Archive for September, 2010

Life in New York

September 30, 2010 - 9:00 pm 1 Comment

Two cycles of twelve have now passed; each year another stepping stone in my journey. My dearest parents braved the Chinatown bus to come visit me, and what a joyous celebration we had! I have no desire for a lavish birthday party with many attendees, rather, spending time with my family brings me the greatest pleasure (if only Grace were here!). My dad baked his famous Irish Soda Bread for me in lieu of a cake, which I relished greatly. From visiting the Morgan museum and sampling New York’s best dim sum to absorbing the visual spectacle of Times Square and sharing a tasty dinner in Koreatown, we had a great time together. One highlight I particularly enjoyed was our visit to the New York Public Library. Even though I had passed by the building countless times, I never entered. The beautiful architecture and cavernous reading halls reminded me of the Oxford I left behind. On a slow weekend, I will certainly visit to indulge in my own private study and reading there!

Life in New York passes happily – the anonymity and pressures of the big city completely masked by the seemingly endless amusements in the form of good food, spectacular museums, and periodic visits home. The transition from school life to working life suits me greatly. Having finished two additional years of graduate school, I know it is the right time to descend from the academic ivory tower.  I enjoy my job greatly, each day an adventure as I cram my brain with newfound knowledge of industries and businesses. I am honestly the happiest when I learn something new, and thankfully, my job provides that opportunity.

On the weekends, my entertainment options appear nearly limitless. Grace and I have our own routine of perusing our favorite used book store, “linner” at Koreatown, and karaoke at our favorite place. Moreover, after two years abroad, I am now only a subway ride or walking distance away from my college friends. With New York in between Boston and Washington DC, old friends are never too far away! Lauren came to visit, and the three of us – Lingling, Lauren, and I – reverted back to patterns of our college sophomore days when we all lived together. From exploring the Cooper Hewitt museum (I particularly enjoyed the focus on innovative designs that promote international development in the spheres of education, health, and energy) to marveling at the odd artistic concepts at the New Museum (often for shock value rather than aesthetic appeal), we made the streets of New York City our own.  What a luxury to have high school and college friends close by once again!

Givology continues to grow well, especially as a new generation of leaders assume responsibilities and reinvigorate our organization with novel ideas and their energy. YouthBank is still undergoing growing pains, but each day, I grow more confident that we will surmount the difficulties of last year. Starting next week, I’ll start posting a blog series on launching a social enterprise – my reflections on ways to get started even with limited capital and connections. After all, an idea is the potent force for change. Why wait for someone else to devise a solution when you can do it on your won?

No, I will not grow complacent with this life. In the words of my father, I still have my “urgency” to pursue – a drive to make a social impact and live each day as meaningfully as possible with new experiences and learning. 24 years have now come and passed, and for the next few cycles of twelve, I eagerly anticipate more discoveries and epiphanies!

Leaving Taiwan

September 4, 2010 - 8:50 pm 1 Comment

July 27, 2010

I am now on the plane, in transit from Tokyo to Dulles – to home at last! After nearly 2.5 weeks of adventure in Taipei and Seoul, I now have to return to the United States, repack, and embark on my post-school working life in New York City.

This transition feels really bittersweet – I greatly anticipate my new life as a young professional, but will miss the ivory tower of academia. I console myself, however, that my learning and intellectual pursuits will be never-ending – that breaking from the classrooms provides a newfound freedom for intellectual study, very much in the tradition of my father who studies the Greeks on his own accord. Now, I learn on my own time frame and desire, not mandated by a structured course.

Unlike my visit to Taipei with Lauren in 2004, this trip concentrated much more on family. My parents had to address some serious family issues that had fermented in their absence. As such, Grace and I observed and discovered much more meaningful aspects of the character of our extended family, rather than just being touted along as tourists.

The Meng second generation now has reached fully maturity, with Grace the youngest at 22 this year. Even though I did not spend much time with my cousins, I found it intriguing to observe and understand the rationale behind their current circumstances.

Big city life can easily corrupt taste to focus on immediate luxuries – food, shopping, popular culture, clubbing, drinking, and other indulgences. In many ways, the simplicity of Grace and my childhood and the loving participation of my parents in our lives – often in the form of “tough love” and continued encouragement of inspired action – gave us a freedom to better define and pursue our own interests, to escape the fray of just mere satiation of immediate desires.

My grandparents remind me of the importance of treasuring family today. Since her stroke, my father’s mother has lost all sentient thoughts and does not recognize me, while my father’s father is now nearly a decade gone. My mother’s parents are very healthy and still extremely mentally sharp despite their octogenarian age, but objectively, their bodies are so much frailer than what I remember from just a few years past. As I pushed grandfather’s wheelchair in between his rests and supported my grandmother as we walked, I felt both an immense love and an overwhelming anxiety. My grandparents treat Grace and me so kindly, and I have so many wonderful memories of them from my childhood.

Grandmother is truly sharp – knowledgeable of human affairs with an uncanny emotional intelligence such that so many respect her. Grandfather is her constant, consummate partner – patient, loving, kind, and detail-oriented. I admire and love them both – imagine their difficulty in leaving China as refugees barely past their teens to set up a new life in a foreign country!

My grandmother is the sweetest old woman imaginable – so smart, kind, loving, and talented. Despite their age, my grandparents don’t recognize their own age. Both possess an indomitably spirit and “can do” attitude, disbelieving of their own limitations and health ailments. With work starting, I worry that I won’t be able to visit often, but I will try and call as much as I can to treasure each moment.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been treated with such kindness and love from all my relatives. From dinners to gifts, we’ve really encroached on their hospitality. My hope is that eventually, my relatives will come and visit us in the United States – our turn to be the gracious hosts and give them a peek into our lives.

The long flight provides ample time for reading, reflection, and writing. I had a chance to debate issues with my dad and document my travels in this journal. Grace and mo arrive two days after us, so I look forward to welcoming them home – the four of us reunited in our natural habitat!

Alas, as we fly to the opposite side of the world, a torrent of memories from this wonderful summer completely envelops me. A bittersweet parting indeed, but new adventures and discoveries now await me as I relocate to NYC and start work! No obstacle is insurmountably, especially with my parents and my sister by my side.

Sister Time

September 4, 2010 - 8:33 pm 1 Comment

July 26, 2010

Parents had much business to address on their own, as today is dad’s and my last day in Taiwan, so Grace and I struck out on our own to explore to our heart’s desire. Truly a bittersweet day as I’m having so much fun and don’t want to leave, but at the same time, recognize that only because my trips to Taiwan are so rare that I enjoy the experience so much. Every treats me so kindly here – for once, I feel connected to a greater family beyond just the four of us in the United States. Now I understand the joy of extended family – of Thanksgiving dinners with the entire crowd that we never had.

Grace and I departed early to Zhongshan station to shop the underground mall, but everything was still closed as stores only open at 10:30 AM. Regardless, we enjoyed walking the underground tunnels to arrive at Taipei Main Station to share a famous Railway Bento. Even though the time was barely past 10 AM, the bentos were nearly gone at this early hour! Later, we went upstairs to the posh food court to share an order of beef and squid on a sizzling hot plate. We found a stand selling children’s books and bought a few featuring idioms and Three Kingdoms – alas, my Chinese level parallels that of a mediocre to poor elementary school student!

I love the area around Taipei Main Station, with so many music stores, stationary shops, food options galore, and a mass collision of people – from students going to cram school to businessmen picking up their midday meal. Grace and I bought thank you cards for everyone from our favorite stationary store before heading underground to the Taipei City Mall, famous for traditional gifts and handicrafts. While wandering the massive underground streets, Grace and I stumbled into an anime section, where we even saw a tiny maid café! (Grace was too scared to walk in even though I suggested that we had time to stop for tea.)

Grace and I then took the metro to Ximending to shop around, particularly the idol stores that Grace adores. I wanted to get a haircut, so we found this massive salon popular with the young people. The salon teemed with highly fashionable young people, each with more gravity-defying hairstyles than the next, reflecting the popular trends common on Asian MTV. I felt rather intimidated and out of place, to be honest, but with my limited time and desire to get a cheap haircut (USD $15 for a quality cut), I decided to go ahead.

Notably, the haircut took more than two hours…each. The barber took particular care given my initial hesitance. I found him an interesting, entertaining guy with circle lenses and a flair for drama. (He said some of the funniest things – evidently, he’s one of the true Taiwanese natives, the equivalent of a Native American in the United States.) He cut my hair with meticulous focus, but my bangs are now fuller than they have ever been, against my original intention. Oh well, Grace thinks the style looks nice, so I trust her opinion. Grace also got a haircut – a very cute one that frames her face well. We left the salon feeling really polished, but given the extreme humid and hot weather in Taiwan, it was hard to maintain that refreshed feeling!

The sky had darkened by now, so we went home to pack and say good-bye to everyone. I know that I will miss everyone a lot, particularly my grandparents. What a truly wonderful trip!

Longshan Temple and Shida

September 4, 2010 - 8:06 pm 1 Comment

July 25, 2010

After a late start to the day (there’s honestly no point to starting the day early in Taipei – everything opens and closes really late!), we went to see grandparents at their church. Living at the church is my grandmother’s aunt – now 99 years old, the age of the People’s Republic of China, established in 1911. When we crossed the threshold into the church, she immediately recognized my mom, despite not having seen her for decades. What wonder to retain such good sense and memory even at such an elderly age!

We spent some time there, taking shelter from the rain and discussing issues of great family import. For the last year, my mom has struggled to communicate with her family over a series of lifestyle and financial issues. The afternoon soon became an opportunity to air grievances openly, which otherwise would fester beneath a superficial veneer of the guest-host dynamic.

After the rain stopped, we walked to Longshan temple, built in 1783. Our visit just happened to coincide with the International Young Buddhist Meeting. As such, we saw prayer in session, everyone chanting sutras in harmony, kneeling on the muddy floor in worship, and throwing colored wooden blocks meant to predict the future. As an odd combination of Buddhist, Taoist, and folk worship, the temple had so many mini-shrines to gods of different provenance, with so many devout believers lighting incense and providing offerings.

I was truly impressed by the architecture of the temple – the decorations are so ornate. Particularly striking is the dragon carved into the main pillars of the front gate.

According to my mom, a sordid crowd arrives at night, as the temple is in close proximity to the Huaxi Street Night Market, where snake killing compromises a common activity. Chinese medicine affixes healing powers to snake blood, and as such, the most fanatic indulge in this cruel practice.

Afterward, we shopped around in the underground MRT mall before heading to Shida University to meet grandparents for dinner. Both my parents attended Shida to study mathematics, but from completely different perspectives. As a graduate of Beinu First Women’s High School, my mom felt disappointed about her college placement – she had expected higher, but an eye infection on the day of the exam marred her performance. Even though Shida was a really renowned school, particularly for those interested in teaching, my mom had expected to enter into Taida University. Conversely, my father entered in Shida and discovered himself, even choosing to drop out for a year to pursue philosophy after finding inspiration away from the classroom (my grandfather later forced him back to finish his degree).

We ate famous Shida beef noodles and browsed the night market – the most popular among the locals of Taipei and featuring some truly splendid “small eats” that are not available elsewhere. As grandparents tire easily, we went to the university campus and sat beneath an ancient tree outside of the classrooms my parents used to attend. My dad entered into an odd meditative state as he reminisced about his past – his college years the start of his journey of self-discovery.

Yes, indeed, epiphanies begin in college. For myself, Penn opened so many doors and opportunities, and gave me the audacity to dream and pursue ventures beyond my wildest imagination. For the first time, I traveled internationally and felt as if the world opened up. I developed a strong sense of my own identity and found my passions – international development, social entrepreneurship, and finance.

Perhaps one day, I will return to Penn, sit on a bench on Locust Walk, and contemplate just as my dad did.