The Basics of Breakfast

It’s been kind of a refreshing past few months for me. I’ve been really nerdy about my budgeting so far, and I find that I’m a bit better at budgeting my money than my calories.

I comfort myself in the fact that I can at least succeed in something, if not attaining rock-hard abs, then controlling myself to not fall into a pit of uncontrollable debt.

More importantly, I’ve been really looking at defining these measures of success.

Surprisingly, I find victories not in the overall idea of spending as little as possible, but rather, in the value of what I spend the money and time in.

In a way, I might be spending the same amount of money as in the past, but now I find I am getting much, much more value out of it.

It feels very progressive.

I found out some pretty interesting things about myself.

I haven’t purchased butter or milk or flour for over three months.

I used to think that these were food staples in the house. For a while, I was kind of into baking and making crackers and bread. It was a nice thing to do to keep busy, and I did enjoy it once in a while.

The problem was that Trung did not like eating cookies or pastries. He enjoyed fruits and nuts more, and always made a stupid face when I would offer him a cinnamon bun that I made or a slice of banana bread. (I know. What a weirdo.)

And secondly, I was getting fatter because I was alone in eating all this junk.

Thirdly, I don’t like milk. I don’t eat cereal. I was buying milk because I figured all people had milk in their fridges.

And so, the milk always went bad, the flour would sit in the pantry for months, and the butter… was in the fridge forever. I would bake stuff just to get rid of it.

Once I cut that out of my grocery list, I started opting for one-time/single-serve trips to the bakery nearby. I really like pastries, but I also didn’t want to store them in bulk.

While it was definitely cheaper to make your own bread and snacks, in the long run, I was getting fatter and eating more stuff that really slowed me down during the day.

Sure, a fancy pastry would ring up to about $4 for a croissant, but that also came with the exercise to walk to said bakery and get out of the house.

Plus, working with my own flaws, I knew that I would almost always be too lazy to go out for the fancy pastry anyway.

And unsurprisingly, this turned out to be true. In the last month, I’ve only gone for the fancy pastry once.

So in the end, I was actually not spending any more money on fancy pastries and coffee than I had been when I was making them on my own.

Weird, right?

I put that money into fruits and veggies instead. Okay, I put it to wine.

So that adjustment resulted in me spending a bit more money on different staples.

Instead of bread and jam and butter for go-to breakfast staples, I swapped this out with fruits and vegetables. Now, there is always either a banana, an apple, or a small container of baby carrots within reach.

I thought I’d get sick of this shit, eating the same stuff over and over, but to be honest, I haven’t yet.

Come to think of it, crackers and bread are a lot more boring to eat over and over; compared to fruits, where you can rotate between sweet and sour a lot of the time. Green apple one day, a sweet banana the next.

Sometimes, I’d even spring for a nice Asian mini-rice bowl. Simple rice, egg, and soy sauce. Some green onions chopped up, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and I’m golden.

Now, a few months later, I don’t find myself missing the bread and pastries too terribly. It’s kind of like getting used to a haircut or new shoes. I’m eating way healthier, too!

Also, the part of my fridge where the milk used to be has now been replaced with a bottle of wine. So much better!

Again, I’m not necessarily spending any less money, but come on. Wine!

Keeping to the Basics

I think it really does come down to how well you know yourself, and not letting the idea of “the perfect X” dictate your actions.

The idea of the perfect breakfast for me used to be a hot cup of coffee and a beautiful croissant slathered in butter and jam, some kind of nice omelette, and a folded newspaper off to the side. I think it’s because I grew up with those images from movies and shows that I watched. Even commercials. Especially commercials.

Occasionally, yes. But not every day!

The thought extends itself to the idea of “Keeping up with the Jones’s” and really, how absolutely awful and ridiculous it is to keep comparing yourself to others.

Being really honest with myself, my breakfast actually just consists of a hot cup of coffee, a piece of fruit, and looking at Facebook on my phone while Tina Tuna relaxes in a patch of sunlight on the floor.

And I don’t feel any less ashamed about that!

Bottom Lines

Trung and I talk about our work often, as most good friends do. And what usually ends up happening is a dissection of the personalities that we both deal with in our lines of work.

Okay, it usually ends up with both of us getting drunk and then watching Midsomer Murders to yell about how much we miss Sgt. Troy, but the lead-up to that is always interesting.

One of our general themes has been to differentiate people by their bottom lines.

Despite the differences in web development and commercial plumbing, our conversations always boil down to this saying, which I think Trung really should trademark:

It’s not the job, it’s the people.

What is this person’s bottom line?

This almost always affects the outcome of the work and how many fistfights you are bound to have.

Money as Bottom Line

There are the old school folks, where the bottom line is money. There is absolutely nothing wrong with people being aware, or even prudent, about costs.

But in a sense (and based on past experiences), they are the ones who tend to reserve spending on materials or resources and almost always settle for “Good enough,” look at the end result, and however we all get there, the ends justify the means.

The bottom line is having enough resources at the very end, so that it can be spent on something else.

The tough thing, though, is when you start having awful conversations about reaching the bare minimum, and how it could also be possible to bring that standard even lower to save another $10.

I find that these people do tend to have more money, and that’s great. Because that’s their bottom line. They’re able to shell out for emergency dental work or send their kids off to boarding school. Damages that occur without home insurance could easily be paid for by the money that they saved from not getting it in the first place.

They spend more time on the same project. And maybe because they just have better focus. I really don’t know.

Convenience as Bottom Line

Then there are the Convenience as Bottom Line People, which I think I am definitely a subsect of.

I don’t think we are a particularly smart bunch, but I’ll be honest in saying that I have fewer regrets. It’s almost like I’ve spread out my stress over time, instead of collecting it all at the very end.

For this tribe, it’s more about freeing up certain resources to be able to focus on or achieve a goal. And if that means paying more for something, so be it.

And this doesn’t necessarily equate to just money or expenses. To me at least, the bottom line question is:

What is your time worth?

I would rather invest in a $1000 tool that saves me 6 hours of work than use a hand-crank or screwdriver.

I would rather pay someone to paint the apartment in a day than spending two weeks stepping in plastic dropcloths and shit, doing it on my own, and getting really shitty results. I’ve had experience with painting spaces before, and while I do consider myself capable of doing this myself, I would much rather be doing something else. Like working my actual job.

I would rather share the job, make less profit, and get it done faster and more efficiently, instead of doing everything ourselves, stretching ourselves thin to deliver a kind of passable outcome.

Not to say one is better than the other

I find that at least in my conversations with Trung, this dichotomy of people exist like people who prefer showers over baths; people who eat the soup first before noodles; or people who really like Metallica or just think that they are self-centered babies because of that documentary.

There are downsides and upsides to being either type of person. I always concede with the knowledge that I will never become rich, but also comfort myself with the idea that at least I won’t spend 90% of my life being tired or sweaty or stressed out. All of the things I hate being.

I’m pretty comfortable with where I stand on this, and I have to admit also that I kind of enjoy talking about these differences with people.

To some extent, I also see it related to the type of people who either like super focused projects or those who like various things happening at once.

My Friend Hugo

I have always held an appreciation for the unconditional love animals can give to people. They don’t give it to everyone they meet, but when they do, it’s so special. I like that they are not slutty that way.

Whenever I go on Facebook, I usually get the familiar barrage of left-wing/liberal articles that I subscribe to. LGBTQ Rights! Feminists! Equal opportunity! Cat sandwich! The portrayal of women in media! Poor people! Rich people! That Dove commercial about those women and that sketch artist! Unfair treatment of minorities! Health care! George Takei! Pipelines! Who the hell is Libby Davies?!

But once in a while I will look at Hugo, asleep on top of my laptop or lazily muzzling a chunk of cat food off his plate, and I think about how none of that shit matters to him. Hugo is totally my best friend, and he wouldn’t really care if I were a woman or a man, if I were gay or not, or if I were Asian or not. He has no idea who Miley Cyrus is, and he is okay with that.

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Hugo just doesn’t give a crap who I am, as long as we get along. There is something mind-blowing about that, don’t you think?

And in return, I don’t care if Hugo doesn’t speak English. I also don’t care if he is gay or not. I also don’t care that he poops in what is essentially a plastic box. It’s just part of who he is, and I’m okay with that.

What I find that matters between him and me is that we are both happy and healthy. Maybe Hugo is a little bit more selfish than I am when I say that all he is interested in is being fed and being clean. But then again, for someone who doesn’t have thumbs and is only about 10 inches off the ground, he gets on amazingly well without me.

I take care of him because he’s a cool guy. He leaves me alone when I need him to leave me alone, and then he comes to hang out when he feels like it. There are no awkward conversations to be had or anything either. He lets me know when he’s hungry. I let him know when I can use a cat hug. We kind of operate on gentle cues for each other, and there is nothing forced about our interactions.

He doesn’t try to convince me that being a cat is better than being a person. Whenever I look at him, I only see one of two questions being asked:

A) Who the fuck cares?

B) When the hell is dinner?

No, really. Who the fuck cares?
No, really. Who the fuck cares?

So simple. I’m aware that this is totally a cat-lady train of thought, but I really appreciate these little things about Hugo that help me realign my thinking. He’s like a little hairy Buddha guiding me along some path to being a good person.

Ladies Learning Code (Um, Yes, We Had Sandwiches)

I did a really cool thing last weekend.

Jane and I went to a Ladies Learning Code Workshop; an introduction to JavaScript, led by Angelina Fabbro.

I don’t usually sign up for workshops or gatherings or meet-ups or things like this. I get kind of anxious going by myself and I turn into the weird wallflowery person with a juice in their hands. The fact that Jane was with me was great. I was thinking we could at least hold the juices in our hands together and talk about knitting instead, if it didn’t work out.

Held in the lunch room at the Hootsuite offices in Vancouver, the workshop started out in a very casual way. Meredith, who I had assumed was the organizer, flashed us a bright smile, swung the door open and in we went, out of the rainy weather and into a toasty room that totally looked like Yogi Bear’s house but with beer taps.

There were no forced name-tags, no registration bars to scan, or any type of weird, “What are you doing here?” sort of situations. Thank God. People just walked in and set up shop. Just the way I liked my gatherings. I fucking hate small talk. I hate when people ask me what’s up or how my weekend went. Anyway, let’s not get into that.

This workshop was for people who had zero knowledge of JavaScript. And the thing is, I’ve tried to learn this time and time again.

I know Ben had been ready to punch me in the mouth for the way I’d been going about this, but there had just been this inexplicable force of resistance on my part to get things going.

The cool thing was that for me, it all kind of came together on this day. It was like Ben actually came up out of nowhere and physically punched me in the mouth. (He didn’t.)

I’ve been trying to figure out why I couldn’t get into JavaScript as much as HTML/CSS. It was weird, but each time I would open up these Sportsbutter .js files, something inside of me would sort of deflate and I would just start doing my laundry instead. I could sort of understand the basics of what was going on, and I was okay when it came to jQuery elements. I could make things slide and fade and shit, but that was kind of it.

But for me to actually get started and build a structure or an app out of JavaScript… I don’t know.

It was around the time Angelina was sharing her experiences about being a lady-programmer that it hit me.

She spoke about how she had turned down her first opportunity to lead a lecture about it because she instinctively felt like she wasn’t good enough.

I kind of sat there, holding a wonderful curried chicken wrap in my hands (instead of a juice), and let that story sink in. It definitely resonated with me. It wasn’t about being humble or not knowing what to do, really, but essentially, I came to realize that I couldn’t get started mainly because I felt exactly the same way.

The fact that I categorized myself as someone who knew absolutely nothing about JavaScript even though I’ve been with Mainsocial for over two years said something.

I didn’t think I was good enough to get this JavaScript shit.

When I work with Ben, it just always looked like magic to me. I would mention something that was broken, and I’d try to fix it, but would ultimately end up spinning my wheels. But when Ben would deal with it, it almost always usually gets fixed in a day. One time he fixed a bug in the time it took me to get a glass of water.

Of course B-ballz would be gracious about it, and he has taken great (great) pains to teach and mentor me. And I am definitely not saying that he is the reason I was so dumb about it, but I guess it’s just difficult to not be intimidated in this kind of situation.

What changed for me during this workshop was the context of my own experience. I honestly thought that I was going into a workshop with zero knowledge, just like everyone else.

But as soon as Angelina started talking through the slides and discussing basic things like variables and while loops, I found myself looking around and seeing that… erm, I kind of know this shit, too.

So a second wave of realization came upon me, and that was that… there was no secret sauce behind JavaScript.

The code presented to us was of course a hundred times simpler than what I would see in our Butterpool apps, but as Angelina walked us through it, I found the basic patterns and principles behind it.

It was like looking at a really big complicated robot machine powered by a Flux-Capacitor that writes out your grocery lists automatically for you and realizing that you can achieve the same results by using a pencil and paper.

The workshop had me building from the bottom up.

I think in my experience, I was introduced to JavaScript from the top down. The app was already working, and my job was to go in there with a wrench and hit stuff inside the big complicated robot machine powered by a Flux-Capacitor. And I didn’t know where Ben kept the pencils. And I couldn’t ask because I didn’t know that all I needed was to know where the pencils were. I didn’t know what I knew and if I didn’t know, then I didn’t know what I didn’t know either.

Are you following me?

And so as the day went on, I found myself talking through things with Jane. The quick exercises proved very useful to both of us because on one end Jane was getting a great intro from Angelina, and on the other, I was gaining an opportunity to test myself in talking it out with her.

It felt like I was putting polyfill into these odd cracks and crevices in my brain, and smoothing it out with a spackle knife. It was empowering.

I guess I just didn’t realize how much I knew until a bigger and more complete picture was laid out before me.

It’s like that story about a bunch of blind guys touching an elephant and talking about trees and horns and shit. I was one of the blind guys, and I think I just had my hand in the elephant’s balls the whole time thinking it was a jaguar’s mouth, afraid that it would bite me if I moved.

Just like my past weirdness about people trusting my skills, I think I had another set of issues about my own confidence in them.

Mainly because I’ve come across web development from a self-taught angle, rather than “having gone to school for it”, I think I just got used to thinking that I was a little bit less talented than those with actual formal training, or people who have been coding websites since they were nine years old. It’s also quite a big thing to be working in a vacuum for so long, and not really knowing your place within an industry.

With design shit, I feel fine. I recognize my peers and colleagues, and I know what they’re up to because I grew out of the same seeds of community. I may not necessarily know who the director of Burnkit is, and I may make a total ass out of myself in front of him and his ladyfriend during a birthday BBQ in a park. But I like to think that I can hold my own with fellow designers.

When it comes to web development, though, it’s completely different for me. I don’t have the same connections or the same experiences with people who I should consider my peers. Because I have no fucking clue who they are.

But now, armed with this knowledge and a new perspective, I’m pretty keen on changing that.

I came back super excited about what I can do with JavaScript, and immediately started plans for an awesome knitting app. This has since grown into a monsterish idea and now needs to be pruned and trimmed.

It goes back to my wallflowery personality, for sure. But if anything, I’m just glad that I was able to attend something like Ladies Learning Code. I feel like I got way more out of it that I expected. Jane even suggested that I try and be one of the mentors for the next event. We’ll see if I can gather up the courage for that…

I Was in Korea for October

My second trip to Korea. A way shittier and cheaper flight, but all in all, a lovely time spent with people I sort of like.

Me at the Coffee Prince Cafe in Hong Dae. Photo by my sister.
Me at the Coffee Prince Cafe in Hong Dae. Photo by my sister.

It’s heart-warming to see and feel how welcome I am in Korea this time around. While it’s certainly a lucky thing to be able to travel to various places and fill your passport with stamps and visa stickers, it is something completely different when you travel to a place for a reason.

Dianne’s father-in-law had asked me what I liked about Korea.

I told him that the main thing I like about Korea was that it was a place that is starting to feel like another home. Like, another place to kick my shoes off and walk around pantsless kind of way. I didn’t say it in those exact words, but that’s really what I meant.

My visit wasn’t just to sight-see or look at palaces or buy little bookmarks out of shit and sticks. The fact that my sister lives there, and it is my brother-in-law’s home—these are what makes the place a little bit more special. I previously wrote about visiting New York. It was a simple thing, I suppose. I went to New York to see what it was like. Going for going’s sake.

And maybe that’s why New York felt a little flat to me. I didn’t really have much of a connection with the place.

There is something that pulls harder at your heart when you travel to a place that is special to someone important to you. It’s difficult to explain, but the fact that my sister now has ties there makes it feel like I do as well.

The people who act as our touchstones to a particular place or experience are so vital to how we regard it.

They are much more than little trinkets or keychains that we can purchase at airports, as they are each individual associations and accumulations of things completely foreign to us. We see places the way they see places, and they help us understand things that we don’t in the way that they do.

It’s certainly a difficult place to live in, and Dianne has not had the easiest of transitions. The language is a huge barrier, transforming me into a helpless, mute baby each time. Ordering an orange juice is far more of an ordeal than one can imagine. Some of the people I’ve met are also pretty fucking weird, but then again, every country has it’s weirdos. There is much to complain about, but nothing really to break any deals.

At the Psy hologram concert
At the Psy hologram concert. Photo again by my sister.

I can see her frustrations about being a foreigner in this place, and I have the highest regard for her brave decision to move there. But on the other side of the coin, I see her with Moon Yong and this new chapter of her life that’s branched out from our own family’s, and I get kind of excited thinking about it.

It’s the same way I am when I go to Manila. There is no itinerary but to see people I care about. Everything else is secondary. Well, okay, the fried chicken is a priority I mean come on guys it’s Max’s Fried Chicken that comes first.

Nobody is trying to impress anyone at this point, because it’s all been established before.

I don’t think I need proof of where I’ve been. Or perhaps it is also an excuse to not buy more garbage for my house. I don’t need a miniature replica of a traditional Korean village in my living room to remind me of how I feel. Mainly because I have about a pound of kimchi in a Glasslock inside my fridge right now, courtesy of a lady who I now have permission to call “omonim.”

“‘Auntie’ is too weird,” she and Dianne had said. I am inclined to agree.

We made kimchi together
We made kimchi together