Beyond the Taj

Bike your way to the 14th-century ruins of Hampi… Climb 350 steps to the 30 magnificent rock-cut caves of Ajanta … Rejuvenate in the ‘Shikara’ on the Alleppey Backwaters … There are a plethora of things to do and experience during your next vacation in India, beyond your Taj Mahal visit, and believe me, these ‘other’ sites are as breathtaking as the ‘Taj’. In this article, I will briefly introduce you to some of my favorite holiday destinations in India. Architectural and scenic beauty, combined with state-of-the-art tourism infrastructures, these destinations will revivify your five senses. So, pack your bags and let’s go!

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Remember the Jackie Chan movie “The Myth”? Shot in Hampi, even the veteran cinematographer could not do justice to the beauty of Hampi that you will perceive when you are on-site. The historical ruins of the Vijaynagar Empire, in the state of Karnataka, is unparalleled in charm and eminence. An overnight train from Bangalore city will take you to your destination which is studded with affordable and luxury lodging facilities. Echoing the quote by Edith Wharton, “One of the great things about travel is you find out how many good, kind people there are”, at Hampi, the local inhabitants will further amplify your delights. One of the safest places in the country for tourists, Hampi keeps mesmerizing me more and more with every visit. Alongside the ruins, you will find the towering Virupaksha Temple. My personal favorite monument is the Vittala Temple with its ‘musical pillars’. Yes, you heard it right! The 56 musical pillars, also known as the SaReGaMa pillars, produce musical tones when struck by hand. The Divine mysteries of this UNESCO World Heritage Site continue to enthrall me. It is said that the black scorpions of the Vittala Temple never sting the devotees. While you unravel such enigma, don’t forget the trek to the Hemakuta Hill for that picturesque sunset.

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Carved out in the mountains of Western India, the Ajanta Caves will revitalize your mind, body, and soul. Built between 200 B.C and 500 A.D., the Ajanta Caves are a repertoire of the artistic brilliance of the humankind. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a collection of Buddhist paintings, murals, sculptures, and rock-cut Temples. It is believed that several Buddhist Monks spent their time at the Ajanta caves, during the monsoons, when were forbidden from traveling. During this time, the Monks concocted an abundance of creative masterpieces within the realms of the Ajanta Caves. Located 105 km from Aurangabad, tourists can expect comfortable commuting to and from the site. Aurangabad is a sprawling city with almost all tourist amenities. 

The Ellora caves are located about 30 km towards the west of Aurangabad. Unlike Ajanta caves, these caves date between 5th and 11th century A.D. In addition to Buddhist monasteries, Ellora caves are home to Hindu and Jain temples. I still remember my Grandmother talking about her fond memories of the pillars that rendered sounds of “Tabla”, an Indian musical instrument, when struct by hand. The Kailasa Temple is regarded as the greatest monolithic structure in the world. The virtuosity, elegance, and scale exemplify the zenith of skills of those ancient times. Be prepared to be spell-bound.

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I will let only the photographs do the talking for the splendid Alleppey Backwaters.

So, want to experience it all firsthand? I shall be happy to lead a trek to these sites during the Winter Break 2020. Let’s embark on a journey like no other!

On-demand Sports

Wharton people are busy people. When we look at our double and triple booked calendars, with all those EIS, networking dinners, and small group dinners, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Often, the first things that go are the “lower priority” ones: sports and recreation. Activities that are essential for our mental and physical health.

Playing regular sports as an adult can be mentally effortless and exhilarating. Of those adults who play sports, more than half reported in a Harvard study that it has reduced their stress (58%), improved their mental health (54%), or improved their physical health (51%).

A Harvard study found that three in four adults played sports when they were younger, but only one in four still play. Another research shows that around the age of 26, an average adult stops playing most active sports.

Alas, when you finally have breathing room, you are so exhausted that you default to going to Pottruck, or if you are lucky, the gym in your building. You can barely remember the excitement during Club Pub: when you told yourself you would engage in stretch experiences and signed up for three sport clubs. Three months in and that fancy tennis racket that you were going to “use every weekend” has been accumulating dust. But what if you could play your favorite sport on demand? What if when suddenly that networking dinner or that team meeting gets cancelled, you felt an itch to play your sport?

Nirupam Anand WG’20 & I re-imagined adult sports at Seamless Sports. We match people with similar sports interests, playing levels, availability, and location to create an on-demand sports experience. You simply choose your location and sport, and when you are free. We work in the background to find you other players and book a facility (e.g. a tennis court) near you.

And who knows, maybe you will have your stretch experience after all.

Wharton Christian Fellowship: Faith & Fun on Campus

The Wharton Christian Fellowship (“WCF”) seems to have taken on new life this semester. WCF is about living your faith and having fun while you’re at it. Within just a few months, a member of WCF spoke at a Storytellers Slam, the group hosted several small group dinners and attended a Poets in Autumn event when the famous spoken-word performance group was live in Philly. We have weekly Bible studies, and we have joint Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners planned with the Penn Christian Fellowship. WCF had a strong start this semester, but truthfully, the best is still yet to come.

For our kick-off event of the year, the WCF hosted a “First Supper” on the 21st floor of 1919 Market Street. Close to 30 first and second-year students attended. It was a great time of food and fellowship as returning and new members had the opportunity to introduce themselves and get acquainted. “I’ve never seen this many people at WCF event before,” said a returning second-year student.

Riding the momentum from the kick-off event, the WCF headed to R2L for restaurant week and went to a Poets in Autumn show afterward. Comedians at the show joked about the realities of being a single Christian and made light of the more comical sides of being human and living for God. WCF members brought partners, and shared laughs that I’m sure that all of us will remember for the foreseeable future.

WCF isn’t strictly internally focused. We actively seek opportunities to connect with the Wharton community. As a Co-President of WCF, it was a huge honor to speak at a Storyteller’s Slam in September. I shared my testimony about what my life was like before I committed to a personal relationship with Jesus. It was a stretch experience that allowed me to share parts of my story and to discuss how I navigate living out my faith at Wharton. (For everyone who supported me prior, during, and after that event, I truly thank you.)

One of the best nights for WCF this semester was a movie night when we watched The Case for Christ. We had snacks galore and enjoyed the film about former atheist Lee Strobel’s eventful conversion to Christianity. We cracked jokes about the 80s references throughout the film. Most of us stayed after the movie, hung out and got to know one another. No one discussed careers, recruiting, or what they did before Wharton. In fact, at the end of the evening, someone started beatboxing, and we randomly started to sing our favorite worship songs. We saw the potential and we’re hosting an acapella Worship Night in December. (Please feel free to join us if you can!)

Creating a community for members is an unquestionably important aspect of WCF. We’re a club that truly exists for everyone who is not yet a member. We have weekly Bible Studies and we’ve recently launched a weekly prayer night. Join us on GroupMe at Wharton Christian Fellowship, or you can join our Slack channel #christianclub. Our members and their partners are unique, and everyone has something valuable to add to the fellowship. You’re sure to find someone like you, or a need for someone like you, if you come out.

Hacking Health and Wharton

Business school is a great time to set habits consistent with a successful, happy life. The Wharton curriculum certainly takes care of a significant portion of that; however, many aspects of setting these behaviors are yours to pursue or not.

According to Jeff Sachs, University Professor at Columbia University and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General, achieving a happy life requires pursuing physical and mental health with the same rigor one applies to the traditional pursuit of professional success.

Sachs, in a recent podcast, said, “We have the paradox that income per person rises in the United States, but happiness does not. And it’s not that that’s because humans are humans. It’s because the U.S. is falling behind other countries, because we are not pursuing dimensions of happiness that are extremely important: our physical health, the mental health in our community… And this is weighing down American well-being.”

Further, we know that long-term happiness, something most of us are (or should be) ultimately after, is predicated in part on the quality and depth of our relationships. “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” That’s according to Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the most comprehensive studies of well-being in history.

Most of us inherently know these concepts to be true but find acting on them to be nearly impossible. How can ambitious people balance course load, professional development, group projects, and the myriad other responsibilities of a 1Y at Wharton while maintaining healthy and balanced lives?

I struggled with a similar question during my first week in my Naval Aviation squadron after joining them on deployment aboard the USS George Washington. My first week as a fully qualified Naval Flight Officer at sea was grueling, disorienting, and, by the end of the week, starting to take a toll. There was so much to do and learn, I felt, that I had no time to eat, sleep, exercise, or think.

Over Midnight Rations (MIDRATS), a mentor revealed a maxim to me that I try my best, often unsuccessfully, to live by. He said, “You need to take care of yourself or you are worthless to us out here. We need you well rested, well fed, and in shape. Those things are priority one for you. Sort that out and the rest will come.”

Taking care of your health does not require an MBA from Wharton, but will not happen by accident; it will require some effort and planning. I’ve outlined the following tips and tricks for implementing some of these things into your life that otherwise might fall out for the competing priorities at school. Take and apply what works for you, disregard what doesn’t.

This list is by no means exhaustive – there are plenty of other techniques and tactics that are just as good, if not better than, what’s included here. Whether you take this advice or come up with your own game plan, I’d just recommend making a plan. With the academic year and recruiting right around the corner, things are about to start moving pretty fast…

Nutrition

Make a plan to be healthy. Consider getting your grocery shopping done and knocking out meal preparation on Sunday. You’ll be psyched by mid-week when you don’t have time to cook, have a problem set due in the morning, and you’re hungry.

If cooking isn’t your thing, consider a meal delivery service like Snapkitchen or Kettlebell kitchen. These services will deliver some or all of your meals for the week to your doorstep. You can choose the specific meals, set some guidelines for what you like, or live dangerously and go with their recommendations. Either way, a service like this will help keep you eating healthy…most of the time.

If you do nothing else, decrease your sugar & processed food intake and drink more water. These simple hacks will improve your mental clarity, decrease inflammation, and help you avoid energy crashes.

With all that said, definitely crush a cheesesteak at Reading Terminal, a late burger at Monk’s, and as many of those Greek Lady gyros as you can get your hands on. They’re good and life is too short. Just try to make those the exception and not the rule.

Vitamins & Supplements

Philadelphia is great and all, but it’s not known for its abundance of sunlight in January so maybe a Vitamin D supplement could be a good call. You don’t need a cabinet full of vitamins, but a few important additions to your daily diet can make a big difference. I’ve found the products below to be super helpful.

As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor and I’d be bummed out if you sued me. The below recommendations come from personal research and should be vetted by a professional before use.

Omega 3 Fatty Acid (Fish Oil) is probably the biggest bang for the buck you’ll find.  Fish oil provides improved cardiovascular health and function, improved lipid profiles (lower triglycerides), improved brain function and mental acuity, and powerful anti-inflammatory properties without harmful side effects like over the counter products.

B-Vitamins increase energy production and are neurotransmitter cofactors so they help improve our mood, and they help us detoxify. Take this supplement in the morning as the B-12 will keep you awake.

Vitamin D is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. It helps reduce inflammation and the risk of colon and breast cancer, while improving mood and upper respiratory health by aiding the fight against infections from viruses and other pathogens. It also allows the brain to release melatonin so we can fall asleep easier.

CBD possesses myriad medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-depressant qualities according to a 2013 review published by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. I have been experimenting with CBD for both general wellness and help with sleep for the last year and have seen great results.

The daily formulation I use is a compound of CBD and other ingredients including B-Complex, ginseng, and selected terpenes that are beneficial for general health, inflammation, pain, focus and overall well-being. The other formulation I use is similar, but with ingredients meant to target stress and sleep.

Exercise

I won’t belabor this point – we all know exercise is an important aspect of our physical and mental health. Exercise helps manage stress, sleep, and many other aspects of a healthy life. Most folks know they should do it, but making it happen is easier said than done. The competing priorities at Wharton can make this especially tough. The following techniques have helped me to maintain a decent exercise routine while balancing my priorities at school.

Schedule it! When I sit down to plan my week, I set a goal of a work out ≥ 4x per week. If you count the weekend, this should be doable. The most important piece of building near daily exercise into your routine is to make it non-negotiable. Do what you need to do to achieve that ≥ 4x or whatever your goal number is. If you make it a priority you’ll feel better and be ready for the grind. Even just 30 minutes is better than nothing!

Pay ahead! Loss aversion is a key tenet of behavioral economics. The idea is that we disproportionately weight losses relative to gains; once we have something, the idea of losing it is painful.  You can use this fancy idea to help you get into the gym – pay in advance for your spin, yoga, CrossFit class or whatever it is you choose to do to stay in shape. You’ll find yourself skipping less and making good on your goals.

Sleep

A good night’s sleep is probably the most important aspect of feeling good on a daily basis. Again, most people know this, but fail to act on it. Between the academic, professional, extra-curricular, and social commitments at Wharton, you’ll struggle to make decent sleep a part of your routine. A few all-nighters will happen, but, again, making these the exception to the rule will pay dividends.

If you have trouble sleeping, consider developing a nightly routine including black out blinds, a drop-dead-screens-off time, and a CBD or magnesium supplement. If you need help with this drop me a line and I’ll help you figure this out.

Relationships

The data are clear that good relationships help fortify our bodies and brains against the stressors of everyday life. Additionally, they just make you happier. Which is good.

If you are here with a partner or you have a partner elsewhere, make the time during the week to include them in this experience. Wharton can be an all-encompassing bubble (in the best way) if you let it. Make the time to crack a beer, put down the MGEC problem set, and just enjoy your time at Wharton with your partner.

Make time for dinner with your friends, to call your parents, to connect with your pre-Wharton friends, and to make new friends over a citywide special (if you don’t know – ask). These relationships are important pieces of your long-term happiness, sense of success, and for all you utilitarian’s, likely the source of a job, recommendation, or investment in the future. At least once a week, make the time to go out to lunch or dinner with a friend and get to know them more deeply. You’ll be glad you did.

Bottom Line

To wrap this thing up, I’m passionate about health and wellness because I’ve messed it up a lot! I’ve made all of the mistakes, but done my best to learn as much as I can and to make a commitment to living a healthy and happy life. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there.

You are all incredible people. You’ll feel better and be better if you use part of your time at school to set positive patterns you can carry for the rest of your life. I’ve heard things don’t slow down after graduation…

If I can help you sort any of this out – let me know. I enjoy talking about this stuff and would love to help.

Finally, if you see me polishing off a second cheeseburger, out late at Bonner’s, or otherwise not practicing what I preach – leave me alone…I’m taking a mental health break.

 

 

Wharton Parents: Worlds Apart With a Baby On the Way

Friday, July 20, 2018 was one of the hottest summer days in Beijing. The temperature reached 104 degrees. I was exhausted after 4 business meetings across the city and having dinner with a WG’18. I laid down on my bed after a quick shower and I almost fell asleep.

On the other side of the world, my very pregnant wife, Joanna, was visiting our obstetrics doctor in Philadelphia. It was routine check-up 3 weeks before the due date of our first daughter. I left Joanna in Philadelphia with my mother-in-law who took care of her while I was in China for my summer internship. Normally, I waited until she messaged me after a doctor’s appointment before going to sleep. But I was so tired on that day that I fell asleep.

At 1:03 a.m., I got her call. “Honey, the doctor asked to admit me to the hospital to start the labor induction process. I need you to book the next flight and be here asap,” she said. It was 1:03 p.m. in Philadelphia.

I jumped out of the bed, pulled out my laptop, and booked the next flight at 9 a.m. from Beijing to Newark, NJ. I emailed my boss about my family emergency and initiated the start of my pre-approved paternity leave. I finished all my unfinished work and went to bed at 5:30 a.m. I woke up at 6:30 a.m. and I woke up my parents at 7 a.m. I told them that their granddaughter was on her way. I boarded the plane at 8:15 a.m.

Before switching my phone to airplane mode, I messaged my wife. “Honey, I can’t reach you in the next 12 hours because there is no WIFI onboard, so follow the doctor’s orders. I will pray for our daughter and for you from the sky! I will also find her a beautiful name, trust me! You are a great wife and I am sure that you will be a great mom! I will be next to you in 12 hours, so hold on and trust yourself. I love you!” At that moment, I wished that I could take a rocket just to reach her.

After my flight took off, my mind rattled with conflicting thoughts. One side of me wished that the baby came before I landed, so Joanna would only endure a short period of pain. The other side of me hoped that the baby would wait until I arrived at the hospital, so I could witness her birth and be the first family member to hold her. I tried to take a nap, but my mind raced. I tried to write down my thoughts in my notebook, but I didn’t know where to start. I even tried to watch a movie, but I turned off the screen after only 5 minutes.

I started to work on the baby’s name. Joanna and I started the name researching process right after she got pregnant, but the whole process was way more complicated than we expected. All my proposed names were rejected by either Joanna or by our Chinese parents. Names were rejected because either the meaning wasn’t blessed, or because it didn’t sound pleasant to the ear.

There was no way that I could find a perfect name that everyone loved. I told myself to just follow my heart. I decided to name the baby after what Joanna and I had been through during the entire pregnancy. The baby’s name would memorialize some of our best memories.

I used the next 6 hours of the flight to narrow down the name list to four names. Pei-En was one of them. In Chinese, “Pei” means “to wear something” and “En” means “love and gratitude”. It was pleasant to the ear in both English and Chinese, and I just loved how simple the meaning was.

Finally, my flight landed. I called Joanna while the flight was still taxiing. She didn’t pick up. I called her again but still no answer. I called my mother-in-law, but she didn’t pick up her phone either. I called my parents in Beijing. They said that they received no update after I departed.

I was nervous. I kept calling and messaging Joanna. I tried to pass through the immigration check as quickly as I could. I was fooled by the first Uber driver that I got. The driver called and asked where I was going. The driver then headed in the opposite direction on the map and never answered the phone again.

Luckily, the second Uber driver that I got was a father of two. He helped me to make up for lost time on the highway after he found out that I was going to get my baby at the hospital. I eventually heard from my wife halfway into my drive to Philadelphia. She was resting on the bed and the baby was still half the way through. “I can still make it to welcome my daughter!” I screamed in the car.

Twenty-four hours after I received the first call from my wife, I arrived at the Pennsylvania Hospital and saw her lying on her bed. She looked much smaller in- person than I recalled. Perhaps it was due to the size of her belly and the adjusted bed. I sat down next to her and I held her hands. I looked my wife in the eye and said, “Honey, you have been doing great since yesterday. Now I am here to give you all my support. Let’s wait for the baby together!”

After another 24 hours, the baby was finally born. The total labor induction time was 48 hours. A typical labor induction lasts from 2 hours to 12 hours. Joanna was exhausted afterward. Her face and lips were pale, and her body was extremely weak. But I only saw her braveness, her persistence and her maternal love as evidenced by the 48-hour laboring process. At that moment, my heart was full of respect to her. She was the greatest women I’d ever seen in my life.

We named the baby Pei-En in the end. We want her to understand and to appreciate what her mother suffered to bring her into the world. Also, Philadelphia is well-known for its LOVE statues. The word “En” in her name translates to “Love and gratitude” in Chinese.

We have shared this story with many of our close friends at Wharton. Some of them told me that I should share this story at the Storyteller events. I hesitated until I missed the last one. I still hope that by writing the story down, it helps me to better remember the 48 hours that I will never ever forget in my life.

Now I hold special respect to all the Wharton MBA student parents, especially student moms who balance school, recruiting and pregnancy at the same time. If you know students who are also parents, send them some cheer and love. I am sure they will keep your in their hearts and will return even more in the future.

On the flip side, I hope that my story serves as a cautionary tale for future parents from Wharton communities. Before taking an internship, or a job offer, or making any life decision, ask yourself if the benefits of not being together with your significant other is worth all the risks. I hope that no one ever runs into the same situation as I did.

 

Spring Break in Ethiopia: The GMC That Changed Everything

In March, I traveled to Addis Ababa for Wharton’s Spring GMC to Ethiopia. I looked forward to my first trip to Africa. As an African-American, it was a trip to the “Motherland”. The class truly started when I stepped off the plane at Bole International Airport. No matter how much I read before I reached Addis, nothing prepared for me how life-changing that GMC would be.

We traveled to villages outside of Addis that were supported by USAID-funded health-care initiatives. Ethiopian girls as young as 16-years old were empowered to conduct routine and basic healthcare tasks that dramatically improved child and maternal health care outcomes. We also visited a local government-funded hospital with limited resources to treat even basic health-care needs. I was overcome when I saw a young woman in distressed labor. The labored breathing of premature infants weighed on me as I traversed the halls. As far as Ethiopian government healthcare has come, there is still so much more work to do.

Chinese investment in a major highway just outside of Addis allows for smooth travel from the traffic-prone streets of Addis to nearby villages and towns. Our class visited a private equity flower farm, Afriflora, about 3-hours from Addis. The farm has created jobs, built a hospital and a school. I question how devastating it would be to the community if that firm ever leaves.

We learned about incredible progress in entrepreneurship and innovation because of hubs like blueMoon. Ethiopian college graduates are equipped with access to WIFI and industry experts in their field of innovation. We were privileged to hear some of the student’s pitches, one of which won an international award.

We dined at some of the finest restaurants in and on the outskirts of the major city. We got stuck in traffic jams and made friendly conversation with each other on the buses. We enjoyed the warm weather that was a welcome contrast to the cooler Philadelphia weather that we left back home.

The GMC changed my short and long-term plans. I formed friendships that I’m sure will last a lifetime. I shared my desire to do more to empower the educated youth of Ethiopia with my classmates. They agreed to help me with whatever my final plan is. In May, I am attending the Ethiopia Partnerships Forum in D.C. to explore ways to teach entrepreneurship and innovation in Addis. Hopefully, I’ll be back in Addis before I know it.