Another death

I was at the airport this evening waiting to board my flight back to New York when I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed on my phone to discover that a former colleague’s wife had died earlier this month from lung cancer. She had never smoked in her life. This colleague isn’t just any colleague; he was one of the hiring managers at my last company who decided I was smart enough to work on his team, and so he hired me. The same year I was hired in 2009, he got married. I even remember contributing to their wedding gift from our company. I just can’t believe that just six years and one son later, his wife is gone. They weren’t even married a decade.

As soon as I read his very brief but sincere post announcing his wife’s passing, I felt choked up and had to catch my breath. He posted a photo of her posing from their wedding day, and I felt sick to my stomach. Now, he has to go through life without the love of his life, the mother of their only child, and has to raise this son all on his own.

I haven’t spoken to him since he left my last company, so I felt weird reaching out to him, but I did anyway. I feel sick when I think of all the potential negative things that could face me in the future; there are too many bad things to think about, so I try not to do it. But sometimes I think, losing Ed and the way in which I lost him was so bad that maybe I could face anything now. And perhaps everyone who loses someone so dear them is bonded through their shared despondency. We’re all bonded through our losses.

“Is your friend a king or something?”

I’m spending the next couple of days in Tampa for a work trip, and my friend’s friend, who lives in the area, invited me over for dinner with his wife, their one-year-old son and 13-year-old dog. It was a really enjoyable evening spent eating, catching up about life, and giggling with and kissing their incredibly enthusiastic and intelligent baby.

On the drive to Lutz, my Uber driver was talking about his life in Tampa, working as an IT worker, not making much money, but working as an Uber driver to earn extra income. We pulled into a gated community where my friend lives, and my driver had to not only get his face and driver’s license photographed, but he had to announce who he was, who he was seeing, and how long he intended on staying as my driver. When we arrived at my friend’s house, which in all honesty resembled a replica castle complete with a footbridge entrance over a moat, the driver exclaims, “Is your friend a king or something? This house is definitely something!” I thanked him for the ride, got out of his car, and immediately felt bad. He hated his job, didn’t think he earned enough money so took a second job as a driver, and had to drive me, some random tech girl on a business trip, to an area he was unfamiliar with to visit my friend and his castle. Great. I became so painfully aware of the separation between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, and my own privileges then.

My friend’s friend owns a video game company, so he is obsessed with all things gaming related. Each room of his house is themed after a different warrior, and his formal living room space has coats of armor and medieval style lights and tapestries. In the master bedroom, they have a large wooden axe that is mounted above their bed. Their mischievous one-year-old has unlocked every freaky thing in their house and has even climbed up the bed post in an attempt to get the axe. I wonder how they don’t think this entire house could potentially be a death trap of wooden axes and coats of armor and swords.

This friend told me that he bought this house during the economic downturn five years ago when no one was buying, and homes were being sold for less than 60 to 70 percent of their actual value. And because it was only partially finished, he got to custom design the undone spaces and rooms to his exact preferences. It’s his dream home at a fraction of what the real cost should have been.

“I know it doesn’t seem like it, but we’re really, really cheap,” my friend says while the three of us are enjoying ice cream in one of their common areas.

“Yeah, you can tell that to the Uber driver who took me here,” I responded, laughing. “He’ll really believe that!”

It was only just a dream

I had another night of poor sleep. This time, I had nightmares of flashes of light over Ed’s bed. I was back trying to sleep in my bed in San Francisco, but I couldn’t. And I kept looking over at Ed’s bed. It was like something or someone was moving in his bed, and all these different colored lights kept flashing constantly over his bed. A figure is moving in the bed, but I can’t make out a face. I get stressed and my heart starts palpitating, and I start screaming. A piercing siren sound breaks through the air, and I feel like I am going deaf. My scream seems to stop the flashing lights, and everything goes black. Then I wake up at 3:30am in my bed here in New York, and I’m alone and realize I’m actually not in San Francisco. I am still screaming. There were no colored lights flashing, and in fact, I was never even in San Francisco at all to see them shining over Ed’s bed.

It was all just a bad dream. It was only just a dream.

Bridal and bachelorette scrapbook

I spent almost all of today working on my bridal shower and bachelorette scrapbook. I saved all the cards, written memories shared during the shower, and even some of the wrapping paper and ribbon used to wrap my bridal shower gifts to compile this scrapbook using the memory book my friends got me. I’ve realized a big reason that scrapbooking can be so stressful; it forces me to hoard and save what most people generally will just throw away. So not only do I have to save a lot of “junk” and discardable material, but I have to organize it in such a way that it’s kept neat and in a certain order so I remember the timeline for the events in the order that they happened.

I finished it, though – 22 pages of documented events over the course of three days. I put a lot of work and thought into it, and I’m keeping it for myself as a treasure book of what my loved ones did for me.

Queens Out of the Darkness Walk

This morning, I participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Out of the Darkness Community Walk in Queens. I won’t be in town for the Manhattan walk, so I decided to fundraise and participate in the Queens walk this year. As expected, there was no comparison regarding the two boroughs in terms of size and turnout; last year, Manhattan had over 500 registered walkers; this year, Queens had only 198. The turnout for the Manhattan one was huge last year. It almost felt like a massive festival, complete with huge amounts of refreshments and even live music. Given the proximity of Battery Park to the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan walk even attracts a lot of tourists to either come and donate or participate in the walk ad hoc. Astoria Park in Queens is certainly less of a tourist destination, but it actually felt more community like there today. A group of family and friends even set up a barbeque and offered free grilled food to walkers and other participants.

Including a corporate match from Chris’s company, I raised $3,630, which was 180% of my original goal for this year, and I was ranked number 1 for fundraising in Queens. The Queens borough goal for the walk this year was $19,000, but unfortunately, it looks like we raised only about $8,000. The director and organizer of the walk asked me when I arrived if I wanted to say a few words, but I was so caught off guard that my name was the only name on the Top Fundraiser banner and that I wasn’t asked to prepare anything beforehand, so I declined. I did take home the banner, though.

This year like last, I had mixed emotions taking part in the walk and the fundraiser. The cynical and negative side of me just thinks that not many people really care and want to make a difference. But I raised even more money this year than I did last. I am grateful for it, but at the end of the day, it’s money. The cynical side of me thinks about Ed and how he isn’t here anymore, and the walk is a reminder to me that his presence is gone. I’ll never see or feel him again, and it really fucking hurts, some days more than others. As each year passes, I will probably reveal more and more about him and my perspective on his life. A number of people have commented how courageous it is to share such detail, but frankly speaking, I probably wouldn’t have gotten as many donations or as much money if I didn’t; one person even told me this when he donated a significant three-digit sum. People don’t relate to generic messages about change or making a difference or helping those in need with their multitude of needs; they relate to real human experiences and feelings. To be human, we need to share our experiences.

It’s still hard for me to share the details especially in spoken word in person, but it’s easier for me to write it down and share it that way because writing comes more naturally to me. I don’t have to see anyone’s face or grimaces or flinches or judgments when I write it down and disseminate my message. Those who care even a bit can read it; those who don’t care at all can ignore it, and they can go burn in hell. And it’s clear to me that other people feel the same; they don’t really want to talk to me openly about it. They’ll give me comments like, “Great job on reaching your goal!” or, “Good cause to support!” but it won’t have any real feeling or emotion in it. I don’t mind that much. I’m trying to accept a little more each day that emotions are hard for people to grapple with. But I want to live in a world where we can be open with each other, even and especially when it hurts, because that’s when we reveal the most about ourselves and are the rawest and most genuine. As Ed said in his wish to me, I want to live a life of meaning, not one that is just going through generic stages of life and passing through as though on a train to nowhere.

I really miss Ed, but I do hope that he is out there somewhere looking at what I am doing today and cracking a small smile that I’m attempting to help others in his name in a tiny way.

I don’t know why, but in the last week, I thought about the only stanza of a poem I’ve managed to memorize and still commit to memory to this day since I was 13 – it is the final stanza of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem “Annabel Lee.” It goes like this:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
   Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
   In her sepulcher there by the sea—
   In her tomb by the sounding sea.
The first part, “for the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams” kind of reminds me of my brother now when I think of this stanza. I guess it’s because it’s saying through life and through everything that happens, he’s still there with me and I can still feel him, just as the beautiful Annabel Lee is always with Poe despite dying prematurely.

South Indian in Curry Hill

Tonight, I met with Chris’s cousin’s friend from Melbourne who is doing grad studies at NYU, her friend from Melbourne who is interning temporarily at the Council for Foreign Relations, and my good friend for dinner at a restaurant that specializes in South Indian cuisine in the Curry Hill area of Manhattan. I’ve made a number of South Indian dishes, including masala dosa and appam, and these were things that were on the menu tonight. I ordered the kal dosa, which according to Chris’s mother is the most basic everyday dosa eaten by Indian families in South India. Chris’s cousin’s friend ordered the appam, not because she actually remembered it but because she vaguely thought she had the dish before and wanted to make sure she remembered it, as the last time she’d had it was in South India visiting relatives. I was curious to see how it tasted since I’d never had it or even seen it on any restaurant menu ever. I took a piece of her appam and was a little confused and almost even disgusted when I tasted it; it was sour, which made sense because the batter is fermented, but it was too sour. I’d had it the very first time when Chris’s mother and aunt made it for a Christmas Eve dinner, and after that, I replicated it myself here twice. It’s supposed to taste coconuty because the batter has coconut and rice, but this appam had zero coconut flavor. It was salty and very sour. I was so disappointed. And it looked so pretty, too, so it was obviously made in the right style pan.

And then it hit me: I think I’m a better Indian chef than the people who work in the Anjappar kitchen in Curry Hill, and I’m not even Indian. I was able to replicate the flavor of a real appam better than the Anjappar cooks could. I had a brief moment of smugness that I had to hide and keep to myself.


A colleague and I went out to lunch today, and we were chatting about our relationships with our parents and how we oftentimes feel guilty. Of course, this colleague is a woman because it seems that only women are programmed to feel guilt when it comes to parents from what I have heard. She explained to me that because her mother never had a formal education (just like mine), she felt like there were a lot of things she just could not understand or appreciate because of it. “I don’t know what to call that,” my colleague said. “I know it sounds terrible, but it’s like I like cultural things, and she just lacks culture?”

It does sound terrible, but I could really relate to what she was saying. As another friend and I recently discussed, one of the reasons that my own parents cannot appreciate what you gain and learn from travel, whether it’s domestic or international, is that they don’t understand how or why it would be beneficial for one’s life. To them, it is a way to brag that you are rich and have money and can afford to travel. What’s there to learn while traveling? Why would it be important to learn about cultures other than one’s own, to be familiar with other languages and customs in other places, or to see how people different from yourself live life? These concepts are foreign to my parents, and they don’t see how it can benefit someone. But these beliefs are theirs because they’ve never been really exposed to other people in large droves who do appreciate these things and understand what the value is, and frankly, you are more likely to be exposed to this if you are around people who went to college, got degrees, and perhaps even did higher levels of education. My parents’ lack of education is partly the reason they think the way they do about little luxuries and international travel. They’ve never had friends or colleagues who have embraced these things, so that didn’t help, either. Our peers really influence the choices that we can make.

My mom never had the opportunity to go to college. She never had a formal education in Vietnam, and when she came here, she got the equivalent of a high school degree and started working right away because she had no other choice… well, other than to bear the wrath of my grandmother, who hated her because she was Vietnamese and not Chinese. My dad could have finished college, but he never liked school and was never that good at it, so he didn’t. I’ve had privileges that my parents never had, and I’m grateful for it. I wish they would be able to see that my life choices in travel are not wasteful and a sunk cost in terms of money spent. But I can never teach them why travel is a good thing and not just a selfish, flaunting thing to do. Only experience can teach them that.

Anonymous donor

In the last month, I’ve managed to raise $3,170 for my AFSP donor drive. A match donation from Chris’s company is still pending, but that would increase the total amount of money raised to $3,470. That’s way more money than I thought I would raise, especially in the second year I’ve done this community walk. Two strangers have donated to my drive, including my cousin’s friend and Chris’s colleague. And a third person, who will remain unknown, donated $50 to my drive and has not revealed his or her identity to me. I e-mailed this person to say thank you and asked if s/he could let me know who s/he was, and there was no response.

Maybe sometimes, it’s not always a bad thing to be the anonymous charitable person. It keeps the hope alive when there seems to be little to none.

Pumpkin spice season

There are lots of opportunities to hate in life, and one of the seemingly “trendy” things to hate on is the beginning of pumpkin spice season during the autumn every year. Every year as September nears, there’s a large group of people across this country who get really excited that their beloved “PSL” (also known as Starbucks’s pumpkin spice latte) will be available at their nearest Starbucks location. Trader Joe’s restocks their shelves with what seems to be over one hundred different “pumpkin spice” flavored items. And as all these events start happening as the temperatures cool and the winds grow a bit stronger, the hate begins yet again.

In my Facebook feed, Twitter feed, and in the Wellesley Alums Foodies group I belong to on Facebook, there will be at least one person every year for the last several years who will slam pumpkin spice and pumpkin everything, claiming they are sick of it, hate it, can’t stand it, and “can’t wait for this season to be over.” I don’t really get it. It’s not as though the people who love it are forcing it down the throats of people who do not. Where does all this anger originate from? How does one person’s craving or love for a certain flavor affect the haters out there? Can’t we all just like what we like and let go what others love? I can’t remember the last time I hated on someone’s love for ketchup, as this person even enjoyed slathering it on his white rice (yes, this person does exist).

Autumn has come

This morning, I stepped out of the apartment at about 9am, and with just a shirt and a thin cardigan on, I actually felt cold. Oh, dear. That’s a sign that autumn has finally come to New York. It’s late September now, so I shouldn’t be surprised. Lucky for me, I brought a thin scarf to keep light and warm. Walking the streets of Manhattan, I noticed that so many people had even broken out their boots, scarves, and even peacoats. I saw more browns and deep reds and other dark colors than I’d seen since last winter. The sheer sight of all this was borderline depressing.

While I do like fall fashions and the coziness of scarves and big oversized turtlenecks, cold weather is so depressing to me. I like walking around the city without multiple layers and scarves and hats that weigh me down. I just want to feel light and airy and free. That’s not how autumn and winter clothing feels — it’s restricting and even stifling at times.

This is why I need summer again.