Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sketchcrawling in Europe.

I'm terrible about taking pictures, so here are some sketches instead:

**Disclaimer: It looks like the colors aren't really showing up. I once inadvertently dabbed Clinique Moisture Surge Extra on the paintbrush, and the colors haven't been the same ever since. I guess thirsty skin relief isn't much for watercolors.


This lamp post is from a traffic circle in Berlin that I chanced upon after leaving an antique market en route to the Bauhaus Museum. There's a big statue there, famously captured in the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire, but what captivated me were the lamp posts encircling the monument. I have this obsession with lamposts and gaslights. I noticed them in everywhere I traveled, and my intention was to sketch one in each city had I the time and the patience. Unfortunately, I lacked both.


The view of old town Prague from the Charles Bridge. After going on a walking tour, I wandered across the Charles Bridge and decided to sit out and sketch while the sun was still out. The castle and cathedral are in the distance.


This is the chandelier from the opera house in Prague. I got to see Verdi's Rigoletto at the decadent Prague Opera House. The story of a fool (court jester) seeking fatherly vengeance based on a story by Mr. Les Miserables himself. Crime and punishment themes - classic Victor Hugo. I always imagined operas to be stuffy and boring affairs, but I absolutely loved it. We showed up in jeans and sneakers for lack of decent attire, and it was funny how apparent the distinction between native and tourist was. I quickly scribbled this during intermission.


The Széchenyi Chain Bridge on the Danube River that links Buda (old town) and Pest (new town). This is probably the most beautiful bridge I saw during my travels. I walked over this at night and sketched the lit bridge from the other side, in front of the Four Seasons.


The port in Barcelona. People have been asking me which place was my favorite, and I'm at a loss for how to respond. I loved them all. But as if you were to ask me which country, I'd say Spain in a heartbeat. The culture, the ability to communicate (thanks to high school Spanish).. But I think weather had a lot to do with it. They say that Barcelona is like the California of Europe, so after backpacking through the freezing Eastern parts of Europe, I was thrilled to be able to wear t-shirts and Havaianas again. I spent a day wandering the streets of Barcelona, and lounged by the beach. The port was reminiscent of Marina del Rey or Newport - hoooooome.


The flower mart in Nice. Nice is nice. Har har har. So lame, I know, but I just had to say that. The entire French Riviera, actually, is breathtaking. What struck me first were the colors - a vivid palette of the brightest paints. And this outdoor flower market in Vieux Nice captured my fancy. If I lived there, I think I would buy freshly cut flowers every day.

And so ends my sketchcrawling. I tried to draw something in each city, but by the time I reached Paris, I was freezing and simply couldn't bear to sit outdoors in the thirty or forty degree weather. Now back to reality. Au revoir Europa!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Objet d'Art.

I've been noticing that the more modern art museums I go to, I'm seeing an increasing amount of chairs. Not chairs for weary travelers to rest upon, but chairs as art installations. This thought strikes me as I'm wandering through the Centre Pompidou's Musee National d' Art Moderne. Truth be told, I don't know that a chair belongs in a museum. As if the well of obscure paintings is running dry, they're now turning to the chair as objet d'art.

In fact, they much resemble the ones in my home, but perhaps that's the point. Chair at home is a replica of revolutionary design that has been mass produced and knocked off to no end, so as to seamlessly become something so commonplace that one does not give it another thought.

I suppose I can understand this sudden insurgence of household items from a design standpoint. From a purely design perspective, there was once a problem (fatigue) that needed solving, and this led to the development of the chair. But that is problem singular. Just how many other problems could there be, other than perhaps ones addressing posture?

As I pass a gnome stool designed by Phillippe Starck, I have to wonder, what correlation could a mythical garden dweller have with exhaustion or respite?

The thing is, I've grown rather fond of these chairs. The fanciful designs, the graceful curvatures. Had I the resources, I certainly wouldn't protest a work by Eames. As I migrate from room to room, contemplating the selection of furniture, all I want to do is sit down in one of them. But I suppose that's the problem with the chair as art. You can't use them in the capacity they were intended for.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tout Sweet.

I now realize why I've come to Europe. (You know, aside from that soul searching bit.) I've come to eat and wander - to walk around and observe, constructing narratives in my head. There's nothing really, aside from these two things, that I care to do.. except maybe the occasional store or two.

More and more, I recognize that my travel style is simply to walk down streets. Sometimes with a map, sometimes without. Main streets are fun, but back or side streets are even better. Going in and out of boutiques, easily distracted, and sampling the goods at the occasional bakery or street vendor. The less money spent, the better. I don't even need to go into the museums. I'm in it for the local culture.

I'm simulateously infatuated with and sick of shopping. However, I think if I could only shop at the following two stores for the rest of my life: A.P.C. and Comptoir des Cotonniers, I could be happy. Wishful thinking. Oh, and Topshop's fun too.

The food here is amazing. And by food, what I really mean is dessert. Not a day goes by when I do not consume some form of chocolate. Milka, Kinder, Lindt, Cadbury - this is all readily available in all parts of Europe.

And then there are the bakeries.

The local patisseries featuring the most decadent of sweets and confections. From the tortes of Vienna to the postres (notably, the Creme Catalans of Barcelona), I am in a gourmand's paradise. I have indulged in the original Sachertorte at Cafe Sacher in Austria, licked happily at my several cones of panna cotta e fragola gelato in Milan, and sampled Movenpick ice cream on the French Riviera. And there is no stopping this consumption.

Hawaii and its beaches and (gulp) bikinis are less than a month away, but this is too good to resist. Perhaps a one piece is in order.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On Prague.

I'll begin with two things about Prague, or Praha as they call it here. First, hockey appears to be the national sport here. This makes for one very happy tourist. Apparently, a bunch of their players end up in the NHL. I wonder if any of them are Sharks. Also cool is the fact that the Czech president is friends with Lou Reed and Mick Jagger. This president is bad ass - friends with rock stars, spent time in jail for standing up to communism for his political beliefs, and hung out at Kaverna Slavia - the intellectual's hangout. He's definitely a Gryffindor.

Here's what I love about Prague: the buildings are reminiscent of Disney movies. They have these quaint outdoor marketplaces where they sell authentic gingerbread (more bread than cookie), hand-carved wooden ornaments and marionettes. It may quite possibly be the loveliest place to spend Christmas. There is a Marks & Spencer here, bringing back only the fondest of memories of Stratford. Many of the cathedrals and palace grounds do not charge entrance fees. The architecture with the turquoise blue spires. The opera, symphonies and overall appreciation for music, and good music at that. Sketchcrawling on the Charles Bridge. And last but not least, the beer - Pilsner Urquell to be exact.

Here's what I hate about Prague: taxi drivers that rip you off.

There's something about spending money in a currency that numerically has no semblance to the US Dollar. The Euro and even the Pound are somewhat gaugeable, but the Czech Krown? Forget it. I'm having trouble distinguishing these coins. And so happily am I investing in the Czech economy.. at least until I get my credit card statement.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

On Berlin.

The city is.. very modern with a sad history. Devastated by the likes of Hitler and both World Wars, Berlin has been bombed out and reconstructed within the past century. I knew the Holocaust was bad, but we're talking over 3000 Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, people of color massacred daily.

The weather is.. offputting. It's cold here, and I'm not normally one to experience this sensation they call 'cold.' Freezing, actually. Just the other day, I walked out in just a track jacket and flip-flops in what I can only imagine to be 40 degree weather. I have never been so cold in my life.

The hostel is.. the best. My roommates are: a twenty-two year old Italian would-be rocker, an Australian structural engineer headed to London, an introspective Brazilian artist, two Australian girls currently living in London, and an Australia film editor also working in London. Gosh. Maybe I should move to London too. But I digress.. the Circus Hostel, highly recommend.

The food is.. flipping fantastic. A snacker's paradise. I officially have a new answer to the question "If you were on a desert island and could eat only one food for an entire year.." Goodbye Potbellys, hello chicken kebabs from the place off the Rosenthalerplatz U-bahn!

The keyboard is.. confusing. Simple things such as typing: the y's are where the z's should be, and vice versa. It's throwing me off. And forget about trying to type the @ sign. This severely limits my facebooking capabilities, seeing as how I can't even log in.

The architecture is.. modernist in part due to Bauhaus influence, but in a greater part because of the fact that most of the buildings were desecrated by the bombings of WWII.

The nightlife is.. happening. Or so I hear. Have been jetlagged and exhausted from two full days of walking. But my dormmates tell me it's the best, as they stagger back in at daybreak. Meanwhile, I happily cozy into my covers in the top bunk of a seven-person co-ed dorm, while curling up with a book.

The style is.. dark and well-tailored. Blacks and greys layering edgy coats, leggings, and ruched leather boots with razor sharp hair styles to boot. That seems to be the Eastern European aesthetic. That being said, I arrive in Berlin wearing a pouchy bohemian shirt with - heaven forbid - white sneakers. I'm wishing I were having a sartorialist moment right about now.

The neighborhood is.. lively. I walked down the store-lined street toward a cathedral in the distance, and what's the first thing I see upon arriving at said Catholic church? A cupcakerie across the way. So a vanilla buttercream cupcake is my first food purchase in Europe.

I think this trip was meant to be.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Simple Kind of Life.

I sat on a porch and ate a green apple today. I can't speak to what kind of apple it was - I wish I was better versed in my apple varieties - but let's just go with Granny Smith, as I imagine that to be green. And as I sat gazing at the apple in my hand, I found that I was satisfied. In that moment, I had no material need. I wasn't obsessing over the hazy cloud surrounding my 5 or 10 year plan.

Sometimes, it's that simple. Just yesterday, I sharpened a pencil using only a razor. Hacking away until the wood segued way into lead, I was satisfied. Our world is oversaturated with an abundance of material wealth and desire for significance and success. And those are all amazing privileges, but sometimes, it can also be distracting in the hunger for more. And more. And more and more.

Life out here in Louisiana is so simple. Simple, yet complex. Family members grow up in homes right down the block from one other. People don't leave New Orleans, at least they didn't used to. So when Katrina hit, many victims didn't have other family members in other states to turn to or stay with. Louisiana is all they know.

Our days as volunteers working with the St. Bernard Project consist of installing insulation and drywalling. I always thought that if I were in charge of physically building civilizations, we would still be stuck in the Neanderthal stage. Now, with my adeptness with the power tools (and apparently, a razor), we just might make it to Cro-Magnon societies after all.

The communities are not what I expected. Rows of brick homes line the blocks of the St. Bernard Parish. You see ramshackle houses surrounded by piles of rubble right alongside remodeled homes with Halloween decorations on the lawn. Halloween seems to have come early this year. Initially, I was confused by the income levels of the homeowners. These homes are relatively large by California standards - I had imagined poverty and desolation to resemble more East LA or Compton, and these brick homes, although demolished, looked like they had once been rather nice. But I suppose anything would've looked nicer than what I had pictured. I soon learned that these brick foundations once housed the working class.

It's a bit unsettling - the thought that while a week's worth of work may amount to insulating and drywalling the insides of one house, the house remains unfinished. And that this is just one house in one block, where maybe 85% of the houses require rebuilding or demolition. One block in one neighborhood. One neighborhood in one town - one still very devastated town, two years after a natural disaster. It's not just unsettling; it's absurd.

It's not, however, as discouraging as I thought it would be. And here's why. I often used to think that with disasters or injustices of this magnitude, how could one individual possibly help in any significant way? I would be daunted at first sight and shy away from any real aid or responsibility, figuring there was not much I could do. And so I wouldn't and would eventually be distracted and forget. But here's where I was wrong: significance doesn't matter. Numbers, statistics, heroic tendencies - none of that really matters. I hope I'm making sense. It doesn't matter the number of people you help but that you helped. That you come down and have conversations and just listen and remember. And that counts for something.

And so today, after a full day of drywalling, I was simply content biting into the crisp fruit within my grasp on a hot Louisiana autumn day.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Eat at Joe's.

I heard the an account of a Hurricane Katrina survivor named Joe today. Our volunteer group comprised of 16 or so Googlers are helping to rebuild his home, and he graciously shared his personal account with us over lunch - of how quickly the water rose, of the smart decisions vs. the mistakes, of his determination to save his two dogs, and of the moment he realized he was homeless. What I found remarkable about his story was his positivity. And what struck me about him and his family was their generosity, considering they have so little left to give.

At one point, Joe recounted of how he had suffered a massive blow to the head via tree trunk. As he was up on his roof, half of his teeth knocked out by the blow, he began to weep. For the first time since the water started rising, he just cried and cried. And his pet beagle, upon seeing this, sprang into action. She would doggy paddle away and then return with animals in her mouth. She had been a hunting dog in a past life, pre-flooding, bursting levees, and oil spills, and so her hunting skills just kind of kicked in. First came a pigeon. Followed by a mouse. And then a rat.

At this, I grimaced. I didn't mean to react, at least not visibly, but I suppose it was instinctual. I had just flown in from New York, where as legend has it, rats can crawl up shower pipes, becoming lodged there. Or at least according to Augusten Burroughs. And I couldn't imagine anything more horrifying.

It was then that Joe looked directly at me, as he continued his story. He explained that the dog had been trying to save his life by bringing him food, and I was instantly humbled. Whereas I had been dreading rats, others were fighting for survival. There were no luxuries. It's funny what our mentality chooses to dwell upon, but how quickly our perspectives change. Survival had always been a given for me.

And upon closer glance, I noticed that Joe was toothless; I had simply relegated his manner of speech to his Southern drawl. Here before me, sat a toothless, humble man, sitting in a washed out home with his FEMA trailer out front, expressing gratitude. Genuine gratefulness for a group of volunteers that had come down to help rebuild his father's house for a week, when really, we were the ones walking away with lessons worth our weight in gold.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Oh, My Nola.

New Orleans is crazy. I can't explain it - it just is. Reflect upon your college days, and take frat row - well, all the frat guys and football fans and underage party kids and raging alcoholics from your entire university (but a proper sports school a la the Big Ten) - and put them on one street and you have a taste of New Orleans. The rowdy part, anyway.

My hotel is exactly one block away from Bourbon Street. Just a couple hours ago, a couple Googlers and I ventured out in search of dinner. As Bourbon Street has the flashy lights and heavy foot traffic, we figured we might have some luck there. It took half a block for us to realize we went looking down the wrong street. There was no food to be found, only bar after bar, daiquiri after daiquiri.

People are drunk in the French Quarter at all hours of the day. On a Sunday, no less.

Four hours later, I accompanied two guys from our volunteer group down Bourbon to check out the music scene. We found ourselves in Fat Catz, a place where the locals and tourists and homeless come together for a rollicking good time. Where the waitresses are, well, let's just say 'forward' is an understatement. And FYI, Mustang Sally is the most requested song in NOLA. Just thought you'd like to know.

Being completely sober amidst total debauchery is actually kind of entertaining.

As for why I'm finding myself in the French Quarter (aside from the quest for Southern hospitality), I want to help. I read an article recently that noted how musicians are struggling due to fewer tourists and poorer locals to rely on, and I found that to be particularly troubling, as culture is what keeps the city alive. Rebuild the birthplace of jazz? If this is really a place of such improvisation and creativity, I think this melting pot culture needs to be rebuilt.

Georgia On My Mind.

The first thing I notice when I land in Atlanta is that it's cold. The air conditioner is on full blast, and skirt and thin sweater clad me is actually cold. And I rarely experience this sensation that others call "cold." Granted, I am making these observations from the confines of the airport, but still, this is not what I expected of Hotlanta.

Regardless, I decide to make the most of it and focus on the positive. This is my first time in the South, and I'm determined to experience Southern hospitality. It's been something of a dream of mine. As this will be a short stay - two hours, to be precise - I'll leave the hospitality for Louisiana and move on to more pressing concerns.

My ATL friend once told me that there is a Chick-fil-a in the airport here and immediately my mood brightens upon the thought of this. I am sleep deprived and in need of a shower but all my worries melt away. In anticipation, I make a beeline for the sweet tea and delicious chicken sandwiches but to my dismay, it is closed. I am thisclose to heaven and the gates are shut. Because it's a Sunday. Tragic.

Oooh.. flight is boarding. Will have to finish my thoughts from NOLA.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Foodie's Paradise.

I have taken a bite of the Big Apple, and boy, was it delicious. To tidily sum up what I did over this trip to New York, I simply ate. I ate and ate and ate. I ate meals that I didn’t know were meals. Out the window went the typical breakfast-lunch-dinner mold – I ate at all hours of the day. Famous names, foreign names, street names, I ate it all. In the past four days, I have sampled four different cupcakes from four different cupcakeries and ate what may very well have been the best meal of my life.

Highlights include:

* Best pizza: Lombardi’s
* Best cupcake: Red Velvet at Buttercup Bakeshop (possibly better than Sprinkles.. and that's saying a lot)
* Best precursor for Europe: Pastis
* Most darling dessert place / favorite movie setting: Café Lalo
* Most pleasantly surprising: Rice to Riches (rice pudding, who knew?)
* Fun, but overrated: Serendipity
* Biggest disappointment: Bonchon.. running out of chicken ("does McDonald's ever sell out of hamburgers?")
* Best meal at Google NY: Lobster ravioli
* Best (& probably most expensive) meal of my life: Nobu Next Door

All in all, it’s been a great week in food. Onward to NOLA and it's po' boys, beignets, and jambalaya!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Take the E Train.

The first thing you notice about New York is the weather. You step off the plane, and although technically in the Garden State, you just know that the heat will extend to the Man - Manhattan, that is. And then there are the skyscrapers - the hustle and bustle of people with places to go and things to do. With confident strides, they're determined in reaching their respective destinations, without time to stop and smell the roses (but oftentimes the coffee).

I feel the humidity in my shoes. As I'm walking down 2nd Ave. toward the subway at 51st and Lex, I'm aware of my feet. And I don't normally think about my feet. I feel this surge of mugginess, but I'm too enamored with the city to dwell on it for too long. One of my favorite things about SF are the Victorians - so rich in character and quirkiness. But New York, oh New York has the dignified, sleepy brownstones. I discovered this last night as I was wandering down one of the myriad numbered streets in the Upper East Side on my way to dinner. Holly Golightly lived in a brownstone. I think I may love brownstones more.

I'm waiting at the corner of 50th and 3rd Ave., momentarily halted by a red light, and a homeless man is yelling at me. I don't know what he is yelling, but I know they're a string of either expletives or obscenities. But based on the menacing look on his face, I'll have to go with expletives. I wonder what I've done to offend him. They say that headphones are transforming our society into isolated individuals and are cutting off non-virtual communication as we know it. But for what it's worth, today I'll have to argue with John Donne and say that every man is an island, at least to some degree, and be grateful for my headphones, as I'd really rather not know what this man is yelling at me about.

Now I'm standing, waiting to catch the E line towards World Trade Center. I'm running later to work than I had intended, in part due to jetlag and prematurely closing doors. I missed the first train, as the doors were sliding to a shut at the point of my arrival. But I don't mind. I suppose I could have made it had I continued to walk down the escalator, but I stopped a couple steps shy of the platform, as a couple was standing stationary in front of me. And so I stood as well. This is New York, and I was enjoying a New York moment. It's the mundane things that I relish, that make me feel like a New Yorker, even if just for a day.

The next train that arrives is the V. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the escalator couple board the train. The humidity is starting to creep in. I begin to notice the murky puddles and trash littering the subway bottom. I'm trying not to focus too much, for fear of a rat or cockroach sighting. Moving right along.

Another five minutes have passed and beads of sweat have formed on my forehead. Now I'm upset at the stationary couple, thinking: "This is New York! Who stands on an escalator during rush hour in NYC??" But the E train rolls in soon thereafter, and with the air conditioner on full blast, I find myself once again in a New York moment.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Things I Did While Attempting to Pack.

* Powernap.
* Stare at suitcase.
* Check recent The Sartorialist photos to gauge NYC weather.
* Lose 4 games of expert-level Minesweeper.
* Roll suitcase down hallway.
* IMDB Rainn Wilson.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Push zee Button.

So there's this scene in the first season of Felicity, when her parents come to visit New York for the first time to see how she's faring, and to convince her to move back home and attend Stanford. Defeated, she's all ready to move back to California.. when they hand her a set of car keys as an added incentive. And then she realizes that that's not what she wants. She doesn't want the easy way out. She wants to stay in New York and figure things out on her own. Yes, it will be hard, and yes, she feels overwhelmed. But it's what she has to do - grow up and live her own life. And as she fingers the keys in her palm and turns them around, the camera zooms in on her thumb inching toward the panic button.

So I got out my keys and pressed my panic button. Nothing happened.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Evolution of Exercise.

I am learning yoga from an elephant. As I have neither the time nor the resources to take a proper yoga class at the local studio around the corner, I have settled for five minute sessions with Babar, the Elephant King. Every morning I flip through the illustrations and try a new pose, going until I break out into a light sweat before heading off to work. The mornings I wake up with time to spare, that is, which really amounts to maybe once or twice a week, if that. Babar's Yoga for Elephants - you should try it.

My mum likes to tell me to exercise, but what she's really implying is that I'm gaining weight. She says this not as a stage mom or an iron-fisted matriarch, but matter-of-factly, kindly. I think mostly, she's worried that I'm scaring the boys away.

It's been years since I worked out at a gym. I once accompanied my best friend to Club One to use the immaculate showers and to check out firsthand what these widely-referenced "elliptical" machines were. But that's about it.

I do ride bikes, however. Just today, I had the following exchange with my co-worker:
"Hey Houghton! Where you off to?"
"I'm going to Slice and the gym!" she replies, as I ride by, one hand maneuvering my GBike and the other, shoving a double chocolate fudge brownie into my mouth.

As Google promotes this type of active lifestyle and green living, I find that I, too, am evolving in unexpected ways. After ten months at the Googleplex, I have yet to sign up for the gym, although I have given many a tour of it. When I worked for Nissan, I registered the first week of employment only never to return. I like to think I have grown more self-aware.

After all, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. And Steve Jobs is absolutely right. So I have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in my future.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Riddle Me This.

I tend to be indecisive about most things. Waiting in line at Chipotle, I'll order a burrito - half chicken, half steak. And when faced with an ice breaker question, I'll give two responses, as various contexts must be considered. But there is one question that I know the answer to. Should you ask me what my favorite movie is, it's simple. I'll say Breakfast at Tiffany's in a heartbeat. Delve a little further and ask me why it was my favorite film, I would have been hard pressed for an answer.

As I'm learning that design is about solving a problem, not just mere aesthetics or decoration, I got to thinking about why I loved this movie so and wanted to highlight the paradox that is Holly Golightly. The girl about town has her wild side and little black dresses (Givenchy, no less) but is, as Paul Varjak aptly puts it: "a girl who can't help anybody, not even herself." She accepts $50 for trips to the powder room from mafiosos, rats, and super rats alike, while maintaining a distance from those who really care about her. She's stuck in a cage she built herself, and a night spent in jail, a failed romance with a Brazilian aristocrat, and the untimely death of her brother Fred aren't enough to jar her out of her mental confines. Her breaking point comes when she throws her no-name Cat out into a rainy New York alley, only to realize that she's formed an attachment to the cat. And if a no-named Cat could find a place in her heart, maybe, just maybe, someone could accept her - hang ups and all.

And so all this I wanted to channel into this poster.

I'm delirious, and I stayed up all night designing it, but I'm done! Here it is:
The city and the cat are technicolor to reflect the format of the original 1961 film. Black and white text to further the paradox. Didot serif font selected for it's curvy y's - reminiscent of a cat's tail. Cat gets center stage as he embodies the core emotional value, serving as the one constant, whereas Holly is here and there and everywhere. And robin's egg blue background to reflect Tiffany's, of course. There's more, but delirium seems to have taken over.

It just occurred to me that I must wake up for work in two hours. Oh my.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Ugly Jesus.

I went to visit my friend Dave at his studio the other night, when he reintroduced me to a familiar figure. After walking around his studio and stopping to examine each piece, I then came across a face painted on a small square canvas that had been casually strewn aside.

"Who's that?" I asked. "Santino Rice?"

Now Dave is the kind of guy who can't remember what happened thirty seconds prior. He once called me and the first two minutes of the conversation consisted of him trying to recall whether I had called him or he had called me. He's an artistic soul.

To say that Dave knows pop culture - music notwithstanding - is to say that I am coordinated. Unless it's Yo La Tengo we're talking about, all I'll get is a blank stare. That an homage to Project Runway could lie amidst the rest of his artwork is unthinkable. I should have known.

"That's Ugly Jesus," he replied.

Now, I was thoroughly confused. Dave is a fellow believer, but not cut of the same cloth as the conservative right wing Bible belt Christian that seems to be today's prevailing stereotype. Come to think of it, I don't know very many of those. We probably wouldn't get along.

"Ugly Jesus?"
"Yeah, Ugly Jesus."

Dave simply believes. And so he explained. Explained how he thought Jesus was ugly, of how he was rugged and dirty but charismatic in the unconventional sense - the guy that marches to his own beat and everyone loves him for it - much like San Francisco. Of how in order for him to care for the people that he did, how he couldn't possibly have been a smooth operator.

"Oh, okay," I said, nodding thoughtfully as another painting caught my eye. And I proceeded to ask him about that.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

I Wish.

When I was young, I wished for many things. I had read this story about a man who caught a leprechaun and was granted three wishes. Being both male and unable to think past his immediate needs, upon minor hunger pains, he wished for a sausage. Furious for having wasted a wish, his wife proceeded to berate him for his stupidity. He then wished the sausage upon her nose. And as his wife's fury descended into pleading at the newfound appendage, he wished the sausage off her nose, unable to tolerate any more of her nagging. And then they shared it as a meal and lived happily ever after.

Something happened today that got me to thinking about some of my childhood desires. I wished to be an Olympic figure skating champion. Sad to say, I never saw the day, and I never even made it to triples. I wished blond haired, blue eyed Vince G. would reciprocate my three-year long first crush. He never did, or so I thought, but he rocked my world for the entirety of the fourth grade.

I wished for a chinchilla upon having petted one at what I now can only presume was an illegal pet shop by the skating rink. And just like my parents repeatedly nixing the puppy idea, they soon laid this one to rest as well in the graveyard of bright-eyed dreams. I wished for glasses, and those I got, only after mock-squinting and lying during my eye exam.

"O.. F, no wait, E, I mean, F.. L.. C? Er.. I think it's another O.."

And to think, I was so pleased with my pink plastic-framed nerd glasses. The prescription lenses were probably what caused my descent into bad vision.

Lastly, I wished for a broken bone. There would be a story:

"Yeah, I must've caught a rut when landing my lutz," I'd say nonchalantly. "The ambulance had to come." I could barely do a toe loop, but it didn't matter.
"That's soooooooooo rad! Did they ring the siren?" This was to be followed by a series of oooohs and aaaahs.

And I, too, wanted a cast that all my friends could sign. I had it all planned out. There would be markers and Sharpies, and I would provide subtle artistic direction on what the best use of space would be. Vince's signature would be front and center, of course. And there would also be flowers, Sanrio characters, and thoughtful messages. Well, as thought-filled as is possible for a fifth grader. And for all those reasons, I so badly wanted a hairline fracture.

Today, after a series of x-rays and years of unrequited longing, that dream came true.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Let's Get Symmetrical & Feel Alright.

They say that symmetry equates to beauty. According to Wikipedia, in evolutionary psychology, symmetry, especially facial symmetry, is one of the traits associated with the health, physical attractiveness, and beauty of a person. And if it's in Wikipedia, you know it must be true. I've heard that Denzel Washington has one of the most symmetrical of faces, which if the theory holds, makes him one of the most attractive men around. Which I suppose he is. And while I am an advocate of such beauty ideals as natural beauty, inherent style, and pretty much anything embodied by Liya Kebede - I was never fully sold on the symmetry bit until now.

Through a series of rather unfortunate events, I'm coming to realize that whether we realize it or not, this very notion is built into our genetic makeup. Maybe it does have to do with beauty ideals, or maybe we're just wired to compete and compare. What one side has, the other must eventually follow suit. Take, for example, the following:

When I was in the sixth grade, I ended up with stitches just above my right knee - a freak accident from foolishly trying to do axels before I knew how. The next thing I knew, I was sprawled out on the ice, with my blade protruding from my right thigh and blood everywhere. The six stitches eventually came out, and I was left with a scar the size of a quarter. Twelve years later, I find myself with another round of stitches, this time in my left knee from having tripped and fallen at work. Scars from injuries sustained on both legs. It all comes back to symmetry.

Not wanting to be left out, my arms followed suit. Two weekends ago, while playing tennis, I somehow managed to spin around and fall while swatting an off-balanced forehand. As I peeled my face off the pavement, I saw that my right elbow was speckled with blood. Ominous. Just yesterday, I fell down a set of hardwood stairs. Lo and behold, it was my left elbow that broke my fall, and I was left with a bloodied, possibly fractured left arm. The extensiveness of the damage remains to be seen. If beauty really were about symmetry, I must be off the charts.

I wonder if I ought to simply double-fist it. Next time I catch myself plummeting rapidly to the floor, I shall extend both elbows, and thereby save myself two trips to the emergency room. Kill two birds with one stone, if you will.

And that, I suppose, is the evolutionary process. I like to think that man learns from his mistakes.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Favorite Things.

Like brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my faaaavorite things..

Creativity. Bright & rustic. Flower arrangements I designed for Easter.

Chocolate + cupcake. From my birthday chocolate crawl.

And The Beat Goes On.

I'm in a fight with my washer/dryer. We're no longer on speaking terms. I have no desire to be in the same vicinity as said Machine-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. This has been manageable by simply throwing in detergent and skulking off; good riddance! I am pounding away at my keyboard as we speak.

It all began with my second favorite pair of jeans. Being the sneaky little machine that it is, it decided to play games with me and v. deliberately, shrink the denim pant. The first time was funny. I have a sense of humor; I can take a joke. And then a second and a third and a fourth.. As a result, I am currently one pair of light blue Citizens short, and I no longer fit into the entirety of my pants collection.

I don't know where this sudden grudge came about, but one thing's for sure. Unless it coughs up my long lost pendant or 7 mates to my mismatching socks, I'm not apologizing first.

And to think, we were such good friends until I started working at Google..

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Truly, Madly, Deeply.

Addiction. It's been years since you've mastered it - attended meetings, found support in a network of friends, resisted and then eventually succumbed to intervention. And somehow, despite the odds, you muster up the will to overcome. You think you're doing well. But how quickly we tumble off the wagon.

I sit here typing away at 3:57am, eyes bloodshot. And I want just one more fix, or that's what I've been telling myself for the past seven hours. One becomes two becomes three becomes eight.

It was never good for me. I saw the damage it did, but I didn't care. I took health sciences. We had D.A.R.E. at our school, and I saw the Rachael Leigh Cook commercial. You know the one:

This is your brain.
This is your brain on drugs.
(Partnership for a drug-free America.)

The drug of choice being Korean dramas.

I have been sober for almost ten years. With the exception of one weekend at home, when I was unwittingly lured by what I thought was my alma mater, UCLA, projected on screen (it was in fact, "Harvard"), I can honestly say I have been clean. I have this theory that Korean dramas do psychological damage, putting to rot the minds of fanciful girls in LA and greater Asia. And I had since made it my personal mission to lobby against said damage before it was too late.

My relapse began with a family visit. As my grandma can no longer remain on her feet for extended periods of time, we had an early dinner at EOS and called it a night, which meant Korean drama marathon. And so, this little family unit of mine took to the couches and bonded, Korean style. Although initially skeptical, the wonderment of the non-linear plot structure soon wore me down. It was better than any trainwreck I had ever seen.

The anatomy of a Korean drama is as follows:
The FORMULA is circulated around the production world. Give or take a few tweaks to the job here and various names for characters there. It doesn't change, but you didn't hear it from me. Mix in two parts crack cocaine, and voila! A miniseries is born.

My brother and I like to play up the drama, with exclamations of: "Ooooh.. He looks piiiiiiiiiissed!" This, of course, results in my mum shooting us a look, which we gleefully ignore. It's too much fun. My grandma, meanwhile, is dozing in and out of consciousness on the couch. Andy likes to break it down: "This is the common scene in Korean dramas - the ub bwoh joh* scene," he explains to me, knowingly. "You see, here, his preconceptions about her are changing." He knows because he has just moved back home, where K-dramas are a nightly fare.

My brother is also surprisingly analytical. "There is a strong foundation for a relationship, Erika. Take notes." He runs an exegesis on the composition of the scene at hand, noting: "Is there supposed to be some hidden innuendo about how they drive a white Hyundai Sonata?" I stare blankly at him and roll my eyes. "Isn't this thing called Winter Sonata or something?" My views of my brother are slowly changing. And I'm supposed to be the English major.

With symbolism like that, how can I resist?

-----
* translates to piggy-back

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Help!

Options. I can characterize my life by the abundance of options. Having had the option to have so many options, I have become something of an ingrate. This is something I actively attempt to undo on a daily basis.

Fear, in essence, is an option. There are those who run away from their fears, and then there are those who face them head on. I think I fall somewhere in between. But then there are those cases where fear transcends being fear and transforms into reality. Fear is no longer an option but is now the life you are living.

I don't normally do this, but it's been a pressing concern. I don't know how many people read this blog of mine, but I need to make a plug for this and I don't care how un-blog/column-like it sounds. One of my cousin's best friends, Michelle, recently got diagnosed with leukemia. She is 25. And while treatment is thus far looking promising, there is someone who has not been so fortunate.

It is incredibly difficult to find a bone marrow match for a minority. If your siblings are not a match, you'd better start searching. Supposedly, for a caucasian, there will typically be up to 15 matches already in the database, but for Vinay Chakravarthy, after having 162 donor drives and 9458 people registered, he's left scrambling. We're talking days, not months or years.

I read an article in the recent Vanity Fair - the Africa edition, guest edited by Bono. And Mr. Grammy winning Do-Gooder-Multi-Hyphenate goes on to say:

"This is an emergency - normal rules don't apply. There are no easy good or bad guys. Do you think an African mother cares if the drugs keeping her child alive are thanks to an iPod or a church plate? Or a Democrat or a Republican? I don't think that mother gives a damn about where that 20-cent pill comes from, so why should we. It can lead to some uncomfortable bedfellows, but sometimes less sleep means you are more awake."

And he's right. How or why you get swabbed is irrelevant. There's this book called the Lazy Environmentalist by Josh Dorfman. Basically, the idea is to seamlessly incorporate green living into your daily routine without altering your quality of life. Modern living seems to revolve around convenience. Go ahead. Be a lazy bone marrow donor. If you are or have any friends who are South Asian (or Chinese-Viet or anything else), please.. what is keeping you? Consider sacrificing one lazy Saturday afternoon, lunch hour at work, or trip to the Fillmore district to get swabbed. You may potentially save a life.

The following site will have all the information you need in terms of procedures and upcoming drives: www.helpvinay.org

Help Vinay.

*edit*
Also important to note that after you register to be a donor, please FOLLOW THROUGH and be a COMMITTED donor! Vinay actually found a match, but was devastated to learn that the potential donor decided not to go through with the bone marrow transfer process.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Windy City.

I had the fortune of attending the Willow Creek Arts Conference, where I left v. much inspired. It's always great to know that there are other free spirits out there who share your interests and even outlooks on life.

The stage was decorated like this.. a bright sunshine-y day:
I inevitably got distracted while looking out the window:
An unabashedly large auditorium:
And then there was Chicago. As we were driving to the city, through different parts of Illinois, I couldn't help but notice the details. From trimming on various buildings to lamposts.. The top left I sketched while driving. I probably shouldn't have, but I couldn't resist.

I developed this fascination for rooftops. I can't explain what it is - the shapes - I couldn't help but notice them. I'm a California girl. We have McMansions and track homes. Proper roofs and stray bunnies.. what new, strange place was this Midwest?
We ate and played tourist. Laughed and laughed at Second City. Ate again. Made an appearance at the Cubs game. The one with the big brawl that resulted in two suspensions. Ate some more. At Wrigley Field, famous for the manually updated sign:
Chicago has some of the most amazing architecture I've seen. From gothic to art deco, modern to pomo, the skyline is breathtaking. There are honeycomb towers familiar to Wilco's Yankee Foxtrot fans and buildings of the Mies van der Rohe persuasion. We went on an architecture boat tour down the river and saw the Sears Tower:
And my personal favorite, the Chicago Tribune tower. I'm the nerd on the boat who actually took notes.
Now, if only I could get used to the humidity and blustery winters, I'd pack up my bags in a heartbeat. Au revoir!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Homeward Bound.

I followed a homeless man today. I hadn't intended to; it just kind of worked out that way.

It began as a friendly neighborhood jog. I headed out of the house around 9pm, and it was dusk at best. One of those glorious summer nights where daylight seems eternal, and there's not a cloud in sight - a rarity for San Francisco. As it was relatively late, I ran my usual abridged route down Irving, a mile or so and back. Enough to burn off the Milka squares I had just consumed. There was still a glimmer of light in the darkening sky, so I veered a sharp right.

I have this secret spot that I escape to that I haven't shared with very many people. By day, you get an amazing panoramic view of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge to the north and the Financial District to the west. From time to time, I go there to clear my head, and it does the trick. I can't think of a better remedy. I felt the sudden urge to see the skyline by night. I couldn't resist.

Fear is normally not an emotion I associate with this place, but it was my first time there at night. Being a relatively isolated area, I suppose I could have been dismembered and stuffed in a trunk without anyone noticing, but it's a good neighborhood and I'd rather not think about that. I followed the dirt path up and that's where I saw him.

He was a bearded man - more Cuban dictator than Colonel Sanders - and with him was a striped shopping bag. He seemed in a daze and plodded down the dusty wooden steps the moment I arrived.

I inhaled the cityscape, marveling for twelve seconds. Then I re-assessed the possibility of dismemberment and proceeded to race downhill.

As I neared the bottom of the steps, I noticed the man again. He was a block ahead of me but seemed to be going in my direction. I wondered where he had come from. Did he come here every night, wandering as he pleased? Did he see what I saw? Was this place his lucid haven? I imagined a day spent in Golden Gate Park and lunch on the Haight. Or maybe that's too cliche. Perhaps there were other nomadic friends. Did they travel in packs? He seemed alone.

With each block, I neared home. I had a final destination and a cozy Victorian to call my own, with scalloped trimming to boot. But was he nearing, or was he leaving? To what, from what? Perhaps this was his home, just not in the physical sense as parochial Americans perceive it. And just like that, he disappeared down a side street, a solitary silhouette walking into the horizon. I imagine he was headed down to the Mission district, both coming and going.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Write Stuff.

I have this friend who likes to probe, to ask difficult questions that I'd rather not answer. I try to ignore or change the subject or play the oblivious card, but he sees right through it. And before I can hang up the phone, he'll guilt me into a response. I simultaneously appreciate and resent him for that. I'll have my opinions neatly packaged in my mind, and then he'll come and strip away all the wrapping paper with one clean tear. Simple questions. Questions I should be able to answer, but questions that nevertheless put me on the defensive. It’s as if I’m being shoved off the high dive when I don’t know how to swim, and I'm splashing around for any floatation device that will keep me surfaced. Sometimes I just want to cover my ears, brandish an ink Uni-ball pen, and scribble a response card because things make the most sense to me when I write.

As a writer, people automatically assume that I journal. I do not. I avoid journaling at all costs, and I do this subconsciously. When faced with the option of winding down and gathering my thoughts, I simply allocate my mental resources elsewhere: that email I forgot to respond to, the pile of Economists and New Yorkers strewn beside my bed, season three of The Office to catch up on. I cannot journal because it is too personal, and what I write offers a glimpse into my thoughts but stops short of being vulnerable. I find that the only time the words will flow is when I'm lying in bed, about to go to sleep and too lazy to grab a pen - the graveyard of ideas past. For when I journal, I'm left with a jumble. Random topics littering a once pristine page. Imperfection; a mistake.

I’ve tried to diversify my approaches. Just this weekend, while on the El following a Second City show in Chicago, I attempted to master the art of meditation. I had never tried it before, but I imagined it to be a channeling of focused energy. I had taken a couple of yoga classes in college, and I used to skate competitively. While it had been years since I stood atop a podium, grinning brace-faced into the camera with medal/trophy in hand, buried deep inside me lay the blueprints of focus and resolve. Mental determination. Extract and release. I choreographed hand motions and everything.

What it comes down to is this: I want to learn to fail. I want the imminent possibility of failure to be okay. I want this because only then will I learn to take chances. And that’s a hell of a lot better than sitting, waiting, wishing.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Pen Is Mightier.

People underestimate the power of the written word. Take an introductory English course, and you’ll hear every writing-related cliché in the book. Even Sean Connery (or Alex Trebec, rather) of Celebrity Jeopardy fame attests to the power of the pen. What most men forget when gift-shopping for their significant others is that it's not always about the amount swiped away from their CitiBank rewards accounts. If they just realized that a well-written card oft speaks legions more than flowers or dare I say it, chocolate would, maybe there would be more couples in the world. Regrettably, cards have become an afterthought.

My family is guilty of this. On occasion, I'll receive a couple of hastily scribbled lines, usually reiterating the words already printed inside the card. In place of the Happy Holidays already emblazoned on the inside, a relative will write a very enthusiastic "Merry Christmas!! Love, the Kim family," double exclamation point for added emphasis. Or my personal favorite, an entirely blank card not even adorned with a signature - yet another addition to the ongoing Christmas card stash. The art of card writing has become homogenized into two liners, much akin to the HAGS! and K.I.T! of yearbookdom.

And then there are the repeat offenders. While I may over time receive a sprinkling of cards from my parents and certain relatives, my brother has never put pen to paper, at least not for me. Following our childhood years when we would fight tooth and nail (more nail than tooth) and kick each other from the top of the staircase, my brother and I have since abided by an unspoken hands-off policy - possibly a twisted manifestation of the concept of truce. Dating back to as long as I can remember, we have hugged exactly twice. And so, it was a complete shock when in addition to a simple, sophisticated wallet, I saw what suspiciously resembled an envelope. As I ran the paper through my fingers, it occurred to me that this was not a mere slip of receipt paper. I felt cardstock, folded cardstock. And as I gingerly tore open the envelope to examine its contents, inside was.. well, I’ll let the words do the talking:

To Erika,

Happy Birthday! You have officially reached a new milestone: OLD. Time to hit the "she-jeep."*

Your brother,
Andrew

Yes, Mr. Connery, the pen is indeed mightier.


* Translates to 'marry' in Korean.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Forever Young.

People have hallmarks of adulthood - some associate it with twenty one, others with careers and responsibilities. In my opinion, Aaliyah - may she rest in peace - had it right. Age ain't nothin' but a number. Twenty one felt suspiciously like eighteen, except you could legally drink.

Seeing as how the last book I read was the fourth installment of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the fact that I still have difficulty coloring within the lines, I am a kid at heart and perpetually feel light years behind. Like the eight year old rummaging through her mother's costume jewelry or getting into the whiskey (it looked like orange juice!) in the punch bowl at her parents' company function, at twenty-four, I still find myself masquerading in a role that has supposedly come to pass. Instead, I have created my own definition: the moment I would enter adulthood was the day I would finally order fish at a restaurant.

The thing is, I have always been a picky eater. Correction: I was once a picky eater but have since reformed. It's not that I wanted to be demanding - I simply had my preferences, and being a creature of habit in the gastronomical sense, when faced with a decision, I invariably would opt for (a) chicken or (b) pasta, or when the stars were properly aligned, (c) chicken pasta.

Growing up, this proved to be problematic, as it cut out one entire food group. With my eating habits, the food pyramid would resemble more an hourglass - you had your bread base as a solid foundation, fruit at the narrowing, and your fats/oils/sugars teetering precariously on top. And the itty-bitty space where the sand would sieve through - that was occupied by the likes of leafy greens, carrots, and ick - celery. It wasn't that I was never exposed to these foods, but rather, that I had selective sight. I simply did not notice the dishes that were on the dinner table, unless they directly pertained to me. Case in point: I never had kimchi chigae until my freshman year of college. I'm sure it was there, I just never saw it.

Recently, upon a visit to House - an Asian fusion restaurant in North Beach - the unthinkable happened. I ordered the sea bass and savored every. last. bite. I thought it would be more ceremonious, marked by the likes of fanfare and clinking champagne glasses. Adulthood kind of snuck up on me.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Spring Fever.

It has begun. In a vast desert of romantic interest, already, two couples have sprung up. Oases that I never saw coming, but a welcome sight at that. I do believe Spring Fever is upon us.

Which brings me to dating.

Fast forward through the "once upon a time" and zip right on through the "land far, far away" - I was always more interested in the happy endings. Maybe I lacked the patience. Maybe, I just wanted my knight to canter right on up to my castle and sweep me away from my ivory tower. My only lament was that my hair wouldn't grow fast enough. I associated happy endings with a perfect man (and chocolates galore), as any Korean drama or Disney movie of the 50's variety or 90's renaissance would have me believe, and I knew, I just knew that my day would come.

Fast forward a little bit more: past the tomboy stage and right on through adolescent angst, and somewhere in that time warp, I went from a little girl lost in a fairytale reverie to a twentysomething embracing independence and life as a singleton, masterfully zoning out during lectures from the parentals.

My parents, like any other Asian parents, are very much invested in my future. They always have been. As I am now out of college and can no longer be subject to discussions on grades and standardized test scores, they have set their sights upon more ambitious matters: marriage. SAT’s? Child’s play. They’ve since entered the major leagues. Ever since I graduated, the sparked interest in who I’m dating, how I’m spending my free time has grown exponentially. My mom likes to provide constructive criticism, noting that it is okay to date, so long as he is (a) Christian, (b) not a lawyer, and (c) comes from a solid family.

My relatives have even joined in on the fun. While my meddlesome aunt lacks the subtlety necessary for adequately addressing such topics, my uncle has taken to referencing his unborn grandchildren in his car-buying decisions. I find it amazing that the yet-to-be-conceived demographic has such purchasing power. It's just unfortunate that at this point, the most eligible bachelorette in the Choung/Kim family is eighteen years old.

But back to my parents. They’re sharp, those two, and they adapt quickly. Upon realization that their tag team efforts of inquiries into my romantic life were leading nowhere, they switched to subtler, more subversive tactics.

“You know, I was married at twenty-three.”
That’s nice umma, I say sweetly with a mischievous smile.
“You know I expect you to be married by twenty-six, right?”
You do realize I’ll be twenty-five in a month..

Normally, I'll have nothing of it. But just this once, I'll indulge. After all, it is Mother's Day, and I love my mum.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mise-en-Scène.

So. It's been a while since I've sketched..
The Penicillin Effect. Some of the best inventions were results of serendipitous flukes. I was playing around with Photoshop, while cropping this image, and ended up with this. The flower print would make a fun textile. Warholian lithographs without even learning to silkscreen.

Scenes from the Yerba Buena Gardens by night. The Creative Arts Ministry of GRX went out to capture images of God working in the city. I saw the flag, not as sentimental Americana or propaganda, but as a symbol of the star-spangled liberties we take for granted. I read a story about the plight of 3 North Korean children this morning, and all they wanted was to find freedom in the States. What could possess a 12, 13, and 17 year olds to risk their lives with the singular objective of attaining basic human rights and mobilize them with an indomitable spirit light years beyond that of an adult? At the age of twelve, I was watching as my peers emulated Janet Jackson's "If" dance while trying to convince my parents to buy me a bottle of CK One.

I was momentarily distracted by these rustic flowers one lazy Sunday afternoon at Dolores Park Cafe. Intending to write, I ended up sketching away.

And for good measure.. I saw this dog patiently waiting for his owner outside of Tully's in Cole Valley one morning that I missed my shuttle. You can't live in San Francisco and not love dogs. They're everywhere.


And last but not least, I leave you with some thoughts..


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hypochondrafragilisticexpialadocious.

I went to the doctor yesterday for the first time in 1.5 years, and I was a bit worried. Who knows what could have happened during that time? In the past eighteen months, wars have been waged, 2 Miss Americas have been crowned, and every orchid in my care has died a parched, merciless death. Seeing as how I have:
(a) not stepped foot in a gym except while playing tour guide at the Googleplex,
(b) continually sampled an inordinate amount of dessert on a day to day basis (despite my myriad resolutions not to), and
(c) experienced true heart burn for the v. first time,
I felt I had a legitimate cause for concern.

This all started a couple of weeks ago. I had a raging headache while at work, which promptly sent me spiraling into panic mode. Rarely do I have legitimate headaches, and even rarer are ones that severe. Drawing only logical conclusions from the fact that my headache proceeded to intensify after consuming half a carton of Mighty Mango Naked Juice courtesy of Google, I immediately catalogued my brain for the most appropriate diagnosis. And then it dawned on me. Diabetes. Yes, the big D. The one that plagued Stacey McGill of Baby Sitter's Club fame. Not even her loopy a's and i's dotted with hearts could fend off that disease. Poor, trendy Stacey - the popular girl with a secret - had to give herself daily injections of insulin while steering clear of chocolates. Consulting WebMD and googling its symptoms only confirmed my suspicions. Adjustments would have to be made. Major lifestyle changes. Shots I could handle, but eliminating my primary food group from my diet? Unthinkable.

In the spirit of my newfound self-betterment resolve, I proceeded to Yelp a doctor and came across good ole' Dr. Dan. As I nervously made the trek to the Financial District - purposefully avoiding the MUNI as the stairs coming up from the Montgomery stop led straight to Specialties - and cautiously set foot in the immaculate, carpeted office space, I immersed myself in a backdated issue of Conde Nast Traveler.

"Spain. Must plan for Spain," I thought.

It was my first time in an office such as this. My medical experiences of the past were littered with lollipops, crying kids, and fluorescent lighting signature of suburbia. Not so with Dr. Dan. For the first time, the potted plant in a doctor's office represented creative design element, successfully making the transition from awkward afterthought serving to occupy dead space. I, officially, was grown up - with a grown up doctor in a grown up office in a grown up city. There were business suits and bluetooths floating past me. And banished were the copies of Highlights, Disney Adventures, and Seventeen, having been replaced by the Conde Nast family, including The New Yorker.

And then I met Dr. Dan. As this sarcastic and surprisingly funny M.D. proceeded to take my vitals, stopping to jot notes in his orange Louis Vuitton planner, I unloaded every possible medical concern I could have possibly ailed from dating back to January of 2006.

"I have this spot on my hand.."
"Can you do anything for scars?"
"I once had an allergic reaction to a hampster.."

Before I knew it, I was waltzing out of the office with a clean bill of health. No prescription. No illegible handwriting. No grave look or compassionate furrowing of the brow. Just like that.

In the aftermath, I have to say I was a little disappointed. All this energy, all this resolve, only to discover that I was/am completely.. normal. It's not that I wanted to be sick - I'm not that ungrateful. I just wanted news. A story. A life-altering motivation to exercise. A minor but interesting diagnoses. It didn't make any sense.. or did it?

Right then and there, I received my epiphany of the day. I visited the wrong kind of doctor. What I really needed was a shrink.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda.

Not too long ago, I had this irrational notion that I was meant to be a business consultant. Had I listened to my parents, graduated summa cum laude, and done everything right in life, it woulda been me clad in the tailored Theory suits, attending fancy client dinners and becoming well versed in the culinary landscapes of many a major metropolitan city. I coulda been the one with the collection of miniature Bliss samples acquired while hopping from one Starwood hotel to the next, and enough United miles to grant me free transatlantic flights to any European destination of my choosing. Of course I would be much too busy to afford any time off, but one well deserved trip to the Cote d’Azur each year would have to do. While I would be tired of living out of a suitcase, the simplicity of my W Hotel suite and a warm cup of genmai tea would calm my nerves as I curled up on my bed with a copy of the New Yorker. I had myself convinced that that shoulda been my career path, and somehow, that equated to success.

We all have our irrational what if scenarios masquerading as regrets. You know the ones - perceived and supposed epiphanies of success where if you really think about it, it makes no sense at all, at least not for us. Who am I kidding? I would've been miserable. But being the neurotic people that we are, we're convinced it should have come to pass. But despite the shoulda, coulda, wouldas, I'm seeing that life is exactly as it should be.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Luck Be A Lady.

I've never really been the jealous type. Sure, I compare myself to others for better or worse, but I like to think that the green eyed monster doesn't often rear its ugly head. That being said, my friend Grace and my cousin Hannah are currently #1 in their respective March Madness brackets, and I'm straight up jealous (but thoroughly proud). Whereas I had initially scoffed at their unoriginality - their presumed selection of the top-seeded teams based on rankings alone - I came to discover that there was indeed strategy involved. Extensive research. And once again, I learn never to assume, as it makes an ass out of u and me.

I feel as though a girl should have some knowledge of the goings on in the ESPN domain. While daily viewings of SportsCenter are not a requirement, the ability to speak intelligently is. This year I decided to join in the fun and choose my brackets. Knowing next to nothing about the NCAA college hoops world, I subsisted off a meager diet of regurgitated statements allowing me to feign some semblance of insight into the wide world of sports. This is where having a brother comes in handy. All those years of him spewing facts at me while I blatantly tried to ignore his presence; I guess there's something to osmosis after all. Throw in a couple random comments about the '96 Atlanta Braves lineup (his once favored team), and already you're up five notches.

And so I leaped into the selection process with much gusto. But how would I, with the sports IQ of a peanut, base my decisions? This couldn't be haphazard, as bragging rights were at stake. And so I opted for relevance. Many of the teams did not ring a bell, so obviously, those couldn't possibly be any good. Oral Roberts? Old Dominion? No thank you. My second line of defense became relevancy. UCLA was a no brainer, as one must always cheer on their alma mater, especially if they were #1 at some point this season. I had friends who attended BC and UNC, thereby determining their success, and I vaguely remember hearing the name Vanderbilt. Nomination by association. And then there is the historical data. One must always learn from the past. I seem to recall a player from last year's Gonzaga team crying like a baby. I don't remember if this was because they won or lost, but the outcome isn't relevant. The point is, I remembered. Ergo, Gonzaga.

My guy friends will make well informed, statistics-based decisions. Having followed the season religiously, they know each coach by heart and can list off the players' respective high school mascots. And the best part is, despite their education and determination, sometimes, it comes down to magical thinking. True, I am embarassingly behind in my fantasy league. But let's hope luck will be a lady tonight.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Across the Universe.

Recently, I discovered that certain childhood memories or experiences are not all universal. Now I suppose this ought to be an obvious statement, but I find that I am genuinely distressed by the very notion. This was so shocking to me, in fact, that hours later, my mind was still reeling from the thought.

I have always assumed that everything that I grew up with fell under the umbrella of the quintessential American upbringing - from Disney afternoons, to En Vogue, to most Asian parents being engineers. Of course this is all shaken the moment one enters college, when you meet people from different areas, different backgrounds. Notions of naivete come and go with the floating of your childhood.

Appalled at my ignorance in light of today's egalitarian society, I decided to investigate this gross miscalculation and trace it back to its roots. Where did I go wrong?

Oversight #1: I forgot that not all of my friends grew up in the States.

This applies to those seemingly assimiliated friends who are dead ringers for native sons and daughters of the U.S. of A. Much of the 80's and early 90's culture that I would reference would, for example, be lost on my friend Jeff, who grew up as an island boy on Papua New Guinea, swimming with the sea turtles and wearing garments constructed with leaves (joking). And references to certain fads (pogs) or trendy snacks (Raven's Revenge) would result in a blank stare from Jon, my brother from another mother, whose childhood memories hail from Moscow, where he was dodging neo-Nazis (not joking) and growing up with ex-pats and the Russian elite. Lesson learned: never make assumptions.

Oversight #2: I forgot that location is everything.

So not everyone goes to Outdoor Science Camp, and (gasp!) there are actually those who have attended indoor schools. I always wondered what that would be like. Weather and area-specific natural disasters have a lot to do with it. I have found that as rainy days are pretty universal, so is Heads Up 7-Up. There apparently weren't annual visits from the Yogi Bear Earthquake Mobile, which for those lucky 4th and 5th graders, would simulate 6.5 on the Richter scale and teach the proper responses to a natural disaster (though how a thin plank of wood loosely referred to as a desk can shield one from a crashing ceiling still remains a mystery). And while Southern California never allowed me the opportunity to go sledding or experience the thrill of having a day of school called off, I just have to think positively and consistently remind myself: Earthquake Mobile! Earthquake Mobile!

I had a conversation with a friend recently. And as I was explaining how I had bought a bunch of records and was in search of a record player, I had mentioned that I was the proud owner of one Peter and the Wolf album. To which the response was a quizzical 'huh?'. So appalled was I, that I proceeded to survey my cousin, roommates, friends and co-workers on whether or not they were familiar with the Prokofieff's classical narrative. Fact (insert simultaneous Dwight Schrute hand motion here): Every school goes to the theater to watch the story of the boy (Peter) and the antagonist (the wolf) unfold, and how the wolf eats the friend bird, represented by the piccolo. That's just how it goes. And while I'm not sure what kind of twisted childhood these people must have led - "..You mean the boy who cried wolf, right?" - I, clearly, was the normal one.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lite-Brite.

Thoughts that occurred to me while standing in the microkitchen at exactly 9:49am PST on 2/28/07, contemplating organic yogurt:

Maybe you're supposed to live unapologetically and just give life a chance.
No room for regrets, no predetermining missteps.

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Maybe it was the influence of the fluorescent haze of the Google-branded display case, but somehow, I am under the impression that I ought to run with this.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Reading Rainbow.

I like to buy things. In fact, I like to buy many things. I go through periods where I'll stockpile anything from CDs to stationery to vintage rock t-shirts. These are subject to change according to mood and stage in life, of course, but the one thing that remains constant is books. I love used book stores: Green Apple, City Lights, Pegasus, Black Oak. Pages lovingly worn and vintage hardcover editions for a fraction of the price. I can never say no to a book, and I spend a ridiculous amount of money on literature because after all, how can you put a price on knowledge and culture?

From my stint as an English major to my overflowing bookshelf, everything about me suggests that I voraciously read. Having run out of room on my [strictly decorational] fireplace mantel, I have resorted to amassing piles by my CD collection and even more piles under my bed. That's not to say that I actually ever get around to reading, however. What I've realized is this: I buy books primarily to place impressively and ever-so-thoughtfully upon my mantel. And when I'm feeling especially artistic, I'll rotate the featured display, as if visually merchandising a boutique window. Books strategically purchased for what they represent, from the aesthetics (who doesn't judge a book by its cover?) to the eclectic genres, creating a telling persona without me having to even open my mouth.

Case in point: I walked into Barnes & Noble one day and stumbled upon newly designed pocket editions of Francis Bacon's On Empire and Plato's The Symposium - essentials for any self-respecting intellectual. Inspired and on a self-betterment campaign, I took the two books straight to the counter and promptly whipped out my credit card. Once the transaction was completed, I felt instantly smarter. Visions of grandeur and culture, of being engaged in philosophic discussions about shadows against a cave wall and what they represent.. all spurred by a lovely handpressed fleur-de-lys motif adorning a book cover. Will I ever study said manuals? Who knows? But should I ever have the desire, I have the option to.

Maybe it was my upbringing. While riddled to guilt at even the suggestion of shopping anywhere other than TJ Maxx, my parents would shell out the big bucks for anything with a binding. It was an educational investment, they said.

And so I continue to buy. Just this weekend, I bought seven*.

I don't know when the last time I actually read was. I simply don't have the time. My productivity ratio for the past month breaks down as follows: 10 books purchased to 1 fashion magazine perused. I recently ordered subscriptions to the New Yorker and the Economist as an alternative, but I wonder if I'll even get around to thumbing through those. If I were more practical, I suppose I would finish what I owned before carting home another dozen. But I'm not, so I can't, then I won't but.. continue to be anything other than idiosyncratic me.

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* Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green by Joshua Braff, Mountain Man Dance Moves (McSweeney's book of lists), and This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in case you were wondering (but most likely weren't).

Thursday, February 15, 2007

We Never Change.

I've been experiencing a bit of writer's block, so I'm resurrecting something from the past for some much needed inspiration:

Every morning I wake up, and the first thought (or word, rather) that enters my head is “shit.”* I find this rather troublesome. I am beginning what may potentially turn out to be a glorious, God-given day with “shit.”, which proclaims doom from the start. This is usually due to the fact that I oversleep every single day and am either (a) late to work or (b) waking up at an obscene hour at which I feel like a disgusting slob. I wake up in an utter state of panic and irritation, running around, stubbing my toe, hastily slapping together what is erroneously labeled a lunch, and proceed to skivvy on out the door, face the unrelentingly malevolent wind, and run into oncoming traffic, at which I then continue to mutter obscenities under my breath in a state of sleepy disillusionment. I'm really not sure if this is the best thing.

Somethings never change. I wrote the above during the quarter I spent in DC during my senior year of college, and three years later, here I am, still v. much the same person that I was back then. Only now I don't slap together makeshift sandwiches - I get gourmet ones for free at work.

I like to think that I have shed any and all vestiges of LA. A past life, I'd rather leave to compartmentalized boxes in mental storage, collecting dust as I move forward with this new chapter in life. As with anything else, life in a new city takes acclimatizing to. First the weather. I work in an environment where knowledge of the power of 2 is a fundamental. My work has crept up even into my wardrobe, as the number of outerwear hanging in my closet has grown exponentially. Then there is the local culture. It is no secret that I have wholeheartedly embraced a local sports team – the San Jose Sharks. Some time ago, I compiled of checklist of things I needed to do in order to become a bona fide San Franciscan. I became a fan of public transportation, moved into a pre-1920's Victorian flat, and the clincher: I purchased one black North Face denali.

The other day, I happened to meet both Will.i.am and James Taylor independently in the same day. One at Google, and the other while en route to my design class. I got off the early shuttle at Civic Center, and there, surrounded by fans, was a man I recognized from UCLA Spring Sing 2004: Mr. Country Road himself, James Taylor. And as much as I love his music, I hesitated. No self-respecting Angeleno would behave the part of the shameless groupie, so I simply played it cool and walked on by. It then occurred to me that this was James FREAKING Taylor (yes, little known fact: Freaking is indeed his middle name) that we were talking about here, so I proceeded to shed any and all dignity, pivot, and walk on by again. This was my chance! Shake hands? Take a picture? A signed forehead, perhaps? The possibilities were endless. And in that moment of hesitation, that fleeting need to play it cool, the security guard ushered him back into the theatre where he was to perform, to perform songs like Carolina on My Mind and Sweet Baby James.

And in that moment, it dawned on me. I will never get LA out of my system.

* Subject to change and directly correlated to number of minutes late. Variants include: 'shiiit' (not to be confused with Shi'ite), 'SHIT!', and the milder, 'oh dear'.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Random Reverie.

I've been having the same reccuring random reverie, and it goes a little something like this:

Setting:
I'm sitting at one of the Google cafes overlooking the Googleplex.
I suppose this will have to be Pacific or Slice - I haven't fully worked out the details - and Larry or Sergey (doesn't matter which one) will walk in.
He'll see me sitting there, gazing out the window, contemplating the contours of a nearby Eucalyptus tree.

And with the rapid brush strokes of my hand, I'll be sketching away and deeply lost in thought. And instantly, he'll be captivated.

The whimsy! The use of color! How very Googley, he'll think to himself.

And he'll whisk away my drawings and demand to know who I am and what I do for this company of his. "Hmm? Recruiting," I'll respond, in a distracted, far off manner. Simple, one word answers, furthering the mystique. And he'll proclaim, personally affronted: "Recruiting?! Talent such as that does not belong in recruiting! I hereby christen you the official sketch artist / water colorist of Google, Inc!"

And so stripped away will be my cube and IBM laptop. I will be officeless, but one MacBook happier. And I'll sprawl out on the grassy lawn, as it will be a perfectly warm, sunny day, painting the varying color nuances of the leaves above.

I know, I know. There is no such thing as a perfectly warm, sunny day in Northern California. But a girl can dream, can't she?

Thursday, February 1, 2007

How Bout them Sharks? (Musings of a Hockey Outsider) - Part Deux

Everyone has a guy - whether it be their jewelry guy or hair cutting guy - whom they seem eager to endorse. Buying a diamond ring? "Go see my guy, and tell him I sent you." Need a good massage? "I know a guy.." I, too, have a guy. He's an Oakland A's fan, #14, and hails from a little known town called Moose Factory in good ole' Canadia. There's something pleasant about guys from Canadia - much like guys from Oregon, I imagine them to be grounded and surrounded by trees. This makes me happy.

Hockey is rapidly becoming my favorite sport to watch. And in the spirit of the game, Part I of my hockey ramblings. Now that I'm a Shark Tank veteran, I like to think I've picked up a thing or two about the culture. Here's what I have learned:

* It's probably a good idea to know who your team is playing. As a novice hockey enthusiast attending the game last minute, I figured this would be excusable, but regardless of level of interest and in the spirit of the game, one must at the very least do that minimal research.

* Additionally, it might be a good idea to know the colors of the opposing team. This goes for any sport. You do not want to be the lone UCLA fan who shows up clad in a red and white windbreaker to the Emerald Bowl vs. Florida State, realizing a little too late that you have arrived inadvertently clad in the other team's colors.. forced to abandon outerwear and brave the malevolent San Francisco winds. All in all, team colors are always a safe bet, as is a black North Face denali.

* When you're sending a text message to vote for your favorite Sharks moment from the year previous, you will incur a $0.99 fee, and chances are you won't be winning that team-signed jersey, no matter how lucky you're feeling.

* Hockey is a sport where fighting is a strategic mechanism for inciting team spirit in the crowds. Brownie points for gear on ice and just a hint of blood for dramatic effect (but preferably no lacerations requiring anything over 13 sutures).

* Finally: never, ever wish for a shoot out when your team is already in the lead. You just may get what you wish for. With 2.2 seconds left on the clock.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of sports according to Generika. If you would like my observations on college ball, soccer, or even log rolling (if it's on ESPN, it's a sport), I welcome complimentary tickets, upon which I shall provide my assessment.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Google Chronicles.

I have officially hit my 3 month mark at Google. And with the recent publicity surrounding the internet juggernaut, I figured now would be a good a time as any to write a little something about my company.

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Welcome to the Googleplex. This is where I show up every morning, after a 1 hr+ commute and devote a good portion my life to bettering:


There are lots of things to see and do at Google, and even more to eat. Sometimes I get comfortable, and I think I've seen it all, from the Yellow Brick Road to the individual lap pools. But every now and then, I am caught off-guard:


Thoughts that have crossed my mind since working at this post-collegiate paradise include: 'Why isn't the toilet seat heated?' and 'I'm not really feeling this miso-seared halibut, but yesterday's fennel-encrusted cod, however..'. We're spoiled, I know. But they keep us busy with recruiting and meetings and such:


Sometimes I wish work were closer to home:


But all in all, I am a happy camper.

P.S. Don't be evil.