Don’t let fear rob you of the grind

A design event I produced

Everyone wants to do something that’s awesome and cool and changes the world. But I’d argue that it’s enough to have changed the course of a few people’s days. That is more realistic, and to be honest, no one changes the world by saying they’re going to change the world—those ideas never work. People who really change the world have failed a few times and know that luck and good ideas go hand-in-hand.

I produce events to bring people together and shift the course of people’s lives in a tiny way; this might ripple outwards, it may not. But I’m happy to have affected a part of people’s day for the better, that they decided that my event was more valuable than drinking hipster coffee by the ocean.

You never know about these things. Maybe you produce a design workshop that inspires someone to pursue design or coding, which changes their career. Maybe your music performance encourages someone in the audience to start performing.

Years ago, I was told something along the lines of this, by a comedian: “If someone in the audience was watching me, and forgot about their worries and was completely engrossed for even 5 minutes, then I have been successful. Because I have changed a part of someone’s day for the better.” And that is enough for me, I think.

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Life After Travel: What’s Next?

A phone is important for someone who is away from home. Your phone tells people that you are okay and having fun, even if you are in the middle of an overseas crisis.

“Where are you?” People would ask. Hong Kong. Malaysia. Taipei.

I picked destinations that were the most rewarding with the lowest empty-hype factor; I was tired of hearing about Beijing and Thailand and the Philippines. I love that people started picking their travel destinations based on mine.

Malaysia, for example, is just another metropolitan city unless you get to the islands and start driving jetskis and diving. I stayed away from Thailand and the Philippines because those were too talked about did I mention that I am anti-trend on principle?

In any case, people started visiting Kota Kinabalu. It is the anti-trend, safer, and quieter version of Thailand and the Philippines, with the night markets. No elephants, though.

What Travelling in Asia Does to You: Culture ShockWhat Travelling in Asia Does to You: Culture ShockYou fall in love with the idea of the place. You will hear stories, see photos, and form expectations. For example, I am a big fan of National Geographic and my idea of open water is a shark’s feeding ground. Although I have been across the world and haven’t encountered a shark yet, I am still wary.

My photos and stories capture one instance in time; if I have been able to make anyone happy for me, or envious, then I have done a good job of conveying the magic.

But, travel is not all magic. I guess what I want to say is that we often form expectations based on someone else’s success story. I did that, especially when viewing travel photos on Pinterest; although I have no regrets, Asia was vastly different from the image developed in my mind. It is a lot more commercialized and modern, for one, than travel photographers let on (because wannabe Westernized culture is boring to photograph; we already have that at home).

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How to Improve Your Rhythm & Timing

How to Improve Your Rhythm & Timing

Maybe you have trouble keeping a steady beat, like me.

If you have heard me play, you’ll probably know that I’m most comfortable with fast, expressive music—for a good reason. I can’t keep a beat in my bones.

Left to my own accord, I can’t even shake an egg shaker with consistent accents (I tried, for 35 minutes in high school, until the percussionist pried the shaker from my fingers).

It’s not that I don’t hear the beat; I do. I just don’t follow it. There’s an internal rhythm that I prefer.

Rachmaninoff agrees with me.


This rebellion of the beat has spilled over to my dancing.

“Listen to the music,” instructors are always saying. Okay, I am a better pianist than I am a dancer (thankfully) but it’s still a struggle.

I’ve been on and off dance teams for the past few years, in Vancouver and Hong Kong. It’s a hobby. I like it, but I’m still a better pianist than I am a dancer. I think.

Right now I’m between dance teams, just back from travelling Asia. I’m a bit rusty, but I like to think that I could have passed the auditions I never attended, as long as I kept from throwing up and forgetting all my choreography.

(Please, the throwing up happens before the audition so you fit into the tights.)

So I suck at following the beat and have long since accepted the inevitability of the situation. My sister is on a dance team and trains each week. One day, she is shuffling around the room blasting horrendous rap music with her arms bent at her chest, occasionally extending them.

“What are you doing?” I shout.

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Dealing with Loneliness While Travelling

Dealing with Loneliness While Travelling
The game is to guess where people come from based on their accents and more than half the time, I get it right. I love accents.

The only person who correctly guessed my accent was from the US. The first time someone called out my accent, I was surprised because it had always been the other way around; I spoke standard English and everyone else had accents British, German, French, or Australian, were the popular ones, so to speak.

Technically, everyone in Hong Kong should be able to speak English, as a former British colony. But locals are surprised at the fact that I speak more than one language.

And then I am surprised that all the Germans speak ten languages (while the British only speak one).

There is research linking musicianship with linguistics, so perhaps musicians are slightly better poised to distinguish accents. Music is a skill where you don’t see immediate side benefits per se, but you will get ripple effects for years and years.

That makes me wonder: how many of us have picked up an easy language (and write with both hands) because we are musicians?

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The Secret to Getting Lucky

The Secret to Getting Lucky
“You’re not on the guest list.”

“He flew in from New York for his birthday. Can we come in, please?” We all look at him, saying “please” with our eyes.

The bouncer waves us in. We mingle with the others in the loud music and strobe lights while I rest my legs for half an hour.

We then try to hail a taxi but wander the streets for what feels like hourslines of red cabs but none of them would take usnot even after my friend’s classic cab-hail whistle where he sticks his fingers in his mouth.

All the cab drivers are heading to Kowloon, where everyone is trying to get back to Hong Kong Island, and they’d pocket three times the amount we’d pay. We are travelling a small distance in the opposite direction of Kowloon to a semi-secluded area, where, on a good day there’s a slim chance of picking up a client on the way back. But it’s early morning.

In short, unless we pay at least three times their ratewhich none of us would do, on principlea driver would lose money by not heading over to Kowloon.

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How technology ruins learning

How technology ruins learning in the music studioThese days, we use apps to learn intervals and the names of notes during the music lesson, and print books are published to educate teachers on how to teach with tablets.

I’ve produced a technology conference or two and I believe in learning.

But I don’t believe in technology in the classroom, and here’s why.

  1. We have it for the sake of having it.

Screens are distracting.

They take away from the student-mentor interaction, when staring downwards to set up that app, not to mention that it costs attention time. Is it really beneficial to spend twice the time setting up and teaching what pen-and-paper can do it perhaps half the time? Do you really want to replace real, tactile play, with fantasy graphics on a screen?

Edouard Gentaz, a professor at University of Geneva, adds that writing individual letters by hand significantly improves subsequent recall. I am a fan of his work if not only for the fact that he advocates for the feel of pen and paper.

When you teach and learn on paper, you have a record of your thoughts. It’s fast thinking. This is why most designers work on paper before drafting ideas on the computer – fail early and fail fast, to reach success sooner.

Pen and paper is tactile and there is value to writing.

What’s wrong with traditional one-on-one learning, without a screen in your hand and connectivity to the internet? Think about what that app is doing for you–does it improve the teaching process or is it just novel?

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