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One of the greatest skills to have as an adult

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

I didn’t like the assignment that much—the idea of going up to strangers and asking them if they want to sign up for a mailing list. But I did it anyway, because it was my assignment. After all, my goal was to support organizations dedicated to social causes.

Our “team” was of 4 people or so. Each of us were given a FAQ prior to the event which I read thoroughly and printed it out.

“Do we have a pitch?” I said.

“Oh I think that people will just say whatever they want.”

I grimaced, knowing exactly how that would go. Partly because I didn’t quite trust people to know how to involve people, make them feel empowered, and engage them at the right level. But instead, I shoved my distrust aside and just smiled, saying some words that I would say.

So with all the experiences I had in establishing rapport for user research, I dragged out the extrovert and approached people. All at once, with the first ten people, I chatted up people. Complimented their signage. Created a safe space where they could opt in freely without any pressure. Set expectations of the email message and/or text message frequency. And most of all, thank them them for showing up.

Interestingly, although it wasn’t a competition, I was able to garner more than 10. Credit, yes, for myself. But I thought about this—my most hated type of job to beg for support. And yet, success did arrive nonetheless. But I hope at least this wouldn’t be everything that I would need to do.

I swept the water away

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Last Friday, after a very successful phone call, I crawled outside my bathroom window onto an ledge that is surrounded by a wall of my building, the bathroom window, my room’s window and the wall of the neighboring building…and a small opening that overlooks the alley between my building and the neighboring building. In short, it’s an useless area that the architect decided to include so that all rooms could have a window.

It’s also an area where pigeons love to perch and coo ridiculously. And…with the recent torrential rains, rainwater collected. A few weeks ago, I had Chris roll the pigeon eggs out of the nest, just a few inches. Then two weeks later after I removed the eggs (and hilarity ensued), rainwater collected into a massive puddle.

Several years ago, I experienced an infestation of no-see-ums. I didn’t know where they came from. Mosquitos? In the cold San Francisco? I knew my window was not fully secure with its single panel of glass. And I knew that they loved standing water. Yet where would that standing water be?

Of course, in this alcove after I started kicking the pigeons out.

I went outside with a broom from the garage. In my waterproof hiking boots, I swept the water off the alcove onto the alleyway below. Swish swish. With satisfaction, I heard the drops of water splash onto the concrete, the hard splatter of water, and the drip of a wall that was still wet. I emptied out at least 7/8 of the puddle until I found the culprit which I removed with a gloved hand. Debris clogged up the drain and soon, the water swirled into the pipe until there was no water left.

I hastily climbed back up through the bathroom window, awkwardly crossing my legs and trying my best not to bring dirt inside by removing the boots. Then once inside, I pulled the broom out and ran downstairs to the garage, trying my best not to drip water, and returned the broom to its position in the garage standing against the tall chest.

Later, in the alleyway, I saw the door rug moved aside for the puddles to dry.

So then how about Uber?

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

In the most awkward conversation possible despite the crazy recent PR issues, the female recruiter said this after hearing my emphasis on about what I was seeking (mission-driven company that aims to support underserved communities):
“So how about Uber? You seem to know a lot of people there.”

Needless to say, I was shocked.

Just ignorance or racism?

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Over the weekend, I worried about recent reports about how customs / immigration at the border to the US would be investigating social media accounts.

“You’ll have to be careful when you come back from Asia,” I said to my sister, warnings for their trip to Thailand, Hong Kong and other Asian countries. “You might want to delete the social media apps from your phone before entering Customs. Then put them back on when you exit the airport.”

“What really?” he said.

“Yes!” Chris added. “There was a report of a JPL employee being held at the border and he was forced to surrender his phone. The phone was JPL property, NASA’s work with confidential information.”

“And! He is a US citizen.” I said.

“Well, I mean, I don’t have a weird name like Ala-bar-kah,” he said. “Nobody will look at my name.”

We paused. “Well, he did have an Indian name,” Chris said.

“You might have to worry about my sister,” I said. “Her last name, after all, isn’t necessarily American. Plus they’re cracking down on the Chinese entering the US.”

This morning, my sister sent me a snapchat story from CNN outlining the facts about mobile device surrender at the border.

Is it pretty straightforward from here?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

I am in a bubble of my own making, self-created from my college and postgraduate education. Then of course, living in one of the most expensive cities in the United States, plus my love of not shopping at big box stores (except for Costco) and refusing to watch mainstream TV. I am in my own bubble of liberals freaking out about everything. Because I am one of them too. (You see my calm exterior, but inside I am a big ball of messiness.)

But with all the recent events in the White House and the things overseas, is it possible? Or have we accepted, like my parents have, that there’s nothing we can do? Of course, there’s the phone calls, donations, etc. etc., but are we defeated?

Or with the recent events, is it pretty straightforward from here?

For me, I know this:
1. Massive stuff happens in the White House that I pretend to understand and freak out all about
2. Have another “life” crisis, which on average lasts about 16 months
3. Write and submit another “Modern Love” essay trying to tie the analogy of the American presidential chaos to my life
4. Get rejected and moan (quietly) about it a year
5. Better president in the white house

Do people die from a shower of falling glass?

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

Nearly an hour had passed, but I was deeply engaged in a conversation with friends about the plights of the world and particularly my strong opinions as we waited in line for a super popular ramen restaurant that had seats for just over 25 people. Who knows what I was being cynical about—whether it was the state of the world (not great) or about whether we should fight back in mugging (consensus: yes, of course while evaluating personal safety, and if the girl with you is deeply appalled, she probably wasn’t the right one anyway). It was chilly so I had the hood of my wool jacket on, hovering near the restaurant windows like a skulking pedestrian. Then we heard the sound of glass shattering. I felt something hit my head—hard, but not that hard because it felt like someone’s hand just smacking my head for attention. But like all my moments of unexpected events, I froze like a deer in headlights.

We looked up to see a shattered window. Being that we were in the tenderloin and in an urban city, the first thing that crossed mind was a fight. A fight that as a voyeur, I wanted to see. But it wasn’t. It was a woman who was trying to open her second-story window of her apartment. It was stuck, so she put some elbow grease and leaned her elbow against the glass. The window frame didn’t budge, but the glass did and it cut her hand.

I felt quite conscious and very alive—although it was later that I fell into an anxiety of whether I could have died as a silly foodie waiting over an hour just to eat ramen customized for San Francisco with kale.

“Everyone okay?” someone said.

I touched my face to make sure that I was okay.

Stunned, we all stepped aside from the glass. Someone pointed to a guy’s face where he was bleeding. “Get some antiseptic!” someone yelled into the crowded restaurant.

A server came outside to sweep the glass. The couple came downstairs to explain the situation. The woman said that they needed to go the hospital. And the guy insisted that if we wanted to sue anyone, we better get the information of his landlord. “I told him for months that our window wouldn’t open,” he said. “It must be the weather that made the glass swell.”

“Your eyelid,” a friend said. “It’s bleeding.”

“Is it?” I said and touched it.

“Go to the bathroom and check,” Chris said.

So I reluctantly dragged myself inside the restaurant. “Sorry,” I said opening the bathroom to find the other bleeding guy staring at the mirror and dabbing his face with a towel. “I am just checking whether I am bleeding.”

I stared at the mirror and just saw a small speck, barely noticeable. Later, after I took a shower, the blood swept away and I couldn’t even find the source of the cut at all.

We carefully brushed the glass shards off ourselves, shaking our jackets and sweatshirts. “Are you okay?” a friend asked again.

The guy told everyone below to move away from the window as he cleaned out all the remaining glass. The woman said, “Wear gloves!”

And we watched as more glass shards fell, crashing onto the pavement below.

I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. Grateful? Numb? Apathetic? Angry? Sad? But surprisingly as we sat down, I was overcome with a feeling of coincidence. I am one of those people who can’t help but click on click-baity headlines. I will read “Ten ways people died from a freak accident including one you never expect”. I have read all of them. The fallen tree during the storm that crushed a woman on a golf course. Then there are the miracles. The time the large screws or metal objects fell from the temporary Bay Bridge, but miraculously didn’t hit any cars. I thought about an irrational fear lately which is being T-boned as a passenger or driver of a car. I echoed all of this suddenly to a friend whose father experienced a debilitating disease and his dog likely diagnosed with brain cancer. “I have been thinking of that too,” he said.

What if a large glass shard had fallen and hit my head with its sharp point? What if? I worried that I could be on tip of losing my mind as I had watched a friend lose his grip on reality after a traumatic bike accident? I didn’t want to be the person who was consumed with anxiety of living a regular life. “That’s dangerous,” that friend said, his voice rising in desperate anxiety.

There are moments that I have felt in the past year where I think that I could stare at home all day. I’ll be fine right here in my bed. I’ll be fine just eating the same thing from my refrigerator. And yet, I would miss the thrill of life right outside. I live in the city not because I am an extroverted person, requiring people all the time. But I deeply enjoy the convenience. The fact that people are outside within reach. I hear the roar of cars whizzing on the street. I hear the click-clakety of heels as people walk down the street. And yes, I still love my bike as I fly down Valencia, weaving, pumping my legs. I love the walk and the discovery of new things.

Earlier that day, a friend and I was feasting on chocolate at a parklet. Somehow instantly, a glass was thrown and shattered. We turned to find the source of the noise. There was the glass, yes. But who threw it? Was it the guy who deliberately dropped it? Or did someone throw it at him? Where did it come from? Nobody was around, but it was all to strange.

This morning, I googled, “Do people die from a shower of falling glass?” hoping that the Internet would answer my question. Instead, I only found stories of people falling to their death out the windows. A lawyer fell to his death as he was showing fellow law students that the glass windows of his high office building was unbreakable. But with his extra run and force, the glass window popped out and he fell to his death. I told myself that I would never be that stupid. But then again, it’s all luck isn’t it? To have been standing under the apartment window right at that moment?

I rarely win anything drawn by the lottery. But yesterday, I was in the right place at the right time. Isn’t that the summary of life anyway?

But I sat alone

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

“What is that?” the boy sneers at the foreign-looking food during lunchtime.

Among American-born children of immigrants, there’s a common story about bringing a non-American lunch to school. The child at first would be proud of the food, but over time, as they realize that other kids, especially the popular ones, don’t approve, they may go home and beg for a replacement. The Lunchables, please! The PB&J sandwiches. Anything except the stinky tofu. Anything except the fish with its eyeballs and scaly skin. Anything but…

Tonight at my regular book club, the conversations had drifted into that territory. The majority of us were American-born children of immigrants. Stories of sneering boys. Stories of how a friend stood up for someone else. Laughter ensued. Despite being the American-born child of my Hong Kong raised parents and bringing regular Chinese food to school, my lips were thin. Yes, I did remember eating fried rice or other strange foods. And yet I hated sandwiches, because they often surfaced memories of gagging on the soggy dough. Instead, as I heard stories of being ostracized for having foreign food, all I felt was this overwhelming feeling of loneliness.

Because I remember sitting alone during lunchtime, because I lacked friends.

Yes, eventually, there were people that I surrounded myself with, but they weren’t friends at all, but rather people that proved that I wasn’t a loner, the outsider, the outcast. They were proof that I fit in, even thought I didn’t really fit in.

And because of that, nobody saw my lunch. Because nobody was there to see. Sometimes I must have just eaten quickly so that nobody would see that I was eating alone. Just enough to satisfy my hunger. Then I would watch all the other kids.

How did they fit in? How did they figure out how to eat lunch? How did they get so popular? How did they make friends?

All of these thoughts, those anxious moments tumbled through my mind as I watched my friends talk about their struggles. During a pause, I blurted, “I ate alone, so nobody ever saw what I ate.”

One person who had just joined the book club turned and said, “Oh I did too. Well I had one friend.”

To which I mumbled as everyone turned back to their laughter, letting the loneliness yank me to a place of sorrow, which sedated me for the rest of the hour, “I didn’t have any.”

Unspoken privilege

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

During college, a friend observed (quite bluntly), “You have everything. Yet, it’s not enough.”

Beyond the fact that during that period I moped about everything—state of friendships, my natural non-exuberant personality, challenges of my major, etc., I never really quite appreciated the level of privilege I had.

Not only did I end up traditionally straight and cisgender, I grew up in a household with at least one college-educated parent in an upper middle class suburb with high-ranking public schools. I always had a bed and a roof with three meals and quiet environment. My parents had either shifted their work schedules and workload so that there was always a parent around (often to my displeasure as a teenager). Never did I ever had to seek shelter or suffer from hunger or feel unsafe. I had the privilege of declaring hunger strikes. To imagine, to read, and to write. Drugs and alcohol were wholly absent from my childhood. Friendships, despite the few that I had, were relatively of similar type. And in all that, I developed behaviors and motivations for resourcefulness, intellect, and diligence.

What if I had born in a household of divorce and alcoholism? Or learning from the models of laziness and disengagement? What if then? Perhaps I would have turned out the same, better or worse.

How to not be afraid

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

1. Because you believe that you’re invincible
2. Obviously the belief of #1 is temporal as you realize that your body is susceptible to many things in life—disease, car crashes, bad food, and heartache. Mortality is truly possible as you read about people who can’t reach their doctor because of the immigration ban. You read the likely ways of death and you worry that you’ll slip and fall, because that’s more likely than someone bombing up your building. You worry yourself (metaphorically) to death. But then suddenly one day, you reach for a helping hand and that lifts you up. Believe in community.
3. Protest. Write. Express. Tell your story. Stand up for you believe in. Attend those events and those town halls. Make the phone calls even though you hate talking on the phone. Communicate.
4. Start to find the light in life. Remember what you loved doing. Maybe it was cooking. Exploring the plethora of wines. Maybe it’s traveling to discover new sights. Maybe it’s the thrill of climbing mountains of America.
5. Realize that you love this country. Awhile ago, you had declared to your trusted circle that you were going to move to Canada, New Zealand, Finland. But today, you know that it’s not possible. Not because the logistics and the immigration would be difficult. But rather you don’t want to leave. There’s more to do. And you want to be part of it. And you want to stay here to fight for it. The country gave you opportunities that you can’t get elsewhere and you’re not just going to let it go.

And then they might come for me

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

“Did you know that there was a handicapped section?” I asked my mom, curious about whether she really wanted to be part of the women’s march.

To my surprise, and contrary to what my sister said, she said simply, “Oh I wasn’t planning to go. You were there for me.”

I became incensed. “Every voice matters!” I said. “Why didn’t you really go?”

“Because it wouldn’t have mattered. It won’t mean anything.”

And that’s when it struck me. The greatest problem in any society is apathy. Which is generally the great consensus. Whether it’s apathy, because of a loss of hope. Or apathy that we must accept things as they are (and cannot change). Or apathy, because we are resigned, defeated, and depressed. The danger is that, because the energy dissipates and then soon, we forget the joy of living.

Yesterday night in an insomniac moment caused by coughing, I scrolled through Facebook. Yet there were many intense posts about the immigration ban and the fight for the rights. But then there it was. I would have scrolled right by in my dazed 3 am state if the word Asian hadn’t caught my eye. A post about anti-Asian activity in Southern California.

Despite my incredible desire to be an insider, to be popular, to be like everyone else, I have never rejected my Asian American identity. Yes, I may have rejected the side of me that is too Chinese, embracing the non-Chinese food and speaking only English fluently. But yet, to reject how I look, has never crossed my mind.

When I look in the mirror, I see only me. But I know quite consciously that everyone else doesn’t see me that way. They know that I a not white. Some might even assume that I am not American and wasn’t born here.

And so then. I had this fear several months ago once the election was determined. “What about me?” I said. “Can I do my job? Can I do what I need to do? Can I still be effective despite being the person that I am? Can I still be me?”

They came for them. Now they may came for me.