Saturday, December 8, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... Business Model Evolutions for the Ever-Changing Web Landscape

As I dwell more on Web 2.0 and the numerous ways companies like Facebook, Google and News Corp try to monetize users’ actions on the internet, a recurring analogy keeps coming to my mind, one that gives me a real-world perspective and helps me better understand what is going on in the online landscape.
The Internet, in essence, is another dimension of real estate and the international property market.
There are many others who have described the same similarity, so it is nothing original, but I find it important in helping me think about the next directions Web 2.0 is going. Please excuse the crude simplicity of the analogy and my layman’s knowledge of the industry as I try to make my points.

A quick recap of the Web 1.0 world finds that the era was littered with Portals, Store-fronts, Exchanges and Personal pages. Portals like ol’ AOL are like universities requiring tuition or special paid-admission malls. A one-stop-shop for information, purchases and even socializing. This is the classic fee-based or subscription-based business model.
Store-fronts like Amazon, and Victoria Secret are similar to the real-world Wal-Mart; massive business vendors that see millions of customers walk through its doors everyday. Exchanges like Ebay can easily be compared to the NYSE. Both of these kinds of properties are transaction-based, whether it is real goods and services or information. This business model subsequently is still successful today.
The personal pages or simple business marketing websites that exist on the Internet are like mom & pop stores, or residential homes. More often than not, they are built out of necessity or social fascination, often not having a business-model in mind and usually do not make enough income to even pay for itself. There is nothing wrong with not having a business model, as many people start pages for social reasons. I just had to include it as an observation of another type of online property.

So in the Web 1.0 world we see littered around a handful of paid-admission malls, universities, Wal-Mart-like vendors, NYSE-like exchanges, mom & pop stores and residential homes.

I should add that Search-Engines also emerged during this time, and with the help of its poster-child, Google, propelled the Ad-Supported business model to preeminence. However, Search-Engines are merely another type of property as well, more like a very important highway that is surrounded by billboards.

Ads have since moved from static banner ads to relevant text-based click ads, and now experimenting with contextualized interactive video ads.

Now that we are in the Web 2.0 world, where user-generated content is all the rage, how have online ‘properties’ transformed? The new web stars such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and LinkedIn are much more like cities. These are properties that are built on the social community, the collective power of the many, and develop their own unique character and charm depending on their constituents. This is a far cry from malls, vendors and exchanges of the last era. Unlike a Wal-Mart or NYSE where visitors are attracted by the architecture and goods offered by the creator of the property, the cities of Web 2.0 attract inhabitants because of the organic ability to develop niches and community ‘flavors’. Think New York City’s SOHO or Tokyo’s Harajuku.

These online cities have begun to build their business model around what has worked best in the past, namely the Search Engine’s success with Ad-Supported revenue. The online ‘NYC’ helps pay for itself by having billboards in Times Square and the online ‘Tokyo’ has expensive advertising properties in Shibuya. So now Web 2.0 cities like Facebook and MySpace can breathe easy because it can monetize itself by placing user-specific, targeted ads in and around its site for the numerous citizens inhabiting their property.

It seems quite fine and dandy. So isn’t it a smart move to invest in building a massive social community since you know with those numbers you’ll be able to profit off the advertising revenues?
It may be, but it will cost you first. Online cities are just every-bit as much of an investment as building a real city. Just replace the construction cranes, zoning rights and subway systems with software developers, servers and bandwidth costs.
Even after all of that expenditure (in the Web 2.0 world most likely spent with VC money), it may all still be worthwhile if you’re sure you will be the next, say, Facebook.

Here lies the problem: Online properties are extremely transient.

In New York, Tokyo or anywhere else in the real world, inhabitants must either buy or rent property, and usually the payment for only one property is all anyone can afford. Not so online. A netizen who has been around long enough likely has a space in several social network properties simply because it is free to sign up and maintain. Those that love the online equivalent of NYC’s Upper East Side and Tokyo’s Akihabara can online, actually have a place in both communities, and another place in Shanghai, Dubai, London and Moscow for that matter. It’s almost like the ‘golden horde’ effect, coined by Thomas Friedman as he described the movement of global investment capital flows. Like so, netizens will quickly migrate to the next new and coolest community, because the financial costs are nil and the social drivers are everything. And while maintaining a space is free on most online properties, value is not derived by how many open accounts a Facebook or a MySpace has. A site’s value is instead derived from the share size it can grab of the only thing that is finite to a user: her time.
Can you imagine if one year Disney World was full during the summer vacation season, but the summer after it was completely deserted because everyone went to the new Universal Studios that opened across the street? Or going back to our analogy of NYC, if in the course of a few years all its millions of inhabitants migrated to San Francisco just because it became more interesting?
Online properties are extremely transient. It wasn’t so long ago that Friendster was the place to be, or Xanga. And for those that can remember just a few years earlier, Asian Avenue or Black Planet?
Suddenly the Facebook or MySpace or YouTube doesn’t seem like such valuable property anymore. The only reason why the real Times Square is one of the most expensive properties in the world is because people can guarantee it will be trafficked by millions day-in and day-out for many years to come. Even Google, arguably the most trafficked and valuable property online does not have the same level of entrenchment and therefore cannot stay still. Google’s value will immediately diminish if it misses the next revolution in search or even lets another start-up be the first in the arena. And that is a real possibility. Just look at Yahoo or MSN not even ten years ago. Whether its Semantic Web or something else, all the online properties in the Web 2.0 world must find ways of keeping user traffic in their sites. Only then will the ad-supported business model stay afloat.

Enter Widgets & Apps. Online social communities are continually allowing open APIs for third party developers to create interesting sociable programs for netizens to use within the online properties. These Web 2.0 cities encourage people to build interactive attractions within their property to make it all the more interesting for online inhabitants to stay. In my eyes, Widgets & Apps are like the Starbucks of the real world. People just can’t get enough of it, and there is one on every corner of every block. I believe we are entering an age where the Widget/App will gain more and more importance and influence in the online world. As more and more developers shift from trying to create their own social community to creating the next great App, more interesting, and powerful products will appear.
While this might be good news for online cities, since all of these Apps will exist within their domains and work to keep inhabitants from migrating, there is one fallacy. We have seen and heard of Google’s OpenSocial, an initiative attempting to standardize development protocols so Widget/App developers can easily make their software compatible with any number of participating online communities. The problem for the online cities like MySpace, LinkedIn and Ning is that pretty soon the Apps that are supposed to make their property unique and ‘sticky’ for the inhabitant will be available in every other online city, completely neutralizing any ‘social advantage’ one online property would have over the other. Just like how you can find a Starbucks or McDonalds on almost every corner in New York or Tokyo, so too will emergent App makers like Slide, iLike and Google Maps be found on every single social network in the world.
So while OpenSocial may have an adverse affect for Social Networks, it will at the same time be a catalyst for the App’s continued rise to stardom. These Widgets & Apps are still property mind you, even though they are at present still trying to figure out the right business model. As of now Apps are still compulsively obsessed with the ad-supported business model that both the Social Network and the Search Engine love so much. As a property you can think of ad-support Apps like a Starbucks on every corner giving away free coffee but hoping you’ll buy their recommended CD of the month. Or like McDonalds giving away Happy Meals hoping you’ll buy a toy.

We are now on our third generation of online properties who have survived and succeeded based on an Ad-supported business model. Will it change? Perhaps. But its hard to move an entire industry that are true believers that traffic = ad dollars. Widgets & Apps have a unique opportunity to play with their business models that social networks and search do not: These new programs are transient and user-perpetuated, almost viral in nature. They can go in and out of Social Networks, Blogs, and many other online properties of the both the Web 1.0 and 2.0 eras. And while social networks continue to shift and collide like tectonic plates, jockeying for a bigger piece of the user’s online presence, Apps will be in every one of the properties, becoming increasingly more interactive, and capturing more and more of what’s really important: the user’s attention.

As an entrepreneur what kind of property would you rather create? A New York City, or a Starbucks Corp?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... Blogosphere Immersion

I've been relatively quiet in recent weeks and I apologize for those that periodically follow my writings and look forward to my next post. The truth is I've been extremely caught up with a new business idea, in which I am currently exploring. I won't say too much more about it as of yet because its still in the developmental phase, but with any luck I'll be able to build a really exciting Start-up.

I have found myself caught up the past several weeks digging deep into the blogosphere (for those who don't know, that is the online world of blogs); mostly as a result of the research I've been doing for my new business idea. But I have found blogs -- other than purely amusing and useful on a social level -- to be extremely informative, often more so than news articles or a Google search.

Blogs are personal windows into a person's composition, similar to my own aspirations here. Exploring blogs can be good or bad, since a lot of people post a lot of rubbish. However what is so fantastic about the Blogosphere is that once you find someone of value, someone that truly publishes insightful and thought-provoking material, it is a fascinating world to explore, and likely adds to your own life one way or another. This value compounds to the n-th degree, as great bloggers are usually linked and embedded into entire circles and communities of other fantastic bloggers. Then your world really explodes as you begin exploring the discussions between these bloggers and begin to see the world, industries, and life through their eyes.

This type of information power has really benefited me in my research, as the facts and trends I look for are rarely found in a simple Google search, and are too emergent or industry-specific to be round in widely-circulated publications. Reading the personal blogs of professionals within the industry gives me unique perspectives into the current issues on these leaders' minds. I get to pick up applicable tips for my own business plans from their reactions and off-remarks. And I get to glean the most current industry information; as close as one can get to 'insider information'.

It's been fun. And I'll continue to do it.

I'm going to start a list on the side margin linking to some of my favourite bloggers. For your benefit, and for my own quick reference.

To give you a peek into what I'm reading, I think I've read every single blog posting of Kaiser Kuo's Ogilvy China: Digital Watch
And I just finished reading Marc Andreesesen's The Pmarca Guide to Startups: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8
And also his The Truth about Venture Capitalists Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... Video Posting

There are some things that you just know are here to stay, and here to explode in a very big way. P2P (Person to Person) vid posting is one of those. Some people call them Vlogs (Video logs) or whatever, and there are so many numerous platforms for internet video now (like YouTube, TuDou, and so many IPTV sites). But in the end it is the continued extension of the Visual revolution already underway (Taken from a book I read recently called 'MindSet!').

Anyways, I am using this posting as an excuse to put up the first of what I envision will be many more video posts onto this blog, to augment my written musings.

This particular clip I had seen several months before, but I've come across it again and thought it would be interesting to share with all of you if you have not already seen it. On one hand it is all very technical, but on the other, its just purely aesthetically exhilarating, and will speak to you if you are an Artist, Techie, or whoever. It is certainly an interesting glimpse at new directions of new media arts.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... China's Cultural Development Part II

I call this posting Part II because I wrote in September about China's changes in media consumption in the past decade, and how it has changed an entire generation (and its sub-generations). This edition is less media and more social, but goes hand-in-hand with the media consumption changes experienced in China the last decade. I do recommend going back and checking out the earlier posting, if only to give more context and substance to what I write here.

Melody was reading a Chinese movie magazine the other day and commented on an article comemorating the 10 year anniversary of the movie Titanic (it came out in 1997 if you can remember). What the article said and what Melody and I went on to discuss was to me very revealing. For the mainland Chinese, Titanic represented a milestone or turning point in China cinematic-viewership history. While Chinese had access to foreign -Hollywood- films before 1997, it was Titanic that really experienced widespread popularity and put American movie-making in the hearts and minds of Chinese citizens.

Titanic as a watershed event is several-fold:
1) It was the first major hollywood movie to be shown nation-wide in Chinese theatres, thereby giving the entire Chinese populace full exposure to the 'splendor' of Hollywood film making, and creating a precedent for future Hollywood films to be shown nation-wide in Chinese cinemas
2) Through the Titanic story, a clear Western "Love will conquer all" theme (rooted in 19th century French Bohemianism) was projected to the minds and pragmatic culture of the Chinese
3) Titanic auspiciously opened right when mass-market China began purchasing Personal Computers for home entertainment consumption (this is where reading my posting in September comes in with context). The rise of PCs in China creates a boom in the derivative VCD and later DVD markets, and ensures that a Titanic VCD can be found on sale within 100 metres of wherever you stand in China for the next few years. The Titanic VCD also gives way to China's burgeoning fascination with Hollywood cinema, and is in part a factor (I won't say how big or small) to the issues we have today with China's counterfeit movie market
4) It made Leonardo DiCaprio, and yes, Celine Dion, a household name.

While all these points can in of themselves evolve into lengthy discussions, I was most intrigued by the idea that it is this newest generation -- the generation that grew up with the PC and the emerging media channels that followed it -- is the same generation that grew up with the rise of American popular movie culture. It is this same generation that has spent a lot more time observing, scrutinizing, and oftentimes absorbing the norms and idealistic dreams that we ourselves have grown up with. And while most of us will nod our heads in agreement and say this is an obvious observation, I find this Titanic issue a very convenient marker for further differentiating what I had earlier labeled the "Transitional Generation". For me, this Transitional Generation (this year aged 21 to 31) is not only the post-TV culture (aka PC culture), but the post-Titanic culture. To emphasize the importance of the Titanic marker, consider that before this movie came out, the only commonly-known American actor was Arnold Schwartzenegger, and the major influence on popular culture from movies came from the Hong Kong studios rather than from Hollywood. Those I call the Transitional Generation were young enough (i.e. still in school) that they had enough time and exposure to post-Titanic Hollywood films to have a chance at incorporating some of the Western ideas and themes into their own personal and sub-group culture.

The bottom line from all this talk about Titanic, is that we are beginning to see a whole fundamentally different generation emerge into the workplace. One that not only uses media differently, but one that is drawing on a much higher reliance --and perhaps alliance-- on American culture. And now the most interesting questions can be asked: 1) how much of western culture has this Transitional Generation really absorbed 2) what part of western-movie themes enamours this generation (ie. bohemianism, happy-endings, freedom, unity, etc.) 3) what role has the infusion of western-movie themes had in the incorporation with traditional Chinese culture?
These questions I don't think anyone can diffinitively answer, although they are each perhaps billion-dollar questions business-wise, and questions I am certainly trying to answer for myself. As I learn more, I will share it with you here on my blog.

So while most of us can barely believe its been 10 years since Titanic came out, give it another thought and think about all the movies and new culture we have incorporated into our lexicon and contemporary society. Remember that it is only these relatively new films and cinematic themes (like Matrix, Star Wars Episode 1, 2, 3 but NOT 4, 5, 6; Mission Impossible, Men in Black, Lion King, Saving Private Ryan, the American Pie franchise) that are having profound impacts on contemporary Chinese culture.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Kev's Music Review: C.O.U. Chinese Organic Union

For those of you who follow my music reviews, you'll probably notice that I review mostly contemporary jazz. But to be honest, I am a great lover of anything jazz. In fact, much of the greatest advances in jazz are coming from jazz fusion, which I've been spending a lot more time exploring, and which I will hopefully begin reviewing more for you.

It is no surprise then, that when a new group labeled themselves the first 'Chinese Jazz-Rap', I was more than intrigued. Jazz? Good. Rap? Good. Chinese? Gooood. (Thats a parody from Joey on Friends by the way).

Earlier in September I went to their cd release concert and party, just to check them out live, and see what their idea of jazz-rap was all about. To my surprise; it was really good. Well, it had serious potential. A little raw in some areas, like when they tried to infuse their Chinese rap with Chinglish slang to make it more 'authentic'. But two things really caught my ear: 1) the DJs knew their stuff. They've produced some serious thick beats overlaid with some even heavier jazz-influenced tunes. Even without the rapping, I would have purchased the CD cause their Jazz-hip hop beats were really movin'. Most of it is thanks to Kirby Lee, the main DJ, who has just come out with his own debut solo album. 2) The premier featured rapper, J-Fever, is a really really talented lyricist. Not only is he native to Beijing (while some of the other rappers in this collective come from Shanghai, HK, and South China), but his Putonghua, or standard Chinese, is so clear that it is a pleasure to listen to him wrap. The way he uses the cues during the off-beats really goes well with the laid-back, sit-back style of this jazz-rap.

It wasn't too long into the first song that I was bopping, and nodding in appreciation and agreement. "Alright" I said, "they got good skill". And then I took a closer look. These guys were young. Well, at least J-Fever is. He is still in college I believe, which means that he has a bright future ahead of him if he plans to devote it to music.

In anycase, a glimpse into the emerging underground of Chinese hip-hop, and one potential direction it is headed. If indeed C.O.U. and it's community continues to gain popularity as it has been, we could potentially see Chinese hip-hop evolve into a forerunner for the popularization of Jazz-influenced Hip Hop. This could be a very exciting development, and could potentially be the launching platform for different kinds of jazz -- jazz fusion, jazz house, and yes, even traditional contemporary jazz-- to make a real home here in China.

I will keep my tabs on how C.O.U., Kirby Lee, J-Fever and the whole Chinese Jazz-Rap movement grows.

Keeping an ear to the ground,


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... Philosopher Kings vs. CEO Presidents

Here's a random question for you: What would you rather have, a Philosopher King or a CEO President?

I got this idea a month ago while reading a Business Week article about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (link to the article provided below). The article outlines many of the innovative programs Mayor Bloomberg has initiated since taking office, and praises the mayor's superior business experience in streamlining the bureaucracy. It also mentions how George W. was supposed to be like a CEO president, as Bloomberg has been for NYC, but failed to do so.

And then I asked myself: "Is America looking for a CEO president?" What does that actually stand for? In the case of Bloomberg, that has meant an increasing of governmental efficiency, at the cost of tearing down bureaucracy. Its meant arming the governing body with the best technology, pioneering new ways of processing information, so that the organization can best serve its customers -- its constituents. It also means accountability. A CEO has to sign off on the financials, is responsible for the rise and/or fall of the entire 'enterprise'. "The Buck Stops Here" means the final answer, blame and credit ends with the CEO. A CEO is also the one who can get results while still engaging a multitude of differing and often times opposing interest groups. Is this what America (or all contemporary democracies) expecting of their political leader? Its not bad. Sounds pretty good to me if all of our leaders acted like ideal CEOs.

But I could't help myself and had to peek back into history and see what were the ideals before. If today we are asking for CEO presidents, what was the 'dream leader' of old? Enter the Philosopher King. Confucius dreamed of a day when the world's nations were ruled by philosopher kings, people who had the capacity to not only understand the intricate issues their people presently faced, but also had the foresight to set a vision and course for the future. A philosopher king could fight wars with words, not armies. King David of the Isrealites was a great poet and song-writer. His son King Solomon likewise was a central progenitor for the Book of Proverbs, filled with many wise and wonderful teachings still applicable today. You can find many cultures that share this same desire for such an inspired, learned, wise leader.

So why the change now, from Philosophy King to CEO President?

My only guess is that the nature of democracy, and the rise of the educated class have had deep influences to our nation state. The idea of a philosopher king arose when nations and civilizations were mostly illiterate, uneducated and unruly, and when many kings of that period were only interested in war and pillage. Perhaps in an educated democracy as today, all we need is an actionable executive that has the strength to carry out the concensus of the people. Perhaps we feel as an educated society we, as a voting mass, are smarter or wiser than one wise man? Does today's democracy demand from us a slight inherent mistrust of our leaders? Is there no room, no need, for a philosopher king anymore?

I don't know about that.

An effective political leader that could bring all the benefits of a CEO and a well-oiled bureaucracy would be wonderful. But as we look at our party's candidates in whatever coming election is next, think to yourself whether perhaps we are setting our sights too low just shooting for a CEO? Can we not aspire for a Philosopher King as our elected leader?

My Reflections On... What is the Epitome State of Being?

What is the Epitome State of Being?
By Kevin KC Lee

A couple nights ago I was lying in bed unable to fall asleep, and I was dwelling on my life rhythm over the past year or so. I’ve been from full-time employment to full-time school, to full-time job hunting. In the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to be both really busy and really free. Yet, lying in my bed, I still had the feeling deep inside that while I’ve achieved a lot in my life up until now, and am determined to achieve even more, I have not found my optimal rhythm or as I call it, “State of Being”.

My Dad has been teaching me since I was a child to always be productive. Stay productive, and you get somewhere. At least with being productive, you are never standing still, and that means you’re exposed to new opportunities. Ok. Sounds like a good idea. The problem I have with just being Productive, is that it doesn’t fulfill the Why and What questions of life. Why be productive in the thing you’re doing? What is the significance? To me, being just ‘Productive’ is the equivalent to being an automaton, working away at life for... wealth, comfort, family, security… whatever, without stepping back and giving yourself the chance to choose to be something significant, special. No, for me, life measured in productivity is not enough. There are too many people in this world that work so hard everyday, and yet all that effort does not amount to a true monumental force. That work is not translated into significance. It’s not the Epitome.

Lots of people adhere to another philosophy, as I have for a long time, which is: “Live Life Balanced”. My dad has embraced this ethos as well, now that he is transitioning into the prime of his life. Yet, as sound and as wise as this State of Being is, it still for some reason leaves me lacking. How does balanced living build significance? Balance is definitely a great life rhythm if all you’re looking to do is survive and live a long and ‘fulfilled’ life of contentment. Hey, who wouldn’t want that? It sounds pretty good. Still, is Balance as fulfilling as it should be? Can there be something else that is even more fulfilling?

Another common life maxim people use is “Live each day as if it were your last”. Sure. We all get that. Carpe Diem. That was actually my high school’s motto. But how does that apply when all you want to do is sit down on your day off and watch a whole lot of TV? How does that apply when you’ve spent the last 36 straight hours playing Halo 3 or the newest console game? Does this mean we should give up entertainment? Or that all we should be is entertained? When a lot of people think of “Seize the Day”, they think of skipping school/work and going skydiving or bungee jumping. Why not? If today was our Last day, shouldn’t we fill it with all the experiences we’ve always wanted? Shouldn’t we take that year off and travel the world before its too late? Ok. Our rational side is telling us living each day as our absolute last may not be too sustainable for the long run. Lets look at it from the opposite angle. Are you seizing the day when you find yourself cramming for an exam in a course you know you’ll never learn from? Or how are you seizing the day when you’re pulling an all-nighter at the office completing a project for your client? Hmm. Doesn’t sound too Optimal does it?

So these thoughts were zipping through my head as I was trying to drift off to sleep, and a question formed in my mind: What then is the Epitome – Optimal, Apex – State of Being? What is the state of being that best leverages both work and play? That leverages both intense focus and intense relaxation?

I couldn’t think of the answer. So I did what I naturally do in search of answers, look at real life examples of people who had achieved significance and had found that “Epitome State of Being”.

Unsurprisingly in those wee hours of the early morning, my mind couldn’t think of too many examples, but the examples I could think of were these:

Mozart: I had just re-watched the movie ‘Amadeus’, depicting the struggling yet brilliant short life of Mozart. As what the movie portrayed, he was far from perfect, and yet while still a musical prodigy, his life was highly un-balanced and he ended up dying penniless and at the age of 34. Yet the body of work he left behind, the ideas he began influenced and radically changed our world far beyond the realm of classical music.

John Coltrane: Like Mozart, John Coltrane had enormous ideas to go along with his enormous sound, the likes of which, I postulate we haven’t seen since. What was so amazing about John was, like Mozart, John died at a very early age; just into his 40th year. Lucky for us, he was alive when recording technology was available. Coltrane's recording rate was astonishingly prolific: He released about fifty recordings as a leader in twelve years, and appeared on dozens more led by other musicians. John died of cancer, but had a tough time kicking a heroin addiction earlier on in his life. And yet, even through all the trials and a very short time on this earth, the body of work and the paradigm-shifting ideas he put forward have forever changed our musical world.

It then dawned on me, looking at the similarities between Mozart and Coltrane, that perhaps the answer laid in Creativity. Perhaps the Epitome State of Being had something to do with being Creative, and putting forth new ideas. Even while both of these two individuals lived short lives, the amount of effectiveness they had, the volume of work they contributed, the significance they had on the world, is immense. And it all stemmed from their unceasing creativity. I know what you’re going to say: “your conclusion is based on two musicians, of course you’re going to say its Creativity.” And I could go on with musical examples – like Charlie Parker – but to make the small survey sample have a little more variety, and to test my theory of Creativity, here are two more examples:

Albert Einstein: I believe Time Magazine named Albert the man of the last century, and I suppose he is one of the greatest examples of someone who lived at an Epitome State of Being. His work can be summed up in a big mushroom cloud. Yet his ideas and his genius are far more extensive than that. It seems that even Einstein recognized the importance Creativity played in a life of Significance, in the Epitome State of Being. Here are some quotations from Einstein concerning creativity:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.”
“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires a creative imagination and marks the real advances in science.”
When you begin to investigate all prominent figures both present and in history, I think you’ll begin to see that the essential ingredient shared by all is a ravenous appetite for applying creativity to whatever they did, whether it is directly in the arts, or in science or life. I know what you’re going to say next: “You’ve looked at three geniuses. Your theory of Creativity doesn’t apply to normal people”.

Gandhi: Case in point. Gandhi was a smart man, but I would argue he wasn’t an indisputable genius like Einstein or prodigy like Mozart. However, Gandhi is the perfect example of what ‘normal’ people can do, if they embrace an Epitome State of Being based on Creativity. It didn’t take a genius – just a creative person – to understand resistance does not have to be waged violently, and it also just took creativity – although some may think it genius – to see that given the right platform, one man can hold a nation together through a time of struggle and violence. Even Gandhi attributed much of what he did to the product of creativity:
“Every moment of your life is infinitely creative and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Just put forth a clear enough request, and everything your heart desires must come to you.”

What has emerged after reviewing these figures of significance is this: The Epitome State of Being is one of Constant Creative Criticism and Critical Creativity. This can be applied to all our lives, regardless of our situation or stage in life. Creative Criticism is about taking another look at preconceptions, norms, habits, learned facts, traditions, people, organizations, the world, and you – anything – and being creative about what it really means, or whether it has multiple meanings. We should look at everything creatively critical. Not to tear down what is already there for the sake of being critical, but to always look at things with fresh eyes, and a fresh mind. Be creative when you read the news, watch a movie, play a game, listen to someone speak. There is more to it than just taking in the information. See what it applies to, where it adds value, not only to you, but perhaps to someone or something else. Be Critical, but Creatively so, where it becomes a positive, constructive attribute.

At the same time, be Critically Creative. Armed with constant new truths, new knowledge, new perspectives, strive to always be creative. In everything. When you’re doing your projects, when you’re cooking, when you’re shopping, when you’re going on a date, when you’re teaching your children, when you’re thinking about the world, when you’re reflecting upon yourself. Being in a constant state of Critical Creativity does not mean you have to pick up a brush and start painting, but see how you can shake up your world by always innovating everything you do, all the time. Innovate your thinking, innovate your talking, innovate those you talk to, innovate what you talk about, innovate your contribution first to your family, then to the community around you, then reach out further, and further and further…

In the end, Constant Creative Criticism and Critical Creativity are the capstones to the states of being we discussed previously. We seize the day, everyday by being Creatively Critical and Critically Creative to the world around us. We stay productive, yet producing Critically Creative things based on Creative Criticism. And we continue this Epitome for the long run by being balanced; being Creatively Critical in both work and play, and being Critically Creative while intensely focused and intensely relaxed.

I challenge you to ask yourself as I challenge myself, to see whether you are in your Epitome State of Being. Ask yourself at any and all times, whether at that moment you’re being as Critically Creative as you can possibly be in what you’re doing. Watch where staying at your epitome state of being takes you. I know for myself, Mozart, Coltrane, Einstein and Gandhi have already paved the way.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... The Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis

While I do not usually post news articles on my blog, just because it would get way too cluttered, and I want to keep my blog focussed, I will at times post an article if it is really important. (For a sample of the articles I read, please go to AND/OR and check my blog there)

I recently came across an opinion piece on the sub-prime mortgage crisis in America and abroad that I totally agreed with. The article is titled The Con that Turned the World Against America. And I think that is a pretty good synopsis of the main theme and conclusion of the article about the Sub-Prime Mortgage crisis.

The article can be found at:

Have a read! It's really very good, and makes enough common sense even for those who have not heard about or do not understand what is the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kev's Music Review: Kurt Rosenwinkel

Its been a quite a few months since I've done a music review; finishing school and life in general has just been catching up on me.

This review is devoted to someone who isn't really that new on the scene, but is still at the beginning of what will likely be a very influential career: Kurt Rosenwinkel.
As a young guitarist, he is really this generation's leading answer to the foundation laid out by Pat Metheny. As ever lyrical in the ways of Metheny, Kurt's style leans heavily towards an aggressive improvisation that is being popularized by his contemporaries. It isn't surprising to see that Kurt's most recent album, the '05 Verve Records release 'Deep Song' is comprised of some of the strongest forces in contemporary jazz today: Joshua Redman on saxophone, Brad Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass, and Ali Jackson on drums.
Kurt Rosenwinkel was born and raised in Philedelphia where he was introduced to jazz in highschool. His progress was such that he was admitted into Boston's Berklee School of Music. However, he dropped out in 1992 when he was invited to play in Gary Burton's band, a world-famous ensemble celebrated for the master vibraphonist's Art-Blakey-esk commitment to training young talent. Kurt gained real-life lessons playing and touring with Gary Burton, and then a much longer mentorship playing with avant-garde drummer, Paul Motian.
Kurt's most recent 2005 album was his 6th title recording, fourth with Verve records. For those of you who want to hear the "sound" of today's jazz, a real discussion on structure, theory and soul of contemporary Jazz, and a type of music the record labels have been really getting behind in the last 5 years, keep a tab on Kurt Rosenwinkel.

Keeping an ear to the ground,


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... China's hero-worship as a reflection of its Unilateralist or Multilateralist attitude

China as a Unilateralist or Multilateralist nation: A reflection of Hero-worship?

This question of China as a unilateral or multilateral nation is a popular discussion point with those familiar with Asia Pacific foreign affairs. For some reason I was dwelling on this issue the past few days; I think as a consequence of watching some American movies and news reports.

My point of interest is the incessant need for Americans to erect heroes in every situation; the need for clear protagonists and antagonists. When watching American movies it is almost a certainty that the main character and the major struggle is identified within the first twenty minutes. In television syndication, it is even shorter.

The fact that there are protagonists and struggles is not the issue, rather it is the American tendency to enunciate a singular protagonist and a singular struggle for the audience to quickly and easily identify with. While fictional stories may be forgivable, I find it a little bit disturbing to witness current events and historical accounts framed with singular heroes and singular struggles. When dwelling on this, I found that there is a visible correlation between a culture of hero-worship and a nation’s tendency for unilateralism. The lone cowboy, the American soldier righting other nation’s wrongs, even the pure-hearted politician making idealistic orations to make the world a better place. In viewing American iconography in this perspective, it is clear how a unilateralist-prone populace could arise.

Thus my thoughts turn to China. The question of whether China is prone to become a Unilateral or Multilateral nation depends on the identity and perspective of its popular culture. This I feel, can be observed from the state of a nation’s hero-worship. If popular culture is fixated on hero-worship that promotes protagonist-antagonist framework, then unilateral sentiments can be expected; that is, if popular culture is given a chance to voice its opinion. So what about China? What is the extent of it’s hero worship?

Looking at socio-cultural history, certain figures quickly rise to recognition: Emperor Huang Taiji of the Qin, Zhu GeLiang or CaoCao of Three Kingdoms Period, Confucius, and more recently, Mao Zedong. Definitely hero worship. Yet in examining these acclaimed Chinese heroes, I see a stark difference between them and their American counterparts. The Chinese heroes were heroes because of their domestic accomplishments. The Huang Taiji was the first emperor to unify China, Zhu GeLiang and CaoCao tried to do the same, Confucius taught filial piety, the preeminent Chinese domestic philosophy; and Mao Zedong is still celebrated for rebuffing the Japanese and resolving civil war. China indulges in hero-worship, but the perspective is predominantly domestic. And within China’s hero-worship, it is not always clear singular heroes over singular struggles. China’s emphasis and celebration has always been around order and civility. It has been about celebrating architects of the domestic system. You will be hard pressed to find Chinese heroes celebrated for their foreign policies. China’s isolationist past is clear evidence of this notion.

With China’s rapid development in recent years, and its necessary integration into the world stage, has the nation’s hero-worship changed as well? And what does this indicate about China’s future as unilateralist or multilateralist? Hu Jintao’s actions are visibly multilateralist, with the entrance into the WTO, participation in ASEAN +3, the North Korean WMD talks and increasing partnerships within Africa. But the Chinese people now look to popular culture instead of politics for their heroes.

Perhaps the most promoted and well-known hero today is the basketball player Yao Ming. He still reigns supreme. The on-going joke he replies when asked by reporters why his jersey is currently selling only second-best in China: “Because everyone already has one of mine.” Since the last Olympics in 2004, a plethora of other athletes have followed in Yao’s footsteps and have been aggressively promoted to the Chinese public. In fact, Chinese heroes in all sporting industries are popping up, even in the world of golf, snooker and F1 racing.

In the business realm, Chinese heroes have also arisen to carry the torch of China’s aspirations. People like Li YanHong and Robin Li, founders of, or famed entrepreneur Joe Chen, founder of Oak Pacific Interactive, which owns many popular Chinese social-networking sites, or Pan ShiYi and wife Zhang Xin, the Donald Trumps of China. These and many others make headlines beyond the business section.

And then there is the pop culture. China now embraces an integrated landscape of Asia-Pacific stars. From Hong Kong and Taiwan to Japan and Korea, many regional overseas celebrities have fan followings in Mainland China. The most interesting example is Takeshi Kaneshiro, a Japanese-born Taiwanese-Chinese, the Brad Pitt of Asia. He, along with Jay Chou and many others are setting the standard for being a trans-regional superstar. Mainland China is also coming up with their own home-grown stars too. Not only in movies but specialized categories, Mainland Chinese are defining themselves. Lang Lang, the international concert pianist is one example that comes to mind. Then there are also the real global international Chinese names. Ang Lee just won the top Golden Lion award at the prestigious Venice Film Festival last month (Aug. 2007) for his new erotic spy thriller, ‘Lust, Caution’. His equally famous counterpart, Zhang Yimou, was the film festival’s jury chairperson. Among other directors considered for the top title were Chen Kaige and Jia Zhangke.

China’s hero-worship is certainly diversifying in recent years, mimicking its entrance onto the world-stage. What I see from these examples of contemporary Chinese heroes, and many others unmentioned, is a Chinese hero-worship in the context of regional and international competition. The Chinese popular success-story is the Chinese winner of a competitive international forum or contest. Whether in athletics, business, or pop-arts stardom, its about individual example of excellence on the world stage. What does that mean for the unilateral vs. multilateral discussion? If nation-states indeed act based on the support of their general populace, then a population like China’s, who at the moment most identifies with being the best while following the rules of an international competition, would most approve of its own nation acting like a winner within the guidelines of the global architecture. This attitude falls within the middle of the unilateral-multilateral spectrum, where China would find popular support to act as a multilateralist when it comes to managing and improving the global infrastructure, but also find popular support to act as a unilateralist when it comes to playing the competitive game within established frameworks.

And thus we see China’s foreign policy reflect it’s hero-worship: entrepreneurial, opportunistic, and striving to be ‘best-in-show’ on the world stage. A nation that has no quivers about dancing around the unilateral-multilateral scale because that’s just how it’s people likes it.

My Reflections On... Podcasting

When my last iPod broke down sometime at the beginning of this year, I was at a virtual iTunes stand-still. I kind of lost touch with the rest of the online world. I even stopped using BitTorrent for a while. At that time I was busy finishing up school. But since getting my new MacBook + iPod combo, I've been resuscitating my online world. Being in China has helped, since my appetite for information isn't quite met by the media channels available here.

Once I set up my iPod Video (now known as the iPod Classic), I immediately began exploring the Podcasting universe, to see how I could best leverage this function. My life hasn't been the same eversince. Not only have I found news podcasts to keep me up todate with what is happening around the world, but there are so many special-interest podcast that I am now renewing past interests that I have not had time to keep up with in my busy life. Now I can. From economics to history (and a lot of history) to Pop news and culture, I'm staying on top of all my topics of interest. I've also been discovering new interests too. I get to keep on top of the gaming world (even though I never game its important to know the current happenings in that industry), I get to keep abreast of the advertising and media industry (which is important for my future career), and I've been hooked on a podcast called WineLibrary TV, which is educating me in loads about wines. I must admit it may be the best podcast I've ever seen. ARE YOU A VANIAC??? CHECK OUT THE VAYNER-NATION. haha... no seriously. check out that podcast if you're interested in learning about wines.

And then there is the technology and business news. Oh so glorious, oh so interesting and applicable. The great thing is that I load on multiple different podcasts about tech and business news, so its like casting a wider net. What one podcast misses out on, the other will catch. So I'll watch WebNation and then watch DiggNation, and then watch GreenTV or Business 2.0 Disruptors. So it's like channel-surfing but always landing on another good channel on another good program you want to see. And you'll never miss any part of it. And no commercials. For those of you who are more up-to-date, its like TiVo or any PVR, but portable! Isn't that way better?

So now with podcasts augmenting my regular email, magazine and newsreader intake, I would have to say I am more up-to-date now with current events and trends than I have ever been before. And its amazing how much info you can upload into your brain while you're walking or in the subway or in a taxi. No time is wasted. Its so good. Its like getting your "learn" on all the time. And keeping track with world affairs, politics, the US presidential race, the war in Iraq, tensions in Pakistan, hurricane season down south, Gordon Brown and how he is taking over from Tony Blair, etc... isn't that better drama then Heroes or Lost? Its real, and applicable. (although I still like to indulge in my high-production drama too. Grey's Anatomy is awesome).

To put the icing on the Podcasting cake, my new MacBook's screen resolution is SO GOOD its unbelievable. I rather watch movies on my laptop than on the TV just because its so much easier on the eyes. For those that have HDTV and won't go back to traditional TVs, you know what I mean. My MacBook comes with a remote contol (Apple thinks of everything), so I can sit back on my couch at night and surf through my podcasts without even getting up to move onto the next one. That's the way technology should serve our lifestyles.

I still expect more to come in the future, like mobile streaming tv and a convergence in high-production TV broadcast content with user-generated internet content. But podcasting, now about 4 years old, is a good start. And until the next technology's adoption rate increases and prices come down (like iPhone in China), I'll happily keep on downloading podcasts.

If you'd like to see a list of my current podcasts, see the list on the right-hand column below this blog. You can just search them on Google and find the ones you want, or, find them on iTunes.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Kev's Thoughts On... China's New Media Consumption

China’s New-Media Consumption: What’s being consumed and Who’s consuming it?

It is often surprising to realize the hyper-growth in China’s media landscape began only ten years ago. Today, Television still enjoys the highest penetration rates, near 100%. However it is the younger generations, dictating an ever-increasingly larger proportion of China’s disposable income, who are growing further accustomed and attracted to New Media, meaning less time spent with traditional channels. The following is a synopsis of China’s major New Media movements and an analysis on the identity of the Chinese New Media consumer.

China’s New-Media Buzz & New-Media Consumption

1) Communicative, Multi-media handhelds: Convergence in the high-end, expansion of the low-end
Communication handhelds, namely mobile phones, have over 30% penetration rate with 437 million mobile phone users, and the growth rate is expected to steadily rise for the next 5 years. Technological convergence is giving communication devices more multi-media capabilities and multi-media devices more communication capabilities. High-end handheld devices continue to integrate functions and redefine ‘standard’ and ‘luxury’ for the media channel.
On the other end of the spectrum, major competition has erupted for the growing low-end mobile phone market. As China develops, more low-wage citizens find their financial situation improving. Each year millions of first-time mobile phone buyers enter the market. Thus competition is fierce to grab the new pieces of the pie.
Convergence will mean for advertisers some cannibalization of consumers who currently own both multi-media and communication handhelds. However the over-shadowing opportunity is the cross-sell/acquisition of new consumers to multi-media exposure who were originally pure-communication handheld users. At the same time, growth in low-end pure-communication handhelds can also benefit advertisers who use targeted text-messaging (SMS) advertisements effectively. The increasing penetration of talk & text-only phones means greater emphasis can be given to ad campaigns requiring consumer SMS participation.

2) The Chinese Internet Universe: Homegrown Champions
With 162 million Internet users in 2007 and year-over-year growth last year of 23.4%, the Internet is the greatest excitement and buzz for Chinese media development. While it is dependent on its enablers, such as PC and mobile communication devices, the strong growth of these media outlets is in large part fueled by the growing popularity of the Internet. In China, Internet users demonstrate their desire to be connected not only by the number of new users each year, but also the growing speed at which they connect. About two-thirds of Chinese use broadband connections, up 45% from last year. At the heart of the growing number of uploads and downloads are China’s homegrown Internet portals. Not only do Chinese embrace everything Web 2.0, they are doing it on their own terms. Time and again we see in the current environment, Chinese versions of popular web functions beating their original foreign counterparts. Here is a short list of the most popular to date:

Homegrown Champions
Virtual World (Social/Gaming): HiPiHi + Shanda/UOneNet/Frenzoo/Yilu/Entropia + City of Beijing/Leeuu (Romantic Chateau)
Online Search/Barter: Baidu/Taobao/Alibaba/Sina/Sohu
Web 2.0 Uploads (Blogs, Vlogs, Space, Photoshare): Sina Blogs/Sohu Blogs/Tudou/Rox/Mop/UUme/+ about 150 others

Constant vigilance must be given to the explosive developments in the Chinese Internet space. Not only should advertisers partner to create new avenues of reaching users/viewers, but also great attention should be paid to the content generated by Chinese Web 2.0 sites. These forums are the fastest and cheapest ways to gather consumer insight and reactions. In a country still heavily censored, these virtual worlds represent places with the least amount of restrictions, hence the greatest amount of genuine expression. In addition, because of the growing Chinese fixation with user-generated content, and the reduced cost-structure associated with it, Advertisers should consider deepening participation in online content production.

Media Dichotomy: Over 31 vs. Under 31

Much attention, money and effort is being invested in the emerging media channels. However advertisers must realize that other than pure communication handhelds, new media is only reaching a very specific segment of the Chinese population. Indeed new media is transforming media consumption in China for generations to come, but the large majority of China today does not participate. The major dichotomy is between Chinese who are aged 31 (1976)∗ this year or older, and those younger than 31. Those over 31 get significantly more of their media consumption from traditional media, while under-31 consumers spend exponentially more time with emerging media.
The major reason for this rapid shift in media consumption stems from an individual’s age and life-position during the years from 1996 to 1999. 1996-97 were the years personal computer use and proliferation transitioned from early adopters to mass market. 1998-99 were the years the Internet likewise gained widespread popularity. Those now aged 31 or over were in 1996-99 entering or already in the workforce. This means they have grown up without computers or the Internet as a source of recreation, and were introduced to these new media outlets in a work environment. Those under 31 would have been introduced to computers and the Internet some time while they were still students and more likely to have begun exploring these platforms in a recreational setting.
The way the computer and the Internet were introduced into an individual’s life has profound influences on how they consume media today. The most profound difference lies between over-31’s who are primary consumers of traditional media, while under-31’s increasingly rely on new media for their content consumption.

The Transitional Generation

Even for Chinese under 31 years old this year, there is a massive amount of differentiation among breadth and depth of participation with new media. Again, an important factor to examine is the age at which these individuals were introduced to the computer and the Internet. The Chinese who are this year aged 20 to 30, are the Transitional-Media Generation. Their age and situation during 1996-99 determines the amount of recreational/social time as students they would have had to grow familiar with the new technology and its full potential. If young enough, they would also have had a chance to have computer and Internet exposure within the classroom, further enamoring this generation to the new media channels.

School Level in 96-97/Age in 96-97/PC Era (96-97): Age Now/Net Era (98-99): Age Now/Typical Media Consumption(Traditional)[New Media]
Primary/7-13/17-23/15-21/(TV(h)) [Game, Chat, D/l, Novel, SMS, GamesP, MusicP]
Junior/13-15/23-25/21-23/(TV(h)) [Game, Chat, Buy(s), D/l, Blog, Novel(s), Info, SMS, Phone(s), PicSMS, GamesP, Port. Music.]
High/16-18/26-28/24-26/(TV) [Game(s), Chat, Buy(s), D/l, Blog(s), Novel, Info, Phone, SMS, PicSMS, GamesP, Port. Music.]
Bach/19-22/29-32/27-30/(TV, Series, DVD(h)) [Chat, Stream, Blog(s), Novel(s), Info, Phone, SMS, Game(s), Port. Music(s)]
Work or Mast/23+/33+/31+/(TV, Series, DVD) [Chat(s), Info, Phone]

Note: TV= Television; Game=Online Interactive Gaming; Chat=IM; D/l=Download (music, movie, tv); Novel=Online Novels; SMS=Mobile Text Messaging; GamesP=Mobile Gaming; MusicP=MP3 on phone; Buy=Online Purchase; Blog=Online Blogging; Info= Online information, esp. News, Specific Information; PicSMS=Phone Pictures sent by SMS; Phone=Chatting on cellular phone; Port. Music=Separate Portable Music Player; Series=Television Series; DVD=Buying DVDs; (h)=Half as likely; (s)=Seldom

Discussion on the Transitional Generation

We can reaffirm that TV still holds the most broad penetration, but it is evident that younger and younger generations are spending more of their time, and getting exposure to media elsewhere. A national ad campaign will continue to have a TV component, but China’s current interest in Mobile convergence and Web 2.0 are reflections of where media-channel developers see and feel consumers are headed.
An important observation is the strong upload-download culture that gains strength as the generation gets younger; demonstrating the intensifying proliferation of computers and Internet in the years after 2000. While advertisers can heavily capitalize on the successful download culture, the new heights reached by Chinese blogs in the past year show the upload culture is just as, if not more, lucrative. The major caveat for Advertisers in China when engaging with the uploading culture is the censorship issue in China. This differs from America, where the online rhetoric has always been ‘Freedom of Speech’. Advertisers in China must be weary of how to manage the risks their brands assume when playing in the ‘upload’ arena. If a brand is found to be associated with an ill-favored political upload, the repercussions will likely be more extreme than just the banning of the user-generated upload along with the ad campaign. Government relations and ultimately business operations in China can be jeopardized.
Chat and Mobile Phones continue to be used most profusely within all sub-categories; however, the functions used in the mobile phone get progressively more interactive and complex as the generation gets younger. The natural explanation supports the observation made in this analysis that earlier exposure to New Media as a recreational resource catalyses depth and breadth of New Media association. The one exception observed is the youngest age group from 15-21, who seem to be consuming less New Media, and less media in general. The explanation can be found in the stringent schooling system most Chinese children must go through. Primary and secondary school students are typically at school or in mandatory study 10-12 hours per day, 6 days a week. Compared to their American counterparts who are in school 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, it is understandable why younger Chinese students have less time to spend with media. Once students shift to a university lifestyle with more personal free time, we witness an explosion of New Media consumption. Advertisers should recognize that differing strategies apply for those students in secondary school versus university. Innovative ad campaigns will leverage a Chinese secondary school student’s long-hours in class to its benefit.
The Chinese educational system has begun teaching computer and internet use in junior high schools, but not senior high schools. The first students who went through this training are just now 15-16 years old; at the bottom of the Transitional Generation. Watching how compulsory education will influence media-consumption as this generation grows older will be important.
Finally, this Transitional Generation is again a sub-section in the fabric of China’s citizens. This category refers primarily to those Chinese who a) are educated b) had/has access to technology and the Internet (Tier 1, 2 and 3 cities) c) financially capable to either own or rent access to technology and the Internet. Deeper analysis into this and other audience subgroups will yield more opportunities for Advertisers to succeed in engaging their brands with the right Chinese consumer.

Kev's Music Review: Elizabeth Shephard

This edition of Kevin's Nu Jazz Review features Canadian Jazz pianist and vocalist, Elizabeth Shephard. During the past few years on the Jazz scene, she has been making heads turn with her perfect combo of contemp jazz and funky soul. Her extremely smooth vocals give jazz divas like Norah Jones and Diana Krall a run for their money. Her up-beat, edgy tempo produces a hard-hitting, head-nodding sound that you'll want to keep coming out of your speakers time and again. Elizabeth's piano skills are equally impressive, as she is unintimidated by innovative chords and fast-paced solos. She is a testiment to the McGill University jazz program from where she graduated. Her songs are all original compositions, showing her mastery of composition as well as performance. A true pleasure all around, if you want to hear some fresh female jazz vocals that will make you smile, please, do check out Elizabeth Shephard. You won't be disapointed.

Keeping an ear to the ground,


Kev's Music Review: Jonathan Batiste

For those who love the ebony and ivory keys, check out Jonathan Batiste. This home-grown New Orleans talent plays with the virtuosity of the stridemasters of old, yet at the young age of 19, he melds hints of blues, rag, R&B and soul to make this some serious righteous jazz for our day. Jonathan can be seen performing regularly in New York City where he now resides as he attends the Juilliard school of music. He has played with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Harry Connick Jr. and more. If you are looking for some new, vibrant, energetic, foot-stoppin' Jazz that still acknowledges the roots that got us here, then Jonathan Batiste is for you.

With an ear to the ground,

Kev's Music Review: Matt Stevens

I want to introduce a rapidly rising stars of the Jazz world: Matt Stevens. This guitar-playing impresario is a fresh voice in the jazz guitar's evolution. With strong influences in both tone and repetoire from Pat Metheny, Matt Stevens infuses his own string of blues and funk into the mix. After watching him live at the Rex in Toronto this past weekend, I have to say he is one of the finest guitarists of the new generation. Not only is he a great solo musician, but his is a fantastic band leader as well. His quintet moves together as one, laying thick grooves with heavy percussive bass-lines in support of Matt's forward-thinking riffs. Check him out if you're into some serious progressive jazz guitar!

With an ear to the ground,

Update from China June 2006

Woohoo! I actually wrote a shorter update this time! This will be my last update from China before my return to Canada on June 30th 2006. Please enjoy this letter and I cannot wait to catch up with you face to face!

--> -->INTRO

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--> -->POST SCRIPT.... To My Brothers and Sisters

Well, it is now almost exactly 2 weeks before I leave to come back to Canada. I figure I should write one more closing update letter for everyone; more like a preamble before I come back. I still can't believe I am leaving already. Sigh…


Work is officially over for me! I resigned a month early from my job. The majority of the reason was because of some upper-management difficulties and disagreements. The decision has only had positive affects as I now have time to do many other things, like work on my own business, make more connections with important people in certain industries, packing, and spending time with my girlfriend. More on all of that later.

The final month of work was really stressful with a lot of time constraints and a lot of missed expectations. All in all it was an extremely educational experience, working with all the company politics and learning a lot about my own limitations and the limitations of others. It will be invaluable as I run my own company as well as watch the organizational behaviour of other companies to see how they differ and what kind of execution & communication structure they have in place.

Continuing from last update, I finished the redesign of all the websites, and we have now done a soft launch of the online school. You can now see it at There are a lot of improvements that have to be made, we had to cut out about 75% of the functions to meet management expectations, but the main goal was achieved; i.e. now you can learn online any time of the day with a live Mandarin teacher straight from China. I was very happy to finish my projects and hand over the remaining duties to other managers. I feel like I have really done a lot for the company and helped position it for greater long-term success. Happily, management feels so as well. They really didn't want me to leave, but I had to insist.

The greatest achievement over the past several months would have to be the 2006 China Business Tour hosted by New South Global, an executive private branch of the University of New South Wales, and presented by us, Executive Communications. As I mentioned in the last update, it took place during the entire second week of May (May 8 to 13) and was a full 5-day conference introducing top CEOs and executives from Australia about doing business in China. The conference was a complete success. From start to finish it was more than five-stars, with "surprise" upgrades of the participant's accommodations to two-storey executive suites and other services that really surpassed the bar of excellence. The participants thoroughly enjoyed themselves and we have been getting nothing but the highest of praise ever since.

So work is done for this term, the next time I work again in a full-time setting will be after I graduate with my MBA. I am excited to see what differences the pre and post- MBA work experience will have for me.


Since finishing work at the end of May, I have a full month before returning to Canada. What have I done, and what will I be doing?

First things first, chill… There are some days, I have to admit (rather shamefully, though, I don't know why) where I do absolutely nothing. I just remain at home, and either watch DVDs, or read or other things. Actually a lot of my time is spent just enjoying the time. I do not do anything special in particular, I am not on a mission to "get the most out of China", but rather, simply living my life. I thoroughly enjoy my apartment, I enjoy walking around the neighbourhood, I enjoy spending time with friends, and everything Beijing has to offer.

So what else? That's not all I do of course. My dad didn't raise me to be a slacker. Right after finishing with work, I took a week long trip to Xi'an. My friend's cousin was getting married, and as I had never been to Xi'an, I decided to tag along and accompany her. It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip, and I am quite taken with Xi'an, its local people and its culture. I was also invited to my friend's cousin's wedding, so I had the opportunity to attend yet another Chinese wedding, always an interesting and entertaining event. I ended up sitting beside one of the uncles who every few minutes made me join him in a ritualistic downing of a shot of BaiJiu (white wine). I'm going to bring some back so you can try it. This stuff isn't for lightweights.

This month I've been slowly working on my business. My web design company, DotcomTakeout is still being programmed and prepping for a North American launch. There were more things to do than I expected, and my employees have been exceedingly busy with other tasks. It does not look like I will meet my self-set deadlines before coming back to Canada. Nevertheless, things will get done, and some time this summer I should have a working website-creation program to facilitate my service.

In addition to my own business, I am also preparing for my future career and trying to open doors and opportunities in the industries I am headed towards. Every week I now go out to art galleries and meet with different gallery owners and curators. The meetings are first and foremost introductory; they are chances for me to build personal relationships with these people of interest and help me research and learn more about the art industry in China. So far I have been able to build relationships with some prominent Art managers here in Beijing and have even begun discussions about a partnership with one such gallery. If things continue to go in the same direction, I may come back to Canada representing quite a few Chinese artists, at which point I will be able to put together exhibitions or gallery shows, or, in the least, sell their works in North America. I think it gives you a brief idea of the direction I am moving my career. For now I am merely researching and building contacts, but we will see where it all goes.

In this month of free time, I have more time to spend with my girlfriend. I guess a lot of you will be particularly interested in this part of my life. I wrote in my last email to you that I had begun dating again. That was back in March, and now it's June. Dating has again turned into another monogamous relationship. Her name is Melody, and she is a professional actress. Mostly her work is in Chinese television soap operas, but she has also done a lot in other genres such as MTV-style programs and commercials. Right now she is touring around China doing a musical. So, in all, I guess I actually do not get to spend too much time with her, but whenever she is in town we try our best to be together. I think I will leave it here. Needless to say when I return to Canada I will be in yet another long-distance relationship, but I have realized I had better get used to this reality as my lifestyle and career demands it.

Other than my company and making contacts in the China Art industry and Melody, I am spending my time packing. Sad… sad… just, so sad… I'm not going to say any more or else I will make myself more upset.


As the central director and coordinator for the Australian Business Conference it was an excruciating high-intensity week, but it was completely worth it and I was definitely in my element. That conference helped me realize just how happy I am managing events and public speaking. Those are things that I do really well and very naturally; I feel empowered when I am in those roles. It has been several years since I have done an event like that and I had almost forgotten how it felt. It all came back to me and was such a refreshing feeling. Management is a wonderful experience, and I am happy to be in that role. However, what you manage is just as important.

My experiences here in China have reaffirmed that finding the right industry that fuels your soul is of utmost importance. If you do not have a passion for the industry you're in, you cannot optimize your effectiveness. You are just able to go the extra mile when you are genuinely impassioned and have a vested interest in seeing the results; interests that go beyond money and a paycheck.

While being a manager at Executive Communications, a company in the education industry, I learned an immeasurable amount about daily business practices and what it takes to be a successful project manager (and I'm not done learning yet). However, while the education industry is extremely important and I believe in it, it just is not my passion. In everything that I have done in the past few months, the conference was the most exciting and fulfilling that that I accomplished. While the conference was educational in nature, my role in it was really on the event-management side of things, and not on the conference content itself. It dawned on my yet again that the next industry I pick had better to be one that I truly have a passion for.

I think it is appropriate to inform you (if you do not already know) that I am returning to Canada to begin my MBA studies in September. I have decided to return to the Schulich School of Business for several reasons; 1) I will be able to finish my studies in 8 months, versus 2 full years 2) because of this, I will cut my tuition fees in less than half 3) because it is in Toronto, I will cut my living expenses down to a minimal 4) Schulich continues to rise in the MBA rankings is now comprehensively the 1# B-school in Canada and 5) it is the only school in Canada that offers a MBA specialization in Arts and Media Management. Therefore, because of all these reasons, I have decided to return to Toronto and will be staying there for no less than 8 months while I complete my MBA.

The fifth reason really came out after I decided to only choose an industry I was passionate about. Up until that point I was still considering working through my MBA in order to explore careers in strategic consulting or innovation management. While these two industries are interesting and I am sure I will have an opportunity to participate in them in the future, they still pose too many variables and leave a question mark when it comes to my passion. It is inevitable that one day I had to return to my roots and appease the artist within me. I also think it was certainly God's will for me to be placed here in Beijing, the epicenter of China Art and Thought. Being here has only reinforced and grown my thirst for a career in the arts.

This realization to go back into the arts industry came right after the Australian Conference in early May and coincided with my acceptance of Schulich's acceptance of my application into the MBA program. As I spent time thinking about my future career, my future MBA studies and my desire to really choose the right career that fit me, I began looking through Schulich's course syllabuses. I went through every curriculum and started to make a shortlist of all the courses that interested me, completely disregarding what industry or specialization it belonged to. To my surprise the majority of my choices clustered around two main specializations, 1) Arts and Media Management, and 2) Strategic Management. I checked my graduation requirements and realized I was capable of completing my MBA with a double specialization in both.

Once I saw what direction my MBA was taking, and began to think about what that meant for my future career, it all suddenly began to make sense and I began to feel really excited and really at peace with my decision. I knew it was the right one for me. I feel exactly the same as I did when I decided to go into International Business for my undergraduate. I know it is the right decision, and it has been my sunrise every morning I wake up.

Since this realization, I have been actively making opportunities for my future career with the time I have left here in China. That is why you see me making so much effort making contacts with Chinese gallery owners and art suppliers. These contacts I will bring back with me to Canada, where I hope to use them in my MBA studies as I create opportunities for myself in the Chinese Art industry.

Truth be told, I have not yet fully decided which of the three art fields I will go into. All three major routes pose so much interest for me; from Fine Arts, to Music, to Theatre, I love them all and will need the following year to really see which of the three I will go into first. I do intend to get involved with all three fields if I can, but one at a time. For me the easiest to enter is the Fine Arts industry, just because I have so much extensive experience in it and I now have some connections in the Chinese Contemporary Art world.

The Australian conference helped me realize that my forte lies in event management. And the arts industries, be it Fine Art, Music or Theatre all require truly talented leaders who have refined skills in event management.

So, as you can tell, I'm pretty excited about this new direction. I haven't even begun to go into detail about exactly my ideas and thoughts on all of this, but, that will have to wait until I see each of you in person to discuss it. Exciting things are happening in Toronto. We have a group of artists and musicians who are waiting for my return to start a new dialogue on the Toronto art and music scene and explore new ways to push the envelope and find new direction for our art forms. All very very exciting stuff!

If some of you recall, last update I wrote a number of pages on what I thought about China's culture and its calling for global leadership. I concluded by discussing my hopes to contribute to Chinese society and culture-creation in a positive manner. I feel that this whole Arts Management business will be an appropriate avenue for me to do just that.


I think I handsomely summed up my living related issues in "My Free Time" section, as living is all I am doing now.

The only thing that I will add in this section is how I'm feeling during these last few days here in China.

I'm half excited, half unsettled, half depressed. That makes one and a half, but that's because at any given moment I'm a combination of any two of the three. Excited because I get to see all my old friends and family, and excited about starting school and getting a bit of the Toronto sun. Unsettled because I have changed almost in entirety and am not really sure whether or not everyone will be able to adjust to who I am now. Depressed because I love China so much, and I have a life here. I can't believe that I am leaving so soon, and I can't believe its already been two years.

I have been talking to a lot of people in particular about feeling unsettled about coming back to Toronto. I am even afraid to call it my home now, because I don't know what my home consists of. Many people are saying I am overreacting, or thinking too much into things, which I probably am, but these feelings will only resolve themselves after I come back to Toronto and have some time to readjust. I know there is a whole lot of reverse-culture-shock waiting for me back in Canada. A lot of my worries just come from the preparation for all the change that will happen in the next couple of weeks.

So living here in China consists of spending quality time with friends, employees and contacts, as well as spending time by myself and enjoying where I am in life. I know I will be equally happy when I am back in Toronto, because I will be among friends and loved ones. It will just be… different.


Looking forward, I fly out of Beijing on June 30th. I land in Toronto around 2:30pm on June 30th. I will go home and rest and spend some time with my family. Early the next morning I pack up and go with a couple friends up to Montreal, where another group of friends will be waiting for us. I will spend July 1st to July 5th in Montreal enjoying the hospitality of the city and listening to the wonderful sounds from the Montreal International Jazz Festival. From there I will return back to Toronto in time for a Schulich School of Business BBQ on the 6th.

I am in the middle of planning a quasi-homecoming party that should take place either on the weekend of July 8-9 or the weekend after, July 15-16. I will inform everyone when the plans and venue firm up. I should be in Toronto for the remainder of July as I have a few friends coming up to visit, and make that time to catch up individually with each and every one of you!

In the beginning of August I will be taking a trip to New York and then to Chicago, again visiting friends that I have met along the way in the past few years. I will play host to them up in Toronto in the middle of August. Through the end of August I should be between Toronto and New York, with a short family outing somewhere in between. By the end of August I will prepare and begin my MBA studies, and thus starts my life as a full-time student again.

Throughout the summer and into the remainder of the year I will be spending time contacting different people in the art communities both in Toronto and New York to research and generate interest in the art and artists I will bring from China. I have no idea where this will all go, but hopefully somewhere fascinating.

Finally, when my company is ready I will begin marketing and promoting the company's services in Toronto and the rest of North America to start building a cash flow for that business.

It may sound like I'm extremely busy this summer, but rest assured, I will make all the time for each and every one of you to catch up. I truly look forward to seeing all of you and getting updates on what you have been doing, how your lives have progressed, how your characters have changed, and what values are important to you now. I am sure we will have a multitude of things to talk about and a variety of experiences to share with each other.

I will see you all very soon. Thank you for taking the time and following me on this journey as I have lived in Asia the past two years. I am not too sure whether I will continue my update emails in the coming year, but we will see. Thank you all for being such an important part of my life.

With gratitude and love,


POST SCRIPT.... To My Brothers and Sisters

I'm going to leave this short as I figure most of you who are reading this part will probably want to talk about this stuff in person in detail when I come back.

To sum up, a lot of me being unsettled about coming home has a lot to do with spiritual matters and the feeling that I don't really have a spiritual home in Toronto. I know I have many brothers and sisters supporting me and praying for me, but, I also know how much I've changed in the past couple years, not just mentally and emotionally, but especially spiritually. I do not know whether people back home will be able to fully adjust to who I am now.

Being in China has really given me a variety of experiences that have ultimately affected my faith, influenced it, and pushed it in different directions. There are a lot of spiritual norms that were formed back in Toronto that have been challenged here in China, and I have had to deal with them and grow to comes to terms with how a Christian faith can really encompass such variety. When I say variety I do not mean just style, but also definitions and the alleged codification of certain spiritual standards or models.

Pushing my own spiritual envelope in this manner, I am therefore apprehensive about returning to Toronto and engaging the spiritual culture there. I feel so distant from the language and mentalities that dominate North American Christian faithdom; I am afraid the friction of integrating back into that society will just be too difficult and painful. There are going to be a lot of differing opinions, and I know there will be people who will not be able to cope with the differences and define them as heresy or some other challenge to their version of the Christian faith.

I know I am being overly pessimistic and do not give enough credit to the flexibility of people, let alone God's love and grace that covers all differences between His children. However, the line between Christ-inspired doctrine and doctrine attributed to societal culture is really blurred, and my experiences here in China have just reaffirmed how grey this area is.

In the end I know God's love covers all, but, I am just unsure whether everyone (including myself) will be able to draw on that divine love in all the circumstances that life brings forward.

I will be looking for a new Church to participate in when I return to Toronto, please pray that God will bring me to the right place with the right people to help support me through this stage in my walk. China being the spiritual environment as it is, some serious spiritual intimacy back home may be a welcome change. In His providence…

OK, I will stop here; I look forward to sitting down with each of you and open up my heart, mind, and soul! There is nothing more important in life than the nourishment of one another's souls. I look forward to the feast that awaits.

In Him,


Update from China March 2006

Dear Friends! I really tried to make this update shorter this time, but alas to no avail. Please take your time and read straight through, or skip to the chapters most relevant to you. Thank you in advance, and enjoy!

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--> -->POST SCRIPT.... To My Brothers and Sisters

Greetings friends and family! It's Kevin! It's been a long time since I've last written you an update letter. By my calculations, it's been about nine months!

A lot has happened since that time, but I will not include everything. I'll touch on the important things which should adequately catch you up with what I've been up to.


Through the later part of last year, I moved completely out of teaching and into full-time management at the company I work for, Executive Communications. My title is still Overseas Program Manager, but my projects have changed.

I successfully completed the creation of the China Immersion Program as well as the China Immersion Program's Student Edition. These are both programs that enable foreigners to come to China to learn Mandarin and immerse themselves in Chinese culture. If you are interested, you can visit the website and learn more about these programs. Click on the "Student Program" link on the home page to go to the special Student Edition website.

I digress. I am now heading up several new projects which are much more intense and very exciting. My major work now involves managing a new initiative to create an online language school. This was originally a proposal I pitched to the CEO of our company and the other managing directors. After several months of deliberation, they agreed and decided to go ahead with my proposal and put me in charge of the project. I now have several teams under my supervision, an IT development team, a marketing team, and a content creation team. If all goes according to plan, before long you will be able to learn Mandarin online via web-phone and web-cam with a live Mandarin teacher in a virtual classroom!

I'm learning a lot about outsourcing and the international IT community. I'm also learning a lot about budgeting, project scheduling, team-building and cross-functional managing. In addition, staying innovative with fresh business strategies for both the company I work for and my own company is an exciting endeavour.

Because of our rapid expansion, we have opened a new office just for the new Online School initiative. Let me tell you, opening a new office complete with furniture and equipment and proper ventilation is not an easy task! But its all done now and we are functioning wonderfully.

Aside from the major IT project, I am also coordinating a business conference for a group of Australian CEOs and executives who will be taking a tour of China's major business centers. This conference is through Executive Communications and we are partnering with the University of New South Wales. The conference is focused on educating the participants on a multitude of aspects about doing business in China: entry strategies, political/economic climate, negotiating and relationship-building issues, to name a few. The conference is a week-long event with two key-note speakers per day and a good variety of banquets, sight-seeing, and networking mixers. The opening ceremonies commence the second week of May, right after the May 1st labour-day holidays.

So that is about it for work! I have also been redeveloping the company's websites, so far six in all. I am really relieved to say that they are scheduled to be completed and launched within the month. Really my days go by very quickly. Once I step into the office it feels like five minutes have gone by and the day is already done! I know things are just going to continue like this, and within a heartbeat it will be the summer, the end of my term at Executive Communications.


Where do I start? I took a nice little extended vacation from the middle of December all the way through to the Middle of February. Cool huh? About two months off, but it wasn't really time off, I was so busy during those two months that in the end I needed a vacation from my vacation.

I left Beijing in December and flew to Hong Kong to spend my Christmas, New Years and Chinese New Year holidays. Christmas was spent reflectively with a couple friends and a couple phone calls back home to my family and friends. The two weeks leading up to New Years was full-blown partying. I had so much pent-up energy and dance-floor-drive built up from Beijing, it was a real relief to let loose in Hong Kong. Even though Beijing is an amazing place culturally and intellectually, sometimes nothing is better than a pumpin' club with some sick beats. Beijing still needs a really fresh, consistent club; or maybe it's just that I need more dance-competent friends who are ready to party it up. Needless to say, I was able to have a good time in Hong Kong with some of my best friends, and the party just got better as more of my friends made their way to Hong Kong for our planned reunion.

This New Years reunion in Hong Kong was for the group of friends I made during my stay in Hong Kong in the Spring of 2003. This year we thought we would go back to the place where it all started. Now that everyone is sprinkled around the globe, it was really special for each person to make the trek out to Hong Kong. We did all the classic things there is to do in Hong Kong: Nightly HK Diners, walking through the old neighbourhood and campus, eating at our favourite dim sum places and of course, Mongkok shopping (if you don't know what any of these things are, don't worry, you can ask me later).

Seems like all fun and games doesn't it? Well I was doing a lot more during those few weeks. First off, it wasn't completely a holiday as I was having a lot of meetings at my company's Hong Kong headquarters. A lot of time was spent in planning and strategy meetings with the CEO and the managing directors of Executive Communications. I also was able to do a little consulting work for the Hong Kong office as they were in need of some fresh perspectives about business strategies for the Hong Kong market.

More importantly, during those few weeks with Christmas, New Years, my reunion and work, I was studying for my GMAT examination. For those who do not know, the GMAT examination is a mandatory entrance aptitude test for anyone wanting to pursue their MBA. I started studying in Beijing back in December, but really began to focus on my preparation when I arrived in Hong Kong. It was really hard to juggle GMAT preparations with spending time with my friends. One full GMAT practice test usually took about five hours, so it really cut into my time I had with my friends and my work obligations. Luckily I managed. I did my examination in Hong Kong four days after New Years. My results were alright, better than I had expected, but worse than I had hoped for. Nevertheless it gave me a fighting chance into the schools I wanted to get into. More to come later about my MBA plans.

When the majority of my friends left after the reunion, I stayed on in Hong Kong because my mother came to visit. My mother stayed in Asia with me for about three weeks, and it was a really enjoyable time with her and another family friend. Her visit was originally three-fold, 1) to see me 2) to help me move back to Canada as I was scheduled to leave around January and 3) to help me get my Hong Kong Identity Card. Since my plans changed and I did not move back to Canada in January, she just came to visit me and help me with the HKID application process. In between processing times, we took a trip back up to Beijing for a week where she was able to see how I was living, my lifestyle, my work, and my friends. Spending time with my mother was really a blessed experience. I was able to see how much she had grown and how our relationship had progressed and deepened while I have been away.

My mother stayed until just after Chinese New Year. We had a lovely time walking through her old neighbourhood in Hong Kong. It's kind of funny because her old house is now a brand new parking lot. It was special to walk through my mother's childhood memories. I even saw my grandmother's old high school. It was a truly unique experience, helping me understand my parents better. Jogging through her memories helped me learn more about my parents' pasts and provided an opportunity for my mother to share with me new stories about their youth that I had never heard before.

After Chinese New Years I returned back to Beijing to recuperate from two months of living off of other people's good graces (I moved around Hong Kong staying with different friends). My free time in Beijing since then has been filled with a variety of different events. From January through to early March, the majority of my free time was spent writing Business School applications. I applied to six B-schools in all, four in America and two in Canada. Each school required an average of five essays, plus a fully completed application. In total I wrote over thirty essays. February's free time was spent as such; everyday after work I would come home and write at least one essay question, with weekends spent completing the applications and sending them out to their respective schools. Come early March, I finished all my applications and had a great celebration to treat myself for a job well done.

In the first weekend of March I took a trip to Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Shanghai was spent visiting some of my best friends who had just returned to China from Canada. My trip this time to Shanghai was different from my previous times in that city because we spent all of our time in the suburbs of Shanghai instead of the tourist-packed Bund. It was quite refreshing to see the type of expat lifestyle my friends were living in Shanghai, with marked points of difference from mine in Beijing. It gave me an idea of the type of life I would be leading if I decide to relocate to Shanghai in the future. The couple of days were well spent catching up with my friends and celebrating, Shanghai-style.

Shenzhen was merely transit to Hong Kong. However, it was good to see how far Shenzhen had developed from the last time I was there in 2003. It is wonderful to see that China is developing across the board, not just in the first-tier cities. My only regret about Shenzhen is that I was not able to visit some of the places I had frequented before; namely the infamous DVD/fake goods/custom-tailor markets we know and love.

I returned to Hong Kong only a month after my last visit because I had to pick up my Hong Kong ID. That's right, I am now legally allowed to live and work in Hong Kong with no questions asked. I can also walk in and out of Hong Kong without having to show or stamp my Canadian passport, which is a sorely needed benefit. My trip to Hong Kong also allowed me to have some critical business meetings, so it all worked out perfectly.

My free time since that trip, with the absence of any more applications and essays, has been to relax and enjoy the warming weather of Beijing. I've started my golf season already, and have had more chances to spend time with some close friends. This also explains why you are now receiving an update letter from me! I have been so excited to sit down with my coffee and my laptop and type this out to you!

In the future, my free time will be refocused on preparing my Web design company for my departure from China. There are certain organizational issues that have to be put into action so that this business can be sustained with my extended absence. I will also be taking more business trips to Shanghai and perhaps Hong Kong if they are needed. I do hope that I will have a chance to go to other places in China (but none outside of China because I have no more room in my passport for stamps); however looking at my schedule I doubt I will have too much more free time for traveling. Regardless, with my change in projects, my schedule is more regulated and I have more free time. I hope to use every minute I have to the fullest.


As always I am looking forward, and so my thoughts have been dwelling on my decisions to stay in China, to pursue my MBA, and my life afterwards.

Extending my stay in China was a simple decision that grew out of several circumstances that developed last year. 1) the offer from my company to stay on to head up this new Online project 2) the MBA requirement that applicants needed two years of full-time employment experience and 3) What would I do in Canada if I came back so early??!!

Actually, I originally planned to come back to Canada earlier because I wanted to spend more time with Carmen, since we had been apart for such a long time. However, as some of you already know, Carmen and I separated last September. If this is your first time hearing about this, no need to get weepy-eyed or sentimental. Carmen is a wonderful person and I do not regret one day of our relationship. The relationship helped me become the man I am today and will continue to influence me as I continue to mature. I am fine now. I was very honest with my emotions and took the time needed to ensure I was healing well. Needless to say, as my relationship with Carmen was a pivotal factor for my returning to Canada earlier, by January there was no longer a strong incentive to return.

Confirming my desire to pursue my MBA came last fall. I feel since I now have almost two years of full-time work experience, with most of that being management experience, I have a clearer idea what additional knowledge I need to learn. In fact, a major driving factor for my continued studies is comes from my experiences as an entrepreneur. In order to be a successful entrepreneur, I must have comprehensive knowledge on many aspects of the business. Even though I am versed in international business, strategy, finance and marketing, I feel that my accounting, logistical and legal knowledge is insufficient for me to be the best business person I can be. That is why my goal when going back to school is to generalize as much as possible. Learning about a myriad of subjects I never studied in my undergrad, and forcing myself to study the courses I detested before will better equip me for the future.

My most recent dilemma has been what b-school to choose. While I am still waiting for responses from most of the schools, the general choice comes down to Canada vs. US schools. In Canadian schools (Toronto B-schools) I get to study for 1/10th the cost it would take me to study in the States, I would finish my MBA in 8 months versus 2 years, and I would be able to live at home and spend precious time deepening relationships with my family and friends. In the US schools I would study in one of the top B-schools in the world, gain more unique international experience, make connections with elite classmates, and perhaps secure an even brighter career prospect. I have been deliberating between these two options for the past month, and at this point, I have a very strong conviction, even if I got into some of the US schools, to come back and study in Canada. I think looking at the most important aspects in life (Spiritual, Emotional/Relationship and Financial) the Toronto schools are the smartest option. I would welcome any comments or opinions anyone has about this issue. I am always looking for more insight, especially from those who either have an MBA or have experience with the business world.

One more thing; being in Toronto means I get to drive! Man, do I miss driving… I miss my car. Jazz filling the cabin, one hand on the wheel and one arm gently resting on the adjacent headrest, cruising through the city streets at night with only the light of the street lamps slipping by… ahhhh…

I have begun looking at courses offered by some of the schools, and have already made a short-list of subjects that I want to take. I was like a kid in a candy shop! I am so excited about all the applicable subjects I can learn going back to school! My passion for business has continued to grow, and now I have a much more focused and driven purpose to my learning.

I find that I really do spend much of my time thinking about the future, but I guess that is only natural for someone my age at this stage in life? I am starting to hear of friends back in Canada who are getting engaged, buying their first homes, or having babies! Being someone who is concerned about the future, I wonder when that stuff is going to happen to me. Looking at the direction my life is headed right now, I don't know whether I will eventually have to choose between a transient life in Asia and a settled life in North America, or whether I will be able to find a career that neatly incorporates both lifestyles together. My heart is somewhat torn; half of me is in love with Asia, its energy, adventure and innovation, while the other half wants desperately to cultivate life-long relationships which only a consistent, settled life can afford. We will have to see what will transpire won't we? Please help me put it into prayer.

Changing tunes, many people are specifically interested in my perspectives about Asia and what I have learned from my experiences out here. It's funny because some of my accountability partners expect me to have some new exciting story or lesson to share every time we connect. It's hard to always have new material, because I speak to some of my friends every week! But since this update to the rest of you has been such a long time coming, I'm not going to disappoint.

I have spent much time writing MBA applications in the last few months, and the exercise has given me ample time to dwell on the condition of the Asian experience and my role in its development. Personally I feel like China today mirrors what America was at the turn of the last century; a place full of opportunities where anyone with a great idea, a lucky combination of connections and financing, and most importantly courage, can become a success. Everyone can see the powerful growth of China's economy, military and political positions in the global arena. However, China's rise to power has a stark difference from America's a hundred years earlier.

Once scorned by the British as a land of uncultured, undisciplined outlaws, America quickly produced a life philosophy and a national culture undeniably attractive to all. As a student of history, I have concluded that the crown which defines a true super-power, an empire that inspires the ages, is Culture. Military, Economic, and Political might are essential building blocks for a civilization, but what sets any empire apart in the annals of history is its culture and the way it inspires the rest of the world. Think of the Roman, the French, the English and the American empires. What did each of them have in common? What made them stand out from the Babylonian, Egyptian, Mongol, Ottoman, Nazi and Soviet empires? It was their inviting, intoxicating culture. All of these empires had economic, military and political might. Yet it is the culture each civilization breeds that defines its status in history. Where is China today? As I stated before, China is where America was in the late 1800's (the Wild West). But where are the Benjamin Franklins? The Thomas Jeffersons? The Abraham Lincolns? The Davey Crocketts? Just as importantly, will China produce its Louis Armstrongs? Its Elvis Presleys? Its Jackson Pollacks? Its Miles Davises? Its "Leave it to Beaver"s?

Will China grow to inspire nations, or will it stunt its preeminence because it fails to influence and lead by trust and acceptance? Sadly China is caught in a "catch up" mindset and is hurting itself by importing its values from a declining civilization whose ideals are severely corrupted. Instead China should venture into creating its own distinct philosophy and define its culture and identity to position itself for future international leadership. China isn't there yet. It will get there though. It will have to choose how it wants to be perceived by the global community. It has to decide whether it wants to accept full responsibility for leadership. It will only hold on to leadership if it can affect the individual. Economics, politics and military might are too macro. Will people one day say "Oh I wish I could be a Chinese citizen" as they once said for the Roman, French, English and American empires? China has a second chance at global leadership. I am excited to see whether this time around they will get it right.

This is where I plan to make my contribution. To the development of China's new identity and culture. My preoccupation with China stems from the dream that I may have a hand in helping grow and influence a Chinese Benjamin Franklin, Pablo Picasso, or Jane Austin. I plan to have a career developing Asian innovation and establishing a business that facilitates in China's new identity and culture; a culture that the world will be motivated to follow and imitate. While studying my MBA and upon graduation, I will be looking for opportunities to participate in a company that will give me an avenue to contribute to this purpose.


Too much thinking and dreaming right? What else do you think I do here in China when I am by myself? People always ask me how I feel I have grown or changed. I've noticed quite evidently that I am a lot quieter than I used to be. I still haven't fully explained this change, but I surmise it is because I have grown accustomed to the solitude in which I find myself. I think I feel a lot more comfortable with being alone. I also find that not everything needs to have a response. In a country where the majority of people have differing ideas than mine, with opinions that normally clash with mine, I have grown accustomed to keeping my mouth shut, and letting them keep their opinions, while I keep mine. I guess I have grown weary of the argument or just the converse of differing opinions. This is not to say that when someone asks for my opinion I will decline, but I will no longer actively look to hash out every single issue that is presented before me, even if the ideas differ from mine. If I were to do so, I would end up spending every hour of the day in debate and would still make no difference in people's lives. I am finding that people nowadays talk way too much, and do too little. I do not know whether this change in me is good or bad, but all I know is that I prefer to listen much more now, and only say what is necessary, if it has a purpose.

This issue also relates to another observation I have. I am finding a widening discrepancy between the people I find interesting and of value, and those who I feel waste my time, and waste their own time. Maybe to some of you this statement feels a little bigoted; maybe some of you feel this is a natural step in a person's maturing process. I don't know. All I know is whether new or old friends, I am finding it harder to relate to everybody, and finding there is less to talk about.

Pretty depressing huh? I'm just reporting to you what I observe. This issue might be more pronounced in China. In China you will meet one of two kinds of foreigners: 1) those that come to China with a preset purpose or reason and 2) those that come to China with no purpose or reason, perhaps running away from something. Naturally the number of people who fall into the first category are dwarfed by those who fall into the second. Many people who claim they are in China to "learn about the culture" or "get some international experience" do nothing more than squander their time and money by living an expatriate life and feeling they are more important than the local Chinese. Many do not make an effort to learn the language or the culture. Many do not try to make local Chinese friends, and always spend their time with other foreigners in expat hangouts criticizing and evaluating China based on their limited experience with limited perspectives. Many are mortified by "real life" after college in North America, and feel that coming to China will instantly and magically prepare them for what awaits them back home. Even more tragically, many who have not yet found themselves feel that China will help them find their identity and purpose in life.

Truthfully, China has so many things going on, offers so many distractions, temptations, and new experiences, anyone who does not first have a purpose will quickly be swept away in one direction or another. It takes a strong will and a determined mindset to stay the course in China. Too many opportunities abound, and those who think that China will help them focus or help them find themselves are severely mistaken. China will instead push you to lose yourself if you are not prepared. This is probably one reason why I find so many people a waste of time, because they are being swept along without taking the reigns of control for their own life. I have little in common with these people and find I have less to say. My contributions to their debates and discussions make little difference because they speak merely to talk, not to make an impact on their own lives or the lives of others.

Alright, enough with the depressing skepticism; I will change tones. This section is supposed to be about how I'm living. I try to live a routine life as best I can. I go out when I have to, and stay home when I can. As a full-time manager my schedule is more regulated and I can afford more time for myself. This has benefited with increased time spent at the gym, and time spent on weekends doing things I enjoy, such as coffee shops, golfing, and keeping up with the latest in the art and music scenes of Beijing.

China always ends up making your life interesting, even if you try to make it dull. This past January I was showcased again on BBC radio as discussion panelist about my views of China's social and cultural development in the coming five years. In addition this past month, a short program aired on Beijing Television about my life in Beijing. The program chronicles foreigners and their lives in Beijing. I had a camera crew follow me around for two days filming everything I did. It was an interesting experience, but a little bit embarrassing having people staring at me wondering why I was being filmed.

Next week I will be traveling to Shanghai for a couple business negotiations, and while there, my fellow managers and I will be going to the Rolling Stones concert. A concert for only 8000, this is the Rolling Stone's first concert in China and smallest concert in decades. What is more exciting, my friends and I are invited to the Stone's pre-party! The tickets and the invitation were a result of some connections we have. Sometimes I am reminded that being a foreigner in China really does offer a special experience that few can enjoy in North America.

To wrap up my "Living" section, I wanted to add that I have started dating again. It's a very unique experience to say the least, dating in China. I am again learning a lot about women, and the vast variety of different women there are in the world. It is quite refreshing to see the distinctions between Chinese and foreign women, their attitudes, philosophies and expectations towards life. I myself am challenged to rethink my expectations towards women, and my expectations for what kind of woman I would like to settle down with. Dating is helping me reevaluate what attributes in a woman I feel are essential and unessential. All in all its great fun, and I rather enjoy the process.


Well! The time has come to conclude this update! For those of you who have made it this far, kudos to you! I am happy to inform everyone that I have already been accepted to at least one MBA program starting this fall, so most definitely I will be returning to North America for at least one year. That being said, I would like to inform you that I will be flying back to Canada on June 30th! My aim when I return to Canada for the months of July and August is to relax as much as I can, and do a little bit of traveling. Once I land on June 30th, I will immediately be traveling to Montreal for the International Jazz Festival. I have gone every year for the past five years. I missed it last year, and regret it viciously. I will be in Montreal until the end of the festival on July 9th, at which time I will return to Toronto. Those who are interested in joining me in Montreal please let me know as soon as possible so that I can plan accordingly. In addition to Montreal, I will be making trips to New York, Chicago, and some of the states down South to visit friends during the two summer months.

As I count it, I now have less than 100 days left in China before returning. I will try to write one more update before I return, but no promises. I know as the departure date nears, my spare time will be extremely limited. For those who plan on visiting me in Beijing before I leave, please notify me soon so I can schedule free time for you. I haven't even left China yet, and I'm already missing it.

I am looking forward to seeing everyone when I return! For many of you, it will have been two years since the last time we met. I will say plainly and honestly, I miss each and every one of you. There may be some type of get-together in July, so be on the look out!

Thank you for spending the time to read my update letter. It really means the world to me that you value our relationship so passionately. It has been my pleasure to share my life with you, and in turn I hope you will continue to share your life with me. Let's continue to deepen our friendship wait for the day when we can see each other again face to face. You are all important to me, thank you for your support.


POST SCRIPT// To my Brothers and Sisters

The following is written for those who are interested in my spiritual wellbeing and the spiritual wellbeing of China.

To my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, greetings to you all! Thank you for taking the time to read my update and more importantly for including me in your thoughts and prayers. I will try to keep this section as succinct as possible and only reiterate on the points that require mentioning.

In terms of new developments, there has been little. Things are more or less consistent; Church every week, devotions every day. God has been asking me to focus on consistency more than anything else. It has been a great challenge, especially since I have been traveling so much in recent months. The months spent in Hong Kong were very difficult spiritually because consistency was thrown out the window. Back in Beijing, things are more settled and I have more opportunity to keep my time with God consistent.

Last September I felt called to begin serving again. It has been several years since I've served in a Christian institution. Serving in fellowships and accountability groups are wonderful, but there is still something to be gained from active service in a church. I auditioned for a spot on the Beijing International Christian Fellowship's inspiration team (musical worship) as a male vocalist. God blessed me with the opportunity to serve with them, and I have had the privilege to contribute musically to the inspiration team several times in the past few months. Serving has allowed me to meet new people and make new friends at church. The BICF is a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary melting pot, bringing together people of all ethnic, educational, linguistic, and economic backgrounds together into common service. I am already regretting not taking active participation earlier in this church. The way God uses diversity to his glory is something only accomplished through will.

Since January, I have also been trying to get into a small group or serve in other ministries (counseling, mentoring, evangelical), but initiatives have not worked out and I am still unable to find a match for what I am looking for and my schedule. As I have three months left, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find avenues of participation, as many would best be served long-term. I am determined when I come back to Canada that I will find a good church to attend and quickly begin serving. Even if it is only for one year, I have learned that God does not ask you to serve only when you are settled in. It is wrong for me to excuse myself from service just because I might be leaving in a few months or a year. God requires us to continually affect and love those around us. He is the one that blesses us with the opportunity to leave and enter new environments, but not at the expense of service to others.

I have made a very good friend here in Beijing. We meet every Sunday after service and have lunch together and share our lives. We are accountable to each other and share our failures, weaknesses, temptations, victories and revelations. He has become very important to me and has been my anchor and my outlet here in Beijing. Even though I did not join a small group, God has given me what He feels I need: one honest, transparent brother.

In my devotions, in my discussions with my accountability brother, in the Sunday sermons, and in the books I read, God has continuously been pushing me to look inwards. He has thrown down an explicit challenge for me to expose the deepest flaws in my character. He is making me see the fundamental parts of my life that I refuse to give to Him. He is also making me understand that there is too much of my integrity that I have compromised. Too often I rationalize under the ideals of "acceptance" and "tolerance" and sabotage the integrity that God has placed under my duty to guard. He has made it clear that there is no amount of influence or change in circumstance that will win this victory for me. I must claim this victory by myself, overcome my fears, draw on God's strength, and place my faith in Him. If I do not claim victory once and for all, my flaws will remain with me wherever I go. I will destroy the plans God has for my life because these flaws will corrupt my actions and decisions. As I take on more responsibility and influence more people, this purging of my character will determine whether I lead everyone I affect into ruin or victory. God is challenging me to purge my integrity, and voraciously defend without compromise the unwavering principles Jesus set forward. I can see the challenge now. I am struggling with the execution. It is so hard to tear apart my fears, and plunge into uncharted waters only supported by faith. Often I feel my faith is not strong enough, often I feel it is just too hard to take the narrow road, to walk through the eye of that proverbial needle.

God's challenge for me is one of purification; a refinement of my heart so I can present it to Him as unblemished gold, washed only by the blood of Jesus.

Looking forward, I have shared with some of you the heavy burden God has placed on my heart for returning home. The defining reason why I will likely decide to pursue an MBA in Toronto is because of this ministry God has given to me. In the past two years, I have at times literally cried for my friends. God loves them so much, and my heart yearns to reconnect with many of them. I feel God has blessed me too abundantly the past few years with a unique experience and a different outlook on life. I really feel God's calling to share what I have learned with others. It is un-Christ-like to accumulate blessings, knowledge and gifts from God and refuse to share them. There are many in Toronto I know who are in need of encouragement, motivation and inspiration. There are others God has placed in my heart to mentor and tutor. There are those God needs me to love and forgive. And, there are still others from whom I need to be forgiven. This past year God has really given me clear and specific visions of who to reach out to, and how. I am really excited to go back and put God's plans into action. I do not know the results, and it is not my place to know. All I know is what God wants me to do, and He will take care of the rest.

In this issue He has challenged me to be as transparent as I can possibly be. While I might be scared that others will see my weaknesses and lose respect for me, it is necessary in order for me to serve in God's ministry. I must humble myself and serve with an honest heart. Most importantly, God wants me to show how imperfect I am to those I reach out to. That is God's challenge to me. If there are any preconceptions about me, if I have some sort of reputation in front of a group of people, I must break them all and help people see that I am only a sinner; a sinner of the worst kind. If you ask me, it's pretty scary, and it is pushing my faith in a new direction I've never gone before. Pray for me and the vision God has placed in front of me.

China has allowed me to be victorious in many different areas, while it has also allowed me to utterly fail in others. God has used the time here for His glory, and He will continue to be glorified in my life.

I know the preceding few paragraphs may be a little ambiguous for many of you, and I apologize, it's the only way I know how to express what is going on inside me. God and I are in the midst of a challenge and an internal decision-making process that will affect how I conduct myself from now on, and reinforce my integrity.

Thank you for taking the time to read these words, thank you for your love and your continued acceptance. I know God is blessing each and every one of you in immeasurable ways, and I look forward to hearing about them!

Grace from above, blessings to you all.