2011 was the most nomadic year of my life, a seamless mix of interesting projects with amazing colleagues at McKinsey & Company and weekend adventures around the globe. I was based in Shanghai for most of the year as part of a professional rotation, worked on projects in China, Mongolia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Georgia (the nation), explored 35 countries, and then moved back to Atlanta. The travel has been always exhilerating, rarely exhausting, and often enchanting. It is amazing the variety of experiences you can have with two suits, a pair of well worn khakis and flannel shirt, and high performing workout tights that pack well and look ridiculous. For a visual of the tracks I made this year, check out this travel map.
Living in Shanghai was an unforgettable experience, and I’m sure China will continue to play a role in my life and professional interests going forward. The energy there is palpable and I was privileged to befriend wonderful locals and expats alike. I made some language progress: at least enough Mandarin to get by in restuarants/direct taxis/haggle in a market, and when I was serving a local client, was even almost able to make a joke once.
While it was great to adventure abroad, there is nothing like being back in Atlanta and the US, from sweet tea & BBQ to friends I’d not seen in over a year. One thing that I didn’t even realize I missed about home is simply the ability to connect with strangers with the same fluency of language. Truly unlucky for my taxi driver from the airport when I landed back home … we (I) didn’t stop yakking for a good 45 minutes!
Highlights of this year have included:
- Climbing the steepest and most dangerous mountain in China in the middle of the night in the middle of the winter by myself. It was adrenaline-pumping, toe-freezing, determination-challenging, and worth the view of the sunrise at the top.
- Visiting most of the Central Asian “Stans”, including a pilgrimage to my Papa’s birthplace in Unkhayat, Uzbekistan in honor of his 60th birthday. Best parts were meeting former nurses in their 80s who worked with my doctor grandfather and midwife grandmother 60+ years ago, calling my dad to wish happy birthday from the small room where he was born, and entertaining my hosts’ offer of a bride over a bowl of traditional wheat pudding.
- Being the first foreigner ever to compete in Naadam, Mongolia’s national wrestling tournament. Though the average match lasts 15 seconds, against the second ranked wrestler, I lasted a good 45 seconds. The secret was avoiding my opponent for the first 40 of those. Celebrated with a boiled sheeps head for dinner washed down with fermented horse milk vodka.
- Completing a 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat in Indonesia. Truly an amazing experience: waking at 4am each day, meditating for 12 hours with short breaks, not eating after noon, and avoiding speech and eye contact. Still trying to keep up my meditation practice as it can be an incredibly powerful mental tool, and Papa thought it was interesting enough to have just completed the course on his own! More detailed account of my experience here.
- Traveling with Mama, Papa, and Jenny across China, again with Jenny in Malaysia, and meeting new baby cousins in Atlanta and Portland.
- Attending Game 7 of the World Series with my cousin Jon and cheering our childhood team the St. Louis Cardinals winning the championship in Busch Stadium!
- Closing out the year with backpacking through Central America: exploring epic ruins, relaxing on pristine beaches, and hiking/rafting/zipping through the jungle.
Very much looking forward to what 2012 will bring!