Emotion commotion

So I’ve decided I have problems with my emotions. This is weird, because I used to be the most emotionally controlled person for the better part of my life – till I was about 21. It’s been downhill from there. From what I recall, I had a pretty calm adolescence, so either I’m going through a late teenage phase or early menopause (personally, I’d prefer the latter because I really want to stop getting my period).

  1. A lot of things stress me out. They could range from an email which asks for corrections in my paper (admittedly this was the third email and I was getting fed-up and taking it personally when maybe it wasn’t personal) to Mimi’s drama to having to do something I’m not familiar with (like plan a trip). This is not new. I think I was always subliminally a high stress person but just concealed it very well, and now the cracks are showing.
  2. I flare up easily and hotly. This is new. I date it to the most heated phase in my marriage when V would go stone cold like a wall, and I would feel like I had to turn up the drama to get his attention. However, now it’s become a habit and I really need to reign it in. The underlying causes haven’t gone away, but they aren’t severe enough to warrant some of my reactions.
  3. I am thin skinned. Just this morning I forgot the card that lets my into our building and I tried to wave to the security guard to let me in. Initially, she was smiling because she knows me but when she realised I didn’t have my card, she kept smiling but didn’t open the door. I understand that she’s only doing her job, but she should have tried to communicate something instead of just smiling vacantly into space. For some reason, this upset me inordinately and I had to work to get a grip and not let this incident take over my mood. This tendency is worse when there are other things bothering me in the background. I feel like I cannot bear even the slightest shit that life throws my way.

I’m thinking this is not normal. Or is it just that everyone goes through this but I’m just unduly concerned. I feel that I need to regress into my childhood botness though and attain some emotional detachment. How to do this I’m not sure. The irony is that I realise that I’ve turned into Mimi, or she’s turned into me. While I’m not as dramatic as her, and most of the time, strangers don’t get to see my inner turmoil (then again, Mimi is fairly well behaved among strangers), I’m an adult and (probably?) should be doing better.

Conference

Just finished presenting a paper at a conference. I was dreading it because in a fit of enthusiasm I applied to a conference that was not really in my field, and I got accepted. It was an international conference in Hong Kong itself so I thought it might be a good idea to go, and then got cold feet about being a fish out of water.

In the end, I did  a one-day registration. It’s actually quite nice to attend for just a day. Okay, so you don’t get aeons of time to network, but I do find the amount of coffee breaks at conferences excruciating. There is only so much of small talk and circulation one can do, no? And I notice people tend to stand around talking to their own friends mostly. If that’s the case, what is the point of flying halfway across the world to chat in a strange room to people you already know?

Like I asked someone for directions, we ended up having a little chat (which I initiated), then she excused herself because her friends were waving to her. I wasn’t gutted or offended because anyway I wanted to pee, but it seems silly to rush off to your friends when the point of conferences is to meet new people.

One day was perfect, because I missed the first coffee break so I only had one more coffee break which I productively used to talk to new people. I ate lunch on my own, telling myself I needed to revise my presentation which was just after lunch. I am not averse to talking to people but I’m fed up being the one who makes the effort.

There generally seems to be a certain amount of natural camaraderie formed between the people you’re on a panel with (unless you already knew those people) so that’s a natural way to meet people. You tend to ask questions to be supportive and then continue the discussion later.

On the subject of questions, I always ask something because I think it’s embarrassing for a presenter not to get any, but I can never think of ‘easy’ questions and then I feel bad that I come across as mean. Particularly in the case of this Japanese girl, who couldn’t really answer mainly because she couldn’t understand. Note to self: when it’s obvious that someone’s English isn’t good, spare them the questions. The sad thing was that her paper was really interesting, so I didn’t mean the question as a criticism but as an opportunity ot say more but then it kind of flopped. Also, I have a rule against the usual “I really enjoyed your paper, it was really interesting” because hello, if I’m asking a question obviously I was interested enough to listen unlike the other somnolent people out there, also  I find it annoying how trite those phrases come across when repeated ad infinitum, but maybe I should start using them to take the edge of questions.

The other key thing to conferences I’ve decided is to have low expectations. Just survive and move on is my new motto. Obviously, I’m scarred from my last experience, but I find that I was too brimming with enthusiasm on my first go last year. I would love to know how many people get a publication offer after these things? At most, you come away with a few more friends, which I think is useful in this business. So go in with that attitude.

Ironically, although this was not my field, this was a conference at which I felt most at home. For one, people were dressed like I expected. There were some extremely hipster folks, but a fair number in semi-business attire. One session I attended had people presenting exactly my kind of stuff. Because I am the friendly, chatty sort, even though I made minimal effort, I came away with at least two contacts. Also, a couple of people seem to have added me on Linkedin/Academia.edu right after, so that’s something, though I don’t know who they are.

I’ve still to perfect my presentation technique. I always have too much material I want to say and am dissatisfied that I cannot say it all. This time, I had to cut one whole novel from my presentation because of the time limit. But it was a good discussion because I finished right on time. I wrote a script and read it. Again this is not my preferred presentation method, though I am coming to believe that with literary analysis, part of the drama is in the wording of the argument and I cannot do that ad lib. I might just have to go with reading, but practice looking up more.

This was actually the most exciting conference I’ve attended. We were presenting in a room with huge glass windows and five minutes into the presentation of the girl before me, the roof of the building next door collapsed. My initial thought when the noise started was ‘oh construction work’, but then there was a wave of debris heading our way, and the people near the window leapt up and ran across the room in terror, and when the dust settled (literally) someone said, ‘the building next door collapsed!’ And I remembered I had seen the green roof before the session started and almost took a picture of it, but desisted because there are only so many Hong Kong skyline pictures one can have. We stood there gaping and grinning like fools, and then the panel moderator asked if we should continue or leave, and one woman sounded panicked and said “leave” and ran out. Frankly, I wanted to continue, but that’s because I wanted to get my thing over with. The girl who was presenting got the worst of it – as she was interrupted three times. It later turned out that two people had been injured in the collapse, very luckily it was not more serious.

 

 

 

Historic day

I actually cooked a meal.* It was stuffed mushrooms, a recipe V once attempted with success and that was replicated by MinCat when she was here. It looked easy enough and I ventured to say that I could do make it, and immediately V said, so do it.

So finally I did.

It did involved a fair amount of calling out to V from the kitchen about when to add what. As an added complication, the kids came home early and brought stools in the kitchen to watch the historic event. Actually, they were less bemused about my presence in the kitchen than our help. E has been witness to my disastrous attempt at making banana fritters many many years ago when every single vessel in the kitchen was utilized in service of making a dish that in the end had to be discarded as unedible.

I let the kids grate the cheese for me. I don’t know why people don’t let kids help more. Okay, I know why. Because it’s a pain, they’re more hindrance than help, yadda yadda, but isn’t that what you’re supposed to do if you want your kids not to end up like me? On the other hand, I used to help my mom when I was little and it was fun until I figured I had better things to do and my mother actually agreed.

The mushrooms turned out fairly good. Not perfect, but up to my standard, which is picky enough to have put me off cooking for several years (because I did not deem my own food good enough for me to eat). Part of the secret is dabaoing oil, something I was hitherto reluctant to do. Now, I decided I will be liberal with oil till I am a virtuoso. Or rather, if and until.

I’m wondering if this will become a weekly thing. Hmmm. Let’s not get carried away.

V later asked me why I hadn’t taken a photo. Why indeed. I guess I was too greedy. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was delicious.

 

*For those of you who are knew to this blog, I don’t cook. I completely stopped cooking about five years ago when the kids were born and we got full-time help. Before that, I would cook very occasionally when V was away – I had like three standard things I could do – dal, mince and I forget the other, besides instant noodles, scrambled eggs and tea.

Expat bubble

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So a couple of posts ago I mentioned the expat bubble and got asked for examples of this phenomenon. It’s a good question, and made me think.

Broadly, I’d say, the expat bubble is a mindset and way of life. It is living in expat dominated areas (in Hong Kong, mid-levels and the ‘South Side’, though as rents have increased, this is expanding to the west of Hong Kong Island, enclaves such as Austin in Kowloon which seems to be the only area people can come up with when asked about living in Kowloon, and Sai Kung/Clear Water Bay), having only expat friends, making no attempt to learn the basics of the local language, and being ignorant of local affairs.

In fact, it is the last one that really gets my goat. Where you live is a function of money and who wouldn’t live in the poshest area if they could? So fine. This is one area in which I’m actually glad I can’t afford mid-level rents ( or when we could afford it, we never considered it a judicious use of funds) because our very first experience of Hong Kong was very local and that set the tone for the rest of our stay. We learnt to love it – both the low rents that come from not living around expats and the immersion in the local culture, even though it came with difficulties like lack of English.

Having only expat friends is again, forgivable, maybe because it is really hard to break into Chinese circles, if nothing else because of language. However, recently, I’ve noticed that Westerners are also very cliquish, despite their veneer of friendliness. Anyhoo. And then the language is hard to learn. But you’d think a person who’s been here 10 years could say the odd thing. Even I admit to the frustration of having to jump through hoops because of language coupled with the general truculence of service staff here, but that does not deter me from venturing out of my comfort zone at last 50% of the time (in our case, much more because of where we live).

As I said, it’s the last category that gets to me. People who don’t have a clue of what’s going on, which is of course influenced by where they live, who their friends are, and language (though there are now enough English sources of news, apart from the fact of actually keeping your eyes open and exploring your own city). Examples of expat bubble conversations:

  1. People who are unaware that every television set connects to the free TV channels. (“Oh what is TVB?”)
  2. People who have no clue about local news. SCMP used to be expensive (though only knowing about SCMP as a source of news is a symptom of expat-bubbleness), but The Standard went free a couple of years ago and there was always the 7.30 pm news (if these people could figure out how to work their TV set) and now there are loads of free news sites.
    Example of expat bubble conversation: “Who is Joshua Wong?” Answer: The student leader of the Occupy protests.
    Example 2 of expat bubble conversation: “Oh those students, such a nuisance, the traffic in Admiralty was so crowded.” Hint: Take the train.
    Example 3 of expat bubble conversation: “Oh yeahhh. But isn’t it so crowded?”.
    Example 4 (tangentially related to the above): “Why is there a traffic jam in Central today?” Answer: Because China No.3 honcho, the man directly responsible for Hong Kong, was in town. The news was only full of it for one whole week.

So yeah, the above two are related to news/politics and maybe I’m unduly interested, but the thing is the whole of Hong Kong has become dramatically politicized since October last year, a process that been gradually happening over the years. To be clueless at this time is just odd.

3. Then, there’s the tendency to hold everything up to Western standards.

Example: Woman venting about how some supermarket clerk shushed her baby and then when she glared the other clerks laughed. Fine, be angry. Then she goes: “In the UK, blah blah blah.” The thing is, so what if in the UK. This is not the UK. Get over it.

4. Then, there’s the tendency to only shop in uber-expensive expat enclaves and assume that everyone else does.

Example: Woman asking “where do you buy your detergent?” Apparently, she’s been importing hers from the UK, until she ran out and realised the cost of Waitrose products here. Thing is, she has never ever stepped into Park N Shop I think. At the most, Taste (which is like the higher-end version of Park N Shop). I remember these women dithering over where to buy water because they had forgotten their child’s bottle of (presumably double distilled) aqua and did not trust the brands in the local supermarket. Then they go, “everything is so expensive.”

But, if anyone asks for a suggestion for a restaurant, it will always be some overpriced, posh place in Central or thereabouts or in the five-star hotel. The number of times the Peninsula gets mentioned for a place for tea (admittedly it does have the most famous high tea in town) is astounding. It’s especially hilarious when people ask for “affordable” suggestions.

Again, expat bubble is connected to money. You can only live in a bubble if you are insulated by money. But what makes expat bubble dwellers more annoying than the local elite is the ignorance part. Actually, a lot of wealthy Hong Kong people patronize extremely humble food spots, like dai pai dongs, which explains why we had the Fishball Revolution during Chinese New Year. Expats, however, will be going: “What’s a fishball?”

Update

So after a bit of discussion in the comments and some reflection, I need to add two caveats:

  1. I think people who have recently moved get a pass. They need time to get their bearings and understand the new culture. A place like Hong Kong is deceptive because it’s quite easy to settle in and feel like you’re participating in the society, when you’re just scratching the surface.
  2. Not everyone moves to another place excited by the possibility of being immersed in a new culture. For some people, it’s just a job. For others, they’ve moved so many times they cannot be bothered to do the whole exploration shtick again. To be fair, this is only the second time I’ve moved cities. For the abovementioned people, maybe what they really want is just to surround themselves with the familiar so they can get on with the business of living. Fair enough. I find this boring and the kind of conversations that happen within this kind of lifestyle strange. It’s a question of my own preference, and if it is a value judgement, it’s a personal one, based on preferences.

 

 

 

Friendships yet again

Yes, again! Hopefully, the last but this seems to be the topic on my mind at the mo.

But this time, I’m not thinking about me (except tangentially).

On Sunday, I took the kids to the park and there were a group of girls playing in the corner my two usually play in. What’s more the girls had used some of the rocks and stones the kids usually play with and creating a very interesting arrangement of leaves and flowers.

My kids ran over while I hung back, or tried to, until I could no longer stand the fact that my kids were barging into a game where they were clearly not wanted (one of the girls had told them “to go away”). When I asked Nene and Mimi to leave that group alone and play somewhere else, the immediately got mutinous. Nene started demanding that the girls give back their rocks and Mimi went so far as to go and grab some.

I was wondering what to do, when the girls ran off. When they didn’t return after a while, I let Nene and Mimi take back one of their rocks. I tried to distract them by asking them to make chutney with leaves. Then one of the girls came back and asked if they had taken their rocks.

Mimi said no, then yes. Then Mimi said: “Do you want to be our friend?” Her approach is so direct. She has used this line after I urged her to ask another child to play. This girl hesitated and said: “I don’t speak English very good.” Mimi spent five minutes babbling about English and Chinese until I gently suggested she ask her her name.

The girls were now in the maze and Mimi ran off after them. I decided to stand and watch. Nene climbed a wall and was watching too: “I know you want to play with them,” I said to Nene. He nodded sadly. It looked like Mimi was getting included. “Okay go,” I said. He ran to them.

Within five minutes they were all playing together. The girls brought me leaves for my chutney. They showed my kids some little crabs they had caught in a plastic bowl. The language didn’t seem to matter, though as inevitably happens they were speaking English. I guess because my kids have so little Chinese but every Chinese kid has some English, the latter becomes the lingua franca.

The experience taught me that I need to hang back more. Kids friendships are not like adult friendships. They come together more easily. They have their own way to breaking in and negotiating. If they get rejected, it’s painful to watch, but they get over it.

Maybe I remember too much of my own childhood. I had a couple of lonely years in primary school that are etched into my memory. I remember rejections clearly. I try to protect my kids from these. But maybe I don’t need to. They are capable of dusting themselves off better than me.

Here’s a picture of the lot of them:

 

 

Friendships again

I have noticed two mothers at the kindy getting close. And I feel… soemthing. On the one hand smug, because I knew another mother was trying very hard to be friends with one of these women and her courting was so obvious, it grated on my nerves, also how she turned her light on her and off us. I like the other two moms more than the one who did not get an in on the friendship so yay for them. But also, I’m a little jealous.

They were nice enough to include me in a coffee after school. But while I was there, I realised I could not relate to much of the conversation. One I’m younger. I’m much more seriously into my work. I’ve been in Hong Kong longer. And I think crucially, or maybe this is the thing I’m insecure about, I don’t have as much money.

The conversation was so expat bubble. Wake up, I wanted to scream!

But it also made me wonder, where do I fit in?I’m critical of those who lead the yuppie single life and I’m critical of those who are desperate housewives in (expat) suburbia and I’m also critical of the angsty academic peeps. Is it any wonder I’m sitting here on a Friday typing this.

[Actually, wild horses couldn’t have dragged me out last night. I am still recovering from two nights out and a lot of traipsing about town during MinCat’s visit. And with Curly expected at the end of the month, my cup brimmeth over]

Friends

This article on making friends when you’re 30. We are all here no? Except the very fortunate ones, but I don’t know any of those. Everyone I know seems to struggling with this to some extent.

Curly recently pointed out after I told her about a dream I had that it seems strange for me to be the one who’s insecure about friendships, and maybe it’s because I don’t really have a friends group in the proper sense Hong Kong. This may be true. If my best friends are far away, evidence that the distance does matter always rattles me.

On the other hand, I really don’t know if I have time for more friendships, as one of the comments in the article says. When you have young kids everything has to be scheduled, more so if you’re working outside the home, and then I have an anti-social husband who nonetheless will whine if I’m too social.

And I possibly have become curmudgeonly with age. In a similar way to dating in one’s 30s, people tend to get on my nerves more. I don’t have the stamina to persist through the initial awkwardness or false starts. Then again, one of the advantages of being a couple is that one doesn’t have to.

I recently met a group of friends who were being like, well, Friends (but an updated version). And I found it weird, not charming. Heh.

One of the comments in the article says that if you have one good friend in a place, that’s enough. I guess I’m sorted then.

 

Unoriginal remarks of our times

[Inspired by a conversation with MinCat.]

A couple of remarks that one hears so frequently that one just wants to bite one’s fist with boredom:

  1. “You know me, I’m flaky like that.”
    You will not believe the number of people that spout this one or its variants. Or maybe you will believe because you have likely either been at the receiving end of this or one of those who uses it to get out of behaving like an adult who actually commits to things and follows up on that commitment. The point is, it is not just this one special snowflake that is flaky, but enough people for it to start seeming like an epidemic. I am writing this to cure those out there who believe that they are charmingly “flaky like that” to realise that they are a) not alone b) not charming.
    It is for people like this that I developed the three-strikes rule. It is a highly efficient way of saving myself the energy of planning around such a person. I just cannot even. You flake, you bake in my book.
    For me, flaking repeatedly is an indication of a) not caring enough (which needs to be responded to in kind, unless one is completely sure one adores this person to cope with their dilettantism) b) an immature emotional and intellectual development (which does not bode well for friendship). So.

2.  “I’m not a girly girl. I don’t really get along with girls. They’re so bitchy. I get along with boys better.”

Yes, lady, you and the other 300,000 female souls out there. So many women these days seem allergic to other women that it’s a mystery that the concept of girlfriends exists at all.

Guess what? The phenomenon of wanting to hang out with the socially more powerful group is not new. Women are bitchy and catty because they have always had to fight for the crumbs of power. You disdain them for that and want to play with the big boys. We get it.

Just as long as you know that you’re not original, nor do you somehow become a bigger person by hanging out with the boys, carry on. I’ll enjoy that soul-affirming conversation with my girls because you know what, hanging out with other women is not all cat and mouse. Sometimes it’s kittens in a basket purring.

About town

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We had a long weekend, and yesterday was rubbish. We pretty much did nothing all day. So I was determined to make the most of today. For me, I feel a weekend is wasted, especially a long weekend, if we don’t do something apart from the usual routine with the kids. The usual routine is going to the building park or playroom in the building.

Since V was not in the mood to go swimming, I suggested taking the kids to see the birds at Kowloon Park in Tsim Sha Tsui. We’ve been before, and while there aren’t that many birds to see, I felt the kids would enjoy it. So off we went.

When we got off the train at TST and made our way to the park 30 something minutes later, I wanted to pee. So after looking at a couple of fountains that did not help with the needing to pee, I veered everyone into the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre which is housed in a historic building that I assumed would have clean toilets. Instead, I got attracted by the idea of the exhibition itself and was pleasantly surprised. The last time we went there which admittedly was ages ago before I had kids, there was barely anything, though there were some kids doing cosplay which made up for it.

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This time there was no cosplay but  a well-thought out exhibition of various archaeological finds around Hong Kong, including relics that go back to the stone age. There were some interactive displays that kept the kids amused (it’s a little sad how kids kind of zoom in on the screens and gadgets), while I peered at a few of the exhibits, such as pottery from the Bronze Age and ceramics from the Ming dynasty. Below is the floor of the Ming Dynasty room, which I think had quite a beautiful effect:

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The toilets of this museum are extremely clean and actually quite aesthetic in an old-world charm sort of way. It’s not often that one finds something to remark on in a public toilet.

We then proceeded to the reason for us being there, which was the flamingos:

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They were mostly clustered towards the other end, but they always give me a thrill when I see them. There’s also an aviary with exotic birds such as huge parrots from the Amazon, though the kids weren’t as taken with them as I was.

The park has some interesting flora, such as these banyan trees that are typical of Hong Kong.

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We then proceeded to Saravana Bhavan where the kids did a good job of polishing off an idli, vada and ghee roast dosa. I remark on this because Indian food is not really their thing. In fact, when the dosa came, Nene exclaimed: “Oh a samosa!” thus displaying his ignorance for all and sundry.

Then we detoured to Mirador Mansion where V wanted to buy the famous Jenny biscuits for someone, and I discovered a new Indian store that would deliver home with no minimum charge which stocked my favourite spicy banana chips. The freshness of them is yet to be ascertained however.

After that we took a train to Mong Kok because I needed to buy a charger for my Mac. The wire of mine mysteriously got so frayed that it stopped working – okay, it was probably because I wound the cord around the plug to take it to work every day but seriously. It turned out the cost of the charger is the cost of a small computer itself. While V went up into the computer centre to see if he could get me a bargain (he couldn’t, and I ended up paying full price, sob!) I waited at the corner of the Ladies Market with the kids. One of the annoying things about Hong Kong is the lack of place for pedestrians to just sit (resulting in Mainland tourists squatting everywhere and being sneered at by locals), so I was very pleased to find a corner of a big cosmetics store that had a ledge that the kids could chill out on. They ended up collecting stones from the road to the disapprobation of passersby.

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Later, they also amused themselves wetting their hands in a dripping aircon, probably the only people in the world to enjoy this phenomenon, and me being the only mother to let them.

We rounded off our excursion with some yummy dessert at HeSheEat cafe. The kids have been in a bonding mood all day, hugging and playing and wanting to hold hands, and while this is adorable, it is also like double trouble because they set each other off.

Came home and crashed on the couch, satisfied at a day well spent.

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh off the boat

There is a deep sense of satisfaction that comes from binging on a television series, a new form of pleasure. (There’s also the pleasure of waiting for the series your addicted to week after week, but it’s a pleasure I don’t have access to anymore since we cut cable).

Anyhoo, my latest obsession is Fresh Off The Boat. One of the weird things is how a number of my TV series picks come from fashion websites (e.g. the And Then There Were None miniseries, and Outlander Season 2… strangely, I never felt like watching season 1) and feminist sites (e.g. True Detective and I’m pretty sure Fresh Off the Boat). I can’t remember what the site said about Fresh Off The Boat, and having watched it, I’m pretty sure its politics aren’t up to scratch, but unfortunately, I’m addicted. There’s an added pleasure of watching it through my familiarity with Chinese culture though

First of all, I’m in love with the kid Eddie (though the other two are pretty darn adorable as well), and his swag. Now that I have kids, I’m gobsmacked as to what it would take to get a kid to act. And that kid really can act. Unless that’s his personality. In which case, I want to be his friend. Although I’m not into the Beastie Boys. Eh.

But more than Eddie, I’m into Jessica. That woman is so badass, I want to be her. Also I identify with her even though I’m totally not her.

For example, in the opening scene of the first episode, Jessica grumbles about having to move to Florida at all. And this is so going to be me when we eventually move back to India. Except some episodes down when Jessica concedes that her dear husband was right. That is not going to be me. Unless it all turns out to be wonderful, in which case, yes, I will grudgingly concede. In the matter of the move, Jessica is more of a softie than I would ever be.

Jessica’s reaction to encountering someone better than her at something she has decided she is good at is also familiar to me. I’m scared at failing at things I really want to be great at (e.g. making a career in academics), so I might just cop out instead. This could also apply to cooking: the best or nothing.

Obviously, I’m not tiger mom. In fact, I was telling a friend the other day that I’m more Panda Mom (I just want to lie around sleeping and eating bamboo shoots while the children do likewise, preferably feeding themselves but since I’m too lazy to teach them to properly do that, I end up spoonfeeding) but I have certain standards that I expect my kids to achieve. Thus, I now do some “alphabet” practice with the kids every day. Just 15 minutes but it feels like 3 hours.

Mainly I wish I had Jessica’s thick skin. She is utterly confident really does not give a shit. She does not feel bad to be a cheapo, an auntygiri trait I’m trying hard to master, and she she tells it like it is. I never thought I’d be the groupie of an Asian Tiger Mom but there you have it.

 

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