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

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.

Jun 15

A brotherly visit

My brother Greg and his girlfriend were in town this weekend, and of course I had a blast.

Thursday night

They were staying in San Francisco part of the time and with me in Oakland part of the time. Their first night I met up with them for drinks and dinner in the Mission.

I was late but still got there in time for one drink. Greg’s girlfriend was so cute. When she saw me, she said, “Yay, my favorite!” and gave me a big hug.

For dinner we went to Delfina. SO GOOD. We had a salad and calamari for appetizers, and I had the duck pappardelle. For dessert my brother’s girlfriend got the panna cotta, which we also shared.

The weekend

Saturday was our aunt’s 80th birthday down in San Jose. It was at the same restaurant as my uncle’s party but a smaller affair since my aunt wanted something more low-key. The food, as always, was good. Only downside was that I didn’t get to sit with my brother and his girlfriend, whom, by the way, all of our relatives immediately adored.

On Sunday we hung out around Oakland. Greg’s girlfriend loves farm animals so I was hoping the grazing goats and sheep would be around. And they were! We got up close and personal:

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For brunch we went to Rockridge Cafe. Yummy eggs! Then we headed out to the Mountain View Cemetery, which I had no idea was so close to where I live. The place is beautiful and enormous. I loved some of the statues:

The cemetery is the burial place of some notable people, including Samuel Merritt, a mayor of Oakland and the namesake of Lake Merritt; J. A. Folger, the founder of Folger’s Coffee; Domingo Ghirardelli, the founder of Ghirardelli chocolates; Joe Shoong, the founder of the National Dollar Store chain; and, creepily, Elizabeth Short, otherwise known as Black Dahlia.

I was sad to see my brother and his girlfriend go, but I was glad they were able to visit me before I move back to the east coast.

Dec 14

Thanksgiving 2014: Noodles, wine, and biscuits

Sure, there was the Thanksgiving feast (read: Mongolian hot pot) at home, but there was also much ingesting and imbibing with friends in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

Xi’An Famous Foods

I met up with my college roommate Sandy for lunch in the city. Besides an alma mater, we also share a love for Chinese good. So I was thrilled to learn a Xi’An Famous Foods had opened in her neighborhood on the Upper East Side.

I first heard about the restaurant from Anthony Bourdain, which is almost always a guarantee of good food. I got the oxtail noodle soup.

Looks great right? Well, unfortunately looks was all it had. No, that’s not entirely true. The flavor was good, but it was lukewarm. Maybe the servers, who were all white, didn’t know that noodle soup has to be burn-your-mouth-hot. Then again, doesn’t any soup? So I was pretty disappointed. At least the company was good.


I also had the chance to see and stay with my friend Yiannis. One night, craving something sweet, we stopped in ChikaLicious.

While it might sound like a chicken place, it’s actually a dessert bar — New York’s first, according to the website. Also according to their site, the line sometimes goes out the door, but that Saturday before Thanksgiving, there was no wait.

I noticed a dough’ssant in the wild —

— before settling on the banana custard pie.


Sweet Science

One morning Yiannis and I met up with his sister and her friends for her birthday breakfast. One of her favorite places is Sweet Science in Brooklyn, and with good reason.

I got the biscuits with sausage gravy and bacon:

Decadent and delicious!

Amalthea Cellars and Sharrott Wineries

Good times were also to be had in my home state. My friend Ellen was also visiting for Thanksgiving, and we met up with our other friend Aki, who lives in New Jersey. She and her fiance had to drive one of their friends to Philadelphia so she suggested a couple of wineries along the way.

I’ve never been to a wine tasting before and thought I wouldn’t be that into it since I’m not a fan of wine. But it was actually really fun. The combination of the small amounts with a wide variety was perfect for me. Plus! I never knew wine could be sweet. All I knew about were the very dry ones. Turns out I love sweet wine.

Our first stop, Amalthea Cellars, offered 11 different tastings for $6, plus a little tour of the place. I thought the Leda, a “dry ‘travel style’ rose” with “notes of strawberry,” according to the info sheet, was so pretty:

Although for some reason the tour guide looked right at me when he said it “goes well with Chinese food.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ My favorite was the Callisto Gris, a “bright red apple and strawberry notes.” Of course it was sweet.

The second place was Sharrott Winery, which offered six tastings for $12 plus snacks. By that time I was pretty tipsy, as was this big group of loud ladies who were traveling by bus from winery to winery. (We had a designated driver in Aki’s very kind and patient fiance.)

Hiro Ramen House

Our next stop was Philadelphia and a ramen dinner. Hiro Ramen House is apparently the place to be. We had a 20-minute wait, but it was totally worth it. For appetizers we got the karaage, or fried chicken, and takoyaki, octopus balls:

I got the spicy ramen, which really hit the spot post-wine tastings.

Lotus Garden

All good things must come to an end. To close out my visit, my mom and I had a goodbye lunch at one of our local favorites, Lotus Garden. It’s not bad for central Jersey, and seems authentic, if only because it’s usually packed with Chinese people. I got the beef noodle soup:

Not as good as Mom’s but better than Xi’An Famous Foods, I have to say.

Until next time!

Dec 13

Catching up, the Thanksgiving edition

The rest of Thanksgiving weekend was super fun.

The dinner that my brother cooked was delicious: turkey, homemade cranberry sauce, stuffing with sausage, buttery mashed potatoes. I can’t even remember what I did that night. Probably worked on my novel a little and watched TV a lot.

Friday we all stuck around the house. None of us wanted to do Black Friday. I took a walk down to the shopping center and back — luckily no dog chased me this time — which was over 3.5 miles. The day before I worked out in the basement: running around the perimeter, squats, push-ups, burpees, jumping lunges, sit-ups, etc. I got pretty sweaty.

Oh yeah, I also spent a lot of time sorting through and packing up old books. I had SO MANY.

Saturday we had our family outing. We got lunch at this Chinese place that specializes in xiao long bao, or little juicy buns, and afterward we went to look at my parents’ new house.

Right now it’s just the foundation, but we could see what the other houses looked like, as well as the club house, which was huge. It has a small gym (though still bigger than my condo gym), a dining room, a little kitchen, a theater, and an indoor pool (there’s also an outdoor pool). Dad said he might actually go swimming.

I really like the idea of Mom and Dad living there. Right now Dad walks only on our tiny street. He used to do the three mile walk to the shopping center, but now he feels like it’s too dangerous for him. After they move, he’ll be able to walk all around the retirement complex, as well as on the trail behind the club house.

After that, we went shopping for a couple of hours. I got a little black jacket and some new jeans.

That night was my brother’s 20th high school reunion so he was off fairly early. I saw a couple of friends over the next couple of days, and then Monday morning my brother and I got coffee. We hadn’t had the chance to hang out one on one before then, and he was leaving that afternoon. It was nice catching up and chatting.

That afternoon, after he left, it hit me that I was leaving the next morning, and I still had work to do as well as packing and cleaning up. But I was stressed out only for a couple of hours before I got everything organized.

The next morning, although I was exhausted, getting to the airport went smoothly. Security however took a year. I thought I’d be tagged for TSA pre-check like on my way in, but I wasn’t. The line seemed like all old people. They were SO SLOW getting their stuff ready for the scanner.

By the time I got through, I had only half an hour before boarding, enough time to pee and buy a coffee and water. Luckily Mom gave me some food, including a roast pork bun, which I inhaled.

The flight was full but since it was Virgin, it didn’t feel as cramped. The lady next to me had B.O., but she was very nice. After we landed I kept running into her: at baggage claim, on the BART.

Oh yeah. When I first boarded, my seat mate, not the lady another guy, was in my seat arranging his shit. I let him I was waiting, and he said, “Just a minute,” and then stood there getting out his headphones. Meanwhile I’m blocking the aisle and there’s a whole line of people behind me.

I was like, seriously dude? You can’t move in and do that? I said, “There’s a whole line of people waiting,” and he very reluctantly let me in.


The lady behind me was like, “That’s very kind of you,” and these two older men across the aisle smiled at me like, “You go girl.”