Dream, a short story for my creative writing class
John couldn’t wait to dream. As he slipped into his navy pajama bottoms, his right leg caught the fabric halfway through and pulled him down to the floor.
He lay defeated for a while, feeling hot not so much from the pain but from the embarrassment, although he was the only one to witness the fall. He got up, sat on the bed, and successfully slid his legs into his bottoms. After turning off his bedside lamp, John slipped under the covers and closed his eyes as he pulled his blanket tightly around him. His chest started rising and falling at a steady rhythm, and he drifted off to sleep as he half-consciously scratched at a tickle on his upper right thigh.
When John woke up, he blinked several times and couldn’t believe his eyes. He was still in his own bed in his room. He sat up and cycled through endless possible explanations. Was it a problem with the hardware? No way — the error rate was less than one in a trillion. A bug in the latest SimChip firmware upgrade? But he had been dreaming without any problems for the past couple months. He racked his brain but no satisfactory answer came to mind. For a second, he considered submitting a support request, but immediately dropped the idea. A Sim Technologies support representative unable to solve a problem with his own SimChip? He’d never hear the end of it.
The annoyance of missing out on a dream lingered in the back of John’s mind as he headed into the bathroom. He splashed water onto his face, squeezed exactly enough toothpaste to cover half of the toothbrush, and proceeded to count to sixty in his head. Twenty brush strokes for the left side of his mouth, twenty for the middle, and twenty for the right. After showering, he neatly combed his dark brown hair to the side and headed to his closet to put on a crisply pressed white dress shirt, a black silk tie, black trousers, and a black jacket — the same outfit he wore to work every day. Only the business department of Sim Technologies, not the support department he was in, had a dress code, but he found it much too cumbersome to select a different outfit every day.
In the kitchen, John removed the two perfectly toasted slices of white bread from the toaster and set them down on a plate. As he reached to grab the peanut butter jar from the cabinet above, he stopped short. He had forgotten to buy more peanut butter after it had run out yesterday. John unscrewed the lid of the jar and saw that there was more left than he had expected, just barely enough for one more sandwich. He scraped the remaining peanut butter onto a slice of toast and glanced at his watch as he twisted the lid back onto the jar. It was 10:15 A.M., which meant that he had to leave now in order to catch the subway. After tossing the used knife into the sink, John absentmindedly shoved the peanut butter jar back into the cabinet and grabbed his briefcase and sandwich. Before the SimChip came along, he used to eat two sandwiches for breakfast. Now, since he and everyone else he knew stayed awake for only 12 hours, his two sandwiches had become one, and his lunch and dinner had also been reduced accordingly. More time dreaming meant less time awake. Less time awake meant less energy needed.
Making sure that he had his wallet and keys in his left pocket and his Sim Technologies badge clipped on the right side of his trousers, John locked his apartment door and jiggled the door two times before calling the elevator. As he stepped out of his apartment complex, John quickly merged into the stream of people on the sidewalk. He walked one block south and two blocks east, keeping his gaze fixed on the sidewalk below him the entire time while taking quick bites out of his sandwich. As he walked into the subway station, someone bumped into him from behind. “Sorry,” John muttered. He stood sideways against the wall to let the person pass, deliberately looking away to avoid eye contact. On the subway car, John sat with his eyes closed and head tilted back. He usually spent his commute thinking about his dream from the night before, but this time he had nothing.
John had been in college when Sim Technologies took the world by storm with their upgraded SimChip. A few years prior, they had released the initial version of the SimChip — a chip, installed using a minimally invasive surgical procedure through the skull, that could measure and record all the signals being passed between nerve cells in the brain. Effectively, this meant that everything a person experienced — their thoughts, their feelings, their sensory stimuli — would be captured by the chip. It was a mind-blowing feat; the chip allowed people to capture the raw data of their existence. Despite great excitement in the scientific community, the product had resulted in poor adoption. Although some of the personal analytics applications that built on the data were quite impressive, most people didn’t want to have the SimChip installed just to see some pretty graphs.
All that changed when Sim Technologies added replay functionality to the SimChip. Sim Technologies had devised a method for replaying a select portion of the data — the signals created by sensory stimuli — back on the brain when it was dormant in sleep. The amazing part was that the signals could be replayed not just on the person whose recording it was, but on anyone with a SimChip installed. For the first time in history, people could see, hear, touch, smell, and taste as someone else entirely. With that breakthrough, SimChip adoption caught on like wildfire, and after enviously hearing his college roommates trade stories about their SimChip-created dreams, John had finally scheduled an appointment to have a SimChip installed.
Before the installation, a Sim Technologies support representative had met with John to explain what life would be like with the SimChip. “Every night, your SimChip is first going to upload a recording of your day before downloading a recording to replay as a dream. This means that someone, somewhere, will replay a day in your life as a dream. Do you still want to get the SimChip installed?”
John quickly nodded, embracing the tradeoff. Everyone else was doing it, and his life wasn’t interesting enough to make him worry about any important secrets being revealed.
She continued, “The recording used for your dream is selected randomly from the pool of all recordings uploaded in the past day, so you’re going to experience the most recent day of a SimChip user. When you fall asleep in real life, you’ll wake up as that person, go through their day, fall asleep as them, then finally wake up as yourself. The most important thing is to not panic. Dreaming is rather shocking at first, but you’ll get used to it after a couple minutes. It’s like a first-person movie, except that it’s more realistic than you can imagine. Like a dream, except that you’ll remember it clearly afterward.”
And remember he did. When John had initially woken up in that first dream, he tried to brush the wavy blonde hair away from the front of his eyes. When his body sat up instead of brushing the hair aside, he understood what the support representative had meant about not panicking. He had no control over his own movements. Everything was already predetermined by the recording that John was simply replaying — all that John could really call his own were his thoughts and feelings.
As John walked into the bathroom, he wanted, with every fiber of his being, to go back into the bedroom and make the bed. It wouldn’t help make the room appear any cleaner, what with the piles of socks and shirts everywhere on the bedroom floor, but it was a personal ritual that he had performed every morning without fail since he was a child.
I shouldn’t care; it’s not my bed after all, he thought, trying to quell his irritation. His displeasure was swallowed up by the surprise of seeing himself in the bathroom mirror. I must be at least six-foot three. He wanted to examine himself more, but he involuntarily proceeded to close his eyes and splash water on his face. He cringed as he haphazardly moved a toothbrush around in his mouth without any clear pattern or direction. He caught a glimpse of himself again as he left the bathroom, getting a better look at his sturdy, broad shoulders and the long hair that rested on them.
John found himself driving for a good while before getting out of a jeep in front of a beach. He had never been to a beach before, having always lived in landlocked regions, and he immensely enjoyed the sensation of the cold, smooth sand weaving in and out between his toes as he walked toward the water in his wetsuit. He felt the hefty weight of his surfboard under his arm, and he knew that he would never have been able to carry it with such ease in his real body.
There was a tall figure up ahead also in a wetsuit, who raised his hand and called out to him. “Hey AJ!”
John felt his free hand shoot up and mouth spread into a grin. “Mornin’, Brad!” John enjoyed hearing his own voice; it felt strong with rough edges, like the sound of a double bass mixed with sandpaper being rubbed.
When John walked up to Brad, they performed a highly practiced handshake that ended with a smack on the side of each others’ head. “Have a good dream last night?” Brad asked.
John’s mouth opened. “Nah, it was crazy. I was some grandma in a senior center. Didn’t understand a word she said, but I think it was Spanish.”
Brad laughed. “That’s wild! Anything exciting happen besides using the bathroom every ten minutes?”
“That was pretty much it. I don’t wanna get old, man. You really end up sitting around doing nothing.”
“Don’t sweat it dude, we’ve got some time.”
John and Brad paddled out into the sea, and John felt more panic the further away he got from shore. By the time John stopped paddling to turn his board toward the distant shore, his mind was racing with questions. What if I get attacked by a shark? What if I get swallowed up by a wave and drown? John wondered if he had made a mistake but told himself that AJ couldn’t have died surfing, or else his dream wouldn’t have been uploaded for John to replay. Maybe AJ went to sleep in the hospital after having his arm bitten off, though.
Just then, John felt his chest lower onto the surfboard and his arm paddling hard against the water. As his head jerked forward, he caught a glimpse of a massive wave rising behind him. This is it, I’m going to drown, he thought. As the wave caught up to him, he felt his arms push him off the surfboard and his right leg slide up toward his torso as he stood up in one fluid motion. John tried his hardest to close his eyes, but his eyes remained wide open and his body shifted with movements sturdy and sure. He smoothly rode down the foot of the wave as it rose up, gigantic, behind him. The crest of the wave started crashing in front of him, and he spread his arms and lightly grazed the wall of water with his forefinger as he continuously taunted death by speeding sideways toward the hole at the end of the tunnel of water around him. As he sped through the opening with the wave dying behind him, John felt complete unison between mind and body as he grinned and waved at a barely visible Brad flashing him a thumbs up.
When John had woken from that first dream, he had laid in perfect silence on his bed for an hour, simply absorbing all that he experienced. After that initial wave, John had gone on to surf for a couple more hours before devouring fish tacos with Brad and ending the night making s’mores over a bonfire with a group of friends at the beach. Dreaming was far more fun and exciting than anything he had ever done. John had excitedly gone back to sleep in the middle of the day, only to find himself jolted awake after a few, short hours replaying a day of a school janitor. Cleaning high school bathrooms wasn’t quite like surfing, but the experience, seemingly mundane, was new and fascinating. Confused about the dream’s abrupt interruption, John had contacted a support representative to learn that the SimChip replays a downloaded recording only for the duration of the length of the most recently uploaded recording. That day, John had decided to adopt the SimChip lifestyle; from then on, he would stay awake for exactly 12 hours every day in order to maximize time spent dreaming.
Now out of the subway station, John headed through the sliding glass doors into Sim Technologies. He looked straight ahead, purposefully avoiding eye contact with the guard at the front desk, and tapped his badge on the turnstile. He recalled how he had once felt immensely proud to be working there, a company that was pushing the frontier of shared human experience. He had been the envy of his college friends, who had all become SimChip fanatics, when he was hired by Sim Technologies. Little did they, nor he initially, know that his role as a support representative would be little more than a glorified question and answer database.
When he stepped into the elevator, he pressed the button for the fifteenth floor and shifted his eyes to the floor. There was someone in the elevator to his right, someone with sleek, black pumps. He turned his head ever so slightly and peered out of the corner of his eye to just barely make out her basic features. He shifted his gaze back to the floor. He hadn’t looked at her directly, but he had seen enough. Curly dark brown hair. Thin, glossy lips. Green eyes. Maybe slightly blue. Gorgeous. She looked slightly familiar too, but he couldn’t figure out where he’d seen her before. He thought about what it’d be like to get to know her, and the mere thought of talking to her made his pulse quicken.
He looked back at the elevator buttons and noticed that the only other lit button was for a floor somewhere in the thirties. He would have the entire trip to his floor to start the conversation. He could compliment her shoes. No, that could come off as creepy and even inappropriate. He could bring up the latest Sim Technologies metrics. The billionth SimChip installation had occurred a week ago, and the company was still abuzz from the announcement. No, she was probably sick to death of hearing about it. He could ask her about her dream last night. Outside of work, it was considered rude to ask a stranger about their dreams, but inside Sim Technologies it was somewhat of a norm. No, he didn’t have a dream to share.
The elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open. John surprised himself with how quickly he bolted out of the elevator. He hadn’t planned on practically running out, but maybe he hadn’t realized how nervous he had been. She probably wouldn’t have been interested in talking with him anyway. He was just a support representative after all.
John walked past a dozen cubicles before reaching his own. He sat down, turned on his computer, and began answering support questions. The first one was from a woman in Wyoming who wanted to know if she could replay her husband’s recordings. John found the script explaining that no, you can’t select whose recordings you replay, and sent the reply. The second one was from a man from London who wanted to save the recording he downloaded last night so that he can have the same dream over and over. John found the script explaining that this too was not possible and sent it along. During his first couple weeks as a support representative, John used to feel guilty when dashing people’s hopes by telling them that they couldn’t do what they wanted. Now, he just copied and pasted the standard responses and didn’t give a second thought. All the questions he saw every day were exactly the same, just worded differently and signed by different names from different places. Once in a while, he would get a unique question that would make him actually look things up and type out a non-scripted response. He enjoyed those. He couldn’t remember the last time he got one.
A couple hours in, John heard a light tap on his cubicle wall. It was his direct supervisor. He came in, and placed one hand firmly on John’s desk. “John, are you available to talk?”
“Sure.” John turned his chair towards his supervisor.
“Listen, your customer reviews this week are hovering around a 7. We need you to get to an 8.5 by the end of next week. Think you can do that?”
“Sure.” His supervisor was repeating the same exact thing that he had told John yesterday.
“Thanks, John. Also, try to speed up your responses. You’re answering fewer queries than you usually do.” He patted John on the back and walked away.
John turned to the clock on his monitor and watched the seconds crawl by. He often fantasized about quitting his lifeless job and trying something new, but then again he got to try something new every night when he went to sleep. Maybe one day he’d actually move next to the beach and learn how to ride the waves.
When John got home, he changed out of his suit and slumped into his couch in front of the television. He hoped there was a good show on to justify declining to go out for a quick drink with some of the other support representatives. He hadn’t felt like it. He hadn’t felt like it yesterday either, or the day before that, and he knew they were already thinking of no longer asking him to go out with them. John turned on the television and flipped through some channels. Nothing exciting. He thought about just turning off the set, but sat through a rerun of a movie he had watched yesterday since he had nothing better to do anyway until his 12 hours were up. When it finally ended, he walked to his room and hoped that his SimChip would work tonight.
John couldn’t wait to dream. As he slipped into his navy pajama bottoms, his right leg caught the fabric halfway through and pulled him down to the floor.
He lay defeated for a while, feeling hot not so much from the pain but from the embarrassment, although he was the only one to witness the fall. He got up, sat on the bed, and successfully slid his legs into his bottoms. After turning off his bedside lamp, John slipped under the covers and closed his eyes as he pulled his blanket tightly around him. His chest started rising and falling at a steady rhythm, and he drifted off to sleep as he half-consciously scratched at a tickle on his upper right thigh.
The Party, a short story for my creative writing fiction class
Mark clutched the six-pack of Coors Light and pressed the doorbell, simultaneously running his tongue over his teeth to make sure that there was no evidence of the roast beef sandwich he had eaten for dinner an hour earlier. He heard no change in the dull roar of voices on the other side, and he bit his lower lip. He raised his hand again, left it suspended in front of the doorbell, and slowly brought it back to his side. Well, at least I can save the beer for later, he thought, and turned away.
“Mark! You came!”
Mark turned back to see Sierra in the doorway, her strawberry-red lips parted in a wide smile, revealing a set of spotless teeth. He cracked a smile back at her.
Mark had met Sierra a few days earlier in the communal laundry room, when he had dared to move the idle contents of machine #3 to an open dryer after his fourth trek to the laundry room with his laundry bag in tow. They’d probably be thankful that I moved their forgotten laundry to the dryer, he told himself. Still, he nearly suffered a heart attack when he reached down to pick up a pink lace thong he had dropped and immediately heard a cough behind him.
“Hi, I think that’s mine.”
Mark dropped the thong as if it were hot coal. “Shoot, sorry, I was just moving your —”
“Don’t worry, you don’t look like an underwear thief to me,” she said with a coy smile. “I’m Sierra. I just moved here.” She stretched out her hand.
“Hey, I’m Mark,” he said, taking her hand. He couldn’t take his eyes off her crystal blue eyes. “I’ve lived here for a while, I guess.”
“Great! You can give me the lowdown on the apartment complex and let me know if there are any underwear thieves I should know about,” she said with a wink. She walked over, picked up her underwear, and tossed it into the dryer holding the rest of her clothes. “By the way, I’m having a housewarming party on Friday night, wanna come?”
“Sure,” Mark replied, more out of politeness than anything. Sitting at home watching TV wouldn’t exactly make a good excuse.
“Neat. Come to Suite 211 at 9.” She threw in a dryer sheet, started the dryer, and turned around to leave. “Good meeting you, Mark. See you on Friday!”
“See you,” he replied, watching the door long after it had closed behind Sierra.
Mark had thought all Friday afternoon about whether to go to Sierra’s party, endlessly constructing, deconstructing, and running through a mental pros and cons chart. The last housewarming party he had gone to had been with Clarissa, when he had finally caved to Clarissa’s silly pleading that they needed to go to Kelsey’s housewarming or else Kelsey would stop being friends with her. Before going to Kelsey’s they stopped at a wine shop for a housewarming gift. Upon entering the shop, Mark eagerly reached for the first bottle under $10 that he saw and threw Clarissa a cheeky grin. She simply shook her head at him, the curled ends of her lips breaking the illusion of the sternness she tried to give him. They departed the store not only with Kelsey’s favorite chardonnay, but a bottle of Merlot to be shared by only the two of them later in the warmth of Mark’s bed. That was months ago.
It was this memory of Clarissa that finally made Mark decide to go to Sierra’s housewarming party. Sierra had been the first girl since his breakup with Clarissa to occupy his mind in idle moments, her silky white-blonde hair appearing smoother and her red lips appearing softer every time he mentally replayed their encounter in the laundry room.
Sierra motioned for him to enter the apartment, and he obliged. There were about a dozen people scattered around the living room, grouped off in pockets of three or four. Most looked to be in their early twenties, and it was clear to Mark that he was at least a few years older than anyone else in the room. A few people watched him walk in, and he met several of their gazes. A chubby girl with pink streaks in her hair smiled at him before turning back to her group.
“Most of my friends here are from college, and some are from work,” Sierra chirped.
“What do you do for work?”
“Finance. Let’s not talk about it though, it’s not that interesting. Let’s get you a drink!”
Mark followed Sierra into the kitchen, where she took his 6-pack of Coors Light and set it on the floor. The counter was overflowing with bottles of every type of liquor and beer.
Sierra handed him a shot glass. “We’re doing shots. You’re the guest, so you get to choose what we drink.”
“Anything’s fine with me. What do you like?”
“In that case, we’re doing my favorite. Gin!”
She grabbed a bottle of Bombay, and filled both their glasses.
“Cheers!” She flashed a smile, clinked her glass against his, and they both downed their shots. She made a face and drank from a glass of cranberry juice on the counter. Even her sour face is gorgeous, Mark thought.
“Here, you have to take another one,” she said, as she filled his shot glass again.
“What? Okay, fine,” he said, and downed the second shot.
The burn in his throat reminded him of taking shots in college, and he felt his body loosen up as a smile formed across his face.
“What, I don’t get a chaser?” he said to Sierra with a slight smirk.
“Nope, men don’t get one,” she teased, at the same time holding out her glass.
Mark took a small swig, and handed it back. “I think we can make an exception for me.”
He took another look around him, and noticed two pairs throwing ping pong balls over a long table in the dining hall next to the kitchen.
“Wow, I haven’t played beer pong in years,” he remarked.
“Let’s play together! I’m really good,” she replied. She yelled to the players at the table, “Hey! Mark and I are next!” One of the players turned toward them and gave a thumbs up.
Mark heard the doorbell ring, and Sierra turned to him.
“Oh! I should go get that. I’ll be right back. Go meet my friends! Don’t worry, they’re all nice,” she said with a wink. She smiled and left the kitchen.
Mark grabbed a beer and silently sat down in a chair next to the beer pong table. He watched as a short player with a backwards baseball cap threw his ping pong ball into a cup on the other side. “Hell yeah!” he yelled as he high-fived his partner.
Mark thought back to a particular game of beer pong that he had played at his friend Mickey’s house back in college. Mark’s partner had gone to go use the restroom, and Mark had motioned for a cute brunette to come closer to him.
“Listen, my friend’s taking a piss. Can you sub for him?” he asked her.
“Okay. But if I make this next shot, I get to play even when he comes back,” she replied.
“Deal,” Mark said with a smirk.
She smiled at him, and threw her ball straight into a cup.
“Geez, now I’m going to lose one of my best friends thanks to you,” Mark lamented, lightly punching her arm.
She looked up at him and playfully stuck out her tongue. “Too bad. A deal’s a deal!”
Clarissa somehow always managed to get her way, Mark thought with a wistful smile. He shook his head and focused back on the game. He saw a ball fly into a lone cup and heard the short player yell, “Game. Over!” and high-five his teammate.
“Whatever, Brian!” one of the players on the losing team yelled back.
Brian turned to Mark. “Hey, you’re up next with Sierra, right? Why don’t you go get her so we can play?”
Mark got up from the chair, and walked toward the living room. He saw Sierra right away, and his heart stopped as it did when he first met her. She was sitting on the lap of a well-built, large man with a light scruffy beard, and her hand was intertwined with his. His face burning up, Mark turned away from the living room and walked back into the dining hall where Sierra couldn’t see him.
Brian looked over as Mark entered. “Is she coming?”
“Actually, I have to use the restroom. Why don’t you play with the next team?” Mark lied.
“It’s okay, we can wait. You were waiting to play for a while.”
“No, we’re skipping our turn. I really have to use the restroom.”
Brian cocked an eyebrow. After a pause, he said, “Sure, works for us.”
Mark managed a faint smile and looked around for the bathroom.
“There’s a bathroom in one of the bedrooms beyond the living room,” Brian said.
Mark turned toward the living room and took in a deep breath. He would find the bathroom and wait there for a while.
He briskly walked into the living room, trying to spot the bedroom that had the bathroom without being noticed.
Mark clenched his teeth, and turned toward the voice.
“Mark, come over here and meet my boyfriend!”
He saw Sierra motioning with her arms for him to come closer. The entire group around Sierra looked at him.
“Hey.” Mark tried to sound enthusiastic as he approached the group, but he was sure that his enthusiasm appeared as fake as the forced smile he put on.
“Hey Mark, I’m Joey.” Sierra’s boyfriend extended his tanned, muscular arm, and Mark took it. Joey shook for the both of them.
Sierra beamed next to Joey, and started, “Joey, did I tell you about how I met Mark? I walked into the laundry room —”
“Sierra, where can I find the restroom?” Mark interrupted. He didn’t want to stick around for the rest of the story.
Sierra’s eyebrows furrowed. “Oh, it’s in the bedroom over there”, she explained, pointing at a door.
“Thanks.” Mark walked into the dimly lit bedroom and closed the door behind him. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the door, lost in a flurry of jealousy, embarrassment, and anger. His face flushed again, and he wasn’t sure whether it was the alcohol or his emotions — either way, he hated it. He hated everything he felt, especially the jealousy. That’s why Clarissa left you, you insecure bastard, he thought to himself.
“Hey, are you okay?”
Mark’s eyes immediately opened and scanned the room. He saw a silhouette sitting up on the bed and as his eyes adjusted, he recognized her as the chubby girl with the pink streaks he had seen earlier.
“Yeah, I was just feeling a bit dizzy.” He walked toward the bed.
“I know what you’re talking about. I drank too much too quickly so Sierra let me rest in her bed to recover. I guess I’m feeling a little bit better now.” Even from a couple feet away, Mark could smell the strong alcohol on her breath.
Mark sat down next to her with his legs resting on the floor. She plopped her head back onto the pillow. He turned toward her and studied her face. She had far too much makeup on, what with her eyeshadow giving her a black eye and her skin looking like someone had simply covered her face with a shallow layer of dirty clay. There were a couple bumps on her face around her lip, probably an acne outbreak she attempted to hide by caking on makeup.
“So who are you?” she said, breaking the silence.
“I’m Judy,” she volunteered. She continued without encouragement, “Sometimes, I wonder if anyone really gets me.”
She had clearly had too much to drink, and he decided to humor her. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you know Sylvia Plath? I love her work. I love literature. I was an English major in college, by the way. Anyway, you know how she killed herself by sticking her head in an oven? And sometimes, I feel like Sylvia Plath.”
“Please don’t go sticking your head in ovens.”
“No, don’t be stupid, I mean like I’m misunderstood. No one really understood her and I’m like the same way, you know?”
He didn’t say anything. He lifted his legs and lay on the bed, facing the ceiling with his eyes closed. He felt tired.
She continued. “I just want someone to understand me.”
He turned toward her, not sure what to say. He found her already facing him, eyes looking straight into his. He studied her bulbous nose, her bushy eyebrows, her crusty skin, and the pimples resting above the layers of fat that had accumulated under her chin.
“I just want to be understood,” she repeated.
Mark closed his eyes, leaned in, and kissed her.
She eagerly kissed him back, pushing her lips against his. Mark imagined himself kissing Sierra, then imagined himself kissing Clarissa, but the bumps on her chin scraping his face and her sloppy, wandering tongue made the fantasy impossible. He opened his eyes and slowly pushed her heavy shoulders back. She opened her eyes, confused.
He got up off the bed. “I need to use the bathroom.”
Spotting a door on the other side of the bedroom, he slowly made his way toward it. When he entered the bathroom, he flipped on the light and turned on the sink. He looked in the mirror and saw tired eyes beneath ruffled hair. He loudly splashed water onto his face several times and let the water drip down his face with his eyes closed. Suddenly, he realized that there was someone behind him. It was Judy.
Mark quickly wiped his face with the towel next to him, and stammered, “What are you—”
“Shhhh.” She held a finger to her lips and smiled. She closed the door behind them, locked it, and pulled him by his arm to the bathtub.
“I know what you want,” she said with a grin. She climbed into the bathtub and lay down. “Come and fuck me.”
Mark stared blankly at her. “Judy, I don’t —”
She had unbuttoned her shirt and was taking it off. “Come on, come and fuck me.”
Her grin gradually melted away and her eyes narrowed.
“What? Why? You were just kissing me!”
Mark took a deep breath. “Listen, I didn’t —”
“You know what?! Fuck you! Fuck you!”
In the bathroom light, he could make out every detail of Judy’s angry face: the smeared mascara, the too-thick eyeliner, every part of her face jiggling as she proceeded to scream at him. Her screaming became mixed with sobs, and he stood there horrified, watching all of the makeup run down her face in globs.
Mark was still standing there, shocked, when she finally got out of the bathtub and ran out of the bathroom, no longer screaming but heaving her body with every sob. When she had finally gone, Mark closed the door, locked it, and ambled over to the toilet, as if in a trance. His body lurched once, and he spewed out a heavy, dark brown stream of roast beef, liquor, and beer. He stood over the toilet with a dribble of vomit dripping down his chin.
Heavy knocks came at the door, and he heard Joey’s voice, “Hey! Is everything okay in there?” Sierra’s voice came next, “Mark! Are you okay?”
Mark flushed the toilet, and dragged his feet to the door. He unlocked the door and opened it. Sierra, Joey, Brian, and several other guests stood silently, waiting for him to say something. He simply stared straight ahead, not meeting their gaze and not seeing them, and slowly walked past them in silence, out of the bathroom, out of the bedroom, and out of the apartment.
Cut, a short story for my creative writing fiction class
They said they didn’t want other kids to make fun of me. That somehow, between playing tag, kicking soccer balls, and jumping off swings, we would all stand in a circle and whip out what little we had and some kid would point to mine and say, “Hey, your peepee’s weird.” Perhaps it never occurred to my parents that not having my foreskin cut off might make me the odd one out. It didn’t matter, since we were too busy running around and napping to worry about what each others’ peepees looked like anyway.
We started worrying in junior high. Put together a bunch of snot-faced children newly finding themselves at the bottom of the totem pole after reigning supreme at their elementary schools and brats having just escaped from that position, and it’s no wonder you end up with insecure kids trying to prove that they’re cooler than the other insecure kids. Every day was a competition of who can run faster, jump higher, look tougher, and come up with the most depraved insults. We started off with stupid, dumbass, idiot, got braver and moved on to pussy, retard, shithead, and then finally the holy grail of curse words, fucker, but only when we had looked down the hallway both ways to make sure that there were no teachers nearby. We muttered it under our breaths, smug in the knowledge that there could be nothing worse, when one day a new word spread like wildfire: chode.
No one knew what it meant at first, not even the cool kids who thought they knew everything. Still, we whispered, chanted, yelled the word, daring each other to say what it meant because surely they weren’t cool enough to know, all in the hopes that someone would actually enlighten us all. “It’s a dick that’s wider than it is long.” It became an essential part of our vernacular, rearing its ugly head whenever we wanted to describe the classmate who asked too many questions, the kid who cut in front of us in the lunch line, the teacher who gave the pop quiz. We also teased each other, asking “you have a chode, huh?”, asking because we didn’t want to be asked. Everyone accused everyone, all of us projecting our worries that the lottery of puberty would end up cursing one of us with the most unfortunate transformation.
The only person that wasn’t accused of having a chode was Gary, our in-house high schooler. Even though he was really in junior high with us, he was at least a couple years older and much bigger than any other boy in school. And he was hairy. His curly, dark brown hair was everywhere, covering his face, his chest, his back, his arms, and even his feet. We called him Gary the Gorilla. Apparently, he once bragged to some boys in the locker room that he had more pubic hair than all of them combined and then went ahead and proved it. When I heard that, I went into the bathroom to inspect myself. Three short, brown strands. Gary was what we imagined all high schoolers must be like. Surely in addition to being tall, strong, and possessing endless pubic hair, all high schoolers had big plans for their lives and even bigger dicks. Gary would do well in high school.
The summer after junior high, I felt almost ready for high school. Puberty was hitting me at full blast, and I had several strands of armpit hair to prove it. Even my pubic hair count had gone up from a measly three to a blossoming twenty-six. Puberty wrought other changes, too. My friends had introduced me to the world of porn, and every day I found new sites, new videos, and new pictures. Every night, when my parents went to sleep, I lay in bed and waited until I heard my dad start to snore softly from the master bedroom. I counted to 300 in my head, then crept out of my bed and spent hours on the computer devouring everything in sight. Pornography taught me the model of the ideal penis — a foot long, circumcised, and as thick as an arm. According to the vast array of samples I had observed, that was the penis required to satisfy women. The evidence spoke for itself: Bigger is better. Circumcised is better. I made the decision my parents didn’t and asked to get circumcised.
I found myself lying naked, slightly propped up on a green mat in an old, worn-down doctor’s office. My mom had been banished to wait outside after making the unforgivable suggestion of staying to watch. The doctor was an older man, possibly in his 50s, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but in the room. He had spoken very few words, undress and lie down, and his stern and unfriendly demeanor made me question his personal dedication to making sure that my penis would come out flawless. I half-wished that my mom had stayed after all to guarantee that the doctor wouldn’t slip up and render me a eunuch, but quickly changed my mind. This surgery needed to be an affair between men.
“Are you going to put me to sleep?”
With that, he walked up beside me.
He held a shot in his hand, and he slowly brought it closer to my body. Before I could say another word, he pushed the needle straight into the base of my penis, and I shut my eyes and clenched my teeth together to keep from screaming out from the pain. I regretted that I had decided to trust this doctor, regretted coming to the clinic, regretted ever wanting a circumcision, regretted ever looking at porn, regretted ever making those friends. I slowly opened my eyes to find him looking at me, probably to make sure that I hadn’t passed out.
“That was the local anesthetic.”
I said nothing in response, not having yet fully recovered from the shock. I watched as he brought another needle to my body, grimaced, and braced for the worst. The needle penetrated the base, but this time, I didn’t feel the needle. Or anything in that region for that matter.
The doctor proceeded in the same way, sticking several more needles in until my penis looked like a lion with a mane made of porcupine quills. He got up once, and walked over to a drawer to take out a pair of scissors. He clamped down the sides of my penis by the foreskin, and made a straight cut at the head. I thought back to a time in elementary school, when I had walked around the house in jeans without underwear, simply because I had accidentally peed myself and didn’t care enough to put on another pair. I had just finished peeing in the toilet, and was zipping up when I felt red hot pain at the tip of my penis. The zipper had caught onto my foreskin, and it felt like it was being torn apart. Now, with this doctor cutting my foreskin off, it really was torn apart. Snip, snip, snip. No more foreskin.
When I got home, the first thing I did was waddle to the bathroom to inspect my newborn penis, freshly released from its womb. The doctor had given my mom a dixie cup, telling her that I had to wear it for at least a week to prevent infection. The moment I put it on, I felt like my penis was its own entity, a neutered dog with a cone around its head. I looked inside the cone now, hoping to see the beginnings of a foot-tall giant. Instead, my penis looked smaller than ever before, smaller than it had been before the circumcision. A frown crept onto my face as I worried about the fate of my penis, but a single thought consoled me — at least it wasn’t a chode.
This is a piece that I wrote for a creative writing workshop that I’m taking this semester. I’m trying to get a lot more into writing fiction, so you’ll see some more in the upcoming weeks!
Strutting down the aisle all entitled-like, he stopped in front of the seat next to me, waiting. The seat was obviously occupied by my jacket, but that didn’t bother him. For the next minute and a half, he drowned out the lecture with the shuffling of his backpack — binder out, binder in, laptop out, laptop in, the son of a bitch couldn’t decide. Just as I leaned in to hear the professor repeat an explanation I had missed, he tapped my shoulder and boomed the question-statement, “You got a pencil?” Whispering was below him.
I reached inside my pencil case, shuffled through my many pencils, and handed him a pen I knew to be sputtering to its quiet death. He grasped it out of my hand, set it down, and was immediately too busy pulling his phone out of his pocket to even mutter a quick thanks. The proof on the board must have short-circuited his brain because my pen lay untouched on his desk while he diverted his concentration to methodically tapping his phone every second or so. Most definitely Flappy Bird.
The smell hit me like a freight train. Sometime between “proof by induction” and “linear homogeneous recurrence”, he had unwrapped an oversized burrito and was proceeding to stuff chunks of it into his stupid face. Maybe he knew that I hadn’t eaten all day and was specifically choosing to torment me. While it was the first thing I noticed, the smell wasn’t the worst part. His earlier disruptive expedition into his backpack was nothing compared to his flagrant chewing, his deafening mastication, his shameless smacking of lips. He looked intently at the professor now, as if he actually cared, mocking my inability to hear anything besides the cacophony he was producing.
When class ended, I watched him take his sweet time packing up and swagger back up the aisle, trash from his burrito in tow. With each step he took, my chest loosened up and I breathed a bit freer. Then my heart stopped. The bastard had stolen my pen.
my goal, what i strive for, is to always be vulnerable, to express myself fully and be perfectly honest and be who i am without pretense or fear but just be me
the way i strive and inch toward this goal is to share myself unabashedly, share my thoughts, share my experiences, share who i am. the way i’ve been doing this is to tell stories about my life, deeply personal stories that most people would not feel comfortable sharing to their friends, much less strangers on the internet
sometimes i wonder if my sharing of these stories is really, truly me being vulnerable because sometimes it feels as though i’m just telling a story, here’s the setup, the conflict, the resolution; here are lessons learned; here’s A, B, and C
even when i share details of my life that are objectively tragic and personal i sometimes feel that even within the apparent vulnerability there’s still a part of me not being shared; that by treating these stories as just events that occur in my life, almost external events that i admit to having shaped who i am but nonetheless i for whatever reason consider myself an entity outside of them, i’m not actually sharing my true self, not actually being vulnerable
it’s like when i sat next to my friend talking about the time that she was raped, she was almost unfazed when sharing the details and that part both intrigued and confused me and then i realized that i’m the same way about when i share my experiences
I’m waiting at my gate in John Wayne airport a whole 2 hours before departure instead of the usual 2 minutes, and I still can’t believe I’m going to be back at Princeton in a week’s time after spending some time drinking maple syrup with Roaring 20, my awesome a cappella group, in Toronto.
My decision to take the year off was based off two major factors: my grandma’s quickly deteriorating health and my desire to work on an iPhone app called Bemo.
Home (August 2012-October 2012)
After finishing up my internship at Twilio, I spent some time at home, or maybe more accurately, a nursing home in Anaheim. My sister and I spent many hours every day visiting my grandma in her nursing home and just keeping her company. The drive wasn’t too bad, but somehow that place simply sucks the life out of you — I suspect it has to do with the place reeks of death.
My sister and I split our visiting hours into shifts so that my grandma would have someone next to her for most of her waking moments. In her last days, she was extremely needy and would plead with us not to leave her. But alas, every day we had to break her heart. When I took my sister’s place every day in the evening, I would try to be somewhat productive by either writing or drawing or coding. The coding part didn’t work because I couldn’t focus at all, but I came out with some crudely drawn hospital walls and angsty poems about how an old woman sharing my grandma’s room was essentially dead because I didn’t see her actually awake a single time during my time there. One week, I spent at least 5 hours a day playing an iPhone game called Subway Surfer and completely destroying any high scores that my girlfriend and her brother had previously set. She never suggested competing at any her games after that.
During this time, both my sister and I fell into a sort of depression, and it’s not wonder really, what with seeing our grandma slowly dying and suffering immensely every single day. And as I mentioned before, the place itself sort of kills you. I suspect we began to hate ourselves, what with being unable to do anything to really help my grandma feel better besides adjusting her bed or pushing her onto a specific side every 5 minutes but even then doing so resentfully because the requests came all too often, much too often, and even though she had spent 15+ years waking us up, feeding us, and taking care of us we couldn’t even handle taking care of her needs for a couple hours a day. Eventually, we had to leave.
San Francisco (October 2012-December 2012)
My sister and I escaped, well I escaped, by taking a road trip to Seattle and dropping myself off at San Francisco on the way down. My sister went back home. The road trip was a much needed time off for both of us, and instead of spending our days sitting next to a hospital bed we spent it behind the wheel racing 18 wheelers on the freeway and gorging ourselves with Twix bars and McDonald’s ice cream cones. I’m surprised our bodies survived the trip.
After being dropped off and avoiding getting into a million potential catastrophes because the hills in San Francisco are insane and driving there is nothing short of a nightmare, I spent some time crashing at Chris, Rafi, and Emily’s place in Pacific Heights. Great apartment, and I’m pretty sure I put them all at some sort of risk of getting kicked out by their landlord because they’re not allowed to have anyone there for an extended period of time. Thanks Chris, Rafi, and Emily; you guys are awesome.
I searched for an apartment, and by search I mean responding to every Craigslist ad possible because the housing market in SF is a seller’s market to a comical extent. My standards were rock bottom, and I even considered living in a tiny, dark hotel room with some random middle-aged dude who smoked like a chimney because the price was cheap. Thankfully, I found a place on Lower Nob Hill (no, not the Tenderloin, I actually mean Lower Nob Hill), where I had my own room but shared a bathroom a la dorm style. It actually was pretty much a dorm for Academy of the Arts and CCA students and I was pretty much one of a handful of people in the building who didn’t go to art school.
Close to a week later, I was riding the CalTrain while chatting with a stranger that I had met on the bus when I got a phone call from my sister.
I had expected these words, yes, I had even hoped for these words before because I thought my grandma would be better off dead then living in the constant state of suffering that she was in, but I didn’t expect to hear these words so soon, no not this soon, but really what did I expect after deserting my grandma for a week to go on a road trip, how she must have agonized over having someone next to her all day long to suddenly having no one. What did I expect.
I took the news well, only because the long hours next to her bedside, if nothing else, had prepared me for this moment. After the phone call, I shared the news with the stranger I had been talking to and he took the news much worse than I did and I instantly felt bad for dropping this bomb on him. I suspect that had it not been for that experience that we went through, we wouldn’t have become friends and met up semi-regularly for lunch every now and then. Sorry about that, Adam.
I flew home for the funeral, it was strange because the casket was open but the person inside was not my grandma, it was my grandma but they had caked her face with something that was supposed to make her look better and presentable and not gaunt but instead it was strange and foreign and fake. The most vivid memory I have is of my grandma’s younger sister’s granddaughter, age 3 maybe, crying because her mother was crying. There is no way that the little girl knew who my grandma was or that she was dead or what death even means, but she was crying nonetheless because her mother was. We’re all conditioned to be saddened by death.
I left home as soon as I could to come back to San Francisco. I expected the numb feeling to go away and for the waterfall to begin, but really, nothing of the sort happened. The farthest I got was a single tear I shed while thinking about my grandma one time in my room. I suspect my emotional faculties are somewhat abnormal.
Despite coming to San Francisco for the purpose of working on an iPhone app called Bemo, I almost immediately became distracted by the amazing city that is San Francisco. I spent my days exploring the city, meeting up with friends that I had made from previous internships, writing, reading, drawing, and sometimes even trying to cook and bake. I made a lot of chocolate chip cookies then.
I want to talk about Bemo for a bit. Bemo was an iPhone app that was started in Princeton’s COS 333 class with Harvest Zhang and Raymond Zhong, and it was an easier way to share your real-time location with your friends analagous to how phone calls work. When I decided to take the year off, I planned on making a startup with Bemo and make it as successful as possible. As a result, I made the decision to work on it alone without Harvest and Raymond because after all, I’d be working on it full-time in San Francisco and they would be back in school. It was an extremely selfish and immature move, and I did a terrible job of handling the situation. Harvest and Raymond, I owe you two a public apology and I’m sorry for having been such an asshole.
Whether it was due to wanting to avoid a toxic project or pure lack of motivation, I didn’t end up working on Bemo for more than a week. Instead, one of the things I did was work for a short time as a public fundraiser for the Red Cross via an organization called Public Outreach. The term we used internally to describe what we did was “canvassing”, but so far everyone I’ve talked to who does the same thing for different organizations calls it fundraising so I’ll go with that. If you’ve ever seen people from Greenpeace in green vests beckoning you over to talk to you about how you can save the world by making monthly donations, that’s essentially what I did but for the Red Cross. It’s singlehandedly the most valuable experience that I took away from living in San Francisco because facing constant rejection for 8 hours a day is truly a transformative experience. Imagine people looking down, picking up their phones to fake being on phone calls, or even crossing the street so that they can avoid having to talk to you. All day long. You learn to deal with it very quickly and end up just entertaining yourself on the job by coming up with the most creative way to get people to talk to you. I was let go because I didn’t meet the quota necessary to stay on, but I met some amazing people from my time there and I’m really glad I did it.
Okay, so this post is much, much longer than I had anticipated, and I still haven’t gotten to backpacking in Europe, which was by far the most rewarding experience I had during my time off. My plane’s boarding so I’ll save that for next time. Toodles.
This was the reason week after week why I couldn’t talk to my mom on the phone. I was living with my uncle’s family in the States, and my mom was somewhere in Korea dying from breast cancer. By the time the excuses started flowing, she was already dead and I was oblivious.
A couple months later, we’re all sitting cross-legged in the middle of my grandpa’s senior home apartment in La Mirada, and I’m bawling my eyes out. My dad had just announced the news that my mother had passed away, which hit me like a ton of bricks, and noticeably missed most others as I was one of few shedding tears. Everyone else had known for a while now.
Every day is some variation of waking up to my grandma yelling at me that I’m late for school, eating my grandma’s home-cooked Korean meals (and once in a while finding a stray hair resting on top of the fluffy white rice), and listening to her singing praise songs and clapping next to the dinner table after finishing her daily session of copying down Bible verses.
My grandma has been my mother for nearly a decade and is recognized as such not just by me but also by the US government. My legal adoption to my grandparents is complete, and my fun fact — my birth father is my legal brother — is born.
Grandma dies due to a weak heart and a host of other problems. I wish I could say that she died peacefully, but the last months of her life had been nothing but discomfort and frankly, suffering. I had moved away from home, away from my grandma, to San Francisco only a week prior.
Two days before Mother’s Day
"What are you doing for Mother’s Day?"
I don’t know how to answer her, the cute girl with blue eyeliner raising money for Greenpeace next to Barnes and Noble. I don’t want to let her know that this will be the first year in which there is no one to celebrate, well there is, but she’s six feet under. I hem and haw for a while because I don’t want to drop this heavy emotional bomb on this unsuspecting stranger who probably thinks she’s asking an innocent question that will make for some polite conversation. I tell her the truth. She doesn’t apologize for the next 20 minutes which so many people are prone to do after hearing the news of death. I appreciate that. She shares that her dad also died this past October, he from a brain aneurysm. My Mother’s Day will be her Father’s Day, and I feel for her.
One day before Mother’s Day
My sister, my grandpa, and I drive over to Rose Hill, where my grandma had been buried just 7 months prior. We have some trouble finding her grave, but we eventually find it. We say our greetings to the air, leave some pink roses in the hole in front of her plaque (which apparently cost a bit extra to install), and sit around for bit talking about grandma and admiring other graves with small fences and entire gardens. Grave envy is a real thing.
Mother’s Day 2013
Facebook and Instagram are exploding with cute pictures of people and their moms. It’s weird not having anyone to buy flowers for, not having anyone to kiss on the cheek, not having anyone to wish “Happy Mother’s Day!”
My sister and I look inside the crowded Starbucks, exchanging joking-but-not-really-joking comments that all these people should go home to their mothers so that we can take the table adjacent to the door that has an outlet right next to it. We clearly deserve this table because everyone has mothers at home and we do not. We are owed.
The powers that be hear our cries for justice and a couple minutes later, the table opens up.
I should let you know that I haven’t been posting any of my travel posts or uploading any pictures on Facebook because my laptop was stolen on a train ride from hell through Bulgaria. More on this later. The important thing is that I’m still safe and traveling!
I bought a 48 hour pass. Didn’t have my ticket checked a single time.
Hostel Ruthensteiner: For the love of all that is good, don’t stay here. You have to put in the bedsheets, pillowcase, and blanket cover yourself which is the last thing you want to do when you’re exhausted from travelling all day, there’s no space above beds so you have to crouch at an extreme angle when sitting on your bed which leads to immense back pains, there’s no outlet next to your bed, and absolutely no social vibe mainly due to barely any other people staying there. What a terrible hostel. The place has phenomenal reviews on hostelbookers which makes me think that my bad stay was a fluke, but my, what a disappointment.
I mostly relaxed and recuperated from all the going out in Prague, so I ended up only going to this bar called B72 to check out some live bands. I largely wasn’t a fan of the music nor of the idea of standing around watching someone play on stage while having minimal interaction with the people around you which is like having the worst of both worlds of a concert and a bar, so I can’t really recommend this place.
Johannes, the friend who stayed with me back in San Francisco, lives in Vienna and he knows all the good vegetarian places. There was a self-serve pay-by-weight vegetarian place called yamm that was pretty neat, although it was quite pricey. The highlight for me was this small shop called Reformhaus Buchmuller which had amazing food for fairly cheap.
Alright, so this post is way overdue because I’m not even in Vienna anymore, but I’ll write down what I remember of my first impressions.
I was drinking overpriced hot chocolate at Starbucks out of a huge glass mug (do we have those in the States? I don’t really go to Starbucks so I don’t know) and two young teenagers came into the store to ask for money. This is the first time I’ve had people ask for me indoors in Europe, so that was pretty interesting. Apparently it’s not uncommon.
Things are much more expensive than in Prague. Damn.
The Mosaic House (St. Christopher’s): Great bar, great facilities, and there’s live music, too. The chill-out room for this place wasn’t very social, but there were a lot of people hanging around the bar so it was nice. St. Christopher’s (it’s a chain) hostels are always high quality. If you go here, look for a cute bartender with a tattoo of an incomplete tic-tac-toe game on her arm and challenge her to a game. :)
The MadHouse: If you want to party, this is hands-down the hostel to go to. I’ve never been to a hostel more social than this one — from the moment you walk in, you’re greeted with a free beer and a wall that has a picture of tits on fire. Everyone hangs out in the kitchen and plays beer pong until we all go out together to a club or a pub every night. The staff here is the best. In case you couldn’t tell, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here and would easily recommend it.
Five Stories Club: The bartenders at The Mosaic House poo-pooed this place as having bad music, but I think “bad music” is just top 20s stuff. I personally didn’t go here, but some girls at The MadHouse really liked it.
Roxy: They had a shitty DJ when I was there. Not a fan.
Chapeau Rouge: Good electro music, but I got really tired and left a bit early.
As mentioned in my First Impressions post, the Czech Republic still uses Czech Crowns (Korunas). For easy conversions in your head, just divide Crowns by 20 to get the US dollar amounts.
Buy groceries, drinks, and longer-lasting food while you’re here! When I arrived in Vienna, I realized how foolish I was for not stocking up on stuff when I was still in Prague because Prague is really cheap. Also, I bought the best apple juice I’ve ever tasted from one of the supermarkets; sadly, I don’t remember the brand of the container. Sorry, I’m a tease.
Let’s be real, saying “Fullerton” is out of the question.
I used to say Orange County, but only a handful of people from Europe who have seen “The OC” knew where that’s located and I felt like a snobby American who expects everyone from all over the world to know where Orange County is located.
And then I switched to saying California, but that only delayed the problem because quite a few people would ask the follow-up question of where exactly in California I’m from. Back to square one.
A possible solution was saying that I’m from Los Angeles, as it’s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of people have heard of LA and know where it’s located. But then some people have actually been to LA and would tell me about all the fun, tourist activities that they’ve done there and I would just nod and smile and feel like a fraud because I’ve never properly explored LA despite living 30 minutes from it. Shame on me.
So now I just tell people that I’m from Disneyland. For people who don’t know where it is, I tell them it’s “around LA” and I get the added bonus of having people associate me with the Happiest Place on Earth. Success!
The Czech Republic still uses Czech Crowns, which was disappointing because the ancient Lonely Planet guide that I read on the train said that the Czech Republic would adopt the Euro by 2010. Lies.
Apparently this is also present in some parts of the States, but I was surprised by how all the cashiers in the supermarkets were sitting down as they rang people up. Also a disproportionate number of them were overweight, middle-aged women as opposed to the young students that you often see in the States.
This is pertinent to travelers and Europeans in general: everyone smokes cigarettes. It’s really weird.
If you go in the winter, dress warm and have shoes without a million holes so that your feet won’t go numb from the snow. Yup, speaking from experience.
Unlike London’s Tube, Berlin’s public transit is pretty much based on an honor system. If you do decide to try your hand at fare evasion on the U-Bahn or S-Bahn, be warned that both guys that I met on my train from Berlin to Prague were caught and forced to pay a 40 euro fine during their stay in Berlin. I personally didn’t have my tickets checked at any time, but apparently it’s becoming more and more common.
PLUS Berlin: Nothing but scorching hot water came out of the sink in my room so washing up was quite the dangerous adventure. The hostel wasn’t set up to have a very social atmosphere where travelers can mingle, so I wasn’t a huge fan.
Circus Hostel: Good hostel, and the free pasta that they give out on some nights was pretty great. That said, you need to scan your card a minimum of three times in order to get from the lobby to your room (once to activate the elevator, once to get into your hallway, and once more to get into your room) which got really old very quickly.
Baxpax Downtown: I would recommend this hostel the most, because they have an actual bar and chill out area in the hostel which is most conducive to creating a social environment. I had the most fun here.
Go to Berghain, even though most likely you’ll be standing in line for an unreasonable time in absolute silence while losing any feeling in your hands and toes and end up being dismissed by the bouncer when you get to the front of the line.
Traveling, the Art of Hit or Miss and the Occasional Bullseye
Walking around indecisively with an unlikely conglomerate of new friends from Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, and Japan and trying doner kebab (vegetarian version, naturally) for the first time.
Watching Peter painfully struggle to translate “bark” into English for a full minute and finding out that the Swedish word for it is also “bark”.
Discussing “The Matrix”, the blue pill and the red pill, the pervasiveness of media and its effect on our thoughts and our perception of beauty and finding ourselves in complete agreement despite coming from completely different backgrounds.
Bobbing my head to Erid serenading the room with a classical guitar, an effortless voice, and popular American songs.
Sharing bottles of white wine and thoughts on the attractiveness of stability (for Molly) and passion (for me) and listening to her nail American accents perfectly thanks to her experience with musical theater.
Meeting people is hands-down the best part of traveling.
It’s cold. Like even-my-overpriced-smartwool-socks-are-failing-me cold. I haven’t seen snow since I ate bucketfuls of it for a full day while having a board strapped to my feet two months ago, so this is definitely conjuring up some good memories.
Berlin parties hard. When I left Club Soda this morning at 5am, there were still a ton of people there. Pretty nuts.
The green man that shows up for pedestrian traffic lights is unique here, and it’s pretty much a brand because you can buy all sorts of merchandise bearing a green man with only limbs and no body.
There are many customs I love about European countries in contrast to the States, a few being the metric system, great public transit, tipping being what it should be, a sensible drinking age, and paying exactly the price listed on items instead of having to calculate sales tax.
There are also some things I dislike like ending up with 20 pounds of coins in my pocket (this is only a pun in the UK) and design inconsistencies having to do with light switches where sometimes you have to press on the lower end of a switch to turn something on and sometimes you have to press up top although this probably exists in the States too and I just haven’t encountered it.
But there are two pet peeves which completely take the cake and are offensive to me as a human being:
1. Many restaurants will refuse to serve you tap water. In the Netherlands, I ate at a sushi restaurant that required customers to purchase at least one beverage. Okay, not a fan but not entirely unreasonable. The most inexpensive form of water I could get was a small bottle costing 2.50 EUR ($3.25). After finishing the bottle, I asked the waiter if I could get tap water since I met their beverage purchase requirement, to which he replied, “Sorry, we don’t serve tap water.” Bathroom sink it is.
2. In many places, you have to pay to use the restroom. Pissing your money away is no fun.
Yesterday, I decided to go to Brussels before heading over to Berlin so I booked a Megabus for 6.50 euros and got here today. Being able to make spontaneous decisions like this is the reason why I love flexible, unplanned traveling.
This is the first time I’m in a city where English is not universally spoken. English isn’t an official language in the Netherlands, but everyone I spoke to had some ability to speak English, albeit pretty badly at times. Not being able to read signs or communicate with pedestrians or employees is a pain the ass, but playing pictionary with strangers is pretty fun.
Brussels seems quite dull. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but I don’t think so. I asked 6 different people what there is to do for fun, and the best suggestion I got was to go drink beer and wander around. To be fair, that doesn’t sound bad at all.
In the same way that Heineken signs are plastered all over Amsterdam, Brussels has Stella Artois signs everywhere. I mind a little less because I actually really like Stella Artois. [Insert trite praise of Belgian beers.]
I had my first exposure to multi-turn locks at my host’s place, where the dead bolt only moves a little bit every time you turn the lock, which enables you to lock the door 3 times. I’m not sure why this is more secure or even useful.
The Red Light District is fascinating because there’s nowhere else where sexy ladies try to seduce you from behind a window. Some of the guys at my hostel tried the services and told me they had a great time. Except one guy went to a happy-ending massage parlor and his masseuse tried to finish him by fingering his butt but he wasn’t into that at all and screamed. I think it’s safe to say that he didn’t have a good time.
If you want to find excellent space cake, there’s a place called Paradox near Anne Frank’s house. I wouldn’t recommend mixing space cake and visiting the Anne Frank museum though because that would be a total downer.
I walked everywhere and took the tram when necessary to get to and from my couchsurfing host’s home. It would have been fun to rent a bike and bike around like a local, but walking suited me fine.
Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings when you’re walking around. Not because there are thieves everywhere and you’ll have all your belongings stolen, but because you might accidentally get run over by a bike. It almost happened to me multiple times.
I really enjoyed staying at The Flying Pig downtown. They have a smoking room where people hang out and smoke cigarettes and weed, but if you stay in there for too long your clothes will absorb all the smells and be absolutely foul. The only downside to the hostel was the wifi was spotty, but the social atmosphere more than makes up for it.
You will most definitely be accosted by Moroccan guys trying to sell you hard drugs. Unless you’re actually interested, don’t stop walking. They’ll be really aggressive and persistent, but if you keep on telling them that you prefer Pepsi over coke, they’ll eventually lose interest.
This will be a recurring post for every city that I visit in addition to the travel tips. I should probably make it clear that since these are all first impressions, they’re not necessarily accurate and may just be confirmation biases of horrible stereotypes.
The Dutch have a reputation for being very direct, and so far, I’ve found this to be the case. Within minutes of meeting me, my couchsurfing host asked me if I was gay since I’m staying at a gay household. I honestly really, really, really, really (yes, that’s four really’s) like these kinds of direct questions and interactions a lot better than how we normally conduct our affairs by beating around the bush.
A lot of families in the area leave their curtains open at night, which allows passersby to take a glimpse inside. It was really neat to just walk down the street and see a snapshot of the everyday lives of people living in Amsterdam as they watch TV, eat dinner, or just sit around reading books.
Bikes everywhere. Everyone rides bikes. There are special bike lanes and special bike traffic lights and bikes, bikes, bikes. And they all have these sweet little bells that jingle when you’re accidentally standing in the bike lane and the person behind you wants you to GTFO but they’ll ring their sweet little bells instead of yelling at you. It’s nice.
I had fries and mayonnaise at dinner last night, and it was weird but pleasant but weird. If you’ve watched Pulp Fiction, you know what I’m talking about.
It’s been three days since I was in London and I’ve been meaning to do this post for a while, but there’s this post about the Speakers’ Corner that I also want to do and it’s been slowing me down so I’m going to skip it for now and add that later. Okay.
I think it’ll be useful for me to jot some travel tips for every place that I go to, so those posts will be tagged #traveltips so people can benefit when they go traveling.
This is a general tip about travelling: use cash for everything. Take out a sizable amount when you arrive and avoid using your debit card because it will incur foreign transaction fees. If you use Bank of America like me, there is a list of banks in the Global ATM alliance that will allow you to avoid the $5 + 1% charge for withdrawing from an ATM. In the UK, the bank to withdraw from is Barclays.
With all the free things there are to do in London, I would not recommend getting a London Day Pass. In some cities, getting a day pass is smart because you can save a lot on attractions with admissions fees, but in London there are so many free things to do and so many free things to see that I don’t think getting a day pass is at all worth it.
Get an Oyster card for transportation, because you will be the taking the Tube (London’s metro system) everywhere. And if you get an Oyster card, fares on the bus will be cheaper than if you use a paper ticket. I spent a while looking up getting an Oyster card vs. a travel day card which allows travel for 24 hours, and it turns out that the Oyster card will max out on the travel day card limit so with an Oyster card you’ll always be spending less or the same as you would if you got a day card every day.
I would highly, highly recommend St. Christopher’s Inn at The Village. The atmosphere there is excellent, the people are great, the staff is chill, and the rooms are clean. It was a huge difference form the first hostel I stayed at, The Queen Elizabeth, which had cramped rooms and no personal storage areas. The Village also had a chill-out room for people to just go hang out in, and I met a lot of people that way.
I woke up and I can’t fall asleep and I’m not sure whether I’ve suddenly become accustomed to 5 hours of sleep (hallelujah, praise the Lord!) or whether it’s jet lag even though I swear jet lag never affects me and I’m usually always able to sleep like a baby.
Since I can’t sleep, I’ll write. I’m in a 6 bunk bed room, which means that there are at most 5 other people here with me. I’ve only seen 3 personally, so that means that the bunk above me and the bottom bunk of the other 3-story bunk structure could possibly be empty but there’s no way to check unless I climb down the ladder, slowly, making sure not to make my bed creak too much and then what would I do anyway, walk over and feel around for people? Why would I even do that?
The most consistent sound in the room is the regular breathing of a certain backlit, half-opened laptop. The fans whir, the fans stop, and it’s like it can’t make up its mind as to whether it is too hot or not.
In second place is some guy, exhaling and inhaling, making enough noise that it’s audible but not enough that I would call it snoring. There was someone, I think the guy below me, who would sometimes give a sudden start in snoring and then stop. My dad does this sometimes, where he sounds like he’s choking to death in his own sleep but it’s just his weird way of snoring and I used to worry about him but now I barely think about him at all. That last part is kind of sad, but alas, that’s what happens when you separated from the age of 5 and the only communication is a phone call now and then again.
Now there are some people talking outside. It bothers the guy in the bed with the laptop, and he makes a pained noise as he stirs in bed. I wonder what people are doing outside at 5am. Maybe they’ve been drinking all this time and they had a jolly good time and now they’re sauntering back home to catch some much-needed shuteye.
Mr. Inconsistent Snore is snoring again. Oh, and he stopped again. By far the loudest noise is my fingers click-clacking on the black keys of my MacBook. I think I’ll stop.
I spent half my time in London today looking for my hostel (no map, no cellphone service, no sense of direction, hooray!) and am resting on my bunk bed, which is a nice change from the tiny seat I was squirming in during my flight for 10 hours, ready to share some observations.
Every conversation that takes place around me is the most interesting thing because it’s in a British accent. How do American accents sound to British folks? How do accents even develop? At what point did the colonials stray so far from their mother tongue that the way they spoke had a noticeable difference?
In the three times that I rode London’s metro service today, I was surprised to see that hardly anyone played with their phones. This is a stark difference from using public transit in San Francisco where everyone is twiddling away on their small companions. So what do people here do instead of tweeting or checking Facebook? Maybe you think they all strike up conversations and talk to each other like old pals. I wish. Most people just sit there and stare ahead blankly. Some people read books.
Jaywalking is hard because I keep looking on the wrong side of the street in order to see incoming cars. And every car that I walk by seems to be an autonomous vehicle at first sight since the driver’s seat is on the right side here. Why are the British doing it wrong? (Obviously the right way is always The American Way.) I swear I’m going to get hit by a car.
Back at home, my grandpa acts as my personal bank by changing all my coins to dollar bills. It’s because I hate coins with a passion. They’re heavy and hard to carry around. I’ve only been in the U.K. for a couple hours, but I’ve already accumulated over $10 worth of coins because people keep giving me goddamn pound (~$1.5) coins which are thick and heavy and soul-crushing. Imagine if everyone gave you dollar coins instead of dollar bills. I am in coin hell.
For the first time, I feel like I’m completely and utterly alone. It’s a strange sensation because there’s no one watching your back to make sure that you don’t get robbed blind and there’s no one to really help if a car happens to hit you and break both your legs while you’re jaywalking. When I lived alone in San Francisco, I knew people in my building and some Facebookers so I didn’t really feel alone, but here I feel like I’m the only one I can depend on. Which is actually true, and I’m sure I’ll get used to this feeling.
I didn’t know bunk beds could be so hard to get into. My bed for the night is right in the middle of two other bunk beds, so I have to climb up the ladder halfway and slide in. Another traveler staying at this hostel told me about how a bunk bed at another hostel collapsed under the weight of some fat guy and fell on top of some poor girl. I’m crossing my fingers that this doesn’t happen to me.
Confined on a bus, this is where I take on the daunting task of writing with pen and paper. My handwriting is already illegible and the fact that the bus shakes so much is not helping matters.
I suppose I should explain my predicament — apparently we have opted for an alternate route in order to avoid mountainous paths covered with snow. While our destination is directly to our south, this new route has taken us far east.
I’ve done all the reading that I can do for one day. I finally finished with Pride and Prejudice; overall, I enjoyed it except Darcy’s dramatic change in disposition midway through the book (oops, spoiler alert) seemed quite unbelievable to me. The girl sitting next to me insists otherwise, and I do suppose that I should take Elizabeth’s prejudices into account as well in the narrator’s description of Darcy. Anyway, I planned on starting David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, but cowered away when my Kindle informed me that it would take me 30 hours to finish the 1000+ page book. I’m trying to learn to read faster by reading more, but at the present moment I am still quite slow of a reader. Okay, since Infinite Jest is out of the running for the time being, I’ll tackel Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Apparently, it should take me around 3 hours. I can stomach that. But that’ll be later, because I can’t continue reading right now.
It’s dark, so I can’t really enjoy the view outside besides the flashes of light of the cars passing by. Earlier, the girl next to me, actually let’s introduce her, her name is Rosa, told me that the crates next to rows of trees actually contain bees. TIL. Fun fact: Rosa bakes cookies with candy-top mushrooms that she finds herself. pretty neat. It reminded me of a story I heard of a girl at school cooking wild mushrooms that she happened to find and — surprise, surprise — getting quite sick.
I typically enjoy these bus rides, but the fact that we’re hours behind schedule is creating the feeling that I’m being kept here against my will. I can’t stop thinking about the incarceration of David Chong, a UCSD senior who was confined in a 5’x5’x10’ holding cell for 5 days without food or water because DEA agents forgot about him. Pretty frightening stuff.
Anyway, I’m quite hungry but I don’t want to reach over and take the Chipotle leftovers from earlier out of the overhead compartment just yet. The couple in front of me were feeding each other fruits earlier and it was quite adorable despite the fact that I wanted to stick my head in the gap between their seats and take a bite out of whatever fruit slice happened to be on the fork at the time. Speaking of fruit slices, Rosa gave me half of an orange that she had brought with her. It was really sweet. If I left it ambiguous whether it refers to the act of sharing or the orange itself, would people catch it? Would anyone even notice? Or maybe those who would notice would think that I couldn’t possibly have intentionally created the ambiguity. Do writers typically worry about whether anyone’s going to get their clever lines? If the writer actually didn’t intend it, should they be given credit for the cleverness? Maybe even if they weren’t consciously being clever, we could attribute to their subconscious so there’s some merit in that. Does authorial intent even matter?
I feel like writing on this bus with my chicken scratch scribbles is undoing the careful, meticulous handwriting practice I’ve done for the past two weeks or so. But let’s be real, if I wrote all of this neatly, the bus would arrive before I could even get through half of what I’ve already written. And that’s a pretty damn long time from now.
I’m not sure whether the confinement inside the bus or my hunger is making me grouchier. My arm’s getting tired and Google Maps tells me that we’re 50 minutes away from LA. I suppose I’ll eat my burrito bowl now.
Today’s my last day in SF before I take a bus (yes, again) back to LA, spend two weeks at home, then fly to London for a backpacking trip across Europe.
San Francisco has been a wonderful place to live in since I moved here back in October, and I can’t wait to eventually come back and beat all the other startups in achieving world domination. This is assuming that this summer with HackNY doesn’t make me fall hopelessly in love with NYC. We’ll see.
Alright, let’s talk about SF.
My Two Favorite Things
1. There are so many things to do!!!1111!ONE
Back in Fullerton, my hometown, there is the constant question of “so what do you want to do?” And this is due less to a lack of decision-making skills than it is to the lack of choices. If there were a tenth of the amount of things to do in Fullerton as there are in SF, I’d be ecstatic.
San Francisco is filled with tourist hotspots, museums, parks, and many other attractions, and on top of that there are events happening all the time. I found out about Funcheap a long month into living here, and it’s been an invaluable resource since for finding exciting things to do around the city. If this is your first time hearing about Funcheap, you’re welcome.
I actually really enjoy doing touristy activities because they’re usually lots of fun. After all, there are good reasons why these places attract tourists. And sometimes, I discover something new despite having been to a particular place a million times: I was walking around Pier 39 and found this “7-D” attraction where you sit down and shoot zombies on a big screen while your chair vibrates and blows air into your face to simulate wind, and it was a lot of fun because I kicked ass. Or maybe my partner just sucked and made me look good in comparison. Let’s just assume it’s the former.
2. There are a lot of weird people here. Weird is good. Weird is fun.
There’s no short of interesting characters here. From the naked guy walking around with his wang hanging out dressed as Jesus on Halloween (yes, of course this was in the Castro) to the guy who’s been holding a neon-green “Jesus Loves You” sign nearly every day for the past 12 years, the people here have such diverse backgrounds and lifestyles. I still remember meeting this girl when I first moved here in front of In-N-Out who told me that she likes to look into people’s windows at night with a telescope. The fun (and kind of scary) thing is that quirky people like this are not at all hard to find.
My Two Least Favorite Things
1. It’s cold.
I’m a wimp when it comes to cold temperatures. (Yay for going to Europe in February!) Sometimes I’ll look outside my window, see that it’s sunny, and step outside in a t-shirt. Then I’ll sprint back up the stairs and grab my thickest jacket because it’s below 70 degrees. Discount this “bad thing” if you live anywhere other than Southern California. I apologize in advance for my invalid complaint.
2. The hills are rough. In the beginning.
I live on top of a large hill, and I thought I was going to faint the first couple times I walked home after a day out. After a couple months of climbing Mount Powell-Everest, my legs have adjusted and I end up only half about to faint. Also, this really isn’t a bad thing as it’s pretty good exercise. That said, I would hate to drive here.
There’s a lot more I can write about San Francisco, but I actually need to go pack or else I’ll miss my bus tomorrow and end up staying here involuntarily in the streets. I’m sure I’d experience San Francisco in a very different light. Speaking of which, I actually want to try living in the streets for a week or so, but that’s for another time. Toodles.
1. Hear my iPhone’s alarm going off, it’s the really cranky robot one that my ex-girlfriend used and it’s quite effective because it’s so damn annoying, and swipe away at my desk in order to grab the phone and swipe again to turn it off. Oh, it’s been going off for about 4 minutes now. So this is how I sleep through fire alarms.
2. Lie in bed, think about what I want to do for the day, think about what I want to do with my life, contemplate my existence, have an existential crisis, convince myself that closing my eyes will help with the thinking.
3. Wake up again. This time no alarm, and it’s a couple hours after I had set my alarm. Damn it, not again.
4. Start to think again, but then I tell myself that the last time I did this I fell back asleep and have an internal war where my sleepy side tries to convince my rational side that sleeping is good and that I should do it. Sometimes it wins. Most of the time it wins.
5. Finally roll out of bed, eyes even smaller from having just woken up. Saunter over to the restroom in black flip flops with a small white towel in one hand and my bag of toiletries in the other.
6. Brush teeth. My crest toothpaste is running out so I’m squeezing the very last, very last bits. I ponder whether I have another tube left in my room and I hope I do because I don’t want to buy another one just a couple days before heading home. Contemplate the repercussions of not brushing my teeth for a couple days if it turns out that I don’t have any more toothpaste. When I was a kid, I only showered once a week and thought it was normal, and maybe that’s what brushing my teeth every couple days would be like. How did teeth brushing get invented anyway? No, but seriously. At what point in time did people decide to put some paste on their teeth after waking up and before going to sleep and what were people’s breaths like before that time?
7. Wash face. Put on some Target brand face wash scrub thing that has a bunch of orange little dots that hide all over my face and make me struggle in washing it all off. My sister insists that this face wash is obviously not working and that I should revert to a different one that she’s had much success with, but I bought this damn orange face wash and I’m going to finish it. It’s a big tube.
8. Dry face with small, white towel. I make sure to dab instead of wipe my face because I don’t like having bloody dots magically appear on my towel. I also take special care not to run the towel too vigorously over my eyebrow piercing in the fear that it’ll get caught somehow and I’ll just have lots of blood and a big hole on my face. Kind of like a big hole that some people have in their ears after stretching out their earlobe with one gauge after another. What do those people do when they want to get a job where having a huge gaping hole in their ear is a big no-no?
9. Put on my contacts. Right one first, then the left one. I go back to wipe my eyes some more because I’m pretty sure some of the pesky orange dots from my face wash are still lingering around my eyes and I would hate to squish them under my contacts and have them stuck there for the entire day. I hold each of my contacts up to the light, although this is quite the dangerous maneuver because this is how I always end up dropping my contacts onto the dirty, dirty floor or the dirty, dirty sink, and make sure that they’re right side up. There’s nothing worse than putting in a contact lens inside out and feeling the pain of a thousand needles piercing through your eye. Since I have astigmatism on my left eye, I look for the small text in the lens that indicates that it’s the right direction going on. Heh, the right direction. Okay, that was pretty bad.
10. Walk back to my room, a little more awake, and decide to write a blog post about how I wake up as an excuse to delay the rest of my morning ritual which includes, but is not limited to, taking a shower. Think about what I want to do for the day, think about what I want to do with my life, contemplate my existence. This time, I don’t fall back asleep. But my bed looks so very inviting…
Somehow, somewhere along the way, writing blog posts became a daunting task. I have a list of blog post ideas, a huge list actually, and yet when it comes down to write it, I freeze. I have a couple just-barely-incomplete drafts just sitting there, one about mourning my grandma and a couple others. I don’t think I’ve ever really gone into my draft box to finish incomplete posts.
Maybe it’s the fear of writing something less than awesome. Maybe something just mediocre. I’m not really sure what it is, but I want to start writing again. Just write, without much consideration of whether my points are making sense, whether my writing is any good or not. Just let it flow out of my fingertips and hope that the black marks that result actually make sense to someone else and not just me, if even just me.
I want to write well, but it’s hard when I’m afraid to try that I end up not writing at all. Also, writing about writing is a little bit funny and I just realized that I haven’t heard anyone talk about things being “meta” in a really long time. Perhaps writing without a clear format or rereading the things I write obsessively means that my posts will look like they have ADD.
On a related note, I’m beginning to write a lot more, but not meaningful writing. Meaning, I want to revamp my handwriting to be a little more legible, a little less like a 7 year old scraped it with a pencil in his palm, and a little more pleasant to look at. So I’m doing these little sheets where you have zig zags to practice the repetitive motion of up and down and up and down and moving them in little ways makes them into letters, then words, then sentences. It’s called “italic handwriting”, and I’m slowly teaching myself to write with my entire arm instead of just with my fingers. It’s a slow process.
I’m not sure why, but I’m a little bit enamored with the idea of writing by hand instead of typing things out. Funny, because I’m a programmer and I love technology and the idea is that technology makes everything better, but nothing feels better than receiving a hand-written letter in the mail. Personified, unable to be fully duplicated, just for you. I want to get to a point where I can just sit on the train and write out blog posts and not have half of the entire page crossed out, just as it would appear if my current blog post typing were somehow to be converted into pen and paper.
I feel like I’m writing to a diary. Good night, diary, and let’s hope that I can keep this flowing writing thing going instead of making a post about it and not making another post for a couple months.
I look up and see an older white lady, probably retired. Sure, I tell her. There’s a table for four right in front of mine also with only one occupant, but she chose mine instead. I guess I should feel happy that I’m more approachable, but then again maybe none of this ran through her head and I’m just flattering myself.
I continue eating my Chipotle burrito bowl as she goes to grab condiments for her hot dog. The bowl had started leaking profusely inside my bag when I carelessly started running after a bus earlier, but thankfully none of the contents got out. My bag still had the faint smell of black beans and sour cream though.
The lady returns and starts flipping through a magazine that seems to only contain ads. From the way that she examines the ads, I wonder whether I”m the weird one for never having paid them any attention during my youth growing up on Time magazine or whether she’s the oddball for actually looking at them.
"How’s the hot dog?"
She tells me it’s okay but that she preferred the days when Costco carried Hebrew National sausages instead of their own brand. Ah, I hadn’t even noticed. It doesn’t make any difference to me since I’m pescetarian anyhow.
She points to my bowl and tells me that my salad looks delicious and that she’s never seen it at Costco before. I point to the Chipotle logo on one of the brown napkins I have out and from the way she botches the word “chipotle”, it’s clear to me that she’s never heard of the magical pseudo-Mexican restaurant that has revolutionized my life.
It turns out that I’m wrong about her being retired. After an eternity of fumbling through her bag, she pulls out a business card. Donna, realtor. We talk about what she does and what I do and it turns out that she used to study computer science back in the days and also studied psychology for a while. I confess that while I’m a programmer by trade, I have an almost obsessive interest in popular psychology. I ask her whether she uses any of the psychological concepts that she’s learned while selling houses to people.
"No, I don’t like to manipulate people. I’m much more about helping people find the right place for them. I even tell my clients not to buy a piece of property if I don’t think it’ll make them happy."
We change topics, and get to talking about our life philosophies and we touch upon an idea that’s been serving as a kind of guide in my life for the past couple months: that every experience, even negative ones, are worth having if you learn something from them. It’s all about perspective. Donna and I resonate on this concept and a bit thereafter she tells me that she needs to go show off a property. She has one last thing to say.
"I’m really glad we talked. Most people, including myself, tend to keep to ourselves but it’s nice to have these kinds of conversations."
I walk back from the Costco optical center after having been told that I need a membership card to purchase contacts with them. Drat. My sweet tooth then decides to act up (when does it not?) and I decide to get Costco’s cup of frozen yogurt, one of my favorite treats growing up. My sister and I used to sit in the back of my grandpa’s Buick and share a swirl cup until both of us were completely exhausted.
With a cup of very berry sundae in front of me, I think about where I should go to buy my contacts when a middle aged Asian woman asks if the seat across from me is taken. Nope, I tell her. She sits with a plate of pizza.
I don’t remember how the conversation started, but it becomes immediately clear that she really enjoys talking. I don’t mind. We talk about Costco pizzas, how some members of her family will only eat pepperoni pizzas despite mushrooms being so very delicious as a pizza topping, and how two times before she purchased frozen pizzas at Costco because they were on sale but every time she tried to bake them in her oven the crust was either too soggy or too hard like a cracker.
I never thought I’d enjoy a 15 minute conversation about Costco pizzas so much.
I’m on the bus headed home. Suddenly there’s a loud bang right outside of the bus on the side behind me. I glance around in surprise but no one seems to care except for the older Chinese man next to me. He laughs and starts speaking in Chinese to me. This isn’t the first time this has happened.
"Sorry, I don’t speak Chinese. Well, except for ‘ni hao’ and ‘shae shae’."
He continues speaking in Chinese to me, and I don’t know how to respond. After a while, he laughs and tells me that he’s speaking Cantonese, not Mandarin. Ah. I still have no idea what he said.
He suddenly yells out some gibberish sounding Chinese phrase and laughs. I smile, not because I understand but because I have no idea what else to do. When in doubt, smile. He repeats the phrase and the laughter several more times and I smile several more times.
Soon he’s speaking English to me, telling me how the building the bus had stopped in front of used to be a Coca-Cola factory many, many years ago. He had come from China in the 50’s, way before I was born. It turns out that he’s 78, 2 years younger than my grandfather, but his birth certificate says that he’s 2 years younger than he actually is because no one kept track of birthdays in the countryside and so he was cheated out of 2 years of beautiful retirement. There is no resentment in his voice though.
He goes on, telling me of the good old days when a cup of coffee was a dime, a refill was a nickel, and a bottle of coke was a quarter. He leans over, and whispers loudly, “You could get pussy for 10 dollars!” He laughs loudly.
I laugh too, but out of surprise, because I never expected him to tell me how much pussy cost decades ago and because I can’t believe anyone would pay for a prostitute instead of getting 400 bottles of Coca-Cola. Oh wait, it’s only 40. My mental math skills have been slipping.
Suddenly we’re at 7th Street and he says that he has to go pick up his newspaper so that he can read about current events, entertainment, sports, and so much more. I can tell that he really enjoys reading the paper. And just like that, he’s gone.
Instead of flying down from SF to LA for the holiday season, I took a bus from CAShuttleBus instead. I wasn’t in a rush to get home and I thought it would be a fun experience. It was, and I’m planning on taking it back up to SF.
The Good Parts
It’s cheaper, but not by a lot. The bus ride cost me $50 ($45 ticket + $5 tip for the driver) whereas a Wanna Get Away ticket from Southwest would have cost me around $85.
It’s easier to start conversations with the people around you because the people who take these buses are usually travelers/students/social types and it also gets very boring sitting on a bus for 8 hours.
More leg room. Since you’re not cramped 6 to a row like you would be on a plane, there’s adequate room to sit comfortably. Bigger folk would appreciate this.
No weight limit on bags. You’re allowed 2 large bags to stow on the bus, and have to pay $5 for each bag that’s over 35 pounds. What actually happens is that the driver will try lifting your bag and tells you to give him $5 if he feels like it’s sufficiently heavy. This means that if you have 2 bags both weighing over 50 pounds (the upper limit for airlines), it’ll be cheaper for you to just take them on a bus and pay $10 extra.
Good scenery. For most of a plane ride, you’ll look outside and see clouds. On a bus, there’s always something to look at even though that something is sometimes endless rows of crops for 15 minutes.
The Bad Parts
The ride is 8 hours long. We took a 30 minute break at a Burger King in the middle, and I ate a fish sandwich that was not very good.
No security. I would personally put this in the good parts list because I’m generally trusting of people and think airport security has gotten absolutely ridiculous, but some people may be afraid of the fact that they’ll be surrounded by dozens of strangers, any of whom could be a machete wielding mass murderer. During my ride I was concerned by someone making random moaning/yelling sounds, but it turned out to be a mentally challenged guy who was accompanied by his mom, not anyone dangerous.
The CAShuttleBus website advertises free WiFi. There is no free WiFi. The cake is a lie.
Bring food with you and eat before boarding. Bringing extra food with you could be a good way to make friends. Alas, I ate nothing before the bus ride and didn’t bring any food and suffered greatly. There were two guys who brought Chipotle burritos with them, and I contemplated murdering them for great profit.
Bring a book or a computer or some other means of entertaining yourself.
Talk to people around you. I got to meet three foreign exchange students from Japan and Germany who were traveling around California and a gorgeous Swedish girl who studies web design in SF. Take advantage of the fact that people are bored and make some friends.
I’ve always felt weird making New Year’s resolutions because I tend to think of my life in stages (e.g. college freshman year, sophomore year, year off, etc.) that don’t fall neatly into one year segments that start on January 1st and end on December 31st, but having set start and end dates makes it really convenient to measure progress on set goals.
In that spirit, I’m going to set some goals for different aspects of my life for 2013 with using the following criteria:
Each goal must be challenging yet realistic. I usually tend to be way too aggressive with my goals and not reach them, and this time I want to actually try setting realistic expectations.
Each goal must be concrete and easily measurable so that I can gauge my progress and evaluate how successful I was in accomplishing my goals by the end of the year. No vague statements like “I want to be more outgoing/become a better designer/eat healthier/etc.”
Each goal must be sufficiently dependent on myself so that I can’t make excuses.
Write at least 150 posts (~1 post every 2.5 days) 2012 comparison: 83 posts, however, many were drawings
Attract over 100,000 unique visitors 2012 comparison: 29,478 unique visitors
Read at least 25 books (~1 book every 2 weeks) 2012 comparison: I didn’t keep track, but I’m thinking around 10-15 books.
Take at least 365 photos (1 photo every day) 2012 comparison: ~300 photos
Bench press at least 140 pounds 2012 comparison: none. I took the goal weight from this bench strength standards table since I don’t have any personal point of reference.
Squat at least 190 pounds 2012 comparison: none. I took the goal weight from this squat strength standards table since I don’t have any personal point of reference.
Make at least 250 new friends. Since this is hard to keep track of, I’ll be using the number of friends added as provided by Facebook. As long as I don’t indiscriminately add everybody and their mom, this number should be pretty accurate. 2012 comparison: 233 new friends
I’ll be adding onto this list as I think of other goals I’d like to accomplish along with the date on which they were added.
This morning, a 20-year-old named Adam Lanza walked into a Connecticut elementary school and killed 26 people, 20 of them children. He then killed himself.
Naturally, people started talking about gun control. Three guns were found at Sandy Hook Elementary School — two pistols inside the school and a rifle in the back of a car. Some of my friends have expressed the sentiment that it’s too early to be having a discussion about gun control and that we shouldn’t be politicizing the tragedy; I wholeheartedly disagree.
Mayor Bloomberg put it best:
With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it’s still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. It has come to that. Not even kindergarteners learning their A, B, Cs are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five-year olds. President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. My deepest sympathies are with the families of all those affected, and my determination to stop this madness is stronger than ever.
Unless significant changes are made, these shootings will just continue to happen.
Another challenging issue is how to view people like Adam. It’s so convenient to demonize Adam and to think of him as a monster because his deed — murdering 26 people — is absolutely despicable. Yet the harsh truth is that he was just another human being like you and me. Adam was believed to suffer from a personality disorder, and I hope that in addition to gun control, we’ll focus on improving mental health services so that we can more effectively administer help to those who need it.
My heart goes out to everyone affected by today’s shooting.
Update (12/16/2012): Sources now say that Adam did most of his killing with the semi-automatic rifle.
Since I am a baby photographer, I’m learning all the basics and figured it would be a good idea to jot down the important bits that I learn so that I can teach myself in my own voice when I need a refresher. If you see anything off or just flat out wrong, I’d love to know.
Every “introduction to photography” article that I’ve found through the Googles starts by going over exposure. Exposure is how much the light gets through to the image sensor, which is the component of the camera that converts light into the electrical signals that make up the photograph. Basically, exposure determines how bright or how dark your photograph is.
When thinking about exposure, you need to keep three major factors in mind: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity.
The aperture is the hole that the light passes through right after going through the lens. You can adjust how large or small the opening is, and that in turn will let in more or less light. It’s expressed as an “f-number” such as f/4, f/5.6, f/8, etc. The important thing to keep in mind is that the higher the f-number (e.g. f/32), the smaller the aperture, which means that less light will get through. The lower the f-number (e.g f/1.4), the larger the aperture, which means more light will get through.
Aperture also determines depth of field, which is how much distance in front of and behind the focus point appears to be in focus. A small aperture (high f-number) will produce a long depth of field which will make most of your photograph appear to be in focus. This is great for landscape shots. A high aperture (low f-number) will produce a short depth of field which will make parts of the photograph outside of the focus point appear out of focus. This is great for producing a blurry background when you’re taking a portrait shot.
Unlike aperture with its fancy f-numbers, shutter speed is expressed in seconds and is easy to understand. The shutter speed controls how long the shutter in front of the image sensor is kept open, which affects how much the image sensor is exposed to light. The slower the shutter speed (e.g. 1/6 of a second), the more light gets through. The faster the shutter speed (e.g. 1/250 of a second), the less light gets through. Pretty simple.
Shutter speed also controls how motion is captured in the photograph. If you have a fast shutter speed, any movement will be frozen in time. On the other hand, you might actually want to suggest a lot of movement using motion blur in which case you should use a slower shutter speed.
ISO sensitivity measures how well the camera is able to capture light. ISO determines how much the electrical signals are amplified. Doubling ISO will double the electrical signals which means you’ll need half the light needed to get the same exposure. For example, if you need to double your shutter speed and want to keep the same aperture, you can double your ISO number to get the same exposure.
Be warned though, because a high ISO will add a lot of noise into your photograph which you don’t want. You want to use a higher ISO only when you need to in dark places and stick to lower ones otherwise.
Exposure is controlled by aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity.
Small aperture (high f-number) = less light + long depth of field Large aperture (low f-number) = more light + short depth of field
Faster shutter speed = less light + less movement Slower shutter speed = more light + more movement
Low ISO = less light + less noise High ISO = more light + more noise
Despite not being valedictorian, I gave a speech at my high school’s graduation. Here it is.
The Secret Ingredients of High School
Now that we’re finally sitting here, we can take the time to look back on the last four years and thank the ones who mean the most to us. Without them, we wouldn’t be here today. They worked hard to put food on the table. They provided comfort in our greatest moments of distress. They gave us hope when our worlds were falling apart. That’s right, I’m talking about the good folks down at Chipotle.
In many ways, going through high school is like making a burrito. The tortilla – it’s the school itself. It holds everything together, and the burrito just wouldn’t be possible without it. The beans are the classes we take – whether you choose black or pinto, you’re still going to experience some discomfort and suffering, if you know what I mean. But in the end, they provide the fiber and protein we need to grow stronger and smarter. The administrators make up the lettuce. Many of us might not like those green veggies, but they know what’s best for us. And now, onto the important stuff– the meat. That serving of sizzling chicken, steak, or carnitas that melts in your mouth is what really defines the burrito. What’s the single most essential part of the high school experience? It’s the friends and connections you make. If nothing else, you’ll always have the companions who made high school enjoyable. They’re the ones who secretly brought you melon flavored ice cream and shaved ice in a cup when you were sick at home. They’re the ones with whom you’re going to celebrate when the Lakers win tonight. Vegetarians may disagree, but for me, a burrito without meat would just not be worth eating.
Many of us chose to participate in extracurriculars such as sports and clubs. That’s the guacamole. It’s completely optional and costs a bit extra, but it fills that special craving and makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If you like keeping things a bit spicy, there’s always salsa. We’re all going to miss the zesty school dances and how math class would be interrupted because some guy wanted to sing “Hey, Soul Sister” to ask a girl to prom. Add some Tabasco sauce, and you get all the gossip, drama, and backstabbing that really sets your tongue and emotions on fire. But it’s all a part of the experience. Another ingredient that can’t be forgotten: corn. That sweet, juicy goodness just can’t be found in any other ingredient. The corn is the bond of love and friendship that unites us all together. Oh, I’m sorry. Was that too… corny? And the cheese – it’s our beloved teachers who teach us the infamous graph dance, make us delicious pancakes, tell us about their newborn son, and give us overly generous deadlines on Turnitin.com. They toil day and night so we can become better individuals and the leaders of tomorrow. Oh, wait a second. Was that too… cheesy? And with this, our burrito is complete. Now that we are finished with high school, we can finally sit down and unravel the foil covering our steaming burrito. And when you take a bite of the tortilla, beans, meat, salsa, corn, cheese, and lettuce together? Oh man. That mind-blowing flavor is what really makes Troy High School unforgettable. Thank you.
Alright, time for some reflection and to recall memories from that day.
Right before the speech, I asked a friend to bring me a burrito from Chipotle so I can eat it on stage right after giving the speech. Sadly, I have no recollection of whether I did or not.
During that first paragraph, I saw a ton of students roll their eyes and slump into their seats because they thought I was going to talk about how awesome our parents are. I got ‘em good.
The corny and cheesy parts got good laughs, thank goodness.
I’m still obsessed with Chipotle.
I actually completely forgot about rice as an ingredient during the entire time I thought of, wrote, and gave this speech. Someone told me afterward that the rice should have been the sea of Asian students at Troy.
The line “Vegetarians may disagree, but for me, a burrito without meat would just not be worth eating” is especially funny now because I no longer eat meat. Chipotle is still delicious.
Yes, that is a picture of me and some friends doing pushups. Yes, this was at a party last night. I’ll come back to why this is important in a second.
Having interned at both a “big” company (Facebook) and a “small” company (Twilio), I often get asked whether I would recommend interning at a decent-sized company or at a smaller one. I know this sounds like a cop out answer, but it really depends on what you’re looking for and what you want out of an internship.
That said, I would highly, highly, highly recommend interning at a big company at least once regardless of what your goals are. Especially if this will be your first internship and you don’t know many people in the tech community. Yes, this still applies to those of you who plan to work in startups for the rest of your lives.
The reason behind this recommendation is simple: You’ll become friends with a crazy number of other smart interns. Don’t get me wrong; you’ll meet smart interns (and smart full-time employees) pretty much wherever you go. But at a big company with a big internship program, it’s easy to meet and develop friendships with a large number of people, many of whom will not be working at that company in the future.
That last point is pretty important. Most interns that you meet will have one or two (or 9000 if they’re from Waterloo) more internships before graduating and will end up in many different companies. As a result, instead of having connections to people at just one company, you’ll have connections to people at Google, Dropbox, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, Palantir, Square, Path, and every startup your mom has never heard of. Needless to say, a major benefit of this is that you’ll have trusted sources whose experiences you can draw on to make better decisions. All this aside, making a ton of friends who are intelligent and ambitious is always a good thing.
Alright, back to the ridiculous picture. I became friends with every single person there either directly or indirectly through my Facebook internship. Although we’re at different companies/places in our lives now, we make it a point to meet up pretty regularly to hang out. Getting to know a ton of other interns (there were around 500 during my summer at Facebook, if I remember correctly) makes it easy to find people that you get along with really well. And then you can meet up every now and then to hang out and do pushups.
In my high school’s philosophy class, I watched My Kid Could Paint That, a documentary about a four-year-old who took the art world by storm and sold her paintings for tens of thousands of dollars. I remember sitting there in the dark classroom, thinking that all these art critics were absolutely nuts for believing that a four-year-old’s random splashes of paint were the works of a child prodigy. It bothered me quite a bit.
I wandered around a couple art galleries today and came across a framed piece of paper with some shapes cut out of it. I didn’t get why it was so special. Would people still appreciate this work if it were not in a gallery? Does it matter if they wouldn’t?
I’ve noticed that when I don’t understand something, I tend to discredit it as being insignificant and not worthy of my time. After all, it’s the easy way to protect my ego. I thought people who looked at splatters of paint on a canvas and saw “something more” were just being pretentious and making things up to impress their friends. If I wasn’t able to understand something, then obviously no one else could either, right?
I still don’t “get” abstract art. But it stopped being a big deal. It doesn’t speak to me and I don’t appreciate it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t speak to other people. I’ve come to recognize that my habit of dismissing anything I didn’t understand was just a manifestation of my insecurities; all I can do is remind myself that I don’t have to understand everything. Things can and will change. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll look at a Jackson Pollock and think, “Wow, that’s beautiful”. Maybe.
Let’s start with the bad news. My work with the fundraising agency ended today because I didn’t meet my quota during my 5-day evaluation period.
I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t wildly successful with this job as it’s one that I found very interesting. I wish there were ways to figure out what I could’ve done differently, but it’s very hard to get feedback on why people don’t stop to talk or aren’t convinced after talking with me. I also suspect that looking as young as I do isn’t exactly helpful for persuading people to part with their money. Mostly, I’m bummed out that I won’t be able to further cultivate friendships with all the cool people that I’ve worked with so far. The agency is filled with all sorts of interesting people: an ex-Marine who is in love with traveling, a talented musician who makes amazing house music, a “life of the party” kind of guy who rolls his own cigarettes, a very personable guy with a passion for playing in a band and producing films, an intelligent girl who’s destined to do big things with nonprofits (she also has eyes that can melt you like butter) — the list goes on. You can imagine that people who voluntarily choose to talk to other people all day tend to be more interesting than not. I’m glad that I got to know a few of these characters well enough that I know we’ll hang out in the future, but working with them and the others for a bit longer would have been nice.
On the other hand, I think I’ve experienced most of what canvassing has to offer for my personal growth. Canvassing is an emotionally stimulating job with very little intellectual stimulation. I’m sure that if you actively tried to apply psychological concepts to your work you would be able to tax your mind a bit, but even then you would use your people skills a lot more than your analytical skills. This is not to knock canvassers in any way, but canvassing is a repetitive job that you can get a good feel for in a couple full days of work. Sure, you move to a different location and talk with different kinds of people, but you mostly do the same exact thing in just different places. I’ve become a lot more comfortable at trying to get a stranger’s attention and asking them for money (for a good cause, of course). I’m sure that I would be able to hone my people skills a lot more if I were to stay on for a couple more months, but the “shock” of this job has worn off and I’m happy with the progress I’ve made. Canvassing for a week was an entirely positive and rewarding experience.
Now it’s time to think look forward. What comes next?
I have many options in mind, and I’ve decided that no matter what, I’m going to travel for a while outside of the States. I’m still not sure when I’d like to embark on that adventure and whether I’d like to try a couple more non-tech jobs in the city that would will help me grow as a person. I’m thinking of waiting tables and seeing how I like that. It’s definitely strange looking for jobs not in terms of pay but in terms of how much I can learn and take away from the experience; it makes me feel like an impostor or an undercover journalist in a way. I’m extremely fortunate that I even have the luxury to view jobs in this way.
There are some common rebuttals that people make when asked to donate: "I’m broke" "I want to talk with my partner" "I’ll donate later on the website" etc.
The technique that my canvassing agency teaches for responding to these rebuttals is called EAST.
E - Empathy (empathize with their concern) A - Address (address their concern) S - Story (share a story) T - Tell (call-to-action)
Let me give you an example. If someone tells me that they can’t donate because they’re broke, a response using EAST would be the following:
"Hey man, I completely understand where you’re coming from. Times are hard, and I’m broke myself. You support the work we do, right?" Wait for the inevitable yes "Awesome, that’s exactly why we’re out here. One more thing I love about (charity) is (supplemental story). That’s why I would love to get you involved today!"
The supplemental story always tugs at the heartstrings, and you can follow it up with “that’s an amazing story, right?” so that you get the person in a mindset of saying “yes” to you.
I tend to be an extremely logical thinker and talk to people in ways that would be effective on myself. As a result, I’ve had people in the agency tell me that I spend too much time on the “address” part and not enough on the “story” part. If you think about it, the “story” step shouldn’t even be involved in responding to a rebuttal; it should be sufficient that you logically address someone’s concerns and then proceed to the call-to-action.
It turns out that the “story” component is the most important part of the entire EAST response. I didn’t understand why at first, but it makes sense once you realize that the decision to give to a charity is driven much more powerfully by pathos rather than logos. In other words, emotions play a much bigger role than logical thinking when it comes to donating. A study mentioned in this 2011 article on why we give to charity showed that “when people were given more facts and statistics about the problem a charity was trying to address, they actually became less likely to donate”. Funny how that is.
Sometimes I’ll empathize with someone too much to not even bother responding to a rebuttal. For example, a lady I talked with today told me that she didn’t feel comfortable making monthly donations because she was unsure of her job security for the next couple of months. Some people will tell you that they’re “broke” when they’re actually not, and that’s when I usually tell them that even a little bit goes a long way. But with this woman, it was clear that she really wanted to donate but really didn’t have the financial security to do so. I told her that I understood, gave her a hug, and wished her a nice day.
It’s difficult to draw the line between when to push harder and when to back off, but that’s a judgment call that canvassers have to learn to make on a daily basis. After all, being a decent person is important.
A man walked up to me today and asked if he could borrow my phone because his had just died. He was supposedly looking for a friend nearby. When I asked him for his friend’s number, he easily recited a phone number by memory. As trusting as I am of people, this was a red flag for me because it was surprising that he had his friend’s phone number so readily memorized. I only know one friend’s number by memory, and that’s because we were super best friends and I talked with him on the phone pretty much all the time during junior high. Good times. I don’t even have my sister’s phone number memorized. Sorry, Esther.
The stranger sensed my hesitation, and he did something I’ve never seen anyone do in the history of people borrowing my phone: he put his wallet in my hand. This immediately made me comfortable trusting him with my phone, because I now held a valuable of his. I’m surprised that this had never crossed my mind before.
Now when people ask to borrow my phone, I’m going to ask them for their wallet or their ID. If they’re unwilling to let me hold on to either of those things, then I have no reason to trust them with my valuables either. And when I’m stuck in the unfortunate situation of having to borrow a stranger’s phone, I finally know of a convincing way to persuade them to trust me. Thanks, stranger.
Today was my first day actually standing out in the street trying to talk to strangers, and it was much different than I expected. I thought I would spend most of my time talking to interested people and convincing them to donate, but instead, the vast majority of it was spent trying to get people to stop in the first place. Since I’m the type of person to talk to some random canvasser for the hell of it, I expected a lot more people to walk up just for kicks. Turns out it doesn’t really work that way.
When you start canvassing, you turn into one of two things for most people: invisible or a leper. It’s fascinating how people will completely ignore your existence and sometimes go out of their way to avoid any possibility of interaction. It sometimes feels like you are no longer a human being trying to spread a message but a nuisance to be avoided. All this rejection makes it a fun challenge to think of interesting ways to get people to stop so you can talk to them. Even with wildly ridiculous lines such as “Take a minute for America”, “If you don’t stop, the terrorists win”, and “I’ve been waiting all day for you”, most people will shake their heads and carry on. Sometimes they’ll flash a smile as they pass by.
I kept track of how many times I’ve “approached” someone and how many times someone has stopped to talk in response. “Approached” is in quotes because I actually don’t walk up to anyone; canvassers are encouraged to stand on the sidewalk and try to get people to stop or approach them since approaching them directly can be too intimidating.
Here are the results: 293 approaches.
Guess how many people stopped?
No, seriously. Guess.
Nope. 13 people. 4.4% of the people that I called out to actually stopped to hear what I had to say. Imagine this being the case as you live out your everyday life — only 4 out of every 100 people that you try to talk to bothering to talk with you. I’m pretty sure everyone would just crawl into a hole and talk to themselves.
The most common rejections I get are the following: complete unresponsiveness/avoidance, a shake of the head, and the classic “I’m late for work/appointment”. With all this rejection, you can either become discouraged, or view the task as a fun challenge and try even harder. I’ve had both happen to me throughout the course of the day. Obviously, the latter response is much better both for my mental health and my performance, but sometimes it’s really difficult to stay cheery when all you hear is “no” over and over again.
That said, one thing that helps tremendously in keeping a positive mindset is having a partner who’s also getting rejected right there with you. The formation that we used yesterday was to have a pair facing each other with a couple yards in between. A game that’s really fun to play is to see who can come up with the most creative way to stop someone. Think of trying to use the cheesiest pick up lines in order to get someone’s attention. Sometimes we act as wingmen by pointing to the other person and saying, “Hey, that guy’s been waiting all day for you!”
If you want to get over a fear of rejection, try canvassing. It’s great rejection therapy. When rejection is the norm, it’ll stop being a big deal. The good part about all this rejection is that I’m pretty sure I’ll come out with skin thicker than an elephant’s butt. A life without fear of rejection is a life better lived.
When I first decided to come to San Francisco, I planned on programming all day, meeting entrepreneurs, and maybe even joining a startup. Well, those plans are on hold.
Today was my first day of working with a fundraising agency that teams up with nonprofits to help them raise money. As there is a blogging policy that I have yet to become familiar with, I’m going to omit both the agency’s name and the nonprofit we are currently representing just to be on the safe side for now.
I’m really excited about this job, because it will give me an opportunity to spend my time working for a good cause, indulge my favorite hobby of talking to strangers, and get paid for doing so. What more could I ask for? Despite the fact that I don’t really need the money, having some positive cashflow instead of watching my savings slowly bleed away will be a welcome change.
I ended up with the job due to random encounters with one of the fundraising managers at the agency. I originally met her on my way to Target, where she disarmed me with a friendly smile and talked to me about the nonprofit. When the topic of donating came up, I told her that I was trying to save money since I was living off of my savings. She asked me if I was looking for a job, to which I cocked my head, thought for a bit, and replied that I didn’t want one right now. Understandably, she was quite puzzled. I decided on the spot that this might be a fun gig to do for a while, so I passed along my info and the rest is history. (Actually, there was some kind of miscommunication and I really didn’t get any information until I happened to run into her again, but that part really isn’t that interesting.)
One aspect of this job that I’m looking forward to is experimenting with different ideas to see which tactics are most effective in getting people to donate. I love social psychology, and I’m going to read up on the science of giving and try to figure out the best ways to apply our understanding of the human mind in order to convince more people to give to a good cause. Maybe starting a conversation out with a genuine compliment will open people up to helping others. Or maybe it’ll backfire by making them think that I’m being disingenuous and cause them to be more closed off. Since I’ll be working in the field 30 hours a week, I’ll have plenty of chances to try A/B tests and find out what works and what doesn’t.
Entering the world of fundraising after having worked only in tech is already proving to be a very eye-opening experience. Although there have been some significant technological advances in fundraising, there is still much, much room for improvement. Systems can be a lot faster; data input methods can be much more streamlined; more data can and should be captured. In the technology world, data is king; every action taken by every visitor to a website is tracked and extensively analyzed. I wish that there existed a Google Analytics for donation solicitations where I can easily view how likely 18-20 year old white males are likely to donate on a sunny day at 2 in the afternoon as opposed to their female counterparts so I can optimize my time accordingly.
Although my new job will not help me become a better programmer, I know I’ll develop important people skills that will help me better understand humans which in turn will hopefully make me a better thinker, communicator, and most importantly, a better person. While I know I won’t make a career out of this job since my passion always will be in using technology to create products that improve people’s lives, I’m looking forward to seeing how much I’ll grow through this experience. Onward.
Today I want to share my desktop background with you.
The name of the image above is “Pale Blue Dot” and it was taken by a spacecraft in 1990 from a distance of 3.7 billion miles from Earth. If you want to learn more about the image and Carl Sagan’s extremely eloquent reflections on it, check out this Wikipedia article.
Look closely at that image. In the upper right quadrant, you’ll see a small dot in the orangish beam. That’s Earth. That’s you. That’s me. That’s us. That’s all of our problems. That’s all of human history.
I love looking at this picture because it really puts our lives into perspective; you begin to realize just how utterly small and insignificant we are in the scheme of the entire universe.
One of my hopes for the near future is that the technology for space travel will significantly advance to the point where it’ll be safe and affordable for everyday civilians to view Earth from outside Earth just as astronauts have. I think the world would be a better place if people could see that we’re truly all in this together. It’s too easy to lose sight of that.
Waking up early is an amazing feeling. You’re up before or around sunrise, you can get things done before other people are even awake, and you can take some time to meditate, read, take a walk, or exercise before getting on with your day. Having a great start to your morning really sets the mood for the rest of the day.
Growing up, I struggled immensely with waking up early. I would get into fights with my grandma and my homestay lady (this is a whole another story) because of my inability to wake myself up. I would wake up late to classes and end up missing them entirely because by the time I could get ready, class would already be over. I would sometimes wake up after noon and feel absolutely terrible because it seemed that the day had already passed me by.
I tried to solve my problem by searching out different tactics for waking up. I bought the loudest alarm clock I could find on Amazon with a vibrating component but slept right through them. I still owe my dorm roommate an apology for waking him up countless times with my alarm clock while I slept on like a rock. Once, I had to be violently shaken so that I wouldn’t sleep through my school’s fire alarm. True story. I even tried consuming large amounts of water so that I would wake up due to the need to pee. This didn’t work very reliably, and I’m very lucky that I didn’t end up accidentally wetting my bed in adulthood.
None of the methods I tried worked, and I looked for ways to shorten the amount of time that I needed to sleep. I envied people who could thrive off of 4 hours of sleep a night and looked for ways to trick my body into doing the same. I looked into unconventional sleep cycles like sleeping for a couple hours during the night and sleeping for a couple hours during the day, etc., but the evidence for their effectiveness seemed too lacking.
Recently, I started waking up at 7am on a consistent basis and have been able to reap all the benefits of getting up with the sun. I finally discovered the secret to waking up early. Here it is:
Go to sleep early.
You are most likely quite disappointed with my secret. After all, it’s nothing special and something you already know. But it’s important to acknowledge that the simplest solution is quite often the right one. Finally coming to terms with the fact that my body needs 7-8 hours of sleep every night and no special tactic will magically change that was a real game-changer for me, because it made me face reality and stop looking for shortcuts. Whenever I want to get up early the next morning, I force myself to go to sleep at a decent hour even if that means ending my chat sessions short or not finishing the article I was reading. The best part of it all is that unlike chugging a ton of water before hitting the hay, this tactic works every single time.
For the entire first month living in my apartment, I saw a window, a latch, and a view of the street below. When a friend in the building mentioned that he climbs up to the roof occasionally, I told him I wanted to try it but didn’t see how I could. It was only after this conversation that I noticed something out the window I hadn’t seen before: a fire escape.
It was strange, seeing something that I could’ve sworn had not been there the past hundred times that I had glanced out my window. Of course, the metal deck and railing had not appeared overnight; I had just simply overlooked it. I’m not surprised I did, because I had no immediate need for a fire escape and could have easily continued using my living space normally without noticing it.
These days, I climb out my window and up the fire escape onto the roof every day. It’s absolutely exhilarating to stand next to the edge and overlook the city. Sometimes I go up to tan, sometimes I go up to think, sometimes I go up just because I can. Here’s a quick photo I snapped earlier:
It’s interesting to think about what would’ve happened if I had never found out about the possibility of climbing up to the roof or if I had never noticed the fire escape. I obviously wouldn’t know what I’d be missing, but that doesn’t change the fact that I truly would be missing out on a fantastic experience.
A lot of opportunities in life are the same way. I only started to entertain the idea of taking a year off from Princeton after I talked to someone who had already gone through the experience. It was at that point that I looked up more about it, found out that Princeton has an extremely lenient policy in letting students take time off, and decided to take the leap. I’ve already benefitted immensely from this decision, but it was an opportunity that wasn’t obvious to me when I was attending school. I honestly believe that a lot more students should seriously consider if the option of taking a year off could be right for them; most people don’t give it a second’s worth of thought because doing anything other than finishing school in four years would be off the beaten path.
By doing things the “normal” way, we’re susceptible to overlooking opportunities that have the potential to change our lives in an immense way. My experience with the fire escape has made me aware of my unawareness, and I’m putting more conscious effort into not overlooking rewarding opportunities. Training oneself to be more aware is quite difficult though — I just may need someone to bop me on the head and tell me that climbing up the fire escape is a great idea.
I got a horizontal eyebrow piercing, also known as an anti-eyebrow.
Exactly two weeks ago. (The date on the picture above should be 11-6-2012, not 10-6-2012.)
I always thought that horizontal eyebrow piercings looked really cool, but never gave serious thought to getting one myself. Around a month ago, I somehow got thinking about piercings and wondered why I didn’t just go and get one done. I couldn’t think of a good reason not to; if I ended up not liking it, I would just remove it and that would be the end of that. Anyway, what better place to get a piercing than San Francisco?
I didn’t want to accidentally get HIV from my little experiment, so I took forever choosing a place to get my piercing. I ultimately decided on a shop with near perfect ratings called Body Manipulations. I had initially intended on waiting for my acne to clear up before getting my piercing because I didn’t want to increase the chances of infection, but a simple phone call with the receptionist at Body Manipulations made it clear that I’d be fine if I just clean the piercing as instructed. Cool beans.
When I enter the shop, it’s pretty much empty. The receptionist has me fill out some forms, scans my driver’s license to make sure that I’m not 12, and tells me to hold on for a bit. After sitting in the lobby for five minutes, I follow a woman named Andrea into the back room. I’m taken aback by how many piercings Andrea has, but I guess it only makes sense. She begins to ask if an apprentice piercer could come watch, but for a minute I think that she’s asking if an apprentice piercer could pierce me and I have to catch myself before screaming “OH HELL NO” right in her face. Of course the apprentice can watch. As long as it’s not voyeuristic or creepy. Andrea laughs.
As I sit on a long black seat, Andrea explains how she’s going to put two dots on my face to indicate where the piercing will go. It is at this moment that I realize that I never really clarified that I wanted a horizontal eyebrow piercing instead of the much more common vertical one. After getting that sorted out, I think about how bad it would’ve been if I had ended up with the wrong piercing. I probably would cry at that point.
Andrea marks me with a purple pen and I face the mirror. Eh. We play around with the placement a little bit, and I’m finally happy with where it ends up.
Time for the real deal. To be honest, I’m a bit nervous at this point because I don’t know how much pain to expect. Andrea calmly tells me that she’ll ask me to inhale and then on the exhale she’ll drive the needle right through my face. Well, she didn’t word it that way, but I know that’s essentially what’s going to happen.
Breathe in. A pause that seems entirely too long. Breathe out. A strong pinch right above my eyebrow. And just like that, we’re done. Huh. It hurt a lot less than I thought it would.
After getting a piercing, the name of the game is “don’t get infected”. It’s a pain in the ass to soak the piercing in salt water and then clean it with soap twice a day, but I’d much rather do this than end up with a nasty infection. I’ve also become a much less aggressive face washer after quickly learning that my old ways will simply cause the piercing to bleed.
Two weeks out, I’ve stopped noticing the piercing whenever I look in the mirror. Actually, the piercing in itself is far more subtle than I thought it would be. From a distance, the curved barbell appears to be a part of my eyebrow; it’s only when you get within a couple feet that you can really see that there are metal balls poking out of my face.
Overall, I’m really happy with the piercing and the job that Andrea did at Body Manipulations. I’m pretty sure that I’m done with piercings forever, although I don’t see how any guy can resist getting the Prince Albert. You should look that one up on Wikipedia if you don’t know what it is. Just don’t do it at work.
First things first: If I’m ever brain-dead or in a persistent vegetative state, don’t keep my body alive. I don’t want anybody wasting their time and money.
Now that we have that out of the way, I want to declare some wishes for what I hope will take place after I die. Of course, none of these things could happen and I won’t care in the slightest, not even a little bit. Being dead is great in that way.
My funeral should be a celebration of my life. I know this is the goal of funerals in general, but I seriously disagree with how these “celebrations” are usually carried out. No celebration should have a sermon in the middle that puts everyone to sleep. I want people to smile, laugh, and sincerely have a good time. If you come dressed in black and wail, you’re automatically kicked out of my funeral. Go wail outside.
The celebration should start with a slideshow of my life. Hopefully my sister will still be alive because she’s most familiar with my most embarrassing moments. She knows where to find the picture of my 4-year-old self wearing my sister’s pink dress and the one of me as a baby sitting on the couch seriously looking like an overgrown potato. All these pictures of me with terrible haircuts and outfits should make it in there too.
After the presentation, there should be an open mic where people can come up and share their favorite memories of me or share something incredibly stupid that I said one time. People should be able to say whatever they want. If you want to come up and say, “DK was a giant asshole and I’m glad he got mauled by a bear”, go ahead. Anything goes.
At first, I wanted my funeral to be open casket so that everyone can observe me in all my dead glory, but I probably won’t be able to do this since I want to donate my body to science. If my body is still intact and useful for research, I want my body to be donated and my funeral to be held after the body has been cremated and the ashes have been returned. That way, everyone who comes to my funeral can get a small goodie bag with my ashes so that they can snort it or whatever when they go home. Actually, please don’t snort me. Throw me into the winds when you go traveling so that my remains can be dispersed all over the world. That sounds awesome. Just make sure you’re not standing directly downwind so that what’s left of my body doesn’t end up in your mouth. I’m not Jesus.
If my body is unable to be donated to science for whatever reason, I want to have an open casket funeral with my body completely unaltered. I want to be displayed wearing the clothes that I had on when I died, or alternatively wearing no clothes if I died from a heart attack while furiously masturbating in the shower. Okay, I’ll allow a suit if I die naked. For the children.
If none of the above requests can be fulfilled, at least feed the guests delicious food so that they have something to be happy about. Oh, and please no sermon.
Writing is hard for me. I stumble over my words, I agonize over whether a sentence makes sense to people other than myself, I delete and rewrite and delete again. Thoughts that make perfect sense in my head never seem to come out right on paper.
In the past couple days, multiple people have told me that they want to start blogging. There are many excuses for why they haven’t started already:
"I don’t write well."
"I’m afraid of what others will think of me."
"I can’t get the content to come out right."
I understand and can relate to these reasons, because they’re all things that I personally struggle with. There’s only one solution to these problems: just write.
Over time, your writing will get better. Hell, that’s a big part of why I write. I want to become a better communicator, and the ability to write well is absolutely crucial. I have some friends who are powerful writers, and whenever I read their writing I envy their ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings so clearly and beautifully. I strive to express myself as well as they do. If your lack of ability to write well is the only thing holding you back, it’s important to recognize that your writing will not one day magically get better — like most things, it requires practice.
If you’ve read through my previous posts, you know that I’ve struggled a lot with being afraid of how others will judge me because of my writing. Over time, I’ve come to accept that I most definitely will be wrong and say dumb things. It’s a part of life. I’m growing as a person, and it’s ridiculous to think that in a couple years I’ll agree with everything I believe today. I still struggle with the fear of being wrong and judged, but embracing the fact that it is an inevitable part of my personal development helps a lot. For me, always staying silent and never expressing myself due to fear of judgment seems much worse than occasionally saying something stupid and learning from the experience. I hope you feel the same way.
One benefit of writing that I was surprised to discover is that it helps me understand how I feel about a topic or issue. I always believed that writing would merely help me express my fully formed thoughts and opinions, but in fact I’ve found that my ideas will develop and change during the writing process. The process of putting my thoughts on paper helps me evaluate my thoughts in a new and different light than if I were just trapped in my own head. It’s quite strange, really.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to start a blog but never did. What’s stopping you? Maybe you have a post written up but haven’t published because it’s “not good enough”. It’s good enough. The important thing is to start, and there’s no better time than now.
One habit I’ve picked up with unexpectedly positive results is smiling at strangers. Smiling is great. I remember laughing by myself while driving one day because I found it so bizarre and fascinating that everyone in the world, regardless of culture or background, contorts their mouth in the same way when they are happy. I’m sure the people driving next to me thought I had gone a bit bonkers.
In my sophomore year of high school, there was a cute girl that I had a crush on, and every morning, I would see her while leaving my history class because she also had history class in the classroom across the hall. Because I was not yet a baller and didn’t have much confidence, the extent of my interaction with her was smiling and sometimes waving. There was lots and lots of smiling.
The homecoming dance drew near, and I really wanted to ask the cute girl to go with me but didn’t have the courage. Everything changed when a mutual friend informed me that the cute girl was interested in going to homecoming with me. As you might imagine, I was ecstatic. Looking back, I don’t see any particular reason why this girl would’ve been interested in going to homecoming with me — I barely knew her. All I remember is smiling at her a lot, and I’m pretty sure that was the single biggest reason why we ended up going to homecoming together.
Nowadays, I’ll often smile at strangers that I pass on the street. Sadly, most people will simply avert their gaze and pretend not to notice. The magic happens when someone makes direct eye contact and smiles back. It’s a great feeling to be smiled at, and I can be sure that their day was made a bit better by the interaction just as mine was. Sharing a smile with a stranger really hits our core human need for connection to each other.
If making someone else’s day isn’t reason enough, maybe you’ll be persuaded by the fact that smiling makes you more attractive because you’ll look happier and more confident. Well, first you have to make sure that you don’t have a creepy pedo-smile. Go practice in front of a mirror. Maybe you should shave off that mustache.
Seriously, I wrote this whole post on smiling because I want to see more people try smiling at strangers. Too many of us walk around with our eyes fixed to the path directly in front of us, minding our own business. Try something different this week. Look at people right in the eyes and smile at them. You’ll wonder why you’ve never tried it before.
An important note: People respond a lot better if you smile after establishing eye contact rather than if you walk around constantly smiling and happen to glance at them. The latter might make you look crazy.
Last Friday, I went to the mall with only the intention of looking around and checking out the shops. Not once did I suspect that I’d be walking out with $100 worth of skin care products.
Before I get into what happened, you need to know what kind of consumer I am. I’m the type of guy who will spend an hour at Target choosing between different types of bedding and incessantly compare reviews on Amazon between two heaters with the same rating. If I have the option, I will most certainly purchase a product item online because that way I’ll have the most information and time available to make the best decision.
None of that happened on Friday.
I saw a tall, handsome man who was enticing passersby with skin care samples and asked him if he could share some tricks he’s picked up in the art of selling. The idea of convincing people to pay you money for something has always fascinated me, and I thought I could learn a thing or two from someone who does it day in day out. Although he was a bit perplexed as to why I wanted to learn about this if I didn’t work in sales, he was willing to entertain me.
Lesson 1: Become a friend to your customer.
One of the first things he told me was that he tries to get familiar with the potential customer by getting their name, where they’re from, why they’re at the mall that day, etc. This made sense, because by gaining the customer’s trust, you put yourself in a position to sell something to them. At this point, I learned that the salesman’s name was Adir and that he had finished mandatory service in Israel before coming to the States.
He motioned me over to one of the booths, and asked for my permission before putting some kind of gel on my hand. It was then that I realized that this was no longer a friendly conversation but that he was trying to sell me on his products. Game on.
Lesson 2: Make your customer afraid of losing out on a disappearing opportunity.
The gel that Adir put on my hand transformed into chunky white clumps, and Adir told me that they were dead skin cells removed by the gel. When he asked me what skin products I use, I told him that I only use daily facewash for washing up after waking up and before going to sleep. He asked for clarification a couple times, not because he couldn’t understand me but because he couldn’t believe that facewash was all I used. He and I both knew that he was going to have a hard time selling to someone who didn’t care enough to spend money on skin care products.
He opened up a catalog conveniently sitting on the booth, and told me that there was a special going on today. Only today. I had a hard time believing this, and I thought it was like one of those marketing pages on the Internet where there’s a special price only for 24 hours… every 24 hours. Adir insisted that the sale was only for today, that it was ending on Saturday night. It was Friday so his claim didn’t make any sense, but I didn’t bother correcting him because I wasn’t interested anyway. He enthusiastically informed me that although the normal price for the gel was $100, it was marked down to the special price of just $69.99. I just looked at him blankly and recalled a section in a psychology book I’d been reading on how humans are irrationally afraid of losing out on disappearing opportunities. Too bad I didn’t really want to buy some magic gel.
Lesson 3: Convince your customer that he wants the product.
Adir wasn’t fazed by my lack of excitement, and he proceeded to show me a moisturizer and a facial cleanser. Throughout our conversation, he repeated stopped, motioned to the gel, the moisturizer, and the cleanser, and asked me, “Which one are you most impressed by?” I thought these breaks in conversation were odd, but I obliged him by pointing to the gel that had come off in clumps of dead skin cells. I didn’t actually care for any of the three products, but that one seemed to me the coolest since I hadn’t seen something like that before. Only in retrospect did I realize that the explicit act of me pointing to a certain product in response to his question made me internalize the thought that I was impressed with the product. In essence, the simple question implanted a desire for the product a la Inception.
Lesson 4: Make the purchase decision seem like the most rational decision.
When I showed hesitation about making a purchase, Adir asked me how much my jeans cost. Unluckily for him, I had purchased the pair of jeans I was wearing at Uniqlo’s grand opening for a measly $15. When I told him, he quickly changed the subject of his question to my shirt. $3. Also purchased at Uniqlo’s grand opening.
I understood what he was trying to do, despite the fact that it wasn’t working so well in my case. By getting a customer to acknowledge that they had spent a considerable amount of money on clothes, he would then convince the customer it would only make sense to spend a considerable amount on taking care of your skin. Adir recovered both gracefully and comically by telling me that while I may have many shirts and jeans, I only have one face so I should treat myself. I laughed, but I still wasn’t sold.
Lesson 5: Make a personal offer that your customer can’t refuse.
I looked Adir in the eye and told him that while I appreciated him taking the time to talk to me, I wasn’t going to be buying anything today. At this point, Adir said to me, “You know what? Because you’re such a nice guy, I’m going to do something special for you.” And with that, he quickly made over to the other side of the booth.
I stood there not knowing what to do, with the secret hope that he was going to shower me with samples of everything he had shown me so far. Maybe I was going to walk off with some of this stuff for free!
Adir motioned for me to join him on the other side, and he repeated himself: “Because you’re such a nice guy, I’m going to do this just for you.” He busted out an old school calculator, and punched in the original cost of the gel ($100) and the original cost of the moisturizer ($100). The number 200 glared at me from the calculator. He then brought his voice down to a whisper and told me that he would sell me the gel at the special price and add in the moisturizer completely free of charge. Completely free of charge. Just for me. The psychology book I brought up earlier also had a section on how humans become completely irrational when it comes to free things, and I had the luxury of experiencing this firsthand. With the new number 69 seducing me, my strong “no” quickly changed to a “maybe”, and then to a “yes”. Not once did it cross my mind that I should take a moment to look up these products that I had never heard of before to make sure that these products were actually worthwhile and that I was receiving a fair price. Nope.
The entire time, Adir kept repeating how he was making an exception just for me because I was such a nice guy and how I can’t tell anyone else about this because it’s a secret just between him and me. Extremely, extremely effective. Not only does this make me irrationally afraid of losing out on a good deal, it makes me think that Adir is being an amazing friend and that I’m making the most rational decision by taking advantage of this secret offer. All the punches packed into one.
Lesson 6: When you get your customer to a “yes”, don’t stop.
Right before I handed Adir my debit card, he stopped what he was doing and turned towards me. “You know what, I’m going to do something else just for you.” He took out the calculator again, pressed in 50, cleared it, and pressed in 25. “I’m going to give you the facial cleanser half off because I think you deserve it.” Saying yes to this offer happened much more easily and quickly than my first yes, because I was already in a mindset of making a purchase. What Adir used is a classic sales technique called “upselling”, where you offer something in addition to the original purchase. I even called him out on it, saying “Oh man, here comes to upsell”, but knowing what was happening didn’t change the outcome in the slightest.
In the end, I went from not being interested at all to purchasing over $100 worth of skin care products. As soon as I walked away with the booth, my brain repaired itself, and I googled “Dead Sea cosmetics”. Surprise, surprise. Many others had been suckered in just like me. However, it was too late to do anything about it, as the bottom of the receipt had in fine print the devastating words “No Refund. Exchanges only.”
Am I embarrassed about what happened? Of course. I was masterfully manipulated, and I have little choice but to admit that I received an unexpectedly expensive lesson in the art of selling. I got exactly what I had asked for.