Bjorn’s Colorado Honey at the Denver airport

When I arrived at the Denver airport on Tuesday, I waited for my colleague to use the restroom before we got into an Uber. As I waited, I noticed a little stand called Bjorn’s Colorado Honey with all kinds of cute glass bottles of honey in different sizes and colors. I made a note of it on my phone to come back to this stand on Friday. Instead, it was actually an even better experience: after I went through security Friday late morning, I noticed that Bjorn’s Colorado Honey had a full-fledged store right by the area where you enter Concourse C, which is right where all the American Airlines gates were. I got super excited and decided I would check it out.

While at the shop, I got to taste at least 10 different types of locally made honey, ranging from vanilla bean honey, propolis honey (incredible!), and “untouched” honey (they literally don’t touch it after it comes out of the hive, so there are traces of honeycomb and propolis in it!). The propolis honey was particularly interesting to me. I had previously read that it was used by the ancient Egyptians to ward off colds and viruses. Propolis is made by bees from tree and plant resins, and it’s known for its ability to fight against viruses, bacteria, and microbes. It’s also considered a powerful antihistamine. It’s recommended to take a spoonful once a day as a preventative, and to take it three times a day while fighting off a virus/infection. I had never purchased any propolis before but was intrigued, especially since we give honey to Kaia Pookie while she is slightly under the weather. Kids under the age of 3 (or 4?) are not supposed to have any cough medication or decongestants, but honey is recommended for children over the age of 1 to help loosen up any blockages or phlegm. And Kaia loves her morning daily dose of honey, as she’s been a little congested over the last couple of weeks.

Honey was always just honey to me, until I read that a lot of “honey” in the U.S. is fake and companies reduce their costs by adding corn syrups/sugars to theirs. So the only way to know for sure that your honey is legitimate is if it’s certified USDA organic here. Over the years, we’ve purchased a number of incredible honeys, from the endless Australian honeys with unique flavors to the Brightland Hawaiian one (that Kaia was obsessed with) to the Sri Lankan jungle bee one we picked up at the Good Market in Colombo last summer. I think I really got interested in honey and tasting different ones after our December 2015 side trip to Tasmania, where we had generous tastings at a local honey shop of many types, including the very famous leatherwood honey. It made me realize that the honey in the plastic bear squeeze container was just one-noted and bland compared to all these other incredible honeys with multidimensional flavors you could get elsewhere.

So I ended up leaving Denver with four glass jars of honey: propolis, untouched, whipped lavender, and raw whipped. It was a fun and unexpected end to my trip. I didn’t think I was going to buy anything to take home during this trip, but instead, I took home riches made from Colorado bees!

Ronny Chieng: on judgement and social hierarchy, and how it applies to the workplace

Tonight, we went to see Ronny Chieng’s sold out show at Radio City Music Hall. If you asked me when I was in middle or high school whether I thought I would be seeing Asian or Asian American comedians as “mainstream” in my thirties, I would have thought it wasn’t possible because the U.S. could only see “black or white.” So I’m happy to see when I am proven wrong. I guess America (and the West, for that matter), IS selectively able to accept Asians in show business.

It was another show, similar to Vir Das’s show the previous weekend, where I laughed so hard at moments that I almost cried. At this show, though, there were so many relatable moments that my face nearly hurt after from all the laughing and smiling. One of the moments that I could definitely empathize with, especially given our annual kickoff that had just ended this week at work, was his discussion and commentary on “social hierarchy,” how whenever he goes back to Singapore or meets up with his friends and former classmates from there that it always feels like people are trying to size him up, see where exactly they stand vis a vis him. And it’s hard with him because he’s a comedian, so you can’t instantly group him into the lawyers or the doctors or whatever other careers are “expected” in Asian culture. He’s in show business, and it’s not easy to “type” him into a specific income bracket or level of success because of that.

I don’t feel this constant judgment about “social hierarchy” with my friends, especially since I’ve parsed down my friends list so much that anyone I still maintain semi-regular contact with is a good friend, someone who I’d consider has a good heart and isn’t just with me because of my income bracket. But where I feel this the most is at the last two company kickoff events. Each person at these conferences has to wear a lanyard with a badge attached to it with their name and title. Sales people are pretty cliquey; most of them stay amongst themselves. If they go out of their groups, they’re trying to meet and connect with people “higher up” than they are on the corporate ladder, people who can help them or get them something they want. I can feel the gaze of many people walking by me, staring down at my badge, sizing me up to see if I’m important enough, based on my title, for them to introduce themselves to or even talk to. Most people who have higher titles rarely give me the time of day unless we have worked together previously; they are quick to stop our small talk so that they can go schmooze and hang out with their “equals or above.” Do I really care about this? Not really. But I do notice it, and I do find it pretty funny because at the end of the day, the vast majority of us are not running this company. We’re not effecting that much change at the individual level. We’re all just working minions here for our paychecks and our perks. We’re not in Elon Musk’s tax bracket. If you want to be snobby and stick with people at “your own level” or judge me simply because of my title, I don’t really care because I not only don’t know you, but I probably don’t want to know you. But the judgment and “sizing people up” is definitely real in corporate America. And while it’s annoying, it’s something you just have to live with and navigate as long as you want to participate in the rat race.

Tamales smothered in green sauce at the Denver airport

Last year when I was leaving Denver, I did not remember my food options to be that exciting. I got a so-so sandwich on my night flight back to New York, and I was not at all enthused by it. This time, though, I found a spot called La Casita that had a sign for tamales, and I can never say no to a tamale. I don’t eat nearly enough of them, so when I see that they are available, I definitely go for them.

I had the option of red chile pork or green chile cheese. The description said they would be smothered in red or green chile sauce with my choice of beans. I guess I ignored the second part of that description because when the server took the fresh tamales out of the steamer, I was a bit surprised when I realized he was taking them out of the husks for me. Then, he asked me about my choice of sauce (I chose green), and he proceeded to douse the tamales in the green chile sauce, then added my requested black beans to the side.

I was a little sad that he did this because I felt like it would take away from the flavor of the tamales themselves. Their flavor would be masked by the green chile sauce. In California, New York, and Mexico, where I have enjoyed tamales, tamales are usually served in their corn husks with sauces on the side. But I found out subsequently that this is Colorado-style Mexican food: everything is covered in a green chile or red chile sauce, and that’s the way they eat Mexican food here. So, in the end, if that’s what they do in Colorado, and I am eating this food in Colorado, then I will go with it.

I will say: the quality of the tamales was really high. The fillings were delicious. The green chile cheese filling was HOT. The masa was very soft, tender, and well seasoned. The green sauce was good, though I am still a purist and would have preferred the sauce on the side for dipping. And this was cheap airport food: two tamales with sauce and beans didn’t even break $10! I will definitely be back here at La Casita in Concourse C the next time I am going through Denver and flying American.

Unfortunate workplace incidents

Whether you work at an office or 100 percent remotely from home, it’s obvious that there are clear pros and cons to both sides. Neither is a perfect fit, and it really depends on your life and career stage which is going to fit you at any given time. One thing I will say that I absolutely do not miss about working at an office is that while I am remote, I will never have to deal with inane, petty, and childish human resources complaints like I did at my last company, whether it’s someone reporting me to HR because I asked them to lower their voice as they were shouting over the phone in the middle of the open floor plan at the office (yes, this really happened), someone else reporting me for not wishing them a happy birthday (this, sadly, is very, very true), or me catching someone watching porn on their work computer during work hours, reporting it, and then having our HR partner gaslight me and question whether I really did see what I saw (“How do you know for sure that it was porn? Can you please describe the details of what you saw or heard? Can you mimic what you heard? Who else witnessed this?” YES, THIS REALLY HAPPENED, and apparently, my word isn’t enough. You always need other people to vouch for this crap!)).

But sadly, at each annual success and sales kickoff, whether it was at my former company or current company, I always hear about unscrupulous incidents that happen which inevitably involve HR intervention or sexual innuendo that I want no part of. Some people blame it on the presence of alcohol; I blame it on a bunch of so-called professionals who claim to be mature adults, but attend these official company events as though it’s their time to do whatever they want to do and not recognize that these events are actually WORK EVENTS, not personal parties. You may wear more revealing clothing or higher heels at these events. You may drink more at these events than if you were at an office. That’s no excuse to think these are “pickup” events where you can “score” with your colleagues as though they are random people at your local bar.

All the annual President’s Club awards were announced, and a number of colleagues I work with were declared as winners. I made my way around, wishing them congratulations. But one of them was particularly odd. First, he accused me of writing up multiple bullet points of negative feedback about him “that he would forgive me for.” Then, he insisted that “something went wrong” between us and that he didn’t know what happened. I was confused, as I never wrote anything about anyone. Then, before I could even ask additional questions, he suggested that I be his plus-one at President’s Club weekend. This was not only completely ridiculous, but totally inappropriate. I told him there was no way that was going to happen, and he asked, why not? What’s wrong with that? I asked him if he was joking, and he said, no. Then, he insisted that I be his plus-one, and said that there were rumors going around that our camaraderie was more than just colleagues, and that he knew there was something between us. I told him that was insane and wrong, and before I could walk away, thankfully a colleague came by to check up on us, and I left with her. And as I told her what happened, a few other female colleagues came by and shared that this same male colleague had accosted them about negative feedback in the last day. No one had mentioned any sexual provocation, though.

“Something between” us made my stomach turn. We worked on two accounts together. We saw each other in person only twice ever (at this kickoff and last year), and while we have been friendly over Slack and text, I could read through all my Slack messages and texts and see zero flirtation. This guy was crazy. Not to mention: if you want to try your luck and score with one of your female colleagues, maybe, just maybe accusing them of talking crap about you behind their back is not the best way to convince them to join you on a long weekend trip paid by your company….?!

Even at the best companies, there’s always going to be one or two slimy, awful people who you never want to interact with ever again, and you’d want to keep away from anyone you cared about. And only time will tell how this situation unfolds.

Unexpected friends meetup during work travel

Since the COVID pandemic, work travel has been pretty sparse for me. I only did one work trip last year, which was in mid February for the same annual company kickoff as this year, and also in Denver. The pros of coming to these big, 400+ person company events is that in-person time that I never get while being remote. I like these events because I get that face time with my colleagues, and I do miss the daily social interaction a lot. But it’s also challenging because this is socializing on steroids in a very confined space for a finite number of days, so you really have to pack in all that socializing before you have to pack up and leave again — to go home and be in front of your home computer all day long as a remote employee. It would be nice if we had more outdoor time, or time to socialize and be outside and actually experiencing the city we were in. Instead, we have to stay inside in windowless conference and presentation rooms. But I guess this is work, after all. We didn’t come for sight-seeing, unfortunately.

But I still made a point to get outside every day this week, even if it was just to walk around the block. And I happened to have a friend from San Francisco here for work, as well, so we met up at my favorite milk tea place in downtown Denver (Milk Tea People, yay!) before our company welcome dinner this evening. I haven’t seen this friend in almost a year and a half. Kaia was only about eight months old then, and my friend was pregnant and due to give birth in just a few months back then. Now, we both have older baby/toddler aged kids, and we spent most of our time talking about our kids, raising them, our relationships with our parents, death and estate planning, and family in general. The conversation felt serious and in some ways kind of sad, like we’re now slowly but surely approaching middle aged and realizing that life is just going by. But in some ways, it felt kind of comforting to have this conversation in person, face to face. We don’t see each other that often, but when we do, it always feels comfortable, like we can just be ourselves and say whatever annoying or stupid things are on our mind, and it’s all okay. No judgment. No worries. No fuss. We just are who we are, and that’s okay. That’s the benefit of having a friend for a long, long time; I’m 38 now, and she’s turning 37 later this year. That means we would have been friends for over 25 years at this point. I’m lucky to have friends still in my life this long who I can just say what I think to, and they just accept me as I am.

What is also funny about meeting up with this friend: whenever I see her, it looks like as time goes by and as we get older, she looks more and more like her mother. And when I look at photos of us together, I realize I am looking more and more like my dad’s sister, my aunt, who I really do not like and have not spoken to since my 2016 wedding, but the resemblance is undoubtedly there whether I want it there or not. I guess that’s what time does to you: we are all aging, even my sweet Kaia Pookie is aging, but in a much cuter way.

Oh, and it also helps that she likes and appreciates really good milk tea, as Milk Tea People is a standout amongst ALL milk tea places I’ve visited around the world. The care these people put into their tea, from hand whisking the Uji matcha to making all their lavender, orange blossom, and fruit syrups from scratch and in-house every day, is incredible. None of my colleagues I asked wanted to come here with me, as they all said they weren’t really into milk tea, or this place was too far of a walk from our hotel….

A long work travel day with subpar, expensive food

I’m in Denver this week for my company’s annual kickoff/offsite. Though the scheduled events are Wednesday through Friday, we all needed to arrive by Tuesday evening in order to be here in time for all the Wednesday morning sessions. Though the flight time, if direct, between New York City and Denver is only about 4 hours and 40 minutes, the actual time I spent in transit today, if you just confined it to my first flight’s takeoff time to the final flight’s landing time, was about nine hours. Because I am loyal to American Airlines (for better or worse) while in the U.S., I realized there were no direct NYC > Denver flights at this time of year (they seem to be seasonal for the warmer months! But what about the people who ski…?!). And my connecting options were mostly in Chicago or Charlotte. The ones going through Chicago were out of the travel limit for this event, so I ended up going through Charlotte. The layover time in Charlotte was originally supposed to be quite tight, only about 45 minutes, so I didn’t think I’d have much time there. Unfortunately, my flight got delayed three times, so I ended up spending more time than I’d originally anticipated there. The plus side was that I could leave the concourse to go to another one that had… Midwood Smokehouse, my favorite BBQ spot in Charlotte that now had a location in the airport!

My dreams of delicious brisket or burnt ends were quickly extinguished when I almost sat down and the server said, “I just wanted to let you know that we’ve already sold out of brisket and burnt ends.” My face immediately fell. Well, at that point, there was no reason to eat here if the two best things were gone. I could have chosen the ribs, but I really didn’t want to eat anything that messy because I needed to multitask and get some work done on my computer. So I ended up leaving and going to another spot next door. It was supposed to be a “Santa Monica, California” style eatery. I ended up having a cobb salad and an unsweetened iced tea. After tax and tip, my lunch cost $39. Eeeek.

Well, I guess it’s no wonder my food allowance while on work travel is $125. You think that’s a lot of money until you have to transit through and get stuck at airports, where even the most basic food costs over $25-30.

Souvenirs from travels and the evolution over time

Eleven years ago, when I first went to Melbourne and stayed at my in-laws’ home, I marveled over their large collection of souvenirs that they’d collected during their travels over their 40-plus years. The souvenirs ranged from the small, cute, antique items, like the little ones you could place in a glass curio cabinet, to the larger, more impactful pieces, like a Japanese cuckoo clock that has a very intense time precision, to paintings and glass sculptures collected during visits to different countries around the world. There’s even a gorgeous Wedgwood Wild Strawberries collection of bone china they had shipped back to Melbourne that they picked up while in England during Chris’s youth. I always take a look at the Wild Strawberries collection every time I visit. Each illustration of strawberry, leaves, and vines are hand-painted. And the pieces are all painted with a genuine gold rim; they are truly pieces of art.

And usually while I am standing by this glass cabinet and staring at the Wedgwood Wild Strawberries bone china, one or both of Chris’s parents will come over and recount the time they purchased this fragile, gorgeous set. After, they will also comment that they don’t use it “nearly enough,” and be unable to recall the last time they took it out to use. This always made me sad: they probably spent a small fortune on something so beautiful and intricately made. Yet since it’s rarely used, no one is actually enjoying it or getting a return on that investment they made decades before. The Wedgwood china set just sits there, dust-free in a glass display case in their dining room.

For a short period when I was younger, I also liked to collect little cute items to eventually display in my home when I returned from my travels. When I was really young, I used to be told that one day when I got married, I could pick out my own wedding china set, and hopefully, someone would be generous enough to purchase it for me and my future husband off our wedding registry (that never happened; we had no wedding registry, and the man I ended up marrying had zero interest in any bone china set). Now, though, during travels, we rarely buy anything that is not a consumable to take home (e.g. food or beverage; tea!). The only real thing we make sure to get before we leave a new place is a magnet to add to our boards of magnets documenting our travels. We don’t have much space living in a small Manhattan apartment. We also don’t like clutter.

And the thing is: while I do love looking at all my in-laws collected items over the years every time I go back to their home, I realize that while I enjoy it, one day when they are gone, who will appreciate these items as much as they did? Their sons do not appreciate most of them and just look at them as piled up clutter. But why would they appreciate them? They didn’t collect these items on their own travels, so they have less or no meaning to them. As for me, I might appreciate them, but I will unlikely have the space to care and keep them all. These are all items that they collected as momentos of their travels, purchased with money that they worked hard to earn. These items are almost symbolic of all their hard work, as well as their parents’ generation of hard work, before them. So while many in my generation may see our parents as hoarders, whether that’s of antique items or even toilet paper, maybe the way our parents see them is as an embodiment of what they worked their whole lives to build. And perhaps they see our generation as a generation of people who don’t appreciate their hard work and is merely quick to write off and throw away embodiments of it.

JAL Business Class flying: the doting flight attendants who adore your toddler

Japan Airlines will always be on the top of the top lists for me in terms of best in-flight experiences. In a culture that very much values hospitality and caring for others, it’s no wonder that JAL would prioritize the customer experience.

Now traveling with a young child, we get to see how the flight attendants fawn over her and give her the star treatment in flight. On our way from Melbourne to Tokyo, Kaia got offered pretty much every single toy in the JAL toy box (when she was originally told to choose just one…) simply because the flight attendants kept passing by her and gushing over how cute she was. While they did have a kids’ menu, Kaia didn’t really get to enjoy it. Instead, on the flight over, we ended up eating it as part of our appetizer, on top of the kaiseki style Japanese meals we were already indulging in.

On our way back to New York, Kaia was out pretty much the entire time. Although they didn’t have to, the flight attendants kept checking in on me to see if she might need to be woken up to eat. While they did try to prepare a little katsu sandwich for her, I ended up eating part of it since she was really out like a light. They still insisted on checking in and gave me some milk in case she decided to wake up during the landing and wanted something to drink.

American Airlines or any other U.S.-based carrier for that matter will never be able to come close to the level of customer service that JAL does. In fact, when you fly on American, they barely take any notice of your children, much less have separate kids meals just for them. They definitely would not be checking in on your child if they were zonked out the whole flight (as if they would care if your child starved or not?). But it’s one of the reasons I love JAL and love flying on Asian airlines. In Asia, there’s a sense of caring amongst the community that just doesn’t exist in the West.

Delicious hojicha (roasted green tea) things

Years ago, a friend went to Japan for a holiday and came back. I asked him how his trip was and if he had gotten his matcha-everything fix. He beamed and said he loved his trip (because how could he not?). But to answer my matcha question, while matcha was clearly delicious (and increasing in popularity here in the States in literally every food and beverage type imaginable then), he told me that his food prediction was that the future was hojicha, not matcha! Matcha would soon be old hat, and the future IS hojicha!

Fast forward to the present day, and I still see very little to no hojicha-flavored anything here in New York, with the exception of a handful of Asian/Japanese spots as well as bubble tea cafes. Matcha is still ubiquitous even at non-Asian eateries and cafes. And we have a 2-year-old girl who is nicknamed “Hoji” after “hojicha” thanks to Chris’s unconventional name preferences. So while hojicha is not necessarily the future for food in the U.S. just yet, I did notice quite a number of hojicha flavored things during this trip in Japan.

Hojicha was always a top option for tea everywhere we went. At the fancy tea cafe Nakamura Tokichi, where we went for our last sit-down meal while in Tokyo, the welcome, complimentary pot of tea had premium whole leaf hojicha in a high-end tea bag meant to be re-steeped multiple times. They had various hojicha desserts, including a hojicha float and hojicha jelly (which we ordered!). And as a final farewell from Japan on our Japan Airlines flight back to New York, the last dessert I had in flight was a beautiful, silky smooth hojicha milk custard.

We love hojicha everything and would welcome hojicha as a mainstream flavor here in New York. But I’m not sure even New York is quite ready for it yet.

Some examples of thoughtful hospitality while traveling

When traveling, whether it’s for business or pleasure, you never quite feel like you are “at home” because, well, you are not at home. But it’s the hospitality team’s job to make you feel like you are “at home” and as comfortable as possible. Granted, they’re probably not going to greet you at the end of each day at your hotel with a bow and/or a foot rub, but I suppose that certainly would be a welcome treat.

Over the course of my travels, I’ve been lucky to have experienced a lot of really great hospitality across many cities, states, countries, and continents. These are some recent examples that have really stood out:

At check-in at our Osaka hotel, the staff knew that we were traveling with a young child, so they presented us with a gift bag just for her, which had a cute Japanese character on it, with a similar theme on a toddler tooth brush and matching slippers.

On New Year’s Eve (and in light of New Year’s Day, which is Japan’s biggest holiday of the year), the Osaka hotel left us a small boxed gift on our desk of a painted gold dragon with a little bell inside. It’s meant to be a New Year’s gift; as with Lunar New Year, it’s a common time that the Japanese give gifts.

One night, I returned to our Tokyo hotel to realize that the water kettle, which I had used to make tea the previous night, was topped up with water. I remember I had emptied the remaining water the morning before, so clearly, housekeeping recognized that I had used the kettle and wanted to save me of this tiny chore when I returned from our day out. They also left me extra bags of hojicha (roasted green tea), which they had checked I had used. This seems like such a small thing to do, but I was so surprised and touched by this!

Our Tokyo hotel also knew we were traveling with a toddler, so they made sure to leave Pookster a cute baby toothbrush with baby toothpaste a few nights of our stay.

The Tokyo hotel also gave us a diaper pail to store soiled diapers and keep the odors at bay. Alas, the pail wasn’t strong enough, so we still had to discard of the poop diapers separately, but it was still a very thoughtful gesture!

A few times after we have checked into hotels, including in Europe, the front desk staff have called us to ask if everything is where it should be and if the room is to our liking, plus if we have needed anything else that would make our stay more pleasurable.

I work in a different type of customer service, and as anyone in this type of role knows, customer service is NOT an easy job. But in hospitality, it’s the seemingly little gestures that can make a hotel stay so memorable and amazing.