Bai Tu Long Bay

I spent a good four weeks researching which mini cruise company to go with for our Ha Long Bay (the famous UNESCO World Heritage site in northern Vietnam that translates as “descending dragon”) excursion. I knew I wanted us to do an overnight boat given that the distance is quite far between Hanoi and Ha Long Bay (about four hours by car). But there were so many options — so many tour groups with high ratings, so many inclusions/exclusions, four different routes (two main Ha Long Bay routes, plus two slightly off-the-beaten path routes, and different sights to see on different routes. I ultimately decided on a cruise that would take us through Bai Tu Long Bay (it translates to “the dragon parts from the offspring”), a route that is a bit further out that, because it’s a newer approved route by the Vietnamese government, is far less touched and is known for stiller waters. The limestone island and rock formations are still the same, but it given it’s less touched, will be far less polluted and be more scenic. I read a few too many reviews saying the first two approved main boat routes had a lot of trash and oil in the waters, and I didn’t really want to pay money to see that. I was forgoing the opportunity on one of these routes to climb one of the mountains on the island to get a near-aerial view of Ha Long Bay, which I really wanted to see and do, but meh. The same route probably got the most reviewers discussing how filled with rubbish that island and its surrounding waters it was. I will see what I see, and I know what I will see. I don’t need a photo of the top view to remember this.

And as soon as we arrived at the dock, it already looked stunning. Lots of haters on travel sites like TripAdvisor shat all over Ha Long Bay, saying it’s gross, polluted, not anything like the photos you see online or in travel magazines. But along the route we took in Bai Tu Long Bay, even on a crisp 50s F day with a light wind, it was spectacular to see endless little limestone islands in all their various colors, with different types of trees and shrubbery adorning them. Caves that came about naturally live on some of these islands, and kayaking through it all today seemed quite surreal. The farther we sailed, the more we saw of these endless limestone islands. They just kept coming and coming; it’s as though there was no end to them.

As we sailed and kayaked this afternoon, I thought about my mom and Ed. My mom, more or less, has had a slight desire to travel, but it’s been pretty much squashed by my dad, who would far prefer to see anything via YouTube than actually travel and go see it himself in real life. But one area of the world she has absolutely zero desire to see again, sadly, is Vietnam, her home country. Too many bad memories of the war, the pain of losing her mother and never seeing her before she died in 1984, and the constant nagging of relatives still there for more money, have scarred her. She feels like she’s failed her family there in some ways (“no amount of money is enough”), and she doesn’t want to deal with them again. She could never go to Vietnam and not go see them the way I have. But Bai Tu Long Bay’s beauty would most certainly be appreciated by my mother. I wish she could see this for herself, but only photos will suffice.

Ed had no desire to come to Vietnam in 2008. When asked and asked again, he insisted he did not want to come. In confidence to me, he said, “I don’t want to see that disgusting country. That country messed up our mother. I don’t know what they did to her, but they screwed her up. Whatever is there is probably awful and I don’t want to see what ruined her.” I didn’t know what to say. So I said nothing in response, and said I’d show him photos when I got back. But after seeing Saigon again, and now Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, I also think my brother would be able to appreciate this country, if not just for its food, but also for the promise it has for a brighter future with its strides in development and in education. Going through the islands today made me think about him and all the things I’ve seen and will continue to see that he will never have the chance to. It just made me so sad and wistful. Maybe he didn’t have the desire to see Vietnam in 2008, but today, on the last day of 2018, I know for sure that he’d enjoy this.

Little stools for little people

Since we’ve arrived in Vietnam, Chris has been excited and eager to try the food, but depending on how simple and hole-in-the-wall the restaurant or food stall is, he’s been dreading the seating situation… as in, do I actually get to sit in a proper chair, a normal-height stool, or a teeny tiny stool that barely clears one foot tall?

For whatever reason, the first time I came to Vietnam in 2008, the tiny sitting stools didn’t phase me. I just accepted them and sat on them. The more no-frills the place was, the more likely the establishment was to have these small stools for sitting. As several people we spoke with joked and commented, “Vietnamese people are a small people. We are not tall.”  Even my dad, who is the same height as Chris at 5’9″, found them comical 11 years ago when we came together, reminding him of the past, and commented that they weren’t great for his back. But he didn’t complain at all and just took it all in.

At this point in our trip, it’s hard to count the number of times we’ve had to sit on these tiny stools while eating. Then when we arrived at a much anticipated banh cuon shop (these are steamed Vietnamese rice rolls typically stuffed with minced pork, shrimp, cloud ear mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms, then dunked in nuoc cham dipping sauce; one of my absolute favorite dishes on earth), Chris immediately whined and whinged. “Are these people trying to kill me?! I don’t know how long I can sit like this. Order quickly so we can eat quickly and go.”

We ordered our banh cuon, Vietnamese cinnamon meatloaf slices, pork and lemongrass skewers, and freshly pressed soy milk. Although Chris usually doesn’t care for soy milk, he has been really enjoying the soy milk here, which is what I call real soy milk as it was meant to be prepared and enjoyed: fresh pressed from steaming soy beans, with just a touch of sugar to sweeten. I have fond memories of enjoying this beverage almost every morning off the streets in Shanghai, and also on the last Vietnam trip. During my childhood, my mom frequently bought fresh soy milk from a reputable Asian shop on Clement Street in San Francisco. So the taste and texture have been with me forever. So while I still like soy milk in the U.S. out of a carton, even with its added preservatives, thickeners, and who else knows what got added into it, I will always have a soft spot for real Asian soy milk. And now I know I can get Chris to drink soy milk if I get him the authentic stuff.

As soon as we were done eating, Chris pressed me to pay as soon as possible and leave. I guess this is just another one of the small benefits of being petite: the tiny sitting stools don’t bother me as much, and I could probably sit all day like that without any pain or knee buckling.


Hanoi pho

Today, we finally enjoyed pho at a local spot called Pho Thin in Hanoi. We’ve been fortunate to stay at beautiful hotels with lush and extensive breakfast buffets complete with local Vietnamese dishes including pho, but I really had a need to try pho in at least one spot in the north during this trip. Pho is said to have originated in the north, somewhere near Hanoi. From what I have studied, both in eating and in reading, I’ve learned that there are two types of pho, northern and southern. Both region’s basics are the same in that they use the same spices, the same charred onions, and cook their bones down to nothing so that their soups are fully flavored, but the difference is in the level of sweetness and the herb additions. In the south, a sweeter broth is preferred, so a tad more rock sugar is used. In addition, herbs like bean sprouts, basil, and Vietnamese greens are added to the noodle soup while at the table. The northern pho stands alone with perhaps a sprinkling of green onions and a squeeze of lime on the top. Since the majority of the Vietnamese who fled Vietnam were from the south who now reside in the U.S. or in Australia, it then makes sense that the pho we are accustomed to is the southern style soup.

From a historical perspective, it’s been said that the regional differences of pho have to do with what was available in each region. In the north, food scarcity was at many times an issue. In Vietnam overall, beef is considered a luxury meat vs. pork or chicken. Whereas in the south, food has always been more plentiful, perhaps due to the warmer climates and the terrain. This resulted in the additions of many herbs and vegetables in the southern pho, and even variations of beef, including tripe and other cow parts.

I did a lot of food research on this trip, and Pho Thin was supposed to be one of the top local favorites for pho, and since, has been discovered by tourists, as well. Pho Thin was kind of what I imagined it to be. We arrived at around 9am (as pho is typically eaten for breakfast in Vietnam; some popular places close by 9am because they run out of noodles and broth!) to a crowd outside, waiting for their bowls of pho bo, plus a fully packed dining room of boisterous and soup-serious slurpers. This little hole-in-the-wall is bare-bones with little decor, long metal tables, and short stools. The front is open, with the workers busily stirring and scooping out the broth, noodles, stir-frying the meat, and dishing out long, fried Chinese donuts so that diners can enjoy their rich broth with a dip of crunchy fried savory donut. You line up at the front, place your order (you have the option of pho bo, pho bo, and pho bo. Oh, and if you want the donuts, you have to tell them. But they don’t speak much English at all). You pay, they give you your change, then you find a seat inside, where they will bring you your pho. We shared one bowl after a hotel breakfast, and as soon as it came, I knew it was going to be a delight. The top of the broth had a nice film of beef fat (my mother would not approve; she would have taken a spoon to that and quickly scooped it all out to dispose of it), a thick layer of chopped spring onions, and lean stir-fried beef on the top. The first thing I did was put my spoon in and take a taste of the broth. It was full bodied, rich, complex, and fragrant of beef, star anise, and charred onion. I could really have sipped that soup all day long; it was so good. These are the moments I’m so happy I have not given up meat. The noodles were fresh, not dried, and were soft and springy, but with a little bite. We devoured that soup in just a few minutes. And then it was gone.

As we left, I took photos of the outside and watched the workers in the front scoop out the broth from one vat to the next. I saw another worker quickly speed walk and deliver steaming hot bowls to diners two storefronts down. Another was barking out orders for the server to bring to tables. This is my kind of eating when I’m in Asia; quick, delicious, cheap, no frills, and all about the quality of the food. One does not go into Pho Thin for the ambiance or to socialize. Nope. They go there to inhale the pho, have zero conversation while eating, and leave. Your company is really just the pho, your chopsticks, and the spoon. Your dining partner, if you have one, is just a silent partner in eating.

I have only made pho ga (chicken pho) and not pho bo given the amount of effort it takes. But maybe now that I have an Instant Pot, this will finally be my chance to take a stab at my absolute favorite soup in the world. I’m going to remember this visit for a long, long time.

My Vietnamese identity

I grew up in San Francisco, a cosmopolitan city with a high proportion of minorities. But when we actually examine the Asian breakout of the minorities there, a quick conclusion you’d reach is that the city’s Asian population is primarily Chinese. What does that pretty much mean for someone like Ed or me, mixed ethnicity who identify as both Chinese and Vietnamese? It means for the most part, we’ll have friends and relatives who are Chinese and relate to us in that way, and who know and are exposed less to Vietnamese culture and people. It means that our Vietnamese side gets looked down upon or even ignored. It resulted in people making disparaging comments about Vietnamese language and culture. Because when you are a minority, it is supposedly only natural to have the “survival of the fittest” mentality, that when you are oppressed, you have to find others who are lesser in numbers than your group that you can oppress and look down on even more. Oftentimes people like to associate racism with white people looking down on every non-white person, that white people are the real oppressors, but in truth, and as I have experienced myself, a person of any background can be prejudiced towards anyone else. I had friends and even family say to me that Vietnamese sounds ugly (yes, because Mandarin, Cantonese, and Toisan are like music to the ear!), that Vietnamese women in San Jose were all slutty with their extremely tight-fitted clothing and platform heels that were too high, that Vietnamese men were all gross, gambling drunks. A Chinese ex-boyfriend once told me, “I favor your Chinese side.” What the fuck does that even mean? I asked him what he meant, and he merely responded, “It just means what I said.” I said nothing then, much to my regret now.

In my life, I’ve heard people say that Vietnamese people were the poorest Asian race in the U.S., that they leech off the government with their food stamps and welfare payments after having come over as refugees from the Vietnam War. Sometimes, when they were trying to excuse themselves or be “nice,” they’d end these insidious comments laced with racism with, “no offense.” I never knew how to respond to those comments, so generally, I shrugged them off and didn’t respond much. It also did not help that my dad’s mom was racist against anyone who was not Chinese and looked down on my mother simply because she was Vietnamese from Vietnam. She rejected my mother and didn’t respect her at all, treated her like garbage until she gave birth to my brother six years after coming to San Francisco from Vietnam. She used to scream at her and say she wanted to have her sent back to Vietnam.

The consequence of that racism within my own family resulted in my mother internalizing the bigotry against the Vietnamese, even believing it to some degree despite it being her own culture and identity. My mom also started making negative comments about Vietnamese people both in the U.S. and in Vietnam, saying they could not be trusted. My grandmother didn’t want Ed or me to learn Vietnamese, saying it would be a useless language. Chinese would be the other language we’d learn because there are plenty of Chinese people in San Francisco (granted, we learned Toisan at home because that was the only language my grandmother knew; let’s not bring up the fact that this dialect is not standard Chinese and would be a useless language by global standards to learn. And my mother agreed, sadly. “What use will this for them since they will grow up in America and speak English?” she rationalized to herself. So, we never learned. I didn’t even learn how to say “thank you” or “hello” in Vietnamese until I was in college. She didn’t teach that to me; my Vietnamese friend from Arkansas did. But given I was exposed to the sounds and intonations of the Vietnamese language occasionally hearing my mother speak to others on the phone or in person, I picked up the words and the correct tones fairly quickly.

As an adult, especially in college surrounded by Vietnamese classmates from around the country and even the world, I felt embarrassed telling people I was Vietnamese but could not speak the language at all, not even a basic hello or goodbye. Walking around Vietnam today, I recognize when people ask me if I am Vietnamese because they say I look like I am. What they reallywant to know is if I can speak the language, and they are dismayed when I shake my head or say no. At age 18 at Wellesley, I made my very first Vietnamese friend ever. So clearly, “cosmopolitan” San Francisco was severely lacking in many ethnic minorities. I understood some Cantonese, knew Toisan (actually a useless village dialect of Cantonese), and was learning Mandarin Chinese in college, to speak, read, and write. But I knew zero Vietnamese. At times with my Vietnamese friends, I felt like I wasn’t Vietnamese enough (probably because, well, I wasn’t). But the times when I did feel at home with them was when we talked about food and ate it. I knew most of the dishes, having spent a lot of time in San Jose and Orange County growing up, both areas of the state (and the world) heavily concentrated with Vietnamese populations, but my Vietnamese friends taught me that similar to Chinese culture when certain foods are eaten at certain times of the year, like Tet (Lunar New Year’s in Vietnamese culture) or Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, specific dishes are also considered sacred or special at different points of the year in the Vietnamese community. It was as though I was uncovering a part of my identity I had no idea about through my new Vietnamese friends. Food was the one part of Vietnamese culture that my mom passed onto me. And I literally ate it up one bite at a time. While my brother really only embraced mainstream Vietnamese dishes even non-Asians would be aware of, such as pho or banh mi, I embraced everything she presented on the dinner table growing up. Instead of having “kid” food pre-packed for me at Vietnamese restaurants in the Bay Area, at a very young age, I was given a small bowl with a portion of her pho with extra noodles and squeezes of lime. I loved the traditional braised shrimp and pork dish (thit kho tep) in a caramelized sauce she made, especially with the braising liquid, over rice. I gobbled up cute little banh beo, steamed rice cake medallions originating from Hue, topped with ground shrimp and drizzled with scallion oil as a snack. I got excited when she picked up different versions of che, or Vietnamese mung bean, coconut, and jelly-based sweets for dessert after dinner time. And as a teen when, for the very first time, I had banh xeo, the sizzling and fragrant turmeric, ground rice, and coconut crispy “crepe” that is currently becoming all the rage in hip Vietnamese restaurants around New York City, all I wanted was to eat that (okay, well, that actually isn’t much different from me today).

So, it’s true. I don’t know a ton about Vietnamese culture. I didn’t grow up surrounded by my Vietnamese relatives other than my mom, who felt restricted to not expose it to Ed and me much. I didn’t celebrate Tet or traditional holidays with Vietnamese customs. I know just a few phrases and can say a lot of its dishes properly with the right tone. But Vietnamese culture through its food stays with me. My mom gave that to me. Maybe it isn’t much, but it’s what I have. I love and embrace my Vietnamese culture through eating and cooking its food, not to mention evangelizing both the cuisine to others who have been unexposed to it, and this beautiful country to those who haven’t yet visited it. I’m still reading about it, though, and still eager to learn and see more. I’m still learning about my Vietnamese side because my existence isn’t static. I’d like to think I am constantly growing and learning more… because through travel and speaking with so many different people from various backgrounds, cultures, and birthplaces, I realize more and more how very little I know. But what I’m really trying to say is, I embrace my identity and my mother’s identity even if there are others who have tried to prevent me from doing so. Being Vietnamese is a part of who I am, and I embrace what I am.

Saigon – 11 years later

We arrived in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, this late morning around 10:30am. As we took a Grab ride and headed towards District 1, the city felt very much the same and different from the first and last time I was here in January 2008: the roads were still narrow, the street signs were in Vietnamese and English. The buildings were anywhere from two- to five-stories tall, all just as skinny as I remembered from before and was surprised by. But what shocked me was seeing a very different skyline: far more skyscrapers and multiple-storied, modern buildings were there today, not to mention Landmark 81 and the Saigon Skydeck/Bitexco Tower, which were built just in the last couple of years. In 2018, the tenth tallest building in Asia is Landmark 81 right here in Ho Chi Minh City. Endless Starbucks abounded in different neighborhoods. Many bubble tea chains from Taiwan and mainland China dotted the streets. Even major well-known Korean cosmetic brands like Innisfree have brick-and-mortar shops here. We’ve arrived in one of the fastest growing economies in the world, one of the top 20 globally and depending on the source, one of the top 5 in Southeast Asia. This is a world my mother never would have dreamt of coming into existence given what she saw and knew from the 1960s and early 1970s before she left the country during the Vietnam (American) War.

I took a picture of the skyline from our hotel room along the water and emailed it to my dad so he could see it and show my mom. I looked out at the view and marveled at it. In just 11 years, this much growth has happened. But since 1975 when the war ended, who from that period, like my mother, could have imagined Saigon to look like this, to be this prosperous? Who could have fathomed that the city would be this developed, that Wi-Fi would be available at even random hole-in-the-wall restaurants, or that pretty much every young person in a major city like Saigon, Hanoi, or Danang, would own and regularly use a smart phone? My mom always insisted, no matter when the conversation happened, whether it was in the 90s, in 2000, in 2008 when we came, or even last year, that Vietnam was the poorest country in the world. She liked to say often, “there wasn’t even enough rice to eat! We were so poor!” I never agreed with her in her absolutes, but what was the point of arguing? When I show her these photos, she will know she is wrong. But more importantly, she will see that the country that she once called home, a country where she and many of her family, friends, and extended relatives, witnessed heartbreak, tragedy, violence, and terror, is actually moving forward. It is growing. It is thriving. It wants and has stated goals to be a “developed” economy. And she will have that to smile about, knowing that life there has moved on, and at a relatively quick rate.

Sharp eyes

I am near-sighted. I am -1.50 in both eyes. I learned this when I was 15 in my geometry class, wondering why the teacher insisted on writing equations on the board so softly with the chalk so I could not see… until a classmate with mild near-sightedness gently suggested I try on his glasses to see if I might need my own. I put on his glasses, and suddenly, everything in the world became clear, and I saw all the little details I overlooked before. I own contact lenses that are between -1.0 and -1.75. My optometrist told me that I was overstraining my eyes, so he suggested this time around that I get -1.0s. To see 100 percent clearly, though, I’d really need -1.50s, but that is borderline over straining according to what he observed based on my eye exam, plus what I reported to him when I view a computer screen or my mobile phone with my contacts on. Eleven years ago when I first went to Vietnam, my vision was far better. I wore glasses occasionally, but I didn’t strain to see road signs or even wear glasses at all that entire 2.5-week-long trip. This trip, I’ve packed my prescription glasses in addition to my contacts. Maybe it’s because now, I want to see more details. Or, maybe what is actually true is that my vision has declined in the last 11 years.

Regardless, it’s both funny and strange to observe Chris’s maternal grandmother catch things I do not even see or notice. She’s had multiple eye surgeries due to cataracts and glaucoma, so now, she can see only in half of one eye. But boy, does she manage and get along just fine. She noticed that the front door key was still in the door from across the hallway with that half eye, from her peripheral vision. She calls out things across a room, details I don’t even see. And she asks questions about topics you discussed in the room next to her when you were talking to someone else, but she clearly heard every single word you said. Her eyes and ears are sharper than mine. I am not sure if that is a sign of how young she is at heart or how old I am at heart.

As we grow old(er)

Today was Christmas Day, as well as Chris’s 37thbirthday. It’s strange to think how quickly time has gone by. He’s officially in his late 30s, and although I am in my early 30s, given I will be turning 33 in just a few weeks, I feel old, too. While much about us is the same as seven years ago when we first became a couple, much has certainly changed. I flipped through a few older photos of us seven years ago, and there are some differences that a nuanced eye could see: Chris’s hair is slightly thinning at the top, his sides are receding just a tad. My face has a bit more definition when I smile, with skin that isn’t as “tight” as it once was. They are not quite wrinkles as they are skin just getting a little looser with age. It doesn’t matter how much sun block I apply, what SPF I use, or however many hats I wear or sunglasses I put on; my age on my face is definitely showing over the years. Both our bellies are a little rounder, most likely from this time of year when food indulgences are at its peak, but also because it’s just simply fact that our metabolisms are slowing, slowly but surely. We’re getting older together.

It’s our seventh Christmas together, our seventh Southern Hemisphere Christmas together. And it’s always a beautiful and literally warming break from the cold and darkness that is New York City at this time of year. I wonder where we will be at this time next year at Christmas, or the Christmas after that, or the Christmas in 10 years’ time. I wonder if they will be just as happy, or what our lives will be like. I wonder what changes will come, for better or for worse, and how we will get through all of them. I do hope it is good. I hope it only gets better and fuller.

Photo arrangement change

We went to Chris’s aunt and uncle’s house two evenings ago for pre-Christmas festivities. His aunt made a delicious Kerala chicken stew with appams, a fermented and leavened coconut and rice-based “pancake” that is spongy and puffy on the inside and crispy and lacey on the outside edges. I wasn’t really sure what the mood would be given that his aunt’s brother in Kerala had recently passed away in the last month, plus their youngest son had separated from his wife in July, but it was obvious that things were different because the décor had changed dramatically.

The last time I came two years ago, the house was pretty evenly split up with photos of both of their sons and their respective lives. Their oldest son is married with three sons, and their younger son had gotten married in 2015. On prominent mantles in the living room, the space was evenly divided: one son’s wedding photos on one side, the second son’s wedding photos on the other. On another mantle, photos of the first son and his wife, plus their children, with couple shots of the second son and his wife. The walls pretty much followed the same pattern. It was obvious that whoever decorated and chose the photos was very deliberate about making the love for both sons and sides “even.” That person is Chris’s aunt.

This time, all the wedding photos from the second son that I remembered that were on the fridge were removed. In fact, ALL wedding photos of both sons and their wives were gone. The only photos that remained were of the four grandchildren, three from the first son and one from the second son. The only time one of the sons appeared in photos was when one of the grandchildren was present.

Well, that was quite intentional.

His aunt at one point of the evening pulled me aside. I guess I have what the Charisma Mythbook calls “empathy” charisma; people just love to tell me all the things they keep a secret from others.

“I still haven’t told extended family that they have separated,” she confided in me. “I just don’t know what to say, especially with their child. I struggled with whether I should just keep the photos the way they were or just take down Andrew’s wedding photos, but then I thought when relatives would come over, they would ask why I only displayed Robin’s and not Andrew’s, and I don’t want to answer their questions. So, I thought it would be best to just take down all their photos and leave the grandchildren’s. I rushed to get it done before Andrew arrived back. This way, no one would say anything. Maybe Andrew will say something, but I can deal with him. Other relatives and friends, I don’t want to deal with them asking and wondering why.”

I felt sad for her. She’s powerless. She cannot do a single thing to make that situation better. But at the end of the day, I suppose there’s no reason to tell people who aren’t close because what good does that do? It only begs for more questions about why and how, which are all futile.


Christmas “season” and what that means

In Christmas celebration depictions and decorations seen around the world, you can expect to see a fat Santa Claus riding in his sleigh with reindeer, traveling atop the clouds, above snowy, wintry towns around the globe. But what you rarely see, unless you are in the Southern hemisphere in December, is Santa wearing shorts, sunglasses, a “Santa” hat, standing on a surfboard in the ocean waves or standing by a barbeque grill. This is the normal picture I see when I am in Australia during Christmas time. In the beginning, it was a bit strange for me given that I never knew a warm December or summery Christmas. But to be fair, it’s not like white Christmas is a norm in San Francisco where I grew up, or really anywhere in California or on the west coast of the United States. It’s normal in the Northeast, in Boston and New York where I’ve lived and do live now. But I didn’t grow up with that, so I never “missed” something I never had. In fact, I embrace summer Christmases. I love that when everyone else in New York or on the east coast is complaining on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter about how cold or icy it is that I can chuckle a little because I get to soak up anywhere from 70-100 F heat in Australia (or last year, in South Africa). I get to bask in the glow of the Australian Southern hemisphere sun, only to grumble a little that in a couple weeks, I will return to that negative-zero temperature, wind chill, and snow, grounds that will be covered in ice, and streets that will be slushy with snow semi-melted, but not quite. I mumble and groan while thinking about the short daylight hours we have and the early darkness that descends across New York city around 4-4:30pm. Short daylight hours – the absolute worst.

It’s funny to me that others who have never experienced a summer Christmas would immediately reject it. It reeks of ignorance and small-mindedness. I’ve had many a colleague across companies I’ve worked at say it’s weird, that they wouldn’t like it, that it’s not “normal.” But then, what is “normal” to you is different from “normal” to me or to Chris or to anyone depending on where in the world they grew up. It’s a common theme that comes up no matter what the question or situation regardless of whether it’s in a work or social environment. For whatever reason, people seem to reject what they are not accustomed to regardless of how much background information they have on it. And… well, from my perspective, that’s kind of their loss. California doesn’t experience snow period unless you are on the border of California-Nevada during the winter time; is that “abnormal” or “wrong”? I was used to 40-50-degree F winters in San Francisco – is that “bad”? Or then I have a friend who grew up and now resides in Arizona, so all she knows is an 80-degree F Christmas, which she deems as “mild” weather in terms of warmth. Is she a weirdo then?

The older I get, it seems the less patient I am becoming with ignorance and lack of openness to what is new. I am less inclined to hold my tongue and more likely to ask deeper questions, which could result in discomfort for those around me. If anything, when we learn about new things, we should be pressed to ask more questions and explore it rather than to outright reject it. Otherwise, how do we ever grow and evolve?

A mother’s “love”

I tried calling my parents’ house line and their cell phone two days in a row to no answer. I wasn’t sure whether they just were ignoring the call because the number would come up as unlisted since I was dialing them via Skype, but they knew I was abroad, so I would have assumed they’d know I’d try to call at some point. So after the second day of trying to call, I emailed my dad and told him I tried calling. He responded and asked what number I was dialing from, and I said Skype. His response? “We blocked all international calls unless they are coming in through a pre-paid phone card.”

What is the logic in that, especially when they know I’m not in the country?

So I finally got through after he agreed to unblock the calls. I asked my mom about it, and she defended the decision, saying that she leaves those decisions up to my dad and that if that’s what he wants, then he should do it the way he wants to (that’s very nice of her, isn’t it)? Then, she grew irritated when I didn’t have much to share with her other than high-level updates she wants to know (who I am seeing, what I am doing). She never explicitly said she wasn’t thrilled with me, but it was pretty obvious from her tone and the words she was using that she was not happy I was in Australia with Chris’s family and that she thought it was unnecessary. “Send everyone my regards,” she said icily.

One of Chris’s cousins asked how my parents were doing, and I told him that my mom always gets jealous when I come here. I said she doesn’t think it’s “necessary” to come visit Chris’s parents. But she’s completely fine that I come to see her three to four times a year in San Francisco; in fact, she was really disappointed that I *only* came to San Francisco three times this past year. “She does realize that you’re visiting… your husband’s parents and family, right?” he asked, quizzically. “There are two sides to each couple — isn’t that true?”

Yes, she realizes it. And, well, she hates it. That’s what jealousy is.