cait +tiff


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T / happy monday / eat together

Photo Credit: Betty Liu

Photo Credit: Betty Liu

I wasn’t exactly festive this past weekend. #badchinese.  I blame Voldemort’s red haired cousin for sending me down that black hole of despair.

But then my partner shared this little bit of news with me.  And it was good news.  Berliners had warmly embraced the Syrian bakery.  How amazing is that?  Even in Europe where nationalist movements are threatening economic and political cohesion, cultures are coming together around food.  Similar things happened over Thanksgiving dinners in North America last year.

Breaking bread together isn’t the panacea for world peace (because we all know that aliens arriving is pretty much the only solution).  But coming together over food is a step towards embracing diversity, welcoming new arrivals, and truly being unified.  Eating across continents is a rebellion in the face of vracism and oppression.   It’s also the kind of behaviour that keeps us all kind.

So celebrate all the cultures. Eat all the foods.  It’s not exactly lobbying your Congressperson (do that too), but the child who remembers the falafels traded for ham and cheese sandwiches in elementary school cafeterias, or all the Chinese takeout that comes with life, are probably apt to make better choices in their adult life.

And on that note, I wanted to share some of my favourite, and some of my more aspirational Chinese recipes.  Having spent an adolescence trying to distance myself from my family’s culture and then finding myself completely immersed in it as an adult basically means I’m playing catch up with all the food things.  It also means I’ve got a roster of favourite Chinese heritage food bloggers that I occasionally deep dive into when I’m missing mom’s cooking.  I absolutely invite you to eat all of these faves.  Then go to your neighbour’s house, borrow their spices and create the best delicious crazy thing ever (see: all the Chinese hyphenated cuisines).  Gong hay fat choy!


knife-cut-noodles-le-jus-dorange-17

Photo Credit: Betty Liu

Chinese noodles are AH-mazing.  Handcut chinese noodles though.  They kind take me through the roof. I’m aspiring to make these guys happen this year.  And then I’m going to hop on the Xi’an noodle train and make those too.

Or if I’m lazy, I might just make what some would call Chinese “spaghetti bolognese.”  But please don’t call it that. I hate it when people do.

Sweet and sour pork is a Tsang family standard.  This recipe very accurately replicates the one I helped my mom with.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Le

Photo Credit: Stephanie Le

As is this whole steamed fish.  Because who doesn’t like a lucky fish?

molly-yeh-chicken-dumplingsAnd I cannot forget dumplings.  Who could ever forget the potsticker?!?!  My mom’s trick is to use chicken stock in place of water in the “pot sticking” process too!


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T / it’s not another retirement

Photo Credit: Don Hong-Oai

Photo Credit: Don Hong-Oai

*Warning – there’s so much acknowledged privileged whining here.

When I left global public health consulting and a more traditional way of earning an income to live life as a millennial stereotype at the brink of 30, I joked and called it “early retirement.”  I was going to get to pursue creative things, mostly photography, full time.  And pepper this time with short tiny consulting opportunities here and there to make sure I could maintain things until things could take off.  These tiny little projects sometimes took me to cool places, or they let me do things wherever I wanted. Or they were the coolest little opportunities to get some concrete experience doing communications work.

But then I got offered a desk job.  That’s right, a full time desk job that would bring me back to my pre-retirement life.  And I couldn’t say no.  There were toys that I needed to buy, a Cait I needed to go visit in April.  And savings! I’m not necessarily a high maintenance kind of girl, but I apparently like expensive toys and far flung places (like LA, right?).

Nonetheless, I had to come to terms with returning to an industry I had made the decision to leave.  It’s not like I haven’t had these feelings before. Was it the end of the world? No. It’s an opportunity.  I’m coming to this new job a couple of years wiser.  I’ve shifted passions, but I can still be good at what I do at work.  Except with a little more distance this time.  And it’s not like I’m selling my soul here.  I am not throwing in the towel here.

I love this quote from Amanda Kohr and her profile on She Explores.

Words by Amanda Kohr, via She Explores.

Words by Amanda Kohr, via She Explores.

And I am epically inspired by this new theme song to my life.  For at least this contract.

I’m looking forward to going full throttle with the clients I can still make time for (weekends and evenings!), going bigger and bolder with projects, and all the toys! So many toys.  And the places!  I like barriers because they’ve always pushed me harder.

So I have to spend eight hours a day in something that doesn’t necessarily feed my soul, but lets me do more things that will help feed my soul instead. And eventually that golden needle of a YES will show up. I’m so excited.  (Except for the fact that I lost my beloved afternoon nap).


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T / happy monday / on great bosses

Photo Credit: Desmond Louw & Antonia Heil for Freunde von Freunden

Photo Credit: Desmond Louw & Antonia Heil for Freunde von Freunden

I’m not writing this up to suck up.  But I wanted to commemorate.  Since I finished school almost a decade ago, I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have had great bosses.  I’ve also had my fair share of not so great ones.  Never horrible, thankfully.  But let’s focus on the good ones. Great bosses aren’t something you work hard to achieve.  They happen to you, like having a monkey pee on you from an electrical line does.  They’re like leprechauns basically. I scored big time have had a few really great ones who fished me out from the chum, gave me great opportunities and showed me how to work, how to be and sometimes both at the same time.  They were also incredibly patient (thank you!).

One of those bosses – actually, the very first boss and the one who helped me (and so many others) figure how to work – passed away unexpectedly last week.  I found out early on a Monday morning. Over the past week, its made me reflect on all of the unintended teachers in our lives.

Great bosses know how to slap you around to make you better. They know when to give you a useless project when you’re naive and young, because it will make you work that much harder.  They’re also quasi-parental, quasi-older sibling and semi-psychotherapist.  They’re also there for stories and minestrone.  So many stories that it makes you want to be able to tell tales of similar calibre when you’re a boss yourself.  I think I’ve got a couple.  One involves Ricky Martin.

And great bosses are the ones you want to meet decades after to say “look at me now, I’m all grown up and I’ve learned a few things.” One of you will wind up on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere. You’ll exchange messages every so often, because that’s what you do and it feels nice.

Great bosses become friends.  So it sucks when they go away.  But at least you’ll have his playlists with a selection of Iron Maiden, vintage French rock, and bossa nova interpretations of the Rolling Stones that you wretch about but secretly love.  In the name of office playlists, here’s one for your week.

Ciao,


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T / go away / re-interpreting

bali-headerWe rarely revisit places.  With the assumption that a return would probably ruin the a previously held love.  It’s like if I returned to Istanbul, sans coup, I’d feel like we’d be missing something.  Without those 4am fighter jets, it just wouldn’t be complete.  Or alternatively, re-booting Gilmore Girls on Netflix (!!!), without Edward Herrman. Same same but different, right?

Then we did it.  We went back to a special place.  My partner and I needed a break from the world.  The kind of trip that was based on whimsy and great eats and not goals to have every amazing cup of matcha a city in Japan would have to offer.  We were also trying to celebrate lucky number eight.  So why not go back to the scene of the crime*? And sure it was different.  Very different.  But it also wasn’t the post-Eat, Pray, Love Bali that we imagined it to be.

Except for the grid lock in Ubud.  That was bad.  How did it get that bad?

Tiffany TsangSo before I shared every bite you should take and every bed you should sleep in, I thought I’d just ruminate on the art of returning somewhere.  It’s a weird feeling.  Things are completely different and the same.  The store that you bought that dress that you still wear? It’s gone.  The streets are filled with retirees from the West and the East looking to get their yoga on.  And this is low season. Remember that mostly-empty-surfers-only beach we found on our long motorbike trip up to coast?  The hipsters took over.  And all that cook batik went into hiding and has been replaced by resort wear.

But the roasted suckling pig on the side of the road is still delicious.  The volcano you climbed is still there.  And the overrated poop coffee is still available everywhere.  Also, the Balinese are still the most hospitable and lovely people around.  Oh, and the super tanned surfer boys are still riding around Canngu barefoot on their scooters sporting their Sean Penn-@-Fast-Times-at-Ridgemont-High hair? They’re still there too.

Also, a dude from El Bulli opened a restaurant in Ubud (more on that and a bunch of cool special things next week).

Bali is still a very special place.  And we can afford to stay in a room that costs three times what we spent eight years ago.Tiffany Tsang

Tiffany TsangPlaces change.  Going back to Bali was like going home for me.  In the case of home, Toronto stayed more-or-less the same, and it was my friends heading into big life changes. In the case of Bali, bigger changes happened. A gorgeous island suddenly became known to the world. And people flocked.

Eight years on, I’d still be happy to visit Bali again, though.  We’ll just have to keep looking for those special hidden places.


*We visited Bali the first time in November 2008, just a week after the terrorists who had attacked Bali in 2002 were executed.  Ubud and Seminyak were still fairly quiet.  Very quiet actually.


All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use. Cait+Tiff are not liable for any costs incurred for sudden excursions to tiny, beautiful Indonesian islands.

 


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T / on community

Photo Credit: Abodia Lifestyle

Artwork Credit: Abodia Lifestyle, Words: HRC

When I was in junior high, my mom gave me a book by Hillary Rodham Clinton. It was called It Takes a Village, and it contained not only my mom’s values she practiced of community and giving, the ones that I hold dear now, but also the ones I hoped would be spread around the world one day.  At the time, my response was something like “ugh, really?”  Because in true socially progressive hippie tiger mom fashion, she made me write an extra-curricular book report on it.  During the summer.  ?!?!?!  Twenty years later, I am incredibly thankful for this.

Zipping around town on my scooter on Tuesday, I had really hoped to write about this book feeling stoked and sprinkled with all the feelings that come with the first female leader of the USA.  I’m not American, and yes there have been female heads of state in the past.  But this felt bigger.  The kind of holy shit big, the world is going to change for the better, let’s all rejoice because all of the world’s problems are no longer.  Panacea. Drop mic.

But that moment never came.  We receded.  We are now working through the stages of grief.  We are allowing ourselves to regroup, reconnect with ourselves and our loved ones, to acknowledge the fear of the future. And to figure a way to overcome every single anticipated hurdle.  I loved Grace’s words on all these feelings.

It Takes a Village is a book about raising kids.  The science, biology, psychology of childrearing.  But it’s so much more than that.  It’s about kindness and community, it’s about how our world has changed, it’s about those values that we really need to hold onto in order to push forward a new generation of kind, authentic, inclusive, hard working and resilient people.  (Sure, it could be updated now to feature clearer and more diverse definitions of family, but hey, I think the author has some other things to do right now.)

These values have continued to resonate with me through adulthood.  I couldn’t have surmounted a bunch of obstacles without them.  But in the past 24 hours, they’ve been reverberating in me even more deeply and intensely.  The village, its elders, its healers, mothers and fathers, leaders and lovers, sisters and brothers have never been more important than now.

The next days will be about recalibration.  Assuming warrior pose.  Appealing to our better angels.  All of the ways to keep the good going.  I’ve always been about rebirth, the phoenix rising from the fire.  I hope these themes of community, kindness and rejuvenation will all be part of the narrative over the next years.

 


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C / together and stuff

Transitions are hilarious, easy, and always lots of fun without any confusion whatsoever. Or the opposite. Uprooting is a mess, and resettling is sort of like trying to make a house out of legos and rapidly melting ice cream. It’s a weird time, so I am calling in reinforcements, and tapping into some experts on how to keep my brain and body from exploding into a million pieces.

On Tuesday night, I attended Together, a traveling speaker series with Glennon Doyle Melton at the helm. You may know her blog, Momastery, or her book, Love Warrior. Her story is one of recovery and acceptance, with a huge amount of humor. She is monumentally brave with herself, highlights her vulnerability, and is above all, honest. She, along with host Jennifer Rudolf Walsh, have pulled together women from all walks of life, with incredible stories of bravery, love, and strength.

Right, so it’s a self-help-type thing, and my snarky, stubborn guts feels weird about things like this. They even gave you a little booklet where you write down your manifesto and strengths and dreams and a bunch of other things that are really hard to figure out in the allotted 45 seconds. My self-loving brain and my shit-talking brain had a long conversation about whether or not this is total garbage, and the self-loving side actually won.

Strangely enough, I like doing things that make me feel better about the hard parts of life, and I think it’s really valuable to listen to remarkable women talk about real, honest, vulnerable stuff. I get that this might sound like I’m elbow-deep in inspiring Pinterest quotes with stock photo sunsets in the background, but that’s fine.

So because I didn’t record the whole thing on my phone that really needs to be upgraded, below, are internet-provided clips of the ladies on stage. Honestly, these clips don’t do the  speakers justice, but you get the idea.

Glennon Doyle Melton

“We can do hard things.”

Dr Jaqui Lewis

“Friends, we need to vote like our lives depend on it, like our love depends on it.”

Seane Corn

“You only ever teach what it is you need to learn, quite frankly.”

Valarie Kaur

“We can tell our own stories, author our own articles, make our own films, launch new campaigns, influence government and the media, and organize through technology and innovation. We have the tools to make love public in ways we haven’t seen before.”

Gina Rodriguez

“You are enough today, and the second you accept yourself is the second everybody else around you does as well.”

caitsig

 

 


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T / biz notes / brain flotation devices

Photo Credit: Łukasz Cyrus

Photo Credit: Łukasz Cyrus

I don’t talk about it a lot, perhaps it’s because of the way I was raised (Chinese parents aren’t big on talking about emotions), or the way I am (an annoyingly and not healthful propensity for dealing with problems on my own…eldest child syndrome?).  But when I get a pause in the work flow, I don’t tend to enjoy it.  Instead, the anxiety monster lets loose and it gets biblical.  I’m not even religious, so if I’m comparing it to the apocalypse, it must be bad.  And perhaps it’s the change in the seasons (the monsoon is here), or the fact that work is picking up, but all the feelings are happening and they all are gunning for me to shoot myself in the foot.  These include:

  • I am completely and utterly uninspired.  I clearly suck.
  • Do I actually belong here? Or do I stick out like a sore thumb?
  • Why the heck are you hiring me?
  • I’m totally going to screw this up.  You’re really making a mistake here.
  • I should never have left [insert big well-paying international job]
  • Elevated heart rates galore.

The truth is, things are going great.  I am really happy about where I’m going and the rate I’m doing it.  I even bought myself a bunch of things (yay cookbooks!! and because money).  I really suck at self care when it comes to being mindful, but a series of great reads (and a watch) have epically helped me to get out of that stupid anxiety bear trap.  They either give me brand new ideas or validate things I’ve felt. And I read them over and over again when the monster sneaks in.  Because they are that great.


There are lessons in making it in comedy, slow and small, from one of my favourite performers.

Even the biggest creatives in the industry feel it too.

By November, I’ll basically working four very different jobs.  This is not at all a bad thing.

20 minutes of writing (or colouring in my case) is like a really sharp knife. (Thank you Victoria!)

Lessons learned. Lessons learned.  Lessons learned.  That’s three great sources filled with people who’ve been through it.

Wait. Here’s one more.

Oh right. One more.

The two-ish years of this career pivot were worth it, even if it meant a pay cut.

And here’s a crash course all about it (also Camille Rowe is a girl crush).

 


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C / five year plan gone to hell

the-walk

Photo by me, yesterday.

I did a five year plan, about five years ago. It turns out, I was wrong on almost every front.

Last week, I went through some stuff I had in storage with family friends in New Jersey. I found a book that my mom gave me when I graduated from NYU, titled Where will you be fiver years from today? I think it may have been a hint, along the lines of “kid, get your shit together.” My mom would never say that though, because she’s nice to me. It’s sort of an adult activity book and it poses life questions, with space to write your answers. It’s cute, a little cheesy, and walks your through what you might want out of your life with a range of mis-matched fonts.

In the section where you map out the things you want to accomplish, I was monumentally off base. Like so, so wrong. Let’s go through a few things I was right about first, because it’s a short list.

  1. Go to NY Fashion Week. I have been in town for NYFW, and I do fashion stuff, so I am counting it.
  2. Be rude back. Oh haiii, sassy Cait. Check.
  3. Live abroad. Double check.
  4. Write letters to gram and grampa. So grateful I did this one.

That’s pretty much it.

Now the things I was wrong about. At this point, I am freshly graduated, super optimistic about the world, and a truly hopeless romantic. Don’t you judge me.

  1. Speak Portuguese. I don’t even know why I wanted to do this.
  2. Get a photograph published in National Geographic. Um, no.
  3. Go to Greece. Not yet, still want to.
  4. Sky dive. I used to love jumping out of/off things.
  5. Marry that guy. Barf.
  6. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Nope.
  7. Start a nutrition-education program from the Hawaii school system involving cooking, gardening and exercise. SO specific. I think I really wanted to move to Hawaii.
  8. Dance with a company and perform on stage. Not unless “company” meant “by yourself in your undies” and “on stage” meant “in the living room.”
  9. Run 5 miles straight. I’m worried about the word use on this one…is that in a straight line? As a straight person? Without stopping? No to all, I guess.
  10. Have a baby and raise her in a place close to my niece and nephew. Cannot. And why did I assume that said baby would be a girl? Was I counting on technological advances?
  11. Have a “deli day.” I am not totally sure what this was, but if it was a day eating at only deli’s in New York than I am proud of my former self for this idea.
  12. Read the New York Times every Sunday. Oh you cliché monster.
  13. Get rid of self-doubt. Well, I just doubt different things now. Maybe half-credit on this one?
  14. Move to Fort Greene in Brooklyn and eat at Tom’s Diner once a week. There is no Fort Greene in Cambodia. And no Tom’s.
  15. Learn to surf. I think I had a lot of conflicting Brooklyn and Hawaii plans.

And possibly my favorite line from the book, and 28-year-old me:

 “I want to be as healthy as possible within the boundaries of cheese.”

Honestly, This little book was painful to read. I had a lot of very specific dreams that didn’t work out and that makes me feel a little sad. I want to hug 5 years ago Cait, tell her to stop drinking so much Jameson, and let her know that she will be fine, but she’s just super wrong about a lot of things. I would also like to tell her to work on her handwriting because that business is a mess.

The cool news is that you can be wrong, about almost every major thing in life, and still be fine. I might do another five year plan now, just so I can look back on myself and laugh in another five.

caitsig

 


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C / the endgame

gojoannago

Hello from a very comfortable couch in Brooklyn! I am here for a week, trying to get cool people to hang out with me, and eating everything I can reach. It’s going well so far and I am sure my jeans are just tighter because of the weather.

I love this city, and I know everyone loves New York because it’s the best, but I love it more. Being here takes me back to all the moments in Cambodia when I wished, with my whole body, to be here. Being on the subway and chatting with the deli guys makes me feel like myself. Deciding to walk instead of taking the train because it’s nice outside, makes me feel like myself. Bagels make me feel like myself.

I spent the last 48 hours doing some of my favorite things.

-Was at the bottom of a puppy pile

-Had pizza with a view of the whole city

-Saw my biggest lady crush, Garance Doré and smiled like a madman

-Giggled my way through fancy drinks and seriously delicious BBQ

-Had a few more drinks

-Ate oysters on a damn sailboat

-Was stalked by Heidi Klum walking around The Whitney

-Got to celebrate one of my favorite people, Joanna, for her birthday

-Talked for hours with a friend who has known me since the sixth grade.

I will happily move to LA in a few weeks, and I can’t wait to be there. I am ready to go hiking, eat every taco, and sleep with the windows open. I don’t know how long I will be there, or what will happen in the next few years, but New York is my endgame, it always has been. caitsig


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T / sparking creativity and mindfulness

colour-me-headerDuring my undergrad years I found myself on the verge of flunking.  Not joking.  My first couple of years out of high school were incredibly tough.  Pre-med was really tough.  I went to a really competitive school where it seemed like all of my fellow students seemed to magically get the oh so fun topics of inorganic chemistry and physics.  I knew this wasn’t for me, but I knew I needed to finish this thang and make my Asian parents happy with a science degree.  So armed with an quarter-life ADHD diagnosis  (finally a scientific reason for my messy brain) and a new outlook on learning, I started to ace my courses in the final couple of years of school.

And I owe it all to colouring.

I started studying things that required visualizations.  Political systems that needed to be fleshed out.  Concepts, like genetics and molecular biology, that begged to be drawn and coloured, basically.  My mind calmed down instantly.  All the swirls became logical.  I basically owe my undergrad survival strategy to a pile of colouring pencils.

Tiffany TsangFlash forward a decade and those jittery can’t focus feelings of are back with a vengeance.  I also have a tendency to get frustrated and restless if I’m not creating something.  But this time, I’m on the wiser side of thirty and I know how to deal with it.  My colouring pencils have returned and I’m planning on spreading the colour love across all of my friends.

And the experts all agree with me.  My pal Amy is an art therapist and uses colouring books to work with her clients.  There was even a freaking National Colouring Book Day in August!  Do I need to say more?  An article from the New Yorker?  Andy “Headspace” Puddicombe? It’s an art form that’s free of judgment.  Nothing is going to happen if you pick the wrong colour.  It is like dim sum for your creative soul.  Whatever shade your heart wants.

Tiffany TsangColouring books have also gotten so much better.  These aren’t the unicorns of your kindergarten years or the mandalas which are literally everywhere in the colour world.  We don’t have much on the printed side in Phnom Penh (does someone want to do a Cambodia-themed colouring book?), but there are a bajillion things you can download from the Interwebs. Hello Lemonade?  Or Chance the Rapper?  I love the uplifting colouring posters that Bri shared earlier this year (here and here).  And freebies from the lady who brought you Colour Me Swiftly?  All of them. Please.  You have no excuses.

Just remember to have a good sharpener around. colouring-book-4-sharpener


All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.