I’ve been addicted to Ken Follett for the last month or so. I began reading his historical fiction novel Fall of Giants last month, and that quickly became an obsession that led me to not only finish that monstrosity of an audio book (over 40 hours of listening – God bless walking and subway commutes, as well as lunchtime walks), but also to reach part four of four of the second book in the century trilogy, Winter of the World. While Book 1 goes over the period of WWI, this second book goes over WWII in every majorly affected country. We learn in great detail how Nazi Germany affected the day to day lives of everyday people, from the methods that were used in hospitals to dispel the country of everyone who was in any way disabled, crippled, or elderly, to the killings of innocent people who merely wanted to speak out loud. It’s like as I am reading this book, I can feel the pain that they are feeling, and when people are beaten to death by the Gestapo or die as civilians during the attack on Pearl Harbor, I become grief-stricken and tear up myself.
The world in which we live is not perfect. It’s quite far from it, especially when events like school shootings become an everyday current event when I look at Google News. But maybe what we live in is not so bad when we realize that the concept of a world war is so foreign to us, and known to us only through textbooks or historical fiction novels like this one. We’re really lucky in a lot of ways that we take for granted. This book reminds me of it.
I’m on the phone with my dad this evening, and in the midst of our conversation, he awkwardly asks, “Are you trying to lose weight?” No, I respond. Why do you ask? He then explains that my cousin in San Jose and his wife came over for dinner with my parents and aunt, and my cousin told my dad that I had a “weight problem” and was trying to lose weight. My dad, in his awkwardly cute and defensive way, exclaims to him, “Yvonne doesn’t have a weight problem! We just saw her last week and she’s still skinny!”
About a month ago, my cousin told me he and his wife were trying to lose weight, as they’d visibly gained a lot of weight together since they got married five years ago. I told him supportively that I also changed my workout habits last year and started reducing my lunch portion size in an effort to get more toned and fit last year. My intention in telling him this was to be supportive and let him know that getting in shape was possible as long as he put in some reasonable effort. However, I’m no longer in that mode anymore, but still am trying to keep up my workout regimen (struggling because of the cold, but hey, we all need a hiatus…). Somehow, that got translated into “Yvonne has a weight problem and is still trying to lose weight.” This is why telling my extended family anything will always get me into trouble.
One of my goals this year is to learn and read more history, and One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China, is on my reading list. I just picked it up at the library yesterday and began reading it today. It’s reminded me of a number Chinese proverbs and sayings I learned while studying Mandarin Chinese in college (chi ku, or “eating bitterness,” is a very common one), as well as how Chinese philosophy is probably one of the most obvious reasons for a lot of the stupid beliefs my family has had – e.g., “emotions damage your body” (therefore, don’t show them!), “too much happiness hurts your spleen” (well, wouldn’t this explain a lot), and “suppress, suppress, suppress” (this should go without explanation). It’s almost like these philosophies pave the way to a miserable life. Or, maybe that’s just my white-washed American side speaking.
Last night when we came home, Chris was reading the news online and informed me that a Malaysia Airlines flight completely lost connection. The plane was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and all signal was lost somewhere over Vietnam. The news said that 239 people were on this flight, including the flight crew. I immediately felt this sick sinking sensation in my stomach. And since then, whenever I can, I am refreshing BBC and Google News to see if there are any updates.
The news has already reported that about 80% of the passengers’ “next of kin” have been contacted. Family and friends have even gone to both locations’ airports to congregate for support and the latest news. It reminded me of when my mom told me that Ed was missing and how scared and helpless I felt. All of these people on that plane have people who love them but can’t do anything to help. And it’s just a matter of time that we find out whether they are still alive (doubtful at this point) or dead in some ocean, body of water, or forest. The pain they are feeling is something I am acutely aware of. The worst thing is when the only thing you can really do is wait – wait for news of an outcome that you have absolutely zero control over.
This morning, I had a phone interview with a mentoring organization to which I applied. One question I was asked pertained to how I would handle a situation in which I was assigned to a mentee who came from a very different ethnic/socioeconomic background, who may have spoken another language as a first language, and who also may have zero common interests with me.
I had to think about it for a second, but I suppose I expected a question like this based on what I was told during the initial training session. My general response was this: human beings tend to point out and recognize differences first; it’s almost ingrained in our brains. If you are white sitting in a room, and a black person walks in, the first thing your mind subconsciously registers is, “That person is black. That person does not look like me.” You aren’t aware of it. It’s just how your mind works. Our real challenge is to put all that type of thinking aside and realize that as much as we think we are all different, we are really all the same. We all are human beings who breathe and have hearts that beat. We all were born and raised onto the same earth under the same sky. We all have parents in some form, whether by blood or not, and these are all the things that bond us. All of us have relationships – parents, siblings, cousins, friends, teachers – whatever they are, that we could then share and discuss. These are things that we do share that bond us. It’s just up to us how we want to use that to get closer and know each other better.
Your parents will likely be the most honest people you will ever know – at least, honest when it comes to what they think of and how they perceive you. Sometimes, you will love it, and other times (maybe most times) even hate it, but let’s face it – they’re probably doing it because they know that no one else has the guts to be as blunt. When you have crappy grades, they will remind you to work harder. You, in turn, will resent them and curse under your breath. When the guy you love dumps you and they tell you that they saw it coming ages ago, you will cry and want to hate them. And when they tell you that you are getting older and can see the age on your face, you will give them a look like, “great, I already knew that, but I was hoping no one else could see it!” That was me last week.
My mom was reminding me that I am 28, and I will turn 29 next year (yes, I know how to count, Mommy). You’re not getting any younger, she said (I don’t believe anyone is?). And then comes the very hated yet anticipated “when are you getting engaged/married” discussion, where she basically tells me that as I am getting older and my face shows it, men won’t want to marry me once I get past 30. So much for Sex and the City changing the genuine perspectives of this world.
I don’t look that bad, do I?
So I booked this trip for my parents, Chris, and I to go to Phoenix in April to see the Grand Canyon. We have one day completely dedicated to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, but we have 1.5 days where we have nothing planned yet. I’m really trying to keep in mind things my parents would not like to do or eat (you have to eliminate a lot to get to what my parents are willing to do). Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is right in the area in Scottsdale, so I sent the link to my dad and asked if he or my mom would be interested. His e-mail reply: “She’s not interested in seeing anything. She’s suffering from depression!” Well, guess what… I booked this trip for all of us to enjoy the area and see as much as possible, so as much as you would like for us to sit in the hotel and do nothing all day, I’m not going to allow that to happen. So I’m booking this event for us, and they’re just going to have to come along whether they want to whine about it or not.
The trouble with having parents (or, a parent) who want to see the worst in everything and everyone is that they, without knowing it, really prevent you from actually enjoying things. Even the littlest and most trivial events or plans become massive problems and causes of pain.
I was just added to an e-mail chain at work of women in the office who are either vegetarian or part-time vegetarian. They were discussing getting tofu burritos at Chipotle next week. I love tofu. I love burritos. But the idea of them together just sounds wrong. Maybe I am just a taco/burrito purist. I also do not like Chipotle, and in Manhattan would take Dos Toros a million times over Chipotle (too bad there’s no Dos Toros near my office). I’m fine with the part-time vegetarianism; I would think almost all of us are “part-time” vegetarians without even realizing it. I rarely eat meat at breakfast (it’s hard to combine a slab of meat with my morning grapefuit…), and a lot of lunches I have don’t even have meat. I just never thought to label it as that. Maybe I am also part-time vegan, part-time gluten free, and part-time anti-wheat?
Every time I visit home, I can expect that my dear mom, because she loves me so much, will try to pack as much food and gifts as possible that will fit into my luggage and carry-on bag. Some of this stuff would be packaged and thus easy to pack, liked green tea or dried shiitake mushrooms, but others are actually for immediate consumption – grape tomatoes, avocados, oranges, and even takeout dim sum (this time, it was six ha gow, six siu mai, four zhong, four cha siu bao, and three lao po bing). I’m probably the only passenger who ever gets on an SFO > JFK flight with that much fresh food in their carry-on backpack. In reference to the cha siu bao or zhong, my mom says, “It’s better made here!” Or in reference to the avocados or oranges, she exclaims, “they’re cheaper in San Francisco than in New York!” That’s how much my mom loves me. She wants me to constantly eat to my heart’s content, especially when she is not there to feed me.
So the oddest thing I brought back this time around was a bottle of Endless Youth Beautiful Skin Complex daily multivitamins. No, my mom was not duped into buying these; they were actually mistakenly delivered to one of my dad’s rental properties along with some Wen hair products, so my mom took them home and decided to keep some, give some to her friends, and then give me the bottle of vitamins. While having all the usual vitamins that a regular multivitamin is supposed to have, it also claims to have “healthy skin support.” So before I decided to start taking them, Chris has me look them up, and apparently when Googled, you find this under “rip off reports,” for giving you a free sample bottle in exchange for signing up for a monthly supply, and then making it nearly impossible for you to unsubscribe. I guess it’s not a very honest business.
I don’t understand why it’s the cool thing now to wear shirts that are sliding off one’s shoulder, or big geeky glasses with hyper-red colored hair. And I get even more weirded out when I go to a restaurant that is in Queens (Astoria specifically), and get served a gouda cheese, black bean hummus and guava jam sandwich that costs $10 by people who are dressed like this. If “hipsters” are really trying to rebel against mainstream culture, they would not be charging me $10 for a sandwich I could have made on my own for probably less than $1 and then challenging me to almost wait for a seat to sit down. What they are really doing by charging this much is saying, “I want to seem cool and different, but the reality is that I’m a capitalist and want to make just as much money as you Wall Street types (and my type… what IS my type? ‘Yuppie’ because I earn my own salary and don’t struggle to buy my next meal and actually do save money – in other words, an independent, responsible adult ) do.” Hipsters in Brooklyn, I will accept. Hipsters in Queens, the borough I used to call home – it’s a bit harder for me to swallow.