Saturday, December 31, 2011

Favorite Gift #6: The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The book I wanted to buy and give to all my friends last year was World War II RAF veteran and recipient of the DFC, Geoffrey Wellum's First Light. There are rarely books I feel this strongly about. I mean, I loved Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and raved about it to anyone who listened. But I wasn't quite as passionate about it as First Light.

Well, I've finally found one of those. It's by one of my favorite authors, Sherman Alexie, and it's called The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It was given to me as a birthday present by Ruth, whose judgement on books is one of a handful that I trust. If she thought I'd love it, then I would. I just didn't know how much.

Let me tell you a quick story about Mr. Alexie, if you're not familiar with him. Here's his Wiki bio, but I read Reservation Blues in high school and my signed copy of the book was the only book I took with me to college so that it'd be the first one on my dorm shelf and would make me feel at home. As someone from a small town in Washington state, who knows the places Alexie describes intimately, and who studied about Native American history and culture in the limited confines of my elementary, junior high and high school classrooms, and who questioned her identity as a Chinese-American growing up in a small, conservative town on a regular basis, Alexie's writing resonated with me like no other's.  To top that, I met him at a book signing at Seattle's famous The Elliott Bay Book Company and he was warm, friendly and took great care to spell my name correctly, citing his friend's similar spelling as a reason for him to check. I think in my excitement of meeting him, I babbled something incoherent and embarrassing about spelling it however he wanted to because it "really didn't matter". He kind of just looked at me. I think Ruth has a story in a similar vein of meeting him.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is actually classified as YA (that's Young Adult, for all you fellow colleagues in book publishing who don't work in the States) though I recently demanded that my senior citizen of a mother read it as well. It's a book that anyone, male or female, of any age, could appreciate. It follows Junior, whose tragic life on a poor, desolate, Indian reservation in Wellpinit (eastern Washington) is chronicled in a series of anecdotes told in the first person and illustrated by rather amusing cartoons (drawn by Ellen Forney). I'm guessing, though can't confirm every detail, that the book is based on Alexie's own experiences of growing up in Wellpinit and the tragedy that faced him, his family, friends, and community at every turn. I have always known that the treatment Native Americans have received and continue to receive, and the racism they have faced, is brutal, shocking, and unfair. But this book just magnified that by ten, when you realize it's a child, not an adult, relating these experiences.

Alexie's words in this book, like his others, are poetic - not flights of fancy poetic, but metaphors that are firmly rooted in reality as well: "So I draw because I feel like it might be my only real chance to escape the reservation. I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats." To me, it's impossible to read that sentence and not feel your heart break.

Above all, this book is funny. Alexie's comic timing is impeccable. Disbelief and anger are played out not in obvious displays of rage and sadness, but comedy and sarcasm. A lot of sarcasm. When Junior describes the destitute state of his school on the "rez" and his teacher who often falls asleep in front of the television, forgetting to go to school and thus, failing to teach, he says: "Yep, we have to send a kid down to the teachers' housing compound behind the school to wake Mr. P, who is always conking out in front of his TV ... And yeah, I know it's weird, but the tribe actually houses all of the teachers in one-bedroom cottages and musty, old trailer houses behind the school. You can't teach at our school if you don't live in the compound. It was like some kind of prison-work farm for our liberal, white, vegetarian do-gooders and conservative, white missionary saviors."

So this book, which moved me to tears on at least four different occasions, will be the book I buy and pass on to friends in 2012. Thank you, Ruth, for passing it on to me!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Favorite Gift #5: A Lee Klabin Dress

Isn't this dress gorgeous? It's by Lee Klabin and was given to me by the lovely Alice. Though I'll have to rock it with some serious Spanx, it fits perfectly otherwise and is something I will definitely be bringing out once the weather gets a little warmer (i.e. Spring/Summer 2012). And since I have a few weddings to attend next year, this dress will do quite the trick.

My favorite part is the shoulder detail - here's a closeup:

It's incredibly quirky and beautiful, which is exactly what I love. Lucky me!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Favorite Gift #4: Birthday Dinner at Yauatcha

It's been a while since John and I have returned to Yauatcha, the brainchild of restauranteur Alan Yau (Hakkasan, anyone?), but it remains a firm favorite on our list of special places to eat.  I was, admittedly, a tad disappointed with my most recent visit, which was - oh, probably over a year ago - when it seemed that the chefs were more concerned with painstakingly shaping the har gau dim sum into animal shapes rather than using quality ingredients.  

But I'm happy to report that this had all changed when I went for my birthday meal with John this weekend: the prawns in the har gau were plump and fresh (minus the unnecessary bunny rabbit shape, thank goodness), the wrapping was paper thin, and the other steamed dim sum we ordered was worthy of Yauatcha fame (though, bizarrely, I noticed the chopsticks were now disposable and not dissimilar to those of a Chinese takeaway - not befitting of the type of establishment Yauatcha sets itself out to be, surely).  Another warning when being seated in the main dining room is how close in proximity you sit with your fellow diners, all the more opportunities for eager eyes to sneak surreptitious (or in our case, it was rather open gawking) glances at what you've ordered.

John and I selected a series of dim sum dishes, which included the prawn har gau (delicious), pork and prawn shu mai (a bit bland), char siu buns (John's favorite and a childhood favorite of mine as well), chiu chow vegetarian dumplings (the highlight and also named after the region my father is from), deep fried soft shell crab (over seasoned and over populated with a nut garnish), prawn and chive dumplings (beautifully encased in a green wrapper), served with a pot of white tea.  It was clear that Yauatcha had returned to its roots of preparing and producing high quality dim sum with fresh ingredients in a sleek, cool (at points, a little too cool) environment.

Though our stomachs were groaning with over-indulgence by the time all our bamboo steamers were cleared, we couldn't resist our sweet tooths and ordered two macaroons to share for dessert, as a small compromise.  Yauatcha, as well as for its Asian cuisine, is also famous for its incredibly crafted confectionery and cakes.  One visit to the sweet bar at the front of the restaurant will have you turning up your nose at sticky toffee pudding (though that would never happen to me).  

This was the perfect and sweetest ending to a wonderful birthday - courtesy of the ever-wonderful John.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Favorite Gift #2: An Indulgent Birthday Cake

In my previous job, the birthday person was responsible for bringing in her own cake or treats and the department would sign a joint card, which I thought was perfectly fair and a nice practice.  However at my current office, not only did my manager present me with this decadent "curly wurly" chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting from Kastner & Ovens, but I also received several cards throughout the day and a lovely bouquet of tulips (!!!).  We enjoyed this with a cup of tea later on in the afternoon and I've been eating leftovers for breakfast ever since ...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Favorite Gift #1: Longchamp Balzane Wallet

On the morning of my birthday, I woke up to find the beautifully gift wrapped package above from John nestled next to me on my pillow.  And inside, was this:

I don't know about you, but I personally think it's pretty damn beautiful.  This is the wallet from Longchamp's newest collection, Balzane, and it also comes in black, dark green and red.  The first time I saw this wallet displayed in the New Bond Street store, I think I gasped audibly - I thought it was the most beautiful wallet I'd seen, beating even the classic Mulberry continental wallet I'd been originally lusting after.  Ladies and gentlemen, I fell in love.  John saw me drooling over it and must have taken note, since weeks later, I was busy transferring all my loyalty cards over from my now retired Ted Baker model.

Sorry, TB - it was time for an upgrade.

I felt guilty about this extravagant gift, but then again ... not guilty enough to return it!

It's My Birthday and I'll Brag If I Want To

So, for some reason, just because it's, you know, my birthday and all, means that I get some truly fabulous cards and totally fantastic presents.  Huh!  Who knew???  I'm so excited about these presents that I'll spend the next few posts highlighting some of my favorites.  Needless to say, I'm feeling very spoiled.  And also very lucky.

Happy ThanksChristmas: An Angloyankophile Holiday

So I know Thanksgiving is, like, way over with, but technically, I can still write about the feast I had last weekend because it wasn't Thanksgiving, but rather, ThanksChristmas (which I briefly explained below).

But first, I forced my British co-workers to acknowledge Thanksgiving last Thursday by circulating an email of an image of Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving at approximately 8:59 a.m., prompting a flurry of polite emails wishing me a happy Thanksgiving and tea-time talk that involved everyone asking me how I was going to celebrate.  I also guilt-tripped everyone into acknowledging the American holiday by bringing in a dozen Krispy Kremes (they're American, right?) and sharing them on my floor. Then I had to explain ThanksChristmas to a few people and how I was making candied yams/sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top while they looked politely interested and fascinated while inside they were probably retching with disgust.  It was awesome.

So here's what we made for side dishes at Alison's house:

See?  Totally Anglo-American.  Sweet potato casserole (with obligatory marshmallows), green bean casserole (with obligatory fried onion rings - and NOT from a can, might I add, though I can't take credit for them), mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, and roast parsnips.  Though we had two types of cranberry sauce (a luxury), I did slightly miss the traditional American cranberry sauce in a can that comes out all can-shaped and is served in slices.

Then for dessert, pumpkin pie:

It doesn't look as good as the one I made last year, nor does it look particularly appetizing here, I must admit, but it was pretty satisfactory taste-wise, and we topped it off with some hand-whipped cream.  Alison also made some lovely chocolate mousses, served with whiskey-infused blackberries.  Delish.

Afterwards, we did the Thanksgiving/Christmas thing of sitting around with indigestion, watching TV and playing games (against each other albeit on our respective iPhones/iPad).  It was the perfect ThanksChristmas.


(Excuse me).
© angloyankophile

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