Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Startup Weekend in China: Recent Strides in Community Growth

Since the last update, we’ve had a very productive several weeks. There were 6 SW events around China: Hainan, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Xiamen. December and early January have scheduled events in Shanghai, Qingdao and Chengdu. And several new cities are in final planning stages before we got public with those. Community growth is looking strong with new cities and community leaders in existing and new cities. We are seeing greater efforts with engaging Chinese students and universities. Social media engagement is improving as well as better understanding of where to find our target participants and partners, who to talk to, and how to build a following.

Our China-wide sponsorship drive is officially in full swing. We are in talks with a few sponsors and are nearly the final stages for signing our first national sponsors. These sponsors will help us pay for China operations and make us a self-sufficient region. Currently we are working to establish a tech sponsorship and business/office space sponsor as well as formalize a partnership/sponsorship with an incubator/accelerator. We have had great successes with the cooperations with US Consulates in Chengdu and Shanghai.

Travel-wise, I facilitated one bootcamp and one Startup Weekend event in Chengdu and traveled to Shanghai for meetings and Chinaccelerator Demo day. At the end of November in Shanghai, I was able to connect with the local SW Shanghai team and a legend of the Taiwan Startup Weekend community Volker Heistermann who was also in town.

December and January will be busy for me and our Startup Weekend / UP Global operations in China. I’ll be faciliating and connecting with events in Shanghai, Qingdao and Chengdu. Chengdu event in January in particular will represent our first government-led event.

Each of these three cities represents a “hub” in a particular region around which we are building several new teams in new cities. We are certain these places will help us grow in new geographic regions in China.

While China is often described as one of the biggest markets in the world, in reality China is a country of multiple markets, regions, cultures and languages. Our strategy aims to empower local leaders region by region, city by city to guide our growth and development into 2015.

I look forward to sharing more soon in our next China Progress Report in 2015!

Startup Weekend in China: Going Forward

September 2014: Officially in China: In order to improve operations, target new areas of growth and development and adapt to China, in September 2014, UP Global in Seattle, USA launched its first official initiative in China by bringing on me as its “Community Development Manager” for China.

My mission is to help adapt our model, mission and programs to China and from their scale our growth accordingly. I’m focused on Startup Weekend as key first step but will expand work on Startup Digest (our newsletter of curated content for startup community), Startup Next (our pre-accelerator program), and eventually Startup Education.

Re-Engaging China

I came back to China officially about a month ago. This time is different. It’s not simply a journey of discovery or a pass-through during my international wanderings. It’s not even just about improving my Chinese.

This time I’m committing to and re-enaging with being in China. I have a project, a reason, a focus. I’m not just here to be here. I’m here to try and change something thing, to develop something, to innovate on something.

This is the story of my re-engagement with China and my new job with Startup Weekend China.

Re-Engaging My Chinese Learning

Editor’s note: A couple of days ago I wrote a journal entry about my Chinese studies and why and how I was going to be re-engaging my learning. It seemed like a fitting topic to clean up and share. For all those language hackers out there, check out my on-going project HackingLanguage, where I’m writing about language hacks and building cool tools for my fellow language hackers.

It seems like I’m regularly relaunching my Chinese studies. Chinese is a hard nut to crack. It’s definitely not a language for the feint at heart nor a language that is easily hacked.

To be honest, Chinese is a language that regularly kicks my ass, and even after studying for quite some time, there seems to still be so much more to learn and master.

Chinese learning just takes time and energy. As a self-learner and overly-committed guy, it’s not surprising that sometimes my dedication to studying Chinese lags behind and I have to rededicate myself to my Chinese studies.

Here I go again.

My Journey as a Digital Nomad

Who we are depends on many factors, but one of the key parts in my mind is how you define yourself. In a constantly changing world, self-definitions are important part of one’s journey from who we are and were to who we become and will be.

We take on roles, work on jobs, and develop skills, but ultimately we define ourself as we want others to see us and how we wish see ourselves.

Over the past couple years, I’ve been extremely privileged to re-define myself multiple times. These new titles, labels, skills, and responsibilities are part of my “baggage.”

Over my recent journeys, one identification in particular has stuck to me: digital nomad.

In short, a “digital nomad” is someone who uses an internet connection to do various types of work remotely, like from home, coffee shops, hotels or whoever you can be connected AND also conduct one’s life a nomadic or traveling way.

Here’s how I become a digital nomad.

A Digital Nomad in Isla Mujeres: Diving and Whale Sharks

Isla Mujeres is a place that’s easy to miss when planning a trip to the Yucatan peninsula. But, after a recent excursion on the island, I’d argue that it’s a place not to be missed for various kinds of travelers like divers, snorkels, relaxed-pace travelers or digital nomads like myself.

For as much as I travel, I generally don’t spend that much time planning, but instead read some quick overviews, figure out a travel route, and then just go-for-it. I can figure it out along the way better anyways. For my second trip to Yucatan Peninsula (the first being nearly 9 year ago!), I headed to a small island across the bay from Cancun in southern Mexico: Isla Mujeres, which is Spanish for “Island of Women.”

After landing in Cancun airport around noon, I decided to skip staying in Cancun and headed directly to the Isla Mujeres. This proved to be a fortuitous choice.

The Kickass Time Ratio: My Equation for Calculating Efficient Time Usage

I track my time pretty obsessively. It’s part of my toolkit of productivity techniques and applications.

It also helps me to calculate my “kickass time” ratio according to my “badass time equation for efficient time usage.”

There are some great tools for time tracking. My favorites are Toggl for manual tracking and RescueTime for passive, computer-usage tracking. I’m an active user of both these services as well as other simpler time trackers. I’m also building a more focused time and activity tracker for language learners.

Both of these services allow me to create a clear portrait of my “spent” time during the past week, month and year. But the data I get from each method is different and, as such, it has allowed me to create a simple equation for determining how productive or efficient my time usage was during a particular period.

You could call it a way to calculate how productive you were during a week but I prefer to call it the kickass time ratio. To summarize, I take my manually tracked time and divide it by passively record, computer time to then determine a time usage ratio or the kickass time ratio. The higher ratio means I was more kickass that past week; a lower ratio means I was less kickass or just plain sucked.

Here’s what I record and how and my “badass” equation to determine my weekly time-spent-kickass-ness.

Tioman Island Travel and Diving: Tech Travel Advice

To summarize: 10 dives in 5 days over 6 days in Tioman. Beautiful weather, clear visibility and an ocean of wonders.

Like some of great places I’ve arrived at when traveling, Tioman Island started as a few day reservation, which then extended into a much longer stay. I had reserved for 3 nights but ended up staying over a week.

I’m currently in Malaysia, where I’ve spent a nice travel and work time in Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Johor Bahru and most recently I’ve settled in Singapore for the next month or so (perhaps longer).

Tioman Island is something special, located in the southern part of Malaysia, along the Eastern coast. It’s primarily Malay and situated over some of the nice coral diving in the area. Tioman may not quite be heaven but it’s so far from it either.

Here are some thoughts for the tech and general traveler about getting there, where to stay, where you might dive and some tips for staying connected on this jungle island.

Inbox Zen: Inbox Zero, a Year Later

It’s been a bit over a year since I moved towards a life strategy of “inbox zero,” meaning cleaned out my inbox of thousands of messages and end each day with zero messages in my email inbox. I no longer let my email messages hang around as undefined and stress-producing “stuff.”

Instead, I process by email by: either responding immediately, deleting or storing a message appropriately or moving task emails into my task management for dealing with it at the right time.

While it might sound somewhat trivial, converting to a work-style of “inbox zero” has been one of my most beneficial life changes this past year. I have less stress, more focused thinking and generally more productive.

I’m less convinced about the technological tools and apps for better email handling, like Mailbox, since I think good email management comes through persistent habits rather than some technological panacea.

Obviously the first and most painful step to converting your email management to “inbox zero” is the big cleanup. If you get a lot of emails and aren’t particularly diligent about managing them, then I’m sure your inbox is rather out of control. My advice is to move all messages over a month old into a new folder, then slowly try to go through all of the messages from the last month. Be ruthless.

Once you’ve cleaned up your inbox, it’s just a question of be disciplined. I no longer just read my email. I process my emails a couple times a day. For me “processing” emails is a bit different than reading and responding. Processing means I tag emails that need responding later, deleting crap and then consider what I need to do next. If it’s time to respond or work on something, then deal with those emails and tasks in my TODO list.

For a digital nomad like myself, optimizing my email workflow has been one of the largest de-stresses over the last year. Email can be a huge demotivator, and one can be easily tempted to responding to email, instead of actually getting stuff done. Email has a place but it’s our job to define what place it takes in our work life.

Obviously Inbox Zero only aims to improve one side of the equation: email reception. Unfortunately, it’s all to easy to just “send an email.” In my opinion, we actually acerbate the collective email problem by emailing more and with little forethought.

Personally, cleaning up my inbox not only clarified my ability to thinking; it has made me productive and creative.

Now I just need to figure out how to convince people to email only when it’s truly relevant to the receiver and when the message and follow required are clear.

Then, I’ll have reached not just Inbox Zero but Inbox Zen.

Romanization and Memorable New Words: Reflections on Hacking My Initial Studies of Korean

I’ve been teaching myself Korean for a bit more than a month. Among the other languages I’ve attempted to learn recently, Korean definitely ranks up there in terms of difficulty. It’s not quite as hard as Chinese, but the grammar is more noticeable and its alphabet is special.

While one day I may want to pursue high-level mastery, my initial Korean studies, like Burmese, focused on “hacking” the language, i.e. I wanted to acquire enough vocabulary, pronunciation proficiency and speaking structures to survive the most common speaking situations I’ll encounter. I don’t yet have any travel plans to Korea, but I hope to visit South Korea sometime in the late spring or summer.

Ideally, to learn any foreign language you need to master a number of aspects including speaking, listening, reading, and writing as well as acquiring lots of vocabulary, speaking structures and grammar.

For me, I think vocabulary is key. Learn enough words and phrases and you can get through a lot. This includes vocabulary as comprehensive input (hearing and understanding) and understood expressions (speaking to be understood). Unfortunately Korean’s vocabulary is unrelated to nearly all other languages, so initially there is a lot of “noise” before you get to some guessable meaning.

Adding to the difficulty of a comparatively alien vocabulary (at least in relation to other European languages), Korean also has its own alphabet. It’s confusing for an early learner, and makes it cumbersome to review and type in the mobile, computer age.

Fortunately, in spite of its geographical size (South Korea is the 106th largest country in the world and slightly smaller than Iceland), a lot of people are learning Korean, which means great and free resources for nearly all type of learning whether academic or self-study.

Here are three short reflections on: 1. Finding My Preferred Learning Resource (TTMIK), 2. Using Romanization to overcome challenges with Korean Alphabet (Hangul), and 3. How I Built Stronger Memories using Visual Mems and Puns (Memrise).

Hopefully it can help other learners of Korean and people generally interested in foreign language learning.