Thanksgiving 2015

I spent Thanksgiving this year traveling with Chris east on a Swiss rail train from Geneva to Zurich in the morning, then wandering through the old town of Zurich and its Christmas markets through the afternoon and evening. As we walked through this beautiful city, I thought about all the Thanksgivings in my past.

The last time I was home for Thanksgiving was November 2003, my senior year of high school. That seems like a hundred years ago even though it was just 12 years ago. Those were the days when my cousins, Ed, uncle, and I would have a Thanksgiving meal together, mostly prepared by my oldest cousin and me. Some sides would be brought over by my uncle, some crappy leftover food and chips from my second oldest cousin and his wife, who were always in a rush to leave our dinner to go to the wife’s family’s dinner in Vallejo, and a turkey that was painstakingly made by my oldest cousin. For some reason, we never called turkey gravy “gravy,” and instead my cousin insisted on calling it “au jus.” I don’t really get that even until today, but maybe that was his attempt at sounding fancy.

Family Thanksgivings for me are sadly a thing of the past. After I graduated from college and started earning an income where flying cross country to go home during a “peak” season wouldn’t break the bank, I realized I had little desire to go home during that period anyway. We were a broken family. The only reason I ever thought even for a second of going home was because I always felt bad about not seeing Ed that day, and his not having a “family” to have Thanksgiving with. After a while, the cousins stopped getting together, which meant my uncle stopped coming, which finally meant Ed had no one that day. Guilt is pretty much built into our DNA. Before he passed away, I thought, maybe I could go home for Thanksgiving in 2014, or he could come here, and we could have a meal together once again. Well, that never happened. I was too late.

“Experts” always say in those articles about grieving that everyone grieves on their own timeline, that it can take months to years to decades to let go of the regrets you have about things you wish you had done or not done or said or not said to those who have passed. That is all true. It’s hard to think of a major holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas and not think about my brother, which then leads me to wonder what else I could have done to have helped him. It’s futile since nothing will bring him back, but I always think about it anyway. He loved turkey, especially the dark meat, and we both loved the canned cranberry sauce we grew up with. It would be really great to have a Thanksgiving meal with him once again. Now it can only happen in dreams.

United Nations Geneva

This morning, we visited the United Nations Geneva for a tour. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I still haven’t visited the UN in New York for a tour even though I have lived here for over seven years, but at least I can somewhat make up for it by visiting the second largest UN here in Geneva. As we waited for our English tour to begin, I watched as one of the UN employees, who initially sounded like he was French, speak in completely fluent Mandarin Chinese with a Chinese man and woman. They discussed intensely the need to know many languages regardless of what country you are in, as it would always come in handy. And in this case, working at the UN, of course it wouldn’t be surprising to meet people who speak two, three, four, even five languages. I’m sure a number of UN employees could even know all six official UN languages.

It reminded me of one of my colleagues with whom I work closely. One day, we were talking about a lot of random things, and we talked about how even when we are speaking the same language, we can oftentimes misinterpret what the other is saying. Communication is best in person since written word’s tone can so often be misunderstood and misinterpreted, but then if you don’t even speak the same language, it would be even more difficult. “If I had a super power, I’d want to be able to speak every single language,” my colleague said. “Then, I’d be able to communicate with everyone and understand everyone better!”

It would be amazing to speak every single language in the world. But the more I think about it, being able to speak different languages also means that you need to understand all of the cultures that they come from, which is a huge, daunting challenge in itself. You cannot really truly learn an language in a language silo. Colloquialisms that are unique to each language reveal nuances of cultures that we may not consciously think about, but these nuances are key to understanding people who come from cultures different than ours. Learning the language is one step closer to understanding, but learning the culture is the next.

Patek Philippe watches

We spent our first full day exploring Switzerland by foot today in Geneva. Despite what a few people have told us regarding their thoughts on Geneva, I really enjoyed it, especially the views from the top of St. Peter’s Cathedral, where you could see Lake Geneva, a view of the entire skyline of the city, and of course, the famous jet d’eau in the middle of the lake.

One place I wanted us to visit was the Patek Philippe Museum, which is a watch museum devoted to the history of Patek Philippe watches and time pieces, and the work and intricacies that go into watch and clock making. I wasn’t sure what I would think of the museum and if it would be more for watch fanatics rather than people like me who just like the way they look and wanted to learn more about the history of watches, but this ended up being one of my favorite things we did in Geneva. We saw the most sophisticated watches I’ve ever seen in my life at this museum, and they show you small videos where you can see the mechanisms that go into each part of a watch and how they control each movement. Each feature, as the exhibit describes, is called a “complication.” Whereas in real life, we think of complications as negative things, in the watch making world, “complications” are another intricate component to a watch that makes the watch more unique and multifacted.

One of the most ornate watches, in addition to of course showing the time, also depicted Moses knocking rocks with a big stick, which would then release water. One mechanism controlled Moses moving his arms to hit the rocks. Another mechanism controlled the water flowing. An additional one controlled people around him drinking the water. And if that wasn’t enough, there were even more mechanisms on the exact same pocket watch that controlled what looked like angels moving around.

Another peculiar thing I learned at the museum was that in the 1600-1700s, it was very posh for the well-to-do in Europe to have little pocket watches custom designed and hand-painted to depict nude women either touching themselves or touching each other. I wonder if these people actually used these for masturbation purposes. It’s amazing how times have changed if this is the case because I never would have thought to use a pocket watch for that purpose.

Golden Pass panoramic route

After an uncomfortable overnight flight in economy class, we landed in Zurich this morning and boarded a scenic train going west towards Geneva. We chose the Golden Pass panoramic route, which is definitely not the fastest route to Geneva, but the most scenic given its path that is literally through mountains, streams, little waterfalls, sleepy and snowy  mountain villages, and endless little ponds and big lakes.

Two years ago when we spent our Thanksgiving week in Germany, we did one of the most memorable museum visits I’ve ever done and went to the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, which is the biggest model railroad in the world. Miniatur Wunderland has some of the most life-like models of different parts of the world, including Switzerland. The Switzerland exhibit depicts trains coming in and out of mountains and riding along the edges of them. It’s quite ominous when you watch the little miniature trains seemingly scaling mountains. But as I found out today, this depiction is 100 percent real and accurate. There were moments riding the train today when it felt like we were on the edge of mountains and any second, we could have slid off the tracks and fallen to our deaths. But no, this didn’t happen. The Swiss rails are reliable and incredibly safe, and we had the most beautiful views during our entire train ride, which lasted pretty much the entire day. After a while, we realized it was too silly to keep snapping photos, and we put our phones and cameras down and just enjoyed the views for what they were.

Oftentimes when you see photos of cities and countries in postcards, you often think that a lot of photo editing was probably done, especially when it comes to depictions of sunsets, sunrises, and mountains. With Switzerland, it seems that everything here is fitting of a “postcard” image. Riding along the Golden Pass train and walking through its cities and towns feels like you are going through a real life postcard, except you know that this is real life in front of your eyes, and this is not made up or Photoshopped. It’s just that gorgeous here.


Shortly after the attacks in Paris, I read an article about how Madonna almost cancelled one of her concerts out of respect for those who were affected by the Paris attacks. Instead, she decided to move forward with the performance, stating that that is what the terrorists want us to do — stop performing, stop singing, stop going out to eat and dance and see theater and enjoy life. They want us to live in fear, she said, and that is not what we will do. We will move forward with our lives and enjoy life because we deserve that. I watched a video of her saying all this in stage, and she delivered this speech in the midst of tears and visible pain and empathy for Paris and all who died. It was really moving to watch.

She’s right. They want us to be afraid and stop living the lives we want. That’s why my mom told me to stop flying and going out at night. She is scared by the terrorism and is falling for what they want us to do. It’s okay to be afraid. But it’s not okay to let our fear paralyze us. A life lived in fear is really no life at all. I always think about the quote I used during my welcoming speech at my middle school commencement that Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Always do what you are afraid to do.” We need to live the lives we want to live, not a life controlled by fear of others or forces out of our control.

Not to be morbid, but say one day I were to die during my travels or in flight somewhere. At least I would have died doing and experiencing something I loved.

Birthday brunch and babies

Today, we went to my semi new friend’s birthday brunch, where we learned that she is four months pregnant with her second child, which will be a girl. At the brunch were a number of new parents with babies who were anywhere from two years to three- or four-months old. This was an adult brunch, so the babies were left at home with either their other parents or grandparents.

As I am about to enter my thirties, I realize that friends I inevitably will end up making will be pregnant, have children, and already be well past the stage of being single, or engaged and getting married and planning weddings. We sat at brunch and listened to three different parents discussing their lack of sleep, parenting and babies how-to books and the techniques they were learning. I tried to follow along and show interest, but the more I listened, the more ill I felt. Is this really my future — having babies and discussing over two hours the ins and outs of experimenting on different “get your baby to sleep quickly” methods? I sympathize with their lack of sleep and desire to seek advice and tips from the others. I think every parent needs some sort of official or unofficial support group to get through parenthood, especially when the babies are so young that they can’t communicate their feelings with you.

The funny and fitting thing was that when we came home, Chris turned on Everybody Loves Raymond, and the episode was when Debra and Raymond go out to celebrate an anniversary, and they realize they have absolutely nothing to talk about other than their kids. That’s really one of my absolute nightmares, that I will turn into one of those parents who can only talk about her kids. I even hear new parents say that and catch themselves blabbering on and on about their own kids. I admire even more parents who have young children and are able to keep an active social life and career and have opinions and activities outside of parenting and children. It’s literally a very, very full calendar for them.


Tonight, a friend and I had a disagreement, which completely got blown out of proportion because we were lazy and decided to debate back and forth over text rather than just call each other and talk it out. Part of the reason for this was that I was in transit from one location to another and took the subway, so it would have been impossible for me to call her, but the longer the disagreement went on, the more ridiculous and futile I realized it was becoming. In the end, it all got resolved, but it just further proves how poorly tone comes across in writing rather than over voice or in person. We’re products of the technology age, though, so our laziness to not call each other is partially due to our heavy reliance on speaking through machines rather than being human beings and using our voices.

But the more I thought about it, the more I’ve realized that it’s not just technology that has made us more distant and prone to not understanding each other. It’s the fact that we rarely have deep discussions about really important topics, whether it’s current events, our opinions on life values, etc. It’s frustrating because then you realize that this person who you think is supposed to be close to you doesn’t really know you at all. And what is equally bad is that you don’t really know her, either.

I guess that’s why a lot of friendships don’t stand the test of time, especially when they may relocate and move to areas far away for work, family, or some other reason, and they meet other people and their lives and values evolve. We get sucked into the thought that we don’t have time to invest in the people who are not convenient for us to talk to or be near, and then gradually, friendships start fading away. We meet other people who are more in physical proximity to us who may be at similar life stages, and we end up bonding and growing with them instead.

I am lucky to say that I’ve had friendships that have lasted almost two decades, but I know people who are still best friends with their friends from age four or five. What I always wonder about them is how their friendships may have evolved. Maybe at age five, all you thought you wanted in a friend was someone to play tag with. Then at age ten, you wanted someone you could do math homework with and watch your favorite TV shows Then at age fourteen, you needed someone who was like your Siamese twin, who you thought knew all your darkest secrets and could even complete sentences for you. But at age nineteen, you’ve realized that your best friend who who you thought could be your best friend was “failing” at certain areas. Maybe she no longer knows all your deepest secrets. Maybe she doesn’t share your love of surfing or travel. Maybe she doesn’t know how to empathize with you when you share your family problems and she just tries to throw a blanket over it and say all families are dysfunctional and yours isn’t unique.

But then you meet someone else who does love surfing. You meet another person who listens to you when you are crying about that stupid argument you had with your mom and talks to you like she has gone through the exact same argument with her mom… except you know she definitely didn’t but just is able to convey a deeper understanding of you and your feelings. And that’s okay. Everyone you choose has a reason to be in your life and a different role to play. Not everyone can check off all the things you crave and need in a friend; in fact, no one probably ever will. But as long as they can check off at least a couple of them, then they can be a friend of some sort to you. And that’s enough.

We don’t seem to get this until after adolescence. Some people never get that. I’m still reminding myself this all the time. I wish I knew this when I was a teenager.

Mom’s take on terrorism

I talked to my mom on the phone today, and she asked me if I was aware of the attacks that happened in Paris last week. Of course I know, I said. Everyone knows.

“You’re really lucky that it didn’t happen while you were there,” she said in an admonishing tone. “I’m telling you right now. It’s dangerous to be traveling.”

I reassured her that it didn’t matter where in the world I was because terrorism could happen anywhere, at any time and any place. And lo and behold, New York City has just received ISIS death threats! I had to add in that last part because, well, how can I not be where I live and work?!

“Yes, I know about New York,” she said. “That’s why I told you not to go anywhere at night! It’s dangerous! Just stay home!”

Yes, because terrorists would never think to be out and about, bombing and shooting random people in the morning or during business hours Monday through Friday. They have to wait until the evening when it is dark to start shooting and killing people.

I stopped responding. I need to get better at not responding and just nodding my head.

Quiet night

Tonight has been a quiet night of eating, cooking, letter writing, and Christmas card making. I thought back to the last two Christmases when I didn’t make Christmas cards. Last year, I ran out of time since my dad suddenly had to get heart surgery, so I flew home to be with him. The year before that, I had no desire to make cards since Ed passed away just months before. I didn’t really have the desire to do much of anything then.

I wouldn’t say that things are “back to normal.” “Normal” is a weird word in itself, and the world will never be fully okay to me because he is gone. Sometimes when I am alone, I think about the deep loneliness he felt, and I wonder if I have ever felt even a fraction of the loneliness he experienced. My version of feeling lonely is probably nothing compared to his. My aunt used to tell me that there’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely. Ed was both most of the time. There was no separation of it for him.

I’m doing a lot of the same things again like card making and scrapbooking. I’m also doing new things like volunteering and mentoring since he died. I wonder what he thinks of my life now that he has left.


I am not even 30 yet, yet I have seen a radiologist twice. This is either a sign that a) my gynecologist doesn’t know what she is doing, or b) I just exhibit psychosomatic symptoms. No one wants to see a radiologist. Not even radiologists want to see radiologists. I’d been experiencing weird discomfort in the left side of one of my breasts, and I expressed this to my gynecologist last week. So she had me make an appointment for a second ultrasound. The first one I had was just over two years ago, a few months after Ed passed away.

This time, I went through the same procedure again — filled out forms, explained my symptoms, undressed and put on a sad little gown, and then plopped myself on the examination table and had the assistant gel up my breasts. The assistant Jackie is very chatty with me about New York, weather, and life. But when she is scanning and taking imaging of my left breast, she stops speaking to me and just keeps taking photos on her screen. Her face is suddenly very serious. She cleans me up and says the doctor will be in with me shortly.

She comes back with the doctor, and the doctor discusses the symptoms with me and says I am completely fine. The discomfort I am feeling must be because of hormonal changes in my body, which really are just from getting older.

I didn’t think it was anything serious, but I felt relieved to get my cleared pass to leave and go on with my life. I was reminded of the time a former boyfriend told me about his friend in grad school who was really nervous about getting her first HIV test, and when she tested negative, she threw a huge “I Don’t Have HIV!” party for her friends and friends’ friends. I kind of wondered what it would be like to throw a “I Don’t Have Breast Cancer!” party for my friends.