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Great Falls

Albert and I made the trip out to Great Falls today. We ran the technical Billy Goat Trail and it was a necessary respite from the trials at work. The sunset alone was worth the hike up.

Once we got back to the ranger station we kept hearing animal calls that sounded like ambient blood curdling screaming, a normal night in Great Falls.

National Geographic Nights: America’s Last Wild Places

Danny Kinka, Wildlife Restoration Manager at the American Prairie Reserve, discussing his work with Montana ranchers.

National Geographic has a regular series of events that I would like to attend more of. The three storytellers tonight spoke on topics related to public lands and it was well worth attending.

Visit to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab

I wrote a short piece on Defenders of Wildlife’s Medium site detailing my visit to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory. It’s one of the many topics that I knew next to nothing about and I’m glad I was able to meet some experts in the field.

I have also been a long time fan of Atlas Obscura and I was happy to see that they’ve done a profile of the lab before.

 

An elephant’s face confiscated from wildlife traffickers.

Lab Director Ken Goddard with a bottle of confiscated Vietnamese snake wine.

Forensic scientist Johnnie French and venomous snakes seized from a Las Vegas teenager’s bedroom. The snakes have been frozen for storage and proper handling.

Hijab and MAGA

Returning home, I came across this contrast between a Muslim woman and a Trump supporter from North Carolina. Thanks to my friend, Lew Gordon, for pointing out the Carolina Hurricanes T-Shirt.

Mentors and The Trip Out West

It’s almost a cliché now to say that one or several people can change the trajectory of your entire life. I came back from my visit to Oregon earlier this month with a renewed sense of how important these people have been to me. Three years ago, a single scholarship application and acceptance through the Asian American Government Executives Network (AAGEN) enabled me to meet who I now consider to be one of my closest confidants and friends. A chance meeting before my scholarship reception at AAGEN’s annual conference blossomed into a relationship that has blunted the trauma of graduate school in New York and other experiences new and old. Teiko is an extraordinary woman. Born in a Japanese internment camp, she rose to become the first Asian American woman to and to serve as the Assistant Director of International Affairs in the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Hers is a story of a lifetime of resilience.

Having moved to a retirement community in Medford, Oregon from Alexandria, Virginia this past summer, Teiko and Don invited me to their new place to spend a week in the Rogue Valley region. It had been almost a year since I last saw Teiko in person at graduation. The trip was much too short given the amount of time we were apart but we still had time to add two more national parks to my list.

Traveling to the redwood forests of Redwood National Park in northern California, Don, Teiko, and me caught up on the local controversy involving the proposed construction of a pipeline meant to export oil and gas from Canada to an export terminal with ships bound for Asia. A former Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Don has been working diligently as a political operator to find out who and what needs to be done to stop this project. This is the type of retirement, one of continued civic activism that I aspire to. On our drive through the forest, it really takes you by surprise how immense these trees are.

Prior to coming to Oregon, Teiko was concerned that we may not be able to make it to Crater Lake National Park due to the snow and the breakdown off all three NPS snow trucks. Fortunately, we made it and I took a trip snowshoeing with one of the park rangers, Dave Grimes, on staff. I really appreciated Dave’s park interpretation where he emphasized how disruptive climate change has been to the park, including the rise of invasive species—including a beetle that is killing the whitebark pine—and the reduction in snowfall that will have an enormous impact on the local ecosystem. I was saddened to hear that even though a chemical remedy exists that deters the beetles from killing the trees, due to its expense its use has been restricted to about 50 trees that are close to scenic routes.

More to come…

 

I’m about 170 cm to give you some impression of how tall these trees are.

 

Crater Lake and Wizard Island.

Whitebark pines killed by the mountain pine beetle.

The Urban Wildlife Conservation Program

I wrote a piece over on Defenders of Wildlife’s Medium website commemorating the 116th anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Most people know about the National Park System, but there’s another system entirely that belongs to the American people. Those who know me can attest to how memorable I found working for the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that manages the refuge system. Spending my summer of ’17 working in Hadley and living in Amherst, Massachusetts was the best summer of my life. I want to thank Chelsi Burns, Sharon Marino, Mike Horne, Christine Eustis, and countless others for making me consider a career in conservation a worthwhile pursuit.

Visiting the Greenway Renewal Project as part of the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership in Elizabeth, NJ. From left to right: Jonathan Phillips, Alex Kasdin, me, Mike Horne, and Chelsi Burns.

Me and my mentor, Teiko Saito, at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

2018 in Review

Three continents, twelve countries, thirty-five cities. No, I am not a rock musician or a jet-setting diplomat. I am just an ordinary guy who decided that I wanted to live and work abroad, so I did just that. Part of the reason I started this blog was to give my friends and family a way to keep in touch with me thousands of miles away anywhere in the world.

For about a year, I lived in my adopted country of Singapore where I finished up a graduate program and interned at a tech company. I also began keeping a diary regularly, the contents of which I may post someday. 2018 was possibly the year with the largest upheavals in my life personally and professionally. I got out of a seven-year relationship, moved four times, turned 30, and transitioned from higher education into an environmental NGO. It was also a year of firsts: I spoke to an audience that included the former Prime Minister of Singapore, hiked the French Alps, got proselytized by a scooter rental salesman who invited me to dinner in Taiwan, met with Ralph Nader for three days, and ate poutine. In each of these situations I was taken out of the familiar and set myself up for randomness. When there was an opportunity to do something that was somewhat different, I did it. Tell the graduation committee that you are interested in telling stories? That morphs into a speech in front of your entire graduating class with the former Prime Minister laughing at your jokes. Take a bus from New York with a Frenchman from Brittany you met online to Rowe, Massachusetts to learn from Ralph Nader for three days? That morphs into visiting his chalet in Saint-Gervais-les-Bains and hiking in the French Alps. Help a friend find a place to stay? He has a job opportunity open up for you in Geneva. The relationships I made during my travels make me consider living abroad to be one of the most important things I have done.

A question that comes up often is how was I able to afford this. A big part of my funding came from grants and frequent flier miles. Some of my friends have asked me how do you get started if you want to learn and travel abroad on the cheap. My advice if you want to do this is that there are so many opportunities out there for motivated people. Higher education in Asia and Europe is far more financially generous than the ones in the United States for ordinary students. Also, if you can learn to budget carefully, you will be surprised how far a stipend can take you.

 

Singapore’s nerd prom
A political prisoner, an activist, and an environmentalist walk into a bar…
With Dean Danny Quah after my speech
The end of a workshop with a great American, Ralph Nader
My grandma and aunt Chui
Hanging out before the hard work began at the UNLEASH Sustainable Development Goals Innovation Lab
The Myanmar doctor at the base of Mont Joly
KISS principle for parties

Move to DC and Books

For the past month, I have slowly moved my nomadic life into routine and order. It’s been a steep learning curve adjusting back into a 9-5 schedule. Coming from the past three years where I more or less set my own hours, I’m not sure how long it will take me to get used to this new rigidity. New life, new rules. It does feel good to work in environmental policy again, though. Plenty of time to catch up on some reading.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

I enjoyed this book so much I recommended it anyone who feels like they have the drive to change the world. It explores the dark side of this wish with an author who was an insider to an industrial complex of those who want to do good by doing well. He is skeptical that the best way to drive change is through private philanthropy rather than democratic institutions that are accountable to the people. “To take on a problem is to make it your own, and to gain the right to decide what it is not and how it doesn’t need to be solved.”

I also recommend reading his interview in the Baffler where he goes into anecdotes that he didn’t cover in the book.

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Now that Facebook is facing greater scrutiny about its business ethics, there is a greater negative focus on the actions Sheryl Sandberg took to grow Facebook. Does that color her advice to young women climbing the corporate ladder (or in some cases Asian men)? I think on some level you need to have a personality that drives you to be ruthless if you want to end up at the top in corporate America. This book is not a recipe to become an asshole but rather the advice she gives is catered to someone who is ambitious but does not disagree fundamentally with the way corporate America is set up.

Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is a very good writer. The cast of characters, from Hulk Hogan to Nick Denton to Peter Thiel, could have been from a Shakespearean tragedy. From the downfall of Hulk Hogan to the bankruptcy of Gawker, and the outing of Thiel you get to see first hand the hubris that happens when a lot money and access drive people to do stupid things.

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

Thanks to my friend, Katharine Glanbock, for recommending this. This is the first Murakami book I have finished and I was not disappointed.  Some of the lines that stuck out to me:

“”May I help you, please,” he said, sending a midrange smile my way with a polite bow of the head. When he noted my attire, however, the smile was quickly adjusted down three notches…No fault of mine, only a difference in life-style.”

“Gazing at the rain, I consider what it means to belong, to become part of something, To h ave someone cry for me. From someplace distant, so very distant. From, ultimately, a dream. No matter how far I reach out, no matter how fast I run, I’ll never make it. Why would anyone want to cry for me?”

“We never argued, not once. We knew exactly what we wanted in each other. And even so, it ended. One day it stopped, as if the film simply slipped off the reel.”

My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley by Ben Casnocha

I was surprised how long it took me to read this book. I have been regularly following Ben’s blog since high school and he has influenced me from the way I approach personal finance to how I launched my first start-up. I think the wow factor is that Ben started his own successful software company at the age of 14, building it into one of the most influential products used by city managers in the country. This book chronicles his experiences navigating high school while working as the founder of a company with clients that stretched throughout California. No matter what age you are, you can learn a lot about the struggles one goes through when starting something new that is very high risk and where the outcome is uncertain.

 

Partnerships for Parks Event in NYC on 2018/10/23

I’m participating in an event at the Manny Cantor Center hosted by the Partnerships Academy called Community Connections 2018: An Evening of Networking for Park Group Leaders.  The NYC Parks Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh and City Parks Foundation Executive Director Heather Lubov will be speaking to and honoring those interested in preserving and protecting green spaces. If you want to learn more about the work being done to preserve and protect green spaces in NYC, come join us. I hope to see you there.

Book Review: The Three Body Problem

Since I was young, I have enjoyed a good science fiction story. Childhood’s End and Dune remain some of my favorite books. So I was happy I had time while working in Geneva to read The Three-Body Problem, a story that combines politics, religion, the environmental movement, an alien invasion, and spans decades of modern Chinese history. Thanks to my friend, Yee Chern Yap, for the recommendation.

On its surface, the book is about an impending alien invasion. The aliens, only being able to travel at a fraction of the speed of light, will not arrive for another 400 years. Humanity must grapple with this fact and prepare itself in the intervening period. The governments of the United States and China put aside their differences to unite against this existential threat. Globally, factions have developed, some welcoming the alien invaders while others plan to resist. However, the book richly covers the geopolitical state of China during the Cultural Revolution and its legacy on the characters up to the present day.

The environmental movement also plays an important role in the story. The author devotes a chapter to the effect the book, Silent Spring, had on one of the characters, Ye Wenjie, an astrophysicist sent to the countryside to do manual labor: cutting down forests. Unfortunately, because of the book’s origin in the ‘imperialist’ United States, Ye ends up being imprisoned and ultimately rescued, setting the stage for the rest of the book.

The Cultural Revolution is a very personal event for my family. My grandfather was imprisoned as one of those who had associations with the Soviet Union. He had studied chemical engineering in Kiev and became suspect as relations worsened between the two communist countries. Reading about the struggle sessions and the persecution of the innocent reminded me of the stories my grandparents and parents would tell me about that period.

Although a work of fiction, the author captured the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and personalized it, an entire generation lost.

“At the end, and adult and a child stand in front of the grave of a Red Guard who had died during the faction civil wars. The child asks the adult, ‘Are they heroes?’ The adult says no. The child asks, ‘Are they enemies?’ The adult again says no. The child asks, ‘Then who are they?’ The adult says, ‘History.'”

There were a few political history nuggets strewn about the book, this was my favorite:

“One time, during a political study session, I announced that China should cease to be a separate country and join the USSR as a member republic.”

I’m not sure if that was genuinely a contemporary thought for the Chinese intelligentsia. This was the first time I encountered this idea.

Some other passages I liked:

“”More than three hundred years! A dozen generations. When this tree was but a shrub, it was still the Ming Dynasty. During all these years, can you imagine how many storms it had weathered, how many events it had witnessed? But in a few minutes you cut it down. You really felt nothing?” “What do you want me to feel?” Ma Gang gave a blank look, “It’s just a tree. The only things we don’t lack around here are trees. There are plenty of other trees much older than this one.” “It’s alright. Go back to work.” Bai shook his head, sat down on the stump, and sighed.””

“Everything was warm and intense: the heated kang stove-beds lined with thick layers of ura sedge, the Guandong and Mohe tobacco stuffed in copper pipes, the thick and heavy sorghum meal, the sixty-five-proof baijiu distilled from sorghum–all of these blended into a quiet and peaceful life, like the creek at the edge of the village.”

“From time to time, I would gaze up at the stars after a night shift and think that they looked like a glowing desert, and I myself was a poor child abandoned in the desert…The universe was an empty palace, and humankind the only ant in the entire palace. This kind of thinking infused the second half of my life with a conflicted mentality: Sometimes I thought life was precious, and everything was so important; but other times I thought humans were insignificant, and nothing was worthwhile. Anyway, my life passed day after day accompanied by this strange feeling, and before I knew it, I was old…”

Overall, I found the book enjoyable to read although I thought the description of the alien’s society mirrored too closely with humanity which made it less interesting. With that being said, I came away from the book feeling that maybe we do need an impending alien invasion to have humanity focus away from our meaningless infighting.