Serial Monogamist

Winter in Yangon!

It is 63 degrees this morning! SIXTY THREE. No more rain and flooded streets. Yangon is gorgeous when it wants to be.

This week, I’m truly a free woman. FREE woman. Just to top things off, today is the day to claim my free tenth coffee at Bar Boon downstairs from my office, after I have purchased their coffee at exorbitant prices for the past nine times. Love it when things work out like that.

Today, I want to write about boys. Through the lens of an ambitious, heterosexual female.

Length of breakup negotiations: This really cute baby was born around the same time of my breakup.
Been a lifetime: This really cute baby in his sailor outfit was born around the same time of my most recent breakup.

When you are in early twenties, it’s easy to dismiss boys as unimportant or trivial. There is still graduate school to worry about, and you’re still learning the ropes at your workplace. Yet, at a time when Myanmar is going through a historic transformation, the society as a whole is changing. When it comes to dating, there is more than one protocol to follow for us Burmese ladies, and we’re getting pickier than to say yes to someone your parents ask you to. Arranged marriages are falling out of fashion and yet we also do not yet openly discuss dating with your parents – at least my family does not.

So amidst this change and confusion, where do we look to for guidance and advice when it comes to boys?

But we are not alone in feeling clueless.

David Brooks of New York Times comments that “[Society] is structured to distract people from the decisions that have a huge impact on happiness in order to focus attention on decisions that have a marginal impact on happiness. The most important decision any of us make is who we marry. Yet there are no courses on how to choose a spouse.”

Even if marriage isn’t your end goal and you are focused on your work, new studies suggest that you should not underestimate its role.

Upon one of the many long rural car rides, my former boss Jim Taylor of Proximity Designs, memorably said that my career trajectory will inevitably change depending on my life partner. Then, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and the most badass woman alive ever, has popularized the idea that “the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is.”

WHAT?!

And remember, Sheryl is not talking about hypergamy. Marrying up has lost its cool in 2013, as this Financial Times piece aptly articulates. Out with hypergamy, and embrace equal relationships. Grab this book written by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober to hear their research on how to get to 50/50.

Lean In
Defining Decade

While Sandberg tells you to remember the professional impact of your pair-bonding decisions, Dr. Meg Jay tells you to be intentional about your love life as you are with work and get out of relationship ruts.

She says that most of today’s twenty-somethings grew up in broken families and unhappy marriages so we tend to be skeptical of this institution, but Dr. Meg Jay claims that marrying late is not necessarily marrying better. Did you know that statistics show that divorce rates stabilize once the age of marriage hits 25? Some of us don’t want to get married next year but it’s never too early to becoming aware of what you would make you happy ten years down the line.

Of course my mother prefers for me to date one person and marry him, like she has done and like so many Burmese men and women aspire to. Lucky for them. When my mother gets freaked out about my dating decisions, this is what I repeat to her from Lean In:

When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is to date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious.

If that’s what you want.

Desperate for Desserts, Jackson Heights Style

Tonight, I am frustrated, sucrosically frustrated.

All I want in the world at this very moment is simply some good dessert. But somewhere between “good” and “dessert,” I am lost … as to what exactly it is that I want for tonight’s dessert. While I am aware that this is literally a sweet predicament to be in, any kind of unfulfilled need can get very frustrating as I am sure many of you can relate to.

Gael Greene once said that “Great food is like great sex. The more you have, the more you want.” Well, let me tell you. When you want sex, and I mean when you are really desperate for sex, you know exactly what you want and you can just go for it.  But at the end of the day, unlike desserts, the climax, the pleasure can be quite monochromatic.  Single toned, you know?

Dessert is different.

Do I want an ice-cream cone?  Or a sundae?  Would I rather have a cake?  And if so, what texture and what flavor? Might I prefer a New York style cheesecake or a tiramisu?  Should I walk to a Thai restaurant two stations away for sticky rice with mangoes?  Or some basen ladoo from a neighborhood Indian sweet shop?  Maybe I’d better go to the Korean grocer’s to see if she has any green tea ice-cream left.  Oh what about kulfi?  The list goes on.

Living in Jackson Heights – reportedly the most diverse spot in the nation –  compounds my confectionery problems.  I knew that at least I wanted something sweet, something milky and creamy and something small.

Not knowing what I wanted, I left my apartment on Broadway and marched toward 37th Avenue, determined to check out before I move out of the city a little neighborhood cafe called Carollo Bakery despite its unfavorable Yelp reviews. Even if I didn’t end up with something that truly fulfilled me, I thought that I would be satisfied to settle upon any dessert there and check this place out of my list, especially considering how affordable their pastries are.  Unfortunately for me, the bakery was closed.

Undeterred, I continued to Espresso 77, wavering near the coffee shop glass windows and introspecting whether or not I truly wanted anything from there.  Their ginger chai is quite soothing and I wouldn’t mind a glass of Riesling.  They tend to have cookies, brownies, chocolate croissants and the like.  But I discovered that I wasn’t craving for anything chocolate and definitely not in the mood for a hard texture.  No crunchy cookies for me please.

Growing a little frustrated, I wandered into the Little India, which is along 74th Street between 37th and Roosevelt Avenue, stopping at nearly every single Indian dessert shop I found along the way.  I was not a big Indian confectionery fan to start with, and considering that Indian desserts tend to either have a solid, firm texture or get soaked up in a  syrup, I couldn’t find anything I wanted.

That is until I stumbled upon kulfi!  It is soft. It’s sweet. It’s cold and it’s creamy. It sounds like it is everything I wanted. However, just as I thought I was going to settle for kulfi, the man by the counter turned to me from chatting with the store owner and asked out of nowhere: “Are you Nepali? Where are you from? Tibet?”

Arr…Let’s just say, “North Carolina..?” Anywhere really that he wouldn’t know much about.

It is one thing to strike up a conversation with a neighbor and act friendly, but another thing to barge in with an intrusive question without any warning!  Nepali and Tibetan women I know are friendly, warm and pretty, but I do not appreciate that in an ethnic neighborhood, the number #1 identifier is which ethnic group you belong to, not who you are.  Next time, I am going to say I am from Quito and see if it works.

So I didn’t end up getting kulfi.  Reverting to the Latin American theme, I walked back down to Roosevelt Avenue to see if there was anything that caught my attention.  Panaderia Coatzingo? Hmmm, no.  Then, something happened.  It dawned on me that the whole time, I was really craving for mochi!  The sweet, colorful and perfectly round dessert rice cakes. They are soft, sweet, creamy, milky and small.  That was truly the answer for my bodily desires and the cause for hunger all evening!

The only place I know that sells mochi in Jackson Heights is Chong Hap Market, but they only sell the packaged ones, which I didn’t want at all.  Ideally, I would love some mochi from Maxin’s Bakery in Flushing but it was getting late and the bakery was most likely already closed.  Argh.  Why is life so hard?

Defeated, I eventually settled on something creamy and milky but in a liquid form – Vietnamese Iced Tea with condensed milk from Thai Son. The route I took for a cup of iced tea looks something like this:

Image

But the point is…the point is to be patient with us, you and myself.

Call us Generation Entitle, Millenials or the YOLO Generation, which for those that don’t know stands for “You Only Live Once.” New York Times op-ed writers like to call us “Generation Go-Nowhere,” (and they kinda suck honestly. Yes you, Bellafante). TV shows poke fun of our lives with unlike-able characters, e.g. HBO Girls.

My search for dessert for the night may only be matched by my same kind of hunger to answer the question, “What is it that I love to do in life? For a living?”

I want to work on a little bit of gender equality but a little bit of business too.  Add some environmental conservation, maybe something related to food or eco-tourism?  Or writing?  While I’m at it, why not just go to a law school and become a politician? If desired, I can also try to break into consulting since a lot of my friends seem to be doing that, right? Hey what about some SOCIAL ENTERPRISE, the latest trend?

Opportunities are endless, the same way my dessert options are vast in Jackson Heights neighborhood.

It’s true that my grandparents cannot comprehend how I could say no to medical college or tiramisu and instead walk around in a maze for some intangible ideals.  But that doesn’t mean we are going no where.  I didn’t end up with the mochi I wanted tonight but now I know what I want and I know how to get there, conceptually at least.

Similarly, I may not arrive at a dream job right out of college, no one does, but I know I am on the right track even if the journey can get frustrating at times.  The most the adults (or my Asian relatives) can do is guide us and be morally supportive of our decisions, instead of complaining about how our choices do not make sense to them.  While I feel solidarity from my peers, most of whom are smart, high-achievers with lofty goals, I am sick of adult whiners.

It’s not solely that my generation is feeling over-entitled – a few of us maybe – but some of us are also working hard and trying to learn how to live.  Is it so wrong that we don’t want a career to just happen?  After all, as Julia Child said, it would have been “a shame to be caught up in something that does not absolutely make you tremble with joy.”

And most importantly because, “Life itself is the proper binge.”

Twenty Two

Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be.

— Molly Wizenberg, A Homemade Life

My earliest food memory is the rainbow-colored nian gao from my grandfather.

Like many Chinese grandpas in downtown Yangon, he likes to go on a walk in the mornings. On his way back, he buys me these brightly colored, multi-layered Chinese rice cakes from a neighborhood street vendor in Chinatown, which is where I have spent a good portion of my childhood.

With a little linguistic twists and turns, the Chinese characters that make up the words “nian” and “gao” signify a more prosperous year or a better future outlook. This summarizes how my grandpa treats me: he calls me by my Chinese name “Precious Child” and after his morning walks, he hands me over “prosperity” disguised in the form of rice cakes.

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Eat picky

I was supposed to have found my post-graduation plan by Easter.

But typically, my timing is ‘a little off’.  The fact that I am being picky does not help.  I do not want to volunteer, work for a direct social service.  I refuse to apply for teaching positions.  A few things came unbelievably close, but did not work out in the end. I probably jinxed them by getting too excited prematurely. Woops.

First time I got rejected, my political science professor, who wrote me the recommendation for the application, consoled me: “You get to be disappointed, but you don’t get to blame yourself.” Who would have thought that the tough-grading professor that assigns you 300 pages a week actually has a humane side? (Just kidding!)

So, I turned to cooking.

Instead of writing another cover letter, I took all the time in the world to make pork chops and potato cubes, that matched the organic strawberries with vanilla ice-cream for dessert.  My housemate, Will and I are home-alone for the Easter break at the Eco-House, and Cook with Jamie Oliver book was our inspiration.

As a general pattern in life, following recipes or directions never comes easy for either of us. Jamie Oliver calls for seasoned beef rib and garlic roast potatoes, but we used our frozen pork chops instead. Instead of seasoning with rosemary, we added some thyme. And I poured some Bombay Sapphire into the marinade, just because I could. I needed to get rid of that bottle before the commencement.

The best part was the salad!  The lettuce came directly from our backyard spring garden.  Will’s hand-picked lettuce went into the salad bowl with some spinach off of shelf from a healthy food market nearby.

This menu suited my picky-eater guest.  He is the second American I know that does not like cheese.  (The first person is of course Brianna).  With picky-eaters like him, you can never go wrong with some hearty red meat and potatoes.  Even the ice-cream is plain vanilla.

My dear reader, eat well till we meet again!

James and Carter

Signature facial expressions

Vanilla bean ice-cream

Exquisite Corpse, but Interfaith

Exquisite Corpse is a game that writers and poets sometimes play to gain inspiration. On my weekend Interfaith backpacking trip to South Mountains State Park, my nine lady friends and I sketched around some words by the bonfire before bed. The photo credit goes to Miss Jessie B. Enjoy.

In-spi-ra-tion
It is the dearth of inspiration that causes loneliness.
Yet inspiration is all around me – if only I could access it.
I search into the sky; down into my heart
Both hold great treasures
One the treasure of becoming an amoeba
The other the treasure of friends.
I cried when you left like smoke in a closed room.
Haven’t been this alone, or this FREE, in a long while
MY LIFE.
And a bag of apples; the giant, fresh,
Organic and locally grown kind.
Apples make the world go around;
Newton proved it.