I am traveling.

In response to the confounding internet phenomenon of over-romanticizing travel, below is my interpretation of the “Stages of Cultural Adaptation” chart:




Pre-Departure Phase:

  • (1) Futile, apocalyptically stressful attempt to do 2 weeks worth of work in 3 days.
  • (2) Anxiety about Zika and Dysentery.

Arrival Abroad/Honeymoon Phase:

  • (3) “Fuck yeah, this bag of indeterminate fried things is 4 cents.”

Culture Shock Phase:

  • (4) “Someone is slowly and systematically stealing my underwear from this Vietnamese laundry.”

This is a true story. Please see what I wrote in 2008 about my experiences with underwear theft during my study abroad experience in Vietnam:

Two weeks ago, I became very disillusioned with my inability to maintain a steady, reliable supply of underwear in Vietnam.  I had just washed my clothes at the giat ui – a place which will now be referred to as the black hole of Jen’s multi-colored floral undergarments.  In my confusion, I decided to count my underwear, a rather awkward scene in and of itself since I was both counting them and folding them into little squares because I am an awkward person.

As it turns out, currently walking the streets of Saigon is a small Vietnamese woman adorning my pink and blue speckled cotton fruit of the looms.  On one hand, I am an advocate for Vietnamese people wearing underwear.  It is a good thing.  On the other hand, I am not a fan of Vietnamese people wearing my underwear – and if they do, they should at least ask before deciding to put them on, thereby allowing me to stare at them for being nuts and, to an extent, very Vietnamese.

According to the inventory of my folded square underwear (it saves room), the giat ui has been stealing underwear from me.  This has been a consistent trend since they have also stolen underwear from the other Americans on this trip.  Not socks, not shirts, not pants.  Underwear.  The best part of this story is that none of us know where else we can possibly go to wash clothes and thus drop our clothes off every week at said giat ui knowing that we will suffer further underwear depletion due to the underground world of pastel panty trade in Vietnam.

Adaptation Please:

  • (5) “I found a trusted supplier of new underwear, but my American body only fits size 6XL.”

Here is the second part of my harrowing tale of the underground underwear theft circa 2008:

Facing a shortage of underwear, I ventured into the supermarket to purchase more.  Complicating the process is the fact that my American, calcium fortified diet has afforded me, in the words of my sister, Asian J-Lo-esque “Bronx booty magic”.  Yay calcium!  Although this bodes well for long motorcycle rides, it makes things infinitely harder when one must purchase underwear, resulting in situations like stretching underwear in the middle of Vietnamese supermarkets or, as I would like to call, a typical Sunday morning.

Vietnamese people at the check-out counters have a tendency to judge people for their purchases.  On one particular Sunday morning, I was in need of underwear, water, and crackers.  This story ends with the check-out lady looking at me with amusement as she scanned my underwear, my Aquafina, and my saltine crackers.  If I had enough Vietnamese in me, I would have looked her in the eye and said, “Why yes, I eat saltines and drink water in my underwear.  Thanks.”

Pre-Return Ups and Downs Phase:

  • (6) “Oh!  Meat on a stick.”
  • (7) Shitting in a literal pile of Chinese garbage.

Also a true story:

After a long hike through southwest China’s Tiger Leaping Gorge, I hastily consumed a very greasy, satisfying bowl of fried rice. I proceed to a tour bus en route to our hotel nearly 2 hours away. Within 5 minutes of sitting, I develop painful, debilitating pains – the kind of pain one obtains when you ravenously consume dubious bowls of fried rice. I can best describe the pain as feeling as if a wild, rabid raccoon was stuck in my bowels and desperately clawing it’s way out – and down.

My partner, who is fluent in the Chinese dialects of Cantonese and Toisan, knows approximately 10 phrases of Mandarin. She somehow strings together a few of these phrases to successfully halt the bus so that I can scamper to a bathroom stall in the middle of a rural market. In my anxiety about holding up a bus full of Chinese people, I am too nervous and ultimately fail to go to the bathroom. I return to the bus. The pain returns. I teeter on the edge of exploding.

A sweaty, painful hour and 45 minutes later, I cannot hold it anymore. My partner convinces the driver to let us off in middle of a street, in an unknown town, in the middle of China with 10 phrases of Mandarin known between the two of us. I desperately search for a bathroom. There are no bathrooms, but there is most definitely a field of garbage.

End of story.

  • (8) Hella fluids.
  • (9) “I feel like I am going to die of dysentery.”

Return Home/Missing Other Culture Phase:

  • (10) “Life was so care-free abroad, except that time I almost died of dysentery.”
  • (11) Full-blown travel superiority complex.

Editor’s Note:  I will be traveling, developing new materials, and intensively working on a new digital and audio project in the months of July and August.  This blog will be back in weekly form on Monday, 8/28.  I’m looking forward to sharing more then!

I am a native San Franciscan?

In May of 2009, I moved to San Francisco after graduating from college.   It was a place I had only been twice in my life – once for an unremarkable pre-move trip and once as a kid traveling with my grandmother (and apparently everyone else’s tiger balm-drenched Chinese grandmother) on a Chinese bus tour of California. On both occasions, I wasn’t hit with an Allen Ginsburg-esque love for this fog-filled, hilly metropolis. All I remember was how cold summer could feel and how sequined my grandmother’s clothing was despite our daily hours-long activity of sitting in a charter bus full of unimpressed Chinese ladies.

Give or take the months I’ve spent away for graduate school, I have somehow hit my 7-year mark living in San Francisco. If the insufferable television series “Sex and the City” should be believed, it takes 7 years for someone to become a “native New Yorker”. Should this logic be applied to San Francisco – New York’s equally expensive, equally pretentious, and equally homosexual west coast counterpart – I will have reached my “native” status as of this writing.

If time is not an adequate indicator of being a “native” San Franciscan, I have another convincing measure of nativity. According to psychologist Robert Plutchik’s seminal theory of emotion, there are eight standard human emotions, which include fear, joy, and surprise. I would argue that San Franciscans have two additional standard emotions – “Exasperation over expensive rent” and “Terror induced by clueless Lyft Driver who is from Sacramento”. I acquired the former emotion the moment I moved to this city and developed the latter emotion this past Saturday night.

Thus, to mark my self-proclaimed transition from invasive species to native species of a city I have grown to love, I’m going to partake in a San Francisco tradition – complaining about insignificant minutia.

Rant #1: Why is this line so damn long? [Ice Cream Edition]

This rant has many iterations which include, but are not limited to “Lines! Coffee edition,” “Lines! Brunch edition,” and “Lines! Artisanal chocolate (?) edition”.

I chose to write about waiting in line for ice cream because ice cream is among my top five favorite things in the world. Anything that stands in the way of my ravenously consuming ice cream feels like a travesty of injustice.*

I grew up eating entire tubs of Country Vanilla, Neapolitan, and Moo-llenium Crunch Blue Bell ice cream, which is a practice that has recently fallen out of favor because of the possibility of death by Listeria. Now, instead of risking death via infectious bacteria, I now risk dying in the frigid cold as I stand in line at one of the many San Francisco handcrafted ice cream shops – Bi-Rite Creamery, Humphry Slocombe, Mitchell’s, Smitten and, most recently, Salt & Straw.

I’ve had to stand in line so often at these shops that it feels like waiting for ice cream is inevitable. However, I find that the bottleneck is preventable if people stop the practice of trying every single flavor available. I dislike the practice for two reasons – first, the longer I have to wait in line, the more likely I am to come to the realization that purchasing a 5-dollar scoop of ice cream when it is already cold outside is a fucking stupid idea. Second, the people scooping your 17 samples of ice cream are probably twenty-something English majors with rock star dreams who are a few scoops away from early onset carpal tunnel syndrome.

In an effort to save the wrist nerves and tendons scooping ice cream in this great city, I wanted to share my approach to ordering ice cream:

  1. Determine the number of scoops you would like. Anything more than 3 scoops is obscene, you greedy bastard.
  2. To determine the number of samples to try, double the number of scoops you intend to order. For example, if you want 1 scoop, try 2 flavors. 2 distinct scoops equates to 4 tries. Under no circumstance should you try all 32 flavors of ice cream available unless you intend to order 16 distinct scoops. If you are thinking of ordering 16 distinct scoops, please refer to my off-color remark muttered in step number 1, you greedy bastard.
  3. To maximize satisfaction in the flavor combinations you choose, make sure that roughly half of what you choose to sample is new, interesting flavors. The other half should be traditional and reliable. For instance, “I want 2 scoops of ice cream, so I’m going to try 4 flavors. My 4 choices are vanilla, chocolate, balsamic and raspberry-infused fermented trout intestines, and candied walnut with malted soy milk of Pikachu.”

As you can tell, the above 3 steps are a general outline of the philosophy in which I live my life. Feel free to use – it works!

Rant #2: For the last time, “Hella” is not a unit of measurement.

This section is directed to my partner – a true native San Franciscan – who has insisted since the inception of our relationship that “hella” is unit of time, quantity, size, and dimension. Examples include “hella expensive,” “hella dumb,” and, most infuriatingly, “hella whack”. Who has perpetuated this non-sense and tainted our beloved partners with these lies?

People, it is unacceptable to tell me that “hella people are coming to the party”. Does that mean 4 people (“hella people” to me) or does that mean 37 people (“hella people” to my partner)? What does it mean that it is going to take “hella long to get here”? Is this 6 minutes (which feels “hella long” because I am hungry) or does this mean 2 hours (because your Lyft Driver from Fresno has collided on the Bay Bridge with a Lyft Driver from Modesto)? If the situation is “hella whack,” do you mean as whack as waiting in a long line to get ice cream in the cold or as whack as the 2016 presidential election?

Clarity in language is important. How important? Hella. Don’t know how important that is? PRECISELY.

*Editor’s Note: Probably not a travesty of injustice.