You Don’t Have To

This afternoon I visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I hadn’t been since June 2001, and even then, it was a brief visit. Today,  I ducked into the Cathedral after crossing the street and fighting tight throngs of tourists. It was nice to sit in the church and take in all of the images and sights I ignored as an 11-year-old: The high ceilings, the shrines, the beautiful altar, and of course, the stained glass windows.

Around us, hundreds of tourists (many traveling in from outside of the United States), took pictures. The time spent of the photographs was often detailed, even with a high quality camera. As I knelt at my pew, I felt the urge creep up in the back of my mind.

“If you snapped a picture of the altar right now, it would look great on Instagram. Especially with the right filter. Think of the ‘likes’ you’ll get!”

As I live and breathe, the very thought crossed my mind. I don’t hide my love for social media. Through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve connected with old friends and friends I’ve never met in person. I enjoy posting photos of my travels, and I enjoy that other people enjoy the posts, too. Likes and hearts are nice.

However, I often find myself under pressure. Pressure to find a perfect Instagram filter, pressure to word a caption just right, pressure to share every event.

But, as I sat in the pew this afternoon, I mentally sat on my hands, thinking,  “You don’t have to document every single event, every single moment. It’s okay to let life fly ‘under’ the radar.”

As difficult as it was (and I struggled), I kept my phone in my purse. I didn’t take any photos at St. Patrick’s today. And the result is clear: I still feel as fulfilled and satisfied as if I had taken a photo, doctored it up with filters, and posted it on Facebook. More the same, while eating dinner at a kitschy new Korean restaurant in Manhattan Koreatown, I sat on my hands. I can eat galbi and bibimbap without posting a picture of it on Twitter. It tastes the same, and I enjoyed it without all of the pressure of “Is this lighting good enough for this picture?”

In conclusion, has this moment of clarity “cured” me? No. I have a picture of a flower and chocolate box window display in Rockefeller Plaza I’d like to post. I may, I may not. We will see. Only time and Instagram will tell.

But…

Next time, when you feel hurried or pressured to post an update or photograph of an event, remember: It’s okay. You can live life in peace, without the worry of likes and external validation.

 

Double Happiness: Thoughts on Chinese Buffets

I am convinced – from all of my travels and culinary experiences – there is nothing more homey and comforting than a Chinese buffet. Think about it: savory noodles, fried crust with soft fillings, hodge-podge sushi, and hot soup varieties found nowhere else. In a world of blandly familiar options, with coffee shop express lunches and tepid fast-food iced tea, Chinese buffets are warm haven from the norm.

Throughout this year, I’ve traveled back-and-forth to New York vising my boyfriend. As new-found custom dictates, we almost always visit a Chinese food buffet on Long Island. Throughout my adventures in Chinese buffets, I’ve found them all to have the same fare. Yet, when I bask in the neon glory of a Long Island Chinese buffet, I find slight contrasts from the buffets found in the South.

First, let’s talk crab rangoons. This delicacy, the Queen Mother of All Chinese Buffet Foods, is a delicate golden triangle stuffed with cream cheese and (probably artificial) crab meat. It’s a collision of warmth and deliciousness, and New York Chinese buffets have not received the memo. My first experience at a northern buffet left me shocked. I scoured the rows for crab rangoons, many times over, thinking I had overlooked them. But alas, no. Simply small, cheese wontons with their puckered tops and merely-stuffed bottoms. Eaten and forgotten in one brief bite at every buffet as crab rangoons stay forever in my heart.

As I move from the row of fried and baked foods, I’m approaching salads. In my years as a connoisseur of buffets, I have not run into salad/cold bars at Chinese buffets in the South. Rather, these smaller restaurants often opt out of salads in favor of warmer foods. Even in the smaller buffets in the Empire State, there is almost always a salad bar. Bright lettuces of the romaine and iceberg variety, sliced vegetables, beets, and pasta salads wait eagerly in the bed of ice. Dressings, too. With your chicken lo mein and fried dumpling, you can even out your plate with a salad drenched in ranch. It’s quite beautiful and much different from my norm.

Finally, after a pile of noodles, chicken, and rice, dessert is looms ahead. In many Asian cultures, China included, fruit is an acceptable dessert. In the West, we typically eat cake, cookies, or chocolate to cap our meals. When I lived in Korea and visited China, I ate more Asian pears, watermelons, and apples than I had in my whole life. In California Chinese non-buffet restaurants, fruit is brought to the table after a meal. At a Northern buffet, fruit reigns in her throne adjacent to red and green jellos. Often, I’ll opt for orange slices up North, which seem like an appropriate complement to the orange and honey chicken I’ve devoured minutes before. It’s wonderful and it’s sweet dessert.

I often think, as I sit among the din of chatter and the scent of soy-drenched chicken, that Chinese buffets are truly a tradition. My first interests in Asian culture were sparked as a I looked at an exaggerated painting of the Great Wall and a dragon. Even in the differences, with orange slices and a lack of crispy rangoons, any Chinese buffet anywhere in this country is a culinary miracle that I hold dear. As I live and travel, the two different styles of buffets will always provide double happiness.

Travel Daze

Tomorrow kicks off the summer’s travel season. I am very blessed that I make enough income that allows me to travel during my breaks from the school year. Everyone who knows me know I love travel and that I ride every wheel turning. This summer is not an exception.

By this time tomorrow, I will be in (on?) Long Island, NY enjoying the sights, views, and wonders of an atmosphere very different from the world I grew up in. This means I’ll tour Manhattan, visit Connecticut, eat seafood, enjoy dim sum and hot pot in Chinatown, and enjoy life.

Though I am not taking a laptop with me to the Empire State, I will attempt to blog my adventures in the next week. What would you like to know or learn from my travels this week? The best place to eat hot pot? The best way not to look like a tourist? See you soon and stay happy.

Happiness: This Week

Life Snapshots: Week of May 8th, 2016

From the bookshelf: Bound Feet and Western Dress by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang. I just finished this book two days ago. It was a brief read (around 250 pages), and told the story of Pang-Mei’s great-aunt and of Pang-Mei herself. It’s truly an East-meets-West memoir and bridges the United States in China. For those interested in Asian Studies, I highly recommend this book.

Last Saturday, I visited the Outlet Shoppes of the Bluegrass near Louisville, KY. As a girl, I despised shopping. It was terrible, and even more so when my mom would stop at every store and pick up every item (Sorry, mom). These days, I’m a more chill with shopping (but not much). I enjoyed Chinese food for lunch and cheesecake crepes for desert. My only purchase of the day was at Kate Spade, where I took it upon myself to purchase a new passport case for my trip to Korea and a new case for my iPhone. In my defense, my prior case was purchased for 99 cents in Korea and was a horrid orange plastic color. At the time I liked it, but my tastes have changed. My prior cellphone case was discolored from use and is now retired.

The last day of school is tomorrow. Teachers work extra days, but when school is out and the students are home – the aura is different. All teachers know the feeling, and it’s hard to explain to those who don’t teach.

My trip to South Korea is less than two months away. I’m very excited to see my host family again and to visit Seoul. This will be my third trip to the country, but not my third entry. I was in-and-out several times during my year there, and I’m very excited to return. I can’t wait to dig into the Korean galbi.

What are you happy about this week?