Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We Live in New York and I am 28

Either of those points would be newsworthy enough to have warranted its own post (at least in the world of Under Sundog!), but between the hubbub of moving, a full freelance load and other assorted life-business - making time is tough.

So 28. The twilight of my twenties! I've outlived a whole bunch of rock stars! I think I'm officially to old to ever be a Bond girl. Boo-hoo.

This year went by so fast it's almost scary, probably because so many things changed and I was never in one place too long.

Some things I did when I was 27:
Published a giant article on North Korean kidnappings
Took the Trans-Siberian
Visited Marfa and New Orleans
Moved to Austin
Wrote an essay on censorship, and a bunch of tech articles
Ate a lot of barbecue
Saw a lot of comedy
Took three improv classes
Finished a (very rough) draft of a novel
Spent two weeks on a sailboat in Southeast Alaska
Moved to New York (three days before turning 28!)

It wasn't easy transition into freelancing, but it's getting better and I'm leaps ahead of where I was 10 months ago. All told, it was sort of a strange year. Repatriating was kind of like being fresh out of school again. I felt young, or really I felt too old for the scrappy things I was/am doing. But I feel older too. I think I'm a more educated and empathetic person than when I graduated six (and a half!) years ago.

So New York. I really like it here. Not oh-my-gawd-I'm-gonna-live-here-forever like, but more this-will-be-really-fun-for-a-few-years like. I'd never though I'd live here, but I enjoy how life continues to surprise me. 

Why do I like it here? The diversity is incredible. We live in a Caribbean and Jewish neighborhood, we're not terribly far from Chinatown, we've had Asian food almost every other day since moving here. We finagled our way into a Lexus party during fashion week. I used to think LA was like a microcosm of the world, but New York is more so. And, and - I've had better Chinese food than anything I've had since leaving China. Thank you, God.

Book stuff: In our first week here, I dragged James to three literary events. I went to an online poetry class meet-up and I joined a fiction workshop. I've been in love with books since I learned how to read, and this is the first time I've been in a city that feels like it cares about writing as much as I do.

On my actual birthday (three weeks ago already, ack!): the Penske truck we split with another couple arrived. Amazingly, most of what James and I own fits in 1/6th of a Penske truck...and most of it is his! We helped the other couple put their stuff in storage, and then the four of us went to iHop (we were pretty, pretty far out in Brooklyn - the place even had a big parking lot) and we all ordered the eggs and hash combo. The waiters sang for me and I got a lollipop.

That was also the night of the Lexus party. So to celebrate 28, I also had 3 classy and free cocktails and felt incredibly provincial surrounded by models and fashion people. I could literally see the event photographers circling, taking a look at James and I, then moving on, like "Nah, not worth it." Ha ha!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Austin to Brooklyn

Our car went through 11 states in four days. We live in Crown Heights, which is in Brooklyn, now. I'm at the Brooklyn Public Library now because nobody has air conditioning in the city and it's too hot right now. I've been a New Yorker (lols) for almost 24 hours.

I have a plate full of freelance work at the moment, but I need to blog now before I start forgetting the trip. I'm probably already forgetting parts of it.

Moving out of our apartment was horrible for all the usual reasons. Heat. Packing. Stress. Then we spent a strange few days in limbo, sleeping in a friend's living room, before we left Austin Friday morning.

On the way out of Austin, James took an enthusiastic selfie, showing me in the driver's seat giving him dead eyes. It got a lot of Facebook likes. I told him he's always casting me as 'the shrew' in his social media, and he said it's cuz I always make those kind of faces. That's about right.

We drove in and out of accents: Austin, standard American English. Gas stations and fast foods between there and Memphis, southern accent. Memphis and Nashville, neutral. Arkansas was the boring-est state we drove through. That's not necessarily a reflection on the state of Arkansas, just the Interstate.

Outside Nashville, we stayed with one of my best friends from junior high. It was fun to meet her two children since I haven't even seen her since before she was married. I appreciate how Facebook and Instagram lets us stay loosely in touch with old friends. I've been following photos of her kids for years now, and when we started plotting our journey it was easy to remind myself that she lives outside Nashville. Her 2-year-old cried when we came up to breakfast Saturday morning. Debbie brushed it off and told me she'd give me some bacon to chum her with. It's cool when your friend's sense of humor and temperament hasn't changed in 13 years.

We stopped in a record shop in Nashville and ate lunch near Vanderbilt at a place with fried artichoke hearts. Our Saturday drive had the worst weather. The rain got so bad at one point we pulled off the highway.

Saturday night we stayed in Gainesville, near my brother's boarding school, which looks like a castle-fortress. He took us on a grand tour and we took him to a movie (ninja turtles). I slept for some of it. Had to be rested for all that driving.

James' dad sent us a very nice Austin-sendoff email (thanks, Mike!). He encouraged us to think about our 10-year plan on the drive. At first all we could come up with was "be back on the West Coast before we are 38." Then James declared he would grow a great big bushy beard. I decided to be a Nobel Laureate. And we are thinking about investing in a fleet of jet skis. In fact, if we make it to Seattle we will probably just commute on jet skis through the Ballard locks.

The rest of the south was a blur, so many billboards for steak and Chinese buffet and giant porn warehouses with big parking spaces (for truckers). We spent our third night in Roanoke. Virginia doesn't appear to allow all the big, horrible billboards. The drive was more scenic. Tennessee was the state we'd most like to explore more.

How else did we entertain ourselves? We listened to music loosely tied to region - bluegrass and folk rock in the south, there is a plentitude of songs about Tennessee so we listened to those. We listened to Rip Torn read some Kurt Vonnegut essays. I read James the entire company history of Cracker Barrel in a southern accent (we were trying to figure out how it got its name. Unrelated - but maybe related?? -- Cracker Barrel has a looong history of discrimination lawsuits).

In Pennsylvania, I'm pretty sure I saw one Amish girl in a long pink dress walking through a yard with laundry on a line. New Jersey was greener than I expected (probably everyone says that). When we made it to the Holland Tunnel, I played that Sinatra song (you know, that one), but I didn't get too much further into New York songs. It was still about an hour to our place, but the driving was stressful enough to curtail music.

It was exciting to get that first glimpse of the Empire State Building and the Manhattan skyline, I'm  excited to start exploring. There is a lot of the trash on the ground, like, everywhere. And the first thing we smelled when we found a parking spot was hot garbage.

We're subletting a room in a second-floor walkup. It's newly remodeled with high ceilings, but we're looking forward to getting our own place again soon. The heat is awful. When the wind changed last night, I could smell different strains of garbage-smell.

Today I did work and then we wandered around trying to find something to eat. It's exhausting being new to a place, not having your go-to spots or any food in the pantry. After lunch I cut off all my hair. Like, pretty much all of it. New city, new 'do.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I'm moving?

Our lease ends next week. James doesn't have a full-time offer yet, but there are way more jobs in New York and that's where all his contacts are, so the logical next steps appear to be: pack stuff, head east. 

I was all sad to leave Austin and then I went to make coffee and watched a cockroach scuttle into the water reservoir, and now I'm like, "Okay Texas, that's a wrap."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New Story Out

Another one for The Daily Dot. Check it out here

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Back from Alaska

​Most of you already know, I just spent two weeks in Alaska on a boat (albeit a much, much smaller boat than the one photographed in my previous entry).

It was an incredible trip. I think over the next few weeks I'll try to post a few entries about what I did and what it was like, plus include some photos. I posted an album to Facebook, but I know some people didn't see it. 

My ego isn't such that I require all my 600+ Facebook friends to see my stuff, but it would be nice if it showed up in the feeds of the people I'm close to, who might actually be interested. Last night I was on the phone with a girlfriend (not just any girlfriend, I stood in this one's wedding) and she asked about my trip - see, she knew about it because I'd told her on the phone about a month ago. She asked about photos, and I said they were already up. "I feel like all I ever see now is a bunch of updates from people I don't care about," she said. Me too. I had almost the same conversation (different girlfriend, different photos) several weeks ago.

In its efforts to sell us stuff, it seems like Facebook has abandoned its initial mission, which was to foster connection between the people we already know and care about. I guess I'll just have to start picking up the phone again, at least until Mark Zuckerberg 2.0 comes along and gives us something better.

Anyways - more about my trip soon. 

Until then, here is my impression of every single Alaskan I told that, although I grew up there, I now live in Texas:

wait for it...

Okay, more posts soon!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Docked on Cozumel


Submarine Coral Reef

Me and Nainai

Taken after James got an internship offer! More on that in a later post

After James graduated the entire Meiser family descended on Austin and we all piled into a mini van bound for Galveston to board a five-day Carnival cruise to Cozumel and Progreso (to see Chichén Itzá).

Nainai came all the way from Taiwan, first to Hawaii to see James' sister's graduation, then to Texas for the cruise. She's 85 and what a champ to do all that travel and eat almost all Western food for a couple weeks. When we all got caught up talking in English, she'd just take a nap. She was fine with all the Western food, James' mom said, because growing up in China (back when it was nationalist China!) she'd go eat at the hotels that served Western food, so she likes tiramisu especially. It was good to see her again, and this was most likely her last trip to the US.

The boat was fun. I've never taken a cruise before, but every day there are a ton of activities and gambling specials and shopping deals ... We did some of that stuff, like we went to see the shows every night, but the nicest thing was just finding a table on the top deck in the morning and hanging out and watching the ocean.

Cruise ships are also great for people watching (lots of people + leisure time). I witnessed several interactions over the week that were interesting:

1. As we were boarding the ship in Galveston a Carnival employee was trying to hustle people down the hall, away from the customs area. A woman told him forcefully she was not leaving because "she was waiting for a minor." The man barked into his walkie talkie "she refuses to leave." Eventually the kid showed up and the woman continued away, miffed.

2. On the pool deck I was in line to use the restroom. It was a tight space, a young woman in front of me asked in a loud voice before she opened a stall door, "is anyone still in there?" to a middle-aged woman exiting. The woman responded, "No one is going to help you if you are rude."

3. James and I got on an elevator. One floor up we were joined by a big group mostly comprised of giggling teenagers. They got off one floor later and next thing I hear James shouting at them. None of them will look at us. The adult in the group turns around to ask what's wrong and James tells him they've pushed all of the elevator buttons (we were on the 2nd floor, headed to the 9th). The man apologized. We continued upward.

The first instance in Galveston was funny because when the woman's daughter appeared, she basically looked like a full-grown woman. I suppose she was 15, but if someone had told me she was 25, I would have believed them. Even still, both parties, parent and worker, felt they were in the right. I think the bathroom issue was mostly miscommunication. The younger woman wanted to be sure she wasn't going to walk in on a kid, the older woman thought her tone was too demanding. Then what happened to us was just annoying, and the kids deserved to be yelled at.

The reason these three things were interesting to me is they all seemed like distinctly American interactions. They aren't scenes I can imagine playing out in the same way in China. I saw plenty of pushing and shouting and run-of-the-mill angry people when I lived in Shanghai and Beijing, but I think Americans feel more inclined to "teach" one another (i.e. complete strangers) what is right. I think this is probably wrapped up with our low power-distance culture and high value placement on individualism.

It reminded me of a New York Times article I read recently about spite. Usually that word is used in a negative context, but a group of researchers used game theory models to show the utility of spite. Basically, societies need people who will go out of their way, perhaps cause themselves inconvenience, in order to punish misbehavers. This provides a net benefit to the society as a whole.

Anyways, enough arm-chair sociology. The vacation was great.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Graduation and Some Updates

Squeaky wheel gets the grease, y'all. After complaining pretty much everywhere about my stupid fly ribbons PIC Corporation (who licenses the Raid brand for all this fly-killing business) sent me a free fly stick and a window trap. But after about a week of stalking flies in the kitchen and bathroom, they seem to be all gone. We even put bananas back out on the counter - heavens! - and we still haven't seen any. So I wont be able to evaluate these two anytime soon (or ever, hopefully!), but I appreciate the gesture. 

Elsewhere in business transactions: It is really lame that Red Box charges for a second day after 9pm. Everyone knows you're supposed to have until midnight. So that's lame. What's not lame is I went to West Marine to buy sailing gear for my upcoming adventure (June is just around the corner!) and had excellent customer service both in-store and then later on the phone in the process of ordering my boots and gloves online.

Okay, I think I've sufficiently buried the lead:

James graduated! Yay! Where does the time go, now he's a master - all of that good stuff. His job hunt is ongoing, so for the moment (and by that I mean exactly right now at this moment) we are two people at a kitchen table staring at our laptops trying to figure out what's next and where's next and how to get that cash monay! Millenials in tha house, woooo!

What's next immediately is a cruise down to Mexico starting this Friday with James' immediate family plus Nai Nai, coming all the way from Taiwan! There's basically no Internet on the boat, so in a couple weeks I should be able to tell you exactly how much Mandarin I've forgotten.