When you become the same age as your dead brother

I think I’ve had group birthday dinners or events for the last four years. But this year, I didn’t really feel up to it. Part of the lack of desire was due to friends who I’d normally invite and consider close who have moved away. But I think a bigger part of it is because the age of 33 is weird for me. It’s weird because that’s the last year that Ed got to see before he passed. He was about three weeks away from turning 34 when he ended his life. So to think that I was 27 at that time, and now, nearly 5.5 years have passed since then, and I am now at the age that he was is so jarring to me. It doesn’t feel right. How can you be the same age as your older brother? Your older brother… is supposed to be older, right? So this doesn’t make sense to me.

From a purely rational perspective, it does make sense because he effectively is either gone forever and no longer has an age (depending on your perspective), or, he stays 33 forever. Even though we celebrate his birthday every year, in my mind and heart, he will be 33 forever to me. He will barely know what it is like to experience real wrinkles beyond the tiny fine lines on his forehead. He won’t know what it’s like to go grey and even white. He won’t experience dental issues with age because he’s never going to age even a minute again.

That just makes me sad and feel hurt. I don’t want to be his age. I want him to be older the way he is supposed to be. What am I going to do with this year and the next and the year after that that will be worthy of him?

 

 

When your heater breaks down in the middle of winter

I always wear slippers and a sweater while in the house. Maybe the sweater thing is a habit from my parents’ house, where I was always wearing a thick layer of a button-up sweater or a robe, but I always feel cozy in it. So when something like the heat suddenly shuts off while we’re on the couch watching TV, I don’t notice it as quick as Chris does, who tends to wear a t-shirt and shorts/his underwear while in the apartment regardless of what time of year it is or what the weather is. Chris picked up on the lack of heat immediately and was in a fit of rage. It was actually kind of cute to watch; he’s so anti-cold.

He noticed in the last day that not only did our bedroom heater stop working, but our living room heating unit would randomly turn off and occasionally come back on. This is not what you want when it’s below freezing outside.

 

 

A series of unfortunate medical labels in this glorious country

I always think about how complicated things like taxes and healthcare are here, and I wonder.. does it really have to take so long? When I hear of how quickly people do taxes in other western, developed countries, particularly those in Europe, I think about how they probably laugh at us when they hear that so many Americans don’t even do their own taxes, that instead, they hire tax accountants to do this for them. I also think about how other western countries laugh at the state of our healthcare system — how expensive it is and little we actually get out of it.

Let’s think about this: I made a doctor’s appointment for this morning primarily for an annual physical with a primary care physician, but because I told them I had questions about my cold, which has unfortunately included violent coughing fits, they labeled my visit an “office visit” instead of an “annual physical,” which means that I had to pay a $20 copay. All because I had a couple questions, really? Annual physicals have no copay with primary care physicians; illness/office visits do. I made sure with the office receptionist that all my blood work taken should be coded as “annual physical” and NOT as “illness” — yes, because this is something you need to verbatim say, otherwise, your insurance will bill this as reactive/medical treatment, and then I’d have to pay out of pocket expenses. Then, as the lab technician was drawing my blood, I asked her if I could find out my blood type. What was her response? “Well, evaluating your blood for blood type is not considered ‘preventive,’ so we’d need to bill your insurance for that, and then you’d have an out of pocket expense that you could apply to to your deductible.”

I don’t even get to know my own blood type and need them to charge for that, as well? Doesn’t that automatically come up when they draw my blood?!

The lab technician didn’t even give me as much of a smile. She was dead serious.

The doctor I saw today, who was pretty unengaging and didn’t seem to have the greatest bedside manner, was forgettable. She said they’d only use my blood for the bare-bones preventive tests, so this would not include vitamin levels or blood sugar, as those were considered not preventive and would be reactive.

So… if my blood sugar were super high or super low, and we identified that during a test,  that would then have negative ramifications on my health. So then, in what reasonably intelligent mind would you not call that preventive medicine? The doctor shook her head. “It’s just the way the insurance works, and we want to make sure you aren’t getting charged for anything that isn’t fully necessary. So, remember to take a vitamin D supplement.”

It’s just the way the insurance works.

Thanks for the great explanation, doc.

Now, I’m even more crystal clear about the sorry and pathetic state of healthcare in this system. And if I, a privileged white-collar professional working at a tech company, have issues with what is getting billed and not getting billed, how do others far less fortunate than me feel getting nickeled and dimed for every little test or exam? It’s no wonder some people rather just be sick and avoid the doctor at all costs. It’s because of crap like this.

 

Clean apartment

We spent about three hours cleaning the apartment today. When I say we were cleaning,  it means that Chris tidied up all the things we brought back from our trip (mainly his Australian biscuits and our Vietnam magnets), and I deep cleaned and dusted the bedroom, living room, and hallway. We weren’t even here for nearly a month, yet somehow the apartment got so dusty and the floors seem like they have smudges all over them. Or maybe it’s like this because we hadn’t cleaned thoroughly since before Chris’s aunt and uncle’s visit in mid-November.

These are the moments when I think… these are some of the benefits of a small apartment. Having a one-bedroom apartment means that there’s really only three rooms to clean, and that’s pretty manageable for a couple and doesn’t take an entire day to finish scrubbing clean. But once the living space gets bigger, there’s more to clean, and even if you outsource it, that person may not do a thorough enough job for me to be satisfied with.

Vietnamese food coma

I’ve always had an endless number of dishes on my to-make list, but I think it’s only gotten longer since we’ve come back from Vietnam. I’ve also joined an Instant Pot for Vietnamese food group, which is reminding me of all these delicious things I enjoyed growing up that my mom would buy and feed me from Vietnamese delis and bakeries in San Jose and Westminster.

One dish that was already on my list was a Vietnamese-inspired chicken and lemongrass meatloaf from an Asian-British chef I follow on Instagram. She loves many flavors and cuisines, and her food is both colorful and tasty looking. She said she was inspired to make this meatloaf because of her love for banh mi, one of the most glorious sandwiches that ever existed. So I pulled out my frozen organic minced turkey from the freezer, bought more lemongrass from Chinatown, and made this extremely fragrant and delicious meatloaf tonight. It pretty much puts American meatloaf to shame with how multidimensional the flavor is — it’s salty, sweet, savory, and sour at the same time from the lime. The Asian spin always makes everyday American or western food taste magical.

 

Coughing fits once again

Nothing is worse than being sick while traveling or on vacation. But getting back from an amazing trip and then going back to work and being sick is certainly no fun at all, especially when that cold you somehow caught while on the flight back results in massive coughing fits that are reminiscent of the whooping cough I had to live through in December 2015. It’s hard to forget how miserable that was, how close to death I felt during that time.

I’ve been working from home the last three days to incubate myself. While I have colleagues joking to me over Slack that I am probably just prolonging my vacation, nothing could be further from the truth. I wish I were on vacation and not dealing with hacking up phlegm.

 

Back to the Northern Hemisphere

I came back to the office two days ago to the usual banter, the same annoying people, and the same warm and friendly souls that I actually found myself happy to see and chat with again. Even though I may have had some very mind-boggling, thought-worthy, and even emotional moments during my three weeks away, it was as though none of that really happened once I walked through the doors of my office. I spoke briefly with a few colleagues about my trip, but that was really it. No one really wants to hear that much about anyone else’s trip anyway; it was my moments, my time to enjoy, not theirs. But I did manage to convince one of my colleagues to put Vietnam on his travel list, and not just for a quick trip, but for a planned two-week trip in the next 12-24 months. We’ll see if it really happens.

When you come back from an intense trip, everything else seems like a bit of a bore, like it’s slow and possibly too steady. Oh, reality.

 

First Class Qantas flight

Because Chris has a lot of accumulating Qantas points that he had to use for something, and obviously the only time you can use them is when you fly Qantas, he decided to apply a healthy number of points towards upgrading our flight to First Class. We’ve been flying Business Class to and from the last couple of years, which was already incredible (it makes any business class in the U.S. seem like garbage with the level of attentiveness and service, not to mention the quality of the food), but First Class on Qantas certainly took us to another level of getting the royal and spoiled treatment. We began with getting a booked massage for him and a facial for me, 20 minutes each, and then when we boarded our flight, we each had our own little pod, which could be adjusted so that you and your partner could dine… at the same table together. I took a quick look at the menu and realized that while there were the usual a la carte options, there was actually a multi-course tasting menu… on the plane. I’d never even fathomed the idea of having a tasting menu on plane before. So we chose that option to indulge, and even enjoyed some of the best champagne and Australian shiraz that we’ve ever had on that flight to LA.

For breakfast, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could select poached eggs, as I’d never seen poached eggs on a plane before (for seemingly obvious reasons since poaching is already the most difficult egg method, but to get it right on a plane would be insanity). So I chose that over toast with avocado, and while the egg was probably more done than I would have liked, the yolk, when broken, still lightly spilled out over my toast. This was too much, I concluded as I chewed. If I had this every time I flew back and forth between Australia, I’d be ruined for every other flight.

 

Last day of summer for now

We came back to Melbourne this morning after transiting in Kuala Lumpur again. I felt tired and like I just wanted to sleep, even though I knew it would be bad for me body-clock wise. As we’re packing our last bags after doing two loads of laundry, Chris asked if I wanted to go to the beach. But then, I thought, I’d have to go through the trouble of putting on sunblock, and I really did not want to do that.

“Well, it’s your last time to go to the beach and have this kind of weather for a long time…. we’re going back to the misery of New York winter very soon… So, it’s up to you,” he said.

Ugh.

“Fine. I’ll go get the sunscreen,” I mumbled.

And so we soaked in the last bits of a Southern Hemisphere summer in what we know as winter. I tried looking for abalone shells at Brighton Beach, but was dismayed to find not even one. I recalled the time in 2012 when I first came to Australia and roamed that beach by myself. To my total surprise and delight, that entire beach was covered in rainbow-colored gleaming abalone shells. I took only five of them then to not be so greedy. Yet in all the years since, I haven’t seen even one. Not to mention, this year, I noticed a sign I didn’t recognize that stated that visitors are not to remove any shells from the beach…. which likely means someone has been taking all of them.

 

Freshness

The theme of food for our trip to Vietnam was freshness. As was the case when we were in Thailand two years ago, everything in Southeast Asia just screams fresh, especially since the cuisines there love to combine cooked elements with raw ingredients to lighten and refresh the palate. While I expected aspects like the mile-high plates of herbs, lettuce, and vegetables, what I did not expect were the fresh rice noodles in all the pho and other noodle soup dishes we had; for whatever reason, I just expected them to reconstitute the dried stuff, but nope. It was obvious from the chew and mouthfeel that these noodles were churned out fresh. No dried noodles here. And the one time I did see dried noodles, it was at the Danang Vietnam Airlines lounge in the dining area, where they had pho noodles that were instant pre set up in bowls for you to add your piping hot pho broth to.

When I think about aspects of Vietnamese cuisine like this, I think, no one in the modern world, or, well, New York City, who works full time could ever regularly have meals like this. Who has the time or energy to source fresh everything, whether it’s specific Vietnamese herbs or just-churned noodles, or freshly pressed tofu? I’d be running all over the city all day… which can’t work if I have a job. It’s totally intangible, though I do dream of having such ready and easy access to all these beautiful ingredients. Fresh food is really what most Americans don’t eat at all or do not get enough of. Vietnam even has me questioning the taste of chicken, as I distinctly remember having chicken three times during this trip, and while chewing, thinking, ‘Wow, this tastes… more chickeny, with a stronger, more assertive flavor that screams, hey! I’m not the bland meat! I have my own flavor, thank you!’ The piri piri chicken in Portugal last November was incredible, one of the best chicken dishes I’d had in my life, but that was because of the flavor of the marinade, the spices, the chili oil, and the charcoal grill… not the actual chicken meat itself. In Vietnam when I had chicken, I knew it was the actual flavor of the chicken flesh itself.

And sadly, I’m sure the average American would eat the chicken we had in Vietnam and say it’s gross or doesn’t taste right… because they’ve been accustomed to the bland and the boring chickens of mass-grown and produced America.