Read And Misread In October

Reading often goes hand in hand with misreading. Being an immigrant and reading English as a second language have taught me this fact. At first this made me rather uncomfortable–the sense of uncertainty and self doubt following me like a shadow in a bright sunset, which means the shadow is much bigger and longer than my own figure. However, I’ve since got used to it.

“Modern Love” audible book by Daniel Jones, who’s the editor. It includes more than 40 tales, each around ten to fifteen minutes, by more than 40 authors. It’s easy to misread the title to consider this book as a collection of modern romance stories, which it is not. A more accurate title will be “Love And Unlovable Consequences”. The problem is that love is in a modest amount and consequences are huge. It could be that our industrialized social structure and value system are incongruous with out emotional needs. Is it so that any social structure will be a hindrance to our natural flow of love and emotions and human connections, which prefer a random unstructured existence?

“The Barbarians are Coming” by David Wong Louie. I thought of dropping the book when I had 70 pages left. I trudged through the first 300 pages and was at the end of my meager strength. Somehow I continued, not without a lot of mental flagellation to keep myself going. Now I still have 20 pages to go, but I know I would really enjoy throwing it away. Years ago I read “Jude The Obscure” and was so depressed by the story that I had to give up half way. These two books, about entirely different subjects and with very different writing styles, are similar in its depressing hopeless, almost suicidal, view of life.

“Aimless Love” by Billy Collins. It’s a delight to read his poems and he can always animate an inanimate object and award significance to the insignificant.

“Feminasty” by Erin Gibson. Half way through the book. I wouldn’t call it “nasty” at all. I would say it is asking questions of equality and can be named female in shining armors ready to fight and shout.

“We Wanted to Be Writers” by Eric Olsen. Finished it, but still find my own writing lacking. I feel like a movie director who imagine a lot of interesting scenes, but not able to reproduce them through the camera.

“How to Write Great Blog Posts that Engage Readers” by Scott Steve. Great suggestions, but whenever I try to follow the suggestions, I feel that my hands are tied and my writing just don’t flow as naturally. Why? I don’t know the reason.

Backyard Farming

I call them backyard farmers, but they probably don’t agree with me. It’s popular among Asian immigrants in New Jersey to engage in backyard farming every year. I even know a couple who don’t live in a house and don’t have a backyard to grow their produce. What do they do? They rent a plot from Rutgers University for $25 a year to grow half an acre of vegetables from May to October.

It’s an arduous task. The seeds have to be bought and planted. The Asian grocery stores here sell cucumber, loofah, long bean, and even winter melon seeds. The cucumber has to be the kind with little spikes on the dark green skin, not so prickly to bleed your hands, but rather gentle barbs to tickle your fingers. The inside is so crispy that you can hear the crunchy sound when you take a bite. The loofah is the most popular since it is quite expensive and non-fresh from the store. Planting is the first step. What follows are months of labor and vigilance. Fence has to be erected to fend off rabbits and deer; frames to be constructed for tomato vines to climb; fertilizers are bought and deployed. There are also various tools to dig, till, twist, rake the soil for the best planting condition.

Once I was staying in a place in upstate New York. The couple I was staying with had a backyard more than an acre, on which they grow cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions, leeks, and several other items as well. The couple invited me to go to the backyard to pick vegetables to make salad for dinner. They are very proud, sort of a back to nature kind of style for them. I had no interest in their backyard farm, but I had to accompany them, offering my compliments and pretending that I envy their food, self sufficiency, organic life etc. I feel myself so fake. Why can’t I just say I have no interest at all in planting, farming, or harvesting?

When I was in high school, we were sent to a village not far away from the big city for two weeks. Our whole class of 50 or so students lived in two separate farm houses, one for boys and one for girls. It’s the harvest season and the rice field is endless. The farmers didn’t really want us there since we didn’t know how to do things. Harvesting rice with a sickle is not as easy as we tend to think. I couldn’t advance even three feet within half an hour. It ended up that I had to give up my sickle–a big curvy knife–to somebody more skilled than I was. The most menial job was assigned to me–to pick up the stalks with grains and yellow hulls that were left in a harvested field.

The farmers worked from dawn to dusk. They didn’t go home for meals. The whole village became a collective unit with only several older women cooking for the whole village. They cooked and delivered the meal to the field. At the end of the day, the villagers were not going home to take a rest. They continued to get the crop husked on whirring machines at a corner of the village. Then the husked rice were laid out on the ground to dry. They worked all night, taking turns to go back home to sleep. The machines never stopped for one minute. This went on for as long as it could last. Rain is the biggest enemy for the harvest season. All stalks that have been cut down need to be husked and dried before the rain come. In the subtropical region it is hard to find a whole week without rain and things need to be organized well and executed efficiently and swiftly.

I really admired these farmers and their hard work, something that I can never do. When we went back to school, I submitted my homework assignment on the backbreaking work of the villagers. My teacher disliked my essay and criticized me for being too negative, which I vehemently denied.

When You Don’t Have An Appetite

I don’t have an appetite today and I don’t know why. Is it because of the melatonin pills I’ve taken these past two weeks for my insomnia? It could be. It is said online that melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in our body and taking a little won’t have any side effect on the body. Probably I just have some rare reaction to it–loss of appetite. I dislike any medicine or chemicals, like a typical Asian. I know many women who refuse even to take pain killer tablets for their menstruation pain. I am not going to such an extreme though.

So what can one eat when one doesn’t have an appetite. I can eat the grass jelly I bought from the store. I can’t remember which Asian grocery store I got it from. Am I losing my mind? I used to be able to remember which store I got which, but not anymore. The grass jelly will be the best if mixed with canned lychee, but I’m out of canned lychee.

I can make a tofu jelly with the agar powder I have, but that’s too complicated. I can’t believe how lazy I’ve become nowadays as far as cooking is concerned. My grandmother was practically living in the kitchen most of her life. Several years ago I went to a party at a friend’s friend house. She’s living with her husband and two sons at Bucks County, right at the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. When we arrived, she just pulled out a tray of baked chicken legs and wings out of the oven. By the way, she’s one of very few among Asian immigrants I know to utilize the oven. Most of us just use it as an extra storage space. Her sons and two or three other kids came over. She insisted that each put food on a paper plate. Minutes later, the tray was almost empty. And the kids ran away. Suddenly the hostess said to us out of blue, “I cook all the time, but still not enough. Look the tray is empty again.” We stared at her and my friend W said, “What do you expect? Your two boys. They can finish everything in sight.” Somehow I sensed that the hostess and W were talking about different things. The hostess was talking about herself. There’s ennui in her tone. Obviously she doesn’t really enjoy cooking but found herself spending so much time on it. W was talking about the healthiness and the activeness of the boys. W’s tone really means she’s trying to praise the boys and hiding her praise behind a faint complaint. However W’s compliment missed the point. Sometimes we lose real chance of communication, just like this one.

I poured a big glass of soy milk and toasted a slice of cinnamon raisin bread. Now I can’t help dreaming of all those delicious things my grandmother cooked–bamboo shoots braised with pork belly, dried fish simmered in a pot of soup with mutton and potatoes. I am going to write a story of an immigrant who’s dying for a childhood dish her mother had cooked, but couldn’t reproduce it.