Wednesday, June 27, 2007

generation gap

Talking to my 20-year-old little brother.

Me: Do you and your friends email each other?

Tom: Mainly we IM.

Me: What if you're not both online at the same time?

Tom: We send emails, but how much can you say in an email?

Me: You can say a lot! Bob* and Vanessa* used to trade ten-page-long emails right as they started dating.

Tom: [sputtering] Ten - page - emails??

Me: It's not that unusual. A lot of people have done that.

Tom: I didn't even know email clients could support emails that long!

Me: Don't be absurd.

Tom: Why didn't they just break out the quill and fountain ink? And ready the carrier pigeons!

paris hilton realization

Thanks to Derek for forwarding this parody video to me.

Also thanks for giving me Paris's book, which I read cover-to-cover. Highly entertaining.

I just realized something. The book uses the literary technique of the unreliable narrator. It's written in first-person, with statements that are obviously flamebait, such as "Always eat fast food and supersize your meal. It works for me!" and "The first tip to acting like an heiress is to make sure you are born into the right family."

I've known about the "unreliable narrator" concept for a while, but only just absorbed the meaning last night at my Stanford "Point of View" writing course.

God damn it, this means Paris Hilton is a better writer than I am.


(Please don't tell me she used a ghostwriter. This is the way she acts in real life too. She's a walking incarnation of the unreliable narrator.)

Monday, June 25, 2007

far more grotesque user error

Tonight my brother, mom, and I ate indian food for dinner, on University Ave. My mom is visiting my brother for the time being, to help him get settled into his apartment.

Afterwards we needed to take the caltrain -- the two of them back to my brother's apartment in San Carlos, and me up to San Francisco to move into my new crash pad.

As we sauntered down University Ave, I looked up the train schedule and realized the next train would depart in seven minutes.

We ran for it.

We arrived breathless at the Palo Alto station just as the train pulled in. "Get on!" I said. "We'll buy tickets at the next stop!" The train only runs once per hour on weekends, and I didn't want us to sit there waiting.

My mom and I jumped onto the caltrain. My brother entered through a separate section in order to store his bicycle that he collected from Stanford today. He came and found us after a few minutes.

At the next stop, Tom ran off to buy three tickets. Because there were so few people getting off, the train jolted forward after only a few short seconds. My mom pounded on the doors as they closed on Tom, who was only a few steps away. In his hand, he held three caltrain tickets and my credit card.

"He'll have to ride the next train," I said to my mom. "We have to find his bike so that you can take it to his apartment. We have to hurry! San Carlos is only two stops away!"

We rushed through train compartments until we found the luggage section. There we tried to decipher which of the four bicycles belonged to Tom. We looked frantically through tags, locks, and stickers. Finally we figured out the right one, just as the train lurched to its second stop.

"Go, go!" I said. My mom grabbed the bicycle and carried it down the steps off the train and onto the platform. As the doors closed behind her and the train began moving again, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then the conductor said, "Next stop, San Carlos."

"Shit!" I said.

So, my brother was stuck in one train station with my credit card. My mom was stuck at a different one with his bicycle. Both of them had to wait an hour for the next train.

Two minutes later, the conductor came through. "Tickets please!" he said.

I got an enormous fine for not having a ticket.


A couple hours later, as I related the story to Dan over the phone, I laughed so hard at the absurdity that tears came to my eyes.

"It's like that brainteaser," I gasped between laughter, "Where you have to transport the goat, the cabbage, and the wolf across the river."

Though I do feel bad to my brother and my mom. Sorry.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

user error

My car's driver-side window got stuck. I took it to the shop today and left it with the mechanic.

Afterwards I went to the caltrain station to ride the train up to San Francisco. There were two events scheduled for tonight:

a beach bonfire for a friend's birthday (stock footage)

and a party at a ridiculously nice five-story house with indoor pool and hot tub (photo from last party at this house)

But instead I went to neither. I missed the 6:45 caltrain. Then when the 7:45 one came, I was standing on the wrong side of the platform, so I missed that one too. I waited for another thirty minutes and then gave up.

This is where I spent my Saturday evening:

You might ask, how could someone have ended up standing for forty minutes on the wrong side of the platform? Isn't this an extremely noob mistake to make?


Friday, June 22, 2007

responding to gender differences

On the phone with my brother, discussing a person who is getting in the way of medical treatment for our loved one.

Me: [describing the latest damage done by this person]

Tom: I am so angry at her! If she were standing in front of me right now, I'd kick her where it matters.

Me: Where is that?

Tom: In the private parts.

Me: Tom, on a woman, that doesn't hurt the same way as kicking a guy in the groin.

Tom: Not if I get my whole foot up there.

thank God for humor

I saw this today. It made me forget about the illness crap for a moment.

"sudo" is the linux command for running a program as superuser, i.e. an administrator who has escalated priveleges.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

a somber one

Someone that I care deeply about might be ill.

I won't write about the situation, for their privacy reasons. But I will say that at times like these, little favors mean the world, and little refusals are also magnified.

I found out the bad news earlier this week. Dan sent me emails and SMS's throughout the day, to check how I was doing. Not a big deal, just a few minutes here and there. Rina had a break-in at her house that morning, but when she heard the news, she sent me a long email expressing her sympathy. Let me know if there is anything I can do, they say.

During the darkest minutes on Tuesday night, when I despaired over whether there was any course of action, I remembered these acts of friendship. They carried me through.

I've learned previously the power of small favors during crises, but it has been a while since I felt it so strongly. In my life, the act of kindness that I am perhaps most grateful for happened three years ago. After a desperate night in the emergency room with one of my relatives, the health insurance representative decided to reject the case so that their company would not have to pay. The ER doctor stayed 45 minutes past his shift to advocate on our behalf. He pulled me aside and advised me how to persuade the insurance company, and our fallback alternatives should that fail.

I would walk through fire for that doctor. Later we brought him a large gift basket of chocolates to the ER, and wrote a glowing letter to put into his file, but that is nothing compared to the favor he did for us.

There are so many I am grateful to -- friends and coworkers and doctors -- who are kind and empathic and go out of their way. Thank you to Alipé who looked up a list of doctors in the region for me. I will remember it.

It works the other way too. Perhaps you're another relative, a distant one. You don't want to deal with the problem because it's so much trouble, and so frightening. So you minimize the situation. You say it's not so bad, not a big deal. You make it clear that you're not going to help. You change the subject. You make a joke and try to laugh it off.

Perhaps I chalk the first time up to denial, and the second time to discomfort, but after that there are no more excuses.

I understand. It is human to protect yourself by not getting involved. I still appreciate all the errands and help you gave me throughout my life, and I will treat you respectfully. But know that I will never completely trust you again, because nothing will wash away this memory, that you couldn't be counted on when it mattered the very most.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Graduation weekend

The commencement speaker was the Chairman for the National Endowment of the Arts. His speech discussed how public education should devote more time to music, drawing, poetry.

"Video games are taking up time that could be spent on arts. If you spend a month playing Halo 3, you will not grow nearly as much as if you spend that month learning to draw. If you don't believe me, try it."

I asked Tom what he thought of the speech.

Tom just started a job programming video games for Electronic Arts.

"It was the worst speech possible," he said.

The computer science department diploma ceremony. One lucky Ph.D. student was hooded by Donald Knuth.

I chatted for 20 minutes with the extremely humble and witty J, under a palm tree.

Father's Day and graduation on the same day. My dad is happy. :)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Congratulations Tom!!!!

This weekend is graduation weekend for my brother Tom.

Tom and I just came back from a pre-graduation commencement speech. This talk is by tradition given by a comic speaker. Earlier in the year, the senior class president sent out a poll asking students who they'd prefer: Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert, or Jon Stewart.

I got very excited as Tom listed these names. "Oh my God!" I said, "Conan! Or Stephen Colbert!"

But then the senior class president dropped the ball, and ended up asking one of his political science professors at the last minute. We were treated to a speech about the Middle East situation and democracy around the world. While interesting, it was slightly less side-splitting than I imagine Conan would have been.

Tomorrow's graduation speaker is a similar situation. The class president won his election on the platform of getting Bill Clinton as the speaker. When that fell through, he promised Bill Gates. Then he didn't manage that...

The speaker tomorrow will be Dana Gioia.

You don't know who that is? Yeah, that's the problem, see?

Seniors all over Stanford are readying the tomatoes for their class president tomorrow.


Next, Tom and I are attending a graduation picnic, then an event at the President's House, and finally an Asian American award dinner. Our parents flew in this morning and are driving from the airport right now.

Me: I'm dreading the Asian American dinner.

Tom: [sharply turning to me with a look of horror] Oh God! I'm dreading that so much!

The reason for our trepidation, Gentle Reader, is that Asian parents like to compare. Since everyone at this dinner will have the same status (child is graduating from Stanford!), they will need to delve into the second tier of competition, including GPA, child's future job, other siblings, etc.

Tom: I asked Dad if we could just skip it. I said we can instead go as a family to a nice Chinese restaurant. He said, "No, I've been looking forward to this."

Me: They paid four years of tuition. They deserve to have some enjoyment.

Tom: I'm going to be so uncomfortable!

Me: Hee hee.

Tom: I'll divert attention to you. We'll both go down in flames.

Me: There are tons of impressive Stanford students and families. Did our parents think about what's going to happen when they lose in the comparisons?

Tom: No, they're probably eager to have tough challengers. Mom will be thinking, "BRING IT."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

fill your melancholy with lingonberry jam

A sad event occurred several days ago, a parting of ways.

All right, enough about that. Photos:

Fog lying like a blanket on top of San Francisco hills. I snapped this while catching a ride home with a colleague.

My new San Francisco crash pad room! Woo woo woo.

View from the room, during daytime.

Sunday brunch at Mama's. They don't take reservations, which means everyone stands in line for an hour. Elaine and I spent most of that time discussing how we'd order three entrees to share between us, and deciding which three items to order.

Elaine, pointing happily at...

Breads! Delightful breads!

Me, preparing to eat a shrimp and avocado omelette.

Monte cristo sandwich, with lingonberry jam.

Turns out that after all that grand talk, we got full after splitting a single omelette and a piece of blueberry cake. Weak!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

USA: assault is okay, groping is not

From a while back.

Me: I should warn you that when we go out with Li* tonight, he might try to molest you. [* name changed]

Megan: What?

Me: Yeah. He tried to do it to me before. Our mutual friend called him on it afterwards, and he said, 'She's from America, so I thought she wouldn't care.'

Megan: Does he think all American women are easy?

Me: I guess.

Megan: If he tries anything with me, I'll punch him.

Me: [nodding, while looking at her extremely toned biceps]

Megan: I'll say, 'This is how we do it in America. When we don't like things.'

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

tank-top injustice

On Saturday, I went to a shop in the Mission to buy a shirt for going out that night.

The shop sold vintage clothing. It wasn't my style. I was about to leave when I noticed a rack of blank tank tops. Turned out the shop could emblazon any image of my choice onto a tank top.

The employee gave me four binders of suggested images -- photos of Madonna, video game characters, peace slogans.

I thumbed through them and chose the one which was clearly the best, by far.

After receiving the shirt, I readied myself for all the compliments I would receive that night. With care did I prepare for the inevitable looks of awe and envy.

Instead I received these comments:

"You own more geeky shirts than any other friend I know."

"You can wear that to work, but I can't believe you wore it to Syn Lounge."

"At least it's better than your other shirt that says, 'Roses are red, violets are blue, all my base are belong to you.'"

My shirt is not appreciated in its own time, I tell you.

Incidentally, the store employee said I can take a felt marker and label the upper-lefthand corner of the floppy. I wonder what the label should be...?

Monday, June 04, 2007

don't know

There's something missing, and I don't know what it is.

I'm sitting in Omst's high-ceilinged living room in the Mission District. He's kindly letting me use one room as a temporary SF weekend crash pad. Mariachi music is coming in through the street-facing window. The other side of the apartment thumps with a dance beat from the bar below.

Forgive this post, gentle readers, for not being organized. It's past midnight, and the witching hour runs high. Tonight I will blog the way I used to, when no one else was going to read it. Aimlessly, recklessly.

Last night Christina and I went to two parties. We tried to go to a third, an Asian dance party at Ana Mandara, but the club wanted a $30 cover for one hour (we got there at 1am). Christina says we might've gotten free tickets if we took off our coats and flirted with the bouncers (while shivering in our party outfits). But I wasn't in the mood. Sometimes that feels like you're prostituting yourself, and very cheaply at that.

Our flirting is worth at least $40! Plus tax!

On the ride back, Christina pointed out how the party looked fun and maybe there were really amazing Chinese guys there and now that I'm all into Chinese guys, perhaps it was worth $30.

I thanked her for making that helpful comment after we'd already driven most of the way home. And I pointed out that I'm dating a Chinese guy already. But of course that particular basket is full of obstacles and complications, and doesn't seem safe for putting all my long-term eggs into. As it were.

But he is very sweet.

Extremely sweet.

This afternoon I went to the Asian Art Museum. I felt surprisingly tired. I went straight to the ornate Samsung room, and sat on the couch for thirty minutes. Either I'm hung over after a mere two drinks last night, or my body didn't actually recover from my illness two weeks ago. Then I went in the bathroom and sat in there, reading, for fifteen minutes.

After I toured the museum (the manga exhibit was pretty good), I took the bus back to Omst's place.

Now I'm here, and much of my life seems bleached. Where is the color? Yes, the parties are lovely, and the food is delightful, and the drinks are posh, and the people are kind, and the decor is lavish, and what is the point?

Occasionally I get into a mood where it's exhausting to deal with people. Having to talk to another person, in the flesh, is too tiring. I want to tell them to please stop talking to me, and send me an email instead. I can handle crafting a written response.

There are a few people who are not tiring. My brother, of course. And a few other friends that I've known for many years. Maybe I should stop going out and collapse my social circle to five people.

Then I can get my piglet Oinksy, and become known as that weird recluse with the pig.

I don't know how to fix this feeling. It's a weariness, with a dash of isolation. Previously I tried relaxing all weekend in bed, watching movies and surfing the internet. That got lonely. Going to parties, ineffective.

Writing is still good. And reading. But it's like when you stay up two nights in a row, and then you are only able to take a two-hour nap. It just reminds you how much you're missing.

Good thing my readership is not the type to suggest that I look to the Lord to deliver me, lost sheep, into the righteous path.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

drunken illogic

Last night, a few of us met up at Bruno's Bar in the Mission District.

I had the following conversation TWICE in a single night:

Stranger coming up to me: Hi, where are you from?

Me: Originally, I'm from Beijing.

Stranger. Oh. Were you born there?

Me: Yes.

Stranger: So are you chinese?

Occam's razor, people!

Next time, I'm going to say, "No, I'm from the little-known town of Beijing, South Korea."


Omst and I arrived to find Christina in the back of the bar, with a cluster of guys. As soon as we approached, an Asian man with spiky hair left the cluster and struck up a conversation with me.

We chatted. The guy wobbled from drunkenness. He kept giving me high-fives. He told me that he's Korean, and a doctor who splits his time between teaching and research. He seemed distracted. After about ten minutes, the conversation was getting repetitive, and I politely excused myself.

When I returned to my friends:

Omst: Wow, that guy was like a hawk.

Christina: Niniane, why did you spend so long talking to a guy who's getting married tomorrow?

Me: Is he? He didn't mention it to me.

Christina: Yeah, his friend told me.

Me: He's completely drunk. Is this his bachelor party?

Christina: No, they're just having drinks together, after the rehearsal dinner.

Omst: It makes sense that he's drunk. He's getting married tomorrow.

Me: So he should get trashed and go to his own wedding with a hangover?

Omst: He's probably thinking to himself, "Fuck! I'm getting married tomorrow!" And it's not just "Fuck!" ... It's like "Fuck! Shit! Fuck! I'm getting married!"

Me: Sounds great for his bride.


Twenty minutes later, Christina came back to us after chatting with other guys in the group.

Christina: That guy who's getting married has only known his girlfriend for six months. She got pregnant. That's why they're getting married. They just planned it three weeks ago.

Omst: Ahhhh.

Christina: And she's a doctor too! You'd think they would have prevented this.


Clearly, having the groom drink himself into a desperate stupor is somehow better than an abortion.