Halloween at the office this year

I wore my banana outfit for the third or fourth time last year, and Chris refused to let me wear it to the office again this year. So, he suggested that I wear either my cheongsam, my Chinese dress I wore during the last hour of our wedding reception, or my ao dai, my Vietnamese dress. He had a good point: when else am I ever going to wear either of these outfits? I suppose if I went to a Chinese event that I could rewear my cheongsam because it is semi-formal, and not obviously a “wedding dress,” but the ao dai, given its traditional colors, could definitely be perceived as wedding only. I ended up wearing my cheongsam because Chris insisted that no one at my office would be able to appreciate how glitzy my ao dai was (nor would they even know what an ao dai is). “They’ll just think you’re a geisha or a Japanese flight attendant!” he exclaimed.

I got to the office, and a number of colleagues complimented me on my outfit. One said while smiling, “You look really nice today, but I have no idea what you are wearing.”

Chris’s response to that when I told him? “You should have said .. oh, I just assumed you were a Trump supporter because you are dressed up as a white guy.”

Maybe. But unfortunately, I am not that quick on my feet and never have been.

Health and fitness gratitude

It’s been nearly four straight weeks of working out at least 4 times a week, and my body feels really good. I’ve been starting and ending the day with stretching, and doing different workouts with my Aaptiv app to keep me motivated. Every time a workout ends these days, I feel really grateful and relieved… mostly because I know how painful and frustrating getting injured can be given the last two injuries I’ve recently had, and I hated the feeling so much — being powerless, having to wait who-knows-how-long before I would be healthy enough to properly exercise again. Every morning felt like a gamble: would my hamstring still feel tight? Would I still feel pain in my lower back? Please, pain, go away!

The experiences of getting injured recently have made me feel even more gratitude in the mornings when I wake up and feel 100 percent healthy enough to exercise, to go through my everyday motions and not feel constrained by any means at all. I can lift and carry whatever I want, get on a stool and feel steady, and not really have to worry about anything. This was not always the case in the last few months. I just felt so happy the last few weeks ending my workouts and thinking, I did my daily exercise. I didn’t get injured. I am in good health. I feel good. 

As human beings, we tend to take what seems to be the most basic things for granted. But the last few weeks, I have woken up especially grateful, honestly in a way basking in the fact that I am so lucky and fortunate to have the good health and fitness level that I do, and that I feel comfortable and confident in my own skin. Gratitude is the hallmark of happiness, as they always say.

Upper East Side nostalgia

I had to come back to the Upper East Side for my doctor’s appointment this afternoon, as well as a follow-up eye appointment from last week. Two times to the Upper East Side in just a week; I hadn’t been there this often since I actually lived in the neighborhood over a year ago. It felt really nice to walk through the streets and pass by all the meticulously decorated brownstones with their ornate Halloween decorations and jack-o-lanterns. It’s one of those little quirky things I miss not living in that neighborhood anymore. Sometimes when you walk through that area of Manhattan, it feels so residential that you can forget for a moment that you live in a concrete jungle. It just feels like a homely suburban neighborhood… just without any front yards or space between the buildings. You do get bits and pieces of Halloween decoration on buildings in the Upper West Side or the East Village, but the Upper East Side has always been known to be decked out at this time of year.

I do miss this neighborhood. A lot of the storefronts have changed, of course. Many restaurants and shops have closed; a lot of areas have many retail vacancies. New high-rises have gone up. Well, I have my doctor and optometrist to keep me coming back here to relive my Upper East Side resident memories.

Costco chicken bake

Today was Chris’s second time ever going to Costco. After we finished paying for our haul of goodies, Chris asked, “don’t you want your chicken bake?” It’s like I had heart eyes on the spot. The first time he came with me back in June, he was annoyed by the crowds and didn’t want to wait for a chicken bake in the Costco fast food line, breaking my personal tradition of always getting a chicken bake when visiting a Costco in Manhattan. This time, he humored me. So we got the chicken bake and took it home to share.

It’s really nothing that will wow anyone or be on the list of the most incredible foods you’ve ever eaten, but for me, it holds nostalgia from my Costco trips with my parents growing up, and my dad surprising me with one in the car. But if you really think about it, the Costco chicken bake encompasses most elements of what defines “comfort food”: meat (thick chunks of chicken breast), bread, cheese, a creamy sauce, bacon, a crusty cheesy exterior. You can’t really go wrong with that unless you are trying to entice a vegan, right? Chris smelled it, and he said he could already picture what it tasted like. And when he actually took a bite, he said, “Okay, yes, this is good, but it… just taste like pizza bread!”

It tastes like my happy memories of home. I will always love this baked goodness.

Defining “near” and “far”

Chris and I had dinner tonight at his brother’s friends’ apartment downtown. They relocated to New York last year from Hong Kong. They are originally from Melbourne, but have spent the last 7+ years living in Hong Kong. The female friend’s job brought them here, and her husband came over through an internal job transfer. Both are extremely cognizant of how terrible the immigration process is to get to the U.S. Welcome to America!

It was really amusing listening to them talk about their perception of what is “near” and “far” and where they wanted to live in the future. She seems to love New York; he seems a bit more lukewarm and annoyed by how expensive things are here. He wants to move back to Melbourne eventually; she appeared repulsed by the idea unless he had some extremely glamorous and lucrative job lined up that would entice him back (he insisted that no job in Melbourne would be that amazing for her to be “wowed” by it). She seemed especially irritated by the housing market in Melbourne and fantasized about moving back to Hong Kong. But when we asked them if they would consider moving back to Australia via Sydney, they both said absolutely not. “Why would we live in Sydney? In Melbourne, the obvious draw is that family is there… but Sydney… why?” she asked. “Sydney is an hour’s flight away from Melbourne, but if we lived in Hong Kong, I could easily get back to Melbourne on an overnight flight! So I’d choose Hong Kong over Sydney easily!”

I loved hearing this. With people who are close in age to me (so, really, “millennials” if we have to label ourselves that dreadful name), there seems to be a general lack of desire to be “far” from family. What is the reason I hear the most often? Well, the opposite one of what our friend here is saying: if an emergency happens, I want to get to them right away. Well, “right away” clearly has different definitions for different people. I’m currently a five-hour flight away from San Francisco. This feels comfortable to me… I guess. The saddest and most real case in point was when I found out Ed passed away, and I immediately booked the first flight back home the next day. Our friend here is saying, “closeness” means being an overnight flight away, so maybe 8-9 hours. This response would completely throw off anyone who has given me the above argument against moving “far away” from home (and, well, their subconscious judgment of me for living 3,000 miles away from my parents). For Chris, a flight home would mean about 24 hours including transfer and layover time. For him, it seems to be enough. But that’s the thing: “near” and “far” mean very different things to different people, and it’s hard to define it as a generalization.

When “good” fights “good”

Tonight, we went to the Manhattan Theatre Club to see The Niceties, a play about a young liberal black student and her well respected liberal white professor at an elite East Coast university. Although they both on the surface seem as though they stand for the same values, their conversations quickly reveal that their thoughts on race and reputation do not match and actually clash quite heavily.

I spent most of the play going back and forth regarding who I agreed with. When it came to understanding race at a deeper level and not glorifying politicians like Washington and Jefferson, especially given they were slave owners and did not really want “rights” for anyone other than property-owning white men, I agreed with the black student. When it came to the oversensitivity of today’s generation and the constant need for “trigger warnings” and incessantly requiring people to be politically correct in everything they say,  I agreed with the white professor. But it was like a tennis match, constantly watching the ball go back and forth and not being sure where we would land. It reminded me of the Bernie supporters vs. the Hillary supporters in the 2016 election, or the third-party voters vs. the Hillary supporters.

I really liked the author’s note that came with the play’s Playbill, as it very succinctly summed up the goal of the play, as well as the general sentiments in today’s heated political climate which stare us in the face, which said:

“I’ve always been fascinated when good people fight.

Conflicts between good and evil can be fun fodder for action films. But I’m more intrigued by the times when smart, well-meaning people, with great values and the best intention, fundamentally can’t agree on the right way to behave.

Kindness or honesty? Idealism or caution? Forgiveness or punishment?

We all have natural instincts in one direction or another. We can all justify our instincts with logic, examples, and appeals. But do we really know for certain that our beliefs about the world, and about how we ought to behave in it, are right? And how should we respond to someone who tells us when we’re wrong?”

I always feel conflicted. I felt angry when I had friends who didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election. I got pissed at my friend who voted for Jill Stein, a third-party candidate. I get infuriated when I still hear people today say that Bernie Sanders should run again in 2020 because this time, “he’d definitely win.” Okay, if you think that, you seriously did NOT understand 2016 at all. None of us really do, but you’re even further from comprehension of that. For those on the “right” side of progress, we don’t agree; the Democratic Party has no unity, no real unifying message. That’s one of many reasons things fell apart in 2016. We’re all trying to be good, but it’s not clear who is the “worst” of the “good” and the “best” of the “good.”


House cleaning services in New York City

I am anal retentive about cleaning. I’ve always been this way. I’m 100% certain it was a learned trait that I got from my mother, who used to have a very calibrated routine for cleaning: all parts of the bathroom had to be cleaned every single week, usually Wednesday. The kitchen floor was swept weekly and mopped at least every other week. The bathtub was thoroughly washed after every single bath. The sinks were cleaned once a week. She usually did all of this, but my dad occasionally would help with sweeping and mopping the kitchen. When she cleaned the toilet, every single surface would get disinfected, even the sides of the tank, which most people don’t even think to clean.

I really do not enjoy cleaning at all, but I do love the feeling of being done cleaning and knowing that I am standing in a spick and span apartment. I’ve occasionally thought about what it would be like to have someone professionally clean my apartment, but there are two things going against this: a) I’m too cheap, and b) my standard of “clean” is really high, so the chances are also very high of my hating the job of whoever did the cleaning and never wanting to hire them again.

So on my local college’s alumnae Facebook page, someone recently asked for “reasonably priced” cleaning services that others would recommend. A women’s cooperative based in Brooklyn was recommended by a number of alumnae, and I looked at their website. On average for a 1 bedroom/1 bath apartment, they charge about $120, and it’s not by the hour (that sounded suspect, especially since they said on average the cleaner will spend about 4-6 hours cleaning. When broken down by the hour, that seems a bit too cheap to be true. It’s for “everything” – sweeping, mopping, dusting, cleaning countertops, disinfecting toilets. But when I looked at the details of how they define “cleaning toilet,” it simply says “clean toilet bowl.” Eh. That’s not the entire toilet. What about the seat – the top and the bottom? What about the handle, or the base of the bowl, where all kinds of nasty fecal matter accumulates? It says on their site that you can make specific requests or ask for “deep cleaning,” and after visiting your apartment, they would then adjust their quote based on your specifications.

At some point, I will succumb, maybe when my life circumstances change, but for now, I will pass.


The first time I ever tried an alfajor, a South American flaky, shortbread cookie-sandwich with dulce de leche filled in between, I was hooked. The buttery, rich texture of the cookies sandwiching the thick, gooey milk-based caramel in between was addictive. The cookies are usually covered in powdered sugar, so they also leave quite the mess behind, making you think about what you just consumed and how delicious it is. I had bookmarked a recipe that Serious Eats published for alfajores a while ago, but I finally got around to making them this weekend for the first time. I made my own cajeta, or a goat milk-based dulce de leche, and also used my last Tahitian vanilla bean, the pod and the seeds and all, for both the biscuit dough and the caramel. And even though it took nearly two hours to fully reduce the caramel to the right consistency, it was definitely worth it. It was the most complex caramel I’d ever tasted; given how good and grassy goat milk tastes, it’s so sad that we haven’t embraced it much as a culture here. It also doesn’t help that it’s quite expensive.

Our handyman friend, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, tried the cajeta alone and the alfajores, and he had a look of bliss on his face. “These taste like childhood,” he declared. “You know I only eat desserts you and my wife make, right?”

That’s how powerful food is. Taste is memory. Memory can be taste.

Sharing suicide survivor stories

Tonight, I was doing research on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) survivor outreach program, which led me to their blog that oftentimes has guest posts. Many of the guest posts that are shared are by everyday people just like me. We’re not necessarily “experts” on mental health; we’re not doctors or researchers or academics, but we are people who have been affected by suicide of a loved one. And that story is worth sharing because the truth of our human experiences is worth sharing.

As I was reading the criteria for the survivor story guest posts, I immediately was turned off. A couple of the things that were mentioned that immediately made me realize that I did not want to contribute to this: 1) it insisted that you not use the term “mental illness” and instead use “mental health.” I’m not sure about what you think, but depression is an illness. I don’t care how you want to spin that, but IT IS AN ILLNESS. Depression is not something that you just get like a mood swing or a cold and get over as a part of everyday mind or body health. Bucketing it as “mental health” absolutely does NOT highlight the gravity of the issue at hand. And then there’s the one I got really frustrated with: 2) You cannot mention how the person ended his life. You can only say that he died by suicide. Really? Are we really in a culture today with required “TW / trigger warnings” and snowflake culture that we cannot just accept reality, that life is painful and is going to have a lot of excruciating details that we all just need to face? It’s like we have to be so “progressive” as to focus on things that do not matter and make those things matter instead of focusing on the truth and truly moving forward. The argument to not include this information is that the method of suicide would in some way glorify the suicide and then encourage others who are in the process of suicide ideation to use that particular method to end their lives. This is absolutely ludicrous to me.

And to be frank, part of the reason I think I get as much money and as many donations as I get is because I try really hard to paint a vivid picture of what Ed went through, of my feelings at the time.. of my feelings today. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t black and white. I want it to be as crystal clear as possible. Why? Because I want you, the reader, to know exactly how fucked up the situation was. I want you to know how much anger and physical and mental pain I felt when I found out my brother was dead. And I want every person who even reads half of each year’s fundraising story to know how the entire world failed my brother, and I will never stop being angry about it.

If you can get through reading my story and not feel something, you must be some feelingless robot.

But that’s the point of even sharing a story. To evoke feelings. To share a sense of humanity. To inspire action. And you cannot do that without giving details. It’s just not enough to me.

Improved vision

Two years ago, and pretty much since I realized I needed glasses when I was about 16, my eyes have been a -1.50. For those who do not know what eye prescriptions mean, that means that I am slightly near-sighted. If you are standing in front of me or a few feet away from me, I can see you pretty clearly. But once you are about 30-50 feet away, I won’t be able to make out your face’s details, but I’ll still be able to tell it is you. That means that if I actually drove a car, I’d need to wear corrective lenses to legally drive. I wouldn’t be able to read street signs.

Last year, my vision worsened and became -1.75. Today, I told my optometrist that I felt like when I wore my contacts that things were a bit too fuzzy when I would try to look at my phone or a computer. I described using my glasses more while watching TV to see all the details, and after some further examination, he decided that perhaps I am straining my eyes too much. I’m trying too hard? Sounds like the typical Asian kid. So he is having me test out -1.00 contact lenses for the next week to see if these are enough for me.

Does this actually mean that my vision has improved?? I couldn’t believe it. He laughed at how astounded I was. “Just because you are slowly getting older doesn’t always mean that everything gets worse!” he exclaimed, smiling.