Are there more bikes than pedestrians here?

Prior to even researching Holland, I already knew that The Netherlands is a very bike-friendly country, so much so that in any given city there, you will probably notice that bikers outnumber cars by a long shot. Countless articles I’ve read, not to mention people I’ve met who have either lived, visited, or are from Amsterdam have noted that Amsterdam is very likely the most bike-friendly city in the world, that it could even be stated that bikes outnumber pedestrians, which is mind-boggling to me. The city of Amsterdam has about 400 kilometers (249 miles) of bike lanes. They usually run alongside the streets, but sometimes, it can get confusing when the bike lanes look to cut into pedestrian walk paths. And while bikes are supposed to stay in bike lanes since that’s what they are designed for, very often, you can see bikers in walking paths and on sidewalks. And this is when I, as a first-time visitor to Amsterdam, get confused.

I am all for a bike-friendly city. I do not bike (nor do I have any desire at all to bike, especially in a city like New York), yet I was excited to see all the new bike lanes that have been created throughout Manhattan. But while pedestrians typically have right-of-way when it comes to vehicles, here in Amsterdam, it seems like bikers have right-of-way… against virtually everyone — cars and pedestrians. Maybe it’s just because I’m a foreigner and just don’t “get it,” but why should a biker have right-of-way over a pedestrian? And why would you, as a biker, want to go against a pedestrian when you are a) not wearing a helmet (I didn’t see a single biker wearing a helmet here) and b) likely to fall off your bike in the event that you hit a pedestrian and then get injured?

Looking both ways doesn’t always help either. Several articles I’ve read have said that tourists tend to cause bikers to get into accidents because they do not look. I would argue that we actually are looking, but given some of the bike lanes curve and are not always clearly outlined to someone who isn’t familiar with the roads here, it’s hard to just assume pedestrians will see and understand all of this.

I didn’t realize how much I like cars until I realized how aggressive bikers could be.

Friends in far places

The great thing about knowing people you like who live in places that are not your hometown is that when you visit these other places, you get a familiar and local face to spend time with. You can hear their perspective on the place you’ve chosen for your vacation/holiday. You can hear what they think about your “tourist” perspective on their city and get their feedback on whether you’re an idiot or not.

My colleague who is based in our Amsterdam office (who is also Dutch) and his girlfriend met us for dinner during our first night in their city, and it was a very warm welcome. After a red eye flight, a day of walking over 24,000 steps on streets, over bridges, and passing canals, Chris and I were both quite tired. It felt nice to sit in a warm restaurant over an Indonesian rice table and see a familiar friendly face and have familiar conversation.

The only downside of having friends in all these other places is that you will only see them sporadically, if at all. And he’s likely leaving the company soon, so who knows when I will see him again.

Rocket man

On our overnight flight tonight from New York to London en route to Amsterdam, I finally watched Rocket Man, the movie about Elton John’s life. I learned so many things about him that I had no idea about: his original real name wasn’t Elton John, but Reginald Dwight. He had a negligent father and a psychotic relationship with his mother. I also had no idea that “Your Song” dates all the way back to 1970 and was one of his very first hit songs. I also love the relationship between him and his lyrics writer; the idea that you can just take a bunch of words and “add music” to them without the two individuals, the lyrics writer and the music writer, being in the same room or agreeing to these things is amazing to me.

What really struck me about this film was the relationship, or nonexistent relationship, between Elton John and his father. His father wanted nothing to do with him, would constantly ignore him, talk down to him, criticize him. Disturbingly enough, it actually conjured up memories of how Ed and our dad would interact with each other. Ed always wanted our dad’s attention, approval, kindness, and he just never got it. Ed would be ignored or criticized constantly. Even as an adult when my dad would criticize Ed, I could tell how much it shook him; nothing else in the world made him feel worse than my dad’s yelling and criticizing. Despite everything he tried, Ed couldn’t shake my dad’s insults off. He internalized them. Remembering it now upsets me and made me tear up during the film. A couple of those times, I told Ed to ignore him, that none of those words meant anything and they obviously weren’t true. But Ed couldn’t hear me because all he could do was replay the insults over and over in his head. It was like someone was constantly beating him in the head with these awful thoughts over and over again.

I especially felt the similarities when in the film, Elton John comes to visit his dad after his dad has started a new family and had kids with his second wife. Elton sees how involved his dad his with these new kids and how he still doesn’t care about Elton despite making it big. He doesn’t even care about the generous Chopard watch Elton presents to him as a gift; it means nothing to him because Elton means nothing to him.

Shit that parents do really affects children for the rest of their lives. It’s too bad that parents don’t get it.

Influencing others to cook

We have “coffee klatch” meetings randomly scheduled at work so that colleagues have the opportunity to get to know other colleagues who they may not get the chance to work with day too day. I had one with a colleague who started about six months ago. Even though we’re technically on the same team, we really haven’t spoken much. It seems like it’s because I’m usually on the road, mostly for work, sometimes for pleasure, or one of us is working from home.

I told her about my YouTube channel a few months ago, and she was one of the very first people who not only followed and subscribed, but also watched my videos. She said that my videos have inspired her to start building her kitchen “staples,” such as rice, dried pasta, and spices. “Once I have all this stuff, I’ll be set for cooking!” she exclaimed.

That’s usually the biggest challenge of converting someone from a Seamless/food delivery devotee to a home cook: getting them to invest in the basics because it seems like a lot in the beginning. Well, it IS a lot in the beginning, but it certainly pays off. I’d really hate it if I had to run to the store just to pick up something as basic as olive oil or cumin. Those need to be on hand at all times.

The channel is still small, but the feedback I am getting has been quite positive. It only makes me want to continue and do more.

“You’re a New Yorker now”

A visit to any state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has zero possibility of either being fun or entertaining. It is inevitably long, painful, and excruciating. You cannot even really listen to audio books or watch movies to make the time pass because you could miss your number getting called. And who would want to be at the DMV any longer than absolutely needed?

The last time I went to the DMV was to renew my driver’s license early in November 2014. I was in San Francisco and still (wrongly) using my California license even though I technically should have had it switched over to New York when I moved… but I was lazy and always thought I would move back. Well, 11 years later, I still haven’t moved back, and with the Real ID laws going into effect next year along with the expiration of my California driver’s license on my upcoming birthday in less than two months, I figured I had better suck it up and switch over to New York state.

You know a governmental process is terrible and disgustingly inefficient when you come in without an appointment and somehow get out sooner than someone who actually made an appointment in advance (California, I do not miss that about you). Five years ago, I was advised NOT to make an appointment because I’d have a longer wait time. This time around, I had no appointment at the DMV in Manhattan, and I was able to get out after just over two hours. My mind was numbed, but I was finally free.

As I handed over my credit card to process the payment for my new New York state driver’s license and my Real ID, the worker processing all my paperwork took my California license away. “You won’t be needing this anymore,” she smiled. “You’re a New Yorker now.”

My gut twitched a little when she said this. With this step, I’ve fully relinquished my California identity. I am not sure how I feel about that.

Poppy seeds

I was at Whole Foods this evening after getting back from Atlanta, looking in the nuts and seeds aisle, failing to find poppy seeds. I’m planning to use it for my long-awaited take on the vegan lemon coconut loaf I had in Vancouver last year that also had millet and poppy seed for added texture. Why would poppy seeds not be in the nuts and seeds aisle? I went up to a store associate, and she said I could find them in the spice aisle. “Poppy seeds — that’s a spice?” I wondered to myself. Why do poppy seeds get separated from, say, sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds? Where is the logic here? Who made all these random decisions that don’t seem to be rooted in any real sense?

Long chat, short time

I flew into Atlanta this evening for a last minute customer meeting, and as an added bonus, was able to meet up with two friends for dinner at one of my favorite fried chicken spots that has come to Atlanta, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. We sat, ate our chicken, Mac and cheese, collard greens, and banana pudding over long conversations about travel, politics, race, sexism, immigration, friends, school, and who knows what else to add to this list. Before I even knew it, four hours had flown by, and it was easily time to leave to get ready for bed and another day of work and meetings. “This always happens when we’re together — we talk so much and then we don’t even realize that all this time has passed!” one of them exclaimed.

That’s the thing — this couple is part of the “new friends” group, “new” as in, we’ve met in the last several years. I feel like we have more in common than friends I’ve had for a long time, some of whom I’ve probably outgrown, but I still spend time with them just because of old habits, even though I never leave the conversations feeling fulfilled or challenged to think about new topics the way I did tonight. If you leave an outing with your friends feeling unfulfilled, not listened to or appreciated, or just frustrated, it’s probably a sign that you shouldn’t be friends with them anymore. It’s hard to take that advice, though, isn’t it?

Ali Wong’s take on why to date/marry someone who is from your own culture

In her book Dear Girls, Ali Wong strongly advises her daughters to marry someone from her own culture. A number of reasons are cited, but the ones that I would immediately get: You don’t have to explain things that you find second nature, whether it’s your customs, your language, your foods… YOUR FOODS. This is a big one. One of the worst things she’s experienced when dating white men is their reaction to different foods that she adores at dim sum on the weekends. “YOU ACTUALLY EAT CHICKEN FEET?” or “HOW CAN YOU EAT THAT?” These comments are not just ignorant, but they are outright offensive. Like Anthony Bourdain once said, “Don’t yuck my yum.” Because that statement is fully rooted in ignorance, bigotry, and whether you are aware of it or not, racism. She also notes that once, she took a white guy she was dating to a Korean restaurant, and he kept exclaiming over and over how much he loves kimchi when it was brought to the table with a number of other banchan dishes. This is one of the stupidest things she’s encountered. “Kimchi is a staple in the Korean kitchen,” she said. “A white guy exclaiming about how much he loves kimchi is like an Asian person going to a white person’s house, seeing white bread on the table, and exclaiming how much he loves white bread!” This was dead on true.

I don’t necessarily think I’ve made a very “different” decision being with Chris; he’s Indian Asian, and so he understands a lot about Asian culture in general: no shoes in the house, respect for parents/bringing them a gift the first time he meets them, food (because he’s not an idiot). While he has a strong preference for food from the Asian continent over any other region of the world, there are still many, many things I love and identify as “comfort food” that he will never quite love as much as me. This includes: noodle soup (pho, wonton noodle soup) — forget it. He will have a spoonful or two and then go back to his rice dish; then there’s things like Chinese seitan/kao fu — he’ll eat it, but he doesn’t get why I love this strangely textured sweet, savory, meatless blob. He doesn’t love East Asian desserts the way I do unless they have mango or coconut. He happily devours pretty much all things that have meat in them, and once there’s rice, he’s all over it. And for sure, one thing he happily eats is any Asian vegetable (other than bitter melon). I thought about this last night when I went out with a white guy friend, and he said he really did not like the water spinach/morning glory/kong qing cai. I glared at him — that’s one of my all time-favorite Asian vegetables!

One of my biggest fears once I reached adulthood was to marry someone who would tokenize me or had an Asian fetish, who would in front of me tell me that he loved me, but then tell his Asian colleague at work “to go back to where he came from” (yes, I know someone this has happened to). Yes, this is targeted specifically at white people. So, maybe it’s a bit of reverse racism, but I never had a desire to date or marry anyone who was white because of this. You never really know, do you? I don’t really have to think about this when I am with someone else who is Asian, so that’s the way I think about this.

Being a woman is expensive

I’ve been cheap this year, so I haven’t had my highlights redone at all until today. The last time I had my highlights done was in December of last year before leaving for our annual Christmas trip to Australia. Since then, I’ve had two trims which, including a generous tip, cost about $35 each. I texted my hairstylist to let her know I was coming, and she gave me her usual quote: cut plus wash plus highlights would be $160 for a full head (don’t ask me what “a half head” is). And once you add in a 25% tip, that’s $200 total. Note: you cannot get highlights and NOT do a wash, so don’t even try to ask her if you could skip the wash, because that’s not an option with any kind of hair dyeing.

That means that for 2019, I’ve spent $270 on hair maintenance. If I were good to my hair (and, apparently, my few new grays), I would have gotten highlights twice this year, which would have meant about $450 spent on my hair this year. Given that I had never gotten highlights or any real hair treatment until after I turned 31, I kind of think I shouldn’t feel so bad about spending this much on my hair now. Then, I quickly looked up how much the average woman spends on her hair; in the U.S., she spends about $960 per year. That’s a crap ton of money!

Then, I thought about how I used to only get two cuts per year. That means I spent about $60-70/year on hair prior to age 31. Wow, I really “saved” a lot of money next to the average woman, then!

It’s expensive being a woman. Add to this that when my hairstylist saw the length of my hair, she exclaimed about how long it’s getting. “Bella, to be honest, I usually charge $200 for a length like yours, but don’t worry, I will honor what I told you and charge you $160,” she said with a smile.

A $40 “discount”? I guess that was nice of her. Or, it’s just another way that women get penalized for being women and feminine.

Ramen everywhere

Since I moved here 11 years ago, the options for ramen restaurants seems to only be getting bigger and bigger. Not only do we have a lot of our old standbys that are the ramen OGs, like Miso-Ya in the East Village, but we’ve got a number of ramen spots that have come straight from Japan. Ippudo was the biggest and most well known one, but today, we discovered E.A.K. Ramen right in Hell’s Kitchen. They are famous for Yokohama-style ramen and straight noodles, and they offer two main types of broth: shoyu (soy sauce based) and shio (salt based). The menu was also very vegetarian and vegan friendly, as there were several options to satisfy both types of diners. We came here tonight and really enjoyed the ramen, everything from the broths to the chashu to even the texture of the seasoned egg.

The other spot we were debating on going to was Ichiran, which is also from Japan. They are famous for having single-diner booth settings where you are fully focused and immersed on your ramen slurping experience. But I was surprised when I looked at their online menu and noticed that all their ramens start at $18.90, even the vegetarian option… and pretty much every topping other than the meat and noodles was considered extra. $3 for a seasoned egg on top of a bowl that is already $18.90? While I really do still want to try it, the idea of eating this at this price did not sit well with me. I already thought that Ippudo at around $16 per bowl was expensive, but this really tops it all.