The year that was and the year that may be . . .

2013 was one of the most difficult professional years I’ve ever had and perhaps the most rewarding personally but no doubt was a year for growing. After the post that started this year I thought it proper to sum up the year that was 2013.

It’s funny, my eldest brother, in talking about our business was comparing growth to his children and how when you are a child, when you grow, you get growing pains. Growing is hard, whether it be in a business, as a person, or in a relationship. It’s not easy to grow, it doesn’t just happen and it certainly isn’t our default way of being.

So why do we grow?

We grow because we need to, we grow because we must evolve and I guess we grow because we just can’t allow ourselves to stay the same. We have a great quote that is on one of our corporate videos that says ‘And the day came when the risk to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”. For me, at least this year, I fundamentally believe this is true. Not because of any kind of duckling to swan crap, but the thought of staying still or staying the same seems more painful than the idea of being able to grow, to evolve and to become what you believe you can become.

This year hurt, it was frustrating and I haven’t felt so bi-polar in my work environment ever before. I had highs so high that I sensed I was starting to create something on an international scale, something I’ve always dreamt I was capable of. Then I had times and periods where I felt like even getting out of bed in the morning was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do.

But I grew, I grew a lot as a person, in my relationship, with new friends, and in the understanding of Chinese people, their language and their culture. I grew in stature, in self-confidence and my ability to be comfortable with who I am and in my own skin in any situation, whether that’s a product of being out here or whether it’s just perspective that comes with age (at 31 I suppose there’s a long way to go) but I think it’s something that if you know me, you would certainly think I don’t struggle with. Funny the layers and defenses you build to compensate for what you believe to be weaknesses.

2013 was a fantastic year of travel. I am fortunate that I have the opportunity to see amazing places both with work and personally, I’m lucky that I have the greatest partner to share these travel times with and I think it’s important to take these opportunities. As I write this I’m sitting in a tiny wooden old house, in a village in Yunnan China called Shuhe, not a word of English around and the warm homegrown oolong tea nursing my ailing hangover as I listen to the Chinese version of The Eagles Hotel California. This is just one of a million of the most surreal experiences I’ve had in the last year.

I started the year lighting a Thai lantern with my wife (and one or two others) and thinking about the year to come on a beach party in Patong which has been my middle brother’s home for the last few years (he wins at life).

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We went to The Racha to relax for a few days. Braai on our porch, swim overlooking the beach and recharged completely!

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Then the idea of Chinese travel became important and we started with Harbin Ice Festival, and so began the things that blew my mind this year! None though managed to freeze me quite as much! I saw sculptures and cities built out of ice, snow and lights which just blew me away. I got to see a tiger for the first time albeit in a sanctuary. If you want a taste of how incredibly interesting and majestic this time is in this northern city of China, read this!

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Feb was home for a magnificent bachelor’s party and wedding! To go back to the farm to see my family for a little bit of time and to have a very quick catch-up with friends in JHB. Seems like every time I get to go home now, I dont have enough time to give.

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March was back to Thailand for STREAM or what is known as WPPs anti conference and to hang out with my brother for a day!

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I learnt that Chinese New Year dinners are not to be fucked with and when you have to do one with each sales team around the country (in SA that means 5 or 8) in China that means as many as your schedule allows and how long your body can hold out!

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I realized what living in a big city means with my first ever Grand Prix shared with the only F1 expert I know who flew in from SA, and motor show, both of which left me salivating. Then there were a multitude of bits and pieces during this chaotic month that can barely be squeezed in here!

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After April things started to kick into high gear, first to Naked Retreats, the lodge type experience developed by a South African entrepreneur in rural Zhejiang.

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Another bucket list check was Japan for Cherry blossoms. I got to take my wife to stay at two, over 100 year old Ryokans that I’ve been wanting to do for years, being fed traditional 20 course Japanese breakfasts and dinners and walking these magical blossom lined streets and canals. The food, the people, the places just absolutely blew me away. I have to say Japan is one of my favorite places on earth and at this time of year it is something so surreal that you constantly feel like you are walking through a painting of sorts. These few pics cannot begin to explain it, go have a look at all of them!

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Then to Chengdu & to see my first Panda, cuddle the hell out of it for literally a minute (realize that my wife enjoyed that minute with the Panda more than anything I’ve ever seen her enjoy before EVER!) and a Buddha that was a man’s life’s work to carve it out of the side of a mountain! Then a hike and climb up a mountain, literally above the clouds, to see one of the oldest Taoist temples on earth. You cannot truly appreciate the size of this Buddha unless you see it from all sides, here are all the Chengdu pics!

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Cruising down the ancient Yangzi river with two of our best friends was an incredible mid-point of the year, seeing these ancient villages along the bank that have used this river for generations, intermingled with mythical massive modern cities built out of nowhere using new found Chinese riches! There are so many pictures of this story you have to see!

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July was my first time in India to have a bit of exploration time outside of Mumbai. A week or so through the legendary Rajasthan was one of the most rewarding experiences. To see the decadence of kings of the silk road and how the polar opposite of the poorest of the poor survive in tandem, leaving India always fills me with a sense of hope. This trip though hit me with a different meaning and feeling, one that reminded me and scared me about home.

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I decided this year that as I travel so much for work that we are going to mix as much play with it as possible, and the year got a little busy. A pitch in Vietnam was the perfect excuse to sneak up to the Nam Hai in Hoi An for a few days to see what Vietnam was like, the taste got us hooked and with good cause. A lot was was jammed into a very few days – have a look!

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August was again one of those experiences you remember forever, friends flying into China to head to the Qingdao beer festival. Imagine October fest with less alcohol tolerance, the same amount of people but only Chinese, far more arb-ness, less civility and all around absolute fucking mayhem. It was brilliant! To see the full extent of the chaos go here!

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This followed rapidly with the visit of some more great friends and what seemed like the most perfect day in Beijing history to head out of the city and up the wall. The wall is something that impacted me as a kid and I was eager to see if I felt the same. To stand there with my wife and four of my best friends made me feel invincible.

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Staying in an Aman resort that is made from the thousand year old ‘waiting houses’ for people wanting to go see the Empress was magnificent, and a sneak into the Summer Palace before anyone else is allowed in was also incredible, but running around the lake with my (VERY GRUMPY) wife at dawn when the air and lake were perfectly still was a stand out too! It prompted me to write a post about travel and experiencing travel!

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The great thing about China is small breaks all over the place. That, combined with the need to go home for sibling important birthdays, is the cause for interesting holiday locations. The Emirates is not one I would have ever have thought to explored but, in true style, these places were some of the most magnificent I’ve seen. A desert resort in the middle of nowhere in crystal blue water bay!

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Then a tented style Bedouin camp inclusive of camel rides, champagne in the desert and running in the early morning with the falcons being trained overhead, a world away from this world (the post has been sitting waiting to be published for ages)

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I found out what all the fuss is about with Sanya which is considered the Chinese Hawaii, it’s a picture perfect end of the Chinese countryside that makes for pretty good pool villa living!

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Oh yes, after this decadence there was time to sneak home for a birthday bash with the entire fam flying in from all over the place and a few days to head down to Leopard Creek to play golf and chill with some of the family which was the most special few days!

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DSC05905Lastly to get to go to the bush, I’ve written about this place a few times but I literally crave being here. I miss it dearly when I’m away and when you land and go directly to Wild Dog puppies you know you’re in a special place! To spend a few days at Inyati with the entire family is truly priceless!

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Finally in November I got to visit the home of the greatest Chinese food invention ever, and there have been some seriously good ones (and seriously horrific ones) the Xiao long bao, in a tiny water town called Nanxiang.

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Also I got to finally see the Terracotta warriors in Xi’an which I’ve been waiting to see my whole life. Strangely enough the highlight was not the warriors but riding a tandem bike along the 20km ancient city wall and just talking while riding was, for me, my highlight of the trip.

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Lastly a trip to the main Panda base in early December to go work for a day as a volunteer to feed, play with and experience the magnificent Giant Pandas again. That combined with some tiny towns and a 20 course tasting menu in the city that is considered the Gastronomic center of China.

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Well there was one final trip home that started perhaps the hardest stretch of the year. I know I put my body through some tough periods of drinking but pretty much 23 days of travel, year end dinners & sleepless nights took its toll but it was serious fun! Here was the full frightening schedule of those few precious SA days!

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Finally onto this trip we are on now, but I’ll push that into the 2014 folder :)

So just as importantly, what did I learn this year?

I learnt that being away is hard, there are times when you just want to sit in a ball and cry because everything and everyone around you is unfamiliar. I learnt that there is comfort in unfamiliarity and that as time goes by even the most foreign can become most dear.

I learnt that friends can be found anywhere and be of any age if you are open to it and some of the most unlikely friendships can end up being some of the most rewarding.

I learnt that the Chinese will literally drink until they fall over and the old adage of them getting red is very much true, its starts at their faces and when it hits there feet they die! Also after many a dinner I realize they NEVER get hung over, EVER!

I learnt that when you are the head of a business you have to drink with everyone in the room, one by one at a celebratory dinner, this means literally EVERYONE, ONE BY ONE regardless of if you can or cannot and when three women arrive with quarts of beer at the end of the night and you need to down them one at a time, that’s when you realize how tough you need to be.

I learnt that the games that get played at Chinese dinners are the most juvenile, strangest reality show type games but if you are slightly drunk (which you will be) you realize just how into it they get and how much fun they can be but when the game is for one person standing on a chair to drop a piece of bread and the two others standing below need to catch it with their faces, that’s when you start looking around for the TV crew to see if you are being punk’d!

I learnt that when you are hangover and walking through an ancient village getting to meet the 100 year old locals that the best decision you will make is to try their home made wine from their backyard vines.

I learnt I love dumplings in general more than anything on earth and that making them is easier than you would think!

I learnt that living in a 100 year old Chinese lane house in a fairly local neighborhood is an amazing part of life, that braaing in the tiny backyard is as rewarding as anything and that working at my Chinese style desk with the air blowing through the room listening to one of my neighbor’s playing classical piano is beautiful.

I learnt that stay-cations in great hotels are seriously fun and that tasting menus may be my downfall.

I learnt that if you train hard, expect more of your body and try and pace the quantity of decadent food and wine you eat, you will be amazed by the results. Similarly if you fuck around and eat like a piglet you will lose them!

I learnt that great people, both newly acquainted and known forever, make great memories and the place, feeling, and moments merely add to these!

I learnt that every year I’m away I lose a year with my parents and they certainly won’t be around forever. I learnt that while they come visit and I go back, that missing out chunks of being together makes each time leaving my family that much harder.

I learnt that buildings can literally be built to look like Xmas trees!

I learnt that you never stop learning about yourself. That your fears and hopes change continually and if you listen to them, try embracing them, you will be amazed what you can achieve.

I learnt that generally as humans we take the easy way out and we keep within our comfort zones at all costs. We expand to a point and then unless we consciously continue to grow we shrink and our lives and our worlds become smaller and smaller. I learnt that the world has too much to offer and too many things to experience for this ever to be an option.

I learn that when you are apart from people you were close to, some will make the effort to continue the relationship and some wont. These are the times you wonder what relationships really are built to last no matter what the distance and which merely run their course as so many before them do.

What will the year ahead be?

I hate resolutions, I think they are fucking stupid ways of once a year confessing that we are too fat, too unhealthy, to cowardly to quit, break up, express and change, they are a way of, for a split second imagining, that we could change all the things in our life we actually are too scared or too weak to actually change.

I like things that are specific, measurable and therefore achievable. Call me OCD but I like to be able to cross things off a list or learn from why I didn’t achieve them.

So what do I want to do this year?

  1. I want to be in contact with my family more. I mean, we speak a lot, my brothers and I talk at least weekly and my parents maybe every two weeks or so but I want to be the one to call more, too often I’m the one receiving the call.
  2. I want to be more comfortable with myself. I know this is a bit fluffy but it’s one I will be able to feel whether I’m achieving or not. I want to be able to be who I am, in meetings, in social settings without feeling the need to prove or fit in, I want to feel like this ALL THE TIME.
  3. I want to be out of my comfort zone more, I want to make choices that are more difficult than defaulting to staying at home or eating in the hotel. I want to explore more, learn more, travel more and see more! I want to soak up as much as I can as often as I can and even as I write this I know every time I’m faced with a decision where I  know the outcome will leave me in a an anxious place I want to choose it anyway.
  4. I want to be more expressive when I feel emotions about others, when I miss people or think of people or experience something that reminds me of people, I want to tell them as often as possible
  5. I want to be stronger, fitter, leaner and faster. I realized this year that you can push your body a long way but unless you are totally committed you will lose those results. This year I touched the state I want myself to be in a few times but with work, social and in general some poor decisions I slip often. I want to be able to build this into my life without changing who I am or what I love which is to eat and drink! A lot!
  6. I want to live in the moment more. I often find myself feeling guilty for really enjoying something or try planning for the next day, next meal, and next trip without fully appreciating who I’m with or what I’m doing right now.
  7. I want to build a business in China that has roots, that has depth and that has a lasting impression of our culture on the people who work in it. I want my strategy to be implemented over 18 months that will create talent, excellence in our service and develop a brand that has been battling to get traction for years.

When I think of 2013 I think almost of a hippy tie died blanket, a mix of chaos and color, of mess and perfection and general experience. I guess all we can do in the end is live in this moment, enjoy or don’t, but learn from it and that isn’t always easy.

I realize if you have made it to the end of this post you will be wondering why all the rambling was necessary but there are certain times in life and at the end of a year and the precipice of the new one, I think it’s important to reflect on the past and look forward to the future and while I love each and every one of you who read this I am writing it for me, to explain me at age 31 on 1 January 2014 so, forgive me a little.

I wish you all out there a 2014 that is filled with big dreams, big hopes and big wishes. I hope that you achieve some of them and fail at others and enjoy each and every endeavor. I hope that you find someone special to share your life and your days with and if you have that you tell them every day how you feel about them. I hope that you find a passion to explore and a job that challenges you, frustrates you and rewards you. I wish you all a magical 2014!

STM out from Shuhe old town Lijiang, Yunnan, China!

 

Place of hope, despair, absolute wealth and absolute poverty . . .

Every time I go to India (for context – almost always for business and to Mumbai) I come away with the strangest feeling of inspiration. While it may sound slightly contrived or clichéd it’s completely true. You see our business deals with retailers, of all sizes, in all places. From massive hypers and wholesalers to tiny one container / room stores selling a mix of half cases to the local residents. The reason I’m telling you this is because I get to see a lot of areas, good and bad, when I go to India.

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I can help but find myself smiling when I’m standing outside a ‘store’ with the owner sleeping behind the counter, a family of flies buzzing on and around him, waiting for his fresh milk delivery that will be poured into a 50 liter steel drum and labeled out to the customers on their way home from work.

The reason I feel like this is because when I look around I see vibrancy, energy and a soul of people that cannot be defeated, cannot see failure and will survive to make their lives better. They are happy and content with what they have and more often than not it is less than nothing. They will try any way any plan and any path to improve their lives. There is the most powerful underlying feeling of self-improvement which I have yet to come across as a general feeling in any country in the world. As always it make me irritated with the general entitled attitude of South Africans in general!

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This time though I saw a different side of India. I headed up to Rajasthan to experience a bit of regal majesty, what I found was a history of extraordinary wealth and power, but somehow the ability to continue to survive and thrive in a modern context.

The other side of India is so luxurious it takes your breath away. When you enter the city of Udaipur you quickly realize the pre-modern rulers of this place had a similar taste for decadence that I do! There is the City Palace used for formal events, stays and the like (today it stands a magnificent 1000 meter long building).

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Then there is the palace built for the sole purpose of having parties on the lake. The lake i forgot mention is completely man made. Imagine a time with no machines, bulldozers, graders etc and trying to build a lake?

The dome like structure in the middle is where Shah Jahan (the guy who built the Taj Mahal) lived for a long time while exiled by his father and this is where, they say, he got his inspiration for the Taj.

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Then finally (well there is also a monsoon Palace up on the mountain because, well, you know, one cant be in ones normal palaces when it rains now can one?!) the magnificent Lake Palace that is now rented and renovated by the Taj Hotel group and is a hotel. You know when you check in on a ‘dock’ and a boat arrives to take you to your corner suite that its going to be on hell of an experience!

The small boat off the hotel is the Spa :)

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A 5 hour drive through rural India, a few monkeys, alot of tiny villages, many cows in the road, one elephant and many many cows in the road later we arrived at the Jain Temple at Ranakpur. An 800 year old temple that is hand-carved out of marble. Each and every square in inch is carved in a unique and delicately detailed way. The highlight of which is the 1444 pillars each carved from top to bottom rising into the most spectacular circular domes.

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Onward to Jodhpur, the blue city, after the temple!

Driving through the tiny narrow roads of the old city you start to wonder if you will end up sold for body parts at some point but all of a sudden two quick turns and arrival at the incredible boutique hotel called the RAAS. Checked in and into the double story hotel room with a balcony, the view from which literally made my jaw drop. Over the pool and dinner setting up over the city and onto the Great Fort of the the city. Built into and onto the mountain this towering show of stregth and greatness is one of the most mind-blowing things (I’ve said that a lot this trip!) I’ve ever seen!

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Inside the fort you start to realize the genius of design built to protect a city and its people for eternity, and it did! In fact the city walls were never even breached let alone the fort itself. Now it serves as a museum to the past and to the kings that once occupied it.

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Jodhpurs own Taj Mahal made totally from white marble
Jodhpurs own Taj Mahal made totally from white marble
Jodhpurs own Taj Mahal made totally from white marble
Jodhpurs own Taj Mahal made totally from white marble
This is why they call it the blue city!
This is why they call it the blue city!
Th most famous man in India (by number of photos)
Th most famous man in India (by number of photos)
The kings bedroom!
The kings bedroom!
The kings private strip club - literally!
The kings private strip club – literally!

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The last and perhaps most decadent part of this excursion was Umaid Bhawan Palace. Currently home to the royals of this part (the left side) and the Tajj Hotel (the right side). Literally sharing the same roof as a royal fam!

This palace / hotel is truly spectacular and my few photos here dont do it justice (in fact not to any of the above!) but have a look at these and go to the hotels website!

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The view from one of three balconies in our suite!
The view from one of three balconies in our suite!
The courtyard outside our suite!
The courtyard outside our suite!

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For many more and better pics you can go see most of em here!

How Apple got it so wrong, especially in China!

I’ve been the prophet of doom when it comes to Apple for some time now. It didn’t start, like most people, with the death of Steve Jobs, because I believe one man doesn’t make an entire organization – even though in this case it’s almost certainly the truth.

The reason I’ve been so pessimistic is that I live in Shanghai and I get the opportunity to watch Chinese consumers in action every day. Such is the pull of China that if the consumers here switch you off you can almost kiss the next ten years of your business goodbye.

apple in chinaApple has been hanging on to the innovation they once found so plentiful, by a thread while Samsung has been delivering it in abundance on a regular basis to the world. Samsung has engaged and courted the Asian consumer while Apple has released new innovations late, after sales serviced poorly and outright just ignored the retail environment here, and finally, the Chinese are just not taking it anymore especially after this last effort at ‘innovation’.

As long as Apple keep delivering products that are sexier than the competition they remain the phone to be in everyone’s hand, and here I mean EVERYONE. Their safety was secured by virtue of their brand status, which in China is absolutely everything. This recent launch of the 5C however has done severe damage to this once impenetrable brand.

I’m pretty sure it all made sense by the numbers – someone in Apple worked out how many phones, in theory, they could sell if they brought out a ‘cheap’ phone, worked out the profits and then sent to whoever for approval of this new project. Somewhere along the way though they found out they couldn’t make it that much cheaper and so they skimped in the places the Chinese consumer least wants its, outward appearance!

Xiomi have innovated faster and delivered better in China + thei APP store has twice the downloads per person as Apple!
Xiomi have innovated faster and delivered better in China + thei APP store has twice the downloads per person as Apple!

The fact the Apple actually thought a cheaper phone would start taking back market share from local companies like Xiaomi or Huawei just shows how little they understand and how out of touch they are with their consumer here and really just how far behind they have actually fallen. It is said that ‘poor financial performance is a lagging indicator of a bigger problem’ and their lack of ability to even understand the Chinese market let alone develop a product for it shows exactly that.

The new 5C that I’m sure was hailed in its theoretical concept as a money printing machine, I can almost see Tim Cook rubbing his little paws together in eager anticipation of his first major mark on Apple, but sadly the current view of the Chinese consumer is that it’s a seriously large amount of money to pay for something that looks like a colorful potato peeler.

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This is not the beginning of the end for Apple because even Nokia is still alive but this is certainly, if you weren’t convinced before, a strong indication of how far and fast they have fallen!

 

I never was a resort kind of person . . .

. . . I guess I just always thought they had to be like a bad old run down Club Meds from the 80s where there was a program for every minute of every day and some over friendly person smile-f@#$ing you all day long into doing events or crafts when all you want to do is drink over ambitious cocktails all day by the pool or on the beach!

Then one day we ended up at this place for a week – just to give you an idea Beyonce & JZ checked out of the villa next door a week before.

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The food was Michelin starred every meal (I mean tasting menu for breakfast and designs on the cappuccino every day), a sauna and steam room in the hotel room and an infinity pool on the edge of a cliff that in the everyday perfect sunshine, looked like this! A private beach on call butler 24 hours a day, bijjillion fiffillion inch TV and the list goes on and on.

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Needless to say my outlook on resort holidays had changed somewhat.

Now still I believe that some holidays are meant to learn (and play) some are meant to discover or be active and some, like the one above are just meant to chill the hell out, read, get drunk and eat. So when the opportunity comes along, like having to present in Vietnam for work on a Thursday there really is no reason rushing back to Shanghai (well actually on to Singapore cause the work doesn’t stop) especially when just a short flight from Ho Chi Minh City is a magical little place called Hoi An, packed with resorts and at the top of them all is a place called THE NAM HAI

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This resort may rival the best I’ve been to. I won’t go into a long drawn out schpeel about what it has and doesn’t – you can take a quick photographic tour of it all. Most of them are my pics but I have supplemented a few here and there!

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Perfect views from every restaurant, every pool (assuming you leaving the one in your villa), every piece of the place. Then if you step out either from your room or from any part of the the resort there are miles of untouched private beach . . .

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Then if you feel like a hint of a private relax (again if your villa is not enough) you can have drinks at sundown and dinner on the beach, like so . . .

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Now, all of this is assuming you actually want to ever leave your villa. By villa i mean two separate houses basically with, on one side a fully stock liquor cabinet and wine rack, table for 10, TV lounge and porch. Then on the other side bedroom, lounge, bathroom, shower in and out . . .

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This is just the entrance to the Villa . . .

Then there is ‘house one’ designed for eating, watching TV and lounging . . .

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Liquor cabinet (below this is a wine rack of about 50 bottles – i like the way they think :)

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That is ‘house one’ then there is the ‘bedroom house’ . . .

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 Then there’s the ‘bedroom house’ . . . .

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The room at night gets all the lace curtains closed so it turns into a Bedouin tent bedroom (this is the only kind of camping i like)

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This is certainly very close to my happy place – laptop, paradise view, pool and a small Vietnamese coffee . . .

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Finally as this has been more a punt on the joys of Villa living rather than a travel post I have to talk a little about the small town of Hoi An.

This magical little village is filled with lights cobbled streets and authentic, well as tourist authentic as you get, restaurants. I’m not sure what it is about small towns, narrow streets and a good feeling, I felt very similar in the old parts of Seville, but it just seems to relax you and make you want to sit, eat, drink and soak up the sauna like heat for the next 10 years!

Here are some of the pics of this great little place!

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2012s lessons learned & experience gained . . .

I don’t like resolutions, I think the fact that you need to stand on the precipice of a new year and promise to do stupid shit that you inevitably do not do is fucking stupid! If you have wanted to do something you would have done it already, the fact that you were waiting for the current year to end is merely an excuse to delay and as Pof Parkinson so wisely put it “Delay is the deadliest form of denial”

I far prefer looking back over the past year at my successes, my failures, the learning’s and the things that have changed me for better or for worse. I like to look at these things in retrospect to see where I have gone wrong and where I can try be better, happier and more successful in any sphere I think it necessary, certainly not just professionally.

So here goes (I like pictures so I’ve tried to use these wherever possible) . . .

Family.

The year started with a regular trip to the perfect sunny slopes of Arosa. This has been an annual trip for our family for pretty much my entire life (I could ski pretty much before I could walk) and as this years trip was my last one, living in South Africa, I didn’t realize until it was over the significance of it.

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My family is a little scattered around the world now and its amazing when you are not close to your family, geographically, how much you miss them. I miss Friday night dinners at my parents, I miss the chaos of my two brilliantly beautiful nephews and I miss messing around with my two older brothers. It seems that our lives so far have flashed past us and somehow we ended up millions of miles away from each other, fortunately we continue to be very close, however its amazing how much you take time for granted until its no longer possible anymore.

Funny, every person will always tell you this but until you realize it yourself you will never fully appreciate it, I guess we can only hope that its not at the loss of someone close as this year I’ve seen many of my friends and family experience. Its sad and pathetically soppy I know but regardless of your relationships with your family, every time you get the chance to, hug them all a little tighter, none of us know how much time we have left together.

PS On a side note the Airbus A380 is fucking epic!!

Life Changes.

In March I moved to Shanghai for many reasons. It was a job that was supposed to be the first time I could elevate myself out of day to day operations and focus on building a long term strategic business in China. To date I suppose it hasn’t exactly turned out that way as I currently find myself running a business if 13 000 people with about 16 direct reports who barely speak English, needless to say it has been interesting.

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What I’ve found to be most important is that in life we so often like things to stay the same. Not that that’s a bad thing but for me I needed life to be challenging again, I needed to be pushed and this gave me the opportunity to do it in probably the most vibrant city in the world! Has it been easy, certainly not in fact sometimes its so frustrating I want to cry in the fetal position in the shower but has it been interesting, that goes without saying. It has been perhaps the greatest learning time for as long as I can remember – plus it has certainly changed a few stereotypes of China for me.

All in all 10 months in I continue to be on the border of invincible and totally defeated even on a daily basis but one thing I have learnt for absolute certain is that in life its important when you get a win, no matter how small, you celebrate it! The other thing I’ve learnt is no matter how hard things are and difficult life seems, you never, ever wish time away because each moment defines you no matter how hard it may seem at the time. Someone much smarter than me once said ‘this too will pass’ but I really do believe it is important to experience it all one moment at a time.

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Home.

I’ve written a lot this year about South Africa through a number of different lenses. I guess having some distance gives one a bit of perspective. The most often asked question between SAns living here is will you ever go back? The truth is I’m not sure, my feeling is and will remain that I believe there really is no place like home and for its flaws I believe in the Africa that I came from, I really do. Having said that there are some very real issues that you can clearly see when you step out of the snow globe for a while. We have a President who is an absolutely epic moron, with respect, he is openly corrupt, completely useless at his job, has led us down a path of embarrassment and left us longing for an ailing Nelson Mandela to turn back the years and lead us once more. At least for now it seems like we have gotten rid of the spoiled whiny sociopath that is and was JuJu!!

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My fear is that there is no one left to make the hard decisions in our country and it reminds me of a kill at Inyati where the lions take down some prey and eat until they are so fat they can’t move, then the hyenas come and fight over the scraps with the hordes of vultures picking at whatever is left of the poor carcass. One by one each species has its turn to stuff itself.south-africa-olympics

 

I experienced from a far the triumph of sportsman in London that for a brief moment allowed a shattered country to reunite behind a common goal only for it to be splintered again by the massacre of miners in Lonmin. An event that has opened a Pandora’s Box of disruption and chaos scarring the miners and people of South Africa with its apartheid style slaughter.

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Closer to the end of the year again my heart was plunged into homesick sadness as I watched videos of a real true homegrown hero trying to make a difference for people in such desperate need of it, once again I truly believed that the soul of Africa is too good, too strong to let us die down this path filled with greed, corruption and gluttony!

So my roller-coaster of emotion and bonds with my home continues on. Like I have said before, there really is no place like home!

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Food.

I guess this one is a little more caveman in its make up than the rest but this year in a city like Shanghai I have really realized that I live to eat, I truly do!

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11 I have experienced meals that have blown every part of my mind from tasting menus prepared by students to the visionary opening of UV by Paul Pairet.

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Like with music I cannot believe how these people, these magnificent creatures mange to create such sensational things out of absolutely nothing. It really is a gift and it is an honor of mine to be able to experience things like this so often.

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I truly do live to eat!

 

Travel.

2012 was a bit of a bumper year for travel for me really.

There was the trip to Switz with the family in Jan, then move to Shanghai in March. After that a quick swing back to SA in June and then things started to get fun.

A swing through Singapore . . .

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Then on to London to see two very special family members get married with a small stop off to recharge ones civility in Oxford.

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Then into a few days of magical Bali . . .

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Onto Russia (from Russia with love – a mad town!) and Bangkok (what i learnt in 30hrs in Bangkok) one for business and one to hang out for a weekend with the a fore mentioned brothers.

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Finally to end the year with in my middle brothers new backyard of Patong Phuket & The Racha . . .  

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With a sprinkling of trips inside China to keep things interesting. It’s quite amazing the things you learn when you travel in China, I’ve tried to put them all down but some I just cannot do justice to!

There are far too many pics to explain all the different words i would use for this adventure . . . you will have to go look for yourself!

So to sum it up 2012 was a fantastically difficult year, an amazingly challenging one and certainly both personally and professionally rewarding. In amongst it all I turned 30 with the absolute honest view that the 30s may well be the best decade yet, who knows really as long as you have fun along the way what else really matters.

So for now I remain content in rainy freezing Shanghai and will dive head on into 2013! May it be a sensational one for all of us!

 

Dorothy was right . . .

I don’t remember the wizard of Oz, I’m not sure how that idiot woman landed herself in some magical place so far from home, but as the 1930s version played next to me in business class of my Emirates flight back to South Africa I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony.

You see over the last few weeks I’ve been told ive been slightly critical of my home nation. Perhaps it’s a sadness that I’m not there anymore or perhaps I have just started to have a balanced view of place I come from finally?

What I do know is that going home for a week (although 80% of it was spent in conference rooms and preso halls) made me realize why I love this country so much. To be able to have a braai with friends gathered round whether it’s to see what they can steal off the corner as a snack or, probably more realistically this time of year, to feel the warmth of a perfect Charka fire is truly special.

To hear a black person laugh as only a black people can, from their heart and soul with an energy that fills the room (if you take offense to this either grow up or F%$# OFF – I’ve had a few glasses of wine on the trip back already!), to DRIVE a car again (and drive like I come from the south – no offense to Boksburg/Benoni), to watch Super 15, to get on a golf course, to play with my terrorist young nephews and to stand around and talk absolute shit with my friends for hours on end with no fear of judgment – these are a tiny piece of what home really is!

Yes sure arriving on a Sunday to the Times and Independent filled with the stories of corruption in every possible direction gets me a little irritated, in fact it makes me want to go into a few government building and mow down a few rows of people and the fact that government can’t keep its people safe, provide them with schooling, jobs, healthcare and even basic education  makes me cringe in shame because I fear we are slowing allowing this place to be destroyed but not even that could dampen my spirits!

The truth is I don’t regret what I’ve done – not for one second (not yet) but home is home and it always will be. We will continue to grow and learn and experience what the world has to offer but as long as I’m on this earth I can say that the feeling I get when I’m home is unmatched. It has become easy to speak to whoever we want whenever we want, we can see them and feel like we are living lives together just in parallel worlds but no matter what they tell you, you cannot get the feeling of being home through a computer screen!

So it turns out whatever that crazy bitch Dorothy was doing with a Lion and a Scarecrow in whatever world she found herself, she did provide me a very valuable piece of insight – there is NO PLACE like home! The one thing I wish she could also give me is the trick of clicking my heels three times because this 30 hour travel every time I want to have a beer with my mates is getting a little silly!

Nkosi sikelel iAfrica – until the next time my beautiful country . . .

Does Israel have a hidden agenda for the Gilad Shalit release deal?

There are no problems more entangled and seemingly unfixable than the Arab – Israeli conflict. It is a story that goes back as long as time and is a perpetual cycle of parents teaching children to hate and so the loathing gets passed from generation to generation, from war to war and from prisoner to prisoner.

A few days ago Gilad Shalit was released from captivity for the exchange of the 1027 Palestinian prisoners. This is not the first time this has happened in fact Israel have a history of releasing large numbers of prisoners to free their own soldiers

The most notable of all was the Jibril Deal of 1985. The Israeli government headed by then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres (the current president) agreed to release 1,150 prisoners in exchange for three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon by the Palestinian Militant Front led by Ahmed Jibril.

The question I keep asking myself is what is the long term effect of a decision like this, does this encourage the kidnapping of more and more Israeli soldiers in an effort to broker deals of freedom for hundreds of Palestinians held captive for acts of terrorism (this is what most of them were found guilty of)

While saying no to a deal like this must be one of the hardest decisions to make, to tell parents that their child may never be free because the cost of one life is far less than that of thousands of prisoners and millions of Israelis, is not a fair thing to pass onto any person but does that make it wrong.  Leaving the future consequences of these actions for a moment, what about the victims of these terrorists (before you get all angry I’m not saying all of the prisoners are but certainly a lot were). Their families have suffered loss and injustice and when they finally have seen these people behind bars serving a sentence, for whatever crime was committed, now have to face the truth that these people are free – is this really justice?

Is it fair, as a leader of a nation, to put the entire population at risk to save the life of one or two, perhaps its humane but is it the best RATIONAL decision? The answer is not clear like so many tough decisions, there is no right or wrong, there’s just a choice that people have to live with. For me the American quote ‘we do not negotiate with terrorists’ has always resonated. I think it strikes me so hard because if it wasn’t a hard and fast rule that has been drummed into leaders it wouldn’t work, emotion would get in the way and people would die, attacks would escalate and more people would be in danger.

On a human level, Israel saved a young man who probably survived the most horrific of ordeals in captivity and tonight he is at home with his family and for that I am happy and relieved but has his release has perhaps put more soldiers in danger of being kidnapped and used as bargaining chips?

I truly hope that the root cause for this decision by the Israeli government is to use this event as a stepping stone to peace. If this peace is possible or at least a chance of it is then its worth ten deals or perhaps hundreds of deals like this. If long term harmony between nations is the eventual goal here then it has to be the right decision and whatever injustice forms part of it is miniscule in comparison to the long term joy that peace would bring.

IF, and it’s a big if, this is the case then, it certainly is the epitome of the saying ‘the end justify s the means!

AS always though only time will tell!

To watch the VIDEOS – GO HERE!