Up Taipei 101 for free*

*Okay, it’s not really free, but at least you’re not paying just for the elevator ride.

You’re visiting Taipei with friends and they want to go up the Taipei 101. Cool. But the elevator ride is NT$600 (about $18 USD). What to do? You probably did a search for “Taipei 101 free” and found blog posts about the wonderful Starbucks on the 35th floor. This is another one of those blog posts, but with one bit of new information.

I did this search and got my information from Daniel Food Diary. The basic directions are:

1. Call the Starbucks for a reservation at least a day in advance at: +886 2 81010701
2. Be sure to write down the reservation number you are given over the phone, and bring it with you for your reservation.
3. Be in line ON TIME. Be first in line. They have changed the procedure and give numbered tickets. They let people in to the Starbucks according to this order, so whoever was first will get the best seat. This is a new procedure so you may see the opposite advice in other blogs posts from before the change in policy.

I recommend going around sunset, if possible.

Each person will be required to order at least NT$200 (about $6 USD) worth of Starbucks treats, but at least you get something other than an elevator ride for your money. The matcha cheesecake was good, but not a cheesecake. I recommend the rose latte (not pictured).


Mental decluttering

I’ve done a decent job over the last year decluttering my apartment with guidance from my bible (more on that here). But now that I’m done distracting myself with tidying, I’ve found that it’s my brain that’s cluttered with minor annoyances that keep me from accomplishing anything useful. Usually this causes me to rant to anyone who will listen, and that’s even worse because now I’m wasting someone else’s time too.

Basically, mental decluttering is a formalized version of the Serenity Prayer. Here’s what you do.

First, identify pointless trains of thought. I know, easier said than done. For me, these usually come from minor annoyances throughout the day. For example: a double parked UPS truck blocking the road. I get irritated and start fantasizing about policy changes like meter maids following UPS trucks around and giving them a ticket each time they stop. If it’s a deep dive kind of day I even start pondering what the fiscal implications of this would be and how UPS might respond by producing ad campaigns showing sad children who didn’t get Christmas packages on time to sway voters. Right. So. How to identify a pointless train of thought? Ask yourself “Is there anything I can do to change this?” If the answer is “No” or “Only if I put in a lot of effort that I’m unwilling or unable to commit” then it’s a waste of your time to keep stewing over it.

Now that you’ve identified the pointless thought, you’ll have to find some way of distracting yourself from it. Here’s where it gets fun. You could try:

Having a to-do list. When you see that you’re obsessing over something useless, do something from the list.

Read. Read things from your reader, or keep a book handy. I don’t know about you, but I never regret time I’ve spent reading.

Treat yourself. Positive reinforcement for identifying and distracting yourself from going down the rabbit hole. Do this enough and you’ll associate positive feelings with breaking away from pointless obsessing.

Ignore. Sometimes it’s not a solo act. Maybe you have friends that you go back and forth with over politics or policy. Maybe they have opinions you can’t stand and you feel the need to “call them out” on it. It’s a waste of your time. You probably won’t ever convince that person they’re wrong. But eventually they’ll see that no one is responding to them and stop saying the same things over and over. Any response only lengthens the amount of time you’ll spend thinking about (and being annoyed by) it.

Screen saver. I like the idea of keeping a few pleasant thoughts or memories at easy grasp to function as “screen savers” of the mind. To free yourself from brain clutter, hold on to a few of these that bring you joy. When you find yourself getting worked up over something you can’t fix anyway, think about one of these things instead. Maybe it’s a memory of your last beach vacation. Or your cat purring on your lap. Or something completely made up involving vampires and unicorns. Is this a better use of your time? Maybe not, but at least it doesn’t take up as much mental energy and it’s not as bad for your mood. Plus, once you get bored of the beach, you’ll have distracted yourself from the annoyances enough to get on with something else useful.

Yeah, you should quit your job

Disclaimer: I don’t have a degree in life coaching and no, you shouldn’t be taking advice from a stranger on the internet who doesn’t know you or your situation at all.

Lately several friends have asked “should I just quit my job?” They tell me they’re unfulfilled, bored, frustrated with management. I always tell them “If you can afford to, then do it.” Note: I don’t ask them if they have plans. I don’t ask what they would do instead and whether they’d make the same money. I’m just an enabler. Here’s why.

There’s a guy I knew, let’s call him Ol’ Mac. He’s the father of one of my exes. Ol’ Mac was a responsible family man with two kids, so he stayed for years at a job he hated. He woke up every morning at 5am to drive about an hour to work and would get home pretty late most nights. He hated his job so much that his wife would sometimes find him staring at his socks in the morning. When asked what he was doing he’d miserably say “I’m thinking about which one goes on which foot.” He stuck it out until his official retirement day so he could get a full pension. (Yeah, I know this isn’t sounding like a story about quitting your job. Just wait for it.)

So, you’d think he’d be delighted with retirement, right? Well, after watching golf on tv and snoozing most days for a while, Ol’ Mac began to feel bored and restless. He took on odd jobs to get him out of the house. Then word got around that he was looking to come out of retirement, and he was offered a job doing the things he liked about his old job (hands on technical stuff) with none of the parts he didn’t (bureaucratic managers who didn’t know what they were talking about). It was a more relaxed schedule: one week on, one week off. It even paid better than his old job.

What can we learn from this one anecdote? We all know that the plural of anecdote is not “evidence” but that being said, I’ve heard variations of Ol’ Mac’s story repeatedly. People quit their jobs without knowing exactly what comes next, but they figure it out. And in all cases, they’re happier than before they quit. So if you’re miserable or frustrated at your job and you live for the weekends, save money until you can live without a job for a few months, then quit. You’ll figure it out too.

Velib in Paris

Velib (a bike rental service) is my favorite way of getting around Paris. You see so much more than by metro, and as a bonus there’s much less contact with the bodily fluids of others. It’s faster than walking, but I guess entering and re-entering a code and pin can get pretty annoying. Here’s how to get around that.

1. Show up at any city hall in Paris and ask for a “Velib Express” card. They’re free.

2. You can sit in the lobby of city hall and use their free wifi to access the Velib website (instructions on the back of the card) to subscribe to the service. Here are the prices:

  • 1.70 € for 1 day
  • 8 € for 7 days
  • 29 € for 1 year*

3. Visit any Velib bike station. There’s an app that shows you where they are, but usually you’ll find them near any metro station. Enter your information into the screen just the first time (to activate your card) and then you’re good to go! In the future you can just use your card to check out bikes by placing your card against the locking mechanism pictured here:

Now, time for a funny story. You are perhaps concerned that you’re not the best biker, and Paris is too busy and scary of a city. Believe me, you couldn’t be a worse biker than me. I never took the training wheels off my first pink bike with streamers at the handles. I didn’t see the need. The first time I tried biking in Paris, we had to stop at a red light and as I was wobbling to a halt, I crashed into a police riot van. With actual police officers in it. I took off again a moment later and saw the police officers staring out to window trying to see who was attacking. I gave them by best sheepish-sorry look and said sorry (yes, in English). The officers looked 2/3’s confused and 1/3 amused. Luckily, it was France. If it were America, I would probably have been shot for ramming a police vehicle.

* Important note: when I was sitting at city hall trying this, the 1 year option was only available on the French version of the website. If you choose English, it disappears. So pretend to be French, I guess!


A life worth living

Believe me, I am not an expert on this. What I realised about  year ago while working for a startup was that somehow, despite earning more money than I ever had in my life, being able to buy just about anything I wanted and having plenty of opportunities to socialize with my quirky, crazy-brilliant friends, I didn’t really think my life was worth living.

Everything was a dark grey, especially on Sunday night. Worse on Monday morning. Dread filled me. But it was confusing. My income was above the 95th percentile for my age group. I had a boyfriend (a very good person!) I had been dating for a couple of years. Everything looked excellent on paper. Who was I not to be happy? On top of everything, guilt. So many people had it worse than me. What did I even want?

I wanted a life worth living. But I made the mistake of using everyone else’s definition. I never asked myself the question “what do I want” because I assumed that having what everyone else wants for should make me happy too. Wrong.

There is a story I’ve read in passing: a professor presents a container filled with rocks and asks his students if it’s full. “Yes,” they respond. He then pours pebbles in, until the spaces between the rocks are filled too. He asks again. They respond “yes” again. He repeats this twice more, with sand, then water. The point of his demonstration is that if he had done this exercise in any other order, not everything would fit. This story has been used as a metaphor for life: what we put in first should be of primary importance to us.

That was my mistake. The things I spent the most time on were the things I valued the least: my job, Tumblr, playing flash games on Facebook, watching TV shows. The latter 3 made time pass more quickly. But there was nothing I was looking forward to… I was squandering time until my eventual death, I suppose.

I hesitate to tell you my conclusions because I’m sure they won’t be yours. The point is that you have to ask yourself what the rocks are. What are the most important things in your life? It may be counterintuitive, but you probably don’t treat them that way. Suppose you’re a math graduate student (this was once my story) and you have obligations in decreasing importance to you: your research, studying for your quals, your homework, and your teaching obligations. However, the less important something is to you, the more urgent the deadlines are, so you spend time doing those things first and neglect the more important things.

Life is similar! It maybe be extremely important that you paint or write or travel, but none of those things have “urgent” deadlines. So you put them off, sometimes forever. Meanwhile, what gets your attention? That work email to fix a build. Doing the laundry. Once you’ve taken care of all the things you have to do now, you’re too drained to even think about reading Dostoyevsky or practicing Liebestraum on the piano, so you end up playing Candy Crush with the rest of your time.

tl;dr — the first step in having a life worth living is figuring out what is important to you.

North Beach at sunset, before cioppino at Sotto Mare

For me, of course, it’s the Bohemian ideals. Perhaps they’ll each get their own entry one day: Truth, Beauty, Freedom (and above all else) Love.

Finitely Many

I have heard twice or more now, stories from friends about girlfriends who demanded sweet emails daily. One forced himself to write poetry every day, one coded a “sweet email” generator, and I, as the laziest person you will ever meet, have written this one poem that (one hopes) might excuse me from the assignment altogether. Do you find my solution elegant? Read on, and feel free to use it as your own if this situation should ever plague you. I think it may cleverly also absolve you from ever using the words “I love you”.

There are finitely many words, my dear
that I can ever say to you
and finitely many again,
that I can ever hear

So if I’m silent, if I’m gone
If you haven’t heard from me in far too long
please take comfort
please, I beg you’ll remember why
remember this of finite lists:
there will always be a last

I desperately, so desperately, my darling
don’t want to run out
I don’t want to meet our last word, no

Everything I see, I see through your eyes and mine
Every thing entreats me, “Share me,
I will delight, you two will grow closer.
Share me, show me, tell my story.”

But I will resist, I will hide,
I won’t say a word.
It’s only because (deep down)
I fear

the day when we run out

Think of me as just a petty miser
Each word I speak bringing me closer…

to losing you

If only I could see how many words remain
Then I could say it once (just once)
My last words to you — though I’m sure you knew —
instead of maudlin goodbyes…

(I love you)

Christmas and commercialisation

I know it’s all the rage to complain about how Christmas decorations are going on sale earlier and earlier each year. And how everyone’s lost the “true meaning” of Christmas underneath all of the ads, presents, and hype for the latest gadgetry. I’ll spare you.

A few weeks ago, I walked into the cellar of Macy’s in Union Square and saw that there were Christmas decorations for sale. For reference, this was at the beginning of October. I know what I’m supposed to feel, intellectually. Derision. Superiority. But I didn’t. Those twinkling lights reminded me of every good feeling I’ve ever had during the Christmas season. Of sleeping under the tree when I was eight in hopes of catching Santa. Of singing at Davies hall with chorus. Of draping my mother’s long-suffering fern with fairy lights until it drooped. Of decorating a kitchen island full of sugar cookies, including many dinosaurs. Of snow. Of ice skating at the holiday rink. Of sitting right next to the Oak St. tree so every breath would smell like holidays.

This season, really show them. If you hate the commercialization, then use it to your advantage. Don’t buy a thing. Just let it remind you of all sparkling times you’ve had in previous holiday seasons. Instead of letting any of it trigger annoyance, let it bring a smile to your face. Then, if you actually need things, get them at secondhand shops, make them yourself, or buy them when they’re 90% off at the after-Christmas sales.

Caro mio ben

To your darling, to the light of your life, to someone who is difficult and deeply suspicious of the value of words and the transient nature of feelings, don’t say words. If you feel your heart is full to bursting and you have to do something, just recommend songs. But not in English. Even that would be too much. Try this. This one is called “Caro mio ben” and I’ll link the lyrics below.

I like to (loosely) translate as follows:

Darling dearest, believe this at least —
without you, my heart languishes.
Stop torturing me, cruel one.
Believe me.
My heart languishes without you.

Caro mio ben

Combating the ‘mehs’

If depression is a dark grey, then the mehs are a slate grey with an ugly twinge of yellow. The mehs are a luxury of the idle, and can be insidiously bad for living. The main symptom is that you feel “meh” about almost everything. The worse it gets, the more things fall into the “meh” category, until you’re experiencing full on anhedonia. Catch it early and these things may help.

cuddle — anyone warm and willing. Bonus points if you can find someone you like, who can also make you laugh. Laughter is fatal for the mehs.

go outside — you don’t have to have a destination or a purpose. Go out and see the sun. Go out and say hello to the sea. Go outside and read in the grass. Go outside and buy a maple donut or a bit of ribbon. Just go outside.

drink something warm — this is the English remedy for every problem. Tea. I have an entire cabinet dedicated to it, so if you need comfort, please invite yourself over.

plan to do something — if you’re in San Francisco, I recommend the blog Funcheap SF. Food, art, classical concerts, and free movie screenings are frequently posted. Novel experiences are a good way to chase away the mehs. It’s hard to have the mehs when you’ve got new and interesting things to think about.

random little things — I’ve found that these things help me, but they may be particular to me. Use my list as a guide to find your own little things, perhaps.

  • Pet a kitten until she purrs for you
  • Arrange things — kitchen drawer, bead collection, tool box, etc
  • Find a new piano piece or dust off a new one — play until your hands are warm again
  • Listen for the fog horns
  • Find out what the fox says
  • Go see your favorite statue or painting at the Legion of Honor
  • Have hot chocolate at the Cliff House
  • Go to a favorite park or find a new one and re-read The Little Prince
  • Write a long letter to an old friend

Needless disclaimer: if there is a reason you have the mehs, (dull job, dead relationship, etc) do try to fix those first. Thinking of those things may be uncomfortable, but you’ll have to eventually.