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Archive for May, 2010

 

Recently I received almost 50 handwritten letters on brightly colored paper from the younger kids at A New Day Cambodia (ANDC).  The letters are warm and curious(How much do you weigh?  How many brothers and sisters?  Why you like ride a bike?)  

While it’s easy for me to get caught up in the minutia — training, gear, logistics, nutrition — of my cycling adventure three weeks before liftoff, these letters remind me what TransAmerica 2010 is all about.    

Naturally I want to complete the physical challenge of a coast-to-coast bike ride.  

But much more importantly, I have committed to raise at least US$30,000 to benefit the 96 kids who are under the care and nurturing of A New Day Cambodia.   On that count and including pledges I am about 2/3 the way there, with more than 40 contributors so far.  Thank you all.  There’s much gratitude to everyone who supports this mission the kids at ANDC.  The  funds I raise will help cover A New Day Cambodia’s general operating and educational expenses.  These contributions will have a very material impact on the lives, and the future, of some remarkable children. 

A New Day Cambodia, through education, gives children who would otherwise have to scavenge the municipal dump to help support their families a shot at a middle class, poverty-free future….a future for them and their families.  This doesn’t solve the poverty situation in Cambodia, but one child and one family at a time, it begins to make a difference.  In the long run, a very big difference.  That’s what I find so inspiring and hopeful about A New Day Cambodia and why I signed up to help out.

In January I visited A New Day Cambodia’s two centers in Phnom Penh and have been in frequent communication with their Executive Director and with the Founders since.  Almost on a daily basis now I get a message from one of the kids, such as this one:-

Hello Todd
How are you? I am fine.
I have two brother and one sister. How many brother and sister do you have? My birthday is on Wednesday the 24 of April 2010. And you? How long when you ride a bicycle? Did you like bicycle? I like bicycle too. When I can drive a small bicycle I 7 years old. Thank you for your work to ANDC and good luck for you to drive bicycle.
Love Seangly

Helping to give 7 year old Seangly, and many kids like him, a chance of a better life puts everything into perspective.  So that I don’t lose sight of this big picture, I shall carry some of the notes from the ANDC children with me on my mile by mile journey across America.

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La La Land

 

Just returned from a whirlwind week in La La Land.  I was in town for the LA Screenings, one of the busiest and important weeks on the international television calendar.   Screenings week is television’s version of Fashion Week, an occasion when all the studios preview their new shows to international buyers.  These new shows will soon start production and will eventually be broadcast on a screen near you.  I spent the last week going from studio to studio watching a parade of new television shows:  some good, some bad, and a few just dreadful.   It sounds like fun but I assure you it is very hard work, especially sitting through a number of insipid comedies.  

My broad impression of the new ’10/’11 television season:  on balance, a mediocre crop of shows.  The US networks are playing it safe this year without much creative risk-taking.   After watching about 50 pilots, I find the industry truism holds true – it’s easier to spot the losers and much more difficult to identify the winners.  For the new TV season there’s no apparent breakthrough, game-changing show.  The product is still drama-heavy with crime and legal procedurals and while the number of comedies is up, the quality of the comedies is way down. 

LA Screenings is much more than just watching a mind-numbing amount of new television product.   There are many meetings, internal and external.  Evenings involve business dinners and an occasional studio party.   I went to two such gigs.   Disney had an upfront presentation on Sunday night in which they brought out all the talent of their new shows (including  Forrest Whittaker, Dana Delaney, Michael Chiklas).  

The blowout evening of the week goes to Warner Bros, who threw a freakish, edgy, and over-the-top bash on two large outdoor sets on their Burbank studio lot.    It was a Wild West meets risque circus theme which included a spank room in a church on the set.  Two dominatrixes, a photographer, and lots of onlookers were on hand for a spanking good time with WB’s willing guests.  I did some spanking and have a photo to prove it, but I’m not sure whom it hurt more .  Later, one of the WB execs told me she’s considered the top dominatrix in the United States.  Not sure how, exactly, that is determined.

 

Then there’s the food, which ranges from American comfort (In-N-Out burgers and Pink’s hot dogs) to more upscale fare.   On one dinner at the Peninsula Hotel I ordered a steak and received half a cow.   Other dinner highlights included Koi, an uber-trendy Japanese place in WeHo; Frida’s in Bev Hills;  and James Beach in Venice, home of the famous  grilled mahi mahi tacos.     

No trip to LA is complete without a tally of semi-star sightings.   Maggie Q and William H Macy, whom I think is one of the biz’s finest actors, were at the WB party.   There was plenty of recognizable but not famous talent (eg the girl from V, the guy from Lost season 1) and a sprinkling of reality faces.  I saw Guliana & Bill, of E! fame, at the Pen leaving in his and her cars.   

On my way to LAX I squeezed in a dash of culture at the LACMA and Broad Contemporary Art museums.  After a week of driving around in LA and packing in 18 hour plus days, with very little exercise, I was exhausted and slept for most of the 14-hour flight back across the Pond.  La La Land is one place I just have no interest in going native.  Very happy to be back home and in the real world.

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A Busy Day

 

Hong Kong:   My Saturday began with a 6:15am meeting of the SIA’s, the South Island Amigos.   We cycled from Pok Fu Lam to Shek O, up Satellite Hill — a short and nastily steep hill that takes the breath away — then on to then Peak.   Due to low and thick clouds, we didn’t summit the very top of the Peak, so after returning to Pok Fu Lam I did  some extra credit and cycled up Mt Davis Path.  In total this morning’s ride covered 44 miles with a 4400 foot elevation gain. 

In the afternoon one of my cyclist friends and I made the pilgrimage to Flying Ball.  It’s always an adventure driving to this bike shop in Kowloon.  I dropped my bike off for comprehensive servicing to make sure my gear is in tip top shape for the big ride.   I bought a new Mavic wheelset and tires, chains, cables, brake pads and loaded up on Gu, among other stuff.  It was a productive and expensive visit.

In between all this I did manage some quality time with my son, who was occupied for much of the afternoon at a friend’s birthday party.  Yup, his social life is far more robust than mine.  Fortunately, my son managed to squeeze in time for an early dinner with Dada.

Tonight I head to Los Angeles on a midnight-ish flight.   For the next week I won’t do any cycling.  With exactly one month away before I start TransAmerica 2010, a weeklong trip to Los Angeles and all the attendant jet lag and dinners and meetings and screenings and parties (this is Hollywood, after all) is the last thing I need.  Or want.

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Some parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, enjoy a holiday today to celebrate the Buddha’s Birthday.   I planned to use the occasion to cycle another century on Lantau island.   So this morning I drove out to Lantau — a 35-minute journey involving one tunnel, two bridges, and lots of highway.   After arriving on Lantau and slathering sun protection all over, I realized that I managed to bring all sorts of cycling crap with me, but one essential item remained at home:  my helmet  In my rule book, no helmet = no cycling. 

Less than five minutes after arriving , I drove back home — and greased up with Banana Boat for the return trip.  What a waste of a good morning.  So enter Plan B:   a leisurely ride up to the Peak  followed by a an even more leisurely Starbucks coffee break.  I returned home for lunch and to mayhem, as my son had a playdate with three school friends at the house.   That was enough to motivate me to concentrate on the hills of nearby Pok Fu Lam.  Up and down and up and down.  In the end I only managed a fraction of my original mileage goal.

For me riding safely is top priority.   Safety especially resonates right now because I just returned from Singapore, where I understand three cycling deaths  have occurred in the past five months.   For a place as small as Singapore, I consider that an epidemic.

My cycling safety rules:

– Always ride with a helmet

– Never ride at dark

– Follow all traffic rules

– No Ipod/personal music player

It amazes me how many cyclists do not follow these simple safety precautions.

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The Un-Diet Diet

 

Folks, I want to share with you a little secret about a diet I’ve recently discovered.  Results are guaranteed and it’s very easy to follow.   Move over Atkins.  Get out of the way South Beach.   Introducing The Un-Diet Diet.  This is how it works:-

You eat whatever you want, as much as you want, whenever you want.   You prefer to drink your calories?   Cheers.  Treat yourself to desert; enjoy seconds even.  Pile on extra cheese on that burger.   Carbs are encouraged.  Counting calories is so 1980’s.  With The Un-Diet Diet it’s not about minimizing, but maximizing, intake.    Grazing — eating five or six times a day — is almost essential.  Dieting doesn’t get much simpler than this, does it? 

There’s also a side benefit to the Un-Diet Diet.  Knowing you can have whatever you want, whenever you want psychologically suppresses the appetite for most things that aren’t really good for you anyway; the forbidden fruit becomes much less tasty.  

There is one teeny-weeny detail — a technicality, really — that also merits mention.  For The Un-Diet Diet to work, cycling about 150 to 200 miles a week, up and down hills and in mid-day sun, is de rigueur.   But that minor technicality aside, this diet really does work wonders.

Bon appetit!   I am in Singapore for about 30 hours and heading to Cafe Iguana for a good Mexican fix.

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Attached is an article which appears in today’s China Daily about TransAmerica 2010 and A New Day Cambodia.  This is the first of a series of articles in the Hong kong press about this project. 

Changing the world one spoke at a time

(HK Edition)
Updated: 2010-05-18 07:15
     
 Changing the world one spoke at a time  

Todd Miller plans to cycle across the northern US to raise money for A New Day Cambodia, a children’s charity that focuses on education and nutrition in that country. Provided to China Daily  

  

Todd Miller’s need to speed: his bicycle link to Cambodia’s neediest kids. Elizabeth Kerr reports.  

When you heard about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami what did you do about it? How about the 2008 Sichuan earthquake? Haiti? You may have been moved to action by the devastation caused by all three events, and little evokes check-writing more than natural disasters, but we all know there’s more to charity than responding to Mother Nature’s tantrums.  

Cue Todd Miller. Hailing from Kentucky, soft-spoken and reasonably unflappable Miller is busy drumming up awareness for his upcoming summer vacation, which is no mere holiday, since Miller is also on a mission to help 100 or so children in Cambodia break free from a cycle of poverty.  

Miller, an unassuming, youthful fortysomething has been living in Asia for the past two decades. Like many non-natives, his arrival in Asia was prosaic and based on curiosity, “Which to me is the best reason,” Miller reasons. With the exception of a business school stint back the United States and five years in Singapore, he’s lived in Hong Kong the entire time. “We all come back to Hong Kong eventually,” he muses.  

So Miller finds himself in the midst of making plans for a cycling trip across the northern US for the dual purpose of vacationing and raising awareness for A New Day Cambodia (ANDC), a children’s charity that focuses on education and nutrition. He’s doing this by riding over 5,800 kilometers from the Pacific to the Atlantic on a 10-speed – and if things go his way, he’ll also raise $30,000. The whole trip will take 50 days at just around 125 kilometers per day. As Miller sees it, “No one cycles 3,600 miles without some kind of reason. It’s not a typical vacation … I’m told a fair number of people do in fact adopt a cause and use this as a fundraising event.” Miller gets to fulfill a personal cycling goal at the same time as doing something for a kid’s charity, another long-held desire. “For me it’s about trying to accomplish – in true multi-tasking Hong Kong fashion – several things in one activity … It would be hard for me to imagine doing what I’m doing without a purpose,” he says.  

Miller has been distance cycling for years, and does in fact train right here in Hong Kong; the island’s south side, Tai O (“world class cycling with the exception of the double-deckers”) and Shek O are favorite spots. The stars aligned when a perfect cycling vacation coincided with his son’s school break. Then it was simply a matter of finding a worthy cause. ANDC resonated with Miller because of its emphasis on education. “Charity isn’t just about donating money,” he says. “It’s about trying to provide a solution. And I believe the solution for poverty is through education.” Miller took a series of trips to Cambodia to see what ANDC was all about, and the last piece of the puzzle fell into place.  

So the question is why Cambodia? Why isn’t Miller putting his time and energy into poverty at “home”- be that Hong Kong or Kentucky? Miller agrees that it’s a valid question if not that simple to answer. “I think in Hong Kong, as affluent as it is, we tend to forget that there is significant need. It comes down to personal passion. For me, to be able to speak with conviction there has to be a certain amount of passion.”  

Changing the world one spoke at a time  

So why ANDC, particularly when, in Miller’s words, there’s no scarcity of worthwhile causes in Asia? “I was trying to find an organization where I knew I could make a difference. That meant something younger, less established, where I could add value.” As he sees it, $30,000 for Oxfam isn’t going to move the needle. Ultimately his choice was an amalgam of personal reasons. Miller had been to Cambodia on numerous occasions before coming across ANDC, and was struck by a complex and sticky socio-political history that, admittedly, “maybe the US has played a not so glorious role in.” Miller by no means suffers an excess of liberal guilt, but he is willing and able to realize he may be on the hook to contribute to the larger picture. “I didn’t set out to do anything charitable … but I was already predisposed to help.”  

While raising any level of consciousness or awareness on either continent is ideal, Miller is not evangelizing and doesn’t even want to. “I’m not going to be cycling across America with a dish out saying ‘Please give!'” he reveals with a laugh, novel though that sounds. “I recognize that times are difficult and that not everyone’s inclined to give. My approach is to just do something. It’s so easy to not take extra time or effort to try and give back in some way. This is my way of giving back (and) if it inspires someone else to do something, then I think this will be of great benefit.” Just don’t hand him cash. Miller is avoiding dealing with finances and recommends people donate directly to ANDC or to local partner Variety Hong Kong.  

As time-consuming and training-intensive as Miller’s trip sounds, he doesn’t think he’s part of a minority anymore. He’s privileged, in that his employer, Sony Pictures Entertainment gave him the leave he needed. (How did he swing two months off work? “I asked,” he explained crisply.) But Miller honestly believes there’s a sea change coming, pointing to a general shift away from the last two decades’ unfettered selfish consumption. Technology like Facebook and Twitter have made getting the word out about worthy causes easier, and he dismisses worries of donor fatigue. In addition donating has rarely been simpler: Look at the contributions to Haiti relief efforts thanks to help from mobile providers.  

But the urge to “give back” now transcends cash donations. Miller theorizes that “the economic crisis, for rich or poor, has caused things to realign. I think people are going back to basics, and becoming a bit more humane and aware. I see it among my peers trying to get back and make a difference.” Any number of factors could be driving what Miller sees as a full-on movement, the so-called touchy-feely Obama era among them. “I really feel there’s a movement on a global scale,” he thinks. Bottom line it’s hip to give again.  

You can follow Todd Miller’s trip via his blog at transamerica2010.wordpress.com and donation information can be found at Variety Hong Kong, http://www.varietyhk.org/about and A New Day Cambodia, http://www.anewdaycambodia.org.  

Changing the world one spoke at a time  

(HK Edition 05/18/2010

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Panic Attack!

 

35 days before I start pedaling.   Now that I can count on one hand the number of weeks away, this bike ride is getting up close and way too personal.     How in the heck did summer creep up so quickly?  Where’s the rewind button on the calendar, anyway?

  

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