Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Date Nights—Part III

     For Valentine's Day, Deanne and I watched The Flying Dutchman at the Neal Blaisdel Concert Hall performed with musicians from the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and dozens of opera singers. I bought tickets by phone through Hawaii Opera Theater for pickup before the show at the will-call booth, thereby optimizing affordability, seat location, and purchasing convenience, for when I called the Blaisdel Ticket Office, $30 bargain seats were sold out (plus tickets had to be purchased in advance in person) and Ticket Master's processing fees were exorbitant.
     It was our first classic opera and here are my impressions: Fantastic music—can't beat Wagner for conjuring images of stormy seas through sound; lighting and staging added to the foreboding mood; the soprano and the humorous night watchman sang with penetrating gusto—very impressive; acting was OK, nothing spectacular (I saw Pavoratti on TV once in a classic opera and his acting stank—I guess for him it's all about the voice); and the engaging story kept me guessing to the end (my guesses were way off).
     Afterward we went for a quick bite at Ward Warehouse where the only kiosk open that Sunday evening was Mr. Eggroll. Its Chinese food was excellent for the price and super convenience (it was getting late), and the proprietress was friendly and generous, giving sample dishes to try and even an extra sample with our meals. 
     On another evening following an exhausting weekend in which we wanted to escape house and kids, we went for a low stress, low hassle dinner at Lee Ho Fook Restaurant, a favorite hole-in-the-wall Chinese Cultural Plaza restaurant facing the canal. The six table Hong Kong style mom-n-pop shop serves yummy noodles and soup, has not changed its prices in years, gives generous portions, doesn't add MSG (that makes my hands feel weak and gets me thirsty), and allows the flavors of natural ingredients to come through without overpowering seasonings. Its offerings beat those of numerous fancier restaurants that charge twice or thrice the price, and its casual, relaxed, come-as-you-are atmosphere reminds me of my youth with its Formica top tables, vinyl padded steel leg chairs, and linoleum floors. We slurped up seafood won tons with chilli oil and dug into our egg foo young (a Hawaii classic) and three meat cake noodle with hearty relish, then walked along Chinatown's main thoroughfare past Mauna Kea Marketplace to window shop and burn off calories.  
     Then on Thursday's Kuhio Day state holiday we went to one of Art and Flea's monthly events at an industrial warehouse behind Marukai across Ward Warehouse partly converted into unfinished shabby/chic display areas where sixty tiny start-up vendors peddled their art, jewelry, hand made instruments and toys, used albums, baked goods, snacks, thrift clothes, and other offerings while a DJ spun vinyl disks pumping out young dance music (house, techno, trance—I don't know what). The vendors answered all my questions such as, “Where did you get this from?” “Are you the artist?” “Did you use a long or short lens on this photo?” with enthusiasm and friendly engagement. There was a demonstration outside featuring a very lively and synchronized dance team bedecked in uniform tights, t-shirts, and sneakers, with moves like robot from the '70s and hiphop from the '90s. 
     The crowd was predominantly twenty-something petite female beauties, some hand in hand with a complaint significant other. Entrance fee was $3 each, which was okay for a once-in-awhile thing, and I ended up purchasing a framed original hand drawn acrylic doodles on original photo for $35 that now adorns our dining room wall. When I first saw it, I wasn't sure how it'd been done, the doodles were so whimsically convincing that it made the wave photo beneath seem painted, and I'd never seen a piece quite like it before. The artist with purple dyed hair and large arm tattoo had a lot of different styled work with no set one-trick-pony pattern or theme, so understanding her individual works was a bit more challenging, which I think is great as I love variety partly because it gives me a better sense of who the artist is and how she thinks, which factors into purchase decisions.
     One of the most gratifying parts of the event was its welcoming air—I didn't feel at all intimidated, awkward, or unwanted, or that a pickpocket might target me, or that a seamy underbelly lay hidden, so that later at home I told Deanne that my sense of the youth there was one of innocence, which was hopeful. 
     I pray my sense was accurate and representative and that it bodes well for my kids' futures. I remember my youth when drug abuse (mostly alcohol and marijuana), posturing, and judgmental attitudes and behaviors were rampant among my classmates (and I, except for the drugs, which I didn't do) and how far from innocent we all were. Of course, I knew them and myself tons better than I do today's twenty-something youths, and who knows what I'd think if I knew them better? Probably depends on which “thems” I knew as everyone is different. Yet, in general, I think certain things may have changed for the better.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Second (and Third and Fourth) Opinions

     Decades ago, Dear Abbey's Abigail Van Buren recommended that her readers seek and obtain as many medical opinions as necessary until a satisfactory diagnosis and treatment plan is received because doctors are fallible (and some are less than honest, I might add). I've taken this advice to heart and through the years it's saved me much heart and pocketbook pain. 
     Dentists in particular have been my sometimes nemeses. It started in Seattle in the late 1980's when a dentist I selected from the Yellow Pages, who claimed to offer “reasonable” rates, cleaned and examined my teeth, remarked twice how nice they were, twice asked if I was Japanese (he was Korean), and said I needed fourteen fillings which would be a “big improvement”—despite my having had only four tiny fillings at that point (I still have only four) and I had been doing my diligent daily dental hygiene best, same as always. Not convinced, I asked him to write down which teeth 'cause I wanted to ask my mother who works in a doctor's office her opinion. He said in a doctor's office? I said yes. He nodded and wrote numbers (designating the teeth) on a Post-it note and gave me at my request the more than dozen x-rays he'd taken. 
     Only then did I do the smart thing (I was young) and asked my friend for a recommendation. He referred me to his dentist who worked down the street from where he lived in Laurelhurst. The dentist, who never recommended my friend do anything with his teeth, examined my teeth along with the x-rays, thrice commented how nice my teeth were, and asked could he see the list of suspect teeth because it might provide him clues? I said, Please draw your own conclusions first, then I'll show you the list. He went over each tooth and selected x-rays again and said he couldn't find anything wrong with any of them. I showed him the list and he went over the fourteen teeth plus some x-rays again, commenting as he went tooth-by-tooth on the health of each, then quipped, “your dentist must want a second boat,” which caused my heart to ache with longing to bless him. And he didn't even charge a fee for the over half-hour consultation. 
     A few years later, after I'd moved back to Honolulu, my regular dentist said she'd put in a small filling where I had some gum recession, the first of several that “will be a big improvement.” Yet she and her hygienist always complimented me for my “beautiful teeth.” Since I didn't feel the need for any fillings, I changed dentists to Doctor Franklin Fukuda, who to this day has never recommended a filling. 
     Twelve years later, our family's pediatric dentist said Braden needed two fillings due to tooth decay. I asked him to show me which teeth and he stuck a probe in and touched the chewing surfaces of two molars. (As a youth, I got a cavity once when I forgot to bring my toothbrush to a Boy Scout summer camp when I served on staff for several weeks. Doctor Atebara demonstrated the hard taffy-like stickiness of my tooth's decayed enamel by shoving in the needle point of a probe, then pulling away until it released with a sudden jerk. I wanted to see that happen with Braden's teeth (as proof). He was unable to do it, but rather jerked the probe to one side to simulate stickiness. I had him jot down the teeth in question, then brought Braden to see another pediatric dentist who said that he needed four fillings, but none of the teeth to be filled matched those of the prior dentist! (I didn't show or tell him about the list.)
     I then took Braden to Dr. Fukuda who said, All his teeth look fine. I can't find anything wrong with any of those six teeth. 
     God bless him for his honesty! 
     Finally, Pene's myopia has been progressing so her ophthalmologist, whom we two years ago changed to for reasons of convenience, recommended low dose Atropine eye drops inserted every night for months (or years) on end to help slow the progression and thereby reduce the risk of a retinal tear or detachment. She said studies in Asia showed that “it worked” but that it hasn't yet been FDA approved because “drug companies refuse to sponsor studies because the drug is already generic” (i.e. there's no profit motive). Because Pene and I felt so uncomfortable about the treatment recommendation; because Internet research listed very few studies, none of which were long-term; and because when I asked my ophthalmologist at my annual check-up what he though about the treatment, he said it's tough on patients and parents and the myopia could return once drops are stopped; we took Pene in to see our original pediatric ophthalmologist, who said she doesn't recommend eye drops to treat myopia; the Asian studies happened for two years, then stopped; there are no long-term studies; and the risk of retinal damage from even severe myopia is very low. She also mentioned that only one pharmacy in all Hawaii mixed the Atropine dilute, which I found suggestive of less than wide-spread acceptance or appeal. 
     So for now, we'll forgo the eye drops option, and instead follow the common-sense recommendations gleaned from multiple doctors and staff that Pene get lots of out-door exercise, take regular reading breaks, and read arm's length rather than nose-to-page. I'll pray as always for her health and trust what we cannot control to God, because He is always in control. And as He said, “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn't like the peace that this world can give so don't be worried or afraid." (I tend to stress about such things...)
     By the way, the upside of all this regarding Pene is she loves to read (as do all our kids) and devours books like tiny bags of potato chips—it astounds me how fast she reads. Largely as a result, she's doing just fine in school—we couldn't ask for more.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Voting—Part II

     There's been ample talk of our nation's broken healthcare system so I won't reiterate that now, but given the U.S. population's repulsion with Congress's handling of its job (75% disapproval rating), greater disapproval than approval of the way the U.S. president and Supreme Court are handling their jobs, and all-time low voter turnouts since WWII in the last national election (37%), the argument could be made that our nation's leaders in all three branches of government are ill-representing the will of the people and that America's system of “democracy” (representative form of government, really, a far cry from true democracy whereby majority rules in all cases) is thereby itself ill, dysfunctional, and/or broken.
     True, America's leaders were never very representative—not back when nearly all were white, well-to-do men, and only wealthy white males were allowed to vote. Yet even today, with half the nation's voters female and minority groups on the rise, why is there still such a dearth of female and minority representation in Congress, the Supreme Court, and the executive branch? 
     I'm not complaining about the overall system as I recognize the value of our Constitution and the rule of law, however, without proportionate representation of women, minorities, teachers, accountants, social workers, blue collar workers, the unemployed, the poor, immigrants, and youth at all levels and in all branches of government, the people's will will continue to be ill-served by elected and appointed leaders. So can citizens be blamed for disengaging and not voting considering how leaders' capricious laws and edicts are passed, signed, issued, and forced upon them by mostly white male attorneys in D.C. and others equally disconnected at all levels of government?
     At the root of the problem lies big money influence in elections and politics, which has gotten obscene—everyone knows this, yet average exasperated citizens feel powerless to do anything about it 'cause past efforts to obliterate, reform, or even moderate such outsized influence have resulted in only paltry, token changes. I believe this can and will change when things get bad enough (yes, things can and will worsen 'cause greed knows no bounds) 'cause all governments, even ruthless dictatorships (as four time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Eugene Sharp pointed out) derive all their powers and privileges from citizens, and citizens always have the ability and power to revoke all such granted powers and privileges. And I'm not talking about voting do-nothing or corrupt politicians out of office, either, 'cause even responsible voting won't change a thing when there are only slim-pickin' just-as-bad alternative candidates to choose from that will change things only to the extent an exterior decorator might who dresses up a ramshackle, beaten down, worn, old, musty, hob-mailed, condemned, termite-ridden shack with a fresh coat of white-with-blue-tint or white-with-red-tint paint, take your pick.
     No, citizens will have to move en masse via a ground swell, a movement so persistent, powerful, and ever building that it can no longer be ignored or contained, a movement that may include but not be limited to recurring gestures, communications, gatherings, protests, marches, sign wavings, firestorm publications, and other campaigns legal and nonviolent, a movement that does not quit despite minor efforts to appease, a movement that continues calm in righteous confidence until those in power finally realize they have no choice, having been effectively stripped of all implied powers and privileges or nearly so, they must step aside or change to conform to the people's will.
     Small gestures from large numbers can mean a lot in aggregate, far more even than big dollar campaign contributions and other influence peddling and lobbying by wealthy individuals, special interests, and corporations. 
     Imagine if the 145 million non-voters in the last election placed one brick each to form a wall around the White House, Congress, and U.S. Supreme Court to symbolize citizens' will to block would-be buyers of influence from those hallowed institutions. I imagined there'd be a pretty high wall. Turns out a ten foot high brick wall would extend 345 miles, long enough to surround all of Washington D.C. city and then some. 
     Or imagine if those non-voting citizens instead mailed their individual bricks to either one of their congressmen, the president, or the U.S. Supreme Court. The resultant 5.6 million cubic feet of bricks would form a solid block 6 stories high and cover two football fields. Picture the highrise construction cranes and dump trucks necessary to move those loads.  
     Or imagine if each of those same 145 million non-voters instead got a bundle of Monopoly or Life play money, dirtied it, and mailed portions (instead of a brick) to each institution and enclosed in the packets a signed declaration that said, “campaign finance reform.” Such a deluge would certainly be unprecedented, the message would be clear and convincing, and recipients would no doubt feel convicted of the need for change, change requiring immediate action lest more demonstrative actions be forthcoming.
     My kids agreed to help me dirty some play money and to write and sign a note each: mine will go to our (local boy) U.S. president, Braden's to the Supreme Court, Penelope's to Senator Schatz, and Jaren's to Representative Takai. It may take awhile, but the removal of dirty money from politics may happen during their lifetimes if not mine. 
     Twenty-seven years ago I said, “No minority will ever be elected president in my lifetime,” yet citizens surprised me and I suppose something similar could happen again with this. Clean elections with attractive, ordinary citizen candidates—what a thought!
     Finally, about non-voters, let's stop assuming they're lazy, indifferent, apathetic, or take-your-pick pejorative label. Perhaps non-voting is their way of demonstrating—effectively boycotting what they consider to be sham elections that only perpetuate the powers of non-representative insiders responsive only to big business and special interest benefactors. My dad would make a better representative than ninety percent of the choices I see 'cause he has real character, integrity, and heart, and as an intelligent, thoughtful, and understanding retired school principal, knows real people and the issues. I always say Barbara Bush would have made a far better and more compassionate and humble president than either of her Bush kinfolk—kept us out of wars at least. And I'm sure everyone can think of an uncle, friend, coworker, grandparent, or other associate who'd make a fantastic and/or superior Supreme Court justice, president, senator, or representative.
     Numbered among nonvoters is now my mom, historically one of the most responsible, up-to-date, knowledgeable, and thoughtful voters around. She has even stopped following political coverages, deeming them all wastes of time. Why the sudden changes? Because, in short, things don't get better no matter what she does or who's in power. I consider her nonvoting proactive and am considering doing likewise (which is different than what I have been doing by not voting in races in which I can't stand any of the candidates which results in lots of blanks in my ballots), for by any reasonable standard, last election's 37% voter participation rate was miserable. How much lower can it go? 25%? 10%? What would be the ramifications of ever lower voter turnouts? Might leaders eventually get the message and realize that wholesale election changes must be made? I am hopeful they would, but if they didn't, what would happen if it fell even lower to only 5%? Or 1%? At what point would election results become so meaningless as to become invalid or illegitimate? .1%? At that point citizens action would by default be forcing government's hand, wouldn't it?
     Election season is fast approaching—get ready for even worse dirty money mud slinging than before. Any good-hearted, level-headed teacher, mother, librarian, nurse, waitress, salesclerk, or student ready to enter that humiliating mud-wrestling rink? I think not near enough and I don't blame those who demur. 
     Hats off, then, to all contentious, nonvoting, election-boycotting protestors, whose nonverbal message will register clear and convincing. One day.

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Supreme Court of the United States
1 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20543

(Check out the U.S. Supreme Court's hilarious website faux pas! Right at the top of its home page is a reproduced image of “We the People”—the opening words of the U.S. Constitution, one of our nation's most beloved documents. But the washed-out looking words are over half-covered by a border on top and “The Supreme Court of the United States” in huge bold letters below. Which begs the question: Is this indicative of a desire for we the people to subject ourselves to the Court? Or a belief that we literally fall beneath the Court? I'm no legal expert, but isn't the Constitution the supreme law of the land to which all, including the Court, are subject? Might the Court's partial erasure of the Constitution's words be indicative of belief that it may alter the Constitution's contents? Or that it may erase those portions that protect we the people's rights? Regardless who designed, vetted, and approved the site, it demonstrates an appalling lack of judgment—tragic considering the source...)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


     In my mind, finicky eating is one of the worst forms of close-mindedness in children because by limiting what they eat, they deprive themselves of so much joy.
     When Braden was a toddler, he hated lettuce, which he avoided eating and dropped on the floor by “accident.” Neither worked because we insisted he eat what he was served and replaced what he'd dropped with even more. 
     One lunch, he tested our resolve by refusing to eat any more lettuce or rice, insisting he wanted more fish sticks instead. I said, “No, finish that first,” pointing at his food. 
     “I'm done,” he said. 
     Okay, we can't force him, I thought, we'll just save his leftovers for dinner. At dinner, he looked at his leftovers and acted like he wasn't hungry. I said, “Are you sure you don't want any?”
     He said, “I want that,” pointing at our meatballs pasta.
     I said, “Finish this first and you can have that.”
     He said, “No, that.” 
     I said, “Fine, you're not having any”, and stored his plate back in the fridge. Later that evening, I offered him his leftovers and he declined.
     At breakfast the next morning, I placed the reheated rice and ample fresh lettuce before him. Braden always eats breakfast with relish, but this time when he saw his plate, a look of hurt injustice stole over his face. I did my best to hide my self-satisfied smirk (and relief) while he, with slow, deliberate chews, ate. Upon his finishing, I gave him his usual fare of fruits and cereal, which he gobbled down with out-of-my-way-I'm-serious intensity. This was followed by seconds, then thirds, then fourths. 
     We ever after employed this eat-what-you're-served-or-go-hungry regimen to teach all our kids to enjoy all food.
     Because all food is good. 
     All food is a blessing. 
     Anything tastes great to the hungry. 
     No kid ever starved due to finicky taste.
     Occasional hunger never hurt anyone. 
     And the person who never experiences hunger is almost certainly overfed or overweight. 
     More than once, when Deanne fretted about their not getting enough to eat, I said, “We American have warped perceptions about food. Some people in Asia, South America, and Africa survive on only one small bowl of rice and watery vegetables per day. And they labor in hot fields all day long. Our kids aren't malnourished or underweight. Allowing them to pick and choose what they will or won't eat is spoiling them. Everyone in our house eats what they're served—no wasting food allowed.” 
     Which brings to mind a wonderful piece I read awhile ago. A local columnist (I can't remember who) told her friend from China that her mom always said, “Finish your food. Do you know how people are starving in China?” and asked, “How did your mom get you to eat?” Her friend said, “She told us about all the starving people in Africa.” 
     The columnist asked a friend from Africa what his mom did to get him to eat? and he said, “She told us not to waste food like Americans.”
     We try our best not to waste, but sometimes when we're careless, things go bad and have to be tossed, so we're far from innocent. At least we can take comfort, though, that all our kids love what they are served (though Jaren has distastes for freshly made chicken, pork, and beef when prepared with savory seasonings, which reminds me of when I was a kid and Mom prepared foods with MSG that made me feel like throwing up. So every time I see Jaren gag when eating (MSG-free) meat, a part of me empathizes). 
     Also when I was a kid, Mom insisted I eat at least a little of everything I was served, separating a small portion using my fork to show me the amount I had to eat of a detested dish (chop sueyed celery, carrots, and onions was the worst!), saying, “It's good. I don't want you to be a finicky eater and at dinner at a friend's house say, 'I don't eat that,' and they have to fix you something special. It's such a hassle.” 
     To this day, I'm thankful for my open-minded palate (thanks Mom!) and for Deanne's introducing me to so many fantastic South-East Asian cuisines, including Indonesian, Malay, Hokkien, Thai, and my favorite of all, Indian—many of which I may never have otherwise encountered, tried, or appreciated, and the joys of hot spicy curries sauces, and seasonings. Yum!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Letter Writing

     Ninety percent of last week's In Their Words essay was written by my kids who wrote their portions with enthusiasm sans complaints. How was this possible? Do they love writing? you might ask, to which I reply: They've written so many letters through the years, such assignments outside school are given, plus getting published on the Internet for the first time provided ample motivation. 
     I started them writing letters once they were able to assemble sentences (before that they drew pictures). Mostly they've written thank you letters for Christmas or birthday presents received from relatives, but also for overnight stays at Grandma's, Uncle Norm's or Auntie Joan's. They've also written Christmas, get well, how-are-you-doing, and hope-you're-having-a-nice-time greeting cards to elderly shut-in church members (whom we've never met), young adult attendees away at college, and other friends and relatives. 
     I've been writing letters since college and my enthusiasm for it has grown, so I suppose their writing letters in due course following (or leading up to) special occasions is natural (though I'm always the initiator). For all my letters, as well as theirs, are hand written—no computer print-outs, e-mails, or short-cut phone calls allowed. And all their Christmas and birthday cards to relatives and friends must be designed, constructed, and decorated by hand with lots of pretty pictures, colors, and/or designs—sloppy slip-shod efforts won't do. 
     Of course the greatest difficulty for them when they started was determining what to write. I'm not a big fan of vacuous letters, devoid of news or meaningful connection, so I've told them, “Tell them something they don't know about you,” or “Talk about something you enjoyed doing with them.” Upon such prompting, they've come up with appropriate news, often of a personal nature, or fond shared memories.
     I suppose writing of self can come across as somewhat egotistical, but as long as it's not braggadocio, I don't think of it that way. Rather, sharing a bit of self with others is about as good a gift as they can give right now. And people like hearing news of what's going on in other people's lives, or at least I do.
     Whenever our Japan relatives write—usually only towards year end—it's a special treat. My dad's cousin's daughter is always the correspondent who writes in broken, printed English only a few short sentences with photos, but they always bring us in an instant to their whole different world in Japan. (Deanne and I have visited twice—once as newlyweds and once with Braden and Pene for a reunion with Japan relatives and friends at Japan Disneyland; Jaren wasn't born yet.) With just this teeny-tiny window into their lives, and my return correspondences, our connection remains strong whereby we make it a point to meet up in Hawaii or Japan every so many years.
     I was taught that letter writing is common courtesy—no excuses that you already thanked them in person or you'll remember to thank them the next time you see them. And although I don't actively look for slights in our lives, not having seen hand written anythings from close relatives or fiends for years means we just don't get much fun mail anymore. I don't much mind; it's more the kids that miss out. And the would-be letter writers themselves. For I think whatever part of self gets poured into a letter, God refills and then some with blessings. 
     Apostle Paul suffered the worst privations imaginable—as a prisoner of war in horrific conditions might—yet his New Testament Epistles—letters to the church—shine with joy, hope, faith, and love, including some of the most beautiful, cherished, and oft-quoted passages anywhere. And he makes clear that he feels so blessed despite his hardships and sufferings, for having died to self, God's abundant joy has suffused him.
     Now, I'm as similar to Paul as an ant is to an elephant, yet when I write a letter with true love, which sometimes can be draining, I often sense peace and love flood in to fill the void recently vacated as if God noticed, cared and blessed me for this tiny bit of faithfulness. Not that I deserved it, I never have. As Christians, we know that we deserve death and it's only through God's infinite grace that we live and are blessed.