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Profiles in Converse Winter 2013

P 24

Expect the Unexpected: A Conversation with Jeffrey Brenzel

P4 A Changing China: John Holden’s Thoughts on Chinese Modernity

An Interview with Ambassador John Sloan

Hear their lives


Live your stories







A Changing China: John Holden’s Thoughts on Chinese Modernity


An Interview with Ambassador John Sloan (Transcript)


A Conversation with Dan Edelstein

Vivian Lam


A Conversation with Tong Zhe

Nina Zou


Challenging Happiness: An Interview with Greg Watkins


A Chat with Yizhou Zhu


Expect the Unexpected: A Conversation with Jeffrey Brenzel

Andrea Wang, Vivian Lam

Radhika Bora

A Conversation with Anthony Antonio




Charlatans and Witch Doctors: Why Cultural Differences Matter


An Engaged State of Living


What You Want is on the Other Side of the Fear:


A Review of Broadway’s Sleep No More Email @


Our Team


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Anna Qin


Behind the Scenes: How the Magazine Works

Nina Zou


Radhika Bora

& Simona Xu Celina Jackson

Xiyu Wang


Co-Editor-in-Chiefs: Radhika Bora & Albert Chu Designer: Ivy Guo

Profiles in Converse is a bilingual Chinese-English e-magazine that specializes in in-

terviewing people for their life stories. It was founded at Stanford University by current Editor-in-Chief of the Chinese version of Profiles in Converse Andrea Wang and since then, it has expanded to universities around the world with chapters at Cambridge University, Columbia University, Yale University, Hong Kong University, Mount Holyoke College, and New York University. We aim to share the thoughts, experiences, and stories of varied and fascinating people in order to inspire and support our readers in creating their own stories. Our interviewees in this issue include many professors, a few businessmen, and a former ambassador from several different countries. We hope to continue diversifying the backgrounds from which our interviewees come in future issues, but we also believe that this issue presents a glimpse into the richness and complexity of human experience. We believe that conversations can let us explore our differences, and that powerful narratives can transcend our borders and inspire us to do the same. All of our members share this passion for exploration through conversation. We all learned and grew from the conversations in this issue and would love to share these insightful, complex stories with our readers worldwide.


A Changing China: John Holden’s Thoughts on Chinese Modernity Radhika Bora

A Changing China: John Holden’s Thoughts on Chinese Modernity

I can only squeeze in a twenty-minute interview with John

L. Holden, whose titles include former president of the Na-

tional Committee of US-China Relations, former managing director and senior counselor for Hill + Knowlton in Bei-

An Interview with Ambassador John Sloan (Transcript) A Conversation with Dan Edelstein A Conversation with Tong Zhe

jing, and former founding chairman of Shaklee (China) Ltd. He has just given a talk at the FACES (Forum for American-Chinese Exchange at Stanford) conference, where he discussed recent changes in Chinese political, social and economic life. I can’t help but feel slightly intimidated by his impressive résumé and fluent Chinese; his easy smile, however, soon puts my fears to rest.

Challenging Happiness: An Interview with Greg Watkins A Chat with Yizhou Zhu Expect the Unexpected: A Conversation with Jeffrey Brenzel A Conversation with Anthony Antonio

My co-interviewer, Monica, first asks Mr. Holden where he works now. He answers that he has started a company with three partners. “It’s called the Square Circle. What we do is strategic consulting and business advisory.” He is also Senior Associate at the Carnegie Asia Program and advisor to “a bunch of NGO’s.” Impressed, I ask him about his talk, in which he discussed changes in spiritual development in China. What does that mean? For John Holden, it means values. Children learn from their parents not to steal or lie, and to respect their elders. . Holden distinguishes between social mores and individual ethics (his definition: “what do people have inter-


A Changing China: John Holden’s Thoughts on Chinese Modernity nally that says I will never do this or I will never do that.”)

well? I don’t know.” Another topic of dispute is whether or not it’s ac-

As an example of changing ethical behavior, Holden brings up the case

ceptable to hire caregivers for parents. “Investors in nursing homes are

of a company that used melamine (a cheap, non-nutritive filler) in baby

betting that the answer will be, in many cases, yes,” Holden explains.

formula that caused infant deaths. “How could a businessman do some-

Things are a-changing in China.

thing like that for profit? That’s the kind of question that’s being asked

Chinese people are also reconnecting with Buddhist beliefs, which have

in China, and it’s a good thing it’s being asked.”

historically formed a part of Chinese culture. Holden distinguishes between the rituals of praying and understanding the philosophy that un-

I ask how tradition and social codes affect what people feel they should

derlies Buddhist beliefs. More and more people, often younger, are tak-

do. Holden replies that what he means is human interaction, and what

ing Buddhism seriously; when they visit temples in Lhasa, they show

are the boundaries of acceptable behavior. He told the story of a young

their respect for the religion instead of acting “as if they were at Disn-

man whose car killed a pedestrian. When a crowd gathered and people

eyland. But Holden notes that the philosophical and religious answers

began to accuse him he shouted ‘I am the son of Li Gang; you can’t

being formulated in China are not easily divisible into Confucianism,

touch me’!” This, he added, is an extreme example but it is widely dis-

Taoism or Buddhism, but “formed like a composite metal out of all of

cussed because the underlying issues are widespread.

these things.”

Holden believes China is in the midst of reconnecting with and re-eval-

I ask about Western influences in China. Holden denies that encoun-

uating some of its traditions. People in China wonder, “’What aspects

tering Western culture caused this rediscovery of tradition, but agrees

of them should we value?’ That’s a complicated process.” According to

that it has had a powerful effect on Chinese cultural and intellectual

Holden, some of China’s traditions have been transformed unrecogniz-

life. He says, “The big shock didn’t come until the Opium Wars.” Ever

ably and have little chance of rediscovery or renewed diffusion.

since, Chinese intellectuals, statesmen, and leaders have been struggling to understand “this powerful other system.” China’s post-Opium

Respect for elders presents one example of a changing tradition. In

War solution was to use the West only for China’s purposes: “The idea was then that we want the technology but not the phi-

Chinese classrooms, students show great respect towards the teacher. Holden, however, questions whether this is based on deep-seated values or merely serves a purpose: “Is it because there’s so much competition to get ahead that if you don’t listen to every might not do as

Holden believes China is in the midst of reconnecting with and re-evaluating some of its traditions.

losophy and social systems .” Later, of course, the Chinese Communist party adopted Marxism-Leninism, a completely Western political and economic system. Ironically, the Party periodically urges the country to resist complete Westernization:


A Changing China: John Holden’s Thoughts on Chinese Modernity “There’s some residual fear of losing something essential about what it

dual relationship with a country, one that’s both intellectual and per-

is to be Chinese if you start copying other ways of thinking.” Instead,

sonal. Like a beloved book or a dear friend, a place can speak to your

Chinese people modify these foreign constructs so that they become

mind and your heart.

Chinese. Holden predicts that this trend will continue to grow in the future in the process of developing a new system of political accountability: “China will come up with something, it’ll call it something different, and it’ll be different in some ways, but it will nonetheless be connected to political axioms developed in Western countries.” Not surprisingly, younger people can adapt to change in China much better than their elders. In the older generation, many people have given up on understanding change: they have already “checked out.” People of my generation (in their early twenties) in the educated elite, however, “arrive in New York and instantaneously feel at home...they’re not the least bit bothered by a lot of fast-paced change.” This adaptability only began about fifteen years ago; in the eighties, Chinese students new to the US still felt lost on their own. At the end of the interview, I ask Holden what his favorite thing has been about his extensive work with China. He thinks the answer is obvious: “having fun working with people and doing things together and achieving success with them. Friendships.” As Holden leaves for a late dinner with his elegant French wife, I walk slowly to my bike, reflecting on our conversation. Holden’s grounded-ness in his relationships despite his distant travels and prestigious positions inspires me. It also makes me wonder how difficult it is to analyze a society you have such a personal connection with. Holden’s long experience in China makes me think that maybe someone can have a


An Interview with Ambassador John Sloan (Transcript) Andrea Wang, Vivian Lam To my greater surJohn Sloan has worked with the Canadian Department of External Affairs since 1978. He has served in Beijing, Geneva, Tokyo, and London. At home, he served in the East Asia Division and the Economic and Trade Policy Bureau and as senior departmental assistant to the minister for international trade. In 1992 he also joined the Department of Finance. From 2000 to 2006, he worked as special adviser and manager for the United Kingdom’s Financial Services Authority in London. Since 2006, he has worked in Ottawa as director general of the Economic Policy Bureau.


prise I was offered a job at the Foreign Service. In fact, what happened was after being sent to United Nations for United Nations General Assembly, I came back to Ottawa, was asked

Ambassador Sloan, first of all, could you please start by telling us about how you initially went into diplomacy, and what happened throughout your career?

At Stanford, I did my undergraduate degree in Chinese Studies, and that already had

an international angle to it. After Stanford, I had to make a decision of whether I wanted

to specialize in China or expand into something broader, so I ended up going to London School of Economics doing my MSc in International Relations. After that, I had to think about what I wanted to do for a job, and I thought about law school and was accepted into a couple of law schools, but I also decided to take the foreign service exam. I was thinking I probably wouldn’t pass the first time and it would simply a good experience. But after taking the foreign service exam in London, much to my surprise, I was asked for an interview.

what I wanted to do next, and asked to be sent on Chinese language training. They came back saying that the Chinese language training position is filled, but how about Japanese? So I ended up spending the next five years in Japan doing two years of language training and two years in the Embassy, first two as the cultural officer and the last year in the foreign service industry. So that’s how I ended up in foreign service. From 1976 to 1981, I was in Japan, and as I said the actual work after language school was two years’ cultural attaché, which in fact was the best job in the entire Embassy. I was worried about Japan representing Canadi-


An Interview with Ambassador John Sloan (Transcript) an culture, then I did work in the political section. From 1983 to 1985,

ence of two things: the increasingly desperate situation in Syria where

we were in Beijing, where I did trade side and was responsible for ag-

Canada and Russia, along with other western countries, had a major

riculture and reports for Canada and that got me to all parts of China,

disagreement about how to address the deterioration of the situation

from Dunhuang to Heilongjiang, Harbin. The job really exposed to a lot

which was increasingly becoming a civil war between the government

of what was happening in China. Then from 1988, I came back to Otta-

and the opposition forces, and at the same time we had a rather serious

wa, and was posted in Switzerland, where initially I was doing east-west

spy case from Canada where a Canadian naval officer was accused of

economic cooperation, and increasingly ended up doing environmental

spying for Russia.

work as the Conference on Environment and Development, which was being organized and took place in Rio in 1992. After I came back from

My view of my role as an ambassador had always been to convince both

that, I went into The Department of Finance where I spent a year. From

Canadians and Russians that no single issue should be allowed to knock

1993 to 1996, I was Canada’s Finance Counselor in London. From 1996

a complex and multifaceted relationship completely off course. We

to 2000, again I was the Finance Counselor, but this time returning to

were certainly tested during that period, trying to keep the commercial

Tokyo, and then I actually left the department of Foreign Cares for six

relationship going, the cultural relationship, and particularly defense

and a half years and worked at the UK Financial Services Authority,

relationship, etc. and there were clearly consequences that flowed from

which was the UK Financial Regulator. And I was enticed back to the

those two developments coming together during my ambassadorship,

department to what for me was the perfect job as Director General of

and we were definitely challenged.

Economic Policy, which was responsible for G20. I was Canada’s senior official for EPEC, GOECD, for development policy and institutions, and finally responsible for the department of economic confidence, which I think wasn’t too bad for someone who didn’t study economics formally. In 2010, I was offered the position of Canada’s ambassador to the Russian Federation, Armenia, and Uzbekistan, and did that from August 2010 to Sept. 2013, and returned to Canada in September and retired

I know that you had a BA degree from Stanford in Chinese studies in 1973, and a Masters degree from the London School of Economics in International Relations, where your academic focus was also on China. So what led you to take such a special interest in China?

from the foreign service in October. So that’s my career. Well, it’s rather interesting because my year was the first year that What is the biggest crisis you have faced as an

Western Civilization was not a mandatory course at Stanford. With the


acceptance notice they sent out, they sent you a list of W. Civilization courses that were offered, and I am very much a historian in Mon-

As an ambassador, I think probably the biggest crisis was a conflu-

taigne, and I had a deep interest in world affairs generally, but also,


An Interview with Ambassador John Sloan (Transcript) coming from Vancouver, I am very much an Asian Pacific person, I al-

emphasize what’s happening even if you don’t agree, and it is very im-

ready had that orientation. So when I received this Western Civilization

portant that the difference when you are representing your country to

checklist, I checked off all the boxes of the courses I wanted to take and

empathize without going native. And you have to maintain your role as

sent it back, and the answer came back from Stanford administration:

a civil servant who is putting into place the policies of your government

“The response was so overwhelming that we had to pull names out of

in that country, but you also have to have the ability to explain to your

a hat. Sorry you didn’t make it.” So my reaction was “Ok, fine, if I can’t

country what the drivers are, what the pressure points might be, back

take Western Civilization, I will take Eastern Civilization.” And I had

to your leadership at home. And I do feel quite strongly that histori-

an extremely good professor teaching China, and I was hooked. So for

cal bent does allow you that ability to understand what’s happening

the next four years after a sojourn in Stanford in France and 6 months

to work through what is often a great deal of confusing and conflicting

to wander around Europe, I put together an interdepartmental major,

information and then interpret it back to your leadership at home.

one of the first interdepartmental majors that was allowed in Chinese studies bringing together history, anthropology, sociology, political science, Chinese language, poetry art, and sold it to the interdepartmental committee and that ended up being my undergraduate degree in Chinese studies.

How has the diplomatic scene changed now, compared with when you first joined the Department of External Affairs in 1975? In other words, if you were a Stanford senior graduating this year, would you make the same decision of becoming a diplomat and why?

Yesterday you mentioned students who are thinking about diplomacy as a career should not try to necessarily get a degree in International Relations and instead should try to follow their own academic interests. So for you, how does being a historian play a role in your later career as a diplomat?

Well, if I knew today that I was going to have the same sort of career as I have had over the last 30 years, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. That said, I do think the nature of diplomacy has fundamentally changed, even 20 years ago, we were talking about the effect of technology and diplomacy, and you had a globalization of information that was not ren-

I think one of the things that diplomats have to do is to empathize with

dering diplomacy obsolete but certainly changing how people at home

the country that they are in. Part of our role, a very important part of

got their information and what the role of diplomats would be. That

our role, is to explain what is happening in the country to which we

was 20 years ago—I mean, just imagine all the changes in the last 20

are credited in a way that is in a sense is an interpretation so that is

yrs. And I think diplomacy has to evolve.

understandable to decision makers back home, to our senior political leaders, and I think having a historical bent allows you that ability to

There are parts of diplomacy that you can’t replace—face-to-face nega-


An Interview with Ambassador John Sloan (Transcript) tion, bilateral over commercial agreements, multilateral over climate

same lines.

change agreements, etc. By the end of the day, being a diplomat offers you two very specific capabilities that your leadership will never get

What is the most fulfilling or successful moment in your career? It

from the international press. The first is that you have access to people

could be a good judgment call or simply something you did that

because you are a representative of your government that no newspa-

later proved to have a lasting impact.

per person or no academic would be able to approach. And this allows you a wide range of people that you have access to that some people in the press may not always have access to. And the second thing is you

That’s a tough question. I’ve been involved in so many interesting

have the ability to take the issues you are dealing with and translate

things—climate change associations to engaging bilaterally with Japan,

them into an order that makes sense to people back home. You can put

understanding that country, to seeing China, at that time that it was

a Canadian spin on issues that again they will never get from the inter-

just opening up, to dealing with the Muskoka 2010 G8, G20 summits

national press that will allow your decision makers back home to un-

to dealing with Russia for two years in Russia and Pakistan in different

derstand the situation easier and also understand the context of what it

circumstances. If I had to point out to one thing that I think really broke

might mean for developments in Canada.

new ground it would be chairing the G8 working group that produced the 2010 Muskoka Accountability Report, which for the first time was

In terms of the world of diplomacy, what I see now today is that peo-

an attempt to ask the question: did government live up to the commit-

ple come into foreign service much less for a career, they come in for

ments they made on development and development-related issues that

the experience, They for 5 years or 7 years to get some international

they made at the G8 summit, and we looked at the summit and all the

experience under their belt, and very often they go out, leave, and then

commitments related to development. Our first job was to define what

they come back again. This is something I would strongly encourage.

commitments were and develop a methodology whether those commit-

At times, I think diplomacy is far too introverted and needs to expand

ments had been measured or not. This really was groundbreaking work

its horizons. I know in my case, if I had not left the Canadian foreign

that since the 2010 G8 has been repeated at other G8s and that I sense

service and gone to work at the UK financial services authority, I would

is now going to expand to the G20. We did it in a way that was very

not have come back with the skill sets that I have that allowed me to

conscious from the beginning that if this process had no credibility with

do the director for economic policy job, and ultimately allowed me to

the NGOs and the academics that were following these issues, it would

do the ambassador to Russian Federation job. I was away for six and a

go nowhere. We were particular proud that we worked with NGOs and

half years for acquiring a different skill set from those that I had picked

academics to make sure we had a system of methodology that had suf-

up as a Foreign Service officer. That was a really important part for my

ficient credibility. So if we say that country X had made and lived up to

own career development. I would encourage others to think among the

this commitment, or country y had only partially lived up to this com-


An Interview with Ambassador John Sloan (Transcript) mitment, that this would be seen as a truthful and honest assessment whether a country had lived up to their commitments, and it’s an area that is just beginning. Some academics have tried to do works in this area. Since the 2010G8, we did break intellectually the new international ground. What is next? What is your primary goal for the next five years?

I don’t have one at this point. When I decided that it wasn’t going to get any better than Moscow, I decided to retire. My decision is to take the next 6 months off, do speaking engagements, like I have been doing at Stanford this week, and I have several coming up the next month or two, but make no major commitments and see what happens. I have a lot of interests and I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years. And at the end of 6 months, sit down and decide: Ok, what is it you want to do for the next stage of your life. And one of the very good pieces of advice I’ve been given is: don’t question to try and do things, things will come up, and if you commit yourself too early, too quickly, too often, you will end up not being able to spend time on those things you really want to work on. So I will see what comes up, and I’m gonna take it from there. In that sense, I am very relaxed right now in the first week of my retirement.


A Conversation with Dan Edelstein Vivian Lam have read. That side is a bit more aspirational”), alongDan Edelstein is the Director of the French and Italian department and Chair of Undergraduate Studies in French and Italian at Stanford University. He works mostly on eighteenth-century French literature, history, and political theory. He has written two books, The Terror of Natural Right: Republicanism, the Cult of Nature, and the French Revolution and The Enlightenment: A Genealogy. The former won the 2009 Oscar Kenshur Book Prize.

side with books stacked in piles on his desk. What appeared to be a large black and white rug made its way towards me. “Don’t mind her,” he chuckled as he moved to sit behind his desk, leaning forward in his chair to pet his rather endearing dog. Dan Edelstein, a professor of 18th century France, did

So there I stood, nervously shifting from one foot to the other in front of a heavy-looking wooden

door. I was examining a comic strip version of Candide (alongside the cover of one of Dan Edelstein’s books, The Terror of Natural Right: Republicanism, the Cult of Nature, and the French Revolution, and various other posters) posted on his door when it swung open, and Professor Edelstein himself stood in front of me with a radiant smile on his face. He swept his arm wide and beckoned me into a room that was flanked on both sides by shelves towering with books (he noted: “All the books on that side I

not originally plan to devote his research to that particular field of study until his graduate years. “At the time, I was much more drawn toward contemporary literature and poetry. It was the French Revolution that drew me in. Initially, I was very intrigued by the mixture of politics and mythology that took place in the Revolution. Once you start working on the Revolution, it’s such a fascinating and complex series of events.” I asked him about his cerebral rock band, Glass Wave. He laughed, “We’re on a permanent sabbatical.” Glass Wave, formed for the students of an IHUM course he taught called Epic Journeys, rendered many cornerstones of the western literary canon into song, including


A Conversation with Dan Edelstein “Ophelia” from Hamlet, and “Nausicaa” from the Odyssey. “As an end

mode which a lot of music and to some degree painting has remained

of quarter surprise, we put some of the works we read in class to music,


in a more tongue-in-cheek and humorous way.” But then I thought of the many fads and phases of pop culture that

I asked him about his cerebral rock band, Glass Wave. He laughed, “We’re on a permanent sabbatical.”

Our conversation

have simply faded without making a lasting impact, despite their initial



immense popularity. Certainly Harry Potter will remain as a key part of

the state of lit-

books that have influenced today’s society, but will it still be regarded

erature today. “I

with the same sort of fascination and awe centuries later? What is the

do think that stu-

difference between sensationalization and a true embodiment of the

dents these days

human experience? “It’s kind of impossible to say. When you study the

seem a bit more intimidated by literature than maybe 20 years ago…

past, what you see is that many works that were deemed incredibly suc-

But once you introduce these authors to them in a manner that makes

cessful and were widely popular had completely disappeared from the

them less intimidating, I don’t think that they’re any less charmed by

canon. Clearly, there is a phenomenon through which many successful

them. These remain [as] some of the most amazing achievements of our

popular works vanish.”

culture and their wonder has not faded.” Conscious of the books towering above us, I asked about the impact of Going beyond the established literary canon, I wondered if contempo-

the digital age on reading literature. He didn’t find that there was much

rary works that have had significant cultural impact, like Harry Potter

of a difference. “I see students read entire novels on screens. One of

or Twilight, would make it into the realm of the “classics.” He believed

the great things about books is that the medium is not that important.”

that it was entirely possible. “It’s one of the interesting differences be-

Though it seems as if these great stories will be preserved for as long as

tween the way that literature has weathered the 20th century, com-

humanity needs them, the possibility of these works of literature fall-

pared to music and art. In the case of music, leaving aside pop, what

ing out of the public consciousness struck me as something well within

classical composers would still consider to be their craft has really lost

the realm of possibility. He believed that “[i]t would be a tragedy. We

its audience. It’s only the cognoscenti who will be racing to get the lat-

would lose worlds and worlds of imagination, and probably even more

est contemporary classical work. That hasn’t really happened with lit-

than that. Our experience of the world would be stunted, and our ca-

erature. The authors whom we consider among our best are still very

pacity to wonder and to marvel and to be amazed would be limited. I

widely read…The novel in particular is such an unwieldy and impossi-

think that’s one of the things we forget…that the experience of reading

ble-to-contain genre that was able to go through the period of experi-

an amazing novel, or of listening to an incredible symphony, is one that

mentation and transformation without being stuck in that avant-garde

reminds you of greatness that can be achieved by humans. And if we


A Conversation with Dan Edelstein forget that, we’re going to settle into an existence of mediocrity.” I then wondered about students staring intently at pages upon pages of text in the library, commuters flipping pages while they wait for their next destination, people curling themselves around a book rain or shine. I asked if it was possible to read too much, and live vicariously through these beloved characters. Professor Edelstein disagreed. “If anything, our culture should be more afraid of people reading too little than too much. Reading does enrich your experience of world, you become more aware of the depth of other people…you become more aware of the specificity of your own time when you compare it with those of other periods. It really plunges you into another world, you get a real feel for that world, and you can’t help but notice by contrast the specificity of your own world.” Coming out of our meeting, I couldn’t help but feel that these works lining bookshelves around the world will never be forgotten. However much of what we call the human experience changes and evolves, this common thread of what it means to be a human being—this shared search for meaning—is what allows the people of the past to still resonate so deeply in the people of the present. It seems that literature, books, and stories are indelible marks of humanity, the most universal methods of sharing the human experience that can never truly fade away.


A Conversation with Tong Zhe Nina Zou I insisted on choosing another, more unconventional Tong Zhe is the founder of the One-Man University, a Chinese non-profit organization with the mission of providing a top quality education to anyone, not just as a service, but as a way to motivate people to enjoy learning. He holds a master degree from ENS (École Normale Supérieure de Paris) and a B.A. in Peking University with a specialization in theoretical physics. His One-Man University, the first private free online-education provider in China, was launched in October 2012. Since then, Tong has poured all his passion into pushing MOOC forward in China.

path,” expounded Tong. When we asked him about how he found his passion for MOOC, Tong told us frankly “As soon as I put the first videos up, a bunch of exciting things happened. I started to receive positive feedback from watchers in China. At first, it’s very unintuitive, but when I actually think about it from their point of view, it makes a lot of sense. They were forced to learn step by step for years.” After months of work, he uploaded several self-made physics video clips, which were viewed nearly 100,000

What is the definition of influence? Is it the dream that one individual has to change the

world? Or is it the glimmering reputation earned by those who have achieved renown? For Tong Zhe, the founder of One-Man University, the answer is invariably the former one. With diplomas from Peking University and ENS, Tong can easily swarm into the world of intellectual success. However, he would rather not. In 2012, Tong Zhe gave up a Ph. D offer and headed back to China with the dream of reinventing education through video. Tong maintained his friendliness and eagerness when talking with us. “I was determined to be back. During the time in Paris, I was inspired by the talent-training mode. Learning can be fun, and that really touched me to the degree that I wanted to share those courses with Chinese students. After graduation, I sat silently in my ENS dormitory. Clearly there was an option for me to continue my study as a Ph.D candidate, whereas

times in total. Now the number of video clips made by One-Man has multiplied aggressively with brilliant volunteers from all over the world. Tong has great confidence in what he is working on; his initial success fueled his desire to move forward. His one-year-old One-Man University is one of the fastest-growing online learning platforms in China. Tong’s confidence comes from the great demand for higher education in China. It is true that most people are thirsty for first-tier education since the threshold of higher education is comparatively high. In addition, the Internet is ready to make free on-line education possi-


A Conversation with Tong Zhe ble. Based on those facts, Tong started on his path. Whether he will be

icisms for Starbucks due to my extracted insights from reading about

a successful front-runner of this trend is not clear but it is something

economics.” His beliefs tell him that knowledge and learning can pro-

worth striving towards. He finally won his family’s support due to his

duce a fulfilled man in the endless pursuit of truth. That is why he used

passion. “I am fortunate. It is easy for me to sustain daily life as a part-

the Chinese character Shi, referring to truth, as a part of the badge of

time teacher for high-school students. And my parents gave me enough

One Man University. It is a mark of the educated mind to entertain a

properties and estates for my whole life. I cannot find a better way to

thought without accepting it.

spend that money than on One Man. In some people’s eyes, I am wasting my money and happiness, but I am willing to do that, because the

In order to make the joy of learning visible, his team created a knowledge-map for all learners. Tong showed us a picture from his phone, a hand-made map showing a carefully structured series of educational videos to be offered in the near future. In this way, the users will be able to have a clear picture of what they have done and feel a sense of achievement. “We’ve tried to build in retrieval practice into the platform, as well as other forms of practice.” For a liberal arts education, One Man aims at classical reading, including both Eastern and Western literature, which Tong has given a lot of attention as the liberal arts can polish the personality and character.

happiness of the whole society will be improved because of my spend-

Tong has the dream of letting Chinese students play a more positive


role in the campaign for enlightenment. Thus, he insists on teaching

Whenever a student speaks with Tong, his passion for on-line educa-

in Chinese and within a limited amount of time. “Language is still an

tion is immediately apparent. “Education is more about provocation

issue if MOOCs are to involve significant numbers of Chinese students”.

than instruction,” he expounded. He believes that the public needs

In this way, One Man will be more approachable and more students will

high-quality entertainment that can help them to understand the


world. His personal experience has told him that people will become the masters of their own lives by reading and learning. In his college

And while he will always have his critics, he has done some indisput-

years, he had academic interests beyond his major--- economics. The

ably great things for the general public. People’s rejection of his plan is

reading of economic masterpieces made him more intelligent and in-

understandable. Currently, personal sacrifice without the promise of

dependent. “For example, I maintain my neutrality for the harsh crit-

immediate gain becomes an anomaly when a sense of entitlement is


A Conversation with Tong Zhe the most powerful predisposition shaping individual actions. Tong is

tion for anyone, anywhere. “All of our resources are completely free for-

a dreamer, an idealist and a practitioner, believing he can make the

ever, no matter whether you are a student, home-schooler or a senior

world a better place. He has the great vision of everyone being able to

person.” Knowledge creates fun, and “you are your own university” is

enjoy the happiness of learning. In order to realize his dream, he turns

the slogan of One-Man University. “I didn’t fabricate this motto, it just

everything into an advantage, including criticism of his One-Man Uni-

came to my mind naturally. I want each student to be able to resonate

versity.” And finally, this project will enable lifelong learning. Because

with excitement because of the things they are learning, no matter how

varied and amazing content will be available on the Internet, we will

abstruse they are. ”

have a natural impulse to learn something new every time we want to, even it has nothing to do with a diploma and a secure job.” He affirmed that his mission is to provide a free, high-quality educa-


Challenging Happiness: An Interview with Greg Watkins Radhika Bora

Walking into Greg’s office once again this fall, the scent of Good Earth tea and the walls

lined with bookshelves makes it feel like I am entering his office for the first time: a giddy, nervous freshman about to have her first encounter with Plato and Aristotle. As Assistant Director of Structured Liberal Education, a year-long residential program in philosophy

and literature for freshmen at Stanford, Greg taught me in my first SLE section. Back then, the conversations we had in Greg’s section opened up a world of Big Questions: what does it mean to be happy? What kind of life should one live? Asking myself these questions has pushed me to grow in the past year, but I still struggle with them. This fall, I return to ask Greg about his answers to these monumental questions. First, I ask about Greg’s childhood. He explains, “So, I’m from a little town in Idaho. It was a little farming town, about 20,000 people.” He believes that students today experience the world very differently: “The world can be very small. Because of the Internet, even small town kids can know a lot about the world.” He also shares an anecdote: “Even TV, we had three channels. They all told you the same thing.” How, then, did Greg get to Stanford from his tiny hometown? He describes it as “quite accidental,” revealing that Stanford sent him an application in the mail. Greg had never heard of the university but felt he should apply: “Like, oh, they want me to fill this out, I better fill this out!”

Once enrolled at Stanford as a Chemical Engineering premed student, Greg met a much more diverse group of people. He took SLE to get rid of his humanities requirements but says that the program “changed his life” by beginning his conversation with the humanities. He describes his introduction to serious film in SLE: “Sud-


Challenging Happiness: An Interview with Greg Watkin denly, I was seeing movies I didn’t know could exist. All I knew was

gy; after showing A Little Stiff, he moved back to the Bay Area to pursue

Hollywood movies. So that was blowing my mind freshman year.”

a degree in the field. Mark Mancall, then director of SLE, offered Greg a job teaching a section in SLE while he was in school. Greg found that

After completing his self-designed major in Social Theory, Greg planned

he preferred SLE to psychology: “So here I am studying psychology and

to attend law school. While taking a senior picture in Boise, Idaho, his

teaching these texts that changed my life so much originally and kind of

photographer challenged his decision to become a lawyer (“Oh, great,

falling in love with them again, and falling in love with teaching them.”

another lawyer, that’s what the world needs”) and asked Greg: “’’If

In order to teach at the college level, Greg needed a Ph.D. He complet-

you could look back on your life in twenty years, what you have done

ed a doctoral degree in the Religious Studies department at Stanford

and considered a success?’...I thought of the Seventh Seal [an Ingmar

“and stayed connected to SLE the whole time.” Greg continues to teach

Bergman film] and how much of an impact it had on me...and I said, ‘I

SLE today, but adds that it might be a step along the way to yet another

would’ve made a film that was as great as a Bergman film,’ and he said,


‘Well, that’s what you should be doing.’”

When my co-interviewer and fellow SLE alum Sylvia Yang asked him about happiness, Greg responded: “Is it too nerdy to give an Aristotelian answer to this?” For Greg, happiness means something like “flourishing,” like the Greek word, eudaimonia. “I’m more inclined to think

Both excited and scared by the idea of filmmaking, Greg decided to take

that one should evaluate one’s life in terms of flourishing, instead of

a year off instead of applying to law school. After contemplating his

subjective happiness, of feeling some kind of pleasure,” Greg explains.

choices, he applied and was accepted into UCLA in film production. He

“You may not always know you’re happy in that sense unless you step

enjoyed meeting “great people, who are still partners in filmmaking and

back and take stock of your life.”

incredibly close friends” but disliked the film industry and living in Los Angeles, “which is filled with deception of all kinds.” He explains his

Greg notes that “you could be feeling not happy, most of the time, and

frustration with the industry: “You often have to misrepresent what’s

yet step back and ask, ‘Is my life flourishing in the ways that I want it

going on...I didn’t see myself playing this game, that you often have to

to? Do I have important friendships, am I engaged in activities that


I value?’” For Greg, for instance, family, students, and film work are valuable. He believes that “the human animal is built to be tilting to-

Despite his qualms, Greg found some success in filmmaking: his film A

wards unhappy, most of the time” and that being “stress-free” doesn’t

Little Stiff was shown at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah in

necessarily mean flourishing in one’s life.

1991. However, while filming he had discovered an interest in psycholo-


Challenging Happiness: An Interview with Greg Watkin Ultimately, for Greg, happiness means being able to step back from your life and say: “’I’m doing lots of things that I want to be doing, and I’m flourishing in that sense.’” I leave Greg’s office with a sense of combined wonder and distress. Before, I had doubted that happiness and constant stress could coexist, but Greg, who often feels frustrated, still feels that he flourishes. This conversation reopens the question Greg asked in one of his sections last year: what does it mean to be happy? I still don’t know if I agree with Greg, but his life has been full of movement and change, rich with human experience, and powerful in touching the lives of his current and former students, people like me. If anyone can be a model for a flourishing, “textured” life, it is Greg Watkins. I will keep his words and example, and above all the questions he taught me to ask, in mind as I continue to explore what happiness means for me.


A Chat with Yizhou Zhu Nina Zou


my way through the busiest part of

the city of Shanghai to the Google-decor office, I sensed that a story was about to unfold. It is a tale about a young dreamer with a suitcase full of passion. Yizhou Zhu, 26, the co-founder of Shanghai-based startup Mobvoi, just finished his graduate program from Stanford University. Unlike the majority of Stanford post-graduates, he chose to dive into the Chinese market after a brief start-up experience in the U.S., creating his own company which focuses on mobile voice search. The motivation to launch a start-up and cash in on the growing demand in the world’s largest Internet market was not uncommon. For Zhu, the passion stems from his innate start-up spirit. He “admires Silicon Valley. Precisely because it is a place where talents build revolutionary products and disrupt big ones regardless of social classes, races or nationality.” Zhu says that “anyone with smarts, motives and great ideas plans to raise money and build the next billion-dollar company. This is the central tenet of Valley’s ethos; this could not be truer for a Stanford student. Such a tenet is so deep in my veins that I am bound to be a start-up person.” By the time Zhu got to middle school, he had narrowed down his final destination to Stanford

University, setting himself a path that would ultimately lead him to one of the world’s most renowned academic institutions. Indeed this is a rather fitting end for Zhu, who credits his own predilection towards computers to an earlier programming competition. He expounded, “I took part in the Mathematical Modeling Competition. With the efforts of our team, we successfully solved two actual problems, the analysis of the rationalization of the SCI system and the prediction of the Chinese population in next ten years. This experience is a big stepping stone to my future research.” Of course, Stanford University plays a central role in this process. “Studying at Stanford University further fuels my entrepreneurial spirit. Stanford offers encouragement in any form to nurture the young dreamers,” he added. “Our innovative, entrepreneurial culture is a pure expression of the start-up’s nature. In the face of overwhelming pressure, we Stanford students choose to transmute stress into inspiration and do what many of our ancestors did: found a startup. I still remember the first time I visited the Facebook office - it was an extremely thrilling experience! I


A Chat with Yizhou Zhu have been so captivated by the idea of creating my own company ever

popular messaging app in China. At the initial stage, we have brain-

since. “

stormed a series of ideas. An idea is an idea but after all, there is still a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a

Some may wonder why he chose to leap out of his comfort zone among

great product.” He then started to reflect on daily life in China, saying

the technology giants in Silicon Valley only to land on an unknown tour

that “voice search is becoming more popular than ever due to the grow-

back to China. His answer was determined: “the startup spirit is about

ing penetration and usage of smartphones. However, applications like

taking risks, diving into new technologies and attempting to be the first

Siri often fail to deliver a satisfactory answer. In this case, our mobile

and best in a particular field. It is said that big breakthroughs happen

voice search app Chumenwenwen provides a solution.”

when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary. The nationwide frenzy for entrepreneurship can mainly be attributed

Whenever someone speaks with Zhu about his innovative application,

to the emerging opportunity in China.”

Chumenwenwen, his passion becomes immediately apparent: “We cur-

A tried-and-true way of starting one’s own business is to find what

rently have fifteen employees with an office based on Shanghai. The re-

is desperately necessary.

sources for entrepreneurs

Zhu’s startup experience

here are endless. The ear-

was born through an appli-

ly days of running a com-

cation called Orange Park, a

pany are stressful but re-

location-based social appli-

warding. The team spirit

cation in a Facebook-style

that comes from a close-

office. This experience gave

ly-knit bunch of founders

him full insight into how

battling against the odds

a start-up is run. In the

to bring something to the

summer of 2010 and after

market creates a close

chatting until dawn with


Xiaolong Zhang, the Father

I’ve met some incredibly



smart and talented peo-

said, “I figured out that we

ple here. The greatest

could make a mass prod-

satisfaction for the team

uct based on the WeChat

members and I is seeing

platform, which is the most

an idea or concept come





A Chat with Yizhou Zhu to life and to know that you are changing an industry and other people’s

obsolete and everything is going mobile. So it is a very exciting time for

lives for the better.”

startups that are in the mobile industry. I believe that voice search is going to aggressively expand into every function of human life. One of

He then talked about the subtle difference in the start-up business envi-

the key issues is to get mobile phones to understand more natural lan-

ronment between China and the U.S. “On close inspection, the evidence

guage and complex queries – and that’s precisely what we are striving

suggests that the keys to success in the start-up world in China and in

towards,” Zhu affirmed.

the U.S. is quite different. In China, having a prestigious degree, proving your success in the U.S. market and having personal connections to

After a brief talk with Zhu, what I felt deeply that passion can guide one

powerful people is more important than the idea itself. In contrast, Sil-

through all the hardships and inspirations can sparkle entrepreneur-

icon Valley is often said to draw top talent because it has an unfettered

ship. Creativity can occur when both the humanities and the sciences

innovative spirit. You can prove your idea by simply showing how pow-

combine into one strong personality. Just as Steve Jobs once described,

erful the real product is and the vision it has; while in China, you have

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t

to play it safe by replicating success in the U.S. Both entrepreneurs and

be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people’s

investors tend to fear failure,” Zhu affirmed. “Silicon Valley has its way

thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own in-

of finding greatness and supporting it - it values ingenuity more than

ner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart

anywhere else. Meanwhile, the market for legal services businesses to

and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to be-

support entrepreneurs is now quite established and mature in the U.S.

come. Everything else is secondary.”

The same cannot be said of China. Small businesses will continue to struggle on their own.” Throughout our conversation, Zhu spoke with passion and optimism, which grew stronger when he cheerfully reflected on his thoughts on success. “You certainly have to have a high level of emotional consistency to be a successful entrepreneur. Letting the ups and downs get to you is dangerous. Besides, an entrepreneur alone is vulnerable to shortsightedness and fatigue, but with a passionate team come diverse perspectives and encouragement. Find your team and start creating cool things. Things that the market needs desperately. For now, we are witnessing a major technological shift where the desktop is becoming


Expect the Unexpected: A Conversation with Jeffrey Brenzel Anna Qin and Simona Xu fessor Brenzel came back with two delicate Chinese ceJeffrey Brenzel teaches Directed Studies, a yearlong program at Yale on Western civilization where students read central western texts in literature, philosophy, and historical and political thought. He is the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale and a Lecturer in the Philosophy Department. He has also worked in the nonprofit sector and as an entrepreneur. He founded InterLearn, Inc., an organization that worked in adult education programming.

ramic teacups and sat down on the armchair next to me. With the scent of tea filling the room, we began our conversation.

A Boat out of the Blue Professor Brenzel always had a smile on his face, which followed

Meow!” A kitten was the first to welcome us when we walked into Professor Brenzel’s

house. The interior was quaint and cozy, just like all the other Yale residential colleges.

Professor Brenzel invited us into his study and offered us something to drink. When we asked for tea, he presented us with a variety of Chinese tea in a delicate box. While Brenzel was making tea for us in the kitchen, we examined the study. Against each wall stood a deep red wooden shelf overflowing with books. There were also books lying on the cupboard and the writing desk. On the tea table beside me lay a copy of Outline of Skepticism, (last week’s Directed Studies reading) a thin book called How to Win in College, presumably to prepare for college students asking him for advice and two books on philosophy and humanism. While I was staring outside the window at the sunlight and colorful autumn trees, Pro-



voice. all


with soothing Although hair


white, his bright eyes imparted a sense of youthfulness. Professor Brenzel spent his childhood in Louisville, Kentucky. He went to a prestigious


school. He also participated in a


Expect the Unexpected: A Conversation with Jeffrey Brenzel Brenzel lived on a friend’s sofa in New Haven and made a living putting up posters for a test preparation service. Brenzel laughed at these bleak years after college, saying, “You really don’t know what’s going to happen next” after graduation. Today among college students, there is a hyper anxiety about finding a job: many Yale seniors have made plans for the future or found a job in their first semester. But Brenzel thinks people may be putting too much importance on their first job, assuming that it’s going to determine their life trajectory. In fact, the vast majority of people coming out of Yale will have more than six jobs in their career, because today we are in a dynamic, fast-changing environment that requires us to quickly adjust to new demands and unexpected circumstances. Brenzel did not have a job interview until he was forty-five

The First Years after Yale After graduating from Yale, Brenzel wasn’t anxious about looking for jobs like many college students today. Instead, he spent ten weeks biking around France on his own. Before this, he and his girlfriend from Yale had planned to move to San Francisco. Out of an uncertainty about their relationship and their future, or rather simply because of a desire to enjoy his youth and freedom, Brenzel went off to France without discussing his plans with his girlfriend. Understandably, this angered her but when he came back from the trip, his girlfriend had fallen in love with someone else in California. So without a job, money or a girlfriend,

years old. This may be hard for current students to imagine. But the recruiting process of applications and interviews is only how a tiny sliver of the world operates. The most interesting jobs often come about in the most unexpected ways.

Service to the Larger World In the first phase of his career, Brenzel said he proceeded through chance, moving up in position based on his past experience, and ended up in Washington D.C., creating qualification exams for the National Association of Security Stewards. He worked there for six years. He could have continued within the organization: he was making good


Expect the Unexpected: A Conversation with Jeffrey Brenzel money, he had a girlfriend, and D.C. was

thirty-six years old, with a wife and two kids.

a nice place to live in. But ultimately, that career did not appeal to him and that is

Business and Philosophy

when he decided to join the Catholic religious order as a novice priest. Being a

The second move out of the ivory tower and into the real world made

novice priest is like doing an internship:

Brenzel experience new territory as a professional trainer. Under pres-

first, he stayed for three months in a

sure to support his family while studying philosophy in graduate school,

monastery to study and pray with oth-

he experienced life as a professional speaker and business trainer. Yet

er novices, and then he was sent out to

this obvious income generator did not turn Brenzel into a Dale Carne-

work in different communities for three

gie. Instead, it turned out to be the unexpected key to that “end” he had

months in each place. During these two

searched for so long.

years, he worked in a charity cancer ward of a hospital in Philadelphia, taught in a

For Brenzel, being a professional trainer and talking to business people

low-income primary school in Pennsylvania, mentored runaway teen-

drew on his technical expertise in consulting that he had accumulated

agers in New York City, and dealt with environmental issues in a coalm-

over the years. However, things took a different turn when he started

ine in Appalachia.

adding his study in philosophy into the picture. He started speaking about Aristotle and developing a business-training program based on

Two basic things motivated his life decisions. The first was a desire

the Aristotle’s work in Ethics and Rhetoric. To his surprise, this natu-

to further his intellectual exploration: “When you have a certain lev-

ral amalgamation between his esoteric passion and the chance product

el of intellectual capacity and curiosity, you will probably maintain it

of his circumstances opened up a new market—people were actually

throughout [your] life and that is something you can always take fur-

more interested in philosophy. Aristotle’s insights proved to be ex-

ther.” The second was a desire to serve the larger world. Living mere-

tremely helpful to the way business people think about their practices,

ly for himself struck him as empty, however, being a priest seemed to

such as the development of excellence, peak function and the practical

combine those two motivations. Reflecting on this experience, Brenzel

and moral virtues which raises questions like, “What do trust and con-

admitted that he was a little extreme and had a romantic idea of what

fidence depend on in a collaborative enterprise? How do you know you

priesthood was like. When he was attracted to some idea, he wanted to

can trust people, and what qualities do you need in order to collabo-

pursue it all the way to the end. In the end, he decided not to become a


priest, but the experience changed his life. It ultimately took him back to school in Notre Dame to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy when he was

Combining his technical expertise and knowledge of philosophy, Bren-


Expect the Unexpected: A Conversation with Jeffrey Brenzel zel started a business after graduate school. He went around top universities filming top professors’ lectures and made a profit by selling them back to the alumni. This was his link between his two worlds—the real business world and the idealistic philosophical academic world. Taking it further by drawing on his association management skills, he then secured an online partnership with Stanford, Princeton and Oxford and created the first set of online courses - the origin of what will eventually become the Yale Open Course. Then Brenzel sold the company to Baltimore and started the next stage of his life.

A Call to Duty: The Struggle to Serve Yale Brenzel responded to Yale’s call and served in the alumni association for eight years. But that was not what the interviewers of this article knew him as before he became their professor. About eight years ago, Brenzel received an unexpected request from the president of Yale at the time, asking him to take on the position of Dean of the Admissions Office. Brenzel thought this was absurd and turned down the job three times. After all, being the Dean of the Admissions Office at Yale was nothing fun — what would it feel to sign more rejection letters than congratulations? To him, admission was a morally contentious zero-sum game. He spelled out this idea to the president stating: “You don’t want a philosopher to do this.”

“Why not take a chance? If you understand yourself, this will be the best service you will do for the university.”

To his surprise, the president replied: “That’s why I want you to do it.”

And the rest is history—the signature of Jeffrey Brenzel on the admis-

“I will either paralyze the process or the process will paralyze me.”

ful of themselves, hope sincerely that they will prove Yale’s choice right.

sion letters of the authors of this article, who, though somewhat doubt-


Expect the Unexpected: A Conversation with Jeffrey Brenzel From the Life of Philosophy to the Philosophy of Life Just like any students of philosophy who fell for the irresistible Aristotelian ideal of eudemonia or just about any intellectually oriented person who has an undying intellectual curiosity about things, Brenzel has always been struggling to answer the question, “How does one fit together theoretical and practical reason?” in his own life. Brenzel falls in between the two and he treasures this balance as an essential part of his nature. This acorn of his nature was taken by the tides of fortune to different places until it found the soil in which it was able to grow. The different stages of trials and errors in his life have produced an evolving understanding of what the acorn is by recognizing what it is not, which is just as important, if not more so. When one realizes this soil is not for him or her, it is time to leave. For Brenzel, many stayed for too long because of this unavoidable sense of insecurity about starting over. Having the nature of an explorer gives Brenzel the courage to embrace uncertainties as a worldly philosopher, who is hyperconscious of the fragility of things, but who nevertheless believes that one has to move forward following one’s heart, because one will never know whether he or she will be happy until the end of his or her life, and that is simply too long to wait. As Brenzel says, with a Buddhist touch: “When the student is ready, the teacher will come. Expect to be surprised.”


A Conversation with Professor Anthony Antonio Celina Jackson are meaningful to them. Anthony Antonio is Associate Professor of Education and Associate Director of the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research at Stanford University. He is also an Affiliated Professor at the Center for Comparative Study in Race and Ethnicity in Asian American Studies.

Antonio had been on a path toward engineering since he was a child. Growing up, there was an unspoken expectation around him that success was narrowly achieved through education and a career as a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc. “I don’t remember my parents ever saying that but I do

Just as many Stanford engineering students today struggle through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) classes, Anthony Antonio, a professor of Ed-

ucation, recalls opportunities that he did not take to reflect on his career path during his undergraduate years. “I remember my senior year… being up at three in the morning trying to write a lab report and not having the motivation or energy to do it,” he says. “At that time that didn’t send me down a path of, ‘maybe I shouldn’t be on doing this, maybe I shouldn’t be on this path to be an engineer,’ but it was a time that I remembered years later as a sign… a moment for reflection that didn’t occur.” As a faculty member of the Stanford School of Education, part of Antonio’s work revolves around providing students in higher education the skills and opportunities to have these moments of reflection for themselves so they are truly spending their time in ways that

remember feeling that,” he says. Antonio was born and raised in the Bay Area and both of his parents were raised in the Philippines. “In the community I grew up in, there was a large enough Filipino American community that I was surrounded by certain cultural values,” says Antonio. “Years later, I kind of understand where those ideas come from and they’re basically ideas of mobility.” The Philippines is a country of high social inequality: some families are very rich while others remain extremely poor. “The only way out of that is through a profession like a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, and for women, nursing,” Antonio explains. Since immigra-


A Conversation with Professor Anthony Antonio tion preferences made it dif-

math and science courses, then they should either become an engineer

ficult for laborers to come to

or a scientist of some kind.

America, “those [professional careers] were one way to im-

“It works in a negative way that if you’re good at math and science, it

prove your own life and immi-

seems like there are no other sort of acceptable pathways,” says Anto-

grate to the U.S.” and reaching

nio. “If you’re not good at math and science… then you’re not encour-

those pathways required high-

aged to think about a career that involves math and science preparation

er education.

somewhere along the way.”

Stories of the value of educa-

Unfortunately, this is not representative of how the real world works.

tion were commonly told in

“Think about all the skills and abilities that go into being a good physi-

Antonio’s family. “There were

cian - [which] go far beyond doing well in calculus, biology and chem-

stories about how in particu-

istry, etc.; but that’s not in a kid’s head and it’s not in the prevailing

lar my dad’s aunts and uncles

culture to understand that,” Antonio says. “It’s narrowly focused.”

supported each other to gain further education, that was sort of the family struggle story,” he says.

When Antonio was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, he saw a connec-

“Pursuing further education was, I always felt, fulfilling family legacy.”

tion somewhere along the lines of the narrow conceptions of success and the low retention rates of Filipino students. “When we walked in

Friends of Antonio who (took other paths) faced more resistance and

there we were told, ‘well here’s what the numbers look like, the reten-

opposition from their families. “Certainly I had friends that didn’t pur-

tion rate is 50% at UC Berkeley. So look around the room and half of

sue those pathways [of education] and it was harder for them because

you are not going to make it.’”

it was violating norms in a way. It wasn’t seen as a legitimate pathway, to be an artist and not go to college, because success was more narrowly

Inspired to do something about this issue, Antonio began working on

defined, more narrowly experienced.”

programs to increase the retention rate of Filipino students. He saw the focus on success through math and science careers as a potential

This idea of a narrow path to success goes along with the messages


students get in school around STEM fields and acceptable pathways through education and careers. Children are not taught to view their

“You have a whole bunch of young folks that worked really hard in high

education and career holistically: they are told that if they succeed in

school to make it to UC Berkeley and probably did well enough in math


A Conversation with Professor Anthony Antonio and science to enter college with that as a goal; but at that level of competition, it’s not just talent, it’s talent and desire,” says Antonio. “Desire speaks to a kind of fit with who you are and in that environment, if your heart is not into what you’re doing you can only get so far with your mind alone...What I think was happening to a lot of students, and I would say this about not just Filipino students but that crazy number of pre-meds, is that with that disconnect they would have trouble at this kind of competitive level.” Students who are good at math and science are told that they should pursue a career in math or science; regardless of whether it’s something they enjoy doing or whether it fits well with who they are. They are pushed out of school because they do not think that they are competent in these fields but they do not take enough time to consider that they could excel in other areas or follow other paths to achieve ‘success.’ “So you have a kid that’s talented in various ways that gets a C in Organic Chemistry or Chem1A, [and that] tells them that they’re a failure at being a student; not that they are not competitive enough or perhaps not a good fit to be a doctor or an engineer, but that they’re not fit to be a college graduate,” he says. To Antonio, it is a real tragedy for students to question their intelligence or worth as a student rather than question the path that they are on. “When someone concludes, “‘I’m not smart’… to me that’s a terrible message to hear or to interpret because of one class or a couple classes or because you weren’t given the opportunity to think more broadly about your talents, abilities and passions, to find success in other places and in other ways.”



Charlatans and Witch Doctors: Why Cultural Differences Matter An Engaged State of Living What You Want is on the Other Side of the Fear: A Review of Broadway’s Sleep No More

Charlatans and Witch Doctors: Why Cultural Differences Matter So this quarter, I interviewed a man who has worked in foreign relations for a long time. He described Chinese people as “completely superstitious” and “charlatans” and derided

their beliefs in Chi Gong and lucky objects like amulets and pictures of Mao Zedong on rearview mirrors. At the time, I kept calm and finished my interview with him, but angry words lay at the tip of my tongue. Why would someone in foreign relations, someone whose job is to mediate between different cultures, openly degrade certain cultural beliefs? No one can express complete cultural sensitivity all the time. We have all made mistakes and said things we should not have. However, this man did not seem to think that there was anything wrong with admitting that he thought Chinese beliefs in the supernatural were primitive and unfounded in reality. I am not Chinese, so I do not know much about Chi Gong or the luck that amulets and pictures of Mao Zedong can bring to someone. My family is Indian and my grandfather, my uncles, aunts, and cousins all pray each time they see a temple. My grandfather cuts flowers and fruit from his garden and lights incense every day for a small shrine to my grandmother, who passed away fourteen years ago. While I personally do not partake in these activities, I do not believe that my grandfather’s shrine or my family’s respect for temples makes them charlatans. My dad sometimes calls them superstitious, but worshipping at shrines in temples is pretty common in India. My cousins, uncles, aunts and grandfather are normal people who believe that Hindu gods exist and that they play a


Charlatans and Witch Doctors: Why Cultural Differences Matter part in our daily lives.

man whole, and each view is just as real as the next one.

When I was six, my family moved to Indonesia. I was surprised to see

I am hoping that the next generation of diplomats engaging in intercul-

that everyone wore headscarves and no one ate pork or drank alcohol.

tural dialogue appreciates this richness in difference; that they can see

But when the people around me started fasting for Ramadan, I did not

a picture of Mao Zedong hanging from a rearview mirror as a window

think they were superstitious for following their religious beliefs; it was

into another world instead of a stain on their world. I have got my fin-

a widely-accepted practice and seemed totally fine to me. I tried not to

gers crossed, but it all depends on how we think about and articulate

eat or drink in front of people who I knew were fasting. Noticing what

our differences to each other.

people do differently from me and accepting that these customs are just the way things are done, comes intuitively to children. It is not difficult to grant some legitimacy and dignity to other people’s beliefs. While fasting at Ramadan and praying at temple are much more widespread practices than belief in Chi Gong or the luck of certain amulets, each is just as valid as the other. Just because there are fewer Zoroastrians than Hindus does not make Zoroastrianism a false religion; similarly, just because a sector of the Chinese population believes in Chi Gong rather than all Chinese people does not make Chi Gong a superstition. Everywhere they go, people believe something different. In India, it might be that Krishna can hear my grandfather saying he misses my grandmother with the smoke of his incense; in Indonesia, it might be that fasting shows respect for God and other people; in Libya, it might be that you have to slit a goat’s throat in a specific way to show your religious devotion; in U.S., it might be that you have to participate in your Bible study group to love God. These differences make the world richer and more interesting, and they give us different ways to look at where we are. Though it sounds trite, each belief forms a part of a hu-


An Engaged State of Living Vivian Lam

You could say that I have a sort of problem with the need to be “productive” every wak-

ing minute of the day. It is safe to conclude that I am generally occupied in some way,

shape or form that either makes my To-Do list at least slightly less depressingly long, or enriches my understanding of life (chuckling and making surprised sounds over Reader’s Digest in the W.C. most certainly counts). Usually, I would find myself concentrating deeply on a book: on long (or short) car rides, trips to the supermarket, prolonged family excursions to the mall, in the waiting room, in line, and so on. I would always carry a book with me, and I had somehow trained myself to dodge obstacles in my path as I walked with my eyes trained on pages upon pages of text. Reading, you could say, remains a true pastime of mine—those excruciating hours and minutes of waiting for these intermediate expanses of disengagement to pass were easily converted into valuable opportunities of productivity. I was right on track, and even getting ahead, of my reading schedule. I was getting valuable insights on life from amazing writers and I was not whining or complaining about the fact that we had been in the supermarket for over three hours, (my mother liked to make sure that the apples she picked were in pristine condition). “There went Harry Potter chasing after the golden snitch; there was Odysseus sailing away from the island of Calypso; and look, there goes Jean Valjean saving helpless children and taking self-sacrifice to another level, quite possibly tearing my heart to pieces with every move that he made” - time quite honestly flew by! But there came a certain point when I realized that my father was also standing there, waiting to pull the plug on the shopping machine as the sun fell from the sky. I would usu-

ally be reading my book, walking beside my father as he browsed until there was nothing to browse and he was simply left to wait. But how did he maintain his sanity during those long hours of nothing? He people-watched. I watched him as he watched people passing by, and I could not help but notice that the lady in red seemed to be in a shopping-induced high, or that the security guard standing in the corner seemed awfully lonely, or that guy really looks like my cousin. I started talking to my dad, talking about plans and people, branching out to questions about life that led impromptu pep talks and heart-to-hearts. Later, on the drive back home, I would set my book down for a few minutes, and just look out the window, watching the road stretch before me under a vitreous expanse of sky, gazing upon rows of little buildings and dollhouses in the distance that made up what I called home. I would just listen to the low hum of the car and my father’s familiar voice, while constantly changing radio stations. I just let my mind stop running at top speed and tried to take in the steady kind of serenity of just living - of being a part of this fragment of


An Engaged State of Living existence. I have never felt quite right leaving any amount of time “wasted”; I had to be engaged somehow—reading, writing, planning, anything that made me feel like I was being propelled forward in my journey towards something I had like to believe is my (current) life’s goal. But there seemed to be something sacred and, truly magical in those moments of stillness and of disengagement: to be suddenly so aware of the people around you, the world that surrounds you, each and every breath you take, these moments are intimate, rare, something that can never be taken for granted. To finally stop living vicariously through stories and forced engagement, and be able to fully engage yourself in your own experience of life is something that is as much an invaluable way to pass the time as to spend your time. You do not even have to be philosophizing about something that seemed incredibly profound. And perhaps this is the most universal method of productivity that we simply cannot procrastinate on.


What You Want is on the Other Side of the Fear: A Review of Broadway’s Sleep No More The gentleman with a Scottish bow tie hands each audience a paper card at the beginning

of theater production Sleep No More, and greets them with a typical enigmatic smile; his smile might remind people of Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as if he were going to say, “Welcome to a world painted by the chocolate-colored blood, a world with no more sleep.” McKittrick Hotel, where Sleep No More takes place, had been abandoned for nearly half a decade since the Second World War; it had created nothing but assorted mysteries and terrifying images in outsiders’ minds. Nobody knew what had ever happened inside; even if people can really sneak into this “exclusive” place nowadays, still, nobody can fully capture what is going on upstairs, in the next room, or even right before their eyes. On the second floor of McKittrick Hotel hides a bar called Manderley. In this dim, reddish room, the free Jazz played with Saxophone bringing the audience an impulsion to sway around; coquettish bar girls fill the Vodka in one and another glass goblet. Sitting at the round tables covered by vermeil linen tablecloths and whispering secretly to the person beside, the audience already seems to assimilate as a part of this 1930s “movie-scene”. “Whoever has number EIGHT, and any number bigger than eight, please come…right this way.” The eccentric voice of a male host interrupts everybody’s whispers. Each of the audience referred to is given a white mask to wear and then they are led into an elevator. Right at the moment that the door of the elevator closes, the face of the host suddenly appears to be bloody due to the effects of the light. A trace of fear penetrates the elevator

quickly; due to the monster darkness and the universal masks, nobody could recognize each other. People in the elevator are like dead bodies with pale looks, being sent to a hell by a pair of bloody hands - Macbeth’s hands? In this way, not until the show officially begins, the “who will be the next victim?” kind of panic that Shakespeare’s Macbeth often brings to the readers is already spreading out among the audience of Sleep No More. While people begin to be aware of their own fear, the fear of the protagonist Macbeth is as well on its way of being disclosed. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the fear that is deeply planted in Macbeth’s heart can be seen throughout the entire story. His fear not only originates from the unlimited greed and desire - the fear of losing what he has already possessed, the fear of being deprived of a more tempting future; but also from the devastating guilt - the fear of his misdeeds rebounding to himself someday, and the fear of things becoming no longer within control. The desire or greed and the guilt are supposed to constrain


What You Want is on the Other Side of the Fear: A Review of Broadway’s Sleep No More each other to some extent, but in fact, they breed each other in a dele-

and desire, which only makes things worse.

terious way---the more Macbeth desires, the more misdeeds he does; the more misdeeds he does, the more misdeeds he needs to do in or-

In Macbeth, at different stages of this tragedy, Macbeth’s guilt and de-

der to dispose of the potential threats, then the more guilty he feels.

sire may temporarily overcome each other. Such one-side-wins can be

By repeating this vicious circle, Macbeth goes down a self-consuming,

also located in Sleep No More’s exquisite and careful performances.

endless spiral. The performances in Sleep No More, although almost wordless, show Macbeth’s fear and the deleterious effects of it by close-

One of the most striking performances in Sleep No More is the scene

ly visualizing the original lines and scenes in a subtle but rather strong

when three witches show the apparitions to Macbeth. The heart beating


electric music and the dense smoke bring every audience to a hallucinogenic condition. The ghastly lights above the heads flash in their stron-

The first visualization of Shakespeare’s work in this play links to the

gest way every a few seconds; every time they flash, the acts of Macbeth

first crime that Macbeth commits. In Sleep No More, Macbeth choos-

and the three witches become more wanton. From dancing on the table,

es a bloodless homicide: suffocates Duncan by two pillows. However,

to shaking their heads like drug addicts, to committing lewd sexual acts

right after Macbeth kills Duncan, he intentionally soaks his clean hands

like a gangbang, Macbeth is tempted by the witches and falls for their

and face in a basin, from where his hands and eyes contaminate to be

games: he sucks the blood joyfully, leaving the pain that the blood once

bloody. This intentional act of making his sin more detectable exactly

brought to him behind.

visualizes the following lines in Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “As by the strength of their illusion “What hands are here! Ha, they pluck out mine eyes

Shall draw him on to his confusion

Will all great Neptune’s clean wash this blood

He shall spurn fate, scorn death and bear

Clean from my hand? No this my will rather

His hopes ‘ bove wisdom, grace, and fear.”(3.5.28-31)

The Multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.” (2.2.77-81)

Just as what the witches wish in Macbeth, Macbeth is trapped in his unchecked conceit that is brought out by his unlimited desire and greed.

Both of the performance in Sleep No More and the lines in Macbeth

In such a rather modern and bold way, the performances in Sleep No

show that the hands committing the crime at the same time blind Mac-

More realize another striking visualization of the original play.

beth’s own eyes. Also, the more Macbeth wants to wash out his sins, the more impossible it is and the more bloody he becomes to be. This con-

The audience who are lucky enough to always follow the protagonist

flicting situation is exactly the outcome of his struggles between guilt

Macbeth must have been scared by his terrifying cries. Especially every


What You Want is on the Other Side of the Fear: A Review of Broadway’s Sleep No More time after Macbeth commits a crime, he would shout with every bit of his strength at the audience who are is following him. The reason why he acts so resentfully towards the audience who are actually “nobodies” probably is that his cry is a way of showing his deep guilt, of killing people all the way along like ghosts. Macbeth shouts at those ghosts, hoping to scare them away. This interaction between the actor and the audience not only visualizes the fear itself, but also a scene in Macbeth--Macbeth sees the imaginary vision of Banquo during a feast; so guilty and fear he is that he goes out of control and cries to this “nobody” (3.3). Sleep no more, a unusual Broadway show presented in a bizarre and confusing way, brings the audience an extreme visual experience. With nearly no words, this show visualizes the original play through diverse angles---direct visualization, modern and abstract visualization and more interactive and subtle visualization. By changing means of the visualization, Sleep No More shows how Macbeth’s “double-faced” fear leads him to the final death. During the show and even afterwards, Sleep No More seems to warn people, “What you want is on the other side of the fear.” Such warning, not merely refers to Macbeth’s life lesson, but more importantly, encourages the audience to abandon their own fears and to discover with their imaginations and reasoning in this land of madness; only by doing so can the audience really find Shakespeare or whatever they are looking for.


Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes: How the Magazine Works

From Radhika Bora co-Editor-in-Chief

A Growing Project When I received an email from founder Andrea Wang saying that Profiles in Converse was looking for writers and editors, I knew I wanted to be involved in the project. I firmly believe that narratives and the ability of conversations can open, enlighten and transform minds. There was no way I could resist the allure of working on a magazine where I could talk to diverse, intriguing people and share their narratives with readers. I emailed Andrea saying I was interested, and within a few days I had the job of co-Editor-in-Chief of Profiles in Converse. This position allowed me to speak to several different people who changed my life with their stories: Greg Watkins, Robert Harrison, and John Holden to name a few. As a freshman, I had encountered Greg Watkins in his SLE section. Interviewing him a year later opened my eyes to his nuanced view of happiness. He challenged my perspective on happiness as a feeling and argued that it was a way of life in which one engages with the things that he or she truly values, even if he or she feels unhappy most of the time. I continue to wrestle with this idea, but hope to learn from Greg’s calm attitude towards difficulty and unhappiness. Robert Harrison introduced me to the idea of an international intellectual community like the one created by his radio show, Entitled Opinions. Hundreds of people listen to his show every Wednesday and write to Harrison expounding on their reactions to the


Behind the Scenes: How the Magazine Works show. For them, it is their only opportunity to engage with Big Ideas in conversation. I marvel at the bond between Harrison and his listeners and hope to continue to encounter other people who struggle with philosophical questions and challenge my opinions and ideas. Furthermore, John Holden’s long experience with China made me recall my childhood in Indonesia, and the way my idyllic childhood memories conflict with the country’s current political strife and industrialization. Holden remains grounded in the friendships he has formed in China, but scrutinizes the country’s changes in adjusting to modernity astutely and analytically. This duality of connection (personal and intellectual) makes me rethink my childhood radically, reframing my experiences in a more analytical light. For my fellow writers and editors, Vivian Lam, Nina Zou, Simona Xu, Anna Qin, Vivian Lam, Celina Jackson, Ellie Redding and Ysabelle Abraham, and for my co-Editor-in-Chief, Albert Chu, I know their conversations sparked such introspection as well. Their insights are clearly visible in their articles, which document genuine conversations and open up space for new ones with their questions and provocative ideas.

Special Thanks I am very grateful to friends, family, and professors for helping and supporting me through this process. I could not have put together this issue without their help. Doree Allen, Director of Oral Communication Program at Center for Teaching and Learning Thank you so much for meeting with me and helping me learn how to conduct an interview! I could not have profited from such fascinating conversations this quarter without your guidance. I also really appreciated your suggestions on how to make interviews into narratives. Your help improved my articles immeasurably and I am so grateful! Andrea Wang Thank you for letting me edit and write for this issue of Profiles in Converse! Your support throughout this quarter helped me so much. I really appreciated all of your help with interviewing, writing, and organizing our team this quarter. This issue would not be possible without your help and guidance.


Behind the Scenes: How the Magazine Works John Sloan Thank you for allowing Profiles in Converse to interview you and share your insights with our readers! We really appreciate your time and your willingness to share your rich experience with us. Greg Watkins (Assistant Director of SLE at Stanford), Yizhou Zhu (co-founder of Mobvoi), Dan Edelstein (Chair of the French Department at Stanford), Robert Harrison (Professor of French and Italian at Stanford), Tong Zhe (founder of One Man University), John Holden (Senior Associate of Carnegie Asia Program), Jeffrey Brenzel (Professor of Directed Studies at Yale), Anthony Antonio (Professor of Education at Stanford) Thank you for your support and for allowing us to interview you! We all learned so much from each of your interviews.


Our Team

Radhika Bora Radhika Bora is a sophomore at Stanford majoring in French. She enjoys reading, writing, and painting as well as long conversations. She aspires to one day learn how to dougie.

Albert Chu Albert Chu is a freshman at Stanford, planning to study Computer Science. He writes and takes photographs in his spare time, and he enjoys listening to other’s stories.

Ellie Redding Ellie Redding is from Pasadena, CA. She is enjoying the academic adventure that is being an undeclared sophomore. A member of the Stanford Polo Club and avid outdoorsman, she spends much of her time outside, riding horses or hiking and camping in California’s national and state parks.

Ysabelle Abraham I am a sophomore at the University of Houston, the Honors College. My major is Geology with a Chemistry minor. I plan to go into the oil and gas industry and serve as a petroleum geochemist. I am a Learning Student Service tutor and an Honors College writing tutor.


Our Team

Nina Zou I am currently an undergraduate student in China who is extremely passionate about media and technology, and eager to prepare myself as a future multi-media practitioner who specializes in technology and cultural reporting. I was the project coordinator for NBC Bay Area, director assistant for Phoenix TV, and a news editor intern in New York Times. Now, I am a UX researcher for Big Data Platform in Microsoft Asia-Pacific R&D Group, focusing on data visualization and natural user interface. I have a special fondness for listen to people’s stories with local ears, thus I felt incredible lucky to join PiC!

Vivian Lam You can call me that short kid in red that runs everywhere and bursts spontaneously into song at any given time of day. Cheesy and Unsubtle Romantic should be my middle name. Running along this dirt trail that winds through my life, developing my own story, I would be honored to take part in yours

Manwen “Ivy” Guo I am a Master student in Learning, Design, and Technology program at the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. I am interested psychology, design, and educational technology. A fun fact: I biked across the U.S. (New York City - San Fran) with 27 riders and raised $125,000 for the American Cancer Society.


Our Team

Xiyu Wang I’m Xiyu Wang, a NYU sophomore. I intend to double major in philosophy and economics and probably minor in painting. My motto is “Life is like a box of chocolates; you’ll never know what you’re gonna get” (Forrest Gump). It’s my pleasure to be a member of Profiles in Converse. I can’t wait to learn and share more about New Yorkers!

Shuyi Yang I am Sylvia from Shenzhen, currently in Stanford university. For other fun facts, I have been doing Chinese painting for 13 years; I scubadive; and I am a foody.

Andrea Wang Sophomore at Stanford majoring in Art History. I love everything from photography, jazz, food to social entrepreneurship and running non-profit organisations like PiC. If you know me at all, you would know that my favourite painter is Johannes Vermeer.

Simona Xu, Anna Qin - Special correspondents at Yale University


Profiles in Converse welcomes your submissions!

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We cordially invite you to submit your articles to Profiles in Converse! You can choose to interview an interesting person or write about your experience living in the region you come from. If you have any questions regarding what kind of articles we are looking for, please email your inquiries to or The deadline for submissions to our fourth issue is May 1st. We will be in touch with you once we receive your articles.

Follow Profiles in Converse From the fourth issue onwards, our team will include members from the following universities: University of Cambridge, Yale University, New York University, College of William and Mary, UC Berkeley, Hong Kong University, Wellesley College, Imperial College London, Pennsylvania State University Park, Mount Holyoke College, University of Chicago, Columbia University, Harvey Mudd College, Paris Institute of Political Science, Renming University. Want to know who they are? Want to follow the latest news of Profiles in Converse? Please subscribe to our magazine at Follow our Facebook page: Share your reactions to our articles on either our website or our Facebook page, and share our articles and websites to let your friends know about this magazine!


Profiles in Converse | Winter 2013  

Profiles in Converse, founded at Stanford University, is a bilingual Chinese-English e-magazine that specializes in in- terviewing people fo...

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