NBA Showdown ’94

NBA-Showdown-'94

I created a page for tracking the progress of a full 82-game season in NBA Showdown ’94 for the Sega Genesis. As a kid I never played through an entire season of the game, and one afternoon recently when I decided to play an exhibition for kicks, it brought back memories from that time period, of being a Warriors fan and high school student and watching that 1993-94 NBA season. It was a pretty amazing season being the first year of Michael Jordan’s retirement, the first Houston Rockets championship, Chris Webber’s rookie year, and (sadly) getting eliminated by Charles Barkley’s Suns in the first round of the playoffs. Sadly, it was also the beginning of an era of mediocrity for the Warriors. 🙁

How will the Warriors do in this virtual, retroactive replay of the 1993-94 season? We shall see…

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!

Basketball is Life (Another Lesson from the Court)

Victoria Park Basketball Courts - June 30, 2015

Victoria Park Basketball Courts – June 30, 2015

June 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

November 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

Why u mad?

Been having a lot of beers lately so I thought I’d go do some exercise at Victoria Park tonight. And by some, I really mean some. Gone are the days when it seems like I can stay there forever. I go maybe once every couple of weeks now, if that, and when I do my body can no longer perform as it did before. That’s the reality of having a day job.

Speaking of day jobs, I’ve always thought that basketball is a microcosm of life, and more specifically tonight, of work. You encounter a bunch of different characters. You encounter cronyism. You get people of different abilities. You all (at least on the surface) are trying to achieve the same goal. Unlike work, however, basketball is a game, and it’s supposed to be fun. So why did I feel annoyance at the end of the game? Despite losing, I did fairly well, shot over 50%, and scored a few buckets, and I was fine with that. I guess I’ll explain it from the beginning.

I touched upon this a long time ago, about race on the basketball court. Being in Hong Kong, I’ve been a part of the ethnic-majority for over two years now. I rarely experience racial discrimination like I occasionally did back in the U.S. Well, the first thing that happens when I step on the court is that the 4 non-Chinese guys don’t really want me on their team. They want one of their own. They start speaking in their language. Nice. This by itself doesn’t really bother me, I’ve encountered plenty of people of this ethnicity and I’m no longer surprised when they behave this way, but it did get the ball rolling towards annoyance.

Once the game starts, everybody’s getting a feel for each other, and if I recall correctly I actually make the first bucket. OK, great, seems like maybe we’ll get along fine. Of course, once the game gets going, things start exposing themselves to you, just like how it is at work. There seems to always be that guy who never runs back on defense, waiting for the cherry pick. It seems like none of the guys on my team are interested in defense. It also just happens that there’s a couple of guys on the other team who are over 6 feet tall, one of them with handles who can get to the rim at will (he was wearing an NYK Sprewell jersey, lol), and another, even bigger guy who is pretty much unstoppable in the paint. So, 5-on-4 (and that’s a very shaky 4) with two of the five being the aforementioned six-plus-footers.

I’m not too averse to playing harder on defense because my main goal tonight is to get in some exercise. That rolling ball of annoyance is just creeping along at a snail’s pace at this point. But then, some inexplicable shit starts happening. I finally get the ball from a teammate (as opposed to grabbing a loose ball or a rebound) and the first thing my teammates tell me to do is to pass it. Four guys on my team are yelling at me to give them the ball. I’m like “WTF?” but I continue to play within the flow of the game, trying to make the proper basketball decision. It continues to get more and more inexplicable. I have guys not playing any defense, period, demanding the ball from me as I’m bringing it down. I’m like fuck that shit, I’m taking it myself. I have some fun with my man before moving the ball (i.e. when I get tired from too much dribbling, haha), and then one of my teammates again comes up to me and says I need to move the ball. I wonder if he realizes that I’m running around on offense getting open only to watch him or his pals take shitty shots.

At work and in basketball, there sometimes comes a moment when you realize that nothing you do is going to change the situation, that it might be better to just stay in the corner and be quiet. I literally did this a few possessions later: I stopped running around and just parked myself in the corner, wide open. I then proceeded to watch the guy who just told me to move the ball get double-teamed on my side of the court, then lose the ball out of bounds. The next few offensive sequences consist of me running to the corner and standing there wide-open while my teammates proceed to turn the ball over.

One of my biggest beefs with basketball, work, and life, is hypocrisy. I can’t stand it. If you can’t do an equal or better job, or worse, you’re not even aware that you can’t do an equal or better job, don’t go around telling people what to do. It’s amazing how one guy can completely ignore the laziness and incompetence of his buddy (and himself) while criticizing the guy who hasn’t done anything wrong. All I saw was a bunch of guys jacking up shots and not playing defense, and they’re getting on my case for wanting to hold the ball longer when I finally get it? Fuck that, man. I’m perfectly fine with admitting when I play shitty and don’t deserve the ball but tonight was not one of those nights.

So this whole episode got me thinking about my annoyance (and sometimes anger) at stuff like this. My goal was to get some exercise. Did I really have to be annoyed by it? I don’t know the answer to that. Why do I get so annoyed by it? Is it because I get treated unfairly? But being treated unfairly happens all the time, it’s life not just for me, but for everyone. If the standard in life really is cronyism and nepotism (and one must really question whether this is not the case, seriously), why do I get angry at something that’s natural? Do I get angry when it rains, or when the sun comes out? Do I get angry because plants grow? I don’t like myself succumbing to this pet peeve.

Maybe one day I’ll analyze how I got to be this way. For now, it’s back to the grind, tomorrow. Good night. 🙂

What’s Important to You?

In last week’s Life in Hong Kong Update, I mentioned spraining my ankle badly while trying to teach someone a lesson on the basketball court. Nearly 3 months later, my ankle is still not fully healed and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what happened. It would seem that I was the one who needed to learn some lessons.

It was Halloween Day, and I was still feeling a little groggy and sleepy from jet lag after returning from SF. I figured some exercise would do me good so I headed over to Victoria Park for some shooting and running around. After a little while, I recognized a guy that I played with a few months back. I wasn’t sure if he recognized me, so I didn’t say anything. Eventually, I asked him if he was so-and-so to break the ice, he said he remembered me, and we chatted a bit before starting a game with some people on another court.

Mistake #1

Mistake #1 was that I got a bit too chummy with so-and-so such that once we got the game started, I played a bit friendlier than I normally would. I didn’t guard him as closely and I didn’t exploit his weaknesses on offense. I tend to do this whenever I play against people that I’ve been chatting with. It’s like I’m so happy that someone talked to me that I don’t want to ruin it by beating them (not that that’s a foregone conclusion anyway).

Mistake #2

Mistake #2 was a compound mistake: trying to turn it on after messing around, and trying to show somebody up. There was a guy on the other team who was really arrogant and cocky. The guy on my team who was guarding him wasn’t a very good defender, so the arrogant guy made a bunch of shots. At the same time, he kept calling those HK-style ticky-tack fouls that I find so annoying. The way I figured it, if you think you’re so good why do you need to call those stupid non-fouls? I wanted to knock him down a peg or two. A comeback win would do it. I started playing my guy more seriously, but by that time it was too late. As much as you’d like to think you can, you can’t always just “turn it on” in the middle of a game after not taking it seriously.

Criiiickaaack

I was flustered, angry, and frustrated and I started playing like a madman, playing overly intensely and completely opposite of how I started the game. On one play, I tried to lunge and steal an incoming pass that I had no chance of stealing, and my left foot landed on so-and-so’s. I heard and felt a “criiiickaaack” sound, as if my ankle was one of those big-suitcase zippers and it was being unzipped in one quick, downward motion. At that moment I knew it was game over. I’ve sprained that ankle many times before, but this was the first time in many years and I immediately knew this one was serious. It started swelling up immediately. I was now not only flustered, angry, and frustrated, but humiliated as well. Foolishly and pridefully, I played one more game before finally going home.

What’s important to you?

This past week I felt some impatience at how long it’s taken for my ankle to heal, and it got me thinking about this question. Trying to show up people whom I deem to be arrogant, unreasonable, willfully-ignorant, or whatever else has long been a weakness of mine. Is it really that important to show up some stranger that you will probably never, ever meet again (or even strangers you will never meet, period, like those on the internet)? If I ever have a hard time answering that question, then all I have to do is look at the costs: 3+ months of not being able to fully play basketball, consistent intermittent pain in my ankle (sometimes even when I shift around in bed) and, in the case of responding to internet trolls, spending more time at the keyboard than with things and people that really matter, like JC. I really have to ask myself: what are my priorities?

For me, when I play basketball, my priority is to play well. Winning or losing is not important. There have been times when I’ve won and felt crappy because I didn’t play up to my expectations, and there have been times when I was perfectly happy with a losing outcome because I played well. Other than basketball, in the bigger picture one of my priorities is to use my limited time wisely, spending it on things that matter to me, like my family, my health, and my interests. These are things that I consider to be important.

Our time is so limited. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. We would be wise to spend it doing the things that matter to us. The next time I feel myself getting worked up, I have to try to remember what my priorities are, and whether any subsequent action or inaction on my part will be consistent with them. If not, count to ten, take a deep breath, and walk away. That’s it. It won’t be easy, but then again nobody said that anything worth having in life was easy.

Nike Air Flight Certified (2007-2013)

Nike Air Flight Certified

Nike Air Flight Certified – Retired

I’ve had these shoes for 6 years. When I came home from basketball the other day, to take off the shoe I stepped on the heel while pulling out my foot (something I’ve done hundreds of times), and “BRAAAP” the sole separated from the rest of the shoe. I guess the combination of heat, humidity, and age finally took its toll.

In 2007, I was in Hong Kong and out shopping with my family when I chanced upon these shoes. I had just discovered some basketball courts near my hotel in Hong Kong and wanted to play, so my mother offered to buy them for me. 2007 was the first time I returned to Hong Kong on my own, and I was very excited at the prospect of playing hours of basketball during the day and eating like a pig at night.

ong Kong Basketball Court

Here I am at the new-to-me courts in 2007

When it was time to return to the U.S., I didn’t have enough room to bring the shoebox with me:

Nike Air Flight Certified Shoebox

Nike Air Flight Certified Shoebox

In the U.S., I kept these shoes at work and I would use them when I went to the YMCA during work breaks to play basketball. When returning to Hong Kong in subsequent years, I would always stay at the same hotel and bring my shoes with me.

Basketball @ YMCA 8-20-09

Here I am at the YMCA.

When I look back on the past 6 years, I cannot believe that so much has happened, that so much has changed. When I first bought these shoes, I was just starting out as a full-time employee at my previous job after being part-time for a couple of years. Just like that, I spent five more years at that company and then traveled around the world, and now I’m in Hong Kong again, not as a tourist, but as a resident. Unbelievable.

Without my trusty old shoes I cannot play basketball, so I quickly went to the Nike Factory Store and picked up a pair of Air Jordan 2012 Lites. I never thought that I would own a pair of Air Jordans, but these were the most comfortable pair of shoes that I tried (they’re incredibly light), and since they are last year’s model, I got them at a reduced price. After testing them out on the court last night, I’m very happy with them. Here’s to hoping they last as long as my previous pair.

Nike Air Jordan 2012 Lite

Nike Air Jordan 2012 Lite

Characters from the Hong Kong Blacktop

I squeezed in a few games tonight after arriving about an hour before lights-out. Like last time, I thought about a lot of stuff on the way home. I guess I like thinking about things when I’m walking home from basketball late at night.

Tonight, I was thinking how, in life and in basketball, one often meets a myriad cast of characters. The characters I encountered tonight:

The Asshat (synonyms include jerk, asshole, dick, douchebag): I don’t know what I or anyone else on my team did to incite him, but Mr. Asshat for some reason was talking trash and being really cocky from start to finish. Remembering that this is Hong Kong, it wasn’t the in-your-face type of trash-talking, but the more sarcastic, passive-aggressive type that is so common with Hong Kongers. If you’re gonna trash talk, please do it to my face. There’s nothing more annoying than passive-aggressive trash-talking. Every time I or a teammate made a shot, he would act surprised and sprinkle in a sarcastic “wow you guys are sooooo good” comment. He also intentionally gave me a lot of space to shoot. I was pissed at myself for letting him get under my skin and rushing (and missing) a bunch of shots that he gave me. I was too eager to show him up. We lost the first game.

The other thing was, this guy was my height, but really strong. He was owning the guy guarding him in the first game, taking advantage of his strength down low. In the second game, luck would have it that I would be guarding him. I couldn’t believe how strong he was. Seriously, I could not budge the guy. Not surprisingly, he basically just camped out in the paint, but fortunately I was able to bother him enough to keep him off-balance and miss a few shots (ha!). We won the second game, and were winning the third when the lights went out.

This guy was good enough that he didn’t need to trash talk. If anything, his attitude gave us even more motivation to beat him. After the lights went out, I couldn’t resist and gave him a “man, you’re so strong, do you work out?”. He didn’t say a single word.

The Follower: don’t know if he was associated with Mr. Asshat, but we all know his type. He was trying to be like Mr. Asshat but not pulling it off very well. The bully always has his followers. This guy was a decent shooter but not very mobile. He kept calling ticky-tack fouls that would never be considered fouls outside of Hong Kong. I was getting frustrated so after I got slapped in the hand and saw the shot was going to miss, I called a foul. Of course, Mr. Follower would be the first one to animatedly dispute it on the grounds of it being late. I didn’t argue it but I did think it was funny how he could get so worked up over a late call yet not bat an eyelid at calling fouls if I so much as breathed on him.

The Black Hole: As I said, we lost the first game and I was very motivated to not let it happen again. During that first game, one of my teammates had made a few shots in a row so I deferred to him a little bit; I passed him the ball every time he called for it, which was basically every possession. When I had an open shot, he’d call for the ball. When I grabbed a rebound, he called for the ball. After he passed me the ball, he called for the ball.

When you make a bunch of shots in a row, perhaps you have the clout to do something like that. On the other hand, after you miss so many times (including air balls) that no one can remember when you last made a shot, then perhaps it’s time to stop telling other people not to shoot (and to stop shooting). Seriously, after those first few shots, this guy became stone cold, was getting killed on defense, and yet was still calling for the ball and telling me not to shoot!

In the second game, I was naturally upset after having lost in such a manner, and decided to assert myself a little bit more. I played lock-down defense, hustled, and grabbed rebounds. I moved around on offense a lot and pretty much got open all the time (remember Mr. Asshat didn’t think I was good enough to guard). Well, Mr. Black Hole didn’t pass me the ball. On some occasions, he didn’t even take out the ball (another HK-bball oddity) and just started dribbling! Do you know how frustrating it is to run around on offense getting open, only to have your own (mediocre) teammate never pass you the ball? I hold the ball after grabbing a rebound to slow myself down, ignoring Mr. Black Hole’s orders to not shoot the ball. A couple of jab-steps later, I pull up and SWISH a shot in Mr. Asshat’s face. Game on.

The Player: Not to have only bad things to say about people, the other guy on my team was a player. At the beginning of the second game, I was pretty much the only one going full speed, obviously because I was fully motivated, and because Mr. Asshat’s team thought they were unbeatable. In my experience, when people aren’t taking the game seriously, going for the hustle plays and playing hard defense wakes them up. Well, Mr. Black Hole thought he was good, so he didn’t need to go full speed. Mr. Player, on the other hand, heeded the call honorably. He drove the lane so many times and finished every single time, and he’d make the pass at the appropriate time for a wide open shot on my end. It was a pleasure teaming up with Mr. Player. It was so much fun stopping the other team, making shots, and completing no-look passes that I didn’t even realize it when we won. I had just made a shot and was heading up top to take out the ball when Mr. Player told me “game already”. Game indeed.

Another note about Mr. Black Hole: At first, I thought Mr. Player was Mr. Black Hole’s friend because he referred to Mr. Player by name, but later I found out that they were unassociated. Before the first game, Mr. Black Hole had also introduced himself to me. Now I know why, it’s so he can call you by name when he insists on the ball!!!

Do any of the characters above sound familiar? Do you have a Mr. Asshat at your company? What about a Mr. Follower or a Mr. Black Hole? Wouldn’t it be nice if all your coworkers were like Mr. Player? I’ve always thought that basketball can serve as a microcosm for real life.

Other Thoughts

One of my biggest misconceptions about people is that everyone is the same. I always expect everyone to be polite, to be honorable, to have the same basic values. When that doesn’t happen, I get flustered, and my fight-or-flight response is triggered. Look at what happened in game one. I did not expect Mr. Asshat to behave the way he did, and as a result my blood started pumping, too much adrenaline started flowing, and I couldn’t make any shots. Similar things have happened to me outside of the basketball court.

Recognizing this, I can start finding ways to mitigate the effects. It’s not easy, though. It’s just like the “wake up at noon and feel pathetic” thing that I had going. I’m actually a lot more comfortable with that, but it’s been an ongoing process. When I feel the negativity edging closer, I remind myself to ask “why do you feel bad about it?” and then I realize that there is no reason to be negative. I try to be more objective about it, to look just at the facts.

The fact is not everyone shares the same values. Some people have no qualms with using sleazy methods to get ahead in basketball, and in life. Remember that Mr. Follower didn’t bat an eyelid at calling fouls. Well, he didn’t bat an eyelid at cheating, either. He would try to lower our buckets when we called out the score (something not uncommon in basketball, unfortunately).

Final Thought

Last year I wrote that I regretted acting like an ass on the court after a ticky-tack foul. This year, I say that there are some things in life that are universal, that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, that if something’s wrong, it’s wrong. No hiding behind “cultural differences”. Hong Kong basketball players need to get out from under their rock and realize that they are weakening their own level of basketball when they call those ridiculous fouls on every little bit of incidental contact on every single possession.

Post-Basketball Walking

I went to play basketball tonight. Played a few games and got really tired, and got my shirt soaked. Even though I was tired, I decided to walk home instead of taking the tram so I could cool down a bit. It’s still 84 degrees outside right now.

On a nice quiet walk at 11:00 in the evening after two-plus hours of basketball, a lot can go through one’s mind. Some people are getting off work. There are still a good number of buses. The hawkers who hang their wares on the metal gates of banks after they close are packing up. At the 3rd intersection, I see a matte-black and lowered Maserati zip onto the main drag. The exhaust note is incredible. I start thinking about the conversation I had earlier with my family, when I noted that people in Hong Kong are so rich that they can pay for exotic and luxury cars in cash. I’d been thinking about it since coming to Hong Kong, and it boggles my mind. Crossing the 4th intersection, I start thinking about a person’s value, an employee’s market value, and supply and demand. There is a hip-hop slang term: don’t hate the player, hate the game. Essentially, if someone on the market is willing to pay another person a large sum of money to do a certain job, the person doing the paying must feel that he or she is getting good value out of, and probably making even more money from, the transaction. Of course, that’s just assuming an owner of one of these cars has a high-paying job. He could be a savvy investor or an entrepreneur.

At the 5th intersection, since I am already thinking about jobs, I start thinking of my own situation. It’s not that I’m unwilling to work. I know that no matter what I end up doing, I’ll do a good job. It’s the matter of going through the process of matching myself up with a job that I don’t want to go through. There is an amount of guessing back and forth and negotiation between two parties with different interests. There is wearing a suit and tie in super hot weather. There’s also the selling part of it. Will how I do in an interview really reflect how I’m going to perform on the job? Throw me into a job and let me do my thing, that’s what I want. Sometimes, though, employers don’t even know what they want. I’ve seen job ads asking for people with 5 years experience, but then at the bottom it will say “fresh grads OK”. I start thinking about the dating game. I’m sure that a lot of people wouldn’t mind getting attached and being a good partner to someone, but of course they have to go through the process of finding that elusive right person. Dating and jobs, part of the fun of being a member of society.

I’m almost home when a red Ferrari 360 flies by. I’m out of thoughts. I look forward to seeing JC and taking a shower.

Two Weeks In, My Hopes and Dreams

2 weeks in, I find that I haven’t done that much, and yet time seems to have flown by. What could be causing this phenomenon? Now, I’ll take a look back, and take a look inward.

My Daily Routine

What has my daily routine been like? Generally, I wake up pretty early, always before JC, and then I prepare to leave the hotel room to either exercise, eat breakfast, or hang out at Starbucks like I am doing today. Afterwards, it’s back to the hotel to shower and then decide with JC what we’re going to do that day. Mostly, it’s figuring out where to eat, and then basing our plan on that. We’ve patronized various malls only because we wanted to try a restaurant there. We don’t like walking around outdoors in the heat, so we try to stay inside.

If I take a step back and evaluate my time here based on what I just wrote, it looks like I’ve been living a carefree and stress-free life for the past 2 weeks. So why doesn’t it always feel that way? Fourteen days is not a short amount of time, and yet it has been a blur. It’s as if they never happened. Taking another step back (I’m going to fall if I take another step back) and looking inwards at myself and the kinds of things I’ve been thinking about, I find that I’ve been looking too far ahead to the future and therefore neglecting the present.

Running Before the Catch

In football or basketball, players will sometimes be wide open and unguarded when a pass is thrown at them and still end up dropping the ball. This is because they’re thinking about running before they’ve even caught the ball. Because they had already shifted their finite amount of focus and mental energy to sprinting downfield or getting in that killer first step, they did not have enough left to actually catch the ball, a task which requires just as much (if not more) mental energy to achieve.

I have been doing the same thing. Even though this is supposed to be a leisure trip, one last trip around the world before settling down and building a new life, I’ve been much too focused on the building-a-new-life part. I’ve been worrying about how to open a bank account without a permanent address, how to pay rent, how to transfer money from the U.S. to Hong Kong, how to dress for a job interview. I’ve been worrying about trying to fit in, consternating myself trying to figure out when to speak English and when to speak Cantonese, worried about how others will perceive me (and us).

To further the basketball analogy, fully enjoying life now is akin to catching the ball, and driving the lane is settling down. You can’t have one without the other. The whole point of taking this time off is to rejuvenate myself so that I’ll be ready to take on the challenge of uprooting myself and resettling in a foreign country. Without being fully rested and mentally ready, how can I hope to achieve my hopes and dreams?

Graduation Anxiety

I still remember my first day of playschool here in Hong Kong. For a memory that is so far in the past, what I remember most clearly is not what I saw or what I did, but how I felt: anxiety and fear of meeting other kids, getting into a new environment. Over the years, I’ve had similar feelings any time I’m about to, to use a gaming term, level up. When I was in middle school, I looked at high school as some really advanced place and freaked out about joining the fray. “Would I be able to keep up? Will I be smart enough or cool enough?” It was the same when going from high school to college, from college to the workforce, and now I’m feeling it again getting ready to transition to a new life.

I see the locals focused on making money, sailing yachts on the weekend, wearing nice suits and driving nice cars, and I can’t help but feel small. I feel self-conscious when I walk around Beverly Hills-style malls. I see job ads for advanced positions that match my skillset, but look at entry-level positions instead because I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up. It’s like the night before high school graduation all over again.

Well, maybe I wouldn’t take it that far (back). I am now more knowledgeable about myself, more comfortable with myself. I have my own set of values. I know what I can bring to any organization. I also know that having negative feelings is part of being me, that I can have these feelings without succumbing to them. It’s about what I do, not what I feel. A lesson that I will always remember from speech class is that most people (i.e. anyone not named Bill Clinton) get nervous before giving a speech. People get butterflies in their stomach. The key is to use knowledge to get those butterflies to fly in formation. With knowledge of subject, knowledge of audience, and knowledge of self, giving the speech will not seem so scary. As I’m about to graduate to the next level in life, I’d do well to keep this lesson in mind.

In the end, I know where I want to be. 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 know where I want to be, and I know how to get there. Now, it’s just a matter of doing.


I feel better already after writing this. With one week left in Hong Kong, I’ll be sure to make the most of it.