Was this harassment or not?

More than ten years ago when I was working at a hourly college job, my supervisor came up with this grand idea for a team outing. For every alcoholic drink we drank, we could charge an hour. I was the only one underage at the time and by that social outing, I had already decided that I wouldn’t ever drink. But I felt obligated to go, so I went. At the bar, my supervisor got upset when I refused to drink. “You can have juice,” he angrily said.

My coworkers didn’t notice. I got assigned the role of keyholder. But as the night wore on, I hated the idea. People became stupider and I wanted to go, but of course being an insecure college kid, I felt like I couldn’t leave.

By the end of the night, I was pissed and unhappy. And being a contemporary of that time, I went back to my apartment and promptly described the event on my blog.

And also at that time, everyone read each other’s blogs. My supervisor imed me and immediately asked me to modify it. That I could leave it up, but I had to remove the word “my supervisor”. It would get him fired, he said. After some consideration, I took it down, because I decided that it would hurt him.

My memory of the event and the events that happened consequently are fuzzy. This wasn’t sexual harassment. But it was coercion and I certainly felt powerless. I was also very insecure and lacking confidence. I didn’t know if people would punish me for having gone along with the idea. Plus with the fact that I didn’t drink, I was already super insecure about my personal belief and felt that most people wouldn’t accept that about me. And all of that kept me silent for years although in casual conversations here and there, I would openly talk about it.

To this though, I have always wondered what would happened if I did say something? That era is different from today. Blogs and journals were valid evidence of anything. They were only soulful laments of lonely people. But today in this day and age, it means something more.

This is what a blocked driveway is like

As a courtesy, I walked up to the car blocking my driveway and tapped on the window. This time though, I was holding so much stuff in my hands—my car keys and three bags (including a bag of laundry), so in that moment, I also accidentally tapped the window with my keys.

The woman in the driver’s seat leapt in surprise. Realizing that it was just me, she rolled down the window. I immediately said tiredly, “I am leaving in a few minutes.”

“You could have just told me! You almost broke my car!”

Stunned, I paused. But then as she rolled up the window, I yelled back, “But you’re blocking my driveway!”

As I stomped down to my car, I knew what was going to happen. I adjusted a few things in my garage and things in my car.
Then suddenly, I saw her back up. Initially, she was only blocking 50% of the driveway, but now she blocked the entire driveway. So I did the only thing that I could do: I drove out and pressed the horn. I knew that this passive aggressive thing was going to happen, but I wasn’t going to go out of my way to be nice. So as I blocked the sidewalk and she blocked my way out, I honked loudly. Pedestrians dressed in their Halloween wear, most likely partially drunk, sauntered by, yelling, “Everyone is just blocking the driveway tonight!”

I wanted to ram her car and she was suggesting me to do it. But I knew exactly what that would entail. So we were not moving. But after 30 seconds, she finally drove off and I followed her. But after about a mile, I gave up and drove to my destination, annoyed and irritated. And realizing that how my impatience has grown as a person who lives in a large city.

Things I learned visiting Thailand my second time and Myanmar my first time

This is a common photo from Thailand. Standing in front of elephants in a supposed sanctuary. Here we are (with Toad protected in a plastic bag).

But what did I learn?

  • If Chris is uncomfortable (with the heat), I will naturally be uncomfortable (as a result of the empathetic connection)
  • It’s really okay to depart from the main group if things are not working out (e.g. if people are taking forever to shop and we’re getting patient, it’s okay to say, “Hey we’re going to eat.”)
  • There’s no way to eat enough noodle soup in Thailand
  • Duck noodle soup is the bomb
  • It always pays off to stay somewhere with excellent AC
  • And with a place that has a tasty breakfast buffet—especially if it comes with fresh fruit
  • Follow the footsteps of Anthony Bourdain and like chefs. You will find amazing food.
  • Also always go to a the top restaurant in developing countries. It will be amazing. And it won’t be as expensive as in your home country.
  • Consider the quality of the goods when you buy them in Thailand. Like it would pay off especially when you get home and realize that things are falling apart
  • Buy things from independent fashion designers. Don’t hesitate!
  • Never regret getting a haircut in a foreign country—although I regret getting one from a person who specialized in men’s haircuts
  • Find the therapeutic massages! Chris will laugh during the whole session, but it will be hilarious (and pain-relieving in so many different ways
  • Drink water
  • Use uber. Never use a taxi in Thailand. They rip you off.
  • Same in myanmar.
  • Myanmar may be disappointing unless you’re really looking to seek business and connect with local people there
  • Look up potential tourist scams before going to any country. Information is power
  • Eat in food courts in Thailand!
  • Always eat coconut pancakes / pudding
  • Thailand malls are pretty awesome
  • Negotiate initial prices starting at half. If they quickly agree, then you messed up because it was a good price for them, but not for you!
  • Know things that you want to buy before shopping
  • Buy tea (if you drink it)
  • If you visit the palace and nearby temples, make sure you’re prepared with passport, water, and FOOD. Lunch places are a significant walk away
  • Cars in Thailand don’t honk, because of a nonconfrontational philosophy in Buddhism. Yet they honk in the Buddhist-majority in Myanmar. lies!
  • Myanmar people don’t really understand what’s happening to the Rohingya people and are willing to manipulate the truth to their current beliefs. it’s like the epidemic of fake news in the US
  • On the above, Buddhist groups are not as peaceful as Westerners believe that they are. They can be as racist and nationalist as people in the US
  • Humidity is the worse thing in the world (when traveling)
  • Believe that you won’t get food poisoning and you won’t get food poisoning
  • But that doesn’t prevent you from getting some weird cold / flu when you return from your flight
  • Connection

    In work and personal lives, it’s a rare occurrence to meet someone and instantly connect. For me, at least, it’s quite often when I ask a question and the answer is vividly on point and down to earth. The personality of the person is intimate but respectful, direct yet painless, sharp not pretentious.

    I become very tickled.

    I know though that moments like these are fleeting. Because surely in 30 minutes, we forget each others’ names and intentions. Instead all that’s left is the once former feeling.

    Mental episode

    Over the weekend, perhaps because Chris and I had endeared ourselves to a good friend, our good friend wanted to stop by and see us. She was in the midst of having an episode in her soon-to-be diagnosed bipolar disorder. She hadn’t been sleeping, had racing thoughts, and lost appetite.

    Earlier in the week, I had helped her get to her car, see her sister, and more. But those moments were just very small—a few hours where I kept my own sanity in check and slept in my own place.

    What came next was unexpected. She wanted to see us, because we had always been a reliable source of support. When a race was coming up for her, her boyfriend and others were oddly getting busy, we were the only ones that stayed committed. That and all our support in various ways. She had regarded us as her “second home”.

    So she arrived at Chris’ place. By that point, I had showered and was settling in a bedtime routine, reading on my kindle while Chris was playing the new Destiny. She texted and I said, “Sure, come over.”, thinking that we would chat a little to understand, help her with what she needed, and then she would be on her way.

    But what happened next wasn’t what I expected. I heard her story, but she was tired. I looked through her paper pad where she had meticulously kept notes. Initially, I thought it was a great idea to track one’s self at this level. Because she was exhausted, I helped her transcribed her written notes to a digital form on the computer. I saw how few hours of sleep she had and the attempts at sleep hygiene. Having taken various notes in my life and reshaped them, I quickly got them into a Google doc and all was good. Then suddenly, she fell asleep on the bed/couch. We hesitated at first, wondering whether to wake her, but in the end, we let her stay and pulled a blanket over her and leaving a note to wake us if anything was needed. We went to sleep.

    But I was very aware of how she would wake up in the middle of the night, so when in deep sleep, the shuffling of steps woke me up and I immediately went upstairs. “Need anything?” I said.

    For the next several hours and again after a brief 2 hour moment, I transcribed and listened. Then Chris fed her and listened.

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

    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?

    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

    “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

    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

    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.