All posts in 2024
  • Outtakes from a cookbook

    In my mid-20s I was involved in the production of several cookbooks behind the scenes. That helped start a love for food. I helped to write and photograph a cookbook for an international hotel chain's Dubai restaurants, which had all types of cuisines (their Thai chef also taught me how to cook the Thai food I now love cooking). Later, I helped a Thai-Punjabi restauranteur publish a cookbook for their restaurant in Pattaya.

    These were the outtakes from some of these projects.

    A color photograph of some bulbs of garlic

    The essential ingredient in many cuisines, garlic.

    A sepia-toned photo of someone weighing spices with a manual scale

    The best part about any cookbook project: going to the market.

    A black and white photo of a cast iron cauldron with milk in it, and someone stirring

    To make good chai, start with good milk.

    A black and white photo of someone pouring milk from Indian-style steel cups

    I love those steel cups.

    A color photograph of 9 spices arranged in a grid

    Spices are the variety of life.

  • My wedding in film and digital

    My friend Javad Tizmaghz, an excellent photographer and even better woodworker, took our photos for our wedding.

    It's important to note that queer marriage is not recognized in our home countries.

    We took these photos, and then we went to Auckland, New Zealand, for the actual ceremony.

    It was only fitting that these photos were taken in the woods near Bukit Timah, where the old railway line connected both of our cities. It was also a place of refuge and safety for me, as I frequently went there as a child to walk and spend time in nature. Even today, when I go home, I still try to go to that area frequently.

    Which one looks like film and which one looks digital?

    a color photo of a queer female couple in wedding whites in a jungle setting

    She was telling me a joke.

    a color photo of a queer female couple in wedding whites walking along an old railway bridge

    Walking along the railway tracks that connected our cities.

  • Hello 35mm my old friend

    I have always loved film photography. I love everything about it.

    From the moment I was given a disposable film camera as a child, to collecting old cameras and taking them on my travels, I love the whole process of waiting to see what photos I come back with.

    Like so many others, I have been mostly digital for a while. That's fine. I don't much care for the film vs digital debate; but I love film cameras, the older the better.

    At the end of 2022, I decided to jump back into film again. I now live somewhere else (San Francisco), have more time and ability to indulge this admittedly expensive and indulgent hobby, and also generally feel like I have more stories I'd like to share.

    Before I do that, I'd like to start at the beginning.

    17 years ago: this was me in a different place and time. With the same old hobby. Let's see what it all looks like when I pick up where I last left off, shall we?

    A person taking a photo of themselves in a mirror, holding a retro Yashica Electro 35 camera

    A selfie with a Yashica Electro 35, a camera I loved but sold a long time ago.

  • Goodbye, Twitter. Hello, Slow Socials.

    Almost exactly 16 years ago I signed up for Twitter, curious about what it might be. The social web was so young then. I was still in university. The hashtag had barely been invented. Technology seemed like it might change the world, and I was excited to be a part of it.

    16 years later, I am midway through my career in technology and I am starting to feel like.. a lot of this was a mistake. Walled gardens were a mistake. Trusting people who wanted to move fast and break things were a mistake.

    I can no longer abide narcissistic people who treat people cruelly for fun and profit. I was in Myanmar a lot in the heady days of 2013/2014 where the corporations were so excited about the Next Billion Users coming online in Southeast Asia, but they didn't care if they also inadvertently accelerated genocide. I didn't get a front row seat to that mess, but I knew many civil society activists who were working so hard to try to get Facebook to care.

    I cut my use of Facebook and Meta-owned products as a result.

    This week, the rocket man unceremoniously let go of many people, many of them people I know. There are no good layoffs or reorgs, but there are too many people who conflate cruel behavior with necessary behavior. Beyond the amorality of it, I am also concerned about security issues if a service like Twitter is left running but everyone's already left the building. As late as a few days ago I still imagined I would 'go down with the ship' or stick around to find out, but after (1) the unethical firings (2) realizing that the new owner was personally censoring things that painted him in an unceremonious light, I decided that I don't need to live that way and I don't owe him anything.

    This is how I am going to reboot my social media use.

    My Mastodon is my main

    I am on Mastodon. Mastodon is not for everyone. It needs a lot of improvements in UX and it needs to get better at explaining itself to less technical people. But I like what I see right now: if people were falling off the Twitter thermocline (and it feels like that in my own usage of Twitter, as I follow a lot of security and infra and general nerds who are typically at the forefront of the bleeps and bloops of computer work), I've seen a huge wave on Mastodon in the past week alone.

    Where before, Mastodon felt lonely, the pace of adoption and follows and responses has picked up so much that it comes close to what I was experiencing on Twitter as a somewhat advanced user.

    (Edit. 2 December 2022: I have deactivated Twitter completely. The antisemitism, transphobia and all-around incel-town nature of that community is not something I want to participate in. I downloaded a copy of my archives and I will be hosting a mirror of it here, quite soon. So not all past posts have been lost. BUt I refuse to have any content that one of the people I dislike the most in the world can use for advertising or other purposes. This post has been lightly edited to reflect this change.)

    ### Cross-post one way to Twitter only

    I use to cross-post. Posting on one platform lets you automatically post the same thing to the other.

    I do this solely for archival, and for my 41K Twitter followers to know that I am somewhere else.

    I do not intend to originate posts from Twitter after 31 December 2022, but I may sometimes respond to tweets.

    For all intents and purposes, my Twitter account will be there, but in cryogenic sleep.

    Write more on here

    Mastodon scratches my itch for short form text posts, but that it emphasizes intentionality over virality will probably shift my text output into other areas.

    How to discover new things

    Some people say that Twitter was amazing because it was like going into a crowded bar and being able to find the most random people shouting the most random and amazing things.

    I was certainly happy to have come across people who baked bread with ancient yeast, the world's foremost lichen experts, people who knew more about pop culture than I can ever hope to in ten lifetimes, and many people who live and learn so differently from me.

    My experience with Mastodon has been that once I crossed the 100 follower mark, and I did this by following many people early on and boosting toots, Mastodon became a good enough Twitter replacement for me.

    Toots are silly

    That's the whole point! If you think about it, a tweet is also silly.

    So is a google. I am personally rather fond of toots.

    Nothing lasts forever

    If you're as old as I am, practically deceased like the kids will say at the age of 37, you'll have lived through several iterations of webby things.

    I was able to keep all my blog content because I always had text files and never invested too much in a hosted platform. Everything run by someone else feels.. ephemeral. If it means something to you, make a copy. Preferably in plain text format. There will be ways to export content, there usually are, but you must have a copy first. If photos are your thing, don't just rely on Instagram to keep the compressed files. Keep your photos somewhere you can access. Make copies.

    It's too complicated

    Yes, I agree. Read Ask questions. But don't just complain: I think we all need some time of active learning to un-learn the bad habits that big tech companies foisted upon us.

    Will it ever gain mass traction? Maybe not. But maybe, just maybe, we don't need that.

    Intentional participation over consumption

    I think I am done with being a consumer, the way I am done with being a product.

    I pay for things where I can, I prefer it that way. I no longer use Google, I use DuckDuckGo. I prefer to have Fastmail or Protonmail over Gmail's many conveniences. I'd rather run my own Photoprism server than trust my photos to Google Photos anymore. I gave away all my Echos and Google Nests.

    Surveillance technology is not for me, and algorithmic bias and fairness is something that I personally care a lot about, so don't want to be a willing participant of.

    I will probably buy non-smart versions of things for as long as I can. I don't want to upgrade firmware on my car or microwave or bicycle.

    I'm still excited about technology, but I am not excited about existing business models for it. So in many ways, Twitter's downfall feels like a fascinating, but messy time, to try to participate in social media with full intentionality.

    I am done, I think, with the performative cruelty of early social media. No more dunks, no more subtweets, no more yelling. If I am angry about something, and there are many things to be angry about, I plan to log off and count to five and go for a walk and write about it later if I am still angry about it.

    I am also noticing that in the three days since I've de-prioritized Twitter as a service, I feel... better. I feel less angry. I look forward to seeing what my friends have tooted at me.

    I miss the random coming-across-of-something-great. I have not yet experienced that on Mastodon yet, but it's still early. But I suspect it's similar to what I am now starting to feel about music:

    I don't need to listen to the latest and greatest music from artists and genres I don't particularly care for. It's great that Taylor Swift has a new album, but her music isn't for me. If I hear it in a bar one day, maybe I will enjoy it, but I don't need to stream it in lossless formats in many platforms I don't own.

    I did recently inherit a used Rega Planar 2 from a very old man, though, and he gave me a bunch of his jazz records that he loved. He bought thousands of records from a jazz store that was closing down, he felt like it he was giving it a home. Now that he was getting old, he wanted me to give them a home too.

    So while I still stream music when I go running, or when I am commuting, the music enjoyment I look forward to the most is when I sit down at my record player with the first good speakers I managed to afford, and play Bill Evans' Waltz for Debby. The record sleeve says, this record was recorded at the Village Vanguard, and shortly after, one of the musicians died in a car accident.

    Some days, I log in to a private livestream run by some jazz musicians I learn jazz from (I am learning jazz piano and sax), and listen to them play their favorite jazz albums and talk about playing that music and how it's inspired them.

    I realise that it is possible to choose to not consume, but to relish and savor.

    Much like I have never been to an all you can eat buffet I enjoyed, I won't miss a whole lot of this unnecessary... cruft. But in opting for slow socials, I feel more empowered to share short posts sometimes, longer posts more infrequently, with fewer dopamine hooks to make me feel shitty about the world.

    It's also in line with my overall life plan to make more music, eat more delicious food, meet more amazing people online and off, and just really focus on how when everything feels horrible, the most radical thing I can do for myself is to allow myself to enjoy beautiful things in ways which are still meaningful to me. If I can do all that while helping advertisers flee a platform that's become a vector for hate, and help lighten the pockets of a man I greatly disdain, that's even better.

    In the meantime, I will listen to records and go bleep bloop sometimes, or infrequently, or perhaps never at all.

  • America is the restaurant that gives me food poisoning.

    Sometimes I think of countries as restaurants. Every country has a different concept. Every country has something to offer. Some have menus, some do not. Some are large multi-concept food halls, others are exclusive white tablecloth places where people have to fight for the scraps—outside.

    My country, Singapore, is a prix fixe restaurant where there is a daily special. One soup, one main. You can take it or leave it. If you have more money, you can upgrade some parts. But it's still a fixed menu. You can't change it very much. You can't go anywhere. You can only stand up and sit down. The waiters are quick to shoo you out, or push you back down, whenever you feel like you might want to do something different.

    I now live in the US, which feels like a multi-concept sort of place. On level 1, there's food hall like one of those in a mall with funny names. All kinds of things, but nothing that will keep you satiated for long. Just fast food and snacks. Make your way to the top, and you'll find a stuffy dining room. Realistically, most people will spend all of their time between levels 2 and 99. You can take the elevator, climb the stairs, do whatever you want. There are lots of ways to go anywhere and you can go at any time. You can do whatever you want. Some people throw poop into their food, and eat it, and that's fine too.

    In the prix fixe restaurant, you eat the same thing everyday and maybe you get bored. You never get food poisoning. Everything is safe. In the food hall for insomniac people, you can eat lying down, shoes off, with your feet if you like. There are no rules, there are no bouncers. But you get food poisoning every other day. Unless you're on the top floor with all of the silver spooners. There, you get proper chicken, not the hormone-filled ones that taste awful. You get real vegetables. Life up there is pretty sweet, nicer than the top floor of any other restaurant in the world.

    It's June 2022, and I am in Singapore. I am lying under my blanket feeling angry about the state of America. There are more mass shootings than I can count this week. I can't imagine what parents feel about losing their children to gun violence. I think about how when I walk by the thousands of homeless people in the city I live in, I see glimpses of their past lives. The backpacks they must have carried to work, and how they now store everything they own. The fancy camping tents they probably slept in when camping for leisure, that are now the only shelters over their heads. Why do I keep going back to somewhere where I get food poisoning all the time?

    I don't have the answers. I think, though, that after a lifetime of being safe and repressed, it was interesting and novel to live somewhere that was the opposite. The country that always give us food poisoning also has delicious food and incredible experiences on every level between 1 and 99, whereas most other countries only have a few. A few ways of being. A few ways to exist. But the diarrhea is bad and sometimes there are no rest rooms.

    That for people like me, who could never fit in the box of that my country demanded of me, I don't know where else I can go. That every time I board the plane between both cities, I am making the choice between physical and psychological safety, rarely both.

    You learn to duck under the people flinging poop around. But at home, you can only sit down or shut up. Some people say surely there must be an in-between country that isn't either / or. Maybe. But what I'm afraid of is that many of the in-between countries hide their poop so well, and things look great, until you get there and then you have to sit down or shut up again because you're not from there. Because you should be grateful you no longer live in the other places.

    I'm now of the opinion that there are no good countries, the best you can do is try to make a decent life for yourself anywhere. If you have the opportunity to pick, like I do, that's already a huge privilege. If you're queer, multi-national, like us, the number of possible places to live is tiny. You've got to make the most of the ones that work. But as the world turns hard towards authoritarianism and fascism, I don't feel like there are any good places to hide. I don't believe there is a single country worth moving to that is going to be able to avoid that wave. I also don't believe anyone who says, "my country is better than that one": they always come from a position of privilage, and my position as an immigrant to their country is never going to be the same. They also never, ever know what they are talking about, if they're not queer and intersectional in the same way we are.

    On this trip home, it was nice to not have to think about food poisoning. I know exactly what my life back home will be, what it will look like, maybe even where I will live and what I will do. It's been tempting to imagine going back to that. But I also know that in a place where I can only sit down and shut up, repress my gayness, hide my photos of my family at work, where I must be gay but not too much, where I can be out but not too loudly, where I can live as a queer person but not have rights, I'm reluctantly crawling back into the place that gives me diarrhea every single day.

    My country says: it's hypothetical that you'll ever have food poisoning here, because everything is perfect here, so why are you mad at me, and why do you leave me?

    I'm mad that I have to live somewhere that gives me food poisoning. But at least there, my wife and I can be together, as my wife, even if we have to poop more than usual.

  • It's Not Enough to Bear Witness

    Two days after the Supreme Court of the United States took this country backwards, with one of the more extreme justices stating that he wished to also examine the constitutional right to same-sex marriage and contraception, I found myself having the same conversation over and over.

    As a newly arrived foreigner, not yet an immigrant, what are my options?

    It is natural to map injustice to your personal situation, to see how exactly something impacts you. If it is no longer a constitutional right to be in a same sex marriage, then I cannot be here. I cannot be here. A same sex marriage between two foreigners would have no immigration or other rights; I literally cannot live in a country like that. We are not there yet, though we may be.

    Fight or flight kicks in. You look for the exit. If you have a powerful passport, like I do, you have many exits.

    It becomes unbearable to listen to the naysayers. Not the people who are working behind the scenes to wreak havoc on others'—no, we should not be listening to those people anyway—but to the people who witness each injustice, and instead of being alarmed or upset, spend all of their energy being upset at our reaction to injustice instead. It won't be that way. It's not so bad. Things are fine. Calm down.

    I am never calming down.

    I am not leaving either.

    This is not a story about how it's important to stay and make the change. The individualistic concept of making change on your own fails to consider the overall systemic power imbalance at play, the same one that breathed life into injustice and turned them into policy.

    For many Americans with the privilege to go elsewhere and start anew, whether it's because of jobs that let them work remotely, or because they have documented ancestry in countries that are now able to provide them with second or third passports, leaving is very much a personal decision. If you can manage it, seeing the world outside the US is always rewarding.

    Yet as someone who has left multiple countries and homes in search of the next, I will simply say that being far from the problems of home is not the same as those problems not existing. Removing yourself from the epicenter is essential at times to regroup and reframe. Problems compound. No matter how faraway you are, you know they are there. If you have the privilege of deciding that you will never have problems again, that's good for you, too.

    What's more likely is you will go somewhere that's simply five years behind the US on the authoritarian timeline. I have no desire to uproot my life to go live somewhere I never wanted to live in, where I am going to be even further from any ability to resist injustice because of linguistic or cultural distance. This is my home, too.

    Many methods of resistance are closed to me as a foreigner in this country. While on a visa, I simply cannot risk street protests or deep organizing, knowing that law enforcement and federal authorities do not look too kindly on foreigners who are involved in these things. Nor do they have to, because I don't have the same rights as an American citizen or long term permanent resident.

    Writing about the injustice as it happens is one thing I can do. But it is not enough. Not for me. I want to interrogate why they happen, who was responsible, how we can roll it back or fight back. I am inspired by the writers who have been writing about the worst actors of our generation: fascists, authoritarians, misogynists and terrorists of all stripes and inclinations. From Hindutva to Tigray and the Donbas, our world today would be unrecogizable to the young person who traveled through pre-war Syria, pre-housing crisis United States, in 2008, like I did. There was the world before. The one I was told would go on and on forever: forever growth, and forever peace. Now I'm old enough say: growth and peace for whom exactly?

    It is important to grieve the end of that era. The post-Cold War era of growth and development at all costs is on its last legs. Everyday in my neighborhood in San Francisco's Tenderloin district, I see the people who lost. Vestiges of their past lives: their expensive camping gear now houses them permanently on the streets, instead of once or twice a year in California's campgrounds. The backpacks that carry everything they own. Four years in this country, all of it in San Francisco, and I am reminded of how desperately alone one can feel here. One misstep, one mistake, a series of unfortunate events, and you are on your own.

    That's why I think it would be radical for an individual to build community where they live, and to help everyone thrive. Especially if they are people who are least like you. Not to think of it as charity, because that would be crass, but as an overwhelming need to be the connective tissue that can help heal the scars of the broken world that we we live in. Maybe I have privilege today, as a tech worker with a powerful passport and a disposable income, today I can help to literally feed the hungry. Even when if I don't have those privileges—because existing in this country is so fraught with anxiety about how one mistake or illness can take everything away from you—it would still be an overwhelming duty as a human being to work to improve conditions for the people around me.

    I want to bear witness, by writing about the world, particularly about the injustice that authoritarianism and religious fascism is going to cause in the US, in India and in Singapore. But I also want to reduce suffering and cause no harm. That's what my new commitment to Buddhism is helping me understand: every world at every moment in time is endless suffering. The most radical act you can do is to know that you are empowered. Sometimes that means you can help chip away at removing the causes of suffering; but most times, just knowing that you have the power to name and note an injustice is more power than the abusers want you to have.

    Right this moment, by writing this, I am committing myself to the work of leaving a better world than the one I existed in.

    Figuring out how exactly I'm going to do that is part of the work.

  • Tailscale

    In a previous life, I had to use VPNs extensively. I was traveling all the time and often found myself needing to do online banking tasks in one country while I was in another. I also frequently visited some countries that blocked most commercial VPNs.

    For that reason, I have been figuring out how to use different VPN and VPN-like services for a long time.

    The latest and greatest stuff in this space, what I default to using more frequently now, is Tailscale.

    Tailscale can do a great many things. Some people have called it the holy grail of networking. I am certainly a fan.

    Today, I will focus on how I use Tailscale to replace VPN-services for me, and ignore the other cool things that Tailscale can do.

    This assumes that you have existing hardware and a connection in the country you want to connect to.

    The use case for this sort of thing is an endless list:

    • I have a high speed connection at my home in San Francisco. I want to use my home network from abroad in order to access some banking or enterprise applications
    • Commercial VPNs can be unreliable or slow

    If you have a device you can always keep 'on', such as an old laptop or desktop, or Raspberry Pi, you can ignore commercial VPN services and just use what you have. Just remember to keep your device 'on' and don't let it go to sleep.

    1. On an old desktop or other device that is always plugged in, and always connected to the internet, I install Tailscale.

    2. I log in using my GitHub account (though you can also use your Google account). Tailscale will authenticate you and you should see the name of that device

    3. Make the device you just set up route traffic through an exit node

    4. Go to Tailscale admin console, pick the machine that says Exit Node, click the three dots and make sure 'Use as exit node' is enabled

    5. Install Tailscale on another device. Select the exit node you just setup

    6. Check your external IP address to see that you are routing traffic through your exit node at home

    In my case, I went to a cafe near my house, used their wifi, and then connected to my exit node in Tailscale. I was able to verify there that my external IP was the same as the static IP address from my home network

    Now, when I travel abroad, it will be much easier for me to access the files and services that I need, as though I never left.

  • The Saxophone Diaries

    Screenshot of a YouTube video of someone playing the saxophone

    When I was a child, I immersed myself rather deeply into the world of orchestral music, especially in the woodwinds section. But the saxophone always felt too... large, for me.

    I am no longer a child, so it is no longer too large. I decided to follow up on my childhood dream to play the sax (as well as every other instrument in the woodwinds section).

    In January this year I began alto saxophone lessons at a music school here in San Francisco. I'm quite happy with my progress. I will need to find more time to play it more (currently playing around 2 hours a week), but in two short months I have managed to pick up enough to start playing some music.

    If you're reading this and wondering if you should also learn sax, here's my advice:

    • learn to read music! It really helps
    • it's never too late for any of this

    Many adults are somehow fearful that it's 'too late' to learn to play an instrument. It's never too late. I'm trying to adopt a beginner's mindset and to learn from scratch. Who cares if I'm any good at it? I'm having a lot of fun.

    To celebrate, I started posting a bunch of videos on YouTube to chart my progress. Enjoy.

  • New Beets

    In case you have not heard, Spotify sucks. A lot.

    Here's a summary of my post-Spotify exploration of music. I'm still trying to decide how I want to consume music in the future, but what I'm currently thinking about is:

    • Apple Music for 'all you can eat' music streaming and music discovery
    • Accompanied by Plex music library and PlexAmp on phone for music that I want to collect and keep

    I'm starting to buy interesting music on Bandcamp, especially newer stuff, new music types and collaboration, things that may never get published as a CD or other record.

    I'm using the SF Public Library's incredible music collection (vinyl and CD!) to borrow and listen to older music that I may have missed out on, or music that I want to listen to in higher fidelity, on different equipment.

    Moving Spotify playlists to Apple Music or Tidal

    Using services like TuneMyMusic, I was able to easily move my playlists to Apple Music and Tidal. I evaluated both services before deciding on Apple Music. Tidal did not do a good job recognizing or having access to some of my non-English music. Apple Music did not miss a beat. I'm very firmly entrenched in the Apple walled garden, so it was also a good reason to get Apple One (so everyone in my family can also have Apple Music). If you don't use iOS, you may want to evaluate other alternatives.

    I decided to pony up the $5 fee on TuneMyMusic to move my music to Apple Music. It was a one-off action that took a few hours to complete. After that, I canceled my subscription as I have no need to keep my playlists in sync.

    There are probably ways to do this cheaply or freely with command line tools, but I did not have time to look into it.

    Buying music on Bandcamp

    I'm lucky to be friends with many music nerds and music lovers who have carefully curated playlists and music collections. Some of them also share their favorite new music on Bandcamp.

    I started buying a few albums there. I'm still finding my way around Bandcamp (it looks like I'm buying stuff that I really like, and also experimental stuff I maybe don't like as much, but find interesting enough to keep).

    I don't like listening to the albums on the Bandcamp website or app, so it's handy that they let you download lossless files of the music you buy.

    Setting up Plex and PlexAmp

    Since I already had a Plex media server setup, it was simply a matter of setting up a new folder and library for music files.

    I learned that the metadata from Bandcamp files isn't the best: Plex does best when you can organize files in a hierarchical Artist / Album folder structure, and for music that may not exist that way (like a lot of digital-only music on Bandcamp), Plex just doesn't pick up the music metadata neatly.

    Using Beets, a command line superpower tool for music lovers

    I decided to give Beets a go. The project was mature and many people swore by it. Its documentation was also excellent.

    First, I had to set up the config.yaml file. Here's my config file, in case it helps.

    Then, I had to install the right plugins. For my use case, the beetcamp, acousticbrainz and discogs plugins were the most useful.

    I successfully re-imported all of my music files into my Plex music library like this:

    beet import ~/some-path-to-music

    After installing the right plugins, I was able to find matches for all of the music, including some very obscure old stuff. You can even set up the PlexUpdate plugin to let Plex know to update the music library every time music gets imported with beets.

    I'm very happy with this setup, and will probably continue to grow my music collection in this way.

  • So far, so sober

    It feels like not very many years ago that hackathons, free beer and drunken nights out with startups were, for a brief moment in time, cool.

    Perhaps it was even normal.

    It was in this environment that I came of age, so to speak, in my work. It was therefore no surprise to anybody that I soon developed a drinking problem. Like many in my industry.

    I pursued the drinking with the fervor of a person who also threw themselves into the work. Work hard, play hard. All of that. I learned the ins and outs of whisky the way I learned to manage products. I collected the certifications and classes for my outsized interest in alcohol the way I also worked on my tech skills. Many of my friends left the tech industry to distribute or sell alcohol. When I went home briefly to Singapore, people sent me so much alcohol that it lined the walls of the tiny hotel room I was in.

    I did not drink much of it.

    By then, I was starting to examine why I drank.

    I drank, because it was routine.

    I drank, because it was expected of me, for a time. To get along with the boys in tech, I should drink as many IPAs as they do.

    As I got older, my body could not metabolize the alcohol. Hangovers felt worse. I felt sluggish. Even though the peats of whisky and the hops of craft beer are still things that I love, the drinking lifestyle is completely over for me.

    After I moved to San Francisco, I found that the party was over. The San Francisco of free beers at work and boozy networking events that I saw and loved when I first visited in 2012 was not the San Francisco of tamer stuff, the one that I know and love today. Maybe the party moved to Miami. Maybe we all got older and collectively decided to do something else with our lives. Maybe returning as an adult in my 30s with a wife and family made me see that there was more to life than black-out stupor every weekend.

    I was also tired of being sick.

    A decade plus of round the clock hustle. Startup myths floating through every part of my brain and my soul. Fueled by a lot of craft beer and gin and Scotch. Coffee the rest of the day. At some point, that party had to stop.

    I was very sick for a very long time. Not specifically because of alcohol, but it can’t have helped. Autoimmune disease hit me like a truck. I had all of the things: I was a woman, I was getting older, I didn’t sleep much (because hustle culture says to sleep only when you’re dead), every city in the world from Singapore to San Francisco to Seoul was starting to meld together. Every city felt the same. My life was the same. Work. Alcohol. Raise funds. Build things. Do it all over again, thinking you’re a baller, but something had to give.

    I was tired of being sick.

    It took me almost eight years to get my body back to where I was, before hustle culture and autoimmune disease killed it. In March of 2021, I put my running shoes back on and went for a run. Running had been such a big part of my younger life. It was different then: it was a different hustle. It was also a competition. It was about winning.

    I didn’t feel like a winner in 2021. Almost nine years after the day I was sent to the emergency room with my heart rate through the roof, my body mass dropping at an astonishing speed (I was 5 kilos lighter in the evening compared to what I weighed before dinner), I resumed running again. I was slow. But I was happy. I was happy to be able to run at all.

    The autoimmune disease wrecked my body for years until I could no longer stand or reliably support my body weight. I would be walking in the streets and then I would fall and not be able to get up. I was not able to feel my legs. Everywhere, from Singapore to Jakarta to Seattle. At first it came in short bursts: a minute at a time. I got up, I resumed my life. Then it came and it stayed for half an hour. Then an hour. It was like I was black out drunk, but I was not. I was fully conscious, but I could not move from the waist up.

    Lucky for me, there was a way out of it. It required me to fully change my life. I voluntarily swallowed a pill that had been made at a nuclear plant, blasted my thyroid gland with the full force of radiation, and watched my body and my mind struggle through mania to sluggish slowness. From hyperactivity at 4 in the morning to being unable to move from bed. I watched my weight yo-yo between extremes, as my now-defunct thyroid gland struggled to establish itself in my new body, one without the ability to make its own hormones.

    It would be 2 and a half years from that moment when I was able to run with any regularity.

    And when I did, I didn’t want anything to hold me back. There was nothing to win. There was just the running, the freedom of being on my feet again. There was the Golden Gate Bridge that I ran towards daily as a symbol of the life that I have found for myself here. There was the weekend bikecamping trips I’d go on with friends: stubbornly and barely pedaling uphill at first, through the hills of Marin county’s many hills, eventually finding my pace. There was the 4-day Yosemite backpacking trip I went on in September 2021, where I surprised myself by climbing nearly ten thousand feet two days in a row. Where I hauled myself over the cables of Half Dome and thought to myself, life is pretty great, I never want to do anything that will stop me from living my best life again.

    Gradually the dopamine hits from the alcohol turned to the daily dopamine hits from the exercise. From hitting my goals. From walking twenty thousand steps a day. From going on long walks with my little dog. From running ten miles a week. Then fifteen. Then twenty. Then more. Suddenly, I didn’t want the booze anymore. (Around the same time, I also started talking to people about ADHD. I started recognizing that the impulse I had to drink was indistinguishable from my ADHD need for constant refills of excitement. I worked with an ADHD peer group on goal-setting behavioral change that I wanted to practice so as to improve my life. I started with, ‘well maybe I won’t drink any alcohol other than wine’. But soon I found that I didn’t even want that at all.)

    There’s still bits of that lifestyle I miss. It feels shockingly difficult to find a place to meet people and sit down in the evenings without substantial amounts of alcohol. But that’s changing. As I began to document my non-alcoholic journey, I found that I could still go to the places that I enjoyed, I simply had to ask for the non-alcoholic version. I explored the world of non-alcoholic craft beer, and de-alcoholized wine. I turn to those, at times, for what they call in India, ‘time pass’. It’s habit to nurse a drink and do something somewhere; but I do substantially less of it too. They are simply anchors into a past life that help me feel like I haven’t gone ultra cold turkey, because the feeling that I can’t do something also makes me want to do it. After six months though, I simply don’t want to do it at all. But I’m glad the non-alcoholic options exist. Because I truly despise soda.

    The last couple of years have been a period of long introspection and learning for me. From learning to work with my neuro-diversity, to picking up new skills (I am currently learning the saxophone!) and more, my life has truly turned around since I gave up the hustle and settled down. It’s hard to overstate the importance of how my supportive and stable marriage helps me grow as a person. In Sabrena, I have a life partner who doesn’t shy away from the hard questions: why do you drink? Instead of saying ‘stop drinking’, she had me question the impulse behind my need. I sought the tools out myself, but I was able to share my progress and growth as a person and in every endeavor, no matter how small, with her. She is my biggest cheerleader.

    Just like that, I’m six months sober. I’m running twenty miles a week, going on thirty. I’m planning to backpack and bikecamp. I walk endlessly with my little dog, who also seems to have found a new lease on life here in San Francisco where she is far more active and alert compared to humid, balmy Singapore or KL. We walk for hours. We climb hills. We look at the many, varied views.

    I’m present for all of it.

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