The Coaster 2016 & 2017

The Coaster 2016 & 2017

The Coaster

I won’t retell the history of the coaster, but it’s a complex New Year’s Resolution tradition that I’ve carried with me to Australia.

How did BJR do on last year’s Coaster?

BJR did poorly.

  1. Writing Mum a handwritten card once/month. DeliveredWhen I visited Mom, she had several cards displayed. In the world of email, a handwritten note can have more meaning than it used to.
  2. Microadventure with my pal Tash once a quarter – 0/4. Didn’t even do one. Huge fail.
  3. Meditation – this went away after one month. Unfocused.
  4. Sub 11 hour Ironman at Cairns – this one disappeared quickly. Without question the least training I’ve done for any half or full. Led to “retirement” from triathlon. Slow.
  5. Swim 250K in the last six months of the year.  Maybe I did 10K total in those six months. Drowned.
  6. Apply for Aussie Citizenship. Good on ya! And passed my test. Just waiting to be sworn in…
  7. Raise $100K for Room to Read. Proud. My friends are crazy generous.
  8. Private goal A: Failed. 
  9. Private goal B: Failed.

So, 3/9 is a pretty poor year. That’s an F- for those of you scoring at home (insert your favorite scoring at home joke here – actually insert mine, mine is funnier).

How does BJR feel about 2016 in general?

In response to all the dramatic emotional outbursts about 2016 and the death of celebrities, I recently said:

Stop anthropomorphizing an arbitrary revolution of the earth around the sun. It bears you no ill will.

So, while yes, 2016 is an arbitrary period of time, it does give us all a chance to reflect. There is no shortage of things I should be grateful for, and at the same time, a mountain of ways I could have been a better human. But to try and sum it up in a few simple statements:

  • I am proud of the people I work with, and amazed by them every day.
  • My inability to understand my own limits not only caused myself, but others, a great deal of pain.
  • I am fortunate beyond anything I could possibly deserve, and need to spend more time appreciating that
  • I need to spend more time serving others and less time on a laptop, iPad, or phone.

Best of ’16

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  • Best Movie: Captain Fantastic
  • Best Movie made before last year but I hadn’t seen: Warrior
  • Best Night’s Sleep: first night in Poland in late November.
  • Best Yogurt: Greek (specifically the Tamar stuff)
  • Best Non-fiction Book: Sapiens
  • Best Adventure: Kepler Track with NVB
  • Best Day: Cycling in the mountains around Barcelona
  • Comeback Fruit of the Year: Peaches

In the year of our BJR two-thousand-and-seventeen

This year’s coaster ceremony was a tight knit group. We moved from the home of the Buntings to try something new, to a Japanese restaurant (still not quite the pub origins of the coaster). Overall, this coaster probably doesn’t push my limits as much as some have in the past, but last year I simply over-committed and as a result was miserable in many aspects of my life. So, here’s 2017:

1. Be the fly that hits the wall

The World Transplant Games record for the 200m Individual Medley for age group 40-49 is 03.01.99. Mr T. O’Hagan of the United Kingdom, I think I can get within 30 seconds of that. We’ll see. Right now, I can only do about 15m of Butterfly, and I’ll need to get to 50m.

2. Mum, it’s me. Your son. Your son Bryan. The one in Australia.

I didn’t talk to Mum nearly enough this year. I will call Mum every three weeks. Minimum talk time: 30 minutes.

3. Secret Squirrel

My friends put this one on my Coaster. I’m an open book. Perhaps too open. Regardless, I now must go on three dates with the same person, and not tell a single other soul (other than the person I’m on the date with). I’m still not sure if my friends think it’s not healthy for me to talk about all the details of my life, or whether they are just sick of hearing me talk and will find any reason to shut me up.

4. Me llamo Bryan. ¿Donde están sus pantalones?

I will visit Spain twice this year, first for our European customer conference in Barcelona, and then again for the World Transplant Games in Málaga. I studied Spanish in high school, but it’s stale and at best ‘survival Spanish’ and I’d love to rekindle my meager conversational skills. I’ll spend two hours each month from January through June speaking Spanish with a fluent speaker, and dealing with them laughing at my horrible verb conjugation. Voy a la playa con su hermana. No, no – Fuí a la playa con su madre.

5. Build a Belly

A few good friends are Buddhists, and my travels in Cambodia have made me want to understand it more. I’ll spend 15 hours studying Buddhism this year to understand the history, the philosophy, and the practice. I hear reincarnation is making a comeback (not a BJR original, 100% plagiarism).

6. Hermit on the Horizon

At some point in my life, I will flee the city of Sydney and head to a smaller town. Ideally, I’d live on the beach somewhere between Forster and Noosa. But, I actually know next to nothing about most of the towns along that coastal stretch. So, I’ll take at least a week long trip North of Sydney to figure out if that’s really the someday-future home of BJR.

7. Where’s the Beef?

I will have 2 servings or less of red meat in the entire year of 2017. I don’t each much red meat – even after discovering that lamb is red meat (they are white on the outside, so I just assumed). I’m going to cut it out entirely this year, largely for ecological reasons. It’s a small measure, but every year I try and reduce my footprint a little bit more, while still keeping my feet the same size. My friends suggested I allow myself 2 servings in case of emergency, like if I’m trapped in an elevator with a cow and a BBQ for 24 hours. Note that would still count in my book as 1 serving.

8. Build a Clock

I can’t provide the details on this one. It’s private, because it impacts other people, and I want them to be surprised when I build my army of sociopathic robots. I, for one, welcome our new artificially intelligent overlords.

9. Kampouchea

Before the end of the year, I will return to Cambodia. Just thinking about this makes me smile.

Onward

Here’s to a great 2017.

Around the World in 60 hours

In late November and early December, I did my first around-the-world trip, Australia-Poland-US-Australia. Two weeks, 7 flights, 60 hours of travel time.

Simple outcome: I learned a decent amount about others and myself.

Gdansk, Poland

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Snow! Made the whole trip worthwhile. Walking on the frozen ground to work in the morning, even the graffiti seemed to fit into the snowscape. 

I’ve been to Gdansk, Poland four times now. Three flights to get there, about 34.5 hours from leaving Manly Beach to arriving at the corporate apartment. This was by far the best trip, although I didn’t see Malbork Castle, or even visit Old Town once. I simply focused on the purpose of my trip. I knew the grocery store well enough to buy the right foods, and every morning, a prison-cell workout (confined space), two breakfasts, and I was ready to start the day. As long as I wasn’t at work, if my body said “I want to sleep,” I slept. No attempt to adjust to time zone, just let it happen.

I constantly fill my time with too much. On this visit, I said “No” more than “Yes”, and ended up healthier and happier. Go figure.

Time with family

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I really love my family. Seriously – ignore the facial expression.  And Mom was actually awake at dinner. Promise.

Thanks to the Lufthansa strike, there was a small ripple of early morning chaos, but the airlines and one of my co-workers had smoothed everything out. I visited Copenhagen for the first time, but only to go from one gate to another in the airport.

Landing in DC, I spent the weekend in Stafford, Virginia, with the largest collection of my immediate family. My sister’s family and my mom both live there, and two of my nephews returned for the weekend. Every single minute there is great: helping Mom grocery shop, walk in a nearby park with my sister, a dinner out.

While home is Australia, where my sister lives will always be a place that’s special to me.

San Francisco

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Power to the people. Her sweatshirt reads “Health Care not Warfare.”

Desperately seeking difference

I’ve always worried that in a different time, I would have let tyranny happen, or even worse. I’ve never been drawn to protest or to activism. What would it take to get me out of work, off the bike, out of the pool, and into the streets. Well, it turns out, Trump.

There had been protests in SF, and I was hoping I could join in while I was in SF. Honestly, I am probably not politically aligned with most of the folks who would be in an SF protest, but part of what I wanted to do was expose myself (ahem) to people with different thoughts, different opinions, and actually listen. I’ve been barking for years about how neither side of the fence actively listens to the other (I know from experience, having been someone for years who could only absorb arguments that agreed with me). Selection bias is alive and possibly more powerful than ever.

Alas, no protests were scheduled (turns out there is an online schedule for political activism!) But there was a meeting of the Progressive Democrats of America on “the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) in a post-Trump era.” The TPP is a big deal to Australia, so I thought I could get educated and listen to people who I would never encounter on a daily basis.

After dinner, I slipped a gray wool jumper over my “I voted for Gary Johnson” t-shirt, and entered the Fireside Room at the Unitarian Church.

Progressive Democrats of America

My first thought was that I had stepped into a cabin in North Dakota. About 30 people in total, and I was the second youngest person in the room. Equally balanced between men and women, the audience was mostly white. Not a single button down shirt in view. Doing the math, I realized most of this group were teenagers in the 70s, so they were not the 60s hippies but certainly had a memory of the Vietnam War that I do not.
A few items of business passed slowly: Bernie’s influence and getting pervasive agenda items in the national forum, the 60th anniversary of the human rights declaration in 1948, passing around some stickers, and collecting about 10 signatures for a letter to Pelosi. I wondered what the punishment was if they found out a libertarian was in their midst? Stoning? Tattooing? Forcing him to surrender his property to the state? Mind, open back up.
 My first spark of interest came around a mention of driving corporate money out of elections (a big hot button for me – New Zealand’s limits on campaign contributions are much more sensical). I shared the same passion with everyone in the room for reducing corporate influence on elections.
Then the talk on the TPP began. ‘International Law’ has always seemed ridiculous to me, and international partnerships without an enforcement arm has always puzzled me. The three speakers had a very anti-trade partnership perspective – primarily that trade partnership agreements are a way to create, in a non-transparent fashion, agreements that can overrule existing environmental, labor, and other regulations, or force congress hand to adopt the agreements, then becoming enforceable laws (i.e “policy laundering”). I won’t get into the details, but it was fascinating. The time was already well spent to hear the other side of a story that the Australian press largely treated as “TPP good for Australia.”
My favorite aside of the three talks, was when one speaker described the coming Trump Administration as “The most corrupt oligarchical administration in history. A cabinet of billionaires. Prepare for the selling off of our country to the highest bidder.” I’d have to agree with what I’ve seen so far.
I certainly heard opinions that don’t even make it into the mainstream media:
  • “Don’t use Google” (because of their support of the mainstream Democratic party, I think). Sorry, still going to Google stuff.
  • “Trumps victory was a movement victory, not a campaign victory.” Groups of people do take independent action, that campaigns cannot withstand.
  • “Boycott Wells Fargo” – as it’s backing the Dakota pipeline project. I don’t know if I’ll cancel my account today, but I will register my opinion with my bank and make sure they understand it makes them a less desirable option.
  • The Digital millennium copyright act failed in Congress, but similar agreements were then snuck into trade agreements, meaning our democratic process is being circumvented.
My favorite speaker was Ernesto Balcon, a member of the EFF. Since Mitch Kapor was the chairman of the company I started, and John Perry Barlow spoke at one of my Stanford classes, I knew a bit about the EFF, and have always held it in the highest regard. Ernesto only reinforced my opinion of the EFF.

Non partisan partisans

The best part about this group was that while their focus was politics, they were not political.”This is about the issues, not about what party you belong to.” That while they identified as a group with a specific set of beliefs, that they were open to others and wanted them to join their causes, not necessarily their party. “We share a lot of ideology with  Libertarians.” I wanted to rip off my jumper and out myself right there, but I held back. It could be a trap.
All in all, the PDA session (ahem) delivered – I heard new thoughts, I heard opinions I disagreed with but I listened and understood why we differed. Many times we wanted the same thing, but believed in a different way to get there.
I need to find other outlets to make sure I keep hearing opinions that are different from my own, and even from the mainstream lines we get fed from conservative and liberal news media alike.

Arriving Home

I arrived home better than I left – an unusual event, and even more surprising given that I didn’t stay in a single time zone longer than six full days, and that I had circumnavigated the earth.

Looking back on the trip – there’s a lot of goodness. I accepted my own limits. I listened to others to try to expand my world view. I focused on my responsibilities. I ate a lot of greek yogurt.

BJR and NVB in NZ

In August of 1997, I was done working for a morally bankrupt company (Trilogy) and planned to start Reactivity with John and Brian in January of the next year.

So I took two months off, and with my girlfriend at the time (who later graduated to ex-wife), we cycled for two months around New Zealand.

Wow, this is a really positive sounding start to a blog.

On October 28th, 2016, I returned to New Zealand for the first time – and had to relearn its magic all over again. With a great friend in tow (Nick, hereon referred to as NVB), the South Island of New Zealand once again submerged me in a dream I didn’t want to leave.

bjr-on-ridge-in-kepler

Welcome back

I often have major packing failures. As the plane descended, the JetStar (can’t believe I agreed to fly JetStar) pilot announced that it was 7 degrees C outside. At this point, I’m wearing a t-shirt, and realizing the one thing I did not pack was a jacket (this after reminding NVB that “it’s going to be cold, Singapore boy. Dress appropriately.”) Dropping $$$ at Kathmandu with 5 minutes left to spare before the store closed changed that (and helped me realize that Kathmandu has an h – who knew?) and I was outfitted for the trek.

I’ve packed Patrick White’s Tree of Man for this trip. It’s a beast to carry, and the first few pages are dense. This book might be more painful than the hike.

Hitchhiker

I haven’t hitchhiked since I was in my 20s, and I haven’t picked up a hitchhiker in a long, LONG time (maybe also in my 20s). As Nick and I left Queenstown, we passed a hitchhiker, and I mentioned that if there’s a place to pick one up, between Q-town and Te Anau is probably the safest place on earth. Around the next corner, we picked up a 20-something French girl with a Russian name who managed to talk almost non-stop for the next 3 hours, which helped the drive go faster. I am always a bit mystified by people who just travel – she had been on the road for a couple of years, stopping, working, traveling, stopping, working, traveling. I think I need to at least pretend there’s a higher purpose in life, or be very explicit that I have no illusions and I’ve just given up.

The highlight of the conversation was NVB asking her to tell us which nationalities were the best and which were the worst. Apparently Turkish people are stellar!

Kepler Track

Day 1 – Ascent into Luxmore!

We hit the trail after Noon, expecting it would be a late arriving into the Luxmore hut. Each day was about a 15-16k hike, with a little more than half of this day being ascending into the mountains. It has been a while since I carried a pack, but my legs felt great, and I like to move at a quick pace, the cool air helping keep the pace high. We made it into camp earlier than I expected. The huts of NZ tracks are seriously posh – mattresses! And gas stoves! And running water you can drink! While you are staying inside a bunk room with up to 20 other people, the huts make it a lot easier than tent camping.

The views from the hut are breathtaking – partially because the air was cold, but mostly because you don’t have to see another human being for ever looking 360 degrees from the hut. Just mountains, lakes, green. My mind wanders forward to a time when I can travel for months, to not see another human for days, or maybe even weeks.

Peter the Ranger gave us a safety talk with a few hijinks like pulling a dead stoat out of his pocket and pretending it bit him. Peter’s humor delivery doesn’t change tone for punch lines, and his white out-of-control beard masks any facial expressions.

NVB did incredibly well today, and he’s possibly the best travel companion I’ve ever had. Talkative, quiet at the right times, easy-going, and clear about what he wants. This trip was a good choice.

Day 2 – The best of days, the worst of days

The first half of this day was the best section of the entire trip.

The second half was the worst.

We left Luxmore hut to check out the limestone caves just a few minutes from the hut. Inside the cave, my headlamp wasn’t helping at all. Too dark, too slippery, too dangerous. Then I realized we were still wearing sunglasses. Taking those off helped.

The path climbed further, close to the peak of Mt. Luxmore, where we dropped packs and scrambled up to the summit. I decided to run to the top, which was a bad idea. I’d need that energy for later.

bjr-atop-kepler-track-in-snow

At our lunch stop we met a Dutch chick who was crushing a couple of Canucks – she was hardly breathing while they struggled to get up the last few feet to the “lunch table” outside an emergency shelter. The PB&honey sandwiches were golden.

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We walked along ridges that dropped off sharply on either side, feeling like we were skirting the spine of the world. I couldn’t imagine a better day.

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And then the trail began to descend.

Within two hours, we had run out of food and water. NVB had broken his right kneecap, and I was losing a lot of blood. I fought off the dizziness and the desire to just lie down and sleep. We could hear the stoats around us, smelling death. Our compass and the terrain contradicted the map at every step, and we knew we were lost. We had no shelter, and the rain was turning into sleet. We were frozen one moment, and burning the next. The trail was jagged, and another misstep could end us. I knew everything depended on the next 15 minutes, and I didn’t think both of us could make it. It was then that I knew, I would have to kill NVB and eat him to survive. I’d start with the shoulder.

No, no, no. It wasn’t that bad. But the trail dropped sharply, and descending has always hurt me – the impact of the pack proved I haven’t kept in the shape I need to be, and my feet and ITBs were taking a beating. It went on forever, and I could tell NVB was hurting. The next three hours seemed like six.

By the time we reached the Iris Burn hut, NVB was near delirious, and was sick with a virus.

That night the Ranger (Robbie) explained to the hut that we could either pack our trash our or he could kill us in our sleep. Or maybe not come pack to the park, I forget which. But this Ranger should be made Warden, it’s more fitting. Rose, the other ranger smiled mutely. I’m betting she’s the one that will choke us out if Robbie says the word.

That night, the kiwi birds mating calls echoed on the lake. Get a room.

Day 3 – Turning the corner

We started the day with a walk to a nearby waterfall – a spectacular waterfall in every other country in the world, but simply par for the course for the South Island. Amazing.

Most people headed all the way out on day 3 – covering over 30K. I know in my heart I could have done it, but it would have been brutal (and we would have had to start a lot earlier). So our pace was fine with me.

The train followed a beautiful forecast rolling path along river, crossing wooden and metal bridges.

A couple hundred Stoat and rat traps flourish through the entire route, though all are empty. I knocked on each one to see if anyone was home. Since the traps have not been as effective as hoped , a “1080 campaign” (dropping poison pellets from the sky) to rid the wilderness of non-native predators brought over by the POMs – species which have extinguished 50+ species of flightless birds and are threatening more.

Along the path, NVB and told stories of relationships, of hitting bottom, in redemption. NVB’s cold worsened. At this point I didn’t realize how bad it is. NVB is a tough SOB. He kept moving, step after step, without complaint.

Near the end, a derelict boat along the shore of Lake Manupouri welcomed us in advance of the hut.

I jumped in the lake for a swim to clean up, and made it five strokes before I realized the water was so cold I could barely inhale.

Day 4 – Exit

Our final day had minimal rolling and was mostly flat. My ITB was bad from the start, but it was only one day left!

As we entered a clear, a wooden platform extended to a broad, expansive field. I felt I was at the podium, addressing a vast crowd rallied in the meadow. I pictured my armies of stouts, 100s of 1000s strong, ready to dine on the fowl of the land. “Stoats! Today is our day! Today we take revenge on our oppressors! They have trapped our brothers by the hundreds! They have rained poison from the sky upon us! Join me, and today we have our revenge. Tonight, we dine in hell! Or maybe around a nice fire.”

NVB and I were wondering if the US Presidential election was today (it was a week later). Seems like we should have known that. “First Tuesday” sounds right, but we’re not sure. World Series? (Nick is a big fan of The Tribe).

The path was beautiful – and as a bonus, there were 2 rats in traps!!

Hours later, I’d had enough walking. And we were done.

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Milford and beyond

On the drive up to Milford from Te Anau, I started to feel a scratch in my throat. I thought positive thoughts, hoping I wouldn’t get ill.

On the drive up to Milford, I passed the bus shelter where we had stored our bikes. It looked exactly as I remembered and pictured it. in 1998, we had to hide our bikes behind the shelter since it was snowing and our hands couldn’t hold on to the brakes anymore. Memories keep coming back.

I got rid of all the photos from my 1998 New Zealand trip long ago – in fact probably burned some at some point in a misguided attempt at catharsis. But despite two-decade-old memories that foretold betrayal and loss, New Zealand is a special place that can’t be tarnished.

New Zealand, I will be back!

view-from-luxmore-area

Australian Transplant Games 2016

Australian Transplant Games 2016

History repeats itself

Last week was my third time competing in the Aussie transplant games. And I made the same mistake the third year in a row.
The first year I really didn’t know much about it. I took a train to Newcastle, and just ran the 5K as a part of the opening ceremonies, and then took a train home. Just meeting a few people there, I realized I should have come for the whole week.
Two years ago, in Melbourne, I spent most of the week there, but only participated in about three days of events, and worked the other half of the time.
This year, I participated in four of the 9 days of events – and again, left knowing I should have done more. Yes, work, deadlines, a big event coming up. But this week is a chapter in the most important story of my life – the fact that I got a second chance.

People not Medalsolympian-poolside

The first question most people ask me is “How did you do? Did you win any medals?” It misses the whole point of the games. It’s a miracle any of us are even suiting up for the games, much less being competitive.
Every minute is humbling. You met another athlete whose story you can’t believe.
Meet Adam, who is under 20 but has had a transplanted liver for something like 17 years now, and smiles bigger that the length of the pool.

Meet Kate, the first woman with a heart + double lung transplant to complete a half-Ironman.

Meet Andy, who ran the 5k with me who has a double lung transplant. But his training has been rough lately – because he’s currently undergoing chemo for liver cancer.
Meet Rodney, who swam (incredibly well) who had a double lung transplant 18 months ago. When he got a silver medal, his eyes welled up with tears.
I reconnected with people I met two years ago.
After spending so much time around triathletes, all too obsessed with podiums and winning their age group, this group is a special one. Now, they still are putting everything out there, pushing themselves to the limit, and they are competitive. But the times and the medals take a back stage to the reason we’re there.
Lining up for the race is the biggest accomplishment for us, and that the success of any of us in the games starts with the gift from our donors, contains an incredible amount of luck, and then we add in our own dash of effort.
I watched a man over 60 years of age complete the 30k cycling road race – who didn’t even know how to change gears on a bike. He was pushing the bike up hills because he hadn’t figured out how to shift down. But his smile was the biggest of any of us .

Community

I still have a community allergy – I have a hard time being part of a group, even an amazing one like this one. I found myself often looking for a place to be alone and just take in what was around me. It’s a little overwhelming at times.

So, answer the damn question. How did you do?

time-trial-start

My worst performance was certainly the cycling 5k time trial – I didn’t warm up, and my lungs just felt terrible the whole time (which is no time at all in cycling). It feels pretty lame when you complain about your lungs and the person next to you doesn’t have their original ones.

The first ever triathlon at the transplant games was punctuated for me by two punctured tubes, so I had no way to complete the final 10k. I DNF’d but still ran the run course. Normally something like that would bother me for days. But the spirit of the games is too positive, too wonderful to let something like that bother me.

The Sunday 5k run is the best time I’ve posted (just around 20 minutes flat) though I think the course was 200m short. Still, the wheels haven’t fallen off (yet), and I was the fourth person across the line, and the second transplant recipient.  In the 30k road race, I managed to fight and hang on until it was down to the final five of us, until the last 400m, when I was subsequently out-sprinted by almost 100m.

I felt great about all of my swims, though as the day went on, I definitely had less energy and began to drag in the 400m. I was certainly slower than 2 years ago. I did backstroke in one relay, which makes me want to train for the 200 IM for two years from now.

España?

Si, con mucho gusto. The World Transplant Games are in Spain in July. Why not?

 

We are responsible for Trump

A friend who attended Landmark shared a view on life that I’ve tried to adopt – You are 100% responsible for every relationship you have been in. That doesn’t mean the other person has 0% responsibility, but your approach to relationships is much better if you don’t look to blame the other person, and always look for how you can improve and learn what you can do better.

I fail miserably at this. I try, but fail again. But I digress.

When we are flabbergasted that Trump made it through the Republican debates, then are shocked that he survived the nomination, then are panicked that he came through the convention, and are beyond our wits that he is still a legitimate contender for the US Presidency, they we’ve failed to understand our own part in the absolute tragedy that is the decline of our political system in the U.S.

I say “we”, that while despite being a Republican in high school, and from then on a registered libertarian, I include myself as equally guilty in this mess despite backing Gary Johnson for President in 2016.

A while back I wrote about my own journey from being homophobic to having my eyes and heart opened. And that I wanted to tell my story, because I feel like so many of my friends pretend as if they didn’t have the same views (or at least acted as if they did) when they were young. And in first understanding that there are plenty of good, well-meaning people who are simply ignorant –  and then in reaching out, and we change our approach to bridging the gap, we can help other people make the journey from ignorance to acceptance.

So what does this have to do with Trump, and the continued growth of what appears to be a more and more frightening part of American (and global) politics?

Enter the Daily Show. Now, I’ll admit I was a fan. In the year or so before Jon Stewart left the show, he appeared on CrossFire, accusing the hosts of being the problem with American politics, that they are polarizing the country. He was right – the polarization of our country that surfaced and was then accelerated with the Gore Vidal – William F. Buckley debates (though even the documentary around this over-polarizes the event) And yet Jon hid behind the shield of being a comedian, and held himself blameless – yet his reach and impact, among people I know, was far greater than CrossFire.

We have become numb to the polarization and expect it – and so know, when we hear, for the 10th presidential election in a row, that the candidate is dangerous, many people have stopped listening because the hand was over-played again and again by both sides.

From the Daily Show came its offspring, the Colbert Show. I did enjoy it, though maybe less than the early Daily Show.

And now 10-20 other “political comedy” shows exist, that pedal in ridicule. We even have a few here in Australia, where “news” comes across in light-hearted verbal slapstick – and dammit, these people are clever. Brilliant writers, comedians, talented folks.

Over the last 10 years, we began to laugh harder and louder at people who did not share our views.

This last weekend, I showed a “Triumph the Insult Comic” video to Aussie friends of mine. The video lets us inside a focus group of Trump supporters, who have been told they’ve been recruited to provide feedback to the Trump campaign on some potential Trump ads. These people were not selected from the most intelligent cross-section of our nation. Some of these people both lack basic intelligence and some have no moral compass whatsoever. The bits that follow are hysterical, and the first time I watched it, I found myself crying – I was laughing so hard.

But it’s actually not funny. It’s a tragedy, and by sitting back, and mocking the opposition, we give them no chance to learn, no change to hear rational, empathetic arguments. Would they all listen to our arguments? Certainly not. But would a few? Would it shift the conversation from mockery to potentially helping people see the truth? I’m willing to risk it.

The Daily Show interviewed Trump supporters at a rally. Queue the laugh track. The point of the segment was absolutely right – there is an absolute hypocrisy within the rhetoric and the beliefs of his supporters. But this section only served as an opiate for the converted – to laugh at the ignorance and enjoy dinner as we laugh as those we consider less intelligent, less rational or open-minded.

From someone who is open about being an elitist with little remorse, that last paragraph might come as a bit of a shock.

Our laughs may not last that long if we’re not careful.

While most people who know my political views (again, largely libertarian) know that I am not President Obama’s biggest fan, his response on gun control at a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana is the example I want to follow. Despite an aggressive and inaccurate question, his answer showed absolute respect for the person asking the question – because this was his chance to make his point, to possibly change one opinion and the opinions of everyone else around. I wish him luck.

It’s time to take the high road and invite others to walk on it with us – which means being humble, listening patiently to attitudes that you do not agree with, and the firmly expressing your own opinion and why you believe it is so important. And often times, we will have to get much louder and even fight for what is right.

It is easier for me and all of us to hide inside of universities and the professional class. It is easy to only have people of like mind over for dinner. It is easy to treat the waitress as a human shopping card where your transaction is only about your credit card and splitting it several ways. It’s much harder to take a risk and try to connect to someone who might express an opinion that you loathe, and try to find a way to listen, understand, and then assert yourself.

Am I a good example? Absolutely not. I live in a WASPy beach neighborhood with ridiculous rents and surround myself with friends who support me. While I grew up in what might be described as “the top of the lower class,” and exited high school more in the middle class, I am now an adult of privilege.

Have I been a political activist who has done my part to change the world? Absolutely not. I am a libertarian philosophically who deep down inside simply never wants to be responsible for the disasters of American politics over the span of my life on both sides of the political fence.

But it’s time for me to be more vocal – even though I know a lot of my friends and family won’t like my ideas. But I promise to listen as much as I talk.

I understand the motivations of many people who support Trump and why those feelings exist: It’s hard to make a case that politicians have improved the lives of the majority of the people in the US (and around the world). People are willing to try anything. Sadly they are willing to throw a hand grenade into a classroom and hope that somehow in the aftermath, a better educational system will emerge. We need to help them understand that it’s a hand grenade and not a paper airplane that might miss it’s target. It’s a dangerous game where everyone is going to get hurt.

Time and time again, when we don’t find a way to build a bridge to the other side, the other side builds a guillotine, or a rocket, or something worse.

Note: I really wanted to end the last paragraph with “like Jeans Shorts”, but that would undermine the entire point of this article in not ridiculing others.

A decade of triathlon

A decade of triathlon

Heading to airport 2

A farewell to triathlon

1o years ago, my first triathlon was the Armadillo Triathon in Austin, TX. I was wide eyed and unaware of what the sport was all about, but it was yet another step in gaining confidence after my kidney transplant that I was no longer “sick,” and no longer needed to think of myself as a patient. I expected it would be both my first and my last triathlon (“triathletes are nut cases”), but during the run along a trail snaking through the woods, I ran side by side with another athlete, as we watched the sun track along the cliffs of Lake Travis. We didn’t talk much, but at one point, he stated the simple truth, “Not a bad way to spend a morning.”

On Sunday I finished my last triathlon, Ironman Cairns. While I will do the Sprint in the Australian transplant games in September in Sydney, I consider Cairns my final race as a triathlete. It’s been a great decade, and I’m fortunate every day for the gift that my cousin gave me that let me experience all the things I never would have experienced.

Ironman Cairns

Cairns has a reputation for being a randomly challenging course – the weather can make the course a straightforward affair, or it can great you with demonic waves, baking heat, pouring rain, and oppressive humidity. On Sunday, we leaned towards the demonic – high waves bad enough for them to cancel the swim leg shortly after I finished, high winds on the bike course (with 2/3rds of the course against the wind), and a humid run. But the rain in the morning and the cloud cover kept the race course mostly cool until mid-afternoon, so we avoided baking in the sweatbox of tropical Queensland.

The Swim

I had been swimming only twice in the previous two months. That’s 10 times less than what my usual training plan would required. I would be swimming entirely on technique, with very little muscle to back it up. The winds were high and the swell was big. With 450 Japanese competitors, who often have very little ocean swimming background, it was going to be a tough day for many.

At the half way point in the first lap, I cornered around the buoy and had to laugh. I felt like I was done physically, but still had 75% of the swim, or about 2.7 km, to go. I was cooking in my wetsuit (just too thick for 25 degree C water). But, you put your head down, and celebrate every buoy you pass. That’s one less buoy. Bye bye buoy.

Apparently, shortly after I exited the water, they told all swimmers to head straight for shore. They had already pulled 40 swimmers out of the water in distress, including one man who was unconscious, who sadly passed away several days later.

It makes you pause to appreciate your health, and know that nothing should be taken for granted.

The Bike of Discomfort

cairnsbike

The Cairns bike course on a sunny day. Our day was not sunny…

My bike performed beautifully. Aaron Dunsford from Fusion Peak studios had done a great job with a fit and some repairs, and I didn’t have a single issue with the bike.

My tri kit (the cycling knicks and tank top you wear in a triathlon) failed miserably. I like to wear the club kit, but in this race it simply couldn’t hold up. I was uncomfortable the last five hours of the race. I had tried to get a new kit, but that’s a frustrating story that isn’t worth retelling. The kit was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t stay in aero during the return to Cairns in the high winds.

On the bike course I was impressed by the lack of drafting – usually on a windy day, many triathletes begin to shrink the draft zone: from 7 bike lengths to 3 and then even zero.

The Walkathon

I didn’t walk in my first Ironman, and I only walked in Busselton when I starting weaving from dehydration. In Cairns, I probably walked a total of 3-4K of the 42.2K when you add up the aid stations (walked every one) and a handful of moments where I mentally gave into fatigue. The last lap, which I thought would be the hardest, I just told myself that walking wasn’t on the program.

The Finish

The finishing chute appeared, and soon I was done. Pete Jacobs (winner of Ironman World Championships in Kona in 2012) who is from the Northern Beaches in Sydney and loosely associated with the Warringah triathlon club, was there at the finish line and gave me my finisher’s medal, which was a cool way to finish. Pete had just placed third among the pros that day. Here’s to Pete having another win this year in Kona!

90 minutes slower

There are no excuses for my performance in Ironman Cairns. I’m proud of the fundraising I’ve done for Room to Read Cambodia. But there are simple facts: I am not in “Ironman shape”, and I knew it coming into the race. Work, travel, illness, work, life, and work have all wiped out the free hours that I used to squeeze training into a two dimensional life. I saw the rewards of training in my 2nd Ironman (in Busselton in 2014), and I saw the rewards of minimal training in Cairns!

Yes, the course that Sunday was tough. The conditions might have added 15 minutes to my time, but the 90 minute difference between Sunday and my last Ironman was simply a lack of training.

I have trained – I’ve done weekend rides and runs. Swimming, not so much. A consistent training schedule? Nope. Even Strava’s fitness calculator (based on your heart rate and power output) concluded that I’m not fit. Thanks, Strava.

This could sound like an excuse or even complaining or disappointment – it’s none of those things. I had an amazing day in Cairns, and will remember that day as one of the best of my life. This is is simply what I learned in my first Ironman: if you put in the work, you get the results. If you don’t put in the work, and aren’t genetically gifted, then don’t expect miracles.

10 great years

And of course, without my cousin Diane, who gave me the gift of life through a kidney transplant on December 21, 2004, not a single step of this would have been possible. Thanks, cousin.

 

$109,000 raised for Room to Read Cambodia

smile

Thank you!!

I couldn’t start any other way than to say thanks to everyone who donated. Your generosity and support of Room to Read Cambodia means an incredible amount to me, and I appreciate not only the donations but those of you who checked in and asked how fundraising was going, how training was going, and who showed real interest in this cause.

Thanks to Room to Read Australia, especially Chantal Lewis, who once again helped get the donation site set up, and encouraging me along the way!

Thanks to Kall Kann, the Director of Room to Read Cambodia, for continually helping me connect to the reasons behind the fundraising – the chance to make a life changing difference not just for a set of kids, but for communities, and the change to affect an entire country.

The Impact

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  • 781 million people in the world today are still illiterate.
  • With $109,000 dollars, Room to Read Cambodia could do any of the following:
    • create 22 libraries from existing structures
    • send almost 400 girls to school for an entire year
    • buy tens of thousands of books written in Khmer specifically for Cambodian kids and published by Room to Read

The Donations

If you look on the donation website, you’ll see a total of around $53,000 raised, which is missing a lot of the matching donations.  The real breakdown is:

  • Individual donations of $34,732
  • I matched the first $25,000 of that
  • With Room to Read matching all donations in December and June, it added another $49,885
  • For a total of $109,617

The Donors

chez chez

Chek-Chek is really impressed with every one of the donors

  • There were 66 donations from 62 unique donors, with 4 donors who donated more than once!
  • The median donation was $126 – an amazingly generous bunch!
  • 23 donations came from people who I met through Atlassian, 10 donations came from my triathlon club, 9 came from my family, 6 from friends from university, and 5 from my co-workers who I worked with at MessageOne back in 2005-8.
  • The top 10 donors contributed over $26,000 of the total donated. I am lucky to have friends whose generosity seems to know few limits.

And, of course, this…

Each month or so of the campaign, I gave away a prize – one month I created a video singing the praises of the lucky winner. Another month I let the winner pick my hair color, and well, the family who won, picked blue. So I’ll be hearing Smurf cat-calls for the next two months…

BJR with blue hair

Soon I’ll give away the round trip from the US to Australia for one lucky donor, and a silver bangle from Nic Marshall Jewelers in Sydney.

And a prize is still to be fulfilled – I still have to busk (think “street performance” or selling something) in Martin Place, the plaza just outside of my work, for 15 minutes.

Ironman Cairns

I’ll cover the race in another blog post – I was incredibly undertrained for the event, but with what everyone had donated, there was no way I would even consider skipping out on the race!

Thanks again to every single one of you who donated.

$100K for literacy in Cambodia

$100K for literacy in Cambodia

Two and a half years ago, I started raising money for Room to Read, an organization I was just getting to know.

(This post was supposed to go out well over a weeks ago, to capitalize on Giving Tuesday, and for most friends of BJR, feigned sarcasm Wednesday and apathy Thursday. Sorry it’s late.)

I’m now training for my third Ironman, and working on the most ambitious fundraising goal of my life. Despite having a kidney transplant over 10 years ago, I’m not slowing down, I’m trying to keep giving back.

15 years ago I would celebrate when I could raise $3,000 for the MS150, a bike ride from Houston to Austin.

Two years ago, through the generousity of friends around the world, we raised over $42,000 for Room to Read Cambodia. In September, I had the chance to see the results. I’m in awe of the impact that we’ve had in such a short time, and I want us all to do more. I’m in awe of Room to Read, not just for what I’ve seen them do locally in Cambodia, but the way their entire organization makes a incredible impact around the world.

54 - whole school together

We did this with $12,000. Imagine what we can do with $100,000.

So, in six months (before my race on June 12th), I am raising $100,000 for Room to Read Cambodia. With this, we can build libraries that will open their doors to 1000s of children, we can fund girls’ education programs for 1000s of girls, and we can end the cycle of poverty in Cambodia through education.

Each month there will be contests with prizes (usually chances to humiliate me) for one person who has made a donation (so the earlier you donate, the more chances you have to win, and the more you donate, the higher your chance).

I’ll match the first $25,000 donated. Even better, Room to Read is matching donations through the end of December, so with my matching, a total of 4x your amount will be donated (email me if you need help with the maths on that).

give now

Thanks in advance for your support!

BJR

A trek along the Mekong

A trek along the Mekong

After the incredible day at the library at Andaung Trom Primary School, Khanh and I parted ways with the Room to Read team at Kampong Thom, and climbed in a car with Untac, our guide for the next five days of cycling along the Mekong River in Cambodia.

The next five days were hysterical, magical, simple, and filled with delight.

Ferry going across the Mekong

The first of many ferries

Our route would take us along both sides of the Mekong River, and onto islands in the middle of the Mekong, which is often over 2 km wide. At many points, we’d be throwing our bikes onto a ferry and crossing.

The ferry system along the Mekong, except in Phnom Penh, is not what you think of if you live in Sydney, or Seattle, or any major city with a ferry system. It is often a man and his boat, and sometimes neither, and just a sign with a cell phone number on it.

Before we’d even spun the pedals once, we loaded the bikes on to a ferry to cross onto an island where we’d spend our first night.

A crowded ferry - Photo Sep 30, 2 45 16 PM

You can fit more on a small wooden boat than you might imagine

Photo Oct 03, 8 37 26 AM

Our first ferry on the 4th day. Horse carts returning from the Phnom Penh markets.

Hungry Ghosts

Our first night’s accommodation was a cabana on stilts in the Arun Mekong Guesthouse, that we reached via cycling in the dark along a narrow path, weaving as motorbikes passed us in both directions. After dinner, Khanh announced that an animal had pooped on our bed, but judging from the size of the poop, it was a small animal. The humidity was high, even though the rainy season had been mild and we hadn’t seen rain yet. With no AC, the fan was keeping us sane, until the generator cut out at 2 AM, when we pulled the mosquito net around us.

At 4 AM, a blaring noise drilled into my brain. It was if someone was pointing a loudspeaker directly at our cabana, and 100 monks were chanting into the mic. That turned out to actually be the case. We told ourselves that it would go away in 30 minutes – we’d heard chanting before and it lasted about that long. 30 minutes later, the chanting stopped.

And then the drumming began. When the drumming stopped, the singing began. With each new wave of booming sound, we broke into laugher. I think I began singing back at some point, a bit delirious from lack of sleep.

When we asked Untac the next morning, he smiled and let us know we had started our trip at the beginning of the 15 day “hungry ghost festival”, and that everywhere in Cambodia, we’d hear this at 4 AM, and then twice more during the day. The festival is about feeding the ghosts of your ancestors and other people to make sure they are well fed in the afterlife and don’t haunt you.

The beauty of the temples and their presence is every village is entrancing, but behind it sits the sad fact that temples outrank schools in the priority of the government.

By the end of the trip we could grunt along with the rhythm of the monks.

Photo Oct 01, 6 28 26 PM

One of the many sources of Hungry Ghost chanting in Cambodia.

The path along the Mekong

  • Day 1: Our route started in Kratie town (in the province of Kratie) on the East bank, starting in the morning from Kaoh Trong island, where we ferried  to the West bank, and rode North to ferry across to Sambor, returning to Kaoh Trong island that afternoon in a tuk-tuk along the East bank.
  • Day 2From Kaoh Trong we cycled to the same ferry crossing to the West bank, but went South to Chhlong, ferrying back to the East bank to reach Chhlong.
  • Day 3: From Chhlong, we rode South to Kampong Cham, ferrying to Koh Tasuy island and then off again to reach the West bank. After lunch, Untac and I averaged 30 kph (on mountain bikes) for about 10-12k, and I managed to survive an addition 6k solo.
  • Day 4: We started by casually riding around islands near Kampong Cham, then hopped in the van to skip some high traffic’d bits of road, and then rode the final 30k along the East bank before taking a full-sized ferry to Phnom Penh.

Photo Sep 30, 3 44 28 PM

Our journey took balance and a sense of adventure

Food along the Mekong

Almost anywhere, you’d find a small store, with the strangest combination of single serving Men’s shampoo packets, assorted plastic items, and you’d wonder how it came to this part of the world. But there was always food – fresh, local, and usually delicious. Normally, I’m not that adventurous of an eater – I know what I like and what I don’t. But in Cambodia I wanted to try more of what locals ate. There were several firsts: balut, tarantula, and then a host of fruits: longans, jackfruit, palm fruits, jujubee and rambutans, along with previous favorites dragonfruit and asian bananas.

No meals were ever indoors, which makes eating so much better. At a restaurant in Chhlong, the owner cooked right in the middle of the restaurant, pulling fresh ingredients from the piles of vegetables and meat around him, sweating and smiling over the wok-like pans and open fire.

Photo Sep 30, 11 19 49 AM

A simple snack (salt, lime, and duck embryos)

Photo Oct 03, 2 59 26 PM

No, it doesn’t crawl into your mouth. You just eat one of the fried ones in the bucket.

Photo Oct 03, 8 11 40 AM

I wonder why we liked this guy so much?

Children

Everywhere we rode, kids yelled “Hello!!” and cackled with laughter if we responded. I answered in Khmer most of the time. On ferries and in towns kids would openly stare, amazed by the foreigners in cycling gear. I would ask them what their name was in Khmer, which would send them into an absolute fit. Either my pronunciation is horrendous, or my comedic timing is exceptional.

On one ferry that never actually left, Untac was talking to local Muslim girls about what language they were speaking. He promised to buy them a book and a pencil if they wrote their language out for him. After we left the ferry, the girls and their little brothers followed us to a small lean-to market stall where a man had a number of activity books. A few other kids caught wind of the transaction, and Untac agreed to give them books as well. Within minutes, the alarm in the village had sounded and kids of every age under 13 were streaming in to the market stall, which barely held 5 of them, but was suddenly flooded with what seemed like 20. Untac handed the merchant a handful of cash and we fled the riot we had spawned.

It’s easy to see the kids – even in their often dirty and simple clothes, living on a small boat, who have so little, but who laugh so loud and smile so easily, to wonder if education is really what they need? Ignorance is supposedly bliss, is it not.

When you see a 9-year-old girl laugh and smile, you don’t see that in 6 years she will be married, in order to provide income for her family. You don’t see that 40 years ago, there was very little laugher, that this was a country filled with orphans from the genocidal regime of Pol Pot. Her smile does not reveal that without education, the Khmer people are at the whims of the government and cannot see though the political arguments and propaganda that has sadly been their diet for generations.


Photo Oct 02, 9 26 33 AM

A girl along the Mekong

The Cycling

Khanh had never done anything like this before. I’ve done a solo, month-long tour of Ireland, and a two month tour of New Zeland. I spend a decent amount of time on a road bike. Let’s just say Khanh is now familiar with a mountain bike, clipless pedals, and their delicate and special relationship with gravity, mud, cement, and dirt. She’s incredibly tough – much tougher than I am, and never a word of complaint did escape her lips.

The tour was so well done from start to finish, and our guide is a legend. Originally born in a small village in Cambodia, he was the national barista of the year two years ago in Cambodia, along with being a graduate of the nuclear engineering program in Cambodia, and has cycled through so much of SouthEast Asia and even parts of Australia. Grasshopper Adventures is an amazing cycle-touring company who I’d love to get to ride with again.

A comfortable bench waiting for the ferry

Yeah, this totally looks like a comfortable place to wait for the next ferry

Photo Oct 03, 9 15 30 AM

A bamboo bridge over peaceful waters


IMG_0294

Mind the cows.

Bryan holding bike overhead
The usual BJR-triumphs-over-the-bike pose

I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be back in Cambodia, but it will be within two years. I can’t wait.

IMG_0323

A view of the mighty Mekong from one of the few hills in Cambodia

Overwhelmed and Humbled in Cambodia

Overwhelmed and Humbled in Cambodia

Two weeks ago, I arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – the fulfillment of a promise I made in 2013. Two days later I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

I arrived in the country tired, but excited about what lay ahead. The previous two weeks had been draining and had actually poisoned my mind against the world around me. The wonderful weekend with my nephew in Seoul was so fantastic that it restored a bit of energy. I was still arriving half-empty, hoping Cambodia could help me find more to care about in the world.

Room to Read Cambodia Headquarters

We quickly met the amazing team from Room to Read at the local office. They presented me with a framed picture of artwork from the book “The Snake Who Wants to Buy a Shoe”, which won Best Illustration by the International Board of Books for Young People in 2011. (Within minutes of arriving home in Sydney a week later it was up on my wall).

snake shoe

The snake who wants to buy a shoe

Soon we were in a car with Kall Kann and Socheata from Room to Read on our way to Kampong Thom (literal translation would be “Port Thom.” After a dinner with Racha (the manager of the province for Room to Read) and the architect who is responsible for the Room to Read libraries, we were off to bed, only to wake up to head out to the Andaung Trom Primary School.

An incredible surprise

Originally, our plan was to drop by and see the library, and just meet the librarian, since school is not in session. Then the plan changed – Kall Kann, the director of Room to Read Cambodia, would join us. Then, a few kids were going to turn up and we’d paint one of the walls of the library.

At the end of the hour drive, as we turned down smaller and smaller dirt roads, I could finally see the school. My heart stopped, as I looked out and saw around 100 people from the community waiting for our arrival. Over 100 people from the community were there to greet us, include well over 50 school kids: all in uniform, on their holiday, when school would not be in session for another couple of weeks.

When I visited Cambodia two years ago, I was representing Atlassian, which has given millions of dollars to Room to Read Cambodia. So our welcome two years ago made sense – there were 10 of us.

This time it was just me, and my contributions felt so small in comparison.

1 - Entering the school

Entering Andaung Trom primary school

As usual, I went immediately into emotional overload. These people should not be here. I don’t deserve this kind of welcome. These kids should be enjoying their school holiday, and not in uniform for my arrival. I am not worthy of any of this attention. 

21 - Bryan welcome sign

Khanh vanishes into the crowd

There were welcome signs with my name and Khanh’s name on it. Khanh of course quickly ducked into the crowd to help hold the sign up, while I was pulled up on to the platform to talk to the community. Kall translated, since I know only 10 phrases in Khmer (one of them is “I am hungry” and another 5 are numbers).

12 - Talking to the school 3

Talking to the community members and kids who had come out to welcome me

I introduced myself, and talked about why I am so passionate about Room to Read, about why I believe world change starts with educated children – that the only long term solution to the challenges we face as a planet is to invest in education, in the kids of developing countries.  15 - Bryan talking to the school

Kids having to listen to me on a day off from school. No good deed goes unpunished.

I spoke about my kidney transplant, and how it taught me to give back to the world since I had been given a second chance at life. I talked about how important education was in my life.

18 - Bryan and Kall

It felt strange being on stage in front of the kids, explaining my story. Their daily lives are harder than any Ironman. Their families struggle to make ends meet, and yet they are optimistic about the future despite the brutality of their nation’s bloody past.

And then, we had some fun! Socheata had organized an awesome icebreaker, “Dancing Telephone,” played just like the game of telephone, except instead of whispering a phrase in the next person’s ear, you perform a dance move, and then it gets revealed to the next person. I think it helped loosen me up more than the kids, because I was still feeling completely overwhelmed by everything.
28 - Bryan showing off dance moves

The kids were treated to some serious dance moves

The Library

Inside the entry of the library, there is a plaque. Chantal from Room to Read had contacted me about what I would like the inscription to say. I knew exactly what belonged on the plaque.

Plaque DL_KH-CRR-14-0011 Andaung Trom

The librarian walked me through the system of reading levels, how kids indicate that they have visited the library, and how they teach kids to take care of the books. How they could check out a maximum of three books at a time, how they handled new arrivals to generate excitement about new stories. How much the kids loved to read to their siblings and their parents.

The walls, the books, everything was awe and wonder for me, even though I’d seem similar libraries two years ago. But this one did not exist then, and was specifically developed using part of the funds I had raised for my last Ironman.

Thank you to everyone who donated to my campaign. We raised enough money to fund not one library, but five libraries, some built from the ground up, and others from existing structures that needed a refresh. We changed the lives of 100s of kids, and made it possible for kids to learn to read outside of the classroom.

28 - Librarian explaining books

The librarian checking to see if I have any overdue books

A Moose, a Seal, a Kangaroo, a Koala

After the library tour, we walked back to the side of the library, where we were going to paint. But it wasn’t just painting the wall – it was painting a picture, of four animals on a tandem bicycle. Four animals – two from my childhood, and two from where I live now, Australia. Once again, I couldn’t quite believe it. The funds for this library were around $12,000 – and the difference it was making for this community were enough to bring them out to celebrate with me.

45 - Girl painting moose

The Moose (or probably Deer or Caribou) is steering the bike

47 - Bryan painting koala ears BJR paints the Koala’s ears

Tea with the community

The final hour, we spend with members of the community, asking about how they had raised the funds for their 20% of the building. Room to Read requires the community to co-invest, so there’s commitment and dedicated on the part of the community, and a strong signal that they want the library and will work to maintain it in the future.

They asked me questions, ranging from whether American and Australia do better financially because we’re not involved in wars, to how much a plane ticket to Cambodia costs, to how old I was.

61 - Tea with elders IMG_7319

I aksed them about the difference the library had made in the last year, the difference in their children, their appetite and aptitude for reading. The kids loved to read – and loved to show their parents how well they could read and how they were progressing.

Goodbye

Eventually, it was time to leave. I was exhausted but happier thanI could imagine.

54 - whole school togetherA final photo to remember the trip 

Where do I go from here?

The next five days, Khanh and I would be riding mountain bikes through rural Cambodia along the Mekong river, then returning to San Francisco and Sydney.  will be blogging about the rest of the trip – the adventure had just begun.

But this is just the first step in the journey.

  • I will be kicking off a new fundraising campaign for Room to Read in the next two months – there’s so much more we can do, and Cambodia has the potential to truly change, and we can make an incredibly impact.
  • I’m setting a higher goal than anything I’ve ever considered before – I honestly don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I learned form Ted Whatley who I served with on the Breakthrough Austin board of directors, “You give until it hurts.”
  • I am planning on racing my third Ironman. My body has paid a permanent penalty from previous races, but I’m not done yet. There’s still plenty of suffering left in me.

In the end, I realized that this visit was not about me – it was about the community, and the amazing evidence of how they want a better future for their community and their children. They want their kids to grow up to be teachers. They want a better life for the next generation.


63 - Boy in library IMG_7346The reason for all of this