My values (updated)

shaved ice

As I start settling into my career and life a bit after college, some values and perspectives popped up

  1. I’d like to solve simple problems that are manageable to solve within my control while maintaining my work life balance, based on what you are good at. 
  2. I’d like to live a life where I am constantly learning about different cultures through art, music, food, and design.
  3. I’d eventually want to have a location-independent career where I have flexible hours (i.e. have my own small business). The profession matters less than whether I can choose a career/path that gives me this option.
  4. Relationships and being close to friends and family, with experiences, matter a lot to me more than competing in a rat race. 

Point 1:

I studied urban planning in school, and loved what I’ve studied. However, changing the way cities work and making them more sustainable is a very challenging task.

Note the way I communicated impact. “Making a city more sustainable” is a very abstract phrase and problem that I would only save for mission statements or introducing your major purpose in life.

However, the actual problems I want to solve have to be manageable based on my given skill level. I don’t want to be overambitious and create an extremely high expectation that I cannot reach at that moment in time (granted, skill improves over time and the types of problems you can solve get more interesting as you get older).

For example, instead of “trying to make a city more sustainable,” a more simpler task would be to “plant a vegetable garden in your backyard.”

Point 2:

Learning about different cultures is a big part of my life and would like to integrate more heavily in my life.  Away from focusing on making a living, I’d say cultural bridges represent at least 65% of who I am.

I’ve previously studied Chinese on my free time, and Korean for a little bit  (한국어  잘  못해요) . I’m challenging myself by learning Portuguese, because I’d like to be able to communicate and meet new friends in Brazil someday 🙂

I believe the simple act of learning a language allows you to be able to aspire for more interesting experiences in life. 

Point 3:

Given the unpredictably of the economy, I’d like to reach some level of financial independence that isn’t dependent on a particular company, but rather my own ability to be able to create something of value other people can use.

Point 4:

I think the rat race and the fight to get the highest salary and promotion, after a while, can become unhealthy. Measurable and tangible impact matters more than what job title you have.

Why do Chinese parents consider doctor, lawyer and accountant to be the “default” career for their children?

Answer by Francis Chen:

Having made the switch from engineering to urban planning in the past, I can heavily relate to this question as a 1st generation born Chinese-American. I’ll try to speak from my personal experience.

I’ve divided my story by:

  • My process of picking a “stable” major and why I switched.
  • How the Chinese mindset of choosing a major is different than in the US due to the poverty/competition in Asia
  • How choosing a liberal arts major made me a much more active, entrepreneurial job hunter than if I stuck with engineering.
  • My personal examples of how one can be entrepreneurial with job hunting as a liberal arts major.
  • How this entrepreneurial mindset is almost completely new to my parents, and how I conveyed it to my parents
  • My advice to those who are deciding between a “stable career” versus a “liberal arts path” in college.

Continue reading “Why do Chinese parents consider doctor, lawyer and accountant to be the “default” career for their children?”

Reflections & Productivity.

Now that school is over, thought I write down some things to prioritize in life.

  • Traveling: I really want to focus on spending more time in East Asia. Travelling really teaches me a lot about myself, and is so important in terms of growth, personal development, and being exposed to different perspectives in ideas.
  • Art as a tool in bridging communities and ideas: Note that I didn’t specifically say design (I believe design is a form of art). I believe in the power of art in connecting people, articulating and communicating, inspiring ideas, creating imagination, and getting people a chance to relax. This can take on ANY medium (illustration, watercolors, design, cooking, city planning, music, etc.)
  • Language learning: I want to continue improving my spoken Mandarin so that I can make friends and very strong relationships throughout my life that we can both be inspired by. 

Building a New China Dream

April 29, 2013 — Today China has over 300 million middle class consumers – but that number is expected to grow to more than 800 million by 2025. These changes will put unprecedented pressure on our Earth’s limited natural resources. In this thought-provoking presentation, Peggy Liu, co-founder of the Shanghai-based nonprofit organization JUCCCE and a Time magazine Hero for the Environment, explores efforts she’s leading to re-imagine prosperity and reshape consumerism in China by building a new “China Dream” that preserves resources such as energy, food, land and water for future generations. She also discusses how myth-creation, mass media and collaboration will be keys to transforming lifestyles in China, and around the world.


Peggy Liu is one of my biggest role models in the world, and is doing so much in the environment, in sustainability, in trying to create a vision for the China Dream.

The key thing she uses is that language, how we communicate, tell the story about sustainability is sooo important. You can’t expect to change sustainability own your own: you need to leverage the skillsets, the personalities, and motivations of every person in order to change the way we live our lives.

I’ll edit this post to write a review of some key points she said later in this week.

Facebook vs other forms of social media


I’m still an active user of social media: I use YouTube, Quora, LinkedIn, as well as this blog; using these avenues allows me to explore and produce key content that is both meaningful and has a great level of depth.

Note: I’ve been extremely addicted to quora as I’ve found some amazing answers about life, ranging from life advice, traveling, higher education, to questions about technology, working for companies, and even China!

I’ve still have a hard time accepting the interface and a lot of the habits associated with it, meaning:

  • Add a lot of friends, as easily as possible
  • Liking a post / picture, but not really interacting with the person
  • Status updates that are so short that it makes socializing lazy (we only know people really from a surface level)

You see, real relationships take work from both ends. I feel that the technology age has only added on to our instincts as human beings: “More is good! We need more friends to feel connected! We need to know and be connected 24/7, and know as much about our friends in the most easy, efficient manner as possible.”

But, at the crux of true relationships is that it takes effort from both sides in order to sustain it and to create a quality relationship. It might seem scary, stressful  and time consuming, but its worth the effort and you will be able to maintain quality friends.

The question I really want to raise is:

Are we merely justifying FaceBook because it helps us socialize in our busy lives, but in reality, we are avoiding the bigger issue: our lives are getting busier and busier because we have been putting ambitions, money, career, over other things such as health, family, and true relationships? 

For me, social media: YouTube, LinkedIn, WordPress, Tumblr, etc. is a great way to get our name across, connect to other people across the world, start conversations, and create strong relationships.

The amount of work, however, compared to Facebook, to put your name out there, takes time and effort. For me, YouTube requires the creation of video content, which takes time, video editing, story writing, etc. Writing a blog post takes an hour or two for me.

I don’t want to say social media is bad; it isn’t because I’ve learned so much . However, my argument is that we should be aware of our actions in social media: are we merely taking shortcuts to maintaining a relationship? Are we actively trying to maintain or make a relationship among our friends, family, and peers better, and making the time and effort to do so?

While there is a wide spectrum of answers for this, I’m trying to push for more awareness. For some people, Facebook is a way to maintain relationships . But for me, it was a time sucker and didn’t allow me (or had proper avenues for me to express my thoughts, like WordPress or YouTube). I’m a big supporter of good content and depth, but Facebook doesn’t offer that for me.

Advice for aspiring urban studies undergraduates

Wurster Hall, CED

Now that I’m graduating from CED, with a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies, I’d like to give some few tips of advice (very urban studies specific) for those who are going to come to Cal.

1) Don’t focus too much on networking with as many people as you can, but focus on creating strong relationships with people you can click well with as well as people that will help you grow. 

I think people get really tempted to want to meet as many people as you can. However, the most interesting experiences I’ve had have been through establishing strong mentors that have helped me grew for several years as I went through my undergraduate studies at Cal.

How to determine if you have a right mentor? Can you relate to the person you are communicating with? Can they empathize with you as a student? Do they have a lot of years of experience and have great insight in a particular industry? Do they also know a lot of other people that can help you in the future? Can you develop long conversations about them professionally, academically, and (sometimes) personally?

One way to find mentors is to attend networking events, and then strike some conversations, light talk with several people. Get their business cards, then identify one or two people you want to have coffee with. Then, you can get a sense of their personality; do you feel comfortable with them? Is there anything you can learn from them?

Also, don’t get too stressed about this process. It’s not that scary as it seems. Employers know that you guys are just students and are just learning about the profession.

2) Do not specialize too early (i.e. I’m going to be a housing guy, versus I’m going to be a transportation guy), and take a variety of classes in different specializations, as well as do internships to get a sense of how you feel about specializations. After working at least several internships (in the real world) then you can start narrowing down what makes most sense to you.

For example, I once enjoyed transportation planning, but after talking to some professionals and friends, dabbling into some internships, taking and practicing drawing courses, that I prefer urban design. However, I need to work for several years to decide further.

3) Get comfortable, drawing, sketching, as soon as you can. 

Regardless of if you do urban design (or not), you are planning for places people live, work, and play. You need to know how to communicate your ideas visually to a larger audience, or different stakeholders. You don’t have to be artistically inclinations like these guys, but be comfortable sketching your ideas.

4) Do not feel pressured to get into graduate school immediately.

Life is better if you take your time and really make your decisions based on your experiences in the real world.

5) Don’t also feel compelled to immediately get into a really kick-ass position early; this takes a lot of time. 

6) Study abroad as early as you can, preferably your sophomore year. Do an entire year.

Go outside your university study abroad office as you will get a better variety of choices. See this article on Americans and why we don’t travel enough for more details

7) If you are interested in international urban planning, start studying a language ASAP. 

This is especially true if you want an overseas position in urban planning; fluency in a foreign language as well as internship experiences in your home country will be key in securing a job after graduation.

8) Make friends with your fellow urban studies majors! They are awesome, cool, chill, and really kind. 

What I really enjoy about my program is that you meet people from all sorts of different backgrounds. The smallness of our program makes it really easy to know everybody closely. Develop strong relationships with them; in the long run, they’ll be great people to lean on when times are tough, or you need advice, or you just want to hang out with, or maybe potential job offers.

Hong Kong Street Market Symphony

Like to take a break from my Taiwan blog posts to show a bit of my Cantonese side.

By the way, I really wish I could visit Hong Kong for a week on vacation. I went to HK in 2006 to take the airport to head back to California, as most of my relatives in China live in Guangzhou.

Attention, everyone: prepare yourself for a close encounter as your iconic street market lamps have landed at Olympian City, turning the shopping mall into a land of red lamps.

Brought to you by Olympian City, Sino Art and local designer brand G.O.D., “The Street Market Symphony” presents the familiar local street market in a fresh perspective, celebrating the street market culture being a valuable part of our cultural heritage.

The art exhibition plays with our normal perception and tickles with our senses, using multimedia installations housed in large red lamps to challenge us to revisit a familiar setting in the most unique experience. We will see you under the red lamps this autumn—Bring Your Own Bag optional.

As I do a bit more illustration and drawing like work in my free time, I’m beginning to raise the possibility of trying to add illustration/art as a possible career path.

What I really love about this video is that it attempts to create cultural bridges (see Peggy Liu’s TEDx Talk); to be honest, I’m not somebody who has that much ambition in life, as much as I used to; however, just the thought of creating connections between different people using art, food, and cultural events is really exciting to me!

I love food, night market, street market lifestyle! It’s a great way to understand the local lifestyle, just hang out and chill, get to know people in a low-stress environment. In some ways, I really can see myself building cultural bridges through art; the question becomes: how?

The role of illustration, the power of storytelling, and the creation of trust, the design of experiences

One of my favorite alleyways I’ve stumbled upon in Taipei

Lately, I’ve been pondering over the role of my work when I draw, illustrate, and how it can serve to tell a story, create trust and excitement over an idea, inspire, or help communicate an idea once seemed unclear.

I think I’ve discovered that this is my role when I illustrate and draw.

To use my trip to Taiwan as an example, I felt sort of guilty for not purchasing that many souvenirs from Taipei (I think I was so absorbed by the culture that it was hard for me to shop), as some friends pointed out.

At the same time, I’ve also realized that many of my friends don’t know anything (or know VERY few about Taiwan). I don’t have any close Taiwanese friends, so I went traveling with very little guides (I used Taipei543 most of the time when I was there).

Ever since I got back from Taiwan, I’ve been really excited about the country almost everyday, but to most of my friends, Taiwan is just an island, and they have no idea how to understand the place I’ve visited and have fell in love with.

When I draw, and illustrate, I’ve discovered after much reflection that my role as an illustrator, designer, and artist is to communicate experiences based on my imagination and my observations in society. 

This is deeply personal to me as my style, I try to be as optimistic as I can in life. I like bright colors and my sketches and drawings have evolved to convey a sense of peacefulness, colorfulness, togetherness, and happiness. As a city planner as well, I would like to create lifestyles in my illustration in the city that are not only exciting, but inspire others to come and live in a healthy lifestyle that is good for the individual as well as the planet.

Using illustrations to convey an experience is a way for me to establish trust among different ideas and people and to inspire action, because, to quote: “a picture speaks a 1000 words”.

To bring it back from abstraction:

2013-03-27_12-01-10_8The sense of colorfulness, activity, convenience, in a city is exciting to me. I miss my trip in Taipei & Taiwan and wish to bring that to the rest of the world. Taiwan is a very underrated destination that I want to share to people, to the rest of the world. (this is one reason why I want to come back and plan to do so: the lifestyle in Taiwan is something people can learn from outside the country, i.e. the USA). I want to tell a story to the world that Taiwan is an awesome place through illustrations.

And thus, this is my role as an illustrator: I am to tell stories, recreate and rediscover experiences, and inspire action.



Having a strong sense of trust among your peers is more important than how well you do

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been milling over organizational behavior, professional development and it surprised me is that it matters more that you are able to establish trust among your peers/co-workers rather than how well you do.

Let’s break this down into further detail; note, having some basic competency in an area/specialty will help, but if you are just starting out in an organization, you will definitely feel new.

People generally want to work with people or feel comfortable with people they can relate to. How do you establish this comfort? For example, common interests, easy-to-relate personality types, level of openness and confidence, experiences that friends can relate to, stories, etc.

As simple as this may sound, in a world where you have to work in interdisciplinary settings, meeting new people from different professions and backgrounds, the ability to establish trust makes me realize: 

You don’t have to be perfect at what you do.  You’re going to always going to make mistakes as you go along, but as along as you have your friends and co-workers network by your side, you guys can work together and learn from those mistakes, because they feel comfortable working with you.

As an Asian-American, I grew up studying a lot and my family focused a lot of my experiences on studying. For some reason, they felt like socializing a lot was bad for my academic career. Thus, this sense of establishing rapport, socializing, using your peers together to establish a vision, seemed to be forgotten.

Now that I look back at my youth, I think I’m embracing that sense of imperfection now (to the point I have major senioritis in college, lol!). You really can’t do things on your own, learn to trust the power of your own team. Look for your own team members for inspiration rather than yourself.

Anybody can learn how to draw or illustrate …. if you put in the time, discipline, and patience

Sketch of UC Berkeley Steps

One of the things I’ve always heard is, “Wow, you’re such a great artist,” but in reality, I personally believe I suck. However, regardless of where my level is, if you want to produce quality work, you need to put in the time to do these drawings.

The drawing above took me about three hours to finish (including coloring). When in the process of drawing, I have to be very observant, and take my time to do the work.

It’s the same with illustration;

This above drawing I took from Google Street View, and traced over it using Adobe Illustrator; this took about three days in total (breaks in between).

It’s really tiring to just sit through a computer (or observing a drawing) for three hours straight. It requires a lot of self-discipline; I know because when I need to take a break, the feeling is like burnt out when I do drawings like these. Your brain and eyes, as well as your hands just want to go to bed and take a nap.

Scott Young wrote an impressive article about self-discipline here: if you want to create an impressive work, you need to push yourself.

Thus, I believe that the process of drawing or illustration can be a lost art because our society is constantly trying to aim to do things that are not too painful. Sitting in front of a tree and drawing it for three hours can be painful.   

However, I believe anybody can learn how to draw or illustrate. It takes a shift of values, meaning you have to acknowledge to yourself that it will take time and a heavy amount of discipline to continue; this takes practice: for example, draw only at least 15 minutes at a time, 3o minutes, etc. spread it out throughout a week, and practice everyday.