Monthly Archives: September 2015

  • Retail Therapy

    I’ve always had a slightly twisted relationship with money. Being the child of immigrants, with both of my parents supporting their families back home, I really witnessed first-hand an extreme emphasis and focus on money throughout my life. My father in particular, had such a hunger and survivalist drive. Then again, I suppose when you have a brother with a gambling/high risk business/debt problem and a sister contemplating prostitution to pay back family debts, I suppose earning money isn’t just some silly game about buying fancy cars or nice clothes.

    My strongest money habits center around being frugal (sales, coupons, negotiations, etc.) and saving. I remember though, that I’ve never wanted to be beholden to money. Like at times, I felt my mother got overly conservative and paranoid about money. She seemed to me rather stingy and unable to let loose and enjoy small things that money could afford her. For example, whenever she and my father went on cruises to far destinations across the world, she never wanted to spend money on excursions or extra tours. It was almost as if she wanted to arrive and then do absolutely nothing that would cost money.

    As I near 40, I see hints of both parents in my spending habits. Like my father, I splurge on things I use daily or things that are tied to professional development or health: technology, classes/conferences, a nice elliptical machine for my parents. I also like to spend on travel and experiences. I spend but I also try not to be extravagant or wasteful or overly indulgent. I remember once I got so upset at J, bc he was buying all kinds of items that felt excessive: a nice fancy leather-bound notebook or laptop case or yet another device or yet another fancy, handcrafted stationery item… For me, I think the environmental engineering side stresses about unused, older, replaced items suddenly being rendered obsolete and going into the landfill. But J once explained to me that for him, every new item represents his hope to live life differently, to reignite his curiosity/creativity, to try and feel more inspired or more motivated. If it costs $200 to have him feel joy or energy again, that’s a small price to pay. I mean, on one hand, from a cynic’s perspective, isn’t this the ultimate indoctrination of advertising/marketing? And yet, I felt sorry that in some way my warnings or criticisms came across as attempts to squelch or stem his opportunities for joy. Ugh. He works really hard, and if these purchases don’t force us to sacrifice security or our lifestyle, I need to chill the fuck out. You see, I inherited this kind of unease/irrational austerity from my mother. For the most part, Bubbey buys what he wants when he wants. On the back end, I then “rebalance” the expenses by purging unused items in the house, either posting things on Freecycle or selling shit on Ebay. Bubbey calls my modest earnings from these resales “Bubbey Bucks.” It’s a mild form of regaining control I think. I’m always playing mental games on myself.

    So a couple weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch in an almost catatonic state, home alone, pissed about work and flipping through the channels. I came across QVC. I’d never really been a fan of shopping channels, but on occasion, I sometimes got sucked in by the makeup/skincare demos. On this particular night, I just started wondering about the sellers’ personalities. How are they getting people to tune in, you know? I mean, some audiences tune in to watch specific hosts. What a weird but intriguing thing. So the segment for the hour was Dooney & Bourke purses. I didn’t like any of the selections, but I was curious enough to go online and browse the rest of the collection. Long story short, I came across Oryany purses, and their company spokeswoman. She’s this beautiful petite (and pregnant) brunette, and somehow she made all the bags look good. I thought it was interesting too how she and the host played off of each other– they managed to squeeze in all the product descriptions and details plus answer audience calls in the allotted time. This rep had apparently been with the company for 14 years and Oryany even designed a bag named after her! I started thinking: wow, what a fun job it must be to design purses: learning about fabrics, materials, features, accessories. Sigh. I wish I had a fun job.

    For the next couple of hours, I researched Oryany bags, watching all the YouTube videos for each model. By the end, I finally whittled things down to two bags. I put them into the shopping cart and then left. I do that sometimes: I put shit into online carts and sometimes I never return. It’s like that Amazon Wish list maybe? I don’t really know the psychology behind it all. A few days later, I told John I was thinking about a new purse, but it was pricier than my usual range. It took another several days before I finally pressed Buy. Sometimes buying things for myself just feels weird: unjustified and ridiculously self-indulgent. The new bag arrived last week. It’s nicely designed with the construction and compartments. I don’t absolutely love the color, but it’s a practical neutral tone. One day soon maybe I will cut off the tags and keep the damn thing. Haha.

    A couple days after my purse splurge, J was flipping through the channels and once again, we found ourselves on QVC. Fuck, really? Well, the segment was on the NuWave Pro Plus oven! Of course, I was instantly sucked in to the demos of all the different things you could cook with the NuWave. I was reminded of all the successful meals I had had with that thing. Then the host announced that NuWave was the day’s special value. Fuck man. $90 for the Pro Plus with an extender ring and a bunch of extras! J said we should get it, but the pragmatic side of me reasoned: it’s a redundant appliance; it takes up so much counter space; I need to just learn to make things in the new range! Then Bubbey said: do you remember how much joy the NuWave brought you? You loved that thing! You’ve tried to make all your dishes in the new range, but stuff never comes out as good. I think mostly he was talking about my Beijing duck. He said, it’s only $90. If that helps you get out of your funk and regain your confidence with cooking again, isn’t that money well spent? I thought back to what Bubbey had explained to me long ago. Consumerism is an opportunity to change a life trajectory: it’s a shot at joy. Fine, the marketers win this time.

    My NuWave arrived earlier this week. And the very next night, my inaugural dish was the Morton’s tri-tip roast. I had never actually made this dish in the NuWave before (we usually use the oven): I was concerned about fucking it up with tweaked settings, but I took a stab: I cut up potatoes and carrots, placed the roast on top fat side up, and pressed Cook Time –> 55 –> Start. Fuck man, the meat came out perfect. Then I made rice in my pressure cooker. Seriously, between the pressure cooker and NuWave, I am back in business! My bud T came over for dinner, and for the first time in a very long while, I felt accomplished and successful. Finally, I kicked ass at something.

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  • Dreamforce

    So I used 4 days of vacation earlier this month to attend Dreamforce. I was glad that I soaked up that cultural phenomenon: the largest tech conference in the world with over 150,000 people descending onto San Francisco. The conference itself was a shit ton of hustle. I studied the agenda and breakout sessions closely and pretty much prepared for full days from 8-6. Of course, to get to the sessions on time, that required getting up super early at the ass crack of dawn. The very first day, I think I was up at like 5:30 to catch a 6-something train. I walked briskly, and then the session was booked. Because the conference is so fucking huge, there are like a gabillion venues for the sessions: all the Moscones plus Century Theaters plus the Hilton, the Marriott, Yerba Buena, the Metreon. Seriously, swarms of people everywhere. Thank goodness for my years in China: they really trained me well for insane crowds. So anyway, one of the days, I had sessions in one hotel and then another session in a second hotel. I busted my ass walking to the second spot, only to be turned away yet again due to capacity. After that, I decided it was necessary to arrive 20-30 min early to each session AND to just stay at a single venue.

    Overall, I’m glad I went. It was pretty cool to see case after case of nonprofits and highered institutions were really empowered to do more with an organized CRM system. I mean, to have data centralized in one place is a magical and powerful thing. In my year off when I had done like 50 informational interviews, I’d met/called several Salesforce consultants. I saw their booths at the conference. The first few days, I felt a lot of reluctance approaching them. I don’t think it was necessarily shame that was holding me back: I guess I just wanted to NOT talk about my current job that I hate at a place that doesn’t even use Salesforce. I mean, I think I want to do what they do, and yet 1-2 years after talking with them, I am nowhere near them. Ok, maybe there was some shame or disappointment with my personal progress. In typical fashion, every night after I got home, I chided myself for dragging ass. How would I ever get another job if I let all my networking skills die? How did I expect to work in consulting if I had no initiative in the critical moments? Yeah, I’m kind of emotionally abusive to myself. But fuck man, it did the trick bc by the third day, I made it happen. And then another interesting thing happened. In this sea of 150k attendees, I bumped into a classmate from my Duke Nonprofit Management class in June 2014. I don’t really know if he remembered my name, but I actually chatted with him for 45 min or so. Frankly, in our class, I didn’t particularly like him bc he was kinda the class clown (and you know I’m all serious with my academics), but he was fine this time around. Interestingly, he claims that he recognized me bc of my red jacket. Haha. That $45 F21 jacket has brought me more attention than any other item I own. File that tidbit away.

    Dreamforce also had a concert on Thursday night. I was super stoked bc the Killers were on the list (along with Gary Clark, Jr. and the Foo Fighters). When I discovered that my conference pass included access to the concert, I was all over that shit. J expressed all this concern about Thursday being a really long day and how was I gonna be up at 6a and then last through for the concert at like 8:30-11. Blah, blah. Little does Bubbey know, I will pull out all the stops for free shit. If I paid for something (even if I’m just out $5) or if an amenity is included, I HAVE to use it. Long story short, we worked out a plan. After the conference wrapped around 5:30, I rode Muni to the west side of the city to have dinner with Bubbey and his sister S. I then rode the Muni back east to get to Pier 70, the site of the concert. I was kinda bummed about going to the big event solo, but c’est la vie, right? I can’t be stopped. Then, the most unexpected thing happened. Google directions was wrong, and the Muni stopped earlier than expected. A bunch of other conference attendees all got off. I kinda just merged myself into a group of Brits. We ended up catching a separate Muni and then getting to the site. It was probably a group of 6, and they all knew each other. I had no expectation that they would keep me in their fold, but I was pleasantly surprised. Even as we weaved through the crowds, one of the guys just really kept his eye on me. And then after we got in, they grabbed me a beer, and it was kinda nice to suddenly belong to a group. Eventually, we lost some members, but yeah the remaining three of us hung out together for the duration of the concert. Sadly, I got there too late to gain access to the stage where the Killers were performing. Also, I was disappointed to see on the Jumbotron that hottie Brandon Flowers let his hair grow way too long. Damn that dude’s look changes with the wind. He has a lot of different styles. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the music and then by the time the Foo Fighters came on, we were strategically positioned with the musicians in full view. In fact, later in the night, one of the maintenance crew was adding a new porta-potty to the bathroom area just left of the stage. My new friends had the smart idea to follow closely behind the dude as he split through the crowd, creating a path for us closer to the stage. Genius. The Brits LOVE the FF. They’re a bit cacophonous and screechy and fuck man, David Grohle is a goddamn maniac, but the show was entertaining and well, it was kinda cool to just be swept up in the concert energy. Around 11, I said my goodbyes and then Bubbey picked me up to ride home. I felt really proud of myself that night. I didn’t let my social anxiety prevent me from making new friends.

    Of course the next day is where my naive stance on relationships revealed itself. One of the guys, Stephen, had explained the night before that they had a booth and their chotkes arrived late due to customs, blah, blah. You know me with my follow up. So I went to their booth the last day of the conference, and I guess I thought maybe we would exchange info and connect via LinkedIn. I chatted with Stephen and he was very nice, but he kinda didn’t want to swap info, so I just left it at that. Like yeah, last night was fun. Safe travels back, and maybe you’ll be back next year. To be honest, it felt a little weird like maybe I was coming on too strong or something. I wasn’t flirting or hitting on him or anything. I guess I was just so thrilled the night before to have shared this big impersonal experience with some new people, maybe I felt somewhat indebted or connected. But it just made me realize that for consultants/sales/business people, interactions really are a dime a dozen. There is nothing really special about spending an evening hanging out with a stranger. I wasn’t hurt by this realization or anything. Maybe he read something romantic or clingy about my behavior the next day? The thing is, it didn’t really matter what he thought. I was pleasantly surprised to have met them, and I wanted to follow up the next day. I kinda got shut down or he distanced, but you know what? That’s ok. I treat relationships differently than other people. I’m not going to change what I do for fear of being read as desperate or whatever. I know what my intentions were and that’s all that matters. I was proud of myself for being unafraid and unconcerned. That’s a palpable shift from my past when I worried too much about how strangers, esp “cool” people perceived me.

    Work wise, my boss returned from personal vacation the days I was at the conference. Due to the new interim AVP and all her fresh demands, my boss had to interrupt me A LOT at the conference for data and reports and files. I was pretty annoyed, but when I thought about my boss’ stresses and fears, I tried to just get what she needed quickly. There was a session at Dreamforce that talked about kindness and compassion. Everyone is going through their own fucked up shit. Try to be kind. For some reason, that stuck with me.

    So the conclusion from Dreamforce? I want to gain some experience working with Salesforce. I feel like this idea of using tech to help an org operate more efficiently suits me better than social media management. It just feels like a stronger fit. My friend L, who now lives in DC, says he has a good friend who works for SF. We’ll see how that connection pans out. I’m happy that L and I are still in touch now and then. He’s going to be in Santa Clara in October for a couple days, so hopefully, we’ll get to catch up in person. It’s probably been a year since we last met up.

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  • Losing my Shit, Losing my Mind

    I’ve been losing a lot of things lately. I mean, sure, since we moved into this house five years ago, I’ve never been able to find my Skagen watch or my tanzanite/white gold 5-year anniversary ring. Yeah, those items are pretty much a lost cause. More recently however, I also “lost” my small fringe American Eagle purse. A few days after Mo died, we were at the neighborhood bar gathering with his friends after spending the day at the mosque and then the burial site. We were at the bar for probably four hours. I didn’t have that much to drink, but the day was extremely emotional and draining. After seeing a bunch of people just emotional and really drunk, I was eager to leave. The next day, as I got ready for work, I could not find my purse. Argh!! I got so frustrated with myself. WTF? Who forgets things and leaves shit hanging around. And then worse, I had to bother J and his sisters with searching for it at the bar and asking around the next day.

    To be honest, I have been feeling rather out of sorts lately– just not quite myself. The good news is that a few days later, after I had cancelled the credit cards (Thankfully, I had my ID and other major cards in a different bag), I was at home in my office, where the sofa had been pulled out for his sisters. I tossed open the comforter to fold it, and out popped my purse!! Then I remembered: I had crashed in that room and left my shit there. Thank goodness, bc even though I wasn’t really missing the contents or the cheap-ass purse, I did NOT want to think Mo’s friends or acquaintances walked off with someone else’s crap.

    All of this has triggered a new fear for me though: I worry that my mind is starting to go. And I feel like my mother lost a lot of her mental sharpness early too. I don’t know: things are just starting to slide. I don’t feel as witty or as quick/responsive as I used to be. I can’t seem to focus or digest auditory information like I used to. I don’t know. There’s a palpable shift. I know I’m getting older, but really??? Is this happening now? Like a paranoid ass, I started doing Lumosity again. That game annoys the crap out of me, bc I was scoring such goddamn low numbers. But I’m hoping the stats will get better with practice. I don’t know, man. Life is beating me down! Wth happened to resiliency? Ugh.

    And more importantly, what happened to Benjamin Button? That zest is gone. I find myself wondering who I am and what I can now offer. Is this what people call the existential crisis? Some days, these thoughts overtake me. Not only from the professional standpoint with doubts about my skills and “presence” but shit. I used to be more confident. Now I wonder how I’ll keep from becoming obsolete in this fast-moving world. Being an outcast or misfit didn’t bother me before when I was in the prime of my 30s. Now somehow I am struggling with where my puzzle piece fits. It’s a strange about-face.

    A friend from high school (we’re friends on FB) recently put down her 16 y/o dog. We hadn’t really been in touch since the 1990s, but I emailed her bc Thunder’s death reminded me of Remy. Anyway, my friend replied, and she made a comment that, for those of us who don’t have kids, the loss is maybe even more compounded. And it got me thinking about how, when you don’t have kids, society has all these different standards for you. Like a coworker recently said to me, “Oh you don’t have kids, so you can stay late at the office.” Other people (usually people with kids) sometimes make comments that suggest losing a dog is way less sad than losing a kid. Um, sure it’s different, but in some cases, my dog might even be OLDER than the child. Regardless, is grief measured by blood, by time together, by what? Do we even need to measure it?

    The other day, my father was telling me about his friend who wants dad to buy his parcel of agricultural land. My father commented that he doesn’t have any grandchildren so what’s the point of acquiring more land. Again, I say I value radical honesty, and yet, his words irked me. And days after that call, the irritation is still rubbing me. Later, I told him how there was a lot of reshuffling going on at work. He was concerned about the implications on my job stability, so I explained that I wasn’t really worried: I’m a hard worker. Then, he launched into a whole thing about 1) maybe the reshuffling will create opportunities for you to move up (bc whatever I’m doing is never enough) 2) working hard is great but you need to work smart. Is it just me, or is every fricking comment out of his mouth damn preachy?! Ugh. It’s probably just me. After all, I have a very long history of being highly reactive to the parentals. Blame it on my biggest character flaw once again.

    In other news, I’m starting four days of vacation tomorrow. I decided to take advantage of my higher ed status to score discounted registration to Dreamforce this week. Unfortunately, I’ll have to suffer through 90 minutes of public transportation each way to/from SF, but I guess it’s ONLY four days. Hopefully, seeing some big Whigs in the philanthropy space will help me break free of my current case of bad attitude. After the conference tomorrow, I’m going to join J and S for dinner. It’s been several days since I saw S. It’ll be good to check in with her again.

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  • What’s Next?

    I was thankful to have the long holiday weekend to spend some time re-calibrating. Of course, I’m still a fucking mental mess, but baby steps, right?

    We visited with S on Saturday, and then in the evening, J and I went to our first ever pro soccer game. In July, I had won Earthquakes tickets (club level, row 2!!) from a raffle at work. We were so psyched to have this new experience and to check out Avaya Stadium. Unfortunately, we were super drained by the time the game rolled around Saturday night, and even though we tried really hard to get out and distract ourselves, it only partially did the trick. We were kinda underwhelmed: the stadium itself was much smaller than I had expected, and then the game was low scoring (2-1). We surveyed the world’s longest bar at the stadium, but eh. Then again, if we’re honest, we’re viewing the world through some shit-colored lenses these days.

    As soon as I returned to the office on Tuesday, there was some serious drama. The head of our department announced his departure… for the very next day. WTF??? I mean sure, an organizational consultant was brought in last July to evaluate our ecosystem and produce a report with recommendations… Most of us suspected big changes were afoot, but still. One day of notice for the department was super abrupt. Consequently, it threw the entire office into a tizzy. Meanwhile, my direct supervisor was out on vacation all week… the news only exacerbated her already neurotic and anxious state.

    On Thursday morning, we were introduced to the new interim AVP– none other than the consultant who was brought in to evaluate us!! That part definitely raises red flags for me, but at the same time, she also put together a pretty solid presentation pointing out our current status and weaknesses with a phased plan to move us to a better place. So while I’m skeptical, I’m also curious to see what improvements can be done.

    Still, the ongoing problem for me remains multi-fold: 1) I don’t enjoy my current role 2) I don’t know what role I would want next or how I would want to contribute in the existing setting 3) I feel rather unmoved by the content, the institution, and the culture. With a few tweaks, is it possible that my attitude could change? I just don’t know, and certainly the recent life events make me feel more strongly than ever that I don’t want to waste anymore time with my life. I mean, I was already impatient as fuck, and now my tolerance is a gabillion times lower!

    My poor friend K. She’s like my onsite therapist. I’m really trying not to be a fucking broken record. Thankfully, the interim AVP got a really good, strong read from her initial interview with K, and I think she has big plans for my bud, which of course, would be awesome. Even if I’m a misfit for this place and sometimes for this world, I always want to see people thrive and flourish. This big shakeup has the potential to offer some really promising opportunities… Do I want to be around to witness all those big changes firsthand? I can’t say. I just feel so burned out and run down.

    Meanwhile, J has been talking to various startup CEOs. Looks like October is going to be his back-to-work month. The primary opp he’s negotiating is in SF. I have a lot of qualms about him resuming work at yet another startup and so far away in SF, but J is confident about his choice and decision, so what can I do but acquiesce and hope for the best.

    On the family side of things, my parents and grandparents flew out to Taiwan this week. I’m hoping in the next few months that my grandparents will come around and embrace living in Asia. Maybe I’m being selfish, but Jesus Christ, that would seriously be the easiest and most sensible decision for all involved. As for my in-laws, J and S are heading back East at the end of this month to visit. Many decisions still need to be made regarding their home, their vehicles, health care directives, etc.

    What else. Oh, Bubs partially tore his calf today. All week his calf had been sensitive and bothering him, then this afternoon, he got up from his desk at home to answer the doorbell and SNAP! He tore his muscle. WTF? I left work early to take him to the doctor. Yup, crutches, ibuprofen, and up to six weeks for recovery. Ugh!!! The RV Fair in Sacramento is thwarted.

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  • Gone in a Flash

    Sorry for the long silence. Life took a terrible, tragic turn, and I am still struggling to get back on even footing. Just over a week ago, we had a death in the family. J’s sister S and her beau were in LA for a wedding. After the ceremony and reception, she retired to their hotel room, and he went to buy a pack of smokes. He never returned. He was hit by a car and died at the scene.

    The days since have been mentally, emotionally, and physically draining. I’m immeasurably thankful that her oldest sister E flew out for a week. Somehow, E had all the right words and actions. J and I have driven to SF to see S everyday. Her emotions come in waves, but day by day, she appears considerably stronger. Honestly, I am in awe of S’s mental toughness. Despite the tragedy and trauma, she remains free of anger and resentment, and her perspective is unshakable.

    As I’ve learned more about M over the past week, from family and friends to work and love, the abruptness of his death is sadly less surprising though still utterly heartbreaking. What can I say: he was one-of-a-kind. He had the physique of a Greek god: towering in strength and invincibility. His heart was warm, gentle, and kind. He loved and was loved. But in this world, love is rarely enough.

    I am still figuring out how to share this tragic news with my friends. Some contacted me in the last week for other random matters, and somehow the information was easier to convey as a reply. But it feels strange to initiate contact and then delve right into such awful news. I have been feeling really overwhelmed and exhausted. M and S are extroverts, and I think being surrounded by so many people is helpful for her as she grieves. For me, meeting all these people seems only to compound the shock of the news, and I often want to just lie in bed with my thoughts and emotions. But I know it’s important to be with S. M would’ve wanted everyone everywhere to show up to his party.

    I went back to work on Wednesday. I was in a daze going through the motions at a job that already feels trivial and meaningless. Thank fucking goodness for my friend K. I had a few meltdowns at the office and then later at home, and she’s been incredibly insightful helping me to understand the complexity in all of this, also reminding me how best to support S. I’m glad we had the long holiday weekend to process things a bit more. Yesterday, we joined S and a few of her friends on a short hike at Mori Point in Pacifica. I’d never gone there before: it was a beautiful breezy day. We drove past Puerto 27 and Sea Bowl, where just a few weeks prior we had celebrated S’s bday with M and my friend P. God, it seemed only days ago when M told me he was born with four fingers on each hand, and doctors gave him thumbs by taking his big toes. Yes, I fell for it, bc I’m a gullible dumbass. But seriously, how could life and fate take such a sudden, dramatic turn?

    Ok, I’m slowing down now. Calling it a night and then back to my job tomorrow. I am trying to find joy again, even though that’s a hard thing for a pessimist/realist like me to do. I know M would want that for us and most importantly for S. Stay safe and take care. Life is so very precious.


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