Thursday, September 27, 2012


No introspection today; just savoring a thought I've had since morning (incidentally, my day's gotten better and better progressively despite a sluggish start on four hours of sleep).

The thought goes: "I will look back fondly at this period of time in my life."

Big things are going well. Little things are going well too.

- Enjoying work and rocking at it so far (verbatim, my boss)
- Taking initiative with things I would have passed on before
- Figuring out the nuances in my belief system; and more importantly: discovering courage to speak to what I believe in
- Talking with strangers and making friends. (I hope meeting new people never stops being fun)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Brevity of Existence

Fancy title to say "life is short".

Life is short.

In reminiscing my childhood and teenage years, I think about how many years are left before I can no longer experience this world. In only so many units of time measured by rotations around the Sun, we would only have been a collection of atoms organized in so and so ways, displacing from location to location over time, embodying a not-quite continuous series of memories and streams of consciousness.

Nothing matters in the end except perhaps for the meaning we give them. Yet I cannot help but feel urgency.

Time is precious; spend it with those whom you love.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Finding Peace

Sitting on a bench after finishing a set of exercises in the school gym, I turn to a side and stare at a treadmill runner's silhouette against the crimson skyline beyond the tinted windows. I space out for a moment to her bouncing shadows and the folds of red and gray in distant clouds.

An unexpected thought dawns and brings me back. I squint instinctively and try to find the words. Like sifting through shapes and colors, I piece them together in my mind.

"I have found peace."

Certainly comforting for a random passing thought, but I indulge in brief introspection anyway.

It is now six years since my initial departure from university, two years-plus from the decision point to forswear an old life in exchange for a new one, and now sixteen months since returning to school.

The journey metaphor is a fitting one here, albeit cliche. But redemption from failure was not profound and picturesque as my younger self might have imagined. It is mostly mundanity, hard work, faith and time.

The adjectives I would use instead to describe the experience are: raw, real, visceral, wholesome. Life, as it turns out, is enjoyable in precisely the same way a marathon might be enjoyable: no, not the feeling after you've finished, but rather the feeling while you are still in the middle of running. Shortness of breath, strain of exertion, soreness of muscles, thumps of heartbeat reverberating in your ears: everything you could want to make you close your eyes and scream with glee: "I'M ALIVE; I'M ALIVE; I'M A-LIVE!"

Allan K. Chalmers said it best: "The Grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for". For having all three, I am grateful. In retrospect, access to these things were always there. I just lacked courage to move and grab them.

Most of adolescent frustrations stem from not understanding how the world works: Why are we not happy? Why do we not have the things that will make us happy? Why do we not know what will make us happy? Why does it feel like we are not in control of our lives? Why?

Now it seems incredibly straight-forward: figure out exactly what it is that you want in the long-term, be sure to understand exactly why you want it. Opportunity cost: calculate what you must sacrifice to get what you want. If the calculus doesn't make sense, keep looking. Once you figure out a dream or vision beautiful enough to believe in, dive into it whole-heartedly and don't bother looking back.

Perhaps it's a measure of growth, or just one quality of time, that I've finally let go of the past. Forgiving yourself is difficult business.

In the present, I am content with everything I've moved into motion in my life. It isn't perfect, but the conscious decision to stop feeding the need to "feel perfect" was the best one I ever made: It freed me to err, to learn, and to grow.

For the future, I look forward no longer in want or worry, but simply instead in a hopeful gaze: be as it shall be, I will carry on.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


When you fail at something, don't put yourself down. Instead...

1. Give yourself due credit for making the effort. We often overlook the importance of continually challenging ourselves with making new attempts at things, to keep trying, to invariably hurt ourselves in the process. The worst possible response is being immobilized, by fear of pain, that you stop trying at all.

2. Redirect your attention on what you experienced: what can be learned from the failure. Learning is good! Learning helps you grow. You stand to gain from every non-success.

3. Mindfulness: the key is to recognize the irrationally negative thoughts as what they are - irrational. Shying away from experiencing the discomfort of pain saps your energy and focus from learning something useful from life's little experiments. Sit quietly next to your fears. Hear the little voice that nags in doubt. Remember that you are not your thoughts. Acknowledge them as they are. Move on.

4. Of course, this is hard to do; but that's part of the fun in the challenge. At the bottom line, you are no worse off most of the time; so even if success is not yet on the horizon, you are still in net positive gain!

(In retrospect, I cringe at all the berating I put my younger self through - for trying new things and failing, or for setting the bar so high that failure could only be expected. Emotional self-abuse through misguided internal dialogue. How bizarre that we convince kids, however unintentionally [How Not to Talk to Your Kids], that they mustn't fail?)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

First World Problems

I really like the hash tag #firstworldproblems. I've liked it from the start. It's drolly self-deprecating and yet manages to accomplish at least two things:

1. It puts things into context so we can take a step back and look at how good we really have it.

2. It serves as a reminder that there are less fortunate people in the world. Whatever propagates this awareness does this world good in my book.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sum of Parts

(poem, freeform)

At times, I feel more real as a sum of parts, rather than a person.

I am comprised of infinitesimal systems which combine to create still larger and larger systems both concrete and abstract. I, in turn, exist as part of a system yet larger than me.

I am all that came before me, and I am all that shall come after me.

I have no name.

I am but an idea.

For this, I am immortal.

For this, I am indestructible.

Monday, November 7, 2011

On Male Bonding

(disclaimer: anecdotal)

So came last day of exams in the Spring for a small group of us who'd become friends during the preceding months of the term. We just completed the dreaded CS 245 exam and were finally feeling the rapid dissipation of end-of-term stress.

Time to celebrate! Initial suggestions of wild strip club parties and champagne showers quickly economized into a modest lunch at the local Pho joint. No matter; the spirits were high and the bellies empty - Pho it is, then!

After what I remember as a very large and excellent meal, Josh, Ir Win, Timmy and I slouch around the table feeling content albeit satiated to the point of bloating.

Josh picks up a small red pepper from the condiment dish and gleams at the rest of us with his shrewd grin: "Yo, I dare one of you guys to eat one of these. $5."

Timmy is the first to respond: "Pass; can't deal with spicy food."

Ir Win smiles lazily and returns the challenge: "How about you do it?"

I jump in to raise the stakes: "You know what, there's enough of them in that dish for everyone. We should all go for one. LET'S DO IT!!!!"

All are up for the new idea on the table except Timmy. After a few minutes of jest and coaxing, he remains enthusiastic of watching us do it but refuses to attempt it himself. We give up on him and get ready for the fun.

"How are we doing this? Just the tip and work off the rest slowly?"

"No, fuck it. All in one bite! Doing it live." I urge in excitement.

We pick up a red pepper each and bite off the stems in unison.

I prided myself on having high-tolerance of spicy food. After chewing the paste-like mixture of pepper seed and skin for a few seconds, it dawns on me: I am about to be humbled.

I feel the familiar burning sensation in my mouth. Slowly at first but building steadily toward a searing furnace, biting and caustic. Beads of warm sweat sprout at my brows. I feel the quickening pulse at my jugular vein. My face burns, too. I rest my elbow on the table and my forehead in my palm. A thousand branding needles throb between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. "Alright, this is kinda hot," I allow myself to confess aloud as I hear a faint ringing in my head.

I realize then that opening your mouth and gulping for air doesn't do anything; neither does sips of water - but we humor ourselves with the instinctual acts anyway. Josh is hunched against the wall. Ir Win wears a dazed expression, staring into space. Timmy gloats in his corner, offering nothing but wide smiles for our condition.

After what I could surmise only in retrospect as five minutes or so, I feel the pain gradually dulling and look around the table. Suddenly, the scene before my eyes struck me as just absolutely hilarious. Before I knew it, I burst into a full-chested, uproarious laughter. Tears fell from my eyes. I could almost feel the cramps in my stomach. Laughter is truly infectious. For the next minute or so, we could not stop each other from laughing. I did not know why it was funny and why we were laughing and kept laughing. Maybe it was the pained looks on people's faces that we didn't have a chance to snicker over while we were each on our own in pain. Maybe it was the absurdity of the situation. Maybe it was the absurdity of laughing over something so absurd. Maybe anything. We certainly neglected etiquette for the fellow diners at other tables: I hoped they didn't care - because we surely did not at the time.

After leaving the restaurant, friendly banter returned to remind Timmy on what he had missed out on. I walked quietly, but with a mild high from the laughs (and perhaps from the capsaicin) and reflected on the experience.

I suppose this is how guys like to bond. This is of course a mild and tame example, but the basic elements remain: we like to seek out adventures and risks together. If something sounds like a possibly stupid idea? "YES let's do it, WOOOOOOOOO". (We don't lose all of our sanity in this process, obviously; most of the time if there's a reasonable chance of someone being injured, ideas are quick to be vetoed)

More than this, I felt that male bonding comes down to sharing an experience together: particularly in terms of feeling a specific set of emotions: that great rush from adrenaline, the bearing of physical pain (although it could be emotional, too, but that's less common), the joy of laughing over a cause that is exclusively understood by the people involved. You know what it felt like. You just experienced it. Here's someone that's just experienced the same thing and felt the same things as you did.

It was seldom, but for brief moments in that afternoon I felt like I was among old friends.