Saturday, December 11, 2010

No more cmtan@serve.com etc

My cmtan@serve.com address, an email address I've been using since 1995, no longer works.  This is because my long-time webhost, Datarealm, decided to pull the plug on the serve.com domain.  My new email address is jollybodhi@gmail.com.  Some of my friends have been calling me 欢喜菩萨 ("huan xi pu sa", meaning the jolly bodhisattva), so I thought "jollybodhi" seems kind of appropriate in a fun way.

This change also impacts my Buddhism website, which used to be at www.serve.com/cmtan/buddhism, but is now at whatdoyouthinkmyfriend.com.  I honestly have no idea what to do with the website now.  When I started it in 1995, it was one of very few websites on Buddhism in the world and a key pioneer of Dharma on the web.  It was, at its time, the only website in the world presenting Buddhism in a highly personal and practical way with a generous touch of humor, which I think made Dharma a little more accessible to all.

And then life sort of happened to me, I moved to America to become one of those stereotypical overworked immigrant dotcom engineers, became a parent and, on the way, got distracted by other ways to serve the world, such as writing a book, creating Search Inside Yourself and co-founding Stanford CCARE and all.  During that time, the website got seriously neglected.

Today, the website is just one of very many Buddhism sites on the web, once a prominent global pioneer, now just some forgotten old guy sitting alone at the corner of a nursing home reading the New York Times on a rocking chair.

The question is, what do I do with it?  What is its next calling in life?  I have no idea.  If you do, let me know.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

For $50,000 a piece, you think they'd get it right

Every now and then, I should rant about trivial stuff.  It keeps me grounded at Samsara level.  Today is one of those days.

I'm in the market for a new car.  I test drove a Mercedes-Benz ML 350 today.  It's a good car, stable, handles well, accelerates competently and all.  Except one major flaw.  The navigation system is positioned in such a way you need to look DOWN to see it, taking your eyes off the road, which makes it dangerous to use.  Who made THAT design decision?  Maybe the vaunted German engineering doesn't extend to German UI.  Hint to Mercedes-Benz: Every customer dead is a customer lost.  Customer death, not good.


I also test drove the Lexus 450h, a lovely hybrid car.  Beautifully smooth ride, lovely interior and all.  Perfect.  Except somebody decided to replace a perfectly good touch-screen navigation system with a lousy joystick-based system.  Huh?  Who made THAT design decision?  And, oh, for $50,000, there is no power-folding side-mirrors.  Nope, nobody driving a Lexus should ever be expected to drive into tight spaces like, I don't know, a garage.

For $50,000, you'd think you can get the car you want.  But noooooo...  I think I might just stick to my old car.

Dog on a leash

Something I read earlier this week that touched and moved me to the very core.  When I finally got to the end and found out where the quote came from, I thought to myself, "Wow, the Old Man got to me again".  Thanks to my friend, Evan Smith, for sharing.
Dog on a Leash
"Suppose, monks, a dog tied up on a leash was bound to a strong post or pillar:  it would just keep on running and revolving around that same post or pillar. So too, the uninstructed worldling regards form as self ... feeling as self ... perception as self ... volitional formations as self ... consciousness as self.  He just keeps running and revolving around form, around feeling, around perception, around volitional formations, around consciousness.  As he keeps running around them, he is not freed from [them].  He is not freed from birth, aging, and death ... from sorrow, lamentation, pain, dejection, and despair; not freed from suffering."
  -- The Buddha
(SN 22:99, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My TED talk at the United Nations

On 18 November 2010, I delivered a TED talk at the United Nations.  The theme of the event was "Creating a Compassionate World".  I titled my 15-minute talk, "Compassion for Fun and Profit".

The video is available at http://on.ted.com/Meng.  There is also a TED blog post about it here.  For those of you who prefer text, my script and slides are below.



Compassion for Fun and Profit

Compassion is the greatest happiness

What does the happiest man in the world look like?  He certainly doesn’t look like me.  He looks like this.  His name is Matthieu Ricard.


How do you get to become the happiest man in the world?  There turns out to be a way to measure happiness in the brain, you do that by measuring the relative activation of your left pre-frontal cortex vs your right pre-frontal cortex.  Matthieu’s happiness measure is off the charts.  He is, by far, the happiest person ever measured by science. 

Which leads us to a question.  What was he thinking when he was measured?  Something naughty, perhaps?  Actually, he was meditating on compassion.  Matthieu’s own first person experience is that compassion is the happiest state ever.  And his brain scan backs that up.

Reading about Matthieu Ricard was one of the pivotal moments of my life.  My dream is to create the conditions for world peace, and to do that by creating the conditions for inner peace and compassion on a global scale.  Learning about Matthieu gave me a new angle for looking at my work.

Matthieu’s brain scan shows that compassion is not a chore.  Compassion is something that creates happiness for the giver.  Compassion is fun!

This mind-blowing insight changes the entire game.  If compassion is a chore, nobody will do it, except maybe the Dalai Lama.  But if compassion is fun, everybody is going to do it.  Therefore, to create the conditions for global compassion, all we have to do is to re-frame compassion as something that is fun.

But fun is not enough.  What if compassion is also profitable?  If compassion is also good for business, then every boss in the world would want it.



THAT would create the condition for world peace.

Compassion in Google

So I started paying attention to what compassion looks like in a business setting.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to look very far.  What I was looking for was right in front of my eyes, in Google, my company.  I know there are other compassionate companies in the world, but Google is the one I’m familiar with, so I use it as the case study.

Google is a company born of idealism, and thrives on idealism.  And perhaps because of that, compassion is organic and widespread company-wide.

In Google, expressions of corporate compassion almost always follow the same pattern.  It starts with a small group of Googlers taking the initiative to do something.  They don’t usually ask for permission, they just go ahead and do it.  Other Googlers join in.  And sometimes, it gets big enough that it becomes official.  In other words, it almost always start from bottom up.

For example, the largest annual community event where Googlers from all over the world donate their labor to local communities was initiated and organized by 3 mid-level employees before it became official.


Another example is when three Googlers, a chef, an engineer and a massage therapist learned about a region in India where 200,000 people live without a single medical facility, so they spontaneously decided to organize a fundraiser, raising enough money to build and equip the first medical center in the entire region.



During the Haiti earthquake, a number of engineers and product managers spontaneously came together and stayed up overnight to build a tool that allows earthquake victims to find their loved ones.

Expressions of grassroot compassion is also found in our international offices.  In China, for example, one mid-level employee initiated a large social action competition involving more than 1000 schools working on issues such as education, poverty,and healthcare and the environment.


There is so much organic social action all around Google that the company decided to form a Social Responsibility team to support all the grassroot effort.  This idea came again from the grassroot, from two Googlers, who wrote their own job descriptions and signed themselves up for the job.  I find it fascinating that the SR team was not formed as part of some grand corporate strategy, but was formed by 2 ordinary Googlers to support all the social action that was already everywhere in the company.

Main benefits: highly effective leaders and an inspiring workforce

It turns out that Google is a compassionate company because Googlers found compassion to be fun.

But it’s not just fun, there are also real business benefits.

The first benefit of compassion is it creates highly effective business leaders.  There are 3 components of compassion, the cognitive component (I understand you), the affective component (I feel for you), and the motivational component (I want to help you).

What has that to do with business leadership?

According to a very comprehensive study led by Jim Collins and documented in the book Good to Great, it takes a very special type of leader to bring a company from goodness to greatness.  He calls them “Level 5” leaders.  These are leaders who, in addition to being highly capable, also possess 2 important qualities: great ambition and personal humility.  These leaders are highly ambitious for greater good, and because their attention is focused on greater good, they feel no need to inflate their own egos.  That makes them highly effective and inspiring.

Looking at these qualities in the context of compassion, we find that the cognitive and affective components of compassion, understanding people and empathizing with them, tones down the excessive self-obsession within us and therefore, creates the conditions for humility.  The motivational component of compassion, creates ambition for greater good.


In other words, compassion is the way to grow “Level 5” leaders.  This is its first compelling business benefit.

The second compelling benefit of compassion is that it creates an inspiring workforce.  Employees mutually inspire each other towards greater good.  It creates a vibrant, energetic community where people admire and respects each other.  I mean, you come to work in the morning and you work with people who just up and decide to build a medical center in India, you just cannot not be inspired by those co-workers.  This mutual inspiration promotes collaboration, initiative and creativity. It makes us a highly effective company.

“Secret formula” for brewing compassion

What is the secret formula for brewing compassion in a corporate setting?  In our experience, there are 3 ingredients:

The first ingredient is to create a culture of passionate concern for greater good.  Always think about how your company and your job are serving the greater good, or can further serve the greater good.  This awareness of serving greater good is very self-inspiring and creates fertile grounds for compassion to grow.

The second ingredient is autonomy.  In Google, there is a lot of autonomy.  One of our most popular managers joke that, “Google is a place where the inmates run the asylum”.  If you already have a culture of compassion and idealism, and you let your people roam free, they will do the right thing in compassionate ways.

The third ingredient  is to focus on inner development and personal growth.  Leadership training in Google, for example, places a lot of emphasis on inner qualities such as self-awareness, self-mastery, empathy and compassion.  We believe that leadership begins with character.  We even created a 7-week curriculum for emotional intelligence which we jokingly call “Search Inside Yourself”.  I’m an engineer by training but I am one of the creators and instructors of this course, which I think is quite funny.  This company trusts an engineer like me to teach emotional intelligence.  What a company!

“Search Inside Yourself” works in 3 steps:

Step 1: Attention training.  Attention is the basis of all higher cognitive and emotional abilities.  Therefore, any curriculum for training emotional intelligence has to begin with attention training.  Idea:  to train attention to create quality of mind that is calm and clear at the same time, and that create the foundation of emotional intelligence.

Step 2: Self-knowledge and self-mastery.  Use super-charged attention to create high-resolution perception into cognitive and emotive processes.  Become able to observe thought-stream and the process of emotion with high clarity, objectively from a 3rd person perspective.  Once you can do that, you create the type of self-knowledge that enables self-mastery.

Step 3: Create new mental habits.  Imagine whenever you meet anybody, your habitual, instinctive first thought is “I wish for this person to be happy”.  Having such habits changes everything at work, because the sincere goodwill is picked up unconsciously by others, and there is trust.  This also creates the conditions for compassion in the work place.

Someday, we hope to open-source “Search Inside Yourself” so that everybody in the corporate world can at least use it as a reference.

Closing

I like to end the same place I started.  Happiness.


The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”  I found this to be true both for individuals and entire companies.  I hope that compassion will be fun and profitable for you too.

Thank you.

(UPDATE 4/6/2011: Added link to the video at ted.com.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Making peace can be easier than making love


The organizers of the World Peace Festival have bestowed much honor upon me.  They invited me to become a Founding Patron and named me a World Peace Ambassador.

A few months ago, they further honored me by inviting me to write the introduction for their booklet, Tools for Peace, alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  I started the first draft of my introduction with:
Sometimes, making peace can be easier than making love.  You can make peace in a house of worship, you can do it with many people at once, and you can tell your wild peace-making adventures to the Dalai Lama without feeling too awkward.
In the final copy, they wisely decided to edit that out.  Lucky for you.

Anyway, the booklet is available to you for free.  Get it at: 
http://www.chademeng.com/Articles/tools_for_peace_booklet.pdf

Thursday, October 28, 2010

At forty, I could no longer be confused nor tempted


Chinese sage Confucius famously said this about his own life:
- When I was fifteen, I was determined in my studies.
- At thirty, I was self-established.
- At forty, I could no longer be confused nor tempted.
- At fifty, I understood my divine destiny.
- At sixty, I was undisturbed by anything I hear (ie, opposing views).
- At seventy, I could do whatever I wish and still stay within moral and ethical bounds.

(Original text: "吾十有五而志于学,三十而立,四十而不惑,五十而知天命,六十而耳顺,七十而从心所欲不踰矩。")

As I turn forty, I realized that not being a sage myself, I've miss every one of his development milestones.

I didn't learn Dharma at 15, I did so at age 20.  My delta with respect to Confucius was 5 years.

I didn't become financially independent until 33, my delta was 3 years.

Having turned 40, I still can be confused and tempted.  Given my historical trajectory, I'm hoping the upper-bond of my next delta will be 3 years => I should reach that milestone no later than age 43.  I hope.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mind is vast, self is a dick

As I was sitting in meditation, I observed the sense of self getting increasingly subtle.  It reached a point where identity disappeared.  This is a mind where there is an observer, but there is no identity.  Since there is still an observer, this is not full-blown “no self”.  I call it “subtle self”.

The greatest quality of this mind is freedom.  Identity is nothing more than a mental construct.  Once you experience this, a vast, beautiful open space becomes accessible.  Freedom from self, even at this limited level and even for just a short time, is the greatest freedom I have experienced so far.  Mind is vast, self is a dick.

It gets funnier.  The moment I emerged from the meditation, the first thing, literally the very first thing, that arose in my mind is my “to do” list.  The “to do” list may be the thin line between nirvana and samsara.

UPDATE (10/29/10):  I realized I'm closer to the truth than I thought.  One of the classical descriptions of Nirvana is "Nowhere to go, nothing to do, that's it".  So, it's true, Nirvana is not having a "to do" list.  Another one of my jokes turning out to be true.  Life is funny.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Never become a vampire on a bad-hair day

Is it true that once you get turned into a vampire, your physical form can never change again?

If that's true, please give me 6 months notice before turning me into a vampire.  I would like to do 6 months of intense workout before my physical form becomes unchangeable.  I can probably use some dental work too.  And, oh yeah, I need to do something about my hair.  Thank you for your understanding.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Emotional self-mastery: Like writing on water

Emotional self-mastery is not about never having certain emotions, it is about becoming very skillful with them.  For example, in Buddhist psychology, there is an important difference between anger and indignation: anger arises out of powerlessness, while indignation arises out of power.  Because of that difference, when you feel angry, you feel out of control, but when you feel indignant, you can retain full control of your mind and emotion.  Hence, you can be emotional and fighting for change without ever “losing your cool”.  Indignation is, therefore, a skillful state and a good example of self-regulation at its best.  I think the person who best personified this was Gandhi.  Gandhi was not an angry man, but that did not stop him from fighting injustice or leading massive marches.  And all that time he was fighting, he never lost his calmness and compassion.  That is how I want to be when I grow up.

Still, there are situations in life where you really need to dampen unwholesome thoughts or emotions, what do you do? 

I think the first question to ask is whether it is possible to prevent an unwholesome thought or emotion from arising in the first place.  In my own experience, I think it is impossible.  In fact, Paul Ekman, one of the most eminent psychologists in the world, told me he discussed precisely this topic with the Dalai Lama.  They both think that it is impossible to prevent any thought or emotion from arising.  That must be the correct answer then, since Paul, the Dalai Lama and myself can’t all be wrong at the same time, right?

However, the Dalai Lama added an important point, which is that while we cannot prevent an unwholesome thought or emotion from arising, we have the power to let it go, and the highly trained mind can let it go the moment it arises.

The Buddha has a very beautiful metaphor for this state of mind.  He calls it “like writing on water.”  When an unwholesome thought or emotion arises in an enlightened mind, it is like writing on water; the moment it is written, it disappears.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An engineer's view of self-confidence

An easy way to get an injection of self-confidence is to attend a “motivational speech” where some guy speaking perfect English without my funny accent shouts at you and tells you how great you are, “You can succeed, you are great, you can do it!”  And everybody claps.  And we all go home feeling great about ourselves, for three days, maybe.  In my experience, however, the only highly sustainable source of self-confidence comes from deep self-knowledge and blatant self-honesty. 

In my engineer’s mind, I think of it as understanding two important things about myself, my “failure mode” and my “recovery mode”.  If I can understand a system so thoroughly I know exactly how it fails, I will also know when it won’t fail.  I can then have strong confidence in the system despite knowing it’s not perfect because I know precisely what situations I must keep it away from.  In addition, if I also know exactly how the system recovers after failure, I can be confident even in situations where it fails, because I know the conditions where the system can come back quickly enough that nothing major will be affected.  Similarly, by understanding those things about my mind, my emotion and my capability, I can gain confidence in myself despite my numerous failings and despite looking like me.

The type of deep self-knowledge and blatant self-honesty needed for sustainable self-confidence means having nothing to hide from ourselves.  It comes from accurate self-assessment.  If we can assess ourselves accurately, we are able to clearly and objectively see both our greatest strengths and our biggest weaknesses.  We become honest to ourselves about our most sacred aspirations and darkest desires.  We learn about our deepest priorities in life, what is important to us, and what is *not* important that we can let go of.  Eventually, we reach a point where we are comfortable in our own skins.  There is no skeleton in our closets that we don’t already know about.  There is nothing about ourselves we cannot deal with.  This is the basis of self-confidence.

Accurate self-assessment in turn comes from strong emotional awareness.  I think of it as receiving emotional data at a very high signal-to-noise ratio (ie, “clean signal”).  To strengthen our emotional awareness, we must carefully study our emotional experience.  We are like a trainer studying a horse, the more we carefully observe the horse in different situations, the more we understand its tendencies and behaviors, and the more skillfully we can work with it.  With that clarity, we create a space that allows us to view our own emotional lives as if seeing it as an objective third party.  In other words, we gain objectivity, we begin to perceive each emotional experience clearly and objectively as it is.  This is the “clean signal” that creates the conditions for accurate self-awareness.

Finally, strong emotional awareness comes from mindfulness.

That is how mindfulness leads to self-confidence.  At least for an engineer.

(Also posted at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chademeng-tan/an-engineers-view-of-self_b_717221.html )

Monday, September 13, 2010

Always comb your hair before meeting a famous monk

My hair was a mess, but the Dalai Lama didn't seem to have that problem. 


 Neither did Matthieu Ricard.


I don't remember what I was laughing about, but I like making fun of enlightened beings.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Shinzen Young at Google

Shinzen Young is one of the best meditation teachers I have ever met.  He is very intelligent and extremely knowledgeable about science, and he speaks in a way that someone who values scientific, logical and rational thinking would find extremely attractive.  (Also, he speaks fluent Mandarin, so I like to say he speaks my language in more ways than one).  His audiobook, the Science of Enlightenment, is the best description of enlightenment (with a small 'e') I have ever come across.  I very highly recommend it.  There are also many video clips of him on YouTube, I highly recommend them too.  I was so impressed with him the very first time I met him in person, I asked him to be my teacher.

I had the honor of hosting Shinzen at Google twice, once for a public talk and once for a meditation session.  I highly recommend them.  Here are the YouTube videos.

Shinzen Young's talk at Google (YouTube link)



Meditation with Shinzen Young at Google (YouTube link)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Play meditation like a video game

Meditation requires a balance of effort and relaxation.  Too much effort makes meditation tiring and unsustainable, while too little effort causes you to lose your grip on your attention.  The classical analogy for this balance is having just the right tension on the strings of a sitar.  If the strings are too tight, they break easily, but if they are too loose, they cannot produce beautiful notes.  So the strings need to be in the "Goldilocks zone" of being not too tight and not too loose.

A very common question among people learning meditation is how to find and maintain this balance.  I suggest one fun way of doing it is to play it like a video game.  When playing a game on the XBox, it is most fun when the difficulty setting makes the game just difficult enough to be challenging, but not so difficult that you’ll lose every time.  So I like to start a game at a “beginners” setting and increase the difficulty as I get better at it.  We can play the same way in meditation, especially since we get to control the difficulty setting.  Initially, we can make the game easy.  For example, we can tell ourselves, “If I can sit for just five minutes, and I can maintain a solid attention on my breath for ten continuous breaths anytime during these five minutes, I win!”  If you can beat the game at this difficulty setting say ninety percent of the time, you can increase the difficulty setting for more fun.  Once again, the key is to create just enough difficulty to be challenging, but not enough to discourage you.

One funny thing I discovered about playing this game is after I became quite good at it, the lowest difficulty setting became really fun.  That setting for me is, “Just rest my mind for ten minutes, in an alert sort of way”.  That is it, just rest.   I like it so much I still play at this setting a lot in between days where I play the more challenging games.  It is a game where the easiest setting never gets boring.

(Also posted at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chademeng-tan/play-meditation-like-a-vi_b_705118.html )

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mingyur Rinpoche at Google

My friend and teacher, a wonderful man in every way, the Very Venerable Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche delivered an Authors@Google talk and guided a meditation session after that.  Here are the videos.

Authors@Google talk (YouTube link)


Meditation with Mingyur Rinpoche (YouTube link)



A candid shot of Meng annoying Mingyur while Mingyur was relaxing on a massage chair.


(Also see: Mingyur and Meng)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Google: The Movie


For the Google movie, Meng should be played by Jet Li or Jackie Chan. "Hey, you not take picture with me, I break your face! YA!!"

If played by Jackie Chan, add a funny scene where Chris Tucker (playing himself) keeps calling Meng "Jackie" for no reason, and Meng keeps saying, "Hey, I not Jackie, I Meng. You keep calling me Jackie, I break your face!"

There will be a kung-fu scene involving Meng and the Dalai Lama (played by Sammo Hung).  Natalie Portman plays herself.


But seriously, if a movie ever gets made about me, the person I want to play me is Keanu Reeves.  See, Keanu played Ted in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, he played the Buddha (badly), and he played Neo.  That sounds just like my life, a combination of Neo, Ted and a badly played Buddha.  Whoa.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wanted: One Million Bodhisattvas

All my best ideas come to me during my morning meditations.  I'm not sure if that makes me a really good or really bad meditator.  I think it's both, and neither, simultaneously.

During my morning meditation today, I figured out what I want for my 40th birthday.  What I want is ...


One .... Million .... Bodhisattvas.

My biggest goal in life is to create the conditions for world peace within my lifetime.  I know it's impossible.  I also know it becomes slightly less impossible if a lot of people also work towards the same goal in support of each other.  So one of my sub-goals in life is to "Awaken One Million Bodhisattvas" **.  There are very many good people in the world, if we can get a mere one million of them to regularly commit to actions that increases wisdom and compassion in the world, that may create an unstoppable momentum towards global enlightenment and world peace.

During my morning meditation today, it just hit me: Let's ask for one million Bodhisattvas for my birthday.  I'll start by inviting my friends (especially those who can't run away from me quickly enough) and anybody else I can annoy to commit to one act a month intended to increase wisdom and compassion in the world.  I'm only asking for this commitment from my friends for the rest of their lives, so I didn't think it was too much to ask.  I know most of my friends will say "yes" because they are enthralled by my good looks.

I hope that, eventually, this will become a movement that will extend far beyond my circle of friends and people enthralled by my good looks.  I hope to eventually reach one million people.

To get the ball rolling, I've created a "Bodhisattva Wannabes" group on Facebook.   (I think that if this catches on, we'll eventually need to create some sort of real support infrastructure, but for now, all we have is a lousy Facebook group.  Sorry).

If you are a Bodhisattva wannabe, or already an union-certified, card-carrying Bodhisattva, or you just want to give me something for my birthday, I'll love to invite you to join the group.  I promise you'll warm this old man's heart.


[** I know, I can also awaken one million Bodhisattvas with one million alarm clocks, or one very very loud alarm clock, but that won't be very compassionate, especially not towards me.]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Birthday Bash for Boring Buddhist?

I need some suggestions from you, my friends.

You see, I have an embarrassing problem: I'm turning 40 in October.  I'm going to be, like, old.  Pretty soon, boy scouts will offer to help me to cross the street and people will give me senior citizen discounts without me even asking.  Ouch.

I would like your suggestion on how to mark this milestone in my life.  The easy solution would be a big birthday party of some sort.  But the problem is, I'm boring.  Like really boring.  I dislike parties, I dislike loud music, I dislike being in dancing crowds, and I dislike drinking alcohol.  Another easy solution for someone in my position would be to use that occasion to announce a major philanthropic gift, and have a group of people clapping and pretending to be interested (buffet provided, string quartet optional).  Yeah, I'm not THAT boring.

What to do?

What I'm hoping for is a way to have a "Birthday celebration with the Buddha".  I honestly have no idea what that means, but here are some features I'm wishing for:
  • Having a strong Buddhist theme (best if also involving Buddha Dharma).
  • Bringing meaningful and sustainable benefit to many people.
  • Involving one or more celebrities, such as the Dalai Lama or Natalie Portman.
  • Not boring.
Let me know if you have any ideas.

If not, that's fine too.  I'm happy to just blow a candle on a cake in the presence of my family and a cheap videocam, and then think about this problem again in 10 years.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

One week, three continents

Sunday: Flew out of California.

Monday: Set foot on Europe for the first time.

Tuesday: Got to hang out with Tom Oliver (CEO of the World Peace Festival). Tom took us around Cannes, Nice and Eze. It was nice and easy.

Thursday: Went to Rome for the first time. Got to cross a couple of items off my "Places to see before I die" list.

Saturday: Set foot on Africa for the first time.

What a week!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

On Leave From Google

I'm on unpaid leave from Google until November 16, 2010.  For details, see FAQ below (which is an edited version of the "out of office message" from my google.com account).


Frequently Answered Questions (some occasionally asked) about Meng's leave

Q:  Meng, how do I become as good-looking as you are?
A:  Just attend Engineering school for a few years.  Everybody who goes through Engineering school becomes physically attractive, I don't know why.  But, hey, this FAQ is about my time away, not about my stunning good looks, so stop distracting me.

Q:  Why are you going on leave?
A:  To write my book (actually, the book is going to write itself, but somehow my presence is needed, I'm not sure why).  I'll also take short vacations and speak every now and then.

Q:  When are you coming back to work?
A:  On November 16, 2010.  Unless I die, or get fired, whichever comes first.

Q:  What's your book about?  Why are you writing it?
A:  The book will be about happiness and compassion for fun and profit.  Specifically, I plan to write on the content we cover in Search Inside Yourself (SIY).  The book will explain how to develop Emotional Intelligence using contemplative practices, the science behind it, how to apply it in business settings in ways that help everybody become more successful, and how this helps build world peace.  This book is part of my plan to create the conditions for world peace in my lifetime (details).  I also plan to open-source all SIY teaching materials with the release of the book, so that everybody in the world who wants to develop EI will have an additional resource, hopefully a very useful one that is also fun to read.

Q:  What is the title of the book?
A:  I don't know yet.  The title I really want is, "Buddhas Just Want to Have Fun".  I told that to Mingyur Rinpoche, he did NOT try to hit my head with a heavy object.  I interpret that as an enlightened master's silence implying consent.  (Actually, he laughed).

Q:  Being a first-time author, will you be able to complete a draft of your book by November 15, 2010?
A:  I honestly have no idea, but I know one way to find out.

Q:  Are you trying to take over the world?
A:  No.

Q:  Will we see you during your leave?
A:  I hope so.  I'm not going away, this is a working leave.  Outside of short vacations and a few speaking engagements, I'll most likely be hiding somewhere in or near Google HQ to write.  Maybe Stanford Library, maybe even Building 40.  So, yeah, if you have something fun lined up, I'm likely to be available.

Q:  During your leave, can we have you meet and greet visiting world leaders and megastars?
A:  Yes.  Especially Celine Dion.

Q:  Will you reply to my emails during your leave?
A:  I may.  Especially if you're Celine Dion.

Q:  I noticed you're taking unpaid leave.  Don't you like money?
A:  I like money.  Thank you for asking.

Q:  Wise One, what is the meaning of life?
A:  Simple.  The meaning of life is not.

Monday, June 28, 2010

More Personal Growth Talks at Google

My friend, Sudhakar "Thaths" Chandra, compiled playlists of personal growth-related talks at Google (some of which were hosted by me).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Happiness is the default state

Life is funny.  The biggest joke in life is that, after all that has been done in the pursuit of happiness, it turns out that sustainable happiness is achievable simply by bringing attention to one’s breath.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Funny Thought: Make me look like Tom Cruise


I get a haircut about 4 times a year.  I try to time my haircuts to roughly coincide with when I need to file estimated taxes.  That way, I only have to remember one of the two.

I often found it too difficult to describe how I want the end result of my haircut to look like.  Then one day, I figured out a visual solution.  I printed out a picture of Tom Cruise in Top Gun (with short hair) and just showed it to the hairdresser and said, "Make me look like this".  It worked like a charm, and the extra opportunities for humor came free.  When the hairdresser was done, she would say, "There, now you look just like Tom Cruise", and I would say, "Good, good, all I need now is a new face".

I did that often enough that the hairdressers started calling me the Tom Cruise guy.  The last time I went for a haircut, Dana, the owner of the place, made this comment. "You know, everytime Tom Cruise comes in here for a haircut, he brings a picture of you".

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Three musketeers and one young-ish guy


I really like this photograph, not just because everybody in it is so handsome, but also the story it represents.

Once upon a time, there were three highly talented young men who wanted to serve the world and who became close friends with each other.  Their names were Danny, Richie and Jon.  When they grew up, they each became world-famous in their own unique ways, but the success of each one beautifully complemented the success of the other two and, together, their combined work may change the world.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The school of Buddhism I belong to

People who know about the different schools of Buddhism are often curious which one I belong to, so they'd ask me, "What type of Buddhist are you?"  And I would say, "A lousy one, of course."

In truth, I think I have benefited tremendously from all 3 branches of Buddhism.

I benefited tremendously from the concreteness and clarity of Theravada Buddhism.  Theravada scriptures are the closest thing we have to the original teachings of the Buddha, the greatest hero in my life.  Theravada teachings are systematic, logical, highly accessible, historically authentic, and contains minimal amount of the magic and mystery I found distasteful.  The Vipassana practice (a somewhat relaxed version of which became known as "Mindfulness meditation" in the West), which comes out of the Theravada tradition, is the single most important thing I have learned in my entire life.  Theravada teachings form both the theoretical and practical foundations of my Buddhist practice, from which I became able to understand and appreciate the other schools of Buddhism.  Theravada is my root, my foundation.  This is the body of my practice.  The body of my practice is Virtue, Concentration and Wisdom (Sila, Samadhi and Panna).

I benefited tremendously from the inspiring power of Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism.  Vajrayana Buddhism is the result of at least two major rounds of evolution from the original teachings of the Buddha (either evolution or degeneration, I'm happy to argue either or both) and includes many important refinements and additions to more traditional forms of Buddhism.  In many ways, Vajrayana is Buddhism on steroids.  It has awed and inspired me.  It has given me my Compassion practice.  It inspired me to take my Bodhisattva Vows.  Vajrayana is my thunder, my power.  This is the heart of my practice.  The heart of my practice is Emptiness and Compassion (Sunyata and Karuna).

I benefited tremendously from the simple directness of Zen Buddhism, which is, in my opinion, the greatest of all the Mahayana schools.  True wisdom is simple and full of lightness and humor.  Zen embodies it.  Just be.  Enlightenment is the perfection of just being.  Zen is my no-self-ness (无我).  This is the soul of my practice.  The soul of my practice is.  Just is.

Hence, I belong to all 3 major schools of Buddhism.  At the same time, I belong to none of them.  My true Dharma is the Hahayana.  Ha ha.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Have Your Karma and Eat Cake Too

Letting go is one of the most important skills a meditator picks up on her way to enlightenment. Letting go is so important it is one of the essential foundations of meditation practice. As usual, the Zen tradition has the funniest way of articulating this key insight. In the words of the Third Patriarch of Zen, "The Great Way is without difficulty, just cease having preferences". When the mind becomes so free that it is capable of letting go of preferences, the Great Way is no longer difficult.

The central importance of letting go leads to a very important question, "Is it possible to let go and still appreciate and experience life fully?" The way I like to ask the question is, "Can you have your karma and eat cake too?"

Monday, May 31, 2010

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Zen and a Walking Baby

One of the best analogies I have ever come across for meditation practice is a baby learning to walk.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Funny Thought: Humor can help you get lazy

Sometimes, you can get away with being lazy just by being funny.

Example 1:

Boss came into my office looking all flustered.  He looked at me with a face full of tension and said, "Meng, I need you to give me a hand".  I said, "Sure".  Then I stared blankly at him and clapped for a few seconds.  He laughed and left my office.  I didn't even have to do any extra work.


Example 2:

Daughter wanted to race me up the stairs.  I didn't want to.  She got in a "ready" position and asked, "Race?".  I said, "Chinese".  I didn't have to run.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Daddy Lama

I've been invited to become a senior adviser to a tech company.  They also invited me to choose a title for myself.  I like funny titles (unfortunately, "Jolly Good Fellow" is already taken by one very good-looking guy in Google).  I also like the idea of being regarded as wise and compassionate, but not actually do very much beyond saying wise and funny things and meeting famous people.  Yes, sort of like being the Dalai Lama, except much lazier.

Given that context, I asked my daughter what a good title would be, and she said, "Daddy Lama".

I may actually use that title, His Happiness the Daddy Lama.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Random Thoughts

Couple of random thoughts that came up over the past few weeks.

Quiet Mind
In giving up, I find.
In letting go, I gain.
In just being, I become.
In my silence, hear me roar.
In this void, is Dharma.


The Lazy Bodhisattva
With great compassion, aspire daily to save the world.
But don't actually put in any real effort.
Just do whatever comes most naturally to you.
Because when aspiration and compassion become strong,
Whatever comes most naturally is also the right thing to do.
Thus you, the bodhisattva, saves the world without effort.


Life, Yum
A Bodhisattva's great sorrow is like his salt,
His deep pain like bitter vegetables,
His naughty pleasures like a greasy hotdog,
All encompassed by the sourdough of profound peace.
Delicious and nourishing is the life of compassion.
Mindfully consumed.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Funny Thought: Buffet with the Dalai Lama

Last Sunday (16 May 2010), I may have had one of the coolest tweets in the world.  My tweet was:
Stood right behind Dalai Lama at buffet line!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Funny Thought: Product ideas of the day


Product idea 1: A program you can install on your computer that locks up the computer every now and then, and the only way to unlock it is to smile at the webcam.  That way, you'll smile at least a few times a day.

Product idea 2: Competitive smiling.  Your laptop's webcam monitors your face for smiles, records the total amount of time you smiled each day and sends that data to a website, so that you can compete with your friends from all over the world.  World's longest-duration smiler wins the Dalai Lama Award, unless you are actually the Dalai Lama, in which case, you'll win the Happy Llama Award.

Product idea 3: Instant water.  Just add water!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Funny Thought: Luke at the restaurant

(Silly joke that my young daughter and I came up with)

Luke and his daddy were in a restaurant.  Luke tried to pick up his food using his hands.  Daddy said slowly and deliberately, "Use the Fork, Luke".

Luke protested, asking, "Why do you keep telling me what to do?"

And daddy answered, with a deliberately deep voice, "Luke, I am your father"

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Joyful Mindfulness

Most meditation instructors I know tell their students to sit for 10 minutes a day. I tell my students to do that if they can, but if they can't, just commit to one single Mindful breath a day (see: Just One Breath a Day). A friend jokingly called it "Mindfulness Lite". I teased him back by saying, "No, it's much worse, it's Mindfulness UltraLight".

In practicing meditation, one often comes across interesting surprises. My biggest surprise in practicing Shamatha (Calm Abiding), a practice leading to profound concentration, is the insight that relaxation forms the foundation of Shamatha. When the mind is relaxed, it becomes more calm and stable. These qualities deepen Shamatha, which in turn strengthens relaxation, thus forming a virtuous cycle. Paradoxically, deep concentration is built upon relaxation.

A similar mechanism seems to work in the practice of Mindfulness. I found lightness to be highly conducive to Mindfulness. Lightness gives rise to ease of mind. When the mind is at ease, it becomes more open, perceptive and non-judgmental. These qualities deepen Mindfulness, which in turn strengthens lightness and ease, thus forming a virtuous cycle of deepening Mindfulness.

That is why I like my Mindfulness served light. Mindfulness is best when it is strong, and paradoxically, light and easy may be the best path towards strong. Yes, there is a degree of cosmic humor here.

This insight suggests that a really good way to practice Mindfulness is during experiences of joy, especially the type of joy with a gentle quality that doesn't overwhelm the senses. For example, when you are taking a nice walk, holding hands with a loved one, enjoying a good meal, carrying a sleeping baby, or sitting with your child while she is reading a good book; these are great opportunities to practice Mindfulness by bringing full moment-to-moment attention to the joyful experience, to the mind and to the body. I call it "Joyful Mindfulness".

The first effect of bringing Mindfulness to joyful experiences is they become even more enjoyable, simply because you are more present to enjoy them. Extra enjoyment at no additional cost (really exciting for the bargain-hunter in me). More importantly, I found this Mindfulness gain to be generalizable. What that means is if you practice and strengthen Mindfulness during joyful experiences, that gain in Mindfulness infuses into other experiences as well, so you end up with stronger Mindfulness in neutral and unpleasant experiences too.

Joyful Mindfulness. Have fun on your way to Enlightenment. What a great deal!

Truth be told, I think you actually get much more bang for your buck doing formal sitting Mindfulness practice. Formal practice requires you to bring Mindfulness to your breath for a prolonged period. This is good because our attention naturally gravitates towards things that are very pleasant or very unpleasant, generally ignoring things that are neutral, so when you train yourself to bring Mindfulness to something as neutral as your breath, that Mindfulness gain is very generalizable, far more generalizable than the Mindfulness gained from joyful experiences. Pound for pound, you really can't beat sitting on a zafu. Unfortunately, formal practice requires lots of discipline, and discipline is a scarce resource, making formal practice hard to sustain. In contrast, Joyful Mindfulness offers much less punch but is far more sustainable. Plus it's fun, and nobody can argue with fun. I know I can't.

I think it is most optimal to do both formal meditation and Joyful Mindfulness everyday. By doing both, after a while, your formal meditation may get infused with a calm, blissful quality known in Sanskrit as sukha, and the stimulus-free experience of sitting meditation becomes joyful. Almost all seasoned meditators I know arrive at sukha at some point in their meditative careers, however, my own experience suggests that Joyful Mindfulness intensifies sukha in formal sitting. I theorize that practicing Joyful Mindfulness got my mind accustomed to ease, humor and lightness, thus allowing it to connect with sukha more readily during formal practice. That sukha then quietly infuses into daily life and makes daily experiences a bit more joyful, thereby increasing the frequency and intensity of joyful experiences that I can then use for Joyful Mindfulness practice. And thus, another happy virtuous cycle is formed. Joyful Mindfulness works great by itself, but becomes very powerful in combination with formal Mindfulness practice.

I think Joyful Mindfulness reaches its best when even doing nothing becomes a Mindfully joyful experience. Because of that, and because Joyful Mindfulness requires so little extra effort, I jokingly call it the "Lazy Way". I tell my friends I strive very hard to be lazy. Be not afraid of laziness; some are born lazy, some achieve laziness, and others have laziness thrust upon them.

(Reposted from the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chademeng-tan/joyful-mindfulness_b_497718.html )

Funny Thought: How I knew I was famous

As some people know, there is a Google tradition where anybody who is really famous who visits the Googleplex in Mountain View needs to have a photo taken with me so that he/she can go on "Meng's Wall of Fame" near the lobby of Building 43.  The New York Times even did a front page story on it.  (See full story)

In November 2007, when I asked Barack Obama for this photo op, that New York Times story was still fairly recent.  When I approached Mr Obama, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Ahh, you are the guy on the New York Times".

I gasped.  That was the moment I knew I was famous.  How do you know you are famous?  When Barack Obama knows you from the New York Times, that's how!

(Truth be told, I don't think Mr Obama actually recognized me from the NYT.  Most likely, he was told that I was going to approach him, since I had to clear security beforehand, and he just took the trouble to remember.  He is a really great guy in person, charming, warm, sincere and modest, yet very Presidential).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sustaining a Mindfulness practice

(Reposted from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chademeng-tan/just-one-breath-a-day_b_479060.html )

Just One Breath a Day

As an instructor, I found it fairly easy to get people started on Mindfulness practice. I just need to show them the brain science, explain the benefits, introduce a short sitting, and viola, people get it. That's the good news.

The bad news is after the first few days, many people find it hard to sustain the practice. Many of us start the first few days with great enthusiasm, committing ourselves to 10 or 20 minutes a day of this wonderful practice, but after that initial enthusiasm, it starts to feel like a chore. You sit there bored and restless, wondering why time goes by so slowly, and then after a while, you decide you have more important and/or interesting things to do, such as "getting stuff done" or watching cats flush toilets on YouTube. And before you know it, you've lost your daily practice.

How can we sustain a Mindfulness practice?

Happily, the difficulty of sustaining a Mindfulness practice often lasts only a few months. It is like starting an exercise regime. The first few months are usually really hard, you probably have to discipline yourself into exercising regularly, but after a few months, you find your quality of life changing dramatically. You have more energy, you suffer fewer sick days, you can get more stuff done, and you look better in the mirror. You feel great about yourself. Once you reach that point, you just cannot not do it anymore. The upgrade in quality of life is just too compelling. From that point on, your exercise regime becomes self-sustaining. Yes, you probably still have to cajole yourself into the gym every now and then, but it becomes fairly easy.

It is the same with sustaining a Mindfulness practice. You probably need some discipline in the beginning, but after a few months, you notice dramatic changes in quality of life. You become happier, calmer, more emotionally resilient, more energetic, and people like you more because your positivity reflects on them. You feel great about yourself. And again, once you reach that point, it's so compelling you just cannot not practice anymore. Yes, even a seasoned mediator needs to cajole herself onto the cushion every now and then, but it becomes fairly easy and habitual.

So how do you sustain your practice up to the point it becomes so compelling it is self-sustaining? I have 3 suggestions:

1. Have a Buddy

I learned this from my dear friend and mentor, Norman Fischer, whom we jokingly call the "Zen Abbot of Google". Once again, we use the gym analogy. Going to the gym alone is hard, but if you have a "gym buddy" whom you commit to going with, you're much more likely to go regularly. Partly because you have company, and partly because this arrangement helps you encourage each other and hold each other accountable (what I jokingly call "mutual harassment").

We suggest finding a "Mindfulness buddy" and committing to a 15-minute conversation every week, covering at least these 2 topics:

a. How am I doing with my commitment to my practice?
b. What has arisen in my life that relates to my practice?

We also suggest ending the conversation with the question, "How did this conversation go?"

We instituted this in our Mindfulness-Based Emotional Intelligence program (named "Search Inside Yourself") and found it very effective.


2. Do Less Than You Can

I learned this from Mingyur Rinpoche, whose book, "The Joy of Living", I most highly recommend. The idea is to do less formal practice than you are capable of. For example, if you can sit in Mindfulness for 5 minutes before it feels like a chore, then don't sit for 5 minutes, just do 3 or 4 minutes, perhaps a few times a day. The reason is to keep the practice from becoming a burden. If Mindfulness practice feels like a chore, it's not sustainable.

My friend, Yvonne Ginsberg, likes to say, "Meditation is an indulgence". I think her insight beautifully captures the core of Rinpoche's idea. Don't sit for so long that it becomes burdensome. Sit often, for short periods, and your Mindfulness practice may soon feel like an indulgence.


3. Take One Breath a Day

I may be the laziest Mindfulness instructor in the world because I tell my students all they need to commit to is one mindful breath a day. Just one. Breathe in and breathe out mindfully, and your commitment for the day is fulfilled, everything else is a bonus.

There are two reasons why one breath is important. The first is momentum. If you commit to one breath a day, you can easily fulfill this commitment and can then preserve the momentum of your practice, and later, when you feel ready for more, you can pick it back up easily. The second reason is having the intention to meditate is itself a meditation. This practice encourages you to arise an intention to do something kind and beneficial to yourself daily, and over time, that self-directly kindness becomes a valuable mental habit. When self-directly kindness is strong, Mindfulness becomes easier.


Remember, one breath a day for the rest of your life. That's all I ask.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mindfulness in 2 Minutes

(Reposted from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chademeng-tan/mindfulness-in-2-minutes_b_474317.html )

Most evenings, before we sleep, my young daughter and I sit in Mindfulness together for two minutes. I like to joke that two minutes is optimal for us because that is the attention span of a child and an engineer. For two minutes a day, we quietly enjoy being alive and being together. More fundamentally, for two minutes a day, we enjoy being. Just being. To "just be" is simultaneously the most ordinary and the most precious experience in life.

As usual, I let my experience with a child inform how I teach adults. This daily two-minutes experience is the basis of how I introduce the practice of Mindfulness in an introductory class for adults.

In learning and teaching Mindfulness, the good news is that Mindfulness is embarrassingly easy. It is easy because we all already know what it is like and it is something we all already experience from time to time. My friend and personal hero, Jon Kabat-Zinn, skilfully defined Mindfulness as, "Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally". Thich Nhat Hanh, perhaps the greatest Zen Master of our time, refers to Mindfulness poetically as, "keeping one's consciousness alive to the present reality". Simply put, I think Mindfulness is the mind of "just being". All you really need to do is to pay attention moment-to-moment without judging. It's that simple.

The hard part in Mindfulness practice is deepening, strengthening and sustaining it, especially in times of difficulty. To have a quality of Mindfulness so strong that every moment in life, even in trying times, is infused with a deep calmness and a vivid presence, is very hard and takes a lot of practice. But Mindfulness per se is easy. It is easy to understand and easy to arise in oneself. That ease is what I capitalize on as an instructor.

In some of my classes, after explaining some of the theory and brain science behind Mindfulness, I offer two ways to experience a taste of Mindfulness, the "Easy Way", and the "Easier Way".

The creatively-named "Easy Way" is to simply bring gentle and consistent attention to one's breath for two minutes. That's it. Start by becoming aware that you are breathing, and then paying attention to the process of breathing. Everytime your attention wanders away, just bring it back very gently.

The "Easier Way" is, as its name may subtly suggest, even easier. All you have to do is to sit without agenda for two minutes. Life really cannot get much simpler than that. The idea here is to shift from "doing" to "being", whatever that means to you, for just two minutes. Just be.

To make it even easier, you're free to switch between the Easy Way and the Easier Way anytime during these two minutes. Anytime you feel like you want to bring awareness to breathing, just switch to Easy. And anytime you then decide you rather just sit without agenda, just switch to Easier. No questions asked.

This simple exercise is Mindfulness practice. Practiced often enough, and it deepens the inherent calmness and clarity in the mind. It opens up the possibility of fully appreciating each moment in one's life, every one of which is precious. It is for many people, including myself, a life-changing practice. Imagine, something as simple as learning to "just be", can change your life.

Best of all, it is something even a child knows how to do. Oh, and an engineer too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Meng at Davos

No, I didn't go, but Larry Brilliant found a sign advertising my presence there.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Funny Short Thoughts

A collection of funny thoughts I've had over the past weeks, each too short to be a blog post on its own:

Back when I was doing Machine Learning, I spent a lot of my time tuning parameters. Then I suddenly realized, the "training data" was actually training me.

When I'm introducing myself to a semi-familiar audience, I like to say, "For those who don't know me, my name is Meng. For those who know me, my name is still Meng."

Whoever is paving the road to hell, please stop using good intentions. Thank you very much.

I have discovered the solution to world hunger. The solution is: food. You see, if people have food, they will no longer be hungry. I don't know why nobody has thought of it.

A rational decision is one that I can rationalize to myself.

I find it annoying to have one plaque per patent. I wish there was a single plaque to cover all my past and future patents, a plaque that says like, "Wow, you have so many patents, you must be really smart, your father must be secretly proud of you even though you grew up to be a nerd" or something.

When I grow up, I want to be just like me.

Most days when I did a lot, I accomplished very little. Maybe if I do very little, I might accomplish a lot.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Random Vacation Notes: Caribbean Dec/2009

I vacationed in the Carribean and Miami for the first time in Dec 2009.  Here are some random thoughts.

Funny Thoughts

- In Tortola, I saw for the first time a real chicken crossing a road.  I wondered why.

- I set up a webcam at home to keep an eye on our backyard chickens.  The best part about doing that is being able to tell my wife daily, "Honey, I'm going to check on chicks on the Internet".  (Not my original joke.  My friend, Simon, had naked newly-hatched chickens, so he pointed a webcam at them and gave the world nakedchicksontheinternet.com ).

- I was amazed how well alligators can stay perfectly still in a pose for an extended period of time.  If meditation was about staying physically still, alligators will attain Nirvana before any of us.

- My impression of Miami Beach:  It's not a city with a beach, it's a beach with its own city.

Grumblings

I'm amazed by the number of things I get to grumble about during this vacation.  All the 3 worst city tours I've ever been on in my life happened during this vacation.  Wow.

- In Tortola, we experienced our first content-free guided city tour.  It was weird.  The tour guide went like, “On your left is a gas station, followed by a tour agency, on your right is a grocery store, and a hardware store for all your hardware needs ….”.  It was funny for the first 2 minutes, but it just went on and on for the entire 3-hour tour.  “Coming up on your right is another gas station, and on your left is a post office and a construction company …”.  Wow.   Some nice people tried to tease useful content out of him, but to no avail.  My wife, for example, asked him what the average income of islanders was, and the guy said, “It depends, some people earn more, some people earn less.  For example, doctors and lawyers earn more, you know”.   That was his full answer.  Freedom from content, my countryman, freedom!

- The most boring “tourist attraction” I have ever visited was the Bacardi Museum at San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The entire 1-hour-plus “experience” was little more than the telling of a fairly boring family story about how some guy and his kids made a fortune making rum.  “Here’s Don Facundo, he made Bacardi rum, and here’s his first son, Emilio, who later became the company boss.  Here's his second son, Facundo, who planted a palm tree.  And here’s his other son who did this or that at the company, and oh, here’s the son-in-law who did something or other ……”.  And the story was told at least twice, maybe more, I don’t know, I sort of blanked out after the second telling.  It was a 5-minute tale tightly compacted into 45 minutes for your convenient enjoyment.  And we didn’t even get a factory tour to see how they made rum.  It gets worse.  When we arrived at the museum, we had to wait 45 minutes for our tour to start.  It was like visiting the most boring distant relative you didn’t even know you had who kept telling the same story about his rum and his sons over and over again, and making you sit and wait before telling you that story.  We paid $39 a head for a city tour, which includes this museum tour and a bus ride around San Juan with only a single stop.

- Our city tour with Safari Tours Miami was very disappointing.  We spent an hour sitting in the bus just picking up other tourists from their hotels (chaotic, of course), and worse, the "city tour" just made a single stop (at Little Havana).  Just one stop.  Basically, a $39/head bus ride with not a lot to see.

- Loews Miami Beach Hotel: $570 a nite and no bathtub?  You kidding me?