Monday, January 2, 2017

2016: The Year That Was

Well, it finally happened. Proverbial Putts went an entire year with just one sole post.

I suppose as one gets older, less and less time is spent selfishly pontificating about your own life and emotions. Having a job that requires sitting in front of a computer all day, reading and writing, also doesn't inspire much desire to come home and do more of the same.

I actually did reboot Zotcubed in an effort to keep my "writing for fun" juices flowing, and I thought about writing on here a couple times, but it just never happened.

Old habits die hard though; I'm not quite ready to retire my annual year-end reflection post. So let's see...

2016 was the first full "join the work force and be a real adult" year of my life. It was also a year that challenged me in new ways, shaking my confidence tremendously at times. I feel somewhat accomplished for having successfully reached the other side, but I'm more excited to build off this past year with a better one in 2017.

2016 was a year of cramming travel into long-weekends. Due to losing my student-life freedoms, we substituted my international trips for short weekend getaways. Las Vegas, Denver, Austin, San Francisco, Lake Cuyamaca, Napa, Orange County and Los Angeles, all fun times in their own right. We capped it all off with our quasi-one year anniversary trip to Hawaii (Kauai and Oahu) over Thanksgiving, a vacation I was especially thankful for.

2016 was another big year of weddings. I was lucky enough to serve as a groomsman for Fooks and toast Yibs as one of his best men. We had another joyous Ambalamps reunion for Ambrose, and a Glory reunion in SF for Vince. All friendships and celebrations I cherish.

2016 also saw the addition of a new family member. Pippin the dog (after Peregrin Took) overcame her bout with a canine version of lyme's disease, not to mention whatever other hardships she experienced on the streets of Mexico, and spent many-a-night happily thumping her tail under our bed. Although she still has some peculiar behavioral issues that we're working on, she went from zero tricks to three and a half in the course of four-ish months. So there's hope yet, even if she manages to get by on her cuteness regardless.

And finally, 2016 was a year for exposing the many ways that I can improve as a husband. There seem to be so few precious hours in a day that we're not occupied with work and other obligations -- hopefully 2017 will be a year of maximizing the hours we do have to make strides onward and upward.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015: The Year That Was

2015 was an eventful year. So eventful, in fact, that it may never be topped. There were many great things, some not so great things, and some other general milestones that will go down in the history books. This blog is getting old, and desperately needs some fresh air, so instead of rolling out one of my typical TLDR year-end recaps, I'll try to summarize things into a few main points.

1. Wedding/Married Life

It's still surreal to say "my wife" or see the name "Traci Gao" on paper, perhaps because the entire turnaround between proposal and marriage happened within the year. Regardless, the wedding was just about everything we could have hoped for, and those moments were some of the happiest of my lifetime. It's something special to have all of your closest people in the world, all in one space, and all present for your sake. It was like if someone combined all of your birthday parties throughout your life and hosted one giant party with all of those people, only on top of that you got to celebrate being with your for-real-best-friend-for-life on top of that.

Married life is a lot of fun because it means never having to say good bye for long. That being said, I'm quickly realizing that being a good husband requires additional effort and thoughtfulness, and I hope to improve in certain areas of my new role in life moving forward.

2. Wanderlust

In terms of travel, I would be astounded if 2015 was ever topped. I was lucky enough to go to China, the DRC, Burundi, the Netherlands, Fiji, and New Zealand. In each country, my worldview was broadened, and perspective on life widened. And by that, I don't mean boasting about how "worldly" I now am, but instead realizing how narrow my worldview was before, and trying to quench my thirst for learning more outside the limited scope of our daily lives. The same applies in the U.S as well, on a smaller scale. Shout out to weekend trips to SF, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Portland!

There's not much I'd rather do in the world than travel with good friends and loved ones. Thank you to those who made my 2015 travels full of laughs, interesting conversation, and all-around good times. I can't wait to explore again when the opportunity presents itself.

3. Law Stuff

2015 marked my graduation from law school, which was cool. It also marked less savory experiences, such as studying for and taking the bar.

I suppose life is a sequence of events where you over-stress and make a bigger deal of each hurdle you have immediately ahead of you, only to look back and realize that the hurdle wasn't really such a big deal after all. Too bad you can't realize that the hurdle isn't so bad until you have the wisdom in retrospect!

4. Back Home in Sunny San Diego

After four years in Irvine, a transition year, and three more in Los Angeles, it's nice to be back in San Diego for the long haul. I do miss all of my friends now scattered up the coast and in other parts of the country, but all things considered, living in the downtown area of San Diego isn't too shabby.

Looking forward to diving into home improvement, exploring the city, and hosting more friend visits in 2016.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

All the Groom's Men

In one week's time, I will be one day into the married life. I've struggled with capturing the emotions that come along with such a statement, so a post on that will have to wait.

One week ago, however, I got to spend an excellent weekend with my nine groomsmen up in Big Bear Lake, and I thought I'd write a bit about that for now.

The most common response I've received from people is something about the number of groomsmen I have enlisted. "Nine!? Geez! Why so many!" 

It's a question I had to consider when Traci told me that she would only have five bridesmaids. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was no one I could cut!

All nine of these guys have affected some facet of my life in a big way, and it was important to me that all nine of these guys were up there by my side on the wedding day. From my childhood in St. Louis, to my high school days in San Diego, to college life in Irvine, to post-college life in Los Angeles, each stage was represented. These guys are the friends and brother that I leaned on through the hard times, who I could count on for a hearty laugh and a fun time, who I could be open and honest with.

II have been extremely blessed to have each and every one of these guys in my life, and I am so glad that each one of them can be part of my wedding festivities. Without them, my life would have been drastically altered for the worse.

Thanks guys for the awesome weekend. There was epic ping pong tournaments, challenging water sports, vintage MLB Showdown duals, fellowship over home cooked meals and even some good old 5-on-5 basketball. It was everything I could have hoped for from a bachelor's weekend, and I can only hope that there will be many more similar festivities in the future.

Monday, May 18, 2015

UCLA Law Class of 2015, you guys were alright

I graduated from law school this past Friday and it's a surreal feeling. It sounds cliche, but I could not have done it without the consistent support from my friends and family. So grateful for all of the blessings that I have been given over the last three years, and very thankful that I had the opportunity to pursue this additional education in the first place.

In some ways, I feel the same as when I started law school. But then I also look back at everything we've done in a relatively short amount of time, and I kind of marvel at how far we've come. I know that aside from resume accomplishments and more ordinary "law knowledge," I've also gained perspective on the way our country and the world works. I feel like I can now more confidently see all sides of a contentious/political argument, and speak on the matter if need be.

And now, time for some bar studying! Woohoo!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

done with law school classes

“Lawyers are alright, I guess — but it doesn't appeal to me", I said. "I mean they're alright if they go around saving innocent guys' lives all the time, and like that, but you don't do that kind of stuff if you're a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot-shot. And besides, even if you did go around saving guys' lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys' lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddam trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren't being a phony? The trouble is you wouldn't.” 
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Monday, April 27, 2015

To (and from) Africa! Part I

They threatened to charge us a ridiculous amount for taking pictures with this sign.
Here is the free surreptitious shot I got instead.

It’s now been nearly a month since I came back from my spring break trip to the DRC with a pit stop in Amsterdam. I dragged my feet in writing partially because it’s been a heckuva busy time in life, but also partially because I felt like it would be hard to do justice to the experience. I’ve decided to break up the posts through a recap of our trip in itinerary form first, and then follow up with a separate post with overall thoughts.

LAX à Amsterdam
  • Worse leg of the flight. End up with a cramped middle seat with no leg space and a chatty older lady who keeps asking me to help her with her in-air TV console controls.
  • On the positive side, KLM is generous with the alcohol selection and the warm towelettes.

Amsterdam à Nairobi
  • In Nairobi, we get to depart the plane through the ladder and runway walk, and it hits everyone that we are now in Africa. Sometime around this time Ivan starts singing that Shakira Waka Waka song.
  • Electricity goes out a couple times, but overall things are not bad in the Nairobi airport. Tusker beer.

Nairobi à Bujumbura
  • Kenya Airlines takes the cake for the best airplane food. Who knew!
  • By this time, people are delirious from over 30+ hours of travel.
  • Bujumbura airport looks like Tatooine.

Bujumbura à DRC à Mboko à Baraka – Day 1 
Our lovely accommodations in Baraka.
  • After an extremely abbreviated night at the Hotel Du Lac Tanganyika in Bujumbura, we cross the border by foot and meet the team of translators and drivers who we would be spending the rest of the week with.
  •  It was hard to believe that we were actually in the DRC.
  • Commence extremely long and bumpy land cruiser ride to the remote village of Mboko.
  • The drive through Uvira and Fizi territory is actually breathtakingly beautiful. We’re along the lake on one side and green mountains on the other.
  • “Welcome to Uvira, where there are goats on the road.” – Fixer
  • There are three general greetings we receive from passersby: “Jambo!!” (hello! – usually the kids with frantic waving); “Muzungu! (white person – usually teens and young adults, said with general amusement); “money! money!” (self-explanatory -- usually also kids)
  • This was the first of many long bumpy car rides, but also the dustiest day by far. By the time we arrived at the village, all of our belongings were covered in a coat of dirt, and everyone looked like they had received a bad orange tan.
  • The interviews started that same day with surveys regarding villager’s opinions of the judicial system.
Baraka à Abala – Day 2
Fording the river in our Indiana Jones cruisers.
  • Our most grueling day. The night before, we experienced our first dose of living in DRC accommodations. Inconsistent running water, general lack of cleanliness, and the weirdly comforting notion of sleeping under mosquito nets. Early the next morning, it was back on the road to the remote mountainside village of Abala. The prior night, it had rained buckets, so the roads were kind of mushy in parts. At one point, we had to get out of the car so the drivers could rip through and not get stuck.
  • We encountered a group of Chinese soldiers serving in the UN. They were there fixing the roads, and in good spirits. We both seemed to get a kick out of seeing each other and talking in Mandarin while in the DRC.
  • Abala was our control village, which meant that there had been no intervention from outside sources since the mass rapes occurred. A very sad and depressing experience.

Baraka à Bwala – Day 3
A joyous welcome in Bwala.
  • By now we started getting the hang of things. We were also becoming more acquainted with the team of translators, as well as the other students, which made the various down times more enjoyable.
  • This village was situated in the hills with low-hanging clouds beautifully draping the lush green forests. The land was naturally abundant and spectacular in most every part of the DRC that we traveled.
  • Here, we received probably our most celebratory welcome. We walked in to the entire village singing and dancing. The school kids performed some skits for us. They remembered the UCLA team from years past, and seemed genuinely happy to see us again. Although things weren’t perfect here by any means, it was clear that there had been much improvement compared to the control village.
  • On the way back, we inexplicably stopped at an artisanal gold mine to check it out. It ended up being probably the most unpleasant/underwhelming/worrying experience of the trip. On the way back, the drivers were blasting it over the potholed roads, because apparently the area we were going through wasn’t the safest.

Ivan trying to stay positive in the gold mine.

Baraka à Uvira – Day 4
  • We closed our time in Baraka by conducting a few more judicial surveys in the main town area. People seemed generally more well off (ex. Cell phones) in the town center.
  • We then had our only real lunch of the week (every other day we just snacked on packaged goods in the car), and headed back north along the lake up to Uvira.
  • Here, we stayed in what seemed like a really nice hotel. It was right on the lake, and it looked like a converted mansion. We had the most down time of any day here, so everyone had a good time drinking Primus (the DRC beer) and playing various games (including some Congolese games involving passing smiles and stacking cards on beer bottles).

Uvira à Kiringye Day 5
  • Unfortunately, the hotel (“Eden City” or something like that) was a typical example of a nice façade and a terrible interior. The mosquito netting had gaps which resulted in several bites, and our professor, located right next to the kitchen, suffered through an onslaught of cockroaches.
  • We headed out to the remote village of Kiringye, which was run by a Catholic priest. Here, we were slated to interview former combatants and commanders who were part of militias that were perpetrators of the mass rapes.
  • It was very difficult to get entirely truthful responses from the subjects, as expected. However, we also had some language barriers that imposed further challenges.
  • Most surreal moment: Ivan and I were specifically called out during welcome introductions for “looking of Chinese descent.” We were used as a teaching moment that although we were of a different ethnicity, we were indeed still Americans and ultimately an example of how in America, different ethnicities are able to work together. Everyone couldn’t stop laughing as the translator interpreted.

Uvira – Day 6
The group in Kiringye.
  • We finished our time in the Congo by staying at our Eden City hotel and welcoming in a second group of ex-combatants and commanders. It struck me how young some of these subjects were. Some 18-19, with three years’ experience in militias.
  • Again, it was tough to get straight stories from many of the subjects. However, it was easy to tell when you had someone who was more genuine, and those surveys were arguably the most interesting surveys of the whole experience.
  • We finished the day by crossing the border back to Burundi, saying goodbye to our now-friends on the translator and driver crew.
  • We all were able to appreciate the luxuriousness of the Bujumbura hotel a lot more this time around. It was so great to have a real shower and flushing toilets, not to mention air conditioning. Truly things we take for granted in the western world.

Burundi à Kenya à Amsterdam
I Amsterdam (said with a Dutch accent).
  • It would have been quite the whirlwind shock to jump right back into real world responsibilities and school work, coming off such a loaded and demanding spring break. Fortunately, most of the group was able to take an extended layover in Amsterdam, where we stayed at the Flying Pig hostel.
  • It was another culture shock to experience the liberal ways of the Dutch, especially coming off the Congo. There were a few unfortunate connections between the histories of the two societies as well. Overall, everyone had a blast walking around, eating great cheeses and cookies, and unwinding with the perfect amount of time for a mini-vacation.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

one thing at a time

Many things happening in 2015. Congo Clinic trip, graduation, taking the bar, starting work, moving back to San Diego, finding a place to live... hard not to get overwhelmed sometimes.

One thing at a time! Here's to important life events, and the blessings that they represent.