Blog: Entries From 2017

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2016 Highlights - Thursday, January 5, 2017
Another year has unceremoniously come and gone, and while 2016 was a prodigious year for us in terms of activity, the same cannot be said of my blogging habits.

So for the benefit of posterity (or, more likely, my future self), here are the highlights from 2016.

At the end of April, Priscilla and I went up to SF to celebrate our anniversary. We got free entry to the California Academy of Sciences, de Young and the Exploratorium, courtesy of our friends' Chase Private Client card. We stayed a night at the Grand Hyatt for free, courtesy of Priscilla's credit card rewards. And we rode Uber and Lyft for free due to a signup promotion. Not a bad deal for an anniversary weekend!

At the beginning of June, we went to Carmel to celebrate our birthdays. We hiked Point Lobos and stayed a night at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands, again for free. We spent some time exploring Fisherman's Wharf the next day before returning home.

In mid-June, Sarah got married, so we drove down to LA and got to spend some time with family. Sarah got married at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, which has a really beautiful building and campus. I got carpal tunnel that weekend, presumably triggered by the driving, but that cleared up after a couple weeks of wearing a brace and trying to not type much. The joys of getting old.

Our all-church retreat was at Redwood Christian Park in August. It was about the same as the last time we were there, except Priscilla and I were in a family cabin this time instead of in a suite. We hiked to the cross in the nearby hills, and even got to do rock climbing this time around. The rock climbing was difficult and I didn't see anybody make it to the top of the "medium" difficulty route. Our retreat speaker was Pastor Alton from Berean Mission Church, and his messages encouraged us to live as a steward, a disciple-maker, a child of God, and a pursuer of Christ.

After the retreat, when trying to look for productive things to fill my time with, I came across a fitness mobile game called "Zombies, Run!". Definitely more productive than sinking all my time into an MMORPG. I played it for a month and ultimately quit due to the game always restarting when being run in the background, but during that time I bought some gear for running including bluetooth headphones for listening to music. In October, I bought a heart rate monitor to use with Strava, as well as a yearly subscription of Strava Premium. I really like Strava's Beacon feature, which allows me to share my real-time location data with Priscilla, and the Heatmap, which shows my running and cycling activity as a colored heatmap. I've also been more motivated to rack up running badges on Strava, which are admittedly easier to get than cycling badges. Apparently, badges and points, even if they are virtual, are the key to my heart.

So in trying to maximize my Strava achievements, I've been trying to do more runs and hikes. In 2016, I went on a total of 29 hikes; Priscilla a couple times fewer. My favorite hike this year was Mount Diablo in September. The panoramic views from the top were amazing. I went with Priscilla and Tracy and we did a 15-mile hike, and they were pretty tired most of the way up, but we slogged through it and I later designed die-cast medals for them for making it to the top.

We drove down to LA for both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Both were a good time of getting together with family and friends. We hiked with Victor and Sally during the Thanksgiving break, and ate with my Van Nuys friends and hung out with Raymond during the Christmas break.

During the Thanksgiving weekend, I bought new phones for myself and Priscilla. I got us both the ZTE Axon 7 Mini which, despite the name, is quite a large phone. This phone is better than our old ones in nearly every way, and we've enjoyed no longer having to deal with the frustrations of having a cheap smartphone.

During the rest of the holiday leading up to and following New Year's, I took the time to get housework done and look for contractors to help overhaul our front yard. I'd like to rip out the neglected plants we have and put in drip irrigation so that I can plant something that will be low-maintenance. With any luck, and a bit of money, we will have a nice looking front yard yet.

I have no doubt that the new year will be exciting and productive in its own capacity, but I'm hoping that it will be equally as restful. There is a saying that in the beginning of your life when you are young, you have energy and time, but no money. Then in the middle of your life, you have money and energy, but no time. Finally, towards the end of your life when you are old, you have time and money, but no energy. Well I'm clearly in the middle of my (anticipated) life, as I wish there were more hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done. I guess what I need is more downtime!
Dogs - Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Our dog Lady died last Thursday, Feb 2. My mom called me the day after to let me know that Lady hadn't been eating for a week or drinking water for three days, and that she passed away peacefully in her sleep. She was 16.5 years old.

Lady was born on July 7, 2000. We found her through PennySaver from a woman whose dog had had a lot of puppies. My mom and brother went to see the puppy, a German Shepherd and Chow mix, and my brother liked her a lot. The woman gave us Lady for free; apparently the $10 "price" was just to dissuade people who collect dogs for animal research.

I still remember when we brought Lady home. We brought her home in one of those yellow recycling crates, which she fit easily inside. She was very timid and scared, but warmed up to us in short time. My parents named her after the dog in the movie "Lady and the Tramp". She especially liked my mom and would always wait by the gate for my mom to come home from work, and would willingly let my mom give her a bath, even though it was pretty clear that she didn't enjoy being wet.

Like the two dogs we had before Lady, we kept her outside. Is this primarily an Asian thing? I'm not sure, but we probably did it for the same reason we don't wear shoes in the house. We had a doghouse and a dog feeder for Lady like we did for our other dogs.

For most of her life, she would love to chase the tennis balls and spikey balls that we threw, and would never seem to tire of it. One would merely have to say "get the ball!" or even simply just "ball!" in order for her to run and bring one over eagerly. Seeing us get the leash was a visual cue for her, which let her know that we were about to take her on a walk/jog. For most of her life, she was able to keep up on my dad's jogs around the neighborhood, and there was only one place out there she would poo without fail - on an undeveloped tract of land at the base of a hill.

Lady had a good sense of direction. One time when my uncle was over visiting and took her for a walk, he got lost and said to Lady, "go home!". Lady took him back to our home. Later, my mom wanted to test Lady's sense of direction and took her to the bottom of the hill, made a pointing gesture away from our house, and said "go home!". Lady turned around and ran home.

She was also a bit mischievous. We built a makeshift fence in the backyard with chicken wire, separating the patio from the grassy area and the slope beyond it. I don't recall the reason why we did this, but it probably had to do with not letting her poo just anywhere in the backyard. But Lady could easily hop the fence, and we often caught her after the fact, because we would call her and she would come bounding back over the fence and act like nothing ever happened. She knew that she wasn't supposed to go on the other side, since she wouldn't go through the makeshift gate when we were outside and had it open. But that didn't stop her from enjoying her freedom when she was alone.

She also liked to chase the occasional small critter that wandered through our yard. At one point, my family got a bunny from somebody through PennySaver. We put the bunny on the grass on the outside of the makeshift fence, which was probably a bad idea, because Lady would chase the bunny across the yard with only the fence in between them. No doubt she also hopped the fence when we weren't around, which must've been traumatizing for the bunny. The bunny disappeared a few days later; we think she ran away. I still feel bad about that.

In the last couple years, Lady's health began to noticeably wane. Her hearing got worse, and she would no longer bark at people passing by on the sidewalk. Her energy diminished, and she wasn't so energetic about playing fetch. I saw her last when I visited over the Christmas break last year, and she just looked so tired. She would lick my hand and follow me in the backyard, but not do much else, and she wouldn't pick up the ball when I asked. I had a feeling that that might be the last time I would see her.

So her death wasn't really a surprise for us. It's obviously sad, but we're also relieved that she's finally at peace, and if there is an afterlife for dogs/pets, hopefully she's enjoying it with the renewed energy of her youth.

The two dogs we had before Lady were Lucky and Amy. Lucky, an Australian Shepherd, was my mom's first dog. He, like Lady, lived to 16.5 years. Amy was a German Shepherd and Collie mix, and we got her after Lucky, but she only lived to age 11, dying before Lucky did.

While Lucky was leaner and nimbler, Amy was bigger and less athletic. My brother and I would love laying a plank of wood across the retaining walls in the backyard, creating a hurdle for Lucky to jump over as he ran after a tennis ball. He was able to do it with no problem. Not Amy.

Amy was the caring one of the two. When I was small, I went (fell?) down the slope in the backyard, and my grandmother, who was babysitting, went down to get me. She wasn't very athletic, so she failed to climb back up, and called for help. Lucky ignored her, but Amy (the unathletic one!) came to the rescue, letting my grandmother hold onto her back as she helped her climb back up. My mom recounts that one time at the park, Amy refused to start leaving with her, tugging stubbornly on the leash and looking back at me and my brother, until my brother and I also started leaving.

Amy was always my favorite dog, and I was the one who spent the most time with her. She made a weird howling sound that I've never heard any other dog make, and I could get her to howl by making the noise myself. We could go back and forth several times just howling for the sake of it. She died when I was in middle school, and her death came as a shock since I didn't feel like she had really been sick. I never fully understood how she died; my understanding is that she had a stomach illness, and the night of her death, in a lot of pain, she dragged herself to the sliding glass door to my parents' room and died there. Her death hit me hard, possibly the hardest amongst my whole family, and in some senses I'm still not completely over it.

Lucky, according to my mom, was the smartest dog in the world. He was the one who figured out how to eat from the dog feeder, and he taught Amy to do the same. One night, my dad tried to go running with Lucky not on a leash, but Lucky ended up running away. Lucky was a fast runner, so he got away easily. We spent a few hours driving around trying to find him, with no luck. Amy cried the whole night. The next day, we woke up to find Lucky waiting outside the front gate of our house. He had found his way back on his own. Apparently, all he wanted to do was go for a long run. Or find a mate somewhere. Who knows.

Speaking of being strong-willed, Lucky never enjoyed being given a bath, and unlike Lady, he actually growled when my mom tried to give him one. Nonetheless, he liked my mom the best, and one day when my mom was showing affection to my dad in front of Lucky, Lucky got jealous and voiced his disapproval by growling and barking. My mom also recounted a funny story when she one day brought Lucky into the master bedroom, and when Lucky saw himself in the mirror, he started barking, thinking it was another dog.

Lucky's death was probably the most gradual of all our dogs'. Towards the end of his life, his vitality and eyesight waned, and the last week or two, he could barely move. I remember him just lying in the planter box on his side, in pain from arthritis, with my parents unable to do much for him. His passing was a huge relief, though obviously sad.

Nothing in life is permanent, and that includes our canine companions. For me, it's hard to know that a dog that becomes such a huge part of our lives will probably not live much longer than 15 years. Why intentionally create that strong emotional connection when you know it will be severed in just a matter of several years? But I think there's a lot of truth to the saying (cliche) that "it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all". As I write this, I'm still thinking about how much I miss Amy, and fighting back tears. But if I had the power, would I erase Amy's existence from my life to remove the pain I feel at her loss? Absolutely not. The pain of loss, though great, is easily overshadowed by the joy she brought in life. And that means the world.

My parents love dogs and are now looking for another one. Priscilla has never had a dog, and has wanted one ever since we got married. I liked Lady, but I don't think I was ever fully taken with her since I've never fully gotten over Amy. And maybe that's ok. I think I'm open to letting Priscilla get a dog for us, and maybe I'll never be fully taken with whatever dog we get, and there will probably be some feelings of pain since I know what will inevitably happen, but that's ok. Dogs bring joy, and joy is one of the best things that we can have in this life. And it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Saving - Tuesday, February 21, 2017
For about as long as I've known the concept of money, I've always been a saver. I would probably credit my father for instilling in me the value of money, and my paternal grandfather for instilling in me the value of saving that money.

In Christmas of the year I was born, my grandfather sent me a $200 EE savings bond. Holding this bond in my hands right now, it feels like a piece of history. It's printed on cardstock - slightly thicker and heavier than more modern ones. The bond features a picture of John F Kennedy and has several rectangular holes punched through it, for running through what was surely a state-of-the-art computer back then.

The bond is addressed to me with my dad listed as the co-owner, in case future me would stick a fork into an electrical outlet and fry himself. Our names and address appear to have been typed with a typewriter. "Moanalua Branch First Hawaiian Bank" and the date are hand-stamped onto the right side of the bond.

I can picture my grandfather over 30 years ago, when he and my grandmother were living in Honolulu, walking into this bank, filling out a form and paying for this bond with $100 (half the face value) from his checking account, and mailing it to his son 2,500 miles away across the Pacific. Maybe the bond was mailed with a Christmas card, and as he wrote that card, I wonder if he wondered himself what kind of person his grandson (barring any mishaps with electrical outlets) would grow up to be. Did he have aspirations for my career and family? Did he want me to go to good schools, to become an engineer like himself, to marry a good Chinese girl? If so, he would probably be pleased on all accounts with how things turned out. Unfortunately, as he wasn't a Christian himself, he wouldn't have had in mind what is truly most important - learning to live a life glorifying to God.

But my grandfather did teach me the value of saving and of planning for the future. By the next year, he was sending two $500 bonds every year, for my birthday and for Christmas. He started doing the same for my brother after my brother was born. My grandfather kept this up for over a decade before his health started declining rapidly.

He may have intended for the bonds to be used to pay for higher education; college never gets cheaper, after all. But EE bonds reach full maturity in 30 years, several years after a person typically graduates from college. Was he hoping that I would pursue more education after undergrad, or was the money for my older and (hopefully) wiser self to decide what to do with, including redeeming before the maturity date if I thought it prudent? I don't think it was ever made clear to me, and in fact, my dad held onto the bonds for me until I asked for them after I graduated college (he probably just stashed them away and then it was out of sight, out of mind). My parents graciously put me through college, so I didn't have to spend any of that bond money. Now that I'm working, the amount of money I get from maturing bonds, though not insignificant, is not a life-changing amount. But for me to even be in this position of relative security is something I owe to my parents and grandparents. Many others are not as fortunate.

In terms of the value of money, my dad said to me when I was young that "$1 is a lot for a kid". I don't remember the context, but it probably had to do with him giving me some money for discretionary spending at school (e.g. a book fair or something). I guess that idea stuck with me, as I've been pretty frugal my whole life. In grade school, I would enjoy buying the occasional item from the book fair, and in middle school, I went through a phase where I thought it was ok to pay $50 for a deck of Pokemon cards, but by and large, I didn't buy a lot of things.

I was never given an allowance. In grade school, when I wanted a new bike, I had to earn it by doing chores; each completed chore was worth a dollar or two. That was a lot of chores for a bike that cost over $100. My parents trusted me to keep a tally of completed chores and to let them know when I had reached the goal. It was never about them not wanting to spend the money; rather, it was about instilling a work ethic in their children. I think that paid off.

Nowadays I still consider myself to be frugal, but I've learned to spend money on things that really matter - on activities with people, and on quality things that will make my life better. It's still hard for me to be ok with spending $50 on dinner with friends, but if it's a special occasion with people I care about, then I'll do it. Or for me to let Priscilla spend a few thousand dollars on an international trip for us, but I do appreciate the value of experiences.

Someday if we have kids of our own, I hope to be able to provide for their growth and happiness, while instilling in them a strong work ethic. And while I'll teach them the importance of saving, I hope I can also demonstrate the importance of spending money and time intentionally on the things that matter most.
Jonathan - Sunday, February 26, 2017
Today was Jonathan's last day playing on the worship team with us, and it was a bittersweet time for me and Priscilla. It was great playing "Jesus Shall Reign" and "O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus" with him today. He has his own unique style (and level of talent) that nobody else at church can replicate. It may very well be that we'll never do those songs at church again.

Jonathan joined the team in either 2009 or 2010. Before that, it was just me and Scott. Over the years, Jonathan and I have played together under every worship leader we've had: Scott, Uncle Raymond, Tim, the other Tim, Joe, Daniel and Brian, though he's had to play less frequently as a couple other pianists joined over the years. I've really admired him for his talent, his humbleness, and his words of godly wisdom over email and on our short-lived RBF worship blog.

I'm a little sad that I never got the chance to know him outside of worship at RBF, but perhaps there's still time for us to get together before he leaves. He is leaving at the end of next month to accept a professorship at my alma mater. We wish him well, and he will be sorely missed.
Hiking - Sunday, December 31, 2017
In keeping up with my madness, and for her own health, Priscilla has been setting a fitness goal for the last couple years. Last year it was to do 10,000 steps every day. This year it was to do 40 hikes.

I initially thought that 40 hikes would be difficult to do, but we powered through and were always ahead of schedule. Our last hike was last Friday at Big Basin, and I enjoyed it especially because of the waterfalls, which none of the other places we went to had (unless you count Barton Creek Greenbelt which had small ones).

The places we hiked were:
  1. The Dish
  2. The Dish
  3. Picchetti Ranch
  4. The Dish
  5. Monte Bello
  6. The Dish
  7. Los Gatos Creek Trail
  8. Monte Bello
  9. Los Trancos
  10. Castle Rock
  11. Fremont Older
  12. Los Gatos Creek Trail
  13. Mission Peak
  14. The Dish
  15. Calero County Park
  16. Villa Montalvo
  17. Muir Woods
  18. Wahkeena to Multnomah Falls
  19. Stevens Creek County Park
  20. Rancho San Antonio
  21. Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
  22. Mt Madonna
  23. Purisima Creek
  24. Coyote Lake
  25. Vasona Lake
  26. Joseph D Grant
  27. Monte Bello
  28. Purisima Creek
  29. Redwood Christian Park
  30. Glen Canyon Park and Twin Peaks
  31. Coyote Lake
  32. Coyote Lake
  33. Saratoga Gap and Upper Stevens Creek
  34. Upper Stevens Creek and Long Ridge
  35. Barton Creek Greenbelt (Texas)
  36. St. Joseph's Hill
  37. Griffith Park
  38. Castle Rock
  39. Topanga State Park
  40. Big Basin

Most of the hikes were naturally in the Bay Area. We went to The Dish five times, the most of any place. I don't enjoy that hike as much as other places, but we went there during rainy days (which there were a lot of this year) because it's paved. 7 of the hikes were to fulfill the Pix in Parks Challenge put on by the Santa Clara Department of Parks and Recreation, where the reward was a free shirt. A couple of the hikes were done by Priscilla with other people (not me), but I made up for it because I went to a few places on my own.

Usually on our hikes, we would start together but I would soon go off running on my own, since she likes to go at a relaxed pace while I like to do trail running. I would sometimes run ahead and then run back to tell her which path to take at the next fork. Or if it was a place we were more familiar with, I'd go run a longer route on my own and then try to meet up with her at the end. This allowed us to both get what we felt was a good workout for ourselves, and we only ever lost each other once (at Castle Rock, lesson learned there).

Her goal for 2018 is 10,000 steps again, but I'm sure that we'll still find fun places to go!