A Bit of Nostalgia

I don’t really know the complex details of how the mind works or how it processes thoughts, but I have found myself constantly surprised at how it will, on the occasion, wander into random and tangential thought while browsing through the daily news or reading a book, only to find myself resurfacing mental references of past experiences and memories. Just this morning, I read about Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday in the New York Times, then I found a tweet which directed me to a blog post on why girls tend to be more anxious than boys, then I moved towards a TechCrunch news report on Product Hunt’s launch of the desktop app on Mac, only to then discover an e-commerce business that helps you find the perfect frames for your photographs or artwork. And after all that, all the chaos and randomness in mind wandering, I found myself thinking, “I miss working in a startup.” Where you immerse yourself in an environment that’s overly full of optimism and hope for a product/service that, realistically, may not be around in 5 years, where the people you work with come from all walks of life and are in the know-all of new and exciting things, and where the culture and mindset is diverse, forward-thinking and, driven by dreams, that whole adrenaline-filled workplace was where I found my nostalgia nested so deeply in this sinkhole of feelings and fondness.

IMG_20160210_164255

Some might argue that working at Google Fiber is very much akin to that of a scrappy small company, seeking to find its place in the hustle and bustle of the business world. As if it were like an eager toddler raising her hand in classroom filled with other children just as excited to show-and-tell their most prized possession in the whole wide world, Google Fiber can be described as so. And yet with huge bets and hope placed on this business, one cannot forget that it’s still very much in the embracing safety net and comforts of quite a financially stable parent company, wherein, I believe, lies my very slight discontent with where I am today.

Perhaps it is my naive and youthful age or perhaps a lack of experience in working in odds-and-ends jobs, but to me, there’s something really exciting and appealing in being a part of something that’s scrappy and hungry for the seemingly impossible and that it just might be worth the risky roller coaster you’ve been looking to ride on next. I don’t know if there is really much reasoning behind these “irrational” thoughts, but to me, and perhaps to many other millenials like myself, I find myself wanting to take on those big challenges that have the biggest risk and that especially don’t have the luxury and economic comforts of a multinational, billion dollar parent company. Maybe it’s the idea that people who tend to join these type of small start-ups are those who are truly and genuinely passionate about the particular product/service, or the fact that because there’s so much at stake, there’s actually a bigger incentive to work harder and faster in trying to provide a scalable solution to a problem that many people encounter or have, that appeal to me the most. That these specific values and motives and work ethic in such high risk environments are the very things that our generation has been told by the generation before us, with words and phrases like “use your imagination,” or “think different,” or “anything is possible,” or “do what you love.”

My parents’ generation was told by the generation before them, that they were to work hard in whatever they did to see their lives to fruition. Conversations were never, or at least rarely around the ideas of dreaming or trying things out of your comfort zone. Rather, the mentality on life and work was to do one thing and put your time into doing it well. Remember, the generation before them had lived through the hardships of the Great Depression era, a time in which resources and jobs were scarce and there was no time to imagine all the what-if’s in life if your sole focus was just to make ends meet. So with the Baby Boomers growing up in the 50s and 60s, much of what their upbringings were influenced by those very traditional, strongly rooted values and “hard work” mentality; where the idea and the freedom of choice in taking risks was never spoken of. Fast forward to the millenial generation, and you have parents like mine, who see the prosperities of the economy and actually foster a much more liberal and open mindset on life – something they wish they had in their own childhood. I’d like to think I have a decent understanding of all this and why I have these thoughts and feelings that I do, and I’m not really sure what to make of it all, other than that I’m pretty thankful and humbled by the fact that I am able to think of these ideas while I shuttle my way into work. And I realize that there are still many, many people in the world who don’t have that ability to dream and imagine about all the what-if’s in life, because they are only thinking about what they can do to feed their families, to get rid of their debt or if they can afford to send their children to school (let alone to pursue higher education or vocational schooling).

To be honest, when I started writing this post, I didn’t even think I’d get to this point in my writing, but I think that’s what I appreciate most about reflecting on past experiences and memories, because at the end of it all, it helps put everything into perspective and keeps me grounded and appreciative of what I have now.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

PSA: Flexibility is the new “in” thing

I’ve written about my years in AdWords a couple times in the past, but I think I’ve only just started realizing that one of the biggest things I’ve gained from my time of being in that particular role on that team was learning to have a flexible, and less “things-have-to-go-this-way-or-else-I’m-gonna-flip-a-table” mentality.

There have been countless times where I’ve seen people get riled up about little things like a shuttle bus running late, or how someone gets P.O.’d when a business decision goes against their expectations. And, sure, during my couple years of working, I was pretty much that “type A” kind of person. I hated when things wouldn’t go accordingly or when certain situations would ruin whatever plans I had hoped to follow through with. Sometimes it would just be one thing that would bug me, or it would be one event that would set a trickle-down effect and mess up my whole day or bother me for months.

Then, one day I was like: “You know what? What if I just cared less about these things? What if I did end up missing that shuttle? What’s the worst that could happen? Well, I guess there’s that other shuttle I can take that’s an hour late. And I guess I could do some work during that extra hour, or go to the gym? It’s not ideal, but I guess it’s not the end of the world.” Being flexible with my time and with my way of thinking (and how I made decisions), really started making life a bit easier.

I took that reasoning with me and ran with it for every thing else (outside of things like running late for my shuttle ride home) like how I viewed dating/relationships, my long-term career plans, how I dealt with day-to-day interactions at work, etc. And you know what? Things, people and situations in life became more bearable, a lot less convoluting and less of a big deal. Overestimating the time it would take to get to a place and then getting to my destination earlier than expected would fill me with joy. Saying “yes” to a hike up Half Dome that I definitely would have otherwise said “no” to, allowed me to experience an otherwise amazing climb and a great story to share with friends and family. Not having any high hopes/taking things as they came with job hunting (and being ok with denied job offers) helped me eventually land my dream job with Google Fiber (and completely unexpectedly at that!).

I think there’s something about setting the right expectations in life for the things you do and for the people who are around you. It hasn’t hurt me to always assume the worst/alternative scenarios in various situations. And, if anything, if that “worst case/alternative” situation did occur, at least I could say it was something I realized would have happened and it becomes less of an element of “surprise.” The trick is to try and not be caught off guard!

Life throws a ton of curve balls and the last thing I know most people want is to be unprepared for them. But if you’re always expecting a curve ball, things becomes a lot less intimidating and you’ll find yourself opening up to different opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of or would have experienced. By being flexible, you’ll be less disappointed, less frustrated and instead, you’ll find that you’ll be able to focus on other little things that keep you preoccupied and happy🙂

Cheers to a happier life, bud!

Tagged

Who’s Cooking?

I say I’m a foodie, but really, there are way more “legitimate foodies” out there that know more about the food/beverage/restaurant industry than I do. So, perhaps it’s more fitting that I just call myself an “aspiring foodie.” Nonetheless, I don’t need anyone’s telling to know how excited eating food makes me feel and especially when I can converse to a Chef about his/her creations.

My past weekend trip up to Seattle included a dinner at Chef Stuart Lane's Spinasse on Capitol Hill. The pasta chef was sandiwhced in between me and the Chef (haha!)

My past weekend trip up to Seattle included a dinner at Chef Stuart Lane’s Spinasse on Capitol Hill. The pasta chef was sandiwhced in between me and the Chef (haha!)

Ever since I was little, my dad’s sense of taste and constant hunger for good food has been a huge contributor to my ever-evolving palette for deliciousness. Growing up, we didn’t really splurge much on fine dining experiences, but my dad was still adamant about filling our bellies with all the good eats he could find. As a result, he would always takes us on these small food excursions, traveling far and wide with the family, to try new cuisines and restaurants, wherein menu prices were obviously within reason. After all, my dad was all about getting the most bang for his buck.

We did all of our dining out on weekends and so on Saturdays and Sundays, we’d all go out and take a drive to new places. We’d cross the Bay Bridge over to Alameda for sushi, trek down to Cupertino for some tasty Muslim Chinese cuisine, make random Sunday trips to Fremont for freshly baked Afghan naan, or even go to the nearby Basque restaurant in South San Francisco. Whatever it was, my dad was always willing to try new things, making sure that my sister and I were exposed to various cultures, all by way of food.

My mother, on the other hand, wasn’t an adventurous eater until she started dating my dad, but she’s always been an amazing cook. Since marrying my dad, my mom can pretty much be found in the kitchen cooking dinner almost every day of the week. Whenever we’d go out to a restaurant, it’s not uncommon to find her being the first to taste any dish that comes to the table. She does this not because she’s starving and can’t wait to dig in (haha!), but rather, it’s an illustration of her eagerness to figure out the ingredients of a dish, how it was prepared, and whether it’s something she’d be able to replicate in her own kitchen. Growing up, I often remember seeing her ask the waiter/chef about how dishes were prepared or how to properly make a maki roll. And after learning and absorbing certain cooking techniques, she’d go home and cook up a storm. Boy, was I one lucky daughter!

My mom would spoil my sister and I by packing delicious concoctions for school lunch. We never had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and if we did have a homemade sandwich, it was always made with Dutch Crunch bread and the works. She’d pack us a tupperware of California rolls that she’d prepare in the wee hours of the morning before she left for work at 7am. Sometimes we had pan-seared pot stickers. Other times, we’d have a thermos brimming with homemade fried noodles or grilled chicken pesto pasta. Yeah, I know, I had it real good.

“Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many notes or colors, there are only so many flavors – it’s how you combine them that sets you apart.”

With my dad’s picky palette and my mom’s curiosity for food preparation, I’ve picked up a bit of both their restaurant eating habits and have packaged my own utility belt of things. And I kinda love it. One story that I usually bring up is how my more recent obsession for cooking techniques stems from one of the first friends I’d ever met when I first started working at Google. He was a chef that had just recently left the infamous Saison, for a gig to be a sous chef at one of the Google cafes. We took the same 6:30am shuttle from Millbrae and like clockwork every morning, I would never fail to see him without his morning cup of Joe from the convenience store by the local gas station across the street. “It’s shitty coffee,” he’d always say, “But it does the job.”

Chef Val Cantu (right) and Chef Andrew (left) at Californios in the Mission District of San Francisco

I think we started talking because of how cold it was one morning and the rest is kind of history. He told me about his time at Saison and even spilled the beans on beef that the restaurant’s chefs had towards Atelier Crenn’s Dominique Crenn. I asked him about the interview process he went through to get the job at Google and listened to his stories of creating pop ups, as well as his dreams of one day opening his own restaurant. Patrick was basically the first Chef in my life who’d I’d ever had an actual conversation with and he really was the one person who opened up this whole new world of what the real restaurant business was like — the good, the bad, and the ugly truths of it all. He was the one who taught me about various cooking methods and the amazingness of sous vide. I guess that’s kind of how I got started with my food adventures and my desires to talk to the Chef behind the counter.

“In every artist there is a touch of audacity without which no talent is conceivable.”

It was at my latest and greatest restaurant experience thus far (Californios in San Francisco’s Mission District) where I actually realized just how excited I really can get about eating good food, the story behind the food and the creativity of a Chef . I had a seat at the counter (which I’d recommend everyone to do at least once in your lifetime), where I essentially got a front row seat to all the magic (and food tweezering) that happens before a dish is presented in front of you. I’d like to think that sitting at the Chef’s counter is very much akin to shadowing the Director of a movie: you get to observe the entire process from beginning to end, making you appreciate the final production so much more.

IMG_0610

Sous Chef Joseph joined the reigns with Chef Val. They’d worked closely together before at Sons & Daughter.

 

From the first bite to the very last, I was literally on cloud nine. Or even on a higher cloud if there’s such a thing, like cloud 27 or something. Yes, the whole experience made me that happy. I told Chef Val from the very get-go at how amazing everything looked and smelled and tasted right from the first small bite (FYI, it was a meaty raw oyster that just tasted so unexpectedly smooth and buttery, and when paired with the sparkling wine, it was literally like a bite of heaven). Like it was so delicious it made you just want to savor every moment in the slowest possible ways, as if to make every millisecond seem ever so worth its while. I might have also mentioned to Chef Val that I never wanted to leave and that I’d offer to even stick around to do the dishes. So that’s what true love feels like!

The Chef asked about how the meal was every so often, we clinked our margarita glasses together to celebrate a great Tuesday evening, we talked about his experiences at Sons & Daughter before he launched Californios, and I also got the chance to ask questions about ingredients that were used. It quickly became a natural back and forth, ebb and flow dialogue that made my entire sense of time vanish, and even blurred out the surrounding diners present that evening. Jokes were peppered here and there throughout the conversation, which made an otherwise weird segregated divide between Chef and Diner transform into something unique: a communion between two who have a love and appreciation for great food and stories. In the end, I suppose that’s when I realized that what makes for a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience is not just knowing the stories behind these Chefs, but more so realizing how those very stories and years of experience have come to shape the masterpieces they now create.

Tagged , , , , , ,

#LongTWTR

If you had asked me about my thoughts on Twitter when I had just created my first account in early 2009, I would have said:

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.32.52 PM

I didn’t understand what the difference was with Facebook statuses and tweeting, since I was treating the two platforms very similarly. With Twitter, I was basically following all of the few friends I was also connected with on Facebook (kind of like what Path is to all those social media platforms out there). My Twitter followers and the people I was following at the time was such a niche group of random friends with whom I’d share random updates (whether they actually cared about them was obviously another story). My preliminary ideas of what Twitter was, was essentially that it was a place to dump all my random thoughts without a care — it was basically venting (to no one really) on the Internet. Yeah. I was one of THOSE annoying people.

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.43.30 PM

Fail Whale sucked, but I was always a fan of the simple artwork. It’s kinda cute :3

But since those days when I was totally naive (and during a time where there were one too many ‘fail whales’), I’ve actually learned to love Twitter’s power and the access it gives to real-time data and information on the happenings of the world around. If anything, it’s the one thing I rely heavily on when trying to be “in-the-loop” of things. I use it as a news source for local events/occurrences; I use it to discover cool new startups/uses of technology; I use it to connect with thought leaders and the occasional celebrity; I use it to learn of updates on international affairs; I use it for customer support assistance from the brands I love (or want to love, but sometimes just can’t); I use it to get the anecdotal opinions of experts/self-claimed connoisseurs. The use cases for Twitter are endless and it will only continue to grow and be incorporated into our everyday lives.

I think one of the key factors that made me realize how amazing Twitter was, was ultimately when I started following the “right” people. Not just friends I already knew and were connected with on social media. Discovering those thought leaders and tech scene influencers was essential to finding those bits and nuggets of info that satisfied my desire to learn about the latest things sooner than the general public. I got to be “in the circles” that got me close enough to get the inside scoop on cool new startups forming, new restaurants and food trucks that were popping up around San Francisco, and even free gifts (like a free Chevy Volt car for a weekend)!

I know the potential that Twitter has because I’ve gone through the waves of realizations that this single platform can mold into. I believe that as it continues to evolve and optimize for a better user interface and an easier means to discover desired content, Twitter will slowly grow to disprove those naysayers who “don’t like” it or think it sucks. Twitter’s initial IPO price of $26/share and its height of $74.73 were definitely some of the company’s highlights, and its recent plummet to $29.51 may seem discouraging, but knowing what little I know, I have a lot of hope for Twitter and personally, I’m in it for the long haul.

#LongTWTR

Tagged , , ,

A Simple Solution

I’ve Been Drinking, I’ve Been Drinking

There are lots of things that I know I could improve on and one of the more recent (and probably ongoing) issue is that I don’t drink enough water. I know I would/could never overconsume the beloved H2O. I also certainly know that I’m never hydrating myself enough (and no, bourbon/scotch on the rocks does not count!).

But recently (as in, from this past weekend) I’ve come to realize that I actually just need two main things to keep me sipping on that watery goodness:

  1. A royal blue-colored water bottle (yeah, that ‘royal’ part’s kinda important — kind of like a ‘Royale with Cheese‘)
  2. A sipping straw

Justification for point one: I’ve had my share of all sorts of bottles. Recyclable plastic water bottles you buy from the grocery store (i.e. Smart water, Evian, Crystal Geyser, Voss), reuseable Nalgene bottles in bright colors (cinco-de-mayo-lime green, intense primary red and breast-cancer-awareness-pink), BPA-free bottles, titanium bottles, to-go mugs, glass containers…you name it. And nothing by far does as consistent of a superb job as this blue Camelbak bottle I’ve had. Something about the blue hue of this BPA-free plastic just makes my water (regardless of the temperature, be it room-temp or chilled) seem visually more appealing. It’s like reassuring the kid in me that water really looks blue and not that bland boring “clear stuff” that it normally appears to be. Or I could just be making this all up in my head and not admitting that I actually just looooove the color of royal blue. Just maybe.

Justification for my second point: straws are fun and they always remind me of past times; a sort of childhood nostalgia if you will. It makes you feel like you’re not drinking a whole lot at once, and it’s like tricking your mind into thinking that sipping 32oz. of water is actually much easier than gulping it down from a large mug or other means of beverage-downing. I’m all about creating illusions for myself, usually for the sake of getting myself to complete a task. Don’t ask me why I even bother with all this nonsense (because I probably wouldn’t even know how to make the slightest sense of it). I just find the whole idea overly amusing.

You want my bottle? YEAH RIGHT #canttouchthis

You want my bottle? YEAH RIGHT #canttouchthis

I’ve Got The Munchies

I’m not gonna lie, I looooove savory snacks. Chips, pretzels, crackers, fries, you name it. If it’s made out of that carb-filled deliciousness, I’m probably wishing I had some to stuff my face with right about now. Heck, one of my photos from back when I was a little kid is of me in a girly pink, overly fluffy dress posing with a piece of potato chip hidden in the hand behind my back. It’s priceless and clearly one of a kind.

Well, regardless of how cute and hilarious that may all be, it’s actually a terrible habit to always want to munch on these dangerously savory bites, as unhealthy amounts of these snacks can make a person’s weight go wayside (…or waist-wide…LOL! Okay, I’ll stop). So, what have I tried to curb this horrible habit? Veggie sticks. No, I do not cover them in salt (for one, that would be GROSS; and two, WHO DOES THAT?! But then again, I guess it might not seem that odd if there’s an entire TLC television series dedicated to odd eating/behavioral addictions). Rather, I eat my yummy crunchy (that’s key! It mimics the crunch of chips without the calories!) veggie sticks either by themselves, with a little hummus, or if I’m feeling IGGY fancy, a little of Justin’s Honey Peanut Butter.

Veggie sticks of choice? Rainbow carrots, Celery, Jicama (I LOVE THESE LITTLE GUYS), and Red/Orange/Yellow bell peppers.

Tagged , , ,

Be a good storyteller.

One of the most undervalued skill that I think is often overlooked, is being able to tell a story well; and by “well,” I mean possessing the ability to both effectively and efficiently describe a particular thing or concept. How you explain or describe something can either engage or lose the interest of your audience; in the tech scene, it can cost you to lose a key investor or potential sales lead; in relationships, it can cost you to lose a second chance at another date; in politics, it can mean losing supporters’ confidence during a presidential debate.

Almost always, we are trying to tell or convey some kind of story in our everyday lives — whether it’s positioning ourselves in the job market, to pitch a new business idea to investors, to explain why a personal weakness is actually a strength, etc.

This idea of being a good storyteller actually sprouted from when I was exposed to the concept of “networking” with all sorts of people in tech at my first job. I’d work the event booth, meet with people at conference group sessions, and socialize basically with any and everyone (from C-level executives, developers, IT gurus, biz dev guys, etc.) at event after parties. After having been thrown into all sorts of these networking events, I eventually picked up on the meanings and common uses of marketing terms and tech jargon and learned to filter the essence of what someone was saying through all that lavish lingo. And what did I end up with? Almost always I think you’ll find yourself reflecting on the following thoughts:

  1. “This person has no clue about what he/she is talking about.”
  2. “Uhh?? I still don’t know what the company does/how the product works.”
  3. “That could’ve been explained much simpler!”
  4. “Wonder how long this company will stay in business…”
  5. “WOW! THIS IS SO COOL! #MINDBLOWN”

At these events, it’s sadly quite rare to be thinking #5, but what’s even more unfortunate is that it’s not uncommon to find yourself a bit bored and sometimes utterly confused. It’s not that the actual products behind these brands and companies were boring or useless (although, you do get a handful of these every so often), but rather it became a matter of how the idea of a business was being portrayed with words. Long-winded sentences that were filled with buzz words like “in the cloud” or “big data” or “optimizing-business-analytics-with-this-cool-new-type-of-dashboard,” no longer sounded as impressive as they had when I was first exposed to the tech scene. It was just all noise that I automatically filtered through my mind all in attempts to figure out what core messaging the other person was trying to get across.

Other times I found myself uninterested because the story was just so lengthy and wordy, much like enduring an unwanted lecture from a parent. These situations were often in the context of when a C-level executive would give a long-winded story about the company history and how the product worked (but repeated in circles with different words each time).

Repetitive. Totally unnecessary. A complete bore.

And that’s when I thought, there ought to be a simpler, clearer way to explain all things in life in layman’s terms. It’s certainly not mandatory, but it’s definitely a noteworthy skill to be able to compress and message your a story as effectively as possible. Whether it’s providing a tangible/relatable example to explain use cases for the product, or whether you pitch an idea by starting off with a short anecdotal story that hooks the user, I think you’ll find that people will not only understand what you’re saying but they’ll also give you their attention and want to hear more.

Think of your audience — no matter how old or sophisticated or smart they may be — as a bunch of anxious fourth graders. They’re curious, but they’ll get bored easily; they’ll lend you their ears, but go off on a long tangent and they’ll retract away; they are super clever and can filter through your silly nonsense; they will be your number one fans, so long as you keep them hooked and engaged in, not a talk/lecture/sales pitch, but rather a conversation. Here’s a few simple tips that I think are helpful to keep in mind:

  • Keep it short and simple (aka cut the crap, our brains can only handle so much information).
  • How you open and close your stories is key. The middle is just filling that usually gets forgotten anyway.
  • Don’t forget the high-level purpose of why you’re saying what you’re saying. Everything you say should have a purpose, so avoid tangents as much as possible.
  • Appeal through emotions by giving life to your story (aka provide an anecdote/something tangible that your audience can relate to).

Being a good storyteller is really an art in and of itself, and when done well, you can captivate the minds and hearts of the masses.

Tagged , ,

Learning the art of patience

In my honest opinion, I feel like I have a lot of work when it comes to being patient under various circumstances. At my current job, I primarily work directly with our small/medium-sized business advertisers on optimizing their AdWords accounts and basically help troubleshoot practically every and anything related to Google. To this day, it boggles my mind to realize how much learning I constantly do on a regular day by just being in this heavy, customer-facing role.

If there’s one thing this job has done, it would be testing my level of patience. It was no easy fete to come to terms with, but I think what I’ve learned from all this are a few key takeaways:

  • Don’t think of it as a job. A lot of how our opinions are formed are based in some ways on how we frame our mindset about a situation. We make assumptions and based off our prior experiences in similar situations, we have the greater tendency to act in the same manner as we did before, despite being placed in a different situation with different environmental factors. It’s not “normal” for us to reset our minds to think outside of the routine and status quo, but honestly, I think it can make a world’s difference. It’s like a child asking his parents “Are we there yet?” The desire to know when the journey will finally end eventually becomes the mind’s primary focus and all other things he could be enjoying or paying attention to end up being disregarded (e.g. the scenery, maybe a travel book, the songs playing on the radio, etc.) Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the best example, but hopefully you get my point. Find other ways to see what situation you’re in and put your whole heart and mind into; the end won’t seem as far, and who knows, maybe it just my make your actual job easier and more enjoyable.
  • Empathize like your life depends on it. Literally. I think a lot of us know the importance of listening. You learn, through active listening, what someone else may be implying, what their needs are and you gain a better understanding of who they are as a person/where they’re ideas and intentions are coming from. But I think that the bigger issue isn’t so much as you should pay attention more to what someone is trying to say, but rather more so about how you empathize through the way you craft your message in response. Often times, we are so absorbed in our thoughts that we forget how to effectively phrase our thoughts in a way that’s clear and methodically-reasoned for others to understand, and we forget that unless we are overly explicit (because you really can never be too explicit in most cases) with what we’re saying and why we’re choosing a particular response, we run into the risk of being misunderstood or “just not getting it” from a bystander’s perspective. Taking the extra time to verbally explain your thoughts and reasoning will demonstrate your thoughtfulness and your level of maturity in not understanding but realizing all perspectives of a situation. And, as a result from personal experience of having to deal with literally ALL kinds of people, I can tell you that the person you’re talking with will not only appreciate it, but they’ll give you their patience because you’ve gained their trust.
  • Surround yourself with good people. If there was one piece of advice I’d want you to remember, it’s to always find a good mentor. At my first job out of college, when I was working at Mashery, I had the privilege to work with some of the most talented, smartest and hard-working folks out there. To this day, I am truly humbled by each and every person I worked with at Mashery and I’m so glad that I’m still in touch with many of them to this day. But, what I’m trying to get at is that I had a coworker there named Todd who advised me that I find myself a good mentor for life; someone who could offer career and personal advice. It really resonated with me and I feel so fortunate enough to have gotten on the right path (for the most part!) to have had several different mentors throughout my post-college years as an “adult.” I think it’s so crucial to surround yourself with good people because not only will you have friends who can offer their honest opinions about questions you may have, but also their perspectives can help you develop the way you generally think about things. Mentors: a source of self-motivation, unbiased honesty and a means of personal growth.
  • Smell the roses. And, yes, I mean that nature-y stuff that grows in soil. Whatever you’re going through and however your day may be turning out to be, sometimes all that seems to help is a little bit of Mother Nature. Go out for a 30-minute walk away from wherever you are and see how far and fast you can walk away. Obviously, you probably can’t do this whenever you want, if work beckons and restricts you. However, I’m sure you can find 15-30 minutes during the +16 hours you’re probably awake in a day to afford a little sunshine (or rain!) to experience a little nature. You might just be surprised at how humbling it can be to realize that there’s this big world out there, and whatever problems or stress factors you’re dealing with, are minute compared to the bigger issues out there in the world. (Okay, I’ll admit, I smelled some amazing white roses just outside my office building today. And let me tell you, they were absolutely divine!)

I realize I’m probably coming off as preachy-teachy here, so I’ll stop. But I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned and realized along the way these couple of years.

Wishing you a happy Tuesday! Oh, and apparently it’s Earth Day, too. Heh, funny.

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

What happens when I have bottomless mimosas on a Sunday? Read on.

I’m writing this post-bottomless mimosa brunch, so you know this is going to be either a complete disaster or just hilarious. Personally, I’m hoping it will be somewhere in the middle (depending on how this all turns out and how quickly I can type with a buzz).

Recently, I’ve been making calls to my friends — something that used to be much more common during my pre-texting life — and I’ve come to the point where all I want to do is call friends. Sure, texting is convenient, it’s easy, and it give the other person a chance to respond when they want and/or are free to do so. Totally get it and love the convenience of texting.

That being said, I still firmly believe, that there’s really nothing that can replace being able to talk on the phone. I love being able to hear when a person smiles, how they laugh, and when they’re serious about something. Emoticons and smiley faces can only go so far as how well you can interpret/convey messages. Despite how descriptive your text and Emojis may be to you, it may make complete nonsense to someone else and sometimes it’s just not worth having to re-explain yourself. We can all tell through your voice if you’re actually happy/sad/angry/confused/etc., but via text? That’s a completely different story in and of itself.

Additionally, I think what I love about talking on the phone is that once you hang up, all you’re left with are the lasting impressions of the conversation and takeaway emotions from it. What’s nice is the feeling you’re left from a conversation and how it’s not so permanent as a text message (where you’re left with the physical copy of something tangible). If it’s a good memory, you’ll remember the good parts of it. If it’s not so hot, you’ll still probably remember it. However, the great thing is that if it’s not so great, forgetting it will be much easier, than having it in SMS form (and trust me, everyone will linger and secretly keep those historical texts for longer than necessary).

Don’t get me wrong: writing is a beautiful thing. I whole-heartedly enjoy free-form writing than most things I do, but sometimes, things are just better left said in person or over the phone or via video chat.


 

Okay, so I’m starting to think that that was WAY too serious of a topic, so I’m going to surprise you with a recap of the days I spent in Hong Kong from my recent trip (since I had limited WiFi access and got a tad lazy about it by the time I got back to the states):

The flight from Osaka airport to Hong Kong was only a 4-hour flight and I was feeling conflicting emotions. I was pretty beat and kind of wished I was going home, but a part of me was also super excited that I was still on vacation and was on my way to another part of Asia I had never been to. When we arrived to Customs and Immigration at HKG, I’m not going to lie, it was like being slapped in the face. Clearly the culture in Hong Kong and that of Japan are like an ocean’s width apart; in fact, I’d describe them as complete polar opposites. Not the friendliest folks in Hong Kong, but I guess they’ve built and maintained that reputation for themselves for awhile now, so it’s something to be expected. Anywho! When we got to through Customs and Immigration, my mom told me about how there was a must-try HK dessert/drink place in the arrival terminal. My cousins who had gone to HK before had recommended a place, but the name slipped my mom’s memory, so off I went on my own in search for what I thought could’ve possibly been the “amazing dessert/drink” place. I knew my cousin was a complete sucker for all things mango and boba so I figured this was where he probably had his eyes (and eventually his heart) set on:

Hui Lau Shan @ HKG arrival airport terminal (love their mango dessert drinks!)

Hui Lau Shan @ HKG arrival airport terminal (love their mango dessert drinks!)

Mango puree with mango chunks and some kind of clear jelly at the bottom (similar texture to aloe vera and the name starts with the letter "H" -- any ideas?)

Mango puree with mango chunks and some kind of clear jelly at the bottom (similar texture to aloe vera and the name starts with the letter “H” — any ideas?)

Hui Lau Shan, as we later found out, is one of those must-try places that most locals/visitors recommend, so I’m really glad I was able to snatch this little drink before we headed out to our hotel in Kowloon.

On our way from HKG airport on Lantau Island towards Kowloon. Hong Kong is comprised of four main areas: Launtau Island, The New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. There's also Lamma Island, but it was too rainy for us to enjoy during our time in Hong Kong.

On our way from HKG airport on Lantau Island towards Kowloon. Hong Kong is comprised of four main areas: Launtau Island, The New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. There’s also Lamma Island, but it was too rainy for us to enjoy during our time in Hong Kong. Look at these crazy apartment complexes. Crazy!

Proof that HK is a super bustling city that's also a....

Proof that HK is a super bustling city that’s also a….

...MAJOR harbor/port city.

…MAJOR harbor/port city.

We stayed at the Kowloon Hotel during our time in Hong Kong. My take on the hotel: it's old, kinda dirty, but very conveniently located in the center of everything.

We stayed at the Kowloon Hotel during our time in Hong Kong. My take on the hotel: it’s old, kinda dirty, but very conveniently located in the center of everything.

We were trying to cross the street to get to the water edge, but little did we know, the Hong Kong built underground passageways for folks to essentially cross the street. We later learned that the government built underground walkways to prevent pedestrian traffic from interfering with the flow of vehicles driving and as a safe way for folks to get to their destinations during typhoon season. Talk about being complete foreigners; it took us longer than necessary to figure this out.

We were trying to cross Salisbury Road to get to the water edge, but they completely gated it off so that J-walking is actually impossible! But little did we know, the Hong Kong government built underground passageways for folks to essentially cross the street. We later learned that the government built underground walkways to prevent pedestrian traffic from interfering with the flow of vehicles driving (since everyone knows that the Chinese are prone to cross whenever they please) and as a safe way for folks to get to their destinations during typhoon season. Talk about being complete foreigners; it took us longer than necessary to figure this out and how to get to the Avenue of Stars to see the daily night light show from Tsim Sha Tsui. Pictures of that later!

Because we couldn't figure out how to get to the bay, we took a picture by The Peninsula Hotel (which seemed like an infinitely better hotel to stay at, btw)...

Because we couldn’t figure out how to get to the bay, we took a picture by The Peninsula Hotel (which seemed like an infinitely better hotel to stay at, btw)…

...and decided to eat an early dinner at a place called Aberdeen Fishball & Noodles Restaurant, which we found on a whim while strolling through the alleys and streets of Tsim Sha Tsui.

…and decided to eat an early dinner at a place called Aberdeen Fishball & Noodles Restaurant, which we found on a whim while strolling through the alleys and streets of Tsim Sha Tsui.

Aberdeen Fishball & Noods Restaurant, which apparently has a number of locations (always a good sign that they must be doing something good with their food).

Aberdeen Fishball & Noods Restaurant, which apparently has a number of locations (always a good sign that they must be doing something good with their food).

Pictures are a tourist's best friend. Seriously.

Pictures are a tourist’s best friend. Seriously.

I ordered a fish ball noodle soup. Yeah, I'm drooling about how good this thing tasted right now. It was so freaking amazing.

I ordered a fish ball noodle soup. Yeah, I’m drooling about how good this thing tasted right now. It was so freaking amazing.

Gai lan, or Chinese broccoli, with a side of Hoisin sauce.

Gai lan, or Chinese broccoli, with a side of Hoisin sauce.

A quick snack after dinner (because that's just the Hong Kong way of eating, aka eat all the time)

A quick snack after dinner (because that’s just the Hong Kong way of eating, aka eat all the time)

Portuguese egg tarts and pineapple buns *o*

Portuguese egg tarts and pineapple buns *o*

Red bean iced drink and pineapple bun = satisfied my sweet tooth. Nommerz.

Red bean iced drink and pineapple bun = satisfied my sweet tooth. Nommerz.

After a day’s worth of our own explorations in Hong Kong, we prepped for the next day when we had a half-day tour around some of the must-see’s of the local area, including Victoria’s Peak, Aberdeen Village, and Stanley Market.

Breakfast congee topped with roasted peanuts, some fried pieces of wonton wrapper (?), and minced scallions.

Breakfast congee topped with roasted peanuts, some fried pieces of wonton wrapper (?), and minced scallions.

We eventually found the water, aka Harbour City.

We eventually found the water, aka Harbour City.

...And we found Spiderman's latest movie promotion right by Harbour City, too. But, let's be real, that NYC taxi, should really be an Uber.

…And we found Spiderman’s latest movie promotion right by Harbour City, too. But, let’s be real, that NYC taxi, should really be an Uber.

The total area of Hong Kong is about 410 square miles, with a total population of about 7 million people, 90% of which live in those high rise buildings I posted in one of the photographs earlier. We learned from a local tour guide that most individual family homes are located in Victoria and that the lower income family homes are around Stanley Park. Although, typhoon season is typically from the months of May through September, my mother and I were “lucky” enough to experience a black-level (the worst) typhoon on our first night where we experienced a hail storm (a first for most HK locals). You don’t need to go to work when it’s been declared black-level. Blessing from the skies? Yeah, totally.

We drove through in a mini-bus through the Cross Harbour Tunnel (which gets about 120k-vehicle traffic daily, and took about 4 years to build by a Japanese government), under yellow-level conditions (basically REALLY heavy rain, aka it’s FLOODING). According to our tour guide, the toll fees were collected by the Japanese company for 30 years until the debt was paid back in full by the HK government. Now, the Cross Harbour Tunnel is completely and publicly owned by the HK government. It’s centrally located in midtown and has heavy traffic from 8am-8pm in the evening.

Even though the traffic is heavy for most hours during the day, most locals utilize the MTR, Metro Transit Railway, which is most convenient to getting anywhere in Hong Kong. Honestly, it’s seriously THEE best subway system in the world. I never had to wait for a train for more than 2 minutes and it’s so on time and easy to navigate through. The locals use the MTR as a means of getting around and for good reason too: Gas price in Hong Kong is about $8 USD/gal, 50% of which is for the government’s tax on gas.

After going through the tunnel and passing through Happy Valley Racecourse, we made our first stop at Stanley Market.

Starting off Day Two at Stanley Market

Starting off Day Two at Stanley Market

Super convenient street signs directing folks to where their desired destinations are. These signs are everywhere in Hong Kong, which makes traveling and getting around so much easier.

Super convenient street signs directing folks to where their desired destinations are. These signs are everywhere in Hong Kong, which makes traveling and getting around so much easier.

Little trinkets sold at Stanley Market

Little trinkets sold at Stanley Market. I felt like I was in Chinatown but with the ability to bargain with shopkeepers. Heh, but let’s be real: my mom did all of the bartering.

Oh! A good thing to note for all your shopaholics: there’s NO SALES TAX in Hong Kong. There’s only a 10% service fee for eat-in restaurants. The rule with bargaining, at least for Stanley Market, which is open from 9am-10pm, is to bargain either from 5-20% lower than the selling price. Apparently, going any lower would just make yourself look like a fool. Just keep that in mind the next time you find yourself there.

Just as an FYI, the average income of most HK citizens is about $24,000 USD annually, where most pay about 15% income tax, and 16.5% for business taxes.

Aberdeen Village

Aberdeen Fishing Village, where the Jumbo Kingdom Restaurant resides.

IMG_7320

Taking a Sampan boat ride along the waters of the Aberdeen Fishing Village, where the floating Jumbo Restaurant floats!

Taking a Sampan boat ride along the waters of the Aberdeen Fishing Village, where the floating Jumbo Restaurant floats, and where there are boat houses and fish markets on parked boats. This was where an Amazing Race road challenge was in place a few seasons ago!

Jumbo Restaurant

Jumbo Restaurant

Next stop: Hong Kong Jewelry. Yeah, the spelling's kinda different.

Next stop: Hong Kong Jewelry. Yeah, the spelling’s kinda different.

Proof that some women are just obsessed with jewelry of all sorts. Tell 'em it's real, and they'll believe you.

Proof that some women are just obsessed with jewelry of all sorts. Tell ’em it’s real, and they’ll believe you. You bet your cards I kept my mother in check. Heh, but she was free to peruse and browse😉

Peak Tram to get to the top of Victoria's Peak

Peak Tram to get to the top of Victoria’s Peak

On a clear day, you'd be able to see an amazing panoramic view of HK, but this was all we saw that morning.

On a clear day, you’d be able to see an amazing panoramic view of HK, but this was all we saw that morning. Super bummed, but I guess that just means another trip to HK is in store for the future!

Well, might as well pose for a pic, right?

And, well, you might as well pose for a pic, right? Oh, hi, Mom!

View from the Tai Ping Shan Lions View Point Pavilion

View from the Tai Ping Shan Lions View Point Pavilion

The double decker Kennedy tram that took us from the Happy Valley Racecourse Sports Ground all the way across Hong Kong Island towards Central District

The double decker Kennedy tram that took us from the Happy Valley Racecourse Sports Ground all the way across Hong Kong Island towards Central District

View from inside the tram from the upper level of the double-decker

View from inside the tram from the upper level of the double-decker

Adult fare: $2.30 HK dollars Child fare: $1.20 HK dollars Senior fare: $1.10 HK dollars

Adult fare: $2.30 HK dollars
Child fare: $1.20 HK dollars
Senior fare: $1.10 HK dollars

#selfie

#selfie

The beginning of the over 800 meter-long escalator (Central - Midtown Escalator) in Hong Kong's Central District

The beginning of the over 800 meter-long escalator (Central – Midtown Escalator) in Hong Kong’s Central District

Late lunch at Yung Kee Restaurant, which is known for their Roast Duck

Late lunch at Yung Kee Restaurant, which is known for their Roast Duck

Inside Yung Kee Restaurant, right off Pottinger Street in the Central District

Inside Yung Kee Restaurant, right off Pottinger Street in the Central District

Roast Duck over rice

Roast Duck over rice

Also, definitely try their Roast Pork dish! So deliciously crispy and savory!

Also, definitely try their Roast Pork dish! So deliciously crispy and savory!

Escalator ride through HK's SoHo district

Escalator ride through HK’s SoHo district

CHINESE BAKERIES GALORE. Carbs in my tummy nowz.

CHINESE BAKERIES GALORE. Carbs in my tummy nowz. This was at Maxim’s Bakery shop on the way towards the Central MTR station (love that these bakery shop stops are always located near/in/just outside MTR stops)

Inside the metro MTR station

Inside the metro MTR station

Double doors prevent people from jumping/falling into the tracks. American subway systems can learn a thing or two from Asia's subway systems.

Double doors prevent people from jumping/falling into the tracks. American subway systems can learn a thing or two from Asia’s subway systems.

Signs for each exit, which tells you what major destinations you will encounter upon exiting.

Signs for each exit, which tells you what major destinations you will encounter upon exiting.

From inside a car of the MTR train. Each approaching stop will have a light blinking so that even if you don't hear the intercom, you can still follow along this map to see where you're at anytime. I will never see BART the same again after this.

From inside a car of the MTR train. Each approaching stop will have a light blinking so that even if you don’t hear the intercom, you can still follow along this map to see where you’re at anytime. I will never see BART the same again after this.

The double decker Kennedy tram that took us from the Happy Valley Racecourse Sports Ground all the way across Hong Kong Island towards Central District

The double decker Kennedy tram that took us from the Happy Valley Racecourse Sports Ground all the way across Hong Kong Island towards Central District

View from inside the tram from the upper level of the double-decker

View from inside the tram from the upper level of the double-decker

Adult fare: $2.30 HK dollars Child fare: $1.20 HK dollars Senior fare: $1.10 HK dollars

Adult fare: $2.30 HK dollars
Child fare: $1.20 HK dollars
Senior fare: $1.10 HK dollars

#selfie

#selfie

The beginning of the over 800 meter-long escalator (Central - Midtown Escalator) in Hong Kong's Central District

The beginning of the over 800 meter-long escalator (Central – Midtown Escalator) in Hong Kong’s Central District

Late lunch at Yung Kee Restaurant, which is known for their Roast Duck

Late lunch at Yung Kee Restaurant, which is known for their Roast Duck

Inside Yung Kee Restaurant, right off Pottinger Street in the Central District

Inside Yung Kee Restaurant, right off Pottinger Street in the Central District

Roast Duck over rice

Roast Duck over rice

Also, definitely try their Roast Pork dish! So deliciously crispy and savory!

Also, definitely try their Roast Pork dish! So deliciously crispy and savory!

Escalator ride through HK's SoHo district

Escalator ride through HK’s SoHo district

CHINESE BAKERIES GALORE. Carbs in my tummy nowz.

CHINESE BAKERIES GALORE. Carbs in my tummy nowz.

Inside the metro MTR station

Inside the metro MTR station

Double doors prevent people from jumping/falling into the tracks. American subway systems can learn a thing or two from Asia's subway systems.

Double doors prevent people from jumping/falling into the tracks. American subway systems can learn a thing or two from Asia’s subway systems.

Signs for each exit, which tells you what major destinations you will encounter upon exiting.

Signs for each exit, which tells you what major destinations you will encounter upon exiting.

From inside a car of the MTR train. Each approaching stop will have a light blinking so that even if you don't hear the intercom, you can still follow along this map to see where you're at anytime. I will never see BART the same again after this.

From inside a car of the MTR train. Each approaching stop will have a light blinking so that even if you don’t hear the intercom, you can still follow along this map to see where you’re at anytime. I will never see BART the same again after this.

Off to Ladies' Market, which is off of the Mong Kok MTR station

Off to Ladies’ Market, which is off of the Mong Kok MTR station

Ladies' Market

Ladies’ Market

The following day, we self-explored a bit more of Lantau Island by taking the MTR to Tung Chung to see the Great Buddha.

Taking the MTR to Tung Chung to see the Great Buddha on Lantau Island and spotted this gorgeous view of Hong Kong

Taking the MTR to Tung Chung to see the Great Buddha on Lantau Island and spotted this gorgeous view of Hong Kong

IMG_7435

That's the MTR symbol

That’s the MTR symbol

Taking the 25-minute ride up  to Ngong Ping Village where the Great Buddha and Po Lin Monastery reside.

Taking the 25-minute ride up to Ngong Ping Village where the Great Buddha and Po Lin Monastery reside.

Hey momma!

Hey momma!

Hoping the view would be clear, but again, got a ton of fog.

Hoping the view would be clear, but again, got a ton of fog.

This is the Bodhi Wishing Shrine.

This is the Bodhi Wishing Shrine. Legend has it that wishes made at the Bodhi Wishing Shrine under this tree will come tree. The Bodhi Tree, known as the Bo Tree, is the “Tree of Awakening.” It was the tree under which Siddharta meditated on “Who am I and why am I here?” where he eventually attained enlightenment and became Buddha.

But, by the time we walked from the tram, and only for a brief moment, we were able to snap a few clear shots of the majestic Great Buddha, which was built in 1993 and requires one to hike 268 steep steps up. The statue itself is over 900 meters in height and made completely of bronze.

But, by the time we walked from the tram, and only for a brief moment, we were able to snap a few clear shots of the majestic Great Buddha, which was built in 1993 and requires one to hike 268 steep steps up. The statue itself is over 900 meters in height and made completely of bronze.

Went into a shop at Ngong Ping and found a collection of Lo Fu Zi, aka Old Master Q, comic-related items. I grew up on these comics without having any idea of what the Chinese captions meant, but still found them pretty enjoyable.

Went into a shop at Ngong Ping and found a collection of Lo Fu Zi, aka Old Master Q, comic-related items. I grew up on these comics without having any idea of what the Chinese captions meant, but still found them pretty enjoyable.

Got two comics to bring back to my dad. Didn't know what was good so just based my decisions on the comic book covers.

Got two comics to bring back to my dad. Didn’t know what was good so just based my decisions on the comic book covers.

The bus we took to visit Tai O Fishing Village and Kwan Tai Temple

The bus we took to visit Tai O Fishing Village and Kwan Tai Temple

IMG_7495

Amazing scenery from Tai O

Amazing scenery from Tai O

Street side vendors selling all sorts of dried seafood

Street side vendors selling all sorts of dried seafood

Tai O is known for selling their infamous dried fish bladder (the yellow things hanging here), since they are said to make you look younger. It costs about $25,100 HK dollars (over $3K USD) for four dried bladder pieces!

Tai O is known for selling their infamous dried fish bladder (the yellow things hanging here), since they are said to make you look younger. It costs about $25,100 HK dollars (over $3K USD) for four dried bladder pieces!

These were the boats we rode on to see the stilt houses and ride into the South China Sea! It was raining that day, so our boat had a roof cover over it.

These were the boats we rode on to see the stilt houses and ride into the South China Sea! It was raining that day, so our boat had a roof cover over it.

Stilt houses that seem to be barely standing

Stilt houses that seem to be barely standing

We spotted WHITE DOLPHINS in the South China Sea. The only clear-ish proof that I saw them! Thank you iOS camera!

We spotted WHITE DOLPHINS in the South China Sea. The only clear-ish proof that I saw them! Thank you iOS camera!

We're on a boat #selfie

We’re on a boat #selfie

Kwan Tai Temple

Kwan Tai Temple

IMG_7534

Incense hanging from the ceiling

Incense hanging from the ceiling

Yeah, not sure why these dude's flipping us off.

Yeah, not sure why these dude’s flipping us off.

Stairs leading up to the Great Buddha

Stairs leading up to the Great Buddha

Inside the Po Lin Monastery

Inside the Po Lin Monastery

IMG_7565 IMG_7567 IMG_7568

No picture can capture how ornate this interior was. So gorg.

No picture can capture how ornate this interior was. So gorg.

Ceiling paintings

Ceiling paintings

I don't know what kind of flower this is, but I spotted it from afar and had to snap a shot.

I don’t know what kind of flower this is, but I spotted it from afar and had to snap a shot. Let me know if you know what this is!

This here is honestly THEE best won ton noodle soup I've ever had to date. Trust me, I've had my share of won ton noodle soups, but this by far supersedes EVERYTHING by a million and more. Best find EVER.

This here is honestly THEE best won ton noodle soup I’ve ever had to date in my entire life. Trust me, I’ve had my share of won ton noodle soups, but this by far supersedes EVERYTHING by a million and more. Best find EVER.

Spotting a Chinese bakery in HK is like finding an Easter Egg on Easter morning: victorious and god-send. Heh heh, see what I did there? ;)

Spotting a Chinese bakery in HK is like finding an Easter Egg on Easter morning: victorious and god-send. Heh heh, see what I did there?😉

Fresh Kiwi Juice from a 7-Eleven stand from the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station

Fresh Kiwi Juice from a 7-Eleven stand from the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station

Avenue of Stars! We found the promenade!

Avenue of Stars! We found the promenade!

If only I had a fancier camera than my iPhone 4s native camera. And if only it was a clear night. The Hong Kong Island skyline would've been spectacular!

If only I had a fancier camera than my iPhone 4s native camera. And if only it was a clear night. The Hong Kong Island skyline would’ve been spectacular!

IMG_7600

Panoramic of the light show from the Kowloon Peninsula

Panoramic of the light show from the Kowloon Peninsula

The following day we took our time and went to Nan Lian Garden and then dropped by the Diamond Hill shopping mall which was nearby.

Nan Lian Garden

Nan Lian Garden

IMG_7612 IMG_7614 IMG_7617 IMG_7622

Lotus bronze statue in the Lotus Pond Garden

Lotus bronze statue in the Lotus Pond Garden

Lotus Pond Garden

Lotus Pond Garden

So, I’ll admit, my HK pictures aren’t that great for a few reasons: 1) I was tired 2) The weather was terrible and we never really got a non-overcast/foggy day and 3) HK is more about its food and shopping than it is for historical landmarks/temples. That being said, I hope I was able to capture the essence of all that HK can offer and still hope to go back soon!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Japan Day 9: I got bit in the rear by a deer. But I’m still alive!

Just outside our hotel were rows of cherry blossom trees. Here’s an obligatory picture of the many I took.

Cherry blossoms along the river by our Imperial Hotel stay in Osaka.

Cherry blossoms along the river by our Imperial Hotel stay in Osaka.

We left Osaka to drive to Nara Park to visit the Todaiji Temple and Nara Daibutsu. I was really excited for the Nara deer park but little did I know, those creatures can be quite aggressive when you have those feeding crackers in your hand.

Little boy feeding a fawn at Nara Deer Park. Don't let their cute looks deceive you. These guys are SUPER aggressive the moment you buy those little crackers from the vendors. Butting their heads to you left and right and behind and front. And they bite your legs to get you to give them crackers. I didn't get any pics w/ them but I think Scott was able to snap photos of me squealing in terror. LOL!

Little boy feeding a fawn at Nara Deer Park. Don’t let their cute looks deceive you. These guys are SUPER aggressive the moment you buy those little crackers from the vendors. Butting their heads to you left and right and behind and front. And they bite your legs to get you to give them crackers. I didn’t get any pics w/ them but I think Scott was able to snap photos of me squealing in terror. LOL!

Todaji temple

Todaji temple

IMG_6978

IMG_6979

Nara Daibutsu, or the Big Buddha.

Nara Daibutsu, or the Big Buddha.

Man roasting sweet potato along Nara park. These things were so delicious!

Man roasting sweet potato along Nara park. These things were so delicious!

Cherry blossoms + mass of tourists snapping photos and selfies.

Cherry blossoms + mass of tourists snapping photos and selfies.

White magnolias are my favorite!

White magnolias are my favorite!

We went back to Osaka for a sushi and tempura lunch. It was tatami style so we had to remove our shoes before entering. The restaurant had a really interesting locker system.

Shoe locker key to the restaurant we went to at lunch. It was made out of wood and locked when you pulled out the wooden key.

Shoe locker key at the restaurant. It was made out of wood and locked when you pulled out the wooden key.

Sashimi and tempura lunch set.

Sashimi and tempura lunch set.

So amazing. The eel sushi was super tasty! It's the one with some brown sauce on top of the nigiri.

So amazing. The eel sushi was super tasty! It’s the one with some brown sauce on top of the nigiri.

After our nice little lunch (although about half of our tour group doesn’t like eating raw fish so maybe it wasn’t really that nice), we headed towards the nearby Osaka Castle, or Osakajo, which spans over 255 acres of land. Super massive!

View of the Osaka Castle. Looks like something that Miyazaki would've used in his animated films.

View of the Osaka Castle. Looks like something that Miyazaki would’ve used in his animated films.

View from the 8th floor of the Osaka Castle. That place was so crowded and climbing the steps was rough. I will personally go and find an air conditioning contractor for them to work with.

View from the 8th floor of the Osaka Castle. That place was so crowded and climbing the steps was rough. I will personally go and find an air conditioning contractor for them to work with.

These were drinks that we got from the vending machines today. We thought they'd be water with slight hints of citrus, but the left tasted like lemonade and the one on the right tasted like Orangina without the carbonation.

These were drinks that we got from the vending machines today. We thought they’d be water with slight hints of citrus, but the left tasted like lemonade and the one on the right tasted like Orangina without the carbonation.

Next up: A sake brewery tasting in Kobe! Yum!

Kobe Sake Brewery

Kobe Sake Brewery

Man behind the dry sake taste that comes from Kobe.

Man behind the dry sake taste that comes from Kobe.

IMG_7125

Tasting the premium sake, or Ginjo, which is when at least the outer 40% of the rice grain has been milled away. For Daiginjo (super premium sake) at least the outer 50% of the rice kernel must be milled away.

Tasting the premium sake, or Ginjo, which is when at least the outer 40% of the rice grain has been milled away. For Daiginjo (super premium sake) at least the outer 50% of the rice kernel must be milled away.

Sake soft serve. It was actually pretty good, but as always, Japanese soft serve/ice cream cones are always so crisp and crunchy. I could eat that and be perfectly content!

Sake soft serve. It was actually pretty good, but as always, Japanese soft serve/ice cream cones are always so crisp and crunchy. I could eat that and be perfectly content!

I got this cloth that spans at over 2 feet long or so, it includes the little song that the sake brewer used to sing when fermenting his bottles of sake as well as the name of his sake brand.

I got this cloth that spans at over 2 feet long or so, it includes the little song that the sake brewer used to sing when fermenting his bottles of sake as well as the name of his sake brand.

Tim got the premium sake - hope it travels safely back home because it was the best tasting sake I've ever had. Super smooth, not too sweet.

Tim got the premium sake – hope it travels safely back home because it was the best tasting sake I’ve ever had. Super smooth, not too sweet.

We made a quick stop to Chinatown in Kobe before heading to dinner. There were lots of street vendors selling steamed buns and dumplings, skewered savory meats, random dim sum treats and bowls of noodle soup.

Chinatown, the second largest Chinatown in the world, following San Francisco's.

Chinatown, the second largest Chinatown in the world, following San Francisco’s.

Our final stop on the trip was to Steak Land, where we feasted on a dinner of traditional kobe beef. It was so dang good and the meat just melted in our mouths. Still drooling at the thought of it…haha kidding, but I am still thinking about it.

Anticipating our kobe beef dinner. Will our high expectations be met?

Anticipating our kobe beef dinner. Will our high expectations be met?

IMG_7151

IMG_7152

It was heavenly. Ha! Yeah, there was a lot of oil on my plate.

It was heavenly. Ha! Yeah, there was a lot of oil on my plate when the chef added items to my plate.

I’m sad that our tour around Japan has come to an end and that I won’t get to see all the friends I’ve made from this trip on a regular basis. It was definitely an amazing experience and adventure and I’ll never forget all these memories! I will surely come back to this country again in the future and hope to explore and see many new things when I’m back. Maybe a winter experience in Sapporo is next in store? Who knows! But, I do know that this was one of the best places I’ve ever visited in the world! I hope you all will get to journey to some part of Japan soon or at least once in your life. It’s definitely worth the trip!

That being said, I’m super excited to embark on our next destination tomorrow: HONG KONG!

It was heavenly. Ha! Yeah, there was a lot of oil on my plate.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Japan Day 8: We’re eating again?!

Not only is everything we’re seeing pretty much the same in most respects, but I’m also realizing how much and often we’re eating. I feel like Japan is great for snacking, but to top it with all the meals we get (breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included basically every day), I can’t believe I found myself saying, “I don’t want to eat anymore” today.

We stayed at Hotel Okura in Kyoto last night and started the day off by going on a very scenic train ride via  the Kameoka-Sagano Romantic Train to get to Arashiyama, located in Kyoto. The scene on the train ride reminded me a lot of the water rafting rivers near Lake Tahoe, except the water had more of a sea-foam green color.

These are the barricades that Japan uses. They typically use cones but occasionally you'll see these in parking lots and construction sites. Leave it to the Japanese to make everything so dang cute. There are giraffe versions of this sort of barricade, as well.

These are the barricades that Japan uses. They typically use cones but occasionally you’ll see these in parking lots and construction sites. Leave it to the Japanese to make everything so dang cute. There are giraffe versions of this sort of barricade, as well.

This random little toddler let go of his mother's hand just so that he could touch the pink bunny. He stayed holding onto it for a good three minutes. Heh, kids :)

This random little toddler let go of his mother’s hand just so that he could touch the pink bunny. He stayed holding onto it for a good three minutes. Heh, kids🙂

These were along the railroad tracks to Arashiyama. They are very popular in Kyoto and around Biwa Lake. According to our tour guide, these figures are Japanese raccoon dogs, or tanuki. Many storefronts have tanukis because of the specific features these characters hold: 1) The hat it wears represents the business's readiness to protect against trouble or bad weather.  2) The big eyes is to help perceive the environment and help make good decisions. 3) It holds a sake bottle that represents virtue.  4) A big tail is a means to provide steadiness and strength until success is achieved. 5) An over-sized scrotum symbolizes financial luck (yeah, not sure how that came about...) 6) A promissory note that represents trust or confidence. 7) A big belly that symbolizes bold and calm decisiveness 8) A friendly smile (because being happy never killed anyone)

These were along the railroad tracks to Arashiyama. They are very popular in Kyoto and around Biwa Lake. According to our tour guide, these figures are Japanese raccoon dogs, or tanuki. Many storefronts have tanukis because of the specific features these characters hold:
1) The hat it wears represents the business’s readiness to protect against trouble or bad weather.
2) The big eyes is to help perceive the environment and help make good decisions.
3) It holds a sake bottle that represents virtue.
4) A big tail is a means to provide steadiness and strength until success is achieved.
5) An over-sized scrotum symbolizes financial luck (yeah, not sure how that came about…)
6) A promissory note that represents trust or confidence.
7) A big belly that symbolizes bold and calm decisiveness
8) A friendly smile (because being happy never killed anyone)

Kameoka-Sagano train arrival

Kameoka-Sagano train arrival

Kristie, Scott, Patti and Michael n the train car.

Kristie, Scott, Patti and Michael n the train car.

View of the river from the train ride.

View of the river from the train ride.

R

R

The Bamboo Path in Arashiyama

The Bamboo Path in Arashiyama

The root of a single bamboo plant. It's so massive!

The root of a single bamboo plant. It’s so massive!

A vendor along the path was selling these really neat dragonfly balancing toys that were so cool. I'm also just a HUGE fan of dragonflies.

A vendor along the path was selling these really neat dragonfly balancing toys that were so cool. I’m also just a HUGE fan of dragonflies.

The man next to the dragonfly craftsmen was selling postcard prints of his paintings.

The man next to the dragonfly craftsmen was selling postcard prints of his paintings.

These were the two I got for 100 Yen each.

These were the two I got for 100 Yen each.

More cherry blossoms

More cherry blossoms

A vendor that was selling some really tasty snacks and soba noodle bowls.

A vendor that was selling some really tasty snacks and soba noodle bowls.

Nearby was a tofu soft cream vendor. The one we got had the regular tofu and sesame seed flavors. Think of the tofu flavor as being similar to the taste of the VitaSoy soy milk taste. It's exactly that in soft serve form.

Nearby was a tofu soft cream vendor. The one we got had the regular tofu and sesame seed flavors. Think of the tofu flavor as being similar to the taste of the VitaSoy soy milk taste. It’s exactly that in soft serve form.

A little steamed rice pyramid wrapped in banana leaf. There was meat in seasoned shoyu rice - a tasty treat!

A little steamed rice pyramid wrapped in banana leaf. There was meat in seasoned shoyu rice – a tasty treat!

Little girls dressed like geishas.

Little girls dressed like geishas.

Dango and something else we didn't know. The poor lady selling these sweets to us didn't understand English so we never found out. But basically the leaf on the outside is edible and had a salty taste to it. An interesting and really yummy combo with the sweetness of the "mochi" which had a bit of red bean paste inside.

Dango and something else we didn’t know. The poor lady selling these sweets to us didn’t understand English so we never found out. But basically the leaf on the outside is edible and had a salty taste to it. An interesting and really yummy combo with the sweetness of the “mochi” which had a bit of red bean paste inside.

Togetsukyo Bridge, or "Moon Crossing Bridge," spans across the Katsura River

Togetsukyo Bridge, or “Moon Crossing Bridge,” spans across the Katsura River

Got this peach flavored drink from a street vending machine. It was so good! I love seeing what different drinks are offered at all the different vending machines in each city.

Got this peach flavored drink from a street vending machine. It was so good! I love seeing what different drinks are offered at all the different vending machines in each city.

As if that wasn’t enough eating, we then went to lunch at a Korean BBQ. Suffice to say, it was nothing compared to LA’s all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ buffets. I miss California.

Nothing compares to LA's all-you-can-eat korean BBQs.

Nothing compares to LA’s all-you-can-eat Korean BBQs.

After our BBQ lunch, we headed over to Kinkakuji Temple to check out the infamous Golden Pavilion.

Golden Pavilion

Golden Pavilion covered in real gold. What a beauty, huh?

I didn’t really take many picture of much after this, including when we went to the Osaka Castle Park. At some point in any trip, things start to look the same. For me it’s the temples and castles. One can really only take so much and I think I’ve hit my limit. Sorry guys. We drove about 2 hours from Kyoto to get to our evening destination, Osaka. We had some free time to roam and explore Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi, and explore we did!

Dotonbori in Osaka

Here’s a photo of Dotonbori in Osaka

That man's face really did convince me to try their ramen. Not.

That man’s face really did convince me to try their ramen. Not.

There was a Glico (maker of Pocky, Pretz, etc.) sweets shop in Dotonbori and they had giant rainbow Pocky!

There was a Glico (maker of Pocky, Pretz, etc.) sweets shop in Dotonbori and they had giant rainbow Pocky!

Spotted this FANCY corgi down the Dotonbori. CRAY.

Spotted this FANCY corgi down the Dotonbori. CRAY.

This is a Starbucks in Osaka. You order your drinks downstairs and come up to consume your beverage/munch on your snack. In Japan, eating on the street is practically forbidden, as shopkeepers will make you stand/sit in a designated area. I think this is to prevent people from littering (since finding a garbage can in any public area is literally impossible).

This is a Starbucks in Osaka. You order your drinks downstairs and come up to consume your beverage/munch on your snack. In Japan, eating on the street is practically forbidden, as shopkeepers will make you stand/sit in a designated area. I think this is to prevent people from littering (since finding a garbage can in any public area is literally impossible).

Takoyaki from a street vendor

Takoyaki from a street vendor

At some restaurants, like this, you order your dish outside of the restaurant at a vending machine, make your payment and take the receipt with you inside. Once you are seated, the waiter places your number over the counter and your dish literally comes out to you in a matter of minutes. Total efficiency. I love it!

At some restaurants, like this, you order your dish outside of the restaurant at a vending machine, make your payment and take the receipt with you inside. Once you are seated, the waiter places your number over the counter and your dish literally comes out to you in a matter of minutes. Total efficiency. I love it!

I got a kimchi ramen noodle soup.

I got a kimchi ramen noodle soup.

Inside the ramen shop

Inside the ramen shop

Our last full day of the tour will be tomorrow where we’ll be driving to Nara and Kobe. Excited to see herds of deer nudging people in the rear, some sake tasting and tasting some legit kobe beef. It’s gonna be a long last day!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Japan Day 7: Real geishas vs. Fake geishas

We drove to Kyoto this morning from Biwa Lake after a really yummy Japanese-styled breakfast and went to Kiyomizu Temple. We saw a few cherry blossom trees in bloom, a spring waterfall for cleansing, people igniting incense sticks for praying, and wannabe geishas. You’ll know the real geishas as they are found in public only during the evenings, they’re sighted in the Gion district either leaving a taxi to enter a nearby restaurant or the other way around, and they literally scurry away from cameras. I was able to snap a photo of one, but it’s blurry because 1) I felt guilty for doing so and 2) she was running pretty fast. The fake geishas will pose for you like no other; after all, they pay hefty fees just to dress and make themselves up like geishas.

Breakfast this morning, served with either your choice of rice or congee.

Breakfast this morning, served with either your choice of rice or congee.

Ticket to Kiyomizu Temple. Apparently you have to pay to enter temples in Kyoto, but there is free admission to temples in Tokyo.

Ticket to Kiyomizu Temple. Apparently you have to pay to enter temples in Kyoto, but there is free admission to temples in Tokyo.

IMG_6590

A wannabe geisha. At the end of the tour I saw a group taking selfies. Yeah, definitely not something a true geisha would do.

A wannabe geisha. At the end of the tour I saw a group taking selfies. Yeah, definitely not something a true geisha would do.

Here's a real geisha. I was the only one to actually capture a geisha in full. Yes, that's my finger at the bottom of the pic - sorry!

Here’s a real geisha. I was the only one to actually capture a geisha in full. Yes, that’s my finger at the bottom of the pic – sorry!

There was a shrine area within Kiyomizu that was dedicated to all things love and relationships. This is the starting stone that you are supposed to touch and then walk through the herds of people in your way with eyes closed to the other side where there is another rock like this. According to this, if you are able to walk safely frwith eyes closed smoothly, your "love-fortune telling" wish will be granted soon. If you have trouble or can't reach to the end stone, it is a sign that it will be long before your love is realized and that you will need much assistance from others to achieve it. I veered towards a crowd of people...what do you think that says about me? Oh boy.

There was a shrine area within Kiyomizu that was dedicated to all things love and relationships. This is the starting stone that you are supposed to touch and then walk through the herds of people in your way with eyes closed to the other side where there is another rock like this. According to this, if you are able to walk safely frwith eyes closed smoothly, your “love-fortune telling” wish will be granted soon. If you have trouble or can’t reach to the end stone, it is a sign that it will be long before your love is realized and that you will need much assistance from others to achieve it. I veered towards a crowd of people…what do you think that says about me? Oh boy.

Just for funsies, I found an owner who dressed her corgi pup in a kimono outfit. SO MUCH CUTE.

Just for funsies, I found an owner who dressed her corgi pup in a kimono outfit. SO MUCH CUTE.

We had a really good Italian lunch that ended in a much needed affogato, and then headed towards Gion to get a walk through tour of the Nijo Castle.

Ticket to the Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Ticket to the Nijo Castle in Kyoto

Nijo Castle - the details of this entrance gate is super elaborate. The golden flower emblems (they're Chrysanthemums) you see are actually the Imperial Seal of Japan dating back to  Emperor Go-Daigo.

Nijo Castle – the details of this entrance gate is super elaborate. The golden flower emblems (they’re Chrysanthemums) you see are actually the Imperial Seal of Japan dating back to Emperor Go-Daigo.

I’ll spare you the photos of more castle/temple-related photos and just jump to when we went to Shigeharu’s infamous knife shop in Kyoto.

Shigeharu's knife storefront. Katie told us that this is one of two places in Kyoto where kitchen knives were to be purchased.

Shigeharu’s knife storefront. Katie told us that this is one of two places in Kyoto where kitchen knives were to be purchased.

Here's Shigeharu - If I'm not mistaken, he's the 24th generation to the family-run shop's impressive storefront history. We ended up paying 10,000 Yen for a stainless steel knife with a traditional Japanese wooden handle and had our Chinese name carved onto the knife.

Here’s Shigeharu – If I’m not mistaken, he’s the 24th generation to the family-run shop’s impressive storefront history. We ended up paying 10,000 Yen for a stainless steel knife with a traditional Japanese wooden handle and had our Chinese name carved onto the knife.

We didn't get this Western-styled knife, but this is how one of them looked.

We didn’t get this Western-styled knife, but this is how one of them looked.

Our bus driver was coughing incessantly and we weren’t sure why…so as a precautionary we did this:

Our tour group in face masks - a common sighting in all of Japan and in most of Asia. Talk about immersing in the lifestyle ;)

Our tour group in face masks – a common sighting in all of Japan and in most of Asia. Talk about immersing in the lifestyle😉 Thanks for the masks, Patti!

Turns out, he just had bad allergies. But, like Tim mentioned, “We just want to be safe traveling!” You can never be too cautious, especially after reading a notice from our previous hotel that there was a contagious Norovirus that was going around in recent months. We all kinda felt bad afterwards…

View from Gion

View from Gion

We went for a quick bite at dinner tonight at a ramen place called….

P1050706

Not out of this world, but it's definitely really, really tasty and not like any ramen I've had in America.

Not out of this world, but it’s definitely really, really tasty and not like any ramen I’ve had in America. The pork was perfectly, thinly sliced and the broth was savory and delicious.

I’m pooped.

[UPDATE]: Because our room has a strong bathroom smell, we just got a free upgrade. Now we don’t have just 2 full size beds, but we have 4 full size beds. Not sure what to do with all that bed space…maybe switch over half way through the night? Too bad we’re only here (Okura Kyoto) for one night. Well, at least now I don’t have to share a bathroom with my mother. I love this little freedom I have!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Japan Day 6: I could get used to onsens.

I’m losing track of what day of the week it is, but writing a blog every day helps with remember what day of the tour/vacation I’m on.

Yesterday, we left Tokyo and headed towards the Tokyo station to ride the shinkansen, or the Japanese bullet train, to Osaka. It was built in 1964 and runs at 140 mph. The ride we took was the speediest way from Tokyo to Osaka with minimal stops at 2.5 hours for a ticket price of $140 USD. Riding the shinkansen reminded me of a lot of different things from America. The train itself was like a cleaner version of Amtrak, with lots of leg room and aisle space. There were smoking rooms (oh, by the way, most public places don’t allow you to smoke outdoors freely. You have to go to designated areas/smoke rooms to do your stinky business) on certain car trains. The bathrooms between each car were like restrooms on an airplane (same loud, airy flushing and cramped space). There were also coat hangers by window seats!

Tokyo Train Station (the JR line)

Tokyo Train Station (the JR line)

Shinkansen to Osaka

Shinkansen to Kyoto

While waiting for the train, there are these convenient shops that you can buy beverages, snacks, and face masks. There's Tim Matsumoto. He's from Long Beach and came with his wife, Pam. Together they came with his grammar school friend Michael and his wife Patty Namura, who are also from Long Beach, CA. I'll show you a group photo of our tour group later.

While waiting for the train, there are these convenient shops that you can buy beverages, snacks, and face masks. There’s Tim. He’s from Long Beach and came with his wife, Pam. Together they came with his grammar school friend Michael and his wife Patti, who are also from Long Beach, CA. I’ll show you a group photo of our tour group later.

Patty told us that these banana flavored Hostess-like cakes are popular in Osaka.

Patty told us that these banana flavored Hostess-like cakes are popular in the Kyoto/Osaka area.

Here we are riding the shinkansen!

Here we are riding the shinkansen!

After the 2.5 hour shinkansen ride, we drove about an hour to our lunch spot in the hills for a tasty “natural farming” meal. This Fukuoka method of agriculture abides by a few principles:

  1. No tillage
  2. No fertilizer
  3. No pesticides
  4. No weeding
  5. No pruning
Our tatami dining area

Our tatami dining area. There’s Patti on the left. Patti is very knowledgeable about the Japanese culture and traditions. Her family has a cookbook that includes all the traditional family recipes, a family tree, and the story of how her great grandparents immigrated over to America. The cookbook is such a great idea of preserving passed-down traditions and recipes and she says they hope to reprint this cookbook to include some newer recipes they hope to share for future generations. I might try doing that with our family, too – I really like the idea!

Natural farming meal: Top Left (potato, acorn squash, fried tofu, some gelatinous thing that's red); Top Right (orange, manju, tomago, some shredded tofu melange with pickles and dried goji berries); Bottom Left (steamed sesame tofu); Bottom Right (tempura with a side of shredded daikon)

Natural farming meal: Top Left (potato, acorn squash, fried tofu, some gelatinous thing that’s red); Top Right (orange, manju, tomago, some shredded tofu melange with pickles and dried goji berries); Bottom Left (steamed sesame tofu); Bottom Right (tempura with a side of shredded daikon)

Green tea, red miso soup and bamboo rice

Green tea, red miso soup and bamboo rice. The rice was super tasty!

Here's Tim and Pam eating their lunches

Here’s Junk0-san, our tour guide on the far left, Tim and Pam at lunch.

After lunch, we drove a little ways through this village to visit the Miho Museum, located at the top of a hillside. The Miho Museum was designed by the infamous I.M. Pei and due to government regulations, there were a lot of rules to how the design of the buildings could be constructed (e.g. maximum height of the museum, required slanted roofs to mimic and blend in with the peaks of the surrounding mountains, etc.).

Tunnel to the Miho Museum

Tunnel to the Miho Museum. Pam recommended that I take a photo from this angle after she saw me trying (but failing) to take macro shots of these raindrops. I’ve been basically following Pam around since she always takes photos of really great finds at perfect angles. Thanks, Pam!

There's no echo through this tunnel because of the many holes that were created along the roofing of this tunnel's dome

There’s no echo through this tunnel because of the many holes that were created along the roofing of this tunnel’s dome

Suspension bridge leading up to the Miho Museum

Suspension bridge leading up to the Miho Museum

The entrance of the Miho Museum

The entrance of the Miho Museum

The Miho Museum had a special Edo Exhibition. It included a lot of textile prints and patterns similar to the one pictured here.

The Miho Museum had a special Edo Exhibition. It included a lot of textile prints and patterns similar to the one pictured here.

After a long day, we all resorted to the hotel of the night which was at Biwako Hanakaido Hotel, which is located right by the fresh water Biwa Lake. I was looking forward to this hotel because I knew we’d get access to a relaxing onsen again! These onsens are so dang addicting and all I want to do is be in one night after night after night. It’s like going to a spa! I took a quick dip before heading to our Kaiseki dinner (and also took one early the next morning before breakfast!).

Our second Kaiseki dinner of the trip. This is a Kyoto style Kaiseki meal that's different from the previous style we had on Day 3 of the trip. The beef was cooked on top of that heated plate pictured on the top left and it was sooo good! I definitely prefer the Kyoto version of this traditional Japanese meal. Lots of dishes to wash!

Our second Kaiseki dinner of the trip. This is a Kyoto style Kaiseki meal that’s different from the previous style we had on Day 3 of the trip. The beef was cooked on top of that heated plate pictured on the top left and it was sooo good! I definitely prefer the Kyoto version of this traditional Japanese meal. Lots of dishes to wash!

Here's the first group photo I have of the folks on our tour. From left to right, Michael and Patty (couple from Long Beach), Tim and Pam (also couple from Long Beach and good friends with Mike and Patty), Kristie and Scott (couple from Foster City), me, my mom, and Ted (an 82 year-old retired math and physics teacher who swims 2 kilometers daily from Toronto. Yes, I'm still impressed!)

Here’s the first group photo I have of the folks on our tour. From left to right, Michael and Patti (couple from Long Beach), Tim and Pam (also couple from Long Beach and good friends with Mike and Patti), Kristie and Scott (couple from Foster City), me, my mom, and Ted (a retired math and physics teacher from Toronto).

I had to share this because this Agedashi tofu was bomb.

I had to share this because the agedashi tofu dish for dinner was so freaking bomb. Yum!

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Japan Day 5: We went to dinner to see robots fight. Oh boy.

So to start off, ever since we’ve been in Japan, there’s a few common things that I’ve noticed happening everywhere we go:

  1. Every Japanese person is in love with some kind of pickled vegetable.
  2. Japanese people really like their grapefruit.
  3. There’s soy sauce with/in almost anything they munch on.
  4. Almost every Japanese bidet toilet has the smarts to know when you’re on the toilet and will play a rushing sound of what sounds like a waterfall. My guess here? To help you pee sooner rather than later. Or maybe just to hide the sound that you’re doing your thang.

Okay, now that that’s out…we started our adventures today after breakfast by wandering through Hibiya Park, the first public park in Japan with a Western-style design (think something along the lines of Central Park, but located in the midst of government and ministry buildings). There, we were delighted by these beauties:

CHERRY BLOSSOMS <3

CHERRY BLOSSOMS❤

 

AND WHITE MAGNOLIAS!

AND WHITE MAGNOLIAS!

AND A CARVED OUT WOODEN TRAIN BENCH!

AND A CARVED OUT WOODEN TRAIN BENCH!

We then cruised on a small boat on the Sumida River, which is the longest river in Tokyo, and passed by the Tsukiji market and the Akihabara district (aka where geeky boys and girls go to get their share of anime, games and manga).

Panoramic view of the Sumida River

Panoramic view of the Sumida River

Along the way, we got a view of the Tokyo Sky Tree, which was built just last May.

Tokyo Sky Tree

Tokyo Sky Tree

We then got off the water and walked over to Asakusa District, making a stop to the Asakusa temple, Tokyo’s oldest temple. There were loads of locals and tourists and the pathways were soooo packed with small shops and people everywhere.

Asakusa Temple

Asakusa Temple

Inside the Asakusa Temple where the main shrine is located.

Inside the Asakusa Temple where the main shrine is located.

Five-roof pagoda, part of the Asakusa temple

Five-story pagoda, part of the Asakusa temple

The temple grounds of Sensō-ji (aka Asakusa) is basically a pathway of lined up boutiques and little shops and eateries selling sweets like mochi, rice crisps and soft serves (btw, they call them soft creams in Japan):

IMG_6321

 

Rice crisps that were shrimp flavored and SO GOOD.

Rice crisps that were shrimp flavored and SO GOOD.

Really pretty tapestry that I didn't have time to buy :(

Really pretty tapestry that I didn’t have time to buy😦

 

Sashimi lunch at Kura

Sashimi lunch at Kura

On our way out of Asakusa, I couldn’t help but notice this pup in…JEANS:

WOW. Just WOW.

WOW. Just WOW.

Our next stop was to go up the Tokyo Sky Tree and get an aerial view of all of Tokyo. It was 350 meters up from the ground and the elevator going up was so speedy (speedier than any hotel/office building elevator that only goes up a few flights) that my ears kept popping.

Ticket to go up the Tokyo Sky Tree

Ticket to go up the Tokyo Sky Tree

Keep in mind there are 13 million people in Tokyo alone. To give you some perspective, that's 62.5% more than the population of NYC.

View from 350 meters above ground. Keep in mind there are 13 million people in Tokyo alone. To give you some perspective, that’s 62.5% more than the population of NYC.

At this point in time, we had been on our feet all morning and afternoon and we were all just hitting a pretty low point in the day. I don’t know how people in retail stand up all day. But we still had to continue on and go for a walk through the Tokyo Imperial Palace.

Tokyo Imperial Palace

Tokyo Imperial Palace

We drove through Ginza (basically a Japanese version of Rodeo drive) and didn’t really walk around because we were so pooped and had to get on the Metro station to go from Tokyo back to Shinjuku to get to the Robot Restaurant. One of the couples on our tour had a daughter who went to the Robot Restaurant and described it as “Vegas on crack.” Yeah, a great description for a great time. So we rode the subway for about 30 minutes to our destination and walked up to this:

The front of the Robot Restaurant. L-M-A-O!

The front of the Robot Restaurant. L-M-A-O!

Basically girls in bikinis, some dancing on poles, some beating taiko drums and whole bunch of robots fighting and moving around in Pacific-Rim type of machines. It was all very…..Japanese? I’m not sure how else to describe it.

IMG_6392

Walking down to the basement where the show was. It was like entering some taboo, gang-related hideout.

Walking down to the basement where the show was. It was like entering some taboo, gang-related hideout.

Robots fighting!

Robots fighting!

Anyway, I’d say, go for the show, not the food. It was $50 USD for the whole thing, but it was all entertaining in a really strange way. Note, I was with a bunch of 60 year olds. Let that draw up an imagery for ya!

Yeah, they handed out light sticks. It was all really Asian and colorful.

Yeah, they handed out light sticks. It was all really Asian and colorful. Heh🙂

Tomorrow, we ride the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Japan Day 4: “Hey pops, I saw Mt. Fuji!”

So, first, I just have to show you what I had for breakfast this morning after I wrote up the last post. Heads up, it’s pretty Asian, but I gotta be real with you: it was pretty freaking bomb.

A bowl of rice with a piece of fried fish, some pickles (btw, the Japanese LOVE their pickled vegetables), steamed tofu topped with fresh ginger and scallions and a bowl of miso soup.

A bowl of rice with a piece of fried fish, some pickles (btw, the Japanese LOVE their pickled vegetables), steamed tofu topped with fresh ginger and scallions and a bowl of miso soup.

Our first trip from Atami was to the Fuji-Hakone National Park where we were lucky enough to catch a SUPER clear shot of Mt. Fuji. According to our tour guide, it’s very rare to see Mt. Fuji so clearly during most of the year and typically only during the winters. I guess we’re just good luck😉

Too bad there weren't any cherry blossoms to cover the bareness of the trees. Oh well.

Too bad there weren’t any cherry blossoms to cover the bareness of the trees. Oh well.

We cruised through Lake Ashi in Hakone. And, yes, that's Mt. Fuji in the background!

We cruised through Lake Ashi in Hakone. And, yes, that’s Mt. Fuji in the background!

We also got the chance to visit a shop where the infamous wooden mosaic works of Hakone are made. These pieces of items (usually in the form of coasters, jewelry/money storage boxes, cups) are made of rich wood and assembled into geometric patterns with its natural colors applied. The patterns are made by putting thin wood pieces on a surface and glued together until they form the various patterns that you’ll see amongst the items laid around this craftsman’s workspace.

This man was showing us how the hundreds of pieces of wooden columns make up entire pieces.

This man was showing us how the hundreds of pieces of wooden columns make up entire pieces. Here, the craftsman is showcasing one of the hundred puzzle boxes he’s created. Puzzle boxes are called that not because they’re meant for storing your puzzle pieces, but rather, they are puzzles in and of themselves. You need to know the specific steps necessary to open up each of these boxes. For the one above, you need to switch the pedestrian light to green, make the doll turn it’s head left and right twice (to ensure the crosswalk is safe to walk…lol) and then the box will open!

On a random note, Japanese dog owners often carry there dogs around in their arms. Very seldom do you see dogs walking on their own for long distances and they're all really cute like this little one. Talk about getting the royal treatment!

On a random note, Japanese dog owners often carry there dogs around in their arms. Very seldom do you see dogs walking on their own for long distances and they’re all really cute like this little one. Talk about getting the royal treatment. But even then I can’t help but say, “Stop it! Why are you so dang cute!?!?”

After cruising on Lake Ashi, we took a stroll through Owakudani Valley, which is basically a volcanic valley with smelly sulfur vents and hot springs. On top of that, they were selling black-shelled eggs that were hard-boiled from the sulfur water (basically tasted like a regular hard-boiled egg) at 5 eggs for 500 yen. I didn’t try the egg, but I did take this photo:

Haha, Hello Kitty's a black sulfur egg!

Haha, Hello Kitty’s a black sulfur egg!

We then took a two hour drive from Hakone to Shinjuku, Tokyo where we passed by the infamous Shibuya crossing, where we witnessed loads of people crossing the street. Check the video link to get an idea of what kind of crowd I literally witnessed.

View of downtown Shinjuku during the day time

View of downtown Shinjuku during the day time

View of Shinjuku at night when all the signs are lit up. Kinda feels like Times Square in NYC.

View of Shinjuku at night when all the signs are lit up. Kinda feels like Times Square in NYC.

And last but not least:

This girl did not forget her daily kimono #selfie. Nuh uh!

This girl did not forget her daily kimono #selfie. Nuh uh!

Oh! And last but not least, here’s the view outside my hotel room of downtown Shinjuku:

Downtown Shinjuku

Downtown Shinjuku

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Japan Day 3 (Part 2): Men in Kamakura are…KAWAII! ^_^

Heh, re-reading that just made me chuckle.

Okay, so I never anticipated this prior to this trip, but the men here are so handsome. Like, I kid you not, they’re swoon worthy. Thick, lush black hair with dark big eyes and dressed to always impress? A recipe for melting any American girl’s heart!

So the first part of the trip yesterday was making our way from Narita to Kamakura by way of the Tokyo Bay Aqualine.

Tokyo Bay Aqualine

Tokyo Bay Aqualine

You basically save an hour’s worth of time with this route, but pay a toll of about $30 USD to cross it. So what do they decide to do? Well since you’re already paying so much to cross it, might as well make the center point a tourist spot where you can find arcades and take pictures:

IMG_5977

Basically an arcade in the middle of an underwater tunnel that gets you from Narita to Kamakura via the Tokyo Bay Aqualine

Imagine rows and rows of these things. Yeah, that was basically floating in the middle of the Tokyo Bay.

I also saw the first of many Shiba Inu sightings yesterday and was drawn to them like nobody’s business.

I'll save you and just post this one photo of Shibas from this trip.

I’ll save you and just post this one photo of a Shiba from this trip. No promises are guaranteed.

We then went through The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine and passed through loads of street food vendors and shops. I had this really amazing lunch at a restaurant that was also a sweets shop along the Komachi-dori Street, which if you can imagine, is like a long narrow alleyway full of shops, boutiques, and eateries. Also, apparently, this particular area is a common date spot, which explains all the couples I saw (literally, every other person was with a significant other). I have never seen more couples in a single area than around Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.

You are supposed to wash your right hand first, then left hand and then lightly touch your lips to purify yourself before entering the shrine premises.

You are supposed to wash your right hand first, then left hand and then lightly touch your lips to purify yourself before entering the shrine premises.

When you make a wish, any bad fortunes you receive are to be tied in a knot around these posts.

When you make a wish, any bad fortunes you receive are to be tied in a knot around these posts.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Inside the shrine: you toss a coin, bow twice, clap your hands twice, make your wish, and bow once.

Inside the shrine: you toss a coin, bow twice, clap your hands twice, make your wish, and bow once.

Man selling roasted gingko nuts.

Man selling roasted gingko nuts.

Mochi rice on a stick, wrapped with thin slices of teriyaki meats.

Mochi rice on a stick, wrapped with thin slices of teriyaki meats.

Although, we are about a week early for the cherry blossom season, we were able to catch a few trees already beginning to bloom. It has be forecasted to bloom starting March 27 and is said to last for a week. Not sure if I really believe that since the cherry blossoms at home typically last longer than just a week. But who knows what they feed the plants out here.

Cherry blossoms please :D

Cherry blossoms please😀

 

Lunch was AMAZING! Tempura atop a bowl of rice and shirasu, some miso soup, a pickled plum and Chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg custard that has a savory taste).

Lunch was AMAZING! Tempura atop a bowl of rice and shirasu, some miso soup, a pickled plum and Chawanmushi (Japanese steamed egg custard that has a savory taste).

Mochi on a skewer topped with piped red bean paste and fresh strawberries for 150 Yen

Mochi on a skewer topped with piped red bean paste and fresh strawberries for 150 Yen

Soft serve swirl of green tea and sweet potato for 300 Yen

Soft serve swirl of green tea and sweet potato for 300 Yen

We then took a rickshaw ride around alleyways:

In our little rickshaw

In our little rickshaw, and me turning into a stereotypical Asian. Ha!

Oh and here was our rickshaw “driver.” I wish I remembered his name but it was really long. All I know is that it starts with and R. So….here’s R!

I tried asking him where he was from. Yeah, he didn't know what I was asking and that got us no where. But R was super friendly!

I tried asking him where he was from. Yeah, he didn’t know what I was asking and that got us no where. But R was super friendly! I bet my mom was thinking, “God, wth is my daughter doing with freaking peace sign. Omg stop it.” Haha!

We then drove for another hour to our next destination:

Odawara Castle

Odawara Castle

And then to our final destination of Atami which is basically a peninsula off the Tokyo Bay. It was the night for a truly immersive cultural experience where I went to my first Onsen, a public hot spring bath house where being completely naked is required. No swimming suits, not even a full size towel to cover yourself up. You first have to enter the Onsen with a small little wash cloth, seat yourself in front of a mirrored seating area that’s akin to a public version of a boudoir. There, you sit bare naked on a plastic stool, and grab a hand shower head and rinse yourself off with the provided shower amenities. Then you enter what looks like a swimming pool, where the water is just above body temperature (not quite as hot as a hot tub). To tell you the truth, it was an amazing experience and now I just want to do it every time I get the chance. We’ll be going to another onsen in western Japan, so that’ll be something to look forward to.

We stayed in a traditional tatami room for the night:

Our traditional tatami rooms for the night.

Our traditional tatami rooms for the night.

These were the Yukata robes we wore after going to the Onsen hot springs.

These were the Yukata robes we wore after going to the Onsen hot springs.

View from the hotel we stayed at in Atami.

View from the hotel we stayed at in Atami.

Off to enjoy the fourth day of the trip now! Will be off to Hakone and ending the day in Tokyo.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Japan Day 3: We found kimonos at 3am!

Konichiwa! Heh heh :)

Konichiwa! Heh heh🙂

The result of waking up in the middle of the night? Discovering that we have sleep-in kimonos! Heh, I wonder if the other hotels will have kimonos of the same sort! If so, stay tuned for a bunch of kawaii/not-so-kawaii kimono #selfies.

30k Yen is equivalent to about $300 USD

30k Yen is equivalent to about $300 USD

Went to breakfast today at 6:30am since I couldn’t sleep in beyond 5am and got my first taste of natto! I heard the rave about this via YouTube videos and figured I might as well try it. It’s basically fermented beans that you end up eating with usually a bowl of rice. Not too shabby I must say.

Natto! It's super slimy - not sure if I mixed it right, but it's pretty light in flavor.

Natto! It’s super slimy – not sure if I mixed it right, but it’s pretty light in flavor.

I won’t be able to access Internet tonight, but I will let you know about this in advance: We will be going to Umihotaru Island and Kamakura where we’ll get to see the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Wakamiya and Komachi-dori Street, Odawara Castle and enjoy a traditional Kaiseki dinner (aka a reason to dress in Yukata robes and immerse ourselves in…wait for it…KARAOKE!).

Tagged , , , ,

Japan Day 2: Losing a day’s worth of sleep

The thought of losing a day is terrifying, but thinking about the day I gain back on the flight back home sort of brings things into perspective. The 11-hour flight from SFO to the Narita International Airport was surprisingly not as bad as I had anticipated for the most part. Up until the last 4 hours, if you’d had asked me how I was, I’d reply: “Omg, the Japanese film ‘Like Father, Like Son‘ is probably one of the best drama films I’ve seen all year!” or “I love that they give you hot hand towels before each meal!” or “Check out all this leg room we all get!” Yeah, this girl was totally living it up in the Economy seating.

Tonkatsu Curry over rice, mixed fruits, pickled garlic, edamame, tomago, and some soba noodles! Also not pictured was the miso soup and little pint of Haagan-Daaz vanilla bean ice cream. My coworker Kevin was right: "When flying to Japan, flying ANA is the way to go!"

Tonkatsu Curry over rice, mixed fruits, pickled garlic, edamame, tomago, and some soba noodles! Also not pictured was the miso soup and little pint of Haagan-Daaz vanilla bean ice cream. My coworker Kevin was right: “When flying to Japan, flying ANA is the way to go!”

The last four hours of the plane ride, on the other hand, was the most painful. Mostly because sitting for longer than 7 hours was pretty much like forcing a highly impatient and anxious kid into a really, REALLY long time-out session.

Baggage claim at Narita Airport. This sign reminded me of how old train stations would update the schedules of incoming trains. This one though digitized, still gives me that unexplainable feeling of comfort. Some designs were meant to last forever!

Baggage claim at Narita Airport. This sign reminded me of how old train stations would update the schedules of incoming trains. This one though digitized, still gives me that unexplainable feeling of comfort. Some designs were meant to last forever! 

By the time we got to Narita, getting through Immigration and Customs was super breezy. Found an ATM, and got some Yen withdrawn (shoutout to Jen R. for recommending the Charles Schwab debit card! No transaction/foreign/ATM fees!), and went straight to the Hilton Narita. The staff at this hotel are super sweet, just as most people we’ve met here in Japan so far. I’m strangely loving the whole bowing thing and really like that most people here are not only respectful of one another but also have a sense of pride in what they do — be it drive a bus, or serve you lunch. I guess my job at Google makes you really appreciate those who provide exceptional customer service and go above and beyond what you expect of them.

By the time we got to the hotel room, I struggled for a good 10 minutes trying to figure out how to turn on the light in the bathroom. In the end, I resorted to calling the Guest Services line. A man said a phrase in Japanese and I, foolishly responded, “Heh, I actually don’t speak Japanese…and I don’t know how to turn on the lights in the bathroom.” Talk about MAJOR NOOB status. Yeah, I was feeling pretty tiny at that point. Turns out, you need to place your room key in this slot by the entrance in order for the electricity to turn on:

Let there be light!

Let there be light!

Suffice to say, that was a major “Ah-ha!” moment for me.

Fast forward an hour, and we’re off to dinner! I got an order of udon with all of this deliciousness:

Some sort of citrus ponzu chicken, mixed tempura (fish, shrimp, sweet potato and squid), salmon sashimi, a tofu/fish cake thing with okra, and some pickled daikon.

Some sort of citrus ponzu chicken, mixed tempura (fish, shrimp, sweet potato and squid), salmon sashimi, a tofu/fish cake thing with okra, and some pickled daikon.

Found some wifi down at the lobby to draft this post up, but this and all the traveling has seriously got me beat. Wake up call tomorrow is at 6:30am, and somehow the idea of waking up THAT early while on vacation (and not for the purposes of going to  gym before a workday) is not very pleasing to me.

Tagged , , ,

Japan Day 1: Hitting the Airport

Me & Mom <3

Me & Mom @ SFO Airport❤

So I always look hideous on days when I’m at the airport, and the recent hit of the allergies definitely doesn’t help. Regardless, I’m finally embarking on this trip that I feel like I’ve been talking about since November and I’m so thrilled that all that talk is coming into fruition! To the land of Jiro’s sushi, Harajuku girls, Shiba Inus, SUPER HIGH TECH, and all things manga/anime/emoticons: this girl is SO down to explore and adventure and eat you up!

I’m going on this trip with my mom and hoping this will turn out better than our last mother-daughter trip to Maui, when I won worst daughter of the year award for having mono and being a total b*tch to her as a result of it. Our first leg of the trip in Japan will start off in Tokyo, Japan. We’ll be getting around Japan with a tour group, which makes traveling in between places and finding spots to eat at less time-consuming (and way easier on my end to “plan” things). Although, I’m sure I’ll be missing out on some local must-see’s/do’s, I’m hoping that the free time we have during certain days will allow us to venture out on our own for a bit. And besides, being in a tour group means better travel stories to share with you. Hope to meet some fun and interesting characters along the way!

Tagged , ,

Just A Small Reminder

We all have gotten lectured about how we should live our lives or what we should do/not do to hopefully avoid the mistakes that others before us made. But the funny thing about reality is that almost always, we usually learn these things the hard way, if not the same ways as those who did the very lecturing.

In recent events, I feel like I’ve gotten a few lessons that I’ve really taken to heart. I’m not sure why they’re sticking with me moreso than any other ones. It may have to do with the context in which I received them, but I think it’s also in the simplicity of the messages themselves that strung with me.

(FYI, nothing here is “new” news — if anything, you probably know them already.)

So here’s a couple I thought were worth sharing:

1. Consistency is key to your characteristic.

Someone texted this to me in light of my constant wishy-washiness of whether or not I should go to the gym the next morning. Granted, I am fully well aware of how important physical activities are for general health and well-being (even Michelle Obama did her little “Let’s Move” plug-in on a recent episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon).

Nonetheless, I think that this is a prime example of how easy it is to slip from that regular regiment of working out to do other things that seem less exhausting and energy-consuming.

But I think what I really appreciated about this comment was that even though it was just about how I should go to the gym, it was also a worthwhile point for how successful people get to be as successful as they are. When you’re consistent with the good work you do, people will eventually notice and it helps you build a stable path that gets you closer to that promotion. When you’re consistent with the relationships you foster and develop, you simultaneously are also building a more marketable self-brand that can eventually build a credible sense of reliability.

In a world where there are so many folks who flake and drop the ball on commitments they make, if you are one of the few that actually follows through with what you say you’ll do, you’ll not only build trust and familiarity with what you do, but it can lead to a whole world of new opportunities and experiences that you may not otherwise have access to as a result of your consistency. 

PSA – I’ll admit this is something I’ve been actively working on only in the past month, but I think, it’s been pretty good/manageable so far. I’ll let you know how things go in a few months from now…

2. Don’t sell yourself short.

These were the departing words of a drunk person I had met recently. Yep, you read right.

In life, it’s easy to go in either extremes — overly confident (to the point of cockiness) or completely insecure and lacking a healthy dose of self-worth. I think we all strive to find that happy medium where the two extremes meet. Personally, I find it difficult to balance out being humble and when it’s okay to exert self-assurance. I don’t know if other people feel the same way but when someone hands over a compliment, I find myself feeling super awkward and dumb. I know I should say “Thanks!” but I almost end up just saying how embarrassed I feel (yeah, I know, I’m awkward). 

So, anyway, what I’m getting at is that if you’re questioning/second guessing yourself about whether you should accept a compliment or whether you should be proud of your work/life accomplishments, just know that the probability of it coming out as “showing off” or “way-over-your-head” is most likely far from your preconceptions. You’ll make it out alive, buddy.

Tagged , , ,

Nature’s Freaking Amazing

I commute every day to and from work for a total of about 15 hours each week. I bustle through the morning traffic on the 101 and then hop back on to take the more smoother route of 280 in the evenings on my way back home. Honestly, I can’t imagine dealing with such a long commute to work daily (MAD props to those who deal with the solo drive or have even longer commutes to their workplace) without free access to high-speed Internet (thank you, Father Googs!).

That being said, it’s not uncommon for most folks, like myself, to be on the carpooling shuttle with headphones plugged in and the laptop/tablet/phone screen lighting up our pale faces in the midst of those early, dark mornings and evenings. In fact, conversations with your peers/shuttle buddies rarely occur as it’s a frowned-upon demeanor. Can’t have it like a grade school school bus, now can we? (Although, full disclosure, I totally break that unspoken rule like every other day…if not every day. Heh heh…) So, really, just generally speaking, shuttle times are really just moments for a lot of “me time.”

Well, maybe more like me + my connected device of choice.

And to be honest, it wasn’t until last Thursday (having done the same commute day in and out for over a year now), that I decided to look up from my cluttered work inbox. We were driving along 280 in the evening after a day’s worth of rain, and you know what? All that rain really did something spectacular to the mountains and surrounding terrain around the Crystal Springs reservoir. Rolling clouds hugged the tops of the hills as if wishing only to linger a little bit longer. A calming blueish, charcoal-colored sky blanketed the space above reflecting the deep, yet soft hues of the freshly, much-needed rejuvenated body of water in the reservoir that seemed endless as we drove right alongside it for miles. In an otherwise dreary-seeming night, I unknowingly felt in total awe, and completely humbled knowing that I was only a small part of something bigger, something greater.

Tagged , ,

Oh the places you’ll go!

I AM GOING TO JAPAN & HONG KONG.

The last real vacation I had was before I started at Google. I went to Maui and was sick the entire week I was there until, literally, the last day of my trip. I had great plans to learn how to surf and paddle board. To my dismay, my doctor said my temporarily enlarged spleen would be at risk with any physical activity. When I inquired about what the hell I could possibly do in Maui, this was his comical response:

“Well, you could build sand castles?”

Obvious to say, it wasn’t a very enjoyable trip. But now…I won’t be sick and I’m going to my personal, top two must-visit places! Honestly, I can’t even begin to describe how CRAZY excited I am for the trip (it’s during the cherry blossom season!) and will definitely be posting pics and posts along the way (as long as wi-fi permits!) to keep you guys updated.

Just to provide some idea, here are some of the places I’ll be stopping by during my time in Japan: Tokyo, Kamakura, Atami, Hakone, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Kobe. Hope I have time to make it out to the Tsukiji Fish Market!

Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

…and basically everything amazing in Hong Kong, including Great George Street, Victoria Peak, Stanley Market, Repulse Bay and the Aberdeen Floating community!

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

When Gmail Goes Down…Twitter Shines

I think that some of the wittiest people in town get their shining moments during #firstworldproblems:

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.54.54 AM

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.54.08 AM

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.53.48 AM

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.53.22 AM

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.52.57 AM

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.51.52 AMScreen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.52.29 AM

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.51.30 AM

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.51.01 AM

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.50.10 AM

Tagged , ,

What’s The Deal With Hearts, Likes, and Favorites?

I didn’t really think much of the “heart” call-to-action on Foursquare until I today. I’ve been heart-ing my friends’ check-ins as an indication that I like where they’re at and almost always that I’m jealous they’re there and I’m not.

In other words…

<heart> = “I see you!”

I’m not sure if it adds any value to me or my friends, other than maybe the anticipation of how many hearts a check-in may render. It’d be different if I could see what my friends have heart-ed, for the purposes of venue/event/cafe discovery purposes, but because I can’t, I really find it hard to justify the value in heart-ing check-ins. Or at least now I’m a bit more conscious of who and when I give out hearts.

When I think about the like button on Facebook, I attribute it as a helpful discovery tool. I can see what certain posts my friends have liked and find new content from that like. In some ways, the like button can really help spread awareness about relevant/meaningful content, but I don’t think it really drives a whole lot of action. If anything, a “like” on Facebook would essentially be akin to e-signing a petition to be sent to your local congressman; they will acknowledge that a particular population of their district has some decent interest/opinion about a subject matter. However, replace those e-signatures with something more tangible with say, actual phone calls from those individuals, you then have a completely different situation at hand.

My feelings about the impact of Liking a brand’s page are also similarly reserved and doubtful. I see that I have quite a few Facebook friends who have lists of artists, brands, movies, charities that they Like. And, to some degree, I do have to note that there are definitely a select few of my friends who actually do actively raise funds/awareness around certain causes and non-profit organizations. But for the majority of folks out there, I feel that it’s so easy to slip into the stage of lazy-activism, or ‘slacktivism,’ whereby no real action is taken and it’s just another body filling the room with no added value, or in some cases, no realized purpose.

In other words…

<like> = “I hear you!”

And then, there are those favorite tweets on Twitter that seem to just get sucked into a vacuum. Now, on occasion I will admit taht I have delved into the tweets that people favorite due to FOMO or just plain ‘ole curiosity. I suppose in some sense, the birth of social media has curated and perpetuated this state of mind of always wanting to be in the know-how (but never really achieving total know-all). So with Twitter’s Favorites, it allows ordinary users like myself, to chime/peer into public conversations that otherwise would have only been shared between/amongst a select few while also reducing those anxious feelings of FOMO. Oh boy, talk about spacing and privacy issues. I, like so many of you, are the culprits.

<favorite> = “I spy [on] you!”

At the end of the day, I’m not really sure where all this heart-ing, liking and favoriting is going towards. I’m just hoping we don’t make the antithesis versions of these “action” buttons.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

How I Got A (Non-Technical) Job At Google

I’ve been having a lot of people ask me about how I got my gig at the Googs, and figured that I might as well post some of my personal experience here. Please note that my experience may be very different from yours and that this is in no way a guarantee nor endorsed/supported by Google.

I’d always had an interest working for the all-encompassing tech company since my sophomore year of high school when I was in my AP English class discussing about how the term “Google” was evolving into being used as a verb. I can’t tell you the countless times I tried applying to a variety of applicable openings (internships, contract positions, full-time positions) at Google, as the number would probably seem ridiculously embarrassing, but I think that all those attempts really led to my understanding to how it all worked to my benefit.

I was pretty serious about my applications from the very get-go, trying to figure out the in’s and out’s of how I could even just get someone to reach out to me for a phone interview. I had many failed attempts, and tried every possible angle in my cover letter. I figured I had decent grades from my academics and could show for some of the skill sets I’d gained from legal internships and marketing gigs I did from summers in my college years, and that all that really mattered at the end of the day was what I wrote in my cover letter.

I tried writing about how my skills were applicable to the job I was applying for. I wrote letters that were witty and showed a bit of my personality. And then, one day, I just decided to give a short personal anecdote of how I really got interested in applying to Google and how it stemmed to my love for one of Google’s latest product features at the time (it was Google Goggles, FYI). Apparently, that’s all it took.

Just think about being in the recruiter’s shoes and how many resumes and CL’s they have to sift through. Sure there may be some way to sift through the resume for buzz words that stand out as candidate-potential, but really, how you stand out is showing your personality through your cover letter. You’re human, the recruiter’s human; so just show them that you have some spunk and passion for the company and its products.

Of course, there’s a fine line of coming off as overtly fake in your love and being right on point. The point of it all really is just to tell a story that’s simple, honest and to the point. Think of it as how you would like a guy to tell you what he thought of you. Want him to be like, “OMG, I love you so freaking much! You have great eyes and outfits and you’re just so cool. Oh my gosh, will you marry me?” Yeah, probably not very convincing or attractive at all. So don’t write Google a love letter that’s over-the-top and something they can use to laugh over their morning coffee.

In the end, I actually had a recruiter reach out to me via my LinkedIn profile. He pulled my resume from some mysterious, internal stock pile of saved resumes (YES! They actually keep good resumes for future openings, so don’t lose hope!) and looked at my LinkedIn profile to see what I was up to at the time. It was super flattering (and initially I thought it was totally some random, spam email) and also really nice to know that somehow things worked out in the end after all those hundreds of attempts I’d made.

So, if there’s two things to takeaway from this post it’s this: 1) don’t ever give up/lose hope; things will eventually happen if you keep trying (with smart revisions along the way if need be); 2) be a storyteller, not a robot.

Hope this helps, and as always, best of luck!

Tagged , , ,

Designing for Goals

When it comes to designing a product — be it a chair, an electric car, or a refrigerator — there are quite a few facets to consider which are dependent on what kind of goal(s) you’re designing for. We can take a very generic example to help explain the importance of understanding who the target audience it is you’re designing for and figuring out users’ end goals may be.

Let’s take, for instance, the concept of trying to design for a door knob. A person would approach a door, stop, turn the door knob, and proceed to enter into another area of space. Conceptually, that’s all very simple and we all do it pretty much every day. But to figure out what the design of the door knob should be, we need to consider what possible reasons a person would need the door knob for. Sure, it could simply mean to get to leave a room to get to another room, or it could be to enter into a building from an outside parking lot. But we could also take it further and think about the bigger picture goal for the person. Maybe the goal for the person isn’t merely to open the door, but rather it’s to get some soup. Or, perhaps, the goal is to get dinner for the family. Or from an even broader perspective, maybe the person’s goal is just to have a nice evening, whereby going out to dinner for some soup would make his/her evening.

With all these possibilities, a designer may also need to factor in a variety of different other questions to consider. How high should the door knob be from the ground? Does the knob need a locking capability? Is a door knob even necessary or should there be a button to push the doors open? Or perhaps maybe neither a button nor a knob is necessary but rather a motion detector that can detect a person which will automatically trigger the door to open upon proximity? As you can probably imagine, there are so many things that a designer has to consider when prototyping for the product he/she designs, and that one of the first steps a designer must take is to consider what users’ goals are at stake.

Tagged , ,

Understanding User Behavior

Analyzing the ways in which users behave, as well as deciphering what contextual influences may be at play, are crucial in better understanding how we can create and deliver products, or in this case media, in a more effective and appropriate manner. To understand how users behave, it’s important to address the fact that users are driven to consume media by contextual motivations. This is in no way comprehensive, but I think these are the four main contextual elements that affect how and whether or not users consume media:

  • Time: Time is probably the most influential context for users. The amount of time a user has, or the time of day the user is in, can really dictate how he or she consumes media. Take for example, that a user will most likely tune in to media during prime time — out of habit or routine typically — and expect a specific type of content.
  • Companions: Users assume different personalities based on the people they are with. In turn, media consumption behaviors change when users are alone, with family, or with friends. When consuming media content with family members, users, for instance, will most likely seek family-appropriate content recommendations which otherwise would not be factored into their personal recommendations.
  • Location: Location influences mobility, availability of network access, and demands choices based on convenience & comfort of use. Think about this in the context of a time when users choose to unplug from their immediate environment through a curated media experience (e.g. gym music playlists are an escape from the gym itself).
  • Attention: Users allocate and distribute their attention between the people around them and their virtual presence. This may span multiple devices, or even among multiple activities on one device. We often notice users consuming content together while simultaneously engaging with personal content on another device.

The second aspect to understanding how users behave is understanding the drives and motivations of users. These four means of motivations are essentially components that propel users to take action:

  • Connect: This motivation is triggered by a user’s desire to connect with another person or a community, by initiating conversation or “stalking” them on social media.
  • Feel: The motivation to feel comes from a user’s desire for a particular mood, or to immerse themselves in a story. Of the four motivations, Feel is the most prevalent motivation for media consumption.
  • Enrich: Rooting from a desire for personal development, Enrich is the most complex motivator for a user to fulfill. Activities associated with this motivation need structure, and a sense of value and accomplishment.
  • Know: This motivation captures the desire for timely, fast, and credible access to relevant information, such as catching up on the latest news.
Tagged ,

Narrowing the Gap

For the longest time I’ve been trying to think of what to write.

Truth be told, I literally sat in a coffee shop for a whole afternoon just for the sake of hoping an idea would pop into my head. A friend of mine who was with me at the time suggested that I write about my nail polish. I shook my head. That was not even remotely close to what I’d ever want to write about.

I suppose I had hoped that by being in a different writing setting, I might actually reach that epiphany and “Aha!” moment. Sadly, nothing came of it except some good coffee and a bunch of wonky daydreaming. Hooray?

And then today, I thought, what the heck? I’ll just write about how I’m utterly stuck.It’s interesting to realize that if you had asked the 13 year old version of myself to write, she’d probably have more things to write about. And yet as we age and learn to appreciate good, tasteful writing, we subconsciously and simultaneously begin to build up this imaginary filter between what we can write about and what we actually want to produce and have read.

With the exception of my post in June, I feel like I’ve been paralyzed. Whenever I sit down to write, nothing comes out: nada, zilch.

I thought reading news and writing resources online and books on my kindle might help conjure up some topic worth writing about, but nothing these days seems interesting enough for me to want to write about it (let alone expect another person who’d be willing to read it). And despite not having anything really interesting to write about, there’s always that sliver of hope that whenever I have that blank “Add New Post” page opened up in my WordPress, I’ll be like an instant Picasso painting a masterpiece on canvas. In reality, though, it feels like a vacuum has been turned on, sucking all possible forms of creativity from me where all I can seem to do is stare at my monitor.

Suffice to say, the day clearly hasn’t come quite yet, but I think the gap between my ability to write and the actual action of writing has narrowed just a tad — and that’s good enough for me now. So here I am again, World.After a good few months, I came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t force myself to write anything if I didn’t feel like it. I figured that if I thought about it less, something might just turn up and I’d find myself one day just typing away full of inspiration and great ideas.

Tagged , , ,

I Drove A Google Street View Car!

This past weekend was National Day of Civic Hacking. The nationwide weekend event brought together citizens, developers and entrepreneurs to collaboratively create and build applications. The goal was to use open government data to build applications and tools that made the data not only useful, but also provide innovative ways for people to access it.

CityCamp Palo Alto Sponsors

CityCamp Palo Alto Sponsors

CityCamp Palo Alto had hosted its own local Hack for Change event, successfully holding the largest civic innovation event in America, with over 5,000 participants, over 57 sponsors, and 5 distinct hackathons with potential for over 20 solutions. As a part of our local weekend festivities, I was privileged enough to work with Google.org’s Civic Innovation team. We hosted a 2 day hackathon at the Googleplex, where over a hundred developers, statisticians, data scientists and designers stayed up all night hacking together prototypes of how data on health and the environment could be used to enrich people’s lives. Google’s platforms were heavily leveraged, particularly Google’s Fusion Tables, and several groups self-organized Google Hangouts between cities so that they could collaborate on large-scaled products.

 

I'm about to head over to CityCamp Palo Alto via a Google Street View car!

I’m about to head over to CityCamp Palo Alto via a Google Street View car!

I was also privileged enough to drive a Google Street View car to the event, whereby I helped evangelize Google’s APIs (especially, of course, the Google Maps API) to software developers to help promote the creation of useful applications such as these posted in the existing app gallery.

You can read more about the weekend’s events through photos on Instagram and tweets from the City of Palo Alto’s CIO’s Storify here. Thanks again to all the sponsors, developers, and attendees who made this event such a huge success!

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Internet of Things: How It’s Revolutionizing Our Lives

I was just checking out the UI design of QZ.com, when I stumbled upon a video that discusses about innovation and the cool consumer products that have come of the “Internet of Things.” Seriously, watch the video. It’s pretty mind-blowing.

After watching this video, I couldn’t help but think, “Man, APIs are so dang powerful!” Sure the plug-in device that will enable any consumer plug-in device to be connected to a WiFi Internet source is really neat hardware, but the power to integrate a tweet to initiate a coffee maker to brew your morning Joe is what makes all this tech stuff so dang sexy!

For those who aren’t that familiar with what this three-letter acronym is, here’s a really high-level definition: An API, or an Application Programming Interface, is an interface between different software programs that facilitates interaction the way a UI facilitates interaction between humans and computers. APIs power third party apps, widgets, gadgets, badges, social sharing mechanisms and mobile apps. In other words, put simply, an API is an open distribution channel that enables you to expand your business beyond just your website.

APIs may seem complicated to understand conceptually, but when implemented, they really do make various actions possible. For instance, with APIs, a webmaster is able to add a Facebook “Like” button to his website. APIs also make it possible for users to use mobile photo apps like Flickr or Instagram to upload pictures once and simultaneously post to multiple social media sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and Foursquare.

Or have you ever used Kayak or Hipmunk to compare hotel and/or flight prices? APIs make it possible for users to compare product prices/features from a single interface! Without most people knowledgeable of what the heck APIs are, we are all in one way or another in contact with some form of technology that’s been built or uses APIs. Heck, you know how you can stream Netflix on practically hundreds of different devices (think Roku, Xbox 360, Playstation, Wii, Apple TV, all major operating systems including iOS, Windows, Android, and several different brands of those product types!? Those all use the Netflix API!

So, perhaps it’s more fitting to say instead that APIs, which enable this phenomenon of the “Internet of Things” to exist, are actually what revolutionize our lives. That’s just my two cents for the day.

Tagged , , , , ,

App Development: For The Consumer vs. For The Enterprise

One of the biggest trends in the past year was a huge shift from consumer-oriented technology to enterprise-centric technology. Previously, what we had seen in reaction to the initial exponential growth in mobile device usage was a surge in the development of consumer apps.  According to data gathered by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, while a significant percentage of U.S. adults had downloaded a mobile application, most of them aren’t using them all that much. In fact, only 30 percent of those surveyed were using just three to five mobile apps a week, while an even smaller percentage used six to 10 apps per week.

This new industry that took formation in order to focus more software development and attention on smartphones, resulted in a great demand for app developers to create and rapidly deploy mobile applications. However, just as quickly as this consumer-oriented app economy grew, so did the realization become clear to developers that this was not a sustainable revenue-generating business model for most.

Move to the present and what we’re seeing now is the shift to enterprise-focused technology. With this transitioned focus on revenue numbers, it’s easier for businesses and developers alike to see just that at the enterprise level. A few outstanding things that could reason for this new attention to enterprise level technology can be observed in some of these common themes as held by most enterprise app projects:

  1. Support via much-sought-for analytics and data: If the project’s successes, failures and developments cannot be measured, then it cannot be properly managed. At the enterprise level, apps and software projects are tracked in a variety of ways so as to have ample data in terms of usage; total resources and manpower used to maintain and support such projects; security measures; and, perhaps most importantly, analytics that support the project’s business value.
  2. Money, money, money: Regardless of whether an app is consumer or enterprise oriented, the bottom line to any successful technological project or app must be that there is some apparent means for a return on investment — whether it be reflected by increase in productivity, supporting data and analytics, etc., there should be a motive towards profitability.
  3. A/B testing should be protocol: The best apps and software products are those that can not only anticipate possible reactions to product features and changes, but also be capable of responding promptly and accurately to constant rounds of feedback from consumers and businesses. It’s no easy fete to perfect a product or app project by any means, but ideally, by dealing with bugs and continually pushing out these updates accordingly, it will help prevent more intensive troubleshooting down the line.
  4. Don’t leave out the business aspect: Big corporations may not have the most up-to-date means of technology incorporated into their day-to-day functions, but they do have a very in-depth knowledge and grasp of essential success factors that is marketing, sales, research and development and operations, that the average developer may not have when starting a project.

And, yet, despite this shift in technological focus and the developments in the app economy towards the enterprise, I cannot help but constantly wonder, what do we do with all that aggregated data? How do developers and entrepreneurs optimize the use of data collected such as users’ locations, their comments about brands and businesses, and their personal/health information? What technologies/startups will come of all that data mining?

Tagged , , , , ,

When Is A Product Ready To Launch?

When should you start beta testing/launching a product or a service? One may reason, “Well, whenever it’s finalized and ready.”

But when is a product considered “ready” for the public? I was reminded of all the consequences of poor pre-launch planning with the recent events of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. To give some context, Boeing had decided to incorporate lithium-ion batteries into their 787 models to pack more power. However, recent flights have been forced to land due to the common occurrence of electrical and overheating issues. In fact, some of these batteries showed burned insides, indicating that in several instances, the batteries had received excess voltage beyond anticipated design limits.

With these unforeseen consequences and issues, it made me wonder: Putting aside all possible future problems that a product could potentially encounter (bandwidth limits, data caching capabilities, unanticipated problems, etc.), when is it most appropriate to debut a new product/service/feature? Some creators may push out products early due to the sheer pressure of getting a, typically, new and revolutionary product out first — before potential competitors get the upper hand advantage. In these situations, it’s often discovered that insufficient research and development has been performed on important factors such as a product’s functionality and user safety.

Here are some general, but really points to consider prior to launching a product:

1. Don’t launch your product until you are really ready.

I don’t think I can stress this concept more highly than already stated. There is nothing more frustrating and unfortunate to see a product fail miserably as a result of poor preparation. Regardless of how revolutionary and unique a product may seem on paper, if it malfunctions then it’s useless. Taking the time, effort (and monetary) funds into the research and development of a product is so crucial because if you’re going to already spend large sums on creating a new product, why not undertake the project completely and wholesomely? I would think that one of the main factors to a successful product is not only one that works as it was intended, but one that takes into consideration all factors a user could potentially encounter. A usable, yet friendly product design and user experience should be highly infused during production because, don’t you want people to like your product so that they can spread the good word about it for you?

2. Your product’s concept, purpose and functionalities should be clear and easy to understand by your target audience.

Although our society may be advancing our lives with ongoing technological progressions, we are still at the core human. What does that mean? That means you have to be able to explain your product and what it can do in a short, concise manner that isn’t filled with useless marketing jargon. The explanation should be simple enough to explain to an investor, your grandfather, and that lemonade-selling kid down the block. Crafting your storytelling skills is unbelievably necessary if you are trying to win the minds of any audience. You have to be able to convince them that your product solves an existing problem, how it actually goes about resolving those issues, and ultimately why they should even continue to listen to you. Captivate your audience’s naturally short attention span by striking what would interest them most through simple and short storytelling.

3. Establish a specific target audience and make sure you fully understand their needs/wants and how to market to those desires.

Of course every creator ultimately wants their product to be used by everyone, but you should start by focusing on a smaller specific audience that you know would be interested initially, and then grow and expand thereafter. Starting small first, while serving a well conceived product is a key to long term success. Once you establish your initial market, make sure to do the actual research of general likes and dislikes are of that focus group audience. What would that audience need or want in their current life? Work closely with your marketing team/brand specialists to really capitalize on those needs and desires to successfully sell your idea (and hopefully also lead to sales generation).

4. Market your product in a way that clearly distinguishes it from other existing or similar products already on the market.

There’s nothing more disheartening than hearing that the product you launched is “basically another Product X.” It’s so essential to be proactive in how you set your product apart from the rest, which is typically either by differentiating how the product is used in a unique way that hasn’t already been successfully established, or by showcasing how much easier it is to use the product in question. Keep in mind, this is not just something you do when initially launching a product, but rather it is a necessary continuous and constant effort. Companies must always be on top of their game to distinguish themselves through not only their product(s) but also the branding experience and business culture. Why else do you think major corporations like McDonald’s and Coca Cola still pay billions of dollars every year on advertising their brand and their new/classic products?

5. Make sure to have a plan on how you would scale your company should it take off and grow faster than anticipated.

And, lastly, of the few percentage of companies that unexpectedly find their product/business idea to lift off from initial launch, there are still quite a bit of businesses that struggle to keep up with high consumer/user demands as a result of unanticipated growth. You may have created a fabulous product but if you cannot grow the company to compensate and bear the bandwidth of a fast-growing business. Increasing the number of production facilities or the number of engineers to handle bandwidth is only part of a viable solution. Keep in mind, product managers, it’s not just increasing the sheer numbers in production needs, but also being able to maintain the quality of the final product. In situations like these, quality is just as necessary as quantity to succeed.

Tagged , , , , ,

Square Dongle Now Sold At Starbucks

Square’s mobile card reader is now available at your local Starbucks.

News broke this morning that Starbucks’ 7,000 company-operated stores will be selling Square’s mobile card reader. Just this past summer, Starbucks and Square had struck a $25 million partnership deal that has enabled Square to process all US. credit and debit card transactions at participating Starbucks stores. Since the formation of this new synergy between mobile technology and a traditionally brick-and-mortar store, Square’s “Pay With Square” mobile app has given users accessibility to not only locate nearby Starbucks via the Square Directory, but also make purchases without ever having to pull out a wallet.

The great thing about Square’s Directory is the ease with which merchant discoverability allows for new, additional business that probably could not have been accounted for prior to implementing Square into their business POS system. I can personally attest to this, as there have been a few times where I had forgotten to bring along my wallet to work and only had a few dollars crumpled into a pocket of my work bag. The dilemma hit hard when lunch came about. What could I do? Herein, lies the ingenuity of Square! My credit card is stored with the Square app, and with my handy dandy iPhone, I turned on the app and looked for local places that accepted Square. Oh, the places I’d never heard about! I found new coffee shops, cute cafes and even discovered that some of my favorite places were now a part of the Square Directory.

“Pay with Square” not only generates new potential customers to businesses, but it also incentivizes merchants to further increase their business successes with Square by creating customer loyalty reward systems. In keeping with the digital age but also pulling the familiar reward punch cards that merchants typically hand out, merchants with Square enabled POS systems are still able to provide customers with digital loyalty cards: merchants can give customers automatic discounts for returning to their store or award points on a digital punch card. In doing so, Square is also keeping a competitive edge against the reward/point systems established by particular credit cards and enables users to still reap the loyalty rewards despite what card they use to make a purchase.

With the nature of Square’s business model, it’s great to hear that small/medium-sized businesses can get their own Square dongle in non-traditional stores like Starbucks. For customers who may be noticing the white, square dongle for the first time at a Starbucks, they may discover it useful for their own personal business and inquire about how to obtain one. Voila! What a perfect place to get Square while waiting for your daily cup of Joe! Akin to the ease with which merchants can be discovered, so too, can businesses easily gain access to implementing Square into their business.

Tagged , , , ,

What’s Up With Mobile App Designs?

With the holiday down time, I’ve been trying to catch up with up and coming mobile apps (and, yes, this is a personal geeky, guilty pleasure). After downloading a series of new mobile apps to my phone, I started noticing just how common it’s become for the initial “Welcome” page on most mobile apps to almost always consist of a series of swipe-able pages, instructing how a user should navigate the app or (even worse) there’s a series of page overlays that have way too many arrows pointing to various app features and wordy descriptions of their functions.

#ermahgerd

#ermahgerd #designfail

 

Now, I’m not an expert at UX, let alone UI design, but it does seem somewhat odd that it’s become this new “standard” to have to explicitly explain the app’s UI design and functions. To me, it seems that the design and usability aspects have already failed a user if such detailed explanations need to be provided beforehand as to how one should proceed — right?

In the past few years, we’ve all noticed a consistent trend and growth in mobile device usages. With the various types of mobile devices out there, companies are also feeling the pressures of finding workable solutions to the BYOD dilemma and even creating their own mobile apps to stay competitive in the digital era. Taking these general trends into consideration, it makes sense that there’s this constant rush towards internal and external app development. But that doesn’t mean that complex, hard-to-navigate mobile apps should start populating left and right. They’re not bulky, intricate software/apps that need to be run on hefty desktops — they’re for mobile devices. It should be simple, intuitive…you know, kind of second-nature to a user. Leave the manuals to old school television sets and IKEA furniture assembling.

A user who downloads an app, ideally, should already know how the app functions and what can be done within it either from reading about it somewhere on the web or from the screenshots and description listed on the app store. After all, users only download mobile apps that they find interest in. From there on out, the basic functions, such as where a user should click on first or how a user can manage his/her account settings, should be self-explanatory. Having instructions on how to use the app just seems to indicate a bit more work and thought could have been inputted into the app’s initial design. Instead, what we see as overlaying walkthroughs and instructional swipe-throughs are mere products of half-baked works of UI designs that inevitably lead to poor user experiences.

Tagged , , ,

Perfecting Your Craft

This past weekend, I took an unplanned trip into the city in search for some coffee (and, yes, I will drive +20 minutes for a cup of java). I was initially planning on driving to the original Philz Coffee location in the Mission, but as I was headed towards the Cesar Chavez/Portrero exit, I noticed the freeway exit was completely blocked. Bummed out, I decided that the next best place was Sightglass. I drove towards 7th and Folsom and was lucky to find nearby parking. I thought I scored big, considering how hard parking can be in the city. Unfortunately, the meter would not taking my coins. So, I got back into the car and started driving to find another spot. To my dismay, Mission from 7th and on has practically zero ways to make a left turn. I accepted my fate, and decided I’d drive all the way down until I hit South Van Ness. Back to Philz it was!

And, boy, was the roundabout trip worth it.

I’m no coffee connoisseur by any means, but their cups of coffee are just too good to be true. I had 2 orders: a cup of the barista’s dark roast recommendation, Jacobs Wonderbar, and the establishment’s oh-so-famous Iced Mint Mojito Coffee. The coffee was so smooth and while most other coffee places tend to have their dark roasts taste bitter and/or burnt, Philz just does it right with their Jacobs Wonderbar. It has the complexity and chocolatey wholesomeness of the true coffee bean essence without having the heavy and bitter after taste (Philz dissolves the acid from the coffee!) that every other coffee I’ve drunken leaves you with (this includes Starbucks, Pete’s, Blue bottle, and sadly also Sightglass). I think what Philz does best is being able to perfect each of its various blends of coffee — offering variety with its various types of roast blends and varietals — instead of trying to please various palettes with brews of lattes, cappuccinos, etc.

It’s often overlooked, but the key to solidifying any business (or even personal) success in the long run seems to be this: focus on a few things or a single thing and make it a goal to perfect it. I think a lot of us find ourselves slipping into wanting to achieve greatness in all the little things we do (and want to do). I, myself, am still trying to learn from this. It’s definitely much too easy to get lost when the possibilities in life are essentially like an open-ended book: they’re endless. We often would rather try our hands at everything we can, for fear of potential future regrets of not having tried a new hobby, or taking on a new career opportunity or what have you. Or our fear may stem from our desires to stay competitive against the rest of society, feeling obliged to take on more responsibilities and roles so we can justify our place on the career ladder.

"Once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably." -- Sukiyabashi Jiro

“Once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.” — Sukiyabashi Jiro

Having a disciplined focus to really hone your craft often means being able to nitpick at every little detail and aspect of what you do, and devote your mind, heart, and life to perfecting each of those itty bitty things. Sukiyabashi Jiro, owner of a Michelin 3-star sushi restaurant, always comes to mind when I think of this lesson. As the owner of a 10-seater sushi restaurant, that only serves sushi (and only the season’s freshest catch), Jiro is an exemplary illustration of a man who has fine-tuned and still continuously works to perfect the art of making sushi. His ongoing consistency in the food he serves is a testament to his ability to refine and perfect his skill in the kitchen. Although the only thing Jiro serves is sushi, he is able to truly offer the highest quality by understanding that roasting the nori over fire helps bring out the oils and essence of the seaweed, that only the freshest fish should be served to provide for the best sushi, that the temperature and means of cooking the rice must be just as on point as the fish he serves his customers, and that the order by which the various sushi types are served is quintessential to rounding the flavors of an eater’s palette. By taking into consideration all the various aspects to sushi making and eating and implementing those into designing the perfect bite, Jiro was able to rise to the top as a renowned, world class chef.

In the end, the lesson we all should learn from the likes of successful people like Phil Jaber, Sukiyabashi Jiro and Steve Jobs is just as what Warren Buffett once said: don’t chase too many things in life or you’ll just end up with a zoo.

Tagged , , , , ,

Try, Try, And Try Again

Growing up, my parents always pushed me to keep on trying. If I had fallen off my two-wheeler, they’d tell me to get back up and try again. In the second grade, I struggled with my writing but my teacher kept pushing me to write more (and often) to develop the skill. And today at the gym, a fitness trainer pushed me to do a series of some crazy-intense workout repetitions as I whined my way through it all. No matter what I’ve done in my life, there has always been that one person who not only encouraged me to strive towards my goals, but who also really believed in me. When I think about the series of events that I’ve experienced, I can’t help but feel so completely grateful. But despite it all, I think the biggest motivator in your life is yourself.

The one thing that I’ve been consciously working on nowadays is trying to figure out this whole life thing. I know it’s a big vague and a bit of a monster to tackle. Heck, it’s something that I’m not even sure you can really “solve.” Nonetheless, I think I speak for a majority of twenty-something-year-olds when I say: “I want to do something I love.” Some are fortunate enough to know exactly what that “thing” is, but for the most of us out there, we are still trying to figure out what that burning passion is that gets people out of bed, pumped and ready to work. And in the midst of all that soul-searching, I think many of us simultaneously find ourselves suddenly wondering how we fit as individuals to the rest of society and in our various circles of friends, coworkers, and loved ones. Most times, it seems inevitable that we question our place in society as a result of the various relationships we develop in life. We meet constantly meet people from all walks of life, worldly experiences and goals in life.

It’s difficult to not compare yourself and the situation you may be in with others who are the same age, who are doing similar things, etc. However, it doesn’t mean we should pout and cry into the dark corner of the room. If anything, I think it’s important to try, try, and try again to continuously challenge ourselves to be better and overcome new obstacles. I’ve learned first hand that picking yourself up and motivating yourself to move forward is not exactly the easiest thing to do, or at times even desirable. But I think I’ve learned and gained the most rewarding experiences and moments after having gone through those rough patches. Whether it’s all in due time, distancing from that moment of pain and struggle, or just a mere shift in perspective, I often find myself being not only less harsh on my “failures,” but also more understanding of the circumstances. I’ll admit, the entire process of failing, trying, and hopefully eventually succeeding is in and of itself one heck of a crazy roller coaster — but, mind you, a necessary (and constant) experience that builds character and betters yourself as a person, professional/student/, friend and lover.

At the end of the day, all you have to do is believe in yourself and keep on trying. The world is waiting for you.

Tagged , ,

If Only Front-End Engineering Was Like Ordering A Burrito

I’ve always wished that things in life were just as easy as selecting what ingredients you’d want in a Chipotle burrito. There’s something satisfying about being able to pick exactly what you want from a varied selection that’s been narrowed enough to allow for some choice and customization, but not to a degree that’s too overwhelming for those of us who have a hard time deciding. It’s also a bonus when the process is extra speedy and efficient, especially when everything these days is seemingly instantaneous — what with immediate access to the Internet and live-saving apps via smartphones and wifi-carrying tablets.

Great innovations are not like your Chipotle burrito

Great innovations are not like your Chipotle burrito

And yet, as I think about this, I can’t help but also realize that as great as this may be (at least because of its simplicity), there really isn’t any better, more satisfying of a feeling than being able to create something you truly love and want from the base up. It’s kind of like a Horatio Alger feeling of being able to claim to some form of self-accomplishment and the ability to put real effort into creating something that’s truly unique (and perhaps even better than what you would have selected off a Chipotle menu).

I went to the gdgt live event yesterday in the city and it really brought to life that innovative, startup mentality that I really admire. The constant creativity that flows through the human mind is really something and it’s pretty spectacular when you see the final product (which was most likely powered by more sweat and tears and brain power than what meets the eye). Surrounding myself with gadgets infused with API technological capabilities, and also things that try to solve problems with existing technologies, was a bit like being in my own version of Candyland (except that there was more worthwhile eye-candy in the showroom than there would be in a room chock-full of Banana Republic male models).

Hopefully someday I’ll be able to work with the guys and ladies who are at the forefront of brainstorming and creating something that will make all our lives a bit easier.

Tagged , , , , ,

Why Twitter Is The Best Social Media Platform Out There

I’ve tried various social media platforms out there — everything from Path to Facebook to Instagram, I’ve pretty much tried it all (oh the powers one can have with a smartphone!). As much as I like using Facebook (and having most of the people I know in that community base), there have been many more instances when I’ve said, “I LOVE TWITTER❤!”

It wasn’t until today that I had a revelation that could possibly explain why Twitter is far superior than Facebook. And, no, it isn’t just one thing.

One of the most significant differences between the two mediums is that Twitter doesn’t document your every-Tweet history. I personally love this aspect because it really puts to emphasis the importance of everything that’s happening in the now. It’s not nostalgic of what happened last week, but rather what’s happening right this second. And to me, to be able to discover and share what’s going on in the present with others is what I find most relevant and favorable.

To follow or to unfollow?

To follow or to unfollow?

Another guilty pleasure about Twitter that I have is being able to hone and create a specific content filter that appears in my Twitter feed. If someone continuously produces content that I’m simply not interested in, all I have to do is unfollow that individual and voila! I’ve refined the content of my feed to my preferences. I’m also a fan of the 140-character limit. If what you say is interesting, then I’ll know that the link/image/video you’ve attached to your tweet is probably going to be of interest, too. The great thing about the character limit is that it has redefined the way users share their content. With limited allotted space for content, users are forced to be a lot more creative and succinct with their messaging. No longer do I have to deal with reading/filtering through long sentences (or even worse, paragraphs) of useless crap, but rather, I can surf through shorter messages, getting only the most relevant content I need (or be directed to another page that will allow me to read more about a subject that I may wish to read more in depth about).

Bourbon Steak among other big brands have replied to my tweets/started following me/DM'd me. Talk about the ultimate way to provide excellent customer service and branding experiences.

@Bourbonsteak among other big brands have replied to my tweets/started following me/DM’d me. Talk about the ultimate way to provide excellent customer service and branding experiences!

One of my all-time favorite aspect about Twitter is that I can follow thought leaders in the tech industry and random celebrities that actually tweet about things I find interest in. Be it fashion, tech news, or comics, I love that I have the ability to connect with celebrities and big brands that also have the capability to address my concerns/interests by replying to my tweets. It builds up a different, much more personalized liaison between customer and brand/business or fan connection to celebrity that was never really/rarely possible before.

With all these aspects and more (think about how Promoted tweets and profiles don’t take up more space than any other regular tweet! No half-page ads that users overlook like those that show up on Facebook! Huzzah!), Twitter has proven to be one of the most essential apps to-date that provides a truly comprehensive and wholesome user experience. The social media platform’s mobile experience is perfect in its simplistic interface and easy navigation system, and it gives users the possibility to have direct connections to their favorite brands, celebrities and interest groups.

Tagged , ,

Creating Your Own Education

If there’s one thing I learned to really love, it would be that I started my career in one of the best work industries out there: tech. I, fortunately, landed into a great company after college and it was like finding and putting together the border pieces of a 5000-piece puzzle: i knew what basic parameter I wanted to be a part of and work in, at the very minimum.

While working my previous job at Mashery, I came to find how lucky I was to have such talented, mentoring, and sociable colleagues. They really were the whole package. Every person I work with gave me the opportunity to try new things. Whether it was to host a two-day post-I/O hackathon, research competitor and market data for strategic services, or man my first event booth at Tech Crunch Disrupt SF (just shy of being 2 months in), or even to help run Circus Mashimus at SXSW, I was pretty much on my way or practically in the center of the latest technologies and amongst some of the hottest startups. I got to meet some of the greatest developers and thought leaders within various related industries that really believed in the power of APIs. I became great friends with people in telecommunications, social media services, tech-infused fitness apps, media and entertainment — you name it.

My eager thirst for knowledge and desire to learn about a completely complex and intricate field right out of college was perfect for being able to make the most of my experience. There was not one day, not one moment where I didn’t try to learn the most I could, to meet and to get to know the various people I met along the road, and to learn as much as possible.

Some may ask, “Well, what do you do with all that knowledge?” Simply put, I find that through this ongoing collection of news (from startups, updates on the latest/coolest technologies, and the creation of new apps and devices), I not only feel like it’s something I’m learning to focus my specialization efforts on, but also it keeps me grounded and it’s — in some sense — my source of empowerment and inspiration for what I could potentially do sometime in the near future. If there’s one thing that I must require in my workplace, it’s that I surround myself with people who are smart and who have a refreshing sense for innovation and are a hub of creativity.

And although I may no longer be at my former company, the learning and thirst for startup/developer news still stays strong and it’s something I know I will never let go.

Tagged , , , ,

Finding Your Passion

People have various goals in life, be it short-term, long-term or just for the now. Some aspire to be the next Bill Gates, some want to help build up their local communities through grassroots movements, and others may make it a goal to finally quit smoking. Regardless of what the goal may be, regardless of how difficult or easy it can be achieved, a goal — in it’s most truest form — ultimately symbolizes that moment of realization where you find yourself no longer satisfied/fed up with the status quo and finding that bit of motivation to ignite some sort of change. Now, whether the end-all change actually occurs may depend on the resilience of that inner spark, as well as how well (or poorly) you react to external events and the surrounding environments encountered. In the end, I’m pretty sure we all want to have that thrilling feeling of success. I know I’d like to.

It has only been most apparent to me (in the past five years) that one of my biggest goal in life is to discover what I’m most passionate about in life. I find myself in awe at how devoted individuals can be to one particular activity. Be it as trivial as something like baking pastries or something more complex as developing an algorithm that will generate invaluable data for B2B organizations, I almost always find myself wishing I could acclaim a wholesome, never-dying love (one that involves at full capacity a desire formulated by the mind, body and soul) for something. I could care less what that something was — it could be collecting stamps for all I care (but I unfortunately have no interest in such things) — as long as I can attest, at the end of the day, that I did something that I truly wanted to do, something that I absolutely loved doing, and that it’s something worth waking up for every single day for the rest of my life.

As I was writing this, I googled “finding your passion” and came across this quiz on Oprah.com. And, yes, I took the quiz.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is: how do I figure it out? Do I just go out and do a bunch of random stuff and see which sticks with me the most? I’ve been trying to figure it out since I started college. I’m not going to lie, I’ve found myself frustrated many a times that I can’t resolve something as simple as this. I’m open to trying new things all the time, and I’ve been actively focusing my efforts on a few, select things every day to be less of a generalist that knows a little bit of everything and more of a specialist in niche areas. If only there was a GPS for my life!

Have any suggestions of your own that could help me along this path?

Tagged , , ,

UX Designs Around Black Friday

It’s that time of year when the leaves change colors, when the winter winds sweep across the country, and when we find ourselves deep into the month of November. The enticingly warm indoors of shopping malls, the Thanksgiving holiday (for some of us) and the too-good-to-be-true offline and online sales this season all collectively create the perfect combination for consumers to optimize on the Black Friday shopping extravaganza. While today is still a working day for me, browsing through online shopping sites is still a great place to understand a little bit more about how different/similar shopping experiences can be to the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. These comparative experiences can be reflected in the entire UX experience online and can affect whether a user will choose to browse through the site, where within the site they’ll click on, and determine whether or not the user will return to the site for future shopping endeavors.

I’ve taken the time to illustrate some examples below of  shopping sites, how they’ve utilized their home page to attract shoppers to make a purchase, and to point out some pros and cons about the site:

JCREW

JCREW_HOLIDAY

J. Crew usually has a pretty clean UI design that doesn’t look as cluttered as it does now. It seems like an overload of words were dumped onto the home page, without much consideration as to whether or not an online shopper is willing to read through the various blocks of text. Taking a look at this particular screenshot, you’ll see that each of the medium sized black box on the left have a corresponding large feature block that appears on the middle of the page as well as a third corresponding call-to-action black text box to the right of that. In theory, I believe this tree breakdown from left to right would be an effective way which parallels with how a user typically makes a decision: If box A is selected, then box B will show up; and if the user likes what they see in box B, then they can proceed and make the appropriate actions in box C.

NORDSTROM

NORDSTROM_HOLIDAY

Nordstrom’s site was surprisingly very simple with it’s UI design and functions on the home page: definitely not cluttered, and quite minimalist. When you’re frantically shopping — be it online or in-store — the last thing your eyes want to see is mess; it just provides for an unpleasant user experience and may even deter a shopper from returning. The downside for me about this site is that the design likes any unique vitality that entices a user’s interest. It seems Nordstrom may just be relying on its high-end brand name this holiday season.

Tagged , ,

To New Beginnings

I think it is probably most fitting to have a blog now that I’ve started my first real “corporate” job at Google. I’ve definitely had my share of blogs via sites like Xanga, Blogger, and Tumblr. However, it’s probably time to get a more sophisticated medium to write about something meaningful: less of the “here’s-what-I-did-today’s” and more of the things that actually shape how we live our lives (e.g. technology, the arts & entertainment, consumer-oriented advertising, or social media trends).

Tune in for more of my thoughts on the latest startups, rising global trends, policy issues, and many more…

Tagged
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 103 other followers