Morphing colors in the passive state

What I’m about to write won’t make any sense unless I outline the Insights Discovery “colors” that act as identifiers of traits, so, this is generally what each color represents (on a good day):

Extraverted Thinking – “Fiery Red”: competitive, demanding, determined, strong-willed, purposeful

Extraverted Feeling – “Sunshine Yellow”: sociable, dynamic, demonstrative, enthusiastic, persuasive

Introverted Feeling – “Earth Green”: caring, encouraging, sharing, patient, relaxed

Introverted Thinking – “Cool Blue”: cautious, precise, deliberate, questioning, formal

After spending the last three full days with my group of 16 colleagues of all Insights colors and personalities, although it was both enjoyable and productive, I was looking forward to being back at a hotel room in a real bed this evening. Although I love socializing and having stimulating and thought-provoking conversation with crazy back and forth banter, after long periods of having this interaction, what I really crave is alone, quiet time to just be by myself and process all the information I’ve digested. I guess you could say that’s the slow thinking turtle in me.

Before I’d get to my much coveted hotel bed, though, I’d made plans to see my two best friends living in San Francisco for dinner in the Richmond District. I felt so mentally exhausted and even was tempted to cancel because I was a bit under the weather, but I knew I really wanted to see them.

The funny thing about being in a high-energy, constantly “on” environment like our retreat center is that because the energy is so bold and everyone is spit balling and constantly talking and wanting to be heard, it makes you look at your next social situation in a comparative light. So when I arrived at the Mexican restaurant for dinner this evening, although I’m fully conscious of the types of friends these women are, I feel a bit judgmental to say that the level and energy of the conversation was a bit disappointing for me after the last three days. Even though I thought I wanted something quieter and calmer, when I actually got it tonight, I felt dissatisfied. There wasn’t any disagreeing or back and forth banter to clarify topics or opinions tonight; there was no new, exciting information shared that shed light about one another; there wasn’t even a lot of self-awareness sadly that I could notice, and that was probably the biggest annoyance for me given that I spent the last three days working on trainings and exercises that solely focused on increasing self-awareness because it ultimately benefits everyone. I left my actual friends tonight feeling let down, and I wasn’t sure if it was really because of them or because of me.

The entire conversation, with a little button pushing from me, was just so passive. Passive was the resounding word in my head as the night wore on. I had one friend zoning out and not listening when work topics were being discussed (she isn’t currently working and hasn’t had a career-type job at all). She’d bring up superficial topics like which expensive restaurant she should choose for her boyfriend to take her for her upcoming birthday (and literally ask for that – an “expensive” restaurant instead of one that she just really wanted to try that might be pricey. I found it unfulfilling. Even when I wanted to go deeper and talk about the Osteria Francescana meal or how much I loved Bologna’s quaintness, we never quite got there… because I didn’t get the sense that my audience cared that much to hear those details that I enjoyed so much, and so the subjects changed. When I brought up the actual Insights training, my friends were shocked to hear that my subconscious qualities were strongly “green.” Green types are seen as being patient, relaxed, empathetic, the mediators, the peace makers, the ones who want to bring harmony to a group. There was this immediate “no” reaction from both of them. They think I’m on the aggressive side, so a red. And one of them, my most conflict-ignoring and avoiding friend, insisted that of us, she was the peace maker. I told her… awkwardly because she hates confrontation and being countered, that she isn’t truly a peace maker or mediator because a real peace maker mediates a problem and addresses it… she simply avoids and ignores it as long as possible. That isn’t the same as peacemaking, and it would be troubling to think that she believes that. She didn’t respond to this (which I expected given who she is) and the topic changed.

But you know what? What I really would have loved in that specific situation is if she actually did respond, if she did say, well, hey, there are examples in social situations where I did try to actively create peace, and maybe you just weren’t there to witness it. We’re not with each other 24/7. We may have known each other 20+ years, but that doesn’t mean we know every experience each other has had. So maybe what I have asserted is wrong because it’s solely based on my interactions with her. But hey, I’d be open to hearing them and changing my opinion if she’d be willing to share them. However, I’ll never know what I don’t know and what is not shared with me. That countering or rebuttal or continuing of a conversation that has a potential to change the other person’s mind – that just doesn’t happen a lot with us, and that makes me sad. And if it does happen, it’s coming from me 99% of the time.

I guess it also bothered me to think that they would never perceive me as a peace maker given all the family situations I’ve had to navigate and assist in within my extremely negative and dysfunctional family; have they heard me when I have described those situations? Do they remember or do they conveniently forget the most painful topics I bring up around family? How much do we all really listen to each other?

The other thing I thought about is what we discussed in our Insights training. Depending on what the other people in our group are like, our colors “adjust” or morph so that we feel fulfilled and can compensate for what may overall be lacking in the group. So in their perception, perhaps I am a red because out of the three of us, I am the strong-willed one, the aggressive one who pushes for more. I definitely feel that way when I get bored when topics are slow or boring or monotonous or when a decision cannot be made. But overall, in a diverse group of people, I rarely feel that I am the red one…. The yellow one, yes, as that’s the dominant color my evaluation says I am, but almost never red.



Insights training

Today was dedicated to Insights Discovery System training for our team. We had all taken an online evaluation that took about 15-20 minutes about two weeks ago that would be the focus of our training today. Insights enables companies to bring self-awareness to their people and teams; it’s sort of like Myers-Briggs but with an adjusted interpretation of Carl Jung’s theories. The goal is to ultimately increase self-awareness, which would then allow us to better form relationships and become more effective at our jobs. I’d taken a Myers-Briggs test years ago but didn’t remember my letter-combination; I find that the Insights approach of using colors is so much easier to remember.

One of the exercises we did was to have each person in the group answer four simple questions about their childhood: 1) Where were you born and raised? 2) If you have siblings, how many and who are they relative to you in age? 3) What was your “role” in your family? and 4) What was your biggest challenge growing up, and what did you learn from it?

I heard the questions and realized how vulnerable this was going to make a lot of us. What were we each going to share and how “revealing” would we be? How authentic to our childhood would the shared thoughts be? It ended up being this extremely emotional and intense setting, as so many facts about my colleagues came out that, if this exercise never happened, I likely never would have learned any of these details… things ranging from parenting a parent at the age of five, multiple instances of alcoholism of dads, dealing with the death of a sibling when a colleague was only 5, and being left alone regularly at the age of 4.

What you realize in exercises like this is how those childhood experiences shape you for the rest of your life. It may not always be obvious, but those experiences can come out at the most unanticipated moments. When I think about it, I can see in these colleagues who were so open to sharing and being vulnerable how those experiences at a young age manifested in the ways they lead their lives today, even in something as simple as everyday conversations or how or when to speak up in group meetings.

We had a room full of people crying and blowing their noses. Somehow, I managed to stay dry-eyed and only blew my nose when I was too congested from this stupid cold I’ve somehow caught. I never thought I’d ever be in a room full of work colleagues like that in my life. It honestly for me was an enlightening experience and one that I know I’ll probably be contemplating for the next several days.

Pescadero retreat

I’m back in the Bay Area this week for my work team’s retreat, which is the first one we’ve ever done. We’ve rented a cabin-type house in the middle of the woods in Pescadero, just 1.5 hours south of San Francisco, for a three-day, two-night retreat to strengthen our team bonds, go through our Insights training (basically like Myers-Briggs but with a different mindset and approach; this is intended to help increase our self awareness in how we are perceived and how we can better work with others who are different), and set goals for the new fiscal year.

My colleague and I have volunteered to be the chefs for the time, and we’re in charge of two breakfasts and two dinners for our group of 16. We devised our menus, planned out our ingredients and shopping lists, and spent almost three glorious hours raiding the shelves of Costco, Target, and Trader Joe’s today.

And when we arrived… it was probably the most “rustic” place I’ve ever stayed. The bedrooms had spiders, moths, and other creepy crawlers on the ceilings and walls. The hot water was nearly nonexistent and slow, with drip-like water pressure at times. The hand soap provided was practically water itself. The kitchen had stove tops and ovens that looked like they may have been from the early 1900s (and yes, I have to deal with this the next three days myself), with burners that literally only had one heat setting (HIGH, HIGH, HIGH), and the dishwashers had a questionable fuse. The heat was extremely high in some rooms to the point of causing everyone in them to sweat, while the bedroom I so luckily chose (that slept three other female colleagues) had a broken heater; it was the coldest room of the house. This is certainly going to be an adventure that will be character-building to say the least.

Uber pool ride

In an attempt to save money for the startup that I work for, I’ve been opting for shared rides on Uber or Lyft when traveling for work when the individual rides are a bit over the top (unfortunately, our finance team thinks any ride over $45 is a bit questionable). The price differences can be quite hefty: for the ride I took today from my apartment on the Upper West Side to JFK airport, an Uber pool ride was $43, while an Uber X ride was $75, so I chose the pool ride.

This was not the smartest choice. The app said I was guaranteed to arrive by 3:05pm for my 4:30pm flight. I have TSA pre-check, so I usually zoom through security and have plenty of time to relax before my flight. Well, that didn’t happen today because I got stuck in ridiculous traffic in Queens, and then my clueless driver decided to pick up another passenger (I was alone) in an area of Queens that was in the opposite direction of where I was going. We were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and this idiot goes BACKWARDS? Then, the new passenger he was going to pick up saw that he was going the wrong way, and he calls the driver to curse him out. Finally, we picked up the passenger, and I had to listen to the driver and the new passenger verbally battle it out. What fun for me. This passenger sounded so aggressive that I could barely look him in the face and was a little scared to.

He ended up being really kind to me, though. He scolded the driver for not driving aggressively enough. I asked the driver if he thought we’d get there in time for my 4:30 flight. He clearly did not care and said he didn’t know and couldn’t guarantee me anything. Then, the passenger started telling him a side route to take to get me to the airport after his drop-off in less than 10 minutes. The passenger reassured me, said he was a tow-truck driver and knew all these routes inside out.

I’d give the passenger 5 stars if I could… and the actual driver 1 star. I did not arrive until 3:46pm for a 4:30pm flight.

The reality of water buses and a city of canals

Venice is vexing. It’s as beautiful as Google Images and all those cliché paintings and vacation photos I’ve seen in the past, even in what is now supposed to be low season when it’s colder and there are no blue sunny skies. But I just cannot imagine the idea of actually living in a place that has zero ways of getting around other than by foot or water taxis/buses. It’s one part charming and one part “holy crap, this is so inefficient and frustrating,” especially for someone who isn’t used to living in a place like this (which is pretty much most of the world).  Hauling luggage through Venice on our first afternoon was not fun, and that was only with carry-on size bags. Going up and down bridges here and there, rolling luggage on uneven cobble stones, and dodging dog poop everywhere was an adventure in itself. I cannot even imagine how vexing it would be for families with young children, strollers, and far larger checked luggage. We saw so many families like this, and I just felt sorry for them.

Leaving today was frustrating because we were at the last stop of the water bus that goes to the Venice airport, and the first three “buses” that arrived at our stop were all full. They just kept pulling in to say they were full, and then they would speed off.  It was raining and cold, which added to the misery of the situation of waiting. And we didn’t realize that the vouchers we got online had to be exchanged for actual water bus tickets, so Chris had to scramble to get to an ATM to pay cash when we boarded. The alternative to this water bus? Our hotel told us it would cost 120 euros for a water taxi that would stop directly on the canal in front of our hotel and take us straight to the airport. I guess that’s the premium price you can charge in a city where transport options are limited, and the only option you really have is to travel by water and water only.


Murano glass

Today, we visited the Murano glass factory on Murano Island. After taking a short water taxi ride to the island, we were greeted by an English speaking guide, who gave us a free tour and demonstration of the factory. The guide claimed that unless you were buying from this specific factory here in person, you were not buying authentic Murano glass. They have refused to get with the times and do not take phone or online orders; I don’t even know if they have a website; probably not unless it’s purely informational.

As we perused the galleries of original glass that you can purchase for anywhere from 35 euros for a 3×3-inch plate or a chandelier for tens of thousands of euros, it just seemed so crazy to me how much money people would spend on decorative and extremely fragile items for their home. I was just carrying my purse and DSLR, but I felt as though I had to make myself smaller to walk through the aisles without smashing something to bits. I was admiring a beautiful serving dish of multiple hues of blue, and the guide told me that it would be 1,300 euros; it probably weighed somewhere between 7-10 pounds; it was unbelievably heavy! And for reference, I just spent $29 on a serving platter on sale from West Elm that I know I will get lots of use out of. Who would spend 1,300 euros on a serving platter? He said it could be used for serving or for display. I just have such a hard time fathoming something that has so little practical use but is so extraordinarily expensive.




Today, we left the beautiful, quaint city of Bologna to the tourist, cliché canaled city that is Venice. It’s not that I don’t like Venice, but going from somewhere filled with so much charm and mostly locals to a place that I’d seen so many images of before that made me feel like a packed sardine in San Marco square was a bit much of a contrast in a single day. Bologna is one of those places that has so much charm, and as long as tourists stay away from it, it will continue to feel that way. You don’t have to worry so much about getting ripped off as a tourist, and you can rest assured that whatever restaurant you enter will be filled with locals eating local food, not menus catered to tourists and what tourists want (I immediately rejected a restaurant in Venice when I saw there was “spaghetti with meatballs” on the menu; that isn’t Italian… that’s Italian American).

In Venice along the canals, almost every restaurant had a cheap menu with fixed options – the usual tourist traps of spaghetti with this spaghetti with that, spaghetti nero (spaghetti with squid ink to make it black-color); some had a “no cover charge” sign, meaning no “coperto,” which is the tiny fee restaurants often will add to your bill just for your sitting and dining in (I think the smallest I’ve seen on our bill was 50 euro cents each; the highest was 2 euros each). It’s really not a big deal at all when you compare it to an expectation of 15-20% tipping in the U.S., but it was clear based on Tripadvisor reviews that so many Americans were so angered by this fee. Percentage-wise, it works out to be so tiny, far lower than 15-20%. But hey, I guess you have to have a reason to get angry and indignant when you travel when you’re an American outside of America, right? We stayed far away from those restaurants. I think it’s more frustrating as a tourist in the U.S. to be expected to tip 15-20%, especially when the service isn’t even that good. Why is it just so hard to pay your workers better?


Food purity and priorities

Continuing on our food adventures of northern Italy, today I booked us a small group tour to explore three of the food items that Emilia Romagna, known as the food capital province of Italy, is famed for; prosciutto, parmigiano-reggiano cheese, and balsamic vinegar. We explored factories and an organic winery located from the hills of Modena to Bologna. I always knew that the process of making these foods was complex, back-breaking, and time-consuming, but I never quite realized before exactly how regulated and pure the process was, and where the “fake” prosciutto, ‘parmesan,’ and balsamic vinegar came from, as well as how they are accepted in places like the U.S. But during the tour, as our guide talked about how strict the DOP/IGP labeling is for foods (it’s a designation of purity and origin for these food products) and DOC/DOCG labeling is for wines based on regions of Italy, I realized… no one in the U.S. seems to care much if an apple is grown in Washington state vs. Minnesota. No one in New York generally cares if their strawberries came from Peru vs. California vs. Jersey. There are small groups of people who do, obviously, which is why farmer’s markets have the crowds and loyalty they do, but that’s never a generalization you can make about Americans. Americans want cheap, fast food. That’s why we’re a fast food nation. That’s why in the U.S. when you buy packaged dried pasta, it will take on average 4-8 minutes to cook, when a package in Italy (which is more authentic, for obvious reasons), takes 13-14 minutes. Every minute seems to count in our increasingly obese country. Quantity, speed, and cheap prices matter. Quality doesn’t. So the idea of a similar DOP label or regulation in the U.S. wouldn’t mean anything to anyone, and no one would care. People in Italy actually care about the purity and quality of their food. It’s admirable.

Rejected Parmigiano-Reggiano becomes parmesan and is exported across the world; in parts of Europe, parmesan is outlawed. Most Americans don’t know the difference and still take their “parmesan” in a plastic can and shake it on their spaghetti (I grew up eating that way and never knowing what real Parmigiano-Reggiano was). Balsamic vinegar without an “Invecchitato,” “traditional,” or “IGP” label are oftentimes just wine vinegar with caramel coloring and sugar added to it; this isn’t regulated at all, anywhere. Real balsamic vinegar is made from grape juice, not wine vinegar.  Jars of pre-made tomato sauce found in grocery stores across Milan, Bologna, and Venice have just a few ingredients that you can readily recognize and would think to be no-brainers: tomatoes (first and foremost, always), olive oil, salt, pepper. Occasionally, you see herbs like oregano or basil or garlic added. But that is it. In the U.S. you pick up an average jar of pre-made tomato sauce (I can proudly say in the 9.5 years I’ve been living on my own post college that I’ve never, ever bought a can of tomato sauce for spaghetti, as I’ve made it myself), and what do you see? Sugar oftentimes is disgustingly the first ingredient or the second, with tomatoes following or beginning. Then, there’s things like high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, cornstarch or tapioca starch as thickeners, artificial or “natural” colorings added, “natural flavor” from flavor factories in New Jersey… and other preservatives that you would never think of when thinking of tomato sauce. It’s disgusting.

It’s hard not to admire or respect how much Italians care about the purity, freshness, and plain goodness of their food. I wish our food and drug administration would care more about labels on everything from “organic” to “free range” to “grass fed.” There’s so much terrible marketing and lying on the market everywhere, so who can really keep track of all that in the U.S.?

Sometimes, it just works out.

In the same vein as The Last Supper having all its tickets sold out because my “advanced planning” wasn’t in advance enough, I tried to reserve a table at Massimo Bottura’s famed Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, a couple months back, but alas, I was too late. All the reservations that would have worked on days we could go were completely booked out, and so I opted for the wait list, which they supposedly said they would email or call me in the event that there was a cancellation. Last year, Osteria Francescana was rated the top restaurant in the world, and this year, it had fallen to number 2 on the list, with New York City’s Eleven Madison Park rising to first. I was disappointed, but I figured that if it was meant to be, then it was meant to be, and if not, it would be okay because we made another reservation in Modena at the “little cousin” restaurant of Francescana for dinner that night. To be sure I was on the wait list, I called the restaurant two weeks ago to confirm that I was on the wait list, and that we’d be open if anything were to be cancelled for lunch or dinner that day.

Lo and behold, during our walks around Milan yesterday, I received a phone call from a Modena number, and I immediately got excited and wondered if an opening had come up at Francescana. I called the number back on Chris’s phone, and they told us that if we were available, a 12:30pm reservation had opened up for us, and they’d need our credit card number to confirm the reservation. It ended up cutting deeply into our daylight time in Modena, but I think we can both say that the three-plus hours we spent at Osteria Francescana allowed us to have one of the most creative meals we’d probably had in our lives. Eleven Madison Park was beyond impressive the two times we’d gone together, but this really took creativity to another level. The first official course, a “salad of seafood,” was carefully layered pieces of lettuce, with pieces of seafood-infused “chips” of a similar texture of Chinese shrimp chips, calamari, shrimp, raw fish, and caviar. The chips are meant to add textural contrast and added crunch, and at the end after it’s served, it’s sprayed with a “seafood parfum.” Salad is hardly something Chris gets excited about; in fact, he hates on Sweetgreen constantly even though I think it offers the best and most consistent chopped salad in New York City, but this is a salad he truly enjoyed and was impressed by. Every course from then on was inventive, plated imaginatively, even with the patterns and actual textures of the plate playing into the overall theme of each dish. The restaurant lived up to its hype in Chef’s Table and its ranking, and for me, probably exceeded it.

I wasn’t quite prepared for how intimate the dining scene would be there; they make it very private, and the restaurant is more like a house with multiple small rooms, with each room containing no more than three to four tables where diners can be seated. The servers are attentive, refilling your wine and 10-euro bottle of water, and when you go to the restroom, they follow you to escort you, wait on you, and then immediately take you back to your seat, pulling out and pushing in your seat for you.

I also thought the three fake pigeons on a branch in the hallway when we entered was a bit eerie; they looked so real. And yes, we did have two dishes with pigeon in them. Pigeons are everywhere in Italy, and… even on your plates.

Last Supper

I thought I was planning ahead about a month and a half ago when I was looking up tickets to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting, and I realized I was actually far too late, as all the tickets in November were completely booked up except for two time slots… which only had one person per time slot left. Then, I realized we were encountering the same problem we did with train tickets to Hualien to see Taroko Gorge in Taiwan in the summer: individual travelers really need to plan months in advance to get tickets, otherwise, the major tour operators snatch up all the tickets in an attempt to make more money and get more customers. The first three tours I looked up were sold out, and finally Chris found a walking tour that included The Last Supper for today, and we booked it. It actually was a really good experience because our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, and we also got tickets through it to enter Milan’s Duomo.

The Last Supper is so well protected that it’s probably treated better than most human beings treat each other. It’s a painting that is literally on the wall of this large hall, which you cannot access without entering through four protected and electronically controlled doors. The hall is temperature and humidity controlled given the historical damage the painting has faced, and they’re very, very strict about the number of visitors in the hall at once (25 people), how much time you can spend in there (20 minutes max), and of course, absolutely no flash photography. A security worker in the hall was constantly hovering around us, making sure no one was eating, drinking, or about to whip out a flash. Her facial expression was extremely stern; I would not have wanted to piss her off. We found out from our tour guide that someone actually tried to destroy the painting by dropping a bomb on the church; it just missed the hallway and destroyed entire other sections of the church instead. It’s hard to imagine the amount of hate and animosity toward a single painting or painter that would warrant dropping a bomb on the building that houses it.