I hate to start off these things with a writing cliche, but it really is quite difficult to find a proper starting point whenever I do these long opuses. So, where to begin in this ode to 2014?
One thing I won’t say about 2014 is that it went by quickly, because it most certainly didn’t. To some degree it was a slog simply to get to this, the last day of the year (this, the day of your daughter’s wedding…) Not to say there were many hardships in 2014 - it was a very good year indeed - but I definitely didn’t blink and missed it (more cliches!) That’s probably a good thing; Don’t motivational social media handles always remind people to stop and smell the roses? (Okay, I’ll stop…)
TIME, WHERE DID YOU GO?
Sadly for me I don’t particularly enjoy smelling flowers (damn allergies), but I did put effort to be more cognizant of the moment in 2014. I used to be the sort of person that constantly looked forward for the next thing to happen. While watching a movie I would be thinking about the drive home or the dinner afterwards, instead of enjoying the moving art in front of me. Going on trips, while on the flight en route I would already be thinking about the flight back. It’s a disease.
That sort of thinking accelerated the time relativity. Moments and occasions would be over with before I realized, leaving me to many arduous hours of reflecting on what happened - because I’d no idea, usually at the expense of beloved slumber hours. I think that’s how years can appear to slip you by, leaving you to agonize over how where exactly did all the time go.
For me, 2014 wasn’t going to be that; Time was compartmentalized down to each day, and focus was only towards what was right in front of me. My mother’s tendency to ask what’s for lunch when I’ve only just finished breakfast is now met with I’ll figure it out when I get there.
Not to say I don’t plan for things - you’ve got to, naturally. One can only be so spontaneous in a world that craves structure and predetermined results. If that wasn’t the case, then Wall Street wouldn’t go ape-shit every time earning results don’t match forecasts, or your friends wouldn’t desert you over failure to ever commit to anything.
So I’d only do the most minimum amounts of planning. I haven’t got a five year plan, nor do I care to imagine where myself will be in 10 years - it’s all superfluous. The magical elixir that ultimately allows the freedom for such thinking is of course, money, and the state of having some of it. I don’t know about you (I’m feeling 22!…), I retain a job not merely to sustain myself: the endgame is to have enough money to practically (and relatively) do what ever the heck I want.
The key, then, is to save. I may not plan for much, but saving significant amounts out of every paycheck is absolutely crucial. What people like to call ‘financial freedom’ is one of those real-life nirvana states that I would very much like to attain. Obviously, I have my Chinese upbringing to thank. Saving money is national past-time for the Chinese, and my parents were no different. When life threw suddenly-large-expenditure curveballs (as it is wont to do) at them, not once did they flinch - even when our family made half of what we do now (read: poverty level) and were still financially supporting me.
Growing up without much made me saw first hand just how limiting not having money can be. There were many things and experiences that the typical middle class kid grew up with that I was largely deprived of. For me, there was school, and that was it; The family hasn’t got money for anything else. It wasn’t only until well into high school when my parents made a bit more money that I was afforded other opportunities and options. And by that time, I was only a few years away from university and having my own income.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitter about it at all. I was fed and had a roof over my dome - there’s absolutely nothing to complain about.
Being Chinese, coupled with the conditions to which I was raised, taught me to save religiously. I wasn’t going to let money prevent me from doing stuff I want to do in the future. And mind you, it’s not about anything material (well, not most of it anyways - I do desperately want a Porsche at some point…). The things most worth paying for are experiences. I used to detest going out - and seldom did - due to the paradigm of going out costs money (after all, I am the president of the Homebody Association). My mindset has changed in 2014: these days I much rather go out and hang out with the comrades (and made an effort to do so) than buying the latest and greatest techno-gadgets or car parts.
2014 introduced to me a practice that hugely resonated with me: stealth wealth. It’s about living a life of modesty even though you’ve got significant sums in your accounts. The key is to never let other people be cognizant of your financial standing, because money can most certainly corrupt people’s perception and attitude towards you (haters are going to hate, as the kids say). One doesn’t need to be all flash and material, announcing to the world how much money you have. A person that didn’t already know who Warren Buffett is would never be wise to his vast fortune based only on encounters with the man. He still lives in a relatively small house even though he can easily afford to buy the entire town.
THE RALLYE CAR
That’s exactly what I strive to be, and the only object that betrays that ethos is my beloved car. One simply cannot, as an Asian male in his 20s, drive an Impreza STI around without people think of you in two ways: your parents are rich and bought you the car, or you yourself have loads of cash. In some ways I very much resent the latter viewpoint, because on a macro level the STI isn’t at all what you would consider expensive. The average transaction price of a car in the U.S. is around 30K - I only paid about 5K more than that for my car. Alas, that huge wing at the back, box fenders, and the Fast and Furious franchise completely ruined the image.
Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so into cars and would otherwise be content with a Prius.
That said, I absolutely adore my STI. 2014 marked year two of the ownership experience and I’m happy to say it just continues to be a joy. I turn back to look at the car every time I park, and when I return to it after a long days work I practically giggle like a schoolgirl. Me; I get to drive this car home! That kind of euphoria is definitely worth paying for if you’re a person with an affinity for automobiles. I drove the car whenever the opportunity presented, especially towards the latter parts of the year when gas prices went back to levels unseen in half a decade. I never thought I would ever again see the arabic numeral ‘2’ in front of the decimal point on gas station placards. It was game on.
It wasn’t all positive, though. The car suffered a minor fender bender with another vehicle attempting to occupy the same piece of tarmac. Thankfully it was all just surface scratches on the passenger side of the front bumper. I’d previously installed paint protection film (PPF) on the car so to remedy the situation I simply tore the film off the bumper. Quite literally, it was good as new. The PPF proved to be a worthwhile expenditure. It would’ve been quite the nightmare had the car needed a front-end respray, because the tri-coat pearlescent white pigment is just about the hardest paint on the planet to match accurately. My advice to anyone is avoid buying a car in that hue. Had I known about the fact I would’ve gotten the STI in blue.
LEAVE BEHING THE WORLD
In 2013 I took the car down the famed Pacific Coast Highway (twice!) for some proper road-tripping action, so this year I figure I’d head upwards instead: on a trip to Eureka that involved bits of Highway 1, 101, and various mountain roads in between. It was an absolutely blast. I had no idea the northern parts of California possessed such beautiful landscapes and scenery. Certain parts of the 101 that snakes through the Humboldt country Redwoods were some of the best roads I’ve driven yet. Miles upon miles of immaculately paved sweeping high-speed curves, cutting through mountains full of majestic trees; I’m not sure any alpine pass in Europe would be able to top that experience. (Not that I wouldn’t have a go…)
I can also say I drove my car through a tree. Cost me eight dollars to do it.
The other big trip I made was during thanksgiving week. Every year I seem to find myself in Los Angeles for whatever reason, and 2014 was no different. Somewhat spontaneously, I decided that I would attend the annual Los Angeles Auto Show, considered one of the big shows that automakers launch new cars and concept vehicles. I figured as a car enthusiasts it’s one of those bucket list items to tick off.
My expectations were beyond exceeded. The sort of token auto shows we get in San Francisco or San Jose are a pittance compared to the vast scale I witnessed within the walls of LA Convention Center. I hadn’t plan to spend an entire day at the show, but for the better part of what ended up to be nine hours, I made my way through the throngs of cars, people, and small children that shouldn’t be there.
It was a lovely time. I got the opportunity to sit in many car I wouldn’t have otherwise. One particular vehicle was the Nissan GT-R. Who knew one of the most capable sports cars at any price point doesn’t have a telescoping steering wheel? That fact entirely shattered any chance for me to purchase a used sample in the future, because thanks to my weird body proportions, I don’t fit in the car! Cars without reach-adjustable steering wheels are not options for me because I wouldn’t have enough head-room.
One thing I found out driving to and from Los Angeles was that in the absent of body bulk, sitting in the STI for prolonged periods of time was super uncomfortable. I’ve become too skinny for the car’s seats. Those seats were designed for large Americans, and not scrawny Asian guys.
WHY ARE THEY PLAYING CANON?
By the time 2014 is over and done, I would have lived slightly over 26 years of life. Age and the numbers associated with it are quite the conundrum, isn’t it? It’s one of those peculiarities where even when you feel like your station in life is standing still, the numeral that marks your age keeps on ticking. Men are endowed with the gift of mortality, as Tolkien puts it, and that gift of limited time enforces norms and expectations of a person in society. At my age, I’m suppose to ‘settle down’ and get married soon, right? (That’s hilarious…)
Do you think people would be in such a hurry to get married and have kids if our biological clocks are infinite?
Though I haven’t yet to figured out how to live forever, I don’t believe in such restrictions, and neither are my immediate friends (or so they say…) That said, in 2014 I was immensely happy to see two of my cousins get married. One was way overdue (high school sweetheart status), and the other (two years junior to me) we’re all like what’s the hurry? Ha, that age number and our perceptions of it again.
It’s almost impossible to reconcile that soon I would have nieces and nephews of my own. Scary, even. I’m going to be the best uncle, though: the uncle that gives you money. (Not directly, of course; It’ll be in a trust!)
My cousins getting married afforded me the chance to attend a wedding for the first time as an adult. Except I didn’t simply attend, but rather activity participated. Why didn’t anybody tell me being the best man is so incredible tiresome and so much work? I’m not sure I’ve ever drank as many Starbucks expresso shots as I did on the day of the wedding. Traditional Chinese weddings are such a production that personally I rather avoid it for myself if possible (unless future imaginary wife is Chinese and wants one) From the crack of dawn to the closing of midnight, it was nonstop.
It’s then that I realized, weddings are not for the bride and groom. Given the option I think most couples would choose the smallest of ceremonies possible, unless you’re the person that’s had dreams of that perfect wedding day since youth (my perfect wedding would be forgoing it completely and use that money that would’ve otherwise gone towards it as a down-payments towards a Porsche I mean mortgage…) Wedding events are entirely for family and friends, and especially family if you happen to be Chinese. You may not want your parents’ childhood friends at your wedding, but they do, and outside of financial restrictions I’m fairly certain your not going to argue with them. Same with those relatives you’ve only seen maybe twice in your life.
What do a bunch of Chinese otakus do for a bachelor party? We play snooker at a pool hall, and then eat some Asian desserts. Super mundane, super fobby, no alcohol, and no stripper. Granted, it was the night of Thanksgiving. I think my cousin would have unceremoniously ejected me out of the family if I had, as the best man, taken him to a strip club.
One occasion that is definitely worthy of a celebration is the San Francisco Giants winning yet another world championship in 2014. The first time in 2010 was already beyond lovely; The second one in 2012 was a purely gift; A third in five years is something I cannot put into words. Not in my wildest of sports fanaticism and hopes could I have imagined to see my favorite baseball team win three World Series in such a short period of time.
And my sympathies for Chicago Cubs fan grow even deeper.
Sports are not suppose to work that way. Seldom do teams have that much success in such a short time, especially in baseball, where winning it all takes every bit of skill and luck. I’m not one of those that dismisses luck, because baseball is a game where the smallest of variables can have devastating effect: a chance directional change of wind could determine the outcome of a game. A team like the Giants that barely squeaked into the playoffs needs a bit of luck to win it all. That said, I also subscribe to the notion that one must work hard to have any luck, so to say the San Francisco Giants was lucky to win the World Series is not at all dismissive of their tremendous body of work.
It was luck that the Dodgers were eliminated by the Cardinals, and the Giants did not have to face them in the league championship round. I firmly believed we would have lost. Good thing that scenario remains fantasy, and I’m still pissed the Giants failed to capture the NL West title. (Hahahaha…)
In terms of skills, it helps to have the services of arguably the best manager in the majors. It was massively satisfying during the playoffs to witness Bruce Bochy’s master class on how to manage the modern game. Opposing managers made questionable move after questionable move, while the seemingly infallible Bochy called out all the right moves from the dugout. This astonishing phenomenon also happened in 2012 and 2010, leading you to wonder why hasn’t anybody studied and learned from it.
Not that I’m complaining.
In addition to a great manager, there’s the Rock-of-Gibraltar Buster Posey, but has a team ever relied on one singular person to take the gold more than the Giants did in 2014, riding on the vast shoulder expanse of Madison Bumgarner? It’s not hyperbole to say that sans Bumgarner, the Giants would not have had another parade down Market street.
Sometimes you flip through the baseball history books and find transcendent pitching performances, wondering to will you yourself will ever stand to see one them. Well, I can proudly say I was alive and watching for Bumgarner’s otherworldly performance in the 2014 playoffs. Utter domination would not begin to sufficiently described what he did. You know your pitcher is good when you have slight (very slight…) thoughts of feeling sorry for the other team having to face the guy. When Bumgarner came into game 7 of the World Series to pitch in relief, I saw the desperate despondence of the Royals players and fans. It was, simply put, unfair.
Not that I’m complaining.
I RUN SF. KIND OF. NOT REALLY
This year I gradually weened myself of other forms of exercise, and in their place, took to the art of running. I used to hate running, and could barely suffer through the requisite mile for PE. Now that I’ve discovered it again however, running is indeed wonderful. Next to swimming it’s the perfect exercise as far as I’m concerned. Instead of working out practically everyday as I’ve done previously, 2014 saw me only doing a five mile jaunt of Lake Merced on Sundays, with music my sole companion (because you always run alone, even if you start with others).
For someone that tend to hate going outdoors for anything, I have to say it’s quite the turnaround. I can still remember the first time I ran the lake: my left ankle was out of commission the following week. Naturally it got better as the weeks moved on, so much so that in September I ran my first (and certainly won’t be the last) 10K event at the 2014 running of Giants Race. Aside from the ungodly wakeup time (I’m decidedly not an early-morning runner), running together with thousands upon thousands of people, with the gorgeous San Fransisco waterfront as a backdrop was incredible. If only I could bottle that euphoria as I crossed the finish line, giving Lou Seal a hearty high-five.
And through it all, even with the dramatic scaling back in exercise frequency, I managed somehow to shed 20 pounds by summers end. I guess that famed Asian metabolism is alive and well in my body. Time to hit the buffet tables more often while I still can.
TEN THINGS I THINK REFLECTING 2014
1. A heart-felt rest-in-peace to Robin Williams, whom the world untimely lost in 2014. I seldom get caught up on the death of famous persons, but for various reasons, Williams’ death hit me like a ton of bricks. I, like many of my contemporaries, grew up watching his humor and humility. A favorite son of San Francisco, Williams is very missed.
2. I stopped watching American football in 2014, because I cannot support a league that tolerates domestic abuse and other transgressions in order to maximize profit. Since I don’t buy anything related nor do I care to fork over the exorbitant amounts of money to go see a game live, the only way the NFL makes money off me is my eyeball to the television. Well, not any more.
3. The most enjoyable I watched in 2014 is Guardians of the Galaxy. Suffice it to say, everything Kevin Feige touches, turns to gold. The latest offering from the colossal Marvel empire is ridiculously fun, awesome (especially that mixtape), and appeals to the sci-fi space adventure geek in me. Since it’s release on home video, I’ve watched the movie like five times.
Honorable mention to Interstellar (I’m an admitted Christopher Nolan fanatic), and Lucy (Scarlett Johansson as a femme fatale shut up and take my money).
4. The most fun thing I purchased this year has got to be the GoPro. It’s so easy and convenient to use that you find yourself looking for excuses to go shoot and do crazy stuff. I remember having similar feelings of exploration and excitement when I first bought an DSRL camera. I only wish the GoPro’s battery life wasn’t so anemic, but at least extra batteries are cheap.
5. I value work-life balance greatly, and to that end I cannot be happier with my current job. The university atmosphere keeps it young and energetic, with the natural cadence of academic life allowing more than adequate time off and opportunities to decompress. I may not make as much as the equivalent in the private sector, but on the happiness scale there’s no comparison.
6. In times of digital consumption and mass-produced products from China, I find myself putting more value towards stuff that are analog and hand-made. For example, photographs are infinitely better printed out on paper stock than digitally imprisoned on the screen of our mobile devices. There’s something special about the tactility and tangibleness of actual objects. Any book or album I particularly enjoy, I make it a point to buy it in physical form.
Bespoke products made with actual human hands are well worth the premium. Nothing fits like a tailored suit. There’s beauty in exquisite craftsmanship and artisanal technique you won’t find in a factory in China.
7. “When you admire the work of artists or writers, tell them. And spend money to acquire their work.”
On the same token, support small businesses, local or otherwise, with your cash. As mentioned, I’m not exactly cavalier with my money, but given the option and opportunity, I definitely make an effort to support ‘the little guy’.
8. Sometimes it’s okay to trade money for convenience; For someone raised on miserly principles, I’ve had trouble latching on to that ethos, but I’m getting there. As you get older, you come to the recognition that the value of time trumps all. Some things simply isn’t worth the hassle: that time is better spent elsewhere. I’m perfectly capable of performing maintenance procedures on my car, but I elect to spend the money on servicing it at the dealership. Drop it off before work, pick it up after work; There’s a free shuttle to and from.
9. Facebook is of no use to me, and towards the end of 2014 I quit the platform entirely. I don’t really want nor need to keep tabs on so many people, most of whom I’ll never see again in my life. Checking Facebook became a distraction and time-waster, one I could do without. Instagram and Twitter is where I’ll be. For now.
10. Numerous times during 2014, I’ve definitely been lethargic towards doing anything, and that’s not okay. Too much to learn, see, and do for that to be happening.
This is the part of the blog post where I usually summarize the year and say a few words about the year to follow. Strangely though, I haven’t got much thought about 2015, even as I am writing these words on the last day of 2014. People tend to symbolize the completely turn of the calendar as some significant signal towards renewal or new possibilities. Good for them, I say, but for me, tomorrow is just another day. The only change is that I’ve got a shiny new personalized Calendar in place of last year’s. If 2015 is largely more of the same as my 2014, that would already be tremendous (Giants win the World Series again? Yes?).
And we go on…!
2014 ITUNES TOP TEN PLAYS
1. NS Yoon-G - If You Love Me (feat. Jay Park)
2. Henry Lau - Butterfly (Feat. 슬기 of SMROOKIES)
3. Girls' Generation - Mr.Mr.
4. 소유 (SoYou) X 정기고 (JungGiGo) - 썸 (Some) feat. 긱스 릴보이 (Lil Boi of Geeks)
5. EXO - 중독 (Overdose)
6. 潘瑋柏 Wilber Pan - 不的不愛 Got to Love (ft. 弦子 Xianzi)
7. SHINee - Love like Oxygen (산소 같은 너)
8. Owl City - Up All Night
9. Red Velvet - Be Natural (Feat. SR14B `Taeyong (태용)`)
10. Taylor Swift - Blank Space