Tag Archives: culture

Adventure IQ’s Three F’s of Culture Immersion

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Recently I have been getting asked for input working overseas as well as picking up a few seminars on travel safety, working with other cultures, and specifically travel and work in Asia. The work in here comes from a few of my own sources including a dissertation in my post-grad program, a few blogs on travel in Asia and SW Asia (Middle East), and a course I developed for a client on cultural diversity….

So let me start off by saying I am not an expert, I am seasoned. My experience includes negotiating terms with Bedouin tribesmen, training soldiers in Europe, SW Asia, and Korea, working with sales and marketing teams, running projects for orphans in Mexico, and coaching corporate leaders. I count thirty-eight countries to date for work, travel, and expedition. My language skills vary, but honestly I can order a beer or ask for the bathroom without going to jail or having a chicken sacrificed in front of me when I simply ordered the daily special in a restaurant.

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I have what I call the “Three F’s”. This is my guideline for getting to know and appreciate various cultures, and more importantly, get done what I need to get done to make my travel or mission successful. While I do carry a pocket guide for language with notes and my own system of annunciation, the basis goes beyond learning rudimentary language skills, it includes a total immersion into the culture. On a quick side note, for language I also carry post-it-notes and everything in my hotel room gets labeled with my annunciation of the item in local language.

First, when on assignment and if possible, I am on the ground at least the weekend prior to beginning to work. I take this opportunity to visit local parks, museums, malls, etc. I do this on my own without a guide. Often it involves a taxi ride to another part of town. Second I carry a “Go-Bag” which I describe in another blog and podcast.

I have always been the guy who took off to explore. I used to frustrate commanders and team leaders when I was in the military because I took off to explore on my own. Post Desert Storm, there were buses that would take troops from Khobar Towers to downtown for shopping at the mall. 40-50 troops on a bus going from the base to the mall, first of all looked like a target to me. Second, most troops, I felt, were kind of loud and obnoxious for me. I would breathe a sigh of relief that the bus had not been attacked on route, then as everybody headed into the mall, I darted across the streets into the sooks- open air markets. There I could test and learn new language skills, explore new back alleys, and try to learn as much as I could about the people. I did the same thing in Egypt and after meeting with a Egyptian/French family for a period, almost wound up with a wife!

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The Three Fs: Fun, Food, Faith

While I have contemplated adding another “F” here and there (at one time I used “Future” when working with refugees in Turkey) I have stuck to these main three. I find if I can master these immediately, I stand a greater chance of both getting my assignment completed as well as enrich my own life.

Fun
Knowing what a culture does for entertainment makes great conversation starters. Last year when working in Taipei I followed the national baseball team rigorously. The people I worked with in Taipei were highly energized by the success the team was having in the world tournament. This gave me a basis to start conversations with them. By mid assignment I could rattle of the stats, identify players by face, and discuss the previous night’s game. I was allowed to be a part of the frenzy. I was the only white guy sitting in the open mall area with thousands of new “friends” caught up in both the excitement and disappointment as Taipei fell to Japan in a 4-3 loss.

I count museums as fun as well as adding to my historical and cultural knowledge. Not only do I learn about the history, art, and politics of a nation, I see how people interact with one another. I see how children interact with parents, I am privy to interactions between business and customers, and I see the diversity in people who gather in these places.

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On most trips I pack my GPS and a stack of printed Geo Cache targets to visit that are close to my hotel (in most cases.) I usually pick areas such as parks, museums, nature centers, etc. It gives me a chance to get out of my hotel and explore. By going to all these different places it not only allows me to take in different samples of the culture and see what they do for fun, but often I gain “an insider’s view” of the city. A few years ago I was working in Shenzhen. My geo-adventure took me to a national nature preserve that was in the heart of this massive city. I spent the day learning about a petrified forrest that most of my counterparts did not even know existed. For more info on Geo Caching, check out my other blogs and podcast.

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Food

A guy has to eat. In my time working as a liaison and trainer to many of our allies I learned that most of the time what’s for dinner is only a shade away from “what’s that for dinner?” I know I have eaten things that would put me in the limelight of a travel and adventure reality show on some cable network. The combination of having a mother who insisted I try a bite of everything once and a natural curiosity for food, I have surprised most host.

Breaking bread together is a bond that unites people. In many traditions to host or feast with someone is similar to passing the peace pipe in our own Native American tribes. I have found that entering a food situation that it is better to ask what something is after the meal. More than an understanding what animal or plant a morsel of food derived from, I often get a story about a grandmother who made special dishes or the history behind a food.

As I said above, I travel solo most of the time. This is more by design. I like to go and experience the area before getting the guided tour from my host. I find I can process the experience the host provides much better if I do this. Going solo provides unique opportunities to try different foods in the area. I try my hardest to stay away from the “American” fast food stops and restaurants. I tend to look for where locals are gathering at feeding time and head in the general direction.

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On a trip to Korea a few years ago I found myself in what is the equivalent of a “greasy spoon” in the US. Good, cheap food, average service, and lots of people. My tactic is usually the same. I order the same dish as the person closest to me. This not only provides some of the most unusual dishes I have tried, but also respect of my co-workers when showing them pictures the following week. In Korea I experienced Kimche, Bulgogi, and Kimbap all on my own. Bulgogi is probably my favorite. The table-top grilling experience is something I return to time and time again. None of these fantastic foods would have been experienced at a TGI Fridays or McDonalds.

One of the richest experiences of food and fun was my best friend Amund and his wife treating me to a Burns Night when I was working in Scotland. If you are a frequent reader of the blog or listen to the podcast, you already know I am a kilt fanatic, owning eight of them and wearing them most of my free time. (No pun intended.) Burns Night is the celebration of the life of the great poet and includes Haggis, bag pipes, and Scottish traditions. It was truly a memorable night participating in a truly unique experience.

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Faith

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I have very strong spiritual beliefs. I know where I stand in my own faith. Still, in order to better understand people, you have to know what they believe. As I was deploying to Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm, I read the entire Koran. I did the same thing on my first trip to China, trying to grasp an understanding both Confucianism and Taoism.

I have been very fortunate to be invited into various houses of worship. From “High Church” in Scotland to small corner temples in Taipei, I relish the experience. Last year while working in Seoul I had found myself at a large Buddhist temple in the Gangam complex. Right across from one of the largest malls in the world was a site dedicated to faith. I spent the entire day and several nights on the site. I watched “drumming prayers” and monks meditating. I spent time praying my own faith while basking in the warmth of communal fires. I shielded myself from a spring rain in a temple, while reciting complines I had learned in my own journey. Tied closely to food, I was invited to sit and eat a very humble meal of rice and soup with resident monks and other invitees. We discussed life, faith, religion, and history. One of the best travel days I have ever experienced.

I had a similar experience in Scotland where my good friend and spiritual mentor and I spent an afternoon in an older orthodox church. It was interesting in how both places, the conversations were much the same.

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Understanding Fun, Food, and Faith of a people has helped me connect in so many ways. It is a great place to start to understand a culture and even the variances within a culture. I always find it interesting when told by a client in an interview, you need to understand (fill in the blank) culture. I believe that there are people who can learn one or two cultures through experience, then there are those who can adapt and assimilate into a culture to a point where they are more than accepted, they are respected and almost made an honorary member of the culture. On a trip to China, I got to know the area and people in the area so well that I was dubbed “The Mayor of Shanghai” by the ladies in the office. As they took my boss and I out for the night, we kept running into people who knew me…by name. That is assimilation.

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Idaho Overland Expedition (Part 1)

Driggs to Jackson to St Anthony Sand Dunes

Quick set-up: Living Overland will be doing a full trip report. Until then I will refrain from many of the specific references to roads, GPS coordinates, trail names, etc. This trip was planned and organized by Beau and Christa and its up to them on the specific route they wish to share…

750 miles, over 600 on dirt. Three guys and a pre-teen girl would travel across every type of terrain that Idaho has to offer. A trip that would begin in Jackson, Wyoming and end in Jordan Valley, Oregon that would include tents, flyfishing gear, and great views along the way.

How do you describe the expedition of a lifetime? How do you explain the beauty seen from the cab of your rig as you blaze down both common and many not-so-common paths in the back country of Idaho? How do you tell others about the comrade built between total strangers as they traveled together through mountains and deserts? What words describe the feeling as a team jumps in to solve a problem like broken parts on a rig, a flat tire, or setting up a camp? You ramble in several segments like I am about to do…

Our trip began when we met up with the team in Driggs, Idaho. Team member Chad had set up a crash pad for us. For $20, my daughter Abby and I had a room to our selves, access to showers, and even a Jacuzzi. When we arrived we had a chance to meet Chad and his wife and their beautiful little girl. We made small talk while Chad repacked his Toyota FJ. Chad and I both share military backgrounds, a love for the outdoors, and an interest in expeditions. Chad is also a great photographer.

It wasn’t long before Lance showed up. A financial analyst and fellow adventurer we quickly took a liking to each other. The immediate commonality was his XTERRA. I love the Nissan XTERRA as an expedition platform and often lament that my 2003 was not 4WD. We also shared the brotherhood of diving. Both of us trained in the military and civilian life. Plus, he is just a great guy. His experience in running for state senate would pay off, as he used his charisma to quickly break the ice and get great conversation going.

Not long afterwards our team leader Beau showed up. Beau has been planning this trip for over a year and I think we all wanted to do what we could to support it, while being very careful about stepping on any toes. I teach leadership development for a living, and in moments I could not help falling into the evaluation role. I was immediately impressed with Beau from the beginning. After small talk about vehicles in the driveway, we soon over a great Italian meal in downtown Driggs, Lance, Beau, and myself with Abby in tow, discussed expedition financing, previous expeditions, goals and strategies for our own expedition companies, etc. Chad couldn’t join us and was out shooting great photos of an amazing moonrise. Getting to know each other of dinner was a great idea and we sat inside probing each other for new nuggets of advice.

The next morning after hitting the sack late, we departed on time from Driggs to Jackson Hole. Chad made the tough decision to drop since this would be his daughter’s first expedition at 7-months old. After topping off our fuel tanks in Jackson we picked up Andy and Claudia who were joining the expedition for only a day. They both work in the local area and could show us some great places on our way to St. Anthony.

Our convoy moved through Jackson, to Teton National Park and then Yellowstone. On the way to our dirt road launching site we had close encounters with a couple of Moose that Andy calls “Lucky”, since they have yet to be hit by a car in spite of lingering in roadways in the local area.

Taking a break near a ranch area Beau and Andy were familiar with, we were within viewing range of a Buffalo heard as well as a half-dozen Antelope following along. Getting through the ranch area was already providing us with the cool stuff you often think of in expeditions—including water crossings, dusty roads, and great views. Andy gave us a special treat of a river walk in the area that doesn’t get much traffic and though there were people along the route, the side trail tour he gave us was void of anyone else.

After lunch we proceeded on to St Anthony Sand Dunes to camp for the night. The plan was to watch fireworks from the dunes. With the threat of wildfires in the area, the town of Ashton had cancelled the show. Instead we stayed up for awhile and talked more about gear. Lance brought out a Kurig coffee machine and successfully blew out both mine and Beau’s inverters. An inverter is a device used to convert AC powered appliances (like those in your house) to DC current (like your car battery). No coffee for us. But amazing sunsets…

St Anthony is a “dry camp” area meaning no facilities including water. This was the first place our Scepter water cans paid off.

Scepter was cool enough to provide us with water and fuel cans for the trip. The water cans hold a little more than 5 gallons and are virtually indestructible. We knew we would be passing through hot desert areas later in our trip and the only water we would have would be what we carried. With canisters strapped both inside the Jeep as well as the rear rack, we were well prepared. I prefer the heavy duty plastic that Scepter uses compared to metal cans. Metal cans are not forgiving, can rust, and more likely to have a leak in the seam. In addition, the NATO style can by Scepter uses a far superior plastic than other companies. I have had water canisters fail on me- I was not going to have that happen. In addition, the fuel canisters they provided have more flex than metal. As you drive down bumpy roads and have the variance in temperatures, fuel cans expand and contract. Too often I have seen metal cans from discount hardware stores fail under these circumstances. Our trip would take us in to several extremes of temperatures.

The St Anthony Sand Dunes is a 10,000 acre area of clear white quartz sand that is constantly shifting. Driving into it from Ashton was a great experience. We found the loose sand laden roads not only a blast to drive, but also the views had a unique beauty. I really wish I would have packed our kites due to the winds in the area. Geologically speaking, the Prevailing winds carried the sand from the Snake and Teton Rivers to once active volcanic vents pouring, thus creating the dunes. You can still see signs of the vents that poured great depths of lava over the area.

Abby and I quick set up our tent and her privy. We used a privacy shelter and a Luggable Loo mounted to a 5-gallon bucket. The bucket was double lined with heavy duty plastic bags.

The area provides great sunsets and as Abby and I settled down with our backpacking meals, we watched Lance and Beau create some amazing concoctions for dinner. Lance showed how he could easily create an Indian based dish using microwavable rice, and Beau displayed how pre-cooking items and then freezing is a much better alternative- and less messy than preparing everything fresh.

We chose to use backpacking meals at the last moment. As I was trying to get our part of the trip organized I found that adding a small table, cast iron pans, cleaning supplies, cooking utensils, etc was taking up more space than I had planned. In addition, I was trying to treat our packing plan as if we were a backpacking trip on 4-wheels. This resulted in us having a really big cooler that held 4 blocks of ice, a dozen sodas, a block of cheese and a few packs of meat and tortillas…while all our dinner and breakfast meals were stowed in a backpack. While testing some of the new meals from Mountain House and Camp Chef were on the list this summer, we would have been much better off preparing fresh meals. I admit one of my concerns were bears once we got into the Challis, Sawtooth, and Boise NF areas, still I think we would have saved space by packing fresh meals.

Day one ended with good conversation and a visit to Abby’s privy set up…

The next morning I woke before everyone and started getting our stuff packed. I never factored in how much of an anti-morning person my 11-year old is and struggled throughout the trip finding a balance of motivation, compassion, and @$$ kicking. She often acts like an adult so much, I forget that she is not even a teenager yet. This is also where I had the first wrestling match with the privy shelter we set up. Will have to post a video on how this thing is supposed to “easily” pack away…

The trip out of the sand dunes brought us through more beauty and dust. Dust was our main dilemma throughout the trip. To keep is cooled off I opted to travel with the ½ top on the Jeep and a cargo net across the back. Because I had one of the two ham radios it made sense for me to be in the rear of the convoy. We found that we needed to back off a few hundred yards in the morning, while in the evening we would drop back in some cases to more than a mile while the dust settled. We also found the Ghotra, the scarf often seen in Arab countries, was great at keeping the dust out of lungs. I admit though, Abby and I both had black boogers at times. The Ghotra or Shemag can be wet with water to help filter as well as placed on the back of the neck to cool. I even placed it on my head during the afternoon to protect against the heat of the sun.

With the trip begining, there is so much to learn about each other, our skills, our quirks, and how to deal with sdversity. The next day Abby and I would have another encounter with Moose and other wildlife!