10 years ago and then 10 years later

10 years ago…
It was December 31, 1999.

I was still in high school at Acalanes, only halfway through my senior year. That year, I suddenly realized that everything was going to be different…for the better. I had hope.

It was before I decided that I wanted to record everything. Back then, I shunned the idea of a diary.

I was sheltered. Only recently had I began meeting people online. I made one single friend that I actually intrinsically valued. I didn’t understand drugs, alcohol or music.

I thought I was going to be a computer scientist and make a lot of money. Even though I wanted to be a writer. I had applied to only four colleges: UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD and UC Davis. Despite pretty good grades and “above average” SAT scores…and an incredibly reflective essay, I didn’t think of applying to private colleges knowing that no teachers would recommend this shy, quiet, nearly mute girl.

On that night, my sister and I were downstairs watching the countdown on MTV. Sure, it was 3 hours behind, but that day I learned what the top 100 music videos of the 90s were. I don’t remember the top music video, but all I knew when it counted down…the 2000s were supposed to be better.

10 years later…

I have lived in San Francisco for three years and am working as an user experience designer since 2006. Some say it’s a highly coveted field. I have my bachelors from Berkeley and a masters from Carnegie Mellon.

I record everything and am a fan of social media. Shamelessly, I almost use every social network out there. I have a blog and am thinking of starting a few more.

I know a lot of people in San Francisco, particularly those in design or are hipsters. And I know more people IRL than I know online than in the middle of the 2000s. I understand my goals now. I understand what I don’t like. And it’s getting easier to deal with those quandaries that come up everyday.

I am working today and tomorrow. My coworker told me that I was Miss Popular when she asked me what I was doing tonight. Party-hopping, I said. I am heading to three parties, not because I will get bored. But because I don’t want to miss the opportunity of meeting new people.

There’s something about the next 10 years that is exciting. Having settled into work life, I am suddenly now at an impasse. I am looking for a change. To reinvent myself. To find happiness.

Year 2009

WAIT hold on, my life is flashing in front of my eyes. At least the last 4 years as I import photos from iphoto on my powerbook to iphoto on my new macbook pro.


I spent the night reflecting on 2009. Unlike years past of 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, 2009 started out hopeful, but hope slowly turned into reality. Success yes, growing in my leadership. But what hopes there were, they were disappointments. I always am optimistic for the future, because it’s a blank canvas. Come at me, 2010!

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Top 10 Most Influential People of the Decade (to me)

Yesterday, I showed Chris my Top 10 Internet THINGS (that influenced me) of the past decade.

His first question was, “And where am I?! :(”

I retorted, “You’re not an internet thing!”

So now that I have done Internet things and moments (or decisions), now the people. A few years ago, I started writing a list for 40×365 project — to write 40 words about one person every day for a year. A person that touched your life, whether negatively or positively. But I never did perhaps due to a discovery from the past or that…I had trouble coming up with 365 names.

But 10? Oh surely! I would say that my parents (and my sister) influenced me more in the years before 2000, but this is about the last decade. At the beginning of this decade, I entered adulthood, leaving Lafayette for college then to Pittsburgh for graduate school and then to San Francisco for work.

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Top 10 impactful moments of the past decade OF ME

So there are the most important events of the last decade (including George W. Bush’s election) and Newsweek’s video of the past decade in 7 minutes. But what about me?!

Today I realized that I never knew how to make a blog not about me. And that despite the many times I have thought about it, I just can’t write a niche blog. Cooking, sports, movies, etc. Because the niche I know very well is…simply me.

I realize that the big world events have had less impact on me. Sure 9/11 made me think more about mortality and terrorism. And the swine flu has made me insecure. And celebrity deaths has made me insert them into my dreams even thought I never cared about them.

Although I am less self-centered than I used to be, but now for the voyeurs out there…I realize it’s the choices and decisions I made!

10. Buying a 12″ powerbook in 2004
After so much indecision, I had a friend who was interning at Pixar (back then, it was part of Apple) buy a powerbook for me. It was the best decision I ever made. After having switched to a PC at the start of college, I was ready for a change. I was hardcore Windows until working as a RCC made me hate windows for all the vulnerabilities and un-friendly behavior. Turns out becoming a mac lover turned my life around. For both acceptance, for understanding craft and design and the portability my desktop could not afford.

9. Volunteering to be an organizer for the Rescomp Reunion in 2009
With my sudden explosion of wanting recognition as a result of breaking free of my usual social anxiety, a friend and I started organizing a reunion. In the end because of nobody stepping up, I stepped up. As did the friend. But rising to the occasion gave me such perception into how things are done. How management is done. How to motivate people and plan for such a complex project. I hate to say it, but it did confirm how I inherently enjoy management as much as I scream through the process.
In organizing the rescomp reunion, I was able to establish and foster connections that I had unable to do so before. And I hope that those relationships will forge a great future.

8. Buying an airplane ticket to LA in 2000
This moment is most famous for the night that I went on priceline and entered $20 for a roundtrip from SFO to LAX. Including tax. Being pre-9/11, there was so much lax rules. Little did I know that this act would cement my first relationship, the first “boyfriend”. The one that taught me how to be geeky and enjoy trance music. Fortunately the latter has completely disappeared, but the former is a habit that has made me a know-it-all and a DIYer in problem solving.

7. Being accepted to UC Berkeley (starting with Fall Extension) in 2000
Well duh, one of the biggest phases in my life. If I had been accepted to UCLA, who knows what I would have done. Would I have gone? And where would I be now? Sure I spent most of those 4 years unsure of my direction, but never choosing something. I did things adequately, barely trying that hard for anything. But so many people, so many choices came from that school.

6. Being accepted to Carnegie Mellon University for the masters of human computer interaction in 2004
I remember the day that I was accepted. I was at the library in Toland Hall, studying for a psychology class. Or maybe I was wasting time before the psychology class. Whatever the case was…I was checking my email and there was an email from the mhci coordinator.
Like graduation from high school, I intended that graduate school would be different. I was to be less close-minded…try new things…do all the things that I was too timid to do. And so those two years affected me in ways that other phases never did.

5. Deciding to live in the Mission in 2006
Or better yet, living in San Francisco. After spending 4 months in my parents’ house, I had to go. Being in the Mission enriched my life in so many ways. It was close to everything. And everyone wanted to stop by. But I am not sure if it really became my own…not yet at least.

4. Watching Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture in 2007
Although I had graduated by then and moved to California, I was enthralled. I had heard much about Randy (all professors go by first names at CMU at least to grad students) and wanted to take his class at the ETC. And so when I first saw the video just like countless others, I was inspired.
This is where I started writing again, cooking…beading…mostly re-discovering my passion.
And making sure that my goals aligned with my mission. Which always be…the pursuit of happiness.

3. Applying to the Rescomp internship in 2004
It was such a hasty decision walking by 8.5 by 11 in poster in Foothill. I talked to the boy mentioned in #8. And I applied. I got the internship but didn’t get the job the following year. I was asked to re-apply and although it felt very undermining, I applied again when asked. This whole job brought me to a whole new level in dealing with “customers” and solving problems. Also, it gave me extra income…and ways to cheat the system by spending hours sitting in front of the computer waiting for a scan to finish. Well hey it was being paid!

2. Hastily applying for an interaction designer job at Method in 2007
Careerwise, this was a very good move. Now working for another design firm, I realized how much basics I learned there. About designer dynamics, business dev, project management and design in products. Most importantly, how to get things done.
I chose Method only because it was one of the studios mentioned in the top 10 studios at DUX in San Francisco. Eliminating all the industrial design firms, I chose this one. And who knew that I would make so many connections. And that people could say…”You were at Method???!”

1. Going to the rubber ducky derby race in Oakland in 2006
This is where Chris and I connected over horchata! So there!

Top 10 Internet THINGS (that influenced me) of the past decade

Five years ago, when I first introduced myself with If the Internet did not exist, I would not exist, I felt everyone give me a strange stare. I was immediately embarrassed, but glad that I had said it. How could I escape who I was? Might as well tell everyone that I was going to spend a whole crazy year in graduate school with!

And so it seems that this decade is ending. The teens are approaching. I graduated from high school in 2000. Having spent the previous 18 years as an outcast—feeling unliked by most people, having very few friends, having been very sheltered and…incredibly socially anxious. I decided that I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I didn’t know how much the Internet would shape me—even if this sounds like a melodramatic statement. In the late 90s, I experimented with making my own website on geocities and dabbling with an alter ego in chat rooms. But who knew that in the 2000s that it would be something entirely else.

What was my mission. My overall mission? I think it was always…Can you hear me? I want you to hear me.

10. Craigslist
I really don’t remember the first time I used craigslist. I do remember in the second year at Berkeley that I had to subscribe to a special list in order to find all the available rentals. It was annoying. Sure, it was sent via email, but it was…difficult to figure out if I was being ripped off…or just that I didn’t know any better. I remember during my senior year at Cal when I was studying location-based applications that my advisor showed me “lost and found” on craigslist. I was incredulous—who posted there? Years later, I discovered it seemed like a venting place much like the much-loved missed encounters. Can you hear me?
Why relevant? Because via craigslist, I have been able to rid more than 5 persons’ worth of crap from my house in Pittsburgh (just scream FREE and they will come), recruit users for studies even sketchy ones and find the roommate that I have lived with for more than 3+ years.

9. Email
Sure, I had an aol email account. Then a uclink.berkeley.edu account. Then cmu. Then all the email addresses at the various companies that I had worked at. Then all these various ones at hotmail, yahoo…and then gmail.
But what was so important to me then…it was this easy way to contact someone. In my social anxiety, writing an email was an easy way to reach someone. Hello, are you there? It was easier than a phone call and a visit. Sure, email to me has whittled down to emails of less than 5 words (usually occurring when I am pressed for time OR when I am pissed at someone for not reading my previous email RTFM I SAY RTFM) and my incessant attempts for more information, but it has helped me communicate in ways that I couldn’t before.
One of those boys that I met in the late 90s…we continued email conversations through 2000 almost like pen pals. If email wasn’t around then I would have never met him. And if email wasn’t around, he wouldn’t be able to dump me just like several words on a post-it.

8. Deals
I realize that I sometimes reflect this I am smarter than thou attitude, but this comes from an urge to be like a guy. Namely, deals. I am not sure how I discovered this in my early college years, but I started scouring the Internet on fatwallet and goapex. It was what all the cool kids did. In the nineties, Black Friday meant really cool toys from Target or Kmart. But deals in the past decade meant the websites. It meant electronics. It meant the best gadgets. It meant undercutting the store for something written in tiny print.
The only reason I ever had a credit card in college was because of a deal. I am not sure why I did it. But I had read how I could make tons of money by getting the american express blue card and doing a price match guarantee. I bought a Playstation 2 at some electronic store. Got some money back by saying something to customer service. Got a friend to ebay for me, earning me a huge profit. I never used that card again, it disappearing in the drawers of my parents’ house. I love AMEX.
But in that education, I learned never to pay full price for ANYTHING. I guarantee that I can find you the best price for something. Except concert tickets, because ticketmaster is sux0rs.

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And there was powdered sugar everywhere!

In a longing to meet different kinds of people beyond the tech-savvy crowd I surrounded myself with too much, I decided that I wanted to atted the holiday cookie exchange. For whatever reason, I was not invited to a single personal holiday party at all this year (despite more than 5 I was invited to last year). And I needed to make most of it.

First, the idea came in this form. What cookie do I enjoy eating? What cookie does Chris like the most? And the idea came after 10 minutes of brainstorming. Cookies ‘n cream. Specifically the kind of from Anthony’s Cookies down on Valencia. But wait…there are no recipes for such a cookie. How about homemade oreo cookies?

Then over the course of a week, I bought the ingredients. I directed Chris to buy bulk granulated sugar, bulk unsalted butter and bulk confectioner’s sugar from Costco and Walmart, respectively. Then I headed to Safeway…then Whole Foods to finally find the expensive dutch-proccessed unsweeted cocoa powder essential for the cookie. Then later in the week in a sudden inspiration of getting ambition, I walked all the way to Foods Co to buy Crisco in sticks.

On Saturday, I made a test batch. On Sunday, suddenly stricken with a horrible cold, I busied my hands with making everything else. And not because of my cold, but just…because of me I accidentally left the plastic bag of powdered sugar resting on the stove. Normally this would be fine, but the oven/stove combo…the stove was cranked to 450° and we were already making the batches. And I left the bag near a vent for the oven. Now let’s stop here and ask why there is a vent for the oven into the kitchen and not directly to the outside? I don’t know the answer. I think my landlord is cheap.

So as a result of a misjudgement, the bag melted spilling powdered sugar all over the oven surface and into the vent. I didn’t notice it until I smelled something odd. And I looked to grab more powdered sugar. *cough* lack of counter space *cough* And it was everywhere. Less than 90 minutes before the cookie exchange was supposed to start!

I was stone-cold anxious. Chris thankfully swooped in heroically cooled down the stove and vacuumed reachable powdered sugar. When cooled, he lifted the stove top to peer at the spillage. Is that cotton candy? he mused pointed at white threads near the vent. Since cotton candy is made from powdered sugar. I grabbed a small piece and tasted it. Nothing. It didn’t even taste sweet. He vacuumed as much as he could. I was somewhat frantic now…did this mean that I ruined the stove? Maybe I’ll just move out and say nothing as thoughts ran through my head.

Then Chris said the “cotton candy” was insulation for the oven.

We wiped down the burnt confectioner’s sugar in the oven. And after a long 30 minute delay, we continued and ran as quickly as possible to Bliss Bar.

I was embarrassed that I hadn’t come up with fancy xmas packages for the cookies. As we each stood up to show our cookies (we were to make a few each for over 30+ attendees), I said my name, the name of the cookie, and my dramatic story. I hate speaking publicly, but apparently Chris wildly flailed his arms behind me, demonstrated the great kitchen disaster.

“And there was powdered sugar everywhere!” he was exclaiming as my public speaking nervousness clouded the chances of me hearing a single world. “The house was almost burnt down!”

I left about an hour later with lessons on how to use a pressure cooker to make beef brisket and over 40 kinds of cookies that we slowly carried in a Yelp bag down 24th street in the dark night.

Merry XMAS to all and a good night!

I have been always used to a very quiet Christmas dinner. The kind where it would be like another weeknight dinner with my dad, my sister and me. Perhaps there might be some turkey in there as if to note the holiday. My mom would work—after all working on holiday brought in automatic overtime pay. In the morning, our parents would give us some treats. Perhaps chocolate hidden in a stocking that my sister and I would pretend that Santa Claus would come.

And this year, surprisingly it was different. I signed up to work, thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal. But my cousin and his wife had recently moved to the Bay Area. And my cousin’s parents were flying all the way from Chicago. And! We were going to have a huge feast at my grandfather’s house. Wait, is this so?! And so with this surprisingly change of events, I was boggled.

I had a real turkey—carved for the first time at my grandfather’s dining room. No apple cider, no pumpkin pie (although I dragged a pear cranberry pie from Bike Basket Pies), no stuffing. It was mostly Asian—buy the cheapest ingredients and all. In a sudden moment of enlightenment, I made corn casserole which surprisingly was a hit despite its American-ness. The spicy, the sweet and salty flavor grabbed everyone’s attention even with the plain palates of my grandparents and parents.

There was once when I wished to be like all the other kids, but then I often would rationalize it away. I don’t need a Christmas (or a Thanksgiving) like the others. Last week, a friend proclaimed that he didn’t even try to go to senior prom as I pointed out the hotel in downtown SF that hosted my senior prom. He didn’t care. I admitted that I went because I wanted to be like everyone else. Perhaps my desperation to fit in has seeped into every part of my life. But faced with surprise presents and a turkey…well, this is what Christmas was supposed to be. Dinner with family…with pleasant surprises of togetherness strewn throughout.

“Let me see,” he said silently.

Two summers ago, Jack showed us the view he had in his office, overlooking the robotics lab at CMU. Despite having taken the shortcut through it to classrooms in NSH, I was curious. There was a small space between all the desks that allowed a single viewer to peer through the robotics lab—the one with robots ready for Mars, the rovers…all incredible stuff.

I took the first look, tip-toeing to take in everything. After a moment, Chris softly patted my right side. A pat not like one for a child, but rather a gesture that recalled the soft calming touch of a young bunny.

I willingly, silently stepped aside to let him see and he tip-toed to look.

Later, Jack mentioned that moment to me—you were moving in unison. To the outsider, it was as if there was no signal at all. As if you could reach other minds.

I knew that I was meant to be an artist or creator

There’s this insane ripple of envy when I see film or read novels. And I start thinking about what could have been or what I could have chosen.

So many people would then say it’s not too late or it wasn’t meant to be So it’s risk or fate.

I read the wikipedia bios of the great filmmakers—the ones people criticize for their insanity, their perfectionism, their incredible dedication to art. I know that I have always yearned to be a people person—and that would be my first priority. And the second, to be an artist or creator.

I always wondered though—what if my parents had encouraged me to pursue my flights of creativity? Maybe beyond patiently watching my random disjointed films? Or to encourage me to participate in more writing classes, watching art films and the like—stuff that I have only done in the recent years.

But then I wonder, is it because I grew up with the understanding that an engineering degree rather than a degree in the arts was more valuable and certain? And that once I arrived at Berkeley despite a slight desire for creative writing and film, I never once thought about it? Perhaps it was my better skill at math—it was natural that my logic led me in that direction considering that I never did excel at English. No, it couldn’t be just that.

I was a latchkey kid started when I was 7. There were two hours where my sister and I would be home alone—our mom would pick us up from school and drop us off at work as she hurried to the hospital for her PM shift, then our dad would come back from work a few hours later. In those short hours, it was understood that my sister and I were free—perhaps to cause havoc. I would get the camcorder and create short clips of fancy—sometimes inspired by music videos or stories in my head. Always quirky, thematic around breaking free.

And yet, maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Right after I finished at Berkeley, I took a filmmaking class. I loved it and started a film. I had planned out each scene. But for some reason as I was heading to graduate school, I abandoned it. It’s unfinished—long scenes with intercut music of someone walking, a shot of signs, choppy script. Just like many half-finished projects that I have in sudden artistic pursuits.

Perhaps that was an opportunity. Or that I keep tricking myself thinking the doors are shut even when they were always open.

Wasn’t there a disclaimer on this?

I used to include a disclaimer on all my blogs, all my journals.

You think you know me, but you really have no idea.

Several years ago in a book that I wrote in…in a fit of misery, I started listing all the negative things I didn’t like about myself: I am shy. I am anxious. I am angry. I am lazy. I am unambitious. I am weak. I am not confident…

And so it went on…

But looking back, because hindsight is 20/20, it was in a fit of self-deprecation. I do it so often in writing almost to justify my current actions. Words flow faster than my actual emotions. When I write that I am angry, it’s only because perhaps socially, I am supposed to feel that way. But perhaps I am only mildly irritated. When I write that I am satisfied and happy, it’s only a fleeting moment, fluttering away as quickly as it arrived.

Today, the managers gave me a holiday a gift. I was shocked to find what was inside. To suddenly feel like that they knew me pretty well. It wasn’t the fandango tickets, but a gift certificate to a cooking school. How did they know that I had been thinking along those lines even though I don’t want to define myself as domesticated? And it troubled me for a second that they knew me better than I knew myself.

And then I appreciated the thought.

There are some people who think they know me well because of my journal or blog. They say, “I know what you would say.” As if I am purposefully transparent in this writing. Then there are others who know me because I interact with them daily. And yes, perhaps the me they see is who I am. But in both cases, I have been greeted with a that’s not who I thought you are.

In those rarer moments of tantrums, I suddenly become whoever I want to be. Just like the other twin of a Gemini.