XXX problem: extra small clothing in Sydney

Yes, I admit it, there were times in my life when I had to shop for clothing in children’s section. I imagine that’s how it feels to rummage for food in a garbage bin: you keep your head low and hope nobody pays attention. I’m not particularly small, certainly not by Asian standards, but even in Chinatown I can barely find anything below size S. And when I do, it turns out to be too big.

I see plenty of Asian men about my size (60kg/1.7m) in Sydney, but where do they shop? Until recently I was frequenting Giordano, but now they cut XS out of their size range. Right now, yd is the only store that spares me the indignity of going to Cotton On Kids and having Mickey Mouse on my shirt:

cotton on kids

Luckily, yd manufactures not only XS, but also XXS and XXXS (a little too little even for me). Politix has some small stuff too (marked as S), but they are on the pricey side. Anybody has other suggestions/experiences?

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Engineering problem

Recently a stranger asked me in an email “don’t you have a tech blog other than” No, not really. Despite being an engineer at Google and getting fair bit of traffic from my StackOverflow account, I have no urge to write about programming, software, gadgets and other tech stuff. I just don’t feel it’s… important to me. Yes, I like many things about my job (like not having to worry whether I’ll be eating anything next week), but it’s just a job.

When I was in kindergarden, I saw a colorful book where people of different professions described what they were doing. (Since I was so little, each one had a large picture and a very short description) Doctor in white coat and gangly policeman in blue uniform were saying “I cure people” and “I keep people safe”. Adults would ask “whom do you want to be when you grow up” and we were supposed to answer based on what we’d like to do for others. But as you grow up, the idea of doing something because of its value for others evaporates gradually. Instead, we settle for something that pays the bills and brings food to the table. The market decides for us what is valuable and we just plod along.

It’s also the reason why I’m reluctant to identify myself as an engineer. Nobody I met at work also takes any particular pride in what they’re doing. Yes, I worked with many extremely smart and committed people (it’s Google, after all), but I never got an impression that it’s more than just a job. Nobody there says “I’m making people’s lives better through my mobile app”. Sure, people try to make a successful product which brings them recognition and rewards, but it’s not about improving the world. And while I know there are passionate programmers somewhere, I never encountered one of them in person.

Naturally, I was trying to change that for some time. An idealistic side of me tells “be a teacher, musician, scientist, volunteer in Africa”. But I know that neither of those occupations brings meaning in itself. There are inspired teachers and there are teachers beaten down by life. Former take pride and satisfaction in their job, while later are just passing by. Might as well be an inspired engineer and not waste 10 years invested into that path.

I also wonder, who are those “not inspired” people? I mean, if you are not emotionally invested in whatever you’re doing, if it’s just a job, then you are not a teacher, musician or scientist. You just happen to work as one, but that’s not who you are. Unteacher and unscientist, maybe. Obviously, they are husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and relatives to someone, but who are they to the world? That leaves a great big hole in your life, that lack of connection to the world. The sort of hole eternal Bob Dylan often sings about.

That is why I picked up the whole writing idea and other outlets to invest my energy in. To feel like I’m doing something that matters, or at least that I’m trying to. I want to find a goal towards which I could invest all of myself: my intelligence, my tenacity, my sense of beauty and common sense, my optimism, my energy. Sounds almost like Theodore Roosevelt in his arousing and overused speech, but easier said than done.

So, how do you go about removing un- part and taking pride and finding meaning in your occupation? Is it about finding what really fires you up? Or is it about recognizing the value of whatever you’re doing now? One doesn’t change a lot by cleaning bedpans, but I can see how one could say “I’m a nurse” with pride.

If you got to this part, dear reader, bear with me for another 2 minutes and try an experiment. Go to a mirror and say “I am an XXX and I am proud of what I do”. See if you can say it without feeling comical or cynical. If you succeed, leave a comment!

PS Ah, Avenue Q. It has an answer to every problem!

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Life is what happens to you while you’re busy killing orcs

Life - tiny frog

One of my favourite quotes comes from a song by John Lennon, Beautiful Boy. It reads “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Life is in trivial things around us, like a butterfly which flew into your open window, smell of grass in the morning, light reflections in Sydney harbour’s water at night and taking a hand of someone you love. Preparing for the wonderful future, we often forget about now.

I happened to see two very different films today, Hobbit 2 and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. While watching the former, I couldn’t shake off the feeling of how irrelevant everything on screen was. We know that the dragon will be slain and the heroes will prevail. Every time Bilbo faces danger, he will jump out of sword’s blow or be saved by an elf’s arrow. Victory is inevitable and nothing is really at stake.

In Walter Mitty, everything is opposite. There’s no grand battle or big spectacle. What matter are the smallest possible things. The film starts out with a mystery: a negative by a famous photographer goes missing. It is his best shot and was intended to go on a cover of Life magazine. This greatly upsets life of the main character, Walter Mitty, who undoubtedly will be blamed for the loss.

In a Peter Jackson movie, that setup would lead to a treacherous plot to destroy the Earth and a climatic battle with Sauron for possession of the negative, which alone could save human race from extinction. At the very last moment, Walter would hit Sauron with his briefcase, insert negative into the Earth-destruction device and its timer would freeze at “00:01”.

But what follows in Ben Stiller’s film is incomparably less grand. The solution to the mystery is so trivial and ordinary, it’s almost disappointing. But by looking closely at those small things, the director finds emotions, humour, joy and life. More than I saw in the whole of Middle Earth.

In addition, here’s a beautiful song by Jose Gonzalez from the film (and the trailer). It was so very hard not to sing along during the credits, soon I dropped the resistance and joined the choir!

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The Great Beauty

the great beautyThe Great Beauty is such an unusual concoction of sights and sounds, it’s a wonder it works at all. Watching it is like seeing a walking bicycle and realizing, to your amazement, that one can actually ride it.

The movie follows Jep Gambardella, the king of Rome’s night life. Jep came to Rome in his twenties, after having written a very promising novel, but 40 years later he is settled as a journalist for a high-class literary magazine. Jep has friends, who are just as frustrated and unsatisfied with their lives as he is, despite having all their red Ferraris and high-rise condos. Together they keep each other company and form a support group of sorts. The presence of other miserable people convinces them it’s ok, the life is still worth living and facade is still worth maintaining.

Jep has invested last four decades into becoming the Rome’s chief socialite and now he has the power to make party a success or disaster. But there’s something compulsive about his pursuit of entertainment and admiration. Like a functioning alcoholic, Jep doesn’t enjoy his life, but has no will to change it either. He reminds me of Michael Fassbender’s sex-addict character in Shame. At the time of orgasm, Fassbender’s expression was not that of pleasure, but of pain.Shame - Michael Fassbender

Continue reading

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Tie me to a chair and leave for 12 hours

Blondie's Big Deal

A few months ago I went on a volunteering trip with some people from my work, most of whom I never met before. On a plane, I got to sit next to a woman from the Korean office and in those few hours I got to know her better than I know my teammates after two years of working together. When you’re bound to a place and have nothing important to do, talking to a stranger becomes much easier. You are less likely to start prioritizing tasks or writing emails. And it feels less awkward to start a conversation there too.

By the end of the trip, it seemed really unfair we were living in different countries. Still, we decided to keep in touch and last Tuesday she told me she was in Sydney for work. But, despite staying for almost a week, she was always busy. And so was I, for the record. We found time for a quick lunch, joined by one of her colleagues, but it was not nearly as satisfying as being tied to a chair. In the office cafeteria, there is always a spectre of work which never lets people relax and let go. There is always something to do and somewhere to go.

People often dislike air travel, but the in-flight time is one of the few places we truly disconnect from our schedules and our emails. It may not provide a lot of space, but it gives us time and silence necessary to reflect and to communicate.

I wish I could travel more in my work.

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Amazing Sydney fauna

Sydney fauna

As a child, I wanted to be a naturalist in the Brazilian rain forest, discovering incredible and dangerous animals. When I grew up, I found that being a naturalist in a city is just as rewarding.


Not far from Mr Panda lives Mr Hog. His owner (right) has revealed to me a secret to getting lots of female attention: get a pig.

mad preacher

Mad preacher is warning us of impending apocalypse. I sadly missed the warning, I was too busy finding the perfect angle.

road workerA very mysterious, but nonetheless remarkable specimen. Possibly related to the genus Roadus Workerus.


Patrons at my local coffee shop. This one is unhappy with his drink and looks for a waiter.

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Meanwhile, George has got a makeover and doesn’t look like Robinson Crusoe anymore. I swear, I had no idea a haircut and a shave can make so much difference in the impression you make! I wouldn’t even believe those two are the same person, if I didn’t know myself.

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What’s wrong with me, doctor?

You know something about yourself, when you start picking on language in an industrial-grade English test. Taking IELTS today, I was presented with the following gem: “You’ll be invited for an interview, when carefully designed <examination techniques> are used“. (IELTS is what they use to assess foreigners’ English proficiency in Australia, similar to TOEFL in US) There’ve been few other cases which made me doubt what language I was being tested for, but this one is the most clear.

Now I feel vaguely proud and superior, but also not sure what it makes me: a grammar nazi or a watchful citizen?

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Panda and his friends

Panda and his friends

On our weekly outing with George, we met Mr. Panda. Mr. Panda lives in a front yard of a small rundown house, with Ms. Pinguin, a bear couple and his other friends.


The Instagram registration process is defeated! I’m very impressed with myself, it took me less than two hours to select a username.

It feels awkward to be the last person on Earth to get an account, but I’m glad I did. I had no idea it would be so simple and so freakishly fun! It’s much easier to improve a picture in it, than in Photoshop or iPhoto.

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My other house

“Introversion arises from a need and preference to protect the inner, ‘subjective’ aspect of life, to value it more, and in particular not to allow it to be overwhelmed by the ‘objective’ world”

Dr. Elaine Aron, The Highly Sensitive Person

Most authors define introversion in terms of energy: introverts generate it through reflection and have to expend it in interactions with people. The problem is, I don’t see my life in terms of energy transactions. When I go out to meet people, I don’t calculate the balance and don’t write receipts. Not to mention, a lot of other factors affect my energy level: exercise, feeling unwell, diet, stress, rest, work, emotions.

Other definitions focus on things like size of your social circle and how much you talk. Sorta. It’s like saying that a bird is an animal with feathers. Correct in the strictly logical sense, but misses the point. Birds are not about feathers.

The definition above is the first one I can really relate to. For me, being an introvert is like having a second house inside your mind, complete with bookshelves, an armchair and a fireplace. I imagine it as a wizard’s or alchemist’s lair from the old computer games. A place you can always retreat to, a place where you feel comfortable and at home.

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