The Empress of the Eng Dynasty: Family, Food, and Fun

By Matt

It is important that Zelda knows about her family lineage. On Angela’s side, there are many cultural elements related to her Scottish family. I’m sure Zelda will eventually learn what “muckle” means, and about Angela’s rightful fascination with fried food. I kid that her introduction to Scottish culture should be a viewing of Trainspotting. No, probably not.

Although I would disagree with Ewan McGregor’s character when he shouts “It’s SHITE being Scottish,” I am biased towards Zelda’s Chinese heritage. After all, we named this blog “The Eng Dynasty.” With my parents in town this past weekend, Zelda had a chance to connect with her Chinese tradition on a whirlwind tour through the DC metro area.

PART I: All That and Dim Sum

More like Dim YUM
More like Dim YUM

My eating habits have been pretty good since I found out I was pre-hypertensive and pre-diabetic last month. The unspoken goal was to eat healthy for six of the seven days of the week, exercise, and allow me to have one cheat day (2 meals). Yesterday, we met up with my parents and my sister’s family for Dim Sum near Washington, DC. Yesterday was the cheat day meal I planned. Unfortunately, Chinese food isn’t known for being the healthiest, but the Chinese meal is a big part of my life.

I spent most weekends of my young life eating dim sum at a restaurant called Jade Villa (formerly Golden China) in Virginia Beach. To this day, it is still one of my favorite places to eat because of their weekend offerings. The sweet and savory dumplings, steamed buns, shu mai, roast pork, and other miniature Chinese delicacies helped form my palate. It was where my dad showed me how to use chopsticks, and where I discovered the stereotype that all Chinese restaurant restrooms are not created equal (as good as their food is, their bathroom is not as ideal). Angela knew it was important for me to pass this Chinese meal tradition on to Zelda. If I can remember correctly, one of the first places we took her out into the world after she was born was a dim sum joint in Rosslyn. Zelda slept through most of those earlier trips in the spring and early summer months. Now at nearly nine months, she is alert and eager to soak in her surroundings.

Zelda and Grandpa Eng
Zelda and Grandpa Eng

Unfortunately, she has yet to grow any teeth, so she couldn’t try any of the food. I can’t wait for her to move from baby formula, breastmilk, and pureed foods to solids. I need to make sure she enjoys Chinese food like I did (or at least try). The one time I gave her a little dab of soy sauce, she recoiled into a grimace. Poor girl. That will change. Thankfully for this trip, she was very awake and wanted to interact with everybody at the table, especially my dad. I took the opportunity to snap a few pics of their interaction.

PART II: Visiting the Empress

After lunch, we said goodbye to my sister’s family and followed my parents to visit the gravesite of my grandmother, Ng Ma Lui Ho (we just called her Ying Ying; or grandmother). Like dim sum, gravesite visits to my ancestors was a bit part of my upbringing. Growing up, my dad would lug our family up to New York to see his father’s gravesite in Queens while my grandmother was still alive (she died in 1997 from a heart attack). The goal was to bring the extended Eng family up there once a year. The visits not only served to update our ancestors on what we were doing but a way to honor them in a ceremony. We also had a chance to visit our relatives in Chinatown. Sidenote: Chinatown in the late 80s, early 90s was gross, rough, and altogether fantastic. My family’s apartment had rats the size of Cornish hens, but it was still a real slice of authentic New York. I don’t know if you knew already, but Chinese people are rather superstitious, so the ceremony had its ritualistic customs and traditions.

The gravesite service usually consisted of my grandmother stopping by a Chinese grocer off of Mott St. to purchase the necessary food, or offering, for my grandfather. The food usually consisted of my grandfather’s favorites: roast duck, roast pork, whole fish, noodles, etc. After purchasing the items (in Chinese culture this usually meant yelling at each other for ten minutes before an acceptable price was met), we would head out to the Chinese cemetery in Queens for the ceremony. At the ceremony, we would place the food along with three shots of his favorite drink (usually whiskey), flowers, incense, and fake money for burning. The most important part of the ceremony, however, was making sure the gravesite was properly cleaned and manicured (sometimes called Qingming, or Ching Ming). Although that isn’t a problem now, back in the early 1990s, the caretakers at the Chinese cemetery in Queens made it look like the grassland. As a result, our family usually brought basic garden tools to the site.

After family members cleaned the gravesite and the food, flowers, incense, and drink placed, the family customarily gathered around in a semicircle fashion for the formal ceremony to begin. All family members bow three sets of times (three is a significant number) and offer their condolences, well wishes, and prayers to their ancestor. After each successive bow, the youngest members of the family (usually my sister and I) would pour the whiskey onto the grave.  The ceremony ended when the last of the fake money was burned to ensure they had enough funds in the afterlife. I told you we were superstitious. After that, we would all get in the cars and head back to DC to consume the food. We usually did this all in one day.

Zelda and Ying Ying
Zelda and Ying Ying

It was less formal event for our trip yesterday. It took about twenty minutes for us to get from Rosslyn to my grandmother’s gravesite in Suitland, MD. We didn’t have any booze and couldn’t find a flower shop in Suitland where my grandmother is buried. So, my dad improvised. The food offering was a bunch of bananas, and the drink was three bottles of water (Ying Ying didn’t drink). Zelda enjoyed playing in the grass near her gravestone. The moment was intensely emotional for me. Ying Ying died in 1997, so there was no way that she would have seen Zelda in her lifetime unless I fathered a kid before I hit puberty. I told her about Zelda, my family, and hoped she would bless us in the year to come. Tears streamed down my face as Zelda played on the grass near her marker. It was one of the most beautiful moments I witnessed in her short life. I’ll remember it forever.

She also took the time to visit my other relatives buried close by, including my great grandmother (Shee Hing Lim, d. 2008), great grandfather (Ng Hong Sing, d. 1984), and my uncle (Ng Bin Huon, d. 1956 due to birth complications).

PART III: Family is Everything

We ended the day by traveling up to Silver Spring to eat our second round of Chinese food. It was a birthday party for two of my cousins, Megan and Marie. It was great to see some of my extended family, some of which I have not seen since my Chinese wedding in 2012. My Aunt Anna took the opportunity to play with Zelda and introduce her to my relatives. It was a touching moment to see my girl interact with family and connect with her rich Chinese heritage. By the way, the food was phenomenal. I am convinced that the best Chinese food in the country is in Maryland. For NOVA people like us, it is well worth the trip.  I am not looking forward to eating salad all week after all this good food we just had. Sigh. But it was worth it, especially for the interactions Zelda had with her family.

Zelda with Cousins Marie and Megan at Noodle King in Silver Spring, MD
Zelda with Cousins Marie and Megan at Noodle King in Silver Spring, MD

My grandmother would always say that family is the most important thing in life. Without it, your life has no goal or purpose. In traditional Chinese culture, your social circle usually does not extend outside of it. “Work hard,” she would say to me in Cantonese, “and love your family.” Ying Ying taught those values to my father, who in turn instilled that in me for my budding brood. You can be rich and successful all you want. Without family, however, you are nothing. I have to remember that from time to time as I strain myself to get work done and put Zelda or Angela on the backburner. It’s days like yesterday that remind me how thankful I am for having everything I need and more.

Turning Away from Room 237: PART II

By Matt

PART II: Your Money is No Good Here, Mr. Eng


In case you are TL;dr about the last post, here is a quick summary: I have been stressed and frustrated, which has caused me to ramp up my unhealthy lifestyle. This caused me to start really feeling like dirt, forcing me to go to the doctor. Among other things, I found out that I am prediabetic. I am attempting to have this situation “corrected,” eating healthy and exercising for the sake of Zelda and my family. In sum, I want to shine. But it’s not always easy to do that.

I started to eat healthier. I started to run. I started to take care of myself. It felt good, for the most part. That didn’t mean there weren’t temptations, cravings, and pitfalls. The longer and harder I worked at trying to reverse the path I was heading down, the harder it got.

When I broke and got something semi-bad (i.e. Wendy’s Chili), I started to hear the voices in my head, telling me to eat some salad or go for a long walk or run. Of course, eating Wendy’s chili had its own side effects.


I mean, it’s high in fiber and has a relatively low-calorie count, right? It can’t be too bad. But that’s what a junkie keeps saying as they slowly kill themselves with drugs and alcohol. I was never into drugs, and I figured out that I only need alcohol sparingly. My addiction was/is food. Thankfully, you can’t inject a Big Mac into your veins….yet.

I knew my past addiction would get bad. I didn’t want it to get the best of me. I cursed myself when I thought of the bad food. I cursed myself at the thought of doing anything but exercising. When I drifted off to sleep, the thoughts became more vivid. It was like I transported to another world. Like a movie.

I stand near the counter. A man greets me. I am beginning to lick my lips.

MATT (to himself)
God, I’d give anything for some fast food. Maybe fried chicken.

MATT sits down and puts his hands up to his face.


My goddam soul, just a piece of fried chicken.


Hi, Colonel.

A little slow tonight, isn’t it?


Yes, it is, Mr. Eng.

What’ll it be?

Now I’m awfully glad you asked me that, Colonel, because I just happen to have two tens and two fives right here in my wallet. I was afraid they were going to be there until next April, wasted on some bland Panera salad. So here’s what: you slip me a bucket of chicken, a side of mashed potatoes. You can do that, can’t you, Colonel? You’re not too busy, are you?

No, sir.  I’m not busy at all.

THE COLONEL turns away to buckets of chicken.

Good man.

THE COLONEL turns with a bucket of chicken, mashed potatoes, and biscuit to counter.

You fry them up, and I’ll knock them back, Colonel, one by one.

CUT TO: MATT sitting at the counter.  COLONEL puts food down.  COLONEL dollops mashed potatoes next to a thigh and wing. Gravy is involved.

Fat man’s burden, Colonel my man. Fat man’s burden.

MATT looks at his wallet then at THE COLONEL.

Say, Colonel, it seems I’m temporarily light. Is this a combo? Can I use a coupon?

MATT laughs.

How’s my credit in this joint anyway?


Your credit’s fine, Mr. Eng. No coupon required.


That’s swell.  I like you, Colonel. I always liked you.  You were always the best of the chain fast food joints. Best goddamned fast food fried chicken from Timbuctoo to Portland Maine – Portland Oregon for that matter.

Thank you for saying so.

MATT looks at his tub of fried chicken.

Here’s to five miserable weeks on the salad wagon and all the good it’s caused me.

He bites into the chicken and lowers his hand – then looks at the Colonel. It has taken over now. No turning back.

So it wasn’t completely like that, but you get my point right? I think like anybody that is addicted to something; the addiction will always be there. I just have to find ways to control it, keep exercising and keep my eyes on the prize.

I am going to get healthy. Not for myself. Not even for my Angela. It’s all for Zelda.


As it turns out, I have already had an injury related to my exercising: something my dad (the doctor) calls a Pes Anserine Bursitis. Basically, my left knee is messed up quite a bit. So for now, I’ll just hobble around like this. No axe required.


Turning Away from Room 237: PART I

By Matt

PART I: All Food and No Exercise Makes Matt a Fat Boy

Jack Torrance: Mr. Grady, you were the caretaker here.

Delbert Grady: I’m sorry to differ with you sir, but you are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker. I should know sir. I’ve always been here.

So. Where did I leave off last?

I know that most of my posts here on this blog sound like I am complaining. For more info, see Exhibit A and Exhibit B. Most of those dad issues and dad problems were my personal struggle with handing having a kid. I thought the feeling was getting better. It did, but silently, I was getting worse in other ways.

As it turns out, I was handling the stress of being a new dad and a busy summer work schedule with bad food and beer. I sought my personal release in the opening and subsequently emptying bag after bag of chips. I drank cup after cup of coffee. If I could sit on the couch, I would without a thought. I took my Fitbit off months ago because I was tired of seeing myself only get 2,500 steps a day. Among other things, that completed my holy trinity of bad living: stress, bad eating, and no exercise.


I remember coming home after a particularly rough day at work in late August. We were up most of the night with Zelda, and I was jonesing for some coffee. I must have had 8-10 cups of coffee that day. Zero water. I came home with a bag of McDonald’s in hand and ate it all within five minutes. I had a diet coke, which meant it was about 2:00 pm without a single drop of water that wasn’t either steeped with Arabica or doused in caramel coloring and aspartame. Around four that afternoon, I was getting ready to pick Angela up at the metro when I began to feel funny. I was flush and pale. My stomach ached. Could it have been the McDonald’s? My muscles tensed, and I could feel the chunks rise to release. After throwing up a few times, I tried downing as much water as I could in the 20 minutes I had before Angela would be waiting for me at the King Street station in Alexandria.

Unfortunately, all that did was make me throw up more. I had felt dehydrated before, but this time was terrible. The worst part was that I didn’t learn from my lesson. After I had got over it after a night of eating a half cup of soup and drinking 3-4 Gatorades, I was back to my holy trinity of bad living. Bring on the stress, the McDoubles, and the Malibu pipeline of couch surfing (As a bonus, I can say that I am all caught up on several shows, including watching the entire Game of Thrones series in just under a week and a half).

A few weeks later, I began to wake to a tingling sensation in my tips of my fingers and toes. My fingers on my right hand also felt cold. I also felt drained and was peeing all the time, at least more than usual. I also felt dizzy and had trouble concentrating on my vision on several occasions. It was odd, to say the least. I remember the conversation I had in bed with Angela as we sipped our morning coffee and played with Zelda:

Me: Hey Ang, I am feeling super weird. My body’s extremities are on pins and needles, and my right hand feels cold. Plus all this other stuff is getting to me with my body. Super odd.

Angela: That is very weird. Do you need to go to the doctor?

Me: No. I don’t think so.

Angela: Okay. But whatever you do, don’t look up your symptoms online.

The first thing I did was look up my symptoms online. Based on the symptoms I had, WebMD told me I had one of the following:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Multiple Sclerosis

I didn’t think it was carpal tunnel syndrome and having multiple sclerosis seemed way too far-fetched. But diabetes? That one seemed plausible. Everything began to add up: the stress, the bad eating, the lack of exercise. All of it had taken a toll on my body.


I immediately began to accept that a. I had diabetes or something worse and b. that I was dying. After that, the paranoia enveloped me. I envisioned Zelda growing up without me. I imagined losing my foot or worse. I imagined being too overweight to play with her. Worst of all, I envisioned two beautiful women staring down at my grave. One was Angela, the other Zelda. Zelda couldn’t have been out of high school yet, but I remember in the dream that I could clearly see them, but they could not see me. It was like a two-way mirror. I pounded my fist against my grave, screaming that I loved them. I woke up that night fully drenched in sweat and panting. When I got to work the next morning, I made the call to a general practitioner for a physical and bloodwork. I had to know. Was I doomed to become Wilfred Brimley shortly before my untimely death?

Enough was enough. I couldn’t handle not knowing what the fuck was going on with me. I couldn’t handle having that dream again. Two days later I had my answers.

First off: I gained over twenty pounds since April. The doctor looked at me skeptical of my belief that I had diabetes. I was half right. Alongside some pre-hypertension, I was prediabetic. “Unless you change your lifestyle drastically,” she said, “you will develop diabetes within a few years…maybe sooner.” She gave me no medicine, but quite a few bitter pills to swallow:

  • Eat a diet of heart healthy foods
  • Reduce sodium
  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce caffeine consumption
  • Lose weight


Prediabetic isn’t a death sentence. It’s a wake-up call. I could thankfully pull myself out of that grave and live a bit longer with Zelda and Angela, provided I did something about it. All of my previous attempts to get healthy had failed. Let’s discuss some of my greatest hits:

2003: Attempting to lose weight from the Freshman 15 I gained eating Dhall food at JMU, I tried to run. Everywhere at JMU had hills. It didn’t last long. I chose beer pong instead.

2007: Stress from grad school forced me to cut back on the caffeine. I also attempted to channel some creative energy back into playing music again. Both failed. By the end of the semester, I was pounding 4-5 Red Bulls a day and speedballing Coke Black to keep the edge off.

2009: My roommate and I, realizing we had become a bit pudgy, attempted to eat “nothing but fruit” for a month. We went to the grocery store and bought about $75 worth of fruit. If you don’t know what that looks like, tell a cashier at the bank to give you $75 in ones and spread it out on a table. So much fruit. By the end of the first week, we were both permanently glued to our toilet seats. It took me about a year to eat a banana again. The catch: we both gained weight.

This time would be different. I had something to keep me going: Zelda. I plan to be around for a lot longer, and I want to be there for Zelda every step of the way. The way things were going, I could feel myself getting closer and closer to that horrible dream I once had. I needed to find a way to do all of these things and improve my life.

I checked myself into a “mental Hotel” as fall approached. I was the caretaker of my body. I had a goal to lose 30-40 pounds by the first day of May. Why? Because I had to. For the first time, I wanted to.

So I began to eat better. I choked down salads I didn’t want to eat and counted calories. I downloaded an app for the “couch to 5k” with the intention to begin running. I started running but had to abandon that effort (more on that later).

I would go to the store to pick up food for dinner. I began to see visions as I found myself staring at the junk food aisle. Visions that still haunt me today.


Eat us. Forever.

But I couldn’t. This was all for Zelda. A war raged in my mind. I felt myself unraveling like so many times in the past. No. I had to do my best. I had to shine. My determination was the only weapon I had to my innermost thoughts.

Did I ever have a single moment’s thought about my responsibility to Zelda to be healthier? Did I ever think for a single solitary moment about my responsibility to my family?! Did it ever occur to me that I have agreed to get in shape by May the 1st of next year? Did it matter to me AT ALL that my family has placed their complete confidence and trust in me, and I have signed an unspoken contract – a contract – in which I have accepted that responsibility? Do I have the slightest idea what moral and ethical principles I would wrestle with along the way DO I? Has it ever occurred to me what would happen to my future if I were to fail to live up to my responsibilities Has it ever occurred to me? HAS IT?

All Food and No Exercise Makes Matt a Fat Boy.
All Food and NoExercise Makes Matt a Fat Boy.
All Food and No Exercisr Makes Matta Fat Boi.
All Food and No Exercise Makes Matt a Fat Boy.
All Food and No Exercise Makes Matt a Fat Boy.
AllFood and Noexercise Makes Matt   a Fat   Boy.

Stay tuned for PART II.


Playing Catch Up

It’s been awhile. Truthfully, we fell off of posting, let the domain lapse, and just now got around to getting it back. But we’re back now, and we plan to post some more.

baby pillow
One of the rare nights she decided to fall asleep on me.

My last post was in June of 2016, which does and does not seem that long ago. In June, Zelda was four months old and just starting to become more human. We were falling into a routine. We were getting a solid five hours of sleep a night. Now she’s eight months old, even more human, the routine is pretty much the same, and we average about three hours of sleep a night right now. I’m nostalgic for those swaddling days already.

Somewhere in our four month hiatus, I had a friend ask me what it was like to be a parent. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I kinda love being a mommy.

Friend: I can tell! I’m so happy for you!

Me: She’s pretty much the best thing ever. You know that feeling when you start a new book, play a new game, or get a new gadget? That feeling is like, every day.

Friend: Well, that is one of the most compelling descriptions of parenthood I’ve ever heard.

Me: Don’t get me wrong. There’s some days I want to ruin screaming out of the house. But the good feeling outweighs that.

I have no idea if this feeling will last or not, but I know that right now I wake up every day excited to see her. Every night, I’m sad she’s in bed and I can’t play with her anymore.

So I’ve been trying to think about how I can make up for four months of lost blog posts. She’s grown so much in the past four months: she’s eating solid food, she’s crawling and able to pull herself up to a standing position, she babbles, and her smile is still sans teeth but able to light up a room. Instead of rehash all that, I’ll leave you with a list of her five most current personality quirks:

1. She doesn’t like fruit. Put a banana near her face and she’ll scream. She’ll eat mangoes and pears, but she’s not too enthusiastic about them. She does seem to like apples. But vegetables? She loves them: sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, peas, freaking zucchini. She eats them all and she’s happy to do it.

2. She wants to see anything and everything, and she takes it all in. She’s been all over the place: the National Zoo, the American History Museum, the Air and Space Museum, the National Mall, and countless other places all over DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland. She loves being out and about, and she loves being in her carrier. She wants to be where the action is. Even when she’s in the carrier facing me, she’ll crane herself backwards so she can see what’s going on. I love her curiousity, and I love her intensity.

3. Her favorite game at the moment is what Matt calls “Mission Impossible.” You know the scene where Tom Cruise was hanging by all those wires in the super-fortified room to get the NOC List? Matt pretends like Zelda is doing the same thing, and swoops her up and down while singing the Mission Impossible theme. She laughs so hard every time he does it.

Let me play!
Let me play!

4. She loves music. Matt plays the guitar and ukulele, and he plays and sings to her on a regular basis. He even makes up silly songs about her. My current favorite is one entitled “Mama.” She even participates, since it’s the only word she knows. Fun fact: I am tone deaf and can’t sing worth a crap, but I sing to her when no one’s around. She seems to like it.

5. She is the sweetest in the morning. Usually she gives us a wake up call at five AM. I stumble in the nursery, bleary-eyed, and carry her back to the room. Matt’s usually snoring away and the dog is snoring right next to him. After I nurse her, she wakes up a little more and starts to babble. That’s when I put her in front of Matt and say, “excuse me.” Soon as he wakes up, she gives him a sloppy grin and tries to crawl all over him. We could put her back in the crib and try to get a little more sleep if it’s the weekend, or start getting ready for work if it’s a weekday, but she’s always so happy and so sweet that we’re content to stay in bed and play with her.

Matt and I are hoping to be more vigilant when it comes to posting, so here’s to more of the (mis)adventures of the Eng Dynasty.

Pumpkin patch day!
Pumpkin patch day!