End-of-2023 investment portfolio breakdown

Disclaimer: I am not a registered investment advisor. The information found in this blog post is in­tended to be strictly anecdotal and should not be con­strued as financial advice. Everyone’s situation is uniquely different, so if you are seeking guid­ance, consult a licensed and certified professional for per­son­al­ized assistance.

 
During 2021 and 2022, I used to write investment portfolio breakdowns almost quarterly to share where and how my liquid assets were allocated. After publishing a bunch of them, I realized that there aren’t frequent-enough changes to make them worth doing so often, so I stopped throughout a bulk of 2023. However, now that we’ve dinged a new year, I figured it would be worth putting together another up-to-date and comprehensive report for my new­er readers.

Cash

If you’ve at all been keeping up with the state of the current financial climate, you know that interest rates in the United States are very high right now. Although I am a strong proponent of time in the market being better than timing the market, I haven’t been heeding my own advice and have instead been holding onto more cash than usual.

Of course, considering that it is the end of a calendar year and tax-advantaged account limitations reset on January 1, a large portion of my cash is already “accounted for” in its purpose. I have $7k ready to go for my personal IRA, more than $25k for my SEP-IRA, and just over $4k for my HSA—all of this is just sitting there as cash waiting for markets to open on January 2, 2024 after the holiday.

However, beyond the above, I am still holding even more cash on top of that just for the sake of farming reliable returns on my deposits. I think the economy is actually doing worse than it may appear on the surface, so instead of immediately dollar-cost av­er­aging and dumping all my money directly into investments, I am balancing it out and keeping decently large chunks of cash in sav­ings and money market accounts.

My primary sav­ings account is with Discover Bank, which has an interest rate of 4.35% as of today—this is what I use for incoming ACH transfers and depositing checks. Excluding my emergency fund of three months’ worth of expenses, I keep the rest on Van­guard in my core position, the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund (VMFXX), currently with a 5.32% yield. Considering that my primary brokerage for investments is also Vanguard, having this money in VMFXX means I always have plenty of available balance to make short-notice trades, if needed. And finally, I have a less-frequently-utilized variant of this on Fidelity as well, the Fidelity Gov­ern­ment Money Market Fund (SPAXX), currently with a 5.01% yield.

  9.183%

Domestic broad market index funds

I’m sure this is not surprising to anyone—the largest category in my portfolio is taken up by broad market index funds. Most of this is in Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTSAX), with Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index Fund Admiral Shares (VHYAX) coming in at second.

When asked, I often talk about all the strange and interesting investment opportunities I’ve found, but it is very important to un­der­stand that those weird investments make up an exceedingly small percentage of my portfolio, and a bulk of it is in “boring” mutual funds. I purchased more shares of VHYAX during the pandemic when the stock market was volatile and I wanted some more sta­bil­i­ty, but my go-to investment is VTSAX.

As for the investments I hold in my Fidelity account, like my Health Savings Account or my Fidelity Charitable account, I will keep those funds in the Fidelity ZERO® Total Market Index Fund (FZROX).

 40.871%

International total mar­ket index funds

This is the category that has probably seen the biggest change in the past year. I do want to stay invested in the international stock market because I want exposure outside the United States to diversify my portfolio, but this segment is currently in a bit of a work-in-progress state.

I used to have a decent chunk of money invested in Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTIAX), but over the past year and a half, I ended up selling all of it for tax loss harvesting purposes.

After waiting out the wash sale period, I re-entered the international market by means of the Fidelity ZERO® International Index Fund (FZILX). If you compare my percentage here relative to some previous portfolio breakdowns, you’ll see that I didn’t buy back in as heavily as I used to own, but I’m going to continue working my way up here over time in this fund.

  1.562%

Target date funds

The money I have invested in my tax-advantaged retirement accounts is all in target date funds. The reason I separate this out as its own line item in my breakdown is because target date funds automatically reallocate their composition to be riskier when further a­way from the target date and safer when approaching the target date. Thus, due to how time-consuming it would be to go in and man­u­al­ly calculate this for my breakdowns, I decided years ago to just give them their own category.

I used to put most of my retirement money into the Vanguard Target Retirement 2060 Fund (VTTSX) but later started splitting it half-and-half with the Vanguard Target Retirement 2055 Fund (VFFVX) as well.

Recently, after realizing that I am doing much better financially now than I had ever imagined I would be when I was in my younger 20s, and foreseeing a sooner and sooner retirement, I kept my VTTSX and VFFVX as-is but have put everything new into the Van­guard Target Retirement 2050 Fund (VFIFX) instead so my retirement accounts don’t tank in the event of an untimely stock mar­ket crash during the 40s or 50s. I don’t anticipate switching to a 2045 fund, though—there are tax penalties for withdrawing funds before turning 59½ years old, and that will happen for me in 2051.

Some people have asked me why I don’t just manage the compositions myself to save a little bit on the expense ratio. That is a good point, considering how active of an investor I am, but I already have plenty of money in individual brokerage accounts that I self-manage, and it gives me additional peace of mind to have my money spread out in different fund types. In the highly unlikely but non-zero chance that I become unable to manage my own investments in the future, e.g., through some acquired mental disability or incapacitating injury, and if my caretaker is financially illiterate… even if my other investments may go to chaos during stock market un­rest, my retirement accounts will stay stable on their own thanks to Vanguard’s management.

 18.555%

Real es­tate investment trusts (REITs)

I’ve been exploring some options of investing in physical real estate for the past few years, but never got around to it because I never felt like it was the best time to do so considering all my circumstances at the time. I’m still keeping an eye out on good opportunities, but because the interest rates are so high on mortgages, I’m making sure I’m not acting too hastily.

In the meantime, my portfolio still has real estate exposure through real estate investment trusts. My REIT of choice is Vanguard Real Es­tate Index Fund Admiral Shares (VGSLX). I may sell some of these off in the future for tax loss harvesting or to free up cash for a down payment to purchase physical real estate, but until then, I’ve just been holding onto what I have and automatically re­in­vest­ing div­i­dends.

  9.263%

Bonds

As I mentioned previously in the section about target date funds, I trust Vanguard to manage my retirement funds and allocate an ap­pro­pri­ate percentage of my money into bonds automatically. For my self-managed funds, I’m still young and still have reliable net-positive cash flow, so I’m investing in stocks and generally avoiding bonds.

With that being said, I’m still holding onto the United States Department of the Treasury‘s Series I Savings Bonds that I purchased over the past few years when inflation skyrocketed during and shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not interested in pur­chas­ing more in 2024 due to the new 5.27% interest rate not being much better than my savings and money market accounts, at the further detriment of having to sacrifice a few months’ worth of interest if I want to liquify it prior to the five-year mark.

Everything else here that isn’t directly with the Treasury is in Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VBTLX).

  6.037%

Cryptocurrency

It’s been quite a wild ride being a cryptocurrency owner. I originally bought in as a way to learn hands-on about blockchain tech­nol­o­gy and more effectively perform my job duties at Tempo, but that resulted in me being down multiple tens of thousands of un­re­al­ized losses at one point. Luckily, I didn’t panic sell—I more-or-less dismissed it as “gambling losses” and kept holding in case it went back up.

I held onto the shares of Grayscale Digital Large Cap Fund (GDLC) and Bitwise 10 Crypto Index Fund (BITW) I already had, as well as some random coins I had in my self-custodied hardware wallet. In early 2023 during the United States banking crisis and the fol­low­ing panic, even after saying I wouldn’t invest more in crypto­currency, I made a discretionary purchase of some Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) and ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF (BITO).

Cryptocurrency has bounced back a substantial amount, which is good news for me, and I am now hovering around break-even. I’m still not selling, though—I’m not too worried about the money, and cryptocurrency is a good way to diversify my portfolio anyway, so I’ll be keeping this as a hedge against further instances of financial crises, unrest, or failure.

  7.643%

Individual stocks and private companies

I haven’t been too active in trading individual stocks, so most of what I own here has been under the buy-and-hold strategy. I still own a few to several thousands of dollars’ worth each of some of my favorite companies: Marriott International, Inc. (MAR), Cloud­flare, Inc. (NET), T-Mobile US, Inc. (TMUS), and Stellantis, N.V. (STLA).

In September 2023, I bought several thousand dollars’ worth of shares of TKO Group Holdings, Inc. (TKO) after the merger be­tween World Wrestling Entertainment and Ultimate Fighting Championship. I used to watch a ton of WWE when I was a kid, and I currently train casually with the UFC, so I figured this would be a fun and meaningful purchase.

A few years ago, I invested in Atlis Motor Vehicles, Inc., which turned out to be a comical failure. I bought 50 shares privately at a little over $8 each, and their initial public offering was at $27.50 (which garnered enough hype to peak at over $82 that day). Not long after, the stock price plummeted. They rebranded to NXU, Inc., which continued to be a clown show—the stock price kept falling until it was at a point where it barely broke two cents. In order to not be delisted, NXU performed a 1-to-150 reverse stock split. My 50 shares disappeared from my brokerage account, and I imagine it is soon to be replaced by ⅓rd of one share.

And finally, I am now the owner of $2,000 worth (cost basis) of unsponsored American depository receipts of Nexon Co., Ltd. (NEXOY). For a little bit of context, when I live stream on Twitch, viewers can accrue “points” on the platform to redeem for prizes, and one of my prizes is to spend $2k of my money to invest in any security listed on the NYSE, NASDAQ, OTCQX, or OTCQB. I gave my childhood best friend Ed Lam a free redemption of this while we were playing MapleStory together; he told me to “invest in MapleStory,” so I bought NEXOY as the closest available solution.

  5.660%

Precious metals

I went on an “alternative investments” binge during the COVID-19 pandemic to diversify my portfolio, dipping my toes into things without having much knowledge about them or doing sufficient research. One of those areas was precious metals, which I bought after learning about the historical stability of gold.

I wasn’t in a position to buy the physical metals and keep them myself, so I was seeking an investment vehicle via a custodian. How­ev­er, the lack of research meant that, although my intent was to purchase gold itself, I ended up buying a fund that has only indirect exposure to gold—the Fidelity® Select Gold Portfolio (FSAGX).

I don’t have any plans for this at the moment—I’ll just be leaving this in my Fidelity account until something prompts or forces me to take further action.

  0.751%

Fine art, and other collectibles

Just like precious metals, investing in fine art was part of my extreme diversification efforts. I obviously don’t have the net worth to straight-up buy physical fine art, so instead, I participated in StartEngine Collectibles Fund I, LLC’s Regulation A+ as a next-best option.

Unfortunately, some of my investment was refunded to me because minimum funding goals weren’t met, and StartEngine has had horrid proactive communication throughout the process. The amount of money I put into this experiment was so little that I ended up just losing interest, so if this does end up going anywhere useful, it will be an unexpectedly pleasant surprise later.

  0.475%

To wrap up, I want to reiterate that you should not blindly copy my investment portfolio. This chart is intended for entertainment purposes so you can learn more about me, not to teach you how to invest. The percentages I’ve provided reflect my personal reality and should in no way be taken as an ideal distribution. I decide how to invest my money based on a mixture of empirical data, personal speculation, and what I think would be fun—which is not a good formula for optimizing results.

 

—§—

 

Hello, Echo & Rig in Henderson, Nevada

After a lot of back-to-back sushi restaurants, I finally went to something different—a steakhouse. Now that I’m back home in Las Vegas for a bit until my next leg of travels, I met up with a friend and our restaurant of choice was Echo & Rig in Henderson, a suburb of the Las Vegas Valley in Nevada.

While we were browsing the menu and deciding what to order, we got some complimentary bread. The photo makes it look a bit washed out and unappetizing for some reason, but in-person, it was great. The outside was a perfect balance of crispiness and softness, and the inside was extremely soft. The butter had a unique texture in that, even though it had the consistency of butter spread, it still had the flavor intensity of pure butter.

To start, my friend ordered pork belly burnt ends. I tried a few pieces and it tasted very intensely of pork. Pork is usually on the lower end of my tier of pref­er­ences of different kinds of meat, but I do have to acknowledge that the pork belly burnt ends were very well prepared. Although the flavor was ex­treme­ly intense, it was a clean intensity (as opposed to tasting gamey). They also managed to capture the burnt flavor while having a relatively mild lev­el of bit­ter­ness.

My first appetizer was steak tartare. It wasn’t the best beef I had ever tasted, but it still had a rich and tasty flavor. The bread had a perfectly light amount of butter and the sourness of the pickled Castelvetrano olives added a great tang to complementarily contrast with the meat.

My second appetizer was lobster cigars with chili mint sauce. I usually like lobster, but this was the worst dish out of everything I ordered. It basically tasted like cheap deep-fried vegetable eggrolls from a fast-serve Chinese chain restaurant with a hardly-detectible infusion of lobster essence. I tried it both with and without the sauce, and it did not help.

My friend’s main entrée was an F1 Wagyu filet mignon with a side of mac and cheese.

I tried a few pieces of the mac and cheese and it was a bit too creamy and cheesy for my liking. However, flavor-wise, I think it would be great for some­one who likes cheese. I’m not entirely sure how to articulate it, considering that I don’t consume much cheese so I’m not experienced enough to pin­point exactly what was different about it, but it tasted “more gourmet” than other mac and cheeses I’ve had before.

For my entrée, instead of getting a main meal, I decided to get three more small plate appetizers as a bit of a “build-your-own” kind of dinner. First was wood-fired octopus with celery leaves. The octopus was well-prepared and the celery leaves formed a very unique pair with the octopus. The sauce was also rich and flavorful without being too salty or sweet.

However, the beans posed an interesting conundrum. I’m almost never one to say something is too bland, but the beans … were too bland. Well, at least in the state that they were served. These were very large whole beans, so I would be enjoying some octopus with sauce and then bite into a bean, which would crumble and cause an explosion of blandness in my mouth. Until I managed to clear out the bean, it would be a bit too bland. To put it simply, this dish had a sinusoidal wave of flavor—it had high flavor when I wasn’t eating a bean, and low flavor when I was eating a bean, as opposed to having a con­sist­ent steady average throughout the consumption of the dish.

I think there are two potential solutions to making this better. The first would be to slightly reduce the saltiness of the sauce, then cook the beans in salt­ier water so they absorb more of the salt—this would transfer some of the flavors into the center of the beans while still maintaining an overall net-neutral level of sodium across the dish. The second would be to cook the beans a bit firmer and then slice them into smaller pieces so it’s easier to mix in with the rest of the dish and not cause a burst of blandness.

Next was crispy pig’s head terrine with violet cherry sauce. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of pork, this was the first time I had seen this on a res­tau­rant’s menu, so I wanted to try it. To me, it just tasted like shredded pork with stuffing. Unlike the pork belly from earlier, the pig’s head did have a very light gamey taste. However, the greens on the side were a perfect level of sourness that balanced everything out well.

My final dish was bone marrow carne asada topped with onions and with a side of orange slices.

I did my best to prepare this with the tools I was provided—which wasn’t much. I wasn’t given a spoon, so I scraped the marrow out onto the plate with a fork, chopped it up a bit with the side of the fork, added in the carne asada, squirted on the orange juice, and stirred. It would’ve been helpful to have a small bowl on the side as well, as it would’ve allowed me to mix the final result into a more even and spreadable consistency.

Flavor-wise, this was my favorite dish. It was everything you’d expect from bone marrow—savory, creamy, buttery, slightly nutty, and extremely fatty. The juice from the orange wedges had a very interesting effect—it made it so it the bone marrow and carne asada smelled fresh and citrusy on the way up to your mouth, but once you were actually eating it, it did not interfere at all with the umami.

For dessert, we shared a Grand Marnier chocolate soufflé with a side scoop of vanilla ice cream. Because the portion sizes on the appetizers were de­cent­ly satisfying, I was already very full by this point, so I don’t think I was able to enjoy the soufflé as much as I could have. The cream sauce they had was a little too sweet, but bites of just the soufflé and the ice cream together served as a refreshing conclusion to the meal.

Before paying for our meal and heading out, I snapped a photo of the bar area, which had some neat lighting and a nice arrangement of alcohol bottles.

Bread and butter $  0.00
Pork belly $ 12.00
Steak tartare $ 14.00
Lobster cigars $ 12.00
F1 Wagyu filet $ 58.00
Mac and cheese $ 12.00
Wood-fired octopus $ 14.00
Pig’s head terrine $ 14.00
Bone marrow carne $ 14.00
Chocolate soufflé $ 13.00
Ice cream $  3.00
Hot tea $  5.00
Sales tax (8.375%) $ 14.32
Gratuity (20%) $ 37.06
Total $222.38

Near the entrance of the restaurant, there was a shop that I didn’t notice when first com­ing in. We were there pretty late so the storefront was closed by the time we had finished our meal, but the area was still open, so I peeked inside to take a look.

There was a dry ager up against a wall that was in the process of preparing some meats; I’m always very intrigued by the entire concept of the dry ag­ing process, so I snapped a photo before I left.

We rotate covering our meals, and it was my turn this time around; the table to the right shows how much I paid.

Although it was a bit pricey, I think the ratio of val­ue to cost was pretty good. The only dish that was a huge miss was the lobster cigars.

Con­sid­er­ing how many different plates we or­dered, I’m sure they would’ve been hap­py to comp the lob­ster cigars if I had asked. However, I al­read­y have an issue of people no­ticing my cam­er­a, as­sum­ing I am a food re­view­er, and trying to give me special treat­ment, so I decided to stay qui­et and not draw attention to myself so that I could en­sure as neutral of an experience as pos­si­ble.

If a meal like this is within your price range, then this restaurant gets my recommendation. If you’re in the Las Vegas Valley but Henderson is a bit too far away from you, they have another location at Tivoli Village, and I would imagine they both have substantially similar offerings and quality.

 

—§—

 

Photo dump from fall 2023

I usually do seasonal photo dumps upon the conclusion of each three-month period, but I decided to do this one early because I haven’t been blogging much lately, and because the Season of Discovery releases on World of Warcraft: Classic on November 30, 2023 so I might be occupied playing that with a group of friends. Here are some photographs from the last three months that didn’t make it on my blog on other posts, but are still interesting enough to share.

The beginning of September for me involved taking a trip to Southern California to help my friend Doug Wreden begin his move from the Seattle Met­ro­pol­i­tan Area to Los Angeles County. Because he was driving a much longer distance while I was coming from Las Vegas, it was easier for me to co­or­di­nate timing for his move-in logistics. I headed over to LA, spent a night in a hotel, then met up with the property manager to collect the keys.

This is the view I had from my hotel room:

Doug’s first event he ran after arriving in Los Angeles was the stretch goal stream from a prior fundraising event for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. One of the rewards for reaching a certain threshold of donations was for me to appear on his channel and do a “hot tub stream,” the concept of which has be­come notorious on Twitch and many people saying it is inappropriate for the platform due to basically being one step away from softcore por­nog­ra­phy.

Of course, I would never actually do a hot tub stream; instead, I dressed up in full business attire with a suit and tie, and while in the hot tub that was actually a cold tub because apparently it didn’t have a heater, I answered some of Twitch chat’s business-related questions. This photograph below shows the aftermath at the end of the broadcast.

Previously, I posted about going to Bubble World and Dinos Alive at the Los Angeles Exhibition Hub. In between those two tourist activities, my friend and I went to O’Sushi in the city of Rosemead. It was a small and cozy spot with good food and a friendly waitress.

We had fried squid rings as our appetizer.

My main entrée was a chirashi bowl.

The waitress suggested that we try a limited-time dish with salmon and mushrooms, so we ordered one of those too.

My friend got a couple sushi rolls as her entrée.

A few days later, we went exploring in downtown Los Angeles. I saw an interesting trolley lift system, and when I pulled out my camera to take a picture, Doug let me know that he also wanted to be in the photograph. I’m not sure if this is exactly what he was anticipating… but you cannot deny that he is definitely in the photograph.

Hello, Douglas Douglas.

Fast forward a week and a half, and it’s the end of October and I’m back in Las Vegas. A lot of my friends, including Doug, came in for a con­ven­tion. During non-convention hours, we went on an adventure exploring the Las Vegas Strip, which included the M&M’s Store. This was definitely one of the more visually overstimulating ex­pe­riences I’ve had.

The convention I alluded to above was TwitchCon. Although I’m still not a fan of it, it was a lot better last year. I imagine Twitch learned from their mis­takes from last year, and this year, they probably got a decent amount of help from the Las Vegas Convention Center staff, which is going to be much more experienced at running large-scale and logistically smooth events.

Doug had a meet-and-greet scheduled on one of the days, and upon his insistence, I joined him for it. I was mainly off to the side chatting with the Twitch staff members who were supervising the event, but once in a while, I would be requested by fans to pop in, autograph various different things, and stand in photos. Doug’s meet-and-greet went over the expected two-hour time slot by about an additional hour, and he still had fans lined up long after every other streamer had left.

After TwitchCon, we went to Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen and Bar. The food was horrid; I ordered a chicken sandwich and it tasted like a sandwich you’d find at a grocery store in one of those plastic containers sitting chilled in an open-top refrigeration unit. However, as a consolation prize, at least I got a pic­ture of my friend Eric Morino taking a sip of a drink using 5 adjoined straws.

A month later, I joined some friends and friends-of-friends in a Friendsgiving gathering in celebration of Thanksgiving. Of course, in traditional Thanks­giv­ing fashion, we had to prepare a turkey. Apparently there is a way to remove and/or snap the turkey’s sternum and/or spine in order to lay it flatter and allow it to cook faster and more evenly. Our chef was having a little bit of difficulty snapping the seemingly invincible bone, so Doug decided to help.

For Friendsgiving, participants usually bring their own dishes to aggregate them together and enjoy a full feast. This year, we were given a considerable amount of freedom to decide what we want to contribute.

In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, Doug’s dishes he brought were a large Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza, four different kinds of ube-flavored snacks, and a whole coconut. Luckily, Doug was well-versed at wielding a convenient hammer we found in a cabinet under the kitchen island, so we were able to actually consume the coconut.

I’m not the biggest fan of large gatherings, so it’s rare to see me at a party this densely populated. However, the good news is that the hosts had a great cat I was able to pet instead of having to socialize.

 

—§—

 

Hello Shufflemania

For the past handful of months, my friend Doug Wreden has been working on putting on an event called Shufflemania, a game show where participants compete in games that are rotating across multiple different save states.

For example, if the players are in a round of Tetris, there would be five different games of Tetris happening all at once, and the “shuffler” would switch among the five different games of Tetris in a random order and in random time intervals. The challenge is to keep track of all the games at once, while also making crisp inputs so that button presses are not carried over to the wrong copy of the game.

There were several days of in-studio preparation and rehearsal for the event, and I joined Doug for the final rehearsal before the show. I hadn’t seen the build process, so I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived, and the set was a lot nicer than I was originally expecting.

I also went to visit on show day.

There was a professional photographer on-site so I usually don’t bother taking regular event pictures, considering I would never be able to keep up with their skill and equipment and the quality of their photographs. However, if you’ve been a long-time reader of my blog, you probably know that I do like snapping shots from a behind-the-scenes perspective to help people immerse themselves and see what it would be like had they been there working the event—shots that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to see from the live broadcast or a well-polished set of professional photographs.

If you know me, you might know that I very rarely show up to an event unless I have some sort of active role in it. Luckily, the people there didn’t know me too well.

There was a very small live studio audience composed of some close friends of the on-screen talent, so I just sat with them, had some snacks, drank some Red Bull, and pretended like I was also just a regular spectator. However, we had a surprise in store for everyone.

The show was obviously marketed as Shufflemania, with the allure of the concept being the game shuffler. The “reveal” was supposed to be that the shuf­fler wasn’t actually an artificial intelligence model, but instead, was Jeremy Elbertson, professionally known as Jerma985, “hiding” in the computer sys­tem the entire time. Considering how advanced the shuffler was during the show and how well it interacted with players, it was blatantly obvious that it was a real person running it—and the players already knew this going into the event.

What the players didn’t know was that there was an actual real reveal planned. After the winners of Shufflemania were announced, it was disclosed that the event wasn’t actually about gaming or the shuffler, but instead, it was designed to find tennis partners for Doug and Jerma. That obviously made ab­so­lute­ly no sense and was so far-fetched that nobody believed it, but then Doug said they were playing tennis, right then and there, and led everyone outdoors.

In the chaos of the shuffler reveal and Jerma popping out of the box, I had quietly exited the studio, put on my referee jersey, grabbed the championship trophy, and went outside to wait for the real reveal. In utter bewilderment, the players navigated their way outside where we had a literal tennis court set up. I was standing by the net to explain the rules in my iconic dry and matter-of-fact manner, mixing in an arrogant implied undertone of “this is tennis, what else were you expecting?”

I was very pleased watching the players’ reactions, because it was very clear that we did a great job at hiding the plot twist. There was a nice mixture of people who were confused, people who were appalled that we committed to a gag so hard, and one person who exclaimed “Parkzer, you were in on this?”

I opened the segment by laying a foundation for the gameplay and then ordering Ludwig Ahgren to quiet down and maintain his composure because we need to uphold a level of professionalism. From there, I did a coin flip to determine who would serve first, chucked the coin far behind me, then declared that it landed heads-up even though it was blatantly obvious that the result of the coin flip was impossible to see unless you had binoculars. I then called for the match to begin and climbed up on my referee chair two and a half meters up in the air.

Throughout the match, Doug kept repeating phrases like “haven’t you ever played tennis before?” and “why did we even do this then?” to continue push­ing the idea that Shufflemania was all about tennis the entire time, not about the video games. Doug, Jerma, and I continued emphasizing how seriously every­one needed to take tennis, and at one point, I proceeded to ignore a point that Ludwig had scored, and then on top of that, also issued a one-point penalty for “improper use of verbal correspondence” after a small outburst from him.

Eventually, Doug and Jerma won, so I descended from my referee chair with the trophy and awarded it to them.

The more you think about this, the more ridiculous it gets. For example, tennis referees don’t even wear jerseys, they wear suits; the jersey top I was wear­ing was a basketball referee jersey. Tennis referees also don’t use whistles, they just talk into a microphone. We were hardly even following the rules of tennis, and I wasn’t using the proper tennis scoring system.

On top of that, Doug and Jerma, the hosts of the show, technically won their own event by winning the game of tennis.

I think the show turned out great. I’m personally not really into streamer and influencer culture, so this genre isn’t something that I would usually watch on my own, but the way Doug executed on his creative ideas was unique and compelling.

The role I played of the very serious and “normal” person—just exaggerating how different real life is from the Twitch and YouTube bubble—fit me perfectly. And of course, considering my recurring appearances in Doug’s videos and live streams, it was a nice touch to see chat excitedly spamming “PARKZER” once the camera eventually got close enough to me for people to realize I was the referee.

If you haven’t watched the show, I recommend checking it out on Doug’s YouTube channel—if not for the entire event, then at least for the silly reveal at the end.

 

—§—

 

Hello, Bubble World Los Angeles in Montebello, California

On the same day that I went to Dinos Alive, I also went to Bubble World Los Angeles, which is in the same building—the Los Angeles Exhibition Hub in Montebello, California. Bubble World was actually the main reason we went to the Exhibition Hub at all, but I had such a positive experience here that I figured I would save the best for last on my blog so it would have the most prime real estate at the top before I go on my next chain of adventures.

Bubble World is an interesting place. It’s difficult to describe succinctly apart from just calling it an interactive art experience.

I’m not sure if you even noticed because I am so good at blending in with the arches, but believe it or not, I am actually in this next photograph:

Down the hall and to the right was the balloon room. This was a dimly lit room with extra large white balloons that looked like they were color-shifting because of the lighting. There were fans on one side keeping the balloons contained, and they would regularly pile as tall as the average person’s chest at the highest points. This was deceptively difficult to navigate through without popping the balloons (and we did come across a kid who was a bit too rough and caused one to burst).

After escaping the balloons, we were led to a mirror room with a light show.

The next major interactive area was a huge ball pit.

Partway through the experience was a wall with the “Bubble World” logo printed on it, and I figured it would make sense to take a photo in front of the sign that shows where I am.

On the way to the next area was a small bridge with a net full of balloons and a 360° screen on all four walls and the floor.

Next up were the sets. There were various little rooms set up and decorated in unique ways so people could take photos.

One of the final areas of Bubble World was a light show room. There were thousands upon thousands of light-up orbs hanging in columns from the ceil­ing, and a tiny path was left vacant so people could walk through and get a 360° light show experience.

The photo below was captured at the perfect moment when most of the bulbs were illuminated white, but these would all turn on and off in a pattern and change colors in a way that was not only mesmerizing but also created a kind of depth-warping optical illusion.

Right before the exit and gift shop, there was a station where you could stand on a platform and pull a string to raise what is the equivalent of just the circular part of a bubble wand a­round your body to encase yourself in a huge bubble. Unfortunately, it was a lot trickier than it seemed, and instead of wrapping myself in a huge bubble, I just got soap all over my hands and pants.

There isn’t actually anything to truly do while in Bubble World except for just look at things, but the things to look at are very unique, interesting, and visually appealing. If you consider this to be comparable to an art museum, Bubble World is actually great—instead of just staring at art pieces hung up on walls that are externally deemed to be expensive and arbitrarily assigned value, Bubble World lets you immerse yourself and be a part of the art.

I also enjoyed the fact that this functionally ended up like a selfie museum, but didn’t feel like it. Selfie museums tend to cater specifically towards people who want interesting photos to post on Instagram, and their sets are designed solely for photo op­por­tu­ni­ties. On the contrary, I liked that Bubble World focused more on creating in­ter­est­ing exhibits and con­forming to a theme, but still achieved that same objective—i.e., peo­ple take photos here be­cause they think “this is cool,” not necessarily be­cause “I am sup­posed to take a photo here.”

We paid $36.90 per person for general admission without any premium add-ons, and it took a little bit over an hour to get through everything. That is a little bit pricey compared to other places I’ve been, but probably not too bad considering that it’s in Los Angeles.

On that note, it might be useful to point out that it’s in Los Angeles County and not the City of Los Angeles. The Exhibition Hub is set up at the site of an old Costco, and it’s about ten miles east of downtown Los Angeles. In my opinion, that makes it better—there’s plenty of parking, there’s much less con­gestion getting there, and the ticket prices aren’t hyperinflated to account for downtown city expenses. With that being said, if you’re visiting LA and pri­ma­ri­ly staying downtown, you’ll need some form of vehicular transportation if you want to visit the Exhibition Hub.

Although I probably wouldn’t personally visit again, I did enjoy my experience and would recommend checking out if your circumstances align with what Bubble World offers. I also like the fact that I now have a lot of photos for the people who ask me why I only ever post pictures of stuff around me, and not of myself.

 

—§—

 

To Megan: A recap of the DougDoug claw machine plushie crusade

Hello, Megan. Thank you for your contribution to this year’s Monterey Bay Aquarium charity event, and congratulations on being a raffle winner. Your prize, as you probably already heard from Doug’s administrative assistant, is the spoils from Doug spending US$100.00 on arcade claw machines. They are now in the mail and should be arriving on your doorstep in a few days.

I guess the plushies are great if you really like plushies, but I wanted to try and make this a bit more special for you than just receiving a bunch of generic arcade machine plushies that you could’ve easily bought yourself online from a wholesaler for less than $5 each. So, fighting through my ha­tred of claw machines, I joined Doug anyway at Round1 Bowling & Amusement so I can tell you a story in photos.

Doug went into this with great confidence. He said that, with a hundred dollars, he can usually win anywhere from six to eight plushies in an average run.

Although arcade games are overwhelmingly games of chance, there is still technically a skill element to claw machines as well—any amount of good luck on the strength roll of the claw isn’t going to help you if you plop it down on the wrong spot. Doug has built up some solid competency in consistently drop­ping the claw in an optimal position.

Unfortunately, the first few machines didn’t go too well. He started out with some traditional tri-prong machines, but he just wasn’t getting lucky—the claw would be too weak to pick up the plushie at all, or it would be strong enough to lift it but not quite strong enough to retain the plushie while it moved to the reward chute.

Eventually, he went over to a bi-prong machine where he had to pick up and drop a box into the chute to win the prize. Unfortunately, the box was seated squarely in the center of metal bars and the spacing between the bars was wide enough that it would mitigate any amount of vertical motion, i.e., when the box was picked up, it would tilt and the edge would get caught in one of the gaps, then fall right back down atop the bars.

Doug spent a lot of time trying to win this particular machine, and after looking back at the photos, I’m guessing it’s because the prize was an otter plushie. Unfortunately, he did not succeed and he moved onto another machine.

The next attempt was on a machine where a dinosaur plushie was tied with string to the control arm and you had to swing it around to knock over all six boxes to win a prize. On Doug’s first attempt, he managed to hit one of the boxes at such a perfect angle that it rotated 90°, remained upright, lodged in between two other boxes, and created an unmovable pillar that functionally made the entire game unwinnable.

If Doug was hired as a municipal architect, the city of Los Angeles would become immune to earthquakes and we would never see a collapsed building ever again.

We were still at a grand total of zero prizes at this point, so Doug took a different approach—he picked out a game where, eventually, you have to win at some point. This was a game of scooping ping pong balls into cups, and with enough card swipes and enough tries, you would ultimately get a prize.

After an unsettling number of ping pong balls falling out prematurely from the claw or missing the plastic cups entirely, Doug finally accrued the re­quired six points and earned his first plushie.

Next up was another “you will eventually win” kind of machine—this was a single-prong claw that you use to push the prize off the platform, and as long as you land your drops properly, you are guaranteed a little bit of motion on the plushie every time. After three swipes of his arcade card, Doug emerged victorious with plushie number two.

“Parkzer, stop deflowering Megan’s plushie.” —Doug

With the final remaining play credits on his arcade card, Doug tried to win a panda, and even though his claw drops were on point, luck wasn’t with him and he could not secure any more prizes.

Doug felt so badly about his insufferable performance that he went to the prize redemption area and cashed in some of his reward tickets from prior Round1 visits to purchase a Pikachu plushie. In addition, our friend Dani, who also joined us at the arcade, donated the two plushies that she won as well—a penguin in a carrot costume and a penguin in a shrimp tempura costume.

Five plushies were still less than Doug was hoping for, but definitely better than just two. He signed them, packaged them all in a cardboard box, and shipped them to Azerbaijan.

Just kidding, we didn’t ship them to Azerbaijan; they were sent to your actual address. But I’m guessing you would not be particularly fond of me pub­lishing your location on my (very public) website.

And thus concludes our odyssey of war and plunder.

 

—§—