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2023 Lookback (English Version)

Dual language post warning!! Chinese version is over here.


Coming to Seattle from Austin was already two years ago! The last time I wrote such a long reflection was Thanksgiving 2019. It’s about time to reflect a bit on life and the past two years.

Thoughts on Moving to Seattle

I came to Seattle in September of 2021. At the time I thought Return to Office was happening soon, so I made plans with the company to move in September. The company had extensive benefits, helping me move my clothes, computer, printer, etc. to Seattle, renting a temporary apartment, and giving me a house-hunting assistant, all for free.

My last day in Austin was September 9th. That night, I went out to have a farewell dinner with some university friends from Healing with Harmonies (a music club). When I got home, my sister had made Crème brûlée for us. I was feeling emotional, so I didn’t eat that much of it. Hopefully my sister didn’t think that I thought it wasn’t good, because it was quite good, each mouthful full of both sugar and the love my family had for me.

The next day I flew to Seattle. The weather was exceedingly beautiful, with clear blue skies and fluffy white clouds on the way there. That night, I had hot pot with my two best friends from university, Ben and John, who were fortunately both also living in Seattle, as a sort of welcoming dinner. After that, I began living in the temporary apartment, not far from the office.

My strongest memory from this period of time was September 21, Mid-Autumn Festival. During the day, not much happened, I just sat at the apartment and worked, but at night I felt wrong not doing anything to celebrate, so I ordered some bubble tea, calling my mom as I stabbed the drink with the straw.

I’ve forgotten the irrelevant daily small talk I made with my mom while lying on the couch, but all I remember was my speech choking and stopping in my throat as I spoke. Mom was quiet for a moment, then asked me “Are you crying?”. The funny part is, I wasn’t. It was only once she asked that question that my eyes became wet with tears. I told my mom how much I missed her and home, she replied “That’s how it is moving away from home”, and only then did I truly understand the feeling of leaving home. I’d lived in Seattle before for 3 months in both 2018 and 2019 for internships, but I didn’t get homesick at all then, because I knew I would be going home once the summer was over. This time, in merely twelve days, I already felt immense homesickness.

The next day was September 22nd, my first day stepping in a Facebook Seattle office since the pandemic began. I found my desk and began working. At the time, the office still had A/B rotations for who could come in in order to stem the spread of the virus, and masks were still required indoors. Afterward, I found a permanent apartment, and at the end of the year returned home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

To prevent this post from getting overbearingly long (Afterword: It still got overbearingly long anyways…), I’ll omit details about concrete happenings in 2021-2023, I just wanted to talk about some more general feelings. To be honest, these feelings are kind of a mess and not organized well, I just wanted to express them in the most pure and direct manner, so if it’s hard to read, I apologize in advance.

About Work

I graduated in 2020, and started working remotely from Austin that August. At the time, food and shelter were provided by my parents, so life was pretty relaxing (outside of the global pandemic). I rejoined my 2019 internship team when joining Facebook full time, much rather joining a team where I already had working relationships with people than trying to get to know new teammates remotely.

New graduate software engineers are level 3 (E3) when they join Facebook. Thanks to skills learned during my internships, I reached E4 within a year, and half a year after moving to Seattle reached E5. Facebook has a peculiar system where E3 and E4 employees must advance to E5 within a certain time frame (two years per level). Once you reach E5, you can stop indefinitely or continue climbing. If you fail to get promoted within the provided time, it’s basically bye bye. I was fortunate enough to have a manager that took care of me and a team with lots of work to do, so I reached E5 faster than I expected to.

In 2022, not even half a year after reaching E5, Facebook undertook an unprecendented round of layoffs in November. Luckily, I wasn’t laid off that time nor in the following two rounds in the spring, but I deeply remember the last day before the layoff date in November, I and the people in the neighborhood held an “Ad Hoc Happy Hour”, because we weren’t sure who would still be here tomorrow. At the time, I asked everyone “What would you do if you get laid off?”, and the answers were pretty interesting. Some said they’d rest for half a year, some would go travel, others wanted to make a video game, while others wanted to take a stab at hobbies outside of computers. I was in that latter group.

At the beginning of 2023, I experienced burnout for the first time. A combination of not being to celebrate and travel in 2020 after graduating, remote onboarding, forced promotion timelines, and the 2022 layoffs, half of my energy and enthusiasm for work dissolved. But it wasn’t that I didn’t want to work anymore, I think ultimately it was good to bring back a healthier balance to work and life. After resting for a short period of time in February and March, I told my manager I wanted to switch teams to learn new things. My manager was very understanding and supportive, and a few weeks later I changed to my current team.

All this is to say, I realized that work isn’t everything in life, and have increasingly become disinterested in coding outside of work. I still like computers, and won’t slack too hard at work (it’s Facebook after all, big companies are pretty demanding), but I’m comfortable expressing this love for computers at work, and leaving it at work. After going home, I don’t want to think about work at all. There’s lots more in life to explore and enjoy than work.

The Importance of Letting Go

I started writing unofficial Minecraft mods in 2013. In many ways, Minecraft modding brought me into the world of computers and programming, dramatically altering the course of my career. With time, I began collaborating with larger and more well known mods. My university acceptance letter even specifically pointed at this work as particularly notable.

By 2017, I was the lead maintainer of two mods, ProjectE and Botania, and associate maintainer of Twilight Forest. All three very well-known mods.

At the time, I was in university and had tons of spare time. Besides doing homework and music club activities, all my free time was dumped into programming mods. What boundless energy I had at the time. (I should’ve socialized more…)

However, by 2019 I was already feeling a bit tired, and soon handed off the lead maintainership of ProjectE to a new team member. In 2020, thanks to the pandemic, I also resigned from my post with Twilight Forest, thinking that I’d just focus on Botania.

After this year’s burnout as mentioned above, I reassessed my relationship with the hobby of modding. In truth, I hadn’t played Minecraft itself seriously in 6 years, much less mods for it. My love for this game had pretty much faded. So why was I still going at it these six years?

The problem is “not letting go”. I had already formed a habit in the 8 years as Botania’s lead maintainer: When I got out of class or off of work and didn’t know what to do, I’d open my editor and start modding. I was also somewhat prideful, not trusting or not willing to let others handle things. Additionally, of the three mods my affection for Botania was the highest, so it was even harder to put it down.

The founder, ZUN, of my favorite IP of all time, Touhou Project, once said at a panel, “If [in the process of creating] you don’t enjoy it anymore, then let yourself stop!”. With this in mind, I finally resigned my post at Botania, ending a 10 year journey of programming mods.

After posting this Modding Retirement post, I got lots of thank you messages from the community, so my heart feels satisfied with the 10 years of hard work.

Being able to stop on your own terms is a wonderful thing.

Life is a long journey, so I’m sure in the future I’ll have to give up on other things I once found impossible to part with. While saying goodbye to these good memories, I learned the importance of letting go.

About Music and Art

My relationship with music goes back 21 years. At age 5, I started playing piano, and a few years later the violin. But to be honest, I didn’t have much of an opinion of either. “I’ll go because my family recommended it!”, I practiced with this lackadaisical attitude. Though if time went back, I’d still be willing to learn piano and with it basic music theory, because in 6th grade I met my primary instrument, the flute.

I won’t repeat my various experiences and memories with the flute in middle school and high school here, it’s all in my 2019 post.

I just wanted to think a bit about flute’s meaning to me. Since graduating high school, flute has become an entirely hobbyist activity. No more contests to worry about. I feel like when I was young, music was all about contests, awards, gaining external recognition. Could I still enjoy music without those motivators?

The answer is yes.

I found a new flute teacher in 2022, and started practicing again. But after practicing the material my teacher me, I often improvisationally play some of my own music, including video game music, anime music, C-pop, etc. Thanks to ten years of basic training, anything I play is at least acceptable to listen to, and afterwards the more I hear my own sound the more I want to keep playing, entering a positive reinforcement loop or flow state. From there, time flies by, and afternoon easily turns into evening. When I’m alone, this is when I’m the happiest.

Besides flute, there was one other big development this year: I started learning the Chinese bamboo flute (dizi)!!

I fell in love with dizi around October 2020, when I found 孟曉潔Jae Meng’s channel. I was particularly drawn in by her covers of The Sound of Snow Falling and Renai Circulation.

After moving to Seattle, I really wanted to find a teacher, but never ended up finding one online. It was only May of this year when I went to the Seattle Center to attend a Chinese cultural festival that I saw a high school student perform “Spring on the Xiang River”. I knew immediately that she had a teacher, so I contacted the group responsible for organizing the performance, the Seattle Chinese Orchestra, for more details.

The orchestra director replied and told me to come to orchestra rehearsal to meet the dizi teacher. At the time, I didn’t understand why he didn’t just give me the teacher’s contact details directly, but I shrugged and went anyways. Eventually, I started taking private lessons.

I still remember my “trial lesson” was June 6th. I didn’t even have my own instrument(s) yet and had to borrow my teacher’s to try making a sound. As soon as I heard the sound I thought to myself, “Ah, I can make this sort of beautiful sound too!”. On the way back from my teacher’s house to the bus stop, I was so excited I almost yelled out loud. After getting home, I immediately contacted the teacher to arrange further lessons.

As for the orchestra, I was originally intending only to take private lessons and wasn’t too interested in the orchestra. But it occurred to me that participating in an ensemble could boost my learning of the basics, so I ended up joining officially. I’m thankful I did, because in our section besides me, my teacher, and some middle- and high-school girls, I met another new friend that I’ve gotten along pretty well with ^^.

The orchestra rehearsed from when I joined in early summer until the beginning of October, after which we had a concert in Benaroya. Though I think we can do better as a group, I was still very happy that I could perform in an ensemble less than half a year after picking up a new instrument.

Learning a new instrument for the first time in 15 years, a lot of concepts translate directly from western flute, such as breath control, embouchre adjustment in the high ranges, etc. Conversely, my dizi teacher has pointed out several bad habits of mine, all of which have been heard from my western flute teacher many times XP. Additionally, I can rely on 21 years of musical sense to notice interpretative details that my teacher doesn’t point. All the instruments have this sort of cycle where they positively influence the development of each other, it’s great.

Last year and this year, I also decided to start making cover videos on flute and dizi. As of right now, I have five, which you can check out on Facebook or Youtube. (Note: One video got copystriked on YouTube so you’ll have to go to Facebook for that one)

Besides music, I started trying to learn drawing in 2022. Although I think my drawings still suck, you can check them out on my IG. I don’t know how much I can focus on it this coming year, because I’m excitedly learning a new instrument, but I hope to get a few out!

Connecting with Family and Friends

My relationship with my sisters is healthy, but only after I moved away in 2021 did I start consciously taking effort to keep up the relationship. We were always besides each other when young, always assuming we were there to play with each other. But in high school and university everyone was super busy, and we had no real time to actually talk and bond.

In 2021, my little sister left Austin slightly ahead of me. That day, I decided to start a Messenger group with only us four kids, and after moving to Seattle I brought up the idea of video chatting once a month (lovingly called the “Dolphin Conference”). We talk quite a bit each time, probably 3-4 hours on average.

Speaking of dolphins, they’re obviously my favorite animal, and my internet name is based on my dolphin plushie’s name. Last fall, I and my sisters even started a dolphin Instagram, to share fun bits of our lives through dolphin plushies.

But far from being a pointless diversion, the dolphins are a symbol of us as siblings. Each time I see a picture of a dolphin plushie sent on our group chat, I’m reminded of our happy childhood memories, and conversely, sending a picture of one’s own dolphin is like saying “I’m thinking of you”, it’s heartwarming and really cute.

With my mom, I try to call about once a week. This isn’t because I particularly have a lot to say, but just to form a regular habit so I don’t get lazy. Even though my mom can be long-winded, I know this her way of expressing care, and for that I’m grateful❤.

Friends have been more of a challenge. In 2019, we participated in a “Water Lantern Festival”, and I remember I wrote “I wish to treasure my relationships” on my lantern.

Thinking of the past several years, I don’t think I’ve done a particularly good job. I don’t talk to many high school friends anymore, and I didn’t make many college friends in the first place. Before, I’d be quite hard on myself for not being proactive enough, but recently from talking with family and friends I’ve come to a more neutral stance – friendship goes both ways, and if you aren’t fated to be, you’ll drift apart, and that’s part of life. I still find it a bit sad though, I’m guessing because I don’t have many deep friends so losing any friendship feels especially like a shame.

Recently in December, I read a book called Platonic, which mainly talks about the importance of friendships and tools for building better ones.

The most interesting portion I found was the beginning, which gives an overview of Attachment Theory. The signs of anxious attachment were pretty interesting, such as:

  • Being worried your friends secretly don’t like you
    • Causes someone to overshare with strangers, in order to maximize others’ liking of oneself
  • Being overly nice, with the expectation of gaining others’ liking
  • If upset with friends, holds it in, then blows up when they can’t stand it anymore

After thinking about it, I think I have some of these signs too. I’m not saying they’re particularly severe in myself, but it’s just a way of framing things and reminding myself when I notice myself thinking in that way. Instead, the way to think is:

  • Trust that your friends love you
    • E.g.: Often times I’ll feel like “Ah, I wanna chat with X friend”, then I’ll overthink “I don’t want to bother them”. Or if they don’t respond for a long time after my message, I get worried “Did I say something wrong?”
    • The right answer is: Say what you want to say, trust your friends will tell you if they’re busy or upset
  • Helping friends should come from true generosity, with no expectation of repayment
  • If upset with friends, lay it all out early and work through it together

Though, a lot of people don’t really believe attachment theory, so I’ll half-believe it🤔.

One of my best friends has already moved to New York, and the other one wants to go next year. I hope that we can sustain our friendship despite the distance.

Self-Understanding and Self-Love

(Note: I felt this section was pretty important, but ended up procrastinating until the afternoon of the 31st to write it. Please excuse the quality…)

One day when chatting at home with my siblings and mom I asked my mom, “How have we changed since we were little?” Mom said I’ve always been pretty much the same, a naïve and happy-go-lucky sort of child.

I feel like I indeed used to be a silly and happy-go-lucky kid, passing each day as it came, but since high school my brain has been in overdrive with thinking, and college even more so. Often, I’d always think of the worst case scenario and stress myself needlessly about it. The first year in Seattle was similar.

This year, I feel like I’ve matured quite a bit, though concretely in what way I couldn’t say. I just feel happier than the previous three years.

In 2016, I became a fan of a bilibili uploader, 泠鴛yousa. The first work of hers I listened to was her 「神的隨波逐流」, a Chinese version of the Japanese song “As The Gods Say”. There’s several lyrics that I like a lot in it:

So I say

Don’t worship me too much, nor argue with the gods for a night

Indeed, unexplored happiness is all around you

Taste the exquisite wine under the moon, hitting cymbals and drums is not enough

Once you get drunk, fall asleep, and awaken, let’s continue on forwards!

Many hopes have already been hidden away in this world

Hidden in a repetitive, lonely, and boring daily life

Perhaps one day someone will smile and offer an outstretched palm

Perhaps in your heart, or besides you

Whenever I feel a bit sad, I always sing this song and immediately feel better. It’s my “drinking song”, and I have to hit it at karaoke every time.

Also, in the new Touhou Project game this year, there’s a track called The World is Made of Cuteness (alternatively, “The World is Made in an Adorable Way”) that’s really nice. Composer ZUN has this to say about it:

It's a song that leans towards my image of Reimu, while also deciding the game's atmosphere.

“Light, fun and cute, if only our world was like that…”

is what I thought while making this song.

It really is a lighthearted and cute song. After hearing it in March, I also felt that the world has lots of things that are worth enjoying, being thankful for, and loving.

You could say now that I’m not really a derpy and naïve happy-go-lucky kid, rather an intentional optimist, taking effort to have a happy, optimistic, and relaxed approach to things.

If I want to do something, do it. If I want to express love to my family and friends, say it and stop keeping those words to myself.

The me that I love the most is my honest, authentic, and pure self.

A beautiful, wonderful, and adorable world is in front of one’s eyes, and shouldn’t be interfered with by all the worries in one’s mind.

Hopes for Next Year

All in all, I was much happier this year than 2022 (To be honest, besides my Singapore/Malaysia vacation I remember nothing about 2022…).

I hope 2024 gets even better! More precisely:

  • I hope work goes normally, that I get Meets Expectations, and don’t get fired😝
  • I hope to start exercising. No lofty goals, I just want my upper body and arms to be a bit fuller. These two years I’ve been asked “Are you a high schooler?” too many times, I can’t take it anymore 😅. Obviously, a six-pack would be great too (lol).
  • I hope to buy a home.
  • I hope to go to China with my family.
  • I hope I keep my flute skills at the same level, and my dizi skills continue to leap forward (I wanna perform a solo, even if it’s a simple piece)
  • I hope to proactively communicate with and maintain my friendships; I hope I can reconnect with old friends.
  • I hope I can bravely share my purest, most authentic, and best self with the person I like, and use this hope to continue improving myself.
  • I hope to continue having an optimistic and happy outlook on life.

Happy New Year everyone, and I hope your 2024 is better than your 2023 too. Thank you for reading.