Category Archives: this and that

I Love Hot Water

I'm S'well, thanks. How are You?

I’m S’well, thanks. How are you?

I am just full of love these days, apparently. But in all seriousness, I love hot water. I hate ice water: room temperature and higher only please. Even in high school, my friends would tease me about being an eighty year-old Asian lady when I would ask for hot water in restaurants. To be fair, it is pretty comical to see a seventeen year-old asking for a cup of hot water at TGI Fridays. (Hot water? Yes, hot water. Tea? No, just hot water please. Would you like lemon with that? No thanks, just hot water.) What can I say? I was raised with the idea that ice water is bad for digestion and I have sensitive gums. I swear I am not actually eighty.

I like to bring my own water to work, partly because I am too lazy busy to walk down the hall all day to get refills and partly in an effort to be environmentally conscious. I already feel quite guilty about using my fair share of non-latex gloves (mind out of the gutters…I work in a hospital) that probably take about a hundred years to degrade. Enter the S’well Bottle. Its website promised: “Drinks stay cold for 24 hours and hot for 12 without any condensation on the outside, ever.” I was intrigued, but skeptical. Plus, my inner FOB balked at the thought of paying $35.00 for a thermos. But they came in such pretty colors and textures (they have “Glitter” and “Shimmer” lines–I love sparkly things!) that I caved. I love my S’well Bottle! It really is awesome. I have actually burned my tongue at 4pm because it really does keep stuff f***ing hot for 12 hours, as promised. And they donate to various charities like the Unicef Tap Project, helping to provide clean drinking water to children in third-world countries. What’s not to love? I swear I do not work for them either, nor do I own their stock (but only because they are still privately-held, damn it), although the FOB in me would not refuse if they wanted to send me a gift bottle for my product-crush gushing. That’d be S’well :)

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Out of This World

I wonder if E.T. ever got his green card.

I wonder if E.T. ever got his green card.

When I was eleven, I found my grandma’s green card sitting on her dresser. It looked like a driver’s license except it said “Resident Alien” across the top. I ran excitedly to my parents, half-intrigued, half-freaked out: was I actually 3/4 Chinese and 1/4 extraterrestrial? They had a good laugh. In her late eighties, my grandma actually became a US citizen. She told my dad that she wanted to be a citizen of the country that had welcomed her as a grieving 64 year-old widow. If you are over 55 and have lived in the US for over 15 years, you can take the Naturalization test in your native tongue with a translator. One night, I overheard my grandma reviewing her study materials. She kept repeating “Bill Kuh-Linton” and “San Quai Man Tou” (my dad had taught her to say “three pieces of steamed buns” –which sounds remarkably similar to “Sacramento”– in response to “What is the state capital of California?”). It was one of the most touching things I have ever seen.

This weekend, I was talking to my new friend, O, and discovered he does not have a green card. He has lived in this country for almost 20 years, attended college here, works here, contributes to taxes and his community here. I was shocked. The average Chinese waiter’s 2nd cousin thrice-removed who doesn’t speak English has a green card. Apparently, it is more difficult when you come from a European country and don’t have an extended family or job that will agree to be your sponsor. Curious about this process that has allowed me to be a US citizen (I was born here, but my parents emigrated as students in the 1960s), I looked up the government website. And I found this little gem above. An Alien with Extraordinary Abilities? Like if you have frickin’ laser beams shooting out of your head? I don’t know about these criteria. Obama, I think we need some revisions here.

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Personal Bests

Props to this lady who gets to check off the 4th box today! Awesome. I wished I had a Sharpie with me.

Props to this lady who gets to check off the 4th box today! Awesome. I wished I had a Sharpie with me.

One of the things I love about running (other than allowing me to eat tasty high calorie foods with wild abandon) is that it is an individual and group sport…at the same time. Most of the runners I know aren’t running to beat other people, they are running to beat themselves. Reaching towards your goal alongside others doing the same creates a certain energy in the air. I recently joined a running group at the urging of my friend S. I was reluctant but walked by a sign for a group sponsored by a local running shoe store that is jogging distance from my house. In LA, if you want to do anything during rush hour (basically 7a-10a, and/or 12p-7p), this can be a crucial factor. I decided to try it out and after a few weeks, I was a convert. Even though I am usually at the back of the pack and sometimes run by myself for stretches, I am not running alone. Therein lies the difference. We start as a group and end as a group, hydrating and chatting after the last runner has come in; sometimes there are even raffles. Running with the fast kids usually shaves 20 seconds off my regular solo mile pace–I’m usually trying to hustle back to the store so I don’t miss the raffle!

Today, I was trying to best my 10K PR in the LA Chinatown Firecracker 10K.  I missed my mark by 40 seconds but I couldn’t help thinking that a year ago, running this race seemed impossible, physically and mentally. So to be out there again with S, in perfect running weather, enjoying Elysian Park, was a personal best. And just about 10K times better than forty seconds.

Oh and S, if you’re reading this, next time I will NOT let you confiscate my Garmin! You owe me another 10K :)

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Shitty Shitty Bang Bang

On the way home from work, I was sitting at a red light, at least six cars from the intersection. We had been stopped for about a minute when BOOM, I got rear-ended. It was so loud that the driver of the car in front of me got out to check if I had hit her car (I hadn’t) and so jarring that a light came on saying “Airbag Malfunction” (not exactly reassuring) and the passenger side mirror came off its post, attached only by wires, like a severed finger hanging on by a few tendons. Once the initial shock wore off, I thought WTF?!? I hate confrontation, but I was bracing myself to ask, “What were you thinking?!?”  The other driver was immediately apologetic. He had sad eyes.

Driver: I am so, so sorry.

Me: It’s okay. Well, it’s not okay, but it happens.

D: I am so sorry, I am having the worst day. I can’t believe it. I am so sorry my bad day has now affected you.

After establishing that neither of us was injured and exchanging some basic information, he admitted that his head was somewhere else and that he had been staring at the sunset in the distance.

Me: Is everything okay?

D: I’m getting a divorce.

The look on his face said that this was a very, very recent decision. And maybe not his choice.

I tried to make him feel better by remarking that I had been procrastinating on having some cosmetic fixes done on my bumper and now I would get a brand new one! Last year, my car was hit while parked, no note left except for a long scratch along the right side of the bumper. At the time, damage to a material item was so far down on my list of priorities (1. Get through day. 2. Get through day. 3. Get through day. You get the idea.) that I never called the insurance company or even bothered to write down the date it happened. The driver continued apologizing about the inconvenience this would cause me and I continued saying, shit happens. Because it’s the truth. If there are any redeeming qualities of having recently emerged from a really shitty year, it’s that it makes you more empathetic to others. It also allows one to truly appreciate the vast differences between an inconvenience, having a crappy day, and feeling like your life as you know it has turned to shit. I really hope he has a better day tomorrow.

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Caution: Oncoming Human

It started as an experiment. Last year, there was a period when I would go days without speaking to another person. There were also many days when I felt incredibly lonely, even when I was with people. It is a particular flavor of pain to feel lonely in the midst of others. So when I went running, I started smiling at people with whom I made eye contact. Partly because I was raised to be polite, but partly because it made me feel tethered, to something, in some small way. Research has shown that smiling, even forced, has been shown to lift mood. I figured I had nothing to lose.

One thing I learned from my experiment was that you really can’t predict who will smile back. Friendly-looking woman in Lululemon, power-walking towards you. Nope. Grumpy-looking older man with shoulder-length gray hair. Smiles. Good-looking hipster kid with headphones on. Head nod and smile. Nice!  I get it if you’re shy, having a really bad day (though for aforementioned reasons, that may be the best time to smile back) or having a moral dilemma as to whether or not to pick up the kid your dog just dropped off on the lawn (please do), but I find the following two reactions amusing/bewildering:

  • Stone Face: These are the folk who you smile at and get zero response. Nothing. This is LA, but not everyone indulges in Botox. Maybe they think I’m slightly crazy. That’s fair. Regardless of the reason, I did my part, and that’s the only part I can control. When I come across Stone Face, I feel silly for about a second but then move on, literally.
  • Invisible Blinders: These are the folk who make eye contact with you at a distance, but as the gap closes, they stare straight ahead as if they have whiplash and a mini office cubicle sitting on their shoulders. A variant I experienced yesterday: guy makes eye contact but just as we are about to be in the same linear plane, he turns to check himself out in a store window. Okay…that might be more LA than Botox.

By far, my experience has been positive. Valets are routinely nice and often smile first. Other runners usually reciprocate (the etiquette has actually come up in the Q&A section of running magazines) with an expression that says, “Hey, how can what we are doing be great and awful at the same time?” I’ve received the rare catcall; who couldn’t use a little ego boost when you’re running? Besides, if they are even remotely creepy, there’s motivation to pick up the pace.  Some people are surprised and give you the Late Smile, almost as they’re walking past you. Those are some of my favorites. In our technology-obsessed society, when so many walk with headphones on, while texting, or using an earpiece (it used to be if you were walking and talking without a companion, people might worry you had schizophrenia), it’s refreshing to have a moment with a total stranger. A brief acknowledgment that you are human, they are human, and that you live on the same planet.

My tally for last night’s run:

  • Non-smilers: 3 Two Invisible Blinders, One Stone Face
  • Mildly embarrassing, completely hilarious moment: 1 A girl walking her dog suddenly shouted “Hello!” at me. I was taken aback but said “Hi!” A millisecond later it became clear that she was answering a call on her earpiece. I had a good laugh. Reminded me of the time my friend waved at a guy in the dorm across the quad from ours. Only after he waved with his other arm did we realize he was putting on deodorant while looking out the window.
  • Smilers: everyone else
  • People on bikes: 2 This was new for me.  One was a cyclist (clipped in and in a unitard kit), stopped at an intersection.  The other was riding leisurely on a single-speed. I challenged the latter to race me to the end of the block. I’m pretty sure he let me win. But we both laughed and I got a little speedwork in.

So next time you see an Oriental Lady smile as she jogs past, smile back. Better yet, try the experiment yourself when you’re out for a run or stroll. I’d love to hear how it goes. You might just make someone’s day a tiny bit brighter. That someone might even be you.

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From Frozen to…Letting it Go

Love is so short, forgetting is so long. 

-Pablo Neruda

Neat or on the rocks?

Neat or on the rocks?

The circumstances under which my last relationship ended were most unfortunate. For different reasons, we were both miserable for the last few months. I was in a place where I could barely articulate what I wanted for dinner, let alone my thoughts on the relationship. And while closure does not require the participation of the other party, it certainly makes it easier to achieve. For months afterwards, I regretted not having the opportunity to say a few things, so here goes:

  • When I wanted a conversation, I received one-word answers.
  • When I needed a confidante, you became a stranger.
  • When I needed compassion, you judged me with silence.
  • When I needed reassurance, you dismissed me with logic.
  • When I was feeling small, you made me feel even smaller.
  • You said that my being sick* had affected every aspect of your life. I’m sorry. It also affected every aspect of mine.
  • You said that when (not if) it recurred in the future, you could not deal with it if we had children. This was true. You weren’t dealing so well without children.
  • Because of this last fact, you saw no point in continuing the relationship.
  • You said you were not helping me get better. This was also true. 

And with that, we were over. And I entered Phase One.

Phase One: It’s Me, Not You

I was full of blame and regret. Though I had always considered myself to have fairly healthy self-esteem, I became consumed by thoughts of “if only I was X, Y or Z” he would have treated me differently, appreciated me more, things would have worked out. I was not worth waiting for. I was damaged goods. Unsolicited, these thoughts occupied my mind in a loop; I was literally stuck trying to retroactively fix that which was already broken. These thoughts greeted me in the morning and tormented me at night for more weeks than I would care to admit. I built a pedestal and sat him atop of it, untouchable, idealized. As time passed, my thoughts started to shift (although Phase One would continue to make brief unannounced visits for several months) and flow into Phase Two.

Phase Two: It’s You, Not Me

I started to regain a little fire in my belly. It became so important to prove, if only to myself, that no matter what I did/didn’t do, or who I was, it was he who couldn’t be what I needed. He had admitted that he didn’t fulfill my emotional needs. In the diatribes I composed in my head, not only was this true, but it was tantamount to establish that he couldn’t fulfill the emotional needs of most women. Every time a friend would admit that he had seemed nice, if a little “cold,” I marked a point on my side of the mental chalkboard. I felt vindicated when a friend who had spent a weekend in his company observed: “he is a great guy with a lot of interests but there is no emotional depth there. He wants a long-term activity partner, not an intimate relationship.” There was emotional depth. Only it was so walled off, even to himself, that it rarely saw the light of day. I had some idea of this before we started dating, I just thought he would open up more as time went on. I repeatedly asked a mutual friend for reassurance that I hadn’t asked for or expected too much. After the millionth time, even the ever-patient T finally said, “No, you didn’t. I’m not having this ridiculous conversation anymore!” With some distance, I can now say that I did not ask for too much. In fact, I did not ask for enough. And that, is on me. Lesson learned.

Don't mind me. Just thawing out my heart.

Don’t mind me. Just thawing out my heart.

Phase Three: It’s You and It’s Me

It wasn’t just Him and it wasn’t just Me. It was Him + Me. In the end, Him + Me did not work out. And that sucks. And it is sad. Because we had, at one time, both really wanted it to. We had made plans for the future, and those plans are often just as hard, if not harder to let go of, than the person themselves.

In the end, unintentionally (I hope), he made me feel like I was ‘good enough.’ And ultimately, that is not good enough for me. Nor should it be. For anyone.

I have come to learn that forgetting is active, not passive. That to let go, you have to create new memories in order to allow some of the painful ones to fade. To take back the activities, places, and jokes again. So that walking by a certain cafe or driving down a particular street no longer causes your stomach to churn. You drove down the street before this person and now you will do it again. It is a good road ahead. It’s true what they say, looking back too often will hurt more than just your neck.

*The mention of this is neither to place blame nor to gain sympathy. It was just the situation at the time. I am well now, in case you were wondering. 

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Kick-Ass Oriental Lady

Top Chef spoiler alert. Though, if you have even six degrees of separation from any form of social media, this post is not a spoiler. But just in case you were busy and DVR’d last night’s finale…

I love Top Chef. I am inspired by how excited the chefs get about their food and their craft.  Also, I might have a mini-crush on Tom Colicchio. I really liked the last four standing, but sorry, Douggie and Gregory (who seem like genuinely nice folk and I would be super excited to eat their food), I was secretly hoping either Mei or Melissa would win. I love that one of the courses in Mei’s winning menu was congee. I also grew up eating congee (congee is Cantonese. In the Mandarin vernacular it is: xi fan; literal translation: thin/soupy rice). She made congee cool. People who have never heard of congee or hundred-year old duck eggs may now want to go try some. This NEVER would have happened a few decades ago when kids would stare at my pork rou sung (shredded pork “floss”, a common congee topping) and butter sandwiches. I am lucky to have eaten at ink., so I may have already had the privilege of eating Mei’s food. Sorry, if I didn’t notice you though, because I was too busy staring at your boss!

Both Melissa and Mei spoke during the season of the need they felt to prove the validity of their non-traditional careers to their traditional Chinese parents (with the exception of Melissa’s mom, who seems pretty darn cool). I consider myself very lucky that my parents have always been supportive, even when they doubted my choices. But it did remind me of when I told my dad I had decided to be an English major. He said: That’s good, baobei (“sweetheart” in Mandarin), but how are you going to eat? He wasn’t trying to be discouraging; he was just being practical, based on his experience as an immigrant who arrived here on a one-way ticket with a single suitcase. Ironically, when I surprised my parents, choosing on my own accord to go into one of the traditionally Chinese-parent-approved professions, my mother lamented: it’s such hard work and I’m worried you won’t be able get married or have children for a long time! As Mei and Melissa would probably agree, sometimes you just can’t win with Chinese parents. Or maybe, just parents in general. They want the best for you, but may not always agree on what is the best. But the best parents are those who respect your choices and stand by you anyway, even when the road may be long and/or less taken. The best part of last night’s show was when Mei, who was known for her stone-cold “Mei face” all season, broke down in a string of holy sh*ts! and tears when calling her mentor, Michael Voltaggio. Congratulations, Mei! Thanks for representing Oriental Ladies everywhere. I hope your parents are really, really proud.

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Magic Shoes

Someone needs to sweep the stairs.

Someone needs to sweep the stairs.

To be clear, I am not a shoe fanatic. I own more pairs of sneakers than heels and generally favor comfort over flash. My motto: quality over quantity; if I like them, I really like them (true in my love life as well, but that’s for another day). I have never understood the appeal of owning an entire closet of shoes when you can only wear one pair at a time. But once in a while, a pair of shoes will grab even my attention. Once upon a time, teenaged me coveted a pair of black patent leather oxfords which were outside the range of an eighth grade fashion budget. My mom eventually caved, after I promised to wear them, like, all the time. Which I did. I wore them pretty much every day for the next year. I wore them until they were scuffed and lost their shine. I polished them with Vaseline, the way the lady at the store recommended, after which I wore them scuffed and coated in a thin layer of petroleum jelly. I wore them until my mother begged me to buy a new pair of shoes.

Since then, there have been others: a pair of brown riding boots that were a splurge even with a deep discount, but that I still wear ten years later. The high-heeled Mary Janes that helped me get hired for my day job (my then-interviewer and now work-husband still refers to them with nostalgia). A pair of Kate Spade gold glitter (I am a sucker for glitter) open-toe pumps that I’ve shared a few, ahem, escapades with.

Last week, I found another pair of shoes that I just had to have. There’s no rhyme or reason why a certain pair catches my fancy, I just know it when I see it (would that this didn’t also apply to my love life). These were sitting on a sale shelf in all their metallic chocolatey goodness. There were only two pairs left, one in my size. Serendipity. When I find shoes like these, I (half) jokingly call them Magic Shoes. Shoes that make you smile, add a spring to your step, and make you feel like the path you will embark on together is full of promise and adventure. They are the sartorial equivalent of a four-leaf clover, a ladybug, a shiny penny on the sidewalk.

Dorothy had her ruby red slippers. I have my T-strap shooties. Today is a good day to walk a mile in my shoes!

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You look like a nice Oriental lady. What country are you from?  My thoughts, in logical order:

  1. USA
  2. Umm, which part of my profile did you find to be grammatically incorrect?
  3. USA, jackass.
  4. Crap. Do I look like a FOB in my profile pic?
  5. I need a snack. And I hate online dating.

Then again, who am I to judge? It wasn’t until freshman year of college when I learned that Oriental should only be used to describe rugs, rice crackers or certain species of flora and fauna. Granted, my freshman year was so last century. Literally.

Where are you from? No, where are you FROM? No, what are you?

When I am in Asia, my dress, demeanor and accent get me labeled as “the American.”  Here, my Asian-ness is a defining characteristic-neither good nor bad, but as obvious as the color of my hair or the color and shape of my eyes. I’ve been called an ABC (American Born Chinese), a Twinkie or banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), Korean, Japanese, chink (not in the last two decades, thankfully) but I usually just prefer to be called by my first name. And I’m more interested in someone who wants to know who I am rather than what I am.  And that someone starts with me. For various reasons, the past year and a half gave me a shake-down to the core. I lost myself for a time and I’m still getting my bearings back.  I’m not sure where this is all going, but it is a beginning. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…or a single post. And maybe a few recipes and a cup of hot water. Ready or not, here we go!

Update: 6/13/15

My friend A recently sent me this hilarious video from Ken Tanaka. Hilarious because this has happened to me and most of my friends too many times to count.

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