October 2010 Archive
So. I like to pride myself on being slightly more badass than your usual expat or traveling reporter when it comes to emerging markets. I don't fly business or first class, and I don't hire car services. I hate making a schedule before I leave prefering to scrounge around locally to find great stories. I'm incredibly zen when things go wrong or take too long. Forty weeks in developing countries, and I have found my peace with "island time," "African time," "Indian time," "Brazilian time" or any other time you can throw at me.
Meet me in any country where I've spent more than than a week, and I will take you to an awesome, very local, off-the-beaten path place for dinner and tell you what to order. (cc: Anthony Bourdain) My friend Christopher is a bad-ass travel reporter who spends months at a time just roaming around parts of Africa,and I managed to impress him with a restaurant choice in Rwanda.
"How'd you find this place?" he asked, as our RAV-4 lurched up a clay, deeply-furroted, steep hill to a small bluff side restaurant lit by candlelight, excelling in its whole, freshly-caught-and-grilled Tilapia.
"Oh, it's just a little place I know," I shrugged.
Yep. I'm just a traveling badass.
Except, I'm not really. I'm a traveling bad-ass compared to many Americans, sure. But I've realized in the past 48 hours just how much I rely on a hotel staff-- even a bad hotel staff. This epiphany hasn't hit because I've had great service. And not because I've had poor service either. But because I'm staying in a friend-of-a-friend's apartment in Jakarta, and I've had no service at all. The apartment is great, like a nice hotel room, but the thing that missing is the human layer. No one just downstairs helping me flag down cabs, get directions, hook up my wifi, get a SIM card, bring me food at 1 am. I can't dial zero and get anything, partially because there's no phone.
I don't want to give the impression I've been neglected-- quite the opposite. People have been swarming offering to help me out with things since I've been in Jakarta. I keep having to say: "I'm fine, guys!" But a hotel staff is different. They aren't friends or sources. They are people there to do stuff for you and trained to relate to obnoxious tourists and Westerners. The problem with that? They enable obnoxious toursts and Westerners. Yes, I've had to face, even me.
Pampering is fine, but it creates distance if you're trying to understand a place. Just wandering (read: getting utterly lost in a slum) around my apartment yesterday, I got insight to Jakarta I didn't see from looking out my window at this same neighborhood from the Shangri-La the trip before. Now that I've had a larger taste of non-hotel life, I may panhandle borrrowed apartments everywhere. My badass pride is at stake.
I am not pregnant. No. 5 on this post was something totally different, and I still can't tell you what it is. But you'll notice I have done nothing to dissuade rumors that I am pregnant. Because the other alternative--the true one-- is that I just gained a noticeable amount of weight researching my book. Pre-book I ran regularly, saw a pilates trainer four times a week and did juice cleanses, but forty weeks on the road was...well, the opposite of all that.
Aside from clothes not fitting, I haven't been that upset about it. After all, MadMen bodies are in vogue these days, and I'm slowly taking the weight back off. I was trying to tell someone the other day at a party that I thought being in the air for 40 hours a month had some sort of chemical effect on metabolism, because I swore that I didn't eat *that* much worse when I was traveling and I was certainly getting plenty of exercise running around crazy slums, pygmy villages and Chinese mega-cities, riding camels and elephants, being chased by baboons etc.
Somewhere around my second pitcher of Tiger beer and 15th satay last night I admitted to myself that's total BS.
I mean yum. This was outside in a food-court like open market with a light rain drizzling down. We also had some fried rice and a stingray cooked in a decadent spicy sauce-- the kind that leaves your mouth tingling in just the right ways.
Earlier, I had a delicious masala dosa in Singapore's Little India, but I was so hungry I devoured it before I could take a picture. Now, I'm on the hunt for this guy:
Friends keep forwarding me the note that the Fake Sarah Lacy is following them. I have no idea who it is. I haven't looked it up, because I'm sure it would just hurt my feelings. I mean, I don't think anyone takes time to write a flattering fake homage of anyone, do they? Luckily, I'm just not that interesting. Seriously, I doubt they even get much of a bump after this bit of free press. I give it about a week before they move on to someone people care about reading a parody of.
It seems to have popped up after I published this. Maybe Chris Daly is behind it. ;) Oh, Chris Daly: The reason God created term limits.
Oh! It just occurred to me it could be Dick Costolo. He vowed to get me back after this and he's been known to do fake Twitter accounts... Yeah, I'm going to assume the CEO of Twitter has better things to do.
I've been with my husband for about 11 years, so I haven't dated for a long time. Instead, I have--bizarrely-- substituted emerging markets for that crush/first-date-euphoria/ew-that's-an-ugly-quality/OK-I'm-sick-of-you-now cycle of emotions.
For instance, as discussed here and Tweeted one million times, I have a raging crush on Kenya right now. Sometimes I'm just daydreaming and people say "What are you thinking about?" and I'm like "Oh, Kenya." I hope to go early next year. Like many crushes, I may find I've just built Kenya up in my mind, and it's not that great. But I almost guarantee you for the first 24 hours I WILL LOVE IT.
How can I say that with such certainty? Because I love any emerging market for the first 24 hours. Singapore is no different. I've been here a day and I'm just blown away. I wonder if there's an endorphin link between jetlag and loving a new country? Anyway, I'm in sponge-mode asking a jillion questions and taking it all in, so I'm not ready to write much intelligent about it yet. But soon.
Meantime the worst and best part of my day:
Best: This is HANDS DOWN the easiest country for getting local mobile access. That's a little unfair, because China is pretty damn easy. But in China, I have to at least point and guesture because I don't speak Chinese and I usually just get basic voice service. Here I walked into a 7/11, and within a few minutes got a local SIM card and week's worth Blackberry service for less than $20. WHAT!? That's amazing. It took an hour to set up, because I have a brand new Bold, and they hadn't set one up before. Indeed, Blackberry has made some stupid changes to its operating system, and I've even been confused by how to do anything on the phone. I was late for a meeting, so I just left the Blackberry, came back and it was done. Wait, I don't know anyone in this country and I just left a new several-hundred-dollar phone with a clerk in a 7/11? Yes. Singapore.
Worst: The streets are almost too clean. It's raining constantly and people are just hosing down the pavement everywhere I go. I walked out of my hotel this morning and promptly slipped and fell. It looked about as cool as it sounds. What's more: I've slipped and almost fallen three more times. Upside: Streets are so clean my scrapes probably won't get infected.
Wondering what kind of conversation two exhausted Americans waiting in the coach line in the Hong Kong airport to board their second flight in 16 hours have? It goes like this:
"Hey! Did you go to Memphis State?"
"No, I just grew up in Memphis, so I like the sweatshirt."
[LONG TIRED PAUSE.]
"Did you go to Memphis State? Because that'd be a pretty big coincidence."
[LONG TIRED PAUSE.]
"Do you work at Zynga?"
"No, I just have the bag."
"Oh. It's a nice bag."
[SHORT TIRED PAUSE.]
"I don't work at Yahoo either, I just have the bag."
"That's a nice bag too."
[EXHAUSTED HALF-ATTEMPT AT LAUGHING.]
"We're like a bunch of liars."
[EXHAUSTED LAUGHER FADES, FOLLOWED BY LONG TIRED PAUSE.]
"Where do you work?"
[REDACTED VALLEY GIANT]
"Where do you work?"
"I'm a writer for TechCrunch."
"For what? TechRanch?"
[MENTAL NOTE TO REGISTER TECHRANCH.COM, ONLY TO BE FOILED HOURS LATER AS IT'S ALREADY GONE.]
"TechCRUNCH. Sorry, I was leaning my face against my laptop when I said it."
"Yeah, I couldn't hear you."
[SHORT TIRED PAUSE.]
"What do you do at TechCrunch?"
"I'm a writer."
[LONG TIRED PAUSE.]
"How long have you been at [REDACTED VALLEY GIANT.]"
"I was hoping you wouldn't ask. Since 1994."
"Wooooooowwww. That's a long time in the Valley."
"Yeah. It's kind of embarrassing."
"And you still fly coach?"
"Didn't use to."
[LONG TIRED PAUSE. FOLLOWED BY REDACTED CHAT ABOUT RECENT TECH ACQUISITIONS THAT DIDN'T MAKE SENSE. THEN ANOTHER LONG TIRED PAUSE.]
"Wow, you're even deeper in coach than I am."
"Yeah, I'm in a middle seat too. I've also got a hairshirt in my bag."
The glamour of international business travel. This is why Hollywood doesn't make factual movies about Silicon Valley, everyone.
It's so dorky. But everytime I fly through Hong Kong-- which is a lot-- I go to the same lame Americanized sports bar on the upstairs level. I think it's called "Champions." The food is awful. But I always seem to be hitting Hong Kong when I'm running on fumes and homesick and this place had the quad-fecta: Spicy bloody marys, comfortable chairs, outlets and wifi. And the staff was always super nice. And it always seems on the way to whatever gate I'm headed to, whether I'm flying internationally or domestically.
I just landed in Hong Kong and strolled by to grab a seat and check email on my short layover (for once) here. I went to exacly where it is: Just down from the Tandoori place, across from the row of noodle and congee places, but before you get to the Popeye's upstairs from the caviar bar. GONE. All gone.
I wouldn't say I'm OCD but I did inherit my dad's love of ritual. He cleans the house in the same order, same time every Saturday and has since I can remember. In fact, I can't remember him ever missing a Saturday. And now, my oasis of sameness in Asia is tented and with a sign that a pizza parlour is coming soon. Guess I'll have pizza next time I fly through. :( So long, Champions.
The awesome thing about starting full time at TechCrunch is I get so crazy-busy trying to write 15 posts a week (which is still low-productivity by TC standards) that I totally forget to panic about my book coming out in January. Compare that to Paul Carr who is slowly losing his mind, quitting all social media, flying to the middle of nowhere Maine, etc. the longer he waits for his second book to come out. (Btw, I've read his second book, and it's annoyingly brilliant.)
But lately, Wiley keeps sending me things to proof, and I keep having those heart-racing moments of "oh. my. God. this. is. actually. getting. published. and. will. be. on. a. bookshelf." With my last book I was terrified at this stage. With this one, I am just excited. Part of that probably has to do with having done it once before and having more confidence this time around, but part of it is I'm just really proud of this book given all the sacrifices Mr. Lacy and I made to do it. The stories in this book are so inspirational, I'm just excited for people to read it, support these entrepreneurs and keep the emerging world chaotic, amazing and going up-and-to-the-right.
I just saw an early look at what the typeset pages will look like yesterday and keep peeking back at the file on my desktop and smiling. But since I can't embed that, if you want a coming attraction, I've posted the back-cover blurbs here. Huge thanks to the awesome people who wrote them.
I was really lucky I rarely got sick when I was traveling for my book. So I shouldn't complain that I've been wrestling with an annoying sore throat this week. In lieu of complaining, I'll share with you the highlight of my week: I FINALLY GOT A HAIRCUT.
It's been more than six months, and that's six months of plane travel, living in polluted corners of the world, washing my hair with hotel shampoo and then blow-drying and curling it so it can look decent anytime I have to be on TV. You know those women on pantene commercials with ratted gross hair and you're like "Oh come on! No one's hair looks like that!" Mine did. A big reason I was rocking the top-head bun for much of the last month. My stylist was understandably horrified. But she fixed it:
Mr. Lacy said I looked like Joey Ramone but he still dubbed it a "haircute." FAR cuter than my haircut is this picture of a puppy. I've been looking at it for weeks whenever I feel sad. It looks like my puppy I had when I was little named Goldie who Mr. Lacy says I talk about too much, so I found him a picture that looked like how I remember her looking. Amazing that back then we didn't have cameras on everything so there's no actual Goldie documentation save an old Polaroid that I can't find. :(
It's been an eventful few months since my last post. I haven't updated things because there were things I would want to say that I couldn't say, and frankly, I was in kind of a funk after filing my book. You can't follow up complaining about having to finish a book with complaining about having finally finished it.
But here's the update on my life, for the five of you who care:
1. I finished my book. And I love it. And so far the feedback on it has been awesome. It comes out end of January and the Amazon pre-order link is here. At some point, I'll find time to update this site so that, say, my bio is accurate and there are pictures of the new book everywhere instead of the last book. At some point. Hopefully a point before January.
2. Speaking of bios, I have a new job. After three years of negotiations with Mr. Arrington I finally agreed to be a full time employee at TechCrunch. This is the first time I have been an employee for anyone other than Sarah Lacy Inc. since 2006 when I quit BusinessWeek. We did a month trial in September to see if I still had the chops to write 15 posts a week and to see if the massive egos of Sarah Lacy and Michael Arrington could fit under the same roof. Fortunately, Mike moved to Seattle and Paul Carr went part-time so mine fits just fine. ;)
3. ...And then, just when I was thrilled that I'd finally wrapped up my book, was ready for a full-time job and a nice paycheck, weeded through several offers and decided TechCrunch was the place for me, tried it out for a month and decided I loved it, Mike sold the company. GAH! I've written plenty about how that affected me. But the important thing is that Mike deserved a nice exit for the amazing company and community he has built, and he got one. Selfishly, I would rather TechCrunch was still an independent company, but so far so good. I'm going to stick around as long as AOL leaves us alone to do what we do best, and I hope that's a nice long time. If it stops being fun and challenging, I'll do something else. But for now, I'm really happy. Getting back to breaking news and daily blogging has been a fun challenge and change-of-pace after book writing, and it's nice to work around the corner from my husband instead of halfway around the world from him.
4. I'm going to Singapore and Indonesia in a few weeks. I can't wait to get back out on the road and meet some awesome companies. But wondering if I've gotten soft in the few months of pampered San Francisco life...
5. [I can't tell you this one yet. Sorry.]
An unforgettable portrait of the emerging world's entrepreneurial dynamos Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky is the story about that top 1% of people who do more to change their worlds through greed and ambition than politicians, NGOs and nonprofits ever can. This new breed of self-starter is taking local turmoil and turning it into opportunities, making millions, creating thousands of jobs and changing the face of modern entrepreneurship at the same time. To tell this story, Lacy spent forty weeks traveling through Asia, South America and Africa hunting down the most impressive up-and-comers the developed world has never heard of....yet.
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