Repost: “Full Circle”

A few nights ago I was staying up way too late stumbling down the rabbit hole that is the Internet. On a whim I searched for a post I’d written at the beginning of 2009, just after AIESEC United States’ Winter National Conference 08-09, where my term as Local Committee President of AIESEC at Georgia Tech ended. Unfortunately the old AIESEC GT blog, where I’d written the post, was lost in Google’s scorching of all FTP blogs on Blogger. However, that particular post had been copied in full and re-posted on a range voting Yahoo! Group. Since I have just become online services director of AIESEC Life, the AIESEC US alumni association, I have decided to re-post that old bit of euphoric writing in full, for posterity. And maybe for the lulz too.

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On the night of December 29, 2008, I was in a Zen state.

My former teammate and one of the greatest people I have been blessed to know, Tiffany Curtiss, was elected Member Committee President of AIESEC United States in the first free and fair MCP elections in twelve years.

I haven’t cried in a long time, but I came pretty damn close as Missy poured the water on her head and everyone cheered for Tiffany. What was clear to me, though, is that as much as we were cheering for her, we were cheering for the process, for student ownership, for having a voice. For having come so far just shy of six months after the July 4 letter.

The only thought that had space in my head after the bucket fell was back to the weekend of May 12-14, 2006, when I was told “you have no future in AIESEC US” by the top leadership after trying to bring people together and think for themselves. Instead of doing whatever college students do on the weekend, Tiffany and my AIESEC mentor and former LCP of AIESEC LC Cornell, Arthur Maas, spent the entire weekend on the phone with the key players in New York, and when they were talking about “next steps,” Tiffany was talking about right and wrong. Tiffany, of course, was right, and despite being right, her hours and hours on the phone that weekend got me back into AIESEC US. How incredibly appropriate, how it fits in with the music of the Universe. How justice was served and how progress was lifted up!

I turned off my video camera and I walked up to my room, alone. I could barely even shut the door before the immensity of what had just happened washed over me like a tidal wave. I gripped the table and I put my head against the wall. I closed my eyes and let the reality of it flow through every bit of my being. How years and even months ago, this moment was an unthinkable fairy tale – regardless of the winner of the election. I felt like I have not felt in an incredibly long time, and to the powers that put the breath in my lungs, I let forth in an exhale, “thank you.”

Words cannot express the pride I feel that Tiffany was elected MCP.

And finally, mere hours before my term as LCP ended, I was able to participate as a proxy for Milwaukee (Amira taking the seat for GT) in our legislation, where we established our first compendium in twelve years – and I am proud that I was a key part of writing it. I skipped sessions and I stayed up late to work on the constitution and accountability with Jason, and I personally spent the entire day after the election tweaking and perfecting the range voting process, which was one of the final motions we passed – by acclamation. Though it was hard work and it kept me from hanging out nearly as much as I wanted to with the people who matter to me and friends I haven’t met yet, I realized at the end of the conference how much more valuable it was that we spent our time on things that mattered. We did work together, we built the foundations of a new AIESEC US together. That was far better than anything else I’ve experienced at a US conference before, and I hope for the future members that it only grows and does not stop.

While banging the table to close legislation, we heard loud sounds from above – and through the skylights we saw the fireworks heralding a new year. We did it! And the fireworks let everyone know it.

Poetry upon poetry, the formal New Years Eve dinner that night took place in the exact same room as the plenary of the last Winter Conference in St. Louis. My LCP term ended in the exact same room in which it began. A year ago in that room, as we finished singing “Auld Lang Syne,” I thought to myself: “This is either the year AIESEC US will save itself, or the year in which it will be lost forever.”

I could never have pictured us in that same room one year later, triumphant. The truth is stranger than fiction.

A sincere thanks to all of the people who are a part of the fabric that has been my AIESEC Experience thus far. There are many of you to name, and rest assured you will hear it from me soon. But other than Tiffany, the person I must thank most of all is Missy Shields, outgoing MCP and former LCP of AIESEC at Georgia Tech. Without her AIESEC US would not be here today, and I would not be the person I am, plain and simple. She deserves adulation for years and years, and she will be a golden legend for as long as the word “AIESEC” spurs the heartbeats of people looking for a better future.

To you both: because you have changed me, you have changed the world. Hold me to that.

— http://atlanta.nomadlife.org/2009/01/full-circle.aspx

Kashgar, the Khunjerab Pass, Eid ul-Fitr, and the Way Back

Kashgar, alas and alack, did not impress. I built the concept, the wispy words of friends and former blog posts describing that something which lives in the storied culture of travelers from millennia ago to the present age as “Kashgar,” in my mind too much as a place completely different from China.  In many ways it does differ from the culture of its political overlord, but it’s also disappointingly clad in the same architecture and layout as other Chinese cities.  To make matters more depressing, the old town is under the ball and hammer in a classic example of Chinese “restoration.”

We got a room at the Chini Bagh, which used to be the British Consulate in Kashgar during the “Great Game” of the 19th Century.  I thought we would go to Tashkurgan the following day, but we decided to stay in Kashgar to arrange better transportation opportunities and secure passage to Urumqi.  I gave my dirty clothes to be laundered, and it turned out to be 84 kuai – about five times higher than I ever paid to launder clothes at hotels in China.  Furthermore, the Chini Bagh’s service was generally awful, despite its reputation as one of the more famous hotels in Kashgar.

After eating at a local place, I used the Internet for an hour – had to stay fresh on the job search.  The next morning we secured the room for another night before embarking on some haphazard sightseeing.  Per the Lonely Planet’s one-size-fits-all recommendations, we taxied to a nice mausoleum, the Abakh Hoja Maziri,  and a livestock market with no livestock.  I also came down with a sore throat due to the inefficient, overpowered air conditioner in the hotel room.  It didn’t help that I drank a couple of delicious Sinkiang Dark beers in the cafe of the hotel, thus lulling my immune system into a relaxed state.

Glazed Tile Detail at Abakh Hoja Maziri
Glazed Tile Detail at Abakh Hoja Maziri
Construction Tools at the Abakh Hoja Maziri
Construction Tools at the Abakh Hoja Maziri
Restorative Construction Worker at Abakh Hoja Maziri
Restorative Construction Worker at Abakh Hoja Maziri
Penitent outside Id Kah Mosque
Penitent outside Id Kah Mosque

In the afternoon we strolled around the half-rubble old town.  Historically (i.e. until about 2008) Kashgar’s Old Town was the largest intact authentic Silk Road town, dating from the days when it served as a vibrant hub for the many cultures that passed through its streets bearing all the goods one could want in Eurasia.  The extent to which it has been destroyed is painful to witness, and I think that it is exemplary of cultural-related development in modern China: demolish the real McCoy and put up a fake version of it.  The story unfolding in Kashgar’s old town ties together many of the themes of China’s “growing pains:” transition from old infrastructure to new, forced displacement of residents from traditional community spaces into new high-rise apartments, an overriding focus on municipal district-level quarterly GDP growth, the bizarre preference of Chinese tourists for “Disneyland” culture to authentic artifacts and places, and the central government’s efforts to exert control over restive minorities by undermining their shared cultural heritage.  Note that the images below are not unique to Kashgar; different versions of these scenes are found all over China.

A Hall of Doorways through Walls
A Hall of Doorways through Walls
You Can't Come In
You Can't Come In
The Neighborhood Path to Nowhere
The Neighborhood Path to Nowhere
Uighur Women Walking in the Old Neighborhood
Uighur Women Walking in the Old Neighborhood
A Silk Road Homefront
A Silk Road Homefront
What Happened to the Neighbors Out Back?
What Happened to the Neighbors Out Back?
Historic Neighborhood Restoration in the People's Republic of China
Historic Neighborhood Restoration in the People's Republic of China

Since Kashgar was underwhelming, covered in nasty dust and we had a few days to kill before Eid ul-Fitr, we sought out transport to the Khunjerab Pass, the highest motorable border pass in the world at 4,693 meters – nearly as high as that low-oxygen, high-star count night at Nam Tso in Tibet.  We first sought the services of the folks at CITS, which has an office right next to the Chini Bagh.  Their price to see both Karakul Lake and the Pass was 1,700 RMB for the both of us – pretty expensive.  He called the border office in Tashkurgan to ask about foreigners getting to the border, and the officer told him that foreigners without a forward visa (to Pakistan) could not go up to the Pass.  This disappointed us, but we still wanted to get up into the scenic highlands of Tashkurgan.  The fellow who runs the cafe at the Chini Bagh offered to do the trip for only 1,000 RMB.  We sealed the deal, albeit without the Pass as a part of the package, and proceeded to eat WAY too much da pan ji and tasty yogurt at some place that night.

We awoke the next morning to leave for Tashkurgan at ten on the Karakoram Highway.  The driver pulled over to allow us to buy hot naan bread on the way, surprisingly tasty for breakfast.  We passed Karakol Lake about three hours into the journey; it is beautiful, but the weather was too cloudy for it to be really majestic.  After that, I fell asleep until at some point we had to get out of the taxi and present our passports at a police checkpoint.  In this part of Xinjiang, they also have the silly registration-checkpoint speed limit that Tibet has.  The road was badly washed out in some spots on the Highway.

Arnab on the Karakoram Highway
Arnab on the Karakoram Highway
Me on the Karakoram Highway
Me on the Karakoram Highway

I awoke in Tashkurgan at 15:00, five hours after leaving Kashgar.  We lodged at the ubiquitous jiaotong bingguan or “traffic hotel” where we rested for 30 minutes, then got some laghmian for lunch.  Arnab and I sat around waiting on the driver for an hour or more (during which I burned through more of Team of Rivals) until he finally came down to the lobby and drove us to a couple of sites.  The river delta-meadow at the east end of Tashkurgan is beautiful and idyllic, ringed by massive mountain ranges.  This great peace of cool weather, clean(-ish) air and pastoral quiet was totally sullied when a family living in a concrete yurt there, no doubt spurred on by the presence of tourists, switched on the fake ethnic music.  It was as loud as a rock concert and echoed off all the mountains – and worst of all, the amplifier was pointed directly at the walkway into and out of the middle of the field, where we were strolling.  After we escaped that visual siren’s trap, we climbed up to the ancient fort ruins where I took some more landscape pictures. We then returned to the hotel, ate dinner including Arnab’s precious tudou si, and slept.  By the end of the day, we found out that we wold be able to see the Khunjerab Pass, and we agreed to pay 350 RMB extra to the driver for this purpose.

Welcome to Tashkurgan Deceptively Pastoral Meadow
Welcome to Tashkurgan Deceptively Pastoral Meadow
River in Tashkurgan Meadow
River in Tashkurgan Meadow
"Princess Castle" in Tashkurgan
"Princess Castle" in Tashkurgan
Tashkurgan River Delta Meadow
Tashkurgan River Delta Meadow

The next morning, the 9th of September, we left for the Khunjerab Pass.  The Karakoram Highway here rolls through amazing, epically beautiful scenery through a long straight valley set on either side by world-class mountain ranges, the Karakoram.  Tajiks abound in this part of China, especially in Tashkurgan and the southern valley.  To reach the Pass we had to pay ten kuai and turn in our passports at the customs station just south of Tashkurgan; this earned us a permit to move forward to, but not far beyond, the border.  Along the Highway we passed within about 20 km of Tajikistan, 80 km of Afghanistan, and 40 km of Kyrgyzstan.  One kilometer before the border with Pakistan, we stopped for what seemed like an hour – it was hard to tell since we were 4600 m up and our heads hurt.  When enough tourists queued, the border army police opened the gate, one of the army men sat in our taxi, and we drove up to the border itself at the pass, which is quite wide and long.  The Chinese road is paved right up to the line itself, at which point it abruptly ends.  The Pakstani side of the Highway is a rough dirt track.  We stood in Kashmir, currently controlled by Pakistan, for a bit.  I had to wear Arnab’s coat since it was so cold up there and I was not prepared.  Some Pakistani border guards came and we shook hands with them.  One of them said Arnab “looked Pakistani,” which made him laugh ironically since he’s of Indian ancestry.  After maybe ten minutes, we were shooed back into the cars by the Chinese police.

The Border Permit
The Border Permit
Station South of Tashkurgan
Station South of Tashkurgan
Goats on the Karakoram Highway
Goats on the Karakoram Highway
Karakoram Highway Ascent to the Khunjerab Pass
Karakoram Highway Ascent to the Khunjerab Pass
The Highest Border Gate in the World
The Highest Border Gate in the World
The Border of Kashmir and Xinjiang
The Border of Kashmir and Xinjiang
Arnab in "Occupied Kashmir"
Arnab in "Occupied Kashmir"
Me Straddling Pakistani Kashmir and Chinese Xinjiang
Me Straddling Pakistani Kashmir and Chinese Xinjiang
Arnab and Me with Pakistani Border Guard
Arnab and Me with Pakistani Border Guard
The Sign Says it All
The Sign Says it All

Thus, on the fifth anniversary of my joining AIESEC, I visited the highest border crossing in the world and stood astride two worlds.

We ate da pan ji in Tashkurgan for lunch and had to pay for the driver’s share.  After we got our passports back, we had an uneventful return to Kashgar.  Upon our return there commenced an episode in which the Chini Bagh did not honor our reservations, so we got a room at the much more pleasant Home Inn just down the street.  At first the concierge said “no foreigners, you don’t have a permit” so I showed him my visa, when he replied “oh, yes you do.”  Do they really believe that foreigners can / do get into the country without the proper paperwork?

I slept fitfully that night and awoke on Eid ul-Fitr, Friday the tenth. We saw about twenty thousand penitents pray at Id Kah Mosque.  I felt disliked by the locals and very out of place.  This was right around the time when Obama had announced the “end” of “combat missions” in Iraq, and it was the day before September 11 and when that guy in Florida said he would burn a Koran.  It may have been my imagination, but it sounded like the imam said “Obama” a lot during the prayer.  This was the first time I had ever seen any kind of Muslim religious ceremony, and I think that Eid ul-Fitr counts as the top example of such an occasion.

The Islamic Faithful along the Id Kah Mosque on Eid Ul-Fitr
The Islamic Faithful along the Id Kah Mosque on Eid Ul-Fitr
A Man and his Son at Id Kah Mosque on Eid Ul-Fitr
A Man and his Son at Id Kah Mosque on Eid Ul-Fitr
Eid Ul-Fitr at Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar
Eid Ul-Fitr at Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar
Men Pray on Eid Ul-Fitr at Id Kah Mosque
Men Pray on Eid Ul-Fitr at Id Kah Mosque
On Knees for Allah on Eid Ul-Fitr
On Knees for Allah on Eid Ul-Fitr
The Thousands Ruk'u on Eid-ul Fitr at Id Kah Mosque
The Thousands Ruk'u on Eid-ul Fitr at Id Kah Mosque

After the morning ceremony, I relaxed most of the day.  At the infamous Fubar, just outside the Chini Bagh, I met a friendly fellow named Brian from San Francisco.  We talked for awhile about the Karakoram Highway – he was looking to cycle up to Karakul Lake – and agreed to meet for dinner later that night.  Despite it being Eid we had a hard time finding a proper restaurant; the place where we wound up was rather dirty.  At Arnab’s insistence we got da pan ji again.  Arnab, not being much of a drinker, retired after this to prepare for our 24-hour train journey to Urumqi the next day.  I joined Brian at Fubar for a drink.  Before we even reached the bar I started feeling a bit queasy.  In the middle of our conversation at Fubar I had to excuse myself to employ the facilities.  Post-facilities I felt fine again, so it was clear that the da pan ji was bad, though I was the only one to get ill.

The next morning, my final act before departing to the train station was to check my email for any news on DC employment updates.  Fortuna had smiled upon me – I was accepted to a three-month internship at the New America Foundation‘s Open Technology Initiative!  My search for some form of employment had finally come to an end.  I sent a quick positive reply, and we began our grueling nine-day journey from the farthest point in the PRC from Beijing back to the city that had been my home for a year.  Thus commenced my final fortnight in China.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/prestonrhea/5016453503/” title=”_mg_3403.cr2 by preston.rhea, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4152/5016453503_989b15c418.jpg” width=”500″ height=”399″ alt=”_mg_3403.cr2″ /></a>

My New Productivity Email and Task Set-Up

I decided a couple of months back that I should take time to look into productivity for tasks and email management.  On account of I have much more free time now than I did when I was a student, I look into such matters at my whim.  Anything manageable would be better than my old system, which may have ruined a good bit of my GPA: keeping it all in my head and avoiding using any piece of paper whenever possible.  I probably went crazy from trying to shove tasks along with study into my head and not letting it out on paper or into my email.

This is not comprehensive but for my purposes it has already improved my productivity and my sanity ten-fold.  Many thanks to the amazing Web site Lifehacker, the task management tool Remember the Milk, and the die-hard fans of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” philosophy.  I have not read the book (and I am pretty sure I won’t jump on that bandwagon anytime soon), but the idea behind it is largely expressed through this setup.

What I do now with emails and tasks:

  • Organized Gmail with a series of tags called the “Trusted Trio,” key among which are “FOLLOWUP” and “HOLD”
  • Got a free account with Remember the Milk to handle task management from everything between simple to-do and project management at work
  1. Read email as it comes into my inbox.  If it takes less than two minutes to reply to or follow up on a task contained therein, I do that immediately then tag the email with whatever accessory tags I choose (AIESEC, BrainCanvas, Travel, etc.) and then click “Archive” to move it out of my inbox.
  2. If the email takes more than two minutes to follow-up with, I move it to the “FOLLOWUP” folder (along with tagging it with any other pertinent tags) and out of my inbox.  I keep it marked unread so I can see how many emails I need to follow-up on; I also add a RTM task to deal with it.
  3. If I expect a response to the email, or if it contains information that I will need to revisit soon like directions to a restaurant on Friday night or a plane ticket to Bangkok, I move it to the “HOLD” folder and out of my inbox.
  4. Regarding tasks, I have set up Remember the Milk according to this blog post.  This takes the most practice and patience to deal with, but it’s powerful and enables me to accomplish a lot more than I used to.  When I make a task (call my mother on her birthday this Tuesday), I type it out as specifically as possible and add as many pertinent tags and info as I can.  This way, all the thinking about the task has been put into the to-do immediately and all I have to do to complete the task when the time comes is just do it, since all the info is right there for me to follow.  It has also enabled me to do some great organization for multi-step work tasks.  I even use it for “someday” wish lists, like “wardrobe overhaul” with the help of the tailors of Beijing.
  5. The thing to tie it all together: do a weekly review in which I check up on all outstanding tasks and emails.  So far I’ve been bad at this, but it’s not a problem since I am not awash in tasks right now.

There was one much larger component of implementing this.  After doing the general setup, I realized that I had not used Gmail to its full extent because I had wholly ignored labels, I used my gatech.edu email as my default email inbox until I came to China, and I had neglected the “Archive” button.  My gatech.edu email was set up to copy all incoming email to my Gmail as well since January of 2008, but since I did not use Gmail as my mail client, every bit of email I’ve received since then, deleted or not in my gatech.edu inbox, was present in Gmail.  One of the key sanity-saving features of this email setup is in keeping your inbox empty, so I had a task ahead of me.  After deleting all of the auto-update emails from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn,  I had about 16,000 email threads stretching from December 2009 to January 2008.  I resolved to tackle one month at a time, starting at the present and moving backwards, labeling, archiving and deleting one month of email per day.  It was extremely interesting when I came to 2008: reading the history in emails of the July 4 letter’s origins and aftermath, and the democratic renewal of AIESEC US, in reverse.  I read each and every email related to the subject and was surprised to see some of the places where I made the right decision, the mistakes I made, and how I reacted to certain situations knowing what I know now.  A lot to be learned from that time, now well-organized for future review.  It was about two weeks ago that I finally reached the fabled “inbox zero.”  I keep it that way with rapid follow-ups and moving email to its right place – out of my inbox.

I have now joined the sycophantic ranks of bloggers about productivity, a set I generally distrust.  However, I liked this setup enough that I felt it worthy of publishing here.  If I had known about this when I started my LCP term, this setup would have become an integral part of task management for my EB team – and we’d have accomplished a lot more.

China So Far

It has been four months now since I touched down in China, and this is my first personal blog post since then. Part of that, especially the first month, is attributable to Blogger being blocked by the Great Firewall, but I have a service called WiTopia which I strongly recommend to anyone who wants a secure Internet connection to the freer parts of the world.

I left Gadsden on Sunday August 23rd, and flew out the next day for Shanghai. My parents drove me from Gadsden to Atlanta.

Last Day in Alabama - Me with Mom

Last Day in Alabama - Me with Dad 2

Since I landed in late August, I spent three weeks in Shanghai going through the immigration process. I had to get an official residence permit at the police station within 24 hours of touching down, then I had to schedule and go through the official medical check that all people who are staying in China for more than 6 months have to receive, and finally with the positive results of that test I had to go to the provincial services office and hand in my passport to be processed to receive my final, permanent visa and work permit. Five days after handing in my passport I was given a slip of paper that acted as a visa while my passport and work permit were still being processed, and I was finally able to head for my destination, Beijing. But I still had to ship that slip of paper back to Shanghai where the visa service used it to get my passport and work permit, which they then shipped to me a week later.

However I spent some good time hanging out with AIESECers in Shanghai (after I finally got in touch with them) and doing a few things in the financial capital of the People’s Republic of China. I even got a surprise visit from Tiffany and was privileged to eat in her grandparents’ home.

Skyline Outside Beehome

A Shanghai Window

A View from the Past in Shanghai

Grilled Spicy Mussel Stand 1

In Beijing, I quickly secured an apartment rather than wait around, since I was tired for having lived in a hostel for almost a month. I was desperate to get my stuff unpacked and have a bit of breathing room. I settled on a place that’s very well-located, in the Haiyuncang Community just outside the Dongsishitiao subway station on Line 2. Line 2 follows the path of the old Beijing city walls, and so I am technically just inside the old city. It’s also a 10-minute walk to the “Ghost Street,” or 簋街/鬼街 which is the most famous restaurant street in Beijing, and a 15-minute walk to the expat bar hub of Sanlitun. My home area:


View My Beijing Places in a larger map

I work at Prime Networks, as an assortment of things. Officially I am “customer service,” but my primary job right now is to oversee the launch of the second version of our company website. For a while I wasn’t receiving enough work, so I asked for more; now I am also the company’s global market research guy. The office was way out in the Cuiwei area at Wanshoulu, five stops west of the west part of Line 2 on Line 1 (pretty far out), but as of the end of November we are in a much closer space to me, at Jianwai SOHO in the heart of Beijing’s central business district, GuoMao.

I have made a few friends here, but most of them are expats. I haven’t tapped into the Chinese culture as much as I could / should have, although all of my coworkers are Chinese. I’ll start language lessons here soon, as one of the things I was waiting on before doing that was the office move.

Since coming to China, I have done and seen a few things, but my work schedule has kept willy-nilly vacationing at bay. In and around Beijing I have seen a few cool things.

I have walked around Nanluoguxiang Hutong and seen some nice traditional courtyards.

Luogu Courtyard Entrance

PassBy Bar Poster

I have wandered the Forbidden City, that ancient citadel of the Middle Kingdom, at my own pace.

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I have seen the Great Wall of China, the Ming Tombs, and the Temple of Heaven.

Great Wall View from the Top

Ming Tombs Gate

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During the National Day holiday of October 1-8, rather than be mobbed by the entire country traveling home and the overwhelming nationalism, I hopped over to Seoul to visit Jeff, where we hiked in Busan over Chuseok and experienced the wonder of South Korea’s capital.

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I have also met some good people, people who are hustling to make their names and strike it big in the rapidly growing economy here. Being in Beijing and Shanghai is like being in New York City or San Francisco during their boom years. It’s very exciting just to be here; it feels like Beijing is the newly emerging spearhead of history.

At the same time it is hard to feel like one belongs here. Many people come to China and “fall in love,” turning a six-month stint into a five-year tenure or more with no end in sight. I haven’t felt that, but I can see why many people do.

I was sad to spend the holidays away from family, as it’s the first time I’ve ever done so in my life. But it enabled me to save up my vacation to spend two weeks with Kelsey in Laos and Cambodia in February, over the Spring Festival holiday.

Right now it’s incredibly cold in Beijing, with the wind chill going as low as -18 Celsius (-0.4 degrees Fahrenheit). To combat it, I had a pretty cool winter topcoat tailored for 800 RMB ($120). Try getting a nice topcoat off the rack for that price in the West, much less tailored. I will be returning to the tailors for their service on other clothing, including getting a nice suit made before I leave China.

More of my general life experience will come. I can only post from home, since only my Linux laptop has Witopia on it; my work laptop does not. Now that the initial post is finally out of the way, I can get about more regular updates.

By the way, how crazy is it that 2010 is less than a week away?

Winds Blow East

Again it has been too long since I have recorded anything in this blog. How unfortunate as well, as it has been a truly great summer with a lot of experiences, thoughts, and mental progress I think.

In short, since my last post Arcadiy and I completed our great journey West to California, where Kelsey met me and we had a fantastic two weeks in Big Sur, San Jose, Berkeley / Oakland / San Francisco, Napa / Sonoma Valleys, and finally at Get Golden with AIESEC San Jose at Yosemite National Park where we climbed to the very top of Half Dome – my greatest summiting feat. Then I flew out to New York to see some friends including Tiffany and A. King, who were on the cusp of beginning their terms as the first duly elected AIESEC US Member Committee team members in twelve years. I returned to Alabama, where Kelsey came down to visit again for a weekend, and I worked out and relaxed. In July I went up to stay with Kelsey for three weeks in Chapel Hill while also catching Independence Day in Washington, DC. After another week in Gadsden, I helped her move into a new home in DC, where we spent two weeks and said “see you later” for a year (or six months or so) the day before she started her new job this week.

The “see you later” is because on Monday morning I fly out to China for one year to work at a startup content delivery network company called Prime Networks in Beijing. It is a technical traineeship through AIESEC.

That came after a great deal of wrangling with three different opportunities over the summer, and this is what came out on top. Thankfully so, I believe. In China I will get to spend a year in a totally foreign culture, as the only time I’ve been to “Asia” was when I was on the eastern side of Istanbul for a month in August 2007. I will have the opportunity to learn as much as I can of a major world language, Mandarin. I will be working in an area that is related to my degree, and not just teaching English. I will be working for a start-up, to immerse myself in the entrepreneurial environment. From my perspective, although I don’t want to get ahead of myself too much, I am getting a pretty good deal.

I know a lot of people get stressed and anxious and even teary-eyed when they go on a journey like this, leaving their homes and their loved ones. The leaving is not lost on me. I recognize and understand my feelings of separation from my good friends, my family, and my girlfriend very much. The same goes for the places I won’t see for a year. But the drive to know and experience more, to know more people and be a part of more places and learn more from the wide world is orders of magnitude greater than the sadness. I have never been homesick before. I don’t think I will start to in China. I feel propelled towards it, with the wind at my back and the path leading East for now. So much to learn and so much opportunity is a bell-clear beckoning on an early morning.

I must abed now, but soon I will be in Shanghai for two weeks to complete immigration. And then the task begins!

The Turner Experience

On Wednesday morning, Arcadiy and I started out in Atlanta, Georgia, after eating lunch with Ben James and Willy B. We crossed the entire country in his white stallion. Last night we arrived in San Jose, CA, at the house of former LCP of AIESEC SJSU, Colin. He has continued on to Seattle; I am staying for two amazing weeks in the Bay Area.

Here is our entire trip that we just took:


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Each night, except for in Salt Lake City, we managed to stay with AIESEC friends and have a great time. Also we hiked up to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday (we would have continued up the trail to Emerald Lake but it was too snow-packed) and stopped off at the Sierra Trading Post in Cheyenne, WY.

This trip has been an intense experience for me. I have been to San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Oxford before, but (with the exception of Oxford) it was always via airplane. Driving across the country, inch by inch and foot by foot and mile by mile, watching every blade of grass bleed into every forest and give way to the flat green plains of Kansas to grow into the rising highlands of eastern Colorado, abruptly interrupted by the titanic Rockies and moving on up north to pass over the moonscape that is Wyoming, through the unfamiliar Western terrain of Utah’s salt flats and Nevada’s heavy mountainous deserts finally giving way to Tahoe’s majestically beautiful summits rolling down to the Pacific coast has been a surreal and powerful accomplishment. I have come to understand and appreciate just how very vast and diverse this country is, and everywhere we passed by I thought of different histories, of 40 acres and a mule, of outlaws on the frontier, of buffalo massacres and Native American tribes, of Mormons crossing such an incredible distance to found Deseret and of the true end of the frontier coming from the western end as well. It has blown my mind and it has also been the very appropriate beginning to what I expect will be a wonderful few weeks enjoying freedom before I ship out to Asia (wherever in that even more vast land I choose to go).

Tomorrow Kelsey arrives and then we will go camping in Big Sur, we will stay with my cousin in Berkeley to hit up San Francisco, and we will go camping in Napa before Get Golden. I am ecstatic to be able to spend two great weeks in paradise.

More to come soon hopefully. I’m taking some pretty good pictures.

The Mountaintop

I have finished Georgia Tech. I have taken all my finals. Most of the stuff is out of the Duplex ready to go back to Gadrock. Tomorrow morning I head to the Georgia Dome to go through commencement.

And it is looking like I will have quite a plate of options on the table. I have interviewed with / am in the process of moving forward with three different opportunities. One is being on the expansion team expanding AIESEC into Mongolia, and continuing the good work begun by my former comrade Alina and her band of merry Yalies. One is a traineeship for Prime Networks, Ltd., a content delivery network startup in Beijing, PRC. And one is for Mindvalley in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

They all represent radically different possible paths for this new stage in my life. The winds of fortune will have to be read carefully for me to take the wisest path. I intend to be out of the country by August, but if I choose Mongolia I will have to be there by July 1. As the possibilities weigh themselves on my mind at the crossroads, I remember the words of the checkout clerk:

If you want to find the truth, you have to walk through the darkness. In the depths of the darkness where no one likes to tread is where the truth lies.

Those are the words that swim in my head at night when I lay me down to sleep, that buzz through my brain while the steam of the shower awakens me while the morning light streams through the bathroom window. I think they are the calling of my destiny.

But until then, I go with a great companion on a long trip where he will begin his life anew in Seattle, and will drop me off in San Jose, CA; on the way we will commiserate and rest with old friends in Ohio, Kansas, and Colorado; we will hike a bit and chat aplenty. Then I get the pleasure of spending two wonderful weeks with Colin before he begins his MC term working with Tiffany and the others on the AIESEC US Dream Team, the first properly elected and selected such team in twelve years. I’ll also be with my new ladyfriend, exploring San Jo, San Francisco (I’m particularly interested in checking out a Long Now Foundation Seminar!), camping in Napa Valley and culminating in AIESEC San Jose’s Get Golden camping trip in Yosemite over Memorial Day weekend. Then I fly to New York to visit those people beginning their terms on the MC, and then back to Alabama on the first of June for some much needed R & R after five years of mental siege.

So much to try to experience and prepare for before the next chapter begins in this saga. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Finish Line Ahead

I will blog more about Spain later, when I have my photos all nice and loaded up.

The other night I was at Trader Joe’s, just getting some milk. I noticed there were several long-ish lines (for Trader Joe’s anyway) at the checkout counters, but the one at the left end of the occupied counters had one person who was about to be done, so I went to it. As soon as I settled there, a man’s voice to the left asked, “Are you a philosopher?”

I looked and where I thought there was an unmanned counter there was a worker, with no line in front of him. I walked and I said, “Not yet anyway.” He replied while looking me in the eye and taking my groceries, “I hope not. Because if you can’t find the free check-out counter in the grocery store, you’ll never find the truth.”

He continued as he rang me up, “And you know, most people think that the truth, it’s like rays of light that shine down from above.” He paused as he looked at me deeper, not really leaning in but pulling me somewhat closer with his eyes. “But you will not find the truth as revelation. If you want to find the truth, you have to walk through the darkness. In the depths of the darkness where no one likes to tread is where the truth lies.” He bagged my last item and I walked out the door.

I think that statement is profoundly true. When I was still a Christian, one of the aspects of Jesus that I most sought to replicate and admire (and admittedly I still do) was the part where he “ate with sinners.” This had a true effect on my understanding and interpretation of the faith and the way of life, but many of the authority figures around me often dismissed this aspect somewhat when I would try to explain it, or at the least they rarely encouraged it.

At this point it should be noted that this entry has been written over three separate periods, each time with me meaning to finish it, but always getting interrupted before my thoughts finished. Here’s some more:

I’ve been working on getting the sort of ideal traineeship in China: a year in a fundamentally non-Western country, a place where I can learn a major world language, working in renewable energy and utilizing somewhat, but not overwhelmingly, engineering. I have been in talks with a company but it’s slowing down, so I’m not sure how that’s going to work out. So I am expanding my traineeship search. I’m probably going to apply to MindValley, which would be so off the chain, and a couple of other places. We’ll see – main thing is to get out into a worthwhile thing for my own interests and development, and to wait out this economic thing. I like to read fivethirtyeight a lot because Nate Silver does a good job of making statistically interesting projections and analyses of the economic situation, which is hard to understand, at least as much as I would like to understand it – which is profoundly deeply.

Very soon I’ll be done with GT and then I think people will see someone return who hasn’t been here in a while – a calmer, more amicable me. My own mother tells me how much less happy I seem now than I did before college, and with an awesome trip to be taken in May with people I really want to be with and the prospect of a year of new developments, I think my mind will sufficiently rest and recharge itself, along with my soul.

The Week and the Day: The System Failed

The first week back of school has ramped up slowly but surely. Although my classes this semester won’t be as debilitatingly difficult as Spring ’08 or as rigamarole-esque (forgive me for that one) as Summer & Fall ’08, it will be a pretty hefty offering with a good bit of homework. However, not being LCP is going to factor favorably into the success equation.

This past weekend was AIESEC GT’s Leadership Team Retreat, and it was a really good one! There were no major incidences although some good solid constructive conversation was had, and best of all we finally finished the LC constitution we’ve been knocking around for three years! We even got a good bit of headway done on taking all the disparate “common-law” style LTR notes from the past three years and organizing them into a single living bylaws document. Both nights were packed with fun, fire, the stars on the lake, and Saturday night was host to an intense conversation on religion, human nature, the Gaza conflict, and other related items of import. It was a conversation of the type I haven’t had for a long time, and the last time I had one was definitely while not in the USA – probably that Nordic circle from ITC in Romania in April ’07. It was refreshing and empowering – a reminder of why AIESEC is so cool.

Monday was difficult, as all Mondays will be. I have a gigantic wall of classes followed immediately by our LCM. I’m trying to get back into running in the morning and, since I don’t have any labs (except when senior design picks up) that keep me at school way late I think I’ll be able to actually keep it up.

Today was really especially cool though. My old German mate from the language school in Gandia, Nikolai, was in Atlanta on layover for about eight hours and so we got to have a pretty cool day today. I freaked out yesterday because I saw the headlines about the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) which went into effect yesterday: if a national of one of the countries in the Visa Waiver Program (Germany included) vists the USA, the I-94 form has been replaced by having to enter your data online at least three days before your date of entry. By the time I read the article Nikolai had less than 24 hours before his bald head would be stepping out of the plane at Hartsfield-Jackson International. I texted him and tried to call him and sent him a facebook message about the issue, imploring him to at lesat try by entering his data. He managed to do so, and somewhat unsurprisingly, this morning at customs the customs man told him that almost every traveler was blindsided by the requirements and so since no one had their data they were just letting people through like normal. I was relieved to hear his voice on the phone when he said he was on MARTA on his way up to Midtown station just before 0800. We enjoyed a good Southern breakfast at West Egg, and then he wanted to see the World of Coke, so we parked at GT and we walked through Centennial Olympic Park and went there. It was sort of interesting, but not nearly on the level of the Georgia Aquarium, and unsurprisingly we drank too many soft drinks. He also had a hankering for a really good burger so we went back to my place and walked to the old standby, the Highlander, where he also had a Sweetwater 420 and said the burger was “the best he had had in ten years” – it having been a decade since his last presence in the US. We walked through Piedmont for a bit and then I took him back to the station. It was great to see him again.

Now I’m off to bed before another hard Wednesday.