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Transgender Trees, Homelessness, and a Dare in San Francisco

I am almost back from San Francisco (here are pictures from the trip)– I am writing this on the plane. As I am flipping through the memory bank, I am shocked at how many experiences we packed into three days. And as I read this letter it feels a bit darker than usual.

Japanese Tea Garden

On the first day my kids (Jonah, 18, and Hannah, 13) and I visited the Japanese Tea Garden. We lucked out, as we arrived just in time for a free guided tour. The garden has a very long history that is closely intertwined with San Francisco’s. It was left over from the World’s Fair of 1894. For decades it was managed by the Hagiwara family, of Japanese descent. 

After the Pearl Harbor attack, over 110,000 Japanese American citizens and Japanese residing in the US were forcefully relocated to internment camps. The Hagiwara family was not spared. As I was listening to this tragic story, I was reminded how Yosef Stalin, after he accused Jewish doctors of plotting to poison him, drew plans to relocate Russian Jews to Siberia. Luckily, he died before he could follow through. But I digress.

Transgender Ginkgo Trees

On the garden tour we learned about the gingko tree. This is the only tree (that I know of) that has two sexes. Female trees produce fruit; male trees don’t. The fruit emits an incredibly unpleasant odor (it was described to us as smelling like well-rotted garbage). Through the magic of cloning only male trees are planted today. There is an interesting twist, however. A male tree may decide to change its gender and become female and start bearing fruit. However, this is a one-way ticket: Once it becomes female it cannot go back. Yes, there is such a thing as a transgender tree. The ginkgo tree at the Japanese Tea Garden is one such tree.

Meeting Readers

After the Japanese Tea Garden my kids and I had the pleasure of meeting my readers. This is one of the privileges of having a large audience – I get to meet readers in different parts of the world, from Dallas to London to San Francisco. For two hours my kids and I got to interact with and learn from incredibly interesting people from different walks of life, from an Amazon Web Services engineer to a retired cop to a municipal worker. Despite their diverse backgrounds, every one of them was a student of life.

Swimming in San Francisco Bay

Hannah was never afraid of anything. When she started skiing, she spent only a day on the bunny slope. Midway through day two she was conquering green slopes. She skied black slopes a month before she turned six. Jonah was the complete opposite; he was a timid kid. It took him a few days to get down a bunny slope, and it was another week or two before he agreed to get on the green slope lift. Skiing changed Jonah’s life as he learned how to conquer his fears.

Today he is an incredible skier without a fear in the world, at least when it comes to skiing. Both kids are better skiers than their middle-aged father. But Jonah still has a residue of past fears that he is trying to overcome. As we were strolling along Fisherman’s Wharf, we saw people swimming in the bay in front of Ghirardelli Square. There were some serious swimmers doing laps, most (though not all) of them decked out in wet suits.

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Vitaliy Katsenelson

I am the CEO at IMA, which is anything but your average investment firm. (Why? Get our company brochure here, or simply visit our website).

In a brief moment of senility, Forbes magazine called me “the new Benjamin Graham.”

I’ve written two books on investing, which were published by John Wiley & Sons and have been translated into eight languages. (I’m working on a third - you can read a chapter from it, titled “The 6 Commandments of Value Investing” here).

And if you prefer listening, audio versions of my articles are published weekly at investor.fm.

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