Work in progress.

Some things are broken round here.

  • Spycraft and statecraft

    Spycraft and Statecraft: A new article in Foreign Affairs by William Burns, Director of the US CIA says "China remains the only U.S. rival with both the intent to reshape the international order and the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do so. The country’s economic transformation over the past five decades has been extraordinary. It is one for which the Chinese people deserve great credit and one that the rest of the world has broadly supported in the belief that a prosperous China is a global good. The issue is not China’s rise in itself but the threatening actions that increasingly accompany it. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has begun his third presidential term with more power than any of his predecessors since Mao Zedong. Rather than use that power to reinforce and revitalize the international system that enabled China’s transformation, Xi is seeking to rewrite it"

    Listening to your body: interoception, or our 'body's sixth sense' is a sense that many autistic people struggle with. I certainly do. But there is now a growing interest in what these signals actually mean, and how they work in the context of brain-body integration.

  • Fish eyes

    Lucas Sin shares how Cantonese chefs gauge water temp: shrimp eyes (80C), crab eyes (90C), fish eyes (99C about to go into a rolling boil). The video is also a good instructional resource on how to prepare and cook shrimp, especially Hangzhou style tea shrimp. Good recipe to come back to and try.

    Hennepin County, Minneapolis has reduced its chronically homeless population by 80% in just five years via a combination of funding, deep community engagement and a housing-first approach that’s matched with real housing resources. Besides cutting chronic homelessness, Hennepin County has also managed to reduce its unsheltered population by 22% since 2019, while the country’s totals moved in the opposite direction.

  • A Year of Creative Endeavors

    1. In 2023, I got to explore a whole year of creativity, namely in film photography, photographic darkroom printing, piano and saxophone-playing, and drawing
    2. Film photography felt like an old friend I was coming back to: I was already shooting film 20 years ago, but dropped off for the digital world
    3. In moving to San Francisco, I also found a community of film photography experts and enthusiasts around whom I could build a creative practice
    4. It's much easier to continue pursuing a hobby when there are events to attend, people to share, and spaces to go to for it
    5. I crossed off the vast majority of items on my learning wishlist for photography: I learned to bulk roll film, I learned to shoot medium format, I learned to develop film in all processes, I learned to scan film and also print (in a darkroom, and digitally)
    6. I'm now reasonably confident in all of those things, enough for me to be able to print photos for art shows
    7. Not sure where I want to go with the printing thing, but it came in handy when I also, in the last two months of the year, started teaching photography at a community space in my neighborhood
    8. I gave disposable film cameras to participants (who are either unhoused or who mostly live in the supportive housing in the area), who then went forth and took photos of their lives and experiences
    9. A local film lab helped us develop the negatives, and I printed out a selection of participants' photos for a small private art show at the community space. I am now working on documenting and showing some of this work online and will share it when I am ready!
    10. In developing a 'creative practice', I've come to see that the work I do in photography or in music (or even meditation) all have similar roots
    11. It's all about establishing a regular practice on something in my life where, maybe I won't ever be a professional, but it's something that I personally really enjoy and can learn from
    12. It's enough joy to be able to work on these hobbies that bring me peace and solitude
    13. When I sit in a completely dark darkroom, that's one of the only times I am away from a screen
    14. The hour or three that I spend in one helps me center my thoughts around creating something beautiful that can bring happiness to someone else (my wife, for example, really likes having prints so she can decorate our home with it. I also love giving prints to friends)
    15. Given that I stepped away from photography for a decade or so because I was burned out by the practice of commercial photography, which killed my love for it and which also made me uninterested in picking up a camera for a very long time, I'm very happy with... this, whatever this is!
  • Interview Waiver Experience for H1-B1 Visa

    I've learned a few new things since I last posted about how other Singaporeans can apply for, and receive, the H1-B1 visa.

    In renewing my visa in Singapore this September, I opted for the new-ish interview waiver process (available since 2021).

    Although I have never had a rejection, going to the US embassy is always a stressful time. You see so many people (usually non-Singaporeans) getting their work or school dreams dashed at the window. You can hear everything. The high stress, high security: I would very much like to never go there again.

    The interview waiver process was made available to me at the last step of the visa application, in the USTravelDocs portal. When scheduling step 6, USTravelDocs will ask you a bunch of questions to determine if you are eligible for the interview waiver.

    The main thing to note is that only Singaporeans and permanent residents are likely to be eligible. While the main applicant for H1-B1 has to be a Singapore citizen, if your dependents (spouse or children) are not Singapore citizens, then they will not qualify for the interview waiver. Definitely allow more time for an embassy interview if that's the case.

    I was nervous about whether or not to do this, so I consulted a Singaporean immigration attorney in California. Junwen was able to give me very specific advice that I found helpful. Check out his blog here. I highly recommend booking an appointment with Junwen (send him a message on LinkedIn) or use this contact form to email him if you have any specific questions (paid consultation).

    He advised that I should use the Chinatown document drop-off point at Bstone Travel, instead of the Changi location. This is because his clients had some challenges with the Changi location recently, which led to delays.

    He also informed me that the interview waiver process can take anywhere between 4 and 11 days.

    Document collection and drop-off point

    Because I find the USTravelDocs so ridiculously difficult to navigate, I am pasting this information here for anyone who needs it.

    Check that the information is still accurate before you rely on it though, I may not be updating this page with new information.

    Photo of a sign that says Aramex Chinatown dropoff times

    • Aramex at Chinatown, located at Bstone Travel, People's Park Centre, 101 Upper Cross Street, #B1-31, Singapore 058357
    • Opening hours: 10am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday
    • Closed on Singapore public holidays and weekends
    • US Embassy contact number: +65 3158 5400
    • Aramex contact number: +65 6543 0300

    The email you will receive about dropping off and collecting your passport / visa says they open at 11am, but they actually open at 10am. At least, they did, as of September 2023.

    Interview waiver timeline

    • I dropped off my documents (passport, signed LCA, interview waiver confirmation code generated by USTravelDocs, and passport photo) in Chinatown on a Tuesday afternoon around noon.
    • I checked the visa status tracker every day and did not see any change until Thursday, when it changed to Approved
    • On Friday, the status changed to Issued
    • On late Friday night, I received a text message saying that the passport will be available for collection soon
    • As all the document collection points are closed on weekends, I didn't hear anything else until Monday
    • On Monday morning, I got an email that my passport had been sent to the pickup point (the same place I dropped off my passport)
    • On Monday morning, I joined the line at 10am (although Google Maps, and the email you get, says it only opens at 11am), and got my passport in 15 minutes (there was a line)

    Excluding the document pickup and drop-off days, it took 3 working days in all. Maybe dropping off on Monday first thing in the morning would have been faster, but I wasn't in a hurry.

    It wound up being almost the same as going to the embassy in the past: if I went on a Tuesday, I would have received my passport on a Monday morning anyway.

    So I got to do that, but skipped the anxiety and stress at the embassy. Highly recommended. Just make sure you have ample time in your travel plans.

  • Merantau Cino

    Photo of a window in a restaurant in East Java Indonesia with sunlight streaming in

    Tretes, Indonesia (link to some photos I took)

    1. I have been struggling with my feelings on and about immigration.
    2. Some time in mid 2023, a woman at a bus stop in San Francisco pointed a blow torch flame at me and threatened, I'm going to burn you, because you're Chinese!
    3. Number 1 is possibly related to number 2.
    4. A theme I keep coming back to: why does it feel like this?
    5. The feelings: neither here nor there, a deep sense of longing for 'home', uncertain what 'home' really means, feeling like I'm in two or three places at once, feeling stuck, feeling like I don't know where I fit, feeling like I am two people at once.
    6. That the 'home' I return to, I no longer fully fit into. I left five years ago, and in that time: obviously, it's moved on without me. I no longer know how to exist here in Singapore. I don't have any routines, I don't have places to go, things to do. I'm no different from a tourist. Just that I'm a tourist who knows a lot of details about this country, and who has an intimate knowledge about its food and its politics.
    7. That the 'home' I now exist in: where I have work, family, contemporary friends, hobbies, a home, feels on some days like it's real and solid, and on other days that idea of solidity is completely unraveled, especially when things like number 2 happen.
    8. I've spent the past week in Singapore and Indonesia. It's been splendid to be around friends, food, the weather, environment and culture that I know and love.
    9. A big part of why I suffer from number 1 is that I feel completely estranged from the Southeast Asian bits of my life when I am in California. I can probably fix that by going to do things like, I don't know, play gamelan or learn Balinese dance in Berkeley (both activities that are very popular and established, led by East Bay Indonesians).
    10. Living in the heart of the imperial superpower, I do not hear, see, learn about anything about the outside world outside the US at any time. TVs don't play world news, they play sports: sports that only Americans play. Online discussions tend to veer towards only domestic politics. I feel like I'm at the heart of the world, and totally cut off from it, at the same time.
    11. I've fought it for a while, but I feel the semblance of a nascent Asian American identity forming. Ever since I learned about the Hyphenated Americans discussion, I've been far more open to the idea that without the hyphen, I can be both Asian and American (without necessarily needing citizenship).
    12. As number 11 strengthens and solidifies, number 1 also waxes and wanes. Some days, I am convinced that coming to California was the best idea I ever had. On other days, I cry myself to bed missing tropical weather, my family back in Asia, immigration stability (not having immigration challenges at all), and maybe a romanticized idea of what Singapore means to me.
    13. The past week in Indonesia was transformational. Not only did I get to wake up the part of my brain that had been dormant for a long time, the one that speaks, understands, and exists in Bahasa Indonesia as well as Bahasa Gaul, I also got to reconnect with my friend of 25 years.
    14. Beyond the food, which was amazing (East Java has my favorite Indonesian cuisine and dishes), it also sent me down a rabbit hole of listening to Indonesian music and reading in Indonesian.
    15. I was reading something today that referenced the idea of merantau cino.
    16. I know about merantau: it's the Minang rite of passage where men leave their homes in Sumatra to pursue careers and experiences outside their village. There was even a martial arts movie made about this.
    17. In merantau, the idea is that you leave and then you return to your home.
    18. However, in merantau cino, you leave your home and you never return. Not permanently, anyway.
    19. The term is based on the idea that the southern Chinese diaspora left China, many of them never returning.
    20. Therefore, a person who does merantau cino is doing a rite of passage, embarking on a migration story, where it's unlikely that they will return to their original homes.
    21. I'm not sure whether I am a perantau cino or a merantau cino yet (difference explained here; article in Indonesian), but I'll be damned if this hasn't been a more relevant and insightful observation about my personal immigration journey than anything I have read about in English, in an American context.
    22. When I get 'home' to San Francisco next week, a couple of milestones will happen; things that will set us up for a different phase in our lives there.
    23. I will probably always see myself as someone split down the middle.
    24. Two lives: one here, one there.
    25. But at least I know now that there's a name for it. And maybe it feels a little less lonely, since merantau cino was exactly what my grandfather did, as a teenager.