I’m a Cambodian American geek. As I’ve talked about before, this has had its challenges, like clashing with parents who thought my geek hobbies were a waste of time and money, but standing up for myself and what I liked also helped me develop a thick skin against criticism.
Another way my upbringing was a benefit to my adult geekdom is that I was raised to give everything I have to anything I choose to do. Growing up, my dad would always tell me, “In everything you do, be the best. If you can’t be the best, do your best—if you don’t do your best, then it’s not worth doing.” Basically, I was taught to always improve and immerse myself in being the best that I can be in all that I do and to not waste time doing a shoddy job, whether it’s for me or for someone else. Everything I do, I should do it in excellence so that I won’t regret not doing a good job on something.
Fast-forward to my adult years, and I discovered the joys—and subsequent rabbit holes—of anime. I devoted a whole lot of time to consuming anime, looking into Japanese culture, reading about the top anime studios, learning about visual novels, finding manga, getting soundtracks, learning about cosplay, buying DVDs, and even finding sheet music of my favorite anime themes. All this just from watching a little anime. And it wasn’t the only hobby for which I dived in headfirst: how about Final Fantasy VII? I become such a devoted fanboy of the series that I remixed the battle theme twice, with a planned third remix, and have talked about doing dream cosplays with others. I also still listen to the Voices of the Lifestream remixed soundtrack of the game daily. And let’s not forget cosplay—my devotion went beyond cosplaying my favorite characters and developed into becoming Takeo, the Cosplay Repair Guy. I began learning about the finer points of prop making and costuming, as well as costuming methods, ways to cosplay on the cheap, and how to fix cosplay-related malfunctions.
In addition, being a frustrated creative Asian American nerd who was sick of the lack of representation of Asian and Asian American characters in media outside of the typical tropes and stereotypes, I got into writing my own creative fiction and creating small independent projects. Heck, it was also this mindset that got me here onto Twin Cities Geek in the first place. In addition to that, I also threw myself deep into things like speedcubing, street skateboarding, juggling, 1A style yo-yo (string tricks), DIY, and modding. But nothing, and I truly do mean nothing, can compare to how deeply I dived into music.
It started with playing with my dad and grandpa at Cambodian weddings, then performing at Cambodian New Year celebrations. At the time, I was just playing small cymbals called ching. Then I wanted to learn drums like my dad and likely annoyed my parents to no end. Then, in junior high, I started learning bass guitar, though I didn’t play much outside of church. But it wasn’t until many years later, in 2013, that it all clicked—I had been making music all my life, but never fully realized how much I had a knack for it. So I began performing professionally, and thus began my pursuit of music-gear geekdom. I began learning about production and recording, about acoustic treatments, audio interfaces, microphones, recording applications, and how to build a home studio. I also learned about live stage elements such as performance, production, set assembly, lighting, live sound, cabling, speakers, monitors, stage layouts, acoustics, and tech. I learned everything that I could about specific guitar and bass-guitar brands and builds. I learned about guitar tonewoods, electronics, construction, strings and string materials, neck shapes, scale lengths, and just about everything else I could about specs. I learned about how guitar tube amplifiers worked and why they were desirable over solid-state amplifiers. I learned about synths and how digital and analog synthesizers behave, though I’m still learning the basics.
Recently, I’ve started learning how to build guitar pedals, guitars, and guitar amps from scratch (and subsequently learning how involved of a project it is). I want to find a way to design and scratch-build an electronic version of the Cambodian two-string fiddle, the tro-sau, using a handmade piezo pickup, preamp, and modern tonewoods and manufacturing processes. I’ve applied my experience as a former IT contractor to learn about how computers influence music performance and the latest and greatest in DJ tech and equipment. I also dived into the world of Vocaloid music and have made it a goal to learn Japanese and learn how to use the Vocaloid software to further my musical repertoire. I bought a DJ TechTools Midi Fighter 3D and started learning about finger drumming and how to incorporate it into live sets. Heck, even with musical instruments I wasn’t content with simply learning one, two, or even three instruments or vocal skills competently.
So far, using my knack for fast learning and some near-superhuman persistence, I’ve picked up 12 instruments and vocal skills in the past few years, and I plan on adding six more in the future. My blatant refusal to stop learning new skills—along with the mindset to never, ever, stop improving the skills I’ve learned and finding ways to improvise—has become a major asset for me just about everywhere I’ve gone. In the last year, my skills as a DJ and musician began to increase in demand to the point where I actually had to start saying to people to keep from being spread too thin, which is something I’d previously only dreamed of happening. Even in the world of cosplay, I have become what my best friend describes as being “con famous,” in that people people recognize my Cosplay Repair Guy outfit at conventions even without me having to explain what I do. (Heck, staff at various cons, including CONvergence, have begun to go out of their way to contact me about doing cosplay repair.) It blows my mind, because I never thought in my entire life that my thirst for skill learning and self-improvement would actually get people’s attention like that. That prospect is both cool and, honestly, somewhat scary.
But perhaps the best side effect of this mindset is that I’m able to converse about a wide range of otherwise very niche topics with people. A friend and former coworker of mine once described me as multifaceted—at first I wasn’t so sure, but as time went on, I realized that he was right.
In short, I love what I do. I’m sure, as you, the reader, love what you do, too. One side effect of being hyperobsessed with something in geekdom is that sometimes, we spend a lot of time alone. But I love sharing my obsessions with other geeks, and I hope I can encourage some of you to do that too.