Archive for the 'stories' Category

how to go green without becoming a self-righteous douchebag

One of the things that annoys me about living in the co-op community (and in Northern California in general) is the vast number of people I have to deal with who shop exclusively at places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, scoff at non-organic and non-local products, shell out shit tons of money for Dr. Bronner’s (and perhaps console me with “It’s totally okay” if you can’t afford to be good to the environment), spend their summers Flying Out to Third-World Countries to Help Poor People, bitch you out for leaving the lights on, and carry themselves with a smug holier-than-thou air for being so goddamn good. The superbaby progeny of doting soccer moms have evolved into a generation of everything-conscious neo-hippies who embody American whitebreadism. While the vast majority of them are harmless and mean well, some of them can be as stereotypical and annoying as the extremist factions of GreenPeace and PETA.

I’m vegetarian for ethical reasons, and I try not to bitch about it. For lack of money I can’t do the all-organic all-local thing, but I’m also wary of all that shit– those labels sometimes don’t mean anything, just as kosher sometimes doesn’t equal humane practices; small-time farmers with excellent farming ethics don’t always get those expensive cage-free and organic labels, and “certified organic” companies aren’t always what you think. Also, I use lots of jet fuel and electricity, and it’s not even to volunteer to help poor people.

Do I feel guilty about my T-Rex-sized carbon footprint? No, because I’m trying to reduce it, and I’ve learned that guilt over climate change, like guilt over third-world countries, gets you nowhere. (I’ll probably write more about guilt later.)

So the question is: Can you “go green” without turning into a rabid environmentalist? Sure, but it might take conscious effort to both 1) start becoming aware of your products and practices so you can change them, and 2) prevent yourself from proselytizing once you do become aware.

I approach green/Fair Trade/socially responsible/”conscious” living as I would religion: you’ll probably mess up sometimes (or all the time), but try your best. I’d say focus on changing your habits. Use less toilet paper. Turn the lights off. Slow your faucet use to a trickle. Read magazines online. Bike instead of drive. Carpool. Start a compost heap. Dispose of batteries properly. Bundle up instead of turning up heat. Don’t use plastic grocery bags. Buy used. Freecycle. Eat less meat. Drink tap. Cook. Blah blah blah. (It helps that most of these tips also save money.)

Like religion, the whole point shouldn’t be about consumerism, about splurging on rosaries blessed with water from Lourdes or being able to afford fancy bikes, solar panels, organic cotton and Dr. Bronner’s soap. It’s about believing in the gist of things and having your actions speak louder than words.

So yeah, I do think going green is like trying to be a good person– and to me, a good person isn’t self-important or judgmental (I’m obviously still working on this one, given this bitchy post). They would generally be ready to talk about or defend their beliefs if they were addressed directly, but otherwise wouldn’t turn their nose up at people who “aren’t trying hard enough”.

In short, my advice on saving the world is try your best, but shut up and get over yourselves. The end!


why i am a vegetarian, and why my family freaked out when i first told them

I’m a vegetarian. And no, I don’t eat fish.

I read a New York Times article today on “Putting Meat Back in Its Place“, which gives meat-eaters pointers on cutting back their meat intake, and I reflected on how I turned to a life of vegetables, eggs and dairy. I first became vegetarian my freshman year at Stanford, when someone handed me a pamphlet about factory farming on Earth Day; I still can’t think of eating meat without thinking about it. It was pretty easy for me to turn veggie– one day I sat down in our dining hall with a meatless plate and announced that I was going to try the vegetarian thing. I don’t proselytize, but I do recount this story to people who ask.

My family is heavily ensconced in Filipino food, which relies on dishes that are heavy in fatty fish, meat, oil, bone marrow, and other things that will clog up your heart but are just so good. So when my grandparents found out that more than half of their culinary repertoire was now off-limits for me, they got really worried. “How are we going to feed her?” they wondered. (Actually, the first question they asked was, “But you eat fish, right?”)

My dad was really against it at the time. I don’t have the most resilient of bodies, and my freshman year was already taking its toll on my health, so I had to convince him that no, I wasn’t going to waste away, and yes, people can live a life without meat and still be normal.

But more importantly, rejecting Filipino food is like rejecting Filipino culture. It was the same thing as refusing to go to church or refusing to respect my parents. This really was like slapping my father in the face. As I’ve said before, vegetarianism to me is more like a belief than a food preference, but not everyone sees it that way.

Also, a lot of people view eating meat as a sign of wealth and abundance, of things that their parents and grandparents never had, so rejecting it can be an insult to their past as well. My housemate Ana, who was born in Romania during the Ceauşescu regime, recounted how her family was taken aback when she first declined meat at dinner. They were like, “We never had meat when we were your age, and now you’re refusing it?! This isn’t how we raised you!” Some of my friends who grew up in Soviet Union countries have similar stories.

What people need to realize is that meat is now so cheap that it’s no longer a sign of wealth. I really think that vegetarianism is going to become the diet of the new elite— an elite that is well-educated and concerned about their environment and their health, and is able to spend a few more dollars on organic food and boca burgers and soymilk and tempeh to maintain their healthy lifestyle.

That said, I have three exceptions to the no-meat rule. The first is sea urchin, and only if it’s unagi nigiri at a Japanese restaurant. The second is caviar (especially the tobiko nigiri at Sushi Tomo)– sometimes the fish is killed to extract it, and there’s pretty much no way to tell. The third is instant ramen (like Cup Noodles), but only in extenuating circumstances, like when I am stressed or hungover. As part of my 101 in 1001, I’m trying to see if I can spend three weeks as a vegan (maybe when I’m back at school, or else my parents might just kill me). But I love cheese. I looooove cheese. So wish me luck.

baby’s first powwow

This weekend, I went to the Stanford Powwow for the first time. It was about time, since I’m a senior and a couple of my closest friends here are native. I asked Ricky (who’s part Mexican, part Pasqua Yaqui and part… I forget) to show me around. It was kinda like being at one of those house parties and barbecues my parents always brought me to in Jersey City when I was little, except that this time I was the token non-Filipino friend that someone brought along– the one on the outside looking in.

Trying not to offend people
I was initially really self-conscious about how I was carrying myself, etc (I normally feel like this when I’m immersed in another culture for the first time). But it took me three hours to realize that I was walking around wearing a black t-shirt with the word “SAVAGE” printed on it in bold white letters. That’s because I’m a fucking idiot.

Omnipresent things that outsiders are hyperaware of and insiders do not notice
Until this weekend, I’d never in person seen full Native American traditional costumes, or seen the dances, or heard the singing. I had also never really noticed the little things about being native: the way dancers rotated clockwise, the crocheting on the footbag we kicked around with some of the volunteers, the feather charm hanging on Ricky’s rearview mirror, girls’ ornate earrings, silver bracelets adorned with smooth blue turquoise, how you can usually tell that a white person is native by the way their skin tans in the sun.

But talking to anyone native about all this shit would be like wandering onto the Stanford campus and talking to a student about how bikes are just so Stanford. “Well, obviously,” the student would say. “This campus is really big.”

Wandering into the realm of “incredibly ignorant”
While I was standing in the forty-minute-long Sno Cone line, a white kid perched atop her dad’s shoulders asked, “Are Indians different from us?”

American Indians,” her father began in his didactic drawl, “may be different, but they are kind of like you and me. Some of them use the same toasters as we do, and the same cell phones, and the same t.v.s and radios. They go shopping just like us, and…”

I honestly had to tune out at this point because it was starting to make my brain bleed. Seriously? Seriously?

Things that remind me of my parents
The Stanford Powwow is basically a huge fair, and since it’s a native event it obviously had a couple of frybread stands with really long lines and really high prices. I wanted to try one, but Ricky turned up his nose in their direction. “I could make frybread at home for free,” he scoffed. “Besides, my grandma’s recipe is probably way better than whatever secret recipe they use.”

Being comfortable with the big “Where are you from?” question
That night I ended up in a bar with a bunch of natives from all over. Many of the introductions involved asking where we were from. When people asked Ricky, he explained what part of Arizona he was from and stated his tribe automatically. As I understand it, he probably would’ve gone into his family in greater detail if the other person had been Pasqua Yaqui. The Native American community is already pretty small, so in a lot of tribes, most people in the tribe are connected to everyone else in the tribe by one or two degrees.

When they asked me, I said, “New Jersey butmyfamilymovedtoCalifornia… and I go to school here”.

Drinking with the natives
I didn’t have much to add to conversations (most of the people I talked to were alums of Stanford’s Native American Association and had stories to swap), but one of the more entertaining things I’d heard all night was a story about two drunk people arguing about whose people was better.

“Back in the day, my people woulda kicked the crap outta yours! My people were making pyramids when yours was still doin’ all that hunter-gatherer shit!”

“Man, shut the fuck up,” interrupted another guy. “My tribe would’ve owned his. We hunted whales. My tribe hunted fifty-foot whales in twenty-foot-long canoes. So shut the fuck up.”

This day and age
I still remember walking out of the bar and onto the patio to a chorus of drunken singing. It was traditional native singing, probably by one of the musical groups that participated in the Powwow, and it was so beautiful. But then I noticed that they were singing in English, and they were singing something that went like:

She’s wearing too much makeup and looks like a ho

But you’re too drunk to notice and will go home with her anyway…


The Powwow was pretty awesome. Too bad I had absolutely no cash on me to buy any of the stuff that was being sold in the booths (Ricky even had to spot me for food). Maybe next year.

(I bought a round at the bar, though. Did I mention I turned 21 in April? That’s another story, and a story I can only tell you in person.)

an interesting lunch date; or, life plan no. 2987213

Contrary to what most people think, I don’t chill with true TCKs (Third Culture Kids) all that much, even though I really like talking to them because they know what it’s like to have been uprooted and different. I guess I’m really close with Aldo, who’s been in similar situations as I’ve been and likes picking up languages too. But, like me, he doesn’t qualify as a true TCK– neither of us have lived with our families in another country for an extended period of time.

I did have lunch with a TCK last week, though (raised in Hong Kong and London, then went to Stanford for college). She was a breath of fresh air since I’ve been living in a hippie house (read: the co-opiest co-op on campus) and needed an infusion of something to combat the American whitebreadism I’ve been immersed in. We’d both been in the Stanford in Paris program but at overlapping times, so we met to compare notes, then started talking about our various life plans after graduation– serious, crazy, location-based, people-based. Which city to live in? (This is a serious consideration, given that our friends are all scattered around the country/globe.) Sick of wanderlust yet? (She is.) Just gonna screw it all to hell and go for the Japanese rock star thing? (That would be me, and that would be a yes.)

There were a couple of similarities in our considerations that made me feel better about my own indecisiveness. One was wanting to be able to visit our old home bases (for her, London/H.K.; for me, Jersey City) without all the fanfare, since the visit usually turns into a sprint that involves meeting up with a ton of old friends/family in a small amount of time. Another was that we both have a serious plan and a crazy plan— she wanted to be a model in her crazy plan, and I still want to be a Japanese rock star. But we’ve both got more serious “fallbacks”– careers that we’ve been dreaming of since we were little. For me, I’d probably end up working in the field for an NGO.

The thing is, she’s sick of moving around so much. I’m not. I think I’ve still got a couple more places to live in before calling it quits. I’m probably going to keep at it until I have a kid, and even then I’d probably send them to boarding school if I could manage it. Gotten used to being a stranger in a strange land, I guess.

Anyway, talking with her (and Aldo, who also has crazy, highly mobile life plans that change on a regular basis) made me realize that I need to decide what to do after college REALLY EFFING SOON. I already know what I want to do– try my hand at the rock industry! (Because I’d definitely regret it if I didn’t try).

So I just need to:

  1. Move to where I need to be— which is TOKYO. oh shit, my parents are gonna get pissed again.
  2. Get to know the local music scene. Which normally entails some bar- and club-hopping.
  3. Start a band. An international punk rock band, to be precise.
  4. Break into the local music scene. Get some gigs, become a rock star. Easy, right?

I’ve got #3 down, but in the wrong place (namely, here). I got #2 down, but also in the wrong place (Paris!). And I would like to get in touch with my host family before doing #1. (I still haven’t heard from them since 2004. omg. Talk about not tying up loose ends.) Also, the plan requires more thought on these questions:

  • How the hell am I getting to Tokyo?
  • How the hell am I gonna make money in Tokyo in the meantime?
  • What the hell am I gonna do about my college loan repayments?
  • How the hell am I going to find and break into this Japanese-international punk scene?
  • Should I get braces now, before I move again?

Among other things.

Shit, I better get started on re-learning Japanese, then. Wait, I still have to finish college first! Then graduate. Then make some money.

One step at a time.

a change in itinerary– sunburn and thunderstorms

I got sunburned at the Chatuchak market, but the forecast for the next week or so is rain, rain, rain. That’s why we’re currently in a bungalow along the river in Chiang Mai up in the north instead of a bungalow along the beach in Krabi down in the south. And I’ve been running a fever, so I’m not riding elephants or taking pictures of long-necked women today. Oh well; all the touristy stuff makes me feel awkward anyway. And as long as we’re in town for Loi Krathong, I’ll be happy.

Bargaining, part 2
A few important rules to take note of when bargaining: First, don’t bargain too much or the vendor will lose face. Second, don’t bargain when the price is already written somewhere– it’s rude. You can probably ask, “Is that your best price?”, but beyond that, Thais aren’t shameless enough to discount further if they see you walking away.

Today’s oxymoron: Eco-friendly frequent flyer
I’m vegetarian, I still don’t know how to drive, I use less toilet paper than most people, I don’t take many showers, I have a laptop and I don’t keep it plugged in all the time, and I don’t buy new books when I can help it. But no matter how environmentally friendly my lifestyle is, my jet fuel usage probably cancels it all out.

Borrowing Lonely Planet guides from guesthouses
If you’re staying in a hostel or a guesthouse, chances are they have a bookshelf full of travel guides for the borrowing. Take advantage of this. You have to return it when your stay at that place is over, but it beats lugging a really heavy one around with you all over the country.

Girls liking boys liking boys liking girls liking girls
Despite its Buddhist precepts, Thailand is wonderfully open to homosexuality. In Bangkok in particular, there are a lot of girls who just happen to have an extra appendage in between their legs, and everywhere there are lots of girls who astound me with their androgyny (btw, our waiter last night was really cute! I didn’t realize he was a she until my sister pointed out the sports bra outline under her shirt.) Are Thais just naturally gender-bendingly gorgeous? No wonder so many sketchy men from all over the world (and by world, I mean Australia) converge on Thailand to prey on its exceedingly beautiful and friendly people.

Getting hit on by sketchy white men in Thailand when you look Thai
My sister and I (well, mostly my sister) have been hit on by one too many old, fat white men in this country. Plus we get taken for locals by tourists and locals alike. (We’ve been wearing the clothes we got from Chatuchak.) It’s a nice change from France, where I was sometimes the only Asian in the arrondissement despite its ethnic diversity, but I feel pretty bad for still not being able to speak much Thai. The same thing happened to me in Japan, but since my accent in Japanese was flawless, people thought I was mentally challenged and the “ohhh she isn’t Japanese” part rarely ever dawned on them.

The white guy thing, though, it’s driving me nuts. They use their baby English to try and woo us into giving them a “massage” for a couple hundred baht. Sometimes I want to pretend not to speak English for about thirty seconds before erupting into “Look, you little shit, you’re pretty fucking pathetic (not to mention idiotic) if all the ass you can get is from girls who just want your money and can’t even speak a lick of English.” Argh. Even Thai men have a hell of a lot more decency than that.

a few notes on things

Jet Lag
I went through 20 time zones in one week. They say that it takes about one day to adjust for each hour in time you lost or gained. I say extreme sleep deprivation is a quick and fun (read: mind-altering) way to deal with being sleepy and awake at all the wrong times.

I got my French cell phone unlocked for 250 baht ($8). The vendors originally offered 300-350, but then my sister jabbed her thumb in the direction we came from and said, “But the other guy said 250!”. Problem solved.

7-Eleven is to Bangkok as Starbucks is to Manhattan. The best part is, if you buy enough stuff you get these flimsy little paper tabs that you can redeem for small rewards. Like SIM cards, apparently. Too bad we bought one before realizing this.

Tourist Boat
There’s a 100-baht tourist boat that runs along the river and takes you to all the right piers if you want to visit the wats (Buddhist temples) and the Grand Palace– but it’s only reliable until 4pm, when most of the piers close. The public bus boat costs about 9-18 baht per ride, so it’s theoretically more cost-effective (and doesn’t include the unintelligible Thai guide auction-chanting over the speakers), but if you’re not Thai, no one will tell you where it is.

My sister and I swore we’d only bring a few changes of clothing so we could buy local clothes and not be huge pickpocket targets. However, we didn’t realize our budget would be on the slim side. That’s why I need to learn numbers in Thai, so as to bargain my dignity away at the Chatuchak weekend market.

Cleanliness is next to godliness
Thais take showers twice a day, dress well (the youngsters’ style is sort of Hong Kong meets Tokyo) and clean their stores and sidewalks regularly. The water is incredibly dirty, but at least the rest of the city is clean.

“Long Live the King” t-shirts
If you aren’t fashionable, you can wear a yellow “Long Live the King” t-shirt to blend in. At least if you look Thai. If you’re white, well… sorry, can’t help you there. You’ll stick out no matter what you do.


This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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