Being self-centered and self-conscious at the same time

August 29th, 2017

For the final for my econ/government class, we had a final project. I don’t remember the exact details of the assignment and what we were supposed to present. Somehow I had the great idea to create a video about myself. Somehow I had an incredible desire to tell the entire class about myself.

And also, the teacher had given us the option to ask a friend to see our final project be presented. So I chose Rebecca.

Except all I can remember when I showed the video was how suddenly embarrassed I was.

In high school, I was incredibly socially anxious. I didn’t want to tell people who I was. Instead, I wanted to bury myself into the background and not be noticed. So that always led to this paradoxical desire—I desperately wanted to be heard, but not seen.

So like many brilliant ideas in my life, I had imagined the perfect ideal scenario. I would create an artistic video that summarized everything that I felt, saw, and heard. Everything that was about me. Now the world would understand! Now everyone would grasp at what’s important about me! Now they would get it! But unfortunately during the process, I didn’t think deeply about what it meant to actually present the material.

So on the day of the final project, I played the video that I had carefully created. As I played it, I suddenly was so embarrassed and terrified. I covered my face. My teacher did notice and attempted to yank me out my embarrassment. Embarrassed again, I forced myself to watch…my masterpiece.

And it was fine. I am pretty sure my high school classmates don’t remember it, especially now it’s more than 15 years ago.

But this past Monday, I thought—what a great idea to present my “About Me” at my new job. I would show my quirkyness, my fun, and my style. But as usual, this time with years of maturity and confidence, I blasted through it with no fear. But then I realized—the terror. I have just exposed myself with the silliness of how I viewed life (privately) and how I wanted life to be.

But then afterwards? Not much, except for the colleagues who already was very interested in my background. So I seeped back into silence and the neverending skulking.

What is it like to be junior?

August 14th, 2017

I remember moments early in my career of frustration, disenchantment, and feigned confidence.

Why can’t things work the way they should be working? I want to cry

Looking back, I can only smell how green that appears. How so lacking of the great context and the drive for something greater.

I remember once 10 years ago, I had suggested in a startup with no titles that I have the word principal in front of my title. My manager disagreed. “Principal doesn’t seem right,” he murmured.

I was embarrassed, so I said nothing.

Then again about two years later, I asked why I didn’t have the “senior ux designer” title. “Why do you believe that you deserve that title?” I was asked.

And again, I didn’t say anything, embarrassed, perhaps letting the self-doubt surface.

But now I have that title. The principal one. I achieved the senior title about 5 years ago, just by tackling it on. And now lead or principal just by being here. I am not as frustrated as before. Rather, I understand why. But in all situations, I am only thinking of opportunity for myself.

When I see the displeasure in others, I feel the greenness and I wonder how long it will take until they see what I see.

Tempting risk

July 20th, 2017

“Hey!” I yelled. “Hey!”

Several weeks ago, I got a hybrid bike to replace the three bikes that were stolen from my garage in mid-May. As a result though, I am hyper sensitive to my bike being stolen. Even when properly locked. (Side rant: being well-locked doesn’t prevent thievery, because they all carry the tools to break those things. what matters is the location of where the bike is stored.)

But because of certain circumstances like scheduling and unexpected meetings at an offsite, I decided to bike from work to the focus group session on 3rd and Brannan. Yes, I could have asked if I could bring my bike inside, but I had no intention to stay very long. I wanted to observe briefly and then take off.

And so that’s where it began. When I got to the corner, I looked around for a bike rack. The closest valid one (beyond meters) was across the street with the typical u-shaped metal thing built into the ground. I had switched to a small u-lock lately, because it was the only lock that I had left…but unfortunately, it doesn’t wrap around the bike very well. So I struggled with it and the cable wrapping the lock eventually only around the backwheel (because it wouldn’t even fit across the frame). But I knew that the seat wasn’t even secured. I hoped that nothing would happen.

Time ticked. I had a free meal (which partly was the reason that I went apart from the fact that I wanted to learn from the participants). Then I felt that I had reached my time limit. Because I was quite conscious about my bike left in broad daylight, left to the open forces. So I left and bounded down the stairs.

You see, 3rd street is very crowded. Not quite sure where everyone is going. Perhaps it’s AT&T park. Perhaps it’s everyone heading somewhere on caltrain. Whatever it is. There are a lot of pedestrians, which seemed mostly to be office workers.

Exiting into the broad daylight at 7 pm, I breathed easily as I saw that my bike was still whole. I started walking toward the crosswalk when I saw a guy on a bike quickly go up to my bike and move his hand close to my seat.

“HEY!” I yelled and started sprinting. “HEY!”

By this point, he had my entire seat in his hand.

“Give me my seat back!” I yelled as loud as I could.

He was startled, because it was obvious that he thought he was going to get away with it. He held it in his hand high above his head as if he was going hit me. He had dark wavy hair just below his chin. A hat and baggy pants. And some mountain bike. Now I wish that I took a picture.

“I could hit you…” he said.

I glared. “Give me back my seat.”

“Okay, okay, here’s your seat.” Interestingly, he placed it back into my bike tube.

Then he left. I glanced at the nearby white women who looked at the situation with a combination of surprise and exasperation. When the guy left, one woman commented, “Did you know him?”

“No! He was trying to steal my bike seat!”

“Oh my god, I didn’t realize. I am so sorry. Does that happen? I wouldn’t have known. I just didn’t know. I would have done something if he hit you.”

“Yes,” I said. “it does happen very frequently. But no worries..it’s not like you would have known. Just that when you see someone with a bike, they shouldn’t be taking things from other bikes. Just watch out for that.”

Then I continued unlocking my bike. Their uber arrived and the women got in.

Sign of privilege

July 12th, 2017

The twentysomething kid tumbled out of the car nearly crying. At first, I was judgmental—a gangbanger who lacked respect for authority and rules—who most of all, at that moment, had fled when he rear-ended my car on the freeway.

We caught up and then there it was.

But I softened up when I saw his age. His declarations that he was poor, wearing a Kennedy high school lanyard, wearing a pikachu watch, a spiderman t-shirt. He said that his car was named Sally. He said that he was regretful. He now wanted to do the right thing. He a made a mistake, driving under the influence, driving without insurance or a license. As we spoke at the side of the road, blocking a whole lane of traffic, he was pleading, his hands high, and his mouth turned into a frown. Mercy, he said.

Later, he told me that he was poor. He couldn’t even afford groceries. And yet. That he didn’t have a bank account.

What could I do in the face of all of this? I am privileged that when I was 19 and rear-ended a car (at 5 mph), the only punishment I had was that my parents were furious that I wasn’t paying attention and my premiums went up. But my parents helped me out since I didn’t necessarily have the money. I am also privileged to believe that the world requires hard work, but I am also quite aware that my access to funds, to a lifelong method of diligence and grit, and a lasting support system…that is privilege. I know that if I ever ran out of personal funds, I have people to turn to who would support me. Friends, family…even acquaintances. Because I have proven my worth in other ways.

Does this kid have that kind of access? With my limited scope, he doesn’t. I made a suggestion that he sell the phone so that he could cough up the money that he owes me for the damage. But in doing so, I am taking away something that is truly helping him.

I am a progressive like the next San Francisco resident. I believe that it’s sad that the homeless are on the street. But I also believe that they are more likely to find illegal ways to find money—stealing bikes or electronic devices and reselling all of them. But they’re doing what it takes.

I told the kid that he has to pay for the damage. But I stopped myself from being cruel and demanding. Because it’s not that I want him to be homeless. I don’t want to be the cause of that. I want him to learn a lesson, especially from the mercy I gave. I don’t want to be the reason why he starts to hate the government and the world, because I took the money from him. I want to give the kid the hope that he can do better next time.

Air Filter

July 5th, 2017

Sometimes I marvel my air filter. I imagine that it sits there and the air flies in, as if drawn by a magnet. Through the filter, the air shakes off the dirt accumulated through days, months, years, and then it flings out all clean, shedding weight.

Does the air feel now pure as it circulates around the room, free as a bird, pure as a new baby’s bottom as it swings toward me. Into my nostrils into my own personal filter and down into my lungs where it does some chemical reaction that helps me body live?

Then, what has the air witnessed? Has it swirled around above the lies that we tell? The lies we tell to others and ourselves? The secrets that we see and swear never to tell a single soul until one day while in the bathroom, guilt and shame creeps up and open the door?

What does the air know?

I sit in my bed, resting against a pillow and the hard wall. This wall scratches easily, marks from shoes, from things that touch the wall. The air brushes against it too, but it does nothing. The air is a silent, gentle partner. Neutral, willing, soft, gentle. It never does anything. It only goes where the wind blows. It vibrates for sounds. It provides the oxygen and carbon dioxide that we, plants, animals need. And it moves up and down the temperature.

Swirling with no care in the world.

Things to remember about Vegas (in the month of June)

July 4th, 2017

(While I endure the sorta illegal fireworks going on in my neighborhood — happy fourth!)

  • Whatever you do, try to remain indoors with the incredible AC. If you walk outside, make it short. Because later, your skin will thank you. As well as your lungs. As well as your muscles. As well as your thin thin mucus skin (aka nose)
  • Vegas only wants you to eat and hang out at the pool during this month. Boring.
  • Food is no longer cheap. It’s land of getting whatever you want. At good quality. Especially the price.
  • Eat Japanese. It’s really good here. Obviously because nearly every city in America (and some select international cities) have direct flights here. Resulting in a diverse clientele and their needed requirements.
  • Shows are great. Just select the right ones.
  • Take the monorail. Trams or whatever.
  • Buffets? Go during off peak hours. Then you stay past the time limit. Also remember to eat as little carbs as possible. Don’t waste your stomach space on that!
  • Really think carefully why you’re going to vegas. Because it’s just a town for a certain type of person. If you’re not that type of person, minimize your time.
  • Watching the street

    June 15th, 2017

    There’s simply nothing interesting, I declared.

    After setting up the Nest cam, I became obsessed with watching it. But pointed at the street from the small room in the apartment, there was nothing useful.

    That is, I had a clear vantage point to record misdeeds of cars driving. Illegal u-turns usually from Lyft or Uber. Motorcycles revving unnecessarily. Speeding cars. Unneeded honks. But all of that, for very little.

    I couldn’t see the faces of passing pedestrians, being so high up on the top floor of the duplex. In the changing lightness and darkness, the camera couldn’t detect the differences between a person and sunlight. Also further, if the light wasn’t right, a person would appear as a blog entering the household. To the camera, it would appear that nobody was there at all.

    I am a little obsessed with being a voyeur. But sometimes it doesn’t seem to pay off. At first, I want to hear the things that I never got to hear. But soon, I realize, it’s incredibly dull. I don’t care about the ongoings. I don’t care about the common conversations. The juiciness of every day lives (and misbehavior) tend to be hidden and discrete, way below the surface of people.

    In the evenings, I go to the Nest app and swipe up and down. There always has been this hesitation for me when I look at these services built on fear. I know that I will easily buy into it. Because I want to protect myself. Better safe than sorry! But I know that’s the same reason why people get a gun. Just in case, they say. I want to have a sense of control, they say. And they say all of this as they hug the cold metal to their chest, frightened at any slight movement, shooting unnecessarily to someone who deserved to live.

    “What’s the point even?”

    June 14th, 2017

    “Politicians are just there to self-promote themselves,” he said. “It might appear that they want to help the public or to move issues forward. But they’re really trying to get themselves ahead.”

    My mouth dropped at that. Here was a San Francisco Caucasian guy. Likely liberal since we were standing in a bar during a break at a marketing business conference. We had heard from speakers who lamented the rise of Trump and the twist of how humor can break through the lies we tell.

    “Maybe I am optimistic,” I finally said. “Recently, my boyfriend asked me how I would describe what lawyers do. I replied, ‘Defend me!’ He laughed and responded that most people would say, ‘They sue.'”

    “I should go to town halls,” he continued, not quite reflecting on my response. “But what’s the point? They’re not even helping the American public.”

    “But to be at that kind of role, they do need a degree of narcissism.”

    But it dawned on me. Is this how all of America feels? That there is no hope? That there is no point to all of this?
    That everyone who holds political office is a liar. That they’re only to promote their agenda. That this is all nihilism, as a friend aptly described later.

    I didn’t bother arguing with him. We had just finished a debate about healthcare where I believed that poor health is systemic and that it’s not the individuals fault that they’re unhealthy. That the healthcare system was oriented, as it is being proposed in the House, to help people like us—highly motivated, highly educated, surrounded by resources. I suggested that fitness wearables need to be oriented toward the masses to be more successful. There needs to be better programs, most importantly. Even without wearables. “It’s not designed for them,” he argued.

    “What if,” I insisted. “What if they could?”

    I kept thinking of that last statement. What if something could help the poor find better health? What if something could help the poor make small changes or even be informed? What if?

    And what if we believed that the politicians can be good? They may be just led astray.

    I thought all of this as I thought about how I met this guy. Formerly at Yahoo. Now at Twitch. A contrast to my own healthcare experience—dabbled with a biopharm, did a longish stint at a healthcare startup helping people with diabetes, and a large complex healthcare organization. How does a guy who never worked in healthcare and only worked on services about delivering video about games know anything?

    Then I realized: he totally mansplained healthcare and politics to me.

    In return, I’ll keep my distance and note his name on my blacklist (aka people never to work with ever).

    Guilty Pleasure of Music

    June 13th, 2017

    I am not afraid to admit. I am listening to some TSwift right now. Because it just landed on Spotify!

    Because it’s catchy. Some lyrics ring true. (Although I know that it’s not all written by her.)

    For years, especially in my identity-forming era of my teens and twenties, I would declare to the world that my favorite music was the music nobody knew. I could rattle off a whole list of bands that were obscure. But the fact was I didn’t really enjoy their songs. Sure, I would have them loop in my endless playlist in an effort to make myself like it.

    But it didn’t have the same pleasure that I had with certain pop songs. The kind of songs that would make me hop and dance.

    It wasn’t until my mid=twenties when I finally admitted to myself that pop music was my love. And even just now to admit that Taylor Swift could be someone that I listened to. (There’s a story of a friend who did some website development work for her and it was intense, because there were so many demands.) It frustrates me that I waited so long. I love music, but I had purposefully denied myself of music that I loved. (Not to mention waste money at concerts of bands that…I didn’t love, but bands that I loved because it matched the hipster identity I wanted to support.)

    There’s this brand of an empowered woman—one who doesn’t take any crap, an ambitious woman who works hard to get what she wants, and more. At its core, it’s feminist. There’s a stigma.

    But right now, I sit in my office chair, play from my free spotify account, and listen to that catchy pop music pour through my speakers.

    Almost 50% off!

    June 8th, 2017

    “It’s $100 at the Milpitas Walmart,” Chris messaged. “Saw it on slickdeals. Do you want to go?”

    “Okay,” I replied, thinking that it was only 15 minutes away. Just south of Daly City.

    Then I got into the car and he said that the estimated time on Waze was 50 minutes. Wait a minute, I thought, it’s not Millbrae. It’s Milpitas, as in the city next to San Jose.

    But the $100, when normally the retail price is $199. But I acquiesced, knowing that my schedule for the day was going to be all mixed up. That I wasn’t going to be able to remember all the other things that I was supposed to do, because I hadn’t planned for a day with this much spontaneity. It’s this kind of day that would lead to missed appointments and missed meetings and missed tasks. But according to my calendar, it wasn’t the case.

    So we went. Zooming down the 101 and across the 237. Nearly an hour later, we pulled into a barren parking lot.

    We entered the Walmart, a hot day in the blaring sun in the south of the east bay.

    Now, I rarely if ever go to a Walmart. Being one of those uppity hipsters, Walmart represents a foregone era. It’s the Kmart of my childhood. The bouncing smiley faces. The rollback deals that I don’t really need. I don’t necessarily trust it. In fact, I would rather shop at Tar-jay, than to be caught at Walmart. It’s the retail store that would employ people who would never enter my social circle. It’s a rather snotty way of looking at it. But I would like to think that I am more accepting of it than my fellow peers who regularly visit Whole Foods and other “authentic” brands.

    But there I entered, my feelings pulled by the sudden realization of the low prices. Fantastic.

    We rushed over to the electronics area. The shelf was empty, so we asked the man working if he knew if there were any boxes anywhere. “Check online,” he said. “I just sold one.”

    “Can you check on your computer?” Chris asked.

    “No, you check online,” the man insisted.

    But online on the website, it showed that there were 4 boxes left. “Does it not update real time?” I said. Just 30 minutes ago, it said there were 4. Maybe we could find someone who had it in the cart and they hadn’t checked out yet. Maybe we could negotiate for the box in their cart.

    We came all this way and there wasn’t anything. Was it that slickdeals was heavily trafficked by Bay Area people and they rushed here as soon as it was posted. But that’s impossible. We didn’t see any deal hunters in our entire trip. And it was just posted two hours earlier. Did so many people really have that much free time during the day as Chris and I luckily did? I clenched my jaw and a despair settled in my stomach. Chris tried to lighten the mood by suggesting other interesting things. Go deals? After all, Walmart did have the lowest price for most purchase-able items. So we skulked around the store, going through each aisle in case extra things should pop up.

    Perhaps we could return and the 4 boxes as listed on the website would show up. But it didn’t.

    We walked around the store again. We had traveled over 50 miles to this store, and I couldn’t think of anything to make this trip all worthwhile.

    I returned to the electronics section in hopes that the boxes would appear. It didn’t. But there was a different man working the section. He had a thin mustache and a jubilant look on his face. Chris went to ask him about the inventory. “Strange,” the man said. “We should have some. Let me check our storage unit.”

    And there it was. Two completely packaged. One for me. One as a gift.

    And I giddily checked out.

    More than 8 years ago, I mentioned to a colleague how I enjoyed buying presents for Chris at a good deal. “But doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the gift?” he said incredulously. “A gift should be without the value.”

    “But it’s the hunt that’s part of it,” I replied. “Chris would appreciate the gift, the fact that I didn’t spend much, and most importantly, the effort I put into finding a good deal. Paying full price would taint the gift. It would suggest laziness. Finding the good deal suggests cleverness and diligence.”