On moonlit nights I stare into the dark and the stars I cannot see in the city and wonder about the woman, who so long ago, was my ancestor. Did she stare at those stars in the countryside of Canton and find them hopeful, or mocking of her life, pulled low by poverty and disease, by a family broken into pieces too jagged and shattered to shift and put together again? I have tried to put those pieces so they are whole, pressed my thumb against the jagged edges praying to blunt their sharpness, but my fingers bleed in erose tragedy. The voices around me mock my ineptitude, my sorrow, and my thoughts. But I think of that woman of long ago and wonder if she would have understood me. I think of that woman sitting below that vastness of space and think of the peace coming to her – as she realizes that she is but a small piece of tapestry in a greater world full of joyous things – and for a while, I too, believe.


No More Going to the Movies

Due to budgeting constraints (a.k.a. I am poor) I’ve mostly given up watching movies in theaters, which is pretty disastrous. I love going to movies alone, sinking into another word, the way one can do with a book. It’s a lot easier with a film however, mostly because you don’t need to jog your imagination or read backwards if you’re slogging through a series and forgot this plot thread, or that character a la George R.R. Martin‘s “A Song of Fire and Ice.” Plus, if you get yourself into a good movie, you’ll get a neatly wrapped story in two hours or less instead of maybe sitting through a serial drama or condemning the sci-fi gods for canceling “Firefly.”

There’s a smorgasbord of pros to movie watching, but if you’re tired of shelling out money to go do it (like me), you’ve got to remind yourself of the OTHER cons. Here are a few, in case you wake up craving popcorn and those horrible 3D glasses that give you headache:

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An American on American vs. British Accents

I used to think that audiobooks were only for people who couldn’t see well enough to read a regular paperback book, but I’m starting to really enjoy them. I hate long-winded books, but hearing H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” read aloud, especially in a British accent, just works. I think the foreign accent helps because it forces me to concentrate in order to understand what the reader’s saying. I don’t even find it all that strange anymore to hear a non-American reciting to me. It’s something I got used to, like any foreign film buff can attest to.

I remember watching the Forsyte Saga, a British drama, and being flabbergasted at all the English accents until I got so inured to them that when an American character popped up, I thought she sounded flat and horrible and thought to myself, “Is that what I sound like?” I’m sure she was played by a British actress because the character sounded about as emotional as a robot, but I have to say the realization was eye-opening.

That reminds me of the time when someone I knew went to England and tried to talk Chinglish, a combination of Chinese and English (the most famous English hybrid being Spanglish). Only, she was talking American Chinglish and he was speaking British Chinglish, and it was funny and disconcerting.

But did you know that the British find the American accent sexy? Guess we have a mutual love-in.

Culinary Faux Pas

A few months ago, my family went out to celebrate my birthday. We ate at a French restaurant where a number of my relatives tried foie gras for the first time. Not knowing that the pate was supposed to be spread like jam, my father treated it like a slice of ham or chicken instead, by sandwiching it on a piece of bread. My younger sister, who was the most wordly of us and had eaten at a number of fine restaurants, cried out in alarm. My youngest sister, even though not having tried foie gras herself, berated my dad for not asking about how to eat it. I was just embarrassed, not of my dad, but for him. My own sisters were yelling at my dad simply for not knowing enough, as if reaffirming to themselves they weren’t ignorant, or nearly as ignorant.

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What’s the Beef? Shake Shack vs. McDonalds

Today, I stopped by Shake Shack instead of McDonalds for a burger during lunch time. I convinced myself that even though I wasn’t eating healthily, I had picked the healthier choice: organic beef. Turns out I was under a mistaken impression. Shake Shack doesn’t carry organic beef but “100% all natural Angus beef.” What’s the difference between natural vs. organic beef? A lot.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, organic beef comes from cattle that has been:

  • Born and raised on certified organic pasture
  • Never received antibiotics
  • Never received growth-promoting hormones
  • Fed only certified organic grains and grasses
  • Must have unrestricted outdoor access

Beef is “natural” as long as it is miminally processed and includes no artificial flavoring, coloring, preservative or any other artificial ingredients. Natural beef doesn’t have to meet any of the criteria above for organic beef. So, chances are, you are not getting organic beef at Shake Shack. If you were, you’d be sure Marketing would be all on labeling it such. The good thing is, Shake Shack’s beef is hormone and anti-biotic free, but that doesn’t mean the cows weren’t fed on gummy worms. So next time you try to delude yourself about eating junk food like me, just remember it’s still junk.

Birds at the Bronx Zoo

There seems to be a theme going on in my life: one that consists of tigers. After watching and laughing at Bollywood’s rom-com, “Ek Tha Tiger,” and picking up Téa Obreht’s “Tiger’s Wife” for some leisure reading, I decided to visit a real tiger at Bronx Zoo but ended up going crazy (as usual) for the birds.

I am a birdwatcher in New York City, but like most people, I was anticipating the large animals when I went to the zoo. But the lions, bears, and tigers (oh my!) were snoozing in the summer heat. The tigers were sprawled on their backs; the lions kept distant on a faint plateau above their natural deer-ish prey, grazing unmolested; and the polar bear, white and iconic, dozed with out-flung limbs on the rocky shore near his artificial pool. He remained stubbornly deaf to the human, zoo-going horde screaming and gesticulating wildly beyond his enclosure. It was if we were the ones trying to impress him and not the other way around.

But why should we be impressed?

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Ek Tha Tiger

I recently walked into the movie theater blind and watched “Ek Tha Tiger,” which turned out to be an unevenly paced Bollywood spy rom-com. It alternately picked fun at its own spy genre, took its sappy love-story too seriously, and surprised me by igniting a final great action sequence (no CGI required!). But while the movie was a bumpy ride with its highs and lows, just watching a movie intended for an Indian populace was novel to me:

RAW and ISI replaced the equivalent of CIA and KGB. The typical exotic locales of New Delhi, Singapore, and Seoul were exchanged for Cuba and Scotland. That’s right, Scotland. Our Romeo and Juliet-esque characters weren’t separated by the name of their houses, but by the names of their countries: India and Pakistan.

They say falling in love is accompanied by the sound of music. In “Ek Tha Tiger” it really is, along with some great dancing! That’s what the movie feels like; what would be a normal, forgettable summer blockbuster in America is transmuted with a few deft, cultural twists.