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trying to do the right thing

It’s always better late than never, right?

Confession: I did not realize how massive the impact Hurricane Sandy had on the lives of people in New York City and New Jersey until I came across the pictures.



In my ignorance, I had thought in the very beginning, “How bad could it be? This is New York City we’re talking about.” Somehow I was enough of an idiot to assume that NATURE would have nothing to claim in NYC, the pulsing URBAN center of the universe. I know it does not make any sense to you. It shouldn’t since these were assumptions made by an idiot, moi. 

I was waiting for reports on the dire situations to stop, waiting for the “All Clear!” news item showing people patting each other on the back for “disasters divertes”, for “a good job done”.  Certainly this is New York City and New Jersey we’re talking about. These people know people and have people. Things should go back to normal soon.

But it didn’t.

On the contrary, more and more images and stories showing the devastations surfaced. Reports on how “far flung” [relatively] communities were still waiting for adequate assistance finally caught our attention: Reuters just published a news article on the dire situation now in Far Rockaway. For starters, many areas are still without power, and that means no heat as temperature drops to the 30s. Here is a video from Democracy Now.




Thanks to a good friend of mine who has been posting the latest updates and the most relevant information on Facebook throughout, I was able to quickly bring myself up to speed on what’s happening and how to help, regardless of how little I could do in the face of such devastation. I thought I’d share the information I’ve collected, thanks to the lovely Sue:

Red Cross is a great org, but at times like this, some grassroots orgs are better at reaching smaller, more remote areas that are not getting enough attention. I am not accusing FEMA or Red Cross: the needs are simply too overwhelming now as the communities in need are so widespread. If you would like to donate and help, consider some of the other orgs, such as AmeriCare and World Cares Center. (The links take you directly to the organizations’ donation pages – If I could, I prefer to donate directly rather than going through 3rd party sites. Just my personal preference…)

World Cares have volunteers on the ground in places such as Far Rockaway that are still waiting for the arrival of help in proportion to the needs. Follow World Cares on Twitter for live updates and also on how you could volunteer on the ground.

For more ideas on how to make an impact, read 8 Ways to Help Hurricane Sandy Victims Beyond Donating to the Red Cross for more organizations that are on the ground delivering tangential helps right now.

The Occupy movement reemerged as Occupy Sandy, a community-based relief organization mastering social media and crowd-sourcing to coordinate and distribute assistance on the ground. Check out their Facebook page full of updates from folks who are offering to help, such as an offer of industrial pumps to pump out the water free of charge. It really is amazing. They have also cleverly set up a “wedding registry” on Amazon for blankets, flashlights, etc. to be delivered directly to Church of St Luke and St Matthew.


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I know that I suffer from a severe case of liberal guilt and that’s why I don’t think I can truly relax in places where there is a clear demarcation, often times physically, between the privileged and the underprivileged. You can accuse me of being a hypocrite if you want. I would not know how to defend myself. So there. 

I am in Shanghai now on a business trip. I never feel truly comfortable when I am in China because people mistake me easily for a local (I can fake a Beijing accent when speaking Chinese vs. my natural, Taiwanese-accented Mandarin Chinese) and yet they could tell that there is something off about me. They’d ask me where I am from. When I explained that I grew up in Taiwan and now live in the US, inevitably there would be lots of questions about the comparisons between Taiwan and China, the US and China, and the topic always leads to, uncomfortably at least for me, how I have a much better life.

“You went to good school.” They’d conclude with regret or longing or something in their voice, if the person I’m speaking to is from outside of the upper-middle class.

The hotel I am staying in provides massage services until 2 am. It sounded like an awesome idea: travelers with jet lags will LOVE to be able to get a massage when they have trouble going to bed anyway. So I called the extension and booked a 60-minute acupressure massage session in my room.

“So where are you from?” My masseuse asked as she tried to figure out in which direction I should lie on the bed. I was still confused because she had come in with nothing. Where’s the oil? The lotion? The blanket? The towel?

“Taiwan? Wow. It must be a lot nicer over there.” I tried to deflect the conversation by suggesting that people love coming to China nowadays because of the opportunities.

“More opportunities?”

“Yeah, you know. More land. More people…” My voice trailed off as I backed myself into a corner. Sure enough, she told me that she’s not from here. “We came from [another province].” Instinctively, I understood that she’d meant “we, the masseuses working at this hotel”. She was here, like many other migrant workers from rural China, by herself leaving behind two children and aging parents.

She told me about the farms back home, how before she got married at 23 she was already considered to be an old spinster, how massages were unheard of because god forbid if the neighbors got wind that either you got a massage from a man or you gave a man a massage.

She said that she wished she could visit Taiwan some day. I suggested jokingly that perhaps she should visit other places before Taiwan if she ever has a chance. “But when will I have a chance to visit another country? It costs so much!” I simply forgot how much it costs to travel, to fly on an airplane overseas. My plane tickets to Shanghai cost almost $2000 USD, which translates roughly into 4 months of her wages if she works every single day.

Finally came the question I dreaded the most, “How much are you paid over in the US?” (Yes, people do ask you this question sometimes.)

I gave a lame response of how salaries may be higher in the US but our costs of living are higher and also we have to pay more taxes. Lots more. She didn’t seem to mind my not answering her question.

“I am paid 100 yuan a day. I did so many massages today but I will still get 100 yuan.”

I was surprised. And embarrassed somehow. In my panic, I also wished that I had pretended to speak no Chinese. Then I felt extremely guilty and ashamed of myself.

“You know, you are smart [why’s she so sure of that?] and you went to good school [ibid]. Me? I don’t know how to do anything. No skills. No brains.” She said, matter-of- factly.

Fortunately for me our conversation veered off when she got to my derrière. She said jokingly, “You look so thin but oh your [backside] is so big!” I was not offended the least because I was so relieved.

“Hey. That’s what they call Son-bearing hip, ok? All the grandmothers loved me when I was young. They know I’d be popping out boy babies.”

“Oh, my butt is huge too.”

We bonded over son-bearing hips. And thick thighs. Yes, once I turned to lie on my back, she was surprised by how “there is no meat on your face”. She proceeded to wonder out loud how it’s possible that I could have such thick thighs since my arms and my mid region looked great. I wanted to hug her for the compliments. These were sincere and not backhanded at all.

By the end of the session, I had determined to give her a great tip even though tipping is a complex matter in China. Yes, hotel workers cater to Westerners may have come to expect tips, most Chinese are not accustomed to it. Some people actually resent the thought that “foreigners are training workers in China to expect tips from all”.

“I don’t have the exact change. How about you bring these to them and keep the change. Will they let you keep the change?”

She looked utterly confused. “Don’t you have exact change?”

“No. I am sorry. That’s what I meant though: go downstairs with the money, and keep the change. If I give you these bills, will the change go to you at all?”

“Oh no. No. They’ll never give me the change.”

“Ok, here’s what you are going to do: Give them the bills. Tell them I asked you to bring the change up to me. But then just go home.”

Now she looked scared. “They may catch me leaving with the money… I will bring the money to your room.”

As she hurried out, it dawned on me that this might not have been the best idea because what was I trying to prove? What was I trying to do to this poor woman so I could feel better about myself?

A knock on my door.

“Hi. Good evening. Here’s your change back.” Standing there, holding out the money was not my masseuse but a better-dressed, more cosmopolitan-looking young woman.

Somehow I was not surprised. Of course they wouldn’t allow her to bring the change back to me. I was saddened, imagining my masseuse’s disappointment caused by me.

Why did I try to meddle in somebody’s life?

Another knock on my door.

“Oh, I was so scared! Did she bring you your change?” Now she’s embarrassed. “I just want to make sure that you’ve got your change. They told me that I could leave. So I made a turn when nobody’s looking and came upstairs.”

Giving someone a tip should not made either the giver or the receiver feel as if they’re having an illicit affair. I was really upset at “them” by this time. The irony did not escape me of course.

Her eyes widened as I pushed the change into her hand. “What are you doing? You are nuts.”

“Well, you know. I used a coupon and I think you the person who did all the work should enjoy this reward and not me.”


It’s now past 3 am here. I am not sleepy at all. I don’t know what I am trying to say by recounting my encounter with my impotent conscience.

Maybe I am hoping that one of you will call me out on it as an atonement.


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Bad mommy confession: I hate playing board games. I still have horrible memories of spending hours playing Monopoly that would not end, and of course I went into bankruptcy half way through the game followed by a streak of bad lucks. Five hours later I was exhausted and bitter. That’s why even though my 9-year-old has been begging me to play the game of Life for weeks, I did not grant him this one tiny wish until this afternoon.

And, as you could guess, I am glad I did and we had great fun playing it.

Things I learned from playing the Game of Life:

1. You start out with a bank loan of $100,000 if you choose the “College Career” path.

2. Teacher’s salary sucks because it starts out at 40K and maxes out at 70K.

3. See above. College Career does not necessary pay, unless you are a doctor or a lawyer. But since you have no idea which career path you would land in — a card is randomly drawn, you are better off going on the “regular career” path.

4. Being an entertainer has great potential of making a steady, 6-figure, income. I am sold!

5. Spending a lot of money buying a flashy house does not get you anything in the end. You get to sell your house back to the bank for the exact same amount of money that you paid for.

6. See above. A double-wide RV costs 300K. Therefore I am not sure why I traded my starter home, a log cabin, up for a RV. “It’s just for bragging rights, mom. You are so dumb.”

7. My kids are risky gamblers: They are not allowed into any casinos. I am submitting their names and pictures and retina scan data to the Secret Casino Bouncer Club (there is one right?) so they would be barred from entering any casino.

8. I set out playing the game determined to NOT get married. But I was dealt the card so I had to bite the bullet (or lie in it or something). With lots of whining.

“Mom, get a pink one! Be a rebel!” My oldest encouraged me.

“Oh, that would be weird.” My youngest said, unsurely.

“Well, that’s a good idea. We should represent all different types of families!” I put another pink pin in my car. So in this game I was in a same-sex marriage, and my wife and I ended up having three children (with two of them being twins).

I did have to apologize (to nobody in particular) when I mumbled, “I wish my wife is good at raising kids because I ain’t doing all that.”

See? Gender roles. I can’t get pass the stereotypical thinking even in my pretend Life. Ugh.


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How to show your kid what the 80s is about. The hard way.

March 4, 2012 no manual for parenting

By taking them to the exhibit dedicated to the 1980s at Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, of course!   I am kidding on the square, seeing how this is a hard glance back at the 1980s with a critical eye: feminism, gender politics, race politics, AIDES, political upheavals in the Latin America, Disappeared, Reaganism, […]


How to Care For Introverts

October 16, 2011 no manual for parenting

  I first discovered this instruction and posted it in 2009. I just recently found the original article where this set of “rules” came from: The American dream is to be extraverted. We want our children to be “people who need people.” We want them to have lots of friends, to like parties, to prefer to […]


Mass at 5

January 30, 2011 no manual for parenting

Warning: According to my Blog Advisory System, this post is rated RED for The Touchiest of All Touchy Subjects. I wrote it last week but did not have the heart to publish it because I was worried about losing readership. In the end though, I have got to do what feels right by me and […]


Reality bites. No. Reality kicked my ass.

October 19, 2010 no manual for parenting

There is no other way around it: I am a hypocrite. Isn’t it an ironic coincidence that after my holier-than-thou tirade against bullying and my immagonnakickyourpunkass battle cry, my 12-year-old son told me tonight that he has been called all sorts of names at school? Names such as gay, nerd, retard. Hurled at him, in […]


Opening up a can of whupass

October 11, 2010 no manual for parenting

I am fuming. Ok, what’s new, right? But this time it is something personal. It may be trivial but it has consumed me ever since I had the following exchange with my son this past Friday. After a whole weekend of thinking it over and calming down, my anger and indignation has been only stewing […]


Be cool like me. Wear Threadless.

June 16, 2010 this i believe

Today, I am sharing with you the secret to my coolness. You know those older people who love to wear edgy t-shirts to prove to themselves that they are still hip, young at heart, and they can still get jiggy with it? (Irony intended) Me! Me! Me! . I have amassed a small collection of […]



February 21, 2010 no manual for parenting

1. Reading the comments people left for my last post, praising me for recognizing and questioning the rigid gender rules, in addition to feeling thankful, I am actually embarrassed. Feeling a bit like a fraud. A hypocrite. In an ironic way, although I set out to remain anonymous so I can speak my mind on […]