March 28, 2020

Semi-lockdown

A month or so ago I told myself I'd start blogging everyday—it was just around when things felt like they might start slowly be getting back to normal in Hong Kong after our January-February citywide social and professional distancing weeks. Over the past ten days, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases have taken a turn upwards, with borders around the world soft-closing and new infections entering Hong Kong from abroad. At the moment, we're back in professional and social distancing mode: offices are operating on a work-from-home basis, people are avoiding going out, gatherings of more than four people are prohibited for the next few weeks, and restaurants are seating parties (of four or fewer) at least six feet apart. It's a whole thing.

Rainbow light installation outside the Landmark Mandarin Oriental
I don't want to go into the whole introvert lifestyle thing too much, because it's so overdone it's pretty much a social media meme at this point, but there's some truth there. Social distancing hasn't been hard for me. Because while professionally I thrive on teams in collaboration with great people, in my non-work life, I prefer the freedom and self-determination that comes with being on my own. Maybe it's because I'm the oldest of three and was an only child for about six years before my brother was born, or because I'm a late-Gen-Xer, grew up in a Dinkins-era don't-take-the-subway-after-8-p.m. New York, lived a pretty sheltered childhood, and I didn't have the internet until I was 18 (and even then, the internet wasn't, like, useful or anything, I think 99 percent of my internet usage for the first four years was for organizing late-night Thayer chicken tender runs via Blitzmail). Fast forward to today and it's this knack for amusing myself that I think allows me to move around within the rules, regulations, and parameters of this semi-lockdown with a relative sense of freedom intact. Maybe it's an illusion, I don't know, but when you can show up at restaurants and ask for a table for one, go places on your own and close the door behind you, take walks around the city and in parks and maneuver around and away from strangers... this isn't all that different than normal life for me? I'm a cliche, I know, I see it on social, all us Gen Xers, maybe we all have an introvert muscle memory we've tapped into.

Speaking of Gen X, I'm really proud of Gen X for doing so great at podcasts. When I listen to some of my favorites, specifically Tim Ferriss and Peter Attia, I feel like I develop a better understanding and acceptance for myself and how I am.

March 22, 2020

Distance learning

I've been living in Hong Kong a year now and it's been a very strange experience living through the New York City Covid-19 breakout abroad. The experience that Hong Kong is going through seems so vastly different from what is happening in New York, where I grew up and spent my entire career. I'm trying to keep up with both—as well as with all the cities where my company has offices throughout Asia. In this particular situation, I'm not sure knowledge is power, and for better or for worse, I can't get enough of the news, maybe it's my newspaper background and decade in quick-hit digital news bites, I don't know what I'd do without the internet right now.

One of the most interesting platforms I've been engaging with NYC Covid-19 information on is podcasts. Different digital distribution platforms seem to poke at different parts of my brain: reading websites of traditional news outlets provide up-to-date clinical information and data; social media, both words and pictures—words on Twitter, pictures and quick-snips on Instagram and Instagram Stories—give me the personal takes and emotional check-ins I crave with friends and former coworkers I want to see are OK and from whom I want to see, read, and hear reactions to things. And podcasts, wow, podcasts are a whole new thing. Have podcasts been around in other times of national crises?

I find myself having very strong emotional reactions to podcasts about Covid-19 in New York City. I listen to the New York Times' The Daily podcast most days; that on top of my usual lineup of Tim Ferriss, Ezra Klein, Pod Save America, Brian Koppelman, Joe Rogan. Everyone is talking about the virus. Nobody knows for sure what happens next. And there's something about audio storytelling and the very specific mix of information, personal narrative, and immersive sense of place through sound that is so powerful, and something about the pace of a let's-talk-this-through hour, hour-and-a-half, two-hour conversation that feels particularly suited to this slow-rolling, epic, unfurling tragedy.

March 16, 2020

I am the older person in the room

Recently, I found myself explaining two things to people on my staff:
  1. Rotary phones: Someone on my staff said something about how they thought they were cool, but asked why we didn't just use buttons back in the day, so I explained the why of the rotary dial and everyone on my team looked at me like I was crazy. And then I explained the thing about dialing with touch-tone in the 80s and 90s, and how we had those gimmicky "phone dialers" back in the day that you could program a few numbers into and hold up to pay phones to quick-dial your parents or best friends. Nobody on my staff knew what I was talking about.
  2. Word processors: I don't know how we got onto this topic, but I found myself trying to explain how we didn't have internet when I was in high school, and our computers printed on dot matrix printers, so to make your college essays look nice, if you were fancy, you had a Brother word processor in the 90s. Then I had to explain what a word processor was; I think I said something about how it was before we had computer screens that had photos on them, so we had these typewriter-like things with tiny screens that only showed one line of text, and that they were really high-tech because they allowed you to type a sentence and preview it before hitting return and letting the word processor clack-clack-clack it out. 
This afternoon I had the fleeting thought that the plot of Forrest Gump the movie doesn't actually seem all that weird now that I'm in my 40s because, well, life is kind of crazy.

March 13, 2020

A quick interview

A few months ago, my friend Hoi Ning Ngai reached out to me to ask a few questions for the Dartmouth Asian Pacific American Alumni Association's Creative Pathways Profiles page. Here's the interview! When I was in college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself after graduation, and in the end, I took a fairly long-winded path to where I am now—and, to be completely honest, I have no idea what comes next, either! I'm so lucky my career has taken me on such a fantastical journey so far.

March 11, 2020

Hang in there, New York

Over the past couple of weeks, as the novel coronavirus / Covid-19 has started to make its presence felt in the United States, I've received tons of messages from friends and acquaintances in the U.S. asking how things are in Hong Kong. My guess is that they're looking for more information on how the situation played out, on the ground, in real life here. I thought it might be helpful to list some of my observations here, just in case it's useful or helpful to anyone.

First, the hard news:
  1. If you're looking for English language news from Hong Kong: One of the best sources for breaking and consistently-updated news on coronavirus in Hong Kong (as well as some coverage on how coronavirus is impacting other places in Asia as well as the region at large) is SCMP: https://www.scmp.com/hk. SCMP maintains an updated-daily ticker of the World Health Organization's confirmed infections and fatalities count as a module embedded in its coronavirus stories. 
  2. Hong Kong map of confirmed infections: The Hong Kong government maintains a live map of confirmed Covid-19 infections here: https://chp-dashboard.geodata.gov.hk/covid-19/en.html. The government also recently published a list of all buildings in Hong Kong where people have self-quarantined (for one reason or another) so others have information and can prepare
Second, my observations. Caveat: I'm no pro, these are just my personal notes.

I've been back in Hong Kong since just before the January 1 new year. It wasn't until around Chinese New Year in late Jan that people started to really pay attention to the spread of the novel coronavirus—this is probably because so many people were traveling and moving around the region that week. It's been about seven weeks now since Chinese New Year and Hong Kong confirmed infections have held steady in the very-low-100s; we are just now getting back to "normal life" in the city. Slowly.
  • The key difference between what I observed in Hong Kong vs. what I'm hearing about what's happening in New York (and seeing on social media): So many people in Hong Kong lived through the Sars epidemic and witnessed the devastation it caused in such a short timeframe that as soon as the novel coronavirus became a thing, everyone started wearing face masks and sanitizing their hands throughout the day. Immediately, hand-washing campaigns were posted all over the city, sterilization of public and communal spaces stepped up, elevator buttons were covered with plastic, and signs were posted in every toilet stall warning people to shut the lid before flushing. In New York, it sounds like people are stocking up on supplies.
  • Working from home started almost immediately. The government here took the novel coronavirus spread very seriously and almost immediately announced that it would be following a work-from-home policy for government employees and recommended that offices around the city do the same. This helped cut down on close contact with strangers (commuting, public life) and close prolonged contact with coworkers who may or may not have recently traveled abroad. The work-from-home recommendations extended to just around three weeks, with some offices staying closed for a bit longer.
  • People stopped going out. This has been very hard on businesses, especially restaurants and hotels. Over the past few weeks, food delivery apps have experienced a boon, with even high-end restaurants getting into home delivery. Some restaurant groups have started working with their top guests on private home-chef entertaining and family dining programs and other exclusive dine-at-home experiences.
  • The virus and heat. There's been a lot of speculation about how the virus might die in the summer and... I'm not sure that makes a lot of sense, considering the virus is also well-present in southeast Asia where it's been hot this entire time.
  • Two months. It's taken about two months, decisive government action, and a vigilant population to help restore some semblance of normalcy back to everyday life here in Hong Kong. If things move in a similar pathway for New York, it might take about two months for things to level out there, too. 
Hang in there, guys, wash your hands, and stay home.

March 06, 2020

Billion-dollar ideas

In no particular order, some billion-dollar (jk, these are worthless) ideas I've had this week:
  • Seatbelts for rowing machines
  • Aesthetic gym equipment / weights
  • Attaching a vacuum cleaner to the bottom of the sled drag and the prowler to, you know, clean the track 
  • A gym video game app because so many people are nervous about going to the gym and being embarrassed about not knowing how to use the equipment, a simulation game would really help