Going Back to Hong Kong

I honestly don't remember the last time I was in Hong Kong. I should really given that it is the city where I was born, took my first steps.... It was the city, where, I first started to realize, that I was my own person and not just an extension of my parents. It was where I started to develop my own identity. The lessons I learned and the ideas I formed then have influenced the person I am today.

My grandaunt, whom I adore and cherish, who holds a very special place in my heart, still lives in Hong Kong. And so this year, I have decided it is time to return (at least for a visit). This video below, which I saw today, has made me want to hasten the time to the visit that much more.

[ Homeland ] - with my DIY motion-dolly from Asa Li on Vimeo.


A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success

Some brilliant thoughts on how we in the western world view success and whether that really helps us as individuals and as a society. This TED talk by Alain de Botton is thoughtful, provocative, and amusing.


Smiles and Chuckles to Start the Week...

Of all the late night talk shows in America, I have found myself becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Jimmy Fallon. I am always amazed at Jimmy Fallon's talent, humor and ease. So on this Monday on All Hallows Eve - Enjoy!

I'm starting with a clip of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake's most recent History of Rap 3 performance.

For History of Rap 2, click here and for History of Rap 1, click here.

Then on every Friday on his show - he catches up on his Thank you notes....

The following are some of my favorites - taken from his book "Thank You Notes by Jimmy Fallon and the Writers of Late Night."

Thank you
...slow-walking family walking in front of me on the sidewalk. No, please, take your time. And definitely spread out, too, so you create a barricade of idiots. I am so thankful that you forced me to walk into the street and risk getting hit by a car in order to pass you so I could resume walking at a normal pace.

Thank you
...pop-up ads where it's impossible to find where to click CLOSE. Or the ones that suddenly appear and block you from clicking on a link you really want to click, and then disappear as soon as you move your cursor away, only to reappear when you try again. You are so awesooome!

Thank you
...Chinese delivery place, for giving me three sets of utensils when - SURPRISE! - it was just me eating. Are you trying to tell me that one person shouldn't eat all this food? Next time why not take it further? Why not have the fortune cookie to tell me to "take human bites." Or say "Are you done now, fat ass?"

Thank you
...flour, for keeping the paper sack container business alive. Don't want to change your packaging, huh? Whenever I buy you I feel like I'm Charles Ingalls buying something from Oleson's store on credit.

Thank you
...DVR remote control, for your incredibly confusing response time. I push rewind five times and nothing happens, so I push it again and suddenly I'm all way back to the beginning of the show, so I have to fast-forward again. Why won't you just work, DVR remote? You're so confusing. Thank you.

Thank you
...tai chi, for being the perfect way to defend myself against an army of slow-motion ninjas.

Thank you
...box of Valentine's chocolates, for being like a candy of land mines. I was hoping for macadamia nut, but I guess I'll have to settle for this thing that tastes like soup and oranges.

Thank you
...driver's license photo, for reminding me that there was at least one moment in my life when I looked exactly like a homeless serial killer.

Have a great week!


How I Spent my Summer: Kauai

Needless to say, I am way behind on my blogging. With the end of Summer 2011 quickly approaching, only now am I writing about a little vacation I took at the beginning of the summer to Kauai, Hawaii. For those of you who have never been there, I think Kauai is perhaps one of the most spiritually and physically healing places I have ever been to. With the large part of the island relatively inaccessible, this Hawaiian island has remained dominated by nature. The mountains are majestic and the Na Pali coast is awe inspiring and the surrounding ocean is still clear, crystal blue and tempting. The pull of nature is incredible.
I had some incredible food when I was there. Delicate, sweet and juicy lichees, buttery papayas, sugary pineapples, surprising purple Okinawa sweet potatoes, sweet and sour lilikoi, macadamia nut honey and the chilled water of a young coconut sliced open fresh at the Farmers Market.
Any ignorant preconceptions I had about what to expect when I landed on the island were decimated by the time I left six days later. Kauai is a small low key island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, just over 560 square miles. You can essentially drive from one end of the island to the other in a couple hours. It only takes that long because there is only one lane in either direction all around the island. Yet, it is on this island, I met some of the most interesting, global, well traveled people.
There was Greg from the Koa Wood Store. He was tanned and relaxed and had his dog napping at his side. To me, he seemed like a simple, happy go lucky surfer/craftsman. But for him, this was a very conscious decision. It turns out that he used to be a Russian linguist, helping the Americans spy on the Russians and East Germans in the outskirt of Berlin when Germany was still a divided country. With the unification of Germany, he moved to Los Angeles and worked as an economist. While selecting our artistically carved items, our conversation with him flowed from politics to the economy to the possible models of economic recovery to the beaches of Kauai, helicopter rides to surfing and driving 4x4s on the sand. Having left the daily grind and his more intellectual pursuits and stress and pressure behind, he now makes a living as a craftsman, making beautiful wood products and running and owning the store that is built on the land where he grew up. "I only look dumb," he joked. He actually had a healthy glow and looked like he was loving life. How many people could I say that about? Giving in to my own curiosity, I asked what his ethnic background was as I couldn't place him - he was part Portuguese, Chinese, Irish and a few other nationalities that I don't remember now. (This is perhaps one of the reasons why I love Hawaii so much. It is as close as we will get to a land of mixed race people).
Then there was our rather over-eager waiter at the restaurant Latitude 22 who was born in Jeddah but grew up in Egypt and Morocco and in his words eventually found his way to paradise on Kauai. I lost track of the number of languages he could speak.

During my time in Kauai, we took a Raft tour of the Na Pali coast. The captain of our Zodiac was a native Hawaiian dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. His skin was darkened and worn by long hours in the sun. He shared with us stories of the life of a sailor, and the animals that inhabit the island and surrounding waters as he maneuvered the zodiac, chasing dolphins and sea turtles. When our tour was over and the boat was docked, his cell phone rang. His ringtone to all our surprise was a country song. When questioned about his fondness for country music, he informed us that he was not only a sailor but also a cowboy. He owned a ranch with cattle and horses and he added that we would be surprised how many cowboys actually inhabited the tropical island of Kauai.
On our last day there, we were running around in search of some last minute souvenirs to bring home. One shop, where I spent a little too much money was Sand People. There was one saleswoman manning the store. She had sun bleached blond hair, blue eyes and a very bubbly personality. One of the items I had picked out was a white cotton table runner with a dark blue turtles running down the center. In an effort to make small talk as she rang up my bill, I told her that in Chinese culture (given that my mother is Chinese), turtles are a sign of longevity. She seemed utterly disinterested in my comment. Umm... I thought, at least she could feign interest, I was after all clearing out half her store. She must be a ditsy blond disinterested with the rest of the world, I stupidly concluded. Well it turns out she was raised by a Chinese auntie (I didn't quite get their relation) in Kauai, who taught her Cantonese as a child. Her lack of a reaction was because she was actually very familiar with Chinese culture. As an adult she lived in Shanghai for two years, where she learned to master not only Shanghainese but also Mandarin. While living in Shanghai, she dated a Moroccan man, so she picked up some Arabic too. We then commiserated how tough it was to keep up languages you don't use regularly.

"Don't judge a book by its cover." Boy, did I learn the meaning of that phrase this trip.
On one day, while exploring Princeville, the northern part of the island, I had explained to me the meaning of the word Aloha. The word means much more than hello or goodbye. When it is broken down into its syllables 'alo' and 'ha,' the interpretation is closer to the breath of life. Alo meaning presence and ha meaning breath. What an incredible greeting to wishing one another, presence, life, and harmony.

By this point, I was fully and deeply engrossed in my love affair with Kauai.

We boarded the plane in Kauai to fly back to Los Angeles, kicking and screaming. I had gone to Kauai in search of a little rest and relaxation, a little healing, a little fun, some good food and a few interesting people. I found them all in abundance. What I could have done with a little less was humidity. Humidity on my hair. But that was a small price to pay for paradise.


When life throws your dreams into a garbage disposal....

I have been rather blessed in my life. For the most part, I have achieved many of the goals and dreams I had set for myself. Of course, I had the help of many people, my parents, my sister, teachers, friends and the prayers and well wishes of all those who love and care for me. I started to take for granted that whatever I dream or envision for myself would inevitably be realized. I had very clear definitions in my mind of how I defined success. And as long as I continued on my carefully designed path, working damn hard all along the way, I didn't foresee any of that changing.

Well the universe had other ideas for me. Perhaps there were lessons I needed to learn in my life. Perhaps I was getting too cocky. Whatever the reason, over the past five years, many assumptions I had made about my life, my purpose, my dreams and myself were turned on its head, then inside out and flipped again. For someone who has always been sure of their direction, I suddenly found my path obscured and hazy. A very unnerving feeling for someone who is driven and determined.

I have had to re-examine my hopes and dreams and question what is really important to me. I've tried new things, push new limits, modified old goals and created new dreams. I've been forcibly humbled. I've had to learn to accept disappointment and try to find the lessons in them. But for anybody whose life has taken an unexpected, less desirable turn, you know that is not always an easy task.

I recently was watching on YouTube, some of the commencement speeches that were given at various universities around the country by various celebrities. Stephen Colbert gave a great one at Northwestern University - funny and poignant. However, it was comedian Conan O'Brien's very honest and personal description of his own struggles and recent lessons learned in his 2011 commencement speech at Dartmouth University that resonated so strongly with me. I think that there are many people who have had their dreams dashed, who can also relate and benefit from what he said so I'm quoting that portion of the speech in the transcript below.

Conan O'Brian's Commencement Address to Dartmouth College Graduates

"...Eleven years ago I gave an address to a graduating class at Harvard. I have not spoken at a graduation since because I thought I had nothing left to say. But then 2010 came. And now I'm here, three thousand miles from my home, because I learned a hard but profound lesson last year and I'd like to share it with you. In 2000, I told graduates "Don't be afraid to fail." Well now I'm here to tell you that, though you should not fear failure, you should do your very best to avoid it. Nietzsche famously said "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger." But what he failed to stress is that it almost kills you. Disappointment stings and, for driven, successful people like yourselves it is disorienting. What Nietzsche should have said is "Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you watch a lot of Cartoon Network and drink mid-price Chardonnay at 11 in the morning."

Now, by definition, Commencement speakers at an Ivy League college are considered successful. But a little over a year ago, I experienced a profound and very public disappointment. I did not get what I wanted, and I left a system that had nurtured and helped define me for the better part of 17 years. I went from being in the center of the grid to not only off the grid, but underneath the coffee table that the grid sits on, lost in the shag carpeting that is underneath the coffee table supporting the grid. It was the making of a career disaster, and a terrible analogy.

But then something spectacular happened. Fogbound, with no compass, and adrift, I started trying things. I grew a strange, cinnamon beard. I dove into the world of social media. I started tweeting my comedy. I threw together a national tour. I played the guitar. I did stand-up, wore a skin-tight blue leather suit, recorded an album, made a documentary, and frightened my friends and family. Ultimately, I abandoned all preconceived perceptions of my career path and stature and took a job on basic cable with a network most famous for showing reruns, along with sitcoms created by a tall, black man who dresses like an old, black woman. I did a lot of silly, unconventional, spontaneous and seemingly irrational things and guess what: with the exception of the blue leather suit, it was the most satisfying and fascinating year of my professional life. To this day I still don't understand exactly what happened, but I have never had more fun, been more challenged—and this is important—had more conviction about what I was doing.

How could this be true? Well, it's simple: There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized. I went to college with many people who prided themselves on knowing exactly who they were and exactly where they were going. At Harvard, five different guys in my class told me that they would one day be President of the United States. Four of them were later killed in motel shoot-outs. The other one briefly hosted Blues Clues, before dying senselessly in yet another motel shoot-out. Your path at 22 will not necessarily be your path at 32 or 42. One's dream is constantly evolving, rising and falling, changing course. This happens in every job, but because I have worked in comedy for twenty-five years, I can probably speak best about my own profession.

Way back in the 1940s there was a very, very funny man named Jack Benny. He was a giant star, easily one of the greatest comedians of his generation. And a much younger man named Johnny Carson wanted very much to be Jack Benny. In some ways he was, but in many ways he wasn't. He emulated Jack Benny, but his own quirks and mannerisms, along with a changing medium, pulled him in a different direction. And yet his failure to completely become his hero made him the funniest person of his generation. David Letterman wanted to be Johnny Carson, and was not, and as a result my generation of comedians wanted to be David Letterman. And none of us are. My peers and I have all missed that mark in a thousand different ways. But the point is this: It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It's not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.

So, at the age of 47, after 25 years of obsessively pursuing my dream, that dream changed. For decades, in show business, the ultimate goal of every comedian was to host The Tonight Show. It was the Holy Grail, and like many people I thought that achieving that goal would define me as successful. But that is not true. No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you. In 2000—in 2000—I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that. But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.

Many of you here today are getting your diploma at this Ivy League school because you have committed yourself to a dream and worked hard to achieve it. And there is no greater cliché in a commencement address than "follow your dream." Well I am here to tell you that whatever you think your dream is now, it will probably change. And that's okay. Four years ago, many of you had a specific vision of what your college experience was going to be and who you were going to become. And I bet, today, most of you would admit that your time here was very different from what you imagined....

I have told you many things today, most of it foolish but some of it true. I'd like to end my address by breaking a taboo and quoting myself from 17 months ago. At the end of my final program with NBC, just before signing off, I said "Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen." Today, receiving this honor and speaking to the Dartmouth Class of 2011 from behind a tree-trunk, I have never believed that more...."

To watch or read the entire speech, click here.


I Heart NYC

Just when I think I have finally been able to let it go, I see clip like this one and I miss New York all over again. Another brilliant compilation from Mindrelic.

Mindrelic - Manhattan in motion from Mindrelic on Vimeo.


Saying Good-bye...

When you have nomadic blood coursing through your veins, there will come a time, or many times, when you will have to pack up your bags and leave one city for another. And oftentimes, despite how emotionally ceremonious and weighty this decision and entire process may be, the actual act of departure from one city to another is often rather low key. When my husband and I finally left New York after seven years, we took a car service to the airport alone, checked in, boarded the plane and that was the end of a monumental chapter in both our lives. I had the same experience as a teenager, when my family left Tokyo after thirteen years. I was leaving the city that I had essentially experienced my entire childhood for a completely new life and experiences with no pomp and circumstance. Perhaps that is why this work by artist Jon Jackson has resonated with me so much; aside from the fact, that it is just very witty. Jackson is leaving Los Angeles after numerous years for a new life in New York City and decided to give it the proper ceremony and attention it deserves through a series of billboards around LA.

Adios LA from Christopher Szadkowski on Vimeo.


Where are we?

Is this the dark underbelly of the city? Is this crowd miles below the city surface in some dingy underground tunnel?


Welcome to LAX. Los Angeles International Airport, the gateway to the American west coast. This is what I saw after 20 hours travel at baggage claim earlier this month. If this was my first time to Los Angeles, or worse yet, America, this would be my very first impression of America. How absolutely horrid! Global cities around the world, like Dubai, Singapore, Amsterdam, Doha, Hong Kong are competing to build the most efficient, luxurious and state of the art airport terminals rich with every amenity and comfort. Airports are not only big business, they are also the gateways to the city if not the country or the region. They are the very first impression, for ever visitor.

The U.S now requires visitors from friendly countries like New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Norway, Japan, Singapore, Finland, Luxembourg and Switzerland the added hassle of applying for visas-wavers to enter the U.S. Then once you disembark in the U.S., more often than not, you are confronted by extremely unfriendly immigration officers. I appreciate that their job is a very important one but why do they have to be so rude? On my most recent travel back from England, the immigration officer that attended to me and my husband, did not smile, do not even look at us, barely grunted two words. (I should add that this was at Newark airport but I have had similar experiences in LAX). I haven't even addressed the excruciating long lines, where you are shoved around like cattle, before you even see an immigration officer.

Now I know that LAX has been undergoing some intensive renovations. However, it has been under construction since I moved to this city four and a half years ago and I have yet to see any improvement. California, much like the rest of the country is teetering on bankruptcy. Tourism has historically brought California a large bulk of its revenue. Can we really afford to chase away well intentioned tourists?

I have lived in America for about eighteen and a half years now. Many of the people I have met here and befriended are extraordinarily warm, giving, generous and welcoming Americans. However, if all you knew of America was experienced in the airport, you would never know that.


Memories of a Geisha

The following are some pictures taken from a recent trip to Kyoto of the traditional Gion district. Looking at these pictures now, it feels like it was all a hazy dream from long long time ago....

Sharing information on living the good life anywhere...