Homeless in Japan

We arrived in the Haneda airport at around 11 pm and did one of the most spontaneous things we’ve ever thought of. Since all the trains were offline until 5am, we decided to walk to Shinjuku. It was around a 15 mile walk, and we didn’t have any mobile data to navigate. All we had were the metro routes and a compass. We walked from about 12 – 5 AM, and one thing I noticed was how early people woke up in both suburban and urban areas. At as early as 3 AM, people were awake and walking around. We even met a local Japanese man (Keisuke) who told us about his visits to New York and Jamaica. He just heard us speaking English in front of a Family Market and started talking to us! The people here (in the suburban areas) were really friendly to us, and it felt like everybody in the suburbs were in a tight-knit community. Most people used bikes, and most were usually left out in the open.

Back tracking to planning our stay in Japan. I could’ve booked a hotel in Japan and stayed the night, but I wanted to see what we could do just exploring Japan ourselves without any tour guides, without any data. So we were homeless, but honestly it was an experience I won’t forget, even Keisuke thought we were crazy since we would hike all the way to Shinjuku. We had a fun experience singing songs from high school and middle school to divert attention away from the soreness from walking so much. When we arrived in Osaka (the first urban area we hit from Haneda), it was around 5 AM and people were already grouping into metro stations.

Here area the things in Japan that stood out to me:

  • Japan is a really “early” rising country.
  • Bicycles and trains are the main methods of transportation, very few cars. And at as early as 11 AM, the train station was gridlocked with people.
  • While walking around in Shinjuku-Tokyo, there is at least one map in every street, maybe it’s heavily visited by tourists.
  • There are vending machines that sell coffee, soda, cigarettes etc. everywhere. I saw at least 40 of them while walking around in Japan
  • Japan has a really solo type of lifestyle. The restaurant shops usually seat around 6 – 10 people, and almost everybody eats by themselves. In the metro, almost everybody keeps to themselves while traveling. It also seemed that the Japanese people we saw were pretty awkward when it came to talking to others.
  • Relating to all the early risers, almost every shop opens at 10:00 AM.
  • The portions are much smaller than they are in the USA. Everything I bought seemed kind of as a n American, we would be getting way more food for that price. The Starbucks Venti size in Japan is a little smaller than the Grande in America.
  • The Starbucks here are more expensive


I don’t feel my previous post about why I chose Swat gives the full story behind my decision, it was more about what I didn’t feel comfortable with rather than the specifics I liked about Swarthmore. So in this post I’m going to be talking more or so about the idea of resonance, especially that among a group of students.

So to talk about this topic, I think it’s most fitting to start by talking about role models — the people I meet in real life and online that I look up to. The type of people I look up to most are the people that are constantly thinking about how to improve their lives, and that in turn makes me think about my life. When I first visited Quora to read about colleges, I honestly spent hours on it not even reading about specifically colleges, but also things about like growing old, finding love, etc. Things that ground us as humans. Reading people write about these things was sort of addictive, it was so captivating in the way that it would always bring me on the ‘feel‘ trips. I loved to get lost in my thoughts thinking about my life, asking questions to myself. It’s kind of like when you’re listening to a song and although you’re kinda tuning out the lyrics, you are staring off into space lost in thoughts about whatever the song is about.

So from just talking with students at Swarthmore, both in person and online, I was captivated by the fact that people were thinking about their lives in such ways. Questioning why they’re majoring in Computer Science, questioning why they are even trying hard in college. And I feel that at all the other colleges I was admitted into were so focused on the pre-professional world that this whole humanistic side of our lives is lost in that job-crazed vortex. I kind of realized this when somebody asked me why I would go to college if I could already make enough money to sustain myself and be happy. Huh, I was thinking about that question. My parents, (and I think I can safely say most asian families) see college as the just the transition to getting a high paying job. Pushing so hard in high school was important so that we could into top colleges, and then college will be a breeze, then we’ll be making bank. I think this is apparent by the fact that my parents (and maybe many other parents) don’t really care or worry about the actual events in college, they just care about trying hard in high school to get in. So going back to a Swattie questioning why she should continue pursuing computer science – that struck me pretty hard because I don’t think many people would even question something like that. Especially for me growing up in San Francisco / Silicon Valley where it is clear as day that comp sci is one of the most lucrative professions, seeing somebody question showed that Swatties do care more about just making money. And I talked about this in my previous post, how I would be interested in majoring in pretty much anything.

I’ve also noticed that students at Swat are actively trying to become the best versions of themselves, not just in their majors (programming, math, physics), but also in their humanistic side by challenging their values, developing meaningful relationships, etc. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I look up to the people who embrace and want to improve their human side. And for myself, all of these things that I’ve talked about have been filtered through my lens, so developing that human side is something that means a lot to me. I will be going to a school where I would be surrounded by people with this sort of intrinsic desire, and it doesn’t even matter that we are studying different majors, since we would all be held together by that inherent glue.

So talking about all this stuff might make it seem like I have a whole set plan for myself in college. But it’s in fact the opposite. I have no clue what is going to happen to me going here, and I think what best sums it up is a metaphor regarding this legendary piston Tesla talked about. tl;dr it is about a tiny piston that, when moved up and down at the perfect frequencies in an oscillator, could even cause an earthquake. So at Swarthmore, how (maybe at least I think that) since I share that inherent glue, that matching frequency with everybody else,  even if I have no idea what’s going to happen to me, I know that oscillating at that frequency, that vibe I care most about most, will empower me to shake the world. And perhaps what I love most about this is that even if I end up in a place completely different from what I’m imagining now, I will be happy.

Cultural Relevance

I remember when I was in elementary/middle school, I wanted to identify as a Chinese-American. In fact, the term ABC (American born Chinese) sounded so cool that I wanted to be one as well. But both my parents are from Burma, and when I tell other people that I’m Burmese, I usually get remarks like “so you’re basically Chinese.” The weird thing was that I was actually fine with that, it was so much easier to identify as a Chinese person. Posting pictures of myself celebrating Chinese new year, talking about Chinese legends, they were my ticket to belonging in a culture.

I never had the opportunity to fully embrace my Burmese culture until I attended the South East Asian (SEA) admit weekend at UCLA. This program was exclusively for South East Asian admitted students, and my initial thought was why is this exclusive to only South East Asians? Isn’t that a bit racist? During my flight to LAX, I was thinking oh this is just gonna be one of those programs with a bunch of Asians. Albeit this was true (lol), the experience I had there is something that I’ll definitely cherish for the rest of my life. I guess I’ve never felt so warm and valued in such a group, like a family. It was kind of like those summer programs I had attended, John’s Hopkins CTY, Red Cross’s LDC, where you with completely random people. But what was different, was that we were all connected by our South East Asian culture. I never knew about the experiences of Vietnamese, Laos, Hmong, Cambodian students.

Something that really touched me was a story a Vietnamese student shared about his dad. Many people look down on those who perform the “low-level” jobs, and he was surrounded by that type of environment growing up. But his dad was that person you see cutting boxes at the supermarket. His father was always seen as one of those, those people who picked up our trash, who cleaned our buildings. I could see, how it was hard to be proud of a person who was marginalized, seen as inferior. But even more so than feeling proud, how he would feel just thinking or talking about his dad. When my dad came to America, he had to bus boy at restaurants to get by, and I remember when I was younger, I would feel even ashamed to bring that up. But the program wasn’t about being a sob story, I feel it was about the experience of sharing —talking about something that as minorities, not many people give a second glance to. Hearing South East Asians share stories about separated families, hiding their sexual orientations, and growing up in refugee camps gave me a fuller perspective of the South East Asian identity. Relevancy, I thought that it wasn’t so special. It’s a term that refers to a group of people, and after all, aren’t we taught to embrace (or even impose) our individuality? Of course, people will agree that relevancy is important, feeling relevant will boost your self-esteem, etc. But I think cultural relevancy is more than that, it means finding comfort in between familial generations.

I think that Eddie Huang describes this kind of cultural relevancy pretty well in his TV show Fresh Off the Boat (episode 13 can click that link to watch). Jessica expresses a conflict how people will never view her as “simply American,” yet she also cannot be “fully Chinese” since she has lost contact with some of her old traditions. As a child, Eddie Huang tried to identify with the African-American culture, kind of like MC Jin and other Asians who looked up to cultures other than their own: American, African-American, Spanish, etc. So yes, while I feel that a part of cultural relevancy is about preserving our culture, self-discovery of cultural relevancy is finding sort of a compromise between past generations and the present.

That’s how culture truly evolves with time.

Casting away the chains of comfort

Why did I choose Swarthmore?

A question difficult for me to answer, and also the question that’s been on my mind ever since committing to Swarthmore. I’m going to take this time to put my thoughts of decision into words.

I come from a traditional asian family, with parents who don’t seen the point of going to a liberal arts school, especially compared to other top schools that I could’ve chosen. Given that I wanted to major in computer science, we all thought that it was going to be a no-brainer to choose a school with the more reputable computer science program.

When I visited Swarthmore, I wasn’t immediately captivated by the campus. I didn’t have that “love at first sight” feeling. To be completely honest, I felt pretty uncomfortable being there. I felt outclassed by everybody there choosing between Swarthmore and other ivy leagues. I was intimidated by the tremendous academic stress at Swat. I felt confined in the small campus. I had always seen myself going to a big university. I had heard many perspectives of the computer science program from other Swatties, and one thing that was apparent was that Swarthmore wasn’t really the place to go if you wanted to be surrounded by tech recruiters offering students internships left and right. Being in a tech internship right now, I am in love with the type of people I work with and I can see the definite benefits of having many internship experiences. My parents are constantly telling me how I’m going to make more money going to a technical school to study computer science. And to top it off, Swarthmore isn’t really a household name that is thrown around, so not many companies know about it. To the outside, these reasons should be as clear as day for me to not choose Swarthmore. But something inside me kept urging me to go to Swat, and what made it worse was that I knew exactly what that was.

Looking back, the people I looked up to the most weren’t necessarily extremely smart, extremely rich, etc. They were people who were grounded by their human values, people who could genuinely connect with other people, and people who truly wanted to expand their minds. During Ride the Tide at Swarthmore, I made a new friend with a senior who asked me to help with a dance choreography she was working on. I asked a Swattie questions over Facebook, and she invited me to video chat her over Skype for a more personal experience. I strive to be as friendly as them. This is the type of person that I want to become, and I noticed how there was nothing related to computer science here. Interests are plastic, and they will continue to develop or change as long as I’m open to them. Hell, I thought I wanted to study medicine for my whole life until I started my engineering internship at Caviar the summer before my senior year in high school. I pretty much had no experience with programming before officially starting my internship, but once I started, my dedication to it grew like wildfire. I would come into the office almost 10 hours everyday to learn from other engineers and try out new things myself, and the people I met there are some of the coolest people I know. How awesome is it to say that I loved going to work because I’m in an environment where I’m constantly challenged, where I’m surrounded by my friends. We had our own inside jokes, we knew about our quirky habits, and we had so much fun. As I have dedicated myself to many different hobbies: badminton, pen spinning, card magic, programming, weightlifting, etc, I noticed that each of these hobbies/interests had their own worlds that I completely immersed myself in. The pen spinning community had it’s own community, with its own inside jokes and even a language we developed over time. It’s kind of like that word sonder.

sonder – n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

In the context of academics, every major has a whole world and community behind it, and I want to be able to experience those worlds. And more importantly, I wanted to genuinely connect with these new people who were crazy in love with the things they did. Hanging around with students exclusively from your major would, in a way, feel confining. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that we can find passion or fall in love with anything, as long as we’re open minded and willing to enjoy it.

Going back to the discomfort I felt at Swarthmore, I knew that in order for me to grow as a human, I’m going to sooner or later have to face that discomfort. I knew that if I wound up attending an engineering school, I would be extremely comfortable there, I would have tons of fun with people who I shared interests with. We played the same video games, we had the same quirky internet behavior, etc. But at the same time, the thing I want most is to progress, to change. How much would it suck if I came out of college exactly the same as I was right now in high school? Something my Swat admissions staff told me and something I agree with is that yes, Swarthmore is going to be extremely challenging. Honestly though, that is how I’m going to grow. I’ve been coasting throughout my whole high school career, and although it was fun, it left me bored and ultimately unfulfilled. If I’m going to be coasting through college all four years, then basically it’s like me wasting my time at an expensive summer camp.

At a technical school, I see myself graduating, meeting people who will become my best friends, and probably working at some tech company — which indeed is a great life. At Swat, however, I honestly have no idea who I will become or where I will end up, but maybe that’s the why I want to go there so badly. I would’ve never seen myself going to a liberal arts college, but hey, that’s a whole new world that I will be able to be a part of.

I’m still scared of how much work I will be doing, how well I’m going to make friends, how far I will be away from home. I’m thinking: fuck me, this is going to be very, very hard. But that’s why I chose Swarthmore, I will face these fears in order to grow. My best friend told me something that I will hold onto as I go on exploring my life in college.

“You need to cast away the chains of comfort to become the man you never were.” – Andrew Guan

Hello world

I thought it was pretty coincidental how the default intro post was titled “Hello World.” I have spent the majority of my senior year exploring Computer Science as an intern at Caviar/Square, and as I am intending to study CS at Swarthmore in August, I thought it was pretty fitting to keep this title as my introduction.

Something that has been on my mind is to start a blog, ever since writing about myself for my college applications, although it was a big drain on time and my mind, I can honestly say that I actually enjoyed it. I had enjoyed reflecting my life in my time alone, but putting those thoughts onto paper was – I guess – substantiating. When others would ask me things like “what matters most to me” or even about the things I valued in myself, I felt confident and comfortable answering. Writing down my thoughts was a way for me to substantiate my identity.

So why am I starting a blog? Couldn’t I just write in my journal and keep it private? I’m not too sure myself, did I want to post my thoughts on the interwebs to gain some sort of attention? The more I think about it, I think it’s for both myself and others. It’s kind of like my experience on reddit, many people have helped me posting stories about themselves, and as I mature and enter college, I want to join that community and share my thoughts — even if hundreds of people read this and resonates with only one person, or on the flipside if nobody reads it, I would be happy. Publishing to the public is also a way for me to discover my relevancy in this life, I want to challenge my values by questioning my thoughts, and I also want to connect with people that care to improve.

I never really would’ve thought of myself as a deeply intellectual person, but I will begin this journey to become one as I matriculate into one of the most intellectually intense communities in the world. Or maybe I’m thinking this way because of the social norms publicized at Swarthmore.

Starting this blog now, I had to choose a title and a tagline. What do I want other people to see me as? Or what do I value in my life? They will probably change, but for now:

Title: Becoming Interesting

Tagline: My reflections as I seek passion and relevancy.