Saturday, December 12, 2015

Nicer But Less Effective. What Harvard Business School is definitely not teaching.

Find a Fake Busy Meme
OK, I'm making an assumption because I actually don't know what Harvard is teaching. 

But when I worked as a Project Manager in Los Angeles and my meetings ended for the day, I focused on tasks to move projects forward--summary reports, meeting minutes, follow up emails, and user acceptance tests--all artifacts of a project. When those were completed and I waited for responses and updates, there were 2 to 4 hours remaining in my day before I could turn off my computer at 6 to show an 8 hour work day. Not exactly the long American work day you hear so much about. 

So you might wonder why I have been laid off four times, twice as a Project Manager and twice as a Technical Writer, if I am so efficient. Because companies--especially management, and especially Big Companies--don't reward efficiency. They reward status quo. The cake is a lie and the work is not the work. 

And though it is easy to get jobs demonstrating efficiency, it is almost as easy to lose jobs demonstrating efficiency. Because when I was cannibalising my workload people noticed. In the first three months it got accolades from colleagues, managers, and managers' managers. But when you're still banging out widgets at a furious pace in month six, everyone starts to worry that their workload will be your next meal. I've been that person four times. 

If job preservation is your goal, busy work is your friend. Here is why:

  • The warm and fuzzy busy blanket. Though management complains of being slammed out from endless meetings and reports, they won't cancel the meetings or simplify reporting because they don't want to admit to spending time on unnecessary work. No manager who enjoys playing that crappy candy game on their phone during the Thursday conference call that they started is going to suggest that the call should go away. It feels good to pretend everything is of critical importance and it feels even better when those activities are added to the Done column of the TPS report. And the latte they drink while playing the crappy candy game during the Thursday call is the highlight of their week.
  • Management creates the clock watch culture of inefficiency. Emphasizing face time encourages managers to arbitrarily label problems as crises and then evaluate workers on long hours, which makes everyone inefficient. As Project Managers we joke that "If everything always went perfectly we wouldn't have jobs." [throat clear] How can you look like the hero if there is no dragon to slay? You can't. Until you find a dragon. And if you can make that call bragging about slaying the dragon from the comfort of the carpool lane, even better.
  • Asking for work at Big Company is asking to be laid off. Not that getting laid off is a bad thing! Sometimes it leads to a better job, more money, and a nice three month severance package. But if you are NOT looking for this, don't ask for more work. It signals that you cannot identify what needs to be done. Instead, identify the problem that additional work would solve for YOU (boredom, looking for a promotion or raise, curious to work with the new Drupal expert) and solve that problem. 
  • Presenteeism is the norm. Productivity in large companies dips by one third when people go to work with presenteeism (not physically or mentally productive due to real or imagined illness). I added the "imagined" illnesses part. Big Company culture rewards showing up. It doesn't care if you get anything done because it focuses on quarterly profits, budgets, and not getting sued. Make no mistake, you will get fired eventually. It just takes a really long time being useless before anybody can take action. 
  • Cultivate a fake busy portfolio. Fake busy is a thing, especially if you work for Big Company, which is why there is an entire fake busy movement. You are either creating the illusion that you are busy so you can dedicate time to things that actually matter (such as building the portal for Q3) instead of updating decks (which don't matter but executives love) to place blame explain why the portal for Q3 is behind schedule. Or you are creating the illusion that you are busy because there is so much demand for your skills that you cannot be part of the next layoff.
  • Find fake busy that makes you zen. After my fourth layoff, I learned that finishing projects on time was not nearly as important as making everyone around me feel good and feel busy. So I carved out small blocks of time that were enjoyable. I meditated in my car for 30 minutes, spent 15 minutes walking up ten flights of stairs in the parking lot, took 30 minute walks around the neighborhood or wrote notecards to my nephew and then mailed them in the mailbox down the street instead of the one in the mailroom. Nobody noticed these little outings and they made me feel good. They made me more zen. People want to work with zen more than they want to work with productive. 

There's a popular quote floating around attributed to Paolo Coelho. "Do something besides killing time because time is killing you." I like that quote, so while being killed by time at least enjoy some perks. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Twice is Coincidence

What is coincidence?
According to science, repeating stories is a matter of focus and resource allocation. There is one central pool of resources and if we take away from that pool, there's fewer left to do things with
  • The Onion or CNN? Psychologists say that we tell the same stories to the same people because our destination memories are relatively weak due to lack of practice. We devote little mental attention to whom we are telling the story because we are trying to recall either on the origin of the information or the details of the story. For memory, To is harder than From. And destination memory worsens with age.
  • But enough about you, how about me? We say the same things to the same people because we are self-absorbed. When providing information to others we are preoccupied, thinking about ourselves and how we look and not our audiencePsychologists think there is a limited set of resources available. And the more self-focused a person is, the less likely their ability to recall their audience. 
But over the course of a few weeks I experience a strange phenomenon where people are telling me the same stories, asking me the same questions, and saying the same snippets at the same points in conversations. It isn't déjà vu, just repeated phrases with a wide range of acquaintances on different topics at different locations. 

"Have you also heard every single one of these stories?" I ask my husband while we are at the sink. He is washing and I am drying the good pots that don't go in the dishwasher. I list the stories, the replies, and the questions that I am hearing three and four times. 

"We all do it," he said. "We all repeat stories. And I'm sure it happens more as we age," he says.

"I think this is different because it's not just old people retelling the stories. It's happening with older people of course but also people our age. It's like I'm on a loop and if I mention a specific city or run into a certain person, I know what they are going to say. And then I get focused on trying to avoid hearing it again." 

We laugh at how ridiculous it is for me to attempt to avoid conversations that may occur.

If science tells us that resource allocation explains our inability to recall the audience, what is the purpose of retelling stories, asking the same questions, and saying the same thing at the same point in a conversation? It depends.
  • We may not feel heard. Or maybe we didn't get the response we wanted needed when we told the story or asked the question the first time so we retell (or re-ask) in hopes of getting a different response. 
  • We want to relive the moment. Maybe the event itself was enjoyable when it happened or the response we receive when we tell the story is enjoyable, so we keep telling it. 
  • Stories reinforce how want to be seen. It's not socially acceptable to say "I am a worldly and sophisticated person." But telling a story where that presents us this way is more socially acceptable, at least it is the first time we tell it.
  • We want to contribute. But we may be unable to articulate an opinion or need or we may be unable to add a meaningful addition to the conversation because of our own limitations. 

In the entertainment industry re-watching movies or episodes is called regressive re-consumption, watching movies again and again because they are emotionally efficientWe get the emotional payoff we are looking for with no surprises. Familiar things require less energy to process, and when something is easy to think about we tend to think it's good. So would it be too much of a stretch to think we look for comfort conversations the same way they seek comfort food or old movies?
When I mention my Groundhog Day experience to different people they also have their own experience with one person who retells stories. Everybody has known an elderly person who retells stories, and it is well documented that humans need to make sense of their past. Retelling stories is one way to serve that function. But nobody I talk to has experienced a list a series of disparate people repeating themselves. It cannot be about dementia because my experiences involve a wide range of people. 

Ian Fleming wrote, "Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action." Reflexively saying aloud "My college roommate was Spanish" whenever the conversation is about Spain is not enemy action, it's a verbal tick. So how do we avoid repeating ourselves?

  • Be authentic. Understandably smalltalk is going through the motions, a warm up for a connection--nobody really cares about the weather or traffic. But after smalltalk, a conversation is an opportunity to learn about the other person. If you are talking to someone you care about, cherish that time together. Listen. Don't have an agenda.
  • Focus on them. If you forget the names of people as soon as you are introduced, recognize that it is because you are thinking about you, not them. The same thing happens when you go into repeat mode. Next time you tell a story, say the person's name, e.g., "Have I told you, Carol, that I was stuck in Hawaii during 9/11?" Saying their name forces you to focus on them, and probably remember you already told them this story.
  • Take a breath. When someone asks me the same question multiple times I think one of two things, a mental problem or they didn't believe my answer. But it just feels this way and most likely neither is true. Most likely we are just not being present (I know, this is an overused phrase) and are offering up verbal ticks in the form of rehashed conversation because we are distracted by something. So take a breath, slow down, and return to the moment. 
  • Acknowledge uneasiness. Most people on forums said they repeated themselves when they felt awkward or stressed. If you feel this way, just accept it. Continue to feel this way while listening to the other person. After the conversation, when you are alone, self-reflect, identify the cause of the awkwardness, and realize that it won't kill you. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

First 90 Days

I arrived in Singapore exactly three months ago. The first week we stayed at a hotel and I took the bus to visit my dog in quarantine every day. The hotel was near Orchard, the fancy retail area of Singapore, which is a weird mix of feeling as though you are on vacation every day because you are in a beautiful hotel drinking cappuccinos with breakfast while constantly being reminded that this is not a vacation, it's your new real life. But once we signed the lease, arranged for rental furniture, and moved into our apartment things became very real. This is what I learned. 

Plan breakfast. When I have moved, whether it has been down the street during a major remodel or across the globe, there are two things I make sure are in order before we eat dinner--beds and breakfast, and this goes for the dog as well as my husband and me. At some point we stop unpacking to buy coffee, cereal, fruit, and milk for breakfast. Waking up in a strange place is much less strange with the smell of coffee brewing. A weekday breakfast in the U.S. is Nature's Path cereal, but at $8.00 per box in Singapore accompanied with $6.00 almond milk we needed to make substitutions. Our Singapore regular breakfast is muesli with bananas or pears and granola, and topped with rice or oat milk. And coffee.

Start small. Week one we had to buy everything. We couldn't just drive to Target and load up the car, we had to buy the most critical things to get us through our first few days at the mom and pop store next door to our condo. Crammed into an aisle of the mom and pop store and crouching next to toiletries where the products and currency were foreign, (some of which had no English writing on them,) we debated about what could either be shower gel or shampoo, while every five seconds someone needs to walk by. (I don't know what it is about grocery shopping in Asia, but no matter where you stand within five seconds someone else always needs to be exactly where you are.) So that's what you do. You buy shower gel, a sponge, dishwashing liquid, dish towels, and trash bags and then go home, take a nap to escape the heat, and then have a glass of wine on the balcony. Because the next day will be easier and auntie and uncle will remember you.

Lists, lists, and more lists. One of the things to get used to in a new country is grocery shopping. Not only are the stores and products different but in my case I don't have a car, so everything I purchase must fit into my trolley, which means I shop more often and buy fewer things. Also there is not one giant grocery store to do all your shopping and you will likely specialize, buying different products at different stores:
  • Mustafa: Tahini, granola, Bob's Red Mill grains and flours. 
  • Phoon Huat: Anything dairy, dried fruit, nuts, flours, oils and anything related to baking. 
  • Wet markets: Produce and fish
  • Fair Price: Toiletries, paper goods, wine.
  • Aunty and Uncle: Anything and everything, especially in a pinch.
  • Expat markets: Cold Storage and various specialty butcher and bread stores sell gourmet items for unique dishes from home. 
I nearly cried during my first trip to Mustafa because the basket I was carrying was very heavy, I couldn't find anything, and the store was very crowded. Don't go on a weekend, stay hydrated, and buy only food. The house cleaning supplies you can buy anywhere.

Find your ten. 
Most families rotate through ten meals for dinner regularly. Make a list of ten meals your family eats and keep that list in a notes app on your phone. Then make another list for the ingredients in those ten meals which will become the standard grocery list from which you shop. If you can only come up with seven or five meals that's okay. One of my ten was "Thug Chili" and I crossed that off our list because the idea of eating chili on the deck when it's 31 degrees didn't work. 

Make produce your bitch. When you move to a new country all the produce you eat like blueberries and kale is either impossible to find or outrageously expensive. Take a breathe and don't let the squash or long beans intimidate you. I haven't eaten blueberries or kale since I arrived. Instead I have found pears that taste like sorbet, potatoes that cost $1.50 per bag, and squash that tastes good in anything. And heavenly mushrooms. Buy what is familiar to you at first and rotate in a couple new pieces every time you shop. This week is going to be the week of Chinese greens for me. I will let you know how that goes. 

Learn how you will live. One thing we didn't want was the crazy looking expat apartment that people have because they need everything within reach at all times. I saw kitchens with spice racks and power strips with adapters on the counters in which electric kettles, coffee makers and grinders, blenders, toasters, and juicers were plugged. We learned that a toaster doesn't fit into our new life nor does a daily green drink or grinding our own coffee. We learned a lot living with minimal rented furniture and household items for two months and we are saying what I have heard many expats say after moving to Singapore. "You just don't need all the crap you thought you did." 

Go on a space diet. Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on the plane so you can worry less about storing the stuff you don't like anymore and don't need in your new life. The biggest revelation came to me when I gave away my flare jeans that made my butt look awesome because they no longer make my smaller butt look awesome. So I thanked them for their service and dropped them at H&M. The big takeaways (after purging) from her KonMari method are her method of folding clothes, the wisdom of finding a home for everything, and putting everything away right now. Which leads me to post-it life lesson #2: "F-it. Just f-ing get rid of it." Feel free to write that down on a pink post-in and Pinterest it. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Chinese Gardens

On Fridays I do walks around Singapore with a Meetup group. It's not only a bit of exercise but we walk slow enough so that it's very social and on top of that I get to explore places on the island that I may not normally see. This Friday we walked through the Singapore Chinese Gardens. It's monsoon season now and it rains daily, which it was doing as I rode the train to the Chinese Garden MRT, but the rain stopped ten minutes before our walk just as we were gathering at the MRT station and deciding whether or not to buy coffees and umbrellas from Cheers. 

The east entrance was specially constructed in conjunction with the Chinese Garden MRT station to ensure easy access for pedestrians visiting the gardens. If you watch reality TV, the bridge served as the finish line of the reality competition series The Amazing Race Asia 2. 

Red bridge at east entrance

Red bridges are throughout the Chinese Gardens in various shapes and sizes as red symbolizes good fortune and happiness in Chinese culture. There is also a Japanese-style garden within the Chinese Gardens.

Red bridge to Japanese Gardens

The pagoda is the same in the picture with the red bridge. Pagodas traditionally have an odd number of levels and sometime attract lightning strikes because of their height, especially if the finial at the top is made of metal. 

Views of the stairwell from the top and the bottom reminded me of a conch shell. From the top you can see four ladies waving up at me. From the top floor, though you cannot see them, there are three geckos on the ceiling. There is something about their toes that I find adorable!

Four ladies at the base of the stairwell

Pagoda ceiling
Through lattice windows at the top of the pagoda you can see nearby HBD housing. It was during the Song dynasty that sophisticated lattice work began.

Lattice Window
The ‘Bai Hong Qiao’ (the white rainbow, 13-Arch Bridge) follows the style of the 17-Arch Bridge at the Summer Palace in Peking.

Bai Hong Qiao

Though not a religious person, the closest thing to spirituality I can sense is in trees. When I see light through green leaves and hear breezes rustling through the leaves it calms me. Which is probably why I feel pure rage when I read about clear cutting and slash and burn practices. There are relatively few things humans need to survive: air, water, food, shelter. Trees provide all these things. If you doubt that trees provide water, see what happens to rainfall patterns when trees are removed from the equation. 

Light through trees just after the rain stopped
Chinese Gardens also include Scholar's Rocks, which are especially prized if they have been pitted and sculpted by erosion. I don't know what the symbol is, but I loved the contrast of the soft, natural rock against the shiny Chinese red.

Scholar's Stone

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Do These Thoughts Make me Look Fat?

How McDelivery Works in Singapore
It is a stereotype that Asians are thin and Americans are fat. Obesity is increasing in Singapore at the rate of 1% per year and after a week I realized people here are not that thin, at least not the ones under 60. Most are doughy, somewhere between Anne Hathaway when she's not training for a role and Lena Dunham in any role. I blame the snacks that are everywhere. In Singapore train stations smell like curry puffs and fresh bread. In the U.S. they smell like pee.

But still I expected people in Singapore to be thin so before moving to here I lost 5 lbs because I didn't want to be The Fat American. And then after living in Singapore for two months and walking to the Fair Price with my trolley for groceries and to the MRT I lost another 5 lbs, so suddenly I am thin. I have wanted to be not just thin, but skinny. A skinny that, when I see pictures of myself shot from any angle, no matter what I am wearing, the body part I look for first in pictures still doesn't look fat. I have wanted to be a skinny that concerns people, the kind of skinny that my husband calls "dirty skinny." 

I can savor the deep satisfaction and pleasure of my thinness here in Singapore. If I were in the U.S. I would be hearing things like "Well you don't want to get too thin" and "If you get too thin it will age you" and all the other things women say. "But perhaps we have different standards of what looks good" I think. That's what people miss when they comment about being too skinny. They assume you are dealing with a new and more vicious demon but it's entirely possible that you left an old one behind. 

I have reached a thinness rapture three times in my life; once in college, once about eight years ago, and this one. Though even at my fattest I was never technically overweight (if you believe BMI charts), thinness is privilege and ecstasy. If you've never been thin, I highly recommend it. It's freeing, like having a wallet full of gift cards you can spend everywhere if you want. Magical even. At a certain point my brain flips. I stop being hungry all the time, stop thinking about what I should and should not eat, and stop thinking about when I can eat next. And on the occasion when I do have pancakes for breakfast or my very own dessert after dinner, it's all the more exquisite because there is no guilty aftertaste.  

Everyday there is a new clothing high. In Singapore it's too hot to wear my skinny jeans so I try them on periodically, an idea I got from a UK expat who lost a couple of kilos after moving to Singapore. I turn the aircon down a couple of degrees and try on my skinniest jeans with heels, the pair my husband bought me three Christmases ago, only now they look as they are supposed to. Citizens of Humanity. In my pajamas I get glimpses of my arms and legs, shaped differently than they used to be, and I cannot believe they are mine. And I own three pairs of shorts that I wear with sandals and silk camisoles, a coup because for three decades I hated myself in shorts so much that I dreaded casual summer weekend outings--also maxi dresses and hot shoulders didn't exist in the 90s. When young girls in clothing stores tell me right away that they have small sizes I think to myself "I am wearing a size Small in a brand from Taiwan." I want to hug them when they show me a diminutive dress, even though it has one of those Peter Pan collars I hate. 

My brain tells me that the reason for the weight loss is that I am walking in the heat instead of driving in aircon, but there are parts of me afraid that the thinness will be taken away, a temporary reaction to the stress of moving to a new country or to the heat. I hear from other women that they lost hair from the move or from the humidity and heat, and their hair is only now growing back. So I worry that someone say at my next meetup will say, "Don't worry. You gain it all back. And then some." So I am cautious. I want to buy a food processor so I can make my recipes again, but then I think "What if the weight loss was not having the homemade bread, vegan chocolate chip cookies, and endurance crackers around the house?" So I haven't. And though most of my clothes are too big for me now I am procrastinating finding a tailor. At home every single piece of clothing would have been altered already, which is what I tell everyone else to do when they lose weight because it's only the feeling of wanting to loosen your clothing that keeps you from eating more, but I haven't looked for a tailor. 

If it seems like a small thing to worry about five pounds or two kilos, not worrying about it, or not addressing it, can lead to big things. Because if every U.S. adult reduced their BMI by 1 percent--the equivalent to a weight loss of roughly 2.2 lbs for an adult of average weight--this would prevent the increase in the number of cancer cases and actually result in the avoidance of about 100,000 new cases of cancer. A pretty good argument for skinny jeans.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Things that Must End ...

MRT Station Potty
Creative toilet use. Learn to use a toilet, sink, and anything else related to restroom facilities--trash cans, hand dryers, soap, and towels--and then leave. If you visit another country with higher sanitation standards (yes I said higher and not different) elevate yourself and adapt to those standards. Why do you think it's called a toilet seat? Nobody should have to wipe footprints from toilet seats. 

3 years ago posts in my Facebook feed. I barely cared when it was 3 seconds old. 3 years later it looks desperate.

Different usernames/passwords for every site and app. I can't read a recipe without creating a username and password and deciding whether or not to subscribe. You can't use the same username and password for every site, not just because it's not secure but because the rules are different, e.g., with letters, numbers, characters, for every site. I would gladly submit to sphincter scan technology if it made these passwords go away. 

Gate-ifying. Deflategate, emissiongate, emailgate. Do millennials know the origin of this scandal? There aren't even any reviews on Yelp for what looks to be a gorgeous hotel.

Clothing size inflation. The smallest size at JCrew is 000 and the largest is 20. Will negative powers be next? It's time to hit the reset button and align with the UK and Australia whose size range is 0 - 24. How can we ask for honest food labels if we can't be honest about what size clothing we wear? If you want to wear a smaller size, be smaller. Or do a photoshop equivalent on the labels sewn into your clothes and pretend.

Pretend coffee. Frappés are milkshakes and milkshakes are dessert, I don't care where you buy them. And if that doesn't make sense to you let me break it down ('cause that's what your body is trying to do). Coffee = 0 calories. Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino = 590 calories.

Way too complex cash transactions. Rite Aid has a litany of steps just to buy trash bags even when paying cash. It's ridiculous. Can we just do that? No, I don't want to ... 
  • type in a phone number for the wellness program
  • provide a zip code
  • donate $1 to this month's charity
  • purchase a bag for 10 cents
  • complete customer service surveys
  • deal with your receipts that are 2' long
I am a faceless human being who gives you a ten dollar bill and gets trashbags, change, and a receipt. Now that Walgreen's is buying Rite Aid I hope this ridiculous behavior ends. 

New Boogeymen. Pretending that anything other than climate change and the food we eat is a threat to civilization. Sure, today it's automatic weapons and last month it was a terrorist group responsible for Syrian refugees. But climate change threatens the air, water, and food supply and will kill us all tomorrow. And so far ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the heart disease and strokes killing us today.

Back seams. I don't buy clothing from H&M, Zara, and the other companies that make clothing entirely out of fossil fuel because I hate back seams. Though back seams make the garment easier to construct and use less material, but they are unflattering and make dresses look cheap. I guess this is why I practically live in Lululemon. But high five to H&M for recycling clothings and allowing us to drop our old stuff in their bins. 

Yahoo! issues. I think Yahoo has gone to crap because MM fired everyone who wouldn't come into the office daily. But I am tired of the constant spinning wheel of death when I try to access Notepad or my email. It's been years. Please fix it already.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

You Won't Do that in LA

Singapore is so different than the U.S., but it's the little things you notice. 

Leave the house without my sunglasses, even when it's sunny and hot. When I arrived in Singapore I wondered why I was the only person wearing sunglasses. I also wondered why my face was so hot. You can't wear sunglasses here, at least not the ones that sit on your face. It's just too hot. Did I mention that it's hot?

Give two barefoot guys standing at my front door--who speak no English and have no appointment--access to every room in my home because they are wearing matching shirts, and carrying tools. But they "service" and "management." We are renting an apartment, which means that the management company is responsible for maintenance and sometimes sends people to service things. Our first year of aircon maintenance is free. Not gonna screw that up.

Make plans after my appointment with the cable guy, gas man, or government agency. Everything in which the government has a hand is extremely efficient in Singapore. My husband scheduled an appointment with City Gas the day we moved into our apartment. The appointment window was 12 - 1, the technician showed at 12:05 and was done by 12:30. My husband scheduled an appointment for two days later for wifi/fiber, the appointment window was 9 - 11, the technician showed at 9:05, and was done by 9:40! But most amazing was the Ministry of Manpower (MoM) which is the equivalent of INS in the states. I was on time for my 9 am appointment to receive my dependent pass, my name was called within 15 minutes, and I was out the door 7 minutes later. 

Carry an umbrella because it's raining, or sunny. There are two songs about California that are very true: "It Never Rains in California" and "Nobody Walks in LA." Nobody carries an umbrella because it never rains and people drive everywhere, so on the rare occasion that does rain you'll either be in traffic, at work, or at home. Go ahead, ask someone if they have a story about rain at the Hollywood Bowl.

Take a train or a bus in a dress or suit. Public transportation is disgusting in LA because many people who ride it behave in a disgusting manner--changing diapers on bus seats, picking their noses, eating greasy food despite the threat of fines. The Singapore trains and stations are clean because people observe the "no eating or drinking" rules. Sit on the Singapore MRT in white linen pants. It's fine. 

Take a shortcut through a public housing development to get to the market ... to buy fresh vegetables and organic oat milk. An estimated 80% of residents live in public housing flats (HDB) in Singapore, the goal of which is to build a nation of homeowners. The complexes are near markets, hawker centers, schools, and MRT stops. They remind me Leisure World in Seal Beach, CA for all ages--green, clean, pleasant and well cared-for. 

Walk a deserted road through a jungle to find the MRT. I took the bus to visit my dog in quarantine my first week in Singapore, but the traffic on the return route convinced me to take the train. Google Maps doesn't know the walking route to the MRT from quarantine and gave me the long route around the army base, which added 30 minutes in 87 degree weather at 78% humidity. As it turns out this road leads to a HDB park next to the MRT.

At the end of that road is the MRT?

Hang everything you wash where it's visible to everyone. We have not yet received our first electricity or gas bill so I don't know how punishing the dryer and aircon will be. The dryer seems to operate more like a water extractor than the clothes dryer I am used to, so I purchased a drying rack for The Yard where I hang most things. In LA I hung dainties and Lululemon on the rod with hangers we built special over the sink, next to the washer and dryer in the garage. Here people hang sheets, socks, towels, everything. They also hang it on their balconies which we never do in California. Though it may be environmentally responsible it looks ghetto, so much so that HOAs ban it.

Say "sorry" all the time to everyone everywhere. I know Amy Schumer would hate this, but it seems to be something more like "excuse me" here. It's not really apologizing but showing deference or respect for another person. Everybody does it--men, women, old, and young. It's not like at home where women apologize for being present as Amy suggests. Maybe it's to show that you are not a loud American demanding ketchup immediately?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Time Bending is the New Time Management

The phrase "time flies when you're having fun," though a misnomer, is easier to remember than "time slows down when you are trying new things." Time perception is a matter of brainpower. The more that is required, the slower time seems to move. Unlike taste or sound, we perceive time rather than sense it. “Time is this rubbery thing. It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up” according to neuroscientist David Eagleman. 

Take, for example, the 48 hours my husband and I spent in Tokyo this summer. Most signage in Tokyo is in Japanese, requiring extra brainpower. Everything is different--purchasing a metro ticket with yen from a kiosk, using a vending machine menu to buy tickets for ramen at a restaurant, or trying every feature of the sophisticated toilets. Nothing is what you're used to: Yelp reviews and your saved places in Google Maps pop up in Japanese. The best sushi restaurants are in train stations. And nobody wears sunglasses. Those days in Tokyo seemed to last twice as long as those I have spent around a pool in Hawaii, which is exactly what makes Tokyo so wonderful yet so foreign.  

Yelp Review: Tokyo

How else can you slow time?

Get Your Om On

Mindful meditation creates longer perceived durations of time. When participants were asked to listen for ten minutes to a meditation exercise designed to focus their attention on the movement of breath in the body, they overestimated durations of time compared to participants who listened to an audiobook for ten minutes. Either by improving the resources that allow us to pay more attention to time passage or by shifting our attention internally, we slow time. 

Break out the Earbuds

Though time flies when you listen to pleasant music it moves more slowly when listening to fast music. Tempo is the major factor that produces time distortions--music is judged longer with a fast than a slow tempo. Fast music is more arousing and high-arousing emotional stimuli (facial expressions, images, movies) produce a temporal lengthening effect--time moving more slowly. So turn on something fast and engaging during your weekends and then switch to something pleasant yet slow for you Monday morning commute.

What if you want to speed up time?

Multitask Like a Millennial

Media multitasking is using one media in conjunction with another, e.g., TV plus laptop, and creates the perception of time passing quickly. (Media companies get really excited about this, especially among millennials.) In a study where participants either only watched the ads or performed tasks while the ads were playing, participants who performed on-screen tasks while commercials were playing perceived time as passing more quickly compared to those just watching the commercials. 

This may have to do with gaze duration and switching. Participants switch at an extremely high rate, in one study switched between the TV and computer at an average rate of 120 switches in 27.5 minutes. Gaze duration is mostly between 1.5 and 5 seconds--78 percent of television gazes and 49 percent of computer gazes lasted less than 5 seconds. During television viewing gazes of 1.5 seconds or less are categorized as monitoring i.e., looking up at the TV to check that you're still watching Shark Week. Gazes of 1.5 - 5 seconds are categorized as orienting, i.e., looking up at the TV when characters are yelling because the great white is getting close to the boat. Neither monitoring nor orienting gazes require significant brain power, all heavily repeated behavior that causes time to speed by.

Routinize Like the Leader of the Free World

Retrospectively we view routine periods of time as taking less time than nonroutine periods of time. Obama pairs down his decisions and focuses on important stuff instead of what to wear or what to eat. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” Even though Obama is the leader of the free world and my life has been about building portals that get more eyes on ads and preventing the build-up of goo (i.e., body fat, brown stuff staining my white dog's face, hard water deposits), I can relate to routinizing. Just as the sites you visit frequently load quickly in your web browser because they are cached, your brain uses less processing power for things you do repeatedly, making time seem to move faster, which is why the mornings when you get ready for work or get your kids ready for school can seem shorter each day. 

Very timey wimey.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

I'm not a serial killer because Look! I have hobbies

Off to market with my umbrella
We visit Singapore for a week to decide if we want to live here and it's not a vacation because we have an agenda, more like travel for work but without the breakout sessions and stale bagels. Our beautiful hotel has a giant Nespresso machine in its exquisite lobby from 6 to 8 am. My husband and I are already awake at 5 due to jet lag, sitting across from each other on lobby sofas, sipping our coffees and tapping away on MacBooks until we walk down to the pool for breakfast at 9. 

And though were are not on vacation it is a vacation breakfast. There is fresh fruit, dried fruit, muesli, granola, seeds and nuts, baby greens, smoked salmon, freshly baked breads and muffins with local jams, pats of butter, and individual servings of Nutella that I spread on flakey croissants no bigger than the palm of my hand, so different from the giant and bland spongy things I see in American Starbucks. Nutella is everywhere in Singapore so I restrict myself to individual servings.

After breakfast our mission is recon--to see where we will buy groceries and how much toiletries cost, if riding the MRT is convenient, and where we can live with our king size bed and deep American teal blue sofa. We meet our realtor in the exquisite hotel lobby to determine neighborhoods that suit us and I tell him that I will not be working in Singapore. He asks what my leisure activities are, and then he asks again ten minutes later because I have not answered the question. 

In Los Angeles leisure is squeezed between working forty hours and commuting another ten, so after grocery shopping, cooking, walking the dog, and exercising, leisure is reading before bed, Pinterest-gazing in the wee hours before work, and an intense monthly hike. Only there are no mountains in Singapore. So I tell him that I will have to think more about leisure activities because I've been working since I was 11 and I don't know what anything else looks like. It reminds me of shopping for hiking boots in REI when the associate asked me about my comfortable shoes and I couldn't answer him either because I didn't own any. I own a few beautiful pairs of boots, sandals, and pumps and their comfort is relative but nothing is inherently comfortable

A question with which I have never been entirely comfortable is "What are your hobbies?" because have taught myself to think of days in terms of what I should do, not what I want to do. Growing up I heard how great it was to be athletic while around me everyone played team sports, so I joined basketball, volleyball, and tennis. I mostly liked tennis and at best tolerated volleyball, but I hated playing basketball. It felt so unfeminine, running up and down the court, sweaty and red-faced or waving my arms in a defensive stance wearing trunks, clunky high top sneakers, and tube socks. So I kept stats for boys basketball and went home to run with my Walkman, swim laps in my neighbor's pool, and ride my bike to watering jobs. 

If I think back to childhood fun to find my adult fun I recall laying out fall clothes on my bed, sketching each piece in colored pencil, and then cutting them out to glue onto cards--a card catalog of outfits hidden in a shoebox under my bed. Why so secretive? I didn't want to hear suggestions of someone else's fun to get outside because it's a nice day or waterski while it's still summer. 

But sports and competition are healthy! They instill values like teamwork and leadership, keep us active, and introduce us to other active people. Hobbies and interests develop creativity and confidence that can save us from binge drinking, pot smoking, and indiscriminate sex when we are young and depression and stress when we are old. The hobby doesn't matter so long as it's enjoyable for us. I remember Gretchin Rubin's secret of adulthood "Just because something is fun for other people doesn’t mean it’s fun for me, " but I still judge other's hobbies. If someone tells me she collects rabbit figurines or plays video games evenings, I feel bad for her because it sounds obsessive and antisocial. Talking about hobbies should make you sound less weird, not more so. When I meet people I talk about the fun that makes me seem well-rounded.

"I hiked the tallest mountain in Southern California with my husband."
"I swim across the bay daily."
"I cook, mostly vegan, though we're not actually vegan." 

Is that approachable enough? Does that make you comfortable? 

Though there are no mountains to hike in Singapore and no bay I can swim across daily, I am still cooking vegan. Maybe that is my new hobby, learning to be here in this new place: Cooking vegan recipes with local ingredients that I purchase in wet markets, auntie's and uncle's shop, and Chinese specialty stores, walking around the largest reservoir in Singapore with my Meetup group, and chatting with locals in line at a Hawker Center about our hobbies.