0299 – Beyond our one-size-fits-all education system

Writing to you from the Kerala backwaters once again. It’s a rainy morning. A couple of us woke up at 6 am to try to catch the sunrise. Pity it’s overcast this morning. Here’s the view:

Formidable clouds. Glad it didn’t rain on us. Peaceful India was still peaceful.

I’d like to write about something different today.

Found this fantastic gem on Facebook the other day:

Our education system, ladies and gentlemen. This cartoon couldn’t be a more fantastic mockery of our education system.

And this is true. Very true. In the scope of this picture, I would say I feel like a fish sometimes. Or perhaps more accurately, I may be the dog, but one who has learned how to climb. I am a dog who has excelled at the task, but is out of my natural elements doing so. Such is my identity in the education system. I’d rather be doing something else.

Now, the monkey. The monkey may not be the luckiest in this picture. The monkey may be good at climbing the tree, but what if the monkey just isn’t interested in doing so? What if the monkey would rather just spend the day at the zoo playing with visitors? Often, we assume that those who’re really skilled at something always enjoy it. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Seeing all my fellow interns from all over the globe, I am reminded of how diverse and unique each of us is, and also how ridiculous it is that the education system we hold paramount is one-dimensional and caters  to a select group of students–monkeys in this case. Now, this is a generalization, and there are efforts to reform the education system. People in the system will tell you that. But I am critical. Very critical.

A really good friend and mentor of mine, Rick Sheridan of Menlo Innovations, sent me this email the other day with really inspirational quotes about how one should stay true to oneself. Here’s a sample:

“Born originals, how comes it to pass that we die copies?”
Edward Young

“The individual has always had to struggle
to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe.
If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened.
But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

“None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding
except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I think the reward for conformity is
that everyone likes you except yourself.” Rita May Brown

I’ve had a few conversations this past week about life, and heard differing viewpoints and different choices we all have made in our lives. The flamboyant British teenager that was with us made a very profound comment that struck me hard:

“In general, the people here on the boat are very very lucky people.”

Huh. I’m bemused.

The attitude really does make a lot of difference. Despite my many complaints, I am blessed. I have been given many opportunities to see the world, to make the world my education system. It is the simplest of conversations that sometimes spark something in you. It is sometimes the most unexpected of discoveries that change the course of your life.

So extend the boundaries of your education. Stay true to yourself. Learn. Nurture. Grow. And above all, live!



0298 – The art of bargaining, and the opening of eyes

So… I’m kinda broke right now. I’ve been spending so much money on all my past and planned travels over the weekends that I’m now out of money. O.o Waiting for my next paycheck to come out in a few days. It’s a strange feeling, this living paycheck to paycheck thing. It’s a rather new sensation for me–fortunately. It’s kind of stressful but also refreshing in a way; to be able to really experience the harsh reality of money’s role in our society. This year’s been rather woeful financially. Lots of unexpected expenses, not that much income. But those unforeseen transactions are bringing me to India, then Bhutan, and then Liberia, so I’d say it’s probably worth it (or so I hope). Nevertheless, it’s really never healthy to have to think about money all the time, so my heart goes out to all the honest souls out there trying to make ends meet. I’m starting to realize that my impending adulthood really won’t be easy.

India also makes me think about inequality. It’s pretty apparent. There’re people struggling every day, and there’re also people who make more than enough. A new state-of-the-art building can be located right next to a run-down settlement.

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Some of them really know how to bargain. Here’s my recollection of an encounter with a beggar in Mumbai:

Beggar approaches the taxi stuck in traffic.

Him: “10 rupees sir.”


“20 rupees.”

Silence. I was confused.

“50 rupees, 50 rupees.”

We started to chuckle.

My friend said, “You’re not very good at this, are you?”

At this point, the taxi driver was laughing as well.

He continued.

“100 rupees!”

“1000 rupees!!”

He didn’t get anything from us.

This story, while amusing, also serves as a point of reflection. Beggars are everywhere in India. It’s not that I don’t give, but from what I know about philanthropy and donations, it is much better to give strategically, i.e. give to those who’re working for their living, or give to institutions that enable a change in their livelihood. But it also makes me think about this: how much money do we need to live? How about to be happy?

Daniel Kahneman’s research suggests that beyond a certain income, where we have enough to meet the necessities and simple needs, more money doesn’t really bring happiness (I really simplified that. Full article here.) Anyway, in practical terms, what does this mean? I’ve talked to friends and strangers who say that many people in countries like Laos, Cambodia, and India are happy, because they haven’t seen much of the world and don’t have many different lifestyles to contrast with their own.

Some Indian residents sleeping on the roof of a building outside my friend’s room. (c) Ana Carolina Leal Talarico 2012

My cab driver was happy. I asked him if he’d ever leave Bangalore, and he said no. But he’s happy here. He’s okay with it. He’s working earnestly–and with a smile–to make a living. It’s very respectable. Interesting to think about.

I wonder… is it because as I see more of the world, I see more choices and more variety, and so I become more… picky and persistent about the way I’d like to live? I’m now used to comfort offered in Westernized societies, but I could live without them, especially if I don’t know about them. So then, the question, in my opinion, becomes: What should I do with the life and experiences that have been bestowed upon me? My eyes have certainly been opening a little wider as I see a new place. We’ll see where I go with all this, but in the end, I just wanna find where I belong.

“You sometimes think you want to disappear but all you really want is to be found.” Anonymous

0297 – The Part of Life We Didn’t Choose

I’m writing to you from the backwaters of Alleppey, Kerala, India. And by that, I mean from this:

It was one of the rare opportunities that I had to escape the chaos of the overpopulated, crowded India. Small wooden boats, traditional homes, coconut trees, and the low rumbling sound of the motor undisturbed by the honking and vrooming combine to provide a very very welcome relief. I was writing this post with a pen and a notepad, with pistachio nuts in my other hand. As I transcribe my posts onto here, I’m wondering why I haven’t done this before. It’s kinda nice to disconnect sometimes.

I haven’t been blogging for a while; I was sucked into the chaos of this country. With my internship, planning my weekend trips, the traffic, the wait and whatnot, I barely have time to  breath. And the air that I breath isn’t that particularly pleasant either. I was thinking about titling this post something like “From India with Love,” but I’d be lying if I say that right now. There’s no love yet. I’m still in culture shock mode I guess. I’ve met some really cool people here, but overall, it’s not been fun with the traffic, the honks, and the people trying to rip you off. It’s just… chaotic all the time. I keep thinking that I can’t live here.

You know… you’re born into an environment that shapes your character–kind of without a choice. But perhaps there is a reason for that. Perhaps there’s a reason for it all. The location/environment at which you’re born into is the part of life you did not really choose, but not long thereafter, we choose our life.

Why was I born in Thailand? Why’re so many people born in India? And why am I here to see this place?

India is such a culturally rich and diverse country that I can’t really do it justice with one blog post. I’m going to try to explore as much as I can, but you can’t really see all that India offers in eight weekends. One thing that’s really nice about India is that diversity is generally well-accepted. Well, they kinda have to; there’s so many of everyone everywhere. I was talking to my taxi driver last week, and he was telling me how he was Hindu, but he loved hearing from the Dalai Lama. “Very good man,” he said. You don’t really find that too often, not in the US.

The trajectory of this country will be interesting to see in the coming years. It can become homogenized as it continues to usher in the Western ways, but if it finds a way to retain its identity and cultural diversity, it can be very fascinating to see how globalization affects this giant.


I wish scenes like this will be captured over and over.

0296 – Me, Myself, My Box… and My Computer

I had a good conversation with two other employees in the Green Initiatives team at Infosys yesterday. It turns out that there are other people who also feel trapped in this  “system” that renders so many of us outside-the-box dreamers hushed. You know, I sometimes find it ironic that I am working on sustainability at an IT company, because the technological revolution hasn’t been exactly the most environmentally friendly change in our society. We ended up talking about how sustainability really hasn’t gotten into the minds of many people yet. I feel this at my college too; These days, too many us are about me, myself, my box… and my computer.

Both in Thailand and India (in Asia in general really), there’s a way that we’re so used to operating – emulating the US and the Western world. We all know that there’s something wrong with that, because, liberty and all, the one cannot claim that the US is advancing in the most sustainable way. Yet, many in Asia still view US as the model, and put themselves in the same “box” that has led us to our perils today.

Then comes the age of the computer. The IT industry is booming hard. And there’s no sign of stopping. Arguably, it’s one of the causes of the apparent disconnect between human beings with one another, and with nature. Computers have largely moved us indoors, and made us stationary–most likely at a small cubicle with tall walls so you can’t see the guy opposite you. This feels ironic since I am using a computer to complain about computers, but the issue is huge. We’re at a computer all. the. time, especially in IT offices. The office life ain’t the most fun I’ve had. That’s too bad, because it should be.

Long gone are the days when we roam freely. Long gone are the days when we live in harmony with nature, when  the artificial doesn’t displace the natural.

Our challenges today are so tough not only because we live in a box, but also because we’re content in it with the computer. To get everyone out would require an extraordinary coalition of passionate, charismatic and forward-thinking change agents that have “A Healthy Disregard For The Impossible.” Shoutout to LeaderShape for nurturing these change agents.

0295 – Give up and live!

(c) Diane Perry, A PurposeFairy.com Reader

You know.. after my post yesterday, when I saw this Facebook cover photo above I just smiled. No further commentary needed.

The photo is created by Diane Perry, a PurposeFairy.com reader. Earlier I wrote why I love this blog, but I don’t think I did a good job then and just want to reiterate it here again. First of all, her post on 15 things you should give up to be happy remains my favorite blog post of all time. And the way she writes just really make me feel like I’m actually part of this collective spirit, filled with love and understanding. Give it a try.

You know… I didn’t wanna say this then because I might sound like a freak, but who cares. The woman behind this blog is one of the two women in this world that have inspired me enough that I would ask her to marry me without even knowing how she looks like. And that is, to an idealist, romantic fool like me, what love is all about. She connects with her readers so eloquently and compassionately, and has at times moved me beyond the capability of the human language. I feel like my soul resonates with hers. I feel her beautiful heart. I feel like I can communicate with her soul.

… I hope she doesn’t see this. Heh.

Well, I have to go to work soon. But let’s give up and live.

0294 – The Sound of Impatience

People honk like crazy around here. That drives me crazy. It’s the sound of impatience that drives up my frustration. Why do people need to honk? It’s supposedly the norm here, but is that necessary? Looks like I totally skipped over the honeymoon phase in this culture shock. Anxiety is in full effect.

But to say that’s the cause of my unhappiness is to mask a fundamental underlying problem: me. It’s really been quite a battle. Even as I work with The Happiness Initiative, even as I did an independent study on happiness and sustainability, even as I learn positive psychology, even as I try and try to be mindful of what makes me happy, happiness has eluded me. I would give myself a 2 out of a 10. And that’s terrible. I would like to take this moment to shout out to those who are battling depression right now. I cannot even imagine how hard it is. You are so strong. Keep fighting. Hang in there.

I’m probably not the only person who feels like he shouldn’t be sad because he’s so fortunate to be where he is today and have what he has right now. Yet, sorrow doesn’t vanish overnight.

As I plunge deeper into despair, instead of worrying about my health, I worry about my decreased productivity. Like a true workaholic.

Instead of taking the time off, I work some more. I still lack the courage to do what is best for me.

At some point in your life, you’ll get the feeling that you’re cornered with nowhere to go. You wish a door would just appear that would just take you on a path far away from this unpleasant place.

At 21 and entering my final year of college, I’m in the prime of my quarter-life crisis. Where do I go from here?

I think about my varied interests and how I see no direction. I always say that I now trust life enough that it will take me to the right places, but sometimes, I lose that trust. I’m vulnerable.

I wonder if I’m making an impact, and I tell myself that I am not. Sometimes, I look at the rockstar social entrepreneurs, the inspirational speakers, the thought leaders of our society, and those close to me who get recognition, and I wish I am one of those. Sometimes, I want to be popular. Sometimes, I wish I would just conform with the system and rise to the top in there. I betray myself.

I’m never here. Get me back here. Now. At this moment. At this place. In me. Around me. Beyond the human understanding of time and space.

I’m lost. I’m clueless. I don’t know what to do. I just want to be happy. I never listen to myself. Then I get frustrated at my purported regression.

But all this needs to end. And I will end it. I am in control. I am in charge. I know what I can do. I know what’s right for our world. I know I live not for myself, but for humanity and the planet. Even though the balance of life is and will always be difficult to find, I will continue to try. I will tell myself that I can be different. I will tell myself that I need to slow down. I will tell myself that all is not lost; it never will.

The door towards peace has to be built. And it will be built. I will make sure of that. I will get out of here. And you will too.

One day, the sound of impatience will become reminder of how we are not alone in this world. The sight of suffering will become a reminder of what a privilege our lives have been. And the touch of tenderness will remind us of love and compassion. May love and compassion fill the void of our world.

0293 – Should East really meet West?

Being in India, coupled with my friend holding the book Fury by the Indian author Salman Rushdie, I thought about the book East, West (by Rushdie) that I read in high school–and never really understood. In fact, back then I never really understood literature. It’s not until I grew up a little bit that I started to grasp the beauty of words and culture.

Being from Thailand and having experienced Singapore (a prime East meets West) and the US of A, I think about the East-West dichotomy a fair amount. As globalization continues, it seems as if the Western way of life has infiltrated the world.

Today I went to explore the city of Bangalore for the first time. Here’s the few pictures that I took:

It doesn’t tell much, but there weren’t really much to tell. It’s another city, heavily influenced by the influx of technology and Western culture, establishing itself as a popular spot for Westerners in India.

And somehow, this doesn’t seem okay. I didn’t know what I expected coming in, but this just doesn’t feel right. The sights and sounds provoked a profound sorrow within me, sending me into another abyss of existential frustrations.

The East, culturally speaking, seems to be disappearing.

I wanted to see traditional buildings. I wanted to see simplicity. I wanted to see peace. And truthfully, I wanted to see a little less technology. Instead, I was greeted by constant honking (which–in my current state of mind–I have allowed to annoy the * out of me), shops like Lee, Levi’s, Bossini, Sony, and many more.

I feel a little selfish for not wanting the Western influences for anybody, especially since I myself has acclimated and fully embraced the Western lifestyle. I even feel nervous and dread when I know that I have to go to an unfamiliar place. I guess I’ve always thought of India as a country so rich with culture and beauty, and I wanted to see that. Yet, I also know that the social inequality is increasingly apparent in the country. And this is not what I came to see. I want to see the disparity. I want to see the slums. I want to see the different lifestyle, not the similar one. I’ll definitely get to see different angles as I visit different parts of India, but it’s still sad to feel that the local context here has been kicked away by things we’re too familiar with.

There’s a lot of ‘I’s in those two paragraphs. That’s a sign that my ego is flaring. You know… I really haven’t been very happy of late. Even as I spend time to advocate for happiness, I’m not happy. It’s probably time that I address it here on this blog – next post!

0292 – Where the pace slows, the mind goes

Well well well. My first week of internship is over. I elected to take Friday night off and stay in the room while my fellow interns went out to seek the lights and sounds of India. So I’m letting Coldplay and Snow Patrol put me in a trance-like calmness that, however fleeting, is just right. It’s an introvert’s way of capping a hectic week off.

And when I say hectic, I’m mainly talking about the mind. It’s a funny thing, really. The pace here is considerably slower than what I’m used to – people walk slower, meetings don’t start on time, you have to wait forever in line for anything. The pace is slower, but the mind races by. My impatience has never before been exposed to such an extent. For perpetual workaholics like me, slowing down poses a big challenge. The only journey is the journey within, right?

In any case, I’m glad that I’m here. India will continue to provide a contrasting culture to those I have experienced. I plan on traveling around to the popular destinations to observe and appreciate as much as I can in India.

What I’m not very happy about:

Domino’s (It’s headquartered in the city of Ann Arbor, where I go to college) in India. You have got to be kidding me. Did you really have to follow me all the way here? But I guess globalization is no longer unavoidable huh. Even Bhutan’s gonna open up. I’ll be sure to write more about this when I visit Bhutan in two months. But before then, let’s talk India.

It certainly is a very populous country, and the constant streams of people make me feel… exposed. lost. confused. scared. irritated. and sad even. It induces the existential question very well. I am one in a billion, or am I at all? Who am I? What is my place? What is the role of this meagerly presence?

The truth is… no presence is meager. The aliveness itself is profound. Even death is profound. Now, what do you do when you’re alive?

I’m not a big fan of my 9.25-hour days here. Yes, people work 9 hours and 15 minutes here. As I grow, I feel like I continue to become unemployable as I gravitate away from the mainstream. And I’m no longer one who takes orders without questioning.

Yet, India somehow seems more spiritual then the U.S. or Thailand. Perhaps it’s just my personal bias. Or perhaps it’s because people have more downtime to think. Or maybe it’s because of the long history of gurus and religious leaders that has retained its vital place in India’s culture. I have of course managed to make myself too busy, so I have not had a chance to really stop and be. I’m hoping I can do that soon, because it really helps you see the world in different lens. Speaking of which, the diversity of the pool of interns here is remarkable, and really allows for the lenses to converge and amalgamate. I can already tell that this is a great group of people.

To my knowledge, interns that are here right now come from Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Colombia, Argentina and Thailand. And oh, there’s one Brit. Who’s very forgettable. And I’m saying this because I know he’ll see this.

Jokes aside, the diversity of the InStep internship program has got to be one of its strongest points. Apply if you can! I enjoy all the conversations that we have as we slowly learn about each other’s culture and personality. I was pleasantly surprised by how it seems like the guys are open-minded and seem to understand each other well. It’s rather nice how we all bring something different to the table, with intriguing and unique life stories shaping us. Looking forward to this journey.

Of course, making fun of Brits is always fun too.

Well, it’s been way too long already. My mind has rushed far ahead of me. Gonna go catch it before it runs away too far. More about Infosys and my project next week!


0290 – Illegal Immigrants Stealing Your Jobs?

That must be rough:

It’s probably no surprise to most of you that I am deeply moved by this meme.  Looks like I haven’t written about this before, but I’m also very touched by Chief Seattle’s letter to the American Government in the 1800s. There is so much that I resonate with in this letter that I find it hard to choose something to quote, but here’s the highlight (do take a read though):

“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.”

“If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.

Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.”

“We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.

As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.

One thing we know – there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.”

Well, I quoted more than half the letter. Oops. But in all seriousness, think about what we have done to this land, to this planet.

This is by no means an ignorance of the complexity and sensitivity of the immigration debate in the US. It is a worthwhile one to have. My intention of writing this post is to recall the past–a tainted one at best. It’s one that many would like to forget, and one that–lamentably–many has forgotten or never even heard about.

I’m not going to get too far into the debate about the rights of citizens vs non-citizens, but I would just point out that while that we once were unwelcome immigrants too–at a time when the concept of “illegal”, along with other things man-made, were of lesser importance than the respect, love and gratitude for the planet and fellow-beings.