Myopic Life

Can't see all that far down the road…

Lytro: too real?

Not sure what to think, given the latest news on the long-anticipated release of the Lytro camera.

The introduction of manual focus and DOF-adjustment adjustment capabilities via combination of the camera’s light-field photography technology and post-capture image processing is turning the photography world upside-down. What fun I currently derive from playing with AV modes, depth, and focus threatens to be diminished by the incredible image-data storage capacity of the Lytro and its accompanying software. Experiment with a couple different clicks of the mouse and BOOM, you’ve settled on your ideal focal point for that shot of the world’s longest bar. No split-moment decision required during the actual point of capture. Seems to discount the whole artistic process, in my opinion.

On the flipside, does this mean I may be less inclined to drop a fortune on an additional shiny macro-lens-of-my-dreams?

Filed under: News, Photography, Technology, ,

Savings basics, then onto fund management

I recently came across an intriguing article chronicling the ING-Girls Inc. Investment Challenge, an innovative take on financial literacy and youth empowerment, currently being implemented across the country.

While most financial literacy initiatives emphasize basic principles and skill sets associated with savings accumulation, account management, and fiscal responsibility, ING builds on this core knowledge and takes financial exposure to a different level by walking high school girls (yes, interestingly, this program is targeted towards girls only) through the basics of stock trading, mutual funds, and portfolio management! The girls start off with $20,000 virtual portfolios to manage, and, over the course of a few months, build up to $50,000 with which to trade freely. Program participants are exposed to ideas such as asset allocation, diversification, even valuation — concepts first discussed at-length in my second-year Wharton classes! Results thus far indicate that the students are far more adept and prudent at handling this “free” money than many adults would initially credit them, or even be capable of themselves. Portfolios are generally well-balanced and well-researched, and participants exhibit greater attentiveness and sensitivity to market dynamics (…any stock tips for the rest of us?!).

As an additional feature, after three years, ING awards any portfolio gains to the girls in the forms of scholarships! What better way to promote early exposure to key financial discipline and encourage a continuation of the learning process? I personally believe it is great that program sponsors and facilitators recognize the importance of building strong foundations in financial literacy in today’s youth, and possesses enough foresight to recognize their impact on future leadership and economic conditions.

[Originally posted on FLCP. Article source: The Street]

Filed under: News, Teaching,

Support teacher functions

More often than not, I assume a role as a support teacher in our weekly lessons (given that I’ve served as lead teacher only once thus far this semester). During these sessions, although I do not directly dictate the material or relay the information, I (along with the rest of the support teachers) supplement the lesson and function as large determinants of the classroom culture and lesson structure.

Having a number of teachers dispersed throughout the class sitting directly beside student immediately increases student attentiveness and accountability. From my experience, a consistent presence of support teachers helps encourage active listening during lecture portions. Class participation can often be attributed to teacher initiative, which students tend to take note of and mimic through hand-raising and comments of their own. With high school students, disruptive or off-task behavior can usually be quelled with something as simple as “the teacher stare” (as Steve calls if) from a nearby support teacher.

I find the group activities most fulfilling — working with an intimate group has allowed me to discern individual strengths and qualities in the students. For example, I am now acutely aware of a student in my last group who possesses an amazing math acumen. I enjoy these interactions with students; being able to directly address each individual question they have, and working at a pace that is agreeable with all members of the group. In turn, I sense their own ease with the working environment and a greater investment they have in the material when receiving such personal attention. On the basis of these experiences, I recognize the value and advantages associated with smaller class sizes in any classroom setting.

Filed under: School, Teaching,

The FLCP

How many of you have been in a situation in which you may have been juuust short of a few dollars cash, whether it be for a Septa token, or for a Lee’s Italian hoagie because-the-craving-suddenly-hit, or you found yourself downtown and weren’t-planning-on-buying-anything-but-you-knew-you’d-totally-rock-that-pair-of-sunglasses?

I used this run-on sentence (and variances thereof) three distinct times this past week to open up my lesson on debit and credit cards, and the importance of building good credit. The first instance of its usage occurred on Thursday, during my first real FLCP teaching stint for our University City High School seniors. I taught a modified version of my original lesson twice, to two different Upward Bound classes early this morning.

3:00pm on Thursday rolled around, and we were met with a fresh set of twenty new faces (in addition to the ten students from first week). I had to adjust accordingly and used up a chunk of time to go through the entire introductory process again, but the class was able to quickly settle down and engage itself with the lesson. The students exhibited a degree of familiarity with debit cards and credit cards, but I was most excited about their gains in knowledge and interest exhibited during the portions covering the importance of credit, and concepts such as accrued fees and interest (with one student even catching onto a math error I committed – oops!). I gave them the task of differentiating between credit and debit transactions on a handout, and was pleased to see students beginning to connect the dots and noticing usage patterns with the two different types of cards, despite ending up with limited time to spend on the activity.

I was to teach this lesson (in-brief) another two times: Saturday morning, I awoke to the sound of my generic phone alarm at 8:00am, and immediately cursed myself for thinking it had been a bright idea to sleep at 3:00am the previous night. Despite my early morning grievances, the teaching experiences that followed were well worth waking up for. I was amazed at the level of dedication and motivation found in every single student I encountered. These were youth who had voluntarily committed themselves to Upward Bound, and devoted the hours between 8am and 1pm, every Saturday, to the program! Kudos to them. The students were well-behaved, enthusiastic, engaged, and vocal right from the get-go, making teaching a breeze and an absolute pleasure. I was pleasantly surprised with the level of insight they already possessed, and their willingness to contribute and share their experiences. As I was going around to each group, I heard plenty of great discussion going on. What was most rewarding was picking up on their conversations at the conclusion of the lessons – their comments on how interesting and effective the lessons taught were that morning (shout-out to John for a job well done!).

I’ve finally gotten my feet wet teaching for FLCP, and diving right in by teaching three sessions last week was definitely a refreshing approach. Looking forward to the next couple of weeks with the University City kids and more experiences with the Upward Bound groups.

Filed under: School, Teaching,

SNU International Summer Institute

I’m taking two courses at Seoul National University this summer — “Economic Geography” and “Understanding East Asia through the Prism of Disputes”. Respectively, they’re taught by an American expat with extensive knowledge and experience in the areas of economics, policy, geography, and statistics, and a Korean SNU law professor (SNU’s School of Law is widely renowned) who is quite insightful and enthusiastic when it comes to matters regarding international politics, social policy, and history. Classes are three hours each, but only held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, leaving ample time for us to get out, have fun, experience the culture, and explore the city (also justifies partying every Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night…or even every night if you’re hardcore like some kids). That said, the subject matter has completely and successfully captured my interest. This, combined with the quality of the teaching, and the rather laid-back feel to this summer session in Seoul, has produced an avid leaner out of me, despite it being summer (with its usual connotation of sitting-with-your-toes-in-the-water, ass-in-the-sand for three months out of the year). Really wish I could recapture that mentality and assert that kind of balance between schoolwork and discovery/play during the regular semesters – I would probably find it much more enjoyable and learn more efficiently. Of course, studying and learning about matters that are personally interesting/appealing is what really dictates my level of investment in a course and how much I get out of it… Guh. School. Fast approaching. Wharton cores. FML.

Filed under: School, ,

Street food in Seoul

My experiences with food and different cuisines were some of the highlights of my backpacking trip this summer. It’s been no different in Korea, where the food has yet to disappoint.

Closest-furthest: tempura, odeng, dukbokki, dukbokki w/ sundae

My first night in Seoul, we flew into Incheon Interational Airport at 11pm. We hopped on the last subway headed for the Hongdae district in downtown Seoul. First sight upon exiting from the subway station: STREET FOOD STANDS (I was starving because apparently Air Asia doesn’t believe that passengers require anything besides drinks on six hour flights).

Stands are UBIQUITOUS across the city and typically operate well into the AM hours, with many of them running 24 hours. You can usually expect the same mix of foods at every street food stand in Seoul. You’ve got your run-of-the-mill…

Dukbokki (떡볶이): A staple street food, and by far MY FAVORITE. Dukbokki is a dish made with sliced ddeok (rice cake), gochujang (hot pepper paste), odeng (fish cake), and green onions. I love it for its spice and for the distinctly chewy texture  of the rice cake. You’ll see food vendors here constantly stirring a huge rectangular pan of gochujang sauce with ddeok, so as to prevent the ddeok from sticking and burning. They simply refill the pan with more ddeok pieces once they run low on ddeok. Mmm…

Odeng (오뎅): Odeng is fish cake, made from pureed fish and wheat flour. It’s an ingredient in dukbokki, but you’ll often see it threaded onto sticks like kebabs, simmering in a salty broth (vendors will usually give you a small cup of it with your order of odeng). It’s mild and savory, and sometimes it really hits the spot for a small snack!

Sundae (순대): Err, there really isn’t any way of describing sundae in an appetizing manner, but I promise it tastes better than it sounds. BASICALLY, sundae is pork intestine stuffed with cellophane noodles, barley, pork blood, and seasoning. Yummy, right? When you think about it, it’s pretty close to your average sausage, probably the Korean equivalent of the American hot dog. It’s savory, satisfying, and pretty tasty when made right! Street vendors usually have a long length of this “sausage”, and when you order sundae, they will cut off pieces using scissors, then provide you a tiny pile of chili salt to dip the sundae in. It has a chewy texture because of the noodles, and when I had it, it was good dipped in the dukbokki sauce.

Tempura: Deep-friend potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn dogs, potato-covered corn dogs, a million varieties of sausage, shrimp, squid, even kimbap! I’ve only had the sweet potato tempura, which is delicious :9

Food ranges from ₩500 to ₩5,000. It’s pretty ingenious/convenient how they serve the food, if you ask me; most stands use small, reusable plates that are simply covered in a thin plastic bag. They pile up your order on the plate and after you’re finished eating, the bag is discarded et voilà – a clean plate ready for immediate use.

(Photo credit)

Filed under: Food, Travel, ,

Seoul searching

A bit on my experiences with transportation and getting around Seoul:

I’m currently studying at the main Gwanak campus of Seoul National University, located in the southern part of Seoul. Though there’s a subway stop called “Seoul National University”, it’s actually 1.5 km away from the actual campus. The sprawling campus is situated in a rather mountainous area, close to Mt. Gwanak (don’t think I’ll ever get used to the 25 minute uphill treks to class…I bust my ass every morning). The student dormitories are actually located near the back gate, closer to the Nakseongdae station than they are to the Seoul National University station. Still, getting across the Han River and into other Seoul neighborhoods requires a bit of effort.

With classes only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I find myself heading into the city frequently to hangout, shop, and eat. This usually involves taking a 5-10 minute bus ride from the dorms to Nakseongdae Station, then taking the subway. As with most public transportation systems in Asia these days, the Seoul metro is hugely efficient, and has multiple lines spanning the entire city, with more lines being constructed as we speak. The subways are clean, smooth, and fast (even offers wifi if one is a paid subscriber), but given the density of the population here, one will usually be hardpressed to find a seat.

A trip across the city of Seoul, consisting of multiple transfers, can easily take two hours — this gives you an idea of how expansive the city is! One can usually estimate about a two-minute ride between each station. Once having arrived at one’s destination, the trick is then to figure out which exit to take out of the subway station. Subway exits are numbered, with some stations having as many as 13 or 14, and one may end up at complete opposite ends of a neighborhood, dependent on the exit taken. Sometimes an exit will determine which side of the street one emerges from upon leaving the subway. This is important, because in some cases, a busy street is cross-able only via the underground subway station, unless one is willing to walk quite a distance to reach the occasional pedestrian intersection. Jaywalking is a pretty bad idea in this city, considering that vehicles have priority over pedestrians, meaning they don’t have to yield to you!!! If you’re struck, suckaa, you’re held liable…

Of note: the entire Seoul public transportation system ceases services at approximately midnight every day, and does not resume service until nearly 6am. This is surprising, and almost counter-intuitive, given Seoul’s infamous nightlife! Late night is prime time for taxi services in Seoul – it keeps the industry in business. 3am is an especially profitable time for taxi drivers, who swarm the Apgujeong, Gangnam, and Hongdae neighborhoods (filled with bars and clubs) to negotiate with drunken clientele and demand exorbitant rates for trips (they are not always inclined to use meters during these hours).

I experienced this first-hand one night when my friends and I, after having boarded the last sub from Hongdae headed to Gangnam, were suddenly forced off the train at a random stop when it halted service. At nearly 1am, we found ourselves in Shindorim, a neighborhood devoid of nightlife and far as hell from the SNU campus. Some taxi drivers were demanding ₩50,000 (nearly $50) for the trip back to the dorms and others refused to take us altogether (drivers will readily decline passengers if they are not interested in traveling in that particular direction). Black taxis in Seoul are designated “luxury cabs” (from what I can see, they just offer a couple extra inches of legroom) and charge a good deal more for their services, so those vehicles were out of the question. We gave up on getting to Gangnam, but it didn’t help that the SNU campus area seems to be a hugely unpopular destination for cab drivers due to the relative lack of stranded people to be found once in the Gwanak neighborhood. We were resigned to kill time in a “chicken and beer” restaurant, rather popular establishments in Seoul. It was past 2am when we found that the taxi drivers had finally chilled out a little and were willing to make the trip to Nakseongdae station at a much more reasonable rate.

On another occasion, I wrapped up some late-night shopping at Dongdaemun market at around 3:30am, at which point my two friends and I decided it would be a brilliant idea to forego the expensive taxi rates and just wait it out until the subways began running again at 5:40am. We killed two hours eating street food and loitering in the seating area of a cafe, exploiting their wifi. Let me just say, that was probably the most random way I could have spent my first ever all-nighter (yeah, I tend to prioritize sleep over much else…like studying…). I arrived back at my dorm at 7am and, even then, forfeited sleep because I had to leave for an 11:00 lunch appointment. A high-strung, awake-for-30-hours Esther was a grumpy one.

Filed under: School, Travel, , ,

SE Asia – that’s a wrap!

Pictures will speak sufficiently for the measly few days I spent in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

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I had the time of my LIFE backpacking through Southeast Asia — there were so many amazing, eye-opening experiences that will stay with me. My only regret is not having spent enough time as I would have liked in each country.

I am banking on making a return trip in the future to cover anything and everything that might have been missed. Laos and Cambodia are destinations I’ve added on my hit list fo’ sho; I’ve heard so much about them from other backpackers during my journey, especially about the relatively unadulterated natural beauty that Laos still maintains. Vietnam is also calling!

Once I rack up enough cash and time, plans are to eventually backpack through and explore South Asia: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Tibet… Aw yeah, frequent flier miles ftw.

Filed under: Photography, Travel, , ,

Rounding out Malaysia

Cameron Highlands is an extensive hill station in Malaysia known for its rolling hills, natural scenery, tea plantations, and vegetable/strawberry/insect farms. Clusters of small towns/villages scattered. We arrived at one of them, Tanah Rata, by bus from Ipoh, and randomly settled on Twin Pines, the cheapest and most dilapidated, mosquito-infested hostel to date. Andrew was dead set on seeing the tea plantations of the surrounding hillsides, so we threw our belongings down and figured we could make the estimated hour-long hike up Mount Batu Brinchang and check out the Boh tea plantation just before closing time at 4:30pm.

Wrong.

We started by taking a short bus ride down the road to get closer to the base of the mountain. We headed up what appeared to be a promising path, before we realized it led up to a series of housing units. We were directed back down the path, and down the road. We spotted yet another path and hiked up, through a random village, before we reached the edge of the village and found ourselves face-to-face with dense forest cover. There didn’t appear to be any clear path leading up the mountain, so we asked for directions, and were again told to turn back around and walk further down the main road.

Fast-forward two hours and we had hiked 12 kilometers by the side of the highway and up the mountain in the baking heat, with cars and motorbikes breezing by us heading to the same location. We ended up arriving at the plantation at 4:32pm…just as everyone was leaving and the staff had begun cleaning the tea cafe. Fortunately, we were able to enjoy the beautiful scenery on our way walk and had time to snap pictures before immediately trudging back down.

I half-jokingly made the suggestion to hitchhike down the mountain, because we were the only idiots walking alongside the road while other tourists were whizzing down in cars. 30 minutes into the walk downhill, my exhausted-self decided that there was actual merit to my idea, and tentatively/still-half-jokingly stuck my thumb out at random passing cars (who knows if that signal is universal?). More than a few passed without much sympathy…BUT THEN an awesome young couple from Kuala Lumpur happily offered us a ride to the base of the mountain, amused that they had also passed us making the trek up as well. So grateful for good people.

Once back into Tanah Rata, there was really nothing much left to do, considering its tiny size. We checked out the night market and grabbed bites to eat. Worth noting was the amazing diversity we found — Malays, Chinese, Indians, and many other ethnic groups. The cultural makeup is also reflected in the variety of food options – we had delicious Indian dosas in the night market, but also saw pad thai, cakes, skewers, tempura, etc. Sadly, the banana lead platter we had at a local Indian restaurant did not live up to its looks. In general, the gastronomical highlights of my trip were Penang and Ipoh, hands down.

Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands were interesting enough, but let’s just say my two days spent there would probably have been better served elsewhere. My backpacking trip is winding down with a few short days divvied up between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Then onto SEOUL.

Filed under: Travel, , ,

Worth the walk

Finally, a beach day. We were actually so excited at the first sight of clear blue water that we hopped off the public bus a few stops early (and by a few, I mean many). To get to the actual beach area, we ended up having to walk five kilometers in blazing heat on the side of the highway, essentially dodging cars as they came speeding around turns because there was no sidewalk. Still, it made the beach all the more better. Laying out, parasailing, sipping on some coconuts… I had been disappointed that we ended up not having enough time in Thailand to hit the beaches on the gorgeous islands of Koh Phi Phi or Koh Samui, but I guess the beaches of Penang Island will just have to do ;D

Gotta make do with iPod snapshots. Andrew left my camera on a song-thaew in Hat-Yai, Thailand. Story is: I paid a dude from the bus company an exorbitant USD 20 to be driven all across the town to track down the exact vehicle we had ridden from the airport to the bus station (this guy spoke absolutely no English…in hindsight, this was probably a terrible idea, especially since I went alone while Andrew waited at the bus station). It didn’t help that every single song-thaew looks the exact same and is painted the same shade of blue. It was actually a stroke of luck that we found the vehicle after 20 mins of circling the city; the driver had parked at a rest station with a bunch of other song-thaews. I searched the vehicle but didn’t find my camera. SAD PANDA 😥 $700 bucks right thurr. Gone. Boom. I’m actually probably going to purchase a new one here in Malaysia (splitting the cost with Andrew). I want to keep documenting this trip, and the electronics here in George Town are purportedly cheaper than in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.

I’m staying at an awesome hostel called the Red Inn, on Love Lane. There’s a great little hawker district down the street at the intersection. All the stalls are congregated along the streets and alleyways, and there are tables and chairs set up on the sidewalks. It’s pretty amazing – you can order from any stand and sit at any table, you can even order from multiple stands (food from one, a drink from another, dessert from yet another). Meanwhile, the stand owners are able to keep track of which customers ordered what from them, and where they sat. Money is collected at the end, and it seems that they have “general cleaners” employed — people who clear out and wash the dishes and utensils, which are then returned to their respective stalls because the plates and bowls and such are all differentiated by shape, or even COLOR-CODED! Fascinating system.

Dipping out now to grab some delicious Hokkien mee / char kuey teow / grilled kebobs + fresh fruit juice in a bag!!

P.S., Food blogging is HUGE here in Malaysia. Rasa Malaysia is one of my favorite food blogs; check it out! Drool…

Filed under: Food, Travel, , , ,

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