Monthly Archives: October 2009

books to read

more of a personal note than anything else:

“The Art of Giving: Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan” – Charles Bronfman & Jeffrey Solomon
“Love in the Time of Cholera” – Gabriel Marquez
“Brida” – Paulo Coelho
“The Handmaid’s Tale” – Margaret Atwood
“Wuthering Heights” – Emily Bronte
“Three Cups of Tea” – Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
“Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” – Christopher McDougall
“His Dark Materials” Trilogy – Philip Pullman

any more suggestions? 🙂 book recommendations always welcome!



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lessons from google

at dinner the other day, someone said something that really stuck with me and that i’ve been thinking about ever since. we were talking about google and my friend had commented that while he didn’t understand google’s commercial model at first — giving away very cool and incredibly useful applications for free — it all clicked when he realized that the simplistic brilliance behind google, from a business perspective, wasn’t that it aimed to profit off these products, but rather to draw the user in.

google realized (or at least that’s the way we’d like to believe in our brilliant speculations :)) that the only way it could truly monetize its online advertising machine was by building superior products that would create a larger user base and make it so that they would use not only google services for as much of their 24 hour day as they could, but also the internet.

by going open source with tools like google documents, it expanded this concept even more — giving users the ability to freely use powerful word processing and spreadsheet tools that had once been virtually monopolized by traditional software giants like microsoft.

and when you really think about it, this general lesson of giving freely is one that extends beyond the business world as well. oftentimes, the most successful people are also the most resourceful — the connectors, the helpers, the enablers of the world. they realize that success isn’t about turning short term profitability — it’s about delivering value, laughter, and happiness over an extended period of time.

besides, it makes the journey all the more enjoyable. 🙂

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Filed under life, random thoughts, technology

college app season

in the spirit of college application season, here’s a story to remind you to double-check those college apps!

“Dear Uncle Ezra,

I applied early decision to Cornell and was excited (and a little surprised, to be honest) to be accepted. I am planning on visiting with my family soon, since I have never been to the campus, but we’re a little confused. I always thought that Cornell is in upstate New York (which is what the web site says.) But the little info sheet about planning your visit gives directions to Mount Vernon, Iowa, which is hundreds of miles away from New York. What’s the deal? Please respond quickly – I’m really excited about visiting and can’t wait to start at Cornell!

Dear New Student,

Your misunderstanding is a common one. Cornell University is indeed in upstate New York, in the town of Ithaca.

Cornell “College”, is a completely different place, also a good school, and it can be found in Mount Vernon, Iowa.

I’m not sure which place you were accepted to, but I’m sure you will figure that out soon.

Uncle Ezra”

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sometimes things happen that just make your day and remind you of all the good things.

thanks for making my day so much brighter, whether you know it or not ^_^

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… a quote i’ve been re-running into several times in completely random places. a great reminder.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work… is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” –Steve Jobs

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peruvian epiphanies

awhile back, my friend lei had commented that “… seeing our country from another one gives you a realer picture of it.”

i think that certainly was true for me in the two week adventure in peru — rafting down the rapids of ollyantamba, taxi-ing up the slopes of the pisac ruins, hiking the historic 48 kilometer inca trail, standing at the gates of an ancient civilization, sailing on the blue waters of lake titicaca, (attempting) biking down the slopes of mt. misti, flying over the mysteries of the nazca lines, sandboarding down the dunes of an oasis in ica, and strolling down the streets of cosmopolitan lima.  while these may seem on the surface the adventures of any traveler on vacation, these experiences also gave me an added appreciation for the united states of america and understanding of the values and the power behind the words: “… life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

in words that have now been immortalized by president obama during his 2008 campaign, my story may never have been possible in any other nation. for this nation, for all its imperfections, is one that at least in my experience, truly does value the individual, that individual’s right to pursue a path of his/her own choosing, and affords social mobility.

as i’ve said before, travel is a means for me to discover myself and an attempt at finding purpose. this trip, perhaps more than ever, made me realize that what i would like in a purpose-driven life is one with service, humanity, and an inquisitive spirit at its core.

sitting for the foreign service exam a few days after returning, i realized just how much i wanted to have this opportunity to serve a country that has given so much to me and others.  to the next adventure, and added shared memories.

update: i just passed the foreign service exam! so now it’s on to essay-writing and hopefully, oral assessments …

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yangshuo, china | 阳朔, 中国

十月份的美德 | october, 2008

(this is such a long overdue post — sorry! i’ve started and added to it numerous times now and am glad to finally have finished it … almost one year later. it’s actually interesting to see all these different feelings/memories interwoven from only a month after the trip to nearly a year later. and that is one of the things i love most about travel — you can read about all these places in storybooks and see them through nikon d-90 images, but it is the lasting memories and imprints they leave on the soul that endures in a way that no image or passage can truly ever capture. after all, we each explore with our own unique set of lenses, shaped by our experiences, personality, and lessons)

karst mountains. peaceful waters. rice fields. sleepy backpacker town.

these are nine words that come to mind when describing yangshuo — the third (fourth? i don’t really count guilin as a stop though) leg of my two week+ trip.

i actually never really planned to go to yangshuo. in fact, i had never heard of the place until a couple months before my china trip, where i had originially, in true overly-ambitious style, planned to go to huangshan, guilin, yunnan, tibet, and beijing in three weeks. by train.

after realizing that i couldn’t even get into tibet without a chinese tour designated specifically for foreigners, decided to save tibet for another time (which i really am looking forward to sometime soon — planning on going overland from yunnan and shangri-la). after convincing my relatives that i would take all measures to not be kidnapped, i decided on teaching english for a week at a school in yangshuo — zhuoyue.

johnson, who runs the school, is great and such a happy individual. an engineer by training and a traveler by spirit (sound familiar anyone?) he had decided to start a school in the sleepy backpacker town of yangshuo. walking along xi jie (west street), i felt like i had been transported out of china into a small, european city (although i’ve never been to europe), with climbers from all over the world, backpackers, and cafes lining the street serving hearty western breakfasts, and the aroma of coffee swirling in the air. it was only the random shops that were scattered around with their “没有钱” and other chinese saying t-shirts that hinted at the chinese-ness of the place.

zhuoyue was one of several english schools in the area — funny how they would all cluster around this small town just 10 hours by bus away from one of the manufacturing capitals of the world — shenzhen. situated at the mouth of lijiang, i can see why anyone would trade the smog and factory stacks of shenzhen for the tranquility of the river waters here for a few months.

as with many other places in china, the students were curious to hear about my experiences as a chinese-american — someone who looked just like them yet who seemed to grow up and live in a place that seemed worlds apart. they said they felt an instant connection to me, because while i looked chinese and yet spoke english like any other american, the way i said things made it easier for them to understand. many were originally from guangzhou, but some came from as far as inner mongolia and harbin — china’s northwest region. many had worked in the factories and procurement companies that dotted shenzhen’s skyline, and had come to yangshuo in hopes of improving their english — a ticket to a better career.

the youngest student was a young boy that was no more than 10 years old. a bubbly, outgoing kid, his dad would bring him to zhuoyue every day after school so that he could practice english and interact with travelers who brought stories from beyond china’s borders. i guess no matter where you are in the world, the language of parenthood is one and the same as parents all strive for what is best for their kids.  the dad himself was a shy middle-aged man who spoke some english but mainly sat back watching his son make “knock knock” jokes with all these laowai from canada, france, spain, etc.

the first day i was there, i met with yanny and yan — my two roommates for the night. they were from hong kong and had just finished their third (?) year of music school. we went on to ping an the next day and me up with ting — the coolest hong kong-born new zealander i’ve met who had been traveling through nepal, india and china up to that point — where we spent the day bamboo rafting down the same li jiang that i had just come down on a river cruise. how different it is to sit on a bamboo raft inches above the water versus the huge boats that plowed through!  highly recommended for anyone who has the chance to pay a visit to yangshuo.  we ended up docking half way up the river and hiked back through rice paddies and trails that hugged acres upon acres of farmland (and also had chickens that flew. seriously. for anyone that knows me i’m not too fond of chickens). along the way, we met an old man who actually didn’t speak any mandarin at well with a wheelbarrow filled with pommelos. we bought one from him and ended up enjoying one the juiciest, freshest pommelos i’ve ever had. by the time dusk rolled around, we found ourselves without a raft and we called “lao yang” — our rafter who had taken us there. rafting back through the moonlit and foggy skies was a surreal experience as mountains that had only hours ago been illuminated in sunlight turned into misty objects dancing in the fog. no motor sounds humming softly in the background, it was just us and the mountains.  i’ve found that there are moments when you’re traveling when you feel as if you’re one with the trees, the water, and the air that you just want to capture in a bottle and carry with you — that was one of those moments.

the next day yanny and yan left from hong kong, and i went bike riding with sunny — one of the students at zhuoyue. she was so nice and took me to moon hill and yulong he again even though i’m sure she had been there so many times already. we went and had this small river fish whose name i don’t remember anymore (which is why i should really stop writing posts about events/trips a year after the fact) that was indigenous to the area. she worked at a semiconductor company before this and together with her husband, was looking to build a better life. a softspoken woman with a “sunny” personality, i loved her honesty, her sincerity, and her general cheerfulness. i think i ended the day by watching american pie with manny, one of the teachers at the school from the phillipines — ahaha only in china.

the following day, jackie — another one of the students — took some other travelers and i to his “secret fishing spot.” only that day it was raining and there were no fish. it was still a fun bike ride out into the farmlands and we were cooked traditional 农家菜 by a local family. i still remember how the farmer held out the duck that would become a soup to me and told me to see if it was okay and fat enough — i quickly said yes as there was no way i was going to hold a flapping duck by its neck 😛 if you ever get a chance, i would definitely recommend going to a local farm and having them cook a meal for you — it seems like the “new” thing to do in china but much much more than that, it does give you a glimpse into another dimension of china that isn’t always in headlines and a people’s way of living.

as the sun set yet again, we decided to peddle back with a flashlight between the six/seven of us. oh chinese adventures … along the way there were houses with lights though so that definitely helped.

towards the end of my stay in yangshuo, the biggest dilemma i faced was whether or not to stay in yangshuo longer or go to beijing. seeing as how it was raining steadily and the fact that i really wanted to see some friends and the post-olympic beijing, i decided to make the 26 hour train ride to the nation’s capital — where my china journey had really begun three years earlier.

what yangshuo left with me though was its uniquely pictureseque setting (there is a part of lijiang that is featured on the back of the 20 yuan bill), the random collection of people i met along the way from curious university students on holiday, young adults looking to the next stage in life through learning english, to native villagers trying to adjust to the changes that the winds of modernization brought. i still keep in touch with some of the people i met along the way there, and that always reminds me that life is about chance, fate and 缘分.


Filed under china, travel 2008