Week 5: February 6-12

February 6, 2018: Had my last proper meal in the United States for at least the next several months with my mom. Thanks to everyone over the last several weeks that took the time to meet/talk/catch up with me!

February 7, 2018: Ich bin zurück in Berlin.

February 8, 2018: Starting to get artsy with some of these photos.

February 9, 2018: Berlin has lovely little ways of reminding me how charming it can be.

February 10, 2018: Waking through Berlin in the early morning (or very late night)

February 11, 2018: When you have a killer podcast episode to write, but no internet at home.

February 12, 2018: The view from my S-Bahn Station at Bundesplatz.


Week 4: January 30 – February 5

January 30, 2018: This is my soul food.

January 31, 2018: Got up at 5:00 AM to catch the super blue blood moon. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but was the best I could do with a phone camera.

February 1, 2018: It has been far too long since I’ve had all-you-can-eat KBBQ

February 2, 2018: Nothing warms the heart quite like mom’s chicken noodle soup.

February 3, 2018: This is Malcolm, my brother’s oldest kid. He’s basically the reason my brother’s house is a massive Lego storage facility.

February 4, 2018: My default when I’ve got nothing else is to take a picture of my dinner, lol.

February 5, 2018: This little “park” within my gated complex was the home of many adventures growing up.

Week 3: January 23-29

January 23, 2018: Today was another instance where I re-learned the importance of stopping and smelling the proverbial roses, or in this case, the ocean breeze. I have a bad tendency of getting totally caught up in everything that I’m doing, that I lose sight of the small, everyday moments that make life enjoyable. Forcing myself to stop along Pacific Coast Highway and just appreciate the sight, sound, feel and smell of the ocean helped me to recall that.

January 24, 2018: Having lamb hot pot with my dad for his 60th birthday. Everyday I’m thankful for the upbringing and support you’ve continued to give me.

January 25, 2018: Today was a “treat yoself” type of day, so I bought myself some new kicks.

January 26, 2018: Celebrating our various career-advancement successes. Congrats on landing a job with Grant Thornton!

January 27, 2018: This is our “you think this is a mother fuckin’ game?” look. So glad you came up to LA to hang out with me, Jonathan!

January 28, 2018: Growing up, this little backyard was nothing but concrete and dry dirt. But my mom’s managed to turn it into a really impressive garden where she grows oranges, lemons, grapefruit, pomegranate and other herbs!

January 29, 2018: Everytime I visit home, I go and see my grandmother, and she makes me dumplings. Over the course of the nearly 20 years since she moved in with us, she has taught and given me so much. She’s 84 now, and each year, she’s a little more frail, a little more quiet, and we speak a little less, but I know just how much it means to her when I visit by the way she smiles at me while we eat her dumplings.

Week 2 – January 16-22

January 16, 2018: Spending time with some of my favorite people on this Earth.

January 17, 2018: Daphne’s favorite thing to do is read. This kid is going to go far.

January 18, 2018: It’s great to see my friends engage in their passion for art, performance, and storytelling. Great show BAD Rep!

January 19, 2018: I had such a great time catching up with my former Evolve co-workers. Its been way too long!

January 20, 2018: Ceviche and delicious Peruvian food, with great friends

January 21, 2018: No trip home is complete without meeting up with my very fashionable little cousin. I’ve missed you Jennie!

January 22, 2018: Meeting Sinan and Caragh in beautiful Santa Barbara!

Week 1 – January 9-15

January 9, 2018: Looks like I need to survive the snow before I can enjoy the sunshine.

January 10, 2018: Thai food with one of my closest friends, Patricia!

January 11, 2018: I did warn you that there would be a lot of food photos. In my defense, it’s been over 7 months since I’ve had tacos and horchata.

January 12, 2018: Reunited with this mother fucker!

January 13, 2018: It feels good to be home with family. 

January 14, 2018: I’m back Berkeley 😀

January 15, 2018: San Francisco City Hall. I’ve lost count the number of political rallies I’ve been to here. 

365 Project 2018 – Introduction

I know I’m vastly overdue for a blog post about my time here in Berlin so far, and I promise I’ll get around to it once I get a breather when I land in Los Angeles tomorrow. But for now, I want to set the stage for a side project that I’ve decided to pursue in 2018: a 365 Project!

For those that are unfamiliar, a 365 Project is a photography challenge where someone is tasked with taking one photograph everyday for the entire year. The last (and only) time I’ve done this was back in 2012 (Jesus that was six years ago). Back then, mobile camera technology was not nearly as good as it was today, so I took my DSLR around with me everywhere. That was admittedly very difficult, and I’ll admit now that I cheated…a lot.

Phone cameras have significantly improved since those days, and that coupled with the fact that 2018 promises to be a transformative year for me as I finally finish my dual-degree program and go back into the “real world,” led me to decide to pursue this project again this year. I also feel that I’m not doing as much photography as I did in the past, and I want to get my photographer’s eye back and push my creative side a little more as I reach another milestone in my life, and I think this project will really help me in that regard.

Taking one photograph a day doesn’t sound like a particularly hard task, however, having done this once before, I know how challenging this is going to be, especially if I want to avoid being monotonous and repetitive. The prospect of expanding my vision for composition and subject choices is what really excites me about this project. However, I will warn you now, be prepared to see a LOT of photos of food.

Logistically, I’ll be hosting the photos that I take throughout the year on this blog, under the category “365 Project 2018.” In order to avoid publishing posts everyday, I’ll publish posts on a weekly basis, but will update each week’s post daily with a new photograph. Week 1 will start tomorrow once I land in the States, so look forward to that soon!

On Krakow and Confronting Evil

I had the immense privilege of spending the last weekend visiting and having an amazing time in Krakow. However, in light of the devastating tragedy in Las Vegas, it feels a bit inappropriate to talk about how much fun I had. But my weekend getaway was not all fun and games, and I believe that learning about Krakow’s history has done a lot to help me conceptualize things that are happening today.

Krakow is home to two very important historical sites: Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, both of which I had the opportunity to visit when I was there. Needless to say, they were each very powerful experiences, however, what really struck me was contextualizing the past with the current state of affairs.

Our tour guide at Auschwitz put it very eloquently: humanity has been killing each other since the beginning of our existence. This is nothing new. However, the Holocaust was something entirely unprecedented. With the Holocaust came an entire bureaucratic and institutional structure that was created for one goal: the extermination of an entire ethnic group. Genocide is an evil born of modernity.

That’s a word I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: evil. Generally, my personal philosophy can be categorized under the broad umbrella of moral relativism. That said, I do believe there are instances that an overwhelming majority of people can agree to as morally repugnant and evil. The Holocaust and yesterday’s shooting in Las Vegas fall under that category, I believe.

There is so much that can and needs to be said about the shooting in Las Vegas. As someone that is neither from the city, nor from Nevada, I do not believe it’s in my place to try and articulate the collective grief and heartache that we all feel. I believe that is best left to the voices of those that have a sincere connection to that place and community, and to the victims. What I can talk about, perhaps really the only thing I know how to talk about, is action.

When faced with such an overwhelming act of barbarism and cruelty, one in which a single person rained hell down upon a group of innocent people for literally no apparent reason, it’s easy to feel helpless, that nothing can be done. This isn’t even the only horrible problem we face today. Right now, millions of Puerto Ricans are still suffering without access to basic necessities (click here for different ways you can help). And as I walked through both Oskar Schindler’s factory and Auschwitz, it terrified me to think that we’ve regressed to the point where white nationalist and neo-Nazi sentiments can be freely expressed in the United States.

However, we cannot let fear lead us to inaction. Stephen Colbert eloquently stated that “doing nothing is cowardice.” This reminds me of another quote by Edmund Burke, which I’m sure most of you know, but I believe bears repeating: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.” But as I tie the history of the Holocaust and WWII to the present day, I am also reminded of the fact that we were ultimately able to defeat fascism. In hindsight, these outcomes always seem preordained, when at the time, the exact opposite was true; for some time, Hitler seemed poised to conquer all of Europe. Despite the initial odds, we continued to fight because that is simply a reality that we could not accept. It is vital that we cling to that notion as we confront the evils of today.

It’s easy to believe that solving the issue of gun violence is a pipe dream. But shedding that cynicism and fear is the first crucial step needed to shift the conversation from if to how we can begin to reduce the amount of gun violence that exists in the United States. Gun control regulations are simply one piece of the puzzle, but we can only begin to think about what other pieces are needed if we believe the outcome is achievable in the first place. The NRA wants us to believe that daily mass shootings are simply the reality of living in a free society. That is a reality that I refuse to accept. And there are a number of great organizations like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, The Brady Campaign, and Americans for Responsible Solutions that are on the long and difficult path of working to ensure that fewer Americans die from senseless gun violence. If you also believe that America should not be a country where tens of thousands of people die each year from firearms, then now is the time to take a stand. Remember the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

For this post, I’m only including the photos I took from Auschwitz-Birkenau. For all of my photos in Krakow, check out my Flickr page.

From Momo to Currywurst

This is it.  By the end of today, I’ll be boarding yet another plane and off to explore yet another new city and country.  There are so many thoughts to try and parse that stem from my experiences here in Nepal and the work I’ve done, to how I feel about moving (again), to my incessant need to self-reflect (partially stimulated from a number of deep conversations with good friends over the last few days).

I’m a very intense traveler (those who have traveled with me can attest).  I like to pack as much as humanly possible in the time that I’m in a new place.  But I also recognize that it’s impossible to completely learn a new city in just a few months (even after 8 years in the Bay Area, there are still an untold number of secrets to discover, I’m sure).  With that in mind, I tried as much as possible over the last 7 weeks to strike some kind of balance of getting out of my comfort zone, exploring new locations and having a great time, while also just taking time for me (whatever that might mean).

On the whole, I think I was pretty successful.  I could have perhaps taken another day/weekend trip or two, but between one day trip and my 9-day field visit, I definitely think I got my fill of adventure.  I also managed to see most of the major landmarks in Kathmandu (including two UNESCO World Heritage Sites).  Aside from the exploration, I’m really proud of all the work that I did over these past 7 weeks.  I actually managed to exercise a lot of the skills that I learned while at Maxwell, writing and implementing a program evaluation survey, and then conducting a Theory of Change exercise with the staff of Aythos.  It’s validating to take the things you learn in class and realize “Hey, I actually know how to do this stuff.  And other people actually find it useful!”

On top of my contractual work, I also managed to make a lot of progress on a big personal project of mine: that’s right, the Radical Bureaucrats.  A couple of us have been working on a plan for what we want to do long-term, and while there are still a lot of details to work out, we have some interesting stuff planned for the horizon, so stay tuned!  If it wasn’t blatantly obvious, this has been something I’ve been incredibly passionate about since we started it back in November, so having the opportunity to try and build it out this past summer has been really rewarding.

Finally, these last two weeks have really been a time of reflection for me.  If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past 14ish months, it’s that time moves quickly, and the year that I have for my last degree is going to pass by in a flash.  With that in mind, I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I want to be doing when I’m out, and researching organizations and positions that I want to be applying for.  I’m waiting to hear back about an internship in Berlin, and already have a few job postings for next year that I’m going to begin working on, so I think I have a good start on things.  I also need to remember that I have a tendency to let thoughts of the future keep me from fully enjoying the present, so once again, it’s key that I find a way to strike a balance.

So those are my meandering thoughts as I relax and enjoy my final hours in Kathmandu, under the watchful gaze of Boudhanath, the Buddhist stupa that has served as an anchor to my time here.  These last two months have been an incredible journey, full of excitement, wonder, and growth (professionally, mentally and psychologically).  I’m going to miss this place, and all the people that have made this experience so special.  But as always, chapters close while other chapters open.  This chapter might have been brief, but it shined brilliantly.

Adventures in Helambu

The original title of this post was intended to be “Leeches Fucking Suck,” but after everything that took place over the last 9 or so days, giving the title to the leeches doesn’t feel right. The leeches were a somewhat interesting B-plot at best.

Normally, when I say I’m “going on an adventure,” I’m merely dramatizing to add some flavor to what is otherwise a fairly mundane life. But my field visit out to the region of Helambu, Nepal fully qualifies as the most adventurous week-plus of my 27 years of existence.

So what was I doing out in the Nepali countryside, you might be asking? My primary task with Aythos is to design and implement a program evaluation survey so that the organization can begin determining the effectiveness of its program of training Nepali farmers to plant, harvest, and sell cash-crops to improve their economic development. As you might imagine, electronic communication infrastructure is still pretty lackluster even in Kathmandu, and effectively nonexistent in the countryside (not to mention many of the farmers are illiterate), so administering the survey actually requires us to go out into the field and collect the information ourselves. Since this is Aythos’s first attempt at program evaluation, they wanted me along to answer any questions that might pop up during data collection. The plan was to hit 6 villages over the course of 9 days, with the itinerary being Nakote -> Dechenthang -> Tembathang -> Ghangyul -> Bhremang -> Palchowk. It was an ambitious plan, and I was super excited for the opportunity.

For a born and bred city boy, I think I have a pretty decent appreciation for the outdoors. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most fit person in the world, and I’ve never done a proper camping trip, but not for lack of trying! My friends in the Bay and at Syracuse know that I made plenty of attempts to go hiking and enjoy the beautiful nature that both California and New York have to offer.

The beginning of our trek!

That said, I severely underestimated this trip from the get-go. The very beginning of our trip saw us on a 5-hour bus ride out of Kathmandu into the Helambu region. We got off the bus at a village called Timbu, where we began a 5-6 hour hike to Nakote. What I didn’t realize was that this part of the trek (the hardest, by far) went straight uphill for the entire duration, for an elevation gain of about 1,000 meters. By the time we got halfway through, I was dying; my legs were cramping in places I didn’t even realize could cramp. Somehow I made it to the top, but not after a whole lot of assistance (my colleague who was born in Helambu took my backpack for me halfway through, and also got me a walking stick – now I understand why people use them).

Disclaimer: Gross details ahead!

Physically, that first day was the most demanding, but the next few days were tough in their own ways. Over days 2-5, I contracted and then got over a minor gastrointestinal issue where I started pooping a lot (I became a master of squat-pooping). During that stretch we moved from Dechengthang to Tembathang, and then through to Ghangyul in one day, where I basically moved like a zombie the entire time. During that stretch, we also passed through a pretty thick jungle that was chock-full of leeches. Not only did a bunch of leeches feast on my ankles, but somehow, one of those little fuckers snuck all the way up my left leg and adhered itself to my inner thigh, disturbingly close to my crotch (to this day, I will never know how it got there). Naturally, I had the misfortune of discovering this fact while I was in the bathroom; you can imagine that bathroom session was very unpleasant.

End of gross details!

In case you actually read all those sordid details, here’s a photo of AN ADORABLE PUPPY to cleanse your palate.

Things mostly picked up from there. At Ghangyul, we reached our highest elevation for the trip (2,500+ meters). At that point, the hikes got easier (and who knows, maybe my body got a little more fit too.  One can dream), the views were always spectacular (they were amazing from the beginning, but I could enjoy them more), and engaging with the farmers was always fun and interesting (most of them always thought I was Nepali, specifically Hyolmo, the ethnic group that resides in Helambu, so the process of them figuring out I’m American was always hilarious).

While things were great overall, I did have what was probably the closest near-death encounter I’ve ever experienced on the trip from Ghangyul to Bhremang. The first part of that trail basically ran along the cliffside (which terrified me the entire time), and forced us to cross a landslide in order to continue on the path. While I won’t say that slipping on the landslide would lead to certain death, the way things were laid out, if you slipped and couldn’t re-establish your grip before the gravel of the landslide ended, you basically slipped off the edge of the cliff.

So, I’m shambling across the landslide, using my hands to grab onto rocks that served as solid handholds, and digging footholds into the gravel with my boots. At one point about halfway through, the gravel under my right foot gave way, and I felt myself slipping. It was at that moment, for a split-second, I thought to myself “I could actually potentially die here.” Ultimately, I was able to stabilize myself and just booked it the rest of the way across, but it got real dicey for a hot second.

The danger’s mostly passed at this point, but just to give you a sense

So yeah, adventure in every sense of the word. For good measure, the way from Palchowk to where we could take a bus back to Kathmandu was a good two hour’s descent, through mostly wet, slippery stone stairs. During that last leg, I had my worst fall of the trip (haha, get it?) which left a gnarly scrape on my hand and a huge bruise on my ass. Fun souvenirs to take back to Kathmandu with me.

All in all, it was an absolutely incredible experience. Not only did I have an amazing opportunity to take in the gorgeous nature of Nepal, which is a huge reason why I’m here in the first place, but I also got to engage (in a limited fashion) with many of the farmers that Aythos works with. Helambu was a region that was badly hit by the earthquake in 2015, with many people in the region still living in temporary shelters. Nonetheless, so many of them took us in to feed and provide us accommodation (we compensated them for all of that, of course). They offered me medicine while I was sick, and were constantly inquiring about my health. These people demonstrated generosity, resilience, and optimism that is truly humbling and heartwarming. Being in their presence, and doing what little I can to try and make their lives even slightly better is an experience I’ll carry with me forever.

As always, here is a selection of photos from the trip. For more, check out my Flickr page!

And seriously, leeches fucking suck.

One Week in Kathmandu

Holy hell, what a week.

When I said before that I could barely even conceptualize what my life was going to be like once I left the States, I didn’t realize just how accurate that statement was.

Let me start by thanking Ian, Isaac, Taylor and Toby for housing me/showing me a great time during my brief stay in Singapore.  For many of you, it’s been a long time since we saw each other last, and it was great to spend time with each of you, even if it was for just a few hours.

Kathmandu…what a place.  It’s so difficult to describe how I’ve felt since arriving because it’s been such a whirlwind of emotions, but I’ll try and lay it out chronologically.

The first few days were rough.  If I haven’t mentioned, this is the first time I’ve spent a decent amount of time living in a developing country (China occupies an weird space in that spectrum, and having spent most of my time in China in major cities, I don’t really count the experience).  The internet at my homestay is pretty garbage (it doesn’t go longer than a few minutes without disconnecting), I kept discovering cockroaches in my room (which terrify me each time – I hate bugs), and I felt constantly lost because there are no such things as road signs here.  As someone that likes feeling in control of situations, I couldn’t help but feel like I was utterly out of my depth.

But having these experiences is precisely why I chose to come here in the first place.  Aside from the work that I wanted to do at Aythos, the NGO that I’m interning with, I chose to come to Nepal in order to get out of my comfort zone.  It had been 6 years since I last left the United States, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with the feeling of being away from the familiar and comfortable.  After six days of being here, I can definitely say my plan is working.

It’s taken a while, but I finally think I’m beginning to get my bearings.  Aside from just being able to get around with less trepidation (not being stingy with my mobile data definitely helps), this place is finally starting to click for me.  I’m finding a couple of go-to spots to relax, enjoy strong WiFi where I can actually get work done, and have a great cup of coffee (there’s good food everywhere, so that part is easy).

Work is also starting to make more sense to me.  I’ve found what I can really bring to Aythos that will make my time here worthwhile.  I’m thoroughly impressed and inspired by the small, but mighty team that I’m working with here.  Most of them are young, local Nepalis with an incredible amount of passion and motivation for supporting the economic development of rural farmers.  How I can help is supporting their organizational management, and teaching them skills so that they can run the NGO more effectively.  Being able to support them in this fashion is fulfilling, along the lines of the type of leadership development work that I love so much (not to mention that they all are interested in getting photography lessons from me).

And I’ve done a fair amount of sightseeing for just one week.  There is so much beauty here in this country, but the beauty is inextricably intertwined with the country’s state of development.  For every temple or palace that I visit, I take taxis and buses on dilapidated roads to reach them.  I walk past half-constructed buildings on dust and pollution-filled streets to get to my office.  In the most extreme case, just today prior to publishing this post, I spent a good five hours standing on a bus hanging on for dear life as the bus went up and down the mountainside through slick mud in monsoon rains.  These factors live in conjunction with each other, and is a helpful reminder that there is so much work in the world that needs to be done.  And ultimately, that’s why I’m here.

Here’s just a few photos from my adventures of the last few days.

Our triumphant selfie after surviving a harrowing bus ride up and down the mountainside.