Jul 20

COVID-19 Diaries: A found thing

I brought two books with me to my mom’s — My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and The Secret Place by Tana French — and have already finished them. So I went digging for more.

I used to belong to a book club so there are a bunch I never read sitting in the closet. I decided to go through them, pull out the ones that sounded interesting, and put them in the bookcase. That meant rearranging stuff, which led me to discover this unassuming little notebook.

At first I thought it was one of the many ledgers my dad used to keep notes, but instead I opened it to find:


When I was kid, probably around 11 or 12, I started collecting stamps. My dad would get mail from all over the world at work and started bringing them home, I think, because he thought they looked cool and that my brother and I would like them.

I have vivid memories of soaking the envelopes so the stamps would peel off and then laying the stamps out to dry. Then I’d put them in the little notebook, which I guess my dad got for us. Of course the stamps are in alphabetical order by country. I remember I loved organizing them, even if that meant having to shift all the stamps over to fit a new one.

Here are some of my favorites:

The former USSR (yes I’m old)
The former Czechoslavakia (my favorite)

I can’t believe my dad kept the book after all these years, moving from our house in Freehold to the one in Plainsboro to their retirement home here. I’m glad he did.

Jun 20

COVID-19 Diaries: A visit to the Audubon Plainsboro Preserve

The suburbs are pretty boring, but at least they’re closer to nature.

The Audubon Plainsboro Preserve is a huge park just a 15-minute drive from my mom’s. It’s even closer to where we used to live — seven minutes — and I kept wondering why I never knew it existed. That’s because it wasn’t established until 1999, several years after I lived there, and was previously land owned by a company called the Turkey Island Corporation as well as the Walker Gordon Laboratory. Over the years, the county purchased more land until it had amassed over 1,000 acres.

It’s really beautiful:

My friend Aki and I had a great time walking and chatting. We had gotten there early to beat the heat, and so at first there weren’t too many people out. Whenever we got near anyone, I made sure to put on my mask.

At one point we took a rest by the water:

Something Aki asked me was if I would ever move to the suburbs. Pre-COVID-19, the answer would have been a definitive no, but now things are so different. If I’m almost always working from home and rarely venturing into the city, why pay all this money for a Manhattan apartment? Why not move out here for a bigger, cheaper space near nature? Then again, who knows what things will be like a few months from now, or even a few weeks from now. But it’s definitely something to think about.

Jun 20

My niece’s dol

In both Chinese and Korean cultures, a baby’s first birthday might involve a big todo. Zhua zhou in Chinese and doljanchi (or dol for short) in Korean, the ceremony involves dressing baby in traditional clothing and having her grab an object that will supposedly determine her future.

My brother and sister-in-law went the Korean route since I think it’s a bigger deal in Korean American culture, and my sister-in-law, with help from her mom, actually knows how to set it up.

Originally my mom and I were supposed to fly out there, and they were going to have a big party, but obviously those things didn’t happen. Instead we got to see the whole adorable thing on FaceTime.

My niece looked so ridiculously cute in her hanbok and jobawi. She also had this look on her face like, “What the hell is going on?” There was a beautiful set up on a table with cake, fruit, candles, and my niece’s name spelled out. They took some pictures (my mom and I on the iPad) and then it was time for my niece to pick an object.

The choices were a gavel (for law), a karaoke microphone (for entertainment I suppose), a stethoscope, and money. (No pen or paintbrush haha.) And what she went for was … drumroll please …

The stethoscope!

We all cheered when she did, and then she just looked at all of us like, “What the fuck?” and pretty much froze. But on the second time, she also grabbed it so we just went with that.

The next part of the ceremony was the cake smashing. Again she was so adorable sitting there in her skivvies (so they wouldn’t have to deal with sticky, messy clothes) looking confused. Instead of a whole cake, my sister-in-law made banana muffins with yogurt frosting so my niece was able to grab each one to very slowly check out before smashing them. Her mom ended up helping her eat a little, and then my niece also kept holding the muffins out to her mom to share. DEAD OF CUTENESS.

I wonder if in the end it was better not to have a big party. My niece might have been completely overwhelmed with all these people staring at her and cheering. Regardless I’m so grateful that my mom and I were able to watch it together.

Feb 19

A 23andMe surprise

A while ago my brother and sister-in-law gifted me a 23andMe kit (for my birthday? Christmas? I can’t even remember). To be honest, the kit sat there for a while. When I finally did it, I did it incorrectly. Luckily they allowed me one free do-over.

I sort of assumed I’d screw it up again, and that would be it. But I got a few emails saying they were processing my results so at least I had spit into the tube the right way (by the way, it was A LOT of spit). Then this weekend, I got my results — and I was SHOCKED.

It was early Sunday morning. My friend Ellen was visiting and asleep in the next room while I lay in bed checking my email. That’s when I saw I had gotten my 23andMe results. I was delighted. Even when spitting correctly, I knew not getting any results was a possibility. So I was happy to get anything.

I went to the site and opened my ancestry report. The first thing I saw was that I’m 78% Chinese. Huh? Only that much? What else am I? I scrolled down farther and saw: 15.5% Korean.

“WHAT?” I said aloud.

I jumped out of bed to tell Ellen, but of course she was still asleep. Instead I texted my brother in L.A., although I knew I wouldn’t hear back from him for a few hours. I just kept staring at my results with my head spinning. Here are more details:

To those who aren’t Asian, you might not understand. Chinese, Korean, what’s the difference? Number one, HUGE, and number two, don’t be racist. Different countries, different languages, different cultures. Sometimes at odds with one another. To spend my entire life thinking I’m simply Chinese and learning I’m more than 15% Korean was a very big deal to me.

At 10 I woke Ellen to tell her I was going (I had a work event), and that’s when I said, “I know you just woke up but can I tell you one thing?” So I told her and she was also surprised. By then my brother had written back and was like, “Whoa! Did you tell Mom?” I didn’t have time that day but would later.

Yesterday I dug a little deeper into the DNA findings. I had assumed my Korean part came from my father’s side in Dongbei province in northeast China (where he’s from), which borders North Korea. However, the report says my Korean ancestors are from SOUTH Korea, specifically Seoul and Chungcheong-do. Those parts are directly across from, guess where, Shandong Province, which is where my mother’s family is from. Not just Shandong I should say, but Weihai, a port city very close to South Korea.

I looked up the history of Koreans living in China, and according to Wikipedia, Koreans have been immigrating to China since the 1880s, many of them coming to Shandong. According to 23andMe, I:

most likely had a great-grandparent, second-great-grandparent, or third-great-grandparent who was 100% Korean. This person was likely born between 1820 and 1880

So my maternal grandfather or grandmother could have been as much as half Korean.

I like that 23andMe says that my Chinese and Korean parts are both “Highly Likely Matches.” I’ve read that these tests can be inaccurate, but that gives me confidence those parts are right. When I tried to explain this to my mother, saying that one of her parents could be as much as half Korean, she was like, “That’s wrong.” Don’t harsh my buzz, woman! I thought she might agree to do the 23andMe, but now it might take some convincing.

An interesting thing my mother told me was that her mother often mentioned the Korean people in her village. They were called bang ren, or something like that, “hitting people,” because they liked to fight with sticks. Little did Puo-puo know she was probably part Korean herself.

Jun 18

Los Angeles

Last week my mom and I flew out to Los Angeles to lay my dad to rest. His mother, sister, brother-in-law, and niece are all buried in one cemetery, and my brother and his wife arranged it so Dad was near there. While that was very hard, I think it provided a little, if not total, closure.

Having this goofy little guy around helped as always.

While I was there, I walked him by myself for the first time. I got kind of used to it although I didn’t enjoy picking up his poop, his freakout over two squirrels chasing each other, nor the sneaky German shepherd who came bounding out of nowhere and scared the shit out of both me and Bucky.

Bucky also took to curling up on the air mattress I was sleeping on whenever we left the house.

It was adorable until I found a big wet spot. It wasn’t pee, just his spit from licking. Still: gross. Luckily he’s so cute.

May 18

Grateful for …

Early morning walks and this spate of lovely weather.

May 18

Thank goodness for this little fella

And his dog parents too.

Apr 18


My father passed away suddenly last week and I’m missing him beyond words. I was about 10 when I took this photo of him. He didn’t know I was taking it and was looking out at the sea. This is how I want to remember him. Dreamy, relaxed, happy. This is how I’m imagining him beside me, telling me to do what I love because life’s too short, to not be upset, to enjoy the small things in life every single day, the way he did.

I miss you, Dad.

Aug 17

Mini vacay, the Boston edition

Sunset over Somerville.

A couple of friends and I were supposed to go on a “girls’ getaway” last weekend. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a reasonably priced place to stay so that plan got scrapped. But I still spent a few days with my bestie in Boston.

The Greek

I got an early start to the weekend by taking Friday off and going out Thursday night.

Another friend and I met up for drinks and apps at the Greek in Tribeca. It’s a little pricey but the cocktails and food are yummy. I was trying to choose a cocktail when the bartender suddenly took the menu from me and said, “I will make something for you.” Oh um okay. I thought he was going to custom-make something because he overheard my lamenting the fact that they no longer had their ouzo-based cocktail, but it was just a cucumber and gin one off the menu.

I mean, it was good, but not what I would have chosen. Although the garnishes, Mexican cucumbers which look exactly like watermelons, were so cute. For a nosh, I had the keftedes, Greek meatballs. Yum!

The movie we saw was Girls Trip. It was enjoyable. All of the actors were good, but Tiffany Haddish was ridiculously engaging and hilarious.

Boston Burger Company

I got into town about one on Friday, and was starving despite the plethora of snacks I had brought on the bus. I was craving a burger, and this place was right near the subway station where we met. I got the Killer Bee, which comes with a stack of BBQ sauce-covered onion rings:

I swear there was an actual burger under there.

We also shared some garlic parm fries. Really hit the spot.

Fuller Craft Museum

My friend told me how when her mom visited the previous weekend, she barely wanted to do anything. She just wanted to hang out, run errands, and help my friend organize and clean her condo. I was like #weekendgoals! and decided I wouldn’t pressure myself into doing a million “fun” activities.

We did just one: visit the Fuller Craft Museum.

I enjoyed their quilt exhibit, which was different interpretations of what’s called the Bull’s Eye pattern. I ran into a lady who remarked that while the quilts were beautiful, hardly anyone would have room to hang one on their walls.

“I guess you’re right,” I said. “But you could throw it on your bed.”

“You mean use it as a blanket?” the lady asked, seemingly flabbergasted by the idea.

“Well yes. They’re quilts.”

“No, they’re not.” She pointed to the adjoining room. “Those are quilts over there. These aren’t quilts.”

“Yes, they are. They’re part of the same exhibit.”

“Oh.” She looked around. “They would make beautiful quilts.”

Yes, because they’re literally quilts.

Anyway, I also liked their permanent collection as well as the Amber Cowan Re/Collection exhibit:

What she does is take vintage glass and glassworks, and either work them into new pieces or recreate and reinterpret them. The pieces were an interesting mix of whimsical, erotic, and borderline grotesque.

The only downsides to the museum were that I was hungry and freezing the whole time. I knew it was going to be cool but I didn’t realize how cool, and while I had long pants, I didn’t have a heavy enough jacket. I would have brought a Cliff Bar for a snack, but we assumed they’d have a cafe. A woman said they used to but not anymore.

IKEAn cuisine

Besides the museum, we mostly just shopped. Friday afternoon we hit two shoe stores (I bought two pairs of shoes), Old Navy (a cute top and dress), and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Saturday, we went to IKEA.

After two hours of starving at the museum, I was really happy to chow down on some Swedish meatballs.

I got mine with the sides that come with the veggie balls. The vegetables, green beans, were the same, but instead of mashed potatoes, I got a quinoa and farro mix. We also got dessert, this delicious chocolate and hazelnut cake.

Ah, Brockton, the home of exotic IKEAn cuisine.

Eating and drinking at home

In the continued theme of a chill weekend, we ate the rest of our meals at home. Friday night my friend made scallops in a cream sauce over pasta; Saturday morning we had a hearty brunch of scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, and toast; and that night we had some random snacks after our late lunch at IKEA.

We also drank quite a bit of booze.


My friend was on purging spree and determined to get rid of a bunch of liquor, one of which was the absinthe she bought on our trip to Prague many years ago.

Following some instructions from the Internet, I divided the small bottle into two glasses and slowly added some sugar. You’re supposed to melt the sugar slowly over a slotted spoon, but of course we didn’t have that and made do with fast-melting sugar. I sprinkled it in very slowly and kept stirring. Still, it wasn’t dissolving.

After a while I gave up and took a sip. It was SO STRONG. Like burn-a-path-of-fire down my throat strong. I looked up what kind of mixers to use with absinthe and found other instructions that said to add water. Oops. I added a little, which lightened the taste (although it still had a kick) and finally dissolved the sugar.

The absinthe got us tipsy but we weren’t freaking out. It did feel different from other alcohol. The word that keeps coming to mind is a “waviness.” My friend kept saying she felt warm throughout her body. Later when I looked in the mirror, I saw that my eyes were SO RED. I don’t think my eyes get red from other alcohol.

Becherovka bitters and Kavalan whisky

The next night we tried this, another Prague purchase. I followed a Czech mule recipe, which includes ginger beer and lime. At first I put just one ounce of the bitters, but because their alcohol content is so low, the cocktail mostly tasted like ginger beer and lime. We added at least another ounce.

It was slightly stronger, but not by much. That’s when I decided to add the Taiwan whisky that I had brought.

I tried it straight first, and it was yummy. While my friend drank hers neat, I dumped mine in my cocktail. It wasn’t terrible but not fabulous either. Still, I drank most of it, and it did the trick.

Cherry rum and Dubliner liqueur

We also tried a couple of small bottles of liquor my friend had won in some contest. The first one, a cherry rum, smelled like cough syrup to me — and tasted EXACTLY like it. It was so disgusting and the aftertaste, even worse.

The other was a Dubliner liqueur with honeycomb liqueur. It was pretty good although too sweet for me, at least after all that ginger beer.

Chilling on the porch

My last night my friend and I just sat on her porch chatting, drinking, and eating.

It was so simple yet so much fun. Sometimes the simplest things are.

Jul 17

Palisades Interstate Park: A nice day for a hike

For last summer’s hike, I wasn’t prepared. This time I was although I felt dorky wearing my big hiking boots with shorts. Then again, that seems like a typical hiker’s outfit. Plus it wasn’t a zillion degrees out. It was barely 80, not humid, and breezy. A perfect day for a hike.

While it’s always lovely to go up to Hudson Valley, the schlep is quite long. The Palisades Interstate Park, on the other hand, is just a 15-minute drive from Fort Lee, which is a 30-minute bus ride from Manhattan.

Before heading out, we had a light lunch at one of the picnic tables near this gorgeous view:

That’s the Hudson River, by the way. The park is on the state line (hence, the name) between New Jersey and New York so while you’re walking, you’ll cross between two states.

While one of us wanted to do the Giant Stairs (described as “challenging, with a difficult rock scramble”), we decided on a “moderate” hike instead, the Peanut Leap Cascade. It’s just 2.5 miles but much of it is rocky and steep. I don’t mind going uphill, but what I don’t like is downhill. I always feel like I’m going to slip and fall, even with my hiking boots.

Still, I wasn’t too worried about myself, but I was about a couple we ran into. The woman had a newborn strapped to her chest and seemed apprehensive. Her husband kept insisting she’d be fine. In the end they were — we’d run into them again later — but he still seemed like a clueless jerk.

Anyway, we passed some beautiful views, as well as a waterfall —


— where I got caught in a stream of light and water:

There was also a swing for two. I’m sure there are some embarrassing photos and possibly a video of my friend and I swinging together. The swing was right near the Hudson River:


I could listen to the sound of water lapping all day.

After we finished that hike, it was still early so we decided on another, easier one, a two-mile trek to the Women’s Federation Monument.

That hike was definitely easier than the first one, but it wasn’t exactly easy. There was one steep part, which knocked us all on our asses by the time we were done. The castle-like Women’s Federation Monument, by the way, is dedicated to the women who were behind the conservation efforts in the area. Before then, according to the website, “several big quarries had begun blasting the Hudson’s famous Palisades Cliffs for gravel for roadbeds and for broken stone for concrete.”

After that hike we were all ready for an early dinner. We decided on Soba Noodle Azuma in Fort Lee. Despite the warm weather, I was craving something hot. I got the nabeyaki udon:

Which was literally boiling when they set it in front of me. A delicious way to end a delightful day.