Togetherness in these times

Tonight, I had a Zoom video chat with some friends in California, Georgia, and Kansas. It was a fun night, bantering about politics, COVID-19, our respective at-home situations, and life in general, and it was so comical because it wasn’t like we were talking about anything particularly significant or meaningful, but it was still enjoyable nonetheless. These are the types of conversations and interactions you get when you hang out with friends in person or stop by a colleague’s desk at the office that we can’t really get anymore since we’re all sheltering in place.

The definition of “togetherness” has changed in these times. Once upon a time, it was normal to hug or kiss a friend in greeting, Now, we’re not supposed to see any of our friends unless we live with them. After the sheltering in place has ended, will we still greet each other with hugs or kisses? Will that be considered acceptable? What will weddings and funerals look like shortly after shelter in place ends? Will the banquet tables need to be spaced out so that there’s six feet of space between each guest, or will the funeral rows require that every two seats, people could sit? Weddings have been cancelled and postponed, but when setting a new date, how do we know all this will be over by then? It’s never really going to be “over,” right, since we have so little tangible data about who has been infected, how possible it is to get reinfected, or how long the virus can stay dormant in our bodies without us even knowing it?

The only togetherness we can have now is via video and phone. Everything else is just distant.

Why we are the way we are

My friend visiting from out of town and I were wandering through the Columbus Circle Holiday Market this evening, discussing our relationships with our significant others and our parents and families. After seeing my apartment, she was talking about how neat and disciplined I was given it was probably how my parents raised me and she wished her parents had given her more chores so that she was as neat, organized, and disciplined.

It was weird to hear this from my friend, who is 33 going on 34 in a couple weeks. As adults, we really should be taking responsibility for our own actions. Yes, parents do help shape who we become, but there comes a time when we really need to take ownership of our lives and how we choose to live them and stop blaming our parents. We need to grow up and move on. I told her she can choose to be neat and tidy if she chose to. She said it was too hard, and she was used to things the way they were. So in other words, she’s allowing lack of action to take over her life. This was when I had to change the subject because there was no use in continuing this conversation.

Luckily for me, in the friendships I’ve made as an adult, I never have to have these types of conversations.

Dinner with your friend and her mom

Chris and I met up with my friend visiting from out of town and her mom tonight. As I expected, it ended up being a lot of her mom and I catching up and asking about what the other has been up to since the last time we spoke. Her mom was someone I talked to a lot one on one growing up. Sometimes, her mom would drive me home, and then we’d sit in her car for about an hour just chatting about all kinds of random topics. Then, I used to wish my mom was as cool as her mom. As I got older, I realized that it probably was best that my mom wasn’t “as cool” and instead actually acted like a mom to me instead of like a friend. It was always a sore point with my friend then.

It was good to see her and to see how she’s doing, but in some way, the dinner made me a little sad. She seemed very happy for me and what I’ve done with my life, but I wonder if she ever thinks back to how she parented my friend and her little brother and has any regrets. They still operate more like friends today than like parent-child; even at the end of the meal, my friend told her that she’d let her know how much money she owed her. That was just weird to me.

Work friendships

I only slept about four hours last night, but this whole day, I have been terribly alert. It’s not like I had multiple cups of coffee or other caffeine fixes. I just feel alert and ready for the day. We had only half a day of sessions today before either leaving for the airport or going back on the shuttle bus to the office, and after we arrived at 3, I ended up staying at the office until nearly 6 just catching up one-on-one with work friends who are based here in San Francisco about everything work and life related. It was pouring rain outside and miserable, and since we’d all cleared our calendar of meetings, we had a lot of leisure time to just chat about anything.

The last few days have made me feel even more privileged and lucky to work where I am. This year’s kickoff was far better and more effective and enjoyable than last year’s. They actually took our feedback seriously and made some good changes. That, and It feels good to feel like I have a work family here in San Francisco and in New York who cares about me and my life and what I want to do with it even outside of work. There’s a genuine sense of kindness and caring that I feel every single time I come to our San Francisco office, and it’s heart-warming to me. Even if it wasn’t about work, I’d still want to see a lot of these people. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have this.

Getting addicted to luxury goods and experiences

Today was my friend’s birthday, so to celebrate her big 33, some friends and I went to the Burke Williams Spa with her at the Westfield Shopping Center. It was pretty nondescript, and the doors leading into it were not labeled, so I wasn’t 100 percent sure I was even walking into the place until I opened the doors. It’s a luxurious, high-end respite in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco and the shopping center it is in. It has a large hot tub, a spacious steaming room, and a nice sauna. The spa has pretty much every amenity you could think of, from spa-grade soap, shampoos, and conditioners to dry shampoo, hair pomade, and even hair curlers and straighteners… and something I’d never seen before: color-treated hair protection spray?! There are herbal teas and cucumber and fruit infused waters, as well as fresh fruit and nibbles and even a large selection of magazines to read.

We had pre-booked spa services with discounted gift certificates we’d purchased around Christmas time during their specials, so my friends were having massages and mani-pedis, while I opted for the spa facial. As the esthetician was looking over my face with a harsh light, she declared that I had very good skin and that it was clear I took care of myself, but I just have some old acne scarring. “The acne scarring could be treated by microdermabrasion,” she said to me. “It would likely only take three to four sessions before you could have these scars fully removed from your face – just something to consider.”

Microdermabrasion. That word has come up during my skincare reading, but I always thought it was more for people who had facial discoloring/hyperpigmentation or really bad acne or wrinkles. I didn’t realize that people actually did it for minor scarring like I have. It sounds like an excessive luxury. Shouldn’t I just be happy with the way I look right now? In some ways, to erase my acne scarring is like a cosmetic procedure I would liken to having freckles or non-malignant moles removed — 100% for superficial reasons and just far too self indulgent, even excessive.

But I guess this is another case in point of people who get exposed to luxury goods and experiences and simply get addicted to them. Once you have a taste, it’s hard not to go back for more. That’s probably why I’m still contemplating having this done to my face… if the price is “right.”


Growing up at 32

I was in Boston tonight and met up with an old college friend who still lives here for dinner. At 32, she has finally finished medical school, residency, and her fellowship, and she is now working full time in the Boston area as a GP. She said she wanted to do this as opposed to specialize since it would give her the most work-life balance, but as she has discovered, it certainly has not been easy at all. She’s experienced some very surprising and emotionally draining patients, bringing home a lot more baggage than she ever would have imagined. And as she’s seen, there are not enough GPs to go around for all these patients who need help.

She recounted the two months she spent traveling through Europe before she started her job and how she met people 10+ years younger than her, doing the exact same travel route. She had conversations with them where she felt that they seemed far more worldly and mature than she ever was. “I feel like all this time I spent studying and studying and going through endless school that I let my life pass me by,” she said. “I love what I do, but I could have spent my twenties doing more exploration of the world, and now that time is gone.” She said she feels like at this age, now that she has a job and is figuring out her finances, sorting through her medical school loans and setting up her 401K for the first time that she is now legitimately and finally an adult.

I have no regrets about never going to grad school. I was terrible at science, so medical school was never an option for me. Business school sounded like bullshit to me. Law school – what a joke for me. I changed my mind in my early twenties about “climbing the latter” and not taking as much time off to prove that I was harder working – what delusional American lifeless thinking. You really only have each year of your life once, and if travel or cooking or volunteering is what you are passionate about doing, then you need to make time to do that. I want to lead a life of least regrets. It makes me sad to think that my friend feels that although she loves being a doctor now that she regretted not traveling, not doing enough self exploration in her 20s. Because each year we get older, there comes more responsibility, more things to do and get done. It never really gets easier.

Levels of poverty

Among even the most avid and adventurous travelers, India initially appears to be a daunting place. People oftentimes talk about the high levels of poverty, dirt, sexism, classism, disparities between the rich and the poor, and of course, the rape of women, both locals and tourists. They talk about the language barriers. They are frightened by the animals co-mingling with the pedestrians and the tuk tuks and the cars. They’re not sure if they can “handle” it.

Over an Indian meal I prepared for my visiting friend and former teacher visiting from San Francisco tonight, I spent a good amount of time telling her about my experiences in India, how a lot about why I loved it and appreciated it so much was because I mentally prepared myself for the poverty and the begging and the filth, which in the end, really wasn’t as bad as others hyped it up to be from my own perspective. When you are prepared, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Thus, you’re then able to appreciate the beauty a lot more. Frankly, other than the extremely humid weather of Delhi and Agra, I didn’t really want to leave India. I was constantly astounded by the kindness of strangers, the politeness of people everywhere. I was excited by all the different sights and sounds and smells I normally do not get back in New York or in the U.S. in general. My teacher has only been to one country in Asia, Korea, and although she is well traveled in the U.S., South America, and Europe, for whatever reason, Asia has seemed distant to her. Maybe it’s because she’s a white woman who doesn’t want to feel completely out of place in a place as “exotic” as Asia. Maybe she just hasn’t had enough friends who have wanted to accompany her to Asian countries; who knows. When the idea of going to India comes up, most of her friends, she told me, said that they are most daunted by the level of poverty they have heard about. They are scared to see it. (Why do I feel like these people are most likely white?).

Well, at that point, it’s really about going outside of our comfort zones. We live in a rich country here in the U.S., even though there is clearly a massive disparity between the rich and the poor. The poverty we see here is not even a fraction of what you see in a country like India. So I understand why it would be considered daunting. But to me, travel is about not being comfortable and doing things and eating things and seeing things that are not your “version of normal,” because that’s what is intriguing and what will make you think and feel more deeply. Maybe if you were exposed to the poverty in India, you’d have a bit more empathy and understanding of the East. Maybe you should challenge yourself when you say you are scared of seeing that level of poverty and ask, why are you scared? What do you think it will do to you? Will it change something about you, and then if so, why and how? Or, is it just that you do not want to see what is ugly and scary and foreign in life? Do you want to live in a bubble away from all that ugliness that exists and is so widespread across the world that you do not know? That’s for you to question and ask yourself if you dare to go there, isn’t it?

Friends we wouldn’t trust with our babies, dogs, or even job referrals

My colleague, who owns a dog she adopted recently, is going away for a quick two-day trip, and she said that although she had a number of friends who love her dog, she literally would not trust them with her dog’s life. “My friends cannot be trusted!” she exclaimed. “They’re so irresponsible! I’m scared I’d come back home to my dog either getting poisoned or dead.”

This was comical to me because it reminded me of the time when I was arguing with a former colleague two companies ago about how to differentiate friends versus colleagues. Just because you trust someone as a friend in your personal life does not mean you’d trust them in the workplace to do a good job, and vice versa. Good times do not require responsibility. Likewise, you may get along swimmingly with a colleague when working on projects, but maybe he’s not really someone you’d want to have dinner and drinks with after work, or someone you could conceivably have a good time with anywhere if you did not have work in common. We had this conversation after this colleague referred his friend to our company despite his friend having zero industry experience, and having the audacity to not even research the company nor the role he was even applying for. He genuinely had no idea what he applied for and what he was interviewing with me about. He never got passed round one of interviews, needless to say. My then-colleague argued with me, saying that everyone deserves a chance (at getting a job? Yes. At this job? Absolutely not). He was completely incapable of differentiating friend vs. colleague, or responsible vs. not responsible.

One of my friends repeatedly questions how worthy my other friends are of me when he hears the irresponsible stories that I’ve shared. “These are the people you call closest to you? Really? Don’t you think you need new friends? How can your friends be so irresponsible?”

I don’t know. How can they? Maybe it says more about me than it does about them? Maybe I just subconsciously like having people around who are more irresponsible, selfish, less trustworthy, and not as confident, because it makes me feel better about myself? Who knows.

Going solo at a wedding

A colleague and I were talking about the concept of going solo to a wedding. He told me ┬áthat he hates going to weddings since he’s almost always attended without a plus-one, and as an introvert, he hates socializing with people he doesn’t know. People tend to pair up at these events, and as someone who goes without being paired up, he feels like the weird outlier. Weddings make him want to go to the corner of the room and fall asleep.

I am actually quite the opposite in mindset. I’ve gone to a lot of weddings with a date, but I’ve also attended quite a number without a plus-one and have been perfectly fine; in fact, at the weddings I’ve attended by myself, I always had a really notable and memorable time. At the last wedding I went to alone in March 2017, I had so many conversations with everyone from the grandfather of the bride to all the friends in attendance of the bride that I still thought about them days after I left. I consider myself more of an introvert than an extrovert; maybe a “closeted” introvert because most of my colleagues would never label me an introvert since I’m generally fairly social and friendly with everyone, especially new people. Being social at events like weddings is always a gamble, especially if you don’t know many people in attendance, but the worst thing that will happen is that the person you speak with will bore you to tears for a few minutes (or however long you allow), so then you just move on to the next person. It’s not so bad, really. If you do have a plus-one and you’re having a separate conversation that isn’t going so well, you can end it and latch onto whatever conversation your plus-one is having. That definitely can act as a crutch in times when you do not feel like being the screaming extrovert.

Today, I had a number of really interesting conversations with friends and relatives of the groom, and even had a chance to catch up with some of the groom and bride’s friends who I’ve previously met. I went a lot later than I thought I would and really enjoyed myself. And even if Chris had come with me, it’s not like we’d be glued at the hip to each other; we tend to be fairly independent people and have our own conversations at social events unless it becomes relevant to include one another due to where we are standing or the topic at hand. I’ve always loathed couples like that, anyway.

When chatting with friends and family of the groom today, it was so obvious how loved he is by the people in his life. And it was even more obvious how much he loved all of them, including me. He and the bride love food, culture, travel, and of course, the people in their lives, and that was pretty much everywhere as a theme of their wedding, being here in diverse and beautiful Vancouver, having local and sustainable foods and even ice cream on their reception menu, ensuring transportation is provided to and from the wedding ceremony and constantly checking in with people personally to ensure everyone has arrived safely (when you’re the groom!), and even providing the most thoughtful wedding favors in the form of local and organic maple syrup (because who leaves Canada without bringing home maple syrup?), a Canadian airplane magnet, and even a compass with their initials on it — all wrapped in a little drawstring patch with a map of North and South America.

When they first met, they bonded over their shared passion for films. So their wedding ceremony was actually full of famous movie quotes of films that they enjoy. It was so great to see their personalities and passions come through everywhere. They wrote their own vows, short and sweet. Surprisingly, this is the only wedding I’ve been to, well, other than my own, where the couple wrote their own vows.

Instead of table names, they went with photos of significant people who had passed on in their lives who could not be there to share in their wedding day; when they described this, I immediately started tearing up, especially knowing how close Adam was to his stepfather, who passed away just a month before Ed did. He is someone I have heard many things about from my friend, especially that he was likely the most intelligent person he’d ever known in his life; I was actually seated at that table. He was also very close to his biological father, who had passed many years before, who was represented by another table. It’s the personal touches of a wedding that always get me… assuming they are done.

During the MC’s speaking moments here and there, he noted that the bride is actually not a stereotypical “bridezilla” at all, and that on the contrary, she’s been extremely calm and collected throughout the wedding planning process. It is actually the groom that has been his own version of a “groomzilla,” obsessing over the little details and all the possible things that could go wrong, even as the wedding was happening today, even the choice of words coming out of the MC’s mouth, which were quite comical and borderline questionable (funny to me, though) at times. It is certainly true of the friend I know, but I know he does it out of love. He knows people are flying from around the country and the world who normally do not do a lot of travel, and so he wants to know that they all feel like he’s provided them a wedding that was worth traveling all this way for. It’s part of how he shows he loves the people in his life, by obsessing over whether everyone else is having a good time and enjoying this experience he has provided. His amount of care and generosity truly knows no bounds. I felt very grateful to be a part of this day for him and his new wife.

Running from the Gestapo

Unlike at my last company, where I currently work, I am lucky and privileged to say that I have a number of colleagues that I not only respect but also truly like as people. We have really interesting conversations about everything from politics to cooking techniques to travel, and I feel like for the most part, the majority of the people I work with are actually good people. I could not honestly say that about my last job.

What this tends to result in is my subconsciously thinking about my colleagues, which tends to be a little strange and a little funny. My dreams have always been a big part of my life, even in the waking state, because I tend to think about them a lot. This morning, I woke up from a dream that one of my colleagues (who I’ve been avidly discussing the Instant Pot with since he received it as a wedding present recently) and I were running from the Gestapo through an underground tunnel system. We were running and dodging pipes when suddenly, he stops me and reminds me that the only thing we have to eat is a box of edamame-based pasta, and how were we going to cook it since we had no equipment, no water, and were still on the run? I wasn’t sure how to respond to it since we were in flight and fear mode, so I just grabbed the box and kept running and encouraging him to run with me. I texted him and told him about the dream after, and he laughed and said that the Instant Pot would have saved us in that event.

This segways into my first Instant Pot experience today, which was a total failure. I tried to make vegetable biryani in the Instant Pot as my first experiment, and it ended up burning the bottom of the pot and also overcooking the biryani into a disgusting brown mush. In retrospect, I should have stuck with a simpler beginner’s recipe to get used to the IP, but I figured that since the water steam test worked just fine that… well, how hard could it be to pressure cook some spiced rice?! Now, I’m thinking about pressure cooking a bean curry for tomorrow to see if I can get the hang of this new pot or not. I’m so sad that I’ve now become a statistic for the dreaded “burn” signal that the IP can give, as it’s one of the most common issues that new Instant Pot owners face.