The wonderful world of pancakes

I think it’s pretty safe to say that every child loves pancakes. There’s something about a little round edible, pan-fried blob that is comforting, appealing, and delightful to all. The amazing thing about pancakes is that they can come in all shapes and sizes, and it seems like most cultures have their own variations. In the U.S., there’s the standard cake-batter-type pancake ranging from fluffy buttermilk, blueberry and fruit filled, and corn griddled pancakes. In Jewish culture, the fried potato pancakes that are known as latkes are hard to not love (who doesn’t like fried things?!). China has its most famous scallion pancakes, but many other variations of pancakes exist as well, from “chive boxes” to the thin wheat crepes that traditionally roll Peking duck. In Vietnam, the closest thing I can think of would be banh xeo, better known as Vietnamese sizzling crepes, and in India… there are so many versions, some of which I’m just learning about, ranging from dosa to adar to cheela to pesarattu.

I’d made dosa a number of times on my own, but it never occurred to me to attempt a version of it without rice and urad dal, but that’s where Pesarattu comes in. Pesarattu is the Andhra Pradesh’s answer to pancakes in a ground lentil form. Some add a little rice or rice flour for texture, but many are just 100 percent green whole moong dal without any rice added. The only things that are added to it are ginger and perhaps a few spices, and that’s it. Pan-fried on a hot pan, they are extremely delicious, especially when eaten with a peanut and/or coconut based chutney. I’ve already made these twice now and am pretty obsessed with them. I’m trying to find every which way to use beans, as they are one of the healthiest and most delicious foods on earth, and our diets can only get better with them.

Hair extremes

Over the years, I’ve gotten all kinds of compliments (and passive aggressive comments) about my hair. I’ve had countless friends, colleagues, classmates, and acquaintances marvel over how low-maintenance my hair is, how “you probably wake up with your hair looking like that, huh?”, how envious they are that I don’t have to straighten my hair or use any type of texturing cream or gel to get it to look the way it does every day. Up until recently, I have been lucky enough to “wake up like this.” My hair is naturally straight and fine, though with fine hair comes issues like flatness and lack of volume.

Well, once I started highlighting my hair in the middle of 2017, that changed a bit. Highlighting or bleaching fine hair never really does anything good for you, and if anything, it tends to result in easier breakage, more split ends, and thus, a larger need for more careful maintenance. The amazing thing that has happened since dyeing my hair is that I actually need to shampoo LESS. Once upon a time, with daily weekday morning gym workouts, I washed my hair five times a week straight. I hated that process but didn’t want to go to work smelling like sweat and oil, so I sucked it up. Then, I reduced it to every other day with just a rinse after a sweaty workout every other day after my friend insisted a rinse would get rid of the funk. But finally, I realized my hair wasn’t as oily and was getting drier. Since late last year, I wash my hair only twice a week, which has been a dream because I truly hate the process of washing my hair and combing it out.

That has come with some hair extremes. I wash my hair, even with moisturizing shampoo or an all-natural shampoo bar, and it’s a bit dry right after. Three days later, it becomes extremely oily and looks as though I’ve added oil to my hair. It hasn’t been fun, but it’s what I have dealt with. I even have to use a hair mask or deep conditioner every other week now to keep my hair from breaking so much and feeling so brittle.

This is what it’s like to have “haircare,” huh?

30-minute masked visit

My cousin who lives in Sunnyvale drove all the way up to San Francisco to see his mom, my aunt, and my parents yesterday. After not seeing them since pre-COVID-19 lockdown in March, this was likely my oldest cousin’s longest period of not seeing his mother. He calls his mother literally every single day and reports nearly every single thing he does to her every single day. She likely knows more about his life than his own wife does. So when I hear that he’s finally come up to the city to see her after over five months of no visiting, I think, great. Now, my mom’s going to be thinking, “Yes, that’s what a good child does — visits their aging parents during a pandemic!”

He and his wife stopped by a Chinese bakery, picked up some baked goods, and brought them to the house, all masked up. They sat in my aunt’s living room for 30 minutes with everyone wearing a mask except my mom (why am I not surprised?). Then, they left to drive all the way back down to Sunnyvale. How did he communicate this to me? He texted me a selfie of them all sitting around in the living room together.

My dad emailed me two months ago, asking when I would be visiting San Francisco again. I genuinely just do not think it’s responsible for anyone to be flying right now unless it’s a true emergency. Why would I want to risk other people’s lives just so that I could travel and enjoy myself? This pandemic has truly revealed exactly how selfish Americans are, in addition to how beyond moronic this federal government is. I see all these posts on social media of people flying across the country, flying to Montana to hike in Yellowstone and Glacier. And all I can think in my head is, “Why are you all such selfish fucks? FUCK YOU ALL!”

Generic restaurants abound, and then there’s wood-smoked, herby pho.

We spent our Saturday afternoon wandering through Astoria today, creating a mini food-tour of sorts with stops at Venezuelan, Vietnamese, and Chinese-ish spots. It’s crazy to see how much this neighborhood had changed since the last time I had visited; a corner produce market that I remember buying vegetables at had changed quite a bit. Its prices had risen, and the clientele was completely different. The area overall has become a lot more trendy and… well, White for lack of better words. The area used to have lots of Greeks, Egyptians, Middle Eastern restaurants, bakeries, delis, and grocery stores. They still exist, but it seems like their influence is less obvious now. Now, it’s a lot more brunch, fusion, and expensive bars and eateries with flashy signs, single menus that have a mind-boggling variety of dishes from bibimbap to al pastor tacos to grain bowls (talk about trying to appeal to EVERYONE), and brand-new condo buildings.

It’s not all necessarily a bad thing. There are a number of great places that have opened in this area. The arepas we enjoyed were hearty and delicious, and the Vietnamese place that was on my list had the most unique and creative version of pho I’d ever tasted. On the menu, it was called herb and wood-smoked brisket pho. When it came to the table, it was piping hot, revealing a crystal clear, pristine broth that my mom would have been proud to drink (she hates the floating fat that is oftentimes found in broths served at restaurants and assiduously removes them all before digging in). The first thing I always do when I am ordering a noodle soup at any restaurant is to take a taste of the broth. I took my soup soon, dipped it into the soup, and slurped. And inhaled it. It was exactly what the description said: it tasted herby, smokey, woody, in addition to all the complexities you expect when you have a truly delicious, multifaceted beef-based pho: beef, coriander, charred onions, star anise, cloves, LOVE. And the cuts of brisket were like the brisket you’d get at the most delicious barbecue house, just with a hint of Vietnamese flair. Every last bit of that bowl, we devoured until we couldn’t stomach any more liquid. It was so delicious.

If more places like this opened in Astoria, or in any neighborhood for that matter, I’d be really excited about it and happy to support them. It’s the generic places that try to cater themselves to yupsters and Gen Z people that I cannot stand — the ones that want to have Korean AND Thai AND Japanese AND Chinese AND… hey, let’s throw in some fish tacos, too! Those are the ones I despise and want to leave. Specialize in a certain area and go with it. Don’t be a generalist with food at a restaurant — it just makes you forgettable.

Working in tech: the myth of “unlimited PTO”

Historically in the United States, the concept of “paid time off” has been a controversial one. The U.S. is the only industrialized Western nation to have zero national policy around paid parental leave in the world; some companies, some of which I have called customers, who are large multi-national companies with thousands of employees, have zero recognition for parental leave at their U.S. locations, and so when employees become new parents, if they choose to take time off, it’s deducted from their paid time off (PTO) allotment. We’re also the only Western country that does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacation leave, sick leave, or federally recognized holidays. These benefits are considered matters of agreement between an employer and an employee.

So it would appear that the U.S. values capitalism, productivity, and work, work, work as its number one priority. And it values human life or human health very little to not at all (we will not discuss healthcare in this post, though, as that is its own disgusting can of worms). It’s a wonder why people want to continue living here sometimes, self included.

But that idea inside, when you are living in a country that has egregious laws, or lack of laws, around paid time off, it would initially seem to be a sort of dream when you are finally employed by a company that actually has what is known as an “unlimited PTO policy.” The average American company across industries only offers around 10 days of PTO per year, so… unlimited? WHAT A DREAM LIFE, right?

Perhaps initially, it may seem that way. That’s why so many tech companies list it as a “benefit” or “perk” when you visit their Careers page or see one of their job listings on sites like LinkedIn. That’s why when recruiters do phone screens with potential candidates, it’s one of the very first perks they note on their calls. But in reality, it’s much more nuanced than this. No, just because you work at a company that has unlimited PTO does not mean you can just take off for half the year, a quarter of the year, or even a full month. Nope. They expect that you will still work as you would normally work as if there were a set number of days you could take off per year.

As an HR professional once told me pointedly, “‘Unlimited PTO’ is not a benefit to the employee; it’s a benefit to the company,” she said. What this means is: the day you decide you want to leave your company (or said company fires/lays you off), the company will be required to pay out zero accrued PTO days because you didn’t accrue anything; there’s an “unlimited” policy, remember? The company wants to “owe” its employees as little as possible, and this is their way of getting there while also at the same time appearing to do something that is beneficial and “perk” like for its employees. Yet, hmmmm. Despite having an “unlimited” policy, pretty much all companies that have this policy in place still require you to “log” PTO so that it’s still be tracked (to potentially be used against you later for baseless reasons). Fun, right?

“So then, how much PTO are you expecting I actually take with this policy?” I responded back to this HR professional.

She smiled. When HR professionals smile, you should really never trust them. Every time they smile, they are just lapping up their perceived power in the conversation. “You should take however many days you would have taken if you were able to accrue PTO at your previous company.”

Here is where I smiled back. “Well, it’s funny you say that because the last time I actually accrued PTO, I had 23 PTO days, 4 summer days, plus the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day off,” I said to her. “So in other words, here, do you suggest I continue taking 31 days off?”

Her smile faded. She paused, wrinkled her brow, unsure of how to respond. Frankly, I don’t remember what her response was to that in the end because it was so plainly insipid. But I did remember to tell her at some point of this conversation, “If the stance of HR at this organization is that ‘unlimited PTO’ is a benefit to the company and not to its employees, I would suggest that you stop having our recruiters talk so enthusiastically about it during their phone screens with prospective candidates, and also to remove it from our Careers page as a listed perk.”

That was when I made it clear to our HR professional that I wasn’t going to take bullshit explanations. It was also probably when they decided to wage a form of war against me. At the end of the day, stupidity and hypocrisy need to be called out, and I don’t really care if they enjoy it or not.

Proactive anti-racist education exhaustion

I think I need to take a break from all of the anti-racism education I’ve been doing for myself over the last two months in the form of books. It’s been educational, enlightening, upsetting, infuriating, and freeing in many ways to read all of these resources and books in an effort to understand racism better and be able to respond to ignorant comments (such as… racism doesn’t exist anymore/we live in a post-racist society/racism against Whites is the biggest issue now), but it’s been emotionally exhausting to have this on my mind throughout the day, nonstop. I recognize that there can be some criticism here from Black and Brown people of color, that it’s a luxury to not have to think about this every single day on the top of their minds… but I’d turn that question back to them and say… Are they reading all these books and resources, too?

I also fear that in most cases as with most issues, the people who need to hear these responses and rebuttals will never be open to hearing them. I still have a long list of other race-related books I want to tackle, but I’ve decided that for my sanity’s sake, I will need to space them out. In the meantime, I am reading Colson Whitehead’s 2020 Pulitzer Prize winning The Nickel Boys (okay, so maybe it’s not REALLY a departure from reading about race given it’s based on the true story of the Dozier School, a reform school in Florida (read: reform school for black boys) that operated for 111 years and abused black children, but you know what? There’s no wait list for Kindle borrowing on it right now given it’s a Book of the Month through New York Public Library, so I’ll take advantage of no wait lists for an in-demand book!).

These are the books I’ve read thus far this year on race and would definitely recommend for different reasons:

  1. How to be an Anti-Racist – Ibram. X. Kendi: Provides a historical lens as well as personal anecdotes shared by the author/historian/educator Ibram X. Kendi. Examines how many quotes/phrases from famous anti-racist/anti-segregation advocates such as MLK have been twisted by conservatives who believe we live in a post-racist world. Seeks to provide definitions of what racist vs. not racist vs. anti-racist are, as well as many other terms and concepts that oftentimes get misused by the media and thus misunderstood by the American public. This book is pretty U.S.-centric, so be aware of that.
  2. White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo: Provides viewpoints from an antiracism educator over 25+ years of anti-racism classes and workshops done by a wide spectrum of age groups, corporate for- and not-for-profit organizations in an attempt to increase diversity and inclusion in schools, organizations, and corporations. Acknowledges my most often-thought of point, which is that it is nearly impossible to have a discussion about racism that will leave everyone feeling comfortable, included, or welcome, and that is exactly the point of addressing racism: to be brought to a state of discomfort to then be propelled into real action.
  3. Me and White Supremacy – Layla Saad: Based on a month-long Instagram challenge to examine how the concept of white supremacy has been drilled into each and every one of us since birth, and what we can personally do to dismantle it. Oftentimes, when people think about “white supremacists,” they think of David Duke, the KKK, when in reality, we actually adhere to a white supremacist society because of what we considered normal: normal is white, “other” or “abnormal” is seeing Chinese, Persian, Black, etc., people on TV, in Congress, in the White House, etc. That is just one example. This book helps people examine their own white supremacist notions and how to challenge them. A painful book, but a necessary read.
  4. So You Want to Talk about Race – Ijeoma Oluo: A compelling and concise read that walks through various race-related subjects, such as intersectionality, why you should not touch a Black woman’s hair, affirmative action, and the concept of the “model minority,” which many Asian Americans sadly embrace but really should be doing the opposite. The best part about this book is that Oluo acknowledges the fact that in the U.S., the unfortunate discussion about race tends to always be black and white with some brown occasionally, but the general discourse completely ignores the various groups that make up Asian Americans and Native Americans. An entire chapter is devoted to the model minority myth, which was really refreshing for me to read. It illuminates on why and how the Asian American community has been pitted against the Black American community in this country and how this was a construction basically created by those in power (read: White people).

Racism and anti-racism education does not have a beginning or and end. It should always be ongoing for each and every one of us. And for those who deny that racism still persists and is going strong in society, well…. you are the kind of people I don’t want to have any discussion with because you are just goners in my mind.

Teeth shifting?

One of the recurring nightmares I’ve had pretty much my entire life is that my teeth are shifting, breaking, or falling out. I’m not sure what gives me this much subconscious anxiety about my teeth. Perhaps it’s because I’ve had two oral surgeries, two coats of braces, and two different sets of retainers in my life. Perhaps it’s because my mom constantly told me how grateful I should be to have had the privilege of having dental care at all growing up since she came from Vietnam to this country with teeth so rotten that every single one of them needed to be pulled out and replaced with fake implants. Or perhaps this is just my internalized anxiety about life, just culminating into terrorizing dreams about my teeth being destroyed?

I’ve been grinding my teeth during the night ever since high school. I can’t really control what I do with my teeth when I am sleeping, so I wasn’t even really aware of it until multiple dentists called it out, not to mention I started developing sensitivities everywhere in my mouth. And stupidly, it wasn’t until maybe six years ago when I finally started wearing a mouth guard at night to prevent grinding during my sleep. But the problem with wearing a mouth guard (which goes on my upper set of teeth) at night is that this prevents me from wearing my top retainer, which then means… uh oh. My top teeth are more likely to shift.

I’ve tended to neglect my retainer in favor of my mouth guard, and when I looked in the mirror this morning, I was annoyed to see that in reality, one of my top front teeth appears to have shifted, and this teeny tiny gap has formed between two of my teeth. I immediately felt frustrated and realized I need to start wearing my top retainer more. I popped it in, and felt right away that it felt snug and tight in that area of my mouth.

Need to wear retainer to retain smile. No more teeth shifting. No more braces. No more retainers made for me. Need to wear retainer to retain smile. Need to wear retainer to be grateful to my mom for providing me dental care until age 22. Need to wear retainer.

Apartment viewing

Since restrictions have been easing up here in New York, and since we have absolutely nothing else better to do, Chris wants to start visiting apartment buildings again to see what is available and what the market looks like. Viewing apartments is now something we can do here, so Chris insisted we must. We’ve heard of some incredible deals on rentals – anything from $200-400/month off rent, 2-4 months free at certain buildings — it’s pretty insane. For the most part, getting one month free on a one-year lease has been relatively standard in Manhattan, but getting $400 off per month or FOUR MONTHS free is just totally out of this world. It’s truly a renter’s market right now due to COVID-19. So many people are leaving expensive cities like New York and San Francisco in favor of less populated, less expensive cities that have housing with more space for less money.

We visited a few buildings walking distance from our current building, and while overall, the fixtures were nice and the lobbies were plush and expansive, I still have failed to be impressed. Every place wants to charge for everything — $200 per person PER MONTH for gym and other amenities? $100+/month for in-building storage, as these buildings do not offer storage outside of the unit for tenants. Charges per day for guests to use the amenities, even entering the lounges? Not to mention that the bedrooms don’t seem particularly big (a queen bed, perhaps two nightstands, and if you’re lucky, a dresser) fit in the bedrooms, and the refrigerator/freezer situation seem smaller than what we currently have. Every time we go to one of these places, the more I think about how lucky we are to have all the amenities and space we have, plus the additional storage outside of our unit. It’s as though we just scored with every single thing you could ask for as a renter.

Maybe we will live here forever? It seems like it at this rate!

Referrals

Other than my first job out of college, I have never taken advantage of any network that I belong to, whether that’s my work network through LinkedIn and previous jobs. During college, I used my Wellesley network to help get me a coveted PR internship at Fleishman-Hillard (and since, have had absolutely zero desire to work in public relations ever again, but hey! It was a good opportunity, and I felt very lucky and privileged because I knew those internships were hard to come by). My cousin referred me to my first tech job after I graduated from college. And since then, the only way I’ve ended up landing my next new job was literally applying on companies’ websites or applying via LinkedIn. So this time around, I’ve been doing more networking, and it’s resulted in a number of positive leads and referrals. I’m kicking myself a little for not taking advantage of my networks before, but I guess it’s better late than never, right?

So far, I’m keeping tabs on leads at five different companies all based on my connections. If I am lucky, at least one or two of them will come into fruition.

7 years later.

Dear Ed,

Seven years. You’d think it would have passed by slower than it has, but it actually seems like just yesterday when you left us. I don’t even know what to say anymore. I’d like to say that I’ve learned a lot since you died, but I’m not totally sure that’s even accurate. I feel like a lot about my life has been at a stand still. I’ve tried really hard to maintain my integrity, to keep with my values, to be my genuine self. But I feel like that is just being chipped away slowly working in the corporate world. I’m tired of the pressure to suck up to people I don’t like or care about. I’m sick of the backstabbing, the lying, the fabrication of stories. I’m sick of the HR gaslighting, the racial injustice, the white fragility constantly on exhibit at work where no one does a single thing to address the issues at hand. I’m tired of not being recognized for my achievements, and instead, having them be overlooked simply because others choose to be louder and flaunt their pointless and revenue-less activities. It’s no wonder you rejected the corporate world, the idea of just being another rat in the rat race. There’s no value in the work that we do. Who cares about making rich people richer, about getting acquired, about going public? At the end of the day, we are all disposable, and the work we have poured ourselves into will be forgotten. No one ever wrote on their tomb stone the number of upsells or deals they worked on or sold. No one’s eulogy ever talked about the success playbook they wrote for a scaling startup based in San Francisco. All of this work is meaningless at the end of the day. The only thing that really matters are the relationships we take away from this white supremacist, capitalistic society we live in.

In the last year, though, I think you’d be excited. I’ve been actively working on Yvonne meets Food. You’d be so happy for me with my YouTube channel. It may not do much now in terms of money, but it’s part of my passion and a part of my future. I’m now at 205 subscribers, which is still small, but hopefully, fingers crossed, it will only grow. I actually can see your face light up now when I think about how you’d react at the work I’ve been doing on the channel, and even all the time I’ve spent learning how to video edit.

I honestly don’t know if I’ve done anything else in the last year you’d be happy about. I’ve thought about it, and I just cannot come up with anything. I haven’t spoken with our mother since the end of February. She falsely accused me of speaking ill about her to our aunt, and I refused to tolerate her false accusations and constant comparisons anymore. It seems a bit abrupt to stop talking to her about this, but this was truly years and years in the making. I’ve really had enough of the constant criticism, the constant false accusations, the constant comparisons to our oldest cousin, who she sees as the “ideal child.” I know you can relate to this. I’m 34 years old. I just can’t take any more of this negativity. She can call me whenever she wants to apologize. She won’t do it. So the ball is really in her court. If we never speak again, while I may feel sad about it, I will not regret that I chose this path. She did wrong, and she needs to acknowledge it. She should acknowledge her wrong for the both of us.

In that moment on the phone when she started comparing me to our oldest cousin, I immediately thought about how she constantly compared you to all our older cousins from everything to grades to school to college to attitudes. It makes me sick to the stomach to remember all this toxicity. I don’t know how you put up with it for so long… too long. I’m sorry I didn’t help you enough. I’m sorry I didn’t defend you enough. I was young, naive, powerless… she does the same to me and always has, but never to the degree she did it with you.

I thought about you a lot during the worst points of the pandemic here in New York, in the U.S. I thought about how miserable your life would have been if you had still be alive and at home with our parents. Just the mere thought of it made me angry. I can’t imagine you being under the same roof as them and not being able to go anywhere other than the grocery store. That would have been like a different type of suicide.

We like to think our lives move forward, that we move on. But I haven’t really moved on from your death. I woke up in the middle of the night a few nights ago thinking you were still alive, and that I had to call you. And when reality sank in that you were gone, I felt sullen and immediately went back to bed. This happens to me occasionally. I can’t really help it.

I want to talk to you all the time, to tell you about things I’ve made, what I’m filming, what I want to do next. But I can’t. I’ve considered going to a medium to talk to you, but when I think about it more, it seems pretty ridiculous because she’s probably going to rip me off, and I’d likely not really be talking to *you* you. It sounds childish for me to keep saying this, but life just isn’t fair. It’s not fair that people like you have to suffer and die and others who are just awful, toxic, two-faced human beings can continue on this earth, seemingly thriving and conniving through life. It is not fair. But, I have to keep going. I think about revenge for all the people who have wronged you, have wronged me, but I realize it’s all pointless.

It’s why I feel like I have no more words to say. I just feel sad and angry about so many things – the state of our world, the state of the working world, the state of the world without you in it with me. This world really sucks right now. It’s like there is nothing to look forward to.

So… when do I get to see you again? You haven’t showed up in my dreams in a while, and you seem to do that to be a bit of a jerk. You are my brother, after all. Can you come swing by for a little? I really need a hug from you right now. I hope you are doing well, and that your mind is clear and free from any negativity. Hope to see you soon.

Love,

Yvonne