Memories of my Yeye

(Author’s Note: I wrote the first version of this post on the plane back from Toronto on December 20th after my grandfather’s funeral, so the dates are relative to that. I told myself that I had other year-end posts to write, but I think I was just trying to avoid this one.)

I didn’t talk to Yeye (my paternal grandfather) much over the past twenty years. He knew probably less than twenty words of English, and I never learned a useful amount of Cantonese. When my family moved down to Houston, I stopped going to Chinese school, and we only saw him on the occasional vacation.

Continue reading “Memories of my Yeye”

Memories of my Po-Po

About two weeks ago, my po-po (maternal grandmother) passed away. At the funeral, several members of my family patched together a more complete look at her life than I had ever heard. I knew that she had come to Canada under her sister’s name, but when that happened and how she met my gong-gong (maternal grandfather) never came up. My uncles talked about her as a mother and what they learned from her. They mentioned her liveliness, her quiet leadership, her self-sufficiency, her dedication to family. Many stories from my sisters and cousins revolve around food, which is much of what I remember as well.

Since she passed, I have tried several times to write about her and failed, so I’m taking the easy way out and being self-aware. My blog posts tends to be formulaic: I start with a story about a recent event, then meander through my thoughts and extrapolate wildly. Somewhere along the way, I hit the hopefully profound moment of insight, share it, then wrap it back around to the original story as the close. For my po-po, it took one draft to get the lesson I wanted, but I couldn’t bridge the gap between a central story to that lesson.

I will again cop-out of real structure and say that it wasn’t a failing of writing to come up with the story: the problem is that the influence of my po-po is greater than can be expressed so concisely in a blog post. Instead, she has weaved herself through my life so deeply that I can only recognize the bits of it, which follow in a scattered manner.

Physically, there are the plates and bowls passed through my family.  These bowls have held countless bowls of cereal and held beaten eggs for many baked goods. These aren’t family heirlooms, though: they’re the dishes from airplane meals that you get your bread roll in.

Although I probably wouldn’t take a tray myself, I do remember the jars of smarties and 2-cracker packages of saltines, probably carried off from Chinese buffets in a napkin. And I remember waking up one morning to see my po-po carefully transferring individually wrapped pats of butter into a butter tray. I got through college by snagging cereal and milk from dinner the night before or stashing an apple or orange for breakfast.

Once a year, a clan of old Chinese people would caravan between Toronto cemeteries to visit the graves of their ancestors. There were lots of seemingly creepy people, and it was mostly riding in the car, but what 5-year old Kevin did know was that every attendee received a bag with a styrofoam box of Chinese food and a can of Sprite. A can of Sprite worth a day in my life.

So I happily sat in the middle, fold down front seat of the Cadillac between my grandparents. I couldn’t have sat in the backseat had I wanted to because it would be filled with luggage and supplies for every contingency. My po-po had extensive pillows for the marathon drives they would take to drive to Florida or Palm Springs, or later on, Houston when my family moved. My legs dangled, which was also okay, because there were glass jars of candies, sweet and salty dried orange peels, dried prunes that could either be delicious or disgusting based on the color of the writing (which I never did figure out), and other assorted snacks. And there would always be the huge thermos filled with tea.

I don’t remember really having too many in-depth conversations with my po-po. Her English was fine, though maybe it would have helped if I had known more Toisan. I do remember a lot of commands and laughs, though.

I once got a yellow “old-timers baseball” t-shirt from her that even today would be way too big. She gave it to me one day while at the cottage out of my grandpa’s collection, and I can’t possibly fathom the reason for it beyond my interest in baseball. Despite that, I ended up wearing it from several years.

Her Christmas gifts typically came in cardboard boxes wrapped in newspaper. Inside, I could expect half-rolls of girl scout cookies and other assorted goodies. I haven’t confronted my mom about it, but my mom’s last Christmas present was a cardboard box filled with assorted cooking equipment, and also a half-package of soap.

The simplest way to put what I learned from my po-po is that I learned how to be cheap, but I think the trivializes all of the intentions behind it. What’s so ironic is that because of her and my parents and grandparents, I have never been in a situation where frugality was necessary. Her dedication to family enabled the wonderful life I have, where saving is just norm. She taught me that what really matters is providing for and being there for the people you care about, and it’s worth enduring discomfort to have saved a bit of cash or driven across the country to make that happen. Stretch a little here and there to be able to spend time, the most limited resource, to truly have a fulfilling life.

Christmas Cooking with the Leungs

Merry Belated Christmas, Happy New Year in advance, and Happy Holidays as a catch-all! Here at the Leung family estate, being all together means a few things: whining, bickering, accusing, and, most importantly, cooking. Often all at the same time. Over each other. It’s quite an enlivening experience once you get used to it.

But Christmas is extra-special, because we put extra planning into everything: my mom coordinates all of the gifts, my mom determines what we’re going to cook for her birthday (often celebrated along with Christmas since they’re close and we’re all home), my mom makes sure that the house is organized for all of our arrival, and we all dredge up old stories to jab each other with. This particular Christmas, we all have our own kitchens to stock, so my mom appears to have amassed a huge pile of on-sale kitchen gadgets from which we can all snatch what we need. My haul was particularly good:

But moving past my obsession with containers and random gadgets, let’s focus on what we actually cooked up on Christmas. And all pictures are credited to the Zanbato iPad, which at least takes better pictures than my phone.

When it came time for planning our contributions to cooking for my mom, I was politely asked, “What are you doing?” I shrugged and offered up my services anywhere they were wanted, but my mom threw me a bone and said, “I liked the bagels you made last year.” That might make her the exception, as they were universally regarded as too salty and a little small and not fluffy, but I accept any low standards that I manage to set for myself. It makes it more difficult for people to be disappointed in the future. At the recommendation of Lisa’s Jewish boyfriend Matt, I looked specifically for a kosher bagel recipe, which I found here.

The recipe called for far too little flour, and I ended up adding close to another cup of flour to get the consistency of the dough right. It also calls for very large pieces of dough for each bagel. I made them much larger than last time, but not quite as big as recommended. I think I got the size just about right.

This recipe said to put the bagels in hot but not boiling water as well. I’m not entirely sure if this is correct, but at least they floated this time. The dough also rose more at each stage (resting, boiling, and baking).

The tops of the bagel browned up quite nicely after setting the oven to broil for the last 2 or 3 minutes of baking. The consistency is a little funny, which I think has to do with how I rolled out the individual bagels. You’ll note that there aren’t any toppings on it. In my excitement, I somehow ignored the etymology of “toppings” and got the notion that the bagels would work better if I had the toppings on the bottom where it would be pressed into the bagel more.

The bottom looks a little gross, but it ended up being delicious. They got a crispy side that beats any baking I’ve ever done, and it ended up being quite a success. Like many of my creations, they don’t look perfect, but the usual criticism ended there. We fortunately had some lox in the fridge, and they made a nice lunch before we started baking.

The menu for dinner ended up not being nearly as extensive as it has been in the past, but we didn’t need more food with stacks of leftovers in the fridge and more in our tummies from bagels and snacking. Nicole headed up the shrimp ravioli made entirely from scratch. I beheaded some of the largest, ugliest shrimp I had ever seen, and she made and rolled out the pasta by hand. It sounds like it was a lot of work.

The ravioli were quite large, but Nicole managed to dole out all of the shrimp filling, so it worked out. I guess this is preferable to ravioli without enough pasta around the edges that might burst. The recipe didn’t make a lot of sauce, but it made enough to coat all of the ravioli, of which it was difficult to eat more than 1 or 2 because of the size.

We had about an extra 1/2 pound of shrimp, so Lisa used that to make some Greek shrimp. Unfortunately, mint didn’t quite make it onto the shopping list, but it still ended up being pretty tasty, even if there wasn’t quite enough shrimp. She ended up slicing them in half, which worked because with the huge shrimp we had, this meant that we still had 8 pretty meaty halves.

To fill out the rest of the meal, we also had a few crackers with some very ripe brie and leftover cranberry sauce:

some asparagus:

and a simple salad. The most exciting part of the salad, from my perspective, was the avocado we used. I carried it back with me from California in my luggage after Julie and I picked it off of a tree at Stanford. We were worried that we picked it too soon, but it ripened nicely. The inside was bright green, soft, and juicy:

The other big effort was in making the birthday cake. My mom wanted something not too sweet and relatively light so that it wouldn’t languish in the fridge for a long time like the rest of our leftovers. It took a good portion of a car ride for her to describe a fruity cake, which was essentially the fruit tart we had always done, except with a sponge cake on the bottom instead of a crust. Why we couldn’t have just done the crust we’ve always done is beyond me, but I don’t do any planning.

The recipe we found for it turned out to be a vegan recipe, which we only realized after Lisa made the cake, and we started the custard, all without using eggs. Quick tip: if there aren’t any eggs in it, it’s not custard. Anything pretending to be is suspect, and by suspect, I mean probably bad. While I was stirring the custard, we tried a bit, and it wasn’t very good. Lisa made a game-time decision and tossed that custard down the drain and started again with a real custard. Better success followed.

Although it’s probably not the fruit cake you’re thinking of around Christmas time, it ended up being pretty good. The cake had an interesting (but not bad) consistency and definitely held its lime. The custard was as delicious as you might expect, and the array of fruit all worked pretty well.

I hope you saw something that you liked!

Day Trip to SF with the Family (Int’l edition)

I wasn’t planning on writing about this, but I ended up writing it for an oral report for my Chinese class. Characters first, Pinyin second, English last, hilariously disjointed and contrived language all around.

上个周末,我父母(parents)来斯坦福大学看我。因为他们来,我舅父(uncle)和他家也来了。星期六,我们打算在旧金山(San Francisco)玩儿。

我们觉得天气会下雨,所以我们要在房子里面开始。十一点,我们去 Golden Gate Park 的 De Young 博物馆(museum)。现在,博物馆有 Tut 国王的陈列(exhibit),可是我听说不太好。因为票很贵,我们没有去看 Tut 国王的陈列。我们只看了被子(quilt)和画。

在博物馆,我差不多跟着我表弟(male cousin) Owen 看。他九岁,有活力(energetic)。他妈妈 Berkeley 毕业,可是他真聪明。我表妹(female cousin) Maddy 十三岁,也很开朗。他们都是戏迷,也表演(act),所以他们唱歌唱得很好。

然后,我们去唐人街(San Francisco Chinatown)看春节游行(Chinese New Year Parade)。五点半游行开始。我们在 Union Square 看很多孩子跳舞,有名人,和漂亮的车,可是我最喜欢的东西是龙。别的人对龙投爆竹(firecrackers),龙在爆竹上走。

晚上八点,我们去唐人街吃晚饭。来斯坦福大学以来,我不常吃中餐,所以去旧金山的时候,我一定吃中餐。我觉得 Sam Wo 饭馆是最好吃的饭馆之一。这个饭馆在 Washington 路,很小,可是菜不贵。如果你要炒面(fried noodles),你应该去那儿。如果你知道在唐人街有很好的点心,你应该告诉我因为我正在找。

吃晚饭以后,我父母,姐姐去 Oakland 飞机场,可是我舅父来 Peninsula,所以我跟他回来。十一点我回校园,很高兴我跟我家人过了一天。

问题

1)为什么我们不看 Tut 国王的陈列?

2)为什么我喜欢 Sam Wo 饭馆?

shànggè zhōumò, wǒ fùmǔ (parents) lái sītǎnfú dàxué kàn wǒ. yīnwèi tāmen lái, wǒ jiùfù hé tā jiā yě lái le. xīngqīliù, wǒmen dǎsuàn zài jiùjīnshān (San Francisco) wánr.

wǒmen juéde tiānqì huì xiàyǔ, suǒyǐ wǒmen yào zài fángzi lǐmiàn kāishǐ. shí yīdiǎn, wǒmen qù Golden Gate Park de De Young bówùguǎn (museum). xiànzài, bówùguǎn yǒu Tut guówáng de chénliè (exhibit), kěshì wǒ tīngshuō bútài hǎo. yīnwèi piào hěn guì, wǒmen méiyǒu qù kàn Tut guówáng de chénliè . wǒmen zhǐ kàn le bèizi (quilt) hé huà.

zài bówùguǎn, wǒ chàbuduō gēn zhe wǒ biǎodì (male cousin) Owen kàn. tā jiǔ suì, yǒu huólì (energetic). tā māma Berkeley bìyè, kěshì tā zhēn cōngming. wǒ biǎomèi (female cousin) Maddy shísān suì, yě hěn kāilǎng. tāmen dōu shì xìmí, yě biǎoyǎn (act), suǒyǐ tāmen chànggē chàng de hěn hǎo.

rán hòu, wǒmen qù tángrénjiē (San Francisco Chinatown) kàn chūnjié yóuxíng (Chinese New Year Parade). wúdiǎn bàn yóuxíng kāishǐ. wǒmen zài Union Square kàn hěn duō háizi tiàowǔ, yǒumíngrén, hé piàoliang de chē, kěshì wǒ zuì xǐhuan de dōngxi shì lóng. biéde rén duì Lóng Tóu bàozhú (firecracker), lóng zài bàozhú shàng zǒu.

wǎnshang bā diǎn, wǒmen qù tángrénjiē chī wǎnfàn. lái sītǎnfú dàxué yǐlái, wǒ bù cháng chī zhōngcān, suǒyǐ qù jiùjīnshān de shíhou, wǒ yídìng chī zhōngcān. wǒ juéde Sam Wo fànguǎn shì zuì hǎochī de fànguǎn zhīyī. zhège fànguǎn zài Washington lù, hěn xiǎo, kěshì cài bú guì. rúguǒ nǐ yào chǎomiàn (fried noodles), nǐ yīnggāi qù nàr. rúguǒ nǐ zhīdào zài tángrénjiē yǒu hěn hǎo de diǎnxīn, nǐ yīnggāi gàosu wǒ yīnwèi wǒ zhèngzài zhǎo.

chī wǎnfàn yǐhòu, wǒ fùmǔ, jiějie qù Oakland fēijīchǎng, kěshì wǒ jiùfù lái Peninsula, suǒyǐ wǒ gēn tā huí lái. shí yīdiǎn wǒ huí xiàoyuán, hěn gāoxìng wǒ gēn wǒ jiārén guò le yì tiān.

wèntí

1)    wèishénme wǒmen bù kàn Tut guówáng de chénliè?

2)    wèishénme wǒ xǐhuān Sam Wo fànguǎn?

This past weekend, my parents came to Stanford to visit me. Because they came, my uncle and his family also came to the Bay Area. On Saturday, we met in San Francisco to see what to do.

We were worried that it would rain, so we decided to start indoors. At 11:00AM, we met at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Right now, they have an exhibit on King Tut, but I heard that it wasn’t very good. Because the tickets were also expensive, we didn’t look at the King Tut museum. We just looked at the quilts and paintings instead.

In the museum, I mostly followed my younger cousin Owen around. He’s 9 years old and has a lot of energy. Even though his mom, my aunt, went to Cal, he’s smart. My other cousin Maddy is 13 years old, and she’s also outgoing. They both act and are musical fans, so they both sing well.

After that, we went to Chinatown for the parade and dinner. The parade started at 5:30, and we stood at Union Square to watch. I saw many dancing elementary school kids, famous people, and nice cars, but my favorite were the dragons. Peopole threw firecrackers at the dragons, and the dragons walked over them.

At 8:00, we went into Chinatown to eat. Since coming to Stanford, I rarely eat Chinese food, so when I go to San Francisco, I have to eat Chinese food. I think Sam Wo Restaurant is one of the best restaurants. It’s on Washington, and it’s small, but it’s cheap. If you want good fried noodles, you should go there. If you know of a good Dim Sum restaurant in Chinatown, please tell me because I have been looking for one.

After that, my sister and parents had to go to Oakland airport, but my uncle was driving back to the Peninsula, so I got a ride with him. I came back to campus at 11:30PM. I was very happy to spend the day with my family.

Homecoming

On the car ride back from the airport, my mom asked me which room I wanted. I instinctively wanted my room, but I waited for an explanation instead.

“The bed is now in Nicole’s room, and there’s just an air mattress in your room,” she explained, eyes fixed on I-10 and the rain.

“Well, is most of my stuff still in my room?” The bed sort of matters, but I would like to be with my collection of old video games, Dilbert comics, Star Wars books, and other junk that define who I am or, at least, who I was.

“Not really. Most of it is hidden now.” I can understand that. Nothing says classy to prospective house buyers like Star Wars action figures. “Your dresser is in Nicole’s room now, so that will probably be the most convenient.”

I was surprised by the layout of the room when I got here. I shouldn’t have been since I helped to move all of Nicole’s old furniture out when I was here in September. As my mom said, my dresser is now in here, stuffed with my high school t-shirts and other personal effects. The bed and the computer desk I’m using right now are also from my room. I am positive, though, that the throw pillows and lamp were not mine.

The setup is certainly nice. It’s somewhat misleading to say that it’s Nicole room since she hasn’t lived here in about 4 years for more than a couple weeks at a time. I can’t really figure out when it stopped being her room, though, so maybe it still is.

Looking at it now, you would never know that she lived here. As I mentioned, the furniture is all different. Her and my dad’s handiwork in painting the room is covered by a tan-beigeish color that covers most of the rest of the house as well. Even the carpet stain from a painting mishap that I thought would mark this place forever is gone; we replaced the carpeting with hardwood years ago.

The rest of the house has changed just as much. I can still count steps from the top of the stairs to doorways in the dark, but turn on the lights, and I might as well be a stranger. The new fridge is nice, but the new handles on the kitchen drawers feel strange.

It’s the disappearances, not the additions, that surprise me the most. Not only have we removed a ton of junk, we’ve squirreled away most of what makes the house livable. Last night, I was half-way through flossing my teeth when I remembered that I hadn’t seen a trash can anywhere in my room. With the end of the floss still tied around my left index finger, I stumbled into my old room and found the “X-Men” trash can hiding in the corner, without a plastic bag. I took the trash can, then went downstairs to find a bag to line it with.

I knew the leftover “Kroger” plastic grocery bags would be under the sink: where else would anyone ever keep leftover bags? I made it to the kitchen without knocking over any displays and flicked on the lights. Going around the counter, I grabbed the new handle to the cabinet under the sink and didn’t see the mass of plastic bags on the inner left of the cabinet. I knew they were still around. The trash can under the sink had a plastic bag. A search through the washing room cabinets revealed nothing, and I went back and put the floss in the trash can, bagless.

The house feels like something out of a movie. Have you ever really thought about how the house in “Family Guy” is designed? The layout is so simple, but where is the closet with the vacuum cleaner? And how about washrooms on the Enterprise? Captain Kirk probably has to take a washroom break sometime, and if he seriously had to wait for the turbolift to get him to a different deck for him to go, he might just miss a chance to talk a computer to death from the bridge.

Anyways, this is how the house is. My mom told me to not spread my stuff out in case someone comes by to look at the house. That probably means I’ll be living out of my suitcase, which is fine. The house will stay like this until it sells, which also means that I’ll be coming back to Houston for breaks until further notice. Sorry for crying wolf with my blog post about moving, but consider this my lame duck period. Or maybe it’s more like a death bed.

I wasn’t completely lying about it, though: it’s pretty clear that we’ve already moved out of this house.

Moving to Boston

When my mom told me that her and my dad would be moving to Boston, I wasn’t quite sure what to say. Congratulations? Better luck next time? I wasn’t completely surprised. My dad is finally coming home after working in China for several years, and HQ for his company is in Boston. It had been discussed as a move back possibility maybe a year ago. Ironically, I had been talking to my sister about my dad coming home earlier that week, and I had mentioned that I didn’t think my mom would move to Boston, but apparently I was wrong.

I wasn’t really sure how this affects me. Really, it only means I’m in Boston for those 5 weeks a year during breaks instead of Houston. It certainly means a lot less than the 50 I would have spend had we moved when I was in high school.

It means I don’t know where to say I’m from anymore. The line I’ve been using is that I’m not sure what to tell people when they ask me where I’m from. Well, I’m not really from Houston anymore because I don’t live there anymore and don’t like it. I have as much of an attachment to Boston as I do to Camelot. And I haven’t lived in Toronto for over 10 years. Maybe I’m from Houbosto? That sounds like a bad chili sauce.

I know my mom is happy that they’ll be closer to Toronto. Instead of it being a planned air flight, it’s a flexible day drive. That probably, hopefully, means we’ll be making trips back to Canada over break to see family. And I can get my crunchie, coffee crisp, and win gums refilled regularly.

I don’t leave Houston entirely cold-hearted. I’ll miss the Tex-Mex. And maybe I’ll miss the people, too, some. The flurry of FB messages for my birthday made me remember everyone who I left behind hwen I left for college. Whether the loud guy in my history class or my fellow tuba drill instructor or just someone I was around a lot, there are many people who I depend on breaks to see again. Quarters mean I’m rarely around when most of them are, but I realize it’s always worth the effort to see someone again.

I guess my general difficulty to come up with more meaningful consequences either means that I can see about as far as Mr. Magoo, or that it won’t affect me too much. The first was certainly true when I moved from Toronto to Houston. To an elementary school kid, an extra baseball season means a lot more than culture, quality of schooling, or availability of good dim sum. It doesn’t seem like I miss a lot of things until they’re already gone. For example, I thought being in the same room as Lee for the summer would be fine. And mostly, it has. I anticipated having less space, which is okay. Now, I miss being able to shift in bed. We learned the first night our bunked beds are held together by some variant of jello, so even turning over results in a lot of shaking and irritation for the other.

But back to moving, the only appropriate response would seem to be to savor the present and get excited for change. Switching from a PC to a Mac has made me realize that there’s another way. Starting to brush my teeth with my left hand was good. Listening to podcasts instead of 30 Rock means I get fresh content. Most relevantly, going to school on the west coast has been a great experience, and I can’t imagine I would have been exposed to so much had I stayed in Texas for school. Even as things change, though, I have to appreciate the way things are. My high school computer science teacher once told me that each year of your life should be better than the last. It’s a great way to live, but a good chunk of having a better year is having had a last one.

(edit: oops. some bad pasting resulted in a half invisible double post there)

Christmas is for Kids

This Christmas, my family is all back together, which, these days, is very rare. My sisters, my dad, and my grandparents have had staggered entrances and some quick exits, so the only day we’re all together is today. My sisters and mom are putting in the kitchen work behind me to prepare for dinner, while I do my duty and provide moral support by being in the same room, and helping out with tasks of no greater difficulty than stirring and mashing.

For which I’m very thankful. While dorm food is decent, there’s nothing like home-cooking, whether that’s steamed fish or Texas steak. It’s funny being with my parents and grandparents, because I realize there’s a hierarchy of food here. When I’m eating by myself, I’ll tough out the nasty bits and reach for the chicken bones to pick them clean. When I’m eating with my parents, I’ll go for the meatier pieces and pick out the ginger to give to my mom. But when my grandparents are around, the bones are passed up another round to my grandpa who apparently likes gnawing on bones. Regardless, I get the good cuts when with the family. It’s like being a kid all over again.

Anyways, I have a nice 3-week vacation here, and being home for the holidays is just like it always has been. I tell people that the holiday season starts as soon as I’m done eating turkey, and fun it is. Wearing the santa hat around gets comments, and I’ve compiled what I think is an impressive playlist of classic Christmas songs, assuming you agree that “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and a little Mariah Carey is classic. Relatively arbitrary reasons to be happy are good.

It’s a little tragic that my family doesn’t have any really strong Christmas traditions. I’ve recently bcome fascinated with the conventional aspects built around holidays. For example, I’m sure many people know cranberry sauce only as a cylinder with the ribs still on it. And malls are a fantastic place to see rampant consumerism and little kids in line for Santa. One of my sectionees mentioned that a tradition in his family is to watch a 1992 tape recording of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” where the real fun now is to watch the commercials. Now there’s a very unique tradition.

I still try to catch Christmas specials when I can, though. Sometimes it’s not about it actually being good, as much as just feeling good. Last week, I watched the Muppet’s Christmas Special, which should’ve been fun for everyone. Like most kids’ entertainment, there were jokes and gestures in there obviously for the older crowd, but it really was all about being a kid. For example, in my mind, “Shrek” is almost two movies: it’s a slightly twisted fairy tale for kids, and it’s a series of allusions for adults. Christmas music doesn’t have two levels. When Grandma gets run over a by a reindeer, that’s the only humor going on. But the Christmas spirit is about being a kid, too, because we can all use a break.

Growing Up

This past weekend, my sister Nicole came to Stanford for about 2 1/2 days as a break and chance to see the west coast. Thankfully, one of her good friends happens to live in the dorm across the street from mine, so her accommodations were not a floor of boys.

I met her at the Caltrain stop, and, luggage in tow, we walked into Palo Alto for dinner (and ice cream afterwards). It’s surprising how much there can be to catch up on when it’s been only 2-3 months since I spent the winter break with her and my parents in Shanghai. Granted, my sisters and I haven’t done an amazing job calling back-and-forth, but it seems like there’s a lot to miss.

Dinner was at a classy sandwich place, a lot of which I soon discovered was class stolen out of my wallet. Sandwiches shouldn’t be expensive, and salads certainly shouldn’t be, considering how cheap it is to grow plants. We talked about ridiculous things going on with academic and extra-curricular stuff, from my sister overheating the other day to the importance of “Super Smash Brothers” in Cedro. I felt like one of “those college kids” who, without a care, disrupts the experience of others by being too loud and rambunctious. I now realize that at the same time, we were talking about issues that actually matter. Just as my sister’s been wading through the insanity of dealing out money for environmental issues on campus, I’m looking at my research opportunities.

It’s weird how “growing up” shows up socially. Before my senior year of high school, I was talking to a former band director about the coming marching season. When I mentioned how scary it was that there would be freshmen looking up to my peers and me, that we would be their role models, he just laughed and said, “That’s what it’s like to grow up.”

Later that night, my sister and I were sitting in my dorm room, just talking about everything going on with my family. It seemed like we were just having a chat about what would be happening after this next summer, but soon after, we had covered the job opportunities and career paths of both of us, and my oldest sister. Sure, I knew what the interests of all of us were, and what we all wanted to do, but now, we’re all at the point where we have to face the realities of it. Of rejections, of obstacles, of the actual situations we are each in.

My sisters are, of course, a lot further than I am, in this respect, with one having just graduated from college, and the other about to graduate. I myself am still getting used to the fact that I can actually make an important decision without mandatory parental consultation. It was something new, these past couple weeks, to show off Stanford to my mom, grandparents, friends, and sister. But I guess the real step there was that I was showing off my new life.

Intersections

This past weekend, my mom and grandparents came to Stanford for parents’ weekend. They reserved a time-share up in Napa Valley for the week before, and drove down on Friday, then took me to Napa to stay with them for two nights. It’s different, seeing them in a different life for me, but it confirmed some of what I know about my family.

My family has a weakness for two things: ice cream and cheap stuff. Before my mom arrived, I discovered that my candy stash from the day after Hallowe’en had lost much of its chocolate. I was going to make another candy run after Valentine’s, but my mom did the chore and brought some to me.

Naturally, there’s a direct relationship between percent discount and quantity bought. And Target was selling candy at 90% off. I now have enough candy for the state of California.

My family also doesn’t watch much TV at home. Instead, we binge on the holidays. During the two evenings I spent in Napa, we watched the news, movies, sports, cooking shows, whatever looked interesting. That Saturday night, we watched “Forrest Gump,” which was just a really cool experience. It’s generally a great movie, but there’s something about that bridge, about watching it with my mom and grandpa that made it extra-cool.

But past that, I enjoyed exposing them to what was going on with my life on campus. We walked around campus some, and I pointed out buildings, and tidbits of varying levels of interestingness (real word). I’ve been toying around with the idea of next year, time permitting, trying to become a tour guide for the campus. That sounds like a really fun job.

We ate at the wonderful Wilbur Dining, they saw my room, took them down to the Music Archives, and so on. I introduced them to several of my friends, though I’m certain they won’t really remember any of them. Seeing them shake hands was still weird. Like seeing Bugs Bunny at Disney World.

In another week, my sister will be coming to Stanford, which should be just as fun. Mayhaps I’ll get a chance to see all of campus that I’ve missed so far.

I’ve posted the write-up for “Overtoasted” in one post. Please excuse that some points may be unclear, as I glossed over facts that were understood by people in my class.

And I have the feeling that that blog is going to run silent for awhile. This blog will definitely link to the next update.

Vacation Style

My family doesn’t go to the beach for vacation. We don’t go camping. We don’t target the vegetative vacation.

This has molded my entire take on how a good vacation should be. When my family went on the cruise this past summer, I found myself pursuing the historical and educational excursions (post here). The earliest vacation I can really remember was when I was 6. On a trip around the U.S. northeast, we made a stop in Boston, where we trailed a tour group (that’s also a tradition of the family; joining tours we’re not a part of) about the American Revolution and Paul Revere’s ride.

This vacation has been more of the same. I’ve come to terms that we are cheap tourists who see the traps, but at least they’re usually the educational ones. After spending a day recovering from jet lag, we subsequently spent almost a week on our feet all day, walking all around Shanghai and local sites.

But it works out. When asked why he was staying home for the break, my former band director once said, “You have a great vacation, but come back even more exhausted than you left.” I can understand that. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to happen with us.

We come back very tired on many of our vacation days. We also balance it with television.

My family doesn’t watch television. I blame that on a particularly strong lecture from my dad when I was 9, where we were basically banned from watching TV. For about the next five years, I didn’t watch TV. Over those years, that rule was loosened and forgotten, but once I realized I didn’t need it, there wasn’t any point in wasting time on it.

On vacation, however, the TV is always on when we’re in our hotel room, or apartment. On vacation in South Carolina, SPIKE had the “007 Days of Christmas”, so we pretty much spent all day watching James Bond. Here in China, TV is limited, since the number of English channels is limited. A lot of CNN. A lot of CNN. And a little ESPN.

It’s relaxing. I can almost understand how some people spend hours a day watching TV. Thank goodness we finish that during vacation.

Here’s the 3rd part to my detective story. As always, feel free to leave anonymous comments.