Bullying

To continue on this week’s theme of anti-discrimination posts, I thought I’d share my experiences of bullying with you.
If you’ve read my most recent post on racism, you’ll know that I am an advocate for standing up for yourself and others, as well as knowing your rights because knowledge is power.

For me, it all started at home. I have lived many years with an abusive father.
In many collectivist communities such as the Chinese community here in Singapore, it is the norm to live with one’s parents until one is married. This supports the idea that children are meant to care for their parents/elders when they are adults, as is tradition in the Confucian philosophy of filial piety. But what does one do when there are no feelings of piety due to an abusive relationship? In my case, I have tried resolving the issues with communication but with no positive outcome because my father is in denial of his actions (comes with the territory when you’re a narcissist).
In situations like these (IMHO), sometimes the best option is to cut and run. As much as we want to make some relationships (and some people) work, they just can’t or won’t. Sometimes it’s not personal, so the best thing to do is to look out for your own welfare despite social expectations.

Another common source of bullying for me was the schoolyard. I was not particularly unpopular as a child so I was never the kid eating lunch alone in a restroom stall, but I do remember sandbox politics and the cattiness that came with attending an all-girls-school. There were instances of manipulation and power play that would make a politicians’ antics look juvenile. The dreaded words: “I don’t friend you” were one of the most traumatizing things to hear as a 7 year old, because that usually meant you lost the friendship of not just one person, but everyone that they could influence to turn on you too. I remember being made to choose sides, being on the receiving end of the cold shoulder, having taunting songs made up about me (and my friends), and having cruel rumors spread designed to ruin my reputation. There were also instances of other girls being physically harassed, lunch money stolen, and schoolbags hidden or dumped into ponds. Kids can be bastards.

When high school rolled around, similar occurrences of bullying could be seen everywhere. It was torment to spend my first day of lunch eating alone in a classroom because no one wanted to associate themselves with the tall strange girl who spoke English and not Mandarin. It didn’t help that no one from my old school had transferred to this new high school either. My first damning moment was when I found a book at my desk with the name “Nathan” scrawled across the top, and asked the class who Nathan was so I could return his property and they all laughed then continued to make jokes of it for a year. The cause of this humiliation? I failed to pronounce the name in the Indian phonetic Nātaṉ, but instead had said it as Nāṯān. It felt like there was a big joke that I was left out of because I had come from an English-speaking family and primary school. I was mocked for being too good at the language, accused of being stuck up because I did not speak any dialects, and possessed an accent slightly different from theirs. Ridiculous? I thought so too.

An opportunity for further torment arose when our form teacher assigned a community building exercise. She had us sit in a circle on the floor with pens in hand, then passed around folded pieces of paper with our names printed on the front. We were to anonymously write one comment about the person who’s piece of paper we were holding, then pass it on and repeat. When we got our papers back, we could open them and read the contents. Mine was heartbreaking. Every insecurity I had about what others thought about me was confirmed on this one flimsy sheet of folded blue paper. Sprinkled with a small handful of compliments from my friends (I recognized the hand writing), the rest were stinging jabs at my accent, weight, shape (I was an early bloomer and my boobs were the topic of interest for many a not-so-whispered conversation), apparent snobbery due to my background/language/grades, and height.

Although I can look at these comments and brush them off as an adult now, they did scar me a little back then. No one wants to be picked on, it is not a pleasant feeling no matter what age you are.The best retaliation I had at the time was to pour every inch of my mind and soul into studying and doing well in my exams so I could advance in the class ranks. It worked, because the very next year, I was placed in an advanced class and never had to deal with my bullies again. In my new class, I met classmates who did not discriminate, and fostered close friendships that are still dear to me even to this day. This just goes to prove that knowledge is power, no matter how you apply the principle.

I wish I could say things get better with time, but I think this is not entirely true. There will always be ugly people in the world who make it their mission to come for you no matter how you live your life or carry yourself. The only thing that changes is perspective. It gets better only because you learn to deal with the negativity in a positive manner. In my childhood and teen years, music, writing poetry and journaling helped immensely and were my catharsis. These days, I find positivity in the friends that I choose to surround myself with, the activities that I do, further education, and activism.

Your best weapon is to know yourself and live in your empowerment.
Like Manila Luzon says, “make em’ eat it and gag!

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PSA: Racism in America

Rosa Parks is quoted to have said: “Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.”

This saying is especially apt today, as I found myself being cyber-stalked and harassed by a relative of someone close to me.  It is never a pleasant feeling to be trolled, no matter what the situation, but it is certainly the most painful when your dignity and honor is not defended by the person you trusted to do so. The fact that Rosa Parks defended her own position, not wanting to give up her seat on the bus for a white man, despite the social expectation during the time to, is something that I can relate to even in today’s fast changing world.

Being an Asian woman in America, even in one of the most diversity-friendly states, Washington, I have experienced racism in some of it’s many incarnations. From being a target for racially-charged obscenities yelled at by a drunk stranger at a bar and having no one in the establishment help me (not even the waitstaff), to being called one of the many colorful ethnic slurs, to the most recent incident of being harassed and not having my loved one stand up for me. It is more than the need for protection that I expect from spectators, it is a sense of human decency and the conviction that racism is wrong.

It comes as a constant horrifying surprise every time I experience this type of injustice, especially in our modern world. It is times like these that I summon Rosa in my heart, and stand my ground when I know I have done nothing to deserve this kind of treatment. I defend myself, with words as my sword and if needed, pepper spray and a cell phone with 911 on speed dial as my steed.

It is oftentimes a lonely position standing up for what is right. The common man will usually sit idly by witnessing acts of injustice yet keeping his head down to avoid personal conflict. Perhaps this is just a trait of human nature’s survival instinct, or maybe the people I have encountered were cowards. I don’t know. But I’d like to think that there are more people like Rosa and myself in this world, where we will not be bullied into unjustly giving up our seats.

Know your rights.

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Coffee Cake

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I must confess, I don’t really understand the term “coffee cake”. One would assume that because of the word coffee, that all cakes with this namesake would contain traces of the delectable caffeinated beverage in some way. But alas, this is not true. Similarly, I also find myself irked by the concept of “tea cake”. Where’s the tea? Must they only be eaten with tea, and the former with coffee? What if I want juice…or soda…or water? Would the name then be momentarily changed to “water cake”? Doesn’t sound very appealing does it?

I suppose this isn’t really such a big deal. A cake’s a cake, after all.
I only bring this up because of the surprisingly tough time I had looking for a coffee-flavored cake recipe online! You’d think typing “coffee cake” in Google would suffice, but I guess not. I got every kind of cake but the one I wanted. Finally, “coffee pound cake” did the trick, and I stumbled upon a fairly simple recipe. I made a few small changes, using some rum extract and a lot more coffee than called for because of the type of Indonesian style kopi I used. Not such a good idea, I think. The cake turned out a little too moist for my liking, and the coffee characteristics didn’t really come through as I had hoped. Note – always use proper espresso if you can help it. It makes a difference. Next time, I might use a little coffee extract to give it more kick.

Blowouts & Hot Chocolate

As the tail end of my brand new tube of face wash exploded open with a disgusting squelching noise, I watched in helpless horror as my $12 purchase plastered itself all over the bathroom wall, looking like a purple Rorschach test, and smelling of grape bubblegum. “Wonderful!”, I think. Just what I need. I hate products that have a sneaky double seal under the cap for this very reason. Blowouts.

After spending an extra few minutes scraping what seems like purple ectoplasm from the wall and trying to force it back into the tube (because I paid $12 for it, dammit!), I finally accept defeat and wipe the remainder of the goo onto my hands so as not to be wasteful. This is a habit I’ve picked up from my mother – the not wasting, that is. Not the goo scraping. She’s always been the frugal sort, using body wash to the last drop, “saving” the unburnt bits of a failed cake, and reusing zip lock bags. She does not agree that they should be discarded after one use; this is probably why our kitchen looks like it belongs in an episode of Tupperware Hoarders.

I am always wary of the rest of my day if the beginning starts in this sort of unfortunate fashion. I cannot help but become somewhat suspicious afterwards, you see.
True enough to my expectations, the day proves itself to be just as much of a bust. You know those days where nothing goes right no matter what you do? You wake up early but are still late for your appointments; the bus won’t stop because it’s full from door to door; the taxis seem to have all gotten the same memo about avoiding your neighborhood. Then a cruel trick of nature strikes, and it begins to pour. Not drizzle, not just rain, but literally pour. The kind of rain that hits you so hard it hurts, and no amount of creative umbrella wielding will protect you from the inevitable drench that will engulf you down to the silicone insoles in your now squishy suede shoes.

These are the days that I want to turn around and just crawl back into bed. These are “my-life-sucks-so-screw-it-I’m-staying-home” days. Unfortunately, this is not always an option in the real world. Life goes on and so must you.
But much like life sometimes, some days just suck.

There may not always be a solution to these days, sometimes we just have to weather them out (pun intended).
But there’s one thing that makes life just that much better in my book, and that’s a healthy dose of recovery Hot Chocolate. A good (and very large) mug of thick HC has the special ability to make the world seem just that much better, even if only temporarily, like my favorite bowl of hot congee or homemade chicken soup can do. This is kitchen magic – food that warms the soul.

Whether you like your poison plain, minted, dark, caffeinated, spiked, marshmallowed or spiced, it is rare that a good hot choc would or could ever put you in a worse mood. Perhaps it’s the cacao’s ability to send your neurotransmitters into a happy frenzy, or perhaps it’s simply the fact that you’re drinking molten chocolate and it’s ok. No one is judging you like the time you stuck your face into the emptied bowl of chocolate batter!

For fetishists of very thick, almost spoonable, French-style chocolat chaud, you can’t really go wrong with Lebovitz’s version. But if you’re ever in the Seattle area, nip down to Cafe Presse for a nice hot cup bowl , always served with a side of chilled whipped cream to dollop on as you like. The sensation of cool cream atop molten chocolate on your tongue is almost too much to bear on a blustery day.

Aspirin Mask

BEAUTY.

How much would you and/or have you spent in pursuit of improving what the good lord gave you?…or at least maintaining it?
If you’re anything like me, that number is much more than you’d care to admit. Right?
The beauty industry is a million (if not, billion) dollar industry for a reason! We all want to look the best that we possibly can – some of us are serial dieters, some of us are gym bunnies, some of us are product junkies, and some of us are addicted to the scalpel/needle.

Me? I am a product and makeup hoarder. I really think know I have a problem, and I do tell myself I should stop, but then I see a shiny new product promising me perfection and I fall for it all over again. It’s a vicious cycle, and my poor wallet (in more ways than one) is ultimately the one who suffers in the end! Sigh.

Because of my obsession, I’ve spent (too many) years scouring countless books, magazines and websites in pursuit of a cure to what ails me, and in so doing I’ve found invaluable beauty tips and tricks that I feel ought to be shared with you on my little piece of the blogosphere. 🙂
Note: Please make sure you do not suffer from any allergies to the products I recommend. Always take the time to do a patch test just in case, as these products may contain ingredients that are suitable for me but may not work so well for you.
(I.e. Please don’t sue me if it doesn’t work!)

Spots have been the bane of my existence since puberty hit, and boy did it hit me hard! Doctors have told me it was a phase and dermatologists have suggested countless treatments that have produced various results. But at this point in my life, I know adult acne will be something I just have to deal with because I can’t afford long-term treatments at this time. A small comfort that has been reliable in calming my breakouts has been the discovery of the Aspirin Mask.
As I like to make it fresh as and when I need it, I make my recipe in small doses. But feel free to make it in a large batch if you can store it in your refrigerator. I have kept a batch for as long as 3 weeks with no negative side effects or spoilage.

ASPIRIN MASK

  • 7  Aspirin (reduce swelling and redness)
  • 1 Egg white (pore-tightening, firming)
  • 1 Tsp Pure Honey (anti-aging, moisturizing, antiseptic)
  • 2 Tbs Plain Greek Yogurt (moisturizing, calming, reduce discoloration)

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– Place Aspirin in a small bowl with 2-3 droplets of water. Leave it for a few seconds until the aspirin becomes powdery.
– Beat fresh egg white and honey together with a whisk, then stir into the yogurt.
– Add mixture to the dissolved aspirin, mix well.
– Apply to freshly cleansed skin and leave it on until the mask dries, then rinse with water.
– Proceed with your usual beauty regime (toner, moisturizer, etc).

This recipe is easily customizable to your needs if you have an allergy or dislike any of the ingredients. Mashed avocado, banana, strawberries, oatmeal, clay, or whatever else you think is more appealing can be used in place of what I have suggested. Play with the amount of ingredients to adjust the viscosity of the mask – it will dry powdery, so prepare accordingly (you could always just use more yogurt to counter this)!

I use the mask 1-3 times a week or as an overnight spot treatment when necessary, and it has worked marvelously for me! My skin is always calmer the next day, and spots take less time to dry up. I hope this becomes as much of a beauty staple for you as it has for me!

Nutella Brownies and Birthdays

Birthdays.

They are a funny thing – first, we are so madly excited about having them that we can’t even wait a whole year to pass until we turn that next precious digit. Next, we begin to assign value to certain numbers such as 13, 16, 18, or 21, attaching special rituals and rights to them that involve strange things like automobiles and alcohol. Then vanity sets in and we fear each year with every fiber of our being, slathering ourselves with anti-aging lotions, buying gym memberships, considering Botox, and fretting about the first signs of a wrinkle, white hair, or heaven forbid…sagging. Then I imagine we become indifferent at some point, eventually just being happy to be healthy, and the big day becomes an accomplishment instead of a curse again.

It is a confusing cycle.

My birthday is in two days, and already I find myself warring with my vanity mind about socially-induced fears about aging. By no means am I about to be put out to pasture or anything like that, but the big scary 30 is only a few years away, and this weekend, I’ll be stepping into a whole new category of maturity: The Late Twenties. I am determined not be “that person” who stops having birthdays altogether, or the one whom everyone avoids once a year, as they turn from peaceful and pleasant folk to volatile and deranged lunatics.

So to temporarily distract myself from my ridiculous susceptibility towards unwarranted social fears, I baked up some moist, decadent Nutella brownies! Maybe they won’t stop me from getting older, but they definitely cushion the blow.

I recommend an extra large dose of these chocolatey-hazelnutty squares to cure what ails you today!

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Recipe for Nutella Brownies:

1/2 Cup Flour
1/4 Tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar, packed
1 Cup Nutella
1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter, melted
2 Large Eggs
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Sift together flour and salt. Set aside.
  2. Beat eggs, Nutella, brown sugar, and vanilla extract with an electric mixer until smooth.
  3. Alternately mix in flour mixture and melted butter, until everything is incorporated.
  4. Bake on the middle rack for 35 minutes. They should be slightly moist on the inside.
  5. Wait 2 hours, or until brownies are completely cool and firm. This is the hardest part.
  6. Slice with a plastic knife for clean lines. Enjoy!

*Note:
Feel free to throw in chopped hazelnuts, chocolate chips, bacon bits, mini marshmallows, or whatever tickles your fancy.
If you try this recipe, please let me know how it goes. I hope you like it as much as I do.