Airports and familiar faces

When you’re flying back home for the holiday season, chances are you’ll bump into someone you know while waiting at the gate. Yesterday, it was an old high school friend I haven’t seen in over four years. He was two years above me (a huge difference back then) and would give me all sorts of juicy gossip about the school that only an upperclassman could give. I’m not sure what I offered in return — maybe a chance for him to play the mentor or sensei or something — much like how teachers and coaches find meaning in their careers.


“I’ve lost contact with almost everyone [back in high school],” I told him.

“Me, too! Except for a few.”


For a brief moment I romanticized the idea of hanging around the airport more often. Grocery store lines, bus stations, convention centers, and so on.

Then I realized I’d rather carry on with life.


I was reaching in the back of the cupboard for another wine glass when I saw one I hadn’t seen before — small and tiny, with a cartoon that says “Downtown Los Altos: Art & Wine Festival 1993”. That’s one year before I was born.

Mom and Dad had gone to a lot of those kinds of festivals before they had my brother and I. Just another reminder that they are people, too, with their own lives, dreams, and fears before they became “Mom” and “Dad”.


I went back home to San José to my mom and dad and brother like I usually do for Thanksgiving. And as an unspoken tradition, we woke up early for some dim sum, this time going to the King Wah restaurant in Milpitas. Chinese restaurants are still open on Thanksgiving, and you’ll see a lot of families lining up hoping to get brunch.

Then some family friends came over and we had a cozy time. Dad’s lobster, Mom’s broccoli — we even had a whole turkey that I am still digesting now. I forget when was the last time we had that.

Last year was the only Thanksgiving I ever spent away from family, so it’s nice to be with them again this year. How comforting to know that there will always be a place to return to, so long as my parents are still around.

Mom and Dad say we lead charmed lives. I think so, too. Many good things happen to us, many times out of sheer luck. That doesn’t always happen in the world, and I’m glad I’ve been taught to appreciate it when it does.

a litmus test: “would anyone say the opposite?”

You’re at a job interview — no, you’re at a coffee date —  and you’re asking the other person to tell a little bit about themselves. What motivates them? What drives them? What are the things that keep them up at night, or dreaming during the day? They’ve got an answer, and you’re listening.

“I want to make the world a better place!”

Urrrghh — you cringe a bit.  They probably mean well, but their cheery do-gooder intentions have been lost upon you.

Why is that?

Because that statement doesn’t actually mean anything. You’ll never hear anyone say: “I want to make the world worse.” You won’t hear Miss America saying she wants more wars, more hunger, and more suffering for humanity.


In a casual conversation you can follow-up with questions like how will you make the world a better place? — anything to invite the speaker to share or clarify what they think.

But you don’t have that opportunity to cover your tracks if you’re doing a presentation, holding a speech, or writing a letter.

A similar situation happens in the realm of dating. Many single men will say that they’re a “nice guy.” Okay, cool. That’s the bare minimum. What else can you offer? Nobody is going to say they’re an asshole straight off the bat. (And if they do, you can believe them).


In whatever you choose to say or write, ask yourself: “would anyone say the opposite?”. It’s an effective way to cut down on the fluff that comes out of your head.

Words are powerful. Make them count.


Idea from a portfolio review night with Don Norman.

“you don’t have to be mean to be respected”

Some sentences are more bitter than others, and a sentence like “nice guys finish last” is one of them. How tempting it is to believe that when people don’t treat you the way you wish to be treated. Holding a belief like that may protect you against a few jerks, but at the cost of fulfilling, meaningful relationships you could otherwise build.

This Veteran’s Day I was chatting with an old friend. She was telling me about how she saw one professor treating her grad and PhD students like crap in the lab, and how that was frustrating to witness, because those students were good students, and they didn’t deserve such treatment. “You don’t have to be mean to be respected,” she said.

Maybe the professor thinks this is the best way to prove that she deserves authority. That’s fine if you’re in charge of a research lab and would like things done in a particular way, and to do so with (and out of) fear and manipulation is certainly a quick way to go about it. But fear is not the same as respect, and the moment a better opportunity presents itself for the people you work with, that control you so deeply held will slip away as they all get the hell away from you.

My friend was talking about the professor, but the comment stuck with me. I was just starting to get frustrated with what I perceived as people taking advantage of me — something that bothers me more and more as I get older. They don’t respect me, I thought. I need to teach them a lesson.

I stopped myself then and there, but it’s easy to see how a perception like that can quickly spiral out of control.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of entitlement and feel that everybody is obligated to treat me with respect and kindness — the world doesn’t owe me anything — but at the same time, I don’t want to be a doormat. How do I walk that balance?

The conversation moved on from there, but it’s still in the back of my mind.


“Did you call her out on this? [the professor?]”
“Wesley, I need a recommendation letter from her!”

What a complicated world. I would have done the same.

lekker slecht

A misunderstanding had occurred, and (luckily) I was in the right. The other guy felt bad about it and apologized profusely. No, no, it’s alright. It happens, I tell him. I wanted to mean it when I said that, but in all honesty I still felt quite bitter. He tries to apologize more but I cut him off, wish him a good time, and then walk away.

And then came this smug feeling inside of me.

That is lekker slecht, loosely described.

It’s that smugness & satisfaction you feel when somebody has been a wiener to you, and they not only realize and acknowledge it, but also feel bad about it. And so, in an odd way, you feel good about the whole thing.

Or at least slightly better.

corn on the cob, and self-consciousness

“Sunday Supper” happens once a quarter in the international house at UCSD. It’s an evening of good food and good music, where students who don’t normally dress fancy have to (and probably want to) dress up fancy. I even swapped my usual shirt and shorts for a tie and slacks.

People look fantastic this night. And since they look fantastic, they feel fantastic — so of course they’d like to look fantastic a bit longer. I certainly did. It’s been several hours since the event ended, and I’m still in a button-up and tie, writing this.


Enter the corn on the cob.

Here I was, sitting at a table with seven other people, and more than half of them are using a fork and knife to eat their corn on the cob. Guys and girls, both.

I always thought corn on the cob was one of those foods that you eat with your bare hands, like you do pizza slices by your palm and french fries with your fingers (unless it’s drenched in sauce, where something like a fork would be acceptable).

True, everybody was all dressed up in button-down shirts, ties, and in their Sunday best, and nobody wanted to mess that up too early. But we’re still students! I thought we were supposed to rebel and stuff. I wanted to see the British girl next to me go H.A.M. on the corn on the cob, so when we talked a few minutes later we couldn’t help but accidentally spit corn bits on each other’s faces.

This isn’t a fetish. It’s more like an appreciation of how spraying our words instead of saying it is another way of showing that we’re all human, and that we can’t always be refined and proper.

Maybe another time.