Wesley's Journal

Confessions of a Vegetarian Leather Crafter: Part 2

Posted by Craig Wesley on

If you haven't read part I, then click here to read a fairly comprehensive background.

Happy New Year! It's January 2020, just in case you're reading this in the far future. There's been two big changes since my last post in July 2019 that I thought warranted an updated.

First, I'm actually a real vegetarian now. If you didn't read before, I was actually a pescatarian, overindulging in fish and seafood, but skipping meat and poultry, for over ten years. I'll get a lot of eye-rolls for this, but the biggest reason I finally switched to full vegetarian is because of the Game Changers documentary that was playing on Netflix. I personally believe that the way we farm and fish seafood is just not sustainable enough. Additionally, my cholesterol test had shown that I was borderline high, probably from using too much butter and of course eating seafood high in cholesterol. When looking at other data concerning living a longer, healthier life, it just made sense. I actually was trying to go Vegan for a week or two and most of my meals are vegan, but i found it nearly impossible to be 100% vegan 100% of the time.

At the same time that my wife and I started our vegetarian diet, we also realized we needed to limit our spending by not eating out as much. There was a period of two months where we were taking out food at least 4 times a week. Because we're on a tight budget, we could only afford to take out from a handful of places and quiet honestly we were getting bored of eating the same take-out. But also, when going to more affordable restaurants, as well as being vegetarian, we found our options pretty limited. It's pretty surprising being in the SF Bay Area, but it's not easy being somewhat cash poor, vegetarian, and eating out.

It all lead to us cooking almost all meals at home. My wife found a great app with mostly great vegetarian recipes and it's really helped us make the full transition to our new diet. After a month of cooking at home with mostly whole foods and grains and then finally taking out food from one or two of our favorite restaurants, we find that we really don't  enjoy restaurant food that much at all. It's just not as good as what we're cooking by ourselves.

As a nice bonus, I actually lost about six lbs during a one month period, after already losing 20 lbs from intermittent fasting. For those who struggle with weight and want to lose weight, I would highly suggest intermittent fasting, only eating 8 hours a day with bigger meals earlier in the day, and eating vegetarian with whole foods and grains. One of the biggest mistakes new vegetarians make, including myself when I first went pescatarian, is turning into a "carbatarian." Essentially, you can eat potato chips and fries all day and still be a vegetarian. It's an easy trap to fall into, but if you keep reminding yourself that whole foods and grains is actually the key to a healthy diet, then you're headed in the right direction.

The second big change is that Anne Wesley now offers cruelty-free vegan leather goods! For a good part of 2019, I was feeling pretty demotivated to do any work with the business because it got harder and harder to make items out of leather. Some days it's easy to separate the business with my personal feeling, especially when we really need the cash, and then other days it's nearly impossible.

Cruelty Free Vegan Leather Bifold Card Wallet by Anne Wesley

I had been looking into cow leather alternatives, which of course led us to tilapia and salmon skin leather goods, but after learning the possible cons of farmed fish, it was obvious I needed to look further. I am not interesting in PU leather at all because there is a major lack of durability and basically the item turns into waste years before other materials. Then there are all these cool new vegetable leathers being created, but these companies are essentially all in the research and development phase and not accessible to small makers.

Finally, I learned about "washable paper leather." To my surprise, it's been around for a few years already, but of course it hasn't really made it into the mainstream yet. According to the manufacturer that we use, "it is greener than vinyl, clearly more animal friendly than leather. It is a cellulose-based product with a small amount of synthetic latex." Depending on your recycling plant, it can be 100% recyclable and the pulp used to manufacture the paper is FSC Certified. The major con is that it is manufactured in Germany, which means a lot of carbon emissions from all the transporting, but right now a price I'm willing to pay to move away from leather.

In many ways, we're still in an experimental phase with it, but the results are very good so far and has me extremely excited and motivated. To be honest, I don't believe I'll need to design a new product made of cow leather every again, at least that's my hope. Because the company that manufactures the washable paper is small, we're considering the idea that they may not exist in the future and so still looking at more cruelty free materials, but it's here for now.

We haven't sold anything yet, which is why financially it's impossible for us to toss all the leather designs away, but hopefully something will happen that helps washable paper leather catch on and this will be part of the new cruelty free future of Anne Wesley.

Read more

Confessions of a Vegetarian Leather Crafter: Part 2

Posted by Craig Wesley on

If you haven't read part I, then click here to read a fairly comprehensive background.

Happy New Year! It's January 2020, just in case you're reading this in the far future. There's been two big changes since my last post in July 2019 that I thought warranted an updated.

First, I'm actually a real vegetarian now. If you didn't read before, I was actually a pescatarian, overindulging in fish and seafood, but skipping meat and poultry, for over ten years. I'll get a lot of eye-rolls for this, but the biggest reason I finally switched to full vegetarian is because of the Game Changers documentary that was playing on Netflix. I personally believe that the way we farm and fish seafood is just not sustainable enough. Additionally, my cholesterol test had shown that I was borderline high, probably from using too much butter and of course eating seafood high in cholesterol. When looking at other data concerning living a longer, healthier life, it just made sense. I actually was trying to go Vegan for a week or two and most of my meals are vegan, but i found it nearly impossible to be 100% vegan 100% of the time.

At the same time that my wife and I started our vegetarian diet, we also realized we needed to limit our spending by not eating out as much. There was a period of two months where we were taking out food at least 4 times a week. Because we're on a tight budget, we could only afford to take out from a handful of places and quiet honestly we were getting bored of eating the same take-out. But also, when going to more affordable restaurants, as well as being vegetarian, we found our options pretty limited. It's pretty surprising being in the SF Bay Area, but it's not easy being somewhat cash poor, vegetarian, and eating out.

It all lead to us cooking almost all meals at home. My wife found a great app with mostly great vegetarian recipes and it's really helped us make the full transition to our new diet. After a month of cooking at home with mostly whole foods and grains and then finally taking out food from one or two of our favorite restaurants, we find that we really don't  enjoy restaurant food that much at all. It's just not as good as what we're cooking by ourselves.

As a nice bonus, I actually lost about six lbs during a one month period, after already losing 20 lbs from intermittent fasting. For those who struggle with weight and want to lose weight, I would highly suggest intermittent fasting, only eating 8 hours a day with bigger meals earlier in the day, and eating vegetarian with whole foods and grains. One of the biggest mistakes new vegetarians make, including myself when I first went pescatarian, is turning into a "carbatarian." Essentially, you can eat potato chips and fries all day and still be a vegetarian. It's an easy trap to fall into, but if you keep reminding yourself that whole foods and grains is actually the key to a healthy diet, then you're headed in the right direction.

The second big change is that Anne Wesley now offers cruelty-free vegan leather goods! For a good part of 2019, I was feeling pretty demotivated to do any work with the business because it got harder and harder to make items out of leather. Some days it's easy to separate the business with my personal feeling, especially when we really need the cash, and then other days it's nearly impossible.

Cruelty Free Vegan Leather Bifold Card Wallet by Anne Wesley

I had been looking into cow leather alternatives, which of course led us to tilapia and salmon skin leather goods, but after learning the possible cons of farmed fish, it was obvious I needed to look further. I am not interesting in PU leather at all because there is a major lack of durability and basically the item turns into waste years before other materials. Then there are all these cool new vegetable leathers being created, but these companies are essentially all in the research and development phase and not accessible to small makers.

Finally, I learned about "washable paper leather." To my surprise, it's been around for a few years already, but of course it hasn't really made it into the mainstream yet. According to the manufacturer that we use, "it is greener than vinyl, clearly more animal friendly than leather. It is a cellulose-based product with a small amount of synthetic latex." Depending on your recycling plant, it can be 100% recyclable and the pulp used to manufacture the paper is FSC Certified. The major con is that it is manufactured in Germany, which means a lot of carbon emissions from all the transporting, but right now a price I'm willing to pay to move away from leather.

In many ways, we're still in an experimental phase with it, but the results are very good so far and has me extremely excited and motivated. To be honest, I don't believe I'll need to design a new product made of cow leather every again, at least that's my hope. Because the company that manufactures the washable paper is small, we're considering the idea that they may not exist in the future and so still looking at more cruelty free materials, but it's here for now.

We haven't sold anything yet, which is why financially it's impossible for us to toss all the leather designs away, but hopefully something will happen that helps washable paper leather catch on and this will be part of the new cruelty free future of Anne Wesley.

Read more


Alameda: Battle of the $5 Fish Taco

Posted by Craig Wesley on

Spoiler: All the tacos were pretty awesome, so no real winner or loser, but there are some pros and cons in my opinion

Up until last month when I turned vegetarian, I was a "pescatarian" for over 10 years and the fish taco was my go-to dish at any Mexican taqueria. I'll probably eventually do a post about the best Veggie Burrito in Oakland-Alameda, but for now I'll give you my opinion on the $5 Fish Tacos on Alameda, CA.

Calafia Taqueria

Califia Taqueria Fish Taco

Calafia Taqueria is likely the most popular taqueria style mexican restaurant on Alameda Island. To be honest, I'm super surprised that they have a 3.5 Star Yelp review after 466 reviews. There are so many great things about this location, including the outdoor back patio, salsa bar, private function room, and newly launched dessert cart.

The baja style fish taco, which is actually $3.50, is a straight forward fish taco that holds its own. Because of the open salsa bar, there is no signature creme sauce like some of its competitors, which can either be a pro or con depending on your preference. The fish is well battered and fried, the slaw is fresh, and served on street style corn tortilla, which I generally prefer. The presentation could probably improve for "the gram," but that's obviously not too important when it comes down to it.

Cholita Linda

Cholita Linda Fish Taco

Cholita Linda is located on the much more crowded Park St., which can be a bit of a negative for someone who likes easy parking. When you also consider that Alameda High School has open campus for lunch, it can makes coming here for lunch a bit of a hassle. The interior is brand new and has great natural lighting that makes the space feel inviting.

The fish taco at Cholita Linda is also priced at $3.50 and feels like the smallest of those available on Alameda Island, but at the same time it's also probably one of the best. Unlike Calafia Taqueria, Cholita Linda add their own signature creme and salsa. In addition to the slaw, every fish taco is presented with a slice of radish. It's presented beautifully and it really tastes as good as it looks. I'm not sure what it is, but there is a sense of freshness to it, despite the fact that it's a deep fried piece of fish, which goes to show how great this taco is.

El Caballo Wraps

El Caballo Wraps Alameda Fish Taco

El Caballo Wraps is literally a block and a half from where we live and if it wasn't for our lack of finances we'd probably take out at least once a week. I'm not Mexican, so there is no way I could every qualify a taqueria as being "legit," but I do know that this place is actually frequented by spanish speakers. Every lunch, you can see "roughnecks," not the oil version, chowing down on one of El Caballo's hearty soups.

El Caballo's fish taco is quiet different than the other on the island. First, they're pan frying a large piece of seasoned fish, possibly tilapia. At about $5/taco it's one the most expensive on the island, but you're also get a half of tilapia fillet, guacamole, pico de gallo, and their signature sauce served on usually a flour tortilla. It's arguably a better deal than the $3.50 tacos because for an extra $1.50 your getting a lot more.

If you asked me if I prefer Cholita Linda to El Caballo Wraps, then I would say it just depends on your mood. They are truly two different types of tacos, seemingly occupying their own niche. But, honestly, I hold the fish taco at El Caballo Wraps in high regards.

On a side note, the salsa verde at El Caballo Wraps is also the best, bar none. Up until recently, my wife and I actually used to order just fresh chips and salsa verde to bring back home. The only reason we stopped is because it is a bit pricey and we're trying to eat a bit more healthy, though salsa, other than the salt, is actually a pretty healthy dish.

La Penca Azul Taco Bar

La Penca Azul Taco Bar

I don't really know a lot of people, almost none to be honest, but my one Mexican-American friend said that La Penca Azul Taco Bar was "mediocre at best." Yes, that's as harsh as it gets, but with 4.5 stars on Yelp after 143 reviews, I had to see for myself.

I have to respectfully disagree with my friend. While I understand that he's not a fan of non-authentic Mexican food, taking for what it is, Mexi-Cali food, I think this place is great.

La Penca Azul Taco Bar stands out for a variety of reasons. One is the freshly made corn tortillas. That is pretty rare for any place I've been. Additionally, other than for fish tacos, you can stack up tacos with all types of toppings until it basically becomes sort of a taco salad. With a side of free chips, it becomes an incredibly affordable meal.

I believe there are actually two types of fish tacos. I opted for the baja style with mango slaw, salsa verde, and served on their handmade corn tortilla. With the corn tortilla and mango slaw, it really separates itself well from the very formidable Cholita Linda Fish Taco, which is only two blocks away. With the complimentary side of chips, which you have to ask for, it becomes a much better bargain than Cholita Linda.

Despite how much I enjoy Cholita Linda, I actually would go to La Penca Azul Taco Bar more often because it's a slightly more affordable meal. Also, even though it's just two blocks away, this part of Park St. is actually much easier to find parking.

Taqueria Viva Mexico

Island Taqueria Alameda Fish Taco

I'm not going to lie, I love the plate that Taqueria Viva Mexico serves their fish taco on. I know, it's a bit corny and they're not in the best shape, but it's fun. Located right next to Alameda Theatre & Cineplex, as well as Alameda High School, Taqueria Viva Mexico is fairly popular and parking can be a bit of a struggle with such a prime location. The interior does feel a bit tired right now and probably could do with a renovation soon enough, but there is bit of charm to it and it seems to be a good spots for the high school students.

The fish taco at Taqueria Viva Mexico is closer in style to El Caballo Wraps. The fish is either pan fried or deep-fried without a batter, but rather coated in a really nice spice rub. Honestly, the spice rub is really the saving grace to a fairly simple fish taco. It's topped with iceberg lettuce, the house pico de gallo, and served on flour tortillas.

I believe the price is around $4.00 and unfortunately it's a bit in the middle of the pack. I certainly enjoyed it, but with Cholita Linda and La Penca Azul Taco Bar so close by, it's a bit difficult to see the pros of choosing the fish taco at Taqueria Viva Mexico over its competitors at the price.

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Alameda: Battle of the $5 Fish Taco

Posted by Craig Wesley on

Spoiler: All the tacos were pretty awesome, so no real winner or loser, but there are some pros and cons in my opinion

Up until last month when I turned vegetarian, I was a "pescatarian" for over 10 years and the fish taco was my go-to dish at any Mexican taqueria. I'll probably eventually do a post about the best Veggie Burrito in Oakland-Alameda, but for now I'll give you my opinion on the $5 Fish Tacos on Alameda, CA.

Calafia Taqueria

Califia Taqueria Fish Taco

Calafia Taqueria is likely the most popular taqueria style mexican restaurant on Alameda Island. To be honest, I'm super surprised that they have a 3.5 Star Yelp review after 466 reviews. There are so many great things about this location, including the outdoor back patio, salsa bar, private function room, and newly launched dessert cart.

The baja style fish taco, which is actually $3.50, is a straight forward fish taco that holds its own. Because of the open salsa bar, there is no signature creme sauce like some of its competitors, which can either be a pro or con depending on your preference. The fish is well battered and fried, the slaw is fresh, and served on street style corn tortilla, which I generally prefer. The presentation could probably improve for "the gram," but that's obviously not too important when it comes down to it.

Cholita Linda

Cholita Linda Fish Taco

Cholita Linda is located on the much more crowded Park St., which can be a bit of a negative for someone who likes easy parking. When you also consider that Alameda High School has open campus for lunch, it can makes coming here for lunch a bit of a hassle. The interior is brand new and has great natural lighting that makes the space feel inviting.

The fish taco at Cholita Linda is also priced at $3.50 and feels like the smallest of those available on Alameda Island, but at the same time it's also probably one of the best. Unlike Calafia Taqueria, Cholita Linda add their own signature creme and salsa. In addition to the slaw, every fish taco is presented with a slice of radish. It's presented beautifully and it really tastes as good as it looks. I'm not sure what it is, but there is a sense of freshness to it, despite the fact that it's a deep fried piece of fish, which goes to show how great this taco is.

El Caballo Wraps

El Caballo Wraps Alameda Fish Taco

El Caballo Wraps is literally a block and a half from where we live and if it wasn't for our lack of finances we'd probably take out at least once a week. I'm not Mexican, so there is no way I could every qualify a taqueria as being "legit," but I do know that this place is actually frequented by spanish speakers. Every lunch, you can see "roughnecks," not the oil version, chowing down on one of El Caballo's hearty soups.

El Caballo's fish taco is quiet different than the other on the island. First, they're pan frying a large piece of seasoned fish, possibly tilapia. At about $5/taco it's one the most expensive on the island, but you're also get a half of tilapia fillet, guacamole, pico de gallo, and their signature sauce served on usually a flour tortilla. It's arguably a better deal than the $3.50 tacos because for an extra $1.50 your getting a lot more.

If you asked me if I prefer Cholita Linda to El Caballo Wraps, then I would say it just depends on your mood. They are truly two different types of tacos, seemingly occupying their own niche. But, honestly, I hold the fish taco at El Caballo Wraps in high regards.

On a side note, the salsa verde at El Caballo Wraps is also the best, bar none. Up until recently, my wife and I actually used to order just fresh chips and salsa verde to bring back home. The only reason we stopped is because it is a bit pricey and we're trying to eat a bit more healthy, though salsa, other than the salt, is actually a pretty healthy dish.

La Penca Azul Taco Bar

La Penca Azul Taco Bar

I don't really know a lot of people, almost none to be honest, but my one Mexican-American friend said that La Penca Azul Taco Bar was "mediocre at best." Yes, that's as harsh as it gets, but with 4.5 stars on Yelp after 143 reviews, I had to see for myself.

I have to respectfully disagree with my friend. While I understand that he's not a fan of non-authentic Mexican food, taking for what it is, Mexi-Cali food, I think this place is great.

La Penca Azul Taco Bar stands out for a variety of reasons. One is the freshly made corn tortillas. That is pretty rare for any place I've been. Additionally, other than for fish tacos, you can stack up tacos with all types of toppings until it basically becomes sort of a taco salad. With a side of free chips, it becomes an incredibly affordable meal.

I believe there are actually two types of fish tacos. I opted for the baja style with mango slaw, salsa verde, and served on their handmade corn tortilla. With the corn tortilla and mango slaw, it really separates itself well from the very formidable Cholita Linda Fish Taco, which is only two blocks away. With the complimentary side of chips, which you have to ask for, it becomes a much better bargain than Cholita Linda.

Despite how much I enjoy Cholita Linda, I actually would go to La Penca Azul Taco Bar more often because it's a slightly more affordable meal. Also, even though it's just two blocks away, this part of Park St. is actually much easier to find parking.

Taqueria Viva Mexico

Island Taqueria Alameda Fish Taco

I'm not going to lie, I love the plate that Taqueria Viva Mexico serves their fish taco on. I know, it's a bit corny and they're not in the best shape, but it's fun. Located right next to Alameda Theatre & Cineplex, as well as Alameda High School, Taqueria Viva Mexico is fairly popular and parking can be a bit of a struggle with such a prime location. The interior does feel a bit tired right now and probably could do with a renovation soon enough, but there is bit of charm to it and it seems to be a good spots for the high school students.

The fish taco at Taqueria Viva Mexico is closer in style to El Caballo Wraps. The fish is either pan fried or deep-fried without a batter, but rather coated in a really nice spice rub. Honestly, the spice rub is really the saving grace to a fairly simple fish taco. It's topped with iceberg lettuce, the house pico de gallo, and served on flour tortillas.

I believe the price is around $4.00 and unfortunately it's a bit in the middle of the pack. I certainly enjoyed it, but with Cholita Linda and La Penca Azul Taco Bar so close by, it's a bit difficult to see the pros of choosing the fish taco at Taqueria Viva Mexico over its competitors at the price.

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Why We Haven't Left The San Francisco Bay Area

Posted by Craig Wesley on

Like a lot of San Francisco Bay Area residents, my wife, mother, and I have thought about leaving the San Francisco Bay Area, more specifically Alameda, for a while. I consider us to be rather privileged and lucky. We live in a beautiful Italianate Victorian that was built in 1889 (one local historian says 1881), we share a brand new 2019 Subaru Forester, and Anne and I frequently attend events all over the Bay Area, such as Oakland Athletics Games, concerts at the Fox Theater in Oakland, and more.

Nonetheless, for a household of three adults, our gross annual income is about $90k, which is about $60k/year less than the average household of three adults in the City of Alameda. Per household, almost 60% of the city of Alameda makes more than $100k per year.

Like many people, we still have 25 years left on our mortgage, pay a crazy amount of property taxes, and probably one of the few households in the Bay Area who actually pays for Earthquake insurance. The concept of having savings is a pretty farfetched idea.

While we're able to survive day-to-day, the fear becomes about being able the maintain the beautiful house we live in. I've seen plenty of houses in terrible condition in Alameda, Oakland, and surrounding cities, it's a scary idea that our house will one day turn into an eyesore and our family will be living in pretty bad conditions.

For months, our family has been asking the big question about moving out of the San Francisco Bay Area. Destinations like Portland, Sacramento, and Salinas have come to mind or even the East Coast, such as Connecticut, New York, or New Jersey. For the most part, it's just talking and visiting real estate websites.

Fundamentally, it is the fear of the unknown that is probably stopping us from moving away; everywhere just seems so "foreign," even Sacramento. I was born and mostly raised in the SF Bay Area. Other than 7 years spent in Glendale, CA during my elementary school days and one year studying in London, I've been in the Bay Area for over 30 years.

I've come to appreciate most aspects of the SF Bay Area, even though sometimes I fear that the San Francisco Bay Area is becoming a failed example of liberal politics. BTW, I'm writing that as someone who's voted along Democrat lines for two decades. Anyway, other than crime, absolutely insane drivers, and what passes as customer service at the Home Depot in Oakland, I really love the diversity, weather, food scene, and the numerous activities the area has to offer.

Diversity

During high school, I only lived about 30 miles from the city in the Town of Danville,  but it might as well have been 300 miles. Even today, it is quite literally one of the least diverse and most Republican city in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even Marin County, which is virtually 90% white, is at least a stronghold for Democrats.

I spent nearly all my time trying to feel like I fit in. I know that's the struggle most high school students feel, but let me give you some quantitative proof of how much of an outsider I felt. My average Grade Point Average from Freshman to my Junior year was around 2.0-2.5. I even had to retake Algebra twice. Instead of studying, I was always self conscious about what people thought about me and desperately wanted to fit in. So much so, that I remember that I was willing to do a "chinese fire drill" during a improv sketch for drama class. The person who initiated the idea telling me, "it's really cool of you to go along with it."

During my Senior year, I was lucky enough to finally find a group of friends I felt really comfortable with. A group of true Sci-Fi geeks who loved the Matrix, X-Files, and Star Trek. I went from 2.0-2.5 to a 4.0 GPA, all while going out with my friends maybe 2 or 4 nights a week. I carried that 4.0 GPA to Community College at the much more diverse Diablo Valley College and nearly graduated with honors my last two year at the extremely diverse UC Berkeley. The biggest difference for me was because I didn't feel like I needed to fit-in anymore among mostly white peers.

As my wife and I try for our first child, one of the biggest goals I have is for my child not to grow up in a town like Danville. Statistically speaking though, it's pretty tough for any other part of the USA to be as diverse as the SF Bay Area, especially compared to Alameda, CA.

Before we moved to Alameda, we actually visited Portland and had a realtor bring us around. Portland is a gorgeous city with a cool vibe, but ultimately it didn't feel diverse enough and the idea of rain 50% of the year turned us off to the idea of moving there.

Weather

When I drove Uber/Lyft for 50 hours a week, I met a lot of people from the East Coast and nearly every single one of them talked about how they love the weather of the San Francisco Bay Area.

My wife and I were lucky enough to live in London for about a year as a graduate students. In fact, that's where we met. I arrived in Summer and the weather was perfect at around 70 degrees and mostly sunny. Fall and Winter came and it was a brand new experience from someone from the SF Bay Area with constant rain and near freezing temperatures. To be honest, I don't think I minded it so much just for the fact that my wife and I had just started dating and so it pretty much felt like we were living a story line from Love Actually.

But after returning to the San Francisco Bay Area, it has become pretty apparent to me that while I wouldn't mind visiting the cold, I would be extremely apprehensive about living in it for an extended period of time. On the flip side, having lived out in Danville where the summers reach 100 degrees, as well as being pretty familiar with S. California weather, I also don't enjoy hot, dry weather. And having spent plenty of time in Asia where it's hot and humid, I also know that weather isn't particularly enjoyable.

The weather we enjoy is certainly a huge reason why it would be hard to find a new place to relocate to. Other than Hawaii, the San Francisco Bay Area probably has some of the best weather that probably makes life simply more enjoyable. I see people on television attending professional sporting events in below freezing temperature and that's just something you don't have to worry about in the Bay Area.

Activities

I admit, I'm one of those people who talks and complains about how the area around Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) and Chase Center has changed, but the truth is that the constant change is what makes the area so exciting; we're definitely not a "one horse town."

A quick google search says there are 44 museums in San Francisco. I've probably only been to six so far and the ones I've been to are really enjoyable.

The Bay Area has Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, SF 49ers, Golden State Warriors, the San Jose Kings. There is a Women's Tennis Association event held every year at San Jose State University. Then there's collegiate sports that covers the spectrum.

For live music, we have the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, The Fillmore, Warfield, Fox Theatre, Chase Center, Levi's Stadium, Slim's, Great America Music Hall, The Independent, Bottom of the Hill, Oakland Arena, The Shoreline Amp, Concord Pavillion, and even more smaller music venues. If a band or artist doesn't come through the Bay Area, then it has 100% to do with the artist/record label and not a lack of available venues.

The Bay Area has a ridiculous amount of craft fairs, cultural events, festivals, conventions, farmer's markets, etc. For the outdoors, we have so many state parks within one hours drive. Marin county is basically all nature and of course we're by the Pacific Ocean. While I wouldn't get in the freezing water, the coast is an amazing place to be near. It's really hard to imagine living so far from the Ocean.

Even when we're short on cash, there's still a lot of things for us to enjoy in the Bay Area. I never realized how small other "big" cities were, until I visited places like Seattle, Portland, or even San Jose. Those cities seems like sleepy little towns compared to San Francisco-Oakland.

Food

Even 30 minutes away from San Francisco-Oakland, I'm amazed at what passes for good "ethnic" food. We recently went to a Thai restaurant in Dublin, CA, which really isn't that far from San Francisco-Oakland. The restaurant has 4 stars on Yelp with over 700 reviews and it was literally the worst Thai food we've ever had. While we were there, there were other guests who seemingly really liked the food and it really dawned on us that they were working off a different standard. Mind you, my wife was born in Thailand and was living there up until six years ago, and of course I have visited Thailand many times as well. So, our standard is pretty high, but we've also been to restaurants in San Francisco and Oakland that made us very happy.

Especially now, my wife and I are vegetarians and quiet honestly restaurants have to be on top of their flavor profile to make vegetarian dishes standout. I could be wrong, but I'm sure you can only find Vegetarian Japanese Ramen in a city like San Francisco-Oakland, Los Angeles, or New York. I'm sure it's probably extremely rare in Japan.

Even when we get a bit tired of eating, we're able to order a huge variety of organic groceries, which is very important to us. Even in the SF Bay Area, huge supermarkets like Safeway and Lucky's have a seriously weak organic selection. I can't imagine how bad it would be in a city where the demand for organic groceries is low or non-existent.

Why We Still May End Up Moving

I think money would be the number one reason why we may end up leaving. If we can't afford to see the last place Warriors play at the Chase Center, eat at all the new restaurant popping up, or visit museums, then those reasons for staying become invalid. Then in becomes a question if the weather and being in a diverse area is a big enough reason to stay.

But also, we might end up leaving because some people in the Bay Area are just really insupportable. We have wealthy people in the Bay Area basically pushing for "Not in my Backyard" policies at every possible chance. Then we have all minority groups who are essentially racist and target other minority groups. This all wouldn't be bad if we actually had some kind of sense of hospitality for strangers, but it rarely exists in the Bay Area.

Literally, San Francisco is blocking off one of the busiest streets in Downtown because of pedestrian accidents with vehicles. I've literally had a person who almost ran a red light and hit me in the middle off a crosswalk start to yell at me because...I have no idea why, but it was probably because he was drunk and belligerent. I've also had average looking young hipster drivers racing through crosswalks and almost hit me with their car and either look right at me or 100% percent try and pretend they don't see me.

In November 2019, the city of Alameda reported that seven children were hit by cars in a one or two month period. Basically, the level of shitty people in the Bay Area is hitting a pretty critical level.

As my wife and I very seriously start a family, the idea of moving away from the Bay Area seems to become more and more likely. If we every answer the questions of where, then I think it would be almost a done deal.

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Why We Haven't Left The San Francisco Bay Area

Posted by Craig Wesley on

Like a lot of San Francisco Bay Area residents, my wife, mother, and I have thought about leaving the San Francisco Bay Area, more specifically Alameda, for a while. I consider us to be rather privileged and lucky. We live in a beautiful Italianate Victorian that was built in 1889 (one local historian says 1881), we share a brand new 2019 Subaru Forester, and Anne and I frequently attend events all over the Bay Area, such as Oakland Athletics Games, concerts at the Fox Theater in Oakland, and more.

Nonetheless, for a household of three adults, our gross annual income is about $90k, which is about $60k/year less than the average household of three adults in the City of Alameda. Per household, almost 60% of the city of Alameda makes more than $100k per year.

Like many people, we still have 25 years left on our mortgage, pay a crazy amount of property taxes, and probably one of the few households in the Bay Area who actually pays for Earthquake insurance. The concept of having savings is a pretty farfetched idea.

While we're able to survive day-to-day, the fear becomes about being able the maintain the beautiful house we live in. I've seen plenty of houses in terrible condition in Alameda, Oakland, and surrounding cities, it's a scary idea that our house will one day turn into an eyesore and our family will be living in pretty bad conditions.

For months, our family has been asking the big question about moving out of the San Francisco Bay Area. Destinations like Portland, Sacramento, and Salinas have come to mind or even the East Coast, such as Connecticut, New York, or New Jersey. For the most part, it's just talking and visiting real estate websites.

Fundamentally, it is the fear of the unknown that is probably stopping us from moving away; everywhere just seems so "foreign," even Sacramento. I was born and mostly raised in the SF Bay Area. Other than 7 years spent in Glendale, CA during my elementary school days and one year studying in London, I've been in the Bay Area for over 30 years.

I've come to appreciate most aspects of the SF Bay Area, even though sometimes I fear that the San Francisco Bay Area is becoming a failed example of liberal politics. BTW, I'm writing that as someone who's voted along Democrat lines for two decades. Anyway, other than crime, absolutely insane drivers, and what passes as customer service at the Home Depot in Oakland, I really love the diversity, weather, food scene, and the numerous activities the area has to offer.

Diversity

During high school, I only lived about 30 miles from the city in the Town of Danville,  but it might as well have been 300 miles. Even today, it is quite literally one of the least diverse and most Republican city in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even Marin County, which is virtually 90% white, is at least a stronghold for Democrats.

I spent nearly all my time trying to feel like I fit in. I know that's the struggle most high school students feel, but let me give you some quantitative proof of how much of an outsider I felt. My average Grade Point Average from Freshman to my Junior year was around 2.0-2.5. I even had to retake Algebra twice. Instead of studying, I was always self conscious about what people thought about me and desperately wanted to fit in. So much so, that I remember that I was willing to do a "chinese fire drill" during a improv sketch for drama class. The person who initiated the idea telling me, "it's really cool of you to go along with it."

During my Senior year, I was lucky enough to finally find a group of friends I felt really comfortable with. A group of true Sci-Fi geeks who loved the Matrix, X-Files, and Star Trek. I went from 2.0-2.5 to a 4.0 GPA, all while going out with my friends maybe 2 or 4 nights a week. I carried that 4.0 GPA to Community College at the much more diverse Diablo Valley College and nearly graduated with honors my last two year at the extremely diverse UC Berkeley. The biggest difference for me was because I didn't feel like I needed to fit-in anymore among mostly white peers.

As my wife and I try for our first child, one of the biggest goals I have is for my child not to grow up in a town like Danville. Statistically speaking though, it's pretty tough for any other part of the USA to be as diverse as the SF Bay Area, especially compared to Alameda, CA.

Before we moved to Alameda, we actually visited Portland and had a realtor bring us around. Portland is a gorgeous city with a cool vibe, but ultimately it didn't feel diverse enough and the idea of rain 50% of the year turned us off to the idea of moving there.

Weather

When I drove Uber/Lyft for 50 hours a week, I met a lot of people from the East Coast and nearly every single one of them talked about how they love the weather of the San Francisco Bay Area.

My wife and I were lucky enough to live in London for about a year as a graduate students. In fact, that's where we met. I arrived in Summer and the weather was perfect at around 70 degrees and mostly sunny. Fall and Winter came and it was a brand new experience from someone from the SF Bay Area with constant rain and near freezing temperatures. To be honest, I don't think I minded it so much just for the fact that my wife and I had just started dating and so it pretty much felt like we were living a story line from Love Actually.

But after returning to the San Francisco Bay Area, it has become pretty apparent to me that while I wouldn't mind visiting the cold, I would be extremely apprehensive about living in it for an extended period of time. On the flip side, having lived out in Danville where the summers reach 100 degrees, as well as being pretty familiar with S. California weather, I also don't enjoy hot, dry weather. And having spent plenty of time in Asia where it's hot and humid, I also know that weather isn't particularly enjoyable.

The weather we enjoy is certainly a huge reason why it would be hard to find a new place to relocate to. Other than Hawaii, the San Francisco Bay Area probably has some of the best weather that probably makes life simply more enjoyable. I see people on television attending professional sporting events in below freezing temperature and that's just something you don't have to worry about in the Bay Area.

Activities

I admit, I'm one of those people who talks and complains about how the area around Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) and Chase Center has changed, but the truth is that the constant change is what makes the area so exciting; we're definitely not a "one horse town."

A quick google search says there are 44 museums in San Francisco. I've probably only been to six so far and the ones I've been to are really enjoyable.

The Bay Area has Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, SF 49ers, Golden State Warriors, the San Jose Kings. There is a Women's Tennis Association event held every year at San Jose State University. Then there's collegiate sports that covers the spectrum.

For live music, we have the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, The Fillmore, Warfield, Fox Theatre, Chase Center, Levi's Stadium, Slim's, Great America Music Hall, The Independent, Bottom of the Hill, Oakland Arena, The Shoreline Amp, Concord Pavillion, and even more smaller music venues. If a band or artist doesn't come through the Bay Area, then it has 100% to do with the artist/record label and not a lack of available venues.

The Bay Area has a ridiculous amount of craft fairs, cultural events, festivals, conventions, farmer's markets, etc. For the outdoors, we have so many state parks within one hours drive. Marin county is basically all nature and of course we're by the Pacific Ocean. While I wouldn't get in the freezing water, the coast is an amazing place to be near. It's really hard to imagine living so far from the Ocean.

Even when we're short on cash, there's still a lot of things for us to enjoy in the Bay Area. I never realized how small other "big" cities were, until I visited places like Seattle, Portland, or even San Jose. Those cities seems like sleepy little towns compared to San Francisco-Oakland.

Food

Even 30 minutes away from San Francisco-Oakland, I'm amazed at what passes for good "ethnic" food. We recently went to a Thai restaurant in Dublin, CA, which really isn't that far from San Francisco-Oakland. The restaurant has 4 stars on Yelp with over 700 reviews and it was literally the worst Thai food we've ever had. While we were there, there were other guests who seemingly really liked the food and it really dawned on us that they were working off a different standard. Mind you, my wife was born in Thailand and was living there up until six years ago, and of course I have visited Thailand many times as well. So, our standard is pretty high, but we've also been to restaurants in San Francisco and Oakland that made us very happy.

Especially now, my wife and I are vegetarians and quiet honestly restaurants have to be on top of their flavor profile to make vegetarian dishes standout. I could be wrong, but I'm sure you can only find Vegetarian Japanese Ramen in a city like San Francisco-Oakland, Los Angeles, or New York. I'm sure it's probably extremely rare in Japan.

Even when we get a bit tired of eating, we're able to order a huge variety of organic groceries, which is very important to us. Even in the SF Bay Area, huge supermarkets like Safeway and Lucky's have a seriously weak organic selection. I can't imagine how bad it would be in a city where the demand for organic groceries is low or non-existent.

Why We Still May End Up Moving

I think money would be the number one reason why we may end up leaving. If we can't afford to see the last place Warriors play at the Chase Center, eat at all the new restaurant popping up, or visit museums, then those reasons for staying become invalid. Then in becomes a question if the weather and being in a diverse area is a big enough reason to stay.

But also, we might end up leaving because some people in the Bay Area are just really insupportable. We have wealthy people in the Bay Area basically pushing for "Not in my Backyard" policies at every possible chance. Then we have all minority groups who are essentially racist and target other minority groups. This all wouldn't be bad if we actually had some kind of sense of hospitality for strangers, but it rarely exists in the Bay Area.

Literally, San Francisco is blocking off one of the busiest streets in Downtown because of pedestrian accidents with vehicles. I've literally had a person who almost ran a red light and hit me in the middle off a crosswalk start to yell at me because...I have no idea why, but it was probably because he was drunk and belligerent. I've also had average looking young hipster drivers racing through crosswalks and almost hit me with their car and either look right at me or 100% percent try and pretend they don't see me.

In November 2019, the city of Alameda reported that seven children were hit by cars in a one or two month period. Basically, the level of shitty people in the Bay Area is hitting a pretty critical level.

As my wife and I very seriously start a family, the idea of moving away from the Bay Area seems to become more and more likely. If we every answer the questions of where, then I think it would be almost a done deal.

Read more


Tips for a Valentine's Day in Paris for Tourists

Posted by Craig Wesley on

We spent our very first Valentine's Day in Paris, France. Anne and I met as students at London Business School in the UK and nothing else seemed more romantic than taking a train to Paris for the weekend. It was a Valentine's Day/Weekend that honestly will be hard to top in our lifetime.

Here are some quick tips for spending a quick day or weekend in Paris for non-locals.

1. Do a quick research on Paris' 20 Arrondissements

Arrondissements translates into english as "districts." Paris is divided into 20 districts and depending on your personality/budget, you'll enjoy being in certain arrondissements more than others. For example, some people's ideal visit of Paris is being in the "heart" of it all, which is conveniently in the 1st and 2nd arrondissements. Others, want a more local experience and so will want to consider the 17th Arrondissement. The 17th basically has no real tourist attractions other than real Parisians living their normal lives.

2. Stay Near a Metro Station

No matter what district you choose to stay, then you'll most likely want to stay within 10 minutes walk of a metro station. The exception is if you're splurging and taking a taxi everywhere or if you're really just planning to spend all your time in the same arrondissement. Otherwise, if you plan on really exploring the city, then you'll be spending most of your time walking and on your feet. Walking even 30 minutes back and forth from your place to the metro can take a lot out of you, especially in cold weather. It's better to spend a little more to be near a metro station and save that bit of energy so that you can see more around the city.

3. Pack for Freezing Temperature

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's always a pretty big shock to me how cold or hot other parts of the state, country, or world can be. Paris in February is pretty much near freezing. The idea of being on the Eiffel tower wearing a gorgeous flowing red dress or formal suit is basically for actors in movies. You and your partner will need to pack in heavy coats, gloves, scarves, etc if you plan on not getting sick during your trip. But honestly, winter romance is always better than a summer romance.

4. Plan for strikes

I've been to Paris on 3 different occasions and I've experienced a strike on one of those occasions. Fifteen years later, Paris is still striking...Well, not exactly, but strikes are deep in the Parisian culture and there is currently a big transportation strike, which was what I experienced 15 years ago. So, always have a back up plan for getting to and from places, especially if it's to the airport or train station. I quite literally almost missed a flight out of Paris due to a transportation strike. I never had to worry about any violence, but it's something you must pay attention to.

5. Plan on someone be rude to you, especially if you don't speak French

Yep, the french can be rude, especially if you do not speak french. Just know that it's going to happen and the chances of you getting "your way" is slim-to-none and just move on. Chalk it up to a real Parisian experience and let it go. Whoever is being rude to you is probably rude to most people because that's just their personality, but it's just worse because you're not communicating in the same language. 

6. Sit at a cafe, visit a bakery, and order a savory crepe

There's really only three things you need to do in Paris to get the minimum experience. The first is ordering a baguette or croissant in the morning at a local bakery. "Bonjour, une baguette/croissant, s'il vous plait." The truth is that if you're walking around all day, then you're not going to want to carry a baguette, so most likely you should opt for the croissant.

Sometime during the day, you'll want to faire une pause-cafe, take a coffee break. Beyond Turkey and Italy, Paris is one of the "O.G." coffee cultures in the world. So, even for someone like me who doesn't drink coffee, you'll want to do so to get your full Parisian experience. But, seriously, research online about Parisian cafe etiquette. Otherwise, go to a cafe that you know is fairly popular with foreigners. 

Finally, you'll want to grab a crepe from a vendor. I personally suggest a savory crepe. Some countries, especially in Asia, are really only familiar with dessert crepes, but back before I was a vegetarian, I would have choose a ham and cheese crepe over a sweet crepe a 100 times over.

Notice how the three quintessential Paris activities are food related. That being said..

7. Don't get hung up that you only have to eat French food

What makes Paris different than the rest of the France, the same with most major international cities, is that there is influence from all over the world, including the food scene. Most people feel the pressure to experience french dinning. For me, it's always been a hit or miss experience. I've only had one spectacular experience, I believe in the Latin Quarter, and a couple of pretty disappointing french dining experiences. I've found that I enjoy other international cuisines, such as italian or middle eastern, more consistently. Of course, that's just me and my palette, but my suggestion is that you don't feel pressured to always have french food.

8. Skip the Louvre on Valentine's Day

I'm not saying to skip the Louvre entirely, but maybe skip it on Valentine's Day specifically. The Louvre is like the Disneyland of Museums in the sense that it's just so crowded, including the line to get in. I'll be honest, one of the reasons I enjoy museums is because in a lot of cities they're not particularly very popular. The San Francisco Museum of Modern are is one of my favorite places in San Francisco because it's a real legitimate art museum, but it hardly ever feels that crowded. The Louvre feels crowded.

If you must visit a museum on Valentine's Day, then try your luck at the D'Orsay. It's still a popular museum, but it's just a more tamped down version

9. Walk through a public Jardin...Garden that is

If you don't walk through one of the many Jardins in Paris, then you "done messed up." In San Francisco, we have Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, but apparently we just don't have the same green thumbs that the french do. As mentioned previously, it'll be cold, but walking through a Jardin in Paris is just as important as experiencing pastries and coffee.

10. For peace of mind, buy international travel insurance

I never realized that travel insurance for medical was a thing. Most US insurance will have some type of coverage, but it's always possible for the expenses to get out of control. Combine that with the whole strike issue, then travel insurance in general becomes a reasonable purchase. But be sure to research a reputable insurance company with good reviews.

 

Read more

Tips for a Valentine's Day in Paris for Tourists

Posted by Craig Wesley on

We spent our very first Valentine's Day in Paris, France. Anne and I met as students at London Business School in the UK and nothing else seemed more romantic than taking a train to Paris for the weekend. It was a Valentine's Day/Weekend that honestly will be hard to top in our lifetime.

Here are some quick tips for spending a quick day or weekend in Paris for non-locals.

1. Do a quick research on Paris' 20 Arrondissements

Arrondissements translates into english as "districts." Paris is divided into 20 districts and depending on your personality/budget, you'll enjoy being in certain arrondissements more than others. For example, some people's ideal visit of Paris is being in the "heart" of it all, which is conveniently in the 1st and 2nd arrondissements. Others, want a more local experience and so will want to consider the 17th Arrondissement. The 17th basically has no real tourist attractions other than real Parisians living their normal lives.

2. Stay Near a Metro Station

No matter what district you choose to stay, then you'll most likely want to stay within 10 minutes walk of a metro station. The exception is if you're splurging and taking a taxi everywhere or if you're really just planning to spend all your time in the same arrondissement. Otherwise, if you plan on really exploring the city, then you'll be spending most of your time walking and on your feet. Walking even 30 minutes back and forth from your place to the metro can take a lot out of you, especially in cold weather. It's better to spend a little more to be near a metro station and save that bit of energy so that you can see more around the city.

3. Pack for Freezing Temperature

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's always a pretty big shock to me how cold or hot other parts of the state, country, or world can be. Paris in February is pretty much near freezing. The idea of being on the Eiffel tower wearing a gorgeous flowing red dress or formal suit is basically for actors in movies. You and your partner will need to pack in heavy coats, gloves, scarves, etc if you plan on not getting sick during your trip. But honestly, winter romance is always better than a summer romance.

4. Plan for strikes

I've been to Paris on 3 different occasions and I've experienced a strike on one of those occasions. Fifteen years later, Paris is still striking...Well, not exactly, but strikes are deep in the Parisian culture and there is currently a big transportation strike, which was what I experienced 15 years ago. So, always have a back up plan for getting to and from places, especially if it's to the airport or train station. I quite literally almost missed a flight out of Paris due to a transportation strike. I never had to worry about any violence, but it's something you must pay attention to.

5. Plan on someone be rude to you, especially if you don't speak French

Yep, the french can be rude, especially if you do not speak french. Just know that it's going to happen and the chances of you getting "your way" is slim-to-none and just move on. Chalk it up to a real Parisian experience and let it go. Whoever is being rude to you is probably rude to most people because that's just their personality, but it's just worse because you're not communicating in the same language. 

6. Sit at a cafe, visit a bakery, and order a savory crepe

There's really only three things you need to do in Paris to get the minimum experience. The first is ordering a baguette or croissant in the morning at a local bakery. "Bonjour, une baguette/croissant, s'il vous plait." The truth is that if you're walking around all day, then you're not going to want to carry a baguette, so most likely you should opt for the croissant.

Sometime during the day, you'll want to faire une pause-cafe, take a coffee break. Beyond Turkey and Italy, Paris is one of the "O.G." coffee cultures in the world. So, even for someone like me who doesn't drink coffee, you'll want to do so to get your full Parisian experience. But, seriously, research online about Parisian cafe etiquette. Otherwise, go to a cafe that you know is fairly popular with foreigners. 

Finally, you'll want to grab a crepe from a vendor. I personally suggest a savory crepe. Some countries, especially in Asia, are really only familiar with dessert crepes, but back before I was a vegetarian, I would have choose a ham and cheese crepe over a sweet crepe a 100 times over.

Notice how the three quintessential Paris activities are food related. That being said..

7. Don't get hung up that you only have to eat French food

What makes Paris different than the rest of the France, the same with most major international cities, is that there is influence from all over the world, including the food scene. Most people feel the pressure to experience french dinning. For me, it's always been a hit or miss experience. I've only had one spectacular experience, I believe in the Latin Quarter, and a couple of pretty disappointing french dining experiences. I've found that I enjoy other international cuisines, such as italian or middle eastern, more consistently. Of course, that's just me and my palette, but my suggestion is that you don't feel pressured to always have french food.

8. Skip the Louvre on Valentine's Day

I'm not saying to skip the Louvre entirely, but maybe skip it on Valentine's Day specifically. The Louvre is like the Disneyland of Museums in the sense that it's just so crowded, including the line to get in. I'll be honest, one of the reasons I enjoy museums is because in a lot of cities they're not particularly very popular. The San Francisco Museum of Modern are is one of my favorite places in San Francisco because it's a real legitimate art museum, but it hardly ever feels that crowded. The Louvre feels crowded.

If you must visit a museum on Valentine's Day, then try your luck at the D'Orsay. It's still a popular museum, but it's just a more tamped down version

9. Walk through a public Jardin...Garden that is

If you don't walk through one of the many Jardins in Paris, then you "done messed up." In San Francisco, we have Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, but apparently we just don't have the same green thumbs that the french do. As mentioned previously, it'll be cold, but walking through a Jardin in Paris is just as important as experiencing pastries and coffee.

10. For peace of mind, buy international travel insurance

I never realized that travel insurance for medical was a thing. Most US insurance will have some type of coverage, but it's always possible for the expenses to get out of control. Combine that with the whole strike issue, then travel insurance in general becomes a reasonable purchase. But be sure to research a reputable insurance company with good reviews.

 

Read more


Duo, Je t'aime! Learning a New Language in the New Year

Posted by Craig Wesley on

For most of my life, I always thought my brain wasn't built for languages. More specifically, that it wasn't built to learn more than one language beyond English. Growing up in a multi-lingual house, where my mom spoke Cantonese, I can verbally understand Cantonese, but I never learned to speak and definitely not to read or write it. Even to this day, my brain hasn't made the connection in order to speak the language and in a life or death situation I would probably freeze.

In high school, I elected to take Spanish as my foreign language because people said that it was the easiest of the offered languages. I failed Intro to Spanish. Once I managed to pass Intro to Spanish, I did actually got a A in Spanish II, but that was it for me and new languages for almost the next 20 years. 

Then, a little over four years ago, I read about Duolingo.com through an online article. Before Duolingo existed, I think Rosetta Stone was and possibly still is the most popular form to learn a language outside of formal instruction. But, Rosetta Stone courses are expensive in my opinion and when I heard that Duolingo was essentially a 100% free version of Rosetta Stone, I signed up and started French.

While my reasons for starting French are a bit fuzzy now, I think it had a lot to do with knowing that Hermes was a French company. Working with leather, I made that connection and I suppose I went with French. I have visited France 3 different times in the past, but to be honest, I don't think that had anything to do with my decision because there are actually other countries, such as Japan, that I've visited almost a dozen times now.

Anyway, I am now four years in with on-and-off learning for the first 1.5 years and daily practice since then. I am pretty far from being fluent, but I'm also pretty happy in how far I've come. I can read a pretty formal news article in French and comprehend the majority of. I can write enough to chat with french natives and carry on some kind of "conversation." Listening is definitely a struggle and I'm pretty far from speaking it, but I can say I speak more French than Cantonese.

As you can guess, Duolingo is not enough to "get you there," in fact The Cut just published an article discrediting it, but I still think it's one of the best ways to start a new language with literally no financial or time commitment, assuming you're already online.

Here are a few quick tips to get you started in learning a new language in the new year:

1. Learn a language that you can/want immerse yourself in

Full disclosure, last year, after learning French for about three years, I started asking myself, "Why the hell did I choose French?" I was having a real hard time finding french language movies and television that I enjoyed, especially comedies. I keep on hearing about how people learned English by watching episodes of the American sitcom Friends. I came to a pretty big realization that I'm not really a big fan of most French movies and tv programming. For the most part, it's truly a cultural thing. The few movies that I do like are actually movies regarding the black experience in France.

I started having a whole language learning existential crisis. During my undergraduate years, I actually knew a few people who studied, lived and worked in France. They turned out to be some of my least favorite people. Then the few french speaking people I have met over the next 20 years more or less seem to clearly racist. I remember speaking to a French person on 4th Street in Berkeley for less than 5 minutes and somehow he managed to say very racist things towards Middle Eastern people in that short conversation. Naturally, I questioned whether there was much I liked about French culture in general. 

So, after three years of pretty consistent studying, I started wondering if I had just been wasting my time. Should I just stop and maybe move on to a different language.

Ultimately, I kept on going and the saving grace was french language music, specifically two or three bands that I really enjoyed. Just like most English language music, I don't enjoy most popular music, but there are some bands that just speak to me and I can listen to their music daily. Because of those bands, I found myself still wanting to studying French.

I definitely wish there was more to inspire me, but for now it's enough. But as you can tell, it really helps if you find something about the language that you can get into, such as music, film, novels, food, business, etc, to help keep you going. Especially if you're using Duolingo, you'll need a lot of outside listening and speaking to really get somewhere because Duolingo will not get you there. 

 2. Commit to studying 30 minutes a day

Just like a new exercise routine or diet, there needs to be some kind of self-commitment. I study at least 30 minutes a day and have done so for almost 2.5 years now. Some days it's a grind, other days I feel great about my progress and feel super motivated and study 2 or 3+ hours. It's really a never ending process, but you should make some kind of commitment if you want to show some kind of progress.

I study at least 30 minutes on Duolingo, but I'm also listening to french music throughout the day. Occasionally, I use an app called HelloTalk to find a french native to chat with. I also have french subtitles for everything I stream on my Netflix account.

3. If you get stuck, then remember repetition is key

I should(n't) boast, but I've managed to pass and ace subjects that in reality I had no business excelling in. But, I realized during my senior year in high school that the whole concept of practice makes perfect is absolutely true. I'm actually quiet terrible in mathematics, but I managed to get an A in all my quantitative courses in junior college and UC Berkeley, including calculus and economics, score in the 86 percentile in the quantitative section for the GMAT (mind you, this is going up against quantitative geniuses from all around the world who take the GMAT), and graduate with a B average for my Masters in Finance course at London Business School. I even got a B in a course in financial derivatives, which was an impossible quantitative course, but apparently I got the same grade as most of my classmates.

Despite all these courses, I still cannot do most simple mathematics without a calculator. Still, I was able to do A level work in undergraduate levels and B level work at the Masters level. That's all because of repetition.

To this day, over 20 years later, I tell people that the only way I got an A in calculus was just pure repetition. I barely had any understanding of calculus during the course and definitely have no real understanding of it now, but aced every test and assignment. That's because I did the same questions 10-20Xs. I didn't have to understand "why" step 2 came after to step 1, but simply that it did. After so much repetition, you start to see the patterns and know what comes next.

Answering "why" is great...for PhD students, but especially in language, the rules are made by other people and so do not necessarily make sense according to your own personal experience or what seems logical to you.

For example, siblings. The french doesn't have the word for it. So, in french you couldn't say, "i told my siblings that I couldn't attend." In French, they would have to say, "I told my brother(s) and sister(s) that I couldn't attend." When I learned this, I couldn't understand why they just didn't add the word to the language. They have words for computers, mobile phones, etc, but they didn't have time to add the word siblings. Point being is that to learn a subject, especially a language, you don't need to know "why," but rather just know what "is" and repetition is usually the key to getting there.

4. Think in your new language

I have a continuous internal dialogue going on in my mind and I try and think in french whenever I can. You'll need to have built some sort of foundation before you can get to that point, but once I was able to start thinking in french, I noticed I was able to improve by leaps and bounds. My brain is mostly likely still translating from English-to-French, but the time between that translation is becoming so small that it really feels like I'm actually creating my original thought in French.

I believe once you make that breakthrough, then it's really just about experience with learning grammar and new vocabulary, but essentially the new language is part of you now.

5. No one else really cares how far you've progressed

Lastly, remember, no one really cares how fast or how much you've learned. Nobody I meet cares in the slightest bit that I've been studying french for a while now. I'm sure I'd have to learn like 2 or 3 more languages and be at native fluency before anyone actually took any notice. Point being, you're just doing it for fun so there's no pressure to progress at any pace other than your own. So, have fun with it.

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Duo, Je t'aime! Learning a New Language in the New Year

Posted by Craig Wesley on

For most of my life, I always thought my brain wasn't built for languages. More specifically, that it wasn't built to learn more than one language beyond English. Growing up in a multi-lingual house, where my mom spoke Cantonese, I can verbally understand Cantonese, but I never learned to speak and definitely not to read or write it. Even to this day, my brain hasn't made the connection in order to speak the language and in a life or death situation I would probably freeze.

In high school, I elected to take Spanish as my foreign language because people said that it was the easiest of the offered languages. I failed Intro to Spanish. Once I managed to pass Intro to Spanish, I did actually got a A in Spanish II, but that was it for me and new languages for almost the next 20 years. 

Then, a little over four years ago, I read about Duolingo.com through an online article. Before Duolingo existed, I think Rosetta Stone was and possibly still is the most popular form to learn a language outside of formal instruction. But, Rosetta Stone courses are expensive in my opinion and when I heard that Duolingo was essentially a 100% free version of Rosetta Stone, I signed up and started French.

While my reasons for starting French are a bit fuzzy now, I think it had a lot to do with knowing that Hermes was a French company. Working with leather, I made that connection and I suppose I went with French. I have visited France 3 different times in the past, but to be honest, I don't think that had anything to do with my decision because there are actually other countries, such as Japan, that I've visited almost a dozen times now.

Anyway, I am now four years in with on-and-off learning for the first 1.5 years and daily practice since then. I am pretty far from being fluent, but I'm also pretty happy in how far I've come. I can read a pretty formal news article in French and comprehend the majority of. I can write enough to chat with french natives and carry on some kind of "conversation." Listening is definitely a struggle and I'm pretty far from speaking it, but I can say I speak more French than Cantonese.

As you can guess, Duolingo is not enough to "get you there," in fact The Cut just published an article discrediting it, but I still think it's one of the best ways to start a new language with literally no financial or time commitment, assuming you're already online.

Here are a few quick tips to get you started in learning a new language in the new year:

1. Learn a language that you can/want immerse yourself in

Full disclosure, last year, after learning French for about three years, I started asking myself, "Why the hell did I choose French?" I was having a real hard time finding french language movies and television that I enjoyed, especially comedies. I keep on hearing about how people learned English by watching episodes of the American sitcom Friends. I came to a pretty big realization that I'm not really a big fan of most French movies and tv programming. For the most part, it's truly a cultural thing. The few movies that I do like are actually movies regarding the black experience in France.

I started having a whole language learning existential crisis. During my undergraduate years, I actually knew a few people who studied, lived and worked in France. They turned out to be some of my least favorite people. Then the few french speaking people I have met over the next 20 years more or less seem to clearly racist. I remember speaking to a French person on 4th Street in Berkeley for less than 5 minutes and somehow he managed to say very racist things towards Middle Eastern people in that short conversation. Naturally, I questioned whether there was much I liked about French culture in general. 

So, after three years of pretty consistent studying, I started wondering if I had just been wasting my time. Should I just stop and maybe move on to a different language.

Ultimately, I kept on going and the saving grace was french language music, specifically two or three bands that I really enjoyed. Just like most English language music, I don't enjoy most popular music, but there are some bands that just speak to me and I can listen to their music daily. Because of those bands, I found myself still wanting to studying French.

I definitely wish there was more to inspire me, but for now it's enough. But as you can tell, it really helps if you find something about the language that you can get into, such as music, film, novels, food, business, etc, to help keep you going. Especially if you're using Duolingo, you'll need a lot of outside listening and speaking to really get somewhere because Duolingo will not get you there. 

 2. Commit to studying 30 minutes a day

Just like a new exercise routine or diet, there needs to be some kind of self-commitment. I study at least 30 minutes a day and have done so for almost 2.5 years now. Some days it's a grind, other days I feel great about my progress and feel super motivated and study 2 or 3+ hours. It's really a never ending process, but you should make some kind of commitment if you want to show some kind of progress.

I study at least 30 minutes on Duolingo, but I'm also listening to french music throughout the day. Occasionally, I use an app called HelloTalk to find a french native to chat with. I also have french subtitles for everything I stream on my Netflix account.

3. If you get stuck, then remember repetition is key

I should(n't) boast, but I've managed to pass and ace subjects that in reality I had no business excelling in. But, I realized during my senior year in high school that the whole concept of practice makes perfect is absolutely true. I'm actually quiet terrible in mathematics, but I managed to get an A in all my quantitative courses in junior college and UC Berkeley, including calculus and economics, score in the 86 percentile in the quantitative section for the GMAT (mind you, this is going up against quantitative geniuses from all around the world who take the GMAT), and graduate with a B average for my Masters in Finance course at London Business School. I even got a B in a course in financial derivatives, which was an impossible quantitative course, but apparently I got the same grade as most of my classmates.

Despite all these courses, I still cannot do most simple mathematics without a calculator. Still, I was able to do A level work in undergraduate levels and B level work at the Masters level. That's all because of repetition.

To this day, over 20 years later, I tell people that the only way I got an A in calculus was just pure repetition. I barely had any understanding of calculus during the course and definitely have no real understanding of it now, but aced every test and assignment. That's because I did the same questions 10-20Xs. I didn't have to understand "why" step 2 came after to step 1, but simply that it did. After so much repetition, you start to see the patterns and know what comes next.

Answering "why" is great...for PhD students, but especially in language, the rules are made by other people and so do not necessarily make sense according to your own personal experience or what seems logical to you.

For example, siblings. The french doesn't have the word for it. So, in french you couldn't say, "i told my siblings that I couldn't attend." In French, they would have to say, "I told my brother(s) and sister(s) that I couldn't attend." When I learned this, I couldn't understand why they just didn't add the word to the language. They have words for computers, mobile phones, etc, but they didn't have time to add the word siblings. Point being is that to learn a subject, especially a language, you don't need to know "why," but rather just know what "is" and repetition is usually the key to getting there.

4. Think in your new language

I have a continuous internal dialogue going on in my mind and I try and think in french whenever I can. You'll need to have built some sort of foundation before you can get to that point, but once I was able to start thinking in french, I noticed I was able to improve by leaps and bounds. My brain is mostly likely still translating from English-to-French, but the time between that translation is becoming so small that it really feels like I'm actually creating my original thought in French.

I believe once you make that breakthrough, then it's really just about experience with learning grammar and new vocabulary, but essentially the new language is part of you now.

5. No one else really cares how far you've progressed

Lastly, remember, no one really cares how fast or how much you've learned. Nobody I meet cares in the slightest bit that I've been studying french for a while now. I'm sure I'd have to learn like 2 or 3 more languages and be at native fluency before anyone actually took any notice. Point being, you're just doing it for fun so there's no pressure to progress at any pace other than your own. So, have fun with it.

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