Common App Essay: Airports

As the college admissions season winds down and I find myself having to commit to a university soon, I thought it might help others to post an essay or two for public record. What follows is my Common App essay, the oh-so fabled and “main” essay required for admissions.

Prompt: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you? 

An eerily dystopic voice of an adult woman blared. I caught the words “boarding” and “immediate” but I couldn’t bring myself to care. Bringing my head up from the stiff, cold plastic seat that I spent the night sleeping in, for a brief moment I was in a haze, wondering where I was. “Hurry the hell up, we gotta make security in time if we want to make this goddamn flight!” While I was trying to regain consciousness — and failing to realize the gravity of the situation — my father was frantically trying to gather my family’s bags while we tried to make a mad dash for our gate. We were a worried, sweaty, and frenetic family in a foreign land and, despite the alarming wake-up call I received, I absolutely loved it.

Episodes like that are a common theme in my life. In my 17 years of life thus far, I have spent more nights and days in airports than there are fingers on my hands. The thick slabs of concrete, the seemingly stoic yet easily irritable security personnel, the hustle and bustle that gives way to non-stop streams of human noise — oft-maligned aspects of airports, yet things I’ve grown so accustomed to that I can’t help but hold some sort of familial love for them. Spending large chunks of my childhood in airports was never a planned affair on my part — my parents, being immigrants to Midwestern America, longed both to see their family back home and to momentarily escape from the bleak cornfields in which they became accustomed to living in. The first time I found myself in an airport, I was scared. I was used to seeing many people at the mall, but for four-year-old me, it was another world.

As the years passed, we left town more and more often. As the stamps in my passport increased in number, my perspective changed. The focus of trips shifted from monotonous employees and long security lines to scouring duty free shops for local wares (among other things). From the devilishly tasty Vivident gum discovered while stuck in layover in Milan to the innocent joy I found in tasting the Dutch McDonald’s menu, my experiences in airports almost paid homage to the notion of childlike curiosity.

Some people may choose to view airports in a less than favorable lens, something for which I can’t blame them, but after spending time in so many, my nascent appreciation for airports grew into an insightful love of sorts. I find that there is more to airports than just what’s in the name — namely, being drab centers for global transportation. Rather, airports are towering cultural hubs symbolic of new experiences and worlds previously unknown. I admit, I become giddy when I arrive at an airport. Childishly giddy. Embarrassingly giddy. Why? Because a new opportunity has fallen in my lap — an opportunity to explore facets of a culture new to me. An opportunity to learn about Japan’s fiscal future with the investment banker sitting next to me, an opportunity to experience what a German’s spin on mango chutney is really like, an opportunity to see the world differently and in someone else’s shoes. Granted, I probably won’t be gathering much from the investment banker, but I digress.

My appreciation-turned-love for airports grew and still grows due to the window of perspective they provide. Back home I might be limited in the scope of people I interact with and the culture I experience, but the amalgamation of culture and differing personas at an airport has engendered a newfound appreciation and love for things I may have never discovered. The ability to peer into and learn from another world or two, even under the physiological stress of traveling, is unmatched.

Why Al Jazeera is Important For the American News Media

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Disclaimer: this is republished from an answer I gave on Quora here, the question being “Why is Al Jazeera important for Westerners?” Parts of the text have been edited to better fit this blog. Enjoy!

What I’ve learned from watching AJE: they have a strong focus on what some would say would be “pure”/”true” journalism and a strong disregard for punditry, something America (and perhaps the West as a whole) might need.

During the summer before eighth grade, I took a math course at a local middle school. I remember my teacher pretty well — a burly man in his early 40s, formerly of the USAF, who had ambitions to be a part of a shuttle mission before he died. In the middle of his lectures, he had a penchant for giving us a “brain break” and telling us of his time serving in Afghanistan and (for a short time) in Qatar (at Al Udeid Air Base, I assume — I never asked). He used to tell us of his dealings with the local people, his “adventures in the desert”, etc. We were usually overcome with awe as we’ve never really been acquainted with the region besides occasionally reading haphazardly written Time for Kids pieces on the Middle East. One day, he told us about the apparent anti-Americanism plaguing the local media and mentioned this evil Qatari TV channel taking the people by storm. “This channel they all watch down there, Al Jazeera, reeks of evil, guys! All they spew out is anti-American jargon!” For the next ~3 years, I went around blindly thinking Qatar was a breeding ground for anti-American sentiments and the media there is nothing less than extremist and evil thanks to Mr. [redacted]. 

My takeaway from this after all these years: I think this was the case for most people — those serving in the armed forces perceived Al Jazeera to be a Fox News-esque media arm in the Middle East that espoused Islamic extremism and they did their best to “warn” others of the channel’s apparent evil. That being the case for the Arabic Al Jazeera channel, I don’t know. What I do know is that this bias heavily carried over to the American people, giving AJ a sort of lasting, maligned image. 

As I became more acquainted with the internet (again, I was considerably young), I started looking into matters like this more independently. Stumbling across a feed of AJE on Livestream one day, my immediate reaction was “Well, shit, this is different.” The first piece of news I saw from AJE was a piece on the aftermath of the Second Intifada a few years after it occurred. Relying on preconceived notions, I was expecting a heavily skewed report on the “struggle and despair of the Palestinian people”, but I was surprised to see nothing of that sort. Zero rhetoric, little if any bias. There was a ground reporter in Gaza, talking to locals, showing the damage and rubble but also talking about the myths about the supposed treachery of the Israeli army during the incident. They later moved to a reporter in Tel Aviv, asking for any comments on the Intifada or Palestine in general from passersby. They talked to Jews, Druze, Christians (among others). When watching it, I didn’t feel as if I was being pressured to think in a specific groove as I usually do when watching traditional news outlets in the states — I just felt as if AJE was giving me, as the viewer, what they felt was informative and nothing more or less. It was just pure news, a simple concept in retrospect but baffling at the time. I was used to seeing stories influenced by rhetoric and molded for a certain audience or to evoke a certain response from the viewer. I think that’s what makes AJE so important. American media has been plagued with the agenda of large corporations or the dumbing down of coverage for profit that the concept of what’s “newsworthy” has been heavily skewed. People sometimes rely on the words of a pundit to get informed, and we all know how toxic that can be. News is about digging deep into important matters and presenting the pure truth, no matter what it might be — no nonsense, no strings-attached coverage of “ground-breaking” issues. It seems as if American media has lost sight of that, at the cost of the viewer. As Van Kilmer puts it: 

"If you look up the definition of news in the dictionary, it isn’t what you watch on TV."

To me, AJE has proved itself to be an able provider of news in the truest sense after watching it for the past few years — coverage of important events that have a possible direct or indirect effect on me, without the influence of ardent corporatism or nationalism.

As a young kid who knew no better, I was introduced to AJ as an evil menace out to disparage America; existing domestic news outlets reinforced that notion to me. As I grasped to the ability to investigate things for myself, I discovered that things were not only not that bad, but much better than I expected. Based on the state of America’s news outlets, a new incoming news organization that preaches the philosophies of “If it’s newsworthy, it gets on air, whether it’s Bush or Bin Laden” and “Every angle, every side” bodes well with me.

Cheap & Radical Package Delivery

This idea was thought of during my flight back from SF to Chicago while I was extremely bored, copied word-for-word from notes I scribbled on the way back. Enjoy.

Private parcel service competing with USPS, DHL, UPS (etc) in the realm of parcel delivery. Possibly named Lapos (Haitian creole for “mail”) or a stylized version of “correo”, the word for mail in Gaelic and a few other languages. Uses cost efficient logistics (mainly diesel fleet, ground-wise). Specific vehicle ideas: Ford Transit Diesel, Nissan NV200Touareg/Tiguan TDI, European imports of various transit vehicles (Peugot, Renault, Mercedes-Benz). Electric vehicles plausible if availability and cost is improved. Hydrogen vehicles preferred if infrastructure is properly established at the time of incorporation.

Main ideas (a lot is based on cost subsidization via sold ad space):

  • Vehicles plastered with various ads, larger ad = more money (akin to traditional billboard/”brick & mortar” rules)
  • If popularity extends into air delivery, plane livery ad-space would happen.
  • Price subsidization via ads on boxes. Postage labels and boxes acquired via website (brick and mortar stores if plausible in future) containing ads. Boxes could possibly be given away for free due to subsidization. Store distribution partner for boxes, postage kiosks for quick labeling and delivery. Possible partners: Best Buy, Target, malls (Westfield) and airports.
  • Run “postage trucks,” traveling kiosks that can take in items for packaging and delivery. Similar to food trucks. Main/only method of payment would be Square card readers. All employees on the road will be equipped with Square. Aimed at big cities. Tester locations (chronologically): SF, NYC, CHI.
  • To save further cost, employees on the field either have no uniform except for a name tag or uniforms with ads.
  • Taking in racing team style sponsorships for delivery vehicles also possibility: tires provided by Michelin, cheaper gas from Mobil in exchange for logo on car, etc.
  • In case of individuals not being available at residence for parcel pickup, online system to direct package to safety deposit boxes at various 7-11 or Mobil gas stations (corporate partnership). Unique package identifier given if option selected, punch in or verbally say code (either if individual safety deposit boxes are deployed, or holding cell for all packages) when at your specific gas station to retrieve package. Packages held for no more than 5 days. If individual safety deposit boxes are employed, ad space WILL be covering them (similar to Ryanair plastering ads inside planes or PETA putting ad space on school lockers).
  • Delivery to international locations viable if partnership established with large cargo airliner is established, otherwise the brunt of package delivery will remain domestic.
  • If popularity of service is proven after certain time, deployment of Uber-like service is a possibility. Through iPhone app, individuals can request people to come by and take in package for delivery at their leisure. Could be established initially as a “premium” program for power-users. 
  • On-demand inter-city delivery (targeted at businesses) to addresses in under an hour by bike via iPhone app (Postmates style). Flat rate, no requirements on box weight, size, no questions asked as long as package is being delivered in same municipality. Tester cities will be CHI, SF and NY.
  • Entry into international market mostly viable in large hubs (London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Stockholm), ONLY through on-demand inter-city delivery via mobile.

On Occupy Wall Street

Note: This was an op-ed I was nicely asked to write about a month and a half ago. I thought it deserved to be online. Cheers!

Typically considered taboo, the subject of wealth inequality and financial irresponsibility has recently been brought to the attention of millions of Americans (and a considerable amount people overseas) by Occupy Wall Street (OWS). OWS is a movement that began on September 17th, 2011 in NYC, but later expanded to over 1000 cities across the globe. The movement’s purpose, according to its ridiculous array of online presences, is to end the irresponsibility in the American financial industry that resulted in one of the most corrosive financial recessions in recent memory. Though admittedly, they may not have their aims/objectives in order, they’ve garnered considerable support over the issue.

The issues OWS has brought up aren’t exactly unheard of:  During the early 1900’s, Henry Ford paid 3 times the average factory salary to his workers because he believed “Workers have a right to afford what they make.” The New York Times published an article by Robert Frank, an Economics Professor from Cornell, arguing the notion of a “growing income rift in America” over a year before the Occupy movement was even thought of. Through this comes the question of the purpose of the movement, its legitimacy. If it’s been argued before, and since some solutions have been applied, what’s the big deal? Shouldn’t they just bring up their concerns to their locally elected officials? Two things: The country wouldn’t be dealing with a recession if that were the case. Secondly, anyone who’s worked in a government office, particularly Beatrice Walton of the Harvard Political Review, can say that “the people protesting today have tried incessantly over the years to do just that and have largely been ignored.” OWS, in essence, is a backlash to that lack of representation. In banding together, the protesters are saying that, because they’re tired of being ignored, they will be heard. Enough is enough, etc. Aptly enough, this protesting boom comes months after the American Census Bureau reporting that 46.2 Americans are living below the poverty line, and 1 out 7 are dependent of Food Stamps, making people wonder why such an outburst as OWS’ didn’t come earlier.

In the end, ignoring such issues as socioeconomic inequality is relatively easy. Similarly enough is easily dismissing the Occupiers as smelly, fervent, bongo-banging beatniks who are asking for handouts. Such an outlook might make Americans feel less iffy about the topic, allowing us to keep our societal and economic norms untouched. Such a view lets us avoid the question of class division among other things. But, ignoring the class question and dismissing movements such as OWS won’t address the problems of income inequality. Pushing the issue aside does nothing to the problems of income disparity plaguing the nation. If England’s summer rioting has taught us anything, it’s that not confronting a problem just delays the solution. For making this issue explicit to the public eye, OWS has done us a favor.