Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Friday, September 30, 2011

Detroit Tigers: American League Division Series begins

I have been a Detroit Tigers fan for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a baseball loving family and whether its my mom pitching to me as a 4 yr old in the back yard, or my dad having "the game" on the radio from the garage as he worked on the car, I have grown up with Detroit Tigers baseball. To this day part of my mom's mood when I call her can be "how the Tigers are doing."

So, I just want to give a big shout out to my hometown team for clinching their division this year with a quite impressive 95-67 record and second place Cleveland Indians a distant 15 games behind. Leading the team is pitching ace Justin Verlander who ended the season with an incredible 24-5 record and posting a 2.40 E.R.A.

Verlander will go toe to toe tonight in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia. It is most likely going to be a pitching duel and a low scoring game but who knows. The last time The Yankees and the Tigers met in a playoff series was in 2006 when the Tigers spanked the Yankees and sent them back to the Bronx crying.

Here in Hong Kong it will be Saturday morning so I guess I'll watch it live with coffee, eggs, and toast rather than a hot dog, chips, and salsa.

I even have a couple friends who don't like baseball per se but might come by to keep me company.

Of course that may mean I might have to return the favor and sit through a soccer game.

That would be a real test of friendship...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chris Christie: Please...Please run for President!!

Chris Christie probably won't run...but I sure hope he does.  Up until now I've been somewhat behind Mitt Romney.  One because he has increasingly impressed me in his debate performances and second because most of the the rest of the Republican field are a public embarrassment.

Watching Christie talk though I realize this guy means what he says.  Everyone else, Obama included, seem like they have just been given a cue card to read from.  No strength, no passion...  I was beginning to think men of courage no longer ran for President.  Well since he is still sitting on the fence, maybe they don't.

When the rest of the Republican candidates invoke Reagan it seems depressing.  They want the mantle but on them it hangs like an ill fitting leisure suit.  When Christie talks about America he doesn't have to invoke Reagan...he's already living it.  I listen to him and think, "I want what he's having."

I think Romney could be a good president but Chris Christie has the potential to be a great one.

At the same time I would be remiss if I forgot to mention our favorite Grizzly Mama, Sarah Palin, said she is still considering running for President.  Oh, I do wish she would. She could say some random silly things, make us all giggle, give Saturday Night Live some choice material, and then maybe...if we're all really, really lucky...she'll just go away!

But that may be to much to hope for!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Forbes Magazine names "10 Happiest Jobs" and "10 Most Hated Jobs"

"Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who are the happiest workers of all?"

 Seems according to Forbes magazine, men of the cloth appear to have the most job satisfaction.  I have to admit it, I was a bit surprised as "clergy" would not have been my # 1 guess.  According to the article the Top 10 happiest jobs are: (courtesy of Forbes Magazine)

1. Clergy: The least worldly are reported to be the happiest of all

2. Firefighters: Eighty percent of firefighters are “very satisfied” with their jobs, which involve helping people.

3. Physical therapists: Social interaction and helping people apparently make this job one of the happiest.

4. Authors: For most authors, the pay is ridiculously low or non-existent, but the autonomy of writing down the contents of your own mind apparently leads to happiness.

5. Special education teachers: If you don’t care about money, a job as special education teacher might be a happy profession. The annual salary averages just under $50,000.

6. Teachers: Teachers in general report being happy with their jobs, despite the current issues with education funding and classroom conditions. The profession continues to attract young idealists, although fifty percent of new teachers are gone within five years.

7. Artists: Sculptors and painters report high job satisfaction, despite the great difficulty in making a living from it.

8. Psychologists: Psychologists may or may not be able to solve other people’s problems, but it seems that they have managed to solve their own.

9. Financial services sales agents: Sixty-five percent of financial services sales agents are reported to be happy with their jobs. That could be because some of them are clearing more than $90,000 dollars a year on average for a 40-hour work week in a comfortable office environment.

10. Operating engineers: Playing with giant toys like bulldozers, front-end loaders, backhoes, scrapers, motor graders, shovels, derricks, large pumps, and air compressors can be fun. With more jobs for operating engineers than qualified applicants, operating engineers report being happy.
And since I'm kinda-clergy, kinda an author, and kinda a teacher, that would explain why I'm "kinda happy."

But now (boo-hiss) the 10 Most Hated Jobs (again courtesy of Forbes magazine)

1. Director of Information Technology: Information technology directors hold almost as much sway over the fate of some companies as a chief executive, but they reported the highest level of dissatisfaction with their jobs. Why? “Nepotism, cronyism, disrespect for workers.”

2. Director of Sales and Marketing: A director of sales and marketing plans reported the second-highest level of job dissatisfaction, “a lack of direction from upper management and an absence of room for growth”.

3. Product Manager: Product managers complained of restricted career growth, and boring clerical work even at this level.

4. Senior Web Developer: Senior web developers reported a high degree of unhappiness in their jobs, because employers are unable to communicate coherently, and lack an understanding of the technology.

5. Technical Specialist: A technical specialist reported that for all their expertise, they were treated with a palpable disrespect. Their input was not taken seriously by senior management.

6. Electronics Technician: Electronics technicians complain of having too little control, work schedule, lack of accomplishment, no real opportunity for growth, no motivation to work hard, no say in how things are done, and mutual hostility among peers.

7. Law Clerk: Clerkships are among the most highly sought-after positions in the legal profession and the job beefs up a resume. Yet law clerks still report high levels of dissatisfaction. The hours are long and grueling, and the clerk is subject to the whims of sometimes mercurial personalities.

8. Technical Support Analyst: Technical support analysts help people with their computer issues. This typically amounts to calmly communicating technical advice to panicked individuals, often over the phone, and then going on site only to find the client simply hadn’t turned the printer on. They may be required to travel at a moment’s notice, sometimes on holidays or weekends.

9. CNC Machinist: CNC machinists operate computer numerical control machines. For the uninitiated, this is a machine that operates a lathe or a mill. Now that the CNC operator has had most of the physical hazards of manufacturing replaced by a machine, there’s not a lot to do but push buttons and maintenance. Since it’s a specialized skill, the job offers no room for advancement.

10. Marketing Manager: Marketing managers often cited a lack of direction as the primary reason for job dissatisfaction.
The article goes on to say that, "What’s striking about the list is that these relatively high level people are imprisoned in hierarchical bureaucracies. They see little point in what they are doing. The organizations they work for don’t know where they are going, and as a result, neither do these people."

It's true, what kid ever looks at that list and says, "When I grow up I want to be one of those."

So its never to late to jump ship and do what makes you happy...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Diversity: or How America makes Americans

My 9 month old son, Ethan George, attended his first Republican meeting this week.  Being that I am in Hong Kong I need to qualify that statement to say I am referring to the American political party and not any organization designed to abolish the Monarchy.

God Save the Queen!

No, the Republicans Abroad is the group in Hong Kong for Americans of the Republican Party to gather together for networking and political events.  This last Thursday's Lan Kwai Fong event was a reception to get to know Philip Yin, a state of Washington native working in Hong Kong, who is returning home this week to run for the U.S. Senate.

As someone who had run for the U.S. House of Representatives, Yin and I had a bit to talk about.  We hold a similar position on a number of issues, tend to favor a more "moderate" approach in general and both shook our heads in embarrassment at the performance of a majority of the Republican presidential candidates in the previous night's debate.  I was able to encourage him in the undertaking he was preparing to start and I always applaud anyone willing to "enter the arena" so to speak.

As Philip Yin addressed the group of about 30 who had come out to wish him well though I was struck by a thought.  He talked about his father immigrating to America as a young man from China speaking no English but working hard to achieve the American Dream.  He stated although he supports China he is American and his loyalty is to America.  The thought that struck me was the pride I felt in our country that we can absorb the best and the brightest from around the world and create Americans.  This son of a poor Chinese immigrant is making a legitimate run for the U.S. Senate.  Its as if America says to the world, "Yes, you to can be American".  There would (most likely) never be the reciprocal opportunity for an immigrant's child in Asia.  I mean the child of a Filipino maid could never get elected to public office in Malaysia, Japan, or South Korea.

Even in cosmopolitan Hong Kong, the Legislative Counsel is made up of only ethnic Chinese and is likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future.

In 2008 I was teaching a class in Qingdao China made up primarily of Korean International students.  It was election week in American and I asked the class who they wanted to win the U.S. presidency...McCain or Obama?  The class mostly supported Obama.  I asked one young South Korean student why? She responded, "Because it's good for America to have a minority president to promote diversity."

 I responded that was very thoughtful and true that because of past racial tensions in America the election of Barack Obama may help demonstrate new opportunities for diversity in America.  Then I furthered the notion, "So you would also be open to more diversity in South Korea as well and perhaps have a minority president in the future...possibly a black president?"

She quickly dropped her head and I sensed a wave of discomfort among the mainly Korean students.  They whispered in Korean for a moment and then she looked up at me and embarrassingly responded,

"No, that couldn't happen in Korea."

Apparently diversity is good... you know, for Western nations who are into that sort of thing.

But at that Republicans Abroad reception I realized for all the bumps, bruises, and challenges that come from our vast melting pot...its still cooking up a pretty good dish!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Seeing Kevin Spacey live as "Richard III" in Hong Kong

Last June I got an e-mail from Hong Kong ticketing that the current London West End production of Richard III
starring Oscar winner Kevin Spacey would be coming to Hong Kong in September and ticket sales had begun.  Rather than buy tickets assuming I'd find friends who wanted to go, the high cost of the tickets made me want to have confirmations first.

That was a mistake!

24 hours after tickets went on sale I called the box office...they were all sold out!

For an amateur Shakespeare aficionado like myself this hurt.  Living in Hong Kong does not offer opportunities like this all the time.

Yesterday though Gabriel and I went down to the 3:00 matinee on the off chance someone would be wanting to get rid of tickets.  Unfortunately everyone that had an extra ticket or two had the high price "good" seats.  I was looking for some more economical tickets.  I told Gabriel to stick by me as I thought if someone was going to "dump" a good ticket cheap they would do it with the altruistic thought that they were giving it to a guy who was trying to expose his son to Shakespeare.  (Hey I don't have a lot to work with)

Well, one lady had two HK$ 1000 tickets (US$ 130) to sell but the max I wanted to pay for 2 tickets was HK$ 800 (or less) we had a bit of a gulf between us.  As the 3 o'clock start time loomed I saw her talking to her husband and she came over and said, "I want to give a ticket to a student so I'll give you both tickets for HK$1000."  Although this was a little over my budget she was basically giving me a free HK$1000 dollar ticket and I wasn't going to let HK$ 200 (US$ 25) stop me from seeing Kevin Spacey doing Shakespeare.

The tickets were prime...12th row center!  And the performance?  Some have said that Spacey overplays Richard III...but thats what I like in a live show.  Spacy's Richard is the twisted shell of a man whose movement's on stage mimic a spider scurrying between his victims as he spins his web.  His performance was brilliant and in my humble opinion he is a master of what actors affectionately refer to as "the craft".

The set design was both spartan and creative using twin hallways of doors to serve not only as means of entrance and exit but to represent key plot points such as the show's numerous murders and executions.

Director Sam Mendes utilized video, music, and a little political satire of his own to enhance the story and bring  fresh dimensions to an old tale ripe for a new generation.

Probably the best moment, and one any father will appreciate, is coming out of a 3 hour Shakespeare performance and having your teenage son say, "Wow, that was great!"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Remembering Sept.11, 2001

Has it really been 10 years?

Our phone rang and Tammy answered.  I saw her face furl a bit and she turned to me, "Its Donna, she said a plane has just flown into the World Trade Center."

My first thought was that it was a light plane and a bad pilot.  I reached over and flicked on the news.  There it of the towers with smoke billowing out.  It was both tragic, confusing... and fascinating at the same time.  We stared...commented....stared...and commented.  And then we watched as another plane slammed into the second tower.  And then we knew!  We all knew!

I turned to Tammy, "We're under attack!"

I was working as a concierge at the Westin Hotel just south of Boulder Colorado and scheduled to go in.  Does one go into work while your country is being attacked by an unknown enemy?  What is the protocol for this.  I didn't want to leave Tammy and my then 3 year old Gabriel.  Eventually a Russian neighbor came over and she and Tammy stayed together as the events unfolded and I rushed off to work.

When I arrived at the hotel the area around my lobby desk was already in chaos.  I can't remember exactly when ALL flights were cancelled and the air space over America was shut down but I was immediately thrown into the chore of trying to get guests home by any means other than air travel.  I quickly put together a master list of locations around the country where people wanted to go...and it was everywhere.  Dallas, Atlanta, New York, and Chicago to name but a few.  I had two phones in each ear as I scrambled to get people on buses, planes, and renting cars from agencies that were none to happy about knowing that guests were driving their cars cross country.

I remember a private Denver town car service I worked with offering to drive a guy to Dallas for US$ 1600 ...and having that offer accepted by a man desperate to get home.  People that rented cars to travel across country I talked into taking complete strangers to cities they would travel through along the way. I managed to talk one guy going to Detroit into dropping off another guy in Chicago.

I can be quite persuasive...

I worked on this for the next 3 days never really getting thanked by hotel management or given any acknowledgement other than a "Thanks" from a grateful guest heading out the door.   But everyone was busy...and we all pulled together selflessly and did our duty.  It's unfortunate that it is in these times of tragedy that people's lights seem to shine brightest.

That night our church had a prayer meeting at someone's home.  We stood outside on the porch looking at the disturbingly quite sky interpreted occasionally by the fighter jets flying overhead out of Colorado Springs.

I remember looking over at a couple of the others and saying, "It all changes now"

And it did...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Star Trek at 45!

On September 8th 1966 a lttle TV show named Star Trek debuted for the first time on NBC.  It told the tale of the crew of the Starship Enterprise's journey to explore strange new worlds,  seek out new life and to boldly go where no Man has gone before.  (That is until some Einstein changed it to "where no one has gone before"; which musters about the same emotional impact as Ben Stein muttering "Bueller...Bueller..."

Debuting at a time when black Americans were expected to sit to the rear of a bus and women were largely seen on TV coming out of the kitchen with a casserole in their hand, Star Trek broke convention by featuring a black female senior Communications officer.  Add to the multicultural crew a Russian navigator during the height of the Cold War and an Oriental helmsmen and you see why the debut of Star Trek has always been seen as groundbreaking for network TV. 

For years in the 1970's and early '80's UHF Channel 50 in Detroit would broadcast reruns of  Star Trek every Saturday and Sunday evening.  By the time I was 10 I knew all 79 episodes like the back of my hand.  Later I would close my eyes at the beginning of a show and try to guess which episode it was from Kirk's opening "Captain's Log".  Yep, I was a Star Trek geek and and it only followed that my closest friends would be Star Trek geeks. 

Of course there have been new incarnations of the show but none have ever replaced the iconic characters made famous by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Co.  As much as we may have liked The Next Generation I don't imagine when JJ Abrams rebooted the series a couple years back there was any discussion whether they would be recasting a young Picard rather than a young Kirk.

But all of that pales to the fact that when Star Trek premiered in that September evening of 1966 I was 4 days old.
Yep, I'm as old as Star Trek. 

Over time as the show celebrated key anniversary years (15, 25, 35) with retrospective reflections and highlight interviews with cast and crew I was always reminded how old I was.  So when I saw promotions for the 45th anniversary I was suddenly like, "Ugh, am I really going to be 45 years old !" 

Somehow the 25th anniversary was much more exciting to me.

Anyhow...Happy Birthday Star Trek!  Won't be long before we're both celebrating 50!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cowboys...Aliens...and the Grace of God

Just took Gabriel to see the new summer blockbuster Cowboys & Aliens!  I knew from when I first heard the title I was going to love it because has Cowboys...and Aliens.  Nuff said!

Anyhow as I was watching the movie I was struck by how much the idea of redemption and God's Grace underpinned the movie.  That wasn't surprising as when I saw the credits roll at the beginning I noticed one of the screenwriters for the film was Lost writer Damon Lindelof. The Catholic Lindelof was  known for including Christian themes such as redemption into the story line of Lost so it came as no shock to me when I saw similar themes in Cowboys & Aliens.  Even the "preacher" in the film (played by the always solid Clancy Brown)  was a man of conviction who brought life and grace to those he met.

Like I was saying though, it was the message of God's Grace that really struck me.  Harrsison Ford plays local land baron Woodrow Dolarhyde.  At the beginning of the film Dolarhyde's arrogant, spoiled son Percy shoots the town's deputy more from stupidity than maliciousness.  The "law" in the form of the Sheriff arrests Percy and has him sent to another city for trial.  Dolarhyde rides into town to rescue Percy and although he knows Percy is a silly spoiled child,  he is still his son.  The scene of Dolarhyde attempting to get his boy free though is interrupted by the "aliens" who sweep down from the sky and kidnap a number of town folk including young Percy.

Despite the fact his son has shown to not be deserving of his Father's love, Dolarhyde mounts a posse to go and save him as well as the rest of the townspeople.  Along the way Dolarhyde shows himself to be a "father" to other "adopted" sons along the way.

In the end, Percy is saved and when he sees what his father has done to redeem him, it changes who he is.  His behaviour begins to model that of his father.  In turn, Dolarhyde informs his son he had the bank checks redone to reflect the new family business name, "Dolarhyde & Son".

In the same way, we have done nothing to earn our heavenly father's love other than to be his children.  It is when we realize the blessed position we are in and the love our father has for us that we can begin to experience genuine transformation in who we really are.

Another great illustration from the movie was when Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) who was a wanted felon, is given his freedom at the end of the movie.  After he had demonstrated selflessness and his own change of character, the sheriff and Dolarhyde inform him that when the Federal Marshall's came looking to arrest him, they told them Jake Lonergan died in the battle.  The old man that he used to be was dead and the law has no hold on a dead man.  He was free to go.

Sound familiar?

Cowboys and Aliens was great summer popcorn fun.  Seeing Harrison Ford back in action (heck, admittedly I grew up watching Harrison Ford) fighting...shooting bad guys...and being, ...well...Harrison Ford is all I need in a summer movie.  Plus it has Cowboys...and Aliens!

Can you really beat that?