Prague

The weather in Prague has been grey, gloomy, and wet since I arrived yesterday, but the city of a hundred spires still has a self-assured presence and history about it, an Old World elegance of cobblestone and Gothic architecture, red-tiled roofs and copper-green domes. And in the current throes of autumn, the verdancy of the city’s trees and ivy-covered walls warming into fall colors, it’s easy to be taken in by the sense of place. People had warned me that I’d be put off by the crowds, which are certainly hectic and have additionally been exacerbated by Czechia’s centennial independence celebrations this weekend, but apart from the tourist top hits, I’ve found Prague busy enough to feel lively, but not so much to be tedious.

I spent my first day on the tourist circuit, making my way from Wenceslas Square up through Old Town and the plaza, stopping there just long enough to snap a photo of the clock tower; then through the Jewish Quarter; crossing a bridge over the Vtalva to the Metronome in Letná Park; through the park to Prague Castle; and again down towards the river, detouring past Lennon Wall, crossing back to Prague 1 via Charles Bridge. All the must-sees, dutifully checked off the list, so I could be completely free to explore off the tourist-trodden path today.

And indeed, today was much funkier and more captivating. I started at VNITROBLOCK for art and coffee and pretending to be a sneakerhead, then moseyed over to the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art to work out in the Hard Times gym exhibit and climb aboard Gulliver the airship. A short metro ride away, alighting at Florenc, I took a wander through the Manifesto market, got a second flat white at EMA Espresso Bar, then headed over to the garden at St. Agnes Convent, which was just the loveliest space of outdoor art and calm, even despite drab sky and drizzle. Back closer to Old Town, on my search for a postcard writing implement, I stopped in at the House at the Black Madonna  and discovered an absolutely wonderful Czech Cubism exhibit. Then, finally, a perfect Italian dinner for one at La Bottega Linka, and a chance to sit and reflect.

我就站在布拉格黃昏的廣場 在許願池 投下了希望
那群白鴿 背對著夕陽 那畫面太美我不敢看。。。

Your Step-by-Step Guide to a Crazy Rich Birthday on a Budget

By Tracy Chou @triketora and Elisa Mala @elisa_mala

Step 1. The invite.

Watch Crazy Rich Asians. Not once, not twice, but three times, each. Between two of you, that’s six times altogether. Maybe even go to the LA premiere and interview some of the cast on the red carpet. Or meet Singapore’s ambassador to the United Nations when the country’s tourism board hosts a screening in New York.

Pick your spiritual inspiration from a cast of characters that, for the first time ever, might actually look like you. Astrid. Peik Lin. Obsess over the whole thing a little bit more. Decide to host a Crazy Rich Asians-themed party.

Attire:
~ Fancy-shmancy or “snoshy”
~ Favorite waterproof wedding dress
~ Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops
~ One word: “clubbing”
~ Shirtless to show off your six-pack

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Splashthat: $0.

Step 2. The decor.

Order some paper lanterns and twine off Amazon. That’s the easy part.

To recreate the lush Singaporean jungle effect of Araminta Lee and Colin Khoo’s wedding scene, you need some florals and foliage. Take a spin through Manhattan’s floral district and find some end-of-life flowers to bargain down on price. Bring your Asian mom for full effect; with a huge smile and the sweetest voice, she casually mentions to the seller the broad monstera deliciosa leaf has holes in it and looks “broken.” A huge discount is offered. Negging: an effective haggling tactic! Return home triumphant with a haul of four dozen baby roses, two dozen orchids, many fistfuls of stemmed green leafery, plus the “broken” monstera, all this for only $22.

Put up the twine like clotheslines across the room, tie alternating lengths of the string to dangle vertically from those, then knot on the lanterns and flowers for dramatic hanging effect. On the table beneath, arrange the leaves and remaining flowers like a table runner.

Don’t forget to put up that Crazy Rich Asians movie poster you picked up from the third screening you went to. Just to remind people of the theme, in case they forget.

Paper lanterns: $25.
Twine: $4.
Flowers: $22.
Crazy Rich Asians movie poster: $0.

Step 3. The food.

Go for cookies, cakes, and tea. Like Eleanor’s bible study session. Indulge in mooncakes, since it’s almost Mid-Autumn Festival. Trust that your friends will be darlings and bring a dazzling array of desserts to contribute. (They do.)

Swing by the dollar store for a handful of 100 Grands and Oh Henry!s. They make for good party decor.

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Assorted teas and almond milk from Trader Joe’s: $20.
Assorted cookies from Trader Joe’s: $20.
Mooncakes from Lung Moon Bakery: $34.
Candy bars from the dollar store: $1 each.

Step 4. The wardrobe.

Screenshot movie stills to your phone for fashion inspiration. Search Rent the Runway for appropriately glamorous garments and accessories. Get excited, then get realistic that you’re not actually going to spend $150 to wear a designer dress for a day. Realize that the Rent the Runway Unlimited subscription you canceled has a week left until expiration. Get excited again.

For Astrid: Reserve that Prabal Gurung tea rose side slash dress you’ve been eyeing and a gorgeous pair of gold-plated, resin-painted Oscar de la Renta floral drop earrings (clip-ons, though, because you don’t have pierced ears). Finish off the look with dramatic cream-and-brown cat eye sunglasses, on sale at GAP.

outfit.jpeg

GAP sunglasses: $17.
Prabal Gurung dress: $0 (with Rent the Runway Unlimited subscription).
Oscar de la Renta earrings: $0 (with Rent the Runway Unlimited subscription).
Any non-black high-heeled footwear from closet: $0.

For Peik Lin: Sadly, Rent the Runway doesn’t do animal-patterned silk pajama sets (yet?) but some of their glittery pieces do give a good nouveau riche Goh family vibe.

dresses

Step 5. The guestlist.

Miscellaneous high-society well-dressed Asians, Rachel, “Cocktail Dress” and “Walk of Shame”. Jet-setting friends in town from Singapore, London, and San Francisco. (They definitely came in by private jet.)

Step 6. The toast.

Clink your glass and marvel at how the room immediately falls silent.

Against a backdrop of opulence and abs, Crazy Rich Asians is about the magic that awaits those who are brave enough to take on the world as their very best, most bok-bok selves. Your own crazy rich party on a budget is obviously not about being rich in the Taiwan Plastics Chus kind of way.

You are grateful to be crazy rich in all the ways money can’t buy.

Toast to adventure, to life experience, to grand opportunity.

Toast to friendship, and to your friends in the room: The ones who make their way through the world with you, whether that’s tech events in San Francisco, Russian baths in New York, congressional hearings in Washington, DC, or Sundance Film Festival in the dead of winter in Utah. The ones who remain by your side when air conditioners malfunction and hearts break, who power through jetlag and tears. Who cheer your successes. Who protect you from harm. Who show you the love you deserve. Who make all things feel possible.

Bonus! Step 7. The photoshoot.

Once the guests are gone, take full advantage of both you and the space looking fabulous to stage a photoshoot. Bask in being extra.

P.S. Your mom joins for this part. She’s rocking a rose gold sequin gown off the CRA rack at Rent the Runway. And she’s got the sunglasses to match.

#MeToo, what’s next? Turning a movement into action

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A couple weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity and honor to visit Capitol Hill and testify in front of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, in the third of a series of hearings on #MeToo and sexual harassment. Previous hearings laid out the problem; ours focused on solutions.

I spoke about the work of Project Include in driving cultural and process change in the tech industry, and #MovingForward in galvanizing VC firms towards accountability; the latter of which also tied into Jess Ladd’s work with Callisto, using technology to detect repeat sexual offenders and to connect survivors. Debbie Katz gave sharp, punchy recommendations grounded in her 30+ years of litigation in employment discrimination, civil rights, and whistleblower protection. Judge Laura Safer Espinoza with the Fair Food Standards Council spoke about economic justice for farm workers, Dr. Dorothy Edwards of Alteristic (with her wife and children in the audience!) gave analysis and perspective on training and prevention, and Linda Seabrook with Workplace Safety & Equity for Futures without Violence had specific requests for Congress around re-authorizing VAWA.

Representatives Susan Brooks IN-5 and Lois Frankel FL-21, the bipartisan co-chairs of the caucus, presided, directing our testimony and then the Q&A from other Representatives present: Kathy Castor FL-14, Susan Davis CA-53, Lucille Roybal-Allard CA-40, Ann McLane Kuster NH-2, Debbie Dingell MI-12, and Barbara Comstock VA-10. Remarkably, some of the Congresswomen even spoke to their own experiences with harassment, including on the Hill, and recently; and called out their own institutions for not doing more.

After the hearing, I (and my wonderfully supportive friend Elisa!) then got to play tourist for a couple hours before heading back to NYC. The physicality of the space and historic architecture was a visceral reminder, at least to me, of how important the work of our lawmakers and government is.

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A non-apology for my obsession with Crazy Rich Asians

I’m unexpectedly emotional when it comes to Crazy Rich Asians. The last time I could see even a reflection of myself in a movie’s main character was Mulan, 20 years ago. And now! Here is Rachel Chu: an ABC who grew up in the Bay Area, went to Stanford, now lives in New York City, and is professionally ambitious and accomplished. Asian-American, too Asian to be American and too American to be Asian. Every one of these things something that is true of me as well.

Image result for rachel chu crazy rich asians
“bok bok, bitch”

I love who I am and that I have lived at the intersection of cultures, but I also feel a sense of rootlessness, that I don’t belong anywhere. Like every other Asian-American, I’ve been asked countless times: “Where are you from?” “But where are you really from?” I don’t know. There is no answer that is satisfactory. I’ve never truly felt at home anywhere. I don’t “look” American, and even in the Asian-dense Bay Area, I’ve alternately been praised, “Your English is really good!” and disparaged with, “Do you even speak English?”

The rallying cry of “Representation matters!” has been loud enough that I at least intellectually knew it would be powerful for me to see someone like me on screen. I didn’t realize how much more powerful it would be for me to feel seen, to feel mainstream American acknowledgment and validation of the stories and experiences of people like me.

(Even the funny bits, like Peik Lin’s dad trying to set Rachel up with her brother, dismissing the fact that Rachel has a boyfriend; I’ve 100% been at that dining room table before, with a friend’s dad voicing aloud his strong approval of my physical appearance, Taiwanese heritage, and Stanford degree and how I would be very good for my friend’s brother, despite my friend’s protestations that I already had a boyfriend. “Well, when you break up!”)

I was so afraid that a box office flop for this movie might be another repudiation of Asians in Western society, culture, and media, another reminder that we don’t belong and might never belong. Instead, I’m crying happy, grateful tears of relief for a #GoldOpen and a breakthrough moment in the form of a crazy rich fantastically-set love story that also happens to be the coming-of-age story of an Asian-American woman who reminds me of me. As director Jon Chu writes, “It’s a lavish, fun, romantic romp but underneath it all, there’s an intimate story of a girl becoming a woman. Learning that she’s good enough and deserves the world, no matter what she’s been taught or how she’s been treated, and ultimately that she can be proud of her mixed heritage.”

Maybe someday I’ll meet my Nick Young, too 😉

Image result for crazy rich asians henry golding

System malfunction

A well-respected figure in tech recently asked me if I might like to co-author a piece with him on the subject of diversity. As we sat down to brainstorm, he joked, as an almost apologetic preface: “Just to be clear, I haven’t sexually harassed anyone, so I’m not doing this to cover up for anything.” The possibility hadn’t been on my mind, but as soon as he named it, I was saddened by how plausible it could be.

Time named its 2017 Person of the Year to be ‘The Silence Breakers’: the brave women and men who spoke up and unleashed that wave of reckoning. They were not the first to speak, but theirs were the voices that resonated and were able to break through, which is as much a statement about them as it is about the world that would finally hear them.

In the tech industry, the first big harassment story of 2017 was that of Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineer. Her self-penned account of her very “strange” year at Uber was measured and effective, her anecdotes specific and salacious, documenting systemic harassment and discrimination at the company. A few months later, in June 2017, six women went on record with The Information to name Justin Caldbeck, an investor at Binary Capital, for sexual harassment. Shortly after that, the New York Times went on to name several more prominent investors, including Dave McClure of 500 Startups, for their misconduct. There were ramifications: Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to step down, and Caldbeck and McClure as well, from the firms they had helped to start. All of this presaged the #MeToo stories and fallout soon to come in Hollywood, media and politics.

And yet, almost a year later, and on the other side of the Harvey Weinstein reports, which broke in October, it feels like the force of that reckoning in tech has already abated. #MeToo in tech is not a trending hashtag. In the tech world, today, in 2018, despite everything, conferences are still hosting events at strip clubs, known offenders are still going on speaking tours, and people who’ve been fired for sexual harassment simply pop up elsewhere to pick up new plum appointments.

The worst behaved in tech have largely come from the ranks of investing, the venture capitalists (VCs). They control access to capital. Some companies manage to get off the ground without the infusions of cash that VCs provide, but most need that money to even have a shot at trying to achieve their start-up dreams. The percentage of female investors at top venture firms currently stands at no more than eight per cent. A female founder trying to secure funding for her company has no choice but to pitch many male VCs, and in most cases the founder is vulnerable. Furthermore, the legal protections that are theoretically if not practically helpful within companies, among co-workers in the same corporate environment, do not exist at all in the hazy grey area of founder/potential investor relations. For all of that, female founders only get two per cent of all venture money. (Editor’s note: Since this piece went to print, Tracy helped to launch a project called #MovingForward, which encourages VC firms to codify and publish their inclusion and anti-harassment policies for external parties, alongside points of contact, so there is both guidance and recourse for founders.)

The follow-on effects for the rest of the tech industry are clear: men keep their stranglehold on leadership in the small tech start-ups of today, out of which come the big tech corporations of tomorrow. These men continue to hire and promote their mostly male friends, not necessarily nefariously or even consciously biased, but often simply out of convenience and comfort.

Just as male-written, -directed and -produced Hollywood means an untold loss of storytelling from women, male-designed, -engineered and -funded Silicon Valley misses out on critical ideas and perspectives even as it seeks to craft the future of the world we live in. To study the example of one hot-button subject of late, the role of tech platforms in proliferating hate and harassment: women were the proverbial canary in the coal mine for this, yet our experiences of being harassed, trolled, stalked and doxxed hardly informed better tools for managing public discourse and protecting individuals from abuse. There are belated efforts underway now, but being able to say “I told you so” is scarce comfort.

Some companies, undervalued and dismissed because they are built by and/or sell to women, struggle at the start yet manage to break through anyway: Pinterest, the visual-bookmarking site, and Stitch Fix, the personal shopping service, are good examples in recent history. But so many others are lost in that early struggle. Take the case of Naya Health, which makes a smart breast pump that is Food and Drug Administration-approved, loved by mums, and yet can’t win over the Silicon Valley gatekeepers of capital. The founders, a husband and wife team, has had to turn to crowdfunding and validation via Kickstarter instead.

In the era of #MeToo, why has it been so hard for change to come to the tech industry, an industry that itself wants to change the world? Far more dangerous and insidious than a few bad men are the systems and power structures that have enabled them. At its most fundamental, sexual harassment is not about sex, it is about power and being able to abuse it. In business, it is economic and financial power and the ability to make deals, projects, or even companies and careers, that men are abusing.

The #MeToo movement fights back with the power of public accountability, but it isn’t always there, and it isn’t always enough. In Hollywood, media and politics, the spectacle of celebrities and public figures sharing or figuring in #MeToo stories has been an incredible media draw. The testimony of women like Salma Hayek, Lupita Nyong’o and Uma Thurman, speaking to Harvey Weinstein’s monstrosity, has been some of the most devastating. For most people seeing actors, newscasters and elected officials being implicated in #MeToo accusations is far more arresting a sight than tech insider takedowns. At the same time, accusations and consequences do not unfold independently of the press coverage and public attention. Where legal recourse has repeatedly been unsuccessful, in some cases the court of public opinion can demand accountability – as long as the public cares to have an opinion.

In tech, we will have to go about fixing our broken operating systems in our own slow, boring and not particularly newsworthy ways. For those who are not activists or diversity practitioners, the litany of recommended changes is a list more likely to inspire eye glaze: more inclusive recruiting; fairer, more calibrated hiring and promotion processes; more evidence-based decision-making, less of the kind based on gut feel and pattern matching; more work schedule flexibility; more supportive family/caretaker leave policies and benefits; third-party ombuds programs and other non-conflicted reporting and accountability mechanisms; etc, etc.

The list doesn’t make for much of a hashtag – but hopefully it makes for lasting change.

This story originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Vogue Australia.

Kia ora

I just got home to NYC from a beautiful, heart- and mind-expanding 10 days in Aotearoa New Zealand as part of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship. Our cohort was 39 Fellows from 18 different countries and I loved hearing about all of their work and world perspectives: everything from cleaning plastic out of the oceans and making gourmet food out of insects, to using digital biomarkers for better clinical trials and decentralizing markets with blockchain. The idea of “country as a platform” is intriguing, progressive, and hopefully one that works! The world could certainly use some strong leadership around sustainable development and many other global issues.

On a cultural note: It is really remarkable how much New Zealand is working to elevate the Maori people and make reparations for the past (though there is absolutely still much work to be done — e.g., median European net wealth is 5x Maori net wealth).

Also: Proud to claim first EHF Cohort 2 collaboration (facilitated by EHF, not pre-existing) with fellow Fellow Andy Coravos! We originally met via a Facebook group last fall but were inspired to work together on #MovingForward after we saw the Cohort 2 list published and found each other on the list.

Sand graffiti tagging “EHF Cohort 2” on a Waiheke beach.
We stayed in a bell tent village on a farm in Aroha Valley, about 30 minutes outside Wellington.
Adjacent to our camping grounds. No filter for those cloud-streaked blue skies and brilliant green fields.
This is a cow that my tentmate and I befriended on a morning run.
Welcome Week closing reflections.