Levels of poverty

Among even the most avid and adventurous travelers, India initially appears to be a daunting place. People oftentimes talk about the high levels of poverty, dirt, sexism, classism, disparities between the rich and the poor, and of course, the rape of women, both locals and tourists. They talk about the language barriers. They are frightened by the animals co-mingling with the pedestrians and the tuk tuks and the cars. They’re not sure if they can “handle” it.

Over an Indian meal I prepared for my visiting friend and former teacher visiting from San Francisco tonight, I spent a good amount of time telling her about my experiences in India, how a lot about why I loved it and appreciated it so much was because I mentally prepared myself for the poverty and the begging and the filth, which in the end, really wasn’t as bad as others hyped it up to be from my own perspective. When you are prepared, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Thus, you’re then able to appreciate the beauty a lot more. Frankly, other than the extremely humid weather of Delhi and Agra, I didn’t really want to leave India. I was constantly astounded by the kindness of strangers, the politeness of people everywhere. I was excited by all the different sights and sounds and smells I normally do not get back in New York or in the U.S. in general. My teacher has only been to one country in Asia, Korea, and although she is well traveled in the U.S., South America, and Europe, for whatever reason, Asia has seemed distant to her. Maybe it’s because she’s a white woman who doesn’t want to feel completely out of place in a place as “exotic” as Asia. Maybe she just hasn’t had enough friends who have wanted to accompany her to Asian countries; who knows. When the idea of going to India comes up, most of her friends, she told me, said that they are most daunted by the level of poverty they have heard about. They are scared to see it. (Why do I feel like these people are most likely white?).

Well, at that point, it’s really about going outside of our comfort zones. We live in a rich country here in the U.S., even though there is clearly a massive disparity between the rich and the poor. The poverty we see here is not even a fraction of what you see in a country like India. So I understand why it would be considered daunting. But to me, travel is about not being comfortable and doing things and eating things and seeing things that are not your “version of normal,” because that’s what is intriguing and what will make you think and feel more deeply. Maybe if you were exposed to the poverty in India, you’d have a bit more empathy and understanding of the East. Maybe you should challenge yourself when you say you are scared of seeing that level of poverty and ask, why are you scared? What do you think it will do to you? Will it change something about you, and then if so, why and how? Or, is it just that you do not want to see what is ugly and scary and foreign in life? Do you want to live in a bubble away from all that ugliness that exists and is so widespread across the world that you do not know? That’s for you to question and ask yourself if you dare to go there, isn’t it?

When your child’s marriage fails

Chris’s aunt and uncle just left us yesterday afternoon to continue on to Philadelphia to visit more relatives. Throughout their visit, they were both visibly distraught at the recent breakup of their younger son’s marriage; although they were together about six years, they were “married” less than three, and the news came as a shock to all of us. Granted, none of us can ever be fully aware of what goes on between two people in a life partnership, and it’s even harder when we infrequently see them due to geographic distance.

His aunt frequently made comments about how strange it feels to be someone’s mother-in-law and then suddenly the next day, not. It’s weird to be comfortable enough to call your daughter on the phone, then be told that you cannot call her anymore… ever again. It’s deeply upsetting to know someone as your daughter-in-law, the person who gave you a fourth grandchild and your first granddaughter, and then be told that she is now considered just the mother of your granddaughter. She teared up frequently, saying she wished her no ill will and just wanted what was best for both of them and their child. It was really hard to see her and how emotional she was. She in many ways blamed herself. “Maybe if I had raised him differently, this wouldn’t have happened?” she asked me. “What do you think?”

I had nothing to say. What could I say, really? So many factors go into a relationship working and not working. They both clearly worry about their son a lot and want to help, even if they are unable to. They are concerned, loving parents. She said she hoped they’d be able to work things out, that a reconciliation could possibly happen.

It would be great if it did, but from what I can see, that’s next to impossible.

Family vs. sights

Chris’s aunt and uncle, who have been visiting us the last few days, don’t do much travel. His aunt goes to Kerala in India for long spurts to visit her parents, brother, and other relatives, and it’s easy for her since they own an apartment there. But other than that, they only travel when there’s a family event to go to, like our wedding back in 2016 when they came to California.

I learned a lot about them during this trip that I had no idea about; his aunt was saying that traveling with her husband was more hassle than it was worth since he has a short temper when he gets confused or lost during travel, which is pretty often and can be counted on. She prefers to travel and be in India on her own rather than with her husband. “It’s like taking a child around; I want to do my own thing and at my own pace, and he’s useless there on his own!” she exclaimed. She said it was important for them both to have their own time separately. She also said that the more she thought about it, while it is nice to travel and see sights, the both of them are fairly like-minded and prefer to travel to places where there are family and friends. They rather spend time catching up with friends and relatives than see sights; it would mean that if they do see sights that they’d have a guide and would not have to worry about getting lost; it would also mean that they’d get quality time with people they know that they normally do not have.

It’s funny to hear them say that. My friends and family are not that spread out, so it’s not like I have a reason to go travel to those places because I probably already know them. But I’d rather travel to see sights and have new experiences than visit people I already know. Or maybe that’s just because I don’t care about my people as much as his aunt and uncle do? What does this say about us as people?


He came back to finish college

Chris said I was talking in my sleep last night. I dreamt that my mom called a week before Thanksgiving to tell me that my brother decided to finally finish college and get his BA, and he got accepted at some school in Boston. I asked her why no one told me anything; obviously, if you start school here, you can’t just randomly start in November. She said she just forgot to tell me, and Ed probably was so busy studying that he forgot he just relocated across the country and didn’t realize his sister needed to know immediately.

“He doesn’t have anyone to spend Thanksgiving with,” she said. She explained she was concerned that he might harm himself if he got too lonely, and so she told me she wanted Chris and me to bring him to Portugal with us.

I was really confused.

“He’s not even alive! How can we bring him to Portugal?! How can he possibly be studying in Boston??” I exclaimed back to her. I had no idea what was going on.

“You need to buy him a plane ticket to Portugal,” she insisted. “Who else does he have nearby? You have to take care of your brother. He’s your blood.”

What is reality, and what is a dream? I had no idea what was real and what was imagined in my subconscious. All I felt was confusion. But a part of me felt happy at the possibility that the last five years had been imagined, that Ed could really be alive, and that I could actually bring him to Europe. It certainly would not be part of the original plan, but who the hell would care if it meant he was alive.

But then I woke up, and he was still dead. Again, it’s just a dream that he’s still alive.

Family mental health discussion

Chris’s aunt and uncle are staying with us the next few days, and on their first night with us, we spent the evening enjoying Chinese Indian food, wine, and also talking about a lot of different topics, including mental health. It inevitably led to conversations about Ed, his struggles, my family and how they handled my brother’s illness (or, well, chose not to), and just how I have dealt with it the last two decades of my life. And then I learned all these new things about Chris’s aunt, about her own struggles with her family, especially her dad and her brother. Her brother was never able to garner enough of his dad’s approval and love, and despite being very talented and well educated, went through a downward spiral and ended up having electric shock therapy to his brain, similar to lobotomies as what people in those days had because no one understood the concept of depression or mental illness. So he was pretty much rendered useless, like an immobile child who could not function as an adult anymore. He’s now living at the same nursing home that her 100-year-old mother is living at, but neither has any idea that the other is so close. As a result, his aunt has a lot of anger towards her father. Even though he’s 105 years old, he is still critical and unaware of his negative effects on her brother and his life. It’s very similar to how I feel about our father, how he didn’t help and if anything, really made Ed worse. I always wonder if he ever contemplates it when he’s alone. I’ll never know, though, because discussing emotions is off limits with my dad. We realized our similarities in feelings immediately.

They asked me multiple times if I was okay to discuss it and apologized if they were making me feel uncomfortable. It’s never a fun topic that anyone enjoys, but it must be discussed. There are moments when I felt a bit uneasy or tense, but the openness is needed to address the complex feelings and thoughts around this. If anything, I am grateful when people ask me to talk about it all because it means they want to learn and they also want to be heard. And that’s what we need more of in a world that is facing an increasing rate of mental health problems and suicide ideation and risk.


Tangra Masala has come to Manhattan

New York City – the land of opportunity; a concrete jungle where dreams are made of; a food lover’s ultimate paradise for the most diverse dining opportunities in possibly the world. When I lived in Elmhurst for my first four years in New York, I lived a 5-minute walk from one of my all-time favorite restaurants ever, Tangra Masala, an Indian-Chinese restaurant that had two locations in Queens, one in Sunnyside and one in Elmhurst. I’d never even heard of Indian-Chinese fusion cuisine before, but it was a thing in India as I learned from several Indian colleagues and friends who grew up in different parts of India. Since I left Elmhurst, I still kept going back to that restaurant because I loved the food so much, dragging many friends, Chris, even my in-laws there during their once-a-year visits from Australia. But now, I found out I no longer need to trek all the way out to Queens to get my Indian-Chinese fix; they have finally opened a location right in Manhattan on the east side in the Manhattan Indian area.

With Chris’s aunt and uncle arriving from Australia tonight and the weather being windy and rainy, we decided to order delivery, and via Uber Eats, we got to get Tangra from there to enjoy tonight. And other than the prices being a bit higher and the lack of options to indicate what spice level we preferred (they probably just assume that because we are in Manhattan that we are heat-averse), the food was perfect, just I remembered and imagined it in my head. And now, we have leftovers for after they leave us on Monday. My fridge is very happy right now.

Three time’s a charm

I woke up this morning pretty sore. My calves and thighs had been put to work the last few days. I spent the last three mornings at the gym doing pretty rigorous interval runs and pairing them with full-body strength workouts from my Aaptiv workout app. There really wasn’t a single part of my body that was not sore other than my face, neck, hands, and feet. But it was a good kind of sore, the kind of sore that says, “hey! I’m working out, and my body is changing as a result of all my effort! Yay!”

So this morning, I decided to go “easier” and choose a 30-minute intermediate-level yoga routine. I stretched and strengthened, and while lying on my mat at the end, I thought, hey, I could use a burst of something high energy. Why don’t I choose this 12-minute kettle-bell challenge?

That was a mistake I didn’t foresee. The last time I did any kettle bell exercises was probably over two months ago. I was used to the motions and the general form your body is supposed to take. On the 6th kettle bell swing, I immediately felt a twinge on the right side of my lower back that yelped, “danger!” and I slowly put the kettle bell down and laid down on the floor. Oh, crap. It hurt when I put the kettle bell down. It’s hurting now as I’m rolling over from my butt to my back. I just hurt myself working out for the third time in the last four months. This is not good. Why does this keep happening to me…?

As I lay on my stomach, identifying where exactly my back was hurt, I thought, well, at least I am alive and can actually get injured. I should be grateful for that, too, right? 

This is what getting older feels like, huh?




Stupid shit that people say

My colleagues and I were sitting around the lunch table today debriefing the results of the Midterm elections. What this inevitably led to was a mini rant session of all the stupid things that we hear people say that drive us crazy. One of my colleagues complained about people who talk about how evil corporations are… even as they are browsing apps on their iPhones or using their MacBooks or listening to music or podcasts with their AirPods (oh, hey, Apple!). Another colleague talked about how her boyfriend’s friend and his girlfriend look down on dogs that are not “pure bred” or of a “fancy mix.” Then another chimed in about, “If you want to be vegan, go ahead and be vegan. BUT HOW DOES BEING VEGAN EXCLUDE HONEY? IN THAT CASE, WHY DON’T YOU EXCLUDE ALL FRUIT AND VEGETABLES BECAUSE ALL PLANTS NEED POLLINATION?”

Once we get onto the topic of food, that’s when I really get revved up. People make up all kinds of random rules about what they will and will not eat as though they are somehow more sophisticated or “cultured” or well-thought-out than others for doing so. I still remember being appalled once when I heard someone say that she will eat eggs, but not with the eggs and yolks separated (so… scrambled only?!). I was actually mad when I heard another person say, “I only eat animals with four limbs.” Another former associate said: “I am allergic to bivalve” (why couldn’t you just stop your pretension and just say you cannot eat clams and muscles?!). Where do people come up with this shit? It’s just a sign that we are such a first-world, privileged country that we don’t even hear how moronic we sound when we say such senseless things like these. Our own privilege and resulting stupidity just blinds us when such dumb sentiments come out of our mouths. I most recently heard a friend say that she doesn’t eat “intelligent animals” when she says she doesn’t want to eat octopus. Okay, let’s keep it real here: all animals have some form of intelligence. Chickens can delay gratification for long periods of time. Sheep can recognize over 50 human faces and differentiate them. Pigs are probably one of the smartest animals that are commonly eaten in the United States: they are cognitively complex, can express a wide array of emotions, and are able to solve complex problems in the wild. So then, how do you arbitrarily decide that you will eat one intelligent animal over the other? I’m fine if you want to exclude all meat or animal products from your diet, or if you say you just don’t like the taste of beets or beef. But just don’t bullshit me and say something as hipster as “I don’t eat intelligent animals.” There is really nothing worse than hipster bullshit to kill a conversation.




Midterm Elections 2018

I woke up at 6:20 this morning to get to the polls five blocks away to vote. I wanted to avoid the lines, especially since two years ago during the 2016 presidential elections, I waited about half an hour in line before I got to the booth, and that was only around 7:30am. I got in at about 6:45, scanned by ballot, and was out by 7 and at the gym by 7:15am. It was probably my most productive morning this entire year.

My general feelings are tempered today. I feel pretty cynical and still burnt from what happened two years ago. I won’t get my hopes up. The Senate will likely still remain Trump party dominated. The House has a chance. I’m hoping that stupid Ted gets taken down by Beto even though it doesn’t look likely. But what I actually left the polls today thinking about was how grateful we all should be for the poll workers, all there to help citizens of this lazy country perform their civic duty and have their voices heard. They were all so friendly, explaining things to voters, directing people through the right hallways and rooms, making sure that everyone knew where each part had to be done, all while smiling and being extremely patient.

I got there at 6:45 this morning. I’m positive they got there at least an hour or two earlier than that. These people help restore some of my faith in humanity. Some people are actually doing work that they genuinely care about that has some meaning and will positively impact others. I hope people were kind to them today when they came in to vote.

Kosher turkey complaint

I really did not want to be that customer who complains about her turkey that had feathers and pins on it, but after spending two hours hand- and tweezer-plucking these things out of the turkey skin as well as hurting my right hand from the constant repetitive motion, and getting confirmation from my friend who works at a grocery store that this probably was not normal, I decided to stop in to the customer service desk today to see how they’d react when I showed them my receipt, my pictures of the feathers and pins, and explained to them what happened to my hand after two hours. The customer service rep who assisted me could not hide his disgust; his eyes widened, and he immediately called for his manager to approve the next steps. I wasn’t even sure how to word it; what did I want, anyway? A partial refund? A gift card? Some form of compensation? Surprisingly, and I really did not expect this at all, but they actually gave me a full refund on the turkey and even threw in a $10 gift card as a goodwill gesture.

Well, I guess Amazon buying Whole Foods wasn’t such a bad idea after all; their refund policy is just like Amazon’s now!