Wednesday, August 31, 2011

poem about visiting

This is an interesting poem:
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn


When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Survival school journal: Saturday (last day)

The guides woke us for the Final Challenge. By the color of the sky, it looked around 3am.

I feared the Final Challenge would be a grueling physical labor, like in Army Boot Camp when people have to exercise until they almost can't take it, for no good reason. But I needn't have worried. Final Challenge was perfect -- a beautiful experiene. [details omitted for future students of the course] I was alone the first hour, and with Shana for the next few hours. It was magical. I worked out things in my head that have bothered me for years. For example, I was always wondering how to balance my time between work, love life, and social life. During Final Challenge, it became clear that the most important thing is actually health, which I have sometimes neglected. Also, some other things that I thought were important to me (e.g. status within the tech community), kept moving lower and lower on my priority list as I thought about it, until I realized that they are not actually important at all.

After Shana found me, we continued together. She said on Impact after she snapped at me, she felt that it was over and she'd alienated her ally and now she'd be the outsider. I was surprised. I told her that's how I felt after I argued with T. Turns out Shana had been further behind on the trail and missed the entire argument except one comment when I announced, "I only have an issue with T, not with any of the rest of you!"

We got back to the BOSS office an hour after daybreak.

Me, near the end of the Final Challenge.

The graduation events were perfectly suited. We did a steam lodge (I fell asleep inside). Afterwards, some of the others jumped into a very cold pond. O_o We had ants crawling all over us during the graduation ceremony. I hopped from foot to foot to minimize being bitten by ants. Shana told me that she saw me over the week relying increasingly on my internal resourcefulness to overcome survival challenges.

Shana wanted Before vs After photos with the BOSS sign. But the sign was moved when we returned, so she had to pretend.

We packed. Two groups of 28-day students came in. Their two classes together comprised 13 students at the start (11 guys, 2 women), and six quit during the process. The 7 who were left (all guys) had bushy beards. They talked about how it rained for 10-12 days, up until right before our class started. They had a silent communion. One of them is 43, and the others are 19-23. They had a four-day fast (ours was 1.5 days) and a five-day solo (our was 24 hours). Two of them talked about how hard solo was. There was nothing to do for five days except measure the sun's progress across the sky. Another young man, Tyler, a philosophy student, loved it. He sat outside thinking all day.

They said the 43-year-old was the fastest of them. "He's a rockstar," Tyler said. "He would get up every day at 4am and scout ahead for fun." The older guy was looking at items around the store while we spoke, ignoring the praise. He finally said, "I'm twice your age."

We all took the same van back to Provo. It was a rather smelly van. :) The 28-day'ers ate candy bars and Subway sandwiches at every rest stop.

We got back to Provo and I washed my hands and face several times. I thought my hands were covered with a layer of dirt but it turns out actually they're tanned.

Mike and I "pre-ate" dinner at a sandwich shop. We shared a turkey-avocado sandwich. We talked about how there was diversity within the group and how everyone represented the extreme of an archetype. Mike is the perfectionist overachiever. Shana is the free spirit. I asked what I am, and Mike said the academic. He revealed that (unbeknownst to me) at least one of the other students said that I take a really long time to get ready because I'm thinking so much during it. But Mike commented that as a result, I'm organized and my pack never needed readjustment or lost anything.

We went back to the hotel and then all went out for Mexican food.

Mexican meal together, after returning to Provo.


That is the end of my survival school journal.

Overall I'm really grateful to my friends who had previously done the 28-day class, for encouraging me to do the course. It was like time travel to a primitive culture, where we were a little tribe that banded together to survive. The normal things we worry about didn't matter. We didn't worry about appearance, as we all were extremely dirty. We didn't carry or use any money. We talked about our work, but nobody was trying to impress anyone or make business connections (though now I'm trying to recruit Nina for Minted, ha! She's a UX designer with good experience).

We were forced to get along, because we needed to go through the survival lessons together. Even though we were so different from each other, we had many hours of things to discuss each day. The situation also led people to really open up and share emotional vulnerabilities. There was little ego involved. People freely admitted things that depressed them, or made them feel "less than their normal self", or made them anxious.

I experienced culture shock upon returning to the real world. On the street, everyone is rushing around so quickly, with no good reason. Conversations feel more superficial sometimes. When someone emanates a negative energy, it used to be tolerable, but now I feel compelled to get away quickly.

I purchased a delivery of organic fruits and vegetables. I have also been drinking twice as much water as before.

I might go visit Nina in Chicago over Labor Day.

The 14-day version of the BOSS survival school involves collectively slaughtering a lamb, to understand the process of where our food comes from. I might go back to take that course. Or I might do their "Survival Rescue" course where they simulate a 72-hour survival situation.

Survival school journal: Friday

Guides left us just before dusk yesterday. We are on our own for 24 hours. [The guides gave us maps with instructions to navigate ourselves to a canyon 12 miles away.] The group really bonded. This morning, we were all talking about romantic lives. Three of the group are divorced.

The guys are very gentlemanly. They have a chivalrous attitude, and a desire to protect and respect the women.

Ate all the rest of my oats this morning.

I am getting really focused on the here-and-now. It is nice.


Shana led us during Student Expedition today. We were in high spirits, laughing and doing the prohibited actions (cursing and quoting movies). An hour in, suddenly our guides Steve and Nick appeared breathlessly. They informed us that we've been going east instead of south for 25 minutes. We turned around, and then the group mood became more stressed. I was still not worried, because I knew this was the only tough part of the navigation all day, but others were tense. I ended up exchanging angry words with T, because she was pushing us to go fast, and I felt that brute-forcing speed would lead to more mistakes, which would eventualy slow us down overall.

After the argument, I felt like now I'd be ostracized for getting so mad. I started mentally preparing for this, and thinking about how this new set of friendships is ruined. But Mike stuck right behind me and made smalltalk about the reeds, the weather, the path. After a few minutes, I thought that perhaps I wouldn't be ostracized. He really did the exact right thing.

We carried on, and people talked about where to get water and when to purify it. We made good progress with Mike leading, and everyone started to relax.

Around 6pm, we reached the caves. I hadn't eaten all day except oats shortly after dawn. I should've left my GORP out, but had packed it and assumed my body could get by without it. It was a hot day and we did 12-13 miles up and down rocks with no shade cover. I was exhausted when we reached the caves. I sat unmoving for 20 minutes.

The guides found us shortly after our arrival. They congratulated us and said some groups get lost and wander all night until dawn.

James used his drill set to make a fire (we call him "Firearms" because he is so fast at it). We cooked the lentil stew and put in all the rest of our vegetables. Shana was trained as a professional chef, and taught me how to knead the dough better for ash cakes.

We slept under the cave overhang.

This is why we called him "Firearms".

Shana channeling her inner James Franco.

Survival school journal: Thursday

Stair Canyon, where we did our solo.

I woke up around 1am due to cold. I re-adjusted my rain poncho into a makeshift tent, by attaching its center and one corner to trees using parachute cord. It is much warmer this way, and structurally sounder than I expected.

It still took 2-3 hours to fall back asleep again. I thought about 3-d graphical systems that would be interesting using photography, and about the importance of a strong support network. [this has been on my mind after a few friends and my brother moved to other cities]. I wondered how various work tasks were progressing at Minted, and thought about how I should tell Mariam more often that I appreciate her.

Eventually I fell asleep again, and woke up around 7:30am. I wanted to sleep in! But cannot.

Facing my fears on this trip has been great. Hiking 10 miles at 8000 feet for 1.5 days without food was perfectly do-able. Being the slowest (which i mostly am) has been fine. I was nervous about solo, and waking up at dawn under this tree in a "tent" of my own making feels natural. There is no sense of elation or relief -- instead it feels very natural.

This feeling of "owning" a small section of land and knowing your five neighbors is amazing.

I am grateful to Nikhil and Jessica for easing my concerns and convincing me to do this. This is awesome!

I am looking forward when I return to Provo to a manicure, and a long hot shower, then lying in clean white sheets and reading kindle on my droid. Not anticipating food at all, contrary to my expectations. I could just eat some GORP [good ol' raisins and peanuts] and I'd be fine.

Making the fire drill set is slow going for me. It took me eons just to carve the spindle. I still need to use the planar technique to carve my fireboard. Then I need to prepare the bow, stone, kindle bundle. Stating a fire with matches is comparatively so easy.

I can identify trees now: juniper (bark is good for fire starting), pine (needles good for sleeping on), oak (branches for burning in fire after it gets going), sage brush.

My mind is so peaceful and content. It was not this way during the first three days, but during solo, it has been. I love everyone. :)

I did my list of errands. Washing clothes was simple, though I had to make a trip to the spring to get enough water. Washing my body is a relief -- it's so nice to be clean! My hair is the only issue. I washed it with soap, but it still feels dirty (though improved).

Steve the chief guide is very interesting. He is so non-reactionary. I feel that I could say anything and he'd reply calmly. Even if I said "Steve, I think you're horrible" or "Steve, there's a bear behind you" or "Steve, I'm the arson who set the big Yellowstone fire." He would digest it and respond rationally.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Survival school journal: Wednesday night

From my journal:
OMG they suddenly sprang solo on us! I am on solo right now. It is past sunset and I can't see what I'm writing.

I scouted and found a place to make my bed. Then I did some "project management" to decide a realistic scope of project. I put my poncho in the lowest tree boughs of a big pine tree to provide wind cover. Then I gathered duff [pine needles] and made a bed. I unpacked, made oats with powdered milk and cane sugar (actually very tasty if you use enough sugar). Just as the sun set, I finished everything, changed into my wool long johns, hung up my food bucket from a tall tree branch, and am now eating oats and writing in the dark.

The canyon is gorgeous. I know my classmates are within shouting distance, which is a great comfort.

I feel very comfortable in "my land" (my solo area as bounded by rock cairns that Steve the chief guide set down). I totally thought of "surveying my land".

Stars are starting to come out.

I don't know why everyone doesn't want to do this course. This is so awesome! I am halfway through and already have gained so much.

When I first started solo, there was a moment when dark fearful thoughts started to encroach. I exerted concentration to keep focused on the task at hand: making the bed, purifying water. Now I am super happy! I need to practice this skill more often.

Time to brush teeth and sleep. Tomorrow I need to wash self and clothes, try to finish my fire drill set and make a fire, and get more water from the spring.

Lillers was so nice to call to wish me a good trip. Lots of people emailed too to say good luck. Love them all!

Survival school journal: Wednesday morning

Hiking into the canyon.

From my journal:
Shana and I did the sweep navigation [navigating from the back of the pack] yesterday afternoon, and it was so much fun. Today we will be the leader navigators.

I couldn't finish all the food at dinner last night! O_o Has my stomach shrunk? Or are lentils super filling? We ate a stew where we each got 1/2 cup lentils, 1/2 cup rice, 1/3 onion, 1/3 potato, 1/3 carrot. Also ash cakes. I was full after eating a third of my stew. I ate a bunch more, but still couldn't finish. This morning I ate the leftovers (they were still good).

I also enjoyed making ash cakes on the fire coals. We had more than enough, at 1/2 cup flour per person, plus water to make it into dough.

I noticed my voice has been higher-pitched this whole trip, presumably because I am in unfamiliar situations.

The daily morning ritual is very enjoyable. I like brushing teeth with baking soda. I like purifying water from the stream. I don't particularly like making the blanket pack, but it turns out I have a good memory for knots. This is surprising, because I didn't think spatial perception was my strong suit.

Steve the chief guide is very unobjectionable. Because he is super non-reactive. He is like Jill [the Minted executive coach] in this regard. Anyone could be emotional toward him, and he would stay calm. I really respect this quality.

I feel more resourceful with a knife in my belt. At any time, I could carve a spoon. :)

As soon as I get home, I'm going to order a periodic delivery of organic produce.

I was taught not to waste food and it's difficult to reconcile with my real-world environment of excessive food. I much prefer this way of eating. I am thinking about how to maintain this when I go back.

Tonight we'll learn to make a fire.

Studying a map. I'm sitting on the rock, and Shana is standing (far left).

Survival school journal: Tuesday

The six people in my class.

From my journal in a meadow:
I had stomach pains last night for a couple hours. Lori the guide said it's due to dehydration -- the body shunts blood away from non-vital functions, including the stomach. Then stomach acid builds up.

We hiked for many hours by moonlight. It was exhausting. Then the guides gave us some surprises. [details omitted for future attendees of the course]

We've broken the fast. I thought the food woud taste divine, and that once my body became exposed to food, I woud become ravenous. Neither happened. I ate a banana which tasted the same as usual. They gave us cold mint tea, and I couldn't drink much of it due to taste. I also felt satiated.

We were taught how to navigate using compass and topological map. Now we will navigate ourselves eight miles to a lake.

The guides handed out food for the next four days. It looks in volume the same as what I've eaten in a single meal. It is 1463 calories per day. They picked dense food such as peanuts.

I'm comfortable with the knife now, and have carved a spoon and a bow drill stick.

Learning how to fold our blanket into a pack. I am leaning against a tree in the background.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Survival school journal: Tuesday afternoon

We walked for most of the day, in canyons of red rock.

From my journal in the late afternoon:
I've been designing product features in my head, and it is motivational even if I can't get to it for a while.

We are about to purify water from still pools. It looks as though there are many flies and much sediment. Let's see how well the water purification works.

We walked through pretty red canyons. It feels like if we round the corner, we can free James Franco's arm.

Wow, turns out one of the still pools has very clear water, even clearer than the running stream.

Walking uphill on an empty stomach requires taking breaks, but walking on flat terrain is easy, even though we haven't eaten for over 24 hours. My headache was gone when I woke up this morning. My body feels light and full of energy. I feel as though I'm gliding through the canyon.

Nina (woman from Chicago) is beaming the whole day.


Steve the head guide told me they have a hunter-gatherer course. It sounds awesome! You bring no outside food, and only eat rodents, small game, and fish that you catch.

I slightly miss being clean, and sleeping on clean sheets.

It really seems unfathomable that I eat such junk, like mac 'n' cheese, and everything at Beretta. Even their brussel sprouts are fried!

One student is talking a lot about food, and another is being snappy (including at me). I am bothered by the unwelcoming vibe, but am still feeling energetic and happy.

My stomach hurts. Is this "hunger pains"?

Survival school journal: Monday morning

We hiked for a couple hours on Sunday and then slept on the ground in a meadow, surrounded by sage brush. This was the "Impact" portion of the course, which involves fasting and traveling lightly with minimal gear.

From my journal:
We learned how to navigate by the stars, purify water, and sleep without tent or sleeping bag. It was cold last night. Huddling for warmth was actually very satisfying.

I figured out that in my regular life, I am very dehydrated continually.

Not eating saves a lot of time. We didn't have to build a fire, cook, eat, wash dishes. We just stopped hiking and promptly slept, and this morning we woke up and can promptly set off again.

Having the right gear is great. I used to just "make do" with substitutions, but using proper gear is so much better.

If I could eat anything, I would pick the meal we had yesterday at lunch: sandwiches with hummus, turkey, cheese, mayo, and greens. My body revolts at the thought of these buttery dishes I eat at restaurants. I keep thinking of that scene from "Lost in Translation" when Bill Murray phones home to his wife and says he wants to eat more fish & veggies, and less steak.

Lunch on the prior day, before setting off

Our chief guide Steve is very still when he is not speaking. When introduced by the Field Director, he didn't make eye contact with us. But it turns out he's really good at teaching.

Steve in the survival-school store, before the course started

Day 0 was easier than I anticipated. I thought I'd be slogging, struggling against fatigue & grumpiness. I feared lagging far behind the others. Instead I could've kept hiking last night when we stopped. And I slept straight through from around midnight to dawn. Most others got only a couple hours of sleep, so I'm keeping my sleep good-fortune to myself. :)

Simple cleaning rituals are very enjoyable. Brushing my teeth with baking soda was a real joy. So is peeing.

It is a couple hours after sunrise and already hot.

We learned knife skills. I am thinking sometimes about work, when we are walking on the trail. Having a different physical environment is good for seeing different solutions to the same challenges.

Survival school journal: Sunday (day 0)

My survival school course started on Sunday after a 4-hour van ride from Provo, Utah to the desert outside the small town of Boulder, Utah. The school is Boulder Outdoor Survival School, or BOSS for short.

From my journal that afternoon:
We just finished gear check and got a photo taken in our hiking clothes, in case anything happens to us. I made a pack from my wool blanket and rain poncho, wrapping the pack using parachute cord and seatbelt webbing. It feels great on my back! Just as sturdy as a REI pack :)

I am already accustomed to ants crawling on me. I've been bitten by ants a dozen times by now.

We are requested not to ask questions about our itinerary. These are called "inappropriate questions".

I am experiencing effects of altitude or heat or both. Headache, low energy. Occasional slight chest pains near my heart. My resting heartrate is up to 86 (in SF, it's in the low 60s).

Michael (student who is ex-pat in Jakarta) told me about going on a Habitat for Humanity trip, where he built a brick wall for a family in povery. So cool!! I will research it when I get home. I've wanted to combine travel, learning a skill, helping a family in need, and being in a community. Michael said some people who go on Habitat on Humanity come back and give away all their possessions. The high lasts for three months, and then they freak out. I'm shocked that it lasts for three months. I thought it'd be over in a few days.


Earlier we sat under a tree and shared our expectations. Much to my shock, four of the five others are doing this to learn skills in case of apocalypse and we experience a breakdown in plumbing and electricity. That did not even occur to me. I shared that my reason is to develop trust that my body is strong and will do what I ask of it, and isn't just a burden that I drag around in order to house my brain. Also, I live in a bubble, and need to immerse myself in other worldviews to wash out biases that have seeped into my thinking despite my preventive efforts.

I am thrilled that I ran the entire 1.5 mile test. Altitude is very powerful! My breathing became ragged almost immediately -- at nearly a 12-minute pace. In SF, I could do that pace for a long time without feeling much effect.

I just got up from the log I was sitting on, and discovered I had squashed several ants.

Shana is assigned as my buddy. We paired by birthday month/day and magically ended in the same configurations as the rows we formed in the van. That's a 1 in 15 chance! Shana is a redhead with green eyes from NYC. she is a regular Burning Man attendee. She is very warm and easygoing. I am happy she is my assigned buddy.

Shana and Michael standing near our luggage

We are setting off imminently. I'm carrying a cloth pack over my shoulder, like how women in rice paddies carried their babies.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The toughest part is done, right?

Altitude is tough, but I am really happy with how I did in my 1.5 mile run!  I did 17:45.  Really delighted to be middle of the pack (the two triathletes led the group, and then I was 4th out of the six people).

Other people casually decided to do this course, and did no extra exercise.  I am the only obsessive one who has been especially training for months for this day.

Then they fed us sandwiches.  I went into super hoarding mode and ate more than anyone else.

Now we are doing gear check and will embark soon.

En route

I met my survival school classmates!  There are six people in my class: four women and two men.  One is an ex-pat living in Jacarta.  Another is studying to be a life coach.

I am relieved that they are my age, not 18 year olds like an internet review said.  Two of them are super-triathletes.

Now we are driving to the desert.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Me as a 3-d mesh

One of the Sunfire startups scanned me and constructed a 3-d model in just a few minutes, using their awesome product.

You can see the triangular mesh that comprises me. This technology is so cool!

As a "graphics person", I was totally in love with this.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

T minus 4!

Survival school in 4 days. I started drinking more water, and cutting out sugar & alcohol. I have my gear except a wool sweater.

I am most excited about:
1. learning to start a fire
2. new perspectives and epiphanies
3. surviving solo
4. the ceremony at the end
5. my first meal afterwards
6. calling Nikhil afterwards, and talking to him about his experience vs my experience on the course

I am most nervous about:
1. the impact phase: hiking on the first day with no food, while adjusting to altitude and heat
2. solo
3. contracting a stomach virus or ticks or other disease
4. being the slowest one in the group

the original was much more interesting

芙蓉 is an internet celebrity in China who is famous for writing posts about her "S-shaped body" and how she has "the face of an angel and the body of a devil". After each of her posts, thousands of people would leave comments about how deluded she is. Then a smaller number of people would write comments about how beautiful she is.

I just saw a new photo and now she looks like this!

I am shocked. But it's also a little sad -- now she's just a boring beautiful-person instead of a quirky oddball.