Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Booking a room and renting a car in Japan

My friend and I are planning for a trip to Japan (finally!) in the third week of July, so periodically I’m going to talk about some of the process on here (trust the process).

A few weeks back I ranted about how it was cheaper to fly to Japan from LAX than our local airport SFO. The savings from flying out further south is quite significant, which is just as well because the next item on the list after plane tickets is accommodations, and it’s expectedly expensive in Tokyo.

It’s also astonishingly small. I’ve dealt with land scarce cities before, namely Hong Kong, but even the tiny hotels rooms there are generally larger than the ones I’ve browsed around Tokyo. Japan’s idea of a hotel room with two twin beds is an area that’s just big enough to fit two beds nearly stuck together, and not much else. Sure hope you didn’t pack a lot of luggage!

Obviously, the western branded hotels are slightly more hospitable to our American sensibilities of personal space, but those are prohibitively out of our price range. The space situation on Airbnb is better than hotels if you choose to rent an entire home, but even there you should plan to be somewhat cozy with your chosen roommate. The place we reserved is nevertheless appropriately tiny, but at least the two beds aren’t directly adjacent to each other.

Small living spaces is indeed how Tokyo manages to cram over 13 million people within its city limits.

After we sorted our living situation, the focus turned to renting a car. Now it must be said that we fully realize the public transportation system in Tokyo is robust and envy of the world, and we will be utilizing to the maximum. However, there will be a few days where we plan to leave the capital for the countryside, and the original plan was to rent a car because I’ve always wanted to drive on the wrong side of the road in a foreign country.

And as a car enthusiast, I really wanted to visit and drive on the famed Hakone turnpike, a toll road that absolutely requires a car.

Upon further research, it turns out it’s highly not recommended to drive anywhere within or near Tokyo. The grid structure is practically a maze, and the signage isn’t the greatest if you don’t know Japanese. Getting lost is almost guaranteed. Yikes.

So a change of plans then: we are going to rent a car closer to the turnpike, and instead will travel to Hakone via the reliable and fast bullet train.

Much more to come!

I think more people should buy cars in colors that isn’t a shade of white, silver, gray, or black.

Closing up shop

My dear mother does her grocery shopping in San Francisco’s Chinatown, even though she lives at least a 40-minute bus ride away. There’s plenty of grocery store in and around our neighborhood, but she still prefers to shop at that wonderful tourist trap. The reason is very simple: food items are marginally cheaper in Chinatown, and my mom being the person that she is, can’t let any modicum of savings be forsaken.

Never mind the lost opportunity cost in the nearly two-hour commute to and from Chinatown. The generation of my mother’s doesn’t view time as we do: they can’t fathom paying extra for convenience. They rather circle for a half hour looking for free street parking than paying the few dollars to park in a garage. Granted that’s how my family were able to save money despite our meager backgrounds, but those habits never did go away even as our family collectively have climbed into the middle class.

Anyways, lately my mother has started to notice a lot of the shops in Chinatown that have been around for decades are closing up their doors. Stores she has known since we immigrated to the States back in 96 are shuttering down business. Chinatown is never lack for foot traffic, so my mother was confused as to why this was happening.

I told her the reason is the rent is too damn high. San Francisco is notorious for its super high residential real estate costs, and it’s only logical that same pricing pressure is effecting the commercial space as well. I’ve seen and read about it: old and sacred institutions that have operated in the city for decades are forced to close up shop because their respective landlords decided to cash-in on the frenzy. 

I exactly don’t blame property owners for wanting to maximize their earnings, but indeed the consequence of that is a lot of what once made up the flavor of a particular neighborhood – what attracts people to live there – is and will be gone. What’s left will be artisan food shops that sell those famous avocado toasts for twenty dollars, or high-end grocery stores where (organic) apples costs ten dollars per pound. In a city that only rich people can afford to live, with minimum wage amongst the highest in the nation, the cost of living will naturally increase to a commensurate point.

Those grocery shops in Chinatown cannot simply raise prices to compensate for the increases in rent, because then people like my mother (and there are many of them) will no longer shop there. It’s a catch 22 where ultimately the solution is to shut down business, which is quite sad indeed. I genuinely don’t know and afraid of what San Francisco will look like in a few years if this housing issue of our time isn’t remedied.

Axe about me.

Just chilling with my friends

I think we can all agree that we are much too immersed into our smartphones, spend way too much time the devices, and for not entirely productive purposes (if at any). Personally I wish I don’t linger on twitter for hours on end when I fire up the app every morning; sadly its gravitational pull is very strong. Up to a certain point I think it’s probably better to be watching television than losing ourselves in the mire of social media apps.

But then again, who amongst us haven’t reflexively picked up our phones during the particularly boring parts of a show? We can’t escape from its clutches even when there are other things to occupy our attention. Shame!

So lately I’ve been trying to be more deliberate with forcing myself away from my iPhone, especially on the weekends. The primary strategy is basically leave the house and go hang out, either with myself (that counts, right?), or with friends or family. I’ve found that when I stay home on the weekends, my fingers often itches for the phone, as if on impulse.

Hanging out with myself accomplishes the task quite easily because it means I’m out driving the GT3, and it’s rightfully against the law in California to operate a cellphone while piloting a vehicle. Not that I would otherwise anyways because driving the Porsche for fun demands a bit of attention and concentration, plus I’m having way too much fun to care about the latest outrage on twitter. Going on drives for multiple hours offers an opportunity for me to meditate and reflect; to detach and take a different perspective on things in my life.  

This past weekend I did not go on a drive, but rather hung out with my friends for an entire day instead. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival was happening in Japantown, and one of my friends happens to live a block from the epicenter. Her place served as the perfect base of operation: we did a round of the vendors, got some festival food, and then went back to the place to chill. We laughed through three Netflix comedy specials consecutively until it was time for dinner, which we then headed back out again for.

At the end of evening I remarked to my friend how little I used my phone during the day, so infrequently so that the music app still remembered its place from when I previously paused. That’s a sign of a good day spent.

Admittedly it’s not the most exciting itinerary on paper, but it was a great time with my friends – I’m a huge fan of just milling about and chatting. As a known recluse, these sort of hang outs aren’t the norm for me, but I’m beginning to discover that actual human-to-human socialising is crucial to a person’s overall well-being. It’s not enough to simply do chat over messaging apps on our phones – we need to see, hear, and truly pay attention to each other to reap the benefits.

There shall be plenty more days like this.


450 words per day

It’s been said that the Ernest Hemingway only wrote about the 450 words a day. I’m far too lazy to research whether he actually did do that or not (excellent journalism being done here), so I’m just going to take that at face value.

450 words a day isn’t all that much, isn’t it? My daily blog posts are about 400 words on average (shout-out to the built-in word counter in Microsoft Word), and they take about half an hour to write. Obviously I’m not penning a great American novel, only merely writing down what I’m currently musing on, so the amount of imagination and creativity required is significantly less than Mr. Hemingway.

Nevertheless, it’s still only about a page a day, and for the rest of the time Ernest gets to chill and hangout at his leisure. It’s no wonder he chose a tropical paradise like Cuba to live in. It’s hashtag goals, as the kids say these days: write for a few hours at most, then the rest of time drink coffee and smoke cigars to the heart’s content. What a super low-stress way to make a living; I bet he would’ve lived quite a bit longer, had Hemingway not committed suicide.  

My ideal locale wouldn’t be a third-world country near the equator, but rather a cottage nestled in the hills and forests, somewhere in our northwest region. As I grow older I’ve really come to appreciate ultimate peace and silence. To attain that, being away from the cities is a must. As long as that cottage has a solid Internet connection, I can make a living doing creative freelance, or like Hemingway, write 450 words a day to someday form a novel.

The lesson here is that life is about consistency and solid habits over a long period. It’s rare and difficult to be a sudden viral sensation or hit something big overnight: good things take time to create, and it’s contingent on the creator to keep at it and coming back to it day after day, month after month. For sure on some days the progress will be excruciatingly slow, but even tiny bits of forward momentum, if done consistently, can compound into something great.

The other lesson is that this thing of ours is indeed marathon, not a sprint; don’t overwork yourself: be sure to take some time to enjoy being alive.

A road to joy.

Right in the feels

Yesterday I was introduced to this interesting article about busyness, within which the following is quoted:

This busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness. Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly, or trivial, or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked every hour of the day. All this noise, and rush, and stress seem contrived to cover up some fear at the center of our lives.

This hit me right in the gut.

I’m not super obsessed with being busy, but I do try to keep productive whenever I can. Whenever I’m idle it feel as if I’m wasting this one life I’ve got, so I keep to a tight schedule and try to maximize the learning opportunities. Indeed I’m that asshole who can’t understand people’s infatuation with watching television; those mindless hours are better spent on more creative endeavors, or self improvement. On such occasions I grab a book instead, or edit photographs.

But it’s easy to get trapped into a productivity hamster wheel, where I’m singularly focused on finishing a task as quickly as possible, and moving on to the next. I don’t get satisfaction for the day until the list is finished, which on reflection is not the healthiest thing to do, because I’m completely negating the joy that comes from the process. If life becomes just a series of checkmarks, then you’re forever looking towards the next item to mark off. I keep busy because I’m afraid the music will stop.

Because when the music stops, I die.

My busyness is absolutely a sort of existential reassurance, not as a hedge against emptiness, but rather a hedge against my fear of mortality. Since my youth I’ve had difficulty accepting that all of this is finite, and someday I won’t be walking on this earth. Worse still is the feeling that I won’t know what happens afterwards, an eternal sleep from which there’s no awakening. That final threshold of human life have always had a scary hold onto my psyche, even to this day as a full-fledged adult. The continued practice of stoicism and the acceptance of death sometimes isn’t enough to hold back the demons.

Being busy, does; so I keep at it, but reading that passage above completely pierced through the facade. I’m afraid of death, yet I’m mindlessly barreling through it without stopping to feel alive in the present. That’s not okay. Instead of using busyness as a blanket to hide away the darkness, I need to steer into the slide and confront the pangs of fear whenever it materializes.

Not to say I shall become be slothful and lazy (my default mode, actually), but rather to slow down and really focus on what’s at hand, rather than what’s coming up next. Also, it’s perfectly okay to take a break, and have frivolous moments - especially if it’s spent with family or friends.

Here today, gone tomorrow.


I’ve been listening to Kpop for over a decade now, and have watched Saturday Night Live (SNL) continuously for equally as long. Never in all my imaginations would I think I’d ever see those two entities collide. A Kpop artist as a musical act on SNL? Unfathomable.

So it was somewhat surreal to see BTS perform on SNL this past Saturday. Hearing Korean language being sung on an American television program is something unthinkable only until recently, and I’m super prideful that BTS didn’t dilute their brand of music – namely attempt to do American pop – in their rise to worldwide fame.

Huge credit must go to PSY and ‘Gangnam Style’ for busting the door open.

I can’t help to think of the Kpop artists before BTS that have tried to enter the western markets and have largely failed. Artists who were mega popular in Asia, but died out to a whimper here in the States: Kwon Boa, Bi Rain, and Wonder Girls. Perhaps back then America wasn’t yet ready for an Asian act to enter their domain, and BTS is lucky to be birthed during a time when the smartphone and rampant Internet access have flattened and broaden our horizons.  

10 years ago, access to Kpop in the States was decidedly underground, having to rely on the benefaction of kind Korean netizens uploading the MP3 files onto the Internet. Fast forward to today, new Kpop releases happen simultaneously on almost all the streaming platforms. It’s a massive change.

I think the failure of earlier Kpop artists was also in large part due to them Americanizing their sound – singing in English. In their attempt to pander to a different audience, they lost a core of their original fan-base who wished they’d kept doing Kpop, while simultaneously the unfamiliar American audience looked strangely at these singers from Asia is doing American pop. BTS achieve popularity in the West because they never strayed from Kpop and singing in Korean, and I think people are strongly drawn to that authenticity. Entering the American market was never a goal for those guys: it just sort of happened, very organically.  

In truth I would say BTS isn’t even the most talented group currently in Kpop (I’d rank Block B above them; come at me), but to see a group of Asian males be so adored by an American demographic is something great to see from a representation standpoint. I have to get behind that, and also I do like BTS’ music.

Naturally then I tuned in live to SNL, and it was interesting to see on my twitter feed other people seeing BTS perform for the very first time. Some were amazed at their ability to coordinately dance and sing live at the same time, while others were (rightfully) confused about some of the English lyrics not making the best grammatical sense. Overall, people were impressed, and so was I. What a beautiful sight it was indeed.

Duck season.

Happy tax day

A very happy tax day to my fellow Americans. I hope you’ve either paid your taxes or have filed an extension.  

If on the other hand you’re due to receive a hefty return, congratulations! You’ve just loan money to the federal government with zero interest for one whole year. With savings accounts (finally) paying in the two percent, it’s financially better to owe taxes at the end of the year than getting a sum back. I adjusted my W2 deduction accordingly so that I owe a small amount at tax time.

Obviously, what other people do with their money is none of my concern (as long as you don’t ask taxpayers to bail you out of anything), and I recognize that for some, having a sizeable tax return is a good mechanism to enforce a savings habit they wouldn’t otherwise have the discipline to implement. But that only works if those same people don’t then go spend their tax return completely, rather than storing it in a bank account. I’m afraid not that many actually do that.

2018 is the first year of the Trump tax cuts, and from that perspective I have to say it’s been awesome to keep more of my earned money. We’ve all been getting slightly more in take-home over the entire year, so my actual burden come tax day is more or less the same as before. That is, if I hadn’t bought the GT3.

In order to pay for the 911, I had to sell a large portion of my investment account holdings. Thanks to the bull market that’s going on its second decade (one wonders how long that will last), the returns were quite good, which meant one thing: capital gains tax. I won’t go on a diatribe about the unfairness of taxing capital gains, but let’s just say I think it’s wrong to tax money that has already been taxed upon.

Anyways, having to pay capital gains meant my tax bill was considerably more than usual, so naturally I waited until the last possible minute to file. My parents also had to pay taxes, so yesterday I filed both of them in one go. Say what you want about TurboTax lobbying congress to keep their pseudo monopoly on tax filing services, but at least their software is super intuitive and easy to use. Additionally, it was absolutely free for my parents to file both Federal and Stat, so honestly I can’t ask for more.

I’ll see everybody again next year; same time, same place.

Whale tail.