Thursday, March 29, 2012

21st century fun

After reading somewhere that David Hockney is creating almost as much art nowadays on his iPad as he is in his studio, I decided not to feel guilty about playing with several art "apps" on my iPad. The app I am currently loving is called Art Set, and offers the dabbler a box of supplies, including pastels, tubes of oil paint, colored pencils, a fine-line pencil, two sizes of markers, and crayons. Pick your color, pick your implement--then pick your paper or canvas, choosing both texture and color. Then use sponges, water, and blending tools to work the medium, as well as an eraser that can be rubbed over extraneous marks! Whoever invented the touch-screen tablet has my deepest admiration, but whoever invented this application has my undying gratitude! The last picture (on the right) with the multi-colored flower pattern was created in two minutes on an app called Finger Paint (not related to the app called Finger-Paint (hyphen is only difference), but--alas--it is no longer available.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ambassador of good will

I didn’t intend to carry on so about my dad’s letters. They’ve been a lot of fun for me, but I suspect my reader is tiring of them. So this will be the last post on the topic.

If you haven’t read earlier blogs,  you only need to know that recently I have heard several dozen letters dictated by my dad, who was traveling overseas on business, and mailed to his family in Seattle in 1960. It’s been a lot of fun to reflect on how much has changed for the traveler since then

Flying was easier in those days (even though it took longer). Although he had to cart heavier luggage (and more of it) than we do today, his airline flights were usually pleasant—frequently he commented on the airline attendants who catered to his needs and made sure he was comfortable. His letters recount anecdotes about visiting the cockpit to talk with the pilot and engaging flight attendants in serious discussions about the cultures of the countries he was visiting. Getting through the airport was child’s play compared with today. And when he landed, he was usually met by a business associate who escorted him through immigration and customs. A car and driver waiting at the front door of the airport was standard procedure.

Self-care was minimal for the business traveler in 1960. His business consisted of meetings, arranging for lunches and occasional dinners with the men (yup, 100 percent men) he was doing business with, then writing reports and follow-up notes. He didn’t own quick-dry polyester underwear (it hadn’t been invented yet) to rinse out in his sink at night or need to locate a treadmill (no one did that in the early ‘60s!) for his daily workout. His exercise consisted of walking through scenic gardens, historic sites, ancient ruins, or jammed urban areas where he sought out art galleries and small shops.

Utilizing available services helped a lot. Members of his hotel staff—no matter what country—were always available to dry and press his suit after he was caught in a rain shower, polish his shoes, or sew on buttons that popped off his shirts. He frequently ate dinner at the hotel because it was easy, and almost always ate breakfast in his room. He enjoyed being fussed over by people eager to please him—and likewise spent a huge amount of time learning about the people and the country he was in. Wherever he went, he was greeted warmly and—not infrequently—revered because he was a Westerner.

Courtesy goes a long way. My dad was a true gentlemen. He would never have occurred to him to yell at someone who couldn’t understand him, or snap at someone struggling to perform a service. He encountered many people in the course of a day—whether at home or abroad—who were not as fortunate as he. He never presumed entitlement to any special treatment. One of the few times I remember him becoming angry with me was a day my sister and I were ridiculing some men who were doing yard work at our home. That lesson was a powerful one for me—a thirteen-year-old—and never forgotten. Privilege does not make one person better than another!

Armed with that attitude, he was a wonderful ambassador of good will for the U.S.A. I have understood this for years, but hearing the letters again (as well as reading dozens of handwritten letters sent between 1959 and 1963) has added substance to my understanding.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

More about Dad's letters

As I mentioned in my last posting, a couple of themes emerged as I listened to Dad’s recorded letters for the first time in fifty years. One topic I didn’t mention was how differently business was conducted then.

But let me back up: Several readers have asked me what kind of work my father did that caused him to spend so much time in the Far East. In 1959 Dad was put in charge of the International Banking Department at Seattle First National Bank (Seafirst)—the state of Washington’s largest bank at that time. Funds were available to loan to countries that were increasing or developing trade with the U.S., and Seafirst, situated on the edge of the Pacific Rim, was in a great position to build relationships with banks in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan--and probably a few I've forgotten.

Building relationships was a strong suit of my dad’s, and when he replaced the retiring manager of what was then a stagnant International Department at Seafirst, business soared.

Dad’s work in the Far East was essentially conducting meetings with other bankers, to let them know the ways that Seafirst could help them increase their business. He made appointments for one-on-one presentations, spoke to clusters of decision-makers at a given financial institution, entertained its key players at lunch and sometimes dinners. After his daily appointments were complete, he sent off letters and reports to his office by 'snail mail.' Then he was free until the next day.

In reading and listening to letters from four years of travel (’59 to ’63), I have found reference to only one successful Long Distance phone call home! In those days, a long distance operator placed the call, and the few times he tried to call home (in cases where he'd received a letter from home with concerning news), the operator wasn't able to locate a cable clear enough for verbal communication.

But even after faithfully writing (or dictating on the SoundScriber) long letters to his family several times a week, he had more leisure time than business travelers do now. He didn’t have to answer e-mails, transmit text messages, contend with poor cell-phone reception or Faxes that were malfunctioning. He wasn’t obliged to “touch base” with anyone back home. He couldn’t be tempted to Tweet or post his experiences on any social network, and he couldn’t grab a quick news update from CNN, or even be tempted to catch the latest episode of a favorite TV show.  

After his work was done, he explored his host country, and because Dad was curious about, and enthralled with, whatever country he was visiting, he participated in the local scene as much as he could. He used his free time to sightsee and attend concerts, dance programs, and to visit art galleries and museums. He accepted invitations to business associates’ homes. In the process he endeared himself to many people he met and became increasingly fond of his associates-turned-friends with each trip.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Letters from Dad 1961

A couple of themes emerged as I listened to Dad’s recorded letters again after fifty years: age—how it’s relative; the world—how it’s shrunk; travel—how it’s changed.
When he was alive, my dad seemed infinitely wiser than I. Now I’ve caught up, surpassing him in years and probably wisdom. In one of his letters, Dad refers to a new acquaintance as a “charming elderly man, probably about  seventy-one or -two.”  Little did he think, as he wrote those words, that years later his daughter would be a charming (we hope), elderly woman as she listened again to the letter !

In his circle my father was regarded as a learned, educated, worldly man. By today’s standards, he would seem naïve. Prior to his international business travel that began in 1959, he had not traveled outside U.S. territories. He prepared for his travel mostly by reading, and talking to people who had traveled to faraway destinations. He had no personal computers, Internet, DVDs, online universities, or TV educational channels to expose him to the world. Nothing he read, however, prepared him for some of his encounters, such as attitudes toward servitude, or the two-class system based on gender he observed in many countries.

With each trip, he came home increasingly informed and enthused, never ceasing his passionate curiosity about the cultures he’d encountered. His leisure became absorbed by the study of Japanese language and oriental art, reading and writing haiku and prose, as well as maintaining personal relationships with many of his newly made acquaintances. As a college student, I was introduced to dozens of travelers  “passing through” Seattle, whom my father had met in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and India. And there were dozens more I didn’t meet, but who were entertained by my father and mother in their home.

We were all naïve by today’s standards. In one of the recorded letters from New Delhi, Dad plays popular music blaring from a ‘new fangled’ transistor radio he bought in Tokyo for the first five minutes of the recording.  It was his first trip to India (also his last, although he had no way of knowing that), and he wanted his family to vicariously share his experience. We had never heard anything like the sitar or the half-tone tremolos of the vocalists!

Stay tuned for more observations.