A Day at the Mosque


When I found out people were gathering outside a mosque in a nearby city to rally in support of Muslims, I called my next door neighbor to ask if it was the same mosque she attends. She told me she goes to the one closer to our house (just five minutes away). Since it was Friday, the day of their worship, she asked if I would like to go with her. I was surprised by her invitation, assuming that only Muslims could enter the mosque. I have always been curious what it’s like inside. I remember going to a mosque in Johor Bahru in Malaysia years ago but we weren’t allowed to enter hence I’ve always assumed that non-Muslims could never enter a mosque.

I came up with an idea to organize an event, granted a permission given by the imam, to allow us to observe them during the prayer service. Given today’s political climate and anti-Muslim rhetoric used in election campaigns (also manifested from Trump’s initial executive order barring anyone coming from seven Islamic countries to enter the United States), it is imperative for Americans to gain a better understanding of Islam, perhaps the most misunderstood religion.

The following Friday, with help from three other women, the East Plano Islamic Mosque has graciously permitted us to observe their prayer service, followed by a Q&A with the imam. I was hoping this event would give us a more nuanced view of Islam and of America’s Muslim citizens.

This is my personal challenge #2

People were gathered outside the mosque

 

There were about 30-40 people gathered outside the mosque when my best friend, Clara, and I arrived. Much to my surprise, a reporter from the Dallas Morning News was also among the crowd. She asked who the organizer was and they pointed her over to me. In the interview, she asked what inspired me to organize this event. I told her it started from a comment on Facebook from an old acquaintance who was convinced that because of Sharia Law, it isn’t possible for Islam to be a peaceful religion. She then posted links of articles with absurd claims about Sharia Law just to validate her point. Since I wasn’t adept on this topic and I didn’t want to rely on the internet for information, I thought the best way to get first hand knowledge on the subject is by hearing it from a reliable source, someone who’s well versed on the Qur’ān, that’s no other than the imam himself.

This talented woman painted several of the artwork displayed at the mosque. She told me that Islamic arts are mostly words that are creatively translated into a picture


The interview was cut short when a couple of women in hijab invited us to enter the mosque. They showed us the cubby holes where we tucked away our shoes and then asked all the female guests to follow them upstairs. The men stayed behind on the main floor where they prayed separately from the women.
The Imam appeared on the television screen. He began his prayers with a beautiful chant then spoke in Arabic for the actual prayer. After the prayer, he began his sermon by first welcoming all the visitors. He then talked about the plight of Muslims in the United States (and the rest of the world). There were three important aspects he discussed. First, despite the negative perception on Muslims, he reminded them that the backlash they have experienced in the past years is miniscule when compared to African-Americans who have lived with racism their whole lives. He stressed on the importance of keeping a stronger faith. Therefore, Muslim husbands should not be embarrassed when their wives wear hijab and to stop prohibiting them from wearing it in public. Second, he mentioned about the significance of being proactive in the community, to help out and volunteer at charitable organizations. Third, to be always appreciative and grateful of the people who are speaking out for them. And to make sure they thank those who are showing up for racial justice.

The woman on the right (wearing hijab) is my neighbor, Abir

After the prayer service, we were all directed to a room on the main floor where the Q&A with the imam would take place. Everyone was very accommodating and hospitable, they even had snacks prepared for us. During the Q&A, the imam explained to us what Sharia Law meant. It means a “path to God, a way of life.” It can also be described as ‘Islamic law’. However, Sharia states that Muslims must be loyal to the laws of their country of residence (American Muslims must follow the US constitution). A Muslim who is observant to Islam will (unknowingly) adhere to Sharia Law,  and surprisingly most Muslims do not know (or have heard) of Sharia Law. Not even the imam himself. The first time he’d heard of Sharia Law was from American politicians (who often referred to it to demonize Islam).

Also, unbeknownst to many of us, the Muslims in this particular community are actively volunteering in charitable causes. Many of them volunteer at the North Texas Food Bank, they also have a free clinic offering medical care to everyone (not just Muslims) who can’t afford healthcare, and also shelters battered women in the Dallas metroplex area. But we will never hear about it in the mainstream media because they are not newsworthy.

The Facebook acquaintance I mentioned in the interview still refuses to accept that Islam is a peaceful religion after I had posted my experience at the mosque and even berated my efforts. “I find it ironic how interested and tolerant you are of a faith that has produced such extremism. However you are so quick to judge those that take an alternative viewpoint in America. A viewpoint that conflicts with yours but that viewpoint doesn’t involve murder, killing cutting off heads because you’re gay, chopping off your hand because you stole something or killing your children because they dated outside the faith,”she wrote on her comments. “I would love it if you could exhibit a little more tolerance with the conservative viewpoint. We are nowhere near as extreme as you claim us to be.”

It is ironic that she demanded for me to ‘exhibit tolerance’ when she herself wouldn’t do it. I told her my objective in organizing the event was not to refute her conservative viewpoint but to shed some light on the religion and the people. Nearly half of Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam, often equating the religion with terrorism. This perception makes it easy to lose sight of the fact that the majority of mainstream Muslims hate terrorism and violence as much as we do. But my explanations fell on deaf ears. Everyone was invited to this event but unfortunately the people who couldn’t tolerate different religions and cultures, the ones who should have attended the event, didn’t. This person, in particular, would rather embrace ignorance. Sadly, you can’t open someone’s eyes when the mind is closed. I doubt it if she has any Muslim friends. Because if she did, she wouldn’t think that way. I’ve had many Muslim friends since I was in college and as I mentioned, our neighbors are Lebanese-Palestinians. Abir is a great cook and often sent us huge plates of her  delicious Lebanese cooking. When my son became sick, she took care of us, sending foods to our house on a weekly basis. It was great to come home from the hospital and be fed with a delicious meal, a good break from eating at the hospital for days.

Since then my Facebook acquaintance has unfriended me on Facebook. But there was no love lost there…I haven’t missed her one bit.


A couple of weeks later, my husband, I, and approximately a hundred or more Americans, were back at the mosque to welcome refugees. As of lately, Trump has once again issued a new Executive order, halting all refugees from entering the United States. One friend had lamented that she no longer recognizes the America she grew up with.

Neither do I and this is why we need to keep fighting in bringing back the America we once knew, the one who welcomes and fully embraces immigrants. The America that has always been great! 

P.S. If you are interested in showing your support to your Muslim neighbors and would like to organize an event similar to this, most of the mosques are very welcoming to outsiders. It only takes one phone call! 

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I wrote about some of my goals for 2017 (such as reading more books, writing more often, daily meditation, etc.) and also personal challenges that would hopefully include 12 adventures—new places and/or new experiences:

1) going to a new place, by plane, train, automobile or even on foot, and not necessarily far from where I live. AND/OR 

2) by experiencing something new, something I have never done before—whether taking a class for personal growth, learning a new craft, or participating in something within the community. 

Activism in the wake of a Trump Presidency

On my last post, I wrote about some of my goals for 2017 (reading more books, writing often, daily meditation, etc.) and also personal challenges that would hopefully  include 12 adventures—new places and/or new experiences:

1) going to a new place—by plane, train, automobile or even on foot, and not necessarily far from where I live.

2) by experiencing something new, something I have never done before—whether taking a class for personal growth, learning a new craft, or participating in something within the community.

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“This is What Democracy Looks Like”

This is my personal challenge #1 (a disclaimer and my sincere apology to my blogger friends that if you have voted for Trump, this blog may not be properly suited for you):

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I was hoping that the year 2017 is going to be a quiet year and a lot less eventful than the past couple of years. So far, politically speaking, it’s been a wreck and the year just started! Since Donald Trump was sworn in as the President of the United States, I haven’t been able to focus on accomplishing any of my goals I mentioned in my last post, such as reading the books I’ve collected over the years. Instead I’ve spent the majority of my days catching up on the news. His first week was a whirlwind of activity with unimaginable executive orders and one after the other caused my world to crash, spiraling down quickly. However, the upside is I’ve been able to take on challenges far from what I thought I was capable of accomplishing. 

The month of January was all about pushing myself. I’ve gone outside my comfort zone, doing things I wouldn’t have done in the past, and experiencing a whole new world!

The Presidential election in the United States in November left a big hole in my heart. I’ve never cried in any elections in the past but I did with this one. I cried until 4am the next day, and the days that followed. I was so shocked at this outcome and for a man who’s lacking decency and proper diplomacy is now the 45th President of the United States. He ran his campaign by pandering on xenophobia (by insulting immigrants, accusing Mexicans as rapists and thieves, by suggesting a Muslim ban); by demeaning women as evident on the tapes (bragging about grabbing them by their genitals); and by spreading hate (encouraging violence in his rallies). For the first time in my 25 years as an American citizen, I was afraid and embarrassed. I feared for my country, for Americans without privilege, and most especially for my sons.


A Trump presidency became much more personal when he campaigned for the repeal of the ACA—Affordable Care Act (nicknamed by the republicans as Obamacare). Before the year 2010, insurance companies can deny coverage to people who have pre-existing conditions, have imposed a lifetime cap on patients, and children under 26 years old did not have the privilege to be covered under their parents’ insurance. These provisions were changed when the ACA became a law.

In 2010, my younger son was first diagnosed with his leukemia and if it hadn’t been for the ACA, he could have been denied insurance the second time his cancer came back due to pre-existing condition and lifetime cap. Also his medical bill has already accumulated close to $2 million (his lifetime cap was $3 million). Trump said he won’t take away these provisions but I honestly do not know what to expect. His administration has been caught in web of lies that I find it hard to trust them. As far as I’m concerned, the law is already in place and I see no reason to repeal it.


Worried about where the healthcare’s direction is going under the Republican Party, it was now up to me if I should sit back and wait for others to do the work. Or I can challenge myself to become active and be a part of the solution.

I called my state representative to  remind them that there will be millions of people who will get hurt, including my son, if Obamacare was repealed without a viable replacement. I also joined local Facebook groups, where members are mainly made up of women, who are active in the community, organizing rallies, protests, or phone calls to legislators whether it be resisting Trump’s cabinet appointments or demanding to restore democracy. They are among the millions of Americans nationwide who resist Trump’s unconventional and dangerous leadership. 
And this has become my new world, being a part of the resistance movement.

Together with these women (and some men), we went to protest at our senator’s office (Ted Cruz) regarding the future of Obamacare. I was chosen to speak with the senator’s staff, explaining to him why Obamacare is important not only to my family but for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions who may lose their insurance coverage. It was the very first protest I participated and guaranteed, there will be more to come.

I’m the nasty woman in the pink pussy hat 🙂
But the most empowering event I participated thus far was the Women’s March on January 21, a day after Trump’s inauguration. I couldn’t fly to Washington DC so I asked two of my friends if they were interested in joining me to do The Women’s March on Austin. There were several women’s groups who organized round trip bus transportations to and from Austin. At 7:30 am, we left Dallas and it took three hours to get there with a restroom stop along the way. The bus was full of women with their pink knitted “pussy” hats  and/or “nasty women” shirts. We were all proud to be part of the (estimated 4 million) marchers worldwide, who protested against Donald Trump and his authoritarian-like regime. However, the protest was not only about Donald Trump. It also covered issues such as:

1) women’s issues— (lashing out against his treatment of women, with his infamous line, “grab them by the pussy”;

2) healthcare— (as I already have explained); 

3) immigration issues—building a wall on the border of Mexico and the U.S., deporting (and separating families) the 11 million undocumented immigrants, putting a ban on Muslims, etc.;

3) environment—the Republicans are known to be climate change deniers;

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4) his choices of cabinet members who will definitely not drain the swamp but instead will benefit the top 1%;

5) LGBTQ issues—it is especially concerning that with a Vice President like Mike Pence who was known for favoring discrimination against the LGBTQ community, we are now going backwards. Marriage equality was just passed under the Obama administration which states that a person can marry whoever they love regardless of their sex and gender orientation but that is now being threatened under this new administration.

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Everyone initially gathered at the Capitol. Then we slowly made a loop around South Congress, which took about an hour or so. It was nonstop chanting and we were getting cheers from onlookers. It was uncomfortably warm that day and the sun was shining bright on my face but the heat didn’t bother me. It felt great. For the first time in months, I felt alive.

The march was not just for myself but also for my sons, for everyone’s sons and daughters, and for the men and women whose voices needed to be heard.

The tears I shed on election night had transformed me into a much better American. However, my activism won’t begin and end with Trump. Complacency is no longer an option because America is changing and she will always need my voice. My voice, together with million other voices, will be heard. Because this is what democracy will always look like.

Celebrating Chinese New Year

Gong Xi Fa Cai or Gong Hey Fat Choi! These terms all loosely translates to “Congratulations and Be Prosperous”.

Today begins the Lunar New Year in the Chinese calendar. It is traditionally celebrated for fifteen days, from New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival. There are so many customs and traditions involved during Chinese New Year along with myths and superstitious beliefs.

In Dallas (Texas), there aren’t many Chinese New Year festivals found, compared to other cities that have large Chinatowns such as in San Francisco or New York City. But our family has casually started celebrating and practicing some of its customs and traditions for about a few years now.

Yesterday, I went to our local Asian store and bought red paper cut-out decorations to hang on our door. I interrogated a young Chinese woman who was looking at the paper cut-outs and red packets (envelopes) next to me. I asked what each character meant. She told me I can’t go wrong with any of them since they all represent good luck and good fortune.

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I also purchased red envelopes to put money in for the two boys.

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This morning the boys were excited to see money inside their red envelope. The amount of money must be given in even numbers, and the luckiest numbers are 8 and 6. Never give money amounting to odd numbers such as 3 or 5 as this represents funeral. Also, the number 4 is bad luck as it means “death” in Chinese character. I gave $10 each because I didn’t have change last night. I would’ve preferred to have given $8 or $6. I need to be better prepared next time.

Last night I also made sure our house was thoroughly cleaned with the belief that a clean house will sweep away ill-fortune and to give way to incoming good luck.

In the past years, I have prepared noodles for longevity,

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shrimp for wealth and abundance,

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and dumplings for prosperity.

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This year, I will add spring rolls because the shape represents “gold bars” and perhaps a whole chicken. I haven’t prepared a whole steamed fish yet since I really don’t think the fish they sell at the stores here are very fresh. Perhaps someday…

If you are visiting someone, don’t forget to bring tangerines or oranges to wish them good fortune. Tangerine in Chinese sounds similar to “luck’ and orange sounds “wealth”. The bright orange color of the fruits symbolizes “gold”.

This year is the Year of the Goat/Sheep/Ram. It is believed to be a year of tranquility and stability. I was born in the Year of the Sheep. I am hoping that the lunar Chinese calendar will bring me better luck than the traditional new year we all celebrate (January1st). Because on the first day of January, I found out my dad fell sick and eventually passed two weeks later so I am excited to rid of all that ill-fortune I had in the beginning of 2015.

Good luck to you all! May the Chinese New Year bring you good fortune, prosperity, and most important of all, good health!

I dream of ramen….

I will be leaving for a trip to the Philippines in less than a week and I am quite excited that my layover is going to be in Narita. Since we moved from Japan to Texas in 2001, we’ve only been back to Tokyo once in 2010. With my failing memory, I could no longer remember Narita Airport’s layout. It doesn’t help that when we were there last, we chose to stay in the American Airlines lounge the whole time.

This time I am flying solo and without my husband (who has the Executive Platinum status with American Airlines), I won’t have the luxury of staying in an airport club lounge. I googled Narita Airport Terminal 2 and I was surprised to find out that it was designed in the image of 5th Avenue in New York City, sprawling with duty free exclusive designer brands such as Hermes, Gucci, Cartier, and many more. But no, I am not that thrilled about those expensive designer stores. Here’s a screenshot of restaurants at Terminal 2 and let me tell you what I am actually looking forward to:
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ASIAN CAFE Bowl Bowl—such a weird name for a restaurant but….ohhh yes….Ramen!!!

You’re probably wondering what’s so exciting about eating in the airport? Trust me on this one–in Japan, the food is always good—even at the airport!

I love noodles! I eat noodles pretty much every week. And I absolutely am CRAZY over ramen!! There is something magical about slurping those noodles and devouring everything inside that bowl. But too bad for me, Dallas hasn’t really caught up (yet) with the ramen scene unlike New York or Los Angeles.

A month ago, Keith and I celebrated our wedding anniversary and we decided to do a lunch date instead of dinner since it fell on a weekday (our kids’ activities take precedence = story of our lives). We went to Tei An, a trendy and hip restaurant located in the One Arts District in Dallas. It is the food critics’ most favorite Japanese restaurant.

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I ordered the tonkotsu ramen and with one food writer’s description: “the perfectly balanced tonkotsu broth get its rich flavor and texture from slow-cooked pork bones, and a sprinkling of white pepper and chile oil are all you’ll need to create what our food critic called his favorite bowl of soup.” I prayed it was going to be great. It came in a beautiful Japanese bowl. The presentation was awesome. Unfortunately it didn’t deliver, tastewise. For me, the broth was actually quite bland. Ippudo and Momofoku in NYC were way better. Yeah… if this is the best Ramen in Dallas, then I’m out of luck.

As you can sense my frustration, I haven’t been fortunate enough to find a good ramen  in Dallas . And to make matters worse, my friend—who was recently sent back for his second expat assignment to Nagoya, Japan by his company—has been posting on his Facebook page weekly photos of those delicious, hot, mouthwatering noodles he’s eaten over there. Each week, I salivate and crave for ramen.  Each week, I become extremely jealous of him.

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After seeing these pictures, can you empathize with me now?

I will be in Narita Airport twice. Coming back to Dallas, I will have a four hour wait at the airport. If I didn’t get my ramen fix on the first layover, I might even get the courage to take the shuttle bus into the town of Narita and search for a ramen place. Wish me luck!

Big Tex and all the Fried Foods at the Texas State Fair

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The first time I went to the State Fair was probably 10 years ago. We haven’t been back until today. I must admit, I’ve never been a big fan of the Texas State Fair. I don’t like crowded places. I hate carnival style rides. And I might get shot for this, but I don’t like the food either! Every year, they always come up with innovative fried foods. Think of Fried Butter, Fried Cheesecake, Fried Coke, etc. This year’s big winner is the Fried Gulf Shrimp Boil.

fried shrimp boil

 

You get two small balls of fried shrimp that comes with a remoulade sauce. I carefully inspected each shrimp ball, and found probably just two small shrimps, at the most, corn, with hush puppy batter. I paid 17 tickets for this (20 tickets = $10). If you do the math, it costs $8.50. Is it worth it? Nope. To be fair, it was quite good but not that great.

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Fortunately for us, the weather today was not too hot. Texas weather is quite unpredictable, hence we can still experience summer-like temperatures in October. Just the other day, we had a storm that felt like a hurricane. The downpour was so strong and trees in some neighborhoods were uprooted. The traffic was a mess and it took me more than an hour to get to my destination that would’ve normally taken just 10 minutes. In within an hour, the sun was back as if the storm had never happened!

Back to the State Fair, the other fried food we tasted was Fried Chicken in a Waffle. These were just fried chicken nuggets inside a waffle cone drizzled with a creamy sauce. Though, instagram worthy, it was awful! I got sick eating it after a few bites but luckily, Keith was there to help me finish. I was ready to throw it away but Keith insisted on finishing until it’s all gone. Towards the end tip of the waffle, there was a tiny chocolate which I thought was a little weird.

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Next one was Fried S’mores. Nothing special to report.

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Enough with the unhealthy fried foods. Here was the highlight of the fair, in my opinion.

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Yes! That’s right! San Antonio Philippine Dance Company! How about that—cultural dancing from my native country at the Texas State Fair! It was amusing to watch all the different types of dances from certain regions of the Philippines, that also included the Muslim region of Mindanao.

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Just like what I said, I don’t like going to state fairs, and most likely I won’t be back for another ten years. If I’m lucky.

A Touch of Thailand in Dallas

 

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Having lived in cities where Southeast Asian culture is more prevalent than it is here in Dallas, we were ecstatic to find out that The Buddhist Center of Dallas (Watdallas) was going to open its temple to the public for the first time this weekened. The Thai Community Center of North Texas celebrated its first Thai Culture and Food Festival  in Dallas. It is a two day festival (today and tomorrow- May 24-25) filled with authentic Thai cuisines, cultural performances and Muay Thai boxing. I was excited to show the boys a bit of Thai culture (besides going to Thai restaurants)- something they have not experienced yet.

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When Keith and I lived in Los Angeles, we often visited the Thai temple on weekends (it was open to the public everyday). They often had Thai BBQ or Thai language lessons going at the temple. Even though that this was the first time the Buddhist temple opened to the public in Dallas, they did an amazing job. There were many food stalls to choose from and the prices were incredibly inexpensive (eggrolls were 2 for $1; a plate of Pad Thai noodles for $6; Pork BBQ on a stick for only $1 each; Thai iced tea for $2). The cultural performances included dancing and singing that was so vibrant and colorful. The Thai boxing was entertaining especially seeing a woman beat the men she competed against.

 

I hope this isn’t going to be the first and the last of this festival. I yearn for more Southeast Asian cultural events here in Texas. Ten years ago, there was a Filipino Independence Day celebration at a park somewhere in the Metroplex, with a ton of food stalls and a variety of performances but this type of event has never been repeated (as far as I know). I long for those days in Los Angeles or New York where cultural activities are common year round.

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Buddhist Center of Dallas

8484 Stults Rd

Dallas, TX 75243