Happy Circumstantial Things

“A dollar is a sign of what?”

“Err…” I think to myself hurriedly, equivalent exchange, the gold standard, fiscal security. But I am fairly sure the punchline is going to be a negative poke at society. Supply and demand, a means of representing valuable exchanges. My pregnant pause is running out. Everything I could think of, things a dollar can symbolize, it all doesn’t sound that bad, I give up, “what?”

“A broken relationship.”

Even as it is sinking in, wrapping itself slowly around my head, I can feel the truth. Even as it is filtering past my cerebellum, I can feel the revolt. After all representation of a transaction is not a bad thing. Convenience is certainly worth something. Does it really matter if you are paid in one commodity and use that commodity to trade it for something of actual worth to you?

“I feel like there is truth to what you are saying, but I am not sure I am quite wrapping my head around it.”

She looks back at me, a nod in her eyes, as if she expected such a response.

“Think about it this way, transactions used to mean something. They were a sign of trust between two people. So many transactions used to be things that people did for one another, like pet sitting, babysitting, watering your neighbor’s lawn, are now things that we pay for. They used to be things that helped to build a community that took care of one another.”

“So psychologically, it is not that money is not useful, just that having it serve as an intermediary between people creates an inevitable feeling of distance, of alienation.”

“Something like that. When you pay for something, you don’t feel like you have to care as much about the other person and when you get paid for something, you are less likely to go above and beyond. People start worrying about doing exactly what they are being paid for. I think you get much better care from people in a community of trust.”

It is unquestionably useful to be able to carry around a stored value of potential transactions, rather than being able to always have something of value to the person who has something of value you want. However it is worth considering that if we had to stop and think about what each of us have to offer, the person who is offering something to us might also stop and think about if the thing they are offering really has enough value. And such thinking would lead to some improvement in offered things. If it was a matter of personal pride that the thing you offer to barter has actual value, there might be more things of substance/value being offered.

Otherwise the question becomes, was the time I spent on this product worth how much I will be offered in return for it? The value of the product itself is no longer in question. The focus is on the return on time spent on the product. The value of the product itself is inconsequential.

Not that it cannot have value, only that psychologically, the return on investment takes precedence over actual value of product.

Somewhat disjointed speed up to today, I have been going through a disorienting period of self-reflection and went to one of my favorite coffee shops. Short story, I do not come here that often, however when I do, I always get the same drink: mint mojito ice coffee. One of the few caffeinated drinks I actually like. I ordered it as usual, and as usual, the person running the cashier asks me how I’m feeling today and unlike the previous times, I said today felt like it was looking up (in previous times, I did not feel like lying so I did admit it was not great). He told me that was fantastic and when I ask to pay, he told me it was covered. Immediately I panic.

I feel like I need to do something now. Something equitable. I need to know why today, did I look down? Did I do something to deserve it? Did I seem happy? I feel an urge to just pay so I do not have to “owe” anything. So it can be a clean transaction, I do not have to worry about, so I do not have to feel guilty about not paying back the right amount. After taking a few breathes, I look around. Everyone is still going on with their lives, the workers here are laughing and talking as if nothing has happened. If anyone notices my distress, they are doing a good job of neither ignoring me nor acting as if anything out of the normal happened. As I calm down, I watch the employees here. They seem truly happy. If they knew that they were giving me a gift, they show no sign of it. No expectations, no strings attached. Just people being happy, doing what they wish to do.

As I sit here, drinking my mint leafed drink, dwelling on the quelling anxiety, thinking. It is not just a medium of transactional value, the dollar.

“The sign of a dollar?”

I would say it is more than that. It is also a barrier to trust. To not having to trust. A way to avoid communicating, a way to avoid vulnerability. To get what we want without having to bargain, barter, to communicating. To not asking questions. To allowing us to remain distanced from others. To not forming relationships and preventing the simple enjoyment of happy circumstantial things.


The Arbiters of Awesome

Great pearly gates, waiting to judge, to arbitrate. Are you worthy? Are you ready?

I have been afraid of posting, of writing, of facebooking, twittering, connecting. Because once you do, there is a trail, a record of you not already being totally awesome. Of already being ready. Of already being worthy.

Of finding out that I never had the ability to be awesome.

Stepping back for a moment, as teacher, a mentor, you would probably say. How short sighted. How dumb. How could you know if you didn’t even try? How do you learn, to grow, to become the awesomeness you wish for if you do not go through the stumble and fall?

Are you just waiting to one day wake up and simply be the awesome you wish to be?

Are you too afraid to discover that you may not be awesome at all?

I have been sitting on an amazing idea that people encouraged me to quit my job for. Afraid that perhaps it is not as amazing as I and they think it is. I half-wish that I encounter more negativity so that I have something to overcome. I have had to wake up because my co-founders recently asked me what our timeline was so they could plan when to quit their jobs.

All I could think was: what have I done.

Am I a brash arrogant CEO to be who misleads people with inflated dreams and powers through situation fueled by self-serving pride, through an incipient belief that I can never be wrong?

Inside, I certainly do not feel that way. I feel a turmoil of doubt, fear, terror nestled in between the truth and the conclusion that I despise not trying as much as I do boredom and regardless of my mental mantra, I will never stop seeking to accomplish the goals the dreams that I have envisioned for myself. My cofounders trust me, my friends say they believe in me. Strangers tell me they see a bright future for me and my ideas and inside, I feel a wave of confusion. Why do they believe in me? Do they believe in me because I am a mythical beacon they simply want to believe. Or do they believe in me because what they say is true, that they see something in me. Something that can change the world.

Every kid wants to change the world. What makes me any different?

Sure my track record with accomplishments is vast and I have become known for attempting and succeeding at seemingly impossible things. People use both factoids as reasons for why I should believe in myself and should not complain about fears of failure. After all, I have already attained so much. I have already proved I can be successful, that I am inherently awesome.

Except to me it feels like they are telling me, I have no right to complain. That anything I say will sound like bragging, not a desperate attempt to ask for opinions on my sanity.

They tell me, I have no right to feel fear, to feel terror. And I am tempted, to bury my head. To go back to sleep. To just get another job, after all they are recruiting too, to say I am just not ready yet. Do not give me your hope, your belief, your dreams. Your trust.

If I just do not do anything, they will continue believing. If this is all fictional, if I am a fluke, an imaginary beacon not of my own design then to preserve the perception that I am worthy, the only reasonable move is to not play at all. The child who has achieved a high score on a game, the higher the score, the more tempting it is to stop while one is ahead, to stop playing.

It makes me want to disconnect. To sleep and hope that when I wake up, the arbiters of awesome will have judged me already worthy.

Why at 17, Joshua Wong, is on my list of role models

In 1997, Hong Kong, a British colony is returned to and liberated by Communist China.

In 2012, at 15, Joshua created a student movement called Scholarism to protest the patriotic education reform that threatened the inclusion of democracy among other topics being taught in the schools of Hong Kong. Arrested on multiple occasions, he continues to present himself as a public target to rally students to protest the reforms from China to convert Hong Kong into a proper Chinese territory.

In 1945, Taiwan, a Japanese colony is surrendered to and liberated by Nationalist China who rename the island the temporary base for the Republic of China. Two years later, an accidental shooting of a civilian erupted anti-mainlander sentiments into violence leading to martial law and a period of time known as the White Terror where thousands, in particular intellectuals and leaders, were jailed or killed for suspicious politics. Two relatives of mine were directly affected. One given minutes of notice fled into the night only to dare contacting his family recently for fear that they be harmed from the association. The other, jailed for nearly a year, was rescued from near death by his wife through persistence and bribery.

Spring 2014, Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting start the Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan to organize student protest against the ratifying of Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement in a black box fashion, without proper agreed upon review of the treaty by all parties of the legislature and interested general public. It is feared that the trade agreement, which contains a legal framework for mainland China’s participation in Taiwan’s future economic policies, may lead to the loss of the de facto independent democracy which Taiwan currently enjoys.

At age 6, my parents sent me alone to the United States to stay with relatives who likewise had been sent abroad to study for fear of safety. Raised in the land of democracy, I became active in local politics by 17 and went off to the land of Berkeley, intending to study Political Economics with a focus on environmental regulation and developing nations of Asia. At 19, I learned that attempting to publish on anything Taiwan related could bar me from programs and fellowships with ties to China. Additionally, I could be banned from traveling to China and have anyone related to me be put on lists for monitoring for suspicious activities.

Unwilling to create problems for an extended family I do not know the full scale of and a lifetime of being the prized only child told not to sacrifice, I left politics. If this path was not so bright, perhaps I could contribute more in some other studies. It seemed like the smart thing to do and if I was indeed as smart as people told me, I could simply be really good at something else.

Summer 2014. Joshua Wong holds a press conference to reveal his university entrance exam results due to overwhelming interest. He qualifies for university with average scores.

And rain in the haters who cast down hysteric laughter at the poor misled folks of Hong Kong, desperate and con-fuddled to believe in a middling of the pack intellectual. One comment stood at to me: “Have to imagine what the response would have been if he had gotten a bunch of 5**s though…”

5**s being the top possible grade on these entrance exams.

Here is what I think. If Joshua Wong had been a person who was capable of attaining all 5**s and the sort of person who would prioritize achieving all 5**s, he would be a coward like me.

He would be so afraid of no longer being the best or potentially marring his great big bright future. He would be afraid of the repercussions of having a record of arrest, of having extended family affected, of being barred from leaving or entering the nation of his birth. Of being jailed for the rest of his life.

If he had been someone told his entire life of what a huge effect he will have on the world one day. He would be so terrified of doing something to prevent the attaining of that future that he become too afraid to do anything at all.

Joshua Wong, along with Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting, did what I was too afraid of doing. Being involved with the politics involving a home that I love and a behemoth that could destroy my family and my future. They deal with what I was too afraid to face. Fei-fan is only six months older than me, Wei-ting two years younger, and Joshua even younger. Fei-fan and Wei-ting have been barred entry to China. Joshua deals with constant surveillance and threat of confinement. Yet he spoke what needed to be said and continued when others were willing to give up. He did not let it be someone else’s fight to save his own future life. His fight is for his region to attain universal suffrage and a truer democracy.

For all those haters who question following a leader without perfect grades, a fight for higher grades is a poor excuse for not fighting for a life worth living. The contrapositive being that, fighting for a life worth living can be worth not having higher grades.

I hope that I will not regret that I did not become brave earlier. A recurring theme for me of late seems to be: to force oneself to fall, is to learn to truly struggle.

Aways Successful: the Tale of Truly Excellent Sheep

Aways Successful: the Tale of Truly Excellent Sheep

Caught in between my fingers, the hesitancy wraps itself around as spindly ligaments congealing, holding in place. My hand hovers above the to be clacking tiles. Hesitation suffocates me. Perhaps another day, I think. Another time. Perhaps later, the right words will flow. Perhaps later, the fist in my throat will unclench and the words fighting in mind will unravel enough to spill out. Perhaps, one of these days, I will be strong enough to listen to myself. Again.

Today, it is mid-September. It has been six months since I quit my job to work on my own project/start-up. Let’s refer to it by its current not-really-a-code code name: Mosaic. Four months since I wrote the post committing to chronicling and pursuing the development of Mosaic.
Continue reading “Aways Successful: the Tale of Truly Excellent Sheep”

Life Changes

When I was in elementary school, I had a wall of clippings from magazines. Actually just from the Times Magazine Kids edition.

The Era of Awe: 1995-2000
Everyone says childhood is a time of fairy dust and magic, to me, it was an age of the wonder and discovery. My wall was a mosaic of tributes to the construction of the International Space Station, discovery of fossilized eggs and feathered dinosaurs in Asia, Mars Pathfinder’s first images of our neighboring planet, Jane Goodall’s life and discoveries among the prides of Africa, the cloning of Dolly, Nelson Mandela’s release, Gandhi’s quote “be the change you wish to see in the world”. I got to go to the national lab at Berkeley during their yearly open house and a poster of their Cyclotron joined my collection. Little did I know, it’s description of how to smash atoms together to reveal the mysteries of the nucleus would hold significance in the next decade of my life.

When I started writing this, I had thought the change occurred at the epoch most think of: 9/11. But really the birth of a nation wrapped in fear, the death of awe and wonder started a few years prior. I remember vaguely the death of Princess Diana and the condemnation of those who did nothing, more vividly the anxiety of India and Pakistan’s nuclear weapon tests, becoming afraid of cow meat, confused on what could lead someone to commit the Columbine shooting, and the yearlong insecurity of whether or not Y2K would crash our economy and the world as we knew it.

I remember my early childhood, playing in the streets, garage doors left open as neighbors gazed on, front doors left unlocked and open. I remember not being afraid of running down the street two blocks over to see if my best friend was around. I remember garage doors coming down, windows blinds now always drawn. I remember being told I had to call to make sure they were home before I headed out and to call again when I had arrived two streets away. I remember streets emptying of children and friendly neighbors. And then there was the tragedy. Continue reading “Life Changes”

I have not written in a year

A year and three days ago marks the last post I published. A post of venting, frustration, confusion, guilt, and embarrassment. Embarrassed because though I did indeed publish it to the interwebs, I did not draw attention to it. I was embarrassed and confused, drawn into my head by thoughts that perhaps I was indeed wrong.

Self-deprecating and confused, I withdrew from any situation that could bring down judgement. I saw around me, the fruits of social media, the beautiful pictures of successful lives, posts about great experiences at new jobs, new schools and I felt despair. And I became afraid.

Of admitting that I was a failure, of posting my undecided life, of sharing my thoughts or confusion in fear of judgement or recriminations. In my mind I was caught in inward condemnations that people do not wish to read about failures. That the sad little ramblings of one miserable human being is undesirable noise. Yet to add to the mix was the recognition that I was privileged. That my complaints though important to my life, were really not that bad.

Among a generation of college graduates, over 30% unemployed and back to living at their parents, I had a job in my discipline that I was interested in. I was underpayed and undervalued, however I had no debts and could live on my own. I was too embarrassed to ask my former classmates, to admit that I had been used or worse that I should expect or deserve such treatment. I was too embarrassed here, after the last ranting, to flush out the circumstances and continue to write, to share in some corner of the internet what I had experienced. I was scared of writing the full details in some paranoia that they or my future employers would somehow come across this blog and reprimand me for the impropriety of my thoughts and reactions.

A few days ago, I found out xanga is going out of business and shutting down most of the old blogs that had been hosted there. Though I no longer used it, the site contains somewhere around 8+ years of my life in writings, starting sometime during my middle school days. In a fervor I hunted down my old passwords and accounts so I could download the archives to my teenage writings and then I started rereading them and the comments.

One of many things that struck me was how alike my personal writing is back to my high school days, before the world of academia taught me that every discipline has a manner of writing, usually dry and pedantic, to signal one belongs and the paper worth reading. And how often those styles of writing was a mark of how convoluted one can make something straightforward “sound academic.”

Another was how unabashedly unafraid I had been. How fearless I was in questioning the world, questioning assumptions, questioning authority and not apologizing for my thoughts. How unafraid I had been to ask for judgement, for opinion, for rebuttals. How I had been unafraid, unapologetic to assume that I could be right.

Thus I am here, a year plus a little over, and I will write and publish this today, unlike the drafts in hiding started and forgotten from the last year.

I have quit working for others once again, this time to work for myself. I have decided that for the next eight months (until the end of 2014) I will try to create a product that serves a need, to learn how to use my education to make a change in the world, to explore the world as a participant and not an academic. I do not know what is the right path, the correct next steps, however revisiting my pre-college writings, it reminded me that the value in writing is not always in telling others how you succeeded, but also the human experience along the way.

In short, for the next eight months I will write (and publish!), not on how to become a successful entrepreneur, but on my experience in striving to become an entrepreneur.


IN bits and pieces, memories,
I WISH were forgotten. Cast into
Estuaries outward flowing. Outward
Bound, these boxes filled with knicks
and knacks and bits and bytes of some
Clackings of another time.

I created them, marked them once, tags
OF color, of importance. This IN hope
That the stagnancy with it has GONE.
Drawn away, eschewed sideways in
To the bins of disregard. Dumped,
To: Be Forgotten. Like broken bodies
Post disaster, tagged in order of importance
Or. Tagged as lost causes.

Until, unexpected,
Sun bright morning awakened, I
Realize to keep the fog from welling up,
Again, I need them. The knicks and knacks,
The tracks of the cotton balls, the dusty
Wings of moths flown away, unnested.
Tagged for oblivion.

Had thought my plan superb. How
Laughable I find it now. That the
Faint clarity of fog lifting attained through
Shoving garbage downstream was Fear
And not strength.

Now, I need them. My lonely castaways.
My fogged burden bearers.
To reconcile that which I am from that
Which I had imagined,
Which I had forgotten.