Work in progress.

Some things are broken round here.

  • 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.
  • Applying for Singapore Visa for your Friend

    Citizens of some countries need a visa to enter Singapore. If you have friends or family that belong to those countries, you can do them a huge favor by applying as a local contact.

    As long as you are a Singapore citizen or Singapore PR with SingPass, or director of a Singapore-registered business, you can help your friend get a visa. Please make sure that you actually know this person!

    I only do this for people I know.

    It can save them a lot of time and money. Most of the time, I do this for my friends from India. It's much faster and it also costs less than them going to a visa agent.

    The following instructions are for Singapore citizens and PRs who have SingPass.

    1. Before you start, send this PDF form to the person you are applying for the visa for
    2. Ask them to write down the answers to all the questions in a document, and send it to you. Also ask them to attach a passport photo in the right format
    3. Visit this ICA page and click on "Apply for a an entry visa as a local contact (Individual Users)"
    4. Log in with SingPass
    5. Click on "Individual Visa Application" to apply for 1 person, or "Family Visa Application" to apply for more than 1 person (they must be married; children above the age of 21 must have their individual applications)
    6. Fill in the form according to the information your friend provided you. Be sure to get their birthday, passport issue date and passport number correct.
    7. Upload their passport photo
    8. Pay: you can pay with American Express Cards, PayNow, or eNets (internet banking).

    Save the application as a PDF. It will take 3 working days to receive a response, but in my experience it has been usually faster than that (next day has been the norm).

    You can look up the status of your visa application here.

    So far, I have applied for friends from many countries and I have not received a single rejection.

    More resources

    Please refer to ICA's own documents for screenshots and more explanation for each step. These are all PDF files:

  • How to get a H1-B1 Visa for Singaporeans

    An updated, updated guide to the H1-B1 visa process for Singaporeans.

    Singaporean citizens (and Chileans) are eligible for the H1-B1, a unique work visa of the US that was negotiated as part of a free trade agreement in 2004. There are 5400 visas set aside for Singaporeans, and 1400 for Chile. From what I know about the program, the 5400 number has never been fully utilized.

    Singaporeans who are interested in coming to work in the US should consider a H1-B1. The other main work visa program, H-1B, requires a lottery program and it is getting harder to find sponsorship for companies that want to sponsor foreigners. Many companies simply don't want to spend the money on the H-1B program when they don't know if you'll get it, or when you can start

    In this regard, Singaporeans have a bit of a leg up: only other countries like Canada and Australia have similar programs open to them, that are different / more straightforward from the standard H-1B.

    The H1-B1 program is so simplified and it is much, much cheaper than the H-1B program. I've been able to get a job, set up an appointment (at the US embassy in Singapore), get my visa within a couple of days, and go back to the US to start or resume a job.

    What are the positive aspects of the H1-B1 visa?

    Not many employers know about this possibility, so very often when you hear about 'no visa sponsorship' they usually mean 'no H-1B sponsorship'. Very often, if you reach out to them (especially through a personal connection) to say that you have access to a different type of visa that is much cheaper, more straightforward, easier and faster to get, and that you know how to get it, that can open some doors. In my experience, companies are still willing to interview or hear you out if you mention that; versus automatic rejections at times if you state that you need a new H-1B visa sponsorship.

    It's also very fast, cheap and easy to get. I have not heard of Singaporeans getting rejected for it (though I have heard of cases of some foreign-born Singaporeans getting additional scrutiny). It also appears to be easy to renew multiple times, as long as you have not filed for any green card or other paperwork that might make you ineligible for the H1-B1. For example, if you went to the US, found someone to marry, and then filed for a spousal visa, you probably don't qualify for the H1-B1 anymore.

    The speed, cheapness and ease of getting this visa is why it is my recommendation for any Singaporean who is coming to the US to work. Especially if you don't know if you actually want to make the move, simplifying the visa situation will make it easier.

    • Exceptions apply. If you work for a company that also has a US presence, consider getting the L-1 visa instead. This is especially true if you have a spouse. It is, at this point, not easy / possible for a spouse of a H1-B1 visa holder to work in the US (not without having filed for a green card and getting approval, which is a whole other thing). Whereas spouses of L-1 visa holders can apply for work authorization.

    What are the downsides of the H1-B1?

    For one, it is a non-immigrant visa, unlike a H-1B. If you have plans to apply for a green card, definitely try for a H-1B. However, many Singaporeans I know have also come first on the H1-B1, then tried for the H-1B lottery, then switched to it; if not, they can always get another H1-B1 visa.

    Secondly, it is valid for a shorter period of time. It is for 18 months. On arriving in the US, you get stamped in for just 12 months; you have to leave and return to the US to get the remainder of the 18 months.

    This was not a problem for me as I anticipated that I would want to go home to see my family, and country where I have deep and strong ties, every 12 months anyway.

    The short visa validity can cause some logistical issues. For example, I still don't have my drivers' license, partly out of my Singaporean apathy to car driving, partly because every time I get around to the DMV my visa is about to expire. It made no sense to get a driver's license that would expire in a few months (or weeks, last time I tried to get a driver's license), so I've just sort of kicked that can down the road. It doesn't really matter to me whether I can drive or not. It may, if you live elsewhere in the US with less public transit.

    Also, if you have a spouse who would like to work, it is not possible for them to work if you have a H1-B1. Consider a L-1 instead, or other visa type if this is important.

    How do I get a H1-B1 visa and work in the US?

    1. Make sure you are a Singaporean (or Chilean) citizen
    2. Apply for a job, get the job
    3. Get your immigration attorneys to file for a LCA with the Department of Labor. You must have this document certified by the Department of Labor and sent back to you and you must have this in person with you at the US embassy when you go for your appointment. In my experience this has taken around 7 business days to be certified
    4. While waiting for the LCA to be certified, start your DS-160 application. Some advice: expect to take a few days to complete the application. Write down the application number, and your security question. Get your passport photo ready as a digital file in a square format and make sure it is resized to under 240kb, and in jpg format (photo requirements here).
    5. Give yourself plenty of time to fill in the DS-160 form, especially if you are a first-timer. Save it constantly. You have 30 days to complete it. If you think you'll take more than 30 days, return to the application with the application number and security question, and save it or fill in more questions.
    6. Once you have completed the DS-160 form and submitted it, and have your LCA in hand, go to this page and select non-immigrant visa. If you have an immigrant visa, you probably know what you're doing and you can make your own choices from here. Click login, then new user. Create your account. This UStraveldocs account is what will let you schedule embassy appointments and decide how you get your visa delivered or picked up in the country you're applying in. The DS-160 form was a state department thing. You need to do both, but the USTraveldocs part is almost always the last step. And the first time I did it, I didn't know what to do or where to go after I submitted my DS-160!
    7. There are some quirks with this USTravelDocs step, so listen closely (and also seek out updated information as this process is likely to change more to meet local conditions, than the DS-160 or LCA process).
    8. Once you have logged in to US Travel Docs, click New Application / Schedule Appointment. It will prompt you to fill out your passport information. If you have a spouse or children with a H4 visa, you also add them here.
    9. Go through all the screens and fill in the information that only you know (your passport number, expiry date, visa type).
    10. This part is the most important. At some point in the application it will ask you for: Petitioner's Name, Receipt Number, Start Date and End Date. This is confusing and your US immigration attorney is likely to also not know what to do with this. From other posts written by others, I learned: these fields are kind of silly and no one knows what the right answers are / it doesn't really matter, but you have to fill in something anyway. Here's what's always worked for me.
    11. Petitioner's name: I put my employer, which is the City and County of San Francisco
    12. Start Date: I use the start date on my certified LCA
    13. End Date: I use the end date on my certified LCA
    14. Receipt Number: (This is different from receipt number elsewhere in this process. It is a dummy number. The only answer that works is this: ABC1234567890 (thanks to Ashley Lim for figuring this out)
    15. Finally, it will ask you how you want to collect / pick up / have your visa delivered. I always pick Chinatown, but I've been told by people at the US embassy that the fastest way to get your visa back is to select the Aramex at Changi South location, which is available as a 'paid dropoff/pickup'. This location is very far for me, so I almost never do this unless I have a very tight turnaround on my travel plans. I think it's something like a whole day faster than the Chinatown location. Otherwise, I prefer to do Chinatown as it's easier for me to go there, and also easier for me to get food afterwards. I am Singaporean, after all.
    16. On the last screen, you will be prompted to make payment. At the time of writing (September 2023) the options are: VFS Cash / Debit, or Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). VFS is a global company that many embassies outsource their visa work to around the world. EFT means 'bank transfer', as many Singaporeans will be aware of. VFS Cash/ Debit means 'go to the VFS office in Anson Road and pay it at the counter', which is far less convenient than 'log in to DBS banking and make payment'. When you click on either option, you will get the amount to pay in SGD, and a receipt number.
    17. If you select EFT, save the page PDF and copy down the SGD amount AND the receipt number.
    18. Log in to your Singapore internet banking and set up a new payee. The payee name is VFS Singapore, the beneficiary bank is DBS, and the payee's account number is (and this is very important) YOUR RECEIPT NUMBER. Your receipt number functions as a virtual account number so they can match your payment to your application. If you don't have a Singapore bank account but are applying out of Singapore, you will probably have to go to VFS on Anson Road, or get a Singapore friend to do it for you.
    19. Once you have completed your payment, wait until 12pm the next business day in Singapore to return to the USTravelDocs page and add in the receipt number from the payment slip you got, to complete the process. If you try to do it any earlier, you won't be able to proceed. It will just say 'transaction not found'.

    Special note about H1-B1 visa for Singaporeans and their non-Singaporean or same-sex spouses

    While the H1-B1 visa is only for Singaporeans, your spouse and children don't have to be. This means that if you, like me, are queer and married, your marriage is recognized as long as you have a marriage certificate from a country that performs it.

    If you are a same-sex couple that is interested in moving to the US, feel free to email me at adrianna [at] and I can help answer any queer-specific questions you might have.

    Should I move to the US? There are guns and stuff!

    That's entirely a question for you to answer. As a queer Singaporean, I needed to go somewhere that would give me and my non-Singaporean wife a place to live. We looked everywhere, and the US (California in particular) was still the place that gave us the things that we needed. It also welcomed us with very open arms. We are thankful. But it's not for everyone, certainly.

    Anyway, the advice I always tell young Singaporeans is that you don't have to think about this move as a permanent one. You can always go home. Which is a luxury, I've learned, especially in speaking with immigrants from other countries here. The idea that I can return to a country that's my own, without much change to my physical standard of living, is a luxury. Whether or not I can be fully queer and married in Singapore is a whole other thing. For now, I am living the life, and enjoying every moment of it (even if I cry once a week about how much I miss Singapore).

  • How to add a Chinese dictionary to Calibre

    I am trying to read more Chinese books. My Mandarin school teachers are probably having the last laugh, but I am genuinely interested in some of the fiction in the Sinosphere these days. Unfortunately my school-time Mandarin class experience was so poor (old school, traditional, not fun or engaging) that I feel like I am starting from scratch.

    Thankfully, technology helps. I no longer have to peruse a large Chinese dictionary by looking up total number of key strokes (even though I'm glad I learned that skill). With a few things in place, I can quickly level up.

    I use Calibre for ebooks. It's pretty customizable.

    1. Get your Chinese ebooks wherever you get them, and add them to Calibre
    2. Click to open and read the Chinese ebook inside Calibre's ebook viewer
    3. Highlight some text and mouse over the symbol that looks like a little library
    4. A library / lookup window should show up on the right
    5. Click Add Source
    6. Add the following source: name, MDBG
    7. Add the following permalink:{word}

    Now, whenever you highlight a word or phrase, it should popup the Chinese dictionary result.

    Some example photos:

    Screenshot of Calibre and how to add a Chinese dictionary step 1

    Highlight text in the ebook to pop out the lookup / dictionary view on the right.

    Screenshot of Calibre and how to add a Chinese dictionary step 2

    Click add source, then paste the url{word} into the box.

    Screenshot of Calibre and how to add a Chinese dictionary step 3

    If all goes well, you should now see the definitions from the Chinese dictionary.

    Happy reading!

  • Making the Yamaha P-125 digital piano sound better

    Early pandemic, I decided to reconnect with a part of my life that was very important to me: music. I played music, specifically piano, clarinet, trumpet, and other orchestral instruments, for most of my life. Then I stopped. Startup brain worms got to me. I did nothing but work for many years.

    The best digital piano in my budget that available at the time was the Yamaha P-125. All I wanted was a piano that was white, had weighted keys, had 88 keys, and that I could use with headphones.

    I had a lot of fun with it, but the one problem I had was that I don't really like how it sounds.

    There's a particular range of keys (I think in E4 to G4) that sound, to my ears, a bit weird and digital. When I play them together they smoosh into each other and it is noticeable enough that I recoil, every single time.

    Instead of getting a new piano, I decided to try to tweak it somehow.

    Here's what I did.

    1. Get a printer cable and connect the P-125 from the back (near the power cord) to your computer's USB / USB adapter
    2. Install the USB-Midi Driver so that I can use the P-125 as a Midi keyboard on my Mac
    3. Install Pianoteq
    4. Get decent headphones, I have the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x (you can get them used, for a third of list price, on audiophile forums or subreddits)

    The only thing slightly confusing about all this was how to activate the keyboard as a digital piano. Turns out, you need to press the metronome and rhythm key AS WELL AS the C5 key at the same time, in order to switch the audio output to the computer. You know that you've succeed at this when the piano says 'Off' in a slightly robotic voice. This means that the piano will now not output sound on the piano. You can now decide how to hear the music. On Pianoteq on my Mac, I either define the output as 'my nice speakers' if I want to hear the piano through my nice speakers; or 'digital piano' (then I plug in my headphones to the piano directly) if I want to listen through there. I use the headphones when I don't want to disturb my neighbors, like when I'm playing late at night.

    You'll know this is working (both on speakers and headphones) when you change the instrument on Pianoteq to something like 'vibraphone' and you can hear that the output.. sounds like a vibraphone. Personally, I really like the Steinway jazz and Grotian instruments. For those who have piano tuning interests, the pro version lets you tune each note. For someone like me who just wants to play a digital piano and have it sound better, the stage version is sufficient.

    Pianoteq is not cheap, but it is one of the best ones and it's what I like most.

    Next up, I'd like to learn Logic Pro and learn to arrange and record.