Archive for May, 2012

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.