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It’s a funny thing, to be in love with a city. I’ve been in love with New York City for years. I still remember how I met her and that instant that I knew I wanted to return and stay. I was seventeen years old, in high school, and visiting Columbia University for a second-look. I had walked in from 116th street, not in the center of College Walk, but on the north side. It was night, and campus was lit like it always was. Looking up, I saw the stone and brick rising around me and I knew.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like, if I had chosen New York over everything else. What if I had turned down UCSD to stay on the East Coast? It seemed like such a brainless reflex decision back then, as I stood in my baby blue gown on May 16th, telling the Dean of the Medical School that I’d go- I’d come! Only afterwards, when the gravity of those flippant excited works sunk in, did I realize what I had done. I booked a one-way ticket and spent a few last days with my then boyfriend. The morning of my flight, he made me a Nutella sandwich and as my plane lifted off from JFK, I cried. Holding on to everything from then, I kept the leftovers from that Nutella sandwich in its Ziploc back in my room until my mom, completely grossed out, threw it out for me. My memories of the City then became a series of short 30-second scenes: walking off the elevator on the 16th floor of my dorm and seeing the Empire State Building at night; curling up on my windowsill in the daylight and watching students come back from class; standing on subway platforms with my practiced unfocused stares; a few steps on dirty cracked sidewalk on a sunny day.
Promises were made that I never kept- that I’d go back, that I’d always go back.
I’m always being told that making plans is always the best way to ensure that your life doesn’t turn out the way you had planned. I don’t regret leaving. How could I, when I met Husband in California? On days that I especially miss being in the City, I remind myself that I’d rather be married and in Salt Lake City than single in New York. Cities are cold creatures who will never love you back.
All the same, I’ve never forgotten about New York; she will always be the one who’s gotten away.
Working at the Veteran’s Administration is akin to working in a different world, and anybody in the medical profession who has ever worked or trained in a VA system knows what I mean. At the VA Spa, the parking lot doesn’t fill up until 7:30am and the halls begin emptying out beginning at 3:30pm- even earlier on Friday afternoon. At the Salt Lake City VA, radiology is not in house nights and weekends, and ordering a right upper quadrant ultrasound for acute cholecystitis during these times is akin to committing a deadly sin. It’s a place where things happen a little slower, where everyone whispers that the staff is a little duller, and where OR turnover is at least an hour (although they claim it averages 36 minutes).
As such, all of the residents call it the VA Spa because this slower pace trickles down to us to some degree. The surgery residents take home call, which has been painful to some extent. For instance, because our new second year resident was coming off nights this week, I had been on call from Friday night all the way through the Wednesday morning. That was moderately painful and we were hurt badly by a CT scan that took 5 hours to complete after being ordered. (No joke. We were… put off.) However, we do get to go home earlier than most of the residents at the U. Beside this, the best part of being at the VA is that on Tuesdays, in the middle of our clinic day, we always have a lunch potluck.
It’s no small secret that I love to cook. More than that, I love to bake. So, when my chief approached me on Monday afternoon and asked me if I wanted to bring dessert or rice, I promptly replied, “Dessert!” I made toffee pecan bars that night. For the next week, I pulled out the bundt cake pan that we had received as a wedding gift and tried a recipe that had been gnawing on me since I had seen it on Joy the Baker. It wasn’t an entire success, but was thoroughly devoured. This past week, I made my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (which also happens to be smitten kitchen‘s favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe as well).
And then last week, I had promised another resident a trip to Costco, so despite my heavy eyes from having lost sleep thanks to a middle of the night admit, we went. She needed toilet paper, so I pointed her to the very back corner of the Costco while I made the mistake of perusing the recipe book section. This resulted in my purchasing what seems to be the most promising cookbook in my collection so far: The Slow Cooker Revolution. So far, I’ve made the beginner pulled pork, which is now this household’s go-to recipe for pulled pork. Easy and absolutely delicious and flavorful.
I can’t think of a way to end this blog entry other than to wonder where these two divergent interests will lead me. Sometimes I feel like I was really actually destined to a life of housewifery. Some weeks, I spend more time reading my cookbooks than reading papers and textbooks. And then, Husband reminds me that once we have children, that he has dibs on staying at home with them while I bring home the bacon. I wonder if I will become one of those women my mom used to scoff at: women who could afford every luxury in their kitchen, but never actually got to use any of it.
That summer of 2005, I learned a lot about myself. I learned about how inflexible I could be with how things are done and how that tends to drive people away. I learned that I was fairly particular about how certain things were done- even to the point of arguing about the best way to get from point A to point B in NYC, and that certain things weren’t worth alienating people for. Basically, I learned that I needed to chill out, a lot. But, what I didn’t realize was that I had gained some recognition that what was perfectly normal and common sense to me could be understood as being completely foreign.
Following that summer, I returned again to my bubble of an Asian Christian fellowship, my culture shock from the summer quickly becoming a distant memory as I returned to old habits and being surrounded by people who understood all the things that I took for common sense and simple reality: relative frugality and the value of hard work; ambition and the prestige surrounding a good job; stupid immature jokes and watching tons of anime; familiarity with Asian foods; and of course, family style eating.
I moved on to medical school in San Diego, and again, unintentionally, found myself surrounded by Asian people. I didn’t exit my comfort zone again until January 2010, when I did an away rotation in Montana.
That month in Montana was one of the best in my lifetime. The medical part of the rotation was a total joke, entailing a half day of work in a barely busy clinic. The rest of the day was spent skiing at Big Sky, Montana and living with a group of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the privilege of spending time with. Despite the fact that I was the only Asian of the group, we had enough in common through our mutual experiences in medical schools across the country that I never felt like I was the odd one out at all. The culture shock part didn’t have anything to do with the people I was living with, but instead with the fact that Montana isn’t much of a diverse place. It was the sort of place where I, myself, would stare at Asian people because I never saw them around. Having spent my entire life in places where Asians are at least 10% if not more like 30% of the general population, Montana was the whitest place I had ever been. It even became almost a joke, where if I had seen someone Asian, I’d run back and tell the rest of my roommates. There was this one party called Snow Bar, which will live in infamy due to the degree of drunkenness and hilarity we had managed to achieve, where there was a whole bachelor party full of Asian guys. Intoxicated, I had walked up to one of them and announced to him, “HEY! You’re Asian too!” He had stared back at me, completely bemused, and quite honestly, I don’t remember what happened after that. Probably some short awkward conversation.
And now, this brings us to Utah, where my husband and I were placed/had elected to do our residencies.
(again, to be continued…)
The first time I realized how Asian I am was the summer after junior year of college. Incredibly Christian at the time, I had opted to be an intern at Summer in the City during summer break. Our mission was to spread the love of Jesus by enabling local churches to reach out to those in need. It’s a pretty neat idea and organization, but “out of the scope of this discussion.” That summer reminded me of being part of some reality TV show- 4 girls, living in one 1 bed/1bath NYC apartment, working together and discovering the City together. In fact, the Atlas, the apartment complex that the contestants for Project Runway resided in during the NYC seasons, was just around the corner.
That summer, despite the fact that 3 out of 6 of us doing the summer internship were Asian, was when I first became acutely aware that not only did I look Asian, but I think Asian.
To back up and start from the beginning, I was born and raised in Southern California. I had Asian friends, went to an Asian church, and even my white friends were more Asian than I am; two of them now speak Asian languages better than I do. They know what Pocky, Yan-yan, and Hello Panda are and both have spent more time living in Asia than I have spent living in Spanish-speaking counties. We spent high school making trips to the local Asian market, just for fun. And then, in college, I joined an almost entirely Asian Christian fellowship and spent all of my time surrounded by Asian people. Not on purpose, but because that was just the way it had worked out.
And then, summer of 2005, I found myself in almost uncomfortably close proximity to a white-washed Korean girl from Portland, an African American girl from Florida, and a white girl from Arkansas. In less close proximity, my company also included a quiet Asian boy from the South, a white bread boy from Texas, and a white couple from good ol’ Middle America. It was about as far out of my comfort zone as I had ever lived for a total of 10 weeks.
The best example of this is when we kept ordering Chinese takeout for dinner. The first time we ordered from there, we were sitting around looking at the menu, and like most Chinese places, the majority of their dishes were large and meant to be shared “family style”*, but there were also a few “dinner special” options that entailed a smaller serving of a main dish, along with rice and a side dish. Looking at the menu, I had suggested that we order “family style,” only to be met with a room full of blank stares. After explaining the concept, I met up with a large amount of resistance: “What if I don’t like one dish?”, “What if I like one, but everybody else eats it?”, “I’d rather just have my own food.” I was in complete disbelief. In my experience, one of the best parts about eating in large groups was the ability to eat family style. Sure, maybe you wouldn’t get to eat all of the General Tso’s chicken by yourself, but you’d also get to eat a vegetable dish and maybe some pork, beef, or noodles as well.
The group ended up each ordering their own dinner special. I remember thinking then that perhaps their culture was more individualistic, with each person unwilling to compromise for a collective greater good. Or maybe there was just a greater fear of the unknown and unfamiliarity wtih Chinese food (albeit Chinese takeout).
At any rate, it became a tradition that once a week we ordered Chinese takeout. And that was the day of the week that I walked 2 avenue blocks to get Chipotle instead.
(to be continued…)
*In family style eating, a selection of different dishes are ordered, the bill the split evenly, and everybody shares everything. This allows for a greater variety of foods for everybody to sample and enjoy.
One reason why I chose to go into general surgery is because my patients are asleep. See, I really don’t like to inflict pain. So I prefer that my patients are asleep while I do things to them. This is in contrast to performing procedures in the ER or in the clinic, when the patients are awake.
Anyways, we needed to change a line out of one of our patients today. She had this big honkin’ huge-ass line in her internal jugular vein, and they don’t let you have those on the floor because if something bad happened, nobody would notice that Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so is in his or her room bleeding to death. And after we got the new line in, I got to stitch it back in. I’ll be straight- I didn’t do a great job. I get all scaredy and timid when my patients are awake, because- see above. I’m horrified. Scared.
We took the drapes down, and our patient was crying. In a way, I knew it wasn’t all because of the pain, because we were finished hurting her. I could see on her face the frustration she felt about just… being in the hospital, after a huge operation, in pain and not wanting to ambulate when we were pushing her to get out of bed. Sort of a hopelessness and a “poor me when is this going to end” sort of thing. I’m not pretending I know how it feels to have a huge procedure in which all of your bowels are rearranged, but for some reason, I saw that feeling on her face when the drapes came down. God, I hate it when my patients are conscious.
Anyways, I heard that later that day she was doing really well. I hope she leaves here without having any complications. Looked, I just jinxed it. But every patient with a major operation on this service has had some sort of complication. And we keep getting people coming back in with complications. It’s depressing. And since it’s a new service for me and we’re covering a bajillion attendings, I’ve been on edge all week trying to get off to a good start with everybody.
Like how I should be reading NCCN guidelines for melanoma right now.
Yep, right now.
Like now. Yes. Yes.
In elementary school, when we learned about how light and sound travel at different speeds, the example of lightning followed by thunder always was brought up. You could count after the lightning: “one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand”- and whatever number you were on when you heard the thunder, that’s how many miles away you were from that lightning strike.
Unfortunately, growing up in California, I never got to use this trick very often. We saw lightning maybe once every three to four years, sometimes even less frequently.
I’m sitting in bed again, and this time the mattress is off the floor inside a cheap-o IKEA frame. It’s been a week since we’ve left San Diego. Right now, it’s pouring rain and there’s lightning and thunder outside. When I started this post, I only got to “one one-thou–” before I heard the thunder.
Man, this place is a little different.
Before my wedding, I knew that I was going to sell my wedding dress after the wedding. After all, it was a $125 dress from China- made to fit but then altered again in the States for the same amount again. Add a $20 petticoat from craigslist and that’s why I didn’t feel bad dragging it through the sand the day of the wedding. But my attachment to the dress began after the wedding. It had been hanging, covered by a large white garment bag that still left the train hanging out from underneath, for months waiting for our much belated trash-the-dress session. Then, a friend who was getting married asked me if they could maybe buy the dress and his fiancée came over to try it on. Seeing it on another woman created in me a feeling of envy and possessiveness that I thought I would never feel about a garment. She decided not to buy it. I was glad.
I wavered on whether or not I’d sell the dress even until after the trash session- I was standing at the dry cleaner’s counter with sopping chlorine-y dress in hand, debating if I was willing to pay $50 to clean my $245 investment. Nah. I rinsed it a few times in a friend’s tub and called it a day. It ended up surprisingly clean! And smelled fresh too.
It hung drying off the curtain railing for a few days before I took it down and folded it up nicely. I had been looking at preserving my dress online- it would cost me about $50 to get a kit with acid-free tissue paper and an acid-free box to store the dress in. But $50? For what purpose?
As a kid, my mom’s wedding dress lived in a bag within my closet, and I would take it out time and again to try it on. When I was eleven years old, the dress’s waist sat on my hips. I’d put the veil on my head and stand on top of my bed in front of the mirror to see how it looked. But when it came time for me to get married, I would have never dreamed of wearing my mother’s dress; I’m sure that any daughter of mine will feel the same. And were we really going to move the dress to Utah?
So I posted the dress on craigslist, thinking that hey- maybe nobody will want it and I’ll get to keep it. A few days passed, and I had no replies- and then a girl emailed me asking that I keep it for her to pick up in 2 weeks. I agreed. After all, if it fell through, I would get to keep the dress. Alas, she came over today and has just left with the dress. Meeting her was one of the weirder circumstances I’ve ever been in- she was almost exactly my height and build- her breasts, her waist, her hips were all in the same places- maybe a little larger in the bust and hips, but standing in front of her I felt like we were twins. So she will be walking down the aisle in July in what used to be my wedding dress, and I am left here feeling a little sad and empty. I know that the feeling will pass and I will forget that I don’t have my wedding dress hidden away under a bed (–maybe better than forgetting that I do have my wedding dress hidden under a bed). But right now I’m sad that my beautiful cheap white dress is gone… and all I have left are photos and memories. (And shoes. Kept those!)
When I first heard about yoga once upon a time, I started calling it “yogurt.” Not because I was too young to know better, but I was probably too immature to prefer calling it by its real name. I used to do that during high school- give things different names or even baby names just because I felt like it. (Who am I kidding, I still do that sometimes.) When yoga first started “getting big,” I, like many of my peers at the time, thought it was a silly frou-frou “sport” that housewives and rich people did because it was easy. And then I watched ten minutes of that movie where Madonna plays a yoga instructor (The Next Best Thing?) and there’s that one scene where her soon-to-be love interest tries to join her yoga class and ends up failing, sweaty, and complete with new respect for yoga. And that is probably when I began thinking that maybe yoga isn’t as easy as we all thought it was.
I’m not all hot into yoga culture or anything, but I first gave it a try at the local YMCA when my family still had a membership and then got more into it when I got a 29 day passes to a ritzy local gym via Groupon. There was this one instructor who taught classes that I started going to regularly- his name was Danny. He was one of those sun-bleached blonde weathered-looking tall lanky dudes who I imagined spent all of his time surfing, eating granola, and walking around barefoot. Well, except for the fact that he taught these mean yoga classes that made me sweat buckets and left me feeling great. So I went out and bought myself a mat and did some practice at home for a while, but all too soon, my 29 day passes ran out. And then I decided I was too busy- and then when I had more time, too poor- to take yoga classes.
Enter exercise.tv on hulu.com a few weeks ago. I did their 20-minute routines a few times, and then had the quite belated idea to search youtube, where some folks have full yoga workouts online. Score! Free yoga! I do miss having classmates, big mirrors, and a real instructor nearby to correct my poses, but uh… free is sort of hard to beat. Plus I can have “yoga class” whenever I want- say, like even at 10pm.
Anyhow, it’s pretty great and now I feel like I am taking care of myself again. You know, after eating pulled pork, just SEEing the amount of butter we put into the cornbread, and oh… eating strawberries on the couch dipped in leftover mascarpone whipped cream with semisweet chocolate bits (you read that right- it’s DELICIOUS!), I thought it was high time that I try to do something to counteract the impending ah… ballooning? pre-intern-15? that is coming my way.
Okay, so the actual point of this is that I am proud of myself and bragging because I can finally do a full sun salutation with like, a real full Chaturanga. (I apologize if my terminology sucks. I am still very n00b.) The first time I saw Danny walk us through it- “Okay now from down-dog, go forward and down- forehead-nose-chin-chest… good… into up-dog” I gave it a try and once I tried to put weight on my triceps, I just went “plunk!” and chest slammed into the floor. But tonight, on a whim, I gave it a go, and MAGICALLY… it like… worked.
Anyways, that is all. But it’s nice to know that I’m going somewhere with this and maybe getting a little stronger. Hopefully this will help tremendously when we start moving boxes and furniture everywhere- ahhhh moving!
I will be finishing medical school soon- in about 5 weeks. Becoming a “real” doctor still seems so far away, but thinking about it now sounds so much more reasonable. Being a “real” doctor means that I will have a “real” income, and despite all of the healthcare reform talk and worry that is tearing up the medical community, I’m pretty confident that I’ll be doing just fine as a surgeon. As such, I’ve been spending a lot of time dreaming about things that I would want, all the places I’d want to travel, all the awesome gear I will buy…
In the midst of dreaming about all of this, I always feel a little guilty. I have really been blessed in this life. When I think about all the people in this world that don’t even have a place to live or food to eat, I think that it’s ridiculous that I am willing to spend thousands of dollars to see this place. Or have some experience. Or to own this thing. Once upon a time, I was determined to be poor. Even though I left high school a cynic, compared to my elders in the medical field I was still a bright-eyed idealistic dreamer: I was going to become a primary care doc; I was going to help the underserved; I was going to live simply and I was going to change the world- one patient at a time. And then I discovered that I hate primary care. Primary care is this disaster of paperwork with still very little follow-up, and yes- very little pay. I thought that I would be okay with suffering through college and medical school for a primary care salary. I thought that my student loans wouldn’t be a burden. That all is probably still all true, but I can’t imagine myself suffering every day for the rest of my life in a profession that drives me MAD. Kudos to all the primary care docs out there- I couldn’t do what you all do every day.
But all the same, with the idea of an income- even a resident’s salary- I can’t stop wanting things. Maybe I don’t have the most extravagant taste, but it seems to make more sense to just pay retail to save time or to take amazing vacations because I wasn’t able to afford it before. It seriously rattles the strict Asian frugality I was brought up with, but also makes me feel guilty in an I’m-a-super-consumeristic-American sort of way.
I guess it’s pointless to worry about how I am going to spend my money when I’m still ridiculously poor, can’t afford to make full payments on my student loans, and might not even be able to get a loan for a place in Utah. But I’m hoping that some advance planning and perhaps retrospection will help me spend it wisely. But I can’t stop looking! There are SO many ways to spend money. Ah, America. I am a product of your hedonistic values.