Tales of Life & Death – Celebrating the Chemo

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Someone I love is fighting with cancer. I have therefore decided to make that person, their life, and their battle my priority over the next few months. Under the name “Tales of Life & Death,” I’ll be sharing more from this journey.

The best piece of advice I got in the days leading up to the start of the chemotherapy was that we should “celebrate the chemo.”

I was talking on the phone with a good friend who beat breast cancer a few years ago. And as we were talking about her experience going through chemotherapy, she said that most important thing for her was to start appreciating chemotherapy – despite all of its nasty side effects and the burden it puts on both the patient and the family.

I was really surprised, but also curious to understand why. As my friend put it, the days/weeks during which the patient receives chemotherapy, are basically the time when the fight against cancer actually matters. Yes, chemo is full of chemicals that fuck up your body, but the chemo is also what makes the difference in the patient’s fight with cancer. If it wasn’t for the chemo, the cancer would keep doing its thing. But it’s because of the chemo why the patient is getting a chance. 

It’s a curse, but it’s also a blessing. So why not fully appreciate the blessing-side of it?  

I really liked this change of perspective. And one of the first things I did was to call the patient and to call the people around the patient to let them know that we should all look forward to the chemotherapy. That we should celebrate it, cherish it, appreciate it. And so we do. Chemo week has been the week we are eagerly longing for.

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Tales of Life & Death – The Beginning

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Someone I love is fighting with cancer.

I have therefore decided to make that person, their life, and their battle my priority over the next few months.

My focus, attention, and even my physical presence will be channeled towards that person so I can support them with all of my love and energy.

As I am studying more about cancer – and the fight with it – I am equally learning more about life and death.

Over the coming weeks, I will be sharing more about this journey with you – under the name “Tales of Life & Death.”

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China Musings #18: Taking Chinese Companies Global

Having worked cross-boarder out of China for the past 15+ months, I learned a thing or two about what it takes for Chinese companies to be successful on global stage. Below my conversation on this very topic on the China Accelerator podcast. It's a dedicated interview of 35 minutes in which I share perspectives and anecdotes from my time in China.

Podcast link: https://goo.gl/1rYzxJ (or check on iTunes)

0:00 Welcome Back and Introduction 
1:50 Introducing Omid Scheybani 
2:50 How Omid came to China and why he stayed 
4:45 Chinese perceptions on Global Markets 
8:15 Chinese Tech going Global and shift in Chinese exports 
12:27 Diversity in Chinese Business and need for intl. Talent 
14:57 Omid’s Advice on working for Chinese companies 
17:55 Challenges for Chinese Businesses going global
19:25 Adapting to Chinese Business Norms 
20:00 Treatment of intl. Talent 
20:25 Perspectives of Chinese products in intl. Markets 
26:34 Lightning Round Questions 
29:19 Spread of Chinese Products to intl. Markets 
33:31 Closing thoughts

Speaking at a Retail Summit at Google Beijing

Speaking at a Retail Summit at Google Beijing

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China Musings #17: The Elevator Lady

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A few weeks ago I used an abandoned freight elevator in my WeWork building.

Door opened and – to my surprise – there was a person operating the elevator, in tie and uniform, with a chair, a table, a table cloth, a plant, and her tea mug. She stood up to greet me as I walked in, hit the button, and then sat down. And once we arrived, she stood up again to "guide me out" with her hand.

I was so surprised, and I also felt really sad for her. The air was sticky, the AC wasn't really working, the elevator was small and metallic, and all she was doing was to stand up/down and hit a button. It felt so lonely. I alter learned she did so 6 times a week, 10 hours each day. 

The mere use of "bodies" for such mundane and mindless jobs is unfortunately very common in countries where there is such an oversupply of workers. I noticed it in Indonesia, and now again in China. And for some reason most of them end up working in such "security/guard"-type of roles where a simple uniform is meant to radiate authority, which yet perishes in sheer incompetence.

I told myself that there is not much I could do, but I promised myself that I would bring her flowers next time so she could upgrade her lonely plant.

And last Wednesday I finally had a chance to buy a bunch of flowers on my way to work and give them to her. I didn’t know how she would react, and I was worried about making her very uncomfortable with the gesture. Still, I felt it was a worthwhile thing to do.

Thankfully, despite initial disbelief, she accepted the flowers gratefully. And ever since, we have become friends of some sort. I’ve made it a thing to use the freight elevator instead of the employee elevator, we’ve added each other on WeChat, and every once in a while we exchange small messages: she would send me pictures of her flowers, and I would let her know that it’s raining outside and that she is not missing anything.

This experience was a great reminder that some things in life only require a small effort, but could have a big impact on others.

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China Musings #16: How Peppa Pig became a Gangster symbol and got banned

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Here is something both absurd and hilarious … the Chinese government has banned Peppa Pig because it promotes – not kidding – “gangster attitudes.”

This all happened after Peppa Pig became the unexpected cultural icon of the "shehuiren" subculture in China. "Shehuiren" literally means "society person," but what it refers to is people who run counter to the mainstream values and are usually poorly educated with no stable job. Mostly unruly slackers, roaming around and the antithesis of the young generation the Communist Party tries to cultivate.

How did Peppa become the symbol of an anti-establishment? Well, Peppa Pig grew in popularity across China after it was introduced in 2015. And Netizens soon came to realize that Peppa Pig is not just children's show, but a cartoon with storylines that present complex social realities. The first video that become popular in China was Peppa learning how to whistle: when Peppa found that everyone apart from her, including her "bestie" Susie Sheep, could whistle, Peppa felt betrayed and hung up the phone on Susie immediately. Netizens hyped this scene as a story that shows "how fake friendships work."

So as Peppa grew popular, memes popped up, emojis were exchanged, songs were dubbed, fake (and real tattoos) were shown off. On Taobao, China's largest e-commerce website, in just one month, one online shop alone sold 30,000 Peppa Pig tattoo stickers and 110,000 Peppa Pig-themed watches. And before you knew it, these "shehuiren" claimed Peppa as their icon.

So for these "shehuiren", since they are not actually gangsters, nor want to be really ordinary people, they have found in Peppa what they were looking for: by wearing Peppa watches and fake Peppa tattoos, they are mocking the big tattoos and golden Rolex watches of the real tough guys, while also distinguishing themselves from mainstream culture and fashion. The irony of the trend is that by ridiculing themselves through the use of the silly Peppa Pig, with her uncool and hairdryer-shaped head, they are now finally what they wanted to be all along: a pretty cool subculture, with a pretty gangster pig as an icon that has set a nationwide trend.

And while Peppa Pig videos were taken down, the hashtag was banned, and Peppa Pig was put on censorship lists for all sorts of content apps, it really just fueled Peppa’s popularity as a symbol on shirts, products, fake tattoos, and whatnot. Two days ago I saw this guy with a fake Gucci X Peppa shirt and asked him to take a pic. As you can see, Peppa is all well and thriving.

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China Musings #15: The Beijing Bikini

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Even though this is my second summer in China, I still get SUCH a good laugh out of seeing Chinese men with their shirt rolled up and their bellies exposed. It’s a curious yet common sight on the streets of China, aptly named the “Beijing Bikini.”

They hang around, play cards, drink tea (or beer), or stroll on the sidewalks exposing their little voluptuous paunches. It’s not rippling abs you see, but more more a sight of flabby tummies – often accompanied with their trousers pulled up past their belly button, and their sleeves rolled up.

One of the main reasons behind this custom lies in Chinese thinking. The belly is an important receptacle for “qì” – energy in Chinese medical theory, believing that covering your belly will store it, while exposing it will help get rid of excess amounts. Another reason is more practical, they do it as a means of cooling themselves.

The habit is actually a sort of compromise to the custom of men going totally shirtless, which is often considered embarrassing to do. And although midriff-exposure is something men of all ages do – even the younger ones – the ones with the biggest belies are always the most prominent ones.

While this social behavior isn’t necessarily favored by the government (a state-run paper once expressed that “exposing one's belly is not conducive towards developing urban civility”), it’s tolerated socially because no one will call them out on it. That said, the government did once begin to crack down on the no-shirt habit during the pre-Olympic run up (2007/2008). During that campaign the Beijing Daily ran pictures of men who went around shirtless, often with less than attractive upper bodies, in an effort to shame them into dressing respectfully.

A newspaper, “The Paper” recently wrote on its Weibo account that the “Beijing Bikini” is a problem throughout China and the world at large, admitting that Chinese men are the brunt of ridicule by foreigners without saying anything in defense. This ambivalence is also seen in their conclusion: "There exists an unclear boundary between personal freedoms over clothing and the etiquette of sharing public spaces."

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China Musings #14: The Delight of Studying Mandarin

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One of the more delightful experiences on my Mandarin study journey are the reactions I get from people.

Despite being spoken natively by over a billion people, Mandarin is a very hard language to learn. That’s why Chinese – not all, but most – get very happy to hear foreigners speak it, no matter how little or how badly.

Sometimes it really just takes a “Nĭ hăo” (Hello) to elicit a thoroughly well-intended “You speak Chinese very well.” Such reactions are ridiculous in their judgement, yet endearing in their intention.

A still common, slightly cheesy, yet increasingly outdated way to respond is with the question “Nǎlǐ, nǎlǐ?” (Where, where?), a polite way to deny the praise that's been given. For example, if someone says you are beautiful and you respond with “Nǎlǐ, nǎlǐ?,” you are implying “Beautiful? Me? Where? I don’t see myself being beautiful.”

The origin of this expression is linked to traditional Chinese Confucianism, where being modest and not revealing your strengths is seen as a good personal trait.

So no matter if in a cab, at a coffee shop, or with security guards on the street – sometimes even the slightest display of your Mandarin skills can conjure up a smile on locals’ faces.

— A colleague took this pic of me at our team meeting today. We had switched the language to Chinese to accommodate for our non-English speaking staff, so I lost myself in studying characters while everything was being translated.

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