So I licked all the soaps in my house

I made four batches of soap this weekend, and learned a lot. I made a travel sized grapefruit shampoo; it didn’t reach gel stage and when it I cut it, it looked like white cheddar cheese, specifically Beecher’s. I tested it with phenolphthalein solution, and it turned danger pink! So I put that on the shelf to mellow for 6 weeks. What a bummer.

My second soap was a shave soap. These ones did reach gel stage, and I got a picture of it. The secret was wrapping the mold in towels and stuffing it in a beer cooler. When I tested it with phenolphthalein solution, it turned pink again. Dang it! Another soap in soap jail.

I tried making a second batch of the shampoo soap, and this time I made a rookie mistake; I didn’t stir the lye water enough, because I was afraid of it. When I dumped the lye water into the oil, I discovered a precipitate; a lye puck at the bottom of the container. It was stuck there. Shrug. So I just kept going, knowing that this batch would be oily and have a short shelf life. It turned out soft and translucent, but passed the phenolphthalein solution test.

Finally I made a 40 oz loaf of coffee/cocoa butter soap. It was perfect, a perfect soaping experience, and all my soap is going into the beer cooler from now on; it gelled up beautifully. And when I tested it with phenolphthalein solution, I got danger pink again.

Listen, most people make soap from recipes and then have to let them mellow in soap jail for 4 to 6 weeks. I am trying to go a different road; I have Certified Laboratory Reports of all my oils and I do the chemistry to make sure the water is adequate to saponify my oils by the next day. My soap coach said that it should be safe to use immediately. So I was disappointed that the soaps I did without mistakes were turning danger pink.

Then I thought, wait a minute, phenolphthalein solution tests for alkalinity, and all soaps should be alkaline, right? That’s why it removes grease from your skin. I must be reading the “danger pink” wrong. So then I tested all the soaps in the house with phenolphthalein solution, and guess what… none of the commercial soaps contained any alkalinity. But all of the homemade soaps I tested, including the one from my soap coach, turned pink under the phenolphthalein! I must be reading the results wrong. I googled to see if I can get a better idea of the spectrum, maybe danger pink was not really danger.

What I found was that people don’t really test with phenolphthalein solution anymore, apparently it’s hard to read and some people say it’s wholly unreliable. I mean, finding un-saponified lye crystals is alarming, but just because the surface of the soap gives a pink reading doesn’t mean that the soap is dangerously alkaline. So I resorted to something I had hoped to avoid: I did the old fashioned test, the test that soap makers without the benefit of chemistry have been doing for centuries; I licked the soap to see if the lye would zap me.

The first soap I licked was my original shampoo bar. It didn’t taste bad; it tasted like all the oils and fats I used and a little bit soapy. Most importantly, the lye didn’t zap me. That soap is safe to use today.

So then I went around the house and licked all the soap. Soap soap soap, lick lick lick. It’s all safe.

I used the shave soap to shave my face yesterday. It was fine, it didn’t burn me. This morning I used the grapefruit shampoo bar, it was fine, I didn’t get burned or lose my eyesight. I’m going to try the cocoa butter coffee soap in the shower tomorrow. It all seems safe.

Yes I will keep trying to figure out how to use phenolphthalein solution properly, I need to get to the bottom of that. But the good news is that all my soaps pass the old fashioned zap test. I can lick them all. I’m a soap licker.

Of course, yuck. But it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.

I Make Soap Now

I am trying to de-industrialize my life; stop relying so much on big corporations.  I’m also trying to stop using disposable plastics where I can, and to stop washing so many chemicals down the drain to pollute the water supply.

So I decided to make my own soap. I took a soap making class at the Soapmaking Studio in Lemon Grove, CA. The class was at capacity with a dozen people. I was the only dude, and the only one there for hippy moonbeam reasons; I think the rest of the class was there to learn a craft and maybe start a home business.

I’m glad I took the class. I showed up with a bunch of constraints in my head; no industrial detergents, colors, or scents; no palm oil. Keep it natural; I was probably the hardline extremist compared to some of my classmates, who want to make pretty, fragrant, and therapeutic products. I just want to wash my greasy hair.

We learned the chemistry of formulating recipes based on certified laboratory analysis, which gives us safe soap right away. People who don’t do the chemistry, and just use recipes and procedures that are passed down to them or found on the internet, they run the risk of dangerous soaps, that might burn skin and eyes and cause permanent damage, even blindness. To compensate for these wonky recipes, homegrown soap makers have to let their soaps cure for weeks or months in order for stray sodium hydroxide to neutralize itself. My class taught me that with the proper chemistry and certified laboratory analyses, we can make soaps that are safe to use the next day.  Isn’t that nicer?

The shampoo bar I had been using finally ran out this morning, so it seems that my first soap must necessarily be a shampoo bar.  Soapmakers are a little bit secretive about their secret recipes, so it’s hard for me to tell what to look for in a shampoo bar. It might the case that I make a crappy shampoo bar but a good bath bar. We’ll see how it goes.

I used coconut oil, cocoa butter, castor oil, olive oil pomace, argan oil, and grapefruit essential oils, and no colors.  The only preservative I used was rosemary oleoresin extract.  It’s a test batch, so I made it in the 10 oz mold that makes travel sized bars.

Small test batches are kind of a pain to measure out, probably due to my kitchen scale. I melted the cocoanut butter in the polypropylene pitcher using a water bath. The mix came to a thick pudding stage rather quickly; only two rounds of whizzing with the stick blender.  It’s now wrapped in towels and baking itself on the counter. I’ll publish updates as events occur.

In the days to come, I hope to formulate the following soaps:

  • A grapefruit shampoo bar (the one I made tonight)
  • A shave soap with kaolin clay
  • A bath soap made with coffee
  • A face soap made with activated charcoal

Update:

I unmolded my soap after 12 or so hours, and cut it up.  It looks like my favorite cheddar cheese.  It’s still a little high on the phenolphthalein test so I will wait a while before trying it on my head.

Americans Eat Monkey Brains!

chilled-monkey-brain_1xWhen I was growing up on Tumwater Hill, a neighbor kid SWORE to me that his grandfather or his uncle or something was stationed in the Philippines and everybody was eating monkey brains. I can’t remember if that kid held me responsible for this or not, but I asked my mama later if Filipinos ate monkey brains, and she was pissed.

Nowadays, I realize that white superiority has to be inflated with imagined exotic fears. They make stuff up, or exaggerate something… it doesn’t matter; once they repeat it they believe it. Maybe it’s based on something true. I’m sure the Emperor of China or somebody was once served some crazy extravagant delicacy; maybe it’s delicious; I don’t know. I’m sure some people somewhere has eaten a monkey brain, but McMonkey Brain operations seem to be an urban legend

But let’s think for a second… What economy do you imagine where some Filipinos eat monkey brains, and no other part of the monkey? The ocean is full of fish, the town is full of chickens and pigs, the fields are full of rice, . . . but for some reason we gotta hunt monkeys, eat only their brains, and serve them to American GIs? Why aren’t there stories of monkey adobo? Monkey chicharrón? Monkey organ stew?  Where does the rest of that monkey go?  

Somebody’s going to read this post, and find an image of Lea Salonga wearing a Philippine flag t-shirt excitedly putting a grapefruit spoon into a screaming monkey’s exposed cortex. It doesn’t matter that I, a Filipino person, tell you that it’s not part of our culture. Someone’s going to find a video of Manny Pacquiao, that bigot, opening a monkey brain restaurant in Quiapo. I’m sure there’s video. And for racist people it will be enough proof that Filipinos eat monkey brains. Similarly, if someone mentions Jeffery Dahmer in conversation, YOU KNOW that someone in the back of the room has leaned in to their neighbor and whispered, “Jeffery Dahmer, that’s some white people.”

Listen, I can’t negate the possibility that there’s never in history of time has there been a T.G.I.Monkey’s somewhere in the Philippine Islands.  I can only say that it’s not part of our culture; it sounds much more like the imagination of racist Americans.  

But let me just say, that there is exactly on scenario where I can imagine a Filipino serving monkey brains to an American: if Americans ask for it something, Filipinos will find a way to serve it to you. They want monkey brains?! Fine, whatever, put it on the menu. Send your nephew and his friends into the forest to hunt for monkeys tomorrow; Americans eat monkey brains.

Pronoun posters in Spanish

Poster Complementos directosPoster Complementos indirectosPoster Complementos reflexivos y recírpocosPoster Los pronombres sujetos

Here are my pronoun posters. I leave them up on the wall all year, even when there’s a pronoun quiz.  Here are the reasons I use these.

  1. Because of the way I interact with these posters, the students get the idea that there are distinct sets of pronouns, that they’re not all just random mix-and-match like buttons in a box.  So when someone pulls out an *Él se gusta frijoles or *Yo doy tú una flor I don’t have to clear the board and launch into a huge pronoun tangent which they will ignore; I can just write their sentence on the board, circle the wrong pronoun, and walk to the four posters and ask which role (perpetrador, víctima, beneficiario, etc.)
  2. My students couldn’t identify a complemento directo to save their lives; they don’t ever bother to learn what it is even when I teach it explicitly.  Forget it!  They know what a victim is; so if I give them a sample sentence like “Juan se comió toda una pizza,” they can identify that pizza is the victim of eating, the pizza got eaten.  That’s good enough. Plenty of people speak Spanish without ever thinking about complementos directos e indirectos; if I can get them to know them implicitly I can skip teaching them explicitly.
  3. The color coding helps students remember; a trick I learned from teaching Prof. Dummit’s tone colors in Chinese.  Red is the color for victim, as it’s the color of blood.  Green is the color of money, and the beneficiary gets the money.  They can remember that /g/ for green corresponds with /g/ for gustar.  Mirror gray symbolizes the color of a mirror, which symbolizes reflexives/reciprocals.
  4. Won’t students just look at the wall instead of learning their damn pronouns?  That’s the fear of keeping content on the walls, right?  Well, I’m currently working in a culture where:
    • students would rather guess wrong than make an effort to be right; I think they’re used to their teachers just giving them the right answer so it’s more efficient for them to guess wrong and await correction, than actually learn the content.  I know it’s bleak; it’s the culture of where I’m teaching.
    • my students literally do not believe in the whole process of using a reference to find the right answer.  I’m TEACHING them this skill.  They need this skill in college: keep using reference until the information is internalized.
  5. I can always just pull the poster off the wall during an exam. I’ve found it unnecessary, however, since my exams are not usually about pronouns.

Please let the record show that I am HORRIFIED by my students’ habit of just guessing wrong.  It’s bad. When they guess right, they’re so surprised by it that it becomes a nervous distraction. It’s BAD.

Anyway, that’s why the pronouns are on my wall.  If you’d like to use my posters, find them here and print them out yourself!  The only thing I ask is that you send me a picture of them on your wall, and you let me know how it’s going. If these don’t work for you, I’d love to hear suggestions.

If you’re looking for interrogatives and immediate needs posters in Spanish and Chinese, find them on this post.

JP’s Asian SoCal Adventure Packages

Good morning from Koreatown, LA. If you ever wonder why I disappear for the weekend and return with a spring in my step and no grading done, here’s a list of the places I go. Notice that all of these adventure packages include a trip to an Asian supermarket, a Daiso, and some other kind of adventure, such as a trip to the beach. All of the adventure packages require a two-hour drive, except for the Rancho Run, which is only an hour. They are all designed to be a day trip; leave in the morning after breakfast in the desert, and then return before sundown.

1) The Koreatown Haircut: Central Los Ángeles. This package happens once every month or two, and features me getting a haircut in Koreatown, because Kelly makes me look like a movie star… or feel like one, at least. Features include: Koreatown H-Mart and/or Little Tokyo Market place, Daiso, Café Vita, BCD Tofu. Optional excursions include anywhere in LA; Little Ethiopia on Fairfax, Original Farmers Market. Any of the West LA beaches; Redondo is a favorite because of the food. DTLA (LACMA, Cathedral) Chinatown, East LA, whatever. This trip must occur on a Saturday because Fridays and Sundays are Kelly’s day off.  It is possible to do this on a Sunday, without a haircut, and see more of LA.

2) The Tea Run: San Gabriel Valley Tour, a Chinese Adventure. Destinations include 99 Ranch, Daiso, Wing Hop Fung (Chinese tea supermarket), H.O.T. Spicy Kitchen.

3) Kearny Mesa Tour. Destinations include Marukai Market, Daiso, Mitsuwa Market. Optional excursions include anywhere in San Diego (Old Town, Gaslamp, Pacific Beach). Scenic trip through the mountains.

4) TheRancho Run: Rancho Cucamonga. This is a shortest round trip from where I live now in the desert. Destinations include 99 Ranch, Daiso. Optional excursions include Seafood City, Zait Bistro.

5) Orange County: Anaheim to the Beach, a Vietnamese Adventure. Destinations include: Daiso, H-Mart, 99 Ranch, beach (either Newport or Huntington), bánh mì or pho somewhere. Optional excursions: Disneyland, Angels Stadium, Westminster. Shout out to JC who joined me on the original discovery.

6) North County Beaches. Any and all of the beaches between Laguna Beach and Del Mar. Island Market (Temecula), Daiso, Kyoto’s Japanese Market, Lita’s Fish Market (Oceanside).

7) West LA (A Japanese Adventure) (still under development). Marukai Market, Daiso, Boulevard Music, Joxer Daly’s. Any beach from the Palisades to Redondo Beach.

8) A Filipino Adventure (still under development). Eagle Rock? Carson? Not sure how to do this yet, but it will include a Seafood City, a Daiso, and some kind of grilled fish and vegetables.

I know how to get bagels, Ethiopian food, mariscos, izakaya, South Indian food, hipster tacos, “Mediterranean food” (mostly Armenians). I have excursions planned to Little Central America.

I don’t much now how to eat Peruvian, Brazilian, Eastern Europe, or Central Asian food; maybe if I ever go back to being a meat eater I will put those cuisines on my list.

As far as adventures farther afield, I’d like to do a Santa Barbara to Big Sur adventure. I’ve also been contemplating a drive to the former Japanese Internment camps, or a UFW pilgrimage.

México trips are less Asian but always fun, and usually equally as food-oriented. They tend to be overnight and include the hours it takes to cross back into the United States of América. I’ve done Tijuana Beaches and Tecate; looking forward to discovering Mexicali someday. Mexicali will be an Asian adventure as well, as the city has had a sizable Chinese population ever since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

For the record, I’m open to other SoCal adventures that don’t revolve around Asian groceries or Daiso, but for the record I’m not a fan of hiking.

A Desert Summer

I turned in my grades in early June. It was a great day!

The next day I went to see Amber, who was visiting the desert with her family, staying in a groovy mid-century modern casita with painted concrete floors and swimming pool  colors that make the desert seem fancy.  She had a good pep talk with me about my writing career.

Those few weeks I was baking a lot of bread, following this no-knead bread recipe that is so ridiculously easy; mix the ingredients at night, wake up in the morning and put it in the oven.  Here’s another version, by Vincent. When you take a fresh loaf of bread to work, people think it’s a miracle.  I even started making baguettes. I followed this video for the shaping, to the point where I even hum the music from the video.  Practice practice.

So that Saturday I delivered a baguette to Amber and then crossed the Mojave to Las Vegas, to see my folks.  It was a short visit; the following day I was in Seattle with H and my cuñado.  I made a few loaves of bread for them. I also visited Seattle Prep for the first time in years, hung out with C and J.  XF made me sing into her karaoke app.  It was fun to be back there.  The following day was the last day of school, so I attended some of our old last-day-of-school rituals.

One of the big surprises is that Syntax-S was there in Seattle!  Of course she had told me but I was unable to retain that information due to grading hell (is there a clinical term?).  So she, H and I did fun Seattle things like dimsum and Daiso and oysters in the park.  SUPER FUN. So good to see Syntax-S.

I flew back to to Vegas, and then next day crossed back to the Coachella Valley, and then that Monday I started my ASL class, which is a fun way to spend three hours MTWTH.  I am a little ahead of the game due to my previous ASL experience.  I got a 98% on the exam; I’m still a little puzzled by the one I missed, but ni modo.

What else?  There has been Movie Club, Bowling Club, and Asian Adventures with R.  So I took R to Rancho Cucamonga for Daiso, Chinese food, and Ranch 99.  The following weekend, I was planning to meet Coffee Break Mark in Anaheim, and I decided to make it a beach day.  R texted me just as I was leaving and so we decided to have a SoCal adventure on the spur of the moment.  Huntington Beach, Daiso, bánh mì (his first, my first in hella).  Then we went to meet Coffee Break Mark, who was as kind in person as he sounds.  We talked jazz piano, and the old days of podcasting, and a glimpse of the Radio Lingua empire.  R had his first bubble tea.  Then back in the desert before sundown.

So now I’m back in the desert.  Taking an ASL summer intensive, trying to eat healthy and get to the gym.  There will be more movies, more bowling, more trips to Vegas, one more trip to Seattle. At least one more trip to the beach.

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.

2018 Mission and Goals

I’m sitting at D’s place in Oakland, CA. C and I flew in to spend New Year’s Eve here and to explore the East Bay a little bit. Dinner at the Shakewell and countdown at The Graduate Bar. Today is the lazy day after; there’s no TV in this apartment, hence no football. There was a threat of dim sum today but threats are not taken seriously anymore.

Resolutions that are easy to make because they’re things I’m kind of already doing:

  • Use less plastic garbage (disposable straws, to-go cups/lids, FLOSS PICKS)
  • Work out with weights
  • Eat a calorie deficit more days than not
  • Pay off my credit card
  • Have strong feet (barefoot, spread toes, no heel strike; train tracks not tight rope)
  • Ukulele every day

Resolutions that I’d love to do but they’re hard to talk about because I’m afraid of failing:

  • Actually write that book; How to become multilingual, a memoire. Language learning tips in the form of narrative story.
  • Write some short stories.
  • Find a job where I can just park for the rest of my career (or for a while at least) and feed my retirement fund. Maybe where I’m at now, maybe the next place, but definitely no more limbo.
  • Get rid of possessions I don’t need to live. Throw out the fat clothes that I’ll never have to go back to.
  • Blog more; language learning, personal journaling, travel, food; whatever, I miss it.
  • Language goal: no new languages this year, actually. Polish/practice on the ones I know.

Skills I’d like to learn/hone; not as a resolution necessarily, but I hope I learn these things before I die:

  • Juggling three objects
  • Manual transmission
  • Writing systems: Japanese katakana, Arabic alphabet, Korean alphabet. I’ve studied these in the past, but I want to learn them for good.
  • Cooking with fire
  • ASL
  • Fingerpicking on ukulele; play melody and harmony at the same time; noodle. I can start by learning the fretboard.

How learn how to do these things?

  • Do all my grading and class planning at work everyday at the office before going home, so that evenings and weekends belong to me?
  • Fit crossfit back into my schedule now that I’m a teacher again?
  • Fill my kitchen with fresh food on Sunday, meal prep for the week, and then finish the week on Saturday with an empty fridge.
  • Do fabulous international travel every summer without going into credit card debt.

I know what I did last summer

It’s almost been a couple of months since my last post.  Since Round 2 of Seattle, I spent more time in Vegas and then came back to the desert to get ready for the school year.  I spent a long weekend with my friends in the wine country near Tecate, Baja California, México.

Now I’m back at school, the first week is over, and I’m not behind yet!  Tomorrow is Saturday; the cable guy comes tomorrow at 10am, after that I was thinking of driving toward LA or San Diego.

Here are some things that I’ve been thinking about:

  • Cultural blind spots
  • Cultural appropriation of “ethnic” cuisines
  • Being an author
  • Being a podcaster again
  • Buying a condo
  • Paying off my credit card
  • Where to go next summer.

Can’t swing a cat; Seattle 2017, Round 2

Back during the school year when I was homesick and couldn’t wait to come to Seattle during my summer break, I imagined that I would cherish every moment that I’m in Seattle; that I’d linger on the details, notice everything, take it all in.

It hasn’t been like that. I lingered on the details for about ten minutes, but then slipped back into normal mode, like a fish slipping back into the ocean.  Rather than feeling the special glow of Seattle, I feel the reality of my desert exile fading like a dream. Now that I’m here, I have to remind myself that I actually live and work in California, and that I should take advantage of my time here.

I was already here for one cold week earlier this summer, before seven days in Kaua’i. Now I’m back in Seattle for ten days, renting out my friend’s house, ostensibly on a writer’s retreat.  It’s day four of those ten days, and I haven’t gotten much writing done at all.

I keep running into people when I’m out.  My first day back, I ran into M from the LA Karaoke League getting off the train; we ended up chatting at Espresso Vivace.  There was Tall R outside the Columbia City Theater. The next day a former student check my groceries at Uwajimaya. Then I saw a Cousin R at the drug store.  I can’t swing a cat around here! I had to reinstate my rule of #selfiesfirst, lest we forget.

The other day I went to dinner with BM and JF at Meet the Moon, because Sherman Alexie had talked about it.  Then yesterday I went on a Western Washington adventure with H and K; Ocean Shores, Copalis Beach, Lytle Seafoods in Hoquiam, Jay’s Farmstand in Aberdeen. We were even in Downtown Olympia for a minute; we peed at the Governors Hotel. We also took a picture in front of the house we grew up in on Tumwater Hill.

At Lytle Seafoods, my sister and I bought a dozen oysters in a plastic bag; we sat at a picnic table next to the building (with a view of the stream and Gray’s Harbor, next to their oyster boat) and cracked those oysters with the oyster knives my sister carries with her. The whole day was fun but cracking oysters was the highlight.