Hi, I'm Tina. Welcome to my journal.

20 Oct '17  — Tapas at tea

I’m over my coffee obsession. During the summer I got tired of taste. I was back in Berlin and Seattle had ruined me. I’d never been to a place where the coffee didn’t make me jittery and I’d never tasted such good coffee.

I’m in the suburbs now but if I were in Seattle, I would be drinking coffee. A week ago, my husband started drinking Yerba Mate. I was excited to try knowing Pope Francis drinks it. The herbal flavor is bitter. I can’t handle more than a few sips but it always leaves me wanting more.

“What you have there is saffron sharbat.”

“Saffron tea.”

“Look you can see the saffron that’s been mixed in. And this is chilled. This has medicinal qualities.”

I love anything with ‘medicinal qualities’.

While watching a video on Persian tea culture, I was reminded of tea cultures across the world. There’s chai in India and in Taiwan there’s dim sum that’s served with tea.

The video features the Baghe Saba Teahouse in Tehran. A spacious room is sectioned into small areas for people to spend time with friends and family. There are platforms with cushions and pillows around a central table. Families are gathered over tea and appetizer-like dishes. There’s a whole menu of food served with tea–like dim sum.

It was so cozy. I wanted to step in.

Now I’m a little inspired to recreate the Persian tradition at home…

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19 Oct '17  — Autumn activities

teatime It’s rainy and cold

I’ve been cooking a lot recently and spending time outdoors. I feel hopeful and confident–much more than when I was in Berlin.

Part of me isn’t sure how long my new found optimism will last. Things get stale.

What I’m enjoying now that I couldn’t in the last five years.

Perhaps it’s best to stop worrying…that’s impossible.

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19 Oct '17  — What if they're not the people you thought they were?

My sister suggested Black Mirror. My husband and I started from the beginning, the first episode of the first season.

It was one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen.

I was pissed and told her how awful the experience was. She agreed that the first episode was bad but recommended that I watch another.

A few days ago, I gave the show another chance and watched the first episode of the third season.

What?! The storyline was so similar.

“It’s like an old woman scolding you every five seconds…”

My brother was just as appalled. My sister made him watch the same episode we happened to watch. It was an episode she considered ‘good’.

What do I do? I thought my sister was better than that. How do I move forward knowing she’s not?

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18 Oct '17  — My baby bump

sourdough on counter The first one I’ve made in the US, hiding under the towel

I finally got the courage to make sourdough again. This time I’m using American flour, American water and American air.

Will it be different? I’m leaving it to proof overnight to bake for breakfast. Fingers crossed.

The butter here tastes way different.

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17 Oct '17  — Judging trustworthiness

“Your word is gold”

I used to think people who didn’t treat their words with value were unreliable. I’d be cautious, as if they might do harm. If someone’s words don’t reflect the truth they’re flagged untrustworthy.

My dad has a different approach to words. They’re a tool to get things done. Persuade people to do things he’d like.

There’s a motive behind every word and he talks in allegories. Hardly is there an instance where we’re talking about the subject of our discussion.

Does it matter that the message of one story contradicts the one he tells five minutes after? Not in his mind. Each discussion is used for that instance. It’s all one time use.

Never in my life has he ever tried to maintain a reputation for what he says.

‘Is my dad not a good person?’ There’s been a ton of internal conflict.

He has consistently done whatever needs to be done in support of his family. I can trust that.

But also, a person who keeps their word can be untrustworthy.

I remember I had a boss who valued his words. It became apparent that his word was gold because he didn’t want to get in trouble. There wasn’t an instance something was over promised. But there wasn’t much trust in him as a person by me or any of my colleagues.

Internally I have shortcuts to determine how good someone is. In this case, my shortcut needs to be adjusted.

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13 Oct '17  — Travel guides with less romantic experiences

Say you’re walking down the street in a straight predictable line. You see someone heading towards you in the opposite direction.

In Berlin, despite the wide sidewalks, the person opposite will always find their way to be in your direct pathway. Even if, before seeing you, they’re walking in a line that doesn’t overlap yours.

Stepping out of the house was a perpetual game of chicken). I always had to yield.

Now I’m back in the US, I see that it’s cultural. People at home give me so much space and they make sure I have enough way in advance. No one plays chicken.

“I feel like they’re giving me a lot of space.” My husband is European. He feels the difference.

“They’re giving just the right amount.” I’m relieved. I no longer experience pressure when stepping out.

There are other aspects of Berlin uncomfortable for Americans. I only started feeling them two years in. Eating at restaurants, if a server is busy and passes you they make sure to look in another direction. If they do see you wave, they’ll stare blankly to make sure you know they don’t recognize you. Back on the sidewalk, if you see a cluster of people waiting around or chatting, the group will make sure to stand right in the middle so that everyone passing has to walk on the side, in the gutter or over sidewalk gardens to pass. There’s a deliberate practice of not giving space to people when they need it. It’s hard to get used to.

Not every server or person on the street behaves this way nor does everyone play chicken (there are plenty of expats and tourists), but it’s common enough (75% of the time) behavior to lump it into the ‘charm’ of the place. This is not the cultural experience that gets highlighted in travel books.

But what if it were.

cafe counter berlin what’s really behind the cutesy facade

This isn’t information a local can tell you. But if I had known, I’d be curiously walking the streets observing how people maneuver their walks so that it ends in a game of chicken. It’s a characteristic only a foreigner could distinguish after extensive experience. Part of traveling is to gain perspective through experiencing life different than yours.

Travel guides are always highlighting the non-everyday: museums, castles…nothing truly relevant. Imagine if you could get a travel guide written by someone who has a similar background. Then you could be attracted to a place for the challenges it might present to you.

Although I’ve never gotten over the passive aggressive behavior, I’ve stopped assuming people hate me despite how they act. It’s a step up.

I’m relived to have my presence acknowledged wherever I go. It feels amazing to be back.

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11 Oct '17  — Adjusting

After a coffee in Kirkland

I’m still jet lagged. There are moments where I feel like something is pulling me asleep and then the next moment, I’m completely awake. Drifting back and forth between dream and reality.

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10 Oct '17  — Home-work for adults not in school

cast iron cooking

I’ve been feeding sourdough and cooking on cast iron for a year.

I used to think that home was a place I could sprawl out. Come home from the outside world and make a mess. A place to not care.

Since I want to eat healthier and more delicious food, I’ve had to make it myself. Sourdough needs to be fed daily and cast iron requires patience: drying, oiling, and seasoning. The home has become a place of work. There are responsibilities. It’s not a comfortable place when the work isn’t done.

There are moments when dishes pile up in the kitchen because our dishwasher is full of clean dishes that we haven’t had time to unload. When we’re too busy, we order food. There’s a lot of trash that comes with that. When the kitchen isn’t being used as a place for making food it feels most un-home-like.

I’m realizing that I’ve been brought up in a culture that doesn’t place emphasis on home as a place of work.

‘Can I come over?’

‘No! I can’t let anyone come to my place. It’s a mess.’

The home isn’t a place to be maintained for one’s own comfort. Cleaning and organizing a home is something you do for when guests visit.

Some of my friends hire cleaners to maintain their homes. They’re proud they can afford such luxury, as if it’s a privilege to be able to afford it. But outsourcing the maintenance–doesn’t that limit the connection you have with your home?

I want to garden vegetables because I want to see where my food comes from. Just as I’ve experienced with sourdough, I want to watch my food grow, go through different phases and understand what happens before it’s ready for harvest.

Having just moved, I’ve realized how much stuff I don’t need. I’ve also become aware of the items that collect more dust when unused. These are the details I could have optimized if I had cleaned my home more often.

clothing rack trash and chores

It’s very fashionable to connect to the earth through gardening, so shouldn’t it be fashionable to clean one’s own home?

There’s a comfort that money cannot buy.

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09 Oct '17  — Dark times seemed so light

My mom left home. She’s on vacation.

Before leaving, she instructed my brother to water her plants. When I got to the house, I saw her plants on the patio.

Too lazy to water, my brother let nature do the work. The pots were flooded with rain water. The plants weren’t healthy.

I was angry to find the plants wilting. I told my brother to wipe down the sides of the pots, now covered in soil from being outdoors, and clean off the leaves before bringing them in. Pine needles had fallen from the tree above.

“Does it really have to be now?”

He didn’t care.

I got angrier. ‘I can’t believe he’s so selfish.’

He reminded me of my twenties. I couldn’t do anything for anyone. I didn’t have a second to spare. All I wanted to do was what I felt like–all the time.

I don’t know for certain what’s going on from my brother’s side. He might have an undiscovered disease that requires him to play video games all day and disregard anyone else. I projected my experience of selfishness onto him.

Then I remembered how terrible it was to go through that time of my life.

All I wanted to do was have fun. Instead of video games, I chased a rush that came with yoga, shopping, and going out. Everything I did was to make me better, healthier, advance my position among peers…it was impossible to consider helping someone without getting an enormous reward back.

That was a dark period of my life, but at the time, I didn’t know. I never wished to be in that state, but at the same time, I didn’t know better.

It sucks to be so misguided. For once I found compassion for the selfish me I’ve loathed for the past few years.

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07 Oct '17  — Feeling the warmth after 5 years

Schadenfreude was a foreign concept until the last moment.

“This is not my problem.”

While waiting in the customs line to catch a connecting flight, I was with other Americans trying to talk a customs agent into letting us ahead. We had five minutes before our plane was scheduled to depart. There were so many people ahead. Why is the agent smiling at our misfortune?

Passengers on flights leaving in 10 minutes kept trying to cut us, we were fighting to be on time.

As I counted down to departure, I let go. The plane will leave when it wants to. At that point, I understood. The customer unfriendly treatment is in the vein as Berliner Schnauze, the ‘rude’ customer service I’ve complained about living in Berlin.

I never understood it before. Why would anyone go out of their way to be unpleasant? To show pleasure in seeing misfortune come upon others. It made no sense. How would you get me to buy your product or service if I didn’t like you?

I missed the point.

The idea is friendly yet based on my background, I couldn’t see it that way. As an American, I am used to being coddled.

My dissatisfaction reminded me of my mom. She found it offensive whenever she heard my sister addressing her best friend by ‘whore’. The term was endearing to my sister and her friend. They were close enough to handle the rough exchange.

‘you over there, I know you can handle this mistreatment.’

It’s nice to not be coddled. I can stand up for myself despite anything unpleasant that gets thrown my way. By laughing at my misfortune, I have a moment to recognize my own abilities.

In Taipei there are these ladies at the entrance of all department stores who constantly greet guests. The energy in their voice makes me feel welcome. There’s a decorum established. ‘You are our customer. Let us treat you to what you need, since you are giving us money. You are here to be coddled’ There are rules established with the formal hello.

In Germany, when entering a cafe you’re treated the same as visiting a friend’s house. ‘Hey hows it going.’ They might ignore you for a moment and get back to whatever they’re doing. There’s an informality that comes from familiarity. If you need something from them, you ask. Otherwise, they’re not going to formally offer to come serve you. They might forget you’re even there.

If you take it the wrong way, perhaps it’s you, the guest who doesn’t hold the server, the establishment close at heart. You don’t give them the benefit of the doubt as being nice people. It’s not necessarily their fault that the relations aren’t positive.

This logic is so different from what I’m accustomed to. Understanding a different culture opens up how I receive people, but I’m surprised it took me so long. Developing a thicker skin isn’t the point. The cold treatment is the warmth.

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