The best thing I’ve ever learned

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Must lists of advice from the dying all be trite? Some mishmash of “tell people you love them,” and “buy experiences, not things” and “don’t concentrate on petty things like cellulite” and “eat the cake” and some “do things for others” sprinkled in there for good measure.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not currently dying. But I can share with you the best thing I’ve ever learned. Realized. There’s a story. In 6th grade social studies, we had to do projects and present in front of the class. I watched the other students present, each of them a jumble of nerves, fumbling over their own insecurities. I watched the students in the audience. No one was paying attention to the speaker. Every last one of them had their own matters to fret about. Their own upcoming presentations, homework they need to finish for the next class, or just daydreams. I learned something liberating that day:

No one is paying attention to you.

No one cares enough to judge what you’re doing. They have their own concerns. Now you know. You don’t have to filter everything you say and do through questions like “but what will people think of me?” They aren’t thinking of you at all. Every detail you’re perfecting will register as a millisecond blip on most radars. If that.

Small caveat: a handful of people over your lifetime are paying attention. They’re paying rapt attention and every word you utter, every stray expression on your face, every imagined intention is a scrap for the starving. They can’t put it down, they can’t stop wanting more, and they will remember everything you say and do.  If you write a single word, a throwaway “hello” on a stained napkin, they will keep it forever in a box under their bed. But don’t worry, to such a person, you walk on water. With their attention they’re saying “I worship you.” This is an entirely different matter. If there is a way to gently make it clear to such a person that you can’t reciprocate without crushing them, please teach me. It’ll make the top 10 list of best things I’ve ever learned. For sure.

In all cases, don’t worry about being judged. Mostly, they’re regular people wrapped up in their own lives. They don’t see you at all. If you meet a supplicant, just try and be kind.

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Resolutions

New year resolutions are like goals. Depressing. I like Barack Obama’s opinion on them: that he’d rather evaluate daily whether he’s going in the right direction. Not once a year. Still, here we are. I have a word of the year (a concept I saw first in a Mormon family blog). I have assorted resolutions. I also have a small rant on why goals and resolutions are depressing. Let’s begin.

Word

My word of 2018 is vagheggiar. Funny that I should choose a word in a language I don’t speak. A word I can’t pronounce. And one that I only vaguely know the meaning of (and only through googling and google translating). Why? Google translate tells me it means “contemplate with joy.” But it also suggests that I translate it from Corsican. In which case it means “wandering.” This word. I figure, if I can live my life and not feel that everything was forgettable at best and a waste of time at worst, that would be something. I have never considered time that spent contemplating with joy (or wandering) to be either forgettable or a waste.

Resolutions

Discount first impressions. Mine are rarely accurate. My imagination fills in blanks that aren’t there. Mostly to ascribe positive attributes to beautiful people and assign fault to unattractive ones. This is… one of my biggest failings.

Play Liebestraum like Lang Lang. At least give it a serious go and practice daily.

Pay more attention to finances. My frivolous expenditures are so frivolous. I own a killer whale shaped paperweight named “Mumu” and I have neither papers to weight, nor wind in my house, nor a desk. I own every kitchen thing known to man. And I’m not sure that benign neglect is the best investment strategy. Nor, I’m sure, is letting money pile up in checking and being periodically shocked that I have that many dollars in checking and that many checking accounts.

Learn how to write. Engrosser’s script is what I’m starting with. I need to spend a lot more time with spacing and regularity of single strokes and letters before I can move on to actual words. See above. Looks ok when I’m following the lesson, but quickly falls apart when I attempt to write my word.

Rant

The reason I find goals and resolutions depressing is that they remind me of how limited I am as an individual. If I could not fail, I would have goals like “Never spend another second waiting. Not in line, not on hold, not for a response, not for a bus, not in traffic. Not even at a red light. Never again.” Or “Create a secret social club with a Pac Heights mansion as headquarters and have only interesting people as members.” I would have many other grandiose, unprintable goals.

 

Over the holidays…

We didn’t go anywhere. N tells me working is more productive when no one is in office. I believe it. What did I do? Some baking. Peppermint sandwich cookies were a hit, but the optimal amount of frosting for looks and for eating are different. The former is about 2x the latter. These are pretty but too sweet.

We had some friends over for the traditional French Christmas Eve dinner. You know, 6+ courses, lasts all night, feels like your stomach will rupture at the end? It started with canapés on crap toast, which seems strange, given how snobby the French usually are about bread. I made the NYT lamb tagine, but disliked the sour note from the apricots.

(Do you like the La Boulange plates? Wish I had found some bowls too..)

Here’s our cheese course. One of them is called tarentaise, but I mistakenly called it “tartinaise” at the Cheese Board and asked if it was for slathering on bread.

Not pictured: 3 desserts. Chocolate lava cake, strawberry/blueberry tarts and a fluffy Korean style cake brought by a guest.

These are our gifts. One Muji shirt each and some assorted stocking stuffers. Like pocket notebooks and hair elastics. Nothing fancy. You know me. The real haul comes from the after-Christmas sales.

In the quiet week when everyone goes to their real home (no one’s from San Francisco, she says, except maybe her) we went to watch Call me by your name.

Um. Stunning. Left me speechless and still feeling it a week later. If you see one movie this year, let it be this one. It’s the best of both worlds between French and American film. It’s an ideal enough setting with interesting people (and, an actual plot) that it could be an American film. But it’s also realistic enough, thoughtful enough, emotional enough that it could be French. No, I take it back. It can’t be French. It doesn’t end at a random point in the story. Let’s just say that now I know what most French films are aiming for. I don’t think anyone ever said the word “gay” during the movie*. Not once. Sexuality should be on a case by case basis, shouldn’t it? Aren’t we all asexual when it comes to some 70%+ of the population?

*edit: not true. There was one conversation about gay dinner guests where the son, Elio was making fun of them and the dad demanded to know why he was acting that way: “Is it because they’re gay? Or because they’re ridiculous?”

Ten thoughts on a Monday [3]

one

This was the sky and city hall as Ed Lee lay in state. Maybe this was the day he was moved. Northbound Van Ness was closed for a while, causing quite a traffic snarl. I’ve seen it before: someone important dies and to honor him, the masses suffer in traffic. Say it with me, there’s got to be a better way!

two

The holiday season has me saddened that fois gras is banned in California again. I’m surprised because there’s a growing French population in the Bay Area and banning foie gras is culturally insensitive to them. Would we ever ban the sale of halal meat? Halal slaughter is arguably more cruel than gavage, but since Islam is a religion and fois gras is not, I guess California sees fit to ban one but not the other. Maybe the answer is to make a religion that has foie gras as a ritual food item.

three

People acquire a certain hardness when they’ve faced challenges in life. Especially chronic problems like abusive parents, hunger, unstable housing situations, poverty, etc. It isn’t their fault, but I’ve noticed that the hardness makes them less pleasant and terrible conversationalists. They do too much posturing to influence how others see them, and frankly, it’s dull. The people I find most dear have lived sheltered lives, laugh easily, trust willingly, and say things like:

It’s so bad being homeless in winter. They should go somewhere warm like the Caribbean where they can eat fresh fish all day.
Lady Victoria Hervey

four

Notebooks marketed towards women too often have silly “inspirational” sayings on them. But if a man were using a notebook that had “Follow your dreams” stamped on it in swirly gold foil, wouldn’t you find it silly? Is it that designers think women are silly, or is it that we actually are silly? Oh, maybe designers are silly.

five

I found a note I wrote to myself last time I was drunk.

When drunk you will forget everything. How to spell. Your own name. How to stand up on your own two legs. But you won’t forget that you need to floss.

It appears I have some strange obsession with flossing.

six

I would love to find a way to give compliments to a person without them thinking I’m flirting. Or, more generally, a way to be nice to a person (give them attention, ask them to events with me, offer them baked goods) without them thinking I have ulterior motives. I blame the skewed values system of our society. The way we talk about sexual relationships as something more than “just friendship”. For example, I have friends with lovely eyes, the cutest giggle, great fashion sense, amazing hair, and I can’t admit I think these things without it sounding like I’m flirting or like I want “something more” when I don’t. I suppose I could go back to when I didn’t realize everyone thought I was flirting. But that era had its own problems. Like people who I considered friends kissing me out of nowhere (or so I thought).

seven

I never heard of Sam Altman until yesterday when I read his blog post , which appears to imply that if we shame people for having views like “gays are evil and deserve to die” then we create an environment that is bad for innovation. Most in my friend group agreed that this was a poor argument without much evidence to support it. But one friend started spewing terms like “online lynch mob” and “thought crime” and “liberal bubble”. It was ironic to see how quickly someone who thinks of himself as a supporter of open discussion, disagreement and innovative thought sought to shut down and dismiss arguments from those who disagree with him.

eight

I have a thing for Muji. I almost got hauled in for additional questioning at Denpasar airport for refusing to give up the Muji forks I was trying to get through security. Aren’t they beautiful? I wonder what it says about a person when they buy themselves flatware for Christmas. Never mind, no I don’t: it’s probably nothing good.

nine

This snowman is visiting SFMOMA for the holiday season. I didn’t grow up somewhere snowy. So I had winter fantasies about snow based on movies. Sledding, snowmen, ice skating, magic. I am assured isn’t like that for people who actually live in it for months at a time, but to me, snow is still magic.

ten

A friend of mine asked how I lost “all that weight” and I was reminded again of how little our perceptions of ourselves line up with how others perceive us. I thought my clothes fit better, sure, but I didn’t think my weight loss would be noticeable to others. The best resource for information about lasting weight loss is Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Obesity Code. He addresses why low-fat diets don’t work, why most diets fail, and gets into the science behind what causes weight gain and why it is so much easier to gain than lose weight, especially with traditional dieting advice. But don’t take my word for it — there are about 1000 5-star reviews on Amazon and the book is an easy read: see what you think.

Intercontinental Bali Resort

In a stupor after my flight out of Bali was canceled, I booked a night in a club room at the Intercontinental Bali Resort. It was an enlightening experience. A few months ago we visited friends at the Ritz Carlton in Cancun and though both hotels are in the same vein (let’s create a microcosm so guests never have to step foot in reality) and the contrast was huge. The Ritz in Cancun seemed to be a copy of a Ritz elsewhere: maybe Paris or the South of France? There was no indication it was in Mexico at all. The designers at the Intercontinental at least tried to bring the ambient culture inside the hotel, albeit in a sanitized, glamorized way.

When we arrived, we were directed towards a desk for check-in. With seats. I felt like I was at a bank. We were handed fruity beverages with striped paper straws (see pic). This was amusing, but what followed was even better: the woman checking us in typed for a few seconds on her computer, looked confused, called someone up and had an entire conversation where she became frantic. After she hung up she asked us “You booked a CLUB room?” I said “Yes, but I know we’re early, it’s fine…” She said “Oh, if you booked a club room you have a special dedicated check-in in the lounge!” She was apologetic and appeared afraid that we would be angry. A man appeared from nowhere to escort us to this lounge. We sat in this lounge (pictured above), and the man took our backpacks from us. This made N nervous, but I had to remind him that we weren’t staying at a shady motel: we’d see our bags again. Then we were introduced to our excessively large room.

Our bags were magically waiting there for us. There was a bathroom within a bathroom just for the toilet and bidet. In addition to the shower and tub. But we didn’t spend that much time in the room since the grounds were huge.
 

There were half a dozen pools or water feature areas. Stairs with water, water under bridges, waterfalls, you name it!

Best part? It was all empty.

Everyone was gathered in one area, so the pools were just for us.

The food though? Just okay. It’s for people who value the presentation and the pleasant surroundings more than the taste and quality of the food itself. Great for Insta, meh for actually eating.

By the by, hands down the worst mie goreng I ever had in Bali. Flavorless and limp. I know, shocking, right? Probably the simplest dish (it’s instant noodles without all the soup). I was sad.

One perk of a club room is access to the club lounge where they not only give their magical check-in experience, but gorge you on breakfast, cocktail hour, and afternoon tea (pictured below). It rained during our tea time, and we sat by a window to watch the world turn into an impressionist painting.

At cocktail hour, a live pianist plays classics like “The Sunny Side of the Street” and “The Way You Look Tonight” — one song blending flawlessly into the next.

The point of staying at a hotel like this is not what you get. Sure, there’s a welcome present and free food. Yes, the concierge who does all the footwork is nice. But the main reason to stay at a place like this is what it excludes: the majority of other people. You’re paying for the space to be all yours. You’re paying not to have to be too close to others, not to have to hear their conversations or their children. To feel like you are the only person in the world except those who exist to serve you. What a feeling. Let’s live there forever.

All my Amazon reviews, deleted

My reviews were all deleted yesterday. Here’s what that looks like on your profile:

When you try to review any product from your orders page you’ll see this:

The text reads:

Sorry, we are unable to accept your review of this product for either one or both of the following reasons: Your previous review of this product did not comply with our Customer Reviews Guidelines. Amazon does not permit reviews from customers whose relationship to the product or seller may be perceived as biased.

I had been reviewing items from Extreme Rebate. I thought this would be invisible to Amazon because the sellers on that platform do not give coupon codes or Amazon gift cards (reimbursements are done via Paypal), so there’s nothing on Amazon’s side that would link the buyer to the seller. I suspect my downfall was a combination of the following:

  1. Sparse review activity for years, then a deluge of long reviews, many with photos.
  2. New reviews mostly for obscure products with sellers from China.
  3. All reviews were positive, 4 or 5 stars.
  4. I did use Amazon gift cards sometimes (from other sources like portals).
  5. Once any new product has an unnaturally high rate of review (especially if it has predominately positive reviews), maybe Amazon deletes all those reviewer’s accounts.

After a cursory search I’ve concluded that once Amazon decides I’m done with reviewing, it’s hopeless to try to convince them otherwise. My small apartment was becoming rather full of things of questionable utility anyway. This hoarder always knew the gravy train would end, so now I’m passing the baton. With the warning that your reviews will probably be wiped one day for doing this. But maybe it’s worthwhile to you anyway. Good luck!

p.s. — note the category… “how to get your Amazon reviews deleted”? Hah!

How to escape Bali

Or, my time as a refugee from the volcanic eruptions of Mount Agung. If you’re visiting Bali and the local volcano gets agitated, spews ash, closes Denpasar (DPS) airport, then here’s what you should do:

Decide whether to stay put or run for Surabaya (SUB)

If you have more time (5-6 days) to wait for DPS to re-open, then you’ll have a better time just staying put. Past results are no indication of future performance, but the airport usually isn’t closed for more than 5 days. However, it doesn’t mean you can just relax. If you don’t want to be caught in the backlog of stranded travelers, do call your airline daily to ensure that you are issued a boarding pass for the next flight (in case of airport re-opening) every time your current flight gets canceled. The airline doesn’t necessarily do this automatically. If you decide to run for Surabaya, do so immediately after DPS is closed.

Hire a mini-bus to SUB

It’s more comfortable and usually cheaper to hire your own mini-bus to get to SUB, if you can find about 6 people to join you and split the cost. That will be 250,000-300,000 IDR per person, whereas the government subsidized mega buses are 300,000 IDR, slower and more cramped. The Indonesian government usually sends mega tour buses to DPS domestic terminal to evacuate stranded travelers to SUB. Don’t ask airport employees about it: they might not know anything. Check google, or just go to the domestic terminal and see if they’re available yet. For a mini-bus, talk to your hotel concierge or the manager of your villa to arrange transport. If you don’t do this right away, you’ll be stuck with the less comfortable big bus option because all the private vans will be booked.

Buy your plane ticket as soon as transport to SUB is booked

I made the mistake of fantasizing that I could talk to AirAsia upon arriving at SUB, and they would magically change everything for me and not charge change fees. Give up this fantasy. The line will take you 5 hours, and you’ll probably find that the best option is to take a refund and book your own tickets on a different airline anyway. So go ahead and do that when you’re sure you have a way to get to SUB. The drive takes 12 hours, but give yourself 16 just to be safe — then book your tickets out of SUB. I guarantee you things will sell out and only be more expensive the longer you wait. Request a refund for your original flights later. Get yourself out of Indonesia first.

In this situation, he who hesitates is lost. Though we fled for Surabaya, we waited one day in hopes that DPS would re-open and it didn’t. During that time, all flights out of Surabaya for the next 3 days were booked full. In the end, we were stuck in Surabaya for a few days rather than being stuck in Bali. Trust me, you will have more fun being stuck in Bali. Surabaya has a giant mosque and a giant mall. If you aren’t Muslim, you’re not allowed in the mosque. So that leaves…