Sensible or Scaredy Cat?

Risk management is tricky business. To celebrate my mid-March birthday, Scott and I had planned to go to Hilma af Klint’s exhibit in Wellington, and finally visit Te Papa Museum. But when Omicron escaped New Zealand’s managed isolation facilities, we reconsidered our timing to minimize the chances that we might catch — or worse, spread — the virus.

First, we moved our trip forward to mid-February, figuring we’d beat the COVID peak, expected at the end of March. Then we decided to drive rather than fly. Driving would extend our trip by two whole days, but if we happen to catch Omicron while in Wellington, we’ll at least still be able to get back home to isolate in Thames. Finally, I booked us a hotel room with its own bathroom, kitchenette, and a three day cancellation policy. The shared bathroom and kitchen in the bed and breakfast we had booked suddenly feel like unnecessary risks.

We’ve been following the news about The-Convoy-and-associated protests, never imagining it would last this long, or get this tense. When I came across a map of the protestors’ activity I started to wonder: do we really want to visit Wellington at a time when the city is full of people who are not only gathering without masks, but actively harassing those who choose to wear them? As a person of color and an immigrant, do I really want to enter a zone rife with anti-Semitic sentiment? Where nooses hang? Where known white supremacists may be recruiting as others fearlessly share violent intentions?

A few years back, while applying for visas to live and work in New Zealand, my partner and I had to declare that we’ve never made public racist statements, or been members of a racist group. Now permanent residents, we enjoy most of the rights of New Zealand citizens, but there is still no guarantee we will be safe from their racist statements or actions.

My birthday happens to fall on March 15th. On that day three years ago, a white supremacist gunned down 51 innocent Muslim people in Christchurch as they gathered in their places of worship. Many New Zealanders were shocked that such a racially-motivated terrorist massacre could happen here, despite what many Muslims already knew — and had been trying to tell authorities — about anti-Muslim sentiment. If I’m scared about what this protest means for New Zealand’s future, I can’t help but wonder how the Muslim community feels about what’s happening in Wellington right now.

Every year, on the anniversary of the day my partner and I immigrated to New Zealand from San Francisco, people around the country light off truckloads of backyard fireworks. Every year I joke that all this fanfare is in honor of our immigration. The truth, of course, is more complicated.

In 1605, English Catholics had had enough of being persecuted under the Protestant leadership of Great Britain. A group of conspirators hatched a plan to assassinate King James I and his parliament, gathering 36 barrels of gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament with the intention of blowing it all up. Their chosen date: November 5th.

As the date approached, however, some of the conspirators began to have second thoughts, particularly as they considered the innocent people that would inevitably get caught up in the blast. One sent an anonymous letter warning a friend to stay away from Parliament on November 5th. That warning eventually made it to the king, whose forces discovered the barrels of gunpowder under Parliament, along with Guy Fawkes, with only hours to spare before the attack. Guy Fawkes was convicted of treason, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Guy Fawkes Day is meant to be a reminder that traitorous plots will not be tolerated.

I’m not sure how many Kiwis are aware of this history, or see Guy Fawkes Day as anything other than an excuse to light off fireworks. If they are aware of the political backstory, do they see themselves as celebrating the government? Or do they align more closely with those who sought to bring the government down? Do they see any parallels between this event and what’s happening in Wellington right now?

On our first evening in New Zealand, the fifth of November, 2016, we attended a Guy Fawkes party at the home of some fellow Americans, friend’s of Scott’s. An older man who works with one of them brought, along with an enormous selection of fireworks, several MAGA hats. “As a joke,” he claimed, when we Americans failed to laugh along. Scott and I tried to stay awake for the fireworks but were exhausted from the flight, from jetlag, from the months of logistics related to securing visas and shipping our things across an ocean. We excused ourselves early, catching occasional flashes of light through the windows or our Uber as we crossed town.

Three days later, Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States. My new boss, a Māori man I couldn’t wait to move across an ocean to work with, offered me a hug when I came to work shellshocked the following morning. But before long he too was saying things like, “well, you got what you deserved, more than half of you voted for him.” I got tired of explaining how few people in the US actually vote, or the intricacies of the electoral system.

“Your timing was impeccable!” people kept saying of our move to New Zealand, as if I’d had any idea Trump stood a chance at being elected. I hadn’t been paying enough attention to the rise of alt right sentiments in the US. What little I’d heard I wrote off as too absurd, too fringe to be of real concern.

Are Kiwis paying attention?

I view New Zealand’s history of peaceful protests with a sense of awe. I have deep respect for ngā rōpū tautohetohe, the Māori protest movements and hīkoi, protest marches. Since moving here we have attended marches for climate action, rights for all women, and Black Lives Matter. It has been disheartening to watch the pandemic-era protests get co-opted by people espousing a narrow sort of freedom and a false inclusivity, both of which disproportionately affect the very people who pioneered Aotearoa’s protest traditions.

Of course I’d prefer not to live in fear. I too want to get on with life. How lovely it would be to celebrate beauty, to learn more about Aotearoa’s history at Te Papa, to see the Hilma af Klint show before it closes at the end of March. 

So we wonder: how much longer will the protesters be occupying Wellington? How exactly do they define freedom? Freedom for whom? At what cost? How will they know when they’ve got it? How bad will things get between now and then?

We have no way of knowing, just as we have no way of knowing when the COVID curve will peak, whether or not we will catch it, or what will happen if (when?) we do. If we let the protesters change our plans, are we just giving them too much power? Should we just get on with our lives, regardless of risk? We have until midnight tonight to cancel our hotel booking without penalty. I still can’t make up my mind.

Brahma Viharas for Activists

A couple of years ago I wrote about the Brahma Viharas (aka the Four Divine Abodes, aka the Four Immeasurables) and their Near Enemies. If you’ve never heard of these concepts, I highly recommend that post as a more thorough introduction and overview of what they’re all about.

If you’re already somewhat familiar with them, here’s a quick table outlining the Brahma Viharas and their Near Enemies, the latter representing what can happen when we get a bit self-centered vs focusing on others, even if we start out coming from a good place. This table also shows the Antidotes, or the Brahma Vihara we might want to bring into our practice if one of the Near Enemies starts to take over.

Brahma ViharaNear EnemyAntidote
Metta / LovingkindnessAttachment to a person or a particular outcomeKaruna
Karuna / CompassionGrief, overwhelm, or despairMudita
Mudita / Sympathetic JoyIntoxication with someone else’s good fortune, choices, or life pathUpekkha
Upekkha / EquanimityIndifference or apathyMetta

And here’s diagram I created to show the same thing, highlighting in a more visual fashion the interplay between each of the Brahma Viharas… noting also the dynamic between interdependence / care / connectedness (toward the outside edge of the diagram) and self-centeredness / ego-clinging (toward the inside of the diagram):

I created another, more personal version of the same diagram after realizing how regularly I cycle through this exact pattern when it comes to social justice issues:

In my better moments, I find myself at the top right in the land of Metta: filled with a sense of kindness that emanates outward to all beings, omitting none.

But often, particularly when I’m faced with news of the latest injustice — someone has been attacked because of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation, for instance, or I perceive some community I’m a part of as not being as inclusive as they could be, for instance — my sense of lovingkindness starts to decay into Metta’s Near Enemy. I can become quite attached to views about how people SHOULD behave, how they SHOULD treat each other, how justice SHOULD be enacted, etc.

According to this system, that’s when I need to bring in the next Brahma Vihara: Karuna, or Compassion. Not only for the beings that I perceive as being oppressed and marginalized, as I mention in this diagram, but also for their oppressors, or the people who are behaving in less-than-inclusive ways, whether due to hatred or just plain old ignorance.

Continue reading “Brahma Viharas for Activists”

I spoke about wings / You just flew

I find it so inspiring to see what happens when one commits 100% to something, and here’s an excellent example: Fiona Apple in the zone, without flashy lights, without makeup, without any of the unnecessary extras that so often obscure performances like this:

I can’t help but imagine what might have been possible in that room without the headset, microphone, or camera tethering her to the material plane…

The Whole of the Moon
Michael Scott / The Waterboys

I pictured a rainbow
You held it in your hands
I had flashes
But you saw the plan
I wandered out in the world for years
While you just stayed in your room
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon
The whole of the moon

Hmm, you were there in the turnstiles, with the wind at your heels
You stretched for the stars and you know how it feels to reach too high
Too far
Too soon
You saw the whole of the moon
I was grounded
While you filled the skies
I was dumbfounded by truth
You cut through lies
I saw the rain dirty valley
You saw Brigadoon
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon

I spoke about wings
You just flew
I wondered, I guessed and I tried
You just knew
I sighed
But you swooned, I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon
The whole of the moon

(The whole of the moon) with a torch in your pocket and the wind at your heels
You climbed on the ladder and you know how it feels to get too high
Too far
Too soon
You saw the whole of the moon
The whole of the moon, hey yeah!

Unicorns and cannonballs, palaces and piers
Trumpets, towers and tenements
Wide oceans full of tears
Flags, rags ferryboats
Scimitars and scarves
Every precious dream and vision
Underneath the stars, yes, you climbed on the ladder
With the wind in your sails
You came like a comet
Blazing your trail too high
Too far
Too soon
You saw the whole of the moon

Rover 90, and other pleasures of Pic’s peanut butter

I love Pic’s peanut butter. As a lover of jars, I love how easy it is to remove their labels. I love that so many of my homemade jams (etc) are now adorned with bright red stars on their reused-jar lids.

The last Pic’s label I peeled off had a poem on it so good I’ve been keeping said label around for weeks, trying to keep it from sticking to everything I accidentally get near it.

Time to transcribe so I can finally throw this gluey label away. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I do.

Rover 90

Once I met a girl who owned a Rover.
Older than me, could barely reach
the clutch. Hair as fine as cobweb;
a piece missing from one of her fingers.

The Rover ran on five. In spring
she let me under the bonnet.
I ground the valves in, and we drove
on six all summer. Running like a dream.

By autumn, the engine was blowing smoke,
the girl was pregnant. By the side
of the road out of Tapu it died,
the Rover, the girl, the baby, and I.

-Bill Smith
The Poet Who Writes for Peanuts!’

I really FEEL this one, you know? Tapu is just 25 minutes up the road from us. The whole scene reminds me of my old Holden Gemini, and associated adventures in Tasmania in 1998. “…serious pieces worthy of a darkened corner, a glass of wine and perhaps a box of tissues” indeed. Thanks, Pic’s.

What I believe about money

I believe:

…that money was designed to work for human beings, rather than the other way around.

And I mean that in terms of the actual historical context of money’s origins, not in the capitalist, our-money-should-earn-money, passive-income sense. My own relationships with money and work are constantly evolving. There’s always more to learn, and I love experimenting with new ways to bring the various aspects of my economic life into better alignment with my ethics and values. Since 2003 I’ve also had the honor of professionally supporting people as they navigate their own relationships with money, values, work, and often, social entrepreneurship. May the practice of sharing through this website contribute to more curiosity, awareness, and openness, for myself and others.

…that making conscious decisions about WHY and HOW we use money is more important than HOW MUCH we earn, or spend, or accumulate.

Of course these things can be related. I try not to judge anyone (myself included) for where we started or the choices we make. I also try to remember that we’re all working with different conditions, and that those conditions are changing all the time. Meanwhile, it’s hard enough to understand our own conditions, much less anyone else’s! Which is another way of saying: just because something worked for me or anyone else, doesn’t mean it will necessarily be a good fit for you, and it might not even make sense for me or that other person two weeks / months / years from now.

…that capitalism, colonialism, globalization, white supremacy, the patriarchy, gender-and hetero-normativity, ableism, and lots of other interrelated systems and attitudes are problematic.

Some people have a lot more opportunity to earn or spend or accumulate or give compared to others, whether or not we choose to… often as a result of things beyond our control, such as the color of our skin, or our gender, or what type of financial situation we were born into. I’m doing my best to learn more about how these forces shape just about everything in my experience. Sometimes these factors work against me. And in many other ways I benefit from them. None of this is my fault, AND I’m trying to figure out how I can feed these problematic systems as little as possible… while doing everything I can do cultivate and encourage the type of world that I DO want to live in. It’s a humbling work in progress.

…that most people feel some combination of alone / confused / shameful when it comes to money

Here’s a scene from my own money history: I had just arrived in my new dorm at the beginning of university in Canada. Everyone on my floor was organized into a circle so we could share where we came from. Calgary, Russia, Vancouver, Toronto, Pakistan, Montreal, Bermuda, India, Halifax… When I said, “Marin County, California,” the guy from Russia (who would later beat the rest of us at chess while literally blindfolded) blurted out, “Oh! Marin! The wealthiest county in America!” I felt I might die of shame. Not only because now I was permanently branded as The Rich Girl, but also because it had never even occurred to me that this might be true.

…that talking more openly about how money does or doesn’t work in our lives will help us support each other as we figure it all out

My parents came from wildly different class backgrounds, and I absorbed a confusing mix of messages about money growing up. It was made very clear, however, that talking about our family’s wealth was bad. While I trust that there were good intentions behind this message (see below), I now understand that not talking about money is one of the things that keeps our lives AND the bigger systems stuck. I think I’m doing a much better job now of living according to my own values rather than anyone else’s. Part of that is choosing to fight back against the taboo of talking about money, and talking about it whenever I can. And I respect people’s choices to keep their experiences private, too.

…that we’re all doing the best we can with whatever knowledge, energy, and resources we have.

That includes me, you, and everyone around us. May what I share here remind you that there are so many ways to approach Right Livelihood.

What do YOU believe about money, work, or making a living?

If you are are willing to share, please let me know 🙂

My favorite money people, organizations, and resources

Here are some of the people and organizations that have inspired me most in my Right Livelihood journey:

Vicki Robin‘s book, Your Money or Your Life, sparked the beginnings of my own Right Livelihood journey back in the early ’90s. (I wrote more about that here.) Unbeknownst to her, this book also launched the entire FIRE (Financial Independence / Retire Early) movement! When Vicki finally discovered that gobs of millennials had created entire subreddit communities (etc) based on her work, she jumped back into that particular fray… only to leave a few years later due to a very clear values disconnect. I LOVE all of this about her, and am honored to consider her a friend as well as a mentor.

Hadassah Damien, AKA the “femme punk big sister of financial real talk,” is a multi-talented genius. I simply adore her values and her take on big picture economic stuff. If you want to be inspired by someone who started out working class and who is absolutely kicking ass in terms of educating herself (and everyone else!) about money — and who has increased her earnings by FIVE TIMES in as many years — I highly recommend her Ride Free Fearless Money website. And sign up for her e-newsletter so you don’t miss any of her new blog posts or videos.

Resource Generation is a “multiracial membership community of young people (18-35) with wealth and/or class privilege committed to the equitable distribution of wealth, land, and power.” If you identify as such, don’t miss their next Making Money Make Change conference! If you’re in the US, there might be a local chapter near you? I highly recommend their other programs and resources as well, including their brand new transformative investment principles. I experienced many firsts through this organization: my first time learning about the diversity of gender pronouns; my first anti-racism workshops; my first taste of what is possible when there is EXCELLENT facilitation of cross-race and cross-class conversations.

Kate Poole is SO inspiring to me. I look forward to one day working with the business she co-founded with Tiffany Brown; Chordata Capital is “an anticapitalist wealth management firm that supports “clients in redistributing rather than continuing to accumulate wealth”. I love that people like Kate are taking the topic of reparations so seriously that they’re creating avenues for actually making it happen! Plus she oozes artistic talent, and is generally a very fun and generous soul.

PocketSmith is my favorite app for making sense of my financial situation. Yes it costs money, but consider the net cost to society of the free option; Mint is owned by a company that lobbies to keep the US tax code super complicated so that they can sell you tax filing services (I’m looking at you, TurboTax!). Calling it a “personal finance” app would be selling it short. I use it to categorize my spending transactions so I can see where my money is going. It can handle currencies from multiple countries. Their new dashboard is customizable and brilliant for putting whatever information you want to see front and center. I love that you can plan out different scenarios to see how different choices will affect your financial future. And the calendar view for budgeting is super handy. Want a free month of Pocketsmith Premium? Use this link and I’ll get a free month too 🙂

Critical acclaim for Scott’s new EP — I’m so proud!

My God that record is just unbelievable, maybe even tune of the week… just amazing.

Tom Ravenscroft (BBC Radio 6 Music) re Blue Soul’s On the Angel of History
“It’s all unbelievably dramatic stuff” -Tom Ravenscroft on Saturn Devouring His Sun by Blue Soul

We’ve been excited to watch Scott’s latest Blue Soul EP making the rounds since its release just two weeks ago. Gotta love seing those Bandcamp, iTunes, and Spotify lines going up and to the right!

You can listen to BBC Radio 6 wonder Tom Ravenscroft raving about the whole album at 1:11:11 (how satisfying!) in this recent playlist. It’s only available online for another couple of weeks, so if you missed it… he gushed so hard I got teary-eyed, gah!

“…sure gets under your skin!” -Don Letts on Saturn Devouring His Sun by Blue Soul

Or check out this playlist from another BBC Radio 6 DJ, Don Letts; he introduces another of Scott’s songs starting at 52:37 during his 6 Music Festival Special broadcast. ” That one’s available for three more weeks so you’ve got a bit more time if you want to listen to the “bass-heavy set he’d like to have done” had there been a Radio 6 Music Festival this year.

Better yet, head on over to Bandcamp and show Scott some support! If we’re friends and you want a free download, you know how to find me…

Go Scott Go! I couldn’t be more proud of you, and am so glad I’m not the only one who gets to benefit from your musical genius ❤

A Beginner’s Guide to Uncle Roger: How to make egg fried rice

Uncle Roger is basically All my Chinese Uncles. And my dad, who regularly berated me for not having the heat high enough when I cooked in front of him growing up. “Are you frying that, or stewing it?!” he’d yell over the din of the range hood fan, shaking his head.

Dad recently sent me this article on wok hei (“breath of the wok”), which mentioned Uncle Roger’s now-famous YouTube video from July. This was the first I’d ever heard of Uncle Roger — that’s what being off social media does to a person — and though I don’t love all his videos or everything about him, I love how much Uncle Roger makes me think about my own Chinese heritage, and everything I’ve learned about being Chinese from my dad.

Dad can’t be bothered to watch Uncle Roger’s videos. “They’re too long,” he says. My (white, and very competent cooker of Chinese cuisine) mom, however, is always keen to know what the heck my brother Adam and I area talking about on our family Hangouts. So I told her I’d send her a list of Uncle Roger videos to watch, in order, as the humor definitely builds on itself.

Here’s that list, for Mom and anyone else who hasn’t yet discovered the joy that is Uncle Roger!

Uncle Roger: the videos to watch, in order

This is the one that started it all in July, when comedian Nigel Ng released a video of his character Uncle Roger reacting to an episode of BBC Food:

Continue reading “A Beginner’s Guide to Uncle Roger: How to make egg fried rice”

Alt + Christmas Songs

I just went grocery shopping and they were already playing Christmas music, so I figure it’s fair game to post a few of my favorite “alternative” Christmas songs. I think they’re better than anything you’ll find in a retail establishment. Except for maybe the last one.


I came across this song while Mike and I were looking for a new band to play with. The band was looking for a new singer, and though I quickly decided I had neither the guts nor the pipes to audition, I did listen to this on repeat for days; wish it were longer!

The photo is a tree I remember fondly. There’s a massive magnolia not far away that flowers a month or so after Christmas every year, points if you’re familiar with these San Francisco landmarks!


Rob is a friend-of-a-friend who moved to Vietnam. A trip into the SoundCloud rabbit hole led me to this song of his, so lovely! (His GoodReads updates are amongst the most interesting in my feed, too.)


Late Breaking Christmas Eve Update: I had forgotten about this oh-so-California number from my friend and former bass teacher Alexis, but must include it!


Scott reminded me to include this one, Khruangbin’s version of the Charlie Brown Christmas / Vince Guaraldi classic:


I did NOT leave the best for last. I apologize, this one’s pretty bad, from Lawrence Arabia, who seems to hold weirdly mythical status in NZ. I’m fascinated by his stage presence so I like to go to his performances; we’ve also seen him (plus entourage) in the audience at other people’s shows. (Aside: he did a really interesting crowdfunding project in 2018, which of course I appreciated!)

He wrote of this:

It’s a jaunty song I wrote, inspired by a friend’s Christmas Eve one night stand. It’s got at least one appalling double entendre in it.

Merry Christmas!