Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Man's Desperate Attempt to Reconnect with Nature

The whole exercise was perhaps the greatest ever illustration of group-think in action: one guy in the big tour bus thinks he sees something in the dark, cloudless sky and rushes out the back door to stare upwards, and then, seconds later, a busload of passengers, easily numbering in the dozens, quickly follow the first guy out of the bus to stare at the sky. Before long, showering in the strong cold sea winds of the North Atlantic, a group of shivering tourists stand on the desolate Icelandic coastline.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Defiant Dignity and Dangerous Dependence: the Perplexing Motivations of an Easy-to-Enter African Country

In an average quiet residential neighborhood of west London, a little building just like any other around it had a massive national flag of Gambia flying from its second floor. A little plaque at the front door denoted it as the "Gambian High Commission in London," as anyone who did not deliberately came looking for the place surely would have been very much confused as to why there would be such a big flag flying in a random neighborhood of the metropolis without any other diplomatic presence.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Finishing off a Continent-wide Backpacking Trip Where It was Left off

As the traveler takes a comfortable and inexpensive ferry ride from Scotland to Northern Ireland, another trip-filled vacation has begun in earnest, safely and steadily. Despite (and perhaps because of) the relative uneventful-ness of the first couple of days, the traveler is given ore time to fill in the details of an ambitious travel plan that will span from the very top of the European continent to the depths of sub-Saharan Africa. Excitement lies ahead as light, knowledge, and understanding are shed on unknown lands.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Justifying the Student "Ethnic Society": Finding Diversity within Cultural Immersion

Being in any university, one has to encounter at least well-organized ethnic society on campus. From the Russian to the Australian, from the Portuguese to the Argentinian, these tight-knit clubs are seem to definitely offer one thing: a home away from home for the students of that particular ethnicity or nationality in the university, maintaining regular contacts with fellow countrymen bolstered with the language, cuisine, and occasional small chats about TV shows and celebrities from back home.

Monday, March 12, 2012

3/11 One Year Later: Government Absence, NGO Authoritarianism, and Thoughts on the Kony2012 Affair

Exactly one year ago today, on a small island on the other side of the world, Mother Earth suddenly unleashed her fury. The wealthy, peace-loving, docile residents of the island were thrown into sheer unprepared chaos, running, hiding, and crying in confusion and fear as buildings shook and fell all around them. All semblance of a civilized society disappeared in an instant. What awaited the shell-shocked populace was a scene seemingly from Armageddon.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Blogging as Universal Self-Exposure: Is It Worth the Risk?

"by the way, I was reading your blog the other day, and you say..." the interviewer, whom I met for the very first time a little more than an hour ago, inserted the comment in the most casual fashion as he went on to question my view toward Asia's economic future. As calmly as I received the statement as nothing but the continuation of the discussion we have been having for a while now to gauge my background and interest for the job, I cannot help but be slightly surprised.

This blog, as the product of my pure hobby of opinionated writing, for all its apparent bias, lack of formal structure, and full of grammatical errors, have become taken so seriously as to become a part of judgmental criteria for who I am, how I think, and what my views are toward contemporary issues across the world and around my daily life. For something that is openly accessible and searchable on the Internet, I suppose for complete strangers to access its content is no doubt unavoidable.

But, at the same time, what does that "open access" mean for the blog itself is a completely different matter. First, the very purpose of the blog's existence is for the identification of the writer as a unique individual, with unique views, thoughts, and viewpoints. To make the point clear about the individuality of the writer, he or she, on certain issues or opinions, must somehow make the words and views stand out from the general crowd.

Perhaps passion in writing, combined with beautiful storytelling and prose, may suffice to distinguish one blogger from the millions out there, each armed with their own attempts at literary independence and style. But obviously, most bloggers are not even close to being at that stage, or will they ever reach that stage. Most are simple amateurs, with mediocre writing skills. In that is not the case, all bloggers would be professional journalists by now.

Without the superhuman writing abilities, the writer has nowhere to turn to besides generating unique personal viewpoints, something that has surely not been lacking within this blog, particularly with regard to issues of working for corporate Japan that the interviewer picked up in their brief examination of its contents. In these personal opinions, surely some are perfectly valid from firsthand experiences, observations, or even secondhand accounts.

Yet, just as surely, some are bound to be pure sensationalizing of petty issues, or grave exaggeration of the positives, or more likely, negatives of particular situations, designed and written for the very reason of attracting more readers. It is not 100% the writer's fault that the words are inadvertently structured in ways that incite strong passions from the readers, who would then proceed to distort the original meaning of such words to justify their irrational passions.

Thus, for the sake of upholding the very logical and sensible nature of his or her own opinions, the blogger faces serious constraints in writing. The more he or she thinks about how the Internet-surfing, blog-reading audience perceive the "creatively generated" contents of the blog, the more he or she gets, at least mentally, the incentive to self-censor the blog posts before they are published and possible to be searched and spread across cyberspace.

Given the amount of energy needed for such careful wording and self-screening, not to mention how much such a process takes the very fun and entertaining nature out of blogging itself, one wonders if it is indeed worth it. Sure, some employers are not going to like 100% of the views presented in a blog, but one has to realize that those views are genuine and will come out, sooner or later, in its most original uncensored fashion. To have them exposed in public sure the heck is much worse than just letting them out naturally on cyber-paper.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Societal Fairness, out of Self-Interest, not Lofty Ideal

One moment, my characteristic blue backpack was beneath my feet at its usual position, and then next second it disappears into the thin air, never to be seen again. The gigantic poster in front of the busy pub warning customers about thieves lurking within the busy Friday night crowd just became a reality, this time, for me. Drunken, and surrounded by drunken friends in London suddenly did not feel so well for the normally happy crowd, as they suddenly became fearful of who is the next victim...

Frankly, despite all the justifiable anger the victim is entitled to, the fault is completely the victim's. Drunkenness (and friends' drunkenness) is by no means a valid excuse to let down one's guard and decrease the usual level of vigilance, so needed here in Europe, toward to otherwise innocent-looking strangers. But while greater vigilance by everyone may indeed lead to actual decrease in successful thefts, perhaps the possibility, the potential, and the number of theft attempts will not go down.

To exterminate the root cause of the problem would require a much deeper look into why the motivations for pub thefts, so risky for the thieves themselves being exposed to the watching crowds, for so little financial benefits of whatever the bags content (at most some notebooks and a laptop, which in my case had a worth of around 200 USD). With such an unprofitable way to steal, why would people still attempt it, so often as to warrant a massively self-fulfilling poster in front of the pub?

Coincidentally and ironically enough, the group of friends who just "witnessed" a skillful backpack theft occur "in front of their eyes" somehow began a conversation about the necessity of social fairness immediately after. The argument began under the context of one person arguing for the lack of credible logic and rationale behind ideals of "equal opportunities" for all people around the world, and some social inequality should justifiably be entrenched and accepted as matter-of-fact.

As we contemplated the hypothetical situation of a child prodigy being born in the isolated rural community of central Africa and express deep regret in the world that cannot let him/her develop the extraordinary gift, I could not help but think about the theft in such a context. Imagining the thief going through my backpack in a dark corner of the street, I wonder what could he have thought when he came upon the pages and pages of academic notes from a distinguished, renowned school like the LSE.

The answer, in my mind, is somehow a picture of deep contempt, a hatred of a society that did not provide him with the calm, nurturing environment for him to dispel negative social pressures of crime and excel academically. And unlike the child prodigy in central Africa, the thief here in London, a city of readily available information and exposure to all social virtues and vices, conditions and testaments, would only see his discontent balloon over time just from firsthand observations.

Thus, given the wide availability of information on different social inequalities that realistically do exist in the world, the only way for us as a society to reduce the conflicts, crimes, and victimization of the innocent is to give every single person equal amount of opportunities and possibilities, from the day of their birth, to reach the very top, in wealth, social status, and power, if they strive hard enough and grasp those chances.

If we do not, then the wealthy will continue to become targets of attacks, from petty thefts to more violent and life-threatening instabilities of organized crime and even political revolution. Those who display wealth will be a source of public assaults, both verbally and physically, and those without opportunities will contribute to detrimental social pressures and stress. The existence of fairness for all is not just an ideal of humanists, but genuinely in the interest of the haves if they want to keep themselves safe from violent tendencies of the have-nots.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chinese People: NOT Welcome in London Chinatown?!

Two Chinese grad students from LSE walked into a half-empty Chinese restaurant in the middle of the equally empty London Chinatown, looking for a quick late-night meal over a casual conversation in Chinese. The restaurant has about two dozen big round tables in a bright-lit atmosphere. Three or four groups of white people were having loud conversations in English over their meals and a few drinks. The two LSE students, seemingly the only Chinese customers at that time, were shooed by the waiters speaking heavily accented English to a small square table in the poorly lit back corner of the dining, skipping past many better tables closer to the entrance.

Perhaps less than a couple of minutes after sitting down, the Chinese were immediately compelled to place their orders for food and drinks. After the food arrived, the staff of the restaurant came to check on our "progress" many times, and as soon as we were done, our table was cleaned and complimentary desserts presented. The two awkwardly felt that "the air" of the place was forcing them to leave, and they had to do so almost immediately after asking for the bill and throwing the cash on the table.

As if the whole situation is staged by the staff, on the long way out of the restaurant, the Chinese customers saw the same few groups of white people (already there before they picked the restaurant) still casually chatting away, all their finished alcohol bottles and empty plates strewn across the now dirty table, yet without the slightest "harassment" from the restaurant staff. The whole episode was, granted, pretty damn efficient, with well-cooked food served in matter of minutes, but somehow leaves a bad taste in the back of one's mouth.

Sure, having an experience like this is not anything particularly unique, and during the festivities of Chinese New Year, every customer in every restaurant on this tiny ethnic strip in the middle of London was hurried in, hurried out in a way for restaurants to capture as many celebrating tourists as possible. But this was a quiet average Tuesday night in a restaurant with spare capacity of at least another 30 simultaneously ordering and eating customers. Why is there such hurrying for the Chinese and what does it mean?

One could conceivably argue that the restaurant staff is taking into account the cultural difference between the Chinese and whites, thereby providing "good service" to both. Chinese people are particular about doing stuff fast (like using the Internet) so they should "like" being rushed to eat. But such argument, by itself, is a stereotype/generalization that the Chinese (or Asians in general) should not ascribe to, especially for those who work in a restaurant and perhaps have seen every kind of people.

Instead, this whole thing could simply be a case of "racism against one's own race." In a world where one can have interesting, lengthy conversations even in a fast food joint in workaholic Japan, to rush people through a meal in a sit-down restaurant can mean little beyond not wanting those customers to be present for a time period more than needed for them to eat the food and pay the bill. Somehow, the restaurant management decided that the "cost" of keeping the Chinese in a half-empty restaurant would be much more than the benefit of their presence making the restaurant seem more popular.

The "cost" in the mind of the restaurant manager could very much be how the Chinese presence would lead to loss of other potential high-paying customers, who are put off by the presence of the Chinese itself. The issue may be the negative image by which Chinese people are perceived by foreigners, which, in a rather culturally unique logical extension, contribute to a loss of "face" on the part of the restaurant itself, as it is not bringing out the "best facade" of itself to potential customers.

With regard to such a view by the restaurant management, the Chinese customers can do little but sigh in dismay. On one hand, it is certainly true that largely because of the negativity surrounding the Chinese government, Chinese people have also been viewed with negative light in recent years. But one the other hand, the behavior of the Chinese people running the restaurant also show that lack of gratitude so prevalent among Chinese immigrants for the support they get from their fellow countrymen in achieving success abroad...