Guadalupe Meets Buddha

zhuijaojaoGrowing up in the Midwest, my world was pretty small. Growing up Catholic and attending parochial schools made my world even smaller. To say that my life was insular is an understatement. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to know more – I just didn’t know anything else. Everyone that I knew had a mom and a dad; went to mass on Sunday; lived in a modest house; played in one another’s backyards; had a crucifix and pictures of President Kennedy and Pope John XXIII somewhere in their home; and were mostly happy (at least on the outside). I’m glad that I grew up and out and away from that life but I still remember my childhood with nostalgia. Some things haven’t changed but many things have. I believe that I have.

When I reflect on where I came from and where I am today, I become more aware of the tremendous chasm between what once was and what my life is now. I’ve lived in England. I work in Mexico. I’ve traveled the world. I have friends in England, China, Mexico, Canada, France, The Philippines and The Netherlands. I have strolled through castles in Scotland and Germany. Toured museums in Paris, Madrid and Rome. Walked down cobblestone streets in England and France. Prayed in temples, churches, abbeys and cathedrals in London, Strasberg, Mexico City, Zhujiajiao, Heidelberg and Amsterdam. As an adult I’ve had experiences that I couldn’t even imagine as I child. Today I live only a few miles from where I was born but my world is so much bigger. I respect where I’ve come from and how my upbringing formed my conscience and my beliefs but I am grateful for the experiences of this life that have expanded my horizons.

Last month I joined my manufacturing team from Mexico City on a trip to China. We were touring factories in Shanghai to give the team from Mexico some insight into successful practices being employed there. We were entering the offices of one facility and my good friend and business associate from China stopped in front of a statue of Buddha that is prominently displayed in his lobby. He asked if any of us had a coin. A member of my team from Mexico pulled a peso out of her purse. She was asked to place it on the statue of Buddha, which she did. It was explained to us that this simple act would bring peace and good luck to us and to our friend from China. I couldn’t help but think of all the statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe that I have encountered in nearly every factory, employee lounge and public place in Mexico. Of course my friends from Mexico honored the request because they are so familiar with devotion to Guadalupe. Buddha in many ways is looked upon the same way in China. His image is everywhere and perhaps is dealt with somewhat superstitiously, as are images of Guadalupe sometimes in Mexico.

But on that day, at that time, the connection was real. It’s not often in business that I have a spiritual awakening. Placing the coin on Buddha wasn’t just some hocus-pocus good luck nonsense. I may have grown up in a small town in the Midwest and my childhood experiences may have been limited but here I was in China with my friends and co-workers from Mexico sharing this moment. We weren’t arguing over political or religious differences. None of us were intent on proving our practices or our beliefs were the best. Instead we were reaching out and embracing one another’s cultures. It was done with respect and humility. We had all come from different places but that day we were focused on our similarities not our differences.  And I believe that God was pleased and we were all blessed.




What Happened???

I’ve been told that there are three kinds of people:

Those that make things happen. Those that watch things happen. And those that say “what happened?”

Lately I feel that I have fallen into that third category.

Let me explain: We have just recently moved back to the United States after living in England for most of this year and are still adjusting to our new/old life here (and haven’t completely unpacked). Our son just got married last week to a lovely young woman and we are still on an emotional high from that beautiful day. We had a presidential election for which I had to vote an absentee ballot because Monday after the wedding I left for a week in Mexico City to help establish a new division for my employer. I haven’t even lost my British accent (I honestly never had one, but now I do say brilliant, keen and lovely too often) and I find myself voting for an American President and trying to learn Spanish (again) all at the same time. Dios mio!

I need things to  S L O W  D O W N  a bit.  And I need to get off of this emotional rollercoaster. I am happy to be home from England and sad to have left our lovely (there I’ve said it again) life there. I am thankful for the love that Tyson and Colleen have found and resentful that the Air Force cancelled his assignment at a nearby installation so that now they begin their new life together away from family and friends. I am proud to live in a country that allows me the freedom to vote my conscience and disillusioned by the bishops and priests of my Church with their thinly veiled vitriolic attempts to control my vote (“Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”). Clearly it didn’t work anyway – 51% of Catholics voted for the President. As far as my new assignment with our Mexican division, for all of the reported lawlessness in Mexico I find the people that I’m working with to be well educated, professional, and hard-working but government regulations make employing them a monumental task (plus my aforementioned poor Spanish skills which only adds to my frustration and a nasty case of Montezuma’s Revenge – ugh!).

So I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and a little lost(?). I’m sure I’ll catch up soon – on sleep, on correspondence, on social engagements, on our un-packing. But until then I suppose I’ll find myself scratching my head and asking, “what happened???”.



Mexico Revisted

I think that this is the 10th time I’ve been in Mexico in less than a year. I love it here. The people. The food. The weather. And my favorite new drink ~ Michelada.

I’ve had the advantage of traveling on business and staying in some pretty nice places. And the “work” has been mainly touring retail shops in department stores after they have been installed. I’ve visited a couple of factories. And I’ve been to the corporate offices of Liverpool Department Stores which is a huge chain here in Mexico – think Macy’s.

But yesterday was ‘poco loco’. I started my day at Liverpool Santa Fe (which is in an upscale section of Mexico City. I was ‘invited’ by my customer at Jones New York® to join a merchandise and marketing training session. This is not really my gig (I’m the fixture guy) but I agreed to attend. I guess it’s hard to say no to a customer.

So there I was with about 100 Mexican merchandise coordinators and apparel specialists (whatever in hell that is). Everyone of course was speaking Spanish – everyone except me. The Director of Marketing for Jones New York® is bi-lingual and most people assumed I was as well. Actually some of my encounters were quite amusing. After some rapid-fire Spanish dialog, I would just meekly say “No habla Espanol”. I’m not certain what the response to that always was but I think it was usually Spanish for “WHY ARE YOU HERE?” I definitely heard “stupido” which I think means “You seem nice but you should go home.”

Later that morning I “helped” with a marketing presentation. The Jones® Marketing Director addressed the crowd, while I sat in a control booth and operated the computer that advanced the PowerPoint slides in her presentation which were then projected on 3 large screens in the auditorium. It sounds easy but it’s only easy if you speak Spanish. I did my best. Let’s just leave it at that. After the PowerPoint presentation I was allowed to take a seat in the auditorium for the Q & A portion of the program. I wasn’t expecting to have to answer any questions but once again I was wrong. And then it came – MY QUESTION. Rocio one of the Liverpool ‘Spanish speakers’ looked at me and said “Denis can you answer that?” I sort of understood something about maniqui (mannequins) and vestidas (dresses) and mesas (tables) and damas grande (large women). And when I gave my answer it was very very funny – I just have no idea what I said. Dios mio!

Later in the day back at my hotel I got trapped between floors in the elevator. After pushing the ‘EMERGENCIA’ button and saying very loudly “NO HABLA ESPANOL” “I’M TRAPPED! I’M TRAPPED! HELP! HELP!” The voice on the speaker asked for my hotel room number. Seriously??? Why did the voice need my room number? Then the voice said “okay Denis, we’ll get you out.” After about 5 minutes which seemed like 5 hours to a crazy, claustrophobic, uno-lingual speaker, the elevator finally moved. When I stepped out of the elevator it was about 10 inches above the floor and of course I nearly fell. What a day!

Jones New York Collections at Liverpool - Perisur

Today was much better. A conference call with my partners in the U.K. and then we toured stores. First Perisur. Then Coapa. And finally Satelite. My Spanish was much better today and I became the ‘official intrepter’. Jim who is one my Project Managers that is traveling with me understands no Spanish. I felt like an expert by comparison.

At dinner ‘esta noches’ I actually was quite fluent in Espanol.  Of course the Micheladas helped. And my guardian angel is always watching over me (his is not an easy job!).