This is how my intro on Chef’s Table would be like…

(if I was a famous, awesome, cool, world-renowned, spectacular, lauded chef and could articulate my philosophy around food)

Taste is a subjective experience. What you believe is the best food may another man’s worst food. We must not forget that. When creating the best dish, I want to make it attractive and appealing. And yet, how can I scold the customer who tastes my dessert and find it too sweet? How can I turn away the woman who has a peanut allergy? What I do know about taste is that it comes from purity. Let people taste the real food, because there’s little argument with that. Mint tastes like mint. Beets like beets. Chocolate like chocolate. Oranges like oranges.

Supposedly Julia Child said to Alice Waters of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, “That’s not good cooking. It’s good shopping.”

I believe in sustainable practices. I believe in locally grown food.  I believe in quality produce. If I could, I would just eat fruits all day, because they represent the true result of farming. One peach originates not just from the pollination of a flower, but its plant filled with leaves soaking sun and the roots pulling in water. Then it takes months to grow into what is a crisp sweet crunch of stone fruit. The peach is a culmination of what I may even call art. I mean, it captures the differing shades of the sun into a single spherical object.

A chef’s job is to play with these flavors and present them to food lover. It’s to remind them of memories—of the past in childhood, of the present moment, of the future hope. I want to change minds to experience what they never had previously, but also reflect what they have always had. That is my goal in creation.



In my childhood bedroom…

Even though it isn’t quite the definition of a childhood bedroom, since I moved in here when I was 9, I still enjoy the visits. The viciousness of the teenage years has disappeared into the ether and is replaced with this nostalgia for the dreams and hopes that I once had.

Each shelf and drawer holds a memory caught in time. The spiral of key chains when I thought that I was going to be a key chain collector. The small album of wallet photos with fashion photography once the rage of teenagers, especially Asian Americans in love with the soft glow of professional photography. The cassette tapes collected in a crate, probably once played, purchased for the purposes of seeming cool. The former bathroom cases from college when showers were shared and not stationary. The computer parts that I had collected over time. And so much more.

I sit on my bed, but it’s the mattress purchased during college on a frame from my grandmother’s house, because she couldn’t take a bed that was too high off the ground. And a clock on the wall that has been stuck on the same time for ears. Because who reads an analog clock anyway when a laptop and mobile devices are so close?

Birthday Wishlist 2016

Just in time! Now what to ask for…

Previous years: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, forgotten year in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, a forgotten year of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002

1. Presence > Present always!
2. Endless access to tasty snacks (that don’t necessarily create a headache or tummy ache later) like fresh fruits (Cara Cara oranges, Pink Lady apples, bright peaches and nectarines, blueberries, strawberries), spoonfuls of ice cream and sorbets, and CANDY
3. Better marketing tactics to sell my book, Ice Cream Travel Guide and success at the Bay Area Book Festival where I have an exhibition table
4. Support for my novel-in-progress whether in the form critiques, beta readers, and just flowing ideas; I wouldn’t mind some historical facts from the era and locales where my grandparents lived (1920s/1930s/1940s China? 1930s/1940s Peru? 1920s Phillippines? 1960s Hong Kong?)
5. Photography skills with mobile devices
6. More storage on my computer or externally on a physical hard drive or cloud storage
7. Better socks
8. And a way that is environmental to dispose of my broken socks and stained clothes
9. Creative writing classes? Yup!
10. Pitching successfully to a popular publication
11. A second monitor for my desk (it’s crazy how frequently this keeps coming up…if I only could have a second monitor as I work on this design…)

Restrained, elegant prose

“And the writing,” a well-respected writer (published by a real publisher) said. “It flows with restraint. Elegant. A demonstration of showing, but not telling.”

I paraphrase, of course, but I had been waiting for this, for a long time. Not explicitly, of course. Yet, when I read other people’s works, mostly the published work, I feel this itchy jealousy inch up my hands, my arms, my shoulders, my neck, to the tip of my head. It’s green and slimy. And all it says to me, “Why can’t I write like them? why can’t I elevate like them?”

In the past few years, I have learned that I am great at emulating great works. I read a short story or a novel…and with just a sleight of hand, I am able to make a story of my own using the same voice as the writer of the short story. Perhaps it’s angry and obnoxious. A story of drunkenness and losing way. I make it into a similar story of paranoia and losing way. Perhaps it’s the bareness of technology and its impact on humanity. I update the short story to our current age, inserting appropriate devices here and there.

I am stumped by vocabulary. Words slip by me so frequently. Big long words that seem hard to pronounce. For what it’s worth, I scored higher on my math SAT than my verbal SAT, back when it wasn’t cluttered by a composition essay. And so I find myself trapped in the words that I use every day, unable to find myself flowing in a river of letters moving back and worth. But what I have learned is that it’s craft. The heart of writing is about reflecting the emotion and articulating the emotions.

I know how to write dramatic moments well, because I see them like movie scenes. Where the emotions tense up and swell into an explosion in bullet time. The pieces fall so carelessly in all directions, one piece at a time flying and falling, crashing to the ground captured so intricately, so in detail by words on a page.

When I was a teenager

…every year, I thought that it would better. Occasionally, it was. But most of the time, it wasn’t.

And yet, that was my mood at the time. Today I helped out Noelle in her culinary program for teens at the YMCA. I was immediately struck by how social the teenagers were. Some were shy, yes, much like how I was, unable to speak in front of any groups. Some hung around certain peers. Some could barely speak that loudly.

And what I remember the most was the fact that I was a nonpresence. I tried so hard to blend in the background that I was noticeably just not present. Sure, I had occupied an actual space. A 3d object sucking in oxygen and emitting carbon dioxide. Generating energy within. But did others remember me? When I didn’t bother even making an impression?

I had always wondered that through life, especially during that period, where my goal was simply to fit in. To not stand out from the crowd (because I had believed that standing out from the crowd meant ostracization and ultimately never-ending discomfort). But when I got older, the idea that I couldn’t express myself was the reason that I had to change completely.

So as I led the 14 teenagers through various (unprepared) exercises of egg dishes—scrambled, fried, poached, and hard-boiled, I watched their expressions. They were quiet, watchful, and mindful. Was I like that? Did some just blend into the background with all the constant learning just falling over and over themselves into a slew of school?

But I paused when the strawberry shortcake, pasta, and deviled eggs were finished. The teenagers went to find their phones and snapped (for snapchat) with their iPhones. I saw on swipe to find the right filters. And then, I paused to take a photo with my camera app for posterity.

What could I have said to myself in those moments of insecurity? Maybe nothing. Because most of the time the days that I spent as a teenager, I would barely remember decades later.

It needs to be about the journey

The bike ride started as expected. Swing down, flat road, up a short hill, pedal fast, moving, moving, moving. Through the headwind. Through the sunny roads. Pass the cars. Signal left. Signal right. Pedal. Cycle. Shift up. Climb. Plateau. Descend. Shift down. Balance well. Stand up. Fly down. Passing on the left. Passing on the right. Trees. Farmland. Berry land. Just a few more miles. Coastal beauty. Arrive at rest stop.

But then at some point, it became simply the road. A road that kept stretching for more than 60 miles. I had signed up for Strawberry Fields, lured by the promise of strawberries and cream at the end of the ride. Due to my experience on the Cinderella ride, I was immediately intrigued. Great food and a cycling route? I am in! And most of all, I convinced Chris, who had purchased a carbon fiber bike last year with an amazing deal. “You must use your bike for its intention,” I said.

Which obviously were for rides like this.

But then, as Chris zoomed ahead on the flats and my own stamina could not keep up, the feeling of being dropped was suffocating. Sure, I saw the sun, the stretch of coast, the creek underneath the canopy of redwoods, and endless fields of berry bushes. But I also felt the road riddled with pot holes and felts its bumpiness shake through my aluminum frame. I hear the stony voices yell “on your left” or sometimes not at all. Those century riders blazing past me at speeds that I could barely match. And I felt so left behind. That is, until climbs, where I was relatively good at pushing through my own pain and exhaustion…and where I would always catch up with Chris who preferred walking rather than riding. But down the descents where I was paranoid of losing balance and flying off the edge of the road, I slowed, falling behind until the cyclists who I once kept pace disappeared in the distance until they were small blips in my vision like birds passing through the horizon.

All I could hear was my breathing. And yes occasionally, I had moments of runner’s high. But then I would look up at the sky and wonder…did I enjoy this? The crunch of sand rolling with the winds? The pedaling on the roads unknown? I used to run in cross country regularly and began to hate it in graduate school. I began cycling, really only 5 years ago when I borrowed a road bike and more so when friends and I founded a facebook weekend bike group. And yet, here I was, pondering those thoughts of my own exhaustion, I really just wanted to use my skin resurfacing at home and be there already, I was felt totally drained.

But then I reached the end, within reasonable time, where I was offered the promised bowl of strawberries, whipped cream, and chocolate. I indulged in the raw sweet tart strawberries, dunking them into the fluffy cream and the thick chocolate. I ate 7, letting its berryness remind me of why I had signed up for the ride.

“Some people don’t care about UX.”

“Some people don’t care about UX,” he said.

After he said those words, he went on to describe the data behind market research. But for me? I couldn’t hear anything he said. Namely because it sounded uninformed, uneducated, and most of all, ignorant. When he said UX, he meant user experience. The field that I specialized in for more than the last decade.

I countered with the fact that user experience is meant to be seamless. It’s not just graphic design. It’s not what you see on the screen and how you interact with it. Great user experience, and perhaps even product design or experience design depending on the context, considers all areas of impact. It might be the platform (computers that need updates, mobile phones on 4G) or the context of use (lacking great cellular signal, in a hands-free environment). It must consider the right information to deliver, the tasks that need to be completed. And even more so, it needs to be informed by user behavior in the past, present, and the future. It must be informed by repeated behavior, by the way that people navigate through user interface, by the agility of those users, and potential conflicts that exist in this busy world.

And so, I was surprised and not surprised by my sudden intensity. As if he struck my sense of identity and questioned it. But perhaps it was the dismissive way he made the statement as if user experience did it all wrong. My friend called it mansplaining. There was a moment where I wanted to ask, “Did you have a bad experience in regards to the term user experience? Why do you think user experience doesn’t matter? What do you really think user experience includes?” and of course, “why are you saying this? when you know perfectly well that this meetup would include designers?”

But my ear wasn’t feeling sympathetic, empathetic, or compassionate anymore. All I felt was this displeasure that I had felt many times in my career. Where I would need to explain what I do. For most cases outside of my projects, it’s simply “oh it’s just design. it’s to make things easier to use.” Sometimes, I drop the subject when people believe the wrong thing, because it’s not worth correcting. Yet when I am in a safe place where I expect everyone to understand the definition where I don’t have to defend myself or educate people, I am simply appalled and wonder what it means for the future of the industry. There’s a sadness that lies in all of this. That for some people, they don’t care about UX, so that means people like myself…will constantly be devalued. And the skills won’t matter at all.

Escape is…

  • Not being tagged in It
  • Not “assassinated” in the game of Assasins
  • Moving away from your former identity, once shaped by your family and hometown
  • Quitting a job that you had hated for your entire life, but you never realized it…until recently
  • Meditating for 7+ days in the retreat held north of the Bay Area
  • Literally breaking out of prison, like from Alcatraz
  • Breaking free of the bad eating habits that you once had, like McDonalds and KFC every day
  • Leaving a relationship that was not only abusive, but kept you in a plateau for years
  • Moving out of an apartment that you loved, but really had mold growing up in the corners and now you realized that your health is so much better
  • A career that kept you from tapping your potential, whatever that potential actually may be, and that potential often comes in the form of something that is definitely not income-generating
  • Diving deep into fiction, a novel or short story
  • Running a marathon where your mind is only on the completion of the 26 miles, rather than anything from your daily life
  • Being around people who make you feel like you, which you probably never felt previously
  • Becoming self-aware of the things you want and desire simply through the act of writing them down in a moment of brainstorming
  • Eating a delicious snack, which sends you back into the past where you had this special memory of sharing that very same food with a beloved friend
  • Playing a mobile game where you match three-of-a-kind together
  • Attending a college out of state so that you can meet a lot of people who are unlike the people you have known your entire life up to this point
  • Receiving a generous sum of money that allows you to move upward in life and prosperity
  • Tossing out your mobile phone whose notifications had imprisoned you daily for the past year
  • Turning off the email notifications so that you don’t see urgent emails from your boss at 1 am and you feel so dutiful to answer them within 5 minutes
  • Deleting social media apps so that you don’t have to reach out for them when you feel lonely; instead, you sit in that discomfort and you come to understand where it had started
  • Taking risks with something that you had never experienced previously. Everyday.
  • My Ikea Desk

    This desk, purchased when Ikea entered the shores of the Bay Area in Emeryville, when I was a sophomore in college, came to inhabit my first apartment in Berkeley. Tucked against the wall. It endured the fat self-built desktop computer and CRT monitor where I crafted blog posts on scribble, early version of wordpress (aka b2) and browsed the-protagonist forums. It witnessed how I pissed off people and vice versa. It was the DJ table when we decided to have a house party as a retaliation to our downstairs neighbor for being noisy. (Result: it was a bust. as in, it wasn’t really a party at all.) It went to my second apartment in Berkeley, located on the southside, where I spent nights tearing up over a conversation that were simply words on the screen and observed me slack all those two years. It witnessed me preparing my graduate school applications.

    Then it sat in my parents’ garage for two years until I returned to the Bay Area.

    Then I took it with me to San Francisco to my first apartment. As in the first and only apartment. And here it sits in the corner of the room, perfectly sized for it and a laundry. The wood panels are composite and obviously weak. One of the shelves is in my closet, where it has been for the last 10 years. It is still as messy as when I first had it. Random bowls, random pens, random everything strewn around. It endured a LCD monitor, then decreased to only a laptop sitting on its stand next to a keyboard. The blinds look open it where occasionally pigeons flap their wings and squawk outside the window. But it has paid witness to more than half of my life. Well…almost. I have only used it for approximately 13 years.

    Rewatching season 1

    Something special happens when you re-watch season 1. Especially for Game of Thrones. I remember my fascination with the show, not because of the extraordinary world in the story, but because it wasn’t like many fantasy shows. No last-minute saves. Realism persists in the story—good men die, bad men win. Not because of a simple good vs. evil, but rather because of appropriate strategy. Much like a political race.

    I see people who became dead…now alive once again. Some striking innocence and even arrogance, before these characters were forced to transform. So many people. So much time have passed. Scars arrived. Limbs lost. Throats cut. Innocence stolen.

    I wonder this—would I want to know about what happened 5 years ago? Sometimes I don’t want to remember and have completely blocked it from my memory. Emotions may return if I had explicitly described them in detail or marked it perfectly with a single moment, a visit on Foursquare, remnants of a ticket stub, and the like. But sometimes it’s easier to let it steam in its oil until there’s nothing left, except the feelings associated with the people and the objects.

    I wonder what I would think 5 years from now. This moment. Would I remember the departure of a dear old friend to a distant continent likely never to see again? Would I remember the anguish of marketing my book? Would I remember the guilt of not going outside enough, not trying hard enough, not doing enough? Would I remember, perhaps in contrast, the satisfaction of me (or perhaps envy the current good health)? What I didn’t know and what I will know. I will likely think all of this, but I will constantly think if you had only known. But no regrets.

    Because like a TV show, the pleasure of the now having experienced the past is what matters the most.