A Day of Hope in Tiananmen Square

Finally getting caught up on video work shot, but not produced.

We are very fortunate to have many great interactions with people as we circle the planet. Often the best days are surprises that take on a magic all their own. November 19th, 2017 in Beijing was no exception. What follows is a collaboration between Nicky and Stacia filming, Nicky editing, Alexander and Annika playing, dad writing and narration by Alexander.                                                    Hoping you enjoy our message of hope.


Be upbeat. Whether you are an optimist or pessimist, the outcome will not change.

Positivity. In investment terms, as in life, a positive attitude and outlook cost nothing, anyone can have it and it has the highest return. Below are six charts that measure changes in six important measures of human progress, and provide evidence why people everywhere should pay heed. As I often tell my kids, if you have 100 loaves of bread, and you get one more, it’s often, “Dude, what the heck”? But if you live elsewhere and you have only one, and you get one more, YOU. ARE. PSYCHED!

Here is the data from that chart I think every kid should be familiar with (Not fake news). Since studies show nearly 60% of people only read headlines, and over 85% only read the first two sentences of newspaper and website stories, here are the highlights. This has all occurred in MY LIFETIME (SINCE 1960)!

Extreme poverty: 65% has dropped to 10% since  1960

Basic education: 45% has increased to 85% since 1960

Literacy: 45% to 85% since 1960

Democracy: 35% to 55% since 1960

Vaccination: nearly ZERO % in 1960 to 85% today

Child mortality: In 1960, 20% of children died before their 5th birthday. Today it’s 4%

By any measure, it’s never been better. Be Positive.

In the Blink of an Eye.

China is time. When you see buildings and visit places measured in many centuries, while trying to grasp the breadth of development over thousands of years, merely keeping track of dynasties on the timeline alone is a daunting task.

Years ago I was extraordinarily fortunate to have visited China on a trip with my father and mother were invited along with many other Wall Street luminaries to speak to and teach the then Chinese leaders about investment banking, bonds, securities, capital formation, and the rest of seeming alien capitalist methods. Part of that excursion included an audience with Deng Xiaoping and a dinner in the Great Hall of the People just off of Tiananmen Square. The year was 1986. Telling someone that you met Deng in 1986 is like someone telling an American saying they met Abraham Lincoln. Today the statement is met with incredulity until I bring out my pictures. A gasp and “your father must be very important man” is the common reply, squelching the skepticism.

From that trip, my most powerful recollection of Deng’s talk was the statement, ” 30 years from now China will take it’s proper place in the world economically and socially.”

Right on schedule.

Most of the people we come across today in China were not yet born or were quite young during my first visit. This is because Chinese elders do not speak any English. Only the young and usually the fortunate Chinese youth of the Communist Party members have both the language chops and the outward facing jobs. And the trust of the Party to speak the vision and “truth.”

People often ask what it was like then. To try and describe the extraordinary change that has taken place in Beijing specifically, and China generally over the past 30 years is like trying to describe the sensation of diving into the water to someone that has never been swimming. Then, nearly everyone rode on bicycles, and mobs pressed against the gates of the few hotels that existed. Pollution was so thick I recall climbing about 3 to 5 stories and coughing up blackness from the low-grade coal burned from smokestacks of coal-burning factories, and from trains that chugged like those in TV Westerns when I was a kid. And we were always watched and listened to. It was like something from a spy movie. We were photographed, stared at, and studied like curious animals in a cage. All the while we were driven around in old Mercedes with country flags over both headlights.

Shanghai was even more stunning. While today it is home to over 20 million people, at the time it was barely open fields on one side of the Yangtze river that runs through Shanghai’s center. As recently as 1999, an entire half of the city on one side of that river Did.Not.Exist. Imagine drawing a line through New York City or Los Angeles in the year 2000. In your mind now, place an open field of grass and tumbleweeds on one side, and over the next 15 years build the equivalent of one more New York City or Los Angles on that barren patch. Mere words cannot describe the scale of the transformation.

I have since returned to China in 2008 and 2009 at the bottom of the global financial crisis, and here again in 2017 with my family. China is perhaps my strongest recommendation for any trip idea. China today will inform the future, and what she is today will not be what she becomes. Go and understand today, for it will divine tomorrow.

Approaching 2008 I felt that the 2008 Olympics would mark the debutante ball for the nation of China. Anyone that watched the drum performance in the opening ceremonies that night will never forget the powerful statement made that evening. In just 50 or 60 years the Chinese have turned a country in crisis into opportunity would be an understatement. [Due to a misuse by JFK in 1958, It is often misquoted it is often misquoted that the Chinese character for crisis and opportunity are the same. This is not true.]

Pay attention to the statements made by President Xie. Pay attention to their 5-year plans and objectives. Make note of the longevity inherent in their planning and subtle nuance of their statements. President Xie speaks of one of his major objectives being the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, the revitalization of the Silk Road that runs from Central China through the “Stans” like Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. All the way to the Middle East, Africa, Russia, Europe, and the UK. An overland trade route that bypasses the traditional shipping lanes and seeks to uplift many countries with which the US is not always friendly.

“Faites attention”, as the French say, pay attention. The world is dramatically shifting right under our feet and has been for the better part of the past 30 years. The Dragon has awakened. In China the people say, “Mr. Deng was a great man.” And apparently a visionary.

I fear that the short-sighted U.S. worldview colored by our quite limited history, our embedded complacency, our lack of patience, and the anything-goes social structure might prove dangerous to our very survival.

In China, the slow sands of time can shift dramatically… in a New York Minute.

Top view circa 1990. Bottom view 2010.

Beijing    北京    North Capital

I often wonder about Tiananmen Square, 1989. Fake news. Perception and reality. Truth. I know I saw it then on world television. I did, right? Years on, I have tried to search the internet for proof from within China, to no avail. Today, the NY Times and Google are not available in China. Controlling and changing the shifting narrative to a population of 1,300,000,000 people is critical to the government.

I’ve had 6 or more different tour guides in the 4 visits to China over the last 31 years. Each has been notable in their varied freedom in disclosing the “truth” about China and the information flow here.

The first guide, in 1986, was a Communist Party member through and through, young and on script. Interfacing with Western dignitaries in 1986 was a huge deal, privileged since his parents were Communist party members. I often wonder where he is now.

In 2008, Stacia and I had a guide whose most controversial statement came when I asked if people really ate dog. His reply, “I enjoy Schnauzer best, German Shepherd too tough for me.” When asked by Stacia why there was barely a single bird outside the Forbidden City, the answer is still humorous and telling. He stated, with great emphasis on the end of the sentences, “In China, if it have leg, and it not table or chair, we EAT IT! If it have wing, and it not airplane…we EAT IT!”

Now dear reader, before you accuse me of racist or xenophobic chatter, I will educate you as to why Chinese people speak English the way they do. In Chinese, there are no plurals and no tenses! For years, we had a Tibetan friend who might remark that she “go to store for egg.” No matter how many times I deftly corrected it, she giggled and continued. Now I understand why. Further, one might have noticed that Chinese people often sound like they are arguing or angry when they speak.

And the dialog is often shouted. This is due to the fact that there are no subtle shifting nuances in the way a sound is made. Any shift represents an entirely NEW WORD and character. No one has ever explained either until this visit. I get now.

We next learned of an interesting phenomenon in China that explains why some visits and some cities have unbearable pollution, while others are crystal clear and blue skies. It’s simply called, “conference blue”, or “Trump blue”, by local Chinese. This refers to the government mandated shutting down of factories far and wide for a month prior to the arrival of foreigners who might cast China in a bad light should they experience what the Chinese people encounter. In 2008, during the Olympics in Beijing, it was referred to as Olympic blue, as the factories were closed for 3 months prior.

On this day, our tour guide took us to see the Hutongs. Hutong, meaning “Waterwell”, are more akin to a small neighborhood, each including schools, a hospital, a food market and more. Hutongs shelters themselves house entire multi-generations under one roof and are rapidly disappearing. They are charming and a must see before they are removed in the normal course of advancement of society.

Out recent guide came from a Communist party family as well. His father is a chauffeur for party leaders, of the highest level. There are 234 security levels in China. Our guide’s father was a “1”. Once he told us of “Isenberg”, an Israeli arms dealer who was in central Beijing the day of the Tiananmen Square massacre. As the student protests erupted, he was hastily ushered in the limo to the airport to return him to home safely. Mr. Isenberg was told to remain quiet of what he saw so as not to jeopardize his standing with government procurement opportunities.

Our bus did not have a “bus monitor” as is often the case to make sure that the tour guide is “on message” of the Communist party. He told us that there is a 2 km radius of cameras and listening devices surrounding Tiananmen Square.

He noted that Chinese learn by learning English to understand the outside world and that the Chinese can learn much from other countries, yet cautioned that the United States could learn well from other countries. He felt that the Chinese government sends subtle long-term messages, whereas the US is direct and in your face, and too short-term oriented.

Fun chatter:

In the parks we watched many people play a board game called “Farmers against the Landlord”!

Apparently, all children need to have the same haircut, and the same color hair, even if you are born with a different color you must dye it black!

Walking around Beijing, you might think you’re in “any city US”. Great stat. The United States has 24 sq retail per person vs. 3 square feet per person in China and 2 square feet per person in Germany. The US is dramatically overbuilt in retail.

A good read on Chinese people: https://www.tripsavvy.com/what-are-chinese-people-like-1494970

Finally, observations from someone in our group:

“People are really nice in China. In fact, so far people nicer everywhere than Paris.”

“What I see is a country where people are trying REALLY hard and I sure wouldn’t want to bet against them”

Zimbabwe, tribalism and our world

One of Stacia and my favorite places on the African continent is in disarray. We anticipated the fall of Uncle Bob Mugabe for a few years but the man was a medical miracle.

This article speaks to the history of Zimbawan rule, tribalism, and it’s perils. There is also wonderful commentary from British readers. No People Magazine readers they. Especially @BobOgden


Tiananmen football and the international language

  1. One of our favorite days on our journey. After class we walked to the infamous Tiananmen Square. As usual, Alexander had the world soccer ball attached to his hip like a barnacle.

Would the military presence stop us? What would the everyday Chinese people do and think? Would they scowl?

It sure didn’t take long to find out. We cautiously began kicking our soccer ball between us off to the side of the massive square. A soldier stood rigidly nearby. As we passed, I glanced at him and could swear I saw a slightly up turned smile. As Allie kicked me the ball, I ran by him and looked eye to eye. He WINKED!!!


Allie and I started looking for ‘playuhs’. From 4 years to 94, people wanted to be included. Not overtly mind you. The Chinese people are reserved and cautious of foreigners. But make eye contact and pass? You find a 20 year old with a little bit of skills. They stay and play then get on their way. An old lady that finds the ball at her feet, kicks the ball back. A baby who laughs and points. A pass, a smile, and always pure joy.

Kick someone a ball, get a pass back, and a huge smile from the unlikliest places. EVERYONE wants to be invited and included, the world over. Why can’t that be a rule. World leaders must bring a soccer ball to all world meetings, and be required to play for a day before they head off to ruin it for the rest of us?

(Below: Chinese girls watching, giggling, taking photos…and eventually playing, then autographing our “world ball”. Priceless.)

Seems wherever we go, that ball brings smiles for miles. Our big test yet were the police and military in Tiananmen Square.

But every so often…the sign says “no”

Two thoughtful views of race relations in America

Every so often pieces come along that impart enlighten, but few with the eloquence and impact of this author, Ta-nehisi Coates. Kids, in a world of general nonsense, this is a voice worth considering.


A favorite…


And a dissenting voice…

An Open Letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates



Sunday session II, Calligraphy, and the Kyoto crafts museum…

…as it relates to the favorite speech I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Steve Jobs
Co Founder Apple Inc.

What to do when the world is FUBAR

This is a very important piece.

“You want to improve the world? Improve yourself. Read history and understand the dangers of self-righteousness. Read literature and understand the human condition. Know who you are and the strengths and weaknesses of being a human being. Learn the limitations of reason. Be an exemplar of personal virtue.”