Échale ganas: Packing Purgatory

Good morning from John’s Diner. For breakfast I had the three egg special and a cup of coffee. I have three eggs at home but I didn’t want to be there.

I’m in the middle of packing purgatory. I’m very discouraged by packing, so it’s going very, very slowly. Which discourages me.

In order to avoid packing, I’ve gone to matinees, taken naps I didn’t really need, gone out to eat with friends, gone out to eat alone, gone out to breakfast for a three egg special.

I’ve finished clothes, bedding, personal items, books, entertainment center; it’s falling into place. All I have have left is kitchen, bathroom, and soap lab. Everything should be in boxes within hours, theoretically.

I’ve made several gratuitous trips to the donation center, just to get away from packing. This morning I’ll drop off my air bed, which has served me (and my guests) well over the last four years, especially after I sold my real bed last month. As of yesterday it started to leak, and if I had more time I’d patch it up. But alas, I don’t have more time, and I don’t want to move it. So adiós, air bed. I might also say sayonara to my dining room chairs. I do want to hold onto my dining room table, though.

So the cube comes this afternoon; the window they gave me between noon and 4pm. I’ll start loading it up as much as I can, and then when Mr. T gets off work, he’ll help me until it’s all packed up.

So my goal today is to fill up the cube, close it up with a padlock, and then sleep on a sleeping bag in my empty apartment with nothing but an overnight bag. They come to take the cube away tomorrow, hopefully, and then early Thursday morning I hit the road.

That’s the goal. Tengo que echarle ganas.

Fly Casual

I saw the movie “Yesterday” the other day, and I’ll be discussing it in this post, so I can’t guarantee there won’t be spoilers.

Back in April I was offered a job in Seattle. It was a great offer, but before accepting, I negotiated for a moving stipend. They found some money and I accepted the offer. I signed the contract soon after.

The other day, I finally got a check in the mail for the moving stipend; the amount of the check was 50% more than the number we had agreed to in April. It took my breath away a little.

disguise-marvel-pictureI immediately deposited the check with my phone. And I pulled up my hoodie and put on my dark glasses and no-logo baseball cap and shhh shhhhh shhhhh shhhh shhhhh shhhh. I swore myself to secrecy.  Tell no one. Say nothing to my sister; say nothing to R. Nobody needs to know, and nobody will ask. Fly casual.

I went to dinner with Mr. T and said nothing. Later that night I wondered about accountants.  What if there’s an audit? What if somebody does some math and discovers the money missing? What if the trail leads back to…

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Troubling. I quietly moved the 50% extra money into my savings account and told myself that no one would notice.

The next morning, I woke up with zero feelings about the whole matter. I was actually more preoccupied with my impending move and how I needed to get started immediately on packing up my apartment to move. I was motivated to start packing for about seven seconds, and then I despaired. And gave up. I bought a ticket to Yesterday on Fandango. I will feel better after seeing a movie, I told myself. Can’t pack when there’s movies to watch.

So Yesterday was a low-key sci-fi story, but a big-time rom-com.  There were a few ridiculous moments, even after accepting the premise, but on the whole, I enjoyed the movie. I like to hear the Beatles songs, and I love to see brown people on the big screen. In fact, this movie did zero exposition on the protagonist’s ethnicity, it was just brown people fully integrated and accepted into a white European society.

It was as if brown people were fully integrated and accepted into a white European society.

Also, there was zero explanation of the mechanisms of the alternate universe aspect of the story, which is important, because the protagonist can get away with claiming the Beatles’ songs as his own indefinitely, for the rest of his life. Nobody needs to know, and nobody will ask. Fly casual.

Or wait, are there accountants?

So I realize this movie is about a brown person deciding whether or not to do the right thing, and whether or not he can live with himself.  Dammit, universe.  Anyway, if there are accountants, this would be a bad way to start a new job. What would I tell R, or my sister?

So I emailed the principal and told him about the moving stipend with 50% extra; that the difference was cooling off in my savings account, and to let me know what to do next. I casually embedded it in an email with other business; he had asked for a short bio for the August mailer. To be honest, I could really use that money; moving costs seem to have doubled since moved here four years ago. But as it happens I actually have a conscience. Annoying. In my heart, I let go of that money.

My new principal replied to me that he had got my short bio for the August mailer, to send a high-res photo when I get a chance, and that he’d check on the moving stipend. I went down for a nap (I’m still jet lagged).

When I woke up I saw that I had another email from the principal. He said that he had confirmed with the business office, that the amount was correct, that the extra money was what they intended, to rest easy, and to enjoy the summer.

So it turns out, I’m in the clear, and get to keep the extra. I’ve told this story to a few people; most of them have been excited on my behalf, that I get to keep the extra.  R, for his part, was proud of my moral fortitude, but also tried to hit me up for a donation.

There are more stories to be told about this summer, but I gotta pack up my apartment. My moving cube is confirmed for Tuesday, and I have to load it up in one day.

見證歷史 Witness History

I was in Hong Kong during the “Establishment Day” demonstrations on July 1st, the day that Hong Kong and China memorialize the handover from the British Empire to the PRC. It’s known popularly as the 回歸, the repatriation, the homecoming; but my Hong Kong friend prefers to refer to it coldly as the 主權交接, the transfer of sovereignty.  Hong Kong was never part of the PRC before, so it didn’t feel like a homecoming to him.  

The following is a post I wrote for parents on the student group’s travel blog; they had asked me about the “riots” that they had seen on the news, and asked what the atmosphere was like the next day.  Here’s a redacted version of what I sent them.  


July 2, 2019. Here’s what I saw and how I personally understand the situation. Others will have different perspectives and different interpretations, and I certainly welcome the discussion.

Yesterday was the 22nd anniversary of the “Handover,” the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from Great Britain to the People’s Republic of China.

Hong Kongers mark the anniversary by wearing black and marching down the main roads across the island, chanting slogans and airing grievances against the territorial government. The main demands yesterday were:

  • Scrap the proposed extradition treaty with PRC.
  • End police brutality against demonstrators.
  • HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation.

The march started in Victoria Park in the east, across the city to the Central Government Complex near MTR Admiralty Station. Thousands and thousands of people crowded the streets to support this demonstration, including a few or our students.

We had been assured by our colleagues at Wah Yan College that this big march would be a family friendly, festival atmosphere, with no danger of violence.  WYC had an official no-comment policy about the demonstrations, but most of our counterparts told us privately that they were joining the demonstration with their families.

Early in the day, I sent a message to our students, telling them to carry their umbrella (for rain and sun), carry water (for hydration), to stick with their buddies for safety, and to stay away from areas where clashes might happen.  Signs of clashes:  police in riot gear, protesters in yellow helmets.

I started getting messages from friends around town that clashes between activists and police were happening at the expo center, where the flag raising ceremony takes place. The disruptions to the ceremony seemed minor and isolated.

Later, I saw on the news that protestors with hard hats and other protective gear were gathering at the Legislative Council (LegCo) building. Since we didn’t have any programming for this territorial holiday, the students had not checked in with us, so I put out a general call over WhatsApp to please stay south of Harcourt Road, away from the Central Government Complex.

It was at that point that we started seeing on the news that protesters were attempting to smash a single plate glass window at LegCo. Squads of police were inside of the hall where the plate glass window was being smashed, but they did not engage with the protesters.  When the protesters did manage to breech the plate glass window, they did not attempt to engage the police or enter the building. I watched the events unfold on TV news, both local coverage and CNN.

When I saw that the protesters and police were not actually engaging each other, I left my hotel room to see the demonstrations for myself. I ended up in a stream of people that went past the police station, jeering, and down toward Harcourt Road and the Central Government Complex.

What I saw was thousands of people crowding the park, the plaza the streets, and the boulevards. There were people of all ages, but what stood out was that young people–high school and college age–had created a supply system. Someone down near the government complex would shout what they needed, and the young people dispersed throughout the crowed would both pass along the message, and then shuttle supplies to the front.  They were asking for helmets, gloves, zip ties, water, umbrellas, and scissors. There were very few phones in the air, and in fact a young lady yelled at me when I put my own phone up to take a picture.  Then I remembered that the PRC has a vast facial recognition initiative, and that my photos might be putting these kids in danger for the rest of their lives.

I myself did not cross Harcourt Road. In fact when it was starting to get dark, I left to go back to my hotel.

Back in the hotel, I was very disappointed to watch CNN’s coverage. They seemed to be ignoring the massive demonstration on the main boulevard, and focused all their attention on the broken plate glass window at the LegCo building.  They called the protesters’ actions as a violent act of blind rage and characterized it as a riot; they wondered aloud why the police hadn’t cracked down yet and wondered when the crackdown would start; they wondered how this protest would disrupt the economic activities of this international financial hub. CNN’s anchor said several times that the protestors seemed disorganized and without leadership.

When I woke up this morning, I saw in the news that the protestors had, in fact, briefly occupied the LegCo chambers. They vandalized some key objects (officials’ portraits, symbols of the PRC), but marked certain objects as national treasures and warned others to not harm them.

So my personal conclusion was that CNN’s coverage was not well informed. The protestors did seem to me very highly organized, highly principled highly disciplined; they did not engage the police and seemed to put very clear limits on what they would vandalize.  They did not injure any people or damage private property. They clearly had the support of the thousands of people, who showed up in the streets, bringing supplies and chanting support. Breeching the plate glass window seemed symbolic, something that might be interpreted as a protected act of political speech. The message: our government should be open to the people and to the outside world.

The police, for their part, did not engage the protestors with force, as for the most part the police were not personally attacked. When the police announced that it was time to clear out the LegCo building of occupiers, they allowed a few protestors to do a final sweep of the area to make sure that everyone had evacuated.

Today we checked in with the students informally, and they didn’t seem to be anywhere near the LegCo building. Many had spent the day at beaches on other islands, getting sunburnt (which is also alarming but it’s a separate issue).

This morning, Hong Kong went back to business as usual. Repairs were started in the LegCo building, and economic activity in this international financial hub did not seem to be affected in the slightest.  The PRC issued statements condemning the lawlessness, the chaos, and the violence of the protests, which is some spin.


CNN’s coverage was total garbage to me, but there were two sources of analysis that I appreciated.  One was this article in the Financial Times, which helps show how very highly organized and prepared this supposedly chaotic and leaderless demonstration was.  In fact, there are a few FT articles whose perspective I appreciate.  
I also thought the report by the Daily Moth was excellent information (above).  

My Cue to X-It

Finished with XavierYesterday my two Xavier students and I arrived back in the desert from our Hong Kong and Macau trip. Today I turned in my keys at Xavier College Prep. And that’s it, I’m no longer employed at that school. I took a selfie with the seal of the Society of Jesus, but the hot desert sun was burning my eyes, hence the squint.

Here’s what else I’m doing to wrap up my time in California:

  • Internet is canceled; equipment has been returned.
  • Gym membership expires this week, will not be renewed.
  • Rent is paid through the end of the month, no new lease.
  • Gas is set to be canceled at the end of next week.
  • Electricity is set to be cancelled in 14 days.
  • Carwash membership expires at the end of the month and is not renewed.
  • Moving company and storage have been reserved for the big move.

Back in January I made a dentist appointment for today, knowing that I’d be jet lagged and would need a reason to get out of bed. On Friday, the dentist’s office called to confirm the appointment, but of course I was in Hong Kong, so I could not respond. Anyway, I had every intention of going to this cleaning.

This morning I realized that my insurance had probably expired at the end of last month, and that I wouldn’t be covered for this appointment. Thankfully they let me out of the appointment, but not before offering me the service for $98, as part of their loyalty program.  I do need my teeth cleaned, but I’ll wait until I’m established in Seattle again.

So what’s left to do, besides moving out?

I’m planning on hanging out in LA for at least a day; I’ve always wanted to see the Broad Museum, and it’s free. I might sit on the beach for a minute while I’m there.

I have to blog my Hong Kong photos, I’ll do that tonight or maybe tomorrow.

I have to burn through some restaurant gift cards, so that’s dinner tonight with Mr. T. I have a free coffee drink in Palm Springs, and a free frozen yogurt coming to me, thanks to stamp cards.

I have a handful of California postcards to write. I didn’t even finish all of my Macau postcards, I should get to those as well.

And then finally, yes, I have to move out. Throw out or donate the things I am not taking with me, pack the rest into boxes. I have a few days to do it. Packing is usually a source of desolation for me; I usually rely on the energy of my sister and friends to accomplish this task. But alas this time I am on my own.  I should get started now!

Maybe I’ll take a short nap first.

The Desert Hermit

I’m back in my apartment in the Desert.

My thermostat said it was 92º when I turned it on. Usually that’s intolerably hot for an indoor temperature but since the air seems to be sucking the moisture out of my skin, it just feels like a warm room to me now, compared to when I was climbing the steps to Wah Yan College in the unbearable tropical sun with 100% humidity.  Siri just told me that it’s 11% humidity in the desert.

I cancelled my internet subscription, so I have no wifi now; I’m hotspotting it from home, and I’m just not going to stream any videos.

So I got home, I turned on the AC, opened all the blinds, and noticed that the beer cooler I had washed and left out to dry on my balcony two weeks ago was still out there. The little basil plant that I left outside is now deader than dead. I looked in my room and saw that my bed was flat on the ground, like a pancake, and only then did I remember that I had sold my bed and was sleeping on an air-mattress and had deflated it before I left.

Many of my friends have already moved away from the desert. I have a whole apartment to pack up and move, and a week or so to make it happen.  Tomorrow:  dentist appointment, return my wifi router, turn in my keys at school.

Not sure what I’ll do with the rest of today.

My California Accomplishments

T and I are planning a trip to Joshua Tree National Park tomorrow. I’ve driven through the town dozens of times on my way to Las Vegas but it never occurred to me to actually go visit until very recently.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “bucket lists,” ever since many of my friends and I decided we were leaving Southern California. It was obvious to me that white folks have different goals in the Desert than other ethnicities, but I’ve found myself having to explain the concept to several people, since we all have our perspectives and our blind spots.

The big three sites to see that were most obvious according to my white friends: Salvation Mountain (I went a few weeks ago), Idyllwild (I went two months ago), and Joshua Tree National Park. I had assumed I wasn’t going to make it to JTNP because nobody seemed interested in going with me; luckily T stepped up and we’re both pretty stoked. I might never have gone to any these places on my own.

So I was asking the lovely A for tips about JTNP, and I found myself feeling like I had to explain to her why it’s cultural that I didn’t go. She grew up as a hiker, and feels she needs to go, alone sometimes, it’s an itch she gets occasionally.

Filipinos don’t really hike, culturally speaking. Of course many Filipinos probably do love hiking, but none of them will say that it’s their cultural heritage to hike. No, our cultural heritage is to picnic. I guarantee that if you told a Filipino person you were going to go on a hike, the first and most important question that a Filipino would ask you is, “Ha?! What will you eat there?!

So no, hiking and discovering nature did not ever occur to me in my four years in the desert.

So now, the mistake that some white folks make upon reading that statement above, is that they think I did nothing. They think I stayed home and watched TV.  They think I plugged into my alcove and stopped existing. They think I do not have a sense of discovery.

Let’s review: some karaoke-phobic people, people who aren’t comfortable with chopsticks, who can’t tell a nopal from a saguaro, some people who are afraid to eat any Japanese food because they think it’s all raw fish, they think I don’t have a sense of discovery about the world.

Asian life.  I tell people that I drive out to Asian supermarket during the weekend, and that doesn’t really spark their imagination. What they don’t understand is that I’ve been to Asian supermarkets in LA County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, Riverside County, and San Diego County.  I can tell you which ones have tanks of live seafood, which ones have great delis for kimchi, which ones have the vegetables that white people don’t know about.  I can tell you which Asian groceries in LA are easy to park at. I have a devastatingly complete mental map of Asian supermarkets in Southern California. You think I’m kidding.

After a year of being here, someone asked me if I knew about the Asian market in Cathedral City. “Did you know there’s an Asian market over on…. Date Palm….?”

I was like, “You mean Fil-Am Oriental Market?  Yes I know about them, they are from Agoo, La Union. They are nice but the food at their steam table is a little greasy. They gave me a recommendation on a barber.”

That person that was trying to be helpful in suggesting that place. I didn’t let on that I was actually annoyed.  Did they think I didn’t find that place in my first week in the desert? Yah, I don’t need any help being Asian, thank you. Did you think I lacked a sense of discovery about the world?

I happen to know there are 14 Daisos in LA County, 14 in Orange County, one in San Bernardino County, and four in San Diego County.  I’ve done several Daiso introductions to my white friends, they have all lost their minds in there. How have they never been to Daiso?! They must not have a sense of discovery about the world.

Beaches. I’ve been to nearly every beach from Santa Barbara to Rosarito, Baja California, México. I know some people who have lived in Southern California for as long as I have that never made it to Mexico at all.  They must not have a sense of discovery about the world. I think my favorite of all was Aliso Beach, in terms of the beach itself, the parking, the food options around it.

Mexican culture. First of all, Mexican birthday parties. I know some people who lived here as long as I have and didn’t make it to a single Mexican birthday party.  Little kids, turning one, or five, or seven. Or forty.  It’s not like an American birthday party.  When you walk into a Mexican backyard birthday party, there are minimum three events going on simultaneously. I’ve seen bouncy castles, clowns, comedy, mariachi, taco carts. Every twenty minutes there’s a new event: cake, candy bags, musical chairs, scavenger hunts, face painting, prayer, a formal toast, gelatina, popsicles, someone showing up with dates, piñata… I usually only stay for a couple hours, not long enough to get drunk and embarrass myself. My friends the hosts always seem so gracious, busy running the show but also very much at ease; it’s a Mexican superpower. I tried to never miss a Mexican birthday party, and I exhorted my friends to go to at least one while they were here. Sense of discovery.

Second: Mexican food. I stopped eating meat a few years ago, but eating cheese enchiladas has taught me something about the Mexican cuisines of this region.

In LA, there are restaurants from Oaxaca, CDMX, and of course Tijuana. There’s an overall norteño feel, and chile rojo is more soulful, deeper, darker, than anything that I ate in Seattle.

In the desert, enchiladas verdes are more interesting; spicier and more vibrant. The signature regional dish is chiles gueritos rellenos de camarón, which are served with soy sauce of all things, which makes me recall the Chinese population in Mexicali.

There is as much bad Mexican food in Southern California as there is in Seattle. There are good places, but it’s not always easy to find them; it takes a lot of research. Asking Mexican American friends for their recommendations is not always productive; mostly because they eat Mexican food at home and have no reason to eat it in a restaurant.  On more than one occasion, I’ve gotten bad recommendations from a Mexican American friend because they liked the drinks; when I tell the the food was bad, they say, “well yes of course the food is bad. Don’t eat the food, make good food at home.”

I also think I have a rather complete mental map of the frozen yogurt shops that serve no-sugar-added frozen yogurt.  I know all the places in the desert that serve falafel–the best by far was the now closed Aladdin Deli, the only place I ever Yelp reviewed.  I even know where to go in Southern California to find a juicy roast chicken, despite being a pescatarian.

So no, I didn’t prioritize all the places that my white friends do.  I never saw Frank Sinatra’s grave, I never played golf or tennis, I barely went to the pool. I did, however, discover a lot of things, some of the things long-time desert residents don’t know about. I’ll never forget the time I had to explain the difference between a nopal and a seguaro to a gentlemen who has been in this community for years… where was his sense of discovery?

That said, I do have some regrets.  I didn’t go to karaoke enough. I failed to take my friend to casino bingo. I didn’t go to the Thousand Palms Oasis, or sit in a hot springs.  I didn’t go to Smitty’s Famous Fish and Chicken, or the Broad.  Maybe I’ll still have time to do these things next month before I move.  Tomorrow:  Joshua Tree National Park.

 

 

Fish in parchment

I taught my mama how to cook fish in parchment a little while ago, and it blew her mind; this is her main way of cooking meaty fish now.  Of course, for bangus she sticks to pan roasting.

Anyway, “fish in parchment” is not an appetizing name. In French, it’s en papillote, in Italian it’s in cartoccio; in Spanish I’d probably say en paquete; all of these languages refer to the pouch. In English we refer to the paper apparently. Also, in a pinch you can use aluminium foil; I did that once on the beach in Kauai with some tuna. I try to avoid aluminium just in case it causes some Alzheimer’s. Also, some people refer to cooking in aluminium pouches as “hobo packets,” which is demeaning.

So rip out a big piece of parchment. The fancy people fold it in half and cut it into a cartoid, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

Lay down a little olive oil, or not. Put down some solid vegetables, like thin sliced potatoes or onions or whatever. Put the fish on top of that, salt and pepper, olive oil if you want; do whatever, it’s your packet. Top with herbs, crushed garlic, and thin sliced chiles. If you have a green veg, put it beside the fish. Or whatever; it’s all going to work.

You can get a little technique-y if you want when you fold it all shut.  I just start at one end and twist it up along the seam so that no steam will come out.  As you can see, I didn’t leave a lot of space for air. Your French culinary teacher will probably say to leave more room for air to puff up. Do what makes you happy; just make sure it’s folded or twisted up hard, so that the steam won’t explode your seam.  

At cooking school they will tell you to put it on a baking sheet and bake it off at 400º or 450º for 15 minutes. Of course I don’t do that, I just put it in a dry cast iron skillet and put the lid on, who cares; medium flame or whatever.  Somewhere after between 12 to 15 min, you’ll smell cooked fish, and you know it’s probably done, so you can turn it off and let it rest for a bit. Then spatula it onto a plate and let your guests tear into the paper at the table. The point is to give yourself a facial in the steam that escapes when your rip it open, and if your guests don’t ooh and ahh when they tear the hot packet open, drop them from your lives. People that pray until the food is cold are themselves a curse.  People that find other things to do once the hot food has hit the table are too stupid to eat this, send them to Burger King with a bus ticket. Idiots.

So I served mine with fried mushrooms and some jicama that I chopped up a week ago. This meal is ketogenic, even though I’m not.

If you’re grilling on the beach in Kauai, you can put these packets right on the grill, or on top of a sheet of foil.  I think I got impatient and put the foil right on top of the cooling coals.

If your fish is undercooked, cook it longer the next time. If your veggies are undercooked, chop them smaller the next time. Make stuff small enough to steam in the same amount of time that it takes fish to smell cooked. As long as you got a hard seal, this technique is going to work.