Heart vs. Brain

It’s always while I’m riding the EL that I end up reflecting on the human condition. I think there’s something about Philadelphians that makes them seem so much more real than DC folks. They just don’t have this invisible barrier that so many DCers put up, whether out of dislike for humans they don’t know or just plain egocentrism. Philadelphians are different; they look you in the eye (albeit defiantly sometimes), they interact with you (whether for better or for worse), they speak loudly of their personal lives and sometimes invite you to join their conversations (usually when opinions differ and they need a third party to weigh in, which can be quite comical).

I suppose this is why I’m drawn to them and why they inspire thoughts deeper than those I get while riding the Metro. DCers are simply impenetrable.

And so on this particular occasion, as I made my way to catch a train back to DC, a young man boarded my car with a piece of cardboard upon which was written a plea for help. What struck me about this man was the fact that he looked to be at least two decades older than when I last saw him—so much so that I didn’t recognize him until he got off and shuffled on to the next car. His beard was long, dirty, tangled; his hands were swollen and dark with grime; his clothes were heavily worn and torn. He painted the exact picture that one would have of a homeless man: overgrown hair, dirty and torn clothes, grimy hands. I thought, “Man, he’s had it rough.” And then, almost as a reflex, I thought, “This could be a very elaborate scam.”

And this is when I realized that the people I thought were so unabashedly open had suddenly raised their barriers. Conversations stopped and everyone retreated into the comfort of their personal space. I saw some heads turned to impossible angles, presumably to avoid making eye contact. “It must be hard,” I thought, “to stand there in silence while everyone actively ignores you.” How low does his heart sink every time this happens? Or had he become so accustomed to it that it didn’t really feel like anything anymore?

Con artists are so common and we are so easily duped that we’ve become suspicious of our fellow humans and reluctant to help those in need. I wish I had it in my heart to give without questioning and to help unconditionally but this fear of being fooled stops me every time. I don’t want to help the liars, the undeserving, the wrong people. I don’t want to be fooled so I won’t take a chance. And while you could argue that this is perfectly reasonable, I find it most unfortunate. I don’t want to be this jaded. I think it’s bad for the soul.

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Of Subway Rides and City Souls

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It’s about a thirty-minute ride from 30th Street Station to my mother’s house in the Frankford section of Philadelphia if you take the El. The westbound ride toward Center City seems fast, as you move from residential areas to the city’s vibrant core. Riding east toward the neighborhood where I spent seven of the last thirteen years, on the other hand, takes what often seems to be an eternity.

Nobody rides from downtown Philly to Frankford to party. On this Friday night, tired from a long day at the office and an uneventful voyage from DC, I took a seat on the El and watched as people stepped on and off the train. One by one the young, the peppy, the freshly-showered folk exited the train into a night of partying, leaving behind the old, the tired, the weary, the overworked and underpaid Philadelphians. By the time the train pulled out of the Berks station, arguably the last station going east where you can hop off and still wander into a fun albeit divey bar, all was quiet. It was then that I examined my surroundings and took note of my fellow riders: a woman looking out the window, a young man bobbing his head to music, a couple of people staring into naught—and the rest either sleeping or simply resting their eyes.

My gaze landed most often on an old man sitting to my right. With his well-worn sweatpants, raggedy sweater, and winter jacket shell, he seemed to at once stand out and belong despite this mild summer night. I had noticed him as soon as I sat down; I had wondered whether he would talk to himself out loud, start shouting obscenities as is too often the case with the elderly who look so completely lost, or expose himself by way of either masturbation or plain and simple exhibition. At his feet lay a duffle bag atop which rested a large plastic bag from The Children’s Place, which in turn was marked with a white rectangular sticker that bore: a name; the date 8/14/13; and the word “MEDS”. I presumed the name belonged to the man, felt a twinge of sadness, and decided not to dwell on it. “The ride home always takes so long,” I thought, probably echoing everybody else’s sentiment.

Finally, I got off at my stop, walked along a couple of train cars that had configurations similar to mine, and caught a bus at the foot of the station. Still haunted by the tired faces that rode the El with me, I heard myself step on a few roaches as I approached my destination and, though normally terrified of roaches, didn’t so much as to flinch. I climbed—not effortlessly—the few steps to my mother’s front door with my keys in hand. Once inside, I let my bags fall to the floor, gave my mother a kiss, and embraced the warmth of the interior.

Later, I would think about the old man and google what I guessed to be his name along with “Philadelphia” out of sheer curiosity, not knowing what I expected to find or if I even expected to find anything. The very first result would look like a match—a record on courtdocs.org that painted an accurate physical image of the old man. The charges? “Indecent Exposure” and “Open Lewdness”.

You know we live in a sad world when your first inkling about someone is not only negative but also spot-on.

On Senses Heightened

It is said that when you lose one of your senses, the others increase in acuity. I think we all experience that throughout our lives without necessarily losing any one of our senses permanently.

Take, for example, the auditory phenomenon that occurs a short while after you turn off the lights in a room at night. Suddenly the music that you thought was playing at the perfect volume seems absurdly loud and a collection of sounds you had not noticed manifests itself: the clicking of the ceiling fan’s rotating blades, your housemates moving about the house, the friction between your skin and your bed sheets.

Sometimes the music is so good you just have to close your eyes. Because it makes you feel closer and experience it better—because you want to let it wash over you and soak you through and through.

City Dwelling, Part Two

The most beautiful thing about living in the city is the diversity of your surroundings. I find it so incredible to be able to walk from one neighborhood into another that has a completely different vibe. Sometimes the change that you witness is drastic, but often it is gradual. If you stay on the same street for a long time, you’ll typically find that there is either an increasing number of vacant properties or an increasing number of new businesses. Today, after visiting a couple of museums, I walked from the National Mall to Columbia Heights via Gallery-Place/Chinatown, Mount Vernon Square, Shaw, and finally U Street.

I know what most people think about summertime in the city: it’s hot, humid, smelly, grimy, and infested with tourists. It’s not entirely false, and I used to despise it myself. A much younger me never would have considered walking around in this weather for more than twenty minutes, and if I ever had to I would have been miserable. Getting away from the hordes of confused tourists is easy (hint: walk away from the main attractions); the heat, humidity, smells, and grime, on the other hand, will follow you around. And, well, you just have to deal with it. I don’t believe that any of that takes away from a city’s charm and character; if anything, most people will be flocking to air conditioned spaces so that you can peacefully walk around and take pictures at your heart’s content without having to worry about being in someone’s way or having people blocking your shots. Even better, when there’s no one around you don’t have to worry about someone calling the cops on you for peeking through a broken window or snapping a picture of a vacant area through a fence.

Those are mild concerns that I am progressively learning to let go, anyway. Lately I have found myself standing in the same spot for minutes on end, regardless of foot traffic—car traffic is still to be avoided—and weather conditions, just to get the perfect shot.

Walking the last block to my house, I felt insanely gross and insanely glorious at the same time.

 

City Dwelling, Part One

I’m moving, in a few days, to a different neighborhood—a neighborhood that is relatively unknown to me, but that I am nonetheless excited to be moving to. After exiting the Metro station tonight, I walked quietly and deliberately to the house in which only a few more nights will be spent. I took note of the people around me: a few happy people leaving bars, sad or perhaps just pensive people sitting on the ground, tired people heading home from a late shift, a man tossing and turning on a porch attached to what is most likely not his house… And then there’s me, slowly making my way home, taking in the sights and sounds of my neighborhood as though I were discovering it for the first time.

“How different,” I thought, “from the neighborhood that it was last night.” No fireworks or firecrackers, nor the dissipating smoke with which they filled the air. No music playing, no families chatting, no children’s laughter to be heard; just the silent hum of a cityscape and the somber faces of row homes.

I wore two layers—a t-shirt and a fitted, zip-up, long sleeved jacket—and felt oddly comfortable for such a warm night. I guess it’s true what my mother says, that when your heart is still you feel naturally cool. With each silent stride I felt increasingly invisible, but was soon stripped of my temporary super power when a friendly person here and there greeted me. I responded in kind and wondered what I looked like to others, to those who took note of my own presence on the street, alone, in the middle of the night; if they wondered what was on my mind, if they made up a backstory for me like I so often do for others, or if their thoughts even ventured further than simply saying, “Hello.”

Let’s go and watch the sun rise

Yesterday I watched the sun rise for the first time in my adult life—if not my entire life thus far. I had never understood the appeal prior to this experience. I would always hear people discuss the beauty of a sunrise but me? I found sunsets just as beautiful, if not more due to the hint of sadness that I associated with it: one more day gone by, one less day to live—or something equally morbid. But now I understand.

Call it a shift in perspective; the experience was nothing less than eye-opening. I went from negative to positive, from dark to light. Instead of a sunset marking the death of yet another dreary day, I was now enthralled by a sunrise and all the promise it held—the accomplishments ahead, the relationships to foster, the laughter to be had.

Sitting quietly, I switched back and forth between my phone and my digital camera to capture several shots, many of which would inevitably be discarded. With the cold numbing my hands and the sunrise fast approaching, I was effectively racing against time. This fleeting moment where the sun crosses the horizon serves as a reminder that life waits for no one; it just happens.

There is nothing more humbling than seeing something so huge and so bright rise above the horizon to meet your gaze and eventually shine down on you. The crazy thing is that so many people take this phenomenon for granted despite its grandeur for the simple reason that it happens every day. And they’re not entirely wrong: the sun does indeed rise every day—but for whom? Surely not for us. On a personal scale, tomorrow is never guaranteed. No one on this Earth is entitled to see the sun rise.

Funky Fruit: Rambutan

Hi, friends!

Today I’m going to tell you about a little fruit called Rambutan, also known as chôm chôm in Vietnamese.

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The rambutan is a fleshy bit of sweetness that has a seed in its center and is encased in a sturdy skin-like shell, much like its cousins, the lychee and the longan. You can find it at most Asian supermarkets.

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The rambutan’s skin/shell is thick and leathery between its hair-like protuberances. To expose the flesh, you rip it open.

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Go on, take a bite. Watch the seed!

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The rambutan’s flesh is firmer than its cousins’ and not as tasty, in my opinion. It also gets stuck between your teeth, which is annoying, and the fibrous seed makes eating around it a little challenging.

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I’m not a real fan, but you might be! Also, I think I’m a little allergic to it.

Make: Dark Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate mousse is, in my eyes, infinitely superior to chocolate pudding; it’s not just a viscous glob of chocolatey goodness but a dense yet strangely light cloud that infuses your head with a rich chocolate flavor as it melts away in your mouth. That’s not to say that I don’t like chocolate pudding; in fact, I like it so much that I made it myself, once. But I grew up with chocolate mousse, not pudding. It is simple yet powerful.

The first time I made chocolate mousse, I searched for a recipe online. I came across some that used butter, heavy cream, and loads of other unnecessary ingredients — ingredients that I normally adore but that you don’t really need in a chocolate mousse. Using butter and heavy cream will leave you with a rather unpleasant greasy film after consumption, and I found that I did not like the taste as much. It wasn’t chocolatey enough. It was too heavy. There was always too little of one thing and too much of another.

Then, one day, I received a package from my good friend Sabrina over in Paris. She had bundled up a number of goodies for my birthday, among which was a notebook for me to jot down recipes, as well as a few handwritten recipe cards. One of them was entitled “Mousse au chocolat”. The recipe calls for 3 eggs, 100g of chocolate, and 1 packet of sucre vanillé, or vanilla sugar. I tweaked the recipe to my liking, but it remains simple. I mean, yes: there are different types of mousse. But why complicate your life? I can assure you that this recipe makes for a perfectly — surprisingly — rich mousse even with just two main ingredients.

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Girly Stuff! Nail Art: Dots

I’m not a super huge fan of nail art; I can appreciate the skillful application of polish and designs, but I generally don’t think it looks nice on nails. Mostly, I find it tacky… UNLESS! the art in question in a pattern that is repeated on every nail. The popular thing is to have only one nail (usually the ring finger’s) decorated while the others are painted with one solid color — that shit would drive me insane.

I recently deviated from my usual one-color-fits-all nail routine and experimented with dots.

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