December: Shifting Moods

The question I dread most: “So, what music do you like?” I’m one of those unicorns who don’t really listen to music. If my AirPods are in, I’m listening to an audiobook or a podcast. If I am listening to music, 30% of the time I’ll listen to some Chinese or Korean R&B or American chill pop, the other 70% I’ll be listening to a playlist to try to get into some mood. These are the synthwave, cyberpunk, lofi beats with rain in the background, and dark academia classical playlists—the auditory version of Tumblr moodboards and Tiktok vibes.

I’m a lover of aesthetics, the particular tone of which depends on my mood and stage of life. In high school, I was much more cyberpunk and dark academia—a pessimistic, Slytherin, danger-loving, angsty teen. As I’ve become more focused on self-love and personal growth, I’ve found that my aesthetic preferences are beginning to lean toward the brighter side—solarpunk and light academia. I’ve even added pastels to my once-black wardrobe.

For a day trip to University of Cambridge, I was fully prepared to live out the dark academia aesthetic of haunting libraries, castle-like halls, and damp autumn leaves against cobblestone pavement. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find it a quaint town with a bustling market, lively music, and several gelato shops. We went punting on The River Cam and for those precious moments I felt like I was in an early Harry Potter movie, spellbound by the scenery and the sunshine and the smiles. (Our guide told us about his two worst boat rides: (1) a drunk woman peed off the side of the boat (2) a failed marriage proposal with 30 minutes of the ride still left)

What always surprises me, despite hearing it many times, is how old wealth runs here. Like the fact that Trinity College of Cambridge was founded in the 16th century by King Henry VIII, has 34 Nobel prizes, and owns £800 million of land. Back in Seattle, I knew upper class but it was all new money—flashy on the surface, but fiscally conservative deep down. At Georgetown, being rich meant the inheritance of a few generations, having a vacation home in the Hamptons, and going to boarding school in New Jersey. In the UK, we’re talking old old money. Royalty. Wealth. Power… and it freaks me out thinking about the kinds of inequities that it perpetuates.

My visit to Oxford a few weeks later confirmed my thoughts of Cambridge. My friend doing Oxford PPE told me that he believes the value of the degree comes down to the connections he makes. He feels out of place in this old money institution, wants to “get out of this place,” but he’s still holding onto the idea that someone he’s worked with will become some important politician or journalist. I can’t help but think, how transactional those relationships must be.

On another note, I’m much more open to connecting with people from Seattle who I wouldn’t have taken the initiative to reach out to if we were all at home. My Oxford friend lives on the same street as me back home, and despite carpooling and sitting next to him in class, I’ve talked to him more in the UK than in Seattle. We chat about our family and high school friends, all the mutual people we know, our career plans and anxieties, and it feels safe… I don’t have to explain myself and the context I grew up in. And it’s crazy how much we’ve matured these past few years.

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November: Press Pause

Playa 🏖️ & Plaza 🏟️ & Paella🥘

I spent my Halloweekend in sunny, slow Barcelona. To say planning for this trip stressed me out would be an understatement; I got hives because of it. But as soon as I saw the cerulean blue waters of Barcelona, I immediately felt relaxed. The weather, palm trees, wide pedestrian walkways, gorgeous architecture, good food, and relaxed nature of the city were a much needed respite from gloomy, fast-paced London. Iris: 1 vs. Seasonal depression: 0.

It had been a while since I’ve truly felt immersed in the culture of a place. Despite going to Mexico four times, I hadn’t needed to speak a lick of Spanish aside from gracias or hola. Meanwhile, our Barcelona taxi driver didn’t speak any English and we desperately tried to communicate in our broken, relic of a high school Spanish. He tried asking us to keep a look out for the place. “Nosotras no hemos estado aquí antes!” (We have not been here before!) Or, when I was trying to ask for a vegetarian panini for my friend, “Hay carne? Ella solo coma verduras” (Is there meat? She only eats vegetables).

Barcelona is slow. We arrived Sunday afternoon and the streets were eerily quiet. We knew that a lot of shops were closed on Sundays, but we didn’t realize the city would actually take it so seriously. After our long and filling late lunch/early dinner (the Spanish eat meals quite late, and sit for a long time with multiple courses and of course, a bit of sangria on the side), we had planned on exploring but were unable to. Funnily enough, the city began to “wake up” at night. La Rambla was bustling at 10pm. People eating tapas and paella outside, buzzing in and out of supermarkets, getting ready to go to a bar or club.

Halloween 2022 will be one of my most memorable experiences. We got paella at around 2pm and it was so filling that, even after two hours of walking, all I had was a light snack before heading out for a Halloween music festival. For the first twenty minutes, we couldn’t even find our venue. After thinking we were going to get kidnapped, some man finally led us to the right place–a smallish outdoor club playing techno/house remixes of Spanish songs. There were actually more Spanish than foreigners, and though it was only 7:30pm, they were fully vibing and dancing. The difference between Americans and the Spanish is that the latter move their entire bodies when they dance, hips swishing, feet stepping side to side, arms pumping to the beat. Half a drink later, I found myself intoxicated with their energy and dancing along to songs that I’d never heard of before.

My last night I saw a flamenco show. Despite having a massive sugar crash and occasionally nodding off, the hour passed by so quickly. I couldn’t take my eyes off their quick feet, so rhythmic against the luring, slurring singers and guitar players.

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October: Stranger Things

“So, I moved to London,” I remind my friends, followers, and subscribers for the nth time. But it would actually be better to say that London moved me. Like the girls who move to New York City and become an entirely new person, I feel myself slowly morphing into someone new. At least, what people back home would consider new, but what I think is just another side of myself.

See, I’ve always been an introvert. There are some days where I’m introverted through and through, others where I can easily pass as extroverted. With all the strangers I connected with in London, all the conversations I randomly started, I may seem extroverted; shout out to:

  • The lady who sat next to me on the plane, who gave me London recommendations, and we exchanged our favorite book titles;
  • My Uber driver who explained the differences between the various supermarkets in the UK and suggested I run in Hyde Park;
  • The two girls speaking in American accents, also going to the farmers market, who turned out to be Masters students at my school and living in the same residential hall as me;
  • My school’s peer supporters who chatted with me while potting plants;
  • The freshers I bumped into on a campus visit and ended up chilling with on the lawn;
  • The friends I made on the London sightseeing tour, pub tour, and the Cumberland Lodge academic retreat;
  • An awesome pole dancing class (!! you heard that right !! I’ve wanted to learn how to pole dance since middle school, and it finally happened);
  • The vendors at farmers markets who let me film content for my Youtube Shorts…
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September: Self-Discovery

One of my favorite video series that I watch every year is Billie Eilish’s “Same Interview, the [#] Year” through Vanity Fair. The ability to compare her answers from year to year so clearly highlights her growth and emotional states throughout the years as a person and an artist.

Inspired by a similar concept and by a conversation I had with a friend, I’ve decided to take on a Time Capsule project. I record our conversation or ask participants to send a voice memo of their answers to the following questions:

  1. Tell me about yourself — standard pitch (name, school, area(s) of study, campus involvements, broader interests)
  2. How do you see yourself in five years? (ie what you’ll be doing, where you’ll be living, who you’ll be with, etc)
  3. What would you start a podcast on or what type of business/initiative would you like to start or join?
  4. What are you currently most excited about?
  5. What are you currently most anxious about?
  6. If you could teach some concept, skill, or motto to others, what would it be?

I can tell that all my high school friends have grown. From the questions they now ponder, their improved articulateness, their newfound interests. I even reconnected with friends who I haven’t talked to since the onset of the pandemic. It’s crazy how reaching out with a short email can then spiral into a two-hour long philosophical conversation over an in-person meetup.

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Structured Decision-making for Ethical Tech

In addition to my monthly reflections, I will be occasionally be posting a series of investigative essays I wrote in the summer of 2021. These views do not necessarily reflect my current ones.

Decisions 🤝 Values 🤝 Designs

In “Measuring the Value of Human Life,” I explored various psychological barriers to compassionate decision-making with specific focuses on Effective Altruism and the Arithmetic of Compassion project. The work of decision scientists intersects and encompasses multiple disciplines such as psychology, economics (particularly behavioral and managerial), and statistics. Consultants often cite “The Hidden Traps in Decision Making” published in the Harvard Business Review, which outlines eight psychological traps that affect business executives:

“The anchoring trap leads us to give disproportionate weight to the first information we receive. The status quo trap biases us toward maintaining the current situation–even when better alternatives exist. The sunk-cost trap inclines us to perpetuate the mistakes of the past. The confirming-evidence trap leads us to seek out information supporting an existing predilection and to discount opposing information. The framing trap occurs when we misstate a problem, undermining the entire decision-making process. The overconfidence trap makes us overestimate the accuracy of our forecasts. The prudence trap leads us to be overcautious when we make estimates about uncertain events. And the recallability trap prompts us to give undue weight to recent, dramatic events. The best way to avoid all the traps is awareness–forewarned is forearmed.”

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August: Exploration

Time is slipping by too quickly. A blink and July is over. Just a few more days until Cambridge summer comes to an end.

When time is so evidently scant, there’s a sense of urgency to maximize exploration. During HubSpot’s week of rest, I spent every day in a new neighborhood of Boston or Cambridge, finding new food spots and public parks to leave my mark.

Back home, exploration never occurred to me. I hardly ventured out of Bellevue, and even within the city I have my go-to spots that I frequent instead of trying something new. Even when my returns home become scarcer and scarcer, I spend my few weeks of holiday lazing around. I take the same two-hour loop around my neighborhood. I never drove more than three miles away from my house.

The idea that Bellevue is a rapidly changing technologically-savvy smart city is far from the truth. Sure, new shops open here and there, but its people at heart are settlers. They fear real change. For instance, the city launched a one-year Lime bike pilot in 2018, and despite its success, the program terminated in 2019. (Don’t even get me started with the opposition against building new schools or homeless shelters.) Of course, it’s even harder to get out of the city. As a terrible driver, the highway scares me, but taking the public bus is even worse. Unfortunately, construction for the anticipated light rail connecting Bellevue to Seattle and Redmond that began 2015 won’t finish until next year.

I have a few more weeks until I leave for London for a full year study abroad program. This time, there is no ignoring the precious moments at home I have remaining. That means I will actually have to try the Taiwanese restaurant that’s five minutes away from my house that I saved on my Yelp months ago. Take an adult cooking class, go paragliding through the evergreens, do yoga with the sunrise. Once I conquer my fear of driving on the highway, I’m out of excuses.

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Measuring the Value of Human Life

In addition to my monthly reflections, I will be occasionally be posting a series of investigative essays I wrote in the summer of 2021. These views do not necessarily reflect my current ones.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been looking inward to discover the central question that drives my interests and career-related decisions. Currently, I’ve come up with this: How can we best leverage technology and law to maximize well-being in a sustainable and equitable fashion?

This Question of Life is too hefty to tackle on its own, so I focused on its central word, “well-being.” Many decisionmakers, researchers, and philosophers operate under this assumption: If well-being ought to be maximized, there should be a way to measure it. But if there is no objective way to do so, then Why and how do we quantify value of human life? How does this change depending on our social position?

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July: Love Songs

Inspired by “Love Song to Costco” by Yuxi Lin.

Love Song to Haymarket

Haymarket has become my favorite Boston phenomena as of late. The open-air market opens at dawn on Fridays and Saturdays. The vendors are mostly immigrants, but the shoppers come from all walks of life–a hodgepodge of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, all trying to find the best deals.

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June: Dissonant Harmony

I struggle to come up with a concise description of the aperture between my Asian immigrant mother and I. It’s an amalgamation of various gaps: cultural, generational, economic… So after hearing the raving reviews of Everything Everywhere All at Once (that the film is a true representation of the Asian-American experience, filled with seamless code-switching and a narrative that would open a floodgate of tears), I was eager to bond over it in theaters with her.

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May: Residing in The Unreal

“How do we imagine and struggle for democracy that does not spawn forms of terror, that does not spawn war, that does not need enemies for its sustenance? Because people who are in prison are pointed to as the enemies of society, and that is one of the ways in which we can define our own sense of ourselves as free, by looking at those who are our opposites.”

(Angela Davis, “The Meaning of Freedom,” 149)

This passage from Angela Davis’s “The Meaning of Freedom” comes at the end of her speech as she revisits the theme of the conference, the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. After examining the harms of the prison-industrial complex, Davis turns her attention to what we ought to do in the present to create a democracy that does not cause terror, war, or “need enemies for its sustenance” through incarceration and exploitation. In the form of a question, Davis invites her audience to “imagine” and “struggle” for this democracy.

To understand why she proposes imagination, it is important first to grasp what she means with this concept. One way to interpret her words is as a call for a thought experiment. Under this reading, the passage is a stark turning point from her detailed exposition of the real violence and social problems that threaten marginalized populations. It is easy to dismiss the act of imagining as restricted to the sphere of philosophy, or even mere fantasy. After all, how can mere imagination translate to changed realities for imprisoned populations?

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