2023: a year of serenity, growth, and anticipation for what’s next

2023: a year of serenity, growth, and anticipation for what’s next

So, here we are, waving goodbye to 2023. Looking back, it’s been nothing short of spectacular, arguably the best since the start of this decade, possibly even surpassing the memorable 2017.

New beginnings: embracing the peaceful pleasures of suburbia

The year ushered in some much-needed changes. Top on the list was my move to a new home (yeah, again!), trading the relentless hustle and constant buzz of downtown Bình Thạnh for the more tranquil suburbs of Phú Mỹ Hưng in District 7. Yes, it’s lively here too, but it’s a different kind of lively – a peaceful retreat. It’s a place where I can unwind, enjoy leisurely walks, let my thoughts drift, and truly embrace life. Phú Mỹ Hưng, a suburb not even 20 years old, boasts villa districts, sleek apartment buildings reminiscent of Singapore or Seoul rather than Sài Gòn, sprawling parks, efficient road and bus networks, and all the conveniences one could ask for.

My new apartment complex, like my previous one, features a fully-equipped gym, a swimming pool with a sunbathing area, a BBQ spot, and, of course, essential services like a pharmacy, a convenience store, and various other shops. The neighborhood is calm and verdant, with sidewalks free from motorbikes and street food stalls, and streets that become peaceful havens in the evenings, perfect for jogging, cycling, playing badminton, or just enjoying a long, reflective walk. The days are filled with the songs of tropical birds, and the nights with the symphony of chirping cicadas and croaking frogs – a stark contrast to the busy, traffic-laden, noisy streets I left behind.

Phú Mỹ Hưng impressions

Finding my balance in the comfort of home

In sync with my relocation, I chose to shift nearly entirely to working from home. Earlier in the year, while I was still at the office, I found myself swayed too often by office gossip and intrigues, negatively impacting my mood and overall well-being. Moreover, the constant presence of others drained my energy, given my tendency toward introversion. This led to a feeling of burnout and emptiness, stress and tension that were unkind to my health and particularly to my sensitive heart. Reflecting, this cycle of stress and some family challenges back home in Germany drove me to make some decisions that, in hindsight, seem less than ideal. However, stepping back to reevaluate and recalibrate allowed me to reconsider some of these choices.

Looking at it now, the turmoil brought some clarity, helping me recognize my true desires and needs. A pivotal moment for me was deciding to quit alcohol mid-year – a choice that continues to feel empowering. It was a simpler transition than anticipated and has been profoundly beneficial. This, coupled with my home-based work and the tranquil new surroundings, has brought a level of calm and mental clarity I hadn’t felt in years. I’m more focused, and motivated, and carry a positive outlook in all aspects of life. For the first time in over a decade and a half, I’m sleeping soundly through the night, feeling more vibrant and healthy. Working remotely has been facilitated by my involvement in a project with a client from Germany, allowing me the flexibility to work from virtually anywhere. This has significantly enhanced my work-life balance, tilting the scales favorably toward ‘life’.

Digital escapades: from Wild West to Outer Space

Speaking of life: games have always been a vital outlet for me, a perfect blend for balancing work and life. This year, I delved into countless hours in virtual realms, engaging in everything from building intricate factories to crafting stories. My adventures spanned from establishing island nations in Anno 1800 to venturing through expansive star systems in Factorio: Space Exploration. I engineered complex industrial worlds in Satisfactory, and alongside my partner, built a secure and modern homestead in 7 Days to Die. My journey took me through the rugged terrains of the Wild West in Red Dead Redemption 2 and the chaotic landscapes in Borderlands 3. I experienced the highs and lows in A Plague Tale: Requiem and in the cat-adventure Stray, and laid out cities in Cities Skylines 2 and Pharaoh: A New Era.

My intellect was challenged by the Talos Principle, and I fought for the survival of my communities in Farthest Frontier, Endzone – A World Apart, Surviving the Abyss, and Floodland. I unleashed mayhem in Postal 2, delved into the eerie Scorn, and repeatedly conquered worlds in Civilization 5, Humankind, and Stronghold Definitive Edition. Nostalgia also called me back to classics like Duke Nukem 1, Caesar 3, and Muri, the latter styled like an old-school Commander Keen game. Indeed, I am an avid gamer, immersed in this vibrant world, and with my cache of games, there’s little chance of boredom at home, as long as there’s a steady supply of wifi and electricity.

And girls. And boys. And everything in between and outside. Oh, and pizza.

So go check out my Steam year in review, though it doesn’t represent games I’ve played on Ubisoft Connect, EA Origin, and through Xbox Game Pass.

AI: my new co-worker and creative muse

The ‘work’ component of my work-life balance has significantly evolved as well, thanks in large part to the advent of AI tools, which have become indispensable in both my personal and professional spheres. ChatGPT, for instance, has been a source of immense inspiration and a tool for generating new ideas, editing texts, and finding novel solutions to programming challenges. It’s also a time-saver for code generation, documentation, and minor code refactoring. GitHub Copilot serves as a virtual junior developer, assisting me in my daily tasks and private projects. While not always perfect, it’s a valuable asset for software development. I’ve also been experimenting with image generation using DALL-E 3 and Midjourney, enhancing my creative and design work.

Regularly using tools like ChatGPT, Bing Chat, Bard, and Copilot for Windows, I’m learning to craft better prompts and apply these AI tools to enrich various aspects of my life. My enthusiasm for exploring AI’s potential is boundless, whether it’s pushing my GPU to its limits with local model instances or bringing unique, non-monetized ideas to life. AI has already transformed my life, and we’re just at the dawn of this generative AI revolution. I anticipate its impact will only grow, shaping my professional and personal life in the digital and analog worlds. I prefer not to label this as ‘optimization’ – a term often overused by influencers and entrepreneurs on platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram. For me, life is about living fully and authentically, not getting lost in an endless quest for optimization. It’s about engaging in activities that are perhaps less optimal but more fulfilling – and now driven by the capabilities of AI.

My creative coding sabbatical

Rather than fine-tuning, I chose to unplug. Taking a month off without pay turned out to be a hidden blessing this year. It was a chance to relax and rejuvenate, though I was far from idle. In that single month, I learned and coded more than in the previous six months, unhindered by usual work constraints like meetings or dependencies. Surprisingly, I found myself immersed in coding for up to 16 hours a day. It might not sound restful, but it was a deeply fulfilling and creative experience. During this time, I completely overhauled this very blog, lui.vn. The transformation involved turning the old static PHP WordPress site into a dynamic Next.js React TypeScript application. This new single-page app, complete with server-side rendering and Redux toolkit, now uses WordPress merely as a headless CMS through its APIs. The result? A lightning-fast, smoothly animated new frontend, blending server-side and client-side components, all fully typed. This overhaul isn’t live yet, as I need to set up Vercel hosting and reconfigure the infrastructure. The plan is to keep the headless WordPress on the current hosting, but shift the domain and the Next.js app to Vercel, pulling data via API from the old host. This is an intriguing project I’m looking forward to tackling in the coming year, either during another break or when I feel the urge to dive into a new challenge at night.

Impressions from abroad: Germany’s stagnant summer

Sometimes, the best thing to do is simply step back and escape: this year, I found myself magnetically drawn to Bangkok four times. It might seem unusual, transitioning from one bustling metropolis of 21 million to another of 15 million, but Bangkok’s unique blend of similarities and contrasts to Ho Chi Minh City captivates me every time. It’s a city alive with vibrant colors, sweltering heat, and an electric atmosphere.

In sharp contrast, my summer visit to Germany felt more distant and disconnected than ever before. Without the presence of family, I would find little appeal in a country seemingly gripped by political and social stagnation. Germany, in my eyes, struggles with internal divisions and a diminishing role on the global stage, lacking clear direction and vision. It’s a place where discord is rampant, not just within families and communities, but across entire states. There’s a pervasive sense of discontent, overshadowing the nation’s wealth, privilege, and stability within the global context. German leaders, in my view, struggle to articulate a future vision that resonates with the people.

Instead, they seem entangled in a web of power politics, focused on polling and elections, often at the cost of genuine progress and unity. The country, in many ways, appears to be moving sideways or even regressing, with a tendency to work against each other rather than together, despite the increasing global and environmental challenges that necessitate collaboration. To me, Germany resembles a complacent yet enviously bitter figure, recoiling from inevitable changes and squandering opportunities for progress, clinging to outdated ideologies and memories. It’s as if, in recent years, the entire world veered onto a problematic path, one that’s far removed from productive and harmonious coexistence. A buggy, insane branch that was not meant for productive use.

Summer 2023 snaps from Germany

Choosing Việt Nam over Europe for life and family

Truly, I am grateful for my life in Việt Nam, a refreshing escape from the incessant media buzz and social frenzy prevalent in Germany and the Western world. Here, I’ve created my little sanctuary, a personal filter bubble. Việt Nam, like any place, has its share of challenges, both locally and globally. Yet, what strikes me most is the mindset of the people here — the way issues are identified, addressed, and often seen as opportunities for growth is remarkably different. The year 2023 has been a revelation in many ways, solidifying my emotional and rational connection to this region. It’s become clear to me that Europe, as I knew it, no longer holds the same allure. My future, I am certain, lies here in Việt Nam and in Southeast Asia, not just professionally, but in my personal life and future family considerations as well.

This year, I’ve felt an even increasingly growing desire to start my own family and have children. While my mind tries to reason logically, my heart speaks a different language, driven by deeper, instinctual yearnings. Time waits for no one, and I’m keenly aware of the narrowing window for this phase of life. I don’t want to be an older parent, more akin to a grandfather than a father. Hence, I’m on the lookout for more than just a partner or friends with benefits; I’m searching for a companion, a confidante, essentially, a best friend.

This search is unhurried but deliberate, and a delicate balance in my current relationship. For me, love isn’t one-size-fits-all: I distinguish between emotional and sexual attraction, often feeling both for the same person when everything aligns. It’s a complex yet simple aspect of human relationships, often unfolding in unpredictable ways. In a step towards such new connections, I’ve finally joined Instagram after years of avoidance, supplementing my heavily used Tinder profile. It’s a space where I share slices of my life, from mundane to meaningful moments, without any grand ambitions but simply to be genuine, and it already feels much more comfortable than X and Bluesky. I welcome those who are interested in following along on this journey.

35 years, yet the same old, same old

Me, on December 13, 2023Me, on December 29, 2023
Me, on December 13, 2023 (left), and on December 29, 2023 (right). Oh, and Chloe 🧸

Farewell 2023: a toast to health, stability, and joyful anticipation

And just like that, another year has passed. It was a year that seemed to stretch endlessly, brimming with unforgettable moments, new friendships, insightful revelations, and significant personal and spiritual growth. Yet, paradoxically, it felt as though the days slipped by rapidly, blending into one another without major deviations from the routine. It was a year that, on reflection, could have accommodated more impromptu adventures and spontaneous experiences. Yet, I realize that our prime years, bursting with energy and fewer constraints, are fleeting, typically spanning from our twenties to our fifties. Nevertheless, there’s a certain charm in a year that unfolds without dramatic upheavals or extraordinary escapades.

As I stand on the threshold of 2024, I feel a sense of calm and eager anticipation. I am in good health, my life is stable and serene, and I am surrounded by caring, supportive people. My days often feel like an extended vacation, filled with energy, playfulness, and deep-seated joy. The people in my life are not only amiable and driven but also hold a confident outlook towards the future. Reflecting on 2023, it was a year of remarkable experiences, and yet, I have a strong, almost irrational belief that 2024 will be even more phenomenal, at least in my sphere. So, with a heart full of hope and excitement, I bid farewell to 2023 and warmly welcome 2024 🎇🥰✨🥳🎆

Hero image: Generated with DALL·E 3 on December 31, 2023, at 4:42 PM.

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