Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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Just over 24 hours off the plane from the most amazing trip to Tanzania. As my wife and I prepare to transition back to life in America in June, we figured one last fantastic trip to Africa was in the cards….so off to Tanzania we went. 

Climbing Kilimanjaro

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Jumping at the Summit

I’m proud to say that all four of us in our group made it to the summit some 5,895 meters (19,340 feet) above mean sea level. It was one of the most mentally challenging things I have ever done. Physically it wasn’t that hard of a 5 day hike to the summit, but the mental aspect on summit day of walking for 6 1/2 hours in the dark (leave at midnight to summit at sunrise at 6:30ish) covering some 1200 meters (3,937 feet) was by far the hardest part. As the oxygen thins out you need to stop and rest more frequently….but it is windy and freezing temperatures mean you don’t want to stop as you instantly get cold. You learn a lot about yourself on a journey like this and at some stage or another on the trip, all four of us had to push through mental or physical pain. 

cell on kili
cell signal on Kilimanjaro

On a technology note….I was looking forward to being disconnected for most of this trip and that happened…but I wasn’t expecting our guides and porters to be totally connected the whole time. Each time we would make camp the guides and porters would go on a high rock or a specific ledge, whip out their cell phones and call home. Yes…..even at the summit of Kilimanjaro in the middle of Africa there is a cell signal. Both my wife and I took out our phones and had them connect just to verify. We talk about how connected of a world we live in that we need to get away from technology at times….but can you really? It’s always there, it’s just a part of our world……we better get use to it. 

Safari in the Serengeti

cheetahs
cheetahs

Next up was five days in the Southern Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The animal migration for the wet season had all the animals in the south where the land was green and rich with food. Over 1 million Wildebeest and 200,000 Zebras had migrated south bringing with them lions, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes and a host of birds. It was fantastic to stay in tents at night with buffalo eating outside and the sound of male lions grunting and roaring some 500 meters away preparing for a nightly hunt. 

Obama

I don’t talk politics on this blog but the observations I made while in Tanzania as well as the rest of my travels the past ten years has me wanting to reflect on what I have come to understand and notice about the world we live in.

The American President is probably the only leader in the world, that no matter what country you are in everyone knows who they are. Most conversations go like this

“Where you from?”

“America”

“OBAMA!” holding up their thumb in a good-job sort of way

This has been played out countless times in countless countries over the last four years and is exactly opposite to the response we received the previous six years before that. 

The American President is held to a different standard, in places like Thailand, Tanzania, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, etc. I wonder if it has to do with the level of corruption in their own political systems and they see the American system as not being corrupted….it has its faults for sure…but corruption at the level it is in these other countries….not quite.

obama in tanzania
obama Picture in a Shop

Tanzania however was the first place I have visited that took this love for President Obama to a new level.

On one occasion, one of our guides had his cell phone ring tone set to President Obama’s speech to the muslim world in 2009. I asked him about it and he has different parts of different Obama speeches set as ring tones on his cell phone. He claims to have listend to all of Obama’s big speeches and loves to hear him speak. 

Everywhere we went in Tanzania there were Obama posters, Obama ’08 bumper stickers, and even Obama t-shirts…we saw all this in Zanzibar as well where 97% of the population is muslim.

obama08
obama Sticker in Zanzibar

Whether we like it or not we live in a global world where America and its president are still seen as powerful figures in much of the developing world. People around the world care who we elect as our leader. It impacts their lives too…one person even said that he felt the rest of the world should also get some electoral votes, because it directly influences their lives as well! 

As an American living overseas I can honestly say that it has been easier to live overseas the last four years than the previous six. The feeling towards America and Americans has changed. All of this of course is just my opinion and my experience….take it only as that. 

In the end it was a great 20 days almost completely disconnected. Other than the occasional Facebook update to let family and friends know we were still alive I lived offline and enjoyed every minute of it. 

I welcomed in 2012 standing on the beaches of Zanzibar.

Looking forward to what the New Year will bring!

Yawn……stretch…..nothing like a week off relaxing to get the creative juices flowing. Spring Break is now over and we’re in the home stretch here in Bangkok with 7 weeks of school to go before summer vacation starts.

Over Spring Break, my wife and I spent four days in beautiful Luang Prabang, Laos (pictures can be found here).

While in Laos, I learned a couple things that I’d like to share with you.

1. How to keep your cell phone dry during Songkran

Songkran is New Year’s in South East Asia and it typically calls for country wide water fights. No better way to celebrate New Years in 100+ degree heat than to have a huge water fight. Nobody is safe, and your cell phone is definitely not safe if kept in your pocket. But while riding a bike or motorcycle if you keep your phone high you’ll keep it dry. While riding in a Tuk Tuk, I kept my iPhone in a plastic bag…worked great!

2. Cell Phone technology is the future of wireless

So here I am in arguably one of the poorest countries in South East Asia and at the morning market, I happen upon this shop selling cell phones. The cheapest one sells for $22.45 and the most expensive one for $35.44.

The phones had the following features:

  • Calls
  • SMS
  • MMS
  • Camera
  • Radio (both AM and FM)
  • Weather

Cell service plans are very cheap as well. I didn’t actually price out complete plans but a SIM card to get you started with basic calls and sms sells for $5.

In many of my presentations, I talk about the future is truly in the palm of our hands. According to the International Telecommunication Union, there are 4.6 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide and we are on pace to pass 5 billion this year. There are just about 7 billion people on the plant. Or in other words just over 70% of the world’s population has a cell phone.

Now these phones are not iPhones, but if I was a betting man I’d say within 5 years we’d see phones at this same price that have internet capability. What happens when farmers in Laos have access to information without going to the city for internet access? Just ask Kenyan farmer Zack Matere what the cell phone and Internet access means to him.

I’m sorry to break the news to everyone….but I don’t care where you live….teaching kids today how to access information and create knowledge with it is the future. Whether you are in Kenya, Laos, or the USA.

3. The ability to connect from everywhere is the future

US Telecoms need to wake up and smell the coffee. The ability to travel anywhere and expect cheap cell phone coverage appears in most of the word except the USA (from personal experience). When a SIM card in Laos cost $5 and a SIM card in Thailand cost me $5 and a SIM card in Switzerland cost me $15. Someone please tell me why I can’t get one for less than $50 in the US? And spending less than $80 a month for service is hardly possible. I mean, when I pass a monk on a cell phone on the banks of the MeKong River and I know in the middle of seemingly nowhere he has cell service for pennies…..it’s just frustrating!

Cell coverage is the fast growing type of Internet/communication coverage world wide. Take some time to study the GSM World Coverage Map and just think about all those places that are covered…and really to cover the rest means just putting up more cell towers. As the need for the service arises putting up the tower is the easy part…and once the tower is in place upgrading the signal from tower to tower is even easier. So here in Laos now that the towers are in place, the ability to switch on 3G or heck probably 4G by the time the country is ready, is a simple upgrade of switches at hub centers.

We expect to be able to connect from everywhere. In Luang Prabang, our hotel had free WiFi and if you weren’t staying at a place that offered it, there were Internet cafes on every other corner for you to use.

What I’ve taken away from all this is as a content creator, my information better be accessible on a cell phone and I need to find a way to get our student blogs at school accessible on a cell phone as well so that they can teach students in Laos. Because those kids will all have a cell phone before they have a computer.

4. Solutions to things we didn’t know were problems

At the morning market we happened to walk by a couple people with the following set up. Before you read on take a look at this picture (click to see larger size) and see if you can figure out what this person was making money doing.

So if your guess was that this person was making $1.18 a digital picture you’re right! Yes….that is a car battery connected to a transformer that is connected to a power strip that is plugged into four little photo printers.

See here’s the thing, all these people in these rural villages now have cell phones or even a digital camera. Which is all great…but when you don’t own a computer to put those digital photos onto you have to print them. Hence a solution to a problem. The street in this particular part of the market was lined with people making money printing digital pictures. Here’s another picture of a single printer operation.

The technology had created a problem….people had pictures that they couldn’t develop, but with a little creative work technology also solved the problem. I stood and watched for a while as people stepped up paid their $1.18 and handed over their SD card to get a couple pictures printed for safe keeping.

Are we giving our students the skills to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet? Technology doesn’t solve all our problems and in some cases it actually creates new ones for us. Are we preparing our students to be creative and solve interesting, out of the box problems?

5. Connecting with people is what it’s all about

On our first full day in Luang Prabang, we booked a four hour trek through the Lao jungle to this amazing waterfall (yes…you could actually drive to it in about 40 minutes…but what’s the fun in that!)

When we signed up for the trip there was one other couple signed up as well. I had second thoughts about the trip because being on a trek in 100 degree heat with people that you might not get along with is just….well…let’s just say we’ve done it and it’s not a good experience.

In the end, my wife talked me into it and I’m sure glad she did. The other couple turned out to be Allie and Mark (or was it Mark and Allie…I don’t remember 😉 ) A couple from San Francisco who quit their jobs and on January 28th set off to see South East Asia.

We hit it off on the trek, chatting the whole way to the waterfalls, four hours in the jungle never seemed so short. After the hike and a dip in the water, we headed back to Luang Prabang. We ended up agreeing to meet the next night for dinner. Mark, it turns out, was one of the founders of The Flip Video Camcorder. In March of last year, Pure Digital Technologies (the company that made The Flip) was bought by Cisco Systems. Mark became the national account manager at Cisco, selling the Flip and other Cisco products.

Allie is in the tech world as well. She is a consultant for companies working on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and helping web site content be more relevant in search results.

No wonder we got along so well. 🙂

Mark actually gave me a Flip UltraHD which is like the coolest gift I’ve ever gotten on a vacation! We also talked about their new product the SlideHD which was released just last week while we were together.

Allie and Mark few back through Bangkok on their way to Japan and we invited them to stay with us and showed them the local side of Bangkok. We ate a lot…and then ate some more!

When it’s all said and done, it is the connections with people that we take with us. Whether they are made via a cell phone call on the banks of the Mekong River, or they are a picture we want to keep to remember that moment, or just dinners and conversations with new found friends. The connections between people are what we need to remember this world is really about.

Sometimes I forget just how cool the Internet is!

11pm Thursday night: Wife and I are sick of being cold (apartment at 14C-57F) decide to book trip if possible to some place warm (yes I know…cold is relative and remember we lived in Saudi Arabia before here).

7:45am Friday: E-mail travel agent looking for any last minute deals to “someplace warm”

8:00: Start up Google Earth and start tracking Mother-in-Law’s flight.

8:15: Agent e-mails back with a flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia only problem is flight from Shanghai to Bangkok is fully booked. (Saturday is the first day of Chinese New Year so flights fill up fast). I e-mail her back passport and names of the three of us. If the seats come open we go.

9:30: Agent e-mails back with confirmed seats for all 3 of us.

10:30: Agree to meet deliver guy at my apartment at 5pm to pay for and get tickets (total 3 e-mails).

11:30: Start e-mailing friends in the school who have been to Cambodia

  • Get recommendation for a hotel
  • Get a guide book from a friend who borrowed from a friend (if guide books were music files we’d be in trouble).
  • Learn we need a Visa but can be bought at the airport when we arrive
  • Learn we need to take a passport picture for the Visa
  • Learn to take a lot of USD because you can’t trust the ATM machines

1:00: Wife e-mails me to say that hotel is confirmed and will pick us up at the airport when we arrive.

3:00: Check weather report for Siem Reap 90F/32C

4:00: Snowing really hard and starting to stick.

5:00: Arrive home to find the ticket deliver guy waiting for me. Plugs in his wireless credit card reader and swipes my international credit card. Within 10 minutes the transactions done and tickets are in hand.

6:00: Check the status of Mother-in-Law’s flight. Do to get in at 6:17. Text wife the new arrival time.

6:44: Wife texts to say that she “Has Target in Site” as she watches her mom head to baggage claim.

7:15: Wife texts to say they are in a taxi and on their way home.

7:30: There’s about an inch of snow on the deck and this is looking better by the second!

What’s the lesson here?
(Other than I’m going to enjoy 4 days in the sun!)

[tags]vacation[/tags]

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We celebrated the Moon Festival earlier this week, and next week we get 3 days off of school for Chinese National Day (Think Independence day in your country). It’s been a heck of a start to the school year, with little time to blog, do deep thinking and reflecting or get the stuff done I want to and on time.

But next week…my wife and I leave the stress of this fast pace busy city for a little Chinese culture. Wes, Sheryl, and Will have all written how Shanghai is in my words intense. It sucks you into its face pace, never sleep, never stop working word and spits you out in June a mangled over worked mess.

We’re headed to Kashgar.About as far west China as you can get and as far from fast pace big city as you can get in China. Kashgar has a population of about 300,000 people which is about as small as a city comes in China.

We’re headed to Kashgar to both get away and to buy carpets. This region of China is known for their carpet making skills. History says that the Uygur (people of this area) are of Persian decent and I’m sure that is where their long history of carpet making comes from.

My wife and I started buying carpets while we lived in Saudi and we really want one made in China, but they are just way to expensive here in Shanghai…so an e-mail to the travel agent and we’re off to Kashgar!

Kashgar is also a very Muslim area which we are both looking forward too. We miss the Middle East, the people, the culture, and are looking forward to the experience once again.

We hired a guide for the trip (we don’t do this often) his name is Ali and he’s outlined for us three great days of sightseeing and carpet buying.

Sunday we’ll be spending all day at the largest bazaar in China this is carpet buying day!

Monday we will be heading out of town to a beautiful lake. Can’t wait to see nature and not cement. Kashgar’s elevation is over 4,000 feet so maybe snow already?

Tuesday we’ll head inland to the end of the desert and if we want ride a camel (which my wife has already done…long story but about got us kicked out of Saudi!). We’ll be mixing with the locals, and enjoying being disconnected for 5 days. I’m not bringing a computer, I’m not even looking for a Internet cafe. The world can live without me being connected for 5 days.

Happy National Day to all and we’ll see ya on the network next week!

[tags]China, Kashgar, vacation[/tags]

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So I made it back from Vietnam rested, reflected, and ready for a new year. If today, my first day back, is in anyway a show of what awaits us all in 2007 then I’m excited. Today, I woke up looking forward to tackling the long list of e-mails that awaited me from my 2 weeks of being disconnected (OK, I checked e-mail twice while in Vietnam). I made it through 2 e-mails, but instead was part of 3 Skype chats, 2 Skype calls, 4 Google Chats, and 1 more Skpye call tonight. Is this 2007? The year when chat and VoIP take over the world, when e-mail finally does not do justice to the conversations we are having? If so I’m excited.

I have a lot of stuff I’ve been pondering starting with the one thing I did accomplish today getting a post up on the techlearning blog. I encourage you to go have a read on some interesting facts about Vietnam and where that country is headed. I’ve also linked to our flickr slide show of pictures.

Ready or not it’s 2007. I have a feeling about this year…that something is going to change, somethings gotta give…and I’m excited to be a part of it!

[tags]vacation[/tags]

Well, we’re down to the last 3 hours of school for 2006. It’s been a long haul these past couple of months. We don’t get to enjoy the little 3 day weekends that are so popular in the States. We have been full on since Chinese National Day break in September. We did get half day on Friday over Thanksgiving. Worked Thanksgiving Day and then a half day for the weekend on Friday. It’s been a long run, you can see it in the students, and the teachers. Personally I can never remember being this happy for a Winter Break. I mean, we all love having the time off, but I’m really feeling it this year.

For those of you wondering, I had alluded to maybe moving from Shanghai this year, but after some great conversations with the administrative team and the Superintendent, I feel this is the right place for me. A vision is starting to take place here on what it means to be a 21st Century School. More on the details later, but I’m excited to be returning for a third year at Shanghai American School.

There are a couple of projects I’ve been in on that will probably take root in 2007. I’m excited for some new opportunities, some new conversations, and new direction with where education is headed. I, like many others lately, feel like the conversation is going in circles. We need a new direction, we need to move this forward. We need more Chris Lehmanns,Tim Lauers and Tim Tysons that just don’t sit here and talk it, but create schools that do it! Maybe I’m yelling at myself here a little bit. Here I sit with Administrators Certification trying to figure out how to “get in the game”. I’m 30 and have been told I’m “Too young and inexperienced” to run a school. Maybe they’re right for a 20th Century School…I think I’d go insane. 😉

And on that note here is something that I’m thinking about this last morning of school. Today is a half day before vacation. Each grade level at the Middle School is doing something fun, not so much educational, but just fun. Baking, laughing, hanging out. Which I understand is the social part of being in school. But why do we have a half day? Because of the old ‘seat time’ rule. Where students have to be in school so many hours/days, and a half day counts as a full day? Then why do we have full days? Why are we making students come to school just to have a party? The real reason why we are here today is because of seat time…not education…that bothers me a little bit.

So last year my wife and I went to Australia for the Holiday break, this year we’re off to Vietnam! On Friday we fly to Hanoi and then on the 27th to Hoi An. You will be able to find me here:
or here or here

Happy Holidays to you wherever you are, wherever you may go. May it be exactly what you need, what you want, whether spent relaxing on a beach or spending time with family, or watching Football. Just remember to

Live it Like you Love it!

[tags]vacation[/tags]

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