The ONLY Reason Why People Eat Durian

Durian, the popular fruit of Southeast Asia, is completely polarizing. You either love it, or you hate it. My Asian friends and family use it as a litmus test to see how Asian I am. 

Can I cut it properly?

Can I eat it?

Nope. I am not Asian at all. I will never accept durian.

The giant spiky fruit resembles a medieval weapon. If that doesn’t deter you, then its fragrance of sewage and rotting flesh will. There are many famous quotes of people describing its unappealing smell and taste. Here are a few of my favorites: 

“Like eating raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.” —Anthony Burgess

“Like pungent, runny French cheese … Your breath will smell as if you’d been French kissing your dead grandmother.” —Anthony Bourdain

“Vomit-flavoured custard.” —The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei

“To eat it seems to be the sacrifice of self-respect.” —Bayard Taylor

Creative descriptions by durian-haters abound on the internet, however there are few enraptured descriptions from durian-lovers. They claim they love it, but they say bland things like:

It’s great. Something like cheesecake. 

There are those that have learned how to accept the offensive odors, and now relish durian with gusto. My durian-lover friends are waiting for me to convert, but if I want to eat cheesecake, I’m gonna go eat some cheesecake. I’m not going to hack through a spiky pod to dig out something that looks like blanched liver. 

Which brings me to my conclusion. The ONLY reason why people eat this fruit is for


  • If you hate it, you now get to tell the world how awful it is. The Asian in you isn’t shining through, but your survived it and lived the tell the tale. 
  • If you love it, you now get to brag about your pod-hacking knowledge and highly evolved (or non-functioning) olfactory system. You’re also seen as some kind of holder of super-Asian genes.
  • If you’ve been converted, you get to tell everyone still holding their noses that you have the ability to appreciate your gourmet heritage. You. Are. Asian.


We all grow up under the influence of others. A perpetual DUI ticket that we can never fully erase from our permanent record.

Self Respect. Self Worth. Self Love.
My parents never mentioned such words. Instead, the phrases on repeat were:

“Put your whole heart into what you do”
“Call your heart.”

The message was: If I did things to the best of my ability, then I wouldn’t be able to disappoint myself.

I think this is a solid form of self-love. Incomplete, but a valid part of it. Self respect and Self Worth were a different story though. When the majority sees you as different, other, and as a visitor, it changes the way you see yourself. For this, my parents said:

“You’re in someone else’s country, so you must stand up and work harder, faster, better to prove that you belong here.”

This meant working more. Going above and beyond. Anticipating what needs to be done, then doing it, and then NOT asking for recognition or fair compensation because being humble and hard-working and agreeable shows that you’re smart and valuable and lifts up the entire Asian population. The message was:

If I can prove to the majority that I am valuable and they can accept me, then I will be able to see myself as a valuable worthy person.

At the time, it made sense to them and it made sense to me, but hinging your worth on external validation and acceptance is a slippery slope. I think it has back-fired for the entire Asian-American population. People expect everything (labor and goods) in all Chinatowns in the USA to be cheap because we undervalue ourselves, and thus, the majority undervalues us back. Being cheap in price does not prove that we are competitive, nor does it prove that we belong here. It just perpetuates the system of immigrants working 2x or 3x harder, simply to serve the majority.

When the term “quiet quitting” started to make the rounds, I found it disgraceful. What sort of self-respecting person does a half-ass job? That sort of mindset was worlds away from what I had been taught – because minorities don’t have the luxury to half-ass anything. It’s whole-ass, or no-ass. But the entire quiet-quitting movement was supposed to be based on self-respect and self-worth. Just goes to show that you can approach the same subject from opposite ends.

The thing that these two approaches have in common are that they are both defined by external factors. It is either validation from your boss and peers, or literally your worth being defined by your salary, with each external factor influencing your behavior and decisions.

For many years, I walked through a kind of depression fog, the result of a lifelong cocktail of clashing value systems. Perhaps I was a quiet quitter in my own life, feeling unenthusiastic and lacking optimism, while simultaneously forcing myself to go 110% towards destinations I wasn’t truly convinced I wanted.

Arriving at my own definition of self-worth has been a long journey, and it’s still ongoing. I’ve learned that self-worth is not at all about being accepted by others. It starts by accepting yourself, which then opens up an avenue to self love.

Self-love can not be described any better than in this beautiful poem, Love After Love, by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

I hope everyone will one day arrive at their table, sit, and feast on their lives. Give back to their hearts, and love themselves. Wishing you all the best…. -Lisa

What Would The Neighbors Think

In the span of a 20-second conversation, a lot of information can be shared, either intentionally or not. Complete strangers suddenly reveal that their relative lost a limb, or they will casually drop that they own property in Europe. Even at the mailbox, a neighbor might say, “I’ve been waiting for a letter from the editor of The New Yorker.” It’s always something identifying, something they are either burdened with or proud of. Maybe it’s an unconscious habit. Or maybe it’s just what we do – a form of small talk. Whenever I pick up on these little slivers, I wonder what sort of stock phrases I drop around. Even if I never utter a word, how am I building up an image of myself to others? Our actions can declare who we are before our words. Like my neighbors. I have never met them in person, but I still know something about them: Meg and Dan.

Like many people, Meg and Dan eat. They have the first unit, next to entry door. The whole building can smell what’s cookin’ as we walk past their unit, down the hallway towards our own homes. On Sunday mornings, it smells like bacon. On weekday evenings, it smells like Italian – something cheesy and garlicky. On weekends, though they shouldn’t, they leave their recycling just outside their door, and the rest of us have to step around their empty pizza boxes and cardboard beer carriers. Always from brands that are trendy, innovative – old craft made new and cool.

Being in the first unit means that their windows are visible to the street. They use their windowsill as a bookshelf, and it is stuffed with titles like: Learn How To Trade Stocks, and A Path to Financial Freedom. 

Curious how the titles are all turned to face out. Why would they face their book spines out towards the street and not in towards themselves? Why make us take notice of their preferences? I suppose we all love displaying our personalities, from bumper stickers to pins. We like to announce our identities. Letting us see that they are interested in their building a secure financial future must somehow make them feel – smart, together, on track.

Last week, propped in their window is a banner with the word FINALLY. Like a triangle flag you’d hold up at a parade, the flag is made of felt with a wooden dowel as the handle. At the end of the triangle point, an illustration of a diamond ring is hanging on the branch of the Y. It is displayed for our benefit. Even if Meg put the news on blast on her social media, it wasn’t enough. She wants to blast it out to the street.

How long did Meg wait for Dan to say the words? How many Friday night pizzas and Sunday brunch pancakes did she chew through before saying YES. Seems to me like she’s happy with her new status, and yet a little bitter about the timeline. I thought they might move away, because we all had to walk around an old side table they had left in the hallway, as well as old IKEA lamps and other disposable-type furniture. I was a little hopeful that they would leave, so we wouldn’t have to step around the detritus of their happiness anymore. It’s pretty rude of them to treat the hallway as their personal garbage bin. What does THAT say about the kind of people they are? I imagined them discussing their future housing options over sushi, or some other yumminess, planning out how to invest their stock earnings into a nice piece of real estate, something that would give them a great return on their investment in 30 years.

But no luck. Today a large box from WayFair was tossed into the hallway. They have bought a new coffee table. The box wasn’t even folded and tied up. You could see footprints over it where my other neighbors have walked across, none of us willing to do Meg and Dan’s work of taking the box out to the recycling bin. I added my footprints to the mix, while breathing in the smell of some tomato-onion-garlic recipe. Meg and Dan were home, making dinner, maybe about to settle in over a dinner of spaghetti while propping their feet up on their new coffee table.

On my way to my unit, I stop and turn around. What does it reveal about me if I leave the box there? I pick up the box and fold it flat. It is as big as a sail. Very politely, I lean it against their door. The box covers it completely, and at some point when they exit their unit they will be faced with a wall of cardboard. Am I being petty? What would the neighbors think?

I don’t need to know their thoughts. There are more pressing things to think about, like what to make for my own dinner.

Self-Acceptance. Easy as Pie?

As the kid of immigrants, I grew up in my parents’ Chinese restaurant, watching all the Southerners “explore” the novelty of Chinese food.

Outside of those walls, people looked at my Chinese face and assumed I couldn’t understand English, that somehow I was inferior to them and their ways. Inside the restaurant, I relished the cultural one-upmanship I had over them. Not only could I use chopsticks, I knew how to eat food that went beyond the simple flavors of salty, sweet, and fat. My armor of umami, fortified with the breath of the wok, made me feel strong. Like Popeye, I ate my spinach – and bok choy, and cabbage, and earwood mushrooms, and other ancient Chinese secrets. 

It’s not much of a brag, to go around saying that you eat lotus seeds while they eat Cheerios. Even if I did say those things out loud, the local community would have only heard “cat” and “dog” not bitter melon and bird’s nest soup. I learned not to say anything at all. Just stayed quiet with my inner power, fueled by noodles.

Then, I went to Hong Kong, where my accented Cantonese immediately signified that I was an outsider. The locals there turned their noses up at me and gave me reasons why THEIR food, THEIR culture, THEIR language, was all better than mine. Topped it all off by listing endless reasons why I’d never fully comprehend the depths of what it is to be Chinese. Forget my Chinese face, it was not a valid membership card, because I am American. I was a confused, being told that I was NOT something that I had been told, all my life, that I was.

In response to being on the flip side, within a very loud, very vocal collective who enjoyed pointing out my deficiencies, I said

“Well…I can make pumpkin pie.”  

A friend let me into their commercial pastry kitchen one evening, and I made a bunch of pumpkin pies. This was before Starbucks and Pumpkin Spice had taken over the world, so it hadn’t been offered as a mainstream Instagrammable-Must-Have yet. This autumnal combination wasn’t in Hong Kong’s run-of-the-mill flavor vault of taro, lotus seed, or red bean. Hong Kong doesn’t even have an autumn season to associate a flavor to it. This was American. And THEY LOVED IT! They ate it up. Asked for more.

I loved introducing them to the pleasures of pie. Cultural one-upmanship – touché! I even enjoyed the fact that in Chinese they say the English word “pie”, because they don’t have their own word for it. Would they ever understand the depths, the history, or the etymology of a word that isn’t even part of their language?

Of course they can.

But I let myself enjoy that little moment of victory. Just a Chinese-American girl sharing some American traditional flavors with others, and everyone being open to sharing. The victory! For that moment I was accepted for who I am and what I can offer, regardless of what my face looks like, or how accented my speech. It nudged opened a door to myself. A place where I could just BE without being deficient in either one culture or the other.

Self -Acceptance Pie looks and tastes different for everyone. But when I sliced and shared it, it was more powerful, and enjoyable, than being hunched over my bowl of silent noodles.

The New (Old) Beauty Standard

What if our definition of beauty and ways of defining beauty were completely a result of our inner selves?

Beauty standards are described as unattainable, partly because we keep changing the external factors. Just look back on past decades to see how trends influence everything from body shape, to hairstyles, to zip codes. Things we thought were the pinnacle of good taste are quickly replaced by newer standards claiming to be the pinnacle of good taste.

In our modern age, the constant chase of beauty often comes down to the price tag.

We may feel that the more expensive the item/service/house is, the more beautiful it is, and thus if we own it, the more beautiful we will become. The commercial world has become very good at selling us an idea of beauty, packaging it up so we feel our belongings and memberships are signals of our status, and indicators of our ability to discern what is worthy and beautiful. But it wasn’t always this way.

Lao Tzu, a 6th-century BC Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, taught that beauty was everywhere, and it was free. Everyone deserved to have beauty in their life, feel beautiful as they were, and spend their days being able to appreciate beauty, no matter how much money they had.

Taoist masters believed that beauty was a guiding directive in a person’s way of being.

One needed to make their own actions, thoughts, and words beautiful in order to see beauty outside of themselves. If you were angry, or prejudiced, you would be unable to recognize beauty in the world, or in other people.

In other words, with the right mindset and by cultivating our own actions, thoughts, and words, we have the ability to see the beauty in ourselves, others, and in our surroundings. We don’t need to rely on external signals and agonize over attaining them.

That sounds like a wonderful beauty standard to me.

The Aesthetics of Food and How Zen Buddhism Influenced Our Plating

If you’ve been to a fancy restaurant, one of those that serves really small bites on very large dishes, then you might have experienced some Zen plating principles at play.

It doesn’t have to be fancy — but definitely the kind of place that sincerely considers the guest’s experience. The chefs may not know that they are using Zen principles. In fact, every meal they serve could simply be their opportunity to show you how amazing their food artistry is. If that is the case, it is the complete opposite of Zen, and would come off as pretentious or overworked. However, if it imparts a tranquil feeling and shows you a beauty in the ingredients that you may not have detected before, then it is very close to Zen meal.

In Zen Buddhism, meals are meant to nourish the body and the spirit.

This means, if you are the one cooking for others, then it is your job to:

  • Bring out the best in each ingredient.
  • Serve in a way that creates harmony and serenity.
  • Create the right match between food and serving vessel.

This manifesto is part of almost every Michelin Starred restaurant’s mission. The difference is in whether or not the effort is for the guest (Zen) or for the glory of the restaurant (ego).

Ideas, like ingredients, have traveled around the world and have evolved. By the time it lands on your plate, the idea has gone through many transformations, and you might not even know where the idea originated from. I like to believe that if you’ve ever found yourself choosing a certain dish to help highlight your food, or rearranged to make your cheese and crackers look more inviting so it gives a little more pleasure to your guest, then that is some Zen thought at work.

You could argue that this is just being decent hosts, having some design sense, or emulating the service of nice restaurants. But which came first — Zen Buddhism, or the idea of elegance and service, crystallized into 3 Michelin Stars?


Is expensive better than amazing?

Or does being expensive make it amazing?

How we perceive and value products has become how we perceive and value people. The first time I saw the headline “How To Look Expensive,” I laughed. Then I started to see it more often, with more areas of life tagged onto it.

How to make your home look expensive.
How to look expensive at work.
How to look expensive on a budget.
Get the guide to look expensive.

A Google search reveals the questions we care about, and people are asking:

Can I look expensive if I’m not rich?
How can I make my face look expensive?
What hair looks expensive?

Maybe “expensive” is shorthand for being classy, intelligent, graceful, charming, and confident – all the things that can’t be bought.

But we keep trying to buy it.

I’m not surprised by our desire to project a certain image of wealth. It’s the result of us equating a person’s net worth with their worth as a human being. Still, knowing why we do what we do doesn’t make it any less sad.

And I am sad, because recently I found out that someone close to me prefers that I buy them cakes over me making them cakes, simply because the bought cake is expensive, and expensive is impressive. Oh, they don’t mind the FREE cake I make them at all. They admit they love the flavors and textures, the creativity, and even the look.

It’s just that – you know – it’s free.

Free, like the promotional pens you might have laying around your house, announcing car insurance you’ll never need. The pen is useful and you expect it to be there when you jot down notes, and you might even get annoyed if you don’t have a freebie pen floating around to serve your life.

Free is basically the stuff that junks up your drawers, but you keep around for your own benefit. It was a revelation seeing me and my cake being relegated to the junk drawer – things that are valuable enough to be there, but not valuable enough to be displayed.

None of that stuff is truly free. There is a cost to make those freebie pens, and likewise, there is a cost to free cake! Not just the immediate cost of ingredients, time, and effort, but the cost of spending all those years – half of my life! – working to gain and apply more pastry knowledge. And sure, I “know my worth” and all, and I do know how to price out my pastries, but who makes a cake as a gift then charges the recipient for it? Or, who acts so gauche to give a gift but announce how much you would have charged for it?

It’s a tough world when cake gets no respect unless it has a hefty price tag on it.

If it’s that hard for cake, it’s that much harder for people.

No wonder the internet is full of advice on how to look expensive.

Here’s a trick to make cake look expensive: Handle it the same way you would handle yourself if you were walking down a red carpet with hundreds of cameras flashing at you.

You would be clean.

You would be composed.

You would make sure everything about your look has a purpose, is perfectly in place, and only enhances, not detracts.

If you’re not feeling creative, keep decor to a minimum and adorn with some gold-leaf. This way, the blank expanse highlights the gold and announces to everyoneLook! it‘s EXPENSIVE.