A couple days ago, I realized that I had achieved what I've always wanted.
I was sitting on the Bart, heading into the city. My canvas tote, which has the phrase "Books Are a Burden" printed on it, was packed with a beanie, scarf, pack of cigs, and -ironically- a book.
As the Bart heads from Oakland into San Francisco, there's a period where the subway is high above the ground; it slowly passes by a landscape full of container cranes and warehouses which is beautiful no matter what time of day, then it picks up speed as it takes us under the bay.
I was playing a new song recommended to me by Israel. It seemed to match the mood perfectly as the cart started accelerating into the darkness. Everything around me was shaking, and all I could see out of the windows was the occasional light zipping by. I was enveloped with an overwhelming feeling of comfort, excitement, and satisfaction.
An intense whirling sound sits comfortably in the background of my headphones
"I feel as if I'm floating.
I am happy.
Everyday I wake up and I feel amazing.
I get to be myself, my complete and total self, and be surrounded with wonderful people."
Although the path was very shaky, and the future is still painfully unclear, I've made my small stake in the realm of being an adult, a functional member of society.
A scenic commute that combines walking by 2 distinct, bustling downtowns, cool restaurants and art galleries with a bit of public transport, a scene to be a part of, a solid group of friends, a couple of regular haunts. I have it all. This is really and truly all I ever wanted.
Look at me, my apartment is clean enough to invite people over spontaneously. I've even bought plants to take care of...! They're slowly dying, but at least I'm making an effort to water them. Sorry moss, that you're only a fraction of your formally bushy self.
For the past month every morning I've woken up full of energy, always in a good mood, always well rested, I only drink coffee about twice a week for the heck of it. There's some hours to spare before I have to go to work that I've never had before since all I wanted to do in the past was to sleep the day away, I haven't figured out to do with them yet. (I definitely should go to the gym, bike, or go for a walk)
Despite my overwhelmingly happy disposition... achieving my dreams and all... I feel quite fragile - in the sense that I'm yet again at a crossroads. "What's the next step?" seems to be a question that's always looming around my mind. I feel highly influenced by my surroundings, like a blade of grass, at the whim of any air current that happens to pass over.
Because of that I'm constantly trying to surround myself with people that I admire and look up to, in hopes that some of the stuff that they're composed of will somehow transfer to me by osmosis. I would describe my current friends as creative, driven, free spirited, and most importantly "aware." Aware of themselves, their capabilities, not only their own emotions, but the climate of the people around them. They're nice, sensitive, caring people.
At the same time I want to always be in their presence, I'm aware that they're busy people, and I have to make use of my time alone.
That's sort of a taste of how I'm feeling. as per usual, here's a garbled binge post:
Over Thanksgiving break I went to LA with Helen, her boyfriend Felix, and her friend Bhargav, which is position I never would have imagined myself being in because I really thought that Helen hated me(footnote needed?), and that we'd never be friends(I'm aware that she could be reading this).
(This is Helen)
Before we left, Felix and I went over to Avis to rent a car for the ride down. The lady over the counter said, "Sorry we can't have him(me) as a co-driver, he's 24. I was like "Oh look, how dumb of me, I didn't know you had to be 25 to rent a car." So we left without signing me up. For the record, I am 25. I rented a car earlier in the year. I was in age denial. I had a rental car employee tell me something that was clearly false about myself and I wanted to believe it anyways. (For the record, Felix was concerned that if we got pulled over without me being an insured co-driver, Helen and his application for US citizenship would be jeopardized)
Overall it was an amazing trip. The most memorable highlights from the trip were:
-Our stay at the Line Hotel in Koreatown, which had amazing everything, including a shop in the lobby named Poketo, which was the cutest store 5 ever.
-Pocky Girls. Felix was showing us "The Grove" which is a mall like The Domain with a weird local food section, when Helen stopped an shouted "GUYS LOOK OVER THERE!" Pocky girls, girls given the job of giving away boxes of pocky, were around the corner. We got 2-3 boxes each.
Felix then took us to a cafe owned by Wolfgang Puck, which had a banh mi he wanted us to try. It was a good sandwich, but it was not a banh mi. As we were explaining this to Felix and stacking our boxes of pocky on the table, we saw the pocky girls headed in our direction again. "Quick hide the pocky! They probably forgot us!" We stashed the pocky in my tote, and got another motherload. Reflecting on this... is pocky really even that good? Well yeah. It's sharable, universally likable, not heavy, not too sweet, has a cute name, and fills our brain with nostalgia.
-All the Korean/Asian things we did.
-Ramen at Tsujita Annex: In the end a good bowl of ramen is a bowl of ramen that makes you happy. That's it, no ifs or buts. But if I were to dissect what made Tsujita stand out to me as being quite good, it would be that their broth has a very intense pork and garlic flavor without being overly salty. Their noodles aren't "bouncy" but are still fun, thick, and al dente and seemed to pick up the broth nicely. I asked for the negi(spring onion) tonkotsu, which has a mountain of negi on top, which offers a contrasting crisp texture to go along with the noodles and helps cut the fattiness of the pork and soft egg yolk. The extra nori sheets helped as well to make the mix-and-matching of toppings fun. The broth was too hot for me, but I didn't mind it too much since all the other flavors and textures seemed to put my senses at an adequate level of "ramen immersion."
-Shopping on Abbot Kinney Blvd.
-Food at Republique and Superba
Props to Felix for showing us whiny Japanophiles around the city, and driving almost the whole way between SF and LA because I forgot I was 25. It was really a fun trip.
Could I ever live in LA? Yes, if I was forced to... it wouldn't be all that bad. It has a bustling food scene(leaps and bounds better than SF), tons of Asian stuff for me to do, lots of variety of areas and such, I'd probably buy a BRZ or Lexus something and put JDM import stickers on it. But LA feels off to me, the people are too pretty, I feel there's too much of a focus on consumption and consumerism, it's too large, and I hate driving.
The weekend after we got back, Capcom Pro Tour happened. Forgive me for the nerdy rant that's going to follow, but the fight game scene(FGC) has been a huge part of my life ever since the start of college.
The Capcom Pro Tour is the last major tournament for the game Street Fighter 4, which marks the end of the game's era before the next version is released in a few months. I've always been interested in fighting games growing up(The burger place near my house had a few of them), but never imagined that it was something that could be taken seriously. Alex, a friend of a classmate in one of my comp sci classes, introduced me to the competitive scene during my freshman year, and since then I've always been a part of it. It's great to have a group of guys you can spend several hours with, go out to drink, and eat together in the wee hours of the morning.
Street fighter is an amazingly complex and beautiful game. The deepness of it goes a lot further than just mastering the special moves(hadoken and dragon punches) of a character. It's one on one, you versus the opponent.
When you first start getting into the game, it's easy to think of it as rock, paper, scissors. Grab beats blocking, you can hit a crouching opponent with a high attack, a standing opponent with a low attack. Fast attacks beat slow attacks, but they do less damage. The more you get into it, movement becomes more important, each character shines from a certain distance. For example Dhalsim, a master of "yoga", stretches his limbs a large distance across the screen to attack, and likes to keep his opponents at a distance from him. Given 2 proficient players, the game becomes a beautiful dance of split second decision making, battling for optimal position, and a constant shift of momentum from a player being the aggressor, to a player being on the defense, waiting for their opponent to have an opening and then go in and do a damaging combo.(footage of me playing)
One could look at all this and dismiss it as just a game, a hobby, a time sink, but I've learned a great deal from Street Fighter. How to infer a lot about a person from a limited subset of interaction, how to be confident and believe in myself and my decisions, how to deal with and learn from humiliating losses, how to gauge a situation and chose a reaction. You can tell a lot about a person's demeanor from playing a fighting game with them, which is probably why we're so close as a community.
While most of the fundamentals are consistent through every version of Street Fighter including the next one, I do feel like this is an end of a significant chapter of my life. Looking back at it all, the countless hours spent playing online and at the arcade, the tournaments I've traveled to, and life long friends I've met, I believe the time I've invested in the game has been well worth it.
I just took a 2 week trip to Austin.
You know me. I did my thang. Meeting up everyone under the sun.
Madeline & Michelle were in town, we went to a crystal store where I found a piece of flourite that really called out to me.
I went to Tatsu-ya 4 times.
My new Cafe obsession in Austin is Figure 8 Coffee Purveyors. That Iced shaken pourover coffee that Katty is holding is the best coffee I've ever had.
I celebrated new years at MOHA. I danced with a group of cuties for 4 hours.
I met up with Levi for little bit, he returned my Leica 50mm Summicron that I let him borrow for half a year. We had a conversation about photography and upcoming creative projects. If you're in Houston and you see a dope photo exhibit at Inversion, I'm taking 10% credit for it.
I had dinner with Sharon. Our eating-neighbors turned out to be from Oakland, and actually knew people that worked in my office! How serendipidous. #niceglasses
I spent a lot of time with Ryan, who owns Arcade UFO, and Sebastian. We geeked out over Undertale, a $10 steam game which is definitely worth playing (Mac and PC!), watching our friends play in Coop Cup, a street fighter tournament in Japan, and playing the SF5 beta. I probably had the best food of the whole trip with these guys:
- Cafe Java - a wonderfully local breakfast spot that anyone would love.
- Launderette - I would say that Laundrette is my favorite restaurant in Austin, and I just went in for lunch. Just such a great combination of local hospitality and sensible cooking.
- Abo Youssef - A new mediterranean trailer on Manor which gives Halal Bros a run for their money. It's basically a healthier Halal bros with Hummus and Tabouleh instead of white sauce. Huge portions.
- Inka Chicken - A rotisserie chicken place, a bit better than El Pollo Rico. Very resonable prices, doesn't seem to get packed, and a bomb of flavor.
While I had a great trip, I wrote this towards the end:
"You know it does feel nice, to walk into places and be remembered, to meet old friends, and have a great time again. My mindset before this trip was 'Maybe I'll stick it out in California for the remainder of my lease, and then return to Austin.' but now I really feel like I don't have any place here. I haven't taken any great photos this trip other than some portraits. Austin is less of a city that I can immerse myself in, and more of a city that has a handful of safe-havens that I feel comfortable in - I could really care less about the rest of it. I have this sinking feeling in my heart, that I know, 100%, that I cannot thrive here creatively."
I don't think I'll be moving back to Austin in a long time.
While we're on the subject of creativity, it seems that besides programming bootcamps, being a "creative" seems to be on the to-do list of a lot of people that I've been talking to. Often times we think we can just sit there and think about something until we have a complete game plan to make something perfect or something of a very high caliber, while I think the best first approach is to just go at whatever random idea you have blindly, with your heart, and see what results out of that. Move on to the next idea, then the next, and eventually you'll continue to grow and have a body of work you can keep refining and refining until you have a good portfolio. It's normal to hate your work right after you send it off into the world, you know all of the flaws, people might not respond to it the way you had imagined, but you get better everytime, you have something to point and and be like, "I made that, bitch."
In editing this post, I kept reading from the beginning over and over.
Yeah, for sure this is the most consistently happy I've been, but I feel as if I'm coming down from a fleeting high.
I first met you in an unfamiliar place, a sea of strangers, second degree connections. For some reason you caught my eye, you seemed approachable, but I still tried to play it cool and didn't say anything. Nothing resulted of it.
That's what happens when I play it cool, I just blend into the background, and the feelings eventually subdue from the passing of time.
For some reason or another we ended up meeting again, and I took a chance and asked you out for dinner. A big deal for me... I was probably the most self conscious and depressed at that point in my life. It turned out to be better than I imagined, I intended just to grab a quick meal, but we continued to go to bars late into the night. You're easy to talk to, to listen to.
After the flight home, still in my depressed state, our night gave me a bit of hope, hope for myself, hope for my place in the world. I carried that with me for quite a bit. Weeks, months of limited interaction followed. Half a year later we met again.
It's a great feeling, to have the other half of the shelves around the bathtub have products on them, for there to be 2 toothbrushes around the sink.
I don't think I've met anyone that used the same toothpaste as me.
During our limited time together my feelings for you took many huge shifts. Quickly into it, several points of conflict started to pop up. The obvious self doubt that you have for yourself, how much you idolize certain people who are no more pretty or talented as you. It all got to be too much. It seems that I was guilty of casting you into a different image of yourself in my brain, that was eventually shattered. One could consider that a bad thing, but something emerged from that.
I loved the "HELLO!" you yelled back at that guy trying to mess with us(he was singing Adele). I liked that you enjoyed playing street fighter even though you didn't know what a life-bar was after all of it. You actually have quite a talent for games, a scary amount of potential actually. Every time you ran ahead with excitement because our destination just became into eye-view.
I really enjoyed our unpasteurized sake-infused night at Kusakabe. "They're going to have such a great Yelp review." the 2 next to us said mockingly as we were taking photos of everything(I have REALLY good peripheral hearing). It's fun to be excited for food, new experiences. We had so much of a better time than them. It's often the times we don't expect that are the most enjoyable. Like the time when it was raining and we thought we were tired and over everything, and ended up slipping into an amazing place next to the bookstore for dinner. Brussels sprouts with capers and sage, port for dessert. Coming back rain-soaked due to having an umbrella that was too small, cozying up to High Fidelity as the rain continued to pour outside. Will never forget that.
It's funny, a lot of time we look at something visually and can infer differences in things by their juxtaposition. The shelves in the bathroom, the sink, the corner where you kept your giant suitcase - that are now seemingly empty, with no visual trace of anything, still carry a visual weight whenever I stare at them. It's been raining every day since I got back. Even the sound of the rain...
You're in a position to do anything you want. Pick a direction and go. There's time to slip up, to mess up. You never know.
I hope we can watch movies and anime again. Perhaps when the next episodes of Bee and Puppycat finally come out.
----------------------This is a comment. It will never affect anything.*/
Best meals as of recent? Lazy Bear, Kusakabe, Laundrette, Superba.
Lazy Bear is a dinner club located in the middle of the Mission district in San Francisco. I think I've passed by it several times and not noticed anything in particular. Tickets are released a month in a half before every dinner they host. When you enter, you go up to an upstairs loft looking over the dining area and kitchen. You're given an initial punch, and asked if you want more pre-drinks. A couple pre-meal small bites came out. An egg and bacon foam, oysters, caviar, foie, champagne. Comfortable flavors presented with different textures, key ingredients that promote a sense of lushness, exuberance, class. My cocktail had mini-watermelons in it. It really sets the tone for the meal to follow.
You're lead to 2 long, communal tables. You sit next to strangers, but everything about your surroundings makes you feel like a high member of society... which brings a sort of comfort to the back of the mind. Everything is seasonal, well throughout and executed. Portions are a bit more than fair, you can have 3-4 composed bites per dish for yourself. You're even given a notebook to write tasting notes for each dish. At this point in the night I was 2 shots, 1 champaign, 4 cocktails deep(I "pregamed" before at Oddjob), with more wine from our wine pairing still to come. Looking back at my notes I don't think I can infer that much, among some scribbles I wrote "Great playlist" in it. Still at this point, where fine dining seems to be something that's more of a hassle, overdone, and often times not worth it, I think having a great meal with great company with drinks is one of my deepest indulgences. Lazy Bear is a great catalyst for that. If you go, you must get the iced coffee, done the way they serve it.
I saw my photography professor Eli Reed at his talk at the SF Leica Store.
Right after I saw Mother Falcon.
Oakland has such a diverse and beautiful food scene. I wake up on the weekends excited to either go back to my favorites or try new places.
I'm visually interested by my surroundings. Every day is a chance to discover something new and wonderful.
To hold myself accountable, here are my goals for the next year:
Learn the basics of graphic design so I can sell funny/thoughtful shirts and bumperstickers, Have enough passive income to pay for all the extraneous web expenses that I have(domains, hosting, aws, heroku, etc.) which is all about $400 for the year, make an ios app involving photography and or blogging, go to Japan, participate in or host an art show.
Welp, time to get started on all that right? Hah.