Trapped in a box

January 27th, 2015

I look and it’s all fuzzy white. What I see is grainy and not clear. A light comes into focus. Its underside. The underside of the lamp, I surmise.

“Hello?” I say, hoping someone will hear me.

I hear water flowing for several seconds. Then it stops.

My view is suddenly moving, but I didn’t say that I wanted it changed. The fuzzy white becomes a darker gray. Something rattles in the background. The sound of skin moving across fabric. Yet it’s still not mine.

The view raises and I see a flesh colored face. “Still on video chat?” a low voice says.

Climbing a hill

January 19th, 2015

It’s just time, I tell myself every time, it’s just time.

As I roll up on my bike to the foot of the hill, I think, this is it! I can climb this thing! So I pedal and push upward. But soon in a few seconds, I feel my thighs burning as my momentum slows and the only thing keep me balanced is the moving pedals. So I put more strength into it. One cycle. Two. Three. four.

Yes, I can make it.

I shift down. Smaller. Smaller. Smallest. But exhaustion tears through me. Or is it laziness? I am not sure, so I push up. Because I tell myself that anything that goes up must come down. I feel my body heat up and every single time, I am annoyed. I wonder why I do this to myself. A climb up a hill that I never wanted to do. But soon, time passes and I am at the crest. I am there. And then without thinking, I zoom down, giving up all the energy that I used to get up there.

And I think, that wasn’t that bad, was it?

Treasures in a wasteland (aka gentrification)

January 15th, 2015

“It’s in Nob Hill,” I said, looking at the bakery’s location in maps. “Just a few blocks away from us on Larkin and Geary.”

So we promptly walked over that area, passing liquor stores and apartment buildings with barred windows. While waiting at a street corner, a woman yelled to nobody and went inside a liquor store. Unfettered, I barely turned around to look. I was too busy making sure that I didn’t step into anything unpleasant.

We glanced at the stores around us. Tall buildings with old signs. A German bookstore. A church that seemed to be a single room, nothing like the grand Grace cathedral but only had a lighted red sign. Across the street was the popular Korean restaurant with cramped seating and the atmosphere of eating inside a smoky kitchen. I imagined sticky seats and chairs. Very few people were on the street. You see, I wasn’t afraid. If I was in the mood, I would have turned right to find the Vietnamese food, but today, I was on a journey to find tasty pastries.

“Are you sure that we’re going the right way?” Chris asked.

Then we continued walking, passing yet another place that seemed closed and broken. Suddenly, I saw a window that was floor to ceiling, displaying small chairs and tables with young, educated folk. Some with laptops and others with their hands wrapped around steaming coffee mugs. A woman with short-cropped hair manned the cashier. Another man, young with a beard, wore a plaid shirt and helped a customer. Loaves of bread filled one wall in flavors of fig & olive and sourdough. More people were in the back, chopping and kneading. A kitchenaid stand and food processor were in the back. “I think that we’re here,” I said.

“There’s no sign,” Chris said.

“I think that they’re so hip that they don’t need one,” I said. “Like Tartine.”

And we stepped inside, in what seemed an oasis from the Tenderloin.

To fall in love, first you have to be willing

January 14th, 2015

Let’s be honest. One of the many reasons that I write is to invite people to share stories with me. And even more selfishly, I hope that people will understand me better.

I am willing here. I have nearly 15 years worth of blog entries, documenting my not-so-confident days to the days of success. It’s all there. And yet, is that what draws people? Is that what makes people fall in love? Is the willingness to be seen and seeing the cause of love?

Like many people over the weekend, I was fascinating with the New York Times modern love article that referenced 36 questions to ask (to perhaps fall in love. I tested this with Chris over the weekend although we have known each other for more than 8 years. Like really know each other.

I didn’t learn anything new, beyond the fact that he had opinions that surprised me. (e.g. he didn’t think that our perspectives on spending was the most important habit that we shared) Being who he is, often found wearing a bulletproof armor to his emotions, his answers came off silly and perhaps shallow. His response to any ability: superhero powers. Why? Because then he could go anywhere.

But even then, maybe because I really knew him, the answers didn’t increase the intimacy that we had already established. I already have seen him at the most vulnerable. He has seen me at my worst too. And that was built over more than 8 years—when I cannot even identify the many moments that got us to this point. Was it the time that he told me deep stories of his childhood? Was it when he hid beneath my hair horrified after he accidentally walked into the women’s restroom? Was it when I told him my deep scars from my silent, awkward childhood?

And would the 36 questions have sped it up? I wouldn’t give up those 8 years either to have sped it up.

In college, I often bared my thoughts on a public journal that was advertised in my AIM profile. Even more than I do right now. Quite naturally then, anyone I met, I would blurt out: read my journal! That way I don’t have to explain myself to you! The power of inviting people into my mind was addicting. I truly believed then that my journal would solve all the misunderstandings and confusion. People would understand me and they would get me! Not always true. But what’s interesting is that people started to admire me. And worst, put me on a pedestal. Having been an outcast as a teenager, it was addictive that my words, the words describing my vulnerability and perhaps even answering the same 36 questions, attracted admirers for authenticity. Even when they never saw who I was. Words are dangerous.

I learned though that I could immediately sense when it was not mutual. And what’s interesting is that I shunned anybody who was not willing to be vulnerable and open.

I remember the flush I would have with someone I met. Inside, I wanted to outwardly beg to meet again to continue the flush. The feeling that I connected with someone. It was rare for me. But I kept still, often, because what if I was wrong? What if the feeling wasn’t mutual? What if you could make someone fall in love with you, but it wasn’t for real? I hope at least that they knew. Didn’t they know?

Which is ironic considering how I chose Chris. His definition was “fun” and that’s was all there was. And the 36 questions? They didn’t matter, because he showed me his answers in a different way.

This is what a perfect meal is like

January 12th, 2015

Yelp suggested this restaurant and as you glance over the food mentioned, you think, this is what I want. Right now. As you walk in, you’re oblivious to the fact that a reservation is probably recommended. After all, there wasn’t anybody standing outside in line or a clipboard with hastily written names. The hostess smiles at you and says, “I’ll be right with you.”

In the pause, you and your companion glance around the space, taking in the rustic wood decor and the controlled chaos in the open kitchen. “A table is opening up soon, but if you would like a seat at the counter, it is available immediately,” she returns and says.

You and your companion exchange glances. You think that you see hesitation in the hostess’ eyes. And a momentary thought crosses your mind that she is stressed out right now and would appreciate people eating slower, people coming in slower. But that mind is dropped as you and your companion say, “The counter, please.”

You jump onto the stool and study the menu. French toast it is. Donuts. The highlight dish. You and your companion turn sideways so that you can peer into the open kitchen. You think that it’s funny that the counter faces the wall instead of the open kitchen. “This is a pop-up space!” you say to your companion. “They served ramen here awhile ago.”

And you think that the pop-up didn’t have a choice in how to design the space so you take advantage of it. “Can you tell that there are a lot of newbies in the kitchen?” your companion says. “The guy with the blue apron is fixing all the dishes as they go out and whispering aloud, ‘Table 1′ ‘Table 2 with the kale salad on the side'”

You think again the reasons you didn’t want to work in food. Or even running a business. But you’re hungry and you stare at the dishes as they rush by. The server comes by to pour water and the order is taken. Your companion helpfully orders everything. And you observe the kitchen again, watching the chef fix things, moving his spatula to adjust food. Sometimes he takes a spoon of sauce and spreads it with the back of the spoon in a fancy swirl. You breath in the potential food. The flavors that you love and hope that it’s the case.

The donuts arrive. The server says, “Here let me get you sharing plates.”

A fancy mixed soda arrives. Cream tops the soda. A slice of apple is dusted with cinnamon.

You each take your knife and slice the donuts in half and swish it around the sweet sauce as it melds with the sugar and cinnamon and then melting into the warm fried dough. After you finish, you want more, but the dishes are coming. The french toast arrives and you adjust your plates for the server. She is carrying a bottle and sprays coconut foam in a controlled manner onto the plate. The french toast is not too sweet, delicate, balanced with the crispy bacon. The savory dish arrives and you nearly faint at the delicious combination of meat, rice, and egg.

In moments, you’re satisfied and happy. You switch the plates with your companion so that he can have some of your french toast. Then the plates are cleaned. And you swing around sideways to glance at the kitchen, while sipping your mixed soda. A server comes up to you suddenly and asks, “Do you need anything else?”

“No, we’re done,” your companion says.

You wait patiently, because the place seems chaotic. Two young girls arrive and they are chatting up the chef. The chef asks what they like eating. Bacon? Rice? Eggs? Yes, maybe. Do you want to help, the chef asks. Yes! The girls chorus. He tells them that they should help eat the good food. The girls nod furiously. They can do that. The mother quiets the girls down. I hear whispers as the older girl stands back in awe of the chef and says, “When I grow up, I want to be a chef.”

My companion makes eye contact with the chef. “Oh! Need anything?” he says.

“The check?” my companion says.

It arrives, and we pay. As we get up to go, the chef calls out, “Please wait, we have a gift for you.”

I am excited. Maybe one of those little candies? But in moments, he walks over to this with a box. “The donuts,” he says. “We apologize for you waiting.”

Yuppie party themes are bad taste

January 8th, 2015

I’ll admit it. Like many San Franciscans, I relish in creativity, especially when it comes to dressing up. I love themes. And in the past few years, I love making food to follow a theme. Zombies. Vampires. Ghosts. Scary stuff.

And yet.

Cinco de mayo. And no, it’s not to celebrate Mexican Independence Day (that’s in September). Officially, it’s to celebrate Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla.

To be honest, I haven’t been invited to a cinco de mayo party yet. But after thinking about who I want to be, I now detest the theme. A bunch of white people drinking margaritas when there is not a single Mexican present? A reason to have guacamole and chips. Don’t get me wrong, I love avocado and would spring up for any occasion for that food. But there’s something that doesn’t feel right about Cinco de Mayo, if it’s only an excuse to eat Mexcian food and drink “Mexican” bebidas. And if a company is willing to comp me free food for that day, I’ll take the bait. But I’ll feel uncomfortable with the whole thing.

And what about the parties throughout this area with a flimsy theme? Mini party? Sure, that’s cool. Mini hotdogs, mini skirts, and mini cocktails. A white party? Yeah, cool. Ugly sweater party? Yeah! I still have my ugly sweater vest in my closet. Glow in the dark party? Yeah, my roommate and I did that in our early twenties even though it sounds so ridiculous and aimless now. But then when it comes to a Homeless Party, Geishas and Businessmen Party, or Nazi Party…that’s just bad taste.

Now I am not saying, don’t do it. It’s not satire. It’s missing the whole point to get people thinking. Rather it’s a thinly veiled reason to drink. And thinly disguised sexism and racism. Plus it’s not a good idea to have a party theme that involved a lot of people dying.

2014: Everything’s OK

January 6th, 2015

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

In 2013, it was when light shone in the face of despair. In 2012, it was when I stood up for myself. In 2011, it was a moment of clarity, sincere belief and friendship. In 2010, it was an action of commitment.

At first, I wanted to talk about how my confidence returned in mid-summer when I heard: “I emailed you, because you’re the best.” A short sentence that provided validation that I hadn’t fallen off the deep end into incompetence.

But it wasn’t that. On the last day of the writing workshop in Maine, we were given an assignment to write in a point of view that we didn’t use regularly and a character different from our natural selves.

For the past few days, and really the past few months, I felt my writing shriek awkwardly across the page. I constantly repeated the same stereotypes and leaned heavily on cliches. The words felt stoney cold and not the warm ooze of comfort that came when the words seem to fall perfectly on the page.

That day on the windjammer sitting on a finished wooden bench, I poised my pen above my notebook and began writing. I was underneath the deck and huddled with my notebook and pen. Despite the cold and shivering in front of the small heated lamp, my ideas suddenly flowed easily. I had a narrative arc that poured out of me. And as I weaved a story from a small moment to another small moment, I felt the ease that I had. I felt the life that I had written and the vulnerability revealed. A gentleness that I sought.

My ability to write returned full force. It had never left me. Because in fact, all it needed was a little bit of coaxing.

2014: Travel

January 5th, 2015

How did you travel in 2014? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

In 2013, I finished off the bulk of the travel for the Ice Cream Travel Guide. In 2012, I started the journey of a life and went to what I thought was unfathomable (in my life) — six domestic destinations and eight international destinations — for professional and personal reasons. In 2011, I went on one international trip, one domestic…and one super local. In 2010, I went on one international trip and multiple domestic trips.

As expected, I was less than enthused for much traveling in the year of 2014. I wanted to stay focused as much as possible (and not to mention, make income).

In 2014, I traveled to:

  • Short weekend trip to Tahoe for my annual call of skiing
  • Short weekend trip to Los Angeles to Disneyland
  • A 2+ week journey throughout the Northeast stopping by “beachtown” stands for ice cream, a writing workshop on windjammer off the coast of Maine, and most importantly, landing at the headquarters and factory of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream
  • Multiple business trips to Chicago, Austin, and Los Angeles
  • Weekend at a farm 2.5 hours northeast outside San Francisco with family for my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary
  • In the coming year, I anticipate that I will finally visit Michigan for my sister and my cousin’s wedding. But where else? Will I catch a whiff of a deal like the trip flights to Asia? Will the grandfather story lure me to my dad’s hometown in China and my grandfather’s adult home in Peru? Then will there be short trips to Tahoe (most certainly) or to Portland, Los Angeles? With now a cycling crew, will I be moved to do an overnight cycling trip? And will there be more dairy destinations that I must include? To be continued…

    2014: 5 Minutes

    January 3rd, 2015

    Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2014 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2014

    2013 5 minutes, 2012 5 minutes, 2011 5 minutes, and 2010 5 minutes

  • Organizing and reading at Litcrawl
  • Organizing and leading the aspirational writing group
  • Finding a writing group of older, experienced people
  • Dropping out of a memoir writing group because the people didn’t seem right all the way in Oakland
  • Leading not one, not two, but three startups in a design thinking strategy exercises
  • Increasing and marketing my skills of design thinking to the world
  • Succeeding as a UX freelancer and still reaching the salary goal for the year
  • Attending many many advance movie screenings
  • Choosing the friends that I really want to be around
  • Discovering that I really enjoy cooking and baking (when it doesn’t include decorative elements)
  • Always meeting new people
  • Learning that some meetups are not really worth it
  • Reading almost 24 books
  • Visiting Boston and learning about a friend’s children’s book
  • Visiting an old style house in Boston with fascinating culture
  • Visiting Kennebunkport, Maine, the birthplace of George W. Bush
  • Staying and writing on a windjammer off the coast of Maine
  • Attending a writing workshop led by Pam Houston
  • Visiting all the ice cream shops and lobster roll places in the Northeast
  • Applying to my first writing fellowship (didn’t get in, but failure is expected)
  • Visiting and interviewing people at Ben and Jerry’s HQ and factory
  • Staying in the excellent Brooks Art House outside the Vermont capital
  • Driving through dangerous rainstorm through Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont
  • learning about real maple syrup and realizing that the brown corn syrup isn’t “maple syrup at all”
  • 2014: Next Step

    January 2nd, 2015

    When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

    In 2010, it was about dream making. In 2011, it was about sticking to my boundaries. In 2012, it was about being true. In 2013, it was about embracing fear.

    On New Year’s Day, I wrote goals up with Chris, following Pair Designing Our Relationship article on Medium. In it, I found the most common areas were writing and organization.

    2015 Personal Goal Setting. One of @seeetthere: "Be like Benny from Lego movie."

    A photo posted by Jenn Ng (@jennism) on

    In a writing class a few years ago, an instructor handed out a piece of paper. On it on large words, it said, “Sit your butt down and write.” Because her belief was that people needed to just write. So many people ask popular writers what makes them great—”how did you get so good?”

    “I just sat down and wrote,” they reply.

    It’s just that. There’s that study that exists that to be good at something, one must practice it at least 10,000 hours. It’s not about innate talent. Rather it’s about experience, increasing it every day…as much as possible. I have written in my blog for more than 10 years. And yet, to be able to write for an audience, that’s an entirely different matter.

    When I chose my top 3 goals in the pair design exercise, they were all about writing. Sure, I could increase the skills and knowledge in UX, but I have reached where I want to be (for now). But in writing, I am still only beginning. My next step then is: sit my butt down and write.