lizards vs bugs

Well, this is the first time I ever thought about this: would you rather have geckos in your house, or bugs? South Florida living somehow dictates that I should expect both and lo and behold, I’ve had such visitors in the last month. Geckos are certainly cute and tiny and charming (and would match my car insurance) whereas the decidedly grosser American cockroach (yeah, those big things) just isn’t. I’ve been methodically pest-proofing the place (multi-pronged attack) but lately, I’ve noticed a very cute gecko who peeks out from behind my dry-erase board every once in a while. I did a quick search and it turns out they are carnivores AND people sometimes decide not to get rid of them (most methods are very crude, e.g. glue traps) and instead have them police the place. For a second, I actually entertained getting a cat for this very purpose, but I haven’t had rodents here so I don’t think that’s necessary.

I have a very fond memory from visiting my uncle a long time ago in Malaysia. He is my father’s fun-loving younger brother (I had my first drink with him, a Guinness on a fishing boat) and the first time we visited, I was a teenager who had never been to the tropics. His house and neighborhood actually reminds me a lot of Lake Worth except way more tropical. His house was surrounded by enormous palm trees and painted a brilliant sky blue. It was decidedly permeable to the elements (open doors, screens, etc.) and I remember seeing all manner of wildlife in the house, including a gecko maybe 8 inches long, my very first night there. I was kinda freaked out but I also thought it was really charming! They ended up moving to Taiwan and traded in their tropical lair for a cramped high-rise apartment in the middle of Taipei. Eventually, his mother (my grandmother) eventually moved across the hall so that he could look over her (even though she had live-in help). She passed away five years ago and I flew back to attend the funeral. She was a tall and beautiful woman who wasn’t afraid to point at the bamboo switch hanging on the wall whenever I misbehaved during our summer visits. She lived in the country, on a provincial block where Taiwanese Air Force families lived, because my grandfather was in the service. Actually, that’s how my Cantonese father came to be raised in Taiwan, during the big escape from the Mainland in 1949.

Their house was a multi-level tatami-style home with all manner of sliding panels, bamboo beds and actual ceramic pillows, like you see in Zhang Yimou movies. It was at the end of a street that ended in rice paddies; the other end of the street was a bustling market where I was sent each morning to fetch the dou-jiang and shao-bing. My father was raised in a very humble environment, with two sisters and three brothers stuffed into that house, and I think often about how different our life was in America.

My mother was also raised very humbly, on a street that has actually been designated a national landmark because it is a traditional Hakka street, with distinct architecture but more likely, a very old-style neighborhood. The butcher was across the street, while the backyard had chickens and okra. My mother’s house was also pretty much open to the elements (and their creatures) although in recent decades, they did get thing sealed up and air-conditioned.

I think about this all the time because here I am living in “the tropics,” in a very down-home and humble place, and I constantly think about how my parents were raised, and how they managed to “overcome” their country upbringing, and it always puts into perspective whatever perceived struggles I have, especially when it comes to creature comforts. I am so fortunate to be raised in America, to have had a great career and amazing educational opportunities, and all of it was due to my parents making the decision to leave Taiwan and set up shop in the United States. I could have been raised like my cousins, the vast majority of whom are still in Asia; who knows how my life would have been?

I know, lots of information. I should revisit some of these topics at another time. But in the meantime, if I see something move out of the corner of my eye these days, I just hope it’s a gecko about to eat its prey, and not vice versa.

if you provide it, hopefully they will come

Yesterday we had our first public health seminar and there were a number of different presentations. One of them was a broad overview of the healthcare offerings in Palm Beach County for the un/under-insured. All of us were impressed by the property-tax-funded Health Care District of Palm Beach County (HCDPBC) that provides free (no premium, no copay) services to anyone in the county who has an address and ID. It fills the gap for those who do not quality for Medicard yet can’t afford Healthcare Marketplace offerings offered through the PPACA website. One classmate asked about the ease of the application process, since many of us are familiar with the difficulty in getting and maintaining a Jackson card, which still has a sliding-scale fee and requires annual renewals, a process that can take months. The HCDPBC application is an online process, but can also take place at any of the PBC Health Department sites that have navigators to assist patients.

So today, I’m in the library and a Guatemalan family (I believe) comes in to use the computers. There’s Mom, dwarfed by her oldest Daughter and Son, as well as a little Boy who climbs all over and between her legs. She is standing over her two older children, who are both on computer stations. The Son is on WSHH so he’s useless, but the Daughter is on what appears to be a form-heavy bureacratic website. I first noticed them because it was such a typical picture of the younger computer-savvy generation helping the older generation navigate the system, and you see that all the time. It turns out, of course, that the Daughter was on the HCDPBC website applying for coverage. Mom has a big stack of papers with her and is giving her Daughter figures and information for the application and at one point Mom turns around and what do I see? A giant low-slung belly; she looks to be about 7 months pregnant.

The Son is now on some sneaker website looking at the latest releases, while the filial Daughter keeps punching in page after page of information on a dense and typically ugly bureacratic website. One of our speakers yesterday was from the Health Council of Southeast Florida, and he shared that some of their more successful registration drives to get folks signed up in the Healthcare Marketplace have taken place at public libraries. It’s obvious to me, after a couple of weeks working here, that plenty of folks who don’t have internet at home come here for the access (and the air conditioning).

I want to walk over and help this family but it seems the Daugher has it all under control. It’s so different from the way that I grew up: my father ran all of the finances in the house, did all the taxes and handled any bureacratic business, while my sister and I were left in the dark. To this day, I have no idea what my parents’ income is, and I have a very vague idea of their savings. I don’t know if it’s a cultural difference or a generational one, but it was almost taboo to talk about money in our house. But here, we have a 13-year-old who essentially runs the numbers for the household. I imagine it is heavy knowledge to carry, but maybe I was just too “sheltered” from that type of information. Anyway, how could I possibly help them anyway, considering I just learned about the thing yesterday? My assistance would be unsolicited anyway, and it’s apparent that the Daughter knows what she is doing since she was already in the middle of the application process.

UPDATE: It looks like they are done because she just checked off on some of the typical “I Agree” fine print pages towards the end! It makes me immensely happy to know that this is happening in our county and I hope they are able to get that top-tier coverage and maternity care, especially for the one that is on the way. Meanwhile, the Son is still shopping for sneakers, and I don’t blame him: he’s wearing socks with slides. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good look, but DWade sure does.


“reflect on this”

 One of the more popular phrases throughout our first two years of medical school, the idea of actually thinking about what is happening to you, instead of just doing whatever it is, that is the happening, is simple, powerful and effective. These entries are a part of this exercise, and it helps to put into a bigger context what my daily tasks signify.

Scale has always been an important concept for me. In the design world, it can make or break a composition, if you don’t vary it or control it. In the world of medicine and public health, it defines the effect of your actions. Regarding the fourth dimension: do you live in the moment, or do you live for the future?

We had a session last week on goal-setting and time-management, and we discussed how lists can be used, and how to prioritize goals in terms of urgency, convenience and difficulty. The big picture often helps shape the general direction, but the nitty-gritty will set the pace. When I decided to apply to medical school, I knew that it would be at least a 10-year plan and it felt like I was going into a suspension pod as I said goodbye to my friends. But on the day-to-day, I have these assignments due, and this exam coming up, and this project to complete by the end of the year and it really plays with your mind about whether you are actually being effective or just being good at talking about things. It’s a constant struggle.

Anyway, I just received a bagua mirror and hung it on the third door (a Turkish evil eye guards the second, and a windchime covers the first) of a 3-in-a-row doorway configuration that is apparently bad luck. Hopefully, it’ll do its job and ward out the demons of poor time management. 

block block block break review review review

All work, no play, meal times, another day. Kinda boring but at least on this Sunday, I had companions. We tried the local coffee shop (see previous post) for a change of pace and I discovered that:

  • I get frustrated by scrabble players who do NOT know how to play the game (but I would probably be distracted by any scrabble game going on)
  • there is no such thing as “ambient” coffeeshop noise that is conducive to study, especially when you are doing question banks
  • quality coffee (is it really cold brew though?) is actually pretty good
  • it’s nice to have classmates around

I doubt I’ll be back (it’s just too distracting) but, I am enjoying the experience. Tomorrow will be spent at home (library is closed on Mondays) but the day after, I’ll return to my regularly-scheduled programming.

Quiz: Did I just complete a blog entry at a coffee shop? Yep.

Main Street, USA


For the first time, I’m living near an actual “Downtown” drag. Yes, it’s for a small quiet beach town, so that makes me a townie, but the place is damn cute! On the 5-block strip (2 adjacent one-way streets, both sides of the street), we have all of the modern accoutrements:


  • frame shop
  • tibetan trinket store
  • antique shop (2)
  • pet store (3)
  • lingerie store
  • jewelry store
  • beachwear store
  • dollar store
  • publix (I know)


  • art gallery (4)
  • theatre (actual, not movie)
  • art league
  • jazz bar
  • punk/rock venue (perestroika themed, seriously)
  • comic book shop
  • record store (vinyl)


  • public park with boat landing
  • gym
  • yoga studio
  • bike shop
  • watersports store
  • dentist
  • family practice (yep, the actual shingle)
  • chiropractor
  • podiatrist
  • physical therapist
  • holistic wellness center


  • public library
  • post office
  • utilities office
  • LGBT support center
  • real estate agency (3)
  • insurance agent (3)
  • banks (3)
  • pharmacy (actual one, not a CVS / Walgreens)
  • shoe repair shop
  • locksmith
  • barber shop (3)
  • hair salon
  • sustainable food magazine publisher
  • interior designer
  • gas station (2)
  • tailor / seamstress (2)


  • pizza place (with a walk-up window)
  • steakhouse
  • poutine shop
  • vegan restaurant / juice stand
  • vegan burger bar
  • sbux (I know)
  • NY-style Jewish deli
  • korean/japanese restaurant
  • thai/japanese restaurant
  • thai fusion restaurant
  • italian restaurant chain
  • italian restaurant, local (2)
  • french bistro
  • taqueria
  • greasy spoon (that also happens to serve Indian food)
  • indian restaurant (that also happens to be a greasy spoon)
  • fudge shop and ice-cream parlor
  • chocolate shop


  • german beer bar
  • australian beer bar
  • beach bar (with sand underfoot, and a food truck on-site
  • spring-break-style bar (tiki with neon decoration) (2)
  • dive bar (2)
  • caribbean bar / restaurant (2)
  • coffee house with open mics
  • kava bar

I mean, that is seriously complete! I’ll do a walkthrough at some point to make sure I got it all, and if the Chamber of Commerce pays me, I’ll link to all of these places, but I’m happy. The best part is, only a few chains are listed above; everything else is local and independent and I love that. More to come.

shared spaces

 I had been at the table for two hours (premium seating on the upper level of the ranch-style public library) when she approached the table, asking if the seat catty-corner to mine was taken. She was an older white woman in her 60s, relatively well-dressed (with makeup, even!) but carrying two large purses, with a soiled carry-on roller in tow. Did she just have a lot of things she needed that day, or was she just one of the many quasi-transients in town who spent all of their time across the street under the shade of enormous banyans or inside this library, using the free internet?

She greeted me with a ‘thanks’ and ‘good morning’ and then asked me what the date was. I didn’t know the exact date, but I knew it was Saturday, and told her so. She got a bit huffy: “You don’t know the date?” as if judging me for sitting there with an iPad but not knowing the date. “It’s the 19th today, right?” she asked, and I thought it was that weird passive-aggressive style of question that felt like a trap: if you knew the date, why did you ask? I pulled out my phone to check and saw that it was actually the 18th, and told her so. “Thanks!” she replied gruffly, and began muttering under her breath Saturday the 18th Saturday the 18th Saturday the 18th as she put one of her bags on the table, unzipped it loudly, and very purposefully pulled out a pencil pouch, a legal pad and a pair of reading glasses. Apparently it was journal time and she wrote with a fury, the ruled lines a mere suggestion as she zig-zagged across the yellow sheets, writing large and loopy to burn through a half-dozen sheets. At the top of each, she wrote 4/18/2015. Off by 3 months, but who’s keeping track anyway? Maybe this summer is her spring.

I kept working, but she kept glancing over, and at times, it felt like a glare. Did she think I was pulling her leg by not providing her with the initial date? Was I a curiosity to her, the only Asian person I’ve seen for the past month? The library is a funny place and somehow, I’ve become a regular: the quiet guy in the hoodie who comes in early and leaves late, his table covered in highlighters and whiteout, constantly flipping back and forth a giant spiral-bound book. One young man I see daily (a bonafide beach bum) uses the place as a locker room, stashing a duffle under the microfiche reader. There is a Hispanic family who comes in often, a father with two sons. The younger one is about 5 years old, and logs in by himself, playing matching or driving games on the computer, while the other son looks to be about 16, and sits there next to his father at an adjacent station with headphones plugged, staring lax at the screen while his dad browses the computer, often on sites with no audio (that must be real boring). He got up once and I saw he had an impaired gait, his right leg crossing over his left with each step, with a droppped left shoulder and lax arm. His face was covered by the peachfuzz of an adolescent who hasn’t learned how to shave, and may never quite feel comfortable doing so.  

Another man takes an entire four-top whenever he is here and pulls out an 80s-style briefcase (the kind that makes a loud noise when you pop the latches) which contains a portable accountant’s office: stapler, printing calculator, piles of golf pencils, a huge ledger, and stacks of manila file folders. The first time I saw him, he was looking something up in a huge leather-bound legal text with a magnifying glass, wearing a ripped white t-shirt, swim trunks and sandals, reading glasses perched on the end of his sunburnt nose. Strange, I thought, but then, who am I to judge? I too was wearing sandals, with shorts and a white v-neck Hanes undershirt. We both came to do work and be comfortable in our clothes. I came to study, and he came to do someone’s taxes.

I decided to live in this town because I loved the small scale and knew I could immerse myself in the community. I see a lot of folks who could use some help and I realized over the past two years that mental health underpins health in general, and I want to explore the possibilities. This is the first post of many; come share my journey.

songs, aahhhh.

Now that mp3s and individual audio files have gone the way of the LaserDisc, we live in a cloud-based streaming world. I used to be a real music nut (desk-based jobs will do that to you) but these days, I get my tunes from the Amazon-backed Songza. It’s like listening to Deathstar music all the time (evil empire, get it?) but I just can’t help myself. My 3GS-turned-iPod-touch has been on 24-hour play all week for one particular station, “Electronic Study: Ambient” and I’m just going to straight up plug the damn thing. If you want to be like me, you’ll find the station on your listening device and let it ride. Remember when Four Tet was the new isht and Aphex Twin was a standard-bearer? Back in the day, indeed.