How to Eat a Durian

Don’t. Just don’t.

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Why not? Well, reason number one, and possibly you’ve heard of this before, if you’ve even ever heard of a durian before, is the smell.

English needs more words to describe smells. We have so few! Let’s just say that smelling a durian up close and personal is kind of like smelling a flower. It’s a nice fruity mango kind of flower–that’s gone bad. Maybe even mixed with a little onion and a little fish? It’s the kind of smell that was endemic in grocery stores in China, always making you wonder what exactly they kept in the store that had just gone off (Spoiler–it was durians).

But. In spite of the smell, we persevered. This is a favored fruit in all of Asia, and especially popular with Singaporeans, so this was a valuable cultural experience. Aren’t you glad I was experiencing it for you?

The outside of a durian is hard and poky. Very very poky. So poky that the people who cut them up wear gloves. We had a glove-wearing person cut ours up for us.

Actually, Singaporeans love the durian so much they call this building the durian: it’s round and spiky and was apparently supposed to be a microphone. The architect was quite upset they called it a durian because he’d never heard of one!
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But to get back to the edible kind. There is a small amount of edible fruit in each half, and it looks kind of like mango. Not so bad, right? If you can keep from gagging as you approach.

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Those who love durian praise the buttery texture, the smooth melt-in-your-mouth sensation as it slides down your throat.

This was not my experience. Sure, it was kinda buttery…mixed with stringy. Oh, and did I mention the smell?

But to get to what you really want to know–how does it taste?

Jared put a small bite on his spoon. I put a small bite on my spoon. I offered it to JQ like the good mother I am, and he turned his face away in disgust. He was not going to join us in this adventure.

Then we took deep breaths (turning our noses away), stuffed the bite in our mouths, and chewed.

It was significantly less sweet than expected. In fact, what it most closely resembled, in my opinion, is caramelized onions. Caramelized onions with a healthy topping of rotten mango and black pepper. If this sounds appetizing to you, by all means, you may eat up all the durian you wish. Just not in my house.

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There’s a reason they’re not allowed on public transport or in hotel rooms here!

Just Love that Baby

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Since we still don’t have wifi, and I still have no friends here, I’ve had some time to have Grand Thoughts. Mostly, it turns out, on the subject of parenting, since that’s what I’ve been doing by myself for about 12 hours a day. Yes, life is exhilarating right now. Why do you ask?

I know it’s not the Done Thing for people who a) are under 30, b) have only one child who isn’t even two yet, and c) have no track record of reliability for their Grand Thoughts to hold forth on the subject of parenting, and yet, since I have a blog and am feeling the compunction to post since who else am I to talk to about anything serious in my 12-hours-a-day conversation of “Please don’t scream!” and “No! You can’t pull your dirty diapers out of the trashcan!” and “Would you like to play with your cars?”, I am writing about the subject of parenting anyway. Besides, Done Things are overrated.

Some days (ok, most days), I want nothing more than a set of prescriptions to follow which will make my kid behave perfectly and ensure that nothing I do will wreck him for life. At this moment, I think being the parent of a one-year-old is an exercise in futility, as it takes the millionth time of saying “no” for it to finally sink in—and for most things, we haven’t reached that millionth time! But while I may not have attained to much wisdom yet in the few years I’ve been on earth, I have learned this much—there are no set rules of how to deal with people. Ever.

In fact, there might be only one rule, and it’s one my parents repeated often: you can only change yourself. Your attitude, your behavior, your reactions.

But even though this lesson was drilled into me so often, I still assumed there was a right way to parent, a way that would at least almost ensure that a kid would turn out and have good behavior. Just do these things, show off your mad ninja skills when your lovey numbkins is having a tantrum at the supermarket, and everyone will be in awe of your wonderful parenting.

Strangely enough, it wasn’t having a kid that shifted my paradigm on parenting (I mean, I half raised 3 or 4 by the time I was 20, so of course I thought I had it all down), but simply growing up and reading different viewpoints in the process. If you’re strongly attached to an idea, the least you can do is read the other side’s arguments to see if you’re missing out on something crucial.

The first was an article somewhere or other (probably posted on Facebook) about how “parent-ing” is a new concept. We don’t talk about “wifeing” or “husbanding” or “daughtering” (which looks kinda like “slaughtering”) or “sonning”—it’s only this one relationship, between parent and child, which is talked of in this way, like something to do instead of a way to live. (We do have kidding, though, for what it’s worth.)

Thinking about the relationship between parent and child as any other job, like “housekeeping” or “dishwashing” not only begins to make children into things, but also puts more stress on parents to be the perfect parents. If it’s a job like any other, surely it can be done right, like any other job can. There must be a right way to soothe your child’s tantrums and definitely a way to prevent those embarrassing things from ever occurring, most especially in public where we need to exhibit the fact that we have it all together.

The second was an article published in The Atlantic, which, despite its rather misleading headline which seems to guarantee that with this new info from a child psychologist no child will ever again misbehave (sardonic laugh), still puts the focus where it ought to be—on parents’ behavior. It’s not a power struggle or a fight to the death for mastery, although some days it certainly feels like it. Instead, let’s treat this relationship the same way we treat all our other relationships: as a way for us to become better people, to be sanctified.

This is not the easy way out. Yelling comes to me much more easily than calming down and taking time to evaluate my own behavior. As parents, we have to die to ourselves nearly every minute. Babies are so needy, and they never. ever. shut. up, and they’re awfully fond of feeding me half-chewed oranges. My natural response is not one of warm fuzzies.

I can change my response to JQ, but I can’t change his response to me. I need to look at myself first and make sure my attitude is a good attitude, since what I’m modeling is even more important than what I say. (I’m still fairly certain, however, that he’s never had pulling diapers out of the trashcan modeled to him. That came out of his own little head.) I think we lose sight of this in the struggle to do everything right with our children and make their behavior what we want. Unfortunately, yelling at a kid for screaming is like eating a whole chocolate cake when you’ve just finished reading about the dangers of sugar. It feels so good, but you know it’s wrong—and won’t even get you the results you want!

These are things I want to remind myself of later, when JQ is more than a baby who toddles around drunkenly and giggles at being naughty, when I’m feeling overwhelmed and want only to control behavior. Parenthood is a relationship, not a job: our children are more than objects whose behavior we can control. They’re people who we need to love and teach.

My goal for myself, in 2017 and beyond, is to treat JQ with the respect he deserves as a child of God, and to make sure my attitude and behavior are right instead of yelling at him.

So go ahead, eat that half-chewed orange, giggle at that ridiculous thing he’s doing, keep telling him “no” for the millionth time. These are relationships we’re building, with people who are growing up to be men and women. Soon he’ll be all grown up—and then, I’ll finally be an expert on parenting. Too bad you’re reading this now.

7 Things Pregnant Women Should Never Do

This summer has been like a time warp for me–somehow I expect it to still be June or July, but here it is September! And leaves are turning colors and everything, while I’m still expecting to hear about the green beans getting ripe or the squashes finally coming on. How is it already apple and raspberry season?!

Anyways, enough about me being clueless about what time of year it actually is (maybe it’s just denial that I’m going to have a baby in around 8 weeks. . . ).

Let’s talk things that clearly were not designed for pregnant women and should be put on those randomly restricting lists that float around.

  1. Wash dishes. This one should be obvious–who really wants to do the dishes, especially when they’re pregnant? But the reason it’s on this list, besides the fact that you all know my true feelings about dishes, is that every sink ever made is at the exact wrong height for the belly of a pregnant woman. And who really wants to stand at a sink trying to wash a dish from a foot away, while simultaneously trying to keep water and soap and grease spots off their convenient spot-attracting shelf? So I say, let’s put dishes on the list of “dangerous things for pregnant women” that includes things like picking up a jug of milk because it’s too heavy.
  2. Pick things up off the floor. Who really wants to bend over when there’s a gigantic baby in between your waist and you? Either you can bend at your hips and spread your legs apart and pray that you don’t fall over, or you can try to bend like you used to and get about half as far as you used to, or you can do what’s “recommended” and squat, praying that you’ll make it back up. All three options have a pretty good failure rate, in my opinion. So either build conveniently placed shelves around all the walls of your house to put everything you’d usually stash on the floor on, or just leave stuff on the floor. It’s better for your health! (At least, your mental health.)
  3. Do laundry. Getting stranded on your belly as you gracefully fish for the last few pieces of clothing stuck in the very bottom of the washing machine isn’t my idea of a fun day. If it floats your boat, then by all means, go ahead and fish! As for me, maybe I’ll stick with a front loader instead of a top loader so I don’t have to grow my arms a foot longer.
  4. Sit up. When you’re laying in bed and somehow have to get your feet off the bed and on to the floor, it’s oh-so-tempting to try to do it while keeping the rest of your body laying flat. Unfortunately, for those of us who weren’t gymnasts in our former life, 90 degree angles don’t come easy to our backs. At the same time, with abs stretched as far as they can go, sitting up takes a herculean amount of will-and-muscle-power. I have yet to find a solution to this problem, but rest assured I will keep trying! (I’m guessing “have the baby” is the only solution out there.)
  5. Live in hot, humid places. I thought I was doing great with summer heat. . . until I came to Arlington, Virginia. Days in the 90s combined with 50-60% humidity (on a good day) do not lend themselves to the cool svelte look. My advice? Stay someplace nice for the summer, where there’s no humidity. Maybe Australia would be nice for the months of June-August.
  6. Drink ice water. Actually, I have nothing against ice water. This was one of the crazy Chinese prohibitions that I think probably every American pregnant woman has broken at least once. I actually had a Chinese woman take an iced drink away from me and chew me out (in Chinese) for drinking a cold drink while pregnant. I basically listened to her and then took it back and finished drinking it. Baby’s still fine, as far as I can tell (it would be tough luck on all those American babies if ice water really were harmful!).
  7. Read pregnancy advice blogs. Writing them is fine, as long as you have GOOD advice to give (like mine obviously is!). But when every other pregnant woman out there is certain they’ve figured out the secret to _______ (fill in the blank with your choice), or has a horror story of that time they nearly died because their baby kicked them in the ribs (totally making that up, but you could probably find it somewhere on the internet!), it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So basically? Stick with nice bloggers, like me, who don’t post very often. Then you can’t get overwhelmed.

And, in the words of the immortal Bugs Bunny (I have a nagging fear I’ve used this line before, but can’t remember for sure), “That’s all, folks!” Oh, and here’s a bad mirror selfie of me because I haven’t taken any other pictures this month.

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum.

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Four Ways to Keep Your Faraway Friends

When you’ve grown up with someone and seen them practically every day of your life, it’s a bit hard when you have to move away. You can’t do spontaneous things like going out for coffee in the afternoons or going shopping for a couple hours or even going on a walk like you used to. Instead, you have to balance busy schedules against the rigors of different time zones and different lives. You may even start to wonder if it’s even worth it to keep your friendships going–if perhaps they’d be happier if you just bugged off and let them keep living their lives without constant interruptions from you reminding them what life used to be like.

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The rose bushes are always greener on the other side of the fence.

Fortunately, friendships don’t have to peter out with distance and changing lives. There are still some things you can do that will help your friends far away feel like they’re still connected with you–that you still care.

First, be proactive, whether you’re the friend that left or the friend that stayed. Don’t assume that just because they’re your friend that they can do all the working of keeping the friendship together, or figuring out all the wonky time-zone differences, or figuring out your schedule. If you work together on this, it will also have the bonus that you talk more!

Second, try to make things easier for them to call you. If there’s a foreign country involved (no, we’re not starting any wars or anything!), chances are neither of you can just call from your phone like you normally would. Try to get free apps like Skype or WeChat (which is huge in China!) that will let you talk without one or the other of you spending a boatload of money every time you get lonely. Even $0.05 a minute adds up pretty quickly.

Third, (and this might be the hardest), keep thinking of things that you can talk about. If you’re anything like me, when something interesting comes up that you want to talk about with your friends, it may be a couple days before you get to calling them. And by that time, it might have disappeared! And if I can’t remember anything I wanted to talk about, I’m pretty much the world’s most boring friend. Conversations devolve into a series of “How was your week?” “Fine.” “Anything exciting?” “Nope.” Read a thought-provoking book, or talk about something interesting you read in the news, or even discuss funny YouTube videos. Or, you can remember the interesting things that happened at work that week, like the time your student said “shit” in class without knowing it was a bad word. (He was using it to talk about dog poop).

Fourth, do what you can from a distance to make your friend feel cared about still. (I’m really bad at this one too.) Send a postcard, or an email if a postcard is too hard. Maybe write a letter, or, if funds allow, send a small box. If you feel up to it, visiting is always appreciated. Just think of it as your only chance to see the world.

So, if all your friends have moved away (or if you’ve moved away), your highschool habits of forming friendships just aren’t working anymore, and you’re wondering if you’ll ever make new friends again, or if you’re doomed to die friendless with hot ears from talking on the phone so much, think of these tips. Long-distance friendships are possible–though hot ears are pretty much inevitable.