C is for Chaos

24 05 2012

TEDxMongKok: chaos.

Chaos Strikes TEDxMongKok!

But not to worry – something good came out of it: ideas worth spreading.

C is for Chaos, but it’s also for choice, consumption, creativity, control, challenge, change, community, crowd-sourcing, and construction. In a world of confusion and mayhem (and might I add, a world that is supposed to end this year), TEDxMongKok today posed the very crucial question: how can we thrive if the new world order is chaos? Together, speakers, participants, organisers and volunteers all searched for the elusive answer.

Let’s start with the first C: choice.

What role will choices play in a world defined by chaos?
Dr Sheena Iyengar enlightened us all with a most fascinating talk about choices.  Here’s what stood out for me from her presentation:

  • Something to think about: How many decisions do we make a day – small decisions, large decisions, quick decisions, slow decisions?
  • Leadership and choices:Leaders today have to make decisions all the time, day in day out – but are they making the right choices? In today’s complex world, it’s no longer about economies of scale, but rather economies of networks. To manage complexity, we need good leaders who can make good choices.
  • Today’s three leadership problems: 1) What should be done? 2) What information is needed? 3) Who can help me, who can I help?
  • Information overload: the information overload we are experiencing is the equivalent of 174 newspapers a day. Yep. The question is,  how can we best use human social and institutional capital to make the best decisions?
  • Networks: How did Mark Zuckerberg go from a socially awkward guy to a multibillionaire? He understood networks. Leaders today are the DNA of their networks – so the importance of making good choices is all the greater.

As I make my choices from now on, I’ll consciously be asking myself – how have I arrived at making this choice? Have I used enough information to make my choice? Am I leveraging networks in making this choice?

China: what’s her place in a world of chaos?
Zhang Lijia 
then posed the question, what’s China’s place in the world today? The most memorable snippet from her deeply personal presentation was her reminder that much of the fear over China’s relentless rise is understandable, and yet much of it is also due to ignorance. To understand China, one must think out of the box. So let’s educate ourselves about China, approach it with an open mind, and acknowledge that China – whether we like it or not – is here to stay in today’s chaotic world. Whether she can make the world less chaotic or worsen the chaos remains to be seen…

A monk, a hippie and a baby. Chaotic combo? Not if you’re at TEDxMongKok!

Chaos of Consumption
Consumption. We all need it. We need to consume to survive. And yet this word has gathered so much negativity that it has evolved to carry connotations of gluttony, greed, selfish indulgence. Chandran Nair very perceptively presented us with a paradox: Asian countries have been urged to consume to boost the world economy, and yet are slammed for skyrocketing emissions. What does this say about the consumption-driven growth model?

  • The consumption model is outdated. It shaped the 19th and 20th centuries, but the 21st century is desperately calling for a new model.
  • 4 major trends of the 21st century: 1) the human population peaking 2) CO2 levels reaching unprecedented heights 3) technology everywhere 4) the old economic model crumbling….together these four trends mean that we can no longer rely on consumption.
  • Resource management as the center of all policy making. Asia needs a new model – not the consumption model, but one that is real, that manages limited resources, and that strengthens the state – because only governments can effectively do sustainability.

The 8th Mass Medium
We started with print, recordings, cinema, radio, TV, internet and mobile as the 7 mass mediums. What’s the eighth going to be? Tomi Ahonen  proposes that is is augmented reality. He raised a very interesting point about the advance of mobile technology: back in the 60s NASA used computer power to launch shuttles…today we use the iPhone to launch Angry Birds! Mobile has exploded (in a good way) – now it’s time for augmented reality to trot along. Some questions that I asked myself during the presentation:

  • How will augmented reality redefine the world?
  • Will augmented reality really redefine the world?
  • If so, will augmented interfere with our intellectual sovereignty?

It’s all a bit abstract for the moment, but I’ll make sure to keep an eye on the development of augmented reality.

Brr…don’t we love that wonderful word. Work. In fact, we spend an average of 81,000 hours at work in our lifetime. So we’d better work on something we love then, hadn’t we? Jared King gave us a shocking statistic: only 20% of us are actively engaged in work. There is an absolute epidemic of boredom at work – and this is a problem. Time and resources are being wasted. More importantly, talent is being wasted.

“The most wasted resource on earth is talent” – Jared King

What we need, therefore, is a way to revolutionise the concept of work, to re-engineer the world of work, to change the way we work in order to effect good, positive results. The secret to great work, says Jared, is to find that sweetspot between chaos and control.

Dancers flood the stage, disrupting Professor Kay Ottik’s (get it?) ‘presentation’. It’s all part of the chaos!


I couldn’t stay for the entire conference, but here’s the conclusion I’ve drawn from today’s stimulating presentations:





If they can run, so can I.

25 04 2012

What an experience.

Eye-opening, hugely motivational and quite simply, amazing – such was the All China Junior Athletics Championships 2012. Now as I try to adjust back to study-leave life at school, my mind is not on my upcoming exams, but rather the track that I raced on, the elite runners whom I saw, the 11 minutes and 55 seconds that I ran.

My event was the 3000m steeplechase, and this was my second timer ever to run it. I had first run the steeplechase only a few weeks back, clocking a time of 12:12. Coming to the All China Junior Athletics Championships, my mindset had been to run my own race, against myself. Realistically, there was no way that I would be able to compete with the mainland Chinese athletes – they simply much more experience. My goal, therefore, was to break the 12 minute mark. And I did!

The Changzhou Olympic Sports Stadium. Pretty fancy.

My water hurdles were atrocious, my pacing fluctuated wildly (fastest lap was 87 seconds, slowest lap was 99.99), I was quite nearly lapped by the winner, and I finished 11th out of the 12 runners. Nevertheless I was thrilled with my result – I had slashed 17 seconds off my previous time and set a new Hong Kong Junior Record.

What was also very exciting was seeing the elite Chinese athletes in action. Prior to this race, mainland Chinese athletes to me had always just been an abstract blur in the distance – a standard too high to even consider trying to reach. Not any more. Actually seeing them run and racing together with them has eliminated that psychological barrier, and has served as a reminder that they too are young female Chinese runners like me.

And if they can run that fast, so can I.

That, I think, is what I’m taking away from this race. If those girls can run a 3000m steeplechase in 10:19, there’s nothing to stop me from doing the same. All I have to do is train hard and train smart. I’ve completed the challenge of representing HK and running my first ever national-level race. The next challenge now is running the steeplechase in 11:30…and who knows, maybe even 11:00!

Some of my fellow HK teammates, along with the super-cool Coach Paul.

Doing a bit of history revision in my hotel room.

A bit of exploring

In between training and racing, I went out exploring the streets of Changzhou. Armed with my iPhone (I had been too lazy to lug my DSLR to China), I finally gave iPhoneography a proper try. Here are some of my favourites shots.

Woof!! As I bent down to snap a photo of this little puppy, he flinched and barked at me!

This lady was just casually knitting on the street.

Who's da boss?

Mmm...street food. This was a kind of crepe/pancake, with an egg cracked over it and garnished with pickles, spring onions, parsley, gravy and a small fried cracker.

Close up of the crepe/pancake in the making.

Sesame oven baked puff pastries. Yum.

The Next Challenge

17 04 2012


In less than 24 hours I will be traveling to China to represent Hong Kong in the All China Junior Athletics Championships, held in Changzhou, Jiangsu this year. This will be my first time to run at a national level – the first time to run for Hong Kong. It will also be the first time to race outside of Hong Kong, and the second time I run the 3000m steeplechase (I ran it for the first time less than 3 weeks ago).Yes, that’s definitely a lot of ‘firsts’!

Naturally, I’m feeling an exhilarating concoction of excitement, anticipation, nervousness and a tinge of something which I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s a mixture of pride, of wanting to rise to a challenge, of wanting to excel and be my own champion. Is there a word for that? Maybe not – but I’ll let you know when I find it.

Like I said, this will be my second time ever to run the 3000m steeplechase. My expectations for the race, therefore, have to be realistic. I’ll be running against Chinese runners – that in itself is already intimidating enough. But add to that the fact that they will probably all have already run the event many times before, and the intimidating, daunting feeling multiplies! What I’ll be aiming for is to gain valuable experience, to perform my personal best, to push myself, to realise new potentials. Concretely, I would like to finish in or under 12 minutes.

Achievable? I think so.

‘It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be’ – that’s how I’ll be going into the race!

Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting…

13 03 2012

As part of Project Week, a yearly week-long excursion that forms part of our United World Colleges education, I led a trip up to the city of Dengfeng – home to the mighty Mt. Song and the world famous birthplace of kung fu, the Shaolin Temple – where we experienced a week of intensive kung fu training. Here are some photos to tell the tale of our kung fu endeavours…

Here you see kids at the Shaolin E-Po Wushu School. These students would be running around everywhere during recess, practicing their kicks and punches and just generally developing very good stamina and agility without realising it! It was amazing to see how disciplined they all were – at one point we saw a line of about 10 boys, all squatting down on and moving slowly across the school yard, carefully picking up dirt from between the floor tiles.

Our daily training schedule was quite similar to theirs, although the intensity of our sessions would probably pale in comparison. Here’s a taste of a day’s training:

At 5:30am every morning we would quickly warm up, then go out into the cold and run along the empty streets of Dengfeng. All along the way we would see other students running in perfect formation, chanting ‘1, 1, 1-2-1’ in immaculate unison while we fumbled along, each running at our own speeds. Then we would return to the training center for some stretching, kicks and agility exercise, finishing up at around 6:45am.

Our second training session would begin at 9:00am until 11:30am. Again we would warm up, jog around the mat, stretch, kick, do lots of jumps and spins, and move on to practicing our routine. Stretching is a big part of each session…as is the pain that comes along with it!

After a quick lunch and perhaps a stroll around town we begin our last training session of the day at 2:00pm till 4:30pm. This would be very similar to the 9:00am session and afterwards we would all stay behind, playing around with various jumps, flips and kicks. By 9pm most of us will be fast asleep in bed, ready to start at 5:30am the next morning all over again!

We arrived on Sunday and as there is no training, we visited the Shaolin Temple.For some of us it was the first time to see snow…

The excitement as some of us touch snow for the first time!

Up we go to visit the Dharma Cave, climbing up large concrete steps. The Mt. Song mountain range stretched before us, the Shaolin Temple slowly diminished in size below us, and the landscape became progressively more snowy. Hmm…very Zen like.

A nice warm up for the coming week of intensive training!

Bodhidharma supposedly meditated in this cave for nine years, facing a wall and not speaking for the entire time. Talk about being patient and profound!

Here you have Leila practicing a kung fu stance (pu bu) on a tree.

On the second last day of the trip, we visited the Song Yang Academy and also did a short hike up to the entrance of the Songshan National Park. Halfway up the hike there was a little house, where some villagers were burning offerings for their ancestors, while others huddled around cooking noodles for lunch. This lady gave me the glare as I tried to peep in through the doorway…She seems to be telling me, ‘Tourist, you shall not pass!’.

At the Songyang Academy, we all walked around a small pond three times. Folklore has it that doing so will get you top grades. Naturally, we all dropped our bags down and proceeded to circle the pond three times.

This is our instructor Coach Jia’s two year old son. We asked him whether he would have his son practice kung fu, and he told us that it would really be up to his son to decide whether he liked kung fu or not. It’s interesting to see a  liberal parenting mindset as this coming from our coach, who has been practicing kung fu for 20 years. A helpful reminder that not all Chinese parents are Tiger Mums or Eagle Dads!