Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lhasa, anyone?

I'm in a bit of a rut, figuring out my next step. Thankfully, I don't feel as restless as I did when I was a bit younger. I think I'm just trying to find a place that feels like home.

I've discovered that I'm happiest when I have plans and goals in mind. So while I plan my next career move, I'm simultaneously setting a new, non-career-related target so that I have something else to work toward and look forward to.

I decided that I'm going to go to Hong Kong and Tibet some time in the next two years. I don't know how or when but it will happen!

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I have a lot of respect for my grandmother. She worked as a history teacher when most women living in the Qingdao area (China, same as the beer) were not even educated. She played basketball in high school. She escaped the Communists by dressing in a soldier's uniform and moving to Taiwan. She is intelligent, strong-willed, healthy and disciplined. She's the kind of lady who solves problems and gets things done.

Unfortunately, she started to go blind a few years ago due to glaucoma. It was really difficult for her to learn to relinquish control. It's been difficult for us to see her deteriorate physically and mentally. She lives a few hours away from me, in the same senior citizen center she has lived for several decades, because she knows exactly how many steps it takes to go from one point to another. She still insists on cooking for us.

This weekend was her 90th birthday (in Chinese years). We congregated in her tiny apartment, uprooted her from her schedule, and planned our weekend around restaurants. I haven't eaten this well since... well, since the last time I went home, but I'll save my food descriptions for a different entry.

Since the onset of the glaucoma, my grandma was forced to stop painting and writing calligraphy, two hobbies that she used to enjoy immensely. For her birthday, she wanted to write some characters for us to frame and keep. We helped her line up the words, soak the brush in ink, and place the brush in the correct starting position.

She was sweating from the effort it took to write. If you focus on the wall, you can see the calligraphy that she wrote before she went blind.

I guess I'm trying to hold onto as much of her as I can, while I still can. Part of the reason why I am so obsessed with improving my Chinese is because I want to finally tell her what's in my heart.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I've been doing a lot of fun and novel things, like snorkeling, eating cake for dinner (twice!), sleeping in until an embarassing hour. Next thing on the list was making and eating our version of Luigi's pizza. Luigi's is a local pizza joint where my classmates and I used to go after studying ( When the going gets tough, the tough get going... to Luigi's!

Richard, my friend and classmate got his hands on the recipe for Luigi's Spinach-Ricotta Thin-Crust Pizza and suggested that we try making it from scratch. (

Although Disha did all the work while Richard and I watched, we all took credit for what turned out to be a fabulous, crunchy, amazing pizza. I was so pleased with the results that I posted the recipe below:

Luigi's Spinach-Ricotta Thin-Crust Pizza
Makes 2 (12-inch) pizzas

1 (0.25-ounce) packet active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups water, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

3 ounces fresh spinach
4 ounces ricotta (we used about twice as much ricotta)
8 to 10 ounces mozzarella
1/8 cup grated parmesan
2 cloves garlic, chopped (all three of us like garlic a lot, so we added about 3x the amount of garlic that the recipe suggested + granulated garlic)

Dissolve yeast in water and add sugar. Mix well and set aside. Place flour in mixing bowl. Return to water and add the salt and mix well.

With your fingers, make a small well in the flour and slowly pour about a third of the water into the well. Mix with one hand. Add another third of the water and continue to mix. Add remaining water. Work the dough with your hands until it is smooth and firm and still a little sticky. This could take about 10 minutes. (If you are using a mixer with a dough hook, mix in about 1 cup of the water to begin with. If the dough, once mixed, seems too dry, add the remaining water.)

Cut the dough in half. For a true thin-crust pizza, the dough should weigh about 11 to 12 ounces. For a slightly thicker crust, 14 ounces is good. Knead the dough for a few minutes, form it into a ball and seal the bottom.

Place the dough on a plate and cover with a smooth, damp towel and let rise for about 25 minutes. Chill dough in the refrigerator for at least 15 to 20 minutes. When you take it out of the refrigerator, dough can be used right away. Alternatively, you can leave it covered in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes. Flour both sides and put it on the countertop. Flatten the dough with your hands and use your fingers to create a rim. Continue using the heels of your hands to flatten and stretch the dough to form a 12-inch disk. You can also use a rolling pin.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. (If using a stone, preheat it for about 45 minutes to an hour.) Lightly oil a metal pizza pan and place the dough on the pan. Top first with mozzarella, then parmesan. Scatter spinach leaves on top of cheese and dot with spoonfuls of ricotta. Last, scatter chopped garlic. (If using a stone, place the pizza on a floured pizza peel, add toppings and then slide the pizza directly onto the stone.)

Bake for about 10 minutes. Check the underside of the pizza and the edge of the crust to make sure it is golden brown. Leave pizza in oven longer if it is not brown enough.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

new words

I'm watching a really dumb Chinese drama/comedy about a group of high school students. It is so awful that even my stomach cringes! However, the upside is that I'm learning how to say a lot of new words in Chinese. Here's a list of new words that I can add to my growing arsenal:

band of outlaws
swear ("promising")

I really hope that I never have to use any of these words (except for the last one).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Some of the Jobs that I Applied to Today

My leftover student loans and current part-time job leaves me with barely enough money for gas and food, so it's up to me to find a way to make that paycheck stretch for longer. I've been looking for another temporary job to hold me over and I'm starting to get desparate.

I hope that divulging this information won't come back to haunt me, but it's too funny to pass up. I think this is a testament to my hilarious (non)employment situation: Some of the Jobs that I Applied to Today (and no, I did not apply to these jobs in jest).

1. Groomer at dog daycare center
2. International hostel graveyard shift security guard
3. Mexican gift shop employee
4. Yacht worker

Sometimes I feel like my life is a nonstop sitcom played for laughs.


I spent all weekend watching bad Chinese dramas, so I decided to up the ante by testing my reading skills. Today I went to a Chinese bookstore, determined to buy something that I could limp my way through.

The bookstore employee pointed me to some children's books, which were too easy. She pointed to some novels, which were too intimidating. Finally, she directed me to the comic books area. As I slowly picked my way through, I could feel her eyes boring two holes into the back of my skull. I actually broke into a cold sweat because I didn't know where to start.

Now, I'd like to think that I can appreciate different types of art. Japanese animation should be no exception. I'll admit that I have watched my share of anime because it appeals to my inner escapist. But crouching there, sifting through shelves and shelves of comic books, I felt like a giant pervert. Each comic book I picked up featured a scantily-clad girl with breasts the size of air balloons. I started to wonder, where do we draw the line between art and pornography? I guess it just depends on the individual and the intended audience.

I did finally purchase a few comic books that did not feature any naked women stretched out over the cover. Mission accomplished!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

nothing is for sure and nothing is certain

I had another dream last night. It was one of those punched-in-the-stomach kind of dreams, the kind that leaves you slightly winded and thinking a little too much. I won't get into the nitty gritty details, except that it involved English class and a pretend transfer student from USC Business School who actually lives in SF in real life.

I blame this dream on watching (500) Days of Summer. When I think about each nuance of the dream, it starts to make sense. I think dreams are like shimmering tapestries of slippery memories, quirky details, and past traumas. Sometimes, they are hard to shake off. Sometimes I think that they are hard to shake off because I don't want to forget.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


My original plan was to begin my part-time job last Monday, as soon as I was done with the bar. I'd take a weekend off to relax, and then get my life right back on track. However, my career counselor and several former classmates urged me to take at least a week off. You're probably feeling burned out, they said. You need a break. My career counselor promptly sent me home and told me not to come back for a week. "You need to learn how to relax," she said. "You law students and your type-A personalities. Not everything in life is go-go-go."

So while our dean sets the funding process into place, I've got a few weeks to do this thing called "relax." When I was studying and working and dreaming of a chance to take a breather, I wrote a list of things I'd do if I had free time. And guess what? I've already run through most of the list. At this rate, I will be able to write contracts in Chinese by December.

There are so many worse things in the world than to be bored on a beautiful Wednesday. That's a luxury that most people can't afford.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Sometimes I wonder if personality characteristics or traits spring from somewhere deep inside ourselves, or if they are just given to us via family and friends through brainwashing. When I was a kid, my parents designated me as the loud, silly, clumsy one in the family because I seemed to possess no fear of danger or death (or any nerve endings, for that matter). I swung from palm trees, fell off several large structures, spent a summer perfecting a trick that consisted of jumping off a moving bike.

I don't see myself as clumsy person, but maybe I have a skewed perception of myself. I have to consider that I've sliced my face with a metal fence and I've broken three teeth in Andorra (a tiny country sandwiched between Spain and France). Surprisingly, I've broken no bones (yet - knock on wood).

So it's no surprise to me that this is the second time I've given myself a black eye. The first time involved snowboarding and my goggles ramming into my eye when I fell on my face. I wish there was a very cool accompanying story for this particular incident, but there isn't. I walked into the career counselor's office and she asked, somewhat jokingly, if I was a victim of domestic violence. No, I had to admit. I was a victim of the car door. Yes, I am 26 years old, and I can't seem to close the car door properly without swinging it into my face.

Luckily, all these years of accidents and injuries have transformed my thinking in a positive manner. Whenever something bad happens, I just wince, chuckle, and think about how much worse it could have been. If I had swung that car door into my face just an inch higher, I might be blind in my left eye!

Another upside: I have a very fierce looking cut under my left eye, like a miniature eye. I don't know if it looks more football player-ish or cyclops-ish. People are afraid to talk to me and I feel very tough and silly.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"What's next?"

Everyone has been asking me about the bar, if I've passed, what I'm going to do now with my life. Here's a general update:

Have you ever been to a racetrack before? (I swear, there is a point to this sudden jump.) Have you ever watched the movie "Seabiscuit"? Have you ever noticed the funny eyewear that racehorses wear? Racehorses wear blinders, which are also known as blinkers or winkers. According to wikipedia, blinders are pieces of horse tack that restrict the horse's vision to the rear and to the side. Many racehorse trainers believe this keeps the horse focused on what is in front of him, encouraging him to pay attention to the race rather than other distractions.

Anyway, that's what studying for the bar and taking the three day exam felt like for me. I felt like a racehorse wearing blinders. I zoned out the rest of the world. I didn't know or care about what was going on outside of Barbri. I counted my days according to which subject I was studying, not which day of the week. Mondays were no longer Mondays; they became "Constitutional Law practice set 2 and 3 + California Evidence practice essays." I didn't dare go to a coffeeshop to study, because I didn't want any distractions. I memorized 15 subjects, to the point where one word could trigger 30 pages.

I was pretty calm throughout the whole process. About a week before the bar, subjects suddenly fell into place. All the subjects connected. It was a very cool, numbing feeling, like mental menthol.

The actual bar itself was held at the San Diego Convention Center. Picture a thousand students lined up in perfect rows, with a gray-haired proctor watching each row. Each student was assigned a seat and a number. I expected to see some meltdowns but there weren't any. Apparently, there were a lot of people who didn't show up and one guy behind me who left after the first hour and didn't come back, but I didn't pay attention to anyone but myself.

Barbri prepared us well. Of course, I don't know much about the other bar exam preparation courses out there. I know that Barbri is probably the most expensive, but I think it's worth it. The bar presented some surprises, but for the most part, I did what I was programmed to do. By this time, I was used to sitting for 6 hours at a time without getting up, so sitting for three hours really wasn't so bad at all. They melted away quickly.

I don't get the results until November 20, so until then, I'm focused on starting this new chapter of my life. I'm excited and happy and nervous to see what happens!

I start a part-time job at a nonprofit elder law organization in a few weeks. The job is temporary and will hold me over for a few months until I find something more permanent. The attorneys, staff, and clients there are truly wonderful people and I can't wait to return.

In the meantime, I plan on watching hours of mindless television, cooking a lot, painting, going to a Padres game, snorkeling in La Jolla cove, hiking in Torrey Pines, attending my grandma's 90th (!) birthday, and having lots of mini-adventures.

Although I'd love to travel, I decided to hold off until I'm in a more financially secure situation. Since a bar trip was out of the question for me, I decided to do some armchair traveling instead. I've been working through J. Maarten Troost's trio of books. Currently, I'm on his third book, "Lost on Planet China." There are a lot of laugh-out-loud parts.

This weekend, I watched three movies: "Tulpan," "Irina Palm," and "Mister Lonely." I highly recommend all three. "Tulpan" reminded me of what it felt like to be on the Mongolian steppes (although it is set in Kazakhstan).

I'm also embarking on my "Chinese Project." I've been meaning to brush up on my Chinese for a long time. I hate to admit it, but my parents were right. I should have paid attention in Chinese school when I was growing up, instead of using my Friday nights to gossip with friends. I know approximately 100 words right now. There are about 20,000 Chinese characters. I need to know about 7,000 to understand educated Chinese. If I learn two words a day, that's 730 words a year. If I keep that up, in less than 10 years, I will reach my goal (and maybe I will have paid off most of my growing student debt as well). I'm going to start with the important words: the food words. Right now, I can pick out words like "chicken" and "green" but I can barely order from a menu. Hopefully, by the end of the summer, I will be able to read out of a Chinese cookbook!