Kristan Hoffman

writing dreams into reality

Category: Personal (Page 1 of 45)

60,000 miles

This month, I finally made use of a present that Andy gave me two Christmases ago.

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First, I spent a week in England with my dear friend and critique partner Sarah Wedgbrow. It’s been nearly two years since she moved away, and even though we’re constantly in touch, I still miss her every day.

Next, I hopped over to Berlin and Copenhagen to meet up with two of my oldest friends so that we could celebrate our 30th birthdays together. (Okay, mine isn’t until November, but theirs were both within the past month.) Unfortunately I caught a cold, which took me out of commission for a couple afternoons, but I still had a marvelous time.

I feel lucky to live in an era when technology enables me to keep in touch with people I care about, even across great distances. But there’s nothing like that face-to-face connection. There’s no substitute for the sweetness of a child’s hug, or the smell of a Sunday roast. The way my friend’s eyes crinkle when she laughs. The closeness of our bodies crammed onto a single small bed while we whisper about life and love late into the night.

Twice this year, I’ve traveled halfway around the world to spend time with family. Twice this year, I’ve been reminded that family often transcends my definitions. Twice this year, I’ve seen that family is its own kind of magic.

And what is it about getting away that allows us to become closer to ourselves?

By the way, I know it seems like I’m traveling all the time — and truthfully, travel is a priority of mine — but I swear, I do have a permanent address, and I’ll be staying put for a while now.

Salt, mountains, light

1.

Sizzle and scent. Warm, chewy layers of dough and oil. The salty notes of scallions.

I have dreamed of this. Literally and figuratively, I have dreamed of walking down the side street by my jiu jiu’s house and buying fresh cong you bing from a street vendor. Now we’re finally here, standing in the small crowd around the stall, waiting for our order to be filled.

I watch the woman spread a pancake over the flat round griddle. Little drifts of steam rise from the belly of her cart, and the dough hisses as it burns. She slides a spatula under the pancake and flips it. More hissing, more steam.

People press in close, talking loudly. I let the unfamiliar words sail over me. They melt into the voices of shoppers walking up and down the street, perusing the other stalls, and mingle with the low hum of traffic from the main avenue nearby.

When our pancakes are ready, the woman hands them to us, folded like crepes and wrapped in waxy paper. We take them back to my family’s dining table, and we bite into the moment of truth. As our tongues dive into flavor and texture, we can’t help smiling. 

It’s even better than I remember. Even better than I dreamed of.

2.

When we spot the “restaurant” and decide to give it a try, he is skeptical. The place is little more than a shack on the side of the mountain. A cinder block structure with no front wall, just wide cement patios and a roof of corrugated metal. The open-air kitchen is all stone and soot.

But he is too hungry and uncomfortable to protest, so we go in.

My yi zhang orders who-knows-what for everyone to share. While our food is being cooked, we find plastic chairs and wooden stools stacked in a corner, and we arrange them around a table for ourselves. Another group settles in — college students, maybe — and a pair of cyclists after that. Suddenly the place seems lively and warm, rather than shabby and strange.

We chat in a halting mix of Mandarin and English. We enjoy the breeze that blows in damp and green.

Dishes are brought to our table as soon as they are ready. Pork fried rice and three different kinds of vegetables, all homegrown nearby. The food is simple, unassuming, and delicious.

We eat ravenously. We devour the mountains.

3.

The night market begins with a bright red archway, which is doing its best impression of a Buddhist temple gate. But neon lights betray the imitation. Everything is flashy and loud, blaring against the ink-blue sky and the sleeping city.

Like a school of fish, we slowly shuffle along with the throng. Our eyes scan each booth, searching for a snack or a trinket that we might enjoy. Shoes, toys, cell phone cases. Stinky tofu, crab legs, oyster omelet. Eventually he settles on strawberry juice — fresh, but watery — and grilled corn on the cob with spicy sauce. I indulge in an egg tart, the custard creamy and rich on my tongue.

We came here to satisfy our appetites. Not just for food, but for life. For an experience we can taste, and take home in our hearts. So much has been out of our control — but this? This chaos is ours.

Quick follow-up to MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES

Just before leaving for Taiwan, I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for my friend Jasmine Warga’s debut novel.

I first blogged about her book, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES, here.

I have now recapped the launch party over at We Heart YA.

And last week, I tweeted about a couple special surprises:

On being a girl geek, and a new look for the site

“Coding Like a Girl”

It’s one kind of progress for people to agree with the statement “Women can be anything they want.” It combats a kind of sexism called oppositional sexism. But there’s another kind of sexism, traditional sexism, that we’ve made less progress on. You could get more people to agree that women can be anything they want than to agree that femininity is as valuable as masculinity.

• • •

My friend Rose recently blogged about “being a woman in tech.” It’s a great read about her personal experiences with sexism and how she handles it. Also, the article quoted above was found via Rose’s post.

I don’t work in tech, obviously, but like Rose (who I went to high school with) I was a self-taught coder, a female nerd. I still am, actually, and proud of it, even if it’s not at a professional level.

(Edited to add: I too experienced various shades of sexism in regards to my interest in programming, science, or even Star Trek. But I’ve also been admired or embraced by people for those same interests. It’s not all bad, and no one is trying to say it is. Anyway, I didn’t want to go into too much of my own history, because I’d rather you read the two pieces I linked to.)

My computer science journey ended during my sophomore year of college, when I dropped it as a double-major because I was tired of staying up all night on my computer. Between writing stories for my fiction classes and coding for my programming classes, it was non-stop screen-time, and that just wasn’t sustainable for me. Plus, I realized that I had always been more interested in the design side of things, and programming was (mostly) just a means to that end.

Nowadays, I indulge my web design hobby here. It’s perfect, because this space is meant to be a reflection of me anyway. Speaking of which: ta da! In case you hadn’t noticed, things look a bit different around here.

Before

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After

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As much as I loved those hand-drawn icons, it was time to go mobile-friendly. The new design is built on the framework of WordPress’s lovely Sela theme, and it should look pretty snappy no matter what kind or size of device you’re reading on.

(If you see anything wonky, it’s probably on accident, so just let me know and I’ll take a look.)

I decided to outsource the bulk of the coding by using a pre-made theme, but I still had to do a lot of tweaking. I got to learn about breakpoints — which mark where and how the design should change for different screen sizes — as well as about the specialized web font Genericons. It’s just too bad they don’t have a character for GoodReads. I had to use a book icon instead of the official logo.

Also, I finally did away with the BlogHer ads. I used to enjoy being part of that network, largely because they did a good job sending traffic around, so there were always new people coming here, and new blogs for me to discover. But that feature hasn’t been around for over a year now, and the ad income only partway covers my hosting costs, so I just didn’t see the benefit anymore.

As with all things shiny and new, the redesign will probably lure me here to blog more often in the coming weeks. Maybe. I hope. Because there’s still more to be said about my trip to Taiwan, not to mention all the thought-provoking media I’ve been watching and reading. Stories. Whether mine or other people’s, that’s what I always come back to.

Taiwan: An overview of our trip

Friday: Woke up early (ugh) for our 3 flights to Taiwan. Cincinnati > Minneapolis > Tokyo > Taipei. My mom met up with us in Minneapolis. We all watched a lot of movies and TV shows, some of which I already posted about here and at We Heart YA.

Saturday: Mostly still flying. We finally landed in Taipei around 11 p.m. My uncle and cousin picked us up from the airport and drove us to my other uncle’s house, where my mom was staying. Andy and I walked to our AirBnB, which was just a couple blocks away. Our room had a view of Taipei 101.

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Sunday: My cousin, his wife, and their toddler showed us around for the day. Stops included the Taipei 101 observatory, the beautiful columbarium in the mountains where my grandparents’ ashes are kept, the town of Shifen on the northern coast of Taiwan, and finally the Shilin night market. In between all these places, we napped in the car. The jet lag, it burns.

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Monday: Andy and I visited the National Palace Museum in the morning, had lunch at Din Tai Fung, then joined up with my family again in the afternoon. My aunt took us on a walking tour of Ximending, the Presidential Palace, and Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Plaza, which is one of my all-time favorite places on Earth. Dinner was a special family banquet that Andy and I hosted in honor of our recent(ish) marriage, as well as Chinese New Year.

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Tuesday: My uncle and another cousin drove us to Yangmingshan National Park, where we toured one of Chiang Kai-Shek’s former residences, as well as did some light hiking around the hot springs. The sulfur there gives off a sharp, distinct odor that is a strangely treasured memory from my childhood. In the afternoon, Andy and I went back to Taipei 101 to check out the shopping levels, then trekked over to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Plaza and through the Dunhua neighborhood to meet my friend Linda and her boyfriend Wesley for dinner.

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Wednesday: Chinese New Year eve. Also, the first of our two day tours. We were escorted to an organic tea plantation to learn about the tea-making process; to Shinfeng Old Street for lunch; and to “Thousand Island Lake” (aka the Taipei City reservoir) for the lovely views. In the evening, we prayed to our ancestors and enjoyed a home-cooked feast at my uncle’s house in honor of Chinese New Year. My aunt even remembered one of my favorite dishes, stir-fried Japanese cucumber.

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Thursday: Chinese New Year day, and the second of our two tours, in the Pingxi district. We began with a light hike — although there was one terrifying section that went straight up a rock face. Most of us opted to skip that part. We re-fueled with a traditional miner’s lunch, explored an abandoned mine, and rode the old train line. Amidst a bustling holiday crowd, we painted a sky lantern with the names of our loved ones and good thoughts for the new year. The lanterns floated up to the heavens on fire and smoke. Our last stop was the Shifen waterfall (aka Little Niagara), then it was back to Taipei for dinner at my big uncle’s house. Despite our exhaustion, Andy and I ended the night with a quick stroll through the Rao He night market.

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Friday: In the morning, Andy and I visited Longshan Temple. For lunch we got dim sum from Tim Ho Wan, whose specialty pork buns were the best I’ve ever had. We spent the afternoon shopping, got foot massages, then met up with a couple college friends who we had randomly learned were also in Taipei for the holiday. Our final meal of the trip was an informal banquet in Taoyuan, courtesy of my mom’s cousin and his wife, both painters, who gifted us with some of their art as a special souvenir.

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Saturday: Flying back. All day. An extra-long day, since we were crossing the dateline. 36 hours of travel in (seemingly) less than 24. It was like magic, but without the fun. Cincinnati greeted us with nearly a foot of snow. You guys really pissed of winter while we were gone.

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