Friday, October 29, 2010

Why I Care (about developing countries)

I gave four, almost consecutive presentations at Oakland High about developing countries on Tuesday. I came to realize that I'm getting old and my daily life is pretty far removed from high schoolers. It's hard for me to think about what they know and what they don't know. There were moments when I didn't even realize they don't understand something that was seemingly obvious to me. Anyway, class periods are so short. I don't know how any teaching and learning get done. I really wish I had time to talk about "why we should care," especially with this group of students. I'll write about it here so that I can flush out my thoughts. Maybe I should have done this before going to talk at the school.

Honestly, I did not care about developing countries when I was in high school. I didn't care until probably senior year of college, when I did D-Lab. I felt that there were so many problems "at home" and that we should really focus our energies helping people in our own backyards rather than spending resources on people far away. It's so much harder to care about people far away.

That's one of the reasons why I joined ESP, actually. I volunteered with a bunch of different organizations freshmen year, all of them focusing on outreach to nearby communities. I stuck with ESP even though there wasn't a whole lot of underprivileged outreach because the people who ran the program were cool. I consciously and unconsciously avoided all the talk, hype, and clubs that involved global poverty issues. And then I did D-Lab.

I actually signed up for D-Lab because people who I went to Cambridge with were really enthusiastic about it. They talked about the program's uniqueness and that it's something you can only do while at MIT. So I went to the first class and wrote a pretty convincing application for the class and got in. I went to class and worked on the projects but still treated everything as a class. I mean, I cared about my project (rammed earth) a lot but I didn't feel its connection to society until I actually went to Sierra Leone.

At some point either during or after the trip to Sierra Leone, I had a realization that the problems we were trying to tackle were strikingly similar to problems "at home," namely income security, food security, education, shelter, and nutrition. The problems are the same, all having to do with basic human needs. The details are different but those always are. The question is, what about the solutions? How do the solutions differ?

I really believe that by traveling to different countries and experiencing other cultures, you learn much more about yourself and your own culture. I had many eye-opening moments while in Germany (my "first" abroad experience) about myself and the culture that I subscribe to. By putting myself in a places where I didn't know the language, don't understand the culture, and have no clue about the religion, I really appreciated the kindness and understanding of other people. I became much more aware of what "culture" is and the assumptions that people make about how life should be, how things should work, etc. I (would like to think) am much more sensitive to other people's needs because I have been in situations where I couldn't articulate my own needs.

Through these experiences, I realized that I can't necessarily relate to the situation "back home." I had thought that I understood the issues that immigrants to the US face. I thought that since I had experienced it first-hand, I would be best suited to help solve these issues. But after my travels, I realize that this is a false assumption. I really don't know what other people are going through and shouldn't try to pretend that I am an expert on their experiences. There is no one formula to alleviating the problems that are entrenched in underprivileged neighborhoods in the US. And the best people to work on solving those problems may not be people who had experienced them first-hand. While these people bring with them, some sort of assurance that they understand and care about the people that they are serving, they are also the most likely to "think outside the box."

I am much more likely to think "outside the box" (since I am coming from "outside the box") on issues pertaining to people in a different community than the one I grew up in. I don't deny that I would have different emotional attachments to projects involving Chinese Americans in the Bay Area vs. Africans in Sub-Saharan Africa. But I really believe that working on projects in the developing world has made me much more capable of working on problems in the developed world. They are, in essence, the same problems.

I wish that people working on problems at home can come in with the humble open-mindedness that is so important to international work. By going into a community and admitting right off the bat that I don't understand the culture, the people, and their problems, I have a lot more motivation to try to understand the situation before proposing solutions. I am much more sensitive to the real needs of the people rather than what I think they need. Again, this last point is relevant for projects everywhere.

I hope this made sense. It's something that I have been thinking about for the past few days. I certainly don't think I have it all correct. I would love to hear what other people think about this.

Sisters and Happiness

Very cute article:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tsunami in West Sumatra!

Recent tsunami in West Sumatra, Indonesia. Luckily, it was too far offshore to affect Padang. There are causalities though. About 4 villages were swept away and the death toll has climbed to almost 300 people now, with many still missing. The villages are on a chain of islands offshore of Padang. Some are only reachable by a 12 hour boat ride. The weather has also hindered the search and rescue operations.

I subscribe to USGS earthquake notifications and saw the email for this particular earthquake. I clicked on the links to find out about possible tsunamis and found that a warning was issued and then canceled. This was on Monday, around noon. Some of us on the Padang project emailed and texted each other about this and we were all relief. But then I came home on Tuesday night after a full day of talking about Splash at Oakland High to find my inbox full of stuff about a tsunami.

I was shocked for about half an hour while I go through my inbox while searching for articles about the tsunami. It's still hard to find much information about it because of a volcano eruption in Central Java. Found lots of articles about Australian surfers though. I'm hoping to read more scientific information about the tsunami in the next few days, specifically, if this earthquake released any stress on the fault. Hopefully, this will mean more funding for tsunami preparedness in the region.

I talked to a couple of friends in Padang (via facebook) and neither of them felt the earthquake. But here's a quote from one of them,

"The people in padang is okay but a little bit panic. But in mentawai is so terrible, There was 13 meter high tsunami hit islands. there is 272 people died, 412 people missing and 40 people injured, 4000 people evacuated. Pray us! We stay alert."

I'm also really glad that some of my friends who are unrelated to the Padang project have emailed or otherwise contacted me about this tsunami. These are all people who I have talked to about this project. I'm so touched that they thought to contact me about this after reading about it on the news.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Week 6, more than halfway done

It did not rain as much as I expected this past weekend. I was looking forward to the sound of pouring rain outside the window all weekend. I basically sat in my room and did work the entire weekend. I mean, I took some breaks to watch anime but it was still quite minimal.

I can't do this "no sleeping" thing anymore. I went to bed at 2am and got about 5 hours of sleep before having to wake up for an 8am class this morning. I also realized that I've been drinking too much caffeine. It's all in the form of tea but I think drinking dark tea with every single meal and maybe in between meals was too much. My stomach has been feeling a bit queasy in the mornings lately. Anyway, refraining from drinking tea excessively should help. I swear I used to only drink one cup of tea a day with dinner. I'm sure I was also getting like 6 hrs of sleep a night fall semester of senior year...

Going to Oakland High really early tomorrow to talk about Splash and give a Splash demo class. Still need to work on shortening the real Splash class into a 30 min session. It'll be interesting. I hope we can really reach out to some kids and they will make the effort of coming to Stanford. I'm doing a trial run of the class I'm teaching with Yalu in Nov. We've never taught this class before. It's about developing countries. Sort of a comparative study between countries and what are the main issues involved. I hope it will give the kids a start on thinking about the rest of the world. Can't be that frog that sits on the bottom of the well all his life.

And we'll also see how skilled I am with this teaching thing. I think teaching, tutoring, and related things are some of the best ways to do community outreach. I realized a while ago that it's not really my thing. I don't think I'm patient enough. I've seen people who are really good at teaching and tutoring and I definitely can't compare with them. But I'm okay with this. Don't need to be good at everything.

Big earthquake near Padang a few hours ago. It was far away though and there was no tsunami generated. There was a warning issued initially but it was lifted a few minutes after. There were several pretty big aftershocks as well. I wish we can tell the earthquake/tsunami gods that they can't come yet because we're not ready. Hopefully, they'll just never come...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Work, work, and more work

Working a Friday night. I'm actually glad that I can work on a Friday night. I spent the last couple of Friday nights not at Stanford. This is the first weekend I've had in my room in a while. I literally didn't know what to do with myself this morning. Only had one class and one meeting. I came back, watched some Conan, napped, went to the store...

It's going to be a rainy weekend. It was misting this morning. It's also alumni/homecoming weekend. There are a ton of alumni here, many with their families. I feel bad for these people coming on such a weekend. It will be sunny again during the week. But there's a flood warning this weekend, that's how much it's going to rain. Anyway, hope this doesn't ruin their memories of Stanford.

I'm almost caught up with homework and such. Need to do more studying though. I usually write my notes twice. But my classes this quarter are all powerpoint. So I'm re-writing the PowerPoint notes. That seems to take longer because they cover more stuff with all this technology. Oh wells, I need to put in this extra effort because just attending lectures and reading the notes doesn't cut it for me.

Lots to do this weekend. But fear not, I got chocolate today! Been missing this treat. I think it really gives me a boost, especially after meals and before launching into a note writing or psetting session. Oh and the persimmon trees in Rains have a ton of fruit on them. I picked a basket full and just waiting for them to ripen now. I hope the rain doesn't destroy the trees this weekend. The tree branches are pretty fragile; I broke a few with no effort. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

After Graduation Asia Trip

I've added a SmartyPig widget on the left side of the blog. For all you RSS feed readers, you have to actually come to the website to see this. I recently opened a SmartyPig account because it seemed like a good way for me to save for my after-graduation-Asia-trip. recently added a Goals section to their services but SmartyPig lets you make widgets like this so that other people can contribute to your goals!

I want to go to Asia after I graduate in March. I haven't been back to China since after graduating high school. So I think I should go back to see family. And then I want to do some traveling around in East and Southeast Asia. I feel like I know so little about Asia. Really looking forward to going to more places and learning more about other cultures, see historical sites, eat good food. Not sure how all the logistics will work out yet. Really hope I can travel with someone. Or even meeting up to travel with different people along the way would be fine too.

Anyway, feel free to contribute to this fund! I'll repay the favor when I get the chance, I promise. It all comes back in the end. I've deposited an initial $100 to this fund. This will be used for the buying the backpack because believe it or not, I don't have one of these backpacking backpacks. I've realized I'm pretty efficient at packing and I think I can pull this trip off with one big and one regular sized backpack.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cats Rule

The kitty owns you! hahah. Actually, I think all "cat owners" know this already. Thanks, Lena.


Snowball sniffing out my suitcase after I came back from Southeast Asia. Maybe he likes the food there too.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Halfway through fall quarter already!

Totally slacking on keeping this blog up to date. There's just too much happening these days. Unlike when I'm traveling, there's not really a coherent theme to things. Speaking of traveling, I opened a SmartyPig account to save money for my after-graduation-Asia-trip. They have better interest rates than my Discover Bank account O.o!

Did laundry, vacuumed, and cleaned my room yesterday. Didn't manage to do very much homework or studying. One of our geomech friends who graduated last year came back to run the NWM and came down to campus to visit us yesterday. So we spent some time chatting with him. I'm feeling very behind on my classes though. I mean, I'm not actually that behind on doing the homework. But I usually like to read the notes before I start on doing problem sets. I need to read the notes a second time, at my own pace to absorb the material. Looking forward to later this week when I have time to do this.

I want to write a bit about last Saturday because it felt like an epic day. The DFI conference had ended Friday afternoon and my flight out of LAX was at 2pm. So I had some time to chill before the flight. One of the guys I stayed with made pancakes for breakfast. We sat around talking for a while and then decided to go to an In N Out that is really close to the LAX airport. This place is apparently very well known in the aviation industry because you can sit outside and watch the planes come in. It was super cool because the planes were really close and you can even see the vortex and air condensing on the wings. And there were planes landing every few minutes. This would be such a cool place to bring a family for lunch and easy entertainment.

And then I went on a plane myself. The security line was a bit annoying because it was a big bottleneck and took really long. And it felt a bit chaotic. After the security line, it was great. I boarded the plane right away so there was no waiting. I really thought my backpack would get lighter after the conference because I had packed sandwiches and such. But actually I ended up collecting a lot of stuff at the conference and LA.

Once I got to SF, I started calling my friends to figure out what's happening with the marathon. I managed to miss the BART leaving the airport because the people in front of me on the escalator were blocking the entire thing and not feeling urgent about catching public transportation. Anyway, it gave me time to call people and I got to the race package pickup with plenty of time to pick up stuff. The line for the race packet pickup was super long but moved pretty fast. I met up with Mahalia and Ben on while standing in line.

I came out of the tent with another bag to carry. I was already carrying my backpack, sleeping bag, and another bag with clothes. At this point, we really should've gone and dropped off stuff (as planned) but we decided to go for dinner instead. I was all for going to Chinatown because I wanted a haircut (wasn't all that interested in getting food there because I don't know any places). Anyway, we ended up dragging our stuff all over town and got to friend's place after they left for dinner. So we didn't see them until the next morning.

Since I started the LA trip, I've been having a lot of dream filled nights. They've stopped after I got back to Stanford. I guess there's just a lot going on and I literally feel like my brain is working 24/7. Anyway, really glad to be back in my own bed now.

I feel like this quarter I've really gotten more involved in student organizations, especially ones that start with ES(something). I'm not sure how all this happens but I seem to find myself volunteering for a lot of things.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Another half marathon!!

Currently in recovery mode! This will be a short post because I need to get some sleep. Ran the Nike Women's (half) Marathon today. Finished in 2:19. Not entirely satisfied with the time but at least I ran the entire way. Hopefully I can still walk tomorrow! I got some pineapple juice today. I hear it's good for soreness; breaks down the lactic acids.

Really need to catch up on life. Need to do laundry, do some cooking and cleaning, and homework! I have junk everywhere. The good news is that I don't have any plans for this weekend. I don't think I even have to go grocery shopping because I went with my roommate earlier tonight. So I'm going to really looking forward to being able to focus and do some quality studying.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Conference in Hollywood

Yes, the conference was right in the heart of Hollywood. From the balcony, I can see the Walk of Fame, the elephants statues, and the Hollywood sign. The conference itself was interesting. It was on deep foundations technology, challenges, and related issues. People had some really interesting projects to showcase. I expected more people to attend though. Or maybe there were a lot of people but not everyone sat in on the sessions. The conference had a lot of technical sessions, committee meetings, and exhibits by companies. Maybe people hung out at the exhibits more.

The conference ended before lunchtime on Friday so I had a bit of time to walk around Hollywood. I walked around the mall area a bit trying to find an interesting place to eat. I was hungry and was about to give up on this search when I saw the Lard On food truck. Of course, I had to go. I got the BLT off of their lunch menu. The buns were heated on the grill, bacon was extra crispy, huge slices of tomatoes, and blue cheese. I thought the blue cheese was a bit weird for all this but it works. When I was trying to pay, the guy saw my US Navy wallet and asked if I was in the Navy or if it was a free wallet (ha!). At this point, I realized I was standing in front of a US Armed Forces recruiting center. I told the guy I did a military youth program back in the day and he asked if it was the sea cadets! Turns out the guy was in Bryce Canyon, one of the big units in this area. Actually the LA area has a quite a few big units, I think. I was a bit shocked. We chatted for a little bit but he had to take more orders. So random.

I brought my sandwich to the Coffee Bean. I was wondering why they were all over the place when I found out that it started in this area. It's like Peets in SF Bay. I got a tea latte which was overpriced but really good and made use of their free wi-fi. After refueling, I walked around Hollywood Blvd a bit but there wasn't a whole lot to see. There's about a block or two of "attractions" like the Chinese theater, Egyptian theater, Ripleys, Wax Museum, upscale clothing stores, etc. And then it becomes hooka bars, fast food joints, souvenir shops, and other stores with no one in them. I got tired and took the metro to downtown LA. I was planning to walk around there but sat at another Coffee Bean instead and used their wireless again, made some phone calls, and just sat around drinking my tea. I don't think there was very much to see anyhow.

I'm staying with a couple of friends from Stanford and we all went out to a Korean place nearby. This neighborhood has a lot of Korean and Japanese food places. Apparently Toyota and Honda has offices here. The food was amazing!! I've never thought Korean food was all that great but this was so delicious. All the other customers were Korean. They even served side dishes of kimchi and other sides. I've always thought kimchi tasted funny. I think it's because all I've ever had were ones bought from the store that are over fermented. The kimchi at this place was so good. I had a noodle soup that was cooked in a beef and kimchi broth. Never knew what I was missing out on!

We were all stuffed when we got back so we watched an episode of Firefly. After the episode, I found out that Serenity is the movie made to wrap up the Firefly series. I had watched Serenity freshmen year when LSC showed it as part of the sci-fi movie marathon. I don't know how I didn't manage to make this connection. I think if I had, I would've watched all of Firefly by now. Better late than never....

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Briefcase to Backpack

This website specializes in advice for people who want to have a long break in their careers and just travel. Very cool. Too bad I don't have a career yet!

Here's a NYTimes article about it:

Btw, I am in LA (well, LA metro area) right now. Attending a geotech conference Thursday and Friday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grow Up? Not So Fast

An interesting article from Time:
Grow Up? Not So Fast

Really like this paragraph on the 2nd page:

Jeffrey Arnett, a developmental psychologist at the University of Maryland, favors "emerging adulthood" to describe this new demographic group, and the term is the title of his new book on the subject. His theme is that the twixters [18-25 year olds] are misunderstood. It's too easy to write them off as overgrown children, he argues. Rather, he suggests, they're doing important work to get themselves ready for adulthood. "This is the one time of their lives when they're not responsible for anyone else or to anyone else," Arnett says. "So they have this wonderful freedom to really focus on their own lives and work on becoming the kind of person they want to be." In his view, what looks like incessant, hedonistic play is the twixters' way of trying on jobs and partners and personalities and making sure that when they do settle down, they do it the right way, their way. It's not that they don't take adulthood seriously; they take it so seriously, they're spending years carefully choosing the right path into it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Conferences: 1 of 2

Haven't written in so long that I had to check my Google calender to see what happened since the last time I wrote. I've been really busy the last week. I had a normal-ish week Monday to Wednesday. Wednesday was especially long though because one of my classes got moved to the afternoon so I didn't have a nice block of classes. And then I flew off to Indiana on Wednesday night for the ESW National conference.

It took us 2 separate flights to get there and 2 separate flights to get back. I slept a lot on these series of flights. Circumstances just made it so that I was really tired when I got to the airport. I think I fell asleep on most of these flights before the plane took off and only woke up right before landing. I didn't even realized that my first flight was showing a movie. I also slept at the airport. On the way back, we walked to our gate and slept until it was time to board the plane. Didn't even bothered to go buy food or look for free wi-fi.

The conference itself was very interesting. I think we all got a lot of out meeting people from the different chapters. Honestly, I didn't know very much about the national organization at all before this. I had no idea what other chapters were doing so it was great to hear about other people's projects. I wish we had more sharing time though. What projects are other people doing, how are they progressing, next steps, the structure, how many people does it take to run something, etc. Totally seeing myself getting sucked into this organization at more than the project level.

At some of the member meetings, we introduced ourselves with name, university, major, and role in ESW. I was stumped by the "role" part for a while and decided on "project leader" after thinking it through. I honestly had never thought about my role in ESW. It's just something that I do. Never thought about it as a job description.

Most of the conference consisted of "breakout sessions" where there were 1-3 speakers from industry and academia. They talked about various topics, mostly about what their organization is doing in the context of sustainability. Again, I wish we had more time for discussion because people asked a lot of questions and they were generally very good questions. I will write more about this conference and the various adventures that we had soon. Right now I need to catch up on some sleep!

Friday, October 1, 2010

500 Posts!!

The next two weeks will be very busy. Two conferences in a roll. Not sure why I decided this was a good idea in the first place. It should be good though. I'm looking forward to meeting a lot of people at these conferences. Great places for networking to happen.

Speaking of networking, I spent a bit of time applying to jobs. So I guess the job hunt has started. I mainly looked at companies where I don't have any contacts for and emailed their HR departments. Not sure if this actually works. I'll see what happens, I guess.

Last night was a long night. Got back from the ESW presentation pretty late. We did a presentation for SEG people and other people who have been involved in the project. There were some new people. Wish there were more new people, in particular, more of the new Masters students. But maybe it's because everyone was working on the 280 homework.

Speaking of 280 (structural analysis), this class kept me up pretty late last night. I think it was about 3am when I went to bed. Got up at 7am to finish up stuff, return things to the Blume Center, and tried to get some stuff done before the 9:30am class. Tried to submit reimbursements for the trip after the class but it turns out we need a lot more things than we realized. Almost there though. Really wish there are clear instructions for me to follow. I don't think I understand how everything works in the first place. Anyway, just waiting for an account number now. All the paperwork is ready to be submitted. Wouldn't have been able to do this if Greg hadn't brought me lunch. Super low on energy this morning.

Got back to my dorm and slept for about 2 hours. Made myself get up and went running in the afternoon. Literally ran into a classmate from MIT. He's my year but took a year off and is now doing a Masters in Environment Engineering. I knew he was here but not vice versa so he was a bit surprised. Really nice to finally see him. Even though we're technically in the same department, all the groups are pretty separated so we don't really see the other groups the department very much.

Two BBQs tomorrow! Looking forward to lots of good food. I think I will try to do some work in the morning, go to the BBQs, do some cleaning in the afternoon, and do some more studying. Not entirely satisfied with my classes this quarter. Not even sure if one of my classes is still happening because the professor didn't show up on Wednesday and we haven't heard from him at all. I even emailed him today. Maybe I should have dropped by his office. Might end up having to take linear algebra (again) in order to have enough units. It's looking like a better and better option now that I think about it. Anyway, I'll see what happens. I need to start working. I feel like I'm waiting for something to happen and haven't been able to develop a routine because of this.