Author, former Greensboro resident in town to promote book

Driving west on Battleground Ave, I pass Bur-Mil Park. If I hadn’t made this drive once before I would think I’d gone too far, and I’m still not sure if I’m technically within city limits. My destination is the Center for Creative Leadership, an establishment that primarily equips businesses and organizations with leadership skills but feels more like a spiritual retreat center in the wilderness.

Through the main building and down a short winding path next to a bubbling stream, I enter one of the center’s other buildings and am almost immediately greeted by Lisa Napoli. Considering she is here to promote her book about her travels to Bhutan, the so-called “happiest place on earth,” it seems fitting that Napoli seems quite calm and friendly as she welcomes people to the event and introduces complete strangers.

After spontaneously taking a leave of absence from her Los Angeles job with NPR’s program “Marketplace,” Napoli followed a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to the relatively isolated nation of Bhutan to help start the country’s first nongovernmental radio station. She was so moved that she ended up writing a book, Radio Shangri-La, about her experiences.

I arrived early like a few other attendees, like Paul Senior who owns Patriot Timer Products in Greensboro. As I walked in, he was telling Napoli about a fishing expedition to Bhutan he participated in years ago.

“My kids go to B’nai Shalom and one of the parents there knows Lisa from LA,” Senior told me while describing how he found out about the event. “Since I’ve been to Bhutan before I was intrigued.”

Not many people have a map of the world on their shower curtain like I do, and I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to know that my countrymen aren’t always well educated when it comes to foreign affairs. Fly-over snapshot: Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy located near India, Tibet and Nepal and prefers to keep the rest of the world at arms length. Tourists are taxed $250 per day to visit the small Buddhist nation and weren’t even allowed in until 1972.

Napoli was invited to help set up the youth-oriented Radio Kuzoo as the king was taking steps to hand over more power to the people through a number of reforms.

“The radio station was seen as a pivotal piece to the transition to democracy,” Napoli said. “Radio stations are pretty easy to set up.”

She commented that the station became more about pop music than public radio-style reporting, and that the two Bhutanese high school teachers who were initially hired to run it loved playing US country music which they had illegally downloaded. It was financed by the sale of the king’s BMW, which had been a gift from the leader of Kuwait.

Napoli said the station was largely run by women and was a lot less strict than other radio-formatting environments she worked in. She compared it to a college radio station where people’s attitude was, “That sounds cool, let’s try it!”

I know from my editor Brian Clarey how difficult it is to promote your own book and draw a crowd for book readings, so I was impressed to see almost 30 people in attendance. Rather than reading excerpts, however, the event took an interview-style format with her about Bhutan and her time there, including magnificent pictures taken by the royal photographer.

Napoli used to work at WGHP in Greensboro, allowing her to draw a couple of connections between Bhutan and this area. For example, North Carolina and Bhutan are roughly the same size, though Bhutan’s population only numbers around 650,000. As she planned her departure, she was advised to bring gold toe socks as gifts for Bhutanese men, and the company’s operational headquarters are just a short drive east in Burlington. Most importantly, she said the thing she loves most about Greensboro and Bhutan is the same: the people.

“I always wanted to know about an outside-Asia perspective on Asia,” said Shirley Landry, who was born in Indonesia and came to the United States to attend UNCG. “It’s very intriguing for [the Bhutanese people] to see foreigners, and I’m looking at it from their lens.”

Shirley works at the Center for Creative Leadership in relationship management with external partners, and she also made the poster for the event. Shirley, Senior, and one other lucky attendant won free copies of Napoli’s book in a random drawing.

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