Quality of Life: What Matters

I was looking at Numbeo’s quality of life index this weekend. They have different things that factor into their overall index, like climate and safety. I thought: “hey, why not see who – Boston or SF – would win if I looked at all of these objective factors (through my very subjective lens).

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Turns out, Boston does pretty well on everything except climate.

Then I decided to make my own chart with more employment-focused factors that contribute to “quality of life” for me, as a UX designer, in the bay area.

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Ok – so I’m a little biased, but I didn’t just do this to remind myself of why I moved out to San Francisco.

I did this to understand that quality of life is important. All those things that Boston wins at – those are real and I feel the difference daily when I go into the grocery store and a dozen eggs are selling for $6.99. It hurts when I pay rent every month. It’s half my take-home paycheck.

But quality of life is also dependent on many things, and most of the time the things that aren’t captured in these charts are actually the most important ones – the people we care about or choose to love and the career we choose to take.

A thought about art museums


While admiring the many works of Rembrandt and Vermeer today at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I thought to myself “this is so great, being able to see the original works of art from these masters of painting.” Rembrandt is able to light portraits up by focusing on a few focal points with a painting and layering light paint on dark. Vermeer’s subjects are so peculiar and interesting that I can stare at them for hours.

My personal experience of wandering around art galleries and museums is great – if I’m wandering around by myself. I went to art school and learned about many of the artists whose name I read on plaques. I was also personally trained for a few years under a master oil painter, from whom I learned about temperature, color, light and shadow. When I visit museums with friends who want to rush through all the exhibits, I try to explain as much as I can about a piece if I previously learned about its context, history and ideas.

I do this, because most museums will tell you about the piece and what it is (rather literally, sometimes metaphorically), but they won’t necessarily tell you about the evolution of that artist, unless the entire exhibition is specifically about that. They won’t tell you what makes the painting incredibly special.

They’ll tell you that it’s a lady with a child, painted in a style that mimics 18th-century London art. When they show a one-off painting that Picasso created late in his cubism phase, museums will tell you about the style, but they won’t always explain the progression of his work that led to this piece. Have you been to a modern art museum lately? How many people end up taking a photo of something that looks cool but is entirely meaningless to them?

Art museums have a tendency to reflect history and movements. They document thoughts, ideas and views from many centuries and artistic periods. I wish, however, that they would help the average person understand art more clearly. More than the “what,” we need the “why” and the “how” of art.

Science museums often have interactive components that help you understand the concepts behind each exhibition. What if you had an art museum with a section that allowed you to paint in the style of an artist or a design museum that lets you actually sit on different Eames or Jacobsen chairs or try out different types of tea kettles instead of displaying them?

Rather than making art an exclusive thing that we stare at on museum walls, we should make it more accessible. Then perhaps, more people will understand its value and purpose in everyday life. 

Musings of a millenial techie in China

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Last week, I went back to China for the first time in 8 years. 

What I realized when I got there is that all Google products including Gmail and Google Maps, Facebook products including Instagram and Messenger, Twitter products, Tumblr, Flickr, Medium, Reddit, SoundCloud and more don’t load in China. You need a VPN to access these sites, which I didn’t use on this trip. 

I connected physically and digitally through WeChat with my Chinese family, but I simultaneously disconnected with my Western friends. 

I lost access to alternative perspectives. I wanted to get updates from friends who have family in France and Turkey, which have been in the news this week, but I couldn’t get that info passively. 

I lost the ability to use local apps for search (Baidu), directions (Baidu Maps) and ride-sharing (Didi Kuaidi). I could make calls on the the Nexus 5X with a local sim card, but I couldn’t install new apps because Google’s play store won’t ever load. (It’s not an AOSP device.)

I lost access to lots of apps that are integrated with Google products. My cousin tried to play Pokemon Go (the latest craze), but it doesn’t work in China because it uses Google Maps. 

More importantly, I lost the ability to communicate with a few core email and messaging apps. (Though I did use WhatsApp and WeChat for calls.)

If your whole life exists in China, then you don’t feel it. You have domestic services that fulfill all the things that those companies do with added censorship. But if you can see clearly from both inside and outside the firewall, you can’t ignore its effects. 

A new language (off-topic post of the year)

 شما چطور هستین 

“Farsi? That’s some complicated script language that’s kind of similar to Arabic, right?”

Those were my thoughts a year ago. I didn’t even know that it was the language of Iran. But I was curious about it from my daily interactions with Persians in the bay area, so I decided to study it at the ABC Language School in SF.

I’m not sure what I expected. But Farsi isn’t that hard to learn.

It has an alphabet, just like English, except that the letters look different. F is ف, L is ل, N is ن and so forth.

It’s verbs conjugate differently for past and present like the romance languages.

And it has a vocabulary that is initially hard to pick up, but gets easier the more words you know. (E.g. if you know “rain,” the word “raincoat” becomes easy to remember.)

Even the fact that it’s written backwards isn’t that weird anymore. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s just how it is.

That unintelligible world? It makes a little more sense now. Not to mention, whenever I speak even a word of it, I get this reaction from native speakers: