I made another trip to Taiwan this past September. As you will see from this article, Taiwan holds a special place in my heart and I believe it makes a wonderful vacation destination. I have been traveling to Taiwan since 1998 and lived there for 1 year in 2012. Taiwan is a well-kept travel destination secret. When I travel to Taiwan, most folks think I am in China or Japan, some think I am in Thailand. Taiwan is an island nation off the coast of China. Taiwan’s history and culture are intertwined with China and Japan. In fact, China considers Taiwan as part of their sovereign nation. Because of their varied history, Taiwan is rich with culture and tradition.

Taiwan contains a wonderful mix of big city experiences and natural adventures. Taipei is the capital of Taiwan and is the largest city. Taipei is a mixture of a modern city with some local flair. The Taipei 101 building dominates the skyline. Up until a few years ago the Taipei 101, at 1670 feet, was the tallest building in the world. It no longer holds this title, but it is still an impressive sight. The architecture is unique, and its symbol has come to represent modern Taiwan. A trip to the top of the Taipei 101 is a must do for the first-time visitor. The view is amazing and understanding the engin2012-12-25 17.14.02eering of a building that can withstand earthquakes and typhoons is very interesting.

Another must see in Taipei is the National Palace Museum. This amazing museum contains many Chinese treasures Chiang Kai Shek absconded with when he fled to Taiwan in 1949. This museum contains some of the best Chinese art and artifacts in the world.

The night markets in Taipei are a sensory overload. These markets are crowded with people and offer exotic shopping and street dining. There are several night markets in Taipei. The Shilin night market is my favorite.

Speaking of food, the cuisine in Taiwan is awesome. Since several culinary cultures have come together to form modern day Taiwan, the food choices are endless. The dim sum is a great place to start with Din Tai Fung being an important stop. 2012-12-25 12.45.52The Chinese and Japanese food in Taiwan is some of the best I have ever eaten. Plan on eating some special meals during your visit to Taiwan.

If you like hiking, Taiwan is the place to visit in Asia. The terrain is mountainous with an almost endless supply of well-maintained hiking trails near Taipei. I lived near a place called Elephant Mountain. I hiked to the top of this mountain several times a week. The wonderful thing about Elephant Mountain is the view of Taipei.IMG_1944 For longer and more intense hikes, Yangmingshan National Park is just a short distance from Taipei. When hiking in Taiwan remember it is usually hot and always humid. It is very important to bring more than enough water with you. I always carried a small towel to wipe off the seemingly endless supply of sweat.

There are plenty of great travel destinations outside of Taipei. I recommend  Sun Moon Lake as a beautiful getaway from the hustle and bustle of Taipei. This is a lake located in central Taiwan. I stayed in a hotel on the water. We took a boat trip across the island to an aboriginal town. We also went on a hike around the lake. There is plenty to do at Sun Moon Lake.

2013-01-04 12.32.28I have also visited Kenting, Taiwan. Kenting is at the southernmost point in Taiwan. This is a beach town with plenty of resort type activities. There is also a beautiful lighthouse near Kenting.

One area on my Taiwan bucket list is Taroko Gorge. I have heard wonderful things about this place from the locals. It is a bit more complicated to travel to Taroko Gorge, but the word is, it is worth the trip.

Taiwan is an easy place to visit for English speakers, and probably anyone else. The country is very modern, and crime is almost not existent. The transportation infrastructure is awesome. The Subway, or MRT, is vast and nearly always runs on schedule. The taxi service is reliable and affordable. During my last trip I discover Uber has now been introduced to Taiwan. The only mode of transportation that has challenged me is the bus. Unless you happen to know where you are via landmarks, you are likely to miss your stop a few times before sorting it all out.

Finally, what makes Taiwan very special is its people. The Taiwanese are some of the most friendly and respectful people I have ever encountered. Taiwanese are very helpful to tourists, even if they don’t speak your language, they will try to help.

If you are looking for an effortless way to experience vast elements of Asian culture, I highly recommend traveling to Taiwan!

Make the most of this day!


National Baseball Hall of Fame


The calendar tells me I am getting to the end of the best Major League Baseball year of my life. Did I mention the Astros won the world series? What better way to cap off this awesome year than to take a trip to Cooperstown, New York and visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame? The only think I could think of was taking my son with me on the trip.

As sort of a last-minute plan, we decided to make the pilgrimage to Cooperstown. Cooperstown is a wonderful place, but it is not easy to get there. With only 3 days to make the trip from Houston, obviously we were flying. The commercial airport choices for Cooperstown are Albany, New York City, and Boston. Albany is the closest, but is by far the most expensive. New York City is a little over 3 hours away by car, but the air fare to all New York airports was very high. Boston is 4 hours from Cooperstown and the December air fare was reasonable. I was also able to get a rental car for $8 per day from a reputable company.

We arrived in Boston on a Friday afternoon and begin the 4-hour drive. I have been to Boston many times but somehow forgot about the dense and congested roadways. It took us a while to get out of the city. Once on the Mass Pike, the driving was much easier. One complicating factor is the Massachusetts toll roads. There is no longer a cash option to pay tolls in Massachusetts. Supposedly they take a photo of the license plate and bill you later. My rental company indicated I could just pay the tolls later, but, there was also mentioned a lurking administration fee. I found out at the counter that this fee was $45. For me it made sense to rent an EZ Pass sensor for $4 per day, especially since we were also driving in New York. Each situation is different, but it is important to decide how you will manage tolls when driving a rental car in Massachusetts and New York.

I was concerned about the December weather in upstate New York. We were blessed with very cold temperatures, but very little snow. The roads were okay in most places. Google maps did take me on a “shortcut” over a dark, snow covered road. We were okay, but I probably should have listened to my common sense more than Google Maps.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Cooperstown, it was located about 1 mile outside of town. The hotel is fairly new and was just fine as it met my criteria of free WiFi, breakfast, and parking.

Cooperstown is a beautiful town, particularly when it is covered in snow. I have often wondered why a shrine like the Baseball Hall of Fame is in such a remote location. Once you arrive in Cooperstown, it all makes sense. Seeing the Hall of Fame building in this small-town setting makes the occasion all the more memorable.

For any baseball fan, the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum is the top of the mark. Baseball is an old sport steeped in rich history and tradition. Most of that history is on display at the museum. Replica is not a word seen very often in the Hall of Fame Museum. Everything is the real deal. You find yourself suddenly looking at Babe Ruth’s bat, Walter Johnson’s glove or Hank Aaron’s uniform. Observing the actual implements of great baseball feats seems to directly connect the visitor with the event. For the baseball fan, this place makes history come alive like nothing else. We also visited the actual Hall of Fame where we saw the plaques of recent Astro inductees Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.

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We spent the entire day at the Hall of Fame, which was just enough time. After making our souvenir purchase, we started the 4-hour drive back to Boston.

Finding a reasonably priced Hotel in Boston was more challenging. The hardest part was finding a suitable location combined with free parking. We settled on TownPlace Suites in Chelsea. This hotel was in a terrific location. The only issue was their WiFi was quirky.

Our one baseball related activity in Boston was touring Fenway Park. I have seen 3 baseball games in Fenway, but never been on a tour. Our tour started at 10am at gate D in front of Fenway. Parking at Fenway in December is easy. It was a frigid day, but we were dressed warmly for the tour. The tour guide was a lifelong Red Sox fan and spoke reverently and enthusiastically about Fenway. The highlight for me was touring the visitors’ locker room where the Astros held their celebration after winning the ALDS. Fenway seems much smaller than it appears on television. Given the trend towards building modern baseball stadiums, Fenway is a unique national treasure that can be enjoyed by all.

For the rest of the time we visited some typical Boston tourist sites. We toured The Old North Church, Bunker Hill, Old State House, USS Constitution, Kennedy Presidential Museum, and Faneuil Hall. We used Uber/Lyft to travel to most of these sites as the parking was very limited.

We also ate some great food while in Boston. One item of note was the lobster roll and clam chowder at Belle Island Seafood. The food was excellent, and the location is right on the water. Note this restaurant only takes cash.

A visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame is a must for any fan of the game. It is a bit of a challenge to getting to Cooperstown, but well worth the effort.

Make the most of this day!



I just returned from a 3-day trip to Branson Missouri. I know what some of you are thinking. Alan is moving quickly into full up, ride the bus to Branson, see the oldies show, and eat at the buffet level of retirement.  Well, that is only partially true. You see, the primary purpose of this trip was to give my mother a vacation. This was my first trip to Branson and I did have a good time. I was apprehensive about this trip based on my preconceived idea of a Branson vacation. My vision of Branson was a continuous run of country music shows attended mostly by senior citizens. This concept was somewhat correct in that there are many country music shows and I was very much on the lower end of the age spectrum which made me happy.

This blog entry will be mostly a travel review but there is a business concept I will amplify towards the end.

There is more to Branson than just country music. We saw 7 shows in 2.5 days and only 2 of them were typical country music fares. Branson is organized around a highway that is effectively a Las Vegas type strip full of restaurants, hotels, and theaters. We drove to Branson from Houston which is about a 10-hour drive. Branson does have an airport with connections to many major cities. You will need a car in Branson. I did notice that Uber was available, but I didn’t take a ride. Uber might be a good way to get around to the different shows. Especially if you are traveling with a person of limited mobility. There are many busses in Branson. Senior citizens traveled to Branson via bus from all over the country. The buses were only a problem one time when it seems every bus in town decided to go to the same show.

We stayed at the Grand Victorian Hotel. The hotel is in a great location on the strip just minutes from most attractions and restaurants. The hotel appears a bit dated but is very clean and nicely decorated. The staff was helpful in accommodating my mother and our request to be closer to the elevator. The complimentary breakfast was very good consisting of hot food and many options. I recommend this hotel as a great location to base your Branson experience.

We spent most of our time attending the 7 shows we selected. We picked shows that we thought my mother would enjoy. We saw the following shows.

Clay Cooper and his wife are talented country music artists. The show was a bit overproduced with too many dancers and special effects. The Cooper’s pushed their two sons into performing several songs. This was a particularly sad display of nepotism as neither child could consistently sing on key.

A collection of very talented country musicians. They mostly played old school country music. There was a comedian as part of the show, he was very funny. This show was simple with a minimum of special effects. Their theme was, we play country music and we play it well. This was one of my favorite shows.

This show was a throwback to the music of the 1940’s. The singers and dancers were very talented and seemed to be more Broadway like than Branson. The production was a bit strange, but the music and dancing were good.

The idea behind this show was seven very talented folks putting on a variety show. The show was focused on various musical styles spanning several decades. Of the seven folks, three of them were from the same family and were clearly the leaders of the group. This show also had a child performing but unlike the Clay Cooper show, this 12-year-old girl was very talented. I was disappointed that their treatment of the 1960s didn’t include a single Beatles song. How is that possible?

This show was a Broadway type offering focused on music and dance from the 1930s and 1940s. Many of the songs were from famous musicals. It is hard to go wrong performing songs from George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. If you like this type of music and the associated dancing, then this show is for you.

The cast is made up of six brothers who have been performing together since childhood. They are very talented singers. Their version of “Mary Did You Know” was truly awesome. This was a great show, I would see these folks again if I ever venture to back to Branson.

I saw the Oak Ridge Boys many years ago when I was in college. The boys are getting up there in age and this fact is demonstrated in their voices. Mostly they stayed on key with their voices simply sounding a bit tired. The one exception was William Lee Golden. He attempted to sing “Mary Did You Know.” It was awful, clearly William Lee needs to retire or be moved to the background. It is amazing to me that groups like this will allow such an abysmal performance to take place in front of a paying audience. Despite this performance, the loyal Oak Ridge Boys fans loved the show.

In summary, of the shows I saw, I recommend Down Home Country and Six.

Purchasing tickets for shows in Branson is an interesting experience. There are many ticket sellers both online and in Branson. Apparently, some will sell you discounted tickets if you listen to a 90-minute timeshare pitch. Selling timeshares is a widespread activity in Branson. I even saw a place that helped you get rid of a timeshare. As a side note, from a financial perspective, never buy a timeshare. I will go into more details in a future blog entry. With all the confusion surrounding ticket purchases, I decided to buy directly from the theaters. I believe you can save some money shopping different sights and perhaps waiting to buy in Branson. With my mother in tow on this trip, I decided to not to cut any corners. I bought most of our tickets ahead of time. In most cases, I was sent a voucher or confirmation number to show at the box office. Parking at the shows was never a problem. I was even able to drop my mother off at the front door of every show.

The food in Branson is mostly comfortable southern American fare. Apparently, Branson is known for their buffets and we ate at the Grand Country Buffet. The food was predictable but good. The selection was huge and of course, I ate too much. Branson provides comfort food and is not a place to go if you want to push the boundaries of your exotic culinary pleasure.

Branson may be more inviting to families with children during the summer months. I saw plenty of outdoor entertainment venues such as waterparks, miniature golf, and amusement parks. These were all closed for the season during our visit.

In summary, Branson is a great place to visit if you are a senior citizen (65 plus), enjoy country music, and are inspired by consistent patriotism. Military veterans are treated especially well by the town of Branson. Veterans were asked to stand during every show and most of the time the musical theme from every military branch was played. I suspect Branson is also a great place for families, but I did not experience this perspective directly.

Now for a brief business analogy based on the shows I attended. There seems to be an attempt to raise the bar of Branson entertainment by adding dancers and special effects. While this effort is temporarily interesting, there is no substitute for talent. The shows I liked best had the most talented singers and musicians. Some of the singers were not even able to stay on key. If I pay money to see a musical entertainer, I expect them to sing on key at a minimum. Talented performers can easily overcome a lack of glamorous production and special effects. It is hard to hide a lack of talent, even with all the special effects and autotune in the world.

In my corporate career, I hired many people over the years. I was also involved in developing effective processes so we could deliver products on time and with the right level of quality. While developing a good process is important, hiring the best talent is more important. I have seen good processes fail due to the efforts of marginally talented people. I have seen marginal processes work fine when managed by top talent. Ideally the goal is both great talent and processes, however, talent always supersedes process. When hiring employees, always focus on getting the most talented person possible. A few times in my career I became lazy and filled a critical role with whoever was hanging around. I always regretted these moves. Push yourself hard to always hire and retain the best talent, you will never regret it.

Make the most of this day!


I am an avid baseball fan and have attended many games in the USA from little league to the major leagues. I am also a lifelong Astros fan so I am very excited about the upcoming ALCS games against the Yankees. A few weeks ago, I attended a baseball game in Taipei Taiwan. This was my first appearance at a game outside the USA and it had a profound effect on my traditional view of baseball games.

Baseball is known as a laid-back sport. While there is plenty of action and excitement, there are also more lethargic times as well. Examples of action and excitement are; home runs, scoring plays, and great fielding. In contrast, examples of lethargy are; visits to the mound, throws to first base, and pitching changes. The crowd’s excitement in baseball ebbs and flows with the action, or lack of action, on the field. Unlike football, there are no bands or cheerleaders in baseball, at least this was my belief prior to attending the game in Taiwan.

During my stay in Taiwan, I mentioned to one of my students that I like baseball. He asked if I would like to go see a game between the Lions and the Monkeys. These teams are part of the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in Taiwan and they were scheduled to play in a few days. I agreed to go to the game. I had heard these games in Taiwan were different from the US brand of baseball and I found this premise to be true.

The stadium looked like a minor league stadium from the USA. The field was well kept and the stands were full. One of the first unusual things I noticed was a section for the band. There was also an area above each dugout for the cheerleaders. As the game started, the cheering started and never stopped. In fact, after the game as we walked to our car about a mile away, we could still hear the victorious Lions crowd cheering away into the night. When I say cheers, I mean intensely organized cheers for each player. I have never seen such an enthusiastic and raucous crowd.

Taiwan Baseball Cheering Video

(Note you may need to click on the video a couple of times to get the audio to play)

The baseball was very good, it compares to AA ball in the USA. Overall the experience of baseball in Taiwan was wonderful. The most enduring element I took away from the game was the enthusiasm shown by the crowd. The crowd’s enthusiasm was constant during the good and bad plays. The fans never left their team or player’s virtual side. The crowd’s team loyalty was absolute.

Enthusiasm goes a long way to making life better. Showing enthusiasm during difficult times can ease pain and provide hope. I have also found enthusiasm to be effective in filling my gaps in talent and intelligence. I have a natural tendency towards sarcasm that can sometimes lead to negative comments and ideas. I constantly fight this tendency and have found demonstrating enthusiasm a great remedy.

Admittedly at times, it is hard to show enthusiasm. Towards the end of my career at Hewlett-Packard, it seemed like we were working on age-old problems I had seen many times. With my “vast experience” I believed I had seen it all and many of the solutions suggested by my colleagues seemed old and tired. After all, we had tried these things many times over the years. I became jaded and cynical at work and I am sure this attitude was evident to my co-workers. I regret the missed opportunities to show enthusiasm to my co-workers during this time of my career.

How do we show enthusiasm when we don’t feel like it? One way is to be a constant encourager to those around us. We can also have a positive attitude and focus on the bright side of life. Encouragement is a wonderful gift we should learn to distribute no matter the circumstances. Like most action plans that make the world a better place, showing enthusiasm requires us to put the needs of others ahead of ourselves. It is amazing how many problems selflessness solves. Think about your actions over the past few days, have been enthusiastic?

Make the most of this day!