0287 – My Three Summer Destinations

Finals are finally over! The semester has come to a close, and I now have returned to my beloved blogosphere. It’s been a while. I’m sorry for going AWOL in the past two weeks. It was the end of my winter semester at the University of Michigan and I was crazy busy. Anyway, it’s the summer break for us students! I have once again managed to turn a “break” into busy time–but also play time. I’m excited for what’s in store!

So here are my three main trips this summer:

1. Bangalore, India

– I have an 8-week internship with Infosys, an IT services company (a giant one), who has set a goal of carbon neutrality by 2017! From my understanding, I will be assisting Infosys’s Green Initiatives team with the planning of how to get the company there. So I will likely be evaluating different renewable energy types and carbon offset projects that are fit for India.

2. Bhutan!!!

– I’m really pumped about this trip. It’s just going to be a 9-day vacation in July with my mom and sister to visit my dream destination. Three words: Gross National Happiness. I’m excited to just feel the atmosphere of the country firsthand and observe how the people carry themselves, and how GNH has shaped the country.



3. Monrovia, Liberia

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (right) and women's rights activist Leymah Gbowee (left) receiving the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize

– The University of Michigan has this program called GIEU (Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates), through which students have the opportunity to go to various parts of the world to work on a project that exposes the students to a different culture and dynamic. I will be traveling to Liberia for a month in July-August to work with the Liberian college students on sustainable energy, and potentially explore the local landscape and implement a small scale renewable energy system there.




So those are my three destinations this summer. I hope to blog regularly throughout the four months and share my pictures, reflections and observations of their ways of life. Stay connected!

Anyhow, I will be on my flight to my home in Bangkok, Thailand in T-5. Making three stops in ORD, SFO and HKG. 30-hour trip. This one will not be so fun, but I gotta get home. Will say hello again when I’m done switching time zones on you.

Have a great summer everyone!


0286 – Introducing another blog: Purpose Fairy

I came across Purpose Fairy the other day when I was searching for blogs similar to mine. I must say Dana did an amazing amazing job with this blog. I can’t sing enough praise for her. I was fixated on her blog for a while, exploring her outlook on life, thought-provoking posts, and practical advice on happiness, personal growth, and life really. Her post on 15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy–the featured post on her front page–is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. Incidentally, I love that she has a black background too. Really really like that. Gives the blog a real nice mystical, expansive feel.

I am also a fan of how she embeds spirituality so seamlessly into her posts. She does employ a lighter (albeit less personal) tone of writing and sticks to a more consistent format, while I tend to blog about anything that moves me. Judging from the posts, we both have similar voices and if you have the slightest liking for what I post, I suggest you check her blog out too!

0285 – Well-informed futility

I had a conversation with my friend Janie this past Saturday about motivation for large-scale change. Many of you out there know that there are many many things in this world that needs to change: discrimination, poverty,  Wall St, education system, to name a few. Many of us work tirelessly to effect change in an area that we’re passionate about, but at some point all of us feel that weariness and fatigue from working against the flow of things.

Janie and I were talking about how easy it is on yourself to just… stop trying. And go with the flow. Stay with the status quo. Many of us know a few things that we would like to change about the system, but changing the system seems really hard and this deters many away from the work.

I was reminded of the phrase “well-informed futility” that I heard of a year ago. It is coined by Sandra Steingraber to refer to how we are mostly aware of the issues of our times but feel so powerless.

I think about this a lot, because it haunts me every single day. I’ve been told to care, but also let go. I found this on another blog called Purpose Fairy (btw, this is an awesome blog – I’ll write an intro in my next post!):

“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond winning.” –Lao Tzu

This really is a Buddhist concept; in this case, being able to let go means not being attached to the work that you do when things start to change or don’t go your way.

You know… things like this is always easier said than done. With all things, this needs practice. and patience. Currently my patience isn’t going to get me to the point where I can let go. But I’m trying. And will always try.

I always ask myself if the world will miss me if I stop doing the work that I do. To be real, the answer is probably no. And chances are your answer is no as well. So why should I care? Why should you care?

I also imagine the world that I’d like to see–the world where everyone feels interconnected, the world where nature is cherished not destroyed, the world where people are truly recognized by their character and not their physical appearance, the world where everyone is happy.

The world I imagine is so far from the world I currently live in. And as hard as it sounds, I know why I’m here and why I do what I do. Can I quit? Yes. Do I want to quit? Yes, often. But will I? No. And I sure hope you won’t. Or if you already have, I hope you’ll find the fire that will rekindle your passions again.

Professor Bruce Dale said this in a talk last week: We are currently living in a fantasy. The world we live in is the stuff you can only dream about; it’s not going to last.

So let’s change that.

We may be well-informed. We may feel futile. But that will not always the case. There is hope, and as long as there is hope, may we never stop dreaming.

0284 – What sustainable design means to me

I’m shifting gears a little bit today and will be talking about sustainable design. My friend Matt Grocoff, who blogs at Sustainable Design Update, asked me to share my thoughts on what sustainable design means.

So to the drawing board I went. My academic background is in engineering, so I’ve heard a little bit about sustainable design from the engineering side. The standard definition is something like making decisions that are economically viable, ecologically harmless, and leads to social equity. But what does this really mean?

Most engineers have been trained to think about cost when they design equipment. A small number knows how to evaluate the environmental cost/benefit through life cycle assessment and other tools. An even smaller number strives to understand the impact on the society.

Most of us have heard about the triple bottom line. Sustainable design is the intersection between the environment, economic and social considerations.

Still… what does this really mean in practical terms?

This is not an engineering problem. It’s about how we make decisions in general. When we make decisions, we tend to revert to our default criterion: money – the economic circle. We think about how much a product or device is going to cost us in monetary terms, and evaluate it from there. If we believe it’s going to give us more satisfaction than the amount we’re paying for it, then the deal is made. But that is hardly sensible if you think about it.

Take free food for example. Everyone loves free food, right? It doesn’t cost us anything, but what do we have to lose? My friend Tracy injected a dose of reality into me when she told me this: Nothing in the world is free. Nothing. There is a cost to the environment. There is the labor cost. There is the energy needed to produce the food. There are the animals being killed or plants being harvested. There are also others who may have nowhere near as much to eat as us.

The framework of sustainable design is difficult to embrace in our everyday decisions. So I propose another way of thinking about it: a simplified but practical (I hope) model of sustainable design: me and us.

In general, when we make decisions, this is how it works:

Everything is based on the ME circle. It’s all about the costs and benefits to the individuals. The individual sees everything else as separate and insignificant.

What I strongly believe is needed:

It’s that simple. We live in an interconnected world, where our actions will have consequences–most of the time unintended and unknown–on our surroundings, including other beings and the environment.

That’s what sustainable design is about–how we can come up with services and goods that are not just beneficial to the designer/provider, but to the society overall. Forget the complex math of life cycle analysis if you’re uncomfortable with it. Each day, every moment, feel your connection to the world at large. Remind yourself that you’re not here for just you. You’re here for a larger purpose, be it God, spiritual awakening, mankind, all beings, or understanding.

The shift from the ‘me vs others’ to the ‘me within us’ framework requires a monumental shift in the way we operate; The egocentricity that has imprisoned so many of us has to be replaced by the compassion and love that are inherent in all of us, but somehow have been suppressed and laying dormant in the depths of our souls for a long time. That’s why I blog. That’s why I do the work I do.

There really isn’t a place for ‘ME’ separate from ‘US.’ We are one.

0283 – Ban Ki-moon: New economic paradigm needed

“Gross National Product (GDP) has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured. Yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his remarks at a high-level meeting at UN Headquarters in New York.

I am very very excited about what the United Nations is doing with happiness. On April 2, 2012, government representatives and happiness experts and leaders all over the world met at the UN Headquarters in New York for a meeting entitled Happiness and Well-being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm. Read more about it here.

The meeting resulted in the release of the inaugural World Happiness Report, a 150-page document that talks about the causes of happiness, policy implications, and some case studies. For those of you who’s too lazy to read a 150-page document, I’ve posted a summary after the jump. (I haven’t read it either. I just found a summary online. heh.)

Continue reading

0282 – We are so so poor these days

<EDIT 04/07/2012: Added link to the source of the graph on the right, which I forgot to put in earlier. My apologies.>

When we talk about a nation’s progress, we often talk about the GDP. A steady increase in GDP, consistent with the infinite growth paradigm, the notion that a country’s wealth and GDP can increase forever. A high GDP per capita means that a country is rich, and a lower GDP means the country is relatively poor.

This is a false paradigm.

Many of us are so so poor these days. Continue reading

0280 – College: Why do cooler things happen at night?

This is another CGI U-inspired post. Ashifi Gogo, CEO and founder of Sproxil, was on one of the panels at CGI U this past weekend. He is Dartmouth’s first-ever Ph.D. Innovation Fellow. I just checked out the PhD program, and its sounds pretty cool! Ashifi told us that the program started because the administration realized that students had cooler things going on at night.

That left me thinking.

Learning should be fun, right? To me, education inside the classroom should be as fun as the stuff outside the classroom. Stuff we do during the day should be cool and exciting and energetic and different and fun. Our education system (I speak for my experience in engineering) has been largely reduced to textbook-based transfer of knowledge, increasingly theoretical and routine. While those textbook stuff is necessary, there is a lot to be said about engineers’ roles in social change. The College of Engineering at the University of Michigan, where I’m currently studying, has really been speaking up a lot about engineers working on social change. There is a disconnect between what the College is promoting–the social impact of engineers–and what is being taught. Because most of what we’re learning in the classroom doesn’t help us with creating social impact. Something’s gotta give.

We shouldn’t have cooler things to do at night in college. Learning and playing should be integrated in order to nurture our creativity. Textbook knowledge needs to translate to practical innovation. Our classroom really needs to be the world, not a tiny space.

Times are changing. The education system must adapt with the dynamism and challenges of the 21st century.

0279 – President Clinton: Set Yourself Free

I’m at the Clinton Global Initiative University meeting in Washington DC this weekend. It’s been a great experience talking about social change and sustainability in the presence of Bill Clinton, Usher, Madeleine Albright, Usher, and 1000+ enthusiastic, dedicated students with strong moral compass. Talk about star power! Apart from the stars though, the passion in the room is palpable. It’s one of those gatherings where you get to hear about way cool projects and the myriad of ideas that others have for a better world. Another inspiring weekend. We need to make something like this an official part of the curriculum.

Anyway, I want to highlight one thing that President Clinton said yesterday about freedom. People do things for many different reasons. Some lost their way and ended up in prison or even death. A question was asked about what can people do to overcome the obstacles in life when all else seems lost. President Clinton said that everyone of us need something to set ourselves free. He shared the story about Nelson Mandela, who was released from prison in a historic event in 1990. It was an emotional moment captured on video.

Nelson Mandela preaches acceptance and forgiveness for all, and he even asked the people who captured him to become part of his staff when he was elected president. President Clinton said that this was a really wise political move that kept the country stable, but he also asked Nelson Mandela this: “When you got released, you must really hate those guys.” Mandela responded with something like this:

“I was. I was filled with hatred and also fear; I haven’t been free for a long time. But I realized that if I continued to be angry, it’s like I’m still in prison.


Many of us are imprisoned without knowing it. Whether it is the GPA, the resume, the salary, the physical appearance or something else, it is time to set ourselves free. Let it be. Let life flourish. Let yourself find true joy.