Another strange night

A view across Hong Kong toward Tai Hang and Braemar hill behind.

I go to bed in a hospital room. From the window I can see our apartment. This is closer to home than any of our other hospital stays, and less stressful. We age, we injure, we heal. Or we go through the traumas of childbirth, and heal. The pain is not always evenly distributed. It is shared though, which is both comforting and real. I look across the sports fields beside the Hong Kong Central library at Tai Hang, at our tiny box, the lights that mean home, that mean people, and relax.

I’ll be out of here in another twelve hours. I’ll probably still have a job. Things aren’t always as bad as they have been, and there’s a lot of hope in our corner of the world. A lot of growth, new words, new abilities. Hopefully some of the old abilities, too, returning after rehab and intention, after focus and time.

We get older, and we keep going to the gym. Our fitness plans remain much the same, climbing frisbee yoga and the occasional jog, on either side of these milestones. On either side of these years. My shoulder, the cause of that stay in twenty twenty, is pretty functional. I boulder on it, lay out on it, swing on it, and carry a small child with it. The rehab took a long time, but I had little to do. Tomorrow’s rehab will be lighter, more like the last op than the shoulder. More like stiches rather than reconstruction. I’m happy with that, happy with the ability to fix things before they’re impossible.

You woke up smelling horrible every day. Like pain,” my partner says of the three months pre-shoulder surgery. After surgery you immediately smelled like yourself again.”

Smelling like myself instead of like pain seems like a big step. The gift of a mediocre memory, of being unable to hold my body’s prior feelings very well, is that I do not remember. I hope never to remember. I hope to read these words in a few years and be startled by them.

Do you re-read your own writing,” a friend asked me in December.

All the time, I said. All the time. It’s a way of remembering, of anchoring myself. Most of these posts are written for me, to help me tell the story of my life, across time, to myself.

Because otherwise I’d forget. Otherwise I might never remember all the things I’ve done. I might not remember who I am, or who I’m trying to be. I definitely wouldn’t remember how it felt, ten or fifteen years back, to discover things I now struggle to notice. I might not remember all those nights listening to the Blade Runner soundtrack in Chinese hotel rooms, happy and healthy or sick and uncertain. I wouldn’t remember all my odd interactions with friends, or what it felt like to drive the PCH before finding a job in San Francisco.

Sometimes, when it’s hard to remember, it’s good to be able to remember, to have triggers. To create them. I do it with music a lot, and with people. Mostly, though, I do it with this site, with writing, and with time.

It’s another kind of healing, perfect for this quiet hospital room.

The length of life

A northern Tokyo craft beer festival in front of Otsuka station, September 2023

Walking through Victoria Park I realize we are building something. Like all such internal acknowledgements it is both belated and overwrought. Of course we, in the sense of our partnership, are building something. We have been, for fifteen plus years. We have been, in some sense, our whole lives. For people who are in hardware, in startups, in software, in product, in ops, we are always building something. We spend almost every waking hour working on building things, with varying success. Our lives can be seen, looking backwards, as a series of things we were trying to build, and the current position determined from the way we failed or succeeded at each.

One of my favorite ways of interviewing is listening to people’s self narratives. One of my favorite ways of writing is considering the different ways to construct my own, our own narrative. In some tellings it is whimsical: I moved to Shanghai from Tokyo because of the novel Shanghai Baby and a friend’s hand-written letters from his year in Hefei, Anhui. I had never considered the Chinese language, or the country.
In some tellings it’s calculated: We moved to San Francisco because, in the Financial Crisis, startups presented the greatest opportunity, especially in the sectors we care about (Renewables, Consumer goods). And yet those two can be easily reversed, because we are human, there are at least a half dozen reasons for every decision of magnitude. Our plans are far easier to discern in retrospect.

I moved to Shanghai because it looked poised to be the world’s most important city, and I wanted to know how things were made.

We moved to San Francisco because we had some friends there and neither of us had any job offers elsewhere.

We moved to Hong Kong because, as people in hardware, software, and supply chain, in startups and product management, it had been a hub for years and was an easy swap, SF for HK, the cross-border train weekly and trans-Pacific flights quarterly an easy change from Bart daily and irregularly scheduled trans-Pacific flights (usually urgently). There’s a reason I wrote this, years back.

This site, this record of how I felt in Incheon in 2015, is of course one of the blocks in what we are building. We are building something solid, with weight, out of the ephemeral weather of each day. We have been, of course. My partner laments, after a day spent speaking Chinese in a factory in Shijiazhuang My technical Chinese is not good enough for these 河北人.” I know exactly how she feels, and yet the feeling is new. Rather it is old, the pandemic having robbed me of my weekly excursions to Shenzhen, the dozen hours a week spent speaking Mandarin and feeling at home. It’s familiar from other avenues too.

The feeling is of the person we are trying to become, and the distance we have to go.

The past few months, lived at a hectic pace as we try to restore the pre-pandemic level of travel to our new larger family, have been exhausting. They have been wonderful. The past four months cover weeks in Tokyo, weeks in Colorado, weekends in Taiwan, weekends in Wisconsin, and long days on beaches in Hong Kong. They cover weeks at work, late nights, early mornings, and short supplies of sleep. These moments, or the gaps between them, like my walk across the park, are our lives, and are proof that we are working hard to grow in all directions. Like our Mandarin, which is worlds ahead of our Japanese, and of our Cantonese, all projects underway simultaneously. Yet in the long run, or when seen from a distance, we are building something. I hope we are building what we seek.

Today, and this week, and the last month, it feels like we are, and I work hard to hold on to that feeling, and to write it down.

Here and then gone

Nothing is perfect and everything changes.

On my first father’s day, we walk through Tai Hang to a sushi spot we use for celebrations. There’s a specific kind of place we frequent for our own occasions, those moments we want to mark together as a couple. Most people have one, I think. For moments like promotions, birthdays, anniversaries, and just good days of freedom that require something more than the usual, yet still familiar. For these moments our tastes range to the esoteric, to the nice but not fancy. Since our move to Tai Hang in 2018, No. 13 Sushi Bar has hosted quite a few of these moments. With some quiet back alley seats, welcoming staff, and incredible tuna rolls we’ve spent enough evenings there to know exactly what we want before we sit down, and to have the staff remember our faces. Or we had. No. 13 is gone now. A sign on the door offers only a lease expired, thanks for the good years” note that’s both cute and unsatisfying. I give a silent thank you to the staff as we turn away.

Wandering elsewhere for food we talk about change. Life, in so many ways, is change1. This first father’s day exemplifies that. Clara’s expressions just shy of a year are so much more than six months prior. People, like the places they construct, change over time, and the new can not come without loss. Fineprint, the coffee shop we used to live upstairs from, replaced something I can’t recall our first few months in the neighborhood, and now feels like a fixture.

Of course some of this change, like the loss of 2nd Draft, I’d undo if I could. We all have points of personal concern, and without everyone’s sacrifice nothing would change. And yet it would, because people age. The families that run the car shops will eventually turn over, sad as it is to consider. The dai pai dong’s too, as they have many times before. Neighborhoods will gentrify and fall into disrepute. Will they become inhospitable, or will they simply become home to a different clientele? In Hong Kong the answer is the latter, new housing displacing old walk ups, new restaurants with marble’d bars displacing old worn wood ones. Many of the new ones will fail, too ambitious, too fancy, too niche. And too few of them will be like No. 13, just expensive enough to have great fish, yet playing Eminem a bit too loudly to attract a truly posh set of patrons. Instead it was us and some other folk who liked loud dinners, a few families celebrating graduations, and the occasional casual business dinners over sake and cigarettes in the alley. I wonder where all those moments will happen now, and how long it will take all those other former customers to known of the closing.

To the staff, then, who took care of us for years as just part of the job, thank you. We’ll miss you.

Despite the inevitability, some changes we do morn.


  1. All that you touch
    You Change.
    All that you Change
    Changes you.
    The only lasting truth
    is Change.
    Olivia Butler, The Parable of the Sower↩︎

Sleep when

For a long time the person I used to be wondered what he would remember. He took photos to invite recollection, and put songs on repeat in foreign hotel rooms to build clear trigger points. Looking back now these were the tactics of someone on the go, someone with little stability in their day-to-day.

Of course they were.

One factory looks much like any other, and one hotel room likewise. Evenings spent alone in third tier Chinese cities quickly blend into one another. The songs playing in each room, then, the books read over dinner, or the long walks around unknown neighborhoods late at night can easily become the trip’s defining moments. Days spent in conference rooms, while productive, rarely lend themselves to emotional recall. Certainly less so than an evening spent looking up at the sky as it starts to rain outside the National Theater in Taichung while listening to Mariah the Scientist’s Reminders’ on repeat.


Years later, the person I’ve become knows there’s another way to make memories: watch someone else change and work to remember the differences. I try to appreciate new abilities by recalling what was impossible last week. For a long time, a few weeks, I watch 5’s try to raise one knee high enough to get onto the lower of our two sofas. Suddenly one morning she can do it, the strength or the flexibility, the height or coordination, whatever was lacking, now present. Her smile as she turns, that first time, and claps to show me her new seated position on the couch, that’s a memory worth holding tight. She still can’t make it onto the other couch, two inches higher. I wonder how long it will take.

The tradeoff, of course, is that I have no ability to place this memory in any context, no ability to remember what day, what age, or what I was doing otherwise. Much like the factory day in Taichung before my late night walk, where everything except the moment outside the theater has been lost. Memories like these are worn down by lack of sleep, by the pace of our life and the passage of time. All memory of which day she first climbed the sofa is likewise blurred, though it was only a week or two ago.


I still play music on repeat. Knowing it’s value I still try to build associations, triggers that will bring me back to these rainy typhoon days in Hong Kong, when 5’s is not yet one. These sounds or sights that might remind me of both adults working as hard as we can around our new responsibilities. These are lucky opportunities, two startups that might, just might have a chance, and we with the energy, the support, and the ability to grind while also playing sports, while also caring for our daughter. Barely, but we do.

And so after yoga on Friday I walk back towards the MTR station and home very slowly. In my ears Tracey Thorn sings songs I’ve never heard before, her first album with Ben Watt in twenty plus years. I listen with my whole body. Will these sounds bring back this spring, bring back Hong Kong, later and in other contexts? I can’t really know, but I hope so. I’d like to remember these rainy evenings, or her smile as she wakes. And I know my memory needs assistance, from years of helping it along, and months of sleeping less than I ought.

Looking at us

The view from Hong Kong island across Victoria Park to Kowloon as the sun sets.

Standing on the balcony I can see so many of us. Two teams play rugby on the pitch near the library. Next to the field a group does sprints on the 100 meter track. Around them dozens of joggers do slow loops. Across a wall and worlds away six tennis courts are filled with lessons. Behind those another ten are busy with private matches at their club. Behind those in the dark two boys play basketball in the schoolyard.

Across the street the park glistens, soccer courts and basketball courts and walking paths busy. Beyond that the harbor is full of motion. The pilot boats head in and out to cargo ships on the horizon. The ferries troll back and forth. In between the elevated highway carries busses, taxis and cars, the former two outnumbering the latter. On King’s Road, closer in, the tram trundles in their midst. All these forms of transportation and the occasional airplane overhead.

As the evening settles on the harbor the neon comes on. I think of how many words like that are no longer accurate. Filming. Neon. An album as a disc. Ideas created by technologies that have been themselves turned over. In Hong Kong, where individual bulbs blink, creating the image of rain trickling down the ICC, so many of us live in the intersection of technology and reality. The tram’s rough hum, a sound immediately discernible amid the combustion engines and sports sounds, is of another era. The lit scoreboard in Victoria Park’s central court for a tennis game likewise, not of a different era but of a unique priority compared to the dozens of public courts visible around it, the concrete soccer fields, the basketball courts packed with recreational players. Likewise the Chinese Recreation Club’s fancy pools speak to a priority of wealth, when across the street a huge public pool occupies a chunk of Victoria Park.

I can see so many of us. The Pullman, in Causeway Bay along the park, is almost full. On Saturday I think it was, or close. A shock to see so many of the rectangles lit after years of the pandemic when the building was mostly dark. A shock to realize in that earlier surprise how comfortable I’d become with no tourists, without people in hotels, without travel. How awkward, in some way, it feels to have everything busy, to have Mandarin dominate Tai Hang’s coffee shops on the weekends instead of Cantonese or Australian, French or Singapore’s more British English.

I look at the office towers, still mostly lit, and the dozens of apartment buildings, where lights flicker on every minute as someone returns home, and am glad. So many boxes for humans. There’s both no space, and so many options. A paradox of density and the need for more, driven by the kind of services, the kind of life, available when so many of us are in sight.

A way to see

In the light chill of Hong Kong’s winter I again learn how to see. After yoga on a Friday I get breakfast at a diner. The restaurant’s front is open to the street, letting the weather sweep in. I wear a hat while eating, but no jacket. The warm food feels good. It’s that kind of cold.

My legs are tired, and I am glad to sit still. These moments, freshly clean after early morning exercise, with no place particular to be, are some of the best. The world has opened up before me the last few weeks, and I feel great. I am able again to appreciate the beauty of Hong Kong, the convenience of dense urban living and the lucky life we have built. I once again take note of things, finding new joy in awnings, in second floor shops, in light on laundry drying on rooftops. I take joy in the varied styles of Hong Kongers, from super urbane to bankers, from those out for a run to the utilitarian workplace garments of off-duty kitchen crew. I appreciate the space this city offers for everyone, even when we’re scant meters apart.

On a Tuesday evening I’m asked a question that stumps me still, a week later.

What do you do in your time off?”

We are sitting on a stretch of corner outside a bar that will close too soon for my liking. I hope this bit of corner maintains it’s importance as the neighborhood hangout. These scant square feet of board and brick are the place to meet on a Friday, to chat on a Tuesday, or to sit around with the dogs on a Sunday. Tiny community centers like this are rare and valuable. Our corner is known all over the city as a neat neighborhood spot”.

What do I do in my time off?

Certainly not write or not publish enough, as this site will attest. Not work, though I put in a half dozen hours a week on paid projects and the same amount on hunting what’s next. Not work out, though I do most days, for an hour or so. Not see friends, though likewise I do at least a few times a week, a morning climbing, an afternoon in the park, or an evening chat. Not read, though I do that almost every waking hour, intake news or novels or blogs or newsletters or magazines. Not chores, though I do laundry and the dishes every day, clean the bathrooms once a week, clean the cat’s accouterment daily, and vacuum twice a week. Not hang out with my partner, as she’s at work nine hours plus a day.

What do I do in my time off?

Mostly try to keep my eyes open. It’s easy to nap.

The future of the future

Shinjuku South exit stairs

…Will still contain the past,

Her voice cuts in over the bouncing beat, that late nineties sound. I am walking through the warren of small streets around Sheung Wan station, and then up the steps through old Hong Kong. I am instantly instead walking through Saitama late at night in the cool rain of the autumn of two thousand two. I am twenty three, in a dress shirt, alone, and the world feels perfect, made just for me. In the distance I can see the elevated Saikyo line, my house on the other side. Behind me, almost invisible until a train passes, is the Kehin-Tohoku line. These suburban streets are quiet in the rain, and the folk I’d left in Kita Urawa are now far behind. I walk in a bubble of happiness and music, temporarily free from every bond.

Memories are fragile things, and they disappear for long periods, buried under more recent times, only to be brought back in an instant. The places that shaped me are never truly gone, and memories of entire evenings, commutes, and relationships are pulled back with the music that shaped those hours.

I have been obsessed with early Tokyo memories lately. I’d thought them a strange product of late-pandemic seclusion, of missing travel, of being so glad to have spent my fortieth birthday in Tokyo with friends from all over. The pull of places we could not visit, I thought, of favorite memories that were temporarily out of reach. Instead, suddenly, halfway up the 200 stairs of my morning commute, I am in the middle of a Tokyo evening, waiting for a someone overlooking the stairs of Shinjuku’s south exit. In my memory it was cold, or not. The weather, strangely, is hard to picture, having been overwritten by hundreds of days in the same spot. This is the effect of being shaped by places, and by music.

A colleague, a friend, gave me Amplified Heart my first year in Tokyo, back when passing albums was a thing, when recording minidiscs of other people’s CDs was the way we shared. I remember starting to rip CDs in Tokyo, to that very first iPod, bought in Omiya for most of a paycheck. I remember pirating software from the stores with firewire cables. I remember so many things, at least sometimes.

It’s packed at two am,
are you on your own

On a rare foggy Hong Kong evening I walk down the hill after work, through Soho and Central. People are alive, moving with the energy of evening, with the sense of somewhere to be. There are people everywhere, and I feel at home, part of a crowd going many places, going nowhere together. Often I write in the abstract, of groups and emotions. Partially I’m afraid of the details, of writing the specifics of memory into history, of trying to give shape to moments that seemed so important and finding them hard to make out in the larger motions of my life. Partially though it’s because many of the details are abstract, my memory is lost in a crowd of people I can barely talk to, carried emotionally on the words sung by an English woman decades earlier.

In many ways moving to pedestrian-friendly Asian cities in my twenties is the defining change of my life. The songs that I’ve spent the past two decades wandering them to, then, echo instantly with memories of evenings long lost to time, with friends distant enough to likewise need assistance recalling.

For a boy who had spent his early teen years at ska shows, his late teen years quoting Ani lyrics, and his college years speaker hugging through late night raves to the heyday of jungle, Tokyo’s second hand CD shops and rental stores, coupled with the minidisc and mp3, meant access to music in a depth impossible before. Mostly though, colleagues and friends took him clubbing and gave him tunes.

I use my walkman when I walk,
and I don’t talk,
but later on the moment’s gone
and I don’t get it.

Twenty years later, in the second pandemic spring, I spend a month walking to work every day to Everything but the Girl. These albums, Amplified Heart, Temperamental, and Walking Wounded, have been the background for so much of my life. Amplified Heart itself is the background for so much of our marriage, is the only album we own on vinyl, is the album I want most in the world.

I remember the conversation, a Canadian teacher on the train, older and wiser in a lot of ways, to that boy of twenty two. The week prior she had changed my year with the Dirty Vegas disc, with Days Go By. A week later she was ready to change my life.

If you like that I think you’d like Everything but the Girl. Amplified Heart.”

Like almost every day we were on the train platform in Kawaguchi, were heading home at nine thirty pm, shift over. Like every day we were tired and looking forward to the commute, to headphone time, to not having to talk any more. And yet we were awake, alive, part of the sprawling megacity we both loved so much.

It’s just so emotional,” she said, a turn of phrase both personal to her and globally correct.

Months later I would ride the train to Temperamental, leaning against the window of the elevated Saikyo line, dreaming of clubbing, dreaming of Shinjuku on that same ride home. The Saikyo line is one of Tokyo’s busiest commuter lines, leaving late from Shibuya and Shinjuku, touching down at Ikebukero before becoming elevated and pulling away from the city through Akabane and across the river into Sataima, out into the short lands, into the streets of my memories.

And the light goes down,
and all the lights come on,
and they call to me,
oh come on come on

Quoted lyrics from Everything but the Girl’s The Future of the Future’, Lullaby of Clubland’, and Low Tide of the Night’ from the 1999 album Temperamental

Between day and night

In the fall of two thousand four two foreign boys played hacky sack in Xujiahui Park most days. They were free from worry, barely employed and frequently lost amid the whirl of Shanghai’s boom years. In clothes they had owned for years, t-shirts still from college that ended at the turn of the century, they kicked a knitted ball back and forth for hours. Gradually, as with all things, they grew better, their bodies gathering memory. They learn stalls, and behind the back saves. They were able to play for longer at a time, to control the game so that passers by did not interrupt, that the odd pedestrian unaware of their connection did not block a return. Every day they moved around the park to avoid children on rollerblades who loved the circular areas, or couples on dates who liked the secluded bench spots. Frequently they ended up near the older folks who rested near the entrance in the afternoons, a wide spread of flagstone that was transformed into a dancefloor in the early evenings. These older folks, the retired workers of pre-boom Shanghai, who had seen things the two boys from the US could not imagine, were happy to share their space. They taught the boys Mandarin, word by word.

In twenty twenty, three foreigners played ping pong in Victoria Park on most afternoons in February and March. With schools closed and all three unemployed, the tables became a meeting ground. These three were frequently joined on the other table by a group of local children, and their parents. The kids rode scooters and practiced incredible spin serves, chased each other and played games on their phones. Occasionally, when other adults used one of the two tables, they played with the foreigners, in pairs of all combinations. As always, practice made everyone better, and the daily ritual gave some anchor in a world without timetables or meetings. Ping pong also brought laughter, of poor serves or incredible returns. Occasionally the children taught the foreigners Cantonese, one word at a time.

A decade and a half later our lives have not changed so much. The cities are different, the sports and languages vary, and we age as any other. Yet the peace of spending our afternoons unemployed and in the park in a country not our own has not lessened, and the joy of being welcomed, being part of a community has greatly grown. Habits like these, small bits of exercise in public, are some of the moments we remember longest, after new jobs have come and swept away our afternoons. We are lucky, then, to re-discover them, and lucky to have this break to make them new.