The Paralympics always take place a week after the Olympics in the same town. The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, the eleventh of its kind, just saw their closing ceremony Sunday. Forty-five countries participated in 72 medal events in five sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice sledge hockey, and wheelchair curling. 2014 also marked the debut of my favorite winter sport, snowboarding. The USA sent 74 Paralympic athletes, and it was the first Paralympic Winter Games for Brazil, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.
It’s nearing the end of February, and judging by the crowd I encounter on the evenings I hit the gym, people are still keeping up with their 2014 new year’s resolution to get into shape. I’m not one to make resolutions, as I believe goals should be made when a person finds the desire and is ready to do so. I don’t believe in waiting until January 1st to stop smoking, start eating healthier, start exercising, etc. If you know you should stop drinking two liters of Coke a day, and you’re ready to take that plunge on December 8th, then do it on December 8th.
Ever since I turned thirty and grew a muffin-top, I knew that I would soon have to undergo some lifestyle changes. No longer were the days when I could eat fried chicken, pizza, eggrolls, and pan-fried noodles to my heart’s content without worrying about my waistline, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc. But I wasn’t ready to take that next step to getting fit. I wasn’t ready to drink kale juice and enroll in bootcamp classes.
Until the summer after I turned 34 last year.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the winter Olympics are going on now in Sochi, Russia. Growing up, I loved the winter Olympics. My favorite sport to watch was figure skating. It was a pastime I enjoyed with my mama. But now that I can no longer see, the Olympics on TV have dropped on my list of enjoyable activities. But since they only happen once every four years, I figured I should try to have some idea of what’s going on, so this past week, I’ve tuned in my television to the Olympics, if only to listen to the sportscasters narrate the competition.
I do wish I could see the snowboarding sports though. I used to live in L.A., which must explain my fondness for surfers. And the winter alternative to a surfer is a snowboarder. And ever since I picked up snowboarding, my affinity for the sport has grown.
My life for the past 20 months has revolved around cooking and food. But before that, my life had revolved around writing. I hope that soon enough, I will be able to strike a fine balance between the two loves of my life, as I like to call them.
So it was with great pleasure that I was recently asked to write a personal essay for the new kid on the Houston journalism block, Houstonia Magazine. My former editor at Eating Our Words, the Houston Press food and dining blog for which I was a former contributor, is now at Houstonia, and she approached me about writing for the “H-town Diary” column, which she’d mentioned also boasts the likes of such writers as Chitra Divakaruni and Mat Johnson, both of whom were my instructors at the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. Of course I agreed I would write a piece for the December issue—it was my chance to switch gears and float back towards my writer persona. Plus I figured it would give me new material for my memoir (which I plan to finish a draft of in 2014—more on this later).
We’re deep in the season of baseball. Who said blindness has to stop you from playing America’s most beloved sport? Check out this video clip about the Long Island Bombers, a baseball team for the blind. And I thought I was brave, being on ”MasterChef” and snowboarding. But I would still be scared out of my mind to hear balls flying at my face.
Nope, this IAmA doesn’t belong to me, though I did one recently. (You can still check out my IAmA on reddit.) This is a fellow blind cook’s IAmA that preceded mine. By the sound of her recipes, she’s spectacular and adept in her own home kitchen. Kudos to her for sharing the stage with me and showing the world that blind people can do just about everything a sighted person can—only differently. Read this blind cook’s IAmA and catch another glimpse into our culinary world.
As soon as I’d finished taping the third season of “MasterChef” last year, I immediately knew I wanted to commemorate the whole experience with a tattoo. I recently unveiled a photo of my tattoo to the public via my Twitter and Facebook page, and many fans loved it, a few hated it, some wondered why I got such a huge tattoo for it being my first.
The truth is, it is not my first tattoo. My first tattoo was a Chinese character meaning “luck” which my good friend in high school paid for on my eighteenth birthday. Not because he wanted to give me something special, mind you, but because he thought it’d be worth paying $60 to see me cry out of pain. Unfortunately for him, I was smiling through most of it and even said I kind of liked the pain. In the end, he was left $60 lighter in the pocket and glumly disappointed by my non-tears.
While that tattoo was my first, it was indeed small (about the size of a half dollar). Fifteen years had passed since I was initiated into the inked club, and there were occasions when I wanted to get additional tattoos. My cousin and I were thinking of getting our last names tattooed on us in a Chinese character. But there really wasn’t anything outstanding or outlandish enough in my life for me to go get another one. I really didn’t think I’d be going under the needle ever again.
And then the show happened. And I became the MasterChef in the U.S. For 2012. And to be honest, even if I hadn’t taken home the title, I’d probably still get a tattoo simply because it was a life-changing experience. Tattoos, I believe, are not to be taken lightly. They’re permanent, for one. So it better not be something you’ll regret ten years down the road when your buddy asks you, “What’s the story behind the Hello Kitty on your bicep?” (Not to knock Hello Kitty—I think she’s cute. I just wouldn’t get her tattooed on me.)
So, yes, “MasterChef” was a life-changer. And as we wrapped filming, in the last couple of days we were all in L.A. Together, I was bouncing ideas off the others, asking whether: (a) I should get a tattoo, and (b) what should it even be of? Stacey, of course, gave me a resounding YES. And that it should be of the MC logo. (She ended up getting this tattoo herself.) Felix and Cindy said yes. Some said no way. And then there were two that said yes, but not of the logo. Which made me think and eventually agree.
So what should I get? After much thought, I decided to get a tattoo of a few of my favorite ingredients: garlic, anchovies (which represent fish sauce), and cilantro. In addition to being some of my favorite things to eat and with which to cook, they were food items I used quite frequently during the many MC challenges and thus served me well.
I also love the aesthetics of Japanese art and so knew I wanted these three key ingredients flowing together in some sort of Japanese print. How it would look exactly and how it would flow together would be left up to the artist because I, for one, had not a clue.
Since this was going to be permanent, I wanted to find a tattoo artist who was highly skilled with Japanese art. I considered flying to L.A. (Where there is a larger Japanese population than in Houston) to get it done. I even thought about waiting until my Japan trip to get it done overseas by a true Japanese artist. But everyone told me what I was thinking of getting would take multiple sessions, and in the end, I simply did not find it practical to take multiple trips on a plane to get a tattoo—it was already going to be expensive; I didn’t need to add several hundred bucks on top of that.
With the help of a few people I trust, I went from reputable studio to studio in Houston inquiring about the artists whom I’d heard could do Japanese art. I ended up choosing an artist named Tracy from Scorpion Studios in Houston. He was referred to me by John’s coworker, and after perusing his portfolio, my friend agreed he would be good for the job. As with most superb artists, Tracy was booked for months in advance (which I took as a good sign), and I had to write this strange email to him explaining to him that I was a contestant on a TV show and wanted to get my tattoo done before the series ended on TV, and that I wanted him to incorporate garlic, anchovies, and cilantro into a Japanese print.
Sure enough, it was the strangest request he’s had in a while, but being the amazing artist that he is, he came up with this tattoo which he freehanded on my back.
It is much larger than I’d originally wanted or anticipated, taking up a good portion of my lower right backside (instead of the 4”x6” I asked for). But Tracy said for the details and coloring I wanted, the tattoo would only look good if it was much larger. And so I acquiesced, figuring that I should leave the artist to his devices. After all, I know how irritating it can be to have someone come into my kitchen and telling me how to chop the onion.
“You pick the artist according to his skills and what you’ve seen of his work, and then you just have to let the artist create,” John told me. And this is true. And so that’s what I did.
I know I can’t see my tattoo, but I’ve been told by many people that it’s skillfully done and very unique. I guess even if it was terrible, it’s on a place on my body that is easily hidden and, being blind, I’d never see it anyway. (!) But I’m extremely happy with it. I have to give Tracy props for being able to take three food ingredients and working them into a harmonious flow all the while imposing a Japanese print look to it. On top of this, the art would have to look good with the curvature of a backside. Let’s just say the man knew what he was doing.
Many wonder if it hurt. To be honest, there were some parts that were more uncomfortable (e.g. When the needle passed over my spine or ribs or if he was doing some shading and had to go over a certain spot time and time again). My skin definitely felt tender for days after a session, and the aftermath hurts more than the actual needle time. But for the most part, it was not bad at all, just like how I’d remembered it when I got my first. In fact (and I know I’m weird), I kind of liked the buzzing pain sometimes. Call me a masochist—I survived “MasterChef” after all. The tattoo was supposed to take three sessions but because (in Tracy’s words) “I took that shit pretty good,” he was able to finish the entire thing in only two sessions of about 2.5 hours each. Because I was so still and silent, he’d kept asking me if I was okay or about to pass out. But I was fine. In fact, I was either dozing off or reading a novel in Braille.
I will likely get another tattoo after I publish my memoir a year or two from now. That will be another momentous occasion in my life that I will want to capture in ink. I don’t know what I’d want yet, but I’m thinking some sort of literary quote in an aesthetically pleasing font. What do you think? Any suggestions? DO you have any tattoos? What are they of, and what are the significances?
*Update – Video has been taken down.
My bro-in-law posted this on my Facebook today. You would think I’m completely used to hearing myself on the small screen by now, but no, I am still horrified at the sound of my voice. This clip is funny, though, since it’s got all these dramatic camera angles and music. So crazy how editing can affect the consumer experience; it reinforces the importance of editing my own creative writing. (Ah, you like how I tied together the two passions of my life, food and literature?)
The third and most epic season yet of “MasterChef” premieres Monday and Tuesday, June 4 and 5, at 9/8 PM CDT on FOX. A witch, a pissing horse, a lollipop-sucking monkey–hot stuff…how can you resist?
I’ve been MIA for a while. But not to fear–I had good reason. I promise. During my hiatus, I was cooking my ass off to impress Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich. That’s right, I was cooking for my life to get on season three of the summer hit show “MasterChef” on FOX. After open casting calls in several cities across the U.S., I made it past tens of thousands of contestant hopefuls to land a slot in the top 100 to cook for the three notable judges. Did I impress them enough to get a white apron? Tune in to find out: “MasterChef” season 3 premieres June 4 and 5 on FOX at 9/8 Central. See what craziness ensues! In the meantime, here’s a promo commercial. And yes, that’s yours truly smack dab in the middle of it already crying like a buffoon. Hah!
I don’t know what’s come over me. The older I get, the more daring I become. Or maybe the courage came with the vision loss, an illogical need to overly compensate to feel “normal”—“everything you can do, I can do too.”
Whatever the motivation, it has driven me to skydive two years ago and ski last year. My most recent adventure involves strapping both my feet to a board and skidding down an icy mountain. That’s right, I tried snowboarding last month. A bunch of friends decided to take a trip to Breckenridge again, and again, I called the BOEC to schedule boarding lessons. I was surprised to find that boarding came more naturally to me than skiing. I was less miserable this time and could even say I had fun. I was psyched to be able to go down the green and connect my turns a little from toe to heel by the second day. My teacher insisted that I was better than a lot of sighted beginning boarders. I think the key was the no fear factor—because I couldn’t see how steep a slope was or where the obstacles were, I just had to go with it and fully trust my instructor. I also think I had great instructors who, obviously, are highly trained. Thanks, BOEC, for helping people of all abilities enjoy the outdoors.
Here is a video John got of me snowboarding down the green with Wendy, my instructor. I’m slow as hell, but hey, I can say I carved on my very first trip! I hope this video inspires you—know that you can really do anything if you put your mind to it. Happy New Year, everyone!