life updates to share during a casual catch-up

A former colleague from two companies ago reached out to me over LinkedIn last week after I had posted that there were open positions at my current office, so we met up for a coffee and tea break at Madison Square Park this afternoon to chat through what he was looking for, why he might be interested in my company and our open role, and why he wanted to leave.

I honestly still couldn’t believe he was there. He had changed roles and levels many times since I left, but I found that place to be the epitome of everything I cannot stand about career and job life in today’s day and age: substituting activity for achievement, people pushing paper without any purpose other than a paycheck, a glorification of the completely mediocre due to politics and favoritism. We discussed this and of course, as conversation continued, we talked about updates on our own lives since then: I got married! I changed jobs twice! He got married AND had two kids! He moved from Queens to Long Island! He owns a house with a front AND backyard! I moved from the Upper East to the Upper West Side!

Whenever I catch up with a colleague after a long time of not seeing them, it’s always these same high-level updates we tend to share, these so-called “milestones” in human life: marriage, children, house or no house status. What if I suddenly just said, hey, I’m doing volunteering for foster care children! Or, by the way, my brother died from suicide, so this is how I view life now?

How deep is a casual catch-up really supposed to be, or is it really just meant to be superficial since the ultimate motive is that one person wants something from the other? I’m honestly not sure.

When you get too comfortable during a job interview

After over ten years of working full-time, I can say that I’ve seen quite a number of interesting interviews, both from an interviewer as well as interviewee standpoint. I’ve been in interviews where the interviewee has been extremely arrogant or insecure. I’ve seen candidates do hand stands and discuss why they preferred crunchy versus smooth peanut butter. I’ve been interviewed by stone-faced people and those who want to make it seem like the interview is more of a casual chat rather than a situation during which they’re being evaluated. I’ve also felt like at one time, I was being hit on during an interview. But what I’ve never seen is a candidate who felt so comfortable chatting with me that she would ask me what office gossip I have to share or ask if the room we were in was bugged because she’d previously been in rooms that were bugged, and words she shared privately were being exposed. This actually happened this afternoon as we were interviewing a potential candidate for an open role on our team.

I realize that in 2018, especially in a city like New York, we’re really in an employees’ market when it comes to hiring and retaining talent. Now is actually a really good time to be looking for a new job. But if you are feeling so comfortable during an interview that you would actually ask about office gossip, regardless of whether you are joking or not, which introduces questions about the toxic culture you could potentially bring into an organization, don’t you kind of think you’re crossing a line?

Shakespeare in the Park

In the summer time in New York City, there are a lot of great, free events that happen throughout the city for those to enjoy, such as Philharmonic in the park, free big-screen movie nights in the park, and live theater productions of Shakespeare in the park. Unfortunately, when you live in Manhattan, you need to arrive at all these locations extremely early, i.e. take half a day off just to stake out your spot because these free events are in massively high demand. But I guess when you venture out to the outer boroughs, there’s no need to arrive that far in advance. We met some friends for Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well tonight in Sunnyside Gardens Park in Queens, and we got there just half an hour before the show was to start, and we still had decent spots to claim.

The production wasn’t that incredible; this play is one of Shakespeare’s least popular ones for a reason, and the acting was just so-so. But I do appreciate the access that we have to these events for free, and that the arts can be so accessible to anyone in the city. It’s definitely something to be grateful for.

When you receive flowers that you’re allergic to

It was a colleague’s birthday last Saturday, so her boyfriend had a gorgeous bouquet of mixed flowers delivered to our office for her the Friday before. Although they’ve been together several years and even live together, for whatever reason, he doesn’t know that she’s allergic to pollen… or if he does, he forgets. When the flowers arrived, my colleague immediately moved them away from her desk, and then asked if she could leave them on my desk. It was kind of a weird request, but since she knows I enjoy flowers and am not allergic, I figured it would be a positive externality for me, and all I’d need to do is replace the water every other day.

I kind of don’t understand how you can be in a long-term relationship with someone, though, and not be aware and remember something so basic as their allergies to something like pollen. Isn’t that a massive partner failure right there?

Korean barbecue night with colleagues

A couple of colleagues I’m friends with were in town from San Francisco this week, so a bunch of us went out to catch up over Korean barbecue, beers, and soju, adding to a very gluttony eating week for all of us. Seven of us went out, and while we’re digging in, one of my colleagues, who happens to live in a suburb of New Jersey that is right outside of Fort Lee and Palisades Park (which are known for having large Korean populations and thus a lot of great Korean food), says that he’s actually never had Korean barbecue before. He’s just a year younger than me, and we’re all sitting there looking at him incredulously. Of course, we’re all being a little judgmental, thinking, how could you not have ever had Korean barbecue before when you live just minutes away from one of the largest Korean suburbs in the tri-state area? He was certainly enjoying himself while eating, but since everyone at the table was generously eager to try new foods that they weren’t familiar with, we really didn’t understand his lack of discovery and curiosity here. At least we’re here to de-virginize him in this regard.

When your name comes up during marital tiffs

Tonight was our end of quarter celebration dinner at Dinosaur Barbecue, where we feasted on pulled pork, brisket, ribs, Mac-and-cheese, among other delectable artery-clogging delights. And as these events always go, I end up hearing extremely random anecdotes where I am left with question marks in my head afterwards.

A colleague of mine, who is pretty much a creature of habit, a homebody who, in theory, likes travel, but in practice, actually really hates it (for a three day trip, she thinks she should pack at leas 6-8 outfits because… how will she know what she feels like wearing on any given day of the trip when she wakes up?), mentioned to me that when she and her husband are having fights, usually after having a bit to drink, Chris and I often come up as a heated point of contention.

“What?” I asked, quizzically.

“Well, the two of you lead such an exciting life!” my colleague exclaimed. “You two are always traveling all over the world all the time that I cannot even keep track of where you are! And (husband) and I — what do we do? We just stay home, fixing things in our house. We don’t go anywhere! We don’t see anything! We haven’t seen any of the world!” (If it was not already clear, she was a bit buzzed).

She continued. “So I told him, “Yvonne! You met Yvonne! Yvonne and her husband travel and see the world! They know the world! We don’t know anything of the world! I want us to do that! Why don’t you ever want to take me anywhere? EVER? We are so boring compared to them!” 

I gently reminded my colleague that she hates packing, she always complains when she takes work trips, and she doesn’t like being outside of her comfort zone, so I don’t really think she wants to travel the way Chris and I do. She laughed and said it was probably true, but she wanted to do different things (in theory, again), but her husband didn’t want to. And they were always drunkenly yelling at each other to the point of saying they would leave each other, but then they realize at the end of the day that they have no clue what they’d do without each other and make up. Then, a week or so later, it starts all over again.

How romantic. And how very functional.




The new “butter-chicken lady” — me?

If it wasn’t already clear, I’ve been really getting into my Instant Pot. Five perfect and delicious dishes later, I’m completely hooked and want to try to cook as many things as possible in this stunning cooking machine. A colleague friend of mine who is based in Europe who still has yet to buy one, said she was inspired to want one after reading this inspirational profile in The New Yorker called, “The ‘Butter-Chicken Lady’ Who Made Indian Cooks Love the Instant Pot,” which also includes this woman’s infamous butter chicken recipe at the end. The recipe seemed simple enough with most things in my pantry and freezer, so I figured it would be something fun to make within my first ten uses. I made it yesterday for dinner with a couple of tweaks, and it was delicious, probably just as good, if not better, than any butter chicken I’ve had in a restaurant. I posted about it on Facebook and Instagram, and multiple people messaged me for the recipe.

And if that was not already encouraging, a colleague told me at the office today that he was planning to make it for dinner in his Instant Pot with his wife. He was asking me about what I tweaked and even texted me a few times with preparation questions. Another colleague and her boyfriend were so inspired by my Instagram Story posts on my Instant Pot usage that they ordered their own Instant Pot last night. And this coming weekend, a third colleague is planning to make the same butter chicken recipe with his fiancee!

Maybe I’m the equivalent of my office’s Butter-Chicken Lady now, or Instant Pot Lady?


Overrated New York institutions

Chris was not happy with me today. After having a Sicilian pizza slice craving this week, especially after my colleague was raving about her obsession with L&B Spumoni Garden in outer Brooklyn, I insisted to him that we had to venture out to another borough in search of this famous institution’s pizza. When we go out for pizza, we’ve never really had Sicilian style in the city before, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to try something new-ish.

When we arrived, the seating situation was a bit fuzzy. You have the choice of sitting outside at benches and under umbrellas and ordering from a counter, or you can sit inside (where there’s air-conditioning) and have table service. Chris immediately headed inside, and the service was immediately nonchalant, with an air of “We know we’re a Brooklyn institution, and therefore we don’t really give a shit about you because we know no matter how poorly we treat you, you will still want to eat here because we’re famous, and we are very aware of that.” What we didn’t realize is that after about 15-20 minutes had passed, when our server came and we asked to order slices, he said that we weren’t allowed to sit inside and only have pizza slices; we either had to order a full pie (which would have been far too much food for us), or order other mains. We couldn’t eat that much food, so we walked out to the benches.

So, the good news about this is that the counter service was friendly and swift. I even got asked whether I wanted corner, side, or middle square slices (I obviously wanted side slices to get the crunchy edges). But when we tasted both the round and the square slices, Chris was not impressed. “This is good, but this is not 1-hour-on-the-subway good, and the service was shit.” I personally enjoyed the Sicilian slice — the tomato sauce was perfect, and the textural contrast in the bottom, crust, and the soft, chewy middle was quite satisfying. But I do admit that it probably was not worth the hour train ride, and we could probably get Sicilian slices in Manhattan that were just as good if not better. And what’s also bad: their spumoni ice cream was so artificial tasting that Chris didn’t even want to finish it.

This just adds to our list of overrated New York institutions, which also includes Peter Luger Steakhouse, which pretty much no one else agrees with us on.

Last day doughnuts for all

Today was one of my favorite colleagues’ last day in the office. He would have been here for another week if it weren’t for his two-week planned holiday to Italy with his husband, but today is his last physical day with us, and I was so upset. He’s the kind of person who is always positive, smiling, and calm, no matter how stressed out and annoyed he is with work or anything in his personal life. He listens to pretty much anyone’s problems and is like a pseudo-therapist to some of us. When I’ve been stressed or mad about anything, he’s done everything from listen to me, take me on walks, send me kitten videos, and even give me a shoulder massage and many hugs. I’m going to miss his presence a lot. He’s probably the most generous colleague I’ve ever known… really ever. Whenever there’s been a quarter-end, he’s brought croissants or doughnuts into the office. He’s baked for the office at least a few times since I’ve been here. Today, he presented the colleague who referred him here a $70 bottle of very fancy whisky (frankly, I’m not sure that was that much deserved or will really be fully appreciated… but it is what it is). And on his very last day, today, he brought in two massive boxes of Dough doughnuts, the very popular doughnuts that this city is obsessed with.

All I have to say is — if it were my last day at a company, any company, I wouldn’t be bringing in squat — not out of bitterness or anger, but rather… why? His generosity is really limitless. We need more giving people in the world, and now our office has lost one of these rare giving souls.

“So New York”

A colleague with whom I’m friendly who is based in our San Francisco office is here for the next two weeks. She’s originally from Queens and is back in town because her mother had surgery, and she wanted to be here to help take care of her during this time. We took a walk together today around Madison Square Park, talking about our experiences at the company, how we chose to switch coasts (I’ve now been here just over ten years, and she’s been in San Francisco for over eleven now), and how it’s hard for both of us to realistically consider moving back to our original hometowns. It was a funny conversation because we’re both fairly direct yet fun-loving people, and we both, as Asian women, do not at all fit into the stereotypically passive Asian stereotype mold that people might assume of us. She swears a lot; I make frank comments about situations that surprise people. Neither of us is afraid to say what’s wrong in any given situation, even if it means annoying someone else in our presence. A lot of the times, it ends up being comical, but it’s nevertheless always a little shocking for some in the room who do not know us very well.

Later on, at the going-away happy hour of our colleague based here, she was exclaiming, “Yvonne, you’re so New York! You’re way more New York than I am now!” I guess I kind of am. I’m much more impatient now than I was ten years ago. In conversations around people with whom I feel comfortable, I try to be more direct and less beat-around-the-bush because I don’t want to waste time. I don’t really want to keep people guessing (except the times when I do… but that’s another story for another day). I’ve always been a fast walker, even in San Francisco, so that was easy to get used to here. I also said that I can’t stand delusional people who cannot accept and deal with reality… which is definitely not something a typical sunny Californian person would say.

You have to handle the truth. It’s part of survival, right? New York makes people a bit harder, which I’d like to think makes you fitter for survival.