Goodbye, Friend

Tonight, I bid farewell to a lifelong companion, a friend who has been with me since I was born, a friend who has silently shared each and every moment of my life up until this point. My friend’s name is Freddy, and he is a bear.

As I write this now, Freddy is laying inside a black garbage bag, inside a black garbage bin. In a few hours, the garbage truck will arrive and tip the garbage bin upside-down, depositing Freddy and a whole lot of other childhood objects on top of the rest of the neighborhood’s trash. He’ll probably be compacted at that point. It is a saddening thought, but it is necessary.

These past few months, as can be seen in the museum, I have spent a lot of time combing through all of my belongings. Boxes and boxes of things that I’ve collected over the decades, stuffed under the bed, stuffed into the closet, opened once every few years for nostalgia’s sake, taking up space. I never really understood that I had so many things. Yes, they are mostly contained in an 11-foot by 11-foot room, but it wasn’t until I went through them, trying to decide whether to keep them, that I truly felt their weight. The Transformers from before we moved to the US. Coloring pencils from primary school. Books that I used to read before bed, mesmerized by the images I imagined in my head. What do all these things have in common? They are the property of a child, around 10 years old (plus or minus a few years), and still innocent. His world is Sega games, dinosaur books, and going to school.

It sounds obvious and ridiculous to even have to say it, but I am no longer a child. If you look at the archive of greetings I’ve made here on this website, you’ll find that I stated I was a 30-something in 2010. Now, in 2017, I am almost a 40-something. A 40-something. A grown man, approaching middle age. When I ask myself why I’ve kept all those childhood things, I wonder if maybe I’m just a man in body, who has not grown up inside.

Time keeps moving forward, and sometimes we don’t realize that we are being left behind, stuck in the same place. It is that weight which I mentioned before. Carrying all those things gets heavy. We each get one life to live, and a lifetime of experiences awaits us if we’re willing to put down all those heavy things and move forward. Staying only in the past is wasting valuable time. In the end, it will be like we lived only half a life.

And so, it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Freddy, and all the other companions that have accompanied me in my life’s journey thus far. I am sad to part with things that I have had for decades, but ultimately these companions are inanimate objects, and it is I who gave them life and voices. As JC pointed out, they’ve been me all along, and they will continue to be me. That is a comforting thought. Goodbye friends, and thank you.

Growing Up

I have a lot of time these days to think about my life. It’s a good time to do it, too. I’m not quite 40 yet, but barring any unforeseen circumstances it’s going to happen soon enough. I am at a crossroads in life, having moved back from Hong Kong last year, taking half a year off, getting a job that didn’t work out, and now taking another half year off and counting. It’s about that time when one evaluates where he’s been and where he’s going.

The main conclusion is that despite my age and my experiences, I still very much see the world as my younger and less-experienced self did. I don’t think I’ve grown up. I still surround myself with things from my childhood such as my Sega games and stuffed animals. I tend to be overly idealistic. Despite my experience otherwise, I still expect people and events to behave and turn out a certain way that is unrealistic, and as a result I more often than not end up disappointed and disillusioned. I ask myself whether I want to live the rest of my life feeling like this.

Clinging to Childhood

Last week, I started a cleaning rampage to clean out and dispose of things that take up space that I no longer use. One of these things was my collection of Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo floppy disks, the ones that work with the game copier I mentioned in this post about regretting selling my Genesis games. I had built up this collection in the 90s, and I didn’t want to part with it because I had kept it that long. It was a struggle. There is something special about a thing that’s been kept for decades. It’s not something that’s easily repeatable, and it’s something that won’t come back once it’s gone. And yet, at the same time, if that something is no longer used, then it just takes up space. But it’s not just physical space, is it? It takes up space in me, like I’m clinging so hard to something from adolescence, even though I’m approaching mid-life.

In another recent post I talked about things that we have to unlearn from our parents. Staying at home this past year, I’ve come to realize that our parents tend to (and perhaps want to) infantilize us despite the fact that we’re now in our 30s. Things that adults are supposed to be able to do are treated like some ultra-difficult task and lavish praise is bestowed when it’s done. Whether it’s a narcissistic or a Confucian tactic, it’s a way to keep an adult child thinking like a child child uncertain of her abilities. If I hadn’t seen this happening to a sibling, I never would have done the research and realized it was an actual thing with a formal term. But even though I am now aware of it, I still have to continue to be strong to not let it affect me, or worse, to not do it to myself.

Idealism vs. Realism

Many years ago when I was still working at the longest tenured job I’ve ever had, our company finally grew to a point where it started to offer health insurance. I remember telling my boss that I wasn’t happy with the way the healthcare system works and that I’d rather not have health insurance because I didn’t want to support the system. Her response was, “Yes Jonathan, you’re really going to stick it to them by not buying health insurance”.

When I first attended school in the United States, I ended up being placed a couple of grades above my age due to a placement test. On paper it might seem like something to be proud of (i.e. graduating high school at 16), but in reality it probably made my life more difficult. Because I was two years younger than everyone else (and two years is a lot when it comes to a child’s development), I was socially less developed. That, plus some of the values instilled in me through that point, meant that I had a really hard time relating to people. In the public middle school that I attended, I was picked on frequently. High school was a little bit better (probably due to my school being a magnet school) but still bad.

Because of my experience in school, I learned to treat others the way that I wanted to be treated. It’s really no fun being made fun of all the time. But besides how to treat people, my time in school also helped to shape a large part of my personal philosophy. A lot of the kids who picked on me were minorities. I could never understand how someone who had experienced discrimination could do the same to someone else. I really detested the hypocrisy, and thought that there was no way I would be like that. I’ve tried to live my life free of hypocrisy ever since, to always put my money where my mouth is.

For a while, I’ve been struggling with social media and the internet. My concern is that we are voluntarily giving away our personal information and details of our daily lives, who we know, where we’ve been, and even what foods we eat to a handful of companies that have become supremely powerful. I’m also not happy with the way the World Wide Web has become a massive, interconnected billboard. Too many websites these days value ads over content, which saddens me because I remember what it was like before all the ads.

Well, in order to put my money where my mouth is, I have to stop supporting the companies that are doing this, right? So, I deleted my LinkedIn account. Next, I deleted my Twitter account. I cancelled Amazon Prime. More recently, with the announcement that WhatsApp is going to share information with Facebook, I deleted my WhatsApp account. And since I was already cutting out one Facebook company, I went ahead and deleted my Instagram account, too.

Seems pretty crazy right? But maybe not as crazy as this past week: uninstalling Chrome and changing my default search engine from Google to DuckDuckGo. What a way to stick it to the man.

On the one hand, I want to stick to my ideals and not be a hypocrite. On the other, I’m starting to realize that idealism and reality are very far apart from each other. Has there ever been a human who was not a hypocrite? Even the founding fathers of the United States, who stated that all men are created equal, owned slaves. At my old work, I eventually bought health insurance. How many “evil” companies have I supported in my lifetime by giving business to them, even before social media? Sony? Coca Cola? Hollywood?

The reality is that there are no perfectly principled people, and no perfectly principled companies. Consider a world where no one ever causes pain to another, and everyone tells the truth and sticks to it. In all the books I’ve read, all the history I’ve studied, all the people I’ve interacted with in my almost 4 decades of life, this is not who we, as humans, are. Even in Star Trek, where humans have supposedly reached a state of enlightenment, corruption and greed still exist. That is reality. While we may strive towards idealism, in the end it is never going to be 100%.

Growing Up?

So, what does all this mean? Does growing up mean letting go of ideals from youth and embracing the reality of our existence? I don’t know. I continue to struggle. At one point, I re-activated my Twitter account, only to deactivate it again. Censorship aside, it really is a nice tool for connecting with people, for knowing what’s happening around the world, and for following interests. Perhaps it’s a matter of weighing the benefits versus the drawbacks. The biggest drawback would be disconnecting myself from society in order to live up to some phantom ideals. Is that really how I want to live my life? What difference would I actually make?

I think back to a song I heard from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. “The world is still the same, you’ll never change it.” Am I so egotistical that I think quitting social media and not supporting “evil” companies actually makes a difference? Isn’t this just another example of the flawed programming from childhood where we were taught that we’re better than everyone else? By quitting social media, do I think I’m special or something?

No, I think it just means that I’m immature. Always putting my money where my mouth is means there is no middle ground. It is an example of black and white thinking, a way of thinking that does not work for complex issues. Life is complex. Every person, every company, every country, they all have good sides, bad sides, and neutral sides. It is immature to look only at one side of something while ignoring the others. I don’t want to be immature anymore.

I still have a lot of growing up to do. In the coming days, I’ll continue to struggle over whether to re-create my social media accounts. Writing this out has helped. I see a place that I want to get to, and I’m slowly making myself move towards that place. Maybe the first step would be admitting that I’ve made some mistakes, and then rectifying them. See you on social media.

What Did Your Parents Teach You That You Had to Unlearn?

Saw this question on reddit yesterday and thought about all the things my parents and other adults in my early life taught me that I’ve tried to undo with varying degrees of success. Here are some of them.

People are bad and are to be kept at arm’s length – I still remember my aunt telling us that there are bad people everywhere (出面/世界好多壞人), that you have to watch out for them. While today I can’t really say whether there are bad people everywhere, I do know that keeping everyone you encounter in life at arm’s length and assuming that they are bad people has more drawbacks than benefits. This is one of the lessons that I’ve successfully erased from my default behaviors.

I can understand why my aunt would tell us there are bad people everywhere, but what I would do differently is tell children that there are all kinds of people everywhere, including good people. There’s probably a large number of people who are in between. Don’t let dealing with bad people be the only way you know how to deal with all people.

Everyone else is competition/we are better than them – this one is really difficult to unlearn. It’s also a lesson that, unlike the one above, was not explicitly taught to us as children. It was learned through the adults comparing us with other kids (including cousins, classmates, and friends), looking down at them for superficial (and ridiculous) reasons such as what schools they went to, what neighborhoods they lived in, and what languages they spoke. While I now consciously know that these comparisons are wrong and that I’m not better than anyone else, a lot of times my first reaction overrides that knowledge. For example, often when I meet someone new, my first instinct is to think of them as competition. In my mind I’m either on the attack or on the defensive, and only rarely am I simply neutral and non-judgmental. I’m not, by default, looking at them as an opportunity to learn or to cooperate. It’s very frustrating. The other sad thing is, I do this for people of all ages, including children. Just the idea of an adult comparing him or herself to a child is preposterous, but that’s what I saw growing up (and sometimes still see today).

I remember one time in high school, I had my friends over to play video games after school. As we were prone to do we ended up playing longer than expected so they stayed for dinner. Well, I was served steak, while my friends were served ramen. At the time I thought it was normal, but looking back I can see that perhaps a different course of action could have been taken.

Even today, there are members of my family who have “friends” that they do things with, but once the activities are over the behind-the-back shit-talking begins. Each of the friends even has a derogatory nickname. Once, I called this out and asked why they would want to spend time with people whom they deemed to be so inferior. They didn’t answer, but claimed that it was normal to have nicknames for friends. I then asked them why they didn’t call the friends by their nicknames when they were present, and an argument ensued. To this day, none of these “friends” knows that they have the nicknames.

Another side-effect of all this comparing is the pressure that’s placed on children to live up to being “better” than everyone else. Although I can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up with accepting parents that saw the value in all people without judging them, I can imagine that it’s probably a lot less stressful. I imagine that it completely changes your mindset as an adult, and that the my current competitive mindset is not present at all. One is pleasant, the other is torment. If I ever have children, I know which one I’ll want to instill in them growing up.

Behaving histrionically means that something matters to you – here’s another one that I’m still working on. Somehow, if you’re really passionate about something, the way to show it is to raise your voice and make a big scene. When you’re angry, break a TV or a VCR to show how seriously angry you are. In my time, I really have broken a VCR by throwing it on the floor (and here’s another example). I’ve jumped up and down like a madman screaming at the top of my voice when trying to get a point across. As children, this is what we learn when we see our parents (and their parents) doing it. We think that it’s the only way to deal with that certain problem or emotion. Well, luckily for me, I realized before driving the people I care about away that there are other ways to express myself. While I still raise my voice and still feel the urge to break something when I’m angry, I’ve learned to restrain that urge because I know it will do the opposite of what I’m trying to do, which is to get my point across. Still, there’s always that fine line between restraint and destruction, and I must always be careful.


It’s amazing how much of our original programming stays with us. While I’ve been trying to deprogram as much as I can, a lot of it is like the difference between reading about shooting a basketball and actually doing it. For example, I can read self-help books on anger management, but if I’m not always angry, then I can’t actually practice dealing with it. As a result, I’ve noticed in many situations that if I’m not actively and consciously thinking about what not to do, I automatically revert to these bad lessons that I learned growing up. So, the key is to keep reminding myself, especially if I anticipate entering into situations where the above apply.

These parts of myself that I don’t like formed over childhood and adolescence, and reinforced themselves in young adulthood. They can’t be undone in a short time, but based on the results I’ve seen so far, I’m hopeful that one day my default behavior will be what I want it to be rather than what’s been programmed. Good night!

Coincidence

Rosemary Garlic Tri-Tip
A scrumptious dish

I had a pretty good dinner tonight. Tri-tip roasts are on sale this week at Safeway ($3.99/lb) so I got one (~3.5lbs) to roast in the oven. Minced some garlic and fresh rosemary and rubbed it all on along with some freshly cracked salt and pepper. Every 15 minutes I basted with a red wine and beef bouillon solution. Took it out of the 350°F oven after about an hour and 10 minutes, and sliced it up after letting it rest for 10.

As I like to do after a fancy dinner, I dripped myself a cup of coffee. Recently we unpacked the last of our things from Hong Kong, a box of kitchen stuff. Inside this box was the Guinness mug that came with the 4-pack I bought after we first moved into our place in Hong Kong. I had forgotten that I used to use this mug for drip coffee in Hong Kong, using whipping cream in place of half-and-half since the latter is not sold there. There was a morning in spring of 2013 when I made coffee to go along with a sandwich made with bread from our bread maker, in preparation for watching a Warriors playoff game. That was a good morning.

Since the mug got me thinking about our time in Hong Kong, I came here to see if I could jog some more memories. I decided to read the 6-Month Update, and then I saw that it was posted on August 18, 2013. So, exactly three years ago. What a coincidence.

It’s good to look back sometimes to see where you’ve been (although admittedly, I probably look back more often than “sometimes”). Three years ago, I was becoming more comfortable with myself and my way of living, becoming happier, and enjoying life more. It would seem that three years later, this is happening once again.

Four months ago, I wrote that time is the most precious resource. In exchange for having time, I chose to forgo having an income, and in turn forgoing having our own place to live. At that point it had almost been a year of staying with our parents, and now it has been more than that. In these four months, there have been good days and bad days. There has been internal struggle, and depression. There has been talk about moving back to Hong Kong because it would be easier to find a job and a place to live there (it sounds crazy, but compared with the Bay Area it’s true).

Perhaps I fell back into that chasm where all I do is worry about the future, worrying whether what I’m doing now is conducive to that future, whether what I’m doing is what I should be doing. When I’m in that chasm, I completely lose sight of the present, no matter how good it is. No, we aren’t working, yes, we’re living with our parents, but is that really so bad? We get to do whatever we want, whenever we want, staying up as late as we want. We get to eat tri-tip (when I had thought about escaping back to Hong Kong, I didn’t even think of how less frequently we had good beef over there). Other than the occasional self-inflicted kind, our present lives are stress-free.

In recent weeks is when I’ve finally started realizing all this, again. To stay in the moment, to enjoy the present that is good, to know that there is nothing to worry about. The past has shown us that we always step up and do what’s necessary when the time comes, so why not just enjoy this time that we have now? We are happy, healthy, and probably will be in the foreseeable future. I am confident that we will be able to handle whatever that future brings.

5.1 Surround Sound!

I experienced my first 5.1 surround system in late December of 2010. At this point I don’t remember why I decided to finally get it at that particular time – perhaps it was a Christmas present to myself, or perhaps it was because we didn’t go anywhere for the holidays so we figured we’d stay in and watch movies instead. I remember being the only person at work on the day the receiver and speakers arrived and organizing the boxes on our hand-truck for moving to the TSX. As always, I enjoyed being alone and just doing my work without interruptions, and looking forward to taking my new toys home at the end of the day.

Audio System on Hand Truck
Getting ready to go home

Once I got home and set everything up, I was disappointed by the sound of the Sony speakers (pictured above). I was trying to save money and opted for them instead of trying to match my existing Cambridge Soundworks speakers. On second thought, I realized that for my first 5.1 system I should just do it the right way instead of cutting corners. The next day I ordered the Cambridge speakers and returned the Sony ones.

Now that all the speakers matched (though to be honest I don’t really know how much of an effect, if any, that has), I thought the system sounded pretty good. I spent a good amount of time reading the manual and tweaking the settings, from setting the speakers as “small” or “large” in the receiver to tweaking the low-frequency crossover threshold. It was pretty cool to watch movies and sports in 5.1, and I re-discovered many DVDs and blu-rays. Playing PS3 and PS2 games was a new experience as well. I particularly remember playing Catherine in surround sound in July of 2011.

We enjoyed our system from that time until May of 2012 (a little under a year-and-a-half?) when I left my job and we moved back home before embarking on Adventure 2012 and moving to Hong Kong. I gave the system to my brother-in-law who ended up not really using it. When JC and I came back from HK last year, he returned the system to us. After 3+ years, we got a chance to enjoy 5.1 sound again.

Recently we’ve been doing more downsizing, trying to become more agile as we try to figure out what our next move will be. We’ve been getting rid of a lot of stuff that went into storage back in 2012. As I’ve mentioned many times before, these physical objects have done us zero good sitting in a basement for the past four years. It would be more useful, and a better use of space, to take them out and use them or to give them to someone who can.

So this is where this Nostalgia/Museum post comes in. When I first gave the system to BIL, I packed it nicely in all the original packaging with all the manuals and plastic bags intact. When I retrieved the speakers last year, I grabbed the equipment only, without the boxes. A couple of weeks ago when we cleaned out the basement, I found the boxes with all the manuals still inside. These were the manuals sitting on our coffee table when I first got into 5.1 surround, referring to them every so often so that I could get the system to sound just right. Since this museum post would be too large if I showed every single page from each manual, below are the PDFs, some downloaded and some scanned:

Dolby Home Theatre Speaker Guide 5.1
Sony STR-DH510 Multi Channel AV Receiver
Cambridge Soundworks BassCube 821
Cambridge Soundworks MC55
Cambridge Soundworks MC105
Cambridge Soundworks MC155

Looking at and thinking about these manuals, I’ve actually changed a lot these past few years. I used to stress a lot about “perfection” and keeping everything in pristine condition, worrying about dust and fingerprints and what not. I did this with the speakers, my video games, whatever else. It was the same way with my car. There’s a photo in one of the TSX galleries of the engine bay. Yes, I actually spent time keeping it clean. And yes, it was something I did for myself, that I appreciated, but at the same time it’s kind of exhausting to live like that, worrying about things that most other people don’t worry about. Is that what overachievers do to make themselves believe that they’re better than everyone else, to think that they work harder than everyone else? I’m afraid to answer that question because the answer is probably yes.

Now, I try to be more relaxed and let things slide. It makes life a lot easier and less stressful. I still prefer to keep things clean and pristine if I can, but if I can’t then that’s OK too. Essence versus packaging. The essence of a 5.1 system is the surround sound enveloping you as you watch a movie; the essence of a car is getting you from point A to point B. While packaging may be nice, it has no intrinsic value, and at worst it is used to judge and look down upon others. I want no part in that.

As always, hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane.

Time, the Most Precious Resource

It’s been nearly 4 months since the last substantial post on this site, with only a noodlesmenumenunoodles palindrome to break the silence. Let’s see what’s been going on since then…

At the end of that last post, I was talking about getting depressed over not having our own place to live. It had been 27 weeks since we’d returned from Hong Kong, we were living with our parents, and things were looking like they wouldn’t be changing any time soon. The only way out that I saw was to get a job and earn money. I knew I could get an IT support job but wasn’t sure I wanted to continue in that field. I mentioned lessons learned between ending my last long-term job, going on Adventure 2012, living and working in Hong Kong, and finally moving back: lessons about not always falling back on what you’ve always done, about not just doing what you think you should do, or even thinking how you’ve always thought.

Sadly, in my impatient eagerness, I went and did exactly what I should (or should it be shouldn’t in the new paradigm? 😉 ) have done: I got an IT support job.

The job lasted for two months. During that time, I realized that I hadn’t listened to myself (another supposed-previously-learned lesson) before taking the job. When I wrote that “27 Weeks” post, I already knew that I didn’t want to go back to IT support, but I did it anyway thinking that it would be the easiest way to a livable income. But it wasn’t easy at all. I’ve probably mentioned before about being dead-tired at the end of the work day; with this job, it was the worst that it’s ever been. At the end of the day, I couldn’t even do basic stuff like keeping track of finances or logging what I did that day. And this job was actually relatively short when it came to the hours, literally a 9 to 5. Regardless of how easy the job seemed on the surface, doing something I didn’t want to do took a mental toll which in turn led to a physical toll. It was unsustainable, so I quit.

San Francisco Chinatown - Stockton Street
Same SF Chinatown, New Perspective

Now, it’s been just over a month since my last day of work. During this time, I have resumed playing and watching basketball. I did my taxes and cleared the mountain of documents on my desk. On a couple of days, I traipsed all around San Francisco, re-discovering some old places I used to go to while also discovering some new ones. It’s been really great having no constraints on my time, a reinforcement of the lesson that I thought I’d already learned before: that time is the most precious resource.

There are a lot of things related to work besides actual business hours that take up time. There’s the time spent getting to and from work. There’s the time spent getting ready for work, like grooming yourself, getting dressed, and eating breakfast. There’s the time used to recuperate from work, the “winding down” period where one switches from work-mode to home-mode. Sometimes, there is no switching back no matter how little you do (or how much you drink ?) after work. If that’s the case, then it might seem like an entire day is devoted to work. Maybe that’s why people look forward to the weekend so much.

If time is the most precious resource, then you have to ask yourself if what you’re allocating that resource to is worthwhile. So, while it was nice seeing direct deposits in my account every couple of weeks, I could not see this process as my existence for the next few years, let alone the next few months. We had actually gone apartment hunting and found a decent place, but since I had only just started the job, we didn’t take it. I’m super relieved now that we didn’t. My life would have been working and drinking on weekdays, and catching up on things on weekends such as running errands, doing chores, and maybe preparing food. My bank account would have gotten fatter, but my soul would have been crushed like a granite block on a quarry cart in Emperor:ROMK.

For a long time, I took too much pride in being able to live on our own with no help from family (I’m probably still a little prideful despite no longer living on our own). Some of my HK friends who felt entitled to live at home with mom and dad (as is conventional over there) would ask me how I could pass up free rent, and I would tell them that I didn’t like to depend on family. And yet, most of our friends and family, whether in Hong Kong or the US, use their families as a housing resource, whether that be staying at home with parents or receiving a monetary gift from them to use as a down payment. I would always look down on them for doing so, telling JC that we were better because we depended on ourselves.

Well, take a look at us now. In two months, we would have stayed with our parents for an entire year. Looking at the things people do to earn money for their house, their car, things for their kids, it would seem that perhaps their number one priority is money, or perhaps material things. OK, so what if your number one priority is time? What kind of things would you be willing to do to maintain control of your time? For me, perhaps it is quitting a decently-paying job, swallowing my pride, and staying with parents; doing something that I would look down on myself for; being a hypocrite.

But perhaps I’ve been thinking about it wrong all this time. Family is supposed to be family, not something to keep at arm’s length, which is what I have been doing. Maybe I was jealous that other people could depend on their families and I couldn’t, sour grapes and all. I’ve had and continue to have some resentment towards my family for various issues, and pride dictates that one shall not benefit from those one resents. Or maybe I didn’t like how cocky some people could be with their big houses and fancy cars, financed by mom and pop. Perhaps a narcissistic upbringing where I was constantly being compared with and deemed superior to the other kids in the family created a desire to be better than everyone else by being a contrarian and doing it on my own.

The thing is, nobody does it completely on their own. I remember reading about interdependence (as opposed to just independence) in Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and pushing forward with my own way of thinking despite thinking in the back of my mind that I might be wrong. I like being independent. I like doing things on my own, achieving things through my own effort and ingenuity, not depending on others. But, recognizing that time is the number one priority, maybe it’s time to set independence aside and embrace interdependence.

So now, I’ve become the someone that I looked down upon before. We take turns staying at our parents’ places and we pay no rent because we don’t want to pay the necessary price to have a place of our own. Is it a convenient change of mind, perfectly shaped to match the current circumstance? Does it sound like rationalization? Maybe. Probably. We stay at home, and in return we help out around the house and our parents are happy that we’re around. I’ll admit, it’s difficult proceeding without thinking that I’ve sold out and betrayed my values. But it is true that interdependence is a higher level of development than independence. All the self-help advice that says to “get out of your comfort zone”? This is it.

These days, I often ask JC how it was possible back in the day that I could work an intense job and still have time to work on my Acura TSX, maintain my fish tank, and play Gran Turismo 5. I think the answer is that despite the challenge of the job, it was something that I really wanted to do and excel at, which made the job easier, which in turn resulted in my still having energy to do all that other stuff at the end of the day. As we try to find that next thing that we really want to do and excel at, we’ll continue to maximize what we have now and do what makes us happy. If that means re-evaluating my values, then I gladly proceed, because once all is said and done, time is our most precious resource, more important than any amount of dollars in our bank accounts, more important than any amount of pride. We can’t afford to spend it living our lives in misery.

27 Weeks

Last night I read a journal entry for July 5, 2014, the last day that anyone in my family set foot in my Granny’s flat in Hong Kong. The place had been in our family for 40 years, give or take a few. The rent always stayed below market rate due to rent control, but even so it started making less and less financial sense to pay rent for a place that nobody was living in. On occasion, my mother or other relatives would stay there while visiting Hong Kong, but otherwise since 2010 when Granny moved into a home the place was uninhabited. It was kept in the hopes that perhaps one day Granny would return, or maybe for nostalgic purposes.

My mother and aunt had cleaned out the place, with JC and I tagging along but mostly staying out of it (save for keeping old newspapers and other historical items). They (especially my aunt) took a more practical approach to cleaning house. For example, old newspapers and other decades-old trinkets were considered trash. The antique furniture was sold to a dealer, and everything else was left to be kept or taken away as the landlord saw fit. I went there to retrieve a camera that my aunt had accidentally left there, and also to take my time and comb through the place for anything else worth keeping. Being the sentimental person that I am, I also took it as a chance to say goodbye properly to the closest thing I ever had to an ancestral home.

Goodbye to Granny's House
July 5, 2014 – Goodbye to Granny’s house

I’m reading the journal entry when I remember that the landlord’s representative, Mr. Lam, showed up near the end of my visit. He said that it was fortunate that I had gone there when I did, because he was planning to change the lock. I asked him if I could keep the lock for sentimental purposes, but he refused because he couldn’t make the call. He said that they would probably move that ancient lock to another property (lol). At that time I was just starting out at my job in Hong Kong, and I hadn’t learned the intricacies of CYA (covering-your-ass) yet, but now with my experience of working in HK I realize in retrospect that he was probably just afraid of doing something out of the norm. When I was explaining to him my sentimental reasons for keeping it, all he could think about was following the rules and toeing the line. Nothing I said registered.

This got me thinking about bureaucracy in Hong Kong and how deeply entrenched it is in HK society. Employee empowerment? Forget about it, they’re scared too shitless to make any decisions, call the manager. Remember when I complained about ticky-tack fouls? Bureaucracy in action. The players have been taught (or punitively programmed) to follow all rules to the letter in life and in basketball, so one little touch is a foul. What about when I tried to stick up for my coworker, or when I tried to order a battery for a user? Sadly, I did end up alienating some people at work due to the way I got things done, and I wish I would have gone about it in a smarter way where I could have had both my cake and to eat it too.

With my mind on Hong Kong, I went back and looked at all the updates I’ve made about living there, including some in my own private journal. I was reminded of how I felt when I was trying to find a job, how I felt my first month into the job, and how I felt about my career overall. There is some symmetry between what was happening then and what is happening now. I compare what I’ve been doing in the six months since returning from Hong Kong with what I was doing in the first six months of living in Hong Kong, and I find that I’m going through something very similar. And yet, in the 27 weeks I have been back in San Francisco, there have hardly been any updates on this site. I’ve posted a bunch of museum posts and VH posts, but nothing like those HK updates. So, here’s a quick recap.

In July, the first month of coming back, I had the momentum of moving from HK and being fresh from leaving a job. The first job application I sent out resulted in an interview. In my hubris, I did not prepare for the interview thinking it would be just like a meeting at work, which resulted in a poor performance and my candidacy being passed over. I continued applying for jobs with no results. On the recreational side, it was nice being back in America and going to BBQs, Costco, VH, and Sizzler. There was a learning curve to playing physical basketball again.

In August, same thing. Applied to a few more jobs, heard back from none of them. There was a family wedding which took up an entire week. JC landed a job. I continued playing basketball.

September, more of the same. I continued to mark off every Thursday: 10 weeks, 11 weeks, 12 weeks, etc. Our stuff from Hong Kong finally arrived. Since I didn’t have to work, I was tasked with waiting for the delivery.

In October, I enlisted the help of a staffing firm to assist with my job search, but nothing really happened on that front. I started having difficulty with waking up and not knowing what to do, which drove me to start planning my days ahead of time so that I could simply follow my calendar without thinking, similar to when I had a job and a routine.

November, I started ramping up the search again with the new system. I got my first interview arranged through the staffing firm. Everything went great, they told the agency that I was great, but sadly I lacked iPad experience whereas my competition did not. It was nice to spend the first Thanksgiving in three years with family and have multiple grand feasts. At 21 weeks, I stopped keeping track of how many weeks we’ve been back.

Last month, I started truly getting depressed. Maybe it was the holidays, maybe it was the cold, or maybe it was my career, or lack thereof. Remembering how I felt about my career while I was in Hong Kong, I wondered if I wanted to keep doing what I was doing, applying for jobs that I knew I could do but not really interested in. Did I really want a repeat of my HK job? If not, what would I do? Start my own business? Again, what would I do? I had and continue to have no idea. I went back and read about the tyranny of the shoulds. I’m back to the situation I was in when I wrote those posts, except I don’t really have any money now. Is there room for idealism when one doesn’t even have enough money for his own place to live? I’ve done IT support on and off for 20 years, should I not just hunker down and make some money via this field first? Or, have I forgotten the lessons I’ve learned during these past 3 years?

It’s been 27 weeks, and I’m still trying to figure it out. Happy New Year!

Deprogramming

Since 2012 I have been trying to deprogram, like the waking up late thing, should should should, etc. Trying to become the person that I want to be, to be happy. I want to have less of a part in making myself unhappy. I understand that I can’t control everything, but since there’s no way to not be all-the-time happy in life, I might as well eliminate myself as a source.

Latest thing is deprogramming this notion that I’m better than everybody else, that I’m smarter than everybody else. Moving back home now, I’ve realized that a lot of the programming is due to my family. Little things like my granny saying that we are 大人物 when we go to certain events, always expecting to skip the line at dimsum, or going to well-known schools. There’s also this new thing now with Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and even this website. While sharing is nice, I want to stay cognizant so that I don’t get too full of myself. I’ve noticed that a lot of the times when I’ve made mistakes is when I’m thinking I’m so smart and better than everyone else (in basketball, driving, and work, to name a few), when in reality I’m just the same as everybody else.

One mistake that my family makes is that they think they are special without having done anything. For the people in society who really are special, I think there was something they really wanted to do, and they went about doing it, and did it really well, and then they became famous/special. I don’t understand why people expect special treatment when they haven’t done anything. So, they tell themselves they’re special, when they go out in the world they expect people to treat them special, and when it doesn’t happen they use manipulative or coercive methods to force people to do it. Usually, that just ends up making people feel shitty (the ones who comply) or combative (the ones who won’t).

Some other examples to be aware of:

  • Putting down others to raise yourself up. It’s internalized so that it’s done without thinking, without being aware of why, i.e. when you’re pointing out what you perceive as flaws in another person, you don’t go into it thinking “oh I’m going to make myself feel good now”. Also, because it does feel good, it keeps happening without you realizing it.
  • Spending a bunch of money irresponsibly (and beyond your pay grade) and then thinking you’re special because you’re a “high roller”.
  • Apps that ask for a lot of permissions – I have this weird thing where I believe that companies are out to get your information, and that I’m smarter than everyone else because I don’t fall for it and don’t download those apps – but is it really so bad and am I really that smart when I’m missing out on all the benefits?

This brings us to my current dilemma, which is trying to find a job. When you’re looking for a job, you’re supposed to show why you’re better than other people applying for the same job (or at least that’s what seems to be the readily apparent goal at first, see below). When you’re trying to deprogram, selling yourself as better than other people doesn’t really help. If you think of yourself as better than others, it’s also easier to get disappointed and start getting down on yourself when nothing happens.

So maybe it’s time to approach a job search with a different mindset. Stopping to think for a second, in your experience what is it about people that makes them good coworkers or employees? Is it because they know more? Is it their personality? There is so much variation in just these two things, let alone the entire spectrum of attributes that each and every human being has. Is one “better” than the other? What is “better” anyway? There are some generally accepted standards in society, and also some standards depending on your circle, but it’s probably safe to say that it’s subjective and that everybody’s standards are different.

That said then, I think fit is a better way to think about it. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece is relatively the same size, made of the same materials. The backside is the same. Only its shape and the drawing on the front is different. Is one piece of the puzzle better than another piece? I don’t think so. When a piece doesn’t fit, you can try rotating it around, and if that still doesn’t work you look for another piece, but you don’t say “oh, this piece is useless, I’m throwing it away now”. If you did, the puzzle would never be complete. In other words, each piece of the puzzle is vital to its completion, and in no circumstance is one piece “better” than another piece.

So, maybe the puzzle is society, and the pieces are people. As a job searcher, in order to not get discouraged, I need to take on the mindset that I’m a piece in a puzzle, that I’m not better than everybody else, because at the end of the day finding the right fit is a slog, with a massive amount of luck involved, too. I would be completely demoralized if I got down on myself every single time I didn’t hear back. While everyone has their unique combination of attributes, most people are relatively the same in terms of the total attributes that they actually have, the only variation being the degrees of each attribute (like a pie chart with differently-sized slices maybe?). It’s this combination that cannot be measured, yet in society and in my own upbringing, people still try to measure complete individuals using tests and scores that only measure a portion of that individual.

Lastly, it helps to remember that the programming has built up over years and years, and that it will take sustained effort and awareness to erase or rewrite it. There will also be setbacks when you will fall back on the original programming, but if you keep in mind that before you made a conscious decision to deprogram it never even would have occurred to you that what you’re doing is counterproductive to being happy, then that’s already way better than how it was before. Be patient, never stop trying to improve, and ignore those who try to hold you back. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your actions, and you are the one who has to or gets to live with the consequences of those actions.

Basketball is Life (Another Lesson from the Court)

Victoria Park Basketball Courts - June 30, 2015
Victoria Park Basketball Courts – June 30, 2015

June 30, 2015

It’s a Tuesday afternoon. Having just finished a game, I’m sitting on the asphalt, watching the activity on the courts, soaking in the sun, and thinking about all the time I’ve spent here during the previous two years. All those nights staying until lights out at 11 PM. The time when I destroyed my ankle because I was an idiot. It’s just a regular day to all the players here, but for me I’ve just played my last game here until the next time we return to Hong Kong, whenever that may be. Earlier in the day, we moved out of our flat and turned in the keys; instead of going home to clean up, I’ll be heading to the hotel when I’m ready to leave.

I still have some time before a scheduled farewell dinner, so I continue to sit, and watch. The sun will be setting soon. I watch the local HK basketball players wearing their NBA-style jerseys. There are some familiar faces. I watch the double decker buses passing by. I look towards Causeway Bay and the skyscrapers. Soon, the Excelsior Hotel will be gone, too. It’s a moment to remember, and I remember it vividly now as I write this.

For some reason, my mind thinks back to my college days, when some NBA alumni would come to our gym to work out. During practice, they would bomb threes like they were doing layups. In the NBA, because players are so good at putting the ball in the hoop, defenses have to be sophisticated (and physical) to counter them. There can’t be any slacking and players are actively and constantly trying to stop you. The fact that NBA teams regularly score over 100 points a game even in the face of hounding defense reveals just how amazing these players and coaches are.

I start thinking about efficiency in basketball. At the most basic level, depending on which side you’re on, there are two goals in basketball: put the ball in the hoop, or prevent the other person from putting the ball in the hoop. It’s a very simple premise. And yet, I unnecessarily complicated the game that I had just played. Instead of simply and efficiently putting the ball in the hoop, I often do a lot of unnecessary dribbling trying to get by my defender. Sometimes, when I have room to shoot, I’ll do a few shot fakes to see if the guy will bite, and if he finally does, I sort of stand and watch to admire how I faked a guy into the air (wtf). If he doesn’t, I don’t take the shot and end up back where I started. It’s a lot of wasted energy and unnecessary movements, and by the time I finally do put up a shot, I’m exhausted. I wonder why I don’t just put the damn ball in the hoop, especially when I have the capability to do it.

Now, it’s time to go. I make some notes in my phone so I can remember my last time here. On the way back, I almost get off at the wrong stop, having gotten off at that stop so many times without thinking.

November 5, 2015

Now, I’m back in America. I’ve started playing more games and have been reminded that it is much more physical over here. Less (or no) fouls are called. People are bigger, faster. In Hong Kong, I was able to get by people, but I don’t think I’ve done it once here. It’s also possible that my age has finally caught up with me – although it’s only been a few months since HK, a precipitous decline once you hit a certain age is not unheard of. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. Being unable to get by people makes it that much more important to take the shot when you have it.

So that brings us to today. The reason I’m posting this now is that I had one of those games today, where if I had been more business-like and efficient in my approach to the game, I could have done a lot more, and maybe even have won. It was a good 1-on-1 with some back and forth missing early on, but later on my opponent caught fire and hit several shots in a row while I was stuck at 2. Despite a furious attempt at a comeback and hitting several shots in a row of my own, he was able to finish the game off with a contested jumper. Final score: 7-5.

I spent a lot of energy dribbling around trying to get by the guy and getting nowhere when I could have just pulled up and taken a shot. I had a stupid hang-up thinking that the game would not be fun if all I did was shoot (and make) threes from the top of the key. In the end, it was a good game and a good workout, but I couldn’t help thinking what could have been if I hadn’t hindered myself with that unproductive thought.

That brings us to our final thought for tonight, which is, once again, that basketball (in this case, specifically pickup ball) is a microcosm of life. The court is the world, the players are society, and everybody has a different motivation for playing (living). Most people want to win, some people want a good work out, some people want to start a fight, and some people want to hang out with their friends. Players are able to influence or be influenced by other players’ behavior. If you don’t have a goal in mind, which puts your mind in the wrong place, then you don’t know what to focus on, and you allow others to dictate your actions. This is the part that bothers me the most, in life and in basketball, and is what happened today. I allowed some completely made-up hang-up, one that only existed in my mind, to affect my focus, which in turn affected what I did or did not do on the court and cede control of the game to my opponent. That is not who I want to be. I want to be the person dictating my actions, having a plan, and knowing what I want – not the person limiting myself. There are already plenty of others trying to limit you, so why do it to yourself? Time to drop the hang-ups.

Blowing Whistles

I wrote the following (redacted) letter a couple of weeks ago after seeing something happen to my coworker. In the beginning, I was specific with my complaints and signed the letter with my own name. Later, I chose to anonymize the letter in order to protect certain people on the team (recall that I am a lowly associate who should not be embarrassing people higher up than me). In the end, after discussing the issue with those people higher up than me and out of respect for them, I elected not to send the letter. For the version below, I chose to sign it with my own name after all. It would seem that sometimes, things aren’t that black or white…

April 16, 2015

Dear Mr. Regional Head of IT,

I am a contingent employee currently working on one of the IT teams here in the Hong Kong office. I am writing to ask for your help.

This evening as I was preparing to close up shop, I received a phone call from one of the newer members of our team. When I heard him on the phone, I immediately knew that something was wrong. Normally a cheerful guy, his voice was now quiet and shaking. I asked him what was wrong, and he asked me to join him on the 41st floor (even though he was actually on the 42nd; it was obvious he was shaken up).

When I went up and met him in the lobby, his lower jaw was shaking and his eyes were watery. He explained to me that he had been interacting with the impacted user and then another user stepped in. When he mentioned the name of this second user, I immediately knew what had happened.

I first encountered this user last year, also when I was relatively new. The thing I remember most from the encounter is that she threatened me with the loss of my job. Afterwards, when I told my teammates what had happened, they nodded with affirmation after I revealed the user’s name. It would seem that this user was already known for being difficult as well as verbally abusive.

At the X’mas Luncheon last year, I remember you saying that all employees, whether full time or contingent, deserve to be treated professionally, and that if we ever had any problems we could come to you for help. I hope I didn’t take you too literally, because I am asking for your help now. I have no problem with and am understanding of one-time, irregular outbursts from users who can be under a lot of stress, but this woman has shown a consistent pattern of berating and verbally abusing IT staff, and it has to stop.

When I told my colleagues that I planned to write you, they pleaded with me not to. They even said that I could lose my job for breaching protocol. And actually, if I had not remembered what you said in your speech, I probably would not be writing you now. But as a man of my word, I believe you to be the same. I believe that even if you don’t handle this matter personally, if you make the request, something effective will be done. Nobody should have to go through at work what my teammate went through tonight or what I went through 7 months ago.

Because I am acting of my own accord, and due to the sensitive nature of this issue, I have not named names and have written you anonymously. Nevertheless, it would not be difficult to identify who I am and I am prepared to accept any and all consequences of writing you this letter. I have already informed my managers and they are aware of what’s happened, so all you have to do is make the call. Thank you very much for your valuable time.

Best regards,
Jonathan Young