One of the first items on the agenda that my family planned for me on my visit to Dalian was a trip to 蓝堡 (Lan Bao, or “Blue Castle”), a “relaxation club.” China... READ MORE
I always seem to get into heated debates with my friends from the West Coast about whose homeland, theirs or mine (Colorado) is better. Most of these (mistaken) friends come from somewhere within... READ MORE
The trip to Iceland with Wharton Leadership Ventures was so exciting and filled with adventure that I often forgot that it was related to Wharton or academically affiliated at all. Almost everything we... READ MORE
What a depressing topic to start with…but it’s quite important to learn! I can’t say that I’ve quite internalized this lesson yet, but today was a great reminder and a window into the beautiful cycle... READ MORE
My grandpa is extraordinary.
That word gets tossed around more frequently these days, but in his case, I really believe it to be true. At 85, he could beat men a quarter his age in arm wrestling, he gives me (the Wharton business school graduate) lectures on the current economic situation around the globe, and, though twice retired, he is still hard at work developing and patenting nano-optical technology for the early detection of multiple cancers. And, to top it all off, he worked on China’s first nuclear bomb and invented fiber optic cables.
His entire life is an inspirational story filled with hardship. And although I can hardly even begin to do it justice, I strongly believe that it’s one that deserves to be shared with the world.
My grandpa was born in a fairly rural area of the Zhe Jiang province, and grew up just as China suffered atrocities inflicted by the Japanese during WWII. Because the Japanese dropped bombs around the village where he lived, he and his family hid out for months in a mill at a city nearby. There, they manually operated the mill, pushing heavy stone in order to grind corn and wheat. Later on, after the war, he saw the same heavy mechanisms automated with water flow from a river instead operated by human labor. This started a life-long fascination and dedication to science, for he became interested in being an engineer.
At the time, he and his older brother tested into middle school, but the family could only support tuition for one. My grandpa held on to his dream of becoming an engineer. His father, who worked as a builder/bricklayer, tried to convince him to join the family business by saying that he could also learn engineering skills there. But my grandpa declined, saying that he wanted to be a “big engineer,” and with his father, he could only do “small engineering.” His older brother earnestly asked him, “what do you want to in the future?” To which my grandpa replied, “I want to keep learning for a lifetime.” So his older brother made the ultimate sacrifice, telling my grandpa to continue with his studies.
Come time for university, my grandpa tested into Dalian University of Technology. By then, he had refined his dream into working with hydropower on the Three Gorges Dam. However, too many people wanted to study electrical engineering and there weren’t enough spots, so he was assigned to be a chemistry major. It wasn’t his field of choice, but as luck would have it, at the end of his first year the University set up a new Physics department and accepted students from other departments. My grandpa was quite interested in physics, so he switched his major and the course of his life.
After university, he was assigned to the Chang Chun Institute of Optics. There, he worked on developing a machine that could measure distances between geographic points. Because of this work in optics, my grandpa was selected by his superiors to be part of the Fluid Mechanics division of China’s Engineering and Physics Research Institute. Nicknamed “the Ninth Research Institute,” it formed to conduct top-secret research for the development of China’s own nuclear bomb.
The group of scientists in the Ninth Research Institute wholly devoted their energies to the advancement nuclear technology, despite worsening economic conditions and ever-declining meal rations. China had no choice but to start from scratch because all foreign nations except for the Soviet Union refused to share their technological knowledge, and relations soon soured with the Soviet Union as well. In order to develop a smaller, more effective nuclear bomb than those which had already been engineered by other nations, my grandpa embarked on cutting-edge optical research in 1961 that eventually resulted in the independent development of fiber optical cable in 1964. However, it was top-secret technology that belonged to the state, so my grandpa never received credit for his invention. In 2009, Charles K. Kao received the Nobel Prize in Physics for similarly refining fiber optics in 1966, two years after my grandpa. In the end, the project that had required fiber optic cable was canceled and it was never used in the first nuclear bomb itself, but my grandpa’s research inspired developments in other fields.
On October 16, 1964, the efforts of my grandpa and his fellow scientists at the Ninth Research Institute succeeded, and China’s first nuclear bomb detonated at Lop Nur Test Ground.
It was a tremendous victory for China, but the feelings of accomplishment and success were short-lived. 1966 marked the beginning of China’s infamous Cultural Revolution, wherein large portions of the population, including intellectuals, were flagged as “counterrevolutionaries” and publicly ridiculed, sent to labor camps, tortured, or killed. My grandpa, for all his efforts and dedication to the scientific advancement of China, was targeted specifically because of his contributions. In order to research fiber optics, he had needed 100,000RMB for a large platinum crucible in order to work high-purity molten glass. Such a figure was astronomical in 1961, but a central party leader had approved the expenditure and it had demonstratively paid off. By the time of the Cultural Revolution, however, the attackers argued that fiber optic cables could be bought from other nations (ignoring the fact that they weren’t yet invented at the time) and that they weren’t even used in the final version of the bomb. My grandpa had thus wasted 100,000RMB, which was a counterrevolutionary act.
Both my grandparents, my mother, and her younger sister (infants at the time) were jailed, and my grandpa was forced to hold his fiber optic cables and publicly proclaim that they were a waste. Later, he was slated to be executed. The only thing that saved him was the connection to my grandma’s older sister, who lived in Japan. The authorities suspected that my grandpa may have passed state secrets to Japan, so they needed to keep him alive while investigations ensued. After being let out of jail in 1973, he was ordered to do manual labor for rehabilitation in the surrounding mountains and the research institute kitchens. It was only in 1978, when the state apologized for wrongly accusing him, that my grandpa shrugged his status as a criminal and was allowed to return to his science and his former position as Vice Chief Engineer for his division.
In December of 1990, my grandpa retired from the Ninth Research Institute and returned to the Dalian University of Technology to advise graduate students in near-field optics and nano-optical technology. For the following twenty years, he still lived and breathed his work, spending time in his office in the University almost every day. This year, the University discontinued his meager stipend of 2,000RMB/month (thereby officially forcing him to “retire”), but he still makes the almost-daily trek to use the equipment in the University lab.
For the past ten years, my grandpa has dedicated himself to a new goal: improving early detection of cancer. His current research deals with using nano-optics to create Diagnostic Fingerprints for molecules with Raman Spectroscopy. When blood samples are hit with light, they emit very distinctive patterns based on the composition of molecules present, and by analyzing these patterns, one can determine early forms of cancer. This in and of itself is a groundbreaking discovery, but my grandpa’s dream is to take it a step further and make the technology commercially available. Currently, only expensive lab equipment is sophisticated enough to use for this purpose, but it is cost prohibitive and physically unwieldy. Thus, my grandpa set up a home lab in the spare bedroom, ordered equipment parts, and is now hard at work creating a much smaller alternative that’s almost as precise. He knows that he most likely will not live to see his dream achieved; but the blueprint is there, and he works steadfastly closer, one day at a time.
I guess there are many ways to describe my grandpa: inspirational, tough, knowledgable, sharp, inquisitive, disciplined, strong. But as I listen to more and more of his stories, I’m simply struck with awe…and all I can think is, “this man is extraordinary.” That, and, “Man…do I have a LOT to live up to.”
One of the first items on the agenda that my family planned for me on my visit to Dalian was a trip to 蓝堡 (Lan Bao, or “Blue Castle”), a “relaxation club.” China has many of these outfits, where you pay for an all-encompassing ticket and thereby have access to amenities including a pool, steam room, sauna, massage parlor and spa, buffet lunch/restaurant, sitting room with TVs, and sleeping room. You could theoretically buy a ticket and live a life of luxury inside for weeks, because they have everything you could ever need. Lan Bao was a bit smaller than ones I’ve been in before, so it only (“only”) had a pool, hot tubs, sauna, steam room, spa, and sitting room.
The first thing that attendants do when you enter is swap your shoes for slippers (pink for women and blue for men) and hand you a small towel and a wristlet with your locker number. Then you’re separated by gender and ushered into a public bathing area, where the majority of the people that you encounter are in their birthday suits as opposed to bathing suits.
In the US, this would be a horrifying, but I actually rather like it as a communal experience. When you meet people in non-public bath situations, they’ve usually gone through great pains to put up a facade and craft every detail of how they’re presented to the world. But in a public bath, the clothes come off, whether they’re designer pieces or from street markets, the hair hangs wet and loose, and the makeup disappears; you’re the most natural you. Though I can’t say that I’m 100% comfortable stripping down in front of strangers (and family – talk about a bonding experience), I at least like to think that baring it all is a great equalizer, and nobody judges you for what you may or may not have. One definite downside to public baths, though, is that it’s quite difficult to communicate across genders. Even in the bathing area, I was having trouble keeping track of my grandma and aunts, and I barely saw any male members of my family the entire time we were at Lan Bao.
Though the stated intention was to “swim,” very little swimming actually occurred. This was partly because children in floaties occupied the entire shallow end of the pool, but mostly because it was crowded since it was the weekend (and China, nuff said). Instead, we headed back down to the bath area for spa treatments, which was probably the REAL reason why my family chose to go to Lan Bao.
All along the bathing area, there are rows of massage beds, each with a middle-aged masseuse wearing a black bikini. You line up by telling a scheduler your locker number, and once it’s called, the masseuse puts a towel and a thin sheet of plastic down on the bed and you lay down, stark naked and in the open.
The first service that I signed up for was 搓澡 (Cuo Zao, or a “scrub bath”). This entails your masseuse wrapping a regular towel or special scrubbing towel (which is as close to sand paper as your skin can withstand) around her hand and scrubbing every inch of your body, as if you were a particularly dirty and sticky table. Only a total of maybe one cubic inch of skin on my body remained untouched, and it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out where. The entire process is fairly violating but also extremely gratifying, because you roll off the table and see exactly how much dirt and dead skin was coating your body. What’s left looks kind of like long, thin, black eraser shavings, and if all collected and rolled into a ball, all of mine would have been the size of two standard marbles. I don’t think I’ve ever been so clean in my life!
Next was a 奶浴 (Nai Yu, or “milk bath”), which is most concisely summed up as having hot milk poured over your body and then massaged and patted into your skin. To keep you warm while working on a specific area of your body, the masseuse wets you down with warm water and then lays a thin sheet of plastic over you, which effectively seals you in a plastic pouch. Simple and slightly uncomfortable, but surprisingly effective! I’m not sure about the health benefits of absorbing milk into your skin, but I guess I can’t see any harms that may come of it, either.
An afternoon of complete relaxation, all for about 25USD! I’ve never felt so pampered and clean, ironically in a country that on average ranks pretty low on hygiene. But that’s what I love about China, it’s a country of contradictions (and amazingly cheap services). Enjoying it all while I can!
A month and a half ago, I officially signed the lease for an apartment in NYC and rented a Uhaul truck and a rental car with a roommate to move in to my very first apartment for the very first time! Though driving into the City is a form of hell that I would only wish upon those who do me a severe ill, the trip went rather smoothly. We managed to inch into Lincoln Tunnel and the streets of NYC without causing any accidents or pedestrian injuries, and moving in took less time than we thought. We were just about finished, just setting up the legs of the last table while one of our friends waited outside to watch the cars, when we received our first welcoming gift from NYC: A $115 parking ticket.
We complained about the injustice and pleaded for mercy, but the NYC policeman turned a deaf ear. While I was prepared to accept our frustrating fate and beginning to re-examine the decision to move to NYC (never too late to change my mind, right?), my roommate insisted that we dispute the ticket because, she reasoned, very few people probably did. And if there was a chance that we wouldn’t have to pay it, why not take it?
Thus began a long and troublesome process. It took five days for the ticket to show up on the online system, and after submitting a request for an online trial (“Click here to plead guilty and pay your ticket” – HELL NO. Even if I had a been prepared to pay, I would definitely have changed my mind after adding insult to injury!), the City took half a month to respond.
Long story short, we were actually in the wrong. Turns out our rental car was in a Commercial Vehicles Only zone, and having a friend watch over it didn’t make the slightest difference. Fine. I finally resolved to accept the insult and “plead guilty,” just to get the whole thing over with.
But when I searched for my ticket on the NYC website to pay, nothing came up. I pulled up the record for the ticket and found, to my surprise, that some way or another, the $115 balance had already been reduced to zero. Maybe some kind soul saw my post on Facebook and paid it for me, or maybe some thankfully careless official accidentally deleted the balance when handling my dispute. I don’t know exactly what happened, but obviously filing a dispute worked, albeit indirectly! A much better result than what would have happened had I given up and paid without any questions asked.
So, my roommate was right: if there’s a way to fight something and avoid trouble, you might as well try. You never know what might happen! Pick your battles, obviously, but never sit quietly and simply take whatever is dished out to you.
Usually I gravitate toward hotel rooms or hostels when traveling, but I’ve been hearing more and more about airbnb recently, so I decided to give it a shot! A friend helped me find a full apartment on airbnb in Downtown Vancouver for <50% of the price of hotels in the same area, and I just happened to be in town for the exact same days that the host was going to be on vacation. When he turned the apartment over to me, he told me to say that I was a distant cousin if anyone asked (a very, very distant, adopted cousin apparently, since we clearly do not hail from the same continent). But I didn’t encounter any problems, and I had a nice, comfortable bed, access to a kitchen, and this unbeatable view:
Plus, I never would have encountered masterpieces such as this at any regular old hotel:
Airbnb made my trip to Vancouver convenient and much more affordable (though still not cheap), so I’m fully converted!
I always seem to get into heated debates with my friends from the West Coast about whose homeland, theirs or mine (Colorado) is better. Most of these (mistaken) friends come from somewhere within California, but the next biggest culprits are those from Vancouver. I’m about as stubborn as they come, but after visiting Vancouver for a weekend, I have to admit that their arguments are not COMPLETELY without grounds. Vancouver definitely is extremely gorgeous! With such sky-high living prices, though, I think I’ll stick with Colorado, at least until I make my first $2-3 million!
The trip to Iceland with Wharton Leadership Ventures was so exciting and filled with adventure that I often forgot that it was related to Wharton or academically affiliated at all. Almost everything we did, from lamenting the wetness of our feet, joking and laughing with each other in the 15-person van, and scrunching our noses at the smell of shark, was entirely different from the typical classroom experience. But I learned many valuable, life-long lessons, and I will always count this Icelandic Trek as one of my most cherished memories at Wharton.
Photo credit to the amazingly adventurous Dr. Chris Maxwell
Lessons from Iceland:
- Attitude is everything, and it colors your entire experience. Part of the reason why we were able to enjoy Iceland so much is because we were all adventurous, open to new experiences, and hardy in the face of sometimes-less-than-ideal conditions (read: wet shoes for five days straight – something green started growing on mine). I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to go on the trip with such a group of lively, fun-loving people! A large contributor to our fantastic experience was the attitude set by our guides, who made sure that we were all safe and on schedule but also gave us plenty of room to explore and have fun.
- Don’t take anything too seriously! This was the prevailing attitude of the guides: you can have fun and things still get done. We were able to get dressed and depart on time, make our meals, and stay together on hikes while staying on schedule, and all of it was made more pleasant by joking and playing along the way. The same itinerary could have been executed with a COMPLETELY different experience. In addition, it’s important to hit everything on the itinerary, but oftentimes the best memories are created between items on the to do list or during events that were never planned.
- When one person is down, it can drag on the group; but the converse is also true: when one person is energetic and excited, it can take the entire group up to greater heights. A prime example was one guide’s insistence that we all go to the nearby hot springs when the majority of us were dragging our feet and wanted nothing more than to nap. But it turned out to be one of our favorite places on the trip, and our energy levels quickly reached (and, in many cases, exceeded) that of the guide that instigated the trip.
- It’s not about reaching the destination – it’s all about the journey. Though we weren’t able to hike to the top of the glacier, I think I’m just as satisfied with the experience that we had as I would have been if we had actually reached the summit (perhaps even more satisfied, because I’m not confident that I would have been able to climb another 700 vertical meters with all of my toes intact). We bonded over comforting each other and asking if we were all okay, and we left the mountain with great stories, which is all that counts.
To those at WLV: Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in this trek! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to wrap up my time at Wharton, and I am proud to be part of the WLV Trip Participants Alumni Network. All the best to WLV, and I am excited for all of the future trip participants!
I like having plans and executing them. On the Myer Briggs scale (Introversion vs. Extroversion, Intuition vs. Sensing, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perception), I fluctuate between either category for the first three, but I’m always, always almost 100% Judging. Which doesn’t mean that I like to judge people (which may also be true, but I’m working on it!) – it means that I’m good at planning out and following steps for a process and that spontaneous changes and decisions make me pretty uncomfortable.
Today was a good reminder, though, that spontaneity is pretty darn awesome! I made a last-minute decision to meet up with friends who had made the last-minute decision to do an Insanity workout at night, and together we made the last-minute decision to work out outside on the tennis court of a school nearby. (Excuse the blurriness because of poor iPhone photo quality at night – blurriness can’t hide that muscle, though!)
There was open space, there was a breeze, there was relative privacy, and there was even a blanket of stars that we could lay down and gaze at post-workout. The workout bit sucked at times, which was inevitable. But the overall experience was amazing, one that I won’t forget for a long, long, time. And, as a bonus, my body will thank me for it!
It definitely pays to be more spontaneous, because I (almost always) end up having spectacular fun. And something that I’ve been fiercely denying is the truth that you can’t ever plan everything. Time to open up to spontaneity… that’s the first item on my next plan!
Yesterday I found myself at the Denver Turnverein, participating in the social West Coast Swing dancing that my mother (who is far more adventurous than I) has regularly attended for the previous nine years. Under her influence, I took a few West Coast Swing classes during the previous semester, which amounted to about 6 hours total and ended in March. So suffice it to say that I barely retained any of (1) the steps and (2) the rhythm.
For the first half hour or so, I merely sat at the edge of the dance floor trying to pick up the steps from couples that danced in front of me. But of course, they were all such seasoned dancers that nobody seemed to care much for the basic steps (or they jazzed them up so much with poses and flair and body rolls that I couldn’t distinguish them at all). So much for that strategy.
Eventually, someone who was also a beginner asked me to dance. There were a lot of fumbles and plenty of “Haha, sorry!”‘s, but slowly, I began to pick it back up again. And then another beginner came, and another, and soon I was feeling almost (Almost!) comfortable. But I found I was dancing with the same people, doing pretty much the same moves… and none of the other guys, the ones with the poses and flair and body rolls, were asking me to dance.
At this point, my mother, who had been keeping a watchful eye on me, sidled up to me and hissed, “If you want to improve, you have to dance with the good dancers!” And, as much as I hate doing it, I had to admit that she was right. The only way you can improve is by dancing with those who are better than you, who will add new moves to your repertoire and give you advice on how to improve moves that you do know (at least in the case of the followers – I can’t speak for leaders, since they actually have to know exactly what they’re doing). And those people won’t automatically reach out to you; it’s up to you to reach out to them, because the time that you spend dancing with each other will be entirely for your benefit. I was only limiting myself by waiting to be asked. Just because I was a follower didn’t mean that I couldn’t take the lead in my own learning!
But I still maintain that, before you seek out the best dancers, you still have to at least make sure that you have a bare minimum level of skill. Towards the end of the night, one of the posing, flairing, body rolling superstars actually DID ask me to dance, mostly because he was a friend of my mom’s. But my complete and utter lack of posing, flairing, body rolling ability and very weak grasp of the basic steps rendered that a very awkward dance indeed. So though I will start asking people to dance, I think I’m going to wait until I master the basics and at least one pose before asking a superstar.
All in all, not a bad first day back to West Coast Swing! And a very important life lesson learned, one that is applicable to far more than just dance.
In the Positive Psychology class that I took last semester, we learned that writing and delivering Gratitude Letters to those who have helped us or influenced us or who we just all-around appreciate in general is one of the most effective positive interventions. Compared to other interventions, Gratitude Letters produce positive feelings that last longer. We tried it out as an exercise in class and I wrote a Thank You letter to one of my favorite professors, but I was too chicken to actually deliver it in person, so I sent it as an email. It did produce some positive feelings (and some guilt for being such a chicken), and I vowed to try it again but never got around to it as the school year finished.
Well, with Father’s Day, here was a chance! One of my Dads would probably never use whatever I bought him while the other would probably lose it in the frantic move to New Zealand, and I don’t have the money to buy either of them anything of true value yet. So I wrote them both a heartfelt Gratitude Letter, along with one for my mother for a belated Mother’s Day present. (Geez…I’m a bad gift-giver, aren’t I?)
As it turns out, Gratitude Letters have just as strong of an effect (if not stronger) on the recipients as on the writer! My parents were all overjoyed, and said that they appreciated the letters much more than any physical gift that I could have bought. And I discovered that most of the joy associated with a Gratitude Letter comes from delivering it. Though I’m hard-pressed to come up with any single activity that is more awkward than waiting while someone reads a letter that you wrote (“*chuckle*” “What – what? Where are you at?”), the smiles and hugs that come afterward are priceless.
So, I’m going to have to step it up on the gift giving next year, but I just effectively raised the positivity of my household for the next few weeks! When stumped for a gift, give the gift of gratitude.
Whenever I find myself on a long car ride to a specific destination, I get slowly lulled into a sense of complacency. The seat isn’t necessarily the most comfortable, but the A/C is adjusted to the right temperature, the scenery passes by in a blur, and sometimes there’s a bit of sunshine cooking through the window juuuust right to make you feel nice and toasty. It’s altogether not a bad place to be. But all trips eventually end, and soon enough, the car slows down and I find myself coasting to a stop in a parking lot.
And when that happens, sometimes I feel a twinge of dread that I have to leave the car. It’s ridiculous, because whatever we do at the destination has to be better than remaining seated and strapped in the same, fairly uncomfortable position for a long stretch of time. But in that duration, I’ve acclimated to the car, and the thought of sudden change – climbing out and exploring a new place – is slightly daunting.
This is just a small example, but I realized that it happens to me a lot. Having the chance to talk to the speaker or a recruiter after a presentation, entering a contest or competition, clicking “Publish” for a blog post. All of these are opportunities for me to enter a new world and explore the unknown, but all I want to do is stay in the car, where things are familiar and not TOO uncomfortable. I do (most of them) anyway. But it takes a lot of mental willpower to open the figurative car door and take a step outside. And especially in the beginning, I’m not happy about it at all.
However, just one simple shift in mindset can have a drastic change. If, instead of focusing on the difficulty of dragging myself out of my comfort zone, I focus on the opportunity for what it is – an opportunity, then the negative thoughts disappear out of sight. In the face of excitement, there’s no room for dread. It gives me a head start by allowing me to jump out of the car fresh and ready, and all it takes is simple thought: “This is a great opportunity, and I’m excited for it.”
It’s a thought that’s always true, but sometimes it just takes a little reminding. And it may not always work, but the important thing is to make it out of the car in one way or another. Otherwise, I would miss spectacular experiences like these:
Hiking in the Ashdown Gorge Wilderness near Brian Head, Utah
(Spot my dad standing on the ledge in the last picture? Living life on the edge…but that’s a different lesson)
Photos courtesy of the brilliant Mike Saemisch, Life of Brian Head
And these are things I’m definitely excited for.