Birthday Wishlist 2019!

Previous years: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, forgotten year in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, a forgotten year of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002

1. The watermelon begonia aka as the Peperomia argyreia. I have gotten a bit domestic lately…but this one looks like a watermelon!
2. Some kind of situation that would allow for my writing and family aspirations
3. A reliable writing community where I truly can be myself
4. The neverending energy to create…
5. …but also the courage (or perhaps audacity) to keep doing it in face of failure
6. Oh yeah lots of fruits. where are you milkfruit? why do you elude me so?
7. Another trip to Japan. this time with a Japanese-speaking friend!
8. To write or revise something that will get me into a writing residency and/or workshop
9. And to finish the NOVEL
10. And to all, good health!

It took years of self-work to get here

“You guys spent the entire time talking about things and having opinions about things,” he said, diverting the topic away from my babble on my recent fascination about personalities. “I thought that we were going to talk about the food.”

Instead of my former reactionary self, I calmly said, “So what about the food?”

“It’s just that you kept talking and talking,” he continued.

But of course, I wasn’t happy about his accusation. We had talked about the food, but he barely said much. I had already mentioned my interest in food and culture, about people of color, cuisine ownership, cultural appropriation. I had mentioned my top culinary experiences and prompted him to share his. So onto more fascinating topics! Like movies and TV! Like what’s streaming on Netflix. Like my writing. Like everything else in my life. My usual thinking about thinking. I was furious about his comment. But with all these years of self-work, I leaned in. “I thought that when you menat hanging out, it meant hanging out. I didn’t understand that it meant talking about “food”, just because we were at a fancy pop-up.

I breathed. He was uncomfortable. He was feeling triggered. He was feeling not with his identity. Like the entire time that I knew him. And instead of setting things on fire, I simply let it go.

Things I (or really we) learned from traveling in Japan

  • Eating while walking is simply unacceptable
  • Tossing trash even an used tissue is impossible in public—you pretty much have toss where you’re staying
  • No unified public systen exists in Tokyo
  • Yes, there are young men who are obsessed with looking upskirts
  • Japanese hopsitality is amazing—even when you’re late—although it’s hard to tell if they’re upset
  • Causing a scene in a public place doesn’t exist—although if you see another Asian person do it, it’s likely that person is from mainland China
  • It appears that the most common tourist in Japan is from mainland China
  • But English is still the common language that one uses
  • If you do go to a local (aka not tourist friendly) restaurant in Japan, be prepared to be surprised by unexpected unspoken rules of dining and eating
  • It’s colder than you think in Sapporo in February
  • Food is truly amazing anywhere, even in the malls
  • Skiing/snowboarding in Niseko is really amazing due to the fresh powder, but be prepared for below freezing temperatures and low visibility
  • And amazing, because you have ramen and soak in onsen afterwards!
  • Read a lot and watch videos about onsens before going to an onsen so you can get accustomed to best practices and Japanese customs—aka nudity, bathing, noise
  • Tokyo subway stations, especially the central ones like Shinjuku, are super hard to navigate, but even a local is likely to get lost
  • Not all Japanese know where about all the trendy places, but then again, do the locals know about them in your hometown?
  • Being expected to take off shoes indoors…is so so great! Mostly because I am Asian and everything is built for that
  • Japanese-style rooms aren’t too bad even though you’re nearly sleeping on the floor
  • Why the US doesn’t have bidets everywhere is a mystery
  • Crime is nonexistent in Japan—it just is
  • Even if you’re American-born, unlike other Asian countries, the locals can’t tell that you’re American-born, they will assume that you’re a local—very weird to me!
  • Pocket wifi is the bomb! Better than sim card
  • But it’s a lie that they work everywhere, because I went through a whole process of where the signal suddenly went out for an hour along the coast of Hokkaido
  • Eat sashimi as often as possible—it’s so plentiful, high quality, and cheap! (Although I do harbor some guilt about overfishing)
  • Get the supermarket sushi!
  • Buy Japanese snacks, but don’t share them with your coworkers (just only a select few), because it’s actually super expensive and…so tasty…do you really want to give $5 to each person in the office?
  • Eat the cheese tart, because it really is that good
  • Double check all your addresses for restaurants, because you may go to the wrong location
  • Use Yahoo maps, not Google maps—as of 2019, Japan is the only country that uses Yahoo maps and the information on Google maps is not that great
  • Everything is popular in Japan, so reservations and tickets are necessary. For some restaurants, some museums, exhibitions, etc. It’s awful.
  • Better the hotel concierge, the better they will be in getting you hotel reservations
  • Bring extra duffel bags (or buy one at Don Quijote) for goodies
  • Bring your passport so that you can get a tax-free rebate when spending more than $50 USD
  • So organize your shopping so that you do it all at once
  • Cash is king
  • Hot vending machines (for hot drinks) are underrated outside Japan
  • No paper towels in restrooms, get used to the Dyson air dryers or bring your own hanky/tissues

Rejections

They say, “Celebrate rejections!”

Because it happens to the best of us. But there are certain things—like programs that are supposed to help you be better—that you don’t think rejection isn’t possible. Because you apply, thinking that you need this and that with this, you can do anything.

So you apply with even more hope. With even more fervor. You tell them how perfect you are. How you have been seeking this opportunity. You say that you have been looking for a place like this, because you couldn’t find anything else like this.

And you know this because you have read all the testimonals. You have seen the social media posts—from Twitter to Facebook. You’re so so so jealous.

So you apply.

And then more than 28 days later. In fact 47 days later, just right when they said that they would tell you.

You get a note.

It’s a 4% acceptance rate. They’re sorry that you’re not the 4%. They’re so so so desperately sorry. They really wanted you to be part of it. They are devastated that you aren’t the 4%.

You stare at the letter. You think: I wanted to be part of the 4%. The boyfriend says: they probably weren’t good anyway. But you don’t believe that Because you put everything toward it. And the disappointment, no it’s just pure feeling of rejection overcomes you.

But the next day, you think, what’s next? Is there something next? What else can you do?

And you move on.

Fish out of water in the water

Externally, I would have expected that my parents would have been amenable to the experience. Familiar Chinese food. Check. Servers who speak Chinese (sort of, but a different dialect). Check. Close to a familiar area. Check.

But I knew that this wasn’t going to be them. Not only was it restaurant week. Not only was it so very clearly Americanized Chinese food. Not only was that the website was full of words like “karaoke!” and “lounge!” And not only did the photos show huge gaudy decoration of gates, red, and enormous Chinese scrolls, and furniture that suggests an older era, completely absent in actual popular restaurants with Chinese people.

But I thought that with my parents, it could be possible. Some experience was possible. Some experience that would make up for all the guilt of not being a good enough daughter. And perhaps, just perhaps, the awfulness of restaurant week wouldn’t be present.

But the expectations from my parents and their frugality often don’t add up to a typical frequent diner experience. Especially a place where there’s a menu made specifically around liquor. You know those places.

We have no idea what happened before we arrived. Did the server say something? Did they say something to the server? My parents were already sitting at the table. As we arrived, a server quickly dropped off the menus and within minutes, I asked for the restaurant week menu. With the way that the server gave the restaurant week menu with a sour attitude, I knew this wasn’t going to end well. And with how my mom asked obnoxious question of whether the chefs were on strike after the server warned us that their kitchen was short-staff—”we have only one chef so dishes will come out slowly.

It took forever until someone took the order. The dishes did come out slowly. Well at least, one dish from the menu arrived. Then we noticed that several things were missing. The sauce for one dish. At least three house soups. Then the spring rolls. This was awful. Was it because we were the only table that didn’t order any alcohol save for a pot of tea? Was it because we were the only “ethnic” Chinese there which some would assume that we wouldn’t tip well? (To be honest, I would have except for this kind of level of service.) And so much more.

It was as if our table didn’t exist. Who knows. On the way out, the hostess said good night cheerfully and thanked us for coming. I thought about writing a yelp review, but I already knew when I had previewed the restaurant previously. And there was so little to choose from.

2018: Everything’s Ok

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

In 2017, it was giving advice in hopes of inspiring others. In 2016, it was the moment that when immersed in the election aftermath that anything could change. In 2015, it was the moment when I realized that I could finish Ice Cream Travel Guide. In 2014, it was when I wrote a well-crafted piece (that I read to a live audience 11 months later). In 2013, it was when light shone in the face of despair. In 2012, it was when I stood up for myself. In 2011, it was a moment of clarity, sincere belief and friendship. In 2010, it was an action of commitment.

There are others like me. There are others as scared as me. There are others who struggle. And to my surprise, they don’t look down at me. I am like them. I want to give back.

Earlier this afternoon, I was scrolling through instagram and saw friends recounting their year. Of course, as much as I am happy for them, I sensed a part of me grow envious. But then I reminded myself, they probably would felt the same way if I recounted my accomplishments. Everyone did so much. Everyone can do so much. It’s all framing. They are all scared as I am. But they are also as hopeful as I am.

It’s the moment that fellow writers at a retreat said that they appreciated me. It was in the meeting that I was someone important. Even though so many times, I thought of myself as lesser.

Next year, I will not let my sense of inferiority keep me down. I will help others. I will let that drive to be the inspiration for others and myself.

2018: Next Step

When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

In 2010, it was about dream making. In 2011, it was about sticking to my boundaries. In 2012, it was about being true. In 2013, it was about embracing fear. In 2014, it was sitting my butt down and writing. In 2016, it was about leading. In 2017, it was about persistence.

I look at the lights that we put up in the office. It’s the same set of white lights that I had acquired (craigslist? garage sale?) when I first moved into this apartment. I had gotten it as decoration for the housewarming ugly sweater party. During that party, I put it underneath the table which provided a nice light for everything.

Growing up, I had always wanted a house decorated with Christmas lights. Although I don’t quite remember what we did in the first two houses in Hercules, I know for a fact that the house from 1991 in Lafayette never had any external lights. It’s a house far removed from the main street, up a long driveway, hidden from sight. Perhaps, matching my mom’s desire to be out of the spotlight. So far from the spotlight. And the fuss that it would require to decorate the house. We rarely had any visitors—family or friends. Christmas lights would never done around the house (although there was a Christmas tree of sorts).

Yet, interestingly, my parents created a game that my sister and I would play for years. Every time we saw Christmas lights (aka a house decorated with Christmas lights), we would count. At times, we would go over one thousand as we drove around the neighborhoods. (We could count the same houses on different days as new numbers.) It was a counting game at its core, yet it made me admire Christmas lights.

So when the holidays rolled around, now that Chris finally lives here and I don’t need to share the office/small room with anyone, I demanded that we decorate something. Especially when I can see the windows in the fancy condo building across the way has Christmas trees hanging in the window with lights emblazoned everywhere like they’re taunting the everyday commoner who doesn’t want to have the holiday spirit.

So we put up the lights, twisting them around the window blinds, across the desks, and plugging them into a wemo so that they would turn on after sunset and turn off before sunrise.

The lights are at the right level for the office at nighttime, making it feel like a moody bar.

But here, I see that a few bulbs are out. Dark and burned. But these modern lights don’t mind them. No other lights are affected. The current is not disrupted by these dark bulbs.

The string of lights cast a glow that I adore. It’s the big picture that matters.

What I mean by all of this is the intention to see the bigger picture. The fact that perfection isn’t always determined by the details. The big picture matters. Did I reach my goal? So be it. Nobody notices the smaller details except the creator. And I must question myself, does it matter? Look at the big picture. Look at the intention. Look at it all and judge appropriately.

2018: Moments

Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2018 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2018.

2017 5 minutes, 2016 5 minutes, 2015 5 minutes, 2014 5 minutes, 2013 5 minutes, 2012 5 minutes, 2011 5 minutes, and 2010 5 minutes

  • Visiting my sister in Arizona just over a month before her due date
  • Visiting New York City and eating all those desserts, viewing the immersive show As She Fell, watching Max Richter, visiting Storm King, having fancy dinner with non-alcoholic pairing
  • Staying in a BnB in Tahoe as we went to ski at Squaw Valley at the end of the season
  • Writers Camp at Big Sur in Esalen, meeting all these people but realizing how very white it all was
  • Doing hot spring one time at Esalen and deciding that truly it wasn’t for me
  • Going to the Brave Magic thing at 1440 Multiversity
  • Staying at Joy’s place with the family in Los Gatos and doing all the assorted things with the boys
  • Playing pokemon go with Chris
  • Setting up the apartment with Chris. In a better way
  • Hosting not one, but two BBQs in the backyard
  • Setting up the backyard for the above, particularly the jade plants and the failed things that we should have not gotten from Buy Nothing
  • Watching Chris haul more things from Buy Nothing, some good (like router) and some not great (like foot spa)
  • That washer/dryer discovery thing
  • Attempt to do laundry at my parents’ place
  • Getting my novel in progress critiqued by an editor, a real one
  • Reforming my people of color writing group and actually having litcrawl
  • Having a writing retreat up in Ukiah with that group and meeting great people
  • Hot springs at Orr Hot Springs and that incident of dropping the car key into the water
  • Letting Chris actually enjoy his time in the hot baths of the hot springs

2018: Making

What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

In 2010, I made xmas photo. In 2011, I made metaphorical things—that were intentionally symbolic of relationships and history. In 2012, I made ice cream. In 2013, I made design. In 2014, I made “my room”. In 2015, I made the last line of Ice Cream Travel Guide, literally. In 2016, I made my annual holiday video. In 2017, I made another annual holiday video.

Yes, I did make another holiday video. Which was an one-year-delayed reaction to my uncle’s comment during Thanksgiving in 2017 about kneeling in the NFL. “Don’t you think that employees should be fired if they don’t listen to their boss?” he said.

It’s very likely that I said something that rejected his answer. It’s also very likely that my mom being who she is probably interrupted with an obtuse topic, distracting me from answering. But it’s also very true that I held my displeasure. That is, until my aunt suggested to the entire family that we share a video / slideshow about our life in the past year.

But what did I make? It’s a mundane answer for this entry. I don’t want to answer making design. But rather the latest, always, it was making food. Specifically tartine-like scones.

For the last 5 years, ever since a moment of inspiration during a Halloween book club, I have been falling back to the biscuits idea as a way to make something homemade, but also tasty.

Because Chris insisted on buying the 2 lb bag of cranberries from Costco for my Thanksgiving cranberry ice cream, I had too much cranberries. Yet, what could I do with them? After some brainstorming (keeping in mind with my ample cupboard of ingredients and past skills), I fell back to the idea of biscuits. Particularly scones.

The last time I had made scones was a slightly disastrous attempt at making fancy scones from a fancy cookbook. Many recipes don’t mention certain techniques like cubing the butter or creaming the butter. Instead, it makes assumptions that the baker knows.

Because I am self-taught, I know absolutely nothing.

And the cookbooks that I love? Or even the recipe blogs? Are the ones imbued with the sensibility of a home cook.

And I have found my perfect recipe. One that has been a cookbook that I have owned for more than 10 years. The Tartine Cookbook. Specifically the recipe for buttermilk scones (usually mixed with berries).

I made it for myself 2 weeks ago, sharing it with nobody except for Chris and myself. I had one everyday on the way to work.

I even had trouble eating my coworker’s scone when she made it for tea time.

Then as a present for my sister, I made buttermilk scones with blueberries. Dashed with Hawaiian sugar with lilikoi (passionfruit) infused sugar mixed with bits of lemongrass.

Although I probably shouldn’t use my (warm hands), I enjoy the process of mixing all the dry ingredients together (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, sugar). Then mixing the dry ingredients with the butter, making sure that pieces are only as big as a pea. So I push and rub with my fingers until the mixture resembles a coarse grainy result. It takes me at least 30 minutes to do it, but I find it meditative. Then after that, I pour in the buttermilk, mixing it with a spoon until the dough holds generally together. Then pulling it out to a working surface, I mold it into a rectangle, cutting it into triangles.

Then very important! Freeze! Overnight so that the dought can get that crackly texture.

Before baking, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 400° for at least 20 minutes. Or at least golden brown. For some reason, I don’t know how to estimate this correctly since the recipe doesn’t give instructions on how to extend the time if the dough is frozen.

And done!

Always fantastic results.

I hope to make this for the new year’s brunch!

If nobody eats it, I will eat it every day. Perhaps this will be a thing. A Sunday bake. For the every day of the week.