All posts in 2024
  • This Modern Love

    I have spent the last six weeks in Reno. There was a point, at some time in my life, when "six weeks in Reno" was something I would eventually do — to atone for some adolescent sins. The sin of believing, as you're in the thick of massive progress for people like you, that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Growing up queer, I was utterly convinced that I would never, ever, be able to find happiness. That everyone else's happiness was not for me.

    At age five, I dreamed up insane plans. I would go away, somewhere, and then I would tell my family that I was going to marry a woman. I would have a baby without them knowing about it. In what universe, in my sheltered, evangelical Chinese-Christian-Singaporean triple-barreled identity was the life I thought I would have, possible? It was not.

    My home life and my brain, my romantic life and my body, led a separate existence on two completely different planes. I found it easy to date, but not easy to find what was most important to me: the ability to move, generally, towards the arc of the idea that in some universe, somewhere, I can have a family.

    In 2013, when DOMA was struck down, Edith Windsor managed to get, for the rest of us, the ability to call the same-sex partners we've had for decades, our wives and / or our husbands. Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were with each other for 40 years: when Thea died, Edith was hit with a $363 000 estate tax that she would not have been hit with had she been in a heterosexual marriage. Don't fuck with a grieving lesbian, I think, is the first thing to remember when you're trying to oppose LGBTQ+ rights. She won, and it felt like a victory for five year old me, too.

    Somewhere between five and 28, I discovered that I could be quite popular with the women — and I discovered my political bent, much earlier than women discovered me. From the 'gender studies' bookshelves of Borders bookstore, Wheelock Place Singapore, I and dozens of other young queer kids camped out, daily, devouring all of the books we could not afford; reading everything about feminism, at first, then what it would take to biologically and legally have a wife and a child.

    At that time, the idea of all of that was as alien to me as the content on the scifi shelves: how, in any universe, was this going to be possible? I kept reading, anyway.

    So when Edith Windsor won for us the ultimate right, that I did not imagine possible in my lifetime (for, in all of my fantasies and estimates, being able to marry a woman was something I thought I would do in secret, and / or when I was dying, which is kind of the same thing) — I was ecstatic.

    That is where my problems begin.

    For in 2013, I was a muck. I was, so to speak, in the throes of a great many bad, terrible, awful decisions. My political self was not separate, then, from my personal self — in some ways, it still isn't. But I had never seen shit. I had, up until that point, had the luxury of only knowing unconditional, selfless, incredible love. My family was intact, and they loved me in spite of my awful decisions. My romantic life, was, hitherto, messy, but largely positive. I thought I knew everything.

    I thought, also, that marriage was a political decision; that everything else would follow. How could I have known any differently? The only queer people I knew who had gotten married had gotten married in secret, without ever telling their families, in acts of what seemed like bravery (in hindsight, all of them had extremely religious families), in unions that were never acknowledged by the countries they lived in, the country I call home. I didn't know any better.

    164 weeks later, on a papan in Bali

    What are your traumas?

    What makes you anxious?

    What can I do, when you are anxious or upset, to make you feel better?

    Why did you do the thing that you did?

    Who do you think you will become?

    What drives you?

    What are you looking for?

    How will we deal with you being in Reno, at some point in the future, to undo the thing that you did back when you had a different perspective on life and love?

    A woman, a near stranger to me, asked, never once inserting herself into my story. For the first time, I had answers. For the first time, she wanted to listen, and to be a part of my story, in spite of the deadweight I had shackled myself to.

    I had 164 weeks to take a good, hard look at how to be better. In that time, I learned that one should never marry a person who tells you they will hurt themselves and others if you didn't. I learned that if you were to ever be in a situation where someone pulls out a tool that can kill you and puts it to your throat, you walk the fuck away. I learned that if substances are involved, you run as fast as you can. I learned that even if I care very much about mental illness, it's not my fucking problem anymore if you try to kill me. I learned that people don't care about violence if a woman does it. I learned that the police don't care about violence if your country is so patriarchal they think it's the same as just two housemates having an argument about a salad. That even when a woman dies, the newspapers are going to call it the murder of a best friend. I learned that as I'm having my life flashing before me, for the first time, that I didn't want to be the dead best friend.

    Thousands of dollars of therapy later, I am here in Reno, Nevada. I spend my days cycling, drinking coffee, cooking. I ran the fastest miles I've ever run since I left school today, and in a way it was like running to freedom, like running to a younger, more innocent me. I ran the miles to the courier service at the airport, I ran to pickup the documents I will soon file, I ran away from it feeling freer and light, like I haven't, in 164 weeks.

    On Monday, I will have the luxury of leaving this city with a document with the words, "it has been decreed.." on it. It will be the best piece of paper in my life, more than the college degree I paid a lot of money for. It will be the start of the rest of my life. It will be the erasure of a brief moment in my life where 'love' felt like pain, where 'devotion' felt like a menial chore, where 'keeping the person you're with alive' felt like a lonely, one way street.

    The homophobic among you probably think, oh, all queer relationships are like that — but that would be akin to asking you to imagine yourself married to the sort of person you hear nightmares about at Chinese New Year, then congratulate yourself for not marrying. It's like that, but worse.

    The cynical among you may be tempted to think, oh, that's what marriage is about — disappointment. But that would be akin to asking you to marry anyone at all, even the best for you, and having you find it a disappointing venture. I don't need to change your mind, and neither do you.

    6 weeks later. I've had a crazy, fun time. I've met the best people. I've met the best dogs. Everyone, from the diner lady to the beer shop I go to to the DHL person is incredibly invested in my freedom. There's not been a moment in the last 164 weeks where I haven't thought, what is life? Love? Marriage? Family? And I am incredibly lucky that I have the opportunity to do it all over again, this time — when I know how to ride a bicycle, the bicycle isn't falling apart and threatening to throw me into a ravine, the tandem rider I've got travels at the same speed and doesn't even mind my farts. And we've got the absolute best bicycle that's ever been built. And the best of pretty much everything. She's my best friend, too, and there's no need for air quotes.

  • Soul Story

    One of the things I love the most is to randomly meet people who become fast friends — even better when they run amazing businesses with products that I love.

    When I met Vivian in Bangkok last year, I was fascinated to see that she had done something so important to all entrepreneurs (yet that is done so rarely, and rarely well): she built a business to solve a problem she had been facing her entire life.

    She struggled with super sensitive skin, and nothing worked; therefore, she created her own skincare line, Soul Story.

    Soul Story Image

    I tried out some samples, and now it's my skincare line of choice. It's truly excellent.

    Unfortunately, it's only available for sale in Thailand and Vietnam so far. Vivian is Korean-Canadian, based in Ho Chi Minh City. She's found a niche in selling mid-high end skincare made in Korea, formulated with Korean dermatologists, for the emerging Asian markets.

    If you want a chance to try out her products (and I assure you they are fantastic), here's an opportunity to purchase them no matter where you live. For then next 45 days, you can buy Soul Story products off their Indiegogo campaign. Know that you will also be helping out a first time female founder, too.

    I hope that in the next couple of years, Vivian's skincare products will be found in every major city in the world. It's that good. Try it.

    Support her Indiegogo campaign. I know I will!

  • Rediscovering Video Games

    One of the things I've been happiest about, for 2017 / 2018, is that I've rediscovered my love for video games.

    It used to be such a big part of my life, and then not, just as suddenly.

    In the past year or so, I've been more actively on the lookout for games that would amuse me or make me happy. So far, it's been:

    1. Overcooked, for people with real life friends and / or who remember life before online multiplayers. Some days, I'm tired of shouting into my headset at teenage boys in Russia to please shoot that enemy in front of us, or to heal me. Mostly though, I just have such fond memories of 2P games that are so rare these days we call them "couch co-ops". Overcooked is a fabulous couch co-op. It has very little to do with cooking games like Diner Dash. Instead, it emphasizes teamwork, communication, and makes sure everyone ends up having a good time. Up to 4P. 2P is perfect, 4P is chaotic — but fun chaos, I think, is the point of this game.

    2. Persona 5 — I haven't been one for JRPG (Japanese RPGs) traditionally. Something about the art or the story just hasn't been for me. But in Persona 5, it was refreshing to see a story unfold in modern day Tokyo in a manner that draws you into the landscape. No details are lost in illustrating this ultra modern Japanese city, and the inner lives of the teenager you play in it. Ultimately, while fun and never losing the momentum of fun, the story can be too linear and the details sometimes old-fashioned. Since things occur from the perspective of the Japanese teenage boy you play, there are allusions to soft misogyny that make you go, hang on — did they really say that? But may be the strict gender norms provide authenticity. I'm just no longer used to such blatant "girls do this, boys are like that" ideas in any media, anymore.

    3. Cities: Skylines — If you grew up in the 90s, like I did, SimCity2000 was probably the defining game of your childhood. I spent many hours building my cities, preparing for disasters; they were beautiful moments that I still think of, very fondly. Lately, though, the SimCity series have been a let down. All modern reboots of that franchise have been somewhat lacklustre. The only SimCity game I still actively play is an emulator version of SimCity2000. Nothing surpasses it. Except, perhaps, Cities: Skylines. It's a different beast borne of the same roots. To start with, the Finnish developers of Cities: Skylines did well first on their traffic sim, Cities in Motion. The level of detail they've been able to build into Cities: Skylines, as a result of that prior work, is astounding. Real life city and traffic planners have been hoooked on this game, providing many mods and a lot of great real life advice to wannabe planners like us who play games like these. The public transit aspect is phenomenal; the level of detail — being able to zoom down into individual Skylines citizens, find out their names, follow them as they go about their day; receive live commentary of your work as the mayor / Dear Leader in the in-game Twitter, just like you would as a real life politician — all of this builds layers upon layers into this game. Before long, you become obsessed with making sure every detail of your city is going the way you planned. The one shortcoming of the game, however, is that the UX isn't super intuitive when it comes to what went wrong. Sometimes, you don't even know something's going wrong, until it's too late. I wish it would be more prompt in letting you know that something is going down a slippery slope, or something else is quite literally going to shit. It nags you to death when it happens, but it doesn't warn you or give you many opportunities to pre-empt them, before it happens. Which can really take away from the momentum of the game.

    4. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus — This was the game that made my partner go, am I ever going to see you again? Alternate history plots usually fascinate me, but can also go so wrong (such as, the terrible Amazon Prime Video riff on "The Man In The High Castle", ugh). Here, even if you've never played the legacy Wolfenstein games (or even 2014's excellent Wolfenstein: The New Order) — you can dive right in and BJ Blazkowicz your way through the Nazis. Mow them all down, machines and all; kill Hitler himself if you want to (note: it's instant-death, but oh is it sweet and happy fuzzy). The cut scenes, though numerous, layer on many additional moments in-between. The presence of PoC folks in the cutscenes, even if maybe not super historically accurate, is much-needed in these times. Yes, I care about the role feisty black women play in resistance movements in alterate history timelines. I love the tech, the attention to detail with the weapons. I love the writing and great dialogue, even if cheesy at times. I loved — and feared — being introduced to a city that seemed so normal and so like current day America, yet so utterly craven in its Nazi roots: the chapters set in Roswell were bone-chilling. Just have a look and see how hate becomes normalized. My time spent in the in-game Papa Joe's was devastating. The hiding, the stealth, the normalcy of it all (before you have to bash a Nazi in the face). This game is a superb shooter, and an even better story-teller.

    5. XCOM 2 — various expansion packs. I'm a huge fan of the XCOM franchise. The past year has been great for XCOM fans. The handful of expansion packs have extended XCOM 2 in ways that make the base game feel fresh and new, almost like a brand new game. Yet, they're so complex every time you play them that I'm still playing through the recent expansion packs. The base game was a little basic, but the expansion packs add depth and many more hours of intense strategizing. As always, great for gamers who love to wait before pouncing.

  • Road, Gravel, Mud

    (Also posted on Medium. I will cross post anything I write, and archive them here.)

    It’s been a while since I’ve written about work. Even longer since I’ve gotten on a bicycle.

    In so many ways, running a startup is like a race. Some people like to do sprints. Some people like lycra.

    More and more, I find myself preferring endurance sports and comfortable clothing — perhaps because that’s the closest sporting analogy I can find for the kind of work that I do.

    In 2014, I moved to Indonesia to work on ‘financial inclusion for women’.

    In 2015, I completed the ideabox accelerator, worked with no salary for a year and a bit, and worked on finding product / market fit.

    In 2016, I finally raised my first tranche of funding. At that time, ‘Indonesia’ / ‘emerging markets’ and ‘social impact’ were three things that didn’t go together.

    In 2017, I lost both of my cofounders for personal reasons, and struggled to not burn out myself. I did not succeed.

    In 2018, I am still going at it. Wobe is growing everyday. We have great investors. I am supported by a team of hardworking people who are not only great at what they do, but they also believe that we can use tech to bring financial inclusion to emerging markets.

    Grit and resilience don’t come naturally to me. I understand them as concepts and I live, to the fullest extent that is possible, with as much as I can muster. I’m also painfully autistic; I simply don’t see risk. Risk is not a discrete concept, nor is it something I can grasp. Therefore, it does not exist.

    Early stage startups are hard.

    You risk: running out of money, running out of steam, running out of time, running out of energy. Everything needs to be in perfect alignment and timing. You have to fashion a product and a company into existence, and do both really well, in a remarkably short period of time.

    All of your flaws are amplified.

    Everything needed to be done — yesterday.

    Everything is broken. Everything is great.

    Like so many startup folks, I decided to work it off. Triathlons are especially popular with us. I suppose if you do what we do for work, weekend competitions that are physically and mentally demanding are just yet another challenge. Another hill to climb. Another bendy road. Another slope to descend.

    I did a bit of that, and I’m pretty good at it. But I realised my taste in sports is the same as my taste for business. I need gravel and mud. I need to fly face first into wet muddy terrain. I need to find a hill I’ve never climbed, with the equipment I have, and just pedal furiously.

    I feel like I do that everyday at work, and everyday at play.

    I’m at home in places where conditions are rough.

    I like unpaved roads.

    Maybe that’s why I’ve chosen to build a business in a space I care very much about (increasing access to financial services for the unbanked), in a country I love with all of the opportunities and challenges (Indonesia).

    The road ahead is bumpy, wet and rocky. That’s when I know it’s time to hit the gravel.

    Thank you, friends, family, investors, Wobe team members and our customers, for coming along on this ride. You push me to do better, be better, learn everyday, and do my best. Burn out is not fun. You lose so much time and focus. Growing is so much more fun! I want to share more stories from the trenches, growth, warts and all.

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