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Archive for January, 2011

First Snow Shoveling in the First State

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Everyone had advice for my first East Coast winter as the temperatures started dropping, especially with regards to vehicle maintenance. “Get an ice scraper.” “Get a can of spray de-icer.” “Get a snow brush.” “Rinse your car so it doesn’t rust from the salt they put on the snow.” “Drive slow.” “Careful around the turns.”

Ah, yeah yeah yeah. Ok ok, I did all of the above.

And then my favorite one that I kept procrastinating on (cue ominous music):
“You should probably get a snow shovel and keep it in your car in case you have to dig your car out.”

I thought that was the most hilarious thing ever. Until one day I had been training in my living room all morning and didn’t need to drive anywhere until say, 3pm…my car had been parked outside for over 30 hours at this point…

there's a Honda Fit hibernating in there.

Luckily I live in a great neighborhood equipped with lots of shops and restaurants. I walked across the street to the drug store. They were out of shovels. I walked the other way to the grocery store. They too were out. The print shop was closed but hey, I live right next door to an Irish pub and sports bar. They lent me their snow shovel and I promised not to run off with it. I had been bundled up, but let me tell ya, shoveling snow is hard work. An hour later I had my outer jacket, gloves, and warm hat stripped off. I faithfully returned the shovel and promised to come back for Irish car bombs.

I used to think brushing the snow off your car was kind of fun, like a one-person snowball fight, but I’m over it now. Oh yeah, and there were a lot of snarky remarks from people (who didn’t have to go to work, “snow day” and all) walking by when they caught a glimpse of the California plates.

Then I went to Target and another grocery store and they were out of shovels too. So I got myself to Lowe’s (the hardware store) yesterday and bingo! Every person walking out the store was armed with a spankin’ new shovel. I went in and got my very own. I feel totally empowered now. Nothing can stop me!

Although according to this article, I should just stay in and watch more TV: “Snowstorms send TV viewership soaring.”

And here’s a good tongue twister for you: “Shoveling snow stimulates sniveling snot.” Now say that ten times fast.

how to cook a kidney?

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

In this special Broke-Ass Triathlete edition of “Bizzarre Foods with the Wongstar,” I bought a ginormous beef kidney for 80 cents. It’s almost 1.5 pounds! It was hanging out next to the liver and I thought I’d give it a try. Sometimes a pro triathlete girl on a tight budget has no other choice than to buy meat with the fluorescent orange “Today’s Feature” sticker…and/or date boys with real jobs.

kidneys filter your pee. liver filters alcohol!

I’ve never cooked my own kidney before although I’m sure I’ve had it in one of our weirdo Chinese dishes in my lifetime. I’m wondering if it’s the same as cooking liver. I could just Google it or call Momma Wongstar (I’m sure she’ll call me when she sees this post anyway) but heck, I figure some of you iron chefs out there might have favorite kidney recipes. Right…? Well feel free to discuss in the forum!

Chinese Moms, part II.

Friday, January 21st, 2011

(If you missed Part I, it’s here: “My Chinese Mom: A Superstar’s Secret Weapon.”)

So it’s been almost 2 weeks since the Wall Street Journal ran the story “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” and I find myself both amused and surprised at the amount of outrage that has ensued. I’d have to say that Amy Chua, the Yale professor who wrote the book (“Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”) of which this article was an excerpt from, is really freakin’ brilliant. She’s been interviewed on NPR and BBC and obviously the WSJ article was meant to provoke people while promoting her new book.

Seriously, people need to chill. Her 18-year-old daughter wrote an article a couple days ago that was just published on the New York Post “Why I love my strict Chinese mom.”

I personally think that Prof. Amy Chua kicks ass and a lot of people don’t understand her sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek humor. I can totally relate to this because some people don’t get my sense of humor either. Chinese people are actually really funny. Just watch Kung Fu Hustle or some old Jackie Chan movies.

It’s not like she is telling people how to raise their kids, it’s just her memoir on how she raised her own. Then again, there’s a reason you hardly (if ever?) see Asian families on parenting reality shows like Nanny 911.

Coach was right. Americans are way too soft. They totally get their panties all in a tangle when confronted with truths they don’t want to hear.

I also realize that some of my Chinese-American peers have grown up pretty resentful and angry at the way their parents brought them up. Some of them were pushed into careers they were never interested in. I was lucky in that my parents allowed me and my siblings to choose whatever college major and career we wanted. We just had to go to college. That was a non-negotiable, though NOT going to college never even crossed my mind. And while they were never too crazy with the idea of me becoming a professional triathlete, I made sure I finished my graduate education, residencies, and board exams for prosthetics & orthotics before I dove head-first into this pro triathlon world. Education always came before sports. But now they are my biggest fans.

my gorgeous Chinese mom before she became our mom

ANYWAY. My reflections on my strict Chinese upbringing was to analyze how it helped me not just survive but thrive at training camp with my strict Australian coach. It wasn’t until I read the Chinese moms article that I came to the realization that I was brought up with a certain mindset. It was always assumed that we were smart and would therefore get excellent grades in school. It never occurred to me that I was stupid or incapable. If I got bad grades, it was because I was being lazy and didn’t try hard enough.

I was also lucky in the sense that I have an older sister who served as my role model. She’d been getting straight A’s since elementary school. I didn’t see what the big deal was and didn’t try that hard. But I soon got tired of hearing “Why can’t you be more like your older sister?” and decided to put an end to it. I’ll get into the whole Jan Brady syndrome in another blog (the sister’s birthday is next month, haha) and how by pitting me against my sister, the parents created the uber competitive monster I am today. But having my sister get the grades made it seem to me that it wasn’t THAT hard, and that I could do it too.

If I could summarize my parents’ philosophy into a few words, it would be “Assume greatness and achieve greatness.”

Now Coach was the same. He’s always said that anyone with two arms and two legs can go X:XX in an Ironman without taking drugs. During one of these talks (at one of my first training camps) he looked me in the eye and said “even you, Wongstar.” I wasn’t so sure then. But from the beginning, he had always said that it wasn’t my ability that was holding me back, but my belief in myself. When I stopped improving in the swim and actually got slower last year, he said it was because I wasn’t trying hard enough. I didn’t want it bad enough. I was being lazy.

He rode me hard those first few camps. I cried a couple times, and then I hardened up. I learned to take criticism, and I often received the harshest. Later I learned this was completely intentional on Coach’s end. I was the weakest and slowest athlete in the squad and therefore I was driven the hardest.

I learned to accept and appreciate Coach’s cold, hard truths and knew the comments about my weight were not to hurt my feelings but to make me a better athlete. It’s not like it’s a secret that I like to eat and that getting leaner makes you go faster. I learned to listen objectively and could deflect comments that certainly made some of my former teammates cringe, if not traumatized them. I got tougher and he knew I could take it. It’s been said before that he coaches us as individuals and this is completely true. He is very good at reading people and will treat us differently (i.e. manipulate and push our buttons differently) depending on our backgrounds. I think somehow he just knew that I could take harsh criticism from my Chinese upbringing.

When I did things right, Coach would say it was because I was Chinese. But when I screwed up, I was “being an American.” This is an excerpt from the WSJ that resonates with me as well:

“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. … Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.”

Now, just like how Prof. Chua has been harshly criticized, my coach has also had the reputation of being rather controversial, strict, and extreme. But you know what? There’s a reason for that. He’s here to create CHAMPIONS, not to coddle us. I’m not here busting my ass as a pro triathlete to be a mediocre nobody. And I would agree with the above…being mediocre is not fun. Winning is fun. Another of Coach’s favorite quotes I have written somewhere is “Moderation is for the mediocre.”

Chinese parents hardly ever praise you but it’s not because they aren’t proud of you. It’s just a tough love type of approach, instead of the “everyone’s a winner! you’re so awesome!” attitude that seems to prevail in American culture. You can say that this upbringing in no way damaged my self-esteem (I’m awesome and I know it ;) ) but it’s almost like what I said earlier. They assume awesomeness, so what’s the point of getting a big head about it? The only times I ever knew my parents were proud of me were when I overheard them bragging to their friends and our relatives. Well scratch that–when you hear their friends or relatives tell you that you’ve been bragged about.

Coach has been similar…he hardly gives compliments but when he does, it counts many times the world over. Sure there was bit of blood, tons of sweat, and some tears inflicted by a very demanding Coach, but I will always remember the first time he saw me race at Embrunman… and I demolished all his expectations. I’ll never forget the look of pride on his face when he caught me at the finish line. It was that point that I started believing everything he had been shoving down our throats from Day One: you can achieve anything you want to, you just have to want it bad enough.

So you can get outraged and debate about it all you want, but as one of the few (if not the only) professional triathletes of Chinese descent on the Ironman circuit, from now on I know that I have that one secret weapon that nobody else has: my strict Chinese mother.

And for that, I’m thankful.

a smartphone for a smartgirl

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

my sweet new smartphone

Hi from my very first smartphone! I detached myself from the Wongstar family plan because I wanted to prove I was all grown up, or something like that.

A little research polling my facebook friends and learned about Virgin Mobile’s $25/month no contract plan for 300 mins, unlimited text & data. Unfreakingbelievable!

Anyway just playing around…not sure how this will turn out but maybe now I can do mini blogs from my phone :-) cheers! Ok I just previewed it…can’t figure out how to shrink the photo and typing too much makes me cross eyed so these will be short. Hehe!

My Chinese Mom: A Superstar’s Secret Weapon

Friday, January 14th, 2011

there was a brief period of time when I was actually smaller than my sister, who has almost 2yrs on me. And holy crap, I think my mom is like our current age in this photo (29 or 30??)

It’s my mom’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom! Since I am broke as usual and she doesn’t like me spending money that I don’t actually have, especially not on her, tonight I will write a blog for her. About Chinese moms.

So I’ve talked before about how I was a good little nerd in high school and how I got into every college I applied to. Yesterday I was watching the movie “The Perfect Score” for the first time, about six kids who try to steal the answers to the SAT’s. There was one line in it that made me LOL. Like ROFLMAO. One guy asks “Who scores the highest on the test?” and the stoned Asian boy replies “Asian chicks. Middle-class asian girls who watch less than an hour of television a day. They can’t drive, but they can kick the sh*t out of the SAT.”

Yes. That was me. My friend Lawrence sent me a link to a fabulously controversial Wall Street Journal article that was published last weekend, titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” As I sat reading it, at once both mesmerized and highly entertained by each paragraph that rang true, I came to a better understanding of why my parents brought us up the way they did and how it has crossed over to my non-academic life…and actually…yes, right into triathlon superstardom.

As I write this there are nearly 4000 comments on this article online, most of them from angry and enraged (and mostly white?) readers and parents who are appalled at this parental behavior. Ah, whatevs. It was normal to me. I had many other Asian friends, and of course all my cousins, some with parents that were much less strict, and some that were even worse. You know what my coach would call these enraged readers? Typical soft-cock Americans. ;)

Anyway, here are some of my favorite passages…

On Chinese moms being blunt:

“The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—-even legally actionable—-to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, ‘Hey fatty—lose some weight.’ By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of ‘health’ and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image.”

On getting straight A’s:

“…Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, ‘You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.’ By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

…For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. …If a Chinese child gets a B–which would never happen—-there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion…

…Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.”

On not being “allowed” to date or even just hang out at the mall with friends in high school:

“…Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences. That’s why Chinese daughters can’t have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can’t go to sleepaway camp.”

I was soooo psyched when I finally convinced my mom to let me go to band camp the summer before 8th grade. Yes, I played the flute, and no…I didn’t end up getting to go to band camp. I got the chicken pox instead. You have NO idea how absolutely shattered I was that I didn’t get to go, and of course learning years later when watching American Pie what really went on at band camp…. Well. I sadly don’t have any “this one time at band camp” stories and this probably explains why I was (am?) such a late bloomer.

And then the conclusion and explanation for all of it:

“…the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

Huh. When I finished reading this I had a striking revelation:

BRETT IS THE TRIATHLON COACH EQUIVALENT OF A CHINESE MOTHER.

Aha! That is how I survived all those training camps and continue to thrive under his coaching. I was not one of them typical lazy American softcocks because of my Chinese upbringing. Apparently Mom has prepared me well for the world of pro triathlon, i.e. the Brett Sutton world of pro triathlon. :)

I want to go into more detail but this is getting long enough and I’m feeling a bit brain-dead from today’s big training. So expect to see a Chinese Moms Part II when I’m feeling more alert.

Happy Birthday, Momma Wongstar! Love ya! :D

a look back at 2010 with Haamonii…in photos.

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Happy New Year!

I have a longer, deeper blog in the works about my 2010 reflections but it takes a little more time to gather those thoughts into words and I figured it’s good to keep posting things up even if I have long strayed from the daily blogging streak.

I threw together some photos on Facebook of my year of “Sharing Haamonii” while racing the Ironman circuit for my liquor sponsor, Haamonii Smooth Shochu. You can check it out by clicking the photo below from New Year’s Eve. Privacy settings for that album should be open to everyone, even if you don’t have a FB account.

Sharing Haamonii in 2010!

Haamonii Smooth Shochu became my very first individual sponsor as a pro triathlete in early 2010 and sent me bottles of their distilled spirit to “share harmony” wherever I went in the world. As my official “post-race rehydration beverage” there were many opportunities to celebrate with new and old friends! Smoother than vodka, less calories, and no hangover. The choice of triathlon superstars! Learn more at their website, http://www.shareharmony.com/. Cheers!