I met with a customer today for coffee and monkey bread at City Bakery, a still-trendy bakery here in Manhattan where ladies who brunch still come for their nibbles, $4 cookies and monkey bread, and fancy lattes and cappuccinos. As we sat and caught up, I presented her with a baby gift for her soon-to-arrive baby boy due in just two weeks’ time. She works in the fashion industry and is always incredibly well put together, all the way down to her accessories. She’s the kind of woman who always looks like she barely even tries to look as fashionable as she does; it just seems to come naturally to her. Some of us, like myself, actually have to try.
She told me that she’s been lucky in that she’s had a relatively easy pregnancy, especially after the first trimester, when she felt nauseated all the time. But since then, she’s really enjoyed the entire experience. “Everyone is just constantly willing to give up their seat for me, help me with my bags or anything I’m carrying, or make space for me!” she exclaimed. Even at Whole Foods, if you’re pregnant or pushing around a stroller, apparently you can bypass the line and get rung up right away, she learned and shared with me. She said she’s really going to miss all these pregnancy perks after she’s given birth.
I never even though about that when I think about the concept of being pregnant. But part of me felt a little cynical in that, would I get the same preferential/deferential treatment that she gets as a relatively attractive, tall, slim white woman who is visibly pregnant? White women in general will always get treated better than any women of color. It’s a frustrating question to contemplate in my reality.
When I lived in San Francisco and attended schools that had what felt like anywhere between 40-60 percent Asian students, I never really thought much about race, whether it was that of the people around me or my own. When you’re surrounded by people who look just like you, race is not an obvious thing to think about because your world is more or less homogenous. Race becomes something you think about when you are the minority, when you are the one who stands out or is different than the rest. Because of that, when I am in work meetings, whether it’s onsite with a customer or in group meetings where a lot of our leadership team is present, I’m always deathly aware of not only my race, but also my gender. Oftentimes, I am the only person of color in a room, and in addition, I am oftentimes one of very few if any women in the room. It’s not uncommon for me to be sitting at a conference table fully surrounded by white men.
I was telling this to my manager, who is leaving the organization soon for another role. He’s ethnically Chinese but born and raised in Ohio, which is obviously a very white part of the country. He was surprised. “Really? Wow. I never really think about that that much when I’m in meetings,” he said. “But to be fair, you do have a lot of customers in the South.”
While that’s true, our company is headquartered in San Francisco, which is not in the south. I work out of our New York City office, where everyone who is considered a member of the leadership team is white and male. Plus, it’s strange to me that he, as an Asian male from a very white part of this country, would not think much about race, given that he would have stuck out as a minority where he is originally from. It’s the exact opposite mindset of what I would have assumed.
It’s a luxury to never have to think about race and gender. But that luxury usually belongs to the white males of the world, doesn’t it? And I suppose in this case, it also applies to just males of the world who may have been predominantly surrounded by white males, so then he suddenly becomes race-blind, as well?
Tonight, we had a farewell dinner and karaoke night to send off our colleague and my boss, who is leaving us for another tech company. While stuffing my face with barbecued pork belly and ribeye and getting my throat sore once again from all the belted singing at Karaoke City, I reveled once again in what a good crew I have at work. At my last job, I was always waiting to leave. I didn’t want to spend any time outside of work to see anyone off ever. Happy hours? Forget it. You’d never see me there, and I always made up some excuse. Here, it actually is fun to spend time with colleagues outside of work and to do silly things like karaoke together. And funnily enough, as I was having these thoughts, I was reminded that the last company I was at just had a massive layoff where so many of the people I despised got let go. It’s amazing they are still even in existence as a company given how unethical, sexist, and racist they were. But I will say…. Schadenfreude. Mmmm, that tastes good.
A colleague who has recently joined my team is probably one of the bluntest people I’ve ever met in the workplace. She has very little filter on her, but I actually kind of appreciate it. She was venting to me the other day that all sales people are just phony and opportunistic, that they rarely do anything to help you unless they expect something from you.
While there is some grain of truth to that, it would be nice if that person proactively offered to do something beneficial for you first. I’ve felt like I can’t really have a relationship with any sales person that is just because they want to know me or stay in touch me. The case in point is a call I had today with a former colleague, also in sales, who was in a sales role here and is now doing sales at another company. Out of the blue, she texted me last week to ask how I was doing, to catch up…. and of course, that she heard I was working on a certain brand she was prospecting and wanted to get some information from me. From the outset, when you meet her, you do think she is genuinely kind and well, genuine. But there’s always something else that she wants from you other than just to “catch up.”
I’m still waiting to meet a sales person who I can say is just a truly good, well meaning, and not opportunistic person.
After a long hiatus from scrapbooking, I’ve recommenced the project of documenting our life and travels. I realized I had run out of 12×12 scrapbooking pages, scrapbook page protectors, and even a large enough scrapbook binder to hold everything in, so I had to order more supplies to start the project again. Without even really trying, I’d already added over $50 worth of all of the above into my Amazon cart.
“All of this?” Chris exclaimed. “Why is this stuff so expensive?”
“Scrapbooking is a billion-dollar industry, remember?” I responded. “This hobby isn’t a cheap one.”
Really, no arts and crafts projects are cheap. A single stamp at Paper Source can cost $15. A small sheet of stickers could cost $8. It sounds a little insane, and sometimes it is painful to purchase these things, but then I remember the Marie Kondo question of “Does this spark joy?” and yes, these objects do spark joy for me, so I still end up completing my purchases. In the end, it’s worth it to me to be able to have a physical way of documenting all of our travels and experiences. It always feels rewarding to look at it all, even if I don’t look at them that often.
Tonight, we hosted a belated Chinese-Vietnamese New Year dinner, and I made five different dishes, including something I’ve always be interested in making, but was always scared to test out: Vietnamese fried spring rolls. I grew up with my mom making them, although with flour wrappers vs. rice paper wrappers, which are actually the most traditional kind in Vietnam. After seeing how relatively straightforward the process was with frying in a shallow pan at the Vietnamese cooking class Chris got me last month, and how good the rice paper wrappers came out, I decided that I would try this out for our dinner party tonight. If I could do it in the cooking class, I had to be able to do it at home, right? And with a Costco-priced container of canola oil, the oil would not be a huge investment. So I successfully made them tonight. I made the filling out of minced pork, shrimp, mung bean noodles, wood ear and cloud ear mushrooms, carrot, shallot, cilantro, and scallion. I tested out the seasoning by pan frying a little before stuffing and rolling them in rice paper. And I made sure to toggle the heat between medium and medium-low to make sure the oil didn’t burn. They weren’t as evenly golden as they always are in the restaurants, but they came out tasty and how I expected them to look. I was pretty proud of myself in the end. Now, the only thing I regret is not doubling the recipe and storing the second batch in the freezer for quick fried spring rolls in the future.
I arrived at the airport this morning wondering what I’d be getting for breakfast. Lucky for me, the American Airlines terminal is actually pretty good for food at the Miami International Airport. There are a number of Cuban eateries where you can get local food at decent prices. When I arrived at the area closest to my gate, I noticed a nearly weaving line coming out of one of the eateries, and it ended up being the sole Cuban spot within reasonable walking distance without getting back on the terminal air train. Au Bon Pain, Manchu Wok, you name it — all the other spots didn’t even have one or two people getting food there. But this place had over 15 people in line, waiting for everything from a ham and cheese Cuban sandwich to guava strudels to cafe con leche. I begrudgingly got into the line, which I noticed moved pretty quickly, and ordered my Cuban breakfast sandwich, cafe con leche, and pan de bono. I think I was the only person in line who ordered in English. As I burned my tongue with my cafe con leche, I thought to myself, only in Miami would something like this ever happen, where people would only get into this particular line for food, mostly order in Spanish, and act as though no other places offered food.
I don’t usually have very much time here in Miami to explore since I come for work, but in that moment, I felt very lucky to be able to come here as often as I do and experience things just like this.
After last night’s disappointing meal, I was wondering what we had in store tonight for our second customer dinner in a row. This customer chose a Peruvian place on the exact same block in Doral as last night’s dinner, so clearly in this very new suburb, the “hip” area was really all on one block. Tonight’s customer we were meeting for the very first time. I had no idea what to expect of him other than the two phone calls we’d had, plus the email exchanges that have all been to-the-point.
“Is there anything you don’t eat?” I asked him as we sat down.
“Nope, I’m not picky at all,” he said, clearly eager to start ordering and eating. “I eat and like everything!”
“Do you like spicy food?” my colleague asked. “Can we get the hot ceviche?”
“Ya, I like heat!” the customer responded.
My colleague and I both looked at each other and smiled. We already liked this guy, but now, we just liked him that much more.
It’s always a crap shoot when you’re taking customers out. You can’t be as blunt with them as you can with your own friends or colleagues where you can critique them or make fun of them for their foibles, what they like and don’t like, especially when you are all new to each other. With customers, I’ve heard everything from they don’t eat animals with more than two legs to a deep hatred of mushrooms to they only eat eggs cooked with the eggs and whites together. It’s a relief, especially when you share dishes, when you can order and eat everything you want without walking on egg shells to suggest the next thing to get.
And in the end, tonight’s meal was delicious, a far cry from last night’s.
It was a grueling day of customer trainings onsite here in Miami today, not to mention all the email follow-ups and multiple customer calls I had to take in the afternoon. By the end of the day, I felt exhausted. I had spoken way too much, especially given my throat and mucus issues, and I just wanted to lie down and rest. But what I did have to look forward to before lying down to sleep tonight was dinner at Dragonfly, a Japanese restaurant in Doral, a small suburb of Miami, that a few of my colleagues have raved to me about. They insisted it was some of the best sushi in the Miami area, that I had to come try it at some point when in town for customer visits. So a colleague and I took one of our customers to this restaurant tonight, and I was really excited to have some good fish… until I wasn’t.
The salmon and tuna were mediocre and not particularly melt-in-your-mouth. The cooked unagi was nearly tough, definitely not soft and lush the way it usually should be. And the snow crab roll I ordered tasted like it was crab from out of a can; it was certainly not fresh at all, and it was almost embarrassing. What exactly is all the fuss about this place? The fish did not live up to any of the hype that I’d heard about it. The only redeeming qualities of this meal were the cooked seabass and the charred octopus bowl. Now, I feel like I need to get more sushi to make up for this total disappointment. I was expecting more after such a long and tiring work day.
It’s always funny being on planes and seeing how people act. I am still working on getting over all the mucus build up as a result of my severe cold from the last week, as well as the cough that keeps lingering and occasionally keeps me short of breath (and at times, as I’ve been told today, sounding like I am about to cry). As I’ve been coughing here and there, the person next to me on the plane offered me some cough drops. I declined and told her that it was very thoughtful, but I actually had my own. Then, as the flight attendant is asking what I’d like to drink, I asked for hot water and lemon. The woman sitting next to me smiles and points at my mug. “That’s what my mother always, always drinks, no matter what,” she said. “At the end of a meal, while relaxing on the couch, a couple hours before bed… she always had hot water with lemon. Said it was good for your digestion and relaxation. Mother always knew best.”
She was a really warm, kind person, and seemingly very contemplative on this flight. She occasionally continued to make comments about what I was doing, whether it was my being on my computer or the food I was eating to even the coat I was wearing (which she asked if I had custom made, which I obviously did not). She wasn’t necessarily being intrusive, but she seemed to want some conversation. And given my throat condition and the work I had to get done on this flight, I just couldn’t give it to her.
When I thought about it, she seemed a bit depressed, like she needed some love and attention, and maybe she just wasn’t getting it in her life somehow.