What a year.
Is precisely what you want to exclaim when you begin reflecting on the year, and for me, 2015 was a remarkable one indeed. Just as the formal blog title/theme suggests, this year was about not waiting: to do the things that needed to be done or that I want to accomplish. After an admittedly lethargic 2014, this year saw me traveling to four different cities in four different States, selling the once-beloved WRX STI, reading more books for leisure than the previous years combined, keeping active on the personal website/blog, and with plenty of meaning and joy mixed between it all. As we’re mere hours until the dawn of the next annum, it’s time to ruminate about the one that was.
I turned 28 this year, and as typically to say as it may be; it’s rather unbelievable how fast the time has gone past. Wasn’t it only last year that I graduated from high school? No, far from it. You know, you get on with your life and all its merriments and then one day you realize your high school graduating class’s 10-year reunion is next year. Inadequacy and the haunting question of ‘what have you done with your life?’ then hit you with the force of a San Francisco MUNI bus. You idiot! How could you take five freaking years to finish undergrad? You’ve done nothing with that damn business degree! Shut up, Stewie, I haven’t even started on that novel.
Perhaps it’s the delayed manifestation of the quarter-life crisis (I did purchase a proper sports car this year, funny enough), but after a distinctly plebeian 2014, I was hit with a bit of anxiety; I can’t be languid any longer: I’ve got to be productive, be it hobbies, employment, or ambitions.
Now that I think about it, towards the middle parts of last year I was in sort of a funk, nothing too serious - quite the first world problem actually, but the dull and settled life of adulthood normalcy has placed a blanket of contentment over my life, and it completely stifled creativity and passion. Not since starting the photography hobby have I taken fewer pictures than in 2014. I shuttered the once vibrant (in terms of content per week, not views, sadly) automotive blog that I kept out of pure indolence, and basically, life was a matter of outputting the minimal at work to get past, and then an unending marathon of television, YouTube shows, and video games at home. By any standards it’s an okay life indeed, but it was a colossal personal disservice.
Rereading last year’s ending blog post, I mentioned none of these shortcomings concerning 2014 that I feel now, save a snippet at the end saying let’s be less lazy in 2015 (that’s got to be a top five most popular new years resolutions, isn’t it?). It was a cop-out for sure, and not a direct confrontation of the issues. Heck, I can’t believe I wrote that 2014 was a “very good year”, because it most certainly wasn’t.
But I knew what had to change. Not entirely sure what triggered the epiphany exactly; during the penultimate months of 2014, I recognized the occasion to check off items on the archetypal bucket list is right now. It’s not even about having a concrete list: it’s entirely about experiences, having as much of it as possible, and not waiting until I’m diagnosed with some interminable disease, or less drastic, other people to be ready. If it can be done within my sole physical and financial constraints, then it’s time to go. You’d think for someone who has long ago read Randy Pausch would know better far sooner, but alas.
I did reread it again late 2014.
Perhaps that was the trigger. Nevertheless, things got started the previous November when I went down to Los Angeles for the annual LA Auto Show. I had a few extra days off before Thanksgiving, so after a quick why the heck not, off I went on the six-hour trip south. Didn’t consider waiting for next year, or for someone to come with. Not saying companionship isn’t an awesome thing, but I can never understand the type of people who can’t bear to watch a movie in the theatres by their lonesome. I’d happily watch Star Wars 7 by myself if no one else wants/convenient to go (albeit highly impossible). On the same token, I’ve no issues traveling anywhere alone. I’m not waiting if you’re not ready (beyond reasonable timeframes).
TRAVELING, AND SPRING TRAINING
Thankfully I did have two splendid companions for the trip to Scottsdale, Arizona during the first week of March. Having been SF Giants fans for more than a decade, my friends and I were long overdue do perform the Spring Training pilgrimage; an opportunity to see the team in a more intimate and relaxed setting, and escaping San Francisco for that prominent Arizona sun, though favorably tempered by the springtime climate, which is to say it was perfect.
Discounting Las Vegas (as one does), I’d have to go all the way back to 2001 to discover the last time I ventured outside the State of California. That’s a highly dubious statistic for someone who puts ‘wanderlust enthusiast’ in his social media profile. A case of ‘fake it until you make it’ or outright dishonestly? Probably the latter, though in my defense there were other more immediate priorities during this past decadal of years. Taking five of them to complete my BS in business and the subsequent delay in finding gainful employment didn’t help from a financial standpoint, and spending $36K on a car in 2013 didn’t, either. Materialism really kills experiences when you’re not in the 1% earning bracket, and I wasn’t about to debt finance travel, or anything else for that matter, save a car or a home (in San Francisco? That’s hilarious).
Time to alter the paradigm in 2015.
Some say the best fight against prejudice and bias is to travel, and those ‘some’ are absolutely correct. Coming from the bluest of blue States, visiting a red State such as the land of John McCain must thought to be an alien and antagonistic experience. The reality, when we went to Scottsdale for Spring Training, was vastly different. Sure, seeing tip jars labeled with ‘Tip if you hate Obama’ and various anti-liberal messaging was a tad startling, and you can use your mobile phone whilst operating a vehicle! Before the trip I joked about needing a Kevlar to protect myself from all the guns but not once during the three-day holiday did I witness any person open-carry. Responsible gun-owners are not the problem with regards to the gun-violence epidemic, and it’s easy to understand why (though I don’t necessarily agree) they’d protest heavily against any new gun-control legislations, even common sense items such as universal background checks.
Apologies for the tangent.
Visiting the greater Phoenix area and witnessing the particular lifestyle of locals, it’s not surprising the people there skew towards conservatism. It’s altogether so calm, laidback, and never in a hurry (The erratic and crazy driving behavior Northern Californians know and loathe was entirely absent in Phoenix); you’d be angry too if the federal government intrudes on any of that, however fake/imagined it might be. Remember when the governor of Texas idiotically commanded the State guard to keep an eye on the federal armed forces conducting drills within its borders? I can now empathize with why he did it. Still incredibly stupid and illogical (there’s no conquering Texas - it’s already part of the Union!), but I’ve an understanding that I wouldn’t otherwise attain had I remained untraveled beyond my tiny coastal Californian peninsula.
Right, baseball: the reason we went to Arizona. Spring Training is all about the atmosphere, taking in the natural surroundings, and one of complete leisure. Spring ballparks are extents smaller than the Major League equivalents, and you feel an immense closeness to everyone there, as if 10,000 of your closest friends were treated to a private game. The games itself don’t matter, and neither does the names on the back of the jersey. It’s baseball back to the roots, back to the childhood: audience watch, and the players play, for the sheer pleasure and love of the game. You’re actually not angry when the opposing team hits a home run, because damn it that was a beautiful shot out of the park. No matter what the end results are, you go home (back to the hotel a few blocks away for us) with delight and satisfaction.
The competitiveness and passion of ‘real’ baseball games can’t be replaced; rather, Spring Training in Arizona is another dimension to the great game - an escape.
The Escape, that’s the name I’ve changed this blog to in 2015. Not precisely sure why, but the term massively resonated with me. An escape from what exactly? The monotony of work life? Sameness? Complacency? Not accomplishing anything of substance? All of the above, perhaps: the blog was lacking in content last year, especially of the visual variety. There were plenty of words, but words are easy: I can stay home and type stuff out by the multiple thousands. Where do you think I am right now writing this soon to be 5,000-word soliloquy? (Not humble brag.)
For there to be visuals - photographs, I must endeavor outwards, leave this insulator I call home. The amount of travel helped, but that cannot be the sole crutch. Living in a bustling metropolis means there are numerous experiences to be had locally as well, and naming the blog ‘The Escape’ holds me accountable (that was the hope, anyway) to sincerely go to those events, places, and things, because how else am I going to create content on a consistent basis? It’s a push-pull, a good begetting another good.
One of the highlights is the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion back in August.
It’s an everyday practice, as well. Since 2011 I’ve been doing the photographic 365 challenge of taking a picture everyday of the year. I reckon it’s an excellent way to document my life, a sort of sketchbook, minus all the glue, glitter, and other accompanied mess. The end product was to combine the year’s pictures into a photo-book for archival. Sadly, mainly due to laziness and partly financial reasons (one book costs almost $200 to make), I never got round to producing the books, and the photos sat for the longest time. It wasn’t until late last year (notice a pattern? There truly was an awakening then) that I finally got off my butt and composed together the 2011 collection, with the 2012 and 2013 books done earlier this year.
Quite an amount of money simply for keepsakes, isn’t it?
Photographs from the 2014 challenge remain in my Mac Mini, awaiting print. On a subconscious level I’ve been reluctant to complete last year’s book, because owing to the aforementioned lethargy and overall crappiness of 2014, I rather ignore than confront it (healthy, I know). What fun is it to figure out patterns and placements when a solid 15% of the photographs are of my room - because I haven’t gone outside at all that day? I don’t want to be reminded of that.
It’ll get made soon, because 2015’s collection awaits. Not only did I proactively attempt for an interesting or diverging capture each day (there were failing days for sure), I’ve also been dutifully editing the batches every few weeks or so, and putting them up on the Flickr page and here on the blog. Prompt initiative like this for me is distinctly unprecedented, and I must say it’s gratifying to know I won’t have to go through all 365 items piecemeal before putting them in book-form. So there is an advantage to non-procrastination after all.
The realization that I will soon have five such photo ‘yearbooks’ is unfathomable. 2011 is still this decade, right? My god, we’re already onto the latter half starting next year.
Nothing will make you feel old quite like seeing your 10-years younger sibling graduate from the same high school as you did, at the same ceremony spot you stood with your family a decade ago. The only good news is I’m 20 pounds lighter than I was back then. My little brother Kelvin commenced from high school and onto collegiate life in late May, and because I work at a college campus, it also meant college freshmen were for the first time younger than I am by the double digits. Four years from now we’ll have kids born in the 2000s in our universities, and that’s absolutely crazy, if not against the laws of physics.
Being constantly reminded of how old I am may be a minus, but having a significantly younger sibling is a net positive - a gift. I can see my past experiences in my brother, though I seldom interfere with counsel. I feel any unsolicited intrusion would erode the genuineness of whatever he’ll have to traverse through in life. Let him make the same mistakes I did, because that’s how he’ll learn, and it’s not like those mistakes were life threatening or I went off and killed someone (I was close!).
Kelvin’s high school commencement wasn’t the only graduation ceremony I attended at Bill Graham this year; the other was for my good friend Amber, having attained her Juris Doctorate, freshly minted and stamped by the powers at UC Hastings (they give those out to anybody!). What a year for her; finally escaping the claws I mean finishing law school with her psyche somewhat intact, and then passing the all-important and mighty bar exam in November. She’s a full-fledge lawyer now, an amazing achievement indeed. They say your group of friends is a reflection of you; well, Amber broke the curve on that one. Multiple Wikipedia searches are required any time I have a conversation with her regarding her milieu (and that’s all the time). Just kidding. Maybe.
I don’t mind it.
Turns out you really do need a starting lawyer’s salary to afford a quaint studio apartment in San Francisco, as it was the case with my friend. Not surprising whatsoever, but every bit depressing for someone like me that grew up in San Francisco, have yet to leave the proverbial nest, and am on a public worker’s income. At this juncture, and for the foreseeable future, there’s no freaking way in hell I can afford a spot of my own (even sharing it with another person with similar income levels would be stretching it) in the city.
I concede the multiple marketing forces that contribute to the fervent housing prices (go plow yourself, crazy rich Chinese people from the mainland), and I’m not one to argue against the free market. That said, there’s got to be a balance somehow - a home is first and foremost a place to lay your head, and not just an investment. Might sound socialist, but there should be mechanisms in place to allow persons with a decent job be able to afford a place in the same city he’s working at. Currently there’s a shortage of teachers in the local school district because cost of housing in San Francisco is insane. Societal consequences like that will continue to rear their ugly heads if SF’s housing trends are to go on unchanged.
I’ve stated countless times: good thing I’m Chinese and my parents aren’t wont to unceremoniously kick me out of the house.
If they did, I just might move up to Seattle. Of the four cities in four States I traveled to this year, Seattle is the lone locale I wish to return to sooner rather than later. It’s got a very similar vibe to San Francisco, but more relaxed, and with plenty of precipitation that we in California desperately need. Lots more trees too, as the surrounding area is full of greenery. It’s a shame that I did not allocate enough time to witness the soaring Cascades, or take a blissful adventure through Olympic National Park. I need to go back soon.
I mainly stayed in the downtown area of Seattle, having lucked into a last minute deal on a room at the Sheraton. The choice location made downtown landmarks such as Pikes Place market, the waterfront, King’s Station, Chinatown, and the famed Space Needle entirely within walking distance. After the extensive 12-hours slog of a drive up, it was a relief to not have to get into the car the following day. You’ve read correctly: instead of taking a flight up to SEATAC like a normal human being, I elected to drive, and I’m glad I did. The route up on Highway 5 is enormously scenic, especially once you’ve crossed over the border into Oregon. I got to see cities on the way like Portland, which reminded me an incredible lot of Pittsburg, PA.
I did find out that 12 hours is just about the maximum I can/should be in a car per day. I was quite beat-up by the time I reached the destination hotel, granted the seats in the WRX STI aren’t the utmost compliant pieces of furniture.
The entire Pacific Northwest region is utterly picturesque, and if given the opportunity - assuming climate-change or human warfare don’t destroy the planet in the coming decades, Washington is a prime option for me come retirement time.
If Seattle is San Francisco with more trees and rain, then Denver is Seattle with less air. Much like Seattle, Denver is littered full of green and mountainous beauty, and it rains quite often as well. But it’s all situated a mile up in elevation, so you’re definitely short on breath until you’re acclimatize, as I’ve experienced. It’s a peculiar indeed when you’re walking at your usual pace and then to suddenly find yourself winded. Expectedly, there’s a lack of large bodies of water in and around Denver; the vast calm of Seattle’s Puget Sound remains unparalleled. Still, a lovely place Denver is, and I’m glad I made it over there in July.
A big checkmark on the automotive enthusiast list, alongside attending the motorsport reunion at Laguna Seca, is taking the drive up Pikes Peak, which involved staying in Denver as a home base of sort. Like the escape to Seattle, I wasn’t content with regular aviation methods to get to my destination: for Denver, I went via Amtrak train. Having never been on an extended multi-day train journey before, taking the transcontinental route to the Denver was the perfect prospect. We’ve all watched those infomercials about intra-State train rides and the breathtaking views scattered along, so opportunity was ripe to have a look for myself. Heck, my Chinese ancestors built that particular stretch of railroad, which is altogether humbling when I saw en route the enormously arduous terrain they had to blast through in order to connect American east and west.
I did fly back home, though; one multi-day train ride more than suffices. No need for a return trip.
Pikes Peak is about 30 minutes south of Denver, and the mountain’s lone ribbon of tarmac (see top photo) towards the towering 14,000 feet summit plays host to the longest running auto-race on this continent: Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The toll-road is otherwise open to the public - weather permitting, so regular blokes like me can commandeer a rental Volkswagen Passat up to the top, pretending to be the hill-climb heroes we watched on YouTube. The weather is no joke: my friend Tony and I were almost locked out of the parts beyond the tree line to the summit (so the good parts, basically) due to substantial rainfall. Guardrails are scarce, and if you are misfortune to have an off, you’re probably dead, so the Peak’s stewards take it seriously.
Of course, putting along at sane speeds isn’t likely to land us in a big bag of hurt, but having driven Pikes Peak now, I can’t imagine the amount of audacity it takes to drive a car - much less a motorbike - as fast as you can up that mountain. Make one tiny mistake and it’s the end of all things for you. Plus, the 17-mile stretch of road used to be unpaved only a few years ago, the hubris of man indeed. Naturally, the constant and unending danger is the main ingredient to the romance of PPIHC, and those thrill-seekers who dare are better man/woman than I. I’m quite happy with my rental sedan, thank you.
I’ve wanted to drive up Pikes Peak ever since I played it virtually in Gran Turismo 2, and it was a surreal experience once we reached the summit. 14,000 feet of elevation provides the kind of chill that you imagine would be similarly found in either of the earth’s poles. It’s nowhere near as cold of course, but it’s not an exposure you want for a protracted period. In additional to the piercing chill there’s also a decidedly lack of oxygen for you breathe. The literature warns you to bring a heavy jacket, but that won’t be enough. Any exposed skin is met with instant numbness. My hands, sans gloves, barely held together long enough for me to take pictures of the surroundings, and to think I was wearing shorts! After 10 minutes we were ready to escape into the famous summit shop for the welcomed climate-control, and Pikes Peak doughnut.
What an experience nonetheless, and I hope to return to Pikes Peak one day during the actual running of the annual hill-climb event.
CAN WE SAY PLANTS FROM TEXAS ARE DUMB?
A city I’m in no hurry to revisit (if at all) is the fourth city I went to this year: Dallas. I’ve been meaning to visit my friend Amy there for the longest time (well, a few years); one extended labor weekend and a ticket sale on Southwest Airlines later, I found myself in the arid heat and supreme flatness of central Texas. Lovely.
First, the heat: it doesn’t ever cool down. It can be hours past midnight and yet the mercury still reads 95. As if the night sky is but a camouflage for the sun that’s continuously lurking behind it, having not really set at all. For a San Franciscan used to the comforts of a constant high 50s, the Texas heat was completely foreign. How can there by any motivation to leave the house? At least it’s dry heat, and not the humid sort you’d find in Southeast Asia.
Of all the places I’ve lived, there exist geographical features that inform you, at the very least, some semblance of exactly where you are. Ah, is that Mount Tamalpais to the left? We must be in heading north. There’s no such navigational luck in big flat Texas; without road signs or the few tall buildings in downtown areas, you’d have zero clue where the heck you are in relation to everything. Not sure how people managed to travel within the State before the invention of GPS.
Those two quirks aside, it was a good weekend in Dallas. Amy’s abode is right next to Cowboys Stadium, so I got to see that billion-dollar monolith up close. Went to the local art museum principally for the air-conditioning (it had a Manet next to a Monet, which only I would find hilarious). No visit to Texas is complete without tasting the famous BBQ, so we went to the historic Fort Worth Stockyard for that. It’s a good thing I don’t live there permanently, because the amount of delicious BBQ you can get (and the sweet tea, got to have the sweet tea) for the money is downright dangerous. I drove on a highway named after George Bush, which provides a solid snickering even now as I think about it. Oh, and gas prices starting with a ‘1’ before the decimal point is ceaselessly bewildering.
Seeing the Dallas that Amy has lived in for the past threes years provided me a tremendous amount of appreciation for what she had to go through, moving her entire life there - by her lonesome - because the job in Texas provided her with a visa to stay in America; major kudos for that. However shockingly different the environment was for me must’ve been doubled or tripled for her because she truly had to stay; there were no return flight a few days later should she change her mind, for she can’t. In hindsight I’m now extremely glad my other friend Chris was there to accompany Amy on the maiden move. Put me in the same scenario I would‘ve cried mother like Rory Gilmore’s first day at Yale.
The year-end blog post isn’t replete without mentioning the cars. Yes, plural this year. After close to three-years of overall joyous ownership, I made the decision to part ways with the WRX STI back in October. I thought I’d keep it forever, too, but I guess I’m the type of car enthusiast that prefer to sample around instead of being married to just one (sure hope that isn’t a premonition for another part of my being). Unlike better financially endowed petrol-heads, I can’t afford to keep more than one car, so when the brand-new Mazda MX-5 Miata enticing powers proved exceedingly effervescent; I made the switch - on a whim. Within the span one weekend I sold the WRX STI to CarMax (Subaru hold its value very excellently indeed), and had an order placed at Mazda of Elk Grove for an MX-5 Sport in Ceramic Metallic color.
I took delivery of the new car the second week of November, and it’s been supremely special ever since. I can now see why people love genuine sports cars in the traditional sense: lightweight, appropriate amount of power, two doors, and rear-wheel drive is an incredibly intoxicating motoring recipe. It was a drastic change coming from the four-door all-wheel-drive turbocharged machine, and perhaps it’s bias for the new (yeah, it is), but the MX-5 fits my current lifestyle magnitudes better than the WRX STI ever did. What’s the use of all those doors/passenger seats when 99% of the time I only ferry myself around? No need for an enormous trunk, the maximum I carry is a backpack. 305hp is thoroughly wasted in city driving; the 155hp engine in the MX-5, coupled with its 2270lbs weight, is plenteously potent to deliver driving thrills.
I’m spending half as much per month on gas, and my insurance every six months is lower by $240. License fee will also be less expensive, and because the car is so tiny, washing the MX-5 takes less than half an hour compared to the former’s solid hour. If you can’t tell already, I’m super happy with the purchase. The desire to just drive for the heck of it is back, and I’ve missed it so.
THINGS THAT DIDN’T FIT INTO THE NARRATIVE
1. I’m positive about how work is going, and the overall direction our new supervisor is taking us. I certainly didn’t hate going to work before, but now I’m quite excited with all the changes. The focus is entirely on the customer, and if there’s something we can do for them, it shall be done, even if certainly soft rules (time restrictions, for example) are bent.
2. Of the numerous books I’ve read this year, the most rewarding is Henry David Thoreau’s famous tome, Walden: such a fascinating expose in living modestly and the meaning of true contentment. It’s a great shame I didn’t encounter an English teacher in high school that assigned it as required reading, I would’ve read it much sooner. Thoreau’s prose is quite unique as well; a discredit to the English professors who say extremely long sentences and paragraphs are not acceptable in creative writing.
3. After a lengthy gestation period, I finally upgraded my well-served iPhone 5s to the new for this year iPhone 6s Plus. What an utter transformation! Going from a 4-inch screen to a 5.5-inch screen is akin to switching to a smartphone for the very first time - it’s that drastic. How on earth did I ever live with such a small-screened phone? These so called ‘phablets’ are undeniably the sweet spot. Great apologies to the early adopters I made fun of, laughing at the hilarity of using such a gigantic phone, especially making calls (still is, honestly; speaker mode is what you want).
4. 2015 is an odd year, so naturally the SF Giants didn’t fare so well in the MLB season. After three championships in the previous five years, do I really care? Not one bit. I’m back to simply enjoying the games and not worrying about standings or other miscellanies. However, next year is an even year, and my friends and I are expecting great stuff from the squad. Bring on the even year bullshit.
5. The NFL in 2015 keeps giving me more reasons to continue my boycott of its games, so self-imposed prohibition remains. The 49ers are absolute garage this year, so tickets prices at the new Levi’s Stadium were relatively cheap. Nope, can’t attend a live game out of principle. The league is not getting a cent from me.
6. Best movie I saw this year is a virtual tie between Avengers Age of Ultron and Star Wars Episode VII. I’ve watched the second Avengers film too numerous times to count, and what can be said about The Force Awakens that hasn’t already been said? The exact moment when the theme music plays after the famed ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away’ still envelopes me with exuberance every single time. There’s going to be (at least) two more of these? Brilliant.
Massively anticipating Captain America: Civil War, Batman v. Superman, and X-Men Apocalypse next year.
7. I love my music collection, and it’s of such inordinate value to me that I keep two backup copies, one offsite, just in case the house burns down (serious). 2015 took it up another notch with a third backup avenue: the cloud. The entirety of my music is now stored on Google Drive, backup automatically every hour the Mac is turned on. Excessive? I’d say so. But as they say, can you put a price on piece of mind?
8. In addition to purchasing a car, this year I also helped negotiate a lease for the first time. All those quirky numbers and terms related to leasing? I’m an expert now! So don’t contact me to assist you, because it’s not fun process whatsoever.
TEN MOST PLAYED SONGS IN 2015
1. Red Velvet - Ice Cream Cake
2. HIGH4 & IU - 봄 사랑 벚꽃 말고 (Not Spring, Love, or Cherry Blossoms)
3. Red Velvet - Don’t U Wait No More
4. Red Velvet - Dumb Dumb
5. EXO - CALL ME BABY
6. Red Velvet - Oh Boy
7. Calvin Harris - Outside (feat. Ellie Goulding)
8. GD x TAEYANG - GOOD BOY
9. BIGBANG - BAE BAE
10. David Tao - Susan說
When this post go live on the blog, I’ll be but a few short hours away from boarding a plane to Hong Kong; a brief two-week holiday in Asia. I finally renewed my long-expired U.S. Passport, and starting with 2016, it’s time to see the rest of the world. I look forward to the new year with great spirit, and hope and wish us all the absolute best.
Don’t you wait no more…