The Good News That Turned Bad

or is it the bad news that will turn good?

I have been holding a big announcement in the past month. After a 6 month search and at least 30 open house visits, Albert and I finally made an offer to purchase our own home about a month ago. The offer was accepted, so we started to plan for the move, we did research on what furniture to buy, and we began telling our friends and families, etc.

Then the unthinkable happened last weekend. The purchase contract fell apart due to the serious delay from our loan officers to get the final approval. (ask me who NOT to hire at Bank of America privately, if you want to avoid the same mistake!)

It took me a little while to recover from the loss, mainly emotionally. Now, instead of announcing this great news to everyone here, I am sharing this good news that turned bad.

Sorry for all the false excitement and invitations to do things with my new home. Albert and I will continue to rent, moving to a small one bedroom apartment near our current place next week.

My dad is a man with few words. He usually writes or talks to me when big things happen. This time, he reminded me of the following famous Chinese saying -- 塞翁失馬,焉知非福 * --“The old man lost his horse. Nobody really knew if it was good or bad in the end!”

Here is the story behind the saying – There once was a wealthy horse collector in a small town in ancient northern China. (about 150 BC). One of his very good horses ran away into the neighboring barbarian country. Everyone consoled him, but he said “why should I hastily conclude that this is not a fortunate thing?”

After a few months, the horse came back and brought back another very fast horse from the nearby country. Everyone congratulated him, but the old man said “Getting such a special horse for no obvious reason may not be a good thing after all."

One day, the old man’s son fell off of the new horse and crippled his leg. Everyone again, consoled the father. The father again did not jump into any conclusions to whether he should be happy or sad.

One year later, the nearby enemy declared war with the old man’s country, and every healthy young adult was asked to go to war. Almost everyone died in that battle. The old man’s son did not go to war because his leg was crippled!

"A setback may turn out to be a blessing in disguise." or "Every cloud has a silver lining." are similar English sayings. I like this story even more, because it serves both way. Things happen for reasons, and most of the time it is initially not easy to judge whether they are good or bad. If everything goes as you wish, extreme happiness is not necessary. At the same time, if everything seems to be against your dreams, there is no need to be completely devastated, either.

* The Chinese pronunciation is "Sai Weng Shi Ma, Yan Zhi Fei Fu" and the source is from 淮南子/人間訓 (Huainanzi). The Chinese version with pictures can be found here.


Greece Adventure -- Day 5 -- most romantic sunset in the world

Sunset in Fira, Santorini

If you type in "most romantic sunset in the world" on google (or bing.com), this is what you will see -- Santorini.

As much as we didn't want to leave Crete and our beautiful resort, we really looked forward to visiting Santorini. On this day, we returned the car at the port in Crete, and took the hydrofoil ferry to Santorini.

The hotel we stayed at was quite special. We chose a hotel that was not in the popular city by the ocean, therefore we got bigger space, a newer building, and a quiet atmosphere. As a trade off, we didn't get the water view and we couldn't walk to the beaches because we lived in the middle of the island, next to a small winery.

View from our villa's window on the second floor.

Me pretending to write postcards in the living room. Just want to give you some idea of how serene the atmosphere was.

Take a look at the hotel's official website for more pictures. Hotel Vedema was definitely a charming place.

Contrary to the excitement and unknown challenges from Crete, Santorini felt more like the typical Greek vacation I imagined. Everyone was warm and happy. Nobody was in a hurry or trying very hard to get things done. I naturally slowed down my pace and just started wandering around all day. We checked into the hotel, walked around the nearby small town, and ate lunch at a small restaurant next to the owner's home winery. Before dinner time, we took the hotel shuttle bus into the big city, Fira.

There you are! The Greek island I have always wanted to see with my own eyes.

A picture paints a thousand words.

I could stare at this view forever...

After this picture was taken, we found a small cafe next door with a great view of the sunset. I took a series of pictures, including the first one in this entry. The weather was warm and breezy; the music at the cafe was cheerful and light. I was sipping a cup of hot tea, and eating chocolate ice cream (turned out to be my dinner). I don't know what the word "romantic" really stands for, and I have not travelled the whole world to see all the sunsets, but I am pretty sure this one is hard to beat.

PS: The famous sunset spot in Santorini is actually in another city called, Oia. We went the next day, but didn't see anything due to the heavy clouds.


Five Types of Irrational Donors

...and 7 Faces of Philanthropy

My blog, along with all the blogs on blogger.com, is currently blocked in China. None of my friends in China can read my completely harmless writings. Since this is not accessible in mainland China, I might as well write something controversial here.

Recently, I had the chance to learn from a group of private foundation leaders from China about the philanthropic environment on the ground. We all know that in the large scheme of things, wealth creation has been a relatively recent thing in China. Charitable donation is still at its infancy stage in China. From the establishment of laws, to NGO capacity building, all the way to donor education, China is decades behind many other developed countries.

Domestic donors in China are heavily dominated by corporations. Most of them are considered to be quite "irrational". They can be categorized into the following 5 types:

1. Extreme Irrational Donor -- corporations make donations as a type of soft bribery. If they donate $1m to a government-linked non-profit organization, in return, they will get $10m worth of benefit and power from it back.

2. Severe Irrational Donor -- corporations make donations because they were forced to by the local government officials to do so. Many local political leaders have started to impose the amount or percentage of income, that corporations have to donate, to the designated government-linked not-for-profit organizations.

3. General Irrational Donor -- corporations make donations for PR or marketing reasons, to correct the brand images, or promote themselves.

4. Special Irrational Donor -- corporations make donations to build hardware, such as school or hospital buildings and insist that their names be engraved on the walls, or getting the building naming rights in return. These donors do not donate for any software, or not-for-profit capacity building works, such as medical or educational professional training programs, that are usually more important then the actually facilities themselves.

5. Ignorant Irrational Donor -- donors who do not care about where the money goes to, or the impacts of the donations.

These categories seem exaggerated, but they certainly have some degree of truth to it.

It doesn't matter which country you look at, there are always different motivations behind identical behavior. This reminded me of the famous The Seven Faces of Philanthropy that most professional fundraisers in the US are familiar with. These are referring to individual donors, not corporate donors though.

1. The Communitarian: Doing Good Makes Sense
2. The Devout: Doing Good is God's Will
3. The Investor: Doing Good is Good Business for Social Change
4. The Socialite: Doing Good is Fun
5. The Altruist: Doing Good Feels Right
6. The Repayer: Doing Good in Return
7. The Dynast: Doing Good is a Family Tradition

I think I am 40% type (1), 20% type (3), 10% type (4), 20% type (5), and 10% type (6).

Do you know what type of donor you are?

Books for Asia -- updated on 11/4/09

Original Post on 10/20/09 --

I went to work this morning with a minor headache and severe sore throat. In the middle of the flu season, it was understandable that everyone in the office told me to go home.

Right before I was about to step out, a friend and colleague, John, came to my office. He wanted to show me this new video that his team had just filmed in Thailand. I told him about my sickness and he said "I am a strong man! I can handle this. And I really want to show you what we've got here!"

This film not only brightened up my day, but also reminded me of the meaning of my job.

Here it is: Asia Foundation Books for Asia video page and the voting page Vote before 10/31 and stay in touch. Here is an insider scoop -- all the voters will get to see another video clip of our colleagues in Thailand really giving out the book of your choice! We will do two more of these campaigns featuring Bangladesh and Mongolia later this year, too.

Thank you for spending 3 minutes to be touched.

Next time, I will try to get Winnie the Pooh to win! Read this blog entry to find out why.

Updated on 11/4 --

People loved this campaign! Over 5000 people voted, and The Asia Foundation's Fan Page on Facebook now has about 10,000 fans, compared to only 600 before this video campaign. Thank you all for your support!

The winning books were delivered!! Here is the new video with a small surprise, too.