in other news

Seeing as I more or less failed at the writing thing, I’ll just go ahead and lead with it: I’m in! I’ve submitted my deposit and SIR, and I’ll be joining the FEMBA class of 2021! Woohoo. Three more years in LA. Do I sound excited or what?

These last few months have been on-and-off eventful. I alternate between being crazy on the go, and being a hermit in my apartment. It’s like I’ll binge socialize and then go into hiding hungover until the next round.

I’m also now on a budget, so I can pay for school and not deplete my savings. We’ll see how well that goes. I’ll do a little post on that at some point later, after my finances stabilize.

Nicole out x

road to 700

At the start of 2018, I decided to do my best to document my journey toward and during b-school. Namely, I wanted to write down my thoughts, strategies, challenges, and successes related to my goal of attending UCLA’s FEMBA program.

It’s certainly not a sure thing (touch wood), but there are a myriad of factors that led to this decision stretching back the better part of 6 months. It culminated in my decision to leave my last job and move down here to LA. One important component of the FEMBA application (besides grades, work experience, etc) is the GMAT.

Now, nobody likes standardized testing, let’s be real.*

This aversion to testing probably dates back to elementary school days with CORE testing (aptitude test here in California) to the STAR/CAHSEE in middle/high school (during my time) to AP tests to SATs and ACTs and beyond. Somehow, there was always a test you had to take somewhere, somehow. Cut to 2012 when I took my GRE, having studied only ridiculously obscure vocabulary words so I wouldn’t completely flunk it. I did ok, good enough to help get me into my masters program. Fast forward once more to today, where I’m looking at these probability math problems laughing at Younger Me’s conviction that I wouldn’t ever have to take another test again because heck no, was I planning on going back to school. Funny how things turn out.

The GMAT is the exam of choice preferred by most b-school programs. A lot of part-time programs, like FEMBA, will also accept the GRE but I didn’t know that when I signed up. I figured that worst case, if I crashed and burned, I would take the GRE again because it’s a little more straightforward in some respects.

There are 4 sections: analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative, and verbal. Two of the four, quant and verbal, seem pretty straightforward and are typically what comprise the numbered score everyone cares about. The IR section is interesting in that there’s more business sort of reasoning involved with all the charts and data interpretation. The essay didn’t seem like anything crazy either, just take a position and argue for/against in a slightly thoughtful way.

I gave myself less than four weeks to prep, which in hindsight was a terrible idea. I also set a minimum goal of 700 for myself since I figured that was a goal score that most people set for themselves and considered “good” for most b-schools, based on my internet forum research. There were a few concerns going in. Number one was math and number two was time. Those “data sufficiency” questions ended up being the death of me. Same goes for timing. It’s difficult to find the right balance between rushing and giving the right questions the right amount of thought.

But I did it!

700 flat. I didn’t take any of the breaks and I actually thought I did better than I really did. Turns out my percentile ranking for math sucked but I aced the verbal section so hard that it all balanced out to a 700 that I’m fairly happy with. The raw scores are balanced enough, Q44 and V41. I really, REALLY, don’t want to sit for another exam again. I also spent approximately 20-25 hours total studying for this test and the internet says that it takes a lot more than that to break 700, so I’m fairly pleased with how I did.

In true Asian parent fashion, Mum and Dad both interpreted that to mean that if I had actually taken it more seriously and studied the 120 hours, I would’ve gotten a perfect score. I doubt it, given how the scoring works, but heck, I’m just aiming to get across the finish line here.

So yay, 1 less hurdle to worry about on my journey to FEMBA. Time to start my application!

*The vast majority of the population, at least, so I rounded up.

A Month of No Shopping

The first step is always admitting it, right? So here goes: I have a spending problem. Don’t get me wrong – I still save quite a bit of my earnings. Before I moved down to LA this year, I was maxing out my 401(k), contributing the full amount to my company’s stock program, maxing out a Roth IRA, and still putting a little extra into savings. A lot of this was helped majorly by bonuses and unloading vested RSU’s, but nonethless, I made it work. I’m also very grateful to my parents (thanks mum) who put money in my account to pay for family travel expenses, etc.

Since I’ve moved, I’ve dialed back my retirement contributions in the interest of saving for a more immediate goal – paying for b-school (which I’ve still got to get into). Currently, there is a mandatory 7% pre-tax deduction, and I also put in an extra ~8% post-tax. I no longer receive all the nice bonuses and RSU awards I used to, since I work for the state now. I also took a pretty substantial pay cut, but I’ll talk about that some other time. Same goes for my personal finance strategy. Every person is different, but it’s something I want to examine over time.

Anyway, my point is that I have this bad habit of justifying spending sprees whenever there is a major life change or event that occurs. Some of it is definitely necessary, but a lot of is isn’t. I just get it into my head that a new phase in my life (or new travel adventure) necessitates a new wardrobe or new shoes or new toys. Yes, I did need to buy more “business-casual” clothes for my new job because I used to wear jeans everyday (that’s tech for you). Yes, I did need to re-furnish an entire apartment and am still in the process of doing so. And yes, I did need to buy that new $150 vacuum cleaner because for some reason, this apartment is dustier than any place I’ve ever lived and I don’t even open the windows? It was also my birthday month, which I subconsciously used to extra-justify all my spending (sigh).

What I didn’t need was to buy 8 pairs of pants in my quest for the perfect work pant, nor did I need to splurge on a gazillion new pairs of (nice) flats. And I most definitely did not need an X-Box. At least I had the good sense to return that one. I know this because I still reach for the same pairs of pants and shoes at least 2/3 of the week. And they’re not even the new ones. Sigh. So suffice it to say, I’ve been throwing my credit card around like nobody’s business and I’m pretty sure the UPS/FedEx drivers are very familiar with my front door by now.

So I’m going to press pause on any unnecessary shopping through the month of February. “Unnecessary” is categorized as just that – no clothes, no shoes. No toys. No sous vide gadgets. No junk food that I can make myself.

Exceptions:

  • Furniture for my apartment. This most likely will consist of a TV stand and maybe a second floor lamp for my living room.Β A TV. (Bought it this weekend, actually.)
  • Groceries. But try to restrict buying things like pre-baked goods, candy, processed food stuffs. If I want to bake something from scratch, that’s acceptable.
  • Some house items. Stuff related to upkeep and cleaning are ok. Replacing things I’ve used up, but don’t have any extras stashed away for are ok (eg. I have a bajillion types of toner in my stash so I don’t need to buy new toner, but I’m almost out of face wash and I don’t have any of that).
  • Miscellaneous to-dos. Like repairing my major curb rash, or buying return flights and such.
  • Trip expenses. I’m going up to SF for President’s Day weekend, so I can spend on food and such then.
  • Kindle. After being lost to the void in China, I’ve been debating whether to replace this immediately or later on. What I’m worried about is having to take one last emergency trip back home, and not being able to read. TBD.
  • 1 movie. I might catch Black Panther in theaters this month.
  • Existing subscriptions. Currently just Crunchyroll and Shades Club. Spotify’s been paid for the year, and Elizabeth and Clarke is once a quarter.

There you have it. I’m going to make do with what I have, try to eat clean and enjoy watching the Winter Olympics this month. My credit card spending reserves have pretty much dwindled at this point, so I’m starting without any cheat funds available to put on my cards. To myself – good luck! You’ll need it. ;D

paper and water and colors

I got into my head some time over the break that I wanted to try doing something with paper cutting. Then, to inject a little color into it, I wanted to see what would happen if I backed it with watercolors since those are easy to blend around and kind of do whatever with. So I bought a scalpel grip, razor blades, a cutting mat, and a bunch of watercolors/paper.

It didn’t really turn out how I wanted it to but I came up with something different – cutting shapes out of a normal piece of paper, and washing the resulting ‘stencil’ with watercolor. So I decided I’d do a few Pokemon since it’s always been a weird, random goal to draw every single one of them. It turned out better than I expected, though I think I still need some practice with the cutting. I have no idea what to do with them now, but I’ll think of something.

Here’s the first three starters:

cofcof

 

hello, hello

sdr

After a few months of hiatus, I’m back! Ever since our Half Dome hike, life’s been quite the whirlwind. I’m not even sure it could be called a whirlwind – it was more like a Class 5 hurricane, keeping in line with how this past year has generally gone on both the personal front and the national/global affairs front.

To recap the last several months of 2017:

  • I spent the entire month of September in Singapore for work. It was wonderful, spending time with my entire family.
  • I quit my job at Autodesk in October and left San Francisco, trading the fog for the LA beaches with the intention of applying to b-school this year.
  • I also bought a car.
  • In November, my heart broke again and we said goodbye to another family member.
  • Thanksgiving was spent in Texas with my parents and brother, for some quality bonding time with the Texas Longhorns.
  • Come December, I was a) frantically trying not to lose my passport (I did) and get my China visa (it worked out), b) flying to Singapore on Christmas Eve (yes, again), and c) adventuring around Yunnan province and getting stranded in Shangrila because of the snow.

I’ll do some thoughts on our time in China in a different post but needless to say, there was plenty of nice scenery, we ate a lot of yak, and endured quite the adventure trying to get back to Singapore intact. 2018 showed up while we were holed up in a rando little Naxi village somewhere on the side of the Haba mountain bordering the Yangtze river. It was great.

One of my goals this year is to blog more often about the things in my life that are meaningful, whether it’s things that bring happiness or things that are lessons well learned. Something tells me this is a time in my life that I’ll want to document. I used to be really good about writing posts for the better part of my college and grad school years, so I want to do the same as I start yet another journey into my late twenties (!!). Working life in a big city can make it harder to want to write here and there, but some day when I look back, I’ll be glad the internet is practically forever. A peek into Younger Me’s mind surely makes for an interesting read.

Cheers to an interesting year ahead! Let’s see what you’ve got for us, 2018.
x

half dome – yosemite

I’m alive!

This was it. The big kahuna of hikes, the longest and hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Dad and I drove up to Yosemite on Wednesday night. With the late start and some traffic, it was pitch black by the time we hit the Manteca area. Safe to say that driving down into Yosemite Valley was a challenge. On the plus side, we didn’t have to pay the entrance fees because the Ranger stations were closed. We stayed at the Yosemite Valley Lodge inside the park – sufficient and clean, with good hot water (so important), but also pretty warm and stuffy. You definitely pay for the convenience, that’s for sure. Worth it though, to only have to drive 5-10 minutes to get back to your hotel room. For us, it cost around $250+ per night, but we were lucky and got a 2nd floor room with high ceilings.

We hit the trail around 5:30AM the next morning, after maybe 3-4 hours of sleep. We were pretty zombified. The first several miles passed in a haze, because I don’t remember climbing up so far in the dark. But being able to reach the views around sunrise was wonderful – the pit stop at Nevada Falls was my absolute favorite part of the hike. The waterfalls, the rocks, the colors – certainly happiness-inducing. More details and learnings below.

mdesdrcof

The Route

We took the John Muir trail both ways. It’s supposed to be less steep and less dangerous slippery than the Mist trail, but I don’t know that this was the best idea, because the distance was such a struggle. Dad’s GPS showed a 20+ mile round trip, contrary to what the Internet blogs say. In my head, the trip is divided into a few parts:

  • Uphill on a paved path – easiest part to traverse, but fairly steep for a mile or two.
  • Huge switchbacks – fairly steep, lots of rocks to step through.
  • Nevada Falls – around the 4 mile mark, perfect for a break and water refill.
  • Pine trees/forest – flats through the valley after the falls, then steep uphill through forested area toward the Subdome. This was probably the hardest part.
  • Subdome – pure rock, with stones for stairs. Definitely on the more dangerous side.
  • Cables/half dome – pretty self-explanatory.

Clothes

I bought these REI hiking tights a few days ago. They’re a little too big for me (I bought size S and usually wear size S in Adidas/Nike), but they did just nicely on the hike. As someone who doesn’t like wearing hiking pants, these worked just fine. The best part were the deep pockets on both thighs. My phone went in one with easy access the entire time.

Sock liners are your friend. I’ve never double-socked anything for any hike in my life, but this method saved my skin literally. No blisters, not even a hot spot. I wore these REI liners, and then pulled on a pair of Darn Tough merino socks over them.

Everything else was your normal athletic wear: Express run tank, random sports bra, and a North Face zip pullover for the morning chill.

Gear

These Ahnu Sugarpine boots were the best. I only broke them in once on a 10-mile hike to Tomales Point, and they performed wonderfully. Tons of grip from the Vibram soles, and they did just fine on the smooth granite along the cables. I normally wear size 7.5 and have a 8.5 in these to accommodate the thick socks.

I had hiking poles on this trip, but I probably only used them 1/3 of the time. Just a personal preference, though they did help a lot in some spots. I just felt more cumbersome with them more often than not. They certainly helped on the downhill though, for stability and balance.

I carried this Camelbak with a 2L reservoir. At 18L, it was a teeny bit small but Dad carried this 32L Kelty Redwing and anything extra we needed, including the water filter.

Also, this Nike hat. Saved my face, along with this sunscreen.

Food/Water

Definitely needed at least a 2-3L reservoir for hands-free hydration. I also carried a 24oz metal water bottle as backup, which helped a ton. For food, we brought a sandwich for lunch at the top of the dome. I also carried a couple Kind bars, and a couple of those almond butter sandwich biscuits. Electrolyte gel packs and gummy chews are also your friend. They certainly helped as far as preventing cramps and the like.

The Cables

Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. But you’re also so tired that adrenaline just pushes you through and you don’t really have a chance to think too much beyond making it to the next set of poles/planks for a rest. Like everyone else says, gloves are so important. Unfortunately, I was wearing leather gardening gloves and these were not the best choice. They actually slipped a lot on the metal cables, which also led to a couple scary moments. The rock was very, very steep about midway up, and at one point I started getting tired. Mind over matter is definitely a thing, and I powered through to the top. Also randomly passed some guys from UCSD BTEC days on their way down – of all the places, ha.

btycofcof

All in all, super proud of ourselves. It was all kinds of exhausting, exhilarating, and insane scary. It was quite hazy and ashy due to forest fires in the region, which was a bummer for the views at the top. We also saw all a manner of wildlife, including a mummy deer and her two baby deers, squirrels, fat chipmunks, and even a bear on the trail! The trip back was probably the longest return hikes I’ve ever experienced. You definitely need stamina to make it back down to the valley. I also busted my hip flexor muscles on the way up, so coming down was a super struggle for me personally. I pretty much limped my way down at least 8 miles. Three days later, I’m still quite sore.

Cheers to adventures and family time. Gods know we need it more than ever.