There Are Times

MGH Disk 1 of 2, Street Fighter 2 Turbo for the Super Famicom

MGH Disk 1 of 2, Street Fighter 2 Turbo for the Super Famicom

There are times when I am reminded of something I once had, and I feel sad.

There are times when looking at something triggers a memory of an object I once had, an object that I purposefully disowned. I ask myself whether it was really necessary. I wanted to be an adult, to stand on my own two feet, to not become attached to material possessions. Even had I not desired so, I would not have the physical space to hold all my seemingly precious objects that I only think about and cherish when an associated memory brings them back into the forefront.

Tonight I randomly decided to look at one of the manuals from the SNES mini, the one for SF2 Turbo, and I thought of the generic Capcom stick at my mother’s house and how it no longer has an SNES to connect to, and how even if I did I no longer have the game copier or the floppy disks to load the game from. Those are painful thoughts for me. From the time I acquired those possessions to last year when I disowned them, I knew that if I ever had any desire at all to experience the originals, I could. But now, no matter what, regardless of whether I go back to my old room, it’s impossible.

It’s like with my dead cousins, there’s no way back to those times, and no way forward to reminisce about those times. It’s all only inside my head, and maybe my heart, and that’s the reality of life and its fleeting nature.

Super Punch Out!!

Super Punch Out!! SNES Box

Photo of box copied from

I don’t want to forget Super Punch Out, so I am writing this down. I remember getting this game my senior year of high school, from Toys”R”Us in San Francisco. It was the one in that little mall thing on Brannan Street. In my mind there is a glimpse of the box, and a sunny day. That’s all I remember.

Senior year of high school seemed to be a good time for SNES games. I also remember getting Star Trek Starfleet Academy from the game store in Stonestown, I think after school, near the end of the school year. It was so cool putting the game in the SNES and flying starships. I probably haven’t played the game once since then.

Back to Super Punch Out though. Later, after I played it for a while, I copied it with my game copier and then either traded it in at Electronics Boutique or Software ETC or some other store, or I sold it on the internet via Usenet. If I dig through the old files from the 486, I might be able to find a post or list. It’s crazy how we used to just exchange personal contact information so easily on the internet, even sending checks or cash in the mail. Those were innocent times.

Well, I dug around my files but couldn’t find anything that might definitively explain what happened to the game. This is the first time in over 3 months that I’ve posted something here, and the first time in who knows how long that I’ve actually written something. I may or may not explain the hiatus, but for now it’s good to be back. See you later.

Right Now, #2

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.

Goodbye, Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping S/PDIF Alive

My first laptop was an Intel Pentium III 850 MHz VAIO R505 bought in 2003. If you’ll recall, VAIOs were notoriously expensive back then, and somehow I was able to find one on sale for under a thousand dollars. Due to its limited storage, I used it as a secondary machine, transferring files to it from my desktop. I don’t remember whether my desktop at the time was an AMD Athlon 1.4GHz (Thunderbird core) or one of the later Athlon XPs.

Since that time, my laptops have always been secondary machines. The VAIO was in service from 2003 to 2007. From 2007 to 2011 I had a Toshiba U205 (Core 2 Duo Merom), and from 2011 to the present I’ve had an Acer Aspire (Core i5 Sandy Bridge) that has held up amazingly well. You may have seen it in several photos scattered around this website.

In the recent past I finally transitioned to the Acer as my primary machine. Our current lifestyle involves moving back and forth between my parent’s and the in-laws’ places, and it became a chore having to sync up my laptop all the time. It’s much easier having one primary machine to worry about, and backing it up to the appropriate places. Previously, it would be syncing files from the desktop to the laptop and then syncing them back to the desktop once I returned. What a pain!

With the Acer as my new primary machine, I set up a docking station where the desktop was previously. The desktop was using S/PDIF for sound, and luckily the Acer has a 3.5mm S/PDIF jack, so I was able to use a spare adapter from an old sound card to connect the laptop to my receiver. Oddly, once I had it going, music would play but not regular Windows sounds. I started googling around for answers.

It turns out that my Sony receiver will only play sound when it receives a sustained digital signal. Windows beeps and Outlook-new-mail sounds are too short. What to do? Send a continuous silent signal via software. From browsing this forum (I guess Tom’s Hardware Guide is now just Tom’s Guide? Been out of the game for too long), I learned of a piece of software called SPDIF KeepAlive by Rhys Goodwin, who has kindly offered his software for free via his blog. The software works great and has solved this problem perfectly. Thanks Rhys!

With this post, I mainly wanted to give credit where credit was due with the forum thread and Mr. Goodwin’s SPDIF KeepAlive, but once I started it became yet another trip down memory lane. As always, hope you’ve enjoyed it!

Growing Up

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

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

Clinging to Childhood

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

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

Idealism vs. Realism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another side-effect of all this comparing is the pressure that’s placed on children to live up to being “better” than everyone else. Although I can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up with accepting parents that saw the value in all people without judging them, I can imagine that it’s probably a lot less stressful. I imagine that it completely changes your mindset as an adult, and that 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!


Rosemary Garlic Tri-Tip

A scrumptious dish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pacific Bell Monthly Bill, 1990

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?

Pacific Bell Bill, 1990

One Year After Hong Kong

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.

Fairwood Beef Curry Brisket and Tendon

How not to get any work done after lunch – Fairwood’s Beef Curry Brisket and Tendon

Public Transportation

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.

Final Words

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?

Have a good night. 🙂