Food – the Best Medicine?

Last night I had a conversation with someone who had spent some time in Hong Kong. One of her biggest takeaways from the experience was the way that people looked at what they put in their bodies on a daily basis.

Food was not just food, but also medicine. Whatever was going into their bodies, mattered. And could energize you as much as it could cure ailments.

While I never spent significant time on Hong Kong, this was something I appreciated about my time in Mainland China.

The chance to see a different perspective on every day things.

Food as medicine? You mean, it matters what we put in our bodies?

Growing up as a runner it was always important to have a meal of chicken and pasta the day before a race – you know – for extra energy.

I suppose that considering the impact eating could have on the way our bodies perform was not a foreign concept.

But finding the balance of hot and cold foods, was always so interesting to me. Particularly when foods that appeared to be cool as cucumbers – like a mango or an ice cold beer – should be carefully balanced with cucumbers and an assortment of green vegetables with “cool” properties.

How do we find balance in our diets?

What does a balanced diet look like?

What do we know from our own cultures – and what insights might other cultures offer to us when it comes to right balance for daily eating?

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Authentic Sustainability

There is a lot to unpack from one of the quickest 3 hour workshops I’ve been to in recent memory.

And though I can’t break down all of my takeaways from this afternoon at Yale FES, I wanted to start with where we started and where I ended.

As usual, it was a question:

What does it mean to be authentic?

I worked at a hotel in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province for 2+ years. At The Linden Centre, there was always talk of “the Real China” and/or experiences that were authentic.

This was always hard for me. Because of this same question:

What does it mean to be authentic?

Well, today I may have advanced my thoughts on this just a little bit.

By considering another question:

What does it mean to be inauthentic?

Many of us have ideas of what it means to be authentic. Based on my experience in Yunnan it’s a taste or a feeling of something that seems to be quite real.

Perhaps it’s something we haven’t experienced before.

Because, when you have had something “authentic” before, it sure feels hard to have something equally authentic again.

And so I have been exposed to more people thinking of authenticity as something exotic or fantastic rather than something as real as what’s in front of them on a regular basis. How could everyday life be authentic?

In my former case – how is everyday life in Beijing or Shanghai any less authentic than everyday life in Yunnan?

But when you re-frame the question to explore what is inauthentic, it’s very hard to argue one place being more or less authentic than the other. Provided everyone is being themselves.

I don’t exactly see Beijing pretending to be Shanghai any more than it would pretend to be Yunnan.

So when we re-frame that question to explore what’s inauthentic, it brings something quite different to me to the question of what is authentic.

Perhaps these opposites provide balance to the conversation. If we are to define what something is, then we need to define what it’s not. And by defining both, it enables us to come to greater clarity on what something is.

Given that our conversation was about authentic sustainability and now that we’ve established that definitions are good, one definition of sustainability used today was that attributed to John Ehrenfeld:

“Sustainability is the possibility of human and other life flourishing on earth forever.”

Sounds a bit hippy-esque, but essential it boils down to how people and other life forms can be awesome and at their best all the time and for all of time.

Stated in another way, sustainability is a pathway to planetary, organizational, and human flourishing.

As the conversation warmed up about how we understand and perceive authentic sustainability, we discussed as a group about conversations between people we labeled either as “effective” or “stuck” conversations.

 

And as we listed takeaway soundbites from the conversations around effective and stuck conversations we had with our neighbors, as a group we started to see the patterns where effective conversations were often when both sides focused on the mutual benefits.

Whereas in stuck conversations, there were always feelings and background conversations in our own heads that we were not dealing with openly that seemed to halt progress – often on both sides.

What really started to come out for me from there on out is that it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about sustainability or something else. The type of thinking we’re talking about with authenticity comes down to whether or not we’re ready to get real with ourselves because this has a major influence on how we relate to and interact with others.

My thinking started to drift into thinking about my authentic self. My relationships with others. How things were working and how things were not? What mattered to me and what mattered to another in this moment or that? I tried to bring a balance to both sides, both arguments, both thoughts, feelings, and words, in order to bring greater clarity to a particular situation from days gone by that was never resolved.

And I considered how I could have chosen to act – or react – differently.

One thing I realized over the course of today is that I can be quite emotional about the people and things I care most about.

And when it comes to those people and about those things, I am probably the least vocal about expressing my emotions.

I’ve never really admitted this to myself before.

And when I think of what I actually want out of life. It’s not to not communicate what I’m thinking and feeling, especially when it matters most.

This is an important part of who I am. When something matters, it matters. Holding that in doesn’t appropriately enable me to communicate to the people I care about or to others about the things I care about. And that was lost during my time in the dark.

Fortunately I came to realize that the only way for this to change is for me to more regularly express. Which is what this 60-days of writing has been about. Practicing expression. Being vulnerable with myself by opening myself up to these conversations with myself and with others.

But enough about me for the moment, how about you?

What is authenticity for you? What does it mean to be inauthentic?

What is the authenticity that you experience and appreciate?

Is there anything about your authentic self that you’re keeping locked away?

It might not be something you – or others close to you – even realize. But if you take some time to look, to listen to yourself, and to others, you may find something unexpected that might make you feel just a bit more sustainable i.e. fully and completely and extra alive.

i.e. an even better version of your best self.

Didn’t think it was possible?

Well, you’ll never know if you don’t take the time to look and listen.

—–

Interested in more on Authentic Sustainability? Learn about Gabriel and Jason’s work here.

“Sustainability”

Over the past few months I’ve had a chance to talk to quite a number of people around New Haven – and beyond – about the topic of “sustainability.”

People sure love to buzz about it.

Sustainability this. Sustainability that.

Both through reading and conversation, it seems like there’s a lot of people out there who seem to feel that “sustainability” is somewhere between a load of BS and something that just can’t really be defined.

But is this any different from anything else that’s hard to define?

As this concept continues to penetrate our mainstream mind and thoughts, it’s only more important that we think – on our own and in groups – about how we define it today with an eye towards something, somewhere further into the future.

That’s why these recent conversations have been so excellent. Conversations with thoughtful people who are also struggling around what “sustainability” is has been great.

Because when one tackles something so large, something that you can come at from so many different angles, a range of perspectives shared between strangers who share a mutual interest in understanding and doing something with this enhanced understanding is invaluable.

It can be through the struggles and through the hard times, where the future is hard to see or know, that can result in the greatest momentum, of growth, and outcomes.

It would be hard for me to put together everything I’ve learned in these past few months right here, right now, and combine that with the amount of thinking I did about this while living in China’s biggest northern city and one of its smaller Southwestern villages over the past decade.

But my answer today, is a lot like answers look on Jeopardy: in question form.

Given the magnitude of the conversation around sustainability, it’s hard to find that an answer that’s one size fits all.

And perhaps that’s the point when we’re thinking about what it means or what it can mean.

So yes, of course, everyone has a different definition.

Which means the real question is: what can and does it mean for us?

And what can we do about it today as we think a bit about tomorrow?

All-Timers with Alzheimer’s

memory_brain_map

My Grandmother, we call her Babci (bop-chee: bop rhymes with top; chee as in cheese), has dementia.

Babci and I had lunch today at Friendly’s in Utica*. It was strange and wonderful all at once.

And it made me wonder whether all lunches should end with a sundae with a cherry on top. Senior citizens really know how to live it up 🙂

Living away in China for the years that I did, I missed quite a few family moments. And now that I’m back in the US, I’ve done my best to join in for as many as possible. This is one of those moments.

There’s a lot that Babci forgets these days. But that’s okay. I forget a lot of things too.

Though since her 90th birthday back in March, it’s incredible how quickly, and noticeably, Babci’s mental state has declined.

It’s stunning, actually. I was so impressed at her birthday party. A 90-year old woman, still very much on top of her game.

But these days she has no idea who I am. She doesn’t remember my sister, or any of her other grandkids.

In fact, given our lunchtime conversation today, she doesn’t even remember my Mother – someone who calls and comes out to see her regularly. She remembers her son, but doesn’t seem to always call him by name. Carol (my Aunt) seems to be the last remaining name her memory bank.

I suppose it makes sense. They live just around the corner from each other and see each other daily.

Actually, over the past few months, you wouldn’t believe the number of times Babci has described to me how to get from her house to or from Aunt Carol’s.

But she describes it well, and I don’t mind hearing it. It’s a beautiful thing to see how her face lights up each time she makes the final zag with her fingers, “…and we’re there!”

So many of us take our memory for granted.

Babci seems to be extremely proud of these things she remembers well – like how to get between her and Carol’s house or stories like the one about how she and Grandpa (Dziadziu) moved into their place on Noyes Street. We reviewed that she’s been living in her house for 63 years at least 3 times today.

What if we treated our memory like a gift rather than a given?

What if we were a bit more understanding when someone re-told us a story that excited them, even if we’d heard it before?

What if we were a bit more understanding when someone that mattered to us forgot about something that mattered to us?

What can we learn from interacting with the people closest to us with dementia / Alzheimer’s that we can apply to all the other people in our lives who have moments of forgetfulness?

Memory is still very much a mystery to me. And parts of me wish that I could remember more than I do. But, you know what, my grandmother no longer remembers who I am. And that’s okay with me.

Today may have been Babci’s and my last supper.

Over the course of 90 minutes we had the same conversation a handful of times. Many of the same questions from her. And I did my best to improv with my answers.

But we laughed. A lot.

She may not remember what we talked about five minutes ago – along with all the other stuff – but she sure hasn’t forgotten her sense of humor, to laugh at herself, or to crack a joke.

Though today Babci didn’t need her memory to remind me of one of the all-time greatest lessons I’ve learned about compassion.

Is it more important to remember and be right or to remember to be who the other person needs you to be in that moment?

And laugh, as much as you can. Because when all else is lost, we’re never lost in laughter.

—–

*For all of you playing the Upstate NY game [*ahem*, Camille], Utica is in Central NY.

Today’s image came from the google search “memory” and the UCLA Longevity Center’s Memory Training page.

60

60

60 is a significant number in time.

For one there are 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. These are the basic building blocks for the cycles by which we live our lives.

Moving beyond the basics, 60 years is a significant milestone in China.

Some might say once you’ve hit 60, you’ve done it all. You’ve spun around the zodiac wheel five full times, matching your zodiac animal with each of the terrestrial elements – earth, wood, fire, metal, and water.

In other words, it is both the end to a full cycle and the beginning to the next.

Cycles are about rhythm. Writing too.

It takes discipline and patience to write everyday.

Since I started writing in this Finding My Voice Here (FMVH) format, I haven’t been disciplined or patient.

And today is the day to make a change.

I’d like to say I will write everyday for the whole year. But I haven’t had great success with goals like this in the past.

“You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.”

This line attributed to everyone’s old friend Albert Einstein is one of those quotes that gets regularly tossed around. Perhaps for good reason.

It’s time to adopt a new mindset and new strategy on a project I’ve struggled with since coming back to America in May 2013.

But today is a new day.

And the future is not yesterday, last week, last month, or last year.

I have a choice and will have that choice to write, everyday. I can’t wait to see where I get to after my 60 day cycle.

For me, it will be a significant milestone.

Over the last year I experimented a couple times with 21-day exercises.

The first time in the Spring I failed. The second one in November I succeeded.

Discipline is what that took. A clear ranking of priorities. And more time than I expected.

But isn’t that true of anything worth doing?

Seth Godin sings this tune of daily habits and discipline – showing up day after day, working on something that matters, and shipping it! – almost to the point of being a broken record.

But the thing is, no matter how (or how often) he brings it up in conversation, it is never any less true.

Besides, have all of us followed through on making that concentrated day-in-day-out effort on our work we say matters?

Perhaps it’s worth playing on repeat then, just like the song you may be obsessed with in this moment.

What have you been waiting to do that you could start on today?

Here’s to the start of a new cycle – for you, for me, for us.

See you tomorrow.

—–

Today’s photo came attached to a blog post about what it means to be 60.

I’m always amazed to find out where the images I like take me.

Lessons about life, love, and loss from the lips of an angel is not what I was expecting with a sign that looks like it could belong on the side of a road.

But, the result – a few life learnings that might just be worth a gander.

Form and Freedom

IMG_20141122_183025

One thing I have grown to appreciate and absolutely love about learning Chinese language is the structure.

Today, I learned that Chinese traditional painting has an equally useful structural starting point.

Take a look at the picture above. What do you see in each of these elements?

From top to bottom these traditional Chinese artistic building blocks represent the most basic patterns in nature – waves, tree leaves, rivers/streams, pine needles, clouds, mountains, rocks…

No, they are not all perfect, this is just practice.

But it’s by practicing these basic patterns, with a healthy amount of consulting the dictionary of brush strokes, that early students learn to follow the rules.

And the next step? Painting a classic landscape with all the important elements.

So what makes me so excited about this?

First, I think the elements are beautiful. And the color is quite nice, too.

But, what I love even more is the idea that structure gives way to focus. And focus means freedom.

Though we may start with a full set of constraints, slowly and ever so surely, a mastery of these brush strokes, these elements, these rules, will allow the artist to ultimately find their own voice and style.

Welcome to the ultimate form of freedom.

Bound-AIR-ies

I streamed an interesting radio show yesterday morning on Connecticut’s WNPR – Where We Live – hosted by John Dankosky. The topic: How Clean Is Our Air?

Here in the US, I thought I was far away from such issues of the air. Does America have an air pollution problem?

Having followed Dr. Angel Hsu’s work for quite some time now, I’ve been involved in more than a handful of conversations around air quality and measures like PM2.5. After a number of years living in China, last spring I was lucky to join the class she co-taught at Yale with Dr. Karen Seto, From Dongguan to Delhi: Urbanization and the Environment in China and India. It was my first chance to experience a first-hand comparison between Beijing and New Delhi.

Like many others, I was interested in the competitive conversation sparked back in January by this article around air quality between Beijing and New Delhi. The primary catalyst to this conversation, the 2014 version of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), uses measured approaches (indicators) to articulate how countries are doing across a range of issues.

Last week, team EPI wrote a post that appeared on Scientific American to further contribute to this conversation around the tale of two cities, China-India Smog Rivalry a Sign of Global Menace. The post is worth perusing, not only for the beautiful infographic that illustrates several data points in the discussion around Beijing and New Delhi air, but to share a new estimate that one in eight people in the world each year die as a result of air pollution exposure [this is according to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO)].

But even more interesting? 3.87 billion people worldwide – almost half of the global population – live in areas that exceed the threshold deemed “safe” by the WHO.

Beyond the numbers there are stories of severe air pollution from places like Paris and Seoul. Apparently air pollution is not just a problem of the developing world, it’s everybody’s problem.

And then the conversation turned to a place even closer to home.

After almost a year back in America, this morning was the first time I heard a conversation around air pollution that did not cite China or elsewhere in Asia. Rather, the state with the most air pollution in the Northeast (Connecticut), aside from one last coal-guzzling energy plant, is influenced by pollution coming from the Midwest.

A conversation about air pollution in Connecticut was about the furthest thing from my mind before I listened to this show. And, for many of us, air pollution has probably felt far away for a long time – reserved mostly for places with factories abroad since leaving America many years ago.

It seems like countries like China and India have pressure from the media and citizens to make a change. While neighbors like South Korea have a strong interest in keeping their air clean. It will be a collective effort to make these improvements and for everyone to benefit.

What about America? How are folks in America working between States and other international boundaries to keep its skies clean, clear, and under control?

Recommitting to Why I’m Here

Finding My Voice Here started when I chose love over location. After nine years of China – living among hutongs and highrises in Beijing and a countryside community in rural Yunnan – I’m currently spending a bulk of my time in the US and I’ve challenged myself to publish a post a day from now until the end of 2014.

While I’ve stumbled a few times since the first now, I’m lucky that “now” has a flexible definition based on the day you read this. I’m happy to announce that the new now begins today (March 6th). I’m curious where this much concentrated writing might take me. And I hope you’ll join me in the journey.

Before we both go, I wonder what question you might offer today – be it to me or to another – to move a discussion forward on this blog or elsewhere?

Hui Lai Le

babahuilai_feng_zikai_manhua

I spent my first full year out of college immersed in the study of Chinese, choosing to put the English language on hold for awhile. And there were a collection of daily linguistic encounters that I thought to be quite funny.

One of them is commenting on leaving or returning. This scene often plays out when someone is sitting on or around the stoop of a nearby apartment or a small corner store. Walking along you are invariably coming or going – and the appropriate comment would be – 出去 chu1 qu4 – something to the effect of, “leaving, eh?”

And on returning, which could very well be the same person commenting – 回来了 hui2 lai2 le – “back again.”

One night shortly after I had re-entered the English-speaking world, while exchanging stories over a hutong dinner gathering in Beijing, I recall a guy named Paul who made this simple interaction into almost a joke. I remember laughing and laughing with the small group that night, all of us enjoying the moment, as we each reflected on the part we played of participatory observers in this almost daily ritual.

And here we are – 回来了 hui2 lai2 le – I’m back again to continue writing after a healthy break from daily computing. Our class took a three week field study – half of us headed to the East Coast of the US (Washington DC, New York, and more), while half of us headed to China (Beijing and various spots through Yunnan Province).

Some thought (if not still think) it strange that I essentially found myself back, retracing steps I took as recently as just a few months ago. On the one hand, it’s true. To return to a place where I once spent a good dose of time could be viewed as not worthwhile or productive. Though flipping this thought process on its head, I heard different stories and perspectives from people I have known in some cases for almost a decade. I met a solid group of new and interesting people, including site visits to places that I might not have been invited to see had I just been living the daily in Beijing. And most importantly of all, I learned much from my classmates and travel companions given their unique way of looking at the world, and the common language / communication style we have developed together through APLP.

A return to China. A return to Hawaii. Lots of returns. And now we return to our regularly scheduled program.

—–

Since nothing interesting came up for a Google image search on “return” and I was hesitant the movie references for “I’m back” would be a bit too overwhelming, I opted for my first Chinese language search with 回来了 (same as the title. I found this great work by 丰子恺 feng1 zi3 kai3, an artist where you can learn more about his selection of children’s cartoons, volume 1 of which the above is included here on Baidu.

Same Same, but Different

Same_Same_but_Different

Having broken the Facebook routine once it was blocked in China, more time in America has further piqued my interest in how communication plays out on other platforms, such as Twitter. After reading, “Why Twitter’s new Conversations view is a big deal and why it matters for its IPO” by Om Malik, one question came to the surface:

As we become more interconnected, and express ourselves in a more similar way, what does this mean for our differences as people, cultures, and communities?

—–

I found the image above on Fontspring.com through a google image search for “same different”.

I also really liked the image below. Same Same but Different is an exhibition collective comprised of Brooklyn artists Jay Gaskill, Fabian G. Tabibian, and Amanda Valdez. Learn more on their Tumblr or their official website.

Same_Same_but_Different_design