Friday, August 03, 2007

Watch That First Step

Never let it be said that I'm not willing to try new things…

I have a friend who is going through a Divorce and she asked if I would be willing to go skydiving with her. The jump was set for yesterday and what follows are my impressions…

They kept us on the ground for 4 hours waiting for our turn to jump. We watched as they ran flight after flight of jumpers up. They had this down to a science and I would say they ran a flight of about 8 jumpers every 40 minutes. These guys must be making a fortune out of this gig! Funny, but in all the time watching I never really got that nervous about the upcoming jump. I have never found myself afraid of death, but it's interesting to be put in the position to really consider the possibility.

We boarded the plane and began an ascent to 2 miles, where the jump would begin. As I look out of the small plane (at the earth getting smaller below me) I begin to feel a little fear creep in…there's no going back now and the gaping door at the back of the plane seems like the last place where I would want to be. The Jump Leaders keep us all talking (I'm sure this is to keep the nerves down) and the flight up seems to take a lot less time than the 20 minutes that actually passes. We are strapped to our jump partners (you are not allowed to jump alone on you first jump) and we begin to approach the jump door. My friend is immediately ahead of me and as I crouch in the door, I watch her fall from the plane. There is the briefest moment of panic as I look out at the earth miles below me and realized that I am about to jump; I am not afraid of heights, but the idea of having NO MEANS of support is a little daunting. Still, there is much for me to remember and the moment passes very fast.

I leap from the plane and begin to freefall. The freefall lasts about one minute, but what a minute it is!!! I am falling at 120 mph. We have people taking film (as this is our first jump) and my cameraman catches me by the hand and sets me into a spin. I enjoy the spin and find that my brief fear has totally left me. I am in awe of this experience and just wish the freefall could go on. I read the altimeter and realize that it's time to pull the chute. I pull the cord and wait for the chute to open (it takes a few seconds). Suddenly, I am pulled back hard by the four connection points to my jump partner; my legs swing wildly below me and it feels as if I am actually climbing again after the feeling of falling that preceded. Now I have time to get a look around and enjoy the jump. I can see the skyline of Philadelphia in the distance and the cars far below that are on their way to Atlantic City. The ground below me is a patchwork of fields and woods. My jump partner asks if I would like little speed and when I answer in the affirmative, he puts us into an angle where we face directly to the ground and begin to spin in a corkscrew. I can again feel the strong wind on my face and am enjoying the sensation as the ground rises up to me. Before long, we are preparing for our landing and I can see the zone about 50 feet below me. I am now concentrating on "sticking" my landing and am surprised by how quickly the ground comes up to meet me. I raise my feet in front of me and keep my legs close together (to protect the ankles from breaking as I hit). The landing is smooth and I am almost giddy with the whole experience. I remember saying to my cameraman (who filmed my landing) that I need to do this again SOON.

My friend enjoyed the jump as much as I did and we are planning to jump again in September (after the summer rush has calmed down). I'm not sure how many of you have ever considered skydiving, but I'd say it's something everyone should experience at least once in their life…I'm sure glad I did it!

Best! Norm.


For me, all Asia is dominated by two great women…Hong Kong and Singapore. Hong Kong is a woman with a wild and mysterious past. She is older now and her abandon has been tempered by maturity. She still carries a wild streak and you know you're in for an incredible ride when you take her out.

Singapore…Singapore is the 19-year-old girl with the perfect body and stunning beauty. She is almost too perfect to look at straight on. She is uncertain and aloof. Hong Kong wraps her arms and legs around you and drowns you in her sexuality. Singapore sits back and waits for you to make your move. She is willing and friendly, but she hasn't gained the boldness of experience. I spend this weekend in Singapore and I drink in the delights of this wonderful place.

Singapore is an island city/country that lies at the bottom of the Malay Peninsula. This is as close to the equator as you can get and the heat and humidity here hit you hard as you leave the hotel. The city is one of the cleanest and most beautiful in the entire world and it is both exotic and cosmopolitan. You will not find so much as a speck of trash anywhere here and the jungle seems to blend right into the city streets, leaving all green and lush. This is a very modern city, but it is filled with remnants of its British colonial past. There is a large Cricket Club across from the Parliament House and the Boat Quay is lined with Irish Pubs and Tea Houses.

Mosques share the streets with Buddhist and Hindu temples and there are Episcopalian churches sprinkled thru ought. As you walk the streets, you pass Indian women in Sarongs, Chinese in silk dresses, and Malaysians in flowered prints. Eating, drinking and partying (and shopping for those who care) dominate everything!

Red Chinese lanterns line the Boat Quay along the Singapore River and I sit drinking a Tiger beer and waiting for my Peppered Crab (the local specialty and an incredible dish!!!). Water taxis ply the river and there is the sound of conversations in a dozen languages as people laugh and talk about the day and the coming evening. Dinner here is late (like in Europe) and the diners move right from their meal and into the bars and discos. The parties run all night long and after things begin to slow, everyone either heads to breakfast or off to bed (until about noon).

There's a Jimmy Buffett song with the lines…"I could use some rest I can't run at this pace very long. Yes it's quite insane; I think it hurts my brain. But it cleans me out and then I can go on..." Yep. That's how I feel. I know I could never run with this woman full time, but damn she makes you glad you're alive!

Best! Norm.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Club

Travel has become a very big part of my life and I find myself alone (and far from home) most of the time. One of the most common “haunts” for me has become Hong Kong, where I am working to build a presence in Asia for my company. An interesting and wonderful thing happened during my visit here this week and I wanted to try to capture it. I have been to Hong Kong at least a dozen times and I know the city better than I do many parts of America. I love it here and if you’ve read any of what I’ve written, or listened to me for very long, you know that I have come to love the Chinese very much too. Still, this has been a city of work and my contacts here have been casual and professional. I feel as though I have finally moved past that and that I can now count a few of the residents of this island as real friends. I won’t name any names, as any association with me can’t be too good for anyone’s reputation, but I’ll try to describe what was an entirely wonderful evening.

There were four of us; two were ex-Pats that have lived in Hong Kong since 1980 (a Brit from Manchester, UK and a Sikh from the Punjab), one was born and raised in the colony and the fourth was your ignorant American Narrator. My British friend had gotten a membership into the HK Press Club twenty or more years ago and we met there for drinks. The Press Club is an old Colonial building (1911) and it reeks of character. There are still journalists who came to Asia to cover the Vietnam War that haunt the bar. We drank and began with conversations over the work we were doing…next steps and all that, when we began to settle into that wonderful state of being free to talk about things that mattered. We covered EVERTHING…politics, religion (eastern and western), spirituality, the state of humanity, books, movies, ourselves…

The intent was just a few drinks before we all went our merry way, but we became so engaged that we had soon decided to make a night of it and struck off for a good place to have dinner and greet the evening, ending up in Lan Kwai Fong. LKF is a particular favorite of ex-Pats in Hong Kong and the street is “alive” all day and all night! We had Thai and then moved one to one the dozen or so bars in the few blocks the district covers. We settled at “Insomnia”, which is a bar with no front and no door…it has the large sculpted stones columns of a castle with a low vaulted ceiling. The bar is open 24/7, so a closed front with windows or doors isn’t needed (they never close). The symbol of the place is a woman-bat kind of spirit (all very Goth). The feeling of walking right in off the street was novel. We continued our conversation and began to make the type of plans that friends do…hiking in the New Territories during my next visit, celebrations for when we launch our service, a ferry to Macau. Soon a band started playing on the street and people were dancing. I looked out from the bar and realized that the entire stretch was a solid mass of people (all having fun). I am pretty solitary for the most part, but I absolutely love a good “crowded” party and the whole scene reminded me of the time some friends and I spent an evening drinking on Duval Street in Key West. It was then that it hit me…these people were no longer just colleagues, but had become friends. I realized that I had real friends that shared a totally different life experience than anything I had known growing up. I also realized that this place, which was no more than an exotic backdrop to Charlie Chan movies for me when I was young, now seemed to fit like an old pair of jeans.

It was very late when I boarded the MTR train back to my hotel on Lantau Island…this has been a long trip and I am tired and I look forward to seeing home again, but I realize something else…I have begun to feel more than just happy when I am in HK, I have begun to feel content. While this is not yet home for me, I can easily see where I could make it my home and I know that a part of me will always be here.

Best! Norm.

Monday, April 30, 2007

A "Win" is a "Win"

Baseball season is here and during a brief respite between trips I managed to get a game in coaching my son’s team. Spring rains made the whole thing iffy and the fact that we got to play today was a blessing (and the result of a lot of work on the field, which looked like a swamp when everyone first arrived). I try not to tie too much to the outcome of these games; it’s not like any of this will really mean much in 5 years time, but today was a treat…

The team had 22 hits and 15 runs during the game and dominated through the entire line-up. This was what was best about the game; even the kids that normally stand at the plate with their knees shaking got hits today. It was those hits that meant the most to me! There’s always that small group of kids that find everything easy, that will end up as Prom Kings and Business Executives; for these kids, a little victory means nothing (and is expected). But the faces of the also-rans as they smacked the ball into the field and heard me yelling that they just scored us another run…this was worth everything!!!

The team Manager and I umpired a game after ours was over and then stopped at a Pub for a Burger and a few Beers. After a long day in the sun, the food and drink were great and we laughed and talked about how special the day had been for the boys….

I’m certainly not one of those who think of winning as everything. I’ve been lucky in life and if you tend to win a lot, you realize that it really means nothing at all. Still, to those for whom a win is a rare an elusive thing, these moments are like water in the desert! It was something to see kids that probably don’t smile too much smiling without reservation today and holding their heads up with pride. I guess winning once and a while is not such a bad thing after all.

Best! Norm.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Wolf

This is a great story!

A grandson told of his anger at a schoolmate who had done him an injustice. The grandfather said, “Let me tell you a story. I too have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much with no sorrow for what they do. But, hate wears you down and does not hurt the enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside of me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so and in the right way.”

“But the other wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights with everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is hard to live with these two wolves inside me because both of them try to dominate my spirit.”

The Boy looked intently into his grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins?”

The grandfather solemnly replied, “The one I feed.”

-Vickie Smith

Best! Norm.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Quiet Café in Germany

I don’t look for enduring happiness in this world…only happy moments.

I am working this week in Frankfurt, Germany but have chosen to stay about 20 minutes west of Frankfurt (by train) in the city of Mainz. Mainz lies on the Rhine River and is dominated by the Cathedral “Dom” of St Martin, which is over 1000 years old.

I have been blessed with beautiful weather for this visit and the blossoms of spring are everywhere (it is sunny and 80˚F). They have an open–air market here on weekends and the streets are filled with shoppers and vendors; fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers are everywhere.

I spent the entire afternoon enjoying the activity and beauty of the town and found myself near the banks of the river early in the evening. The Germans must enjoy carnival rides as I see Ferris Wheels and Rollercoaster’s on the riverbanks of every town that I have been to…Mainz is no different. I stop at a sausage vendor and get a Bratwurst that is as long as my arm and a liter of beer.

I sit beside the river and watch the families riding the carnival rides and the teenagers sunning themselves along the banks of the Rhine. The sun feels great after the long winter…the food is wonderful….the sounds are happy sounds and the sights are good sights…

I remind myself that a life is just a collection of memories…and this is a very good one. We all seem to be chasing so many things; I hope we don’t forget to chase a good memory now and then. In other words, don’t forget to stop and smell the Beer!

Best! Norm.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Buddha

Arriving in Hong Kong with a day before the schedule for my first meeting, I ‘ve got an opportunity to spend some time seeing things that I have not been able to visit on my earlier trips.

The Tian Tan Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery sit atop a hill on Lantau Island north of Hong Kong. I got to the site by taking a cable car that is similar to the ones that are commonly used in the European ski resorts. The ride took me very high about the islands and the northern territories and the trip up was beautiful. They also have a hiking path to the site, which is a 4 hour walk (I hope to do the hike on a future visit).

The Buddha itself is massive. The statue rises 34 meters above the top of the mountain and is reached by climbing 270 stairs. They had a presentation that outlined how Sidhartha became the Buddha and what in his life had led to his journey of enlightenment. I was especially moved by the simplicity and honesty of the story. The setting of this monastery is perfect for the reflection and self-awareness that Buddhism promotes. The woods that surround the peak are filled with Lilacs and the aroma on the paths that wound through the woods was intoxicating.

The temples that are interspersed amongst the trees are filled with the scent of incense as the believers send their prayers to the sky on through the burning of long sticks. I was completely at ease and completely mesmerized by the entire site. I am still searching for the religion that has the most meaning for me, that speaks most directly to my heart and mind. If the Buddhists are not there, then they are as close as I can find in any modern religion. This is a philosophy that works in this life and the next and that tells us how to live and treat each other without the mixed messages that seem to cause so much hatred and grief.

God Bless the Buddhists!

Best! Norm.

The Space Between

As I write this post, I am on a plane flying from San Francisco, California to Seoul, Korea. I find this time away and out-of-touch during my trips to be very interesting; I even wrote a post about it several months’ back. This post isn’t about the time away, or even about my thoughts during these long trips. I want to talk about the little things that people do to make life better. Also, this post isn’t an advertisement, but I’m sure it’s going to sound like one.

The flight from America to Asia runs about 14 hours. This gives time for reflection, but it is definitely one of the worst parts of traveling. You find yourself cramped in a very small space for a VERY long time, cabin fever tends to set in at about 8 hours and after that you are just dying to land and get off the plane. Today, I am traveling on Singapore Airlines. Whenever I see Singapore Airlines on my itinerary, I smile...

I am a Capitalist and I believe that businesses need to be smart to stay in business (and to keep us employed), but too many people make their buying decisions on cost alone and businesses today are cost conscious to the extent of being insensitive to the people; they don’t think we care and maybe we don’t, but we should. Singapore Airlines is a little piece of heaven. The Stewardesses are uniformly: beautiful, attentive, professional, and caring. The airline provides hot towels and real food in coach (with reclining seats). These things may seem trivial, and maybe they are, but they give a little comfort when so much of our world seems cheap and impersonal. I get the feeling that Singapore Airlines cares about me, but more important, I feel like the PEOPLE at Singapore Airlines care about me. It doesn’t really take much; a smile, a friendly nod. When I fly on American airline companies, I expect them to be cheap but what is worse is that they treat me more like a box that they are moving from point to point than like a human being. This seems to have permeated right down to the attendants and ticket people, all of whom seem to feel like they have no reason to treat others with respect and kindness.

It’s not the wine, or the ice cream that they just brought to me. It is the feeling I get from everyone here that I matter and that they want me to be comfortable. When I think about it, we are all on a journey from here to there. We all get caught up in little things that have no real meaning (like how well we’re doing and how many things we have). I think how much nicer the journey would be for all of us if we’d just take a clue from this small Asian Airlines: respect each other, be kind and caring, do the little things…smile, listen, and care. The funny thing is that it takes so little, but it still seems like too much for most of us (me included).

Best! Norm.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Where do I look?

I sometimes think I give you all a slanted picture of me because I tend to post a lot of spiritual stuff in this blog. I am not a particularly religious person and have actually spent very much of my life wondering if we didn’t invent God because we feared death and needed to convince ourselves that there was more after this. This thought still rumbles around in my head, but it no longer causes me discomfort because I believe in more. Even if this is all there is, I am very happy and not at all afraid of that “long dreamless sleep”. But I do believe in God….just not the same one as most of you. Well I just complained of focusing too much on religion, but here I go again (I don’t really talk about it with anyone else, so I tend to put it all here).

I was raised as a Catholic and spent my formative years in the church. While there were times when I felt exalted, most of my years in the church were a sham. The ritual and the aloofness overcame the sense of community for me. I never found God in the church. I can feel God in my heart and in the hearts of some of the people that I know and meet (certainly not all of them and actually the number is less than I’d like).

I have written a lot about my belief that this world is a lie and that we need to look within ourselves to see God. I have also said that sex and love are windows on truth and beauty…God is here too, but we need to be careful not to hold on too tight, as these will make us turn toward the material and away from the truth. There is one other place where I see God in this material world…it is in nature. I believe that whoever built this world (of lies) tried hard to copy the real world of truth and beauty; I don’t think he completely failed at this. When I am at peace, in the woods, and far from man’s devices and desires, I can often see God in the material beauty of nature. I have said before that if I have a church, this is it. When I look for God, I look to the trees and the flowers; I look to green things.

I hope you can find him/her somewhere too and I hope that when you find that place, you can still your emotions and drink in as much as you need. I have tried many times (without much success) to really meditate, like the Buddhists. I have a trip back to Hong Kong coming in a week or so. I am scheduling a side trip to see one of the Great Buddha’s. Maybe I’ll try to talk with one of the monks? At the very least, I’m going to try to sit and still my mind….Let’s see if I can’t make another connection and find another place…the one deep within me. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Best! Norm.