Are there more bikes than pedestrians here?

Prior to even researching Holland, I already knew that The Netherlands is a very bike-friendly country, so much so that in any given city there, you will probably notice that bikers outnumber cars by a long shot. Countless articles I’ve read, not to mention people I’ve met who have either lived, visited, or are from Amsterdam have noted that Amsterdam is very likely the most bike-friendly city in the world, that it could even be stated that bikes outnumber pedestrians, which is mind-boggling to me. The city of Amsterdam has about 400 kilometers (249 miles) of bike lanes. They usually run alongside the streets, but sometimes, it can get confusing when the bike lanes look to cut into pedestrian walk paths. And while bikes are supposed to stay in bike lanes since that’s what they are designed for, very often, you can see bikers in walking paths and on sidewalks. And this is when I, as a first-time visitor to Amsterdam, get confused.

I am all for a bike-friendly city. I do not bike (nor do I have any desire at all to bike, especially in a city like New York), yet I was excited to see all the new bike lanes that have been created throughout Manhattan. But while pedestrians typically have right-of-way when it comes to vehicles, here in Amsterdam, it seems like bikers have right-of-way… against virtually everyone — cars and pedestrians. Maybe it’s just because I’m a foreigner and just don’t “get it,” but why should a biker have right-of-way over a pedestrian? And why would you, as a biker, want to go against a pedestrian when you are a) not wearing a helmet (I didn’t see a single biker wearing a helmet here) and b) likely to fall off your bike in the event that you hit a pedestrian and then get injured?

Looking both ways doesn’t always help either. Several articles I’ve read have said that tourists tend to cause bikers to get into accidents because they do not look. I would argue that we actually are looking, but given some of the bike lanes curve and are not always clearly outlined to someone who isn’t familiar with the roads here, it’s hard to just assume pedestrians will see and understand all of this.

I didn’t realize how much I like cars until I realized how aggressive bikers could be.

Friends in far places

The great thing about knowing people you like who live in places that are not your hometown is that when you visit these other places, you get a familiar and local face to spend time with. You can hear their perspective on the place you’ve chosen for your vacation/holiday. You can hear what they think about your “tourist” perspective on their city and get their feedback on whether you’re an idiot or not.

My colleague who is based in our Amsterdam office (who is also Dutch) and his girlfriend met us for dinner during our first night in their city, and it was a very warm welcome. After a red eye flight, a day of walking over 24,000 steps on streets, over bridges, and passing canals, Chris and I were both quite tired. It felt nice to sit in a warm restaurant over an Indonesian rice table and see a familiar friendly face and have familiar conversation.

The only downside of having friends in all these other places is that you will only see them sporadically, if at all. And he’s likely leaving the company soon, so who knows when I will see him again.

Long chat, short time

I flew into Atlanta this evening for a last minute customer meeting, and as an added bonus, was able to meet up with two friends for dinner at one of my favorite fried chicken spots that has come to Atlanta, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. We sat, ate our chicken, Mac and cheese, collard greens, and banana pudding over long conversations about travel, politics, race, sexism, immigration, friends, school, and who knows what else to add to this list. Before I even knew it, four hours had flown by, and it was easily time to leave to get ready for bed and another day of work and meetings. “This always happens when we’re together — we talk so much and then we don’t even realize that all this time has passed!” one of them exclaimed.

That’s the thing — this couple is part of the “new friends” group, “new” as in, we’ve met in the last several years. I feel like we have more in common than friends I’ve had for a long time, some of whom I’ve probably outgrown, but I still spend time with them just because of old habits, even though I never leave the conversations feeling fulfilled or challenged to think about new topics the way I did tonight. If you leave an outing with your friends feeling unfulfilled, not listened to or appreciated, or just frustrated, it’s probably a sign that you shouldn’t be friends with them anymore. It’s hard to take that advice, though, isn’t it?

Laotian food in Orlando

Oftentimes when people think about Orlando, they don’t normally think about good food. They think about tourists, the different theme parks ranging from Disney World to Universal Studios to Seaworld or Aquatica. And with that comes the dreaded thought of overpriced theme park food that is either too bland, too salty, and too expensive.

Having come here a number of times for work travel, I realize that Orlando actually has quite a number of good food options as long as you are open to spending a little time to research. Cuban food is quite plentiful and popular here. A handful of delicious “New American” type restaurants are sprinkled throughout the city, in downtown and outside. And funnily enough, this trip, when looking at restaurants within a close radius of my hotel in downtown Orlando, I even found a Laotian restaurant. I don’t believe I’ve ever been to an actual Laotian restaurant before. I had this delicious crispy sticky rice with pork served in lettuce wraps, as well as a dry spicy beef noodle dish that was quite fishy and fermented. The restaurant decor was quite attractive, too, with an entire wall painted to depict gorgeous elephants and even some random dragons.

If you look, you will find it. I certainly did. And as I ate my dinner, more and more diners came in to fill up all the seats in this casual eatery.

LA traffic = the worst

Every time I’ve come to LA over the years, I’ve always looked forward to it and enjoyed my time here. I love the endless diversity of the people here. The beaches are gorgeous. The weather is pretty much always sunny and warm. The diversity of people also means that the food here is represented from probably every culture on earth somewhere in the LA/Orange County area. There’s too much good food here in nearly every neighborhood and at every single price point. Al fresco dining is the norm. It’s hard to beat the quality of life in Southern California.

But then, I think about the number 1 thing I cannot stand about LA: the traffic. Every time I come here, I constantly wonder why there are always so many cars on the road, all this gridlock everywhere. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s 3pm or 6pm; there’s always a traffic jam. It makes zero sense to me.

On a ride from Santa Monica to Hermosa Beach to meet my cousin and his family, the distance was only about 15 miles, yet the ride took nearly an hour! This is an everyday occurrence. In no traffic, it shouldn’t have taken more than 20 minutes, but once traffic hits, a 20-minute ride can easily become 1.25 hours long. And today, on the ride from Santa Monica to LAX, my initial Google Maps estimate said the ride should take 17 minutes given I was leaving at a quieter time. In the end, we got unlucky and hit traffic, and so that original 17-minute estimate ended up being 40 minutes.

I understand why people love LA; I love LA as a visitor. But I also understand why they hate it. This traffic is truly out of control and could easily suck the life out of me if I had to deal with it every single day.

3.5 year gap

Tonight, I met up with my cousin, his wife, and their two young children, ages 3.5 and 5, for dinner in Hermosa Beach. The last time I saw my cousin was at my wedding over 3.5 years ago; the last time I saw his wife was about two months before that when she was about to pop to give birth to number 2. Their lives have changed quite a bit since then. Hopefully, it won’t be another 3.5 years before we see each other again.

My cousin and his wife seem to be doing pretty well; they seem quite content in their life, which is completely devoid of his mom, who is my aunt, my dad’s younger sister. No one in the family keeps in much contact with her because she’s always been an extreme drama queen, and he told me tonight that he had zero contact with her.

My mom knew I was going to see my cousin this evening, so she suggested I tell him to reconcile with her. I see no reason to intervene and suggest that with someone who is so toxic. If a person cannot find her own faults and admit them to her only child, then in my opinion, she’s not really worth being in touch with. She’d enrich none of their lives. She’d only create more problems and more anxiety for everyone. And my cousin’s fear is that she will not only have a negative impact on his children, her grandchildren, but that his kids will see their grandmother’s negative effect on their dad and be ill effected by it.

Being estranged from your family is hard to say the least. Everyone judges you negatively about it and blames you. But I genuinely think my cousin did the right thing both for himself and his wife, but also for their two kids.

Garden Creamery

Every time I come back to San Francisco, I am pretty overwhelmed with all the options, both old and new, for food. It’s definitely a fun “problem” to have, but I look forward to planning my trips around who I am planning to see, and what I am going to eat and drink. One of the fun places I knew I had to go to this time around was Garden Creamery, which was conveniently located just two blocks away from the restaurant where my friend and I were going to have dinner. It’s known for having a delicious and fun combination of Hawaiian and Asian flavors that change seasonally, from ube and pandan to matcha with toffee bits to kaya flavored ice cream. They use grass-fed, organic and local milk, and they also have a pretty large variety of vegan flavors to choose from, as well.

I chose the ube and pandan, plus the matcha gold (which has toffee bits), and I loved every last bite of each. The owner was actually scooping herself and was really friendly, and I just loved the variety of flavors available; it was so hard to make a choice! I couldn’t remember the last time I just kept licking my spoon after I finished my ice cream — it was that good.

It excites me to see that ice cream parlors are branching out with flavors that encompass how global of a world we live in now. There was not just one, but two varieties of green tea ice cream (the other one was genmaicha, toasted rice with green tea!), black sesame, ube, kaya, and many others that were so tempting and (naturally) colorful).

Conference party time

Day 1 of our conference was officially today, and on the main conference night, we always host a big party with food, entertainment, drink, and dancing. This year’s was at the August Hall venue, and it was pretty well done other than the fact that each floor had a temperature difference of at least 10 degrees each.

I was chatting with some customers who were coming from the same company, and a few of them were hovering around one of my customers, who is a known social butterfly and party animal. Last year at our conference, she partied so hard the last night that the next morning, she missed all the sessions and did the walk of shame out of the hotel room elevator bank at around noon, right when lunch had started. This year, they are all trying to look out for each other, so they told me that they have to keep a watchful eye out for her to make sure they don’t lose sight of where she goes.

This is when I laugh a little to myself about conference culture in general. There’s always going to be booze, and where there is booze, there will always be a threat or hint of inappropriate behavior. So while we say they are great learning experiences and some of the best opportunities for networking, they are also prime places for total debauchery.

Conference socializing

Today is technically day 0 of Opticon, but our festivities have already begun with training sessions, happy hours, as well as customer dinners that we’ve organized, which involve getting similar customers into the same dinner venues for mingling and networking. I sat at a dinner table with various customers and colleagues from AT&T, Cricket, HBO, and Showtime tonight, and what seemed to be the unifying theme among all of them is that not only are they all happy customers who love our technology, but they also all seem like very smart, well-rounded, well-traveled individuals who love to share stories and learn. Overall, it was a very engaging conversation.

It was a fun but exhausting dinner. What I’ve also noticed in hosting customer dinners now is that I seem to enjoy my food less at these events. I used to be able to enjoy the food a lot, but now I feel more focused on ensuring there is customer interaction and engagement that I tend to get more sidetracked with my food. We went to a pretty nice steakhouse, but for me, I felt my steak was too rare, but I didn’t want to send it back since I didn’t want to make a fuss and wait to eat.

It made me feel a bit ungrateful. I get this nice, fancy, expensive meal fully paid for, but I’m not even fully enjoying and appreciating it the way I should.

Elementary school friend meetup

Last night, I met up with one of my best friends from elementary school for dessert in the evening when I got into San Francisco. She had seen me post years ago about losing my brother to suicide, and given we both spent a lot of time at each others’ homes growing up, we also inadvertently knew each others’ brothers pretty well. At the time, she had sent me a heartfelt message about his passing, and since then, has loyally donated money to my AFSP fundraising drive year after year. I never expect anyone to donate to my drive, especially people who are that distant from me, so it’s always been a very heartwarming and touching surprise for me each year. Facebook has certainly allowed for a type of connection that everyday people would not have normally had in my parents’ generation, and I was happy to meet her this evening. Without Facebook, this definitely would not have otherwise happened.

I wasn’t sure how much time we would spend together, nor was I sure if we’d even still feel a connection to each other, but as soon as I saw her, I immediately felt comfortable and like we genuinely were old-time friends. We ended up chatting nonstop for over three hours about everything: school, work, moving (me), our families, now-husbands, our living situations, San Francisco, travel. But as much fun as it was to catch up, I realize that in leaving her tonight, I actually felt a bit sad.

Her family life seems pretty bleak: she lives in a cramped, rent-controlled apartment with her husband, and it was passed on to them from his family, who originally lived in the place when they immigrated from the Philippines. The house is dilapidated, filed with junk to the point where no one wants to do anything to change it. There’s barely even 12 square inches of counter space in her kitchen, so she feels like she can’t even cook or live properly in her own apartment. She has a brother of the same age as Ed, but they are pretty strained in their relationship, as there’s been a lot of verbal abuse in the past that she hasn’t been able to navigate. They’re constrained by money and dysfunctional relationships.

I can definitely understand the dysfunctional family relationships part, but I guess what made me sad the most is that even though we’re older, some of the things that bugged me about her are exactly the same now as they were then. I started remembering what really caused us to drift as friends, and she openly admitted she still did the same thing: since then, she pretty much has made zero friends because she’s spent all her time with her boyfriends, one guy after the next, and so whatever friends he had, she’d gravitate towards, and no one else. I remember the time when we were in high school and I tried to have her come to some events with me, but she refused because she said she’d rather spend time with her then-boyfriend; this was for my birthday that year, too. I was so angry then; we hadn’t seen each other in months, yet then, even though she saw her boyfriend every day, she’d rather blow me off to spend even more time with him. I gradually stopped making an effort to spend time with her, and because I was the only one making the effort, we drifted in our own directions and away from each other. We occasionally reached out to call, email, and then Facebook message, but that was it.

I guess the other thing that made me sad was that it was clear from the lives we lead exactly how different we are. She seems like she has been paralyzed into indecision and thinks she is fully unable to change all the things that have made her unhappy. I feel like I’ve made massive strides in improving a lot of things to ensure that I’m making progress in my life, emotionally and mentally. Here I am, back in San Francisco on work travel, clearly privileged in so many ways, and she’s never left even San Francisco (and has zero desire to and said she wouldn’t know what to do with herself) and is struggling to make ends meet with her rent-controlled apartment payments.

While it was fun to catch up, I don’t think seeing her again regularly would be the best idea for me. I really need to make an effort to spend time around people who exude positive energy, who are confident enough to take control over their lives, and sadly, she is not one of those people.