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Feline adoration April 30, 2009

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I have, as long as I can remember, always loved cats.  I like animals of all sorts, but felines are certainly my favorite out of the bunch.  Perhaps it’s because much of my behavior is like theirs, so I feel a connection.  Last night I ran into a plump kitty lounging around outside on my walk home.  Being the first time that I had come across a cat and I wasn’t headed anywhere or with anyone, I decided to stop to pet it.  I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl, but it certainly enjoyed my stroking and scratching.  I was reaching out pretty far, so I tried to shift to move closer, but that scared it a few feet away.  I considered trying to approach it again, but it takes some time for cats to trust you, so I decided that was enough for the night and headed back.  As I made my way back to Marylin’s, I thought of my beloved cats and how sad I am to not have them anymore.

The first cat I ever had got some sort of disease and had up to 90% of her lungs filling up with fluid before we found out and put her down.  That was the first time my dad and I cried together.  Actually, that’s the only time I can remember.  The second one we got had the longest life of them all and got sick recently, dying just on or past Christmas day 2008.  He was in China and my parents and I were in Cancun for the break.  I wish he could have held out for my dad to get back to him.  Then the third one we had just disappeared one day almost six years ago.  My mom is convinced that the coyotes or owls in the neighborhood caught him.  He was always a rambunctious one, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he ventured too far.  We’ll never really know what happened to him, but I can always hope that someone took him in and he’s happily squeezing himself into their sinks for his naps now.

This is Jerriey, our second kitty, curled up on my favorite blanket.

Lately cats have been on my mind a lot because one of Panda and my friends got herself a little kitten that was found on site for a Habitat for Humanity project.  That reminded me of the three other times I have come across cats that I really wanted to adopt.  First was a little black kitten we found at a club in the Echo Park area.  It was my first day on site for the filming of Wristcutters: A Love Story and this little guy was found hanging out in the back area where the crew hung out as we waited through shots.  I named her Echo (I think the club was named that too) and gave her a lot of attention.  In fact, I even managed to convince the club owner to adopt her, since I couldn’t.  Next was a pair of kittens, brought to us on Wilshire Boulevard.  Katana and I were just walking along in Westwood when this kid comes running up to us and asks if we’d like to adopt kittens.  We looked at each other with those yearning eyes.  In our hearts, we really wanted to.  In our minds, we knew we couldn’t.  So, we only glimpsed the kittens he held in his hands, swaddled in his clothing before we sadly had to say no.  We watched as he ran down Westwood Boulevard and talked about how we could make it work.  Then, in the spur of a moment, we decided to go with our hearts and take them.  We went after the boy, but didn’t know where he had gone.  I looked to my left and noticed a pet store, so we went in.  The boy had just handed over the pair and when we tried to take them now, the store owner said she’d have to take them in for various shots and clean them up before we could come back to adopt them.  Sigh.  In the weeks after, we thought long and hard about how we could do this, even thinking we’d name them Boba and Udon (one was black and one was grey).  Unfortunately, practicality won out in the end and we never did go back for them.  Finally, the third came when I was volunteering at a cat home.  A tiny grey kitten was confined in a box with a plastic facing so we could see.  She was held there because she was still being treated after being rescued from Hurricane Katrina and, consequently she was named Katrina.  I loved that little cat from the seconds we got to spend with her before turning our attention to the cats we could interact with.  Just the way she cocked her head when she looked at us was adorable enough for me to want her.  Unfortunately, I was still in school at the time and my dad had left the country, so it was just my mom taking care of the one cat we still had.  But I wanted a kitten to raise myself.

This is a dream I’ve held for years and years, ever since I got to carry little Jerriey home from the shelter, so cute and loveable.  He spent the whole time purring, which is what won me over.  I have mentioned this desire many a time and though he started off first not comfortable with the idea, he is now more open to it.  Granted, we had to have a whole hullabaloo of a… discussion over it, but he’s willing to consider it at least.  To me, having a cat is almost more important than having kids.  Not only are they nice to cuddle up with, their purring is good for your health.  They are very independent and don’t require much attention or care, which is how I live my life.  They train very easily, from going to use the litter box when nature calls to coming to eat dinner with the banging out a plate.  I also like to crawl into small spaces and squeeze myself into strange positions to sleep.  And come on, there’s a reason we call it the "catwalk" – they’re beautiful and graceful creatures!  Cats are highly misunderstood animals.  People take their independence for aloofness, much as they do with me.  And I think that is why I defend and adore them so much.  I’m misunderstood too.

Well, my dream of owning a cat is still very far off, sadly.  I have to wait until I’m settled enough to keep one with me.  I have to make sure I have the funds to buy all the food, litter, and catsitting services I would need to take care of it.  Thankfully, they love very simple little toys, so just a little catnip and some string or crumpled newspaper can do the trick.  Once I feel like I have the resources and capabilities to finally care for a cat of my own, I hope Panda will be ready to have one too (or maybe more).  He doesn’t even need to do a thing.  I’ll buy everything, scoop the kitty litter, feed them, play with them, and arrange for their care when/if we are away.  All he has to do is let me have one.  For now, he has agreed to catsit our friend’s kitten if she ever needs us to and we will go visit her after I get back.  I hope he likes that experience so he’ll be willing to have one of our own.

Back in high school Katana and I would joke about how we’d grow old and have properties next to each other, each with certain natural formations that we want (like a waterfall for me), and we’d both have houses full of cats.  (This was back when we imagined ourselves as old maids, never having been able to truly settle down.  I guess it could still work with men in our lives, as long as they allowed all the cats.)  At night, we’d both go out and sit on our rocking chairs on our porches to enjoy the nightfall, either knitting or petting a cat.  We’d have our houses close enough that we could see each other, but our property large enough for ponds and creeks and forests and whatnot.  I think it’d be great if we do end up that way.  Yup, we have all the makings ofbecoming crazy cat ladies.


Sheer exhaustion April 29, 2009

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This is the first time that I did not post my entry prior to going to bed, since I began posting every day.  I like to get it out of the way earlier in the wee hours of the day so when I get busy/distracted later on, I won’t have to worry and I would still have the entire rest of the day to do it.  However, yesterday when I got back last night, a wave of exhaustion just took over me and I curled up on the bed with my body pillow.  It was so warm and cozy and Panda was taking a nap on his end, so I just drifted off.  The next thing I knew, I was waking up to find my computer turned off.  Disoriented, I deliriously turned my computer back on to find Panda again, but fell asleep again soon after.  I can’t recall if I ever did sign back on again or what happened from there, but I didn’t wake up again until the morning, as a storm was rolling in.

I’m not sure why I was so tired – perhaps it’s a combination of lack of sleep, long days, and not enough nutrition.  I don’t feel like I have been overworked or underfed though, so I really don’t know.  In fact, there are times where I am doing background reading and research that feels like my typical internet activity.  It has made me want to get more into social media or business psychology consulting, since I love to read article upon article about those topics.  So that’s all well and good, but I guess sometimes everything in your life just catches up with you and your body shuts down.  I think all the things that were bearing down on me just caught up with me.  I’ve been getting a lot of intense piercing pains and headaches this past month; I’ve never suffered through this kind of cranial pain before.  It’s not quite a migraine – the symptoms for that are far more intense – but it’s definitely not a pleasant experience.  I don’t know why I get them or what I can do about them (I’m not one to take painkillers unless I’m desperate, which happens like once every few months).

Emotionally I have been rather drained as of late.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to recover from being away from Panda.  I don’t miss him any less now than I did before.  I spend a lot of time wanting to go back just to see him, but at the same time I really value my time and experience here.  Still, it’s hard to get up and go out on the weekends when I can stay online and talk to him.  I don’t know why it’s so hard for me.  It also hasn’t been easy to find my own way here.  I’ve been trying to do more things on my own, which is good, but I’m doing it all alone.  There isn’t really anyone for me to hang out with or spend time with.  Not that I dislike anyone here, but I’m used to a lot of different social groups, all with different interests and preferences for activities.

And of course, there’s always the feeling that I don’t have a home to go to and crash at.  There is no space here that is exclusively mine, which is something I’m not used to.  It’s the exact opposite of how I grew up – with rooms to myself for most of the day and often the whole house to myself as my parents traveled around.  Even in college, when I shared my room with another girl, half of that room was mine.  I could do whatever I wanted and often had time alone in the room.  Plus, I could always go home home on the weekends.  So maybe it’s just caged bird syndrome that’s got me down.  It seems that I need to stop viewing myself so much as an outsider and guest here.  It’s hard to break away from that though, since most people I speak to outside of the office don’t seem to be able to understand me.  I feel so out of place when I’m not in the office or just alone and it’s a bit disheartening.

Marylin and I talked recently about how I don’t really interact with her parents, which is mostly why I still feel like a guest here.  I’m used to holing up in my room all day, doing my own things, so it doesn’t even occur to me to go out to the living room to talk to them, or something along those lines.  I’ve tried to greet them here and there, but I tend to be quiet when I do that and it gets lost in Marylin’s own greeting and consequent chatting with them.  So, I just keep walking and go to the room to give them time together.  After all, they hardly get to see each other, much less talk and hang out.  But it seems that my policy of "stay out of their way" is just alienating me and making them… not quite uncomfortable, but you get the idea.  It doesn’t help that I am hugely awkward with parents (or anyone I view in an authoritative position).  It took me a good 10-12 years to get myself to even be able to look them in the eye.

So, I need to work on putting myself out there more, even if it terrifies me.  I just don’t like to stand there awkwardly and not know what to do or say.  Before I left, my mom told me to offer to help with household chores, but that is taken care of the maid, so the most I do is clear the table after eating.  Starfish advised that I just ask them how their days were and I don’t know if I’m just not seeing opportunities to, but I feel like I haven’t really had a chance to say anything to them.  Either they’re watching TV or they’re not around.  Marylin’s mom will pop in on the weekends to offer me food, but by the time I go out to eat it, she’s retreated to her room or is out already.  There was one time she left it on the bed for me, so I just ate it in the room.  I usually don’t even see her dad around, but for when he’s watching a game or tournament.

And maybe it’s just me, but if I’m watching something, I don’t want to be disturbed.  On the weekends when Marylin’s going through her CSI Supreme Sunday fix, she tends to switch channels during commercials, which is something I never do.  If I’m watching something, I’m focused on it and I don’t want to miss out on any of it.  If it’s streaming live and I can’t pause it, I don’t do anything to disrupt that.  When it comes down to it, I just don’t know how to handle those situations.  When is it appropriate to say something?  What should I say?  How do I know if they’re talking just because they don’t want to be rude or if they actually don’t mind?  Sigh, I hate being awkward with older generations.  I’m not a "bring her home" type of friend.  I can’t even call them by their first names – the first time I called someone other than my peer by their first name was when I was 19.  Why am I so stiff?

Maybe this chronic exhaustion is due to too much processing for my brain.  From the work I’m doing and all that I’m learning to the struggles I’m undergoing, it’s a lot to handle.  I worry a lot because I think and analyze a lot.  I don’t like to share any of my stress though, so I’m hard-pressed to find an outlet.  I don’t like to complain and I don’t like to ask for help.  Meanwhile, Marylin will let out a sigh or talk about her frustrations with some of the work she’s trying to deal with.  Since I’m not used to expressions like that, it stresses me out to hear and see that too, especially when she taps her fingers impatiently.  For some reason, just hearing that speeds up my heart rate and makes me more anxious.  I tend to notice small details like that, which then makes things that aren’t a big deal out to be much bigger than usual.  I am a people-pleaser, but it seems that my approach in keeping to myself is not pleasing at all.  Then there are all the things I miss and want to do when I get back, but I’m trying to make myself focus on being here now and doing new exciting things.  It’s hard to be here and focused when my heart is not with me.  Whoever knew I could be such a homebody?

Gosh, I’ve got a lot to work on.

A future unknown April 23, 2009

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Today, Panda and I discussed our future living situation and it’s a good thing that’s far down the road!  Though everything else we differ in opinion on can be compromised more readily (like the cat I really want I can "adopt" by going to a local shelter to volunteer with the cats there), where to live is something that is much harder to agree on.  Though I think I would like to end up living in LA, I also can’t imagine not finally getting around to living in a few of the places I’ve been thinking about: Houston, Denver, somewhere in England again…  I’ve never lived in any city for longer than 4 years and I can’t stand thinking about being caged up to one city for the rest of my life.  I move a lot, I experience a lot, and I change a lot.  Ironically though, even though I’m used to change, I don’t like the change of having no more change.  Change is what I’m used to and that is what I’m comfortable with.  Ilike a new kind of scenery, a purging of my life here and there, and plenty of chances to learn from a wide demographic!

On the other hand, Panda is born and bred Californian.  Not only has he never left the country, he’s hardly left the state.  He knows LA and he loves LA.  It’s hard for him to imagine living anywhere else, ever.  He grew up with the same people pretty much in the same school district his entire life.  He hasn’t moved since he was just an infant (other than going to college).  Even the college he chose is close to home and right in the middle of LA.  He’s comfortable in that city and doesn’t want to leave.  Though he’s willing to take trips to visit places around the world, he’s just not interested in settling down anywhere else, for any length of time.  His life has been stable, consistent, and reliable.  So why would he want to take a chance and change all that?  It’s far easier to keep on doing what he’s doing and get a job in the area, raise a family there, and grow old there.  Very predictable.

I have known this about him and it has worried me a bit as I imagined our future together.  It’s good that we still have time to change ourselves and perhaps change our minds, but what if we don’t?  How do you reconcile two opposite demands?  Just vacationing is not good enough for me.  I want to immerse myself in a new place, which can only be done with lots of time.  So, I was thinking, maybe I could spend a few months of each year in another city and switch the city every few years.  However, I don’t like being away from him and I certainly would not want to start a family like that.  Panda suggested that we can try to have two houses, one in the greater Los Angeles area, and one in whatever other city I’m interested in.  That’s a good idea in theory, but when would he have the time to join me there?  Being an engineer, I’m sure his work days will be long and hard and the vacation time will be minimal.

Then I was thinking, maybe the company he works for would have offices in the places I’m interested in, so he can request a transfer for a year or two.  After a few of those, we could end up in LA again and settle down then.  Of course, that is banking a lot on the possibility of an office where I want to go and available space.  The type of work I’m doing now seems to (and hopefully is) propelling me towards a life of entrepreneurism and various ventures, which would make my schedule more flexible.  So perhaps I could just wait until he finds a good position and then we relocate.  Granted, this is assuming he’d be willing to go through all that trouble for a couple of years.

As a kid, I got sent on a lot of camps and trips, from annual summer visits to China to swim camps and boot camps (no, I was not a bad child, it was for my JROTC unit and I elected to go).  I like being exposed to different things all the time.  From my upbringing, I tend to get bored of things easily, unless it is always making me see and do things in a different way.  I am afraid that that is going to happen with LA.  I just need some time away, to get out all the dreams I’ve had before I can feel good about settling down in one place.  Unfortunately, that "time away" can take anywhere from 5-15 years.  Who really knows how things will turn out?  I’m trying not to worry about it right now, since it’s still far away, as are deeper commitments with each other.  But, here I am, just about seven and a half weeks into my time in Singapore and I can’t stand a day without him.  And much as I appreciate my experience here, I dream of the day that I get to hold his hand again.  How could I ever leave him in LA again and again for years?

For me, when it gets to the point where I know a city inside and out, it loses a lot of its appeal.  It is no longer mysterious, no longer exciting, but suddenly a solved puzzle.  But for him, Los Angeles is his home.  Literally and figuratively.  He’s familiar with its areas, its weather, its people.  He knows just where to go to get the food he wants to eat or the things he needs to buy.  At the same time, Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis with so much to explore and see!  From the famous landmarks to visit to the beautiful places to see, it offers up a whole bunch of options.  I can totally see him staying there forever and never getting bored.  I admit, there is still plenty for me to go see and do, but I’ve hit up most of the important areas (multiple times) and I’m ready to try something new in a few years.  I still want to go back and establish something there first, but after that… who knows.

As for now, we’ll both just have to see if we can break out of the barriers we grew up learning and find some sort of a compromise down the road.

Reaching out April 20, 2009

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I’ve never been one to ask for help.  Even though the people around me have been more than willing to do so, I grew up so used to doing things on my own that it doesn’t even occur to me to ask much of the time.  I have learned to be an extremely resourceful person and therefore, I love to share all the things I discover.  Yet rarely do I turn to my family and friends to ask them for their opinion or input on something.  Instead, I take the "I can do it" attitude a bit too far and miss out on the opportunity to bond with them and make them feel useful to me.

This is something I’m working on changing so I can allow myself to rely on others every now and then.  But it’s a hard thing to do, placing trust in someone else when you’d much rather just do it yourself.  It’s hard to resist the urge to hop online and find the answers I need on my own.  I realize I’ve missed out on a lot because of this, from time spent getting help on my homework so I wouldn’t waste so much time not getting it to relationships that didn’t deepen because I didn’t open up very much.  It’s a slow process to break this instinct to plow through piles of information to get my desired answer, rather than to interrupt a conversation or approach someone to ask them for their wealth of knowledge.

One great thing about my fraternity’s mailing list is that we can share with each other all sorts of information and ask for help if needed.  That is one of the few places I’ve ever reached out to ask for others’ opinions, thoughts, or knowledge.  Even then, I much prefer to help out whenever I can and share my experiences and expertise.  I think it’s wonderful to have a network like that that I can tap into whenever I want, it’s like having friends who never leave you, even if you hardly keep in touch.  I’m more used to maintaining relationships that are far less maintenance than traditional ones, where the closest people to me only talk to me periodically, typically monthly or less.

So, now with a boyfriend who I can’t go a day without talking to in one way or another, I’m starting to learn more about maintaining relationships.  Though it’s difficult to remain close to people when everyone is moving about all around the world, there are still plenty of ways to stay in touch and remain updated on each others’ lives.  I’m also trying to keep track of who is doing what, who is good at what, who likes what, etc. so I can tap into that in future, whether by asking for help or offering an opportunity.  I don’t know how quickly I can change an age-old habit of self-sufficiency, but to feel more in touch with people, I’ll try to make the effort.  Perhaps getting around to replying to all my facebook wall posts will be the start!

Treat your customers well April 14, 2009

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Right before I left LA, I had two very different experiences with customer service that brought to the forefront the idea that how you provide your service is very important for your image.  Then, as I mentioned yesterday, I just recently had another experience that emphasizes how great customer service can make up somebody’s mind about the quality of your work!  Even if the quality of your product or service is not related to the quality of your customer service, people will tend to go for people and companies they like and trust rather than ones that have no personal connection, but are mavens at what they do.  And that is the influence of word of mouth, which powers viral marketing.  Nothing is more reliable than the opinions of your closest friends, family, and colleagues.  So, a word to the wise, outstanding customer service can trump many marketing schemes.  And in this day and age, it probably costs a lot less to train employees to interact with your clients considerately than to put out a campaign.  Now let me describe my experiences.

So first of all, I had an excellent time getting my nails done at this little salon in Westwood across from the B of A.  When I went in, I kept asking how much time it would be and they could tell I was in a bit of a rush, so they sat me down and keep reassuring me they would get to me soon.  As soon as they could, they started to work on my nails and even brought a little fan over to speed up the drying of each layer as they painted.  Every now and then, they would say a few words to me to check on how I was doing and start some chitchat.  It was nice that they didn’t ignore me and just work away, but also didn’t pursue talking if I wasn’t being as responsive.  As I was sitting there, grateful that they sensed my urgency and did something about it, I decided to get more services done.  Thus, I asked about their eyebrow waxing and got that done as well.  When it was all done, they gave me these cute little foam slippers to wear since I had closed-toed shoes and put my shoes in a bag for me to carry.  The manner in which they presented themselves was very personable and inviting.  Plus, they offered their services at the best rates I’ve seen nearby!  I definitely plan on going back to that place for all future needs once I’m back in the area!

Now for the bad experience.  Panda and I went to get dinner at Yamato’s as one of the last things we did before I left.  It was also an unofficial belated birthday celebration for him.  The pricing at that place is great and the inside is very elegant-looking.  We were escorted upstairs to a couple’s table and ordered.  One of my items was a seaweed salad – classic for me at a Japanese restaurant.  So our huge bento box came and then our hand rolls arrived and there was still no word on the salad.  One of the waitresses came by to ask about the salad and went to check on it – three times.  You would think that after the first time they could throw it together in a few minutes’ time.  It’s just seaweed after all.  Meanwhile, our actual waiter acted like this was a perfectly normal wait time for a salad.  Huh???  I’m nearly done with my meal!  So, after I had pretty much had everything else, a manager-looking lady came along with it and I munched at it, slightly disgruntled.  It didn’t even taste that great, if I remember correctly.  Panda didn’t want me getting all upset and being difficult, but I was firm about not being walked over.  I wasn’t mean or unreasonable, but I was less than amicable and rather stern.  That’s what they get for poor service!  Later, I told my friend Koala about it and he agreed that they don’t have very good service there.  I guess that’s the price you pay for getting cheap food in a pretty, fancy place!

Finally, I opened up an IRA account with Fidelity yesterday, a bit apprehensive about them, but choosing them in part because I think I heard Panda said he used them and in part because they were the first ones listed.  I hadn’t really heard anything about them, how reliable they are, how their quality of service is, etc.  Upon setting up the account, I had some questions about certain procedures.  I e-mailed them and got a timely response soon after the start of their work day.  The reply not only addressed the issue I was contacting them for, but also followed up with questions about what I knew about the transaction and its implications.  I felt pleased that they actually cared that I knew what my decision meant for my finances.  After giving them the information they needed, I got another lengthy reply, fully outlining all the questions I had about what I was doing.  And to top it off, they turned crazy complicated financial jargon into easy to understand plain English terms.  Amazing!  You know what’s best?  This is all FREE!  Yaaay!  But because I feel so good about them now, I wouldn’t mind paying for their other services when I do need it.  Now that’s how you should do business.

Now it’s time to take this and evaluate how I approach clients and prospective clients.  In Blink, they mention how people won’t sue a doctor because they are bad as much as they will because they don’t like them.  Those doctors who spend the time and care to explain to their patients what’s going on and involve them don’t make less mistakes than other doctors who just go and do their exams.  Yet, they don’t get nearly as many lawsuits as the cold, heartless doctors who ignore their patients as they work.  So it’s time to work on my repertoire with the people I meet.  Sales is often about the relationship you build with people, rather than your ability to sell the product to people.  A certain level of trust is key to getting your foot in the door to close the deal.

The opening of a roth IRA April 13, 2009

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Today, I got an e-mail from my mother asking if I had set up an IRA yet.  I had joined Mint.com a few weeks ago, which sent me a couple of e-mails since then, reminding me that if I opened up an Individual Retirement Account before Tax Day, I could save thousands!  Thrice I went, filled out all my info to see what I qualified for, and decided that I should go for a Roth IRA.  Thrice I left it at that, not daring to click on the links below to Fidelity, Scottrade, E*Trade, or Charles Schwab to actually set up an account.  So today, I decided it was now or never.  With only two and a half days left before the big deadline, I went ahead and tried out Fidelity.

After filling out some basic info, I was in and they had not only my Roth IRA info, but also the other retirement accounts I had from previous jobs.  The money I chose to transfer was due to show up in the account in a mere day or two, which is quite speedy for banking transactions.  I’ve got to say, setting up an account was never so easy!  In fact, a little part of me started to get paranoid that if it was that easy, perhaps it was a fake site I had somehow stumbled upon.  However, the little lock symbol at the bottom corner of my browser reassured me that this site was safe and legit.  I hope I’m not too dependent on that little thing!  Plus, Firefox has been amazing at finding phishing scams and redirecting me before I get to that site.  So all in all, it checked out and I was pleased.

Now I had just closed down my 401(k) from the University of California, since I stopped working there a few months ago, and my mom remembered hearing something about how I could still put that money into my brand new Roth IRA if I had not cashed the check.  Well, the check is still there and just a few weeks old, so I e-mailed in a question about how to take care of that.  Quite early into their work day, I got a very nice reply, complete with caring questions to make sure I knew what I was getting into before I chose to move my money like that.  I have always slightly feared having to take charge of my own money and figure out what to do with it, between stocks, bonds, mutual funds, CDs, and the myriad of investment options out there.  But with a message like that, I felt taken care of and it put me at ease.  Now that’ssome great customer service.

So, just before my taxes are due, I have taken care of something that makes me feel good about my future.  Yeah, sure, things aren’t looking up in the economy right now, but hey, that means the deals now should be the best as companies vie for your business through higher quality or better deals.  Plus, having the deadline extended four and a half months definitely encourages us to save!  Normally what happens in 2008 would have stayed in 2008 for this season’s tax reporting, but to push national savings, we were given the new deadline of April 15th.  Lucky me!  It’s about time I finally got around to it; I’ve been meaning to do something about a retirement fund for a couple of years now, but while in college, you don’t really feel it as much.  Now that I’ve entered the working world, it’s time to be responsible for what happens to my money and do what I can to maximize my returns while preparing for the future.

I’m feeling a lot better about my finances and I’m no longer so scared about not knowing what to do with my money.  It’s great to know there are knowledgeable people out there who can help me.  Thinking about this reminds of my ex-bosses from Smith Barney, who were financial advisers for people in the aerospace industry.  Maybe someday they (or their proteges) will be able to handle Panda’s finances for him.  😛  Ultimately, I would like to be well-off enough to hire someone to help invest our money for us.  Otherwise, it’s just too stressful to keep up with the changing markets and understand the latest benefits of putting your money in so-and-so.  For now, I’ll just keep putting as much money away as I can manage and try to reap the benefits of compound interest.

Beautiful Los Angeles April 12, 2009

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I was watching a video with clips of an interview conducted overlooking the San Fernando Valley today and it brought up so many memories, particularly of Valentine’s Day, when Panda and I had a similar view.  Seeing that, with the California sun and telltale smog, made me miss LA so much.  Not just the memories and experiences from there, but the greater Los Angeles area in general.  From the landscape to the opportunities to the people, there is so much to love.  Between two cities in LA County, I have spent the greater part of the last six years living in Southern California.  I have certainly grown to the love place, despite the hours I spent travelling up and down the 5 and 405, stuck in traffic.  Of course, there is also a slew of terrific memories of all the wonderful things I got to experience there.  Most recently, there was the drive up and down Mulholland Drive that brought about some great new views of familiar territory.  Then earliest on, I had been introduced to many of the main attractions in the area, from Santa Monica Pier to the Hollywood Bowl.

I remember when I first moved out to California, I hated the place.  I was heartbroken from being torn from my high school friends, teachers, classes, and organizations with such little notice (everything happened within a period of two weeks).  I never got a chance to tell people I was leaving, but for a handful of close friends who I saw briefly days before flying away.  Everyone else just started school that year to find me on the other side of the country.  Between having to adjust to a new social life and academic challenges, it was frustrating to also be annoyed on a daily basis by small nusances like the dry weather.  I had to start showering in the mornings and pin my hair up to prevent it from getting too staticy and itching my skin.  It was also irritating to have to slathe on lotion day in and day out, just so my skin wouldn’t crack painfully, retricting my activity.  It took my body two full years to finally adjust to the arid SoCal weather.

Once I started college at UCLA, things began to look up as I started to discover myself more and more.  No longer worried about brittle hair or dry skin, I could go out and enjoy myself so much more.  It’s amazing how basic physical comfort can contribute so much to quality of life.  College life also brought about so many opportunities, explorations, and new experiences.  Although I had always grown up independent, this offered a different level of freedom, where I could sleep in on days I didn’t have class in the mornings or stay up all night hanging out with friends just because.  I also began to learn how to take care of myself, from doing laundry to making sure I ate and slept a decent amount.  Let’s not forget that students are offered so many great deals, from the countless groups to get involved in to the plentiful discounts exclusively for them.  Through that, I got a taste of the wide variety of attractions that LA has to offer, from the beaches and mountains to the entertainment centers and museums.  Food from all over the world is more or less offered there as well, though to differing degrees of Americanization.  Overall, it was truly unparalleled exposure.

Even though I’m used to never staying put in one city for too long, I can see myself staying in this one for years to come.  I have always strongly believed that I can make a living in any city, as I have always done.  But, at the same time, there’s something nice about claiming a city as my own.  As the one that I know in and out.  As the one I came of age in.  As the one where I found myself.  There’s a certain romantic notion about devoting so much to a city and absorbing yourself in that culture.  And of all the cities I’ve been to, I can’t think of another one better suited for my wants and needs.  The only thing I wish was different would be the quality of air.  Every time I see that layer of smog, I can’t help but think of how many years of my life I could be taking off just by breathing that in.  In the long run, I can see this being a city I would want to settle in.  However, at the same time, I am still interested in living in other places while I can still move around.  I don’t know how Panda feels about that one though.  Perhaps I will just have to take business trips and vacations to the other places I’ve wanted stay in.

I miss my home.  Not just the house we have, but the friends who are still there and the familiarity of the place.  I feel safe there, surrounded by everything I know and understand.  It has become my element, where I can effortlessly navigate life there.  Plus, I left my heart there.  I can’t wait to go back, if only to be able to hug Panda again and return to a place that is mine.

Webcam magic April 6, 2009

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I have gotten the pleasure of being able to chat with Panda online while on webcam for the past two weeks and I am so grateful for this technology.  Although it took me awhile to convince him we (or at least I) needed this, he finally decided to go for it and I’m quite confident he hasn’t looked back.  Our chosen medium of video chatting is TokBox, which is what Meebo uses.  I used to sign on to my AIM, MSN, and other accounts by using the in-browser service so I could access it from any computer, but for some reason it doesn’t seem to load at the office, so I have had to revert to using Trillian.  Unfortunately, due to compatibility issues, I can’t video with him on that, so we make our way over to TokBox to see each other.

I can’t even begin to express the joy it brings me to be able to see Panda’s face and use my own facial expressions and body language to interact with him.  So much is lost when our lives are too digitized, so it’s nice to use technology in a way that brings us more together rather than keeps us apart.  Being so far away from him is tough, but because I can still see him and hear him, it makes things a lot more bearable.  Perhaps it is also because I know that we can do this, so it’s almost an expectation, whereas I’m sure in the past, couples dealt just as well when they had nothing more than snail mail or brief phone conversations.  However, in this day and age, it is becoming far more normal to be thousands of miles apart, but just a few clicks away.  Thank goodness for the internet (all things free on it).

I’m even cheesy enough to be happy with working away at my tasks at my office desk as he scribbles away at his homework at his dorm desk.  We don’t need to constantly talk to each other or interact, as long as I can feel he’s near me (in a sense).  I love the accessibility I get this way, being able to see what he’s doing whenever I need a break and say a few words to himas thoughts come to me.  Plus, this has given me a look into his life in a way that I never had access to before.  I never really got to spend much time in his room, but now I am there with him, watching as he struggles to answer tough assignment questions or takes a break for a nap.  There’s something so comforting about that.  It also allows us to show each other things that may not be as well represented in still shots.  I feel so much more connected this way than just typing, though we did share a lot when the written word was all we had.  🙂

Of course, everything has its pros and cons and, for a packrat crazy sentimentalist like me, chatting on webcams means no lasting record of our conversations.  I still value being able to read back on what we wrote to each other, whether it was the notes from before I left or the e-mail updates after I arrived.  Being able to pull out a beautiful card written with a heartfelt message in his handwriting is also a comfort, and I cherish that too.  Even the IMs and e-mails we exchanged have so much character and so many great moments, a constant reminder to me of why he means so much to me.  I’ve been here for a month now and I miss my Panda a lot, but he has made his own sacrifices to help me enjoy myself more while away from him.  And we both have modern technology to thank for that.

Thank you Panda.

Earth Hour – a reflection personal passions March 28, 2009

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It was 8:05 PM when I opened up my planner to pen an event into it.  Suddenly, a reminder of Earth Hour was staring up at me.

"25 minutes!" I gasped.

"What are you talking about?" asked Marylin as Zen peered at me quizzically.

"Earth Hour!  We’ve got to turn off our lights for Earth Hour!"  I looked over at Zen: "You signed us up!"

And so, we all changed our plans to meet this commitment we had made by pledging our support for Earth Hour.  Rather than continue to work in the office as we had thought we were going to do, we headed out to eat some dinner.  Ok, so we cheated a little and didn’t confine ourselves to the dark.  But hey, we did turn off our lights!  We just went to take advantage of lights that were already on, that is all.

Being that recycling and conservation are the very things I want to build a company around someday, it was important for me that people are aware and care for causes like these.  Lately I’ve been going to a lot of informative sessions about various organizations in Singapore that are meant for the betterment of people.  There are the various divisions of the People’s Association, like Family Life, which is meant to promote the quality and importance of family life.  There is the Urban Redevelopment Authority, with plans to add infrastructure throughout town and expand and improve nature areas.  There are the efforts of the Yellow Ribbon Project to bring awareness and acceptance to ex-offenders, offering them a second chance at their lives.

And then, there’s Marylin’s passion for people with disabilities, which I’ve heard a good bit of lately.  Let’s not forget Zen’s love for the people in his life, which is pervasive in all that he does.  All this makes me wonder: for all the love I feel I have for people, why am I more interested in volunteering with animals and the environment?  Perhaps it is because I see it as my time to connect with the world and, in a sense, meditate.  It’s much easier to do that when your interactions don’t require conversations.  I’ve also always felt a huge connection with nature, finding the most peace in getting away from people and society.  I want to preserve that aspect of this world.  The things that live by their own rules and not ours.

So, sometime down the line, I want to create an environmental consultancy.  I don’t have the background to really go into air and water pollution stuff or how infrastructure can be built to be most efficient, but I can definitely become an expert in the types of materials and processes that are environmentally friendly for building with.  Mostly though, I want to advise organizations on how to create an effective recycling program, ways they can conserve on energy, alternative sources of power that can be employed, and also provide training for their members to promote awareness of these issues and show them why they should care.  I can also have seminars explaining how everyone can reduce their carbon footprints and offer easy solutions to greener lives.

As for the interest in animals, I absolutely adore cats (though I do like all creatures), so I think that will just be a personal pursuit for now.  I’m still trying to convince Panda to let me raise at least one cat.  Katana and I always used to joke that we’d grow old and be "crazy cat ladies" living next door to each other.  Though I don’t want to be stepping over them at home, I wouldn’t mind two or even three.  For now, I’ll have to wait it out and then find a shelter nearby with cats to volunteer at.  I’d really like to start a cat shelter myself, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to give any of them away.  Ever.  Maybe I’ll look into championing spaying and neutering and adopting from shelters.

Amethyst: my gemstone of choice March 12, 2009

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I am often inspired to write my personal opinion or a follow-up to what Katana has been writing.  I follow her feminist fitness blog, professional blog, and Associated Content material closely and as of late, she’s been a superstar in posting for AC!  Awhile back, she posted an entry about an engagement ring and today Lin and I were talking about such things, so I felt it was appropriate to delve into it a little more.

Katana’s article was about her how fiance wants to get an emerald on her engagement ring, partly because of his Irish heritage, but also partly because of their rarity and value.  It was fascinating for me to learn more about this gemstone, so I did my own follow-up research online to read more about it.  I was inevitably led to links for a variety of gemstones and one of them caught my eye: amethyst.  As far as I remember, it has been my favorite gemstone ever since I learned it existed.  Previously I was interested in blue sapphires, but purple is my favorite color, so that was quickly booted upon my new knowledge.

Now, it may not be a very precious gemstone, but I have never been one for expensive taste.  What I do like, as I have mentioned time and time again, is the sentiments and meaning behind things.  So, naturally, I started to do some research on what amethyst is known for and why it is valued.  I came across some very interesting information that coincides well with my preferences, so of course now I’m all the more convinced that if I were ever to get a nice fancy ring, it would feature amethyst.

For one, "amethyst is unique with its coloring," which appeals greatly to me and my personal taste for all things purple.  I do prefer darker, more blueish purples than the redder type, but I pretty much like all shades.  "If you get the right amethyst stone you can get a very deep and beautiful purple color that you cannot get with any other gemstone."  Other things I learned from this site I am referencing are that amethyst is less costly because of its availability and easiness to cut.  It has a lot of historical significance and monarchs and popes have been known to wear them.  Purple is the "royal color," after all.

According to the Wikipedia article, the Greeks and Romans used amethyst to ward off intoxication, which tickles my fancy because that can play off of how I don’t drink.  There are various stories surrounding it in Greek mythology, which I am fascinated with (both the stories and the mythology).  I even took a course in Greek mythology for fun!  Also, it is relatively hard, scoring a 7 on Mohs Scale, so it’s good for wear and tear.

The best color grade for it is called Deep Siberian/Russian (depends on the source what it’s called).  Doesn’t that just sound so cool?  Plus, it used to be one of (what is now) the cardinal four: diamond, sapphire, ruby, and emerald.  However, since it is now much more accessible after more deposits were discovered, they aren’t valued as much anymore.  I also love that it is the birthstone for February, zodiac stone for Pisces, and that I once went to Fowler with Panda and we came across some.  I even taught him how to pronounce it, haha.  A little bit of personal history adds so much meaning.

"It is a symbol of heavenly understanding, and of the pioneer in thought and action on the philosophical, religious, spiritual, and material planes."  Now though I am not striving for heavenly understanding, I certainly am working for more understanding all the time.  As for being a pioneer in thought and action, I’m all for that!  It could be a symbol and reminder of my goals to be a leader and inspiration.

So with all this talk about precious gemstones, I couldn’t help but look into engagement/wedding rings, since that’s what triggered this whole research endeavor.  That led me to this fun list of anniversary presents!  So cute and a totally fun, cheesy thing I’m into.