Long-form blog posts and editorials. Topics cover both personal and the world at large. 

Trust the Process - 2018 Reflections


Progress is difficult to see by when your goals are measured in many months and years. Gone are the days of rapid discovery and learning during childhood, where a missed day can be the difference between success and failure. Adulthood is a slow-roll of sameness, day after day. Motivation, then, is difficult to find.

If you’re as ambitious as I like to think of myself as, your goals are huge, fantastical, and takes quite a bit of time. The daily trudge to get to the end point can be altogether hopeful and extremely frustrating. Indeed life is a game of compounding: the daily gains of a savings account are minuscule, but come tax time the delight from the accrued interest is amazing.

That is until you realize you have to pay the U.S. government 15% tax on capital gains.

So every day is another day crossed-off on the calendar, slightly ever closer to the end-zone. This agonizingly slow yet steady progress is what I can best sum up this year of 2018. No major breakthroughs, no significant achievements; just normal, consistently consistent everyday life.

And that’s completely okay.

Or is it? Honestly It took me quite some months to find my rhythm at the beginning of the year. 2018 was always going to be a year of transition, deemed so by me turning age 30 the December prior. Contrived and cliche as it may be, flipping the leaf over to a new decade is indeed a transformative occasion. I’ve been a categorical ‘adult’ since turning 18, but this year was the first time I’ve ever truly felt the word and meaning of it. Anybody that’s still in college and below are considered kids to me, which can be strange because I work at a university.



As expected from an adult, I’m to completely invest myself in the adult milieu. First and foremost is a proper career. I’ve been at the same place of employment practically since college, and I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to have job with incredible work-life balance, and a public worker’s pension at the end, should I remain there for the rest of my working life.

And that’s where the rub was in early 2018. It’s typical human nature to constantly crave the new and the fresh, and work was getting just a bit too stale and same for me. I didn’t not enjoy it, but I was seriously juggling with the question of whether or not it’s something I want to keep doing for the next few decades. The easy route would be to stay, but is it the most satisfactory?

I didn’t have the answer, so I started dreaming and scheming. I’ve always been enamored with Asia, so perhaps I should move there and work as a proper English-speaking concierge type person for a hotel or business. San Francisco remains insanely expensive to live, so perhaps I should move to another less monetarily demanding State (like Montana), and try my hand at this Internet thing, whether it be freelance writing, or producing videos on Youtube.

The options that didn’t involve staying at the current job entailed leaving San Francisco, which I reckon was absolutely necessary because finding another job in the same city I saw as a lateral move, even if it paid substantially more. My routine wouldn’t have changed much at all, only what I did during the eight or so hours at work.

If I were going to change my line of work, so too must the scenery change.


Obviously, the career move did not come to pass. I’m still working at San Francisco State, and as of typing this I’m enjoying a nice week and a half of provided vacation time between Christmas and New Years.

And to think most people have work up until the very last day of the year; I am undeserving of such good fortune.

Momentum is a stubborn thing, especially when forces have been constant for many years. The exit velocity needed to alter the trajectory is tremendous and difficult to attain. I didn’t switch careers this year because my job, boring as it may have become, was too comfortable and reassuring to leave. I mean, what utter arrogance for me to be dissatisfied? What of the countless others who would absolutely kill to have what I’ve got. It isn’t enough for living in San Francisco, but discounting housing, what I make per year is enviously comfortable. You can actually look it up: California public employee salaries are public information.

So you can say I chose the easy way out, and on some level I agree wholeheartedly, but I can assure you the process arriving at that decision was anything but. I have zero regrets about what could have been; in life you make decisions, and then you simply deal with the consequences, negative or positive. That said I did leave myself a backdoor of sorts: if I were ever to be let go from my current position, I’d immediately execute any one of the exit strategies I’ve listed above.

Because nothing lasts forever, and I never take for granted that I can easily keep the same job until retirement, especially because I work for the State. It only takes one serious downturn in the economy for them to start paring down the expenses, and I’m not stupid enough to think of myself as indispensable. Nevertheless, I’m resign to the fact that it would take something on the scale of that to make me go skip town for a new adventure.

Wasted potential? I guess you can say that, but those are not your consequences.


Besides, I’ve found something highly motivating to keep me where I’m at. The story begins back to what constitutes to being a proper adult; I’ve already spoken of career; another pillar is a home. Great and awesome my culture may be to allow adult children to live with their parents until infinity (some would say it’s demanded), in early 2018 I looked at venturing out to a place of my own. Again, that whole turning 30 thing.

As it is infamously renowned, San Francisco’s housing market is damn impossible for anyone making under six figures. Even renting a one-bedroom place reasonably close to work would entail spending half of my gross income on rent, when the golden formula calls for at most a third. Theoretically and mathematically feasible, but being “house-poor” is not a good way to live. No more annual upgrades to the latest iPhone, for one (though I really should stop doing that irregardless).

Until or unless the local housing market softens back to saner levels - whenever the local and State governments can finally muscle out the reluctant NIMBY homeowners to allow for vastly more building - I shall remain living with my parents. Spending over two thousand dollars on rent goes against every fiber of my fiscally conservative sensibilities. I can afford to, but I don’t want to.

But that money otherwise has to go somewhere. For the past few years I’ve been on a traveling binge, so much of my disposable income have gone towards that. Flight and hotel costs add up eye-wateringly quick, especially when I tend to only frequent expensive first-world metropolises (I really want to go back to Seoul). It’s money well spent: I think everyone should do a bit of traveling at least once in their life, preferably before serious onset of adulthood and its accompanying responsibilities.



Outside of the annual winter trip back home to China, I did not do any other traveling in 2018. I have found something else to direct my funds towards. It goes back to one of my first loves: cars.

Paradoxically, it has not been a good year for my family in terms of luck with cars. My father’s 1992 Toyota Previa finally gave up the ghost back around the time of the Super Bowl (suck it, Patriots). The head gasket failed, and water in the combustion chamber is never a good thing. The ruined engine wasn’t worth fixing, so the van was donated to charity (returning zero dollars in tax write-off), and the car my brother was driving for college - a 2006 Toyota Corolla (my very first car) - became my father’s new daily driver.

The Corolla wouldn’t last out the year, either, as I’ll write about down below.

So we had to get a new car for my brother. My parents’ generosity in buying a new car for me way back when was to be replicated for him, something about fairness and not appearing to play favorites. They had originally planned to do so after he finishes college, but the Previa’s untimely destruction forced an audible. In comes a brand new 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI, much too nice and expensive of a car for a college kid that haven’t yet turn 21.

Crazy Rich Asians, my family is most decidedly not.


Jokes aside, a new GTI indeed proved to be too much car for a person who can’t legally be served an alcoholic drink. I found out when I did the arrangements for insurance. Due to young males being the worst demographic for auto insurance cost, the car was bought in my name, which meant it was up to me to insure it. The tactic only managed to dampen the blow slightly: adding my brother and a $30K vehicle to my policy of a 2016 Mazda MX-5 proved to be an absolute financial shock. I went from paying $90 a month for my lonesome to over $300 for the entire lot.

I can afford it, obviously, but that sort of outlay still hurts. Anything for family, right? Laughter turning into tears.

Aftershocks from the insurance increase would last for quite some months. My frugal sensibilities simply could not stomach paying that much money for auto insurance; a Porsche would be cheaper to insure. Also selfishly I don’t much like to pay insurance for a car I don’t even get to drive. For the few months up until the end of May, the $300 plus monthly outlay was an albatross glaring back at me. I had to make a change.

So I sold the Miata.

Obviously I was not going to bail on paying for my brother’s insurance, so to cut down the costs I had to get rid of my own car. Other contributing reasons are numerous; primarily because I’d rarely driven it (14,000 miles in 2.5 years), and also because San Francisco traffic is so horrendous that commuting - even though I’ve got one of the best most fun-to-drive sports cars for the money - completely wrecks the soul and psyche. For the first time since end of junior year of high school, I am commuting via public transportation.


Even though driving is faster than taking the bus, the serenity from not having to worry about navigating through the maze of other cars on the road is the greatest sublime, and well worth the extra time. One of the best thing I found in 2018 is the joy of listening to podcasts on the bus, and only needing mental energy for making sure I get off when at the appropriate stop. I arrive at work (and home) refreshed and ready to go, rather than tight and stressed, likely still incensed at the idiot who had cut me off earlier.

As long as I work and live in the city, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to commuting by car. Public transportation is better for mental health, and just better for the environment. Yes, I’m going to be one of those smug assholes.

Though it does leave me without a car. For the first few months after selling the MX-5, I was surprisingly, completely okay with the situation. The extra money in my accounts were looking ever so beautiful. Around late July however I started experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and began seriously missing the joy (and not so joys) of car ownership. For a self-professed petrol-head to not have a single car was probably too ambitious of a heading. The new plan, however, would be equally ambitious.


I was adamant to not commute in a car again, so what I needed was one exclusively for the weekend, something to enjoy in the leisure days in between work weeks. In my brief automotive history I’ve own a Subaru WRX STI and the aforementioned Mazda MX-5, and whatever I choose next wasn’t going to be facsimiles of those two types of cars. It has to be a proper sports car, needn’t be too practical because I’m only driving it on Saturdays and Sundays.

Aside from an Alfa Romeo, next on the list of must-own cars for a car enthusiasts has got to be the Porsche 911. The iconic shape have ensnared me since very first time I laid eyes on the wide fenders of a 993 Turbo. Owning a 911 have always been some far-fetched goal for me, principally because it’s quite expensive to buy. I’ve never paid over $40K for a car ever, so the prospect of a car in the six figures is pretty insane.


Insane enough to give it a go. If the ultimate goal is to own a 911, then wasting time and money with other cars in the interim is just silly. My next car will be a 911, and not just any plain 911 (because that’s not how I do things), but a GT3.

A rather ambitious plan, one that requires lots of capital. That’s why I’ve been absent in the traveling game this year; any discretionary income have been put away into the GT3 fund. I haven’t implemented such austerity measures since back when I was first saving up for the WRX STI. It feels good; feels familiar.

It was intense money saving mode for the latter half of 2018, which made everyday life a bit less interesting than it could be. Going outside costs money, so I seldom did. Remember also that I don’t have a car to easily go anywhere. I wrote at the beginning of this that progress is difficult to see on daily basis, and I did the best I could to endure the humdrum and mundane until the GT3 arrives. In a rapid society of instant gratification, it’s easier said than done.

Most of my weekends were spent with my parents: help run errands, do grocery shopping, and generally hanging out. Selfishly speaking those activities don’t cost me a dime, though I’m sure my parents don’t mind the extra attention.


No situation more so than in October when the Toyota Corolla, like the van in February, also gave up the ghost. The Corolla suffered a transmission failure in the form of shattered third and fourth gear. To fix it would cost more than the car itself was worth, but it would still be vastly cheaper than buying a new car. My parents were resolved to fix that car, until I intervened.

The Corolla’s failure gave me the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted: buy my parents a new car. Being the frugal immigrants from poverty that they were, my parents would never dare to spend money like that on themselves, so it was up to me to return the favor. While my father’s preferred auto shop was busy sourcing a suitable replacement transmission for the Corolla, I too made some calls to car dealerships.

In the end I prevailed by buying (leasing) a 2018 Hyundai Tucson for my parents. My father over the years have frequently lamented he’s never driven a brand new car in his life, albeit half jokingly; he turned the golden 60 this year, so it was as good a time as any to fulfill that bit of want.

Of course, adding a lease payment to my monthly expenditures hasn’t done the GT3 fund any favors, but we’d do any for our parents, wouldn’t we?

It’s interesting how quickly I’ve transitioned from being the constant traveler to now staying put and turning my focus back to cars. Payments on the Porsche will keep me where I’m at for at least the next few years, which is just fine with me. 2018 has largely been the transition period between the two paradigms, with the second half of the year mainly consisted of me actively preparing for the next phase.



But what exactly do I do otherwise when the process is simply stack money and try not to spend any of it until I’ve got enough? Certainly I can binge watch the entire Netflix catalog in the meantime, but for me that would be a huge waste.

To beat back the boredom and blandness that adult life may bring, one must have strong discipline and good habits. There must be some things to occupy your everyday that excite you and get you out of bed in the morning (or afternoon; I don’t know you). There’s only a few out there lucky enough for that thing to be their career; the rest of us must find something outside our of jobs.

Each day I have my list of things to accomplish: read for an hour, study Korean for an hour, write on the blog for at least 30 minutes, and take an interesting photograph for the 365 challenge. I get a visceral endorphin boost when I tick of final item and I’m done for the day. Chasing that feeling keeps me motivated to not hit the snooze button on the phone, and I trust in the process that after doing this daily list for long enough, the effects would compound into something positive and spectacular.

It certainly has for my Korean studies, because mastering a language requires an intensely long time. Hard to think that it’s been two solid years since I’ve embarked on the endeavor, and I’m far from finishing (you never truly do when learning a language). In early 2018 I exhausted the third and final textbook, so for the rest of year I hatched my own study plan, which includes watching Korean shows and writing down words I don’t understand as new vocabulary, and perusing Korean newspaper as reading and speaking exercise.

An hour per day to study Korean is significantly less than the four when I first started, and with the reclaimed hours I was ready to move on to learn another skill. I’ve wanted to play the piano since I was a kid, but never had the opportunity to learn it completely. After scaling back on Korean I was set on the piano as the next challenge. Just when I had books and keyboard lined up for purchase, the goal of buying a 911 also came to into being. Due to the massive expenditure required for the car, I had no money to allocate for the piano, so that was ultimately put off yet again.

Priorities. I may or may not have them.


The extra hours instead got allocated to something that doesn’t cost money: writing. I’ve been slacking tremendously on that for the past few years, with the scant blog post here and there, and the only long-form writing coming in these end of year reflection pieces. It’s been said that to get and keep good at writing, one must do it everyday. Mired in the quagmire of indecision on life earlier this year, once I found my heading in deciding to stay at the job and selling the MX-5, I began to write on the blog every weekday.

The topics didn’t matter at all; the exercise is the point. To get the mind muscles thinking, and the fingers typing. Some days the words flow out like a breached dam, and some days I could barely muster a paragraph after sitting in front of the screen for an hour. It definitely got easier as the year went on, and I’m extremely chuffed that I managed to blog consistently all the way up to today. It’s probably what I’m most proud of this year.


And that’s what 2018 have mostly been about: doing my daily checklist, and spending time with the family on the weekends. It’s dependable and low drama, which from how I’m looking at it, is a very good thing indeed.

As for the coming 2019, it should be more of the same, except for one big thing: the arrival of the 911 GT3. I’m not sure exactly when during the year it’ll happen, but once it does, that is when the fun really begins. My life outside of work will revolve around cars again, a return to life in my early 20s. The difference now is that as a fully realized “adult”, I actually have the means to play.

It’s going to be sweet.


2018 TOP 10 SONGS

1. Red Velvet - 두 번째 데이트 (My Second Date)
2. Loco & Hwasa - 주지마
3. iKON - 사랑을 했다 (LOVE SCENARIO)
4. Red Velvet - Power Up
5. Yang Da Il & Wendy - One Summer 그해 여름
6. Moon Byul - SELFISH (Feat. Seulgi Of Red Velvet)
7. Taeyeon - 저녁의 이유 (All Night Long) (Feat. LUCAS of NCT)
8. Zico - Soulmate (Feat. IU)
9. Jennie - SOLO
10. IU - 삐삐 (BBIBBI)

Review: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport

2.5 Years of 'Jinba Ittai'

What most ensnared me to the car was Mazda’s philosophy.

In developing the fourth-generation (ND) MX-5, Mazda aimed to make the new Miata equally light as the beloved first-generation (NA) and dimensionally smaller than the third-generation (NC). I was pleasantly surprised by this because new generations of vehicles tend to be bigger than the predecessors; a contemporary Toyota Camry easily dwarfs a model from the early aughts.

I bet most people thought the ND Miata would be bigger and more powerful than the NC. Neither of those turned out to be true.

Colin Chapman would be proud: Mazda added lightness to go faster.  

I was also drawn in by the beautiful shape. Before the ND I’ve dismissed the MX-5 as a viable sports-car because of its odd appearance: it’s too symmetric. The NC Miata was the worst offender: squint and you’d have a harder time differentiating the front from the rear. The ND finally gave the Mazda flagship proper front-engine sports-car proportions: long hood, short deck, wheels pushed to the corners.

If Jaguar were to design a tiny convertible sports-car, something to slot below the F-Type, it’d look very much like the ND Miata. Mix in there as well are a bits reminiscing of a BMW Z8, especially the view from three-quarters. After the hugely polarizing ‘smiley face’ of the NC, Mazda absolutely nailed the design of the ND Miata: a shrunken down grand-touring style convertible.

The car's best view? From the front. 

The final hurdle before purchase was whether or not I’d fit. I’ve sat in an NC Miata and I cannot adjust to the ideal driving position without punching my head through the cloth top (drive top down all the time?). Mazda made the ND slightly smaller but have done so without sacrificing any of the already scarce interior space. To my relief I am able to sit properly in the ND, leaving two finger’s worth of space between head and roof. It’s clear Mazda have engineered the interior packaging to accommodate more body size variables than before.

It’s far from ideal, though. I’d love to sit lower but for whatever reason the ND Miata’s seat mechanism doesn’t have a singular adjustment for height. Rather than flat, the seat-rail is inclined ascending forward so that when the seat is moved laterally the height is increased closer to the dashboard and decreased when pushed away. It’s a genius engineering to save a bit of kilos but with my long torso/short legs combo I need to sit close to the steering wheel but that means the seat is higher than what it can be.

The steering wheel doesn’t telescope either (saving more precious kilograms) so while I do have a good driving-position in the ND, it definitely can be improved. 

As expected it’s mighty narrow inside, and space is at a premium. I can reach over and roll down the passenger-side window without my back leaving the seatback. The glove-box is behind in between the driver and passenger, requiring elbow and or back contortion to access. The aperture underneath the center-console lid is so small it can’t even fit a smartphone. The door-panels are entirely absent of map pockets so the passenger seat suffices as substitute to store items.  

The important bits however are well done indeed: the seats are supportive and comfortable even though they look plain and generic. On a road trip to LA the numb buttocks I experienced during a similar trip in another car was happily absent. The steering wheel feels good in the hand, though the diameter is a tad too large for me tastes, and the rim could be thicker. The manual convertible top cannot be more easier and faster to operate (unlatch, flip, latch – with one hand). One has to wonder why don’t every manufacturer use the same system rather than opting for heavy and slow automatic roofs. 

It feels wonderful to be so cocooned inside the ND: driving feel is spot on and the proverbial “being one with the car” rings very true. The seating position is downright supercar: it’s super low (getting out the car is never elegant), your feet is splayed out front practically horizontal, and the interior is shrink-wrapped around you.

Not bad for 25 grand.

Power however is not so supercar, though lots of grunt was never the Miata ethos. The ND is motivated by the same naturally-aspirated 2-liter four-cylinder found in the Mazda 3 sedan. That sounds quite disappointing on paper, but given the pricing aim a bespoke motor is probably impossible. Mazda did tweak the engine slightly to make it rev freer and have a sports-car worthy exhaust note. It makes 155 horsepower, more than enough for the 2,300 pound frame. Indeed the motor sounds amazing, and unlike turbocharged units that run out of steam early, the atmospheric Skyactiv unit punches straight to redline, egging on the driver to play chicken with the rev limiter.

Grab the next gear and you’ll find one of the finest manual gearboxes ever made. Essentially a mid-engine car, the ND’s motor is entirely behind the front-axle. With drive going towards the rear, the transmission is located inline right underneath the driver’s shifting arm. With no need for connecting cables, the gear-level is connected directly to gearbox; at neutral idle it does this delightful dance as it shakes along other drivetrain components.

It’s tactile joy to row through the gears in the ND: the feel is heavy yet forgiving, and each gate is supremely defined. The stick slots into each gear with such mechanical ease and solidity you’d want to do it over and over – and the opportunity is always there. Mazda geared the ND very short: the run to 60 requires three shifts, and 6th gear is 1 to 1. It makes local street driving super engaging, much more fun than high power sports-cars where the end of 2nd gear is already jail-time territory.  

The jewel of a transmission is paired with a great set of pedals. The clutch can’t claim to be the most feel-some, but vague it isn’t, and it does the job well consistently. The floor-hinged throttle pedal eases heel-toe maneuvers, and the placement of the brake pedal is judged perfectly for such purposes. The ND is a good car to learn advance downshift techniques (or manual gearbox in general) with; my first successful heel-toe pedal dance was in the Miata.

As my first foray in rear-wheel drive dynamics, the ND Miata’s supreme balance may have spoiled me forever. The car is neutral at all times; understeer can only be provoked by going too stupidly fast into a corner. Likewise I can only coax oversteer when the surface is damp from rain. With modest power and lacking a locking differential from the Club trim, in the dry it’s nearly impossible to induce the tail outwards. The ND smoothly points and goes without need to fight against any sort of countering forces.   

In a word, it’s sublime. I’m going to ill-prepared in the future when I get into other rear-wheel drive cars because they won’t be nearly as balanced as the ND.

Though I hope those cars will have better steering feel. The rack on the MX-5 is pointy, direct, and sharp in complement to the brilliant chassis, but ultimate tactile sensation just isn’t there. My previous car was an WRX STI and its hydraulic-assisted rack was full of information to the hand. In contrast the ND’s electric power-steering is vague and leaves a bit wanting. The car is lucky in its balance because otherwise the scant details from the steering leaves the driver unprepared for sudden reactions; more muscle memory than innate adaptation. The ND Miata’s steering is adequate for its purposes, but a point for improvement in future iterations.

No need to change however is the overall size of the car. I love how small and nimble the ND is, especially in dense metropolitan cities full of traffic. The ability to slot into spaces and take shortcuts other vehicles physically cannot always brings a smile to my face. A normal car that would’ve been blocked by the leading pack from making a right turn on red, the MX-5 squeeze through on the side no problem. I reach the zenith of smugness when I find street parking spots in between two houses that only cars the size of a Miata and smaller can fit.

I became that guy in a parking structure that when parked in between vehicles my spot looks like it’s empty.

Of course, the diminutive dimensions also has negative side effects. Not only are vehicles getting larger, but the most popular kind of car these days are sports-utility vehicles. Suffice it to say the ND is at a dangerous size disadvantage. I can literally hide in most people’s blind-spots, and had to perform evasive maneuver countless times because the driver didn’t do a head check, thought the lane was clear (it wasn’t), and proceeded to switch lanes onto me.

It isn’t too difficult to imagine how horrible of a shape I’d be in were I to collide with the typical sized car. Thankfully I haven’t had to find out.

Blindspot monitoring systems saves lives.

Along with the aforementioned lack of interior storage space, the ND Miata’s barely six cubic-feet trunk is a hindrance during the rare road-trips and airport runs. It can fit an entire Costco pizza laid flat, for what it’s worth. Most of the time items larger than a weekend bag gets transported in the passenger seat, or by the passenger if one is present. On one particular trip to the airport the friend I was driving had to hold her luggage on her lap because it wouldn’t fit through the trunk opening.

Part of the fun of owning a Miata, I would say.

The running costs for all that fun is delightfully minimal. Weighting practically nothing compared to the average car, even when I mash the go pedal with abandon the ND returns around 27 miles-per-gallon. Hypermiling on a road-trip can easily net efficiency in the 40s. According to tracking on Fuelly, the ND costs me $0.111 per mile in petrol, which is apparently quite good.

Washing the ND takes half the time of a normal car. 

The two-liter engine requires about five quarts of 0W-20 synthetic oil, costing only around 30 dollars for top brands. Throw in a filter for seven dollars and an single oil-change can be done for under 40 bucks – bring your own labor. The MX-5’s lightness means consumables aren’t as fast wearing: after 17,000 miles, tires and brake material looks barely worn in. When it’s time to service those items, it’ll be incredibly cheap. In the Sport trim the ND Miata runs 16-inch wheels, comically tiny these days when a new Honda Civic Type R comes standard with 20 inchers. However, a set of four decent replacement 195/50R16 tires is well below 400 dollars.

The same amount will only buy you one tire on the Civic Type R.

For urban city drivers I think the ND Miata is the best sports-car for the money; an MX-5 blends in where a Porsche Cayman couldn’t. The precise chassis balance, the short and sweet gearbox, and the punchy engine can be enjoyed well below speed limits. A favorite things to do in the ND is tackling 90-degree turns at street corners: I must judge the braking point, heel-toe downshift to second gear, and then steer the car smoothly through, waiting for the exact moment to apply throttle.    

To derive the same driving pleasure from a Cayman you’d need at least a mountain road, if not a full-on track. In an old episode of Top Gear, while driving a Nissan GT-R through Tokyo, Jeremy Clarkson hyperbolically remarked that Tokyo isn’t a city, it’s a racetrack.

The ND Miata makes any city a racetrack.

The absurdly low maintenance costs and parking conveniences are just bonuses. If the lack of carrying capacity (for persons or otherwise) is a parameter that fits your lifestyle, the ND Miata makes a great daily-driver. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 2.5 years with the car.

Did I mention the roof goes down as well? That is the coup de grace.


2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport
Date acquired: November 2015
Date sold: May 2018
Total mileage: 16660
Total running cost: $2,078
Lifetime MPG: 29.8

Amor Fati - 2017 reflections


I turned 30 this year.

Wait, this beginning sounds too familiar to my editorial on turning 30 years of age. This is what happens when my birthday is relatively close to the end of the year. So after having just done a reflection on the past 10 years of my life, here's the look back at 2017. 

Indeed a big component this year was the crossover to the fourth decade of life. I'm not going to hash out again all my thoughts and feelings here (for that I suggest you go read the editorial), but to sum it up, now that I am on the other side of the proverbial mountain, I am at once relieved and excited about what's to come. In 2016 I was quite worried and feared turning 30, but as with most things in life, everything turned out for the best. 

My 20s were a period of discovery and experimentation on what shapes me as a person, and I think for the 30s decade it’s time to put that knowledge into action. As long as I ensure my foundation is in good shape: proper sleep, exercise, diet, and financial stability, I’ve got all the tools and time to pursue whatever I want. 

Whatever that may be I cannot say because if there is one thing I learn the previous decade is that the future – and our related thoughts and personality then – is incredibly difficult to predict. Cliché as it may to say take it one day at a time, I think it’s a good technique to avoid straying off the present and looking too much into the future.



A big theme of this year in terms of personal development is practicing stoicism. Borne from all the fear and anxiety that I had about turning 30, late 2016 I picked up the writings of Seneca, one of stoicism's founding fathers. Call it fate or what have you, but it was the exact sort of advice I needed at that time:

Life is long enough if you know how to use it.

One of the primal fears of turning 30, however manufactured by society it may be, is that 30 represents the top of the mountain that once crossed over you are then on the rapid plunge towards death. On a macro level that seems ridiculous because isn’t the life expectancy in the U.S. somewhere in the 80s? For someone starting his 30s I'm still in the ‘spring’ of my life. 

For sure the allure of youth have a terrible grip on the mind. One of the big reason we hold onto our 20s so dear is because it is the prime of youth and beauty. Athletes start to not function so greatly after they’ve turned 30, and the decline can be dramatic. We have it in our minds that 30 is the end of our youth and thus a sobering reality of "actual" adulthood and decline looms in the immediate future. We shall never look as awesome and spry ever again. 

Even if that's true, that is okay, because that’s nothing you or I can control. One of the big tenets of stoicism is to only focus on things you can control. Worrying about things you cannot is a waste of time and energy. Aging and turning 30 is a naturally process that will occur no matter what I do; why would I want to stop it anyways? Isn’t the opposite, death?

I resigned to tolerate the uncontrollable reality of turning 30, and I ceased to be stressed about it. The other things in my everyday life as well: stuff that used to bother me, that upon reflection I have no power over, they no longer do. Imagine getting mad at every little slight that happens on the road whilst driving: it’s almost guaranteed that everyday some driver will do things that will annoy you, and if you let that get to you then that’s a very harmful way to live. I choose to let them occur, brush it off because I can’t control what other drivers do, and motor on with my business.

Through stoicism I found joy in driving again. That’s how much I use to internalize things I have no power over.


Another major point I worked on over 2017 related stoicism is the focus on the present, and only the present. It’s tough for sure, and I reckon it’s going be an ongoing practice for the rest of my life, but it’s highly worth it. I’ve become calmer with less anxiety, and the thing or person I’m currently focus on gets the benefit of my full attention.

One example: the past few years I’ve been traveling a lot, and it’s wonderfully rewarding indeed. A constant trouble I have is anticipation for what’s next, rather than looking at and enjoying what’s in front of me. The week before I set off on trips I’d be quite useless because my energy is so intensely focused on the trip that my daily tasks and whatnot gets forsaken. While on the trip I’m constantly looking ahead to what is next, to the point where there were moments I’m thinking about what I’m going to do once I get home – while still overseas(!).

It’s a destructive habit because I don’t/can't experience the trip to it's full. When I keep looking ahead (or behind), what’s directly there is but a blur or mirage. Something is very wrong when I get a better enjoyment of the trips while editing the pictures I took afterwards at home. 

That’s not how the force works.

It’s always a struggle to keep in the present, but all I can do is to keep working at it every day. As soon as I detect my mind wandering, I snap it back to what’s here and now. Nowadays I don’t get overly excited about traveling until the day of getting on the plane: the week before I am still focused on what I need to do at work and personal. It’s funny that now when people ask me what I have planned for or how excited I am for a trip, I tell them I've got too much to do before then to even think about it.

Don’t mean to sound like an asshole, but it’s a defense mechanism from wandering into the future. 

I like to think Stoicism and staying in the present moment are big reasons my trips overseas this year have been dramatically more enjoyable and fruitful than years before. I shall tell about them now, because while work and personal life have been fairly constant in 2017 from 2016, traveling is the big differentiator, without which there would be much less to write about in this reflection piece.



In January this year I once again traveled to Hong Kong because I just love it so much over there. The people, the culture, the food, it’s so familiar to me. Diversity is great here in America, but there’s no shame in finding joy to be amongst people that look and speak like I do. Our tribal ancestors would agree, and so would any high school cafeteria during lunch hour.

Being that it’s a second trip within calendar year, I was much more prepared that I was last time. I had the bearings down and it was simply a matter of scouting out potential locations to visit and making it happen. We stayed in the same hotel and it’s quite the surreal experience to be eating at the same local restaurants a year apart. While the proprietors don’t remember us, we sure remember the place and the food. It’s oddly homey, even with the time distance.

It’s on this Hong Kong trip where I had my first sample of Din Tai Fung, which is this famous xiaolongbao restaurant originating from Taiwan that everyone raves about. The Bay Area actually has one in Santa Clara, but as you’d expect the lines are enormous and you practically can’t eat without a reservation. Hong Kong to the rescue.

The verdict: it’s excellent xiaolongbao, but I wouldn’t wait in line for it, though I tend to not  want to wait in line for most things.

One reason I wouldn’t is because in March I went to the birthplace of xiaolongbao: Shanghai. I took the week off during the campus spring break, and the sights there were spectacular. Never mind the food: The Bund waterfront area is an absolute jewel, so much so that I went twice: once during the day and then a return at night to take in the complete spectrum. March weather in Shanghai is cold enough to be bearable – much like San Francisco, so it was perfect.


Obviously when in Shanghai one must eat xiaolongbao, and as expected they can be found literally everywhere, like Starbucks coffee in Seattle. We didn’t go into any fancy restaurant because even the xiaolongbao from a side-street food stand is the best I’ve ever had. There’s indeed no substitute for eating a particular food at its place of origin. The xiaolongbao in Shanghai differs from what I’m used to in the States in one way: it’s a thicker bun. The ones in Shanghai actually is a ‘bao’ as its namesake, while the ones we have here more resembles dumplings.

An hour from Shanghai by high-speed rail is the city of Hangzhou with its world defining feature: West Lake. It’s a vast lake with beautiful scenery that poets of ancient China visit to attain inspiration as if a muse. The lake is gorgeous, and we spent the entire day simply walking alongside it. Those who rather venture into the lake itself can find a multitude of boats for hire. It’s a shame we went during too early in spring because many of the fauna have yet to blossom. My advice: go during April.


The coup de grace of trips I took this year was the two June weeks I spent in Korea. A trip that’s been a long time coming, seeing as I’ve been into Korean culture for the longest time, and started to learn the language in 2016. It was the culmination of all the pent-up anticipation that made it extra special, though now that I think about it there was absolutely zero reason we couldn’t have done it way earlier than this year.

Stoicism says you must let things develop and flow as they are, and they usually turn out for the best.

And indeed it has for Korea, because thanks to my rudimentary Korean language skills, the trip was less awkward and smoother going that otherwise. While English may be the universal language, it’s still nicer to be able to speak the local lingua franca. One advantage is the ability to eat at the super local restaurants that's only got written menus with no pictures and zero English. It’s certainly not tenable to do this for every foreign country you visit, but it's great when you can. 


I was glad to put my Korean to test as well, because the trip was the first time I spoke Korean with other people in conversation. Nothing like trial by fire, and there were some truly awkward moments indeed, but overall, it’s a net positive because it’s by making mistakes that I learn and advance. Too bad I’m not white because otherwise the locals in Korea would find it amusing rather than rude that I’ve forgotten to insert honorifics when speaking to someone older than I. Instead I look like a Korean with no manners.

I had the best time in Korea. The food alone is worth the trip, especially if you like Korean food as much as I. Not only is it cheap when considering we are spending U.S. dollars, but the quality and taste is so dramatically better than the Korean restaurants here. I naively thought this wasn’t possible, but same as Hong Kong ruining Chinese food for me, so has Korea for Korean food. Since coming back from the trip up til now I’ve had Korean food here a grand total of two times. It’s a tragic problem of the first world magnitude.

Summertime in Korea is hot and muggy, though not quite Southeast Asia levels. It was for sure shorts and t-shirt weather for us, and anytime we can find shade and a building with air-con was a welcomed reprieve from the heat. We definitely got used to it, and a positive side-effect of going during the summer is that at night it’s the best atmosphere ever. The temperature comes back down to mid 60s, and wandering outside in Seoul taking in all the night scenery is a absolutely wonderful. Sitting on the shores of the Han River watching the Banpo Bridge’s Moonlight Rainbow fountain show was an incredible highlight.


And the city doesn’t close down early like we do in San Francisco: deep into the night and early morning there’s food places to be found, and you can do so because it’s an extremely safe country. The lifestyle in Korea is sublime. 

The two weeks in Korea we stayed in Seoul for eight days, then Busan for one day (high-speed rail there is supreme), and the rest in picturesque Jeju Island (one hour flight). Jeju is like the Hawaii of Korea, super laid-back, and renting a car to get around is a must. We booked an entire house on the outskirt of the main city and basically treated it as a vacation within a vacation. Lounging around doing nothing and simply enjoy being there is how we did Jeju. We did drive around for a bit, visited some beaches and landmarks, but other than that the only time we got out the house was to eat. 

The famous Sunrise Peak of Jeju is a must-do: wake up in an ungodly hour to hike up a natural crater to see the first light of the morning. The view is so worth the lack of sleep and physical discomfort.


I am smitten with Korea, and for sure will be going back in 2018. 

There was an uncomfortable lull between the Korea trip and the next trip I took in 2017: Taiwan during Thanksgiving week. After blowing two straight weeks on Korea, I did not have any vacation time to use on another trip later in the summer, so I had to wait a long time (for me) until I could leave the country again.

Travel withdrawals, they are real, and they are first world.

The trip to Taiwan this time was special because first I wasn’t sick as I was two years ago, so that automatically increased the amount of activities two-fold, and secondly it’s the first time I vacationed out of the country with my father and brother. Call it bonding time, call it father-son(s) time, it was quite special indeed, especially wonderful to see my father have a great time traveling after working so hard all these years.

Yes, a second time in Taiwan, specifically Taipei. I’ve done practically all the major tourist stuff during the first visit, but it was great to visit them again because this time I had a better camera with me. Due to sickness, last time I didn’t really take any photos so one of the main reason I went back to Taipei again was specifically to shoot belatedly all the places I went to the first time.

Taipei is a beautiful city, and the fact it was semi-rainy weather the entire week we were there made for more dramatic pictures. Traveling during November also has the advantage of avoiding the unbearable heat and typhoons of Taiwan summers. The winter weather in Taipei is  alike to San Francisco, which for us cannot be better.


Right, the food. Yes, Taipei is known of its massive variety of street food and street markets, and they don’t disappoint. The sort of food truck festivals we have here in San Francisco pales in comparison to the almost industry they have over there. In Taipei alone there’s something like seven established night food markets – dinner for the week is practically covered should you decide to visit a different one every night.

We did no such thing (we went to three) because it’s important to have proper dinners and eat other Taiwan specific food stuff such as hot pot and seafood (it’s an island, after all). Nevertheless, if you’ve got the stomach, Taipei is food heaven. Just don’t expect much for breakfast because most restaurants don’t open until 11am at the earliest. My advice especially to those not familiar with Chinese is to get a breakfast package at your hotel.

All told I traveled four times during 2017, and all four destinations were in Asia. You know adults often go to Las Vegas to unwind and escape their “normal” life? I think Asia is my Las Vegas. I love it over there, and will always go back at every opportunity.

Therefore 2018 should be more of the same. The second week of January I’m once again going to Hong Kong. Now that I’ve practically exhausted all the touristy stuff to do, I think I’m simply going to hang back, focus on food, and explore the city at my leisure – like a vacation at some remote place. Another reason for going to Hong Kong is my cousin is making the mistake of getting married so it should be a fun time with the family.

In June the current plan is to finally make the trip to great old Europe. The itinerary hasn’t been at all figured out yet, but for sure on the list is England and south of France. Great thing about Europe is that everything is so close and connected so it should be great fun crossing multiple country lines within a day.

Lastly, I think I shall make it back to Korea during Thanksgiving week. I’m a bit apprehensive about this being winter in Korea is properly cold – we’re talking negative degrees, which is not something I am used to. That said, I’ve been told the winter atmosphere in Seoul is altogether different and amazing from summer, so I think braving the cold to go there in November ought to be worth the extra layers of clothing and heat packs.



A primary reason why I travel so much have to do with the photography hobby. I simply would not be taking as many pictures otherwise, which is kind of disappointing now that I think about it. A major goal of mine in 2017 was to take more pictures than I did the year before: I want to match the enthusiasm and forwardness back in the early 2010s when I went out to shoot more often than I did in recent years. I want the magic of photography back, which I admit have lost some of its luster for me. Too lazy to get out of the house, perhaps.

With the assist of having traveled outside the country four times, I’ve succeeded the goal of taking more pictures than 2016. The aim next year is to repeat and increase.

Upgrading to a full-frame camera have been a dream of mine ever since I started shooting, and this year I finally made the jump to the vaunted 35mm sensor. Sold is the Canon 7D and Sony A5100, and in comes the much beloved Sony A7R2, and that thing is as amazing as advertised. A full-frame photograph has massive amounts of detail, and when paired with a Zeiss lens, things seemingly pop out of the 2D plane. Perhaps a touch vain, but the switch to the A7R2 have done most to reignite my passion for taking pictures. The difference is so striking that I want to go back to everything I’ve done before and redo them. It’s that magnificent.

42 megapixels is ridiculous and awesome. Do I even need a zoom lens when I can crop halfway into a shot and still retain as much detail as most cameras? Well, yes, a proper long zoom would be awesome. I’m currently shooting with a 24-70mm G Master and it’s fantastic but the holy grail next-up would be the 70-200mm G Master. Baby steps.

I cannot talk about photography without bringing up the iPhone X. I upgrade my phone every year despite the protest of good financial sensibilities because Apple deems it correct to advance the camera system with each iteration. With the iPhone 6S and 7, I finally felt confident in the quality to make prints – it’s gotten that good. The iPhone X is a quantum leap above that.


The new pair of lens along with upgraded processing system is producing pictures so good that I have no qualms putting them up on my website in full resolution. I had an extensive go at it during the Taipei trip, and on Instagram people cannot tell the difference between shots from the X and the Sony A7R2. That is simply amazing, and a huge credit to what Apple has done in the decade with the iPhone. I can conceivably see myself leaving the Sony home and only taking the X on trips, or rather I wouldn’t be all that sad if I were to accidentally forget the A7R2 at home.

I mentioned my website: in 2017 I made the switch from tumblr to a fully realized website hosted by Squarespace. I really should have done this a long time ago. I started a tumblr back when it was cool many years past and sort of stuck with it due to sheer lack of momentum to switch. It sufficed for quite a bit because not too long ago making a proper website was a daunting task, and Internet speeds weren’t yet fast enough anyways for a full-fledge high-resolution photo website. Times have changed, obviously, and tumblr’s paltry limit of 700 pixels wide on uploaded images no longer did the job.

Therefore, I made a Squarespace website, the one you are reading this on. It was dead easy: I picked a suitable template from the many they offer, and did a few customizations to taste. The actual difficult part was porting over all the information from tumblr. Photos must be re-uploaded entirely due to resolution, and blog posts transferred piece by piece due to difference in metadata handling. Took a bit of time but I’m extremely happy with the results. The photographs are presented well, and the blog continues on.

In the same vein, I’ve also consolidated my online presence in regards to photos. The flickr account is deleted, and I now upload photos taken with my camera to Instagram. The old tumblr website had a social element to it, and I wanted to replicate that somewhat so what better place than Instagram. Instead of only spontaneous shots from the iPhone, I upload prepped and edited camera photos as well, treating it as a photo blog.

It was dangerous at first because as with any human being, I was very cognizant of feedback in the form of ‘likes’. Instagram is addictive that way because you can tell what your audience prefers based on what photos get more likes. However, it can also be a negative in that I inevitably get disappointed in photos not so well received. Even before I started uploading camera photos it was like that.


It’s not exactly a good way to live, because I was stressing over and spending lots of time deciding what photo to upload, instead of simply doing it because I and I alone like a particular picture. Stoicism warns that it’s not good to care too much about what people think because it can distract from you doing what you want to do. Indeed, caring about how many likes I get on a photo was highly hurtful to the creative process. Posting on Instagram is the last step and ought to be straight forward, and I shouldn’t be spending hours on it making decisions to please other people.

In practicing stoicism, I am constantly trying to ignore the likes and feedback; if I myself am happy with what I uploaded, that is and shall be good enough.

As mentioned, plans for 2018 for photography is to take more pictures than this year. I think it’s also time to start dabbling in video editing, a natural offshoot of still photography, especially since most photo cameras can shoot video too. I once put together a video for my cousin’s wedding off GoPro footage and that was extremely time consuming but loads of fun so I want to get back into that. I bought a brand new 5K iMac this year so it’s time to really stretch its legs.


Stoicism teaches us to be content with what we’ve already got: wishing for more and more leads to negative consumerism, debt, and an ultimate lack of fulfillment. There is always ‘more’ to be had in this world. Instead we should shift the perspective and look at the things that's already there: wouldn’t you be pinning for them all the same if they are not in your possession? 

I relate this to my love of cars. I’ve had the Miata now for two years, and it’s getting to be that time I’m in danger of having wandering eyes. Not to say the Miata is bad, far from it: the ND generation MX-5 is a wonderful car, full of character and driving thrill it’s criminal how relatively little Mazda charges for it. I have wandering eyes because that is just the tendency of a car enthusiasts, especially one who subscribes to a multitude of car related YouTube channels and therefore constantly bombarded with new and awesome cars.


The new Honda Civic Type R looks the business, doesn’t it? I can certainly afford it. I gave up a WRX STI for the Miata, why not keep the line moving. What’s stopping this great?

Stoicism, again: every day I remind myself how lucky and awesome I get to drive the Miata, and how if I didn’t own one I’d most certainly want one. Besides, I’ve barely put 14K miles on the car in two years – it’s practically brand new (internally; wish I can say the same for the front-end paint). It’d be a huge waste if I were to move on having barely familiarize myself with it.

Being an adult turning 30 also stops the greatness. The five year ago me would’ve bought a new car no contemplation, but now it’s a completely different mindset. What is it about being a proper adult that seems to stop all my previously wanton spending tendencies? Nowadays any purchasing decisions over one hundred dollars requires some serious contemplation on whether I truly need the thing or not. This has saved me plenty of money, and the things I do end up buying I’m much happier with them.

One example: Apple Airpods. It took me over a year to decide on buying these wireless earphones, and it turns out to be the most favorite thing I bought in 2017. The freedom of motion adds an entirely new and magical dimension to music enjoyment.


Back to cars: I think I will be keeping the Miata for a long time, mainly because I want to use it more before moving on. The goal in 2018 is to drive more miles to more places with the car: no more weekends where it’s parked for two days until I must drive to work again on Monday. A car is only worth its purchasing cost if I use it; it’s no good being stationary.

This applies to other items I have bought as well. For 2018 I resolve to fully utilize the things I already bought, and be content and happy they are in my possession. In my 20s I tend to buy things that I fancy but half the time they end up sitting at a corner, neglected. I don’t think I’ve turned on the PS4 at all this year, the GoPro only gets used as a dash-cam, and my Surface Pro 4 tablet is only for when I need to watch YouTube while eating. Imagine that: a $1,000 machine doing the work a $300 tablet could do. Why the heck did I not simply buy an iPad? 

Back in October I wrote that I would start putting upgrades to the Miata slowly, but now I’ve changed my mind. There shall be no money-wasting upgrades to the car; I’ll only spend to keep it in good fettle, ready for the extra miles I plan to drive. The car is perfect for me as is from the factory. I rather conserve the money for the car I deeply want, over anything on the market today and to come in the next few years: a Porsche 911.

Preferably in GT3 guise.  


At the end of 2016 I wrote about how I aim to simplify my life into a few core areas of focus: learning, reading, photography, and traveling. It was done because I was deep in the throes of anxiety over turning 30: I had felt time was running out and I needed to capture as much of what’s left. This past year most of my free waking hours were dedicated to those four areas, with no exceptions even on weekends. Any deviations from them felt like I wasn’t seizing the day and wasting time.

Turns out one can go overboard with that kind of stuff.

For sure it’s important to not waste time and to utilize it completely towards things that better myself. However, it’s important to not let the ticking of the clock dictate the pace and quantity, because that’s how I got in trouble psychologically. I started reprimanding myself for wasting time, even though some days I really could use a day of having nothing to do with learning, reading, or photography. Even though those things weren’t “work”, and I love doing them immensely, sometimes the brain still needs a break from them – and I don’t mean sleep.


I learned to take a few truly off-days here and there, and my productivity has been better for it. I also shifted my perspective from looking at time like it's a deadline to instead as a counting mechanism for the flow of life. I don’t set arbitrary limits and quotas anymore: if it takes me longer than two weeks to read a book or I’ve lingered on a single chapter of Korean for a month, so be it. I’m not going beat myself over it; so long as there’s forward motion of any kind, I’m content. Let things flow and take things as they come and go.

These are some things I simplified out in 2017: in addition to episodic television, I stopped watching sports almost entirely. I still enjoy the few games here and there, and attending a baseball game at the park is always a treat, but other than that I feel like the three hours or so dedicated to watching a game can be better used elsewhere, even if it’s car videos on YouTube. I can learn something from those.

Another thing pared down was the material things I own. You know the technique people use to spring clean their home? The one where you look at an item and if it hasn’t been used for the past year in goes to the trash. I’ve tried many times previously to do just that, but of course the human psyche is strong: I always tend to favor the side that tells me I should keep something if there’s even a minuscule chance I’ll use it in the future.

That future never comes. Especially when it comes to clothing.

This fall I went through everything in my room, and I put to trash anything that hasn’t been used in the past year – with no regard for future usage – and decorative items that have ceased to bring a smile. The result was a spectacular 10 trash-bag full, three of them just for clothes.

Why did I keep textbooks from high school? Seems stupid now.

What they say is true: the things you own weights you down. After throwing away the 10 trash-bags worth of stuff, my room was transformed: it’s whole new area. The air was better, and it felt more open even though dimensionally it can’t possibly have changed. Everything there now have a logical purpose, physically or mentality. It’s one of the best things I did in 2017.



Towards the beginning of this piece I mentioned that so long as I continue to keep my foundation sound (sleep, exercise, diet, money), then I’m in good position to tackle the whatever I desire. I don’t foresee the core four of study, read, travel, and photography changing in 2018. Books are a forever project: there’s no better way to learn from/borrow someone’s mind, and a terrific tool for keeping a solid vocabulary.

In regards to studies, I think Korean will still consume most of 2018, as I’m barely in on the third of three textbooks. One thing I can say about learning a language is that it better be full-time or it’s not going to stick. There are no shortcuts: you’ve got to Malcolm Gladwell it. That said I eventually will move on, and as of right now I think I’m going to pick something I’ve wanted to fully learn since middle school: music theory and piano.

Wonder if these old and malformed fingers of mine will hold up. Didn’t Ryan Gosling learn the jazz piano for La La Land? He’s almost 40 isn’t he? I still have time.

As 2017 draws to an end, the only emotion I wish to express is gratitude: gratitude for being alive another day here in this wonderful country. Thankful for family and friends, and their continued good health. Grateful for a job I love going to every weekday, one that’s so rewarding in many facets. An appreciation for all the things – good and bad – that have happened thus far in my 30 years on this earth. It’s all so wonderful, and I only hope to live in such a way to perhaps be deserving of it. 

In 2018, let’s get it.


2017 TOP 10 SONGS

1. Crush - 잊어버리지마 (Don't Forget) Feat. Taeyeon
2. Zico - She's a Baby
3. KARD - Oh Na Na
5. Red Velvet - 피카부 (Peek-A-Boo)
6. 여자친구 (GFRIEND) - 귀를 기울이면 (Love Whisper)
7. Bolbbalgan4 (볼빨간 사춘기) - 우주를 줄게 (Galaxy)
8. Taeyeon - Curtain Call 
9. Big Bang - 에라 모르겠다 (FXXK IT)
10. 방탄소년단 (BTS) - Go Go (고민보다 Go)

Thoughts on turning 30

I turn 30 today.

Lately I've been encountering posts on Twitter about how it was only a few decades ago that people would be lucky to live past their 30th birthday. However erroneous that might be, I'm going to take that and run with it.

I am grateful.

I think turning 30 is a worthy achievement, and not something to lament about simply because most people associate it the de-facto end of youth and the beginning of decline into old age ("Why god, why?!"). They fight against this paradigm by inventing the term '30 is the new 20', which I think merely their inability to face reality. Trust me, I know, cause I've been there. It was only last year in turning 29 that I dreaded the looming peak of 30 before the inevitable descent towards death.

Too morbid? That' a true story. 

So what changed? Perspective. I fully embraced stoicism this year and it has allowed me to see aging and death in a whole different light. We will all meet our maker eventually; that is a certainty, and we can't control it, try as some people may. Instead of needless worrying, I rather focus on the gift of waking up each day, and what challenges will come my way the next 24 hours. Rinse and repeat for the next dawn.

To think I've been blessed with the ability to do this for 30 years. Instead of dreading what's next, I'm positively looking forward to it. Before we get to that, I've got a few thoughts on the decade of my 20s. 

I think a person's 20s is incredibly precious, which is why I've always empathized with Korean males (tangent alert) having to forgo two years of their 20's being conscripted to military service. Can you imagine? The first decade of adulthood, with proper agency and monetary power, mixed in with sparkles of youth leftover from the teens. It's a prime period of internal and external discovery, with none of the baggage that comes later (kids, debt, drugs, etc). To be Korean and have two years of that taken from you? That's pretty rough from an outsider's point of view. 

Thankfully I got to experience the entire fullness of my 20s. I spent the early years finishing up my undergrad with a business entrepreneurship degree that is currently not of much use. Thinking about it now, I'm glad I didn't do well enough in high school to get into a UC because I saved a ton of money attending a State university. 

A fruitful thing I did get out of university life is my current career. While I did graduate in 2011 at age 23, I practically never left the San Francisco State. Through connections/experience at a student job providing technical support, I was rehired in 2012 as a proper staff, and I've been here ever since. So while my diploma remains an expensive decoration (I don't hang it up), like most people I managed to find a job leveraging what I did in college. 

I was extremely lucky, because when back in 2011 the job market was still in the throes of the great recession, and it wasn't particularly kind to a graduate with a business degree. Despite appearances, I've definitely done the mass sending of resumes with nary a reply back. One person from a tech company actually liked my cover letter enough to email me back late evening to offer an interview, but after a good night's sleep he thought better of it the next morning. I would, years later, read about him being charged with many counts of white-collar crime in the newspaper. A bullet dodged, or a show missed?

I used to envy people who out of college got to join in on the tech boom, working for the likes of Google or Apple. I too wanted to work on projects that enhance people's lives, and bring them joy. I too wanted the high income with a cool office and many perks. Google allowing their employees to work on whatever the heck they want 20% of the time was an absolute dream to me.  

As I've progressed towards my 30s, I've come to realize that working at SF State as tech support is not unlike working at Google: I am already where I had wanted to be. While I am not changing the world with the next great Internet app, our support of teachers with using technology helps them focus on what they do best: teach, and the students benefit. It's so gratifying to hear a happy teacher thanking us for coming up clutch with a needed display adapter, or a quite fix on a problematic projector.  

The pay is commensurate and adequate, the perks are great (full medical and a pension), and for the last five years I've worked in a brand new Library building with an open office plan just like one would find in a tech company.

Looking back at it now, I cannot be more thankful for this job. 

I sure needed it back then, because soon after college I was in the process of saving up for a car. Perhaps not the most economically sound thing to do, but after a year of full-time work I purchased a Subaru WRX STI right after I turned 25. Call it quarter-life crisis, call it a car enthusiast's wont; I did the most cliche thing a newly employed college graduate can do: I congratulated myself on all my success (ha ha ha ha) by buying a fancy new car. 

Hindsight being what it is, I can say it was definitely premature. I've been into cars since I can remember, and the desire to upgrade from a lowly Toyota Corolla that I was fortunate to have gifted from my parents (mid 20s me was definitely not looking at it this way) for college was strong. I wanted speed, and I wanted to look cool amongst friends I've met through cars. It was time to start living the dream.

So naive. So one-dimensional. 

One doesn't realize the flip-side of car ownership until actually doing it. Between payments, gasoline, insurance, and maintenance, the Subaru was, for its price-point, one of the most expensive cars to own. It was a huge burden I didn't realize until I sold it after three years and downsized into a Mazda Miata. The running costs nearly halved. At my current income level the Subaru would be comfortably doable, but five years ago it was most unwise.

It's a shame they don't teach financial literacy in high school or university. I think the most important thing 20-somethings should know and learn is proper money management. It's incredibly easy in this materialistic world to spend every dime you make, or worst, go into serious debt. During my college years working as a student, I did exactly that (though the debt wasn't too serious). There were zero savings to speak of, and I even took money out of the retirement account when I graduated (so stupid) because I needed the money to pay off credit cards. 

I was lucky then to for whatever reason stumble onto Ramit Sethi's personal finance book shortly after college. It taught me to automate my savings by having the bank immediately direct parts of the monthly paycheck to various investment accounts. The book also taught me how to invest my money: keep some parts in a conventional savings account as a rainy-day fund, some parts in a tax-advantaged IRA retirement account, and the rest in an total market index fund.

It all seems easy, and indeed it can be, but I shudder to think where I'd be if I hadn't read that book. Again, none of this was ever taught to me in school, which is baffling because we all have to deal with money as adults. The peace of mind in having a sufficient financial buffer should any ills befallen me is an invaluable freedom. Without this strong foundation. the latter half of my 20's would not be as great. 

Of course, after having the appropriate amount in reserve, the rest is free to do with as I please. In addition to cars, another expensive hobby I practice is photography. I've been shooting since the late 2000s, but an adult income allows for a much more expansive and expensive array of equipment. Dropping thousands on lenses and camera bodies is now permissible, and since college I'm on my third Apple mac computer, second windows PC, and third tablet device. I upgrade my iPhone every year mostly because Apple improves the camera significantly with each generation. 

For sure I would be even more financially sound had I not been so cavalier in purchasing/upgrading consumer electronics, but being a complete miser isn't a fun nor productive way to live. You indeed cannot and shouldn't take it with you. 

Surprisingly, I largely gave up serious gaming in my 20s. I no longer have the will to sit through 50 hours of a Grand Theft Auto, or get 100% completion in Final Fantasy. The last two Playstations I bought have been largely symbolic, except for playing blu-ray movies (those are great). I guess I craved something more substantial and less trivial in giving up video games. 

Which I found in books. In college during entrepreneurship classes it was made known to me that most successful business people also happen to read plenty of books. Correlation not meaning causation as it may, I wanted to emulate those people so I got into the habit of reading regularly. The habit waxes and wanes throughout the decade, and some books naturally takes longer to read, but I figure in aggregate it's about a book per month. 

It's somewhat ironic I read so much in my 20s because during my schooling years I detested it - for pleasure or for academics. I can remember skipping out, to my detriment, on the summer reading list in high school for all four years. I think I was scarred from having to read way more than necessary during childhood because I was learning English, and an aversion grew out of it because it was frustrating other kids got to play while I did extra studying. 

I am glad I got back into it, because reading books is absolutely one of the best hobbies to have. Non-fiction books allow me to learn from the experiences of others, and fiction novels that keep me turning the pages are one of life's great joys. In addition to a good story, novels are also a good way to study prose and the art of putting words into sentences and paragraphs. I can't put a count of it, but no doubt keeping a consistent reading habit have helped in my writing here and elsewhere before. 

People treat turning 30 as a flashpoint after which the body/mind starts to deteriorate. It probably isn't true, but we're definitely not "growing" anymore in the physical sense as would a child. The want for preservation, vain or otherwise, starts to creep into the conversation. Partly why I ditched video games and kept on the reading of books is because I wanted the mental stimulation. The body needs exercise, and so does the brain.

It was easy back in school because the brain was in constant use learning new things and solving problems critically. Much harder to replicate that in adult work-life. While there's never a dull day at my job and there's always new stuff to learn, comparatively the quantity simply isn't there. When I go home from work, I don't have to do anything should I so chose; not so with school: there would still be mountains of homework. 

I needed to workout the mind, and television and videos games weren't the answer. I know this because during my early and mid 20s I did the whole 'come home from work watch TV for the rest of the day' thing. On the surface it was wonderful work-life balance, but I did not find it fulfilling at all. If I hadn't blogged and read consistently, my mind would be entirely shut-off when not at work. 

As I crossed over into my late 20s, I could feel my mind lacking sharpness, with a general sense of lethargy, as if I was merely going through the motions of life, lacking mental creativity like a robot. No coincidence that during this time my photographic output was at its lowest, and I was largely depressed during 2014, age 27. I was physically healthy, but my mind wasn't. 

I got out of it by treating the brain with some proper stimulation. I stop watching scripted televisions shows (I had a rotation of around 10), and did a great purging of what I subscribe to on Youtube. I accelerated the reading habit by aiming to read one book every two weeks, newly made possible by not watching all those TV shows. Spare time from work was henceforth dedicated to learning. 

Eventually it got a bit too drab to only be reading books, so I figured I'll pick a subject and learn it autodidactically. During my teens I had varying aspirations like learning a third language, playing the piano, and making music on the computer. For all sorts of reason chiefly laziness and apathy towards education (going to a hugely competitive high school will do that to you), I never got started on any of them. As they say, it's never too late to start. 

I picked learning a third language. For the majority of my 20s my music of choice has been kpop, which is quite silly now that I look at it because I didn't know Korean (I took Japanese in high school and retained none of it) and therefore understood none of the lyrics (except for the random english parts). Not exactly enjoying the complete musical experience am I when only the melody is speaking to me; I might as well be listening to techno.

Two years ago I started teaching myself Korean using a combination of textbooks and Korean television shows (thank you KBS World Youtube channel). Each day I would spend upwards of four hours on it: two with the textbook, and then comprehension practice by watching the shows. I have to say it's been fantastic, because now I can finally understand the music I listen to most, and the language skill came in handy when I traveled to Korea earlier this year. 

Travel was a huge component to my late 20s, one borne out of the wish to have more experiences, rather than spending money on more and more things. While consumer electronics will always have its ugly claws on me, I've largely given up on pouring money into cars. Ever since I traded in the Subaru for the Mazda, I've only put gas in it and changed the oil. Teenage me would be hugely surprised to learn I haven't put modifications on the car - not even changing the wheels. 30 year old me prefers to enjoy the car as is from the factory. 

With the money saved from the car habit I put most of it towards traveling, a truly rewarding endeavor. Every time I return home from a week-long trip I am refreshed and energized to tackle my regular life. It's not due to a change in perspective per se, but rather gaining an appreciation: for the different cultures not just abroad but even here in America, and for having the ability to travel to these places with the work I do. Along with memories, the most important thing I take back with me is gratitude. Gratitude for what I already have. 

I also bring back pictures. Traveling have really kickstarted my photography habit back from the doldrums of my mid 20s. I've always skewed towards urban and landscape side of the hobby, so trips to new places and foreign countries are the perfect compliment to what I like to shoot. Reliving a trip through the editing of photos is way more special and intimate than simply perusing shots on a phone: I interact with every photo and scrutinize the details, like art pieces in a museum. The downside is that nostalgia and travel withdrawals are equally amplified. 

That just about sums up a few thoughts on my 20s. Looking back at it now from a macro perspective, standing this side of 30, the past decade consists of two peaks on each end with a valley in the middle. After the high of finishing college and getting a job, I was directionless in my mid 20s, but found things to ardently strive for towards the latter half.

It's an worthwhile arc. 

In culmination, I'd like humbly offer a few pieces of advice for those who are just starting their decade of 20s. These are hopefully universal and not too personal because after all, each individual's path is different. 

Firstly, your foundation must be sound. A building with a weak foundation stops everything (just ask the people who built Millennium Tower). Sleep: get enough of it. Proper amounts of sleep is the best fuel for the rest of the day. Exercise: do it. You don't have to be a gym-rat or chase the perfect body; simply having a consistent workout schedule, like sleep, will pay dividends in all aspects of life. Food: eat clean. You're not a growing teen anymore and those burgers and fries won't digest themselves. Feed your body the good stuff: avoid sugar and carbs, eat more protein and vegetables. 

Final piece to the foundation is financial: put aside appropriate amounts for later. Living like the day's your last is great and all, but today in most likelihood won't be, so you've got to save some for later. 

With the foundation in order you are then free and have the energy to tackle whatever you want. Try to seek out experiences rather than the materialistic. Easier said than done, I know, but the things you buy will come and go, but the time spent with people and places visited are forever in memory. You've got the rest of your life to buy all kinds of stuff, but your parents will only be as young as they are today: spend time and money with them before you visit that car dealership. 

My final advice to a person heading into their 20s is try be present, and not worry about things beyond your control. For much of my 20s I had bouts with anxiety and fear of what's to come, most of it turning out to either be trivial or didn't even happen. I remember having an anxiety attack right after I bought the Subaru because for months I've been needlessly stressed over the details and getting triggered over anything that can potentially derail the process. Here I am buying my first car with my own money: it should be a happy occasion, but I was worried sick at things I can't hope to control. 

Don't be like me. Focus on the now, and take what's to come as it comes, good or bad. 

As I look towards my decade of 30s, I honestly don't know what to expect nor can I offer any predictions. I have personal goals, sure, but none stretches that far ahead. It doesn't feel like it looking backwards, but a decade is a very long time. Perspectives and motivations will for sure change. I've zero desire to settle down and have kids right now, but difficult to say how I will think about it in five year's time. What will the world even look like then?

If 20s is the time for discovering who we are and what we want to do, then I guess 30s is the time for implementation and action. Like Marshawn Lynch, I am all about that action. For the near future I'll continue to work where I am now, study and read book during off hours, and travel whenever I can. 

Whatever happens beyond that, is unpredictable. 

Cheers to another birthday, and many, many happy returns.