Friday, July 31, 2020

Adventures at the Wong Campground

Since we couldn't go anywhere this year for our anniversary (for a variety of reasons), we still made the day special by setting up camp in our back yard.  I was really craving an outing into nature after much time being cooped up inside.  We pitched the tent like we always do, blew up the sleeping pads, made a camp fire, and played games.  It was totally corny, but how often do two adults get do this?  We cheated a little bit by making it okay to use the bathroom and the kitchen!  We went on a familiar hike earlier that day in the Angeles National Forest, which was a great getaway that offered fresh air, sprawling mountain views, and no crowds.  I was worried at first that this year's celebration would be dull compared to the past ones, but of course it never ends up being dull unless you see it that way.  We felt fortunate to have been able to do something different for our five-year wedding anniversary, even though we stayed local.  In light of current events, this day was epic in its own way.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: Indian Food

We have always told ourselves that Indian food was something that we could not possibly fathom making at home.  It seemed too difficult to identify what spices would go into dishes with such complex flavors.  Plus, nothing can replace that hot, fluffy naan, fresh out of a tandoori oven.  Due to this crazy pandemic, we ended up having to figure it out when the craving for Indian food hit.  After our first attempt, we became totally addicted to cooking Indian food!  It was not actually that hard, and most of the ingredients were things that we actually had already.  Like with Chinese cooking, garlic, ginger, and onions are the holy trinity of flavor (green onions for Chinese cooking, regular onions for Indian cooking).  While I am used to tossing garlic into the pan first and using green onions as garnish towards the end, I noticed that with many of these Indian recipes, you would saute the onions first and then add the garlic after.  While Chinese cooking involves a lot of wet aromatics such as rice wine and soy sauce, Indian cooking incorporates dry spices that enable the food to take on more of a char.  Once we got the hang of a few recipes, we were able to create our own dishes using non-traditional ingredients such as salmon and zucchini--just stuff that we had sitting around in the refrigerator that we felt would be fun to Indian-ify.  Ah, and we did make our own naan from scratch!  It was tasty and definitely much more straight forward than I thought it would be, though it truly does not compare to restaurant naan.  I've recorded all of the recipes that we made across three meals here.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Revisiting My Roots in Taiwan

Even though I was not born there, I almost automatically use the word hui 回, "return to," when referring to traveling to Taiwan because that is how my parents have always phrased it.  I have only had the privilege of making that trip a handful of times in my life, and each time has been different and special in its own way, with memories that I can still recall clearly.  However, Taiwan was becoming more and more of a distant "home" to me as the years went by, and even my dad had not been back in almost 20 years.  It was this thought of losing that part of me that urged me to ask my mom if I could join her when she returned for Chinese New Year in 2017.  She had been going back almost every year after us kids went to college, so she was at first confused about my sudden desire to come along.  Surprisingly, my dad also tacked on, and before we knew it, he and I were on a plane bound for Taipei!

This was my first time experiencing the Lunar New Year at my grandma Po-Po's place , and though I didn't know it then, it was also my last chance to spend quality time with her.  Wes did not come on this trip, and insisted that I take advantage of this rare opportunity to be 100% immersed within this side of my family.  I totally indulged in being a Chiang grandchild again, sleeping with my aunts and mom in Po-Po's bedroom, eating everything they put in front of me, and tagging along everywhere they went.  My complete lack of control was a refreshing and nostalgic way of experiencing Taiwan.  I brought my honkin' DSLR camera and took some pictures, mainly focusing on Chinese New Year traditions around the house and capturing my Po-Po at some of her favorite local spots.  I am so glad to be able to look back on these more recent memories of her and to have been able to feel close to my Taiwanese roots again.  My mother was worried that I would get bored, but everything we did felt significant in some way, whether it was something as mundane as picking up the dry cleaning with my aunt or as unique as sharing in Po-Po's delicious cooking on New Year's Eve.  

Po-Po and my mom

Katie, Aunt Nancy, and me

Aunt Kathy and my mom

Rachel, Katie, and me

Aunt Nancy, Aunt Kathy, and Aunt Karen

And how could I ever be bored around so many talkative, opinionated, and spunky women?  Aunt Nancy is the eldest, Aunt Kathy is next, and then my mom is the youngest of the four Chiang children.  We call their brother Jiu-Jiu, and he is possibly the most gentle and compassionate of them all.  My cousins who were there were Rachel (Jiu-Jiu's daughter) and Katie (one of Aunt Kathy's daughters)--many others like my sister were in America and unable to join.  So basically, the men were outnumbered and I appreciated that the Chiang house seemed to be perpetually dominated by women's voices.  My grandpa, Gong-Gong, passed away ten years ago, but even when he was alive, he sweetly catered to his wife, daughters, and son with grace and wisdom.  I wish that I had known him better.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Five Years Married

It's our five-year anniversary today.  Looking back at these photos has never made me feel so emotional before.  It could be from feeling socially distant from all of these loving friends and family members.  But I think that it's mainly because it hits me how much we have changed in the last year.  We are no longer as carefree as we were when we said our vows and danced the night away.  Everything that day looked so predictable and fun, so perfect and happy.

It was on this day last year that I surprised Wes by announcing our first pregnancy, under the same tree where we had our "first look" on our wedding day.  We were celebrating our fourth anniversary by returning to Descanso Gardens, our wedding venue, after a long day of unpacking boxes and working with the electrician.  Moving into our newly-bought home was hard work, but we were so full of hope for the future.  Wes never shed a tear (not even at our wedding), but he had to wipe tears from his eyes when I told him that we were expecting a baby.  I had no idea that the ensuing twelve months after this day would bring so many more tears.  But the hard year ahead also brought a deeper level of empathy and trust into our marriage.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Rebirth and Renewal - Stay at Home Photo Diary and Reflections (Part 2)

Our first time leaving home for a reason other than going to the grocery store was to attend a candlelight vigil in memory of George Floyd held right here in Altadena.  It was sober.  I know how I would feel if this happened to someone Taiwanese American--fearful, outraged, sad.  I am glad that we came to support our Black neighbors in mourning, but also I felt sorry that I was so helpless in the situation. 

The second time we left home was to march down Lincoln Avenue, right past our own house, in a protest for Black Lives Matter.  The energy that the protesters brought forth was truly moving, with adults and children alike.  We felt proud to live in this diverse city full of people who care.  There were many tears during the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence observed at the end.  I realized how little I knew about what was happening in the world with Black people, even though one of my best friends is Black, that I have many Black coworkers, and that I have been working with many Black families here in this school district.  It was honestly embarrassing that I was not aware and so I made it a point to start the learning and unlearning now.  I celebrated Juneteenth for the first time, with so much more awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement and what it means for everyone.  We watched documentaries around race and engaged in conversation about systemic racism and our unique experiences and perspectives as Asian Americans in this system.  I read articles and listened to podcasts.  I talked to friends.  We intentionally went to Black businesses to get food. International Yoga Day was this month, and I thought about how applicable the practice of yoga is to activism: to fall and get back up, to stay committed, to keep breathing through the hard stuff.  This has been the heaviest month so far in the pandemic.  It's also been a time of extremely deep reflection. There was much to consider on all sides.

In the wake of grappling with the many emotions of anger, sadness, guilt, and confusion that bubbled up and overflowed after George Floyd was killed, it was hard to have any hope.  Plus, we were still stuck in this pandemic.  As hard as it was to trust that we could make the future better than the present, we eventually realized that we must find a way to be hopeful in order to stay motivated.  We had to find some light in the darkness to be able to commit to showing up as good people in our community.  We got back into noticing the beautiful life that was buzzing in our yard and cooking things in the kitchen that made us feel comforted.  The weather stayed mellow.  There were birds and squirrels doing fascinating things throughout the day.  We ordered an epic amount of mulch to keep the weeds at bay.  Also, we started another garden box because our neighbor graciously gave us two tomato plants that she grew from seed and our neighbor on the other side gave us a fully grown shiso plant. I thought of this quote that my sister painted on a garden sign for my mom, "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow." 

Rebirth and renewal seemed to be the theme already, and then we had our little miracle.  I had taken a pregnancy test in the beginning of June and it came up positive.  Though I was afraid to hope, it was hard to ignore nature's perfect timing this time.  We learned a lot since we've started trying for a baby, maybe it was finally culminating.  Again, I was caught in cycles of feeling hopeless and excited all at the same time.  It wasn't until we had our first early ultrasound and actually heard the baby's heartbeat (at 6.5 weeks!) that I allowed myself to more openly embrace the idea.  This newly glowing life that we created could be our investment into creating a better society for all.  We hope to be good examples for them and to engage in those uncomfortable conversations at home, and though we may fall short, we feel that this is how we can impact real, tangible change.  It is easy to feel at a loss when attempting to end racism, but we can start by making a positive impact in our immediate community, and by instilling the values of empathy, civics, and awareness right in our home for the next generation.