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April 29, 2007

lazy environmental activism

i know Earth Day was the 22nd, but hey! i just got home from a leg-crushing 6.6 mile (10.6 km) hike with 2700ft. (823m) elevation gain, and all i want to do is stay seated. later, i'll self-medicate by ingesting a huge amount of protein-type foods, but for now, i'd just like to crawl up onto the environmental soapbox i was thinking about a week ago for a moment, before i tumble back off into a much-needed epsom salt bath.

so, unless you've been living underneath your Hummer because you lost your house due to gas prices and you haven't been paying attention, it appears that "being green" is now increasingly the Cool American Thing To Do. of course, we've been hearing a lot more about climate change thanks to a some big names: Al Gore, Katrina, The Terminator Governator... now, not usually being considered Cool Americans, T.T. and i have been very happy to find that many of the items on those "How To Be Less of An Environmental Jerk" to-do lists are things that we've done for so long we don't even think about it any more. we really like that we can be lazy -- i.e. not make any huge special effort -- and still be responsible (and now Cool) people. so in that vein, we now present (cue silly drum roll, complete with perfunctory cymbal crash):

HadashiWorld's "Five Things That Are Really Easy To Do To Make the Earth Happier But You Won't Become a Granola-Munching Crazy Hippie In the Process (Not That There's Anything Wrong With That)."

1. get a collapsible tote bag, or some other cheap nylon or canvas-type bag. put it in the trunk of your car. oh come on, just stuff it in with all the other crap back there! now, every time you go shopping, use that for your groceries or merchandise instead of getting plastic or paper bags. it is amazing how many bags you WON'T use when you start doing this, and how much happier you'll be without having a squillion plastic sacks tumble out of your kitchen cabinet under the sink. you can't possibly need that many trash liners. (exception: doggie owners, i know you need poop sacks -- but you might want to check out this much more earth-friendly option. i have friends who swear by them.) the only trick is remembering to stuff the tote bag back into your random-crap-filled trunk before the next shopping trip, but you'll get the hang of it before long.
2. find your local farmer's market and buy yummy food stuff there. would i cringe if i went to the Big Grocery Store and dropped $25 on produce? heck, yeah. do i cringe when i drop 25 big ones at the farmer's market? you bet i do, but at least i know that a) it's well-spent -- every bite of that produce will have flavour and quality and freshness that Big Grocery Produce doesn't. b) by purchasing stuff that's locally grown, i'm reducing the amount of carbon emissions caused by transporting food from thousands of miles away. eating local is really, truly an exponentially good thing. c) the cashier at the Big Grocery Store doesn't care if i'm getting 5 lbs. of fuji apples. Mr. Ha of Ha's Apple Farms does, and he says thank you and uses my name. small personal moments are valuable, especially if you live in a big city.
3. it's all about light. we replaced all our bulbs that we could with those spiffy CFC (compact flourescent) bulbs. yes, they cost more -- but oh, the benefits! it's just a few bucks, people. change 'em out and then you can more or less forget about them because they last so incredibly long. (if you do make the switch, tell the nice Earth Day Network peeps here. they'd appreciate it.) but don't forget to switch them off when not in use -- that's another easy, yet effective thing -- turn off stuff you aren't using. plus, come utility bill time, your checkbook will thank you. yes, that includes the T.V. if you're not watching it, why is it on?
4. speaking of utility bills, open your windows. or pull the shades on your windows. in other words, instead of using the central air to control temperature, try the windows and your clothing choices indoors first. obviously, living in Southern California affords us this fine-weather luxury, but we have been known in wintertime to put on socks and a sweater instead of turning on the heat.
5. on trash day, we usually put out half a can of non-recyclable waste, and approximately three times that amount in green and recyclable waste. now, i realise we have it cushy since our city provides different bins for each type. however, there was a period of many years of apartment dwelling that i would seperate trash and drive/handcart the recyclable stuff to an appropriate bin, because all we had was a big dumpster. separating trash isn't hard when you spend a few dollars to have multiple, smaller trash cans.

remember, all these things are actions we've done so long that they are habits -- and therefore, so easy it borders on laziness. my point is that a tiny bit of effort goes a long way, and that you don't have to be a live-off-the-grid vegan activist to be more responsible for your carbon footprint. while those are admirable people indeed, let's face it: most of us like our first-world amenities. i am very excited about the hot water that i will be running a tub full of in a few minutes for that epsom-salt bath. is it wasteful of me to run that much water? perhaps -- but i'm going to soak for at least an hour and it's not something i do every day, so i think it's a balanced, fair choice. deprivation is absolutely not necessary for living responsibly.
of course, if you're so inclined, there are plenty more "sacrificial" ways to be greener; you can check out something called carbon offsets, or you can invest in a more fuel-efficient car, or you can even try to walk to the post office every now and then. but start with something, and then keep doing it until it's so normal you don't even think about it anymore. i'd love to hear what other simple things people out there are doing to be a little more responsible; any other sneaky adjustments to life that enhances its quality.
thanks for listening...and now i shall crawl to the bathtub. ahhhhhh!

note: if anyone wants to see a description and photos of the hike i did, some enterprising soul has posted about it here...just scroll past the equipment descriptions to the very lovely pictures of Strawberry Peak.

Posted by hadashi at 5:00 PM | Comments (4)

April 18, 2007

juicy dumpling family

tonight T.T. and i joined a bunch of his friends for a meal at the local juicy dumpling mecca of Din Tai Fung. for those who are wondering, a "juicy dumpling," better known on the East Coast as a "soup dumpling," is basically a genius bit of Chinese culinary skill: a thin wrapper is filled with a bit of tasty meat and a dab of gelatinous broth. when it is steamed on a bed of cabbage in a bamboo steamer, the broth heats up and becomes a delightful, sloshy burst of flavour when the lucky diner nibbles into it.
i remember that some years ago these were all the rage in New York City. places in Chinatown would vie for the "best soup dumpling" while xiao long bao shops started springing up all over the place. since the juicy dumpling is a specialty of Shanghai, my mother's hometown, of course any visit to the Chan relatives in New York would include consuming many of the tasty little packets. food connects and rejoins my family members, so even after long absences, a good Chinese meal can easily fill in the gaps.
any juicy dumpling place worth its, well, broth, has a glassed-in kitchen so you can actually see your dumplings being made. i remember seeing an article in the window of New York establishment Joe's Shanghai in which Mr. Joe complains about all the American people converging on his place for "soupy buns" so that "all day long, we stuff, stuff, stuff." i thought that was pretty hilarious, considering how he was marketing the place as "Home of the Soup Dumpling." Din Tai Fung also has a glassed-in dumpling-stuffing-watching window, but the funny part about it is that every single person stuffing back there is Latino. not one Chinese person is actually making the dumplings... but honestly, i think the multiculturalism makes them taste better. besides, some of the best Japanese food places in L.A. are run by Koreans, and some of the best Vietnamese food i've tasted was cooked by a Mexican. culinary skill and appreciation needs no cultural boundaries.
it made me wonder about my own family -- Shanghai was always an incredibly cultural diverse city, especially for xenophobic China. perhaps the soup dumplings in my grandfather's home were made by Chinese cooks, but i'm sure they also had to make crêpes, pâtes, and maybe even some crème brûlée -- after all, the city was known as the "Paris of the East." i don't know a whole lot about my family history before my grandfather, since when he took his wife and kids and fled to America, they left mostly everything behind, including extended family.
family is on the brain right now, because my mother's youngest sister is in China, meeting some of those left-behind people for the first time. she was only a toddler when the Chans escaped from the onslaught of Communism. here's an e-mail that she sent from my grandmother's hometown:

I met my cousins on my mother's side - almost all of them. The oldest son from the first brother gathered his entire family to meet me expect for his youngest brother who lived in Beijing and didn't have enough notice to come. I met all of the siblings from my mother's younger brother and his widow. I also met my Uncle, (my father's younger brother). The welcome I received was amazing. All I can say is that I finally understood why my parents wanted to come back to live out their years. I truly feel I understand them better. When I saw my Uncle, it was like seeing my father again. It made me miss him so much. He sang an English love song for me.. he has the same charm as my father. My mother's family gave me the best meals of my life. They were wonderful.

i'm certain that those shared meals -- full of familiar pungent smells, savory tastes, laughter, and chopsticks -- filled in the chasm of all these many years and the very different lives, and reconnected family in a way that no cultural or language barrier could prevent.
i hope they enjoyed their juicy dumplings. i did.

Posted by hadashi at 2:48 PM | Comments (2)

April 8, 2007

happy Easter!

in honor of this day of renewal, hope, resurrection, forgiveness, new beginnings, life, and joy, i offer this poem, Welcome Morning, that i have been chewing on...thinking about how the everyday can be transformed into an act of grace; a miracle of the quietly holy. it's very slightly modified, for me, and i truly hope that Anne Sexton would not have minded.

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the soft white towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry of the kettle
that heat my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Hadashi"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning,

All this is of God,
right here in my blue-white house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

This Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
dies young.

Posted by hadashi at 12:25 PM | Comments (2)