Thanksgiving Break 2018 and my bread recipe

I’m back in the desert after Thanksgiving in Vegas with my family. We went and saw Fantastic Beasts II, went to bingo, ate at my favorite Chinese restaurant Bund Shanghai, went grocery shopping at both the Mexican supermarket and the Filipino supermarket. What else is there?

Our family’s T-day menu was an 8 lb turkey roasted beer-can style; a roast lamb, shrimp pansit, tarragon mashed potatoes, slow-cooker dressing, stir-fried brussels sprouts, roasted brocoli, fresh baguettes. K made gallo pinto. The guests brought a not-that-sweet bibinka and some goat caldereta.

We failed to make the salmon, totally forgot about anything cranberry. For dessert, we got two free pumpkin pies from the casino, and the dessert eaters declared them disgusting. The guests brought another free casino pumpkin pie. My dad proposed giving them to the poor, but my mama vetoed cursing the poor with something that was not good enough to serve to her own family.  I think those pies got junked. The dessert eaters were in heaven sucking on some sugar cane that my mama bought at the supermarket.

K wants to make bread, so here’s my recipe:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 0.5 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1.5 cup water

Stir the dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Add the water and stir with the back of a wooden spoon until all the dry flour is gone; you’ll have a shaggy mass. Clean all the scraps from the sides of the bowl and dump it into the mass of flour. Cover and leave it alone until the next day, up to 48 hours. At the very least, give it eight hours. It will transform itself into a wet, sticky pool.

It’s ready to bake after that, but if you want to work it a little, you can fold it, let it rest, fold it again, let it rest… whatever.  Cook a round loaf in a Dutch oven with or without parchment; or  with a little more work you can shape baguettes.

So here’s the minimum gear you need for the dough: measuring cups, measuring spoons, big mixing bowl, something to cover it with.  Optional: silicone spatula, bench scraper.

Here’s the minimum gear you need for the round loaf: Dutch oven. Optional: parchment paper.  I’ve made a round loaf in K’s apartment before so I know he has all these things.

Here’s the minimum gear you need for baguettes:  baking sheet.  Optional: Silpat liner, sharp knife for slashing, little container for steam bath.  You can buy the baguette cradle if you’re into it; I would buy this one because it will make larger loaves. The one that I bought really makes ficelles, which are delicious but should be eaten hot and fresh… they get hard and crusty if you let them wait.

I enjoy hard and crusty but my mama adds stuff like flax and chia to her recipe and the finished product turns out softer. The last round of baguettes I made were yellow from turmeric.

Maybe I Should Hoard Fish Oil Pills

This post is for Bocatas, who didn’t ask for my advice.

So for my second round of laser eye surgery, the guy who was helping the doctor prep me for the procedure (I’m not sure if he is a nurse or an expeditor of some sort) told me to take flax seed oil pills.  He said they’ll help keep my eyeball tissues juicy and that will stave off dryness.

Off-handedly, he mentioned that fish oil pills were actually the best, but that most people were grossed out by fish.

I was like, listen dude, I have been Filipino a long time and I’m not afraid of no fish.  I chuckled to myself and muttered, “… desert people.” He looked up at me and said, oh, ok, with a look on his face like, “wow, that’s never happened before.” He told me that I’d be taking these pills for the rest of my life.

The time I ran out. Ever since the procedure, I’ve taken my 1000 IUs of fish oil pills twice a day. One time, I was driving to Vegas through the Mojave National Preserve and my eyes hurt, a stingy, stabby hurt. It took me another day or two to remember that I had let my bottle of fish oil pills run out, and that I needed to buy another. I bought the pills in Vegas, and my eyes went back to being juicy and stab-free.

The lady at work. One of my coworkers had the procedure done a few months before me, and I was picking her brain for information. She said the whole experience was great, which made me feel better about getting my own procedure done. Later, after the surgery, she complained to me that her eyes felt dry, and that drops didn’t help, and that sometimes her eyes felt stabby.  I asked her what kind of fish oil pills she was taking, and she said, “What are you talking about?” Apparently the nurse/expeditor didn’t tell her to take the flax seed oil pills. So I told her the whole flax seed oil/fish oil pill story, and she said, oh, I’ll take fish oil pills.

I checked back with her a week later, as she passed me in the hallway. Did the fish oil pills work?  Yep, she said, fixed everything, that was it. I’m fine now, she said, and then disappeared down the hallway.

Check-up.  I did a one year post procedure check-up with my ophthalmologist. I mentioned that I was taking the fish oil pills and told him about the lady at work. He didn’t seem that impressed; maybe he thinks fish oil pills are not that necessary.  He asked me if I ate fish at least once a week, and I was like, chuckle, “… what is it with these desert people?  I eat fish minimum fifty times a week!  He looked at me and said, you know you’re probably getting enough fish oil through your diet. And then he took a harder look and said, “I would worry about mercury poisoning, if you’re eating that much fish.”

Listen, if I die from eating too much fish, I will die satisfied. If I die from anything, please let it be from eating too much fish.  Also, I reduced my intake of top predator fish like tuna down to once a month, and now I eat lower mercury fish like salmon and sardines.

The Dreaded Yellow Bottle.  So another time my bottle of fish oil pills ran out, and I bought the yellow bottle instead of the green bottle because it was on sale.  I took it for about three days, and then drove back to the pharmacy and bought the green bottle at full price. I don’t know whether the yellow bottle was lower quality or bad product or what, but I felt the stabby eye pain and I didn’t like it.

Text message panic.  Another friend from work texted me very early in the morning complaining of stabby eye pain. I told her to wash her eyeballs out and see the doctor.  Later I checked back with her; she did see the doctor, and he told her to take some drops. Dryness. At that point I remembered OH RIGHT she had had the procedure too.  So I told her about fish oil pills in a series of several detailed messages. I checked back with her a few days later, and she said, yep, all better.

1400 IUs.  I emptied out another bottle of fish oil pills, and coincidentally I was in Vegas again.  I went with my mama to Costco and I saw that the green bottle was on sale, but not at 1000 IUs; only at 1400 IUs.  So I bought it, and took the pills and everything was fine.  Once that bottle was empty, I went back to my regular pharmacy in the desert and bought the 1000 IUs bottle.  I didn’t feel stabby pain, but I did feel a little dry and my focus was not as sharp.  It’s not bad enough for me to go back up to 1400 IUs, but it’s clear to me at this point that I actually need fish oil pills for now.

Maybe I’ll try to wean myself away from fish oil pills gradually, lowering the dose until I stop needing them. When the economy crashes and the republic falls, I don’t want to be caught dependent on these pills without a reliable of supply. Who knows when order will be restored;  it might take years for society to recover steady distribution. Maybe I should just start hoarding them.

Secret Chicken Stories

For the record, I only called it “secret chicken” because it was a mysterious place and people were more drawn to it that way.  I never actually kept it a secret.

Secret Chicken.jpgOrigin.  I was rehearsing the Shades of Praise Gospel Choir, for a baccalaureate mass ceremony.  I told them that I’d see them at regular 11am mass, then there would be time to eat a piece of chicken and then call time for baccalaureate was soon after.  K asks me, “wait a second, where are you going to get chicken?”  When I answer that I was just going to stop at Ezell’s, K tells me, “you know the best chicken is at the corner of MLK and Jackson.”  He was one thousand percent correct.  It must have been in June of 2000.

By the way, my order is seven wings, and as soon as I get them in the car I pop open the styrofoam clamshell so that the breading doesn’t get soggy with the steam.  The wings are not in segments; they are whole wings from drumette, to flat, to tip.  The breading was crunchy and peppery, and the meat was juicy and perfect.

Secret Chicken. One time after a Christmas caroling with students, I told my coworker L that we should stop for fried chicken wings. Immediately someone said “Ezell’s?” and I said, no, I have another place. The interrogation was swift and merciless.  WHAT IS THIS PLACE, WHAT’S THE NAME OF IT, WHERE IS IT, IS IT AS GOOD AS EZELL’S?  I had to confess, I didn’t know the name of the place.  At the time they didn’t have the sign, and the place needed a coat of paint. I said I didn’t know the name of the place, and somebody yelled IS IT A SECRET?  And from that point on, I called it “Secret Chicken.”  I bought two orders of seven wings and we sat inside the school van and ate it in the parking lot. The students and my coworker L marveled at the flavor, saying things like, “oh my God,” “I love secret chicken,” and, “it’s a secret.”

What is this chicken? One time I went to visit an elderly relative in the hospital, where about a dozen family members were keeping vigil.  I brought two orders of seven wings, and when I walked in they hugged me and were glad to see me.  I said, I brought fried chicken and my auntie said, oh that is so sweet honey, I couldn’t possibly eat, they’ve been bringing in so much food…  I opened the styrofoam clamshell and immediately everyone stopped what they were doing and turned their heads.  Not hungry auntie was suddenly hungry, and a few bites into it, she said, “WHAT IS THIS CHICKEN?!” While her mouth was full, she was asking me, “Honey where did you get this chicken?! This is my favorite chicken!”

Whenever I describe the place, I say, “it’s at the corner of Jackson and MLK, and there’s no sign, and I don’t know what it’s called.” Invariably people ask me what it’s called even after I tell them, and then they try to picture the place in their minds, which they can’t because it’s so nondescript.

Back then they only sold chicken under a heat lamp; there were wings, and other parts that weren’t as good as the wings. There might have been a hot link.  There were drinks on the shelves and in the coolers. That’s about it; I don’t think they even had chips. They had a big bottle of Tapatio that you could dress your chicken with. Now they sell jojos as well.  Fyi, jojos are fried potato wedges for you sukkaz that are not from the 206.

Yelp review.  One time I looked at the Yelp review of the place, and noticed one of the photos was gorgeous. GORGEOUS. Then I noticed there was a scoop of rice in the background, which I instantly identified as Niko Niko Calrose Rice.  I thought, did I take that picture?  I can’t have taken it, I’ve never written a yelp review in my life.  I looked at the name, and realized it was my cowsin M, who was still going there years after introduced him to it.  The photo does not seem to be there anymore.

She made it best. For a long time when I first stated going there, the lady behind the counter was a very kind Eritrean lady who seemed exhausted all the time.  The chicken was always perfect. A friend of mine asked her what the secret was, and she said it was just the recipe she makes for her family, nothing special. My friend didn’t believe her, but I believed it; salt, pepper, corn flour, fried perfectly without over-frying. Another friend of mine asked for the recipe, they told him no-wheat flour, so it’s gluten free, no extra carbs!  He owned rental houses in the area, so he stopped there all the time. Anyway, I started noticing that the wings were getting over-fried, and it wasn’t as good. I also realized the kind lady wasn’t there anymore. So finally I asked the man selling me the chicken; what happened to the kind lady who always used to work here?  Oh, said the man, she passed away about a year ago. I was so sorry to hear that. I also thought, she was the one who made the chicken the best.

A few years ago, they gave the place a purple paint job and replaced the sign. Now it says “Quick Pack Food Mart” which is still too nondescript to remember. I’m not a meat eater anymore, but I have fond memories of that place. I wrote this post because I saw a Seattle Weekly article.

The other places I liked to get fried chicken were: Ezell’s, Heaven Sent (basically Ezell’s), Chicken Express (more kind Eritrean ladies), and the old Takohachi, where the Stranger reporter went to get karaage after CD Ezell’s burned down in 2000. Seattle was really a wonderful place for fried chicken. There was an Ezell’s in the UDistrict when I was in college; the Hawaiians used to buy extra dinners for the homeless people. There was a time when my neighborhood seemed to be the epicenter of Seattle fried chicken, with three of my favorite spots only blocks away.

 

Things I have to blog about

Oh my goodness, blogging is so old fashioned but I miss it.  I find myself writing long-form Facebook updates and Twitter threads, and thinking, wow back in the old days I might have blogged this.

Here are things that I’ve been thinking about but I might never get around to writing:

  • How to write a useful sample sentence for vocabulary learning.
  • Decolonizing & De-industrializing:
    • My diet: fresh/local food, plastics
    • My kitchen: pots & pans, knives, cutting boards, plastics
    • My bathroom: soap making! I’m making my own soap!
    • My language:  A Spanish teacher who never says “Hispanic.”
    • Other random policies.

There are other things going on in in my life, things that I might have blogged about ten years ago.  Like my movie-star ASL teacher saying that we have ESP, or me yelling at a UPS customer service rep to just fix the problem rather than sending me in circles.  There’s the political situation–I think this country is in decline and the republic is falling apart–but I have little to add to that discussion.

I might do another post about what my ideal life looks like now; it’s been a while since I’ve done one of those.

Goofing off is so satisfying; I suppose having my act together would be satisfying as well.  We’ll never know.

Language Learning: They Talk Too Fast

giphySo I’ve been a teacher for 23 years at this point, and a casual multilingual for a similar amount of time. I’ve been thinking about the following topic since the 90s, but have been afraid to try to explain it, since monolinguals are often such babies.

Second language learners and monolinguals often accuse people speaking other languages of talking too fast.  “Slow down! Please! You talk too fast!” How inconsiderate of you, to not speak at a pace that I dictate. You people (of a different culture) have a problem, and my needs, as the outsider, must be placed at the center of this exchange.

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Listen, these cross-linguistic studies about words per minute, and syllables per minute were done years ago. There’s a ton of them but I’ll just link to publications with the most authoritative sounding title; so here’s Scientific American and Psychology Today.  Both articles explain that all over the world, different languages exchange information at about the same rate; nobody is actually giving information faster or slower than anyone else. Spanish and Japanese might have slightly more syllables per minute, and Mandarin and German might have fewer syllables per minute, but if you look at Mandarin and German syllables they are denser with information; in the end, no one culture is exchanging information faster than the other.

Yes, there are exceptions; excited teenagers, coke heads, etc. But the remarks I hear are rarely about a coke head; instead they are about entire cultures. I’ve heard: Spanish speakers talk too fast! French people talk too fast! Chinese people TALK TOO FAST (um, Scientific American just said they have the fewest syllables per minute…).

My students regularly tell me I’m talking too fast. I’m not. I’m talking normal speed.  When I show a video, they throw themselves on the floor and say OMG WHY ARE THEY TALKING SO FAST. I can hear with my own freaking ears that they’re not talking fast at all.

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Get up off the floor.  They are not talking too fast.  You don’t understand anything due to the fact that you have THROWN YOURSELF ON THE FLOOR. You stopped listening. You. You did that. You stopped listening, and now you’re complaining about them.

Here’s what’s happening:

  1. giphy1They’re not talking fast; you are understanding slow. You are at a stage where you cannot process normal speed human communication. That’s normal, it’s not your fault. But it is YOUR problem to deal with, not theirs; stop accusing them of being abnormal. They are treating you they way they treat everyone else.  You want them to baby talk you? The least you can do is ask politely.  Could you please baby talk me? Can you please stop treating me like the adult you think I am, and instead infantilize me?  Go ahead and use all your baby stereotypes, I love that.
  2. They’re not talking fast; they are talking in paragraphs. It feels fast to you, because you’re slow to process, but you’ll notice that even when they baby talk you in paragraphs, you still get lost.

But I need it, you say, I need slow speech! That would be a great argument… Actually, no;  it’s not, restating that you need something is a terrible argument.  When you actually get people to slow talk you, one of two things happens:  a) they baby talk you and it’s condescending and they stop taking your seriously as a person, or b) they slow motion talk to you, which DOESN’T HELP YOU UNDERSTAND.  If you don’t speak Chinese, no amount of slow Chinese is going to help you understand.  If you don’t know the words, hearing them at half speed doesn’t help you; no amount of slowing or shouting or repeating the same word at them excitedly is going to connect the dots in your brain.

So just go home and give up.

Or you can try to negotiate for meaning.

  • Interrupt politely and ask a question, hear the answer and repeat it.
  • Interrupt and try to repeat what they said; check for confirmation.
  • Interrupt and try to paraphrase them, check for confirmation.
  • Interrupt and request clarification, “what was that word?” Hear it and repeat it.
  • Interrupt and ask them to repeat what they said. Hear it and repeat it.

These are all communication strategies that forgo you accusing them of being abnormal that don’t require slow motion or condescending baby talk.  You’ll notice that they are all appropriate strategies in a regular conversation in your native language. People talk to you in paragraphs all the time in your native language; you already have the strategies to disrupt the stream of information a little so that you can manage it.

What if you’re in a conversation where interrupting would be impolite?  Oooh that’s a tough one. Let me suggest this; if you’re in a situation so formal that interrupting would be rude, then accusing that person of talking too fast is also rude. Maybe be a different kind of rude. Or maybe stick to familiar register social interactions for the time being; stick with allies who know you better and are familiar with how you fast you process information, and can comfortably adjust for your level. Maybe just smile and survive it, and keep your coke-head accusations to yourself.

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Recipe: Spaghettini al Pesto

Spaghettini al pestoStart by putting a pot of water on the stove to boil.

Toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry pan over medium.  Make them look golden; don’t burn them.  Shake the pan to them toast evenly on both sides.

Smash some garlic cloves to peel them and throw them in your small food processor (one clove if you want to smell raw garlic; two cloves if you want to taste raw garlic; three cloves if you’re trying to test your garlic limits.  Throw in fresh ground black pepper, salt, a little bit of marjoram or oregano, a little squeeze of lime or lemon (to keep the green color), a big bunch of basil leaves. Throw in most (but not all) of the pine nuts, and then whiz it up with a chug of your best olive oil.

Try not to overdo the oil, you’re making a paste (pesto means “paste”), not a sauce.  It should be thick enough to stand up on a plate without spreading too much.  Don’t over whiz it, grind it up without liquifying it.  You might have to scrape down the sides with a spoon to keep it moving without adding too much oil.

By now your water is boiling, so go around the house and tell everyone to stop what they’re doing, wash their hands, and sit the hell down at the table.  When they are moving toward the table, then throw in a fistful of salt and a small fistful of spaghetti for each eater.

While the pasta is boiling, grate a cup of your parmesan with a microplane into your mixing bowl. Incorporate the pesto with the grated parmesan. Your guests should now be sitting and if they’re not, don’t make this for them again. Especially if they tell you to calm down or make some excuse about how they’re doing something important; to hell with that. They don’t deserve this recipe; they can eat grocery store pesto. They probably won’t even taste the difference. Smart people know to sit the hell down when you’re making this pesto.

Cook your pasta all the way or almost all the way; once it gets tossed with pesto it doesn’t finish cooking. At the very second that it’s no longer al dente, pull it out with kitchen tongs and mix it HOT into the pesto. It’s ok if a little pasta water drips into the bowl; the pesto and pasta will absorb that water when you toss it.  Toss that pasta in the cheesy pesto for a good minute before twisting it onto serving plates.

Top with more cheese, more toasted pine nuts; garnish with a chiffonade of basil and maybe a little drizzle of oil if you want. Don’t get too fancy, serving it hot is more important than making it look good for Instagram.  If somebody complains that it’s too hot to eat right away and they have to wait for it to cool down, then good, you win.

When I was in Rome, I realized that the servings of pasta were small; smaller than Americans are used to.  That’s because there’s going to be vegetables, a grilled chicken, later salad a bunch of wine, and then dessert.  It doesn’t matter, your mouth gets used to that shiny bright taste of hot pesto rather quickly; you don’t want to waste your pesto on a mouth that’s numb to it.

Last thing; I told my Italian host family that Americans think pesto is very special; they were a little baffled that we would assign value to something as simple as pesto.  I told them about the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza called Seattle “The Pesto of Cities,” which they found nonsensical.  I tried to explain that Seattle is green and fancy… they laughed and told me that pesto is not fancy.  Meh, I guess neither is Seattle.

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I have more spaghetti stories here.  Here’s a recipe for spaghetti with a can of clams. Here’s one for spaghetti with a can of tuna.

What’s the Lazy Language?

A few years ago I blogged about how to choose which language to study.  Part I dealt with vision; who are you trying to be, which language are you speaking in the future?  Part II was about which language is the most practical language, since people seem to be extremely horny for whatever is practical.  In Part III I try to address the easy language, for those people who just want to skip to “the end,” fluency, free sodas, and recreational drugs.  I am being sarcastic.

The thing that sucks the joy out of me is that many people aren’t looking for the easy language, or the practical language, or the language they can see themselves speaking in the best, most adventurous versions of themselves.  Instead, they’re looking for the lazy language.  The root of that is the ridiculous assumption that language learning is both painful and impossible, which seems like a strange thing, I don’t know why people keep choosing it.

By the way, should we just say it?  Should we just say, “Spanish is the easy language for Americans!” Great. Listen, if I open up my Chinese textbook to a vocabulary list of any particular chapter, I find a list of about a dozen or so vocabulary words for the chapter, more or less. When I open my Spanish textbook to a vocabulary page for a chapter, I find six dozen vocabulary words. Which language is easy; which language is lazy?  Is learning 15 unfamiliar things harder than learning 72 less unfamiliar things?  Why does that question even make sense to you?

Which is easy which is lazy

Here are a couple of videos I’ve made to help recruit students into my programs.  The first one, I made in 2015 when I was trying to get students to sign up for Mandarin at Seattle Prep.  Here’s the higher quality version.  If that’s not working for some reason, here’s a youtube copy:

Now it’s 2018, and I’m at Xavier College Prep, and we made one for the whole language department.  Here’s the original link, but the youtube version is here:

Doing the video in the target languages wasn’t my idea, but I thought we’d try it out.  I was a little worried that it would spook the monolinguals, but so far it seems ok.  The next one I do will be even better.

Gee Your Dog Tastes Delicious

This post is for people who have to endure people from the dominant culture taunting them about eating dogs, cats, cuy, frogs; any animal they get squeamish about and try to paint onto you. People from dominant cultures, this is not your space, I will delete your comments. You’re free to listen quietly.

Recently, a friend and fellow Asian American (shout out to D!) shared that she still feels the particular sting when white folks, which is the dominant culture that we grew up around, ask her why Asians eat dogs, if she eats dogs, why she eats dogs… How does dog taste? I used to hear it as well, and I used to feel a sting.

When we ask our immigrant parents if we are dog eaters, the is often “meh” or “some people do” or “yah, so what?” It has taken me well into adulthood to realize that is EXACTLY the correct response.

When we’re growing up and we desperately want the dominant culture to like and accept us, we don’t feel comfortable shrugging it off like our parents do. In fact, shrugging it off will just encourage further taunting. Instead, we try defensive strategies; I have been known to bring up celebrated dog-eaters Lewis and Clark. They can’t really deny that it’s white folks eating Rocky Mountain Oysters; wow, it even says so in National Geographic! (thanks K)

But face it: the dog and cat comments always stung. They paint you with that broad brush; you, your parents, your grand parents, you little cousins, everyone that loves you and is kind to you, they’re coming for all of you. You don’t belong here.

So now I have a new strategy nowadays: terrify them. Terrify the dominant culture. I look at their pets with wistfully and talk recipes. Scare the junk out of precious hearts. It doesn’t matter that I don’t even eat meat anymore; I tell them their dog looks delicious. If they want to stick a stereotype to us, use it to terrify them. Of course it’s not true, that’s irrelevant at this point. Rattle their cage.

Them: “I’m not saying I saw them do it, all I’m saying is that they moved in and suddenly everyone’s pets disappeared!”

Me: “I still have some in the freezer if you wanted to say goodbye.”

Maybe some of them are doing it out of real fears; real, ethnocentric fears that they cultivate inside their hard candy shell. The rest of them are doing it to torment you; they’re doing to hate you. THEY HATE YOU. What is the point of letting them torment you?  Traumatize them back, harder. Ask them to pass you the sriracha. They think you stew cats, why assuage their fears? Nah. Shake a bag of pork rinds at them, with the label covered, and ask, “look familiar?”

Yes, I once used to go down the road of trying to make them relate. French people ate rats during the war, Romans ate cats; war and poverty are a not a joke. Europeans eat horses without flinching when they’re not at war, do dominant culture white Americans torment Europeans over horse eating? No, kid. That’s race.

We’re talking about people who eat nothing but fried potatoes and boneless skinless chicken breast. They’ll just be all “how dare you” because they are the center of the universe, and everything they do is right and normal, and everything that we do exists for them to taunt us. Ask them how much their pets weigh, say things like, mmm tender. Or, how old? Gonna have to use the slow cooker for this one…

Someone will lecture us that we should be educating them, that we should be better.  Why should we educate them, they are TELLING us we don’t belong in their society. Why should we beg for their approval? No way. I stewed your dog in soy sauce and vinegar.

Jerk their chain. Tell them rescued animals are better for stews. Tell them you “shop” at the animal shelter.

It doesn’t matter if they are not pet owners. Let them believe you skinned a whole litter of puppies in boiling water. Did someone say a liter of puppy?  They are not your friend, don’t beg for their approval anymore. Lie to their face and cut them out of your life. You don’t need them.

They want you to feel ashamed. You can tell them that Jeffery Dahmer ate other people, and he was white, therefore some white people are cannibals… But they won’t feel ashamed, they don’t feel painted by that broad brush.  It doesn’t sting them, they don’t internalize that.

You know what they will internalize: “I will filet and pan roast your shih tzu,” that’s what they will internalize. Send them to the therapist. You don’t need them.

Saturday Night in Cat City

Last night I was backing out of my parking space when I looked out the mirror and saw an elderly man lying on the ground next to a disassembled wheelchair, a woman standing over him. I re-parked my car and walked over, asked if he was ok, asked how I could help. He said he was fine, just needed the fire department to help him up back into his chair; he wasn’t injured, just embarrassed.

I walked into the restaurant and asked them to call 911, but they were too busy. Instead I called on my phone myself, and they said they’d send the fire department right away. The man was embarrassed and told me he’d be fine, and that I should go, but I told him no, this is what we’re doing tonight. The woman was putting his chair together.

People who were walking to their cars saw us with the man on the ground, and came over to check on us. Then we heard sirens, which further embarrassed the man on the ground; he didn’t want sirens. I told him, “are you kidding, they gotta use their sirens; if I had sirens in my car, I’d use them all the time!” They laughed. I waved over the fire truck and the aid car; four men from Cathedral City FD came over and hoisted him back up into his chair and then sent him on his way.

As soon as the fire truck left, I did too; they had blocked in my car.

Cultural Blind Spots

5wcqln3Everybody has a perspective, a point of view, based on where they stand, how they have grown up, what is in their field of vision. Everybody also has blind spots, including me.  It’s not our fault; this the shape of our heads. When people don’t check their blind spots, they are a danger to self and others. When they deny that there are objects in their blind spots, when they deny that their blind spots exist, they are not fit to operate a vehicle.

Everybody has a cultural perspective; a point of view, based on where they stand culturally (cultural perspective), how they have grown up (cultural background), what is in their field of vision (cultural context).  Everybody also has cultural blind spots, including me.  It’s not our fault, this is the shape of our lives.  When people deny that there are people in their cultural blind spots, they are a danger to self and others.  When they deny that their cultural blind spots exist, they are not fit to operate a cultural vehicle; that is, they are not fit to create policy.

I’ve written about this before, in terms of noodles.

My perspective and blind spots

I’m proud to say that I’m Filipino American; that’s my cultural perspective. I can tell by taste if the rice you served me is fresh or reheated. I squat with my heels flat on the groundI point with my lips.

I have huge cultural blind spots.  It’s not my fault; it’s just the shape of my life.  I can’t answer my Chinese friends’ questions about Radiohead or Coldplay. The appeal of Christmas cookies, winter sports, and Woody Allen is totally foreign to me. I have zero understanding of soup in a bread bowl.

I’ve confronted my own cultural blind spots in every different society where I’ve lived.  In college, living with white Americans meant I had to confront the hegemony of “classic rock” on a daily basis. When I was in China I could never figure out how to get Chinese people to stop cutting in front of me.  In the Philippines I had trouble handling all the lies; lies like “we’ll make an announcement when we start selling tickets,” “this plan has unlimited internet,” “there is no national museum.”

I’ve lived my whole life as a cultural minority, so I’ve developed an unconscious habit of checking my blind spots, of trying to figure out what the majority’s cultural perspective is, so I don’t make a mistake. I know better than to talk salary with other Americans in formal situations. I’m careful not to talk to French people about their health, or to casually mention Tian’anmen Square 1989 to Chinese people. I know that Filipinos don’t care if their food is cold; I know I will have to have a solid argument prepared if I want to leave a Mexican party early.  I keep a long and exhaustive database in my brain of cultural behaviors that will keep me out of trouble.

Here’s the tricky part; I also know that a big part of my life exists in the cultural blind spot of the majority population.  Knowing their blind spots and watching for danger is a matter of survival for me and others who have grown up as cultural minorities.

  • Will I be reprimanded for stinking up the break room with my lunch? White comfort is more important than my own diet and culture, right?  Yes. Americans design break rooms with a clear bias against Asians. Be Asian when you’re off the clock. Here comes the Department of Baloney and WonderBread Enforcement.
  • How will white parents react if I tell them I worry about the safety of my African American students for things their white kids will never face? What if I personally think that racist police brutality is a national emergency?
  • If I report that the Mexican American kids are getting harassed by their white classmates, do they take it seriously? Will anything happen? Will anything happen?

These are things that I actually wonder about, even though I have faith in my white colleagues that they are not evil people, will they see what I see? The answer, sometimes is no, they don’t see what I see… cultural blind spot. Huge parts of our existence are outside of their cultural field of vision. Sometimes white people will, in good faith, make a call that they believe to be in their hearts to be objective, but is solidly grounded in the white cultural perspective. They didn’t check their cultural blind spot. They cut someone off in the process. And also they’re pretty much in charge of everything here.

Awesome things may be hiding in your cultural blind spots.

Honestly, it’s a shame that people from the dominant culture (in China, that’s the Han Chinese; in the Philippines, it’s Filipinos, in the US, it’s white Americans) so rarely check their cultural blind spots; sometimes there are awesome things hiding up in there; things that would make their lives better.  Here are somethings that I would think my white fellow Americans would prefer to know.

  • You don’t have to take the top tortilla from a stack at the taco bar; that top tortilla is a lid. Skip it. Don’t be embarrassed to dig to the middle of the pile. By the way, in México there would be an actual lid.
  • East Asian and South East Asian people don’t eat rice off a plate with chopsticks or a fork.  Rice on a plate is eaten with a spoon; eat rice with chopsticks when it’s in a bowl.  So when Japanese people or Thai people give you a spoon with your curry, it’s NOT because they think you can’t do chopsticks; i’s because the spoon is culturally appropriate and they assume you are culturally competent.
  • Black people greet each other politely when passing on the sidewalk, even if they don’t know each other. You can participate in this custom; I love it. “Good morning, good evening.” If white folks greet each other similarly, it’s not in my apartment complex. Asian people? We pretend that we are invisible.

How did I learn these customs, if they exist in my blind spot?  I checked my cultural blind spot.

How to check your cultural blind spot.  

  • Check in the mirror. What does it look like in reverse?
  • Turn your head and look.  Change your cultural perspective for a second.
  • Ask someone.  Ask someone who is a better position to see, because they have a different perspective. Especially if they have to ride in the back seat all the time. Feel embarrassed about having to ask? Don’t. It’s a safety issue.

That was back there?

Listen, you might not always like what you see back there, outside of your field of vision.  You might be scared or ashamed of what’s back there. But remember, you saw it. Don’t deny that it exists, don’t deny that you saw it; it’s there. Make choices based on what you saw in the mirror, what you saw when you changed your perspective, what your passenger told you they saw… their safety depends on it as well as yours.

Here’s some things you might find out when you check your cultural blind spot:

  • We say nothing. Nothing! It’s still a free country. But watching you pour soy sauce over white rice at the table actually fills us with pity. When you talk about how good it is, we disassociate.  Look closely next time, you’ll see we have left our bodies.
  • You’ve been pronouncing someone’s name wrong all this time, and they’ve long given up on you. That’s their name, their identity. Maybe you feel like a jackass. Will you make and effort, or continue to be a jackass? How would that make you feel?
  • You thought you were being awesome; they’ve resented it the whole time. “I don’t care if you’re purple!” you proclaimed, hoping to express a lack of bias. The whole time, they heard, “You’re identity is irrelevant to me!” which is not nice. Would a purple person actually like that statement?  What makes you think a brown person would?

Maybe you don’t care that this stuff is back there; it’s still a free country, and cultural incompetence is not a crime.

But maybe some of you actually care.  You don’t want us to pity you, or be embarrassed to eat lunch with you.  Maybe you care enough about someone to make an effort to pronounce their names, to honor their identity, the identity of their parents and grand parents; rather than assign a name that is convenient to you.  Maybe you want express that you care about equality, rather than insult people who are purple and everyone else in the process.

Look, I’m not going to blame you for having cultural blind spots; we all have them. It’s not our fault; it’s the shape of our lives. I will fault you, however, for a) denying that your blind spots exist, for b) refusing to check your cultural blind spot to see who you might be cutting off, for c) refusing to listen to someone whose giving your a warning from the back seat, for their safety and your own.

If you don’t take your blind spots seriously when you’re driving a vehicle, you’re not fit to drive; you are incompetent.  If you don’t take your cultural blind spots seriously, you’re not fit to make policy for other people, you are culturally incompetent.

My bet is that people are not trying to be culturally incompetent.  Look, we have to share this world, we can learn from each other if we listen.

73458_1223578026859_280_33515 January 2018.  Today we celebrate Dr. King, who led the Civil Rights Movement, by betting that white America would dismantle segregation when confronted with the truth. He had to force the issue with marches, speeches, and protests. They tried to intimidate him by bombing his home, he was stabbed, he was arrested and thrown in jail… which he dressed for. He was shot on a hotel balcony.  He bet his life that America wanted to be better. He was right.