Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello: The beautiful creation as a result of slavery

Monticello was the primary plantation and home of our third U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson. He was a self-trained architect and started designing Monticello when he was 14 years old, inheriting the land from his father. This vast piece of land was about 5,000 acres, or 20 square kilometers, and was built and managed by Jefferson’s vast team of over 600 slaves in his lifetime. Today, we drove out to Monticello, which is just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, and took the Highlights tour, which showed us the inside of the house, as well as different parts of the grounds. He had quite an elaborate garden full of beautiful flowers and a large variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. I lost count of the number of different fruit trees that lined the property, as well as all the different types of tomatoes and squash.

When I learned U.S. history in high school, because I grew up in liberal San Francisco, one of the very first things I learned about Jefferson was that not only did he own and love having slaves as free labor, but he even had sex with many of them and infamously impregnated one of them multiple times (Sally Hemmings). None of this was ever sugar coated to me in my U.S. history classroom. I would guess that Jefferson likely raped and had many children with other slaves that just aren’t confirmed, but I suppose we’ll never know the full story around that. However on this tour, I was completely shocked and disgusted to find out that despite having over 600 slaves serve him and his property over his lifetime, Jefferson still managed to die in debt. At the time of his death when he was 83 years old, he owed more than $107,000 USD, which is the equivalent of over $3 million USD today! Can someone please explain how you can possibly have that much debt when you never had to pay for any labor your entire life…?!

It’s really amazing what you can build when you have access to totally free, enslaved labor. But it’s also amazing how much you can take all that for granted and still push for an even more lavish life that would leave you in that much debt when you die. It’s pretty sickening to think about.

Maymont Farm in Richmond

A colleague who lives in Richmond suggested we come to visit Maymont Farm, which is actually in Richmond the city, surprisingly. It’s this huge expanse of land that has multiple types of gardens, farms, a barn, and seemingly endless pastures. In the late 1800s, a wealthy Richmond couple, James and Sallie Dooley, completed an elaborate Gilded Age estate on a site high above the James River. Upon their deaths and according to their wishes, Maymont, including its architectural complexes and the 100-acre landscape, was left to the people of Richmond. Sallie Dooley died in 1925, which was when the City of Richmond took control of the land. Until 1975, the Maymont Foundation took control under an agreement with the City of Richmond. They raised money and developed a long-term plan to allow the public to enjoy this space. Today, it is free to come visit with just a suggested donation of $5 per visitor, which is incredible when you see how beautiful and vast the space is. It really is taken care of quite well.

We visited the Italian and Japanese gardens of Maymont, and also the goat farms. I really wanted Kaia to see real animals in person. They allow you to feed them designated goat feed there. A nice visitor had extra coins for feed, so she gave them to me so Kaia could enjoy. Kaia seemed pretty unsure of what to make of the goats. She knew the sound they make (“baa baa!”), but when it came to getting too close, she got a little scared. I tried to model for her and feed the goats to get her more comfortable. She almost did at one point and willingly grabbed the goat pellet feed from me…. Until an aggressive goat head butted a smaller goat we tried to feed to steal the little goat’s food away! That’s when Kaia stepped back a bit and her desire to feed the goats waned, and she ran off! Maybe she will enjoy getting closer to animals when she’s a little older.

It was still worth it to watch her observe them and think about what they were in relation to her, though. My sweet baby is still learning her place in the world and deeply observant of all her surroundings all the time. It’s been amazing to watch her grow every day and fills me with endless joy.

A visit to Richmond, Virginia

While I was out at dinner on Wednesday night with my friend, she asked if we had any plans for the upcoming Labor Day weekend. I told her that we were planning to go to Virginia and would be based in Richmond, the capital.

“Why?” she asked me, puzzled.

“Why not?” I responded, grinning.

It’s less than an hour’s flight from New York. Richmond may not be a tier 1 tourist city in the U.S., but it is the capital city of Virginia. Virginia has lots of history as one of the 13 original colonies of the United States. It is the land of Thomas Jefferson’s home, the Monticello, and is also known for fresh local seafood. There are also plenty of farms and outdoorsy activities we could do there. Granted, I told her I didn’t book this trip, as Chris did, but to me, every place is worth exploring, even if only for a little while.

The first thing that surprised me about Richmond was… well, I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me given we are living in high inflation times, but the prices! They were high! Eating out was like eating out in New York in terms of the prices we were seeing. Our first meal was at a Vietnamese restaurant, and all our dishes cost at least $15-16 each, with $6 drinks. The cost of pastries and coffee were also like New York, at anywhere from $4-8 each. And of course, the expected percentage of tipping is always going to be the same.

After our lunch today, we wandered around a small ethnic strip mall, picked up some lychees (to satisfy the Pookster) and kunefe, and then went to explore Carytown, a fun neighborhood with lots of interesting street murals, restaurants, and cafes. I was excited to see my very first brick and mortar shop of Jeni’s Ice Cream, which I’d had before and had heard endless raves about, but had never seen in person. There, we got coffee with cream and sugar, as well as wildberry (black currant) lavender, both of which were delicious. We ran into Torchy’s Tacos, which we ate 12 years ago on our visit to Austin, Texas. I had no idea that they expanded east! We got a taco from there, and somehow they messed up our order and brought us two. That ended up meaning we shared one taco as a snack, then let Pookster eat her own when she got hungry a little later. And what may have been most exciting during our walk down the main street: I finally got to experience the brick and mortar fun of Penzey’s, the infamous spice company that is so loved and cherished by cooks around the country! I always thought they were an online only company, but clearly, they have a lot of shops throughout the U.S., just not in New York or San Francisco. I picked up some very fresh, complex scented fennel seeds here.

We also stopped by a local brewery / urban winery on the main drag of Carytown and shared a flight of three honey wines and one white wine They were all delicious, but one in particular was a standout to me: it was called Kitsu, which was a blood peach honey wine with hints of yuzu and jasmine, then drenched in fresh citrus, blood orange, with more notes of tart cherry, raspberry, and yuzu. It was absolutely delicious! Chris was making fun of me regarding how quickly I finished it!

Virginia has its own delicious local produce, farms, seafood, meat, beer, and wine. It’s nice to explore and taste all these things during our travels, and also to get Pookster traveling and seeing all these different parts of the country where she was born.

When American Airlines makes something very simple very difficult: not giving my infant a ticket number

When we have booked international travel on non-U.S. based airlines, it’s been straightforward to ensure that not only both our tickets are issued with ticket numbers, but to also assign Pookster a ticket number, too. While an infant (a child under the age of 2 years) can travel “in lap” with an adult, this is at no extra charge flying domestically, or at 10% of the fare internationally, plus potentially adding taxes in. This entire process, like most modern, normal companies, can be done fully online with competent airlines. But American Airlines has to make this process difficult for the sake of being difficult because if you try to add your infant’s details online, you will be served a message to call AA and have an agent do this for you. This not only defeats the purpose of even having online booking available, but it also reveals the fact that AA just doesn’t have it together when it comes to accommodating babies and traveling families in general. In two instances of booking international travel, American’s incompetent agents, on the phone, have somehow managed to add Kaia to my ticket, but WITHOUT A TICKET NUMBER. When you are flying internationally, every human who gets on a plane needs a ticket number; you may not even be aware of that unless you have flown internationally with an infant. But once you have, you will realize how imperative this is, and what a truly royal fuck-up it is when the infant does NOT have their own ticket number.

This happened on an AA flight to Cancun in May, and again, on both the outbound and inbound flights on Qatar Airways, booked on AA’s site, to South Asia. In the case of the AA flight to Cancun, the agents AT THE AIRPORT made ME call AA on the phone and wait for over 40 minutes before helping me (did they have any realization in their brains that this was time sensitive because we had to board a flight?!). In the case of the Qatar flights, Qatar fully blamed AA on this and redirected us to the AA counter (while it may have originally been AA’s fault, Qatar’s lack of empathy and effort to help was pretty pathetic. When people talk about Qatar’s amazing service, they are specifically referring to in-flight services, NOT to their ticketing counters, clearly). I was terrified we’d miss both our flights to and from. The fear is far greater to miss a flight when you have a baby than if you were child-free. We were delayed 1.5 hours just waiting for AA to resolve this when we arrived at JFK in June for our Kochi flight, and over 2 hours (and barely just made the time before international check-in fully closed) for our flight back to New York. It was frustrating, embarrassing, and a true testament to how incompetent AA continues to be with managing and welcoming families on their flights. They realize this is a known issue, but no one has managed to resolve this. What joy!

So when we booked another international flight last night, I flat out said to the person on the phone (after waiting over 22 minutes for them to call me back, which seemed quite short, relatively speaking, as pathetic as it sounds. Since the pandemic, the phone wait times for AA, even when you have executive platinum status, are just egregiously long): “I’d like to complete the booking I have on hold on my account and add my infant-in-lap and ensure she has a ticket number… because the last two times I have booked international travel with you, my baby was never issued a ticket number, which resulted in almost missing both flights. So I want to avoid this same cluster from happening again.”

It took over 30 minutes for them to get this done. This agent had to put me on hold three times and get two other agents involved to get this fully completed and get a confirmation email sent to me, with all three ticket numbers. And, again, this was after being put on hold for a call back for over 22 minutes. So all in all, this process took nearly an hour, which is nuts. This was a waste of time and a complete embarrassment for AA. American Airlines needs to get their act together and actually be in the 21st century. If all these other airlines can figure it out, why can’t they?

Edit/note: In the end, AA added 15,000 miles to my account as an apology, and $150 flight credit each to Chris and Pookster for the inconvenience. Is it a lot? No. But it IS something.

Discussing travel with colleagues and friends: why it can be frustrating

Ever since I was young and would see exotic destinations on TV or postcards my aunt would send me from around the country during her travels, I always knew I wanted to see the world. Although my parents always said that travel was for “rich people” and that I could always travel once I retired, both ideas sounded completely senseless to me. For one, people on limited budgets travel all the time. People save money and backpack through countries, staying at hostels and scoring cheap flight deals; students always do this, and I used to do the same when I was in college and in my years just after graduation. The second idea is terrible because… let’s just be blunt: how do we even know we will ever even reach retirement? What if we die of a life-threatening disease or get hit by a car and killed way before then? Plus, even if you are fortunate enough to reach retirement age and actually stop working, how can you possibly be so sure that you will be able minded or able bodied enough to want or enjoy travel? My dad has suffered from worsening arthritis for years now. My mom has a disc out of alignment in her back, which she’s suffered from since my teen years. Was my mom really naive enough to think that she would be traveling in her retirement with a husband who doesn’t even want to see Canada, the country just to the north of us without their daughter pushing them to go, or that she’d be adventurous enough like some of her friends to travel in women’s friend groups?

Once I had my first international experience for a month away in Shanghai when I was 20, I was completely enamored and hooked, and all I wanted was more, more and more. While I have friends who love travel but also can’t wait to come home, I’ve honestly never felt that way about any trip, ever. The only time I’ve ever really gotten a small feeling of wanting to come home was after our longer stints in Melbourne at Chris’s parents house, which is essentially like a third home for me.

You would think that because I love travel that I love talking about it. This is a bit of a tough one: I love discussing travel… but with like-minded people. I like discussing it with people who have a curiosity about cultures other than their own, who want to go to places that aren’t just the main hot spots that Americans go to, and who love different cuisines. I love talking about travel with people who aren’t afraid to leave their comfort zone. If you don’t fit any of those descriptions, I probably won’t enjoy sharing with you. I get bored and annoyed when I come back from trips, and occasionally a colleague will make a statement like, “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to go to that part of the world (we’re discussing India), but I always get scared that I won’t be able to get by because they don’t speak English, and that’s all I speak.” Okay, this response is flat out wrong for multiple reasons: 1) if you are simply a tourist in a place like Asia, you will likely be staying at an accommodation where everyone CAN speak English, and they will be ALL OVER you to help you if you wish because hospitality is a priority in their culture, 2) Um, one of the national languages of India is ENGLISH, and since you work at an education tech company, you should know this given most of our customers start their user base in India, where they are taking our courses… IN ENGLISH, and 3) 70% of communication is body language. While on your holiday, you’re unlikely planning to have a discussion about the quadratic formula or the hidden meaning behind Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, so please get over yourself that you won’t be understood. You’ll want usual, everyday things conveyed like, “how much is this?” or (ugh) “Does this have wheat in it?” Plus, if there truly is a doubt, there’s always this thing called GOOGLE TRANSLATE. A little kindness and a smile also can go a long way.

Yes, that comment did really get said to me last week after I returned. And yes, I did correct this person’s ignorance and nicely respond with all the replies I noted above. The other comment I got from another colleague was, “How did you choose India and Sri Lanka?” That seems like a fair question initially, right? Until you think about this: if I had said I was going to Paris, Rome, or Barcelona, no one would ever ask me why I chose any of those destinations. And we all know why: the three European cities I mentioned are heavily trafficked by tourists. When people go to a place like Sri Lanka or India, there always… needs to be a reason outside of just, I want to go there and have fun and eat! They are seen as more foreign and exotic lands, less accessible to those in the West.

Another thing I do love about sharing travel: when people actually take my suggestions or recommendations. I get so, SO excited when I’ve shared different lists that Chris and I have compiled, and someone comes back from their trip and lets me know that yes, they did book our day guide in Saint Emilion! Yes, I did book the wine tasting tour in Chianti! OMG, the paella place you recommended in Valencia was one of the best meals of our entire Spain trip! All the above have happened, with the paella restaurant comment happening the most recently. This always makes me happy, as I love sharing things we’ve done that other like-minded people will potentially enjoy.

The pros and cons of traveling as an American

This isn’t meant to be a fully comprehensive pro and con list of traveling as an American. If it were, this discussion would be a lot, lot longer. But in a nutshell, over the course of our travels in the last 11 years, I’d say that if there is just one massive pro to traveling as an American, it’s the power of the U.S. dollar. The U.S. economy is strong. We live in a country that is a major world power. All of that contributes to why earning money in U.S. dollars is so much to our advantage. It means that in the vast majority of countries where we have traveled, the exchange rate has been in our favor. When we traveled to Australia for a month in December, every time we bought anything, whether it was food or an actual good, when we’d look at the price tag in Australian dollars, we were essentially getting a nearly 40 percent off discount. During our travels in Sri Lanka, the exchange rate was about 300 Sri Lankan rupees to $1 USD, so a grand meal of crab at 1450 LKR cost us a mere $4.50 USD. When I see these exchange rates when I travel, it makes me even more painfully cognizant of how the everyday worker in a country like Sri Lanka would find it quite challenging to be able to not only afford airfare to have a holiday in a country like the U.S., but to actually enjoy a real holiday adventure while away. The average income for someone who identifies as “middle class” in Sri Lanka is about $3,658 USD/year to put this in some perspective.

For the biggest top of mind con of traveling as an American, I would say there’s two things that immediately spring into my head: 1) we don’t have generous vacation policies, and even when we work at companies or in industries where we have “unlimited PTO,” there’s generally an unspoken expectation that it’s NOT a good thing for you to consider taking 2-4 weeks off at a time. My company has a “discretionary PTO policy,” yet if I were to take off more than ten consecutive business days, it would require department head approval, which… is saying quite a bit. It’s always a running joke that Americans think a “long vacation” is five consecutive business days off, yet somehow, our European and Australian counterparts will usually, at minimum, take two weeks off, while a holiday of an entire month is fairly normal. But what this means for us as Americans is that essentially, we have a lot less time to explore any given place. This last trip, we spent five full days in Kerala, and about six days in Sri Lanka across two cities. But that doesn’t even factor in the time spent in transit to and from, which were essentially two full days. We barely made a surface dent on each place because we just didn’t have enough time. Was it fun? Yes. Would it have been even more fun and comprehensive if we’d had more time there? Obviously.

The second con of being an American and traveling? Well, for one, Americans aren’t really known as being the smartest cookies on the planet given our embarrassing math and reading scores, plus how inane a lot of our politicians sound to the world via the media. And two, because we’re not seen as that intelligent, we’re oftentimes the prime targets for pickpockets and con people who are looking to profit off us. A number of my colleagues over the years have fallen into these traps, sadly, and so unfortunately, it’s a bit closer to home for me.

The Dilmah T-Lounge in Colombo, Sri Lanka

The history of tea in India and Sri Lanka is a bit of a sad one. While the British were responsible for introducing tea to India in the nineteenth century after taking it out of China, the Brits essentially made a crap ton of money off of the growth and production of tea in India and Sri Lanka. They had local Indians and Sri Lankans do the hard labor of the growing, cultivating, and processing of tea, paying the locals very little for their back breaking labor and long hours. And then, the Brits took the majority of not only the high quality tea leaves, but also the profits. That’s actually the history of how masala chai, or Indian spiced milk tea, became popular: the British took all the high quality tea leaves for their own consumption and sent it back to Great Britain; they left all the “broken” rejected tea leaves (now known as “CTC” tea, or “cut, tear, curl” tea) for the local Indians to drink. And for the Indians to make something tasty out of the British rejects, they added delicious spices like cardamom, clove, cinnamon, ginger, and then milk, steeped it on the stove to meld the flavors and make the tea extra strong, and then essentially made it their own. It’s really come full circle now, when you think about it, because now, White people get excited about chai and want it, which is why “chai” seems to spice everything, from lattes to breads to cookies. The non-Indian people who want it don’t always seem to know what the term “chai” even means, though, so you hear a lot of Indian comedians make fun of White people saying “chai tea”: it’s essentially redundant because “chai” actually means tea, so it sounds idiotic to say “tea tea.” It’s also why almost every single coffee shop, including Starbucks, has a “chai latte” made from some crappy, cheaply made syrup. Today, White people want what the Indians made out of the crap they were given by their White colonizers back in the day.

The story of Dilmah tea is a fun one that aligns with this “coming full circle” thought, though. The Lankan founder of Dilmah tea learned about tea production through British owned companies operating in Sri Lanka, but he always wanted to run his own tea business. So when he turned the ripe age of 58, he decided to break off from these companies, use what he learned, and create his own tea business. He combined the names of his two sons and created the “Dilmah” tea company. He wanted to reclaim tea for Sri Lankans by bringing ownership back to the native people. Dilmah is a huge luxury tea brand that has international presence now; you often see their tea bags in the tea trays at 4-5-star hotels around the world. They distribute globally, but I still have yet to find them anywhere here in the U.S.

I got introduced to Dilmah during my first trip to Australia in December 2012, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. Chris’s parents drink Dilmah Ceylon tea daily, and though they use tea bags, which are typically filled with “tea dust” and are low quality, I found this tea to be the best, most well rounded black tea out of a bag I’ve ever had. So every time we go back to Australia, we always stock up on Dilmah tea bags. So, as you can probably imagine, I was quite excited to finally visit Sri Lanka as the home of Dilmah, and to see what other varieties existed.

On our last day in Colombo, we visited the Dilmah T-Lounge at their Chatham Street location. The lounge was really beautiful – a very comfortable, colorful, modern place to catch up with friends and share a good quality pot of tea. The range of teas was nearly endless, and almost all of the options for purchase were loose leaf, as tea was meant to be enjoyed. I found varieties that you likely cannot easily get outside of Sri Lanka, such as Endane Estate Sapphire Pekoe, Yata Watte Ceylon Tea, Meda Watte Ceylon tea, and Nilagama Estate BOPF tea, and given the exchange rate from Lankan Rupees to the U.S. dollar, none of these containers of tea cost more than $5 USD, which was quite a steal. It was hard to narrow down the choices of what to buy, and I definitely had some decision paralysis, but I finally did and got so excited at my purchases and when I’d be able to enjoy these once back at home.

Mainland Chinese workers in Colombo, Sri Lanka

While walking around the streets of Colombo, we noticed that there was a section of the city that had a number of Chinese businesses. While in Sri Lanka, it was pretty rare to see foreign businesses or cuisines, and so when we did see them, they really stuck out. I also noticed a number of workers leaving offices at the end of the work day who appeared to be ethnically Chinese. I wondered to myself if these people were born and raised in Sri Lanka, or if they were coming from mainland China for work opportunities here.

We stopped by a cafe that was tied to our restaurant to get something to drink, and I noticed a man and a woman, both speaking in Beijing accented Mandarin in business casual clothing, chatting over coffee and desserts. They apparently noticed me, too, as I was chasing Kaia around the cafe after letting her out of her stroller. The man poked his head out and motioned to me, asking me in Chinese if I were Chinese from China. I smiled, feeling a bit sheepish about how long it had been since I’d had a real conversation with anyone in Chinese (unfortunately, it doesn’t count to have one-way Chinese conversations with Pookster). I responded, No, I’m American, but my family is originally from China. And he smiled back: Oh, so you’re overseas Chinese (yes, there is actually a Chinese word for this: it’s “hua yi”).

We had a quick conversation along with his female colleague, and from that brief exchange, I learned quite a bit. He said that before he saw me chasing around Pookster, he had assumed I must be here for school (HAHA, I told him I had finished college YEARS ago). He asked what brought us to Sri Lanka, and I told him we came to India and Sri Lanka on holiday but were leaving the next day. From their accents, I could tell they were from Beijing, but I decided to feign ignorance anyway and asked about their background. They shared that they were both from Beijing but here in Colombo for a temporary work project for a few months. I commented how I found it interesting that we had already seen so many ethnically Chinese looking people and businesses here, and he informed me that there are over 100 Chinese companies that have offices in Colombo, so it’s very common for them to send mainland Chinese workers here, either to live and work permanently, or on temporary projects like themselves. Wow – to get to go on a work trip to Sri Lanka would be truly amazing! I asked them if they’d had time to do any sight-seeing between work, as I understood that Chinese work culture is pretty brutal, and they told me that they spend their weekends exploring and traveling to other parts of the country; Galle was one of their favorite quick destinations from Colombo.

It was a short exchange, but it was nice to chat with people who actually live and work there, even if it is temporary. It was also a rare and fun chance for me to have a conversation 100 percent in Mandarin Chinese, which is getting rusty by the day, and which I try to refresh with Udemy language videos as well as YouTube Mandarin refreshers. Every time they asked me a question or said something, I had to spend at least a second or two digesting what they said, figuring out whether I understood their full meaning, and then formulating how I would respond. I wish I had more of this practice every day.

Helga’s Folly: the “anti-hotel” on a hilltop in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Other than cuisine and learning about new cultures, a big highlight of traveling for us is seeing unique sights that we don’t see every day here at home. Off the top of my head, some of the most quirky and memorable sights we have seen were the World’s Largest Pistachio in New Mexico, the bubble gum wall at Pike Place Market in Seattle (yes, it was definitely gross), the Canadian Potato Museum in Prince Edward Island, and the Catacombs in Paris. We can add another site to that quirky list: Helga’s Folly, the “anti hotel” in Kandy!

While researching our visit to Kandy, I came across this recommendation as a place to either have a quick snack or a meal in a “unique” setting. While you can certainly book accommodation here, I think the real charm is in being in the hotel for a bit to observe all the unique artwork and decor. Helga’s Folly is considered an “art nouveau” boutique hotel, outfitted in a mix of traditional Sri Lankan and Dutch decor and furniture, with rooms covered from floor to ceiling in hand-painted murals, glass and tile mosaics, and newspaper and magazine clippings. No inch of the place is spared of some eccentric jungle, ghost, or godly mural, or some sort of glass or ceramic decor. There are skulls and skeletons every which way you turn. Massive candelabras covered in what looks like years and years’ worth of wax are strategically positioned every ten or so feet you walk.

This hotel was originally a mansion owned by the famous De Silva family. Edmond Frederick Lorenz De Silva was a popular Sri Lankan politician who was the former Sri Lankan ambassador in Paris. Once his daughter Helga inherited the property, she converted it into a hotel and renamed it “Helga’s Folly.” She spent a lot of time hand painting and decorating the entire place herself as a form of therapy to move on from the suicide of her first husband, and the unhappy marriage to her second. It is known to be one of Kandy’s very first hotels. Many famous people have stayed there, including Vivien Leigh and Mahatma Gandhi (!), who was apparently a family friend of the De Silvas.

As soon as we entered, I knew this place would be creepy. There was no one at the front desk, and most of the lights were either dim or off completely. We stopped by as a respite from the pouring rain (we were traveling during monsoon season, after all), and we had tea, juice, an omelet (which was originally meant for Pookster, but she refused it), homemade bread rolls, and some really delicious and crunchy ginger snaps. The tea was served in a very grand, silver, antique rotating teapot, which I had never seen before, but was completely amused by when using it. It was a nice rest from the rain, and a good time to let Pookster roam around relatively freely.

But we made the mistake of accidentally leaving behind her baby drinking cup, so the next day, we had to come back to retrieve it. We called to ensure the cup was still there and had an Uber driver take us back up the hill. I went into the hotel myself to fetch the cup. But this time, literally no one was in there. No sounds could be heard. Every single light was off, though the front door was wide open. I walked up the stairs to the dining area, where I knew the kitchen was by, and called out about five times. I waited at least two minutes before anyone responded and came out to greet me, but that two minutes felt like an eternity, surrounded by all these creepy skeletons, black walls with ghoulish murals, and musty newspaper clippings from the 80s and 90s. I could feel myself getting a slight chill over my body, despite the fact that it was so hot and humid outside. When someone came out with a smile and presented the cup back to me, I immediately took it, thanked him, and dashed out.

It is no wonder that place is said to be haunted or possessed. I would NOT be comfortable sleeping overnight there for many, many reasons. I do hope it survives, as it’s definitely very kitschy and has an interesting story, but eeeek.

Kaia, the traveling Chindianese American Australian baby: a tiny celebrity

Everywhere we went in India and Sri Lanka, people probably stared at us and wondered about us as a family: a mixed Indian-Chinese/Vietnamese couple with a mixed race child. We got asked a few times about our backgrounds, and they always thought it was interesting that we were a mixed race family. One night, when I was in a sari shop trying to ask if they sold toddler sized lehengas, two workers were eager to help me while I pushed Kaia around in the stroller. One of them asked me about my background, then asked about my husband’s. When I let them know, he marveled and kept repeating over and over again, “Wow! This child is Indian, Chinese, AND Vietnamese, living in America! WOW!” It was as though I brought in a tiny celebrity into their fancy sari shop, and the rest of the workers were oogling over Kaia’s “exotic” background.

There are always going to be people who marry “into” their race. People are comfortable with what they are comfortable with, and I get it: it’s nice and easy to not have to explain every single tradition custom or food or flavor, or have to translate everything from one’s mother/father tongue. But as the world becomes ever more connected, and as people continue getting more educated and intermingling, it’s inevitable that there will continue to be more and more mixed race babies and people, and those mixed race people will likely mix even further and create the most interesting and unique “mutts” we have yet to know. As naive as it may sound, maybe that could potentially be a way to combat prejudice and racism: if there are more people with more varied backgrounds roaming this land and earth, perhaps people will realize that it’s more “normal” and discriminate less. Then, people like Kaia Pookie won’t be so “interesting” or “unique” or “exotic,” and she will eventually be just like the rest of the world of mutts.