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Go Back To Where You Came From

When Dr David Corlett appeared on Go Back To Where You Came From and began using the reality show voice, I realised that the show would be sensational rather than true. That expectation was justified in the first episode when the participants were put on a sinking boat. From the comfort of my sofa it was clear that the group were never in danger and that the leak and the smoke were introduced to scare the participants. I'd be prepared to believe that the entire show was scripted, but even if the dialog wasn't it's clear that the situations were carefully selected, that the participants were chosen to present the desired responses (and probably directed that way) and that the show was edited for best effect. The publicity shot makes them seem more like actors than real people. Why would anyone as racist or as comfort-loving as Racquel sign up for the show? Because she's more than she appeared to be. Don't get me wrong. I think there was value in the show. I'm sure the refugees and their portrayed lifestyles were real and we could all benefit from a better understanding of other people. The structure - taking the story backwards from their life in Australia, through the processing centre, to the boats and on back to their home country - while sensational, had a much stronger impact than it would have had, were it done the other way around. However, it would have been more believable as a documentary, and in each case it must be remembered that it showed just two examples of the many refugee stories. It certainly didn't change my opinion, as unpopular as mine may be. I recall, from

By |July 3rd, 2011|Categories: Australia, Refugees|Tags: , , |0 Comments

Does Team Culture Help Virtual Teams?

Imagine working with someone on a daily basis but only seeing them face-to-face once a year or even less frequently. Instead, you'd communicate over the phone or via email, instant messaging, web conferencing, video conferencing and, these days, even social network tools like facebook and twitter. Most of my career has been spent working in and managing such virtual teams, and in managing the technologies that enable other virtual teams to work effectively. When I was working in Belgium, my boss was in the US, my staff were in the US and Singapore and I worked with people as widely distributed as Guangzhou, Kobe, Delhi, Caracas, Cincinnati, Brussels and Geneva to provide services to the rest of my company so that the marketing and production teams could work the same way. I always thought that the technology was only part of the story. I'd been successful in creating a highly reliable and widely used service because I'd spent time designing conference rooms that were simple yet feature rich, that had the right wall colour and lighting to create the best images, and by building a team that could support the technology from anywhere. But I wondered if there was more below the surface - whether the culture of the team itself could determine the effectiveness of the team. How would the structure of a team make a difference? Was it better to have people who did what they were told or who would choose their own paths? Would the nature of interactions among team members lead to a difference in productivity? Most literature on this topic is based in management theory. Ethnographic studies are rare. Tom Boellstorff wrote a fantastic ethnography on the on-line virtual

By |June 12th, 2011|Categories: Virtual Teams|Tags: , , |0 Comments

Bhutanese Belief in Shangri-La Naive

Could the Bhutanese belief in their Shangri-La status be naive? Bhutanese lama Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche asked this question in the Bhutan Observer on Friday. It's very similar to one of the central themes of Dragon Bones and he raises many of the points that I describe anecdotally. There's a snake in this garden of Eden. The simplest view of this analogy would be to say that the snake is the influence of the West and 'modernity'. Non-Bhutanese values including materialism and addictions to drugs and porn have arrived in recent decades as Bhutan has opened itself to the world. People buy Toyota Prados, send their children abroad to private schools and go on shopping sprees to Bangkok, notes Rinpoche, but this is just the obvious face of the real problem. The real snake is internal. It's the Bhutanese belief in their right to these luxuries that is so contrary to Bhutanese values. Rinpoche notes, as I did, that Bhutanese now think that they're above manual labour and import Indians to do such work for them. Once they've bought their Prados, they believe they have more right to the road than others and use their car's size to take right of way. I saw the government trying to fight this change of values by limiting exposure to materialism and consumer culture through, for instance, choice of television channels. Yet it was that same government, before democracy came to Bhutan, that told foreigners that if they didn't appreciate the privilege they had in sharing their personal time and money to help Bhutan they should just go home - that others would come in their place. Undoubtedly true, but the belief was counter to their efforts to

By |June 5th, 2011|Categories: Bhutan, Getting published|Tags: , |0 Comments

Dragon Bones For Charity

I'm very excited to say that the first copies of Dragon Bones have been shipped. This is a good time to announce that 50% of the royalties for all editions of Dragon Bones will go to Bhutanese organisations. Two years living in Bhutan convinced me that local people are best placed to identify and address the issues that the country faces. International organisations may like to think that they know what's best for a developing nation, but they're really just pushing Western values onto another culture. Following are some of the organisations I believe can help. VAST was created to provide vocational skills to Bhutanese youth. This seemed important at a time when the number of graduates was surpassing the government's capacity for employment. I wanted to help directly, but I didn't feel confident enough to try teaching a writing class at the time. I only discovered the Tarayana Foundation towards the end of my stay. Candles on sale at a market had been produced by a Tarayana community. The foundation tries to bring remote communities into the new economy by promoting artisan skills. RENEW's mission is to better the lives of victims of domestic violence, but I found it worked to resolve any kind of victimisation of minority groups. I intend to divide the donations among these and any other worthy organisations I discover. To make my donations worthwhile, I aim to sell 5000 copies of Dragon Bones. This isn't easy for a new author, so I need all your help to get the word out. Please do any of the following in your power: Share my blog using the addthis buttons below each post Like my author profile and book page on facebook

Dragon Bones Has Arrived

video of the opening When the woman behind the post office counter asked me what I was picking up, I said, "Books." One day in the future, it may be such a common experience that I stop there. Not this day. I knew that the small box she brought out from the back room contained my free copies. In a whisper torn between excitement and embarrassment, I said, "Twenty books actually. I just got published." There should have been drums. There should have been trumpets. Instead, so late in the afternoon, there was a post office empty of customers besides me and only one clerk. "Ooh, you clever thing," she said. It would have to do. It's been a long wait. I returned from Bhutan at the end of 2006 with a collection of anecdotes from my experiences. It then took a year to write them up, a year to edit and another two years of working through the process of getting published. That doesn't count the years I spent learning to write in the first place. So you can imagine how little time it took me, once through my front door, to tear open the box and pull the topmost book out. My name, Murray Gunn, sat discretely in the bottom corner, well below the large print declaring that the book contained DRAGON BONES. I'd never been a fan of the cover, but had been outvoted by... well, everyone who'd seen it. They were right. It looks fantastic! It's apparently on sale in Hong Kong already, but it will be another couple of months until it's available anywhere else, so the twenty in my possession are a rare commodity. It will be my pleasure

By |April 10th, 2011|Categories: Getting published|Tags: , |1 Comment

Free Speech

I knew when I wrote Dragon Bones that it wouldn't be loved by everyone. My collection of people's perspectives was meant to be holistic, not good or bad, but some people were bound to object. It was likely that I would never be able to return to Bhutan - that they would never issue me a visa. While I was there, I often heard the whispered stories of expats who'd been deported. Friends had been told that they'd be sent home if they didn't have their articles approved before publication. Only praise could be shared without retribution. Sonam Ongmo wrote in her latest post, "anybody who has been more than vocal on certain policy or social justice issues, or written a controversial story, has probably received that phone call or letter asking them to keep a lid on things, or to shut-up." Then, well before my book was due to be released, I got word that the Bhutanese living in Australia were upset by the description on Amazon. I've since managed to get that changed to better reflect the balanced nature of the book, but still haven't heard anything from those who were upset. More recently, I've discovered blogs by Bhutanese people who are willing to write about the reality of life in Bhutan. It's a beautiful place with wonderful people, but those people aren't all the same and they're surrounded by other people, all with their own motivations. Bhutan is a real country with real issues. It's a fascinating place that deserves to be known properly. Even better than reading these blogs was getting messages of encouragement from these Bhutanese. One wrote to me saying that she was sick of foreigners coming in to

Facebook Valentine

Have you ever heard people say 'If it's not on facebook, it's not real'? You're not really in a relationship until you've acknowledged it on facebook. I guess the corollary is that you haven't broken up until you've acknowledged it on facebook. So what happens if only one person in a new / broken couple posts the status of their relationship? Does facebook account for such instances? Apparently not if the news is true about a woman who found out about her divorce through facebook. But I digress. A large population - not just of Australia, not just of the West, but of the world - use facebook and validate their lives through a website. One of my friends proved that earlier this week. As a present to his valentine, he changed his status to 'in a relationship.' This wasn't just to show his commitment to her or to share the joy with his friends. It was a virtual wedding ring, signalling to any other girl that came along that he was off the market. Of course, it assumes that every girl he meets is going to look him up on facebook, but in this country of iphones and eternal connectivity, that's not such an unrealistic assumption. I can see girls giggling at the bar, commenting on the guy one of their friends is seducing. They catch his name. A few moments later, one of them walks up to their friend and whispers in her ear. 'Give it up. He's taken.' There are sites that give advice on how to use facebook to find love and how to avoid ruining a relationship. I wonder if they cover using privacy settings and teach young people that

By |February 22nd, 2011|Categories: Australia, Technology|0 Comments

Dragon Bones Not Yet Shipping

Amazon US was scheduled to start shipping Dragon Bones this week, but it's still being printed. They sent out a message to everyone who'd pre-ordered, apologising that they hadn't been able to find the book and asking them to confirm if they still wanted Amazon to track it down. If the reader didn't confirm within one month, and if the book isn't ready to ship by then, Amazon would cancel the order. As a buyer, I think that's great customer service. As a writer, it scares me that I'm now going to lose the hundred plus readers who had already put their money up. This is a message to all of you who placed an order that the book is on its way. I'm new to the publishing process, so I don't know exactly where the hold up is, but I approved the final version a month ago after a few iterations with the editor to make sure it was word perfect. I can only think that the printer has a queue of books waiting to be printed and that one month isn't sufficient to print and ship. The good news is that I still enjoy reading Dragon Bones and if I can enjoy it even after a couple of years of edits, people who are interested in Bhutan should find it worth the wait. I'll keep this blog updated with news of delivery, but feel free to leave me a message if you have questions. In the meantime, you can read an excerpt on my publisher's website.

By |February 19th, 2011|Categories: Getting published|0 Comments

Gone To Print

Dragon Bones has gone to print. Thank you to everyone who pushed and supported me along the way. A special thanks to the people who kindly offered their photos for the cover. The designer chose to use other photos, but that doesn't reflect on the photos you shared. They were all fantastic.

By |February 1st, 2011|Categories: Bhutan, Getting published|Tags: |0 Comments

Site Design

I've designed a new look for the site that will fit better with the social network plugins and makes better use of new features of Wordpress and CSS3. With a book on the way, this seems the right time to make the change. In preparation, I'm making changes to the metadata (category names, tags etc) associated with each post as well as to comment logins. Please excuse any oddities you see in the next few weeks until the new design becomes active and stable.

By |December 24th, 2010|Categories: Technology|0 Comments