Things I wish would happen in this decade

I am about a few days late into 2020 for this kind of activity, but who cares? What makes it personally tricky for me is to balance between imagination and reality, wishes and my estimation of feasibility. I gave it some thoughts and here are a few things that I wish would happen in this decade.

Higher public transportation usage

I am a big fan of public transportation. If done right, what’s there not to like about it? Having lived in Vietnam and the US, which are not known for public transit, I wish there would be a dramatic increase in the use of buses, metros and trains in exchange for a reduction in car ownership and usage.

Converting image and voice to processible data

A lot of information is stored in oral content and images. Nowadays, it is possible to extract such information, yet it takes a lot of time and resources. 10 years from now, I definitely wish that it would be a lot easier and cheaper.

Change of focus in public education

More attention to personal finance, reading, writing, literature, nutrition, cooking and life skills please

Code by voice

I was running into a coding problem at work lately. It was more of a data manipulation kind. The task could be done at the expense of a great deal of effort. It made me wonder how better it would be if we could dictate computers to execute low-level code. Of course, we can’t just tell computers to “write me an Airbnb application”. Such a task as “get me the accounts that were inactive for the last three months but active for more than three months within the last year” or “compare for me the spend of customers at stores during the holiday season year over year”. That would be tremendously helpful for our society.

Augmented presentation of content

I struggled to label this one. I didn’t know how to call it exactly. We all have seen it in movies. One flick of the fingers and more information is presented in 3D in front of our eyes, like this picture below from Avengers. Imagine if at work we could just get the graphs from Excel, use our hands to place them into Power Point, seize them by our will easily and write the caption by voice. The productivity would increase by multiple folds

Tony Stark studying the Tesseract in 'The Avengers.'
Source: Venture Capital Post

Venture into space

The Earth surface isn’t expanding, yet human race is. We already exceeded the 7 billion mark and I wouldn’t be surprised if we surpassed the 8 billion mark ten years from now. That puts a lot of pressure on Mother Nature and ourselves. We need nature which doesn’t need us. Hence, I wish to see more ventures into space to see what is out there.

More people will have access to sufficient healthcare and fewer will die from diseases that are terminal today

Healthcare in America is ridiculously expensive. Some drugs like insulin can bankrupt patients and so can a trip to an ER. Folks in poor countries crave for access to better care and there are still diseases against which we seem powerless. I wish there would be some advances on healthcare universally.

I would love to have more peace, kindness, compassion and empathy in the world. Sadly, I fear that would be hard. I fear that isolationism and nationalism will rise. I fear that the ugly side of the world won’t get much prettier. My hope is that the mechanism that brings the ugliness to daylight will be used to shed more light to the beauty of the world.

Connecting the dots looking backward

“You can only connect the dots looking backward” – I think those words or something along that line came from Steve Jobs.

When I was 15, I joined High School for the Gifted, a high school that was 20 mins from my home. I was the first person in the family that went to a high school outside of a 10-min radius from my place. All the years studying maths in secondary school led me to sign up for the entrance exam to the maths class at that high school. I failed by 0.5 points. I thought that was it, but I was offered a second chance to join either the IT, Chemistry or Physics class. I chose the latter despite knowing almost zero about physics. When I graduated, I didn’t know much either. Back then, I didn’t even know what a USB was and I was certainly clueless about A LOT of things. But my friends and peers saved me. Their wanting to go overseas motivated me to follow suit and enabled me to dare to dream. The seed was planted in those days and I started to plot my way to go overseas.

After high school, I took on the SAT mission. I couldn’t remember the score anymore, but it wasn’t high enough to secure a scholarship. Two months after the SAT test, I passed the entrance exam to a polytechnic university in Finland. Back in the day, education was free in Finland, even for foreigners. My family’s finance wasn’t great. As a result, I took that chance to go and study in Finland. A few months after coming to Finland, I used my SAT to get into Aalto University, the best university in Finland. That turn of events opened the doors for me later which led me to the University of Nebraska at Omaha and America several years after.

Around 2015, I was working in the Marketing department for a small hotel in Hoi An, Vietnam. Being small and lacking personnel, our hotel didn’t have a designated person to take care of revenue management. I volunteered to assume such responsibility since I was eager to learn and felt comfortable with numbers. Little did I know that the experience was the answer in the interview 4 years later that landed me my current job.

It has been 10 years since the first date I went overseas for the first time. A little more than that since the day I walked into my high school. A lot of things happened and even though it felt insignificant at the time, the events usually took place for a reason and led to bigger consequences later in my life. Like Steve said, we can only connect the dots looking backward. My point is that if you stumble upon this post and read this humble account of a Vietnamese stranger, keep in mind that whatever you go through may pay dividends later. Well, it may also bring about consequences, but a Friday night does call for a little extra optimism, doesn’t it?

Price of freedom

Before I arrived in the US, I planned to learn to drive and get a car within the first 6 months or one year at the latest. Fast forward to now, I met the target two years behind the original plan.

To a person who hadn’t driven before and lives alone in the US, learning to drive is challenging and expensive. I paid $350 to take classroom lessons and 6 hours of training to drive in order to get the permit. Once I got the permit, I needed a car to practice and get a license. But I was in no financial position to afford a car and all the expenses that come with it such as training, parking, insurance, gas, registration and maintenance.

So I aborted the plan to drive and arranged myself so that I wouldn’t have to drive to either school or work. The arrangement saved me money, but incurred a great deal of inconvenience as I relied on the infamously terrible public transit in Omaha.

Finally, when I got my driving license and bought a vehicle, I felt liberated. No more waiting for the buses in the cold. No more rushing to make it to the bus stop in time. No more inconvenience when the destinations are out of the buses’ reach. No more asking for favor from friends. I gained much needed freedom, freedom that comes with expenses and constant risks. It doesn’t matter how well you can drive, there is always a risk of accidents. Since I purchased the car, my expenses have gone up significantly every month.

That’s the price of freedom. As true as sun rises in the East and sets in the West, freedom is hard and expensive to come by. We have to work and pay for it. Yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s too sweet. Too precious.

Only 3% of this decade left

We are a few hours away from saying goodbye to August and welcoming September. If we split a year into three parts and look at the second decade of this century as a whole, around 97% of it is already gone.

It was like yesterday that I hit the beginning of my 20s. Now I am almost heading towards the magical 30. The last decade has seen me study abroad in Finland, Canada and now the US, and go back & work in Vietnam. I used to be a hot-headed rash dude with a severe lack of patience and a poisonous ego. Though I believe I got better, I am still a work in process and there is indeed a lot to be done.

I used to place a lot of value on titles and income. Now, being healthy and free to choose matters a whole lot more.

I used to love going to parties and getting drunk with friends. Now, a quiet uneventful night to work and think means a lot more.

I’d like to believe that I became wiser than when I was 20. Wiser, not still wise yet. Wisdom comes from experience which comes from decisions and usually painful regrets. The older I am, the more I believe that you come to appreciate certain lessons only at a certain phase in your life. If you had told me to focus more on inner peace and happiness instead of flashy materialistic things when I was fresh out of college, I wouldn’t have listened as much as I do now. Nor would I have appreciated the value of patience as much. It’s like you come to understand a book better only when you are older.

Ideally, I would prefer the same amount of gained wisdom with fewer painful regrets. Sometimes, it’s hard to get over some moments when I ponder “what ifs”. Still, if I have to measure the progress I made as a human-being over the last decade, a positive number is still better than a negative one or a zero. At least, there is that.

Summer is crawling to a close. A pity since I enjoy the energy, warmth and light. I am ready for what awaits in the remaining months of this decade and for the next. I hope it will be good. I am not sure I can say I am ready for Midwestern winter.

Reforestation

I came across a cool and quite encouraging video on reforestation in Ethiopia. As the climate change concern grows louder every day, it’s great to see such an effort from the African country

Reforestation doesn’t happen only in Ethiopia. According to Human Progress, 31% of the Earth is covered in forest. Moreover, rich areas such as UK, North Korea and Europe possess more forests than they did decades ago.

The article also said that developing countries such as China, India, Vietnam, Russia and Bangladesh have hit a critical mark of $4,500 GDP Per Capita (forest transition) and achieved net afforestation. Though I do doubt that my country has $4,500 GDP Per Capita or net afforestation, it’s a positive observation.

The news from Ethiopia is probably the first positive event since the horrific weekend. It brought smile to my face. Good things are done everywhere in the world and we need them more than ever.

Struggling to find the right balance

These days, I often find myself in the middle of these dilemmas:

Work on the weekends or enjoy the summer

Some recommend that to get ahead of others, you work on the weekends or when others are not. The logic makes sense. If you work properly, the more hours are put in, the better you should become. Yet, there is another side of me that wants to enjoy this beautiful summer. Midwest winter is hard. It’s unpredictable, it’s cold, it’s winter and it’s lengthy. Summer days are long in demand, but shorter in supply. I constantly struggle to choose which path I should follow in this regard

Set ambitious goals or stay relaxed and spontaneous

I used to be a goal-setting & future-oriented kind of a guy, yet I have worked to be more spontaneous and scale back my obsession with goal setting. It was good till I reflected upon what has been achieved for the first 6 months of the year and what lies ahead in the other 6. I found myself lacking. I found myself becoming a bit complacent. The urge to stay spontaneous and in the moment is still there, but perhaps I should mix it with some ambitious goals to give myself a push. The question is: what constitutes the right balance?

Sleep more or do more

Besides my day job, I commit myself to regular reading, working out, exploring the city, meeting new people and side projects such as this blog. Sometimes, travel sneaks into the to-do list like a thief as well. What I want to do keeps growing and growing while time doesn’t. As a fan of the Why We Sleep book, I understand the importance of sufficient sleep. I do want to sleep at least 8 hours a day, but I also want to do as much as possible when youth is still on my side. If I want an easy life later on, I need to work hard now. But as Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep, said: once you lose sleep time, there is no way to get it back.

These questions and dilemmas need answering and solving quickly. The longer I have them unsolved and unanswered, the more time will be lost. Yet it’s not easy. Not easy to make a decision without full information. Or not easy to live with the consequences. Either way, I need to find a balance soon.

Passport, Signal of Trust and Credibility

A new ranking by a Singapore-based consulting firm saw Vietnamese passport climb up a few positions compared to last year, even though it still belongs to the bottom tier. As of this year, Vietnamese citizens can travel to 61 countries where there is no visa requirement or visas can be issued upon arrival.

What does a passport signal actually?

It signals to the destination countries how trustworthy, credible and civil the passport holder is likely going to be. For instance, a US passport holder can travel to more than 100 countries without visa restrictions since being a US citizen signals that he or she comes with the credibility of the US as a nation. Meanwhile, since Vietnam is a poor country with less credibility, the citizens can only travel to 61 countries visa-free.

That’s on a macro level.

However, I have lived in 3 Western countries and traveled to more than 10 different nations without any blemish on my civil profile, not even a parking ticket. My personal track record should be sufficient for other countries to trust me. Instead, a Nebraskan who never boards a plane before can go to Canada tomorrow without a visa while I will have to apply for one and next-day trips are, hence, out of question.

The asymmetry of information and the lack of credibility of a nation that cascades down to its citizens create a lot of problems and inconvenience for some individuals.

I wish there would be a blockchain-based system in which past records are impossible to alter unless perpetrators like to waste a huge amount of computing power, information is secure and everybody can access. That way, credibility can be assessed on an individual level, not a national one.

By the way, if you are fortunate enough to be born with a powerful passport, do travel. Don’t take it for granted. Explore the world and have some compassion towards less fortunate others. Just like me, many wish to travel freely, but can’t.