Single Guy Says ‘Is That Your Given Name?’

Lady Bird

Maybe it’s better that I always end up writing reviews for movies weeks after they’ve been out. Maybe we should stop thinking of them as ‘reviews’. The truth is, the movies I’ve most enjoyed this past year, they’ve all been complete surprises to me. I’ve known the least going into the movies I’ve come to love the most. Maybe what I really need, what I would rather do, is get the word out there so more people will watch it, and we can all have some really great conversations. Because let me tell you, a movie like Lady Bird needs no further praise or review. It needs to be discussed. To be remembered. To linger on the mind and on the tongue long after the credits roll.

I didn’t even see this trailer before I saw the movie. I barely recognized Saoirse Ronan in the movie poster, with a side profile and her hair dyed bright red. I did know she was in the movie though, and that was about as much as I needed to entice me to see it. She was hauntingly troubled in Atonement, dangerous in Hanna, and it is to my deepest regret that I have yet to see her in Brooklyn. I know, I know. It’s on the list, okay?

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Lady Bird is writer/director Greta Gerwig’s female coming of age counterpart to movies like Boyhood and 400 Blows. It centers around Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson’s wildly turbulent senior year and her aspirations for her future, investigations on love, and the volatile relationship between her and her mother. Laurie Metcalf as the mother is just incredible, alternating seamlessly between passive-aggressiveness, anger, despair, and joy as she tries her best to understand a daughter that seems so far-removed from her world.

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Look I mean, I get it. Going through high school here can sometimes feel like being the only zookeeper in a zoo where the animals run the show. And there have been plenty of coming of age films of late. Hailee Steinfeld, as beautiful as she is, makes for a convincingly awkward teen in Edge of Seventeen. I’ve even gone on to peg It as not only the best horror film of the past year but also a wonderfully accurate and nostalgic coming of age piece in suburban America. But Saoirse Ronan’s ‘Lady Bird’ character is the only one whose growth and development I care about as a person, as an actual story that I think about and wonder about after the movie.

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We go through a lot with Lady Bird in the course of the movie. Not one but two loves, a prom, college applications, fights with a best friend, an introduction to a passion for theater, and yet still it feels like there’s so much more we want to see and do. I can’t begin to tell you how captivated I was during the scenes between Ronan and Metcalf. Whether they’re trying to survive each other in the car or picking dresses for Thanksgiving and prom the interaction between the two seamlessly fluctuates between loving affection, violent aggression, and desperate confusion. The last scene juxtaposing mother and daughter just brought everything full circle in such an emotional and heartfelt way for me.

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I saw the trailer for this film for the first time when I looked it up for this post. This movie moved me so much that just seeing the trailer made me miss looking into this world, feeling for these characters, living through this story. It reminded me of the beautiful storytelling, the gentle, faded cinematography, like reliving precious memories on VHS. I wanted to be in that car again with Lady Bird and her mother, watching for the sunlight to peek through the bridges of Sacramento.

Single Guy Tries KAISEKI

A little while ago I wrote about my different experiences with multi-course tasting menus. There was my absolutely memorable experience at Momofuku Ko, the upscale, elegant service and attention at Jockey Hollow, and I also mentioned how much I wanted to try ‘kaiseki‘, a traditional Japanese multi-course meal.

Aoi Restaurant

After a lot of research, I finally found a place to do it that didn’t involve me flying fourteen hours across the world! Aoi is a Japanese restaurant located inside a Japanese Samurai Armorhotel chain in central Jersey. They only opened two years ago, but the beautiful decor, attention to detail, and the fact that they brought over an actual Japanese culinary graduate and executive chef with years of experience to head the restaurant has garnered Aoi praise from critics and regular diners. I can personally attest that the restaurant is absolutely stunning. Everything is soft wood and warm tones but the architecture is aggressively modern. There’s a long, beautiful sushi bar where you can watch their sushi team at work, and the restaurant has not one but two suits of samurai armor standing guard. I wish I could also personally attest to the quality and skill of the head chef, but unfortunately literally minutes after I had hung up the phone and made the reservation for my group, I received a call back from the restaurant to let me know that their executive chef was heading back to Japan for vacation the week of our visit. They assured me that they would still have a very talented team of chefs cooking in his stead, but without the executive chef I wouldn’t be able to order their ‘sakura’ level kaiseki, which was their most expensive and high end version.

Sushi Bar

Kaiseki typically follow a certain pattern to accentuate certain focuses on taste, preparation, and seasonality. Knowing beforehand what to expect really helped the meal Aoi Platingexperience. While those of us who did the kaiseki had a general idea of what to expect next, it was still a thrill to try and anticipate just what would follow, and how. There were a total of nine different courses, all beautifully prepared and presented. Every bite was a masterpiece, and even without their esteemed executive chef at the helm, if this is just a snippet of what to expect from their best, I am impressed. And eager to return for the real deal.

Sakizuke

Sakizuke (先附) : an appetizer similar to the French amuse-bouche

The first course was honestly one of the absolute best. A real mood-setter for what was to come. Comprised of a number of chilled small bite dishes, each one was bursting with flavor and detail. There was tender soy-sauce braised Japanese eggplant with saffron threads, grilled duck breast, firm tofu stuffed with vegetables, spaghetti squash, and the absolute star of them all, a delicious monkfish liver with sea urchin cream and salmon roe. The liver had the consistency and fattiness of your best foie gras but with a salty, slightly sweet quality of the sea emphasized by the sea urchin and salmon roe. It melted on my tongue way too soon, but I knew I was now ready for more.

Hassun

Hassun (八寸) : the second course, which sets the seasonal theme; typically sushi

Not much to say here, other than the sushi was mouthwateringly well done. The fatty tuna with tobiko on top might have been the star for others, but I’m a salmon fan way more than tuna, so I started with this piece, moved on to the red snapper, and finished with that thick piece of meaty, flavorful salmon. The rice was soft, fluffy, well seasoned, and just barely held together before bursting like a rice cloud once I popped it into my mouth.

Agemono

Agemono (揚げ物) : a category of deep-fried dishes in Japanese cuisine

My second favorite of all the courses, again gone too soon. Tempura battered and fried soft shell crab with Japanese shishito pepper. The pepper had slight spice, slight bitterness, but the crab was absolutely stellar. The bodies were full of the fatty, dark orange crab roe that seafood lovers would kill for. And the claws had plenty of meat, with everything yielding perfectly crispy crunchy bites. They were fried magnificently, and served with a sprinkling of sea salt. I couldn’t get enough of that perfectly done tempura batter crunch with the intense crab flavors.

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Yakimono (焼物) : (1) flame-grilled food; (2) earthenware pottery, china

My next course was a grilled filet mignon served with roasted vegetables and yes, it was even served on a ceramic dish. So check off flame-grilled and check off the earthenware. The filet was done to a perfect medium rare and seasoned with freshly cracked Japanese peppercorns. If you’ve never had Japanese sansho peppers, they have a slightly citrusy almost orange-flavor along with the bitter spice of regular black peppercorns, but they also have the unique sensation of slightly numbing the tongue and lips. There was just enough on the steaks for a slight tingling that was fun to experience while biting into that moist filet.

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Hashi-Yasume (箸休め) : direct translation is “resting of chopsticks”, it’s a refreshing side

Perfect for the fall season, this ‘meal break’ of sorts was a warming, satisfying clear mushroom soup with shiitake mushrooms and house-made silken tofu. Alone, mushrooms and tofu are often background flavors, not really strong or assertive enough to take center stage. But they’re both packed with that wonderfully earthy umami,and in this very subtly flavored, clear soup that umami is just so warming and filling on a cold Saturday night.

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Shiizakana (強肴) : a substantial dish, such as a hot pot

I was so glad that there was another opportunity to enjoy fresh salmon during my meal. The more substantial course was a rich, fatty salmon soup. They specifically used cuts of salmon close to the belly and the spine, full of fat and flavor. The belly portion, with the fatty salmon and the delicious salmon skin, were juicy and plump. The spine portion, perfect for flavoring the intensely rich broth, was a bit harder to get into, but fortunately the bones were large and hard to miss. What’s more, when you actually take the salmon spine apart, in between the joints are the cartilage, which is a crunchy delicacy for devoted seafood lovers.

Shiizikana

Tome-wan (止椀) : a miso-based or vegetable soup served with rice

The last course before dessert was not served with rice as is normally tradition, but instead had a wonderful silky tofu custard underneath a rich, fatty, gelatinous stew of mushrooms, crab meat, and squid. The broth has been boiled and reduced for so long it became slightly thick and the flavors were super concentrated. You’d take your spoon and stir the silky tofu custard with the thickened seafood broth and it created a wonderfully pleasing rich texture. You could taste the small individual strands of fresh crabmeat and dried squid along with the slightly chewy and firm mushrooms.

Mizumono

Mizumono (水物) : a seasonal dessert; may be fruit, confection, ice cream, or cake

Dessert was a nice cold bowl of vanilla ice cream, mint with gold leaf, and one of the strawberriest strawberries I’ve ever had. The main focus of kaiseki is of course seasonality, and fall is berry season. These local strawberries don’t grow as big because of how cold it is in Jersey, but instead stay small while still developing intense flavors. I bit into that little berry and was hit with big strawberry sweet and tartness.


All in all it really was quite a memorable experience. I can only imagine what it would be like with their executive chef back in the kitchen, but I can’t even begin to wonder how amazing it must be to have it in Japan, based on the incredibly beautiful and intricate photos I’ve seen of traditional kaiseki going on in Tokyo and Kyoto. I can’t say I’ve completely checked ‘have a kaiseki meal’ off my bucket list, but I can definitely say I’ve gotten pretty damn close.

I also want to give a shout out to the incredible team at Aoi that made the meal and the night even more special. Jeff, the bartender, makes a mean martini and Harumi, our ever-vigilant and helpful server, was unwaveringly friendly, warm, attentive, and gracious. I also have to say her sake recommendations for my meal  were absolutely on point.

Single Guy Tries Gordon Ramsay’s Roast Pork Belly

Thanksgiving at my house has never, ever meant ‘turkey’. We’re not ‘turkey’ people. While I’m sure the idea of a fifteen pound monster turkey can bring with it a certain ‘wow’ factor, when you’re accustomed to family bringing out a whole giant roast suckling pig for big parties, I don’t know, Butterball just doesn’t bring the boom. So once again this year, we were sans-turkey, but we definitely brought home the bacon. Literally.

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I was in charge of two things this Thanksgiving. The roast pork belly that would be the centerpiece of our spread, and a quick and simple breakfast to use up all the egg whites we had left in the fridge from my father’s leche flan (sweet custard with caramel that used a whole lot of sugar, a whole lot of sweetened and condensed milk, and a whole lot of egg yolks; no egg whites). In the Philippines we call the pork belly liempo, and we often eat it grilled over a barbecue in thick strips (think super generous butcher’s cut bacon). But my father saw Gordon Ramsay’s recipe for roast pork belly and wanted me to try and make that instead. (And thank god he asked me to do it, because he didn’t realize that when Ramsay said ‘180 degrees for two and a half hours’ he meant celsius.) Would have been a one-way ticket to Thanksgiving in the ER. I might not have been around afterwards to give you the report. It was a fairly easy recipe to follow; really the most important part was making sure that the pork had enough flavor to roast with. So along with the fennel, garlic, and star anise that Ramsay called for, I also added coriander seeds, orange zest, peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon (think more like a Chinese five-spice roast pork). The result was just as advertised. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out!

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The crackling was beautifully crispy, and so much fun to run my knife along just to listen to it. While the skin was crispy and crunchy, the meat, which spent most of its time submerged in that heavily flavored stock, was tender, moist, and absolutely packed with spices and herbs. Ah, wonderful. If I do say so myself. Hahah. The other dish I made to use up all the egg whites was a quick and simple frittata that I poured into individual muffin trays and baked in the oven. I beat the egg whites with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder, then poured them into the molds just below the top. My aunt brought some fresh mozzarella balls and I tore nice big chunks of mozzarella and placed them in the center for a gooey, cheesy surprise. Topped them with some prosciutto and spinach, then a generous handful of parmesan and sharp cheddar. Baked until they puffed up like mini souffles and flipped them right out of the mold. They baked like this…

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But  popped out looking like these…

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Aside from that it was a pretty simple Thanksgiving meal. We always have salt and pepper squid and sauteed Chinese broccoli, and this year we also got a large sushi platter from my favorite local sushi restaurant. We had my father’s leche flan of course, which went great with the Chinese egg custard tarts we picked up, and the frozen custard we still have from our Rita’s stock (perks of ownership is free ice cream all-year round). Mostly though, it was about the family we get to spend it with. My cousins are here for school now, but we don’t yet know where life will take them after it’s all done, so it’s nice to be able to celebrate while we have them. My great-aunt, and two other aunts were also over, and my brother had some of his friends stop by. Around 3am after everyone was long, long gone my brother and I snuck back downstairs and had a little late-night snack heating up leftovers and watching television. It’s what these times are really for, right?

Anyways, I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, hope you filled your stomachs as well as your hearts with food and laughter.

Single Guy Does Music Mondays: Sad Christmas Songs

So my cousins stayed with us over Thanksgiving weekend, and I’m driving the family to the movies (we say Lady Bird, which I absolutely have to write about later on this week) and of course it’s non-stop Christmas music on the radio the entire time and I ask my cousin if they play the same kinds of Christmas songs in the Philippines.

‘Sort of. Our Christmas music is a lot happier.’

I mean, I was really asking because I wanted to know if people in perpetually hot and humid weather sing about Frosty the Snowman and dreaming about white Christmases. But my cousin has a point I guess. There are definitely more than a few songs that have become holiday classics that are more likely to make you crawl into the fetal position than cuddle up to a warm fire. ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’ is famously about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the ever-present threat of impending doom. Try to get your jollies off of  that.

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So in honor of that, I’d like to give you some sad holiday music selections. And since it is the season of giving, I’ll even give you two.

NewSong’s Christmas Shoes is particularly memorable because there are three things in this world guaranteed to make my mother cry. The first is the scene in The Parent Trap when Jesse realizes that British Lindsay Lohan has switched places with American Lindsay Lohan and she is seeing the other twin for the first time in like, ten years. The second, funnily enough, is another Lindsay Lohan scene from Freaky Friday where Jamie Lee Curtis (as the daughter in the mother’s body) gives her rehearsal speech accepting her new stepfather and being happy for her mother. And the last is whenever Christmas Shoes comes on the radio. It’s just so cloyingly sweet and melodramatic, this little boy counting coins at a busy department store checkout line, to buy a nice pair of shoes for his sick mother. It’s just so goddamn warm and fuzzy you could knit it into a sweater. Ha.

So here is Dan Fogelberg’s song Same Auld Lang Syne. Which you should almost immediately recognize as the song that isn’t Christmas Shoes because both of their beginnings sound so similar and we often get thrown off whenever we hear it on the radio and guess wrong. While I can’t say it is as tear-inducing to me as Christmas Shoes is to my mother, Same Auld Lang Syne certainly always at least makes me stop to catch something welling up in my throat. The sentiment of a new year brings about hope and expectations for the future, but it is also a time when one can’t help but reminisce about the past. I don’t want to call this a ‘sad’ song though. Because I don’t think either the singer or the person the singer meets are particularly ‘sad’. Instead, I see this sort of acceptance, this quiet dignity of acknowledging each other’s lives, a melancholy moving on of sorts, that I envy. That I wish I could have. The ability to honestly accept and maybe even be happy with the way things turned out.

Maybe we need a few of these songs sprinkled into our holiday playlists. A little bit of balance to the overwhelming holiday cheer. I mean, could you honestly do all your Christmas shopping to non-stop Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey?! That hee-haw is why I’ll one day bum rush a mall Santa.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Single Guy Does Music Mondays, ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’

Neptune's Daughter

Well, Thanksgiving is only a few days away now. So you know what that means.

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Yep. That’s right. Turn to any station on your radio and you won’t  be able to escape the onslaught of Christmas songs. All Mariah Carey wants for Christmas is me, according to radio station A, and even though Christmas is actually thirty-five days away, radio station B is already giving me eight maids a-milking on the eighth day of Christmas. I don’t think anyone would ever really classify me as particularly ‘jolly’, but I’m a merry kind of guy. I like getting into the holiday spirit. I’m more likely to put a hat on a snowman than to run over Grandma with a sleigh. But I definitely think we keep starting the holiday stuff earlier and earlier each year. Thank god in the US we still have Thanksgiving at least as a sort of stop-gap measure. In the Philippines the Christmas decorations and mall Santas and music start as early as September. The ‘-ber’ months are peak merriment times.

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But what the hell. I’m an easygoing guy. I can lean into the curve. If we’re gonna do this, I’m gonna at least make sure I enjoy it. So if we’re going to have to listen to holiday music from now until midnight Dec 26th, let’s listen to something good. Something to hum and sing along too while we’re shoveling away the snow and sludge. So I’m going to start with my favorite wintertime song ever. A perennial favorite, I always look out for this song during the holidays, and throughout the year I’m always looking out, hoping for one holiday where I might have someone to sing this with. From the 1949 film starring Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams, Neptune’s Daughter, is the at-first-glance sweet but in truth completely creepy classic, Baby It’s Cold Outside.

I’ll be honest with you, it’s getting harder and harder to love this song guilt-free. Especially with the recent sweeping shocking revelations of rampant sexual abuse in Hollywood and in politics, you kind of want to separate yourself as much as possible from any sort of anything that could even be construed as possible harassment. And here’s this sickly sweet but sneakily sly song of suspicious intent. At its heart, I enjoy the game of cat and mouse, the playful art of the chase (*coughs*between two consenting adults*coughs*), and the flirtatious nature of what I perceive to be, both parties. I’ve always loved the idea of hearing it on the radio and singing along with a special someone while we drive around the neighborhood counting reindeer and Santa decorations. Simple. Innocent. Not. At. All. Creepy. So I do enjoy when, cognizant of the slightly weird undertones of the song, artists play on expectations and roles to make it a bit more modern, a bit more palatable. The original score only has the parts labeled as ‘mouse’ and ‘wolf’, so really anyone can play either, as exemplified by this wonderfully cheeky version with the smoldering Selma Blair and the absolutely in over his head Rainn Wilson. Or this tough, independent, modern 21st century woman parody by one of my favorite comedy duos, Key and Peele.

While I guess it’s utterly inevitable that some men will always be creepy, perverted, abusive, disgusting creeps, I think this song deserves to rise above its undertones. To me it will always just be one of my favorite winter songs.

Single Guy Says, ‘Shut Up and Take My Money!’

Last month Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire founder of alibaba (think China’s version of eBay and Amazon combined) put up a teaser poster for an upcoming martial arts short film. In it, Jack Ma stood in the center, surrounded by some of the biggest and most famous martial arts action heroes in Asian cinema. Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Jing Wu, and many others flanked the business magnate, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, all looking ready for a fight. A week ago, the movie was finally released streaming for free in YouKu, the Chinese version of YouTube.

Gong Shou Dao

Gong Shou Dao, loosely translated as ‘The Art of Guard and Defense’, stars Jack Ma as a mysterious wandering master. While walking down an alleyway, he notices an old, worn down sign for the ‘Huashan Sect. The ‘Huashan Sect’ is a school found in many Chinese works of martial arts fiction, known for its powerful kung fu masters. Jack Ma closes his eyes, and is instant transported to various martial arts movie and video game homages, such as an arcade, the gambling den of a Japanese gangster, and a mysterious mountain lake guarding an ancient scroll. Here, he begins his duels with these various martial arts masters.

The short movie is only about twenty minutes long, but it’s still a great chance to see an Tony Jaa.gifensemble cast of some incredible martial arts heroes. The choreography is absolutely brilliant, with Yuen Woo-Ping (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), Sammo Hung (Ip Man)and Ching Siu-Tung (A Chinese Ghost Story) all working together to create exciting, elegant, and brutal fight scenes. It was also great fun to see some actors who haven’t been as active recently. Jing Wu, one of my all-time favorites, who just starred in Wolf Warrior 2 a few months ago, is no stranger to the action movie screen, but Jet Li, who produced Gong Shou Dao, hasn’t really been Donnie Yen.gifacting much recently. He’s been much more occupied with his philanthropic work with various NPOs. He has a small part in the movie, but uses his time to showcase some truly impressive tai chi, which is a style very close to his heart. (He founded Taiji Zen with Jack Ma as a program that combines tai chi with meditation and other mindfulness practices).

In all, there’s a very threadbare plot, with very little rhyme or reason, and it’s hard to ignore the blatant sponsorship, or that this is perhaps an attempt to revive the slowly dying alibaba Entertainment group. But there’s never really too much opposition from martial arts fans to see some of their favorite heroes duke it out. It’s undeniably impressive that they are all still so fast, so powerful, and so much on top of their respective styles. It’s campy, old-school, wushu film fun, like the poorly dubbed imports of my childhood. In the end Jack Ma is abruptly brought back to reality by a hard hit from the local police, who reveal that in his dreamlike stupor he’d been fighting actual local police officers, and that when the debris and old branches are brushed away from the sign, it reveals the full title, which is ‘Mount Hua Police District’. It’s good for a laugh, and for a good twenty minutes of mind-blowing martial arts fighting. In fact, you don’t have to take my word for it. The whole movie is provided below.

I think the most important lesson to be derived from this though is, if you have enough money, you can star in your very own martial arts movie and get away with beating up some of your heroes. I mean, I’ve been practicing all kinds of different styles of martial arts for the past twenty years, but I’m no closer to getting a chance to punch, or be punched by, Donnie Yen. But if I were a Chinese billionaire, I bet my odds would greatly improve. Now to be fair, Jack Ma is actually a very devoted tai chi practitioner, which gives him a surprising amount of flexibility and nimbleness in the fight scenes. He even offers private lessons to other rich Chinese businessmen at the very low, reasonable price of around $14,000 US.

All I’m saying is, I’m a very simple man. I don’t need for much in the world. If someone would just give me an approximate price estimate of what it would take to get say, my A-team of martial arts heroes to choreograph a short fight with me, I’d almost immediately reply…

Shut Up and Take My Money

Jerel says, ‘shut up and take my money!’

Oh. And mushroom. I guess I say ‘mushroom’ too.

Single Guy Does Music Mondays: ‘Wicked Game’ by Chris Isaak

I was in my second year of high school when I had my first, real relationship with someone I cared for deeply and passionately and honestly. We literally ‘ran’ into each other our first year when she was walking with a group of her friends and we both came from different sides of a corner. I was late and going a bit faster than I should have and met the business end of her textbooks when I turned. She was surprisingly good-natured about it, laughed it off, and after I helped her pick her books up, just went on her way, laughing and smiling down the hall and straight to my heart.

On a good day, she could reach my chest. She was this tiny, adorable, petite girl with these round baby cheeks and an infectious giggle. She had incredible brows and smooth, wavy long hair and this unique complexion that I found out was from her British father and Korean mother. After our freshman year, when I really only saw her in passing, we became closer our sophomore year, when we would walk to Barnes & Noble together after school and play pool on weekends. When she went away during the holiday break to Korea, I realized just how much I missed her. I decided that when we saw each other back in school, I’d ask her to be my girlfriend.

She said no. Hahah. I was pretty surprised too. With not much explanation, she firmly said it wasn’t going to happen, and after the initial shock, I picked my pride up off the floor and carried on. I did a good job of ‘business as usual’ but my regularly charming self eventually wore her down, as near the end of our second year, we were an actual couple. And both really, genuinely, enthusiastically happy. We were each other’s first kiss, and she was the first girlfriend my family actually knew about and were okay with. We had a great summer together going to the city, at the mall, watching movies, I even cooked for her while my parents were at work. Going into our third year, I thought it would be even more of the same, if not better.

I mean, of course it didn’t work out that way. I just didn’t expect it to end the way it did. With an angry, aggressively hostile email from her father aimed at a very clueless and surprised sixteen year-old. Turns out, the reason why she initially rejected me wasn’t for lack of interest, but because her family follows a religion that is an offset of Christianity that practices arranged marriages. Against that, she still decided to go out with me. When her best friend, who happened to be the daughter of her pastor, found out, she of course told him, who of course told her father. And any father worth his salt can get into his daughter’s phone and find the email of the heathen boy trying to taint her.

Call it teenage rebellion, but something about that whole fiasco made her even more into me. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the angry email or the impending threat of eternal damnation that ended our relationship. Knowing that seeing each other was taboo, we had to be more careful and secretive. I couldn’t hold her hand or hang out by her locker, I couldn’t even walk her to class. We’d run off to B&N after school to have an hour or two together, and on the weekends we had to meet in large groups with other friends, lest anyone from her church or family saw us alone. Finally there was just one afternoon at school where we had snuck off to a stairwell to talk and spend some time together and her watchdog/friend started looking for her and she had to run off and I couldn’t take it. I broke down and started crying in that stairwell, tired of hiding, running, feeling unwanted and unworthy. I felt like I was being treated like the unblessed, unclean, devil child her religion wanted her to believe I was.

We broke up, really, truly, officially, actually broke up, shortly after that. Ultimately, I know that we weren’t really going to end up together forever. We were just young, naive, excited teenagers exploring love. I’m sure, given time, we would have naturally found the point where our paths would diverge. But I’ll never really know for sure. I’ve endured a fair share of heartbreaks since then. Always some riff of a painfully familiar story. Distance, time, fear, insecurity, other people, it all hurt, but they were always a familiar kind of hurt. I never encountered another situation quite like this one. I could understand the pain and loss of say, losing someone to someone else. To have them in front of you, to have their relationship to examine and say ‘well, perhaps she is happier now, perhaps they are happier now’. But it’s a strange and different feeling to know you couldn’t even get out of the starting gate to compete. To try. To know that this person you are attracted to, interested in, that you couldn’t even get to know them, to learn their heart, because it was already, and always, for someone else. That you could be at best, a momentary distraction, and at worst, a fleeting temptation.

Afterwards I learned as much as I could about this particular religion. Its history (started in Korea), founder (religious leader, writer, and businessman), message, and where it had spread across. I learned about the matching process, who was involved in the matching process, and the popular large en masse wedding ceremonies. I figured with enough knowledge and forewarning, I could insulate myself from another similar situation.

Which brings me to the really pretty waitress at the soba restaurant. I’ve been going to this restaurant semi-regularly, maybe every other week, since I first heard about it in July, and I’ve seen her almost every single visit. If she isn’t actually my waitress, we still recognize each other enough to say hi, chat for a bit, and off she goes to make sure to fill someone else’s cup of tea. It was pretty impossible for me not to notice her. Round button face, deep brown eyes, cute pixie cut. Then as you know, I started going even more often because I’d be meeting with my soba-buddy Emi. And completely separate of me, she really liked this particular waitress too. Specifically, as a potential partner for me. After she would say hi to Emi and I, chat for a bit, and move on, Emi would just fawn over her. How cute she was, how nice and sweet, how friendly, and how much she liked the idea of her for me. Hahah. And I certainly didn’t disagree. So I got to know a bit more about her. She started working there in April, she was from California, and then something really…interesting. I definitely knew she was Japanese. She spoke Japanese to Emi whenever she stopped by our table. But her name was Korean. A little odd. So I asked a bit more. Well, her story is pretty unique. Her father is Filipino (from Cebu, where my grandmother is from, which of course we bonded over), her mother is Japanese, but her pastor is Korean and he was the one who named her.

Hrm…it was starting to sound frighteningly similar. A mixed-race child with a Korean pastor who named her. Now considering 85% of young adults do this before a first date, I’m not ashamed to admit I tried looking her up on Google and Facebook. Believe it or not, even though I only knew her first name, girls with very obviously Korean first names and very clearly Filipino last names are pretty rare and easy to find. My heart sank at what I found. There she was on Facebook, and there was one of the groups she was involved in, and of course it’s a church youth group, and of course, there in the pictures with her, is none other than my high school sweetheart. My assumptions were right, she was a member of the same church.

I wrote in the past about how, now that my year of no relationships is over, I’ve had to open myself up to the possibilities of hope and heartbreak. To allow myself to feel excited and eager, and to deal with the fallout of those emotions. Last time, though I knew nothing would come of anything, I was grateful for the opportunity to feel those things again. I’m not so optimistically appreciative of this one. Maybe because I thought this was so much closer to potentially actually becoming something. And now, again, to have that feeling of knowing that no sense of connection, no form of attraction, no eagerness of attempt, would lead to anything. And to have that optimistic feeling shared with someone else, to know how much Emi is, in her own heartfelt and well-meaning way, trying to make this happen, also hurts as well. I can’t really let Emi know how much I’ve dived into her past, or how I’ve had past experiences with this particular religious group. I want to let her keep that excited giddiness, talking to her, looking at me, gushing after she’s left. But I’ll know for what it’s worth, it won’t be worth much.

I’m probably being silly. Melodramatic, for someone who is at best a casual acquaintance. Letting my emotions run ahead of my feet. This too, I’m sure, will pass. I just didn’t ever expect to experience this particular obstacle, this particular longing pain, again. Can’t change how my heart runs wild with hope.

Anyways, it just so happened that over the weekend I found this video of a stranger’s impromptu version of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’, and the lyrics, and the tone, and the mood, resonated with me.

Wicked Game

-by Chris Isaak

The world was on fire and no one could save me but you
It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do
I’d never dreamed that I’d meet somebody like you
And I’d never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you
No, I don’t want to fall in love 
No, I don’t want to fall in love
With you 
What a wicked game you played to make me feel this way
What a wicked thing to do to let me dream of you
What a wicked thing to say you never felt this way
What a wicked thing to do to make me dream of you
No, I don’t want to fall in love
No, I don’t want to fall in love 
With you
The world was on fire and no one could save me but you
It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do
I’d never dreamed that I’d love somebody like you
And I’d never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you
No, I don’t want to fall in love 
No, I don’t want to fall in love 
With you 
Nobody loves no one

Single Guy Says, ‘Non Ti Dimentichiamo’

One of my favorite recipes of all-time is spaghetti carbonara. This is real, soul-satisfying, stomach filling comfort food. With just a few ingredients (boiled pasta, guanciale or pancetta, fresh eggs, parmesan cheese, and freshly cracked black pepper) it’s simple and quick enough for a warming weekday dinner but also elegant and sophisticated enough for a romantic weekend date night at home. It’s also a perfect vehicle for improvisation and adaptation, such as my Filipino version of sisig (chopped crispy fried pork) carbonara and my aunt’s version in the Philippines made with cream, onions, and mushrooms which she always makes whenever I visit. All good, all rich, all satisfying, all guaranteed to bring people together.

So I’d like to take a moment to commemorate the man who gave me the best and only way to make authentic, true, Italian carbonara. A man whose contributions to Italian gastronomy and food culture have earned him the title of ‘godfather’. Antonio Carluccio, who sadly passed away today. If I ever had an Italian grandfather, I would wish for him to be Antonio Carluccio. With his beautifully robust accent, his gentle yet permanent smile, and his humble yet demanding expertise in the kitchen. I remember watching his video on spaghetti carbonara and rushing to make it myself. Finding clips of his show Two Greedy Italians on YouTube. And browsing the recipes in his many, many cookbooks.

I can’t stand when people seemingly try to hijack the tragedy of a celebrity’s death to somehow make it about themselves, inviting the comforting and consoling words of others. This is not my loss. In fact, I feel nothing but gratitude and appreciation for the work Antonio Carluccio has done for simple, authentic Italian food. I want as many people as possible to know about him. To try his recipes. To cook his dishes for friends, family, loved ones. To share around the table good food, good memories, good laughs, and good company.

Of remembering the dead, the Italians say that this is ‘non un giorno di lutto, bensi una giornata felice’ (not a day of mourning but instead a happy day). I imagine for Antonio’s family right now, after the sadness, there will be dancing, and feasting, and sharing. Of food and drink and memories.

Jerel says, ‘non ti dimentichiamo’ (we will not forget you).

Single Guy Does Music Mondays: ‘Omaha’ by Counting Crows

Greetings from Nebraska

Guess where I am folks?

After my week-long stint in Fairfax, I’m now in (not so) sunny Omaha, Nebraska for another week of training. Don’t know how well this visit will go though, as this time it’s not them who was asking for the help. I’m the proverbial hammer so to speak, sent down by corporate. Oh well. I could just distract myself with good food right? Except…I forgot my company card in my car…in the long-term parking lot…back at Newark Airport…in New Jersey. And so now I only get…fifteen dollars a day…

Is it Friday yet?

Oh and today’s prompt is ‘panacea‘.

Omaha

-by Counting Crows

Start tearing the old man down
Run past the heather and down to the old road
Start turning the grain into the ground
Roll a new leaf over

In the middle of the night there’s an old man
Treading around in the gathered rain
Hey mister if you’re gonna to walk on water
Oh, could you drop a line my way

[Chorus:]
Omaha
Somewhere in middle America
Get right to the heart of matters
It’s the heart that matters more
I think you’d better turn your ticket in
And get your money back at the door

Start threading the needle
Brush past the shuttle that slides through the cold room
Start turning the wool across the wire
Roll a new life over

In the middle of the night there’s an old man
Threading his toes through a bucket of rain
Hey mister you don’t wanna walk on water
‘Cause you’re only going to walk all over me

[Chorus]

Start running the banner down
Drop past the color come up through the summer rain
Start turning the girl into the ground
Roll a new love over

In the middle of the day there’s a young man
Rolling around in the earth and rain
Hey mister if you’re gonna walk on water, you know
You’re only going to walk all over me

[Chorus 2x]

Say, Omaha on a Sunday morning
I’m coming home today

Single Guy Says, ‘Give Jackie a Chance!’

The Foreigner.jpg

So last weekend I finally got to see The Foreigner in theatres.  In case you missed it, The Foreigner is an action-drama starring Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan. Jackie’s daughter is killed in an IRA act of terrorism in London and goes after Pierce Brosnan, a high-ranking government official in Northern Ireland with a deep history connected to the old IRA. It’s all based on a thriller crime novel by Stephen Leather called The Chinaman, and god am I glad they changed the name for the movie.

Now first off, I have to admit, I’ve been a lifelong Jackie Chan fan. Jackie wasn’t always the superstar entertainer, blending martial arts and slapstick humor, he is now. In fact  there was a time when Jackie was considered movie poison to many directors and studios back in Hong Kong where he started. But I’ve been with him through thick and thin. From humble beginnings in movies like Fearless Hyena and Sprititual Kung Fu to his first big break in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. I’ve supported him through the very best (Supercop, First Strike, Drunken Master) and the very worst (Rush Hour 3, Shanghai Knights) to the downright embarrassing (The Spy Next Door). So yes, I knew I would love this movie. But to be perfectly honest, I think anyone would.

Though The Foreigner’s IRA-heavy plot may be a bit harder to relate to nowadays, its central story of a devastated father desperately trying to seek justice for his daughter’s Foreigner.gifdeath is certainly timeless. Now I’ve seen Jackie in dramatic roles before, so I knew he had the acting ‘chops’ to successfully pull off dreary, depressed, and devastated. I think mainstream Hollywood and the majority of western audiences were a bit more skeptical going in. But Jackie was a great contrast to the slick Brosnan. Individually, each performance was excellent. Jackie played a truly convincing grieving father with a deadly and dangerous determination. Brosnan was Foreigner 2.gifconvincingly untrustworthy as a manipulative and cunning former terrorist-turned-politician. Orbiting around the two are the concerted efforts on two different fronts trying to solve the mystery of the bomber’s identity: the old-guard of the IRA and the British counter-terrorism unit. Now as a movie, it works, and it works well. I was thoroughly entertained, gripped, and at times emotionally moved. But there are some problems with the film. And it’s a problem Foreigner 3.gifthat many have already identified. The Foreigner feels like two separate movies. An IRA political thriller starring Pierce Brosnan, and a revenge action movie starring Jackie Chan. There’s very little direct interaction between the two main actors, and instead of playing a game of cat and mouse, it feels more like a game of cat and…I don’t know…alpaca.

While the seemingly large gap between Jackie and Brosnan’s roles is certainly a symptom, it is not the actual problem. The real problem for me is that western directors still don’t know what to do with Jackie other than to either put him in the role of action Little Big Soldier.jpghero or comedy sidekick. It’s all fun and games when Jackie goes on Conan and asks for a romantic role, but I think it’s a real actual shame that Jackie’s honest to goodness skill as an actor and not just as an entertainer isn’t being put to full use. I have a full catalog of great, incredible action movies starring Jackie from his younger glory days. I’m not worried about that. But if Jackie isn’t given opportunities outside of his martial arts background, I’m worried that in these still many more years that he is able and willing and honestly, outstandingly capable, we’ll be the ones who lose the most. As Jackie has said, he wants to be known as an actor who can fight, not just a fighter who can act. And I say the problem is only with western directors because in Asia, he’s had these great opportunities to really show audiences what he can do beyond just kicking and punching. More recently he was in a darker, standalone film in his Police Story series, Police Story: Lockdown. Combining action and drama, he had a great supporting role in the Chinese epic Little Big Soldier. And perhaps one of the best films to portray Shinjuku IncidentJackie’s real range as an actor is the crime-thriller Shinjuku Incident. Now I get that a punch and a kick is easy to understand in any language and requires no translation, and that good drama relies heavily on the ability of the actor to deliver his lines. But still I feel that in this western attempt to use Jackie in a more dramatic capacity, it just felt too hesitant to let him really go beyond expressing some sadness before deftly swinging on a pole from the second story roof of a house to the ground below. Either way if you want to watch a pretty impressive political action thriller, you should check out  The Foreigner. But if you want to see Jackie, what he could be capable of past Rush Hour 4, 5, 6, please check out some of the films I’ve mentioned here.

Jerel says, ‘give Jackie a chance!’