Category Archives: Change

Hospitality insights from “Houshi”

Houshi (english) from Fritz Schumann on Vimeo.

The Houshi family has run a ryokan (traditional hotel) in Japan for about 1,300 years. But their highest priority isn’t taking care of guests. Instead, it’s two-fold:

  1. “Passing on our long history for future generations”
  2. Protecting their hot spring

That’s why they have to “bear with” and “endure” the work of hospitality. Day to day, this means they put their guests’ needs ahead of their own. Quintessential long game.

Adding further evidence to the shared heritage of hotels and prostitution, they used to have parties–every day–with “many hostesses and geisha.”

But that’s not their true beginning–their roots go back to a religious sense of duty. Their ancestral founder was a Buddhist monk.

Hospitality is a business with “many unimaginable responsibilities“, which create a “heavy burden” on the mind.

It needs to be clear who’s in charge–now and tomorrow. The Houshi family had been confused and worried about who would run the ryokan next, until they bent the old rules and accepted their daughter as the next owner.

The Underground Table: America’s Camino

2010. Being a practical nation, Americans turn to pilgrimage to seek salvation of their bodies. Freedom not from sin, but from antibiotics, pesticides, and the absurdity of the Industrial Diet. Instead of walking church to church, pilgrims walk from sustainable farm to farm.

In return for a donation, pilgrims receive a place to sleep or to stake their tent, a shower and toilet, a dinner and breakfast (either prepared or something they can cook themselves). For now, a small tent and camping stove are recommended.

It’s unclear whether the pilgrimage has an endpoint or not. Most often it’s self-defined by time constraints, often circular. The waypoints are non-linear, just a smattering of farms across the country. The route is formed by making 20 or 50 phone calls before heading out, asking and explaining. Bring your own map, leave markers if you’re so inclined. Where you choose to walk is up to you.

For now, pilgrims have to accept large stretches of road walking. The upside is raised awareness of the fact that you don’t need much.

At times, the pilgrimage has a work-trade element built in. Farmers budget tasks and funds for anticipated pilgrims — painting, cleaning, stacking, and so forth. It’s a good idea to ask in advance. The issues of work legality, taxes, and insurance coverage are beyond me — ideas?

Americans are always looking for the next best weight loss and/or fitness program. This is it, but it’s also so much more.

Photo by ilovebutter via Flickr.

Choosing a city the LeBron James way

Big hoopla tonight over LeBron James choosing a city. Will he stay in his hometown? Where will he go? Cities and teams smushed into one entity. All the speculation about his travel plans is over now. With the words, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach,” LeBron’s Miami-bound.

“I never wanted to leave Cleveland, and my heart will always be around that area,” LeBron said. “But I also feel like this is the greatest challenge for me, to move on.”

Know how you feel, LBJ.

So much of sports is travel, and rightly so. As you get better and better, you have to travel farther and farther to find people good enough to compete with. From lowly in-house soccer, to the middle school travel team, to an hour bus ride for high school sports, to a four-hour ride in college. Professionals are jetting somewhere new at least every week. At the very pinnacle of world competition, it becomes more practical to pool the talent in a single country (or continent) and duke it out: The English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, the European Champion’s League, the Olympics, the World Cup.

(There’s a strange parallel here with the world of socialites, which has plenty of competition of its own. The more sophisticated you are, the further you “have to” fly to find company that’s not dreadful.)

But back to LeBron. Some people say he went to be with his friends, or where the parties are, or where the income taxes are lowest.

“I think I was attracted to a lot of cities, and that’s why I brought the six teams in that I was attracted to most,” he said. “It came down to where I felt I could win the most.”

The travel serves LeBron’s higher goal. He’s not headed to South Beach to find himself, or for a change of scenery, or for the bikinis, or even the taxes. For a competitor at this level, I doubt those consciously factored in much at all. Sure, he wants a new experience — an NBA championship — but he wants the championship because, fundamentally, he wants to win.

Winning isn’t a new experience to King James. And if he, Wade, Bosh, and the rest can become the team that’s most familiar with the familiar experience of winning, they’ll be champions.

Goal first, city second.

Now that’s probably an oversimplification. How to explain LeBron’s mentioning South Beach before mentioning the Heat? OK, maybe somebody wrote the line for him. But here are two other possibilities:

One, the South Beach party n’ thong scene factored plenty into his decision, but you can’t go to the Greenwich Boys & Girls Club and say that. It’d be like a Bangkok Lifestyle Design-preneur admitting why he really loves Bangkok. Not good for business.

Two, LBJ was able to make The Decision from the pure perspective of competition. Once he made it, though, the fringe benefits of the chosen city started to creep into his thoughts. The temptations reserved for Star Athletes in Miami will continue to, presumably, and it remains to be seen how King James navigates South Beach.

Does Travel Lead to Service?

Nick Kristof released the winners of the “Half the Sky” competition last Friday, selected from over 700 submissions of positive work going on around the world, right now. He writes,

“…one of the things that struck me was how often the intercultural engagement involved Westerners who were as much beneficiaries of the process as the local people.”

In other words, Travelers! I know you want to gain Experiences, but seriously, you can give without being miserable!

It’s a backhanded challenge to Westerners whose travels add little to the local quality of life. (Straight cash infusion doesn’t count.) We receive so much from the people whose countries we visit, and so seldom return the favor.

It’s not a condemnation, but a reminder. This adventuresome breed of travel which we spend so much time blogging about, sharing stories of, preparing and sacrificing and saving for, anticipating and attempting to explain to our friends–it’s just a stepping stone: Continue reading Does Travel Lead to Service?

Anybody Seen a Boxcar of Hobos?

Freight train on the canal path in Bethlehem, PA

While walking by this slow freight train the other day, I wondered what would happen if a boxcar of hobos passed and yelled, “Jump on!” Really animated hobos–flapping the sleeves of their flannel shirts, waving their bindles and whatnot.

What will happen when you get the chance to plug a stick of dynamite up the posterior of your current existence? This day, this minute. Choose. Especially if you really like the way things are going right now. Gotta choose.

Look up at the sky. This is what the sky looks like when you have the chance to switch tracks. I have the feeling that, sooner or later, each of us will be put on the spot. The boxcar of hobos is going to roll by. Could be good, could be bad. Only one way to find out. Maybe you’ve already seen it? Or maybe it slides by more often than we realize?

(And yes, it is a freight train–so if we don’t see it, are we in the dark? If we don’t hear it, are we submerged? If we don’t feel it rumbling, are we floating through space?)

The Hazards of Prolonged International Exposure

The right mix of cigarette smoke and cologne puts me on a sidewalk in Granada. A grey-blue overcast sunrise through a crack in the blinds is another Utica snowstorm. The smell of rare wood burning (a piano, let’s say) is the rush of India.

The more places we visit, the more elsewheres we can be transported to by a strange cloud, a scent, or a song heard through the window of a passing car. Not surprisingly, it’s always the same few places that hit me the hardest. It’s places I’ve stayed in long enough to be able to guess at what’s going to be last to change.

Call it the Stray Dog Theory of Place–if you talk to it and pet it behind the ears, it’ll keep coming back. It can happen in as little as a week (less, anybody?), though a month or more is better. What also helps: Multiple trips to the same grocery store. Witnessing sunrise and sunset. An unexpected soaking or bout of shivers. Conversation with kids and old folks. Getting lost, helping someone find their way, finding a secret spot, sharing it. A routine, no matter how rickety.

I’m still a sucker for towering experiences, the big bangs that can define a town, city or country (whether the reason for the visit or randomly encountered). Along with the in-the-moment adrenaline, an afternoon of Porsche in the Swiss Alps delivers an admirable stuffed Done That to hang over the mantle. But it is what it is. (Yes, been there.)

What I’m more curious about are the slow-to-emerge, long-term effects of prolonged exposure. The rippling impact of investing the time to know a place on the secret-handshake level. So far, I’ve found that the places you’ve given the most to will visit you when you least expect them, triggered by next to nothing, wherever you might be.

Travel deja vu, the return of a place’s State of Place. Elsewhere merging with and warping the present to create a new, unexpected moment of travel.

Looking forward to continuing the experiment.

PS — Thanks for reading. There’s no way one post could have answered the whole question…

Photo by Hani Amir aka Dude Crush

How an Indian Barber Will Make You a Sinner

Indian barber

Pride — My beard is a work of art, but he can probably make it sweeter.

Sloth — Sure, go ahead and clip the nose hairs.

Envy — The barber at the next chair over is better than my guy. He’s got a bigger shrine, and come on, just look at that collection of coconut oils.

Lust — A scalp massage is nice, but is there something behind the pink curtain in the back of the shop?

Gluttony — Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh air conditioning.

Greed — And all of a sudden, you find yourself in back and forth negotiations over 20 rupees.

Wrath — Botched my beard! (Wrath turns into joy when you get your first beard compliment in weeks.)

Photo by Arul Baskaran via Flickr