We Keep Moving Forward

  1. Never ask for anything.
  2. Know when to be ignorant.
  3. Smile, make friends, learn the language.
  4. Guide, but don’t instruct.
  5. Set your price and stick to it.
  6. Determine the client’s definition of "impossible" and achieve it ahead of schedule and underbudget (but not too much so).
  7. Promise less than you can actually deliver.
  8. Remain calm, confident, and cooperative.
  9. Respect the local culture and customs, but do not presume to understand them by following blindly where you may not be welcome.
  10. Never leave an introductory meeting without a new contact; never leave a contract without scheduling the next; never talk when you can be silent.

That’s Why We Get Paid The Big Bucks

There are those sweet deals when you get ridiculous amounts of money for a piddling amount of effort.  Then, there are those months of work that go by with nothing but the internal satisfaction of a job well done.

Can you guess which ones are my favorite?

This last month has been work of the second type and it has been truly refreshing.

Today I performed my number for free as part of an evening showcasing the work of three of my students.  They made me truly proud – their work stands on its own and they’ve applied everything I’ve wanted to teach them in the six weeks we have been working together.

And they’re so handsome and beautiful and eager and happy to be on stage.

But all this can disappear so quickly.  I need to run a business.  In order to run a business, I need to see that this investment is going to pay off in the long run.

There are certain steps that I must take to insure that this will happen and they all must occur in the limited time between now and March 5th.  If I fail in this, it will no longer be economically feasible for me to continue my rewarding and valuable work here in Thailand.

It’s terrible, realities like this.  All the pieces are there, ready to be fit together, but mobilizing all the hands that hold them can certainly be a monumental challenge.

In any case, guys – you performed brilliantly tonight and I hope I will be working with you again in the very near future.

When the Weeks Go By Like Days…

…months go by like 4.3482 days (on average).

Sometimes success is more of a liability than failure, especially when everyone expected you to fail in the first place.

I had my first fitting for "the suit" today.  I’m happy with what I see, but I am always taken aback when I see how goddamned tiny my tailored clothing looks next to "adult" clothes.  I’m so used to walking among giants but not used to holding a jacket the size of a grown man’s handkerchief.  In any case, the CCC (Cotton Conservationists Consortium) should be happy that my shirts consume about 50% less cotton than those of a normal man.

Suit Shopping in Thailand

There’s no secret that Thai’s pay less than farang in Thailand.  Everything from entry fees to the royal palace to ticket prices for muay Thai matches to electonics and pirated fashion deals.

I’m in charge of revamping the image of the theater’s resident band – a seven piece ensemble that has been playing at occasional informal functions.  Lately, the theater has been appealing to the high-class tourist set through a weekly live entertainment event at the riverside cafe.  The custom-made cotton-blend modified T-shirts no longer fit with the clientele, and my job is to make it all a little more high-class without being snooty or expensive.

This is a management job, more than anything else.  There is plenty of fashion in Bangkok – pirated and genuine – but I am looking for something more.

I decided to build up rapport with a local tailor who does a lot of business with expats.  My strategy was the standard sponsorship deal: a good price on one custom-made show suit for the MC/bandleader and custom-made shirts for the band in exchange for free advertising for rich farang at a classy tourist event.

He was very interested in the publicity, and was able to offer me local prices and offer a good discount on top of that, but the bottom line just didn’t quite fit within my margins.  I switched tacks, and decided to up the volume of the deal by throwing in a second suit-one for myself.

After some more negotiation, he agreed.  If I could order a second suit, he would offer an even further reduced rate.  Once I deducted the price of my suit from the package, I would fall just within budget.

The short of it is that I am being fitted for my first bespoke suit tomorrow at 2PM.  I’m excited to get measured and finally have a suit made to my specifications – two-button single breasted with peak lapels and slanted side-pockets, a double vent and cut as short as possible.  Rounded shoulders and pinstripe worsted Super 150s Italian Cashmere wool blend in midnight blue.  Flat-front trousers, no cuff, with adjustable waistband for that belt-optional look.  For the shirt, i’m going with an Egyptian cotton Mandarin collar, tightly fitted, with French sleeves.  For the general silhouette, Italian wool means Italian cut – I’ve been waiting for this suit for a long time.

The moral of the story is a pretty materialistic one, but there are good guiding principles to be picked up along the way.  It’s a story about fitting in.  It really, really, pays to get involved at a personal level with the people you work with as an international butterfly.  It is not just about getting that dream suit made, but also about being trusted enough, despite your “outsider” status, to make high-stake fashion and image decisions in an alien culture.

I see so many foreign professional in my line of work who steamroll the local culture with their Western ideals.  They seem to be here as evangelical missionaries from the West who preach a “better, faster, more” philosophy without opening up to a culture that has existed very well for thousands of years without such nagging hysterics, thank you very much.

I’m not saying I agree with Eastern vs Western philosophies.  In my experience, you can achieve the best results by skillfully combining the two.  It is not as simple as “going with the flow” – you really need to know which situation calls for which mode of action and, even more importantly, to have the political skill to switch gracefully from mode to mode.

This life keeps me on my toes.

The Corporate Gypsy’s Guide to Sanity

People often laugh knowingly when I say that I live out of my suitcase, but I mean it.  It’s a cliche that business travellers throw around even though they know that they have a valley-view ranch house waiting for them somewhere in California.

I change countries about every three weeks and have no permanent address or home.  In order to keep things in order without going crazy, I have compilied the following list of tips for chronic travel.

  • Keepsakes and cute presents must be categorically and ruthlessly discarded.  This is a hard skill to master.  I was raised by a packrat and still have her instincts.  Take a photo and throw it away.
  • Books and other recyclables should be passed on to good friends in other parts of the world.  Again, another difficult skill to master.  Take notes on particularly good books or DVD’s but pass them on to people who will enjoy them as much as you did.  It’s a good way to feel closer to people thousands of kilometers away.
  • Buy expensive things.  Might seem a little counter-intuitive, but it’s not.  If you spend a lot for things, you will not buy more than you need.  They will also tend to last longer and you will take better care of them.  You are travelling for business, after all, and image counts.  One nice 100-euro pen will last a lot longer, look a lot nicer, and get a lot more done than 20 disposable Bics floating around your luggage.  This rule goes double for electronics where higher cost often results in smaller size and lower weight.  This rule goes triple for clothes.
  • Invest in the best luggage you can find.  Hey, you have no mortgage, no rent, no office, no car – invest on the one item that are going to protect everything else you own.  Get lightweight pieces that will securely and easily fit all your posessions – luggage is by far the heaviest thing you will own.  Stuffing and cramming will ruin anything.  Looks count a lot here as well.  Want to be upgraded to first-class?  Want to be moved into the executive suite?  Want to have better service in general?  It pays to distinguish yourself from another tourist on vacation to Phuket.  Matching sets will score you big points and it looks great in the corner when you first arrive in your hotel room.
  • Imagine that you are leavng a week before your actual departure date.  I go so far as to do a dress rehearsal and pack everything a week before I leave just so that I am certain I don’t have anything unnecessary hiding somewhere in my posessions.  It also forces me to go through everything I own in a low-stress situation and ask myself  1) Do I really need this?  2) Do I need to do anything with this before I leave? and 3) Is there anything I need here before I leave?  The best part of this tip is that you can enjoy your last week on-site – or at least focus on all the last-minute meetings that are undoubedly going to be scheduled in your last 168 hours.
  • Set aside an hour a day to do nothing. This is the hardest tip of all.  "Nothing" does not necessarily mean "useless," but it should not involve work at all.  It is more about forgetting your responsibilities so that you can breath regularly and let your blood pressure come back down to normal.  You will be surprised at how fast an hour can fly by.  I read, contact friends, write online, or study languages.
  • Reduce your baggage every time you travel.  I used to try to reduce my belongings by 10% in weight everytime I travel.  Then it was one kilogram each time.  Now I am down to trying to get rid of one useless item every time I fly.  Eventually, I will hit the very minimum, but until then, I keep on trying to reduce, reduce, reduce.

That’s what I’ve learned in the last year of being on the road.  Every time I travel, I learn a new trick that streamlines the process just a little bit more.  I’m not sure if these travel tips will help anyone else in the world, but it feels nice to realize that I have actually been adapting to this lifestyle – makes me feel alive, somehow.

148 Hours…

…before the most concentrated week of meetings in my life.  I am preparing – slowly – but well.  This week, things warm up in Taiwan with significant meetings with arts organizations, programs of higher education, and government parties.  Budgets are due, guiding principles need to be drafted, technical riders written, and all with a certain level of finesse and charm.  I contacted my good friends in Taipei and am looking forward to a slow dinner over Belgian beers with quiet music and easy conversation.  I just purchased a new digital camera to replace the one that fell out of my pocket on a Lithuanian train.

That’s a memory – riding a train back to Vilnius through a cold and misty Lithuanian November night with The Political Scientist.  My body warmed by every concoctable spirit and my spirit warmed by an evening of Lithuanian hospitality and grace, thanks to The Political Scientist’s grandmother and Uncle and Aunt.  I was holding a camera and a mint-condition Soviet-era ruble in my jacket pocket before boarding, but alighted with just the ruble.

The kopek I found the next day next to a Lithuanian-style brownstone was a little comfort.

But all that aside, tonight seems to be a night to breathe, do laundry, drink some red wine, and watch “From Russia With Love.”

We can’t always be on full throttle, can we?

Fractured

Since arriving back in Taiwan, I have been chained to a desk.  Editing video, preparing and confirming meetings in Japan, trying to continually reduce my material posessions, working on budgets and trying to manage the dozens of projects that we are developing around the world.

Show business is one which involves a fast response and then a slow discussion phase.  When your niche is international productions, the luxury of face-to-face is a rare one.

These meetings in Japan represent a full circle from where I was a year ago at this time.  I spent a year making contact with people working in the Japanese industry with the promise that I would return with a marketable show in hand.

This is what next week is about for me: making good on a year-old promise that I made to them and to myself.

The irony is that due to the magnitude of interest that our show and festival has generated, we have to squeeze all of our Japan meetings into one week.  To do so, we needed to double- and triple-book our days of appointments.  This is why these two weeks of planning in Taiwan are so crucial.

Furthermore, there is no room for error; delaying flights out is impossible because I am meant to start working again at Patravadi Theater beginning the day after my last meeting in Tokyo.  The unfortunate consequence is that despite my initial hopes, it is going to be very difficult to contact my good friends in Japan.

It is hard balancing business and personal life, and this trip to Japan demonstrates why.  I have five days during which I must plant the seeds which have the potential to insure future work in Japan. 

How does one manage a business visit in a place where so many good friends still live?

At any rate, however the cards fall on this visit, I hope that my next one will be less time-critical and will allow me to plug back into the life that I left there only six short months ago.