Thursday, October 29, 2009

Uninspired in NorCal

“Cold autumn candle light flickering on painted screen
    Chasing fireflies with round fan, in light clothes
    Courtyard steps feel cool as water in the night
    Sitting there alone watching stars in black skies”

A beautiful and somewhat lonely depiction of an early fall evening. No, I didn’t write that. I wish I could.

Or if I could put the words together so eloquently as Lou did in one of her poems:

“As soft mist lingers white over waters
    starched by the cold hand of frost”

She has such a way with words, doesn’t she? Instead, I wrote the following:

The air feels a little chilling in the morning. I put on the light sweater the first time in a long  time.
The heater kicked off one early morning unexpectedly, startling me and the puppy.
Hot coffee in the morning doesn’t feel hot enough, and gets cold sooner than days before.
A sip of brandy at night warms me up more agreeably, and no longer makes me sweat.

That was all I could say about fall season in California. I have good reasons. This is a fall scene you will likely see here:

It isn't a joke - I’m dead serious. In fact, it could be worse. I saw this a little further down the road:

If you were lucky you might see this (Yay! Red leaves.):

But I got real lucky today and saw this - finally, some real fall pictures. (Okay, that was the only one I saw):

I could practically hear the two maple trees arguing:

“It’s fall.”
“No it’s not.”
"I’m telling you kid, it’s fall.”
“And I’m telling you pops, it’s not!”

I needed to take a shower for sweating too much from walking the dog. It was a sunny 75-degree “fall” day. Now you know why I’m not a poet.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I was sitting in my car pondering what to do next when I saw her. The parking was free after six o'clock, and I was a little early. Should I stay in the car or feed the meter?

She was wearing a coat on a balmy early evening. That should have given me a clue. She made some gesture at me from the passenger side. I buzzed the window down just a little:

"What?" I thought my parking was bad and she was alerting me good-naturedly. Maybe this is not a parking zone? Is she telling me to move?

She waved and said something inaudible. She then bent down to pick something up. I saw an empty soda can in her hand when she straightened up again. Oh God, is she homeless? Is it too late to get out of the car and run? I decided to stay put. What could she possibly do to me?

I buzzed the window up. Please go away, I pleaded silently. I have a class to go. I don't have time to be bothered.

More importantly, I needed my quarters for the meter.

She moved slowly across the front of my car and approached the driver's side. Oh no, what does she want? I felt a little panic.

She started talking and gesturing. I couldn't understand a word of it, but finally i figured out from her gesture that she wanted food. I dug into my purse for some change. I couldn't give her the quarters because, well, I needed them for the meter. I had to give her something because she was blocking my way out.

I found a few dimes and cracked the window a bit to hand them to her. She didn't take them right away - still busy talking in spite of the fact that I didn't show any signs of comprehending any of it. She showed me her wrist while she talked. There was a round bump the size of a ping pong ball near her wrist. I thought to myself, "Please don't let it be contagious."

She finally took the change I was holding (carefully - trying to avoid touching her skin in any way.) But she was not leaving. I came to realize after more gesturing that she wanted more, so I looked back to my purse with a hint of resentment. Where is her family? Have they no shame? How could anyone let their elder, who doesn't speak a word of English, beg on the street? Street in a city with the highest crime rate, I might add.

At last she took the second alms and left, but not before rambling some more of the foreign words to me. Now it was almost time for the class, so I didn't need the quarters after all.

I felt a thorny pinch in my heart every now and then for the next few days. Why didn't I give her more money so at least she could get a hot meal or two? Why did I assume she had something contagious just because her joint was deformed? Why was I afraid of an old woman who was just hungry? I shouldn't have blamed her family either. Maybe she outlived all of them, and she didn't have other means to support herself.

I prepared some small bills when it was time for the next class, but she was nowhere to be found. The redemption I was hoping for did not happen. It must be a punishment designed by God. My sin was forever etched on the triptych.

I have always thought of myself as a somewhat decent person. Not perfect, but still, not bad. I tried to be nice to people. I tried to be compassionate to my friends. I tried to do the right thing most of the time. I volunteered at the children's center and other non profits. I even donated to my friend's cancer walks. I was better than most people out there, you know?

Along came a tiny, frail, and very wrinkled old lady, and she nudged me off my pedestal effortlessly.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Long Drive Home

I barely started my first job a month ago. It was new and exciting. I was officially "man of the house" and bringing home the bacon. We had a very orderly life. We got up early and headed to our separate destinations - the kids to school together, I to the office. When I got home in the afternoon they would have finished their homework. We would have simple dinner before getting ready for bed. Life was plain and calm, but that was about to change.

I pulled out from the company's parking lot one afternoon and merged into the traffic. I stopped at the light behind some cars and thought to myself what I could make for dinner that night. All of a sudden the car started to rock as if it were a boat on choppy water - very choppy water. I was trying to hold on while wondering if I should get out of the car - not that I could. It just felt dangerous to stay in a car that was acting crazy. All I could do was holding on the steering wheel as if I were riding the mechanical bull.

It felt like forever before it was finally over. All the traffic lights were dead. Cars stayed on the road, and nobody moved. Two cars ahead of me the female driver got out of her car, and ran to the car behind her. She cried, "Oh my God! What was that?!" At this time it gradually dawned on me: we just had a major earthquake.

The normally twenty-minute drive home took me an hour and half. Every intersection was stop-and-go, one car at a time. The speed was reduced to that of a snail. I gripped the steering wheel with my white-knuckled fingers, and bit my lips to fight back tears. The kids - are they all right? They are home alone. Are they hurt? Is the house still there? Are they being buried in the rubbles? I forced myself not to imagine the worst. The houses along the road were still standing. I had some hope. There were no fires as far as I could see. The kids could be just fine.

I got home at last and everything seemed "normal." I looked at the kids and I had a strange feeling of having been away for a month. They looked the same, and yet different. The kids told me how they hid under the dining table and finished their homework there - thinking there might be another one coming. A plant was toppled over and left some dirt on the carpet. Everything was fine. We were safe.

Until this day I couldn't remember what I did for the rest of the evening. It was completely blank. The only thing I remember was crying silently in the office the next day. I couldn't work at all. The boss finally told us to go home. It was futile to tell anyone to concentrate on work. I don't remember what I did after going home either. Somehow my memories in those time periods were completely erased.

I grew up in an earthquake country. Hurricanes and earthquakes were common events. Nobody showed any emotions toward them. It was life - deal with it. My reaction to earthquakes used to be exactly like that of the kids - that was frightening and fun! Now back to homework.

My life and my feelings for earthquakes are completely different now. I used to be strong. I could deal with disasters with no problems. The long drive home that afternoon twenty years ago changed me forever.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Blog Action Day, 2009

I heard Jason calling, "Dad..." and ran into his bedroom. His face was red and his breathing was shallow. I sat down by his bedside and felt his forehead. It didn't seem that he had a fever. I opened the drawer under the nightstand and took his inhaler out. He took a deep breath through it and lied down slowly. His breath gradually became deeper and longer. He fell asleep again.

I looked at his thin body and tried to control my emotions. He was supposed to be in tenth grade now, but his illness forced him to stay home. His body is the equivalent of a twelve-year-old. We had to home-school him for his constant battle with asthma.

"Is Jason okay?" My wife Helen asked when I went back to the living room. Her rash was getting deeper in color. We had cut down our daily meals to once a day, and that didn't help with her condition. There was little selection of vegetables in the market, and meats were rare occurrences. Even if they had them once in a blue moon, we could only afford it twice a year - on Helen and Jason's birthdays. With the increase of prices on all foods, meats have become the untouchable for most people. It was almost impossible to raise livestock anywhere when the vegetation started to recede from the extended drought and long period of flood caused by twenty to thirty hurricanes a year.

Nevertheless, we were thankful to be alive. Millions died each year all over the world in those less advanced countries.

"Honey, we need to take you to the hospital." It was her monthly appointment. The medication was barely keeping her condition in check. Without proper nutrition there was little hope that she would ever be back to complete health. Still, we needed to make the trip.

"What about your lungs?" She looked at me worriedly. I put on a brave face, "Don't worry. We have the masks."

I had damaged lungs from working outdoors for the last twenty years in spite of the mandatory mask. I was forced to retire, and the insurance company refused to pay due to "condition caused by nature." We were barely getting by with the scanty pension I received from the company. I would have been able to sell our vacation home had it not been flushed away by the landslide caused by a category seven hurricane the year before I retired.

The doorbell rang. Helen opened the door. It was our neighbor, Alicia. Jason was old enough to stay home by himself, but I asked Alicia to stay with him just in case. She took her mask off and said, "Make sure you wear the masks. It’s a bad air day out there!" She appeared very pale, but at least she didn’t have depression from the long absence of sun exposure so far. The artificial sun lights did not work that well for some people. Although she was as thin as Helen, she did not have any obvious health problem. She was lucky so far.

"Thank you so much for the help. We won't be gone for long." There were so many people with air-related illnesses that the hospital had developed a system so that we didn't need to get out of our cars. We would drive up to a window and the technician would pull up our records in the computer, verify our IDs, ask a few questions regarding the illness, and dispense the pre-packed medications. Most of the time would be spent on driving to and from the hospital, and waiting in the queue of cars.

We put on the masks before leaving the house. It was only fifty feet away to our car, but the air was too dangerous for us to risk breathing it directly. Not with our conditions.

The sun was burning hot. The thick smog in the air made it look eerily pretty in the color of orange-red. Too bad nobody was outside to enjoy the view. Every window was tightly shut. The street was practically empty, and was a sea of grey to look at. No one was able to keep any plants or lawns alive, and I didn't remember when the last time I saw a real tree was. I missed our trip to the museum last year very much. There were so many plants and flowers it felt as if we had gone to a different planet - a planet that was lush, nurturing and life-sustaining.

I drove away in our electric car and couldn't help but wonder: I read in history books that our great grandfathers had predicted the outcome in numerous studies during the late twentieth century, but somehow they chose not to do anything about it. Instead they fought over political controls and ignored all the warnings from the scientists. Many believed all the doomsday predictions were just sci-fi fictions used to scare people. By mid twenty-first century the severe climate had reached the irreversible point. Last country to ban the use of fossil oil and coal was ten years ago, but nothing could make the earth go back to what it once was.

Whoever said human being was the most intelligent animal on earth was dead wrong. We had dug our own graves with the grand shovel of ignorance decades ago. Soon all of us will have to lie in them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Seven Things

I have always enjoyed reading Hunter's blog. He's a seriously funny guy with a talent to tell a great story. So it's a great honor that he thinks my blog is worth his passing on the "Kreativ Blogger" award. Thank you, Hunter. And readers, please take a moment to visit his site. It will brighten up your day, I promise.

The catch for this award is to tell seven things about me that people may not know. (I now regret that I didn't lead a more exciting life.) By risking reveal too much about myself, here's the list:

1. I love spicy food. The spicier the better. I planted a habanero pepper in my backyard one year and found out my limit for hot spices. I don't have the plant anymore.

2. I used to have a cat, but after raising my puppy I found out I was actually a dog person.

3. I used to speak Portuguese, but have forgotten it completely.

4. I did not know what 'hemp' was and had to be told it was "the" weed. Yes, I led a very sheltered life when I was a kid.

5. I am the designated driver among friends because, well, I can't drink. Half a glass of wine will get me dance on the table. So I was told. Of course I don't remember any such event.

6. I play a little piano - very little, but my crush for my piano teacher was huge.

7. My dream job would be either a writer or a graphic artist, but got into project management instead. Writing this blog provided me great joy that's otherwise missing in my job.

Now comes the hard part. I have to pass this award to another deserving writer, and there are so many that I know of, and even more out there I haven't found yet. I wish I had 50 of this award to pass out. The new owner of this lovely award goes to a young and brilliant writer, Lou. You can find her blog here. I enjoyed reading her blog very much, and hope you will pop over to check her out. I'm sure you will like it as well. Congratulations Lou!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lady on the Moon

(To my women friends) 

My little maid Blue Jade ran into my chamber in her light steps, and said in a warning tone, "My lady - master is back.” I called her Jade to be short.

I put down the medicine book I was studying and took a quick glance in the copper mirror. My hair and jewelries looked fine. I needed a little rouge on my cheeks and…I didn’t need to ask. Jade opened the pearl-inlayed makeup box and pulled out the rouge. She dabbed a little on my cheeks and smoothed it out with her fingers. She then handed me the red lip stain in a little round copper box. I stained my lips with my pinkie while Jade slipped a small silk pouch stuffed with jasmine petals into my sleeve. I smoothed my long skirt and we left the room, walking as fast as we could. The main hall is located in a different courtyard in the house.

Hoyi, my husband, was sitting in the main hall sipping tea. He looked dirty and tired, but he had a faint smile and his eyes seemed to be somewhere far away. I smiled before I stepped into the big room, “Your humble wife welcomes you, master.” He pulled himself back from that mysterious place and looked at me, and then nodded his head and said, “Oh. Sit down, please.”

"I heard about your brave endeavor, master.” I said, after taking my seat on the other side of the tea table. It was his most difficult challenge so far - more difficult than slaughtering the two-headed beast. Thank goodness he was an excellent archer, and was born with surreal strength.

"You mean the nine suns I shot down?” He was pleased that I recognized his infamous feat.

"Yes. People of the middle kingdom are so grateful. Now they can farm the land, raise livestock and live above ground. You are the hero they warship now.”

"Well, it wasn’t easy. I almost got burned from those scorching suns!” He said with a hint of pride.

"You must be tired from the journey. Will master care to take a bath in my chamber? I will tell Jade to prepare the hot water.” I tried to be subtle. It was unbecoming for a woman to show that she missed her husband and longed for his company.

"Oh. Not tonight. I will take a bath in my chamber and rest there. It was a long journey.” He stood up and left the room. His servants followed behind him.

I saw the look in Jade’s eyes, and I knew what she was thinking. The rumor was true, then. I heard that, in addition to his heroic feat, he also “conquered” the nymph of the water kingdom. I stared at the silver candles in my room for a long time. The wax dripping down the side of them seemed to resemble the tears on my cheeks. Jade gently reminded me several times that it was late, but sleep completely eluded me.

Two days later Hoyi was leaving again. There was a giant lion with horns appeared in a village, and was devouring the villagers. He had to answer the call for help. Jade informed me that he requested my presence in his room. He showed me two dark round orbs in his hand when I got there.

"I requested these from the Empress of the West Heaven. They are potions of eternal life. I have performed enough heroic feats so she granted the request.” He told me. I was speechless. It was the highest honor any masters of the middle kingdom could achieve.

"We will take these together on the night of the full moon, which is ten days from now. Take care of them while I’m gone. Imagine: we will live forever!”

Imagine I did. I have been thinking about it ever since he left. We will live forever. Together. After all, I was his wife, and he would honor that title, if not me. Being his wife, however, also meant I would have to endure the loneliness, the other women, and pretend to be happy.

I received a message from my husband’s servant on the ninth day. The giant lion was more illusive than he had thought, and his return had been delayed. The servant added, “The master said to make sure and tell my lady to wait for him.”

I knew what he meant, but I couldn’t heed to his request. On the night of the full moon, I swallowed both orbs and wrote him a note. I told him my devotion for him had never changed, but I could no longer stay being his wife. My body became lighter and lighter, rising to the sky. I came to the moon and settled down here. I have been making medicines for passing fairies, and have a loyal guard to do the heavy works, be it chopping wood or carrying water, for me. He was a gift from one of the fairies I cured. Another fairy gifted me with a trained rabbit, so I don’t have to smash and grind the medicines myself.

Certain poet wrote a poem on how I must regret stealing the potions from Hoyi, and how I have to endure the lonely life on the moon everyday, day after day. They even taught little children in the middle kingdom to recite and savor this poem.

Do I ever regret what I did? Sometimes, but never for long. Of all the past earthly connections, I miss my little Jade the most. The poet, being a man from the middle kingdom himself, did not understand a woman's heart - sometimes the loneliest place for a woman is her husband's house.

I traded loneliness with content. The vast sky is not dark, and definitely not lonely. Stars show me their brilliant colors that even the best poet would not be able to put into poems. Fairies with various illnesses come by everyday. My life is busy and with a purpose now. I am appreciated and needed everyday.

I am no longer the lady waiting in her chamber. I am the lady on the moon.

(There are several different versions for this legend. The poem used the word "steal," so it begs for an answer to the obvious question: why? This is my interpretation of what had transpired.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tip of the Bayonet

"I was flipping the persimmons when I heard the sound of gun shots."

"Gun shots?" Obviously she survived the event, since she was sitting right in front of me. Nevertheless, my eyes couldn't help but enlarge a bit.

"Yes. You know we dried those persimmons, among other things, after the harvest so they would keep throughout the winter." People used to dry fruits, vegetables, and meats to survive the long and cold winter in a country where there was no such convenience as markets in the neighborhood.

I could see it in my minds eye - a little girl squatting by a sea of persimmons being dried in the square atrium surrounded by rooms, turning them one by one. Her cheeks were red from the sun, and her shiny dark hair was braided into two queues hanging down both sides of her face. A piece of red yarn tied them up at the ends.

"I knew it was the Japanese soldiers because grownups had been warning us to run and hide as soon as we heard the gun shots.

So I took off running as fast as I could. I didn't know where to go, and my parents were no where to be seen. I guess they were working. Everyone had to work all the time back in those days. There were no idle hands in anybody's household. I wasn't flipping those persimmons for fun either.

The only grownup I knew who was in the house at the time was a sick aunt. She rested in her room all day long from an illness that I couldn't name. I ran into her room and cried out, 'The Japanese are coming!'

She said, 'Quick! Hide under the bed and be very quiet. Don't make any noise.' I rolled under the bed and squeezed myself against the wall with all my might. I heard the running footsteps coming into the room. I heard someone yelling at my aunt in a language I didn't understand, and my aunt answering in a pleading voice, 'They are not here. The men all fled. There are no men here.' I'm sure she must be gesturing while she pleaded.

Just to make sure she wasn't lying, a soldier swept under the bed with his rifle. I could see a faint shimmer on the tip of the gun - it was a blade. I stayed very still and quiet while watching the blade moving from side to side. The blade passed in front of me a couple of times and missed me by an inch. The soldier finally decided there was nobody under the bed.

There was some more yelling, and then the soldiers left the room. Neither one of us said or did anything for quite a while. Finally my aunt said quietly, 'I think it's okay to come out now.' I crawled out from under the bed and slipped off to find my parents. I don't remember if I thanked her or not, since I was still quite frightened by the experience.

I went back to the old house forty years after I fled the country and, to my astonishment, the aunt who hid me was still living there! I gave her my belated gratitude and asked her if she remembered what had happened that scary day long time ago. She did, but she remembered the event a little differently from me. She said I hid in her bed under the comforter right next to her, and not under the bed. I was a little confused when I heard that."

I was finally able to breathe after she finished the story. She had a shiny reflection in her eyes, and a smile on her lips. I think the aunt's memory was probably failing her. I think if she was hiding in bed next to her aunt, she probably wouldn’t have seen the rifle or the blade.

I thank God the room was dark enough that the soldier didn't see the little girl under the bed. I thank God that she was small enough that the blade missed her. I thank my great aunt for her quick wit - whether she hid her under the bed or under the comforter - that spared my mother from the possibly horrific fate. They both were very lucky.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Crabby Quest

"With wine in one hand and crab claws in another" is the ideal way to celebrate autumn, according to some highly respected poets who died long time ago. Not that I'm a wine enthusiast - I can barely finish one glass throughout the course of an evening, but who am I to argue with them? That was why I happily responded, "That's a great idea!" when someone suggested we had a crab dinner on Mid Autumn Festival, which fell on October 3rd this year.

I got up and got ready by nine o'clock - on a Saturday, I might add - and went on my hunt for live crab. I don't do the frozen crab thing - those are for amateurs. My experience told me they are the freshest if you get them on the day of the event. And they are the best if you get them from the Asian markets. Well, you really don't have a choice on the market because general supermarkets don't sell live crab. I knew exactly which market to go.

I parked the car and walked into the market, aiming straight at the seafood section. What did I see? An empty tank! There was one small part of a crab left: a crab claw on the bottom of the tank, and that was it.

Shit! I said to myself after the shock subsided. I finally flagged down a clerk in the fish section and asked if they would get more shipment in today.

"No." was the answer. No customer service training was provided to workers of this market, obviously.

"Do you know when you'll get more in?" I knew it was a long shot, but maybe there was a slim chance that they were expecting a shipment in a few minutes.

"I don't know." was the concise answer.

How could this be? The tank was always full of crab piling on top of each other. Always. What happened? Maybe I'd have better luck at the next market. I drove to the second market, half deflated.

I could see it half way down to the seafood section at the second one - an empty tank. Not even a broken claw this time. And when would they get more in? You got it - don't know.

I looked at the frozen crab in the big freezer and thought about it for a moment. The thought of being an amateur was unbearable. Nah, I'll try a third market before giving in to the second choice.

The third one was a little far out, but was worth the drive if they had the illusive commodity. Please, please let them have the crab, I said to myself while walking toward the back of the market, where the eight-legged critters would be.

I came home with a bag of manila clam for the clam chowder I was about to experiment, and three packs of frozen king crab. I was counting on the wine to befog my guests’ taste buds before dinner. Maybe they wouldn't notice the difference after the wine and the chowder.

Clearly I wasn't the only one who heeded to the gastronimic portrayal of the season. I also learned that the frozen king crab couldn't hold a candle to the live Dungeness crab - no matter how lavishly I poured the wine. Note for next year: get the crab the day before the dinner.


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