October 28, 2011

Blowing In The Wind

How many roads must a man walk down,
before you call him a man?

My career as a public servant lasted through university. I quickly transitioned to the private sector after graduation, whereupon I allowed notorious companies such as Satyam to profit from my talents. Endowed with responsibility and managerial powers from a young age, I never maximized the amount of rent that I could extract from my employers as long as I enjoyed my work. When the excitement cooled and the learning peaked, it was an automatic trigger to explore new opportunities.

And how many times can a man turn his head,
and pretend that he just doesn't see?

Having spent two and a half unforgettable years in China, it was time to shift gears. After completing a circuit of Southeast Asia, I came to Mumbai. In a country where 58% of children do not complete primary school and only 6% of the population make it to university, I entered the non profit space for the first time. I joined Teach For India, a movement of young leaders intent on ending educational inequity in the nation.

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind,
the answer is blowing in the wind.
- Bob Dylan

October 23, 2011

Humble Beginnings

After I started working in Mumbai, an HR lady gathered some information on me so that she could share my profile information with the rest of the staff.

HR: So what are your strengths?
Me: Smart, handsome, responsible, versatile, hard working, well traveled, ...
HR: Are these your strengths or your praises?
Me: Is there a difference?
HR: ... And why aren't you smiling in your photo?
Me: I usually don't smile in my pictures.
HR: Why? Are you afraid you won't look good when you are smiling?
Me: No, I look good either way.
HR: Aren't you modest!
Me: Oh yes, add humility to my list of strengths.
HR: ...


"In reality there is perhaps not one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself...For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility." - Benjamin Franklin

October 17, 2011

Forbidden City

After arriving in Beijing one of the first places I went was the fabled Forbidden City, former home of the manliest Chinese natives. One million workers were needed to construct the walled city, and nowadays almost ten million people visit it annually. I visited on a chilly February afternoon, when the air was crisp and the crowds were sparse. The grandeur and magnificence of the architecture is best enjoyed from atop a hill in Jingshan Park,  located directly behind the moated complex.

Unlike the Great Wall or the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City never managed to take my breath away. After serving as the Chinese imperial palace for 500 years it has now been reconstructed to perfection. Not a hint of character or charm remains in the sprawling compound, which in the past could only be entered or exited with the consent of the emperor. Each room once had a colourful history of its own, but even with a fresh coat of bright red paint they now looked lifeless and dull. I traipsed through several dozen of the Forbidden City's nearly one thousand buildings, turning back when it became repetitive.


"The more things are forbidden, the more popular they become." ~ Mark Twain 

October 11, 2011

The Aviator

I have been aboard many commercial flights and even dabbled in the odd hot air balloon ride, but I had never piloted my own aircraft until a sunny summer's day in Vancouver came along. I arrived at King George Aviation's flight school along with fellow daredevil Sri and his spectating wife. The airfield was composed of grass and several bales of hay. As we waited for our planes to arrive, Sri and I inspected the light aircraft in the hangar and became increasingly nervous.

A true hero faces his fears courageously. I encountered a brief bout of uneasiness upon seeing the aircraft in which I would be flying and rushed to a portable toilet I sighted nearby. I was stymied by the combination lock affixed to the door handle of the outhouse, when an employee told me that is where they stored petrol. By now our flight instructors, a man and a woman, had arrived.

After perhaps making a politically incorrect statement about women pilots that enraged Sri's wife, I volunteered to fly with the female instructor to demonstrate my unbiased nature. The bright yellow plane had two seats and also two sets of controls. I put on my headset and buckled up, as the instructor tested the radio. Since it would be very loud once we were up in the air, all communication would be conducted via the headset.

The instructor would be in control during landing and takeoff, while I would get a brief chance to pilot the winged marvel once we were safely airborne and away from population centers. Within minutes we were soaring over the coast of White Rock. She steered the plane over the water, gave me a brief explanation of the maneuvers I could make, and handed over the controls to me.

The aircraft was surprisingly easy to pilot and I quickly got the hang of it. I made course corrections to keep tracing the coastline below. When we headed overland, we hit some turbulence. The instructor was back in the pilot's seat for the remainder of the session. We circled back to the airfield and made a smooth landing, bringing an end to my exhilarating fifteen minutes of flight.

Some photos courtesy: Sri


I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away
- R. Kelly

October 06, 2011

Grouse Grind

After completing one of Vancouver's classic rites of passages in Stanley Park, I set my sights on Grouse Mountain for my next challenge. The mountain on the North Shore is home to the infamous Grouse Grind, dubbed "Mother Nature's Stairmaster" for its punishing steepness. The grueling hike from the base to the peak of Grouse Mountain covers a height of 853 meters. The trail is 2.9 km long and has 2830 stairs in total, making for an average grade of incline of 17 degrees or 31%.

Wearing black track pants that accentuated my firm buttocks, I blazed through the Grouse Grind in two hours*. I was powered by chocolate bars, several litres of water and Gatorade, and a desire to reach the summit. I enjoyed the view from the top while catching my breath. My t-shirt was soaked with sweat, looking more like a greasy napkin used by a customer at KFC than a fine piece of apparel. Going down the Grind is not allowed, so I descended to ground level via the aerial tramway.

*The official record is 25 minutes and the average person takes 90 minutes to complete the Grouse Grind.


"We don't get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life." ~ Steve Jobs

October 03, 2011

Not Interested

The elevator in my office building in Beijing was packed with the lunch crowd. Among the occupants was a friendly man who worked in an adjacent office and his cute colleague who was friendly to all but one.

Friendly man: Where are you going for lunch?
Me: The Place.
Friendly man: Which place?
Me: The Place. You know...the shopping center.
Friendly man: Oh, I see.
Me: Do you guys want to join?

The friendly man conferred with his cute colleague while the rest of the elevator riders eagerly awaited her response.

Friendly man: She is not interested.
Me: In the Place? Or in me?
Friendly man: Both.

The elevator audience chuckled in unison.

October 02, 2011

Stanley Park Seawall

Although I grew up in Vancouver, I had never circumnavigated Stanley Park's seawall. Upon my return from China, I finally got around to it. I caught a bus from downtown Vancouver to Stanley Park. I assumed the bus would drop me off at the seawall, but the last stop was in the center of the thousand acre park. I followed my instincts to reach the coast, and commenced circumnavigation.

The pathway on the perimeter of the world's most beautiful urban park is popular with locals and tourists alike. Whilst enjoying the scenery, pedestrians must keep an eye out for rash cyclists and rollerbladers who barrel down the path. The stroll took me a couple of  hours and one bottle of Gatorade to complete.

I walked past the park's famous sites - totem poles, a gun battery installed to ward of a possible Japanese attack during World War II, the lighthouse at Brockton Point from where large piles of sulphur can be seen across the Burrard Inlet, and a mermaid-like sculpture set on a stone out in the sea.

As I was alone and did not appear to be in any rush, I was frequently stopped by tourists. I functioned as their principal photographer whenever they wanted group shots taken. I went underneath the mighty Lions Gate bridge and then stopped for a few moments at a one of the beaches along the coast of Stanley Park, before closing out the day at English Bay.