Mattress Shopping

I have been using an air mattress for 2.5 years since I came to the US. It was a gift from two close friends who came here before me. It has done the job and been pretty convenient, especially when it came to moving. I have moved for a total of 3 times and had I had a queen-sized mattress, it would have been much trickier and more laborious.

However, I have been having trouble sleeping lately and back pain after sleep every night, something has to change. Since sleep is one of my priorities this year and moving forward, I can’t afford only 3-4 hours of sleep every night or feeling grumpy and listless the day after. So I decided to do something I hadn’t done before: mattress shopping.

Fortunately, I have a friend working as an assistant manager for a Mattress Firm store. Thanks to him, I learned quite a bit about mattresses:

  • There is quite a bit of science put into mattresses, pillows and bases. In short, a combination of an adjustable base, a reasonable pillow and mattress can help adjust the mattress to your sleeping body form, relieving the pressure, let’s say, from your back. The cooling effect can also aid your sleep
  • Unless you buy mattresses and other stuff out of the box (brand new), you are likely to have quite a considerable discount. Normally, folks can return mattresses in 120 days. When that happens, mattresses can be resold at a significant discount, even though materialistically and practically there should be no difference as the returned goods have to be checked and cleansed before any possible re-sell.
  • Build up your credit score. It enables a finance payment plan at zero interest. Some don’t have that option due to the lack of credit score or having a poor one

Personally, I rarely made any purchase of the size as I did today, but I figure if sleep is of high importance to me and I spend one third of my day on that mattress for some years to come, I’d better have something that I like and actually works. Same thing with almost everything in our life.

Tipping culture

This morning, a friend shared with me a passage from an online article, as follows:

A 2018 survey found people ages 18–27 are the most likely to shortchange the restaurant waitstaff. In fact, 10 percent admitted to routinely leaving no tip at all. Here’s a tip for all you millennials: Try leaving a few bucks on the table instead of posting pictures of your food to social media.

I found it baffling. The tipping culture in the US or Canada doesn’t really make sense to me. Wait staff enters a labor agreement with restaurant owners for a reason. They agree to the benefits and compensation offered by the owners. Without any involvement from customers. Customers have nothing to do with that. Yet, customers are forced to make up for the low wage. In some cases, tips are just expected, but in others, tips are automatically added to the bills. For the past two and a half years in the US, I could count on two hands the times when I felt satisfied with customer services at restaurants. Staff repeatedly and unnecessarily interferes in my conversation with the people I am with or rushes us out by proposing the bill when we are not done yet. Yet, tips are either expected or forced. How does that make sense?

As users, we are pissed that companies do something related to us without our consent, such as sharing our data. We are annoyed by others telling us what to do without consulting us beforehand. Then, why should the tipping “standard” be any different and acceptable? And as diners, why should we defend the owners paying low wages by arguing that it’s a standard?

I would love to pay a little bit more for the meals if it meant that wait staff got a higher wage. In that case, I wouldn’t have to tolerate the tips forced on me without my consent or the overly eager services by staff. Tipping is a standard, but it can be changed and should be. For the better.

Matt Damon: It won’t fill you up

My weekly schedule now includes 20 hours as a Graduate Assistant at school, 20 hours of internship, two Capstones which include hours and hours of in-class sessions, team meetings and individual work. Needless to say, I feel pretty much drained and can’t wait to see out the semester and my degrees. 

For some reason, I came across the below interview by Matt Damon. I saw it the first time almost exactly a year ago, the time I was trying to find a way to be happier in life. It was a great coincidence. Today, I saw it again on my YouTube timeline and it was a nice reminder. Listen to what he had to say about his Oscar win


Even though I sleep for only 4-5 hours a day and every morning I feel like crap, there may be a chance that I won’t feel as happy after graduation as I think I will now. There is a chance that grinding for hours like I have been doing is what will make me happy. There is a chance that learning new stuff and doing meaningful work every day like this will make me happy. Who knows?

Nonetheless, have a listen. You may like it as I do 

Indifference

I was told by one professor at school that I was conscientious. I used to think that it was a good thing. A compliment. I am not sure I do now.

Naval Ravikant was right when he said that indifference was freedom. Indifference meant that you did whatever you wanted without caring too much what others thought. To what was outside of your control.

I tend to care. Too much and unnecessarily. I care about how others perceive my actions, my statement, my emails, my work, my look and so on. I give too much attention to whether others will think the next thing coming from me is stupid. To whether I am acting as an idiot even though they likely don’t care that much. To my aesthetically challenged look.

I know what to do now to improve myself and my life. A lot of work ahead to train myself to be indifferent or more indifferent. It’s one of the reasons why I have this blog. Besides practicing writing and giving back what I have learned, this medium is one way I think I can train to be more indifferent. I used to have lots of edits and entries I wrote but deleted out of fear that I would sound stupid. I probably still sound stupid. But I don’t do edits much any more. I just write it down and hit the “publish” button. It feels more liberating. And I have gained more confidence.

Naval is right. “Indifference is freedom”.

Paperwork Nightmare

The name convention in Vietnam is LastName – MiddleName – FirstName, the opposite of the Western name convention. The name on our passport is displayed in our convention. So when the folks at the US Embassy process a visa application, the name on the visa becomes MiddleName – FirstName – LastName. That’s what happened to me.

To apply for a student visa in the US, one is given a paper called I-20 by his or her school. I-20 is a must when the student applies for an American student visa. My name on I-20 is correct as in FirstName – MiddleName – LastName.

Upon landing in the US, immigrants have another form called I-94, which records the last time one enters the US. My name on I-94 follows the name on my visa and as a consequence, is incorrect. Somehow, my name on Social Security Card is correct as in FirstName – MiddleName – LastName.

Two days ago, my school updated my I-20 to match the name on my visa and I-94. Now, my name is consistent on I-20, visa and I-94…in an incorrect way. The only one odd out is my Social Security Card in a, ironically, correct way. Moving forward, I will either have to change names on visa, I-20 or I-94 or I will have to change my name on Social Security Card. I know my choice. Not much. Still a choice. But going to a Social Security Administration for anything is never a pleasant experience. A friend of mine had the same trouble. It took him 6 months to get it fixed.

From now on, my First Name in the US is my Middle Name. Imagine the inconvenience. And none of this is my fault.

Update on OPT

While we are talking about paperwork and bureaucracy, I want to talk a bit about the OPT process. As a STEM student (who studies science, technology, economics or maths), I can have 3 years of OPT after graduation. Within those 3 years, I will have to get either a working visa or a green card. Otherwise, I’ll be kicked out of the country.

Students cannot apply for OPT earlier than 90 days before graduation. But the process takes at least 3 months and sometime much longer. It means that international students may not have jobs in the meantime and hence income. Their chance of employment can be put at risk if the process takes too long. After an OPT is approved, a student can work for one year. STEM students can apply for one year extension. However, the STEM process is even more difficult as the student and employer have to work out a training plan with goals and how to achieve those goals. Goals have to relate to STEM degrees. During the OPT time, students have to send a report every 6 months, detailing what they do at their job. And there are a bunch of other requirements.

My intention is not to complain. This is to shed light on a frustrating process that should have been easier. International students are here to make a career and pay taxes. We are supposed to work and contribute while staying here. But even that is made very difficult.

Born a crime

If you haven’t read “Born a crime“, I urge you to. It’s a great book by Trevor Noah. He chronicled his story growing up in South Africa in an insightful and humorous manner. It cracked me up a couple of times. As the books I read are quite serious, the humor, positivity and his experience in the book give me a quick escape sometimes, especially on bad days. Like today. Here are some quotes I particularly love:

“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.”

“I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. “What if…” “If only…” “I wonder what would have…” You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.”

“When you shit, as you first sit down, you’re not fully in the experience yet. You are not yet a shitting person. You’re transitioning from a person about to shit to a person who is shitting. You don’t whip out your smartphone or a newspaper right away. It takes a minute to get the first shit out of the way and get in the zone and get comfortable. Once you reach that moment, that’s when it gets really nice. It’s a powerful experience, shitting. There’s something magical about it, profound even. I think God made humans shit in the way we do because it brings us back down to earth and gives us humility. I don’t care who you are, we all shit the same. Beyoncé shits. The pope shits. The Queen of England shits. When we shit we forget our airs and our graces, we forget how famous or how rich we are. All of that goes away.”

“Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says ‘We’re the same.’ A language barrier says ‘We’re different.’ The architects of apartheid understood this. Part of the effort to divide black people was to make sure we were separated not just physically but by language as well…The great thing about language is that you can just as easily use it to do the opposite: convince people that they are the same. Racism teaches us that we are different because of the color of our skin. But because racism is stupid, it’s easily tricked.”

The downside of extreme individual freedom

Personal freedom such as freedom of speech or freedom to do whatever we want is important to every single one of us. I mean who doesn’t love it? The freedom is especially emphasized in developed countries. In the US, it’s the first Amendment in the Constitution. The positive side of individual freedom is often mentioned. What is not is the other side of it.

Everything has two sides to it and so does individual freedom. What I usually read and hear is that anyone is free to do whatever he or she wants. To the extreme. In that sense, it’s acceptable for anyone to commit murder or spit out insults to other folks. Why wouldn’t it be if we were allowed to do ANYTHING we wanted? In reality, murder or intentional insults are not acceptable. They are condemned. They lead to punishment. If it were acceptable that somebody could injure or insult us, why would we take legal actions then?

It goes to show that absolute individual freedom doesn’t come without baggage. There are two options. Either we accept its less-than-extreme version that comes with some collectively formed restrictions or we have the extreme and should talk more about its downsides. For instance, if we must have the extreme freedom of speech, expect that somebody will come at us with hate speeches or insults. Coming to this awareness may not change some people’s unfavorable behavior such as bigotry, racism or hatred. Nonetheless, we should know more about the two sides of freedom so that we know what we can choose and what we can expect.

I know my choice. I love freedom, but I don’t prefer the extreme version of it.

Living in the moment

As the summer is drawing to a close, I make every effort to be as much in the sun as possible. Winter is coming. It’s long. It’s harsh. And it’s cold. We’ll miss the sun. Having lived in Finland and here during the winter before, I still don’t get comfortable with it.

Whenever the weather and my schedule allow, I like to sit in the sun. Read a book. sip some coffee. Work if I have to. Or just do absolutely nothing and watch the town in its warm gorgeous form. I don’t know how much longer I can still enjoy the sun of 2018. Time flies by. Almost 9 months of 2018 has come to pass.

I used to plan ahead for everything. Work, personal relationships, travel. The goal was to keep myself being busy. No minute should be wasted. Gosh, I even thought of putting water on the stove before I went to brush my teeth in the morning because the water would be boiled by the time I was done brushing my teeth. How stupid I was.

I don’t remember the exact time or the exact reason, but I guess it’s called growing up. I changed. I hardly plan any more, unless it’s absolutely necessary. I book flights last minute, sometimes only one-way. I don’t plan my itinerary while on vacation. I just go and see what unfolds in the new city. My goal every day is to have the freedom and the flexibility to see what comes up in the moment.

I still spend so much time in front of a computer or on the phone. Work, study and some stupid activities and all. It’s a work in progress. But for now, whenever asked what my goal is, my answer is to be happy and healthy. To be in the moment. I can’t change the past and living so much for the future didn’t make me happy. To some extent, I wasted some years that could have been more memorable, that could have been more spectacular.

Globalization, Wars, Internet and Anti-immigration

A few days ago, I received a message from a German friend floating a question on why racism has risen in popularity recently in Western countries. I gave him my answer and thought I should put it out here to share what I have been thinking about for quite some time.

Globalization

Nothing is perfect and neither is globalization. We have reaped its benefits for years and I suspect that we start to see its downsides now. In Western countries, globalization leads to unemployment in certain industries whether it is because firms relocate their operations to developing nations or it is because the technological advances render some industries obsolete.

Suddenly, workers who are between jobs are left with few options. The jobs that the workers are qualified for no longer exist where they live while new jobs require skills that the workers don’t have. Instead, highly skilled jobs are now done by skilled immigrant employees. Businesses care the most about their productivity. As long as they don’t have to break banks to hire qualified staff for the jobs, they’ll do it. Even if one is local but doesn’t have the qualifications, how can one be employed?

Consequently, there is tension in the society from unemployed folks and there is a sentiment that immigrants steal their jobs.

Wars and violent conflicts

Meaningless wars and violent conflicts in Africa, Middle East and other developing but unstable areas also contribute to the rise of racism. As these unfortunate events take place, the victims have no choice, but to flee for their and their family’s lives. Who can blame them? The closest safe heaven is Western Europe, which has been quite more friendlier than the US in terms of refugees.

Unfortunately, the influx of refugees is so much bigger than what the Western European countries can handle. Once the integration efforts don’t keep up with the arrivals of refugees, the refugees stay unemployed while reaping the social benefits from the governments. When that happens, some locals would understandably be upset. I mean, who wouldn’t given the high tax rates in Western European countries.? Additionally, there are some bad “apples” such as terrorists or those who committed crimes. As a consequence, local citizens grow unhappy about the refugees and immigration in general.

The Internet

Internet enables the friction-less flow of good information….as well as of bad information such as propagandas or simply false news. As human-beings, we are more drawn towards negative coverage. Hence, media outlets keep feeding us negative news on immigration regardless of whether the news is valid or how the news stands in the whole big picture. For instance, if a refugee commits a crime, what is the percentage of the incident compared to the number of crimes committed by locals in the same timeframe?

And there are folks who intentionally distribute distorted and false information to advance their agendas. As we are drowning in an ocean of news & information every day, it’s tricky to know what is what.

Validation from the US

I don’t believe that racism only existed after the above factors. However, its rise, especially in politics, can be attributed to having a validation. The validation stemmed from the election in the US in 2016 and perhaps one year before that. Suddenly, some politicians have an example to validate their less-than-desirable behavior. I couldn’t recall seeing that much racism a few years ago when wars already took place, globalization had already been going and Internet was already there. However, after 2016, the wave of racism and nationalism has risen to a new height and gone from strength to strength to the point that even countries such as Sweden or Finland have seen more anti-immigration.

I have been pretty much an immigration since 2010, except 3 years of staying in Vietnam.  The growing anti-immigration movement concerns me a great deal and the connection between the factors above has sat on my mind for a while. I used to adore globalization a lot thinking that it was such a perfect concept. Now, I don’t think it’s perfect any more.

Naval Ravikant’s take on death

Naval Ravikant is one of those people that I love to listen to. He is the CEO of Angelist and a deep thinker with remarkable insights. Below is one of the most significant lessons I learned from him. All credit is to Naval and Tim Ferriss for interviewing him.

I think a lot of the struggle we have in life comes from a deep, deep fear of death. It can take form in many ways. One can be that we want to write the great American novel. We want to achieve something in this world. We want to build something. We want to build a great piece of technology, or we want to start an amazing business, or we want to run for office and make a difference. A lot of this comes from this fear that we’re going to die, so we have to build something that lasts beyond us.

Obviously, the obsession that parents have with their children. A lot of that is warranted biological love, but some of that is also the quest for immortality. Even some of the beliefs of some of the more outlandish parts of religion I think fall into that. I don’t have the quest for immortality anymore. I think I came to this fundamental conclusion. I thought about it a lot. The universe has been around for a long time, and the universe is a very, very large place. If you’ll study even the smallest bit of science, for all practical purposes we are nothing. We are ameba. We are bacteria to the universe. We’re basically monkeys on a small rock orbiting a small backwards star in a huge galaxy, which is in an absolutely staggeringly gigantic universe, which itself may be part of a gigantic multiverse. This universe has been around probably for 10 billion years or more, and will be around for tens of billions of years afterwards. Your existence, my existence is just infinitesimal. It’s like a firefly blinking once in the night.

We’re not really here that long, and we don’t really matter that much. Nothing that we do lasts. Eventually, you will fade. Your works will fade. Your children will fade. Your thoughts will fade. These planets will fade. This sun will fade. It will all be gone. There are entire civilizations which we remember now with one or two words. Sumerian. Mayan. Do you know any Sumerians or Mayans? Do you hold any of them in high regard or esteem? Have they outlived their natural lifespan somehow? No. I think we’re just here for an extremely short period of time. From here, you can choose to believe in an afterlife or not. If you really do believe in an afterlife, then that should give you comfort and make you realize that maybe everything that goes on in this life is not that consequential. On the other hand, if you don’t believe in an afterlife, you should also come to a similar conclusion. You should realize that this is such a short and precious life that it’s really important that you don’t spend it being unhappy. There’s no excuse for spending most of your life in misery. You’ve only got 70 years out of the 50 billion or so that the universe is going to be around. Whatever your natural state is, it’s probably not this. This is your living state. Your dead state is true over a much longer time frame. When I think about the world that way, I realize it’s just kind of a game.

Which is not to say that you go to a dark place, and you start acting unethically and immorally. Quite the contrary, you realize just how precious life is and how it’s important to make sure that you enjoy yourself, you sleep well at night, you’re a good moral person, you’re generally happy, you take care of other people, you help out, but you can’t take it too seriously. You can’t get hung up over it. You can’t make yourself miserable and unhappy over it. You just have a very short period of time here on this earth. Nothing you do is going to matter that much in the long run. Don’t take yourself so seriously. That just kind of helps make everything else work.

I felt fortunate to come across this one and a half years ago. It was instrumental to the change in my perspective in life and a lot of what I do. Hopefully, you’ll find something of value from him.