknowledging my presence. I really like that about them.

But it was also shocking to me that Chinese women my age would choose to live with their in-laws and/or adult children and derail their careers while their husbands had the opportunity to advance in their jobs and, in some cases rumor has it, have affairs with younger women.

The Chinese ladies I befriended would twist their arms around mine when we walked together. And both males and female friends rub shoulders while eating a meal or talking together. Even as a foreigner with very limited language skills, I felt closely connected to many of my Chinese friends physically, mentally and even spiritually. Humans are humans in every race. I didn’t expect it, but the end of our going away party when we said goodbye to some of our closest Chinese friends, several of us fought back tears.

If you move a native Chinese senior to an American nursing home, he might fall into deep depression. Or if you told an American senior that she was responsible for taking care of her grandchildren and cooking for her adult children every day, she may feel cheated out of her restful retirement years. It all depends on the person and his or her expectations. You’re Only Old Once, so you might as well make the most of it.

Chen is an especially kind and sensitive man. I’m sure the elderly man sincerely appreciated Chen’s help with his move. If Chen were to ever to lead a retirement home in the US or China, it would be a wonderful place to live. Chen would make sure of that. I saw his leadership skills in action in one of the best Toastmasters clubs I’ve ever been involved with in the past decade. He has the good nature and wisdom to influence the people around him to bring out the best in everyone.

frog cartoonCulture brainwashes us to expect people around us to act a certain “normal” way. When we travel to other cultures, we see people acting “abnormally.” Sometimes it seems a little strange. Other times it’s so disgusting or delightful, so appalling or appealing that it causes us to experience culture shock. Ironically, you can find micro-cultures of people, even within your own country, who aren’t doing things the way you think they should.

Many people live like frogs in hot pots, on the edge of boiling point, knowing that something isn’t quite right, but too stifled by cultural or family pressures to do anything about it. They don’t care enough to take action until it’s too late.

You may not be able to change your culture or family, but I urge you to create happiness in your life sooner than later. Check your temperature.

Meditation: The Answer to All Your Problems

What’s the one thing you need to do now to create more happiness in your life?

 AARP logo - The power to make it better.




Go Away! And other good advice parents should give kids

A pilot made a very rough landing, skidding the plane on its belly across the runway. As part of his job he was required to stand at the terminal door and say goodbye to the passengers as they disembarked. He was afraid of what they might say about his landing. But nearly everyone passed by without saying a word until the last few people were exiting and one little boy asked, “Did we land, or were we shot down?” AJokeADay

Sum Ting Wong? Yes.

Ho Lee Fuk. What’s up?

Wi Tu Lo. Our scores need to go up.

The US spends more $15,000 per student annually. This is more per student than any other country. OECD.

Ho Lee Fuk.

And here’s what we get for our money . . .

How is it that something like this can make national news in America? Did you know that the US has been slipping behind in the global report card for years? Even smart people who work at places like news agencies can be duped by an intern or Dum Gai.

It doesn’t take a PhD to see the DOE deserves a D in education

According to the OECD, the US falls well below the global average for the percentage of students graduating from high school. The NO Child Left Behind policy obviously doesn’t apply to ALL children. If you want to increase your child’s chance of graduating from high school, you’re better off in Slovenia, Finland, Japan, Korea, the UK, or more than a dozen other countries that outperform the US.

Wi Tu Lo.

But if you have the money, you can move to an upscale suburban neighborhood where higher property taxes help to ensure that your child gets a better than average education.

Watch Waiting for ‘Superman’ to see if you have enough money to play education roulette with your kid’s future. I don’t cry easily, but this film had me sobbing over the fact that American leaders are neglecting the education of millions of children, instead choosing to imprison them as young adults, causing them to fall into a life of poverty where they scrape by in less than desirable neighborhoods. And become a financial burden to all Americans. The wrong people are going to jail in this case! Go KIPPsters!

Sum Ting Wong?

Apparently some children are more important than others.

Ho Lee Fuk.

Bang Ding Ow.

Do you believe everything you hear on the evening news? I don’t either and I urge you to start looking for second and third opinions elsewhere. And teach your kids to do the same. If you and your kids can get news in other languages, all the better. Languages act like firewalls. If you can’t speak a language, you miss out on a lot of information on the other side of the wall.

Powerful corporations act like firewalls too. A Canadian poll recently revealed that 90% of scientists are afraid to speak openly to the media about the work they do. Tyee. The survey also found that 24% were asked to exclude or alter information for non-scientific reasons and 37% were told not to respond to questions by the public or media. Media Matters! Watch the War on Whistleblowers to learn more about Hu Yu Hai Ding. PL

Big corporations buy out news organizations, politicians and scientists to ensure that we only hear what they want us to hear. And they pay off citizens to keep their mouths shut.

So Su Mi. GLP

Smart people with ethics don’t last long under these circumstances. They eventually lose something: their ethics, conscious, job, home, health or life.

Sum Ting Wong!

The Union of Concerned Scientists represent 400,000 scientists and citizens from all walks of life who believe that we should be making decisions based on science without obstructions from politics, the media or corporations. UCS is working on some of the world’s most daunting problems such as global warming, how to feed, power and transport the world’s growing population, and how to reduce the threat of catastrophic war.

Bang Ding Ow.

Watch Collapse to get an idea of how we got where we are and for tips on what you can do to help prepare for the future.

Survival of the fittest applies to both animals and people. The country with the smartest and healthiest people has the best chance of surviving. According to the OECD, Asian students make up 53% of foreign students enrolled in universities worldwide. The largest numbers of foreign students are from China, India and Korea, and these numbers continue to grow. Europe is the top destination for students enrolled in college outside their country of origin. Although foreigners are still enrolling in American universities, it’s on a downward trend. Wonder why?

Talk to Wi Tu Lo and Wi Tu Phat.

Yang Mythos France Eiffel Tower

Yang Mythos students from China sketching the Eiffel Tower

An American man struck up a conversation with a woman from Switzerland while on a Mediterranean cruise. They seemed to be hitting it off fairly well so he invited her to go for a dip in the sea followed by dinner when they docked in Rome.

“Can you speak Italian?” she asked.

“I’m American. I only speak English,” he responded.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I speak Italian, so I can order dinner for us.”

“Can you swim?” he asked.

“No,” she said, “but I can scream for help in six different languages.” HBBB

If you want your children or grandchildren to have a better understanding of the world, encourage them to travel and study abroad. There are so many things they’ll never see or comprehend if they never leave the country or learn another language.

You can’t see your country when you’re too busy driving between your home in the suburbs to your job, to strip malls scattered all over the place and to gas stations to keep filling up your tank. And the growing number of less fortunate who don’t have a car or home, are too busy trying to figure out how they can safely eat and sleep each day. Have you found your Escape from Suburbia yet?

Every good artist knows that you have to step back and look at your creation from a distance. Only then do you gain a true perspective on the whole.

This is when you gain new insights and come up with innovative ideas. That’s what a democracy is about, right? Education for all and freedom of speech for all. We educate our people so they have a fair shot at the American dream and a say in shaping our country, making it a better place for everyone.

A great time to live abroad is to take a year between high school and college or a year between a bachelor’s and master’s degree, or a year between completing a college degree and getting a job. If you’re like most people and don’t have the funds to lay on the beach for a year, look for a work opportunity in another country. You’ll learn a whole lot more that way any how and build a resume line that may help you for years to come. New York Times Gap Year

You don’t have to wait until your kids or grandkids are in college. Students can participate in exchange programs in middle school or high school. When I was living in Shenzhen, China, I had the opportunity to befriend and become language partners with Yang Mei Hong, the founder of Yang Mythos, of one of the most amazing intercultural schools I’ve ever seen.

Yang Mythos - Lorraine & Mei

Dr. Lorraine Haataia & Yang Mei Hong at Yang Mythos Center at Children’s Palace in Shenzhen, China

Yang Mythos Art Education Center isn’t only about art, fashion, dance and travel. It’s so much more. Students have the opportunity to attend local art classes with many talented foreign, bicultural or bilingual teachers as well as participate in international exchange programs. These real-life experiential programs give them hands-on opportunities to practice creativity, happiness, wisdom, enlightenment, and much more. The teachers, parents and students all have fun while building relationships and bridges among people and across cultures.

Yang Mythos has more than a dozen exchange centers throughout the world, in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Canada, France and Germany. And they just recently opened a new center in Washington, DC.

Yang Mythos Berlin WallThis Chinese boy is writing on the Berlin Wall. Who knows how this experience might affect his future? Perhaps he will tear down Nefarious walls and free people. The writing is on the wall.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” asked the teacher.

“Possible,” said the boy.

“What do you mean by that?” the teacher asked.

“My mom keeps telling me I’m impossible. When I grow up, I want to be possible.” AHD

Don’t let money stop you. Look for funding through organizations like the Institute of International Education.

Just one international trip can change many lives forever. Take a look at the Touch A Life Foundation to see what one trip to Vietnam did for Pam and Randy Cope and the countless lives they’ve affected through this organization they founded.

When was the last time you told your kid to go away?

AFS Intercultural Programs

Downtown Disney Designed to Roast Tourists

Downtown Disney was designed to scorch its daytime visitors. On this sunny afternoon in June, I was just as hot as all the other tourists walking on this hard surface pathway. Disney knows how to do greenscaping, but I guess the greenscape design person was on vacation when they drew up the plans for this “downtown.”
This could be a beautiful shaded walk zone where people could enjoy a stroll in the park along the water, but instead, it’s more like a frying pan. And designs like this in Florida trigger people to say things like, “it’s hotter than hell here,” and “let’s go get ice cream.” Downtown Disney was designed to get people to go into the air conditioned stores to shop and into the restaurants for overpriced cold drinks.

On the Environment and Conservation page of their website, Disney states that they’re taking action to protect the planet. I sure hope that they add Downtown Disney to their list of initiatives soon! They really need to tear up some of the stone walkway and add some trees for shade! It’s nice that they make statements about how they’re helping the planet, but it’s even more important for them to first act local and set an example by greening their own properties.

One thing that they did do right here at Downtown Disney was to include a ferryboat where you can go to and from four different resorts. This helps reduce the use of cars and buses and it’s also safer as vacationers go out for dinner and a few drinks–at least they have a safe way to get back to their resort. In the future, it would be great if Disney could connect more of its waterways so visitors could go between and among more of the properties via water taxis.

Because I’m staying at the Dolphin Hotel, I didn’t have the option to travel to Downtown Disney by ferry. I need to fess up that I drove my own vehicle to get to Downtown Disney because the bellhop told me that it would take much longer if I took a Disney bus to get there. Not only would I have to wait on both ends for the bus, but the ride itself would take longer because of the frequent stops at various resorts.

One of the main issues with public transportation in the U.S. is that it generally takes longer to ride a bus than use your own car. Until we plan for the opposite, people will continue to choose to pay a higher price with their own transportation to save the time.

Got any other suggestions to help make Downtown Disney a bit more sustainable? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your ideas!

Ideas From a Big Green Palace in the Desert

Yesterday I had the pleasure of getting lost in a big green palace (or palazzo in Italian). The Las Vegas Sands Corp. claims that The Palazzo, The Venetian and Sands Expo & Convention Center development is the “largest green building on the planet.” That’s quite a claim, but they do have LEED Silver certification and specific business practices to back up their assertion.

When we checked into the Venetian a few days ago, I noticed a “Sands 360” brochure entitled “Leading the Way to a Greener World,” and I was impressed with all that they’re doing to be greener than the average hotel. If the brochure wasn’t in the room, then I probably wouldn’t have had any idea of how much they’re committed to sustainability. You can’t find it easily on their website, so I guess they think it doesn’t matter to the majority of their customers.

Here are just a few elements of their beautiful green design:

1. Atria skylight that takes advantage of natural desert light:

2. Extensive planting areas and permanent built-in planters create a vegetated roof, which help reduce building temperature and storm water runoff. In addition, they’re irrigated with a subsurface drip irrigation system which reduces water wasted through evaporation, typical of traditional irrigation systems. It also allows the pathways areas to stay dry so guests don’t have to duck when the sprinklers are running.

3. Wall to wall mirrors in the elevators reflect and increase light. Although this is a good idea to reduce the need for lighting fixtures, perhaps they can put the elevators on outside walls in their next development so that they can utilize natural lighting for the majority of the day.

4. They installed five large mirrors in the bathroom and in the hallway just outside the door. The mirrors help to reflect and enhance light in this room that has no windows. This is good, but it could be better. In their future developments they can improve on this by bringing natural light into the bathrooms.

5. They give the customer the option to minimize the washing of bed linens & towels, and I like how the sign requires customers to put the sign in the bed if they want it to be made rather than the opposite. I’ve also stayed in hotels where customers are asked to place the sign on the bed if they don’t want it made and this makes much less sense!

And check out the Green Palazzo link on the back of the sign where you can find more details about their green design and processes.

6. It’s difficult to take a picture of the indoor air, but I can tell that I feel good breathing the air in this hotel. In most hotels, I usually notice unpleasant odors. But not here.

7. And here’s a great way they’re helping the local community–they partnered with Opportunity Village’s linen and terry (i.e., sheets and towels) recycling program. Opportunity Village converts used fabrics to cleaning cloths while providing jobs for local special-needs residents.

Not only is this a good idea for every hotel, it’s also something you can do in your own home! Here’s a colorful sample from my home. My mom always used old towels & linens for rags, so I’ve always done the same:

Thank you Sands for your green efforts. I’m happy to have the opportunity to be your customer!

But here’s the best news about Sands that most companies haven’t figured out yet. For every $1 that Sands has invested in being more sustainable, they’ve gotten a $4 return! Read more about this in their Sands Eco 360 Overview.

If you have more ideas about greening the design or business processes of hotels, please feel free to leave a comment.

Green Lodging Program Helps to Sustain Florida

Got a trip to Florida coming up?

Or are you a Florida designer or business consultant who knows of a hotel that wants to save money and improve its occupancy rates?

Check out Department of Environmental Protection Florida Green Lodging Program to locate a hotel or to assist a hotel with setting up more sustainable business processes.

Next time you’re in St. Augustine, FL, check out the St. Francis Inn Bed & Breakfast, a green place to stay in the nation’s oldest city. If a building dating back to 1791 can go green, then certainly any other hotel in our nation should be able to give it a try as well, right?

Please leave a comment if you a favorite green hotel in Florida you’d like to mention.