Home Cooking NY cooking classes

This past Christmas, Chris gifted me a cheesemaking cooking class at Home Cooking NY on Grand Street in lower Manhattan that took place yesterday. It was the second time I’ve taken a class here, as the first one was on Vietnamese cooking that I did last year after returning from Vietnam. I didn’t really love the Vietnamese cooking class last year, as I felt that the main instructor kept talking over and interrupting her Vietnamese guest instructor too much to the point that it seemed condescending. But during this cheesemaking course, the instructor seemed far more in her own element, going through facts on the cheese industry both in the U.S. and abroad while also making wise cracks and sarcastic comments about the U.S. federal and state level government regulations on raw milk and cheese (“Here in New York state, it’s illegal to sell raw milk, so you have to go to the border of Pennsylvania to buy it … the state is trying to protect you from absolutely nothing, so…” and also about the poor state of education here in the U.S. (“when I used to teach real culinary school, you wouldn’t believe how dumb my students were… they didn’t know what terms like ‘opaque’ or ‘translucent’ meant. I said to them, ‘do you know what ‘see-through’ means? Well, that is what ‘translucent’ means. And the opposite of that — what you CANNOT see through, that is ‘opaque’! Got it?!” It was a bit hilarious and unexpected, and at times could be tiring to see how jaded she was, but it definitely was entertaining at times.

We made mozzarella, paneer, ricotta, cashew “ricotta,” saag paneer, and caprese sandwiches during class. I enjoyed it and learned a good amount, and I’m now feeling more interested in prioritizing making ricotta and paneer myself sometime soon, as both had already been on my to-make list for a while (isn’t everything?). But, I will say that the instructor’s saag paneer was not to my liking; everyone else raved about it (some of these people claimed to eat Indian food regularly but had never heard of saag paneer or palak paneer — how can you claim to eat Indian food in this country and never have eaten or even seen this at a restaurant?!), but I found it too heavy on the tomatoes and a bit westernized. I realize that dried methi leaves are not easily sourced, but if you really want to make authentic tasting saag paneer, you absolutely need to have these, and all it takes is one or two tiny pinches of it to make a world’s difference. They can be bought at any Indian grocery store or on Amazon. I wasn’t going to be the smart ass in class to say it to the instructor or any other white person raving about this dish in class (even though my instructor was a self-professed “smart ass” and likely could have handled it), so I said nothing instead, preferring to keep the peace with 10 people I’d likely never see again.

Living for nothing.

I emailed my dad a couple days ago about the WWII congressional gold medal that his dad would posthumously get awarded. I told him about this last year when my uncle let me and our other cousins know about it and although I never knew him, it still made me feel proud to know that our grandpa had served in WWII as a Chinese American. I think it’s something our whole family should be proud about. But, from what I can tell, my dad seemed indifferent to all of it. He seemed to think nothing of it and didn’t even care that it was happening or that regional ceremonies would be held for it around the country, or that family members such as himself would actually be invited to go. He had no reaction to the article, no reaction to his dad’s name being on the list, and no reaction to the ceremonies. He just didn’t care.

As far as I know, at this point, I am not even sure what he cares about. The house is in disrepair, smells like mold, and even has mice running around inside it now. The rentals are in disrepair and far from being in a state to rent out, and he doesn’t want to work on them. There are many items in the house he said he would give away or sell on Craiglist, and he’s made no action to move forward on any of it. What exactly is he doing all day? Is he just living for absolutely nothing?

Exercise as fuel and meditation

I started this week pretty unmotivated, grumpy, and irritable about pretty much everything: family, work, the cold weather. Nothing was really keeping me going, and each morning when I’d rise, I had zero desire to start the day with exercise the way I usually do, so I abstained and stayed in bed longer. This ended up having a pretty negative effect on me, as I felt even worse during the morning and throughout the day. I finally hauled myself out of bed for a 40-minute workout this morning (this is actually short for me), and even with just 40 minutes of exercise, mentally I felt in a much better headspace than I had all week.

Even when I am feeling lazy and unmotivated, I need to remember and keep reminding myself that exercise puts me in a better place both mentally and physically, and even if I find it painful in the moment, once I start, I will rarely regret it.

Helpers as servants who lack humanity

I had dinner with a friend who recently moved back to New York City from Hong Kong. With her husband’s expat package, they had a full-time housekeeper/nanny included. Because my friend is originally from New York, she never really knew what it was like to have this level of service at home, and she was appalled to hear from other housekeepers and nannies who were friends with her nanny that these hired helpers are oftentimes mistreated, abused (verbally and even physically), and treated like second class citizens in the places where they are supposed to call home. In one home, cameras were in every room in the home, so the nanny was constantly being supervised, and because both she and the family she was hired to help were Filipino, she could not even speak openly, fearing her words would be recorded and listened to. Another housekeeper/nanny shared that she would accompany the family to group meals, but only be able to eat at the end of the mea when everyone else had finished, when only leftover food was ready, and she’d be rushed to finish in less than ten minutes because they had to reach the next place. During the meal, she had to tend to the child.

This type of classicism and abuse is “normal” in rich Asian cities like Hong Kong, though. Filipino women come to Hong Kong on work visas to be cheap labor for middle and upper class Hong Kong families, leaving their own children and families behind to care for richer families who will provide them incomes to then send home to their families. In most cases, these helpers never see their children grow up, and instead, they end up going home only when their children are grown so that the cycle continues: their children move to Hong Kong to care for the next rich family, while they stay in the Philippines to care for their grandchildren.

My friend took this to heart and tried to become friends with her nanny; her home ended up becoming the hangout spot for the nannies to congregate safely and even have dinner parties. I found this endearing and comical at the same time. At least they felt they had a safe space at her home and could trust her, but it does make me sad to know that since my friend has left, their safe space is now gone.

When parents act like children

This week, I’ve unsurprisingly been thinking about my family and their behavior over the last weekend. I opted out of an extended family dinner because my uncle refused to eat at any Asian establishment, fearing that Chinese people would be there who have Coronavirus (yes, my uncle is Chinese. Yes, he’s racist against his own kind). My cousin, who was trying to not create any drama and except the stupidity for what it was, didn’t understand why something like this would bother me. I am not sure if it’s because my cousin is just not a particularly intelligent or deep person, or if he just refuses to acknowledge problems (it is likely a combination of both of the above).

While this was transpiring, my mom was thrilled that I wasn’t going to the dinner at my aunt’s (upstairs). She hates it when I spend time with extended family members. She thinks they always want her to pay for dinners and food and “expect” this of her. My dad was being his usual hermit self, refusing to interact with me and throwing tantrums when he was dissatisfied with anything. I started thinking about all these behaviors and how toxic they all are. The “normal” that Ed and I grew up with is not normal and doesn’t really make for future independent, happy people. It actually makes for what Ed actually became: highly insecure, immature, dependent, paranoid. When I come back from these trips and inevitably experience episodes such as the ones outlined above, I try to decompress, read psychology articles about how all of this is wrong, unhealthy, and how I’ve emerged stronger in spite of all this. It seems to be the only thing that really gives me comfort when I’ve come from a place of total paranoia, lack of common sense, and dysfunction. My uncle always used to say that every family has its own level of dysfunction, so our family wasn’t much different than any other family. While it’s true that every family has its level of “dysfunction,” it’s not true that our family is just like every other family. We have generations of dysfunction, anger, resentment, and lack of relations. Even if you wanted to define that as “normal,” it certainly is not “right.”

A recent article I read about how to raise happy, independent children stated:

“We found that people whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental wellbeing throughout early, middle and late adulthood. By contrast, psychological control was significantly associated with lower life satisfaction and mental wellbeing. Examples of psychological control include not allowing children to make their own decisions, invading their privacy and fostering dependence.”

The first sentence is funny to me because… well, duh.

That’s funny because that last statement is 100% our mother. We were rarely allowed to make our own decisions. When I was 13, I used to get into loud shouting matches about how to even wear my hair. “Privacy” as a concept never existed; door knocking did not exist: my dad or mom would barge into the bathroom or my bedroom without asking, expecting me to be fully clothed.

Ed used to recount that he had vivid memories as a child of trying to get our dad’s attention, but our dad would be so caught up in the basement, talking to himself constantly, a nasty habit that Ed himself picked up, that he’d completely ignore him. After years of neglect, lack of attention, and constant criticism, Ed gave up on our dad and stopped speaking with him at all intentionally. Our dad picked up on this, and instead of addressing the issue, did the exact same thing back to Ed, not even referring to him by name and only by “him,” “that guy,” and even “that.” He never acknowledged Ed’s birthday from Ed’s teen years until after Ed died.

My mom said a few days ago that if she died tomorrow, “You would have nothing! You’d be so poor!” So in other words, these are words she uses to make me feel dependent on her, for her to feel like she has control over me and my life. I’m 34 years old today. I work, have my own income and place to live, and am married to someone who also works and is able-bodied. I would not have nothing or be poor if she were to die tomorrow.

These words used to affect me a lot more when I was actually living at home or in college, depending on her and my dad. Now, 12 years after graduating from college, they don’t make me numb the same way they used to. Now, I just feel sorry for them.

Three generations of Chinese Americans in the U.S.

Most of my family history is not really that known to me. My parents rarely discuss their childhoods with me, except for little bits here and there (the general themes are that of poverty, not enough food, cockroaches, lack of education, and lack of parenting). My grandparents on my mom’s side died before I was born. My grandpa on my dad’s side died 12 years before I was born, and my maternal grandma was the only one I knew, but she passed when I was nine years old. What I did not learn until my college years is that my dad was not the only person in my family to serve in wars representing the U.S. (for those of you who do not know my basic family history, my dad served in the Vietnam War — or what the Vietnamese more correctly call the American War — and this was how he met my mom in Central Vietnam); his dad, Alfred B. Wong, also served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, stationed in Okinawa, just years before my dad was born. Two generations of my family have served in wars that the U.S. was involved in. And now 75 years after WWII has ended, many of these Chinese Americans are being recognized as Chinese American World War II Congressional Gold Medal recipients. I’m sure that by now, the vast majority of those who served have now passed, so their families have applied for the recognition. The real gold medals will be put on display this year at the U.S. National Archives in Washington, D.C., but one replica will be given to each family who applies to have their family member who served recognized. My uncle, my dad’s younger brother, applied for my grandpa’s recognition with the appropriate documents to prove of his service, and it looks like regional ceremonies will be held across the nation to recognize these families for those who cannot make it to the main ceremony in D.C.

What makes me sad, though, about this recognition, is that I do not think anyone in my family has really, deeply thought about what any of this actually means for our family or for any other family of color who has served in any war representing the United States. I was not born early enough to see or know my grandpa, but what I do know of him is that like pretty much ALL immigrants who come to a country where they knew no one and had no money, he worked extremely hard to get the little he could to support his family and then, his family’s families. What would he feel if he were still alive today, knowing that his second eldest son served in the Vietnam War (which he did live to see), that his grandchildren somehow continued to get discriminated against in this country he actually fought for, simply because of the color of their skin, the shade of their hair, the shape of their eyes? Is this the “reward” that his family and people who look like us should get after two generations of service, after decades of hard work to assimilate into a country that will see us as perpetual foreigners? How would he react today, knowing this country is under a leader who believes immigrants like himself do not deserve to be here, that they leech off the system and just expect handouts? It doesn’t matter if you have served and risked your life for your country: people here do not appreciate you more. People generically say things like “support our troops.” That is all a superficial mask: what the majority of these people genuinely mean is, “support our (white) troops.” This was found time and time again across pretty much every major war when people of color, from Asian to African American, have fought for this country. Cabbies wouldn’t even take them back home from the airport when they finished their services abroad.

And what is arguably worse: that my grandpa’s youngest son, who is trying to claim recognition for his dad’s service in WWII, is actually xenophobic against Chinese immigrants who looked just like him and his wife, my uncle’s parents, has actively accosted and harassed these immigrants at the border, and now wants to avoid all “Asian restaurants and establishments” or Chinatowns and the like because he does not trust that they do not have the Coronavirus? What is worse — racism against another kind, or racism against your own kind?

Rest in peace, Grandpa. It’s probably best that you did not live to see this day.

Cold, miserable and raining

I came back this early morning to a cold, miserable, and rainy day. It actually matched my mood perfectly. I had zero motivation to do anything — exercise, do work, you name it. It was helpful I was able to work from home today to stay away from any noisy office banter that may have gone on.

I’m not sure why, but this past trip to San Francisco has left me feeling more drained than any other trip in a while. Part of it was because I didn’t find our kickoff at Napa that exciting or eventful, and the second part of it was that my parents were especially difficult, manipulative, and childish. In their eyes, they are always victims, and everyone else is trying to con them. The world is evil and out to do bad things to them. Everyone else has wronged them, yet they have done nothing wrong. It’s always the same story every single time.

I do agree with them that the world is pretty evil. There are a lot of selfish, screwed up people out there who want bad things for other people. But I don’t think that is everyone. I feel like I need to decompress from all this needless stress and negativity this week and just zone out and find some quiet time to myself, away from all these bad influences and away from the made up drama.

A life cut far too short

Yesterday afternoon, my parents and I went to the Columbarium to visit Ed. It’s part of my routine when I come home, as I try to go to the Columbarium and see Ed each visit. Part of it is to remember and acknowledge him and his life, what he meant to me and what I am trying to live for each day. The other part of it is to reflect on life on this earth and to prove to him what this life is supposed to be about.

A depressing reality of coming back to the Columbarium each visit is that more and more of the niches are reserved and filled. More people are dying and being laid to rest. More lives are coming to an end, whether long or short. But this visit, one particular niche in the Hall of Olympians caught my eye: it was that of a little infant boy who died. No details were in the niche, but it was clear he died as an infant and had an outpouring of love and longing from his parents and and family. All these little tokens of the baby were scattered al over the inside of the niche. This child’s niche was the same size as Ed’s.

I stared at this niche for what felt like a short eternity. My eyes welled up, and my vision blurred. The thought that a life could be cut that short just made me short of breath for a bit. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and suffering this little baby boy’s parents were going through, but just seeing this made me feel all choked up. All I could think about was a deep abyss of hurt.

It’s a shattering thought to think that innocent little babies like this one and people who had so much good to give the world like my brother had their lives cut short, yet there are so many truly terrible, hateful people who continue to live their lives every single day. Then, there are those who are wasting their lives away, doing tasks and actions that have zero meaning or future positive impact on the world, and they get to continue their lives as though they can just do whatever dull, superficial, or pathetic thing they want to do. The mere thought of this made me see red everywhere.

How does anyone ever really come to realize what they are supposed to contribute to this life, to this world?

a day filled with joy and roses

This Saturday was the day I had reserved for my parents. My mom really is hell bent on our “immediate family” spending time together when I am in town. She hates it when any of my cousins or my aunt or uncle are there. That is not “real” family time because she cannot be herself and has to put on an act. It’s actually a similar sentiment, but not exactly the same, of Chris’s mother, minus the latter sentiment of needing to put on a show.

The unfortunate part of this ideal desire for “family time” is that we really have nothing to do together other than eat… and listen to their gossip or complaining. My parents and I have little in common. We do not enjoy the same activities, and we do not have the same interests. I’ve never been able to be myself around them because they don’t really care about the topics and causes I care about. My dad’s idea of a good day is watching YouTube videos nonstop, including eating all his meals in front of the computer screen. My mom actually has to nag him to eat at the dinner table with her, even when I am home. My dad is also the king of complaining. He will criticize any and every idea you have. When my mom suggested we go to Japantown, he grunted and retorted, “Why do we always have to go there? It’s all the same all the time!” When my mom suggested we eat at San Tung, one of my favorite restaurants in the city, my dad made his usual disapproving sounds and said that the restaurant is going downhill, the prices are inflated, and that the only thing keeping the restaurant afloat is its signature dry fried chicken wings dish (this is a restaurant that has been going strong for 20+ years, and every single day of the week has a huge queue of people waiting to eat in as well as do takeout). When I suggested we go to Land’s End, he said he didn’t want to walk because he already walked around the block twice this morning for his daily exercise (sounds exhilarating). But we ended up going to Land’s End, and my mom said it would be good to be outside since the day was quite clear and warm. About .4 miles of the .45 miles from Land’s End to the Legion of Honor, a relatively flat walk except for one small hill and a single set of stairs, he threw a massive temper tantrum and started yelling at me.

“You know, where are we going?” His voice was becoming shrill. I wasn’t even bracing myself; I realized in this moment that I wasn’t scared of what he was going to say, and it was one of the first times in my life that I didn’t have a sick, sinking feeling in my stomach when his voice would rise. “This walk is aimless and pointless! There’s nothing to see! Where are we even going to? I’m sick and tired of this. I cannot walk like this. I am not acclimated! You need to get acclimated to do this type of walk! You can do what you want! I’m going back!”

“You have Golden Gate Park right outside your door, and Land’s End right in your backyard, and you cannot even enjoy it!” I shot back at him. “You take walks around the block for exercise that don’t even last 20 minutes. You should be getting at minimum 30 minutes of physical activity every day, and if you are going to do that, why not see something scenic? What do you want to do, sit at home on your computer all day? How is that doing anything productive or even enjoyable? Do you think spending time on your computer is family time together? We are supposed to be spending time together, so what is so wrong about taking a WALK?” I was growing more and more enraged the more I spoke and finally cut myself off. I was surprised my mom didn’t interject to shut me up.

My dad walked off without another word. “I don’t have to deal with this!” I shouted at him as he stomped away.

My mom stayed with me and continued walking. She smiled weakly. She still said nothing. I then ranted to her about how rude and childish he’s been since I’ve come home, how he’s barely spoken to me or even acknowledged me other than to ask random questions about work out of the blue.

“What do you expect me to say — he had no one to teach him better when he was young,” my mom said to me, shrugging her shoulders. “Do you think I have it easy every day with him?”

We got back to the car eventually, after bickering with each other about other fun topics. My dad was cleaning the windows of the truck and acted as though nothing had happened. Well, I guess that is typical Asian parent behavior; never acknowledge what went wrong and try to sweep it under a rug.

We had dinner at San Tung altogether while sharing a table with two friends, one of whom was introducing the infamous dry fried chicken to the other friend for the first time. She was completely blown away and insisted on ordering a second plate. That was the highlight of my dinner activity, other than eating my beloved dry fried chicken wings and black bean sauce noodles. As a family, we barely said anything to each other while eating.

Then, I went home to do laundry. I had plans to see my friends in the evening, and my mom started panicking, saying she didn’t want me to go. “I don’t want you to go out tonight,” my mom started. “It’s dangerous out there — so many punks and it’s not good to go out at night in the city. Tell them you’ll see them another time.”

I could not believe she was pulling this stunt again. She was trying to get me to cancel on my friends for the evening because of her own distrust of society, paranoia, and possessiveness. There was only one acceptable response to my mom, and that was to tell her I’d cancel. That was not going to happen under any circumstances. So she was not going to be happy. And she wasn’t when I refused.

“Why can’t you just be nice to me?” she shrieked. “I always treat you so well and I’ve never done anything wrong to you, and you have to be so mean and rude to me! You just want me to worry, don’t you? You have no consideration and are just selfish! You just want me to worry and my health is already going downhill!”

I’m not going to be brought down. I will rise above. I will ignore these false and baseless accusations and do what I want because I am an adult who can have an adult life.

It is also debatable that she has “never done anything wrong” to me, but that’s another story for another day.

“You are not going! I will not let you go!” she yelled. “You are making me VERY ANGRY right now!

I didn’t respond because how do you even respond to this delusional talk? You just can’t. So I told her I’d be back in 3.5 hours and left.

Yep, it was just another day in the life of my parents’ household, another searing reminder to me about why I have zero desire to move back to San Francisco and be anywhere closer to them. On a walk around the Napa resort one early evening this week, a colleague asked me if coming back home for these trips made me homesick and want to move back home.

“No,” I immediately said without taking a breath. “Actually, it’s a reminder to me that I made the right decision to move away, and the feeling hasn’t changed in the slightest.”

She seemed surprised, but she nodded her head. She also has moved away from home, but has every intention to move back to her home after a few more years away in another country.

I love my parents, but at a distance. Some people judge me for it, but I don’t really give a fuck. There is a reason human beings were created with legs and not roots. We have to outgrow our parents and move on with our lives to mature and become our own true selves. I was never going to grow properly under their roof and rulership. I would have been stunted, just like my brother was. And we all know where he is now, as sad as it is. But as sad as that reality is, it only makes me more angry and see red everywhere.

If I never left, I’d have no perspective. I’d just live in a small bubble, completely ignorant to all the possibilities that exist outside of the Bay Area. And ignorance is not bliss.

“Honor your father and your mother”

I think it could go without saying that every world religion has some sort of written mandate on how one is supposed to treat one’s parents. In the Bible, Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother.” In other words, respect them, treat them well, and (arguably) obey what they say.

But what are you supposed to do when you are grown adult child, yet your parent acts like a child? Or, even worse, they barely even acknowledge you and act like you aren’t even there?

I came home after a long bus ride back from Napa today and arrived at the house. My dad was home, on his computer as per usual, and I came in and said hi. He said nothing. He continued watching his YouTube video. I thought maybe I didn’t speak loud enough. I said hi again a second time. Still no response. I said, “Hey! Are you okay?” And he finally looked up for a moment, still failing to make eye contact with me, and said, “Oh, I was just watching something on the YouTube.”

Yeah, no kidding. He was so busy watching YouTube, which he does all day anyway unless he has errands to run, yet his daughter is only in town for a few days, and he cannot even look up to say a proper “hello.” I was trying to keep my voice level and not say anything too passive aggressive, but I could feel my blood pressure going up.

Being antisocial is what my dad is — he doesn’t have any social skills at all to the point where it is painful to observe, but not being able to say hello is just downright ridiculous and not excusable. I always wonder how it is that a person could turn out this way, and if we really could blame their “upbringing” as so many people always resort to. Or, is it that at a certain point, it’s really on the individual to take the responsibility for what they lack. I try to accept it for what it is because I know I will never be able to change him, my mom, or anyone really, but it is vexing beyond comprehension in some moments. I feel like I want to shake him sometimes and say, “WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR YOU TO DO SOMETHING SO BASIC AND HUMAN?”

I am powerless and cannot do anything to change the situation.