Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Now I have new friends

Before reading this entry, you should read the one below it to get the full context. If you already have, then carry on...

So, this past weekend I went home for my friend's bachelorette festivities in the city. But it would seem like returning the camera and the memory card to its owners was the big occasion. Even my mother said to me a couple of days before I flew out of Phoenix, "DON'T FORGET THE CAMERA!" There's no way I would have forgotten. 1) I was looking forward so much to returning it. 2) I would have needed to be talked down from a ledge if I had left it behind.

So on Saturday, I met the couple who own the camera at a Starbucks in Daly City. They were worried it was out of the way but it totally wasn't. I had to take the nearby freeway to get to San Francisco anyway. Of course, we recognized each other right away. We sat down with our drinks and talked for 10 minutes before I presented them with the camera. We made small talk at first--them asking me how long I was in town, how long I've lived in Phoenix, etc. At one point I said, "Does this feel like we're on a first date?"

We then swapped stories. I told them how Ella retrieved the camera and how I came into the picture (no pun intended). They told me how they accidentally lost the camera when they bumped into each other. At first the loss put a damper on their trip but they eventually were able to focus on still having a good time.

We actually ended up talking for two hours. I found out that the female half of the couple, she and I share similar interests. They are both foodies and love to travel. But she is like me and is open to hosteling it. She has a friend in Scottsdale/Tempe area that she wants to visit early next year. So, if they do that, they will definitely let me know so we can get together. And I can get them together with Ella and family! That would be surreal.

Fortunately, half of the pictures on the memory card had already been uploaded. But there were still lots of photos from Yosemite and elsewhere that would have been lost. Though it's great they have those back, I think they were drawn to meet me because they were so astounded people would go out of their way to track down the owners of a camera that looked absolutely totaled. I'm still marveling myself about how all this transpired. It took my being in Phoenix to meet these two really nice people from the Bay Area. So, let's just say, there was a lot of mutual marveling going on.

A friend said to me yesterday, "Terry, you always meet people in the most interesting ways." I guess that's true from time to time. This whole thing has reminded me the Universe, Fate, etc. is a very funny thing.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A Thousand Words? Puhlease, pictures are priceless.

Last Saturday evening, I decided to go for a walk because my food consumption that day had consisted of a piece of toast, two carne asada tacos with a little serving of beans and rice, lots of chips with four different kinds of salsa (at La Condesa in case you're a foodie and are wondering) and a cupcake and a glass of ice tea.

I ended up walking by my friend Jo Ann's house (some of you know her as that elderly lady who once gave me a can of olives). Her son Brian came outside and spotted me. I was graciously invited into the backyard to say hi to the three kids. This was the first time I had seen the entire family since they went on a road trip to Disneyland and Yosemite. The oldest child, 8-year-old Ella, proceeded to tell me a story of how when they were swimming in a waterfall, they spotted a camera under water stuck in some rock. Extremely curious, the family held onto Ella while she used her toes to try and grab the camera. Her toes did their little dance and somehow got the camera out.

They let the camera and the memory card dry out for several days. The camera was still totally un-useable but the memory card could be a different story. Since they had a laptop for the kids to watch DVDs, they popped in the memory card to see what was on there. Fortunately with the kids watching, nothing salacious or weird. From the looks of it, the camera belonged to a 20-something couple, Filipino American who had used the camera for two vacations--in New York and Yosemite. Dozens of photos. They looked like people I would get along with. I mean people who take pictures of food have to be pretty cool.

It was at this point that Ella said "You like to take pictures of cupcakes." Surprised, I said "Oh, you remember?"
Ella: "I know YOUR style."

Brian said they looked through the photos for some identifying information and what do you know...the couple had actually taken pictures of their boarding passes! Insisting he didn't know anything about social media or how to track people down via the Internet, he asked if I would be interested in taking part in the pursuit of our couple. The reporter in me could not pass that up; my Spidey-sense was already tingling. So when I left their house that night, I not only left with my iPod and keys, but a photo of these boarding passes.

The next day I started running both their names through search engines, White Pages, Facebook, etc. It was difficult because the passes mashed their first and middle names together. The guy had a very uncommon first name and it was hard to tell where the first name ended and the middle one began. And the girl easily could go by a couple of different nicknames or shortened versions of her name. Finally, I typed the guy's first name down correctly and got a hit on possible name in Facebook. Their boarding passes showed they had departed from San Francisco and this FB profile belonged to someone from the City. I sent a friend request which was granted a couple hours later. But I still couldn't see his profile and gain access to send a message. Afraid of looking psychotic but determined to contact him, I sent the request a second time. A few hours later, confirmed. This time I could see his profile.

So very late Sunday night, I clicked on "send so-and-so a message" wrote a lengthy note explaining how in a nutshell, I live in Phoenix, I know this family who found your camera, we can mail it to you, yada yada yada.

Monday morning, I checked my e-mail. There was a reply from him! Mr. Lost Photos was completely stunned that A) Someone retrieved his camera and B) Someone else went to the trouble of trying to find him. He said when they lost the camera in the river in Yosemite, they pretty much considered it and their photos lost forever. He went on to say that it was great to know there are good people in the world and that we really made his day.

This had me in really great spirits all day--which is rare for a Monday! Part of the reason I was so diligent about finding them was because as a journalist, I love trying to track people down. It's like a scavenger hunt. But of course, more than that, how often do you get to deliver really uplifting news to someone? If someone could get something of mine back to me just by making a small effort, I would hope he/she would do it.

As Fate would have it, I am going to be in my old stomping grounds of San Francisco in mid-September for a bachelorette party. So...the couple and I have tentatively made plans to meet that weekend and I will personally deliver their memory card and camera back to them. Mr. Lost Photos said they would prefer that over postal deliver so they can personally thank me (aaawwww). I'm thinking of also bringing them a picture of Ella's toes as a keepsake.

Wouldn't it be funny if we became friends for a very long time to come? We'd have a great "how we met" story. I think we all know what the lesson is here. Sometimes it truly is better to give than receive. And when it comes to taking vacation pics, snap a photo of your boarding pass!

Monday, April 12, 2010

What I've been up to

Dear Bay Area friends and family,

Facebook is handy but there is only so much one can write on one's "wall." And I like writing long passages sometimes. Plus, when I write a blog post, I feel like Doogie Howser at the end of every episode. I can hear that synthesizer music in my head right now, LOL.

I miss all of you and think about you and the Bay Area often. For the most part, I feel comfortable in Phoenix but every so often, there will be days where I still feel like I'm in a prison and need to bust out.

Work is OK. I'm going through a spell right now where I'm not writing very much. It sucks but I suppose it's either that or have no job. I'm hoping to eventually work earlier hours but right now they need me to stay later because I'm the only editorial assistant for the whole AP West Regional Desk right now. The person who was hired as a second assistant has been on medical leave right now, unfortunately. And his health, of course, is first and foremost the priority. I continue to send positive thoughts his way and hope he returns to work. It also hurts to see other people working on stories or get sent on out-of-town training. But I keep telling myself that there has to be a reason for all this. My hard work and patience will eventually come back to me ten-fold.

I hurt my ankle in December. It's still a booger. I can't run very much, which, if you know me, is like Superman now trying to live without powers. It really sucks not being able to even consider entering any kind of race right now. I'm too paranoid about injuring my ankle again. I will probably have to see the podiatrist again, argh. I've had mostly weird, not-so-good experiences with doctors in Phoenix. Hopefully this won't turn out like that where something else was wrong originally. Because in February, it seemed like my ankle was on its way to healing itself. We shall see.

April 7, as I mentioned on my FB page, marked four years(!) for my living in Phoenix. I've been reflecting on the whole experience so far. Despite all the misery and my "down with Phoenix" rants my first year living here, I wouldn't go back and change anything. Living out here has actually reshaped me as a person in some ways. You know, sometimes I shake my head in amusement when I recall how painfully shy I was as a kid. Mom will be the first to recount how I would never look anyone directly in the face. I can't figure out why my first instinct as a toddler was to be in protective mode around anyone who wasn't one of my parents. Not sure how I developed into someone who wanted to be a journalist, which requires interviewing people and asking sometimes probing questions. A journalist is someone who should be able to socialize with just about anyone, look past what you see and try to see someone for who they really are--even if you only have a short time with them.

Living out here has really pushed me to reach out to people and I'm glad for that. In the last two years, I've made friends with families, Hispanic people, gay people and very hetero people (read: firefighters). None of this certainly would have happened if I hadn't felt free to go up to people. And even if we don't seem to have anything in common, I can somehow relate to them. For example:

I met this Mexican American artist two months ago who does a lot of paintings and murals. He has introduced me to the fun of Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling). It's done kind of underground and it is bloody violent. I'm not trying to sound British. There literally is a lot of blood. If anyone ever comes to visit, you can bet I'm taking you there. It is off the beaten path. No pun intended. Anyway, I asked him to sit down with me for coffee so I could learn more about it and we talked for three hours. (He's married in case any of your minds' are going there). Now, I'm hoping to pitch a story on it.

A few days after New Year's, I went for a walk and I saw down a side street, someone had this very large metal sculpture of an Earth on their lawn. So, I made a turn to go get a closer look. And this old woman was sitting on the driveway of the house. (I know this is starting to sound like a folk tale). No she did not ask me about Sir Gawain or offer me magic beans. I asked her about the sculpture and turns out it belonged to her son, who does work with metals when he's not at his day job. Well, Jo Ann then invited me into her home (she lives in the pool house behind the main house) to look at stuff her son made. We ended up talking for two hours. And she stuffed a can of olives in my pocket before I left (all I did was ask here where she bought that brand).

Well, I've visited Jo Ann twice since then. The last time was actually the day before Easter. She's been so nice to me, that I wanted to do something nice for her. And of course, all I could think of was cupcakes.

So I brought over a dozen--too many for her, her son and his wife and their three children. So, Ella, 8 years old and the oldest of the three, and I walked over to the fire station to see if we could pawn off some. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to spend time with a kid that age. She is a cute girl with cute 8-year-old observations. Well, we knocked on the door of the station and nobody was home. We were about to turn around and go home when the firetruck arrived just back from a call.

Man, next time I go to a fire station, I should borrow someone's kid. They bent over backwards to entertain Ella. I had no idea the Phoenix Fire Department had all this stuff--crayons, coloring booklets, bracelets(?). Is it wrong that I wanted the fire-hydrant-shaped eraser? I told her "In life, when someone offers you free stuff, take it!" Then one of them offered to let Ella ride around the block in the firetruck. Of course, I went with her. I don't know what that says that riding in a truck now feels like old hat to me, hehe. I wasn't sure if she was having a good time but when we almost got back to her house, her father was on his way out to pick up dinner. She ran up to him, saying "I got to ride in a firetruck and I have evidence!" So adorable.

The family invited me to stay for dinner and they are all really nice people. Being a single gal has its ups, but sometimes nothing beats hanging out with a whole family. After dinner, Ella wanted to show me pictures from their past vacations to Disneyland, hehe. My favorite part was when her little 5-year-old brother, Cobie, climbed onto my lap and said "When I grow up, I'm going to live in Disneyland and anybody can come visit me." When I left, their dad said I was welcome over any time and Jo Ann said I don't have to feel alone. Aaawww.

The day after Easter, I made more cupcakes because I didn't want to throw out perfectly good extra frosting. So, I brought cupcakes to this other family I know, a Chinese family that runs a Japanese restaurant (long back story), Blue Fin Sushi, down the street from my office. They are descended from the Ongs of Phoenix, which is an offshoot of the Phoenix Tangs. Different name but same character, which is also the Chinese character for my name. Every few months someone asks me if I'm related to the Tangs, who used to have lots of businesses in Phoenix and go back three generations here in Phoenix. They all came from the Guang Dong province and Hoyping, which is where my Mom's family is from. But not my Dad's, so I don't think I'm directly related. I learned about the Hoyping connection when last month, Betsy (the matriarch of the family) invited me to go to the Ong Family Association Spring Banquet. For my non-Chinese buds, large Chinese families often have associations and spring meetings in a banquet setting. So for one night, I got to go to a Chinese banquet without having to be related. Though I've never been to a Chinese banquet where the raffle prizes were things like a digital scale, a hand-truck and a fire extinguisher (WTF?).

I digress. So the day after Easter, I brought cupcakes to them and wouldn't ya know, about a minute after I get there, six firefighters walk in to grab lunch. So, like a bad reflex, I offered them some.

Only one guy took one. As for the rest...wusses.

Where was I going with this post?? Oh yes, friends. My wonderful friend Daniel always makes me ask the question "What did I do to deserve..." Over the weekend he gave me a very cool just-because-gift. If you scroll down and look at the photo of my dark purple (well, eggplant mousse) accent wall, you'll see a "before" shot of nothing on the sloping wall next to the steps. Now look below and you'll see: He gave me my own railing!

Daniel and I met through his fiancee (yay Leah!) who I met through Craigslist. Another example of what happens when you reach out.

So guys, I think I've caught you all up on a lot of things. I miss you all and hope to visit in May. My heart of course belongs to the Bay Area. I could see myself living there some day in the next few years perhpas. And when I do, I won't just be falling back into a familiar cocoon. I'll be reaching out to people just the same like I do here. I get reminded all the time here...EVERYBODY has a story.

With love,

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A mural transformation

So, after a few months of back and forth coordinating, my lovely friend Angela, who lives in Tucson, was able to nail down a weekend to come and paint a mural in my new home. For the first time since the New Year, I feel like 2010 isn't such a bad year--maybe even pretty good. She, her husband, and 3-year-old son made the two-hour drive from Tucson to Phoenix on Friday evening. Alas, they had to get back Saturday night. So, basically Angela traveled four hours round trip and painted a huge mural all in 24 hours!

Angela and I met because as a photo/graphics assistant at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, a subscriber to AP's content, she often took calls from me asking for stuff from the Star. Then we figured that IM was easier to correspond. Then we started IMing about non-work stuff like shopping, running and girly matters. I've often wished that we lived closer to each other; we've only spent time together a total of three times but I feel like it should be more. This project came out of my remarking over instant-messenger that I always thought it would be cool to have a mural in my home. And she offered. All I'd had to do was pay for the art supplies. I was like "DEAL!" I have to say, this mural is one of the nicest things anyone's ever done for me. Friday night, she used a projector I borrowed to outline a larger version of her illustration. Then on Saturday, she was sequestered from like 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m.. It was like having my own reality show, "Project Mural," hehe. And she was loads more fun to watch than Bob Ross (afro guy who's always painting rural landscapes from start to finish on public TV). While she was painting, she would occasionally stop and asked for my input; so, I could change my mind about the color of the saucer or an article of clothing. It was also cool to see her go back and revise things, like turn the corners up a little of a mouth to alter a facial expression.

Since the mural is on a wall behind the dining table, I knew I wanted some kind of food scene. So, I decided two modern-day looking gals enjoying food and conversation at an outdoor cafe. Angela, ever so thoughtful, actually asked me for a picture of a cupcake I've made so she could incorporate it into the mural. As you'll see, I think she did a great job depicting the cupcake. It sort of pops in the picture and she even used a little of the raspberry mousse shade I used for my living room wall.

This morning, I found myself actually wanting to sit down at the table to eat breakfast instead of standing in the kitchen like I usually do. I really feel like short of having the sun in my living room, this mural really brightens up the kitchen/dining area/living room. And in case you're wondering, the girls in the mural are not supposed to be Angela and me. They are "Everywomen," who judging by the picture, aren't afraid to enjoy some good ol' fashioned carbs, hehe. I really feel like my stamp is on my home now. If I ever sell, can someone lend me money to take the whole wall with me??

With the dining table put back...