Friday, February 29, 2008

PSA for all eligible bachelors out there

Today there is an extra day in February on account of leap year, and for those people born on this day, they actually get to celebrate their birthday on the day they are born. Otherwise it’s usually February 28 or March 1 for them.

So what is a leap year, and why do we have it? To find out I went to my favorite website of all time, Wikipedia.org, and found the following:

A leap year is a year containing one extra day in order to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year. Because seasons and astronomical events do not repeat at an exact number of full days, a calendar which had the same number of days in each year would, over time, drift. By occasionally inserting an additional day or month into the year, the drift can be corrected. A leap year occurs once every four years; an easy way to remember is that the Summer Olympic Games always occur during leap year.

I also found out about a tradition that exists on the extra day during leap year: women may propose marriage. Supposedly, way back in the day, men who refused marriage proposals from women had to compensate them to “soften the blow,” and compensation could range from a kiss on the cheek or a new silk gown. Men felt that this law put them at too great a risk, so a new tradition was formed restricting female proposals to the modern leap day, 29 February. I've never heard of this "tradition" but it is interesting. I thought Wikipedia was making this up until I found a postcard from 1908 for leap day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Gloom and doom

Last week Southern California was a dreary patchwork of gray skies and rain. Everyone used to sunshine had to put up with wet grass and slick streets for a few days. Poor Chuy had to stay outside last Tuesday and was freezing his little tail off. He snuggled inside our room once we came home and slept like a log for the rest of the night. It’s tough being a dog.

To make up for making Chuy stay outside in the rain, Rene and I brought him to the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden last Saturday for a visit. We had visited the garden last summer and were pleased to learn that dogs were allowed (on leash, of course). We had hoped that the gloominess didn’t extend out to Santa Barbara and that it wouldn’t rain while we walked around the gardens.

We got to Santa Barbara exactly an hour after we stopped at the gas station and Western Bagels. On our way to Santa Barbara we were worried that someone was going to get impatient and start crying in the car (that’s you Chuy), so we took the dog for a walk around our old neighborhood park in Woodland Hills before we started the drive. There were these two yappy little dogs at the park without a leash (which I really hate – all dogs should be leashed unless you are visiting an off-leash park. It’s for their and other dogs’ safety), nipping and barking at Chuy. Their owners thought it was *so cute* but I made sure to give them the stink eye; I don’t think it’s cute when little dogs approach bigger dogs like Chuy because there’s a chance the bigger dog might want to hurt the little dog. My dog Princess, bless her soul, was unfriendly with other dogs and would’ve put these two in her mouth if they approached her. The little dogs then become my problem because their irresponsible owners can’t keep them on a leash, and I have to drag my dog away to prevent them from getting eaten. Luckily for us, Chuy was very nonchalant about the whole thing – he didn’t show any interest in the little yappers and kept walking as if they didn’t exist. It was funny, really; I could imagine Chuy saying "whatever" to the little dogs and continuing to do his thing. He almost sprayed one of them with golden showers because they were practically under him before he unleashed a stream of pee on a tree trunk. They didn’t bother him too much after that.

Even though it was overcast during our drive to Santa Barbara, I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful scenery. With all the rain we’ve been having lately a lot of the wildflowers are starting to bloom, and the hillsides are full of lovely greenery. Even the garden, which is filled with native California plants and succulents, was in full bloom.





We walked around the main garden and on paths that led to the dam and the redwood trees. We didn’t see anything new from last time, except for poison oak, which Chuy loved to brush up against. I keep tugging on his least to keep him away but he loved those plants. People we met on the path mentioned that we should give Chuy a bath afterwards because we could get poison oak by touching him. We didn’t touch him for the rest of the day after that, but didn’t give him a bath either, but we were fine the next day. Besides, I really hate giving Chuy a bath on rainy days – the cleanliness would last until Chuy decides to go outside. After that he becomes a dirty smelly dog all over again.


When it finally rained, we were already on our way out. We made it home exactly an hour after we left Santa Barbara and settled in for a nap afterwards. I couldn’t imagine a better Saturday – a little bit of sightseeing, hanging out with my two boys Rene and Chuy, and napping.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Skipping ahead

For some odd reason, during the entire year that I was 28 years old, in my head I thought I was 29. Why did I skip a year ahead, you may ask – don’t people subtract years to their age, not add them?

It’s one of these things I do, this looking forward to the future all the time that had me caught up with being 29. I swear, when people asked me how old I was during 2007, I’d want to say 29, catch myself, and answer 28. I was living a year ahead of myself, and now that I am actually 29 I feel like I stayed the same age.

I think the anticipation of being 30, even though it was two whole years away, was getting to me. I was starting to question all the things I’ve done in my life and how insignificant they were to what other 28 year-olds were doing. There were some that owned their own business, were VPs of Fortune 500 companies, had given birth even – and I felt as if I hadn’t accomplished anything for the first 28 years of my life. It seemed like everyone had it together personally, professionally, financially, and here I was stuck in the same rut for the past two years. Of course I’ve done a couple of great things myself, but in my eyes none that could be considered a great accomplishment. Then I remembered that everyone has their own pace and their own rhythm in life, and comparing myself to other people could only make me depressed. Each person’s life experience is unique, and comparing my accomplishments to other people’s makes me lose sight of what’s good about my life. There are plenty of things to celebrate and be grateful for.

I spend so much time looking ahead to the next thing – my “planner” tendencies coming through – that I sometimes miss out on what’s going on right now, the present. I am guilty of living in the “what’s coming up” part of my life yet never relish the moment once I get there. Once I get there, the focus is on the next thing, the next big event, and all that energy spent getting to the first destination seem to go by the wayside.

So this is my resolution this year: living in the present.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Back to work

Yesterday was a rude awakening. Having just come back from a four-day weekend (I was lucky to get Friday, 2/15 off), and a three-day weekend before that, coming back to work felt like a drag. I know there are many projects that are coming my way that will keep me busy for the next month or so, but thankfully none of them were presented to me on my first day back. Today might be my “lucky” day.

I spent President’s Day in Pasadena, dining at my favorite restaurant in that area, Roscoe’s Chicken n’ Waffles. I cannot say enough how much I love dining there (see past post here), and Monday’s meal was no exception. I ordered my usual fare of fried chicken (drumstick and thighs) and two waffles. The chicken was fresh out of the fryer, hot and delicious as always. The waffles had just the right consistency, and coupled with a little bit of maple syrup was the greatest compliment to the chicken. For some reason the combo works, and I am a devotee. I always try to visit this place whenever I get a chance.

Rene and I have been interested in art lately and went to visit the Norton Simon museum after lunch. I’ve seen the fa├žade many times while watching the Rose Parade on New Years’ Day and have always wanted to go. Also, my college Business Law professor was mildly obsessed with Norton Simon and always used him as an example in our discussions, mostly about stolen property and rewards. I have no idea how either apply to Norton Simon’s life.

The first thing we noticed upon entering is the amount of people that work for the museum. There seemed to be a person in a jacket and tie everywhere you looked, even at the parking lot directing traffic. It seemed like they were watching every move you made, so it made us leery of doing anything that might cause them to speak to us, like standing too close to a painting or talking too loud. In retrospect, they were probably bored and perhaps eager to tell us about the exhibits, which may account for why they were watching us so closely: they were probably looking for an opportunity to start a conversation. I might ask them a question the next time I visit.

The museum is not very big, and can easily be explored in under two hours. The wings are organized according to time period (13th – 16th century, 17th to 18th century, and 19th to 20th century) with the Southeast Asian Collection taking up the entire lower level. It’s amazing to me that an individual could own so much pricey art – the Picassos, Van Goughs, Rembrandts, and Degases alone are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. There were also works by other artists that weren’t as famous but I bet those pieces in total cost just as much. Rene enjoyed the modern and impressionist art, as well as still-life portraits of fruit, flowers, and vegetables. I enjoyed the impressionists and modern art also but wasn’t crazy about the still life paintings. I preferred the older works from the 17th and 18th century but didn’t see everything because a portion was closed off due to maintenance. We also liked the Southeast Asian art, in particular a colorful wood carving of the Hindu god Vishnu near the staircase (see picture above).

We also explored the museum garden that had heavy bronze and marble pieces from contemporary artists. This little garden is perfect for sunny LA days but it was overcast and cold yesterday, so we vowed to come back in the spring to visit again. It will be gorgeous then.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine Post

Remember that Simpsons episode when Lisa gave Ralph a card that read, “I choo-choo-choose you”? It’s actually an old valentine from the 1930s, and I found a picture of the card online last week. It reminded me of when I was in elementary school everyone in class gave Valentine’s Day cards and candies to celebrate. It was a big deal, at least to me, to pick out the right cards. They always came in boxes with a cartoon character theme: Disney (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, etc.), Garfield, Snoopy, Hello Kitty, or Strawberry Shortcake. And I always gave away the candy hearts that said “be mine” or “cutie” or “you’re sweet” or Hershey kisses.

I haven’t given out Valentine cards since junior high school, and by then I was more selective about who I gave them out to. Mostly, I gave them out to my friends. I was far too shy to talk to my junior high crushes, let alone give them a Valentine’s Day card. That would mean that I was interested in them, and my junior high school self would not be able to deal with it. I was afraid that actually talking to my crushes would leave me so tongue-tied and red in the face that I wouldn’t be able to say anything coherent. I was afraid that if they actually did talk to me they’d think I was an idiot, so I didn’t even risk the possibility of conversation.

I still think of myself as a shy person, but I try not to let it debilitate me like it did back in junior high. Now I try to find a common interest or point of view and start a conversation. I’ve found that breaking the ice is the hardest part, and it’s pretty easy from that point on. Even if the conversation doesn’t pan out or you just don’t gel with the person you wanted to get to know, it’s nice to know that at least you made the effort.

***

How do you feel about Valentine’s Day? Do you feel that it’s a special day, a celebration of love with your significant other that requires flowers, chocolates and dinner reservations? Or do you feel like it’s a made-up holiday used by retailers as a means to get you to spend money?


I’m in between. I do think that it’s important to celebrate your love but I don’t think you need flowers and chocolates and a fancy dinner to make your point. I also think it’s a personal occasion that should be celebrated throughout the year, not just during this holiday.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Resurrecting the Sandwich

One of the best things about traveling is its after-effects. For some reason, visiting other places makes me appreciate my hometown of LA even more. After enduring record low temperatures and snow in Shanghai (the worst winter in a hundred years!), it was refreshing to see sunshine and have temps in the 70s.

Last Sunday, Rene and I drove to Malibu to take advantage of this wonderful weather. Not only was the weather nice, but the scenery was fabulous as well – lots of grass and wildflowers flourishing on the side of the road, trees and flowers blooming. You’d think it was already spring by looking at the flora. We decided to stop one of our fave places in Malibu, Malibu Seafood, to have some clam chowder and relax by the ocean. Unfortunately, when we got there the line was already out the door, and it looked like it would take at least 30 minutes just to order. Plus, we had Chuy with us and we didn’t want him trapped inside a hot car for an hour while we ate. Disappointed, we moved on and decided to get a snack at the grocery store down the road called Hows.

You know the saying, “when one door closes, another opens?” It certainly felt that way to us on Sunday, because Hows was offering its famous BBQ sandwiches for sale! For those of you that do not know about these sandwiches, here is our story: about two years ago, Rene and I visited this supermarket looking for something to eat after a long day at the beach. Lured by the smell of barbeque, we made our way to the outdoor patio and Rene placed an order for a tri-tip sandwich. I had already ordered a sandwich inside the store, so I sat down and ate my turkey on white while Rene placed his order. As he sat down I caught a whiff of his sandwich, which smelled and looked so good I had to try it. Biting into that sandwich was like a religious experience – it was the perfect combination of soft meat with savory sauce, placed inside a French roll. I wolfed half of that sandwich down then got up to get another. Again, a masterpiece! We were seriously hooked (but also seriously full), so we made a pact to visit the barbeque stand again the following weekend.

When we showed up the following weekend, there was no barbeque: no grill, no cash register, no condiment stand – just the usual tables and chairs. We thought that maybe that was the barbeque crew’s weekend off, so we came two weekends later, then the next weekend after that, but to no avail. The mysterious barbeque stand left as mysteriously as it came.

Until last Sunday, that is.

When I saw barbeque being grilled in the parking lot I was overjoyed with emotions. It was like having a dear friend come back to life! The joy! We promptly ordered two tri-tip sandwiches and took our time eating them. The flavors were just as I remembered: the same juicy sauce and tender meat, the soft French roll corralling the goodness. I savored every bite, knowing full well that I may not experience this moment for another two years. The feeling was sublime.

After our beautiful lunch, we soldiered on to Charmlee Wilderness Park, located about 10 minutes from Pacific Coast Highway. Charmlee is basically a picnic area with great trails, and we took Chuy out there for his daily walk. The best thing about Charmlee is the spectacular view of Malibu and Point Dume, both of which can be seen while walking along the trail. We stopped at several points to take pictures then walked back to our car after a brief rest.

On days like these you fall in love with California all over again.

More pictures here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Relax, take it easy

Have you ever heard a song so often while visiting a place or during a certain time in your life that whenever you hear it now you are instantly reminded of that place or time?


It happens to me all the time. In fact, it is happening to me right now. I am listening to Relax by Mika and I am instantly transported to last year’s summer vacation in Rome
. This song, along with Cupid’s Chokehold by Gym Class Heroes and Hump Da Bump by the Red Hot Chili Peppers were in heavy rotation on MTV and on the radio in Italy. What a glorious time it was to be in Rome during the summer time, touring the ancient sights during the day and eating gelato on lazy afternoons. I had such a good time in Italy and listening to these songs takes me back to that pleasant and relaxed time.

I also remember listening to Big Pimpin’ by Jay-Z a lot during the summer of 2001. This was right after I graduated college and was about to start my new job; I had just gotten a new car (my first big purchase) and was feeling good about having air conditioning and automatic windows for the first time. My previous cars had manual transmission, no air conditioning (quite a bummer when living in LA), and windows that you rolled down. That song reminds me of a time when I was looking forward to starting my career. It felt so good having something nice be yours, and this song was my soundtrack.

We all have a soundtrack to our lives, and until recently it didn’t occur to me how music shapes my life. A child of the “easy listening” era of the late 70s and 80s, my mom used to turn the radio on as I was falling asleep to get me used to noise. She didn’t want me to wake up to the slightest sound. Now I can sing the first lines or the chorus to any song by the Bee Gees, ABBA, the Carpenters, Neil Diamond, Lionel Ritchie, Barry Manilow, Air Supply, or any artist from that era. Sometimes it’s pretty scary how well I know these songs.

Now I am listening to lots of different artists that are not very mainstream. I’m loving Paper Planes by M.I.A., Paint by Numbers by the The Sounds, and D.A.N.C.E. by Justice. Maybe in a few months I’ll figure out what these songs signify about this time in my life.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Forget about walking in LA… the parking is even worse!

Most days, I love LA. I really, really heart this city and all of the wonderful things it offers: the good weather, constant sunshine, the multitude of places to visit (everything from museums to parks to beaches to shopping malls) – there’s a little bit of LA for everyone to enjoy. You just have to make sure you can find a parking space!

Last night I stopped by a little restaurant on my way to my book club meeting and found no parking spots nearby. I went around the block, across the street, down a block across the street – nothing. I found no parking spots. I was only going to visit the restaurants for a mere five minutes (since I’ve already placed my order and only had to pick it up), so I thought I’d park in the resident permit area just a skip away from the restaurant. After all, it’s only five minutes, and what meter maid is going to go after me for five minutes?

I was in the restaurant for no longer than five minutes, and as soon as I stepped out I saw a meter maid writing me a parking ticket. A parking ticket! For five friggin’ minutes! Are you kidding me?!! Apparently the meter maids in LA take their job very seriously.

I was fuming and ready to unleash a string of expletives on the guy writing me a ticket for five minute parking – which, at $45 cost me $9 per minute. But really, it was my fault for parking there, and why fume at the guy who was just doing his job? So I kept quiet and waited for the stupid ticket to print out. I really hate the parking situation in LA, especially that neighborhood of West Hollywood. All the meters are always taken, and if you are near homes or apartments they usually require a permit to park in the street. Don’t get me wrong, I understand where the residents are coming from; I wouldn’t want random people parking on my street either. But getting a ticket after five minutes? Come on! At least have the decency to grant a five-minute grace period.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Superfat Tuesday

Last night, after a long day at work and a visit to the dentist, I parked outside a nondescript church and got in line to vote. It was cold that night, and I was behind a number of people waiting to do the same thing. It was nice to see so many people out at 6:30 pm waiting to cast their ballot when they could be doing so many other things: having dinner, relaxing after work, bonding with their children, or getting much-needed rest. Instead, they were lined up with me because they thought their votes mattered. Just thinking about it made my eyes misty.

This feeling of pride in my fellow Americans was soon diminished by the ignorant old couple behind me. I kept hearing the old lady make references to "making sure the illegals don't vote" and "turning the illegals away," which was so damn offensive. I don't know how in this day and age, in Los Angeles for god's sake, that this kind of talk is considered acceptable to utter in public. I turned around once to give them the stink eye and let them know that kind of talk was not okay. I don't know why illegals would want to vote - if anything, their biggest fear is having their status discovered - and voting would be one of the ways that could happen. I think this big concern about "illegals" voting is thinly veiled prejudice against minorities at the polling place exercising their right as citizens to vote. Being a minority, I might have been an "illegal" to them. This is why it is so important to vote - so that people like this don't win!! I'd never been so determined to vote as last night.

Despite all the hype leading up to Super Tuesday, where primaries took place in over two dozen states, the Democrats have not yet crowned a winner. It takes roughly 2,000 delegates to win the Democratic Party nomination, and right now it's a tight race, with Hillary and Barrack running neck and neck. At least no one lost, and it looks like it's going to be a fight to the finish.

Surprisingly, I am not terribly disappointed by this news. To me, it's been an exciting primary race that encouraged many voters to come out and support their candidate on Tuesday. It seemed like every vote counted, especially in states like Missouri where Obama edged out Hillary by one percent. I hope that this election year mobilizes many more voters, particularly those in my generation, to speak out and vote for their candidate. There was a record turnout in California last night, and to me this is the best part about Super Tuesday.

I also hope that this drawn-out contest between Hillary and Barrack is a fair contest that does not tear the Democratic Party in half. It'd be a shame to have that happen after all their hard work. The worst thing that can happen is for ignorant people like the couple standing behind me last night to have their party and their agenda win. Obviously, that kind of talk is never tolerated by Democrats.

*****

Did you also know that yesterday was Fat Tuesday, the final day of Carnival, and that means that today is the first day of Lent. Fat Tuesday is the last day to party it up before the somber Lent season begins. Anyway, I hope y'all had a great Fat Tuesday and that you have figured out what you are giving up for Lent.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year!

After fighting the worst weather in China for the last hundred years (and all the travel woes that came with it), I am finally home! I am finally back to gloriously sunny Southern California, and she has never looked better. I, on the other hand, looked a little worse for wear on Saturday. I looked tired, jet-lagged, and my clothes were out of place. While everyone else at LAX was wearing California-appropriate winter clothing (read: flip flops), I was wearing jeans tucked into black suede boots, a gray cashmere hoodie, and a pink snow jacket. In my defense, it was really cold on the flight from Shanghai to San Francisco, and I held on to that down jacket for dear life. It became a big chore carrying it around once I got to San Francisco where the temperature was a balmy 70 degrees at the airport terminal. There isn’t such a notion in Shanghai, and most people have to wear their thick jackets inside the airport where the temperature is not controlled. I only shudder to think what the conditions were like in the Guangzhou train station, where over half a million travelers were stuck for days waiting for trains to take them home for Chinese New Year.

In case you have not heard, today is the Chinese New Year and it is the year of the Rat. Xin Nein Kuai Le! (Happy New Year in Mandarin) You are a Rat if you were born 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, and 1996. According to Wikipedia.org, attributes of this Chinese zodiac sign are:

Being the first sign of the Chinese zodiacs, rats are leaders, pioneers and conquerors. They are charming, passionate, charismatic, practical and hardworking. Rat people are endowed with great leadership skills and are the most highly organized, meticulous, and systematic of the twelve signs. Intelligent and cunning at the same time, rats are highly ambitious and strong-willed people who are keen and unapologetic promoters of their own agendas, which often include money and power. They are energetic and versatile and can usually find their way around obstacles, and adapt to various environments easily. A rat's natural charm and sharp demeanor make it an appealing friend for almost anyone, but rats are usually highly exclusive and selective when choosing friends and so often have only a few very close friends whom they trust.

Behind the smiles and charm, rats can be terribly obstinate and controlling, insisting on having things their way no matter what the cost. These people tend to have immense control of their emotions, which they may use as a tool to manipulate and exploit others, both emotionally and mentally. Rats are masters of mind games and can be very dangerous, calculative and downright cruel if the need arises. Quick-tempered and aggressive, they will not think twice about exacting revenge on those that hurt them in any way. Rats need to learn to relax sometimes, as they can be quite obsessed with detail, intolerant and strict, demanding order, obedience, and perfection.

Rats consider others before themselves, at least sometimes, and avoid forcing their ideas onto others. Rats are fair in their dealings and expect the same from others in return, and can be deeply affronted if they feel they have been deceived or that their trust has been abused. Sometimes they set their targets too high, whether in relation to their friends or in their career. But as the years pass, they will become more idealistic and tolerant. If they can develop their sense of self and realize it leaves room for others in their life as well, Rats can find true happiness.

According to tradition, Rats often carry heavy karma and at some point in life may face an identity crisis or some kind of feeling of guilt. Rats are said to often have to work very long and hard for everything they may earn or have in life. However, a Rat born during the day is said to have things a bit easier than those who are born at night. Traditionally, Rats born during the night may face extreme hardships and suffering throughout life. Rats in general should guard themselves against hedonism, as it may lead to self-destruction. Gambling, alcohol and drugs tend to be great temptations to Rat natives.

Traditionally, Rats should avoid Horses but they can usually find their best friends and love interests in Monkeys, Dragons, and Oxen.

Professions include espionage (oooh, a spy!), psychiatry, psychology, writing, politics, law, engineering, accounting, detective work, acting, and pathology.

Happy Chinese New Year to all Rats out there! May you be prosperous in the coming year!

Friday, February 1, 2008

China, it's been nice snowing you


You've probably heard by now that China is experiencing some bad weather. Unfortunately for me, I've gotten the brunt of this during my visit to Shanghai in January. It's rained or snowed every weekend I was there, but I have no hard feelings. I saw beautiful white rooftops covered with snow in Shanghai, and from what I hear, that's a pretty rare occurence. It was nice to experience weather so unlike Southern California for a few days so that when I did finally come home the sunshine was a welcome change. (Shanghai temperatures were mostly in the 30s with a wind chill factor.)

Shanghai, it was nice visiting you during the winter time, but I hope that the next time we meet the sun is out and shining over everything.