As if it isn’t confusing enough for this American to be driving on the left side of the road rather than the right, Barbados adds the “roundabout” to the mix. Of the several definitions of “roundabout” in the dictionary I suspect “devious” is the most apt. On the ABC Highway alone that runs between the airport and One Sandy Lane I counted 13 of these confusing circumlocutions, mostly named after the founding fathers (and sisters) of Barbadian independence. I cannot tell you how many times my car keeps orbiting the grassy knolls dedicated to Everton Weeks, Clyde Wolcott, et al before choosing one direction to pursue in an “eeny, meeny, mighty, mo” fashion. My advice to travelers to Barbados: stay on the beach and off the roads!
Barbados, Hummingbirds, Sauvignon Blanc, Frank Sinatra and a good book!
For awhile I stopped blogging because I thought…what’s the point…until I saw that I had 8,885 comments! Thank you for reading and commenting on my posts.
I have been in Barbados for two months working on one of my real estate projects: www.onesandylane.com. I love Barbados. It is a real country…not just a vacation rock. I will dedicate several posts to this beautiful island over the next weeks. But today I want to thank my son, Lucas Rohm (whose 24th birthday it is today!), for getting me back into writing and to share with you all one thought….
I have lived virtually alone these two months, away from my family, friends, dog and routine. I looked forward to this experience…in paradise, perfect weather, sand, sun. I had many “self-improvements” planned….exercise, reading, writing, studying. But just the opposite happened….I feel rather sad and non-productive. I don’t know if the isolation causes this sadness or just the quantity of time I have had to reflect and introspect. We are so busy that the noise outside doesn’t allow up to hear the inner whispers. Not sure which state I prefer… Big changes coming up for this author…changes I think I am looking forward to for all the right reasons but questioning my motivations. Am I curious or restless? Running to or running from? Share with me your experiences…
Since leaving Sydney on Halloween we’ve been without an Internet connection. We flew to Ayer’s Rock in the “red center,” also known as The Outback as in Q: “Where are you going?” A: “Just out back.” Along those lines, Australians seem to have a wonderful way of simplifying language. Eucalyptus trees are called “gum” trees. Forests are called the “bush,” etc. My favorite is why a kangaroo is called a kangaroo, which means “What are you talking about?” in Aboriginal dialect. It came in response to the early settlers’ inquiries…”Whaaat’s THAT?”
The weather at Ayer’s Rock, known as Uluru by the Aborigines, was gorgeous, except at 4 AM when we woke up to watch the sun rising over the rock. Behind us were the domes of Kata Tjuta. I am resisting writing about things you can find in any travel book in favor of just sharing my impressions of the local wonders. The Aboriginal guide we had, along with his interpreter, took us on the four hour Liru walk of his ancestors, taught us how to attach a spear head to a stick with glue made from leaves (kiti) and tied on with the Achilles tendon of a kangaroo. I asked how it was discovered that the white powder from that particular plant turned into a black glue when heated, then a rock hard adhesive when cooled. The answer was: “Discovery is a Western concept.” Interesting, no? Aborigines believe that the god of creation made everything and that their ancestors were born with all the knowledge they needed to survive in this perfect world. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
One might think flying 4 hours to see a large rock a bit boring but Uluru is the spiritual heart of this beautiful country. It is so large that it has its own weather system. Every marking has a story interpreted by the Aborigines to explain part of their origin. There is a cave where women go to give birth. If you take a piece of the rock with you, they believe you take a piece of them. If you photograph or, worse, videotape, them or their spiritual places they feel you dilute their power. The southern night sky was spectacular, particularly Mars and Jupiter with its four moons, and the constellations of Scorpio (my husband’s astrological sign) and Pisces (mine). It was a clear night, and of the 200 billion stars our astronomer Mike told us were out there, he pointed out Epsilon in the Southern Cross, Antares at the heart of Scorpio, and the spiral galaxy know as The Milky Way.
Some believe that the Australian Aborigines are the oldest surviving tribal people on earth, dating back 30,000 years. The ancient sandstone that makes up much of Australia is 3,000 feet thick in places and thought to be hardened silt. The wildlife is the most astounding thing to me. There are about 100 mammals indigenous to Australia, all of them marsupials. Most of them are herbivores. Only a couple, including the Tasmanian devil (remember Taz from Looney Tunes?), are carnivorous. There are three species of kangaroo and a grouping of them is called a “mob.” Kangaroos, unlike the lonely wallabies and wallaroos, live in large mobs and the picture I have attached here reminds me of a scene right out of Jurassic Park. There are 52 species of parrot and 1.5 million wild camels, brought over to help with the construction of the telegraph and then let free.
The third part of our journey was a private tour arranged through Eco Adventures (www.ozeco.com.au). We lucked out and got the owner, Don Rosenfeldt (firstname.lastname@example.org) as our driver and guide. We headed out in his Land Cruiser, equipped with “Roo Bars,” for a four day exploration of the Australian bush, through the Blue Mountains and several National Parks. If we return to Australia, we will hire Don for a month because seeing things through his eyes, learning from his knowledge and experience, and enjoying his company made our days in the bush a time we will never forget.
We left Sydney for Coolah, passing through the Hunter Valley wine country and national parkland to Coolah Tops National Park. All around us we saw wild kangaroo, wallabies and wallaroos. We stayed that first night on a 4,000 acre farm owned by Harry and Jill Powell, enjoying a home cooked meal of lamb and vegetables grown by them. In the morning, Ruby Roo, a nine-year-old kangaroo saved by Jill when his mother was shot, came up to the house for his breakfast. Then Harry drove us around the farm to teach us a bit about how Australian farmers work.
The second day, we drove to Warrumbungle National Park, then past the Macquarie Marshes. During all our time on the road and in the bush we scarcely saw another human being. But the wildlife was astounding and we passed miles and miles of cattle, sheep, horses and the occasional herd of goats, a few foxes, rabbits and an echidna! We ended the day with a barbeque of local beef, lamb and sausage. Slept that night in a restored homestead, originally built in the 1880s.
The next morning off to Mudgee, best described as the Napa Valley of Australia. The wines were fabulous and we’re bringing some back. On the way, we passed flocks of emu. To me they look exactly like our wild turkey and nothing like the ostriches we see in American zoos.
Trying to keep this short, so to sum up we stopped at a gorgeous botanical garden on the last day and fell exhausted that night in our bed. Australia is so immense, and the distances between sights so great, and the people so warm and wonderful, these two weeks felt like the tasty appetizer of a magnificent unfinished meal.
There is The Sanctuary in Sydney, run and owned by the same family who founded it in the 1930s, where animals indigenous to Australia live and roam free. Many are animals that were found as orphans, or hurt, or thrown over the fences by people who had them as pets and couldn’t handle them. There are lots of Cockatoos that are actually willed to The Sanctuary since Cockatoos can live to be over 100 years old and often survive their owners.
Well…they had to evict me from this sanctuary because I was fascinated and enthralled by how close I could get to these beautiful animals. See the pictures attached, if you’re interested, and read below for some really interesting, albeit at times repulsive, but always amazing, factoids about how nature runs its course.
There is a strong movement among naturalists here to stop people from calling Koalas “bears.” They bear (pun intended) no relation to the bear family but are marsupials like Kangaroos and Wallabies (more pics attached). Koalas have no natural predators (although they can be attacked and killed by snakes). The reason for this is that Koalas are actually toxic to other animals because the eucalyptus leaves they ingest as their sole sustenance are toxic. Eucalyptus contains cyanide, which poisons any creature that in turn eats a Koala. So you may be wondering how baby Koalas become immune to a toxin like cyanide (or maybe you aren’t but I was so I’m going to share). During the 12 months or so that a baby is separating from its mother, it actually eats the mother’s feces – and its digested cyanide – to develop the required immunity to the toxic eucalyptus it will live on as a mature animal. You may also be wondering, or not, why the world isn’t overrun with Koalas if the species has no natural predators. All species need culling to keep down the numbers, so Koalas are particularly susceptible to Chlamydia YES the STD Chlamydia, for which there is no cure in Koalas. It’s a big problem here in Australia (some people call it Koala AIDS) and it picks off the weakest of the species.) Koalas sleep 18-20 hours a day but a very hungry male named Shawn was awake and ate eucalyptus from my hands. You haven’t lived until a Koala eats from your hand while you stroke its back. Koala fur is as soft as Chinchilla and they used to be hunted for their fur before they became a protected species.
If you’re ever depressed, try to find a field of Kangaroos and watch them hop. They look as though they are skipping rope. They are a wonder to behold, with long eyelashes and gentle dispositions (I’m sure they’re wilder in the bush but so tame and lovely at The Sanctuary). The little joeys in the pouches are hilarious – sometimes a head pops out, sometimes a foot, giving the mother a look of sporting an extra limb. Like humans, Kangaroos can be impregnated all year long. They do not have a season as many animals do. The gestation period is 35 days but the baby stays in the pouch for another twelve months. Often, the mother Kangaroo is nursing one baby in the pouch and one outside. What is truly amazing is that the mother has two different nipples, one dedicated to each offspring, producing two different milks! All at the SAME TIME! Another astonishing fact is that if the environment is not conducive to survival, such as a severe drought, the mother Kangaroo can postpone giving birth to the baby she is carrying for up to two years! Nature never ceases to amaze me with its ability to adapt.
Oh Blog Di, Oh Blog Da…life goes on. So many fascinating experiences the hardest decision is where to start. How about 1770 when Captain Cook discovered Australia? Or 1788 when Captain Arthur Philip arrived in Sydney Harbor with his first fleet of British convicts to be followed by 162,000 more between that first landing and 1850? But what of the native Aboriginal tribes, who numbered about 300,000 at the time and had lived here they say for 80,000 – 100,000 years before the white man arrived?
I am fascinated by the Aboriginal culture, which still is such a strong part of Australia’s mystique. When Philip arrived, there were 29 tribes living in or around what is now Sydney. At the time there were 600 tribes, each with its own dialect, necessitating locals to be fluent in many languages. Today, only 1.5% of Australians are Aborigines.
The Aborigines believe in many spirits, not in one God. I was introduced to a very intelligent modern Aborigine who taught me much about his culture. Today there are only 250 Aboriginal cultures and languages left in Australia. Very important to this writer is Tingari – the spirit of creation.
Yesterday I spent the morning viewing Aboriginal art in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Aboriginal art aims to tell a story and is infused with spiritual purpose and political activism. It is either brightly colored, often with undulating patterns that pulse and flow, or it relies on a palette of charcoal, black, yellow, white and red to represent the colors of rock. Sculpture aims to preserve the weaving tradition and we saw eel traps and fish traps made from sage grass, molded into sensual yet functional shapes. Bark painting are a common genre and necessitate the artist climb a tree in the wet season, carefully peel back the bark and dry it with hot coals and rocks. Another form of art is called “Mardayin.” These are paintings on canvas that interpret the spiritual body painting. Each has spiritual significance, such as criss-cross patterns or a type of pointillism common in the desert. Apparently, the Aborigines can read these patterns as a Scot can read a kilt.
Central to the culture is an instrument called a Didgeridoo. Only men can play the Didgeridoo, as only women can play the dancing sticks. It is not sexist, but a balancing of culture, I guess akin to division of labor. Didgeridoo is the name given to the instrument by the white settlers because of its sound. It is called up to 40 different names by the tribes; my new friends calls it Uluru. Boys start learning to play it at puberty, submerging themselves in water for hours at a time with only their noses exposed to learn to breathe without using their mouths. White ants, or termites as we call them, hollow out a tree. In search of the perfect Didgeridoo, Aborigine men tap on trees until they find an East leaning hollow one. They then cut it and shape it for musical use. The Didgeridoo is the oldest wood wind instrument in the world.
Like the Aboriginal visual art, the Didgeridoo’s purpose is to communicate with spirits and nature. As I mentioned yesterday, Australia is home to 20 varieties of poisonous snake. But the Kububara (not sure how to spell that one) birds eats these snakes so the Aborigines have learned to imitate the bird’s sound on the Didgeridoo to frighten snakes from the bush. Also, each of the nine distinct Aboriginal groups has its own tone so they can recognize each other as they approach. But my favorite Didgeridoo story relates to the Dingo, a feral dog species that originated in Indonesia 4,000 – 6,000 years ago. Dingoes do not bark, they only howl. And by imitating a Dingo’s howl on the Didgeridoo, Aborigines in the outback elicit howls of recognition in return.
On the subject of Dingoes…Aborigines believe that twins are a freak of nature and a bad omen. I’m not sure if this still goes on but they used to take infant twins to the desert and, you guessed it, leave them for the Dingoes.
Some trivia that underscores how fate can influence entire courses of history: Another rite of passage in Aboriginal culture is for a boy at puberty to have his incisors removed. As it happens, when Arthur Philip first sailed into Sydney Harbor the Aborigines were prepared to slaughter the intruders, But Captain Philip had lost an incisor during a shipboard brawl a few days before so instead of being killed, the sailors were welcomed as long lost ancestors of the Aboriginal tribes on the shore that day in 1788. Three days later, three French ships arrived in Sydney Harbor. Had they arrived first, the Australians might be speaking French today!
Did you know Australian’s invented the clothes line? Here it is called Hill’s Hoist and is a source of great national pride.
There are of course many dark periods in white Australia’s brief history, such as a bubonic plague in 1900 that practically wiped out the population of Sydney. Then there were the “Stolen Generations” of the 1960s, when white politicians stole Aboriginal children from their families and installed them in white homes and missions. The excuse was to “assimilate” them but many ended up as servants in white homes. Earlier, in the 1840s, there was a methodical expulsion of all Aborigines from the southern island of Tazmania. They were rounded up, exported, and often killed. All countries have horror stories such as these. I only wish I understood why.
Coming up next…the Koala sanctuary.
There was something different about this lovely city and its inhabitants that I noticed during my first walk through the area of town known as The Rocks (more about this later). Large glass towers loomed, punctuated by Sydney sandstone Victorian buildings left intact from when they were erected mostly in the late 1800s during what I presume were the boom years for Sydney. Well dressed business men and women bustled about, just as in New York. With just 4.8% unemployment, thanks to China’s lust for Australian natural resources, Sydney is awash in fully let stores, high-end coffee shops, and active happy residents. Then it hit me…nary a Blackberry in sight, or a cigarette for that matter. And later, in the gym, I learned that Australia only has seven television stations! Three public, two government-owned, and two private. TV wasn’t introduced to Australia until much later than in the US, and then you had to have a permit and pay a fee for each set you owned – not a bad idea in retrospect. But before you conclude that Australia shelters its citizens from the influences of mass media entirely, I did notice bus shelters advertizing Dexter, albeit the last season.
There’s a wonderfully laid back atmosphere here. Not California laid-back but more anachronistic in its balance between work and leisure. None of the franticness exists that one sees in America. It’s really nice, the way I imagine America in the 1950s might have been. Thinking about why this might be, two possibilities come to mind: space and youth. Space in the sense that Sydney is 4,689 SM with 4.2M inhabitants and greater NYC is 468 SM with 18M inhabitants. Suffice it to say, you don’t bump into people on the street. The entire country of Australia could fit 32 UKs or 26 Italys within its borders, with a total population of only 22M. I refer to youth not as the age of the population but of the civilization. The first European settlers came in 1788 when, following the American Revolution, the American colonies refused to take any more British convicts. So the country as we know it (I’m not forgetting the Aborigines here) is barely more than 200 years old. There seems to be little evidence of interracial mixing in Sydney, which was explained to me that the Sydney Aborigines were virtually wiped out by European diseases and the few survivors fled west. Also, Sydney has an unusually large Jewish population. A plaque we stumbled upon detailed immigration between 1947 – 1951. The vast majority of immigrants came from Eastern Europe during those years, over a third from Poland, from which one might deduce Australia welcomed refugees of the war.
Visually, Sydney seems a cross between San Francisco and Vancouver. The CBD is about 15 minutes from the airport. Sydney harbor is gorgeous and the City is surrounded by water, from the South Pacific Ocean to bays, inlets, and rivers. There are 42 beaches in and around the metropolitan area and the Manly Beach has a crescent shaped walk that resembles the one in Cannes. One out of seven Australians owns a boat, which on average gets used 8 hours per year. In this last detail, the Australians seem to resemble Americas after all!
A bit of trivia…Sydney was named after Lord Sydney who organized the first fleet to come to Australia, so one would assume there was a Lord Manly for whom the great beach was named. Not so! The English women thought the Aborigine men were muscular and well-build, hunks in modern parlance, but in the vernacular common at the time they were “Manly,” giving name to the beach where they were often found.
BALI, Indonesia – Saturday, October 24, 2009
Wayan picked us up at ten to visit the Royal Palace at Menguwi. It is a beautiful compound, long abandoned. Now it boasts decaying structures and intricately carved statues of gods – photos to follow. I sprinkled Eberhard with holy water and then myself. We continued to Bedugul, a lovely mountain lake town, where we had Indonesian tea and visited the Floating Temple called Candi Kuning. Then on to a truly remarkable Botanical Gardens – a spot largely devoid of tourists. We learned that the wild orchids that beget the lovely flowers we buy are really gnarled and hideous tubers, but without them all flowering species would cease to exist.
In this mountain area, the Muslim minority of Bali seems to reside. We passed many road side markets selling fresh strawberries (Pick Your Own) and adorable little bunnies in small cages which, we later learned, were sold for eating not petting. This day is a high holiday for Hindus. The house staff came to work in traditional dress with rice and flower decorations on their faces and necks, like colorful tattoos. We gave all but our driver the day off and let Wayan go as early as we could. We had dinner at The Meridien hotel, on the terrace overlooking the sea and Tanah Lot, a gothic-looking temple on the beach carved from lava stone. We visited Tanah Lot earlier but found it overrun by holiday visitors and tourists, souvenir hawkers and scammers, such as the man in a cave selling tickets to see the “Holy Snake,” which looked an awful lot like the garden variety we see back home. The view from the Meredien of Tanah Lot and the sun setting behind its primitive Gothic outline was much more interesting.
There are fantastic kites here, resembling Rama, Sita, The Monkey King and other creatures of Hindu myth plus eagles, bats and other animals.
It is a beautiful Day in Bali.
SINGAPORE – Wednesday, October 26, 2009
OK…I admit it. I’ve been a very bad blogger. Despite the much appreciated requests from you for more, I haven’t written since Saturday but it’s been busy over here! Also, I’ve got great photos but no one seems to be able to open them. I beg your forgiveness- I’m a beginner at this blogging thing but I’m working at it.
Sunday was a very exciting day in Bali. We drove to a mountain town with white-water rafting and elephants. We rode an elephant named Donnie – coincidentally the name of Olivia’s boyfriend and Lucas’ kitten – who then rode us right into the pond he uses as a bathtub. We came home late to a dinner of beef, pork and chicken satay (no rabbit!). My friend Jeff wrote back that if massages cost $13, rabbits must be really cheap, so I should have bought them all and released them into the wild. Wish I had thought of that! Just as dinner was served the area experienced a complete power outage. It is an odd feeling to be in an isolated villa in a remote part of Bali without power but Sri lit candles everywhere so we celebrated Halloween a few days early. Must be getting old…there was a time when I think we would have viewed the circumstances as “romantic.” The next morning, we left very early for the airport. On the way, we saw the rice paddies full of workers, hoeing and weeding before the island really heated up.
Then we flew to Singapore.
The last time I was in Singapore was thirty years ago. I came here on a business trip for a couple of days and remembered the Raffles Hotel as surrounded by gardens with a clear-to-the-water view. Now it is the only Colonial vestige in a sea of skyscrapers, but it is still beautiful and we ate Australian rock lobsters in the courtyard on our first night in town.
There are certain well publicized facts about Singapore, especially about its stringent – for lack of a better word – Parliament. They have many rules and fines for just about everything (kind of like our condo building at The Ritz). They stamp your passport to let you know that the penalty for illegal drugs in Singapore is death. It is a progressive and free society, contrary to some impressions and reports by the US media, although they do restrict certain liberties that Americans believe to be their God-given rights. For example, at least I believed there was no freedom of speech here (frankly, we have a bit too much of it in the US and it is a freedom abused, i.e. Fox news) but this is not correct. The right to free speech is encouraged with the exception of public speech about race or religion. Because the Singaporean population is a mélange of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Eurasian practicing four religions, Taoism (Buddhism), Islam, Christianity and Hindu (there is also a prominent synagogue for what I presume is a Jewish minority), the government restricts open criticism of race and religion to protect its people from discrimination and harm. Sounds like a good idea to me. If we did this in the US maybe all those heinous hate crimes could be nipped in the bud. Now, of course, I have no idea if this is the true motivation of the Singaporean government. But what is important to me is that the people who live here believe it is true. The Parliament is comprised, in representative percentages, of all four ethnic groups. Although of the 87 members only two are from the “opposition” party. I guess I’m writing all this to illustrate something I have learned in my travels from Chile to China – just because a government doesn’t function like our own doesn’t make it wrong, especially for its own citizens. Now genocide is morally wrong and there can be no excuse for that. But the people here is Singapore are happy and free, prosperous and peacefully coexisting (and assimilating – many new cultural groups of Chinese/Malay, for example, are growing here – without discouragement or bias – creating, in effect, hybrid races) despite what Americans might feel are “oppressive” rules. I cannot for the life of me understand how our country can support owning guns as a “right” when school children are regularly killed by citizens bearing guns but, hey, that’s me. Anyway, Singapore is spotlessly clean, completely safe, well-organized, beautiful to look at and the fully-employed people seem happy to me.
For those of you waiting for the travelogue-blog, here you go:
Chinatown is by far the most interesting neighborhood. It retains a lot of the original colonial buildings, although completely renovated and clean. 77% of the Singaporean population is Chinese, so Chinatown is more of an attraction and historical site – where the original immigrants settled – than functioning ethnic neighborhood. But the markets and small streets are fun to see. Little India is similar as a cultural district. The smell of jasmine flowers and curry powder is intoxicating. There is Arab Street and a Malaysian district but I haven’t been to those yet.
200 years ago only 500 people lived here. These were Malaysian. The British explorer, Sir Stamford Raffles, cut a deal for a British trading post (great excuse for colonialism) within a month of his arrival in 1819. He was a naturalist and planted an experimental garden, mostly of spices, a lucrative commodity in England. Of course, he was successful but the site of this original spice garden is now one of the most gorgeous botanical gardens in the world. The orchids are amazing.
Also world famous is the Singapore Zoo set in a natural rain forest. I enjoyed it, especially the exotic animals indigenous to the region, but I guess I’m spoiled by both the Bronx and San Diego zoos back home. However, tonight, we are taking a guided tour through the Night Zoo – a zoo that exists only for nocturnal animals. I’m really looking forward to that!
Singapore is surrounded by the South China Sea and the beaches are built around a lagoon. Sentosa beach is lovely and the water is warm. In the distance, everywhere, are container cranes and lifts reminding us that Singapore is a crossroads, especially for shipping to and from Asia.
Near the beach is Underwater World, where I particularly enjoyed the Pudong , supposedly nature’s inspiration for the fictional mermaid, and the leopard ray.
I had five suits made by one of those famous Singaporean tailors (Eberhard said: Couldn’t you have done with just three?) for the price of one in Italy. And it took me days to figure out what was striking me as most peculiar about Singapore all along – no ads! Yes, the buildings are branded with a tasteful sign or name. But no, billboards, neon signs, graffiti, posters – how pleasant! Actually, there is one wall near Chinatown where posting is allowed – but why, I ask, would any one bother?
SEDONA, Arizona – June 11, 2010
So many of you have commented on how much you enjoyed my bloglet from Singapore and Bali last year that I’ve decided to continue it if and as inspired. I write to you today from Sedona, Arizona. The Red Rocks are famous so we decided to pass through on our way from Santa Fe to La Jolla, where we will be celebrating Lucas’s graduation from UCSD.
Maybe all of you know this already but I finally found the answer to a riddle that has teased me for decades: Why do we have four time zones (Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific) but only three times? It’s because in Sedona and, presumably, the rest of the Mountain Time Zone they don’t change their clocks! Sometimes (like now) they’re on Pacific Time and sometimes on Central time. How cool is that? None of that annoying changing of all those timepieces. I love anything that refuses to conform.
The famous red rocks line the canyon roads along the last 17 miles or so on the approach to Sedona. They look more like sugar sculptures colored by iodine than cooled molten ore. The formations appear to have been dripped from the sky, leaving peaks and vertical towers resembling New York’s skyline as if viewed through a kaleidoscope.
We’re staying at a place called L’Auberge de Sedona, in a cabin set amid lush and varied vegetation. We dined last night al fresco by a creek. I wish I could eat every meal for the rest of my life in the open air.
The sun rises here at 4:30 AM (due to the not changing the time thing), which gives the locals a head start. Many of them use the time for journaling, or yoga, and I’m thinking maybe herein lies the answer to finding that extra time we all wish we had!
Of course we brought Daisy, our Jack Russell terrier, along for the ride. She sat under the table last night mesmerized by the life on the creek. The hotel had a dog bed and bowl waiting, along with a picnic basket filled with biscuits and a roll of those little blue plastic bags. It seems like yesterday that instead of Daisy, it was Lucas and Olivia the hotels were fussing over with their names in sponge letters lined up on the bathtub ledge or an invitation to the hotel’s Kid’s Club. We took them everywhere, too…and now they embark on a journey of their own. Sigh.
I often describe myself as perfectly “ambibrainstrous,” in that I switch back and forth between my right and left brain the way that ambidextrous people do between their right and left hands. I have an MBA in management and an MFA in creative writing, so instead of switching forks like my manual skilled kin, I vary my reading material.
First, I apologize for the length of time between my last book review and this one. I’ve been busy giving interviews, guest blogging, attending book signings and promoting my new novel – SUGAR TOWER – relentlessly. I have a two week journey to Australia ahead of me so expect a catch-up on book reviews as well as my enormously popular travel bloglets, back by demand. For those of you who missed the bloglets from Bali and Singapore, I am posting a few favorites retrieved from the archives as a taste of what’s to come. Check back here frequently for observations from Down Under.
Back to Pat Dorsey’s The Little Book That Builds Wealth. This “little” book is small in word count only because the ideas it espouses are large. Pat Dorsey is the Director of Equity Research for Morningstar, Inc. – the leading firm in independent research. Since they don’t manage money, I trust them a lot more than analysts whose firms do. The book is wonderfully written and extremely clear. What I like best about it is that it doesn’t tout formulas or sure-fire investment techniques but speaks to the heart of what all marketing experts know is the key to success: competitive advantage.
When I started reading about Morningstar’s philosophy of “moats,” which they credit Warren Buffet as having invented, I was a bit skeptical. It seemed simplistic to analogize the corporation to a castle and its success protection to a “moat.” But what determines the existence and size of a company’s moat – namely such stuff as a trusted brand, patents, regulatory licenses, high switching costs, pricing power, network economics, and cost advantages related to process, scale, and location – makes total sense to me. I always wondered while I was in business school what was the use of discounting future cash flows to determine current value unless you had a crystal ball. Future cash flows, at least to me, seemed as unpredictable as the next tsunami…but I crunched my numbers anyway because doing my homework correlated well to a future good grade.
Equally eye-opening was the book’s disavowal of certain indicators that I (as in Investor) always deemed critical, such as “great products, strong market share, great execution, great management” and, to a certain extent, a company’s P/E ratio, analysts’ reports and economic statistics. Dorsey calls these “traps,” and I urge you to read this book to find out why.
The Little Book That Builds Wealth gives dozens of case histories and real life examples that are enthralling and elucidating. The author also throws in a few quotes from great thinkers, including the economist John Maynard Keynes, “When the facts change, I change my mind” and the bank robber Willie Sutton who when asked why he robbed banks said because: “That’s where the money is.”
The two most important things I learned from this book are: 1) The average stock on the S&P fluctuates from its high to its low price 40% in any given year, so selling on volatility is like divorcing just because you have a fight; and, 2a) I’m not the only one who finds it hard to know when to sell so 2b) Dorsey’s hints on what to ask yourself before you sell were particularly instructive: “Did I make a mistake?” “Has the company changed for the worse?” “Is there a better place for my money?” “Has the stock become too large a portion of my portfolio?”
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in money, or his lack thereof, and just can’t bring himself to employ the methods of Willie Sutton.