Alive

I live
And therefore, I am victorious
Every breath is a triumph
Every step, an accomplishment
For living and breathing and walking
Are acts of defiance
Against dying and resigning and stopping

I am alive
And therefore, I am miraculous
Every emotion is an improbability
Every idea, an implausible feat
For living and feeling and thinking
Are audacious abilities
Against the odds of chance and chaos

I survive
And therefore, I am heroic
Every day is a battle won
Every year, a universe conquered
For surviving and striving and thriving
Are human superpowers
Against oblivion and entropy and meaninglessness

We live
And while we live, others die
Every life is an arc of light
Every death, a shooting star
For living and shining and fading
Are the black fate
Of each glorious being whose life we celebrate

We are alive
And therefore, we are guardians of life
Every heartbeat is a sacred gift
Every experience, a rare treasure
For living and laughing and loving
Are anti-spells
Against dying and darkness and desolation

We survive
And therefore, we are incredible
Every sunrise is another chance
Every moonrise, another bridge
For surviving and rising and connecting
Are acts of courage
That honour creation
And welcome living
And reaffirm life

Wayne Visser © 2017

Book

Seize the Day: Favourite Inspirational Poems

This creative collection, now in its 3rd edition, brings together favourite inspirational poems by Wayne Visser. The anthology takes us on a journey through the peaks and troughs of life, celebrating the indomitable human spirit.. It includes many old favourites like “Poets Must Be” and “Chasing the Blue”, as well as brand new poems like “The Writer” and “Making Ripples”. Sages through the ages wisely say: / Carpe Diem – seize the dawning day / Oh, would that I could assuage that thirst / But the day conspires to seize me first! / With the hurry and scurry / Of home’s frantic flurry / And the hustle and bustle / Of work’s tangled tussle. Buy the paper book / Buy the e-book.

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Mountain View

A barren place of grass and clay
A vision planted true
From tender care and patient work
Emerged our Mountain View

A paradise of birds and trees
Beneath the skies of blue
With brown thatched roofs and welcome guests
Now stands our Mountain View

A place to rest, a place to heal
To see the world anew
We journey on, yet in our hearts
Springs green our Mountain View

Wayne Visser © 2017

Book

Life in Transit: Favourite Travel & Tribute Poems

This creative collection, now in its 2nd edition, brings together travel and tribute poems by Wayne Visser. The anthology pays tribute to the likes of Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Barack Obama, Antoni Gaudí & Leonardo da Vinci, and reflects on travels ranging from China and South Africa to Ecuador and Russia. Life is lived in the in-between / In transit / Between coming and going / Between staying and moving on / Between here and there / And what we call home / What we call settled or contented / Is merely a resting place / A station for refuelling / A nexus for reconnecting / A junction for changing direction. Buy the paper book / Buy the e-book.

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Dominican Republic Travel Diary

9 September 2012

Arrived in Dominican Rep last night. Today, explored Santa Domingo’s old city. Hot & sticky, but a wonderfully vibrant culture & great music.

10 September 2012

Enjoying working at my hotel in Santa Domingo beside a pool with turtles swimming around & basking in the sun on the rocks! 🙂

11 September 2012

Enjoyed giving the keynote at Dominican Republic’s 1st CSR conference by INTRAS. Tonight, a taste of Santa Domingo’s music & dance!

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Costa Rica Travel Diary

16 August 2010

Arrived in a misty and rainy but beautifully green San Jose, Costa Rica, after my 15 hour bus ride from Panama. Can I claim bus-lag? Now in San Jose at the delightful Hemmingway Inn. Painted jungle scenes on the walls, water features in the courtyard, and birds in the trees.

17 August 2010

Enjoyed a wonderful Costa Rican dinner of fried plantains with a bean and cheese dip. Loving the art galleries, but they could bankrupt me!

18 August 2010

Pura Vida! What a great Costa Rican mantra – meaning pure life, full of life, purified life, this is living!, going great, cool I agree!

I am in Costa Rica now, or I should say San Jose. I immediately feel comfortable here, and I am trying to figure out why. Partly, it must be that I just love the tropics – the lush vegetation and colourful wildlife. And somehow that ‘pura vida’ rubs off on the people, who are friendly and helpful. Another reason must be that this country and this city wears its colours on its sleeve. By that I mean that there is art everywhere – on the walls as murals, in painted tiles, and with the vibrant rainbow textiles.

21 August 2010

I am on my early flight from San Jose to Mexico City – a bit bleary-eyed, as I had to wake up at 4 am. Yesterday was an interesting day of meetings and interviews. It is so inspiring to see so many people all working in their own ways to make the lives of others and the state of the environment a bit better. One consultancy I met yesterday is working with the indigenous community (which makes up about 10% of the population) to make and promote their handicrafts. The Rainforest Alliance is also doing amazing work, not only with products like coffee, but also in forestry and tourism (plane is bumping now). You must look out for their logo (the green frog) in the supermarket.

I am still high on my visit to the rainforest on Thursday. Not only is it full of life and growth, but it is wonderfully undisturbed by humans. About 35% of Costa Rica consists of protected natural forest. I learned so many new things on the tour. First, the ants – bullet, army and leafcutter. I think you know already that the gigantic bullet ants get their name from the severity of their bite. The army ants are the ones that are more aggressive though, and will eat virtually anything in their path. Our guide told us that when they see a line of army ants coming into their house, they just leave the house for 2 hours and when they come back, the ants are gone and the house is completely clean – no more cockroaches, spiders or presumably food. That’s one way to save on housework!

With the leafcutter ants, they often travel long distances because the trees and bushes let off a toxin when a certain proportion of their leaves have been eaten. So the ants never completely wipe out the vegetation. Also, we saw one ant having a ‘free ride’ on top of a leaf that another was carrying. In actual fact, he is protecting the leaf from parasites that lay their eggs on the leaf and could destroy the whole nest if they hatched inside. At one point we had to walk very quickly because we were walking across a ‘river’ of ants on the path, and they were army ants!

We saw some orchids as well. Did you know that the name comes from the Greek meaning testicles?! That is because the species that the Greeks discovered have leaf buds that bear a certain resemblance to balls. Also, did you know that vanilla pods come from a type of orchid? I could go on and on (but I won’t). We didn’t see much other than some butterflies, a few birds, cicadas and ants. But I did spot an ant-eater climbing a tree we went past on the chair lift. I will leave the forest now, before you think this is a biology lesson.

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Nature Knows

When all the world seems upside down
The fool’s on the hill
The king is a clown
When headline news loud-speaks the views
Of puppeteers of fears
And naysayers of the truth
When leaders’ voices are hollow choices
Of dumb-down beats of tweets
And two-fingers to the youth
Take a step back from the black
And white, the stereotype
The media hype, the Trumptown blues
And choose a world of hues
From greens to greys, and reds to browns
The rounds of seasons, synchro-reasons
Of sun and moon, the tune
Of vitality that sprouts and grows
The harmony, the symphony, the flows
That nature knows

When all the roads seem nowhere bound
The signs contradict
The noise has no sound
When every maze just adds to the craze
Of shallow aims in games
And hamster wheels for jobs
When Wall Street belies, in suits and ties
Their ugly creed of greed
And clever ways to rob
Take a deep breath, defy the death
Of hope, the hangman’s rope
The doomsday dope, the victim’s shoes
And choose a forest of clues
Of roots and shoots
From seeds to stems, and buds to leaves
The trees of jungles, the rumbles
Of beast and storm, the dawn
Of light and flight and lucent bows
The illumination, the revelation, the glows
That nature shows

When all that’s lost can scarce be found
The love swept away
The faith nearly drowned
When silent strings, like broken wings
Leave empty spaces in places
Where music once soared
When prophets’ words sound more absurd
Than the Mad Hatter’s patter
And the Jabberwocky’s chord
Take a great leap, take time to reap
What you have sown, from flesh and bone
From mind clone and idea muse
And choose an earthscape of dos
Not don’ts and won’ts
But cans and wills, and better stills
The thrills of striving, life thriving
Through trial and error, through terror
To yellow dreams and scarlet rose
The magnificence, the intelligence, the prose
That nature knows

Wayne Visser © 2017

Book

Wishing Leaves: Favourite Nature Poems

This creative collection, now in its 3rd edition, brings together nature poems by Wayne Visser, celebrating the diversity, beauty and ever-changing moods of our planet. The anthology includes many old favourites like “I Think I Was a Tree Once” and “A Bug’s Life”, as well as brand new poems like “Monet’s Dream” and “The Environmentalist”. Then as we turned our faces to the moon / Our hands entwined, our hearts in sync, in tune / We felt the fingers of the silken breeze / And made our wishes on the falling leaves / A gust of wind set off a whispered sigh / Among the trees that leaned against the sky.  Buy the paper book / Buy the e-book.

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China Travel Diary

12 June 2008

Sometimes, my life seems surreal, and perhaps no more so than now, having visited China, which has for so long drifted like a cloud across the sky of my dreams. It was a little more than 20 years ago that I first peered through the windows of Theosophy and Unitarianism and gazed into the still pond of Buddhism and was captivated by the flowing river of Taoism.

At first, I discovered the strange, exotic (and some would say fantastical) Tibetan world of Lobsang Rampa. I also remember having a book of Taoist poetry and reading a wonderful parable story full of Eastern wisdom that Bob Steyn introduced me to (it was called something like Journeys on the Razor-edged Path). I was so inspired by these Eastern philosophies that, on my 21st birthday, I added Tao as a middle name and later, in 2004 on a family trip to California, I devoured a pocket version of the Tao te Jing.

Not only was I fascinated by China’s ancient philosophies, but also seduced by the artistic beauty of its calligraphic writing and its impending economic rise to power as one of the ‘waking dragons’ of the East. For all of these reasons, I registered for a correspondence course in Mandarin through the University of South Africa in 1994. Unfortunately, I never completed the course, since my management consulting work with Gemini became too demanding, and I still sometimes wonder how different my career might have been had I persevered.

Be that as it may, I finally made it to China! I arrived on 1 June and took part in the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) conference on Responsible Competitiveness from 2-3 June, which Dirk and I used as a platform to launch The A to Z of CSR. I also attended the Being Globally Responsible Conference on 6-7 June, and acted as a judge for the Innovate China international MBA competition on 8 June. On 7 June, I met with Prof Zhu from Tonji University, who is a partner with CPI on the Sustainability Leadership Institute proposal for the planned eco-city at Dontang.

All this gave me a fascinating insight into CSR in China. I am struck by the strong, positive role of government, which may give China the ability to leapfrog the West on tackling social and environmental issues. The danger is that it will get stuck in the ‘CSR as philanthropy’ mode, evidenced by the competitive ranking lists of corporate donations following the Sichuan earthquake disaster. However, if this can evolve into a more holistic understanding of CSR, built on the platform of the government policy of ‘harmonious society’, I really believe China may surprise the West.

Despite labour conditions remaining a concern, my impression is that human rights abuses are the exception rather than the rule, and that China’s sustained economic boom is doing far more social good than harm. Reconciling its addiction to growth with environmental constraints may prove its most difficult challenge yet. But even here, there are early signs that the government understands the problem and is acting decisively to address it. For example, Shanghai is spending 3% of its city GDP on environmental clean-up. Although it clearly has a long way to go (the smog is so bad, I didn’t see blue sky once during the 7 days I spent there!), this level of environmental spend by far exceeds anything in the West.

Outside of a work context, China was equally captivating. Its ancient sites are a fascinating glimpse into a long history and incredibly rich culture. I managed to visit the Jade Buddha temple in Shanghai, the gardens and water village of Zhujiajiao, and the Summer Palace, Heavenly Temple, Forbidden City, Great Wall and Ming Tombs in Beijing. Even the somewhat tacky tourist-oriented silk, pearl and jade factories and tea houses proved interesting. I was also fortunate to be hosted in Beijing by someone I met at the CEIBS conference (Clare Pearson), so through her friends I got an impression of life in modern China beyond the tourist traps. Now, I find myself reflecting on what makes China remarkable.

The first remarkable thing, I would say, is how unremarkable life in the cities is. Westernisation and capitalism have already turned China into a country that displays more similarities than differences when compared to other modern economies. The major difference, of course, is the political system, which is best described as a one-party state, rather than communism or socialism. However, seeing first-hand how well the system seems to work for its 1.3 billion population, including allowing civil freedoms that are almost on a par with the West, it is difficult to remain smugly superior or evangelical about democracy. If anything, China’s ability to act decisively and to rapidly implement policies at scale in the face of massive social and environment problems is a virtue rather than a vice.

There is no doubt that China has invented a hybrid political model that looks set to endure, despite the country’s continued globalisation and increasing trade and cultural influences from the West. And whereas that may have raised ideological concerns before my visit to China, I am far less disturbed by the prospect now. On the contrary, I believe China will become the world’s economic superpower and be no less benign than the US is today. Furthermore, I expect it may even set an example for other countries and companies in terms of sustainability and responsibility in the medium to long term. A clue to my optimism lies in what the CSR Director for Bayer in China said to me – above all else, China prizes stability. Stability, in turn, can only be maintained under conditions of social upliftment and environmental improvement.

Above all else, I believe China is a master of learning. And as I read in today’s China Daily, the character for learning (xi) is partly derived from the non-simplified character meaning ‘feather’ or ‘wing’. Hence, the concept is inspired by a bird learning to fly. Nothing could be a more apt metaphor for China, which is like a young phoenix that has flown the nest and will soon be at home in the sky, so long as its two wings – social and environmental integrity – do not become damaged in its rapid upward flight.

14 June 2008

The Dragon and the Phoenix

You are the mighty dragon
Whose history is lost in the mists of time
Shrouded in mystery and enchantment
And breathing fire

Your dragon emperors
Ruled the endless skies and earth
With flaming tongue and snaking tail
And armoured scales

The dragon flies again
Awaking from its night of red dreams
Craving the horded treasures of the West
And rising like a golden sun

Waxing like a silver moon
Shining the ancient wisdom of the East
Trailing iridescent sparks of change
The phoenix flies again

Cocooned in silk
And flowing with ripples of water
Through peaceful rockeries and gardens
Were your phoenix empresses

Singing spells
And rising in a blaze of coloured feathers
From the ashes of grey modernity
You are the mystical phoenix

30 May 2010

Peking University campus – There is a large lake about 5 minutes walk away, where I plan to walk (or maybe even jog!) every day. There are also several sculptures that I am taking pictures of.

I once started a university course in Mandarin. I never got very far, but it is an indication of how long I have been fascinated with Chinese culture, and in love with its written language. To me, the script is like art. The closest thing to a religion that I align myself with these days is Taoism – the ancient Chinese philosophy of harmony and balance. The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu is poetry and wisdom combined.

I think the West is far too judgemental of China. No doubt, there are some policies that we would find difficult, but what I see is an emerging nation, full of dynamism and progress, including on many social, environmental and ethical issues. Just this morning, I read in the paper that new regulations make evidence obtained under duress inadmissible in court.

There’s a palpable sense here that the only way is up, that the future is all to play for and that a combination of vision, national pride and hard work make all dreams possible. It all seems rather familiar – the same sort of ideals that built the American Dream. The 21st century will be the century of the Chinese Dream.

 02 June 2010

One of the things I love about the Chinese is that they value the artistic side of life. And not just paintings and sculptures. They see art in nature. For example, in many temples and palaces, they will simply frame a slab of marble stone with a beautiful pattern, or erect an interesting stone formation as a sculpture, or even just create a window frame with a view onto a tree or garden.

06 June 2010

It is Sunday, my last ‘free’ day before my workshop tomorrow. Last night, it was good to get off the campus and into the city. The underground is excellent – very clear and simple, with constant updates. The trains have electronic maps of the tube lines, where a flashing red dot and a green arrow tell you exactly where you are and the direction you are travelling. And it is ‘cheap as chips’ – about 20p to travel anywhere in the city. Even the taxis are cheap – about £5 to go from the centre to the outskirts of the city (and Beijing is bigger than London).

After a British embassy event choral event, I went on with some friends to the ‘Stone Boat’ bar, a beautiful bar/restaurant in the middle of a park, overlooking a lake and literally on a stone boat. Stone boats are an ancient tradition of the emperors of China. After that, we went to a jazz club with live music, then I took a taxi back to the campus.

It is interesting to see how many Westerners are moving to China – many of them permanently. Clare is English and has been here about 7 years. In our group were also two Americans, one Canadian and a Pakistani. It is testimony, I think, to the fact that China is seen by many as ‘the brave new world’ – the superpower of the future.

I have been very content here in Beijing and I could easily spend a month here, just writing, walking around the lakes and parks and occasionally heading into the city for a change of scenery. There are some amazing buildings downtown, many of which were built in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. From what I can gather, the Olympics had a dramatic positive effect, not only in improving infrastructure and public transport, but also in reducing pollution and opening up to Western ideas.

Tomorrow night, I take the overnight train to Shanghai, sharing a compartment of four. I am looking forward to it. It brings back memories of the two day train my sister and I took a few times from Cape Town to Bulawayo. There is something wonderful about watching the world speeding by outside the window, having time to read, falling asleep to the clickety-clack gentle sway of the train.

10 June 2010

My time in Shanghai and China has been all too brief. There is so much to see and explore that I expect I will keep coming back for the rest of my life, especially given my interest and affinity for the culture.

Yesterday, I did a video interview with Jacylyn Shi, one of my hosts here. We found a quiet park near the venue for my talk to do it. Then it turned out that a man was doing Tai Chi in the background while I was filming – just wonderful! After the interview, we were walking through the park and we saw the Tai Chi man again. So Jacylyn asked him to teach me some Tai Chi moves. She took some photos of me looking very clumsy trying to copy him, but it was an unexpected and delightful experience.

Of course, Shanghai is not only ancient but rapidly turning into one of the most modern cities in the world. Some people say it lacks soul and that it is too commercial – all brands and no substance. But I like it – it’s vibrant and constantly changing.

The Expo was just a glimpse into what is possible in this city now. There were some fabulous buildings and exhibits, even though I only saw about a quarter of the Expo site. It is probably no coincidence that the quietest pavilions were the eco-design ones, while the oil and Cisco (technology) displays were among the most popular. Some, like the China and Saudi pavilions had 7 hour ques! I’m not sure any exhibit is worth such a long wait, but it just shows the excitement and thirst for new experiences among the Chinese. The Expo is getting 500,000 people a day!

2 August 2010

It was a great pleasure for me to be back in China in May this year. On my first visit in 2008, it was shortly after the Sichuan earthquake and one of the fascinating things to see was how Chinese bloggers were publicly ranking (and rankling) companies on their response to the disaster. For me, that represented good news and bad news – good news because it meant that civil society was becoming more active and bad news because it was entrenching a philanthropic understanding of CSR. The other experience I had during that visit, which confirmed my fears, was my role on a judging panel for an MBA competition on CSR, where the project we selected (which involved setting up an e-waste recycling facility) was passed over for a philanthropic project (which involved giving money for setting up a school).

During my more recent visit, a number of things seem to have changed. As my Chinese colleagues kept reminding me, two years is a long time in China. The first thing I noticed is that the country is awash with CSR conferences, workshops and training. So much so that generic meetings no longer pull the crowds. Companies know what CSR is and now they want to know how to implement it. Not surprising then that the CSR reporting trend has finally taken off in China as well. For now, this is seen by many companies as an end in itself – often to satisfy Western critics – rather than a first step on a much longer journey. However, along with the reporting trend, there is at least more talk of Strategic CSR, even though the evidence suggests this is more the exception than the rule. A company like State Grid is among this progressive minority, but most large companies are still stuck in a philanthropic, project-based mode of CSR.

The main drivers for CSR seem to have shifted as well. Whereas before, it was mainly Western pressure through the supply chain, now the two main advocates seem to be the Chinese government and the workers themselves. The government has latched onto the CSR concept and is bedding down many elements in legislation ranging from labour conditions to cleaner production. There are also increasing numbers of protests by workers that are dissatisfied with the status quo. Sam Lee mentions the story that was in the headlines recently of an irregular number of suicides in a particular company, which has added impetus to this growing workers’ movement. As China rises as an economic superpower and begins to dominate many industries, there is also far more emphasis on safety and quality of products.

Apart from CSR management, China is investing heavily is in the market opportunities provided by CSR issues, especially clean technology. Already in 2006, the richest man in China was reported to be Shi Shengrong, CEO of the solar company Suntech, and the richest women, Zhang Yin, made her fortune from recycling. A 2010 report published by the Pew Environmental Center found that in 2009, China invested $34.6 billion in the clean energy economy, while the United States only invested $18.6 billion. This explosive growth was brought home to me when, at an event of the Women In Sustainability Action (WISA) in Shanghai where I was speaking, I got talking to a supplier of wind turbines to Europe. Simply put, he cannot keep up with the demand. He is turning customers away because there is already 12 months of orders in the pipeline.

In a related trend, I heard far more on this trip about environmental issues. In fact, visiting CSR scholar at Peking University, Mark Wehling, believes that the green issues are what are getting companies away from philanthropic CSR. World Bank estimates put the cost of environmental and associated health costs in China at 3% of GDP, with water pollution accounting for half of the losses. These costs have not escaped the attention of the Chinese government, who is driving environmental legislation and incentives much more strongly now. Many Chinese talk about the Olympics as some kind of watershed. As you may remember, the government shut down many factories around the city and restricted vehicle access. As result, Beijing enjoyed unprecedented blue skies during the 2008 Olympics. When the Olympics was over and the government prepared to go back to business-as-usual, the public objected – they wanted to keep their blue skies“ and so at least some of the pollution control policies remained in force.

So, yes, there have been changes over the past two years, and there has been some movement towards Strategic CSR. However, my overall impression is that most companies still view CSR as a philanthropic and public relations exercise. As Jacyclyn Shi reminds us, CSR awards schemes are booming, which is a sure sign of progress, but also immaturity of the market. Perhaps she is right to place her hope in the women of China to be the new pioneers. There has been no shortage of testosterone-fuelled growth in China – and the world – which remains at the heart of the problem. We could benefit from less male yang, and more female yin, in China and in the CSR movement more.

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Chile Travel Diary

26 June 2010

I am staying at La Casa Roja hostel in Santiago. I took a little walk around the neighbourhood. To be honest, it’s quite run down – lots of graffiti, crumbling buildings and general urban decay. This is most likely a story of poverty rather than neglect. Just a few blocks from the hostel, I saw a man ‘sleeping rough’ on a bench. These are the real homeless and I wince to think of people like him outdoors at night when temperatures are sub-zero.

Tomorrow, after the football, I will take a walk downtown (fortunately we are close). I will probably head for the Arts & Culture Museum, and take it from there. It is my favourite part of any trip – discovering a new city, soaking up the urban delights, practicing a kind of cultural osmosis. I far prefer this slow, partial approach – getting intimate with my local surroundings – rather than rushing around with a ‘must-see, must-do’ tourist checklist.

27 June 2010

I took a walk downtown and discovered a castle – Santa Lucia. It’s on a little hill and has fantastic views of Santiago, including the backdrop of ice-capped mountains. Many photos later, I walked on to the Art Gallery. There were a few unusual sculptures, but not many paintings that grabbed me. The exception was a portrait of a Chinese coal miner. They also had lots of historical photos from the late 1800s, which gave some insight into a bygone, pre-Fordian era. The best one was of a group of kids, each with a different expression on their faces.

After the gallery, I walked to the main city square. By then, the sun was setting and I arrived just in time to witness a religious procession – a few hundred people, most with candles, some with banners of the Virgin Mary, and some in religious robes. The priests leading the march were swinging incense, and somewhere in the middle was an altar with a statue of Jesus. Then bells tolled and hymns played over the speakers of a van set up for the purpose. Everyone joined in singing, including spectators. Quite touching really, even though the religious practices themselves hold no meaning for me anymore.

The cathedral itself is on the square, so I went in and drifted a while in its reverential ambience. The square is also the place for street artists and buskers. Before leaving the square, I went over to listen to a singer who had drawn a bit of a crowd (Precila Guzman; I bought here CD to remember the moment). Some of the people were watching, but most – young and old – were spontaneously dancing. I was almost moved to tears, to see such natural joy, such celebration of life. It is one of the things I love about Latin culture. Music moves them, literally.

05 July 2010

I am staying for a few days in Valdivia with Manfred Max-Neef (“barefoot economist” and author of Human Scale Development). It took us 10 hours to drive from Santiago – very picturesque, especially with the Andes. The city is right on the sea, with a massive river going through it, and the university (of which Manfred was President a few years ago) is on an island.

Valdivia was the site of the worst earthquakes in recorded history in the 1960s (much worse than the one they had in Chile earlier this year, which was bad enough). As a result of all the subsidence (about 3 metres), a lot of the city became a wetland. This attracted all kinds of birdlife, including the rare black-necked swan. Unfortunately, due to pollution, they all died or relocated to other parts. Now, as I look out the window from Manfred’s study, there are 2 garden sculptures of these swans, which he keeps in memory of their brief period of abundance.

We took a brief drive around the campus, which is beautiful; lots of trees. Unfortunately, it is raining, so we can’t go for a walk in the Botanical Gardens. Apparently, a big storm is coming. The office here has a view over the river.

I am once again struck by how local and immediate life is. Collecting experiences is all well and good, but what we are doing now, in this moment, how we are feeling, who we love and are loved by – only these things keep us content and motivated. In a sense, we have to keep on creating the means of our own happiness, as if life is a river in which we always must have an oar in the water if we don’t want to be swept away.

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Canada Travel Diary

26 April 1992

Started work with Royal Bank, Kingston; to be trained as Customer Service Representative, and assistant to Randy Hansuld, Area Manager for Kingston.

18 May 1992

Greetings from a spring-blessed Kingston, Canada. That’s right, we have sunshine, greening trees, and blossoming flowers (tulips and daffodils)!

Work is also looking positive. I’ve been with the Royal Bank for 3 weeks now, and getting to know the ropes has been quite a challenge. I’m basically starting out as a teller and working around from there. The people there are also very nice. Other good news is that Kingston has Unitarians! … Basically, they operate more as a contact group than a church. They don’t have a minister, only a “hired” chaplain who conducts weddings, etc., and so, instead, they have sub­committees who contribute in various ways to running the group. The community itself has about 100 people who regularly attend meetings and they range across the whole spectrum.

Kingston is very much a university town, similar in many ways to Stellenbosch – it also has the historical buildings (since it used to be the capital of Canada) and the tourism element. Anyway, since I’m just 5 minutes walk from the university, I’ve had a chance to peek in at their library, and it’s great! They have on-line access throughout the States, Canada and the UK! So, needless to say, I hope to do some preliminary work on my Masters thesis. …

I’ve only been here a month and I’ve already started up a library of my own (bookshops are definitely a weakness of mine!) Amongst others, I bought Leo Buscaglias book Love – I really enjoyed what he had to say – such common sense things, but most of us are too afraid to be honest with ourselves and others. Another which I think you should look out for if you don’t have it already is Pragmagic by Marilyn Ferguson (based on the findings of the Brain/Mind Bulletin over the last 10 years). Here are some extracts:

The practice of pragmagic is a kind of alchemy. The ancient alchemical quest was, of course, the transmutation of matter, the making of gold out of baser elements. But the alchemists were not motivated by greed. Quite to the contrary. This quest was symbolic, a metaphor for a deeper quest – the transmutation of the self into a new, golden kind of human. Where do we begin our contemporary alchemical quest? How do we discover magic in everyday life and learn to use it? Magic starts with a state of mind, a way of thinking. Before the practical tools and techniques can be of use, we each have to discover the internal sources of our own stories.

More news. I’ve decided to forfeit attending the Global Forum in Rio in June, even though I had been selected as a delegate and the Royal Bank was prepared to give me time off to attend it. I guess it’s just a case of personal priorities at this time, so I have no regrets; there will be more appropriately timed opportunities to come.

12 July 1992

Greetings once again from the Land of the Maple Leaf!

Well, I’ve been in Canada 11 weeks now and it’s been what I’m going to call a mixed experience. On the one hand, working in a foreign country, learning new things and meeting new people has been great. On the other hand, being away from home has been extremely unsettling for me. Suddenly, everything familiar is no longer there and you’re all on your own. …

Part of my experience has been that time alone has afforded me plenty of opportunity to get myself into contemplative knots regarding what should be the next step in my career path. My basic dilemma is that I know where I want to be, but I’m not quite so sure how to go about getting there. That is, I know that I want to end up writing, teaching and perhaps consulting on the “new age” (for want of a better label) business paradigm; but I’m not quite sure how to get started. Do I continue along an academic line (Masters and PhD) or do I opt for securing more work experience first? Then of course military service (which I don’t plan to make part of my life experience) and the general questions about South Africa’s future have to be figured into the decision as well. But enough about my deliberations – I’m sure life will reveal the way as I go along. …

Canada, in many ways, faces similar challenges and shares similar experiences to SA. Both have colonial histories which include disgraceful treatment of their natives; both are countries of immensely diverse cultures and backgrounds; both are in the process of building a nation (beginning with a negotiated constitution) in the face of minorities who wish to remain separate. The only difference seems to be that Canada is a lot more optimistic and positive about their process. Take culture for instance. A lot is being done here to promote the idea that diversity is strength and is something to be proud of rather than obliterated or scorned upon. We certainly could use a bit of that kind of attitude in SA at the moment. We need so much to regain our sense of self, and as a result our pride and dignity as people and as a nation. I guess where there is life there is hope … and lots of hard work to do.

A book I recently discovered is called Meditations on Business: Why Business as Usual Won’t Work Anymore by John Dalla Costa is truly inspirational. In fact, it’s everything I’ve been thinking over the past few years about the future course of business, and more. Its basic message is that the time has come for business to recognise its interconnectedness with the wider dimensions of nature and society. As such, it needs to take responsibility for its impact on the environment and on the lives of the human beings it affects. In essence, it needs to develop a firmer grounding in spiritual values. … I can’t tell you what a find this is for me! It’s the first book of its kind which directly addresses the new paradigm of my dreams and intended research. And it doesn’t end there. By synchronicity, the author is a CEO of a Canadian ad agency, and I’ve managed to contact him and arrange to meet him in Toronto in 2 weeks for lunch. I’m so excited!

25 July 1992

I found John Dalla Costa to be friendly, interesting and approachable; I felt quite “at home”, relaxed and treated with respect during our entire meeting. The most important ideas to emerge from our discussion were: 1) follow your heart, 2) don’t be in a hurry to settle into a career; enjoy opportunities to travel while you can, 3) work experience is advisable; it gives one credibility in both the academic and business communities, 4) writing is hard work and difficult to make a living out of, 5) try to infiltrate rather than confront the business community; hence, be cautious in the use of “new age” concepts and terminology. John was especially interested in my ideas on Parables for Business and Business Alchemy as the basis for books, and saw potential in the Business for a Better World journal.

09 October 2008

I had a very pleasant dinner at the wonderful “Fresh” vegetarian restaurant in Toronto on Tuesday evening. My friend and colleague, Prof Andrew Crane, and I met with Nai-wen Wong, a visitor from Taiwan, who is part of the CSR International network I run.

One of the stories from Nai-wen that I liked was how people in Taiwan are now being encouraged to bring their own chopsticks to restaurants, to save all the forests being cut down for disposable chopsticks. That sounds like a great environmental idea, with a cultural twist.

On Sunday, I was walking around Toronto Island Park when, to my unexpected surprise and delight, this guy on a Penny Farthing bicycle rode past me. The Penny Farthing – so called because of the relative size of the British penny next to the smaller farthing coin – was invented in the 1870s.

It got me thinking about our progress, or more accurately, lack of progress. For me, the Penny Farthing, which has hardly changed at all to become the modern bicycle more than 130 years later, is a perfect metaphor for our seeming lack of change in other areas.

I am thinking mostly about that other wheeled invention, the car. More specifically, the internal combustion engine car. The basic design has hardly changed over the past 100 years, even though we have tinkered to make it more efficient, safe and clean.

At one level, we might say that, like the bicycle, it’s because the basic design still works. So why change a winning formula? But does it really still work? Is spending hours in gridlocked traffic, or thousands dying in auto accidents, or pumping out pollution that causes asthma and climate change what “works”? Is that our definition of a winning formula?

But now we have hybrids and electric cars, I hear you say. True, and I am their biggest fan. They begin to solve some of the environmental and health problems, but they still keep us locked into the same basic design – a metal box, with an engine, on four wheels. Is that the best our fantasmagorical imagination can come up with?

A penny (farthing) for your thoughts, my dear …

11 October 2008

I’ve enjoyed a wonderful week in Toronto, with blue skies, lake views and Autumn leaves. It has me thinking about change. Would we appreciate autumn leaves as much if they were always always on display? Most likely not. It is the changes which help us to value life.

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Cambodia Travel Diary

17 April 2010

Last Saturday, I headed to Cambodia with my mom and dad. Siem Reap is a bustling town, totally geared for the tourist trade, but without having lost its agricultural and cultural roots. I felt very relaxed among the people, dusty roads, scooters and market stalls. Our visit to the various Angkor Wat temples was fascinating. They are just as one imagines jungle temple ruins should be.

We had a very informative guide, who was very patient with our endless picture taking and videoing. My favourites were the two temples that were returning to nature, with trees growing throughout the crumbling complexes and roots clinging to the remaining walls. We also had a hot hike through the jungle to an area where a rocky river bed had been carved.

The only pity, for both Thailand and Cambodia, was that we were too early for the rainy season. As a result, the temperatures were scorching (over 35 or 40 degrees most days and over 25 most nights), the landscape was not very green, the rice paddies were still dust bowls and the waterfalls were hardly more than trickles. Despite this, it was an incredible 2 weeks or so, with many amazing sights and rich experiences.

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Brazil Travel Diary

31 July 2010

I am loving being in Rio. I guess it has to do with the warm weather, the beach and the surrounding mountains. It all feels more natural and relaxed. I can see why it has a reputation for ‘fun in the sun’. I write this from the botanical gardens. They are a real oasis of green and shade. I walked this morning from the hostel and around the lagoon (Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas), as far as the gardens. The path around the lagoon (which is more like a lake) is about 7.5 kms and a great favourite for walkers, joggers, bikers and skaters.

The amazing thing about Rio is that almost wherever you are, there is the backdrop of the giant stone edifices that are the mountains surrounding and interspersing the city. Often, there is also the sight of water, beaches and forests. That is not to say there is a shortage of concrete. This is a city of about 9 million people. But the buildings and the people are embedded in natural beautiful surroundings. The Tijuca Forest, of which the Botanical Gardens form a part, and which extend to the top of the Christ mountain, is the largest urban forest in the world.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that people don’t hassle or hustle you. There are a few hawkers and traders on the streets and beaches, but they are very passive. I’m sure I’m imposing stereotypes, but it feels like everyone just ‘gets’ that there’s more to life than work and money. Of course, Brazil has had at least a decade of strong economic growth, so I’m sure that helps. I’m also sure that the millions who still live in favelas are far from content, even if things are improving.

The cafes here are also interesting. First, there are more juice bars than coffee shops, which makes sense in a place where the temperature seldom drops below 15 degrees. But also, the cafes are so unpretentious – scruffy even. Just small holes in the wall and plastic chairs on the pavements. It’s almost as if the important thing is the people, the company and the food/drink, not the trappings.

I should mention that I am competing with buzzing things for my drink, which is called Guarana Antarctica, a classic soda in Brazil made from berries from the Amazon. There is certainly no shortage of buzzing, biting things in Rio, and it must be worse the closer to the tropics and the rainforest you get. Yesterday’s tour was breathtaking. I count myself so fortunate to have the opportunity to see such beautiful places in the world.

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