“Happy New Year,” twice a year…

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

I say “Happy New Year,” twice a year, once, for my family and friends in the West and once for my wife, extended family and friends from the East.

Several years ago I wrote a note entitled “An expression of goodwill…”. It gave a brief summary of the holiday known as Chinese New Year.

Today, I have a somewhat better perspective on the event. I gladly greet people, “Xin nian kuai le” (Happy New Year!) and “Gong xi fa cai” (Congratulations and be prosperous!) in my most perfect (?) Mandarin. Some may look at me a bit oddly, but the gesture is generally accepted with a heartfelt smile. This is my way of bringing us all a little closer…

This particular year is denoted the Year of the Rooster, according to the Chinese Zodiac, symbolizing those who are brave, responsible and punctual.

The Chinese Zodiac, aka Sheng Xiao, is based on a twelve-year cycle, with each year highlighting a different animal and its so-called characteristics. The representative signs in order are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

One of the things I found interesting was that “one may not fare well when their sign comes up” in the cycle. I can only reflect on some of my own personal misfortunes and I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to all of this stuff!

I was recently perusing a CNN article which had some predictions regarding the world’s top leaders. It is definitely worth a read…

Those of you intrigued to explore the possible idiosyncrasies of your own “coordinates” should check out AstrologyClub.org. It covers both Chinese and Western horoscope signs.

In the meantime, I sincerely wish all of you,

Xin nian kuai le,” “Gong xi fa cai!”

2016: A year of change and adjustment for things to come…

2016 will definitely be a year to remember. Aside from the election of a new president (remember, God tests us…), this is the first full year that I have shared together with my wife since we were married in 2014 in Shenzhen, China.

I relocated to San Diego, California to escape the harsh winters of the northeast. I think I also brought some of the coldest (it recently registered 35 degrees F) and rainy weather the area has seen for quite some time! I found myself wondering: What happened to Global Warming?

Those cold nights and that rainy weather make up just a small portion of the climatic change for this New York City fellow. I like the fact that mosquitoes are virtually nonexistent. The air is relatively dry which is great for my asthma. It really can be Sunny Southern California!

The cost of living is a little lower. I can’t say enough good things about the quality of the foods. One minute I have a fetish for Fuji apples, the next, I’ve got a taste for sweet potatoes and macaroni and cheese. Oranges are everywhere. I have developed quite a cross-cultural palate and my wife has become quite versatile in accommodating it. Why drink bottled orange juice when you can have fresh squeezed everyday?

This first thing she purchased when she disembarked from the plane from China was a rice cooker. I had been “conditioned” in college during economics courses to think of rice as an inferior food and for a long while, leaned toward pasta dishes. Today, you will find me debating whether to use long grain Basmati rice for a particular dish or medium grain “sushi” or Japanese-type rice. It’s all good as long as I can mix it with some sweet potatoes! I recently learned how to scramble an egg with turkey sausages in the rice cooker. The egg was extra fluffy. I have regained the 20 odd pounds I lost during depression. My wife’s goal is to make me fat. I don’t think it is possible but I do enjoy eating again.

On a more serious note, I learned the importance of the people that God has placed in my life, throughout my life. At this point in time, I have outlived both of my parents. My body is still relatively strong. My mind, which was damaged by my stroke in 2009, continues to heal itself. Alhamdulillah!

My Mother died when I was 7 years old. Fortunately, God provided me which many surrogate mothers, from my Cub Scout Pack 198 Den Mother, Mrs. Brice to “Mrs. Mac.” I remember my best friend’s mother cleaning the wax from my ears with a bobby pin. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, but no one will ever know the love I felt this woman over this gesture. Alhamdulillah! I have learned to love all mothers. It is written that, “Heaven lies at the feet of mothers.” This I truly believe.

I have helped produce three healthy, college educated children who check up on me regularly, “Hey, Pop! Just checkin’ in to see how you are doing…” When I was experiencing extreme depression, after my stroke and was considering the intrinsic value of my life. It was thoughts of them that restored my will to live. Alhamdulillah!

I have made and lost a fortune, and seek to make another, InshAllah (God willing)! When I had wealth I shared it and tried to make sure everyone around me benefited. I gave a party for my 50th birthday. One hundred and thirty people showed up representing all aspects of my life. Family members, friends, business associates, Kendo brothers and old college classmates attended. I saw my “history” in front of me, from the infant who started life on Cumberland Street in Brooklyn, from Wall Street to Westchester County, New York. From Brooklyn Technical High School to Cornell University to Columbia University Graduate School of Business. But I really wasn’t that happy… Allah-u-Alim (God knows…)

Today, I am grateful for everything that I have experienced. I am even grateful for  social media such as Facebook! It allows to keep to contact with family, friends and colleagues throughout the world, literally, from New York to Florida, from Georgia to San Francisco to Seattle, Washington to Hawaii. From Jakarta, Indonesia to Algeciras, Spain to Morocco, to Margarite, Venezuela from Tokyo, Osaka and Kochi, Japan, to Shenzhen, Huizhou, Guilin, Guanxi and Yangshuo China, my family gets larger and the Earth gets smaller… I can attest to the notion that, the World is Truly a Beautiful Place!

God really is our Nurturer and Sustainer! He is Most Forgiving. All He requires is Remembrance of Him.

My Lord, please help me to avoid that which is wrong, evil, immoral and dishonest
And keep me on the straight path.
My Lord, please help me to achieve my dreams and aspirations
And keep me on the straight path.
My Lord, please help me to stay in thy favor
And keep me on the straight path.

And Lord, please watch over me, my family and friends in the coming year.
Please give us all wisdom, better health, greater prosperity and peace of mind.
Amin!

Thoughts on Kung Pao Chicken…

My Kung Pao Chicken

The first time I had Kung Pao Chicken was back in 1979. I had just started working at Salomon Brothers, the preeminent Investment Banking and Brokerage firm at the time. I was a member of the Bank Stock research department. Every Thursday evening, the Partner in Charge, and the rest of the team would order Chinese food for dinner while we labored to get the Bank Stock Weekly ready for publication. This was my introduction to writing for institutional investors as well as my formal introduction to Chinese food as a part of my weekly diet.

I had hair at the time, my blood pressure was low (without the use of medical prescriptions), and I would do the Tai Chi form that I learned at Cornell University, years earlier, every day.

Now my hair is really thinning. The growth on my armpits exceeds the sparse lean sprouts of my head. My knees predict the weather, as does my lower back and the doctors state that I have had two strokes! I can’t recall the first but I was well aware of the second in 2009.

InshAllah (God willing), I hope to reach 65 in 2017. I take my meds to keep my blood pressure low. I started a daily regimen of 40 to 50 push-ups. These will probably be followed by additional fitness routines as time goes on.

Incidentally, my wife prepared me a special dinner recently, it was an “Islamic version” of Kung Pao Chicken, Halal chicken, Basmati rice with sweet potatoes, peanuts, celery, cucumbers and a homemade chili sauce (very hot!). I will take this as a sign that things will improve…

I am grateful for the Kung Pao chicken and all the memories I have both good and bad. I pray I have learned the lessons embedded in all of them.

The Better Path: Indulging in Gratitude

As I reflect on 2016 and God willing, prepare for 2017, I have tried to pay particular attention the what worked well for me and what served to impede my progress this year.

The most common factor of note was gratitude. A standard definition is “the act of being grateful.”

Some of you may ask, “to whom?” I will make it perfectly clear and state, to God!

Others may pose the question, “for what?” My response would simply be: for the air I breathe with the lungs He has given me, for the fact that I am alive today. It is acknowledges Him watching over me when l am not capable of doing a better job on my own.

He nurtures and sustains and I am a beneficiary. I seek to express gratitude all He has done for me. Shouldn’t we all?

People of different belief systems often thank God for the food before they eat their meals. Many Christians will say a grace or give acknowledgment of a virtue coming from God. I recall some of my Japanese and Kendo brethren saying, “itadakimasu” or “I humbly receive…,” before we would partake of a sumptuous meal together.  Muslims utter Bismillah (in God’s name).

At times I question whether people are really sincere and truly thankful but then I pause and remember that it is between them and God. I can only legitimately seek to control my own intentions and actions…

Gratitude is increasingly a topic in social media these days. Its links to happiness and better health are now being examined.

I learned to consider gratitude as an emotion while attending meetings with Sultan Abdulhameed, author of The Quran and The Life of Excellence, years ago. He teaches that “prayer is a comfort”and that “all progress happens through adversity.” While contemplating these thoughts, a phrase I had heard earlier in life came to mind, “Let go, let God…

These notions enabled me to find peace with the thoughts that I am not in control of everything in my life, but that my circumstances are intimately connected to how I think. Now, I always think positively about all matters, no matter how grim they may seem.

One of my Dominican friends and Kendo brothers has been trying to attain the rank of NanaDan or seventh degree Black Belt for longer than I can remember. Twice a year, he would make a pilgrimage to Japan to challenge for the rank. It takes a lot of determination and resoluteness to maintain this arduous discipline and stay focused in spite of circumstances. The pass rate on this examination has always been extremely low. He was finally successful last month.! Alhamdulillah (All praise is due to God)! I remember the words of the late Nishino sensei,”Never give up!” This is a timely reminder for me. I am also happy when my friends achieve success.

You may ask what does this have to do with being grateful?    Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can lead to a greater sense of well-being and reduced depression.

I recently had a personal problem which was driving me to wit’s end. I felt powerless. Reluctantly, I shared my dilemma  with some of my friends. Together, we came up with a solution and I was truly humbled by the positive outcome…  I am forever grateful for the friends that God had provided for me! Alhamdulillah!

There is a passage in the Quran which states, “If you are grateful, I will give you more (7:14)” I am only now beginning to grasp the meaning of this powerful statement.


I thank God for watching over me.

Thou has been with me throughout my entire life.

Please forgive me for my late acknowledgment.

Please continue to watch over me, my family and my friends…

“Zhong zu qi shi” – Dealing With Racial Stereotypes…

 

In the late 60’s, during my time in high school, one of the concepts we studied related to a phrase by Marshall McLuhan. He was a Canadian professor of English, philosopher of communication theory and a public intellectual. His work was highly influential as one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory, as well as having practical applications in the advertising and television industries at that time.[1][2] I remember him because of his statement, “The medium is the message.” This implied that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.

Sometimes in an attempt to achieve more global or international recognition, one gets it all wrong! The recent Qiaobi detergent commercial is an example of this. There has been a video that has recently gone “viral” and it has been met with much condemnation outside of China. In the video, a black man who has apparently just completed some paint work at an elegant looking house in China begins flirting with a Chinese female in the laundry area of the house. As he moves closer, as if about to kiss her. She shoves a detergent packet in his mouth and puts him into a top loading washing machine. At the completion of the wash cycle, she opens the machine and a handsome Chinese man emerges…

Therein lies the problem!

It seems that Chinese may have a different sense of humor from the rest of the world. Much consternation has been caused as a result of this advertisement. It is extremely narrow-minded in its concept and a direct plagiarism as well. It is also probably the worst commercial I have ever seen in quite some time!

It has thrust racism in China into the spotlight. Based on my observations, China is attempting to make their commercials more “inclusive,” but there doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut strategy. Generally, China has taken its cues from western society in this regard and there seems to be a bit of a time-lag in effect. I am confident that the perspective will be altered in the future.

There was a McDonald’s commercial that was distributed in China several years ago. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised to see it. It depicts a black man and his Chinese female companion. Only recently are we starting to see similar types of genre in Western commercials.

From my point of view, racism does exist in China but it is different from that which I have experienced in America. It stems largely from the fact that that 1.4 billion people of China have been a fairly homogeneous society until recent years. If you were not Chinese, you were not considered a preference! Fortunately, views are evolving.

Today basketball has become a fairly popular sport in the nation. You can find former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal appearing Chinese beer commercials. Former New York Knick player Stephon Marbury has had a positive impact on the sport of Chinese basketball and I believe was recently offered a Chinese “Green Card,” recognizing him as a permanent resident! Sometimes the efforts of a few can have a magnified impact on the many…

There is a lesser probability of a black man’s life being threatened by an encounter with the police in China than in the U.S. The statistics are clear on this point.

I would say that the “racist regard” in China is more evident in older generations than younger. It is a function of what people have been exposed to that affects their perspective. Younger generations have been exposed more information about the world via the internet (however, WordPress, Youtube and Facebook are still banned…) and tend to be a little more open-minded, but they are still highly influenced by the views of their parents and other elders.

I think the detergent company responsible for the commercial is a little more mindful of other people’s sensitivities in light of western reactions to the advertisement. That is a good thing but the struggle continues.

When you engage people, you can alter their perspectives. I have shared bread and beverage with people who have never seen or met a black person before and we parted as friends. The personal example you set can have a more lasting and extensive impact on people’s views. This is one way to deal with stereotypical thinking.

A copy of earlier Italian Commercial

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzO7mW4vXRc

McDonald’s Commercial , sometime in 2013 or earlier.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F21xaB3kGeg