The temple built on indigenous land: a story of religious privilege
I will be clear: I grew up with a slew of privileges in the United States. I was born in a well-to-do neighborhood in California to parents who both had PhDs. I am able-bodied, college-educated, and while I am clearly not white, my racial ambiguity is not the type that would cause me to be racially profiled by police or shopkeepers.
But a recent trip to Taiwan showed me very clearly how I lack a certain privilege.
As I explored Taiwan, I saw Buddhist temples everywhere. A plurality of Taiwanese identify as Buddhist– and Buddhist traditions and values are very much accepted by the general population. As a practicing Hindu (father’s side) and Buddhist (mother’s side), it was very novel for me to be in a country where one of my religious traditions were so affirmed by the greater society.
I don’t know what it is like to be raised in an environment where your family’s religious beliefs are considered normal and backed by the state. What a privilege it is for Christians in the U.S. to have a federal holiday as well as general public acceptance of their beliefs. Come the holiday season, what is like to turn on the radio and hear music for your holiday, without even trying to look for it? What is it like to know that pretty much any town you go to will have a place of worship for you? What is it like, I wonder, to have your holy texts studied in public schools as part of the general curriculum (we studied parts of the Bible in my English class in high school)? What does it feel like to know that most of your fellow citizens know the names of your holy people, places and days?
As a non-Christian, I do not know what those feelings are like.
But I wonder if Christians in the US ponder these questions. And I wonder if they ever considered the price in which religious dominance came.
But religious cultural dominance is not solely a (white) Christian issue. In Taiwan I found myself at the intersection of many things– tourist, Mandarin-speaker, East Asian, South Asian, Buddhist, descendant of colonizers– and found myself lost in thought at the steps of a Buddhist temple. This particular temple was built on indigenous land (land of the Taroko people), who were forcibly removed by Japanese colonizers in the early 1900s. In modern times the Taroko people are primarily Christian (surprise, anyone?). They live away from their ancestral lands, while tourists from Taiwan and around the world visit a National Park named after them– a National Park that contains several modern Buddhist temples.
At first I was excited to be in a country where my religious beliefs are affirmed and celebrated. But as I gazed at the temple which was built on indigenous land, I think, this is a familiar story. It is a story I should not be excited about.
And it is a story, that I realized on this trip, that is so absolutely shaped by context.
Often times when someone (an immigrant) complains about injustice and oppression, a common response we hear is “well if you don’t like it go back to your home country.”
What if going back to “your home country” to escape oppression means yes, true, you are no longer oppressed — but now you’ve become the oppressor?
I’ve been trying to blog regularly in earnest but have found that my drive to write anything has been quite stunted ever since November 9, 2016.
I think it’s important for me to acknowledge that as an employed, college educated person (with a STEM degree from an elite university with no debt), in a stable relationship with a partner of similar background and salary, and as someone who is a U.S. citizen who lives in a very liberal city— what has transpired since election day is nowhere close to being as dire for others in a less privileged position. My feelings < the lived in reality and fear that black and brown folks, undocumented folks, disabled folks, LGBT folks are facing and will face come 2017.
What I felt for the first time that night— being scared of living in the U.S. because of the very nature of my identity (as a femme person of color, and the child of immigrants) is something that is the reality of so many people in this country. I was willfully blind, ignorant and overly optimistic (really an obfuscation of the fact that many people in the U.S. are suffering). The shock I felt after the election was only a reflection of my privilege.
The work that I need to do is clear. Donate to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, organizations that support LGBT rights, immigrant rights, and disability rights. Organize like crazy on the local level, volunteer on the local level (right now I’m volunteering at Glide), and stop being so complacent.
I will readily admit that this has been a hard year, and there is so much hard work ahead. I have been feeling discouraged everyday. The President-Elect’s cabinet appointments are horrifying and awful. Reading about the Dakota Access Pipeline makes me feel powerless. A recent party at the Ghostship artist warehouse in Oakland (which that many of my mutual friends attended) ended up in flames and was the worst structure fire in modern California. Aleppo is heart wrenching, infuriating— and apparently the world’s response to live-tweeted genocide is to stand by and watch.
Looking for a “silver lining” in the face of injustice does an disservice to the victims of it. If you yourself are not a direct victim of violences in this world, it is important to fully face and confront the utter violence and unfairness that others are subjected to. We must watch unflinchingly and say without reservation, without placation, without hesitation,
“This is not right.”
My original blog post for November 9 was going to be a post about the importance of breakfast, “starting each day on the right foot” and on “new beginnings with a new President” (I had prepared content on various breakfast recipes.)
I will post those recipes eventually because breakfast is still important.
But what I want to communicate right now is my love and despair, and my commitment to holding my friends, my family, my communities, my loved ones— close and near to my heart. Tenderness, vulnerability and love are vital in difficult times, and as a meme I once read said, I resolve to “keep my heart in spite of the ever-encroaching void.”
This post is inspired by Refinery29’s Money Diaries, which in turn is inspired by New York Magazine’s Sex Diaries (I have never read it). I started reading the Money Diaries when I was college, and found the insight into money-earning women’s lives so interesting.
But now, as of July, I too, am a money-earning gal, and am interested in having positive cash-flow in my life. Budgeting and reflection is in order (the first two months after I started working, I had negative earnings). I took it upon myself to meticulously keep track of money I spent (or didn’t spend) this week to get an understanding of how I spend my hard-earned cash.
NOTE: I want to preface this by stating that I acknowledge that I am in an incredibly priveledged position in that I was able to graduate from a top institution loan-free, with a job in the financial industry immediately lined up, and be surrounded by folks (my family and partner) who are able to help me financially. My post below is not meant to be financial advice of any sort, and what works for me financially will not necessarily work for someone else in a similar position to me.
Sunday, October 23
9 am Last night, Winston was researching brunch places and suggested we go to ‘āina, a Hawaiian eatery in the Dogpatch. Reservations were booked up so we decided to risk it and just go near opening time (9am) and see if we could get a table. I had asked him the previous night if he was sure he wanted to go. He had been telling me earlier how he was concerned that we were spending too much money on eating out at fancy places, and a quick look at their website makes me think this is a hip bougie upscale eatery. But he says he wants to go, and I am an avid bruncher so no complaints on my end.
We take a Lyft over ($9), he pays.
When we arrive, we’re told that the wait is about an hour! We decide to wait it out because that is the reality of brunch (without reservations) in San Francisco. I suggest we walk to a nearby Philz and get some coffee. I pay for a large Mint Mojito (not an alcoholic drink, an amazing coffee drink), but the barista accidentally gives me a small. I decide not to complain about it (I don’t need that much caffeine anyway) and consider the amount I overpaid as a tip ($5.5).
10 am We are finally seated! We experience some sticker shock (in a good way) when looking at the menu. At hip bougie places like this, usually cocktails will be $10+ and portions are small. We are pleasantly surprised to see that all cocktails are $8. We each order a cocktail (I got a guava mimosa). I ordered two appetizers for myself, spam musubi and guava malasadas (Hawaiian donut), and Winston gets the chicken katsu with tamagoyaki. The food was fantastic. With tip, it comes out to be about $50 for the both of us, which, for a bougie place like this (and with two drinks) is a “steal” in SF. Winston pays; he knows that I am too broke to be eating like this. We take a Lyft Line back home ($6, he pays).
1 pm I’m meeting up with a high school friend who now attends medical school in the area. My plan is to buy some food from my favorite tacqeria, and then have a picnic in Dolores Park. My friend and I take the BART to 16th and Mission, and use my Monthly Muni Pass. Since it’s within the bounds of San Francisco, there is no charge. We get to Los Coyotes and I get two “super” tacos. My friend treats me ($11).
4 pm It’s a beautiful day in Dolores Park and we spend the afternoon talking about life goals, relationships, and having immigrant parents (which greatly shapes your perspective on life goals and relationships). It starts getting cold, cloudy and windy, i.e. a normal day in SF, and I suggest we get dessert and Dandelion, a chocolate shop and pâtisserie in the gentrified Mission. We walk over and each get a hot chocolate and we decide on sharing the tasting plate. Since she bought me lunch, I pay for desserts (31.89). There was a bit of a mix-up with our drinks (we eventually got them though) and the store comps me with a free hot chocolate coupon for next time.
5pm I say bye to my friend and take public transportation home.
8pm Tonight Winston and I have hotpot at home. We don’t have that much gas left in the cannister, but somehow we made it through dinner.
Daily Total: $37.39
Monday, October 24
9 am I’m running late (as always) but still make my morning smoothie (kale, apple, banana, strawberry, greek yogurt). Sometimes I spike the smoothie with a low, culinary grade matcha. Not today though. I use my monthly MUNI pass to get to work.
10:30 am I am feeling the lack of caffeine. I buy a venti latte from Starbucks. It’s $4.55, but I used pre-existing money on my Starbucks card. I experience a huge burst of productivity at work.
12:30 pm It’s a cold, rainy-ish day. I decide to get soup for lunch. Clam Chowder and unlimited free bread! I’m trying to reduce my carb intake though so I limit myself to two small pieces of bread. ($6.25)
2 pm I remember my boyfriend asked me to pick up quarters for laundry this morning. There is a Wells Fargo bank branch literally right next to my work so I step out of the office for a moment and get $20 in quarters.
5 pm I have to leave work to get to Berkeley in time for my bi-weekly therapist appointment. I take a combination of the BART and busses to get there, so I reload my Clipper Card ($20) to ensure I’ll definitely have enough balance on it. I take the BART to Downtown Berkeley ($4, use balance on Clipper). I get to Berkeley a little earlier than I needed to so I go to Walgreens and buy 20 clothing hangers. I have been needing them forever but kept on forgetting to buy more ($13.12). From Walgreens, I take a bus to my therapists office. Since I’m still within the BART-to-BUS transfer window, the fare is $1.85 (use Clipper Balance). I get to my therapist’s office a few minutes to spare. I have been seeing my therapist since my junior year of college, and seeing her has been one of the best decisions of my life. I very explicitly wanted to mention in this post that I see a therapist on a regular basis because I know there’s so much stigma (especially in the Asian-American community) about even talking about mental health. I feel like everyone and anyone can benefit from seeing a therapist, and recommend it if it is within your financial means (U.S. healthcare is so messed up that this is even an issue). Each appointment is $160, but my parents (and our health insurance) covered the costs while I was in school. Since I started working in July, I now have health insurance coverage through work (employer pays for 75%), but I’m also still on my parents plan until the end of 2016. My parents have generously offered to pay for my healthcare costs (since I’m still on their plan anyway till the end of this year) until January 2017 so I don’t pay for this appointment myself (my therapist sends a bill to my parents’ house directly).
The health insurance plan through my work is a high deductible plan and I will likely not hit my deductible (even with the the therapy appointments twice a month), so I will be essentially be paying out-of-pocket and full price for these appointments come next year. Even though my parents are paying for the appointments now, I still put the money I would have paid into my employee sponsored Health Savings Account (deducted automaticaly from my paycheck) so I’ll have money stowed away into my HSA for use in 2017.
7 pm Really good session with my therapist today. I take the bus back to the BART station (2.10, from my Clipper Card) and take the BART back to San Francisco. I am very hungry and am not looking forward to the 45 minute plus journey back to my apartment, but resist the urge to buy a snack from somewhere since I know my boyfriend made dinner tonight.
8 pm Dinner! Winston made brussel sprouts and chicken noodle soup. He used the soup broth from hotpot last night as the base for tonight’s soup. I call him a resourceful housewife.
9 pm We eat two slices of strawberry cake that I prepared on Saturday. I do two loads laundry ($7, use the quarters)
10 pm – Long conversation with my sister. She’s been having a hard time lately and I offer to buy her a flight up to San Franciscoto so she can get away from L.A. for a little bit. I use a combination of miles and actual money to buy her a ticket to come visit me in early December. ($64.58)
Daily Total: $111.08
Tuesday, October 25
7:30 am By some miracle I actually woke up early (i.e., when I SHOULD be waking up on a daily basis). I make the usual kale smoothie. Since I actually have time to enjoy my morning, I also cook up an eggs and three sausages, and make myself an almond milk matcha latte. I’m trying a new brand of matcha this morning. My latte has a very deep colour and tastes strong. I take the bus to work.
10:15 am Even though I had a matcha latte already this morning, I remember how productive I was yesterday after drinking the coffee, so I buy a venti latte from Starbucks (4.55, from my Starbucks card).
12 pm Thoroughly regretting the coffee. I am over caffeinated and unfocused. Caffeine always makes me lose my appetite so I put off lunch for later.
2 pm Still not feeling hungry yet, but decide that it is an appropriate time to eat lunch. I brought leftover chicken noodle soup (from dinner) for lunch. Normally I wouldnt like to eat leftover noodle soup the next day (noodles get so soggy) but since Winston used Shirataki noodles (also zero calories!), they retain their texture even though they’ve been sitting in broth overnight. It’s cloudy and rainy-ish today as well, so even though I’m not hungry, the soup is comforting and calming– just what I need to come down from this caffeine kick.
5 pm I leave work and walk to the Bar Method, my milf-y exercise studio that has barre fitness classes. I’m not done with some work I needed to finish by tomorrow, but my class is at 5:15 and they will charge me $15 if I don’t come to class (or cancel my class reservation 12 hours in advance). The financial penalties of not going to class are actually a great motivator to get me to actually work out when I say I will, since flaking isn’t really an option. I’m able to take the class through my $150 monthly membership (bought this a few weeks ago).
6:15 pm Finished my workout and walk one block over to Rubio’s to meet Winston for TACO TUESDAY. Rubio’s has a promotion on Tuesdays where after 2pm, tacos are $2! I get three fish tacos for $6.25, and each one has quite a hefty portion of fish. Cheapest dinner in the Financial District (that’s not McDonalds)
7 pm Winston wants to get ice cream so we walk over to the Ferry Building to Humphry Slocombe’s (ice cream store). I have to take a call, so while I’m on the phone he orders ice cream for me. I got a single scoop Peanutbutter Marshmallow. He pays. We take the bus back home.
8 pm Winston and I both have some work we need to finish. I absentmindedly pick at the aforementioned strawberry cake and end up finishing it while finishing up some code for work. Two desserts today– oops.
Daily Total: $6.25
Wednesday October 26
8:45 am Wake up late, as usual. I don’t really know why but I woke up in a horrible mood and generally feel awful (maybe it was the double dessert yesterday?). Make my kale smoothie but discover we have no apples left so end up substituting the apple with an applesauce cup. Despite the fact that I’m running late, I cook up an egg and some sausages because otherwise I know I’ll end up buying some unhealthy breakfast sandwich from somewhere. Take the bus to work.
10 am Generally feeling horrible and listless. Since I didn’t pack lunch today, I feel guilty about the idea of buying Starbucks so I drink some Office Coffee (I used the “Cappuccino” setting). Most people find it to be really bad, but honestly it tastes okay (I also drown it with milk, so maybe that’s why).
12 pm I take a 10 minute walk to the company headquarters. There’s a subsidized cafeteria there for employees and I get a large Thai Chicken Curry Soup for lunch, and two hard boiled eggs ($4.96).
2pm Still feeling horrible and listless. Make another office coffee (this time I used the “Espresso” setting).
3 pm I take a walk to the waterfront and back. I don’t know why but I am really not feeling all that great today. I hope that the fresh ocean air will revitalize me. It’s not really all that effective and I take a moody Instagram Boomerang video to further express my discontent.
5:20 pm – I leave work and take the bus to Union Square. Earlier today I saw a tiger sweater from H&M on Instagram and found myself really really wanting it. Since my day has been so awful I tell myself if I see it in store I can treat myself and buy it. Unfortunately the sweater is part of the newest collection and it is not yet in the physical stores. So sad.
5:50 pm It’s been a struggle today but my day isn’t over because it’s my turn to make dinner. I had planned an unfortunately ambitious dinner a few days ago for tonight, and I need to get started on cooking, so I head home.
6 pm Get started on dinner and discover we have no tofu !??? (We ALWAYS have tofu). Since that was the protein item I was planning on using for dinner (and we don’t have anything else in the fridge really), I text Winston and ask him to pick up some tofu and apples (since we are out) on his way back from work. I get started cooking other things.
On the menu tonight:
Asparagus Ohitashi (got the asparagus a week ago from Trader Joes and it’s nearing the end of its edible life)
Japanese Sweet Potato Miso Puree (We have just one sweet potato, only enough for a small side dish, so I decide to use it up)
Chawanmushi (a savory egg custard that’s really good when you only have some odds and ends available. I use some dried shiitake mushrooms and some king oyster mushrooms, and bits of carrots and asparagus)
King Oyster mushroom and Tofu Okakiage. I bought the oyster mushrooms almost 2 weeks ago and I really need to use them ASAP. Since they aren’t super fresh, I figure deep frying them is a good way to distract from this unfortunate fact.
A traditional Japanese meal consists of many side dishes like this (and usually soup and rice) but Winston and I are trying to be low-carb so no rice for us. I also don’t make soup because I am lazy.
Winston comes home with the tofu and I finish up making dinner.
8 pm I finally finish cooking and we eat dinner together 🙂
9:40 pm Phone call with my sister. While I’m on the phone I eat 1 lb of strawberries with whipped cream.
Daily Total: $4.96
Thursday, October 27
8:30 am Rainy day. Wake up late (surprise, surprise). Make the usual kale smoothie (Winston picked up some apples after work yesterday) and I rush to work. Before I left, I quickly packed what remained of Monday’s night chicken noodle soup for lunch. There’s not that much left and I know it won’t be enough, so I’ll probably end up buying something to supplement my lunch later, since I also didn’t really have that much for breakfast >_>
10:20 am I decide to get a Venti Latte from Starbucks with the hope that the sheer volume of milk (as well as caffeine) will keep my appetite at bay till lunch. Turns out there is a promotion till the end of October where if you buy something (a drink, anything) in the morning, bakery purchases after 2pm on the same day are only $1 (usually they are ~$2.45). Now I know where I’ll be getting my afternoon snack from! The barista remembers my name (!) and usual order, so I decide to tip and the total comes out to be 5.05 (from my Starbucks card).
12:45 pm Lots of meetings today . I’m actually not that hungry but I decide it’d be best for me to eat my lunch before my 1 o’clock meeting, since I thereafter I have a 2:30 and 3:00 meeting. I heat up the chicken noodle soup.
2:15 pm – Run down to Starbucks to get my 1$ bakery purchase. I decide on the “Old Fashioned Donut”. I ask for it heated up, which the barista strongly recommends against, but it’s raining outside and I want something warm and keep my satiated until the evening. He’s right that it gets kind of weird and mushy when heated but I still enjoy it. I pay for the donut with my Starbucks card, which now has a balance of $0.13. I did this thing last week where I reloaded my Starbucks card on the weekend ($15) and forbade myself from putting more money on it until this upcoming Saturday. So I’ve depleted this week’s Starbucks fund.
5 pm Go to my Bar Method class. It’s raining and cold but their $15 late class cancelattion policy keeps me from bailing.
6:15pm The class was a pretty intense work out! I meet up with a college friend for dinner, and given the weather, comforting Asian food seems good. We walk over to Chinatown to a restaurant called Xian Dumpling House. We order a vegetable dish, a noodle dish and an order of Xiao Long Bao (Shanghai Soup Dumplings) that are always amazing on cold days like this. This is my first time at this restaurant but I’m pretty pleased with the quality of the dumplings. I pick up the tab (31.05)
7:45 pm My friend wants dessert but most places in the FiDi/Chinatown are closed. We walk over to Boba Guys, and my friend purchases a Boba Sunday for us to share. It has Thai Tea Ice Cream, Almond Jelly, Boba and organic condensed milk as toppings. I was skeptical (they claimed that their Sundae was “the best Sundae in SF”) but it was actually very yummy. I would buy it again with my own money.
8:30 pm – Say bye to my friend and take the bus home. It’s been a long week, and tomorrow I’m working from home (!) so I’m looking forward to relaxing this evening.
Daily Total: $31.05
Friday, October 28
8:30 am Working from home today so no need to change into work clothes (pajamas all day!) I make my green smoothie– there is no kale left today so I use frozen spinach that we had in the freezer.
12:30 pm I had prepared a salad earlier while listening in on a meeting, and now I get to eat it. It’s a pretty straight forward salad with Napa cabbage, carrots, lettuce, red bell peppers, green onions, basil, mint, and a peanut dressing.
4:30 pm I had been feeling kind of low-energy all day, and then I realized I didn’t have any caffeine today. I hate how I appear to have become somewhat dependent on it. I make an almond milk matcha latte.
5:30 pm Winston comes home. He is very hungry and we settle on ordering take-out for dinner from Shanghai Dumpling King. Since the word “dumpling” is in its name, we figure we should stick to dumplings. We get an order of Xiao Long Bao, Pork and Chives Dumplings, Sheng Jian Bao, and Wonton Soup. The total is around $38 (he pays).
10:30 pm We spend the evening inside, cuddling and watching one of my favorite anime shows, Food Wars, on Crunchy Roll ($7 monthly prescription– the best $7 I spend per month). I become a little restless and suggest we get dessert. We walk over to Joy’s Place, a cute café near our apartment. I purchase a hot chocolate and a green tea shaved ice for us to share. ($9.50)
Daily Total: 9.50
Saturday, October 29
10 am I guess I got into an anime-induced coma last night or something, because I got up sooo late today! Winston makes us omelettes for breakfast.
12 pm We are meeting Winston’s Aunt, Uncle and cousin and his girlfriend for lunch. This is my first time meeting them. We are eating at IndoChine, a vegan Asian restaurant (Winston’s cousin is vegan) in the Mission. Admittedly I was skeptical before I tried the food, but it was really really tasty! Like, I would go to this restaurant just to eat the food alone. His family treats us, and we decide to spend our afternoon in the Mission.
1 pm Winston and I go to Harrington Galleries, a furniture store (we bought our couch from there). The store has a pretty big collection of vintage and used furniture, so it’s always fun to explore. Thereafter, we go to Dandelion (my second time in a week). Winston gets us a fig chocolate tart to share. He also orders a Mexican hot chocolate (he used my coupon from last time so it’s free) and gets a Cacao Fruit smoothie for me. He pays. The Cacao Fruit smoothie is incredible– I have never tasted anything like it; it tastes kind of like a lychee, but more milky and creamy.
3 pm We stop at the Westfield Mall in Powell Station to do some shopping. No tiger sweater in H&M yet. I go to Sephora to purchase eyeliner and a new red lipstick and lipliner ($96.40). As I am checking out, the store clerk tells me that I am now a “VIB Rouge” member. This means I have spent over $1000 at Sephora in a calendar year !!! I am mortified by this information. The membership comes with perks (free shipping, member only sales, etc) but I am aghast that I have spent that much money on cosmetics this year.
5 pm We’re back home. Winston takes a nap while I absentmindedly eat hot cheetos and read articles online. I get a package from my friend, Jesse, in the mail today! She’s sent me tons of candy for Halloween. This is the first package I’ve received from a friend in this apartment, so it feels like a milestone.
7 pm Winston wakes from his nap. We have no dinner plans and I have been eating hot cheetos and Jesse’s candy all this time. He is craving ramen, so we decide to go to the hyped-up ramen place near our apartment, Mensho. The ramen there is good (we’ve been once) but there is always a huge line. We decide to go later (9:30) so we won’t have to wait. I practice applying the red lipstick I bought earlier (featured image).
9:45 pm We are seated immediately when we get to Mensho. Their ramen is amazing (I think it’s the best in SF) but their seating arrangements inside are really bizarre and almost off-putting. It doesn’t make for a pleasant eating experience, and we quickly eat and leave. Still really good though– and perfect for the rainy weekend. Winston pays.
10:30 pm We walk over to Jones, which is probably Winston’s favorite bar in the city. He likes these oddly basic places (like Vegas). It is a pretty cool bar though because it has a very extensive rooftop. Winston buys me and himself a drink and we revel in the atmosphere (Halloween weekend!).
11:30 pm Head home. Winston picks up a case of Ginger Beers from a corner store. We each drink a ginger beer while watching a few episodes of Food Wars. We get pretty sleepy and call it a night shortly after midnight. #adulting, am I right?
Daily Total: $96.40
Weekly Total: $296.63
So I spent apparently around $300 this week. Obviously I don’t spend like this every week (the airlines tickets and cosmetics purchases are not recurring) but at the same time, there is no “normal” week. Should I be horrified at this sum? Or is it okay? Should I be aghast that apparently Sephora makes up a third of my spending (maybe this is why I’m a VIB Rouge member)?
There are no easy answers about money and adulthood.
There is only budgeting– a truly scary idea for this upcoming Halloween (!)
The Mid-Autumn Festival this year was last week, September 15. Many East Asian countries celebrate their own version of this– in China this holiday is called Zhōngqiū [中秋, literally “middle autumn”], while the Japanese equivalent holiday is referred to as Jūgoya [十五夜, “15th night”].
Growing up, this holiday was not really celebrated in my household. My mother made an effort to educate my sister and myself about Japanese culture but I feel like even in Japan, this holiday is not emphasized that much. However, thanks to my favorite Japanese children’s TV show Anpanmanand the fact that I attended a Japanese pre-school, I am pretty aware of how Jugoya is celebrated.
In Japan, the Mid-Autumn festival is celebrated by partaking in tsukimi [月見, “moon viewing”] and eating a special dango that is white and spherical in appearance. Typically, these dango are stacked in a pyramidal fashion and displayed with some decorative grass, susuki. I know this sounds bizarre so the only way it can be explained is with a picture I stole from the internet (also, if you have an Apple device, you may notice that there is an emoji that shows jugoya decorations).
The result is quite picturesque, but the dango are usually kind of bland (they are very simple to make, at least). Because of the dango’s tastelessness (combined with the general Japanese apathy about the holiday) I never really celebrated Jugoya or cared about it.
This past labor day weekend I went back home to SoCal and I met my partner’s grandparents for the first time. They don’t speak much English (they emigrated from Taiwan), but thankfully I had learned 3 years of Chinese in high school and I was able to communicate with them somewhat. They were extremely sweet and I was glad I could meet them for the first time.
When my partner and I returned back to San Francisco, I kept reflecting back on our visit to his grandparents’ home and wanted to thank them for having me over. During our visit, they served me some black sesame Chinese mooncakes, which are an integral part of Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations.
Chinese mooncakes are pastries, often with beautiful designs up top, that are covered in a thin “skin” (either flour based, rice based, some modern ones even have puff pastry on the outside) and an intensely rich filling. Traditional recipes have some kind of paste filling (red bean, lotus seed paste, etc.) with a salted egg yolk. This is the “most” traditional type but honestly I find the egg yolk somewhat off putting and apparently most of the “youths” spurn the traditional preparation.
Anyway, I realized that the Mid-Autumn Festival was coming up– and then the idea came to my mind.
I told my partner that I was going to make Chinese mooncakes from scratch, and send them to his grandparents in time for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Chinese mooncakes are so much more fun and prettier than Jugoya dango. The first time I was “celebrating” the Mid-Autumn Festival was done so in the Chinese way.
Anyway getting back to my conversation with my partner re: homemade mooncakes. We’ve been dating for three years now, so he’s used to my ridiculous antics now and seemed really amused by the idea of someone actually making mooncakes. Giving mooncakes to family and friends is requisite in celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival, yet most people just buy them from bakeries or the grocery store. No one really makes it themselves!
This made me even more resolute in making mooncakes to send to his family. As the child of an inter-cultural marriage, I know how important it is for each member of the couple to make significant efforts in understanding and participating in their partner’s cultural traditions, especially when senior members of their family are involved. Making mooncakes was the perfect idea because:
Accomplishes my initial goal of thanking his family for their hospitality
Conveys I am actively participating in their cultural practices
Shows off my ~domestic~ skills
That was my thought, anyway. Turns out there’s a reason why people don’t make their own mooncakes!
Making the Mooncakes
I had conceived the idea of sending his family mooncakes shortly after Labor Day (September 5th). I needed time to acquire the specialized ingredients, actually make the mooncakes, and figure out how to mail them so they would arrive by September 15th (the actual date of the Mid-Autumn Festival). I concluded I needed to send it out sometime on Monday (September 12th). Since I tend to be pretty busy during the work week, this meant I pretty much only had the weekend to make them. I thought it’d be fine though, I’m pretty good at cooking, how hard could it be?
Step 1: Acquiring Ingredients and Tools
I had looked up some recipes online about making mooncakes, and found this extremely detailed recipe by a blogger named Maggie. However I was initially put off by how complex it was and decided to go with Ann Coo’s recipe instead. Putting the filling aside, just the exterior “skin” of the mooncakes when preparing the traditional kind (opposed to the “snow skin” or puff pastry type) has two pretty specialized ingredients that have special ~chemistry~:
golden syrup (invert sugar syrup)
lye water (kansui, or jian shui [梘水])
Golden syrup is the sweetener that is used in traditional recipes. But what is invert sugar? Let’s rehash some high school biology— when most people refer to “sugar” they are referring to the disaccharide sucrose. Sucrose is a disaccharide (composed of two monosaccharides), and it contains glucose and fructose. Inversion (when used in chemistry and especially referring to sugar), refers to the splitting of the disaccharide sugar into its two monosaccharides, glucose and fructose. This process can be done with enzymes or by introducing heat and an acid. The presence of the monosaccharides makes invert sugar much more hygroscopic (moisture-attracting) than regular table sugar. There are some pretty popular brands for this (Lyle’s is at the best known in the UK) and you can buy this from Amazon. I couldn’t find it in the Asian grocery store when I went though, so I used honey as a substitute.
Lye water is an alkaline solution, aka “potassium carbonate & sodium bi-carbonate solution”. You might notice one part of its name includes the chemical composition for baking soda, but you’re probably thinking “what is potassium carbonate, and why is it in a food item”. Despite its intense name, lye water is used in a fair amount of Asian cooking (though honestly most Asian people probably don’t know about it)— it is used in preparing ramen noodles and a lot of Asian baking, including mooncakes. In particular lye water gives food items a golden color (this is why ramen noodles are yellow), and it’s how mooncakes get their characteristic honey-colored hue. I was surprised that my local Asian supermarket carried this item (it is quite niche!) but it did so I was quite happy about that.
The reason why chemistry is important in mooncake baking is the combination of the lye water and the golden syrup. You may have noticed that I mentioned golden syrup is the result of an acidic process, and lye water is an alkaline solution. Invert sugar products (such as molasses, golden syrup) retain moisture, and thus allow for a moist and pliable cake (despite the thin skin) where patterns can be pressed in. Most honeys tends to be acidic as well, so provided you don’t mind the flavor and fragrance difference, it works as a substitute. The lye water neutralized the acidity of the golden syrup (so the skin won’t be sour) and gives the characteristic color. Obviously you could use baking soda to neutralize the acidity of the golden syrup as well, but it won’t “look” like a mooncake (the cake will be pale).
But basically this is why you cannot make traditional mooncakes with table sugar and baking soda. You need a super moisture-retaining cake (so the cake won’t tear/crack when you press in patterns and also so it has a nice texture), so you must use invert sugars (honey is a natural source). And since invert sugars are acidic, it needs to be neutralized with an alkaline solution. Lye water kills two birds with one stone by both neutralizing the acid in the sugar and provides the nice color.
Of course the filling of traditional mooncakes are pretty specialized ingredients too! Typical fillings include salted duck egg yolks, red bean paste, lotus-seed paste, and black-sesame paste. While I was research the subject I came across an “uber traditional” filling known as “5 kernels and roast pork” (wuren chashao, [五仁叉燒]). I have never had or heard about this filling myself, but it basically is a mixture of 5 different types of nuts and Chinese-style roast pork. Pretty much all of this ingredients can be found in an Asian grocery store though, and I purchased red bean paste and lotus-seed paste for my mooncakes.
And let’s not forget— those beautiful patterns on mooncakes are not made by hand (or maybe some people do, I don’t know). I needed to get my hands on a mooncake mold. Traditional molds are made out of wood and require you to press the mooncakes into a recess in the mold. Other molds are made out of metal or silicone, and some molds (like the one I got) are plastic “injection” types. This is probably the easiest for beginners. I was able to get mine from a local Chinese cookware store, The Wok Shop. You can also buy a variety of molds from Amazon (what can’t you buy from Amazon?)
But the moral of this story is that traditional mooncakes require either a lot of substitutions or a lot of searching for specialized items. I didn’t even go over all the ingredients—one recipe called for “Hong Kong flour”, which is a super-bleached, super de-glutened flour (which I couldn’t find)— but you get the idea.
By the time I had acquired all of the necessary ingredients it was Sunday afternoon on September 11th! I only had one try to bake the mooncakes to be able to mail out in time.
Step 2: Baking
I won’t detail all the steps of baking, but will go over some key moments. Most recipes you find online for mooncake skin have very very specific weight based measurements to the gram. Adhering to them is key! Since you actually don’t need that much skin per pastry (the thinner the better), the amount of dough you make is quite small and measurements must be precise. And as mentioned before, some very specific chemistry goes on when you make mooncakes. Thus a kitchen scale is a must.
Measuring out the ingredients and combing it wasn’t all that hard— you don’t need any fancy implements or use any advanced cooking techniques (unlike in a lot of French confections).
Making the fillings was fun too. I decided to make two fillings— both were inspired by traditional ingredients but each had a fun twist! I made Red Bean paste with Nutella filling, and Lotus Seed Paste with passion fruit jam and dehydrated pineapple. I really liked both fillings, but I made a grave mistake with both.
Since I was making the fillings on the fly with no recipe, both of the fillings ended up being quite goopy. This was my biggest mistake. If you ever plan on making mooncakes, the filling must be quite firm and capable of being rolled into a ball, and cannot be too soft! The filling must provide adequate “resistance” to the mooncake mold, otherwise the pattern does not show through very well and you must compensate for the squishiness of the filling by thickening the skin of the mooncake (big no-no).
I could see that my mooncakes were not looking so good at this point— the filling-to-skin ratio was not good (some mooncakes were more skin than filling!) and the patterns were BARELY showing. At this point I was pretty distressed— I was going to send these to my partner’s grandparents in an attempt to IMPRESS them with my cooking skills, not have them take pity on Winston for having such a poor cook as a partner!
But none the less, I forged on. At the end of the baking, I was able to make two mooncakes that vaguely showcased the pattern, and those were the two I sent to his grandparents. But my mooncake saga was not yet over.
Reflections and Trials 2 and 3
Even after I mailed his family the mooncakes (and they were really happy I sent them), I felt dissatisfied. I couldn’t believe how poorly I did the first time, so I resolved to do two things:
If I’m going to send a food item as a gift, practice the recipe before hand
Keep making mooncakes until I am satisfied with the result
So that Wednesday I tried again. This time I used Maggie’s recipe for the skin and followed her advices about the fillings. I cooked out a fair amount of water from the red bean paste on the stove (so it became fairly hard), mixed in some cornstarch with the Nutella, and added in butter (oil/fat is needed to seep out of the filling into the skin as the days pass, making the skin softer and more pleasant– a process known as hui you – 回油).
This produced a much better looking result, but I was still not satisfied. The mooncakes were quite flat (not enough filling) and the pattern was not super crisp. Also the addition of the cornstarch in the filling somewhat affected the flavor and made it have a grainy texture.
So I tried again one more time a few days later. I used the same recipe for the skin, but this time I had golden syrup instead of honey. I had no more red bean paste left so I used the remaining lotus seed paste, but this time I cooked out even more liquid from the paste so it was truly very hard. I increased the amount of filling per cake significantly (so the mooncakes were much taller). And lastly I had my partner press the pattern into the mooncakes— and thats when I found out you need to truly apply significant pressure into the cakes to get the pattern to show up well. I realized I had been a little too timid when it came to forcing the mooncakes into the mold. The result was a near perfect mooncake with beautifully visible patterns.
For each round, I kept one mooncake so I could photograph my progress. As you can see, I came a long way!
All in all, I feel quite confident in making my mooncakes for next year’s Mid-Autumn Festival. I hope in the interim I can come up with some truly inventive fillings, and ACTUALLY showcase my cooking abilities.
I have come to realize though why most people don’t make mooncakes at home. While the recipes seem quite simple, there are a lot of subtleties to it, many of which are probably even less obvious to someone who did not grow up consuming Chinese mooncakes (i.e. me). The ingredients are quite niche… and actually quite unhealthy! Ignorance is probably bliss when it comes to mooncakes.
As mentioned briefly before, the filling must have a fair amount of oil or fat in them. Right after baking, the exterior of the mooncake is quite hard and tough. You actually don’t consume mooncakes right after cooking them— you need to wait a few days for the oil to “surface” (hui you – 回油) so you need a fair amount of fat. Very traditional preparations even use lard for this.
But it’s not even the fat content of the filling— most of these fillings have insane sugar contents! The lotus seed paste I purchased from the store had a whopping 225g (500g was the total weight of the package) of sugar! Obviously I could make the paste myself next time to make it healthier, but the paste I bought didn’t even taste that sweet at all, which made me realize how much sugar is necessary to make these fillings palatable.
Making your own mooncakes is hard and requires some very specialized ingredients. But even if they don’t look so good everyone will think you are a ~dutiful~ child.
In early April, I visited the Bay Area’s latest trendy-place-the-yuppies-go, i.e. Pace Gallery in Palo Alto. My partner and I ventured into enemy territory (#gobears lol) to take a look at the gallery that all my hip friends were Instagramming.
I had never heard of Pace prior to seeing my influencer friends’ Instagram feeds, but it turns out that the Pace is kinda a “thing” and describes itself as a “leading contemporary art gallery.” It has locations all over the world such as Beijing, New York, and Paris. Currently they have an exhibition featuring renowned light & space artist James Turrell (I did not see this exhibition).
Pace Palo Alto is located 300 El Camino Real in Menlo Park. It’s actually in a kind of random location– next door is a small hotel and across the street is an oil change + car service. It seems hard to access without a car as well. I don’t know the public transport situation of Palo Alto at all, but the gallery seemed to be away from the main drag of the town so it’s not exactly centrally located.
I didn’t know what to expect so I went in with a pretty open mind. The price of admission is $15 for students, and $20 for adults.
By the time we arrived, there was a pretty long line to get in (we came on a Saturday afternoon). Thankfully the queue moved pretty quickly and we were immediately thrust into the exhibit, with “Light Sculpture of Flames” as the first piece.
The exhibit, “Living Digital Space and Future Parks,” featured the works of Japanese group teamLab. All of the twenty installations involved some sort of digital component– whether that be the coordinated, programmed flickering LED lights to mimic a flame (pictured above), projections (“Black Waves in Infinity”, pictured below), or strictly digital works on LCD screens.
In teamLab’s own words, the installations “will in invite participants of all ages to immerse themselves in multi-room environments” and described the exhibit as a “digital playground.” Many of the works were interactive as well, further emphasizing the immersive nature of the works.
I especially enjoyed “Flowers and People” — a room with projections of flowers that bloom and move according to the movement of people in the room. If too many people are in the room at once, the flowers wither. It was nice to just sit on the floor and watch the flowers grow and drift around us.
I found the Instagram favorite, Crystal Universe, to be a little underwhelming. But if you like glittery things and LEDs, you’ll probably love it.
The more strictly light+projection installations were definitely very cool, but I also enjoyed the pieces that had clear Japanese influence. One installation, “Ultra Subjective Space” explored the use of perspective in traditional Japanese works. We know that the use of perspective to create depth in paintings and images is a fairly “modern” idea in art. For example, in the Ancient Egyptian picture below, we get a sense of where objects are in the picture only by relative size of objects and whether they overlap.
Contrast this with painting below by Pietro Perugino (1482 C.E.). From this painting, you can get a more realistic sense of depth and distance between objects in the foreground and background. However, perspective clearly took a long while to perfect. This fresco and the Ancient Egyptian picture were made 2800 years apart! As you can see, depth and perspective as an artistic concept has not existed since the beginning of time.
Interestingly enough, traditional Japanese artworks employ a different perspective than ancient “flat” perspectives and the above more modern ‘linear’ 3-D perspectives. teamLab conjectures that traditional Japanese artworks use a uniquely Asian perspective which they explored in “Ultra Subjective Space.”
I found these installations very interesting, but felt that much of it would be lost to a viewer who is not familiar with Ukiyo-e. Their digital re-interpretation of Japanese perspective was really interesting, and I recommend you read up on their blurb if you have the time! Fascinating, but somewhat dense stuff.
Pace Gallery Palo Alto features a curated array of installations that are sure to delight patrons of all ages. They also had some interactive installations that were specifically geared towards children (but were engaging enough for adults too), if kids are your thing.
If you’re interested in New Media, the intersection of art and technology, etc., Pace is worth a stop.
However, if you’re not especially interested in the digital art space, the price tag ($20 regular admission) does give pause. With just twenty pieces, this puts the viewing price as $1/installation, which is pretty steep if you compare this with other institutions (imagine if MoMA charged that!). While I had a great time viewing the works, nothing was mind-blowingly amazing and I feel as though you could get ‘more bang for your buck’ at other galleries or museums. I understand that art takes time/effort and should be priced as such, but I do feel like it was overpriced, especially given the fact that the facilities of the gallery itself were rather lacking (somewhat dingy interior that appeared to not have any ventilation).
I would say that Pace Gallery Palo Alto shows promise. I hope they upgrade and expand their facilities. It is interesting what the gallery will be like in the years to come.
I am a huge sucker for aesthetics. Recently I purchased some milk from St. Benoit creamery, i.e. the most expensive milk I’ve had in my life because I liked the packaging of the bottle and had heard good things from other foodies.
Thankfully, St. Benoit lived up to the hype. The milk, which is sold in reusable glass bottles, is not only organic, but comes from pasture-raised cows in Sonoma Country, CA. The milk is incredibly creamy (their milk has more fat than regular milk), delicious and local– and definitely worth the premium price.
But I digress. After I purchased my Clarisonic, I started to become more interested in skin care. I realized that in order to more effectively use my incredibly expensive face brush, I should probably invest in a soap for my face that’s not Dr. Bronner’s. No hate on their products, but their castille soap is really not meant to be used with with a pulsating brush on your face. And so I went on a quest to find a new skin cleanser.
One of the things that immediately came to mind was Glossier. I loooved their Instagram feed, and all the cool girls seemed to be using their products. And I loved their packaging. But I just couldn’t bring myself to shell out $80 for their starter set, so I stayed on Instagram as an admirer.
I remember feeling frustrated I could find what seemed to be no “honest” reviews of their products. All the It Girl blogs spoke glowingly of Glossier, and big name sites just churned out the same uninformative reviews of their products. I also got the sense that it was somewhat uncool to speak poorly of Glossier as there were so few critical reviews. This led me to delay my purchase more, and to be deeply suspicious of how hyped their products were. But after I stumbled upon a discount code from some rando girl, I decided to make the plunge and try their Phase 1 set, and write an honest non-sponsored review.
Just as a disclaimer, while I did receive a 20% discount on my Phase 1 set (due to me using a random girl’s referral code), this is in no way a post sponsored by Glossier. This is the real, skeptical thing.
For the uninitiated, a well-read style blog, Into the Gloss, created their own line of skincare and makeup products– Glossier. Their website is super cute and kitschy, and there is an emphasis on “dewy”, “glowing” and “your skin, but better.” The product I tried was the newest iteration of their “Phase 1 Set”, which is supposed to be a basic foundation to a skin care routine. It includes a cleanser (Milky Jelly Cleanser), priming moisturizer, general moisturizer/balm (called “balm dot com”) and a “skin tint”.
shipped in a timely fashion
super cute packaging (+++ points)
cute pink zip storage bags included for travel
pack of Glossier stickers was included (slapped a few on my laptop)
In general the first impression of the product was very strong. Glossier carried out their branding through and through, and it’s rare to see a U.S. company emphasize presentation so much. I appreciated this. But as you know, I’m a sucker for design so I tried to stay objective and not get distracted by the packaging. Onto the real contents of the review:
Milky Jelly Cleanser (usually $18)
This is the newest product amongst the four in the set. After a much hyped launch a few months ago, Glossier released a “crowd-sourced” cleanser. It comes in a sturdy bottle and smells faintly of roses. One of its big-deal features is the fact that it can go onto the skin when the skin is dry or wet. You can use the cleanser on wet skin as a normal cleanser, or you can use it on dry skin at the end of the day to “dissolve and remove makeup” off your face.
This was the item I was looking the most excited about, but was somewhat disappointed. While the cleanser has a nice consistency, it doesn’t foam or “bubble” at all, which is actually kind of a problem with a Clarisonic (kind of “gunks up” the brush). It didn’t leave my face feeling as clean or fresh in comparison to my current cleanser, purity.
It is also a very weird and kind of unpleasant sensation to put it onto a dry face, that almost leaves your hands feeling sticky. While it does work very well in removing makeup, the experience in doing so wasn’t ideal. The cleanser however, does not irritate your eyes at all (even if you get a little cleanser in your eye, it doesn’t burn or sting). This is a really nice plus.
But as a cleanser, I was really underwhelmed. Even when using a Clarisonic, it really does not give a “clean” and fresh feeling after use.
If anything, I think the cleanser works great as a gentle makeup remover, and I think this is how I will incorporate it into my routine. At $18 a bottle (6 oz.) I am not sure whether I would buy this product again when I run out.
Balm Dot Com (usually $12)
The balm dot com is sold as a kind of all-purpose moisturizing salve. It is meant to be used on any areas of dry skin.
So this review is incomplete, and it is my bad. I bought the Phase 1 set without properly inspecting all of the ingredients for each component, and the balm dot com contains lanolin! So first of all, this means it’s not vegan (which isn’t an issue for me but could be to some). My issue comes from the fact that I am very very allergic to sheep and wool, and lanolin is basically wool grease. It is frequently used in many conventional moisturizers, so I have to take special care to avoid it.
I didn’t even pause to read the ingredients and applied it straight away to my lips– I had gotten so used to my current products (which I heavily screened for lanolin) that when my lips broke out stinging and covered in tiny bumps the next day, I was shocked! But when I read the back of the tube, I saw that lanolin was an ingredient and realized my error. I don’t blame Glossier for this, they prominently advertise this as an ingredient on their website as well.
So I can’t give a review of it really because I only wore it once, and then realized I was allergic. I will say that it does smell weird though. It almost smells smoky, and kind of like firewood? Not exactly the scent I want on my lips.They also sell a coconut-scented version, so perhaps this is a possible work-around.
Priming Moisturizer (usually $25)
This was the breakout-star product for me. I wasn’t expecting the priming moisturizer to be memorable, but this is probably my favorite product. As a primer, it is lightweight, but also has a great texture and feel on the face. It goes on very smoothly and feels soothing in application. My skin looks really really great after I use the moisturizer. I’ve always had pretty large and visible pores, and despite having clear skin, my pores are very evident on my face. The priming moisturizer kind of blurs out my pores on my face, and provides a good surface for other makeup to rest on. I didn’t really like my current primer that much, while it is meant for people with large pores, it kind of just gunks up and “fills up” your pores to create a smooth surface, and leaves me feeling pretty gross after.
Glossier’s primer on the other hand, while providing a smooth finish, doesn’t literally fill up my pores with product. My skin feels light and breathable!
My only complain about the product is that it contains no SPF. I think this is really odd, considering that sun protection is generally accepted as crucial to long term skin health. I find it annoying that I have to have a separate product to give me sun protection, and hope Glossier moves to having SPF in their priming moisturizer in the future.
I would buy this product again, though it is somewhat expensive given its volume.
Perfecting Skin Tint (usually $26)
This light-weight liquid is very sheer and meant to provide minimal coverage. On their website, Glossier describes the skin tint’s functions as something that”Evens out discoloration and leaves your face looking toned, smooth, and dewy” but it is a pretty minimal product. It is very sheer and certainly won’t cover up any blemishes.
I found this product to be pretty average. This product is so sheer, I’m not even sure it really does anything to improve the skin’s appearance.
I probably won’t buy more of the skin tint when I run out.
I was only really impressed by the priming moisturizer, though I hesitate to buy anything again just because of the prices. While I do believe that skincare is something one should really “invest” in, I don’t really see these products as investments, more like something cute and trendy. Like the brand itself, Glossier’s products are simply too young and trendy for me to feel secure in purchasing them in the long term.
Especially when so much money is involved, I think it’s really important to evaluate whether a product makes you feel good, actually looks good, and is something you feel good about buying. While the packaging and branding of Glossier looks really really good, Glossier, for the most part, their products didn’t leave me feeling “wow” in the same way my current beauty products do.
So in my mind, Glossier is currently mostly hype. I really hope that for their next iterations they improve– and since they are a young brand I am sure they are constantly innovating. I look forward to seeing the products they may release in the years to come.
So last month I did something I never thought I would do: Vegas.
Now, I’m not talking about the trip that most SoCal residents have taken with their parents when they were 5 years old or something. I’ve done that too— we also went with my father-side grandfather, and I have no recollection of this trip except that my grandfather “won big” at the slots which meant he won enough to treat us to lunch. I retrospect, I now wonder why he was gambling in the first place, as the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, has much to say of the evils of gambling.
With that in mind, yes. I, the Berkeley anti-capitalist, anti-fun, anti-anything that is not intersectional, vegan and gluten free* went to Las Vegas, a city which could be perhaps described as “capitalism’s fullest expression”, a city where everything is sold (substances, sex and Celine Dion) and everything is done big.
And I had a great time! My boyfriend and I stayed at the Nobu Hotel (which is located within Caesar’s Palace) and had a fun but financially detrimental weekend. I had mainly chosen the hotel based on the fact that all of the room-service food is Nobu food, (and thus one of the few places in the world you can order a Nobu breakfast) but there were other perks too. While the hotel itself was located “within” the colossal behemoth that is Caesar’s, it was very subdued, quiet and classy wing that provided much needed respite from the hustle and bustle of the Strip. But because it’s in Caesar’s, it’s super centrally located, so it was the best of both worlds— a boutique quiet hotel experience in the center of Las Vegas.
Another thing to recall here is that as an Applied Mathematics major, I’ve taken way too many probability classes to even have a remotely good time gambling. I believe a big part of the enjoyment in the experience comes from willful ignorance of mathematics. I did however, find Video Poker to be a mathematically compelling game. I won’t go through huge details on how the game is played, but if played optimally, you can get close to 99% return or even 100%— which means you can break even. That doesn’t sound exciting at all, but in comparison to most casino games, that’s pretty cool. So I did play some rounds of Video Poker, but unfortunately I made the Rookie mistake of not cashing out when I was ahead. I got too greedy and ended up with a net loss of $5.00 for my whole Vegas trip. Alas.
Despite my pessimistic attitude towards gambling, my lack of desire to go clubbing, I would say it was a highly successful trip. The novelty of it all— (why would you ever think of building a replica of a Ventian Square inside of a shopping mall?) was more than enough to keep me entertained, and the food we ate was spectacular.
An addition to Nobu, we went to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (located in the MGM Grand). L’Atelier received a Michelin star in 2009 and is the more ‘casual’ dining version of Joel Robuchon. I say casual even though the price of the tasting menu was the same amount I would normally pay for all my food in a month (#cupnoodles4days). But I had never had experienced that level of dining before, so it was a really cool and unique experience that I enjoyed.
It was amazing though. Notable highlights of our dinner included the open kitchen aspect of the restaurant (so you can see what goes on behind the scenes!) and friendly staff. My favorite dishes were the spring onion soup and the mashed potatoes. I know that sounds a incredibly basic for me to visit a super high end restaurant and say that my favorite thing was the mashed potatoes, but it’s true. (And people agree with me too.)
But a trip to Las Vegas would not be complete without some drinking. Unfortunately, literally on the flight to the city of sin, I began to feel sick and realized I was coming down with something 😦 I visited a Minute Clinic right after I landed (woo best start of a trip ever!) and was on my way with some medication, but that meant no partying or Fat Tuesdays. We made up for it by instead going the really classy route. We visited the lovely and intimate Mandarin Bar inside the Mandarin Oriental. The bar provided glittery and dazzling views of the Strip and very well-prepared drinks.
From our seats, we enjoyed our 23-stories high view, which was comically obscured sometimes by a couple sitting closer to the window that was engaging in some very passionate activities. Haha nothing R-rated of course, but I felt a little bit like I was at a high school dance, giggling at the couple that takes advantage of the dark dance floor to make-out with each other.
So thus concludes my first Las Vegas trip as an adult: a trip mostly centered around food and living beyond my means. It was fun while it lasted, but I’m glad we only went for two nights. It was the perfect length of trip where I indulged but didn’t feel too indulgent.
The whole experience left me feeling simultaneously very ‘adult’ and not one at all. I felt ‘mature’ and adult like because there I was, sitting in that incredibly classy bar drinking an incredibly classy drink whilst staring into a shimmering horizon. On the other hand, I was also chortling at the fact that two grown adults were k-i-s-s-i-n-g in full view of the public. Both my boyfriend and I took always special care to dress up and try to look not like college kids, but we ended up being carded repeatedly wherever we went.
We were trying to emulate a lifestyle we didn’t yet have (probably a decade off), but it was fun playing pretend for a weekend.