Archive for April, 2010

An Excursion to the Cotswolds

April 25, 2010 - 5:16 am 1 Comment

As a post-MFE exam celebration, I went to the Cotswolds with a few of my coursemates, visiting Bourton-on-the-Water, Lower Slaughter, and Stow-on-the-Wold. Although I went to these villages last year, I welcomed the chance to return, especially on a beautiful and refreshing Spring day. The Cotswolds, a series of captivating villages nestled in a picturesque English landscape, truly tantalize the imagination. Imagine stone cottages with thatched roofs, open meadows and rolling hills, clusters of tiny little boutiques in a quaint town square, and miles of wonderful hiking trails to explore the charming woodlands.  I thoroughly enjoyed the time that we spent just walking under the warm sun, browsing lots of independent little stores selling handicrafts and artisan goods, and leisurely ambling along the many scenic footpaths connecting the villages.

We left Oxford early for Moreton on Marsh, where we caught a bus to Bourton on the Water, one of the most picturesque towns in the Cotswolds. Situated along a tiny stream, the city square teems with quaint trinket shops and charming stone houses, built along the stream and connected by tiny stone bridges (I felt a bit like Gulliver at times!). Below are a few pictures of Bourton on the Water and a video of all of us together.
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After a bit of window shopping and a light lunch, we started walking along the Old English Way footpath towards the Upper and Lower Slaughters. After crossing a meadow and a stream, a walk that took approximately forty minutes, we were greeted by a beautiful bucolic scene of an old water mill framed against willow trees, surrounded by stone cottages, each decorated with its own personality. We saw sheep and horses grazing on the surrounding pastures, enjoying the sun and the cool breeze equally as us. Below are a few more pictures!

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Walking back to Bourton on the Water, we then caught the bus to Stow on the Wold, a village that used to serve as a center of trade. We browsed lots of small little shops, stopping whenever we fancied, from visiting artisan chocolate markers to purveyors of antiques. At 4 PM, we stopped for cream tea at Dibeth’s Teahouse and Café, relaxing in the private back garden with a large pot of Earl Grey leaf tea and a tasty organic scone. Below is a video of our tea party!

Unfortunately, as common in England, everything closed at 5 PM. As such, we went back to Moreton on the Marsh, waited for our train to arrive, and then came back to Oxford around 7:30 PM – a day teeming with both adventure and comfort, a perfect celebratory conclusion to exams and a soothing excursion for the soul before the start of Trinity term on Monday.

When my sister arrives mid-May, I will certainly take her to a different set of villages. Next on my target list: Broadway and Chipping Campden, perhaps even more beautiful (if possible) from what I hear and read!

Catch-Up: Easter Vacation and the End of Exams

April 23, 2010 - 2:04 pm 1 Comment

Liberation at last! My exams concluded this Thursday at 5:30 PM – a satisfying end to four days of grueling 3-hour tests and two weeks of revision. Alas, what to do with my newfound time? Under the Oxford system, although the period in between terms is deemed a “vacation” in name, in reality, students are expected to work and continue studying, perhaps even more intensely. Rather than confine myself to preparing for my final examinations in asset pricing, corporate finance, financial econometrics, and economics, I decided to head home – a haven completely insulated from the world. Do I regret the time I spent putting together Givology’s exhibition in New York City, visiting my sister in Blacksburg, and just chatting with my parents rather than busily studying at Oxford? Absolutely not!

When I arrived at Dulles Airport to my parents’ enthusiastic hugs, I felt the immense joy of returning home after so many months of being away. Having traveled so much over the last six years, I define my home by the people who surround me – for me, home is the company of my father, mother, and sister. For the first week, I spent time with my family, relishing home-cooked breakfasts made by my dad (Yorkshire pudding, French crepes, Italian vegetable frittata, and freshly baked bread, among many other delicacies) and good old Chinese comfort food created by my mom. As I relaxed in my pajamas, sorted through all the prep work for Givology’s exhibition, ate tasty food, and laughed and shared stories with my parents, I recharged my batteries, depleted after two exhausting terms at Oxford.

Notably, the following happened (in no particular order):

What would you buy with $50? Our Exhibition went very well! It was my first foray into the arts culture of New York City, a collision with a diverse group of people I otherwise would have never interacted with. Notably, we were even featured in the New York Times! To showcase the drawings and the photos that we collected in Uganda, we managed to get space donated by Station Gallery in Chelsea. To prepare for our launch, I helped Jia and her team of artists/volunteers to finalize the details, and mobilized our Givology team to ensure a highly professional execution. As our goal is to raise $20,000 for the Peace School, we kept our costs to a minimum, resulting in some very creative uses of materials and reliance on volunteers to hand-create everything. The attention to detail of artists astounds me! Jia told me that when the photo editor from the New York Times came to view our exhibition pre-launch, she made an immediate comment that the photos of the children were not aligned in terms of how much window was showing in the background! As another example, each of the tags that we cut out had a hand-twisted twine loop 2.5 inches long with a red sticker 7.5 inches below the nail. Jia informed me that viewers often have an immediate feeling of “like” or “dislike” of an exhibit – it’s all this attention to detail that subconsciously facilitates the guttural reaction. Truly, in a very short time, I now have a newfound appreciation of all the thought that goes into setting up any type of exhibition, from consistency of font to strategic placement by color!

To view our campaign site, learn more about the exhibit, and view our collection, please visit www.50dollars.org. We still have drawings and pictures remaining available for sale – 100% of the profits of every purchase go directly to support the Peace School. With the funding that we raise, the School can construct a library, expand their existing classrooms, and build dorms to accommodate more orphans and students from the village.

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Below is a short video that I took right before the start of opening night! About 300 people attended our opening, and with live music from Soundhouse, donated wine and cheese from local vendors, attendance by Uganda House (Permanent Mission of Uganda to the UN), Joanita and members of the Peace School Task Force, and lots of eager supporters in NYC, we raised about $8,000 in gross profit in one evening! I gave a brief speech introducing our cause and the purpose of the exhibit, and Jia explained the artistic vision and creative concept behind our efforts. At the end of the night, all of us were thoroughly exhausted, exuberant but drained after days of not sleeping and working tirelessly to prepare. Jia truly is extraordinary and talented to have orchestrated such a dramatic creative undertaking, and Sherry (a high school student and Givology intern!) for leading the logistical details.

Below is a video that we played during the exhibition with some of the interviews we conducted with the kids about their drawings, as well as footage of the process of the kids making the drawings!

What would you buy with $50? from Jiashan Wu on Vimeo.

Notably, my family drove up on Saturday, the morning after the launch, to support the exhibition. Five members of our Penn team came together too – finally, a Givology team reunion in person! I shared with everyone some stories behind the drawings, from the illiterate girl in the village who tried to emulate the other children in writing her name, to the boy who desired and knew everything about American pop culture, but had never left his own village. Even though there are 163 drawings and portraits that we collected, I still remember each one very distinctly. Each child had a very distinct reaction to our entreaty to draw, and the experience of collecting the drawings under sometimes grueling and make-shift conditions, particularly in the village, left an indelible mark. The drawings clearly show a marked contrast between the village and the city kids, the educated and the illiterate, the empowered and the isolated – a really powerful contrast to prove the transformation that education makes. For me, the exhibition was particularly meaningful because I had a chance to visually show everyone the experiences I had in Uganda – to share with all the attendees some of the discoveries I made and the importance of doing as much as possible to help! In addition, I was so happy to see Joanita and Iria once again. (Picture below courtesy of Catherine Gao.)

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While in NYC, we stayed at really splendid hotel near the World Trade Center. Of course, we enjoyed tasty food in Chinatown and Koreatown, followed by an enthusiastic Karaoke session with Grace, where she performed the latest K-pop dances and songs with flair.

Barnum and Bailey Circus: My father secured tickets to the Barnum and Bailey Circus, performing at the main stadium of George Mason. What a spectacle! They had numerous zebras, tigers (my favorite) , elephants, amazing acrobatics, death-defying feats…and three rings of continuous activity that exhilarated me completely. We had amazing seats, only four rows from the front – I literally could see the expressions on each of the performer’s faces!

Cherry Blossom Festival: The weekend before I returned to Oxford, my friend Jeisun came to visit me from Houston, right at the height of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC. We arrived early to enjoy the delicate pink flowers blossoming in uniform before the crowds began to swarm. From the Jefferson Memorial to the Tidal Basin, you could see nothing but neat rows of trees.

Visit to Blacksburg: We went to Blacksburg twice during my time at home. Grace’s apartment might as well be considered our “second home” away from home. Despite the shadow of the tragic shooting nearly six years ago, Virginia Tech remains one of the happiest and brightest campuses I know, bustling with friendly students and teeming with the comfort of small-town life. From browsing boutique stories on the quaint Main Street to relishing the food at West End (Virginia Tech was voted “Best Dining” among US Colleges), I enjoyed my time with my dearest little sister. The fact that my sister took a four hour bus ride back home, followed by a four hour car ride to see my exhibition in NYC, and then an eight hour drive back to Virginia Tech meant so much to me!

My mom’s spring break coincided with my stay at home, so I had even more fun the week after the exhibition opening. Even the simple things – exercising together, going to the supermarket to purchase fresh ingredients, browsing the mall, drinking tea at home and swapping stories – made me so happy! Studying for the exam? Not even on my mind!

I flew back to Oxford on the fifth of April, feeling deflated for leaving home and also for the return to realty. The next two weeks passed in the slowest fashion imaginable: waking up at 8 AM and studying at least 5-8 hours each day according to a very strict self-imposed schedule, with only a one-hour exercise break in between. Given the tight time frame, I probably worked harder in this short period than I have ever in my life! Sure, I’ve done internships in large companies in which 12 hour days are commonplace, but the intensity of study dramatically differs, especially given the difficulty of the material. I kept my sanity, however, by taking my daily run regardless of my study progress, enjoying the sun and the beautiful spring weather.

Overall, my exam week went decently. I can never judge the outcome, but at least I never found myself in a state of panic. Four days of straight 3-hour exams leaves anyone in a catatonic daze! Alas, I do not wish to repeat my schedule of waking up at 6 AM, studying for two hours, donning sub-fusc, walking to the exam schools, taking the exam, going home, napping, exercising, studying, sleeping at midnight…and repeating.

For me, routine is an enemy to fight – my philosophy is that each day ought to contain a special discovery or experience, no matter how small. At least I found the material I studied very interesting and meaningful. If not, my last two grueling weeks would be unbearable! No matter how old I get, I will always enjoy learning and studying on my own accord, as expanding one’s mind and scope is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Yet, I wish to do this on my own accord, not on a fixed timetable!

Tomorrow, I am off to the Cotswolds with some of my coursemates – a mini-trip well deserved by all of us for our efforts!  One more term left in Oxford; I truly intend to enjoy it completely.

On a different note, Givology and YouthBank were extended invitations to the Kairos Summit for Student Entrepreneurship, and Givology won the “Best Social Enterprise” Award from Intellius, along with a cash prize! So among the “Top 100 Student-Run Companies”, we’re the best in the social sector! I’m really proud of my team – we’ve grown so much over the last year, and without a doubt, each year builds upon the prior to become even more impactful. Every child in the world deserves the chance to pursue learning; education saves lives, not only physical subsistence through employment opportunities, but psychological fulfillment through empowerment and engagement in the world. One step at a time, we’ll be doing our best to make a difference!

Brief Update Before Exams

April 17, 2010 - 4:24 pm 1 Comment

It’s been a very long time since I last updated my blog. As a quick update, I went home during Oxford’s Easter Vacation for our $50 Exhibition for Givology, in hopes of using the drawings and photos that Jia and I collected in Uganda to raise $20,000 for the Peace School. Overall, despite our numerous concerns, the exhibition went very well! We’re still tallying up our final numbers, and setting up online sales for the remaining drawings. Working with Jia has been a real pleasure – the “art community” of New York City has always been an elusive mystery; to find myself among them at Station Gallery really broadened my perspective. So much consideration goes into setting up an exhibition – details that without Jia’s explicit guidance, I would have even failed to notice. Yet, the beauty of the final product that we appreciate very much depends on these “subconscious” elements – the order and presentation completely controlled by the artist to maximize the immediate sensory pleasure of the viewer. I know that I write very much in abstract – when I finally complete my final exams at the end of next week, I promise to provide a much more satisfactory description of the event!

I cannot describe enough the pleasure of life at home –waking up to my father’s freshly cooked breakfasts, spending time with my mother during the day and going to the gym together, visiting Grace at Blacksburg and enjoying the bucolic scenes, sampling tasty dishes created with love by my father and mother, and simply just chatting and walking in the neighborhood. Home for me is a haven – a respite immune from the outside world, time suspended. To add to the excitement, in the weekend before I left for Oxford, I enjoyed the Barnum and Bailey Circus (front row tickets!!) and the Washington Cherry Blossom Festival at its height, culminating in bouillabaisse for dinner, made with the fresh fish that we just purchased from the Washington fish market.

Alas, I arrived back at Oxford one-and-a-half weeks before my final examinations, not having cracked open any book to a considerable degree. Despite a visit by the son of one of my mother’s college classmates, I have not broken my routine of sleeping, eating, exercising, and studying. The sheer amount of material that I have digested over the last week astounds me. I could say, “if only I started earlier”, but frankly, I feel no regret – I spent break in a meaningful manner with my lovely family.

For this exam, I will try my best – the material at least is interesting!