How I chose to fly business class home in July

Let me start by making clear how grateful and privileged I am to have the opportunity to fly home in business class next month. Everything else that follows in this post is just an exploration of my thought process whether to fly in business class and, once I decided to, decided which airline and routing to fly. (And I’m going to go into serious aviation nerd mode, which maybe only Matt will appreciate fully. Sorry in advance!)

The rationale

I am not yet at a point in my life where buying transcontinental business class tickets is an affordable option. This is my first time buying a business class ticket out of pocket and I made the decision to do so using the following rationale and rationalizations.

Safety. While I know that air quality in an airplane is very high, I am still concerned about being in close quarters for up to a dozen hours with other people. Traveling in business class would put me in a less densely packed cabin and, with some airlines offering more cubicle-like seats, hopefully a greater degree of protection from fellow passengers.

Yes, I do realize that international flights have very light loads, but that doesn’t mean the flights I will travel on will have light loads. And, as I saw since booking, the airlines have rejiggered their schedules to consolidate passengers onto fewer flights. (When I booked, United was selling tickets for six flights from Tokyo Narita to their US hubs. Four weeks before departure, it is down to two flights and my booking has been changed two times.)

Benefit of solo travel. Unfortunately, Tawn will not join me on this flight. Since there is only one of us flying, the budgetary impact is half and it feels a bit easier to justify spending a bit more.

Random rationalizations. We haven’t flown in nearly a year and a half. I haven’t been back to see my family in even longer. I turned fifty last year and had wanted to treat myself to a business class flight. Airfares are a good bit lower than they historically have been so now is a good time to splurge. See? There are plenty of rationalizations to supplement my rationale!


“So convenient a thing to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do.”

Benjamin Franklin


The process

Once I decided to fly business class, I searched for options using the following criteria:

Star Alliance. If I was going to be shelling money out of my own pocket for this experience, I want to make sure I earn miles. My mileage program of choice is with Aegean Airlines, a member of Star Alliance. This means that, given the limited number of airlines flying into Bangkok at this time, my choices were All-Nippon Airways + United (they operate a joint venture across the Pacific), EVA Air, Singapore Airlines, Asiana, Turkish, or Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa, Austrian, and Swiss).

Single ticket to my destination. I prefer to book directly through the airline’s website rather than through a third party. This way, if I have problems, the airline has the greatest incentive to fix them. EVA, Asiana and Singapore could only book me to their US destinations such as Los Angeles, San Francisco or Chicago. I would have to book the connecting leg to Kansas City myself. This was an unacceptable complication during this pandemic, when schedules and circumstances can change with little notice.

Flying in a cubicle-like business class. Some airlines use more open (and older) business class seating arrangements where the seats are in pairs arranged 2-2-2 with aisles in between. I actually quite like this way of flying, especially when traveling with Tawn. But in this pandemic era, I want to be in more individual, “cubicle” style seats where I don’t have to see, interact with, or step over a seat mate when getting into and out of my seat. Lufthansa, Turkish, and United operate some or all of their fleet with a 2-2-2 layout (or, in the case of Turkish on some planes, a 2-3-2 arrangement as pictured above!)

Maximizing flying time. This may seem crazy, but if I’m going to pay for the business class experience, I want to get the most time I can to enjoy it. And this isn’t just a value-for-money proposition but also a sleep proposition. If you are flying a shorter flight like Tokyo to Seattle (just about 8 hours) you won’t have as much time to rest as you would on a flight like Hong Kong to Chicago (about 11 hours). With lie-flat seats a norm in business class, I want to opportunity to get at least six solid hours of sleep, to help minimize jet lag. This means I wanted flights across the ocean at least 10 hours long.

Price. Despite my rationalizations, budget was still a consideration. There was more than a US$1,000 difference between the least expensive business class fares offered by the different airlines and the prices varied quite a bit between day, exact routing, and even when I searched. Most tickets were coming in around US$3,500 – $4,000, which was feeling a bit rich for my wallet. Finally, I found one that met my criteria for only US$2,098.


The result

After several weeks of comparing options, I settled on a ticket purchased from United Airlines, which includes multiple segments flown by All-Nippon Airways. United and ANA are joint-venture partners on their entire trans-Pacific flying plus many connecting routes. This “metal-neutral” arrangement means they are able to coordinate all aspects of flying, pricing, and selling and share the costs and revenues as if they were a single airline for those routes.

I liked this itinerary because it would feature United’s new Polaris business class seat from Tokyo to Newark and All Nippon’s slightly older business class seat from Chicago to Tokyo, which both are well reviewed and offer nice private cubicles. Additionally, the long trans-Pacific legs in both directions meant time to enjoy the meal service and entertainment, while also getting a solid six-plus hours of sleep in. I was also excited to fly through Tokyo Haneda on the return, an airport I have never visited.

Unfortunately, it turns out I forgot an important criterion when booking my flights:

Approval by Thai authorities. To enter Thailand now, you need the local Thai embassy to issue a COE (certificate of entry) and this includes flying only on currently approved inbound flights. All-Nippon was selling the flight from Tokyo Haneda to Bangkok but it was not yet on the Thai government’s list of approved flights. Sticking with this booking would mean taking the risk that Thai authorities would approve the flight at a later date. And, if they didn’t, I would have to change the schedule, with the chance of a penalty fee or fare increase. After the Thai embassy initially rejected my COE application, I contacted United to make a change in the return schedule. Thankfully, there was no cost to do this.


The recurring LAX change

United actively reviews and optimizes its schedule, sending regular emails notifying you of changes to your booking. Some of these are minor – a flight departs a few minutes earlier or later, or the flight now has a different number and is operated by a different United Express carrier.

But as the departure date grew closer, United started paring back its trans-Pacific flights. This is not a surprise as demand for international travel has remained much lower than for United States domestic travel, which has rebounded in the past few weeks as vaccination rates increase and infection rates plummet.

My first notification was that I had been rerouted through Los Angeles on my outbound trip, connecting to Kansas City by overflying to Chicago and then backtracking. This was not okay because it didn’t meet two of my criteria: the flight to Los Angeles comes in well shy of 10 hours and it is flown by aircraft with United’s older business class configuration, which features 2-2-2 seating. If I was going to fly, I was going to try out the new product.

Thankfully, a call to United reservations fixed that. With no charge, they put me on the Tokyo to Houston flight, a nice 12 hour, 10 minute flight on a Boeing 777-200 featuring the new Polaris business class. Plus, they could connect me from Houston to Kansas City nonstop.

A few weeks later, I received a second notification. The Houston flight was now cancelled and I was again routed through Los Angeles, although this time connecting to Kansas City through Denver instead of through Chicago. Los Angeles again?!

At this point, I thought that maybe I would have to accept my fate and just fly into Los Angeles. It is a nice enough airport. The United Club has an outdoor terrace with a view of the airplanes. But I wasn’t happy about not flying their new business class product. I went to the United website to see what other flights they were operating from Tokyo.

After a bit of research I realized that the flight to San Francisco was operated with the new business class product. Even though the flight is about a half-hour shorter than Los Angeles, I figured I would trade off a bit of eating or entertainment time, to enjoy the new Polaris product. Another call to United reservations fixed the booking.

So, three weeks before departure, this is what my itinerary looks like. We shall see whether United changes it again. Looking at the number of seats already selected for the flight to San Francisco, it looks like business class may be at least one-third full, so unlikely they will cancel that flight. What I find especially interesting, is that there hasn’t been any changes to the return booking. This makes me think that All Nippon is more disciplined (or less agile) in their approach to scheduling.

I’m excited about this itinerary. It will be a treat (and a privilege) to be able to try the business class products, to pamper myself a bit, and to hopefully be a bit more protected from the risk of falling ill while flying. I end up arriving two hours earlier into Kansas City, which I know will be appreciated by whoever picks me up from the airport! The chance to fly through San Francisco is a treat, too. It’s my hometown airport for the first 30+ years of my life, I haven’t been there in a few years. My only regret is that there isn’t enough time to visit anyone!

Thanks for indulging me as I gush about the experience. I realize it is nerdier than about 99.99% of the population will appreciate. But I’m looking forward to the trip and really am enjoying the planning aspect as much (maybe more) than the actual travel aspect.

First shot: done

Friday morning I received my first shot of COVID-19 vaccine, just a few days after I discovered that I was going to get it here in Thailand at all. Let me start by saying how grateful I am that I’ve received the vaccine at all. And let me share a bit of the story:

This being Thailand, the vaccine implementation has been chaotic and unclear, with contradictory messages coming from different persons in the government on a near-daily basis. At one point, vaccines for foreigners wasn’t being considered at all. Then they would be able to get vaccines in a few months, as soon as the Thai registration app was adjusted to work for people who didn’t have a national identification number. Then the government said they would allow private company to buy vaccines. And then they said they wouldn’t. And so on, and so on…

Then, on Monday, I received an email from my company stating they had arranged for all Bangkok-based employees to receive a vaccine. Foreign workers were directed to register at a link on the MedPark Hospital website. On Tuesday, I was informed my vaccine would be available on Friday between mid-morning and early afternoon. We were informed the Sinovac (a Chinese-made vaccine with widely varying reported efficacy) was the only option, which while not ideal, is better than nothing.

When I arrived at the hospital and registered, they asked whether I wanted Astra Zeneca or Sinovac, as they had both available. I chose AZ as the data from AZ appear to more consistently show higher efficacy than Sinovac. And thirty minutes later, I had my first dose in my arm and was on my way.

Side effects: similar to Tawn, who received his first dose earlier that week, I experienced soreness in my upper arm at the injection site (no surprise). By dinner time, I was feeling a general achiness, like the onset of a flu. And by bedtime, I had the chills, which Tawn had also experienced.

Over the night, I experienced the worst headache I have ever had. I think I know perhaps what a migraine headache feels like. I kept waking up and massaging various pressure points, trying to relieve the tension. Finally, near dawn and exhausted from a restless night, I stopped trying to power my way through the symptoms and just took two tablets of paracetamol.

Within thirty minutes, the symptoms largely subsided and I slept for another three hours. The rest of the day was a bit fuzzy, but by dinner time about 32 hours after the shot, I was feeling pretty much back to my normal self.

Second shots here are scheduled for 16 weeks after the first shot, not until early October. Since I will be back in the US in a few weeks, I plan to go ahead and take the J&J single-shot vaccine so I can get full covered more immediately. A search online hasn’t turned up any concerns that should dissuade me from combining two vaccines, but if you know anything you would like to share, please let me know.

If you haven’t received a vaccine yet, I hope you will do so as soon as you possibly can. The best chance we have for getting this pandemic under control is widespread vaccination and good hygiene practices. Stay safe!

Everyone is Awesome, Unless You Feel Left Out

Lego, the maker of plastic bricks that fuel hours of imaginative play and pierce bare soles of parental feet around the globe, launched Everyone is Awesome, a set designed to celebrate the diversity of Lego fans. It intentionally features the colors of the rainbow flag associated with the LGBTQI+ community*

I learned of this from a post on LinkedIn, where a Singaporean-based business coach is writing a series of “constructive arguments” posts in which she to provoke thoughtful discussion. It was interesting, although I found she seemed to quickly tire of being challenged, despite claiming she wanted to be engaged.

One commenter raised concern that in Lego’s press release, they seemed to equate “diverse and inclusive” with LGBTQI+ while not acknowledging that there is much more to diversity thank sexual orientation and gender identity. The author responded, “True indeed. Why would a product meant for diversity exclude the largest group of all – heterosexuals? Is it hypocritical of them to do so?”

My response was to ask how Lego is excluding heterosexuals by offering a set that celebrates diversity and highlights groups who are traditionally not represented.

She responded by acknowledging that “exclude” was the wrong word to use. “How about make them feel less important? One could argue that it would be a good thing for them to feel the boot on the other foot. But I wonder if making anyone feel less is the right first step to creating a more inclusive world?”

I remained confused. “I still don’t understand why heterosexuals would feel less important. The messaging of this set is well summed up by the headline: Everyone is Awesome. Would heterosexuals not feel included in ‘Everyone’?”

She responded: “Frankly, I won’t know. But there’s a lot of vitriol here [Singapore] over the rainbow flag and its use. The cause I presume is that by highlighting alternative sexual orientations, heterosexuals are made to feel less in some way. Just like women causes (which I’m passionate about) are never forwarded by making men feel less. I don’t think this debate is helped by making heterosexuals feel less.”

Which confused me further. She kept pushing the idea that this would make heterosexuals feel less, without providing any rationale of what, exactly, would make them feel “less than”. Then it occurred to me – her use of the word “alternative” to describe sexual orientations. That word implies that heterosexual is the “norm” and she is defining other sexual orientations in relation to that perceived norm. And, she had previously described heterosexuals as “the largest group” – which seems to imply that size is what defines normalcy.

(Of course, I want to acknowledge that I don’t know this person other than a few comments on her post, so I am projecting what I think she might be thinking without knowing what her thoughts really are. In reality, I’m sure she is a thoughtful and enlightened individual – otherwise, she wouldn’t have started this series of posts.)

The image that comes to mind is of someone standing beneath a spotlight. In her way of framing this discussion, to shine the spotlight on someone else implies that the spotlight can no longer be on her and thus she will feel left out. What seems to be missing is an awareness that all of us were standing on the stage the whole time. Just because other people get a chance to be seen instead of the spotlight always being on you, doesn’t mean you are “less” – it just means you have to learn not to expect to be the center of the universe all the time.


A related topic came up today in a conversation with a senior leader, a white man, who was feeling bruised by a graphic in a blog entry by Boston Consulting Group titled “Redefining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion“.

He was not happy with the thumbs-down graphic just above the 90% figure indicating that most Fortune 500 CEOs are straight, white, cisgender men. It sounded like he felt like this was an attack. And I can appreciate why he may have felt that way. And two thoughts occur to me:

First, the efforts to make the world a more diverse, equitable and inclusive place will require us to think and communicate carefully because messages can be misunderstood and people can be easily triggered. Ultimately, I would just as soon have more people on the journey than make people feel unwelcome. We need allies in the march to progress.

And, at the very same time, I don’t feel it is any out group’s responsibility to pamper the feelings of people in the in group. Learning and growth only happen outside of the comfort zone – and being in the comfort zone is the very definition of privilege.

As a man, I have work to do to understand women and the challenges they face. As a white person, I have work to do to understand how people of color are discriminated against. And along the way, I am going to feel uncomfortable, say and do the wrong things, and have to learn many lessons in how to create a world where the light shines on all of us.

As someone who is gay, I continue to be in the position where I face challenges and where I am discriminated against because of my sexual orientation. And this is where the best way I can work for equity and inclusion is to push back when people who are in the numerical majority define me as an “alternative” or want me to protect their feelings lest they perceive that they are, for once, “excluded”.

This is an interesting topic for me, as I’ve been charged with creating and implementing my organization’s diversity program. With 35,000 employees across 36 countries, there are plenty of things we do well and plenty of areas where we can do better. And I’d like to figure out how to bring everyone along on this journey to greater equity and inclusion – while also helping people get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

What are your thoughts?


*what we used to call the “gay and lesbian community” but which now reflects a broader diversity of the sexual orientation and gender identity. It stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and others”.

I heart UNIQLO

Despite being married to a fashion designer, I am not much of a fashionista. There are many reasons for this from having a practical bent to have a body shape and size that doesn’t lend itself to the skinny lines of most men’s fashion. So I generally do not enjoy clothes shopping. But the exception to this is shopping at UNIQLO.

The fourth biggest fashion brand globally, Uniqlo (pronounced “uni-glow”) is a Japanese casual wear chain wholly owned by Fast Retailing Co. Ltd. The experience I get shopping at Uniqlo reminds me of what I enjoyed about The Gap in the mid-1990s. So it was no surprised to learn that the brand, with a history that goes back only to 1984, specifically set out to emulate elements of The Gap in the late 1990s.

While their presence in the United States and Canada is limited to the largest cities, Uniqlo operates more than 2,200 stores globally with the largest presence in East and Southeast Asia. The clothing is moderately priced, well-constructed, on-trend but not to the point where something you buy will look out of date in a year. The range of outfits and styles is limited, so you don’t feel overwhelmed with choices.

What I like best, though, is that even here in Thailand, they offer clothes I can fit in. In Asia, sizes run smaller. What might be a size L in the United States is often a 2XL in Thailand and is often not available at all. At Uniqlo, for all except their skinny-fit pants (I am never going to be a skinny fit), I fit into an XL. I was pleasantly surprised to find some summer shorts this weekend that not only fit, but fit quite comfortably.

Here’s to the joy of finding clothes that fit, that you feel comfortable in, and that you feel are at least reasonably fashionable! Are you familiar with Uniqlo? What has your experience with them been like?

Running around the block

https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/thailand/

Wave three of COVID-19 has arrived in Thailand. Our infection and death rates per million are significantly below many other nations, but after the B.1.617 variant (the so called “Indian variant”) reached Thailand despite our borders ostensibly being closed, our earlier good fortune of few infections gave way to the realization that Thais are susceptible to COVID after all.

While generally compliant with mask mandates, many let their guard down after a year and ill-advised gatherings at illicit pubs and “entertainment venues” in the hi-so Thong Lor neighborhood were super-spreader events that ushered in wave three, just before the Songkran holiday in mid-April. The government, perhaps loath to cancel the Songkran for a second consecutive year, thousands of Bangkok’s upper crust traveled to Phuket, Chiang Mai and other holiday destinations. Large, mostly unmasked gatherings there helped spread the virus across the kingdom and then, the newly infected returned to spread the virus further across Bangkok.

A month and a half later, we are in a partial lockdown. Restaurants operate at one-quarter capacity with only one guest to be seated at each table. They close early for dine-in and no alcohol is served. The borders are still closed except for those with Certificates of Entry from the Thai government (in addition to visas and other paperwork) who undergo a 15-night quarantine regardless of their vaccination status. I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post.

To top it off, among the restrictions has been the closure of gyms (understandable) and public parks (less so). This means my running, my preferred form of exercise, is now done on the sois of Bangkok in the pre-dawn darkness.

As the sky gradually lightens, I run in the street as it is still a bit safer than running on the footpaths, which are inconsistently leveled and often have obstacles (tree stumps, anyone?) and loose pavers that will give way and twist your ankle.

I take different routes, exploring familiar corners of the neighborhood I pass by frequently in a car as well as hidden troks, the narrow lanes that weave behind temples, along canals, and in areas not accessible to vehicles with four wheels. It is a chance to see more about the neighborhoods along the middle of Sukhumvit Road.

One of the more fascinating aspects of this part of Bangkok is its socioeconomic diversity. To be clear, the part of Sukhumvit Road stretching from Asoke (Sukhumvit 21) to Pridi Banomyong (Sukhumvit 71) – a five-kilometer stretch – is the wealthiest section of Bangkok. But behind the malls, high-rise luxury condos, nightclubs, Michelin-starred restaurants, and import car dealerships, you find these pockets of everything from modest 1960s-era apartments to slums and cramped construction worker shacks, the last of which have facilitated the rapid spread of COVID-19.

The four-story shop houses, which were the staple of the main streets, continue to give way to 30-, 40- and 50-story condo towers, many of which have prices starting at US$6,000 per square meter (10 square feet) and going much, much higher. In the past two years, the government finally instituted an annual property tax, although they are giving a 90% discount off the already low tax rate. Under-utilized land is taxed at a higher rate so, as you see in the picture above, vacant land is being planted with lime or banana trees, to be classified as an agricultural use while the owners await the opportunity to otherwise develop it.

One recent addition on Ekkamai Road, a hot spot for nightlife, is the addition of a privately-run multi-story car park, the first I recall seeing in this area. Given how car-centric Bangkok is, this is probably a good idea and may perhaps some of the annoying parking that clogs narrow sois and alleys.

There are pockets of culture to be found. This narrow khlong that cuts through the back part of the neighborhood between Thong Lor and Ekkamai roads, has provided a canvas for graffiti artists, something that was rare when I moved here in 2005 but now seems more common and, frankly, in many cases quite sophisticated. The water, though, is dreadful and I can imagine that the neighbors keep their windows closed even when the weather turns a bit more pleasant in the winter.

Hidden next to the 150-year old khlong Saen Saeb, one of the oldest canals in Bangkok, is the charming Wat Pasi (or “tax temple”). It is popular with locals and has unique square-shaped main building that looks much more like a mosque than the typically steeply-pitched red tiled roof on a Buddhist temple. The temple is actually very close to a large Muslim population and about five minutes along the canal, you will find Khlongtan Central Mosque or Masjid Jamiah al-Islam, a prominent mosque in this area.

Interestingly, in the last few years, Wat Pasi has undergone this redecoration with this tree trunks (real trees!) shipped here and set up to create a faux-forest scene. I’m unclear why the trees needed to be cut down instead of new trees being planted.

Anyhow, the chance to run around the neighborhood helps me see more of the area, appreciate the range of lives and lifestyles that are here, many of which are largely invisible to me unless I go looking for them.

Lucky to have a good workplace

In the middle of the pandemic, I think a lot of people are counting their blessings and feel fortunate just to be employed. I’d like to take it a step further and appreciate just how fortunate I am to have not only a job, but also a good workplace and a great team of colleagues.

Most of the team – missing our colleague based in Kuala Lumpur, MY

What make for a great team of colleagues? The diversity of the team is one aspect – they span more than thirty years of experience and come from a range of generations, backgrounds and experiences. They also bring different strengths and expertise to the team.

What really makes it a great team goes beyond just diversity: it is their mindset. Each member of the team cares about what they are doing and takes pride in doing it well. They also are curious to learn and grow: each of them seeks out feedback and actively works to get better at what they do; nobody is complacent. Finally, each of them works to build strong relationships with each other: they open up and share about themselves and they seek to learn about, and understand, the other team members.

These days, we are all working remotely most of the time and only occasionally do we cross paths in the office at the same time. Still, I feel that we have a good connection and work well together as a team. And in a time when the world seems to be troubled, this is something really special.

Catching up with friends

Saturday was a day of a little bit of work, but mostly a chance to catch up with my in-laws and with friends. It was a day to appreciate what I have and express gratitude for it.

We had lunch with Tawn’s parents, going to dim sum at the same restaurant as we usually do, ordering the same dishes. At one level, it would be possible to see this as an obligation and to begrudge it. But considering where my relationship with my in-laws was up until just about two years ago, I remember to appreciate each interaction and know that it is much better than the alternative.

In the afternoon, another couple stopped by unexpectedly. They had been out and picked up some pastries from a local shop and dropped them off for us. Just a thoughtful gesture that means so much. Again, the opportunity to be grateful not only for friends, but for having such considerate ones. As an expat in Bangkok, it is all too easy to have friendships that are fleeting as people come and go. Having found more reliable and regular friends has allowed me to build more substantial relationships, something we can never take for granted.

Finally, in the evening, we had dinner with a friend and her daughter.We worked together seven over years ago and I’ve seen her daughter grow from a girl into a smart and talented young woman. The friend always challenges my thinking and also helps me appreciate that life is a gift with an unknown expiry date, and that we should find the time to enjoy the now, because we don’t know how many tomorrows we will have.

So even while I wrote yesterday about how busy the week has been and the stress I’ve been experiencing, I want to assure you that I find a way to maintain my balance and fit in the breaks as needed, to not lose sight of what is important in life.

A month gone, already

Hard to believe that it is already early February. This year has been going so fast, furiously getting the team aligned on priorities, taking on many additional areas of responsibility, and trying to also remember that there is a life outside of work.

Since my new boss joined the company the middle of last year, I’ve been greatly re-energized and my flirting with other jobs has stopped. There is a bit of underlying stress, though. So much to do and lots of expectations to show rapid results.

Chatting with a friend, he remarked that I seem to always be doing something, never just chilling. I guess that is my nature. My way of relaxing is to just replace one activity with another.

A Hazy Shade of Winter in Bangkok

The past few weeks have been pleasantly (relatively) cool here in Bangkok. The occasional dawn temperature of about 18c although highs have still be in the low 30s.

There was a cold front pushing down from China, strong winds that kept the skies crystal clear, so clear you could even see a few stars at night – a rarity in light-saturated Bangkok.

Then the winds stopped and an inversion layer set in, trapping the pollution and suspending it in the humid tropical air. This morning, I drove in the dark to Rama IX Park and the view the whole way reminded me of driving in the fog of my native San Francisco.

By the time I arrived at the park, I was wondering whether it was a good idea to run. Stretching out and warming up, I captured the above image. All the lights had been turned off already except for one bright flood light in a parking lot across the park.

The light beams cut through the filter of the pollution, streaming between branches and backlighting runners who looked like zombies moving in the misty distance.

The temperature was pleasant and I decided to run. It was my fastest run in nearly a year, 5 km in 35 minutes. Not a record setting pace but good for me. By the end, though, I could feel the irritation in my lungs, the soreness in my throat, and the burning in my sinuses. No doubt, the air was not fit for strenuous exercise.

Hopefully, in a few days the inversion layer will break and the air quality will improve. Until then, indoor exercise only.

A half century, the halfway mark?

Today is my 50th birthday, a milestone that is both monumental and mundane. Mundane because it is a day quite like any other. Monumental because as I have approached it, my thinking has been quite different and my perspective quite changed. This weekend, I FaceTimed with my maternal grandparents, both of whom turned 100 earlier this year. Because of this, I use the mental shorthand to assume that my turning 50 means that I have reached the halfway mark of my life.

Let me start by saying, reaching 50 is in no way inducing a mid-life crisis. With each year that passes, I grow ever more comfortable in my skin. What has changed, though, is that I am increasingly aware of the finite nature of life.

Of course, I have always known that life is finite, intellectually. But the analogy that comes to mind, is driving a very long, very straight road that slowly climbs a hill. All you can see is the road rising in front of you, You know that there is road on the other side of the crest, but cannot truly imagine it because it is hidden. So you assume that the road will continue much the same as it has, unchanged,

Until just a year or so ago, I was thinking that way about my life. I assumed I would keep working much as I had, until 70 or 75 years old, and didn’t really think concretely about what life might be like as I aged. This, even though my parents are of course getting older and making decisions that come with that stage in life, and my grandparents are clearly nearing the end of their road. (Although, my grandfather says they have to hang on until at least 103, so they can celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary!)

But in the past months, completely unrelated to the pandemic, I have come to realize that I am not in the middle of a second of three acts in my life. I saw my first 30 years as the opening act, the next 40 as a middle act, and the final 30 or so as the closing act. This meant that I had another 20 years or so of continuing to climb the career ladder, advance to new heights, and reach my full potential. In other words, I thought that the road would continue on the other side of the crest of the hill, much as it has before.

Now, as I crest that hill, I am starting to see the landscape differently. Perhaps there are four acts, each about 25 years long. I have reached the mid-point of the play and instead of spending the next act trying to scale the heights, I should explore other ways to reach my full potential.

Some things will not change: I love to learn and grow. I am curious about new things and eager to test my limits and challenge myself. Those opportunities can be more intrinsic rather than extrinsic. I also love to help other people learn and grow. I think I already have that at the core of my work, as I am in HR, leadership and people development. As the third of four acts begins, I want to look for other ways to help others grow, maybe outside of so much emphasis on the work context.

Whatever path the road after the hill’s crest takes, I am appreciative of all the blessings and advantages I have: my family, headed by my centenarian grandparents, are loving, grounded in values, and surprisingly functional. I have a good network of friends, both the ones from my younger years and the ones I have developed in my years here in Bangkok. And I have a loving, patient husband who challenges me much as I challenge him, the both of us being the better for it.

Fifty may not be the halfway point. It could well be near the end – nobody can know. But I will live life as if there is much more of the road to travel, while being more conscious to appreciate and take full advantage of each kilometer that passes and not take it for granted.