The Best Three Days of April (round 2)

1. Walking around Philadelphia with family + J. I’m not too interested in museums, but it’s nice to be with family. My little bro bought a colonial hat. He was happy the rest of the day. I wish everyone were so easy to please.

I avoid buying stuff that I don’t need. But I like to spoil my brother. There is something so charming and straightforward about knowing exactly how to make someone happy, knowing that I can buy my brother happiness for just $10. I’m sure I frustrate my parents during my birthday and holidays when I tell them I don’t want anything, that I just want good experiences.

2. A cloudy Chicago day, walking around the Picasso exhibit at the Art Institute. The exhibit was very exhaustive and showed the progression in his work, with more variety than the Center Pompidou’s exhibit, which mostly showed Cubist works. Picasso is so amazingly talented at different styles and mediums. I liked to see his experimental work and studies, such as his decomposition of a bull.

Later I went to the gym, as usual, with J and J. We play lots of ping pong. Then we go to some late night diner, like Tempo or Elly’s and have a meal in a clean, well-lighted place and play cards. I really enjoy sitting around like an old man. Nada.

3. A lazy Saturday with family in NJ. We all go to a buffet for lunch. I don’t like buffets since I feel pressured to stuff myself. When I was younger I would refuse to go, and make my family go without me. But now I see that it is a way to spend quality time with the family at a familiar place, yet depart from routine. Plus that buffet is my little bro’s favorite restaurant. Afterwards we go home and play all the Super Smash Bros. versions in an “order of the siblings” battle. An “order of the siblings” battle means we all play a bit more seriously, since this is how we will rank each other until the next battle. Then we go biking to the park to play some tennis and basketball. And come home and play some more video games. Then eat my mom’s delicious dinner. What a life. I’ll be back in NJ, I always come back.

The Andromeda Strain

Since I was a child, my favorite movie has been Jurassic Park. All the books I had read on dinosaurs only gave descriptions and simple illustrations. When I first watched the movie, seeing dinosaurs come to life filled me with a sense of awe and excitement. My eyes lit up every time I recognized a dinosaur from a book. Brontosaurus! T-Rex! Dilophosaurus! Velociraptor!

Now that I’m older, I know that extracting dinosaur DNA from fossilized mosquitoes is just science fiction. Now that I’m older, I understand the plot and feel the tension caused by the mortal peril the characters are in (vs. when I was young, when I was like “HAHA, that guy sitting on the toilet just got eaten by a T-Rex”).  But I still love the movie. Jurassic Park reminds me of my childhood dreams, some of which are not impossible—and these are the dreams I can make a reality. I was going through my old school files. There was a poster I made in elementary school of what my goals in life were. Written in neon pink gel pen (gel pens were all the rage) and accompanied by doodles, my goals were to: “1. Make the olympic hockey team. 2. Have a business that gave people jobs.” It’s probably too late for goal #1. But for goal #2, I have my whole life.

Anyway, Jurassic Park is based off the book of the same name by Michael Crichton. I just finished reading another book of his, The Andromeda Strain. It is about an extraterrestrial microorganism that wipes out an entire town, and the scientists studying the organism to prevent it from spreading. The book felt very modern, despite the fact that it was first published in 1969. The only times I felt the book’s age were statements that said something to the effect of “Computers are amazing! They can do advanced computations that would take humans years to compute in less than a second.” Now computers are ubiquitous and this fact is taken for granted. Without spoiling the plot, the book is really cool. I was refreshing terms from high school biology over the course of the thriller– gram negative, amino acids, enzymes, carbonic acid. And there are “primary documents” and transcripts interspersed throughout the book. Like when the characters are analyzing the results of x-ray crystallography, there is a picture of the result. And SPOILER ALERT, it was ironic that the Andromeda strain became benign on its own, whereas all the safeguards put in place to prevent the strain’s spread would have only exacerbated the problem and caused the crisis they were trying to avoid.

Chicago summer

I am smiling from ear to ear, head to toe, inside to out. Life seems like a dream, completely unexpected, and unexpectedly good. I don’t want to pinch myself and wake up.

I wish I could trap my current emotions in a bottle and store them forever, and have these feelings to comfort me on a rainy day.

Right now I am acutely, exceedingly happy. I pray that this is not a plateau, as pleasing as it is, that the future will be even brighter.

Clubbing, Cats, Clubbing Cats

Last week was UChicago’s class of 2011 reunion. Everyone is fine and dandy and getting on with adulthood and modest about how much they love their jobs. I told someone I was working at a startup. She said, “That’s awesome! You’re living the dream!” This dream involves Boystown and a ten-second commute. The startup is a really awesome idea that provides legitimate value and has a large potential market and is easily monetizable. If I were a VC I would invest the shiznets out of it. Afterwards I visited the other class reunions. Then I went clubbing for the first and last time in Chicago. I was dancing with an Argentinian man, then after ten minutes, I said, “Sorry, I can’t do this,” and left to find my friends. I can’t dance with strangers. I can only dance with a person that turns me into jelly. Later, my roommates and I watched some TV. Then I felt tired and went to sleep early. The next day I went to a Catholic mass at St. Patrick’s. The preacher talked about how the Trinity is beyond description. But to get a glimpse into what it’s like, it is like the feeling you get when you’re in a group full of love and solidarity. Like a man suffering from a terminal illness that finds the strength to persevere through the pain with the support of his family.

For all my love of exploring new places, I can never leave my family for too long. At some point nothing outweighs being with them. Even close friends have come and gone, but family is always there for me. I feel so happy doing mundane things with my little brother, like sitting on the porch eating ice cream watching cars go by, walking, biking, playing children’s card games, telling stories about zombie president battle royales.

One of my roommates has a black cat. The cat likes to stand outside my room in the morning so that it’s piercing yellow eyes are the first thing I see when I open the door. It likes to meow loudly while I’m sleeping. It gives me rashes. When I’m walking it likes to crawl right in front of me, as if it’s daring me to step on it. It likes to rub itself on everything and me to mark its territory. When I go up and down the stairs, it races to the step ahead of me and starts clawing at the rug. When I am sitting on the toilet I see a black paw with claws reach underneath the bathroom door. The cat moves its paw along the base of the door, as if trying to find a lever to pry the door open. I don’t like cats. Sometimes I’m programming, focused and in the zone, and then the cat jumps on me. But then it curls up into a black ball of fur to take a nap and the little hell raiser looks angelic. Or I’m just chilling and it sits on my lap and I pet the cat and it is therapeutic. But I will never get a cat of my own. Once I get a cat, it would be the gateway cat, then I’d get many more cats and be a full-blown cat lady. Just kidding… I don’t like cats because they distract me from my interactions with people. For a minute I contemplated ways to get rid of it. Maybe with a dog. In truth I am complaining too much about the cat in this paragraph, it is really a spritely fun little demon.

Books, the Fox

I re-read The Sun Also Rises. I read the book in high school, back when I was obsessed with Hemingway and his stream-of-conscious, terse prose. And now, after spending a springtime in Paris and having certain life experiences, I have a totally new perspective on the book. Hit me up if you want to talk about it.

I also finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, pronounced Doo-mah. My little brother saw the cover and started laughing.

“Your book is by dumb ass!” he said. “Do you like the book?”

“Yes, I like this dumb ass book,” I replied. Though the book is long and the pace is slow, the elaborate descriptions and the way the characters are woven together make the book a masterpiece.

There was a fox sitting at the edge of the lawn. It was raining hard, but there the fox was, with its richly hued orange coat and white underside, hindquarters on the damp grass, black forearms straight and tall. The orange fox was in such stark contrast to the gray skies and earthen tones of the vegetation. After sitting in the rain for ten minutes, it got on all fours, shook its fur, and went back into the tall grass and trees.

I told C about the “emo fox”.

“I wonder what the fox was thinking about,” C said. “Probably the economy.”

The Best Three Days of April

1. Six Flags with my little bro, watching a giraffe lick the car window, riding a roller coaster (no lines!) with my brother three times in a row.

2. Hiking to the top of Bear Mountain.

3. Saturday with A.. We walked around Greenwich St. at the Tribeca Family Festival. There were singers and dancers, stilt walkers, bubble-blowing stations, BMX bikers doing flips on ramps, booths selling cupcakes, crafts, and Kumon.

A chess club had brought a bunch of giant chess sets. The only unoccupied board was being set up by a young boy. I asked him if he was looking for someone to play with. He said he was. I asked him what color he wanted to be, white or black. He said he didn’t care, so I thought he must be pretty good. Afterwards, I regretted mercilessly trouncing him. I should have let him win. But in competitive games, it is difficult for me to fold or go easy.

We got dumplings at a food truck, and continued walking. We stopped by a bar for a quick rest. Then we went to Chelsea Market. There were so many unique stores of remarkable foodstuffs. My favorite was a store that sold different flavors of vinegar. We sampled all kinds of flavors: champagne, pomegranate, dark chocolate, and my favorite, blueberry. They tasted true to their labels. Each time I tried a sweet flavor, I forgot I was drinking vinegar and not juice, so the bitter aftertaste took me by surprise. So many images  of Chelsea Market stick out in my mind… an old woman sharpening knives on a grindstone in the hallway, pasta shaped like genitalia, a stack of orange-red lobsters, a rack of board shorts with a toucan print in the flea market. There was a wine tasting at the wine store, so we walked in and sampled some whites. I remember the cashier at the wine store. “Can I see your IDs?” he asked. We showed him our IDs.

“Can we see your ID?” A. asked.

“No one asks me that question. I’m the one who buys the wine for the store,” the man replied with a smile. That took me by surprise, because he looked quite young, and I always imagined wine buyers were grayed, pretentious connoisseurs.

We bought a bit of food from different stores, and afterwards, we took the food to the High Line for lunch.

On the wooden bench, we laid out sushi and sashimi, pizza, chocolate-covered cranberries, and a bottle of sake. The sky was bright, the sun was warming. Conversation was light and mellow. Photographers took photos of us eating, some flagrantly, others at a distance. I thought this was peculiar, but I guess it was a good shot of the diverse peoples that share a bench. While I was eating some pizza, two policemen approached us. They asked for our drivers licenses, took them, then stood at a distance, and proceeded to scribble for what seemed like ten minutes. Then they returned with our licenses and gave us tickets for possessing liquor in a public park. A bunch of tourists snapped photos and inquired what we had done wrong. The bottle of sake was closed, we weren’t drinking, and we were the least bit belligerent. Well, I learned my lesson.

We walked some more, trying to catch a movie at the Tribeca Film Festival. But it was clear we wouldn’t make it in time. We talked about many things. But would stood out was A.’s recalling of those arbitrary yet beautiful times where you meet a complete stranger and a special connection forms. These special moments cannot be forced. “Imagine if you were friends with everyone walking down this street,” she said as we ambled down Bleeker St. Sometimes I feel this way when I am walking down a road or sitting in traffic. Each of those other people, each person walking or sitting in their car, has some hopes and dreams and interesting tales, but we are separated by something deceptive and petty and will never get to know each other.

A. notices so many details– the reflections in shattered glass and puddles, a store-front constructed from keys, a door covered in stickers, walls plastered with old posters, faded and ripped. She is unassuming, but speaks of so many things with enthusiasm and spark. What a lovely spirit.

We ran into a street artist whom A. knew, a middle-aged Japanese man wearing a beret, a richly textured grey sweater, and corduroy pants. His clothes were lived-in and nondescript, but he gave off the impression of one well-dressed because his outfit was suitable to his demeanor. We agreed to watch his stuff so he could go to the bathroom. We admired his watercolor vignettes of various street intersections in the city.

“How long does it take to paint one?” we asked when he returned.

“Three afternoons”, he answered.

A. spotted a sign for “Spy Store”, and wanted to check it out. We walked up to the second floor of the building, through a vacant, narrow hallway lit by the cold glow of incandescents, but could not find the store. A young man and woman from Boston and Philadelphia bumped into us. They wore backpacks. They too were looking for “Spy Store”. A. climbed a ladder and pushed back the door to the roof. Maybe, she joked, only people worthy of being spies could find the elusive “Spy Store”, and this was all a test. Perhaps the store was on the roof. The four of us climbed to the roof, and looked down at the intersection below. A. commented on the difference between being at road-level, walking among busy people, and taking a break on a roof, watching all those below.

A. recognized the building whose roof we were on, and that this building was shared by Fat Cat. So we went into the bar, got a couple beers, and waited for the live jazz to start. When the trio on guitar, string bass, and drums started playing, A. explained the usual jazz set: improv, followed by a more guided improv, and then a chance for each individual instrumentalist to be the main focus and showcase their talents. She pointed out how the musicians looked at each other during improv for synchronicity, then frequently glanced at their sheet music during guided improv, and how the guitarist sang inaudible “bops” to the tune of each strum. After the set, we walked some more in the crisp night air, past the exit to the Holland Tunnel, took the 1 uptown, and said our goodbyes.

Most Random Moment of April: riding a mechanical bull in a black pinstripe pantsuit

Happy Easter!

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” -Matthew 28: 5,6

I am a wretched sinner. Jesus died for my sins, then He overcame death. I owe Jesus my gratitude, my life. Do I live for the glory of God? Do I love the people that He loves? Usually the answer is “no”, as I pursue my own selfish interests. It is much easier not to care, to be dead, an unfeeling corpse that does not feel the burden of sin.

These past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my future. I sat on grassy hills watching clouds roll by, rested in a tent on a field of dandelions, listened to waves on the beach, all the while wondering what I ought to do. But I already know what I ought to do, I just don’t do it. I ought to live for the glory of God. I should prioritize relationships, give people my time and be available to them, because they are more important than profit. I made enough money to do a bit of travelling, so I will visit friends this month. And I should do work that tangibly benefits people, not work that theoretically benefits people. Whatever work I do, I should offer it up to God, whether cooking or writing or programming.

I pray God will use my life to His glory. Part of me is reluctant to pray this. I want to live a quiet life in peace and comfort. But I have to face hardship and discomfort to do God’s will. The world is plagued with many problems– famine, war, injustice. It seems like the world will always have these problems, and everyone eventually dies anyway. So why bother to feed the hungry, be a peacemaker, fight for justice? What difference will it make when each person is but a grain of sand that will be forgotten in time? My heart is callous and I forget what pain is like, or in my blessed life I have never suffered in such ways before. But when people feel the blunt trauma and the empty stomach, they do not say, “Oh well, I will die anyway as everyone eventually does. My life is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.” No, they have senses and feel pain and want something better. So I hope I am never complacent and I always think of helping others.

Anton Checkov

I really like Anton Checkov’s short stories. He only includes the details that matter, and captures the subtleties of human emotion and thought. His characters are largely realistic and unexceptional. His stories end abruptly without a grand climatic happy ending, for life continues to unfold even after a story’s end.

Wooooooot Knicks!!

I started watching Knicks games at the beginning of their six-game losing streak, after the Jeremy Lin-fueled winning streak. My family members are fans (or Fans, oohhh pun) of Jeremy Lin.  My dad likes Lin because Lin also went to Harvard. My little brother likes Lin’s inspirational story as an unknown who shined when given the opportunity. And my little bro likes seeing someone who looks like him on TV, someone Asian, who is a total baller (ohh another pun, but seriously, Asians are underrepresented in media and pop culture, and seldom get lead roles).

It was painful to watch the Knicks lose those games, since there were always a few moments in each game where it looked like they could win, especially in the game against the Celtics that they lost in overtime. So it’s been great to see the Knicks win these last four games and to see their camaraderie on the court.

I’ve suddenly been hooked on basketball. Granted, there are one-sided games. But only in basketball can a team come back after a 20-point deficit. I wonder why ice hockey never got as popular. Probably because in ice hockey the teams don’t post points that quickly, whereas in basketball the teams alternate leading the game with each possession and a lot can (and often does) change in a short amount of time. In basketball, the changes in pace, the “hot hands” racking up points, the tension and excitement, it is all so palpable. You can see the players’ facial expressions, their anger, disappointment, and joy. And you can easily see the big orange sphere that they play with.