A Day at the Peace Center

May 25, 2016

CIMG1410International Christian University (ICU) is a surprisingly green campus in Tokyo.  It was started my General Douglas MacArthur on the site of a former airbase (and some of the architecture looks like it!); MacArthur turned swords into plowshares when he started the University, which was designed to promote Peace studies.  The undergraduate student body is small –about 3000 students –and the graduate school is smaller, and ICU is one of the sites of the Rotary-sponsored Peace Center which graduates 10 students each year with a Master’s in Peace and Conflict Resolution.

Our day started with a brief overview of the program, and then the students came in for a free-flowing conversation about ICU, the Peace Centers, Rotary, and their futures.  It is quite clear they all plan a long (if not life-long) relationship with Rotary, however, since the Rotary they see most closely is Rotary in Japan, they have out-of-step notions about women’s role in Rotary, their ability as young professionals to join, and the like.  Clearly, Rotary needs to do a better job of orienting them to Rotary in THEIR home country, and maybe, Rotary in North America.

We had lunch in the cafeteria and the young people gave us a tour of the campus and snapped this photo. The we sat in on a class that was studying Environmental Security, which is to say, security issues having to do with natural resources.  One of the students (not a Peace Scholar) presented on the topic, and the professor led a rather free-flowing discussion based on his findings.  As the students talked and brought examples and insights based on their countries of origin — Mexico, Bangladesh, US and more were in the room and the student presenting was from Japan — I realized that just the opportunity to attend class with so many disparate students from around the world is reason enough to recognize the specialness of the Peace Centers.

Too soon it was time to leave – we had a train to catch and indeed, I write this while we are waiting for the “bullet train” to Kyoto.  More later.

 

 

 


Japan Redux

May 25, 2016

I first visited Japan in 1966. Dad was stationed/we were living in Honolulu, and long story short, we ended up here on a two-week family vacation.

We flew military “space available” — one of the perks of Dad’s vocation — and we were hosted by people Dad had gotten to know through his work.  My sister and I were even asked to spend the night with local teens – it was considered extremely rare in those days (and I understand, still today) to be entertained at home.  Japan had seen a lot of US service personnel in the two decades since the War, but few American families.  I distinctly remember that someone gave my mother a yokata –an informal kimono — and it was for a six-foot-tall woman.  The giver based my mother’s unknown height on that of my Dad.

The pictures from that trip are remarkable.  For example, all the Americans have cameras around their necks – but none of the Japanese do.  We now know that 1966 was the beginning of Japan’s economic recovery and move into consumer electronics, but all that was unknown at the time.

Twenty-five years later — okay 24 1/2 years later in late 1991 — I was working for the American Management Association in New York City.  Japanese management style — Total Quality Management — the work of Edward Deming was all the rage, and  so the AMA organized a top-level conference for American executives to come to Japan and learn how it was done.  I was sent to cover the conference, and I found myself back in Tokyo.

Japan was expensive, even for me on an American expense account.  The city was much larger, of course, and much more, well, modern.  I remember seeing  my first HDTV in a Sanno show room in the Ginza.  The thing that has stayed with me the most, however, is that for all its prowess in management, the customer service I experienced could be better described as “running around” rather than “total quality.”  What came across to me is that culturally, Japanese connect a lot of disorganized activity with the concept that with all this action, you are being taken care of, never mind how inefficient the results.

Meanwhile, the stock market had gone up-up-up during the ’80s, dipped slightly in 1990, then recovered at the time of our visit.  We didn’t know it then, but the stock market would fall precipitously throughout the ’90s, which would become known as Japan’s “lost decade.” I was visiting at the beginning of what would be a very long economic collapse.

So here we are, 25 years later.  Seems I come to Japan every quarter century, need it or not! (Frank says I should plan to return in 2048, when I will be 86.  Guess so.) What will we discover this trip?

 

 


Andy, Move Over!

April 21, 2016

So former slave Harriet Tubman is moving to the front of the $20 bill, and slave owner Andrew Jackson is moving to the back.  You go, girl!

Of course, with the slight excursion toward Susan B Anthony, all the people on our money have been Dead White Men Presidents.  So Susie B and Harriet T also represent the first “real” people on our money, celebrated for what they did but not the political heights to which they rose.

As readers of this column know, Frank and I travel a lot, and we often have a chance to handle foreign money.  I always smile when the coinage or bills highlight something about the country or someone known for other than his (it’s always a “his”) politics:  In Guatemala there’s a bill that honors literacy, for example, and a coin that honors traditional garb.

Our Dead White Men money definitely needs a shaking-up, and anyone who knows Harriet Tubman’s story knows that she’s well qualified to do it. “Moses” also goes down as one of the bravest people in our nation’s history, since she returned time and again to the South to help others escape.  And then served during the Civil War as a spy. If she had ever been caught …

But she wasn’t.  And now, school kids of all colors will grow up with a better appreciation of her story and her legacy.

 

 


Charleston and Family Memories

April 13, 2016

IMG_1872My father’s ship returned from the Mediterranean in late July, 1945, and came to the Naval Shipyard in Charleston, SC for retrofit preparatory for duty in the Pacific.  I assume, without knowing exactly, that “retrofit” for the Pacific meant adding more fuel tanks.

He had shipped out almost immediately after my parents’ marriage in June 1944.  He arrived, phoned (or maybe telegramed?) my mother in Connecticut, and she hopped on the train to come and meet him in Charleston.  She has two memories of that trip – first, that her father roared at her about young brides taking valuable space on the trains to follow their husbands when important businessmen couldn’t get seats and couldn’t get done the work that needed to be done to win the war.  He told her it was her patriotic duty to stay home.  I don’t think that argument went very far.  The second memory is that she stayed at the Francis Marion hotel, with a room on a high floor, and looked out at the city and fell in love with Charleston.  I suspect her guy’s recent arrival home from the war might have had something to do with that sentiment!

At some point, Dad was given 10 days leave.  The young couple got on a train for Denver so he could visit his family.  They made that visit and were on their way back to Charleston when the news flashed that the war was over.  Dad promptly asked/got an additional 10 days leave!

IMG_1827THey returned to Charleston, and Mom took an apartment while Dad waited for the Defense Department to decide what to do with the ship.  It took a year for orders to come for the ship to go to Boston; in the meantime they lived in a furnished apartment on St. Michael’s Alley.  Today it is millionaire’s row and in the historic district; at the time it was the patriotic thing to do to rent rooms to returning servicemen.

That is one family story about Charleston; it turns out there is another.  For you see,  one of the fun things about genealogy is that you find ancestors … some of whom are not the kind to brag about.  I always knew we had a pirate ancestor – a collateral, actually; he didn’t live long enough to have direct descendants.  “He wasn’t a very good pirate,” my mother has always said.  What I forgot is that he met his end here in Charleston.  Anyway, yesterday on the Battery we came across a plaque that describes the end of Richard Worley’s career  … and his public hanging … Ah, family!IMG_1853


Lost and Found

March 11, 2016

Stephanie from Boston Logan called at around 5:45 last night — apparently my talk with the customer service rep in Chicago had an affect — and anyway, she called to say that the bags were found and would be delivered to the hotel in an hour.  And in exactly one hour, they were.  And the bag that had been delivered in their stead was whisked away, presumably to its rightful owner.

Frank and I left the cocktail reception long enough to change into more suitable getup and returned just in time for dinner and RI president Rick King’s address.

There’s a customer service lesson here.  Two of them, in fact.  The actual error wasn’t made by British Airways, but rather, by whatever delivery service they contract with.  But their web system doesn’t seem to reflect this. Nor does whatever training they give to their call center.  And second, because their call center is trained only to take messages, not to actually, you know, do something, its agents did not leave me with a warm and tender feeling.  Quite the opposite.

All is now well.  PETS 2016 has begun! Let the games begin.

 


Travel Adventure and Lost Baggage

March 10, 2016

Julie took us to Entebbe airport, and put us on our long flight home.  The plane stopped in Kigali, Rwanda, and then began the long journey north to Brussels.  We arrived, and were in the waiting lounge when we learned that our flight to Newark was delayed, which would have meant we would miss our connection to Logan.

United took care of us, and transferred  us to a British Airways flight to London, where — with a short connection and a race through the airport including two security checks and some very un-English bureaucracy– we got on a BA flight direct to Logan.

We congratulated ourselves, in fact, that because our flight was delayed we got in two hours early.  Unfortunately, our baggage didn’t make the connection, but by the time we reached the British Airlines window the clerk had the info on which flight the bags would arrive on and we made arrangements to have them delivered. We reconnected with the car and drove to Framingham and PETS, the next Rotary event of some importance.  And we got here about 30 hours before PETS will begin – plenty of time to recover from our trip.

But this morning, we learned that one bag — and not one of ours — was delivered to the hotel. Here’s where the system is showing clear signs of not working.  I immediately used the web-based system to let British Airlines know that their delivery service delivered the wrong bag.  I called the 800 number — turns out it’s to a call center in India.  I called three times, in fact, because each time the response I receive suggests that my previous conversations did not get updated information into the computer.  The most recent time I called, I was told to call back in 24 hours; that no one would call me in the interim with any updates (and I already know that updates won’t appear on the website – at least, they haven’t done so to date.

British Airways, please return our bags.  But don’t expect us to fly with you again!


The Pearl of Africa

March 9, 2016

IMG_1801IMG_1456Where to start?  I’ve been having WiFi “issues” here in Uganda, and also — despite having a “universal” converter plus one I picked up in South Africa — a converter issue.  It’s been like, you know, the 1980s.

Juliet and the Kajanssi Rotary Club have treated us to a wonderful time.  First, Julie — my African sister — her home, she says, is our home in Africa.  I stayed with her two years ago when I was here with the District 7780 cultural outreach, and it is because of her leadership and obvious competencies that the Walter Foundation has invested in the technical training center.

Along with Alex, another Rotarian, she met us at the airport on Saturday night and we went out for dinner – fried tilapia, from Lake Victoria.  When I say fried fish, I mean the whole deal, head to tail.  Then to her house, and to bed. But not for long.

Sunday morning we were up early for a road trip.  Enid — one of the RC members from two years ago — showed up in a van, and we set off, stopping along the way to pick up or at least meet with various Rotarians, including the Assistant Governor and Governor Nominee Ron. It was Sunday morning, and the radio was blaring soft-rock African gospel music.  You can’t make this stuff up. By now we were a parade of several cars, and given the state of Ugandan roads, it was probably inevitable that one of them developed a flat tire.

We finally reached the Rotary Technical Center, now under construction.  The local people and chairman of the local community were in force, and there were speeches. Many speeches, times two, because everything was translated into or out of the local language for us.  We admired the buildings, and planted trees to mark the future entrance of the center.

And oh, yes.  Juliet has been the driving force behind this project, and she has taken much time off from work to make it happen.  I had arranged a Paul Harris Fellow for her – the funny thing is that she had checked her Rotary account just recently, and noticed that she had “more” credits than she thought.  So she had just fired off an email to TRF telling them to “fix” their mistake.  For once I am glad that TRF is so slow in getting back to Rotarians who send emails like that.  Anyway, suffice it to say, she was very pleased, and so, I am glad to say, was the entire club, which broke out into a rousing rendition of “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”

IMG_1546IMG_1629And then to the existing primary school, which was built with Catholic money and has been around forever, but has grown in the past few years as a new head teacher has made the program more enticing and so more parents are enrolling their children.  Most recent development  — new since I was here two years ago — is an apartment block for teachers, so that they can live as well as work at the school.  More speeches, more translations, and by now we were well behind our schedule.

Some of the Rotarians returned home; two cars drove on to Jinja and lunch.  By the time lunch was finished it was nearly 6:00 p.m., and by prearrangement, Julie took Frank and me to a five-star resort on the Nile.  It is owned by a Rotarian, and she had arranged with him to put us up for the night.  Meanwhile, the Kajannsi Rotarians bunked somewhere else, I never did learn where. We watched the sun set over the Nile, and quickly went to bed.

Monday morning Julie, joined by Peace, another of the Kajannsi Rotarians, joined us for breakfast.  We went to the Source of the Nile and a boat trip on the river, and then made our way back to Kampala.

Back in town, Julie took us to lunch at a restaurant where we could enjoy Ugandan food — Makoto (mashed banana), rice, sweet potatoes and “Irish” potatoes, green beans, spinach, chicken, beef stew, ground nuts.

We had an appointment with Ernst and Young, who Frank has hired to do an audit of the Technical Center project, and also tea with the District Governor.  And then to Enid and Alan’s future retirement home; a (mostly) vacant lot with a view of the Lake and a picnic supper arranged by Enid and enjoyed by the entire club.

And only after another sunset, another big meal, another set of speeches by the Kajannsi Rotarians did we return to Julie’s home, exhausted, and sated, and filled with African cheer.

 


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