Been a while since we’ve had a slideshow post so here’s one of a sunset from the evening of October 20, 2006. In the near distance you can see the city of Albany and Golden Gate Fields. Further out and across the bay I believe the actual Golden Gate Bridge is on the left, followed by Sausalito, Tiburon, and the rest of the North Bay. Angel Island is there as well but I can’t quite make it out.
Besides late night, dusk is my other favorite part of the day. There’s a point when I’m looking at a sunset where time seems to stop and I lose myself in the moment. A few minutes later, I snap out of the trance and the night begins, bringing with it its own set of bustling activities.
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 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!
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.
The tenth day of our cross-country road trip saw us depart Rock Springs, Wyoming and deviate southward. We still had 4 days until the rental car was due, and heading straight west would have taken us home before that time. We’ve always enjoyed Southern California, so a plan was made to go there by way of Las Vegas. But first, we would spend a night in Richfield, Utah, roughly a five-hour drive away.
The night before we had seen some rain clouds approaching, and by morning there was a pretty steady rain going. I remember feeling the cold and rain hit me while I stood outside refueling the car. We only needed about half a tank so I wasn’t out in the elements too long, and soon we were on our way.
Turned out that the highlight of this day was the weather. As we headed out of Rock Springs it changed from light to heavy rain, then snowfall, and then, if I’m not mistaken, even a blizzard (I realize that what I consider a blizzard might actually not be one). We were lucky to have avoided snow back in South Dakota when we went through the Badlands and Mount Rushmore, and Independence Rock in Wyoming, and now we continued to be lucky since we didn’t have any scheduled sights to see on this leg of the journey, with the snow itself becoming the attraction, adding to the variety of things we saw on the road trip.
Continuing west on Interstate 80, our first rest stop was the Lyman Rest Area about an hour out of Rock Springs. We took some photos to commemorate our first Adventure 2012 snow encounter. I enjoyed crunching the snow with each step. JC liked the snow-covered plant-life. I also got a kick out of our car’s frozen license plate, something I rarely see.
40 minutes later, we crossed the state line into Utah. The snow came down harder, and visibility decreased. Got a little hungry and stopped at the next available rest area, Echo Canyon. It happened to also be a Welcome Center so we were treated to a museum-like interior, with exhibits on various Utah attractions. A receptionist was present to answer questions. After taking a look around, I bought a Slim Jim and a Dr. Pepper, both of which I had not had in a very long time, which became a topic of conversation between JC and I. ? It was really pleasant sitting in the warm confines of the car, eating my snack, and watching the snow fall. Sometimes, it’s just about the simple things in life, isn’t it?
Up until this point we’d been taking some regularly-timed breaks so after Echo Canyon I wanted to drive a little longer and make some time. We continued on Interstate 80 and then US-189 through the mountains. As we descended into Orem and Provo, the snowfall intensified. It was the first time in my life seeing snow “falling” sideways, and the first time I’d seen it so heavy. While I was excited, I was pretty glad that we were out of the mountains as it was some intense driving with me not being used to the conditions.
Now, we were in Provo. We saw a sign that read “Welcome to Cougar Town” which I thought was pretty funny (due to this definition of cougar) before realizing that Provo is where Brigham Young University is located. Being from the Bay Area, my only knowledge of BYU is that it’s the school Steve Young went to. At that time, the only cities I could name in Utah were Salt Lake City and maybe Ogden. I never actually thought about it but I probably assumed that BYU was in Salt Lake City. I hadn’t even heard of Provo until Adventure 2012.
Anyhow, the snow died down a little while we were passing through the city. As it’d been a couple of hours since Echo Canyon, it was time for a stop. We saw a McDonald’s and went there, a great choice because I still remember how good the meal was: Southern Style Chicken sandwich and medium iced coffee while watching the snow fall outside. The hot, freshly fried chicken contrasted perfectly with the iced coffee and snow, a really memorable experience for someone who has never spent extended time in a snowy climate.
From Provo, it was smooth sailing via Interstate 15, US-50, and finally Interstate 70. The snowing had mostly stopped, but we were still treated to a white-blanketed landscape until we were close to Richfield. Once we passed the snow, there was an ominous-looking fog phenomenon that crept alongside us on the highway. Very strange indeed.
Once we arrived in Richfield, we decided to get gas immediately instead of the next morning. It had been one of the longer journeys of the road trip, starting around 11:00 AM and ending near 6:00 PM, and we wanted to save some time for the next leg to Vegas. After settling in to the hotel, we had one of my least memorable meals of the trip, from Arby’s. Richfield definitely seemed more remote than any of the other cities we had been to, and prospects for anything else weren’t great (no other major fast food chains nearby). Maybe it was because the Arby’s wasn’t quite a burger, and wasn’t quite a sandwich. I just remember being disappointed, especially after the long drive, especially after the mostly decent selections we’d had up until that point. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our cozy room and slept well that night after a long and snowy drive.
Tonight’s museum post features a page from an old Pacific Bell telephone bill, circa 1990. It’s interesting to see that we once made $35 worth of international phone calls (most likely to Hong Kong) in a month and that $35 today nets us over 6-months’ worth of unlimited calls. Also, back in those days you could select your long distance carrier. This bill shows AT&T, and I remember at one point we had MCI. I’m pretty sure that there were others, but they escape me at this moment.
I googled Pacific Bell and was surprised to see that they still exist. As far as I knew, they were taken over by SBC and later became AT&T after SBC bought the name.
Calling our relatives in Hong Kong used to be a weekly ritual, done on weekends. It was always a joyous occasion. I don’t really remember the specifics anymore, but I can still picture the act of talking into the handset and saying hi to everyone. Granny would always tell me to eat right and exercise. My late aunt would tell me to get along with my sister. Perhaps I told them about my grades or my Sega games.
What memories will this museum post evoke for you?
More than a year has passed since our return from Hong Kong. The day has come and gone without my having said anything about it on this website, but in recent weeks I have actually been thinking a lot of our time there.
Looking back at this past year, I have realized that I had not really gotten over leaving Hong Kong. It has been like a mourning period, or the period after a breakup, with constant comparisons between aspects of life here and aspects of life there. To name a few, it is mostly things that, in my opinion, HK does better than SF: convenience, HK-style food, public safety, and public transportation.
Back in March of 2015, before we decided to return to the US, I did some comparisons with the intention of posting them here. I never did, so here are some of them now, in italics, along with present-day comments and additions.
The other day, JC told me that the stored value on her prepaid phone was running low. I was in a new-to-me part of town on my way to a dinner but I knew that all I had to do was to keep my eyes open and I’d find a place that sells recharge cards. Not long after, I saw a 7-Eleven and took a detour. It took 30 seconds for me to stop, buy the phone card, and then be back on my way.
I remember this night, getting off the bus and walking up a footbridge, then seeing the 7-Eleven just inside the Shun Tak Centre. Whatever it is you need, you can be sure that it’s not far away. More significantly, you can be sure that it’s not far away, on foot. It is the nature of population density and the culture that has evolved from it. Most people don’t drive. Homes are small with little space for storing extra things. Instead, when the need arises, people simply go down to the supermarket or the convenience store. Considering the small space and the large amount of people, it is not surprising to see multiple supermarkets, convenience stores, and restaurants in close proximity to, and steps away from, each other. On the most part this wouldn’t happen in America (I’m thinking NYC might be an exception). A single big box store would be able to successfully meet the demand of people from miles around and opening another one across the street probably would not make business or financial sense.
I’m also a fan of the super convenient Octopus cashless payment system, accepted all over Hong Kong. It works on most modes of transport, retail stores, and fast-food restaurants. I’ve even paid for haircuts with it. Whenever I went to play basketball, I only had to bring my Octopus card and I’d be covered for the bus fare, the drinks machine at the court, and sometimes even a late dinner from Cafe de Coral if I was hungry. If only Clipper were as widely accepted here as Octopus is in HK.
A couple of other seemingly small but actually very convenient things: tipping and sales tax. Tipping is neither expected nor required, and I have to say it feels liberating to not have to figure one out, worrying if the amount is appropriate. Similarly, no sales tax means what you see (on the price tag) is what you pay, no math required.
Growing up in SF, you learn that on the bus or BART you leave your newest toy in your bag and not out in the open for opportunists to see and grab. With the advent of smartphones and everyone carrying them around out in the open, this is a little different now, but one still has to bring street smarts when riding public transportation or walking around on the street. In Hong Kong, one needs no street smarts at all. One can be a smartphone zombie, keeping his head down towards his device, and still be safe.
This has always been true, and seems even more so now with the increased gentrification and new money coming into SF. The perception is that people are being driven out and have to resort to crime to survive, or perhaps because there are now more rich people here, it’s hunting season. Burglaries, robberies, shootings, and stabbings are reported every week just in our one neighborhood, let alone the entire city. I experienced crime first hand as a kid in SF, and I learned to be constantly vigilant because opportunists will prey on you if you appear weak or inattentive even for a split second. It’s a relaxing change being able to just let go in Hong Kong without needing to remember to keep aware of my surroundings all the time.
Another thing involving both safety and convenience is the 24-hour store. Here, opponents of 24-hour establishments will always cite crime as a factor, because it is. In Hong Kong, it’s a non-issue. I miss 24-hour McDonald’s delivery. I miss midnight hot pot. I miss being able to take a walk around the neighborhood in the middle of the night.
I know this is a touchy subject, but for me one benefit of living in Hong Kong is that I’m finally a part of the racial majority. Say what you want about racial progress in the U.S., and especially the Bay Area, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to relations between races, and perhaps not necessarily between whites and minorities. Although we all live in close proximity to each other, we do tend to keep each other at arm’s length. Obviously I’m generalizing here, but it happens enough to bother me, happens enough to make me feel excluded.
This seems even more relevant now with the Black Lives Matter movement, police shootings, and the election on the news recently. It gets kind of tiring. The first time I experienced racial discrimination was in this country, and things have not changed much in 30 years. We love talking about it though, using code-words and politically correct rhetoric to make it seem like it’s a thing of the past. And that’s just overt racism, without considering the type that has been institutionalized, the kind you don’t consciously think about or even realize you’re practicing. Also, why does discussion of race in America only involve black and white, and very occasionally brown? I think I know the answer, but as a yellow person that doesn’t mean I can’t still feel marginalized.
In Hong Kong, where I’m part of the majority by a long-shot, race, like crime, is another non-issue. Don’t get me wrong, people in Hong Kong can be extremely racist, but at least they don’t talk about it all the time trying to pretend like it’s not there, and they don’t direct it towards me.
This one’s sort of a combination of the above: convenience, race, and geography combine to give me easy access to food that I enjoy. For example, HK-style fast food like Fairwood and Cafe de Coral. McDonald’s delivery. Baked pork chop rice. Iced milk tea. Yunnan rice noodles. Beef brisket and tendon noodles. Fish ball noodles. On the most part these selections are available in the Bay Area, but one must go and seek them out. Here, one does not have to travel far to enjoy local cuisine.
To add to the above, while HK selections can mostly (no 雲南米線, sadly) be found in the Bay Area, the quality can be severely lacking. It’s like they know that they’re the only option so they put out shit food. I suppose it’s all relative; people in Hong Kong might argue that Cafe de Coral is shit food. I should also mention that I used the wrong words in “convenience, race, and geography”. They probably should be convenience, culture, and density.
To name a couple more, I really miss the fresh iced lemon tea from Yoshinoya in Fortress Hill, and the curry beef brisket (with steamed rice) at both Cafe de Coral and Fairwood.
This one can be filed under convenience as well. There are so many different modes of transportation: MTR, taxi, bus, mini-bus, tram. Many routes are duplicated so that even if you miss a bus, another one, or a tram, or a mini-bus, are not far behind. Maybe I’m lucky because I live in a busy/convenient area, but I really like this aspect of HK.
Yes, I think a big part of this was that I lived in North Point, a super-convenient area with many overlapping lines. Contrast that with some of my relatives’ neighborhoods in Hong Kong and one will find that it can be just as bad as MUNI or BART (to their credit though, both MUNI and BART have continuously tried to improve). Nonetheless, Hong Kong’s public transportation system is still way better than the Bay Area’s. Even if you ignore frequency and timeliness, the cleanliness of HK transport destroys that of the Bay Area’s.
As mentioned before, riding on the upper deck of a bus is one of my favorite pastimes. This is something that I miss tremendously. I’ve tried sightseeing on MUNI buses, but it’s not the same and actually quite a difference. They feel claustrophobic by comparison.
Being a person of two worlds can be a struggle. Juggling is something I’ve been doing ever since my family moved to the United States, and it seems to have gotten harder after living in Hong Kong as an adult. While it may seem like I’m just bashing America in this post about things I think Hong Kong does better, I can tell you that when I was living there I did plenty of bashing in favor of the USA. It sucks. I sometimes wish I came from only one world, born and raised in a single place, living my life out in that place, not knowing what’s outside, being blissfully ignorant. If you don’t know what you’re missing, then you can’t miss it, right?