Early bird

One of the habits I got into since my late 20s is to begin a day early. It might be rather called an obsession over the earliest opening time of a coffee shop or so. Here at Chapel Hill (2014-), I wake up at 5am and take the first seat at Starbucks at 5:30am to start a day, unless I otherwise choose to work from home, my office, or the library. Back in Singapore (2011-2014), I used to wake up at 5am, read on my way to work, lift weights starting 6am at a fitness club one floor below, and work on personal projects at Coffee Bean near my office from 7:30am to 9am. Apparently, doing so hasn’t always led to efficiency or productivity of a desired level, yet has been of much help especially when I was off the rail without curriculum or timelines to play on.

In my early 20s, I was a night owl. The difference between a day-opener and a day-closer even between the same hard-working persons was clear to me, and I was eager to become the former, who lives on a self-constructed timeline and thus maintains evenly high productivity throughout a day, rather than the latter, who follows a given timelines and hence produces most near the end of a day or deadlines. To become the day-opener was just not as easy as I initially imagined. Whenever I tried to do so, I immediately experienced productivity loss and had to return to a life cycle of the latter as deadlines to meet approached. The result was that I continued to be a hard worker but of a latter type, being awake until around 5am most days, when I was at State College (2007-2008), Stony Brook (2007), and Suwon (2005-2006).

It was only when I got fully off the rail going neither school nor work that I was able to turn to the former, the early bird. In 2011 I failed to enter into academia and was seeking for an industry position to take on for a couple of years before reapplying to PhD programs. On top of the uncertainty coming out of my homeless status for several years, I had to deal with additional dimensions of uncertainty. Only by putting more and more structure on my days – including the early-bird habit – was I able to overcome growing anxiety during the period. As a result, my days turned tightly planned, organized, and regular more than ever before.

My reply to my mother’s then saying may well describe circumstances having faced me and my general attitudes against them. She once said that I should visit her place more often – while I was jobless as well as homeless – and listed other expectations she had on me; I seemed, not only to my mother, out of touch with society and was supposed to have no urgent things to do. There were clearly more than what was literally meant in her words. She worried about me possibly being in distress and wanted me to take a rest in her arms. I yet responded that I was managing to have my days more regular than anybody else, beginning my days earlier and ending later than the employed, and asked back how an unemployed one could ever be employed living days less organized and making lesser efforts than the employed.

Thanks to repeated exposures to high uncertainty including the one described above, I was able to turn to the former as I had long hoped, be hired to work from Singapore, and be admitted to a dreamed doctoral program in finance.

Approval rating

Certainly an oversimplification, but the approval rating of 70% or more amounts to populism promised or implemented at the expense of next generations, and the approval rating of 30% or below implies firm, but short-of-strategy pursuit of principles, if not incompetence. Just around 50% is, I assume, arguably an optimum in highly-divided societies with an ever-increasing conflict of interests amongst constituents. To achieve the “ideal” rating, what is needed is to compromise policies of lower priority, at least temporarily, not to lose ground and make things work at times with the rating below 50% and push forward policies of higher priority at time with the rating above 50%.

It is yet a balance that is hard to achieve. One reason is that the balance builds on leaders armed with both strategy and philosophy, who are surprisingly rare to be found or elected to take important seats. They belong to either a representative of the privileged, who is short of philosophy, or an advocate of the havenots and the middle class, who is short of strategy. This is, however, the problem that is not of individual leaders but of democracy per se as a system. The more the economy grows as a result of the pursuit of self-interests in a democratic society, the more divided the society is and the harder It is to have a balanced leader serve people. As such, only the countries – particularly between more advanced, so more divided, ones – that retain thick the middle class from which common senses are generated possibly have such a balanced leader seated at key posts and take steps forward.

Guilty conscience

Since I moved to the United States last summer, I have suffered a guilty conscience for my mere presence abroad whenever I read about Korea. What are addressed in news articles have been those with a direct and immediate impact on my family and friends and few of them have been transient. They have been about social justice destroyed and growth potential undermined at the huge expense of generations to come. Of the reasons I am here is to help my country move forward by means of independent, long-term research. But, I am already afraid of a rising possibility that my lifetime role for my country is limited to a recovery rather than an advance. Another thing is that to follow current issues in Korea, which has been unavoidable for years given their consequence and my role as a social scientist, has brought about a substantial loss in my productivity. It wouldn’t be, I presume, different for other overseas Koreans. Another big expense we Koreans all together are bearing.

First soccer championship at Chapel Hill

Last Saturday I and my classmates formed a team and won the 6-on-6 tournament hosted by the Orange County Adult Soccer League. Eight teams signed up for the tournament and played four 40-minute games each – the first three games in two groups and the last game against teams paired by the ranking within each group. It was the second time to play formally at Chapel Hill; I played intramural soccer last fall with UNC economics PhD students where our performance wasn’t as good as we initially expected. On top of the intramural soccer, there are off-campus opportunities to play soccer at Chapel Hill. This small city has three adult soccer leagues including the OCASL, the fact that surprised me and most other new comers. It offers me rich opportunities to run with guys who I work with. I am really grateful for that.