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December 2006


December 30, 2006   
  • Learn to sew. Learn to make nice hems for altering pants. Learn to alter shirts and dresses to fit better. Try to construct shirts and skirts.
  • Lose weight gained during the year through exercise and better eating habits. Get back to using FitDay to track intake, exercise, and weight.
  • Organize and rebalance our retirement funds. Continute to make use of Yodlee. Continue to read up on personal finance blogs. Find index funds to invest in.

I like having attainable and focused goals. 🙂

Week in review

December 30, 2006   

Disclaimer: Boring, journal-like entry follows.

Well, it’s been a busy week.

Last Friday, Uyen and I babysat for Gene & Heather, after stopping by Lindsi’s house for a dinner of crispy duck and rice. The baby was already asleep, so we just had to make sure he stayed asleep and didn’t panic when he woke up. He did stir a bit about 10 minutes before they got back, but he settled back down with a little back-patting (by Uyen) and hand-holding (by me). He reached out for his cat and held it while he fell back asleep. It was so adorable.

Last Saturday, we went to dinner with Becky & Alan at a place called Café Rouge, a nice little Mediterranean place that served me a most fantastic steak, which was perfectly pink & juicy in the inside and seared on the outside. Seppo got a cassoulet of duck confit & sausage, which was extremely tasty but waaaaaaaay too greasy for me. I can’t remember what we had for appetizers, but they were really good too. I have a vague memory of lentils that looked like tapenade, but my memory overall isn’t what it used to be. Definitely a place to go back to.

Sunday morning, Uyen graciously drove us to SFO where we stopped to eat at Perry’s. I wouldn’t ordinarily mention a meal eaten at an airport, but they had homemade thick-cut potato chips and an awesome lox & bagel plate. If you have to eat at SFO, it’s a decent choice.

My second cousin (is that what it is when the guy’s mother is my mom’s first cousin??) and his girlfriend picked us up from the airport. We got home at 9pm-ish and had the first of our many, many, many meals.

My mom cooked like a maniac. During our 4.5 day stay, we had dweji bulgogi (spicy pork), galbi jjim (braised short rib), yook gae jang (spicy brisket and vegetable stew), make-your-own maki, miyeok gook (seaweed soup w/ mussels), odeng bokum (sauteed fishcake), jap chae (glass noodles sauteeded with julienned vegetables), LA-style galbi (short rib), some sort of spicy snail & vegetable thingy that I don’t know the name of, moo gook (beef & turnip soup — “moo” is turnip, not cow :D), and a bajillion little accompanying side dishes, including various kimchees and seaweed-y things. That’s not even all of it; it’s all I can remember. This is in addition to sandwiches from a sandwich shop that my mom’s friend runs, a meal of food court stuff at a giant Korean market (giant dumplings, blood sausage, seafood and vegetables pancakes, mung bean pancake), and yangyum chicken (similar to general gao’s chicken).

I gained 4.5 pounds in 4.5 days. :O

Seppo and I spent most of the time playing with the two nieces (it’s so cute how they both alternate between calling him “Uncle Seppo” and “Seppo Samchoon” which is Korean for Uncle Seppo) and my little brother. That is, when we were not running around buying things (to fix a door that was sagging and not closing right) or returning things (Christmas presents that didn’t fit). We also gave their dog Reno quite a workout.

I wish we had had more time there (we returned on Thursday) so that I could have taken the bro somewhere he wanted to go, apart from the nieces, and vice versa. It was good seeing the family. The best part of it is that my mom and I didn’t argue even once! I love her and she loves me, but we always bicker, so this was a nice change.

My sis was supposed to return from Korea on Thursday, but it got pushed back to Saturday. She had made an emergency trip to Korea because her father-in-law had a completely unexpected accident (fell off a ladder while trying to get something) and sadly passed away. I didn’t get to see her, but I was glad she was able to be in Korea to help her mother-in-law and her husband deal with their grief, even while grieving herself.

Uyen picked us up and took us to a totally kick-ass Shanghai-style restaurant in Millbrae, where we had tasty little things called “soup dumplings” that are in fact little tiny dumplings filled with the standard blob of meat and the non-standard glug of soup! Mmmmmm, good. That’s also going to be a place to return to.

Friday, we went over to Becky & Alan’s place to hang with them, Joe, and Chris while enjoying a little Zachary’s pizza and a berry pie. It’s no wonder I put on a few.

Today was all about going to Joann’s and buying a bunch of sewing things like a ruler, a tracing wheel, tracing paper, scissors, pins, and some other things that I can’t remember, while Seppo hit up Trader Joe’s. I came home and hemmed a pair of my pants! I am wearing them right now. It’s awesome to have pants that don’t drag on the floor. I am so happy.

The Areas of My Expertise: The Audiobook

December 19, 2006   

No, I haven’t written a self-aggrandizing book, of which I am releasing an audio version. But John Hodgman has! Thanks to Angry Chad for the link.

Get your free John Hodgman book here! The audiobook is super-duper awesome in that there are all sorts of extras (in the way of songs, inside jokes, guest voices, etc.) especially designed for the audiobook format, so it’s not just him reading his text.

You can’t get better than free. I paid for mine a few weeks? months? ago, but it was well worth it. Enjoy.

Rosie O’Donnell is dead to me.

December 15, 2006   

I used to watch a lot of stand-up on tv when I was young. I have seen a lot of people come and go. Strangely, all the women stand-up comics I loved have come out at some point (Ellen, Paula, Rosie). Wait, that wasn’t my point.


Anyway, Rosie, whom I’ve loved for years and years through various tv shows and life events, really crossed the line for me.

She is dead to me. Dead. Her apology sucked.

It doesn’t have the history of the n-word, but if you want to instantaneously make me want to spit bile and make me sick to my stomach, you say ching-chong in front of me. No, don’t. If you are a friend and you care for our friendship, never, ever say that in front of me.

Rage rage.

What with Michael Richards, I’m gonna run out of comedians to like. But I can turn around. I loathed Margaret Cho and her comedy for years because I felt it came from a place of self-loathing and anti-Asian propaganda, but in the recent years, with personal growth, her comedy has also changed. And now I enjoy her comedy because she is funny and can make jokes about race without being racist. Which is definitely possible.

Seriously, I love comedy. I didn’t find her “joke” to be unfunny because I have no sense of humor. I didn’t find her “joke” to be unfunny because it mentioned Asians. I found it to be unfunny because it wasn’t. Furthermore, I found it to be grossly offensive because it was. Sure, that may be subjective but I have plenty of reason to find it offensive, not because I’m a left wing PC nut (which I don’t deny being).

If Rosie wakes up and grows in the future, I guess I can see taking her back of my “dead to me” list. We’ll see. But for now, dead.

Cool product!

December 15, 2006   

Seppo sent me a link to this product today:

The braille screen works with electromagnetic or piezoelectric principles. When the current or voltage goes through every array of six stitches, the resulting rise and decline gives birth to braille. The product scans the original printed matter, then translates the images into analog electrical signals with an optical-to-electrical transducer. Finally, it translates the analog electrical signal into a digital signal.

That’s so rad!

My MIT senior thesis was on a “refreshable Braille multi-line display for the blind” — sort of a computer screen for electronic content that displayed in Braille. It was also a piezoelectric based system.

The big challenge with Braille systems at the time was that it was both costly and challenging to create a consumer-priced electronic display that displayed more than one line at a time. Having more than one line is really important for the ability to scan text rapidly to find what you are looking for, which experienced Braille readers can do as easiler as seeing people can with written text. However, most refreshable display systems generally only show a line or two, because the parts are expensive. With a scanning mechanism like this, I am not sure if it can do what we hoped to do with full-page displays, but this is an awesome product nonetheless. I wonder how much it goes for.

There are a lot of cool gadgets for people who could use them, but a barrier is cost. When creating products like this, is particularly important to keep the prices down, down, down.

Me & Black America

December 14, 2006   

I am very pro-black. I say that the way I would say I’m pro-women, pro-Asian, pro-Latino, etc., which is to say, I am not pro-black over all other races/subgroups, but supportive of the socioeconomic and political advancement of black Americans so that we as a country can create parity among the different groups. Perhaps what I mean is more that I am black-positive.

But in particular, I point out the fact that I am pro-black because I think it’s less obvious than my pro-women, pro-Asianness. Because, well, duh. Hahah. And because I think there are specific roots for my black-positivity.

Unlike many of my peers and friends, I had a lot of black teachers when I was growing up. Several of my homeroom teachers were black. Everyone’s favorite teacher from my elementary school as the super nice, super pretty, super cool art teacher, who was black. My music teacher, who taught us all the difference between ‘melody’ and ‘harmony’ as well as a ton of civil right movement songs, was a kind of gruff, been-a-teacher-forever-don’t-let-me-see-you-goofing-off black womaan. You either loved her or hated her, but she was definitely a strong woman. I grew from being terrified of her to kind of hating her to sort of loving her on reflection.

As I’ve mentioned before, I also had a lot of black classmates and friends when I was small. So at my elementary school, with both the teacher and student populations as mixed as they were, Black History Month wasn’t just a short month where someone made an announcement once and that was it. Everyone always did book reports on black historical figures, so we all knew ridiculous amounts of things about people like Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver (who also came up for reports when we were studying inventors and scientists), Martin Luther King, Jr., and whole slews of other people. We learned who really invented the cotton gin, the tragic early history of blood transfusions, the difficulties of the segregated south and the brave students who first integrated.

It was just a very natural part of my upbringing. And because of my specific interest in Asian American studies and because of my bleeding pinko heart, I paid attention with perked up ears whenever other race issues came up.

It was pretty shitty that there was so much black-Asian tension in the major cities when I was growing up though. Well, there probably still is. It’s weird because my profession and my suburban life removes me so solidly from most of society enough that I don’t know what the current state of things is as far as black-Asian relations when I’m living in a major metro area. Sigh. This is why I miss taking public transportation. That’s where I feel like I’m really with the random people of my community/city.

Anyway, discrimination against blacks in the US is so pervasive and obvious to me, yet so many people act like it’s not happening that it is appalling. It’s so weird to me that people can spend any time thinking about the issues at hand and NOT conclude there are major problems that we as a nation need to address. Of course, I mean that in a larger sense of tolerance and acceptance of differences in general, but it just seems so… obvious.

Rant rant. Ramble ramble.

All Are Same

December 14, 2006   

A couple of years ago, there was a big hit movie (and a tv bomb based on it) called “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. I totally loved it. And most people I know did too. I totally related to it.

How many times have I heard a friend say, “My mom made me eat four helpings. She kept pushing us to eat more. You know how _____ moms are,” where the _____ could be Korean, Chinese, Italian, Jewish, Irish, Black, Mexican, so on and so forth. You could even substitute an American region (say, Southern) rather than an ethnic or cultural background. Each of the friends who say this seems to think overfeeding loved ones is something owned by the specific culture/ethinicity in question.

It’s not.

Almost every culture shows affection and caring through food. The basic survival of a species depends on the ability to find and provide food to keep themselves alive. If you are related to someone — maybe a grandparent or even a parent — who lived through the Great Depression, or someone who immigrated from a country with scarcer resources than the U.S., or maybe just really have a deep passion for cuisine and family meals, then you know what it means to be fed until you are overstuffed.

The older I get, the more people I meet, the more I see that so many cultures are so alike. The more I studied feminism, the more I saw links between feminist discourse and Asian-American discourse. And the knowledge I peripherally picked up about black and Latino studies utilized similar social paradigms and common terminology. Of course there are deep differences as well which should not be ignored, but the similarities help diverse groups of people to understand each other and to understand that progress in one area can help with progress in another. We lift each other up.

I grow frustrated when people increasingly see differences as they get older, as they run into more negative experiences. I see more commonalities, more bridges, more chances to relate and cooperate.

*sings “We Shall Overcome” to self at the top of lungs*


December 14, 2006   

This is an utterly contentless entry.

But there is no way this picture is not worth it.

Christmas comes early!

December 10, 2006   

Seppo got me a sewing machine! Exactly what I wanted! 😀 I am learning sewing techniques. Right now, it’s all about the straight sewing on little pieces of cloth. I want to be able to hem my pants, since they are always too long for me.

We are so bad about early presents. Hee.

Last night, we went to see the Count Basie Orchestra at the SF Symphony. Earlier in the day, we went over to Klay & Nana’s to play a little Scattegories and try out Sushi Sam’s for the first time, before rushing like crazy people because we were worried about being late. We weren’t. 😀

They were really great. The music was beautiful, and the people clearly loved playing with each other. Melba Joyce sang a couple of songs, one of which was “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”. It was haunting and heartbreaking the way she sang it. Just beautiful.

Oh yeah, the symphony tickets were a present from Seppo’s parents! Thank you!

Speaking of Christmas coming early, I saw a commercial on TV the other day for a televised audition to cast the leads of a new production of Grease! I love Grease! I am so all over that. Tee hee.

Financial peace*

December 5, 2006   

*I am totally jinxing myself. 😉

Most of my life, I’ve been a prisoner of personal finance. My family worked hard as a whole, we didn’t live lavishly or get into deep credit card debt, yet we were always on the verge of financial ruin, and tomorrow always looked bleak.

It was a point of individual stress, familial strife, and interpersonal resentment. Each and everyday. Saving up and paying down debts and just trying to keep our heads above water was a daily struggle. Would we make rent this month? Would we have to be late with the car insurance payment? Would we be getting enough/proper nutrition? Would kids pick on us for being poor? Will someone call at 7am on a Sunday and yell at us to collect our late payments? Barely, sometimes, maybe, yes, and sometimes.

Anyone who knows me knows that I get on these obsessive kicks. I might obsess over writing a novel, or trying to make my best friend a scarf, or watching a new reality tv show. Right now, I’m obsessing over personal finances. Yeah, no kidding? Heh.

When I was younger, I was obsessed with becoming wealthy. Clearly, I was this way because I felt that it would remove all of our family problems. It’s not true, but that’s what I thought at the time. It’s like my every waking thought was about how not to be poor.

I grew out of that, of course. I don’t need to be rich. I wouldn’t say I’d mind it, but I don’t need it. Not anymore.

Anyway, for the first time in my life, I feel — and I know this will sound strange — financially free. And I don’t mean that we are financially independent; not by a long shot.

I guess it’s that I no longer feel burdened by money problems. Finances no longer equal a source of strife and fear. Our cash flow is positive, our retirement accounts are doing well, we are valued at our jobs, and we are making great progress on our debts. We have a good savings buffer for unexpected emergencies and it’s easy to budget for treats like gifts or the occasional vacation. The best thing was being able to pay for our wedding and honeymoon with cash, coming into our marriage without new burdens.

I look at the future projections, and I am no longer filled with fear. I don’t stay up at nights wondering if I’ll have to work until I get too frail to work, or if I’ll most likely be able to pay my medical expenses when I’m old, or if we’ll ever be able to have kids, or if we’ll be able to fix up the house. Not anymore. Because the answers are clear. They are all doable, and without causing too much financial strain.

We live “below our means”, however you want to interpret that, since we pretty much do whatever we want and get whatever we want, on a reasonable basis. We can budget for a vacation and not feel guilty about going — we just need to find the time! 🙂 We can splurge occasionally and get an XBox 360, an HD tv, whatever.

Our clothes are not expensive, but that’s a choice, not a necessity. Our Civic is old, but again, that’s a choice, not a necessity. We could get a nice fancy car. Or keep driving this guy until it dies, which we will. It’s cheap to insure and gets good gas mileage.

It’s so different to make frugal choices because they really are genuine choices I am making, rather than the only possibility. When it’s the only possibility, it feels crushing, demoralizing, like a little trapping box. When it’s a choice, it feels so great!

Because we live like we make much less, it’s easy to save. And it’s easier to absorb the impact if one of us were to lose our jobs. We wouldn’t have to change much to make it work. Being in the Bay Area and being able to say that is immense. And it’s an immense relief.

The house is great. Sure, it has holes. But I don’t mind them. Seriously. Not at all. We’ll have money in the spring to fix things up. It’ll be great. When we eventually sell it, many years from now, we could probably move into a smaller house for less cash than we sell this house for, given the improvements that have been made upon it (and improvements to come). We wouldn’t necessarily have to upgrade to a bigger or more expensive house. We won’t have to get into greater debt with each move. Having lived in a big house for years now, I think we both realize that this is more house and more yard than we know what to do with, so we don’t have a hunger for more. I mean, except Seppo’s desire for a solid gold toilet. But that can easily fit into a smaller house. 🙂

I don’t know. I feel great about life. We have so many choices open for us now. We can start to make our decisions based on what we want to do rather than what we must to in order to keep our heads above water. We’ve been able to do that for a long time now, but it’s just recently that I’ve been able to see the big picture enough to see it.