Category Archives: Personal Reflection

My Personal Rebranding: from Jonathan to Bruce

It’s time to fire up presses again and restart publishing.  I’ve got a couple new articles that I have in mind, but first I want to reflect a bit about my recent personal rebranding, from Jonathan to Bruce.

I’ve got a couple reasons for restarting my writing:

– First, writing lets me think through ideas – to take a lot of thoughts and reflections, organize them, and create a central thesis.  When I talk to others, one of my great strengths is being able to refine ideas: I ask the right questions to get the information I need, combine it with my knowledge, and organize it all together into a central thesis or hypothesis.  But it’s difficult for me to apply process to myself – except through writing.

– Second, writing allows me to establish a published trail, an aura of legitimacy, which is something that I currently lack.  As I continue to look for Product Management roles, I know that I can do the work, but I can’t prove it.  In order to prove it, I need to either point to products that I’ve shipped end to end, or point to a series of published articles that establishes my expertise.

So it’s get to get back onto the writing wagon.  But first, I want to do some personal reflection on some personal rebranding that I’ve gone through recently.

A lot of my older friends and family know me as Jonathan.  Now, I mostly go by Bruce.  It’s a long story.  The short of it is: in elementary school, 5th grade, I was every Asian stereotype: good at math, shy, socially awkward, bowl haircut, talked with a stutter, and had a hard time making friends.  It’s a period that I’ve mostly blocked out of my memory.

But one of my few memories is getting the nickname of Bruce.  I was in the classroom, during a break when everyone was milling around and no teachers were around.  I’m standing around minding my own business, when a bully comes up to me, and starts messing with me.  Scissors were brandished.  I respond by deciding I wanted no part of this, and pull out some martial arts.  I may have punched him in the nose.  And my classmates, seeing the commotion and knowing that my last name is Lee, dubbed me Bruce.

I hated it.  I hated it with a passion.  My name was Jonathan, not Jon, not definitely not John.  And yet, the nickname followed me all through middle school, high school, and even college; a classmate who was sometimes a good friend and sometimes my worst enemy moved in the same circles as me, and always made it a point to call me Bruce.  And the the name stuck, but in what I felt was a mocking way.  After all, I was an skinny, awkward kid, totally different from the real Bruce.

It was only until after college that I finally to escape the Bruce moniker.  But ironically, around that time, I had a mentor who followed and promoted Bruce Lee’s philosophy, to be steadfast and not be unduly influenced by factors outside of his control.  Crucially, I’m here to live my own life and follow my own path, and not to follow somebody else’s expectations.  This resonated with me.

After I left New York City and started traveling the world, I started to go by the name Bruce.  It simply made sense – I was looking to discover myself, to get out of my comfort zone, and become more of the type of person I wanted to be.  Plus, having a shorter name always helps.  So even after finishing my travels and coming back to the USA, I’ve continued to go by Bruce – it’s become part of my identity.

It’s a little complicated still, this personal rebranding.  My legal name is still Jonathan.  I almost always introduce myself as Bruce.  My LinkedIn says Bruce (Jonathan) Lee.  My Facebook, which I rarely use, says Jonathan Lee (Bruce Lee).  I’ve got multiple emails accounts, so that I send out emails “from” both Jonathan and Bruce.  This website obviously still says I’m Jonathan.  Family is sometimes confused when somebody calls me Bruce.

If I were doing a company rebranding, I’d do it all in one go – over one night, the entire company would be rebranded – all logos would be changed, and there would even be a press release.  I’m a bit less decisive, and my personal rebranding is going slowly.  So where does that leave me?

I’m Jonathan.  I’m also Bruce.  But either way, I’m constantly working on being the person I want to be.  And for now, that’s good enough for me.

Interlude: the Treachery of 7-11 Sandwiches

Introducing the 7-11 sandwich, available all throughout southeast Asia.  Looks good, doesn’t it?
Convenience store - sandwich unopened

Yet, if you buy it and open it up, this is what you get:
Convenience store - sandwich opened

You think you’re getting a nice big sandwich, filled with meats, lettuce, and cheese.  However, nothing but sadness and despair awaits you, as you open to find a hollowed out shell of a sandwich, with nothing but a facade of toppings.

And you sadly reflect upon your life.

Continue reading Interlude: the Treachery of 7-11 Sandwiches

Reflection: Chinese Travel and the Naming of Places

As mentioned in an earlier post on Alishan, something odd about traveling in Taiwan is the naming of places – all points of interest, no matter how insignificant, must be named and labeled.  This is the pig stump.  That rock arrangement looks like a Buddha’s ear.  Over there is a very tall tree.

And to somebody who has traveled through scenic spots in other countries, this is really weird.  When climbing Mount Rinjani in Indonesia, there are basically no labeled points of interest.  There’s the summit, there’s the crater and accompanying lake, there’s the hot springs.  There’s a bunch of camping sites.  And that’s about it – everything else is simply ‘climbing trail’.

And it’s the same thing in New Zealand, home to the Great Trails.  Hiking in Abel Tasman National Park, there are only two points of interest – hiking trail, and camp grounds.  Nothing else.  It’s simply you and nature, and have to use your own eyes and imagination to find any sights of interest.

So why this difference?

Continue reading Reflection: Chinese Travel and the Naming of Places

Reflection: Returning to Taiwan

It’s odd, finally coming (back?) to Taiwan. Yes, I’m ethnically Taiwanese (I’ve got seven generations of ancestry in Taiwan), but I was born and raised in the USA. I spent my second grade in elementary school here in Taiwan, as well as countless summer breaks, but I haven’t been back here in almost 10 years now. And so it’s odd feeling, visiting Taiwan, my ancestral home – especially since my Chinese listening/speaking is conversational at best, my reading/writing is basic, and my Taiwanese language skills are basically nonexistent.

Taiwan first impressions - street view

Coming to Taiwan after being absent for ten years, everything is the same, but everything is different.

Continue reading Reflection: Returning to Taiwan

Reflection: Taking a Break from Traveling

After I leave Jakarta and Indonesia, I’m going to Taiwan and taking a break from traveling. Because I’m tired of backpacking, tired of traveling. I’ve been going strong for six months now, but now I need a breather. It might seem odd, to say that you’re tired of backpacking and traveling; after all, isn’t it just one long vacation? How is that possible, getting tired of being on vacation? Have I simply run out of money?

Firstly, no, I have not run out of money. Checking my finances, I’m actually in amazing shape; I have traveled longer and spent less than I had originally planned (details in a follow-up post). But just like you can get tired of eating bacon for every meal (admittedly, it might take a very long time), you can get tired of constant travel. And as outlined in an earlier post, the problem with traveling Southeast Asia is never knowing who or what to trust. So right now, what I really want to do is to find somewhere quiet, somewhere I can settle into a routine, somewhere I can let my guard down and not think about if I’m getting ripped off.

Secondly, half a year and a lifetime ago, I put together a travel manifesto, on why I’m traveling the world. In short, I wanted to challenge myself, and now is the best time. Of course, things have certainly gone differently than I had originally planned. Instead of traveling through 10 countries in three months, I’ve gone through 6 countries in six months. Instead of circumnavigating around the world, I’ve only visited countries in Southeast Asia. No plan survives first contact with reality. But I’ve completed my original challenge to myself. So it’s time to move on to the next challenge.

Finally, I need to think about getting on with my life. Originally, I had planned on travelling for three months going back to making money – either rejoining the labor force and getting a job, or striking out on my own. After traveling and intermittently reflecting on my life for six months, I know for sure that I don’t want to go back to a 9-5 job working for The Man. So what are my options instead? To start something on my own. And the only way I can do that, is to take a break from traveling, and get to work on my projects.

So, what does this mean, this break from traveling?

1) Travel-related postings will slow, but not stop. I will still be exploring Taiwan!
2) Business analysis and projects related postings will increase!
3) Website redesign! Woohoo! (eventually)

Reflection: Trust in Southeast Asia

The most difficult and wearying part of traveling is figuring out who to trust in Southeast Asia. When you are safely at home, you’re comfortable because you trust your surroundings. Your home is your sanctuary, you know which nearby shops and restaurants are good, and your daily routine is familiar.

When traveling, especially in Southeast Asia, all this goes out the window. When staying at a homestay or hostel, will it be clean? When looking for food, how do you find a place that is safe? When traveling around, how do you find something safe and comfortable?

And above all, are you paying a fair price, or the tourist price? How can you be sure that somebody isn’t taking advantage of you?

Continue reading Reflection: Trust in Southeast Asia

Interlude: Senggigi and the Expertise Assumption

After I had gotten sick of Gili Trawangan, I hopped on a local boat heading to the Lombok mainland, where I stayed for a night at Senggigi. Like all forms of local transportation, the local boat was overcrowded – 50-some people on a boat built for 30:
Senggigi - boat from Gili

Senggigi itself was quite boring – lots of tourist-filled resorts, decent beaches, but not much else. But that was okay, I mostly just needed to get away from the insufferable crowds of Gili Trawangan.
Senggigi - beach 1

Continue reading Interlude: Senggigi and the Expertise Assumption

Reflection: Expanding Horizons by Traveling

It’s a well worn cliche, how traveling is great at expanding horizons, but I’m realizing just now how true it is.

It’s that scene from Good Will Hunting, where the professor feels at peace after realizing that even though Will has his genius and book knowledge, he has no real experience. As a graduate of one of America’s top universities, you think you’re one of the intellectual elite. Working in finance, you think you’re on top of the world. Safe within your shell, surrounded by like minded people, it’s hard to not feel like you’re on a great path in life, hard to resist feeling superior to all the other plebs.

But when you’re traveling as a backpacker, you meet people from all walks of life, each with their own story, their own hopes, their own skills. And you realize, there’s no metric you can possibly use to compare lives; people are going about their lives in a way completely alien to your pre-journey self.

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Non-Profit Fundraising: Why Asking your Network for Donations is not being an Asshole

Many non-profits, when holding fundraisers, often ask you to raise money from your network. This can take many forms, from asking friends & family to support a favorite cause, to asking strangers to pledge money as you run/walk/disco for a cause. As the non-profit directs you to spam people on your address book, it encourages you by telling you of all the good you are doing – feeding orphans, working towards a cure, ending poverty.

However, aren’t you also bugging the hell out of your contacts? After all, if they cared about a cause, wouldn’t they just donate directly to that cause?

To draw an analogy, in the multi-level marketing (MLM) world, where you earn a commission by selling products and getting other people to sign up to sell products, you are universally encouraged to start out by selling to friends and family. Since they already know and trust you, unloading some of your useless products onto them is a lot easier than selling to strangers. Since MLM companies are often regarded as being sketchy as hell, why are non-profits using the same technique?

And so, for the longest time, I was hesitant to raise money for non-profits, afraid that I would be bothering my friends and family, afraid that I’d be ‘forcing’ them to make donations and imposing my desires on others. But then, in my travels, as I meet a lot of travelers who been going around volunteering in southeast Asia, I’ve realized why this entire thought process is wrong.

Instead, you should think about it this way:

1) People want to do good and are willing to donate money, but they don’t know who to donate to. They are too busy with their everyday lives to go out and seek out a good cause, and even if a non-profit comes and asks for money directly, how do they know if the non-profit is any good? There are numerous bad non-profits out there that squander the majority of their fundraising on self-promotion and executive salaries.

2) However, if you ask your network for donations on behalf of a non-profit, something curious happens: trust in you becomes trust in the non-profit you are sponsoring. It’s the same concept as with MLM – because your friends and family trust you, they will trust products that you recommend. (See movie: the Joneses)

So when you ask your network to donate to a cause, it’s a double edged sword. Yes, many of them will donate, because of the trust that you’re conveying to the non-profit, but you also need to do your homework and make sure the non-profit is indeed legit.

Reflection: being Asian in Asia

It’s a funny thing, being an Asian traveling in Asia. Whenever a westerner (white guy) travels around in Asia, he stands out, and gets certain “white privileges” – all the companies want to hire him (if only to walk around and pretend that the company is doing international business), all the girls want to talk to him, and in any setting he enjoys an automatic boost in social status. In contrast, if you’re an Asian in Asia, even if you were born in the West, you get squat. If anything, you lose out – you look more or less like a local, but you don’t speak the local language.

But as I travel and talk to people, I realize that it cuts both ways – if you’re white, sure people will always notice and (in some places) accord you more respect. But you’ll never fit in. In places like Japan, you’ll always be the odd man out, never fitting in even if you speak fluent Japanese. In places like Thailand, you will always pay higher prices when bartering, and people will forever be trying to rip you off.

Continue reading Reflection: being Asian in Asia