But I love it noisy

July 3rd, 2015

“Is it noisy?” a newly acquainted friend at a party asked.

Almost by default, I always say that it is. Sometimes, I say, I want to move; I am tired of it. Yet there was something different about the way he asked it—whether it because I have been focusing on possibility of empathy lately or because I have realized that I am a city person at heart, this time I said, “It is, but I have gotten so used to it. That when it’s silent, like when traveling, I am weirded out.”

But was I really weirded out when I traveled to the middle of nowhere and it was suddenly quiet? Or staying at my parents’ house in suburban Bay Area where noise has been driven away by the suburban design of large houses on large residential streets with long snaking private driveways? I remember that there was a night in Ohio, deep in what I thought was rural, where I couldn’t sleep. It probably was that the bed was uncomfortable. But it was the silence, knowing that I had no cellular phone access, and then the noise. The noise then was the footsteps of the dogs and cats pattering from the main house’s porch to the rooftop of my room. I heard howls, meows, bark, all echoing into the night.

But in the city, I prefer the sounds of faint words from people, walking, the high heels clapping against the concrete, and the air rushing from passing cars, and the low rumble of engines. It reminds me that the city is alive. Quiet, more now that night is rapidly approaching. But it’s alive. People are going somewhere, finding something, discovering a wonder. It is alive, and with my ears, I hear the beat of the city, pulsing without pause.

Away dust

July 2nd, 2015

There’s supposed to be a feeling of relief as I swept away all the dust, cleared all the unwanted items, marked things for sale or to charity.

And yet, I sit in my room looking at what I have left and wonder, am I supposed to feel comfort now?

There is comfort, yes, in the feeling that I have scoured all my belongings. That now I generally know where everything is. There isn’t items hiding beneath untouched drawers for years, which was the case until Wednesday when I had ambitiously decided to empty everything out, push to my hallway.

My room is more organized than it has ever been. Or ever. Even when I moved into my apartment, I arrived with boxes and never quite filed them away. Yet for once, my desk is uncluttered (at least to the best of its ability) and my floor is actually walkable. But there is something missing.

This is all spurred when I went to a friend’s housewarming party. I admired her roommate’s decorations in the living room. “Nothing here is mine,” she said.

I loved the (useless) branches sitting on a chest pulled up to the third-floor apartment with scuffs and dents in the black paint. I loved the frames and the way it sat with the potted plants. I loved a vintage poster of a train falling off the cliff and drawn characters crying in surprise. Envy filled my heart, and I desperately wanted that.

So I went home, searched on Yerdle, browsed on Etsy. But I was stumped. Is that who I am? To have uncluttered surrounded by useless items?

A friend once proudly showed her home. Along the wall in her kitchen, four small vases hung. One held a fresh flower. “Why?” I said, alluding to the fact that she would have to get a newly cut flower every week.

“Because it makes me feel happy,” she replied.

I didn’t buy it then, but now, I sort of buy it. Well at least for the guest. For me, when I see freshly cut flowers, it reminds me of the effort to get it, the need to refresh it every week, and that the flower will die soon. I may be practical, but there’s some emotion behind everything, to have things that are meaningful.

Right now, I am delighted with the newly acquired purple mini shelf (that was free) where I have filled with my proud random tchotchkes. In one, there’s a collection of classic paperbacks—my favorite novels like The Stranger, Golden Apples in the Sun, and How to Win Friends and Influence People. Another holds variations of sackboy from Little Big Planet. Another holds small rectangular pieces of metal that have welded “<3″ and “jenn”. Yet another houses karts of various mario kart characters and amiibos. Yet another still displays my “art project” from a “gifted and talented” program from high school—prose based on The Catcher in the Rye and accompanying “lonely” photos. I look at the things there and finger some of them, letting my fingers rub over the smoothness, the roughness. I let myself wonder in admiration. It is, after all, making me happy.

Out of character, for me

June 29th, 2015

In the crowd of streaming people, I had trouble keeping up with my friend. When I finally did catch up with her, there was a guy walking with her. He stood comfortably close as if they knew each other. She didn’t seem to flinch or step away. I didn’t know him, yet I knew that she hadn’t met many people since she moved to San Francisco.

“Does she know him?” I asked Chris as we navigated through the crowd, pushing through the stream of people.

I was feeling uncomfortable and wondered if there was an easy way out.

“I don’t know,” he said and we followed our friend.

So I watched cautiously wondering if he was trying to sell her something or make an unwanted request. But she didn’t budge. She nodded while he kept talking. I trusted her, because although she wasn’t from San Francisco, she had lived in New York City for years. I am nonplussed by strange people, usually ignoring them, especially when I decide to wear a skirt and a t-shirt. And I assumed the same for her so I followed her thinking that I shouldn’t interrupt the conversation.

But then it wasn’t.

At some point, she finally noticed me to her right. “There you are!” she exclaimed. “We were looking for you!”

“We were always right behind you!” I said and glanced at the guy.

We had stopped and now stood in a circle. He wasn’t intimidating, but I didn’t trust him. He wore “The City” shirt and jeans. His eyes had a feminine look that made him seem friendly like natural cat eyes without eyeliner. His skin was tan. “So let me interview you?” he said. “About feet. There’s too many people here, let’s find a better location.”

“Okay,” she said and laughed nervously.

She looked hesitant, but I wasn’t sure how to read her. We followed her and the guy around the corner. They found a spot in front of a theater. “Just take a seat,” he said and looked at my sandaled feet. “I have done these many times before. I just want to talk to beautiful ladies. If you were wearing sneakers, then I would interview you.”

“What does beautiful mean?” I asked.

He answered surprisingly with a dictionary answer. I stared at him as he guided my friend to move into the corner of the door. She took off her black flats and pushed herself into the corner of a closed door in front of a theater. He set himself in front of her feet and pulled out a video camera. I frowned and stood next to her, out of the camera view. I felt like a guard preventing passerbys from looking on. He pressed record and asked her questions about her shoes, where she bought them, about whether she had stinky feet. “Just cross your feet,” he directed my friend. “And rub them together. Curl your toes. Maybe uncross and cross them.”

My lips fell into a straight line and I furrowed my brows. Yet, I didn’t feel like I could intervene. Chris stood the edge facing away, staring at the crowd. I didn’t understand and this situation felt uncomfortable. Yet my friend didn’t signal distress. The guy asked questions about whether anybody complained that she had stinky shoes. She laughed hesitantly and answered the questions while playing with an empty water bottle. The guy told her that he has done this many times, having to deal with homeless and other people yelling at him. And that if he keeps his voice at a level that people will notice him and not notice her. My friend grimaced. He was wrong though as I watched the eyesight of people passing by. Another man rushed to a nearby door and faced the corner. I saw pee trickle out. “I hope that didn’t happen there,” I said motioning to my friend.

“Yeah…” she said.

Then it was over. “Everyone was looking at her,” I said. “At least 70%.”

They got up. “You have my card,” he said to my friend. “If you’re interested, would you like to improv for me? $50/hour?”

Then he looked at me. “You could participate too,” he said.

“I disagree with the fundamental idea—beautiful ladies,” I said. “It’s Pride. Why not beautiful everyone? Beautiful older ladies? Beautiful men? Everyone is beautiful.”

“But I love ladies,” he said.

“If it’s about how people should appreciate feet and the stinkiness of the feet, then great. But to only focus on beautiful ladies, that’s wrong.”

And suddenly, I couldn’t help myself. The word objectification escaped me then. Yet I suddenly hated the way the world was. Obsession with shallow appearances. I hated the discrimination and the focus on young females. I had walked to the BART station earlier enduring a catcall because I had worn a skirt. But nowadays, I felt so aware. I was filled with feminist angst or more importantly, the inequality of it all. I felt my insides tighten. I wished that I could say that I became angry, but the most I could muster was pretending to be angry. I wished that I could say that I started cursing and shouting words of hate. Instead, I was only irritated in the way I could only be. I spewed out words about the degradation of the $50/hour and how I could easily earn more money by doing something more honorable.

“I could tell that you’re uptight,” he said.

I frowned.

“In a good way,” he added.

“I prefer that it was in a bad way,” I said.

“Let me give you a hug,” he said and attempted to close his arms around me.

“I don’t like being touched,” I said and flung my arms wildly, pushing him back. “Don’t touch me.”

“I think that we’re late meeting a friend,” Chris suddenly broke in. “It’s almost 6:30 pm.”

Relieved for the break, I started walking away. I glanced back at my friend, who followed. Then I saw the guy who followed. “Don’t follow us,” I said.

As we crossed the street, I blocked him with my arm. “Don’t follow us,” I repeated.

“I’ll go anywhere I please,” he said.

“Stay away from me.” Then noticing that he didn’t register my comment, I felt a strange click in my body and I reached down into my soul, shouting loudly, “Stay away from me!”

A boy walking in the opposite direction said, “Whoa! Keep your voice down.”

And suddenly inside, I was pleased with my volume of my voice. My friend grabbed my arm and pulled me in another direction. The guy finally left us. “I am sorry,” I said, now in a normal voice. “It was out of character for me. I am sorry. I have never done that before.”

Warriors, Come Out to Play…!

June 24th, 2015

It was only a week ago that something amazing happened to the Golden State Warriors. I have watched most sports with a distance. It’s a sport for them, not me. But partially, it’s because I couldn’t play much of any sport myself and the moves of an athlete do not inspire me.

But then there’s basketball. It might be because my dad enjoyed watching basketball at home. He, the only male in a household of females found solace in the ball flying across the court to be shot into the baskets. I grew up seeing that. The TV show that would take precedence over the TV that I wanted to watch. The shouts of fans echoed so differently than at a football game and baseball game. It really echoed. So basketball, especially the Golden State Warriors, is nostalgia for me.

But maybe that’s also why I ended up with someone who loves watching sports.

What’s strange to me always is that I have only attended one Golden State Warriors game in Oakland in my life. There was once when i saw them play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. But that was it. My dad, a fan, was still fairweather to the core, he would watch them on the TV, but to watch them in person, that wasn’t him. So it wasn’t me.

But as the finals approached, I suggested that I buy tickets for my dad. A Father’s Day present, I thought. But then when I brought up the idea, it was the why you waste money! argument. When he could be comfortably sitting at home watching the TV spending no money at all beyond the money he paid for cable and electricity. And after seeing that I would be spending a fortune, I backed down, dismayed.

But it was right before the finals that my dad finally got a texting plan for his cellphone. After every game, he would text me, “What a game!” It was always a rush. A satisfaction in his own fatherhood in reaching out to his daughter whose boyfriend love sports. I would respond, “Yes! What a game!”

During Game 6, I watched it at one of the strangest places—a pho restaurant paired with a boba shop. A small crowd of Asians gathered in front of the TV and I engulfed a noodle salad and an overly sweet boba drink watching the game. It’s one of the few games that I actually understand the rules. The fouls. The reason for passes. Traveling. Dribble once and shoot. For a moment, I felt sorry for the Cavs. “Look Lebron is tired,” Chris said. “He’s dribbling to the net, but not setting up after he passes.”

I saw. At a book reading (of people who don’t watch much sports like me), a writer who grew up in the Cleveland metro asked the audience what people know about Cleveland.

Someone in the front row shouted, “Drew Carey!”

After a pause, Chris yelled, “Sad sports teams!”

The writer paused and smiled. “What else?” she asked.

After a few more responses, she answered, “Bridges.”

Is that Cleveland? Is that the land where sports team have not won for decades? Isn’t it the land of the Cleveland Clinic? Close to Cedar Point?

But I think of the Golden State. My hometown. My place. My childhood. And my dad.

I watched Mad Max

June 9th, 2015

Chris has seen the movie five times, including tonight.

KK, Jessy, and I saw it once. Aka tonight.

I sped from the Caltrain as fast as I could on my coaster bike. Because simply put around the hours of 6 PM, a car is too slow. Walking is too slow. And only riding a bike while weaving through traffic is faster. Minus the potential of an electric bike or scooter. And I needed to endure the whole braking by pedaling backward while navigating the traffic that builds up on the way to the Bay Bridge.

So when I saw Mad Max, I had already experienced an “exhilarating” ride through downtown San Francisco. But as expected, fights while moving make more sense here than they do in the Fast and Furious series. Because after all, in this world of Mad Max, you want to keep moving, because you’re trying to get somewhere. Whereas in Fast and Furious, you’re just fighting on a moving truck, because you can not that it is going anywhere worthwhile for the plot.

But was it intense. It was nonstop action of car chases (not just normal cars), pounding music paired with someone playing electric guitar on a moving vehicle with blaring speakers and flamethrowers, costumery and elaborate cars that were constructed for the film. 90% of the film were practical effects. That is, the car actually moves! That’s crazy talk! Especially when so much action on screen nowadays take advantage of CG.

What stayed with me was a quiet moment: when the pregnant wife stands outside the war rig, saying look, i am here and am important to you. It’s a test of loyalty and desire.

Then I am outside of myself

May 26th, 2015

Lips move. Words are spoken. Gestures point to the board. I sense my own feelings. I have no idea what is going on. What I know is that I don’t want to be here.

Then the bowl sits. Steam rises from the noodles. Servers move round and round. Glasses clink onto the table. I finger the cool plastic, and the stomach says no.

I am outside of myself, staring in. What’s happening here, I want to say? Why are you there, slunk in your chair?

Birthday Wishlist 2015

May 22nd, 2015

Well, I nearly forgot about it! But this year, it’s more about the things that are more abstract. Services. Things to go away or things to arrive.

Previous years: 2014, 2013, 2012, forgotten year in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, a forgotten year of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002

1. Presence > Present
2. CANDY! Although because I have been working at a startup on diabetes management…I am becoming a hypochondriac!
3. Donation to my ride for diabetes!
4. Be published, finally!
5. Gain more skills as a writer and not to wallow in my lack of a MFA
6. Endless snacks of fresh fruit and other tasty snacks
7. The wisdom to know better
8. The ability to decrease the things that I don’t really need

“How are you?”

May 21st, 2015

“How was your day?” you say.

“Good,” I say. “Good.”

Pause.

I say “How was your day?”

“Good,” you say.

“Good,” I say.

“Good,” you say.

She stops, confused.

May 20th, 2015

“Hold on,” the bike girl says. “Your rear tire needs air. Better do it now or else it will pop either today or tomorrow.”

Everyone in line looks at you. You redden a bit, embarrassed at your inability to fill the air. But you take your bike. Your mind is swirling. The event is starting soon, and you took the early train so that you could arrive at 5:26 pm. Time is ticking. You paralyzed by indecision so you just pull to the side and mindlessly put the bag on the rack. You rode home before with not much air anyway.

“Don’t do that!” she calls. “Just do it without the bag.”

You redden again and grit your teeth. Silent, you drag your bike over and pull your bag across the floor. You untwist the cap and use the stand pump. You remember the time that you tore your tube because you couldn’t pump correctly. You remember the last few times when you pumped and it took 30 minutes. But right now, you can feel the girl’s judgement criss cross your body and chain your hands to the pump. One two three. Is the air even going in? Is your tire going to deflate? You know that you should be doing this. You’re pissed, but you don’t know why. Is it because now you have to do the work and the girl won’t do it for you. And you’re annoyed, because you’re late. You’re irritated, because everyone stared at you and think that you should know better. And the girl already lectured you a few weeks ago about the helmet being in the wrong place and not having enough air. How much will you have to pump? And will you need to come back anyway?

“Do you work at UPS?” a guy suddenly asks you.

You turn around, and you know that the answer is supposed to be a resounding no. But all your generosity is gone from you, lost through the fingertips, squashed by the negativity that you just created. “Am I supposed to be?” you say. “I like UPS…”

“No I mean,” he says. “Do you work at UPS?”

“I don’t understand the question,” you say, suddenly wanting to start a fight. “I would like to work at UPS.”

The girl looks at you and says, “She doesn’t work at UPS.”

You want to say, “How would you know?”

But instead, you’re quiet and you pump. Because nothing good would come out the conversation. The guy is complaining about UPS and he finally begins to leave. So you say as he walks out, “I won’t tell the UPS what you said.”

He laughs. You finished pumping. It’s at a lovely 120 psi. And it’s not broken. You walk out without a word.

Things I have observed relevant for Silicon Valley

May 19th, 2015

“You three are nothing like what I see in Silicon Valley,” a visiting employee quips.

I opened my mouth to go into a tirade of how this creative class, the inability for anybody normal to describe what we do, is forgotten in anything. Except for the lone designer who selects the colors.

HBO’s Silicon Valley rarely highlights designers.

They won’t quite understand what I do and what I have observed.

But there’s something interesting about this. But I don’t necessarily feel that it is like the lack of Asian Americans on TV. It’s a misportrayal of a profession. People don’t understand what MBAs do so they get portrayals of characters like Jared, a guy who yells German in his sleep and sacrifices his well-being for the company. And weirder uncomfortable eccentricities.

As a UX professional, I am the one who is investigating the truth about users and organizing communication in a way so that decisions are made from a user-centered perspective. Or better yet, human-centered perspective.

There are designers with big egos. Some who don’t even realize that they have egos. Or people who think that they are designers, but have been surrounded by companies that don’t know any better about great design. Then there are the designers who love what is on the screen, that they are in love with the UI controls, that they are unfettered by what people really need. There is a certain kind of UX professional I am. I would like to think that it’s rare, but there are treasures in our midst.

And when Silicon Valley finally portrays us on the screen, we are probably the ones saying, “So why didn’t you listen to us in the beginning?” *End throwing a deck of wireframes and visual specs in the air*