General School/Work

BitTorrent and Korea

I have two major updates that happened to my life recently:

I changed companies
I’m currently working for BitTorrent Inc as a Front End Engineer. Yes, though my old company (Switchfly Inc) was a pretty good company to work for, I’ve decided to take up new opportunities… BitTorrent’s stack consists of Python, MongoDB, BackboneJS and NodeJS, which gives me enough of a change from Coldfusion, PrototypeJS, EmberJS, Freemarker and Java. Its a new experience, with a strong recognizable company who are headquartered in downtown SOMA, and I’ve been enjoying working there so far.

Edit: if you want to check out my submission for BitTorrent’s coding exercise, check out the TEDx Feedreader application I made using Backbone + Bootstrap, all done in 8 hours:

I went to Korea
I just came back from 2 weeks in Seoul, Korea and I loved it. As expected, I enjoyed every moment of that trip, and I still miss Korea already. There are several things I like about Korea more than USA such as:

1) Food/Drinks are amazing
Forget Korean food in USA. Korea has much better food than USA, much healthier with more organic ingredients, cheaper to buy, and tastes better. Forget Pizza Hut, Mr.Pizza is amazing. Forget Bulgogi and Bibimbap, Dalkgalbi (chicken ribs) and Jimm Dalk (steamed chicken) and Chi maek (fried chicken and beer) is much more amazing. Forget Soju and Korean Beer, try the many flavors of Makgeolli (rice wine), Paekseju (flavorful, weaker version of Soju), Cheongha (tastes like a mix of soju and sprite), Bokbunja (raspberry wine), and Maehwasu (plum wine). All amazing.

Oh and by the way, all the stores close later than in America, usually around 2am. The bars/clubs usually close around 6am, and some of the cafes and restaurants are 24/7 as well. Just amazing. Oh and did I mention? There’s no tip or taxes in Korea, and there’s a button you can use to call the waiter in restaurants. And fast food has delivery, like McDonalds and Burger King have guys on scooters that deliver burgers to you. Double amazing.

2) Technology is widely adopted there
Wifi is ultra super fast in Korea. You can use Wifi in the Subway, even in the mountains, pretty much everywhere, as long as you have a Wifi card. EVERYONE in the subway is on their phone, and when you can watch TV on your phone and use super fast Wifi, why not. There’s Google Maps touch screens in the subway. Everything has a dispenser or a machine for convenience. Even the toilets have controls on them. Alot of the designs in Korea are just amazing. Its hard to believe the smartphone only came in 2009 in Korea, yet now everyone from schoolgirls to old men use them there.

3) Transportation is amazing
The transportation system is probably the best I’ve experienced, ahead of NYC and Shanghai. The Seoul subway takes you all around Seoul and the Metro area, and is cheap on top of that. There’s apps to calculate the exact time it takes from one station to another, since trains are always on time. In addition, the places where you can’t go using subway, you can take buses or taxi, both of them much cheaper than in America.

4) Clothes are better
Korean clothes are a much better fit for me, being more suited to Asian bodies. People there are skinnier in general, and I’m skinny so it really fits me. In addition, they have much better styles than boring American clothing and are cheaper as well, as long as you haggle. Ironically, Koreans mostly buy foreign brands, not knowing that foreign brands (which are made in Southeast Asia) are actually lower quality than their own Korean brands (which are made in Korea). Shopping Malls as high as skyscrapers and numerous cosmetics stores are everywhere in Korea.

5) Everyone dresses up and looks good
Ever wonder why Koreans get so much plastic surgery?? Because its societal pressure!! Korean girls feel pressured to get plastic surgery because everyone competes to get a job, and since you have to submit a photo with your resume, the prettier girl gets the better job!! In addition, everyone dresses up everyday, regardless of situation. Korean girls wear makeup, contacts, high heels, nail polish, dresses/skirts/short shorts whereever they go, and Korean men often wear blazers, khakis, tight jeans, nice fitted shirts too. Its the society norm. Clubbing clothes in America are everyday outfits in Korea. As a result, a large majority of the girls there can be considered very beautiful by any standard. Trust me, its so weird to see model-looking women eating at McDonalds, or reading books at the public library wearing stilletos, but its normal.

6) Everything is clean and organized
Everything is clean and organized in Korea. This isn’t China with smoggy skies or littered streets. All the streets are clean, all the clothes people wear are immaculate, and even the bathrooms will be as clean as you can find them. There is even a machine in the public library to sanitize books. Everyone gets an apron when they eat barbecue. Towels to wash your hands are offered at different places. There are rarely any homeless people, and buskers only play in one place: Hongdae. Next time I will carry a pocket stain remover wherever I go.

7) Korea has a strong sense of community
I learned that Koreans have a sense of 정/jeong, which is this unique korean sense of feeling kindred with others. As a result most Koreans are very polite and nice to others when they have a chance. Normally Koreans are very different than Americans in that they are mostly quiet, reserved people who go about their days almost too predictably. Koreans have a very rigid mindset, and are almost robotic in the way they conform to society. This means you are probably very safe in Korea, as no one has the cultural mindset to steal, mug, rob, rape, loot, plunder, kill, or anything like that. You can leave your phone on the table and be safe about it. Girls can walk home alone at night without worry.

8) Korea loves couples
On the other hand, Koreans really love couple culture. Americans often have to think about where to go when they date, most likely a restaurant or a theater. But in Korea, alot of places are meant for dating. You have many options to go when you are with your significant other. Seoul Tower is a popular spot, as is Cheonggyecheon (river flowing downtown), or Lotte World, or a Korean village, or a beach, or a theater with a love seat, or an arcade, or a shooting range, or a sticker/photo booth, or one of the many bangs (rooms) set up in Korea, like Noraebang (karaoke), DVD-bang (DVD-room), Jjimchilbang (spa/sauna for couples), Soju-bang, PS/PC-bang (for gaming). There are even shops that sell couple accessories like matching bracelets, t-shirts, charms, everything. Korea is a great place for couples, and can be lonely if you go by yourself.

All in all, I had an amazing time in Korea, especially visiting my friends and experiencing the unique culture… and I really think that out of all the places I’ve been to, I belong the most there. My quiet, unassuming, conformist personality fits right in. So I got a little sad when I realized I’ll never get to experience those memories; I never had a gf when I was in high school or college, never had those kinds of couple culture going on, and of course never experienced a long term relationship with a Korean girl. (FYI I have good reasons for the lack of relationships; I grew up in a small white town with no asians, and was busy with CS in university, a major with very few women). This worries me, as I don’t like long distance relationships, yet I feel Korean culture fits me best. Unfortunately, Korean work culture is very competitive; they have to work long hours, for little pay, and little time for recreation. I would live in Korea, if not for the work aspect. Working at BitTorrent is miles ahead of anything a Korean company could offer me, but maybe someday I’ll have a chance to experience a good work culture, and live in Korea as well. I just hope I can do that while I’m still young.

At a peaceful Korean village
At a peaceful Korean village
At the top of Bukhan Mountain
At the top of Bukhan Mountain
Me and my friend at Gyeongbuk Palace
Me and my friend at Gyeongbuk Palace
Lotte World
Lotte World
CheonggyeCheon in Gwanghwamun
CheonggyeCheon in Gwanghwamun
Lovers Locks at Seoul Tower
Lovers Locks at Seoul Tower

Edit: Something ironic and sad that I’ve noticed…
If Americans had to be obsessed with Korean the way Koreans are obsessed with English, this would happen:

Everyone is required to learn Korean in primary school.
Everyone has to go to private academies after school to learn additional Korean.
Everyone has to know Korean and pass a Korean test to get a job.
You will see Korean words mixed in with English wherever you go.
You will see Korean movies with English subtitles, Korean actors, Korean singers, and they will be popular amongst your friends.
All English songs will contain some Korean in it.
Your companies try to copy Korean brands and Korean technology.
Korean clothing is more popular than American clothing.
A lot of your advertisements contain Korean models.
Parents will make their kids have tongue surgery to speak Korean better.
You will have a lot of makeup and plastic surgery to make yourself look more Korean.
You have Korean armies on your land.
Many American girls will fall in love with Korean guys.
Many Americans want to marry Koreans so they can live in Korea.
There is a special district for Koreans that many Americans go to mingle with them.
A Korean education means a lot more than an American education.
Many Americans want to be Korean teachers and make a lot of money.
You often go to eat Korean fast food or drink Korean coffee.
Speaking Korean makes you look more cool and helps you advance in life.
You rely on Korea to protect you from Canada.

…sad but this is all true, but reversed for Korea.


San Francisco vs Toronto, California life vs Canadian life

So it’s been over a year that I’ve been living in California now and I’m really loving it. San Francisco is definitely a nice change of pace from Canada, and I feel the city is much more alive and there’s much more to do and see. Here is a summary of what I think.

Things that San Francisco has that Toronto doesn’t
-Beautiful sunny, sometimes foggy weather all year round
-Slightly cheaper gas (yes even in Cali)
-Mild temperature (15-25 degrees C) all year round
-Rarely rains here
-No snow, no snow shoveling, no freezing in the cold
-MUNI/BART system is vastly superior to TTC, including telling you when the next bus / train arrives, and speaking in multiple languages, all at a lower price (TTC doesn’t have any of that and charges $3.50 per adult). It also takes you around the metro area (Toronto’s TTC doesn’t take you to Richmond Hill or Vaughan or Brampton, etc).
-10% sales tax (Toronto’s is at 13%)
-A bigger Chinatown
-Surrounded by the Ocean
-A park as big as Golden Gate Park
-Wide variety of fauna, including palm trees
-Availability of stores such as Quicksilver and J.Crew, restaurants such as In and Out and Carl Jr’s, and faster availability of items such as the Macbook and iPhone (which often get released months later in Canada)
-A top marginal tax rate of 35% as of the Bush tax cuts (Toronto has 47% top MTR)
-Cheaper fast food (a dollar menu item in SF is $1.40 in Canada, chicken nuggets are 8 for $10 there too)
-Generally cheaper everything, clothing, electronics, cars, etc (Canadians get hit with import taxes and duties on everything)
-Free shipping on a lot of items (a lot of merchants don’t ship to Canada at all)
-Generally a higher salary for Software Engineers and IT people
-Houses that reside on mountains
-Booze gets sold in grocery stores (this may be a shock to Canadians, who have to deal with LCBO all the time).
-Numerous scenic views of mountains, lakes, beaches, forests, bridges, sloping hills, and the drives are never boring because of this. (Toronto has flat land around it)
-Lots of tourist destinations within a few hours away like Napa Valley, Marin County, Monterey, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Silicon Valley, etc (Toronto doesn’t have such a variety of scenic places around it).
-Everywhere is walkable by foot (You have to drive everywhere in Toronto)
-Numerous online services you can get in the US but not in Canada, such as Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, LivingSocial, + many startup apps.
-LOTS of job / networking / conference opportunities for tech people.

Things I miss about Toronto
-My Friends and Family (obviously)
-Less homeless/crazy people (SF has too many of those)
-Poutine and Sausage snacks
-Less demonstrations/protests
-Free walk in clinics and generally simpler healthcare system (Americans have a very complex healthcare system)
-Cheaper rent (getting closer to SF’s rate tho)
– ketchup potato chips
-Tim Hortons
-A higher minimum wage (Sf’s is around $10/hr)
-Driving (it’s much easier in Toronto than SF)
-Places close later ( Starbucks closes at 6pm in SF which is crazy)

And that’s about it. In general I find SF to be a much better place to live, despite not having a green card here. If my family and friends were in the Bay Area then it would be perfect. I hope my family/friends can come visit me around Christmas!

Here are some pictures expressing the beauty of SF and California:

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Napa Valley
Napa Valley
Big Sur
Big Sur
Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe
Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley
Santa Monica Beach
Santa Monica Beach
17 Mile Drive, Carmel by the Sea
17 Mile Drive, Carmel by the Sea
Bay Bridge from Treasure Island
Bay Bridge from Treasure Island
La Jolla
La Jolla
Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks
Los Angeles Sunset
City of Angels
Point Reyes
Point Reyes
Stanford University
Stanford University

I think these pictures highlight why I’m not keen on going back to Canada anytime soon :).


Levels of Asian-ness

Fobby fashion, imported from Korea!
Fobby fashion, imported from Korea!

There’s an interesting thing that happens to us Asians in the western world. We are stereotyped as perpetual foreigners in the media, but we actually get ‘categorized’ by our fellow Asians, generally into two groups: the Fobby group and the ABC/BBC/CBC group. What are these two groups I will explain.

If you are a fob it means you recently immigrated here from Asia… you are an international student, or been here for a short time. Your style of fashion is most likely different, you prefer to speak your native language and your English is less than great. You find Western culture fascinating but you stick with your own culture for the most part. You tend to be conservative minded, and have traditional values. You love Karaoke. You love to watch Korean, Taiwanese or Japanese dramas and listen to Kpop, Jpop or Mandopop.

If you are an ABC/BBC/CBC, you are American Born Chinese/British Born Chinese/Canadian Born Chinese (If you are Korean or Japanese just replace the letters C with K/J). You were born and raised in Western culture. You are more or less the same as a white person. You speak English fluently and your native language less fluently. You enjoy the same type of culture and values as do Western people. Your sense of fashion is the same as anyone who was born here. You tend to be liberal minded, independent and date out of your own race frequently. You like to watch Dexter, House, The Office, Family Guy, etc. You like to listen to pop, hip hop and rap.

Thing about me, is I’m neither of those two groups. I’m in between… the rare type of Asian who was born in Asia and raised in Western society. What does that make me? Half and half? I feel awkward hanging around my CBC friends, and I feel awkward hanging around my fobby friends. I speak English fluently, and Mandarin semi-fluently. I enjoy both types of culture. My sense of fashion trends towards the fobby side, but not completely. I guess my hairstyle reflects this… I hate having the same short spiky hair as other people who grew up here, nor do I have the long permed, waxed hairstyle of kpop singers. It’s medium length and I love my side swept bangs! I also don’t go crazy on dyeing my hair like most fobs; I’ve dyed my hair before but its since gone back to black and I don’t want to keep re-dyeing it. I am socially liberal minded, I listen to all kinds of music, I watch Asian dramas AND western TV shows, yet idealistically I am conservative.

This puts me at odds against myself in some ways. Maybe I can’t decide for myself whether I am Western or if I am Chinese. Yes you can call me a Chinese-American-Canadian and I guess that will reflect just how diverse I am as a person. Whether or not you are in the same situation as me, I still want to hear your thoughts on this! So please comment! 😀



如果你是后者,所谓‘ABC/BBC/CBC’,那意思就是American Born Chinese (美生的华人)/British Born Chinese (英生的华人)/Canadian Born Chinese (加生的华人)。你基本上是个老外,因为你对西方文化很熟悉。你的英语很流利,不过你的中文有可能不善。你或多或少与西方人享受相同的文化和时尚感。你的思想比较开放,你重视独立,并会看上自己民族以外的人。你也喜欢看美国电视秀,也听美国流行音乐 (嘻哈,说唱之类的)。

关于我自己的形式,我可不属于这俩组,而是我夹在中间了。我是中国出生的,加拿大养的男孩。可以说一半一半。我的英语比我的国语流利。我喜欢中国文化,也喜欢西方文化。 我的时尚感往往走向’fobby’的一面,而且我发型是中等长度的。我的思想比较自由,开放的。我喜欢听各种音乐类型,喜欢看亚洲电视节目和西方影片。可是某些方面是对自己有矛盾的。。。也许我决不断到底是中国人还是西方人。无论我是中国人或是西方人呢,我觉得自己的背景和观点是挺多样的。