I couldn’t sleep tonight so I came outside to type some stuff on my laptop. Earlier, when I was waiting outside for the dog to finish his business, I looked up at the moon hanging low near the southern horizon. In the distance, I could hear a bird doing a whistling routine, a mix of chirps and whistles. For a moment, it seemed like I was in a jungle. Now, a few hours later, I can still hear the bird occasionally, but the moon is up much higher in the sky, and further west.
It’s been a while since I’ve been up at this hour. Ever since we attended a wedding in January, our sleeping schedules have reverted back to a more normal time. Prior to that, we would still be up at this time, playing Skyrim, surfing the internet, or enjoying a late meal. I haven’t thought about it, but it’s been two months since then.
When I was in bed earlier, I thought about the Right Now post from when we first started living in Hong Kong. Being outside with the moon and the chirping bird, it felt like another “right now” moment, so I got out of bed to type this. I wondered if it would be like the Coincidence post, but it’s actually a couple of weeks away before it will be exactly four years. Close enough.
When I was in bed, I listened to the bird and thought of the moon, and thought about how different the world is here compared to Hong Kong. Here, it’s actually quiet enough to hear a bird that’s chirping a couple of blocks away. The light pollution is low enough that you can look up in the sky and not only see the moon and its craters clearly, but also see the surrounding stars and planets. On many nights I’ve looked up at Orion’s Belt, amazed that I can actually see it, that the sky is so dark. Before moving to Hong Kong, I used to look up and see it too, but I never appreciated it as much as I do now.
Another thing that I appreciate more now is mortality. Tomorrow (or today), we are taking our niece to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It is one of many activities that we have been doing with our niece since moving back to America. Being around her, I am ever more aware of life being a queue: that those who come first, go first.
When I was in bed, I thought about the trip tomorrow. I thought about the car booster seat, and how to install it in my car, which led to my thinking of what I would do if the worst should occur. In a situation where I could choose between losing my own life or hers, I would choose to lose mine, because as I said above, life is a queue. I’ve lived nearly 40 years and had a pretty good life up to this point; she’s barely had 4 and still has so much to experience. As I’ve probably mentioned on here before, everyone gets a turn.
I also thought about what I would say to JC if the worst should occur and I had a last chance to say something to her. I would tell her that she is the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, that I became a different person because I met her. I would thank her for being my JC, and my partner in life. As I’ve said so many times before, life is fragile and can end at any moment. Being around my niece has only reinforced this notion. We would be wise, while we can, to tell our loved ones how we feel about them if we have not yet done so.
I’ve talked about life being a cruel joke before. Our parents dote on us, we fly away only to realize how much they mean to us, they die, and the same thing happens with our children. Yes, it seems cruel and unfair, but that’s the way it is, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. That is life, the nature of our existence. It would be better to embrace this fact, our mortality, so that we don’t take life for granted.
Tomorrow, I will forward this post to JC and let her know (again) how I feel about her. I hope you will do the same with your loved ones. Four years ago, I sat on my bed in our little flat in Hong Kong, looking out the window, sipping a Laguvulin, contemplating life. Right now, I sit at the dining table of the inlaws, savoring a Laphroaig, our family dog sleeping on a cushion with a blanket over his head, the clock ticking loudly with each passing second, the moon shining outside. Life has gone on for four years, and will keep on going. Time to go to bed. Good night.
Below are some thoughts from earlier this month, originally typed out on a Moto G 2014 with an unreliable Logitech bluetooth keyboard that has also since been disposed of.
I saw an article about a homeless man losing his tent in a fire. He said he lost everything. Everything he had was in a small tent, just a few feet by a few feet wide.
I have been going through my bedroom to clear out things I no longer need, things that I have stored for long periods of time without use. Many are sentimental or old items. It seems to be a shame to throw out something that’s been kept for such a long time. To me, they have historical value and can never be replaced. But at the same time, there are probably billions of people in this world who possess things from decades or even centuries ago. Multiplied throughout humanity, what’s one or two old items from my closet?
In these past months, there have been times where I have asked myself the question, “what if there was a fire, and all your things were destroyed? What would you do?” I would be like the homeless man, with no more physical possessions, but at the same time I would no longer be burdened by such possessions. I would be free to move wherever I wanted without having to worry about where to store my things, what to bring, what to leave behind. These things that are old and that used to be play a huge role in my life that no longer do. Every so often my eyes sweep across them on the shelf when I turn my head around the room. I want to pull one out, open it up, and take a look inside, but I never do. Only when I finally started identifying what to say goodbye to did I open them up.
I want to revisit this post I wrote in 2013. At the time, I said that there are some items in my life that are off limits to disposal, but now I’m not so sure. I’m not even sure I still regret selling all my Genesis games – it may have been a blessing in disguise.
In my more recent post about growing up, I mentioned clinging to childhood. I’m cleaning out my room now, it’s taken 3 months with lots of scanning and recording. I still want to hold on. The most drastic one is the bear my parents got me when I was a baby. It is older than I am. It was always considered untouchable, but recently I put it in a trash bag, and it didn’t seem so bad. Also, when we were in Hong Kong, we didn’t see many of these childhood items, and we were fine.
We’ve talked about going back to Hong Kong, but I don’t really want to do it just to get our independence back. I’ve finally gotten over HK. We could use the time and money to do it here. I don’t want to deal with the crowds, the lack of space, and most of all, the bad air.
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.
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.
If you want to know why the SF housing market is fucked up, go stand at any busy intersection and simply observe people's behavior.
— Jonathan Young (@joyojc) October 26, 2015
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!
Whether you want to call it dismantle or disassemble, I’ve spent the past two nights taking apart my Lego sets. As I did so, I thought about the past fifteen or so years of my life.
From 2012 to present, my Legos had been sitting on a bookshelf in my room, at my mom’s house. Prior to that, they spent a short time at our apartment before we moved here. From 2008, when I bought my first Lego sets as an adult (and as part of my shopping spree), most of them served as decoration and diversion at work. A Star Wars set that I received around 2000-2001 sat, assembled, in a plastic box under my bed. Lastly, there were some loose pieces from childhood that we had either brought with us when we first moved to the U.S., or had recovered from Granny’s house many years after.
When we moved to my mom’s house in 2012, I had thought about taking them apart, but was reluctant to do so. They had been a part of my life up until that point, and perhaps I was hoping to still be able to hold on to parts of the previous chapters. As I disassembled each set brick by brick, the chapters surfaced. The aforementioned shopping spree, then building the sets at work after hours. JC building the town hall on New Year’s Eve 2011. My cousin NLG and her family visiting my work, her kids playing with my Legos. Going to Hong Kong in both 2000 and 2001, and then the three years after when I stopped working. Even memories from childhood, from recognizing Lego pieces whose designs have remained unchanged in the nearly four decades that I’ve been alive.
Now, it is 2015 and we have once again moved to my mom’s house. What’s different this time versus three years ago that’s caused me to become OK with taking apart my Legos that have remained assembled for so many years? It could be that I’ve finally realized (or accepted) that the sets can be rebuilt. Maybe I had a hangup where I thought that the first build with new bricks is the cleanest (well, it is) and the tightest, and that it just wouldn’t be the same after taking it apart and rebuilding. Maybe after sitting on the shelf for two years without anyone touching them they’d gathered so much dust that they were no longer clean, so the hangup no longer applied.
I remember as a child, during one of my first sessions playing with Lego, my mother telling me that “Lego” stands for “Let’s go”, such that if a build doesn’t work out the first time you can take it apart and “Let’s go again!”. I don’t know if that’s what Lego really stands for, but it was something I thought about before starting. I’d forgotten one of the most basic things about Lego, which is that you can always start over. I made sure that I still had all the build plans so that I could “Let’s go again” if I ever wanted to in the future.
It could also be that I’m feeling weighed down. Fully assembled, my sets take up two shelves. As you can see above, they now take up a single filing box. As we near six months of living at our parents’ places, with no sign of anything changing in the near future, I feel like I want to slim down so that when the chance does arise, we can move swiftly.
Maybe I don’t want to have so much stuff, or to be responsible for so much stuff. I look at all the books I’ve never really read, all the games I’ve never really played, all the movies that I’ve never really watched, and I feel tired. As we get further into life, we acquire more and more things, telling ourselves that we will get to them, yet we never do. The basic model stays the same, nothing changes, yet we’re still standing in the store holding the product in hand, telling ourselves that somehow it will be different this time. I remember that near the end of my most recent job, six months ago, it was the same as it was near the end of the job before that: dead tired at the end of the day, having to choose between rest or recreation, sacrificing one for the other. Will things really be different this time?
As I said, I’ve been alive for nearly four decades. I’ve almost reached midlife, and I’m starting to feel the effects of reaching this stage. I imagine this is what everyone in their late 30s goes through, realizing that this is all there is, all the dreams from earlier years giving way to reality. We dream about having a place of our own where we can store all those Legos, all those games, have a fish room, have a garage with a lift so we can work on our Acura TSXs. But in order to achieve and then to sustain that, you’d have to spend the majority of your time working (unless you somehow got rich quickly). Would you have time to do all those things you want to do? I’ve already tried it, and the answer is no. Am I really so interested in those things anymore? Judging from my actions (or rather, inaction), the answer is also no. Maybe it’s time to dismantle and disassemble the dream.
Prying off each piece, I felt some sadness at taking apart things that had been intact for non-trivial amounts of time. The youngest set was four years old, others were at least seven years old, and the Star Wars set at least fourteen years old. At the same time, I felt some relief from being able to reclaim my shelf space, and from knowing that I could always rebuild the sets if I wanted to. I have the original plans, some of the sets have alternate plans, and there is always the option to not use any plans at all. It’s also therapeutic when one is able to overcome a fear and move forward.
And so it goes with the dream. It’s OK to take it apart, the pieces are still there, ready for me to arrange or re-arrange them into a new one.
In the end, I decided to keep the water truck intact. Something to play with on my desk, and maybe just a little something from the past to hang on to. As always, hope you’ve enjoyed this extra-commentary museum post. 🙂
Was supposed to post this yesterday but didn’t get around to it. Lately when I’ve had downtime I’ve been looking at photos from previous years taken on the same day. Yesterday, I saw that we had gone hiking on Lantau Island in 2013. After returning to Tung Chung from Tai O by boat, we saw this cat sitting at the pier enjoying the last remnants of the afternoon, daydreaming about feasting on the fish just below until some stupid human decided to interrupt. I would look annoyed too if someone interrupted me like that.
I’ve been thinking about getting old recently and thought about all the things that I do on a daily basis that would be so nice to forego if there weren’t any negative consequences. With all the outsourcing and automating in our lives these days, why can’t we outsource or automate these? It would save so much time…
- From the morning routine:
- Brushing my teeth
- Washing my face
- Washing my hair
- Styling my hair
- From the evening routine:
- Brushing my teeth
- Writing my journal
- Tracking my finances
I’ve been doing some of these things for a very long time, and they really are getting old. It would be so nice if I just woke up and my teeth were clean and my hair already styled. At the same time, these are actually worthwhile things to do and I do regret it when I don’t do them. I know because lately I have been skipping or delaying some of them. Maybe that’s why I’m writing this, to remind myself that the time I devote to these tasks is well spent.
Live long and prosper.
Good night, SF. See you tomorrow.