67 Adventures

It is quite easy to find acquaintances who are willing to make plans with you. It is noticeably more difficult to keep friends who will keep true to those plans and follow through, time after time after time.

The year was 2018, and in the middle of a summer where everyone was trying to find different ways to cope, Marco, Dina, and I had decided to hang out together and try something new.

We stepped into the submarine themed escape room and did our best to escape… We did not.

As we scooped the consolation prize of Afters ice cream into our mouths after our crushing defeat, we talked about the room and how it was an interesting experience.

Then someone said something along the lines of…”if you guys want to do the other room…. I’m down”

We did exponentially better in the wizard themed room and when the first secret door reveal occurred, Marco exclaimed “Grab the daggers, we are fucking doing this!”

The rest is history.


Our escape room addiction spanned every genre imaginable, from a super mario themed gen one escape room to an immersive theater/scavenger hunt/escape room hybrid on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Along the way, our roster also grew and shrunk as we invited friends and acquaintances to join us on our adventures.

But in the end, it was always us three that would be down to do “just one more” after completing a room.


In many ways, the challenges we faced in those 67 rooms were metaphors for the challenges we faced in our real lives.

Many times just like the door that just swung open to reveal a pitch black room, our next steps with our careers or big moves were just as obscured to us.

Oftentimes we waited in anticipation to do a room only for that room to be closed down or tragically destroyed.

Other times, we thought our roster was set and at the last minute someone dropped out or some random person was added into the room.

Some of the worst memories were when we shelled out our money but lost terribly in the escape room. One time we didn’t make it past the second or third puzzle and that was quite the awkward ride home.

On other occasions, I vehemently argued that I was right in a scenario as I steamrolled the opinions of Dina and occasionally my other teammates, only to discover later that I was in fact wrong and an asshole.

There was no lack of lessons from those experiences and I thank everyone who joined us on our adventures!


As I’ve seen the metaphorical leaves change color as the end of this season approaches, I’ve been filled with very confusing emotions. On the one hand, I’m so excited for what is to come, and my heart is so freaking hyped for what is next. On the other hand, endings are something that I have only recently come to appreciate.

As Marco, Dina, and I were preparing for Project Minotaur this weekend, a room that Marco and I had heard was being built 1.5 years ago, I felt a twinge of sadness as I realized that this could be the last time that we could all be in one place to do rooms together.

As I let the sadness run its course, I realized how grateful I was that Dina and Marco were my companions in this epic and expensive journey we had been on. During the height of our addiction, we were doing 2-4 escape rooms per weekend, and our friends and family looked at us with disdain when they realized how much money we were spending.

Other friends feared for our safety when we fell off the find my friends map to do escape rooms in uncharted parts of California.

But looking back, we realized that if we had not been as enthusiastic about completing rooms as we had been, we would have missed out on so many memories and so many room.

2020 was a year that killed so many small businesses, but escape rooms got hit especially hard. Many of our favorite rooms had to close their doors for good in the wake of the pandemic. It wasn’t until the three of us were sitting in the lobby of QuestTavern’s Last Supper, that we realized that the Cromwell Estate, Evil Genius, and countless other rooms no longer existed.


Dina and Marco will always be the ones that I associate with bravery, ingenuity, and teamwork. From our time running shifts together at Chick-fil-A to the countless times we escaped with seconds to spare.

We had to run into rooms that we were terrified to enter.

We had to think outside the box to solve unorthodox problems and puzzles.

And ultimately, we had to set aside disagreements in order to work cohesively as a team.

I’ll never forget our memories together as: ghosthunters, DEA agents, archaelogists, serial killers’ would be victims, secret agents, dinner guests, time travelers, lab rats, and scientists.


I believe that, as much as this is a blog expressing my gratefulness for Dina, Marco, and my other escape room collaborators, this blog is ultimately a thank you to every creator and game master who has invested into the task of worldbuilding.

It’s a huge risk to attempt to build an escape room, and it’s incredibly expensive to own and operate one. On top of that, it’s incredibly brave to take an idea or concept and create it in the physical realm for the world to consume and critique it.

On our journey we’ve met so many kind and creative escape room owners and creatives. It’s inspiring to see your faces light up when we ask about certain puzzles or ask about ideas you have for future rooms.

Us enthusiasts always remember the way that y’all fall into character when you are both the gamemaster and the owner. We see the excitement that you have to share your idea with the world and we are grateful that you chose to share them with us.

I’ve loved it when y’all have pulled us behind the scenes so that we could see how things work. It’s been an honor to get into your creative process and to see the evolution of your rooms. We celebrate with your successes and mourn with your tragedies.

You fill such an interesting space in the entertainment industry, and we are grateful to y’all for doing so.


It was interesting how even though the goal of the room was to escape, oftentimes we played the rooms to escape from whatever stressors were currently affecting us in real life. And while running from our problems isn’t the healthiest way to cope, making memories and learning how to be a better team player aren’t terrible ways to deal with the less pleasant parts of life.

I talk a lot about travel and adventuring outside of your comfort zone. A resounding theme in my blogs is embracing uncomfortability and asking questions you don’t have the answers to. Another theme is that of just taking leaps of faith in order to pursue goals that you might have. Most of these themes have been a direct result of my experiences in escape rooms.

To be quite honest, after I graduated from college my opinion after travelling to a handful of countries was that the United States was superior in almost every way, so why even bother visiting other countries. If it wasn’t for my obsession with adventure in the form of escape rooms that was born in the summer of 2018, I don’t know if I would have said yes to the Turkey trip of 2019. And if I didn’t go to Turkey, I don’t know if I ever would have gone back to Mexico City.


In my blog about the marathon, I spoke about how I needed to force myself into a challenge in order to prove to myself that I was capable of seeing something that seemed impossible, to its end.

In many ways, escape rooms were mini challenges that gave me opportunities to grow certain traits within myself that I wished were true about me, but maybe were not a reality yet.

Whether it was being brave, giving space for opposing opinions, taking risks, or making split second decisions, the lessons that I learned in escape rooms have laid the groundwork for real life applications.


In conclusion, we do not become who we are overnight. If we desire to grow and change, it is a process that comes through trial and error. If we never place ourselves in situations that test us, we will never give ourselves the opportunities to grow.

Wherever you may be, embrace the process and give yourself opportunities to grow and more importantly to fail. Find people who will accompany you on the journey, and be sure to appreciate the time that you have with them as all seasons end eventually.

But the fact that something ends doesn’t make it any less memorable or beautiful.

Adventure awaits!


P.S. Attached below is a list of all the escape rooms that I have done. Most of them have company names attached to them as well. Several no longer exist, but some of the best ones are still open! I have ranked my top ten and included honorable mentions. I hope that you get to enjoy some of them as much as I did!

The List:

1. Mario (square) (LOST)

2. San Diego themeless one

3. Minnesota business espionage one

4. Phantom Soldier (square)(Lost)

5. Harry Potter (square)

6. Escape the Darkest Hour (Mission Escape) #9

7. Jack the Ripper (LA mazerooms)

8. The Cromwell Estate (closed)

9. MurderCo (Black Market Escape Rooms)

10. Bloody Elbow (Questroom)

11. Ghost Ship (60Out)

12. Cannibal’s Den (Questroom)

13. The Basement Chapter One (lost) Repeated 1/6/19 and won

14. Secrets of Suburbia (Breach Escape)

15. Zoe (Escapade)

16. Red Giant (Questroom) #1

17. Stashouse (Stashhouse) Honorable Mention

18. Jumanji (60out)

19. Occam’s Apartment (Evil Genius CLOSED)

20. Norcross Art Gallery (Evil Genius CLOSED)

21. The Hydeout (Mission Escape)

22. Fun House (Crossroads) Honorable Mention

23. Trapped in Time (Puzzle Workshop)

24. Davinci’s Challenge (Questroom)

25. Prison Break (Foxinabox)

26. The Attic (Escapex)

27. Labrats (Hatch Escape) #8

28. Welcome home (RealityX CLOSED)

29. A.I. (Exit Game)

30. An Hour to Kill (Exit Game) Honorable Mention

31. Evil Mastermind (Exit Game)

32. Psych Ward (Crossroads)

33. The Hex Room (Crossroads)

34. Amityville (60out)

35. Zombie Lab (Foxinabox OC)

36. Exodus (Exodus Escape rooms)

37. Sorcerer’s Study (The Exit Game SD LOST)

38. The Escape (Unlockables in SD)

39. Cartel (60out)

40. Cursed Crypt (Escape Hotel) #7

41. The Virus (Get the F out)

42. The Attic (Escape Hotel) (lost)

43. Mafia Heist (EscapeX)

44. The Elevator Shaft (The Basement) #2

45. The Pyramid (Escape Room LA)

46. The Study (The Basement LOST)

47. The Courtyard (The Basement) Honorable Mention

48. The Experiment (GTFO)

49. Ground Zero (Prism Escapes) (lost)

50. The Morgue (Evil Genius CLOSED)

51. Perfumer (Questroom)

52. Hyde and Seek (60out)

53. Sister’s Secret (Unlockables)

54. The Curse of the Black Knight (Escapex)

55. Cabin 13 (Legacy Escape Rooms)

56. Smuggler’s Tunnels (Escape Chronicles) #10

57. Decades (Level Escapes CLOSED)

58. Operation Longbow (Mindtrap)

59. Conspiracy (Mindtrap)

60. Resurrection (Questroom)

61. Amnesia (Questroom) #3

62. The Strange Thing (Cinema Escape)

63. Irvine School of Wizardry (Hidden Donkey) #5

64. Headcase (Breaking Point) #4

65. Whitmore Estate (Breaking Point)

66. Project Minotaur (Questroom)

67. The Last Supper (QuestTavern) #6

Lessons From Therapy: Climate Change

Every tax season, I go through this weird couple of weeks where I get all depressed and think about my past year. So much happens each year and it’s honestly hard to remember the specifics of the year.

But luckily for us, our companies send us letters that put a dollar amount on the year: how much we earned, how much we were taxed, and for those of us who tend to be more pessimistic: what were we unable to do because we were working.

In a tug of war between remaining grateful and looking for greener pastures is where most of us reside. Our friends’ lives…. and their paychecks sometimes make us wish for something other than what we have. Yet, at the same time, what we have is what we know, and there is a comfort that comes with the familiar.


For one entire year, my job was so stressful that I used to spend hundreds of dollars every weekend doing 1-4 escape rooms and buying packages on Amazon to distract me. I used to work my main job in the afternoons and evenings, and I found a second job to work in the mornings just to have a little bit of extra income. And then, sometimes, when I thought I needed a vacation, I would go and work stints at a third job, where I would go to a different city and work insane hours….but I stayed in a hotel room so it counted as a vacation.

I was barely getting by financially, emotionally, mentally, and physically. But something long since ingrained in me, kept repeating in my head. “The diligent shall prosper,” a fantastic Bible quote, when paired with an ideology of works-based-worth is a fantastic way to run straight into a shit ton of problems.


Right in the middle of all of this, my adventurous friend, Crystal invited me to go on a trip to Turkey. It was a great trip, as that blogpost demonstrates, but when I came back, a lot of things started to become clear.

Sometimes, we need a jolt to our system to help us re-prioritize what is important to us. For too long I had buried dreams I considered to be dead. I felt trapped in a job where I was unable to do what was initially promised. I was running myself ragged with 40+ hour weeks, encouraged overtime, and the inability to use my time outside of my main job, for things that I was excited and passionate about.


When I talked with my therapist about my mental health and addictions shortly after that trip, I told her that one surprising fact was that in Turkey, my bad habits disappeared for a few weeks. We were trying to tackle my post-trip depression, and she made a note to re-visit what made Turkey so different than normal life.

The biggest difference we found was that while I was on vacation, my usual stressors, were no longer present. I was sleeping at regular hours for regular amounts of time while also eating three meals a day.

On top of this, because I was so disconnected from anything work related, my mind was free to revert to its normal creative self. I was filming as the trip was happening, writing in the evenings to reflect on what I was seeing, and I was having these super thought provoking conversations on a daily basis.

When we returned, it was like I hit this brick wall.


I tried to transform the positivity of the trip into sustainable energy for my day to day life, but everywhere I looked I faced walls that seeme to trap me.

I tried to start volunteering my time on weekends to get behind the camera more often, but my boss at the time had hired me specifically for Saturday evenings as well and any attempts to negotiate having certain Saturdays off was met with staunch resistance.

I tried to get back into a normal schedule with normal sleeping hours combined with a good diet, but my shifts were just too conducive to sleeping late and waking up late.

I tried to see if I could get more time in the evenings to spend with friends to perhaps emulate those thought provoking conversations, but again, I was met with resistance from the workplace.


There is perhaps no worse torture than being able to taste hope and then watching as your hope dies. It is soul crushing to become like Mr. Incredible who slowly watches as the mundaneness of normalcy overpowers the glory of the good old days.

After a few months of crippling depression, several therapy sessions, and numerous binges of negative coping mechanisms, I made the decision to leave the job that I was at.

It was the only job I was ever given the ability to manage other people and I felt like I owed a huge debt to everyone there. It was so hard to even think about having the conversation of leaving, and years of growing up on the concept of indebtedness and honor made it one of the most difficult decisions I ever made.

One of the greatest lies I believed was that “It can’t get better than it is here. There are problematic people and non-optimal work environments everywhere”


Now I’m not saying that we should all just leave our jobs that we hate while giving the middle finger to everyone who we believe wronged us. I firmly believe that there are lessons to be learned from every position we hold and from every boss we have. Some teach us how to be better people by modeling excellent behavior for us. Some teach us to how to be better people by modeling how not to act.

I grew up thinking that I had to work in a field that I was passionate about to be happy. Since film was what I loved, and it seemed like a hyper competitive field and an unrealistic pipe dream, I resigned myself to never being happy.

Recently and through therapy, I learned that your day job puts the food on the table, but those extra hours in the day are where you get to sandbox your creative dreams and passions. The hours between 17:00-9:00 are for us to really live.

You aspire to be a photographer? Bring your gear to work and shoot after.

You want to start a business? Set time aside to research your market and the need your product will fill.

You want to make movies? Then make some movies.


Andy Mineo told me in an email, that for us creatives, oftentimes we believe that in our social media saturated culture that we must produce perfect content. He encouraged me to make stuff even if it was terrible. Because we don’t magically become better without practice. Make the mistakes, learn from them, and get to a higher level.

Chick-fil-A was a great job, but it came to a point where I could not use my off time to pursue passion projects or broaden the skills I wanted to grow. Staying there and to have stayed there longer would have meant deferring my goals, aspirations, and skill development for an even longer period of time.

This deferment’s cost was directly correlated to my decreasing mental health and my relative unhappiness. We don’t all have the luxury of packing up our stuff and leaving today, but that’s not to say we can’t start charting our course to get the fuck out of wherever we are.

Gratefulness is important, but therapy taught me that knowing myself and what I want can help me prudently decide when it’s time for climate change.


If you have two seconds, if you can maybe fill out this survey regarding the “Lessons from Therapy” series I would greatly appreciate it!

Thanks for reading!

Permission to Fail

A few years ago, one of my friends introduced me to indoor bouldering. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the activity, bouldering is basically rock climbing without harnesses or ropes.

Contrary to what I thought, my ability to do pullups did not mean that I was automatically going to excel at this indoor activity. I remember going every month, bumming off of my friend’s guest pass, and usually going home with patches of skin missing from my hands.

I had an interesting problem when it came to bouldering: oftentimes when a few handholds away from the end of the route, I would panic, and begin to downclimb instead of using my energy to finish the climb. As my arms would fill with blood and become pumped, as I was ascending, a fear of falling would completely override any desire that I had to complete the ascent.

My friend was always super encouraging and would do her best to coach me on how to climb these fairly basic routes. And yet, most of the time, I’m ashamed to admit, that I couldn’t even hear her, over the sound of my internal thoughts telling me that I was incapable of finishing the route.

I remember watching Youtube videos and realizing that I was really just afraid of falling off of the wall. In fact, I would rather, embarrass myself and not even try to make it the last part of the way, than to try and fail.

I remember using one entire session trying to practice letting go of the wall at different parts to get over my fear of falling. But even then, that fear remained.


As I internally processed this fear of falling and failure I began to realize that this fear went beyond indoor bouldering.

One day, while wondering why I was so afraid of falling, I remembered a long erased memory. When I was maybe 10 or 11, I was rock climbing with a harness and the person who was supposed to be belaying me dropped me halfway down the wall before the rope caught me.

Suck it up, and get over it right? That happened a long time ago right?


Upon some further processing, I realized that due to childhood experiences and trauma I experienced in my life, I actually have a crippling fear of failing.

Most of my Asian friends can relate with bringing back 90-99% test scores, and still being told that ninety anything wasn’t 100%. I remember being homeschooled and writing and re-writing my papers until my teachers were satisfied with them. Somewhere in the high-performance environment, I completely lost the ability to create anything that wasn’t “perfect.”

As life continued, I became painfully aware of the fact that I could never actually be perfect. UCI’s engineering program kicked my ass and I winded up on academic probation for two straight quarters, got kicked out of engineering, and scraped by miraculously by getting into the school of social sciences for business economics. In my relationships and friendships, I realized that I could not in fact always say the right things. In fact, I could never seem to be on everyone’s good side.

I chased approval from all the authority figures in my life and acceptance from all of those I cared about, yet I seemed to fall short every. single. time.

To a healthy person, who understood that perfection was a myth, this might have just been a minor setback, but to me who somehow believed that perfection was not only attainable but expected, this crushed me.

I sunk into despair and paralysis as I struggled to find fulfillment in a life where it was clear that I could not impress anyone nor myself.


After years of not pursuing what I was passionate about and not creating for fear of creating something subpar, I began a very long process of healing and trial and error.

A friend said that anyone could run a marathon.

I knew there was no way I could.

So I said that I was going to do it.

I trained for a year. I was inconsistent. I got injured multiple times. I struggled.

When the race day came, I walked half of the race.

But I finished.

What happened next was weird. I never believed in my wildest dreams that injury-prone, kicked from the track team twice Paul could even finish a 26.2 mile race.

So even though there was shame from having walked the second half due to knee pain, there was a weird sense of “at least I finished… I already accomplished more than I ever dreamed possible.”

This experience began to unravel my flawed perceptions of life and perfection. This began to rescue back my permission to fail and my permission to be less than perfect.


From that point on, I began to approach trials and challenges in a healthier way.

I began to realize that to fail is to be human.

We might strive for perfection, but perfect just does not exist.

I began to create again and I put out videos that were shaky, low quality, and not as good as the ones that popped up in my IG feed.

One day, when I was especially discouraged I texted this rapper I admire and asked him how he managed to motivate himself to create when he started out.

To my absolute surprise, he emailed me back this awesome email of encouragement of how we must create for ourselves and not for the approval of others. He said we can’t get better without putting out cringy content in order to learn and adapt. He went on to say that there will always be critics and that generally speaking, critics are those that are salty that they themselves can not create (or lack the bravery to create).


I was over the moon when I received the email, but after processing the whole concept a little more I realized something I had missed before:

God has blessed me from the beginning of my life with people who have believed in me and have encouraged me to create and to try. My fear of failure and consequent tendency towards paralysis was a coping mechanism that I used to try and cope with feeling like I was never good enough.

I am my own worst enemy.


This one goes out to all the self-proclaimed failures.

We didn’t meet their expectations.

Heck we didn’t meet our expectations.

Our dreams crashed and burned.

We are nowhere near where we said we would be at this point in time.

We are afraid to try because we are afraid to fail.

And so we sit and we spin and we go nowhere.

I believe in you!


One of the biggest lessons I learned from therapy, is that showing yourself grace is often one of the hardest but one of the most rewarding things you can ever do.

It turns out that you are incredible, and that when faced with failure or trials that seem insurmountable, you somehow find a way to adapt. 

But you can never adapt if you never fail and you can never fail if you never try.


“I’ve tried before… you don’t even know how many times… And all I’ve done is fail. Time after time after time”

After about mile 19 during the marathon, everything in my body screamed for me to stop. Muscles I did not know that I had literally spasmed in agony as each step felt like a jackhammer was ripping through my muscle and bone. Even as I was pathetically limping and walking alongside everyone else who was also limping along, the pain was almost overwhelming.

I remember that my thoughts went from, “I can make a decent time still” to “It’s okay if I walk, I can still finish” to “Oh God everything hurts, I don’t know if I can finish” to “I just need to put this foot in front of my other one”

Life has some seasons where we feel great and then there are the other seasons where it takes all of our efforts just to put one foot in front of the other.

Just keep moving!

Don’t give up! You can do this!

In the words of one of my favorite fictitious characters, “Life ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath.

And.

Keep walking.

 

Best,

pH