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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.


PC vs. Mac: the neverending debate April 24, 2009

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Disclaimer:  I have a strong bias towards PCs, so Mac-lovers may not like what I say.

Before I started to work here, Marylin warned me that I was entering Mac territory and would likely have to convert.  Dismayed, I tried to keep an open mind about it, but ultimately did not want to make the switch.  Thankfully, I have been able to use my HP Pavilion with few problems.  The only thing that stands out is my inability to connect to the company network to access shared files.  Other than that, I find that my PC is perfectly fine and usually outperforms those little Macs.  Unfortunately, my colleagues are far too enamored with Macs to appreciate it.  Recently, it seems like a lot more of the differences have become apparent to me.

First, let me go through the three experiences I had lately regarding the two different operating systems.  It started when I was retrieving some information off a website to store in our database for reference.  I thought I should use a Mac because it’s linked to the shared drive, so I could download directly to that.  However, I quickly lost patience using the clumsy mouse pad and decided to get it all done on my PC and then transfer it over via a thumb drive.  I found some articles that were embedded in the site, so they needed to be copy-pasted and then converted to a PDF.  When I did that on the Mac, all formatting was lost and I had to go through to change everything.  After switching over to my PC, I discovered that a quick copy-paste would yield basically ascreenshot of what was on the site, all formatting preserved nearly perfectly.  It was a breeze making the PDFs that way.

The next time I came across an issue was at a meeting, where Macs don’t have the right plug to connect to a projector, so we had to use my computer to present a PowerPoint to the clients.  Macs need this converter thing, which is such a hassle to remember to bring along.  Finally, later that same day I was compiling a list that I wanted to store in a database, where I could tag each item with keywords to cross-reference them according to the various categories they fit under.  I was looking into using Access to accomplish this, which would have been fine and dandy, except Macs can’t read those files.  So now we’ve got to look for a paid program or I’m going to have to painstakingly figure out how to make it work out decently on Excel.

Now my main reasons for preferring PCs have always been:
1. The right click!  So much functionality has been lost from not having that.  I really can’t live without it.  Granted, it seems that Apple has finally caught on are adding that in now.
2. The toolbar is at the top of my open box, no matter where that box is.  Why does it have to be the very top, no matter what program is open and where it is on the screen?  What if my window is open at the bottom right?  Then I have to travel all the way to the opposite corner to get to the "Finder" thing just to use the menu options.
3. Double-clicking that expands to full screen.  I am used to it expanding to full screen, not shrinking!  How do you even expand on a Mac, is it that teeny little green button?d
4. The buttons along the bottom of the screen to show all the programs I have open and one button to press to go to the desktop.  I often forget what is even still open on a Mac, and can someone please tell me if there’s any order to how the little screens appear when you sweep to one of those corners that shows all the open windows?  I don’t like accidentally moving my mouse to a corner and BAM everything disappears, or everything appears when I don’t want it to!
5. The backspace AND delete options.  Backspace removes characters to the left and delete removes characters to the right of the cursor.  Delete on a Mac does what backspace does on a PC.  So what on a Mac does what the delete does on a PC, pray tell?

And for HPs, I love the little remote that I get to allow me to control PowerPoints, movies, my music, or any other form of media from up to 10 feet away.  Then I am no longer tied down to where my laptop is sitting (like when it’s tied to the cable connecting it to the projector), so I am free to walk around as I present something, sit further away to watch a show, or dance around to my music, changing it as I want to hear a new song.

Another thing is that I like my mouse sensitivity set at very high.  I don’t know if it’s just because none of the Mac users I know like to make their mouse move faster, but I don’t have the patience to wait for the mouse to casually make its way across the screen.  In this new age of efficiency, that is just too slow.  I like a very sensitive touchpad.  And can someone explain to me why there’s an "apple" button and a control button?  Everything done with the apple button can pretty much be done with a control on a PC, so what in the world is the control for?  Is it trying to make up for the previously lacking right-click?  Maybe this is just something I’d get with time using it, but it seems superfluous to me.

A friend once told me that Macs are designed to be very childish and simple.  That’s very true.  Sometimes they are so simple it doesn’t make sense.  (Like the Finder example above – it’s very easy to always expect the toolbar in the same spot, no matter what, but it is also inefficient in many cases.)  Everything in their design is about simplicity and plainness.  Just one simple color, no designs.  Just one touch pad, nothing else.  Just a few small slits for USBs and CDs.  Oh, speaking of which, there are hardly enough USB ports!  With a wireless mouse and a thumb drive plugged in, they’re already maxed out!  What if I want to plug in just one more thing?  Now maybe it’s just my computer and not all PCs have three slots, but I’m comparing what I have to what I’ve seen of Macs (the new silver ones with the glass screen).

Even their logo is childish and simple.  For 22 years it was the apple shape we all know, but shaded in rainbow colors.  A very simple design and all those colors is rather reminiscent of crayons.  After it was revamped to be the new version that could be blown up without looking tacky, it’s now no more than a silhouette.  Yes, it looks sleeker, but it is still very basic.  And that is great for them – it costs much less to print just one color, the logo is easily recognizable, and it can readily be duplicated.

What I do like about Macs are the scrolling option if you use two fingers, as well as the expand or shrink option if you move your two fingers further away from or closer to each other.  They also tend to be the quietest, though if I keep my laptop parallel to the ground and off of soft surfaces, it doesn’t complain either.  The new glass screens are quite nice as well, leaving less room for dust to get in cracks and giving a nicely smooth texture.  And I do agree that Macs tend to be better for creative work though, in terms of design and whatnot.

My one gripe about my laptops are that they are dead heavy.  I have that one coming though, since I prefer to get the ones with wide screens and this one also has a reserve battery power that gives me extra oomph.  My shoulders pay the price of that decision, but ultimately I don’t mind.

The sleek designs of Macs are much of what makes them appealing, but a lot of functionality is lost through that.  I guess that’s why they sell/don’t sell.  Some of the population is out for aesthetics over usability.  Most of the population is looking for functionality.  And I am one of those individuals who would not pay exorbitant amounts for looks.  But hey, to each his own, I guess.

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.

The ones who blast their music April 21, 2009

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On the way to work this morning, I had the unfortunate experience of standing next to a guy with his music blasting into his ears.  I don’t know what it is about people out there, but they all seem to need their music played at exorbitant volumes.  It’s completely unnecessary and rather harmful too, yet they either don’t know or don’t care and go on with their deafening habits.  It has long been proven that prolonged exposure to loud noises is damaging to our ears.  Is it just that people have not gotten the memo?  Besides the point that is it deafening, literally, it’s also disruptive and inconsiderate to the people around, most who just want a peaceful start to their day.  For those who are trying to drown out ambient noise, get those noise-canceling headphones or learn how to focus on the sound right by your ears, rather than the ones slipping through!

Perhaps it is because of my background studying psychology, which in turn includes biology and physiology, that creates a bias in my knowledge about this subject.  But surely any lay man who goes from an extremely loud environment to a quiet one can tell that the ringing in their ears is not a good thing.  Note to the wise: ringing ears means auditory damage!  You are killing off nerves in those ears!  Now a bit of exposure here and there is hardly noticeable, but when you’re subjecting yourself to that for hours each week, it will result in permanent damage that cannot be reversed.  So are these people just looking to incapacitate themselves this way?  This will always be a mystery to me.  Do people think they’re somehow "cool" by doing this?  Maybe it’s just me, but I find it an annoying and rude behavior.

Listening to music loudly is often used as a means to ignore the rest of the world.  After all, if your eyes are averted and your ears are plugged, how do we get your attention?  This is a phenomenon you’ll find common on college campuses are students bustle around campus, rushing to get places.  The main thoroughfare through UCLA, Bruinwalk, is abound with students ignoring each other and the people frantically trying to give them fliers as they pass by.  It’s notorious amongst all students that earphones in means everyone out.  Sure, sometimes you need to focus on yourself and where you’re headed or what you need to do, but really, do you need to act like you’re the only one left on the planet?  Playing music at a reasonable level allows you to filter through things that you don’t want to hear, but also catch important ones like someone chasing after you, calling your name.  Since when did we become so antisocial?

I have always listened to my music at a level that is just enough to hear, but not enough to drown out what is going on around me.  I like to be aware of my surroundings and if I can’t hear the sirens approaching that I should give way to or the people behind me who are excusing themselves while trying to dodge me to get off the train, I’m far more likely to be a nuisance and get in the way.  So what do you say?  How about turning down the volume a little and not shutting yourself off in your own world, oblivious to your surroundings.  We as humans are not meant to function that way.  That is why we are social and why we form societies.  So, next time you have the urge to blast your music at the max volume, turn it down halfway and allow yourself time to enjoy the world you’re in.

Appearances April 16, 2009

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I’m making my way through Blink, which talks about how powerful our unconscious minds are.  One of the things it mentions is how height, gender, and other physical traits can really influence us, even if on a subconscious level.  It’s going to take us a long time to ever overcome (or even come close to that) initial impressions based on a person’s appearance.  Those who are taller exude more power; those who are well-shaped exemplify better health; and those who are good-looking are expected to be better people at everything they do.  It takes a lot of training and exposure to lessen the effects of the unconscious feelings we get from our split-second judgment of a person.  It’s a sad truth of evolution that we tend to have these immediate reactions.  It’s how we size people up at a glance.

Our views of others continues to be molded by the way they look, among other factors, even after we get to spend some time getting to know them.  A lot of societal constraints force us to still dress in business attire when we’re doing things related to work, or wear certain clothes to fit a certain "type" of image, such as punk or preppy.  It’s because of this that there are dress codes and categories of people based on what they choose to wear.  Perhaps this is why I feel very sharp when I dress up in formal clothing and more casual when I’m in my sweats.  What you choose to wear really does send a message.  You’d certainly never find me tottering around in high fashion clothes, not only because I don’t care to pay the money for those things, but also because I find that look to be silly.  It’s just something I don’t get.  What I do wear either tells people that I am a business woman and I take my work seriously, or that I am a low-maintenance girl who just wants to enjoy herself and not worry about looking stellar.  (Wow, even my language reflects the impression I am presenting, with woman being a more serious noun and girl being a more relaxed one.)

It’s funny how every choice you make can be so reflective of your nature.  But, that is always to be taken with a grain of salt, as there are certainly people who don’t "look the part."  On a very broad scale though, how a person looks in just a fraction of second of seeing them is actually quite a decent measure of their personalities and preferences.  That’s what Blink is telling us.  This is generally not easily accepted, since we value getting more information.  More is not always good and in certain cases, less can be more accurate!  Mind-boggling, isn’t it?  I am constantly amazed at all the previously counter-intuitive things that have been proven true in research.  Even our intuitions are being molded differently now!

So in the end, I will still conform a bit to society’s expectations of me, much as I may disagree with it sometimes.  After all, it will help get me further in my goals.  A bit of resistance and change is good.  I want to run an unconventional office one day, but until then, there are certain things I must still do for others to accept me as capable, reliable, and trustworthy.  Not that I mind wearing business clothes!  It’s just other things that I don’t care for.

Breaking the ice April 15, 2009

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I spent the last two days manning a table at the SHRI HR Congress to promote Right Impact Training, the training and education part of Caelan & Sage.  At first, Marylin handled the people who came to our booth as I listened to what she said, how she said it, what she was asked, and how she responded.  Soon enough, I was at it on my own, engaging people who came by to check us out or stood looking at us curiously.  This was reminiscent of my training day for Natural Selection Promotions, where I met with one of the demo-ers and she showed me the ropes.  As I observed how she did it, I began to lure more customers over to try the product and after a bit, I was quite well-versed in why it was a great thing to eat.  So, as I do, I sat back and watched until I was ready to try it out on my own.  For the most part it went decently, with just a few people who were less than receptive and left without leaving any contact info.  Occasionally, I’d get a question that I didn’t really know, so Marylin would jump in and provide more details.

I have found that I can be quite comfortable working off a table, where anyone who comes by and looks at us long enough should know that they are just asking to be talked to.  They are the ones who make themselves available and open to some pitching, so they tend to be interested inhearing more.  However, one thing I wanted to work on was going out into the crowd of delegates and striking up a conversation that would lead to another networking opportunity.  Unfortunately, this is definitely one of my weaknesses, unless I am in a high-energy environment like a camp or organized icebreaker activity.  Since this was very much professional and all about business, I didn’t know how to approach the people as they were munching on food or sipping on drinks.  My innate shyness always finds a way to kick my butt at these gatherings.  When I was a child, I was so quiet and reserved with strangers that I couldn’t even look them in the eye and I would flush a bright red in the stress.  Since then, I’ve improved a lot, but in situations that I am uncomfortable in, I tend to revert back to some of those old ways.

Now it’s not so much a problem of approaching strangers, but it’s more of what context I am doing it in.  I went around to all the exhibitors located in the other room and was perfectly happy with going up to each of them, chatting them up on who they are and what they do, then in turn sharing who I am and what C&S is all about.  Based on that information, many a business card were exchanged, with promises of e-mail correspondence to come.  There were some possible collaborations and a few potential clients, which was very promising.  That was much easier for me because everyone knew that the people at those tables were there to spread the word on their company, so we had a pretense to start with.  Then, upon telling me their story, they were curious about mine (I think especially with my American accent), which opened up a chance for me to share with them without imposing on them.  Everything seemed unpretentious and we built up a good rapport that way.

My difficulty with approaching the delegates at the congress was due to the fact that every time they were in our area, they were getting a meal to eat or having a tea break.  So to start off with, they are more in the relaxing type of mentality.  Granted, they realize that these types of professional conferences are a breeding ground for making new connections, but I feel intrusive walking up to them with an agenda.  I could try one of our teammates, Napper’s, tactic and just chat them up on how they found the congress so far and whatnot, but that is not quite my selling style.  Marylin has a very aggressive approach and Napper has a very laid-back approach; I am somewhere in between, but closer to Marylin’s style.  Perhaps I need to change my frame of mind and not take this type of event as a sales event, but more as a networking event.  In part my impatience is because I want them to see the intrinsic value of our services right away and look into hiring us or working with us.

The next time I get a chance to go to something like this, or when I go to the next forum or sharing session, I will remind myself that I am just there to meet new people, whether or not they will be useful business contacts.  I have been pressuring myself too much lately, always thinking very critically about how each interaction could turn into an opportunity for us.  I remember I used to love to chat people up for no good reason but to talk to them.  We’ll see if that mentality will improve my fear of approaching strangers…

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.

Family life April 10, 2009

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At times I wish I had more family living near me, or a greater extended family sprawled around the world.  I have always dreamt of having an older brother to rely on (or a gay best friend).  Since I tend to connect a lot better with guys, I have always wanted to have one who was very, very close to me in a platonic way.  Unfortunately, though such figures have come and gone, I can’t really claim one guy who I can run to when I am hurt or scared or just have a great secret to share.  More than that though, I wish that my cousins and I were closer.  When I was young, I would always follow them around so closely that they nicknamed me their shadow.  It was true enough, since I only got to see them once a year for a few weeks and that was my only tie to my background.

I have lived my life very much alone, or in a tiny family unit consisting of me and my parents.  I always love to have people over to my house simply because nobody ever visits!  It’s always just me, my mom, my dad, and for some years, my cats.  There are no random second cousins or great aunts, twice removed who can swingby to say hi.  In fact, there isn’t a single other person in our family in the country, from either side of the family.  So, other than the summers that I got to go back to China in my childhood, I’ve hardly ever seen my relatives.  Lately, I have also spent a lot of my time on my own, first as I went off to college, then as my dad moved back to China, then as I studied abroad in England, then as my mom moved back to China as well, and finally as I moved out to Singapore to work.

Granted, I am not alone alone.  Yet, I have had nobody I can call family in the same country as me for the past two and a half years, but for the few months my mom came to visit, the couple of weeks my dad has spent back, and the lucky few days that some of my aunts and uncles got to come watch me graduate from UCLA.  Family, after all, are the only people who are linked to you from day 1.  And in my life, they are the only ones who have always been there, even if it was largely in the background and rather out of reach.  But year after year, they are there, growing in their own ways, and eventually we will catch up again.  For me, friendship has not worked out quite that way, since each move brought another group of people to leave behind.  I can never claim a best friend from my childhood who watched me grow up.  The only people who truly watched me grow up were my parents.

I have certainly been blessed with a lot of wonderful people in my life, but once again I find that they come and go.  I’m so used to people leaving my life and becoming a great memory that I didn’t even notice I do that, until a close friend pointed it out.  Perhaps I got too conditioned to having to leave people behind with every move we made over the years.  I don’t have the mindset that makes me think of someone, pick up the phone and call them, or drop them an e-mail to catch up.  Instead, I just wonder whatever happened to them and how they are doing.  I am always grateful when I do hear from a long-lost friend and get to see how they are doing in their lives.  I love that we are becoming a more globally connected world now and facebook was the first social media tool that allowed me to get in touch with friends from lives past.  I also love that you don’t need to be maintaining a conversation with each other to keep tabs on and be able to find each other years down the line.

I like to dream about a handful of aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins bustling around during Chinese New Year, as the whole family makes time to be together.  Sadly, I’ve only been in China once during that time of year since I left (which was when I was too young to remember anything anyway) and I don’t recall a thing about it.  My dad has told me that to truly experience Chinese festivities, I need to spend Chinese New Year back in his hometown, the little place that he grew up in.  Now that truly has small town flair in its celebrations, with all the stops pulled!  Maybe if I have time next year, I can make it come true, in the second Year of the Ox that I will experience since the one I was born in.  2010 will be an important year for me because I will have gone through two full Chinese zodiac cycles.  I’m sure that has some sort of significance.

Someday, I’d like to be able to gather with all my relatives (or at least one representative from each family unit).  But over the years, even our not-so-big family has had trouble reuniting as my cousins married off and started to create their own little families.  Between work, children, spouses, and friends, it’s hard to find time to get together like we used to when everyone lived in the same town and the only ones missing were me and my parents.  Now I’m embarking on my own life as well, sacrificing time with loved ones in hopesof building a strong foundation for a successful future.  Work is hardly as flexible as tertiary education was, with more hours and less ease of changing schedules.  Plus, there’s a lot less time off per annum.  On the other hand, I am very fortunate to be working for a company that would, like no other, work with me to try to make it happen, if I so chose.  One of the things I will miss most about education is the lovely summer months filled with enrichment learning, extracurricular fun, and personal fulfillment.

Despite all this daydreaming about a huge family, I still don’t want more than two or three kids, if only because I don’t know if I can handle any more.  Growing up so independent and with all the attention focused on me makes it difficult for me to conceive how it would be with a handful of children running amok.  The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it?  And that is why I wish I had a companion to grow up with, whether sibling, cousin living nearby, or best friend from childhood.  But, because I know there is this tendency to think that the other way is so much better, I do recognize the benefits of only childhood.  Thus, I don’t want to overcompensate by having so many kids I don’t know what to do with myself.  Instead, to create that feel, I’d like to live in a neighborhood where everyone knows each other and the kids can play together.  This would also be a great way to expose them to how others live their lives, especially if it’s a multicultural communit

Doctor Qin, Professor Qin April 9, 2009

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This summer when I was spending time with my parents in Beijing, I got a chance to drop by their office and see where they work (and who they work with).  While I was there, it was the strangest feeling to see my dad’s fancy pants office, with mahogany furnishings and all kinds of cool decorations.  It reminded me of one time when I went to see him at his last US office (in LA county), where he had a secretary to liaise with.  People had to go through her to get to him and that, to me, was so odd.  After all, I’ve always had full access to him!  What was all the more strange this time though, was hearing him being called and referred to as "Dr. Qin" – umm, what?

I don’t often see my dad operating in his element, working hard at what he does best, so I’ve been rather sheltered from the professional side of his life.  He gets a lot of respect in the office and seeing that really reminded me that my dad is a valuable resource at my fingertips.  He has a lot of work experience, especially in mangerial and executive level work, plus he’s always willing to advise me for anything I need, me being his only child and all.  I often lose sight of that, which I shouldn’t, since there is so much wisdom he has to share.

I think it’s funny that my parents named me Qin Bo (秦博), where the 博 (bo) part, which is my given name, represents the 博 in professor.  The complete term is actually 博士 (bo shi) and 秦博士 (Qin bo shi) translates to Doctor or Professor Qin (aka someone who has earned a doctorate degree).  In actuality, 博 by itself means "rich, abundant, plentiful, win, or gain" so that works out to be a good meaning too.  My parents had decided to name me this because professors are one of the most highly regarded and respected positions in China.  Thus, in naming me this, they wanted me to become a successful, smart, and respected figure later in life.

So, when people call my dad Qin bo shi, it’s a bit awkward for me not only because it’s odd for me to see people so formal with my dad, but also because my name is nestled in there and at first you can’t tell who they’re going to call.  All my life I’ve grown up wanting a docorate degree if only to be able to call myself Qin bo shi as well.  I’m already halfway there with the "bo" part, so now all I need is years of hard work to get myself a "shi" part as well!  😛  Unfortunately, the path that I’m taking and the subjects I’m interested in don’t lend themselves to needing a doctorate, so it doesn’t look like I will be going in that direction.

In fact, I may go get my MBA more as a rite of passage than for any real purposes.  I’m sure there’s still plenty to be learned, but in terms of the extra mileage I could get from business school versus what I learn every day at the office, it may not be worth it.  Instead, I’m still aiming for business school because I want to prove to myself that I can do it.  I can also use it as another way of networking and truly finding like-minded people who are every bit as amibitious as me.  And who knows, maybe a few years down the line I will want to try a different line of business and it will be useful for my transition.

My blue, blue brain April 3, 2009

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Today I really felt the effects of having what is dubbed a "blue brain" in Emergenetics terms.  Blue-brained people are the thinkers who sit there, rationalizing things and using logic to solve problems.  Learning is done best by mental analysis.  And that, is exactly how I am.  I’ve been laboring over a project this past week, trying to turn all the information for our training branch into a simple, comprehensive slide show.  I had originally written a script for it, typing out what I thought should be spoken and what images/words could coincide with that.  I sent that out to the boss to look over and got back his edits, showing me the type of language he prefers to use and the style he was looking for.  From there, I changed things up as needed.

However, Marylin then told me about the time she made a Powerpoint of what she wanted and then turned it over to our creative head to edit and touch up as needed.  So, of course, I decided to give it a try and make his life easier.  Little did I know the ensuing headache that I would encounter.  First of all, this type of thing takes a very yellow brain.  What do I mean by that?  Yellow-brained people are conceptual learners, with vivid imaginations, reliance on their intuition, and a penchance for the unusual.  They are the groundbreaking visionaries who try out new things and don’t mind experimenting around to find what they like.

I amnot very strong in this area.  AT ALL.  Though I have some ideas for certain transitions we can use and ways we can display the words and pictures, I am far from the artsy creative type.  No, in fact, my creativity is more in terms of words and thoughts.  I also don’t like to make mistakes.  So you can see, there’s a bit of a clash here, between my learning and working preference and the nature of the project I am trying to produce.  Marylin is very much a yellow brain, which probably has something to do with why she was able to whip up a presentation.

Instead, I have spent days first figuring out how to cut down the message yet still convey all the information.  It’s still not enough!  On top of that, I have all these ideas for images I’d like to use, but I don’t know where to find them in past event photos.  I also have very few new ideas on how I can display the pictures once I do find them, so they sit lamely on a page, surrounded by text.  Not exactly the eye-catching presentation I was aiming for.  So today, I started to get rather frustrated with all the things I wanted to do but couldn’t and all the things I knew I should do but didn’t know how.

Thankfully, I took the issue over to the green brain in the house and he put his practical, structured way of thinking to work.  Green brains learn best by doing and that is exactly what he set out to do, helping me explore the options I had and how I could go about creating the effects I was looking for.  He also asked me a lot of questions to figure out what I want to convey (but still, I had the issue of HOW to do it nagging at me).  With his help, I have planned out more of what I need to do.  Now there’s the issue of getting that out of the way so I can get back to how, how, how!

I have always appreciated people with great artistic abilities, from dancers to pianists and interior designers to graphic designers.  My respect was built off of the simple fact that I just don’t have a knack for that!  My deep appreciation for skills such as video editing stem from a certain intimidation though.  Because it looks so daunting to me and something so out of my reach, I put it on a pedestal and call it a day.  When I do go about trying to tackle that task myself, it takes painstakingly long, but I can do it.  I don’t think I do it very well though; there are certainly people who have a natural talent for those things.

So, with this work sitting here, waiting to be done, I am trying not to get too discouraged at the prospect of all the effort it will take me.  Instead, today I got to distract myself by helping Marylin edit some material she was writing.  I have a near anal tendency to pick out grammar and spelling errors and it comes quite easily to me, so it’s almost fun for me to read through documents over and over, picking out all the typos and awkward sentences.  I was quite happy to have some "mindless" work to do as I took a break from the video/slide show haunting me.  Sadly, it seems that I am quite good at the very work that people get interns to do.

Thankfully, I am also a brainstormer, constantly getting little epiphanies about random ideas that have been floating around in my head for awhile.  That is why creative consultant work sounds perfect to me!  I get to sit around and analyze things like I prefer to do and also tap into my red brainedness – the social part that is sympathetic, empathetic, and socially aware.  This part of me learns from others by interacting with them.  But for the life of me, I cannot get my yellow brain to come to the forefront, much as I need it now.  That’s a pity.