Autumn in New York

Photo Credit: marcoverch Flickr via Compfight cc

My wife and I decided to spend our anniversary in New York City. It would be our first time there and we prepared heavy jackets and boots as our friends told us it would be quite chilly this time of the year. We had a vision of strolling through Central Park when the leaves would be in their autumn colors. We would sit on a bench munching our New York bagels while sipping hot coffee, enjoying the fresh cool air.

I knew something was wrong when I stepped out of the John F. Kennedy airport at midnight and the air was only mildly cool, like a rainy night in Davao City.

It turned out that we were experiencing what our host, Erik, explained as an “Indian Summer” which is a period of uncharacteristically warm weather during the fall season.

We had a number of unusual experiences, the first of which occurred even when we were still in the air and the flight attendant made a call for any doctor or medical practitioner on board that they needed assistance. We would later learn during our stopover in Vancouver that someone had passed away on board, and that someone turned out to be Filipino-Chinese business icon Washington Sycip.

Another unusual but very welcome and pleasant experience was being greeted by a familiar face as we were in the airport walkway going towards immigration. Charles and I were neighbors and best friends when we were 10. We would walk home from school together and explore abandoned or burned down houses in our neighborhood. He was now working as a supervisor in another airline but he knew we were flying in so he waited for us, then escorted us past the long lines and instead of waiting for what would have been an hour or more, we spent only around 15 minutes in immigration. I don’t get to experience VIP treatment often, but this was a welcome respite after a long and arduous flight.

Walking around the streets of Manhattan was an overload for the senses. We could smell hotdogs and chicken over rice cooking from the many hotdog and halal food stands in many street corners. Just like in the movies, people talked loudly on their cellphones with animated faces and expressions.

On Wall Street, amidst men in their business suits and women with fine jewelry and wide-eyed tourists like us, there were crazy people muttering to themselves or talking to their imaginary friends. There were beggars with cardboard signs saying, “Need help. Any amount will do,” or “Just diagnosed with lupus. Please help.” A more creative one lay on the sidewalk with a suit and a Donald Trump mask, and a sign that said “Mexican Wall Fund.” I donated to his fund and took a photo.

While we were riding the subway, an old man burst in and started talking in a loud voice, about how the Trump administration didn’t support veterans like him and then he walked through the train car with his hat held out asking for any amount. When he walked over to the next car, Charles remarked, “That guy has been here for 5 years. He was blaming Obama before.”

We had time to see a few sights — the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center Memorial, the Metropolitan Museum, the Statue of Liberty — and meet with friends and family  we haven’t seen in years, re-establishing bonds and friendships, and making new ones as well. We were able to watch some Broadway shows, which we both loved, and were absolutely amazed at the skill, dedication and talent of the performers.

We visited Central Park again, on the day we were leaving, but the leaves were still green and hadn’t been convinced to grace us with their majestic autumn colors. Never mind, my wife had a crepe and coffee while sitting on a bench, and I had a classic New York hotdog. It was a lovely time, made more pleasant by the warmth of friends and family.

 

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th.

That date doesn’t have as much impact as it did decades ago. I was around 7 years old when the first Friday the 13th movie came out and scared everyone out of their wits. I never saw any of the movies, only some trailers but they were enough to keep me away.

It didn’t help that one day, I saw my older sister watching a horror flick (I forgot what the title was — maybe Poltergeist), and there was this guy in an old house running from something. He was on the second floor and he tried escaping through a window. It was one of those big windows that opened up and down. He had gotten half of his body through the window when it suddenly slammed shut on his waist and continued pressing down until the poor screaming guy was cut in half. His upper body fell to the ground below where it continued to writhe in its death throes.

I would have nightmares of that scene many times after that.

I had a lot of fears as a child and the fear of the supernatural was one of them. Oh I’ve heard about demons in church but seeing on them enacted on TV was just horrifying. It didn’t help that my Sunday School teacher assured us that the devil and evil spirits were real.

That was my entry point into the world of superstition. My classmates would talk about Friday the 13th, both the movie, and the actual superstition — saying that we weren’t supposed to do anything risky on that day, which was a double-whammy because 13 was an unlucky number, and Jesus died on a Friday. So if you went swimming, for example, you risked drowning. If you climbed a tree, you risked falling. And if you got wounded, the bleeding wouldn’t stop, and so on and so forth.

From there, I heard about Filipino superstitions, like we weren’t supposed to pee on trees that surrounded the large fields of our schools, unless we said, “tabi-tabi po” (“excuse me” or “pardon me”). Otherwise the angry duwende (dwarves) living in that tree would afflict us with a scorching fever. We were supposed to hang cloves of garlic around the house to keep away the aswang — a mythical shapeshifting monster commonly used to scare children into obedience. “You better finish your food. You better behave, or the aswang will come and get you while you’re sleeping.”

The Chinese culture also has a lot of superstitious beliefs mostly coming from feng shui or geomancy. I was shielded from most of those because my father (a rare breed among Chinese) didn’t believe any of that stuff, claiming that his belief in Jesus Christ superseded all of those. I would learn of these superstitions later on and would marvel that many businessmen would pay huge sums to geomancers to give them advice on how to build or remodel their houses, offices, or stores in order to bring in more luck. I remember noticing a house in our old neighborhood one day because the gate and the roof were suddenly painted a garish red and there were 4 golden 8’s attached to the gatepost. My dad chuckled as we drove by and explained to me that was a product of feng shui.

I’m sure those brought a lot of luck (and cash) for the geomancer.

People take their beliefs very seriously. I know someone who won’t go into business with someone else whose Chinese zodiac sign clashes with his own. There are people who won’t open a store or live in a new house unless it has been blessed by a clergyman of whatever religion they profess. Taxi drivers touch the rosaries hanging from their rearview mirrors and mutter a prayer when they pass by a church.

These same people laugh at others’ superstition but would get deeply offended when you call their own beliefs as such. I know because I did too.

It took me a while to shed off my beliefs, like old tattered clothes. Now I have discarded most of them.

Friday the 13th? Bring it on.

 

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

The Boy Who Could Read

Photo Credit: Marta Maximovic Flickr via Compfight cc

A fellow teacher posted this story and I thought it was too good not to share:

A third grade boy had won a medal as the best reader in class. Puffed with pride, he boasted to the maid at home, “Let’s see if you can read as well as I can, Nora.” The good woman took the book, looked at it closely, and finally stammered, “Why, Billy, I don’t know how to read.”

Proud as a peacock, the little fellow ran into the living room and fairly shouted to his father, “Dad, Nora doesn’t know how to read and I – only eight years old – got a medal for reading. I wonder how she feels; looking at a book she cannot read.”

Without a word, his father went over to the bookshelf, took down a volume, and handed it to the boy, saying, “She feels like this.”

The book was in Spanish and Billy could not read a line of it. The boy never forgot that lesson. Whenever he feels like boasting, he reminds himself, “Remember, you can’t read Spanish.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak about writing to a senior high class in the school where I used to teach. I was delighted to find out that I would be sharing the stage with a former student of mine, and now principal of the school, and also former columnist of Sunstar Davao — Ms. Jocy So-Yeung.

Jocy talked about her experience in high school, how I made them write stories and poems and made them feel like their ideas had worth. She carried this feeling of “Hey, I’m a good writer,” with her to college where she was promptly shot down by her teacher who told her to take a remedial class in basic English composition.

It was the first time I heard that story, and it was a humbling experience for me, that my top student whom I considered mature and talented beyond her years, would be asked to take a remedial class. For a while I felt like that boy who couldn’t read Spanish.

During the Q & A section, students asked us questions and at the tail end of it, I ventured a question of my own to my former student — because I was really curious — and I asked, “In light of what you said about your experience, would it have been more beneficial if I had been a stricter teacher in the mold of your college professor?”

She answered that what I did for them was also crucial, because at that stage in their lives, they felt like a “loser’s batch” — that they weren’t worth anything and that the teachers and administration were against them. To be fair, she said, I did criticize and correct their writing but more importantly I gave them a voice and made them feel that their opinions mattered. I smiled as I remembered their batch, how I poured everything on them with the enthusiasm of a first-year teacher, before realizing that I was probably expecting or asking too much of this rowdy bunch of 16-year olds. I wanted to think that I was the greatest teacher they have ever had or will ever have.

It’s good to have one’s ego deflated from time to time.

Like the boy who couldn’t read Spanish, I have to remind myself that I am just one in a long line of influencers in my former students lives. Some may think that I did wonders for them, while to others, my class was just another boring blip in their existence.

And that’s perfectly fine.

 

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

People Follow Who They Want

One of the most crucial lessons in leadership that many people miss is this: People do not follow you because you have the best ideas, or the most logical problem-solving skills. People follow you because they want to. Simple as that.

John Maxwell describes five levels of leadership in his book, Developing the Leader Within You. The first is Position – where one leads simply because he has the title or position. If you are a positional leader, people follow you because they have to.

The next level is Permission, where people follow because they want to. This happens when the leader has developed good relationships within the organization. At this stage, people do not simply follow you out of obligation. They actually like you. They feel they understand you as you understand them. They are actually giving you consent to lead them.

This second level of leadership is key because it paves the way to the higher levels. Without it, you will forever be stuck on the first level and will never achieve results beyond the barest minimum that your followers will give you. They will follow only out of compliance, never out of desire or sheer enthusiasm.

To understand why this is so, we must understand that decision-making is an emotional process, not a logical one. As much as we like to think we are rational creatures who make well-reasoned and logical decisions most of the time, the fact is that we really don’t. Look around your house and see how many things are there that you bought but don’t really need.

As someone once said, “We make decisions based on our emotions and afterwards use logic to justify those decisions.”

Research by Antonio Damasio confirms this theory. Damasio studied patients who had a specific kind of brain damage that prevented them from feeling emotions. Everything else about the person seemed normal. One would expect these people to make logical and reasonable decisions every time, like a real-life version of Mr. Spock from Star Trek. However, Damasio discovered that instead of that expected outcome, these people were unable to make very simple decisions such as what to wear or what to eat.

This led him to conclude that decisions are indeed linked strongly to one’s emotions rather than one’s logic. It is the same way when people choose their leaders.

Effective leaders understand that their first task is to be liked — a knowledge that is sometimes dangerous especially to abusive leaders, because once people like you, they will tend to defend you no matter what decisions you make. There is a maxim often quoted about this it is almost a cliche, but it is nonetheless true: Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

The key to getting people to follow you is by showing that you care about them, their lives, their families, their struggles, their hopes and their dreams. When you achieve this level of leadership, you can move on to the next, which is Production — getting your team to produce results that you want. At this stage, people follow you because of what you do for the organization. Then you move up to People Development — molding and grooming others into leadership positions, and here people follow you because of what you do for them.

Lao Tzu got it right when he wrote:

Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them.

Start with what they know. Build with what they have.

But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished,

the people will say “We have done this ourselves.”

 

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Cryptocurrency Scams and How To Avoid Them

This year alone, more people would probably have heard about cryptocurrency, bitcoin, or ethereum for the very first time. I personally have had more people asking me about it just these past few months than in all the previous years combined. Even our city is set to have its very own Cryptocurrency Expo this coming October 7.

Of course, this is all thanks to the meteoric rise of bitcoin’s value, only $900 at the beginning of the year, to almost $5000 last August, and has since dropped to around $4000 as of this writing. That means if you bought bitcoin last January and sold it last August, you would have made 5 times what you initially invested.

More dramatic than bitcoin’s rise however, is its lesser known rival, ethereum, which traded for only $10 in January but reached a high of almost $400 last August. So if you had bought ethereum in January and sold it in August, you would have made roughly 40 times your initial investment in less than a year.

It is no wonder then, that cryptocurrencies (the general term for these new breed of digital currencies) have been making the headlines recently. The recent surge in prices are in part due to increased demand from those who want to own bitcoin or ethereum or some other cryptocurrency (and yes, there are hundreds of them) for the very first time.

Of course, with every opportunity, scams and scammers abound as well. There will always be shady individuals ready to take advantage of your lack of knowledge, or your eagerness to get rich quick. The realm of cryptocurrency is no exception and we have seen our fair share of scams that have come and gone as well.

So if you are planning to invest in cryptocurrency, please take note of the following:

  1. Investing in cryptocurrency is A RISK. It is highly speculative. Anyone who tells you otherwise, who entices you with words like “low-risk” or “zero-risk” is probably up to no good. The cryptocurrency market is a DEREGULATED market. That means ANYTHING can happen to the market price. It can go up to $5000 dollars in one day, and it can also drop back to $500 another day. There is no officiating body controlling or regulating market prices. It is purely driven by the laws of supply and demand. As such, my advice to those wanting to take the plunge is to put in only money that you can afford to lose.
  2. There is NO GUARANTEED income. In fact, there may not even be an income. You may lose your money. Anyone who approaches you with some sort of guarantee (even a seemingly small amount like 1%) is probably up to no good. If people ask for your money to “invest” with them, be very suspicious. These days, you can already buy bitcoin directly at coins.ph, buybitcoin.ph or rebit.ph. You can read more about these platforms at https://cointelegraph.com/news/3-major-bitcoin-platforms-in-philippines-efficiency-comparison-test. Once you have your bitcoins, you can easily buy other cryptocurrencies with that. There is no need for you to give your money to someone for him/her to “invest.”
  3. Network Marketing is a No-No. I am not a network marketing hater. In fact, I am a former network marketer, have many friends still in the industry and I have written several articles in defense of legitimate network marketing. But knowing what I know about it, I can safely say that cryptocurrency and network marketing simply do not mix. There have been cryptocurrencies that have been launched network-marketing style and I have yet to see one with any prospect of long term success. Why is this? Well, network marketing relies on guaranteed income and bonuses and that contradicts what I wrote in number 2.
  4. Learn, learn, learn. As with any investment, nothing beats understanding why you are betting your money on it. I learned about Ethereum in 2015 and understood its potential. Perhaps because of my background in computers and technology, it was easier for me to absorb the technicalities. However, there are tons of materials out there that make it easy for the layman to understand this new technology and its promise for the future. It’s always a wiser decision for you to know exactly why you’re putting your money where it is, than simply putting it there because everyone else is saying that’s where you should invest. You have a responsibility to educate yourself.

You may start with these articles:

Cryptocurrency 101

The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Cryptocurrency Investing

A Beginner’s Guide to Blockchain Technology

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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