Long-form

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

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

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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.

STOICISM

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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.

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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.

YEAR OF TRAVEL

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

PHOTOGRAPHY

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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.

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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.

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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.

THE CAR

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.

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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.

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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.  

SIMPLIFY

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.

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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.

LET'S GET IT

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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.

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2017 TOP 10 SONGS

1. Crush - 잊어버리지마 (Don't Forget) Feat. Taeyeon
2. Zico - She's a Baby
3. KARD - Oh Na Na
4. TWICE - LIKEY
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. 

Nowhere to go but everywhere - 2016 reflections

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Feels like I’m going to die soon. 

Currently I’m desperately close to the arbitrary threshold of turning the age of 30 that these days it momentarily and opportunistically scares the crap out of me, like a horrible psychosomatic reaction. Am I running out of time? What’s this arbitrary wall I can’t seem to see over and beyond? Even though statistically I’ve still got enormous amounts of years ahead of me, just what makes that infamous age 30 threshold such an imposing force? As Joey Tribbiani said in Friends: “Why, god? Why?”

Perhaps it’s normal at all to feel this way. But damn, if it’s that horrific now, what happens when the clock strikes 40? Or 50? I may need a psychiatrist on retainer.  

TIME

Time is the only commodity we have.

Money you can always make more, but once time is gone, it’s never ever coming back. At least not until they invent a time machine.

I’ve still got one solid year to go before the carriage turns into a pumpkin and I’m on the other side of the Great Wall of 30, but that panic has already arrived, at age 28, more than a year premature if you ask me. Is time up for me? It’s as if I’ve been struck down with a terminal disease and only then started doing a reflection on life and realize what so little I’ve done and what so much more yet I want to accomplish.

Silly looking back at it now, because of course I haven’t got a terminal illness, and it’s a disservice to those that actually has them.

In a twisted way, then, the turning of 30 barrier might be a blessing; you get all the emotions and positive peripheral side effects of an incurable disease, but you know, without all the dying at the end. Take the opportunity to reevaluate your life, and set a new path forward.

That’s precisely what I did.

Or rather, what I continued to do since the latter parts of 2015. The epiphany struck earlier than this year (alas I think about the future way too soon). In last year’s year-end blog post, I wrote about the self-critique and evaluation that’s already been done; 2016 was simply a matter of continuation, improvement, and concentration.

It’s making up for lost time.

All those countless hours (amounting to many, many days) binge-watching television shows, re-watching them, playing video games, reading pointless articles, umpteenth blog, the numerous YouTube channels, hundreds of baseball games, et cetera et cetera: what a complete waste of time that all were. Where’s the investment, where’s the enrichment? Them modern person needs entertainment from time to time, but when it dominates the entirely of your off-work life, then it’s a problem. May not be one for you, but it indeed is for me.  

I gave it all up. Well, most of it.

I reflected on what I should have done these past few years in lieu of all the hours spent on mindless entertainment, and I arrived at three legs of a tripod holding up the aspiration of self-enrichment: learning, books, and travel.

I must caveat to say that (hopefully) this isn’t just me desperately clinging on to whatever vestige of youth. The fact that I’m Asian means I’ve already got that covered. The occasional carding for an R-rated movie at the theatres is always amusing.

So, learning, then.

LEARNING

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One of the issues of post academia life (i.e. getting a job) is that for the most part unless you’re in the class of people working on technology and engineering products (or doctors, scientists, lawyers and the like), you kind of coast along in your job, doing repetitive work day after day. That’s certainly the case for me, where helping professors connect laptops to projection systems in classrooms never really change all that much, even with Apple continuing to cut out ports and forces us to buy more and more adapters every year.

It’s not exactly intellectually challenging; once you’ve retained knowledge of what the job demands, you can then coast along, day after day. That brain exercise I used to get from the days in academia is gone, and watching television and playing video games during non-work hours certainly doesn’t help the situation (though I still argue hand-eye coordination is a necessary skill that video games provide for youths of the world – and gamers well into their adulthoods like myself).

Much like the body that requires regular amounts of exercise, so does that brain of ours. The lack of stimulation leads to atrophy, and that my friends, is how you die. I believe a huge reason retirees struggle with post-work life and seemingly age exponentially after they’ve stopped working is specifically because their brains no longer receive the proper amount of exercise. As many a wise person have said, learn and you’ll live forever; or is it learning like you’ll live forever. It’s probably the latter, but I’ll cling to the former.  

I had to pick something to study, to learn, and the selection was immediate: I’d (finally) tackle the Korean language. Being bilingual is cool (and every one should strive to be so), but trilingual is that much more awesome.

After countless years of enjoying the music from Korea and numerous variety shows and television dramas from the country, learning the Korean language was something I should’ve endeavored many moons ago. It’s logical: if I am to continue to enjoy the media products from Korea, it’d be that much more gratifying if I understood the dialect and weren’t beholden to English or Chinese subtitles.

So I bought a textbook and begin teaching it to myself.

Yes, no secret formula, no classes at a community college (the local one didn’t offer Korean, otherwise I probably would have), no private tutor. It’s just me, the textbook, copious amounts of college-ruled notebook pages, and finally, about four hours of time per day, every single day. In the finest example of Alexander Hamilton and Napoleon Bonaparte, being an autodidact is an immensely rewarding enterprise.

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Being that Korean is my third attempt at acquiring a language, and one not super imposed upon me like it English was, the dynamic was completely different. I wasn’t beholden to a pace set by neither a teacher nor the need to acquire the language as quickly as possible. In hindsight, learning English was not fun at all because half the time I was frightened to tears, what with being in a brand new country, an entirely new culture, and having to attain proficiency as quickly as possible to be sociable and assist my parents (I was EIGHT). Absent comparable external forces and pressures, learning Korean was a vastly more amiable task, one in which I can go at my own pace, and not having to worry about mistakes relegating me to a poorer grade on the record card, or not being able to order fries at a McDonalds.

It was incredibly liberating, and I believe, the appropriate way to learn. Away from the pressures of academia and under your own volition is the utmost prime opportunity for deep and rewarding study (imagine that).

The sheer amount of time and energy involved in learning a language also made me realize just why my parents found it so difficult to learn English, and in the case of my mother, never did. Being a young and poor immigrant family meant both my parents had to worry more about putting food on the table than any earnest effort in learning English. Plus the fact we immigrated to San Francisco meant the sizable Chinese population allowed my parents to not have to use English in every day life. The lack of immersion and lack of hours available to devote to learning a language completely prevented my parents to speak the common tongue of this country, though I guess we’re all switching to Spanish in the near future, aren’t we.

The reason I never learned Japanese properly whilst taking classes during high school was strictly due to the lack of time dedicated. I had to juggle six other classes worth of course-load, thus that lone hour of the day spent in class and that hour of homework everyday (ha!) isn’t going to cut through any of the material and give it appropriate attention. The relative ease in which I’m ascertaining Korean led me to question why Japanese wasn’t as so, and it all concludes back down to time. To learn a language you’ve got to spend a good chunk of your day towards it, and there are no days off. One shouldn’t treat weekends as days off or vacations anyways.

That is, unless you truly are taking a vacation.

Thusly, in order to study Korean, I had to give up other activities of leisure. I practically stopped watching television shows sans a few (no way was I going to miss the Gilmore Girls revival), I no longer watch Giants baseball broadcasts, and the Playstation 4 has only been turned on during the year for the periodic firmware updates (why I bothered with even that, I’m not entirely sure). The few spare hours I’ve got after work on until I go to sleep was all dedicated to language study. Funny how when you’re so singularly focused on one thing and you have to discard other to make room, and yet afterwards you find that you don’t really miss the things you’ve relinquished. Stranger Things and Westworld? I’ve no desire to watch them, no matter how well reviewed they are. 

Allocate 50 hours for a Japanese RPG? It can wait.  

I reckon it’s a good metaphor for life: focus on a few things, and do those few things incredibly well. You may say variety is the spice of life, but who says you can’t make variety from within those few things you’ve chosen to do really well? I read an enormous variety of books, and after learning Korean I’ll surely move on to studying another, perhaps a fourth language, or music theory. There’s so much on offer, enough to induce selection paralysis.

An autodidact as I may aspire to be, I wouldn’t be able to learn Korean with only a book and a pen without the amazing assistance from the Internet; major kudos to the Naver app, Wiktionary.com, and the KBS World YouTube channel. It goes without saying, the web has opened up so many opportunity and resources for learning, and it’s mostly absolutely free. Practically anything you want to study, the Internet has it for you. In that respect, the world is quite figuratively your oyster.

The sense of accomplishment of that first instance when I watched a Korean television program without subtitles was complete magic. It made all those four-hour days instantly worth the price of admission.

BOOKS

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During times I’m not frantically immersed in Korean studies, I spent it on books. It is said that the successful people of the world all read at least a book per month, if not more. Suffice it to say, I’m not successful at all, but in order to become so meant I must follow that adage and read plenty of books. Good thing I’ve already started on this towards the latter parts of 2015, and 2016 upped the ante tremendously.

Forget a book a month: I aimed for one a week.

Books allow you to borrow the minds and experiences of other people, to learn from them, especially the historical greats (I’m hugely anticipating getting into the biography of Winston Churchill, some 30 books down the queue – yes humble brag). No matter it be fiction or nonfiction, every book provides the occasion to open your mind to something new, different, life affirming, or life changing. And movies based on books are always better enjoyed after you’ve read the original text. If the movie is great, the experience is improved, and if the movie sucked, well you still got the books to cling to (like Twilight, probably). 

It was ambitious for sure, but for the first few months of the year, I was hitting that book-a-week mark with ease. That’s owing to the fact I didn’t start studying Korean until April, and with that advent of that, the book reading almost grounded to a thorough halt. I was right back down to the “standard” one book per month until the autumn season, during which I was able to take the foot off the gas a smidgen on studying Korean, and divert more time allocation to books.  

So for the whole of the year, it ended up being one book every two weeks. 70/30 split of non-fiction and fiction.

I buy actual, tangible books because who doesn’t like the smell of fresh books, and I annotate the heck out of them, pen and highlighter style. It isn’t the most efficient use of space, but I simply don’t find the same pleasure in touching a tablet to flip to the next page. Though it must be said, Kindle does make it easier to collate your annotations together; with physical books I’ve got to type out everything if I were to gather up notes.

Buy paper books, and support your local bookstores. They are places of extinction level numbers yet so magical that Amazon, the guys who literally killed the physical bookstore, now has a physical bookstore in Seattle. Mustn’t underestimate the allure and smell of book stacks and coffee beans.

Notable books I’ve read this year:

Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow: the book that inspired Lin-Manual Miranda to write the ever-popular musical for coastal-elites. I for one cannot wait to watch the musical when it comes to San Francisco next year (got tickets!). But like me, you should read the book first beforehand. The book is a fascinating expose of Hamilton, from his birth outside of States, to his infamous death at the hands of Aaron Burr in New York. The one thing that strikes me most about the founding father was that Hamilton was an autodidact, and a large part of his brilliance in the creation of the Treasury Department and writing the Federalist Papers was self-taught.

The Private Life of Chairman Mao, by Dr. Li Zhisui, and Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, by Ezra Vogel: being Chinese, I was rather interested in how modern China came to be the world juggernaut it is today, and there was no better place to start than the biographical accounts of these two major figureheads. Mao is widely celebrated as the founder of the People’s Republic, but in actuality he almost ran it into the ground. It’s scary to think modern China was so dangerously close to the realities of North Korea (Mao did had a male son, mind you), and the world is better for it didn’t.

The person to thank for that is Deng. His reformation and push for the advancement of the Chinese economy is the critical factor in elevating China into the world’s second foremost superpower. A prudent and logical man, he had none of Mao’s emotional tendencies, and was open to any ideas so long as it moved the country forward. While today it may be Mao’s picture that adorns the centerpiece in Tiananmen Square, I say for what Deng has done for China, it should be his likeness instead. Mao nearly ran the China into the ground, and Deng saved it.

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac: Kerouac’s magnum opus shows a romantic view of contemporary nomadic life, traveling throughout the country, finding your roots and plying a trade no matter the town Sal Paradise ended up in. It isn’t the most polished of books, and the story has a few congruency issues, but the crux of what I got out of On the Road is what I surmise what many others did as well: the love of the open road, travel, and endless exploration.

The Big Short, by Michael Lewis: nobody can linguistically weave and tell a story like Michael Lewis, and his retelling of the 2008 financial disaster is a must-read if you care the slightest about your money. While the big banks and other financial players were definitely at fault for the colossal amounts of bogus mortgages and their derivative trades that brought down the American economy, ordinary Americans who made those mortgage without any financial understanding should also bear some brunt of the blame (I’m quite Republican in many ways). Financial literacy really ought to be a required course in high school. I’d have so much money now than the pittance I’ve got if that were the case.

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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, by Mark Manson: ah yes, as we grow older, the amount of fucks we allocate to give out dwindles to but a tiny few. This book provides a guide to how to best allocate those fucks, so as to not waste time and energy (and time is a terrible thing to waste). What I got out of this book is that life can be streamlined to be a series of problems, problems for you to solve and fix. As you untangle the webs and finish each problem, you gain life’s satisfaction, and then you move on to the next challenge. Simplify, compartmentalize, and move forward.

Use death (and the fear of it) as the ultimate motivation to do and perform, and perhaps you’ll end up making something so remarkable that it will outlast your own atoms. That is the true marker of immortality, at least until scientists figure out how to truly perform such feat.

Tools of Titans, by Tim Ferriss: I refer this book as the self-help/improvement encyclopedia. Tim Ferriss have really done a number in amassing such a collection of wits, wisdom, and useful life-hacking tips. If you ever find yourself needing that extra bit of motivation, guidance, or general pick-me-up, this book is immensely beneficial. Of the many inspirations, Tools of Titans started me on taking magnesium as a supplement.

On the shortness of life, by Seneca: perhaps Seneca’s greatest piece of writing. For those of you thinking life is too short and you feel like you haven’t “lived”, this book is the golden ticket to unlocking the how and the why life really is quite sufficiently long (it’s after all the longest thing we’ll ever do), given you know the appropriate manner in how to live it. It boils down to giving up materialistic and trivial pursuits; learn from the pass whilst focusing on the present, and carpe diem the fuck out of every single day. This short yet succinct tome just may be the most important book I’ve read this year, and I keep referring back to it anytime I feel off the tracks, so speak.

PHOTOGRAPHY

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With so much time dedicated to reading and learning another language, you’d think I’ve completely neglected my principle hobby of the last half-decade - photography - and you’d be right. I still very much enjoy taking the occasional pictures, but I simply don’t have time to slot in photographic excursions. That is pure excuse of course, because had I wanted to, I could have totally fit it in, but alas, hobbies and interest come and go, and photography looks be one of them.

These days it’s only during my travels that I break off the rust and partake in the joy of photography. Those self-made calendars I give out during Christmas got to have pictures, you know.

The Canon 7D and all its peripheries got sold to the highest bidder on eBay (man, eBay fees really eats into your bottom line). They say the best camera is the one you’ve got with you, and I just don’t have the mental willpower any longer to lug around a full-size photography kit. Portability and ease of carry is key – if you loathe to carry it, you’re less likely to use it. That’s why the trusty (and tiny) Sony NEX-5 camera is the main everyday go-to, and also, for the most part, the sensor on my iPhone serves brilliantly as well.

Smartphone camera technologies have certainly advanced leaps and bounds, and the results I get from my iPhone are now good enough for sizable prints. For the first time ever I can satisfactorily input so called “potato” shots into my yearly Calendar project, which is remarkable. You look at the very first shots made on instagram compared to those of today and the contrast is exponential. I firmly believe photographs are the best medium in transmitting/sharing memories and experiences, and smartphone have put a camera in everyone’s hands; it’s fantastic. I stay constantly amazed at the results I get from my iPhone 7, with nary a touchup or alteration required.

It’ll be another half-decade yet before the camera on a smartphone can replace all but the very specialized cameras. Until then, for the best of shots I still have to utilize a traditional DSRL, albeit one that hasn’t got a mirror mechanism and therefore incredibly small and light to carry around. The aforementioned NEX-5, after five years of service, bid an untimely farewell due to negligence with a rogue water bottle. The replacement I bought is its direct-line successor, the Sony A5100.

I got a new lens to go along with it as well. I’ve been pining for a Zeiss lens for ages, and the 12mm f/2.8 for the Sony e-mount finally got to within my price range (still cost more than the camera itself). There’s a saying that once you’ve experiences the esthetics of Zeiss glass, you can never go back to other brands, and those people are absolutely right. I’m completely enamored with the exceptional way the Zeiss lens renders a scene; leading to photographs I can’t get any way else.

TRAVEL

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I’ve been talking about learning and books legs of the tripod that holds up the self-improvement aspiration, so we’ve now arrived at the third leg: travel. The travel bug really bit me hard the last year, and from then on it’s grown into an affliction, of the good sort of course. I cannot bear to be without a travel itinerary for more than a few months, and thankfully I’ve got a job that allows me to travel fairly consistently throughout the year (vacation time wise; sadly there isn’t any work travel to speak of). 2016 saw me visiting Hong Kong, Taipei, Chicago, New York City, and Yosemite National Park.

It’s been 14years since I’ve last step foot back home in China, so heading to Hong Kong in January was a tremendously momentous occasion. My dad’s side of the family is in China, and so are most of the cousins whom are my age. I’m not entirely sure why I waited so long to visit, since I’ve certainly had the means to do so way earlier. It’s interesting how priorities work: after graduation and getting a job, my singular goal was to save money and buy a car, which negated any opportunity at using that money instead of go back home. Hindsight being what it is, I probably should not have done that, but we can’t change the past, as they say.

Needless to say, 14 years is a very long time, and the changes in my family in China are quite staggering. The “kids” are all grown up with jobs, and the adults are by and large enjoying blissful retirements. Yet even with such a dramatic time-shift, the dynamics of it hasn’t change at all. Us “kids” still feel like kids, even though we’re all employed and one even married. Again this isn’t me or us desperately hanging on to whatever vestige of youth; it’s genuinely how it felt. I wonder if our parents ever went through the same quagmire, in which they’re at the end of their 20’s but still feel like a kid to their parents. Will we always feel like a kid when we’re amongst our parents, even when we have kids of our own? I guess I’ll know the answer to that eventually.

Hong Kong is a wonderful and bustling metropolis, and one you should definitely go visit only during the wintertime because any other time it’s too bloody hot and humid to be without air conditioning. But winter, ah, it was sublime. I’m a city kid at heart and I welcome urban density more so that the spread out suburbs. Hong Kong might as well be paradise. The abundance and variety of things to do within so small a square area, and it’s all so accessible because their public transportation system absolutely destroys the one we’ve got here in San Francisco. The convenience of Hong Kong’s subway system completely shames the money-wasting BART behemoth that takes you only to parts of the city.

If you haven’t found out already, the food is unrivaled in Asia. Even just the blocks surrounding our hotel offered more quality Chinese food than most of what’s here in San Francisco. I can eat out three meals out of the day without getting bloated with various agents of sodium and ungodly amounts of fat.

You may think going home to where everybody practically looks like me and speaks the same language may be remarkable, but in practice it is most definitely not. When you’re used to the sort of diversity we have in San Francisco, being in a place that severely lacks it, even when it’s “your own people”, is very disconcerting. There’s a certain sense of foreignness and unease, even though for all intents and purposes I blend completely in. I was more at home at the parts of the city with lots of foreigners, funny enough, though to them I probably look like a local instead of “one of them”.

Diversity is so awesome that it even trumps the innate want for homogeneity. I want to be able to walk down a city block and hear like 10 different languages.

After a week spent in Hong Kong, I took a quick jump to the island nation (well, not nation, because remember, there’s only ONE CHINA!) of Taiwan, particularly Taipei. If anything, I think I may like it even more than Hong Kong. The Taiwanese people are incredibly polite, and the streets and facilities are so clean, and the public restrooms are immaculate. Taipei is a diverse city, perhaps not in its population, but it the variety of activities and sights it’s got to offer. It’s a huge city, too (takes one hour by bus just to go from the airport to the city center), and I had a blast exploring every corners of it. A week’s time most certainly isn’t enough, and much like Hong Kong; I desperately need to go back again.

As it was in Hong Kong, Taipei is best experienced during the winter months, as the summer might even be more dreadful due to the dangers of typhoon and earthquakes, to go along with the humidity and heat. The climate during January however can be described as San Francisco-like, which for me is just about perfect.

And yes, there’s the food. You’ve never had proper bubble/boba milk tea until you’ve had it in Taipei. Even the ones peddled by the random corner store are miles better than the best you can get here in the States. After sampling (frequently) the boba tea in Taipei, I cannot stand to have the ones here in San Francisco without groveling about how much I miss the ones in its origin country. As for solid foods, there’s no better foodie paradise than the numerous night markets to choose from in Taipei. Don’t make dinner plans, go straight to the night market and pig out for the next two hours or so; it’s better Taiwanese food than any restaurant over here can offer.

You’d want to go back just for the food, really.

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On the domestic front, Chicago is an incredibly scenic and picturesque city. The downtown skyline as viewed from lake Michigan is enough to arrest you for hours on end. It’s really unfair that Chicago has got a river snaking through it’s downtown, which makes everything better. It’s cheating if you were to design a city from the ground up. Imagine how beautiful San Francisco would look if it were to have a river go through it. Bodies of water do so well to accentuate the beauty of a city (we’d know, we’re three sides surrounded by them), and Chicago does well to integrate that gleaming river into its overall scenic quality.

That said, it all felt a bit shallow and hollow. Underneath the beauty, as we all know, Chicago is gripped by violence. Outside of the white northern neighborhoods, I found Chicago to be a bit joyless and heartless. No one smiles; people move on through their day like drones, there isn’t much happy there. And why would there be, when over the course of a one weekend over 50 people can be shot dead, with hundreds wounded. The Left thinks they are the party that do right by the people, but the Democrat-controlled Chicago is a stark failure in that regard. And to think, this is Obama’s town.

Anyways, no trip to Chicago as a baseball fan is complete without a trip to hallowed Wrigley Field. It still amazes me every time I think about the fact I was actually there. I’ve of course seen it numerous times on television, but to actually be there: is this real life? Wrigley is a lovely stadium indeed, and because it was built before any of us were born, it’s definitely got an old-timey vibe to it. It’s less clinical and industrious than the modern ballpark cathedrals; I quite liken it to the sort of cozy niceness you get at Spring Training ballparks. You can immediately tell why it’s earned the nickname “The Friendly Confines”. You can’t help but to make a new friend or start a conversation with your seat neighbors there; the atmosphere is so unique, and yes, I still can’t believe we were actually there. What an experience.

A quick word on Chicago food: deep-dish pizza might as well be a giant quiche, and while it’s delicious, for proper pizza I much rather have thin-crust, as it should be. A hard pass on the Chicago Dog: too many ingredients, difficult to eat. I ended up using a fork, with is antithetical to how one should eat a hot dog.

We then moved on to New York City, and what a magnificent city is it. I felt a sense of familiarity as soon as I arrived in Manhattan, and there is a succinct San Francisco vibe that permeates throughout. While I felt somewhat foreign in Chicago, I was right at home in New York City. Blindfold me and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It’s lovely indeed.

The cliché is true: the city truly never sleeps. The first night there we wandered about up into the wee hours of the night, and yet there’s still much to do, places still open if you so desire. The ability to get alcohol after 2AM! A subway system that runs 24-hours! Jaywalking is a beloved and encouraged! Due to all this, our day-night cycled got completely skewed. Waking hours weren’t until at least noon, and what was usually lunch is now breakfast. I reckon night owls would thrive in New York.

New Yorkers aren’t rude and in a constant hurry as the outside reputation would suggest: simply don’t get in the way of where they are going! If you see a gap, go; being too polite is hugely detrimental because you’re holding up the line behind you. Apprehensiveness will only make things worse. I wish San Franciscans would adopt some of that philosophy, especially in traffic situations. How many times have we’ve been stuck frustrated behind a car unwilling to merge out even when the gap is quarter of a mile wide. In New York, five cars would’ve gone already.

It was humbling and emotional to be at the World Trade Center memorial.

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Going to New York City gave me the opportunity to finally test out which is the superior burger: Shake Shack of the east coast, or our west coast’s beloved In n Out. Heading in with all intentions of defending the west coast like I was in rap group in the 90s, the verdict came out to be that Shake Shack is indeed the better burger. In fact, it’s just about the best burger I’ve eaten given the category: fast food burger chain just a step up above McDonalds and Burger Kings of the world, but not quite the sit-down gourmet variety. Sorry, west coast friends, but Shake Shack burger is absolutely delicious (it’s the bread), so good that I made sure to have it a second time before I had to leave. They desperately need to expand up and out into our neck of the woods.

Yes, I’m going to be that smug asshole who will tell you smugly that you’ve haven’t had actual Halal Guys until you’ve patronize the original street side stand in New York, having to eat the stuff sat next to the sidewalk. It’s a completely different experience: the sights, smells, and sounds of a bustling Manhattan street adds immensely to the eating pleasure.

The last time I was in Yosemite National Park was back when I’ve just finished high school and a bunch of us went during the summer for a camping trip. 10 years later, I returned once more, only this time amongst wintry conditions at the beginning of December. I have to say; the renowned beauty of Yosemite is even more so during the winter. There was such a kaleidoscope of colors, from snow-covered ground, to shimmering peaks, the autumnal leaves, and pewter lakes. The photographic canvas was incredible; there are no bad shots, there’s beauty and majesty striking your senses from all angles.

No wonder John Muir was so infatuated with the place.

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The post-snow air at Yosemite is some of the freshest I’ve ever breathed. I’d like an oxygen tank of that for my birthday, thank you.

Driving a tiny, rear-wheel driven convertible through snow and ice conditions, even on a sunny day, was in hindsight a huge mistake. Had a storm suddenly rolled through I would’ve been hideously trapped. I made it out alive! Though the Miata suffered a few patina scars for sure.

Travel plans for next year: Hong Kong (again!), Shanghai/Hangzhou, Seoul (finally!), and Iceland. Excited would be an understatement.

ODDS AND ENDS

My high school graduating class’ 10-year reunion was this year, which is to say what the fuck 10 years have passed already? I wonder just how “adult” does any of us feel, even though most have remarkable careers already, and plenty are married with kids. These reunions are interesting, aren’t they? Who are the ugly ducklings that turned into swans? Who were popular back when but now are total deadbeats? Who amongst you voted for Trump? Wasn’t it you that got that girl in Japan pregnant during your stay as an exchange student?

According to at least LinkedIn profiles, Lowell’s class of 2006 has done quite well for ourselves career-wise. The amount of lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and doctors are astounding.

Sadly I was unable to attend the reunion due to geographic impossibilities, as the day of the reunion is the same day I was on a plane to Hong Kong. It’s a sign from the higher authorities in heaven that I probably wasn’t meant to go. Surely the 20-year anniversary would be more significant in terms of the change delta in each person.

Personally, 2016 has been a good year; society though, as you may all know, 2016 has been largely panned as absolute shit. The sheer amount of untimely deaths of significant persons notwithstanding, but we here in the United States elected an orange orangutan to be the next President. At least my investment portfolio will perform well.

Those of us here in California are lucky to be well insulated, like a sanctuary.

Given all the turmoil, tragedy, and uncertainties in the world around us, the only thing we can do is focus on ourselves: don’t worry about what you cannot control. Whatever incendiary thing Trump will inevitably speak next, or insane legislations the State congress of North Carolina will inevitably enact, just ignore it; you can’t change it anyways. Unless we are on the precipice of all-out nuclear war, focus on yourself and the people around you. Don’t worry about the extraneous; a little less social media and cable new channels, add a bit more books, or time spent with family and friends.

Focus on making yourself better.

For the latter half of the year, my work schedule changed to such that I went from having an afternoon-to-night shift and switched it to an early-morning-to-mid-afternoon shift. You know you’re getting old when you’re perfectly comfortable with getting to bed way before midnight and waking up when the clock reads a number six in front of the colon. The college-aged me wouldn’t have believed any of it.

But there is something intrinsically rewarding about waking up before practically everyone else and getting shit done whilst the proverbial world is still asleep. These days by the time breakfast hour rolls around, I would’ve been awaken for some hours already, and either have read through a significant chunk of a book, studied Korean, or washed the car (no lines at the car wash when it’s this early). It’s oddly satisfying, and an essential life hack in that you feel like you’ve got more hours in the day, even though it’s all same (unless you sleep less.)

Staying up past midnight takes a toll. Imagine that.

MUSIC TOP 10

1. TWICE - Cheer Up
2. Taeyeon - Rain
3. Park Kyung - 보통연애 (Ordinary Love) (Feat. Park Boram) 
4. Red Velvet - Russian Roulette  
5. Eric Nam x Wendy - 봄인가 봐 (Spring Love)
6. 여자친구 (GFRIEND) - 시간을 달려서 (Rough)
7. BTS - 피 땀 눈물 (Blood Sweat & Tears)
8. Apink - Only one (내가 설렐 수 있게)
9. BLACKPINK - WHISTLE (휘파람) (Acoustic Ver.)
10. I.O.I - Knock Knock Knock (똑똑똑)

CONCENTRATE AND CONQUER

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The conclusions I draw from 2016 are this: simplify and focus. Emphasize on only the few important things, and do them extremely well. More importantly, concentrate on only the things I can control, and ignore the extra noise.

Learning Korean will go on well into 2017, if not beyond that, as I’ve still got one and a half textbooks (out of a three) to go. I’ve got books lined up to read well into 2018 if I keep up the current pace, so that’ll be a constant joy. Lastly, the once a quarter travel plans are set.

Other than spending time with friends and family, the tripod of learning, books, and travel is all I need and all I shall give attention to.

May you find your self-enriching niches as well. Happy 2017!