Part 1: Prancing into city hall

So 2 weeks ago…it finally happened.

Maybe I didn’t sleep that well or I was filled with nervousness of waking up. My sister messaged me shortly after 6 am that she was up. They were leaving Lafayette and she shared her location. The day before, she had made the trek to San Francisco to Cal Academy and it took over an hour due to a burning truck and usual traffic. But this time, perhaps due to the time, they made it over to the apartment in 30 minutes.

“Someone is sitting on your doorstep!” she messaged me.

I was annoyed, of course, and was too busy just trying to pull on my clothes. Trying to wear that near strapless bra that I didn’t want to wear. I remember how a friend told me that I needed to get the dress tailored and thought how unnecessary it was. My anger simmered at that, but I suppressed my feelings because it was ultimately irrelevant. And my sister found a solution that worked fine, after all.

“Go open the front door!” I told Chris.

But we were rushing around the apartment getting ready. I didn’t want my parents to come up and look around the apartment, judging the cleanliness or the state of things, especially since we barely had anybody over during the pandemic. So there was a pause until Chris finally went to let my sister in.

She came up with Jakobe. “In the other bedroom?” I said.

I had pulled out the fun or at least what I had deemed to be fun, Jurassic Parks. Unfortunately Jakobe, almost 2.5 years old, was feeling unhappy about being woken up. I could tell, because my eyes felt sore too and he was grumpy. But then my sister did the thing that she didn’t like doing and pulled out her phone. All was well as he sat on the bed. No need to worry about him exploring. He was satisfied just there with the screen playing a video.

Then my sister proceeded. I had the hairspray, the foundation and blush I acquired from Sephora, hair pins, brush, eyeliner, etc. In very little time, we were done with curls and what not.

And then we went. Chris got there easily. We paid, for the first time!, at the parking meter, because we were not going to be late. As we crossed the plaza, I noticed a car at polk. And there was Allison. I hesitated because I also saw the photographers along the way at the entrance. The entrance, probably first, so I deviated my path and waved over Allison. I was so awestruck by the crown, boutonniere, and the scepter. It was exactly what I wanted! Vegetables. Extravagance. Elegance. And whimsical. But I was a little troubled by suddenly realizing that I had to perform as the photographers began as Allison placed the crown on me.

Then my sister, Jakobe, and others arrived. I went ahead through security with Chris and the photographers. Because of the stroller, it seemed like they went an alternative route and were admonished for “sneaking” past security. But no time to waste, I went ahead down the hallway to get registered. We sat around waiting while the photographers slipped in photos. We met with a judge, had a conversation. “How long have you known each other?” she asked.

I noted that she had a neck decor like RBG. “Almost 15 years,” we replied.

“So just getting things in order?”

“Yes,” we agreed.

Chris mentioned that we were also planning to drop our ballots and the judge mentioned how she didn’t like the recall. I was surprised that a judge could say so in a public setting, but Chris told me that they didn’t have any policies to conceal their politics outside the court.

The Recurring Nightmare During the Pandemic

My nightmare wasn’t ever about someone I care about dying. Rather it was something…more sinister or just a greater personal fear of mine.

It starts like this: I am going somewhere public. Whether it’s work with people I don’t really know. A public mall. Some gathering. As I look around, I realize that I am the only one masked. Am I supposed to be wearing my mask, I worry to myself. What are they thinking?

But I resist because I had made decisions previously to mask and be safe. And yet, I am vaccinated and even with the confusing recommendations, I hesitate to go maskless.

But then yesterday happened. In recent weeks, I have been a bit more looser about outdoor masking. The heat is one factor of course, but I have decided to accept the studies about outdoor activities—it’s safe. So I let it go.

But then with everything they say that going maskless indoors is fine. I am wary of course due to the increase of cases by the Delta variant.

And with yesterday’s incident where Chris forgot his cloth mask and thus had to use my blue disposable mask, which broke shortly. I went maskless and it was like it was before. The Before. It felt uncomfortable, but normal. And yet I don’t know. I felt exposed. Not just to potential viruses and bacteria. But knowing that people see me, like really see me. I don’t want to be seen. Not until I actually want to be.

And now, she’s just nothing

Over eight years ago, with a renewed energy to actually starting my writing life, I joined every writing class, every writing workshop. I spotted one—for free!—at the Potrero Hill library. During the weekday. I had essentially taken a sabbatical from working and so that fit perfectly. I put that into my calendar and showed up with a quick flash piece.

“Anyone wants to share?” she said.

She sat in the middle of the room. I was startled that the whole workshop just evolved around her—she spoke and nobody else spoke. Not that she invited anyone else to share their opinions. Everyone was older likely in their fifties and white. As it always happened in many writing events, I was the only non-white person. I may have been the only or one of the few young people, then barely into my thirties. I had prepared copies of a short piece about my neighborhood—a satire of taquerias, bicycles, and tech people. I remember how much I laughed to myself after I wrote it—so hilarious and I was so proud of it.

“This, everyone!” she said. “Is Excellent.”

I silently puffed my chest. Proud. Her only comment was to consider line breaks. She suggested writing something from another perspective or something similar to that. Who knows, because during the following week, I wrote something about my mother. A risky thing, of course. I remember asking Chris for feedback, he being my first reader, but he couldn’t of course, because he had issues with his own mother and couldn’t read it for what it was. So I was stuck in the world of…I think there’s something here, but I am not sure.

The following week, I brought copies of it to the workshop. And it’s likely I didn’t apologize for it, because I naturally wouldn’t express my insecurity, even if I had it. And just as expected, that woman tore it apart. She sat there in the middle of the room critiquing a piece that was personal about experiences with my mother. Who knows exactly what she said, but I only heard that she was questioning about why I wrote it, why the narrator was acting in such a way. Nobody else spoke. Eleven other voices were quiet as if they were praising her, agreeing with her.

My confidence crashed and the only thing that I could retort was, “This isn’t supposed to be therapy.”

“Sometimes it is,” she said.

I cried silently. I don’t remember if I stayed or left. Probably the former, because it’s not in my nature to leave when I am upset. It’s simply this: if I am upset, I want everybody to know that I am upset.

Years later, I have built my confidence in various ways and am protective my early work (usually). I want to be closer to my Asian identity and with that, stories of my mother arise. How was that piece like? I look at it again today—it’s raw and disjointed, but I see glimmers of a strong voice. That’s what I would have focused on—drawing out that voice through exercise. Maybe that’s what that woman would have done. But maybe I would have seen an early writer and say that it’s fine, it’s fine. Keep going, keep going, you’ll get there.

So…what happened the last 15 months?

As if it was all dandy and good. But honestly, I am super privileged. My immediate family, at least, were cautious and risk averse, even my parents who seemed to expressed a desire to leave their suburban house. “But you don’t understand,” they said. “We are retired. We don’t have anything to do.”

I would say all of this and more:

  • Felt so much relief that I didn’t have to be perceived, didn’t have to perform, didn’t have to negotiate
  • Appreciated the fact that nobody was doing anything
  • Learned how to bake sourdough bread
  • Taught myself how to actually use the produce that I have instead of referencing thousands of recipes although I still do that
  • Killed some plants both with overwatering and underwatering
  • Grow to love podcasts as they created voices in the background
  • Know how to create a zoom brainstorm effectively
  • Learned which of my friends valued social justice in the way that i do, but also realizing that…did it matter if they didn’t????
  • Still do not miss hugs
  • Did so much writing than I did previously
  • Adjusted how I considered my spending
  • Realize that routine give so much solace
  • No matter what, I may never get through my entire tea collection
  • Talking to a twentysomething

    Today, in class, Alexander Chee said in response to the way that his young students would write about aging, he would correct them: “At a certain age, having the same things happen each day is a victory.”

    Yesterday (on my birthday as I inch closer to forty), in contrast, talking to a former twentysomething coworker, he noted a paragraph from my essay about my own twentysomething experience where I had rejected the notion of repeated doldrums of adult life. “That’s why I don’t want to get married,” he said.

    I was awestruck by that. The moments depicted in the essay were more than years ago when I didn’t know who I want to be and how I want to be. I had embraced the idea that to be alive, it meant taking every opportunity to discover and feel free. What I didn’t know then was that discovery doesn’t mean that it’s meaningful. Being alive isn’t about adventure. In some way, yes, it’s about safety. Which seems risk averse and “too” safe. Yet, the happiness and maybe just satisfaction is the fact that my “home” is defined by someone. So no matter where we are—whether it’s at home for months on end due to the pandemic or a sleepless nights in a foreign city where we don’t know the language, that’s what I seek.

    2021 Birthday Wishlist

    Previous years: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, forgotten year in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, a forgotten year of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002

    Vaccines arrived! Well at least for the US, interestingly.

    1. Reduction in vaccine hesitancy
    2. And obviously, better vaccine distribution across the world
    3. Some kind of social event soon! At the very least, cooking a meal for people
    4. Acceptances for my writing whether it’s workshops or venues
    5. Better growth of selective close friendships
    6. Better sense of where I want my “income-generating” career to go
    7. Good fruit, especially high quality stone fruit and berries!
    8. Visit to a farm or similar food-making enterprise, to get the feeling of getting to the roots
    9. Building a relationship to a nonprofit that actually matters to me and a place where I could see my personal effort
    10. Some kind of way to buy reasonable, high quality property in San Francisco
    11. To offspring or no offspring?
    12. Decrease in stuff!!!

    Vaccine Journey: Part 2

    Because this time, it was planned. This time, I was prepared. I wasn’t as emotionally overwhelmed.

    For whatever reason, they called me and asked to change my appointment time from 3 pm to 9 am. Fine, I said. So off I went, convincing Chris to drive me. In fact, he expected that he would do so since it was a hassle for me last time—to find parking and do that whole thing. So at 8:45 am, he drove me to San Francisco General, dropped me off at the welcome circle. I hopped out and got into the appointment line. Everything was repeating as if I was there the first time. Someone would stop me at the line. “Are you here for…?”

    “Yes, a vaccine,” I say and hold up my vaccine card.

    They would look at the date and nod. Then they stuck a sticker on me that essentially said registered. They placed on the sleeve.

    “Do I go?” I say motioning to the doors. I actually have never been inside the hospital beyond the ER and that first time. I see so many people walk in—maybe appointments for other things, maybe staff for other things. This is the local public hospital and I wonder how much funding they get. Probably not much.

    They tell me to wait. Finally the line is filling up. Five, six or seven people now. I am first. Then they say, “Follow me.”

    She holds this paper spinning windmill—the kind you might see for a Chinese tour or a child playing in the yard. Right at the end lobby, she motions ahead to another person. “Follow her.” So we follow and arrive at a set of elevators.

    I understand immediately that the elevator can only hold four. At least for safety reasons. We all stand in the corner. There’s a couple that huddles in a corner, treating like they are one person. Fine.

    We arrive to the fourth floor and it’s back again in the row. The nurse asks me for my card and I hold it out. “You got it laminated,” she says.

    “No,” I say. “it’s just a plastic cover.”

    “How did you get that?” she marvels.

    I am a little surprised, but not really. I wonder if she’s saying that because she just wants to talk to people, wants to have small talk again. I wonder myself if I want small talk. I tell her that I have a lot of conference badges and this is just one of them. I know that Office Depot and Staples are offering free lamination.

    And soon, I arrive at another registration. “My second,” I say.

    They send me to another station, then another station. I remember that just three weeks ago, I was frantically looking down at my work phone and checking the time, wondering if I would make it back in time. It’s barely 9:12 am now and it didn’t take much time at all from when I arrived to now. Soon, I am sent to a station. This time, I am curious. I am waiting and wondering why I am waiting. Maybe paperwork? Maybe the nurse needs to check something. Finally, I am sent to sit.
    The nurse has a needle ready. I have taken off my jacket and have my sleeve ready. “Non-dominant arm?” I say.

    She nods. A quick sharp jab and it’s over.

    I do the fifteen minute observation. I wonder if I should take the juice offered, but I don’t because it’s embarrassing. I do the windmill, but not much because I don’t see anybody else doing it. And soon, the time passes. I take selfies. Trying not to be rude and that person breaking HIPAA. Then I am done. I stand in front of the selfie station and take photos of myself, because well, because I should. But there isn’t many people here, taking photos. It’s all serious. I don’t know how people are feeling. Smiles? Doing their civic duty? It’s what I should do.

    And I went outside and went…to work virtually. I had a mild headache that afternoon, but didn’t know whether I could attribute to the vaccine (because I had a similar headache the day before) or to the annoying work.

    I took the next day off. A sick day. But I was fine. Maybe slow. Maybe more pain due to cramps. But I felt like myself. And felt like I was stronger. And the world was returning to normal, maybe?

    Being Adult Children

    When I was young, I always consider my mom and dad to be the same person. Everything that one knew, the other knew too. I knew obviously that they were different people and had different personalities—my mom, who emigrated later in life, was more fobby and always said what was on her mind. My dad, emigrated barely out of his teens, was Americanized and worked at a very corporate job, embodied more quiet, introspective, highly educated view of the world. And yet, they symbolized the typical annoying parents as a teenager. Like…just get out of my way!

    Of course, when I entered my mid-twenties, it felt like things started to shift. That they were individuals. And perhaps by that point, they trusted that I was an independent person, full of my thoughts and feelings. Well, at least, some of the time. As my grandparents grew older, sicker, and passed, my relationship with them evolved. And my mom got sick, it became something else: I had to take the parental role.

    Well, not in the full caregiver capacity yet. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was noticeably distressed. They were both retired, but they moaned about not being able to do things. My grandmother, the last of her generation in my family, had just passed in December 2019 and that opened the door to freedom. But of course, the pandemic arrived and now they were trapped. Of course, cruises, their usual choice of freedom, were just not open. But regardless, after my frantic doomscrolling of Twitter and Facebook, I admonished them for going to the Chinatown grocery stories—a fear I realize that was unwarranted, thinking that small stores were not as good in containing virus and bleeding into the whole idea that those places were unclean, unsanitary. Instead, I said delivery! I referenced the fact that big chain stores had early opening hours—go there, you’ll qualify because you’re over 65. Or have it delivered! I was exhausted and sent them an episode from the Daily about the horrors from Italy.

    What thoughts I had.

    Now it’s just tech support from afar. They have both been completely vaccinated. But the awareness of anti-asian hate has risen. The idea that someone could walk around and could be pushed is daunting. I don’t like to hand hold people through things. But for them, maybe I would? Should I? I don’t know.

    Vaccine Journey: Part 1

    Later, people said that it was like:

  • A Black Friday deal
  • Brunch in San Francisco, pre-pandemic
  • That’s what it was like. But for me, it was like there was a whisper, a secret announcement that I heard and I rushed to get my first dose on Thursday afternoon.

    It started like this:
    Chris saw a post on Buy Nothing about available vaccines, now available to people anyone 16+, in specific zip codes. One of which was ours. He told our group chat to go. “NOW,” he said.
    He does this often. For news. For deals. I know that most people in the chat often ignore his updates, but being the one closest to him, I felt compelled to listen. You want to be the one that always supports him.
    But of course I was hesitant. I had a meeting at 3 pm. I was in the middle of listening in on a zoom call although not an active participant at all. It was 1:50 pm. Then he message me directly. “GO!” he said.
    I protested. But I had a meeting in an hour that I couldn’t miss because I was leading it. You can get it done within an hour. They said that it won’t take that much time.
    And with that, I gathered all my things, random mail with proof of residency, and drove to San Francisco General.
    I had been there once when I fell after riding into the muni tracks and hit my head. It was a very expensive emergency room visit, because it resulted in nothing and just comfort (?) that I was going to die in my sleep with a hematoma. During that period, Chris lived down the street, so I knew the area well.
    But that Thursday, as I was driving toward the hospital, I realized that I had no idea where to go. Which building? Was it outside? Where do I park? I was having all these thoughts as well as the anxiety of not returning in time.
    I had not driven myself in that area so I wasn’t familiar with anything. I saw signs for the testing, but not for vaccines. Where was I supposed to go? It was past 2 pm. I made some stupid 3-point turn at a stop sign because I didn’t turn far away enough and then saw the vaccine sign. I turned into the driveway, realizing quickly that it was only dropoff. No parking there! So I drove out and quickly thought about where to park. Not in the garage. $3! Maybe on the street. But it’s only reserved for covid sheriff, what’s that! So I drove up to Kansas and fortunately found something on the corner. I jogged all the way to the hospital, trying not to look like I was frantic. I turned toward where I saw the vaccine sign and asked, “is this for the walk ins?”
    She said, “Follow the signs up.”
    I did and found the line. A short one, well-spaced of six people. And two were just leaving. Chris was right. It was short. I could get a vaccine and I peered inside…maybe that was it!
    I was worried. It was now 2:18 pm. Will I get in? Some guy asked about my id. I showed him and also showed my mail. He probably only needed my zip code but I was tired of speaking and worried. I was quickly registered and checked in. I rocked on my heels as another guy checked my information already in the system and gave me a post-it that said 4e. “Where do I go?” I asked.
    He pointed to the right as I was supposed to have known. I went and there was another short line. Another guy holding up a flower sign that twirled. This was where I had asked for directions earlier. It was happening. The vaccines are just inside. Then he said, “You three come with me.”
    We followed him in well-spaced lines and I realized what was inside was registration peoples for various offices. I was suddenly overwhelmed. I had not been inside a hospital for over a year or any clinic really. It was really happening. These people, everything that happened in this building was about saving people, saving people’s lives, from dying.
    And now, they were keeping people living. I thought, how can anyone not start tearing up.
    A guy pressed the elevator and the doors opened. “4th floor,” he said as we entered.
    Someone pressed the button and the three us headed to the corners of the elevator. I had not ridden in an elevator since I was at work in March 2020.
    We got out of the elevator and there was another line. There were markers on the floor and toward the front, nurses were moving tray trolleys filling out a paper screener. I craned my neck to see how long it would take. 2:28 pm. Maybe I could make it?
    People moved fast and I was overwhelmed emotionally again. We are here, saving each other. Finally. Then it was my turn.
    It was this stunning moment. Of emotion. Of having to answer such benign questions from a stranger. I never talked to strangers anymore really. She asked me if I was Chinese. I was surprised but I answered in the affirmative, not denying my heritage. Do you speak Chinese, she asked. I was surprised by that question, but I knew what she was asking and I simply said, I prefer English. I asked whether the fact that when I gave blood, sometimes I had to stop because my blood pressure was too low and my arm would get bruised. No, I don’t have anemia. No, I don’t faint.
    And soon, it was done. I was soon sent to another registration person who said that it was going to be Pfizer. Then I was sent to another person who gave me basic information about the vaccine. What language? she asked. English, I said.
    Then I was sent down a roped line to the back and soon directed to #3 or was it #5. it was an odd number. At this point, I knew that I couldn’t make it. The person said that I wouldn’t be able to leave until after the waiting period which would end at 3:00 pm. I sent a message to the group apologizing and asking whether we could meet later. Push it by 30 minutes or an hour. And I sat down and I rolled my sleeve. My sleeve wasn’t high enough so I had to hold it while she administered the shot and I turned my head away. Maybe I was supposed to cry now, but I didn’t want to be kicked out saying that I wasn’t ready.
    Also at that point, I had my period and you know how it goes. I was feeling uncomfortable and all that great stuff.
    I felt a small pinch. “Does it hurt?” she asked.
    It only hurt with the shot, but nothing now. That was the answer that she wanted to hear. I got up and headed to the waiting room area. I looked in an empty room and asked whether I was supposed to take a seat. She pointed me to another room. And we sat there silently. I looked down at my phone. my face covered with double mask. Did everybody know that I was being cautious and wearing double masks? I messaged and apologized profusely. My work isn’t a life or death or situation. So it was fine. It’s totally fine. Shortly before 3 pm, someone said that it was okay to go and I got up, gathering my things, fumbling for my keys.
    A paper floated to the ground. A nurse looked at me and she chuckled. “Oh!” she said, laughing..
    “I know, I don’t want to lose that,” I said, picking up my vaccine card.
    Then I went to the elevator, turned down an elevator that was barely full. Went down and down, back into the world, the same, but so so so very different.

    Documenting what I cooked and baked last year

    I had always wanted to actually cook through a cookbook and spurred by cookbook club, I did it not once, but twice this year.

    Spurred on by the fact that I actually had to eat meals at home (we don’t believe that dining out whether indoor or outdoor is a good thing), I felt compelled to cook. Not to mention, it was always very stress-relieving. I look back and wonder…what meal could I create when I do invite people over? If I had a restaurant, what would it be? What would I bring to potlucks now, when it’s safe?

    Here’s the ones that I remember:

  • Korean oxtail soup or Kkori Gomtang (done many many times whenever we found oxtail at a good price)
  • Yellow two-layer birthday cake with white cream cheese frosting
  • Cheddar biscuits
  • Chocolate chip cookies (made dough as gifts and for ourselves, realizing that it’s quite easy with a stand mixer!
  • Fried rice (multiple times)
  • Grilled onigri (as shown)
  • Charred shishito peppers (as shown, best discovery this year!)
  • (Attempted) tamago (as shown)
  • Plum torte
  • Miso-marinated black cod
  • Milk bread
  • Mochi—plain, jam filled, toasted
  • Ozoni soup
  • Sourdough bread (many times for ourselves and as gifts)
  • Chocolate bread like at Cheesecake Factory
  • Raisin bread
  • Dutch baby—mostly sweet versions with apples and a savory version with greens and meat
  • Chili, both meat and meatless versions
  • Pasta of various forms with homemade spicy and non-spicy sauce
  • Potato hash with shishito peppers
  • Green bean chili bacon soup
  • Pear and apple galette
  • Bread pudding
  • Foccacia
  • Banana bread
  • Skillet cornbread
  • Dumplings. The one that I made it with anise, it wasn’t great. Better to stick with the tradditional pork and green onion
  • Khao Man Gai or Hainese Chicken, variations on cooking technique
  • Korean braised oxtail or Kkorijjim
  • Ramen with housemade shoyu eggs in shoyu broth
  • Korean fried chicken with fried basil
  • Tempura. Butternut squash. Mushrooms.
  • Japanese chicken and rice claypot
  • Japanese porridge with butternut squash
  • Butternut squash soup
  • Housemade chai
  • Many smoothies. Mostly banana, berries, orange, yogurt, and whatever milk product we have on hand
  • Sour cream and chive dumplings soup
  • Barley and orange salad with pistachios
  • Yakisoba with chicken
  • Bruschetta
  • Sourdough crumpets
  • Sourdough crackers
  • Zucchini bread
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Potato salad
  • Chicken tikka masala
  • Roast chicken