Day 10,396

Every day on Facebook comes with a smattering of birthdays posts flying left and right, and the occasional revelation from one of my friends that they’re  “getting old”. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to have become more frequent over the years. For most, it seems that every year feels old when it starts, only to seem young when it’s past. Given this, years ago, I found it silly to be on the “feeling old” side of that equation (especially in your 20s!) and decided take a lifelong outlook to age, and have frequently wrote in terms of “Day or Year X of my life” as a subtle reminder that it’s a unique moment in time, with unique opportunities. Weird? Maybe, but to me, calling today Day 10,396 helps me treat it more significantly, than if it were just another Thursday.

Checking in today, as of November 8th, 2013, I’ve lived a good 28.46 years upon this great Earth. A simple life expectancy calculator estimates a reasonably long 92 years of life, telling me that as of today, I’ve lived 31% of my life in raw time.

life-timeline

For me, the time ahead seems simultaneously long and short. It’s nearly a century of time, long enough for you to speak of the currents events of today as history. Still, rather than being an abstract big number, a century almost seems managable. Looking at that, I can say that I feel about right for my age, and am excited for the years to come. The median age of the world population is 29.4 years old, and the median age in the US is 37.2 years old, so I can’t really complain there either.

As a whole, I’d say it’s been good so far, and that the remaining 63.54 years may just be enough to do everything that I need to do. If not, I may just need to buy myself some more time… ;)

Pivot!

Infinite-SugarAn infinite supply of sugary drinks – You’d think MS Dining Services would consider healthier options…

I’m learning that being able to seek peace and calm when needed is key to a high-productivity lifestyle. It has been too long since I’ve felt sufficient clarity of mind, and sense of purpose as in time in deep reflection and introspection. I shall certainly write more, as it forces serialization of an otherwise endless cloud of ideas. We’re such experiential creatures, us humans, and understanding how you fit in to a greater purpose is one’s own life obligation. I aspire this for myself, but also encourage it in others. There is a great deal of risk aversion built in our survival genes. But as explored by behavioral economists, we are also tend to over-emphasize immediate needs and develop habits that further encourage such thinking.

What am I doing?

I am taking a productive sabbatical over the next six seasons to identify, understand, and selectively develop essential traits, skills, abilities. This will encompass the period from Septmember 10th, 2013 to May 23rd, 2015 (621 days – or 14,880 hours). These dates should be easy to remember, but I need to be mindful that I need to make these hours and days count over the long term (window including this time, and subsequent 5 years).

There is much I hope to accomplish in this time. These are in no particular order and more will likely be added until the start of the above period:

1st GOAL: SELF (RE)DEFINITION
Who I am, why I am here, what my life’s service can be to better the human condition. These won’t necessarily all be grand visions of the future. Some of these projects may be more fun-oriented (A happy civilization is a productive civilization!). More importantly, what the next five years of my life following this period (2015-2020) is best fit to be devoted to in relation to the previous. This is an open-ended goal, with the focus oriented on gaining a more perfect understanding of self.

A renewed focus on personal health and fitness is also a priority. My love for sugary drinks so far hasn’t killed me, but I would say that it’s higher on the list of unhealthy habits that I should probably replace. Among others include a way-too-unhealthy love for fast food, which should be replaced by a still-underdeveloped love for cooking. Leaving Microsoft then (with its infinite supply of carbonated beverages and easy fast-food) will serve well. But I think I want to explore further.

2nd GOAL: GLOBAL FOCUS
Identifying and understand my role in helping the challenges that humanity must solve to progress and endure past it’s thus-far brief existence. This is a multi-part goal, and is meant to be more of a brainstorm to identify and prioritize resources to each goal. During this period, I will focus on emerging problem spaces to prepare and plan for Phase 2 and 3 of my life.

3rd GOAL: COMPLETE FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE
Develop an independent secondary income stream that can cover basic needs. For the purpose of this period, this will be defined as $2,000 USD per month, (cost averaged) over previous 6 months. Success in this goal will allow for continued productive sabbaticals in the future. Expenses should be minimized and focused on long term needs (looking over a period of 5 years). This will allow currently allocated capital to function over this time, and allow larger project spending as needed.

5th GOAL: Relationships
Developing purposeful, lasting, relationships in family, friendship, and community (yes, in that order). There may even be a purpose for a relationship with no purpose; as a control group, of course :).

Current Strategy: Explore, Develop, Direct (EDD)

That’s it for now. To life! Onwards!

Antithesis of Capitalism: Healthcare in America

A recent post I read in the Wall Street Journal exposed what I consider near-criminal margins that are enjoyed by our healthcare system. TL:DR–a man with very limited health insurance came in for a necessary procedure, and was quoted the treatment at $23,000, insisting on $20,000 up front. When the man nearly backed out of the procedure due to cost, the hospital re-classified him as a self-pay patient, and re-quoted the procedure at just over $3,000. In other words, the procedure cost $17,000 less by not using insurance.

It’s worth noting that the $23,000 figure, nearly 7-times greater than the cost the hospital was willing to charge, is determined not by the cost of the procedure and free-market principles, but by backroom negotiations between insurers and healthcare providers. Most people never see these numbers, conveniently shielded from such information by their insurance plan and seemingly well-intended doctors who (perhaps honestly) have no idea of the actual cost of their recommendations. Ultimately, had the man had insurance, and/or had the money to pay, $23,000 would be the cost he or his policy would pay out.

I always knew that there was an obvious gap between the prices set by insurer-hospitals and the actual cost of care, but I had no idea that it was that substantial. That kind of markup for such a simple (yet life critical) procedure is just wrong. I’m refrain from saying that it should be illegal, but given how much of the economy healthcare represents (though, now it’s just looking hyper-inflated), we need better regulatory oversight and policies against this type of anti-market environment, in any industry.

I thought him calling out that we’re not really using health “insurance” anymore, rather, we have “health plans” is particularly interesting. The current system of hospitals-insurance company confidentially and arbitrarily setting prices is obviously disruptive to engaging market forces here.

Clearly, we need some changes to this system. The current issues surrounding patient cost and insurer reimbursement raised two concerns:

Patients are kept in the dark about the actual cost of their healthcare care.
The medical profession seems to have developed the idea that if a patient knows the costs of procedures, that such knowledge will interfere with decision making, and have become reluctant to openly discuss costs with patients.

EFFECT: Disruption of market economics in the cost of healthcare, leading to a increasing inefficiency. This much is obvious. And rising costs disproportionately fucks over those with less means.

ISSUE #2. We need better oversight into the actual cost of care vs. the billed cost, including making it more clear to the patient.
In Singer’s case, it’s obvious why a number like this $20,000/$3,000 would be hidden–because it is absolutely obscene to charge that much of a margin on any product, let alone a “routine procedure” that also happens to be life critical. For every Jeffrey Singer in this article, I imagine there is a horde of less fortunate patients that were affected by this withholding of information. But what about these preferred provider contracts that prohibit sharing of this knowledge?

EFFECT: Increasingly frequent ridiculous margins to which are out of proportion with anything that an efficient market would consider a valid price given the demand and the base cost of goods. The ensuing pain is broad: The tax paying public at large, and the nation a a whole is paying for.

These are such systemic issues that a broad rethinking involving all stakeholders in the healthcare system is required. As a patient interacting with healthcare providers, I find the opaque nature of healthcare and the deliberate withholding of information to laypersons to be outdated.

We need policies that allow engagement of the market to incentivize improvements in healthcare (cost, efficiency, effectiveness).
At the provider–costs need to be made more clear at the onset. That includes any checkups, preventive care, cost of tests, and doctor visit cost. Across the industry (and within each relevant subsection region or subsection of the market), costs for procedures, particularly “routine” procedures need to be made public, and easily accessible to patients.

We also need policies that disincentives care providers giving and billing wasteful procedures.
I’m sure there’s a liability factor here, where the risk of getting sued (substantial) for a missed diagnosis leads to doctors to over-provide services; particularly if the patient is the one pushing to get the procedure. I think this can be partially solved by solving Change #1–the rest we’ll need political solutions for, including the legal framework for measuring and rewarding efficiency.

One last thought–I don’t know why the author feels the ACA is going in the wrong direction. The ACA at least provides for an oversight board to call out and publish reasonable rates for procedures. Also, his suggestion that insurance should just be insurance is short-sighted; people want health plans, and with health plans, we can develop broader strategies to improve health, including better incorporating preventative care. Totally worth it to just NOT CODE THE BUG instead of spending 10x more to fix the issues that come up later.

“Fuck you and crowdSPRING too.” – Who’s hatin’ on crowdsourcing now?

Here’s an old article, but since I’m sitting at a talk discussing the wisdom of crowds, it seems appropriate. Crowdsourcinging has become an increasingly dominant force on the internet ever since “social media” became a meme. Anyone can produce anything, and distribute/produce it for a fraction of the traditonal cost. This is a big win for consumers of content and the advertisers that support it, since distribution is basically free and the directory of content on the internte massive. People who believe in open-source, free access, and free content are nearly religious in their support of it. One simplely needs to observe the sheer number of manhours going into the Linux, or Mozilla project so see how much people care, and love to hate on things like DRM. Some are killed off publically by the old model of business (Napster comes to mind), but they’re quickly replaced by analagous services that make it even harder to derive value out of consumers of content.

Whether this is good or bad for the world at large is debatable, and there’s an increasingly vocal group of individuals, organizations, and companies opposing this disruptively open world, and their ranks seem to grow with each new web service designed to leverage the masses. The claim is made that today’s internet model is devaluing the work of traditional creative forces everywhere, music, movies… to which the average American consumer (and certainly, moreso elsewhere in the world) discounts as corporate greed. While the local-culture movement has helped sustain small-scale artists, ultimately if/when they get signed by a larger label, the ultimate value that can be derived from their work is declining.

However, now a couple new startups, crowdSPRING and 99Designs, are quickly bring this to another group of creative forces: artists and designers. These services allow a content consumer (for example, a business needing a logo), to connect with a huge number of designers. For each post, submissions can be received from several designers, for which, only the poster selected work receives compensation. Clearly, this is great for the consumers of content, but what about the producers? Judging my the backlash against these sites, designers don’t seem to like being reduced to doing “speculative work” without any guarantee for pay. Then again, maybe this is just market forces at work. Jeff Howe writes that, “The demand for low-end design has ballooned in recent years… so has the supply of what we might call “low-end designers” (amateurs, recent grads and the like).” He goes on to mention that there are some eighty thousand freelance designers in the U.S., a shockingly high number, but if there’s demand, why not create the market?

The two startups are certainly doing well–and for creating a marketplace where creative forces can meet consumers, why not? Apple did it with it’s App Store, and Microsoft with Xbox Live. Yet there’s a fundamentally different dynamic here; in that while the aforementionde two services help producers find a market of consumers, crowdSPRING exists more to level the playing field for designers. “Professional” designers now compete in the same space as freelancers, and that’s where the complaint’s come in.

In my mind, all this yelling is a sign that traditional economic models are changing; some win, some lose, but those doggedly holding onto the old will most certainly fall. If you, as a professional designer, can’t compete against new college grads, and hobbiests, too bad. There area couple instances where I feel the model fails, for example this story, where it’s said the Twitter “bird logo” designer only got paid $6 for his work, seems a little unjust. But this may be just a matter of too much supply–when you have 80,000 freelance designers, it’s not too hard to find someone that will work for just a little less.

Ultimately, it’s still a free market; if designers don’t want to work for $6 then they don’t have to. Tough luck for design firms; hopefully they’ll be able to find a way to differentiate their services. I do have one small consolation for the $6 designer; he might as just made the Twitter bird for $6, but I bet his next assignment will come a lot easier.

NYC

There’s something very magical about the largest cities of the world; whether it’s in Asia, Europe, or North America, every time I’m in one, I’m inspired by the energy of the citizens, enthusiasm of travelers, to a point where I’m completely content just to walk the streets and watch people go about their day. I’ve felt this in Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Paris, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and now finally, New York City.

Of course, out of all of these, New York is probably the only place in North America that can compare with the other “major” cities of the world in terms of sheer size and pace. The entire downtown of Seattle could probably fit in one East/West strip of midtown Manhattan, and it was incredible seeing endless rows of skyscrapers knowing that there are just as many rows behind them. From the Avenue of the Americas, to the Canyon of Heroes, to Broadway, New York doesn’t disappoint when it comes to showing you how big Manhattan life can be.

NYC also had the unique feeling of being the Mecca for all things that matter in the mainstream America. San Francisco has it’s tech niche, Seattle has music and art (and some tech), but get to New York and make it big; that is, success in America. Whether it’s in finance, performance, international politics, tech success, culinary mastery, fashion, entertainment, get recognized in New York and it’s the world giving it’s cheers. I’ve got to hand it to New York for being one of the world’s living, beating centers of human existence. I wonder if I would perceive it’s glory if I had grown up there, but for an outsider, taking my first real taste of the city, it’s truly something else, and a place that everyone must see.

That said, in the midst of all things grand, it was still the little, human things that got to me most; The hardworking street vendors closing up their shops; the crazy hobos spreading their the world-is-coming-to-an-end FUD; NYC subway crews smiling (or not) at people passing by, and so on. Instead of being a statistic in a city of nearly eight million souls (something that many from smaller towns seem to fear), each seemed to be raised up by the combined energy of the city.

The most awesome thing is, despite having spent nearly 5 days in New York, it feels like I’ve hardly even scratched the paint; there’s so much I haven’t done there that I know that I’ll have to be back. A month, or maybe even a year. I haven’t seen the nitty gritty yet that I know is out there, perhaps just off on another block, and I wonder if I’ll eventually be disillusioned by what I perceive now to be grandeur, but I’m pretty thick-skinned, and my passions die hard.

And once again, I come back to my life routine, having witnessed something awesome, and inspired by something grand–work is a little more meaningful here, and I’ve been reminded about why I love to travel.

Okay, so that’s enough of my summary, I’ll post more details next.

“(c) 2010″ is already on the web for massively scalable services? How?

As someone avidly interested in web services and their path from concept in a vision planning room, to the point where they leave their impact on the world, I find it fascinating that Facebook, Microsoft, and Google have changed their (c) 2009 to (c) 2010 on their front pages, but Yahoo, Twitter, Amazon, and even Yelp still read (c) 2009. I have my own reasons for finding that interesting, but that’s not important. What IS important is when the flip happened, and the deep understandings of each that the answer to ‘When?’ represents.

Sure, I don’t expect most people to care. This might seem like an utterly trivial, ‘who the hell cares?’ question to many, but when you think about it, at any given point, every piece of the a page’s visible design and text has to pass through one person’s yes/no decision, and one computer (likely unencrypted). Since there are so few software companies operating websites at distributed scales like this, there isn’t a lot of non-proprietary software that can manage these gargantuan services. This probably means the service management software isn’t very well updated with the latest data visualization software. Every change that might occur is either a bug, or something that was approved in a very deliberate fashion. Which is why when I see that several sites have already updated their copyright year to 2010, I realized that they must’ve had a team of people that discussed the importance of changing to 2010 immediately after the new year.

What kind of mindset is needed to get this resolved? I mean, at some point, close to the end of the year probably, some person had to stand up and say, “Hey, if we don’t do this when the year runs around, then we’re gonna look stupid.” And because of the yes/no process that ended in agreement with this guy, someone had to stay up and edit the year in, sync it across all required web-facing servers hosting the site, and then finally, produce it on demand, to the world. What I’m really curious about is speculations on the drama that could’ve surrounded this process.

I wonder… Did the engineer really stay up that late at work (on New Year’s Eve, no less) just for this? Or was there a decent chunk of dev/test resource time spent to make it happen with server-side code? Could he just pay Chinese gold farmers a couple bucks to press the button at the right time?

Let’s remove one simple but hugely complicated problem just to make the scope of the 2009->2010 challenge easier to understand than it actually is, and assume that there’s only one timezone to care about. (Actually, this might be more true than not, since most sites only have a centralized team managed page). Or maybe there was a legal team that warned the product groups that there was a potential for lawsuits if the year was misrepresented on a site with their logo. Nevermind the ridiculous legal precedent that must’ve been quoted to give the lawyers fear in the first place, or the BS they must’ve used to convince the PG it was important enough (heck, maybe the legal department was just playing a practical joke). Okay, fine, that last one is a little too unlikely.

I’m going to bet that this miraculous change was the decision of a single engineer, with a religiously singular internal desire to see this ridiculously low-pri task completed, and sitting on the cloud by 1/1 12:00. Probably a program manager, but with the collaboration of someone with world-server access. They probably worked with someone in operations that snuck it in at the last second before the RTW VS. [This could never happen at any of these, now-massive corporations… or could it? ;) ]

Of course, my now immersed-in-the-web mind wonders some more: How was this change done? I wonder if a clever engineer decided to hardcode a date change script into the next build. What did this code do?
Would it still do it’s thing when the year rolls to 2011… and not throw some unexpected exception and take down the livesite? Could it really have been a Find-Replace that just changes all instances of “2009” to “2010”? Nah, it wouldn’t be that stupid, or we’d be seeing at least a few random instances of 2009 (that is specific to 2009) turn to 2010.
Maybe he/she made the change and had a script upload the new version at the right moment? Would they be able to secure buy-in from the deployment team for that?

[to be continued…]

Thoughts on American citizenship

I just got an email from my company’s Global Migration team about U.S. Naturalization Workshops they’re hosting. I laughed for a bit and then smiled at the fact that this is relevant in the company and then that something like this would be offered for free. It would be a 30 minute session, 1:1 with a naturalization attorney to discuss the family situation, and the process (there’s a LOT of process).

Then I realized that this actually applies to me too. For those who don’t already know, even though I’ve lived a total of 18 years (out of my 24) in the United States, I’m still technically a citizen of the Republic of Korea. Sure, I’ve been a visa holder, and now bear a Permanent Residency, but in some ways there’s always been some sort of invisible barrier, or mark that subtlely reminded me that I was still an outsider. Growing up, this wasn’t something that really seemed to matter, other than being a mental note and a BIG inconvenience when applying for colleges, jobs, etc. When I first came back to the U.S. in 2000, I as a J-2 dependent, under my dad’s J-1. J-visas, I believe, are for foreign contract workers, without the intent to immigrate; in other words, not allowed to apply for permanent residency. At some point, I shifted to R-2 under my mom, and had it until moving to PR status. Yes, what an honor; I am now a resident alien of this country, and have my fingerprints in some database in the Department of Homeland Security. Yay.

Not surprisingly, I’ve always felt that my relationship to the U.S. government and the country itself was a bit conditional; despite growing up taught that my story is one of many millions, and virtually every person with an immigrant story in their family history (yes white people, you fall into this category too–*gasp*), yet something seems to happen to those people bearing the U.S. Citizen title, and enjoy privilages not available to the millions of other non-citizens living in this land.

Let me say in advance, that I don’t quite use the terms “American” and “U.S. citizen” interchangably. I know U.S. citizens that haven’t spent more than a few weeks of their adult lives in this country, and certainly don’t relate to the culture, as well as non-citizens that are working for the political campaigns, pay dues to the NRA, and have kids in American public schools. Who’s the more “American” one of those two?

Most people don’t really think about citizenship this way–they’re either born into one country or the other, and they don’t bother doing anything else. If they choose to stay in the United States, they’re generally happy about it enough, and their citizenship status to care. Even activist Americans that seem to treat the term as if holding a little bit of shame don’t deny that they’re Americans. For most people, it’s really simple–it’s something associated with the country you happen to live in; it’s something you’re born with, and no more changable than the culture you live and breathe. Having spent 2/3rds of my life in this country (and probably 90% of my formative years), and yet still not being a citizen, I’ve always thought of the concept very archaic, and with regards to the process of changing citizenship, it’s filled with rules that I never really bought into logically. As a teacher, what do you teach a kid that’s learning about Thanksgiving in school, if there are non-citizens in the room? Do you call them out to recognize that they’re different, or that this history doesn’t apply to them, or teach that there isn’t anything different, and that many cultures come together to make this country? My second grade teacher (Mrs. Halversen, Willard Elementary; Evanston, IL–if you ever see this, you’re awesome!) chose the latter, and it seemed to make sense; for natural-born and naturalized Americans, as well as foreigners and hybrids like me.

Well that’s great when you’re growing up, or in college, grad school, med school. You’re paying money (or your parents are in the form of taxes) to get an education, and people will generally assume that you’re a contributing member of society. Growing up, many of my friends were in a simlar boat, and that made it very easy to discuss the challenges, and work through the ambiguous. Besides, our pride for Naperville North, the Fighting Illini, and Chicago was far more feverent than this abstract concept of national pride. Much of that changes if you choose to work, and take those skills/knowledge that you gained while in school to make money in the great U, S of A, like I’ve chosen to do. Sure much of the multi-culturalism is there, but now that taxes, elections, and societal impact are concerned, it seems to matter so much more what color your passport is. I believe I’m contributing to the larger world, but I’ve definitely been privilaged to have grown up, and to work and live where I do.

Do I consider myself American? Haha, that’s a tough question. Historically, I’ve said no, and understood that my status made me somewhat different. Do I consider myself Asian-American? Absolutely. The feelings, privilages, and difficulties as well as my story fits very closely. Is citizenship tied to it? It probably should, more than it does, but I feel my experience would have been the same even if I had been born as a citizen. If my parents I had moved to Chicago a year earlier, I would have been a natural-born American, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. As for citizenthip, despite the fact that it should be the ultimate representation of your heart’s loyalty to a culture, usually, the reasons why someone is one or the other is completely arbitrary, and influenced far more by practical reasons than one’s loyalty to the words of Francis Scott Key.

And you know what… I think I’m okay with that. Kind of like software patents, it’s an archaic system that’s broken in so many ways, that it might as well be scrapped. But it provides some value, and in a noisy world where we need to label and generalize to live and make sense of things, it helps a great deal. It’s not a problem that many have to even think about, my parents certainly didn’t, and my kids probably won’t–but as a very small segment of the story, I feel a need to write about my experience. I’ll do that some day. In the mean time, I’ll check out this workshop =).

Thanks Global Migration team!

Thoughts on black-asian race relations coming from A Good Day to be Black and Sexy (2008)

A film by Dennis Dortch; A between-the-sheets peek at Black Love and Sexuality.
A film by Dennis Dortch; A between-the-sheets peek at Black Love and Sexuality.

I had a chance to watch A Good Day to be Black and Sexy (2008) earlier today; let me definitely say “Thank you Netflix!” If it wasn’t for you, I would never have the fortune to find completely random stuff like this that I would come to enjoy. I’ll admit, before I watched the film, I was expecting something along the likes of Soul Plane, a ‘unique’ (if not utterly ridiculous) film, exemplifying (and exploiting) the over-the-top hip-hop archetypes of material worship and what some would call misogyny. In stark contrast, Black and Sexy is a delicate film depicting six related vignettes to show an interesting cross section of indiviuals and relationships in different states of stress as they go about defining moments. I particularly enjoyed Tonight (Part II), and American Boyfriend, both of which I thought showed rarely depicted yet universally understood relationship interactions. The latter, which I’ll speak on here, deals with the only interracial couple throughout the film, with Jesse (Alphonso Johnson) being the illicit black boyfriend of Jasmine (Emily Liu), who is a second generation Chinese-American.

Contrary to many films dealing with an asian character in a supporting role, especially one in an “African-American romance” film, I felt that Jesse and Jasmine’s interactions, particularly the interracial quirks of a black-asian couple, surprisingly authentic. It’s beauty lies in the subtleties of the acting, and both performers play it well off each other (if not with each other). While the scene in the first half is ridden with mildly race-related undertones, it is done under the pretext of flirtatious banter and is certainly not an unnatural concept.

The interesting bit comes in the second half when her first-generation parents come home, and Jesse is hidden in Jasmine’s room. After failing to sneak Jesse out, she ends up going downstairs for dinner, leaving Jesse upstairs in her room to call a friend to discuss what he perceived as the ridiculousness of the situation. Meanwhile, Jasmine downstairs is confronted by her parents about her affair, and while she attempts to dodge most questions, finally concedes when asked “is he Chinese or American?” If it wasn’t understood already, Jasmine’s mother asks if he is a blue-eyed blond, making it clear that by “American”, Jasmine’s parents are clearly referring to “white”. Almost as if it was a cop-out, she says “American”, which is technically, if not semantically, true. While progressive minded second generation asians may cringe at the exploration of this theme, it is likely an experience that every asian raised in North America can relate to. “It” being the ever-present, either subtly or overly, racist undertones against those of African descent, ironic given the near universal recognition of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods among sports-watching native asians.

So how did this come to be? It’s hard to say, given that at the turn of the last century, there was just as much dislike of those of European ancestry. Perhaps it had to do with the various military incidents of Okinawa, the tales of the Rodney King riots in LA, the transported stereotypes from their native lands as multi-culturalism takes root, or, perhaps more interestingly, transmuted stereotypes from American culture finding interpretation among Asia. Regardless, racism of various forms directed at blacks are a reality among many first and zero generation asian immigrants. Now, I’d like to make a clear distinction between racism of first and second (and beyond) generations. The vast majority of second generation asians know full well the history of race relations in America, and are more prone to play racist among decidedly American stereotypes, though, I’d have to say, at a less overt level than that among white or black Americans (when is the last time you saw a group of asian people yelling racist slurs at a passerby? Probably a lot longer, though the reasons are debatable).

In any case, the struggle that Jesse and Jasmine are facing will be distinctly familiar to those of either decent, and I remember actually watching American Boyfriend in great suspense as I wondered how this conflict would flare up. As Jasmine is becoming more at ease with her “American boyfriend” story, Jesse becomes increasingly agitated as the minutes wear by. He finally snaps, he starts dribbling his basketball in an overt rejection of his covert status, and Jasmine becomes increasingly flustered attempting to divert the discussion somewhere else. Finally, he marches downstairs in an overt disruptive show, stomps around the dinner table and makes a point to kiss Jasmine right in front of her shocked mother, before storming out with a grin.

I really enjoyed this scene for what it depicted, a smack in the face at traditional-minded racist views of an oppressor. Yes, part of me wasn’t entirely happy with Jesse’s rejection of the subtleties of asian-black race relations, but I’ll admit, he was right to. Much to the direector’s credit, the depiction of the stress in Jasmine and her family felt authentic, and the righteous exit of Jesse was well justified. It did make me wonder though, about why race relations between blacks and asians are so tense and undefined in an allegedly “post-racial” society.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t other sources of tension and mutual struggles for legitimacy in a society that is still very white-centric, but I need to ask: what factors contribute to the particular asian-black interaction? In particular, what is different that characterizes asian-black interaction versus asian-white or black-white race relations in America?

Who needs names when you have memes?

I had the most awesome fun discussions with some CouchSurfers last Friday. It was my first time hanging out with members of this massive community, and it was a great one. I swear, I think I’m developing a little bit of hippie-ness inside of me after living in Seattle for nearly a year. Meeting new people is so much fun, especially open-minded, accepting, less judgemental people that love expressing themselves, but also love listening just as much–sometimes I wonder why more of the world can’t be like this.

We spoke on all sorts of topic that somehow all seemed to point towards some common sense of spirit, be it a discussion on:

– American/Korean cultural imperialism across Asia
– A debate on linguistics and the relevance of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (which Zina claims has been disproven–whoooohooo!!!!)
– North Korea’s attempts to eliminate gov’t resistance by removing words that “fuel” oppositionm, and whether or not this is counter-productive since it creations social memes of generalized concepts
– The importance of language at communicating a movement of resistance to authority
– Whether or not Twitter’s “trending” topics are analogous to cultural memes outside of the web-context…
– Racism in Korea, Asia, and the *importance* of American imperialism to promote peace (i know Joyce would’ve loved this part of the discussion), and et cetera to infinity…) This could go on for so long about the awesome discussions we had, but from there, I gleaned a few important thoughts.

First, that I have this deep internal need to be social on an intellectual level. Sure, I have friends that I discuss politics, life, values, etc with, but not in a *long* time (at least since the debates on religion that I had with Nick/Jason) have I had that sense of making an epic scholarly journey through perspectives and life, but that was five years ago. I needed this discussion to spark my curiosity for now, and the future.

Second, (should I be starting a new paragraph???) I have a very strong sense of “sharing” what I believe and love with my friends, family, and the world. I knew this when I felt the joy of recommending a movie that moved me, or a story that somehow touched a part of my life, or even inviting a friend into a discussion that I passionately care about. That joy of sharing is so vital to my sense of contribution to the world, that if I didn’t have all these outlets to post Status Updates, Youtube / Article Links, Twitter updates, blog posts, I think I would be painting posters and hanging them off my apartment expressing the same. I had such happiness sharing ideas, listening to these peoples’ stories, that I knew I had to do it again. And I will.

Finally, I learned that in most places in my life, we highly-emphasize the importance of building relationships, building trust, and remembering names. We have this, “prove me your worth first, then we can be friends/collegues, etc…” attitude that is pervasely self-oriented, conceals personal agendas, and focuses on building “goodwill” i.e. the currency of soft-power. It might be necessary in social settings, but the CouchSurfing community blows that away completely. The hippiness that I loved was the implicit trust in people, that we can talk about personal details, share stories, without the concern of judgments or retributions because we all seemed to recognized that we were merely individuals, and while our common bond might be our language, there could have been any number of divergent lifestyles and viewpoints at that table. And somehow, it didn’t matter. I guess you kind of have to have this attitude, since people in this community come and go as fast as people you see on a bus. You might meet someone you could be best friends with, but their lives take them where they go, and that’s ok. Did I mention that after hours of passionate discussion that i hardly knew each others’ names, who they were, or where they came from? In the corporate world, asking someone’s name might have been an insult (“after this deep talk, you still don’t know my name?!”), but here, it wasn’t even necessary. As someone who can’t remember names for the life of me, I liked that :).

Anyway, the only point I wanted to make by this point is to be open, be sincere, accept those around you, and love thy neighbor. I remember reading once in a blog post a comment that some Brit had made, and it stuck with me as something to live by: “Live free and die free, fuck the powers that be, but respect your fellow man.”

Now there’s something I can live and die by.

Related Links:
http://www.couchsurfing.org/