Walking the Talk

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Dawn exercise in Hanoi, last week.

So, I’m 43 years old and last week I was taught how to walk properly. Turns out I hadn’t quite got it right these last four decades of trying.

The reason I needed the refresh, for something I’d taken for granted for so many years, was the amount of running I took on last year, to complete the personal challenge of finishing the Sapa Vietnam Mountain Marathon – a sizeable 70 kms, 3,000 metres and 13 hours of mountain running on the day itself.

By New Year’s Eve, I’d clocked up over 3,500 kms of running for 2017. Enough, it transpired, to ensure a memorable time in Sapa, but also to cause a serious malfunction in my left heel.

Many people in the world today have their sights set on personal challenges and an ambition for satisfying outcomes. Longer, faster, tougher –  the pursuit of something that seems unobtainable, combined with the thrill of proving, ultimately, that it isn’t.

I’ve written about why I like to run in previous posts. The programme of rehabilitation I’m now on, following 6 months of chronic heel pain and various misdiagnoses, I hope, will get me running again.

However, first, I’ve to fundamentally change a number of things I do in order to walk.

[For those of you interested, in addition to some sturdier inner soles, the tweaks made to my walking style include: keeping my chin up; shoulders further back; hips up and forward; feet pointed slightly inward; and then pushing off of the bottom of the ball of the big toe. There you have it, I’ll give that to you for free!]

It ended up being of little shock to learn that, when it comes to walking and running, I’ve been doing some of the basic things not quite right for many years now, and without realizing. A situation which feels analogous to other things in life.

To anyone familiar with my writing, it’s the development sector – my precious development sector – that springs to mind when making such comparisons, and how organisations, like CARE, seek to bring about change, and understand what change means.

Change can happen in a day, it can happen in a week, and sometimes it can take a lifetime. The type of change that CARE, and many working in this sector aim for is, you’ve guessed it, long-term change. Sustained, meaningful, generational outcomes. How does that manifest? As a sector we’ve collectively tried different ways and forms of intervening, and we’ve learnt a lot – some of which I’ve covered through blog posts, here and over on http://www.definitelymaybe.me.

Details aside, I think the biological analogy is a good one. After 6 months of trying to repair my heel using various interventions (including acupuncture, laser treatment, shock wave therapy, white blood cell injections – you name it, I experimented the hell out of it) the root cause of the issue was revealed to be connected to a bunch of things located far, far away from my Achilles heel. My neck, my shoulders, my core, my hips, my glutes, my quads, pretty much all the other parts of my body were conspiring against my heel.

It became instantly clear then that my heel would never improve unless all these constituent parts had received a full, physical makeover.

I’m fortunate to have found, just a week ago, a Vietnamese sports physio, named Danny Dong. Danny’s is a name I’ll not forget for a while, not merely because of the sheer charm it conveys (never since being introduced to a ‘Mr Phuc Dat’ the second week I arrived in Saigon, in 2011, has a name left such an endearing impression on me) but because Danny has helped put me on a road to recovery that feels as close to empowering as I’ve felt in a good long while.

This has not been without some ‘growing pains’. Earlier today, Danny took me through an agonizing session, reinforcing his instinctive advice (when first watching me move) of how the right side of my body is so much more flexible and stronger than the left.

Suspicions he had about this (and about the nature of my overly stiff hamstrings, and soreness in my right shoulder) he readily set about confirming, as he attacked the solid lumps of innate muscle tissue underneath my left foot – dormant for months since being rendered too contorted to be otherwise – and subjected me to a form of foot torture the likes of which I’ve never experienced.

Moments of writhing pain later, and an initial softening of some of the muscles in my foot, and he set to work on some of the other culprits (alas, there were many). But, as the old adage goes – there is no gain without pain.

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In social development terminologies, we know that to bring about change in a meaningful way, in countries such as Pakistan or Egypt or Sudan, does not always necessitate placing more resources directly into those contexts, but instead can be served better by resourcing elsewhere – around the policy making tables in Washington or in Brussels, perhaps.

Similarly, for many garment factory workers around the world, CARE has been able to build their individual agency and skills directly (through training courses, for example) however it is in dialogue with the world’s leading retail companies (whose procurement teams tend to be head-quartered in Hong Kong) that we stand more chance of influencing the conditions and the lives of garment workers, operating as they do out of the myriad of countries from where these buyers source products.

CARE does not have an office in Hong Kong, but there are ways and means of engaging these companies, provided 1.) we are clear on how the particular eco-system operates, and 2.) we are open to trying new approaches, and driving new conversations.

Just as I am now being schooled in how various parts of my body, overlooked for too long, each have an important role to play in the act of me walking.

Danny tells me that next week he is going to teach me how to run. Let me hope I can live up to his expectations and do so, and better than before and, fingers crossed, for another 43 years.

It seems to me that to do that – ie running “better” – requires me to make a continued shift (in my case, a literal ‘pivot’) on the topic of what I think running looks like in the first place.

And, as a concluding call to action from this particular reflection, I’d suggest, as a sector, that we take that spirit of reframing into as many of our discussions as we can.

We should take it into the exchange of ideas and engagement we have with our peers, or with the private sector and those companies with whom we partner, with policy makers, with local community leaders, activists, social changemakers, and the many others in society who are so often excluded, yet who we absolutely know hold the keys to unlocking many of the issues of the day, and of our time.

Let us never assume we know everything, and strive to be open to new ways of getting the job done – working, walking, running, scaling mountains, whatever our pursuit.

These things are all connected, and we can always find ways of improving, so that the learning curve each of us is on will never, in our lifetime, need plateau.

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Springtime in Saigon

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Even washing lines look better in Spring

It’s 2015. It’s mid January. And spring is here in Saigon.

In what has become my annual celebration of just how pleasant a time of year it is over here, when so many other parts of the world are either sweltering in their own juices, or snow ploughing their way to the office, I can’t resist once more in proclaiming the bleeding obvious: life is so much easier when you have the weather on your side.

Biking into work these days you are struck by the golden light, the intensely perfumed scents of the orchids and bogainvilleas, and the breeze. The fact that there is a breeze is enough to be thankful for, given Saigon’s notorious humidity track record. The New Year marks the lowest temperatures Saigon will experience until next January – somewhere in the mid 20’s – perfection in my mind, although many locals are already donning their puffer jackets and scarves in protest at the chilly starts to their days.

2015 – no resolutions for me, a year instead to appreciate all that comes my way and to embrace the here and now. I am grounded in Saigon until a UK visit next month, hosting as I am a regional workshop here at the end of the month, and enjoying the novelty of “routine” after a fabulous Christmas break, involving some long weekends away, and plenty of indulgent moments of sheer fun with Florence and Martha.

Perhaps a suitable 2015 resolution after two months absence from this blog (I’ve been peppering the sister site – http://www.definitelymaybe.me – with musings on development issues over the past few months instead) would be to post a bit more regularly.

Let me see…

Meantime, a lazy capture of the last quarter of 2014, which saw me travel extensively, can be found below in the form of pictures. I took to instagram last year, so check out @saigonsays on that if you are similarly hooked.

Wishing you all a very prosperous New Year to come.

September 2014

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View over Bangkok on a work trip home

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The Kowloon ferry, Hong Kong. I was speaking at a CSR Summit. Check out the post: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/09/17/the-future-of-csr/

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Happy 6th Birthday Florence!

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Martha back at school and in a new (big girls) kindergarten class!

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Back in Islamabad with work. Mountain top dinner! Check out the post: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/09/29/what-can-care-do-for-business/

October 2014

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Speaking at a conference in Singapore. Post here: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/10/13/true-power-lies-within/

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A weekend escape to Sapa

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Dawn during a tea plantation visit whilst on a work trip to Sri Lanka. Post here: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/10/31/sri-lanka-preparing-for-a-future-without-international-aid/

November 2014

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Back in Bangkok traffic for more workshops

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Saigon Raider’s football tournament in Phnom Penh (me, German Alex and German Daniel and a crate of beer Lao in a tuk-tuk)

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Back in Singapore for more conferences. Clearly I hadn’t washed that morning.

December 2014

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Lemonheads gig at Cargo, Saigon, with “Sluke” and Issy

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Back in Hong Kong for Awards event (and some dim sum)

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Hanoi for long weekend with the Suarez family

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Myanmar work trip, project visit in Lashio. Check out the blog here: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/12/13/myanmar-bringing-about-change-in-a-frontier-market/

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My final Bangkok immigration queue of 2014

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Pre-Christmas swinging at Saigon Outcasts

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A trio of poseurs at Saigon Outcasts.

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Christmas 2014 is here. Woohoo! Flo with Sarah from the UK

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Skater Girl

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Scooter Girl

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Mui Ne white dunes with Issy and Luke

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Last holiday sunset Coco Beach, Mui Ne

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Last balcony shot of the Christmas holidays

Human Wellbeing in the 21st Century

About 4 years ago I won a memorable hand of poker at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Casino (the one with the musical fountain display out the front, and which George and Brad robbed in Ocean’s Eleven).  Two red aces and $200 better off, and I’ve not since then allowed myself the chance of losing these winnings by making a return visit.

If I was a gambling man, I would put money on the fact that next time round I’d almost certainly come away empty-handed…

The Bellagio Initiative, a much newer institution than the casino, caught my eye last year not just because of the euphoric memories its name stirred within me, but because of the organisations who had established it, and the mission they had set themselves – namely, the collective pursuit of answers to some of the world’s most pressing and current questions. Continue reading

Myanmar: whereto next for Asia’s latest emerging market?

It is Tuesday evening, and I’m on my way back to Saigon, however am currently stuck on the runway at Bangkok airport, grounded, thanks to a horrendous monsoon downpour.

Looking out from my cabin window it is as if the plane is underwater.  In fact, given night time is fast setting in, it is more like being underwater in the dark, save for a few flashing neon lights going off from the terminal opposite.

Not being a great flyer myself, and having read the Thai Airways in-flight magazine only yesterday, it is at times like this when I resort to writing about something, to take my mind off both the delay of getting home, and the inevitable panic of turbulence that is awaiting me once we head off.

Last post, you were subject to a freak moment of poetry which I succumbed to at Kuala Lumpur airport, right now I am going to fill you in on Myanmar, a country in which I have just had the pleasure of spending a swift 24 hours… Continue reading

A better Olympic legacy

In years gone by, the end of July might have marked the beginning of the “silly season” for the UK press.

Predictable trending at this time of year typically includes debates about hosepipe bans, commentaries on celebrity bikini preferences and on sport that is not football (although pictures of Wayne Rooney on the beach still feature) and then standard, tedious long-range snaps of the Prime Minister on holiday.

All of which mundane fodder is there for public consumption in 2012 however, connected increasingly as we are as global citizens, with social media tools in a constant whirl of change and upgrade, there is now much better access to actual “news” items from all corners of the planet.

News in which we can immerse ourselves, constantly, as readers, commentators, critics, campaigners.  Whilst we are now a community of 7 billion people, earth’s human “eco-system,” like never before, has the capabilty to include all voices, and all perspectives… Continue reading

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I read that, on average, adults in the UK will make over 90 visits per year to a cash point machine, withdrawing an annual total of £2250 and spending around 6 hours (including waiting time) for the privilege of doing so.

No doubt if you drilled beneath the surface of this you would find plenty of people who never require a hole-in-the-wall experience, save for the occasional domestic emergency (in my case this used to be at 2am when the Colonel’s credit card machine had stopped working at my local KFC), and then there will exist a whole swathe of the public who frequent them on a daily basis, and are prepared to endure the ritualistic queuing part of the whole process.

As with other equivalent queuing experiences, it was usually me – impatient and late for my train – who ended up stood behind someone from this second group of people, who was intent not, it would appear, on using their debit card and the cash point for their primary purposes (as indicated by their names) instead using every other option available, vacantly tapping away at the keypad, and finally withdrawing their card and no money, only to summon another one from their pocket, and start the process all over again. Continue reading