Broken foster care system in New York City

I met with my mentee for tea this afternoon, and she’s finally moved out of her foster parents’ house into her new dorm in Queens to start her third year of college. Despite having moved out, her foster parents haven’t made a single attempt to call or speak with her in a week. They haven’t even texted or emailed. So, it’s been zero communication since she told them she was going to move out of their house. She told me that her foster mom cried and told her she didn’t want her to leave, but when she finally did leave, she said nothing to her. Her foster mom is going through a depressive bout, and her foster dad, who has never been that involved other than to leave money on the table for her, hasn’t said a word to her in months.

I have no idea what the screening process is like to become a foster parent, but if this is at all representative of what it actually is like for other children who have been in the foster care system in New York City, much less the rest of this country, I’m extremely disheartened. The whole point of being put into foster care is because your own parents could not give you the love, care, and support you needed, so you are then placed with another family that is equipped to provide you these things. This is obviously not happening in this current situation, which infuriates me to no end every time I meet with my mentee and she shares these horror stories with me. She thinks something is wrong with her as a result; it’s nothing wrong with her. It’s what’s wrong with the world and the stupid system she has to deal with.

Team cooking outing

This afternoon, we had an office team building event at My Cooking Party, a cooking space that allows for classes and team events for schools and workplaces. We were split into two teams and each team got paired up with a professional chef, who would help “guide” us in the direction we’d want. Each team got one protein, one starch, and one vegetable, and had to come up with the most creative way to use each. At the end, two secret judges would evaluate each team’s dishes and decide upon a winner.

To be frank, there really wasn’t much creativity by the actual team members involved, as the chefs clearly had ideas in mind for what to do. I get why they set it up this way: the vast majority of people who take these classes have little to no experience cooking (New York City is the land of delivery, after all, and here, speed and convenience are king), so it would not be good to have a cooking competition where blind people are leading other blind people on a team. My team had shrimp, Israeli couscous, and string beans. The other team had skirt steak, potatoes, and spinach.

Our chef pretty much said, let’s make a pesto for the shrimp! And let’s also do a roasted tomato and vegetable stock based couscous! And who were we to object? I suggested using the ground coconut for a Kerala string bean sauté; he was not on board with this, and lightly suggested ginger-soy string beans. This excited everyone on the team except me. That just screamed “boring and predictable” to me. The other team ended up making a marinated skirt steak, French fries with rosemary oil, and buttered spinach. And somehow, they won despite how predictable their menu was, that their skirt steak was mostly well done, and at best, medium well in the center. The judges said that the fries were “creative,” but when did French fries become unique?

It was all fun in the end, and it was nice to be able to get out of the office and do something that wasn’t work related. But I didn’t really like that they made it sound like we had free reign to do whatever we wanted with the food and to be rated on our “creativity” when it was clear that we were at the whims of our assigned chefs and not our own minds. In that case, I would have preferred to just have assigned dishes with recipes per team and to eat everything together in the end. It’s either a real competition or not. It’s either with recipes or it isn’t. You shouldn’t have it somewhere in between.


Friends we wouldn’t trust with our babies, dogs, or even job referrals

My colleague, who owns a dog she adopted recently, is going away for a quick two-day trip, and she said that although she had a number of friends who love her dog, she literally would not trust them with her dog’s life. “My friends cannot be trusted!” she exclaimed. “They’re so irresponsible! I’m scared I’d come back home to my dog either getting poisoned or dead.”

This was comical to me because it reminded me of the time when I was arguing with a former colleague two companies ago about how to differentiate friends versus colleagues. Just because you trust someone as a friend in your personal life does not mean you’d trust them in the workplace to do a good job, and vice versa. Good times do not require responsibility. Likewise, you may get along swimmingly with a colleague when working on projects, but maybe he’s not really someone you’d want to have dinner and drinks with after work, or someone you could conceivably have a good time with anywhere if you did not have work in common. We had this conversation after this colleague referred his friend to our company despite his friend having zero industry experience, and having the audacity to not even research the company nor the role he was even applying for. He genuinely had no idea what he applied for and what he was interviewing with me about. He never got passed round one of interviews, needless to say. My then-colleague argued with me, saying that everyone deserves a chance (at getting a job? Yes. At this job? Absolutely not). He was completely incapable of differentiating friend vs. colleague, or responsible vs. not responsible.

One of my friends repeatedly questions how worthy my other friends are of me when he hears the irresponsible stories that I’ve shared. “These are the people you call closest to you? Really? Don’t you think you need new friends? How can your friends be so irresponsible?”

I don’t know. How can they? Maybe it says more about me than it does about them? Maybe I just subconsciously like having people around who are more irresponsible, selfish, less trustworthy, and not as confident, because it makes me feel better about myself? Who knows.

Pre-conceived bias

People always say that if you educate others, then they will be more knowledgeable and open minded. Frankly, I don’t really think this is true if someone already has set pre-conceived notions of something. I’m not really exempt from that either. For example: you’ll never get me to agree with you if you say that abortion should be illegal. I understandwhy people want it to be illegal, but I do not and will never agree no matter what information you share with me. But it bugs me when people have pre-conceived notions of a place they’ve never been to merely based on random news stories they’ve read or anecdotes that friends have shared with them of places they’ve visited.

Tonight, I was telling my friend about my India trip, and she asked me if I felt safe. “Safety,” or the feeling of it as I recently read, is strongly rooted in feelings of race and class if we care to dig uncomfortably into our subconscious. “You always read about how women are constantly getting raped in India,” she said. “It’s so scary.”

I countered her point by asking her if she was aware of how scared many people in other countries feel about the U.S. in terms of how lax we are with guns, with the number of school shootings and shootings in general that happen in this country every single day. “People actually think that if they come here, they may get shot and killed,” I said to her. “It’s so easy to get a gun; anyone can do it. That’s the way it’s covered abroad. But we live here, and we know that’s not the case that we’re all fearing for our lives every single day.” Our mutual friend lived in Asia for years and said she was scared watching the news coverage of all these shootings in the U.S. Her in-laws, who lived in Singapore, said they didn’t feel comfortable with the two of them potentially moving back to the States. Not only that, but there are people who simply do not want to enter the United States while Trump is president because as foreigners, they do not feel welcome. I literally just heard this back and forth conversation between a dad and his son in Canada this past weekend. Tourism has notably declined into the U.S. since Dipshit took office.

“Maybe,” my friend said skeptically. “I’m not sure about that.”

I don’t really know what there is to be skeptical about. If you have perspective and you are aware of what’s going on around you and outside of the city or country or continent where you live, you will know that places like India or the U.S. really are not as “dangerous” as the media make them out to be. A lot of what ends up happening in our lives occur because of our attitudes and pre-judgments before events actually happen. If you complain and say that you will have a terrible time at a party before attending, you’re probably going to have a crappy time. If you keep obsessing over your luggage getting lost on a flight like that insufferable woman from Sunday, I’m pretty sure your luggage will get lost. But if you enter India or the U.S. hoping for an enjoyable time and are optimistic, it’s more likely that you will actually have fun and stop worrying about getting shot in the head or raped in the streets. I told her this. She remained skeptical.

And if you are really unsure or feel unsafe about going to a place… just don’t go. Also, don’t ruin it for other people when they express that they want to go.

Unruly passenger

After one last day of exploring Vancouver, I reluctantly headed to the airport yesterday late afternoon for my return flight back to New York. After I boarded the plane, which was headed to Phoenix since there’s no direct flights on American between Vancouver and New York, a middle-aged white woman was conspicuously (and audibly) disgruntled that there was no overhead compartment space for her roller bag. She took the liberty to announce quite loudly before she sat down, “Before boarding, the crew had announced that this would be a completely full flight, and people would have had some grace to check their bags, but I guess it goes to show that people lack humility and courtesy for others.” She then took the middle seat next to me in the second row of economy class.

Damnit, she is sitting next to me.

Because of the big fuss she made, the crew was kind enough to take her roller bag and store it in the First Class closet. She really lucked out. 

The woman proceeded to try to make small talk with me when I had my earbuds in. Why is she doing this?She revealed to me (and pretty much everyone on the first half of the plane because of how loud she was) that she had two connecting flights before reaching her destination, the Cayman Islands, where she works in the hospitality industry and has for the last fifteen-plus years. She was scared of having her bag lost because the last time she flew on American, she had her bag misplaced and had to wait two days for it, so there was no way she’d allow them to force check her bag this time. In the end, she got what she wanted by being so obnoxious, but did she really need to share her entire life story so loudly?

We took off. She probably realized at some point that I really did not want to talk to her, so then she turned to the man seated in the window seat of our row and tried to talk to him… after he had his eyes closed and was clearly trying to sleep. She seriously has no common sense. When he made it even more obvious that he absolutely did not want to talk to her and continued closing his eyes, she thencontinued to get the attention of the people in the row in front of uswho had a service dog, and started telling them about her life story, including how much she loves dogs.This woman could not have been more frustrating in her existence.

But this woman really had to epitomize the most annoying specimen on this flight when the flight attendants came around with snacks and drinks, and I asked for a wine and a snack box. Since I have Executive Platinum status on American, if I am seated in economy, I always get these items complimentary because that’s a perk of the status; you wouldn’t know this unless you actually kept track of flight status perks or had this level of status. But the flight attendant who served me tried to make me pay, and I told her that I had “EP” status, so I shouldn’t have to pay. This middle-seat woman decided to interject and said, “Of course you have to pay! Why wouldn’t you have to pay?” I glared at her, shocked that she would say anything in an interaction that had nothing to do with her. Does she even know what “EP” stands for?! The flight attendant ended by admitting she was wrong after some back and forth and said she didn’t check the EP list. She gave me my food and drink and continued serving others.

I later found out that this woman was Canadian and originally from Vancouver. She was in town to visit family. Considering how rude, annoying, and invasive she was, I really had thought she was just another dumb and entitled American flying on AA. She’s tainting the “Canadians are friendly” stereotype for me. I suppose, though, that “obnoxious” and “passive aggressive” as adjectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive from “friendly.”

Ed’s 39th birthday in Vancouver

It’s my first time celebrating Ed’s birthday outside of the U.S. It was just Bart and me today, so we had to make it worth it. We enjoyed the sumptuous breakfast buffet at the hotel’s Executive Lounge, complete with cold-pressed juices and even chocolate almond milk, wandered around Granville Island and enjoyed looking at all the local arts and crafts, especially the hand-crafted pottery designs. It reminded me of the ceramic designs that we admired while we were in Seattle together in 2004. I actually brought back a small little ceramic jewelry bowl from Pike Place Market during that trip that I placed next to my framed photo of the two of us together on our bedroom dresser.

We then took the ferry back to the West End and walked along the urban beach overlooking the English Bay. Walking through the streets of the West End, both residential and commercial, I found myself thinking that a lot of these streets felt like the ones I walked with Ed in Seattle 14 years ago. We walked through Canada Place and looked out at the harbor, admired the cruise ships and their massive fleets. I then sat with him at the bar of Miku, a well-respected aburi sushi restaurant in Vancouver, and we enjoyed the Miku Zen lunch special; he posed with the sushi and agreed with me that the wild British Columbia sockeye salmon aburi oshi sushi bites were truly the best and most memorable bites of this entire trip, if not ever. They were fresh, mouth-watering, savory, a little sweet from the Mizu sauce, and literally just melted as soon as they hit your tongue. We debated whether we would get another half order of the salmon aburi, but decided against it unless we wanted the bartenders to wheel us out.

We wandered over to a cafe in Gastown known for London fog lattes and enjoyed a large mug while gazing over at the Canadian baristas so naturally doing their day to day jobs and not even realizing that a little Bart Simpson was watching over them. Then, we headed back to Yaletown to pick up a slice of Erin Ireland’s “to die for” vegan lemon coconut loaf slice to save and enjoy for later when we’d be at the airport with lesser tasty options. We did some window shopping before heading back to the hotel, stretch our legs, pack up our last little bits, and grab a cab to the airport for our two flights home.

It felt nice to be traveling alone on my own today, to feel free and to go at the pace I wanted to go and wander around a little aimlessly, to stop at random places to take photos with Bart. I’m sure I almost mowed over a few Canadians and tourists alike with my speed walk and didn’t do my hamstring any favors today, but Bart seemed to enjoy himself for Ed. I hope Ed was watching today.

Happy 39th birthday, big bro. We ate well for you today and miss you. We’ll never stop thinking about you.

Going solo at a wedding

A colleague and I were talking about the concept of going solo to a wedding. He told me  that he hates going to weddings since he’s almost always attended without a plus-one, and as an introvert, he hates socializing with people he doesn’t know. People tend to pair up at these events, and as someone who goes without being paired up, he feels like the weird outlier. Weddings make him want to go to the corner of the room and fall asleep.

I am actually quite the opposite in mindset. I’ve gone to a lot of weddings with a date, but I’ve also attended quite a number without a plus-one and have been perfectly fine; in fact, at the weddings I’ve attended by myself, I always had a really notable and memorable time. At the last wedding I went to alone in March 2017, I had so many conversations with everyone from the grandfather of the bride to all the friends in attendance of the bride that I still thought about them days after I left. I consider myself more of an introvert than an extrovert; maybe a “closeted” introvert because most of my colleagues would never label me an introvert since I’m generally fairly social and friendly with everyone, especially new people. Being social at events like weddings is always a gamble, especially if you don’t know many people in attendance, but the worst thing that will happen is that the person you speak with will bore you to tears for a few minutes (or however long you allow), so then you just move on to the next person. It’s not so bad, really. If you do have a plus-one and you’re having a separate conversation that isn’t going so well, you can end it and latch onto whatever conversation your plus-one is having. That definitely can act as a crutch in times when you do not feel like being the screaming extrovert.

Today, I had a number of really interesting conversations with friends and relatives of the groom, and even had a chance to catch up with some of the groom and bride’s friends who I’ve previously met. I went a lot later than I thought I would and really enjoyed myself. And even if Chris had come with me, it’s not like we’d be glued at the hip to each other; we tend to be fairly independent people and have our own conversations at social events unless it becomes relevant to include one another due to where we are standing or the topic at hand. I’ve always loathed couples like that, anyway.

When chatting with friends and family of the groom today, it was so obvious how loved he is by the people in his life. And it was even more obvious how much he loved all of them, including me. He and the bride love food, culture, travel, and of course, the people in their lives, and that was pretty much everywhere as a theme of their wedding, being here in diverse and beautiful Vancouver, having local and sustainable foods and even ice cream on their reception menu, ensuring transportation is provided to and from the wedding ceremony and constantly checking in with people personally to ensure everyone has arrived safely (when you’re the groom!), and even providing the most thoughtful wedding favors in the form of local and organic maple syrup (because who leaves Canada without bringing home maple syrup?), a Canadian airplane magnet, and even a compass with their initials on it — all wrapped in a little drawstring patch with a map of North and South America.

When they first met, they bonded over their shared passion for films. So their wedding ceremony was actually full of famous movie quotes of films that they enjoy. It was so great to see their personalities and passions come through everywhere. They wrote their own vows, short and sweet. Surprisingly, this is the only wedding I’ve been to, well, other than my own, where the couple wrote their own vows.

Instead of table names, they went with photos of significant people who had passed on in their lives who could not be there to share in their wedding day; when they described this, I immediately started tearing up, especially knowing how close Adam was to his stepfather, who passed away just a month before Ed did. He is someone I have heard many things about from my friend, especially that he was likely the most intelligent person he’d ever known in his life; I was actually seated at that table. He was also very close to his biological father, who had passed many years before, who was represented by another table. It’s the personal touches of a wedding that always get me… assuming they are done.

During the MC’s speaking moments here and there, he noted that the bride is actually not a stereotypical “bridezilla” at all, and that on the contrary, she’s been extremely calm and collected throughout the wedding planning process. It is actually the groom that has been his own version of a “groomzilla,” obsessing over the little details and all the possible things that could go wrong, even as the wedding was happening today, even the choice of words coming out of the MC’s mouth, which were quite comical and borderline questionable (funny to me, though) at times. It is certainly true of the friend I know, but I know he does it out of love. He knows people are flying from around the country and the world who normally do not do a lot of travel, and so he wants to know that they all feel like he’s provided them a wedding that was worth traveling all this way for. It’s part of how he shows he loves the people in his life, by obsessing over whether everyone else is having a good time and enjoying this experience he has provided. His amount of care and generosity truly knows no bounds. I felt very grateful to be a part of this day for him and his new wife.

Beautiful and green Vancouver and food “labels”

Three years ago when my parents, Chris, and I came to Vancouver for the first time, I was completely in love. This city, with its beautiful harbour, lush green parks, shiny new buildings, proximity to mountains, forests, and beaches — was like an urban paradise on the North American continent to me. The diversity of the city stunned me, and the number of ethnic restaurants everywhere was literal eye candy. There was no end to the number of Asian restaurants and businesses everywhere. And you could feel it immediately when you arrived at Vancouver International Airport because all the signs were in English, French, and Chinese. People were friendly. The city seemed pretty walkable. People exercise a lot here, everywhere. The air was fresh and clean. I decided by day three there: if I could pick a Canadian city to live in, it would be Vancouver. It pretty much has everything I love about a city… with the exception that it gets cold and rains a lot. But maybe I could one day temporarily deal with it? No need to be so absolute about anything, right?

I spent the mid afternoon to evening today exploring areas that I didn’t get to see much of in-depth the last time I was here, and I found myself loving it even more. The drizzly and overcast sky cleared up to reveal the sun and a few clouds here and there this afternoon, and so I frolicked around and enjoyed walking through Yaletown, Gastown, Chinatown, and the West End. I noticed the quaint cafe and coffee culture every few blocks. I witnessed road rage to the max when I least expected it (apparently, road rage is a big thing here; who would have thought that Canadians could be mean and vicious?). I heard multiple languages being spoken that I couldn’t even recognize and name. I was overwhelmed with my lunch options, all featuring local, fresh, and sustainable ingredients,  and had no idea where to start. Ooh, this is my kind of place. I just want to stay here forever.

Health and fitness are big in Vancouver, almost like the way I noticed it was a thing in Colorado when I visited, and the number of restaurants that not only accommodate vegetarianism and veganism but actually feature sections of these categories of dining is actually really astounding to me. I’ve become more open-minded to veganism over the last several years, especially when it is made with the usual  omnivore in mind. I’m never going to convert, but I’m happy to eat less meat. To put this in perspective, a “recommended” serving of meat/protein in a healthy, well-balanced, nutritious diet is four ounces; that’s about the size of a deck of cards. When you actually give the average American a burger or piece of chicken that size, they scoff at it and say it’s too small. In other words, we eat far too much meat and really don’t understand portion control. We’d all be better off if we reset our expectations and stopped expecting a lot of meat all the time, if not for anything else but our health’s sake. I love all good food as long as its tasty, but don’t give me a carrot and tell me that’s my main course unless you’re going to do something absolutely surprising and crazy with it.

I decided to stop by The Juice Truck in Yaletown today for lunch after reading many rave reviews about how good their food was by vegetarians and omnivores alike. What they do not label themselves as in their name or even description is “vegan,” even though they actually are a plant-based food company with multiple locations throughout Vancouver, both truck and brick-and-mortar shops. There’s not a single animal product used in any of their dishes or smoothies. You wouldn’t know this until you read the individual descriptions of the bowls, plates, or smoothies.

I ordered their “Caesar salad,” which is a mix of romaine, kale, and radicchio served with sriracha-roasted crunchy chickpeas, smoked maple tempeh, walnut “parmesan,” chipotle coconut bacon, fresh lemon, and their house-made creamy cashew “caesar” dressing, as well as their vegan peanut butter chocolate soft serve made with house-made almond milk. Both the salad and the soft serve blew me away. I’ve made my own crunchy roasted chickpeas before, but this was an encouragement to make this again and more often. The cashew-based caesar dressing was nearly addictive with how creamy and umami it was. I finished the salad and felt really satisfied. And what truly impressed me the most was the peanut butter soft serve. I cannot imagine anyone having that who is a peanut butter fan being disappointed and missing the cow milk.

Maybe it’s true: if we stopped labeling things “vegan” or “vegetarian,” maybe people would be more open to trying these foods and embracing them. The only place I saw the word “vegan” on The Juice Truck’s menu was in regard to the soft serve options and the loaf cake slices (banana and lemon coconut, which are made by a plant-based personality who lives in Vancouver and owns Labeling is overrated; good food is good food. And the more creative the food, the better.


Virtual reality in a hotel elevator

Two flights this week, one for work and one for pleasure. It always seems to happen that whenever I have a fun trip planned, I also end up having to schedule work trips nearly back to back or within days of each other.

For my friend’s wedding this weekend in Vancouver, and to keep loyal to the Marriott, I am staying at The Douglas Autograph Collection hotel in the Yaletown area of downtown Vancouver. I had an idea of how trendy and posh it was when I made the hotel booking, but I didn’t realize how intense it was until I arrived past midnight. I was so exhausted from the flight that I felt a bit disoriented when I got to the hotel. First, I couldn’t figure out where the actual entrance was (it’s on the 6th floor… above the casinos and the ground level). Then, when I got into the elevator, I felt like I was being pushed into a virtual reality. When you enter the elevator and the doors close, laser lights in shades of jungle green and golden yellow surround you on all sides, so when you look at your reflection in the mirror, it looks as though you are being warped into the future. These lights were so bright for bleary-eyed me, whose internal clock was past 3am by this point.

When I exited the elevator to my room floor, I went all the way to the end of the hallway to the corner suite, where… my suite was actually bigger than our New York apartment. There are multiple couches in both the living room and the bedroom, 1.5 bathrooms, and  views overlooking downtown Vancouver and the stadium right next door to the hotel. Even the shower has floor to ceiling windows.

Yep. It’s official. I never want to leave this place.

Chris is right; I’m so spoiled now by all these amazing hotel experiences. But I will say that each time, I definitely do not take it for granted. Every single time I come to one of these stunning properties, I still count my blessings and realize how grateful and privileged I am to be pampered like this in such beautiful locations in the world.

Racism everywhere

I was at dinner with my friend tonight, who is visiting for work from Seattle, and she was telling me that the thought of moving back to New Jersey after over six years of living in Seattle makes her want to gag. She could kind of consider New York City, but even that seems exhausting and frustrating to her. Within a day of coming back to the Tri-State area and going out to Jersey to meet some friends for dinner, she was assumed to be a foreigner on the train. Some white male made fun of her for supposedly not understanding the English signs on the train as she was reading them, and she turned around, glared at the guy, and said, “I’m actually from here, but the train is not making normal stops. And yes, I do understand and read English. Thanks.” He seemed completely stunned at her response, nearly stupefied, said nothing, and walked away. “I get this all the time in Jersey when I am back here,” she said, irritated. “I’ve never even ONCE experienced that in Seattle! Not even a single time!”

It’s sad to think that is true, that in an area that is supposedly so diverse that people could still be so racist and make such blatantly ignorant comments. But I don’t really think any place is immune to it — not Jersey, not New York, not San Francisco or Seattle.   We’re just lucky when we don’t experience it. Asians are still minorities in this country and will continue to be for a long time. And even when that isn’t the case, there will always be white backlash at us for supposedly taking over what they perceive to be “their” land and “their” jobs. The world will continue to turn.