Archive for March, 2010

Saturday in Salisbury

March 18, 2010 - 8:42 pm 2 Comments

**Note: This post was written on March 14, 2010, but I didn’t have a chance to post it until now!

Happy Mother’s Day!
(Well, at least in the UK.)

Hillary term has now officially ended, marking the completion of 5/6ths of my time here at Oxford. In retrospect, I am bewildered by time’s swift passage, exacerbated by the truncated nature of Oxford terms. As expected, MFE course blusters along at lightning speed – for example, we covered the Vasicek Model in one three-hour block, compared to the half-semester I spent at Penn building up the intuition in my Fixed Income class (not that the latter helped at all given the higher level of mathematical complexity demanded). With a financial econometrics assignment due later this week, we scarcely had a breather from turning in our asset pricing final paper to the exam schools before starting on the next project. With great anticipation, I count down the days until I can finally go home. I miss my parents and sister dearly, and want nothing more than to relax, eat tasty food, work on the Givology exhibition launch (March 26th @ Station in Chelsea!), and do fun family activities together. Actually, I’m worried that there won’t be sufficient time to study for my final exams with so much going on!

Notably, this past weekend, I went to Salisbury with two friends from class – a brief escape from Oxford on a perfect day!  We started off bright and early at Stonehenge, a remarkable architectural feat for more than 4,000 years ago! I still can’t believe how early man managed to transport and arrange such gigantic stones, weighting between 5 and 35 tons, without any modern tools and across over 240 miles. After pondering the impossibility for a while, I concluded that although early man lacked tools, he had a near infinite amount of time. The beautiful arrangement of the stones belies the importance of the monument in tracking the passage of the time – we learned that the builders specifically constructed the stone archways such that the light would pass through a different gate each month.

Below are some videos and pictures of Stonehenge.

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After Stonehenge, we went to Old Sarum, the original site of the city of Salisbury. Originally a strategic hill fort placed on the conjunction of two trade routes and the River Avon, Old Sarum now lies abandoned, the foundations of the ancient city visible. Visiting ruins always evokes a sense of nostalgia – I can just imagine the splendor of the ancient city at its peak! Now, it lies desolate and isolated – nothing more than crumbling rock and stone foundations.

Below is a video of Old Sarum.

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After Old Sarum, we returned to Salisbury city for a tasty lunch of Spanish tapas, before heading off for the famed Salisbury Cathedral. Unlike the majority of cities in the United Kingdom, Salisbury remained unscathed by both world wars. In fact, we learned that the German airforce received explicit orders to not bomb Salisbury, as they used the iconic cathedral as a pivotal landmark in navigation. As a result, Salisbury represents one of the most well-preserved medieval cities, with the cathedral’s full splendor undiminished. Notably, Salisbury Cathedral houses one of the three original copies of the Magna Carta, a foundational document to our modern concept of democracy. In addition, we saw the oldest functioning clock in all of England, possessing no face, but striking a tone each hour.

Below are some photos and videos of Salisbury Cathedral.

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Nearby the Cathedral, we went to visit the Wiltshire and Salisbury History Museum. A rather quaint museum with an eclectic collection, ranging from a medieval wooden giant used in pageants to burial remains discovered near Stonehenge, we delighted in the interesting curios! At 5:30 PM, we headed back to the Cathedral to attend the Choral Evensong. The angelic voices of the young boys blended well with the harmony of the men. In the classic pomp of Anglican tradition and heraldry, the service inspired solemnity. I can only imagine the feelings of a medieval peasant! Each day, peasants would live in absolute squalor – meager meals in dirt-floored huts after a day of hard labor – yet, each Sunday, they would enter into such a magnificently opulent church! The sheer grandeur would foment a feeling of inconsequence in the house of God, a devoutness motivated by contrast with daily life.

After evensong, we walked back to the railway station, meandering through some old side streets and enjoying the fresh evening air. Despite a rather chaotic return journey (we missed our connection by 10 minutes due a late train and hence had to take four different transfers back, costing us an additional 2.5 hours…), I got back to Oxford safe and sound.

In all, a wonderful celebratory trip at the end of Hillary Term!

Wrapping Up Hillary Term

March 10, 2010 - 4:26 pm 1 Comment

It’s been a long time since I last updated. Life continues as always at Oxford, and with the imminent end of Hillary term approaching, I find myself buried beneath masses of the graded coursework. Notably, we had two weeks of Auctions theory with Paul Klemper, one of the leading academics in the field. To illustrate optimal strategies in a realistic setting, we conducted various auctions in class, with Professor Klemper pocketing more than 20 pounds from the “irrational” members of our course who bid over-aggressively. I’m not sure how much I retained from the module, but I know that I certainly enjoyed the anecdotes and experiments in class!

Buoyed by our win against Cambridge, my ice hockey team miraculously won our first regular season game against Peterborough.  Despite the elation of our 6-5 win, however, I admit that the deadweight loss of the three and half hour drive to the game outweighed my personal utility from winning. Alas, such is the nature of a team sport – I can’t just renege on a commitment to play when I feel like it!

I’m trying very hard to make more friends, so rather than spend a lot of my time in my room taking conference calls for Givology and YouthBank, I’m making an effort to invite more of my coursemates to formal hall at Balliol and dinner at Jowett Walk.  For example, last Friday, Steve and I planned a class social at G&D’s, Oxford’s local ice cream parlor. Alas, who can refuse a free banana split on a Friday evening, right after a tiring week? And just yesterday (Tuesday), I went to Balliol’s last formal hall of term with three of my coursemates. In discussing Chinese politics and economics the entire time, I discovered how adamantly confident my Chinese classmates place trust in their government! As a proponent of Mill’s marketplace of ideas and the benefit of transparency, contrarian speech, and civic participation, I find it rather hard to believe that policies generated behind closed doors by senior party leaders can in the long run generate the greatest social welfare, even if in the short term, it’s effective in spurring economic growth and preserving some semblance of social stability.

With the impending NYC Exhibition “What Would you Buy with $50?”, I certainly have a lengthy list of items to prepare and e-mails to send! I’m truly excited, but also anxious about the execution of this exhibition – our team, in particular Sherry and Jia, must have already dedicated hundreds of hours already. And Givology has committed thousands of dollars to defray the printing and exhibition set-up costs.

In terms of news, my paper on entrepreneurship has been accepted to the St. Gallen Symposium! In May, I’ll be flying to Switzerland to participate in an all expenses paid, week-long conference with hundreds of student leaders from around the world. I suppose the experience will be similar to Education Without Borders in Dubai, but less ostentatiously lavish. I’m really looking forward to the conference – it’ll be a great opportunity to network with business leaders and fellow students, and get the word out about YouthBank and Givology.

On a different note, lately, I’ve been rather contemplative about the significance of life. Too often, we go through the motions of just simply existing another day like an automaton – wake up, go to class, go home, sleep. Each minute, each hour, each day, each week blends into a blurred mess – nothing notable, nothing distinct.

I vow never to live my life this way. Each day ought to be special in its own right – to be associated with a small discovery, a fresh insight, and an adventure. We have a finite time here on Earth, so we ought to relish all the meaningful experiences we can create! Else, we live our entire life in the shadows, simply going through the motions of surviving without awakening from a mental and physical stupor. Ten years later, will I regret not spending time at the library in Said, studying hard for my courses?

Somehow I doubt it.

Varisty Match Against Cambridge

March 3, 2010 - 3:55 pm 1 Comment

Seventh week already? Alas, it’s mind boggling how quickly time passes during an Oxford term. I admit my will to study has run out of steam. Given the plethora of assignments due, I keep up with the minimum requirement, but do no additional work beyond the graded work. I figure, I’ll catch up on everything during Eastern holiday, when I will be going home! Already, in my dreams, I’m back at home, eating tasty food cooked by my dad and mom, listening to erhu music in the basement with my dearest parents while going through my books, exercising at the gym with my mom, and of course, relishing sister-time at Virginia Tech (including a visit to the anime club!). I am already counting down the days to my journey home!

Even though only a few days have transpired since my last past, so much has already happened. On Sunday, I had my Varsity ice hockey match against Cambridge. Having lost for three straight years, including a very disheartening 10-2 game last year, we desperately wanted to reverse the trend, especially given our home ice advantage and the throngs of family and friends cheering for us! Compared to Cambridge’s full line-up, we had a really small team – only two lines of forwards and three defenders. Although many of my teammates were really high-strung and nervous before the game, I felt rather relaxed, as I had just called my parents beforehand, and my mom gave me the good advice of “treating the game like any other…but just work harder!” Even though we’re at the bottom of our league, this Varsity match means more than any league outcome. In fact, one can even argue that the entire season revolves around this one instrumental match.

[Below are some pictures from the game!]

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Chana, our captain, scored the first goal, setting a brisk pace for the rest of the game. The first five minutes of Varsity are incredibly intense – I consider myself in relatively good fitness, but I felt as if my lungs were about to explode and my legs on fire, exacerbated by the sheer adrenaline of the competition. Our team played incredibly well, and stepped up against all the odds. Even though we have many rookie players – in fact, both of my wingers started hockey only this year – everyone scrapped together a very tight performance, both offensively and defensively. With Lisette, our assistant captain, holding together our defense solidly, we prevented the odd-man rushes and slip-ups that plagued last year’s match.

I managed to score three goals this game – a hat trick! The first goal was rather interesting – I almost shot from behind the goal-line, but managed to get a lucky bounce off the goalie’s pad into the net. Goals two and three were more traditional, just some hard skating around the defense and dekeing in front of the goal. Even though a center ought to cover both offense and defense equally, I admit I am weaker in my defensive position, but I made a priority to back-check as hard as I could, even if I was caught deep in the other end.  Notably, Steph, our goalie, played with incredible dexterity, saving many critical shots and rebounds. Similarly, my line-mates – Jana and Dawn – aggressively challenged the puck and kept the pressure high, not giving Cambridge any space to maneuver.  Truly, the victory required a team effort – not only the players on the ice, but all our teammates cheering for us on the side, keeping our spirit and momentum high!

The game was incredibly close and the final score (5-4) reflected the intensity of the match. Even though we led by two goals for the majority of the second and third periods, Cambridge pulled their goalie and scored a last minute goal with three minutes remaining.  In the third period, they also shortened their bench to continuously play power lines. Nevertheless, we defended admirably, often choosing to ice and clear the puck from our zone to guard our lead. Given our very short bench, we played 20-40 second shifts, which I found very effective in keeping the pace and energy high.

[Here’s a shot of the final scoresheet.]

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In our normal league games, we’ve only tied once against Peterborough and lost every other game. As such, this win had particular significance. For the hat trick, I ended up getting the MVP award, presented by a former alumni player from more than a decade ago.

Alas, this season makes my twelfth continuous season since my start in seventh grade! Sometimes I forget to enjoy hockey when I think about the time commitment, the late night practices, and the long car trips to our away games. Yet, I suppose, these rare but meaningful moments remind me of the significance of the experience – the team spirit and cheer, the feeling of having a crowd of supporters, and the hard work that goes into delivering a team victory! I remember when I first started hockey on the Reston Raiders U19 team, and all I could think about was my next practice or game. Having started later than most of my team-mates, I won the award for “most determined player” my first season. Not being able to skate, I literally “ran” on the ice in impatience.

Years later, I’ll probably forget all my coursework in financial econometrics, but will remember the feeling of elation of winning this game despite all odds.