I chose to get sterilized after listening to an interview on NPR with Andrew Solomon with Peter Lanza, whose son Adam Lanza, shot and killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, before shooting his mother and himself.

It was March 2014, my boyfriend and I were driving back to Upstate New York from spring break in Miami. It was a long road trip, we were on the road for about 20 hours for the last two days, and the news coverage had been completely over the disappearance of Malaysian Airline flight 370. So when the interview with Mr. Solomon came up on the car radio, we were craving for something different, so we stayed and listened.

Mr. Solomon talked about his own experience as gay growing up in a strict family, his new book ‘Far From The Tree’ on raising non average children, and this article in the New Yorker of the interview. I remember that he mentioned, at the end of the interview Peter Lanza told him, that he wished that his son Adam had never been born. On hearing that, I immediately made up my mind on sterilization, because I don’t want the same regret.

I have contemplated sterilization before (at 17, in high school when I thought I was pregnant, then again at the age of 22, and went to the college hospital asking to be sterilized), but never too seriously, and also too young at the time, everyone around me told me that I would eventually change my mind. I knew I wouldn’t but decided to wait.

From the interview, I learned that Peter Lanza got a divorce from his wife after exhausted from raising a difficult son, and exited the family. He hadn’t seen Adam for years and didn’t know what his son had become. Where I grew up in China, divorce was still uncommon, and children from single parent families usually received more attentions and gossips behind their backs in schools. And yet still there were fathers and mothers ran away, or went on never ending business trips. I have grown up knowing several children from single parent families, and because of differences in cultural and social acceptance in China and the U.S., some of those kids didn’t end up with a good life. Where did all their parents go? Did they ever think about their children afterwards? And why escaping the life with their children is so essential that made them left?

I wanted to ask my parents why they didn’t leave.

To my parents,  family is something you always choose without a doubt. I remember one time about 2 years ago, my dad told me that he had planned to bike along the Beijing – Hangzhou Grand Canal after graduating from college. However it never happened and you know why — because he got married and I was born. Then he and mom just worked and worked for many years to support me, all my schools, language classes, extracurricular activities and even the plane tickets after I got a scholarship to study in America.

I cannot be like them. I love freedom too much that I always want to do something new with my life. Either that or I’ll kill myself.

Perhaps this is made possible by the fact that I haven’t attached myself to things, that I am loose and free enough to walk away from anything at anytime. But what am I being child free for?

I want to have my life for the unexpected.


The Oscar Dilemma

“I think we are perfect for each other because you don’t like kids and I don’t need anymore kids,” he told me. “I can’t believe we matched. It’s like hitting the jackpot.”

At least we didn’t date for a year until he said, I’m not over my ex (over text). I think online dating sometimes brings out the evil inside us.

Ghosting is understandable, but mosting is cowardly.

As a software engineer I began to wonder, how can a dating app craft a good user experience for people with both good and bad intentions alike? It’s a dilemma because on the one hand a dating app wants as many active users as possible, but on the other hand, it’s a social responsibility to protect its users from accounts that are abusive, bullying, misogynous or fake. 

I discussed this problem with a data scientist friend and we decided to work on some ideas related to making recommendations for dates. We have designed this survey for some dating related questions we would like to get feedback for our plan ( Thank you so much!

Essentials on a Long Haul Flight

A good friend is planning her trip to Europe and is asking me what I bring in my carry on bag for a flight. I don’t travel often but when I do, it’s purely for leisure, to Africa, South America or Asia, so my in-flight packing list applies mostly to 10+ hour flights.  Some of my recent and future destinations includes Antananarivo (17), Santiago de Chile (10), Rio de Janeiro (10), Beijing (14) and Cairo (13).

1. Pen. You won’t know how important a pen is, until you have to wait in long lines to fill border crossing and declaration forms. Bring a pen in flight will save you a lot of time.

2. Sheet mask. This is why my skin always looks radiant right out of the exit, besides the fact that I’m Asian. I always put on a mask when they start to serve food, so for a 10 hour flight, I need 2-3 masks.

3. Sleeping pills. Especially for red eye flights.

4. Eye mask. Some airlines offer it for free (ie. Ethiopian Airlines), but I’d still bring my own.

5. Flip flops. Or slippers, whatever that’s comfortable to sleep in and easy to take off.

6. Thick socks when I have a window seat. I almost always choose aisle seats but sometimes unfortunately I miss my flight and get assigned to the next one on a window seat. The window seats are colder on the walls so a pair of socks will help you sleep.

7. Foldable water bottle. It’s very important to hydrate in a flight and foldable water bottles take up less space. I usually bring a thermos too, because you know, I’m Chinese and I drink hot water.

8. Noise canceling headphones. It’s not necessary if you don’t care a crying baby onboard and in your proximity in the next 10+ hours.

9. Lip balm.

10. Entertainment. I download audiobooks before flight but in reality I always fall sleep.

** I don’t need a neck pillow because I basically can sleep in any position; and also I don’t bring a jacket because international airlines (at least the ones I took) always provide blankets.

20 by 30


After moving to New York City, speaking 4 languages, sterilization, marathons and one half Ironman, I need to come up with something crazier to conclude my 20s.

  1. Speak semi-fluent Arabic 说半流利的阿拉伯语. My goal is to be able to deal with most situations likely to arise while traveling in an Arabic speaking country, capable of  producing well organized sentences on topics that are familiar or of personal interest, and can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and give brief reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
  2. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro 爬乞力马扎罗雪山. It’ll probably happen one month after turning 30, in December of 2020, when it’s summer time in Tanzania. Then I’ll fly to Zanzibar and eat lots of kitumbua!!!
  3. Bungee Jumping over Zambezi River at Victoria Falls 去赞比西河蹦极跳. It is rated one of the scariest, here’s a video about it:
  4. Move to another country 搬到下一个国家. Other than China, United States and Japan, of course.
  5. Not dress my age 穿和我年龄不符的衣服. Still won’t, tank tops, shorts and flip flops all day until I move to a Muslim country :)
  6. Go on a multi-day hike or ride 去多日徒步旅行或骑行. I’ve planned a two day, 170 mile bike ride to my alma mater but didn’t find time for it last year. Since the starting point is NYC, I should do it before I move away.
  7. Write a story 写一个故事. I always wanted to share my own experience about being abused (physical punishment and verbal humiliation, nothing sexual) in the first two years in junior high by my geography teacher. I just started working on it.
  8. Watch sunrise on Mount Sinai 去埃及西奈山看日出. Or simply, visit Egypt and speak as much Arabic as I can with locals.
  9. Ride a camel in front of Giza Pyramids 在埃及金字塔前骑骆驼. A continuation of No. 8. I’ve never been on any animals in my life until I had the chance to ride a camel in Mombasa, but decided to wait and do it elsewhere more epic and fitting.
  10. Visit Madagascar 去马达加斯加.
  11. Visit Bolivia 去玻利维亚.
  12. Visit Peru 去秘鲁.
  13. Go white water rafting in Zambezi River 在赞比西河漂流. In the same trip with No. 3.
  14. Go on a vacation with my parents 和爸爸妈妈旅行. I want to take them to Kenya for Maasai Mara, but I’m almost certain that my dad wants to take me to historical sites in China so as to “re-educate” me on Chinese history, and my mom wants to go shopping in Europe.
  15. Improve rifle accuracy 学习打猎枪. Maybe I’ll even try sporting clays.
  16. Get Lasik 做角膜手术. I have congenital myopia in my right eye. It doesn’t affect my daily life at all, because my left eye is dominant. However with my plan to improve shooting, it’s better corrected.
  17. Have abs 锻炼腹肌. All the time. Not just after running many miles, dehydrated and haven’t eaten.
  18. Learn more about religion 了解更多宗教. I was raised atheist, and all my family members (except my aunt) are atheists. I always thought the idea of religion absurd and was ignorant toward religion. Then I moved to NYC and became friends with people of different religions. I still know next to nothing, and will remain an atheist, but I’d like to learn more about religion by taking online classes and reading books.
  19. Create an emergency fund 建立应急基金. I blew my last emergency fund with nips and tucks so it’s time to save again — for more nips and tucks.
  20. Read books in Spanish 读西班牙语书. Still need improving even though it’s not likely that I move to a Spanish speaking country anytime soon.
  21. Keep dreaming 继续折腾.

Why is Arabic so hard?

When I walked into Arabic class last week, Ahmed, my teacher, cheerily greeted me As-salamu Alaykum and asked me how I was doing. I said, “bi hair, alhamdulillah,” which means, “Good, praise be upon Allah.” But I was struggling. I just spent a full day at work sitting in front of a computer, and I was about to sit down for a full night in front of mind-bending grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

I am not one of those people who dread the thought of learning a foreign language. While everyone else was struggling with English in high school, I already spoke fluent English, which led to receiving a scholarship to study at an American university. So I left high school and enrolled in a Japanese language institute and took Japanese full time for a year, and I loved it. Then I studied Spanish after I moved to New York City and now I’m able to watch Spanish movies and read Spanish books with only occasionally checking dictionary. I have also taught myself some half-decent rudimentary Swahili. Languages are usually fun until I started Arabic.

Unlike your usual demographics for Arabic learners, who mostly study Arabic for work, I do it purely for fun. I figured as I’ve learned some of the world’s most popular languages, Chinese, English and Spanish, Arabic should be next.

However, my confidence, as I always boosted, “I speak 4 languages” stopped as soon as I started Alif Baa. The first challenge, the script, is a tough one. But it is by no means the biggest. Arabic has an alphabet, so it’s easier than my native Chinese, which has a set of tens of thousands of characters. There are just 28 letters, and it does not take long to get used to writing and reading right-to-left. (Though it still gives me a headache.) Most of the letters have four different forms, depending on whether they stand alone or joined at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. Even then, so far so good. But the Arabic alphabet is an abjad, meaning that each letter represents a consonant. There are also long and short vowels. Long vowels can be ambiguous and short vowels are not generally indicated in writing. Maktab, or “office,” usually is just written as mktb. Short vowels are included in the Qur’an so as not to confuse the meaning, but usually not anywhere else, so you have to get used to reading without them. Tht whn y knw th lngg s tht hrd. But when you’re struggling with comprehension, to begin with, it’s pretty formidable.

Then there are the unfamiliar sounds those letters represent. I was shocked by my first Arabic class because I could not make any of them! Arabic has one “h” akin to the English h, and another one that sounds like a Spanish j as in Juan. That’s not to be confused with another kh, that is the ch familiar to Russian-speakers as the sound in “Rachmaninov.” And “r” that sounds like the rolling rr in Spanish. There’s also ‘ayn and ghayn, a “voiced pharyngeal fricative,” which are like a glottal sound of ah and hah, or as Ahmed put it, “just make it like you are about to vomit.” Unwritten in Roman-alphabet transliterations, it’s actually a consonant that begins many common words and names, including “Arabic,” and “Iraq.” and “Morocco.”

The sounds are tough, but the words are tougher. Spanish has genders and complicated conjugations but it is nothing compared to Arabic. In Arabic, there’s a dual form,  so nouns and verbs must be learned in singular, dual, and plural forms. A present tense verb has 13 forms. Every noun has nominative, genitive and accusative cases and two genders, which means put any word you learned from a textbook “vocabulary section” into a sentence, it probably writes and sounds differently. When Ahmed explains that numbers are marked for gender—but numbers from 3 to 10 take the opposite gender from the word they are modifying—we students stare at each other in slack-jawed solidarity. When we learn that adjectives modifying non-human plurals always have a feminine singular form—meaning that “the cars are new” comes out as “the cars, she are new”—I can hear gasps and heads banging on the desks around me.

There are other times we learn about Islamic culture. Arabic is peppered with a lot of Allah, like appending insha’Allah, “God willing,” to almost any statement of intent, as in, “I’ll see you in class on Wednesday, insha’Allah.” Or “bismillah” we recite at the beginning of our class, or “Masha’Allah” when we acknowledge anything.

The Foreign Language Institute reckons Arabic as one of the hardest languages, at level 5, the same level as Chinese, Japanese or Amharic, (the language of Ethiopia where the script አማርኛ looks like little people). There’s a joke that Arabic is only hard for the first ten years, and I’m now a second-year Arabic student, so I have nine years left.

That is if I work my ass off.


Vegan Food from Around the World

When it comes to vegan travel, no two countries are alike. In some destinations, vegan/vegetarian is part of the traditional cuisine, while in other places, the idea is so foreign that most locals kept asking what I could eat, and puzzled by the reason behind it (In Cuba and Ecuador people just went speechless upon hearing “soy vegana”). Since I became a vegan last August, I’ve traveled a bit here and there, and I’ve found authentic vegan dishes that were native to the region and not just vegan reinventions (tempeh and kimchi tacos? Ugh, no thank you). It has since became my quest to find and share vegan food in different cultures, so here’s the first in the series.

(You can also read this as “how to eat out as a vegan,” since I don’t know how to cook and eat out every single meal. This is my vegan version of eat-your-way-around-the-world.)


Last December I missed my flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, so I stayed one night in Addis Ababa and had dinner and breakfast there. Having no prior knowledge of Ethiopian food, I was utterly surprised by the amazing vegan breakfast buffet at my hotel and learned that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church prescribes a number of fasting days (refrain from eating animal products), including Wednesdays, Fridays, so Ethiopian cuisine contains many dishes that are traditionally vegan. And even on Ethiopian Airline, besides the standard airline meal, you can ask for “fasting” food, and it’s fully vegan!

Vegan dishes such as chickpeas, split peas, fava beans (tastes like Mexican refried beans), Atkilt Wot (cabbage and carrots), and mchicha (the Swahili name for a local green, native to East Africa, but I think in the US they use collard greens instead), on top of Injera.


I call Indian food just “food,” because it is my go-to cuisine even when I was an omnivore.

A large percentage of the population of India is vegetarian for religious reasons so Indian food also has lots of dishes that are traditionally vegetarian or vegan. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of dishes in which vegetables and legumes are the main ingredients.

The thing to watch out for as vegans is dairy. Though the dishes normally don’t contain eggs, dairy is pretty common, so when ordering vegan Indian food in restaurants it’s a good idea to ask if it contains common dairy products such as curd (yogurt), paneer (cheese), and ghee (clarified butter).

There are many Indian veggie dishes that typically do not contain any dairy at all. A few examples are dishes based on chickpeas (Chana Masala), eggplant (Baingan Bhartha, my favorite), as well as lentils (Daal), cabbage, cauliflower (Aloo Gobi), peas, and potatoes.


Many Chinese dishes are traditionally vegan, with ingredients such as eggplant, tomatoes, string beans, mushroom, wood ear, bitter melon, cauliflower, peppers and other vegetables. Chinese vegan dishes vary from province to province so I only know some of the most popular ones from the northeast, such as Di San Xian (地三鲜, potatoes, eggplant and peppers), spicy wood ear or cucumbers, roasted sweet potatoes and veggie stir fry (炒菜, shredded potatoes and other veggies), etc.

There’s also Buddhist cuisine (斋饭) with heavy Chinese influence. I didn’t know much about Buddhism since I was born and raised by atheist parents and we rarely go to temples. It’s only after becoming a vegan, I started to try out Buddhist cuisines in New York City and learn about them. I think a very distinctive feature of Buddhist cuisine is its creative use of soy products. There are mock meats of every kind made with textured soy protein and tofu, like this menu ( from Buddha Bodai in NYC.

Typical food made with soy proteins (they really look like and taste like meat) and veggies at a Buddhist restaurant in Montreal.

However keep in mind that even though Chinese food rarely contains dairy or butter, eggs are commonly used in vegetarian dishes, and a lot of people do not know the difference between vegan and vegetarian. It’s always good to ask before ordering.


Yes there are barbacoa, carne asada, machacado con huevo, and enchiladas verdes (all of them used to be my favorites), but Mexican staples such as corn tortillas, rice and beans (without lard), guacamole, and nopales are vegan. There are also popular dishes that can be made vegan, such as chilaquiles (without egg), elote (without cheese), chiles rellenos (instead of cheese, it’s stuffed with potatoes), tamales with beans or veggies. It’s also easy to have vegan tacos with nopales, mushrooms, avocados and beans.

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Tamales de frijol (bean tamales) with mole around Zócalo in Mexico City.


Discovering Swahili cuisine was one of the highlights of my trip to Tanzania.

The vegan food in East Africa is based on fresh and local ingredients that grow bountifully in the equatorial climate, so there are lots of local greens and tropical fruits. For breakfast or snack, there are mandazi and kitumbua (sometimes it’s mentioned in English in its plural form vitumbua), as well as pineapple, banana and passion fruit.

Fruit stand in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Ugali with mchicha

The staples, ugali (made with corn flour boiled in water), chapati (flatbread), mchicha (local green, tastes like spinach) and maharage (beans) are fully vegan. There are also many other veggie stews made with sweet potato leaves (matembele, I love it) or pumpkin leaves with tomato sauce. Other common veggies are cassava, avocado, tomatoes and bananas. And in Zanzibar, you can also have pilau (flavored rice) with veggies.

Chapati with avocados, it almost like guacamole, but the Tanzanian recipe also has banana in it.

My First Encounter with Sexual Assault on the Subway

My first encounter with sexual assault happened this Tuesday during my morning commute on the F train. I will spare you the details other than it was deliberate, since I tried to move away but he followed. It has been a while since the #MeToo campaign on social media and I have read many accounts of women who experienced sexual assault and harassment. I learned that many women in NYC had experienced sexual harassment on the subway, but few would actually come forward. So when I saw the man getting off the train, I decided to follow him and took pictures.

The man quickly realized I was following him, so he circled the block in an attempt to lose me, but I followed closely since he already found out. Eventually he stopped so I had the chance to confront him. And he said nonchalantly, “come on, I fell asleep.” Those were his exact words, and he actually said “I fell asleep” many times, and sounded like I was the one who was causing trouble.

At the time I had some decent pictures to identify him, so I left for work since I didn’t think I would make any progress continue following him or questioning him.

Right after I got to work, I tweeted the pictures to NYC Subway twitter account, and also from their old tweets, found a link to report sexual misconduct on the subway to NYPD, so I did. By noon I received a follow up direct message on twitter and an email reply from NYPD, that a detective will be in touch with me soon.

In the evening, I received a call from a detective, described to him what had happened and we scheduled to meet the next day.

The following day, in the morning I met with two detectives. They accompanied me on the train, and I walked them through what happened, how I followed the perpetrator and also pointed out the food truck where he had stopped to get breakfast.

On Friday, three days after the assault, the detective from NYPD notified me that they had the man under arrest and asked me for a written statement. Just this Monday, a bomb attack happened at Port Authority, and there have been police officers everywhere. I could image this must made it harder for any criminals to hide.

I chatted with several friends about what happened to me and they have been nothing but supportive. I could picture the man doing the same thing to other women, at any other time, or all the time in the past. I have always been an outspoken feminist, and I would feel personally responsible if I hadn’t done anything in this situation. During the entire time since it happened, more than feeling violated, I have felt anxiety, guilt and humiliation, but I never felt powerless.

When We Were Young

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I am sometimes asked if I am married or have children. When I say no, mostly to friends of my parents, they would feel sorry and occasionally would try to set me up with sons of their distant relatives through my parents. They seem to believe I would make a great wife and mother, “she’s so smart, their son will go to the best university!”

In fact I was with a man for almost 6 years, before we broke up earlier this year.

We met in college, in a class about database systems. I was 20 and he was 31, we were poor but we were in love. We moved in together when we had been together for six months. After we graduated from college, we moved to New York City. Brooklyn first, then Queens.

We were happy together most of the time. It was the type of happiness that we could sit next to each other on the couch and code, for hours without uttering a word. And felt happy.

Then he got his dream job. It was the job he had been preparing for the past decade. He was happy. I was happy for him. The job was in another city far from New York. So we broke up and he moved away.

It can be awkward to describe this ending to people I don’t know. They tend to ask follow-up questions: “Why didn’t you just get married and move with him?”

“Why didn’t I?” I ask myself.

The answer is: many reasons. Because I was 26 and unsure how long the relationship would last. Because I wanted a career for myself. Because neither of us believed in marriage and we wanted to be adventurous more than we wanted to be married. Because I needed a work visa sponsorship and it was unlikely to find a company that sponsors in a small town, and I was too independent and embarrassed to get married for a green card.

But I don’t say any of these things. What difference will it make? We were in love and we wanted to set each other free. So we did.

Marriage and children. I got asked more often in Latin American and in China than anywhere else. My grandmother once asked me, if I don’t get married and don’t have children, what happens when I get old? And what happens if I get old and then get really sick? Who is going to be there to take care of me?

My grandfather passed away and my uncle had been a criminal and a disgrace to the family. I wanted to ask her where was her husband and her son when she got sick.

“But don’t you like children?” someone will then ask.

No, I don’t like children. In fact, I often reply with, “Tengo la discapacidad de sentirse amor ni compasión a los niños. (I cannot feel love or compassion towards children),” as honest and matter-of-factually as admitting “I’m vegan” or “I drank 3 cups of coffee this morning.”

I understand the financial and legal benefits of being married, like there’s higher deduction for couples filing a joint tax return, and there’s no surcharge for an additional driver for a rental car. But should we get married simply because of these? I’m certain there are successfully and happily married people, but I think marriage is slavery. We are in this world to love, not to enslave each other.

I recently found out an old friend of mine had been depressed and suicidal for the past year. He was in a long term relationship and had a good job, and I had thought they were happy. But you can never know what goes on between two people by looking at their Facebook updates.

Later in the year I met another man. We could not be more different and there was a bigger age gap, as much as I was 4 when he graduated high school. In front of such a man it is hard not pretend to be who I am not, or the most perfect version of myself.

I am still unsure.

I think love is like feeling your way through a dark tunnel; you have to get your hands dirty. If you hold back, nothing interesting happens. At the same time, you have to find the right distance between people. Too close, and they overwhelm you; too far and they abandon you. How to stay in the right distance? I think I still need to figure this out.

After 27 years, I still want to have my life for the unexpected.

Arabic Class Updates

I guess I cannot sustain a 4 hour sleep per night too long. I was exhausted after my Arabic class, so I decided to Uber home. My uber driver happened to be Pakistani, so we exchanged some simple greetings in Arabic before I dozed off. Arabic remains one of the hardest things I ever attempted to learn so far, and I still struggle.