Category Archives: School

Where are you going, little mouse?

As some of you are aware of, I will be participating in an exchange program next term at the University of Hong Kong. I’ve been asked many times why I wanted to go on exchange, and why I picked Hong Kong. Choosing HK was more for practicality than anything. I wanted to be in an exciting global city with a significantly different culture than here in Toronto, yet I needed to be able to get by without having to learn a new language. (Getting away from the notorious Canadian winter was a bonus.) As for ‘why exchange?’, that is a little harder to answer.

I gave people some pretty random explanations, like how I was bored last term, because I wanted cultural exposure, experience a new school, or “cuz it sounds fun”. Those are not untrue, but probably not the real reasons.

Around springtime, I might have been going through some kind of mid-mid-life crisis with mixed thoughts about what I’ve done and achieved so far in my twenty-ish years. I found the answer to be ‘not freaking much’ and labeled my life as rather unremarkable. Also it seems that this entire year has been a test of my breaking point, with its many joys and disappointments, successes and failures, which shook me up a little.

I’ve always been content with a ‘make do with what life hands you’ kind of adage. Then I realized I wasn’t satisfied. There was so much out there that I needed to experience, so it felt suffocating to stay in the same town, with the same people, living the same life. I felt like those around me were sprinting past, making their own routes through the landscapes, while I was just plodding along the beaten path. Being younger than most of my friends only added to my innate fear of being left behind, which I suppose finally got the better of me. I couldn’t sit around passively hoping for anything to pop up – I’d have to reach out to opportunities myself.

Excusing the sheer cheesiness, I guess the bottom line for why I wanted to go on exchange is some soul-searching. I want to discover, meet new people, do random things, make mistakes, learn from them, become a more worldly person. It’s partially a challenge to myself, to be thrown into a brand new fast-paced environment without any crutches, and keep my head above water. Five months is not nearly long enough, but I’m hoping for the dizziness of the experience to set me straight. I can barely take the monotony anymore, and I want a complete 180, but still be able to find my way back. Although this is my home and I’m surrounded by family and friends here, it somehow still feels empty, so I just need to leave for a little while.

And wouldn’t you agree that it’s the picture books you read as a child that leave the most lasting impressions?

Study music

It’s final exams again, so I’ve begun my usual rounds of operating in a different time zone everyday. There’s a lot of studying going on, and I was curious as to what kind of music people listen to when they’re studying. I used to stick to classical because lyrics were too distracting. Some of my favourites are:

J. Bach – Air

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We used to giggle at the song title (“on the G string”…yep, totally immature), but this is a very very relaxing and beautiful piece.

F. Chopin – Grande Valse Brillante

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It’s a happy waltz! I have a thing for waltzes

J. Strauss – The Blue Danube

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Probably the most famous waltz. There’s something about music set in 3/4 time that makes you want to dreamily dance and glide around.

P. Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 1

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I love the strings melody at 2:25. I think strings and piano were made for each other.

The problem with classical, because it’s so expressive, is that it can get overly depressing or epic. I don’t feel very encouraged reading about the Bipartite Matching Algorithm set to Holst’s Mars. In fact it just makes me more agitated. Last term I found jazz/easy listening to be more appropriate. As the genre name suggests, it’s light, you sort of don’t even notice it, but it lifts the heavy silence of individual study, and you can think on top of it. Just wanted to share some tunes on my playlist:

Eva Cassidy – Fly Me to the Moon

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Diana Krall – The Look of Love

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Michael Bublé – L O V E

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Okay, that last one may be too happy. So what do you listen to when you study?

Feeling the squeeze

The Promised Land is kind of a letdown for over-achievers these days. As the NYT article puts it,

Members of this generation have lived their lives like track stars trying to run a marathon at the pace of a 100-meter dash — their parents typically waiting at every turn with a stopwatch.

And it’s like the biggest reality check you can have thrown in your face. All that hard work, just to… move back in with your parents? Ugh. FIX IT!

Edumacation

Pretty true.

Pretty true.

In high school, it didn’t take me very long to realize that the things we were learning were going to be either obsolete or not applicable to real life by the time we entered the work force. Most subjects were too simplified and high level. Those four years were mainly used to secure a foundation for higher learning, and to help us develop the skills needed to achieve and strive for further knowledge.

I predicated my future on the basis that through the university courses I take, I would emerge with the necessary education to apply directly to a job related to my field of study. My expectations were that I’d find something I took to – a personal “thing” I enjoyed, and could see a future in. I sort of discovered an interest in finance through process of elimination, but I find that I’m unsatisfied with my learning. I know courses like MATH239 and CO370 are supposed to help with “analytical and critical thinking” development in addition to teaching us the material, but I still feel like it’s a waste of my time.

On the other hand, the finance courses I’ve taken so far don’t seem to go in depth enough. Investment Management was supposed to be interesting, but I feel like I haven’t really learned much. Efficient markets, portfolio theory, options pricing, okay, but it seems that this course is too broad, still “building a foundation”, and there’s still so much more to know. It’s like whenever something starts to become slightly interesting or go in depth, we’d just move on. If everything I ask “why?” to is “beyond the scope of the course”, where am I supposed to find the answer? Would I be forced to pursue post-graduate education? I want to know more; the details, the innards, the linkages, the “icky” parts that are glossed over.

I guess what it comes down to is that I just don’t feel ready to hit the job market. I don’t think I’ve learned everything I need to. And having only one year left, I don’t think I will. I realize more and more that education is no replacement for valuable industry experience. In a strange way I feel that undergrad has failed me. This is just something that’s been frustrating me lately.

Today an NYT article caught my eye: Obama Pushes Broad Rules for Oversight of Derivatives. Basically the US government is considering regulation for standard derivatives (like the ever-so-toxic CDS). With these kinds of articles, I usually find the comments to be more interesting because objectiveness gives me a lot more insight. I think it’s great that major newspapers decided to publish online articles and allow for community discussions. The reader interaction really supplements the content well. Also for some reason, the first thing that popped into my head after reading this piece was the amount of ISDA headaches that would arise… @[email protected]

In other news, I ate cookies for lunch today. Yesterday I had a medium pizza by myself. I’m probably going to die early.

Video game instrumentals

Video game music is so awesome. Especially if you’ve played the game, know the story, and developed attachment to the characters. I love original soundtracks, and I wanted to share some of my favourite instrumental gaming music.  Just because they’re awesome. Please take note that yes, I am a crazy Square fangirl, so of course it’s going to be slightly biased :D

Yoko Shimomura – Legend of Mana ~Title Theme~

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Ms. Shimomura has worked with legendary game developer Square-Enix on a number of titles, including the Kingdom Hearts series. She is also the mastermind behind the music of the currently unreleased Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Personally I’ve never played Legend of Mana, but this opening theme is just so beautifully epic.

Nobuo Uematsu/Aki Kuroda – To Zanarkand

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Okay I know this one’s somewhat overplayed (especially on piano), but it’s still so sad and pretty! From Final Fantasy X.

Nobuo Uematsu – Eyes On Me [Piano Solo]

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Beautiful arrangement. Also enjoyable to learn and play on piano. From Final Fantasy VIII.

Yoko Shimomura arr. Kaoru Wada – Dearly Beloved

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This is a recurring theme in the Kingdom Hearts series. Yeah, it kind of just repeats, but nostalgia practically overwhelms me everytime it’s paired with any sort of KH clips. Also it’s very soothing and makes great background music for when I can’t fall asleep :P

Utada Hikaru – Hikari [Orchestrated Version]

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I was so happy they played this at Video Games Live. Already a truly epic piece, it sounded AMAZING with a live orchestra. From Kingdom Hearts.

In school-related news, I’ve survived my first week. Not much of an accomplishment, as I have previously survived 7 “first week”s. After this term, I will have two more terms (one year) of school and then be rudely shoved into the real world. I’m also co-op job-hunting again this term so we’ll see how that goes.

Jin and Mark came to Waterloo to visit for a few days. Yesterday I went to my morning class, then had lunch and grabbed ice cream with some fellow mathies. Afterwards, we spent about 3-4 hours just trying to decide what the hell we could do for the afternoon/night. In fact, we dragged it all the way until dinnertime, and Mark had to go home to Markham. The rest of us went for dinner at Rude Native Bistro. Later, we somehow convinced Mark to drive all the way back to Waterloo to join us for some board games. After a while I got really tired and passed out around 2am. Turns out everyone else slept at 6am.

The weather was pretty much terrible all day today so I’ve just been staying in. Still haven’t really accomplished anything. I should probably do some more reading…