Friday, March 6, 2015
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
(from my April, 2005 newsletter)
Lime juice, something sweet, something salty and tequila. The best remedy for anything at the end of a hot day. No restaurant any where can beat a well mixed margy at home.
It’s hard to go wrong on this one as long as you follow some basic rules. Top shelf tequila is a must… not Cuevo, we’re talking Herradura or Patron. Even medium grade tequila tastes like and is as toxic as regular gasoline. Stick with the expensive stuff and your margarita will be tasty, refreshing and smooth.
On the rocks with salt on the rim. A frozen margarita is an abomination of nature and an insult to any citizen of Mexico. This is a margarita NOT a slushee from the mini-mart. The salt replenishes what you’ve lost from a hard day of work or play in the sun.
Here is the ultimate recipe, with eternal gratitude to Sanders Thompson who taught this northwestern mossback how to fix a real Texas-style margarita.
1 part top shelf gold tequila
1 part Rose’s lime juice
½ part Triple Sec
Splash (or more) Grand Marnier.
Mix in a pitcher, salt the rim of a glass,
add ice, toss in a slice of lime.
Sanders did teach me that it’s best not to have more than one of these if you have an early appointment the next morning.
To keep the theme strategic, if you’re really adventurous save the Grand Marnier until the end. Pour it on top of the drink in the glass… and more than a splash. Garnish with an orange slice and you have a Cadillac margarita. You may never go back.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
There’s a tendency to look at things like values or vision or culture as the “soft” stuff of management, at least when considered alongside harder elements like finance or production. I’m arguing that none of that money or any of those processes makes sense unless you consider the values that explain why we get up every day to produce things in the first place.
Some recent mergers and acquisitions have gotten me thinking a lot about organizational culture lately. I find it hard to accept that I can’t find a trace of WaMu in the Chase branch that replaced it. I’m still steamed that Boeing has appropriated the Douglas Aircraft logo my father so proudly wore 50 years ago. I’m sitting now on an airplane that has a Continental tail and a United fuselage, staffed by a CO crew flying out of a UA hub. It’s enough to drive you crazy.
Maybe I’m showing my age, growing nostalgic at the loss of childhood trademarks, but as heretical as it sounds, I believe businesses are about more than making money. I realize that’s what they have to do… profitability is the mission of a business. But businesses are much more than revenue generating engines; they are a home to those who work with them and an experience to their consumers.
I’ve flown a lot of miles on the old Continental and United; indeed, I flew on the fabled Continental gold tails. They were very distinct experiences yet I doubt that either culture will survive the merger and in the end, like their sister carriers, Northwest and TWA, neither is likely to leave a meaningful trace on the consciousness of American travelers.
The new UAL culture will retain something of their parent airlines, but the two distinct original experiences I’ve known from the past will disappear. And that makes me sad, because what made Continental continental or United united, in the end, were differences that caused flyers to pick one over the other… it wasn’t just fares and routes, it was how a flight attendant greeted you, the snacks you were served, the magazine in the seatback pocket you read.
Life in mass society becomes increasingly homogenous, so much so that it is hard to see much difference in anything, be it airlines, department stores or newspapers (to the degree they still exist.). Even cities have lost the things that made them special, so much so that Baltimore, Seattle or San Diego, which except for differences in geography and weather, are today basically all the same place, with the same Cheesecake Factory, Banana Republic and Courtyard by Marriott.
So let me mount my hobby horse and make the case why corporate culture is critically important and why preserving its values is a worthy goal of executive managers.
Organizations are held together by two things: structure and culture. The structure of an organization is the bone; the culture the sinew that connects it all. You need both, but some managers spend way too much time on the structure, building and maintaining systems and processes, and not enough on the culture, the values that make all that activity meaningful and satisfying.
Both are necessary and you’ll not make a dime in business if you don’t attend to organizational structure. But if you squeeze the cultural values out of an organization you lose the satisfaction of earning that dime much less the reason for pursuing it in the first place.
Ever watch kids play? Theirs is highly purposive behavior and even young children are trying to get something done with each other, but take away the fun of playing and kids lose interest fast.
Work is no different. Every one of us knows we have to do our job to earn money to support our families. We also understand our work enriches shareholders (citizens in the public sector) who employ us in their interest. That’s why we work, but that’s not why we work hard. People need more incentive than financial survival to bring out their best. Add in the value that comes from working and we become motivated.
Watch morale, enthusiasm and joy disappear when you take the cultural values out of the work and leave just a way to make money. Don’t believe me? Take a close look at the expression on the next flight attendant you meet, and then compare it with those flying with Southwest and you’ll see my point.
Two recent events renewed my interest in organizational culture. The first was the acquisition of NAI Global by a large real estate/finance corporation. Their acquisition caused me publicly to wonder how NAI's culture, crafted by the Finn family and shaped by exceptional leaders like Peter Hanson, Mike Mooney and Mike Zugsmith would fare in the future.
The other event came during lunch with Ted Fowler, president and CEO of the nation's largest buffet-grill restaurant chain, Golden Corral. We were eating at one of their new, impressive, "pavilion" stores when Ted noticed two 8-year old girls sitting across from us with their mother. He glanced over at them and commented, "Those two little girls are going to have a great time here today."
Thinking about these two interesting events raises some challenging questions to those of us trying to build strong organizations: how do we assure the values that define a company like NAI Global don't get lost, how do you develop employees whose view of their work is as value driven as Ted's?
Let me explain what I mean by the idea of organizational culture. The concept, borrowed from anthropology, suggests that a business or agency is partly understood by the values, customs, traditions, icons, even stories, it uses to define itself. This culture supplements processes and structure and manages organizational behavior. Indeed, the organization’s values… the real “stuff” of culture to me… can carry normative even moral implications in assessing what people do and how well they do it.
A strategic plan is an important part of any organization’s culture. The preface to most strategic plans, the mission, vision and value statements are (or should be) the most tangible components of that culture.
I stress this point because in a time of process and systems analysis it’s easy to overlook an organization’s culture and its values.
For me, organizational structure explains people’s behavior in much the same way that seating in an airplane explains what passengers can and cannot do. Adding the cultural dimension allows me to understand why people are sitting there and what they take into consideration as they make decisions within that structure. I’m not saying one is more important than the other, only that both need to be considered if you want to understand organizational behavior (and presumably manage it).
Extraordinary leaders are almost always successful because of the powerful, motivating values they endorse and their ability to use those values as criteria for even the most minute and mundane decisions. Indeed, when people talk about management or leadership “style,” that’s just another way of talking about what managers and leaders value.
If values are important in defining the best organizations it follows that anything that threatens or compromises them needs to be handled with care. That’s why the issue of mergers and acquisitions makes me uneasy.
Not all organizations, mind you, but some, maybe some of the best, rely on values to manage their operations. They are great because managers adhere to a set of values and built commitment around them as the primary way to lead their organization, top to bottom.
My initial concerns about the acquisition of NAI Global, had nothing to do with merits of the deal, I don’t know enough about it or the acquiring parties at C-3 to even speculate about its implications. What I do know is the old NAI Global was a special organization and a very good example of one that has prospered because its members held to a set of values that engendered trust, in an industry (commercial real estate brokerage) where trust can be an issue.
Here’s what’s always impressed me about NAI Global. Over 40 years ago Gerry Finn created a network of independent commercial real estate brokerage offices, first in North America (hence the NA), and later across the world (thus the Global). NAI was not a franchise; instead independent members affiliated through contracts with NAI, but were free to operate with considerable autonomy. I once referred to their network as fragile. I didn’t mean that as a criticism, it was a compliment that highlighted the fine job the Finns had done in crafting a successful value-driven network where trust, the most fragile of all values, held it all together.
The astounding part of this is that the independent firms affiliated voluntarily. Sure they signed a contract, but what they did as members of the network arose out of an understanding of the need for collaboration and a commitment to the support of the network (and their fellow members).
I’ve emphasized the word independent, because in the sometimes free-wheeling, gun-slinging environment of commercial real estate it surprised me to find an effective organizational model built on trust and collaboration. NAI Global’s members are some of the best brokers and sharpest business owners in their markets. These are leaders in their communities and operators of top notch firms… you’ll never meet a more entrepreneurial group and they aggressively protect their autonomy. Talk about herding cats… alligators or cheetahs might be a better example. These are not corporate types.
Yet, they worked together quite successfully. Cooperation and collaboration was high and leader-like participation in governance was expected and freely given. Remember, NAI Global was (in majority) a family owned company and most of these affiliates had no ownership in the network. This level of affiliation would be remarkable, in any kind of organization, remarkably so in a family-owned, quasi-franchise.
My regard for NAI and how it managed to strike this careful balance between the wishes of its family owners and the needs of its independent affiliates (who found their own balance between being part of a network and maintaining their local autonomy) may explain my initial concern when the acquisition of NAI was announced.
I must confess to a degree of nostalgia here. I hope the old NAI values of trust and collaboration, mutual support and comradeship persist. But there is no denying that something will be lost. These enterprises are no longer part of a group of firms who swore affiliation to each other and a family… they are now part of a corporation, for better or worse.
And anyone who thinks that being a branch office of a corporation is the same as being an independent affiliate of a voluntary network hasn’t thought about the difference very long. This is a huge change and the values that have grown up around NAI affiliates could be lost unless the owners of the affiliates themselves work to keep them alive. There is no reason to believe that the new owners of NAI understand those values much less even know they exist, or that they should. They have their own values and those will and should be of concern to them. The acquisition is, as it should be, a business decision. It does, however, carry cultural implications.
The story of Ted Fowler’s genuine interest that little girls eating at his restaurant have a good time raises another cultural issue altogether. I don’t think Ted is unique in his concerns for his customers. I suspect most CEOs have a similar gut reaction when they actually see clients in their place of business.
My worry is whether this instinctive, very human reaction to the sight of a customer consuming is felt at all levels of the organization. Knowing Golden Corral I’m not too concerned on that point, the people who greet you at the door and cook food behind the grill seem distinctly attuned to the satisfaction of their guests. I’m less sure about other companies.
The best organizations I’ve been involved with “live” the mission statement. But for many the sad truth is that few outside the organization’s planning team even know their company’s mission and fewer take it into account in their daily activity. In the great organizations it seems like every activity, even those most remote to the mission are all connected to it.
The best example I have of this goes back to work I did with a REIT, Highwoods Properties. As part of their strategic planning process, their CFO (now CEO) Ed Fritsch and I visited each Highwoods office where we tag-teamed a presentation that rolled out the plan to every employee.
We were in the Orlando office where the number of staff was so large and the meeting space so small we had to split attendance into morning and afternoon sessions. That morning I asked, as I did at the end of each presentation, what they were going to do differently after lunch now that they had been apprised of their employer’s new strategic plan. I’d always ask Ed last and this morning, as a prank, he countered by asking what I was going to do differently after lunch. I told him I was going to try to make the small meeting room more comfortable for the next group.
That’s all I said. I didn’t ask anybody to do anything, I just made the comment. When I turned to walk to the door to bid farewell to the participants I watched four Highwoods building maintenance techs, wearing their overalls, rise, pull out some tools, disconnect a board room table top from its stanchions, kneel and remove the legs from their floor brackets. They moved the table aside and rearranged the chairs.
All without a word from me. They had listened earlier when Ed and I talked about the value of helping each other out and when I mentioned the condition of their room, they acted on their own, unbidden or commanded, in a manner consistent with Highwood’s culture. That’s what I’m talking about.
My hope is that I could come into your organization, encounter someone changing the toner in a printer and to be told, when I ask them what they are doing, that they are fulfilling the mission of your firm, association or agency.
Far-fetched? I don’t think so. The almost unconscious reference to values that causes us to do the better thing is found in many other CEOs like Fowler and regular employees like the maintenance guys at Highwoods. But it isn’t there by accident.
One more powerful example. As you know, I fly a great deal and with my patronage comes the privilege of slightly more comfortable seating on my “home” airline, United. When you come on board, you recognize us right away, tucked into slightly wider seating between first class and the last exit row, with blanket, pillow, iPad and noise cancelling earphones.
A couple of years ago I was on one of my favorite flights, United 200, the late-afternoon Seattle to Chicago ORD run (gives me all morning to work at home and gets me into the Windy City just in time for a steak at Gene and Georghettis). United offers a feed of it Air Traffic Control traffic as one of its complimentary audio channels and I and many other frequent flyers stayed tuned to be alerted to weather or equipment delays.
One afternoon I’m on this flight and just as the aircraft pushes back from the gate, the captain comes on with an announcement. I listen with some trepidation, because I’ve never heard any good news seconds after the pushback. This time, however, he intones, “Ladies and Gentlemen if you listen to ATC on Channel 9 today you will not here us called, as we would be, United 200. Today we are ‘Lifeguard United 200.’ We’re carrying a kidney to Chicago for transplant!”
I am convinced that every one sitting around me, a bunch of jaded, airline-weary, United 1Ks and Premiers, sat up a little straighter, maybe even combed back out hair. We weren’t on just another four hour grind business flight to Chicago, we were on a mission!
All of these stories are true and each says a great deal about what happens when value is interjected into the otherwise hum drum of our daily work lives. What we do becomes meaningful and the people we do it with are suddenly special.
Whenever I have these experiences, whenever I see people working together with a sense of purpose, I know they are part of an organization that values them and me. And I know this is no accident.
These values got there because they were expressed, shared and followed by leadership. I’d go so far to say that advancing the organization’s values is what leadership is all about. Values and missions posted on walls or printed on business cards mean little to me. Actions that are clearly motivated by those values do.
So when I get on my soapbox and worry aloud about the loss of values in our organizations it is because I know that culture counts. Those values are what separate great organizations from the also-rans.
When I started this newsletter the intent was to draw from my casebook of clients something that others could read and learn to advance their managerial or leadership capacity. Since the lessons learned usually came at my cost, I hoped I could save you some pain by avoiding the worst of the mistakes I made. My initial newsletter format was too limited to allow for the full exposition of the cases, so I kept the title but dropped the feature.
With a new format I can now use real cases, camouflaged to protect the guilty and innocent, but illustrative of the kinds of things that really go on in organizations. These cases give you a chance to play against me and test your wits as how you would handle it.
The fun thing here is you can work these cases a little like contract bridge. You can play my hand as the consultant or try to figure out how to handle this from the executive’s side.
In the Case of the Counterfeit Coin I learn an important lesson about how the assumptions we act upon in the workplace can produce results quite different than those we intend.
A young man called me. He was the executive director of a small non-profit professional association and his job was to lobby the legislature encouraging policy favorable to his members' business and blocking things that weren't. He was particularly skilled at doing this and proud that he and his small staff of three could point to some real legislative successes over the past couple of years.
He was troubled, however, his staff and, who as he described it over the phone, seemed disinterested if not uninspired by their work. He described to me a group of women who did very good work, providing him with the sound analysis, persuasive materials and other supports to help him protect his members' interests on the Hill. But they seemed dispirited.
He told me that he honestly could not have achieved what he had without their help and that he was really disturbed that when he returned to the office to share with them what they as a team had accomplished, their response was muted if not lackluster. He had wracked his brain as to what was wrong, what made them so indifferent to their work. Lacking an answer he had come to worry that a serious morale issue was dogging his team. In desperation he sought my help. I agreed to meet with him and his staff to uncover the why his staff's passion didn't match his own.
[Let’s handle this like a Harvard B-School case study. You have all the details. What do you think? What would you do next?]
Before revealing what I learned let me share a little wisdom I've picked up along the way about organizational problems. Whatever I'm told in that first call is almost always wrong. More often and not the problem is presented (framed) in terms of a person or persons and these are not usually the true culprits, indeed many times it is not a person at all who is the problem - the issue actually resides in the organization's culture or structure. If there is a culprit, ironically it is the person who called me. All this has taught me to enter the deconstruction and analysis of these situations with care, avoiding presuppositions and working to arrive at my own independent and well informed opinion of what the problem is (if there is one) and who is responsible (if it is even a person at all).
I drove downtown and began a set of interviews with him and each of his staff individually. I was honest, but vague, about my interests, masking my curiosity about his concerns about motivation and morale with my own questions about the effectiveness of internal processes.
In meeting them I was immediately struck by a demographic anomaly. He was a young man, recently wed, they were all women all at least 15 years older than he, with older children and, in one case grandchildren, and a couple of divorces to boot. He was a college graduate with an advanced degree; they were technically trained some still pursuing their undergraduate degrees. Except for the fact that they all worked for the same employer with a common mission, he and his staff came from and lived in very different worlds.
I was surprised to hear staff speak with considerable passion about their work and the pride they took in its quality and professionalism. If anything, they were disappointed by their boss's lack of appreciation for the excellence of what they did on a consistent basis. They liked him although they granted he had a pretty big ego and saw these legislative successes as the result of his valiant and clever efforts. This was not what I expected to hear.
I drove back to my office more puzzled than I had been than before I started these interviews. Something didn't add up; there was a huge disconnect between what the EO reported and what they told me. It was possible, but not plausible they were lying. They seemed genuinely proud of their work.
I began a second round of interviews and this time around one of them provided me just the clue I was looking for. In asking what it was like to work for him, a staffer told me: "you know, all he ever talks about is work. That's all he's interested in. Just once I'd like him to come into the office on Monday morning and ask what I had done for the weekend or my kids are of what I thought of the Seahawks game. Anything but work!"
Informed of this I probed the other respondents and while they were generous and charitable about chalking up his lack of interest in them to his youthful inexperience, driven ambition and self importance, they surely felt he didn’t care much about them except as part of a machine to get the work done.
[What do you think? What would you recommend be done?]
This was a powerful lesson for me, a classic example of a mistake I have seen managers, teachers and all sorts of professionals make repeatedly: they assume that the people they manage, teach or support understand the world the same way they do. Later on popular culture coined the term "to get it (or not)" to describe someone just can't see something from another person's point of view, doubling down on the error by substituting their own interpretation of events. Psychologists call this projection... where you project your own values or motives on others.
What I had here was an office where different values operated side by side and in mutual ignorance. This wasn't a communication breakdown, they exchanged information about the job quite efficiently. This certainly wasn't a personality conflict they were cordial enough to each other. It was most surely not a morale problem, but based on a much different set of issues than the boss assumed.
It was simply the fact that what he and his staff thought was important and valuable about their work was very different. And he, as manager, had no clue as to what was important to his workers. At the time I labeled the phenomenon I had discovered as paying off in the wrong currency. His recounting of their legislative coups was the same as paying off in Zlotys when they were looking for Dollars.
Despite available data to the contrary we read and react to social situations employing the personal frame or paradigm we've gained through experience or learning. Sadly, however, we all have plenty of instances where a manager or a teacher or a coach committed just such a vanity, presuming that you and I think, feel, are motivated in the exactly as they are.
Know how to test for this error? If you find yourself saying to someone,” just try this it is easy,” you can be sure you are assuming just because it’s easy for it is easy for someone else. When you hear yourself say those words, stop and think twice. Things are not always what they seem.
So what did I do? Nothing very dramatic. I met with him; I met with them; I met with him and them. And the message was the same, try to understand what each of you value and recognize that you are not motivated by the same things. Did it work? Not really. The director and his staff were firmly rooted in their respective worlds and while I could get them to see that, logically, value systems are relative and need to be acknowledged and respected, neither party really cared.
They went through the motions, but it felt artificial because it was. He thought they were bourgeois drones, they thought he was an arrogant elitist… and they were both right. Eventually he moved on to another more prestigious job, they stayed and contended with a new boss. I’d like to think that I opened their eyes a little and I know he approached his new staff with a greater sensitivity to what motivated them, but it is really hard to get people to understand, much less regard, value systems significantly different than their own. Maybe you learn this from your parents or you never learn it at all.
The person who learned the most from this case was me. Upon reflection I realized, to my relief, that I had not committed this error as a teacher. I realized early on as a teacher that I hadn’t been a student like most: my enthusiasm for learning and they ways in which I acquired, sorted and applied knowledge was really different, pretty unique, maybe even odd. This is not shared judgmentally, because I do not think my personal learning style is somehow superior to anyone else (although I must admit teachers liked it and rewarded me for it). I can cite a thoughtful statistic: in 37 years of teaching, covering thousands of students I met five who approached learning the way I did.
This was a sobering thought because I could have missed the boat with thousands of students if I had stood there and taught to myself (and the five who were wired as oddly I). Sadly, however, we all have plenty of instances where a manager or a teacher pr a coach committed just such a vanity, presuming that you and I think, feel, are motivated in the exact same way they are.
There is nothing wrong in relying upon our own paradigms to make sense out of new situations. Indeed, generalizing from one social experience to find footing in a similar one is usually a sensible tactic. But making that generalization, particularly when ascribing motives to others, is a risky business. It makes even more sense to develop the skills to understand motives and sets of value markedly different from your own.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Sunday, January 22, 6:07 PST a.m. on board United 262 enroute Seattle to San Francisco
Well, we're off. Jay, out ever-steady driver picked us up at 3:45 this morning and we left for SeaTac and a 5:50 departure. The last four days were hectic, highlighted by a 6 inch snowfall followed by a bitterly cold ice storm. We were still packing at 2:30 this morning when we collapsed into bed for an hour's nap. We're barely at cruising altitude and Kathleen is sound asleep.
Our trip to Honolulu wends through SFO because I'm locked into using United to get the perks that come from flying with them a 100,000 miles or more each year. It's a long way to Yap, but we're upgraded to first class at no charge. As my 10-year old grand-daughter would say, we're flying first class, not last class and while it is true first class is a little less classier than it used to be, when you haul you butt over 100k miles, a free drink, a little extra legroom and early boarding is appreciated.
Our trip is for business and pleasure. I'm working and Kathleen gets to play (me too when I can get away). I've been invited by the Public Auditor's office of Yap to work with them to increase their capacity to do program audits and performance evaluations.
Yap is one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia, a former trust territory of the US. The Fed spends tons of money here and Congress is rightfully concerned every dollar is accounted for; hence the interest and need for well done financial and program audits. I do the latter, so I'm on my way to help Yap's auditors sharpen those skills.
I've done this several times before, so I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. But we've never been to Yap, so I'm sure lots of surprises are in store.
8:10 PST San Francisco, United Club
Weird experience. I'm so tired that while I was typing the paragraph, "Our trip is for business..." I kept dozing off and my finger would hit the backspace key several times to erase much of what I'd just written. I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and I was so groggy I kept doing it over and over, sort of mystified as to what I was saying. Fortified by coffee, I'm much better off... I think.
8:32 PST Aboard United 663
I still marvel at the 777. We're all tucked in. Just spilled orange juice on myself. First of many things I'll spill over the next few hours. When I wrote about my quest for 100k at the end of 2010 my buddies from NAR, Jan Hope and Jonathan Salk, were so taken with my account of spilled food and drink that they sent me a pack of napkins with a tie printed on them. Rats, I should have brought them along.
Door's closing, aloha!
8:10 a.m. HST enroute HNL
Turning the clocks back as we race the sun westward. Perpetual morning. Bloody Mary time!
I love the HNL leg. It really feels like you are going somewhere. 10 minutes off the ground there is nothing to see but miles and miles to the horizon of the Pacific. I grew up next to this ocean and since I was old enough to look at a map the idea of the Pacific Ocean has been romantic and compelling. I never fly west from the Mainland that it doesn't feel like a dream come true. This is truely the stuff I imagined as a kid.
As a boy I would stand in the living room of my house on Indianapolis Street in Huntington Beach and stare at the ocean astounded at the thought of an unrestricted pathway to Japan and China that lay before me. That this endless track was dotted with a paradise like the Hawaiian islands seemed a wonderful thing to me. It still does. As I've written before, when I finally was able to go to Hawaii I was not disappointed and I have never been since.
Kathleen ran into someone who knows her boss. She has the uncanny ability to do this wherever we go. People are drawn to her and her open, welcoming, totally unpretentious way leads to finding some connection or another. I admire her straightforward way of taking on people as they come, so much so I'm surprised on the rare occasion when she doesn't. I lack her social gene, preferring to fly solitary, a kind of ornery cuss no one really wants to strike up a conversation with.
Ornery. Funny word. I was addressing a group of commercial realtors one time and I used the word to describe myself. My poor elocution or an inadequate sound system led a number of people in the audience to think I had said horny, not ornery... a much different concept altogether. Add that to my list of embarrassing moments.
Just turned in my Halfway to Hawaii guess. I won this once and have never been able to figure out how I did it. I'm figuring 9:47:30. The suspense builds.
11:56 a.m. PST
Headed down, 35 minutes out. I can taste the Kalua pork sandwich already. Four hour layover, just enough time to get a snack and to hang out on the open-aired galleries the connect the terminal wings. Off comes the sweater. 85 degrees... a swing of nearly 50 since Jay picked us up at home.
Winning halfway guess in; I missed by 10:02. How did I do it before?
1:35 p.m. HST Kona Brewing Company HNL
What a great airport. Big open aired galleries between the gates with sweeping vistas of the ocean, mountains and city. A truly international crossroads each flight carrying emissaries of the Pacific Rim economy: tourists, military, entrepreneurs, crazy ex-pats and people in transit to even more exotic destinations: Tokyo! Manila! Hong Kong! Well, hell, Yap for that matter.
Kathleen and I are sipping killer Mai Tais and gobbling down kalua pork quesedillas. Talk about fusion, a tasty mouthful of Mexico and Hawaii with every bite. This is okay and were enjoying it, despite the simultaneous roars and moans of Dallas and New England fans following the NFL play off game on big screen tvs. Hmmmph, as if I care, although I am always happy to see the Cowboys lose.
I'm tempted to break out the dominoes, a game Kathleen has kicked my ass at on four continents now. She reminds me of a quirky Hawaiian fact. You are not allowed to play card, dice or tile games in Hawaiian bars. Try and the barkeep will ask you to put them away or leave. Believe me, it happened to us once in Lihue. The sober policy makers in the Rainbow state have saved me from another humiliation at the hands of my wife. At least she doesn't slap the tiles down like they do in Little Havana. Once, on the Eurostar from London and Paris she skunked me before we even cleared the suburbs south of the city.
Nothing beats stepping off the stuffy airplane and getting that first breath of Hawaiian air. You are simply embraced by this place. We were close to moving here once, doing a six-month on, six month off rotation like our good friends Les and Mary Eldridge. But our first grand-daughter Larkin had just been born and the thought of not being able to see her every day kept us in Washington state. She has been such a joy and blessing in our lives that we've never regretted the choice. But we do love the islands.
I would have loved to made this trip when the only way you could fly here was by Pan American World Airways Clippers. Big 4-engined flying boats built right there on Lake Washington in my home state. The romance of that 18-hour overnight flight from Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay to the Pan Am dock in Pearl Harbor encouraged me to recreate once using Microsoft Flight Simulator on my computer (much to Kathleen's frustration I've logged a lot, too many hours, of simulated flying. It has not, I can assure you, been a waste of time. Should we be flying together and the whole crew be disabled by food poisoning, I'm pretty sure I could land the plane. Indeed, a dead-heading UAL captain who had the misfortune to sit next to me, conceded this point. Kathleen, nevertheless, is not reassured).
So, in the peace of my office I did it. I piloted and navigated a Boeing 314 climbing out over the Golden Gate in the late afternoon, grinding across the Pacific all night, setting down in the West Loch of Pearl the next morning. The funny thing about flight simulation, if the models, graphics and sounds are good, and Microsoft has gotten very good at this, you experience something more than "just playing a game." You can't recapitulate the exact experience, but you will feel something that is closely correlated to the real thing. I cannot begin to convey the surprised satisfaction and wonder I felt rounding up and seeing the east side of Diamond Head from bathed in sunrise.
1:55 p.m. Guam ST enroute Agana
A long flight interrupted by deep coma-like naps. Lots of food, two lunches and multiple snacks as we bore on westward. I look forward to a day in Guam. It is a truly interesting place which has, through an awful lot hard work and just plan pluck, managed to make its own way.
These folks are Chamorro, a tough breed, proud and fiercely independent even though they have been somebody's colony since the Spanish showed up on their beaches almost 600 years ago. While it would have been easy, maybe even natural to adopt the sullen submissiveness seen in a lot of post-colonial nations, the Guamanians have resourcefully carved out a place for themselves in the Pacific Rim economy.
Key to their success was there decision in 1964 to remain a US territory, giving them the same status as Puerto Rico. They could have chosen to become an independent nation, like most of their Micronesian neighbors. Instead they cast their lot with us.
Guam has prospered from developing a vibrant tourism initiative, mostly directed at the Japanese, who have made the island their number two vacation destination (Hawaii ranks first, attracting Japan's wealthiest; lower airfares, shorter flights and an abundance of uniquely Japanese entertainments bring salaryman newlyweds and families to Guam by the score).
There are big hotels, a great Wailkiki-like beaches at Tumon Bay and first class golf on Guam. Also an abundance of karaoke bars, cowboy gun galleries (where you can shoot off automatic weapons to your heart's content) and saunas of of one form or another to work out those kinks. The hotel brochures, even at the Hilton where we'll stay, are written in Japanese, sometimes, but not always, with English legends. Koreans vacation there, too. And the proximity to the Philippines assures that much of the labor force is pinoy.
The irony of all this is that Japan occupied and brutally governed Guam for its own purposes from December 8, 1941 (remember the international dateline) until we liberated them in July, 1944. There is a deep familial Chamorro enmity felt toward Japan, the cruel occupier, that is set aside for the sake of the national economy. You look at this, though, and you have to wonder at it all. We helped throw the Japanese out, but they're back again wearing shorts and tropical shirts instead of army utilities.
There are parts of the tourism that can be a little tawdry at times, an effort to be a little Vegasy, but you have to admire the Guamanian's efforts to put on a good show. They try hard and the efforts are evident. That's the upside and their economy is for the better because of those efforts.
The other piece of the economy is Guam's willingness to serve as a wall of fortress America. I'm not dumb about this, as an American, Guam's cooperation with the US military works to my advantage. But there is a cost to hosting everything from nuke subs to aging B-52s.
It's thinly veiled, but right here in Guam (and throughout Micronesia, especially the Marshall Islands) is the frontline of America's Pacific defense. And it has been that way since 1944 when we defeated the Imperial Japanese Army on Guam's steep hills and Navy aircraft destroyed their air power in the great "Marianas Turkey Shoot."
Even today, the territorial government of Guam is referred to in the US Navy shorthand of "GovGuam." Military installations are found all over the island from a commodious naval port to the miles of air force bases that blanket the northern end of the island.
Most recently, while most Pacific economies have reeled under a global recession, Guam has profited by welcoming the US Marine units the Japanese evicted from Okinawa. But for every dollar the Marines bring, greater pressures are placed on Guam's already stressed infrastructure, especially education, housing and transportation.
The Guamanians are proud of their status and relationship with the US and have adopted American customs from Tony Roma's to K-Mart enthusiastically. Guamanians proudly proclaim, "First in the US," a reference to the fact that their placement to the west of the international dateline means the sun rises here first on this American territorial soil. But there are parts of Guam that look an awful lot like northern San Diego county, with little to show of the rich Chamorro culture.
I'm not too judgmental about all of this. Without Japanese tourist yen and American military dollars I'm not sure how Guam would fare. Because of, or in spite of this, they try hard, have endured a lot and have managed to carve out and maintain their own identity. And I really like them for that.
7:50 p.m. Guam ST. Roy's Lounge, Hilton
Just taught the barman how to mix a Cadillac margarita... float a little Cointreau on top. He did it well. Hotel packed with Japanese tourists. The Chamorro hostess steers us to a table away from the young Japanese couple making out on a lounge sofa. You see this a lot in Guam. What would appear to be young (I mean late-20s) Japanese men behaving just a little inappropriately in public with young women. Guess what happens in Guam stays in Guam.
A long day, off to bed. Goodnight.
Tuesday, January 24 7:35 p.m. Guam ST, Hilton Tree Bar
Killing time until tonight's flight to Yap. Had a quiet morning, then spent the afternoon taking a leisurely drive around the southern end of the island. Our jumping off point was a spot I love both for the lyricism of its name, Talafofo, and the great cheeseburgers served at a beachside bar and grill, Jeff's Pirate's Cove. Stephen Latimer, my Honolulu golfing bud, brought me here first and I offer a toast to him as Kathleen and I devour Jeff's juicy burgers.
Latimer and I once took a 10-day road-trip through Micronesia where he distinguished himself by trying to pass off a cow in Saipan as a water buffalo. On that trip we embarrassed each other in a Guamanian multi-plex theater by both trying to squeeze into an over-sized seat for one we mistook for a bench. What kind of dopes think movie theaters have benches is beyond me, but Steve and I struggled to fit in until the chortles of some Marines sitting nearby alerted us to our stupidity. Steve and I literally sprang out of our seat of unexpected intimacy. Despite his confusion about beasts of burden and appropriate seating, I owe him a big debt for introducing Jeff's to me (and Shiner Bock beer!)
A few years ago I irritated all sorts of folks by anointing Jeff's cheeseburger as the best in the world, at least the world as I know it. This bent a lot of noses for a couple of reasons: people are very provincial about their best local burgers and, even if Jeff's were best who (besides Steve, perhaps) could verify this? I figure, it's my newsletter, so it's my call. If you want to taste the best cheeseburger you've got to make the effort. True, Jeff's is a bit out of the way - even folks who live on Guam would have to put themselves out to get to Talafofo, but it is worth it. And today's tasting only verified how correct I was the first time. Jeff's is still the best.
We sat at an outside picnic table contentedly munching while a kite-boarder blasted through the reef surf and four young Japanese tourists showed off their basketball prowess in a 2-on-2 halfcourt game.
The drive was beautiful, once taking us through a swarm of black butterflies swooping in pairs. We passed through villages, each punctuated by its clean-lined stuccoed Catholic Church. The Church is no nonsense here (contraceptives are sold under lock and key) and a visit from Pope John Paul so moved parishioners that they erected a life-size ROTATING statue of His Eminence in front of the Hagatna cathedral. We drove by the Holy Father's likeness, where he is frozen in a perpetual pax vobiscum. He did not seem to be turning today.
Dinner at the Tree Bar where we are treated for free to the show of native dancing that two score of tourists paid $30 to watch. The highlight of such shows is always the gawky, self conscious members of the audience who end up on stage trying to emulate the fluid hip movements of the dancers. What was actually charming was a dance three young tourists, all less than 10 years old, put on for the performers as they mingled after the show.
Oft to pack up and head for the airport. Just got rested and we're off again... a midnight jaunt to Yap.
Wednesday, January 25, 2:15 a.m. Yap ST, room 3 O'Keefe's Waterfront Inn
In our room and all unpacked. Fitfully slept on the 90-minute flight, awoke just before the 737 came screaming into Yap. Nerves ground as the pilot played with throttle all the way on final, adjusting climb-sink to meet the demands of a short 6,000 foot runway. I don't know what the minimums for a 737-800 are, but it can't be much less than that. Catch a glimpse off to the side of the runway something only seen in Micronesian airports. The fire truck is parked off the runway's edge, fully manned, lights on, ready to do whatever needs to be done if the landing goes awry. This sight is less disturbing when you land than when you contempplate it waiting to board.
We clear immigration only to be greeted by an exceptional vision: a beautiful young Yapese woman waits for each new arrival to drape them with a welcoming traditional lei, a complex tight braid of pandanus and local flowers. She is in traditional dress, a multi-hued lava lava and braided flower quoit of her own. What is most powerful, well beyond her generous welcome, is the serenity and dignity she brings to the act. Quiet, peaceful, balanced, sure of herself. I think I've just learned something important about Yap.
7:35 p.m. Yap ST, O'Keefe,s Kanteen
After my first full day on the job it feels great to sit in an open-aired restaurant sipping a glass of Two Buck Chuck (honestly all they had) sold at $5.50 a glass! I am enjoying my time with Yap's Public Auditor, a very intelligent young man and a fine representative of the the state'e rising generation of leaders. His name is Ron Yow, pronounced 'yo.' I overcome the temptation to day, "Yo! Yo."
K just demolished in the first of best of 7 domino games. Just avoid getting skunked, if that's any consolation. Hot and humid night, relieved by an on-again-off-again breeze across the bay. Both of us are pooped, too little sleep and too many time zones. Bed... a firm matressed king bed... beckons.
Thursday, January 26, 8:55 a.m. YST
Slept deeply. Running to get to the office on time.
7:18 p.m. YST
Improvised mixing Kathleen's favorite cocktail an Old Fashioned. Found tasty tangerines for the citrus base. Tricky part? Maraschino cherries. We search the Colonia mart for them. A fool's errand, I figure, I mean how popular can sweet cherries in syrup be in Micronesia? Turns out really popular. We turn the aisle where ice cream condiments are. We are confronted by dozens of jars a section wide, three to four shelves high, more than I've ever seen in one place at the local Safeway.
And... "the freighter" arrived overnight: their are Coke products. Rum and Coke for me tonight.
I finished work a little early, so K and I took off to explore the island in our rental car. This turned out to bit a bit of an adventure. Crossing every bump, and there are a lot of them, the Camry's left rear axle scrapes across the concrete. This and a variety of other shakes and shimmies put our teeth on edge and punishes our kidneys.
Just a bit North of downtown Colonia an explanation for the car's dubious suspension comes clear. The road is paved, but broken, pock marked and as cracked as a carpet bombed runway. The posted speed limit of 20 is a fantasy. We jolt and shudder forward at 10 or less.
The sights are extraordinary. Lush foliage, giant banana plants, expansive palms. Dark watered mangrove coves. Large frame huts covered with dried palm leaves, covered with roofs that thrust boldly upwards at the ends. A traditional architectural form still in use today. I see some under construction, almost big as barns.
Friday, January 27, 1:55 p.m. YST O'Keefe's Waterfront Inn
The quest for the world's greatest cheeseburger is begun. Really only six or so places to eat on the island so I might be able to crown the best burger in Yap before the trip is over. First stop, a place called Ganir. Nice terrace with a lovely breeze. As usual a friendly welcome, good iced tea and a squeeze bottle container of sugar for those inclined. Pretty good burger, good beef, juicy. Have to add your own condiments. I take off a couple of points for that... part of the fun is sampling another secret sauce. They get a point back for originality on two counts: the burger sits on a slice of cucumber and the roll, while small, is delicious. Kind of tall, ball-shaped, made of a yellowish flour and marked with a darkish swirl on top. A very good start and much better than expected.
Forgot to mention yesterday, things here are far more complex than they seem. It would be easy to conclude that things are kind of laid-back tropical, the west pac version of Margaritaville. That would be a big mistake. These folks are industrious, hard working and proud of their political independence and personal self reliance. By the age of 17 a boy is expected to possess the skills to fish, grow a garden and build a small, but sturdy thatched house. Once you've demonstrated your self sufficiency you're expected to move out of your parent's home into your own.
Dress here is really informal, less a sign of the casual nature of things than as an accommodation to the pervasive heat and humidity. I've interviewed some high placed officials here, but informal garb, even for the consultant, is the uniform of the day. Indeed I interviewed one person who was shirtless! A first in my 30 years of consulting.
Had a good meeting with Ron and his staff today. We're starting to build a plan - a good one that is well fitted to this culture and the politics of this society. You cannot separate politics from a public auditor's office. It needs to be objective, fair and accurate if it is to improve government performance. But to be effective, to see its recommendations implemented, it needs the support and advocacy of public officials, usually elected, who have the authority to make sure those changes occur. It requires some very artful management, the kind that folks like Cheryle Broom or Doris Brooks exemplify. But it is not easy and it carries it own risks.
Stopped by the hotel after lunch to say hi to Kathleen and caught her catnapping! In fairness she did exert herself earlier today with a walk to the post office and a reconnoissance of the local stores.
9:23 p.m. YST, just back from the Mnuw restaurant
A nice dinner on the open upper deck of what appears to be a restaurant built on the hull of a Chinese junk. Could be fake, the superstructure is surely tacked on and presents so much freeboard I think she would roll over if set adrift. Nevertheless a great place to be tonight and to share drinks and dinner with Ron and his friend Laura. Ron and I just continue to talk shop, but Lauren, a former Peace Corps volunteer, who now works for the Yap Visitors Bureau is able to answer Kathleen's questions about life on Yap in detail.
I've met a lot of former Peace Corps volunteers out here. It is apparently not uncommon to fall in love with your assignment (and the folks you work with or meet through the PC... I know a lot of marriages that trace their roots back to an assignment).
The Peace Corps was, momentarily an important part of my life many years ago. In 1965, it was four years old... created by JFK and built by his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver. I was just finishing my sophomore year at the University of Redlands. Internships were new in those days, in fact I don't think I knew they existed. My advisor, a wonderful, loving professor, Dr. William Klausner, kept track of scholarships, internships and the like. The bulletin board outside his office was plastered with flyers which he got in the mail and diligently posted for his students to puruse... each stapled to the board at the upper left corner, so they all hung in a long angled array... quite artfully.
Klausner was like a father to me. And while I thanked him for his caring love over the years, I never did it enough... not out of ingratitude but because I've had to get a lot older to recognize and appreciate how hard he worked to help me and many others succeed. I came to him for academic advice and he gave me a life. Every thing I've accomplished professionally, including sitting out here offering counsel to this government in paradise, is attributable to his teaching, support and encouragement.
To that end one winter Klausner called me into his tidy office to give me a heads up on a couple of flyers before he posted them. One was for a summer program at the University of Washington in Seattle designed to encourage sociology majors to pursue careers in social work; the other was to intern at the central office of the Peace Corps in DC. I think I applied for both and got them. It's too long ago. I do remember dramatically agonizing over the difficulty of the choice and Klausner gently reminding me that it is particular good fortune to have a choice and that, how right he was, there would be times in life when the options might not be as plentiful.
Obviously, I chose the UW and Seattle, although I think I was a bit of a disappointment to my internship advisors; I turned away from a career pathway in social work and chose academic sociology instead.
There were a lot choices that summer and that Washington state became my home can be traced back to that first visit. I sometimes wonder what would have happened had I taken the other paths, DC, the Peace Corps? Who knows?
The powerful lesson that Klausner left me with did influence me for the rest of my life. Given a choice, he taught me to always pick the one that offered more options down the line. He also exposed me to a role model of scholar-practitioner that I readily adopted and pursued. He was a consultant to some local manufacturer and I can remember being so impressed by that - that he could take what he knew in the classroom and apply it in the real world. I was proud for him and inspired. I wanted to be just like him and I guess that's pretty much what I did.
10:30 p.m. YST, Room 3, O'Keefe's Waterfront Inn
Got even at Dominoes, just barely, we're tied 1and 1, but got creamed in two games of Scrabble and Yahtzee. Kathleen beat me at cribbage last night. I think she is getting too much rest.
A few minutes ago we were hit by ten minutes of pounding tropical rain. Just bucketfulls pouring off our veranda roof and roiling up the bay. Stopped as quick as it started. Glad we weren't on the deck of the Mnuw when the rains hit, although it would have been fun to watch the scramble.
Saturday, January 28, 2:48 p.m. YST. O'Keefe's.
Quiet morning. Arranged to go snorkeling and see the Manta Rays tomorrow morning. When I asked the guide at the Yap Divers next door, if I'd be okay as a novice snorkeler, he laughed heartily when I expressed concern I might drown.
We're off to the village of Kaady, where we are going to be given a tour. Village life is central on Yap and the opportunity to see how folks live up close is a privilege. The Yapese, I'm discovering, are a very private people. They are a little wary of outsiders. If you walk through a village you carry a basket or palm leaf to send a message of peace. If you drive through at night you turn on the dome light.
Sunday, January 30, 7:35 a.m. YST O'Keefe's
Made a lifetime memory yesterday, no doubt. We were invited to join a cultural tour of one of the local villages... the village, in fact, of Tanin (Janice) the administrative assistant in the Public Auditors Office where I have been working (she also works the frontdesk of the Waterfront where we're staying, not the first industrious example we've encountered on Yap, where many young people seem to hold more than one job). Her village is Kadai, about a 15 minute drive out of Colonia on the west shore of the island.
Villages are the backbone of the Yapese social structure and have been for centuries. For all their importance, they aren't that visible, tucked off the mainroads, accessible down well constructed rock walkways, wide enough for two to pass. Ron gave us directions Friday night: drive down this road, watch for this sign, turn here, park. Then wait. He told me we'd probably see people standing around. Just wait he said. He never told me what to wait for but, he's my guide, I'm trusting him.
We leave a little early and actually find the turn. We park. There's kind of a wide area that narrows to a coral road. A couple of houses bracket the parking area. No one is standing around. Should we get out? Stay in the car? We wait, just as Ron prescribed.
Out of nowhere, just out of the jungle, a young lady appears. She's dressed in traditional attire, flowered head dress, an expansive green-leaf lei, a nuunua, modestly covering her bare breasts, a heavy multi-colored skirt with a prominent ruffled waist. These are not the flimsy Waikiki grass skirts of Hollywood, these are substantial things, woven with dried coconut leaves and died in wide vertical stripes of white, yellow, red and purple. They ride low on the hips and they look pretty heavy.
We approach and she introduces herself as Sarah, our guide. Turns out she is Janice's sister and, in exchanging personal information, we learn of an even greater coincidence: she and her sister recently spent 9 months in Washington state! Lacey! They have relatives in University Place. God, they must have been cold.
What we're waiting for? A jitney full of tourists who will round out our tour to ten, the necessary minimum to mobilize the village for a visit. They arrive. The same Navy nurses from Guam who flew in with us the other night and a husband and wife from the US staying down the hall from us at the Waterfront. Except for one nurse, who gives us a big Nellie Forbush smile, they seem kind of sullen and restless. None of knows what to expect and the nurses look kind of uneasy about the prospects. They are, however, coating each other with bug spray, probably not a bad idea on an island coming out of a bout of dengue fever. They do not look thrilled to be here.
Sarah introduces herself and explains what we are going to do. She invites photographs and stands patiently while the tourists close in to get their National Geographic shots. Then she leads us down the stone path. At a pretty good pace. The nurses who are in great shape (a couple are wearing garb advertising a Guam marathon) and Sarah pull ahead of me. Never the nimblest at anything, I stagger and reel down the uneven path, tripping and stumbling over lava rocks that threaten any moment to tear open a fallen knee or shred apart an ankle tendon. Kathleen is a great wing-wife and keeps between me and the sprinting nurses so I'm not left behind in the jungle.
It's a long walk, maybe just under 20 minutes, easily a mile. The path is well maintained, even manicured in spots. Actually landscaped with plants chosen to demarcate the path from the lush flowered jungle through which we pass. Here and there are clearings, little stone-built culverts to allow the torrential rainshowers to run-off and slim graceful bamboo railings. This is a well thought, carefully designed piece of local infrastructure.
We emerge from the jungle where a large thatched community house with its traditional up thrust roof lintels is set upon a yard-high lava rock platform. Two men await us, off to the side under some palm-leafed outbuildings a group of younger men and women scurry about. We're handed a cool opened coconut for refreshment. After a brief welcome the elder invites us to follow him to the men's house, a short walk to the oceanside. No beach, just mangroves that grow straight into the water. A channel leading to the sea has been engineered alongside a lava rock quay next to the men's house. The channel looks to be a quarter of a mile long.
The elder talks at length about the importance of tradition in Yap culture. The nurses fidget. He apologizes for going on, but his words are meaningful and touching. We return to the platform where seated women and men demonstrate craftwork that is really part of the daily work of village life: weaving baskets and mats, making leis and headdresses, rolling fiber into long strings, gathering and shucking coconuts for the fruit inside and copra covering it. Boys bearing palm leaf baskets distribute fruit and a couple of kinds of coconut meat, the stuff we're familiar with and something called cotton candy that sat in the shell long enough to liquify (ferment slightly?). A boy shinnies up a tree to gather betel, which the men demonstrate how to chew.
We are invited to step up and watch and Kathleen marvels at the speed and dexterity with which one young woman takes a full palm frond, weaves the opposing fronds together, binds them at the end, then slices the thick stem part down the center to produce a sturdy frame for the opening top. This is done within minutes, the finished product functional and attractive.
Finally the elder calls us to sit on the edge of the rock platform and down a wide powdery path two columns of dancers march to a spot directly in front of us. They turn to face each other, probably 10 pairs, matched by height, hence age, and gender. They range in age from 8 to 18, most appearing to be mid-teens. The older girls are dressed like Sarah, the younger ones in drabber skirts. The boys wear loin cloths. All have palm fronds festooned on arms and calves. The boys have clever palm frond crowns, the girls spectacularly colorful flower headbands.
Each carries a bamboo sticker longer than a baseball bat. A young man calls out a command, a couple of shrieks, they crouch to the ground sticks held high. An elder woman sitting on the edge of the jungle begins to sing in a wavering voice and in what is clearly a carefully choreographed set of moves they twirl and turn, duck and thrust, beating their sticks in a ritualized fight with their mates across and to their left and right. Like a Virginia reel, they rotate partners up and down the line, all the time beating the hell out of the sticks in perfect rhythm. Towards the end of each dance the pace picks up and they really start belting away at each others' stick. Things stop with a sudden silence, so fast your breathe is taken away. Another command and they do another version of the stick dance. They do this several times until the older boys start dripping sweat and the girls' skins glisten with a coating of coconut oil and tumeric. Between dances they are panting. This goes on so long you want them to stop for their own good (or before someone slips and really gets hurt).
The dancers are energetic and the older girls synchronize the overhand swings of their sticks with vigorous hip thrusts that send their skirts flying left and right and bring their bare feet down hard in the dusty dirt. Their eyes flash and occasionally one will flash a smile to his or her partner... a couple of the older girls will express an unmistakable flirtatious look, just a second, but there's no mistaking the meaning or electricity of the look.
After a half hour of this, the dances end. Pictures are taken and we're given the opportunity to buy some nicely crafted souvenirs. The nurses and our neighbors retreat to their jitney for the ride up the hill and on to Colonia. We're invited to join them, but Sarah says we can return with her. The privilege of walking the village trail is special for us, so we follow her swaying hips back to the top.
I'm not sure what we return to is as civilized as what we just left.
That night an excellent cheeseburger across the street at the Oases. Good sized bun and patty. Maybe better than the previous two. This is a tougher choice than I anticipated.
To bed with visions of flashing skirts and clashing sticks.
Sunday, January 29, 9:04 p.m. YST room 3, O'Keefe's
I think I'm an okay writer, not great but capable of cranking out a few paragraphs of serviceable prose. I started out as a journalist and learned to compose quickly. If you've been reading this you're well aware of my resistance to editing and rewrites... and I do apologize for that. Part of the fun of writing for me is catching a good phrase or description on the fly.
Today, though, what we experienced is hard to write about. We went snorkeling with Manta Rays above one of the reefs where they come to clean themselves. Later we explored at close hand and great lengths one of the shallow reef ecosystems that border and protect this island.
There are simply no words in my vocabulary, at least, to adequately describe much less convey our feelings about what we have just seen. I'll just stick to the details and leave it that our experience was enthralling and profound... as it is anytime you come face to face with the enormous natural diversity and beauty of our planet.
We left on our dive boat at 9:30 this morning. Functional aluminum craft powered by two big Evinrude outboards. Two boats head out, one contains divers and guides, the other ferries we two snorkelers and another diver. She is a young Italian woman I think, perhaps, less experienced than the ones on the other boat. We travel in single file northwards turning into a narrow mangrove lined passage. We break into the open sound and after a brief run rendezvous with a permanently moored boat maybe a mile from the surf breaking over the reef.
We're told this is the "stirtisch," German for the "something" table, a place where mantas come to clean. They swim over this coral outcropping skimming close over its surface. Wrasses, colorful fish around a footlong, swim under the rays and clean their gill areas which, I presume, become clogged with the plankton they eat.
Our diver guides tells us that there's no guarantee we'll see any mantas, but that they usually swim to the tisch in the morning to take care of their cleaning needs. They tell us not to disturb or touch the rays. And off we go. She joins the other divers on ledge below to watch quietly, restricting their bubbles so as not to frighten the rays away. We join our guide, Ezra (not his real name), who leads us along a strip of coral to the raised mount of coral.
We learned on safari in Africa never to expect anything. Animals in the wild respond to their own imperatives and a change in the weather or the sudden presence of a predator can radically shift daily routines. A good day of rain can send the lions off seeking dry spots, leaving photographers and hunters with nothing to show for the day. I figure we'll see what we see. At the very least, the sea life is so abundant here it's going to be quite a show.
We haven't swum 100 feet when Exra gestures to ahead where he points. And there, out of the deep blue background emerge two manta, gliding, one a little behind and to the side of other. They pass in front of in, effortlessly descending from our left to right, finally to disappear behind us, their dark blue skins indistinguishable from azure ocean.
As I said above, I simply lack to poetic talent to describe what I've seen and prose simply cannot carry the powerful impact of seeing these creatures. And over the course of 90 minutes we see quite a few more, probably around 20, although we may have sighted the same one every so often. They are, however, quite distinct in terms of their size and markings. At the largest with 12 to 14 foot wingspans. Their harpoon tipped tails trail another 10 or more feet behind.
We swim around the tisch and they knife in and out. For awhile one swims straight at us, then veers down and to the left. They look and move like nothing I have ever seen. This is not how fish swim or birds fly, although the basics physics are the same. These are big animals that move in silent grace. For the second time in two days I find myself entranced by what I see.
Kathleen, a much stronger and confident swimmer than I, swims serenely alongside, just far enough back to help if I get in some kind of trouble. Good wife, she, Kathleen watches over me, fully aware of my propensity to bump into things while preoccupied with something else. She is in her element here, truly her father's daughter, one with the sea, reveling in its serenity and silence. Later she confesses to being irritated when the guide and I would surface to talk. Anything that breaks her reverie is out of place in the sanctuary of the sea.
After awhile Ezra leads us along a coral trench back to the boat. Along the way he spies a good-sized silver-sided red snapper. He kicks into high gear attempting to seize it from behind. He gets close, but the snapper avoids becoming Ezra's dinner with a couple of insouciant sweeps of her tail.
Back on the boat we sip tea and iced water, sampling Ezra's homemade nut bread. Engines start up and we zoom back through the mangrove canal headed to the port at Colonia. I don't know anything about this trip, even the cost. In a particularly Yapese like manner, we just signed up and off we went. We bypass the harbor and turn out into the channel, closer to the protective reef.
On the way we are treated to a remarkable sight. When we arrived, just a few days ago, a US naval vessel was in port, the USNS Safeguard, a 250 foot, 3800 ton displacement salvage vessel used to tow and make repairs on the fleet, all the way up to aircraft carriers. It is an impressive ship, sturdy with a broad 50 foot beam, festooned with powerful cranes and lifting buoys and manned with master divers. It's here to float out a partially sunken inter-island cruiser, listing at a 30-degree angle hard aground on a harbor mudbank. This derelict, the Cecilia, has been slowly rusting itself to pieces for 8 years since being cast up here after a typhoon. The Safeguard is here to lift it and move it out of the way.
We had walked over to look at the ship yesterday afternoon. Not much seemed to be going on. Much to our surprise, when we awoke this morning, we looked over to where the Cecilia was beached and she was upright and afloat. On deck pumps were disgorging water from below, but she was up off the beach.
To an even greater surprise, when we returned through Colonia, four hours later the Cecilia was under tow by a Suva-based tug on her way out of the harbor headed for a drydock just around the corner. The local boatmen were astonished at this example of, as one put it, ”American Can-Do!"
We arrived at a shallow reef and put off, while the boat moved to another spot down-current from us. We dropped in the water and drifted slowly for 45 minutes or so, taking in incredible vistas of all sorts of coral populated by more different fish than you could ever count. Nowhere as dramatic as the mantas, but startling in its variety and beauty. We missed Mass this morning, but I have no doubt of my encounter with the divine this morning... God's genius and handiwork are everywhere to be seen.
We get back to the boat before the diver and her guide ascend. Exra's tea is particularly comforting. We are filled with that good kind of tiredness that comes from worthy exercise. Ezra asks us about home. He's curious about politics and inquires if we like "the President..” Turns out all three of us do, so talk turns to his home on the outer islands. He hints of discrimination in Yap and talks a little about the Yapese caste system. I'd heard about this before. It's a controversial topic, overblown perhaps by people who don't fully understand the dynamics of this culture. I don't know enough about local norms to understand the issue, but I listen with interest and mentally prepare some questions for Ron. I am struck, however, by the sincerity of Ezra's commentary. He tells us, "when you live on an atoll, you're born in the sea."
The rest of the day is peaceful. Colonia is deserted, we relax and try to understand the profundity of what we've encountered over the weekend.
Monday, January 30, 10:45 p.m. YST, room 3 O'Keefe's
A busy day of work today. I'm here the because it is in US government's interest to support strong public auditing initiatives. Yap, and the other post-WW2 territories entrusted to the US, receive under an entity called "the Compact" millions of dollars of financial aid to speed their attainment of self-reliance. Slowly Compact dollars are scheduled be drawn down to a point where these island nations could stand on their own two financial feet.
From what I've seen (and I only seen life on some of the former trust territories) the likelihood of self sufficiency is a very distant goal, if ever possible. I know the Compact has been revised once to pushback its end date, I would imagine another extension would be in the offing.
It's not for a lack of effort, it is simply the fact that many of these island nations and states lack the ability to generate a growing economy. Guam and Saipan (part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas) are big enough to leverage economies of scale for fishing, light industry and tourism, but some of these ventures have come with costs and burdens and left economic, environmental or social depredation in their wake. The story of the garment trade on Saipan is particularly unsettling and involves the downfall of a US Congressman in northern California and the ultimate imprisonment of super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
There's not much here in Yap to pull it much past a subsistence economy and the lack of US dollars would threaten third world nation status if it were not for the abundance of fruit and fish to eat and family and village structures that create the ultimate safety net. There's talk of major Chinese investment in resort golf courses, but at what cost, particularly when I'm told similar investments in the Kingdom of Tonga left them holding the bag when the investors ran out. Is it realistic to talk of building a 4,000 room hotel on an island with 12,000 inhabitants? What would that mean? If we are to learn from other cases, I'm willing to bet Yap would have to import foreign labor long before local full employment would be reached.
All this is to say, the US is going to be involved in Micronesia for some time to come and American citizens are right to expect a clear accounting of how their tax dollars are spent 10,000 miles away from DC. Hence the need for rigorous accounting and auditing systems. And, while I am an neither an accountant nor auditor I am well versed and experienced in the methodology of program evaluation a technique designed to test the effectiveness and cost efficiency of governmental programs.
Thanks to the endorsement of my good friend, Cheryle Broom, I've had the opportunity with her and by myself to help audit shops on Guam, Saipan, the Marshalls, the Federated States of Micronesia and now FSM's state of Yap put together strategic plans and expand their capacity to conduct significant program evaluations that make a difference.
This office is similar to others I've worked. Hard-working, sincere people with little formal training. CPAs are hard to come by out here (in fact I think there are only three on the island, two employed by this office, both ex-pats). The office CPAs work as audit supervisors helping the rest of the five staff do audits and evaluations.
My work here follows a pattern Cheryle and I developed. (I miss CB, we're a good team and she brings a rich dimension based on her years of experiences managing audit offices most recently, King County - the seat for Seattle - in Washington state). I spend two days immersing myself, interviewing Ron, his staff, OPA stakeholders. I review their work. We create a plan over the course of a couple of half-day sessions. Then, as we will tomorrow morning, Ron and I will fine-tune the plan.
It has to be his plan, because I'm not going to be here to implement it. It's my job to draw the plan out of him and his staff, making sure the goals and objectives are consistent with their needs, current conditions and future circumstances. Ron is an incredibly bright guy, sensitive to the issues and political nuances of all this well beyond is age. We work well together and I enjoy the task as much for the fact that I know I am gaining a lifelong friend as for the important results the plan will have.
I'm pleased with the plan they developed. It's realistic and focused on the right things. It takes advantages of the strengths Ron brings to the table. Another Public Auditor and the plan would look different. This is his. I've helped him find it, but the plan is custom-fit to this office's situation and Ron's abilities to help it grow.
I love this part of the job, because this kind of consultancy brings me back to what I was called to do: teach. I'm simply passing on to Ron what I've needed 35 years to learn. I think he can take this knowledge a lot further a lot faster than I have. Even better, there's a sense I am doing something that can make the lives of these beautiful people in a beautiful land better. They are still building their government and they are rightfully serious about it. It is an honor and very fulfilling to be part of that process.
Tuesday, January 31, 8:25 p.m. YST, room 3, O'Keefe's
As much as we're trying not to count the hours we are. Jay, the desk clerk/concierge/bar keep/driver here, will load up the van and take us to the airport just after midnight. We're both sad to leave, much more downcast about this than we expected. Sure we miss home, most certainly our family, but something has happened here and our hearts have been touched by the warm welcome everyone has given us.
We've had the cocktails I mixed in the bathroom sink and sat out on our veranda watching the world shut down for the night. Just as I begin to write this our phone rings. Jay apologizes and asks if we are having dinner across the street. I ask if they are waiting for us, if we are holding up their closing. "Oh no," he says, the restaurant manager just wants to know if we are coming over because she has something to give us.
We head across the street to the Oases where we've eaten most of our meals. The same young lady, Suzuko has greeted and served us every time, often assisted by a friendly young man, just a teenager, Jason. Tonight we go to our table and they and the rest of the staff come out and present us with beautiful flower headbands. They say goodbye and wish us safe journey. They even take pictures of us.
Later at dinner, Susuko shyly approaches the table and hands a lovely local- woven purse to Kathleen. It is a sweet and incredibly gracious gesture and it says volumes about how my wife affects people. These are not the only presents we have received. Laura has lavished us and Ron and the office presented me with a replica money stone with my name engraved upon it and a beautiful carved pedestal. All of this is very humbling and the send off from the Oases crew touches our deeply.
11:38 p.m. YST. Room 3 O'Keefe's
We're packed and showered, ready but somewhat reluctant to go. We have come to love this place and we spend a lot of time talking with each other about why Yap has affected us so. We have traveled extensively over the last decade and there are many places that left us with happy memories, but something special happened here over the last week. Some of it was surely where we are in our own lives and, I hope, a certain maturity we bring to our relations. But there is something here in the culture that affects us profoundly.
A word about O'Keefe's Waterfront Inn. The owner, who I've corresponded with but never met (he's off island in Chicago while we're here) has recreated a late 19th century island-colonial inn. None of is real, but his sense of history, design and antiques produce the sense that O'Keefe (a real person who played a significant role in Yap's development) lived her. Make no mistake, this is well done, very well done... not a touch of Disney anywhere. There are just enough authentic antiques and plenty of period photographs to let your mind buy into the whole idea.
The rooms are paneled and cozy. Not a lot, but enough room, to get around, much appreciated storage space, a functional bath, a HOT shower with high pressure, a decent king sized bed and nifty touches everywhere (cable tv and dvd player hidden behind local prints in the wall; a fold down pocket desk I am using now),
But best of all. This is the waterfront. The rooms looks out on the harbor and a door opens on to a spacious covered veranda directly over the water, lapping just a few feet below. You could, if you wished climb over the balcony railing and jump straight into the harbor as if diving off a dock.
The service is first rate, Jay and his staff close by every moment. We would head over for breakfast and in the time we were gone the room was always done before we returned. The restaurant and bar across the street served good food, excellent by Micronesian standards. Indeed, the Oases' ham and cheese omelet was one of the best I've tasted, stuffed with thinly sliced ham, onions and peppers. I plan to try to recreate it at home.
It is the service, however, that sets O'Keefe's apart and to be honored by the Oases staff, to see that they care enough about us that they are going to miss us, makes our departure bittersweet.
Wednesday, February 1, 1:18 a.m. YST, waiting room YAP
Rabbit rabbit! Years ago a sales clerk told me it's good luck to begin a month by saying "rabbit, rabbit" first thing. Whoever hears this is supposed to reply, "hare, hare." A silly superstition, I have no idea how or why it might have originated, but I have been saying it for years. Larkin has upped the ante, demanding a third round in which "bunny bunny" is the expected response from her grand-father.
I've figured out why these flights in and out of Yap are scheduled at such dreadful times. This 2:35 a.m. departure is the only way someone flying out of Yap can connect to the GUM flight headed east leaving at 6:35. And the most efficient way to get that 2:35 flight out of Yap, is to get it in at 1:30, necessitating a midnight getaway from GUM. I guess it makes sense, but it's a brutal way to travel
5:22 a.m. Guam ST, United Club.
Staggering around here waiting to take off for HNL. Airport is packed with young Korean and Japanese tourists who are thronging through the designer-label duty free shops. Hermes, Gucci, Lancome and all the rest glittering brightly in the early hours of Guam's daybreak. Good news for the economy, although the paper reports on Guam governor's state of the island last night. One-third of Guam lives below the poverty line; two-thirds of the island's kids get free or reduced price lunch.
2:37 p.m. HST United 200 enroute HNL
Kathleen and I never have a chance to take in a movie in a theater. A double feature today at 36,000 feet! Moneyball and A Dolphin's Tale.
Now that United has taken over the GUM-HNL leg we get to play Halfway to Hawaii eastbound. I'm going to win this again. I am going to figure this out. Try a different way... my guess, 2:10:02. The suspense builds.
Tuesday, January 31, 4:33 HST p.m. enroute HNL
Triumph! I finished runner up in the Halfway game. Off by 59 seconds, late. At this speed and with this tailwind that means I overshot the point by 8.85 miles, not too bad on a 3,800 mile journey. Won a nice bottle of French champagne for my efforts.
Note, crossed the date line which meant a retreat back into January. Wonder what the rabbit superstition requires to do in that situation. To play it safe I turn to Kathleen and say, ”tibbar, tibbar.". She rolls her eyes, but does day something like "ynnub, ynnub." We're covered. On descent to Honolulu.
Wednesday, February 1 (all over again), 7:35 a.m. HST, Doubletree Alana, Honolulu
My contract is with the feds, so we're staying at it's preferred hotel. Not a bad place, just a couple of blocks off Waikiki, cheek by jowl with the Hilton Hawaiian Village. We spend the evening adjusting being back in urban life. I resist using the word civilization, because this trip has really got me thinking about what's civilized and what isn't.
Ever since we climbed back up the stone walk from Kaday, I've been thinking about what's more civil. Is it more civil to be surrounded by all the accoutrements and gadgets of high technology and urban life? Or is it more civil to be in harmony with one's neighbors and environment? I know this is not an original thought and I'm a little embarrassed to finally understand Rousseau and Thoreau in my 6th decade. And I'll point out my hypocrisy before you can... my proclamations are done using every device of modern technology I can get my hands on living as complicated a life as I can make possible.
But there is something I learned on Yap that I want to bring back. I think, in the end, it has less to do with the material world, although materialism surely contributes to it. Mostly it's about the authenticity of human relations: dignity comes to mind, and a respect for privacy, an appreciation of relationship and generosity and openness in expression. I certainly don't have this figured out, but I do know the phrase that kept coming back to me in Yap was that here were people "comfortable in their own skin." I vow to Kathleen to try to live "More Yap-style" when we get back.
Back in Honolulu some of the social discomforts of home already become apparent. Maybe it was the three consecutive shoves from a passenger's backpack as we got off the plane, or the urgency with which people crushed forth to retrieve their luggage off the baggage carousel or the sullen cabdriver who seemed put out when we asked him to pull all the way into the Alana's port cochere.
We are most definitely no longer on Yap.
Quiet day planned. I'd hoped to get in a round of golf, but a little foot arthritis has flared up so woefully we'll just have to spend the day at the beach.
4:55 p.m., room 1215 Doubletree Alana Honolulu
It hits me as the day progresses that all I have written for the last week or so has been read by no-one, except Mariza Craig, the assistant city manager back home, who accidentally was first, actually the only person on my email distribution list. I thought, a little too confidently, that I had figured out how to construct such a list on my iPad. Turns out I hadn't and a quirk of how it sends emails did not alert me to the fact that nothing was delivered. Now that my cellphone is in range I've learned from those I spoke with that they haven't heard from us since my second posting.
For all everyone knew, we we were trapped in a Honolulu airport cocktail lounge. That all of you as family and friends didn't enquire to our whereabouts is slightly disturbing, I mean, we might have been kidnapped by menehune or draped over tables in a mai tai stupor.
No, we did complete the trip and will fly home tonight. Taking Kathleen's counsel I'll resend the email travelogues, spacing them out at a pace similar to their real time unfolding. I'm angry at myself for making such a dumb mistake and have that odd feeling you get when you have been talking awhile and you realize the other end of the phone is dead.
Another irritating glitch, somehow the Continental agent checking us in at Guam for our flight to Yap got out reservations disconnected. So we've lost upgrades on our two last legs. Hardly a devastating event, but we now have to scramble just to get seats together.
9:59 p.m. on board United 396
Funniest moment of the trip. Matthew, the young bellman at the Doubletree horses our cart, out of the room, down the elevator, through a lower lobby packed with high school women soccer players, coaches and equipment bags here for the state tournament. I have not documented what we carry, to put it simply we have never been minimalist packers. We have four suitcases (two small, two medium-sized), two commodious carry-on's Kathleen found for our trip to South Africa three years ago (these are something special she discovered, kind of like over-sized duffel bags), her purse and my computer bag. I bet the whole kit weighs 300 pounds. The bellman turns his cart onto a steep driveway that leads to our waiting taxi. He has to make a sharp right turn, but the cart is really heavy and picking up speed. It's clear that there is a shift in the center of gravity and he's no longer guiding the cart, it is pulling him, threatening to break loose to crash into the rush hour traffic streaming past on Ala Moana Boulevard below. He struggles, stutter steps, leans way backwards. Finally his heels catch and they jitter along the pavement. After quite a struggle he succeeds in bringing the cart alongside the taxi. But he's breathing hard... very hard. I place a $20 bill in his trembling hand as a tip for his efforts. He earned every penny off it.
(Second funniest moment of the trip. Jetlagged from flying a long day over the Pacific, I wander mistakenly into the ladies room at the Mall of Micronesia. At first I'm puzzled at the lack of urinals, but I put this off to some cultural more of the Chamorro. Sitting in the stall, however, the admonotion not to flush sanitary napkins down the toilet gets me thinking. I sit. Hear nothing and fly out of the restroom before anyone comes in. Sure enough, there is the outline of a lady on the door.)
Thanks to some very helpful United agents we were able to get seated together. Not in first anymore, but oh well... just more of reality of coming home setting in. I scramble, with Kathleen's help to get out an explanatory email to all of you, along with a resend of parts 1 and 2 and the belated, forlorn and forgotten part 3, just as the door closes and we have to switch off the iPad.
I note, somewhat sullenly, as we board that two kids younger than five occupy what I am pretty sure are MY first class seats. I do not approve of minors in first class... unless they are my own.
Bit of a milestone to be passed on this trip. Somewhere in the early morning over the Pacific I reach 125,000 miles from 2 million lifetime flight miles.
Thursday, February 2, 6:17 a.m. SFO United Club
Back on the mainland. No hot chocolate here! Headed home in a few minutes.
7:26 a.m. United 276, enroute SEA
Climbing out of the Bay Area, Kathleen asleep deeply before we clear the end of the runway. The long trip is wearing us down. While we were out there we wanted to go non-stop experiencing all we could. The closer to home we get, the more we want to be there.
A beautiful morning I am treated to a panoramic view of the city and Golden Gate glowing in the morning sun.
Back on the US mainland I can confess to having passed through TSA security in Guam carrying contraband. Earlier in the trip, at Jeff's in Talafofo I picked up two 8-ounce bottles of his new product... hot sauce. One for me, one for Matt. While packing at O'Keefe's I unthinkingly tossed them into my computer bag. The security search at Yap caught it but they didn't care... her only concern was they not leak and she helped me find a ziploc bag to put them in. But, by then, it was too late, our checked bags were already in the bin to be loaded on the flight.
I knew what awaited me in Guam. There were tons of TSA there. And the whole routine. Amazingly the bag and my bootleg bottles passed right through. Kathleen's bag looked suspicious though and it got pulled! For nothing, of course. I guarantee you, that sauce is going on whatever I have for dinner when we get home Thursday. Sweet are the fruits of contraband.
By the way, this is our second success in smuggling. I forget how it happened, but we ended up with a half dozen knife-bladed wooden Zulu letter openers in one of our carry-ons from Johannesburg a few years ago. Not only did they evade detection in J-berg, really eagle-eyed German TSA equivalents missed them in Frankfurt.
On the other hand, I've gotten pat-downs for a paper clip in South Bend and a key in Yakima. Needless to say, my confidence in airport security is pretty low. Unless I'm in Yakima or South Bend... al Quaeda is not coming through there.
9:04 a.m.. taxiing in SEA
We're here. 14,802 miles later.
Sunday, February 5, 1:55 p.m. home
Of course, within 24 hours, probably less, our tans began to fade and all the fresh, unique experiences we collected on our trip evolved into memories. But, wow, these are some phenomenal memories. The flower headbands we were given when we departed Yap are drying nicely in the sun through our kitchen window, which causes us to smile each time we notice them.
You have certainly recognized how potently this trip affected us. Travel always does, although it would be fair to say that exposure to the distinct harmonious values of Yap's culture hit a little more powerfully than our first trip to Manhattan or Paris… or Walla Walla, for that matter. And, I think, for the better. They seem to have a rather sensible way of thinking about things that I could surely do in greater quantity.
It has been fun to share this with you. I have robbed from travel writer Paul Theroux horribly and done little credit to his superb reporting. If, however, you enjoyed these pieces, you will exult in Theroux's writing: supple in prose; rich in exposition.
It will be awhile before we take a trip like this again... next up: a Arizona sojourn to spring training.. But there is possibility of a trip to Palau, just over the horizon from Yap, next August. If we go I promise we'll bring you along.
As they say in Yap, Toubetsgo, see you later!