The state of hospitals

My boss was in town from San Francisco this week, and suddenly in the middle of a meeting yesterday, he had sharp, shooting pains in his abdomen that required him to go to the emergency room. We were worried about him, so a few of us left work early yesterday to check in on him to see if he was all right. His pain had subsided, but he was still waiting to do a cat scan to get a full diagnosis because the culprit of his pains still was not known.

The last time I was in a hospital was in November 2014, when my dad had his bypass surgery. The smells, sights, and sounds of being in any hospital always completely disgust me. But what was even worse this time was that this hospital’s emergency room “waiting area” just seemed like a complete mess, total chaos everywhere, with patients given far too little space given whatever contagions they may or may not have. I didn’t stay in there long, but for the period of time I was in there to see my boss, I felt uneasy. Hospitals, ironically, are known in this country to be some of the dirtiest places. Medical professionals don’t even wash or sanitize their hands after using the bathroom. So what on earth would make me feel comfortable about being in a place with people like that plus those who are actually ill? The least amount of time I can be in a hospital, the better.

I felt so terrible looking at my boss on his bed in his cramped space, in pain, yet grateful that we came to see and check up on him. I cannot imagine how awful it must be to need to visit an emergency room far away from home where you don’t really know anyone and have no idea how things are supposed to work.

Getting back to my podcasts

Another part of getting back into the usual groove of daily work and New York life also means that I need to figure out what books I am going to prioritize this year, whether that means reading via Kindle, paperback/hardcover, or Audible. Then, I also have to balance that out with regular news and all my podcasts. I listen to a variety of podcasts ranging from daily news, in-depth news, feature pieces, to ones that are about mental health, relationships, culture, and food. I was so excited to see that one of the latest Gastropod podcasts was about kimchi. In it, I learned that the very oldest recorded iterations of kimchi actually were not spicy at all. Any “spice” they had were from Chinese peppercorns (I’m assuming they meant Sichuanese peppercorns, but I may be wrong?). And chilies actually did not get to Korea until the Japanese got them from the Portuguese in the 1500s and then subsequently brought them to Korea. When the Koreans saw these bright red chilies, they immediately added them to their kimchi and got addicted not just by the spicy flavors but also by the fiery red color. In most Asian cultures that I am aware of, red is considered highly auspicious, so they were excited just by the mere appearance of their new and improved kimchi.

These are the types of podcasts I love: the ones that go in depth about random, quirky knowledge nuggets that are fun to know about something you are already familiar with but did not previously know. And it’s an added bonus when it’s about food.

Spending less on what means less

In a world where money did not mean anything, I would own zero pieces of clothing or shoes, except for underwear or socks. I realized a while ago that I’m just not a fashion person. I do not enjoy the process of building an outfit or “look.” I hate shopping in store and trying on clothes. I dislike thinking about what to wear. I harass my Alexa with this question nearly every morning because I’m always so uninspired by my closet. And I really really do not like buying clothes, whether it’s fast fashion or “investment pieces.” The thing that makes me the most mad is that most clothes that are affordable today are made out of bi-products of plastic, so we’re not even spending most of our money on real fabrics like cotton or wool. And if you don’t think that’s that terrible, think about all the times you do laundry on your polyester blends, your viscose, your rayon (all “man-made” materials made from plastic), and all the plastic that runs from your laundry into the sea. Yep. That’s pretty terrible.

Well, I think we did pretty well in 2019 with our spending: together, the two of us spend a whopping $261 on clothing, far below the $1,000+ investment most families make, and that tends to vary by income level. That is pretty impressive over the course of 12 months across two people, if I do say so myself. In my head, I think the goal I’d like to set is around $500 or less for this year.

Average grocery bill per week

In the U.S., in high-cost metropolitan areas, the average household spends about $125 per week on groceries. After looking over our spending patterns by category in 2019, we spent about $40/week on groceries. Part of this is because we eat out, are traveling for work, and the fact that I get free Seamless from work. We’re also a two-person household with two people working full time with no kids. But I’d like to suggest that some of it is because we keep a pretty good pantry/freezer/refrigerator stock of staples that we like to use that are always on hand, whether that is rice, dried pastas, many types of beans, sauces (soy, fish, sesame, chili), spices, etc. Part of the reason people are paralyzed about cooking or doing more cooking is that they are intimidated by committing to too many different ingredients that they may or may not use in the future, whether it’s turmeric, white pepper, oregano, or something else. The key is to always invest in spices or products that you know you will use in the future and use a lot, and if you do not plan to use them a lot, make sure, if you can, to only buy a small quantity of it so that it either doesn’t go stale or rancid. If it may go stale, preserve the life of it by keeping it in the fridge or freezer. Or for things like rice or pasta, they will live on your shelf indefinitely.

Keeping a well-stocked pantry allows me to create meals from whatever I already have without going out to buy much. For example, last night, I made dan dan noodles with the frozen “fresh” noodles and ground turkey in my freezer, the sesame paste in my pantry that was still new and sealed, plus the soy sauces, sugar, and Sichuanese peppercorns I already had in my drawers. I also had a packet of preserved pickled Sichuanese pickles in my fridge, so I used that, as well. I felt pretty self-satisfied once the dish came together that I had made a full dish that would last three days with just what I had without needing to go out and buy anything extra.

“Warm” and productive January

It’s strange. I was dreading the bitter cold and snow of New York when we got back, yet when we arrived back at JFK on Tuesday, it felt… mild. I was wearing my bomber jacket while waiting for our car to go home and didn’t even need my scarf to shield my neck. And this week, it was consistently in the 40s-60s F. It’s almost like I flew back to San Francisco instead of New York for the Northern Hemisphere winter.

It doesn’t matter, though, because I’m still not that motivated to go outside and frolic much. Most of what I tend to focus on in the winter is “indoor” activities such as scrapbooking, but because I got such a good start on scrapbooking through September 2019 last autumn, this January, I plan to focus most of my indoor time on video editing for the YouTube channel. I’ve already wrapped up one video since coming back, and am actively working to upload a second by the time this weekend is up. And the real doozy faces me once I have to organize all my footage from Belgium and The Netherlands.. and even more in Australia and Indonesia. The backlog seems incredibly long and a little intimidating right now!

Instant Pot comes to the rescue

After nearly a month of indulging probably a bit too much on super rich foods, I decided that as soon as we got back that I wanted to eat lighter and eat food I would cook. I feel this way most of the time when we come back from a long trip; I just want food I made in my own kitchen, where it’s not super salted or oily or too anything. So on our first full day back in New York, I managed to make two wholesome dishes from scratch in less than 1.5 hours, all thanks to the glory of not only my beloved Instant Pot, but also my frozen cubed pre-made tomato onion masala. This tomato onion masala has truly changed my life when it comes to making Indian food; so has the Instant Pot, but the Instant Pot does not just miraculously mince garlic and puree tomato for you. The tomato onion masala pre-prep has made worlds of a difference when it comes to prep time when making Indian food. With these two, along with a well stocked freezer and pantry, I made chicken saag and spiced toor dal in such a short amount of time that most would be shocked to see the food on the table for us last night. I served these with rice that was already made, but frozen from before we left for our time away.

And when making the saag, I didn’t use any cream, butter, or ghee, and used just two generous pinches of kasoor methi (dried fenugreek leaves). Who would have thought what a difference two pinches of anything could make! The addition of just a couple pinches of kasoor methi made the saag go from generically North Indian tasting to authentic North Indian food. It really is just the little things sometimes.

Back to same ol’

When you come back from a good, long, far-away trip, what you may be tempted to do is to tell everyone who even half asks you, “How was your trip?” about all the amazing minute details that you found so intrinsically fascinating and mind-blowing while away… that they really couldn’t give two shits about because a) they cannot relate at all unless they have traveled to the place you went, and b) what may be amazing to you during your travels is not amazing to them when they are thinking about whatever boring thing they were doing in the last couple weeks. I’ve never been one to gush excessively about any travel experience to colleagues, but after reading an article a while back on “why no one cares about how your trip was,” all the points were dead on. And so I’ve scaled back any response to, “It was really good! Thanks for asking!” unless pressed upon any further. Some colleagues asked about what the food was like. Others asked if we saw a lot of tourists outside of Bali in Indonesia. Several who haven’t been sleeping under a rock this whole time asked me how Australia was given the wild fires and if Chris’s family was affected at all. Sometimes, it’s just the little things, but it’s still nice to be asked.

Last day in the office this year

I realized that in the month of December, I will literally be in my office for a total of two days — last Friday and today. I stayed home yesterday since I was getting over a little cold and wanted to be ready for our long flight to Australia, which means today is my second and last day in the office for 2019. It’s a nice feeling to leave for the rest of the year and to be able to work remotely for the remainder of this month. At the same time, it’s a bit of a funny feeling because while I am leaving the country and continent, everyone else is kind of doing their same ol’ same ol’ routine, which by default, just seems very boring to me. It’s a further reminder about how unrelatable my life has become; leaving for the Southern Hemisphere for over three weeks at the end of each year has become a fun and enjoyable routine we do now, but in some ways, makes me feel very far removed from not just my colleagues, but even my friends, who make fun of me when it comes to being able to keep track of where I am in the world, what I am doing, and where I will be going next. I definitely feel very lucky to have what I have and the experiences I’ve been able to have at this time of year. I love my baby.

Uogashi

Before we leave for our end-of-year trip every year, usually to Australia, Chris and I have a special meal to celebrate the year, and this year, we went to Uogashi, a Japanese restaurant that literally means “fish quay.” Their original location was in the East Village but sadly burned down, and lucky for us, they relocated to a spot in Midtown West, a short walk away from our apartment. They were famous when they first opened for their cost-effective, high quality lunch specials and their chawanmushi, or their steamed egg with various fish roe. We came in for their chef’s special tasting menu at the counter and enjoyed the best catches locally and from Japan, mostly Hokkaido.

It was probably one of the very first sushi restaurants we ate at where the tasting menu had no salmon at all. They did have two notable pieces of toro: one medium fatty, and one super-fatty (you could see all the fat outlined so clearly! There were HUNKS of them!). The chawanmushi was perfect — I always love how eggs are done in Japanese cuisine. And the end dish of black sesame ice cream was perfect and so refreshing and light.

Funnily enough, a double date couple came in with a white man who was clearly very skeptical of what he was eating. They sat at the sushi counter, where it’s required you participate in a tasting. He loudly insisted that he order a la carte, when he was lightly informed that at the counter, they had no choice but to do a tasting menu. Chris started swearing about it. None of us are tolerant of pickiness, but especially at high end restaurants like these.

Some people really need to grow up and get their taste buds to grow up, too.

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.