I came back about two weeks ago after spending a week and half in Japan with my family. One of my sisters lives in Chiba, and she got married on the 4th! It was a beautiful ceremony.
We spent a week before the wedding touring around some of Japan's most famous sights. Because there were 22 of us (a lot of the bride and grooms friends came from the US for the wedding, too!) we rented a charter bus to take us around for the week before the wedding. My sister and her fiancée planned the trip to a tee, so the whole thing went incredibly smoothly. And even though I'd been to visit my sister in Japan for Christmas 2012, it seemed like most of what we saw was completely new.
All in all, it was an awesome trip that we all had a blast on. So thanks to my sister and her new husband, and I wish them the best on their new life together! And in honor of the excellent trip they organized, here are my top five memories from the whole thing.
1. Fuji Sengen Shrine.
A 600-year-old Shinto shrine a short drive away from Fuji-san itself. Of all the temples and shrines we visited on the trip, this was definitely my favorite. It's not crowded like the Meiji temple (located in the heart of Tokyo) or Toshogu (a world heritage site), so I could enjoy the tranquility of the space more. And is it tranquil! To get to it, you pass under the first Shinto gateway and onto a long, unpaved footpath through a forest of Japanese cedars, flanked by mossy stone lanterns. The walk there seems to quiet the mind and prepare the spirit for the shrine itself. At the end of the footpath, a bridge takes you gently over a brook that flows so smoothly that it whispers rather than babbles. It is the perfect transition into the shrine complex itself, which seems so much at ease and in rapport with the forest and the stream that it would be hard to imagine one without the other. By the time you reach it, you're now attuned to the spirituality and majesty designed into the shrine. I'd say it is hard to visit the shrine and not feel spiritually cleansed afterwards. Traditional Japanese architecture and landscaping was truly genius in this respect.
2. Traditional Japanese inn and hot springs on the Angry Ogre River
About halfway through the trip we stayed for a night at an inn on the Kinugawa, or Angry Ogre, river. The place was both a traditional Japanese inn and a hot springs bath. It was an incredibly pleasant experience because, besides being relaxing, the whole thing was very immersive. The rooms don't have any Western-style furniture. Instead, guests sit on the floor on low tables and sleep on futons. They brought us Japanese-style robes to wear while we were at the inn . My sister told me what they were called, but I forgot to write down the names. Anyway, once we got checked in, we headed down to the hot springs baths. This being a Japanese hot springs, that meant segregated baths for men and women, as they can only be used while naked. Once you get used to it, it's pretty awesome- especially the views over the Angry Ogre river. When we arrived, it had just started to sprinkle, so we chose the outdoor bath over the indoor one. The softly cascading rain made a comfortable contrast to the hot springs.
After drying off and changing back into our robes, it was time for dinner, again in a very traditionally Japanese fashion. That meant again sitting on the floor as they brought out tray after tray of food: all kinds of raw fish, fermented vegetables, soups, and rice. Many in the group were turned off by how "weird" (to us) most of the food was, but this was easily my favorite meal because of the whole experience that went into it. All said, I could have easily spent a week at that place!
3. Singing karaoke in Chiba
This was the closest thing the groom got to a bachelor's party. Basically, all the guys went one night to sing Karaoke at an all-you-can-drink karaoke place. Unlike in the US, in Japan you rent a private room by the hour or half-hour for your party and they bring whatever snacks and drinks you order directly to you. And since it was all-you-can-drink, we kept the drinks coming. I lost count of how many rounds we ordered, but even without them we would have had a great time. The groom's friends visiting from the US, five guys in all, were old friends and had no problem letting go and just having a good time- one of the good things about having a private room! That set the mood for the whole night, and soon we were all dancing, crooning out lyrics, and laughing hysterically.
Afterwards we went back to the hotel around midnight, but somehow me and one of my brother-in-laws wound up at a late night Ramen restaurant just around the corner, where we had a surprisingly deep conversation about the meaning of life. I say that given how much we drank, to anyone who understood English at the restaurant we must have been pretty funny. He and I laughed about it the next morning (me with a horrendous hangover). But you know what? Our Ramen Shop Philosophizing was a great way to end the night.
4. Nikko Edo Wonderland park
Nikko Edo is a theme park made to look like a 17th century Japanese village. Though the park was aimed at kids, we still had a good time here! We went the day after the Inn & Hot Springs, and the weather was perfect: sunny, warm and breezy.
I liked it because of how interactive it was. We learned the basics of katana fighting, archery, shuriken-throwing, and even dueled with "samurai" in the streets. A couple of the girls in our party dressed up in Kimonos, and a few of us guys went on a ninja-training obstacle course that we failed miserably at.
It was also fun for me because I was finishing up Shogun, the book by James Clavell set in early 17th Century Japan. So I could actually walk through a "17th Century village"- in theme park form, granted, but fun and enjoyable nonetheless.
Since I mentioned Shogun- I started reading on the airplane to Japan and I'd say it made the whole trip more enjoyable. Besides being an excellent book in its own right, it also gave a lot of insight into the history of Japan and where modern Japanese culture evolved from. Highly recommended read, especially if you're planning on visiting Japan!
5. The wedding itself!
I'm running out of sisters to watch get married off. Plus, there's something about seeing a sister (or any loved one, for that matter) walking down the aisle that just makes the tears flow.
It was a Western-style wedding, which apparently are very popular in Japan, held at a place called Camelot Hills in Omiya. The place tries to be a replica of an old manor-house, which a decently large chapel inside for the actual wedding ceremony. I'm not sure how faithful of a replica it is, but it was a beautiful venue.
The wedding process, based on what my sister described, is very straightforward in Japan: you pay a lot of money to a place like Camelot Hills, and they basically take care of everything for you. For example, Camelot Hills took care of the catering, DJ and MC, photography and videography, the minister, set-up and clean-up, and more. They helped my sister find translators to interpret during the reception and after-party (the ceremony itself was only in English). It was the job of one staff member to follow my sister around the whole night and constantly fix her makeup, redo her hair, and adjust her dress for photos. They had shuttle buses going to-and-from Omiya, right near our hotel, to make it easy to get there.
All in all, I was impressed with how smooth the venue made the whole thing- Except for having a shuttle bus drive off at the end of the night with all my things on board! But to their credit, the venue was great about arranging to have the bus drop them back off to me.
One last thing worth mentioning that was fantastic about my sister's wedding- the desert bar they had at the afterparty. Besides having a station where guests could make smores (the bride and groom met at a bonfire in Oklahoma), they had a mouthwatering array of sweets that made me feel like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory- on top of the wedding cake, by the way.
My favorite? A chocolate mousse topped with strawberry sauce, covered in gold flakes (yes, real gold) with a stick of chocolate stuck in the top. The thought that I was eating real gold made the dish taste even more decadent.
Thanks again to my sister and her new husband for the amazing time we all had!
Dillon Dakota Carroll
Comunal Coworking is the first of my series on coworking spaces. It lies in the Barranco District of Lima, which is the hip part of town according to my sources.
I spent three days working from Comunal as I prepared for the Lean Startup workshop I gave there. Overall, I'll say that I enjoyed my time there. It's a bright, fun, and energetic space, and everyone I met there seemed like great people.
Ernesto, one of the three founders of Comunal, told me that the coworking space was born when the three of them realized that there wasn't a single coworking space available in Lima. At some point they visited some of the more famous coworking spaces in the United States to get an idea of how they could craft their own in Lima. They launched about the same time the other big coworking space in Lima launched, Stars Camp. I'll be writing about Stars Camp in another post.
Let's take a look at the individual components of Comunal.
I must say I was quite impressed by Comunal. It feels cool, modern, and unique. There's a clean yellow, black and white aesthetic in the interior design and in the logo. When you walk in you see the reception desk and a small meeting room.
To the right, there's two stories of "flex space". More on that below.
There are typically two membership plans in a coworking space, from what I understand. You can pay a higher monthly sum to have your own desk (about $320 at Comunal), where you can leave your things and you know you can always come work any day and that desk will be yours. Or, you can pay a lower amount to use the flex space, where you don't have a set desk and you just grab a space that's open. These plans are more flexible too in that you can buy a part time membership, say, 20 hours a week, which saves money if you know you're not going to be there all the time. In Comunal's case, they offer 15 hours of flex space per week for $60. I imagine flex plans are good for the coworking spaces as well because they can capture a wider variety of customers.
I like how there are a lot of nooks and crannies in Comunal's flex space, along with a couple big desks.
Here you can see that they're in the process of remodeling the upstairs part of the flex space.
From the front door, if you proceed straight back you'll run into, in order, 1) stairs to more office space, with tenants that pay to have their own desks:
2) the community kitchen. Comunal provides soda, coffee, and beer as part of the membership package.
and 3) the community living room and outdoor patio.
I gave my workshop in this living area. I love this space, even if it wasn't the most practical arrangement for what I was doing. It's hard to get up and squeeze past everyone else, and not the best for breakout sessions and taking notes. The advantage is that about 18 people can fit in the stadium style seating. And who doesn't like bean bags?
The "rules" painted on the wall are worth translating:
In Comunal it is prohibited to:
That takes care of the main part of the coworking space.
Comunal is even bigger than this, though. They have several of the top floors in the same building that they rent out to larger groups. For example, there's an entire office for about 20 people rented out to a marketing firm that's doing consulting work for Coca-Cola in Peru.
I get the feeling that Comunal doesn't host a lot of events, because the staff member I worked with to organize my workshop told me that they were only just beginning to make regular programming a priority. At least my event was timely if nothing else!
And what of the people of Comunal? Here is where I wish I could have spent more time meeting tenants and learning about them and their business. Still, from the people I did meet, there was quite a variety, all very friendly.
This kind of variety is one of the cool parts of a coworking space: you find people from all over the world, in all kinds of fields.
Next time I visit a coworking space, I want to really achieve a greater knowledge of how the tenants and founders use and view the space. Still, I'm very happy about my time at Comunal. From what I've seen, the community lives up to the happy-go-lucky rules they've codified on their walls. Everyone I saw working there was enjoying themselves, and didn't hesitate to say hi and smile. Successfully capturing the essence of coworking is paying off: they're at 90% occupancy (in the absence of other data I'll assume that's very good for a coworking space) and are looking at creating branches all across Lima.
It's hard to draw too many conclusions, as this is one of the first coworking spaces I've ever been in. But for what it's worth, I'd happily return to Comunal and work there!
Stay tuned for an article on the other major coworking space in Lima, Stars Camp!
Dillon Dakota Carroll
I'm writing this blog post from Peru, where I've spent the last week and a half. I flew to Lima, the capital, on the 13th of November 2014, and I'll be flying back on the 13th of December 2014.
Ah, what am I doing here, you ask?
Lots of things.
It started as a family vacation to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. In fact, I'm in Cusco now with some of my family. In two days we'll take a bus to the trailhead and hike some 25 or more miles over 4 days to the famous fortress in the Andes Mountains.
To get a better deal on the rewards ticket to Lima (I think my roundtrip ticket cost about 50k miles and $75 in taxes), I was going to have to stay in Peru longer than my family anyway. So, I decided to make a longer trip out of it and test a couple of personal hypotheses I have.
Hypothesis #1: I can work remotely on my Levate to-dos effectively, efficiently, and without interruption in the amount or quality of work I can do.
Hypothesis #2: I can give entrepreneurship workshops abroad and get paid to do so.
I'll talk more about each of this later. But first, I can hear you ask, I thought you were trying to save money?!? Something doesn't jive, amigo!
Yes, you are right, I recently ran a month-long experiment where I took great pains to limit my expenses. And yet, here I am in a foreign country, and the only thing that's truly expensive about it is the fact that I'm paying $459 in rent for an entire month that I'm not at home. The flight cost me $75, the tours and trip to Machu Picchu were already paid for by my very generous father (who I am lucky to have- Love ya, Dad!), I'm using couchsurfing to stay with new friends in Lima instead of paying for a hostel or hotel, and food (particularly in grocery stores) is inexpensive here. So using the same frugalness I used in October, my $1,000 a month goes much further in Peru than in the US.
With all of my moving around, I also took great pains to pack as light as possible. Everything I brought fits into a standard size backpack and a satchel. In case you're interested in my packing list, you can find it here.
So, into the hypotheses I was testing for this trip. I wanted to treat this trip, or rather the part of it where my family isn't here, like an experiment. If the experiments went well, well, the idea is to try and do the same thing on a more permanent basis. In other words, move out of my apartment and spend a few months in different places around the world, giving entrepreneurship workshops and working remotely on my startup with my business partner Ethan.
So first, let me talk about what it's been like working remotely. I needed to make sure I had reliable access to decent wifi, and a way to make phone calls to the US.
I figured the phone call part out pretty easily. With a netbook, smartphone, headset with mic, and skype subscription, I can basically call anyone I want. Skype has a plan where you pay $15 a month and you get unlimited calls from your skype account to landlines and cell phones around the world. Even cooler, the first month is free. I can reach out to anyone I ordinarily would in the US, just routed through a wifi connection and connected to their phone line.
The complicated part is that no one can call me, unless they're using my skype account. If or when I do this again, I may look into purchasing a Skype phone number. Like a regular phone number, if someone calls that number, I can answer it anywhere I'm connected to my Skype account. Pretty slick, and from what I remember it is reasonably priced. I could even have my cell phone number route to my hypothetical Skype number, I imagine.
What I'm missing out on here is the face to face interaction with my connections and especially with my team. A phone call or video call can never compare to sitting across a table from someone or shaking their hands. That's ultimately part of the price one pays for working remotely. And I do hate leaving my partner, Ethan, to take care of in-person meetings on his own.
Thankfully, there's only an hour time change between Oklahoma and Peru. I do have to be careful about keeping track of that hour time change, but I can only imagine that it would be much more complicated to coordinate meetings and such as the time difference gets bigger.
So far the wi-fi situation has been a mixed bag. In the hostel (I stayed in one for the first two nights) and homes I've been staying in, the wifi has been consistently good. That makes working from wherever I'm lodged quite convenient.
On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be consistent wi-fi access in cafes like in the USA. Some public places, such as parks or shopping centers have free public wi-fi, but the quality is spotty at best and they all seem to require you to log back in after 15 minutes of using it.
I have been visiting a couple coworking spaces in Lima, trying to set up workshops (more on that later), and one invited me to use their space while I'm in Lima. Their wi-fi was excellent. This makes me wonder if I could hop from coworking space to coworking space, giving workshops and using the spaces to work remotely for a couple weeks at a time before moving on to a new coworking space. Because of the camaraderie among startups and entrepreneurs, I imagine most spaces wouldn't mind. Especially if I'm already giving workshops there for their occupants.
So far, I've given one workshop here on the Lean Startup validation cycle, and I have a workshop on Agile methodologies lined up for when I get back from the Inca trail and Machu Picchu. I'm doing both of these free of charge. Getting paid for them would have been nice, but it seemed most important at the beginning to build experience as well as a network first. I'm trying to arrange paid workshops with two coworking spaces, Comunal and Stars Camp.
The first workshop I gave went well. You may be interested in how it came to be. Well, I knew no one in the Lima entrepreneurship community before this workshop. I spent a few days sending around a ton of cold-emails to organizations I found online. One of my emails got forwarded to the director of EmprendeAhora (Innovate Now in English). As it turns out, November is Lima's entrepreneurship month, and the Director, Romina, wanted me to do a Lean Startup workshop for some of the old graduates of the program. After setting up this workshop, I asked her if she could connect me to anyone else she thought might be interested in having me put on a workshop. She connected me with Arturo, which led to the Agile workshop I'll be putting on, as well as the connections with the two coworking spaces I mentioned.
By the way, I was very impressed with the state of the business my students had. All of them had paying customers, which is awesome! That is typically the hardest part for anyone starting their own business.
These workshops I'm giving are all in Spanish. I'm pretty confident about my Spanish skills, but there is definitely a world of difference between shooting the breeze with friends and teaching a workshop. So while my Spanish was shaky for this first workshop, I hope to continue improving on my ability to deliver the content and lead the exercises in a foreign language.
So far, the feedback has been assuringly positive from the workshop, including in the anonymous survey I sent out after the workshop ended. I did discover a lot of things I could have done better personally, which coincided with the constructive criticism I've received from the students and Romina, the organizer. For example, I did not do a good enough job explaining and framing the mock interview exercises, and several of the students were confused by it as a result.
I'm feeling very positive about my chances to get at least 1 paid workshop set up with one of the coworking spaces. By the way, some of the next posts I want to do will be about the coworking spaces I visited. They were both quite interesting places, with what seemed to be quite successful and functioning communities. As I travel more, it will be interesting to compare notes on the different coworking spaces.
What else is there to say right now, as we wait to go hiking to Machu Picchu?
Well, the food's amazing. Really fresh seafood, and a wonderful spin on food adopted from other cultures. Peruvians have incorporated their unique flavors into fusion Peruvian-Chinese (called "Chifa" in Peru) and Peruvia-Japanese food, and have even given a Peruvian spin to dishes like sandwiches and burgers.
Despite how crazy the drivers are in the crowded Lima streets, I have been quite pleased to have connected with a ton of open, fun, and amazing people while I've been here; both through the workshops I'm giving and through Couchsurfers. In fact, I went with some of my new friends to take surf lessons on the beach in a town about 45 kilometers to the North of Lima, called San Bartolo. We paid $15 each for lessons that lasted almost 2 hours in total. It was the first time I'd been surfing, and it was a blast. We finished the day eating seafood on a terrace overlooking the beach, laughing and chatting until the sun went down.
A Peruvian family I stayed with for 3 nights, and who invited me back to stay with them once I return from the Inca Trail, showed me all around the historic center, the Lima Zoo, and the Larco Archaeology Museum. I went with other new friends to a wonderful free concert series called "Patio Abierto", held on a stage behind the National Museum, where I was introduced to some fantastic new bands like Las Cantautoras, Quasar, and Colectivo Circo Band.
The past week and a half in Peru have felt formative, to say the least. Now I'm off to hike the Inca Trail.
Until next time,
Dillon Dakota Carroll
...sees much and knows much