BOOKS RECOMMENDED BY YOU

What’s a book you’d recommend to everyone? 

About three weeks ago, I asked my Instagram followers this exact question. There were so many great responses and recommendations, so I decided to compile a list of diverse and interesting reads for those of you who are hunting for your next book to devour read.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Recommended by Violet (@girl_with_the_third_eye), this autobiographical comedy written by a South African author urges one to question the status quo while delivering smart humor.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Gabi (@ourworldofwords) steadfastly maintains that this is her favourite novel of all time! A Finalist for the 2018 William C. Morris Award, this emotionally poignant debut novel about a biracial teen who struggles with social anxiety and dreams of attending art school delves into the importance of understanding self-worth.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This book comes highly recommended by Ana (@bujowithana) and Yylen (@booktopsleeper).  The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is pegged as psychological fiction and LGBTQ+ literature full of old Hollywood glamour. It unfolds the fictional life of a Cuban actress in a cinematic fashion.

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

@buttons.studies says that this is the best book she’s ever read! Nominated for the Carnegie Medal and Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Rooftoppers weaves elements of fantasy and historical fiction together to tell the story of a girl who discovers a secret rooftop world.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Martina (@marty.reads) and Clarissa (@wavypages) both recommended this young adult, fantasy fiction novel about a lost city and its sinister past. Full of lush, descriptive writing and intricate world-building, Strange the Dreamer has long been on my own to-read list! 

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

This novel is one of Ciara’s (@cyra_bear) favourites! First published in 1987, Norwegian Wood is a beautiful, bildungsroman tale of loss and romantic relationships. 

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

A contemporary young adult novel recommended by @bookhuggerreviews, Radio Silence is a story about two teens who start a podcast together in an attempt to find their own voices without conforming to the expectations of society.

There were so many more great recommendations, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with a long list! I am eager to read all of them myself, and I hope that you can find your next read in this short list of interesting, diverse books. 

PHOTOSPREAD: SOUTHERN VIETNAM

The sound of paddles slicing through the green waters of the Mekong Delta. The sticky heat of the canopied jungle on my skin. The cool, refreshing taste of young coconut water. The summer song of the cicadas. The sweet scent of incense at Vĩnh Tràng Chùa, a Buddhist place of worship…

There is no other experience quite like a journey to Vietnam, a country in southeastern Asia. In June 2018 (half a year ago?! crazy.) I had the wonderful opportunity to visit southern Vietnam. I spent about a week in its capital, Ho Chi Minh City, immersing myself in local culture and history, valuable lessons that can’t be taught in a traditional classroom.

The raw beauty of Vietnam lies within its gorgeous landscapes, shaped by the destruction of war and the modern resilience in its aftermath. My newfound appreciation for the strength of Vietnam’s beautiful landscape and people manifests itself in this series of photographs, all shot on my iPhone. What I fail to describe adequately with words, I hope to make up for with my photos.

Hẹn gặp lại, Việt Nam.

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DORM ROOM LIVING, YEAR ONE

I almost wanted to title this blog post “COLLEGE IS WAY TOO MUCH WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY FOR ME,” but decided against it because it echoes a feeling I am only occasionally overwhelmed by.

Because I’ve received several requests and recurring questions about my life at university, I’ve decided to make a series of blog posts documenting my first year college experience, and this first one will be geared toward describing my freshman living situation in the dorms + general advice! And since I understand that many of you will be tackling university work next school year or in a few short years, I hope you can glean some new insights with this blog post series.

About a year ago, my dad and I packed my life away into white paper boxes and drove up to Northern California from sunny Los Angeles. We were met by the Bay Area’s summer gloom. Already, I sensed that things were different. I felt a wave of emotion crash over me, as I fully realized that I would be 400 miles away from all that was familiar to me, though the immediate surroundings of my campus would soon become just as familiar.

Move-in day, 2017 August 14.

Cold and cloudy, the morning sky promised rain. I woke up early to the sound of my phone’s alarm and felt a trickle of anxiety gnawing at me. I was in a new place with new people and of course, all of this was a new experience. What was I supposed to expect? I had no clue.

My father and I grabbed a quick breakfast and set out to navigate the narrow, one way streets of Berkeley. I was lucky enough to have been assigned to not just a double room, but also a mini-suite, which meant that I would only have one lovely roommate and a bathroom shared with one other room rather than the entire floor. (Many people are assigned to a triple during their first year at UC Berkeley, and bathrooms are shared and coed.)

Later that afternoon, I met my roommate, who is now one of my close friends. I also met my two suite-mates, who were living in the room adjacent to mine, and together, the four of us (along with one other friend) formed a close-knit friendship that I hold dear in my heart. If y’all are reading this, I LOVE YOU AND CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU SOON!!!

My room was spacious and comfortable. I seriously thought I brought a lot of stuff with me from home, but when I moved everything in, I realized that I still had plenty of room. I’d definitely recommend bringing less stuff to begin with because you’ll probably gradually accumulate more things as the school year progresses.

And after this crazy, fun, and overall amazing experience of living with people other than my family, (Roommate horror stories? Where?) I’ve compiled a list of some general things to keep in mind in order to sustain a great relationship with your roommate(s) and make your first year dorm experience a pleasant one:

Only bring what is necessary.

This is just as important as it is obvious. Your university will most likely have a list of what to bring and what not to bring. If they don’t mail you a physical list, you can find it online. Most dorms are small and won’t have a lot space for you to move your whole house into. Be mindful that you’ll also be sharing the space with at least one other person, so you definitely don’t want to be imposing on others by taking up too much of the room! (Taking up too much room? Hmm.)

You will also most likely accumulate more things as the semester and year goes on. I know I did, and I was half surprised by the sheer amount of shit I had to move out of my room…

Mail stuff…to yourself.

If you find that you have too many things you need to bring and not enough luggage space, you can box up some of the less important stuff and mail it to your new dorm address.

USPS Priority Mail boxes are free of charge and have a flat rate for shipping based on the size of the box or envelope. You can put anything with any weight up to a maximum of 70 lbs, and it will be the same price! I shipped my books to myself because they took up too much space and weight in my luggage otherwise.

Being considerate goes a long way.

Don’t be that roommate who constantly has their significant other over all the time. Refill the water in the Brita filter jug (would highly recommend getting one) if it’s running low. Try to be as quiet as you can in the morning if your roommate is still asleep as you leave for your 8AM chemistry lab.

Sometimes I’d make instant oats in the morning and add some yummy fruit to kickstart my day. But because that requires using the microwave noisily, I would never make it on Wednesdays when I had class at 8AM because my roommate typically wasn’t awake until about 9AM.

Talk to your roommate(s).

I know it’s sometimes awkward at first, especially if you opted to randomize your roommate, but try your best to be friendly and receptive. Offer to get a meal with them. Ask them about their day. Complain about classes and terrible professors together. Say hello when you see them and goodbye when you leave.

I remember that one time when I was really upset over a series of failed exams, my lovely roommate brought home some pretty flowers and tea eggs for me! It was a really sweet gesture, and I don’t think I’d ever forget it.

Keep things tidy and organized!

Please don’t eat peanuts and leave your discarded shells in haphazard piles and in cups scattered around the room. (Yes, I had a friend with a roommate like that and it was absolutely AWFUL) Make a conscious effort to clean on a designated day at least once a week. Just take out the trash, make your bed and clear out space on your desk so that you can work clutter-free. Trust me, having space to work can do wonders for your productivity. Clutter tends to cause distractions, and you don’t want that, especially as you’re trying to cram for exams! And if you’re as much of a germaphobe and clean freak as I am, I’d definitely recommend investing in a roll of Clorox wipes as well.

My roommate and I were pretty good about keeping things orderly and clean. We also had a small vacuum that we would occasionally use to clean hair, dust, and dirt off the floor. No one ever left clothes strewn about the room, and we almost always made our beds in the morning. (Life hack: If you ever want the appearance of a neat room, just make your bed!)


These are just some small, general pieces of advice that I have for those of you who are about to move away into your college dorms for the first time. It’s honestly such an amazing experience, and I know that you’ll love it as much as I did. If you do have any specific questions or requests, my DM’s and emails are always open. Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for my next blog post in this series because the next one will be about something that’s been highly requested—dorm room decorating!

BIRTHDAY BOOK SHOPPING LIST

Hello, my lovely friends! As some of you might already know, my birthday just passed not too long ago. And naturally, I had to compile a list of books I reaaaally want to buy and read. My to-be-read (tbr) pile is crying from the stress of bearing too many books—so I narrowed it down to…*drumroll please*

ONLY!

FIVE!

BOOKS!

And they include:

CIRCE

by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world. (Amazon)

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

by Amor Towles

He can’t leave his hotel. You won’t want to.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose. (Amazon)

FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS

(Penguin Classic edition) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

by John Green

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship. (GoodReads)

CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE

by Tomi Adeyemi

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy. (GoodReads)


All of the books listed above are different in plot and genre, and I want to make it my goal to finish all of them this May or June. I’ve been looking forward to reading Circe ever since I found out that Madeline Miller was writing it! I was a big fan of her debut novel, The Song of Achilles. I also love reading historical fiction novels, and I discovered A Gentleman in Moscow through a recommendation by Amazon’s shopping algorithm. And of course, how could I not want this gorgeous edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s collection of short stories?

Additionally, John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down and Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone seem like promising young adult books. I’ve seen so many great reviews floating around on bookstagram, blogs, and GoodReads, so I’m really quite excited to read them!

What are some books that you’re looking forward to reading in the upcoming month of May?

REVIEW: THUNDERHEAD

thunderheadTITLE: Thunderhead

AUTHOR: Neal Shusterman

PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster

SYNOPSIS (Goodreads): Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the second novel of the chilling New York Times bestselling series from Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?


SPOILER-FREE REVIEW:

THAT WAS LITERALLY THE CRAZIEST POSSIBLE ENDING EVER.

Though the unexpected cliffhanger absolutely killed me, I still enjoyed Thunderhead, the sequel to Scythe. The world-building is really something else. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. Thunderhead is smart and packed with enough action to keep the audience guessing until the final reveal. It deftly explores the concept of mortality and reconciliation with our humanity in a technology-driven futuristic utopian society.

I do wish that Citra and Rowan had more interaction and page time together. It was slightly disorienting to read about Rowan’s situation and then shift to Citra’s newfound life as a scythe, completing her gleanings. I also felt that some of the secondary characters who were introduced weren’t all that essential to the plot. There was definitely a surprise character that I totally DID NOT expect to make an appearance in this book…

However, I really loved the interactions between Scythe Curie and Scythe Anastasia (Citra)–give me a book all about their adventures together and I’ll gladly devour it in a single sitting! Both women are incredibly smart, and it was so interesting to delve into their thoughts and understand their perspectives in trying to manufacture a method to untangle themselves from the dangerous situation they were mercilessly thrown into.

Another interesting yet unsettling aspect of the book was the smart inclusion of the Thunderhead’s thoughts and feelings as a preface to almost every chapter. These interjections should have been jarring to read, but instead, they were almost poignant to a point, allowing me as a reader to glean (hahah) a little more insight about the history of the glittering world that the story is structured around.

Overall, though Thunderhead has a bit of “middle book syndrome,” it reads exactly like what it’s supposed to be, a (good) second book of a series that sets up a promising premise for the third. I can’t wait to see what else Shusterman adds to this series!

RATING: 3.75/5*
*Thank you to Simon Teen for sending me a copy of Scythe and Thunderhead! This in no way impacted the nature of my review, and all thoughts represented are my own.

 

HOW TO OVERCOME READING SLUMPS

We’ve all been there. There’s no new reading material that appeals to you in the slightest bit. You don’t feel like reading, or perhaps you read something and quickly lose interest. This frustrating situation has a name: the dreaded READING SLUMP.

So what do you do? How do you overcome it?

There is no one right way to approach this problem, but in this post I’ll be sharing some of the tips that I find helpful in getting over a reading slump!

Stick to old favourites. Those books you’d read and reread over again? Pick them up and get started!

Switch up your usual genres. Read a book that isn’t in a genre you usually stick to. So if you tend to read a lot of YA, try picking up a mystery or thriller–anything that is a bit out of your comfort zone.

Reorganize your shelves. Sometimes, as you’re shelving and reshelving books, you’ll find a book you haven’t read yet or an old favourite that piques your interest!

Ask for recommendations. I know. It’s a little weird. As someone who loves reading, I’m used to being the friend who gives reading recs rather than someone who asks for them.

Watch shows or series. I’d recommend:

  • While You Were Sleeping (thriller/suspense, romance, kdrama)
  • Goblin (supernatural, romance, cinematic-quality kdrama)
  • The Crown (historical)
  • Daredevil (action)
  • Sherlock (mystery/action)

Browse Pinterest. This has absolutely nothing to do with books or reading, but that’s the point. It’s okay to be in a reading slump. It’s okay to not constantly think about books. In fact, I think it’s a great idea to take your mind away from the constant pressure of trying to conquer your never-ending tbr list and focus on something else that doesn’t take much effort instead. Pinterest is great for garnering inspiration on almost any topic!

I hope this post helps those of you who are struggling to get out of your reading rut. I’d also love to know what you do to recover from the dreaded reading slump, let me know in the comments!

 

MY DISILLUSIONMENT WITH YA

Some of my favourite and most-loved books fall under the umbrella of the young adult (YA) genre. However, my recent impressions of YA books have been lukewarm at best. This isn’t because I don’t think YA is real literature, because it is. Society tends to brush off what young women (and men) like to read as frivolous fluff, but hey, if it’s a book everyone loves, it must be good in one way or another.

My recent disenchantment with the YA genre mainly stems from four problems.

SAME CONTRIVED, UNORIGINAL PLOT. How familiar does this sound: 16-18 year old girl on the cusp of womanhood vehemently denies that she’s beautiful and suddenly discovers a shocking secret that threatens to unravel her life as it is. She is “the chosen one,” destined for something greater. There is an evil force of villainy X that goes against everything she stands for and all that she loves. Along her journey to rid herself of such villainy, girl meets boy who is Mr. Perfect and way-too-good-for-her, and there is an instant, electrifying attraction that defies the laws of nature.

And that brings me to my next problem with a lot of YA books—

INSTA-LOVE. Fact: It doesn’t happen. It just isn’t realistic. Sure, you might be attracted to someone you just met because you laugh at the same dumb jokes, or if that person is really easy on the eyes, but you don’t profess your grand three-word declaration and stake your claim on that person’s heart within 27 pages.

GENERALIZATIONS AND STEREOTYPES. If I were to tell you that I am a total nerd at heart, what comes to mind? A girl with thick glasses and braces? Someone who is always at odds with the “popular, preppy” (yet another label) kids? I don’t get the chance to tell you that I love roses and baby’s breath, or that I enjoy listening to Oh Wonder and DEAN. You wouldn’t know that traveling is one of my favourite things to do, or that I’m part of my university’s figure skating team. Most everyone has a wide scope of interests, and that’s because we are people, not caricature-like stereotypes.

LACK OF DIVERSITY. This can be interpreted in more than one way. While I think that many new releases have done a decent job of including more diverse characters in terms of ethnicity and sexual orientation, I still lament the fact that there isn’t more complexity in story premises. I don’t want to read another re-telling of a childhood classic or fairytale. I don’t want to read another book about a two-dimensional girl who looks the same as every other protagonist in a YA novel. There needs to be more representation of characters from all walks of life, and it’s up to our generation to fulfill this desire for diversity.

That being said, I don’t think I’ll necessarily stop reading YA altogether. Instead, I would like to branch out and read more contemporary, classics, and anything thought-provoking. Some titles I’ve been eyeing for a while include:

  • Pachinko (Min Jin Lee)
  • Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng)
  • A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles)
  • The Great Alone (Kristin Hannah)
  • The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
  • The Beautiful and the Damned (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky (Mark Sullivan)
  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (Lisa See)

If you have any recommendations for me, please feel free to message me or leave a comment!

 

 

THOUGHTS: LUNAR NEW YEAR

Every family and culture has its own traditions, passed down through generations and history more colorful than one can ever begin to imagine. At home, I celebrate the Lunar New Year as a testament to my Taiwanese and Chinese heritage. There are so many finer points to the 15-day celebration, but I will mostly be writing about the ones significant to my family. But before that, a bit of background information on the Lunar New Year may be needed:

The start of the Lunar New Year is on a different day each year. Unlike the western new year, which always falls on January 1, the Lunar New Year is dependent on the time that the moon takes to orbit around Earth. Therefore, the lunar calendar is always roughly 21-51 days behind the Gregorian calendar!

The Lunar New Year is also called the Spring Festival (chūnjié / 春節) and Chinese New Year, though it isn’t just Chinese people who celebrate it. Aside from China and Taiwan, countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia also take part in the festivities.

It’s a 15-day celebration. Yes, you read that correctly! People participate in different activities and consume various foods on each day. I won’t go into detail about that, but if you’re interested in reading up on each day of the lunar new year, you can do a simple Google search.

The twelve animals of the zodiac represent each year, and 2018 is the year of the Dog. According to legend, the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig had a race to determine the order in which they would represent the years to come. Since the Rat rode the Ox’s back and jumped off just before the Ox crossed the finish line, the Rat was able to finish first and be the first to represent the new year, the Ox was second, and so on and so forth in the order described above.

Red (and gold) are lucky colours. Red symbolizes good luck and joy. You’ll often see it adorning decorations and the red envelopes that elders hand out to children. So how exactly did red become such an auspicious colour? Legend says that there used to be a fearsome dragon named Nian (年, literally: year) who would, on a yearly basis, come down from his mountain habitat to terrorize villages. But one day, an old man claimed that he knew a way to scare off Nian. He hung up red paper and set off loud firecrackers, and the villagers soon realised that Nian was afraid of loud noises and the colour red. Nian never came back again, and henceforth, red became a lucky colour!

It’s a time to celebrate family togetherness as well as honor the deities. On the eve of the lunar new year, it is customary for families to gather together for a reunion dinner. Traditional foods such as dumplings (餃子 / jiaozi), fish, and “new year” cake (年糕 / niángāo) are served and savored.

I’ve been helping my grandmother make dumplings for Chinese New Year dinner as long as I can remember, but I really learned how to make dumplings with my mother. When I was much younger, I had no idea what I was doing. I mixed the stuffing with all the strength my chubby arms could muster. I pounded the sticky dough until it didn’t look like dough anymore, and I almost always ended up with a fine dusting of flour all over my fingers. Basically, I was a mess! But now that I’ve had more than a decade’s worth of experience in making dumplings, I’m welcomed back into the kitchen.

 

As we fold the dumplings into their final shapes, my grandmother sneaks a coin (washed thoroughly, of course) into a “lucky” dumpling and places it on a plate amongst the other dumplings so that it is impossible to discern from the rest. She then transfers the finished dumplings into a pot of boiling water to cook, and when they’re finished ten minutes later, I help bring the never-ending supply of dumplings to the dinner table. Our family eats, and the person who consumes the “lucky” coin dumpling is said to have good luck for the rest of the year.

There is always a fish on the table as well, though it remains untouched throughout the dinner for symbolic reasons. There is an ancient proverb that says, 年年有餘 (nián nián you yú), which roughly translates into “May you have an abundance of what you need.” The last Chinese character, 餘 (meaning: abundance), has the same pronunciation as 魚 (meaning: fish). So essentially, there’s a bit of word play at hand (have I ever mentioned how much I LOVE puns?) because 年年有魚 sounds just like 年年有餘. The fish is thus used as a symbol of abundance, and it isn’t eaten until later because it’s considered bad luck to “eat away” your good fortune prematurely.

fish
whole steamed fish! courtesy of bettysliu.com

For dessert, my mom and I make niángāo. Using chopsticks, I help mix the batter that’s used to coat the red bean paste filling that our family enjoys eating. We then cover the sweet red bean with the batter, on all sides, and fry the niángāo briefly in a pan until golden brown. It tastes absolutely delicious when hot!

niangao

On the fifteenth and final day of the lunar year celebrations, my mother makes tāngyuán (湯圓), sticky rice flour balls with sweet fillings such as taro, red bean, and my personal favourite, BLACK SESAME! These glutinous rice balls are eaten to commemorate the Lantern Festival, or 元宵節 (yuán xiāo jié). They used to be called 元宵(yuán xiāo), or “first evening,” instead of tāngyuán. There is such an interesting backstory to the different names and the Lantern Festival in general, and I’d highly recommend reading up on it!

 

I love spending time with my family (as crazy and weird as they are), so I’m a bit saddened that I can’t take part in the lunar new year festivities this year. Because I am away studying at university, I am unable to go home and enjoy my family’s food and company. It’s the first time in years that I haven’t helped with the traditional cooking and cleaning, and a small part of me misses the work. I miss making a mess of the flour. I miss hearing the sizzling niángāo in the pan. I miss eating way too many black sesame tāngyuán. But mostly, I miss the familiarity and comfort of home and being able to bond over shared laughter and kitchen catastrophes. It seems strange to be alone during a holiday that places so much emphasis on family togetherness, but I made sure to call my parents and grandparents and wish them well. I can’t wait to go home and see them all again. And with that, 新年快樂 (xīn nián kuài lè / happy new year)!

dumplings

GOALS FOR 2018

Today I’m going to share my goals for 2018 with all of you. I know I’m definitely (really) late to the party, but the reason why I still want to write this post is so that I can hold myself accountable for actually going about and achieving what I want to accomplish this year!

I have a lot of big and small goals I want to meet throughout the year, and since many of them are quite different from one another, I’ve decided to group them by category.

So without further ado…

FOR UNIVERSITY ACADEMICS

  • PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE!!
  • Don’t skip lectures every day. That’s what I did last semester and it bit me in the ass. I went from being a straight A student my whole life to…well, a not so great student in just one semester.
  • reconcile myself with the understanding that it’s okay to not be the best at everything
  • set aside studying time every weekend instead of going to San Francisco with friends
  • study in between classes instead of going home
  • go to the library more often than just the days leading up to exams
  • take notes in class!

FOR PERSONAL GROWTH

  • visit at least two new countries
  • create spreadsheets for monthly money spending and budgeting
  • go to the gym at least three times a week
  • attend a concert
  • journal every day
  • go a month without complaining
  • quit chewing my nails to pieces
  • learn to cook five more dishes
  • listen to a news podcast in German (I’m currently studying German, so I’d love to get more practice with the language.)
  • land a single axel
  • learn how to edit video through Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro
  • grow vertically instead of horizontally (this has been a dream of mine since forever, seriously)
  • join a lab or research team!

FOR BOOKSTAGRAM AND BLOGGING

  • read 50 books
  • post at least every other day on #bookstagram
  • write a new blog post every week
  • set aside time to read on Mondays, Fridays, and the weekend
  • finish This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • tackle an intimidating classic volume, such as Anna Karenina or War and Peace (why are all the big books written by renowned Russian authors?!)

So as you can see, there are quite a lot of things I want to do this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to refer back to this post at the end of 2018 and reflect on what goals I did or didn’t meet. This list might seem overly ambitious, but that isn’t going to stop me from trying my best to accomplish as many as possible! What’s your biggest aspiration/dream/goal for 2018?

WINTER IN GERMANY

Imagine– the warmth of roasted chestnuts seeping through your gloves, the enticing smell of currywurst wafting in the air, and the low murmurs of seasons greetings in German. Visiting the Christmas markets in Germany has long been a dream of mine. This winter break, I finally had the chance to cross it off my family’s bucket list!

Germany, known as Deutschland to native Germans, is located in central-western Europe. It has 16 states and a population of 82 million, making Germany the most populous country in the European Union.

Reichstag
German flag waving over the Reichstag, photo courtesy of google images

The main language is of course, German, though visitors will find that most Germans can speak at least ein bisschen (a little) English. They will understand if you ask, Sprechen Sie Englisch? Do you speak English?  However, it is still useful to know simple phrases and words such as bitte or dankeschön, so that you can read signs, ask for directions politely, and thank others for helping you.

In December, Germany is quite cold, but not quite cold enough for the ground to freeze over and the sky to create blizzards. But it is still chilly enough to just barely reach the negatives in centigrade, which is practically unheard of from where I live. It even snowed a little during my first morning in Berlin! To stay warm, layering is definitely key! I felt adequately prepared for the weather with thermal underwear, cozy knit sweaters, an outer coat or jacket, waterproof Timberland boots, and a grey scarf and hat. I’d also recommend investing in a quality down jacket–they’re sooo warm!

During my holiday, I stayed in Berlin’s Stadtmitte, with easy access to the historical roads of Friedrichstraße and Französischestraße. Transportation is simple and without headache–there is an underground U-Bahn station every block or two, and it works in similar fashion to subways and metros. There is the occasional busker, with his violin or accordion. Be wary of pickpockets, especially during rush hour!

Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt square happened to be right by where I was staying. There, in front of the Konzerthaus (concert hall), was a Weihnachtsmarkt–that is, a Christmas market. (Weihnacht: Christmas, markt: market)

My first full night in Berlin consisted of copious amounts of food and three steaming mugs of Glühwein (mulled red wine spiced with cloves and cinnamon), shot respectively with Amaretto, Cointreau, and rum. Rest assured, not all of it was for me! The hot drinks seemed to banish the frigid air around us, if only for a moment.

To make the most of your Christmas market experience, I’d suggest going with family or friends. It’s not something you’d want to experience alone! You do have to pay €1 (~$1.20) to enter this Christmas market in Berlin’s bustling city center, but most others are free entry. Be sure to try the Glühwein and the famous currywurst! The mugs that are used to serve the mulled wine are collectible and vary in design year to year. You can opt to keep your mug as a souvenir or return it to get your deposit back. (You pay the deposit when you buy the drink.) I’d also suggest purchasing some hot, roasted nuts to crunch on as you watch the Christmas carolers sing on the steps of the Konzerthaus. Another delicious traditional treat to try would be the Quarkbällchen. It seems strange in name only, and it looks like a large donut hole topped with powdered sugar, but I guarantee you that it tastes better than a donut!

Though I had a wonderful time in Berlin’s Christmas market, I’d recommend Dresden’s Striezelmarkt to anyone looking for THE essential Christmas market experience. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is the oldest known Christmas market in the world. Founded in 1434, the Striezelmarkt was originally a one-day market for locals to buy fresh food for Christmas dinner after pre-Christmas fasting. I had the opportunity to take a day trip with my family to Dresden, a two hour train ride from Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Dresden Hauptbahnhof.

The Striezelmarkt is beautifully decorated, and each booth has its own unique Christmas decor. Some of them are even animated! I saw a toy train making its way around tracks laid around the top of one booth, and another had a small bear riding a unicycle across a tightrope. Dresden’s Christmas market is also home to the largest Christmas pyramid in the world (14m tall!), shown below. The food is quite similar across all the Christmas markets I’ve visited. There is always an abundance of roasted chestnuts wrapped in paper, candied nuts, Glühwein (sometimes spiked with spirits), currywurst and bratwurst, pommes frites, Quarkbällchen, and gingerbread hearts with frosted inscriptions that read ich liebe dich (I love you) or Frohe Weihnachten (Merry/Happy Christmas). Visitors can also purchase goods such as warm hats and socks, utensils made of wood, glassware, and hand-poured candles.

My father found a café called Viba situated in a building with an amazing view over the Striezelmarkt. I had a rich heiße Schokolade (hot chocolate) and a bite of sweet Apfelstrudel (apple strudel). Our waitress didn’t speak much English but we got by just fine, with my father’s German and my own flimsy attempts.

The Christmas markets were mostly an evening affair, so during the day, I did just about every other touristy thing. I visited the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie, sat down for some afternoon tea at Einstein, and took a trip to Potsdam to see Sansoucci Palace, once owned by Frederick the Great of Prussia. For the history buffs, the Pergamonmuseum and Neues Museum hold a wealth of artifacts, including a reconstructed Ishtar Gate and the famous limestone bust of Nefertiti.

In short, I had the most wonderful time in Germany during this past holiday season. I find that the famous Christmas markets of Germany are quite like the busy night markets of Taiwan, only neater and more beautifully decorated. If you’re willing to brave the cold to experience something truly magical, visit Germany in December and take a stroll through the Striezelmarkt with a mug of steaming Glühwein in your hand.

By the way, I apologize for the lack of photographs. I took way too many videos and ended up making a short travel vlog of the whole experience (not just the Christmas markets!) which you can view here. Next time, I’ll be sure to take equal amounts of video and photo when I travel! There are so many places that I have yet to see and learn about. Countries close to the top of my “to visit” list include Iceland, Italy, Peru, New Zealand, and South Africa. What are some countries you wish to visit this year?