Upper West Side blackout

Chris and I were at dinner early this evening when suddenly, all the lights and music suddenly went out in the restaurant. The service staff got into motion, checking everything, ensuring that the patrons were all fine. Our server/bartender served each of us two shots of tequila on the house. They took care of credit card payments the old fashioned way. And as we finished eating and exited the restaurant, we realized that this was affecting the entire area. We were literally standing in the heart of the theater district, where shows had to stop mid-way through or had to be cancelled. Crowds and crowds of people were exiting theaters, unsure what to do next or where to go. Traffic lights were not working, and cars and pedestrians alike were hesitant to move forward.

It was a strange sight and lasted for a good handful of hours. We were lucky and regained power just past 10:30 on Saturday night. It really would not have been so bad if it were not for the sweltering heat. But it really became jarring to know that this power outage happened when someone posted a photo on Twitter showing how Manhattan looked to someone viewing the island from New Jersey…. lots of glittering lights as usual… except for an entire 20-block stretch of Manhattan that was just all black, lights fully out.

What do we worry about?

Tonight, Chris and I treated my friend and her boyfriend to a belated birthday dinner at an omakase restaurant I’d been wanting to try in the Flatiron. We caught up over sashimi and sake, and then ended up making a detour back to our place because Chris accidentally left a gift we got her at the apartment. It ended up all working out since it just meant extended time together in the comfort of our own home, with far less expenses under our belts since drinking and eating cake at home is always cheaper than doing the exact same activity outside.

During our catch up, my friend’s boyfriend said, “Yeah, I worry about a lot of things… like money, having enough money to do what I want to do, for the future, and all that. But us? I don’t really worry about our relationship. Not saying that I take her for granted because I don’t think I do… but well, I just don’t worry about us. I think we’re good.”

I didn’t say anything to that. I guess that’s how he feels. But I did think about it for a bit in the context of myself. What do I worry about? What makes me fearful of the future? In response to him in my head, I’m very lucky and privileged because I don’t worry about money. In fact, my entire life, I’ve never really had to worry about it, and that is a massive privilege in itself. While I never thought my parents were rich, I always knew we were comfortable in that we never had to worry about rent money, having a roof over our heads, or how we would get food on the table. We always had more than enough to eat, and a variety at that. But the saddest part about that is so many families do have to worry about that, as well as their children. And to me, I don’t think the worries of parents should ever, in a perfect world, have to be the worries of their children. And in the event that I ever had money issues, I know that Chris and I would have the support of our families. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be in that position.

I don’t really worry about work, even though I have a lot of frustrations with it, as any average person would. Circumstances and expectations frustrate me, internal politics and favoritism anger me to no end, but as far as the day to day goes, I’m not very concerned about the stability of my job; I do not fear that my next paycheck will get lost. I earn a comfortable living and have relatively good work-life balance.

Health, knock on wood, is not a concern right now. Other than the annoying colds I’ve gotten which have reignited bad coughing fits that have been reminiscent of my whooping cough days, I’d say I’m relatively healthy and fit for my age.

And similar to my friend’s boyfriend, I guess overall, I don’t really worry about my relationship with Chris. I think we are pretty stable and happy together. We have a lot of differences. He drives me crazy pretty much every single day and is one of the most annoying people I know, but he likely feels the same way about me, and to my friend’s point, that’s probably what keeps us together in the end, whether we are fully conscious of it or not. We both get bored easily; if you get annoyed by someone, it probably means you’re not getting bored.

So what does worry me? I don’t think about it very often, but I guess it’s all the things that are fully out of my control: stupid political situations like the U.S. becoming more anti people of color, anti-women, anti-immigrants; a potential World War III created by President Dipshit, climate change wiping out entire islands, cities, and states. I also worry about the things that are fully not real, but could easily become real in a second: a sudden death of someone close to me, who is going to take care of my parents one day when they are not able to take care of themselves, one of us getting a heart attack and dying while in flight on an airplane and having no help until it’s too late, contracting stage 4 of X cancer and not having any awareness of it until it’s too late. It all sounds a little ridiculous, some more than others, but when I do worry, those are the things I think about.

All in all, I’d say it’s a pretty decent set of things to worry about because I suppose this means I am fairly stable and relatively positive? I don’t always think the worst, even if it sometimes seems to be that way.

“Exotic” and “oriental” in speech

Since it’s our annual team week this week and I will not be there, a lot of my colleagues have been asking me where I am going and what I’ll be doing instead. I never intentionally planned for personal travel during this time, but from my perspective, it seemed like poor planning on our team leadership’s part by never polling anyone to ask what their summer plans were. It is what it is.

While many have responded saying that they think my trip will be really exciting, filled with delicious food, historical sights, and a walk through, in Shanghai, of memory lane, I got one response that I wasn’t completely prepared for.

“WOW! That sounds amazingly exotic! I hope you have an amazing time!” one colleague exclaimed.

“Exotic”? I had to give myself some time to take this in to understand why I was not a huge fan of that word choice, and why this response kind of made me uncomfortable. In its plainest definition and form, “exotic” means “originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country.” So, for example, we oftentimes will call a bird “exotic” if it is not of the native land in which we reside. A secondary definition of “exotic” is: “attractive or striking because of colorful or out of the ordinary.”

The above definitions don’t seem offensive, right? And I know from knowing and working with this colleague that she in no way would ever mean to be offensive or rude at all. But it still made me feel a little annoyed. And it reminded me of why I hate the term “oriental” when describing East Asia and why it’s always bothered me. It rarely is spoken or heard, this term, but very occasionally, I do see it in writing, and I do hear people use the term “oriental” when referring to food or even groups of people, and those people are usually older since the term is quite dated. The cheeky response back to someone who would ever attempt to call me oriental is, “Well, I’m not a carpet.” And the meaning behind a comeback like that is… I’m not an object. Calling me “oriental” is basically objectifying me and my culture, and no one wants to be objectified. But to flush that thought out more thoroughly, Erika Lee, the director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota and author of The Making of Asian America: A History,” explained this: “In the U.S., the term “oriental” has been used to reinforce the idea that Asians were/are forever foreign and could never become American. These ideas helped to justify immigration exclusion (hello, Chinese Exclusion Act), racial discrimination and violence, political disfranchisement, and segregation.” Lee also claimed that the continued use of the term “perpetuates inequality, disrespect, discrimination and stereotypes towards Asian Americans.”

So that is really what I hear when I hear someone call my mother or father country “exotic.” It’s being categorized as “other,” “foreign,” “distant,” removed from the everyday that is here in the United States. It is not like us here in the land of the free. And that truly is not the case because the U.S. is a country of immigrants from around the globe. I wish more people would readily acknowledge that and acknowledge that all our differences is what truly make up this country.

Meeting in Queens for dinner (?!)

A friend of mine, who temporarily relocated back from Amsterdam to New York City, where she is from, has been in town the last couple of months before she, her husband, and their 1-year-old daughter move to Hong Kong for work. She lives out in Jamaica, which is pretty much in outer queens close to where JFK airport is, and that’s also where she grew up. When we’ve met up for dinner when she’s either been visiting from Amsterdam or back in town this last month, it’s always been in Queens… not necessarily because she insisted upon it (she really did not), but more because I thought, hey, this would be a great excuse to go to Queens since pretty much no one else wants to go there with me to eat (other than Chris when dragged and especially for dosa, and my male “travel for food” friends). While all of New York City is a foodie mecca, my heart will always be in Queens for the variety of cuisines. And given she has been away for so long, it’s also an excuse for her to eat the food of her own borough which has been sorely neglected. She had an endlessly long list of restaurants specifically in Rego Park and Forest Hills that she wanted to try, so we chose a Georgian restaurant from it (that I’d actually already eaten at, but loved).

“You’re the best! I don’t know anyone else who wants to come to Queens to eat the way you do!” she enthused.

Yeah, for the most part, her commute would be shorter than mine, but I don’t even think of it that way. I just want to go there, eat, explore, and also catch up with her, of course. So this isn’t hard at all for me.

I was telling my colleague this before I left the office, and she groaned at the idea of going to Queens. She lives about 15 blocks from the office, walks to and from each day, and thinks that is too long of a commute. Her mom lives in Elmhurst, but she refuses to go there, so her mom always comes into Manhattan to see her. “That is soooo far,” she grumbled. “Why would you go out there just to eat? You should have asked her to meet you somewhere in Manhattan.”

“Um, do you remember anything about me?” I retorted back. “Plus, the food is so good in Queens!”

This colleague is not at all alone in this attitude, though, and it’s always driven me crazy about people in Manhattan. But then I realize… it’s not even a Manhattan thing. The people who live in Flatiron or Union Square don’t want to leave downtown. The people who live in Hoboken don’t want to go anywhere that’s over a 15-minute drive away. The colleagues I have in Willamsburg don’t want to leave Williamsburg or any neighboring areas of Brooklyn. The laziness is pervasive of pretty much anyone who has some level of privilege and doesn’t *need* to go to another neighborhood for things like food, groceries, work. And not everyone is lucky enough to have that ability.

New York City is a big place, and there are still so many parts of it I haven’t explore enough. And I don’t want to be that person who doesn’t know about the other neighborhoods of her own city. I think my mind (and stomach) would benefit from this exploration.

Vegan French cuisine

Endless restaurants are always opening up in New York City. With that also comes the endless variety, and one type of cuisine that is picking up in popularity as well as general ubiquity is vegan cuisine. Once upon a time, I wasn’t that open to these types of restaurants, but seeing how creative food has become for non-meat eaters has actually been a bit inspiring for me. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have been gaining crazy traction to the point where the Impossible Burger is actually experiencing a shortage in supply; restaurants’ demands for this are exceeding the supply, so many places (like Roast in Detroit last week) are actually on wait lists to get more of these, and had to temporarily take it off their bar menu). And as I’ve been trying more vegan “cheeses,” I am more and more impressed with how delicious they’ve become.

Tonight, my friend and I went to a small, quaint vegan French restaurant in the West Village. Honestly, when I hear “French cuisine,” all I can think about are a) butter, b) cheese, and c) all things flaky pastry, which inevitably mean butter, eggs, and sugar. Well, this place does serve vegan croissants and sugar, but definitely no genuine butter or cheese. The tastiest thing we shared was the vegan “brie” that was actually made out of macadamia nuts. I probably could have just snacked on that all night and been totally satisfied. With all the innovations coming out of the plant-based food movement, I’m eager to see what else I can taste that is delicious and better for our planet.

Coalition for the Homeless volunteering

Well, it’s that time of the year again when our company’s annual Impact Week happens, which is the one week of the year that all of our offices globally volunteer time with those less fortunate than us in our local communities. As our office’s ambassador, I organized three different events for our team this week, with the first one at a local church near Grand Central Station with the organization Coalition for the Homeless. This organization passes out pre-prepared food in containers and bags for those in need, so it’s almost like a “takeout for the homeless” setup.

The event was very straightforward – we prepped the food stations, served the different components of the meal to the people who came in. We were told by the volunteer coordinator that almost all were regulars, sadly, so he recognized many by both face and name, and always wished them well. The saddest thing about continually seeing them day after day, week after week, is that he knew their lives were not getting any better. And that made him really sad. Not only that, but they knew the schedule for each of the places that offered food, the types of dishes/fruit/drinks to expect, and what the food setup would be (e.g. here, it would be all takeout food, but the church two blocks down actually has table service). They all have their routine and route down pat.

As I walked home, I called my dad to see how he was doing, and he asked why I was getting out of work so late. I told him that we were actually ending a volunteer opportunity serving meals to the homeless. He then asked me if my pay raise was reflected in my last paycheck given my promotion, and I said yes. “That’s good,” he said. “Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter since most of your salary is going to Uncle Sam, anyway!” He loves to mention that pretty much every time anyone talks about any type of increase in pay.

I thought for a moment, thinking about what he said. “Well, that’s okay,” I said back to him, “Because I rather be the one serving these meals at the homeless center than on the receiving end, so I’m not going to complain about any of that. I know I have it really good.”

Dad agreed with me, and we moved onto the next topic.

Aziz Ansari and his audience

After coming back from Detroit late yesterday afternoon, I had dinner at home with Chris and went down to Radio City Music Hall to see Aziz Ansari perform as part of his “Road to Nowhere” tour. The greatest thing about seeing comedians and other performing artists who are people of color is that they always acknowledge race, the always changing definition of “normal” or “politically correct,” and well, that is refreshing and something I can relate to a lot.

He touched upon a lot of very real, tangible topics in both a touching and a funny way, everything from his involvement in the #metoo movement with the woman who wrote the viral piece about her sexual encounter with him, where she perceived him to be completely un-attuned to her body language saying she was not interested in having sex, to liberals and their obsession with playing a Candy Crush version of a “how progressive can you prove yourself to be” competition, to even his grandmother and her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He even talked about the issue of birth control in our society now: why does it seem like the only options out there have to be so terrible: an IUD that results in, well, his penis getting stabbed, or birth control pills, which make his girlfriend into a moody, worser version of herself?

But while enjoying his standup, I noticed a woman, blonde and white, sitting not too far from us who clearly was not having a good time. Her friend (or whoever she was with) had gotten out of her seat and left, likely to either get a drink or use the bathroom, and that was when I noticed this person and how bored or un-engaged she looked. While Aziz was cracking jokes and the entire audience was roaring with laughter, this woman was looking off to the side, to my direction, expressionless, as though she was possibly counting down the minutes until this event would be over. Her facial expression and body language all screamed out that she was in extreme discomfort.

Did her friend ask her to accompany her tonight, or did she beg because she absolutely needed a plus-one because she didn’t want to come alone? Why would someone like this come to an Aziz Ansari show? You either like his material or you do not, and she clearly did not. I didn’t really feel bad for her, though. At the end of the day, it was her choice. And if Aziz’s material makes her feel uncomfortable, I wonder if she asks herself why it does that to her.

Hoping for a better tomorrow

Today, in light of the recent one-year anniversary of Anthony Bourdain’s passing, I re-read one of my all-time favorite profiles of him done by (of course), The New Yorker, entitled, Anthony Bourdain’s Moveable Feast. The article describes Anthony’s travels as “communion with a foreign culture so unmitigated that it feels practically intravenous.” The writer says he “makes a fetish of authenticity,” which I can completely relate to. As someone who loves to travel, I think I’m also obsessed with finding authentic experiences that aren’t just about being catered to in a specific way just because I am a tourist, but rather because I want to do whatever that local person is doing or eating. But that desire could easily be read as homogenized, which defeats the purpose, in many ways, of travel.

I’ve never really been that sad by any celebrity’s death, but his passing was just so horrible to me because even though he’s a white man, he embodies what I wish every traveler could be and what I want to be when I travel: the kind of person who wants to fully immerse himself in the culture he’s in, who isn’t scared of eating or doing the things that local people do in their local towns and cities, who doesn’t assume an air of superiority because he comes from a rich, westernized, and overprivileged nation. He also doesn’t make dangerous, sweeping assumptions about the places he’s been that generalize and reduce them down to stereotypes. Why can’t more people be like him?

Food poisoning fears

Growing up, it was a normal thing in our house for my grandma or mom to make a big pot of soup, stock, or congee/jook, and leave it out on the stove overnight, then reheat it each morning or time they wanted to eat it again. We never considered that unsafe, and the logic behind it being safe was that if any weird bacteria were growing in it, boiling it again to reheat would kill them all anyway.

As a result of this, I’ve also done similar things as an adult, though most of the time, I do put these things in the fridge. I’ve left food out at room temperature for several hours. I’ve even taken leftover food from my Seamless work lunch, gone out after work, then taken it home (while it was sitting in my backpack the entire time). I’ve never gotten sick.

But in the U.S., everyone seems to think that everything needs to be refrigerated or frozen immediately. I don’t really get it. Leaving food out at room temperature is apparently a breeding ground for bacteria growth and inevitable food poisoning. When some colleagues of mine did a group lunch order today from Luke’s Lobster, when the food arrived, they were in a meeting. Another colleague panicked, fearful that they would get food poisoning, and put all the food in the fridge. They were just going to be out of their meeting in another half hour; no one would have died. And to add to this, the air conditioning was quite high in the office since we’re pretty much in summer time, and so the office was quite cool already.

The level of panic around food safety here is always mind-boggling to me; if these colleagues knew what I grew up with and what I do at my own apartment, they’d probably wonder why I haven’t already died from food poisoning.

Radical Candor vs. being an asshole

Last year, one of the books that I read on my reading list was Radical Candor, a book about how to build, lead, and inspire teams to do the best work of their lives… while also being honest (while being caring). The main idea is that in order to be a good manager, you need to care personally while also challenging directly. When you challenge without caring, it is called “obnoxious aggression.” When you care without challenging, it is called “ruinous empathy.” And when you do neither, it is manipulative insincerity. This book is considered one of the “it” books across up and coming tech startups. What is sad about that is that while everyone is touting this book, very few to none are actually actively practicing and embracing this.

So if we think about the concept of challenging without caring, that is called obnoxious aggression. And if we really think about it, another thing to call that is just being an asshole. That’s most men in power in tech organizations, and the majority of the time, it’s white men in power). Today, since I was on my way back from Atlanta, I skipped an “Ask Me Anything” session from one of our leaders, when he was supposedly attempting to be “radically candid” about why one of our sales leaders got canned the previous week. I received several messages updating me on what happened this afternoon. There’s a really fine line between being “radically candid” and just being an asshole, and he pretty much failed at the former and succeeded at the latter. And yet, it will all be just dandy because in his position, he can get away with it, and no one will question him. HR is on his side. He’s an Untouchable. For the rest of us mere earthlings, we’d get a massive admonishment from HR if we did even half of what he purportedly said.

There’s the glamour and perks of working at a tech company, and then there’s all the hypocrisy and bullshit. Today was a good example of the latter.