says Songbae


This is Songbae’s latest email blast; he titled it

Ten Things you Don’t Need to Know

(or, “Facebook status updates I never posted”)

1. Finished Mercy Corps Kyrgyzstan internship last month: Was working for their microfinance institution called Kompanion.

2. Extended for another six months starting in June: Will be interim CFO for Kompanion.

3. Arrived in Bangkok last Monday: My little sister was expecting her second baby (popped out on Friday) and I thought I would try to squeeze in another revolution before summer.

4a. Cultural insights through language lessons: My Russian teacher seems to focus on certain themes when she makes up examples like “I don’t know if she loves me”, “Women need love, a good family and kids” and “Men need comfort, a free life, interesting work and a woman”.

4b. More Russian language lessons: I had to translate “He can not go. He is too drunk” and “He does not want to go to Paris with his wife, he wants to go there with his girlfriend.”

5. Food in Bishkek: A co-worker ordered an “Estonia salad” which was pickled mushrooms, chicken, green peas, mayonnaise, ketchup and cognac.

6. Older sister’s birthday: Her birthday is on May 25. As her present, I’m asking my friends to visit her blog. She gets excited when her “hits” go up. For added bonus points you can leave a comment.

http://womantalk.org/

7. “Why I should keep my day job” picture: While I was living in Bangkok last summer with my sister, I went to Laos with my brother-in-law who is a professional photographer as his assistant. I’m the one in the Hawaiian shirt.

8. “New years 2009”: Picture taken at my sister’s apartment in Bangkok with my niece and her friend. The kids stayed up way later than me.

9. “Me and Allie on bus”: For those of you who have asked for pictures from my Nepal trip last year, this is probably not what you were talking about. But I thought this picture was funny. The bus was so crowded that I was hanging halfway out the door and they had stuffed my friend in the front behind the driver’s seat.

10. Travel guides: The Lonely Planet travel guide for Central Asia has a section under Dangers and Annoyances called “Assault by Hospitality”. And their Russian phrasebook has a romance section that teaches you how to say “Use your tongue”.

Miss you all. Come visit soon.

Songbae

Picture for #7


Picture for #8


Picture for #9

P.S. FYI: womantalk.org got 278 hits on May 21, 2010. may finally break 6,000 hits this month. not that i watch stats or anything…

P.S.S. I’m adding a video of Songbae plus one niece and nephew.

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Bishtek Updates (since people keep asking)\

April 17 clarifications:

“1) They were considering evacuating us to Kazakhstan but they never did
2) I was hired as interim CFO for Kompanion, which is Mercy Corps microfinance bank in Kyrgyzstan.”

April 11, 2010

“Hello all,

Things are fairly quiet in the city and we were “de-consolidated” yesterday which means we were allowed to go back to our own apartments.

After getting back to my own apartment, I took my first shower since Wednesday (they had showers at our “safe house” but I figured the revolution was a good excuse to skip a few days). It seems a little strange to do anything normal during these un-normal times but after my shower I got a haircut (where they proceeded to wash my hair two more times).  Then I went grocery shopping (at the shopping center which wasn’t looted) because I had left all my boiled eggs, ramen noodle bowls and canned corn at the safe house. The store where I went grocery shopping had been badly looted in the 2005 revolution, really fortified itself afterwards and survived this round.  Lesson well learned.

After shopping I did the wash which means right now I’m wearing my “gym” clothes.  When I first arrived in Bishkek last November I bought a heavy coat, two dress shirts, a pair of work pants and two pairs of socks.  I alternate the dress shirts and socks.  My next purchase was a pair of “office” slippers. This prompted someone in my office to comment that I don’t seem to care about what I wear.  He was wondering if it was a personal or cultural thing.

Since I don’t have a camera, here are some links to articles with pictures.  The picture in this article is the “mall” where I usually (or should I say “used to”?) go to lunch.

It is also the mall where I (used to) get holes in my clothes sewed.  I have so far brought in a jacket, pants and a sweater.  When I brought in my socks, though, they said no and told me just to buy a new pair.  When I told my co-worker what happened she took out a needle and some thread and sewed them on the spot (she first asked if the socks were clean and then added that I should get married so my wife could sew my socks).

This article has a map of Bishkek (I’ve also attached a copy with my edits) where you can see my old apartment.

I read another article referring to the protests as the Easter Revolution which is a little funny since Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim country.  Someone in my office suggested that I move up my trip to Bangkok but after reading the news today I’m not so sure that’s a good idea either?

Songbae”

April 7, 2010

Although all international emails and websites were cut off for a time yesterday, we have now received email from Songbae and he has called twice in the last 48 hours.

He is safe and well.

He has been in a “safe house” with other expats, but tomorrow he will be evacuated to Kazakhstan.

Last week Songbae was hired as the Mercy Corps interim Chief Financial Officer for six months. That seemed like exciting news, until he and his coworkers started being able to hear gunshots in town from the office.

News about the situation from the NY Times here. And news from msnbc.com here.

Many of you know that my brother Songbae, once a well-heeled finance banker in NYC, is now working for a non-profit economic development organization in Kyrgyzstan. He’s returning to his Peace Corps roots, I think.

In any case he’s setting up a “mini” scholarship program for the local employees in his current office.

If you are interested in donating money and love the idea of a 44 cent overhead (that’s a postage stamp these days, right?), read on.

From Songbae:

Short version:

I am hitting you up for money.

Long version:

Background

When I say “mini”, I mean pretty small.  Last year our office paid for ten employees to take English classes four times a week after work.  The total cost was $250 for one month (that’s $250 for all ten employees).  The program was discontinued because of the cost, the economic downturn and poor attendance.

The Project

I’d like to re-start that program with private funds, i.e. your money, with two basic changes. First, only 50% of the payment will be made upfront with the remainder made if attendance requirement are met.  Second, other classes besides English would be included, e.g. accounting, etc.

The Ask

I’d like to make this a three month long “pilot” program and am looking for roughly eight donations of $100 (at $250/month for a total of $750).  In return, whoever you sponsor would be required to send you monthly email updates, tell you about their life in Kyrgyzstan and send pictures.

If you’re interested, you can just send a check in my name to my sister in LA.  Let me know and I will send you her address (though I haven’t asked her if it’s ok yet! Note: It is okay – let me know if you need my address).  Please don’t worry if this doesn’t sound interesting to you.  I’m sure I will think of other future projects that will need “funding” as well.

Hope all of you are well!

Songbae

P.S. I have no problem paying for this myself but I don’t think they’d let me :)”

My brother Songbae accepted an internship in Bishkek, Krygzystan for three months.

His latest email:

“It’s been about a week since I’ve arrived in Bishkek, Krygzystan and
there have been plenty of instances that have made all those Peace
Corps memories from Ukraine start rushing back, like when…

* …they play a video on the plane that keeps flashing the message
“Please do not take the blankets”
* …you order a cup of tea in a cafe they make it with a used tea bag
* …your daily planner comes with a table called “Blood Alcohol Decay Time”

Let me know if anyone would like me to pick them up a track suit while I’m here.

Songbae

P.S. Went to my first Korean restaurant in Kyrgyzstan last night.  The
restaurant’s name in Russian translates to “South Korean Restaurant”.
That’s the first time I’ve seen a Korean restaurant go to the trouble
of making that distinction.

P.P.S.  They just put up the “New Year” tree in front of City Hall.
It can’t be a “Christmas” tree since Kyrgyzstan is officially a Muslim
country.  Of course.”

My brother Songbae accepted an internship in Bishkek, Krygzystan for three months.

His latest email:

“It’s been about a week since I’ve arrived in Bishkek, Krygzystan and
there have been plenty of instances that have made all those Peace
Corps memories from Ukraine start rushing back, like when…

* …they play a video on the plane that keeps flashing the message
“Please do not take the blankets”
* …you order a cup of tea in a cafe they make it with a used tea bag
* …your daily planner comes with a table called “Blood Alcohol Decay Time”

Let me know if anyone would like me to pick them up a track suit while I’m here.

Songbae

P.S. Went to my first Korean restaurant in Kyrgyzstan last night.  The
restaurant’s name in Russian translates to “South Korean Restaurant”.
That’s the first time I’ve seen a Korean restaurant go to the trouble
of making that distinction.

P.P.S.  They just put up the “New Year” tree in front of City Hall.
It can’t be a “Christmas” tree since Kyrgyzstan is officially a Muslim
country.  Of course.”

Today, my brother Songbae turns forty years old and for all the complaining I’ve done about him over the years, I’d like to take a minute and gather all my warm fuzzies about him and gather it into one admiring kudos post for his birthday.

If you ever met my brother, even for five minutes, you’d know that he has a monstrous surfeit of energy and intelligence. But like how a big man might adopt a particularly gentle manner to counteract his intimidating hulk, Songbae has developed an incredibly open character tempered with a large dose of frank curiosity. So even though Songbae’s brain runs circles around most of the people he meets, rarely are people intimidated by him, so busy are they answering questions about themselves and absorbing what they have already have learned about him. I think Songbae can boast of having more friends around the world than anybody else I’ve ever met.

And that surfeit of energy? He loves to direct it towards humanitarian causes – and he often serves on the board of non-profit organizations or donates his time helping them set up business plans and the like. I think though, that almost two years in Ukraine for the Peace Corps convinced him that he would be better suited to serve the world (yes, I really believe he thinks in noble terms like this) if he had a big money background – so then he went and got an MBA at the top-rated business school in the country: University of Chicago. Now after several years of investment banking, he’s back on the loose, looking for the right job abroad; ideally an executive position with an international NGO or something similar.

He also uses that energy to get good at what ever he does. He throws himself into projects 100%; I can remember even back in college he was getting monthly awards and bonuses, for selling the most encyclopedias of any employee. When he went to work in D.C., it came as no surprise to me that within a year his boss put Songbae’s office next to his own, so indispensable was he. And at his last job for Banc of America in San Francisco, he came in as an associate, but left (was laid off) as a vice president.

Since he’s been laid off, he’s directed that energy towards self-awareness and self-improvement. Like I said, he always goes whole hog; now he’s meditating and exercising daily and doing a fruit and veggie fast once a week. Not surprisingly, this regime has really made Songbae even more charming and fun to be around, because his once-erratic spurts of energy seem more focused and measured now.

He loves adventure, travel, and physical pursuits. He loves a challenge. He loves people. He is generous to a fault. He loves to read – if you pick up a book he’s read, you’ll see all the notes he’s taken in the margins (even in a book as light-hearted as What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love and Marriage).

And he loves kids! Songbae is a great uncle, and I think he’ll be just as great of a dad some day as well. One of things he said to me that most touched me this vacation, was that as much as he loved hanging out with Bella, Christian, and Noi naa (his neices and nephew), he doesn’t want them to become a substitute for having his own children. In this little video clip below, he is playing with Christian: Christian has just learned to say one of his first words, “down,” and he’s using it to communicate with Songbae. Watch how willing Songbae is to engage with Christian – he enters Christian’s playworld so easily.

I have an amazing brother and I appreciate him more and more as we grow older.

I wish him much love, fun, and deeply satisfying relationships in his 40th year. He sure deserves it.

My brother Songbae’s last missive from Cambodia:

“not necessarily in that order:

dinner – phnom penh has a lot of koreans and korean resturaunts. went to one last night called pyong yang. all the waitresses are from north korea. they sang some karaoke while we ate.

dreams – not about cambodia but a newspaper article i read while having breakfast in cambodia. when a school girl was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up she said a government official. when asked what kind she said a corrupt one because they have lots of nice things.

decadence – there’s a fancy new hotel that i stopped by to check out today. at the spa i asked if there were separate steam rooms for men and woman. they said no, everyone gets their own individual jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.

massage therapist – how old are you?

me – 40 massage therapist – how come your face doesn’t look that old?

me – shrug

massage therapist – but your hair looks that old

massage therapist – are you married?

me – no massage therapist – oh, that’s so sad, sorry

massage therapist – what do you do?

me – i’m not working. i’m looking for a job?

massage therapist – they’re looking for a spa manager”

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