Fall Break: How I’ve been, and What’s Next

It’s been about two months since college has started, and now that I’m on fall break I have time to reflect on what I’ve been up to, and (moving forward) also think about what I want now and why.

What I’ve Been Up To

I’ve been pretty lucky since the beginning of the school year – I didn’t face much of a social transition from high school to college. I feel that my strength of being sociable really gets a chance to shine here, since everybody lives on campus and there really isn’t anything stopping people from hanging out. Something that I will note though is that my schedule feels extremely cyclical. 4 classes on Tuesday and Thursday means I have only two days to finish the majority of my homework before it’s due by next class, and it can really feel like a drag knowing that these every week, these two days will always consist of heavy studying. Also, while I feel that the always-studying mentality at Swarthmore can be harmful for some, I feel that I’m feeding off the pressure quite well. In high school, I’d prioritize socializing over studying, so studying in a sense actually gives me a break from messing around all the time. I also enjoy the feeling of actually engaging my mind and challenging how long I can focus while studying.

One thing that I’ve picked up is always studying in different locations. I hear many people say that they can only study in one library, and I really don’t want to create an association between the amount of focus I have with a specific location on campus. The buzzing silence of McCabe’s basement also creeps me out, so I’d rather study in a lounge or common area. So one way I accomplish this is to segment the type of homework I do according to professors’ office hours and help clinic sessions. For example, on Tuesdays during my math professor’s office hours, I’ll just sit outside his office and do only math homework. The benefits to this are that first I don’t have to prioritize which assignments to do first, and second, if I need help, I can just take a couple of steps and walk into his office. Outside of office hours, I like to move around to different popular places to study so that I can interact with different crowds of people on campus.

Stress wise, I feel that I’ve adapted my work ethic efficiently and am pretty proud to be stress free. Since I’m putting in the time to thoroughly do my homework, I didn’t have to cram/study much to do well on midterms. I’m pretty happy to say that I haven’t procrastinated at all, and I’m confident that it won’t be a problem for me in the future. The consequence of this is actually quite a bit of free time, which can be a bit boring when everybody else is studying. Extracurricular wise, So far I’ve written an article for the Daily Gazette, dance ballet 2x a week, and work out 4 – 6x a week.

What I Want Now, and Why

  1. I want to get into a serious relationship. I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while, and the reason isn’t because there’s some void in my life I want to fulfill to be content. I want to share the feeling of completeness with somebody, which I feel would push me to go on and do bigger things with our lives. I’m pretty happy with the type of person I’ve become right now, and the only thing (I can think of right now) that will round off that feeling is being in love. What’s important though is that this won’t make me complacent, in fact, it’s the opposite. What I mean by going on to do bigger things with my life is that experiencing the ideal sense of wholeness I have in my head right now will enable me to create and imagine bigger goals I probably can’t see right now. Also, it’s really nice to share your life with somebody you care about 🙂 One thing I’ll be cognizant of though is that I don’t get too caught up in this, or I might end up getting into something where it’s mainly physical attraction.
  2. I want to get better at freestyle rapping. I met a friend that’s pretty good at it, and tried it for the first time at a party. I want to get better at it because freestyle rapping taps different parts of your thinking: the way you speak, your attitude, rhyming, and rhythm that makes you speak your thoughts in such a new way. Also something really interesting is battle rap, where you mainly have an aggressive attitude to roast your opponent. In that video, it’s amazing to see how Dumbfounded weaves in his criticism on society while staying in character to denigrate Conceited.
  3. I want to get deeper in academia. Before I thought college was all about preparing for a job, but being exposed to research papers and books has showed me this whole new world of research and the unknown. Researching creative ways to develop faster algorithms, studying children to make a TV show like Blues Clues so captivating, this stuff is crazy! Like this is a whole new world that I’ve never been exposed to before, and I want to get in that world. From my cognitive science professor, I learned that I could build neural networks and train it to learn sentence structures, play chess, etc and I’m really drawn to this because unlike making a website or a mobile app, the results aren’t all charted out already. There aren’t meticulous tutorials to guide the way, and my thinking just might solve some important problems.
  4. I want to write more. Every time I read a good book, blog post, or op-ed, I wish that I could articulate myself as well as the author could, and I don’t think I’ve been taking advantage of Swarthmore’s liberal arts college curriculum as much as I could be. So next semester I’m going to take more writing courses, read more, and write more in my free time. I feel that if I were applying for a journalism or writing position, it would be so different from going to an interview for something like a software engineering position because in the latter, I would be walking in to show off my expertise in computer science. But in the writing situation, I would want to get the job to so that I could learn how to write better, and I would actually be comfortable expressing that I’m not that good at writing yet.
  5. I want to spend more on others. More time, more money. Sure I can buy myself new clothes and other things, but I’d rather spend it on things like a meal with an acquaintance or a train ticket to go visit a friend. Because for me, spending time with other people gives me more happiness and is what lasts. This gives me a different perspective on spending money, and I think it’s for the better.

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Transforming into Ugly

Let all the violence and anger from your past run wild

Today, I took an African dance class on whim taught by Nora Chipaumire. She taught us a dance she had made back in 2008 regarding the revolution for independence in her homeland, Zimbabwe. It was interesting because as we learned her dance, we got to learn more about her character and history. Unlike ballet, where the dance is mainly graceful and elegant, this dance was the culmination of all of a nation’s mustered up violence. Chimurenga, the name of the dance, (which in Shona, stands for both revolution and cry) had nuanced emotions of just pure rage. Nora explained how it might be difficult for some to fully relate to the dance, as the dance culled heavily from her past having survived a revolution.

What stuck out most to me was how important it was to feel the emotions while I danced. I needed to let violence, contempt, disgust pulse through my veins. In the choreography, there were instances where we had to lift up and stick out the bottom of our foot (equivalent to flipping somebody off), throw rocks, wipe off blood and froth from our mouths. To be completely honest, it was startling and even scary to see Nora transform into a completely different person when she danced. But I wouldn’t say that this dance was beautiful. In fact, It was ugly, and I could feel the hatred leaking from as she danced. She told us about her experience with apartheid, her childhood growing up in time of political tension, and it struck me when she offhandedly exclaimed “You promised us independence.”  At the same time though, I was amazed at how well she was swayed me. Using dance as a medium, she told her story and passed a part of it onto us. “Everybody has violence inside of them, no matter how hard you try to suppress it. It is part of our human nature.” I could emulate how she felt in her past, and in a sense, I was performing vicariously through her life.  I wouldn’t call myself a violent person at all, but she convinced me to open myself up to play with the idea of it. What if I was violent? Let’s see, something along the lines of: HEY! YOU KILLED MY FRIENDS. FUCK YOU. 

This type of dancing was a type of zen, but rather manifested hatred instead of peace. She told us to truly perform her dance, we had to transform into a different character. Nobody should be able to tell that I was the same person dancing. But it’s not just about transforming yourself, it’s also about how you can transform your audience. Today, it was through African dance, and I want to explore story telling in other types of dance, music, poetry, spoken word, etc.

Parenting: Malleable Mindets

For my cognitive science class, I was reading about classing personality traits like happiness, resiliency, and helplessness into two mindsets derived by how people thought of themselves. There’s the fixed mindset, when somebody believes that their qualities are carved in stone. It can create an urgency for that person to prove themselves over and over. The second mindset (which in this context is the advantageous one) is the malleable mindset. People with malleable mindsets believe that cherished qualities can be developed through effort and dedication.

Also, there was an experiment done gauging the effects subtle linguistic cues in praises could have on children’s motivations. Imagine that you had kids A and B, who are instructed to draw a picture. Kid A is given a generic praise, “you are a good drawer.” Kid B is given a more specific, non-generic praise, “you did a good job drawing.” The study showed that children like kid B who were given non-generic praises had less extreme emotional reactions to criticism and were motivated to correct themselves. While when children like kid A were criticized, they started to cry and gave up drawing. I feel that what contributed most to those outcomes is that giving generic praise, or even too much praise, implies to children that they have a stable ability that underlies their drawing performance. They become emotionally attached to that identity that they are stably good drawers. Mistakes then reflect on that stable ability, and can demoralize their perception of their ability. However, what makes the non-generic praise not so generic (haha) is that it comments on a specific instance of drawing, not the child’s skill of drawing itself. ex. “You did a good job drawing that yesterday” vs “you are such a talented drawer!” so the child doesn’t attach as strongly to this identity as a “good” drawer. They can then continue along with their lives drawing, still motivated to correct their mistakes and become better.

I thought it’d be interesting to bring these findings together and think about how I would raise my own kids to develop malleable mindsets. So that in the long run, they won’t be overwhelmed by emotional distress and will be able to jump into any field (whether it be academic or not) with the confidence that they can master it. When a child receives a lot of affection from, let’s say, a mother, the child will naturally grow close to her and come to her in times of loneliness and stress, kind of like a secure base.  There was a study discussing the behavior of these securely attached infants. In an experiment, a group of infants A were conditioned to not see their mothers as secure bases, and the scientists recorded how their behaviors when their mothers left the room they were in (how long they would at her after she left). The group A of infants made no discrimination to their mothers when they left the room; they even showed signs of surprise when their mothers came back. These infants had different expectations about caretakers than babies who were trained traditionally to go to their mothers in times of stress. I think this relates to the idea of attaching to an identity in the second experiment. However, rather than attaching to an internal identity, the child can become attached to an external entity (in this case, a parent). And if a child is pampered heavily, he or she will become dependent on somebody else, which I feel will perpetuate a fixed mindset. So how should we go about parenting? Do we have to sacrifice some of our attention for the long-run goals of independence and malleable mindsets?

Quaker Query: First Question of Reflection

Today was the first official day of school (orientation) at Swarthmore, and as a class we partook in a traditional Quaker query. Sitting down in the outdoor amphitheater, we listened to students and our newly elected President reflect on questions that would be posed in a query. There were three questions, and I want to start this reflection as an indicator of myself at this point in time, this period right before I start at Swarthmore.

Who am I, and what are my core beliefs and values?

I was born in the Bay Area about 18 years ago and was raised by two Burmese parents. As of my senior year, most of my world has revolved around technology. I worked in San Francisco almost everyday of the school year and have been surrounded by tech people in the Silicon Valley. I started reading a lot more books in the spring semester of my senior year, especially on books about education and self discovery.

I feel that my core values have really been shaped by my ongoing discovery of Theravada Buddhism (more specifically Vipassana and Samatha meditation), especially since I attended a Christian school up until around 12 years old. Thus I feel that one of my closest core values is mindfulness, as it helps me stay grounded and gives me a way to control how external factors influence my emotions and mental health.

Another thing I strongly believe in is a person’s ability to change themselves. Or how strong (and even plastic) one’s willpower is. And I feel that this has permeated throughout a lot of my behavior. The things I worked most on in high school was building up discipline and inner confidence, and I feel that I am confident to adapt to any lifestyle changes.

I feel like as I start college, the image of myself that I am (and want to be) giving out is a combination of not just all the characteristics I am proud of, but also of best friends in high school. I was really sad when leaving my friends to go off to college, as I wouldn’t be able to see them as often (or maybe even never at all), but something that helped me make sense of it was thinking of the legacy that my friends had left upon me. When I go out and interact with all the freshmen during orientation, I am carrying the legacy of kindness, intelligence, and confidence of my closest friends from back home. And when I go back home, I want to be able to bring back a part of the friends I will make here with pride.

Through the Lens of Music: Engineering Creativity

I thought that creativity was one of those things people were born with, something I didn’t have. Everything cool was either already thought of, or somebody would think of it before me. Is it even possible to think of new things? Everything seems like it’s been thought of before. It’s not just me though, many times I hear people saying “Why didn’t I think of this before?” after something has been invented. Especially now, as creativity is seen as a valuable commodity for certain jobs, many people might feel the pressure to try to become more creative. That’s why there are tons of articles floating around listing “10 things creative people do differently”, etc.

I’ve always seen creativity as something nebulous, something that happens when somebody is staring into space — then click… a new idea is formed!

Can creativity be engineered?

Can it be broken down so that people can build their creativity? After getting my feet wet in the world of musical improv, I’ve grown to see how creativity can in fact be created. My curiosity in musical improv began with this video: it’s a video of Kyle Landry playing the piano, improvising on top of Canon in D – Pachelbel. My first reaction was — WTF? I know how to play that song, but I could never imagine myself playing it like that. No sheet music or anything for the improvised parts. Just like with jazz, I was always awestruck by people that could come up with cool solos off the top of their heads.

My next question was — How can I do that?

I searched YouTube for tutorials, and found that almost all tutorials were based on chords and scales: pentatonic, major, aeolian, blues, etc. I practiced iterating over simple chord progressions: D Major > B Major > G minor. I could play the chords in my left hand, and I was slowly experimenting ways to play the melody in the treble clef. In the beginning I couldn’t think of things to play on my left hand. I could only make one note melodies: go up and down a scale, I even felt frustrated because with over 10+ years of piano experience, I couldn’t do more then walk up and down a scale or play triads. It was also somewhat embarrassing playing what I thought sounded cool in my head out loud, voicing it out to the world. But usually after about 20 minutes of getting into my groove, I would loosen up and get into state of “musical drunkness”. I was more confident in my ability to create rhythms and melodies, but what is interesting is that every phrase I was playing was part of a particular piece of music that I had listened to or played before.

My favorite pieces by Chopin and Liszt were recurring tropes within my improvisations. But after studying chord progressions and learning the technicalities of consonance and dissonance, I began to grasp the freedom I could have within these pieces. I started to play with the structure of a peaceful song like Yiruma’s “River flows in You” to make it more march-y and violent like a waterfall crashing down. What perhaps was more interesting was testing the freedom that I couldn’t have. Trying to mash sounds together that weren’t socially “harmonious.” Something like a G major > C# minor.

Creativity really comes into play here: experimenting to see what you can make by mashing two things together: Listening to what happens when you thread a rubato filled romantic melody with the demanding technicalities of a baroque bass.

Something cool that Kyle Landry does as well, can be seen in this video, is that he has a big variety in his “improvisation arsenal.” He has a background playing classical, romantic, jazz, disney, and video game music. And throughout his improvisations, he can call upon the tropes in those genres of music to convey different things. The cool part is that different sounds resonate with unique emotions for different people. For example, I see a jazzy chromatic progression as kind of rebellious and sassy way to say something. In a way, listening to somebody write music is experiencing their past with them, experiencing the memories they grew to associate with certain sounds.

Everything starts from something before it. Improvisation cannot happen without exposure to other music. Only then you can draw on specific elements from separate genres, songs, phrases, even scaling down to as small as rubato patterns and the sound of 2 notes played together.

So how can you get more creative?

Expose yourself to every form of music. I’ve never been into jazz in the past, but after listening to it more and more, I’m starting to grow a liking towards it. What is most important though, is that you don’t see this exposure to other fields of music as a stepping stone.

It is imperative that you live and experience the time you are spending inside a genre, as forming those resonant, emotional links with the music is what’s going to be added to your “improvisation arsenal.” It’s not just about the breadth of exposure, it’s also important (and fun!) to go in depth into the nuances, finer details, and ornaments from each era: rubato in romantic, chordal structure in pop, swing in jazz, chromatic progressions in jazz and contemporary, etc. An exercise that I find really helps is trying to imagine a song you already know in a different genre. Like in this video. Scott plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star across different eras in music: waltz, reggae, jazz, rock, and even dubstep.

Taking off the lens
This post was actually a way for me to experiment talking about a concept that’s been on my mind but through a different perspective: music. Like Scott playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in ragtime, thinking about topics in a variety of lenses like this could build our creativity.

Discovering yourself through others

I used to think people could achieve more alone, that other people weren’t necessary. I thought everything was attainable as long as I had the discipline, and to some extent that is still true. In the realm of developing new skills: like doing more pushups, waking up without an alarm, and programming, these are things you can refine with practice. But I’ve come to realize that there are “fuzzy” things (not hard skills) that are difficult to discover alone. This year was my third and last year at LDC (Leadership Development Center), and while it’s name is essentially a buzzword to attract high schoolers for college applications, it was only through LDC this year that I grew to realize how important of an influence others have had on me.

My first year at LDC was as a delegate, where I participated in the actual camp. The next two I was a staff, where I planned and led the delegates at camp. I went into LDC each year with a predetermined goal I wanted to achieve. My first year, it was all about me. I did whatever it took to improve my leadership, to achieve a captivating charisma. I took every opportunity to stand in the spotlight, practice my public speaking. I was on a hustle every day to talk to as many different people as possible. And this wave of self improvement carried on throughout high school. I knew and believed that if I wanted to improve my social game, I could do it myself.

The following year, I came back as a youth staff. At that point in time, I felt being a staff was more of a social status. They were the confident people in the red shirts and cool sunglasses. All the delegates would talk about them, and now I could become a part of it. I fed off this social energy and it gave me confidence. I continued to take opportunities to improve myself, and in turn I become a pretty likable character among the delegates. However, something I wish I had done differently was pulling myself out of the spotlight. After all, the camp isn’t about me. It’s about the delegates that came here to improve themselves. Thet following year, I wanted to take a step back and just witness the magic that I had experienced my delegate year. Putting my delegates before myself and making sure everybody felt included and happy. Until now, I was more of the social hustler, wanting to meet as many people as possible (like superficial friends) over developing close friendships with a smaller group of people. I wanted to use this last LDC as a chance to watch other people grow, and I wanted to develop meaningful friendships with them along the way. Taking that step back allowed me to become more aware of how people were feeling around me. Like noticing subtle signs when people felt isolated or unhappy. Also celebrating others’ excitement with them. I came to realize how caring some other staff were towards the delegates, how they would always go out of their way to make the delegates feel comfortable. Watching this made me realize how much I valued having these caring relationships with other people. I also realized how to care for others. To have somebody share their story with you and develop a closer relationship with you, you have to first put yourself out there. So many people come back talking about how LDC is so magical because it can bring people so close together in just a couple days. We get to become so close to one another because we encourage everybody to push their comfort zones and put themselves out there. When we put themselves out there and become vulnerable, others can relate with us and grow closer.

So yes, while it is exciting to put 10,000 hours into mastering a skill, you’d have a much more fulfilling time experiencing life’s ups and downs with the people you care about. You may be the one who gives meaning to somebody’s life, and along the way, you’ll get to meet the people who’ll help you discover yourself.

lucky_charms_clan_discover_yourself
This is my last clan, and its a clan I’m proud to end on.

Moral Courage

samshih_excellent_sheep

I’ve just finished reading Excellent Sheep about 2/3rds the way into my trip to Taiwan. Ever since starting my goal to read more, I feel Excellent Sheep is one of the first books that I’ve really connected with. I know many people have bashed Deresiewicz for hating on the elite institutions (the Ivy Leagues), and it does seem at times that he is resoundingly biased against them. Regarding this point, I feel like the book would’ve been more complete if he went more deeply into accounts of people who actually went through the liberal arts education reformation he fantasizes about. Deresiewicz himself was a part of the elite institutions he claims to be so bad, so Deresiewicz is talking about the liberal arts education from the other side of the fence. He might be celebrating the liberal arts education because he has experienced all the negatives he discusses about an elite education. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? Ok, but that’s beside my point. What hit me like a train was Deresiewicz’s undertone of what he believes a true education should be.

– The purpose of college is to enable you to live more alertly, more responsibly, more freely: more fully. I was talking with a couple of seniors during a visit to Bryn Mawr. One of them said, “The question I leave Bryn Mawr with is how to put my feminist ideals into practice as I go forward.” I liked “ideals,” but I loved the first part. A real education sends you into a world bearing questions, not resumes.

– The purpose of college is to make you a more interesting person – a nice formulation, as long as we stipulate that the person to whom it is most important to be interesting is yourself. What makes you interesting is reading, thinking, slowing down, having long conversations, and creating a rich inner life for yourself.

Ahh, this sounds familiar huh. It embodies the main reason I started this blog (it’s in the title!) – to become more interesting. He literally just told me how to become more interesting! LOL. I actually laughed after reading this, it’s like he just gave me the answer to my most important question. But the sad (or maybe the fun) part is that the answer isn’t that simple. I want to find out how this is true for myself, if even true at all. Deresiewicz talks about the humanities as a gluing experience that relates everything we learn with our realities. We ask of a scientific proposition, “Is it true?”, but of a proposition in the humanities, we ask, “Is it true for me?” What I do know is that I’ll only be satisfied if I find out how to become interesting in my own terms.

Another topic Deresiewicz talks about is moral imagination and moral courage, which I feel should go hand in hand. Moral imagination means the capacity to envision new alternatives for how to live. I’m not really quite sure (yet?) why he labels this as a moral imagination –– moral feels like such a heavy prefix to that phrase. His whole idea on moral imagination hits me so close to the feels because it’s essentially what I see myself doing right now. Kind of going yolo, into a new life. Not necessarily ditching the hardcore tech life behind, but more like embracing a a new type of liberal artsy life. What’s next is part B – moral courage – or putting what you imagine into action. I’m still thinking about this part of the equation, the courage to commit 100% to this imagination. Working in tech has been really fun, but maybe committing 100% to pursuing a true education won’t throw away that tech life, it might even make it stronger. So right now the challenge I have for myself is to commit 100% to something, and choosing Swat has brought me so much closer to this imagined path. I feel that the last part is seeing for myself the value of studying the humanities. I’ve read so much about it already, the feeling of life it can instill, the benefits of thinking about yourself and the world at the same time, thinking and feeling at the same time, instead of seeing things as separate parts see[ing] them as a whole. 

On that topic of moral courage though, it will probably get lonely, and that would suck. I know everybody says it doesn’t matter what other people think, what matters most is what you think. But it’s so much better to celebrate with other people. Not going to a popular and prestigious college, choosing a track of study for myself that others (parents, teachers, friends) might think is a waste of time, I know it will kinda start to suck. What I felt was kind of contradictory was when Deresiewicz quotes Aristotle that “man is by nature a social animal,” yet he continues on talking about how moral courage can lead to loneliness. Pursuing this new life I have imagined is fulfilling for myself, and I would be proud of myself. But I would also be happier to celebrate with others. Maybe I’m overthinking, maybe I’ll meet much more “morally courageous” (this term makes it sound really exclusive :/) people in college that I’ll be able to be happy with. Is it worth it to chase my moral imagination if I’m going to end up lonely? How can I find (if I will even want) a balance when I commit to a new life? Maybe what I’m lacking is that moral courage to fully commit. Maybe this dilemma is the growing pain of trying to pursue something I don’t know the answer to.

Chasing a Feeling

sam_chasing_a_feeling

On day 4 of my trip to Taiwan, I visited Tamsui (淡水), and that’s where I got a watermelon bucket hat! We took a boat from Tamsui to Bali, a separate island. I thought it was super cool how everything was unified by the easy-card. I could pay for train tickets, food, and now a boat ride with just one card! It’s similar to the Bay Area’s clipper card, which uses NFC, and could probably (if not already) be integrated to add balance from a mobile device.

In Bali, we rented a four-seater bike and rode all around the island. We had no plans, no guides to follow, and no train schedules to keep track of. It was just biking on the island, following whatever looked interesting. We stopped to exercise at public workout stations, biked slowly to watch the city line on the other side disappear into the fog, and rode off trail to get better views. It was fulfilling to be free from the typical touristy trip structure – I have to hit city A, restaurant B, museum C, etc. Rather I was chasing a feeling inherent to those “touristy areas” – the joy of immersing in Taiwan’s nature and culture. The pleasure I would receive from visiting that famous art museum would be quantified by a scale of how fully I participated in the Taiwanese lifestyle there (at least that’s why I travel). And while riding that bicycle, free of any planned stops, I felt that I was chasing a raw curiosity and joy rather than trying to squeeze out enjoyment from lets say a popular museum or a recommended restaurant.

So I’m thinking that for my college experience, I want to chase the feelings. The feeling of challenging why I make certain decisions, the feeling of reflecting on my life (by writing this blog!), and the feeling of truly connecting with other people. I don’t want my life be bound by specific things in college like majors. I find myself not necessarily passionate about a specific subject like Computer Science, but more so passionate about the gears behind that subject like designing new things and logical reasoning. When I was biking in Bali, I ended up in alleys I would have never expected myself entering. As of now, I’m pretty set on studying CS, but who knows, chasing those feelings may lead me elsewhere. Finally, I feel that what’s most important is to not be afraid of ending up somewhere where you would’ve never expected because of the fear of leaving somewhere safe or whatever else.

After all, if you’re chasing a feeling you truly enjoy, won’t you be happy wherever you end up?

Homeless in Japan

We arrived in the Haneda airport at around 11 pm and did one of the most spontaneous things we’ve ever thought of. Since all the trains were offline until 5am, we decided to walk to Shinjuku. It was around a 15 mile walk, and we didn’t have any mobile data to navigate. All we had were the metro routes and a compass. We walked from about 12 – 5 AM, and one thing I noticed was how early people woke up in both suburban and urban areas. At as early as 3 AM, people were awake and walking around. We even met a local Japanese man (Keisuke) who told us about his visits to New York and Jamaica. He just heard us speaking English in front of a Family Market and started talking to us! The people here (in the suburban areas) were really friendly to us, and it felt like everybody in the suburbs were in a tight-knit community. Most people used bikes, and most were usually left out in the open.

Back tracking to planning our stay in Japan. I could’ve booked a hotel in Japan and stayed the night, but I wanted to see what we could do just exploring Japan ourselves without any tour guides, without any data. So we were homeless, but honestly it was an experience I won’t forget, even Keisuke thought we were crazy since we would hike all the way to Shinjuku. We had a fun experience singing songs from high school and middle school to divert attention away from the soreness from walking so much. When we arrived in Osaka (the first urban area we hit from Haneda), it was around 5 AM and people were already grouping into metro stations.

Here area the things in Japan that stood out to me:

  • Japan is a really “early” rising country.
  • Bicycles and trains are the main methods of transportation, very few cars. And at as early as 11 AM, the train station was gridlocked with people.
  • While walking around in Shinjuku-Tokyo, there is at least one map in every street, maybe it’s heavily visited by tourists.
  • There are vending machines that sell coffee, soda, cigarettes etc. everywhere. I saw at least 40 of them while walking around in Japan
  • Japan has a really solo type of lifestyle. The restaurant shops usually seat around 6 – 10 people, and almost everybody eats by themselves. In the metro, almost everybody keeps to themselves while traveling. It also seemed that the Japanese people we saw were pretty awkward when it came to talking to others.
  • Relating to all the early risers, almost every shop opens at 10:00 AM.
  • The portions are much smaller than they are in the USA. Everything I bought seemed kind of as a n American, we would be getting way more food for that price. The Starbucks Venti size in Japan is a little smaller than the Grande in America.
  • The Starbucks here are more expensive

Resonance

I don’t feel my previous post about why I chose Swat gives the full story behind my decision, it was more about what I didn’t feel comfortable with rather than the specifics I liked about Swarthmore. So in this post I’m going to be talking more or so about the idea of resonance, especially that among a group of students.

So to talk about this topic, I think it’s most fitting to start by talking about role models — the people I meet in real life and online that I look up to. The type of people I look up to most are the people that are constantly thinking about how to improve their lives, and that in turn makes me think about my life. When I first visited Quora to read about colleges, I honestly spent hours on it not even reading about specifically colleges, but also things about like growing old, finding love, etc. Things that ground us as humans. Reading people write about these things was sort of addictive, it was so captivating in the way that it would always bring me on the ‘feel‘ trips. I loved to get lost in my thoughts thinking about my life, asking questions to myself. It’s kind of like when you’re listening to a song and although you’re kinda tuning out the lyrics, you are staring off into space lost in thoughts about whatever the song is about.

So from just talking with students at Swarthmore, both in person and online, I was captivated by the fact that people were thinking about their lives in such ways. Questioning why they’re majoring in Computer Science, questioning why they are even trying hard in college. And I feel that at all the other colleges I was admitted into were so focused on the pre-professional world that this whole humanistic side of our lives is lost in that job-crazed vortex. I kind of realized this when somebody asked me why I would go to college if I could already make enough money to sustain myself and be happy. Huh, I was thinking about that question. My parents, (and I think I can safely say most asian families) see college as the just the transition to getting a high paying job. Pushing so hard in high school was important so that we could into top colleges, and then college will be a breeze, then we’ll be making bank. I think this is apparent by the fact that my parents (and maybe many other parents) don’t really care or worry about the actual events in college, they just care about trying hard in high school to get in. So going back to a Swattie questioning why she should continue pursuing computer science – that struck me pretty hard because I don’t think many people would even question something like that. Especially for me growing up in San Francisco / Silicon Valley where it is clear as day that comp sci is one of the most lucrative professions, seeing somebody question showed that Swatties do care more about just making money. And I talked about this in my previous post, how I would be interested in majoring in pretty much anything.

I’ve also noticed that students at Swat are actively trying to become the best versions of themselves, not just in their majors (programming, math, physics), but also in their humanistic side by challenging their values, developing meaningful relationships, etc. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I look up to the people who embrace and want to improve their human side. And for myself, all of these things that I’ve talked about have been filtered through my lens, so developing that human side is something that means a lot to me. I will be going to a school where I would be surrounded by people with this sort of intrinsic desire, and it doesn’t even matter that we are studying different majors, since we would all be held together by that inherent glue.

So talking about all this stuff might make it seem like I have a whole set plan for myself in college. But it’s in fact the opposite. I have no clue what is going to happen to me going here, and I think what best sums it up is a metaphor regarding this legendary piston Tesla talked about. tl;dr it is about a tiny piston that, when moved up and down at the perfect frequencies in an oscillator, could even cause an earthquake. So at Swarthmore, how (maybe at least I think that) since I share that inherent glue, that matching frequency with everybody else,  even if I have no idea what’s going to happen to me, I know that oscillating at that frequency, that vibe I care most about most, will empower me to shake the world. And perhaps what I love most about this is that even if I end up in a place completely different from what I’m imagining now, I will be happy.