West Bath
Siem Riep
Sri Lanka
Czech Republic
Bora Bora
Porto Alegre
Sao Paulo
San Nicolas
Hong Kong


The Huffington Post: 6 Mistakes to Avoid During an International Business Trip

unnamedCheck out my article posted yesterday in The Huffington Post – 6 Mistakes to Avoid During an International Business Trip!
You can also find my previous article posted last September, titled Seven Hidden Gems for International Travelers.


As an author and former CEO of a 2.5 billion international solar energy company with plants in over 30 countries, I have lived overseas for long periods of time and put more than 4 million miles on United while traveling for business and pleasure.

During that time I experienced plenty of travel blunders, both self-imposed and those courtesy of Mother Nature, and learned plenty of tricks and tips. Here are six of them:

  1. Don’t travel light. Yes, I know, this is completely counter to what all the travel books tell you, but those books are written mostly for tourists seeing the sights, or kids backpacking through Transylvania. If you’re on a business trip, it’s not for pleasure. So bring along whatever you know you’ll need, and a fair helping of what you might need. Your job is to get the sale or the deal, or establish the relationship or find a partner or any one of the many things that people travel abroad for. None of these things require having a light suitcase. You don’t want to stop and have to find a drugstore for tissue packs or tampax, or a department store for fresh socks. And don’t worry, you’ll always be able to find people to help you if you’ve got too much to carry. In our business we used to say, “If you can carry your luggage, you haven’t packed enough.”
  2. Don’t come home with a bag of dirty laundry. Boy, is it ever expensive to send out your shirts and shorts to get laundered during the day. This is true even at hotels in countries that are otherwise not at all expensive. Do it anyway. Business is unpredictable, and what if you, Mr. Economy, are wearing your last shirt, and have a critical final meeting the next day, to which you plan on wearing said shirt, but with your other tie. And that evening red wine gets spilled all over you. Nope, can’t wash it in the sink and have it dry overnight. Hard to be credible wearing the Knicks sweatshirt that you sleep in to the meeting. Losing the deal because you haven’t spent ten bucks to have a backup clean shirt and underwear is the definition of “false economy.”
  3. Don’t load up on the local currency. Credit cards have been invented for some time now, and anywhere that you want to do business, they will be accepted. In fact, if you go to a place where the hotels and the restaurants don’t accept credit cards, it’s probably not a good place to do business. This is an easy test.
  4. Don’t forget to tip reasonably. But wait, I don’t have any currency. Ah, part of not traveling light means carrying a lot of ones and fives, good old American greenbacks. Have you ever stood in a dark hotel hallway after getting into town on a late flight, fumbling for the right number of zlotskys to tip the bellman? Darn, what was the exchange rate — 10,000 zlotskys per dollar or 100,000? And what’s the denomination of this damn bill they gave me, am I about to give this guy ten cents or a hundred dollars? Solution — you know what to give him in dollars, so give him what you’d give anyone for performing the same service. I have done this all over the world, and you know what — NO ONE has ever demanded zlotskys instead of dollars. No one.
  5. Don’t fly in comfortable clothes. What? Today the entire first class section of the plane seems to be filled with executives wearing jeans and running shoes and the suit coat to their suits. It’s an odd outfit. It’s meant to let one travel light by not having to pack the suit coat or the running shoes. But it’s stupid. You’ve checked your luggage — see point one above — and there is a measurable chance it will be lost or delayed at some point. So, then you go to your first meeting in jeans and running shoes? No, you wear grey slacks, loafers, a button down shirt, a blue blazer, and carry a tie in your hand luggage — along with a day’s worth of any necessary medicines. And the equivalent if you’re a woman. You can show up in that outfit at any business function short of a funeral for the Queen, and she seems unlikely to die any time soon. Yes, it would have been nice to shower and shave, but you’re still respectable.
  6. Don’t eat or drink things that could make you sick. You don’t have to. You’re not auditioning for replacing Anthony Bourdain, you’re trying to establish business relationships or carry out business. You probably can’t demand a hamburger but you can very politely push what they serve you around your plate and say something about how lovely the sheep’s eyeballs look set so naturally in the nest of fried worms. And you can probably find something to eat, like rice or potatoes. If you get sick, your business effectiveness vanishes and besides then you’re sick in a country where you’d probably prefer not to go to the hospital. And this includes at times not drinking the water, or the ice, unless you take the former from a plastic sealed bottle. And for gods’ sake don’t overdue the alcohol, no matter how drunk your hosts get, or how much they encourage you to drink. You wouldn’t do this at home, and it’s an even worse idea overseas.

In general, you need to tread that fine line between cultural respect and sensitivity vs. naïve, eager to please stupidity. Your hosts want to pursue business with a professional, not recruit a best friend. Make it easy for them.

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Santa Barbara County News: Solar plant developer discusses the future of American energy

unnamedNeat article in the Local Santa Barbara County News on my talk this Monday regarding American energy and my book, Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons. Thanks for the great turnout!

Solar plant developer discusses the future of American energy
By Paul Gonzalez News-Press Correspondent

Author Robert Hemphill, co-founder of energy company AES Corporation, speaks about his new book, “Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons,” during a lunch and book signing hosted by the Channel City Club on Monday.
February 3, 2015 6:02 AM

Former CEO and solar plant developer Robert Hemphill discussed the future of American energy at a luncheon and book signing hosted by the Channel City Club on Monday.

Mr. Hemphill was a co-founder of AES Corporation, a Fortune 150 energy company that creates power plants and solar farms all over the world. He initially served as the Executive Vice President of AES and eventually took the lead of the company’s solar power program, AES Solar Power.

He opened his lecture by discussing the economic benefits of dropping oil prices. According to Mr. Hemphill, low gas prices act the “same as a tax cut” for low income and middle class families. The prices also benefit several areas of the American economy including manufacturing and shipping services such as Amazon.

He argues that while low gas prices may cause oil companies to lay off some of their employees, the economic benefits far outweigh the costs and says that the oil industry makes up “less than three percent of employment” in the United States.

“I’m deeply sorry for Exxon” quipped Mr. Hemphill, who maintains that the oil industry will be able to sustain itself through a period of reduced profits.

Domestic oil production was lauded by Mr. Hemphill for exceeding the level of production during the 1970s. The United States has “managed to turn its oil (production) game completely around” in the last ten years notes Mr. Hemphill, who asserts that the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would not dramatically benefit oil production.

Despite his positive outlook on domestic oil, Mr. Hemphill was far more critical of nuclear power efforts both domestically and abroad.

According to Mr. Hemphill, coal-powered plants produce steam that is roughly “four times as good” as nuclear-produced steam in terms of temperature and pressure.

Additionally, he says that nuclear energy is significantly more expensive to produce than methods using coal or renewable energy sources, due to the amount of resources and engineering required to construct and maintain a nuclear plant. Mr. Hemphill went so far as to claim that the United States will “never (build) a new nuclear power plant … in the next 100 years.”

Mr. Hemphill expressed excitement about the development of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar technology. He says renewables are finally maturing to the point where they can be relied upon to sustain power grids, with the assistance of traditional energy sources during peak electricity usage hours.

At the conclusion of the lecture, Mr. Hemphill took an opportunity promote his newly released book “Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons,” a collection of letters to his father written during his travels abroad while building AES into a multibillion dollar company.

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Encinitas Advocate: Leucadia man’s globe-trekking letters become down-to-earth book

unnamedThanks to the Advocate for running this article on my book, Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons.

Leucadia man’s globe-trekking letters become book
By Samantha Tatro 12:14 P.M. JAN. 22, 2015
Bob Hemphill’s book, ‘Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons,’ began as letters home to his dad about his adventures abroad.

For one Leucadia author, the path to writing a book began years ago with a conscious decision.
When former businessman Bob Hemphill moved abroad, he began to write letters to his father. The letters were a means for his father to understand his life abroad.
“He would have strongly preferred if I would have been a junior pilot just as he started out,” Hemphill said. “But I didn’t do that, and the things that I did do were so novel that I thought he would be amused and entertained by the things I was doing.”
Hemphill was one of three who founded AES, a global electric power-generating and distribution company, and spent most of his career working to grow it from a small startup to a $17 billion company.
Throughout his time abroad, he continued to write letters to his father, telling him about his life. Eventually, they became the book “Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons: Adventures in Culture, Cuisine and Commerce From a Globe-Trekking Executive,” published under the name R.F. Hemphill.
“I was having such an interesting time, and I just thought, you know, other people will be interested in this as well,” Hemphill said. “It’s not a didactic book, it’s not a ‘how to make a million dollars in business,’ it’s much more a humorous book about business, of which I would argue there are very few.
“Business isn’t always all that serious, so this is another take on it.”
He started writing the first letters in 1990 and continued for the next 11 years, gathering the letters as he wrote them.
“It didn’t occur to me at first that these could turn into a book, but subsequently I began to think it was a possibility, and I began to save them all,” Hemphill said.
He started compiling the letters last year once he left the company and moved to Encinitas.
“I thought, you know, perhaps it’s time to do something else. Sometimes you just sort of know. You see changes in your friends, you see people come and go, and you decide nobody’s got an infinite amount of time allocated to them and you think about what you want to get done in the rest of the time that is still yours,” Hemphill said.
“I really decided that it was time to get serious about writing books, and I couldn’t do that if I was still working full time.”
The entire process took nine months once he decided he wanted to compile the letters. That process included spending time sorting the letters, editing them, giving them titles and arranging them for the book.
“You have to sit down, and every day you have to do it,” Hemphill said of his process. “There’s no magic; it doesn’t do itself. I would sit down at my desk, I would put them in order, I would edit them, clean them up, add titles, and there’s a whole bunch of other stuff you have to do. It’s just work, but it does take a while.”
Once the process was completed, however, Hemphill said holding the finished product in his hands felt satisfying — a wonderful end to his months of hard work.
“Finally, you have something you thought you’d like and you’ve worked on for a long time — to actually see it in concrete … to be a real thing and to look to all the world like a real book, was really a great feeling,” Hemphill said. “And then to have other people read it, people who are not related to me, and have them say it was pretty funny and they liked it a lot — that was wonderfully pleasant. All of us do our professional work, certainly to earn money, but to also earn the respect and appreciation of other people.”
Hemphill’s father passed away four years ago, and though he never got the opportunity to read the finished book, Hemphill said his dad read the letters and liked them.
“He was not a barrel of effusion and emotion, however, but I think he thought it was nice,” Hemphill said. “I was doing something productive, and he was pleased with that.”
Now that he has conquered his first book, Hemphill plans to compile a second book of letters to his father, or possibly write a mystery series.
You can buy “Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons: Adventures in Culture, Cuisine and Commerce From a Globe-Trekking Executive”

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Christmas Meditations, Part One–Christmas Music

unnamedSleigh bells ring, are you listening?  Yes, I am listening, I am listening carefully, but I don’t hear any sleigh bells.  I hear fire engine sirens and police car sirens, although I don’t know which is which.  I hear big airplanes taking off out of LaGuardia after having made all their passengers wait in the boarding area for an extra hour and then wait on the plane on the tarmac for another hour just to put them in the Christmas spirit.  I hear people sloshing in the gutters because the streets are so crowded, and I hear advertisements for a Charlie Brown Christmas and the Grinch who stole Christmas but unfortunately gave it back.  I hear over and over a description of the clever trick of making your wife faint, crash, right on the floor without even trying to catch her, because you bought two sports cars with the family MasterCard.  I hear the vacuum every evening at the office, set on loud, I think they only vacuum when I am trying to work late.  And I hear a certain amount of drunken conversation at the Xmas office party. No that’s not right, I can’t hear anything at the office Christmas party because the music is too damn loud.  I don’t seem to hear any sleigh bells.

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Seven Hidden Gems for International Travelers

unnamedSeven Hidden Gems for International Travelers

The idea that there are “hidden gems” that no one knows about, but that you can visit easily as a general tourist, is a bit of a contradiction in terms.  But never mind that, here is my list of remarkable locations that are less well known, but rewarding to visit in the extreme. They are not entirely off the beaten track, but they’re not on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, either.

 1. Borobudur – This is a large and imposing Buddhist monument located on the central plains of Indonesia’s Java island, about 42 KM north west of the city of Yogyakarta, which means a local air flight from Jakarta, probably on Air Garuda. Both the monument and the trip are exciting–pray for a safe landing. And then you need a car and driver and guide to take you there as it’s really not close to anything much except rice fields.  Four levels of a square pyramid like structure, each level festooned with repeated and essentially identical statues of the Buddha, as well as bas reliefs telling the story of the Ramayana.  For the non-scholars, there is a very good orientation movie in the small visitors center which goes over this legend in simplified form.  Walking around all the levels, and ultimately reaching the top, is a memorable experience, and cannot help but make you wonder how they built such a massive edifice and how many artisans worked on the 400 plus statues of Buddha, and the other carvings.  It’s out of the way and hard to pronounce, but a fabulous site.  There are good tourist hotels in Yogyakarta, and the added bonus of a nearby Hindu temple site called Prambanan, the largest in Indonesia, that can be visited on the way to or from Borobudur.

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Quick Meals for the Weeknight Supper: How to turn lovely ingredients into a big freaking smoky burned mess in 15 minutes or less


Day one: Listen to PBS interview of famous cook about his new book called “how to cook everything quick” and wonder if he meant quickly.  Recipe for chicken parmesan sounds interesting but am driving car so cannot write down.  Also he calls it “Chicken Parm” which is either charming or useless cuteness, cannot tell.  Saving time on title of recipe?


Day two: Go on internet, find famous cook and his YouTube pitch for said recipe.  But it is a little vague.  However, am not interested in buying $25 cook book for one small recipe.  Besides it looks easy.  Take vague notes.

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“Cleanse” is the new “diet” but kale is no substitute for caffeine

kale-438964_640We have some friends who we really like, and we thought they liked us.  We were having dim sum with them on a recent Sunday when they told us about this new miracle ‘cleanse’ that they had both just completed.  They urged us to try it.  I didn’t think that we looked that dissolute but who knows.  The “cleanse is called the BuzzFeed Food’s Clean Eating Challenge.  It lasts a couple of years – no, really, only two weeks, it just seems longer.  It has a several page grocery list (collard greens?  Really?) detailed recipes for three meals a day and two snacks a day for fourteen days. There is a lot, really a lot, of cooking, for almost every meal.  You can’t work and do this, you have to be there over the stove cooking all these damn vegetables.  And we chose to enhance the experience by embarking on the cleanse on the hottest two weeks of the summer, thereby assuring that we would be hunched over the stove with the nearby oven on full time in one hundred degree weather.  Fun.

From a scientific standpoint, the program is gluten free, it is largely dairy free, it is certainly carbohydrate free with no pasta, no rice, no potatoes, no corn, no crackers, no sembei. Did I mention no potatoes or potato chips or Doritos or corn chips, in short none of the things that make life worth living.  No coffee. Not even decaf.  This has a tendency to bring out the homicidal in “cleanse” participants—there should be a warning label.  No alcohol, which reinforces the aforementioned.  You can drink green tea and water.  No juices, no Gatorade, no coke, no Pepsi, no gin and tonics, well you get the picture.  Wait, no beef, no pork, no corn dogs, no barbecue.  No butter, no oils except small amounts of olive oil titrated over the numerous salads.  No doughnuts.  Do I seem bitter?  It’s the old story, I should have read the documents.

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Secrets of the Ancient Hawaiians, and some Modern Ones, too

unnamedI lost my good judgment and went to Hawaii, to the island of Kauai for a week in July. My smarter companion remarked, “You know, we’re leaving a house we could rent for $2000 a week, at a beach well known as among the best in the world, where we have a fully stocked kitchen, plenty of towels, beach chairs, access to excellent fresh vegetables, a full wine refrigerator with wine we have already paid for. We’re going to Hawaii where we will find essentially the same things, except all of that will have to be paid for again, except at higher prices.”

“Oh yeah, well what about the Na Pail coast?” I countered foolishly.

But we had a nice package deal so off we went to Kauai and stayed at the St Regis for five days, on three of which it rained, hard. This was not in the brochure. Of any of the pictures in the brochure.

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The World’s Best Restaurant?

unnamedIf someone said to you, let’s go to this restaurant that’s supposed to be pretty good.  They only offer tasting menus, and you have to choose one of the two:  the all-vegetable one, or the one with meat.  There are eleven courses, but they’re all pretty small (the lamb serving is the size of one third of your palm) and four of them are desserts.  The price is set at $295 per person.  There are a couple of alternatives for some of the courses – substituting a tiny amount of Wagyu beef for the tiny amount of lamb, for example – but this adds $100 to the price of the dinner.  The same for adding some Australian truffles to one of the vegetable dishes –$100.  You may of course order wine from the wine list, the wine is additive to the food cost. This is not a “wine pairings” sort of dinner, and the wait staff resists requests to make it so.  The service is fine, the restaurant is in a two story sort of old building that is pleasant but architecturally undistinguished.  So, you wannna go?

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Iraq my brain to see why i should care

Once upon a time there was a country that was located on one of the fringe areas of western geography and to which most people paid little attention.  It was made up of several diverse groups of people, separated by religious and ethnic differences, and with a long history of conflict and distrust among them.  Its boundaries had been set by the European colonial powers as an outcome of WWI with its breakup of traditional empires.  These borders were not particularly mindful of older divisions and rivalries and traditional territories.  It was ruled by a ruthless dictator who used force to keep his potentially divisive peoples together in some form of polity.

When the dictator was removed from power, the groups fell to bickering among themselves, and then fierce and bloody conflict broke out.  Militias, mass killings, mass graves, and neighbor vs. neighbor soon became the norm, along with shellings of civilians, hostage taking, rape, etc. There were larger countries armed with nuclear weapons who espoused the concerns of one or the other of the fighting ethnic groups.  The western powers were shocked, and the fear that this smaller war could easily lead to a larger one was discussed endlessly.  Many ways to keep the country together were proposed and some were tried.  But no one could muster the requisite amount of blood and treasure to impose a “colonial” solution.  Despite all the hand wringing, and all the bloodshed and reprehensible war crimes, the center did not hold.

The result, however, was not the creation of a terrorist haven, or the triggering of a larger war of the traditional powers.  The result was Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro.  And maybe Kosovo, depending on how one counts.  One large country—Yugoslavia—was now seven smaller ones.  Is the world better off or worse off?

It is hard to understand any argument that the US or NATO or the EU or the Bobbsey Twins should get involved in Iraq and the murderous, unfortunate conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites.  Let us stipulate that it is a tragedy for those directly involved, and that many innocent lives will be lost, and that maybe even a quite unattractive Islamist regime enforcing Sharia law will be established in part of the territory.  Productive capacity of all sorts will be destroyed, as well infrastructure that the US has built or funded.  Cultural landmarks will be desecrated or looted despite UN designation.  Competing parties from the outside, notably Saudi Arabia and Iran, will support their own co-religionists and prolong the conflict.  And once everyone has finished killing enough of everyone else, there will most likely be three smaller, weaker countries where one had stood before.

These three countries will not be particularly attractive as global democratic partners, they will have values that we do not espouse, especially with regard to the treatment of women, they won’t like us much in general, and they won’t be very good trading partners. They will not be nice places in which to take a vacation.  But one thing is for sure—they will still sell us oil.  They have to, it’s all they’ve got and they will need the money.

Note as evidence for the above that just last week, Oryx Petroleum Corporation Limited a publicly traded and Toronto listed oil company, announced on 7 July a production and drilling update for the Demir Dagh field in the Hawler license area in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.  The results were generally positive, with production capacity not approaching 4000 barrels per day.

Oryx Petroleum is the operator and has a 65% participating and working interest in the Hawler license area.  The Chief Operating Officer noted, “We expect to spud DD-7 [an appraisal well] in the coming weeks and expect to drill three additional development wells at Demir Dagh this year in order to increase production capacity and continue delineating the field.

Importantly, our operations remain largely unaffected by the security situation in northern Iraq, outside of the Kurdistan Region. We continue to vigilantly monitor the situation and implement measures to mitigate risks.”


That used to be important.  Thanks to the advances of technology, and not thanks particularly to US policy (see the Keystone XL pipeline debate), the US is rapidly headed to being a net oil exporter.  So the Iraq states, once the destruction is over, will sell their oil to Europe and India and China, which is probably just fine.

One or all of these countries may continue to pose threats to their neighbors, but they will pose no particular security threat to the US.  They may serve as a haven for terrorists, but there are lots of havens for terrorists and one more or less really won’t make that much difference, so long as we have the intelligence apparatus to keep watch and the long range weaponry to make terrorist training centers unpleasant places from time to time.

I would far rather live in a world with lots of little and unpowerful countries, versus one with fewer large, powerful countries.  China will no doubt be handful enough in the coming decades. Having three countries in what used to be Iraq instead of one is in fact a good thing, for us and for the rest of the world.

—-Robert Hemphill is an author and former senior executive with a global power company.  His most recent book is Dust Tea, Dingoes and Dragons, a humorous look at international business.  Learn more at

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