If You’re Going to Lay Pipe, Why Not Do It Right?

How Do I Mix Oil and Water?

These oil spills can be prevented, not to be confused with the term “Oil Sands,”but do I have your attention?

You don’t.   Not unlike capitalists and environmentalists.  

But if you’re going to lay pipe, why not do it right (twice)?  The Calgary-based TransCanada’s $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline is the dubious answer.  The proposed pipeline is a major infrastructure project that would create 20,000 unionized construction jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax and other revenues in the six states through which it would pass. How about we appease both sides of this controversy; the environmentalist hate it and the capitalists love it; by adding to the mix?  Add a water pipeline.  An irrigation pipeline.  Bury it right next to the oil pipeline.  Collect and dispense water from the pipeline as needed.

Send it down and dispense it through parched draught stricken lands and collect it from flood swollen, land dispensing and collecting water as needed, creating the most progressive irrigation system the world has ever known.  Where in the world are we experiencing droughts?  Think Texas.  Not to mention Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.  Check out Wall Street Journal Business article called “Facing Up to End of ‘Easy Oil’” by Ben Casselmann, dated May 24, 2011.

The sweetest part of all… the oil companies and the Canadian government and Canadian corporations can subsidize it.  Just ask Exxon.  They’re spending millions to advertise it.  Ask Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer.  He can hardly refuse a slam dunk.  Don’t forget our environmentalists.  Ask Margot Kidder arrested for protesting the pipeline.  Is she going to deny the drought and flood victims the relief from water?  Water, life giveth, life taketh away.

Oil Sands!

Oil Sands

Now it’s up to our State Department.  They need to decide before year-end (2011).  Move over Bill!  Maybe it’s time for Hillary to lay some pipe.  How do you mix oil and water?!  Wired  Magazine has some ideas.  Maybe we lay less pipe?

In any case, nothing is ever easy.  Unless you’re Bill.

 

Threadbare – Not Just Another Pretty Face

“When you bust through all the layers of brevity and you have shaken all the hands of hope, you can begin to share the depths of depression joblessness can bring.”

This pretty much sums it up if you are over 50 and looking for employment.

Reg – Not Just Another Pretty Face.

When I decided to do this story about my good friend, Reg Lepper I thought maybe it would help him by building on the social networking he had already begun on LinkedIn and Facebook.

As I began learning more from him about his 27 plus year career at Hartmarx, known for its Hart Schaffner & Marx and Hickey Freeman suits, and for making President Obama’s inauguration tuxedo and topcoat, I realized the complex struggle he and his cadre of sales professionals and the plant workers endured.

The company and its United States subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in January, 2009. Workers threatened to occupy Hartmarx’s plant if the company’s creditor, Wells Fargo Bank, attempted to lay off workers and liquidate the company’s assets.

In August 2009, Emerisque Brands UK and its partner SKNL North America completed their purchase of Hartmarx.While Reg survived the bankruptcy of Hartmarx, the acquisition, ultimately of a foreign owned conglomerate based in India, many of his friends and fellow employees lost their jobs.

Not to be outdone Reg took it upon himself to write an impassioned plea, (click on the link “a letter to the President”) a letter to the President of the United States, Barrack Obama, the beneficiary of the afore-mentioned Hart Schaffner & Marx suits.  Fifteen (15) months after the acquisition Reg, too lost his job.

Like many who are unemployed, Reg wants to work.  He wants to support his family.  Like millions of Americans, there have been forks in the road and to make ends meet, he needs a job.  Reg is, as I describe him on LinkedIn.com business social networking site.

Reg’s now been unemployed for 7 months.  Not for lack of trying.  Reg has employed every means of looking for work.  Shunned by “head hunters” most likely due to his age, Reg is 64.  I can personally vouch for the fact he doesn’t behave or look a day over 30… OK so he looks a bit older, but he’s a firm believer in exercise, has been a long time distance runner.  Now his knees are telling him he needs to go shopping for a good bike – cheap!

That aside, Reg has been and is actively looking for work.  Sending out his (click on the link to Reg’s “resume“) resume doing  job interviews, volunteering his time for Career Ministry and consulting their members regarding many aspects of their search for new opportunities and careers.

Reg isn’t alone.  This is a nationwide plight affecting thousands of households across America.  If you are over 50 and unemployed in today’s economy, you could be facing many challenges including a mortgage underwater.  In such cases, how can you move to accept a job offer across the country?  What if you took a second mortgage out to pay for your kid’s tuition?  What if your kid is living at home because he or she can’t find a job or can’t afford to make ends meet on their own?

So is Reg’s story only about being a high income earner and over 50 an age related layoff?  I began to see there are many other dynamics in play.  Those dynamics include government and politics; how an increase in payroll taxes on corporate America has impacted US manufacturing jobs; and the shift in manufacturing jobs overseas.

Add TARP and “too big to fail”. i.e., Wells Fargo into the picture.  Let’s not forget the unions. Hoping to save their jobs and start a national movement, Hartmarx workers were pressuring Wells Fargo, the company’s main creditor, to approve the sale of Hartmarx to a buyer that would keep it alive instead of liquidating it and most likely putting its celebrated labels on suits made overseas, The New York Times’s Steve Greenhouse reported.tty face.

While I’m not going to rehash all the events which took place and detail the timeline I think it is interesting to point out there were a number of high profile players involved in the decline of the 124 year old company.

While researching this debacle 9 out of every 10 – news articles or posts reference corporate greed or the big bad bank, in this case Wells Fargo, as the culprit.

“That begs the question, “who buys Hartmarx suits?”

The answer is, “Wall Street bankers.”  OK, so who is demonizing Wall Street?  Obama and his posse, including Dick Durbin, Chuck Shumer and Barney Frank those who were championing the case for Hartmarx and union labor against Wells Fargo.

As reported by Progress Illinois:   The news of a potential liquidation (of Hartmarx) caused workers, union leaders, and members of Congress to spring into action to aid the company, which employs 3,000 people nationwide, including 1,000 in Illinois.  Rep. Phil Hare, who spent 13 years as a Hartmarx employee, described himself as “livid” at the bank, which accepted $25 billion in federal bailout funds. He went on to enlist the help of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Rep.  Jan Schakowsky, whose great-aunt found a job with Hartmarx after emigrating from Russia, called Wells Fargo CEO John Strumpf and urged him to keep the company running.  Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, meanwhile, sent a letter to Strumpf threatening to sever the state’s business with the bank if Hartmarx was ultimately liquidated.

Days after suit maker Hartmarx was sold to Emerisque and its Indian partner S Kumars Nationwide Ltd, SKNL a textile giant three US plants of the clothier have been shut down resulting in the loss of over 500 jobs.  Not a peep out of President Obama, then or now and the Hartmarx factory making his suits in Des Plaines… still open.

Obama, proudly flashing the Hartmarx label

While they may have saved some jobs, politicians and union bosses who should know better and who have voted consistently for more government and more spending weren’t helping the cause.  They may have acted like they are helping Hartmarx employees but their votes for higher taxes and more spending were helping to drive manufacturing jobs overseas.

Reg, on the other hand took it upon himself to champion the cause for Hartmarx workers.  He wrote a letter to the President and stirred the political “hornet’s nest” to get politicians pontificating and deserves a lot of credit for saving US worker’s jobs.

Let it be stated, from all accounts, Emerisque, a British private equity firm working with SKNL, has been doing all it can do to promote and keep the US plants open. In fact, Bud” McCullar, a partner at Emerisque called Reg and commented on how much he cared about the company and fellow employees.  Here’s a quote from Mr. McCullar on Reg’s LinkedIn profile.

“Reg is the consummate seller for an ever evolving apparel and consumer products segments.  From presenting to closing, ever the professional.”

There’s a great book called Built to Last written by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras.  A very dear friend of mine recommended the book to me.   She has been fighting breast cancer for the past 10 years or more.  Apparently she, too, is “built to last.”  Thank God.

The authors define their choice of successful companies’ continued success to be built on “core values” and continued innovation by trying many things through change and recognizing and staying with what works.

If you are the management (CEO) of a company large or small it is your job to see to it you take care of the bottom line and all that goes with it.  That would be principally “cash  flow” management.  Too often, cash flow management is lost on CEOs who are paid for short term gains which inevitably cause long term pain.

That’s why small business is the backbone (more than 70 percent) of the US economy.  For small business cash flow is king.  Our only short term goal is to stay in business, cash flow and grow.

Maybe if more corporate giants and Wall Street bankers had stuck to their core values we wouldn’t be in as big a mess as we are now in today?  Case in point, the merger and acquisition (M&A) frenzy in the 90’s.  Corporate giants, including banks, joined in the M&A rush, to the extent some industry experts were predicting there would only be 3-4 large bank holding companies left in America.

Hartmarx too, jumped into the fray with an acquisition in late 1996.  They added two more in 1998.  In late summer 1999,they added another.  Maybe these acquisitions were good for the company.  I’m not here to judge.  What’s intriguing about the acquisitions is the correlation with offshoring.

In the 1990’s Hartmarx began the offshoring of production facilities to control costs. During that period, they closed ten domestic factories and shifted production to the Far East, Mexico, and Costa Rica.

Someone should have written a book titled Built to “Be” Last – The Decline in Manufacuring Jobs in America – as American manufacturing companies began moving production overseas.

Now here’s the strongest argument yet to keep as to why there are fewer and fewer manufacturing jobs here in America.  If it were not for payroll taxes many more manufacturing jobs in America would have been saved.

While everybody was pointing fingers, blaming everyone but themselves for plant closings and lost jobs, you need not look further than, “it’s payroll taxes… (I’ll let you finish the sentence).”  Granted corporate greed is a factor here.  The problem is many large corporations are multi-national and feel the pressure from foreign competitors not burdened with the higher payroll taxes on workers.

Our government raised payroll taxes in April 1983.  The illustration here shows the investment US corporations began to make overseas according to PoliticalCalculations.com as “unintended consequences” of the payroll tax increase.

If you are a “for profit” company and it is your job to increase shareholder value, you are going to look for ways to lower your costs.  Increasing the payroll taxes on American workers was a major impetus to shift American manufacturing overseas.

We vote to place politicians in office to spend our tax dollars wisely.  They don’t.  On the other hand, we vote with our investment dollars to allow corporate “greed” to profit on the backs of American workers.  They do.

It’s time politicians wake up and reverse the course of lost manufacturing jobs by eliminating payroll taxes and adopting  the FairTax – see www.Fairtax.org.

Ultimately it is up to us as individuals to make the right choices.  This debt crisis is our wake-up call.  Let’s get back to our core values.  If you ask Reg it’s about God, family the desire to contribute his tremendous talent and work ethic to a company and a country “built to last.”

Made in the USA doesn’t have to be about politics or unions.  My good buddy Reg and many of those that have suffered the “unintended consequences” of increases in payroll taxes and lost  manufacturing jobs, will find no comfort here.

For more on Reg click here resume.

Rejection wasn’t my strong suit!

The difference between Fred and myself?
Fred knew when he was lying.

My first job out of college was to work for ACME Forms.  My Dad owned ACME. Dad was the only full-time employee.   Business was good.

I joined my Dad as a sales rep in 1974. We were a force of two.  My Mom was the part time administrative support person and the mother of six.   I was the future.   It was a shaky start.  My job was to get new business.  I used the phone to solicit appointments.  I can remember my voice quaked and my message was ill-prepared.  After exhausting all legitimate leads I was proffered, by phone, I hit the road.

My first cold call, “cold “ being the vernacular used for an unsolicited visit on an unsuspecting business to make a sales pitch.  I was a major contributors as to why there are so many “No Solicitors” sign on doors.

Like the polyester plaid I was wearing, rejection isn’t my strong suit.  I have to admit there were days I could not face the day ahead without becoming physically ill, cramps and vomiting, anticipating the rejection that inevitably lay ahead.

For better or worse, most of the businesses I “solicited” on the south side of Chicago, were unaccustomed to a 21 year old young man in polyester and a “pleather” briefcase showing up at their door.  My first “sales call” and I use the term loosely, required considerable surveillance.  I drove around the block several times. In the end, it was a relief to just to be dismissed.  To hear a simple “no thanks” was a victory, of sort.  I had broken the sound barrier.  I had made contact with the other side.  Soon, I was making 20 cold calls in a day.

Thankfully gas was 30 cents a gallon!  My father would get a call from someone I had visited and he would say, “Yes, that’s my son, he’s like manure, he’s spread all over the place.”  The message was loud and clear, I needed to take the next step, get to the next level.

Speaking of manure, here’s a great joke from Ronald Reagan, only takes a minute, during one of his speeches.  Precious really.  Good clean fun!

I needed to convince my prospects I wasn’t just another pretty face in plaid polyester.  My contacts were bewildered, annoyed, amused, indifferent or thankfully, on rare occasion, sympathetic to my pitch.  It’s simply amazing.  I became accustomed to the word“no”.   I managed to solicit a cadre of variations   theme to the extent I began to expect and anticipate the response.  I learned to take a “no” and solicit another.  As my skin thickened and the manure piled higher, I was able to garner a “maybe” here and there and occasionally a yes!  It was the “ying and the yang” thing, “Yes means No” to the extent a Tibetan monk would have been proud.

Later, as a regional director at a large corp. at the sage age of 28 years, where I managed more than 70 neophyte sales reps in 10 states, I became well known for the expression, “lose more orders”.  My mantra was the more orders you lose, the more opportunities you have to win.  Spread that manure!  Well not exactly…

Anyway, my dad fired me.  he put me out of my misery!  His too.  He said I needed more experience.  He was right.  I was keeping him too busy  spinning his wheels.  At the time, I was devastated.  I finished the blueberry pancakes my Mom had made me.  I left town to seek employment.  I stayed with the in-laws while looking for work.

I painted their house for $70 bucks, but I painted their windows shut, so we were even.  I found a job right before I was evicted.  But there’s more to the story…

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Stranded! Kim Tran, an American Success Story – Part Two

Kim and her family survived one major ordeal only to face new challenges landing on a small island short of the island of Pulau Bidong, Malaysia.  Two days and nights later they would land on Pulau Bidong and begin an eleven (11) month odyssey on the island. Hard to believe their flight and their plight was perceived a blessing, but a blessing none the less.

There were thousands of their neighbors, friends and relatives who were less fortunate.  Young children, who’s parents had bought their freedom fell victims to pirates, were raped, had their possessions stolen, were thrown overboard or perished from malnutrition or starvation.  Those who remained behind in Saigon, with children too young to travel or couldn’t afford to buy their freedom met similar fates.

Pulau Bidong, one of the scenic and uninhabited islands off located off Kuala Terengganu, is often remembered as the temporary home of the Vietnamese boat people who fled their war-torn country in the 1970s. Out of the estimated 800,000 Vietnamese who left their country during this period, the biggest proportion, more than a quarter of a million, landed on their shores.

Although the island has the capacity to provide shelter for 4,500 refugees at any one time it took up to as many as 20,000 people at one stage, at the height of the arrival of the boat people. Pulau Bidong served as a half-way house for these people before they were sent to other countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and several European countries, and it took time to grant approval to those qualified to be accepted as refugees. Those whose applications were rejected were sent to the Sungai Besi Refugee Camp, where they were later forcibly repatriated back to Vietnam after the war.

In the early stages, the refugees, some with nothing except the clothes on their backs, ate anything they could find on the island including monkeys, frogs and squirrels. The wildlife population was decimated. To ensure the refugees got humanitarian aid and better living conditions, the UNHCR through the International Red Cross supervised the activities on the island.

Long-houses and offices made from wood from the local forest were built and the boat people were provided with better basic needs and amenities such as food, schools, workshops, electricity and water. Perhaps to make it just like home, the camp was subsequently turned into a bustling mini Saigon. It had the trappings of a township – post office, church, temple, tailors, hair salons, sundry shops and even disco and bar. One part of the beach was even named Pantai Cina – China Beach – after its more famous counterpart in Vietnam.

In Kim’s own words…

Later I had learned the aid ship following us was a World Vision Missionary ship.  Approaching land, our boat had stopped once the propeller had stuck in the sand.  The boat had begun to tilt.  Someone had yelled “get off the boat as quickly as possible.”   The boat was taking on water.   The men got off the boat and assisted the women and children toward the shore.  I remembered as I walked toward the beach, my head felt heavier than my body.  Once everyone had gotten to shore safely, each family cleared an area for their family and settled on the beach.  The women used whatever spare clothing they could find to cover the sand, so the elderly and children could sit down. While everyone was busy setting up camp for the night, I looked out at where the boat had been.  Within minutes, it had sunk tail first.  I could not believe it.  We were all stranded on this small island with limited food and water supply (of course, I was too young to worry about food or drink, I just thought of how lucky that I did not drown).  Some people from our boat started to look around the island and search for help but did not see anyone else on the island. The men continued to look around the island and talked among themselves.  The women were asked to occupy the kids.  Our caretaker, Anh, told us stories to help us sleep but I could not sleep that night.  I heard too many strange noises close by.  I stared into the sky.  It was clear with plenty of stars out.  I looked again to the horizon.  There was no remnant our boat had ever existed. 

As the sun rose a boat with Malaysian soldiers approached.  The soldiers told everyone on our boat to surrender all of our gold and valuables to them for safe keeping.  They assured everyone that these items would be recorded and returned to us, once we had been accepted by and ready to depart to a new destination.  Most of the people on our boat were skeptical and didn’t want them holding their valuables.  Finally, the soldiers demanded that if no one surrendered their valuables, we would have to stay on this island until they got what they wanted.  So families started to bring a few pieces of gold to the soldiers.  My dad quickly told my sister, My, and other sisters to keep some gold hidden under their clothes.  My family gave up approximately 50 pieces of gold to the soldiers.  At the time, we didn’t know the exact value of the gold.  The soldiers wrote something down (in Malaysian) and had each family sign.  We had no idea what they had written on those documents.  We believed that the gold pieces were as good as gone.  My dad just considered it payment so we could leave the small island in peace, a down payment on our future.

After this, they left us alone and told us that they would call for assistance.  At that moment, everyone was just relieved, happy and excited that everyone had found FREEDOM.   Later that day, someone was stung by a poisonous sea urchin.  The poison spread so quickly that she went unconscious.  The soldiers called and asked for immediate rescue.  That evening, the rescue boat came.  It only took her and her family and to leave the island first.  They would not take anyone else who had been stranded.  The soldiers pushed the others away from the motor boat.  Someone explained that more boats would be back tomorrow for the rest of us.   That news calmed the remaining people.  One more night, we spent on this isolated island.  The next day around noon time, several boats arrived.  We all packed whatever belongings we had left and we headed toward these boats.  I remembered treading through the clear blue water and attempting to avoid stepping on jelly fish of all colors and sizes that had covered the island’s shoreline.  Luckily no one else got hurt that day.  It was a short ride to a larger island called  Pulau Bidong, where my family would reside for approximately 11 months.  There were plenty of adventures and obstacles to come.

 As we approached new land (Pulau Bidong), we saw the wood dock.  We could see the people on the beach that were Vietnamese by their clothing, which got us all very excited.  Side note:  We all had thought the boats were taking us to main land of Malaysia.  Come to find out, this new home for us all was a refugee camp.  After all of us had gotten off the motor boats, each family looked for a spot for our family on the beach to settle.  Hunger finally hit my family fast and hard.  We were starving. We hadn’t eaten food in several days.  We had only drank water or something close to it.   

There was very little rice left to feed my family of 16 members.  We had to cook rice in a broth to have enough for my family to share.  We shared a small half bowl of white rice soup between us.  We passed the bowl to each family member in turn to sip.  My family had never suffered hunger.  This was a very humbling and frightening experience.  We were a proud family living comfortably to a family starving within a span of 4 days. 

Since the boat that transferred us to Pulau Bidong was the 23rd boat that had arrived at this camp, it was labeled number 23.  The population on Pulau Bidong Island at that time was roughly 40000+ people.  Our boat was assigned to the D or B area of the island.  This was how the island officials would divide and find the families.   That night we slept on a bank along the shore of the island.  The next morning, each family was shown to where we were to live.  When we got to our new home, it was just a patch of dirt.  It was up to us to build a shelter.  Unfortunately for my family, we didn’t have the skill nor the know how to build a structure of any kind and we would rely on other refugees to assist us.  We were tired, fatigued and hungry.  We slept with a plastic tarp for cover.  That 2nd night, thunder and lightning woke us, the rain water soaking us beneath the tarp.   We picked up our belongings to avoid the rain from ruining them.  The rain was so heavy, it poured down the hillside.  We all stood till morning and then we had were provide help to start building our new home. 

My dad and brothers went up the hill to gather woods and branches.  My family had many restless nights in the beginning.  To top it off, I had chronic Asthma attacks.  My family could not get me immediate medical attention.  We had to wait until our family was officially registered into the refugee residential list.  It took two days for the process to be completed.  We were helpless.  We went from a well-to-do family to doing things for ourselves.  It was very difficult life-altering event for our whole family.   Though time was all we had, my family was forced to quickly adapt to our new lives. 

Life on Pulau Bidong – finding clean water was a problem

My family life on Pulau Bidong:

My siblings and I shared one bed. There were 3 beds total in our home.   All of our beds were made with multiple and  uneven branches tied together.  But it was better than the dirt floor.  It was very difficult for my elderly grandmother.  She could not sleep on these beds.  Later on, she bought a wood plank that came from a wrecked boat.  This was used to make a more comfortable bed for her to sleep on.   For cooking, we dug a hole and mounted several rocks for a fire pit.  Other appliances and supplies, we had to buy with gold or money depending on the sellers.  All families received some supplies from the United Nations like rice, instant noodles, and beans.  Note: This is why I dislike beans, especially kidney beans.  To earn a living, my older siblings would buy and sell fresh fruits and others products from a lady, whom was the longest survivor on this island.  This lady would buy her inventory from Malaysian civilians that sail by our island.  The island was deemed a gold mine; for without gold or money no one would survive the hard life.  There was plenty of price gouging.  For instance, one bottle of Coca Cola, which cost 34 Cents, was sold for a $1.00.  This was just a small example.  There was no employment on the island. So, people created their own jobs. 

Some climbed the hill and cut trees for trading with those in need of lumber for shelter or for firewood.  My oldest brother, Jimmy, took on a risky business.  He swam offshore to where Malaysian fishermen boat drifted by.  The fishermen would bring different items to sell items such as axes; hand saws, tents, even cookies, which were in demand in our camp.  Malaysian police patrolled and would beat or kick the sellers and the buyers of these goods.  They would chase off the fishermen. One time, Jimmy had bought 20 axes as the policemen’s canoe was approaching.  Jimmy had to jump off the fisherman boat. The weight of 20 axes sank Jimmy to the bottom of ocean floor.  He panicked but would not give up.  He managed to drag the axes to shore.  Lucky for Jimmy with the weight of the axes he sunk quickly, otherwise the policemen would have beaten him with their sticks regardless if he had surfaced too quickly. 

For drinking water, there were only a few public wells which supported the large population on the island.   We would travel for miles, stood in a long line.  It could stretch for miles and we waited our turn.  Once we reached the well, we would gather a bucket of water.  Public wells soon went dry.  People started to dig their own wells.  Before the water system was built, most private wells were only used for bathing and washing.  The island was undeveloped and not ready to handle people especially large populations.  No sanitary system existed.  Heavy rain would contaminate the water supply and jeopardize the fresh water supply, which made everyone’s life more miserable.  Later on, the United Nations brought in piping and helped build a water system that transferred fresh drinking water for everyone on the island.   

My family tried and gradually adjusted to the lifestyle on the island.  Yet we would continue to pray and hope for a miracle that some country would sponsor us.  My family was low on the list for sponsorship for several reasons.  We were not a part of US military services or affiliated in anyway.  My family was not classified as a priority at that time, the US delegates could not process the sponsorship right away.  My family could only hope and wait for acceptance based on a religious sponsorship.  The biggest problem was the size of my family.  Most groups did not have the financial funds to sponsor 16 people. Our lives on the island were like the movie Groundhog Day and seemed hopelessly mundane.  We all lived day-to-day as  best we could. Churches and temples were built.  W donated wood, tree, and tents.   My brothers, sisters and I would spend our spare time by studying Basic English at any church or temple that offered free classes. 

Who is the shy one? Kim and family – USA – airport

When the last of these boat people left the island in the early 1990s, what remained were mute reminders of recent history: charred wooden buildings and rotting huts which once housed about a quarter of a million boat people since their first arrival in 1978.

Today, the only welcome for visitors to the beach of Pulau Bidong is a barren beachfront stall and glimpses of buildings heavily hidden by overgrown brushwood and bushes. Only emptiness, signboards with Vietnamese characters and names are still on display – ghostly reminder of the past.

Kim recently celebrated her 10th anniversary at Integra Business Systems, Inc.

See Part One…

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Kim Tran, an American Success Story

Kim Tran

Kim Tran has come a long way.  Perhaps farther than most people, over 12,000 circuitous miles from Saigon to the US, settling in the Tampa Bay area; and further than most IT professionals, from a seven (7) year old Vietnam refugee to a Team Leader; a highly respected and valuable technical support representative with over 9 years of service at Integra Business Systems.

When most children her age were contemplating Kindergarten, Kim’s life lessons were forever altered when South Vietnamese President Duong Van Minh delivered an unconditional surrender to the Communists in the early hours of April 30, 1975. The few remaining Americans evacuated Saigon.

There are all kinds of connotations surrounding the term “boat people”.  Here at Integra, when we think of “boat people” they are personified in Kim Tran.  She’s a person with an easy smile and an even easier laugh, albeit more of a shy giggle.   We at Integra are fortunate to have our very own refugee (survivor) of an era of trauma and suffering that once was the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

KIm Tran – Upper Right with Family in Cho Lon

Many people think of Vietnamese refugees, as only those who were fleeing the country in 1975 as the Americans left Vietnam.  In fact, a large number of refugees “boat people” didn’t flee Vietnam until the late 1970’s when China decided to invade Vietnam.

The Chinese began financing the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as a counterweight to the Vietnamese communists at this time.  The Khmer Rouge launched ferocious raids into Vietnam in 1975–1978.  Vietnam responded with an invasion that toppled the Khmer Rouge.  The conflict between Vietnam and Cambodia escalated in 1978.  In response, China invaded Vietnam in 1979. The two countries fought a brief border war, known as the Third Indochina War or the Sino-Vietnamese War.

The short but bloody border war with China a year later resulted in a deliberate policy to encourage the departure of ethnic Chinese(Hoa) from Vietnam.  From 1978 to 1979, some 450,000 Hoa left Vietnam by boat as refugees or were expelled across the land border with China.

In the late 1970s the Socialist Republic of Vietnam took increasingly drastic action to transform the capitalist economy of the south into a socialist one and the Hoa in Vietnam were disproportionately affected, leading to the first wave of ‘boat people’, fleeing the Vietnamese communists, primarily from the South, beginning in April 1978.

Cho Lon (Saigon’s Chinatown)

Kim was a seven (7) year old and a victim of circumstance.  Beginning in 1975, the Hoa bore the brunt of socialist transformation in the South (Vietnam).  An announcement on March 24 outlawed all wholesale trade and large business activities, which forced around 30,000 businesses to close down overnight followed up by another that, banned all private trade. Further government policies forced former owners to become farmers in the countryside or join the armed forces and fight at the Vietnam-Cambodia border and confiscated all old and foreign currencies, as well as any Vietnamese currency in excess of the US value of $250 for urban households and $150 by rural households. While such measures were targeted at all bourgeois elements, such measures hurt thec Hoa the hardest and resulted in the takeover of Hoa properties in and around major cities.  Hoa communities offered widespread resistance and clashes left the streets of Cho Lon full of corpses.  These measures, combined with external tensions stemming from Vietnam’s dispute with Cambodia and China in 1978 and 1979 caused an exodus, a majority of the Hoa, many who fled overland into the province of Guangxi, China, from the North and the remainder fled by boat from the South.  Sadly, officials estimated that nearly one-third of these “boat people” perished at sea from starvation, drowning, and pirates, problems that increased when some Asian countries began turning away boat people.  By the end of 1980, the majority of the Hoa had fled from Vietnam.

This is the story of one of the survivors, one of the Chinese refugees “boat people” from the South and her family; our very own Kim Tran.  Kim Tran, a Team Leader and Technical Support Representative for Integra Business Systems, Inc. since June, 2001 will be celebrating her 10 year anniversary with Integra next year.

In her own words…

“Like many other immigrants after the fall of the South Vietnam or Saigon, my family and I had fled from our country in search of a better life.   My name is Kim H Tran.  What I am about to share is my recollections of my family’s escape from Vietnam.  This is my first time ever that I have written about this.  The event started when I was about 7 years old.

My family was financially well off before we left Vietnam.  We lived in downtown Saigon Cho Lon (Big Market), Vietnam.   I remembered after the war in 1975, many lives, including my family’s, changed forever.  The communist soldiers seized and captured what they deemed to be theirs, which was everything valuable…  Then they posted soldiers at each house and business 24/7.  We had two soldiers posted in front of our home.   Their job was to monitor everyone and every activity.  Large businesses shut down and migrated to other cities. Many families lost family members to the communist’s cause, either by choice or by involuntarily draft.  Saigon was no longer an energized and vibrant city.  It was  replaced by turmoil and confusion.  After the war, my family’s schooling was interrupted.  I remembered being sent away to our plantation in Long Khanh,  for several months then rotated to a factory in My Tho, in another city, for several more months.   My grandmother didn’t want to retain anyone who might attract attention to our home and businesses.  As a consequence, those who cared for my siblings and I (our caretakers) were let go except one, Anh.  Anh was presented as one of the sibling in my family to the soldiers.  
 
One day in 1978, I was awokened by my mom.  I was told to be quiet and get dressed.  She gave me 2 sets of clothing and I was told to wear them both.  I was instructed not to bring any of my personal belongings.  Once my younger brothers were dressed, we were led  by someone to the river.  My grandmother, mom, 4 younger brothers and several other people and I got into the small canoe. 

 The oarsman took us all along the river, which led to the open channel. 

Vietnamese canoe owners were paid to transport passensgers to fishing boats.

As we approached daybreak, two patrolling soldiers in a canoe came from the opening of the channel traveling in the opposite direction of our canoe.  They asked the oarsman, where we were headed.  The oarsman replied, “To a wedding across the way.”  I forgot to mention, we had a passenger pretending to be a bride in our canoe.  The soldier inspected the canoe and passengers and we were allowed to proceed on our way.  As their canoe disappeared, the oarsman and several other people began to row toward the ocean as fast as they could.

There was a planned rendezvous with a larger boat.  We finally reached the bigger boat, all of us were rushed onto the boat and we proceeded quickly below to the engine room.  And it was there that my mom, my younger brothers, several other people and myself stayed for days and nights.  We had neither food nor drink.  I couldn’t tell if it was night or day just darkness all around me.  One day, I was awakened by a soft voice calling my name.  I could barely open my eyes due to fatigue.  As I struggled to open my eyes, I saw a bright light crack open and slowly got wider.  I saw a small arm passing a cup toward my way.  I tried to raise my arms to grab it but my arms felt too heavy.

Someone close to me grabbed it and passed it to me.  First sip, I couldn’t tell what I was drinking.  It tasted lemony but salty and smelled funny.  I pass it back but someone encourage me to drink a little bit more to quench my thirst.  I replied I can’t drink, it tasted so bad.  A soft voice told me, yes but tried anyway.  I took another small sip and passed it along to someone else.  That was the first time, I saw a glimpse of daylight since my family and I boarded the boat.  It seemed like an eternity in the darkness. 

Vietnamese Fishing Boat #23 used by “boat people” in mass exodus.

Later that day, the light shined through from the same opening.  People were allowed to come up on deck to get fresh air.  One after another, people rushed to get out of the pit, as I called it.  My brothers, mom, and I weren’t able to reach. My mom was carrying my youngest brother; he was just a toddler then.  Someone jumped down from on top and took us kids up one by one and lifted us onto the deck. 

I got my first breath; the fresh open air filled my lung so quickly that it hurt.  I felt a boost of energy.  We were then allowed to stay above, seemingly safe from danger.  I looked out onto the ocean and as far as my eyes could see, all that surrounded us was the deep, dark ocean.  No birds or land in site.

As evening came, someone yelled out to get everyone below.  Once more, we were rushed down into the dark, smelly, pit of hell.  Everyone was told to keep silent.   A lady sitting next to me was pregnant and had a toddler.  The toddler wasn’t feeling well and started to cry.  Up above the deck, someone hushed us and told us all to keep the kids quiet.  This lady had to quiet her child by using her hand to cover her toddler’s mouth.  She held her child close to her body.  It seemed like hours.  The engine grew louder as it strained for more power.  The smell of engine oil burning became even stronger and almost unbearable.  The boat rocked violently from side to side with such force that people were thrown one on top of another. 

Soon I heard voices but I couldn’t recognize what was being said.   I heard a lot of commotion above me, but I couldn’t see anything but darkness.  Someone opened the hatch from where we were hiding below and spoke out.  I still couldn’t understand what that person was saying.  Another voice said, “It’s OK, come on up.”  People slowly climbed out one by one, all of them frightened.  When it was my turn, I remember a pair of large arms grabbed me and pulled me up.  I was passed to another person.  I must have blacked out. 

When I came to, I was on a big ship.  Later I learned it was a World Vision missionary ship.  People were talking strange, I couldn’t understand word.  I found myself wearing a strange think woven sheet around me.  Someone passed me some French biscuits (cookies).  I received several shots in the arm.  They directed me to follow the crowd towards our boat.  There was more turmoil back and forth from those on our boat with those on the ship.  Women from our boat started crying, which led us kids to also cry.  In the end, unwillingly, we had no choice but to board our smaller boat.  The ship departed but followed us for a time.  Morning came and evening came.  We felt lost and abandoned.  The rescue ship long since disappeared.   As our boat traveled on the open ocean, seemingly aimless, I saw wood planks floating very close to our boat.  First there was one, then another and then even more.  People started to worry.  Then the captain on our boat yelled out, “I see land ahead.”   The mood on our boat changed from one of doom to one of relief.  The boat grounded.  Those who could got off the boat and assisted the others to shore.  They carried women and children on their backs.  Once on dry land, I rememebered looking back and watching the boat sink into the sea.  We were stranded.

Kim has recently celebrated her 10th anniversary at Integra Business Systems, Inc.

To be continued… see Part Two

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Livestrong Anyway!

Make no mistake about it, Lance Armstrong is no Mother Teresa!   If Lance is guilty of doping, what should we do?  Take away his bike? 

My message is less about Lance, the man and more about Lance, the messenger.

I am sure you have heard the expression, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”  Regardless of how you feel or think about the man, the message is clear, “Livestrong Anyway”.

Recently my sister Kay was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Thank God, she will survive, albeit after suffering surgery, chemo and radiation therapy.  For Kay, amongst  many untold stories, there is a long hard road ahead.  Our family, myself included, has always been an advocate for the fight to cure cancer.  We have friends and family members fighting Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer and MS.  We are no strangers to the challenges life imposes upon all of us.

I maintain a good fiction writer could tell a story as good as the story Landis has told about allegations Armstrong was doping (In 2006 Floyd Landis was stripped of his title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone).  Landis knew all the ins and outs of doping and he wasn’t the only malcontent that had hung out with Armstrong, so the courts will need plenty of corroboration from cyclists who either were complicit or witnessed the doping.  As soon as Landis came out with his story Armstrong should have sued him instead of dismissing him as a loser.  There’s too much at stake.

For my part, there are lots of questions.  How many of us could have endured Armstrong’s road to a cure from a tumor that had metastasized to his brain and lungs?  How many of us could have endured the challenges of winning seven 7 consecutive Tour de France races, typically 21 days of racing and covers 3,200 kilometres (2,000 mi) championships?  Is he less of a champ if he was cheating or only if he is caught?  Could it be said he won fair and square since most likely everyone was cheating?

In 1998 the race stopped in protest at what the riders saw as heavy-handed investigation of drug-taking allegations.

In 1998 the Festina team was disqualified after revelations of organized doping within the team.

In 2006 Floyd Landis was stripped of his title after testing positive for synthetic testosterone.

In 2007 team Astana abandoned after Alexander Vinokourov was caught doping

In 2007 Michael Rasmussen was removed by his team while wearing the yellow jersey for lying about his whereabouts during a team training session in Mexico.

In 2008 Riccardo Ricco was kicked out of the race after testing positive for CERA

In 2008 Moises Duenas Nevado was kicked out of the race after testing positive for Erythropoietin

In 2008 Manuel Beltrán was kicked out of the race after testing positive for EPO

In 2010, Alberto Contador,  the three-time Tour de France champion was provisionally suspended by the international cycling federation after a small amount of the banned drug clenbuterol was discovered in one of his samples by a laboratory in Cologne, Germany.

My message is Livestrong Anyway!  LIVESTRONG  http://www.livestrong.org/ has a life of its own.

Many good-hearted folks worry about the consequences of the weighty accusations and bad press about Armstrong which Livestrong and Armstrong must endure.  A friend of mine, pictured here below has raised thousands of dollars for Livestrong and for a cure.  She recently wrote, “It makes me nervous for Livestrong and the 28 million people living with cancer.”  So what happens to an organization built on the courage and determination of one man?  The organization is built upon people who are dedicated to the fight against cancer; who have family members with cancer or who are cancer survivors themselves, such as Doug Ulman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Livestrong.  Whatever the outcome, what the many volunteers and the organization Livestrong has done for cancer victims cannot be undone, which has  all been great.  Excellence survives!

In any case, I’m a much bigger fan of Mother Teresa.

Anyway

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway!
If you do good, people will accuse you
of selfish, ulterior motives.
Do good anyway!
If you are successful, you will win
false friends and enemies.
Succeed anyway!
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway!
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway!
What you spend years building may be
destroyed overnight.
Build anyway!
People really need help
but may attack you if you help them.
Help them anyway!
Give the world the best you have
and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway!

Written by: Mother Teresa

Whatever the outcome, whatever Armstrong  has done, what Livestrong has done for cancer victims cannot be undone, which has been all great.  Even Mother Teresa had her doubts about her God, so why should we doubt Lance, the supreme being of cycling?

“We are golden”

“We are golden”, taken from the song Woodstock

The song is by Joni Mitchell and here are the lyrics

I came upon a child of god
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me
I’m going on down to yasgurs farm
I’m going to join in a rock n roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

——————

Mid-September we had the good fortune to visit Napa, Sonoma and the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) which was a pleasant diversion from the repressive heat and humidity in Tampa, FL.  What a scenic smorgasbord!  The vistas afforded us along the PCH, were seemingly in relief of every hairpin curve, and unequalled by the last, were spectacular (more on the wine country and the PCH later). 

This post is all about the journey.  Our travels took us south from Sonoma on Hwy 101 over the Golden Gate Bridge.  Good advice from the omniscient Charles allowed us to travel mostly rush hour free.  The journey began in Sonoma and took us through  a very eclectic part of San Francisco.

San Francisco didn’t disappoint its climatic reputation for chilling shades of grey.  Shades of grey were evident even in people’s faces.  People’s faces were nothing short of grim.  Granted it was early, in particular for students.  And their faces could be interpreted to be determined.  Somehow their expressions seemed to fall short.  Determined would include optimism.  There was plenty of time sitting at stop lights to people watch, up close and personal.  Their faces seemed short on both optimism and pessimism.  Instead, people seemed disenchanted if not just plain tired.  Maybe it was the houses, stacked upon each other; or the people getting in each other’s way, skilled at avoidance, but not in familiarity, which bred an absence of smiles.

Fortunately there was a change of face during our journey.  It was very similar to travelling over the Golden Gate Bridge.  People’s faces brightened measurably as we moved south from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. As we left San Francisco behind, traversed the Golden Gate Bridge we felt a mixture of emotion.  As we reached its apex, we enjoyed views of the city and the Pacific.  This brought us a sense of relief and optimism, looking forward to visiting the coastal cities of Monterey, Carmel and San Simeon; and the state parks showcasing majestic redwoods and the coastline along the Pacific Ocean.  “Back to the Garden.”

Was it so long ago?

Who amongst us never experienced the thrills and spills learning to ride a bike? You may still remember the cement sidewalk in front of you, rushing closer and closer until you kissed its rough surface with your face, your hands or your knee. Then, finally you were able to roll over those cracks (the one’s that broke your mother’s back) spinning freely, and spoiling gravity’s hold upon you. It is your first freedom ride, a ride outside your parent’s grasp, still sharing a rewarding moment in time with Dad, Mom or both.

If you never tried cycling, you’re never too old to acquire some pedal power, whether it be a beach cruiser or a sleek racing bike. You are just a few bumps and bruises away from one of the best of times life affords us.

Many of us have always had a bike. We will take it for a casual spin, but the bike spends more time resting in a corner or hanging from the ceiling of the garage. At the opposite end of the spectrum there are a select few who have become elite cyclists, who have made a profession out of cycling. The most famous of all cycle races, the Tour de France is in its 4th day of 21 days of speed and endurance racing.

A growing number of us have taken up cycling as a sport, like tennis or golf. We may ride 4-5 times weekly on local bike paths or the more serious among us, cycle on the roadways, preferably in bike lanes, where afforded us. The more serious riders may have taken to Event riding, from charity rides, like bikeMS, a weekend ride; to endurance rides, like Ride the Rockies, a seven day ride through mountainous terrain. Club rides are also popular, for the social aspect and riders gather based on skill level and ride in numbers before or after work hours and weekends.

Where the rubber meets the road, there are always conflicts of interest. Those of us who are more taken to automobiles than bikes may not appreciate the sight of spandex in its many shapes and sizes, slowing or getting in the way of our progress. Some cyclists are rude and blatantly disobey the rules of the road. Some are ignorant or unaware. Some are just plain day-dreaming or not paying attention, as they should, in traffic, where the same rules apply for both cyclists and automobiles. Subsequently the same applies to motorists. One might suggest, the same personalities whether on a bike or in an automobile act in much the same way.

Cyclist or motorist, let’s reflect back on our childhood memories; those precious moments we share in common, when we first learned to ride a bicycle; then try to getting along. It could be, “just like getting back on a bike”.

Share the road.

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