Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Plug For My Friend On Savage Love

My friend Francisco co-hosted the relationship and dating advice show, Savage Love, today! He was so so so amazing. Check it out so you can say you knew someone who knew him when.

Listen to the show here (you'll need Quicktime).

Learn more about Francisco and his free advice Saturdays in Washington Square Park.

The blurb from host Dan Savage's website:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Episode 184

Today, Dan is joined by special guest expert Francisco Ramirez! Francisco dishes out free sex advice in Washington Square Park. Hear Dan and Fran double-team on your weekly dose of smut.

Click Here If You're Homophobic

I was posting some hepatitis screening events to a community calendar at work today, and came across a website for a program in Minneapolis that provides sexual health education and services for men who have sex with men.

The messages on the site are straightforward, sex positive and appropriately tailored to the target audience. But, there are notes all over the site implicitly apologizing for this content.

This site contains HIV and STD prevention messages, safer sex strategies, information about gay and bisexual men's health, harm reduction strategies around meth, and images that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Not seeking such information? [Click here to] exit this site.

"They just mean, exit here if you're homophobic," my officemate Joe the Banker said.

And I think J-the-B pretty  much summed it up. The people who designed the site were so worried about offending the sensibilities of intolerant hetero-centrics that they felt compelled to put up signs all over the place.

Why disguise it? They should write something like, "Warning: This website will remind you how terrified you are of gay people."

The program is in Minneapolis, which (I'm told by Minnesotans) is an oasis of liberal white thought in an otherwise conservative, windswept Midwestern wasteland. So maybe that warning could say: "This website will remind you that you are blissfully engulfed in a world of white heterosexuals who think they're tolerant about diversity because they've never actually encountered diversity."

But that's just me being judgmental and sanctimonious. Back to the rant at hand.

The site, and the program itself, delivers fact-based messages that de-stigmatize non-boring, non-Biblically-defined, non sexually-repressed-WASPs-in-missionary-position sex. It candidly discusses the risks of sexually transmitted diseases for people who practice any type of interesting sex. For example:

HIV isn't magical (thankfully)... we know exactly how it is spread! Unprotected anal sex (both top and bottom) and sharing needles continue to fuel the HIV epidemic in our community.

But then they undo all their normalization by putting up a bunch of links that let you exit the site while you still have the chance to save your soul. To me, it says that they're not really that comfortable with their own messaging.

This is in the footer on every page: This site contains HIV prevention messages, strategies around safer sex, and information about gay and bisexual men's health. If you are not seeking this information, click here to exit this site. 

On another page they write: DISCLAIMER: If you are not seeking information or images about safer sex, gay and bisexual men's health and other material that may not be suitable for all audiences, please exit this site.

A disclaimer is a statement renouncing responsibility for something. In this case they seem to be saying, look, we're giving you all these chances to avoid seeing things that will potentially offend you, so don't blame us, because we told you so.

By acknowledging that the content is offensive to some people, even if those people are prudish bigots, they are implying that yes, pictures of hot men showing affection for each other, or a shirtless dude with a six-pack pulling on his pants waist to look down his boxers, should be considered offensive.

Hold up, cowboy. Let's do a Find and Replace on that last paragraph.

"By acknowledging that the content is offensive to some people, even if those people are prudish bigots, they are implying that yes, pictures of hot women showing affection for each other, or a topless woman with a gigantic rack pulling down her pants to reveal her hot pink thong, should be considered offensive."

What? That made no sense whatsoever. Certainly no one would ever disclaim that it may not be suitable for all audiences. Audiences have to put up with that stuff all the time. So stop apologizing for images that a few frat boys are going to find too homoerotic to handle.

Click here if you're homophobic: http://www.himprogram.org. Hell, click here even if you're not.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Duped, New York Style

This is the last time I'll talk about Megan and the douchebag in Madison Square Park. Why? Because my friend's theory is that the whole thing was a viral marketing stunt. It makes sense. She said she saw him yesterday too, but during lunch. As she pointed out, there was something just a little too polished about the guy. And something a little too big about the sign. Plus, who stands outside ALL DAY in a suit like that?

Well, I fell for it. I told at least three people about it, and I blogged about it. Fortunately less than ten people read my blog.

Glad I didn't take a picture.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Scarlet Letter, New York Style

I saw this dude standing in front of Madison Square Park today, wearing a giant handwritten sign that said, "I WAS VERBALLY ABUSIVE. I'M SORRY, MEGAN." He was a total Wall Street suit, about 30 years old, probably Ivy League educated, and had a grim look on his face.

I'm totally kicking myself for not snapping a picture of him with my camera phone. In fact, half a block later I had already reconstructed the conversation I would have had if I had pulled out my camera.

"No, bitch, you can't take my picture."

"You were verbally abusive. You don't get to choose."

"Don't take my picture."

"Whatever, douchebag. Say cheese!"

Instead, I tried not to make eye contact and kept walking. This Hispanic dude walking in front of me turned to his female companion and was like, "Hahahahaha! That guy's a fucking pussy!"

I told my friend about the suit with the sign, and she said, "I sort of like his girlfriend."

Then she thought about it and said, "His girlfriend sounds abusive too, for making him stand there with that sign."

Who can say how that numbnut ended up there on a Friday evening wearing that giant sign? Maybe his girlfriend forced him to do it. Maybe he decided to do it as a surprise for her, to prove how sorry he really is.

I've been in abusive relationships. Standing in Madison Square Park like Hester Prynne doesn't cure an abuser of his abusive behavior. It's just part of the cycle of violence.

He was probably like, "**!#$$!! YOU #!!**$$ MOTHER#@$$!@#@!! IF YOU EVER #@@$!!!** I'LL @#$@!!! YOUR $##@$$!***#@ #@**!! LIKE !@**#@@@#!! SO DON'T YOU EVER @@*&#&$%%!! AGAIN @!**#@@%#$!"

And in the next breath, after she stormed out and slammed the door, he probably pulled out the permanent market and poster board and started hatching a plan to win her back and prove that this time he's really sorry.

For a few seconds I felt embarrassed for him, that he was willing to humiliate himself to win back this Megan person. Then I hated him, for being so ignorant and lazy that he thought he all it took was a shallow stunt.

Changing abusive behaviors is a lifelong commitment to self-awareness, humility and personal improvement. Most people fail.

Certainly in my lifetime I will never stop being a hopeless procrastinator. And that is so much less complicated than the terror, insecurity and desperate need to control others that abusers contend with.

I hope Megan knows better. I hope Megan dumps his retarded ass. Even in New York, there are better men out there.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Food Porn Chronicles: Tour of Asia

It was a long weekend of fun and sun, cherry blossoms and Brooklyn Bridge strolls, and battles between winter and spring wardrobes. Mostly it was out of doors and out of the house, in a warm restaurant or in someone else's house.

Now Tuesday so soon? I decided to take it easy tonight, stick my head in the fridge and get reacquainted with the inhabitants. Urgently seeking care: one large chicken breast and a pound of okra, starting to bruise.

I whipped up a Thai basil chicken recipe I learned from Noi, my language teacher in Mahachai. I still can't get it to stop tasting more Chinese than Thai, though. See the recipe below.

Gra-Pow Gai (Thai basil chicken)

1 large chicken breast, sliced thin OR 1/2 lb ground chicken
1 1/2 T fish sauce
1/4 t baking soda
corn oil OR peanut oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 Thai chili peppers, finely chopped 
1 small onion, chopped OR 3 shallots, chopped
1/2 bunch basil leaves, coarsely chopped (I used sweet basil but holy basil or Thai basil is more authentic)
1 T soy sauce

Marinate chicken in baking soda and 1 T fish sauce. Mix well and set aside for 10-30 minutes, or cover and store overnight in fridge. In a large pan, heat oil. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add chili and onions, cook until onions begin to turn clear. Add chicken. Cook until almost done. Add basil, cook for 1 minute. Add soy sauce and fish sauce, cook for another minute. Serve over rice.

Here is a very similar recipe with better pictures: http://rasamalaysia.com/thai-basil-chicken-recipe-gai-pad-krapow/. "Gai pad gra-pow" just means stir fried chicken with basil, same thing as saying "gra-pow gai" when ordering it from a street cart.

Next food resuscitation: Okra. A few months ago I discovered this lovely Pakistani hole in the wall called Haandi on Lexington and 28th, near work. Someone told me it's where all the cab drivers eat lunch. I'm not sure about that, but the food is great and the Bollywood videos are always ridiculous, even if sometimes you'll catch a customer using the communal spoon to eat straight out of the bowl of mukhwas.

Anyway, their okra curry is amazing, and I was inspired to try to replicate it at home. Unfortunately, the inspiration had dwindled to almost nothing by today, and my greatest accomplishment was rounding up every Indian spice I could find in my pantry to throw into the dish. Voila! Meet my recipe for Okra With Insufficient Combinations of Indian Spices, which is nothing like the okra curry at Haandi.

Okra With Insufficient Combinations of Indian Spices

1/2 lb fresh okra
1 T whole mustard seeds
1 small onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 in piece of ginger, minced
1 fresh chili, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
1 T curry powder
1 T roommate's mystery yellow powder (Justina's diagnosis: coriander powder)
black pepper

The secret to cooking okra, I learned after googling 20 bhindi masala (okra curry) recipes, is to pat them dry with a paper towel after washing them. They need to be really dry before slicing and cooking, because water makes the gooey stuff inside even gooier. And now, off we go, a-currying okra.

Wash okra and pat dry. Even better, lay them on a dishtowel and allow to air dry for 30 minutes. Trim off the top, then slice each piece of okra lengthwise. Heat oil in a large pan. Add mustard seeds and cook on high for 1 minute. Add garlic, ginger, onion and chili. Cook until onion begins to turn clear. Add okra. Cook uncovered for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add tomato, salt and pepper. Stir and cover for 2 minutes. Stir again and cover for another 3 minutes. Add curry and coriander powder. Stir and cover. Allow to simmer another 5 minutes or until okra reaches desired consistency. Serve with rice or naan (you're on your own for that recipe).

And finally, Vietnamese spring rolls, artfully and awkwardly hand rolled by yours truly and my friend Kumiko last week, after we finished our taxes. All I can tell you without a video is what to put inside.

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

2 lbs shrimp, peeled, deveined and boiled
1 pkg rice stick, soaked in warm water until soft
1 lb bean sprouts
1 head green or red leaf lettuce
1 small bunch chinese chives
mint leaves
1 pkg rice paper wrappers

Dipping sauce:
Mix together 2 parts hoisin sauce to 1 part peanut butter. Serve separately with Vietnamese chili sauce (sambal oelek).

Take your pick of spring roll Youtube videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfI1wMeDXhg&feature=related, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uw-7pYq7wSc

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Facebook Flashback

A Kenyan friend found me on Facebook last week. His name is Paul and he was my tour guide when I went on safari in the Masai Mara in 2006. A Finnish travel writer friend had introduced us before I arrived in Kenya, and at the time I thought Paul was the last Kenyan tour guide on earth. So I promised that I would hire him as a guide during my stay in Kenya.

Anyway, I accepted Paul's Facebook friend request last week, and posted a message on his wall a few days ago. I wrote it in Swahili because I still like to be an annoying showoff sometimes.

"How are you, Bwana? It has been a long time. Greetings from New York. Have you been getting lots of work? I'm sure you will, God willing. Greet your family for me."

A few days later I got a reply from him. It was written in English.

"Am expecting you to give me some businees.I dont have much work to do.Recomend me to your friends.Am doing well though .What of you?"

Normally I'd be happy to hear that a friend from the past is doing well. But all I could think was, he's expecting me to give him business? And not just any business, but "businees." I have not been in contact with this person in over 3 years and the first thing he says to me is, "You owe me something, and I'm entitled to it."

Everything irritating about being a foreigner in Kenya came rushing back to me, especially those 2 seconds after hearing something like, "You give me your laptop when you leave Kenya," or "What did you bring me from Nairobi?," or "Mzungu, why can't you give us something?"

I started banging out a pissy reply to Paul. "The reason you don't have business is because you expect other people to give it to you instead of getting it for yourself. Your business is in Kenya, not in the US, so go out and find it."

I read it over about 15 times. Then I canceled it. Was it really worth getting the last word and putting him in his place? Not to mention sounding like a complete colonialist pig. I wasn't going to singlehandedly reverse decades of a culture of donor mentality that is still being reinforced daily.

Who knows, maybe in Kenyan English, the phrase "Am expecting you to..." has a less entitled and bossy tone than in American English. What point was I trying to make, anyway? That I'm not like every other foreigner who is too nice or too soft-hearted to say no, or too rich to care? That he needs to learn about the naive Protestant myth that hard work, honesty and determination always leads to success, because Kenya is actually a meritocracy?

I've made it all the way to the three-year memory-softening mark in my post-Kenya life, but the crazy-making brain spinning has managed to start all over again. This stuff never leaves you. I have made peace with much of the anger and sadness that Kenya painted on my heart, and have embraced the densely imperfect beauty of the country, the culture and the people. I love that part of me that is Kenya and all the experiences and malaria meds that made me the slightly dizzy person with spotty short term memory that I am today.

But this. Damn you, Paul.

After the Masai Mara trip, I met Paul in a cafe in Nairobi to sort out some residual business. We ran into some other Peace Corps volunteers at the cafe, and they joined us at our table. They were two women, whom I will call Jay and May.

Paul tried to make small talk but they weren't interested in having a Kenyan conversation. "Where do you come from? What crops do you grow in your country? Have you eaten our ugali? Jambo. This means hello in our language."

Jay and May rolled their eyes and barely acknowledged Paul's elementary tutorial that seemed so inane and patronizing to us after 18 months in Kenya. I understood where they were coming from, but I was annoyed that they were being rude and short with him.

"Have you climbed Mt. Kenya?" Paul asked. "It's very difficult. You will lose a lot of weight."

He turned to May and said, "At least 2 kilos."

Then he turned to overweight Jay, looked her up and down, and said with a kindly smile, "And you -- you will lose at least 4 kilos."

I had to laugh. Jay's head bloated with anger like a balloon, but didn't explode. We all knew that being told that you were fat by a Kenyan was a compliment, but it didn't matter to her that day. Jay had all the information she needed to hate him.

A few months later I got an email from Paul. He said that he had noticed that my friends were angry with him that day at the cafe, and asked if it was rude in American culture to tell a woman that she's fat. And, more importantly, he wanted to learn more about our strange cultural norms surrounding body weight so that he wouldn't offend other foreigners.

It was one of the most culturally insightful observations that any Kenyan friend had ever made to me. I wasn't particularly impressed with Paul as a tour guide. One night during our safari, he disappeared without explanation for an entire evening, and we suspected he had been drinking at another safari lodge -- one that we couldn't afford on our travel budget. Nothing inherently wrong with unwinding after a long day, but why weren't we told his whereabouts and how to reach him if we needed something? You can't leave delicious foreigners unattended on the carnivorous African savannah.

And I'm still irritated that Paul's most recent Facebook message couldn't do better than play into my negative stereotypes of Kenyans.

It was only when I sat down to write this post today that I remembered Paul's email asking about American ideas on obesity. It's a good reminder that while I may be repeatedly disappointed when my own stereotypes about people reside in truth, no stereotype is the full picture.

Obvious, and yet still humbling.
"I've always wanted to have a dog and name it Bear. Because then I'd make it watch the Discovery Channel and see if it had an identity crisis from hearing stuff like, 'The bear eats mainly berries and other fruits of the forest. It does not eat meat, but will become aggressive towards humans if threatened.' " - Cindy with an S