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Sunday in Munich

September 23, 2015 - 4:37 am 1 Comment

I booked a 10.5 hour tour that would take me on a day trip from Munich to Linderhof and Neuschwanstein, two of the three castles built by Ludwig the second of Bavaria (Fairytale King), not to be confused with the Mad Prince who was his brother Otto. To set the context, after ascending the throne at the age of 18 under a constitutional monarchy structure, he blew through the entire family fortune accumulated after many centuries from building these three elaborate castles. With no concern for cost and an eye for expensive details, often styled after Wagnerian operas, you can imagine how grand these are!

In 1886 at the age of 41, he was dethroned by a council under the claim of insanity with the support of his extended family. Given low finances, he borrowed from Prussia, the country’s sworn enemy, and indiscriminately took credit to support his frippery. Despite this, he was still a fairly popular king since he hired a lot of construction labor which was a more stable livelihood compared to farming, and evidently in Germany, kings could not draw funds from the tax base but rather had to spend their own resources – hence, a private form of economic stimulus. Post his relocation, he was found drowned with his doctor in a shallow lake despite being a strong swimmer…clearly a clear conspiracy theory link to murder. Anyway, a fascinating life story of a seemingly delusional, grandiloquent person. He wanted to destroy his three castles upon his death (Ludwig was notoriously reclusive which seems horrifically ironic considering the grandiose receiving rooms and great halls), but his family opened up the castles for tourism instead, which made back their entire fortune and some.

I awoke early and made my way to the central bus station to find the tour operator. Rather than recount all the details, I’ll list some of my reflections:

  • Linderhof: Crazy rococo style – the tour guide equated this castle to a “condo”. I thought she was joking but indeed, the actual castle was modest in size although extremely grotesquely styled. Imagine gilded 24 carat styling in classic baroque decorative panelings everywhere, elaborate chandeliers, ivory carvings, paintings/mirrors crammed on the walls, expensive textiles and furnishings – a compact, even more intense Versailles stuffed into a small space. Ludwig greatly admired Louis XIV for being an absolute king (in contrast to his constrained power), so this homage in the form of a castle recreated the opulence and self-import in every detail. It almost felt as if the air from the room was being drained away given the intensity of the gilded embellishments. In contrast, the outside garden was very beautiful and pleasant – Ludwig II built a full facade just to hide the pump for the certain fountain! Linderhof was a definite “experience”

  • Oberammergau – In between the two castles, the tour group made a pit stop in a traditional village where I got to try a delicious schneeballen (baked cookie ball coated in chocolate and orange liqueur), browsed traditional handicraft stores that sold hand-made cuckoo clocks and local crafts, and explored the Passion Theater (the town had pledged to put on a passion play every 10 years if spared from the black plague, which they subsequently have carried out other than one hiatus during WW2)

  • Neuschwanstein – this is the famous castle that was Disney’s inspiration for the Cinderella castle. Sitting on top of a cliff, it’s really a breath-taking sight. I had to walk >30 minutes up a steep hill just to get to the tour gate. Ludwig II built this castle as a homage to the absolute monarchs of the Medieval times (but with all modern conveniences of the time and his fanciful eye for embellishment along the general theme), so the style was drastically different than Linderhof but with substantially more open space and consequently, grandeur. This castle is really impressive – perhaps the most elaborate I have ever seen even after visiting quite a few when I lived in the UK and traveled throughout Europe

  • One of the most pleasant aspects of the tour was the drive through the mountains and valleys – the scenery is bucolic and just breath-takingly refreshful with the quaint wooden houses with the beautiful frescos, green farming plots, and gorgeous natural scenery. I’m so glad to have taken the bus tour since it would have been near impossible to get to these castles – it took two hours to get to Neuschwanstein upon some seemingly remote mountain roads!

Upon arriving back in Munich, I had dinner at this local German gastropub. The food was truly fantastic despite being very heavy! I ate Wienerschnitzel (fried breaded veal pounded flat), spaetzle, oxtail ragout, traditional flat bread with sour cream + onion, and then chocolate cake. Yes, maybe I over-did it but I’m so eager to try everything! The food here is very heavy though – I had to drag myself back to the hotel. What a great weekend!

 

A Saturday in Munich

September 23, 2015 - 3:13 am 1 Comment

My first day in Munich was really great – since I only have a weekend to explore, I was intent on maximizing my day! After the flight, I went to the hotel, quickly settled in, and then took off to the city center. The hotel is somewhat far away and the German train system is extremely confusing, but alas, a nice bystander helped me out and the train speed itself was very impressive. Since it’s Oktoberfest here, the streets teem with people everywhere, many of them dressed in the tracht – suede mid-calf pants with straps for men and elaborate corset-like A-line peasant dresses for women.

So despite a red-eye flight (with limited sleep), this is what I did:

  1. Went to the Viktualienmarkt where I had a tasty cured meat sandwich on bread that seemed to be a cross between pretzel and croissant – alas, if only I had the stomach to try out all the interesting little stalls! There are all these tasty looking desserts with long names I can’t pronounce

  2. Saw the Munich Residenz which is one of the most famous historical palaces/government buildings. There are ~300 public rooms so it was so much to see

  3. Went to Muncher Hofbrauhaus, the place recommended by Grace’s friend. It was as crazy experience! Every person there drank enormous 1 liter beers, and every 5-10 minutes, a band would play German music. The beer hall was gigantic – a labyrinth of tables! I ate sausages with sweet mustard – bratwurst and then a Bavarian variant (mild white sausage that comes in water)

  4. Browsed the Munich City Museum. The first two floors were most of your normal expected historical items (EX: statue of Duke Henry the Lion who founded Munich)…but the third floor went bonkers with psychotic puppets. Another wing was dedicated to National Socialism (Nazism) since it originated in Munich

  5. Ate dinner at Kochspielhaus, a place recommended in the NYT – by then, I was on the verge of collapse given general exhaustion

  6. Most importantly, I walked around the city historical center and the small garden areas. It’s really fun!

A few observations:

  • Germany is affordable – the food and admission prices are very reasonable

  • Core Munich is very small but there is a sprawling suburbia around it given central planning policy on housing stock

  • It’s very helpful to know at least some German words to get around…I don’t seem to have the memory to be able to remember words properly since many are so complex and tough to pronounce

  • The Germans are extra sensitive about the history of Nazism – the topic is treated with directness (unlike the Japanese…)

  • A large part of the city got destroyed in WW2 so most of the artifacts/edifices have been heavily reconstructed. Nevertheless, Munich is still beautiful and feels very historic

2014 (Brief) Recap

January 30, 2015 - 11:09 am 1 Comment

I’ve neglected writing in my personal blog for a while now – seems that it’s hard to squeeze out an extra hour to do this, but increasingly I’m aware that memory tends to distort and fade such that I would appreciate having a record to remember all the simple joys, triumphs, and challenges.

2014 was quite a cornerstone year for me – new job at Vernier Capital (launch in Feb 2014), bought a place in Brooklyn and moved, Forbes 30 under 30 in education, and a whole lot of intellectual stimulation with travel (Switzerland with the St. Gallen symposium, my first trip to India, and 2x trips to Greater China). Givology continues to grow albeit our fundraising receipts in 2014 disappointing due to website performance, which we fixed only mid-year

I can’t possibly expound in detail but below are some 2014 reflections:

  • Brooklyn is a really fun place to live – my neighborhood is filled with wonderful restaurants, pretty old Brownstones, no traffic (I’m very happy to avoid the tour groups on Wall Street!), a beautiful Botanic Garden nearby, and just a relaxed atmosphere. The sense of neighborhood is spectacular and whenever I feel peckish at night, I can just hop across the street to get a donut, sushi, or chicken. My family came to celebrate my first Christmas, complete with tree and decorations! Mom and dad seem particularly enchanted by Yemen Café, and I always look forward to having my little sister visit
  • Getting the mortgage vexed me to no end – with my credit history, I assumed that it was just be easy…but it turned out to be extremely difficult and we barely closed in the time period allotted. I had to conquer mountains of paperwork, and we braved living out of a suitcase in Long Island City for half a month prior to moving in
  • In December, braving the cold weather, Dave and I took a wonderful eating trip to Montreal, where I indulged too much on fois grois (including the legendary Joe Beef and Au Pied de Cochon), Montreal bagels (St. Viateur came out ahead of Fairmount…frankly, both put NYC bagels to shame even though I love NYC bagels!), and other extraordinarily rich foods (particularly maple sugar deserts). From the Belles Arts Museum to walking around old city, we had a really amazing time together
  • India is really extraordinary! Despite my short time there, I packed in as many sightseeing highlights as possible (it cost only $50 to hire a full guide and taxi in Delhi and $125 for a private tour/car to the Taj Mahal) and re-connected with friends from Oxford who I haven’t seen in years
  • Work is going great – I love the flexibility to look at companies around the world and traveling to meet management teams and better understand the entire supply/value chain. It’s impossible to run out of new ideas and I like the start-up environment
  • Making a stop in Taiwan during a China trip in December was very worthwhile – I got to see my grandfather who has been sick. Even though I am very sad about his condition, it was so good to see him one more time before he passed away. He’s now watching our family from above!  
  • My second time at the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland was an extraordinary experience. I had a lot of fun asking questions and participating in debates regarding intergenerational conflict. It’s always so inspiring to meet peers around the world engaged in entrepreneurial activities from all different sectors!
  • Givology continues to grow, although the pace was disappointing for me this year. We on-boarded some exciting new partnerships (Apne Aap, Abaarso, among others), officially launched our product line (www.giveinspiration.org), actively grew our social media network with our #givchat tweetchats and other campaigns, published the second edition of our book, and continued with our core chapters and online fundraising. Fixing the website is my top priority for this year and I’m willing to pay to get this done on a personal level
  • After playing ice hockey at Chelsea Piers for the Fall season of 2013 and Spring season of 2014, I decided to take a hiatus given my schedule. Even though I miss skating and the excitement of competition, I realize that taking a more relaxed weekend schedule has become increasingly instrumental

Fall Times

October 29, 2012 - 12:36 pm 1 Comment

It’s been a while since my last update. Alas, I seem to do poorly on my resolution to keep posting regularly! With Hurricane Sandy now passing through New York City and two NYSE market days now cancelled (in the middle of earnings season no less), I find myself with some extra time. Below are just a series of updates, in no particular order:

  • I moved into a new apartment in August – still down town, but in a much nicer building with more space and a more comfortable living arrangement. Rather than “dorm like living”, this new place now feels more like home, and I’m taking advantage of a nice kitchen and living area to cook more and invite friends over for dinner. We’ve had plenty of friends and family visit, which is always a delight on weekends.
  • I went home to celebrate my sister’s birthday in surprise. (Alas, my dearest father has good intentions but an inability to keep a secret.) Together, my family went bowling and then had a blast sharing stories and eating tasty home cooked food. Later, my sister came up with New York City to visit me, as well as attend a 2NE1 concert! She’ll be back later for a Big Bang concert in November, which I’m also excited to attend!
  • During the end of the summer, I took a short trip to Maine as well. In addition to taking a food tour of Portland, we ate eat duck fat fries, lobster rolls, fried clams, lobster, maple syrup popcorn, whoopee pies, and tons of other tasty local delights. Even though I love living in New York City and the exciting pace of life, sometimes getting away to a quiet, quaint town gives a nice reprieve.
  • In September, my 26th birthday came and passed happily, with Dave taking me out to see Wicked! Since hearing the music over and over again sophomore year while sharing a room with Lauren, I was incredibly delighted to see the actual musical, particularly from fantastic seats in the front! With dramatic prop effects, funny songs, an engaging plot, and eye-catching costumes, Wicked really exceeded all my expectations!
  • As an effort to see more of the city outside of Manhattan, I went to Flushing twice to explore ‘small eats’, reminiscent of the night markets of Taipei. Rather than going the conventional route of restaurants, we decided to journey into underground shopping malls to sample traditional dishes from food stands representing cuisine from all over China. From hand-pulled lamb noodles and bone marrow soup to spicy Chengdu tripe and beef tongue and traditional Taiwanese oyster pancake, I relished in the vast diversity of Chinese food. That being said, nothing can beat my mom’s dumplings and now my dad’s bread – for me, home cooked food still trumps everything.
  • Givology has been going well! We have so many exciting upcoming campaigns and events. On November 4th at Culture Fix from 12 PM to 4 PM, we’re holding a joint event with 10×10 to showcase volunteer opportunities in the Givology NYC chapter, as well as spread awareness about the upcoming documentary about girls’ education. Please click here to learn more about the event, as well as reserve tickets in advance!
  • With the complete new launch of our website at the end of the September (basically absorbing Carl, Dave, and me for weeks), we’re initiating an exciting 12/12 campaign for Givology to reach our goal of $120,000 by the end of this year. Not only do we have our book and product launch coinciding with this milestone, but we’re poised to make 2013 the best year yet for Givology, starting with a large kick-off event in early December. With now 16 chapters and a fully committed team in place, I’m really excited about the future for Givology.

A Short Stop to Taipei

June 3, 2012 - 6:07 am 1 Comment

Who would have imagined that I would end up in Taipei? I had not anticipated on returning for at least several years. My schedule was kept very busy with meetings, but later in the evenings, I still had a chance to meet with my relatives for dinner and tea. As I discussed earlier in my journal nearly three years ago, discovering that I indeed have these deep family roots always takes me by surprise. Growing up in the USA, it’s always been the four of us – blood relations that span such a broad network always feels foreign.

My maternal grandparents appear healthy – age has treated them kindly. My grandmother’s mind remains sharp and crystal clear – dates, facts, numbers, and schedules all in order. We had a wonderful time together in the states with weekend trips to Baltimore, New York City, Atlantic City, among other destinations, but I can see why they prefer remaining in Taipei.  In general, Asian culture affords the elderly more respect and participation/relevance in community life. Before leaving, I had a chance to meet up with the Meng side of the family as well, with my various uncles, aunts, and cousins. Truly, a bunch of big personalities culminating in an excitable evening.

After visiting China, I looked upon Taiwan with more objective eyes. For the Taiwanese, China’s development has certainly been both an opportunity (FDI, investment opportunities abroad in manufacturing) and a bane (giant sucking of both skilled and unskilled labor). Compared to the ~8% GDP growth trajectory of China, Taiwan now remains in a muted developing country 3-4% GDP growth rate era. Real incomes have stagnated for years, if not slightly declining. The glory days of Taiwan – as remembered by my parents and grandparents – appear seemingly over. That being said, standards of living in Taiwan are generally high and the sense of satisfaction with life robust – at a slower pace certainly, but comfortable so.

I remember the Taipei of my youth with dubious toilets and stray dogs wandering the streets. None of this remains today. Compared to the luxury new high rises in China, old apartments still dominate the Taipei cityscape, as the democratic government has much more trouble evicting old tenants to raze the area and promote new construction compared to its communist counterpart. Although I’ve only been to Taiwan only a handful of times, the culture still resonates familiarly with me, mainly through the stories and nostalgic reminisces of my father and mother’s childhood.

A Night in Shanghai

June 3, 2012 - 5:36 am 1 Comment

I only had a few hours to walk around Shanghai after my meetings ended, but gosh, Shanghai astounded me in how western, contemporary, and “built” it felt. As a stroke of luck, I met up with my MFE friend – a native of the city who happened to be back for the weekend. We started in the Xin Tian Di area near my hotel, an affluent car-free shopping, eating, and entertainment district known for its reconstructed traditional shikumen houses on narrow alleys.  Notably, I saw the location of the first congress of the Communist Party where Mao hosted his first meeting, also the family house of Sun Yat Sen.

Without a doubt, Shanghai is the commercial and financial center of mainland China – in the 1930s, the city was one of the most prosperous in the Far East, and from the European-style buildings dotting the waterfront Bund, clearly played an important role in international trade. Along the Bund, we saw numerous former banks and trading houses from the UK, France, US, Italy, Russia, Germany, Japan, among other countries. In the 1940s, many of these buildings housed the headquarters of the big four national banks – the properties have since been released to private financial/commercial enterprises after being used for government purposes through the communist stronghold before China’s opening to global trade.

I didn’t know what to expect in Shanghai, but the skyline truly amazed me in terms of the scale. Despite China being a developing country, Shanghai stands out as a municipality with significant wealth. In 2011, the city had an average per capita income of $12,700 USD (perhaps misleading given the substantial income disparity), but regardless, more than the double the average wage in China at $5,414 USD. Considering that Taiwan has a per capita income of $20,101 USD, I found it somewhat hard to believe given that a plethora of luxury stores inundate Shanghai, albeit admittedly my reference point was skewed given the location of my hotel and the select areas I visited. Undoubtedly, there was little remaining of “old Shanghai” that I saw visible upon cursory exploration. China powers the world – in both demand for commodities and the rising tide of conspicuous consumption that drives global growth higher.

For dinner, my friend took me and a fellow investor to a traditional Shanghai restaurant where we ate delicate soup dumplings, turnip fritter, vegetable dumplings, sweet and sour fish, among other traditional dishes. We then went to the Bund to enjoy the night scene and marvel at the astounding pace of development in the city – the view was breathtaking by all accounts, the amalgamation of old and new Shanghai, separated by the river. We then went to the rooftop lounge of an adjacent hotel for a nightcap and appreciation of the scenery. Alas, I certainly hope to return one day to properly explore the museums and varied districts. With the wealth flowing through the municipality, Shanghai has expanded its collections of historical artifacts through overseas purchases, as well as established itself as an up and coming center for international design. Although part of me wanted to lament the unitary effects of globalization in transforming cities to a monolithic scheme with all the same reoccurring brands and architectural styles, at the same time, progress creates wealth and opportunity – a rising tide to lift standards of living and create a more integrated global community.

Urumqi

June 2, 2012 - 6:47 am 1 Comment

As the capital of Xinjiang province, Urumqi perhaps represents a prototypical “Tier 2” city that supposedly would still have a robust property market and development trajectory that would buoy China’s commodity demand and provide an avenue for sustained growth. I’m not quite sure that I would readily agreement to this statement considering that 40% of all housing built remains vacant and high rises and cranes litter the skyline already, but without a doubt, Urumqi will only increase in prominence as the Chinese government concentrates on promoting industrial development in this incredibly rich natural resource base. Xinjiang has abundant coal, oil, and copper reserves, among other base metals. Given cheap electricity as a result of captive local coal, it’ll be the epicenter of coal to chemicals plants , aluminum smelters, among other forms of industrial production. I had a chance to visit some of these gigantic coal and power station operations, and was astounded by the speed of construction, scale of the facility, and the aggressive plans to accelerate resource extraction.

 

Notably, the demographics of the city are unique – 13% of the population is Uighur (a Turkic ethnic group), 8% Hui (Muslim ethnic group), and 2.3% Kazak. Mosques abound in the city, and all the signage has both traditional Chinese characters and an Arabic-looking script. When we went to the bazar, renowned for dried fruits and handicrafts, the vendors were all Hui people, and I could almost imagine their ancient participation in the Silk Road. Considering the abundance of Han people globally, going to Urumqi gave me a deeper appreciation of the rich ethnic diversity within China – a fact easily neglected.

 

For dinner, we went to Milaji – a traditional Muslim restaurant. Dining on lamb served 12 different ways (on skewers, on a rotating spit, in steamed buns, as a congee…the list goes on) and relishing sweet pomegranate juices and fragrant teas, I perhaps indulged too much! Even though I didn’t have a chance to climb the famous lake on the mountain or enjoy the desert scenery (we drove pass a national wildlife reserve where I saw camels and coyotes), I wish to return one day.

A Foray into Beijing

June 2, 2012 - 6:22 am 1 Comment

This past week, I went to 4 cities in Asia – Beijing, Urumqi (capital of Xinjiang province), Shanghai, and then to Taipei. Although I did not have much free time in between my meetings, I was able to get a feel for the city in the evenings. One day, I hope to return!

BEIJING: Having never been to China before (excluding Hong Kong), I was astounded by the scale of the city. The streets amazed me in their width, and all the official buildings seemed fit for giants. As Beijing is arranged in a series of ring roads with perfect symmetry, the city combined the ancient with the modern. On Sunday, I had a chance to fit in some sightseeing with my MFE pals as guides. Starting off in Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, I marveled at the scale of the ancient imperial administration and learned a lot about the complex politics that governed society. Although Mao permeated Tiananmen Square with various shrines and murals, I sensed a general indifference in the younger generation as compared to the reverence expressed by the older generation. Given how much the Cultural Revolution disrupted Chinese society and structures of industrial production, the resilience of the human spirit manifests itself in the phenomenal development trajectory of the country over the last few decades. This new China would be completely unrecognizable to my grandparents who fled the countries when the Nationalists ceded power.

The Forbidden City housed the imperial administration from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. Built in the early 1400s, the complex consists of 980 buildings and spans nearly 1km^2, with an official outer court for ceremonial purposes and the inner court housing the residences of the imperial family. Given the scale, simply servicing the entire area would require a huge contingency of workers! I was particularly impressed by the Hall of Supreme Harmony – the ceremonial center of imperial power culminating in a gigantic throne for the emperor.

After visiting the Forbidden City, we went to eat lunch in the Hou Hai area. The willow trees by the lakes presented a tranquil scene as we died on “over the bridge” noodles and other delicacies. To get a better sense of traditional Chinese communities, we hired a “three wheeled” bike and a guide to show us the “hutongs” – or, traditional courtyard residences formed along narrow alleys. As a testament to the hierarchy of ancient society, the doorways varied in length, depth, number of wooden markers, and also the entry stone (round for warriors, square like a book for academics). Historically, the hutong was used as a the lowest level of administrative geographical division within  ancient Chinese cities, but was later abandoned.  Along the way, we stopped and climbed the ancient drum tower that helped the citizens keep track of time.

I never anticipated the scale of Beijing. Unlike New York City, the city is difficult to walk given the sheer span. With nearly 20m officially residents (those holding hukous), it’s about the same size of New York City in terms of population, but substantially more spread out. As I stayed in the heart of the financial district, Beijing felt even more “developed” than many US cities. That being said, the bifurcation of the wealthy and the working class is truly stark – the modern high rises, luxury hotels, and commercial skyscrapers contrasting with the squalor of migrant workers crammed into tiny antiquated apartments and without municipal rights. Having not seen my friends for nearly two years, it was great catching up about their latest developments, their views on Chinese growth, their concerns about the Bo Xi Lai debacle earlier this year, and their general sense of the evolution of Chinese society. In the evening, we walked around the commercial districts, teeming with people and activity. I even saw live scorpions, flailing while impaled on wooden skewers, ready to be deep fried and consumed!!

 

On a different evening, before departing the city, I had a chance to learn about the Chinese economy while relishing tasty traditional Peking Duck banquet. As a consummate favorite dish of my family, I delighted in eating a huge multitude of rolled duck pancakes (they carved nearly 5 ducks for my table alone!) – a indulgence that I hope to repeat one day, but bringing my parents and sister to share in the joy. Despite my dad’s clamors for healthy eating, I know that Peking Duck is one vice he can’t relinquish!

New Orleans

May 5, 2012 - 8:14 am 1 Comment

I forgot to mention in my last post that I had a chance to visit New Orleans! As a big aficionado of Cajun food and southern culture (especially after reading Ernest Gaines book A Gathering of Old Men and watching Anthony Bourdain’s travel channel shows featuring New Orleans), I was so excited to explore “The Big Easy”. Given that my hotel was located on the fringe of the French Quarter, I had plenty of time to wander the quaint streets – truly, I can’t think of another city similar to NOLA. Although the streets sometimes get dingy (particularly on Bourbon), I found the atmosphere incredibly cheery, friendly, and inviting. Street musicians play merry Dixie jazz on every corner, artists display their beguiling crafts in the old square, and New Orleans locals hawk a huge variety of oddities, from voodoo dolls and spices to praline cakes and alligator heads.

I had a chance to sample some of the local delicacies too, from crawfish salad and jambalaya to bananas foster and plenty of sweets. Alas, perhaps I indulged too much!

April showers bring May flowers

May 1, 2012 - 7:35 pm 1 Comment

April showers bring May flowers – alas, I’ve been tremendously busy with a variety of activities that I hardly noticed the change of seasons! On March 24th, I returned to Penn as a panelist for the Microfinance Forum and as a speaker for the Social Impact Group. Even though it’s been four years since I’ve graduated, everything still feels exactly the same. I’m particularly impressed by the new wave of social awareness mixed with entrepreneurship. During my time at Penn, everyone wanted to do the banking/finance track – nowadays, many more students want to create their own ventures and change the world on their own terms. Similarly, the view on microfinance itself has changed. When I was a student at Penn, microfinance was almost reverently viewed as a panacea for world poverty with precious few people willing to challenge its drawbacks – in fact, I often felt alone in voicing the difficulties I observed when doing field work in Mexico. Nowadays, the criticisms of microfinance are much more openly voiced, discussed, and debated. As open dialogue is the best way to move forward and better serve the poor, I’m truly glad that that the industry attitude has shifted. Certainly, a high loan repayment rate doesn’t equate to a successful operation! From a personal perspective, it was truly heart-warming to see the reception that Givology received on campus – people still remember us! Walking around center city after the talk and visiting old haunts on campus, I felt no nostalgia, but rather, satisfaction that I had made so many great memories at college. Afterward, I had dinner with some of our Givology core team members still at Penn – it’s always a joy to catch up in person (and one reason why we need to plan a semesterly retreat soon!).

My parents came to visit me the first weekend of April, where we took advantage of the mild weather to enjoy the annual Macy flower show and a leisurely stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge, among other sights. I took my parents to an experimental dance show (which perhaps was too scintillating in a mildly embarrassing fashion), as well as a funny improvisational performance at the National Theatre (audience participation encouraged…I probably made the show more difficult for the performers)! I wish my parents would come and visit me more – when they are around, I feel completely relaxed.

Alas, the updates on Givology are particularly exciting for this month! We finally signed a contract for a complete overhaul of our website, and eagerly look forward to a refreshed look and feel. In addition, coinciding with the arrival of the spring, we launched our Givology in the park series, where we’re out canvassing in public parks to raise awareness for education. On April 14th, we spent a day in Central Park collecting answers on blackboards to “Education gives…[fill in the blank]”. For each answer we receive, we have a donor pledging $1 to our cause. At first, I felt somewhat awkward approaching strangers (particularly since most were wary about being approached for money), but we found a rhythm over time and got some truly interesting responses, written in English, French, Russian, Korean, among other languages! I discovered that families tend to be nicer, and one has to catch the attention of a by-passer without being obnoxious within a VERY short period. We’ll be out in the park again throughout the late spring and summer – hopefully, we’ll reach our goal of 100,000 answers to our question!

Other than that, I’ve been taking advantage of the many cultural and theatrical delights in the New York City, from the slapstick comedy Psycho Therapy to a dark gangster musical the City Club. I even went to my first stand up comedy experience at the New York Comedy Club.