For those who are wondering, Grace is now officially one day overdue and counting. We went for a stress test last Thursday (on the baby, not on me). And all signs point to “normal”… so the doctors are not in a hurry to rush baby girl Chu until next week. They’ve given baby girl Chu until June 13th to pop naturally. Or she’s going to have to surrender that comfortable womb and return that belly to her mommy with help of us inconsiderate adults.

Grace is doing fine — still walking and bouncing (figuratively speaking) around with lots of energy. She’s been on her nesting mode for a couple of weeks. So this should give her an extra week to tidy things up before the little one is fully baked (or over baked?).

As for me, here’s a poem rigged from Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” that describes my situation best:

The nights are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And thousands of images to go before I sleep,
And thousands of images to go before I sleep.

I named this poem “Stopping by Lightroom On A Humid Evening.”

Suicide by Caltrain

It took me 3 hours to get home on Friday from work. The passengers on my Caltrain cart soon learned that someone had committed suicide at one of the stations (San Antonio).

About two and half hours into the delay, my cart passed the San Antonio station where the suicide occurred. I saw a couple of workers in white full body anti-contamination suits still cleaning up the tracks. Though there was no sign of blood or body parts, bright colored, official-looking plastic bags with “stuff” inside of them were still visible from where I sat. They were probably bits and pieces of human remains.

One passenger complained those who chose Caltrain as a method of suicide were very inconsiderate. They cause enormous delays and inconveniences for others. But I guess death in any situation, suicide or not, is an inconvenience for those who are involved.

On the whole trip home I wondered if it was harder to commit suicide or to live with what life has dealt us. Choosing to commit suicide is just so counter intuitive to nature that when what all living beings do in the worst of conditions is trying to survive. Have we humans become so arrogant against nature as to defy what all living beings have the innate ability to do?

I can only keep wondering.

Strange Week

Please bear with me as I go through a series of events that may or may not have anything to do with each other — all in one post. I still think an entry per story/event is still the best way to approach blogging. But time seems to keep running out on me these days, hence the “mega posts”…

So I finally got to meet Sebastian in person after having read and left messages on each other’s blog for seemingly eons (in blogsphere time, that is). We had a series of very interesting and only-if-we-had-time type of conversations over dinner in San Francisco. How I enjoy intelligent conversations…

On my new “job”, one reason I took the job was so that I could finally jump into Flash and Flex full time. But all that hope is all but gone now. Due to the relative shortage of qualifying candidates the company needs to develop the project using Flash/Flex, they’ve decided to switch strategy to meet the internal deadlines using JSP, CSS, Javascript, Ajax with a dash of Flash. It’s good and bad news all rolled into one. On one hand, I am glad they made the call because this means my existing skills in CSS and Ajax would make the development process a lot more rapid. But I am also disappointed that I won’t be leveraging the project to further develop my Flash/Flex skills. But I guess this is all good considering the baby girl is arriving anytime this week now… Lack of sleep makes learning new things an impossible task.

Also, given my relatively unique combination of skills and experience in interaction design and programming, it seems like both the design and tech teams are trying to leverage my strengths to their own advantage in all-but-invisible company politics. OH Crud…

Then came Thursday morning — just another normal working day for me. But that morning almost became a traumatic day for me as I, along with dozens of other Caltrain passengers, witnessed someone almost got run over by the very Caltrain I was supposed to catch for work. Luckily the train missed him by about 1/3 of a step, ending up clipping him on his right temple (at which spot blood seemingly came pouring out nano seconds later). The train would’ve crushed him if only he’d accidentally stepped into the track 1/10 of a second earlier….

The blow knocked him almost unconscious. Unable to stand straight, he almost fell towards the track, which would have been fatal. Fortunately a couple of cyclists were close enough to drag him away from the train, which was just about to come to a complete stop. Everyone was shocked and froze as if nobody believed this was happening — me included. I called 911 and was told by the dispatcher that a flood of calls also came in at the same time about the same incident.

The fire fighters were the first there at the scene along with its own medic unit. Then the police came one after another (3 on motorcycles with 2 others in 2 separate cars). The ambulance, of all services, came the last — looooooooong after the fire fighters arrived. Caltrain also dispatched a supervisor almost immediately, arriving after the ambulance.

It was a shocking experience that reminded me of the collapsing of the NYC Twin Towers on 9-11, of which I also witnessed as the towers crumbled…

I learned a few useful things having watched the entire event unfolding: (a) Fire fighters are awesome. If anything, they need more funding, not to be cut back! They were the first responders and the very last to leave besides the Caltrain supervisors. (b) Police weren’t really all that helpful except to be there to “investigate” what happened. They showed no urgency nor sympathy towards the person who was injured (as I saw a couple of them were even smiling and laughing as they rode away on their motorcycles — the little respect I had left for the cops was diminished that much more). (c) Look both ways when crossing the road, train track, whatever… (d) Humanity usually shows its best side at the worst of times. (e) Life is fragile. That very well could’ve been me.

Then came Sunday. Grace scheduled two photo sessions for me almost back to back. Now I have around 5,000 photos (along with ones from Missouri) to post process in the coming weeks… And the baby is coming…. and the looming deadlines of the new job… Oh, life…

On Missouri

The Missouri trip was a lot more draining and tiring than I’d expected. The nine days I was there taught me a lot about quite a few things… And overall, I think I am a better person (and photographer) because of the trip.

So what have I learned from this trip?

1. Midwest Chinese food sucks no matter how much the locals rave about it — it ain’t Chinese… It’s… Frankenstein Americanese food…

2. People who are serious about guns and treating them as sporting equipment make tremendous financial, emotional and physical investments in the sport.

3. Action pistol is an expensive sport — each round of bullet costs $0.30 (more if custom made). And on an average practice shooting session, one can go through 700 to 1,000 rounds — that’s each day times almost seven days a week.

4. Based on what I gathered, action pistol sport is 10% skills and 90% mental, just like many competitive sports. They say you can only learned so much on the skills, and the rest is all in the mind.

5. Most shooters I met are great people — not the “red neck” image I’d stereotyped them as. But that changed when I heard the speech from the president of NRA on the last night of the event. He made a few comments about NRA, guns and politics that made me shake my head a few times even among a room full of gun owners…

6. Missouri does have a NPR station. But I guess it doesn’t get enough funding to have all the good stuff that other big cities enjoy. Instead, it plays classical music most of the time for which I mistakenly wrote it off entirely as a NPR-less state.

7. Driving on gravels can feel like driving on ice sometimes — when it skids, the car may or may not stop…

8. There’s a place for big gas goessling American trucks, and that place is called the American Midwest. And I don’t mean it in a sarcastic or negative way. When my client wasn’t practicing shooting, I took some time off to drive around “the woods” in the more rural areas of Missouri. And I soon realized those were no place for luxury gas-friendly Toyotas or Lexuses… Those were some rough roads with car-unfriendly conditions. And by being big, cheap(er) and possibly more capable of standing up to abuse, American trucks would fare well there. And indeed 90% of trucks I saw there were American — and they are huge and mighty.

9. For whatever reason, gas prices in Missouri was just as expensive as California.

10. Australians have far superior gun control laws than those in the United States. Americans could learn a few things from the Australians on gun control.

I enjoyed the trip, enjoyed seeing more nature, and enjoyed the learning experience. I look forward to processing 3,500+ images I shot there in the coming days…

First Images from Missouri

So I survived the early morning flight, the long drive from the airport to the hotel, and the frustration of the GPS unit running out of battery in between destinations. And i haven’t seen my first tornado yet. The images below are far from the quality I’d like to show. I’d planned on editing all the images shot in the same day at the same night. But because I’ve had to bring a lot of equipment with me, I forgot to bring my monitor calibration kit; so the colors are going to be off, images unsharpened and a few other quirks. But I really want to post some of the stuff I’ve seen here. So I’ve decided to go ahead and post them first and swap them out later on Flickr (since as a Pro member, I have that feature available to me).

Tornado Town

Hampton Inn, Columbia, Missouri
Hit the link to read additional notes on this image at Flickr (mouse over the image once at Flickr to see the notes).

Exit to

A few interesting observations I made in the first 3 hours of arrival:
1. Interesting signs are everywhere!
2. Local radio stations have more country music than anything else combined.
3. Local car mechanics advertise not only to fix your car, but also your tracker on the radio!
4. I couldn’t find NPR on any of the local stations. The only thing closest to it is some feminist station talking about all things Girl Power (or at least in the 2 hours that I tried listening to parts of it).

So tomorrow is going to be a full day at the practice range… Bang! Bang! Bang!*

*Good thing my client offered an old pair of her ear muffs to me…

Off to Missouri

In less than eight hours, I will be flying to Missouri for a seven-day photography assignment. Actually, nine days counting the two days of travel. It’s a bit overwhelming in many ways.

My client is known as the best woman action pistol shooter in the history of the sport. Though I am not all that fond of guns, I’ve come to appreciate the discipline and focus it takes to master the “sport” by having to study my client and the sport. This will be the first time I am going to be surrounded by constant firing of gun shots (counting out experiences in Savannah, ha!).

The assignment is especially overwhelming because of the discipline that’s going to be required of me having to follow the daily regiments of my client (whom is an early riser). This is also happening at a time when a lot is happening in my life — entertaining an active three-year-old, expecting a newborn in less than three weeks, a demanding new full-time contract gig… etc. The assignment is also mentally and physically overwhelming because of the scope, distance and the relative significance of the event my client is participating in.

For this assignment, I rented a Nikon D300 body, a Nikon 70-200mm/f2.8 VR lens and an Epson portable media backup drive as an insurance policy in case my own equipment fails. This is also a prefect opportunity for me to find out if I am capable of carrying heavy duty equipment for an extended period of time — something many wedding photographers do all the time, which is a market I’d like to get into because of all the explosive emotions in such events (and not to mention the relatively high pay out if I am really good at it).

Enough babbling… Time to get some sleep before the 5:30am wake up call from the shuttling service to the airport. Good times.

Photography Taking Off, Sort Of…

I think this is a happy news. But this came at a time when I am also the most stressful — my photography seems to have taken on a life of its own.

While I am not all booked up or anything for sessions, I do have a pretty important assignment during the 3rd week of May that requires me to be away for a full week to complete. The pay is extremely well, and the assignment itself is also very interesting. Needless to say, pictures will be posted for preview when they are all fully processed.

This assignment is important enough to me (and the client) that I will be renting backup equipment from a local shop here in the area. Since they don’t carry Fujifilm S5 Pro, I will get a chance to try the brand spanking new Nikon D300 and see how I like it compare to my Fuji in terms of picture quality (I already know its speed and file size nail the Fuji hands down). Another thing I want to find out is how its dynamic range and high ISO noise compare to my Fuji.

I can’t wait!

Potty Training

Bryan finally got the idea of taking the initiatives to go to potty on his own. He’s a bit late among his friends, but we felt that he’d do it when he felt ready for it… And indeed he did. It was a milestone event for all 3 of us to hear him insist on going to his potty chair and actually “holding” for it.

Another milestone reached this week was his readiness to sleep alone. This couldn’t have come at a better time as Bryan’s sister is due in about a month. Last night he kicked me out of the bed because he wanted to sleep by himself, with light off and the door closed! And without a fuss or complaint, he went to sleep.

Sometimes I wished he wasn’t growing so fast so that I can rock him to sleep just for a little longer. (Now he won’t even let me hold him like a baby, let alone rocking him.) But soon enough, he’d be his own man and making choices all on his own without requiring my input at all. Life with children goes by way too fast. And some days I wish we’d stay in “today” just for a little longer…

Hacked, Again

My blog had been breached once before with the same attack. But it’s happened again even though the WordPress version being attacked the 2nd time was definitely newer than that previous attack. I hadn’t been on my own blog for weeks. And the only reason I found out was because I installed Firefox 3 Beta 5 on Grace’s machine, and the new Firefox (working with Google) has this new feature that can detect “bad ware” like that.

wiredatom attacked

Basically someone “somehow” inserted a line of Javascript code into a couple of my blog entries and pretended to be “statistics” code. But in reality, it’s a script that behaves as trojans, presumably for Internet Explorers…

After some troubleshooting and searching, I removed all the codes and requested my site to be reviewed by Google in order to be considered safe again in its database…

Family Feuds

For the first time in my life, I tasted what it felt like to have my words twisted in a family political wrestling match in order for one side to win an argument. The worst part was, what was said didn’t even come out of my mouth! It infuriated me, but at the same time, it saddened me that they had to resort to lying to make a stance in light of my father’s passing.

Ever since my father died, the secondary issue that everybody gossips about now is how the overall combined “Chu” family wealth was to be redistributed. You see, my father had many siblings; and when it comes to money, of course, for many people the idea of “integrity” is just a recommended trait to have whilist fighting for what they think is their “fair share”… I am sure all this is making the ancestorial spirits groovy about the whole ordeal.

Family politics is fun when watching from afar. Now that I got dragged into it for a lie someone (whose name shall remane anonymous) made up, the real “fun” is yet to come.

Oh, why must “lies” and “politics” always go hand-in-hand?

The Unraveling of Events

I’ve learned a lot over the past couple of weeks about a few things — about my family, about my extended family, about myself, and even about the American culture*, but above all, about my father. The Dead can really facilitate a lot of changes for the Living.
The progression of thoughts upon hearing the passing of my father went something like this:
WTF? –> What happened? –> How did it happen? –> When? –> Who was there? –> WTF?

And then various stages of grieving process start to take place: denial, anger… blah blah and then finally acceptance. While I had no reason to go through the “anger” stage per se, I’ve had to take the “acceptance” stage rather quickly for practical reasons**.

It’s probably not healthy, but I simply haven’t got the time to be completely depressed about what happened… I tried getting back to work right away, but I was always distracted with thoughts and regrets lingering in my head. A man simply can’t work like this.
It seemed too early to think about what to do with my father’s belongings and assets he left behind in Indonesia where he worked, but my uncles had the foresight to think ahead and had already raised a few questions. My brother thought it’s ridiculous to think about that while we were still grieving. But such as the reality of death — inheritance (and the said taxes), legal battles on ownership claims of not-easily-documentable assets, people who owe him money, or allegedly loaned him money… etc.

I wish I could offer some help, but my pathetic immigration predicament has squarely put me in the “useless” column on their list. And that’s just how I’d been feeling — useless.
Grace and I have been talking about our “exit strategy”. And I think we’ve reached a comfortable solution with a few wrinkles to be ironed out. While we don’t have any details to offer, at least we now have a more focused direction and practical steps to achieve our objectives (except for the wrinkles).
My youngest uncle took a trip to Indonesia. He went there not only to tidy up some loose end, but also to investigate on what really caused my father’s heart attack, a condition novel in the Chu family tree. His quest brought back some very sad, as well as, some very bright stories about my father, the man and the Buddha that he was. He spent his life keeping many things to himself that others would have been very loud-mouth about (i.e. me!). We now wish he hadn’t been so quiet about all those wonderful (as well as crazy) things that was happening around him.

Maybe I’ll blog about those stories if I can find a way good to tell them without doing them injustice.
I got some closure after having learned that an uncle-in-law recorded the funeral. He came last week and handed me the two discs of DVDs he made from the funeral (as well as a wedded that my dad attended). The moment he handed me the DVDs, I felt much better already (though to-date, I still haven’t the gut to pop them into my computer to watch them yet). But at least now I can feel like I was somehow there to share the pain and grief of everyone else who attended.

* I had no idea it’s an American custom to offer food to the family of the deceased as a way to show condolence. As soon as Grace’s mommy group learned the news, offers to bring food and other things started pouring in. After having spent fourteen years in America, it took an unfortunate event for me to learn this.

** The day that I learned the news, I found myself having to reply to a client with emails on this project they still owe me a lot of money for, the money I knew I’d need pretty soon. And I needed to reply those emails to get their asses moving on getting their part done so they can pay me. It’s been a couple of weeks, and I am still chasing after that money!


I thought pretty hard on what to write or even how to begin on a new blog entry following the last one. No topic seemed appropriate. And it felt too soon to start blogging again. But then I thought it’s probably better to start writing than to bottle things up inside like my father did.

While I didn’t have any gripes with my father when he passed away, I feel incredibly… helpless for not being able to “see him off” at the funeral. I feel useless for not being able to help out with all that has to be done for the funeral, the ceremonies, the legal dances and everything that supposedly marks one of the defining moment in a man’s life. I don’t have a closure.

Everyone tells me my father wouldn’t blame me for the situation… for not being able to be there and for not being able to help. He’d understand. But I still don’t feel that a closure is upon me anywhere or anytime soon.

I recall this is how one can be messed up for not getting a closure to something important in life. Well, I don’t see myself going crazy anytime soon. But I am still looking for a closure that I can’t have, a way to say goodbye to my father, a way to find peace in myself and accept that he’d have understood my circumstances. Something like this made me question the wisdom and logic of the decisions I’ve made in the past several years, and how all this would have been averted if I had just…

Yes. There were a lot of “what ifs”, “what might have beens”, and “what could have beens”…. But I am living with “what is”…. I live with facts that I can’t change.

Now I will also have to learn to accept that maybe not everything has a closure. I’ll just have to live with my non-closure in peace — whenever I find it, the peace.