Archive November 2018

Home Buying Can Be Joyful Chaos

Home buying and selling are examples of leadership activities. I teach leadership principles to three classes at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. We recently discussed the quote: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” Students learned that leadership in the home is the highest priority. They learned that for most people, the single biggest financial decision they will make will involve buying a home.

In addition to teaching students a topic, I am tasked with giving them an experience in American culture. So, I devised a way for them to learn all of these leadership principles, practice making an important decision, learn additional vocabulary, experience the “American Dream,” and have fun–all at the same time.

I started by printing out home information sheets from Zillow. I chose the Atlanta area and filtered for homes in the $250K to $300K range. For each home, I determined an unmet need and wrote it on an instruction sheet for each pair of students. For instance, one sheet might say, “You own a beautiful home on Sheffield Way, but your mother is coming to live with you and you need a place for her.”

Students paired up while we learned how to navigate “ad speak” such as “w/frplc” (with fireplace), or “bsmnt” (basement). Students had a hard time, but with some coaching they caught on quickly. They learned some new vocabulary like: jack and jill bath, master suite, stucco, crown molding, HOA, HVAC, half bath, “as is,” and mother-in-law suite.

Once students understood the new vocabulary, each pair had to come up with a 1-minute commercial about the home they owned and why their fellow students should buy it. Their commercials were hilarious, especially since many of  the terms were new to them. Many had seen some slick Chinese commercials on TV and tried to imitate that style in their speech. Their peers found this to be extremely entertaining. If a student wasn’t presenting a 1-minute commercial, he/she was busy listening to fellow students’ commercials to see which home best fit the unmet need they were looking to fill.

Once all commercials were finished, I turned them loose to buy and sell. Their only assignment was to sell their existing home and buy another home that fit their needs. They only had about 10 minutes for this open marketplace. The excitement level was amazing, and in the end most students were able to accomplish the objective. Once in a while, however, a pair of students would admit that they were homeless and unable to buy a new home. Or in some cases, some students owned two homes.

I would call this activity “joyful chaos.” Check out the short video and tell me what you think? Any suggestions for future classes? (By the way, I tried to make this as English as possible, but some students slip into Mandarin when excited. A few students who are learning Cantonese, will only speak to me in Cantonese)




Inner Mongolia–Where a Yurt Can Hurt Ya’

Riding in the back of a horse-drawn wagon with Tim and Leslee Pelton.


Our hosts greeted us with bright blue scarfs and some tea. They also sang a song for us.

We took advantage of a week off in October (National Week) to visit Inner Mongolia. We fell in love with these people. They are hard working and industrious. They can also somehow deal with the cold!

Our journey began in Hohhot where we boarded a bus to travel three hours out to the grasslands. This was the resort where we stayed.

We spent the night in our own little yurt. It was cozy and cold. The next morning, most of the men had small red bumps on their foreheads from hitting the tops of doorways in the dark. This was especially the case for us older men who have to get up in the middle of the night to use the facilities. We affectionately called these injuries, “Yurt Hurts.”


The yurt had a TV and a table with a nice big window. Roughing it?


We had a grassland ride in this carriage.


There were at least 200 yurts at this resort, categorized in three different classes. We were in the premium one that was supposed to include “24 hour hot water” but it was too cold for that. We decided that it meant “let it run for 24 hours and you might get hot water.”


We visited a yurt family village and participated in some activities there.


We first dressed up in traditional costume and had a family portrait. It wasn’t the most flattering attire but it was bright and pretty.


We went inside another yurt to have tea and traditional bread. We stood around and watched this lady work the dough for her bread.


She stir-fried the dough and then put them in little boxes for us to eat.


The yurts had a big opening in the top of them to let in the natural light.


We learned a bit of archery. An hour into this exercise, it occurred to me that no arrows were hitting the target. I apparently forgot to load my arrows. (ha ha)


We all had a chance to try it. Imagine riding horseback, shooting arrows as you attack your opponent.


Laraine tried her hand at wrestling. Barbara Openshaw, a fellow teacher, thought she was just going to do a bit of “photo op wrestling.” She was shocked when Laraine, who took it more seriously, started to throw her down.


This is the wrestling attire. Someone has clearly found her element.


Yes, I think Laraine won. She busted some great moves!


There was even a camel on the hillside.

These rock shrines are everywhere.

Why Gratitude Can be Dangerous

Gratitude can be dangerous. Yes, you heard that correctly. Gratitude can be dangerous because it can cause movement or change in our circumstances. So if you want everything to stay the same, definitely stay away from gratitude.

Danger! Deep Water! No Romping!

It’s ironic. Take for instance the feeling of being stuck . . stuck in the same job, living in the same house, doing the same things, etc. When we talk to our inner selves about being stuck, we seldom use the word “gratitude.” Instead, we find ourselves saying words like, “mundane, ho-hum, dissatisfied, and grin-and-bear-it.”

Logic would seem to indicate a different result. If we are grateful for something, it would logically follow that we are satisfied with it, and less likely to make a change. But the opposite is actually true. In our yet-to-be published book with the working title, “Surviving by a Thread” by Chuck, Laraine, and Jeremy Chamberlain, we pay a great deal of attention to the characteristics of gratitude that help us survive and even find joy and abundance during turbulent times. The irony of gratitude is discussed in the book as follows:

Laraine thought of a different example. Leaning back on the sofa, she said, “Maybe you know people who say they are stuck in their jobs, in their homes, and in their relationships. Nothing ever changes. It never gets unbearable, but it also never gets much better. The reason people like this feel stuck is not because they enjoy their lives so much and are feeling so grateful for what they have . . .”

Chuck followed the thought. “No, they’re stuck because of fear that doing something different won’t make them happy.”

Looking at her son, Laraine asked, “Now can you imagine what would happen if these people could feel a deep appreciation for their lives? Do you think things would change or stay the same?”

Jeremy thought for a moment and said, “Hmm . . it’s almost counter-intuitive, but I think when we feel a deep appreciation for the way things are, a deep satisfaction about our lives and what’s happening, we aren’t likely to get stuck.”

“Kind of ironic, isn’t it?” Chuck realized out loud. “When we’re grateful for the way things are, we make progress in our lives and feel free to make changes. When we merely focus on making changes, we get stuck because we’re not grateful for the way things are.”

It takes some deep soul-searching to fully understand the role gratitude can play in finding joy and abundance, but it’s worth the effort.

American Football Fun for China Students

Laraine decided to let Chuck come and teach one of her classes about football. “Real” football — you know, not the one the rest of the world plays! What better way to understand America than to participate in one of our most important sports? The goal was to help students to understand the game well enough they could take part in conversations with American citizens and have some degree of comfort about discussing football. We started in the classroom and then went outside. The students thought it was great fun.

We started in the classroom so Chuck could explain the rules of the game and decide positions. Have you ever tried to explain football to someone who has no idea about it? It’s a VERY complicated game. For instance, there are 5 ways to score points!  Points in football can be 1, 2, 3 or 6 points. (There are two ways to score 2 points). No wonder the world thinks it’s so complicated! We divided the class into two teams and gave them an instruction to choose a fierce animal as a team name. The names they came up with were: Bats and Dragons. Yup, this is definitely China.

A huddle is just a meeting where you laugh and try to figure out what’s happening in the game.

We then went outside on the grass so they could practice doing it. They were very reluctant to come up to the line of scrimmage. We had to keep moving them forward. Concerned for their safety, Chuck kept telling them to do the plays in slow motion. Eventually, it got to full speed, especially with some of  the more athletic kids. We declared it a success because there were no broken bones. Chuck needed a whistle!


Genghis Khan–Up Close and Personal

Genghis Khan–Up Close and Personal

We had the opportunity to visit the monument for Genghis Khan. He was the founder of the great Mongol Empire, which compared to anything else in world history, was the most far-reaching contiguous empire.

Here we are standing in front of his mausoleum. No one knows where his body actually lies because he did not want his body buried in a marked grave. He is revered all over Mongolia (Inner and Outer), and there are statues and shrines of him everywhere. He was the first “Khan” (ruler or king), and other Khans came after him. He was born in 1162 AD as “Temujin.”


This is a statue of him even though there is no painting of him. He never wanted his portrait painted. They based the likeness of the figure in this statue on what his grandfather looked like. Temujin (Genghis Khan) had an interesting, yet troubled life. At the age of 9 he was betrothed to a young girl and was taken to live with her family until he could marry her at age 12. Later in life, his wife was kidnapped and carried away to a distant land. He prayed for three days about what to do. He eventually rescued her in a very bold, military move and was reunited with her. Genghis Khan lived in a brutal age and was a man true to his times, yet he had a spiritual side. He wanted all to have the freedom to practice their religion.


This is a worship area that is supposed to be for men only. Visiting women are told to go shopping while the men walked around this area in order to gain super power. The blue banners and cloth are all over Mongolia. You make a request for blessings and then tie a blue scarf at the shrine for it to come to pass.

Based on the English translation of this sign, would you know what to do? In essence, it is saying: “Traditionally, women do not enter here, out of respect for themselves and tradition. But we understand tourists don’t have the same beliefs, so consider this a suggestion only.”  The women didn’t mind having time to shop. And the men came back so very powerful!

We so much wanted to correct their signage.

If you were to spend your lifetime correcting every sign in China and Mongolia, you would not get out of one small town, and you would not cover even a tiny fraction of the need.

On the way back to HohHot we stopped to see these massive statues that were on the grounds of a government building. This is just one of several in the same area.

Think You Know Your Countries? Try This Quiz!

Where is this scene?

Match each statement to the correct country below. Possible answers are Ecuador, Russia, China, United States, Kazakhstan, Chile, Greenland. No cheating! Don’t look at the answers below until you’ve given your best answers.

  1. This country has 56 recognized ethnic groups—nine times that of the United States. Your answer___________.
  2. This country has only one time zone. Your answer ______________.
  3. More than 30 million people in this country live in caves. Your answer ________________.
  4. More people go to church every Sunday in this country than in all of Europe. Your answer ________________.
  5. A man claiming to be the brother of Jesus led a massive rebellion in this country to set up a theocracy, killing millions of people in the process. Your answer __________________.
  6. This country and its northern neighbor are home to a desert covering 500,000 square miles. Your answer _________________.
  7. All Pandas in the world are on loan from this country. Your answer ________________.


Answers: This is a trick quiz. China is the answer to all of the questions (though possibly not the only answer to question #4). I’ll bet you’re a bit surprised. Comment with your biggest surprise. The picture above is the Gobi Desert, which stretches across parts of China and Mongolia. The Gobi Desert is home to a large population of wild camels.  


What it Costs to “Ask Google” and Why It’s Cool to be Uncertain

I recall my two-year volunteer church service in Hong Kong more than 42 years ago. My sweat and the excessive humidity soon rotted away my leather watch band, leaving me with no convenient way to tell time. Fortunately, my companion and I most often visited vibrant, mixed use residential areas where ground-level one-room shops, called “pou-taus,” were prevalent. Each of these pou-taus prominently displayed a clock on the back wall. Because we had scheduled numerous appointments, knowing the correct time became critical.

On one occasion, I asked my companion to poke his head in the doorway of the nearest pou-tau and tell me the time.

“It’s 6: 42,” he said over his shoulder.Clock showing 6:42

“Good.” I smiled confidently. “We have plenty of time before our 7:00 appointment.”

A few minutes later, we walked by another pou-tau. Glancing up, I saw the time: 6:40.

“Oh no!” I yelled. “Something’s wrong! That can’t be right!”

Then it became a race from pou-tau to pou-tau. We soon realized that every shopkeeper had a different time on their clock. What had begun as a certainty that we had plenty of time became anxiety about being late. When we only had one source of information, we seemed quite confident in that information. Once we expanded our sources, our degree of confidence dropped dramatically, leaving us anxious.

From 1962 to 1981, “the most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite, signed off his television news segments with, ” . . And that’s the way it is,” and we believed him. We harbored no suspicions that Walter was withholding any important truths from us, or that he was skewing the facts to fit a political agenda. We enjoyed the certainty of his voice and the surety of its message.

We live today in a world rich with news sources. We can construct our perception of “reality” from information gleaned from several broadcast news stations, numerous cable news sources, so called “info-tainment” programs, newspapers, blogs, vlogs, tweets, social media sites, podcasts, and word of mouth. We don’t need to wait for the nightly news anymore. We can get it as fast as it can be fed to us, and the “feeding” is much more personalized. We can receive just the right kind of news, with the most appealing “slant,” sent directly to a device in our hands, with audio piped only to us through earbuds in our ears. And it isn’t just news. We basically have the world’s collective knowledge at our fingertips. We no longer need to wonder about anything! Because we fear uncertainty, we are relieved to believe we no longer need to be uncertain about anything. In the time it takes to wonder, we can pull up a massive volume of possible “answers” to our questions.

Sounds great, right? But what’s the cost?

Based on my experience with the clocks, one obvious cost in having so much data at our fingertips is an increase (yes, that’s right) increase in uncertainty. What are some other costs? In our yet-to-be-published book, Surviving by a Thread, we discuss benefits of uncertainty and outline some ways in which technology is creating a situation where, ironically, we are surrounded by data but ever-lacking understanding or wisdom.

From Chapter Six, “Embracing Uncertainty,” we read about another side-effect of attempting to eliminate uncertainty:

Chuck continued, “I’ve only recently gotten into the habit of using my smartphone to give me step by step verbal directions to wherever I’m going. Until now, I’ve been very proud of my ability to navigate, even in the most unfamiliar locations, even if it meant calculating directions based on shadows and the time of day. After a few weeks of ‘Okay Google,’ however, I’ve noticed that my internal direction finder is being supplanted by the soothing voice of . . . of whoever that woman is on Google. I no longer even look at landmarks or wonder what the shadows are telling me. I have turned into a bit of a robot. It scares me to the point I now limit the number of times I will ask Google for directions. And asking for directions is just one question we can ask of our technology. We can apparently remove uncertainty about nearly everything! Just ask Google!” 

We quickly lose our capacities. We no longer have to remember phone numbers, thoughtfully plan out a route to a destination,  communicate that route verbally to a friend, or exercise patience. We are willingly and gleefully stunting ourselves. The book also touches on the mental clutter and triviality that can take over our lives as we immerse ourselves in data:  

Another benefit [of uncertainty] is in setting priorities. In the past, we made mental notes to look up an answer to a question. Half the time we forgot about the question, thus allowing our own faulty memories to act as a kind of filter allowing only the most important questions to survive. Now, we clutter our minds with the most trivial questions and easy answers. We distract ourselves with triviality.

Some surprising benefits of uncertainty are also found in the book:

. . Other benefits relate to our ability to think and to solve problems. When we’re left to wonder, we often form hypotheses, do diligent research and form reasoned arguments. Now, we simply accept what is so quickly served to us by a search engine. I foresee some problems with this as our children move into adulthood. . .

The solution is not to avoid technology, but to use it differently. The book offers some specific examples of how to use uncertainty and miraculous, adventure-producing technology in beneficial ways, especially with our children:

“Above all,” Chuck continued, “I think we should recognize that uncertainty is very much related to curiosity. Let’s make sure our children’s curiosity is rewarded not with quick, conversation-ending answers, but with stimulating journeys.”