This is how I get an adrenaline rush

March 31st, 2015

Every time, I know that it’s a bad idea. But I do it anyway. And besides, I rarely failed. I want to catch the 9:02 am train.

I look at the clock. It’s 8:49 am. “Quick!” I say. “We need to leave. Now.”

I stumble out of my building and hastily jaywalk to the parked car across the street.

The traffic builds on Cesar Chavez as expected. There are the slow cars. The trucks that seem to pause at yellow lights. The daring cyclist that speeds past us on our right.

It’s 8:56 am now, and we haven’t gone through the underpass yet. “I might miss it,” I say outloud.

The traffic clears after the underpass as most cars speed onto the freeway. This is the most flexible part. Can we make the lights? Can we dodge the cars who are lost in this warehouse district? I mentally calculate how fast I would have gotten if I was on bike, but push that thought aside. I ponder about the next train, which I have never planned for. This is the last fast train in the morning, and I remind myself that I don’t need to ever arrive on time.

It’s 8:59 am now, and the car in front of us pauses too long. It misses the safe left turn light. As we wait, I hope that no train passes in front of me so that the presence would mock me. As traffic flows and ebbs, the tracks are silent.

It’s 9:00 am and we roar in the rightmost lane as a truck in the left lane seems to thoughtfully contemplate driveways. That turn? That driveway? In the distance, I spot the cafe. People are moving slow. Does that mean the train hasn’t arrived yet? We swing into the bus lane. “The locks!” I say, as I struggle to open the door in a car we never drive.

I bid farewell and run. Run as fast I could in my flats down the stairs, fearful of toppling down like a rock. I wave my arms in the air, hoping the conductor will see me and take pity. Is that really my last passenger? Really? I smack my wallet at the machine and it beeps.

The conductor says aloud as I rush into the doors, “We have to go.”

I run up to the steps of the train car. I breathe deeply in the aisle as I find an open seat. I scold myself for being late again. But I feel a relief and pleasure wash over me as I text the words, “I made it.”

This photo, this longtime friend, this growing family

March 26th, 2015

At Couples Baby Shower

There’s something special about this photo. Something precious about it that made me pause when it was posted on Facebook. There’s a good friend who is expecting and eating pizza. There’s Chris wearing a quinessential dinosaur t-shirt (this one is about how great it is to be an onomnomnom-saurus). Then there’s me, being opinionated and making awkward jokes.

Behind us are baby photos of guests present at the party. In the shade of all, we are chatting, resting. I don’t know exactly when the photo was taken, but I was feeling itchy. I don’t always meld that well with people in San Francisco. While socializing, I have tired completely of small talk, of the introductory who-are-you-and-this-is-who-i-am. Instead, I floated from food table to food table, looking for the cupcake or piece of fruit. I would offer mild comments to people nearby, but I wouldn’t enter into deeper conversation.

The baby photos was one of the activities. To vote for the best hair, looking like going to poop, best tool, etc. But there’s only so much you can do while staring at photos of babies. After awhile, I didn’t want to look like a creep, admiring the younger version of ourselves. So I sat down and begged Chris to sit next to me while we people watched. And the guest of honor sat next to us. One of those rare moments like at a wedding when we reminiscenced about when and where. I remember the day we met on the first day of graduate school orientation. Not spectacularly about the moment that we likely shook hands and exchanged names. But how we took a bus to Target to buy household supplies with two other classmates. We all momentarily sat outside on the sidewalk. She and I joked about something. And for a moment, I remember thinking, I have achieved a life that I wanted to have. Just to have normal, healthy friendships.

And it has been that ever since. It has been more than 10 years since that day in August 2004. We love food and we love to have fun.

I rode with no care

March 25th, 2015

I took a swift right on 23rd, speeding up and anticipating that a car would catch up. In front of me, the sun was setting and the sky was red. “Red at night, sailor’s delight,” I whispered to myself while breathing hard as I rolled across the street.

My lights—the one on my helmet and my bike—bounced up and down the street. Its white light brightened the creeping darkness. Then I missed it and my wheel ran directly into a broken piece of the road. One that was more vertical than horizontal. My eyes widened and I teetered on my bike, fearful of the incoming traffic that was already zooming at the green light.

To my surprise, I held my balance and continued down the road.

I wondered if I had a heart problem, would I be incapable of telling my body that it was going to be okay? Like a previous roommate who suffered in an adjacent room after the last big earthquake? But I was healthy even with my seasonal hay fever and myopia. I lived a rather uneventful healthy life. Forgetting to be thankful, because this is my normal.

And so I rode on with no care.

At the light, I stopped with my feet on the ground. When it turned, I pedaled slowly to get to a comfortable speed. A young man crossed the street from the opposite direction. He was dressed in black clothing. As I huffed across the intersection, he yelled, “Need a push?”

“Huh?” I said, not understanding.

“Need a push?” he repeated.

I rolled my eyes and pedaled quickly. “Only if you can catch up,” I yelled back, wondering how fast I could pedal.

And I sped for 2 more blocks until I hit the next light, wondering if he was coming up to push me.

From public celebration to private despair

March 24th, 2015

Society prefers public shows of joy and emphasizes the private moments of despair.

On Youtube, there are videos of wedding celebrations and baby’s first steps. And even with sadness, it’s a focus on the happy things—the perfect, good memories. Yet, it’s unhealthy, of course, to dwell in unhappiness, to let its burden sink the soul. And I can find so little about specifics of what went wrong and how it went wrong.

A few days ago in a search for a tax accountant, I came across yet another SF-type startup that would connect me with professionals. I quickly put together a bid. After I submitted, I browsed through the website, looking at video testimonials and recent transactions. Then I saw a name and face that I hadn’t seen since my college days. A person who had represented the ideal life an adult. Happily married, having fun, satisfied jobs. In college, I admired the union, perfection and mutual support. That could be me, one day, I thought then.

In college, she took a photo of a mural in Chinatown. I had taken the same photo too a few months before she posted it. And I wanted to know how she did it so well.

So I naturally clicked on the video expecting a tirade of advertising for the service. To my shock, she said, “I am a single mom.”

After college, I had forgotten about her and her husband, finding other goals. But far back in my mind, I always wondered. How can one pursue art with support? How can one be happy in relationships? They did it, after all. So I searched the Internet curious about what happened. But nothing popped up. All I found was delicious content that if made today would naturally spread virally. The alternative way to marriage and all of that.

And yet, in the photo and video, she hid all of that. She was herself, without the partner. All happiness and the spunk.

And whatever despair, there was, it was hidden. Gone. Because everyone wants to celebrate joy. And not frown at broken moments where we need help the most.

Immigrant Struggles

March 19th, 2015

Unlike those desperate stories of arriving in America with only $20 in their pocket, my parents did not arrive that way. My dad arrived at the age of 17 ready for college education (on his father’s wallet, no less) and then chose never to return to Hong Kong. More than a decade later, my mom arrived in style, ready for an adventure post-nursing school to spend time with her nursing school classmate and find her father. During her visit, she met her nursing school classmate’s brother, my father. Once married, they just settled in the Bay Area.

So there’s that. It’s not for the seeking of better life which was their parents—fleeing China’s cultural revolution or finding a way to make money to support the family. My parents’ generation rode on the coattails of their parents and in doing so, they diffused the cultural of struggle that would be passed to my sister and me.

What if I had lived under the burden of hatred of another race that had assassinated ours? What if I had lived under the challenges of survival—of finding shelter and food? Would that history engrained in my childhood frame my world differently? In contrast to the world where I have luxury to question my career path and friends?

Let’s all pay $17!

March 18th, 2015

“So between the 6 of us, it’s $17 each,” she said.

I hesitated, mentally calculating how much I enjoyed the last hour of company. Despite being ethnically Chinese, my ties to mainland China are nonexistent. Being polite, I remained silent and earnest through conversations of parents working hard during the Cultural Revolution and a broad sweeping statement of Chinese Americans who succeeded because of natural selection. I endured yuppie subjects about dancing until late at night and alcohol consumption. And worse off, dinners scheduling without me and people I didn’t know. But the most poignant conversation was about inviting people to events. “I only invite people who know at least 4 people invited,” one said.

I had pressed my lips together and continued a seemingly polite silence.

When the bill came, one decided to declare the split of $17. I felt the sear of inequality rip through my soul and spoke up. “Your fruit salad is $16,” I pointed out and stared at her half-eaten fruit salad, “Then your orange juice is $5. My dish was $11.95.”

“Well, I have overpaid in the past,” she defended herself.

“I am sorry that I am fussy about this,” I replied. “I have had instances where I overpaid $30.”

I wanted to add that I didn’t enjoy the company and will unlikely ever want to eat with this group. Silence descended in the group. I resisted the temptation to increase the awkwardness and digitally paid my friend the amount I owed.

All of my selves

March 17th, 2015

“Jenn, you’re so easygoing!” a friend said after spending 10 days abroad with me and 9 others. “You’re always so calm.”

I don’t remember what I said in response, but I must have thanked her, thinking that it was a compliment. Inside, I was shocked. Me = calm? Quite certainly, I never thought of myself like that with the fury and anxiety that is at the surface for me.

But my face is deceiving. Many have said that they can’t read me. They can’t tell if I am enjoying something. They can’t tell if I absolutely hate the experience. They think that I am nice, calm, and peaceful.

Those who know me well or at least have spent a lot of time in my presence know better. If I am willing to be open. They know that I am very picky. They know that I really like things a certain way. Yet, they also know there are many things that I really don’t about at all. And they know when I am hungry, nearly anything that comes up will be perceived negatively unless I am fed. Usually a handful of fries does the trick.

And yet, how might one see me for me? Is there even a way? Is there a way to see past my silence? Or the silence that is circled with a mild smile? Or the silence that if you look closely my eyes are darting to the exit.

So for many years, my colleagues at work always seemed shocked to meet me in social non-work contexts. “She is a prankster?” they say. “And I always thought that she was so professional.”

That’s RAY CESS

March 15th, 2015

“He looks lost,” a male engineer commented aloud as all of us were heads down.

“Yeah, what’s he looking for?” a second engineer piped up.

I looked up and saw a man walking frantically in small circles in front of the ground floor office windows. His head was shaved and he wore a light brown vest over a t-shirt. From afar, I could tell that he was Asian. He bobbed to and fro as if he was not sure which direction to go.

“A monk!” a third engineer observed a few seconds later.

I knitted my brow and quipped, “Just because he’s Asian.”

Beat.

“Well isn’t the guy with long drapey orange robes a monk?”

And there was. Right beyond the lost-looking man was a shorter man with a cleanly shaved head who calmly walked across the street when the light turned green. The man with the light brown vest followed behind with a nervous gait and I mean the man who is not a monk.

The more I read about disease

March 12th, 2015

Tired of consumer devices, I decided to tackle a field that is different and impactful. Healthcare, obviously. After all, the wish that anyone should make when given by a genie is for good health.

Isn’t there anything more simple and succinct?

But as I embarked on the journey, like anyone in the health industry, I believe that I have every condition that exists. Am I pregnant? Are my achey knees suggesting early arthritis? Should I really eat that last glazed donut? Is this a heart attack? Or is it because I am allergic to something I ate 10 hours ago?

In my projects, I talk to patients. Or really people with [insert condition], because as the health community wants to emphasize: they are not defined by the condition; they are people. So I see their homes, their family, the choices they make, the everyday lives, their dialog, their devices. I aim to understand them. I think deeply about their emotions, fears, and motivations. I think about what keeps them up at night and what brings them joy.

It’s empathy. And in doing so, I find myself evaluating my fingers for tingles and my everyday headaches for symptoms. I feel the people that I speak with…so deep in my bones and in my blood. Are they now part of me too?

Tidying Up

March 11th, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
may not ever quite work for me.

It’s the idea of “keeping things only if they bring you joy”.

I hold onto the past dearly in fear that I may forget it. That I may offend people if I let go. That the things may become useful in the future (and it has). But am I letting things hold me in prison?

The other day, I started to empty things from my closet. Yet, as I look at my shoes, a fear was daunting me. I love my chocolate flats, but despite having them fixed three times, they are now incredibly scuffed and worn. The shoemaker told me that it’s not worth fixing them. The same with my suede boots. And my sneakers, they started bursting within a year of wearing them. I could really go without all the others, but then I wouldn’t have any shoes and with that, I know how long it takes to buy them. I can’t go barefeet. And would I be compelled to shop knowing that I only want things that bring me joy? Wouldn’t it paralyze me when I shop to always be thinking if I’ll waste my money if it will be tossed away moments later?

I already have trouble buying shoes and still am dissatisfied with what I have.

If I was to have only things that bring me joy, then I wouldn’t have anything that improves my health or beauty. I would toss those things away, because they only remind me that I am beholden to what society thinks of me. I truly do not care to feel beautiful, because beauty rarely inspires me. Or even healthy, because the only thing I desire is to have energy and strength. So then what is joy if the immediate decisions affect long-term detrimental failure?

That puzzles me.

How would a person with a chronic disease tidy their life if they tossed away all their medications and needles that they would need in order to live a normal, healthy life?