Thursday, June 30, 2011

Checking one item off the bucket list

Yesterday I turned 32!   I had dinner with a few of my nearest and dearest at Gary Danko, one of the to-do items on my bucket list.

The restaurant brought out a little lemon mousse cake at the end, with a candle.  My birthday wish is that the next year can be as happy as the past couple of weeks.  (I know you're not supposed to share wishes, but this year I am disregarding that custom.)

The past couple of weeks have been happy because I am continually flooded with endorphins from exercising in preparation for survival school.

People have had mixed reactions to survival school.  One-third of people think it is amazing and want to sign up.  The others think it sounds crazy.  But nothing has ever motivated me to exercise so effectively. 

I am looking forward to being taught how to stay upbeat when exhausted, how to be in tune with nature, and how to trust that my body is strong and can prevail over intimidating conditions.

Friday, June 24, 2011

decisions that turn out 20/20

I was talking to a fellow Caltech grad recently about getting picked into Dabney House during college.

Every Caltech freshman gets picked into one of the seven Houses (dorms), during the first week of college.  It's like the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts.  At the time, I was more of a traditional Chinese person, so I thought I would be picked into one of the mainstream North Houses. 

Instead, because my photo ID had a picture of me sticking out my tongue, I got picked into the hippie House.  I was initially in shell shock.  My fellow denizens walked around barefoot, went hot tubbing nude, dropped acid, and did all manner of other things that shocked me to my core.  I could not understand how I, a traditional chinese girl, got picked into this House. 

But now in hindsight, I feel like there was no other choice.  Of course I belonged in the House where anything goes.  I am such a Darb.  It was also nice that we happened to have a heavy concentration of top computer science majors.

Sometimes decisions seem so arbitrary and inexplicable at first, and then in time they become clear.  Dabney House was prescient to pick me based on the goofy photo ID.  Now there are many times when I make a decision based on gut instinct and a small trigger, and it seems inexplicable at the time.  I start to wonder if I behaved foolishly to make a decision that I can't fully rationalize.  But usually it ends up making sense.  Sometimes it takes years to fully play out, but usually your subconscious makes good decisions.  Go with it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cooking class

I went to a cooking class today.

Cooking class is in the category of activities that become 10 times better if you do it with friends.

The cool thing about this class is that the ingredients are so fresh.  We used salmon that our instructor bought from Half Moon Bay, caught yesterday.

He is going to move kitchens because the current one won't allow him to bring in wine.  He may build a commercial kitchen.  It is amazing that he cares so strongly about wine.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Survival school

I signed up for survival school.  Since then, I have been running daily for pathetically short durations.  But even these uber short jogs are increasing my endurance.  I can feel it. 

I wouldn't have had the courage to sign up, except Jessica (googler friend who quit Google to teach at this survival school) said I'll do fine. 

I am becoming slightly obsessed about survival school, but am happy about this because it is making me live healthier.  I eat less sugar and exercise more.  How do people live healthily without a goal like survival school?  That is impressive.

Monday, June 13, 2011

steeling your mind: how?

How do you prevent yourself from getting swayed by the values of your environment?

I can catch myself starting to think things that I don't actually believe, just because I'm inundated with messages.

This happened to me before, in Seattle. Microsoft people really cared about review ratings. Sure, it's important, but people would really take it to an unnatural degree and obsess over them. For years, I thought this was silly. Then, from years 3 to 5 of being there, I gradually became more obsessed than anyone. Now I look back and find it ridiculous.

Now I can feel Silicon Valley pressures seeping into my value system. I know that it's not my actual priorities!

I'm sure that if I lived amongst a group of stamp collectors, within 4 years I'd become a stamp collector. If I lived in LA, within 4 years, I'd probably start caring about tanning or getting invited to celebrity parties or whatever LA cares about.

I can already catch myself having moments of wanting things that I know I only want because I keep hearing how other people want them. I'm afraid that in another few years, I'm going to start caring about buying a fancy car, or renting time on a jet, or ridiculous things like that. I'll look back on this blog post and think "Ah the naive me who did not realize that owning a fancy car is important!" But I look at this future me and am appalled at the possibility of turning into that!


Tonight my friend told me about a Microsoft manager Michael, who transitioned to a woman.  He was married with a child, and his wife supported him through the transition.  They are still married.

I said that I would not be able to support my husband becoming a woman.

My friend asked, why not?

So then I thought "True, why not??" and couldn't come up with a good reason. 

Still seems tough.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I am at Ephemerisle, a floating festival of 100+ people.  There are a dozen houseboats docked in a circle, with a floating platform in the middle.

In the afternoon, there were mini-talks.  One was given by a former heroin addict, who has been 10 years clean.  He said he didn't get clean due to prohibition or police.  He got clean due to a program whose workers brought him clean needles and talked to him and loved him.  Another talk was about attaching hashtags to people to indicate how trustworthy/untrustworthy they are.

It reminds me of Caltech Pre-frosh Weekend.  It is such a lovely feeling of community.  I am usually sitting to the side, reading my kindle or phone, really enjoying the hubbub around me.

I ran into Pablo, a Google friend, who told me how he just spent 4 months working at the South Pole Station in Antarctica.  His wife and two kids supported him doing this.  I found it very impressive, because most people stop doing those types of things after they have children.

Later there will be parties and dancing on the floating platform and probably some fire dancing.

I would like a stronger feeling of community in my regular life.  It takes work to achieve.

A quote I like

From Penelope Trunk's blog:

you can tell if it's your own plan by how lost you feel. People who do their own plans feel lost most of the time. People who do other peoples' plans feel on track most of the time.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

survival school

My friends Nikhil and Jessica went to survival school in Utah four years ago. In this class, students are taken out to the desert. There's a period of fasting and hiking, then a lot of hiking and learning outdoor skills, and then a solo period. It was a life-changing experience for both of them. In fact, Jessica quit Google and is now an instructor for the survival school.

I visited Nikhil in Boston last weekend. I asked, "Are you going to do BOSS again?"

He said no one else asks about survival school the way I do. No one remembers that it's called BOSS. I ask about it every time I see him (approximately once per year). He said I obviously have an unusual fascination with it.

He said I should go do it. He lent me a poncho and a cup. He reminded me how he felt an unbelievable sense of inner-peace for a few months after returning from the experience.

I am really incompetent in the wilderness, but I would love to be competent. I want to know how to start a fire, and have the confidence that I can hike for a day without food, and know how to make a shelter from the wind. Also the possibility of having a life-changing experience is pretty appealing. The course I'm looking at is a 7-day course (whereas Nikhil and Jessica both did the 28-day course).

I told some of my friends, and they were surprised. One of them, who I've known for 15 years, said, "Niniane, you cannot survive in the wilderness. You won't make it for a single day. You'll last for one hour. At one hour and five minutes, you'll be asking the instructors to get you out of there."

I've been obsessed about this class for the past week, since talking to Nikhil. My other Boston friend Nehsters got so tired of hearing about it that she used a bet (which I lost) to extract an agreement that I could no longer talk to her about it for the rest of the trip.

I asked my personal trainer Megan. I thought she might say it's ridiculous to drink lake water and fast for multiple days. She said our bodies were evolved to survive in the desert. She also likes it because on the first day, there's a Cooper 1.5-mile running test. I'm supposed to run it in 16:30 at altitude, which translates to 14:30 in San Francisco. Right now it would probably take me 18:00 in San Francisco. That is a lot of improvement necessary. I know I can do it because I was able to run at that speed in 2003.

I think I will do it, because I don't want to go through life knowing that this was an imagination-capturing experience that could expand my perspective, and I chickened out.

From an online forum:
One reporter who did the course wrote that he wouldn't do it again for a million dollars, but he wouldn't trade the experience for 1 million dollars either.

If I sign up, I need to figure out how to join some running groups in San Francisco. I guess I will look on Does anyone want to run with me?