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November 28, 2004

Why don’t elephants fly?

Another Thanksgiving under my ever-expanding belt.

By extending the holiday to the entire weekend, Luke and I managed to see all four parental units, plus a high degree of sibling, cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents.

We’re tired, but feel good. Thursday, at the Greene’s, where Luke’s mom and her whole side of the family convene every Thanksgiving, I was describing to Marinita all the effort and arrangements we had made to see the maximum number of people this weekend. She said, You have to. It’s important.

I agree. Being tired and even at times cranky is a short-lived and easily forgotten state. What you remember later are the conversations, smiles and feelings you had because you made the effort to be with your loved ones.

Thanksgiving dinner, which my mom agreed to serve on the late side so that Luke and I could visit with the Greenes, was one of the most delicious in memory. My mom and sister-in-law Eunice even made California rolls as an appetizer. Not exactly what the early settlers had on their menu, but delicious and refreshing nonetheless. The cornbread was excellent! and there was more food than we could finish.

On Friday, Luke and I woke up really early on less than five hours sleep to fly to Cocoa Beach, Florida, for Luke’s Uncle Jim’s wedding to Machelle. Since airlines don’t serve meals on domestic flights much anymore, we brought all our thanksgiving leftovers — which were delicious the second time around — even cold.

The wedding was beautiful, and we were so impressed by Machelle’s five children, ranging from age five to 13. They were so well-behaved, handsome and warm children. Little Emily was a spontaneous hugger and she even took the microphone to give a toast to her mom and Jim.

Saturday was a luxurious day for us. We had only one plan — to relax until we boarded a 9:40 flight back to NY. The weather was a bit too windy to make it a good beach day, so we just sat by the beach, mostly with Jessie and Micah. We shopped at a massive surf shop — Ron Jon — where Luke managed to win a Limbo contest even though he was pitted against a girl who was literally half his height.

We drove to Orlando to meet Luke’s dad once again before we flew away. We had a loud, laugh-filled meal at an excellent sushi restaurant, Amuri. I had white tuna, also called Escobar, that melted in my mouth, yellowtail with avocado sashimi, fresh sea urchin and other taste-bud bursting fish. What an excellent meal with which to end a whirlwind trip to Florida.

When we arrived back in New York, we met my brother and Eunice, who were staying at our apartment. We caught up a little bit then went to sleep around 3 a.m. Less than seven hours later i was buying groceries for our brunch with dad. I felt generous and happy and splurged an outrageous amount for a half-pound of smoked salmon for our bagels. Luke made his signature scrambled tofu with vegetables.

Jackie and her husband Phil were joining us and my dad, who had shared Thanksgiving with his brother and sister-in-law in Delaware this year. I hadn’t seen jackie and phil in perhaps three years — we couldn’t remember the last time, actually. Everyone was at ease and enjoying Phil’s stories, and I just want to end with my favorite one.

Phil recounted talking to Jackie’s six-year-old nephew who asked him:

Why don’t elephants fly?

Phil said he didn’t know.

His nephew replied:

“Because what would happen if they pooped?”

jeanhee @ 11:21 pm

November 23, 2004

Death by Chocolate

Tonight when I got home about 7 p.m., i found a plastic grocery bag hanging on the door knob to our apartment.


It was a Western Beef grocery bag, and inside that was a Ruthy’s Cheesecake plastic bag and inside that was a small Ruthy’s Cheesecake box!


I asked Luke when he got home if he knew anything about it. He didn’t.


We opened the box and inside was a chocolate cake! The top of the cake was bare, as though it was an empty canvas looking for a message — like, a clue to tell us who left this cake and why.


Was it a mistake? A cake meant for one of our neighbors? Maybe even the same apartment in one of the neighboring buildings? (There are two other identical buildings on the block).


Then, since we had just seen a creepy episode of Lost, our imagination started tilting toward the macabre. What if someone poisoned the cake and left it for us to eat? What if it were some kind of cosmic test? What if there was something baked inside the cake?


So. The cake sits in the fridge.

It is taunting me.

It is calling to me.

Chocolate! My favorite flavor!

Luke asked how we would feel if someone knocked on our door to retrieve her cake and we had chocolate frosting all over our faces?

What do you think?

jeanhee @ 12:00 am

November 17, 2004

A low, and then, redemption

For the last several months, I’ve been freelancing at an off-campus office of the NYU School of Law. One of my favorite aspects of the job is that I can walk to and from work in about 20 minutes.

On my walk home today, I had a personality crisis, and then, redemption of sorts.

Between Prince and Houston Streets, a group of young boys about 12 years old approached me. “Here, take this,” one boy said, thrusting some plastic wrapped red and white object to me. I didn’t know what it was, but I demurred. “No thank you,” I said. “You don’t want to take it?” the boy asked. The others snickered at him.

Tell me, what kind of person says no to a kid? I had to ask myself what was wrong with me. I’m like an ogre. When I’m old, wrinkled and gray, little boys might find me scary and mean. I decided I had to make a serious attitude adjustment. I would think, “Yes!” before thinking “No!”

This attitude readjustment wouldn’t apply to:
Strange adults on the street asking for money, drugs, whatever
Salesmen and women
Credit card offers

So really, we’re talking about positivity mixed with reason, that’s what I am aiming for.

Then, as I was crossing Carmine, I think it is, I spotted a pink object on the sidewalk. Getting closer I realized it was a pink bootie and stopped to pick it up. Who dropped it? Up ahead on the next block was a couple pushing a stroller. Ah!

In my shrillest, most New-York-traffic-noise-piercing voice, I yelled, “Excuse Me!”

No response.

“Excuse me! Is this yours?”

The couple: “Oh, yes! Thank you so much. She always kicks her booties off”

So there, in the space of 15 blocks, a low, and then, redemption.

A walk on the streets is a lot like life.

jeanhee @ 5:28 pm

November 14, 2004

How many clichés does it take to have your story published in the NYT?

In the Sunday New York Times Real Estate section, this teaser:
Four gay ex-Mormons from Utah find a three-bedroom apartment in the West Village for $2,600 a month.

Um, gotta run, I have to eat some kimchee now!

jeanhee @ 12:07 am

November 13, 2004

Consumer Watchdog or Paranoid Freak?

Yesterday on our home answering machine, we received a message to call American Express on an important, time-sensitive matter. We should respond in 24 hours, the male recorded voice said, and left a name, John Buda.

I thought the message was weird — why would American Express call and leave a recorded message like so many politicians before the election? Shouldn’t it have been a real person? Also, I thought it odd that the voice didn’t identify what business line of American Express, like credit card services, or brokerage services, etc. It seemed so vague.

At first I was going to ignore it. But then my curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to know what would happen if I called.

So I did.

The line rang, and a recorded voice came on, You’ve reached American Express. Your call is important to us, please hold. The female voice greeting sounded pretty real, although I still wasn’t buying it. By this time I had a little ego investment in proving myself right.

Then a man answered the phone and asked how he could help me. I explained that I had received a phone message that I thought was suspicious. He said, “Suspicious? Who was it from, John Buda?” I said yes, and he said, “I assure you it’s legitimate. Can I get your account number please?”

I said no. I wasn’t going to give my account number until I was sure the call was legitimate. Why would American Express leave a prerecorded message on my answering machine, I asked. He answered, “Because it’s American Express.”

Okay, I wasn’t buying it.

Then he said that American Express was doing an update, and he needed my credit card number. Again I refused. He then asked for my telephone number and I decided that that was a pretty safe bet — after all, he called me. So I gave my number and he asked if my name was Rita Curao. i said no. Then he said that obviously their records were incomplete and inaccurate and they wouldn’t be able to get to the bottom of it unless I gave them my credit card number. Again I refused. Then he asked for my name. I decided I wouldn’t do that, either.

He said that there was clearly an error in my record and that in order to fix it he would need more information from me. I had to admit that the guy was pretty good, I was beginning to worry that my hunch was just paranoia. I told him I wasn’t going to answer any more questions, and he grew silent on his end of the line. I sensed disapprobation. This usually works — I don’t like to disappoint! It was a clever pressure tactic. But because I was pretty sure by this point that I didn’t trust him I said, “I’m hanging up. I don’t trust you.”

Then I decided to call American Express myself. What a frustrating experience! I called the fraud protection number you’re supposed to call if your card is lost or stolen. I was disconnected by the recording three times in a row.

Then I called the number printed on the back of my card. I explained the situation and the customer service guy looked up my record. He said there was no notation anywhere that AmEx was going to contact me about any of my accounts — and that they always record their communications with cardholders. He told me to ignore the call and asked if there was anything else he could help me with today. I said, Yes, don’t you think I should report this to someone? It sounds like a scam to me!

He didn’t seem to care! But, after a moment he gave me the “risk management” number. After a few more clicks, I got a real person. Again I explained my situation and she checked and repeated what the first guy said, that there was no recording of a communication between AmEx and me. So I gave her the 866 number that I spoke to the scammer guy on. She checked and said she could not verify that number as an American Express number.

Then she put me on hold and called that number herself. She returned to tell that she suspected a scam, too, because the guy repeatedly tried to pry an account number out of her.

So, that’s the end of my tale. She said she was going to start an investigation and if they discovered fraud, they would call to let me know.

I’m not holding my breath!

But I’m feeling a little more like a consumer crusader, and less like a paranoid freak!

jeanhee @ 2:39 am

November 12, 2004

street talker and sadness

I have to make a confession — one that will disappoint feminists–even though I count myself among them–and probably even some of my friends!

I sometimes — not most of the time! — like getting flattering comments from the random men who for reasons I’m not going to try to analyze here, like to express out loud their opinions.

Today I was on the NYU campus heading to interview a young law student who won an award for her public interest work. Just outside the building, a bicycle messenger said, in a very loud voice, “Asian girl, man, she’s fly. She’s got it going on with her cap on backwards and everything.” (actually, i think wearing my kangol cap backwards is so 1999, but it just looks better that way on my face so i keep doing it.)

As is my usual policy, I completely ignored him. And then, we both ended up in front of the security guard, checking in. The messenger had been talking nonstop the entire time I was in his presence, and I won’t repeat everything he said because frankly, it would give you the impression that he might actually be off his rocker, and that kind of ruins the story. Nothing obscene or sexual, though, so don’t go there!

So, he places this box on the counter and says he’s delivering it to someone in the building. The security guard replies that he has the wrong building. Then the messenger says, “That Asian girl is so beautiful she got me going to the wrong building!”

At which point, I decided to break my policy of silence.

“I confused you?” I said, milking the moment.

“You did, you look so good!”

I smiled, and the security guard smiled. And thankfully, the story ends here.


Not a couple hours after the street-talking incident, I got an email from the Asian-American Journalists Association listserv breaking the news that Iris Chang was found dead in her car in San Jose. She was 36. According to the authorities, the cause was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Iris Chang was the author of the best-selling and important The Rape of Nanking, which describes and analyzes the atrocities of the Japanese during their 1930s occupation of China (for the record, though not a massacre, the Japanese also enslaved and programmatically raped thousands of Korean women — called Comfort Women — during the same period and into the ’40s).

I cannot claim to understand depression — given as the probable reason for the suicide. What can one say? I felt put in my place — that life is something to treasure. I cannot imagine the hopelessness and depths of despair that would cause someone so talented, successful and the mother of a two-year-old, to take her own life.

I hope she has found peace.

A scholarship has been established by her family at the University of
Illinois, Campaigne-Urbana in honor of Iris.

The address is University of Illinois Foundation
Attn: Jeff Roley
1305 West Green Street
Urbana, IL 61801-2962

Make Checks payable to:
University of Illinois Foundation
In the memo field: Iris Chang Scholarship Fund

Also a scholarship will be established in Nanjing, China by the Global
Alliance for Preserving the History of WW II in Asia in memory of Iris
Chang, the great warrior for justice and peace.

An Ping
Director, Public Relations
Tel: 212-371-6565

jeanhee @ 1:24 am

November 6, 2004


On Wednesday, Nov 3, Luke and I went to see a movie. It was our first movie theater experience in about 9 months. Wedding planning, traveling, other people’s weddings — all of these things plus just being busy people took precedence for a long time. But on this day, feeling deflated and sad, we just desperately wanted to escape reality for a couple hours, and no turning-out-the-lights-and-watching-tv was going to do it for us.

Ironically, we chose “I (heart) Huckabees,” a movie that is all about a man’s relationship to reality. It was hardly escapism, although it was diverting for a couple hours.

On the walk home from the theater, Luke stopped to buy gladiolas from a deli. He bought a bouquet with five stems and some blade-like leaves. None of the gladiolas were in bloom, just buds on stems.

At the time, it struck me that Luke was buying hope. The optimist in him was buying futures on beauty.

Today is Friday, and the glads are just starting to bloom. They turn out to be a gorgeous hot pink.

I know these gladiolas won’t last forever, or even more than a week. But until then, they will offer some comfort, and reassurance, that I, and almost 50 million other Americans, will eventually see a brighter day. I am looking forward with hope to a day when the government doesn’t tell me who I can marry, or judge who I can love. When wars are fought as a last resort. When the leadership of our country doesn’t condescend to us with made-up doomsday scenarios about weapons of mass destruction that can land on our shores in 45 minutes if we don’t strike first. When rich people in politics don’t use their offices to make themselves and their friends richer, while denying funds and assistance to the much less fortunate.

On Wednesday, I just wanted to escape. I realized, though, that staying in New York was a kind of escape. After all, New York and the rest of the Northeast might as well be another country. Now, instead of running away, I want to fight. I am resolved not to roll over when the current administration nominates a Supreme Court justice that wants to use the U.S. Constitution to deny Americans rights, to marry whomever they want, or to do what they want with their bodies.

Declaring that he has a “clear mandate” is ridiculous! A fraction over half the country’s voters is barely decisive. I’m sorry. As far as I’m concerned, EVERYTHING is fair game for a fight

jeanhee @ 1:00 am