30 September 2016

Best Chinese Movies

Even if you don't normally watch films in Chinese, here are some films that I think are worth a watch even if you have absolutely no interest in the language. Several of them tell beautiful, heart-breaking stories full of love. Others are more quirky and unexpected, and all give little glimpses of Chinese culture.

You'll note, sometimes I compare the Chinese film I'm describing to a Western film--this is not at all to say that is where the film was inspired from, or anything of the sort. Each of these are their own unique creations. However, much of my blog audience is probably a little unfamiliar with East Asian films, and I wanted to give them something relatable as a way of describing the film, so that hopefully they are a little more willing to step out of the comfort zone of English films and try a Chinese movie.

1. Coming Home

A daughter who betrays her own father after he escaped from prison during the Cultural Revolution. A wife who loves her husband desperately but suffers mental trauma and some sort of dementia--so that when he finally returns to her, she cannot recognize him as the husband she loves. Vaguely reminiscent of The Notebook, but since I utterly detest The Notebook, I'd have to say this one is much better.

2. To Live

This one is kind of a no-brainer as far as a Chinese movie recommendation, as it's extremely well-known, directed by Zhang YiMou. Takes place over many years, beginning a few decades before the Cultural Revolution and following a family through several decades

3. A World Without Thieves

This is a can't-look-away film about a simple country boy on his way home, carrying a lot of cash from the job he's worked at for years. He attracts the attention of two separate groups of thieves--one of the professional thieves feels sympathy for him and decides to protect him and his money at any cost. There's so much going on and you have no idea how the movie will end--I'll just tell you that the ending is one that would surprise pretty much any Western viewer. Chinese movies are MUCH less predictable than American movies in my experience, and it's probably just because of different expectations.

4. The Road Home

A romance, in which a son, who has returned home on the occasion of his father's death, tells his parents' love story, which has become the stuff of legend.

5. Finding Mr. Right

A 'romantic comedy' with the most interesting premise: a pregnant Chinese woman comes to the USA to give birth, staying in a home that exists for the purpose of housing Chinese women until their babies are born and receive their USA citizenship. This premise is based on the real-life phenomenon of some unmarried Chinese women who want to have their babies in America--something that I didn't know happened until I watched the film.

6. Shaolin Soccer

Just plain funny underdog sports movie. Kind of like something along the lines of The Mighty Ducks, only with martial arts, soccer, and a totally different feel from a sports movie in the USA.

7. Wolf Totem

Also taking place during the Cultural Revolution--a city boy is sent to the northwest to live with a nomadic tribe. He makes friends with a wolf, and there's a lot of drama, and he does some very silly things because he doesn't really know how to be a nomad in a frozen world. I was fascinated with this because it gave a good glimpse of a part of China that is less represented than the more well-known southern and northern big cities.
25 September 2016

When Your Sister's Getting Married

My sister got engaged in August. It's a pretty big deal for the family.

One of the cool things about starting off with an abnormally large number of siblings is that you're bound to end up with an abnormally large number of siblings-in-law and odds are you'll like at least a large percentage of them, which expands the number of people 'on your team', so to speak. Yes, from a purely selfish perspective, it's good for you when your siblings get married to awesome people. It's also good for them.

But what exactly are you supposed to do when your little sister announces her engagement and plans to wed in the next year? I've never been in this situation before. I'm the only married one among my siblings. How did they all feel when I announced Angel's entry into our family? What did they do about it? I can't really remember how I felt, let alone how they did, that year was kind of a blur for me.

So, how should you respond to this joyous news?

1. Successfully resist the urge to tell anyone you're not supposed to tell until the engagement news is made public. I'm giving myself a pat on the back for this one. I hate keeping secrets, it's just the worst, but people deserve the chance to share their own good news in their own good time, so don't spill when you've been ordered not to.

2. Don't compare: fiances, rings, engagement timelines, wedding budgets, wedding dresses, wedding day gorgeousness. Realistically, she's definitely going to "win" on some points and you're going to "win" on others and everybody will be left feeling awkward and not completely happy if you and others are busy comparing. Complete happiness, people!! Truthfully, you wouldn't want to be married to anyone else, so it doesn't matter if your sis's ring is bigger or her dress is prettier or her guy is taller. None of those '-ers' add up to make the guy you're head over heels for, anyway.

3. Remember that uniqueness is what makes everything awesome. Err on the side of support rather than critique. Odds are, the bride is going to get enough critique from family members belonging to previous generations when it comes to her wedding planning. Times have changed, and they don't always approve of the changes. As long as she's not truly planning something unsafe, unkind, or illegal, you, being a sibling and belonging to the same generation, should probably support it.

4. Don't speak overly negatively about marriage. In the season of being engaged, it's very advisable for your sister to seek premarital counseling, to read some marriage prep books, and to talk to people she trusts about concerns that she might have, and to think through whether she's ready for the commitment. What she doesn't need is another, more experienced, wife constantly winking and joking about what a drag husbands are, and how all the fun in life is before marriage. If you actually believe that, go get some marriage counseling, but if you don't, and you're just joking around and trying to freak her out, stop. Not helpful.

5. Celebrate her! If you're there--host a bridal shower. Make shopping for wedding decor fun and go out for lunch in between wedding errands. I'm not around for my sister, but I'm already developing schemes for a virtual bridal shower because it would be a shame to let my epic party-planning skills go to waste just because I don't live in the same country. Write her cute letters, make her a wedding day countdown, send her a surprise wedding gift. Remember her favorites--colors, movies, songs, hobbies--and find ways to tie them into your celebration of this exciting change in her life.

6. Offer your help--if you can and if you want to. Don't offer to help send out invitations or DIY flower arrangements if you're busy and are going to resent spending time on a project for her event. Don't offer to do something and then not to it, or do a slapdash job of it. Do offer if you are skilled in some area, have the time, and want to make life a little easier on her. I love DIYs and basically everything to do with getting ready for an event, but I'll be content with helping digitally from a distance since I'm not there.


How have you found practical ways to show your love and support when your sibling announces that they're getting married? After June, we'll only have 5 more rounds of this to go in my family...
20 September 2016

A Practical Wife

Now, that's not something I could call myself in most areas of life. I have an artist's personality--complete with strong streaks of impracticality--particularly in the areas of fashion, hobbies, hair color, and preferred foods.

But, when it comes to love and romance, I'm quite practical.

My sisters noticed a pretty vase full of flowers on my table this past weekend, and wanted to know why Angel gave me flowers. The story of how I got them is characteristic of our relationship--I was a bit mad at him for something he did, and he knew I wasn't too happy, and that he'd been a little thoughtless. He was at the grocery store, and I knew I'd be completely over it if he brought me back a little present from the store--but I also knew he'd never think of that simple solution, a quick, cheap, "I'm sorry" gift. So I texted him, "Hey, I suggest you bring me home a present from the store." He walked in the door an hour later with grocery store flowers, and all was forgiven.

Later, I asked him whether he would have thought of the idea of buying flowers if I hadn't texted him, and he said, "No, but that was a great idea! Thanks!"

When left to his own devices, Angel does stuff like buy me a rubber band ball for our first Christmas together (3 weeks after we got married). Or...wrap up a bunch of stuff I already own and give it to me for my 21st birthday.

If I weren't quite so practical, things like that would frustrate me. In fact, they did frustrate me at the moment, but the fact that he is not naturally good at buying presents is not something I'm going to let thwart me. I am very clear now with what I would like to receive for birthdays and special occasions--for this past birthday, I offered the idea of going to Japan to celebrate both of our birthdays and he thought it was a great idea, so I planned the birthday trip myself.

I could have waited in restless anticipation to see what kind of very special plan Angel would have come up with for my 25th birthday, but to do so would have been cruel, setting myself up for disappointment and him up for failure. Recognizing strengths--that between us, I'm the best at planning and surprising and celebrating and knowing what fun adventures I'd like to have in life--and acting on it, sets us both up for success and a happy marriage.

At various times, I've given him a list of the things I like, so that if he's ever inspired to buy me something or plan something fun, he has some ideas and doesn't have to start from scratch.

For us, the open relationship where I tell him when I want apology flowers and what he ought to buy for my birthday and ask him if he could plan an anniversary getaway every other year--it works well. The celebratory wife gets all the celebrations she wants and doesn't pout because he doesn't think of it himself, while the un-romantic husband doesn't struggle trying to interpret hints or clues--he has a list in his wallet of all of his lady's favorite things.

I like Angel just the way he is. Romantic, thoughtful people might not make the best prank-pulling partners. They might not name their pets Morphine and Amoxicillin. They might not give me nearly so many laughs at all the odd, forgetful, or purely random things they say, like asking complete strangers whether or not they were breastfed as an infant. Actually, I'm pretty sure a genuinely thoughtful person would NEVER ask that. He's not very thoughtful, and I like him that way--but I make sure I give him the tools he needs to help him be thoughtful when he needs to be.
18 September 2016

Ode to Ramen

For a good chunk of my life, I've had a natural aversion to most 'junk foods' or 'fast foods'. I don't like McDonald's or KFC or Burger King, I don't like cake, I don't like pie, I don't like bacon, I don't like candy bars. I like original flavor potato chips but not any other flavors. I don't like french fries unless they are homemade. And I don't like ramen.

At least, I didn't like ramen until I went to Japan in July.

And, obviously, happened to fall in love with real ramen there. I swear, I'd go back for the ramen alone.

Since returning from Japan, I've been on a quest to find Japanese ramen restaurants here in Malaysia. I went to one in KL that was quite good, and we've heard rumors of a very authentic place in our hometown here, and are planning to try that one out soon.

In the absence of amazing ramen restaurants, I've even been finding myself making instant ramen for the occasional meal. I was the college student who ate homemade sandwiches or salads, not instant ramen. The instant ramen isn't anywhere near as good, as what I had in Japan, but the fact that I'm eating it, and even craving it, after having never on-purpose eaten instant ramen for as long as I can remember...that's pretty weird.

I've discovered my perfect recipe for a beefed-up, healthified instant ramen which still isn't healthy, but makes the anti-junk-food advocate inside me a little happier. This is how I make mine, with my favorite variety of instant ramen (a spicy flavor):

1) Shred a whole carrot into the pot.
2) Add a couple chopped leaves of some green leafy veggie (bok choy, kailan, etc)
3) Add a spoonful of minced garlic and a couple stalks of chopped green onion.
4) Add in the water, about 1/3 to 1/2 of the ramen's flavoring packet, and bring to a boil.
5) Add noodles.
6) Drop in an egg.
7) Stir, and remove from heat when noodles are done.

We all have our weaknesses. I thought my only major junk food weakness was original flavor potato chips with french onion dip. Now I've discovered a new one...

What junk food is your biggest weakness?

13 September 2016

On the Subject of Baby Names

My 9-year-old sister Sarah asked me, while I was innocently scrolling through instagram, "What's your favorite movie character?"

I answered, "Captain Jack Sparrow."

She said, "Okay, then, Jack." She continued, "What's your favorite color?"

I answered, "Purple, like my hair."

She said, "Purple Jack. Hmmm...well, what's your favorite flower?"

I answered, "Black Roses."

She said, "Black Jack. Okay, that could work."

I finally asked, "What is going on here?"

She answered, "I heard that when people think about what to name their kids, they think about their favorite movie or book character, their favorite color, and their favorite flower, and put names together from that." a result of that very scientific approach, my kid is going to be named Black Jack or, possibly, Black Purple Jack, but that doesn't sound nearly as cool.

MaryGrace joined the conversation by saying, "I've always thought it would be fun to name my kids after flowers and plants: like Rose, Lily, Violet..."

Sarah interjected, "Chrysanthemum!"

Rachel, "Hyacinth! Dillweed! Spruce! Lady's Slippers! Hibiscus! Snapdragon!"

MaryGrace, "Uhhh...guys...not every name of of plant or flower, okay..."

Baby's Breath! Pansy! Fir! Thistle! Pitcher Plant!

Count the next generation blessed that we're not given the task of naming anyone right at this particular moment in time. Of course, don't be surprised if, ten years down the road, Black Jack is happily playing with his baby cousin Chrysanthemum.

P.S. I named my brother, Isaac, when I was 3 years old. My parents couldn't come up with a name, I piped up, "How about Isaac *middle name*?" and thus altered the course of his life.

So....I want to know what your kid will be named, using the favorite character, favorite color, and favorite flower approach. Seriously! Do it! And I dare you to get a cooler name than Black Jack.
11 September 2016

My Favorite Youtube Videos

Watching Youtube videos has become a completely normal method of home entertainment. Who would have thought? I mean, didn't you used to have to drive to Blockbuster and pick up a tape if you wanted to have an evening in, watching something funny on the TV? Times have changed, and now we subscribe to favorite channels, look forward to new Youtube videos, and watch our favorites repeatedly. Here's what I'd watch if I wanted to spend a lazy hour enjoying my all-time favorite funny videos:

Bushes of Love - Bad Lip Reading
This song will randomly get stuck in my head for days at a time. It makes no sense and I'm not sure why I love it so much, I just do. It vaguely reminds me of the Jabberwocky poem and my also-nonsensical love for that.

Kid Snippets "Mean School Nurse"
This one appeals to my fear of medical personnel. They can be really, really evil.

The Absent-Minded Robber - Studio C
This robber reminds me so much of my mom that that's probably not the kind of thing I should record on a public blog. But that explains why I have very tender feelings toward this absent-minded robber.

Pirates of Central Park - Improv Everywhere
Pirates? Pranks of the sort that make everybody actually laugh and smile instead of feel embarrassed? That's exactly my kind of thing.

Straight No Chaser - 12 Days of Christmas
Christmas all year long with this not-so-classic carol.

Like a Good Boy - NigaHiga
First of all, I love the increasingly bizarre facial expressions Ryan has throughout this video. Plus, as a natural goody-two-shoes I just have a special place in my heart for a tough song that's all about being good, thoughtful, and obeying all the rules.

Two Feet Away - Seven In All
I'm not even embarrassed to admit how much I love my own song parodies. I'll find myself singing them randomly or giggling at the goofy scenes we included when I'm not even watching the video. Being able to laugh at yourself is a good thing.

Phantom of the Opera - Lindsay Stirling
An outlier, because this one is not actually funny. My brother sent it to me a long time ago, saying he thought I would appreciate the hair and the clothes, and...I love them. I also like the Phantom music, too.


What's your favorite Youtube video to watch again and again?
08 September 2016

Random News and Life Updates

Give the kids a jump rope and they'll be occupied for hours...whether they'll be safely occupied is a completely different matter. This is so rare for me, but I'm linking up with Stuff and Things since I figure a random thoughts/stories/updates post should be posted approx. once in a blue moon.

-I got interviewed for the local Expat Magazine for the Sept. issue and since I'm not really sure on how to get a hard copy (it's the kind of magazine that usually I find in coffeeshops and such), I was impatiently waiting until the September issue was uploaded online, and it's finally there on the website. My article is on page 80, if you're curious.

-One lazy Sunday afternoon recently, Angel didn't feel like going running, so he got on his computer, signed up for a 10K this month and a half-marathon next month, and then miraculously felt like running. I still felt like having a nap.

- I went out to buy a sewing machine last week. My Mom's desire for me to sew costumes for VBS this year is what has tipped the scales. I'm dreaming of designing dresses and skirts again. The baby sister wants a WonderWoman costume designed for her superhero-themed 10th birthday party. We actually found an appliance store with two sewing machines but they were both out of stock, and they may or may not be on sale in a few weeks, so we'll try again later. That's shopping for you.

I won a giveaway, and Kira drew a cartoon of me--wearing the outfit from this post:

-I was reading a Bible story to the kids, and it was the story of Moses' death. I read from the children's Bible story book, "Moses died, and God buried him somewhere in the plain." Granted, this is a bit of an unusual tale, even as Bible stories go, but I was surprised when Shiloh burst out: "WHY DID GOD BURY MOSES IN AN AIRPLANE?" It took me a while before I understood...plain...plane... and then we talked about what a plain means as a geographical term. And I'm still cracking up about it.

- On Malaysia's Independence Day I had a holiday, and some free time, so I obviously used some of that time to paint a bunch of triangles on the dresser that I painted a pineapple on a few months ago. Can you tell that I only own two colors of paint? I think I'd like to add a sunshine peeking over my triangles that vaguely resemble a bumpy horizon...but that would mean investing in a tube of yellow paint and I'm not sure I need that kind of commitment right now.

-Every time I look in the mirror I think: "Man, I really love my purple hair." Sorry if that seems rude. I've never been great at pretending to lack self-confidence.

-My little sister went on vacation and got engaged at the Grand Canyon. What a coincidence! Now we're talking wedding hair and reception nachos. The Malaysian side of the family is eager to meet her guy. Angel, I, and my parents and siblings have an advantage over the rest of the family here because we actually have met him, and I gave him a haircut a few years ago, which totally gives me almost SIL status already. Because all the people I do hair for these days are either related by blood, marriage, or unofficial adoption.

What's new with you and yours?
06 September 2016

More Homesick in Summer

I've come to the conclusion after 2 years abroad, that I miss the USA ever so much more in the summer. I usually hear from expats that they tend to miss their homes and families most around the holiday season.

Guys, I'm from Michigan. There's no way November-January are going to make me feel nostalgic for my life in the USA. When I think about the holidays in Michigan, I think about sliding off the road due to black ice on the interstate while driving cross-state to my grandparents alone because Angel worked on Christmas. Yep, that happened. Such memories do not tend to induce a whole lot of homesickness. Here, us teachers get Christmas Day off, and we could even go to the beach if we wanted. I like Christmas in the tropics. I love year-round summer. But I also love a lot about summer in Michigan. These photos are from the summers of 2013 and early summer 2014:

And that's probably why I have such fond feelings toward summer in Michigan.

Because there's so many awesome things you can do during those summers.

1) Visit community events like tractor shows, swing dancing nights, and county fairs.

2) Have picnics at parks with soft green grass.

3) Plant a garden and harvest from your own yard.

4) Set off fireworks in the driveway and chase lightning bugs.

5) Go on long bike rides down country roads.

6) Visit Michigan's lakeshore and the islands in the Great Lakes.

7) Get together with family and friends for summer barbecues.

8) Watch parades and accept gifts of candy from your little cousins because they aren't allowed to eat refined sugar.

9) Pick wild black raspberries in the woods behind the house.

As Michigan's summer draws to a close I think I'll feel less drawn to it, less homesick than I've been lately. Some people like fall, but I've never been the biggest fan. Cold mornings and evenings with warm afternoons just makes getting dressed confusing. Now that's something I'll never complain about here--no matter what hour of the day or night, I can expect it to be hot. This summer I've missed my yard and garden and bike and the chance to explore my country at its most beautiful. I'll tell you what--don't be surprised if, whenever we go back for a visit, that visit happens during summer. But for now I'll just keep enjoying Malaysia's eternal summer--and relishing the fact that I never, ever have to scrape ice off my car windows. Not even in February.

If you live away from one of your homes, during what season do you experience the most homesickness?
04 September 2016

Strawberries and Cream - Angel's Pick from Harajuku

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd bought 2 dresses while shopping in Harajuku, in Tokyo, because Angel and I each had a favorite. This is Angel's favorite. Anyone want to hazard a guess at what his favorite fruit is?

Wow! You're right! How could you possibly have known that?

Oh...yeah...I'm wearing about 257 of them.

I wasn't as big a fan of this dress because I think the cut is a bit less figure-flattering (us girls always think on such practical terms), and I'm not the biggest appreciator of bows--and this dress has only slightly fewer bows than strawberries. It does, however, meet my style criteria of being one 1) Not too boring and 2) The sort of dress that's not easily forgotten, so I went along with Angel's strawberry-induced suggestion. It should be noted that I don't buy all the clothes Angel wants me to. I buy about 1% of what he suggests--if this is the 1% that makes it through, imagine his usual shopping advice.

Somewhat surprisingly, it's really easy to feel confident in a dress such as this. It's like--if these bows and these strawberries are confident enough to flaunt their existence all over the place, then I should at least be confident enough to go on a date with my favorite man wearing a dress that might attract a confused stare or two...

Do you ever listen to your husband's fashion advice? Does it look anything like a strawberry shortcake reincarnated as a dress?
01 September 2016

Off-Beat Places to Eat in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Normally, our family tends to be the type that makes vacations more affordable by getting our meals from grocery stores while on vacation. This is a very useful strategy, but on our recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, Mom requested that we alter our strategy a little bit and incorporate some 'food tourism' into our travel schedule, taking the time to check out off-beat restaurants with cuisine that was more interesting than the average loaf of french bread at a grocery store.

That sent me to the computer, searching for what interesting restaurants were in the area and didn't have too high of price tags, and these were the fascinating food experiences that we found:

Magnum Cafe

Dude. You get to design your own ice cream bar, choosing the ice cream flavor, the chocolate coating, three toppings, and the flavor of the chocolate drizzle. Somehow, this is the coolest thing ever. Not too crazy expensive, either, with the ice cream bars priced at just under 10 RM. For a tasty dessert AND the fun experience of creating your own combination, along with the chance to sit and eat in the beautifully decorated, quiet cafe--so worth it.


Panchos Mexican Taqueria

We loved this place so much, we ate here twice! I wouldn't really call it a 'taqueria', though...probably nobody who has spent much time in Texas would call it one, as it's really a completely different sort of feel than an actual neighborhood taqueria. I would describe it more as a Qdoba or Chipotle type of restaurant--only better, because our meals tasted significantly better than anything I've had from those two chains. I got the Chipotle Beef Nachos at both meals, because they were so good I couldn't pass up a second opportunity to eat them, but everyone else really enjoyed their meals, too!
And there's a pinata, which Angel would appreciate, because he believes it's not a party till there's a pinata!


Out of Africa Restaurant

We were looking for offbeat places to eat. We weren't really looking for Malaysian food, because we can eat that all the time. Something we can't try every day is South African cuisine. We arrived at Out of Africa just about the time it opened for lunch, and had the whole restaurant to ourselves. We enjoyed the meat from the braai--and Dad got a lesson in pronouncing boerewors, though I'm not sure he could do it again.



Okay, perhaps this one doesn't sound as off-beat, but we were startled to stumble across this A&W in KL and stopped in for a couple of root beer floats. Being here was a somewhat surreal experience, as the design of the somewhat shabby building and the sprawling parking lot made me feel like we were back in the USA at a fast-food joint. Stand-alone restaurants with large parking lots all to themselves are not at all the norm here, where many times, dozens of restaurants and shops are packed into strip malls and you have to fight for street parking. Sarah was impressed by the classic float, but what I thought was interesting was how it felt, just because of the building and area around it, that I'd stepped back into my birth country for a few minutes.


The Apartment at KLCC

The Apartment is an elegant/hipster styled cafe. The decor and various 'rooms' throughout the restaurant are meant the evoke the experience of being inside an apartment, more so than a restaurant. We couldn't quite relate to that--I imagine the type of apartment they are trying to evoke is a very modern, classy, open concept penthouse in a snazzy new skyscraper. Having no experience at living in those types of apartments (I have more experience with living in a dingy 600 sq. ft. 3rd floor walk-up in China), we couldn't relate to the apartment aspect too much, but it was a really nice atmosphere, and, being that we were there for lunch on a weekday, we made use of the 2-course specials for 29 RM, enjoying a meal that was quite fairly priced.


Dip-n-Dip at Sunway Pyramid

This one's for the chocolate lovers. It was pretty mesmerizing watching the three chocolate fountains in the kitchen. We were highly amused by "The Choice Helper Page" within the menu, which advocates using the strategy of closing your eyes and pointing your finger at something to choose your dessert.  I didn't order anything here, as we had just eaten lunch, and I'm not really the meal + dessert type, it has to be one or the other. Footage from our Dip-n-Dip visit does appear in our recent music video, however!


What do you like to eat on vacation? Have you been to any of these restaurants before?