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Archive for October, 2007

The source of suffering, according to Eckhart Tolle, is the ego. It contextualizes everything in terms of past and future. People tend to determine themselves based on their previous experiences and interactions, and define their future with those in mind. Tolle states that the key to escaping from this madness and entering enlightenment is to embrace the power of Now, by surrendering to what is in the moment. By fully engaging in the Now, you separate yourself from your ego and feel the absolute present. After all, time, Tolle says, is an illusion (there is no future or past, only Now) and timelessness is the true existence.

In 193 pages, Tolle provides wisdom reminiscent of eastern philosophies and shows us how to reach inner peace. Though brief, I couldn’t help but feel this book was too long for its message. I felt the author kept beating me over the head with his message of embracing the present, shutting off the egotistical mind, and adopting inner peace and salvation through stillness and inner peace. Even with its repetitive prose, I am still not one-hundred-percent certain exactly how I should embrace the Now.

Nonetheless, Tolle’s The Power of Now is a worthy read for those of you who feel frustrated with the gaps between what “should be” and “what is not.” Maybe it will help you reach one step closer to enlightenment. Then again, maybe not.

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Clean PumpkinMy experience carving pumpkins is at best limited, so I was a bit skeptical when my fiancé brought home a pumpkin carving kit. For the past few years, she as been making faces out of the plump fall fruit with her mother, but now that we share the same residence it was my turn to play Michelangelo. Below I’ll explain how one should take the knife to the round orange ball.

Step 1: Pick up your ingredients

A list of required goodies is in order. Pick up your basic pumpkin carving kit at your local supermarket or big box retailer (I think we purchased ours at Cost Cutters). It should include a special carving knife, a scooper to remove the pumpkin guts, a long narrow tool to poke holes, a little wheel with spokes on it for tracing, and some patterns on thin paper. You also need a pumpkin (duh), some paper towels, and a trash can for cleanup.

PumpkinStep 2: Clean your pumpkin

Next, wash the pumpkin with cool tap water. Chances are you picked your pumpkin from a patch so it’ll probably be a little dirty. Then dry off the pumpkin using paper towels or a rag.

Step 3: Scalp your pumpkin

Using the carving knife (or a more durable knife from your kitchen), cut around the top to create a lid. Make sure it’s big enough so you can get your hands in there to scoop out the pumpkin innards, but not too big as it may interfere with the sides of the pumpkin.

Step 4: Gut your pumpkin like a fish

PumpkinWell, not like a fish but like a pumpkin! Lift the recently-carved lid off the top of your pumpkin and, using your handy pumpkin scooper (technical term, I know), plow out the guts. It’s yucky and messy so try to dump as much as you can in the trash. I found that the scooper that came with our kit was too small so I used my bare hands.

Step 5: Mask your pumpkin

Pick the pattern of your liking and tape it to the side of the pumpkin. We taped ours to the side that had the largest surface area so we had room to work with. But so long as the pattern fits, you should be fine.

Step 6: Poke little holes in your pumpkin

pumpkin4.jpgUsing the spoke-wheel-thingy (another technical term), trace the pattern on the sheet of paper over the pumpkin. Press hard so the holes poke through the skin. You should see traces of punctured holes through the paper. After tracing all of the lines, remove the sheet of paper.

Step 7: Carve!

See the holes, now carve! Take your carving knife, hold at a 90-degree angle next to the outer perimeter of the pumpkin walls, and pierce anywhere around the line. Saw up and down until you’ve finished all the lines.

Step 8: Take a Bow

Congratulations, you’re almost done. Now take a lighted candle, stick it in the center, and turn off the lights. Enjoy your Halloween pumpkin in all its spookiness!

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My Seattle Trip Recap

When I spoke of my Seattle trip, many asked whether I was traveling for business or pleasure. Although I ventured to the west coast on the company dime, the differences between work and pleasure blurred as I had more personal time than originally imagined. Seattle is indeed an exciting Pacific coast town with spectacular views, the freshest seafood imaginable, and yes, soggy weather.

Considering that I roughly had only four hours to spare, I planned my site-seeing efficiently. Below are my must-see locations:

  1. Pike Place Market. Lying against Elliot Bay, this is the world-famous seafood market where the fishermen toss the freshly-caught fish of the day at each other. Today, the market is also known for its restaurants, French cafes, and street-corner musicians. There are also plenty of locals selling their trinkets and artwork for the tourists.
  2. Pike Place Market

  3. The Space Needle. Yes, it’s touristy but I just had to climb to the top. Or, rather, ride the elevator. At $16, Wikitravel calls this the most expensive elevator ride in North America. Unfortunately, an overcast loomed over the city so the view wasn’t as grand as it could have been. Still I thought it was worth the trip.
  4. Space Needle

  5. Pioneer Square. This, according to Wikipedia, is the location of Seattle’s founding. Reminiscent of Greenwich Village, Pioneer Square is lined with narrow streets, cafes, art galleries, and bookstores. Along with its downstairs café, Elliot Bay Bookstore also calls Pioneer Square home. A bust of Chief Seattle and a nearby totem pole memorialize the city’s founding.
  6. Pioneer Square

  7. The Waterfront. I didn’t have much time to spend here. Initially I planned to ride the ferry to Bainbridge Island, where I could capture some skyline views. Unfortunately I needed to return to the hotel for business purposes but I did get a chance to see a few of the piers.
  8. The Waterfront

Seattle is also stocked fresh with trendy restaurants. If your expense account allows for it, check out Palace Kitchen on Fifth Avenue. I recommend the olive poppers and the Idaho trout. If red meat strikes your fancy, El Gaucho steakhouse will fill your carnivorous needs. Though here your wallet will burst into flames so don’t go unless you can handle the fire.

In all, the business trip turned out to be a success and I took away some memorable experiences. Who knows if I will ever return to this urban area known as the Emerald City but I’ll be familiar with the territory if I do.

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100_7172_time_square.jpgLee Abbamonte wrote an insightful piece on the supposed rudeness-friendliness dichotomy of the New York attitude. Some people—and Lee is one of them—will argue that New Yorkers are just about the rudest people on the planet, while others will cite the countless instances of New Yorkers helping out-of-towners with directions and navigating through the Big Apple. Not too fast, Lee says; New Yorkers are willing to give directions because they revel in their cosmopolitan Manhattan-ism while tourists bathe in awe of Gotham. Giving directions is a sense of proving yourself as a New Yorker—using street-names and landmarks is akin to name-dropping in L.A.

Now I’m technically not a New Yorker but I have commuted here for the better part of seven years, so I kind of know what Lee is talking about. New Yorkers are rude, especially during rush hour. Do not stand in the way of a latte-armed, suit-dressed executive while he or she is plowing through turnstiles to get to the 1 train. Unless you like being ignored, do not try to ask anyone anything between the hours of 7 to 9am and 5 to 7pm. Rush hour is the New York equivalent of the seventh circle of hell. I am ninety-nine percent certain that the New York rude attitude is caused by the madness of the rush hour commute.

This, of course, is destiny at work when you have millions of people cramming to board a tiny island five out of seven days of the week. And if they do happen to live in Manhattan, chances are they are forced to board the subway, an efficient but cramped transportation system that at best smells like dirty laundry and at worst, well…you can imagine. Take a New Yorker out of the busyness of the workday and you will discover a friendlier attitude. Go to Central Park and immerse yourself in its depths—you’ll be surprised you’re still in nation’s largest city. Talk to the people there—you’ll find them more willing to chat than on Broadway and Forty-second Street.

Do New Yorkers revel in giving directions? Absolutely. They’re proud of their city and it shows. I can’t argue that the locals like to drop fifth-avenue this and Madison-avenue that because they’re well aware of their city’s world-famous iconography and are proud of it. Just don’t ask how to get to Carnegie Hall while standing in the middle of Grand Central at eight in the morning.

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I’m Off to Seattle This Week

This Wednesday I’m heading off on my first (and possibly last) business trip to Seattle, Washington. For confidential purposes, I can’t disclose why or what business I’m visiting but I’m a bit nervous about my brief three-day cross-country trip. I just hope I’ll see more of the city than the airport and conference rooms.

The home of grunge and WTO protests, Seattle conveys images of environmentalism and depressingly soggy weather. Hopefully I’ll be fortunate enough to see some of the sites in between rainstorms. At the very least I’d like to take some photographs of the city skyline and savor the Pacific Northwest salmon I keep hearing about.

By the weekend I should post a detailed narrative of my brief experience with Seattle. I doubt I’ll have enough time to climb the Space Needle but I should be able to stroll down some of the city’s more popular avenues.
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Melissa and I are getting married next summer and the conventional entry into lifelong matrimonial bliss usually involves two things: the wedding and the honeymoon. While Melissa’s emotions have been downright giddy in planning the fine details of her dream wedding, I have been delegated the task of packaging our ideal honeymoon sojourn.

What to do? Where to go? These were the first two questions we asked ourselves. Now I tend to think big whenever I embark on a task so we ruled out local destinations. We also considered some domestic locations but given that Melissa has rarely ventured outside the country and I haven’t been to Europe since my semester abroad in college, both of us decided to look internationally.

The one exception to our rule of excluding domestic places was Hawaii. Two of my friends spent their honeymoons in the fiftieth state and both had a blast. One couple loved Hawaii so much he packed up his bags and moved there permanently!

Hawaii does have its charm (or so I’ve heard; I have never been there) and it constantly ranks as a top destination for honeymoons. The beaches look breathtaking, the water glimmer a clean turquoise. Still, we were looking for something a little less tropical and a little more adventurous.

Maybe England? The British isles as a honeymoon destination, you ask? Melissa is quite fond of medieval English history—she is a fan of Phillipa Gregory’s historical fiction—so it became an option. As for me, I already lived in England during a college semester abroad. So I was looking for something a little different.

We considered other destinations—China, Greece, Australia, France to name a few—but we finally found a place: Italy. Neither of us has visited the Mediterranean, Melissa’s quite knowledgeable about the Italian Renaissance and I admire ancient Roman history. Traveling to the many different cities in Italy and struggling to speak the local language will give us the sense of adventure I crave. Everyone who has been there tells us the food is to die for, and yes the summer weather will be hot but we think manageable. The museums are filled with world-renowned artwork, the historical heritage is ubiquitous, and the romantic, eye-opening views of the Mediterranean make Italy our perfect choice for our honeymoon spot.

Some people have asked if we’re going with one of those group tour guides. I’m trying to avoid it if I can—they seem too packaged and inauthentic. Instead I think I’ll plan a general itinerary but nothing too rigid so we can be flexible when we want to be. We want to experience Italy on our own terms.

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Here’s a fact for you: Half of the world’s population live on two dollars a day or less. Keep that in mind when you feel as though you’re life isn’t going as planned or circumstances didn’t develop the way you had hoped.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs is on a mission. Leading after a brief forward by U2’s Bono, Dr. Sachs calls upon the Western governments to increase their foreign aid and investment in the extreme impoverished areas of the world. Lacking the infrastructure necessary for a modern functioning state, the poorest of the poor do not possess even an economic foundation upon which to build. The End of Poverty (Penguin, 2005) is Sachs’ soapbox that calls for a complete eradication of extreme poverty by 2025.

The first half of the book feels part-memoir, as Sachs described how his work shifted from traditional market-based, Western-focused economics to international development. Time spent at Harvard gave him the credentials and connections to advise the Bolivian government on its much-troubled economy. It was here where he started to realize the inefficiencies of the IMF and the World Bank, those two maligned international financial systems that are mostly accused of siding more with Western interests than in helping the poor. From there, Sachs moved on to Poland, Russia, China, and India, where he worked to stabilize monetary systems and battle Washington for donor aid. Sachs’s efforts won some hard-fought battles, as in the case of Poland–where a Zloty Stabilization Fund helped control currency conversions and prevented. He was also not so lucky with other countries. For instance, Russia’s economy lapsed just after the cold war because of the U.S.’s reluctance to finance its former rival, and the shock therapy prescriptions that economist recommended had the unintended consequences of privatizing state-controlled enterprises in hands of a privileged few.

The remaining chapters focus on the causes of extreme poverty and the solutions needed to elevate their countries’ economies. Sachs especially focuses on Africa, where HIV/AIDS, malaria, dysentery, measles, mumps, rubella, and a host of other preventable diseases ravage the population. It is truly a shame that a little preventive medicine and some drugs that are relatively inexpensive in the West are all that is needed; yet millions die because Africa cannot afford the cost. The lack of infrastructure is also problematic for an economy, since goods need to be transported and this proves difficult without adequate roads and communication. Geographic elements can also be a drain, especially in landlocked countries. Look at any map today and you will see the wealthiest areas have easy access to navigable waters.

The UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are also heavily discussed, since Professor Sachs was an advisor to then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The MDGs include halving the number of people who live in extreme poverty by 2015. This is possible, Sachs contends, but only until Western governments—especially the U.S.—fork up the money where their mouths are. The UN General Assembly wishes the West to contribute 0.7% of GNP to the MDGs. Currently, the U.S. is roughly 0.15-0.20%.

Sachs is optimistic and so was I until I read what Sachs demands what is required from the U.S. Roughly 80-100 billion dollars is needed for the next 10 or so years. This would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. I try to be an optimistic person, but aside from the Marshall Plan in World War II, the U.S. has never made such a financial commitment. The U.S. promotes capitalism as its culture, and capitalism does not spend on what it feasibly cannot calculate a return on its investment. Sachs convincingly makes a case that raising the per capita income of extremely poor countries will engender a platform of infrastructure, health, and education needed for growth–and that such growth can only help the global economy—but I find it difficult to imagine Sachs convincing the U.S. government to fork over such a large sum of money. The U.S. would rather spend such money on wars that it cannot win.

So where do we stand on the good life? I imagine that if you’re reading this, you are not living in extreme poverty—that is, you make more than 2 dollars a day. Take note that even if your circumstances seem unfortunate, there are others out there are who are even more in need, and could help from your service.
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