COVID restrictions ending in New York

This evening, we went to our roof to catch tiny glimpses of the fireworks display further downtown. The New York governor had announced earlier that he was lifting most of the state’s coronavirus precautions after New York reached a 70 percent vaccination threshold. From our roof, we could see bits of the colorful fireworks going up into the air to celebrate the end of COVID-19 restrictions. Back in March 2020, when the COVID restrictions began, who would have ever thought that they would have lasted this long? Granted, I was pretty pessimistic given the orange jerk that was unfortunately in the White House at the time, and I had a feeling COVID would continue full speed ahead killing people around this country through the end of the year. But finally, over 15 months after the restrictions had begun, we’re finally ending them in New York state just over 15 months later.

We survived, I thought to myself, looking at the tiny bits of fireworks from our roof very far away from the center of the display. But unfortunately, 600,000 of our fellow Americans did not. Globally, there have been over 3.82 million people who have died from COVID-19, and who is to say the number of people who died not directly from COVID, but indirectly because they were turned away for supposedly less severe sicknesses at the time. This is definitely going to be a time in our lives we’ll never forget. In the back of my mind, though, I wonder when the next global pandemic will happen, as scientists are anticipating that this is not necessarily going to be a one-off in our lifetime and may become a more regular occurrence.

Although vaccinations are increasing, I’m still disappointed by all the people who still haven’t been vaccinated, as well as the anti-vaxxers who continue to spread fake news about the COVID vaccines. This country still seems so dismal. We cause all our own problems yet cannot seem to learn from it. This is what happens when you don’t study history properly.

What is the point in sharing if it ends in anger?

Since Ed passed away, more and more, I’ve withdrawn information from my mom. I’ve realized that the more I share with her, the more she will get angry about or use against me, or accuse me of “not having wisdom” to make the right choices in life, and so there’s really no point in sharing too much information with her. While I’m not as closed off as Chris is in sharing “on a need to know basis,” I try to limit details with her as much as possible. And of course, she knows this and gets frustrated with this, always ending our short conversations with, “That’s it?” or “You have nothing else to tell me?” but honestly, it’s better for my sanity and for keeping safe boundaries from her.

The most annoying part is that even totally benign, unrelated-to-me topics end up angering her, and then lo and behold, she takes them out on none other than…. me! My paranoid personality disorder, borderline narcissistic mother takes every tiny thing personally and as though it’s an attack on her. She frequently asks how my friend’s baby is doing. I told her that she’s just turned six months and is about to begin eating solid food. In addition to that, she’s already started swim lessons, and she’s not scared of the water at all. My mom had a very strong, negative reaction against this.

“What kind of a stupid thing is that?” she raised her voice. “The baby was just born a few months ago and you want her to go into water? What are they trying to do — KILL HER? In my culture, we never do such stupid things as White people! Your generation just doesn’t have any sense at all!”

Well, that escalated really quickly. And when did this become a showdown regarding Asian vs. White culture????

My mom really has no sense of reality. She’s never been exposed to the fact that the earlier you teach kids something, the better. I mean, that’s probably why she tried to stunt my growth and my brother’s in so many ways in a futile attempt to “protect” us from the outside world. She has no idea that many babies and toddlers learn to swim in controlled, supervised settings, and this actually happens every single day all around the world.

Stupidly as per usual, I tried to explain to my mom that babies live in a water sac for nine months; therefore, water is natural to them, and the earlier they learn, the better. And this is when she REALLY started raising her voice, telling me I had no idea what I was talking about and “just believe what stupid people in this generation believe. But you can do what you want — it’s your life and your future.”

Well, actually, it’s my friend’s kid’s life and my friend’s kid’s future, and if anything, she will be set up to swim well at a young age and never have to endure the insufferably embarrassing experience that I went through, going to public swim lessons at age 15 with a bunch of 3-5-year-olds as my “peers.”

All the “basic” skills that kids are usually taught quite young, and usually by their parents or via lessons, I never had. My parents never taught me how to ride a bike or swim. My dad said I could “teach myself” how to ride a bike (very encouraging, as you can tell), and swimming, well, who needs to learn that? It was all so strange when I started meeting all these other kids who shared that their parents taught them these things or put them in lessons because not only did their parents actually take the time to teach them, but they asked me why my parents never taught me and why I didn’t know how to do all these basic things. It felt very alienating, frustrating, and embarrassing.

To this day, I’m still not fully steady on a bike, and thus there’s no way in hell I’d ever ride a bike on any city street. I’m still scared of deep water and have never properly learned how to breathe during free-style. I hope my future children will have these skills, though, and never be subject to embarrassment because of not knowing soon enough.

Back to “dating”

This evening, I caught up over a vegan dinner downtown with my friend, who is sort of single and sort of not. The recap is that she’s separated and moved out from the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, and though she originally wanted to break up with him, she couldn’t really muster herself up to fully go through with it, so they are on a “break.” In the meantime, she’s been living in another apartment on her own, going on dates she’s been meeting through dating apps, and having the occasional date with… her boyfriend. I’m not really sure “dating” your boyfriend is really what a “break” is, but to each her own.

It’s been interesting to hear about her dating experiences via apps, though, since although I have used an online website for dating once before, I’ve never used any dating app ever. With my friend, her own experience is particularly interesting and comical because in her nearly 35-year-long life, she’s only had two boyfriends, both relationships that lasted at least 9-12 years, so she really has never had much experience “being out there” and playing the field. In the last several weeks, she’s had everything from booty calls to guys sending her essay-long messages, saying that they feared they’d fall too hard for her because of how good looking she is. Both are gag worthy to me, but at least the booty call is straight forward. Who wants an essay long message about how the sender is already emotionally attached before ever actually meeting….? I already wanted to puke in my mouth when I heard that pathetic story.

I really have no idea what I’d do if I were single again and dating. I barely knew what to do with myself when it came to dating the few blocks of time in my life when I was “single.” My general distaste for men and their idiocies would likely render me single for the rest of my life. But hey, that’s probably better than being with some selfish guy who just wants a mommy substitute to do everything for him.

Pistachioland in New Mexico

One of the quirkiest things I found while doing research for our New Mexico trip was the discovery of Pistachioland, which is located in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I wasn’t sure this would be en route to any place we’d be going to, but we happened upon it while on a highway yesterday, and I knew we had to stop in for at least 20 minutes. Pistachioland is known for having the world’s largest pistachio statue; this may not be a particularly difficult feat, as I’m not sure anyone else in the world attempted to outdo this… It also is a piece of land that grows tons and tons of pistachios and sells pistachios in every possible flavor you can imagine, along with other pistachio products.

While there, we not only took our customary pistachio statue photos, but we also did some taste tests of the pistachios on offer. Of course, Chris chose the red chili pistachios to purchase. We were actually shocked that tastings were even possible since we’re technically still living in a pandemic. The shop was being pretty liberal, though, and they had signs saying that if we were fully vaccinated, we didn’t even need to wear our masks. In fact, a lot of shops around New Mexico had signs like this. We also got a Pistachioland magnet to add to our travel magnet board and tried out their pistachio almond ice cream. Unfortunately, it was how I imagined it: artificially colored bright green with very little actual pistachio flavor. Americans really do not show enough love for pistachios the way South Asia, the Middle East, and Italy do.

Pistachios are my favorite nut, so it was exciting to be able to say I’ve been here, though I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit.

Being conditioned to say “no”

“Why do you always say ‘no’ when someone asks you if you want something?” Ed used to ask me, always exasperated and annoyed. “They’ve brainwashed you into never wanting anything. But that’s not normal; everyone wants something from time to time, and it’s okay to want things!”

Occasionally, Ed and I would go shopping together. He very generously took me shopping to purchase my very first prom dress for my junior prom in high school. Ed was always very generous, especially in the years when he was working, and so he’d always offer to buy me things just for the sake of it. There didn’t need to be a birthday or Christmas coming up; he just thought it was good to indulge every now and then. “I don’t pay rent, so might as well use the money to buy you something,” he’d say.

It pains me to remember these moments. All Ed really wanted was love, attention, and our time. Unfortunately, he never got any of the above from our father. Our mother gave him the wrong kind of attention (critical, scrutinizing, eager to compare to “the kids upstairs” aka our cousins).

For whatever reason, I remembered these moments when Chris and I were strolling through the Santa Fe Farmers Market yesterday morning. The farmers market here is famous for being very strict about how all its products are sourced: all of the items or foods either need to be grown and/or made right here in New Mexico. In addition, if it’s a food product, it needs to be certified organic. I stopped by a lavender vendor and perused her lavender based soaps and skin products. Did I really need to buy more soap or lip balm? Not really. But in the moment, I thought, well, I haven’t traveled for so long, and we can always use more soap and lip balm, so why not? Plus, I like supporting small, local businesses. So I purchased a couple items from this vendor and went on my way.

Ed used to hound me all the time for being cheap for myself. And well, it’s not too far from the truth; if I purchase something that isn’t food-related for myself, even to this day, I obsess over whether I really actually need it, even if it’s just a $20 shirt. I will spend at least 4-5 days wondering if I will really wear it enough, get value out of it, etc. I’m just not comfortable splurging on things for myself and I never have been. He’s right, though; it’s likely because our parents 90 percent of the time always said “no” to everything when we were growing up. I even started saying “no” to events with friends before even asking for her permission because I’d be so sure that she’d say no.

The two times I knew she’d never approve of that Ed knew about, which he got really mad at me for: the first time was in middle school, and a good friend of mine was going to get tickets to a concert in San Jose that my all-time favorite singer Mariah Carey was going to be doing. The tickets were around $100, and she asked if I wanted to go; her dad would be taking her. When I heard how expensive the tickets were, I knew my mom would never agree to pay it, so I told her that my mom said no. Ed overheard this phone conversation and lashed out at me after.

“You didn’t even ask!” Ed said, raising his voice. “Who cares if it’s a hundred dollars? She (Mariah Carey) never comes to the Bay Area! You should just go!”

I just shrugged. I told him that there was no way our mom would agree to let me go. In fact, she and our dad would likely get angry and accuse me of being spoiled just for THINKING that they’d even consider letting me to go to an event that cost that much, an event they’d likely deem as “unnecessary.” Everything to them was seemingly unnecessary.

The second time was during my senior year of high school. I had already accepted college admission at Wellesley, and I really had nothing to do the summer after. Two of my friends were planning a Hong Kong and Japan trip that their parents were gifting them as a graduation present that one of my friend’s moms would be going along on, and they asked me if I wanted to go. I knew my mom would say no, so I told them I couldn’t go with them.

I later told Ed this, and he had a similar reaction. “You always do this to yourself!” he said, shaking his head. “You prevent yourself from having fun and enjoying yourself. Just because they don’t want to enjoy life doesn’t mean you can’t.”

I already felt guilt for how much my college education was going to cost; going to Wellesley was going to cost my parents over double what going to UC Berkeley would have cost. My parents never gave me a high school graduation gift; to them, my college tuition was gift enough. My mom was already laying the guilt on heavily on me for deciding to attend a private college on the East Coast, three thousand miles away. My parents were not shy or quiet in the slightest about reminding me every step of they way how much my education was costing them, from the moment they wrote the first check for the deposit to hold my spot there. During one of our many arguments, my mom shrieked at the top of her lungs, “WE HAVE TO EAT LEFTOVERS EVERY NIGHT BECAUSE OF YOU!”

That’s very likely an exaggeration, as my parents were hardly scraping by to send me to college, but it did not feel good to have her say crap like that all the time to me; that was not an isolated incident. I don’t even want to know what my life would have been like every day if our parents decided to send both of us to K-12 private school. I’d likely never hear the end of it.

So I guess every time I buy something that may be perceived as “unnecessary” now, I feel like it’s a small form of rebellion against my parents. They perceive most of my life choices since college as “unnecessary”: all the trips to Australia to see Chris’s family (she actually did say it was unnecessary, if you can believe that), all the travel we’ve done outside of work and San Francisco (going to SF to see them, however, is always necessary), both domestically and internationally; all the apartment living in Manhattan, even my hair highlights.

Small acts of rebellion. I hardly appear like the rebellious type, but it’s easy to “rebel” against rules when the rules are so stupid and insipid.

American portion sizes – when your breakfast burrito is 2.5x the size you anticipated

Our first stop in Albuquerque after landing and dropping off our bags at our hotel was to Sadie’s, a well known New Mexican restaurant that is a bit of an institution. They are known for having classic New Mexican fare, delicious margaritas and other mixed cocktails, as well as massive portion sizes. Chris ordered a beef and queso quesadilla like dish, and I ordered a breakfast burrito since all I could think about food-wise when thinking of New Mexico was breakfast burritos; we also got a side order of the famous green chile stew. It’s debated that either the city of Santa Fe or Albuquerque first invented the concept of a breakfast burrito. Regardless of which city can claim it first, I love breakfast burritos, tacos, and anything resembling them. How could you possibly reject eggs, fried potatoes, salsa, avocado, your choice of bacon, sausage, or Mexican-style meat, all wrapped up neatly in a flour tortilla?

While I knew to anticipate larger portions here, it didn’t really hit me until our server brought our plates over, which came complete with huge side portions of beans and vegetables. My breakfast burrito was likely 2.5 to 3 times the size I had envisioned in my head; there was absolutely NO WAY I was going to finish this all on my own. I made it through half of it while also eating some of Chris’s dish, and we ended up wrapping up a decent portion of food to go. Good thing our hotel room had a refrigerator and microwave for us to store food and eat it later. This would all make a very tasty breakfast the next day.

American portion sizes are always huge when you compare them to food portion sizes across the world, but when you’re in the South or Southwest part of the U.S., they always take portion sizes to the next level!

On a plane again since February 2020

This morning, we woke up bright and early to catch a 6am flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico, via Chicago. I was curious how the experience would be both at the airport and while on the plane, and for the most part, it actually seemed pretty good. There were signs requiring mask-wearing throughout the airport, along with huge vats of hand sanitizer. Upon boarding the plane, we were handed packets of hand sanitizer wipes. And anytime someone was not eating or drinking and had their mask down, a flight attendant was quick to remind the passenger that it was a federal aviation requirement that they needed to have their mask covering both their nostrils and mouth at all times when not eating or drinking. I’d say overall, it was well done.

While the in-flight experience was good, I would say that the pandemic period created a bit of memory loss when it comes to quality customer service for the gate agents. I was on the upgrade list to get to ABQ, and when I walked up to the desk, I asked about the wait list for the first-class upgrades. The agent was really curt and rude, saying that first had already checked in full. I told her I was on the upgrade list, and she said I wasn’t on the list. WHAT!!! She didn’t even know my identity before claiming that I wasn’t on the list! Eventually, I did get upgraded, and I did not thank her when she handed me my new boarding pass. Her crappy service did not deserve thanks.

I felt like I was having a futile and insipid argument with a United flight attendant, except this time, I was having a difficult time with an American Airlines gate agent who failed to recognize my Executive Platinum status and likely drew quick judgments about me merely because of what I looked like. I find it very unlikely that she would have treated me that way if I were a middle-aged or white-haired White man.

Georgia O’Keefe Museum is a no go

Other than breakfast burritos, enchiladas, green chilies, Los Alamos/the Manhattan Project, and Pueblo art and culture, the first thing I think about when I think about New Mexico is the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. I studied 1.5 years of art history, and Georgia O’Keefe is one of the very few modern American artists that I actually liked. She was most famous for her New Mexican landscape and macro flower paintings. She is also, very likely, one of the most respected (and well paid) female artists of all time. And her macro flower paintings… well, they were very very zoomed in, as in, they actually look like vaginas. I love flowers. I also love and appreciate the natural beauty of vaginas. So, it was no surprise that I would like Georgia O’Keefe’s work.

Well, unfortunately because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all museum tickets must be purchased in advance, and when I checked two weeks ago for tickets, they were all sold out until the middle of June. So much for trying to support one of the most famous female artists of all time.

I can’t believe I’m going to New Mexico without seeing the Georgia O’Keefe Museum….

Getting on a plane after 15 months

For the last four or five years, I was on planes at least every other month, if not every month. It was rare to go a quarter of the year without getting on a plane at all. Plane travel was just normal, whether it was for work, pleasure, or a combination of both. And I always looked forward to flying and the experience of being in an airport. Most people dread plane travel and airport time; but I always loved it. Flying always felt like it was giving me purpose. I’m GOING somewhere, I thought.

Well, the pandemic obliterated all my travel plans last year. My last time on a plane was in February 2020 for my then company’s annual kickoff in San Francisco, plus extra time with family and friends. The kickoff was fine; the friend time was enjoyable; the family time was pretty horrendous and frustrating all around. That’s how I remember my last trip I took that required plane travel.

So now, 15 months later, we’re booked to take a five-day weekend to New Mexico, beginning this Thursday, and I cannot believe I’m actually getting on a plane again! It will be interesting (or frustrating) to see how airports and plane staff are handling the pandemic precautions and cleaning, and a very new feeling to even be traveling for any reason to another state. New Mexico will be my 45th state; Chris has already been, but we’ll be seeing other parts he didn’t have a chance to his first time. I’m looking forward to the warm weather, the arts and culture, the outdoors, and the breakfast burritos and green chilies. Bart will also be excited that he can travel again, too; he’s been pretty bored collecting the occasional bits of dust on my dresser in the last 15 months.

Zoom chat with our newly widowed friend

I was surprised to get a message from Maria, Raj’s wife, yesterday morning, asking if we’d be free to catch up over a video chat this week. Obviously, we’d been wanting to chat with her since we found out about Raj’s passing, but we figured she was overwhelmed with being a new mom and all the new responsibilities around that, not to mention grieving her husband, and so we just let her know we’d be free to chat whenever she was ready.

We ended up chatting with her this evening, and I just couldn’t help but get emotional. I don’t think it takes any difficult guessing to figure out that life has been really hard for her since he got sick and died so suddenly. And it’s only been made worse by the fact that no one, not the doctors or anyone at the hospital, have any idea what brought on these seizures out of nowhere… they know nothing until this day. One by one, his organs just started shutting down, and the end finally came. And he was hospitalized just days after bringing their baby home.

Maria expressed a lot of confusion and anger at the world that something like this could happen to Raj, and it was easy to understand. “Why Raj? Why him?” she said through tears. “He’s such a good person… Why did he have to get taken away, and like this?”

The world isn’t a fair place. It’s no wonder I get angry at life and the world so often; it’s when things like this happen. Maria has been so strong, partly because she has no choice given she’s responsible for an entirely new human being now. I just can’t believe how strong and fierce she’s been; it was so admirable to see.

It just felt so strange, though, to be on that Zoom chat with just her. It’s almost like I still don’t believe Raj is gone, like all this is some awful joke being played on us, and that out nowhere any second, he will pop into the Zoom frame and say hi to us. I can’t believe she’s actually a “widow” now. That is just too strange to me to think about. My heart just hurts.