Saturday, February 17, 2018

StorySLAM: Transit

For a while, I've been tracking The Moth which is a forum for storytelling, through digital media and in-person. As they describe it themselves, The Moth is:
The Story Behind Stories 
The Moth's mission is to promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of the human experience.
The prompt for their StorySLAM in Chicago this month is "transit," which seems wildly appropriate given what I've spent the last year learning and doing in my work-life.

TRANSIT: Prepare a five-minute story about planes, trains, and automobiles. Getting from A to B and notable moments along the way. The Boeing 747, the F train, or the Volvo. That attractive stranger on the plane, the time your soup spilled on the bus, or crying in traffic. Regale us with tales of commutes, fastened seat belts and left turns. 
I plan on going with my coworker friend to see if we can get tickets at the door since the online ones are already sold out. Here's an attempt at my story about transit.


I work for a company called Arity. We are a mobility insights company that's aimed at making transportation safer, smarter, and more useful for everyone. So I think about transit all day. But I don't want to talk about Arity or sell you any revolutionary solutions that will transform your business. In fact, what I want to talk about are the moments in my life when I have been un-safe, un-smart, and un-useful with my transit decisions.

Let's start with the summer of 2005 when I went abroad for the first time to attend an immersive language program in Beijing. I went potluck for the roommate situation, and I really lucked out -- somehow every strange idea that I threw her way, she agreed it was a good idea. For example, when we arrived at our dorm room the first day, I assessed the space and told her that if we pushed our beds together we could have one giant super bed and a lot more floor space. Not knowing me at all, she said OK and we shared "super bed" for the rest of the summer. Please note that there are no intentions for this use of "super bed" to have any sexual connotations at all. It was just a big bed that was in fact, super.

Anyways, I lead with that story to say that she was open to my quirky ideas on how to experience Beijing. The next thing that I convinced her of was to buy bikes from the people on the street who had clearly stolen them for profit. "It's what the locals would do," I explained to her. We bought bikes.

And off to conquer the city we went. It really was one of the better decisions we made that summer, even though my biking skills were poor at best, and even though she could barely read "right" and "left" in Chinese, and even though we did not wear helmets. Regardless, there was something very liberating about biking through one of the most congested and polluted cities in the world on dingy bikes that were designed to be stolen and resold until they fell apart. We got to our destinations faster and cheaper than our other classmates, and we got to literally be a part of the streets of Beijing every time we went for adventures.

I learned when I returned to the States that drivers expect you to follow rules, as if there are traffic laws, and that riding dead face-on into traffic is frowned upon. It doesn't work with the system, even if you are in the small college town of College Station, Texas.

Speaking of systems, the first few times I took public transit in Chicago were rather jolting. Before I moved here, I wasn't used to being jostled around on rickety train lines. And as a person who's incredibly prone to becoming motion sick, I didn't always take it well. Knowing this, my sister would usually pick me up from the airport when I came to visit, since I am but a fragile tulip that gets motion sick so easily. But once she challenged me to take the train in because she was busy.

I accepted. I thought I would be fine, now having ridden the train a few times already. But I hadn't always taken the train just after coming off a plane ride, which is also a potential trigger for motion sickness as there is motion involved. As I rode the Blue Line in, I just got sicker and sicker with every leg of the journey.

Jostle jostle.
Still not there.
So loud!

I kept telling myself I would make it, but my mind is only so strong. Finally when I was only two stops away from my destination, I couldn't hold myself together any longer and threw up right there on the train. I remember spewing my guts out and then looking up at the CTA attendant who was standing right there.

"Sorry," I muttered feebly.
"It's okay, baby," she replied.

All the other passengers on my train car didn't feel as sympathetic and scattered immediately.

As a native Texan, the main form of transit is your own personal car. Nobody takes the bus, there is no train, and you always drive no matter where you're going, whether it's within the same shopping strip or just down the street. Once I left Texas, I learned that transit isn't always easy to figure out and it isn't always easy to stomach, but it is definitely the best way to experience a city. Just like some go to the woods in order to connect and identify with our natural environment -- transit is what lets us into the network that connects our urban environment.

I feel a little triumphant every time I take the bus or train in a new place especially, kind of like that feeling when you're hanging out with a new friend and they laugh really, really hard like they get you. When I feel like that, I can't help but smile because I have a secret -- that my train ride is actually connecting me to the millions of others who are currently in transit.

I won't say that every train ride I take feels so magical. But I will admit that there are days that I take the long way around the Loop to get to work because I want to feel the soothing hum, swing my short legs off the seat, and see the city in motion for just a little bit longer.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

January Highlights

This January, I went to CES, the Consumer Electronics Show. It's a show all about innovations and technology, and one of my favorite moments was meeting a man who works for the US Post Office and agreeing to be pen pals.

I finally wrote him tonight, and I quite enjoy the recap of January that I'm sending to him. So I'm documenting it here as well for me (and my two readers).

Let's the past month, a few highlights from my side:

  • Kicked off a youth taiko program. I play in a taiko group (taiko = "drum" in Japanese) and we've been wanting to teach the kids who attend the temple where we practice. It's been a long conversation, but we finally started! We're only 2 classes in, but everyone seems to be having a good time.
  • Competed in a masters swim meet. Everyone who is 18+ and not swimming for a college team is considered "masters." I ended up surprising myself (thanks, adrenaline) and my teammates also surprised me. I swam a relay with my 68 and 70 year old teammates. They're so fast!
  • Celebrated the birth of my childhood friend's first baby. We've been friends since 3rd grade, and she had her sweet baby girl in January. I visited her in December before she had her baby, and now I've been celebrating remotely and showing her off like she's mine. She's very sweet.
  • Restarted fermentation projects. I have a shelf of DIY fermentation projects - kombucha, sauerkraut, and sourdough starter. I like to smell them all before going to bed.
  • Established "Cat Sock Day" at the gym. This is probably my greatest accomplishment this January. It's pretty self-explanatory.
  • Made a new pen pal. Tada!

And actually, now that I read through these highlights, I realize that was only the last 2 weeks of January. I'm also still convinced it's January right now, evidenced by the fact that I forgot my best-February-birthday friend's birthday this week, and I keep forgetting that mine's coming up too.

I guess I really am getting old now.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: A Year in Review

Things happened. So much happened that I quit blogging because it seemed like too much to capture. But now that it's the last day of 2017, it's easier to highlight just the top moments in summary. This only covers things that happened in my world (as it is my blog).

I quit my job on the last working day of 2016. I spent a good hour debating what the subject line of my resignation letter to my boss should be. I can't remember what I landed on, but I do remember mildly panicking after hitting "send."

Then I started my new job. I realized that I hadn't been in the presence of so many humans in a long time, and I came home every day overwhelmed.

I turned 30 and had a banana-themed birthday party. There were banana craft and illustration stations, a smoothie spot, plantain casserole, banana was a very banana day and my friends were so great to go all-in on going bananas with me.

Mark and I went to Spain. We ate a lot of things and that was fun. My favorite spot was Street XO, an Asian-Spanish fusion spot that was totally worth the wait. We tried a good portion of the menu and it was all wonderful.

What happened in March? I think the most notable thing I can think of right now was getting assigned to the shared mobility project at work.

Ho Etsu had our Rotations CD launch party at Township in Logan Square. My new manager came which really touched me, since we'd only known each other for a couple months. She brought her husband and their good friend.

That same weekend, Mark and I started breaking up and by the end of the weekend we were broken up. I learned about heartbreak and I learned about heartfelt support from wonderful friends and wonderful Melodie.

The Tang family went to San Francisco for the Fei Show. All in all, it was a good time. Even the part where Mom had a slow dramatic fall in the hotel room when she sat on a broken chair while eating dim sum from Oakland Chinatown. We also met the Midwife and Baker who makes my favorite levain in the world.

Ho Etsu went to Michigan for a combined concert with Raion Taiko. We stayed at Ryan's uncle's house which is a mansion sitting on its own lake. Highlights included when Emily fell into the water before we left with all of her clothes on.

Joy came for an extended July 4th sister weekend. Melodie's doodle for this weekend was packed because we did and ate a lot of things.

I went to Austin and remembered that Texas is truly hot. We ended up spending most of the weekend lying on April's living room floor because that's all the energy I could muster up in that sweltering heat. I met Susan's Austin home, her chickens, and learned she was expecting!

I think this was the month I dedicated myself to going to bed by 10. I felt awesome, but it was short lived and I have fallen by the wayside and I'm back to the land of too-little-sleep. Oh well, you try sometimes.

Ginza Festival is always a highlight. In addition to the regular warm fuzzies of Ginza, it was especially fun with all of our new apprentice folk joining the Midwest Buddhist Temple family. Cleaning up a parking lot has never been so fun.

I started digging in to networking and practicing my new industry jargon. It was around this time that I felt like work really started to meld from all directions in cool ways. Life and synergy are cool like that.

In October, things really started going on the up and up. There was a ton of taiko stuff still with Edo Bayashi workshops, playing a SoFar concert, and learning new pieces for November shows. I went to a conference in Detroit that really started linking things and people together for me at work. I met new people that impacted my perspective on relationships. I appreciated being and feeling connected so I could enjoy so many facets of my new life.

Melodie and I went to Brooklyn for a fun sister weekend. We hadn't been to NYC in a while, and I'd never spent much time in Brooklyn either. Williamsburg is their Logan Square, and I didn't mind rubbing shoulders with the beautiful hipsters of New York. Our favorite spot ended up being Butler Coffee in Williamsburg, with their cute house-made bakes and lovely coffees. Jenny ended up being in Brooklyn that weekend also as a happy coincidence, so we got to meet up with her too.

We played a show at The Hideout with On Ensemble, which was a ton of fun. We got a lot of good footage that we're enjoying now. We also performed Emily's new piece Poston at the Alphawood Gallery which went really well too. Learning and playing that piece really helped me appreciate Emily and her artistic mind even more. I truly know a lot of talented people.

I decided to stay put for Thanksgiving. I turned down going home, and I turned down going to Breckenridge with Melodie and Lius even though that sounded fun. I ended up with several days of so much me-time and it was awesome. I read a really dense existential short story by Jose Luis Borges out loud to myself. This took me 2 hours. Then I ate Bonci pizza. That's some of the finest luxury you could ask for.

The month ended in going to the Automobility LA portion of the LA Auto Show. I test drove a couple cars which reminded me I haven't touched a new car in a really long time. They've changed since 2005 - this is my detailed review. I stayed at the LA Athletic Club which is like an older-school version of the SOHO House, and I loved every minute of my king-sized bed and full- length lap pool and hot-buffet breakfast. Leaving was kind of sad. Oh, the conference was great for me too.

December passed in a blur. I went to Austin again to attend Susan's baby shower. It was really lovely to spend time with her and her family. It gave me the chance to reflect on how special it is to have people in your life for decades, and how special it is to remain friends through many life-changing events. Being friends with Susan really shaped a lot of my interests and principles that continue to impact who I am today.

Mochi-tsuki was wonderful. I committed to going so I wouldn't flake out this year, and again I got to appreciate the wonderful community of MBT. I brought my good work friend which made it even more fun, to experience it like it was my first time again.

Christmas happened. Mom's tree had a bumper crop of kumquats, reportedly because she and Allen gave it extra fertilizer last winter. I ate about 50 kumquats a day and tried to clip off all the kumquats on my tree. But, the tree won and I couldn't get to all of them. I'm still eating kumquats that I brought back.

And now it's the last day of the year. I'm going over to my work friend's house in a little bit to hang out with her and her friends. I've made so many friends at work this year, it's incredible. It will be a nice way to end the year - by celebrating with one of my new friends from one of my new communities I've gained in 2017.

Hopes for 2018: continued growth, more trips with April, at least one international trip, more learning, and more participating in the outcomes.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Masters Forever

In August, I started swimming with a masters swim team at UIC. A number of things led me to go back to swimming, mainly body aches and boredom with workout routines. 

It's been truly wonderful to be the almost-slowest in the pool again. I think swimming gave me the good quality of being able to laugh at myself. Because sometimes, try as you may, you are just going to be slower than all the other 60 year olds in the pool. 

My favorite lane mate is named Dave. He's 59 and I'm positive he was hyperactive as a child. He's so fast, and he makes fun of me by calling me a "fitness swimmer." Not infrequently, he passes me up and has to be the lane leader, and then he makes me count down the seconds until the next interval since he can't see the clock. It delights me every time. 

I admire his energy and enthusiasm at 59, and I swim faster when he's there. I want to be a cool old person who's still killing it in the pool in 20 years. 

I also signed up for a masters swim meet in Munster, Indiana in November. It was a good goal to work towards, and it was fun to see what adrenaline could do for my race times. It turns out I'm still slower than when I was 23 which was slower than when I was 17, but I guess that's normal and I was pretty happy with my times considering I'd only been swimming 2-3 hours/week vs 20 hours/week. 

Also cool at the masters meet was that there were people of all walks and ages there to compete. College kids, mom's and dads, 70 year olds! No matter your time, everyone was happy to cheer you on for just being there. That 68 year old who finished her 50 free more than a lap behind everyone else was amazing. She finished and didn't care. Or maybe she did, but I couldn't tell and she was my hero. 

Anyways, I suppose it's now time to enter into my swimming era part 2. Maybe one day I'll figure out how to be faster but I won't count on it. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Chicago's Historic November 2016

Last week I said that I didn't care about baseball, but I cared about history.  Then the Cubs won the World Series! For the first time in 108 years! The ultimate underdog story -- the notoriously losing team winning the National League and qualifying for the World Series, then recovering from a 3-1 loss-win to come from behind and take it all, in a 10-inning 7th game with a dramatic rain delay after the 9th inning.

Chicago went wild. Every window was filled with silhouettes of people jumping up and down, people ran exuberantly in the streets, whooping and cheering could be heard across the city in every neighborhood. Everyone walked with excitement and confidence in every step, congratulating each other on "our" win. Everyone felt united and together! The Cubs did it for us! We were part of history! Everyone at work was zombies from celebrating too hard for too many nights in a row!

And up to this point, I'd say that I don't care about politics. But again, we made history. Trump also represents an unbelievable win, unexpected and unprecedented in American history in many ways.

Chicago went quiet. Every face in the streets, on the bus, and on the train felt blank. Every conversation I passed in the street was about the election -- commentary on this year's divisive campaigns, speculation on what the future could look like, how his win could represent "our" country. We were part of history. Everyone at work was zombies from wondering too hard how this happened.

Leading up to the election, a lot of people kept saying that they "couldn't wait for it to be over." I'd respond that it was actually just beginning, but I didn't know that I'd be so right either. I don't have a big agenda for calls-to-action or justice, but I stop and think about how this is history and that anything and anyone is always a possibility. 

And I suppose it's that thought that I should remember to motivate me to stay involved and pay attention to things I haven't cared about. Because we are part of history.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Fall Firsts

Had a freshly-fried apple cider donut at County Line Orchard. It was amazingly hot and crisp and fragrant and tender. 
Took another winning photo with Mark, first one in a pumpkin patch.
Decided Halloween was OK and rocked generic-mostly-Wonder Woman with my sidekick Robin.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Letter to Kendra

A dear friend from Austin show choir passed earlier this year. Her death was sudden and tragic, but she has beautiful family and friends who have honored her in wonderful ways. One way was to take her ashes to the west coast and read letters written by loved ones before sending her out to sea. I got to write her a letter to bid her farewell for now.

Dear Kendra,

How are you? We've missed you since you've been gone. As a believer in after-lives, I like to think that you're just onto many new and exciting adventures. You're probably singing even more now than you were before. Everyone there is really lucky.

But you're not here with us, and that makes us sad. I still can't believe you're gone, honestly. I also couldn't believe how hard I cried at your "Tribute to Kendra" party as I call it -- it's amazing that everyone you know also felt you were such a wonderful and strong, beautiful, spirited presence. I thought about how long I knew you, and it was only 2 short years there in Austin. But I realized that knowing you impacted me so much, more than I even realized.

I love your sparkly eyes and the bounce in your step. You're so energetic and cool like that.

I love how you're an "older" lady, AND you're just as silly as I am. I love seeing older people that are wonderful and energetic and cool and funny -- something I only realized is possible more recently.

I love that you're smart and unashamed to make your voice heard.

I love that you're patient and want to help people grow, at their own speed.

I love that you helped me choose my little Ohana ukulele. She sings for you.

I love that you were far more musically talented than any of us at show choir, but you never made us feel that way. You just wanted to sing and dance, and you let us come along for the show too.

I love that your husband loves you so much -- it's really cool to see a strong bond and deep love like that.

Thank you for being you.

I joined a karaoke league, and the league manager reminds me of you. She has curly hair, sparkly eyes, wears glasses, and obviously loves the silly in singing just like you. It makes me happy to see her and think of you while I get my weekly dose of mini-show-choir time.

We miss you a lot, and I hope the ocean takes care of your heart and your songs.  I'll think of you the next time I see the ocean.  Maybe you'll have the ocean wave back at me. ;)

See you soon, Dear Kendra.

With love,