May 12

Happy Mother’s Day!

I realized today that I write a lot about my mother. Since I can’t be with her today, I thought I’d celebrate her with a round-up of my mom-related writings.

Dear Mom, You Were Right About Everything (Almost). I originally wrote this for The Frisky a while back, but they’re running it again.

Striving for Imperfection. My contribution to the My Tiger Mom and Me anthology.

An Old Man on the Frontier Loses His Horse.  My award-winning essay for the Bellingham Review.

Writing For My Mother. My guest blog post at Wisdom Has a Voice.

And if you want to be amused, here’s some of the crazy stuff my mom has said.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there. Now to call mine and hope she doesn’t grill me about anything.

Dec 11

Merry Christmas!

Did everyone get what they wanted?

MB and I had a quiet Christmas Eve. I got up fairly early – around 7:30 – and got in a bit of novel writing before hitting the gym. It was pretty crowded. I guess people wanted to get in their workouts before pigging out on Christmas dinner. I ran four miles and did some leg exercises. The day before I did the elliptical for 40 minutes, rowed for 5, then did an hour of yoga at home. Yay for working out two days in a row!

We planned on doing our main Christmas dinner shopping at a small market nearby, but we still needed a couple of things that could only be gotten at Whole Foods. That’s right: Whole Foods on Christmas Eve. Not just Christmas Eve, but Christmas Eve morning on a Saturday. Shouldn’t be too bad, right?

Wrong! It was batshit crazy. I felt like I was grabbing random things (although I was able to get a much-needed bag of coffee beans) and kept getting stuck behind clueless idiots with their shopping carts. Anyway, I was proud of myself for not getting too impatient.

Since Friday ended up being a work from home day (I usually go into the office on those days), I felt like working in a cafe. MB wanted to play guitar in Union Square, so we went our separate ways for a few hours. My favorite cafes are in Japantown, New People and Yakini Q. The only problem with New People is that their internet sucks, but I like to go there when I need to get away from the internet and concentrate on a manuscript. Yesterday I felt like being connected so I went to Yakini.

It was almost empty when I first got there, and managed to snag a good table (ie, near the bathroom). It got pretty busy later but not too bad. I did overhear one Asian douchebag hitting on some Japanese girl with an annoying laugh. “You have a beautiful smile. Japanese girls are so much more polite than American girls.” I guess it would be impolite of me to punch you in the nose.

Late in the afternoon, MB and I stocked up on groceries, then holed up at home for the rest of the evening. There were a lot of people (read: idiots) out and about. You’d think this town would be emptier this time of year! MB made a yummy dinner of fried tilapia, green beans with garlic, and cheesy risotto. Then we I watched The Sound of Music for the billionth time, while MB alternately made fun of it and hid in his studio playing guitar.

Today’s another quiet day. We spoke with my parents who are very busy today with a big mah-jongg party, for which I’m very glad. I hate the idea of just the two of them sitting at home by themselves. MB’s in guitar mode while I hope to complete more of my novel. Then perhaps a walk and a movie.

Finally, just for fun, here’s a gallery of some Christmas type photos I’ve taken over the years, now with more Lightbox!

Nov 11

Remembering Thanksgiving

I used to fantasize about having a big family gathering for Thanksgiving. I pictured a house full of people, a big shiny turkey, and all the fixings. Instead, it was just me, my parents, and my brother, a dry chicken, and Stove Top Stuffing.

Every year I asked my mom, “Why don’t you invite everyone to our house?”

“Because I don’t want to cook for so many people,” she’d say.

After my brother Greg moved to California for college, Thanksgiving became even more pathetic with just me and my parents. But at least we had convinced my mother to give up on baking fowl, and we began the tradition of Mongolian hot pot.

After I got married, I finally got my big family gathering, but along with that came a lot of stress. Every year my ex’s aunt would offer to host, but somehow the big day always ended up my in-laws’, despite the fact that my mother-in-law was bedridden with Parkinson’s disease. It was a pride thing: my father-in-law, the eldest in the family, didn’t want to lose face and so felt compelled to host 10 to 12 people every November.

What made things worse was that he was obsessive about cleanliness. At eight AM, he’d wake us up to wash dishes, cups, and utensils that were already clean. My ex, who was a good cook, was in charge of the food, which he resented with every ounce of his being while his parents considered it his duty.

Rather, it should have been my duty, as the daughter-in-law in a traditional Korean house, but I can’t cook. I’ll wash all the dishes in the world, but you don’t want me in charge of an elaborate meal. Of course my ex knew this about me before we married, but still he thought I would miraculously change. As for me, I had buried my head in the sand about my in-laws’ expectations.

Throughout the day, my ex and his parents would fight. About a week before any big family gathering, my eye would start to twitch in anticipation of all the fighting that would occur. I guess my ex felt put upon having to be in charge of stuff all the time. My mother-in-law would become very stressed out. Like her husband, she worried a lot about losing face, and while she couldn’t do anything, she’d hover and worry about what we were doing.

By the time the guests arrived, everyone would be calm and happy, as though nothing had happened. But my eye would still be twitching.

After four years of these kinds of Thanksgivings, I grew to detest the holiday. That first one after my divorce, I was still burning with anger and resentment. I ran away to L.A. and had Thanksgiving with my brother, who cooked a big and yummy meal for the two of us and a friend. We had many multiple servings.

The Thanksgiving after that one my mother and I had a huge fight. Basically, she was hurt that I had distanced myself from her and my dad after my divorce, but guised it in the fact that I had neglected to bring a hostess gift. But the turkey days since that one have been much better. By November 2007, I was dating MB, and the following November, he joined me at my parents’ house.

In 2009, our first in California, was that festive Thanksgiving I had always dreamed about. MB and I flew down to L.A. since my parents and aunt were staying with my grandmother in Orange County while my uncle and his family were away. My brother Greg was also there, along with my cousin, her husband, and their daughter. Greg single-handedly cooked a delicious meal for 11 people! You can feast your eyes on the pictures in the linked post.

I loved that day because it was fun and low-stress. Everyone who was there wanted to be there. Greg wanted to cook that meal (I presume!). My aunt and mother buzzed around him, not really believing that he could cook, and everyone was (overly) surprised at how delicious everything was.

Last Thanksgiving was quiet but peaceful. My grandmother had just died, and MB and I were exhausted from traveling down to L.A. for the funeral, then back up to the Bay Area for the burial. While the funeral and burial were sad, it was also weirdly fun to be around all of my family. But a couple of days of that was enough. By Thanksgiving, I only wanted to be around MB.

The city was so quiet (except of course for the grocery store). Our building seemed empty. It was almost like this little world of just me and MB.

Tomorrow is more of the same. I can’t wait.

Feb 11

Valentine’s Day, Schmalentine’s Day

MB and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day.  For MB it’s a thing.  He finds it cheesy and in general isn’t into rituals and contrived celebrations.  He doesn’t like the pressure to conform just because “everyone does it.”

For me, it’s not a big deal.  I wouldn’t reject flowers or candy, but I’m not going to cry about not getting any.  It would be one thing if I were starved for love and attention.  I might think, At least one day a year you can make an effort, you insensitive bastard! But MB’s natural inclination is to be affectionate and attentive 90% of the time.

My ex was probably the opposite.  Most of the time, he was caught up in his own stuff, but on Valentine’s Day, he always had a gift for me.  Roses, jewelery, chocolates.  Our very first V-Day together, he brought me a dozen red roses, and we went out to dinner.  But the whole time, he was distracted.  He was antsy and kept looking at his watch.  It turned out he was dealing with some shit with his parents, but I didn’t know that.  All I knew that despite the flowers and the fact that we were out, I had a shitty time.

Our first V-Day after we married, we agreed not to exchange gifts, mostly because I could never think of anything good.  Instead I put together a joke gift – a fancy red box with Ben-Gay, Desitin, and other embarrassing old people ointments, plus some lame coupons for “one kiss” or “one hug” or whatever.  I thought I was all clever, getting ready to present him with this gift, and what did he give me?

A beautiful necklace.

I felt soooo bad.  “You gave me Ben-Gay for Valentine’s Day,” he said, all disappointed.  But how was I to know?  Didn’t we agree not to exchange gifts?

That’s how I felt for most of our relationship, that there were these expectations unbeknownst to me, and I kept failing to meet them (kind of like my relationship with my mother).

As for MB, whenever I tell people that we don’t celebrate today, and that I don’t care, I feel like, “The lady doth protest too much.”  But it’s true!  It’s true when I say, “Every day is like Valentine’s Day with us!” and that I’ll take love, attention, and affection 90% of the time over roses once a year.  And sure, someone might say, “But you should demand it all! YOU DESERVE IT ALL!” But am I really going to throw a shit fit over a contrived day created by card companies? I don’t think so.

Now a joke gift for MB is a whole other story.

Feb 11

I’m a coldy, bratty hermit

What started as a sore throat, slightly upset stomach, and general ickiness  has finally blossomed into full-blown cold.  While a stuffy, itchy nose full of an unbelievable amount of snot isn’t fun, I’ll take that over congested sinuses any day.

I rarely get sick so when I finally do, I’m a total brat about it.  I was restless the other night, even after taking that blue cold medicine that might as well be vodka, so the TV seemed extra loud.  I marched into the living room, announced, “It’s too loud!” and turned the volume down so low that MB couldn’t hear it at all.  At that point he gave up and turned it off.

Since dealing with our noisy annoying downstairs neighbors, I started wearing ear plugs, which do an awesome job.  Once MB came in to grab his pants and belt to run out for a midnight snack.  He dropped the belt, cried out, “Fuck!” and I still didn’t budge.

But with my stuffy nose, I don’t like wearing the ear plugs.  They make me feel suffocated, and I don’t like hearing my labored, stuffy breathing, like I’m Darth Vader.

Friday night we did manage to go out and have some dumplings for Chinese New Year. After work we met up in the city and walked to the restaurant. It’s too pricey for dim sum but it’s clean, the food is good, and it’s in a convenient location.

I still miss my mom’s dumplings though.

Yesterday I barely left the house. Still feeling sick, I stayed at home while MB went out to meet one of his friends for lunch and play guitar in the park. I managed to almost finish a draft of an essay for a contest that’s due next week, and did some laundry.  MB came home in the late afternoon, we had dinner at Grubstake, our favorite nearby place, then spent the evening working while watching a surprisingly exciting reality-competition show about sharp shooters. We followed that with a couple of episodes of yet another anime. There are so many out there, but so few I actually like.

Not sure what I’m doing today.  Gym?  Highly unlikely.  Kind of do want to hit a cafe, any cafe where there will NO Superbowl activity.

Feb 11

Happy Year of the Rabbit!

So it’s Chinese New Year once again, this time the Year of the Rabbit (my brother’s year by the way). Apparently the bunny year will go against its name and be all all conflict-ridden, especially for those born in a rabbit year:

In feng shui lore, people entering a year whose sign is the same as their birth sign are considered to be “in conflict” and may encounter bad luck.

Be careful, bro!  You too Angelina and Brad, both rabbits, which means they’re 12 years apart(!), which means, holy shit, Brad’s almost 50(?!?!).

Anyway, we non-Brangelina folk don’t have any plans today.  I’m feeling a bit under the weather so I’ll probably just laze around at home.  MB has some sort of industry-related party tonight.  But this weekend we’ll head over to our new favorite Chinese place and gorge ourselves on dumplings.

The last time it was a rabbit year I was in China.  I can’t believe it’s been 12 years since then.  Everything still feels so fresh.  But at the same time I know a lot has changed.

SB and ES had come to visit me then, and we stupidly picked Lunar New Year’s Eve, the heaviest travel day in China, to fly from Beijing to Xi’An.  It was complete insanity.  Imagine Penn Station and JFK on the day before Thanksgiving, and multiply that by a hundred.  On top of that, I had a shit ton of stuff that kept falling off my luggage cart.

Then the surly ticket agent guy informed us that while we had tickets, we didn’t have seats because we were supposed to call to reserve them beforehand.  Sure, that makes sense! We were at a loss till this random guy literally jumped out of the crowd to help us.  My bags had fallen again, and as he was helping me, he asked, “Where are you going?”

“Xi’An,” I said, then told him what happened.

Then for no reason at all, he ran around for the next hour, trying to get us seats on a plane.  I don’t know who he was, if he was a government or airport employee.  I only knew that he was from Shanghai and kept flashing some sort of ID.

Eventually somehow he was able to help us find seats.  At first they thought we’d have to travel separately, on account of all my crap.    It seemed logical that I should be the one since I knew the language, but then I thought it wasn’t a good idea to leave two who didn’t speak Chinese.  The blind leading the blind, basically.

SB very bravely volunteered to go by herself, but then, thankfully, in the end we didn’t have to.  Somehow they were able to find us, not just three seats, but three in a row.

“I have to catch my flight now,” the young man said.

“Of course,” I said.  “Thank you so much.  We were so much trouble.”  His friend, who stood nearby glowering at us the whole time, definitely thought so.

Mei shi,” answered the young man.  No problem.  He waved, and was gone.

Once we were on the plane, we breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Getting to Xi’An and then our hotel were totally anti-climactic after that.  The airport was dead, and the bus ride incredibly peaceful.  I remember the guide’s murmuring soft voice as she told us about the passing countryside, pointing out the gravestones in the farmland, as farmers like to be buried in their own fields.

By the time we got to our (gorgeous) hotel, we were starving.  I asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation, and of course he pointed us to some crummy place that served pseudo-xi can, or Western fare.  We were in China on New Year’s Eve – why would we want a burger, and a terrible one at that? Then we spotted a Chinese place across the road, and took a chance.

It was one of the best chances we ever took.  The restaurant was empty, but they were open.  The owner was playing the piano, but when we walked in, he stopped immediately and came over to personally take our orders.

To this day, I still remember this meal.  Fried rice, stir-fried broccoli, something the owner called snow fish, and a free platter of dumplings, all for 88 RMB, about $11 American.  You can’t beat that!

I really miss my mom’s dumplings.  Hopefully the ones we have this weekend will be at least half as good.

Dec 10

Away from home for Christmas

This is my second Christmas now away from home.  Last year we were a bit more festive: Christmas Eve MB made a yummy past dish, and on Christmas Day, he prepared some lovely cornish game hens with stuffing and a salad.  This year we’ve been very lazy.

Yesterday morning was like any other.  I worked a bit in the morning, then hit the gym.  Five miles, woohoo! For lunch and dinner, we ate random leftovers and at whichever restaurants were open (Mel’s for a late lunch, a Thai place for a late dinner).  We hung out the New People cafe in Japantown for a while.  (Vegan donuts for half price after 5 PM!) I brought my writing but didn’t feel like working so I – dangerously – ended up shopping instead.

All I bought was a $45 super soft sweater.  It’s dark gray and the material is unbelievably soft and cozy and not scratchy.

In the evening caught we caught Tron: Legacy, which wasn’t as bad as the reviews make it out to be.  I mean, a lot of the dialogue was dumb and boring, but there was plenty of action and the special effects were amazing.  Plus the music was super-cool.

There were a surprising number of people at the theater.  Lots of Asians, as I predicted, and at least one person who wanted to get away from her relatives.

“My family is so dysfunctional!” she said to someone on her cell phone.  “I don’t want to hang out with them on Christmas Eve.”

We got home around 11, had our late Thai dinner, and watched an episode of Boardwalk Empire.  We would have liked to have gone to sleep shortly after, but we had trouble with our noisy neighbor yet again.  This time it was her television, which she apparently moved into her bedroom (which of course is right under ours).  It was probably regular volume, but at two, three, four in the morning, regular volume directly under us seems very loud.  MB even stomped on the floor really hard (all 180 pounds of him jumping up and down three times).  The neighbor gave a little screech, then turned the volume down a tiny smidge.

Made no difference.  By 3:30 we decided to give up on sleep and got up for a while.  Finally, at 4:30 she turned off the TV, and we were able to go to bed.  So annoying that we have to schedule our sleep around the habits of a big fucking loser who happens to live below us.

I slept till about 9:30, and got up only because I had a huge craving for coffee and the vegan donuts from New People.  It was so bad, I couldn’t even wait to make new coffee.  I zapped yesterday’s leftover while a new pot percolated.  Still delish and highly effective.

I called my parents to wish them a merry Christmas.  My mother told me that apparently my father is now a huge fan of shopping online.  He hates shopping in real life, but loves ordering things like toasters and water heaters off the internet.  So the Amazon gift card I got him will be put to good use.

Since this morning I’ve been working on a draft of an essay for a travel writing contest due in early January, and jotting down some weekly goals, to help keep them all straight but also so I can cross them off as I complete them.  Check!  Or strikethrough! I should say.

Today is gray and rainy.  All we have planned is possibly checking out this Chinese restaurant we’ve been meaning to try.  Hopefully it’ll be open.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Feb 10

TCOB + Valentine’s Day + CNY

Now that I’ve handed in the essays for the contests I wanted to enter, I have lots of paperwork to take care of.

First off, my writer’s contract.  There’s so much to fill out!  But it gives me assurance that I’ll most likely get paid and that I’m one of their official “vendors.”

The guy who did my taxes suggested I start collecting my writing expenses so I could write them off next year.  I’ll have to go back and see if I had anything from this year.  Then I may start keep a spreadsheet.  (Yay, spreadsheets!)

Also, I got a NY jury duty summons.  I had gotten one back in August but postponed it till February.  I was worried that I’d have to actually fly back to New York, but I called the place and they said I just had to send them evidence that I do indeed live in SF now.  I wrote an anal little cover letter and need to make copies of stuff to send.

I also need to hit the gym and go to yoga.

* * *

Had a nice weekend.  My brother was in town so we got to see him a couple of times.  Otherwise I worked like crazy on my essays and MB played his new guitar all day long.

On Sunday, we were supposed to get dumplings, but didn’t feel like schlepping out to Richmond.  It was such a beautiful day, we decided to walk to Fisherman’s Wharf instead.  It was pretty crowded, but tolerable.

We wanted to eat at that seafood restaurant we tried when we first moved here, but they had an hour and 45 minute wait.  At first we thought forget it, but then decided to put our names down.  We took a leisurely walk out to the water, down this long pier.  The sun was setting, which was beautiful.

“Do you want to take a picture?” MB asked me.

I shook my head.  I find that with sunsets, my photos never live up to the real thing. I prefer to just enjoy it in the moment.

We returned to the restaurant a little early, but our table was already available.  It was such a lovely unplanned Valentine’s Day.  I noticed other couples around the restaurant, all dressed up and formal.  You knew they had been planning this evening for a while (like the young dressed up couple in front of In ‘N Out Burger: “I gave my girl a rose and took her to In ‘N Out!”).

To me, the most highly anticipated events never live up to expectations.  Weddings, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day.  Why wait till a specific day to celebrate?  Why not just act like that every day?

Anyway, we both got the prix fixe dinner: soup or salad, a fish entree, and dessert.  At $30 it was a little overpriced, but the food was good and the service excellent.  I got the salmon poached in olive oil with rosemary and garlic.


Now I’m hungry.

Yesterday MB had to work so I was on my own.  YP and I had our long-distance photo expedition – the theme: good luck symbols of Chinese New Year – so I hoofed it to Chinatown and took some pics.  I ran into lion dancers and their noisy firecrackers, “bai nian-ing” at businesses.

lion dancer on grant street

Here’s the whole CNY set.

All righty, off to the gym!

Feb 10

Happy Lunar New Year!

Gong xi fa cai, xin nian hao, which of course means good fortune and happy new year!

This year it’s the year of the tiger, which means what, I dunno.  For me it’s significant only because MB and my dad are both tigers, and the last year of the tiger, I was in China, and so much has changed since then.  My marriage and divorce, my cousin’s divorce and remarriage, the birth of her daughter Mia, and a million other things.

MB and I were planning on schlepping out to Richmond for dumplings, but we may feel too lazy and settle for mediocre dumplings around here.  (Here again is my dumpling essay for The Nervous Breakdown, in case you missed it.)  Later we’ll call my parents, another new year tradition.

When we were kids, our mom used to make us call our grandmother, which was torture.  Our Chinese was so rusty, and like robots we’d recite the “good fortune/happy new year” mantra.  Then our grandmother would speak to us in her Shandong accent, we wouldn’t understand, and would squirm till our mother took the phone away.

Being single, then married, then divorced was a strange experience around Chinese New Year.  First I was happily given red envelopes with cash, then happily not, then pityingly given red envelopes again.

This year I figured out the lai see loophole.  Being unmarried, MB and I are both eligible.  Another incentive for never getting hitched.

Dumplings for everyone!

Dec 09

Two french hens

MB and I had a lovely Christmas.

Christmas Eve MB made a yummy pasta dinner with a spicy puttanesca sauce and spicy Italian sausage.  Afterward we just bummed around.  Watched a few episodes of the Ghosthunters marathon, as well as The Empire Strikes Back and part of Return of the Jedi.  Too much TV! MB crashed around one, but I had had Vietnamese coffee in the afternoon so I was up till almost three.

In the morning, we called my parents.  My mom liked the Snuggie though it’s a bit big for her, and sounded happy and not worried for once.  My dad thanked us once again for the wine, then kept MB on the phone for quite a while, just chatting, which makes me laugh because he’s not usually a big talker.

I was also delighted to find out that my father is reading my copy of The Secret History.  I was surprised since he doesn’t usually read contemporary literature.  Such a good book!  He said at first it was boring, but now he’s very interested in unraveling the mystery.

In the afternoon MB and I saw Sherlock Holmes at the Sundance Kabuki theater.  It was packed!  I guess the movies is the place to be on Christmas Day.  The movie was fun but not amazing, not like Avatar.  Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law were great, as were the sets, but I didn’t find the storyline too exciting.

My popcorn was delicious though.  Splurge!

For dinner MB cooked up a couple of cornish game hens.  They were smoked but he also bisected them and fried them in peanut oil.  As well there was wild rice and shitaake mushroom stuffing and a lovely arugula and tomato salad.

christmas dinner

Everything was yummy.  Those little hens have a lot of meat on them.  I was only able to eat half of one.

Later in the evening, we wanted some dessert.  We expected to find nothing open, but quite a few restaurants were, surprisingly.  We stopped at the Vietnamese place near us – where we get our evil and delicious cafe filtre – and MB got fried banana a la mode.  By then I decided to be healthy and just had some yogurt instead.

Today most places are open again.  I worked out – yay! – then we had lunch at Mel’s, this kind of cheesy, ’50s style diner on Van Ness.  The food was decent though.  I had pancakes, a fried egg, AND bacon – oink!  Now we’re back at one of our favorite cafes, Wicked Grounds.

I applied for a job this morning.  This art school is looking for a marketing writer.  The idea of doing marketing again isn’t ideal, but it’s writing copy as opposed to developing bullshit strategy.  I’m also going to apply for a temporary librarian job at SFPL.  That may be a better fit for me: it’s no more than twenty hours of week, and I’d be filling in at whatever branch needs a substitute.

Today I need to:

Revise Corporate Celebrations article – For my freelancing gig.  After several years of scheduling a variety of celebrations at my old company, I have plenty of material.

Revise “The Beautiful Girls” – For The Nervous Breakdown.  It’s about my junior high/early high school years, and the friends I had then.

Revise/submit “Buzzed: My Love Affair with Coffee in Nine Parts” – For another publication.

Getting to work!