Catfish and Mandala

by Andrew X. Pham

I joined a book club through the Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center (, and the latest book we read was Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X. Pham. It was essentially a travel memoir through Vietnam written by a Vietnamese refugee.

I thought it was beautifully written; each passage was like reading poetry. Each page transported me to the author’s harrowing scenes. Moreover, it was exciting to read a book ABOUT an Asian country by an Asian American author. Lots of books out there talk about the white person’s perspective on visiting Asia, but it’s really rare to read a book that is so authentic about Asia.

Even though most of the book was set in Vietnam, I could easily envision lots of the scenes happening in the Philippines or even Thailand — especially the rampant corruption and poverty. But aside from the gorgeously written narrative on the country, the string that went throughout the entire book was the author’s internal struggle and journey from growing up in war-torn Vietnam to growing up as an outcast in hostile inner city America.

Through it all, I recognized my own American journey and learned to appreciate it a little bit more. I was never a refugee, and I thank the Lord for making my passage to America a lot less scarring (you’d understand if you read the book or know anything about the refugees/boat people who risked their lives to come to America). But I did recognize and see a little bit more of my family’s struggles in this book, and for that I really appreciated it.

Here is a choice excerpt:

Continue reading Catfish and Mandala

Sushi, Priorities, and Rituals

Sushi on December 22, 2007My Wednesday night sushi ritual has been hindered by one of my 2008 New Years Goals (the one where I want to save up 3-months’ worth of emergency funds). I’ve instituted an $80 per week allowance for myself to pay for groceries, lunches, dinners, parking, books, laundry, clothing, alcohol, entertainment, home supplies, et al. “$80 a week?!? Are you serious?” Is pretty much the response I get when I tell people about it. But I realized that I’ve been able to live quite well while on the allowance (I started it a month ago. Check out this Lifehacker post if you are interested in how the heck I am able to do this).

It’s all about prioritization. If I really want to go to dinner with someone on Friday night, I will make sure that I don’t go to dinner on another night so that I save my money for that Friday night event. I noticed that I am drinking a lot less alcohol as well–formerly, I would easily spend $20/$30/$40 a weekend on drinks alone. Now I’ve instituted a $5/week alcohol allowance. Yea, that’s right. $5 a week. On alcohol. I can’t even buy a cocktail from the Top of the Mark with my weekly allotment, so I just have to be diligent and save it up from one weekend prior.

Thus, if I go to dinner/lunch with you or have a drink with you, that means I’m prioritizing that event and, more importantly, you. Feel special!

Fringe benefit: I didn’t realize that when I signed up to be on this fiscal-responsibility plan that I would end up cooking so much, but that’s what’s happened. Every weekend, I look at the week ahead, and plan a little culinary adventure for myself. Last week was a trip through Korea (I made pork bulgogi, nine-fillings pancakes, pickled cucumbers and daikon, and kimchi), and packed it for lunch for work all week. The week before, it was my aunt’s delicious Filipino spaghetti recipe. This weekend I made lugao, which is a Filipino version of a rice porridge with chicken (otherwise called congee in Chinese, pospas in Cebuano, or arroz caldo in Spanish). Yum. May this goal be the rebirth of my love for cooking? This is a good start.

Sushi on December 23, 2007Oh yes, back to the point. I used to go to No Name Sushi without fail once a week, mostly on Wednesdays, but sometimes on Saturday if I didn’t make it earlier. Now, I really have to prioritize, and sometimes No Name doesn’t make it on the priority list that week. I don’t know why, but it’s kind of pained me to not be able to go. For the last three years, it’s been my ritual. My thing. Hiroko’s been kind of a surrogate grandmother to me. When I enter through the broken door and sit in that crappily ventilated shack of a restaurant, it feels like I’m going home. Hiroko and I communicate with each other with a blend of familial gestures, her broken English, my broken Japanese. And it feels like what going home to your Japanese obaachan would be like.

Sushi on January 16, 2008I didn’t realize that I had such a strong bond with this ritual, but really in many ways it’s more than a ritual. So I guess looping back to why I wrote this post in the first place, if I go to dinner with you on a Wednesday night (or on any night for that matter)… man, you must be really freakin special. I mean, really. Really special.

Sushi on January 30, 2008

(The first and third pics are from January and the second and fourth are from December).

Outdoor Education

I love nature. I love working with kids. Isn’t it only natural that I would love the combination? That was what made Troy Camp so special: the combination of fun in the outdoors and making a difference. I’ve come across three neat non-profit organizations in the Bay Area that do just that. Check them out!

Bay Area Wilderness Training

In a nutshell: They train staff of youth-serving organizations to lead outdoor excursions, AND they provide equipment for free! The catch is you have to work in an organization serving students. I don’t think you an just walk in and volunteer to work with other people’s students.

Big City Mountaineers

In a nutshell: It’s an intense mentoring program that matches small groups of students from under-served areas with a small group of mentors. They’ve got a one student to one mentor ratio. The group takes a weeklong backpacking or canoeing trip. The catch is that there is a small fee, and you have to provide all your own equipment.

Sierra Club Inner City Outings

In a nutshell: It’s a completely volunteer-run organization whose members lead dayhikes, car-camping trips, snow camping excursions, and backpacking adventures for urban youth (usually through organizations that sign up). The catch is that it’s a completely volunteer-run organization!!! Just kidding. The catch is that you have to participate in three or more hikes per year to stay active.

Clearly, there is not a lack of organizations or ways to get involved with youth and the outdoors, and it’s really just a matter of figuring out which one fits the best. Let me know if you know of other organizations out there.

New Years Goals 2008

I can’t believe almost a week of 2008 has transpired, and I am just now getting myself organized with these New Years Goals. Well, truth be told, I’ve been tinkering with this list for about 2 weeks now, and I just wanted to make sure that I fully thought them through. The trouble with being so goal-oriented is that sometimes I get too ambitious for my own good, as evidenced by last year’s list of New Years Goals.

So this time around, I’ve created a more focused list of goals, and I have also re-examined the personal values that I started last year. I took one away, and added another. It was an interesting exercise to remember that I created these values, and that means I can also re-create them or change them as I see fit. Because they are relatively new (only a year old), there’s still some massaging that needs to happen with them.

Personal Values

  • Challenging Adventures – I live for new and challenging experiences, whether that’s professionally or personally, with others or in another country. The thrill of adventure stimulates my soul.
  • Contribution to the World – I live to make lasting impacts on social change organizations and the community at large.
  • Expressing Creativity – Being able to express my self through new ideas and innovation is what keeps me inspired, whether it’s artistically, musically or professionally.
  • Lifelong Learning – I love to learn. I am energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence to mastery.
  • Quality – I choose to live a full and quality life, which is neither below my standards of excellence. nor is it excessive.
  • Family & Friends – Above all, my life is about the people I choose to journey with. They are my heart.

New Years Goals 2008*

Goals Difficulty When
Save enough money to have 3 months worth of emergency funds by June 2008. Difficult Q1 and Q2
Hold a full-length conversation in Spanish, in a Spanish-speaking country. Difficult by Q3
Be in a quality relationship for longer than 5 weeks, if the opportunity arises. Difficult ??
Continue spending quality time with my family. Moderate Throughout the year
Invest in and build deeper friendships (with special emphasis with friends in the Bay area). Moderate Throughout the year
Visit another country. Moderate Q4
Get more sleep. Easy Starting Q1
Do a handstand. Easy Q2

*I actually can’t display one of my goals until June or July because it contains sensitive information.

So there are my 2008 goals. I’ll be back intermittently with updates, and maybe some new goals to spruce things up. Even though there 8 pretty sizeable goals here, I feel like I’m still missing THE challenge… Either way, 2008… Bring it! I’m ready for you!

End of the Year Check-in 2007

The end of the year is always a time for reflecting on the year that has just gone by. Man, 2007 was a really busy and fast year. I had several successes with work at BUILD with it being my third year as the Incubator Manager, and I also had some huge successes with College Summit as I began my training as a Rap Director. I’m excited about continuing the training and the facilitating next summer.

This year has also been very transitional with close friends moving away, two different roommates coming in the mix, and realizing that I want more out of my professional trajectory and career right now (which is the reason why I applied to be a Rap Director to get more professional development). I began the year with some aggressive goals, some of which I accomplished while the others fell by the wayside–consequences of lack of prioritization and just plain busy-ness. So it should not be a surprise to see my long list of 2007 New Years goals with a smattering of “Yes, I accomplished this” and “No, better luck next year.” This self-reflective process will be a 3-step process. First I will evaluate the 2007 goals, then I will evaluate the personal values that I based the goals on to see whether or not they are truly my values (if you remember, I created these last year in an attempt to more clearly define my personal values), and third I will set new goals and values for 2008. Perhaps some of these unaccomplished goals will make it onto the 2008 list? Perhaps they won’t. Either way, I think 2008 is going to be a big year, and I’m ready for a challenge.

Adventure (new experiences, challenge, excitement)

* Do something outdoorsy at least once a month – I kinda lost track of this one, but I don’t think this actually happened according to plan. I know I was out of town for several weeks one month so it didn’t happen monthly.* Play one sport per month – and get good at one sport at least – This one I definitely did not prioritize

* Visit another country and be engrained into their culture – Yes, I visited Thailand with Mike and Tony, and got to hang out with Tony’s family for  a good chunk of our visit.

Artistic Expression (drama, painting, literature)

* Search for a musical outlet (other than karaoke) so I can sing more – perhaps join a singing group – Oh yes! Quite possibly the best thing I did this year was joining the SFGMC.

Contribution (desire to make a difference, to give)

* Hone my passion, find a worthwhile cause, and fight for it (other than college access because I do that through BUILD and College Summit) – Yes, Karla and I are working on a new social innovation.

Creativity (new ideas, innovation, experimenting)

* Finish Part 2 of my book, The Prediction – No, yet another year of unfinished work…

* Creatively write at least two times a month (every other week) – Well this goal was related to the one above it, and because this didn’t happen, the former didn’t happen.

* Plan & throw more parties with cooking – No, something about this year was a little bit less social?

Looks like Creativity was tough to prioritize this year.

Learning (growth, knowledge, understanding)

* Start a business, and then donate a majority of the profits to Troy Camp – No, but I did help for Pass the Can.

* Gain clarity on future life plans regarding career and personal – Yes, I’m going to be moving forward with an aggressive plan for next steps.

* Apply to be a Rap Director for College Summit – Yes, and I got in!

Quality (excellence, high standards, minimal errors)

* Spend more time with my family – Yes! This year was kind of a groundbreaking year for me and my family. Even though we did not get to spend Christmas together because my parents are in the Philippines, I flew down to Vegas a handful of times, my brother came up a few times, and my sister even flew up recently to spend time with me. 2007 was a great year for our family (in my honest opinion).

* Eat healthier – take out transfats from my diet, replace regular chocolate with dark chocolate – I would say Yes.

* Eat less salt – Definitely. I don’t even buy salt anymore.

* Reconcile finances on a set date monthly – make sure to keep on top of my finances – Ouch, this I have not been so good at.

* Reserve at least 2 hours a week to research and buy a condo – And this was a big No. As a person working in the social sector and wanting to live in the Bay Area, this is becoming increasingly more and more difficult!!!

Wisdom (desire to understand life, to exercise sound judgment)

* Find a new church that i want to go to every week – Not quite

* Grow up – upgrade myself to adult status – Yes

Work-related New Years Goals

* Be more explicit – talk about my process – Yes

* Think of my whole audience, not just one – Yes

Out of the 20 goals, I accomplished 11 of them. Even though they weren’t all the weight/size/gravity, it should be interesting to go through each of these values to see where and how I need to prioritize for next year.

The year 2007 in pictures

Another year, and another host of pictures. As I was looking back at the many pictures taken this year, I really could not believe so much has happened this year. From my aunt and cousins (and god daughter Bea) visiting from the Philippines in May to my several trips to DC throughout the year, it’s been a busy 2007. I feel blessed. It’s definitely been a transitional year, and I’m excited to see what 2008 has in store. Happy birthday to me, and a Merry Christmas to all!

SFGMC Winter Retreat J College Summit F Rey at Ko Samui M Cousins jumping on the Golden Gate Bridge A
Representing three families at the airport M Lady Rap Directors J My first group of CS kids as a Rap Director in Regis University J Leadership Training for our Executive Leadership Circle-BUILD A
At some karaoke place in Dupont Circle, DC S Rey, Karla and Aaron in DC O Francis and King Ice skating N Family Thanksgiving N
King and Rachel at BUILD's Holiday Sales Bazaar D

Vegas for Thanksgiving Week

I had a great time in Vegas for Thanksgiving, and I have a few pictures that my brother took from the week. What did I do you in Vegas, you ask? Well, I slept, relaxed, watched cable (caught up on “Top Chef” and watched some hilarious “America’s Most Smartest Model”), and played Xbox and Wii. On a side note, I played this excellent 360 game called Portal, which was super enjoyable and super original. Check it out!!!

Anyway, here are some select pictures from my week off; they are mostly of me and my family eating dinner, and playing at Lake Las Vegas. Click this link to see the rest of this set from flickr.

Eating a turkey leg

Ice Skating at Lake Las Vegas


Lake Las Vegas


Christmas time at Lake Las Vegas

Click this link to see the rest of the photos on flickr.

Husband material

Tonight someone described me as “husband material.”

I don’t quite know how to take that. On one had I don’t want to be boxed into the stereotype of the guy who’s great for a long-term relationship ONLY and that’s it. And on the other hand, it’s kind of nice to be thought of as someone’s husband (although marriage isn’t quite in the works just yet for me or this country).

I’ll just relish in the kind thought for now.