Monday, June 28, 2010

Random Observations

6 months till Christmas, give or take.

Today a man who became Senator long before I was born died. Longest serving senator in our history.
Had a nice violin lesson today...have completed Dona Pro Nobis and a very boring Schumann piece that was all about staccato.
Still have about 45 minutes of daylight; maybe I should go pull some more weeds!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What if anything do Alums want?

Yesterday I sat in on my first meeting of the first national advisory board for the alumni relations department of my university. There are about 20 people on the board and to start the meeting we went around the group introducing ourselves and telling how we are involved with the university. I was one of the last to go and after telling them when I attended and what I now do, I politely said that I wasn't sure why I had been asked to be on the board since I have not actually been involved with the university since I graduated 25 years ago. Apparently I am the only one who really has no involvement aside from financial donations that was asked to participate.

As the meeting went on I was struck by two things: first, oh yes, I had attended a Catholic University and second, I was the only one who seemed to think that perhaps there were alums who really didn't want to be involved.

On the first, it wasn't as if I had really forgotten that it was a catholic school, it was more that I forgot that for some people, that was THE most important aspect of it both during school and since they graduated. For me, it was important at the time, but over time has become a non-event in my perspective. Yet for the others, figuring out how to continue to 'bring Christ' to the alums was an important aspect of what they thought we should do.

On the second, I had listened to the discourse on low attendance levels at sponsored events for the alums and the ways we could improve their involvement. My head kept spinning around the idea of why we felt we needed more of them to come to these things (I myself do not attend them). The group discussed the idea that the University didn't just teach students it helped develop a community, a lifelong community. I agree with that. It's just that the community that I developed while in college, my friends, are with whom I would want to gather, not a bunch of random strangers from 80+ years of graduates.

Why then does the university feel so strongly that we need to increase involvment? What they really should want is for the alums to feel passionate, positive about the school and to want to take one of 2 steps from there. Either feel compelled to support the university through financial donations OR feel compelled to support the university by promoting it vocally to their networks The idea of financial support is well known to most is probably the biggest complaint they have, that the university is constantly hounding them for money. There are some, like me, who have no problem contributing the university financially. But for others, it is simply not an option for them at this time in their lives. So they avoid contact with the university.

It seems to me that trying to get us to show up at events is only one tactic to increase alum involvement. Perhaps we should be spending less time with events and more time sharing the message that one of the best ways they can help the university is by being viral: by sharing the experiences THEY had at the school, with parents and potential students of the university. The university thrives on new student enrollments and getting the school to be a first choice for potential freshmen is critical. I suspect that most alums have good feelings about the university and would be willing to be part of the viral communication paths even if they can't be part of the traditional financial contribution path. By being an 'apostle' of the university, spreading the word about what it is doing, why it is a good school, what the student can learn there DIFFERENT from what they can learn at another institution, the alum is in fact helping the financial needs of the school.

Perhaps the message to the alums needs to be different.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What's wrong with us?

Last night I finally understood where the Disney Epcot people got their idea for the laser light show they put on every night: Hong Kong harbour! It was quite the sight and apparently they put it on everynight.

Today started off fairly well...had the best night of sleep in a week and had some dim sum, noodles and bacon for breakfast (isn't everything better with bacon).
We were picked up and driven to our first meeting in China, in Shenzen. The ride there was fine...had to fill out some immigration forms but the actual immigration process was surprisingly uncomplicated. We never actually left the car. The Hong Kong portion was rather veiled with our passports disappearing behind a paper-covered window after a quick match up of our pictures to our actual faces. Then we drove maybe 200 yards and went through a similar but friendlier process with the Chinese. Once through immigration, the car switched sides of the road (China drives on the same side as the US, Hong Kong the same side as Britain). We arrived in downtown Shenzen without issue and found our way to the office where our meeting was to be held. While a good meeting all in all (B failed to make it as his UAL flight made an emergency landing in Seattle when they realized they didn't have enough oxygen on the plane!), the meeting room was not air-conditioned or even well ventilated. Remember, it's June. In China. Hot and humid. After almost 3 hours of meeting, I was soaked through.
From there we headed further north into China and visited a wretched facility which is supposedly one of the better ones in the area. Four tall stories, crumbling staircases, no air conditioning, little ventilation, hot machines running, women sitting on hard wooden benches manually assembling batch work. Absolutely horrid working conditions that in the US would not be tolerated (hence the reason why most US companies have moved their manufacturing offshore). On the third floor they are spray painting by hand every piece of a plastic animal; the place reeks of paint fumes and paint remover fumes (for every piece is not only hand painted but then retouched by hand to remove any stray paint). I was disgusted by the entire situation: that I engage in hiring these kinds of factories, that they exist at all, that most Americans really don't care how their products get made as long as they can get what they want at a cheap price. Would we be so materialistic if we had to pay the price if produced to American working standards?
I couldn't wait to get out of there and into our hotel. Hoping for a chance to get a massage after lugging my bags for the last week and having heard how fabulous the massages are, I stumbled through the communication process to try to book the treatment only to be told that only men are allowed massages. Unbelieveable! Insulted and disgusted, I have returned to my room to shower and recompose myself before I have to turn up at dinner with the all male group I am with.
One more day of this terrible country.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ramblings on a day in Kowloon

Sitting in Kowloon, just across the harbour from Hong Kong, grateful for the invention of air conditioning. We arrived early this morning from Sydney; it was a smart idea to take the overnight flight. First time on a Cathay Pacific flight and quite possibly the most comfortable nights sleep I have had on a plane. Their business class section is unusual in that it doesn't have any rows of seats but rather a series of 'pods'...hard to describe but think of a chevron pattern and each of the lines is a pod. So there is really no point in traveling with someone as you can not easily see or talk to them...which is fine for an overnight flight. The pods are a bit claustrophic at first and definitely strange during take off when instead of being pressed into your seat back by the gravitational pull, you feel yourself falling sideways backwards. And trying to see out the window on landing is challenging as you must crane your neck about 100 degrees to see out the window.
I crossed the plane's threshold into the jetway and was instantly blinded by condensation on the lens' of my glasses. It is a city sized steamroom here!
The city is simultaneously futuristic and historic: gloriously modern architecture next door to hideously decaying structures overlook a harbour where enormous container ships dwarf the ancient junks they navigate past.
Cartier on every other corner, with small Asian markets between, selling unreadable packages of products and unimaginably strange food products. Giant metal cranes show their necks all over the city while all the scaffolding is hand tied bamboo poles.
The hotel room has a door bell. And delightfully an electric kettle for an afternoon cup of tea (so nice of them to retain the British influence)! And outlets that take American plugs!
An early afternoon rain shower made no difference to my appearance or my attitude as the humidity on its own had left me damp all over and the rain actually felt refreshing. So different than how I felt about the rain in Scotland...cold and discouraging.
Victoria's Peak has yet to peak out of the clouds today and while it will prevent me from seeing the best view of the city, it has also resulted in there being virtually no pollution problem today.
Tonight we're off to the night Market on Temple street and the laser show that plays across the buildings of Hong Kong.