the bảohouse is the journal of muses of change strategist bảo.thiên.ngô often thinking about the Vietnamese American community and its place in the grand scheme of things.
2014
Sep
20

Supporter Self-Introduction Preparation

I’ve reached out to you as a supporter because I felt that the things you mentioned in your request-for-support statement focused primarily on benefits that don’t pique my interest.

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While contemplating about my personal bio revision, I caught a glimpse of a spider’s web lit by sunset.
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While contemplating about my personal bio revision, I caught a glimpse of a spider’s web lit by sunset.

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Group Dynamics in a Nutshell, After a Round of Beer

  • Visionary - The annoying person in the group who always talks about dreams and ideas and asks everyone else when they gonna jump on the bandwagon (which is occupied only by him/her).
  • Strategist - The realist who knows what’s going on in the world, can put together intricate plans for world domination, but doesn’t feel like doing anything about it because it’s too much of a bother.
  • Administrator - The person who loves ticking checkboxes, scheduling meetings, writing agenda and minutes, and balancing budgets. Because numbers have names and feelings too, apparently.
  • People-Person - The life of the party, counselor, and coach. Being everyone’s best friend, these folks are most likely invited to be a part of everyone’s groom/bridal party. In a few years, this will become their day job.
  • Champion - The vanguard of ethics who does the right things and calls out the unethical behavior. The first person nominated to take care of public relations issues when shit hits the fan. Sometimes the last person to get invited to the afterparties.
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2014
Sep
8
Happy Mid-Autumn Moon Day!
Mid-Autumn by Menstos
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Happy Mid-Autumn Moon Day!

Mid-Autumn by Menstos

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2014
Sep
3

While visiting an auto mechanic

Viet·nam·ese me·chan·ic
Buys cars from in·sur·ance bro·kers
Left for a·ban·don·ment
And re·stores them back to sal·vage
Re·flec·tion of his life
Of re·build·ing post-ex·o·dus
Drift a·long o·pen Pa·cif·ic
Ar·rive emp·ty-hand·ed
Piece-by-piece re·fill his lost peace
Drift no lon·ger but drive!

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2014
Aug
23

It’s the second day at the Fourth Annual Behavioral Economics Summit, Startuponomics, and I feel so sublime to be able to learn from brilliant thinkers, researchers, and movers, and to really drill down on what my company’s products can do to influence change in people on a day-to-day level. What I’ve realized is the profound humility one feels at how much we don’t know (in addition to the surprising discoveries made) about human behavior, especially for positive outcomes, whether it’s finding happiness in committed relationships, or developing the right organizational culture, or creating effective products to help users develop better habits (save for retirement, exercise, or giving to charity).

I thought about my old profile description and felt it was time to make some adjustments on what I perceive as my identity. Were trust, awareness, and innovation my core values anymore, or have some other values inched their way up, such as encouragement, appreciation, humility, and peace? Can I really still say I enjoy moving society towards equitably enjoyed multiculturalism? Although I can’t say I work on that purpose anymore, I am still happy to be pursuing the notion of helping people find a sense of security, and in my current career it is through sound financial management. The key question I consciously think about throughout this conference is not How do I teach people to better certain areas of their lives, but rather What can they do or what tools can they use to make the process of self-change almost automatic and mentally effortless? Who wants to attend a seminar or learn a new jargon-filled framework? If anything I’ve always learned better being the monkey who imitates another’s behaviors, and then later draw insight on why it works once I’ve had the experience.

And in the moments I’ve shared my insecurities with others at this summit, I’ve realized that heroic accomplishments always require that one goes through life making mistakes, and surviving the aftermath. One woman, in college, decided to breakup with her boyfriend, go against her friends’ and family’s advice/pleas, and get totally out of her comfort zone to live for some time in Kenya to figure out how to better encourage low-income people save money for rainy days. And although she told me that it may have been the biggest mistake of her life, she admitted it was the best mistake of her life. I don’t think the questions of “If you had a time machine, what would you tell your past self” really sit well with me, because it implies there’s a sense of regret over an experience you wished never happened. On the trip up with my boss we had a conversation with our Eritrean taxi driver about this, and all agreed that if you never experienced hardships, you would never develop sensitivity to those who are struggling (though I’m not saying one should experience hardships indefinitely, because it’s possible to completely breakdown). And so it is almost a necessity; you might feel fallen at some point in your life, and are wary of sharing that with others because in your mind it is shameful to think you’re not doing well like your peers are. And maybe your peers annoy you because you know they care but are just saying the wrong things. But once you survive the trial, it’s easier to identify the feelings afflicting others. And I feel one can better communicate if there is a genuine sense of empathy behind it.

I am astounded at the other startups in attendance who are trying to address concerns in finance, health, and education. And although we all share the common struggle of figuring out how to stay viable (read: alive), there’s something to be said about being among comrades each individually doing something meaningful to figure out how to effect scalable change: it’s just simply beautiful. For me, there’s this conflicting sense of accomplishment and insatiateness. On the one hand, one feels good about helping others. On the other hand, there’s still more people out there who needs help. But we have to protect our mental health from falling into despair and hopelessness stemming from the enormity of the problems that plague the world, and for me, I tell myself: I am not a superhero. I can’t be a champion to everyone. It’s not glamorous, but doing one small step today is still better than nothing, because I know what it’s like to feel like I’ve done nothing, and it was a dreadful feeling. Just doing a small thing each day is a daily miracle for me. And so I do what I can, and just have faith that someone else is looking after the other folks.

When people ask me what flavored ice cream best represented me, I would tell them vanilla; not very interesting by itself, but pairs well with anything.

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2014
Aug
4

Porter Robinson “Worlds” as featured on NPR

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2014
Aug
2

Gendered Marketing

We buy into things to feel the comfort of being gender identified.

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2014
Aug
1

The Slog To Sainthood

Every now and then I tell people that I grossly bullied others in my youth, and they respond with disbelief or surprise. But it’s not as though this process of cultivating myself to be more sensitive to others have come easily. It took me perhaps 12 years of self-inspection to uproot much of the physical and verbal violence I inflicted upon others. And I’d say I’m currently cultivating my sense of emotional care.

The physical hurt I inflicted stopped in my last year of high school, despite my having taken taekwondo martial arts to hone my sense of self-discipline beginning in middle school. I used to beat my brother, and that messed him up emotionally. In hindsight that was a kind of hypocrisy I regret. But we’re doing good today, thankfully. He buys me food when I’m busy with work.

After a few years of college, verbal abuses slowly chipped away to become verbal “cuts”. In other words, it went from being “You need to lose weight you fat piece of shit,” at age 14 to “A little soft around the edges eh?” at age 25. I think now those verbal cutting has largely diminished, but I still have to be careful.

There were verbal cuts with regards to gender, i.e. “that’s so gay” or “you fight like a girl”; on origin and immigrant history “yeah but they’re fobs”; or class, “yo momma so broke”. It’s easy to fall back into habits and mindless remarking. I think maybe the reason I am perceived to be reserved and quiet is because anything I say has to be careful and deliberate. Sometimes it crosses over into conservatism. I remember Bao Phi asked me why it was so important to not curse and swear when I remarked about his slam poetry containing a lot of “vulgar words”. His inquiry prompted me to ask myself what was more important, politeness, or truth in one’s mind and soul being expressed? I chose the latter.

This current phase of my self cultivation is the art of emotional care. This is new and almost alien to me. My first girlfriend was at age 26, when I really tried to care for another person. The relationship didn’t meet her needs, but I learned quite a bit about being a partner in mind, body, and soul. It’s taken me some time to learn how to deal with her as an ex-girlfriend, i.e. not to be awkward, or dredging up the past, or hammering down the primal need for being possessive. It’s still hard, and for that reason I can see why moving on is easier than trying to subject yourself to torture/torment in trying to remain civil with your ex. But I remembered having to being very explicit in my thoughts and feelings; she wanted to know what I was going through. The exercise of assigning words to such fuzzy notions helped me to understand what were my natural reactions, and what were within my control. Unfortunately, I was still very green in picking up on her emotional signs, perhaps because I was so engrossed in my own introspection. I still remember failing at addressing her needs, such as when she got hungry after a major parade, or being supportive as she struggled through her campaigning for student council.

Around age 28, I remember an acquaintance of mine exploded when I unearthed her pageantry past and shared it with others, in a rather juvenile fashion, “Hey look guys, she used to be a beauty queen!” When she exploded, I reawoken to the fact that I was still causing harm to others, emotionally anyways. I wrote a poem about it, entitled DMZ:

over time the human heart becomes littered with landmines
playful children play in fields
one child frolics in the scarred earth
and a thunderous boom roars across the bosom of the valley
"don’t talk about that shit anymore!"
children learn to stop smiling
.
.
.
silence
.
.
.
r e   m   a i n   s   . .   .

It surprises me even now that I feel haunted by that incident, largely because I thought I was doing well in being thoughtful about others, but such beliefs were far from the truth. This memory humbles me to guard myself from the conceited notion that I am caring as I’d want to believe. I still have a long way to go.

As I’ve not mastered emotional care, sometimes I feel like withdrawing from all forms of social contact as to prevent harm to others by burying myself in work. But I suppose neglect is its own kind of harm. I’ve told myself that after I go through this currently greatest career sprint of my life (perhaps I’ll slow down next year), that I work on exercising my emotional faculties again; let it atrophy and I might become the very being I despise.

Would be easier if one had simply been born a saint.

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2014
Jul
14
Henrietta Lacks’ ‘Immortal’ Cells
Journalist Rebecca Skloot’s new book investigates how a poor black tobacco farmer had a groundbreaking impact on modern medicine.
She was a black tobacco farmer from southern Virginia who got cervical cancer when she was 30. A doctor at Johns Hopkins took a piece of her tumor without telling her and sent it down the hall to scientists there who had been trying to grow tissues in culture for decades without success. No one knows why, but her cells never died.
Click to enlarge

Henrietta Lacks’ ‘Immortal’ Cells

Journalist Rebecca Skloot’s new book investigates how a poor black tobacco farmer had a groundbreaking impact on modern medicine.

She was a black tobacco farmer from southern Virginia who got cervical cancer when she was 30. A doctor at Johns Hopkins took a piece of her tumor without telling her and sent it down the hall to scientists there who had been trying to grow tissues in culture for decades without success. No one knows why, but her cells never died.

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