Forty, the Playlist

As I mentally prepare for the big 4-0, I’ve spent a lot of time this month going on walks and reflecting my current life; in one of these walks I had the idea to create a playlist, featuring forty songs of the most meaningful and representative of my life (so far, I ain’t dead yet!).

You can listen to the the full playlist (Apple Music, Spotify) here.

You can also check out the rundown below on what each song means to me. If you’ve known me at a specific point in time, it’s fair to say you can easily recognize that part of this playlist.

  1. 順流、逆流 (Downstream, Upstream), by Paula Tsui

    This is honestly the oldest song I can remember hearing as a kid. My dad’s not a big music fan, but he loves Paula and especially this song — mostly because of the lyrics. I remember watching her old performances and Dad would say how this was a “good song” because it taught people to work hard and to strive for their dream.
  2. 真的愛妳 (Honestly Love You), by Beyond

    Another song I remember hearing when I was maybe 6, 7 years old? Mom loves Beyond and especially this song, probably totally not because how this song is all about how loving and giving mothers are. Nice try, mom.
  3. 血染的風采 (The Glory of Bloodstain), by Anita Mui

    This song is very difficult to listen to these days, but it’s important to include as it’s perhaps one of the most political Cantonese song about the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. I specifically remember this fundraiser event where famous celebrities would perform this song to help raise money for the students in Beijing. Most of those celebrities now sing endless praise for all things China.
  4. 一起走過的日子 (The Days We Walked Together), by Andy Lau

    Andy Lau was famous before, but this song legit elevated him to a whole new level. It was also one of the first “non-kids” song I remember liking. Ask any Cantonese-speaking person to sing this song and they will be able to do so, because it’s that iconic.
  5. Save the Best for Last, by Vanessa Williams

    She performed this song in Hong Kong about one month before we emigrated to the US. I didn’t know anything about her before this song, but to this day I still remember thinking how elegant and pretty she was.
  6. 情斷維也納 (Heartbroken in Vienna), by Sammi Cheng

    This is one of her deepest cut, and years before Sammi Cheng became the famous Cantopop singer of the 90’s and 2000’s. Yearning to be a grown up, I would borrow this cassette tape from my brother and loop this track non-stop.
  7. Again, by Janet Jackson

    The year was 1992 and my mind was blown when I found out about this song, and how it was even better than Toni Braxton’s similarly titled Breathe Again — a song I was already obsessed with. This song captured a lot of that time, when I was fresh-eyed and bewildered about everything San Francisco and America.
  8. 追 (Chase), by Leslie Cheung

    In the now-iconic Hong Kong movie “Who’s the Man? Who’s the Woman?”, the protagonist played by Leslie Cheung was questioning his sexuality and I was subconsciously wondering the same, even though it would be years before coming out and self-acceptance. Both this movie and Leslie reminds me of my brother at that time.
  9. Foolish Games (Radio Edit), by Jewel

    Middle school and I was simply obsessed with this song. I honestly remember thinking, “there will never be a better song than this.”
  10. Gangsta’s Paradise, by Coolio

    Maybe it was my age, or maybe it really was Michelle Pfiffer, but this was the first song that opened my eyes and helped me understand that unlike what my parents say, rap is not bad.
  11. Lovin’ You, by 彭羚

    Cass Phang was perhaps one of the first artist I truly felt connected to and was in love with. She had a hell of a singing range, and was the definition of class.
  12. Butterfly, by Mariah Carey

    This song and album will always remind me of my brother. Not because this was his or my favorite, but the fact that I would do my nightly high school homework while listening to this album on repeat. Like every. single. night, for months on end. He makes fun of me about this even to this day.
  13. 曖昧 (Uncertainty), by Faye Wong

    “Are you gay? It’s okay if you are.” My brother and I aren’t really close, but around high school was when we were the closest. He asked me this question one day out of nowhere, and out of unpreparedness I blurted out “Of course not!”. But deep down I knew I was, and so did he.
  14. Invisible Man, by 98°

    My friend Michael introduced me to this song and it’s honestly still one of my all-time favorites. It wasn’t until their second album (and specifically the pictures in the album, ahem) did I start paying real attention to this band called 98˚.
  15. Have You Ever, by Brandy

    Whether from radio or TV, Brandy was simply unavoidable in the late nineties. I still remember going to the Virgin Megastore on Saturday mornings and just loiter there for hours, and much of the time was spent listening to this album — specifically this song.
  16. It’s Not Right But It’s Okay, by Whitney Houston

    I always knew of Whitney Houston, but it wasn’t until her album “My Love is Your Love” that got me interested in her. Between When You Believe and Heartbreak Hotel was this song, and it’s 👏 just 👏 so 👏 sassy!
  17. Nothing Really Matters, by Madonna

    1998 was a breakthrough year of music, and Madonna’s Ray of Light was one my favorite albums released that year. Similar to Whitney, I didn’t really care for Madonna until seeing the music video for Nothing Really Matters. The message, the beat, the lewk… My seventeen-year old mind was absolutely blown by everything that was this song, and got me following her ever since.
  18. Gunning Down Romance, by Savage Garden

    Besides Elton John and maaybe George Michael, there simply weren’t any gay idols in that era. None that I could relate to, anyways. Savage Garden’s Darren Hayes was close, even if it was years before his coming out. This song captured a lot of my mood during that time of my life — especially the drama and theatrics of it all.
  19. 開始懂了 (Begin to Understand), by Stefanie Sun

    Whenever I return home from college every winter break, I’d meet my high school friends over Karaoke. That’s when my friend Becky first introduced me to Stefanie Sun, and this song was one of her best. There’s this great line in it — 快樂是選擇 (Happiness is a choice) — that really struck me. I thought it was so inspirational, though I didn’t truly believe it at the time.
  20. One Man Guy, by Rufus Wainwright

    I want this song to be played in my funeral! Second year in college was when my friend Wendy introduced me to Rufus Wainwright. I spent my summer nights swooning over his voice and overly-romantic lyrics, though ironically enough this song — one I find so well-encapsulated to my identity at the time — is actually a cover of his dad’s (Loudon Wainwright III).
  21. Delicate, by Damien Rice

    I was an RA in my third year of college and was blessed with a floor full of lovely residents. That’s when I met Amelia, who introduced Damien Rice to me. We’d spend so much time in my room studying, playing Animal Crossing, and otherwise being a group of dorks on a Friday night.
  22. Unison, by Björk

    Ted was the another person who really opened my eyes, musically-speaking. In my fourth year of college, my mother was at the worst of her mental health, and it was Ted who unknowingly kept my days bright through his witty sarcasm.
  23. Remind Me, by Röyksopp

    It all started with a Geico ad where the music was a bit too good to go unnoticed, and before I knew it I’ve been following Röyksopp for over two decades. This song was at the pinnacle of Röyksopp, and was a great follow-up from the Kings of Convenience — my other band obsession at the time.
  24. Colors, by Hikaru Utada

    “If you can’t see the blue sky, you can open your blue umbrella” This life-changing line changed my mindset for good and got me carrying blue umbrellas to this very day. Oh and this song is such a bop, too.
  25. 5:55, by Charlotte Gainsbourg

    Ted was again the one who introduced Charlotte Gainsbourg to me, this time through Air. I just thought her voice was so cool and French, which always, always reminds me of my friends Florent and Christophe.
  26. 浮誇, by Eason Chan

    I spent two years in Hong Kong after college, and this was one of hugely popular songs that my friends and I would belt to in our Karaoke sessions. Eason was in a league of his own, and dare I say this was one of the best songs in his career.
  27. Breathe Me, by Sia

    Having recently returned to the states, I was jobless and alone so what better way to spend my days than to binge watch all of Six Feet Under? The ending of the show was so touching, and a huge part of that was because of this amazing, breath-taking song.
  28. On The Verge Of Something Wonderful, by Darren Hayes

    This song is the definition of joy for me. I still follow and connect with Darren Hayes years after Savage Garden, and amidst all his darker (and sadder) songs there’s this standout that’s all about that moment right before the absolute burst of happiness. I’d play this song whenever something big happens to me, whether it’s getting a job offer or otherwise celebrating a huge milestone.
  29. Only Girl (In The World), by Rihanna

    I took a break after Research Now and went to Australia to attend my cousin’s graduation. This song of the summer was cooling down in the US but it was just heating up in Australia, so this song remained in my iPod shuffle for the majority of that year. It’s also one of my absolute favorite of Rihanna’s.
  30. Mexico, by Jump, Little Children

    There was this guy who would come to SF during the summer and we’d have a complete blast, only for him to return home and practically disappear from my life for the rest of the year. He introduced me to this amazing band, and needless to say this song carried me through the many times I’d have to get over him afterwards.
  31. Utopia, by Goldfrapp

    I was dating Chris for a while and he introduced me to Goldfrapp. We went to their concert one time and my jaw was on the floor when Alison performed this live. She had a flu at the time and was still able to hit that high note flawlessly!
  32. 垂涎 (Coveted), by Joey Yung

    I lived in LA for two years and had a personal project where I would write (exactly) 100 words for (exactly) 100 days. During that time, I spent most of the weekends writing at Starbucks, usually listening to various Cantopop albums. Sidenote: I have this thing where I can’t read or write in the same language as the music I listen to (or else I would get very distracted), so I often listen to Cantopop while writing English or vice versa.
  33. 鋼鐵是怎樣煉成的 (How Steel is Made), by HOCC

    Along with Darren Hayes, Denise Ho is the other artist I really connected with in terms of their outlook in life. Years before her coming out and active role in political activism, she was already considered by many to live a challenging life — often times choosing to speak out on social issues instead of living in the safety net of money and fame as a celebrity. This song written by her friend about her iron-will personality became one of her most iconic hits, and one I can relate to the most.
  34. 誰 (Who), by Ellen Loo

    I can write a thousand words about my love for Ellen Loo and it still won’t nearly be enough. Her tragic death in 2018 left a huge hole in my heart and in ways I’m still recovering from. As a guitarist, she was often told that she’s “good enough for a girl” and over the years became one of the best guitarists in Hong Kong. She will always be my north star on what it means to put in the work to be the best.
  35. Burn The Witch, by Radiohead

    While I like Radiohead just fine, this song and album will always encapsulate that serendipitious encounter at Amoeba Records during that one E3. And can we talk about this song’s build up at the end??
  36. Here Comes a Thought (feat. AJ Michalka & Estelle)

    Ian and Steven Universe will always be inter-related, and for all of the good reasons. Thank you for entering my life and changed it for the better. This song is the essence of not just the cartoon show, nor of us, but of all the special moments we share between us.
  37. everything i wanted, by Billie Eilish

    This song knocks me off my feet and makes me feel all the things with every single listen. Emotional, melancholy, and so damn honest — this song captures every reason why I think Billie Eilish is so, so special. And in the age of Canadian and British imports, is it bad that I’m weirdly proud that she’s from LA, of all places
  38. People, I’ve been sad, by Christine and the Queens

    When this song came out in the very beginning of the Covid lockdown, the world was so scary yet there was a real sense of unity between humanity —  at least that’s what I saw with my rose-tinted glasses. It really taught me the importance to practice kindness in life but especially during that difficult time. This song will always remind me of that time and place for me.
  39. The Path, by Lorde

    This song is incredible and almost life-changing for me. In between working remotely and doomscrolling, I was trapped in a dark place  until this song opened the skies for me — reminding me to take pause and let nature show me the way. 
  40. Build It Better, by Natalie Imbruglia

    As I’ve mentioned, 1998 was a really big music year for me, and a crucial part of that was Natalie Imbruglia’s debut album — Left of the Middle. I’ve followed her ever since then, as to me she’s such a symbol of resilience to keep moving. Her new album is unapologetically optimistic, something that my younger self could never relate to but feels right at home today.

Love wins

I got a job at Apple! 

Dear Friend,

I’m fully aware how cheesy it is to want to work for a trillion+ dollar company. But before there was the iPad, iPhone, or even iPod, there was my very first Mac — a Blueberry iMac G3. I still remember that fateful day when my friend Tommy helped me unboxing it after school. I was so, so excited but neither of us could even locate the power button! And once we found it, we then spent another hour troubleshooting why the iMac kept crashing upon booting up (turned out it needed to update to OS 8.5.1). Anyways.

I’ve wanted to work at Apple ever since that day, and for so long it has only ever been a dream. I’ve lost counts of how many actual dreams I had about working there, and even more so how many times I’ve applied at Apple. The journey of these applications (and the hopes or dreams attached to them) would end the second I hit submit — into the void they went. It’s honestly more like lottery to me than anything else, but as my aunt once told me, “You’d need a ticket if you want to win the lottery.” Until a recruiter reached out to me one random morning…

My first day at Apple!

What’s actually more interesting to me now is to reflect on the chain of unexpected moments and people that had prepped me for a job opportunity like this. Honestly. If Tobin did not hire me at Research Now despite my lack of work experience in the US, I would not be able to find my footing and know my way around Salesforce. Then if Rick did not hire me at IGN to end my 10-month unemployment gap, I wouldn’t have learned how to put out fires across teams and realize “oh shit, there’s an actual role title for what I do and it’s called… a Program Manager?”

And lastly, If Chad did not hire me at Walmart, he wouldn’t have thrown truly random things at me to sort out (literally on day one right after new hire orientation) so I could meet everyone in the early days of WMG (now Walmart Connect) and to gain their trust. And if he didn’t know about my prior experience with Salesforce, one of those random things wouldn’t have been to work with Kenny — someone who (still scares the daylights out of me) gave me the space to grow and learn how to pull SQL queries, design Salesforce processes, Product Management, and eventually be able to talk the talk with Engineers as a TPM.

I don’t want to imply that this road’s been easy or straightforward. In between these milestones were full of tough moments where the best option was to cut my teeth and lean into the grit, in order to outlive the fires and learn to hope in hopeless times. It’s also true that this road hasn’t been all bad — through these thorny moments were very patient people who gave me space to grow and adapt. I’m lucky, and I’m humbled by their faith in me at times when I don’t necessarily have that in myself.

Looking back, there hasn’t been a job I felt qualified for on day one, and the imposter syndrome for this one is still running high. Just like I did when I started at Walmart, IGN, Research Now, Hallmark, hell even at being an RA back in college — an experience I truly believed was life-changing.

Times are so tough right now, but if a depressed, gay kid who grew up from one of the poorest neighborhoods in SF could dream and somehow stumble his way toward it years later… then maybe there is still room for us to dream today, knowing that Life may take us into a better tomorrow.

Love Wins

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Rain, Plants, and Everything Else

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First of all, thank you for subscribing to FORWARD.

In this social-first, auto-playing video, trending topic world, FORWARD is aimed to be the opposite of all of that noise. Not quite a blog, not quite a newsletter, my hope for FORWARD is to provide a monthly dose of inspirational features for you to check out when you have time instead of offering something that will fight for your time.

In this issue, you’ll find an update on the California drought, how to keep plants alive, why it’s important to speak up, and more! This is the first issue so please be patient as things may evolve over time as the newsletter forms its own identity. But in the mean time, please take a look at FORWARD, and join me in this brand new journey.

Oh! And if you like the newsletter, please share by forwarding (hehe) the newsletter to your friends and family.

Let the rain fall down

Before and After the Rain

After weeks of heavy rain, it seems to finally help California alleviate its record-setting drought. KQED did a nifty feature where you can compare the massive difference between 2014 and 2017 side-by-side. You can check out the feature here.

Not so Tender Greens


Despite my best intention, I have yet to keep a single Rosemary plant alive around the apartment. My black thumb has become somewhat of a joke as Ian keeps buying me Rosemary plants to “replenish” my dead ones. You can check out the feature here.

Minus365: T-Shirts

I’ve always lived minimally, but even with a mindful intention my closet still tend to fill up over time. I was watching The Minimalists, a documentary currently available on Netflix, the other night and it totally sparked an idea for me to declutter my life.

Minus365 is where I will remove/donate one object from my life every day for all of 2017. Each month will be based on a different theme, and I’m starting with t-shirts for January to kick start this yearlong project. Just think, if I were to keep this up for the entire year, there will be 365 fewer things around my apartment, and my life!

Between all the t-shirts I was given (or earned?) in my five year of working at IGN along with other gifts and sentimental hand-me-downs, my closet is full of t-shirts. Are you curious enough to join Minus365? If so, reply to this email and send me pictures of your 30 t-shirts (or whatever you decide to remove!).

Say Something

Jamelia, A British R&B Singer

“The problem is that we don’t tell you, we speak about it amongst ourselves and you get to carry on about your day not realizing you’ve ruined ours.” Jamelia

Recently Jamelia, a British R&B singer, was on board a first-class flight with her daughter, only to be questioned by other passengers who asked to see their airplane tickets. She stood her ground and went on Twitter to explain why. You can read more about the incident here.

Now, I’m not a fan of hers because I have barely heard of her before this incident. But this happens all too often to me and to minorities everywhere. Like Jamelia said, I tend to be too polite or try to rationalize myself to be “the bigger person” instead of speaking up and calling out bullies who makes hurtful or ignorant comments.

But words do hurt, and their comments ruminate with me for the rest of day if not for weeks to come. Why do they get to carry on their day while we suffer silently? It’s not fair, it’s not acceptable, and it’s time we speak up.

Between Us: Classic Aransky

Maybe it’s my connection to RIT or maybe it’s me working at the crazy world that is IGN, but I have a lot of friends who are constantly working on various creative projects. Since FORWARD is a monthly showcase of all things interesting and inspirational, I want to use this space and share with you other interesting projects my friends are also working on.

Classic Aransky logo

Meet Michael Aransky and his new video blog, Classic Aransky. By day he’s a senior producer at IGN, and by night he’s on a yearlong journey to get comfortable in front of a camera as he works his way toward to making his first movie since 2012. You can check it out here.

If you have an interesting project and want to be featured on FORWARD, simply reply to this newsletter and tell me all about it!

Take a Minute

Photo by Michael Browning, courtesy of Unsplash

And..that’s it for January! Please (ahem…) FORWARD this to a friend if you enjoy this newsletter, or sign up below if someone had shared this newsletter with you in mind.

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As always, you can reply to this and let me know what you think.

Love wins

Chapter 1: The Reset Button

This is part one of my project Ingredients of Fear, where I would peel back the onion and reveal everything that’s been beating me down and holding me back inside. Click here to learn more about The Ingredients of Fear.

Ever since my family emigrated to the US when I was ten, I’ve been trained to be constantly on the move. From going to middle school on the opposite side of the city, to college in Rochester, to working in Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, I’d find myself in a different part of the world every few years. I always looked so restless from the outside looking in, like those people who would rush to the front of the plane the second it hit the tarmac. Yeah, I hate them too.

The good thing about moving so often is that you get to hit the big red reset button every single time to restart your life. Like a witness protection program I’m sent to a different city again and again, every time with the opportunity to be anyone I want to be.

But growing up as a nomad also created this mindset that I could just pack up and evict myself every time an opportunity knocked at my door, even when that opportunity was really an excuse for me to take the easier way out.

I’ve changed jobs, wiped my computers, changed my email addresses, and even moved to the other side of the world just so I could look away from the face of fear. Instead of dealing with my problems head on, I’d just run away and try to restart my life over with a clean slate.

Continue reading “Chapter 1: The Reset Button”

Ahhhhhh fuck it

I’m launching something both exciting and terrifying on my website on 1.1.2015. Watch this space (or sign up for my TinyLetter newsletter below)!

Love wins

Ahhhhhh fuck it