Manicures as “self care”

Anyone who really knows me well knows that I have the most disgusting nail and cuticle picking habit. And I found out that there’s actually a name for this: Onychophagia – it’s body-focused repetitive behavior and is considered a disorder. The picking habit supposedly stems from anxiety, whether it’s conscious or subconscious. For me, I know I tend to pick my cuticles and nails when I am either bored, irritated, or just idle. Ed actually had a nail picking habit, too, when he was around, and when I think about it, I realize we both got this terrible habit from our dad. My dad picks at his cuticles and his dry skin on his hands, and as someone who worked in construction, his hands were alway dry, flaky, scaly, and pretty scary to look at. My mom always used to lament that when she first met my dad, he had such smooth, beautiful hands… then, after years of working in the glazing industry to install glass, his hands became her worst nightmare.

However, there is one time when I will definitely not pick at my nails or cuticles at all, and that is when they are polished. It doesn’t matter if it’s regular nail polish, gel, Calgel, whatever — if I can see that they look beautiful and presentable, the picking just does NOT happen. And when I was spoiled with manicures every few months while working at a agency, when Google used to take my small team for mani/pedis on the regular, I realized how nice it could be to be treated to something that I once thought was so superfluous and superficial.

I tried painting my own nails on and off. I really just don’t have a very steady hand, especially painting with my left hand. I also don’t have the patience to let it dry completely. I resorted to just painting my nails clear since that was enough to prevent my picking habit, plus clear dries so much more quickly. But when I met up with a friend in Boston last summer and noticed how nice her nails looked, she told me that she made time to do it every week, once a week on the same day. “It’s my self care,” she said. “This is the time I get to myself to focus on my nails, and then I am rewarded with this for the rest of the week!”

“Self care.” It seems to be a term everyone is talking about now. I even get Instagram ads targeted to me in regards to self care — this pertains to everything from manicures, spa treatments, bath salts, scented soy candles… all of that. I’m not sure how I feel about this because as a marketing ploy, anything could be labeled self care as a justification for purchasing whatever it is, whether it’s an object or an experience.

If I get my nails done professionally, I might get them done once or twice a year, and I realized that last year, I didn’t get them done a single time. So I decided to splurge today on a gel design at a trendy Japanese nail salon near my office. My nail technician spent an hour and a half on me — longer than I anticipated, but I appreciated the level of detail she gave me (and even the Harry Potter movie I got to watch while she worked on my nails).

After I left the salon, I kept staring at my nails and admiring them. It wasn’t cheap to get a design with a gel, but I justified it in my head because a) I didn’t get my nails done at all in 2019, and b) they told me this would last for 3-4 weeks. Well, maybe this really is self care. And maybe these little splurges are worth it, if not just to express creativity in a different way, but also to prevent myself from skin and nail picking.

The Oculus in New York

As a tribute to the 9/11 victims and what was formerly the World Trade Center, the city’s architects constructed the World Trade Center subway station, in addition to a brand new shopping center and what is being called the Oculus, a massive glass and steel structure that is intended to resemble “a bird flying from the hands of a child.” In its meaning, the structure is intended to symbolize and bring hope to the site of tragedy.

But because this is New York, there’s going to be shops and money-making businesses to flank these beautiful memorial structures. And so there is a massive retail space that’s part of the Oculus, where not only are there actual luxury brick and mortar shops, but also spaces in the middle of the Oculus that pop-up retailers can rent by the month. One of these vendors who will be at the Oculus until late spring will be No Chewing Allowed, a seasonal French truffle store that can usually be found temporarily at the holiday markets across the city around the Thanksgiving to New Year’s period. I have likely seen them at the Union Square Holiday Market every single year since I’ve moved to New York, no fail, and their samples are always a free treat at this market. You always know them because the person handling them out continuously repeats, “no chewing allowed!” The idea is that you’re supposed to let it melt in your mouth, otherwise you ruin the entire chocolate enjoyment experience. I already do this regardless when eating any chocolate unless it’s a cookie, so I wouldn’t do anything differently.

My cousin who lives in the Bay Area requested that I pick up a box for him because he’d tried these as a gift from his brother, and he and his wife were completely obsessed with them. While they are good, there’s nothing particularly amazing to them for me. They’re just like any other truffle, maybe a little softer. And it also bothers me that their second ingredient listed is palm oil. Am I mostly paying $22 per box for a bunch of palm oil? The label doesn’t even tell you the chocolate percentage!

Oppressively quiet

The day after a layoff happens, an office usually has an unusual level of trepidation and silence.. the kind that is slightly oppressive, ominous, where you are uncertain of who wants to say what, who knows what, and who is sharing what and with whom.

Then there is the question of: what now? And what are we doing and why?

One of the most awkward things about RIFs is that you don’t really know who was let go and affected unless you work directly with them, or you get a bounce back from their email. It’s frustrating and upsetting, but there’s really no nice way to handle it otherwise.

And what is worse is when your customers find out about it and start asking you questions.. before you are even supposed to know it happened and before your own company even makes the official announcement!

And then there were… fewer.

Today, my company had what we officially call a “reduction in force,” or an RIF, where about 12 percent of our employees were laid off. It was a sad day, and one that was quite surprising for a lot of people, but honestly given how we’ve been looking quarter over quarter, it didn’t really come as a surprise to me. There were some palpitations after the announcements and murmurs that there may be a second round coming. I kind of shrugged my shoulders and said, if it happens, it happens. We can’t control for it, so what is the point of worrying?

After getting laid off from my first job during a period that is likely the worst recession of my lifetime (at least, to date) in 2009, I can’t really sweat the small stuff anymore. It happened to me once and was terrifying and upsetting, and yes, if it happened to me again, I’d also be upset… but it’s never as bad and shocking as the first time. Been there once, and I could go through it again. I hope I don’t have to, but hey, you never know. You just have to keep your head up and focus on the present. The older I am getting, the more I am realizing that it’s such a waste of time and energy to worry about things out of my control. That is easier said than done, but hey, that’s what meditation and yoga are for.

Nian gao – Chinese New Year Cake sweetness

Nian gao, or Chinese new year cake, is one of those cakes that is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to how much people like it. There are the people who love it and absolutely cannot imagine Chinese New Year without it; it’s considered arguably the “most important” cake to eat during Chinese New Year. “Nian” in “nian gao” means “year,” but it’s also a homonym for “sticky,” and “gao” in “nian gao” means “cake,” but is also a homonym for “high” or “tall.” So in other words, if you eat this cake during the new year, then you will have a highly prosperous and cohesive new year. And who would not want that?

There are also the people who think it’s bland, boring, and don’t understand what the hype is around it. It’s very lightly sweetened with Chinese brown sugar slabs, and in most cases, the excitement of eating it is really around the chewy, mochi-like texture. After all, it’s made with glutinous rice flour, so it should be chewy and a bit sticky. There are also those who have improvised the cake to make it more flavorful by adding additional flavorings like ginger, vanilla or almond extract, and even coconut milk and panda juice. The coconut milk and pandan versions look to be quite popular especially in Southeast Asia, no surprise.

I’m a bit in the middle camp: I appreciate it and enjoy it; it’s a very simple cake to make and steam, as the base has only three ingredients – glutinous rice flour, brown sugar, and water. But I definitely do not crave it. After learning about these other flavored versions, I am very tempted to try making these variations myself, especially the pandan flavored one after being spoiled with pandan flavored everything in Indonesia just a few weeks ago. You really need to appreciate subtle flavors and slight sweetness to enjoy this cake.

Chris took one bite of it, insisted it was not sweet enough, and said it was like eating calories for the sake of eating calories. Then he refused to eat more of it and went back to his Maltesers.

So… maybe I could have added more sugar to this version. But I will try again next time, as well as with a pandan coconut version. 🙂

Chinese taro root cake and grandma memories

When I moved out on my own after college, I was pretty frugal and didn’t buy much of anything. But what I did do was do ample research on Chinese cookbooks that were actually authentically Chinese, and I found one that was quite close to what I remembered my grandma made when I was growing up. And once I found them, I bought them and spent lots of time reviewing them. Taro root cake is one of my grandma’s specialties, and one that I always loved eating every Chinese New Year. When I started making it as an adult, I could actually hear her voice scolding me in the back of my head as I was measuring certain ingredients out, chopping others, and likely being too generous with some of the very expensive dried shrimp and scallop fillings. She never measured anything; the closest thing she’d use to “measure” was a rice bowl for things like rice flour or water. Other than that, it was all in her head. I don’t think I will ever be that way in the kitchen. Even if I do not stick with a recipe, I’m still measuring things out, even approximately, according to what I remember.

Every time I have made it, whether it’s been around Chinese new year, for friends’ gatherings, or even the one time I made it for my parents in their kitchen, I always remember my grandma fondly. The entire process is labor intensive, time intensive, but the end result always makes me so happy and feeling so accomplished. Part of it is because I think it helps me remember my grandma, and the other part of it is as though I feel like by making it, I’m keeping her memory alive. She left us no written letter, recipes, notes, anything… so all the dishes I like to make that she made are all from what I believe are as close to what she made based on recipes I have found, whether they are from cookbooks or on Cantonese food blogs. In addition, I know virtually not a single person who makes this from scratch, so it’s also a mini win in my head that I know I’m the only person I know who can and will make this. Store-bought versions and those on dim sum carts just pale in comparison to the homemade ones.

The one part of making this that gets me the most excited is when you combine all the filling ingredients with the steamed taro in the pan. That’s the moment you can see all the parts coming together to make this one delicious, rich, decadent savory cake. It is truly bliss.

Hamilton! the musical!

Tonight, we finally went to see Hamilton the musical. While it would have been ideal to have seen it when Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator/song-writer, was in it, that ship had unfortunately sailed years ago, but tonight’s performance did not disappoint. I will say that I did read up on Hamilton and his history and legacy prior to watching the musical, and I feel like if I hadn’t, some of the topics/songs being sung would not have made as much sense to me if I had not had this prior knowledge. Plus, it can be difficult to rely on songs and raps that go so quickly for all the bits of information unless you either do pre-reading or pre-listening to the songs. Now, I understand why so many people I know listened to the soundtrack over and over before actually going to see the musical. It all makes sense now!

But now that we’ve finished watching the musical, it’s truly amazing 1) how diverse the cast was (purposely done this way by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and 2) how high energy the entire production was; it was as though there was no calm, no real break in dancing/high energy singing to be had. Lin-Manuel Miranda was quoted saying that he made the cast diverse to really highlight what Hamilton was all about as an immigrant himself from the West Indies. And if you want to highlight that, what better way to do that than to show people of different colors and backgrounds on the set of the show? It’s most definitely one of the most notable Broadway shows I’ve ever seen — the rap and music made it so, so unique and different from anything else I’ve seen before.

This is one of those soundtracks that I’ll likely be listening to over and over again on Spotify, similar to how after I saw Phantom of the Opera, I listened to the soundtrack for months and months after. Seeing the musical has also made me want to learn more about Eliza Hamilton, who was Alexander Hamilton’s wife. She sounds like a force to be reckoned with.

An evening with Hari Kondabolu

Tonight, we went to Carolines on Broadway to see a comedy show by Hari Kondabolu. I actually didn’t know who he was before tonight, as Chris had booked the show. Last year, we saw a number of comedians from lesser represented backgrounds and geographies featured on Netflix, and it actually widened my understanding of what the comedy scene was like globally. For the most part in the U.S., comedy has been dominated by (surprise surprise) white males… with the occasional black male like Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock. Even white female comedians are lesser known, and of the ones who are known like Amy Sedaris, they tend to have smaller audiences. In recent years, we’ve had more people of color represented, such as Trevor Noah, Hasan Minhaj, Ronny Chieng, and even Ali Wong, who I’ve really enjoyed and appreciated not only as an Asian American female, but also as someone who was born and raised in San Francisco. It’s been a refreshing mix not just in terms of ethnicity, but also the actual topics that are being discussed.

Hari Kondabolu is ethnically Indian but born and raised in Flushing, New York. Of course, given his upbringing, race and ethnicity are big topics for his shows, as well as identity, inequality, immigration, and politics. (It is always laugh-out-loud funny when Indian people poke fun at white fragility). But sometimes it’s the little things that people joke about that somehow stand out to me, the things you never even think are worth discussing but come out in comedy. He joked about the shape of Q-tips, for example, and how ridiculous it is that doctors always warn you not to put them in your ear because you could push ear wax deeper into your ear canal and thus cause a blockage… well, if that’s the case, then why would you make it so that it just perfectly shapes the ear canal, then?!

That is so true.. and something I have personally wondered to myself…!

Impending family paranoia

I called my mom today on my way back home from work. I can tell she is getting antsy about my visit. About this time every year, she tells me that her health is going downhill, that she doesn’t know what’s wrong with her, and that she thinks she needs to have her head X-rayed because she’s constantly getting headaches and her head feels like it’s spinning. She also tends to catch colds around this time of year, so that doesn’t help her mood either. She does the same thing — interrogates me to see which of my family members may have contacted me, or who I may have told that I am coming home. She hates it when I tell my cousins, aunt, or uncle that I am coming home. She thinks when they want to see me, they suggest a meal, and they “expect” her to pay for the meal. “They just sit there, looking! It’s so embarrassing! They are just waiting for me to pay the bill!” she says time after time after time. She says this, yet she or my dad always feel the need to secretly pay the bill in advance, allowing no one the chance to pay. Or, when my cousin or aunt actually does this, they feel guilty and bad, so they feel the need to immediately take them out, or buy them too many excessive gifts. It’s lose-lose no matter what.

This time, when I told her that my cousin was driving up from San Jose to have dinner on my last Saturday in town, she got angry and demanded to know why he was coming. I said it was for dinner with me. She raised her voice, saying she refused to go and she should not be expected to pay since she’s no longer working, she’s disabled, and she cannot pay for everyone anymore. I told her to calm down — no one said she has to pay for anyone. It’s the same stupid conversation every single time. Her main point? She wants me to have no contact with any relatives. Why? This would mean no one pays for anyone, which is her dream… Even though she constantly is asking about each of them every single call.

I always wish I could just see my cousin alone with his wife, but he has to insist his mom or my uncle come. And that’s really when it gets annoying. It can’t just be a regular family get-together because my mom insists that everyone is out to get her. She then accused me of being sullen and said that I should be positive when I call her and not be negative.

Really? I am the negative one? I am not the one making up paranoid, baseless stories in my head about people being out for every dollar she has.

When your two worlds collide

My good friend came to drop off some things for me at my office today. While I thought she would just wait for me downstairs, I realized she actually came up to our floor and was waiting for me in our waiting area near the front desk. She even surprised me with dried flowers (which should last pretty much forever until they’ve collected enough dust and cob webs). She is the most thoughtful friend I have — surprising me at work with flowers in hand!

I gave her a tour of my office, introduced her to a few colleagues, and of course, walked her around our kitchen, complete with endless snacks, healthy and unhealthy, kombucha, cold brew, beer, and even red wine on tap. She took a good number of snacks and packed them away in her bag (I mean, why else did she want to come up, right?).

She said she imagined my office would be something like this given what she’d seen and heard of other tech companies — she just didn’t realize we’d have things like our bottled tea selection, packaged boiled eggs (??), or Muscle Milk (which, we found out today actually has no real milk, just “milk proteins” — whatever that means, and no real sugar (they use fake sugars!). “So this is what it’s like to work in tech, huh? You guys just get tons of free shit and gain weight over this!” she exclaimed.

Yeah, that’s kind of true. A number of colleagues have told me that within six months of joining our company, they find that their waist lines get bigger or their clothes in general just start feeling tighter. Even when you think you are ordering healthy foods for lunch with our lunch stipend, too much of a healthy thing ends up still being… well, too much, and too much food makes you gain weight. We’re definitely very lucky with our food and perks here, and it was interesting and amusing at the same time to see my friend marvel over our office, our food, and all the things I just find “normal” and take for granted every day. It was a novelty for her, and I could tell she really enjoyed being there and did not want to leave.