Last afternoon at office

Last days at work are often awkward…

This is why I will be departing in somewhat of an Irish tradition this time, scheduled strategically on this particular Friday when most people in my team are away on inevitable business trips.

Since I will be transferring internally (my new desk is literally downstairs), my move is not a big deal logistically speaking.  No need to change email accounts, or commute routes.  There is not yet any need to hand out my personal email account.

The main task at hand in this transition process is clearing out my desk.  This desk I have grown attached to after two years in this job, the longest I have stayed in one place in the past ten years.  With a clear view of Shwedagon Pagoda and blue skies to my right but sufficiently away from glass windows to have to be concerned about UV radiations, and the right proximity to and a safe distance away from my supervisor buffered by two colleagues, I find my desk to be quite strategic in the team, though my colleagues may disagree.

Here is just a preview of unexpected findings as I strive to make my drawers and desk resemble their pristine state after two years of habitation:

  • Two bottles of hand sanitizer, one bottle of Thann conditioner (why would anyone have this at work?), and two tubes of hand creme (this one is still normal)
  • One MNK painting of owls, supposedly to watch over me as I do my job
  • Three power banks I have never used or know how to use
  • One large brown envelope titled August 2019 containing a letter for our future selves from one very drunken night at Onyx with friends last year
  • A LOT of lip glosses, although my lips remain as cracked and dehydrated as my lip moisturizing products are left intact
  • A collection of outdated name tags and strings from at least eight different conferences (I have read somewhere that I am supposed to recycle them, but where?)
  • One tiny pet lion – which I have named as Pete Lyon – from a former love interest that ended without much drama in a Skype call in my office conference room
  • One unnoticeable heart-shaped nail polish paint mark on the left handle of my chair following an incident involving a colleague of mine leaving his broken chair at my desk and claiming mine as his own (thought I left those days at kindergarten)

Did I really need these items?  As I deal concretely with an embarrassing amount of personal remnants, I remember this passage from some indie magazine I read whenever I think I can afford to splurge US$30 on a magazine proclaiming this:

The heart of essentialism isn’t about asking how little we can live with, but determining what we simply cannot live without…Perhaps the entire point of essentialism is this process of self-actualization.  If asked to identify the non-negotiables in our lives, we probably wouldn’t think about the restraints of our five item wardrobe or our abstinence from sugar, but about the times when we’ve palpably lived.  We couldn’t imagine life without the tribal rug we bought in Tangier or dad’s smoking jacket in the back of our closet, unworn but revered.  As we follow these internal pulls and sometimes irrational desires, the superfluity disappears and leaves us each with our own messy and eccentric authenticity.  And nothing is more essential than that.

Amen.

Water chores in Myanmar

No. 1.

Much like gas stations, here is a drive-thru water filling station for ox carts in Myingyan, which falls within the Dry Zone of Myanmar. A tank of water costs 250 Kyats (25 US cents) to refill. That is without the expenses for the cart and opportunity costs associated with one’s time and energy for traveling as far away as a mile or two to reach a filling station like this:

Myingyan Ox Cart1

Ox Cart 2

No. 2.

The drive-thru water stations are usually the last resort. Each village depends on one or two rainwater collection ponds like this one. The particular pond here was allegedly founded by King Anniruddha in the eleventh century. All around the pond, there are shops and restaurants where people take a rest from water chores and hang out. Hauling water is quite a chore – I have done it for merely a week as a simulation exercise in college and it was tough then! When I see pictures like the one below this text, I feel a heap of inexplicable, heavy feeling built up in my throat.

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No. 3.

People in the Dry Zone know the value of water. In fact, people in Myanmar live with an extremely small carbon footprint. There is just no other option. Along the main road in the village, one can spot homes with solar plates! Houses also use rainwater catchment like the one pictured here:

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No. 4.

Despite all this water trouble and general life hardships, my hosts in multiple homes along the way were gracious, generous and patient. My colleagues and I were fed all kinds of things during the travel. Since I was an observer on this trip, my colleagues did most of the talking, which meant that I had all the time in the world to gorge on deliciously prepared food – homemade palm jaggery included – served with a pot of hot jasmine tea.  Can’t complain.

At one house, I even had two things of fried kaw-pote sprinkled with sugar. Popularized by Shans, kaw-pote is made of sticky rice and can be turned into both a savory dish or a dessert. In fact, Myanmar people are very adept at turning savory dishes into desserts. One time in Kungyangon (about 50 miles west of Yangon), I was served scrambled duck eggs in sugar for dessert. Scrambled duck eggs for dessert? More please!

Kaw-pote-kyaw

Kaw-pote-kyaw

No. 5.

In Zagyan village near Myingyan, I also got to eat the Upper Burma style laphat. This ubiquitous tea leaf salad gets a different makeover here in the Dry Zone. The flavor of sesame sits boldly on the plate, which is not a surprise since this region is a top sesame grower globally.  The pickled tea leaf is mixed thoroughly with locally grown and toasted sesame, available in abundance in otherwise a scarce place. Freshly roasted peanuts accompany the tea leaf and you know where these peanuts come from – a massive pile of em sitting two feet away from the table!

God I love my job.

Tea leaf salad

Tea leaf salad

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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:

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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.”

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