Category Archives: Food

suburban surprises

This time last year, I was in Wyoming terrorizing cattle, watching grasshoppers pop out of the tall grass by the dozens, running in light snow to watch for golden eagles on the hills. What a world away it seems; how things have changed. This year I have not left New York state. I have barely written (but I plan to start again), with the emotional/physical/mental turmoil this pandemic and other family issues have caused. It’s been a hard year for everyone I know and strange for me to be back in my childhood home although I’m thankful to be able to spend more time with my family.

But I’ve discovered interesting nooks closer to the place I grew up—a cemetery with the graves of Revolutionary War veterans, local ponds and woods full of deer and chipmunks, another lone gravestone with the name of one of the founding members of the town carved into it hidden behind a suburban strip mall. This is how I really like to get to know a place—that stumble across an unexpected discovery, those little trails that lead off into who knows where. Places and creatures that may have always been there but went unnoted. There are wild turkeys roaming around the suburban developments and woodpeckers everywhere I turn. There are greenways to bike and local historical areas that can’t be found online. There are so many things I don’t know about this place and it’s a lovely surprise.

Here, black crickets invade the house every night. The mosquitoes are finally dying out now that it’s gotten chillier. The end of the growing season is still giving us carrots, figs, raspberries, and sunchokes, and the blue jays and cardinals have discovered the birdseed I put out for them so they wake me up every morning (but the squirrels have discovered it too). The jays and squirrels make a ruckus with all the nuts and acorns they’re eating from the trees. I, like everyone else, have been baking like crazy (sourdough, focaccia, biscuits, cookies, cakes, danishes…) so I’m already on banana bread #14 this year (this year’s banana bread production has been more than the last 30 years combined!) but I just want to say that my recipe has been perfected—moist and light and perfect toasted with butter for days after.

I’ve finally started reading again; there are so many books that have come out that I’m excited about. I’ve just finished C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold—beautifully written and melodic in its language, a fascinating reinvention of the American West during the gold rush era told through the eyes of an Asian American girl. I also read More Miracle Than Bird by Alice Miller, which introduced me to the life of Georgia Hyde-Lees, the woman who eventually married W.B. Yeats and began automatic writing to hold their marriage together. There was quite a bit of drama in those days! This was a pretty surprising and interesting read, considering I didn’t know anything about her or about W.B. Yeats’s personal life previously (and interest in the occult). Reading Aimee Bender’s newest book next and Sanmao’s Stories of the Sahara, which has finally been translated from the Chinese! I’ve been recommended Sanmao’s writing several times now, including from the fisherman I met on that island a couple years ago (has it really been two years since Taiwan and my China research trip?!) plus I LOVE the desert and desert stories so I’m really excited to start it. Hoping that all this reading will inspire me to work on my novel!

Vietnam

Just a whole bunch of photos from my vacation in Vietnam…

Hue:
First, of course, there’s the Citadel. Right across the river from where I was staying, where the last emperors lived. Reminded me of the Forbidden City (and was modeled after it) but there are areas of ruins, destroyed during the war.

In Vietnam, I saw small shrines everywhere, sometimes just a few incense sticks sticking up from the sidewalk. Other times more ornate like this one:

A popular banh mi seller by the bridge on the south side of the Perfume river. Not my favorite, actually, the meat too fatty and chewy and sweet.

A local specialty called cơm hến with teeny tiny clams, peanuts, rice, herbs, and different vegetables. Can’t quite taste the clams but it had really great texture and was delicious.

I rented a bicycle one day in Hue and biked out of the city to this abandoned water park, Ho Thuy Tien. Quite eerie, especially alone. I started on the far end of the park where it was only myself and a few cows. Standing inside the dragon, I could watch other tourists approaching, including one Vietnamese family. There’s a “guard” at the front gate but there’s also a back route.

My visit coincided with Tet, the Vietnamese new year, and everywhere, there were flowers being sold. Little clementine trees and chrysanthemums.

Alongside the Perfume river, a water buffalo and her calf.

Hoi An:

At night, the riverside in Hoi An is lit up by lanterns and little paper crowns with candles inside left to float on the river. It’s touristy but still oddly magical.

I did like the countryside best, where you can ride on a bike past paddies with egrets and water buffalo, a temple jutting up here and there. Someone told me that the dead in Vietnam get better houses than the living—the shrines and temples are incredible. This one is a simple family shrine, I think.

At a local market, small banh xeo. It made a great snack along with the silky tofu+ginger syrup from another vendor.

A local specialty of Hoi An, cao lau, which is thick rice noodles with roast pork, bean sprouts, herbs. Season it with soy sauce and lime.

Da Nang:

Only in Da Nang will you find a fire- and water-breathing dragon bridge. Worth staying overnight just for that! 

Ho Chi Minh:

More flowers being sold for the new year. I did spend some time with some flower sellers, cousins of a host, who had brought the flowers up from the Mekong. They had plenty of flowers a few days before Tet but expected to sell them all.

My favorite dessert, found on the backpacker street (Bui Vien). Silky tofu with ginger syrup, tapioca pearls, and sweetened condensed milk. Doesn’t look like much but it’s delicious and cheap at 7000 VND.

I ate at a lot of sidewalk vendors including this one. Grilled chicken with broken rice. The stools are tiny! I like the banh mi carts with their windows piled high with baguettes but I have to say that I prefer grilled fillings, rather than the cold cuts.

I took a couple of public buses to the more authentic Cu Chi tunnel area, Ben Duoc. Not hard to do at all and at the Cu Chi bus station, vendors like this guy would come onto the bus and sell snacks, sandwiches, and drinks. I have no idea what he’s selling though. Below, just a hidden entrance to the tunnels…I had to take off my backpack so I could squeeze in!

Just an impromptu fire show in the middle of the street…don’t know who she was performing for but it was pretty interesting!

Some com tam, grilled pork chop over broken rice. The broken rice is more dry than I like but I found myself ordering this quite a bit because I could read what it was and it would be fresh and hot.

Caught a lion dance show on my way out of the city. I’d actually never seen one performed on platforms before.

Mekong Delta (Can Tho):

Although Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong delta, because I spent part of my time in the countryside, it felt quite easy to escape it. Really easy to bike around on paths surrounded by banana trees and cross over the various creeks on thin bridges. Some were pristine but I saw one that was covered with garbage, yet a woman was still washing her clothes in it. The mosquitos are vicious. The bananas are tiny and plump with thin skins and incredibly sweet—one of my hosts picked some from a tree outside. Makeshift docks everywhere. Lovely to explore but so hot during the afternoon that all you can do is nap. And because of Tet, no floating markets. I’m sure it was quieter than usual with a lot of stores shuttered but there were definitely still vendors around and some restaurants open. And plenty of people enjoying the flower street and night markets. 

Burning trash. Unfortunately, this was fairly common around many of the places I went to in Vietnam and would actually make it rather difficult to breathe. On the Hai Van pass between Hue and Hoi An, I’d asked the tour guide whether the air was misty due to actual mist or pollution. His response had been that central Vietnam doesn’t really have factories so it was mist but I’m not so sure. There are tons of motorcycles and random fires burning (completely untended!) which would maybe contribute to some obvious air pollution.

So many jackfruit!

Nem nướng̣, grilled pork patties that you wrap in rice paper with lettuce, herbs, chives, green banana slices, cucumber, and any of the other fixings. Really good!

In Can Tho, the riverside walking path ended in a large lot where kids and adults were renting these mini cars and hoverboards to play with. There was also a large night market nearby.

Both of my homestays in Can Tho were fostering tiny abandoned kittens!

It was a lot of traveling but I’m glad to be back, even if I’m greeted here by an earthquake (I woke up and felt my bed shaking) and perpetual rain. Hoping the rain lets up soon since the gloom makes me very unproductive!

 

Some surprises

I’m happy to share that A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration not only got a great review on Newpages.com, but also that Bennington Review nominated it for a Pushcart Prize! There was a wealth of great writing in Bennington Review 3 so I’m really honored that they chose mine to nominate.

Also, I have a reprint of Away They Go or Hurricane Season coming out early next year in an anthology called Endless Apocalypse from Flame Tree Publishing! You can check out the other authors who will be included in the anthology here.

In Taipei, the rain hasn’t let up at all. So different from the first sunny days I was here so I feel a bit tricked, my expectations all out of whack. But I’ve gotten used to bicycling in the drizzle and how, some days, the clouds cover my kitchen view of Taipei 101. Classes at National Taiwan University aren’t quite what I expected either since we actually only have one class, 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. It doesn’t seem much at first but because we run through material so quickly with plenty of homework and review each day and I’m trying to remember all the words I used to know and figure out how to write them in traditional characters, it’s actually quite a lot of work. I wasn’t actually prepared for how many everyday characters I use have been simplified! My speaking needs work as well so I’m excited to be meeting a language exchange partner early next week.

The food here skews a bit sweet; I’m currently in love with the fresh pineapple bun with butter from 好好味 where the top is crisp and sweet, the bread is airy, and it comes hot and fresh from the oven so the butter melts as you eat it. So good. Mostly for meals, there’s bian dang 便当 which is like a lunch box where you pick the protein (fried chicken, stewed pork foot or pork belly, pork chop, fish, etc) and they give you some veggie sides and rice. Then there are the late night early morning breakfast shops with their buns and pastries and soy milk.

The school cafeterias are okay, with self-serve buffets which charge by weight, or different types of cuisine that range from dumplings to Korean food to Cantonese food to Japanese food. The night markets are fun but sometimes I mostly end up just eating fried things there. Last night at Raohe Night Market, I had a fried scallion pancake, fried chicken with basil, and sichuan chaoshou (wontons) in chili oil and had tastes of my friends’ food. Granted, I don’t always make the best decisions when I’m hungry.But there are tons of options–okonomiyaki being freshly made, fruit juice, baked seafood, stinky tofu, tiny fried crabs, egg waffles, ice cream wrapped with grated peanuts and cilantro, baby octopus covered with cheese, “coffin bread”, black pepper pork buns, and so much more. So crowded though so I couldn’t just take photos of them all.

Last of Seoul

A few last images to remember Seoul by:

1) At the dried seafood market

2) Bulgogi ssam with a playwright friend

3) Temple with flower clothing for all the animal decorations

4) A truck full of metal shavings

5) The view from the city wall with N.

6) A pre-flight tuna kimbap

Currently in Taipei now where it started out hot and humid but has been raining practically nonstop for a week. But it’s so different here from Seoul and China; I’m still getting used to it all.

QR code takeover (+ an interview)

In Shanghai, even the small stands that make breakfast on the street take mobile payment. What a change from the last time I was there, in early 2016; I feel old-fashioned paying with cash for my 1.5 rmb 油条 breakfast. There are tons of orange and yellow bicycles (two different companies) parked helter-skelter because there’s no need for docking stations—if you’ve got a phone and a data plan, you’re good to go. I’ve got a phone but no data so I walk, but it’s nice to see so many people cycling even if the bicycles take up most of the sidewalk.

One day during my short visit, early in the morning, I saw regular folks lined up to enter a huge mansion across the street from where L lives. Must be something cool going on, I thought. We looked it up: A restoration of a 1900s garden villa by Prada that used to be owned by an entrepreneur of textiles named Rong Zhai. We went early in the morning on a weekend—the wait time quoted was about 1.5 to 2 hours but we waited about 50 minutes before we could get in. The Art Deco stained glass were incredible—I loved the ships. It was interesting to note the difference between old and new though. The layout of the building was fascinating, with stairs everywhere, even on the same landing. Also, apparently Prada’s next season involves a lot of knee-high sports socks with dress shoes so get ready!
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Another day, I went to a talk at NYU Shanghai by the historian Valerie Deacon who was researching British and American air crew and their evasion training during WWII in case they were shot down over Germany-controlled France. The British were told to remember the correct side of the street to walk/bike/drive on; the Americans were told not to chew bubble gum. It’s funny to think that would be the giveaway for an American! Also, the training manual told them to get a bike if possible even though they’re rare but don’t steal them since that’d draw attention, ha. I’d love to read her research once she’s done but she’s only just starting this new project.

Besides that, it was all walking around old neighborhoods and seeing how they’d changed and eating a lot of great food like Chongqing style grilled fish. One area by Suzhou creek had a new development but plastered on the windows were posters decrying the developer/landlord as scammers. It’s sad that it’s not more uncommon. And my favorite little residential area in the middle of a bunch of demolished areas near Laoximen seems to be gone. I’d made a video of the area before and intended to do something with it—I still hope to. And I took a photo of G taking photos of hardware.

Today is Pepero Day here in South Korea. I have no one to exchange pepero sticks with so I guess I won’t become taller or thinner. (I think you have to exchange them? But I obviously don’t know anything about besides seeing the displays in front of all the convenience stores!) I did go to the Hongdae Free Market today to see what local artists are making. Pretty jewelry and cards and fabrics, mostly. Two portrait artists—one a more detailed anime style, the other more caricature-esque.

The other week I wandered around by Gyeogbokgung and passed by several different fairs/markets on the way to the Seoul Museum of Art. And managed to catch the changing of the guard at one of the smaller palaces, Deoksugung. Oh and I saw this butcher and his humongous side of cow.

Also, can I say that Korean-Chinese food is a whole different animal from Chinese food or Chinese-American food? It’s completely unrecognizable to me! Not bad, just different, like this version of jajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce). And I love these little crispy fish pastry snacks. And the freshly fried donuts…     

In non-Asia news, I stumbled across this little interview I did for Bennington Review with regards to A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration. Take a gander.

First week in Seoul

Black squirrels, white-chested with tall tufted ears, bury nuts in the wooded area outside my window. Korean magpies fly by, their magnificent plumage flashing; they seem so large with those long tails and white-edged wings. It’s quiet during the day here—I haven’t met a single other resident. At night, the gurgle of my mini fridge combats the silence but my night is short anyway; the jet lag wakes me up at 3 or 4 am, no matter what time I fall asleep.

The city itself is hilly, with streets that steeply lead up into little hilltop parks complete with exercise machines and badminton courts. Growing up in mostly flat areas, my maps app keeps surprising me by leading me up these steep hills—it’ll seem like a short walk but with that topography, a short walk can get tiring! Fruit trees are everywhere, especially where I am in Yeonhui-dong, known for upper-class residents and former presidents (including a military dictator). Lots of cafes around and Chinese restaurants although the prices are higher than I’m used to. Seoul seems greener than New York City, with older, larger trees shading some of blocks and flowers blooming from front doors. One building I passed had rows upon rows of plants and a lovely view since it was built on the hillside. I’d also forgotten about the huge residential communities in Asia, how one can get lost amidst thirty-floor apartment buildings tangled with greenery and winding paths. At least my artist residency complex is smaller, built on a little hill but wooded enough to invite all sorts of birds and those squirrels. We have the friendliest dog here, all fluffy pointed ears and stumpy legs. His name sounds something like Talim, but I’m not sure.

I’d also forgotten how difficult it can be to eat here, as an illiterate foreigner eating alone. Many restaurants that have their own burners or grills (korean bbq, pork and potato stew in the huge pots, etc) require at least two people. And fried chicken is also sold mostly as a whole chicken so maybe I’ll try it for take-out sometime and save the leftovers. It’s been an adventure figuring things out—a lot of cold or room-temperature food (kimbap/spicy buckwheat noodles) or hot soups. I find myself craving more salt and fat though so maybe the food is too healthy for my American lifestyle…Groceries, from what I can tell, seem to be more expensive than in the States with my thirty eggs costing 5,000 won (~$5) and bags of rice at $5/kilo and up in the supermarkets. I did find a discount imported snacks store in Hongdae, the university area by Hongik University, though—the snacks are ones that are close to expiration so they’re cheaper than usual. Like Tim Tams!

I’ve done a little bit of exploring and walking around, usually after spending the morning and afternoon working. I also had an eye consultation at one of the big eye clinics (BGN) in Gangnam (where there’s a Shake Shack!) which was very fancy and professional with a range of tests testing cornea thickness, pupil size, astigmatism, and so on for laser eye surgery. Afterwards, I’d walked over the bridge from Gangnam to Itaewon and gotten this lovely view, which I’ll leave you with.

Art Show and art show

My story “Art Show” is up today in the spring issue of Nashville Review! Check it out here (and the rest of the issue here!) It’s very much inspired by the international art community and scene in Shanghai.

And to celebrate (and due to waking up early because of jetlag), I bought myself some pastries from Arcade Bakery. Maybe I should make this a habit every time I get something published?
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Also, as an artist-in-residence in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace program, I’ll be participating in Open Studios this month! Here are the details:

Friday, April 28, 6-9pm
Saturday, April 29, 1-8pm
28 Liberty Street- 24th floor, New York, NY

Come check it out! I can tell you that this batch of artists, writers, choreographers, and performers are pretty damn talented so if you’re interested in the arts at all, make your way down at the end of this month and feel free to invite everyone! RSVP here!

Nostalgia and the future/ factories and possibility

Was surprised and flattered to stumble upon this podcast in which two London writers talked about my story “What Is Lost”! They first discuss Amal El-Mohtar’s Seasons of Glass and Iron before discussing my story and nostalgia around 12:42. Check it out: Storyological 2.01

Also, I have one of my favorite stories that I’d written in Shanghai earlier this year coming out from Day One tomorrow! You can pre-order (or regular order tomorrow…) or get yourself a subscription to the magazine for like $1.59/month. For a lit mag that comes out weekly, it’s a pretty great deal. My story is called “Dream Machine” and is set in a factory on the outskirts of Shanghai. I’m so excited for this one and love the cover and Kate Peterson’s poem which shares the pages of this issue with me.

I’ve just returned from AWP in DC this last weekend and had a great time catching up with old friends and meeting new people, talking to literary magazines and going to panels. Helping out the Center for Fiction was surprisingly fun and I was able to say hello to Gavin at Small Beer Press and the folks at Tin House where I’m a reader. Listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (so poised, so elegant!) speak with Ta-Nehisi Coates, Emma Straub and Ann Patchett, saw Roxanne Gay just hanging out at the hotel bar— you know, just normal writing conference life. Also, ate way too many biscuits at A Baked Joint because they were SO GOOD (and spicy!) All in all, a fun and educational break.

Garden Party in winter

It’s snowy and slushy here in New York for the first time this winter and I’m late with my news. I’ve got several pieces that came out/are coming out this season so here’s a quick list:

  • A poem titled “Garden Party” in Meniscus 4.2, a cool Australian lit mag. You can read the whole issue here.
  • Two micro-fiction pieces titled “Tiger in the Mountains” and “Tulou Secrets” in the latest issue of NANO Fiction, which also happens to be their 10th anniversary and last issue.
  • My story “A Ceiling of Sky” is coming out on Dec. 26th from The Forge Literary Magazine and they were amazing enough to nominate it for a Pushcart Prize! My first nomination!

Besides all the writing news, it’s been an autumn of work and reading and gymming. And today, I made a Hasselback potato gratin recipe blithely assuming it’d be like potato chips on top and potato gratin on the bottom but I was wrong. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a delicious potato gratin covered in cream and cheese but I don’t know how I fooled myself into thinking it’d be super crispy on top. Still wonderful though.

The Bookworm Literary Festival!

For all those interested, I’ll be moderating the last event called “On the Wings of the Dragon” at The Bookworm Literary Festival in Suzhou this weekend. The focus is actually on Lieve Joris’ work–she’s one of Europe’s leading non-fiction writers and will be talking about her journeys between Africa and China. 6:30pm on March 26th at The Bookworm in Suzhou! Afterwards, I might do a short reading at the Festival Party. If you’re in the area, come check it out!

I only just got back from visiting relatives in other, more mountainous areas of China. It was rainy but I still managed to go hiking around a few mountains (so green and lush! Palm trees and tall grasses and along the way, fields of rapeseed flowers glowing yellow in the gloom.) I also ate tons of delicious food, from homemade dumplings to hotpot to sweet&sour fish to clam noodle soup. It was a pretty great time although I’m saving my more complicated thoughts from the trip for an essay but here are a few photos.IMG_20160322_131322~2P1140610P1140790IMG_20160321_151044~2