What it was like (kinda) being on a reality TV show

Almost 4 years have passed since the surreal whirlwind of being on a reality TV show, traveling to developing countries around the world and contributing a small helping hand to a wide array of humanitarian projects. While I was naked in the shower (so many good things happen when you’re naked in the shower), I realized I never really took the time to reflect on it holistically – especially after traveling on my own in some of the same areas. So, here goes.

In late 2011, I sent a written response to a casting call reminiscent of my college essays, ranging from my passions, my views on the world, my taste in music, my volunteer experience, and many more nitty-gritty details of my persona. I was newly funemployed after quitting my job, so I felt like I had nothing to lose even if I got rejected, and an amazing opportunity if I was accepted.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 1.19.22 PM

To my surprise, I got called into an interview at a casting agency in Beverly Hills, decked out with framed posters of other reality TV shows that I’d never watched before in my life. I sat in a room with a camera pointed at my face, and answered tons of intimate questions for what felt like years. I was sweating balls. (They said I lit up when I talked about dance and ACA, which I’m sure will be the case for the rest of my life. I did an arm wave for them on camera.) My interviewer and everyone else there was super nice and incredibly warm.

To my further surprise, I got called back for a larger interview at a swank hotel, also in Beverly Hills. I waited anxiously and uncomfortably in a (cold) room filled with at least 20 beautiful twenty-somethings who I was presumably vying for a spot with, and we weren’t allowed to talk to one another as we filled out another questionaire. They called us in one by one, and as my turn approached, I peeked into the room and realized there’d be an interview panel of 10-15 decision makers, producers, directors, and other VIPs. I shit my pants a bit. When it actually came time, my nerves and digestive system calmed down a bit, and I answered questions naturally. I felt like up til that point in time, my passions, personality, and interests had aligned with what I thought they might be looking for, but I was still not really expecting to get in.

I didn’t get in. The end. JK. I got in. I shit my pants again.

What followed was a frantic 2 week period to get all my shit together to leave the country. Shit got real, real quick. Strangely, I sat in a preparation meeting with what I figured would be my other castmates, but we weren’t allowed to talk to each other until we landed at our first destination: Haiti. I had never left the US before, so I rushed to get poked with needles and to get my passport and what not. I researched the shit out of Haiti and all the diseases I thought I might get, and my parents were legitimately angry that I would throw myself in the way of potential danger like going to Haiti. (Even though I’d only be gone for a week, my girlfriend and closest friends threw me a going-away party. My girlfriend cleverly made a reversible banner with “S-E-E-Y-O-U-S-O-O-N-!” on one side and “W-E-L-C-O-M-E-B-A-C-K” on the other. SHE’S A KEEPER.) For the longest time I was in semi-denial, wondering if it was too good to be true that people would pay you to travel around the world, imagining that some conniving thieves just made off with my social security number and framed me for murder. But, as soon as I boarded the shoddy 20 passenger plane headed to Haiti, the dream began.

For someone who had never traveled outside of the cushy American suburb-ubble before, Haiti was fucking intense for me. That’s an understatement. My bubble exploded immediately. It was SUCH a cultureshock even just driving from the airport to our hotel (which had a motorized gate and armed soldiers out front), having all five of your senses fully saturated and immersed in processing in a different culture. Bumpy roads, bustling marketplaces, lush green landscapes, vividly colorful pickup truck taxis (tuk-tuks) overpacked with 15 passengers, earthquake ruins, acres of tent slums and displaced families, the absence of western-style advertisements, fear, awe, wonder, a completely unique and beautiful way of life.

(I actually wailed and cried my eyes out after talking with a man outside of his 7×7′ tent home in the slums of Port au Prince, Haiti. After his house was rocked by the 2010 earthquakes, his new home is the size of my Camry. He couldn’t afford to send his two precious kids to school, which is something like $50 USD per year. For a million reasons, my empathy and sympathy overflowed in the form of gallons of tears as I wept in a corner, on camera.)

I finally got to talk to the rest of the cast, who all turned out to be eclectic and endearing. As it turns out, the production crew wanted to delay the bonding between us until they could capture it on camera, but it essentially happened immediately. Inevitable, especially when you’re stuck together in a van, driving for hours through foreign countries. Off-camera, we spent hours upon hours sharing stories, ambitions, insecurities, brainstorming group tattoos, churning out inside jokes, missing our significant others. It definitely wasn’t the stereotypical drama-ridden cast that I thought it might be, and I was thankful to be stuck with such an awesome group of people 24/7 (While I am pretty bad at keeping in touch, the people I got to share such a wild experience with have been cemented into aspecial place in my heart.)

starkey-cast
The cast in India!

When it came time to film, I was continually amazed at the grand scale of orchestration, at how much time and money went into every millisecond of the final product. We were all equipped with wireless microphones pinned under our clothes, and each of us had at least one guy dedicated to making sure our audio was sound (haha pun). Each cast member also had at least one camera guy following us around all day with a heavy ass shoulder-mounted camera, each with assistant camera men/women following THEM around making sure they didn’t fall or get impaled. Teams of people flew into each country weeks prior to coordinate everything on the ground before we arrived, from translators to visas to hotels to shooting locations to transportation to food. We were occasionally filmed by camera men whizzing above in helicopters. They even brought actual printers (!) to make sure that everyone had physical schedules every day. We had a cast “mom” who made sure our every need was met the whole entire time. Hundreds of people (many of whom I never saw physically) made it all possible. The crew assembled was astounding and must have been some of the best in the industry – we found out a lot of them film NBA games, National Geographic/PBS documentaries, the first Real World series, and other crazy shit. It was inspiring being introduced to an ecosystem of experts who make a living pursuing their creative passions – definitely off the beaten path for someone who comes from a cookie-cutter Asian family, graduating with a cookie-cutter Engineering degree.

(During a scene where we were weaving through the chaotic highways of New Delhi, India, one of our camera-women hung most of her body out of her window with her heavy ass camera in hand, risking her badass life and badass equipment to record our car ride. Badass.)

We witnessed and worked on an insane amount of projects in many different countries. We helped built solar-powered wells for people who otherwise walked hours miles to fetch their water for the day. We helped assemble portable toilets with privacy for people who otherwise risked stepping in disease in order to pee. We helped outfit a mobile school (on a bus) children could learn in areas without schools. We helped plant trees and crops, and built a silkworm farm so women could eventually make scarves and a living. We helped people fit donated hearing aids and got to witness people lose their shit (in happiness) after being able to hear for the first time in their lives.

However, I can wholeheartedly say that I personally did not solve any of the world’s major problems or end AIDS or poverty or sanitation issues, nor did I expect to. Personally spending only a few days is nowhere near the requisite time to sustainably address major underlying issues and inadequate infrastructure, but in the very least I got to help out and spread some smiles. Even some Peace Corps volunteers, who spend upwards of 1-2 years in the field, feel like they could still do more. For me, it was much more important to be able to help share the stories of the great people who are collaborating around the world to affect positive change, and to show that even despite the most arduous challenges, there are resilient, entrepreneurial people everywhere who aren’t just waiting to be saved. In my opinion, although the story occasionally dipped into self-promotional rhetoric with celebrity cameos and white-savior-y clichés, I think the show does an outstanding job at bringing attention to parts and problems of the world that would otherwise go less noticed, and to highlight how we can help the many high-impact organizations and people who are affecting change in the world.

Aside from the amazing locals and philanthropists that we met, filming in itself was a bit awkward at times. I’m sure due to the nature and requirements of having everything set up correctly to be filmed, there were many hours where we’d just be waiting around while there was actual volunteer work to be done and hands to be helped. Even though it was “reality”, there was an overall pre-arranged structure to the events, meetings, and conversations that panned out each day. Basically the whole time, I felt like everyone was in on a bunch of secrets that they couldn’t disclose (because they needed to capture my raw unprocessed reactions on camera). When you see people naturally enter a room and introduce themselves to each other on TV, they’ve probably already met and there’s already crew and cameras rolling from various angles in the room. When you see people on TV sharing their thoughts as the events are happening, they’re probably being interviewed about it hours or days later, but their responses have to be in the present-tense to be overlayed as a narrative to things that are currently happening on screen. There’s nothing wrong with this as I’m sure it’s all necessary to get the shots that they’ve spent loads of money and time preparing for, and doesn’t subtract from its epic proportions. I eventually got used to it, but it just felt awkward at first. Not to say that everything is fake, because there were DEFINITELY genuine and spontaneous moments.

All in all, over the course of a few months, I got the mindblowing chance to travel to Haiti, Madagascar, India, Mauritius, and South Africa (in that order). Some of which are places I probably otherwise would never have ventured in my life. We were in each country for about a week at a time, and we flew home everytime before we switched countries. In January 2012, after the South Africa leg, a few cast members and I individually got a very abrupt call from a lawyer saying that we were no longer a part of the show and offered no explanation whatsoever during the call or thereafter from the producers. It was a huge surprise – it’s not like the show was set up so that whoever planted the least amount of trees was kicked off or some shit like that. I was in shock. I was so dumbfounded, I actually replied to the lawyer “oh, okay” because no words came to mind quickly enough. We were all pretty hurt in the aftermath, and even though I’ve longgg since made peace with it, it was a pretty fucked up way of letting us go even if the reasons had nothing to do with us as cast members. Showbiz I ‘spose. I THOUGHT WE WAS FRIENDS! No but seriously I thought we were friends haha.

388523_2376804584901_1437583654_n
Safari-ing in South Africa!

We actually all reunited at a launch party at a swanky rooftop bar in Beverly Hills a few months after they wrapped up all the post-production. It was fun to get drunk with old faces and friends again, as we did after we wrapped up filming in every country. Definitely a change of scenery to see everyone in a more luxurious environment. (It was also kinda weird but fun to talk to the post-production crew who already somewhat knows you after spending hours upon hours reviewing close-up footage of you.)

Though I never personally aired on TV (I think I might actually be in the background of a few shots), overall I’m VERY grateful to have had the experience and also grateful that things worked out the way they did. I would not change a thing. My career essentially picked up right where I left off, except I came back with a whole new set of eyes (shoutout to Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new lands but in having new eyes.”) I think no matter how great of a job the producers/editors/camera crew/etc would have done portraying me on screen, I still would have been embarrassed no matter what if my face was actually shown front and center on TV. I think I’d probably prefer to share my story / leave my mark on the world in my own way anyway.

Having gone back to some of the same places (like India), it’s definitely different from traveling on your own, away the insulation of a team that figures out everything in advance for you and having cameras that follow you around everywhere. At least for me, it kinda forces you to internalize your experiences much more quickly, to process it in a way that will sound suitable on camera. Still, the experience remains surreal after all these years. I will never forget the people we met and the stories we experienced. There are incredibly wonderful, ambitious, resilient people in every corner of the planet. As dire and grueling as some living conditions are made out to be by the media, you will absolutely find people who are still happy and laughing. (It’s like the study where people who win multimillion lotto prizes are equally as happy as they were before they won – but on the reverse end of the spectrum.) It’s not to say that there aren’t real problems that need to be addressed, but it definitely made my world feel a lot smaller to see that everyone experiences the same core emotions regardless of status or skin or situation.

If you got to this point, sorry for the long read haha. I hope it was as pleasant to read as it was for me to relive. If anyone from the show happens to be reading, THANK YOU so much for making it all happen! Truly a life-changing experience.

Congratulations

I’m a few days late, but Hanh, someone I consider a brother, just proposed to Arena, his girlfriend of 9+ years. Nowadays I’m at the age where I see an engagement announcement on Facebook like almost every other day, but something about hearing about the news from people so incredibly close to my heart compels me to write about it.

I’ve known Hanh for a little over 9 years now ever since we were wee freshmen at UCLA. Hanh has taught me a lot about life, but one of the biggest things that hit home for me is his commitment to Arena and the relationship that they share together. As an impressionable yunG stunna fresh out of highschool, I really had no idea what a lasting relationship was like beyond what I had seen in movies, and what you see in movies is generally a very fairy-tale, entertaining, and dramatized relationship. But as 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7+ years passed by, I got second-hand experiences of what I feel a successful relationship should be like, and it deeply inspires me to reflect the same commitment in my own relationship.

As with any two people that grow, change, and evolve through such a defining decade together, they’ve had their own unique challenges. But by far, they’re my biggest living example of the ideal that I’m absolutely going to face challenges in my life with the person I love – what matters most is how I get through it.

Now that you’re engaged, it hits the message even further and deeper home. I am so incredibly happy for the both of you. Congratulations guys!

On Time

In between the two launches of Feel, for various reasons, I decided not to do any work for roughly two weeks.  In that time, I went to Cabo by myself for a week.  It wasn’t the Cabo Wabo drunk club beach party sunburn kinda trip. On the contrary, I was driven 45 minutes into the middle of nowhere, wedged between a desert and a beach, living in a glorified hut with WiFi and an open-face to the waves.  My host was a lovely 70-year old woman who renamed herself Elena, who’s been completely off the grid for 25+ years.  There was no running water or electricity (water was periodically restocked and stored in giant tanks, power was supplied by the sun or by gas tanks), I took shits in a (nicely decorated) outhouse – i.e. no flushing, and showered from a bucket for 2 days.  But on the bright side, I woke up to the sound of waves every morning, had almost no distraction from technology, and practically had miles of beaches to myself because I was miles away from mainstream tourism.  Needless to say, I did A LOT of thinking and reading.

I had a wake up call after my first launch.  Ever since I got back from Asia in January, my life had been fairly focused on bringing my idea to life.  In the fashion of my superhuman immigrant parents who work for hours on end, I (tried) to follow suit.  I worked my own hours on end, with the mindset that there wasn’t enough time to do everything that I needed to do, rarely proactively scheduling any sort of breaks.  I definitely feel like my life slipped out of balance – not that I completely neglected everything in my life, but I certainly didn’t apply the same focus, creativity, and determination to other people and areas that are important to me.  In retrospect, it was unhealthy and probably not sustainable.

To a degree, our culture encourages workaholism – I remember having conversations with my coworkers about how late we stayed at our office, jokingly trying to one-up each other as if it were a badge of honor (and I certainly felt like it was in a twisted way).  This is even more pronounced by the fact that my parents and the rest of the first generation immigrants worked their fucking asses off to make it in America and give us a better life.

I still have immense respect for my parents’ work ethic.  However, I am seriously questioning the correlation between hours worked and actual productivity.  For my parents’ occupations, their productivity and salary was in direct relation to their hours worked – more hours, more money. For me, it is not necessarily true that the more hours I work, the more productive I will be. How would you even define productivity in this sense?

First off, designing and developing a product is a very creatively intense task. From a macro perspective – I must make sure that I am building what people want, that I’m making the correct decisions, solving the right problems, etc. From a micro perspective – I could be stuck on a coding problem for hours on end without ample creative problem-solving energy, or I could be wasting my time on designs that suck, etc. I have always had a hunch that sometimes creativity comes to you when you give it space to incubate, when you aren’t working on it 24/7. Sometimes brute force isn’t always the best path.

Looking way beyond productivity in a pure business context, pretty much every other area of my life was relatively stagnant.  Even in a pure business context, if your body doesn’t have the vibrant health and energy it needs, your mind isn’t focused and sharp, your soul not centered, your relationships strained, there’s no way you’d be effective in said business. Not to mention, your body doesn’t have the vibrant health and energy it needs, your mind isn’t focused and sharp, your soul isn’t centered, and your relationships are strained.

To quote a passage from Arianna Huffington’s (of Huffington Post and Time 100 fame) amazingly inspirational Thrive:

Look at Steve Jobs, a man whose life, at least as the public saw it, was about creating things–things that were, yes, amazing and game changing. But when his sister, Mona Simpson, rose to honor him at his memorial service, that’s not what she focused on.

Yes, she talked about his work and his work ethic. But mostly she raised these as manifestations of his passions. ‘Steve worked at what he loved,’ she said. What really moved him was love. ‘Love was his supreme virtue,’ she said, ‘his god of gods.’

‘When [his son] Reed was born, he began gushing and never stopped. He was a physical dad, with each of his children. He fretted over Lisa’s boyfriends and Erin’s travel and skirt lengths and Eve’s safety around the horses she adored.’

….

His sister made abundantly clear in her eulogy that Steve Jobs was a lot more than just the guy who invented the iPhone. He was a brother and a husband and a father who knew the true value of what technology can so easily distract us from. Even if you build an iconic product, one that lives on in our lives, what is foremost in the minds of the people you care about most about are the memories you built in their lives.

I was feeling curious, so I asked Quora about how people balance launching their startup with their personal life. Someone answered and scoffed “lol healthy balance”. I want to begin to challenge the notion that you have to work 200+ hours a week in order to be the next big startup, that you can’t be successful AND have a balanced lifestyle.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to achieve this in Cabo. It’s only the beginning, but I am excited to try various things to restore balance to the things that matter to me, to structure my life and goals and plans in a way that reinforces the idea that I am wealthy in terms of my time. I am certainly not scaling back my ambitions by any means, but I have to challenge myself to be more and give more to my life than I have been. Let’s see how this goes.

Reflecting On My Career and Launching a Startup

Damn, it’s been over 3 months since I’ve written in here.  In 2010, I literally wrote something (almost) every single day for over a year, just cuz.  Priorities change I guess.  I suppose I could still say I write everyday, but now it’s Javascript, HTML, CSS, and other foreign languages that I am gradually gaining fluency in.

—–

“It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius

Late into college, I emerged from a 20-25%-life crisis, slowly realizing that I wanted to form a company that would change the world. After (maybe fortunately) doing terribly at interviews for several full-time positions/internships that were directly related to my Electrical Engineering degree, I took a chance and interviewed at a mobile app consultancy because I wanted to learn about entrepreneurship and programming.  The interview was by far the worst I felt I’ve ever had, because not only was I terrible at interviewing, but I had hardly any experience or degree to back me.  If it was a list of groceries, I literally almost didn’t bring anything to the table:

Future boss: “Do you know PHP?”
Me: “No”
Future boss: “Have you worked with Drupal or WordPress or anything?”
Me: “Well.. I have a WordPress blog..”
Future boss: “Have you done any Android or iPhone development”
Me: “No.”
+30 more questions with a similar pattern

Lo and behold, they took a chance on me as an intern. I’d like to think that after 2 years, I made a difference there, because they made a world of a difference in my life. As incredibly fucking naive and inexperienced as I was when I walked in, and as much invaluable experience as I gained (and would continue to gain) during my time there, I always knew in the back of my mind that nothing would ever prepare me for running a company other than actually starting one of my own.

So, in July, I quit. It was one of the hardest big boy decisions I’ve had to make, because I loved my job and my team, and by no means was I reaching any sort of plateau. But I knew that by definition I was not pursuing my dream of running my own company, and I knew in my heart that I had to make the leap. There are only so many business books you can read, conversations you can have, napkin sketches you can draw, half-assed false starts you can launch – eventually you need to call bullshit on yourself.

While in Asia, I decided to commit to an idea I had been throwing around in my head. After I got back in January, I started “working” on my idea.  Even then, I was still bullshitting myself. I started sketching, reading books, making mockups, going through coding tutorials, and basically wasting time. In early February, I showed Kat and my designer at my last job my mockups of the idea I had been designing, and both of them were so incredibly confused by the user experience I had put together that they got slightly angry. I had wasted weeks of precious time designing something that I couldn’t quickly build, and worse, that made people angry/confused to use.

In all honesty, I wasted time because I was still afraid. If you don’t have a frequent window into my inner thoughts, you should know that I have many doubts. I delayed working on coding my actual idea because I didn’t think I could do it.  I am still rife with doubts on the daily.

What drives me through my own sometimes-unhealthy discouragement is commitment to a promise I made to myself last May, that by Memorial Day, 20 days from now, I will have 500 people using my idea. A weird, volatile mix of determination and doubt courses through my veins, because I am determined to hit this goal despite how many doubts I have on a daily basis, how much experience I lack, etc. Over the years I have started placing the utmost importance on following through on my word, because knowing and striving to reinforce the fact that I can do anything I’m truly committed to is my sword and shield against my own doubts, challenges, rejection, potential ridicule, failure.

Since January, not a day has gone by where I’m not thinking or working on my idea. I do miss the 9-5; when you go home you can usually just chill the fuck out and forget about your job until the next day. I’ve actually started meditating/yoga/dancing every morning and evening to train my mind think of nothing, to be present, to relax. I wouldn’t say it’s working all that well yet, as it’s still hard to stop my work from pervading my thoughts when I don’t want it to, but hopefully over time I will get better.

In late February, I tricked myself into starting by staying “lean”, giving myself two weeks to build the simplest iteration of my idea that I thought I could reasonably achieve in that timeframe, and more importantly, that my friends could use. To my own fucking surprise, I met all my basic requirements in two days (although I still spent the full 2 weeks refining it before I actually launched). Crazy what you can do when you suspend your doubt and get resourceful.

In April, I received my first official rejection from an investor, or rather an accelerator. My theory is that I got a rash from the weeks of stress in preparing my application for their program. I was bummed, but whatever – fall down 7, get up 8.

A few hours ago I wrapped up my iPhone app and submitted it to the app store for approval, and I couldn’t help but repeatedly think that it wasn’t good enough. I still think my design isn’t clean enough, my app isn’t fast enough, it’s not built with the elegance of a hundred Google engineers, my prowess hasn’t been vetted by a hot name-brand tech startup that rhymes with “witter” or “oogle” or “acebook”, blah blah blah.

But again, despite all that, I would rather risk ridicule and rejection than to not meet the goal I’ve had for almost a year. There’s a saying that “if you’re not embarrassed by your launch, you didn’t launch soon enough.”  There are months of improvements I could make to my idea, decades of experience that I could gain under someone else’s wing, but there’s no better time than now.

As unprepared and clueless as I sometimes feel, looking back, I am prepared as I ever could be. From the resilience my parents taught me as I watched our family restaurant burn down because a neighboring store attempted insurance fraud,  to my dad’s 12 hour day-shifts and my mom’s 12 hour night-shifts, to spending 5 years of late nights in parking lots and leading ACA, to consecutive weeks of leaving my work during sunrise and leading projects, to designing 100 inventions and a book and 1.5 years of rejection, and all the little moments of preparation in between, I am ready.

I’ll probably never have all the technical experience I need, but my heart and soul have never been more hungry.

 

(Sorry if I’m vague about what I’m actually working on. I’m not trying to be secretive, I’m just preparing for a launch in the next 20 days and it would be redundant to try to explain it twice. With that being said, stay tuned!)

Living a Dream

I have almost been home for a month now, after a surreal 5 months of backpacking.  When people ask me about how my trip was, I pause for 3-5 seconds out of confusion, because it is an injustice to just use a single adjective.  Eventually I’ll say, “Hrmm, wow, hard to summarize,” because it really is hard to sum up 5 months that you don’t have a mental construct of.  If I were to say my last 5 months at my job were great, or my last 5 months of college were amazing, it would be relatable because the construct of a job and of school are generally understood by the people I usually talk to, even if we had varying experiences.

It’s also difficult for me to recount my trip, because I don’t feel like I’m a particulary captivating storyteller, and because I don’t really like talking about myself for an extended period of time.  The conversation of my travels usually ends up lasting 5-10 minutes on average, and then I ask about the other person’s life and what they’ve been up to because I also haven’t seen that person in at least 5 months.  It’s not really anyone’s fault, and there’s nothing inherently bad about it.  But it’s just crazy to think that if I never talked about my trip again to a particular friend, that particular friend’s understanding of my experience is an incomplete, 5-minute summary of 5 life-changing months.

In many senses, I lived a dream.  In one sense, it was a trip that I dreamt of experiencing, and it exceeded my expectations.  In another sense, it almost feels like it didn’t happen.  In the sense that I am referring to now, it’s something I experienced and can’t hope to convey through words and pictures, in the same way that it’s impossible to communicate a dream to someone else after you’ve woken up.

I now understand what people mean when they say they have “someone to share with.”  Kat is the only person in the world that could ever understand what the trip was like, because she was with me the whole time.  It’s not to say that my friends and family don’t have the empathetic capability to understand, but they just weren’t there, and I can’t convey with enough fidelity how my experiences were.  I am very grateful that I had someone to share my trip with, not just because I would have been lonely and that she is fun and compatible company, but because I have someone to bounce my reality off of and converse from a place of shared understanding.

10 Days of Silence

I recently finished up a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat in Nepal. For the entirety of the course, I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone (except for the staff), write, listen to music, be in contact with the opposite sex, and most definitely use any electronics or internet.  I sat and meditated for at least 10 hours every day, waking up at 4:00AM and ending at 9:00PM.  It was the most difficult time I’ve had on this trip, and probably falls up there with one of the most mentally/physically strenuous 10 days of my life.  All that being said, it was also by far one of the most focused and enlightening 10 days of my life.   

To my understanding, Vipassana meditation is the technique that Buddha used to find enlightenment.  It’s not associated with any rites or rituals that pertain to any particular religion.  You essentially sit for an extended period of time to observe the sensations that arise and pass throughout your body – whether it’s a pulsing heartbeat, tingling, cold, itching, pain, etc.  As your mind sharpens, the goal is to tune into the subtler sensations, to go deeper into the body (like the scalp vs the brain).  With earnest persistence and discipline, the meditator experiences the two sources of misery at the deepest level of the mind-body connection: craving and aversion.  My body and mind most DEFINITELY wanted to avoid and squirm out of the massive pain of sitting for an hour or two.  However, the whole point of the meditation is to simply observe, remaining equanimous and impartial to whatever sensations arise, realizing that everything is impermanent.  

For a few fleeting moments and minutes, I learned to understand pain and how to conquer it.  Towards the end of the 10 days, I built up the discipline to sit for an entire day without changing my leg position across various 1-2 hour sessions.  There always came a point in my meditation where my entire leg, thigh, butt, knee, hip would be either pulsing with sharp pain or devoid of blood circulation.  Eventually, following along with the nightly lectures, I realized that I shouldn’t turn my physical pain into mental suffering, that I should just watch my pain without any bias, without trying to get out of the pain.  I felt victorious every time I was able to still and calm my mind despite immense amounts of pain.  Strangely, I found it easier to focus when my body was in pain than when I was relatively relaxed.  

Of course, it is meant to be a lifelong practice, and I am certainly no master of pain or pleasure in 10 short days.  However, I feel like the awareness and impartiality that I am starting to develop with physical sensations is readily applicable to everyday life and its many challenges.

Even if I just sat in silence for 10 days and didn’t meditate at all, it still would have been an amazing experience.  In the absence of YouTube and music, I was surprised to find that my mind filled itself with movie scenes and old pop songs (J.Lo – Jenny From the Block was a common hit, as was 50 Cent, Eminem’s last battle in 8 Mile, Monica – Angel of Mine, Shaggy – It Wasn’t Me, and other songs that I listened to on a regular basis during puberty).  But seriously, I had many epiphanies as a result of not having access to conversation, a keyboard, a touchscreen, headphones, and a general lack of alternatives to thinking to myself.  I planned how to get my business off the ground, thought about past heartbreaks and insecurities, Kat and our relationship, my other relationships, my family, my childhood, how privileged I am, my ego and image, and many more things that I can’t recall now.  I gained a lot of clarity on why I am the way that I am, and who I want to be in the future.  

As difficult as the course was at times, I highly recommend the course to anyone even slightly interested.  It is an amazingly rare source of self-discovery and focus, and definitely one of the most impactful things I’ve ever experienced.  And it’s free!  Vipassana centers all over the world (even some in Northern and Southern California) operate entirely out of donations and goodwill, and there’s absolutely no pressure to donate if you’re broke or backpacking on a budget.  While I’m probably okay with not doing another course for a few months, I definitely plan on going back several times in my life.

Home Sweet Home

My circadian rhythm and I are still processing being home after a crazy 5 months abroad.  I get ridiculously tired at 7PM and 10:30PM, and I wake up at 7AM before getting up at 9AM.  In any event, I imagined my jetlag to be a lot worse, and It is REALLY great to be back home.

Although I doubt anyone was keeping track or holding us to traveling for 6 months, we were originally supposed to visit Vietnam and Cambodia for a few weeks after spending NYE in Hong Kong with Jon.  We also seriously thought about making our way to South America for a drastically different change of scenery.  As exciting as traveling and seeing different places was, after a certain point Kat and I decided that we were more excited about being home and starting the next chapter of our lives.

I am really looking forward to spending more time with my family and making an earnest effort in bonding with my parents.  One of my deepest regrets in life would be not getting to REALLY know my parents before they go.  I made a vow to myself to speak only in Cantonese with my parents, even though my mom knows English fairly well.  I’ve always been embarassed about little Chinese I know, but it is time to bear the pain of not knowing words and time to stop using a language barrier as an excuse to not open up to my parents more.

I am also really excited to hit the ground running on a startup.  Running a business is something I’ve wanted to do for a longgggg time, and now with my old job, Quirky, and traveling out of the way, I feel ready to crack down and start sprinting.

It would be a feat for both the writer and reader to capture 5 months of reflection in a single post, so I will reflect more in other posts and just end by listing out what’s fucking great about being home:

  1. Not having to filter water before drinking or brushing my teeth
  2. Not having to carry 35lbs of stuff, and constantly un/pack
  3. Wearing jeans, not wearing gladiator sandals, and having a wardrobe
  4. Stability, personal space, privacy
  5. An endless supply of the greatest cuisine in the world – my dad’s food
  6. Being able to talk to friends and family in person
  7. Consistently fast internet
  8. Not having enforced power outages
  9. Not being yelled at to look inside a store when walking down the sidewalk
  10. Consistently hot showers
  11. Using toilets that don’t require buckets for flushing
  12. No mosquitoes, and more importantly, no relative fear of catching malaria or other scary airborne diseases
  13. Using my phone to call people again
  14. Not being paranoid about pickpocketing and not having to tether my wallet and camera to my pants
  15. Not being paranoid about having my room broken into and not having to carry everything on me just to go on a walk
  16. Being in a place where I feel I identify with
  17. Not having to figure out where to sleep
  18. Having a clear division between where people walk, and where automobiles drive
  19. Being able to work on a desk
  20. Trusting that the price I am paying is the price everyone else is paying
  21. Driving myself to get somewhere
  22. Using Google Maps
  23. 4G internet on my phone and not having to buy food to use WiFi

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely cherish all the great and not-so-great moments of traveling.  There are many things that I already miss, and others that will intensify much more in the coming weeks that will make me question my decision to come home.  The decision to backpack around Asia for 5 months with someone I love will resonate throughout my life for many years to come.  There is no way to share the sensory overload, the experiences, the lessons, the perspective I gained.

One of my favorite quotes: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

All that being said, I can’t believe it’s over, am grateful that I’m alive, sad that it’s over, and really excited to start anew.  Also, there is no place like home.