Minnow Park

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Our 1BR Home Office

For the past few years, ever since my wife freelanced, she has worked out of our living room. We have a one-bedroom apartment, and she had a desk set up against a wall with her work spread around her. If I worked from home, I took to the sofa or a corner of our kitchen table. This setup helped keep expenses down as she grew her company, but it took a toll on us. Every night when we sat on the couch trying to relax while staring at her desk and the work that was waiting for her in the morning.

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To regroup, we took a trip up to Scribner’s lodge last year, a few days before Thanksgiving. We talked about how we could create better systems where we can be productive but also keep a healthy work/life balance. We talked about better scheduling and prioritizing, but as long as her studio was our living room, the balance would be way off. On the drive back down to NYC, Becky came up with an ingenious idea.

We knew we weren’t ready to move to a two-bedroom apartment, nor did Becky think it was time for her to get a studio space for work. So we decided instead to take inspiration from Asian “floor culture.” In countries such as Korea and Japan, where there is less space than NYC, you usually have one room serve multiple purposes. It’s why we take off our shoes when we enter someone’s house. Floors had to be kept clean since that’s where did a lot of our living.

Instead of trying to fit a sofa, a dining table, and a bed in one space, they used a more modular approach. The room became a living room when you brought out mats to sit on. When it was time to eat, there was a table you could unfold, and when it was time for bed, you’d roll out a mat to sleep on at night. If we could sleep in the living room, the bedroom would no longer be a room for a bed; instead it would just be a room.

A room we can turn into a home office.

The more we thought about it, the more it made sense: sleeping has a definite beginning and end. Once you wake up, you don’t need a bed until the evening. If you’re working from home, it made little sense to have a room empty for most of the day.

We asked for advice from our friends who did something similar when their twins were born. They turned their bedroom into the kid’s room and got a sofa bed in the living room. They said we should get this foldable foam mattress that could be packed away in a case rather than a sofa bed. We bought the mattress to test if it was comfortable enough to sleep in, and it was. 

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Once we knew we could sleep on the floor, we bit the bullet and made the switch. The mattress, once folded, fit perfectly into a small closet. We got rid of the mattress and bed frame, moved Becky’s desk to the room, bought a shelf for her supplies, and I bought a desk for myself. Within a few weeks, we had flipped our apartment. 

So now every night, when we’re ready for bed we take out the mattress from the closet, bring down our blanket and pillows and go to sleep. When we wake up, we put everything back in the closet. Setting up and packing the bed away each takes less than a minute to do.

It’s been a few months since we made the switch and it feels like we moved into a new apartment. We both feel so much more productive working at home. When the workday ends, we close the door to the room and wind down in the living room, work free. Changing our environment this way has allowed us to build good habits and momentum so we can be more productive and balanced in our work and life.

Write Toward Vulnerability

The whole book is a gem, but this advice towards the end of the Bird by Bird will stay with me for a long, long time.

“Write about your childhoods, I tell them for the umpteenth time. Write about that time in your life when you were so intensely interested in the world, when your powers of observation were at their most acute, when you felt things so deeply. Exploring and understand­ing your childhood will give you the ability to empathize, and that understanding and empathy will teach you to write with intelligence and in­sight and compassion.

Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you're conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say; in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don't be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.

If something inside you is real, we will probably; find it interesting, and it will probably be uni­versal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulner­ability.

Don't worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you're a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”

I created all these different websites/identities online so that whatever I wanted to say could be organized and filed so that I don’t “risk being unliked”. But the safer route betrayed me because I just sat overwhelmed by having to maintain all these different identities. Instead, I’m collapsing all of myself onto here. Going to “write towards vulnerability”, so that I can decrease “the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.”

To Strangers

A great scene from one of my favorite movie in the last 5 years, Blade Runner 2049. Also for behind the scene aficionados, Michael Green one of the writers of the film kept a diary while he was on set during the production of the movie. It’s an inside look at a man taking on a huge project and rising up to the challenge. I love the way he writes.

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Canon EOS R Review

It's been a while since I was looking forward to a new camera body like the EOS R. Usually I’s wait to see what the next iteration of the 5D line would be and if it had enough upgrades, or if the one I had was getting too old, I’d upgrade. The 5D Mark III and Mark IV bodies I have now are workhorses, and they get the job done well.

But when I heard about a full frame mirrorless camera that was smaller than a DSLR, had an actual silent shutter, and that it was compatible with my EF lenses, I was stoked. I ordered it and it arrived on launch day. I’ve used it exclusively for the past three weeks on multiple shoots from portrait sessions to events. And although all of those features lived up to its expectation, I returned the camera today.

The camera does live up to all the features I mentioned (I used the silent shutter mode when photographing at a conference, and I couldn’t believe how quiet it was. My 5D’s must have sounded like hands clapping all these years) but it just doesn’t fit the way I photograph.

Let me explain.

For the uninitiated, one of the main differences between a DSLR and a mirrorless camera is the viewfinder. When you look through the viewfinder of a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera, you are looking through a prism and a mirror, essentially a window to the scene you are photographing. And what you see through the viewfinder and what the sensor capture is not the same, and so you adjust ISO, aperture, shutter speed based on exposure metering to get the proper exposure (fn).

The EOS R is a mirrorless camera. The viewfinder is a small screen that shows what you’re looking at. You can see what kind of image the sensor will capture and as you change the camera settings you can see the result on that screen. This is helpful to photographers ton take out the guesswork of exposing a scene properly, but the fact that you are staring at a small monitor means that when you shoot the way I shoot, the mirrorless camera’s viewfinder lagged ever so slightly behind the DSLR’s.

The best analogy I could come up with is the difference of an Apple Watch versus an analog watch. Because the Apple Watch cannot have the display on all the time due to battery life considerations when you raise your wrist to see the time the accelerometer and million other things realize that's what you’re doing and turn on the screen for you. Once you put your arm down, it shuts off the screen. This happens multiple times a day. But between the time you raise your wrist and when the screen turns on, there’s a fraction of a second delay for the screen to turn on while the watch is doing its thing.

But with an analog watch, the time is just there, all the time. There isn’t a computer that’s turning on the watch face. As fast as photons can bounce off the watch and your retina can perceive them, you see the time. Compared to an analog watch, the delay in the Apple Watch is something I happily tolerate because seeing the time instantaneously isn't crucial for me. And the functionality of my Apple Watch far outweighs the “inconvenience” of waiting that fraction of a second.

I usually shoot a burst of three to five images after I compose a scene and feel what's going on, but after every click of the shutter, there was this slight lag on the EOS R as the image I captured disappeared and the live view came up again. With the SLR, the shutter just blinks once to reveal the sensor and then you're back to the next moment, nothing in between photons and my retina.

That’s what crucial in my photography and no matter the advantages of this camera, I can’t compromise the way I approach and capture a scene. This doesn’t mean that the future of digital cameras isn’t mirrorless. The removal of a mirror and the shutter mechanism has a lot of advantages. Such as making possible a 28-70mm f/2.0 lens because the lenses can be mounted closer to the sensor. It also doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t buy a mirrorless camera in the future. There will be iterations of this camera, and they will only get better. But right now, it’s not for me. As I was using the camera, I kept trying to change the settings to make it behave like an SLR, and that not what it was designed to do.

Maybe it’ll take a few years, but until then I'm happy with my hand clappers.

Wednesday
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There weren’t that many people on the F train down to Essex St. this morning. Maybe 15 at most? I was one stop away when a guy walked in and apologized for the interrupting.

He said he’ll keep it short:

“Hello, my name is Matt and I’m homeless. I’m trying to get to a men’s shelter tonight (sure you are). I recently started a part time job (then why are you asking for money?). But I have zero to my name. I need money to get some warm clothing that I can’t find at the clothing drive (yeah, probably not for clothing). Anything will help. Thank you and stay safe.”

I checked my bag to see if I could give him a protein bar I usually have. No luck.

He finished his pitch and walked past me to get to the next train car, but realized the doors were locked. So he stood in the middle of the train waiting till the next stop. His eyes canvassed the few of that were there to see if anyone was reaching into their pocket. We caught eyes a few times. 

Then from the other end of the train car, another guy walked in mumbling, “Anyone got a quarter? Anyone have a dollar?” His speech was the exact opposite of the one I heard a minute before. Much easier to ignore.

He started to walk towards where Matt was standing and then I realized I never saw two people in the same train panhandling before. And with the train as empty as it was, I couldn’t help but watch to see what would happen. 

Just then, Matt walked over and reached into his pocket and gave the guy some money. Maybe it was a quarter, maybe a little more. I don’t know how long it took Matt to collect that much change, but he gave without hesitation. It didn’t matter to him what the guy’s story was. They walked together to the other end of the train together and it seemed like Matt was telling him the door was locked. 

I took a dollar from my wallet, and as we neared my stop I walked over to Matt and gave it to him.

EssaysMinnow Park
My Fat on My Sleeve

I’ve always, always, always hated the way my body looked. I never thought it was good enough and still don’t till this day. Before I could learn about proper nutrition, I had already hit puberty and was obese. My genetics weren’t helpful either. I gain weight on my face and stomach, two places that society and I have deemed unsightly.

When life was simple, like early twenties living at my parent’s home and going to my entry-level job simple, I got into a routine. And over the course of a year, I lost nearly 50 pounds. My body transformed and I’m still gaining the benefits of it now. But as life got complicated with relationships and freelancing, that routine went away. I realized I was disciplined because there wasn’t anything else to do but that back then. I couldn’t keep it up because my motivation came from a place of self-loathing than a desire to get healthier. If it came from the latter, I would’ve been better about keeping it up.

And it’s been that way ever since, but that’s not good enough anymore. It’s not where I want to be. I don’t want to feel like I will finally become the person I want to be if I can just lose 30 pounds.

I recently did a thought experiment about how rather than my body being a product of ignorance and indulgence, what if it’s from the love I received from my family and friends?

My dad worked for 70 hours every week for as long as I can remember to provide for our family. When we came back from school, my mom was in the kitchen cooking for my brother and I every night. When we sat together to eat, my parents would have a routine banter. Mom would urge us not to eat so fast, and my dad would tell her to stop nagging us because we were growing boys and we needed to eat. There may have been some truth to all of that, but really it was because mom was happy that we loved her food, and my dad was proud that he was able to provide for our family. My dad grew up not knowing when he was going to eat his next meal. There wasn’t much else they needed to see to be fulfilled. And my brother and I benefited from that emotionally and physically.

Our high school was connected to Queens College campus, and in senior year we were allowed to go onto their campus during our lunch periods. Sometimes, we’d get to have two periods back to back. We went to the Panda Express multiple times a week. With a plate of General Tso’s chicken and fried rice in front of me, I would laugh until I cried with my friends. That was the year I discovered my sense of humor. I learned how to laugh and have fun with grease in our stomachs and fart jokes, tons of fart jokes.

And through the years since then, I had such great conversations over meals. I grew deep friendships over meals. I fell in love with my wife over meals. Those memories didn’t happen because I was fat or skinny. It was because I was loved.

So then what should this newfound motivation be about? It’s not about a tactic or strategy, but it’s about wanting something better for myself. Not because I can’t stand who I am, but because I want to challenge myself. Being challenged isn’t a bad thing, we should always want to become better, but I think it’s how you reward yourself that matters. Rather than the prize being the life I really want to live or the person I want to be, it’s to be the best version of who my family and friends already see me to be.

Saving FaceMinnow Park
Crazy Asian Americans

I saw Crazy Rich Asians this morning with Becky. What a great movie. I’m starting to enjoy romantic comedies (watching Love Actually again last week seems to have started this trend). I found myself getting sucked into the story, getting emotional, laughing, and either rooting for or hating on different characters.

What I didn’t find myself doing though was making excuses for the movie. Not once did I think, “this is good for an Asian movie.” It was just a good movie. When I watched Ali Wong’s comedy special, or read Min Jin Lee’s novel Pachinko I felt the same thing. I genuinely enjoyed the work, Asian or not.

Not that there hasn’t been great work for years and generations before. I know that just because I came to this realization these past few months, it doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been great work done by Asian Americans.  But I’m curious and eager to see how we as Asian Americans find our story and place here. And I’m glad to be a witness to what is happening now.

EssaysMinnow Park
The Birth of a Project

This project has been rattling inside my head for a while. A nagging, haunting idea that didn’t want me to forget that it was worthwhile. There’s been countless nuggets of half-formed thoughts that I jotted down, trying to find a thread of insight. The first drafts of this were rambling sentences that didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t until actually doing the interviews and photoshoots that it started to come together.

This is my latest draft and pitch of a project that I hope to work on for a long time. I gave this project its own section so that I can document and share how the project is going.

Growing up in an Asian home, I lived with a deep, constant tension that pulled me in multiple directions.

One side pulled me to conform, to be in harmony with the traditions and standards that my people have upheld through war and sacrifice. But as an American, there’s a pull to be seen, heard, and accepted for who I am. I am a special person, and I don’t want to be categorized or limited in who I can be.

I remember long and intense conversations with my parents about why I didn’t fit into their safe molds. I didn’t want art to just be a hobby. I wanted to be free to be. But I also remember feeling different, left out, singled out. Even as the model minority, I thought I could never measure up to the majority.

I felt deep gratitude for how much my parents sacrificed for my brother and I. My dad has worked 70 hour weeks for most of my life. But also wanted to take full advantage of the opportunities I was given without their input and nagging. Because what do they know? They weren’t born here.

It’s only in hindsight I can see that this experience has made me a deeper person. As I continue to pull from all sides, I am the better for it.

Every Asian American has their own version of this story. The contours of how all this plays out is universal. Whether you’re an artist, doctor, lawyer, chef, banker, athlete, influencer, the lives we lead strive to be all American. But the way we got here, the way we have managed and reconciled the expectations of being Asian is a unique story. One that is still being discovered.

This project is to aid in that discovery. To find those opportunities where we can learn and empathize with one another. We are taught early on to “save face,” not do anything to stand out. But if we can be vulnerable and true with one another, it’s the way for us to be accepted.

Saving FaceMinnow Park
New York City in 1911→

"Old film of New York City in the year 1911. Print has survived in mint condition. Slowed down footage to a natural rate and added in sound for ambiance. This film was taken by the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern on a trip to America."

Man, the way they dressed, the way the city looked. This was over 100 years ago, it it's so familiar. I love how the cars are driving around the horse and carriage. That was probably the road rage of the day.

Dropbox Paper→

They did an amazing job with this product. Forgot how I even came across it, but it's changed the way I am collaborating and sharing things online. Sorry to say, but Google Docs feels outdated and heavy compared to this.

Jeff Sheldon from Ugmonk serendipitously put up a screencast about how he uses it, and that sealed the deal for me.