Friday, December 30, 2011

A New Year Card for You!

Dear [insert name here],

Ho ho ho! It's the end of 2011, and what a year it’s been!  So many wonderful things, so many terrible things, and another kitty in my life, oh my! And it comes with a meng! I hope your year has been as exciting as mine, and I hope this holiday season brings you joy and merriment. Let me share some of the highlights from 2011.

January opened with More of the Same -- same job, same living situation, same gloomy winter. Thankfully, I escaped half of February and March by being tossed into a political battle in Bangladesh. What?! I was so ticked that I wrote a pointed email that netted me a raise when I got back. Bonus!

One drunken afternoon in April, I texted a friend of a friend who I always secretly fancied. He responded enthusiastically. We watched a movie, had brunch, and he even took me to the symphony. Then we went all smoochy-smoochy. He asked to become Boyfriend in May. Magnanimously, I said yes.

Big Sister #1 got married in June! It was beyond spectacular and beautiful. I was the maid of honor. I had to rearrange the bride's veil, pay the vendors at the reception (with Papa as ATM), and try to not look like a fat hamster in my dress. The takeaway: I now have a Big Brother!

Summer/July was all about barbecues. You couldn't walk a block without tripping over a beer bucket. I met Boyfriend's family and they didn't mistake me for a chubby sausage and grill me, thank goodness.

The CEO of BOOBS and his assistant finally went completely insane in August. The company became a swamp pit of depression, disbelief, and outrage. A ray of sunshine came when Little Brother got a job he really liked and moved out to a nearby apartment with a friend.

Sick of all the office drama, I began my new job search in September and launched a "Pray for Me" campaign. It worked and I turned in my notice in October.

I started my shiny new job in November and it's awesome! My boss is nice, my co-workers are great, and the company sticks to its values. Best part: I get paid more for doing less! Hurrah for-profit companies!

My Chinese horoscope predicts unexpected gifts and bonuses for 2012, something to keep in mind, dear readers! Ho ho ho!

Thank you for reading~! Have a wonderful New Year!!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Movie Review: Two Girls One Tattoo

Rooney Mara (2011 US version) and Noomi Rapace (2009 Swedish version):
Apparently, Lisbeth Salander can only be played by actresses with "oo" in their names.
Incidentally, "OO!" is the sound viewers make when both girls punish their tormentors.

Both women pictured above are the main reason to watch either version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on Stieg Larsson's posthumously published crime thriller trilogy. Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara play Lisbeth Salander, the badass antisocial near-genius hacker who helps a journalist solve a mystery of a missing girl, and more!

The journalist is played by Michael Nyqvist in the Swedish version and by James Bond Daniel Craig in the US version that I saw last night. The plot is straightforward: a wealthy man hires a disgraced journalist to find his niece who's been missing for 40 years. The journalist then teams up with the hacker who did a background check on him for the rich dude. Together, they bring justice to all the land. Or something like that. Also, there is rape. Ugh.

Both films are shot in Sweden...and that's the end of the glaring similarities. Director David Fincher, who brought us Se7en (yay!) and Fight Club (double yay!), kicks as much ass as Lisbeth Salander with his masterful, er, directing. I found the cinematography, music, and dialogue better in the US version than in the Swedish one.

But the Swedish version by Danish director Niels Arden Oplev trumps the Fincher interpretation on two counts: casting and ending. Let's talk about the pretty people first. Noomi Rapace was supposed to be too "bulky" for the role, because Lisbeth Salander is meant to be a little peanut of a goth punk. But there's no arguing against her absolutely brilliant performance as the emotionally scarred and brutally efficient (anti)heroine. Rapace is fierce one moment and vulnerable the next, with just a flicker of her eyes. She is Lisbeth Salander. Meanwhile, Rooney Mara's performance is faultless, even brilliant. But put these two in a room together, and Rapace will be walking out of there in two seconds sucking on a Marlboro red.

Next, the pretty boys:
Daniel Craig and Michael Nyqvist:
My money's on Dan. All of it. Which is the problem.
After watching the US version last night, I pondered who would have been a better Mikael Blomkvist than Daniel Craig. We're looking for a middle-aged actor who can play a disgruntled, crusading journalist type. Johnny Depp? Mel Gibson? Ha! Ha! Ha! No, someone who's never done an action film. Um, George Clooney?

Here's the thing: tension can't exist when you've basically got James Bond running around trying to catch a murderer. I can get over him being Bond, but not when he's wearing tight sweaters or going shirtless. Sure, they minimize the abs exposure (sorry, ladies), but Michael Nyqvist in the Swedish version had the decency to have a pot belly. You don't expect that guy to outrun or outfight a crazed serial killer. You expect him to just ask a lot of hard questions. In short, he's the perfect Blomkvist. (He especially shines as an investigator in the second and third movies in the trilogy.)

The supporting cast in both versions are great. It's the casting of the main two characters that the Swedish version does better, in my opinion.

Moving on -- the ending! Holy crap, what was that? said I, after seeing the way the US ending was going...and going...and going... To avoid spoilers, let me just say that the Swedish denouement was short and sweet like sugar. I mean, if you like revenge served cold on a platter with arugula salad and pistachios. Fincher's ending was more, "Huh? Hey, why is this taking so long? Wait, what is she-- ooh. Hmmm." Sure, it humanizes our darling Lisbeth, but we like her precisely because she's so "I AM WOMAN HEAR ME HACK INTO YOUR MAC oh wait no you can't (ice cold gaze)."

Bottom line: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a great movie. I recommend watching both versions and choosing which Lisbeth Salander to admire and mentally hug / run away from.

The feel-bad movie of the season! That tagline wasn't kidding!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Leaders and Fat Cells

Good leaders know their people's strengths and deploy them accordingly to accomplish goals. Great leaders care about their people, fight tooth and nail to get everyone through the storm, and win.

Here I introduce a great leader: Captain Fatcell, commander of all my fat cells:


Unlike the other fat cells in my body, cells that are unformed and loutish, Captain Fatcell is jacked. He's dressed for combat, he's got black gloves and combat boots, and is transported throughout my blood stream on the bodies of squashed undisciplined fat cells.

Once upon a time, Captain Fatcell was but an ordinary white fat cell residing in the subcutaneous layer of my cheeks, or possibly my thighs, pick one. Like all normal fat cells, he had a small nucleus, some cytoplasm, and a big ol' droplet of fat that made up 85% of his volume.

One day, as he was undergoing a routine lipolysis and preparing to go into gluconeogenesis, he encountered something that mutated his cellular structure. Scientists at Banana Laboratories are still running tests to determine what it was, and the current theory is that Boyfriend did something so sweet that the insulin in my blood spiked, interacted with rogue lipoprotein lipases, and transformed the innocent fat cell into Captain Fatcell, a strong and silent type.

A great leader. Of fat cells.

It was Captain Fatcell who led the Charge of Christmas '11, when an enormous amount of chicharon surged through my intestines on their way out to the glorious ultimate freedom of the toilet bowl. And who can forget the War of the Pre-Wedding Days in '11, when my body absorbed obscene quantities of intensely sugary tropical fruit, criminally oily and fatty meat dishes, and Mom of Bridezilla stress waves? During these times of opportunity for all fats, Captain Fatcell, as though responding to a higher calling, marshaled my fat cells and marched them efficiently towards my waist and abdomen. Each and every single fat cell stationed there became larger.

Knowing that fat cells increase in size, not in number, Captain Fatcell is no doubt biding his time, waiting, just waiting, for me to break open that double-layer Ferrero Rocher chocolate box.


God help me.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Kreesmas

Merry Christmas! ho ho ho
Last night I discovered the joy of Just Dance 3. But first, because I know it's important to you, dear reader, let me run down my Christmas Day meals:

Breakfast: chicken biryani and pinakbet washed down with about a gallon of coffee.

Lunch: Duck (from Tokai restaurant). Mama had Lexus rolls.

Dinner: Holy Lord, let's not talk about that. I will only say that there was Pinoy spaghetti.

We went to a party with Mama's Philly barkada. I like these parties -- the people are hilarious, the food is good, and there's always something fun to do, like karaoke or, like last night, Just Dance 3, a dance game on the XBox Kinect. I danced my little heart out to "Party Rock Anthem," "Pump It," "I'm so Excited," "Price Tag," and who knows what else. Up to four players can go at a time, and our horrible dancing was compounded by the small space. We kept accidentally smacking each other as we energetically pumped our arms and wiggled our hips.

Our hopping around was interrupted by White Elephant, aka Yankee Swap. We brought the lamest gift (a scarf), and it was sadly sitting in the middle of the floor as people shrieked with laughter and grabbed each others' gifts (the blender and the chocolates were pretty popular). Finally, a kind soul (or someone who had no other choice) took our White Elephant offering. And no, I still don't know why it's called White Elephant.

After my sweaty celebration of the birth of Jesus, I am now chilling on the couch with Brother, who is riveted by Big Rich Texas on TV. I have to admit, it's pretty classic. There's a blonde mother-daughter pair who had this eyebrow-raising exchange (paraphrase below):

Daughter: I'm not like you. I need to study.
Mom: In school I never needed to to study because I have photographic memory.
Daughter: Yeah, but you can't remember where you parked the car.
Mom: That's not what photographic memory is.

AWESOME. 

I'll be back in Boston tonight!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Death by Breakfast


Yesterday we began to methodically attack the chicharon (deep fried pork yum yum) that Mama apparently bought in bulk. After months of healthy living in Boston, I sat down after breakfast and felt my blood pressure go up and up and up. All I needed to complete the experience was some whiskey and tobacco, and then perhaps a shovel and a coffin.

This Christmas Eve morning, Mama prepped a salad and a vegetable-heavy dish (sinigang) to counteract the oily fatty heart attack that is our main meal. It was glorious. According to my math, I will live another 10 years if the pork doesn't kill me first.

That sound you're hearing isn't the sound of Christmas bells -- it's my arteries going CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

Merry Christmas! HO HO HO!!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pre-Christmas Chatter -- with pictures!

Part 1: The Nova Scotia Tree...in Boston

Comic thanks to Boyfriend's gift: a drawing tablet! Merry merry!

Every year since 1917, the city of Halifax in Nova Scotia sends Boston a giant Christmas tree as thanks for being first responders in the Halifax Explosion. In that last year of WWI, a Belgian relief vessel and a French munitions carrier collided in Halifax Harbor. The carrier had a bunch of TNT, benzol, and other things that go boom. The explosion caused a tsunami wave that flooded the city. Fires quickly spread. Then a blizzard hit...for a week. It was a clusterf*ck. Local troops sent help immediately, as did the stalwart people of Massachusetts, who presumably used steamers and whales to get there as fast as they did.

To thank Massachusetts for the medical supplies, food, clothing, building equipment, workers, and for the New England Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins, Nova Scotia began the tree tradition. We get this 46-foot bad boy for free:

Brightening up Faneuil Hall.
You're welcome, Halifax!

Part 2: How the Grinch Stole the Show

Couldn't ask for a better Grinch!
Boston actor Jerry Kissel totally upstaged the Boston Pops with his fabulous narration of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Kissel came out in full Grinch mode, grumping silently at the orchestra throughout the performance and glaring at violinists who dared interrupt his grouchy contemplations, as the choir sang about him being "the meanest oooonnnnneeee..." Spoiler alert: the Grinch gives everything back.

Part 3: Two Final Fantasy Titles to Go

Final Fantasy III on the iPhone was the highlight of my commute for more than a month. It would have taken me less time, but I inadvertently downloaded the Japanese version, so I would labor for many minutes over two lines of text ("Warriors of Light! You are the chosen ones!" or perhaps "Light and Dark must be balanced, or all will become nothing.") BAH! Who cares? I am in this game to kick monster butt!!!

Ow! #$%^&* Cloud of Darkness!!!

...Unless the monster kicks my butt first. But don't worry, the screenshot above is from a mandatory unwinnable battle against the last boss, designed to increase tension. I so leveled up and defeated the Cloud of Darkness. Very fit Cloud, that one. It must work out while consuming dimensions.

I just bought Final Fantasy I for PSP. Yes, the one that started it all. Starting 2012 with the ultimate childhood flashback! Woooo!

Part 4: Current Location


Traveler, in the distance you will see Billy Penn, standing solemnly atop Philadelphia City Hall in the fabled Center City, crime rate not too bad compared to North Philly. Brother and I are here with Mama for Christmas. We've already eaten too much, but you probably already knew that.

GIFT OPENING TIME TOMORROW OMG BBQ

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Receiving: 2, Giving: 0




Should an employee give the boss a present? Does that count as sucking up? Or is it a nice gesture? What is the protocol?

As I pondered these earth-shattering questions, my boss called me into her office and handed me an enormous gift bag weighted down with goodies. Excellent! The question had been answered for me: bosses give their underlings presents! It underscores the neopatrimonialism inherent in certain corporate structures whereby the managerial entity secures loyalty and productivity through a sporadic material reward system. Or, my boss is nice and I'm not.

My lameness was further compounded when my preggers coworker gave me a little bag as "a small token." I opened it up and marveled at her thoughtfulness -- she remembered the single conversation we had where I gushed about Kiehl's lotion and lip balm.

I love my job.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tech Woes






The above conversation happened this weekend. My issue was that the MacBook Pro is such a powerful machine, ideal for creating HD videos and drawing stunning images and haxx0ring and other high-tech fun. I mostly use it for email, web browsing, and watching the occasional YouTube, TV show, or movie. It doesn't seem like the best use for such an impressive machine. It seems like a waste!

#firstworldproblems

That is why! I pledge! To fully use! Its 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM! I have no idea what that means, but I think it's something about how solid the performance is and how pretty the images on the screen are! Yes, that must be it!

I was going to segue into a thoughtful discourse about the dilemmas of the human condition within a technology-driven society, but I'm too lazy proposals don't write themselves. So instead, I shall unveil...

NICOLE'S  NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS - TECH VERSION (PRE-ALPHA)
In 2012, I will...

...create and post a music video on YouTube (Pinoy Christmas carols? Mama has CDs)
...use a drawing tablet to make better comics for this blog (pls someone buy me a tablet thx)
...create and post a video game run-through on YouTube (my Japanese version of FFIII?)
...actually use Time Machine regularly to back up my computer

The list above includes tech stuff I have never done. They will be my new year projects. I'm giving myself all of 2012 to get them done.

Bow.

*cue applause*

Monday, December 19, 2011

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows (2011)

What a ride! Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows has Robert Downey Jr. channeling the more manic aspects of the popular fictional detective, with Jude Law back as the capable and sometimes comedic Dr. Watson. The stakes are higher this time -- a mastermind is manipulating European nations towards all-out war, and "the collapse of Western civilization" is sure to result if he is not stopped! "No pressure," Holmes says flippantly.

The fight scenes, mind games, and cool 1890's weaponry stand out in this sequel. The villain also shines. Jared Harris plays Professor Moriarty as a cool, evil man; or, as Holmes puts it, a morally insane narcissist. Oh, snap! Moriarty, Holmes' archenemy in the short story, outwits Holmes so many times that the outcome of their game is always in doubt. In 1893's "The Final Solution," Moriarty is written as Holmes' intellectual equal, which director Guy Ritchie shows to spectacular effect in a tense scene toward the end of the film.

The main difference between the written word and the big screen version? GUNS! EXPLOSIONS! BIGGER GUNS! BIGGER EXPLOSIONS! CROSS-DRESSING! HILARIOUS ANTICS! VERY SHINY MINOR CHARACTERS! Stephen Fry lights up the screen as Holmes' big brother Mycroft, and Noomi Rapace aka the original gal with the big ol' dragon tattoo is a butt-kicking fortune-teller: "I see you being served in the near future, assassin! PALM TO THE FACE!" (Note: that only happened in my mind.)

In the end, Moriarty's Grand Evil Scheme seems pretty simple (assassinations + bombings + devious company purchases = world domination mwa ha haaa), but of course, the good guys need evidence to convict him. The movie is about Holmes' dogged efforts to end Moriarty, one way or another. And boy, does he ever.

This movie is an enjoyable ride, especially since the set designs are immaculate. And if, like me, you enjoy watching people outrun bullets and missiles in slow motion, you better get your bum in a theater seat.

Recommended!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Return of the Cilia: a Former Smoker's Tale

Once upon a time, in a land far away called Vermont, stood a palace called Middlebury College. The very best and brightest children who did not get into their first choice university went to Middlebury for four years to be trained in many arts: writing, languages, filmmaking, painting, lacrosse, but mostly investment banking.

However, not everyone who went to Middlebury were sons and daughters of privilege. These peasants were called "international students." They came from far and wide, and were as different as could be. The South Asians liked to dance and eat and study computer science, economics, or biology. The Eastern Europeans drank too much coffee, sold weed, and scowled at everyone else. The Latin Americans attracted many admirers with their sexy accents and sexier dance moves.

The one thing that united these young intellectuals (hah!) was smoking. Together, they would huddle in the cold and draw comfort from the 4,000+ chemicals in their cigarettes. As a community, they ingested ammonia, arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde, acetone, and other delightful household/industrial products into their bodies. With the gleeful abandon of youth, they absorbed carbon monoxide on a daily basis, which cackled as its tendrils stole oxygen from healthy cells.

At first, the heroic cilia of the bronchial tube and lungs held fast against the harmful smoke:

"Prepare for invasion!"

Alas, cigarette smoke paralyzes cilia, which exist to "sweep" the body of nasty foreign matter:

"FML."

And thus the cilia died.

~o~

Without cilia, my lungs underwent a transformation during my years at college and beyond:


I was perfectly content with the situation. After all, I thought, I only smoke six cigarettes a day, at most! So what if I smell terrible? I feel good. And so it went on, through grad school, until I got a job and chose a doctor and she asked me if I smoked and I said yes and she said, "Why?" I stared blankly at her and she continued: "You're young and healthy. Why are you doing this to yourself?"

Good question! Well, for starters, for me it was a social activity. My friends in college smoked, so I smoked too. And then I guess I got hooked on the delicious, delicious nicotine, and that was it. Doooooooom.

After my doctor's question, I thought about quitting. And then I determined to quit! The great part is that smoking is so widely known to be a bad practice that there are a ton of products out there to help smokers quit: brochures, websites, nicotine patches, cat therapy (just kidding), etc. But I believed in the power of my mind: I didn't need no stinking patch. Also, the damn things cost sixty bucks! My Ilocana blood kicked in and I refused to buy anything that would help me.

The result: almost a year of struggling to quit. I'd tell myself: "not today, not a single one today... well, maybe just one!" And it was never just one. Le sigh. Or I'd toss an entire pack into the trash, only to root it out hours later and happily smoke the contents. Urgh. So then I started breaking the cigarettes before tossing them out, but then I would just go out and buy a new pack. ARRRGGGHHHH!!! Inconceivable!

And then one cold day in March 2009, I propped myself in the window of my room in our basement apartment, opened the window a tiny bit, and lit a cigarette. The smoke blew right back in my face, and at that moment I was so grossed out that I never smoked again.

"BLARGH!!! GROSS!!!"
This amazing artwork brought to you by MS Paint.
MS Paint: the last resort.

(The incident reminds me of my college professor's secret to quitting: sit down and chain-smoke two packs in one go. Holy crap! He made himself so sick that he never touched a cigarette again. Happily, I didn't have to go to such lengths.)

After that triumph, it took two years of regular running and cycling to get my lungs back to some semblance of proper working order. I was dedicated; I would get my sweet little cilia back! I went jogging at least twice a week, rode my bicycle to work, used stairs instead of escalators, all to wake up those tiny precious sweepers in my lungs. My friend who's a med student had initially warned me that I would never get them back, but later conceded that some studies suggested that they could be recovered. Sweet!

Of course, the real test to prove that my cilia, like Jesus, returned from the dead, is if I cough when I'm around smoke or other irritants. Uh, that hasn't happened yet, mostly because I avoid smokers -- if I'm walking behind one, I'll dart ahead of him/her. But I've passed a number of smokers in front of buildings. Not even a wheeze. Hmmm, maybe my cilia are still dead? Or maybe I don't involuntarily inhale enough second-hand smoke to trigger the outward sweep/coughing action of my cilia?

Or maybe: my cilia has become... SUPER CILIA!!!!


HURRAY!!!

Happy Friday!!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nothing to Envy (2009)

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea is a hair-raising peek into the sorrows of North Korea. To write this book, Barbara Demick, Beijiing bureau chief of the L.A. Times, spent five years in Seoul and also did a controlled visit to North Korea. She tells the stories of a handful of North Korean defectors. I have handily summarized below their stories and relevant major themes:

Person
Theme
Mi-ran: Born to a family classified in the lowest rung of society because of her father's South Korean background. Was Jun-sang's girl for many, many years. Became elementary school teacher despite bad family background. Watched students die of starvation during the famine of the mid-nineties. Defected with family in 1998. The weight of history: After Japan's defeat in WWII, the US decreed the 38th parallel as the dividing line between the communist North Korea and capitalist South Korea. In 1950, North Korea invaded, leading to the Korean War. Ordinary citizens either fled north or south, or were simply swept in a direction. South Korean prisoners of war in North Korea were eventually granted citizenship, but bore the stigma of "tainted blood." This blood was thought to last for three generations.
Jun-sang: Eldest son of wealthy Koreans from Japan. Captivated by Mi-ran's looks at first sight. Took three years to hold her hand, and then six years to kiss her on the cheek. Lived privileged life as university student and later as researcher. Secretly watched South Korean television using a rigged TV. Defected after discovering that Mi-ran had fled. All your technology are belong to us: The North Korean state disables all but state channels on all televisions and radio. North Koreans citizens are only exposed to public announcements, "films," and "news" manufactured by the communist party. Tragically, no Jersey Shore for North Korea.
Dr. Kim: Tiny perfectionist. Grateful to the state for her medical education. Remained utterly loyal to the party until she snooped in the hospital director's files and discovered that she was on a watch list. Defected after a party official came to warn her not to.  It's hard to be a doctor: North Korean doctors are expected to be selfless. They're also supposed to make their own medicines. They go in teams to the mountains to collect herbs. Due to the lack of supplies after the breakdown of other communist governments, North Korean doctors turned to rough innovations to treat patients, e.g. beer bottles as IV drips. When she escaped, Dr. Kim made the appalling discovery that dogs in China eat better than doctors in North Korea.
Mrs. Song: The ideal citizen. Card-carrying communist housewife who began to sell food items on the black market after her husband's and son's deaths. Defected by accident -- daughter who ran away arranged for her to "visit" China, and then fly to South Korea for a reunion. Communism epic fail: North Korea failed its citizens, who enjoyed a higher standard of living in the sixties and seventies thanks to support from Soviet bloc countries. The worldwide collapse of communism and the famine devastated the economy. In the worst days, there was no electricity, no food rations, no new clothes, and transportation was sporadic and slow. Millions died, many on the streets. The lucky ones got away, either through family connections, or by sheer determination. 
Hyuck: Left in orphanage at age 11. Survived on own wits during the famine. Learned to cross river into China and buy Chinese goods. Set up profitable business selling on the black market until caught and sent to labor camp at age 16. Endured the hunger, beatings, hard labor, crowded sleeping spaces, and deaths during the night. Released in 2000. Defected to South Korea in 2001. The cost of survival: The ones who survived the famine were precisely those who ignored rules of the state (e.g. no private enterprises like selling goods) and codes of morality (e.g. no stealing). Hyuck didn't exactly make out like a bandit -- when he first got to South Korea, his head was too big for his body, because malnutrition stunted his limbs and torso. He spent his first couple of years in South Korea scowling at everyone who tried to interact with him. It took him a while to realize that he would be better off with friends, now that he doesn't have to fight for survival.

The title Nothing to Envy comes from a North Korean song about having "nothing to envy in the world." The irony in this case is not funny. I hope to God something happens to get the crazies out. South Koreans, by the way, are taught that they should want reunification, but they're aware that absorbing millions of their northern brethren will be difficult, to say the least. Their experts are churning away and calculating how much it would cost to clothe, feed, and support an influx of refugees (North Korean defectors get an allowance of about $20,000 to start their new lives. First, they're interrogated to ensure they're not double agents.)

There aren't many North Korean defectors at the moment. Less than 3,000 were documented in 2009. China is kind of a bad cop here; it considers North Koreans illegal economic immigrants and boots them right back. Meanwhile, Mongolia and Thailand will repatriate North Koreans to South Korea, so defectors who head to those countries surrender themselves almost immediately. De Pilipins is a transit point from China, although apparently some North Koreans blend in with our fast-growing South Korean population.

Mostly what this book has taught me is that I've got it good. North Korea may be an outlier, but suffering is never in short supply in our world. I've got a roof over my head, enough to eat, and only one extremely tiny mouth to feed. THANK YOU LORD.

Joguk Tong-il!!! (South-North Reunification!!!)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'tis Ever the Season

falalalalaaa, lalalalaaaa~

My Filipino social conditioning dictates that the Christmas season starts in October and ends around January.  Meanwhile, Boyfriend ranted against the commercial bombardment that began here in November. He believed that Christmas programming should start only after Thanksgiving.

It's a bit hard to explain that I was raised in a culture that celebrates everything at the drop of a hat. What? The volcanic explosion that ejected 10 billion metric tons of magma didn't kill us? Party time!!! Say again? We kicked out a corrupt dictator and the military was on our side and nobody got hurt? Bust out those folding tables, we are roasting a pig and eating it!!! Eh? Our politicians are corrupt beyond redemption and an unconscionable number of people are living in abject poverty? Well, tomorrow is another day and maybe it'll be better than today! Hand me a party hat and that fresh coconut, I'm thirsty!

My old coworkers at BOOBS marveled at my unflagging cheerfulness in the face of horror, a trait they alternately labeled "obnoxious," "crazy," and "what is wrong with you?" Granted, a significant portion of my Happy Face can be attributed to sheer cluelessness -- sometimes I'm just too dumb to figure out that I should be angry/sad/drunk. But it also has to do with faith. To believe, without any shred of evidence -- in fact, with all available evidence pointing to the contrary -- that everything will be all right, is actually not a Filipino thing. It's a faith thing.

A couple of months ago, as I wallowed in misery and flailed around for a new job, NOWplease, my eldest sister said to me: "Have faith. It can move mountains." And I did. I believed. I knew, in a place beyond the reach of reason, that I would succeed, despite the terrible economy, despite the statistics showing that it took six months to a year to land a job, despite the fierce competition I faced with all the job hunters with better degrees and better suits and more charming personalities. I knew that my grandma and my sisters and brother and my mom and dad were all praying for me. There was absolutely no way I would fail.

Of course, the counterargument is that it had nothing to do with prayer. It was my resume, my interview skills, my power suit, and the good luck of being noticed by the HR person at the right company that cinched it for me. Maybe. We all make up our own realities. In Nikkiverse, my family's prayers formed a halo of Awesome around me and helped me win my new job.

I think it's always the season to be jolly. I think it's always the time to reflect on our blessings. But I guess there's something about the end of the calendar year that adds a sense of magic and urgency to the process. Plus, the coming of a new year seems like the perfect time to promise to yourself to be a better person. I like it. I like it all!!!

ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Noodles for the Winter

In the days of long ago, in uncharted regions of the universe, lived a legend...the legend of Noodletron, Defender of the Hungryverse! (cue Voltron theme)

"Finishing move: LASER NOODLES!"

Hur hur hur. Speaking of lulz, my girl Shanana once laughed at me when I declared, "I need noodles for the winter!" I was mildly puzzled at her amusement, because I was being serious. In Japan, noodle stands dot the streets and a giant bowl costs ¥500 ($5). The first time I tried it I noted that the bowl was bigger than my head, so I thought I couldn't finish my ramen, but I ended up slurping all the noodles down like Jabba the Hutt consuming something small and squeaky with a tail. They were delicious, filling, and the best thing to eat during Japan's relatively mild winter. Thus, the concept of Noodles for the Winter was born.

Porter Square Exchange has a few noodle stands, and I attest their authenticity because the stalls are run by actual Japanese people. There's also a tiny shop in the Back Bay, between Newbury and Boylston Streets, where the cooks and servers speak in a dialect I don't recognize and their drinks come in styrofoam cups, which is B-A-D, but they also have takoyaki, also known as Samurai Balls in the Philippines, because ha ha ha, I'm eating samurai balls, yummy!

My cupboards used to be stocked with udon and instant ramen, but alas, all supplies must be depleted at some point. So this weekend I went to Reliable Market, the grocery of choice for South Korean moms! Like all Korean groceries, Reliable Market also offers a large selection of Japanese essentials, like various soup bases, frozen korokke (now I need a deep fryer), sushi-grade fresh fish, etc. The freakishly mild season had passed in Boston, and the winter temperatures were coming. My goal was to buy my winter survival noodles.

The dry goods kit: instant miso soup (seaweed flavor),
instant ramen, and dried mushrooms.

Mindful of Boyfriend's warning that instant ramen is "a sodium heart attack," I checked the package labels for the first time in my eventful life of eating the stuff. HOLY COW! One pack gives me 67% of my daily recommended dose of sodium!!! That's like 1500 mg!!! 

...So I bought a five-pack. Why? Because my body needs sodium to help me contract my muscles, transmit signals to my nerves, maintain my pH balance, hydrate, regulate fluids outside my cells, and pump fluid into my cells when potassium (hello, bananas!) carries by-products out. Most importantly, sodium makes noodles delicious, and noodles are good for the soul. 

The perishables kit: silky tofu, seaweed salad, natto, and fried tofu.
Optional: cold green tea and makoli (Korean rice wine) -- pictured
at the opposite ends of this photograph.
 
Like the ninjas before me, I am now prepared to endure the freezing cold winds of the New England winter. I adhere to the ninja code of honor in battle: if forced to fight, run away disappear into the night. I shall bow to Mama Nature's superiority and hibernate in my cave this winter. With my noodles.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Harvard Shame

More like Harvard Fail. As in, I had an Epic Fail while I was at Harvard. But not when I was a student there. Nay, my life as a an MA candidate was uneventful, and I did indeed receive the coveted, oversized Latin diploma that I proudly keep in its giant red envelope under my cat's scratch lounge. Clearly, the sight of Sheba sharpening her claws in a cute little rhythm on the cardboard will deter diploma thieves. But I digress.

"What's that? You want this diploma under my scratch lounge?
Come and get it!"

A couple of years ago, I was invited to come back to campus and be part of a panel about careers that my old program, Regional Studies, was running. I was totally stoked but pretended to not care. I'd just come back from a summer stint in Bangladesh, and I figured I'd chat casually about what I do. As a result, I - DID - NOT - PREPARE. What a HUGE mistake!!!

The big day came, and I scooted excitedly to the CGIS (Center for Government and International Studies) building, where I used to take classes. I saw some folks that I'd had drinks with. Cool, cool. The other two panelists were women, like myself (honest! I'm a woman!), and once they started talking I knew I was dealing with quintessential Harvard Achievers. Worse, I was in a panel with them! One talked about knowing exactly what she wanted to do while she was in the program, and then going ahead to the Middle East and doing just that, rising to a high position rapidly through her determination and competence. The other woman was in the freaking CIA and had brought recruitment fliers. WAH! WAH!

So when my turn came, I awkwardly told the room the truth: that I had no idea what I wanted to do at all, ever, in life; that I just fell into my job; that I'd just been abroad; blah blah. Then I even more awkwardly tried to compensate by saying that school networks help out, citing my Middlebury Alumni Network (which I knew College Boyfriend used like a crazy person in his ruthless quest to become an investment banker), and the fact that a fellow Harvard alum helped me get my job. So, uh, people, um, if you ever, like, don't know what to do in life, I mean, in terms of careers, someone will help out. Don't have a plan or anything. You don't even need to, like, think about it. Someone will step in. Your connections will guarantee you placement in an office somewhere. It worked for me, right? Right?

(crickets) (unblinking Harvard students and program coordinators)

So in conclusion, I fled the room as soon as the panel finished taking questions (mostly they asked the CIA analyst about her flyers). I comforted myself later by saying that the people in my program were mostly foreign nationals already employed by their governments anyway, why did they need the career panel? My humiliation was further compounded when, in a fit of politeness, I thanked the panel moderator for the opportunity to speak -- and she didn't bother replying, she was that disgusted with my lameness.

I'm not exaggerating here. I went out for a drink with one of the people who went to the talk, and he said my job sounded "flaky" and I was switching jobs, right? I wish.

THE SHAME! THE SHAAAAAAAAAAME!!!

On the bright side: I did switch jobs! Two whole years later! And I learned two valuable lessons: one, be prepared, and two, if you're not, the world did not end, get over yourself already. Geez.

The end.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Watch Out for Obsessive People

Personal experience has taught me that video games increase hand-eye coordination, self-confidence, and analytic skills. Thanks to years of gaming, I can throw with accuracy (e.g. rolled-up socks near my cat to get her off my work clothes), maintain excellent posture (boobs out, chin up, neck immobile), and coolly analyze whether or not purchase items ("Will this help me save the world? No? Then the money stays in the wallet, thank you.").

Did I study Japanese just so I can play Japanese RPGs (role playing games) in Japanese? Did I study abroad in Japan just so I can buy original Japanese-language GameBoy games? Did I buy an obscene amount of video game soundtracks during my Japanese adventure in Kyoto? No, those are just rumors. Also, have I used "Japanese" enough in one paragraph? I didn't think so. Japanese.

You see, I am a gamer. A special gamer. I'm a connoisseur of classic Final Fantasy games, meaning FFI through FFVI, none of that 3D CGI cut scene crap that started with the worldwide hit, FFVII. (Confession: I played FFVIII, eek! But only because it had a romance as its main plot for some reason.)

Sweet, right? 
Nay, give unto me your little pixelated 2D characters who save the world to exciting midi music. I shall partake of the turn-based battle scenes and the top-view camera angles in dungeons and world maps. Verily, my weapons of choice shall consist of bows and arrows, katanas, shurikens, claws, offensive-type white magic, and the occasional summons. My SNES emulator shall bequeath to me all the joys I desire! In a very legal way, surely!

I was happily drowning in the world of Old School and Low Tech (lifetime president: my mom) when Square Enix aka God decided to port Final Fantasy III to the iPhone. THE IPHONE!!! My trusted companion, who faithfully records my every calendar appointment, dutifully makes phone calls, and gently awakens me every morning. My little "iPad Mini," who doubles as a flashlight and is unfazed at being dropped into my cat's water bowl. Is it possible?

IT IS!!!

The hikari no senshi (Heroes of Light) pose after pwning monsters.
EEEEEEEEEEE!!!! LOOK HOW CUTE!!! They look like little dolls, even when stabbing enormous bloodthirsty creatures! I wanna hug 'em and squeeze 'em and call 'em George! They're so cute, in fact, that I ignored the statistical advantages and disadvantages of certain job types, and instead critically evaluated levels of Adorable. I mean, just look at this handy Jobs Chart:

Read about Final Fantasy and feminism here, where I got the photo.

It's like playing dress-up, while hacking ad slashing and exploring! Ahhh, fantasy. It is so... what is the word I'm looking for... fantastic. I've been playing this sucker for over 20 hours now, and it has directly caused me to miss my train stop at least twice. However, real life intervened: a higher-up heard that I studied East Asian history and came at me yesterday with a book about North Korea, saying meaningfully, "I can't wait to talk to you about it," and since she's an attorney who treats conversations like cross-examinations, you better believe I'm reading this book like it's my job.

Don't worry, Heroes of Light, soon enough we will enter the mandatory final dungeon and save the world!

And after that, it's off to conquer the next game!

I AM GAMER HEAR ME SOUNDLESSLY TAP MY IPHONE SCREEN!

roooaaaaar

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Brain Fart Announcements

Brain Fart #1 brought to you by incessant "Win a Free iPad 2" ads, most recently on the company intranet:

Why can't I win anything? I never win anything! How come I can't get a free iPad 2?

My oldest sister has won a TV, a DVD player, a rainbow with matching unicorn, and the way she's going, she'll probably win a hybrid sports car at her office holiday party!

Why not meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee?

Edit, 12/08/2011: Apparently, she also won a vacuum cleaner and a washing machine. She won one of those items in a national department store drawing! WHAT. Sure, God, no playing favorites, huh? (sulk) And my other sister won pizza in a raffle draw, but she claims that doesn't count because it was rigged. Divine rigging versus human rigging: the difference is that one gets you awesome electronics that last for years, and the other is consumed within five minutes.

Brain Fart #2 brought to you by obnoxious jewelry ads on TV:

Pfffffft. Real women wear this ring:


An Aes Sedai ring, my darlings. Only $1,100 in 14k gold! "What?" you exclaim, "Nicole will be eternally happy for merely the price of two iPad 2s? Why, here is my credit card!"

Aw shucks!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

How to: Make Your Own External Hard Drive

Once upon a time, a princess and a frog prince went to the Micro Center to buy an external hard drive, to keep the holy MacBook Pro files backed up via Time Machine. But the prince, who ruled the kingdom of Do-It-Yourself and the duchy of You-Can-Get-That-For-Less, advised the princess to forget about paying $129.99+ for 500GB, and make her own external hard drive. So the princess, next in line to the throne of Okay-Honey-Whatever-You-Say, bought an enclosure.

You will need:

  • a hard drive* ($59.99, now $99.99 because of the flooding in Thailand, home of hard drives)
  • screwdriver
  • 3.5" SATA to USB 2.0 enclosure ($15.99 on sale!)

*Boyfriend would like to make it known that he donated the hard drive, meaning I paid $0.**
**Note to self: do not blog while Boyfriend is peering over shoulder.

Step 1: 
Insert the hard drive into the enclosure.
Remember when you were a kid and had the game where you put the square blocks into the square holes and the round blocks into the round holes? Same thing, but with ~1 mm rectangular slits. Make sure to jam it in there tight.

Step 2:
Screw the hard drive into the enclosure.
Flip it over; the screws are at the bottom of the enclosure.

Step 3:
Screw the back panel into place.
Really? I have to explain this? Come on.

The following steps are optional:

Step 4:
Discover that enclosure doesn't work.

Step 5:
Have Boyfriend fix the problem by using his external hot-swap bay enclosure.

Step 6:
Take nap.

Step 7:
Return busted enclosure and pat self on back for job well done.

In other news: Boyfriend's cat tried to get into the shower with me. Perv.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fleeeaaaadom!!!

Bug bites suck. They're itchy. They hint that you are dugyot. And because people react differently to bug bites, it's hard to figure out which bad boy did it, so figuring out the right solution becomes complicated.

I first noticed a bite on my right forearm on Monday. The next day I saw another one near my elbow. Yesterday I was irritably scratching a third one on my upper arm when it hit me: some tiny creature is feasting upon my delectable freesia-scented blood! Over fish tacos at Papagayo, I revealed my bug love marks, because I'm classy that way. Crispy, polite young woman that she is, said nothing, but Boyfriend instantly scooted as far away as his chair allowed. (Please note that I refused to watch Contagion with him because he would never touch me again.) He tried to use his iPhone to convince me that I had bed bugs, but ha ha ha, the signal is crappy where I work, so there! Besides, Crispy pointed out that bed bugs leave linear marks, and my bites were quite some distance from each other, at least by insect standards.

I did some research Google Images and decided they were flea bites. Flea bites??? Hmmm, now how could I have gotten those?

The usual suspects.
Or really, the only suspects.
I went home filled with righteous righteousness. As Sheba's meow(s) of welcome washed over me, I vigorously ripped the sheets off the bed, the pillowcases of the pillows, and the cover off the comforter. All went into the washer. Then I attacked my head board and the floor under and around my bed with wet wipes. For the coup de grĂ¢ce, I filled a bucket with warm water, grabbed the kitty, and shampooed her like there was no tomorrow. Good Lord, you'd think I was skinning her alive, the way she howled and yowled. She was like a freaking trumpet. I guess she compensates for her non-violence through volume abuse. So I scrubbed her, rinsed her thoroughly (can't have her licking shampoo suds off!), and bundled her up in towels. And then the fun part: the blow drying! She didn't like that either, but the hum of the machine thankfully masked the sounds of what must seem like cat torture. The upshot is, she now feels silkier than usual, and she smells fantastic.

Then my building's fire alarm went off because the couple upstairs had a cooking accident, but that's another story. The point is, my cat better be flea-free, my home better be bug-free, and Boyfriend better remember to get his cat a flea collar. (Oscar has not been ruled out as a suspect, but he'll slit your wrists if you try to give him a bath.)

Happy Friday!!!

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