Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Sage of Macau; The value of a goal

As is the case with any worthwhile endeavor, having an end goal to establish progress along the way and to reward goal achievement is essential. So it is with your Christmas Wreath Fundraiser; how much money does your organization need/want to earn? How many products do you need to sell to achieve this goal and how many products will each member need to sell to get there?

The following short story is an interesting true tale regarding the value of establishing goals – of know where you’re going...

Many years ago, while traveling through Asia, I visited the peninsula colony of Macau. This community, while in China, was at the time under lease to Portugal, much as Hong Kong was under lease by the UK. I was with my wife Wendy and my good friend Bill’s Hong Kong Housekeeper Vie, a beautiful lady from the Philippines.

Even back then, Macau was a gambling Mecca and we walked through a couple of these casino’s to see what they looked like. All the gamblers were Asian men that were serious gamblers. It was dark and smoky, and none of the games they were playing looked anything like the ‘nickel, dime, quarter’ card games my buddies and I play for fun. We received many glaring looks by both the players and the staff and it was made clear that we were not welcome. That was OK.  None of us were gamblers anyway; I guess it showed.

The three of us went back into the warm, welcoming sunshine and began strolling through this exotic sea port city. Of course there were street vendors everywhere in both temporary and permanent shops selling wares that ranged from skins of exotic animals to cooked geese plucked and gutted - and hanging by their necks on strings in the open air – by the dozens. We guessed that a cooked goose was a popular dish in Macau. We didn’t purchase any geese.

Many shops were selling rare(?) antiquities - like pots from the Ming Dynasty(?). They may or may not have actually been from the Ming Dynasty, but these items were extremely interesting.  We stopped at one of the more exotic looking shops, and began browsing through the many items that were reputed to be from the Ming Dynasty, bronze tools, flat ware, porcelain bowls, etc., and some wild looking pipes. I guessed that these pipes were for smoking opium, since tobacco came from America a couple of centuries after the Ming Dynasty. However, since the little old Chinese man shopkeeper didn’t speak any English, we weren’t sure (all he could say in English was “Ming Dynasty”). This old man had a mole near his chin, with a foot long wisp of white hair drooping down. These wispy moles seemed to be a thing to be revered, since many older men sported them.

We stopped at many booths on our way to Fortaleza de Barra (The Barra Fort), a 16th Century Fortress on the bluff overlooking the harbor area. The old fort had a commanding stance over the bay and harbor and successfully defended Macau from the treat of a Dutch invasion in the 17th Century. There were a dozen old guns atop the 16 foot thick walls which were rusty and decrepit as one would imagine.  I thought how amazing, that the gun handlers of old were able to actually hit anything with these primitive weapons. But, they must have had some level of luck keeping the pirates and Dutch invaders from their colony, because it was still held by Portugal.

Well, we climbed down from the old fort and began walking through the town again. At one point, I pulled a map from my pocket to figure out where we were. Unfortunately, both the map and the street signs were in Chinese characters. This required me to stand on the corner, and look back and forth from the map to the street signs, and back again, in an effort to match up these foreign hieroglyphics. It was frustrating, but I decided to figure out where I was before we moved on. Macau is a pretty big city, and although we weren’t lost, I sure didn’t know where we were. I didn’t expect help from any locals because they were all Chinese and not overtly friendly.

After many minutes of focused effort, an old man approached me and asked, “Young man, would you like some assistance”, in heavily accented but surprisingly good English. He was short and slight, had a long wisp of white hair growing from a mole on his cheek and was dressed in a long, white flowing robe. His arms were tucked onto the sleeves of his robe much as you would expect of a Buddhist High Priest. I was relieved and said, “Yes, I’d appreciate your help. I’m having trouble matching the Chinese characters on the map and am trying to figure out where we’re at.” The wise old sage looked at me for some time, then asked, “Where are you going?” I scanned around the intersection for a second or two, and then replied, “Well, I don’t really know where I’m going, I just want to know where I’m at.”

Then, without a smile, or for that matter, any expression at all on his face, the old sage said, “Young man, if you don’t know where you are going, what does it matter where you are.” And with that, he began walking away from me and didn’t look back. I exclaimed, “But sir, can’t you just show me where we are?” Nothing; the old man just kept walking. I never saw him again.

As I watched him seemingly float away, his long, immaculately white robe flowing behind him, I realized the wise old sage was correct; ‘If I don’t know where I’m going, what does it matter where I am?’ I’ve tried to heed this advice over the years, and always have some semblance of a plan in place; I wish more people did.

Do you know where you are you going?

John S Mickman
Mickman Brothers, Inc.

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