Monday, November 10, 2014

All that needed saying

Today was one of those lazy sunday afternoons where the highlight of the day was cuddling together on the sofa watching trashy tv.

Yes- one of the perks of being in love is openly indulging your trashy tastes knowing your better half isn't going to judge you for it. Its liberating. But I digress.

I poked the boy with my toe and asked him, "If you were going to confess your feelings to me for the first time- all over again- what would you say."

Used to my nonsensical line of random questioning by now- he just rolled his eyes at me. I however, was curious, so I poked him again and threatened to poke him until he responed.

So he just turned towards me, said "I love you di", and hugged me so hard I was afraid my ribs would crack.

Gasping with laughter at this point- I asked him why he cut down on his speech? So he replied with long suffering patience, "What more do I need to say?"

What more needed to be said indeed.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Sex and the City made me uncomfortable

Okay I'm going to come right out and say it.

Sex and the City makes me really uncomfortable.

I was watching a rerun the other day on TV and I found myself wondering why I liked it as much as I did. Did I psych myself into liking the show because everyone around me was enamored by it?

I think it has to do with where I was with life at that time. I was a devotee when I was a naive- socially awkward student. I thought the idea of four thirty-to fourty something women living the high life balancing a successful career, friendships and men was the pinnacle of modern feminity. It seemed like the perfect vision of my  future- being a sexually liberated, glamorous woman who didn't need men for financial or emotional stability.

Wow- what a silly twit I was.

Here's what struck me yesterday when I was watching the show. The women's close bond, the true crux of the show, is ultimately built on little more than shared war stories about men. Almost all the humor in the show was around men. The characters single-mindedly obsess about men, reject seemingly decent men on a superficial basis (too short, too bald, too ugly, too poor) and then hypocritically pat themselves on the back about being strong, liberated women while looking out for new relationships.

Even the sex seemed forced in the end. 

I've had very rich and rewarding friendships with several women in my life and I can count on one hand the times we've spoken about men. Even if we did- it was cursory at best or an occassional heart to heart after a difficult relationship. We instead spent our time talking about politics, about the economy, about our favourite books or tv shows, our jobs, our lives. I think I'd have gotten really bored if I spent all my time talking about men and sex.

The bottom line: I am a woman in my thirties. And I am a confident woman, happy with where I am in my life. I have a ton of interests, and amazing friends. I think the real reason why I don't enjoy the show anymore is that I now see those characters are nothing more than a cardboard caricature of what the world believes a modern woman should be. I lived my life on my own terms and found that a lot richer than anything a television show could imagine and throw at me.

I heard that there was talks about a Sex and the City 3 movie. Five years ago I would have been over the moon. Now- I don't really care. And I suspect that's what is going to happen with this movie, fans wouldn't show up because they've grown up and moved on. The movie itself will probably not become a great hit or stink- and it will simply fade into obscurity, like any idea whose time had come and gone.

Friday, September 26, 2014

H4 Visa- A gilded prison.

Its been a few months since I got here and one thing has become rampantly clear. It sucks to be an immigrant on the job market.

It all starts during job interviews. You've done your due dilligence, you read up like mad, you practice in the mirror, you prepare intelligent questions to ask the interviewer, you put on your A game- you attend the interview- the interviewer seems excited- until they ask,

"So what Visa are you on?"

I usually want to bury myself in a hole at this point- because I know where this is heading.  The moment I mention, "I'm on an H4"- I can see the excitement drain out of the interviewers's eyes. In one case I got shouted at- "why bother applying for jobs- just sit at home and be a housewife".

It does not matter that I am qualified- or the best candidate for the job- I have a dreaded 'no working allowed visa' which means they need to spend money on a work visa for me.

This apparently is worse than having an incurable and hideously disfiguring disease.

H4 they call it. A dependent's vias. One that gives me no identity that's not tied to my husband's- a gilded prison. I can come to this country but I can do nothing else. I can't work to support myself. I can't freelance. I can't start my own business- because I'm a 'dependant'. I'm only allowed to provide 'comfort' to my husband who is also on an immigrant's visa.

In some circles- they call this the depression visa. I don't think the person who coined the term is off mark. I'm not sure what is worse- the pitying looks, scoffs of 'ya you knew what you were getting yourself into' from various folk, or the constant rejections from potential employers.

The second group- I generally want to eviscerate- slowly. The third group makes me want to eviscerate myself slowly.

I knew this was what I was getting myself into- and I took steps to keep myself busy. What I didn't anticipate was going from being super independent to super dependent on someone. Even if that someone is the love of my life.

There are days I want to tear my hair out and scream- pack my bags and come back home.  Writing for a career- its fun but an ultimately solitary business. Writing for a pittance- its the worst sort of career option because not only are you burning yourself out in a solitary prison you're also making yourself poorer in the process.

But at the core of this all is an unsettling seething anger at the unfairness of  this visa that disallows me from working when similar work visa categories allow their dependents to work. Then there is that helplessness I feel when I get one more rejection from employers who see me as a cost instead of an asset because they need to sponsor a work visa for me. I feel a deep seething anger towards the paralysis the american government seems to find itself in when it comes to reforming immigration laws. And then I feel mind numbing terror that I am a visitor in this country and I have no right to comment about its policies.

I recall getting into a discussion about this with a friend once. I was lamenting the government's focus on illegal immigrants and continued persecution of legal immigrants like me. She was quick to point out that our experiences are very different. They escape persecution to seek a better life and the american dream. Many of them die in the process. I remember wanting to tell her- 'But I have left the dream to come into a prison.' I restrained myself of course- because hell- its not like I had to worry about a snakehead gang killing me and my family.

That does not make my pain any less real however. There are different kinds of pain- and different kinds of prisons.

Well done America- this may be 2014 but your immigration laws are clearly in the 1950s. Then again- so are many countries immigration laws- including the laws in Singapore- my country of origin.

Perhaps one of the realities of growing up is coming to an acceptance that politicans are assholes and their policies don't really benefit anyone but themselves and the fat cat companies who sponsor their reelection campaigns.

I could live with that.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Mainstream Smells Funny.

I never thought I'd feel like an other
Within the mainstream

Was it when,
I asserted my love for swimming?
And extremely risky sports,
When I rejected their fair and lovely aesthetics,
To spend time worshiping the sun?

Was it due to my
Obvious enjoyment of world cuisines,
And a love for all things new,
My love mushrooms, seaweed, truffles
Fancy Coffee, Macaroons and all things frou frou.

It must have been when,
I laughed at the face of racists,
Or when I laughed at the homophobes,
When I laughed at the religious nuts,
And didn't laugh at their jokes,

Or maybe its because 
I read in a time when reading seems unfashionable.
I have an opinion that's well thought out and researched,
I reject generalizations and speak my rejections out aloud,
Or that I am adventerous because I only get to live once.

Here's the fact.
I'm different
From the mainstream.

The narrow minded,
Rainbow Hating,
Same food eating,
Couch sitting,
XBox playing,

I'm happy to live on the edge.
And everyone who lives 
On the edge with me,
Let us go,
For one heck of a ride
Through Life.

We can leave the mainstream
Because it smells funny.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

My First Police Encounter.

I was on one of my walks the other day along a small, mostly deserted stretch of road in the neighbouring town when it finally happened. My first police encounter in the states. 

The cops do seem to be everywhere out here, even in my sleepy suburb where nothing really happens. You see them everywhere, driving by slowly in their ubiquitous cop cars, windows rolled down, staring straight ahead or glancing to their left, the light glinting off their ubiquitous ray bans. This is called ‘keeping the peace’ apparently.

I’m not sure how shuffling grandpas, mums with prams and people out walking their dogs in their pajamas constitute a ‘threat’ but then what do I know.

What I do know is that its probably better to ignore the cops. Why make eye contact and invite trouble? I’ve heard enough about police harassment in the US to have a healthy fear of the police, and to know that I should be staying far away from them. My usual practice is to look down, put my hands in my pockets and walk fast.

That’s what I was doing the other day I was out exploring. I was walking down towards the neighbouring town of Colonia in search of a bus stop (where the buses leave on the hour to New York) when it finally happened.

I got stopped by a cop. It was rather anti-climatic. For one- the officer in question was in shorts, and secondly, he was on a bicycle and wearing a cycle helmet.

He stopped me to ask if I was lost.

Naturally terrified at that point, I briefly contemplated walking away fast and pretending not to have heard him. Thankfully common sense prevailed, and I quickly whipped out my phone and showed him the Google maps I had turned on, to confirm that I was on a quest to find the bus stop and the Chinese restaurant nearby, where I was going for a bite of lunch.

He looked down at my phone, and back up at me. I could sense the next question already, and there it was, as predicted. “Ma’am its a long way to walk, and these roads are rather deserted. Are you sure?”

I nodded to the affirmative, and confirmed that yes, I have two functioning legs, I enjoy long walks, and no I didn’t mind the deserted roads so much. He wasn’t about to let it go though. He insisted on keeping me company for a stretch until I reached a safer, more populated stretch of road.

I was touched. I was also terrified and I didn’t know how to say no to his offer.

So for the next mile and half, he kept me company. The poor chap was cycling at a snail’s pace to keep up with my ambling pace. And during this one and half miles, we spent a very entertaining time talking about the travails of being a cop on a bicycle (apparently no one takes him very seriously), violence (yes even in my boring suburb there have been ‘incidents’- which he did not elaborate on), and finally on the best Chinese food in the three neighbouring towns.

Once I reached my destination, I said goodbye, he gave me a jaunty salute, and we went our separate ways- not before he threw in as a parting shot, “Don’t be scared of us cops ma’am- we’re here for your protection ya know.”

Point noted Mr. Bicycle cop. Point well noted.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Frenchman in Hell’s Kitchen.

Going into New York City is always an adventure for me. Living out in the Jersey suburbs, I need to walk 2 miles to the nearest train station for a train that comes on the half hour, and then ride it into the city’s ubiquitous Penn Station. And then when I do reach the city- I will usually walk because I detest the traffic, and enjoy the fresh air. Besides- I going into Hell’s Kitchen for lunch and I needed to work up an appetite.

This adventure began at lunch. I was knocking back my Pad Thai at Noodies, going into paroxysms on how good it all tasted when the gentleman in the table next to mine interjected with his own compliments. “Oh the smells, the flavours, zhey are so robust yes?”. Excited to get into a food discussion, I added, “Yes, they are, and they remind me of home- I just moved over from Southeast Asia and I miss these flavours and smells.”

I though the conversation was over. You know- random lunchtime small talk with the person next to you. Perfectly understandable in a cramped restaurant where everyone is in everyone’s personal space.

What I didn’t expect was during my walk back to the NY Penn station to catch my train back home, I’d get tapped on my shoulder by the same Frenchman- who was looking to continue this food discussion.

Let me put it this way, when you’re alone in a big city, you tend to become hyper aware of your surroundings. You leap at shadows and the shifts in the light. And when someone taps you on your back, your heart will jump into your mouth and you prepare to die.

I must have shrieked worthy of a banshee- but thankfully I was in Times Square- which is so noisy that my shriek must have sounded like a mouse squeak. Nevertheless, I did turn around and face this Frenchman with a deranged expression because he put his hands up and said, “Its me- I was sitting next to you in the restaurant. I want to know more about southeast asian food.”

I know I should have said “Sorry I’m busy” and run away from there, but there he was looking earnest, wiping his ray bans on his shirt bashfully. I couldn’t turn down such an interesting conversational gambit- I was homesick, and I wanted company for the next 15 blocks I needed to walk.

So I began weaving a tale of fresh spices, spicy curries, fluffy rice and stunning aromas. Of how flavours and cooking methods must have spread across the region through trade with India, China and the Arab world, and how food need not be expensive to be damn good.

Food need not be expensive to be good? Mr. Frenchman there picked up on that cue to interject, “I think you are saying that on purpose to me because French food is always so expensive no?”

I was mortified; I did not mean to insult his culinary heritage. I was prepared to apologize profusely, but then he added, “Its okay- even I think French food is rather disgusting. All those sauces, so much of pretentious build up for such bland food. Too much butter and too much garlic. I love asian food, its so robust, so exciting. I want to visit Asia to eat all the wonderful food there.”

What does one say to a revelation like that? While my poor brain was working furiously to process this incredible statement, he continued.

“I really enjoy Indian food the most. All those aromas, so incredible. It’s like heaven on a plate. I’m sure you must be a phenomenal cook yourself? All Indian women seem to be born with the ‘excellent cook’ gene no?”

And then he turned to look at me expectantly.

I admit being caught unprepared. So I relied on my usual method of witty comeback and said “Yes indeed- and my husband is Very appreciative”- and capped that with a salacious wink.

The man looked chagrined. He then quietly asked, “you’re married?” By then I'd reached Penn Station, so I nodded, said a cheerful goodbye and disappered into the crowd. I turned back to look for him and there he was, standing very still looking a bit sad. 



Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Neighbours

There’s a movie running in the theatres right now- called The Neighbours. It’s about a family warring with a fraternity who move in next door and from what I hear- it’s quite the hit. Perhaps its become such a hit because everyone watching can relate. I definitely do. My neighbours are a whole new brand of strange.

The people who live upstairs have parties every night. Loud thumping parties that have dancing, bad 90s Hindi music, and lots of screaming. They also love to move furniture around at 11PM, take long showers at midnight and then bump around in bed at 2AM. Unfortunately- as our apartment has thin walls- we bear unwilling witness to every single moment of their loud lives.

The other day I met the lady of the house and she invited me for tea. I politely declined. There is something decidedly strange about befriending people about whom you already, unwillingly know so much about. What would I talk to her about? “Oh yes yes, how is your 2AM matress shake coming along?” Besides- there is no guarantee I may not commit an act of violence against her for running my sleep on a daily basis.

However, our noisy upstairs neighbours are relatively sane compared to the others I’ve met.

The people who live one house down come to mind. The women in the house constantly give glares and head to toe inspections when I step outside since they apparently live on their patio to spy on everyone. Two days ago- one of them got the courage to ask me “who are you?” accompanied with a supercilious sneer and yet another head to toe inspection. Before I could reply, she added, “That is a bachelor household- only bachelors live here. Are you a girlfriend?”

I just nodded and quickly ducked into my apartment. For one- the load of laundry in my hands was getting heavy, and then it was getting hard to hold in the laughter. This neighbour hid her child behind her while I walked past today. I wonder what she’s going to do next. Paint a red A on our door?

But the one who takes the cake is the jumping laundry room racist. There I was, doing my laundry and smiling at another lady in the laundry room, when all of a sudden this dude literally leapt out from behind a dryer to give me an incredibly racist discourse, in tamil, on the dangers of talking to or even smiling at African American folk. I shot back with a quip and a choice word or two, also in tamil, about the dangers of talking to or smiling at racist people before ducking out of there. I know I should have pretended to be spanish and misunderstood him- but I was so offended by what he said I just couldn't keep quiet. The laundry room racist should be glad I didn't deck him one for being an unmitigated arsehole.

I will say this in conclusion- in between the noisy neighbours upstairs, the judgemental neighbours next door and the racists in the laundry room- life is certainly not boring here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Terrifying Reality of Eating Out

My husband took me to the Olive garden today. I was looking forward to it because he's told me so much about how good the food is. When the food arrived, I almost called the waitress back to ask her if she brought me the wrong plate of pasta. The plate that showed up at my table looked more like a family meal than a one person plate and I'm sure I could have easily sat on that plate- it was that big. The side of salad with my pasta wasn't any better. It was easily a four person portion served in a bowl so big I could have worn it over my head as a motorcycle helmet.

I briefly contemplated wearing that bowl on my head while sitting on that plate. But I could have hurt my head (and bottom) so I restrained myself. :P

The more important point to note however is was how promptly I lost my appetite and became extremely nauseus. I felt really annoyed with myself because a meal I was looking forward to suddenly tasted like chalk in my mouth. I forced myself to eat it because I thought I could overcome that mental block.

Bad idea- I feel worse now.

This isn't the first time this happened. Last week- we ate Chinese food. I ordered what I always considered comfort food- soup noodles (rather like Yong Tau Foo). The bowl was the size of a four portion bowl of soup at a steamboat restaurant. I ate two bites and got full to the point of throwing up. Thanks for ruining my comfort food options- damned unnamed chinese joint!

This losing my appetite when I look at the plate of food phenomenon is something I seem to have picked up after coming here to the states, rather like a strange pollen allergy. Things have become so bad that the husband has forbidden me from ordering an entire portion for myself knowing that I will waste 60% of it.

I think this is the cue to bring out all known jokes about American sizes. As for me- can I just state for the record that portion sizes are TOO GODDAMNED BIG!

I want to clarify though. This nausea I feel when I look at a plate of food isn’t a guilt based “omg I need to watch my caloric intake” reaction. Its visual. When I see a big plate- my automatic assumption is that quality and taste is compromised to accommodate big portions. I think- how boring- I have no space for anything else. And then I lose interest in that plate of food.

Perhaps I am more sensitive to this because I come from the land of the economic rice (damn I really miss my nasi padang, Chinese economic rice, and Indian lunchtime rice thali). We order a few tiny portions of vegetable and or meat with a small cup of rice. It comes up to a decent size but we can still enjoy a variety of flavours.  And I'll still have space left over for desert. I need variety to satisfy me dammit- and yet I can't order 3 different dishes here without wasting at least 90% of each dish.

I know that in the name of cultural integration, I should adjust to these American portions, but there’s this vocie in my head- screaming at me to not be crazy and stuff myself with food I really don’t need. I've decided to listen to that sensible voice.  And so for my sanity- I’ve come up with a set of survival rules.
  • Tap water is okay. Drink as much of it as possible. This is a hot and dry place so american portions of water are totally acceptable.
  • If water is not available (it happens okay!)- stick to a small coffee, preferably black with no sugar. If I’m lucky, I’ll get an infusion tea. Again with no sugar. I’m definitely not buying any kind of soda or juice here. A ‘small’ drink feels like an entire litre. And they’re all filled with High Fructose Corn Syrup. (eeeek)
  • If the restaurant meal is big enough to have leftovers to take home and eat for two days it’s too big. I think I’ll stick to ordering kids meals at restaurants or failing that, just eating appetizers.
  • Make my own damn toast for breakfast- even breakfast options are too darn heavy.
  • And finally cook my own meals and eat at home as much as possible- since it is the cheaper option for all involved.

I think I could manage with that for now.


Friday, May 09, 2014

Walking in the rain

Its been three weeks since I came to the US. Before I came I thought the things I'd enjoy were the unfolding spring, the flowers, the malls, the maginficent sunrises etc etc. In short- a really silly kind of list.

Here's what I've found. Spring flowers and sunsets are maginficent, but oddly two dimensional.  Much like my neighbours. They smile at me- but we hardly speak. I find that comforting however, as I'm not in the mood to be friendly. I'm more interested in breathing in this town I now call home.

Its an interesting experience, living in a suburban township. Its silent. Contemplative. And oddly beautiful. I've found that I love walking in the rain- rain that isn't a torrential downpour of hellwrath- but a gentle spray of fine droplets that just bead on your arms like a cool embrace from heaven. I enjoy walking down the main street, even if I sometimes am the only one walking. I often spy drivers giving me a quizzical look from inside their warm cars. Maybe the novelty of seeing someone walk down the street is too much of a shock to their system but I don't really pay them much attention.

There are abandoned businesses everywhere on the nearby strip mall- a rusting old dive joint, a convenience store and a nail salon. I wonder who the business owners were, and why they shut them down. Its probably for mundane reasons, like a poor economy, or damage from the hurricane two years ago, but it is fun to wonder.

I sometimes hear a distant train going along the nearby track, the occassional helicopter flying overhead to monitor traffic, and distant police sirens. At four every evening, I hear the screams of children released from their school- running out for a quick game of catch on the field before their buses pick them up. Then I hear the distinct rumble of those ubiqutous yellow school buses. I even hear the low thump thump of hip hop music playing loudly at night- making me wonder who are the gangs that rule these streets. I should be terrified of all this but I am intrigued by this new home of mine, and unfolding its mysteries.

There is a certain eloquence in this existence, in the wind- the quiet trickle of water after a rainy morning, and the rustling of the grass. They awaken something deep within the soul, rather like the voice of a beloved singing to you, and you alone.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

When did Feminist become a bad word?

My brother spat out the word "feminist" as an epiphet the other day. I was horrified. When did feminist become a bad word?

I am proud to say I am a feminst- and I disagree that it is a bad word. I also wanted to clear up some misconceptions while I'm at it.

No I don't hate men, I don't think women are better than men and I am not anti-men. As a feminist however-I believe that the feminist movement was ment to free people from gender-dictated social constructs and patriarchy definied 'traditional roles' to discover what gives them a happy, meaningful life. And I believe this applies to men and women equally.

I know what many people think- then why call it feminist? Why not humanist. Let me put it in context- feminism did begin as a movement focused more solely on issues related to being a women. But women do not experience their lives in a gender seperate silo, and in the 200 plus years that have passed from the beginnings of feminism- the world has changed significantly. Today women can attend school, vote, hold political positions, choose to work inside or outside the home, decide if and when to have children, and choose when, if, and to whom they get married. This has profoundly impacted families, created whole new values of respect and inclusion, and most importantly contributed in a very significant way to the global econonmy.

But more importantly, feminism isn't irrelevant- even in this day and age. These enlightened times haven't stopped sexual assault, street harassment or domestic violence against women. Women still have to cotend with a popular culture that teaches them to be sexual objects, to focus on their appearance and to undervalue their intellect. There are still men who believe an attractive woman must want attention from men even if she says she doesn’t. People still judge a woman’s value based on how much they want to have sex with her. They still blame a woman for getting raped. Employers are still firing women because they are pregnant- or refusing to hire a married or pregnant woman because she is percieved as 'less productive' than her male counterparts.

But more importantly- we are reaching a point in our history where laws put in place to protect women have become our crutches. Women are exploiting these laws and protections, and men are suffering for it. Men too are victims of violence, harassment and abuse- but are not afforded the same protections- in fact in many cases they are afforded less protection against their abusers because societal norms have not caught up with broader feminist thinking.

I am not ashamed to say I am a feminist. I am a feminst because I believe in a society where your worth is not  judged by your gender- regardless of whether you are a man, woman or a transgendered individual. I don't say that men and women are equal- because biologically we aren't- but I'd like to think generations will thank us for brining our ideals, and our history of breaking barriers, and redirecting that towards creating a world where gender is just a bilogical tag and nothing more.

A pipe dream- but I think I am allowed to have one or two ideals.