Running a checkpoint on Journey

I fell in love with Journey to the End of the Night several years ago when I stumbled upon it trying to figure out what adventures laid in San Francisco.

After a few years running it, I found that I became too aggressive, too competitive, too defeatist that it wasn’t enjoyable anymore. Tagged a few blocks from the end point, I felt my life sucked out of me, literally collapsing in the street. Dangers lurking around me was interesting and perhaps even fun. Yet when it became real, it wasn’t something I wanted.

How could it be?

I would blame the balance of the game—when someone is tagged, the desire to go on is taken away. The joy of experiencing the checkpoints is gone.

So this year, along with Chris and others, we manned a checkpoint. We asked players to run two at a time through a tire obstacle course. The other volunteers would yell at them much like a bootcamp for the tires that lined approximately 30 feet. The “winner” would receive a cape for their achievement. Of course, perhaps to my surprise, people enjoyed winning even if it was a “cape” that would make them more obvious to the chasers. Everyone wants something that shows their dedication, their achievement, their best.

How do they feel if they lost? Do they know that they have won and that they can still continue to run without a signal that they’re playing a game?

The key to success: Presence

Yes, I have always repeated this mantra over and over again to drill people into what I value: Presence > Presents.

But it’s more than that. I truly believe that to succeed at anything is to show up. If I want something, the least that I can do is just be present. Because the fact is everyone else who doesn’t want that something as much as you do will not be present, will not show up, will not commit.

I admit though that the detriment of this belief is that I lose trust in others when their presence falters. So many people claim “busy lives”, but it’s the fact that what I value isn’t the same as what others value.

But then there comes the question of: will they even notice my presence? will they even notice my absence? will it even matter? will it matter if I was present and then as they say…ghosted?

I always notice when people appear and when they disappear. I wonder what happened to their self-respect if they won’t let others remember them.

Dancing was my first dream

Ask me what my childhood dream is. I mean, really ask it. Don’t accept the answer when I say “writing”, because that was the dream that was attainable.

Ask me what I really wanted to do.

It was dancing (and singing). I dreamed of moving along with the music. The way I could let the music vibrate through my body. The music would fly through my veins, my fingers, my arms, and my legs.

Until the dream fell through my fingers when my body, voice, and social anxiety didn’t cooperate. I attended ballet class until I was 10, wishing so hard to do the first positions and second positions as my classmates did. I pretended to sign in chorus, but only a whisper came out.

Every so often, I come across contemporary dance, and it reminds me of what my dreams were like. The dreams where I fly through the air, so easily and simply. I land with grace and the world is mine.

My eighth year in the same apartment

Yesterday, my fourth roommate in my current apartment moved in.

Yesterday too was the anniversary of my eighth year of living in the same Edwardian apartment. Rent-controlled. Untouched. It’s almost the longest place I have ever lived in. It’s a quarter of my life already!

There’s something scary about that. Not because of the age. But because I can honestly say that the eight years that I have lived in the same apartment in the same city have been the most defining years of my life. That may be very melodramatic to say, yes, but I entered this apartment very different than I am now.

Or at least I would like to think so.

On October 15, 2006, I moved into this apartment with excitement. It was meant of a new life. An adult life. At the time, I thought that I knew myself. My life was open with possibility. I knew so many people, so many friends. I could be who I wanted to be and believed that I had the confidence to do so.

But as life always it is, I found that I had less confidence than I really believed. I was crushed by heartbreak and failure. I wailed around the house like a lost ghost and experienced excitement at my desk when I succeeded.

This is the apartment where my room is trapped in four walls and one window, the window that looks out into nothingness. Yet despite that, the sun still breaks through in the morning without any pretense. This is the apartment where I learned to jostle the bathroom doorknob carefully not to lock myself in and conclude that it’s truly securely shut. This is the same apartment where I retreated to my room to read and write, always with my fingers dancing across the laptop’s keys. It has watched me have over 8 different jobs, 4 periods of “funemployment”, and planning meetings organized by yours truly.

I will remember this place when I leave just like I remember all the places, but what will I forget?

What does “selling out” really mean?

When I meet a marketing expert, especially one in consumer media, I immediately see “branding”, “outreach”, and “content creation” cross their eyes. My gut twists. An invisible shell grows instantly around me. All because I don’t think that matches who I am.

But what does it mean to “sell out” anyway? When I started promoting the Kickstarter and spreading the glory of the Ice Cream Travel Guide, I received many emails. Want to help up promote dairy, one said. Another invited me to take part of a food blogging event. Yet another suggested that I take part of radio shows and TV appearances. I hesitated and selectively chose ones.

Working in design, which touches advertising and marketing, I am familiar with all that nomenclature. Based on research, people don’t like being advertised to. They don’t want to be told Use our household soap to open your pores! and our vacuum cleans 10x as fast and efficient as the one you own! I pride myself on being authentic and real, but in doing so, I realize that I am losing by not letting others know who I am.

Yet, it’s partly because as much as it doesn’t seem like it, I value my privacy. It’s a risk to be vulnerable. So of course, I show scorn at the lifestyle brand of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and Blake Lively’s Preserve. Someone in their team thought: what if we take a well-known celebrity and make it into a brand?! And that’s what it turns out to be. An empire of fashion lines, household beautification techniques, recipes that *gasp* the celebrity eats, and curated videos that “show” glimpses into the celebrity’s life. I raise my eyebrows when I read obviously designed language to not drink Earl Grey (since it contains bergamot; reality check, only if you’re allergic to oranges) and the juice cleanses believed to cure all (reality check: the body is made for cleansing; a cleanse may feel clean only because it’s psychological). But who knows, I am just this Asian chick in San Francisco who doesn’t really get it. But then, I realize that by putting yourself out there whether it’s a horrible marketing message or not, there will be someone even if it’s only one person who will love you. Even if it’s just your parents.

And so I continually write in this blog, a place that I haven’t promoted to anyone for nearly a decade. Partly, it’s because I am afraid of the above. The scorn that I show others is likely the same that will occur here. So I remain in my safe place, not growing, squeezed in this perfectly controlled box. I am stunting myself by that fear, yes. But in the moments that I send words out to literary magazines and publications, I hope that someone would hear my voice. Not because it’s about selling things, but because my work is good.

Things I learned in the Northeast

  • There is no traffic (except Boston, of course)
  • Asians are a rarity outside of the metros.
  • Unless they’re studying at reowned universities of course
  • There are two ways to serve a lobster roll—the Connecticut way or the Maine way. I prefer the Connecticut way with warm bread oozing with butter enveloping each lobster chunk…not like the cold salad way of Maine.
  • Obviously rich towns with a lot of money often invites the best ice cream makers.
  • People may tear up while watching from afar the former president’s estate.
  • I won’t always get seasick while on a boat.
  • Falling asleep in a rocking boat is the best way to sleep
  • 100% maple syrup comes from boiling sap from maple trees for hours (as a Californian, I never knew)
  • All maple syrup is organic, because maple trees are never farmed and are grown in the wild
  • Popular syrup like Aunt Jemina actually may not even have maple syrup and consist of syrup dyed brown
  • There is still no such thing as a $5 lunch. I know, I thought that I would find it in areas away from big cities
  • Dartmouth is one of the smallest Ivy Leagues. Not to mention the small city of Hanover that it occupies.
  • Cellular service in Vermont and New Hampshire in 2014 feels more like 2004. I often can’t get a signal.
  • Older Caucasians love the Northeast.
  • A sculpture made of bone, crab shells, and snail shells can be inspiring
  • The Red Sox will always be the Red Sox
  • It can take awhile to get to Boston proper from Somerville and Cambridge even if it’s a few miles away
  • An ice cream shop is never quite what it seems from 3000 miles away
  • Lines in Boston are nothing like lines in San Francisco and New York City
  • There is nothing like a lobster bake on an island in the middle of nowhere
  • No matter what building you walk in Boston, the floors will squeak with every footstep; you will learn that there is no such thing as walking softly in that city
  • If you’re in a small East Coast town and you want a touch of whimsy in your hip boutique shop, sell Fred products. In fact, sell only Fred products and visitors will ooh and aah over “selective” taste.
  • Yes, fall colors is quite beautiful
  • But for me, as for many nature-y things that everyone has seen in many Instagram/Flickr/Facebook/Twitter/Path photos, I saw one leaf and I felt that I saw it all
  • Bugs in the room


    There are bugs in the room. Flying bugs. Hear a buzz buzz around your ear at 3 AM in the morning? Bolt up. Quick, turn on the light. Find a tissue. Scan the room for the enemy. There! The black dot high up in the wall. Approach carefully as not to surprise the target.

    BAM, you thump with your fist and the tissue. Relief, you think, and you let your wrist falls. Look at the tissue paper. No blood? No black carcass?

    The bug, this everlasting creature, flies in front of you, slowly out of your sight.

    You sit on your bed, vigilant. Eyes scanning the room, perking your head up when you see a black dot on the wall. Feel your mind going crazy. It doesn’t matter what is happening in 6 hours. Meetings don’t matter. People don’t matter. Neighbors don’t matter. The landlord doesn’t matter. You want to squash that enemy into pulp.

    So for the next five hours, you’re there on the bed, waiting. Waiting until the enemy emerges again. Light fills the room and your eyes burn.

    Where is that enemy? Where is that bug?

    You think all of this as the red welts on your fingers, the soles of your feet, your left thigh, your right calf, your stomach itch. Your hands touch each moment, rubs…then scratches.

    Murder? Oh yes, murder.

    You think about tearing apart your room, next. A scream curdles from deep within.

    Cooking at home

    After every long trip, I return home in confusion. I stand in my kitchen, helpless and hungry. The effort to put disparate ingredients with my rosemary-infused salts and delicately picked lavender is completely lost on me. All I want as I did on the long trip is to declare to a sympathetic soul, “Ummm…the big plate please. Eggs sunny side up and hash browns. Oh and a small orange juice. Oh wait, you have the housemade soda. How about the rosemary blueberry one?”

    As I sit here on my desk, my stomach grumbles, but my principles stand. When I don’t travel, I am adept at spending very little on food. I can subsist on a single bag of fruits and potatoes. Then perhaps a bite of yesterday’s leftovers. But right now, confusion and hunger dominates my mind.

    The kitchen utensils, my rack of spices from all over the world make no sense. My refrigerator, because my roommate has moved out and because I was preparing for my trip, is nearly empty. There are my frozen items, sure, but in it, a cardbox of eggs, full rows of condiments that I never use (like who eats dry mustard and horseradish, anyway!), and rotting tomatoes fill the space. I am flummoxed.

    But then I envision myself getting up. I have batches of homemade chicken stock. I can defrost my chicken that I had prepared months ago. I will browse my small selection of canned foods—the kidney beans, the chopped tomatoes, the cream of potato soup. I will look at my teas, quite often the savior of my hunger, as I drink and drink hot water to satiate hunger.

    I know what will happen: I will look at the granola, the pomegranate-infused dried cranberries, the nearly empty bag of trail mix. Then I will stand up, walk to Arizmendi or Rosemunde. I will stuff myself with $10 worth of lunch and then think, why am I not saving any money?

    This is the unexplainable pain

    A teacher rushed to comfort the 5 year-old me as I stood on the playground during the recess. Tears poured down my cheeks as I watched all the other kids—the pretty one in purple named Jessica, the black-haired boys, and all faces known to me and not known me, race across the blacktop and scream in glee. I stood in a corner with a frown that consumed my face. “What’s wrong, Jennifer?” she asked.

    I struggled with the words. Finally, I said, “Nobody wants to play with me.”

    Whether her face contorted in disgust or remained sympathetic, I’ll never know. What I know is this: she heard a boy’s cry across the playground. He rolled on the ground, hugging his right knee, and shrieks broke through the gentle laughter. The teacher left me, standing alone, tears still dripping down my chin and blotting the blacktop. I looked up, all the adults seeming to tower above me. Then I looked at my classmates who were at my height, smiling and laughing. So I stood alone, making the decision that seeped into all the decisions that followed.