Baking: An Excuse to Write

However richer and tastier butter can embellish a dish, the thought of unnecessarily ingesting extra fat turns my stomach. Surely, this American favorite also comes with vitamin E and A. Nevertheless, unless I am able to find a type of butter whose food label is more honest than “Natural Flavors” or to afford the premium quality butter whose source comes from a grass-fed cow, it doesn’t seem like I can be convinced to voluntarily stock this ingredient inside my fridge. This is why I was excited when I finally came across a banana bread recipe that ditches the butter while locking fingers with my all-time favorite flavor in the form of flour: coconut flour.

I found the recipe on this website:
https://detoxinista.com/best-ever-coconut-flour-banana-bread/
But I didn’t follow the instructions to the tee; kitchen is the only place I can conduct chemistry without having to rely on class A glass wares and more importantly, one should be free to just mix and stir inside one’s own kitchen. Moreover, I decided to add in a few ingredients to venture a little. Altogether, please put your hands for “Banana Coconut Bread Ginger Bread”.

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Figure 1. Ingredients;  ginger and sesame (not included)

In the end, I got what I cooked. The aroma of vanilla and coconut permeated the kitchen. The sweetness of banana and cinnamon grappling with the piquancy of ginger for dominance reached a deadlock that had to be resolved by my craving, creating a satisfying taste from reconciling the opposing flavors. In the end, an attempt at this personalized Banana Coconut Ginger bread didn’t end in vain.

P.S. The flavor profile was exciting, but the consistency of the bread was still lacking. The bread was not as moist as a normal Banana bread; I might have put in a tad too much coconut flour.

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Coincidence, or More?

In Fall 2016, while volunteering in a joint Primary and Middle school in northeastern Thailand, I turned to horoscope for some leisure reading and (honestly also for) some spiritual guidance. More importantly, I wanted to see how accurate the piece of writing reflected in my life so far as 2016 was no more than a quarter of a year away from ending. I remember going through synopsis of my birth sign and nodding to some claims while wishing some predictions had been true. My eyes then led me to my lucky numbers of 2016. It was a string of integers. I cannot recall what all the numbers were. However, “1” and “5” were among them and have left an impression on me until today.

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Figure 1. One of my favorite classes at Nonghoipang Witthaya School. They graduated in 2017 and moved on into high school.

As my final days at Nonghoibang Witthaya School drew to a close, a few endearing teachers whom I got to partner with handed me their school official football (soccer) jersey as a gift. I accepted with a bittersweet smile and started ruffling through the vinyl cover to throw on this new gear as a way to show how appreciative I was, not just of the gift, but also of our time together. And guess what…I was player “15”.

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Figure 2. Football (Soccer) jersey with my supposed lucky number. >.<

Sometimes, two events of this sort are just too coincidental to just label them as coincidence.

This past Friday on 032318, it happened that I had to stay late at work in order to read over a friend’s internship application personal statement. I didn’t finish until around 7:30 pm. Since I already lost then sunlight and had not made any solid plans for that evening, I decided to drop by Grocery Outlet for some food, continue on home, and cooked. As I took a turn opposite to the route I normally went on, I saw a figure standing in the divider of the traffic, waving. A few cars in front of me dismissed the hitchhiker. Thinking that the straightaway stretched for more than 2 miles and that it would not be troublesome for me assuming I was also going the same direction, I pulled over and gestured for the hitchhiker to come over.

Once the stranger in the gray hoody reached the passenger side of my car, I called for him to open the door. “Hey, where are you trying go?”, I asked. I didn’t get a word back apart from a blank stare. He then took a minute and tried his best to mutter “downtown”. I then realized this hitchhiker was not a common hitchhiker.
“Do you speak chinese?”
blank stare…
“Korean?”
blank stare…
“Japanese?”
Finally there was some life in him. And as soon as I told him I could speak a little Japanese. The man let out a deep relief; he felt he had been saved.

With my broken Japanese, I was able to make Masayuki-kun feel at ease and learn that he was trying to reach a Bart station to get to downtown San Francisco. Because there was not a convenient Bart station close to where I was heading. We worked out an agreement that he had to come with me to the supermarket first before I could drop him off at the station.

And then started my night as a Japanese hitchhiker rescuer. =)

My weekend did not end with just Masayuki-kun.

This morning, I felt the need to use the bathroom as I was finishing up work at Starbucks. There was no line for the bathroom. And out of the blue, I decided that I was just gonna hold it until I got to Trader Joe’s. I packed my stuff, felt accomplished for what I had completed this morning, and walked out the cafe. As I was pacing towards Trader Joe’s, an art shop caught my eye. Despite being in dire need of the bathroom, I took a detour and spent some time in the art shop. Unknowingly, browsing the shop erased the thought I had to urinate. I spent more than 10 minutes inside the shop, longer than what I had planned.

Finally, I made my way to Trader Joe’s. I still didn’t walk straight into the restroom as soon as I reached there. Instead, I picked up some spinach, frozen veggie burritos, a butternut squash, dilly-dallied around the aisles, and at the checkout, a bar of 72% dark chocolate. At that very moment, because there was a line of people ahead of me and I caught the word “Restroom” as my head turned rightward towards the the back end of the shop, I finally recalled I had to use the bathroom. And the biological urge to remove waste resumed. And it became urgent.

I paced towards the toilet. One bathroom was in use, and a man just came out of another. A woman behind me then kindly asked me if she could use it first. I made way for her. Soon after, a lady exited the occuppied room and held the door for me. I left her with a “thank you” and proceeded to take my turn. I did my business and as I reached for toilet paper to dry my hand, I saw a phone sitting right on top of the dispenser. what do you know.

And then started another rescue mission: phone and its owner reunification.

It was a rather interesting weekend for me as you can see. Getting off work late on a Friday night turned into a hangout with (and of course a rescue mission of) a foreign hitchhiker. Delaying my biological needs of the restroom turned into saving a woman from a trouble that could have costed her time, money, and emotion. As I am sitting writing this entry, I am still amazed at how the timing of each event put me in a position to make a decision that could have either costed people on the other side sizable distress or saved their day. Masayuki-kun told me that night that he had spent over 3 hours walking from the airport to get to Oyster Point (approx 5 miles apart), where he was waving for attention. The happiness in his attitude after realizing that he had finally received help at the setting sun made me feel pleased with myself for having pulled over for a stranger. The same goes to the reaction of the woman who left her phone inside the bathroom. I am glad to be in a position that allowed me to show others that humanity still exists. This is because I know that through this both Masayuki-kun and the woman will be enocouraged to do good for others whom they will encounter in the future, coincidentally.

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Figure 3. Gift from Masayuki. I told him I wanted to hike Mt. Fuji. Before he got on the train, he handed me this as a thank you gift.  It’s of Mt. Fuji. What another coincidence!

P.S. I am still hesitant to accept it as a coincidence in the case of meeting Masyuki-Kun. This was because, on top of everything that occurred that Friday, I sent Masayuki-Kun on Bart train using a Bart ticket that I had purchased months ago but remained unused, and wedged inside my phone case. But it could be anything. Everything happens for a reason.

If you are reading this, Masayuki, thank you for your Fuji yama handkerchief. I am glad I got your endorsement on In-N-Out burger.

 

“Laws Won’t Be Enough. Heart Must Change.”

President Obama bid us farewell today in his last presidential address in McCormick Place, Chicago, Illinois.

The president is going to leave office in a matter of ten days. And in ten days, President Obama’s successor, entrusted with legacy of America, will take his newly gained authorities for a spin. Judging by the “4 more years, 4 more years, 4 more years” chant resounded among the president’s supporters in the auditorium, it is suggested that many other Americans are also praying against the highly likely crash-and-burn moment of the whirly ride that we all will be in with the president’s successor.

As I was listening to President Obama’s speech broadcasted worldwide, I could not help but nod along even after having just waken up and still bearing the morning stupor.

I nodded, in agreement and awe, at one of his quotes–one which directed at the needs of Americans putting differences aside and uniting to preserve and uphold democracy in this increasingly diverse America.

I nodded as I was being reminded of a moment of my recent placement in Cambodia as part of inclusive education project.

“Laws won’t be enough. Heart must change.”

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Figure 1. Teaching waste management. Arriving in the community and standing in front of these children. I had my mission of ingraining into them a mindset contrary to that which has been shaping their character.

One day, a hustle-bustle took place during an English lesson I was leading with my team members in Siem Bouk community, Stung Treng, Cambodia. Upon opening the door, there were fifty-plus kids each with a plate and spoon in hand. They were hungry. They wanted their food. Pekthra, the boy in charge of lugging two buckets, one filled with rice and another with soup, set the two bins right outside my classroom. Over time, noise grew louder and louder. Among other things, some dug in their licked spoons to scoop up food into their plates. And some just outright dug up food with their soiled plates. A hustle-bustle turned into a caveman survival frenzy. And amid all this, there was no authoritative figure out there to choreograph this brunch distribution.

I couldn’t bear the sights and left the teaching to my team. I closed the doors behind, grabbed the lids, and shut the two bins. “Stop!” I called out in Khmer in an attempt to bring order. “We are not gonna be able to eat with everyone being this way. Alright, we need to form two lines. And fetch another ladle for the soup, Pekthra.” Everyone was inching backwards, but none were ready to give up their places to merge into two proper lines. The unopening lids luckily convinced them to dissolve into the lines I asked for. We started to have order. But every ten seconds, the lines buckled and everyone resumed their old reptilian instinct. Then two more students volunteered to run the lines with Pekthra. One joined Pekthra in food distribution and another paced up and down to manage the lines. And I became the evil authoritative figure whose eyes were peeled for every little unhygienic quirks among these children. Our roles lasted until the bins were all emptied of food.

It might be false to think that the haunting influences of Khmer Rouge, which ended just less than 40 years ago, is still at play today, that today’s cultural ethos still bears a resemblance to that of the Khmer Rouge time. Sometimes, I think to myself. Are the reasons for the prevalence of profanity and temperament of the people in this country only due to the insufficiency of education and other financial and superficial factors? Nonetheless, to President Obama’s “Laws won’t be enough. Heart must change”, to cultivate the heart that will reflect and ruminate on things beyond just for oneself and just for today will complement, if not outdo, the efforts of law. Be it in U.S. or Cambodia.

As an auxiliary teacher for the community students, I am honored to have played a role in changing the heart of these children.

A Friday Night Impasse: Likes and Dislikes, a Beacon for Destiny–Maybe

Finding the purpose through likes and dislikes.

Likes and dislikes can be qualified as intrinsic preferences of a particular individual. And by our nature, we gravitate towards what we like and are repelled by what we dislike.

It’s difficult for one to characterize one’s like or dislike towards something if one has not yet decided to pursue a subject without a preconception. How do we know we like or dislike something without even unbiasedly learning about it? The value which we merit from the resulting experience can therefore be unfounded and untrue.

But then, how would one even engage if one doesn’t find a particular subject likeable, interest-whetting, to begin with? So apart from likes and dislikes, there must be another/other qualities that provoke, stimulate, that pull us in. For instance, we have to work to raise the family, to reduce loans, to return a favor, to make that diploma worthwhile, and for many other unpredictable reasons. But whatever reasons are at the start, they ultimately also usher along the sentiments of like and dislike. In other words, the task positively grows on the being in the case of one finding the subject likeable or negatively for dislikeable reasons.

And somehow, it’s inescapable that both like and dislike manifest.  

Ask one his/her opinion of his/her job, for instance, and the answer will consist of positivities as well as negativities, be them proportionately or disproportionately. Similarly, ask another about his/her relationship partner, and observe the answer. So it’s probably safe for now to assume that we can neither like or dislike something wholly. Instead, we like to only dislike simultaneously, vice versa. Why so? I am unable to answer logically. Perhaps, too much like can lead to infatuation, “like-blind”,  just as too much dislike can never bring satisfaction or joy to enable one to stay the course; and this may lead to the notion of unpurposed existence.

However, it is also incompletely valid to say that a journey guided by dislike can never lead to a purposed life. For many, it has only been because of dislikes that they are able to arrive at like. It’s through the errors of these trials that things finally “work out”, that a purpose is defined.

So ultimately, is it valid to say that purpose can be defined by both like and dislike, but is only finally fulfilled by like?

For this reason, turning back to the question of how one would even engage if one doesn’t find a particular subject likeable, is it because of destiny that we are able to engage in something we dislike? Assuming that one will only renounce one’s dislikes, one will then avoid one’s own dislikes at all cost. Then only destiny is able to rule over our feeling of dislike and bring into intersection our aversion and dislike; only destiny will then direct one to a place, at a particular time, and for a particular reason; and that reason being in order for one to ultimately arrive at, to discover like, to arrive at a purposed existence?  

This now parallels the conundrum everyone faces: what you have to do vs. what you like to do, leading to the similar paradigm: fate vs. choice. Furthermore, it seems to take us back to where we started, the very question: how can destiny manifest without our commitment to an experience without a preconception to begin with in order to discover our likes and dislikes, to discover ourselves?…*brain fart*…

The Love of A Man

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I often turn to a cup of brewed chrysanthemum when chaos knocks on my door. And when I inhale its aroma and savor its taste as a way to extract its healing properties, the thought of her manifests.

“Her name means chrysanthemum, a symbol of  love and life. The result of where, who, and what I am is all attributed to her existence. It is because of her that I am alive, literally.

It dates back years ago. However unplanned our meeting was, it was destined to be love at first sight. Up until now, I confess that no matter how great my love is for her, her love for me has been logarithmically greater. Furthermore, now that we have been together for years, there have been instants when I missed to think that I live for her. In contrast, she never ceases to forget that the meaning to her life is me; she breathes, works, lives, and loves for me. No matter how selfish I am in achieving what I set out to accomplish, her love remains unconditional. When I fail, I avoid turning to her. And as you might have expected, she always cares to lend an ear and is always so loving. I owe it all to her.

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Some time during Pol Pot’s takeover of Cambodia in mid 1970s

One of the gifts by Chrysanthemum for which I am thankful is her push for my education. Chrysanthemum came from a family that was fortunate enough to escape Pol Pot’s reign of terror alive. But unfortunately for her, the end of Pol Pot also left the nation economically receded, poverty-stricken, and most of its populations illiterate. As a result, Chrysanthemum did not have the fortune to receive any education as a child. Her main source of knowledge was her experiences which ranged from the wisdom passed down from her folks to her day-to-day empirical endeavors. Therefore, Chrysanthemum’s inability to fully verbalize her thoughts simplifies into an  action-speaks-louder-than-words form of communication. This leads me to disclose to you that Chrysanthemum never mutters: ‘I love you’, which is a baffling feature of a woman whose one of the features is love. Nonetheless, our many years together have made me accustomed to her cryptic form of communication.

I also admire her for many of things she has taught me. One of which has also been deeply captured in a saying by Mahatma Gandhi, ‘live simply so others can simply live’. Through her passion to provide for me something she was deprived of, Chrysanthemum has taught me the importance of education and more importantly the essence of giving, the former a means to grow into a moral and practical being while the latter a conscientious quality I believe to be indispensable in defining humanity. To Chrysanthemum (perhaps I have finally come to realize), to give is to love.

I often think of the alternate reality, of what my life would have become if we had not met; I could be a completely different person, owning a  different identity, living a different life, writing about a different woman…etc. But the work of probability brought me to her and she never had a second thought thereafter. Dear Chrysanthemum, I want to let you  know that you are my creator–my god, you are my best life master, you are my greatest love, I can never ask for a better mother. Thank you for giving me life and teaching me how to live it. I thank you every day. Happy Mother’s Day.”

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Hence, when I smell chrysanthemum, I smell peace. I smell devoted love. I smell where mom is.

Two Weeks Two SHORT Stories of Optimism

Ever since I started driving, I have never had to deal with the dreaded traffic jam. Complaints and exasperation from friends over traffic jam never earned my commiseration. On top of that, I passively criticized those who had nothing better to do than to sway my positive mornings askew with their traffic catastrophe. I then came to realize it firsthand.

During my two weeks assignment at a company in South SF, my commutes, both ways, were equivalently 1/3 of the time I spent at work. Traffic jam was the culprit.  I had never thought my commutes would be this terrible. I felt so disturbed that each day I would rather arrive at work an hour before and nap away in the car till 8 o’clock. On one hand, I can’t say that I disliked all of it as, en route to work, NPR seemingly shortened the travel distance and I enjoyed being educated about our national social contemporary issues. On the other hand, at the end of each day, going home was in fact the last thing I looked forward to as it entailed idling through the congested highway at 30mph or less. But what made driving, fatigue, anxiety-buildup worthwhile was all due to the employees and their stories I learned during this brief placement.

As a temp, I didn’t expect much. Going in as a problem-solver, my objective was to get the project done with another hired temp and move on. Nonetheless, to ease the discomfort that usually exists initially between the temp and regular, I made small talks with the regular to 1) learn about their opinion of their employer. 2) to learn about them.

There were many nice people. May of the Analytical Lab, for instance, expressed more enthusiasm than us when answering our questions. Ray of MCD Dept. spoke with a firm, warm, fatherly tone as we exchanged our backgrounds. My boss, Nand, with his background as a K-12 science teacher, was rather generous with his time when it came to showing us around especially things regarding equipment/policies in his department. Nand held fast to safety guidelines and he hoped we left the company ready to confront emergency with an emphasis on personal safety. However, among all the people I met, Suzy of Molecular Cell and Development Dept. and Mike of Environmental Health and Safety, the department under which I contracted, were two of the most positive ones.

Suzy is positive for her future. Despite having her MS degree in Biology, Suzy thinks that her current science position is still whetting her appetite for something greater. Suzy told me that she didn’t see herself being in the biopharma industry for the rest of her career. This is partly due to scarcity of opportunity to move up. Costly overhead is another factor that stands between her and her goal. She then proceeded to share her dream of owning her own bakery. As she was telling me, I started to detect her increased rate of speech. The sparkle in her eyes also became more visible as she carried on. I was shut down by her immense energy; I was speechless but continually smiled and nodded along. This was because Suzy spoke of something that I haven’t yet heard by most scientists.

Many pursue professions in the tech and biotech in hope of realizing their scientist dream and the financial security that comes with the titles. Suzy’s story is inspiring as it takes courage for one to resign from a position in what economists call secondary sector, which accounts for only 20% of U.S. labor force, to join a tertiary sector—where 80% of the U.S. labor force competes to strike rich. Nonetheless, even though money is one of the motives for which one struggles hard, this is not the case for Suzy as I do believe that it’s been a dream of hers to run her life/career to the fullest even if it means she has to forsake a highly-regarded job title. Her passionate bakery dream told me so.

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As luck would have it, I ran into Mike before I left. Mike is a stout man. He’s about 5’8 but packs a muscular 200 lbs frame. Mike never failed to smile. A lot of people who have met or worked with me would describe me as optimistic and light-hearted. But Mike would be a stronger definition of them both, in my opinion. Mike told us briefly about how he landed a job here in EH&S. He had worked for companies around the area and had once been a temp of his current company. Three months went by and he was called off. Mike then persisted in similar companies around the area. One contract after another, Mike finally was called back to his present company as a result of his excellent review during his contract period. Mike went on to say that finding a job had been tough, but so long as the positive spirit was in check, light in the tunnel would gleam. And that is the reason why he is spreading his smiles like Ebola in all the areas of his duty. We were fortunate to have been at one of the places. “Stay positive, gentlemen!”, said Mike as the other temp and I shook hands with Mike and bidded goodbye.

These two coincidental encounters during my job as a temp did really feed me spiritually. What I mean to say is, in the face of hardship and hopelessness, optimism  and positivity are only what is left in us for us to come home to. Suzy was able to stay put despite possible hopelessness in realizing her dream. And Mike was able to utilize faith to actualize a humble, beaming smile that he was later able to share with everybody else on the job. Their journeys are different but their optimism was cast in the same mold. And in the end, this is what I would like to leave my readers with. Just like how Mike did it, I am going to cyber-shake your hands as this post is coming to its close, “Stay positive!”