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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

JP’s Starter Ukulele Buying Guide

My ukulele

Congratulations!  You’ve decided to become a ukulele player! I hope your experience is as easy and fun as mine is.

Stage One:  The True Beginner’s Starter Instrument

The first thing you have to do is beg, borrow, or steal a ukulele.  Make sure it’s a real one; a soprano, concert, tenor, or baritone ukulele; not a toy one.  That’s important.

If you can’t get a free ukulele, buy yourself a beginner ukulele. Don’t spend a lot of money; this is not your forever ukulele. You might be one of the people that buys one and doesn’t practice, never finds joy, and leaves their instrument buried in the closet.  Don’t spend more than USD $60.

I recently recommended this one to my cousin for her daughter (my lovely niece); it’s nice looking, inexpensive (USD $50), and comes as a kit with case and a tuner, among other things.  It’s also a respectable brand; if and when my lovely niece reaches stage two below, she will be able to sell or regift it.

I also recommended this one to my friend C; she was so happy with it that she went and learned a song right away.  It’s also nice looking, a cheerful color; equally inexpensive, sold as a kit with case and tuner.  It’s the same respectable brand.  Also, it is hard plastic, which makes it water resistant and a good choice for situations where you might want a more durable instrument, such as school or travel.  I’ve played this instrument before; I was very pleasantly surprised at how nice it felt and how great it sounded.  It comes in other colors as well. When C goes on to stage two below, she can sell or regift this instrument as well; alternatively, she could keep it as her travel instrument.

It would be great to start your ukulele career with a tuner and case.  You will also need a phelps screwdriver, to tighten the screws on the tuning pegs, so that they don’t slip.  You’ll also need a teacher, a ukulele mentor, or beginner book.  You might be able to find some great beginner resources online as well.

Here’s some things you should learn in stage one:  how to tune with a tuner, how to strum, how to hold your instrument so that your left wrist is straight, how to do some basic chords.  How to find some chords you like online.

Practice every day, or as much as you can.  It will be a little awkward at first; the more you practice and the more you talk to mentors, the better and more comfortable you’ll become.

Stage Two: A Serious Instrument for a Serious Musician

By this point, you have a handful of songs memorized.  You’ve practiced so much that your hands and ears have grown accustomed to your starter ukulele.  Plan to spend USD $200-$500.  If you spend more than that, it’s your business.  The instrument you pick out might be your forever ukulele, but… I’m just warning you… it probably won’t be your last; so don’t spend too too much.

I’m not going to give a lot of guidance at this point, you’ll have your own ideas, and your teacher and/or mentors will help shape your decisions.  The important thing is that now that you know you’re a real ukulele player (and not one of those people that buys an instrument and buries it in the closet) and you know a bunch of basic chords, your ears and your hands will have opinions about what your stage two ukulele will be.  Go to a store with a bunch of ukuleles on the wall, like Dusty Strings in Seattle or Boulevard Music in Culver City; Hale Ukulele in San Diego. Take a ukulele peer or mentor with you, and play every ukulele in the store; or at least every ukulele that calls to you.  Pick out something nice; this is the ukulele that you’ll play at concerts or too impress other people. It’s probably too nice to take camping with you but it’s the one you’ll want to take on stage with you; the one that will make you happy every day.

Stage Three is a desperate stage of ukulele addiction, where you keep finding more and more beautiful ukuleles that you have to buy.  I’m trying to stay out of stage three; I can’t afford it. You’re on your own. Hope you have a lot of money.

Here are the ukuleles that I’ve bought:

  • My stage one starter was a Kala Makala tenor. I started on this one, learned about chords and strumming. Once I got to stage two, I found myself never playing the starter anymore, so I sold it for $35 to my friend K. I hope it’s a blessing for her. Once I had my first stage two ukulele, my fingers never wanted to play the starter again.
  • My stage two ukulele… my FIRST one, that is… is a mango Magic Fluke, a tenor. I wanted something durable that would sound good and be durable enough to keep in the classroom. I’ve been getting a lot of practice on this one lately because I have to supervise the courtyard at school most mornings.
  • My second stage two ukulele is the chestnut Magic Fluke Flea, a concert.  This is my travel ukulele, I take it with me when I travel so that I never have to skip a day of practice.
  • My third and final ukulele is a classic tenor Lehua. This is the instrument I practice with at home, and it’s the one I’ll use giving a concert.

I don’t need to buy any more ukuleles.  When I hit the Powerball or MegaMillions I might go to U-Space in LA’s Little Tokyo and buy one of those USD $3000 handmade ukuleles that weighs as much as a taco and rings forever.  To be honest I’m coveting that USD $40 sea foam green Waterman that I recommended to C above, but I really have everything I need at the moment.

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Okada sensei, who asked for some guidance on starting a joy-filled, life-long ukulele habit.  頑張って!

Me and Okada Sensei

Recipe: Crab Pot

Fill the bottom of your biggest, deepest pot with potato chunks.  Big chunky ones.  Peel them or not, whatever. I don’t.

Cut a bunch of raw corn on the cob into two inch wheels.  Quantity: as much corn as you want to eat.

Throw in a peeled onion, sliced in half from pole to pole.  Maybe a whole serrano pepper or two, a jalapeño that you’ve split open.  Whatever.

Put in a layer of clean live Manila clams, medium small is ok. Quantity:  one or two fistfuls per person eating, plus an additional seven or eight fistfuls according to taste.

Put in a layer of clean mussels, medium sized, thin shells, live, preferably from the state of Washington.  Add to that a layer of raw shrimp or prawns. Quantities: you figure it out.

Put a crab or two in whole; live or freshly steamed.  Crack it before it goes in, or crack it hot later, or let people crack their own crab.  I don’t know, do what you think is right.

If the guests are new to eating crab, I’d advise getting the crab steamed at the fish counter and then cracking it when it has cooled. Here’s my standard procedure: pull the head off the body from the rear hinge, rip out the gills and the face and throw them away, separate the claws and crack them mid-segment with the back of your chef’s knife.  Now all that’s left are the legs attached at the body; slice to separate the right and left sides, and then slice to keep the pairs of legs together, attached with knuckle meat. You can crack the meaty segments of the leg with the back of your knife… or not.  Four pairs of legs go into the pot.  Two claws go into the pot.  Crab’s shell goes into the  pot, soup side up.

Dump a bottle of cheap American beer over the seafood and into the pot. Oops, forgot to add dry spices (whatever’s in your spice rack, or whatever spice mix someone brought you from New Orleans).  Dump your spices on top, and then wash in with a cup of water, letting them trickle into the mix.

Put the cover on and then cook it on high or medium high or medium or medium low, whatever. After the beer boils lower heat a little, come back in 10 or 15 minutes, and check to see that shrimps are pink all the way through, clams and mussels are open, corns are soft, and potatoes are tender.

Set the table:  newsprint or butcher paper to cover the table, a bucket for shells, a trivet for your crab pot. Big kitchen spoon to ladle out shellfish. Crusty bread sliced. Don’t get fussy about dishes or napkins or other pendejadas; it’s a crab pot, not a cotillion. Maybe set out some empty rice bowls for the Asians who want to drink the broth and slurp it with their chunks of crusty bread.

If it’s a lot of people eating, maybe you want to pour the seafood into some lasagna dishes for easier access. Tell your guests to start eating immediately, it’s really dumb to let this get cold. Like really, really dumb. Lose respect for people who get distracted and let it get cold. Cut them out of your life.  Inevitably someone will try to get up and serve everybody their drinks, yell at them to sit the hell down and eat it while it’s hot, and remind them that fussing about something other than hot food is some IRRITATING. SHIT. Should have taken care of that before hot food appeared, dummy. Honestly!

What else? Some people put chunks of cooked sausage in to their crab pot; you do you.  People from New Orleans will call it a seafood boil, and people from New England who did the twist at beach blanket parties in the 50s might call it a clam bake.  There will inevitably be someone who doesn’t like seafood; make sure they have some Creamy Jiff and Wonderbread for them.

Spread out some beach blankets and put on some surf rock. Stand next to the beach blankets and do the twist until the sun sets.  After sunset it’s cigarettes and crooners, bonus if you lean on the hood of a Cadillac with someone else’s letterman’s jacket. Wonder if man will ever walk on the moon or if we’ll have visual telephones someday.  Discuss if this beach party could be more fun if you played up some Polynesian stereotypes. Take the shells out to the trash when everyone’s done. Look up at the moon and wonder if some Soviet kids are taking out their crab pot shells, looking up at the same moon.

Slice an apple or an orange for dessert and pass them around on a plate. People will decline the fruit and then take one and eat it, and then take another one. People always think they don’t want fruit, but they do.

You Are Dismissed

You are dismissed

When your last class is over and you dismiss the students and tell them to GET OUT and you pull your bowtie open and then grow to the size of a five story apartment block, bursting through the science labs, the art room, through the spanish mission roof tiles and you start stepping through the crumbling building with your horned, green-scaled feet and unleashing murderous window-piercing reptilian screams and finally gathering speed, running through the sleepy town crushing each building as if they were paper nests in a meadow of tall grass, leaving footprints of destruction, death, sirens, burst fire hydrant geysers, and gas mains exploding into hot jets of flame; mountains of ruins where your armored tail swept city blocks aside as you turned to check your bearings, the smell of exhaust fumes and freedom.