Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad

edited by by Christina Henry De Tessan

This is a nice selection of works, with different styles of writing and all sorts of places represented; from trendy Paris to boa-filled jungles and everything in between. (I was thinking of saying “all continents represented”, but then realized that somehow there is no homesick letter from South America, just Mexico and Berlize.)

My favorites are the Before and After Mexico, of a family uprooting themselves to move to a remote Mexican village for a break from the frenzied San Franciscan life. Watching Them Grow Up, of a mother noticing how different the child rearing philosophy is for her husband’s Eypgtian relatives: instead of raising a child, you sit back, relax, and watch them grow. Never-Nnever, a humorous growing up story of a child being teased for being a Yank in Australia, then suffered through the pains again when the family returns to America. Desperately, she wrote to the Australian Embassy in hope that she can go “home”. A Mediterranean Thanksgiving, Take Two, is a woman’s attempt to cook a Thanksgiving dinner in France. Her guests were overwhelmed, not by the quantity of food, but by how all dishes are served together and everything heaped onto one plate, rather than an endless meal of one course after another.

The book reminds me of one episode. Once on vacation visiting my parents back home, my mom asked my husband and I to prepare a salad as part of a feast. On the assumption that Americans eat salads and that we are sort of vegetarians (she once lamented, If you haven’t gone to America, you won’t have become vegetarian!! in her belief that no one, fed on her excellent cooking, could have turned against meat.)

So we thought we had an easy task until we get to the supermarket (one supposedly caters to foreigners). We couldn’t find white mushroom! I held up a fresh shiitake, but my husband insisted it won’t work. Even vegetables by the same name look different. Pampered by aisles of selection, I was shocked to find only Kraft Thousand Island and Miracle Whip for dressings. I wandered all over the supermarket, hoping to find one lone can of olive misplaced somewhere… And I realize that, after spending half of my life each in two different countries, I have became a perpetual expat, a sucker forever paying outrageous price for that taste of a home half a world away.

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Published in: on July 14, 2008 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

It’s Not About The Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks

by Howard Behar

I am not a Starbucks fan; in fact, I hardly am a coffee drinker.  Growing up Chinese on a British colony means that my nature and nurture are totally geared towards a cup of tea.  However, as it has been a long while since I picked up a business management book, and thinking at least this should be an interesting one, I picked it up.

This book do offer a few pearls of wisdom; my favorite is to listen with “Compassion Emptiness”.  This is a Buddhism concept.  While it may look weird at first sight (now, if Starbucks specialized in tea, maybe we would expect more Zen from its management.)  Basically the idea is that you listen with compassion, but also with emptiness: no prejudice, no judgment, so solution already in mind.  A lot of times we listen only to wait for our turn to put in our side, our view of the story.  I do think this is a nice concept.

Another interesting idea (from Bruce Nordstrom, retired co-chairman of Nordstrom) is that the primary job of an employer is to “provide freedom”: freedom to serve, freedom to make decisions right on the spot, and a management willing to live with those decisions. The sense of pride and ownership gives people the freedom to serve themselves and the organization.  It encourages people to focus less on what they should do, but why they should do it.

A repeated theme is, “we are in the business of serving people, not selling coffee.”  They have great coffee but one day the author came back to his office to find three complain letters about customer service.  That’s a very vital shift of focus, one that distinguish a great company from its competition.

Published in: on July 8, 2008 at 2:10 am  Comments (1)  

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

by Michael Pollan

From the back cover: “Today, buffeted by one food fad after another, America is suffering from what can only be described as a national eating disorder. Will it be fast food tonight, or something organic? Or perhaps something we grew ourselves? The question of what to have for dinner has confronted us since man discovered fire. But as Michael Pollan explain in this revolutionary book, how we answer it now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, may determine our survival as a species. Packed with profound surprises, The Omnivore’s Dilemma is changing the way Americans think about the politics, perils, and pleasures of eating.”

While I have read from other sources about the horrors of feedlot and the problems of the processed food in our society, this book still provided a lot of new (to me) information, and the later parts about industrial organics and hunting/gathering are eye-openers for me. As I read the book, I quoted passages (mostly scary stats and some amusing lines) to my husband in a not-so-subtle way to sway him from meat eating.

I did not know, for example, that corn and grain feeding is so bad for the cows themselves, and that it ends up providing worse meat for us, endangering our own health. Animals get their omega-3 from grass; corn and such does not contain omega-3. In fact, the anti-inflammatory, blood flowing omega-3 is found in a plant’s leaves, and the flammatory, blood clotting omega-6 in seeds. Free-range chicken eggs therefore are rich in omega-3, as the chicken feed on grass. It’s popular now to eat salmon for its omega-3 fatty acids, but truth is that they come from the planktons the fish eat. When we try to breed fish that grow on grain, we eventually breed salmon that is deficient in omega-3 but full of the omega-6. It is believed the higher consumption of omega-6 vs omega-3 is the culprit of the many modern day diseases such as cardiac, diabetes and obesity.

Moreover, for the cows, eating corn makes their stomach acidic, and a hotbed for E coli. A research has found that by switching a cow’s diet from corn to grass or hay for a few days prior to slaughter will alkalize the pH of the stomach and thus reducing the E. coli population by as much as 80%. Unfortunately, this solution is considered impractical by the cattle industry and thus the USDA.

The author then goes on to explore the organic industry. He found that as the organic industry goes mainstream, large scale production means that some of the organic farms may not be much different from the conventional ones. The cattle may not live any better a life than its feedlot brethen, except for the feed it consume, organic rather than pesticide infested – an improvement that likely won’t affect its well-being or happiness much. And getting organic salad greens trucked all the way from California is not so green after all.

Pollan’s experience on Polyface farm is really interesting. Though it is imaginable that such substaniable, earth friendly but labor intensive (and brain intensive) farming method is unlikely to be more mainstream.

The part on hunter/gatherer is an interesting read as well, though I certainly would not fire a rifle for food, and gathering mushroom doesn’t sound fun to a city girl like me.

I doubt there is any person who would read this book and not re-think the food choices he or she makes. One may go local, go organic, or simply just eat fewer processed food or fast food… but it would be lovely if every person who’s read this book make a more conscious choice in what it goes into one’s mouth. This reminds me of a comment I read somewhere, that nowadays people put too little thought in what goes into our stomach, and into our mind. This book is indeed healthful on both counts.

Published in: on July 7, 2008 at 3:32 am  Comments (3)