Sky-ward glasses

Someone recently reminded me that I have been back in the States for almost three months now — a quarter of a year passed by. I think people still comment on it because there is something about me that remains a little different or changed compared to everyone else.

I often find myself wondering about what it is that’s different but I really can’t put my finger on it. I find myself often settling on that I seem to ‘see’ things that people don’t seem to see. Just the sheer number of times that I think about looking at the sky as the sun is setting or the sun is rising is a measure of some of the differences at play. Maybe that just comes with being older and wiser or more nostalgic and has nothing to do with time on an island nation. I guess a lot of the things I can pinpoint are mostly outdoors related — quite literally taking time to stop and smell the flowers. It’s like looking through a different set of eyes at the world.

I think I referenced a quote in this blog before that I cannot exactly remember — but it has to do with learning to appreciate the things that money cannot buy.

Edit (found it!)

You should be grateful for things given to rich and poor in the same measure, like the light of the sun.

And it is not to put down the value of things that money can buy, but it just seems that my experience in Saipan (or in life) has made me see the value in the un-purchasable things so much more so than the purchasable.

I hope I never lose my desire to look at the sky in this way.


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Swim Across America 2016


(View of the Palace of Fine Arts — right next to our parking lot/start point of the race so I passed by on my drive in)

Swim Across America!!! Well, it was inevitable. After all my swimming escapades and as soon as I knew that I was coming back to the Bay area to work — I would be swimming in this. Swim Across America is an organization that organizes fundraiser events for various cancer related facilities and there are a few open water swims that they host every year. The one in the Bay area has been around for now eleven years and has benefited UCSF for much (if not all) of that time. The goal of this fundraiser specifically sends money to our survivorship program which helps patients who are survivors of childhood cancer. Definitely a worthy cause.

In advance, I did some fundraising online — thank you to all who donated and as a team (Team UCSF Survive!) we raised over $50,000. It turns out at this fundraiser we raised over $600,000 total! That’s mindblowing and some really great things will be done with that money.

There are two options for the swim — 1.5 miles which is the full distance or 0.5 miles. Did I forget to mention it’s in the San Francisco Bay? Yes, the water temperature today was 59 degrees. … Not exactly Saipan-style warm bath water. ;)


As you can see here, we start basically just under the Golden Gate Bridge and swim towards the shore but not in a straight line. Going in a straight line causes you to get caught up in some eddy’s that are not fun so they really really emphasized that we go towards the East (aiming for Alcatraz Island) and then wrapped around towards San Francisco.

We started very early in the morning (as seen by the Palace of the Fine Arts pic above) with check-in starting at 5 AM. We checked in and then boarded these awesome San Francisco trolley buses that took us to the boat launch near the Ferry Building at Pier 39.


Check-in process, getting our bag for our stuff



(haha… yup, too late now!)


When we got to the boat. it was MUCH bigger than I thought. I guess that makes sense seeing as how there were something like 320 swimmers and we all got on one boat.


The good news (that I didn’t know beforehand) is that it was an enclosed ship! aka, not freezing cold. I was already wearing my wetsuit at this point (well I had the bottom half on and was wearing a Tshirt and hoodie on top) but had brought a hat and a scarf just in case! I guess I just assumed we’d be in a much smaller ship.

We got to watch the sunrise behind the Bay Bridge (not the Golden Gate) which was nice .. as we waited for all the trolleys to come in.

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Inside, they had plenty of snacks including yogurt, pastries, hot coffee and hot tea which was really nice. We basically milled about for awhile and enjoyed the views of the city.


Oh! and I forgot to mention Swim Across America works with a number of Olympians!!! How cool is that! Well, I didn’t see any Olympians who were in Rio but there were a number who went to various other Olympics and they also raise money and hang out and encourage us. I got to sign the water polo ball with one of the names of my patients that I was swimming in memory of. They were able to tread water and pass the water polo ball the whole distance! Uh, and they did it WAY faster than I swam it!

We also got some temporary tattoos including a “ROOKIE” tattoo that I got on my arm. Part of the issue was that I had a full body wet suit on (a necessity although there were a handful of brave (and crazy) souls who did it without a wet suit) so I didn’t really have room for too many tattoos.



(yeah, I messed up the S a little bit)

We also were able to take a bunch of pictures as the boat made its way out to the area under the Golden Gate. It took about 30 minutes for the boat to get there. I am assuming there was some type of permit or timing that was done in order to prevent any big ships from running into us. There were also a ton of kayakers, stand up paddlers, and zodiac drivers (as well as small boats and jetskis) that were at the same time taking off from shore and moving towards us.


On the way out, they gather everyone for a time of reflection about those with cancer and they allow time for anyone in the audience to share. It was so moving to hear about those who had beat cancer, who fought alongside their family members, and/or were swimming in memory of someone not there.

They also signed a lab coat for the beneficiaries of the money as a keepsake. Of course, they also gave us directions on how we would be doing the swim. We all were going to be jumping off the boat and we needed to do so quickly. We would get off the boat hopefully in order from slowest swimmer to fastest. We all were instructed to hold onto our goggles and jump in with our feet scissored one in front of the other (like you are standing with a one foot a few feet in front of the other) so that you didn’t sink too far down into the water. Because of the speed we all got in the water, I was glad I got to enjoy the views before the boat dropped us off because once I was in, it was go go go! (or I felt that way!)


A view of San Francisco from inside the boat

It was a beautiful day with no fog (this is rare for San Francisco) so the views were great. I was really glad that I brought my phone on the boat to take pictures. Who else will ever get to see the underside of the Golden Gate bridge!




Here are some of us on the deck of the boat under the Golden Gate — we all had swim across america caps and there was definitely an excited but nervous energy. Or maybe that was all in my imagination.

Regardless, once they had us ready to go, we were ready to go. We jumped off at around 8:45 AM and were off. They had told us that the tide was going in so that would push us towards the East and I could already see in the water that there wasn’t too much chop. There weren’t many white caps so I felt relatively reassured. Once I jumped in, we all bobbed for one or two seconds to check out the Golden Gate bridge behind us and then swam in the direction everyone was swimming. I really hadn’t practiced much in my wetsuit and I do think that I probably had a size too small which, after a lot of swimming, I realized … but too late now! The current definitely pushed us but I was a combination of a little nauseous from the boat (my Achilles heel) and I think just hungry (as it had been about 4 hours since I had left my house that morning and I didn’t really feel like I should eat any unknown things on the boat prior to this swim). I saw the water polo players pass me pretty soon after I left the boat and I knew they had gotten in last so I already knew I was near the back of the pack. Because we were swimming towards the sun, it was a little bit hard to spot so I had to pretty much breathe and spot with every second stroke.

One of the issues with cold water is that you have to consciously remember to breathe — the coldness takes your breath away kind of and while I didn’t feel that cold initially (thank the Lord for wetsuits), I did find myself not breathing as well as I could. In some moments though I was able to put my head into the water and just concentrate on swimming which was super calming. The hard part was this was totally unfamiliar waters to me so spotting and figuring out where I was was quite difficult. My goggles were a little uncooperative and kept fogging up so I had to stop often to unfog them so I could see.

I felt pretty tired and was frustrated that I couldn’t really tell how far I’d gone. The 1/2 mile swimmers get dropped off near the point where you are supposed to turn into shore so you can mostly spot for the big ship for the beginning part. I did have to get told by a few kayakers to stay in a straight line so I can just imagine how much we were all kind of veering the wrong way.

After starting the move towards shore, that’s when things got rough. You didn’t have the current behind you and by then if you’re me and haven’t been swimming quite enough, you are dead tired. But, you think about why you are doing the swim and you just keep swimming. The undercurrent this year was very tough and many people commented on it when we got out of the water. They said that many people had to get ‘repositioned’ which was basically when you get picked up and jetski’d or something like that over to the place you are supposed to be. (I originally thought ‘repositioning’ meant that the kayakers would tell you you were going the wrong way which happened to me MANY times) I definitely was told so so so many times that I wanted to be more towards the right and I think this was everyone’s problem. I certainly tried but I think when you’re tired and just let yourself float a little bit (another benefit of wetsuits) you definitely get pushed by the current more. I was so tired by this point and still a little nauseous and there was a point I was worried I was going to need to throw up (again.. see Escape from Managaha year one experience) but I didn’t and kind of just pushed through.

It was a rough last quarter mile as basically everyone had been pushed to the east of where we were supposed to get on land and then we had to go against current towards the west to get to shore. I just remember stroking and stroking and being a little tired and numb — my hands were pretty cold by then and the idea of actively keeping my fingers together was really difficult and so I knew I was swimming very inefficiently but kind of didn’t know what else to do. At the end, I just put my head in the water and kept swimming as hard as I could and I remember basically hitting the sand with my chest and being like.. I made it!!! It felt good to put my feet on the ground for sure. As you got out of the water, they handed you a really nice towel (I had already been warned to wipe my face off as soon as I got out of the water since most people have a layer of dirt from the dirty water on their faces when they get out.. gross). Then, you get funneled through a chute to a place that you have to check out to make sure they account for every swimmer. (Psssttt.. we supposedly jumped in at 8:45 and I got to shore at 9:53 and it was not a race so no one is timing anything but .. I wanted to know approximately how long it took. It felt like I was in the water forever!)

After that, I think I stood for about 5 minutes a little dazed until I found one of my colleagues who had swam the 0.5 miles and was waiting on shore, warming up in the sun. We chatted for a bit until we figured out there was a tent where we could warm up and pick up what we had dropped off that morning so we made our way over there, got our finisher T-shirts and shed our wetsuits in favor of warm sweats. They also provided a warm bowl of chili and some quiche and a bunch of different types of power bars. I am always VERY hungry after a swim and I think I was hungry going into it, so this was tremendously good for my morale to have some food in my stomach. I regrouped with various colleagues who had swam and we all checked in to make sure we had made it.

Here are some pictures after I got my phone back from the  place I washed up to shore… jkjk, I did swim until the end but it felt very tiring.  (we put our things from the boat in labelled bags and they brought it to shore at the end after everyone had finished).


It really was quite a beautiful day and looking at this picture I think.. I cannot believe I did that. Despite a lot of my internal complaining along the way, there were a few moments when I was just swimming and not worrying/etc and I was able to think about those patients who have been fighting cancer or those who fought hard against it — and all those in my life who have been affected by cancer. It was a strong thing to remember and reflect on as I was doing this.


There is still a lot of work to be done but for now, I’m glad I was able to help in some way and I got quite the experience out of it! If I do this ever again, I will stick with the half mile swim!!!! haha

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‘Did you print this yourself?’

So I have discussed my department/bureau of motor vehicles experiences in Saipan before .. Well here’s the contrast.

Today I went for my appointment at the California DMV. Yes, I had an appointment that I had made online about 3 weeks ago. I show up and there is a line out the door but I get quickly ushered to the appointments line and get assigned number A001. Great!

From there, a loudspeaker and a million large flat screens announced numbers and which desk number (of 26 desks) you were being summoned to. I waited patiently, a little glum that I would be giving up my fake looking Saipan driver’s license.

I go to the desk I am called to and produce the numerous documents they required for my license transfer and my vehicle registration. They take my passport (proof of my legal status in the United States) and scan it … And scan again.. And scan again. Nope, apparently the system does not recognize me either because of a computer glitch or maybe because there is some flag on my name or fingerprint!?

So, that was already one thing not to mention they decided to wholly disregard my Saipan driver’s license because they could not figure out how to enter it into their system to check my background check. I’m pretty sure even if they were able to find Saipan/CNMI/MP/Northern Mariana Islands (I gave them every permutation of how it might show up in their system), the computer system from there wouldn’t be connected to theirs here in California. Fortunately I had my old Texas driver’s license on me so they were able to use that and just pretended I never for my Saipan license in between then and now.

Okay, so I knew I wasn’t going to walk out of there with my new driver’s license. Then they turned their attention to my car registration. Besides the fact that I got charged a late fee for not registering my car within 20 days (total, not working days) of it arriving California (the port, not when I had it in my possession) and besides the fact that I took the earliest appointment available….. Besides THAT, they also decided that since my car was from abroad (well, we aren’t abroad people!!) I needed to do a smog check. This is despite the fact that their website says that a new car within 5 years of purchase doesn’t require one. I wasn’t surprised by this and was prepared for all these snafus so I lost my precious place in line and went to get my car inspected and smog checked (for an additional fee of course). After returning, my appointment slip meant nothing anymore so I had to wait in the walk-in line but I was determined to get at least my vehicle registration done today. I waited 2 full hours before I got to the front of the line again when they gave me another slip number to get into the flatscreen queue again. Okay, by this time I am a little tired of standing but am repeating the mantra of ‘patience is a virtue’ in my head and keeping myself calm – nothing to do but keep trying to awkwardly do work on my laptop while waiting for my number to be called. Finally I get to the desk to show the gentleman my packet of material with the newly affixed smog check and vehicle inspection results.

And he flips thru my papers and starts laughing visibly (you know, the quiet but whole shoulders moving laugh)… ‘I’m sorry to have to ask this but.. Did you print these yourself?’ He points to my vehicle title and registration.

‘Uh, no’ ‘Well, I’m sorry miss but we cannot accept these documents’ (you can tell he is still laughing at me and trying to be serious) Hey MISTER, I am an upstanding citizen! I am not a hooligan who is playing a prank on DMV and making up a license and registration from a fictitious island! Well, I put on my most serious face and try to explain Saipan. He is literally still cracking up. I do my best to remain calm and ask him to please ask his supervisor or, for heaven’s sake just google it (no, we cannot access internet on our computers miss). He goes off to make some inquiries and returns to me with a straight face and quietly continues the paperwork processing. He hands me my new license plates silently and says ‘sorry miss.’ To get one last jab in though he goes ‘I guess the fact that it’s printed in color is their security system.’ My response; ‘well yes, that is quite a professional touch on their part.’

Well, that was quite a day so far! I actually do not blame this guy and am sure that it made his day more interesting. And now one more person in the world knows about Saipan!

In the meantime, shhhh keep the secret about my made up island with my fake documents quiet ;)

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More about the transition

And to continue the recordings of my transition back to the mainland United States…

1) still, no one knows where or what Saipan is. I have been gone for two years and I obnoxiously posted beautiful pictures on social media often. Despite this, people who have ‘known me’ aka potentially only as close as you can say a Facebook friend is when you live abroad.. Have no idea really anything about Saipan. If Saipan came up in a conversation, they would say ‘oh yeah, I knew someone who was there once.’ And maybe add ‘it sounds like an awesome place’. But elaborating beyond that would be impossible. I guess there is no reason to suspect why people would know any more about it but it makes me realize how little we know (and maybe it’s a reflection of how little we care). I could see me saying the same thing about one of a number of countries in Africa or Eastern Europe or basically, any place in the world I have never personally been. It reminds me how it is my job to learn more and really listen when people talk about their experiences at other places. And also be willing to share the details of Saipan when people ask rather than talk about the superficial.

2) I find myself rushing. For no reason except that I am here. I have always been the prompt one so this feeling is a little new. I mean that I have been the annoying kind of prompt person.. The one who comes on time regardless and unfortunately makes those who come late feel bad just by the sheer fact that there was someone there on time. I actually got better at this trait of mine while in Saipan. I allowed myself some leeway to be a few minutes late! Now that I’m back here though, I am always rushing. It slipped back on like a second skin. (I’m not saying I like it, it’s just that’s how it is) A prime example of this is my commute. As I mentioned before, it is longer.. Much longer and almost inconceivable in distance/time to someone from Saipan. I allow myself plenty of time.. Not to mention not a soul at work probably cares or even is early enough themselves to know whether or not I am sitting at my cubicle by 8:00:00 AM. But often en route to the BART station or the shuttle stop, I see people doing the fast shuffle or the intense speed walk. For no apparent reason that I can figure out, I literally will copy them and run-walk too! If they are in a hurry, I better be too!! (Or I guess that’s what my mind thinks!)

3) This also translates into an intense need to be efficient. I am efficient. It is possibly one of the three words that describe me. (Again, not proud of this.. It’s just a fact) I won an award for my efficiency actually before! Anyway, in Saipan there was reward in putting efficiency on hold to watch sunset for an hour or tarry after a run to just chat. I was just shedding my ways… And now I’m back. I see it clearly. The fact that I am typing this all out on my PHONE while on my commute home is evidence of this. Really? I couldn’t have waited until I got home? Or to a computer with a keyboard or some kind? Can’t I just enjoy sitting quietly and people watching or the sun setting or the gentle hum of the tracks underfoot?

4) and on a lighter (and less self analytical) note.. I do not feel the incessant need to keep things charged. I don’t know when this developed in Saipan although my guess is after Typhoon Soudelor last year when power was really quite scarce. I bought a portable energy bank and carried it in my purse. I got a second USB charger so that I could keep it in my car to connect my phone .. Even if my car ride was just 5 minutes. I constantly had to keep my things charged! And now I don’t.. It’s gotten bad to the point where I have run completely out of battery multiple times on my phone, which really does need to remain on a majority of the time. And haha, in that twist of fate because I am so bad now in keeping my things charged up .. I carry my charger and power bank with me everywhere I go ;)

(I do still find myself holding out on charging my phone or laptop at home to take advantage of the ‘free’ ability to charge everything up at my office cubicle. It’s ridiculous that I think this way about what I need to pay for, I know!)

more to come!


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More Moving back thoughts!

So, I’ve been here three weeks and I’ve been trying to record all the differences at play that have come up over time. Here are the ones I managed to remember and hopefully will record more as they come up.

a) So…. after that last post, I actually realized I cannot even watch the Olympics here. I don’t have a television here (and seeing as how I survived without one for a long time, and didn’t even have fast internet, I figured it was going to be okay). Well, it wasn’t. Being on US soil means that you can watch but only for a maximum of 30 minutes — like a teaser. After that, you have to log-in with your television provider. Well, I don’t have a television provider since I don’t have a television…. and I used up my 30 minutes of free Olympics watching scrolling through every possible page on the website to figure out how to work around it. (Don’t worry, I worked around it with the help of my family.. but only after a number of random panic-y texts).

b) Boxed milk. I don’t drink that much milk or eat that much dairy (although I must say my desire for yogurt (not to mention cheese) did grow quite strong while I lived in Saipan). In Saipan, you drink boxed milk. Why? Because fresh milk was well, not exactly fresh. A gallon or half gallon of fresh milk costs you an arm and a leg but also probably expires in a few days. For those of you who have never made the distinction between milk as fresh milk or non-fresh milk … see! you get the gist. Boxed milk does have its merits I see now though. I couldn’t really discern the difference between tastes first of all. I believe when I was a kid, I went back to Taiwan where they mostly had boxed milk or powdered milk and it apparently tasted unpalatable to me. But, at this point in my life, I couldn’t tell the difference. Anyway, I either drank it with cereal or in my coffee basically. That brings me to the crux of the problem – I don’t drink milk that often. Fresh milk, even though it lasts much longer here, does not last long enough in my refrigerator for me to consume it and draining the milk down the drain feels soul wrenching and difficult. I think I will change to just buying small pints of milk only as needed.

c) On the topic of drinks, I cannot buy boxed coconut water. I just can’t do it. Even though I love the stuff, the idea that it is in a box after I drank it fresh seems just wrong. The rehydrating powers do call to me, so ask me if you see me — maybe I’ll have given in by then. If so, will let you know how it tastes.

d) You can order food on an app on your phone? This I guess it not that far fetched as I do recall ordering things like pizza on the phone. How different is it to type it into an app on the computer. These apps are quite crazy though with pictures of the foods, healthy options, they give you meal plans, gluten-free plans, etc. I still haven’t tried one of these but they strangely intrigue me.

e) I knew inherently that I would order more things online here. Many things have free shipping and it comes much faster, and the idea of needing to return something is not quite as daunting. What I didn’t know was all of a sudden I had to think about the security of my packages — how do they get from the postman’s hands and to my apartment without someone swiping the package? Turns out my place is extremely safe and it seems to go off without a hitch except when no one is at apartment and the postman has no way to get in to drop off the mail. :/  (oh, and the keypad to automatically unlock the door from the call box is the only thing in San Francisco that does not use long-distance technology so it cannot connect to my non-local San Francisco phone number)

f) I find myself constantly thinking about how to either save money or save time. More of the latter. No additional comments about that. That’s just how it is here.

g) I feel like I surprisingly quickly acclimated to being here. No, that doesn’t mean I’m used to living here by any means. But, things like my strong craving for strawberries and Mexican food have subsided to almost the dull boredom of the people here — the people who have lived around having everything at their finger tips. I cook mostly at home — mostly similar things to what I ate in Saipan and have not really visited many restaurants. I guess just knowing they are there is enough. (That being said, I have eaten more zucchini  (it’s so fresh!) than I have eaten in my whole life probably)

So, lots still a work in progress. Will keep you all posted!

And, a throwback picture for fun..



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The Olympics!

I must post a quick perk of being back in the States.. no longer am I in a place where ‘your country is not recognized’ (see post here)

So, besides the fact that I missed the opening ceremonies which apparently were long and maybe not as great as opening ceremonies are usually billed.. let the live streaming begin!!!

Go Team USA! (and every other country too, I am an equal opportunity cheer-er for all)

(and still, people.. get it together to get the Olympics on TV in Saipan. Who knows? there could be a US medalist from there some day too… don’t you want to inspire those youth??!)

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(Just some random observations for now!)

I am commuting (which is totally a word you never would use in Saipan) from the East Bay area of San Francisco into the city to the hospital I work at every day. I’ve successfully done this for a few days now and am starting to look around and notice things. It’s quite interesting — this period of time that strangers all get on public transportation together. It’s very quiet in the morning as everyone sleepily checks their phones or dozes off while afternoon is louder, more boisterous, with some conversations or music leaking out from earphones and a lot more jostling to get in position. When it’s busy, making sure you are in the right line or that you keep your things close to you (so you won’t forget to take them) is important.

In the past two days, I have tried two different routes, one of which is slightly faster and allows me to be sitting for more of the time (aka, less crowded). I was using that method this morning and there were no seats when I got on at my stop (not unusual). The next stop, some people got off so I took a seat and settled in for the next 30 minutes. The stop after that, a couple got on the train car I was in that clearly was going to the airport (luggage in hand) and the wife was clearly pregnant. I watched them look at the people sitting (entranced in their phones) in the handicapped/disabled persons spot and then look around when those people made no eye contact. Even though I was in the middle of the aisle, I stood up to allow the pregnant woman to sit down. I already felt at the edges of my mind the peripheral feeling creeping in — I could just sit here and not give her my seat, now I may have to stand the rest of the train ride. It was a little reminder that perhaps that’s why people consider people not as ‘nice’ or ‘friendly’ in places like this with all the ‘hustle and bustle’ of a hard working environment. Yes, everyone is tired and everyone is making the commute, so while that does not excuse it, I can see why there are less people who jump up to do what may be more ‘right.’

It’s also interesting to watch people on the trains. I haven’t gotten comfortable enough to be able to fall asleep on the trains (for fear of missing my stop) but may soon. In the meantime, I do what I can on my email (it’s hard off a cell phone) and then watch what other people are doing. If people are not sleeping on the way into work, they are on their cell phones — mostly playing games. I actually identified that I saw the SAME person two days in a row because he was playing the same ?baseball MLB game on his phone — or its a popular game amongst middle-aged white guys in suits and I didn’t actually see the same person. Some people play out of boredom, as evidenced by their faces while others play for the sheer joy. Most play out of boredom though.

It’s a big difference going from a maximum 5 minute drive from door to door to calculating the time to walk, the time to get down stairs, the time you have to wait while waiting for a transfer, etc. I am having to adjust my buffer time. Before in Saipan, checking the clock about 5 minutes before to make sure you got out of the house on time was sufficient, but here, it’s more like you need a 15-20 minute buffer to get yourself together to get out of the house on time. Hopefully once I’m more organized at my house and with my routine, it will get faster.

If you have suggestions for things to do on my commute (podcasts likely will become my new friend!), let me know!

And, a throwback picture for you to enjoy:



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