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!

Two Dollars

I woke up feeling depressed on Monday, one of those days when I have zero motivation to do anything, when I futilely click around the same websites over and over, looking for something new to show up. There’s a feeling of fatigue, sadness, and frustration all rolled into one, and the word “depression” describes it exactly. To try and get out of my rut, I forced myself to get out of the house with a single goal in mind: to replenish my supply of Old Town White Milk Tea.

I was in a daze the whole time walking to BART, to riding it, to walking to Chinatown. On the train I allowed myself to space out, staring into any direction without a person in it. At times, I’d read a few lines on my phone. But the feeling never subsided. I felt self-conscious. I felt ashamed to be seen, afraid to be judged, worried that people might somehow know my current emotional state. I was still able to put up my front, standing up straight and walking like I was sure of myself. When I read the e-book on my phone, the words clicked even if the feeling remained unchanged. It’s a strange experience, like I’m outside of my body, which continues to do what it normally does even though I’m tearing up inside. Sometimes, I make eye contact with people and wonder whether the bad vibe can be seen emanating from the top of my head like a smoky black cloud. I do get an occasional smile so perhaps I’ve gotten good at keeping up my appearance.

My goal complete, I go to my neighborhood McDonald’s to get lunch. I have to say, McDonald’s is a comforting place to me. It’s a place where anyone can go, where people will leave you alone. You don’t have to dress a certain way. You don’t have to have a lot of money. This is true in San Francisco, and it is true in Hong Kong. It is truly a people’s place. It’s the perfect place for someone like me on this day, a place where I can go to blend in.

I’m sitting at one of the high tables with bar stools near the entrance. I watch people come in and out. Halfway through my fries, I notice a scruffy, skinny, street man come in. He’s probably homeless; there’s no way to know, but I’m willing to bet he spends a lot of time on the street. His clothes are dirty, his face is dirty, and he looks run down.

He first approaches two women sitting near the front registers. One of the women is on her cellphone. He sits down across and says something to them. The woman not on the phone looks scared, while the woman on the phone shakes her head. He lingers for a few moments before making his way to the next table, this time a tattooed man with long hair with his headphones on. The man removes his headphones. He shakes his head and mouths something which I can’t make out. The street man tries again and the tattooed man repeats his previous action. The street man turns away and continues to the other tables.

Earlier, when I exited the Embarcadero BART station on my way to Chinatown, a self-proclaimed veteran sitting in a wheelchair next to the top of the escalator asked me if I could spare any change. We made eye contact and I pursed my lips, throwing up my hands to indicate that I had none. I didn’t think much of it as I continued on. On my way back, however, I saw that the man was still there. Because I was walking towards him this time, I could see the tattoos on his left leg, suggesting that he might really be a veteran. I could also see person after person walk by him without even the slightest acknowledgement, as if he wasn’t even there. When I tried to make eye contact with him again, he just kept his gaze downwards. It must be exhausting to be rejected and ignored so consistently.

I actually had two quarters on me this time, the change from getting the milk tea. I reached into my pocket to get them, but then I hesitated. I was expecting him to ask for change again, and when he didn’t I froze and continued walking down the stairs like everybody else. I didn’t want to be caught out, to be the only person who deviated. As I entered the BART station, it bothered me that I didn’t just do it.

Seeing the street man in McDonald’s getting rejected over and over, I was reminded of the veteran and tried to put myself in their places. I thought about the idea of rejection, of being ignored. It reminded me of trying to find a job, except with a job it doesn’t happen every ten seconds and it’s not right in your face. Would I be able to do what they do? On this day I couldn’t even walk around without fear of being judged or doing what I really wanted to do.

Now, it was finally my turn. The street man came up to my table and asked if I had any change. I didn’t hesitate this time and gave him the fifty cents. He then turned to the kids sitting next to me and asked if they could help so he could get a burger or something. When I heard him say he wanted to get a burger, it occurred to me that fifty cents wouldn’t be enough. I asked him, “oh, you want to get a burger?” and he eagerly replied in the affirmative. I reached for my wallet and pulled out two dollars. The street man’s face lit up and he seemed to be in disbelief, letting out a chuckle and exclaiming, “two dollars!”. I was a little bit startled myself seeing his reaction to receiving two dollars. He seemed excited and hurriedly left the McDonald’s.

At that moment, I realized that I may have been had. The way to a burger was inside the McDonald’s, not outside. Maybe his face lit up because he couldn’t believe that for once someone was naive enough to believe that he was actually going to get a burger. I realize that I may have acted as an accessory to drug or alcohol addiction, but it doesn’t matter. The look on his face when he received the two dollars was like the boy who received a Nintendo 64 for Christmas, and him leaving hurriedly was like he couldn’t wait to hook it up to the TV. It was real.

In the past, my policy was to never give handouts to panhandlers because I felt it would further encourage begging and not really solve the underlying problem. But now, my mindset is different. If anything, I was probably naive before to think that societal problems like poverty and homelessness could ever be solved in my lifetime. Do you really think that by withholding fifty cents, you’re going to make this guy turn his life around? Yes, it’s true that able-bodied people should try to find jobs and work hard to pull themselves back up and that my giving them money might encourage them to not do that. But in order for that to work, jobs need to be available. Hard work needs to pay off. Increasingly in society, we find that these two things no longer apply. People can toil for 16 hours a day and still remain stuck in their socioeconomic echelon.

I recently re-watched the war movie Saving Private Ryan. In the movie, medics would give dying soldiers morphine to ease their pain. There was no way to save them, yet the medics expended resources on them. Why?

We are all real people with real feelings. Can you imagine how you would feel if you worked 16 hours a day with no end in sight? Can you imagine living in a cage home in Hong Kong during summer with no air conditioning, again with no end in sight? Knowing you were stuck in this situation, would you still want help, knowing it was only temporary relief? People are not just statistics, and poverty is not just some arbitrary number. There is real suffering going on, and if I am to withhold aid that alleviates that suffering even for just a moment, claiming that my aid would prevent someone from helping themselves, then there actually needs to be a way for that person to do it. Otherwise I’m just making excuses when people continue to suffer indefinitely, and I am just trying to make myself feel better for being a hypocrite.

With society facing issues like overpopulation, limitless greed, rising inequality, and political corruption, creating euphemisms like “the working poor” and “extreme poverty” (as opposed to regular poverty, right?), it’s pretty amazing that two measly little dollars could light up someone’s face like that. These are large, complex problems with no solution in sight, and yet all it took was two dollars to grant a momentary easing of pain. Will two bucks pave the way to utopia? Probably not, but now that I’m more experienced in life, I realize that there are no absolutes when it comes to resolving society’s problems. The best you can do is to try and make people in hopeless situations as comfortable as possible, like in Saving Private Ryan.

As a society, we are supposed to take care of one another. It’s why humans first banded together in the first place. And yet, we seem to have forgotten this. It seems like it’s every man for himself now. I recently tweeted about watching an intersection to see why the housing market in SF is fucked up. To expound on this, what I meant is that people can be so selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. Drivers accelerate at yellow or red lights because they are in a hurry. Pedestrians start crossing when the signal starts counting down because they have the right of way. People think only of themselves, and not the people around them. And that includes landlords.

As an alternative, how about try stopping at a red or yellow light so you don’t endanger anyone? How about waiting for the next “walk” signal so that drivers can make their turns? How about charging a rent that’s good enough instead of trying to squeeze out every last penny just because the next landlord is doing it? Again, it’s real people with real feelings. Remembering that society is made up of individuals, if all the individuals are only capable of thinking for themselves, then sooner or later society will break down. We are already seeing signs of this. Why not try remembering that we are part of a community and try to help out your fellow man?

That night, I went to Monday night basketball at Dolores Park. It’s been going on for a few years now, just a bunch of guys from around the neighborhood getting together to exercise and unwind. I ended up on a team with a bunch of selfish players who never passed the ball. We ended up losing badly. I didn’t think it at the time, but as I write this now I realize it was yet another reflection of what’s going on in society now. Told you that basketball is a reflection of life.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up and the depression was gone. It’s happened enough times now for me to expect it. I remembered the look on street man’s face when I gave him the two dollars, and I wanted to write it down so I won’t forget. So now, a few days later, I present to you this blog post. Happy Friday, and happy holidays!

I Declined a Job Offer

I’ve been keeping myself awake at night these past few days thinking about a job offer that I declined earlier in the week. After not working for almost two years (and not interviewing in nine), I got my first offer here in Hong Kong and I declined it. I’ve had some feelings of guilt and remorse, but ultimately I know it’s the right decision, so I’m writing this down as a reminder to myself that I did the right thing (because I’m so prone to forgetting and then getting depressed again).

As I said in the one year update, I’m not going to game the system, i.e. I’m not going to say the right or politically-correct things nor am I going to send out five million resumes just so I can get a job. I’m going to be myself (as much as possible, because I admit I sometimes still fall into the “say the right thing” trap), and I’m going to only apply for jobs where I mostly meet the requirements and where I think I’ll fit in. This one was an IT support job at a primary school. I’ve always been fond of the school environment (sometimes I feel like I’m still a kid; JC would probably say that I am still a kid), I’ve enjoyed working around kids, and it would be a nice change of pace from my last job, so I went for it.

This was one of those applications where you fill out a form instead of sending in your resume. So, you have to re-type information that’s already on your resume into a web form. I spent a weekend doing that, pouring out my life story and explaining how I’ve spent the last two years going on Adventure 2012 and moving to Hong Kong. I realize that because I haven’t worked in almost two years, I have to try extra hard to convince an employer that I won’t be a risky hire.

A few days later I receive a call from the HR manager asking to set up an interview. Awesome. He says that the compensation would be relatively low (75% less than my previous job, 50% less than my market value). I’ve already said that money isn’t super important to me, plus I always knew that in absolute terms I would never make as much in Hong Kong, so I told him I was fine with it (I really was fine with it).

The next day I decide to actually go to the school and check it out (it’s usually a good idea to scope out the location of your interview so that at least one thing feels familiar on the day of). From where I live, it’s a single-transfer trip on public transportation and takes an hour without traffic. Ouch. Still, I thought it didn’t seem so bad because on the second leg I’d always get a seat and it’d be a single-seater so I could use my laptop or tablet during the commute (or that’s what I thought). Was I rationalizing already?

On Monday morning I take the same route to the school. It was a pretty bumpy ride (forget about using a laptop), and I felt relieved once I got off. I was glad that I had already done the commute once so I didn’t have another thing to worry about. Good thing too because it was a 3-on-1 interview! One little chair right in the middle with my name on it, and three interviewers getting ready to grill me.

It actually wasn’t bad because they were some pretty cool guys that I could see myself working with. We talked about teamwork, a difficult task that I have faced at work, prioritizing service requests, and even Star Trek (because Captain Picard runs a tight ship and everybody is happy to work under him). The only obvious blunder I remember is asking about holidays for my first question. I was only curious because it was a school (you know, with summer vacation and all), but it could have come off as I hadn’t even gotten the job yet and I was already concerned about holidays. It was a relatively short interview; I got the feeling that I was asking too many questions at the end, so I finished up quickly. When I walked back outside, it had only been 45 minutes. All the thinking about it over the weekend, the preparation, the commute, and just like that it was over. I was expecting more and wasn’t sure what to do. When I realized there was nothing left to do but to go home, I crossed the street to the mini-bus stop.

On the trip back a smelly lady got on and sat behind me. Actually, I don’t know if she was smelly or if her breath was smelly. Either way, I was the subject of an offensive-smell bombardment for 45 minutes, and I couldn’t open the window (sealed for the A/C). I was tired from the interview and had barely eaten anything for breakfast (my fault, of course). I was crashing from the caffeine I had earlier. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, and I had to wonder, would it be better or worse after a long day of work?

When I got back to the transfer point, I took the bus instead of the tram so I could get home faster. On the bus, one of the interviewers called me with some follow-up questions. He asked me the dreaded “where do you see yourself in 3 years?” question. I said that I wanted to live a happy and stable life. I also got into how I hadn’t worked in two years and that I’d be grateful to whoever hired me and wouldn’t jump ship, because he mentioned that one of their concerns was long-term retention. I think at that point I did say some things that I thought he wanted to hear. It was definitely different from when I was alert and ready during the interview.

Once I finally got home, I was glad to put on my normal clothes and re-energize with a nice lunch.

A couple of hours later, I received a call from the same interviewer. I got the job! Wow, that was quick. They wanted me to start in a week, and come in for a short orientation a couple of days before that. Damn. At that moment, I wanted to say yes, but I knew that it was a good idea to see the offer in writing first, so I asked for it to be emailed to me. I got the email a short while after.

Strangely, the only detail the email had in it was the monthly salary. No contract, no agreement, no work hours, no attachment. They wanted me to reply by 1600 hours the next day, less than 24 hours later. The lack of a detailed offer combined with the rush got my alarm bells going. I mean, I understood that someone had resigned and they needed someone, but at the same time the interview had been pretty quick. I had neglected to ask some important questions, such as what my specific work hours would be, who my direct supervisor would be, and whether I could look around the campus. I didn’t have enough information to make a decision, and I wondered how they could expect me to make one.

I thought about emailing them and asking them those questions, and asking for a tour of the school prior to my final decision, but it was already the end of the work day. I would have to write the email quickly. I kept composing, deleting, and composing a draft email trying to squeeze it in, but it just didn’t come out right. Being the end of the day, even if they had received my email, they probably wouldn’t respond immediately, so I decided to sleep on it.

That night, I tried to tell myself that no job is perfect and that this was a great opportunity. I could be working in a week’s time, not worrying about having to eat away at my savings anymore, not be in a single-income family anymore. That part of it was definitely appealing. But that could be said of any job. I tried to tell myself that this was a school job, that it would be less stressful and less political. But would that really be the case? From what I’ve seen of school jobs, they can be just as stressful and political as jobs in non-educational sectors. By themselves, the commute and the pay were fine. You have good commute days and bad commute days, and even on that salary we would still be earning more than what we’d spend. Together, though, the commute and the pay became a negative. I’ve talked a lot here about how time is my most important asset. Even under ideal conditions, I’d be going through two hours of travel time each day. If the pay was higher, it would have made the commute easier to swallow. If there were other parts of the job that were really appealing, it would have made the commute and the pay easier to swallow. But I didn’t have all the information, and I had to respond, fast. The question was whether I thought there was any hope of me taking that job, based on what I had seen in the interview, the commute, and the pay. If there was, then I could ask the questions and do the tour, and then decide. If there was nothing that could overcome those factors, however, then it would be best to save everyone’s time and decline.

For me the experience was like seeing a car on a website, really liking it, then going to the dealership to find out that it has an old-man style foot-activated parking brake (vs. a handbrake). You want to justify taking the car, but every time you set the parking brake, you’d be reminded that you’re driving an old-man car. You keep clicking and clicking around the website, hoping that somehow the foot-brake will magically disappear, but it doesn’t. In your heart, you know you can’t do it. It sounds kind of silly, but we all have our baselines, of what we can and cannot tolerate. You have to know what these are and be honest to yourself, and then do what you have to do.

I did what I had to do and declined the offer, thanking them for the opportunity and the learning experience.

Looking for a job can be tiring and stressful. This week I’ve been talking to my recruiter (the one I stood up back in September), and she’s been sending me job descriptions from various financial firms, and I’ve been wondering whether I did the right thing. I could have had a job in a school, helping kids, being next to kids. They really do say the funniest things and it’d probably be a blast working with them. Instead, I might be going back down the path I was on before, doing a job in a company that helps rich people get richer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but obviously it’s not the same as working in a school. Not so obviously, is that really me and what I want to do? I wonder if I’m being overly idealistic and naive, again. This past year I’ve peeled off so many layers of my old self, getting closer to what I think is the real me. Would I be taking a step back? Is it really possible to do what you want to do in life? Or are we all doomed to a life of wage-slavery? The answer is somewhere in between, or completely outside. I’m going to keep looking for it while I do my own thing. Thank you for reading.

Random Sunday Thoughts

I’ve pictured it in my mind countless times. JC and I in our cozy little flat, in our little tiny living room, sitting together and watching TV after dinner. It is summer time and the weather is hot, humid, and miserable, but inside my Hong Kong home I have air conditioning. The next morning we’ll go to work and look forward to doing it all over again.

I posted the above back in September. Before that, the text had been in my notebook for months, something that I had thought about for a long time. When I used to be unhappy at work, I’d daydream about it.

In daydreaming about the watching TV part, it seems that I forgot to daydream about the going to work part. Yes, I knew (and know) that I’d have to find a job, but I never thought about what I would do.

So, what would I want to do? I want to read books, play video games, and drink Scotch. Know anyone who’s hiring for that role? Taking a look back at my history, I find that career has never been a high priority for me. I never planned a career path. Before my previous job, I didn’t work for three years. And now, it has almost been a year since I’ve been away from work. In total, since graduating from college, I have spent 5 out of 13 years not working.

My view of work now is that it is a necessary evil in order to survive in society. You give something to society, and you get something back, as it should be. The problem is when work consumes your life, as it does for many people. We already spend the majority of our waking hours at work; to make work an even bigger part of your life such that it consumes the majority of your thoughts, that’s too much. No, I don’t want to be like that. I have seen people spend countless hours at work and minimal time with their spouse, only for their spouse to contract a terminal disease and die. I have seen people give countless hours during the best years of their lives to work, only to come out with no family at the end. Now that I’m in Hong Kong, I see parents letting their domestic helper raise their child. Fuck that, man. That is not going to be me.

And so, therein lies the problem. It seems like every employer wants the perfect employee, one who is “passionate” and “enthusiastic” about work. Use whatever other buzzwords you see in job ads. What if that’s not me? I’m reasonably intelligent and I can and will do a good job, but I don’t want to make you my number one priority. Do you think I’d get hired if I flat out told someone that during an interview? In the job search space, I see a lot of people seeking and posing as perfection. Ask anyone who has any work experience at all and they’d tell you that there’s no such thing. So why is perfection expected during the job search?

In society, a lot of people are defined by their work. A lot of times, when people first meet, one of the first questions asked is “what do you do?” How do you answer this question? If I work at McDonald’s, do I say “I’m a food preparer at McDonald’s?” Or, how about dropping an ultra-elaborate job title without really explaining what it is that I do, like some posers do? I don’t see myself doing either of those. Actually, at my previous job, I always had a hard time answering that question.

Unlike my esteemed former colleagues, my work did not focus on one thing like financial planning or investment management. I had a title, but I would always be embarrassed to tell it to people. In my heart, I knew that I basically did a little bit of everything, and that I was an expert in none of those things. A jack of all trades, master of none. I would look at my colleagues with envy, because they were the true professionals, really good at what they do. They had an identity. I didn’t, and still don’t. I don’t know how I’m going to get a job like this.

I want to confess that it has been over a week since I’ve done anything related to finding a job. I just don’t know what I want to do (other than reading, playing games, and drinking Scotch), and so I’m not motivated to start. I know how to say the right things and what employers are looking for, and I know that if I played the game right I’d land a job quickly, but as I said those would not be my true feelings. I am growing pretty tired of saying the right things and telling people what they want to hear. I just want to be myself for a change.

I continue to struggle between being who I am and being a socially accepted person. Take this blog, for example. I’ve limited myself to posting mostly positive things, trying to come off as someone who has nothing bad to say about anything, when nothing could be further from the truth. I have opinions on many things, but because I don’t want to be labelled a “hater”, I mostly keep my thoughts to myself and those closest to me. Recently, in another post, I said that I had written something “whiny” and didn’t want to post it. I worry that I have or will become a caricature of myself, a person who is so polite and PC that he ends up being and saying nothing, having no substance.

Just the other day, I started ranting about people who smoke, and then stopped short of what I really wanted to say because I was afraid of what the consequences might be. It just seems like no one should truly speak their mind these days lest they be labelled a bigot, a racist, a sexist, a foot-in-mouth-ist, or whatever other -ist is en vogue at the moment. Well, with this post comes (hopefully) a new chapter for me and this website. As you’ve seen, I’ve been quite candid with my thoughts, and they’re not just the positive or popular ones. I’m going to be braver and try to say the things I truly feel, regardless of how they might be taken. I want to see the value in me, not what I think people want out of me.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things, he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels

When all is said and done, I want to be able to say that I did it my way.

Right Now

I’m in bed early tonight after walking up and down the stairs and doing push ups the past couple of days. My legs are tired and sore, along with my triceps and pecs. From my vantage point, I can see many floors in the building across the street at the same time. Four floors in a row have their TV in the same place in the living room. Two are watching the same channel. I’ve got my tablet on the left and my Lagavulin on the right. I take a bite and savor it, tasting the burnt grass and peat smoke. Someone slams the door outside and I remember that the water supply to our toilet has been shut off. Maybe they’re doing construction or something. In the distance, the sound of a jack hammer striking the pavement can be heard. It’s 9:07 PM.


It’s now 9:36 PM. I just got off the phone with my mother. Like any other parent, she is concerned with the well-being of her children, myself included. For the first time in 20 years, we are separated by thousands of miles on a permanent basis. Though she visits Hong Kong regularly, it is not the same as living 30 minutes away. And, when she does visit, my sister will be home alone back in the Bay Area.


On the tablet are several PDFs: my resume, a couple of job descriptions, and the mission statement of a firm that might be interested in me. A few days ago I said I would talk about work in a future post. So, this is it. Here goes.

I’ve been reluctant to put myself out there. I’m anxious. I know I’ll have to put on a suit and talk to people, and I’m afraid of getting embarrassed and turning red. It seems like everyone else is so mature and professional and serious while I still act like a kid and mess around and take things too lightly. Everyone else is perfect and can do no wrong while I’m the complete opposite. They all have so many LinkedIn connections while I only have a few.

The water is so cold. I can exercise tomorrow. I don’t want to shower afterwards. I’m not really a good swimmer. I swam yesterday. There are too many people in the pool. I have an irregular stroke that will make me look stupid.

These are some of the thoughts that I’ve been having. They’re not unlike the thoughts I might have before jumping into a swimming pool. I already said last time that taking that leap into the water would bring nothing but good results, but I guess I must not have internalized that lesson yet.

Just like shooting a basketball, if I just do it without thinking about it, the chance of success is high. Just as I’ve gotten pretty good at shooting, I’ve also gotten pretty good at being a professional. I know that no matter where I go I have skills and experience that will enable me to do a good job. And yet, I’m still so anxious about putting myself out there. I know that no matter how much I practice, I will always be anxious around people. I can only hope to minimize my anxiety. Perhaps my anxiety level is high right now because I have been away from the workplace for almost a year. I’m rusty.

When I don’t play basketball for a long time and I start again, I always get anxious before a game. Once the game starts, I get overly excited and I end up playing not as well as I’d like to. Afterwards, I replay what happened in my head and think that if I had just stayed calm, I might have played the way I want to play. I have to remind myself to prevent this from happening when I’m interviewing for a job. Stay positive and avoid generalizations and assumptions. Be more assertive. Remember that it is an interview going both ways, that you’re evaluating them as well. Think win-win.


Now, it is 11:32 AM. I’ve had a night to mull over whether I want to put myself out there and post this entry, and I think I will. The point of this website is reinforcing things that I learn, whether those things be about computers, or about myself. And, if I can help others who might be in the same situation, why not? Sometimes you just need to know that you’re not alone. Things aren’t as bad as you might imagine them to be.

What You Should Be Doing, Part 2

Resuming from last night, I had been saying that I felt like a loser for living at home and not having a job, and that if I stopped to think for a second I’d realize that I have no reason to feel this way at all. So, let’s stop to think for a second…

I believe that people are mostly responsible for the situations or predicaments that they find themselves in. I take pride in being able to take complete responsibility for the things that I do, regardless of whether the outcome is positive or negative. Thus, I am responsible for my current situation. I made the choices that put me here in the first place. This is what I wanted.

***

A little more than a year ago, I was working a well-paying job with a lofty title. It was a good job at a good company, but I had been there for almost 7 years and some aspects of the job were starting to wear on me. Remember what I said about following the “should” path. I had thought that I would be at this job for the next 30 years, if not my entire working life. Maybe I was naive, I don’t know. In the end, I just couldn’t handle it and submitted my resignation in November.

Despite submitting my resignation in November, I stayed on until May to ensure a successful transition for the company. During that period of time, I thought about all the things I could be doing in the near and distant future. I could finally read all the books I had bought hoping to learn new subjects. I could finally play all those PS3 and PS2 games that I had bought on sale. I could move to Hong Kong like I had always imagined. JC and I even bought a bottle of Lagavulin, pledging not to open it until we were settled into our new place over there.

Finally, in May I was free. We moved out of our apartment and back into my family’s home (in other words, my mother’s house). We gave away many of our belongings and shoehorned the rest into our rooms (JC has a room at her family’s home as well). A short while later, we were in Hong Kong.

After spending three weeks in Hong Kong and loving every minute of it, we decided that yes, we were making it official. We will move there at the end of August. The rest of the summer would be used to prepare for this life-changing event.

Then, a couple of life-changing events happened within weeks of each other. The health of JC’s family dog, Brutus Maximus, abruptly took a turn for the worse and we had to put him down. I saw my cousin for the first time since learning that he had stage-4 cancer. I saw him again a few weeks later, this time in worse condition than the previous. It was understood that we were seeing each other for the last time, since we would be flying soon. I’ll never forget seeing him walk into the elevator and the doors closing after we said goodbye…

All of these things happening reminded me of how short and fragile life really is. To be honest, I was traumatized. I wanted to take advantage of life and to not squander it. What if I died tomorrow? I would not be able to do the things I’ve wanted to do. At the time, I had an opportunity to do those things, to visit Tokyo and have JC show me around, to go to the British Museum in London, to visit a distillery in Scotland. We had some money saved up that we were going to use as our safety net in Hong Kong. We had time. Why not do a once-in-a-lifetime thing and see the world?

***

Now, three months later, I am back in my room inside my mother’s house. I have eaten ramen in Tokyo, I have seen the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, I have sampled whisky at the Glenfiddich Distillery, and more. I am here because I made the choice to be here. It’s not like I’m bumming around with no direction in life and living at home. No, I have another opportunity now like I did back in August. I can do all the things I still want to do, like read my books and play my video games. I can spend quality, valuable time with my family. I have no time limit, no need to rush. Why not take advantage of it?

I feel better after reminding myself of why I’m here in the first place. It is true, I have been conditioned to follow a script and to automatically assume that only losers live at home in their 30s. If I don’t think, then the script takes over. But, remembering this and actually stopping to think, I find that living at home does not automatically make one a loser. Life isn’t always about doing what someone or some tradition tells you you should do. Living in the present is important as well. Being able to adapt, to stick and move. Life is so fragile. At any moment, it could end. Knowing this, I think doing what I want to do is better than doing what I should do.

What You Should Be Doing, Part 1

I often think of things to write when I’m showering or when I’m brushing my teeth. They’re good thoughts, but most of the time after I’m done I forget what it was I wanted to write about because my first focus after either of those tasks is reaching for the towel. I think I can remember what I was thinking about just now when I was brushing my teeth, so I’ll try to post it all here.

It’s late night (or early morning), almost 4 AM. I love staying up late (I’ve posted about it before). Tonight I did try to go to sleep before 2, but I couldn’t. Unlike the recent past, it wasn’t because of too much coffee or sleeping in really late the day before. Maybe I was hungry, or maybe I’ve had a lot on my mind. I wasn’t consciously thinking about anything, though. I played with my new Nexus tablet. I ate. Then, I went to brush my teeth. As I scrubbed, in my mind I wrote this blog post in a cohesive manner from beginning to end, with each paragraph stemming logically from the one before it. As you can see, it’s not happening now.

So, I suppose I’ll get to the point. What you should be doing. Or rather, what I should be doing.

Throughout my life I have been told implicitly and explicitly what I should be doing. On a micro scale, when I was a child, I was told that I should be polite to my elders, that I should address them when I meet with them, that I should be a good boy. On a macro scale, I followed the path of going to school, working hard, getting good grades, and moving up the ranks from 1st grade, 2nd grade, middle school, high school, college/university, all the way to my first job and subsequent career. Later on, I created my own “should be doings,” such as saving money, working hard (again?), and basically just being a stand-up guy.

I will say (again) that I haven’t been too happy since returning home from our trip. It’s not like I’m miserable either, but I know that I’m not as happy as I could be. And why is that? I think that’s what I figured out when I was brushing my teeth.

Much of my life has been one big “what should I be doing?” That question is constantly on my mind. The things that I think I should be doing now include deciding whether to move to Hong Kong, taking care of my finances after such a long and expensive trip, getting a part-time job, preparing an inventory of what I’m going to bring if I move. Or, at an even more basic level, I should be going to sleep and waking up at designated hours, I should be eating my fruits and vegetables, I should be exercising, I should be eating three square meals a day. Should should should. That’s my problem, too many shoulds.

The reality is, right now I don’t want to do a lot of those things that I think I should be doing. The light bulb “ding” moment while I was brushing was when I realized that this is the reason I’ve been down (again, I don’t want to say I’ve been miserable). When I play Gran Turismo 5 for an extended period, I feel guilty afterwards. When I play Catherine and further push out posting recaps of our trip on this site, I feel guilty afterwards. When I think that I don’t have a job and that I’m living with my mother, I feel like a loser afterwards.

Could it be that “should” has been hammered into my head for so long that my default response is to feel miserable when I go in a different direction? Is it like surgeons or military personnel “falling back on their training” during a time of crisis, to just do without thinking? If I slow down and actually think about it, then the answer is yes.

My eyes are closing… more tomorrow.

Back to Basics

I’ll admit it – I’ve been kind of depressed ever since coming back home and ending our two-and-a-half month long trip. We’ve been back nearly a week, and most of that time has been spent sitting in front of my computer doing nothing, clicking on the same bookmarks every few minutes to see if anything has updated. No inspiration to update this site despite the massive amounts of raw materials (pictures, videos, scans) I amassed during the trip. Brought me back to certain days at work, when I used to hit a wall and just not do anything and feel like a loser, and then further not do anything because I felt like a loser. What a vicious circle.

If I had to pinpoint what causes me to become like this, I would venture to guess that it’s the amount of things I feel I have to get done: settle and reconcile my finances, unpack, clean my room, update this blog, plan for our next move, sort my photos, etc. With so many things requiring my attention, I find myself paralyzed instead. I want to do everything at once, and I have no patience. I’m pulled in every single direction, 360 degrees. That has to be it, because that’s how it used to be at work.

Sega Saturn Controller
Sega Saturn USB Controller, great for emulation or PS3 use.
Glenlivet and Chocolate
Glenlivet and chocolate, a delicious combination.

Tonight, I decided to allow myself to do something, to do one thing. I poured myself a dram of the Glenlivet, plugged in my Sega Saturn controller, fired up the Kega Fusion emulator, and resumed playing Wonder Boy III: the Dragon’s Trap (I told you, I love Sega, always have, always will). Playing this game, watching the Lion-Man sprite move across the screen, listening to the 8-bit sounds, I was inspired to write this post. Thoughts came to me from every single direction, from wanting to explain the progression of why I wanted to play this game in the first place to where it had taken me. So, let us start backwards, to the last time I played this game…

It was in our little studio apartment at 34th and Broadway in Manhattan that we had found through Airbnb (if you know what to expect, it can be a great way to find cheap accommodations). Sandy was not yet here, but she was near and New York City was preparing for her arrival. The skies were gray and ominous, and there was a wind that seemed like it never stopped blowing. Walking around the Herald Square area, one could feel the tension in the air as the streets got emptier and the lines at Duane Reade got longer. After I had procured a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and the last Stella Artois six-pack, I hurried back into the safety of the apartment.

With nothing left to do but wait, I decided to finally play this 23-year old game. I’ve played it on and off over the years, but I hadn’t really touched any emulators for a long time because I had convinced myself that they weren’t authentic. I still have my Sega Master System, but hooking it up to a modern day flat panel is a pain, and the results aren’t quite flattering. We finally threw out our 23-year old Sharp Linytron TV earlier this summer (besides, I was in NYC). So no, if I wanted to reminisce, it would have to be with the emulator. (I just checked, I actually don’t have the original cartridge, oops.)

***

About 2 weeks earlier, we were in London eating breakfast just outside Euston Station. I had just eaten something called a pasty for the first time. We went inside the station to use the facilities and, while I was waiting for JC at WHSmith, a magazine caught my eye. retro GAMER. On the cover were names that were very familiar to me, having grown up with and played video games in the 90s: Pilotwings, Psygnosis, Final Fantasy, Konix Multisystem, Shigeru Miyamoto, and of course Wonder Boy III. I thumbed through, gushing with nostalgia and excitement. I had to get this magazine. But, JC and I had already pledged to only purchase things that we actually needed, because we were traveling around the world and didn’t need the extra baggage, and we were trying to stretch our budget. I consulted with her when she came out, and she told me to decide myself. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t get it, so I did.

Euston Station, Pasty Stand
Euston Station, Pasty Stand.
WHSmith retro GAMER
£4.99 won’t break the bank (I hope).

British gaming and PC magazines have always appealed to me. The first one I ever bought was actually in the 90s: a CVG that I chanced upon at Barnes and Noble in Oakland (back then we hardly ever went to Oakland). Their covers are rather attractive, with glossy paper and pages that are physically larger than American gaming mags. Costco even sells them from time to time. With WHSmith stores everywhere in London, it was only a matter of time before I succumbed and bought a magazine after seeing it for the third time (this happened with Android magazine, finally had to buy it at the Heathrow WHSmith).

CVG circa May 1993
CVG circa May 1993. Still have it after all these years.
Mag vs. Mag
A British mag vs. an American mag. Notice the size difference.
Android magazine
Finally bought it after seeing it for the Nth time.

Back on topic, though, it was the feature in retro GAMER that inspired me to play Wonder Boy III again. Once I actually sat down and forced myself to load up the ROM and play the game for at least 10 minutes, it didn’t matter that it was running on an emulator. I was back in the 90s. I was back in middle school. I still remember reading the manual for this game and noticing something quirky: HU-MAN was running around the town, but HU-MAN could not be used during the game. It was a special password that was in the manual that allowed you to use HU-MAN and receive all the perks associated with that password. Ah, childhood.

Tonight, once I actually sat down and forced myself to load up the ROM and play the game for at least 10 minutes, the memories started surfacing and I thought of all these things that I wanted to post here. I don’t know if I’ll revert back to my paralyzed state tomorrow, but tonight I am able to focus and pull my mind away from the endless loop of bookmark-clicking because I wanted to continue a 23-year old game I started playing in New York City after having seen a feature on that game in a magazine I saw at a bookstore inside a train station in London.

Back to basics. Doing something I love, and have loved. Finishing something I started. Focusing on one thing at a time. Perhaps that is what will get me back on track. Good night, Wonder Boy. Good night, Monster Land.

Hello

It’s been awhile since I’ve kept track of my days and written down my thoughts and feelings. Perhaps that is why I have been feeling pessimistically about life. After not writing myself in such a long time, it feels a little strange, like trying to write a letter to someone that you have lost touch with. I feel a little hesitant about revealing my thoughts.

Lately I have been feeling unhealthy. I am still in my early thirties, but it won’t be long until I’m in my mid thirties. When I was in my 20s, I looked down upon some of the thirty-something guys that I played basketball with. They looked pudgy and loose, and I often commented that I would not be like them when I was their age. Well, here I am, and I have become like them. Whether it is being busy with work and not finding time to exercise, or being stressed at work and de-stressing in unhealthy ways, I have allowed myself to become what I did not want to become. At dinner time, I eat until I am full, and then I continue to eat, deriving some sort of pseudo-pleasure from it. I guess what I’m trying to do here is to write about it so that I will remember how bad it feels when I overeat, and when I look in the mirror.

Tomorrow, there will be a company lunch to bid goodbye to a colleague. I will try not to overindulge. Good night.