Friday, June 25, 2010

"C" is not for "failing."

Asian people are really smart – or so says the stereotype. When I was in second grade, Mrs. McFeely used to pin students’ spelling tests to the back bulletin board if they got an A. Few students made it on the board weekly, but I was always one of them. Even at the age of seven, I was an attentive speller, regularly receiving the highest score in the class. One week, the papers went up on the board and at the top of my paper was a 98%. Right next to my test was a fellow classmate’s exam: 100% and a gold star sticker. It didn’t bother me that somebody scored higher until others made a big deal about it. My classmates teased and taunted and made me feel like I had somehow failed. My seven-year-old mind was too easily manipulated into believing that the world had higher standards for me. Clearly, I wasn’t meeting them. I was going downhill and I hadn’t even reached the double-digit ages.

As part of the model minority myth, the stereotype that all Asians are smart is not true. Going through elementary and junior high school, pressure from my father to be perfect was enhanced by my peers’ mocking if I wasn’t the top student in everything. It would’ve been better to just ignore the comments and be my own person but as most people will recall from their childhood, that’s easier said than done.

Somewhere along the path toward adulthood, I abandoned my obsessive need to be the perfect student. I never failed anything, but I learned to be okay with a “B.” I remember being told by my father very early on that a “B” was average/borderline failing, but then I realized how abnormal that logic actually was. My grades never dipped into the C-range and I graduated high school with honors. I did well, considering how many extracurriculars I took on and ultimately, I preferred to load myself up with side projects and work than focus solely on academics.

But I’m still confused by three little letters: GPA. I care about my GPA, sure, but for no reason really. The point of having a fantastic GPA in college is for honors or for grad school or…whatever. I’m not part of any honors programs (nor do I want to be) and I have no plans for grad school. Post-undergrad friends of mine in my field have never had to show their GPA to potential employers. So I have no rational reason to care, except for my own ego and to avoid the two stereotypes that blanket Asian students here at UCI: You’re either someone who cares about her GPA and is an intellectual, driven person with a future or you’re someone who doesn’t care and is a slacker and falls under the “typical Asian sorority girl” stereotype. Gross (and fairly untrue) generalizations, unfortunately.

This is all for me to say: I don’t give a shit about academic competition. The seven-year-old girl in me would like to get straight A’s and gold star stickers, but the adult in me knows that there are more important things in the world: life experience, character and personality, drive, motivation…a good sense of humor…the list goes on.

“Being Asian” does not equal “being smart”…but how do you really move past others’ initial judgments? When a new acquaintance finds out I’m not a science or math-related major, it’s almost as if he or she is immediately skeptical. “Didn’t have the grades for it, huh?” someone my freshmen year asked me once. Another girl in my HumCore discussion asked if I was interested in joining an Asian sorority instead. No, assholes, I just don’t like science and math and, no, I have no interest in Greek life (oops - hypocrite alert...more to come later).

Whatever. Viva Humanities!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


When I began archiving at the School of the Arts, I felt like I was embarking on an intense archaeological dig, uncovering a forgotten history and learning strange facts and details. I didn't expect to find the same history hidden in the depths of my Managing Editor desk/drawers at the New U, but boy was I wrong...

After an afternoon of rearranging shit (the office is going to be so awesome) followed by a walk to Newport, Mengfei and I returned to the office to dig through the crazy piles of papers contained around my desk. Aside from the old budgets and ad run sheets, there were some incredibly fascinating things. The paper used to be run so differently. Our question: When did it fall apart? We know of some things that have happened that caused cracks in the foundation, but something drastic must've occurred during the changing of the staff one year.

I feel like I've discovered a secret code: a guide to being Managing Editor ("aka GOD"). Sadly, it hasn't been updated since 2001 and things such as the computer programs and budget have changed, but it's surprisingly informative, accurate and fucking HILARIOUS. I'm already excited to pass on the torch - mainly because one quarter of it has already aged me five years. Oy.

But back to our question: What happened? When did the New U go from having intern classes to barely having an intern policy? A lot of the guides/outlines from those classes were actually really helpful...Fear not, universe: Mengfei and I will find out and (hopefully) have a compelling enough story to tell that it can be turned into a narrative. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

atypical appearances.

I never went to Chinese school nor did I have many classmates from preschool forward who were also Chinese, and none who were girls. That, coupled with my young alopecia diagnosis and the lack of Asian representation in mainstream Hollywood, influenced my perception of how the ideal Chinese woman “should” look. The Chinese heroines I saw in my mother’s Chinese movies had the same general features: thin bodies; long, black, pin-straight hair; delicate hands; perfectly shaped eyebrows above perfect, almond eyes. I looked in the mirror and could never see myself growing up into that ideal woman, especially after the first wig when I was eleven – I couldn’t see myself as any "type" of Asian.

On the occasion I would flip through a tween/teen-oriented magazine, I would stare transfixed at the pages detailing makeup tips and advertising various products. My most common concern: the elusive double eyelid. Online research and Asian American Psychology class have since taught me the methods Asian-American women use/have used to give the appearance of the double eyelid, from Scotch tape to surgery. Let's be honest though: any type of surgery is inherently terrifying. My (ir)rational fear of eyes has me squirming just at the thought of having the double eyelid surgery. We watched a documentary in Asian American Psychology that showed a woman going through this process and the way one's eye swells up post-surgery before looking "normal"...I shudder at the thought of the recollection. Is the pain and discomfort worth it? Many women will argue "yes," including some of my own relatives who've used the Scotch tape method.

Sure, it always bothered me that I couldn’t use eye shadow or that I couldn’t use eyeliner the way other women normally would. The fact that I couldn’t use mascara because of my condition was already a bother. But the lack of makeup products available to me helped me become less dependent on chemicals to feel beautiful. I enjoy makeup as much as the next Cosmo girl and my already incomplete eye features do feel even more incomplete without eyeliner, but I’m also aware that there are more important things: character, class, personality, etc.

But then here’s the strange dilemma: If I don’t look Chinese, what (who?) do I look like? As much as I’ve learned that looks are not all important, it’s hard to abandon that appearances do hold a key role in helping shape an identity early on. I can't pretend that my current identity crisis is related to my lack of identification growing up - a little like Gonzo in Muppets From Outer Space, I suppose. (And yes, I just made a Muppet reference. Serious business.) I grew up avoiding mirrors but now, in confronting them, I’ve become confused as to what I’m searching for.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Being Asian.

Television show families always bother me, whether they're examples of the ideal family or the crazy, dysfunctional ones. I always thought it'd be cool to have a bizarre extended family like the Lamber-Foster clan in Step by Step or a typical sibling rivalry/bond like in Full House. Growing up without cable didn't provide me with much of a variety in what I saw as the perfect American family. At the top of the half hour, a child or two would encounter a problem or engage in an act of tomfoolery. Enter the parent or guardian who is fooled at first, only to discover the truth later. Insert humorous anecdotes, followed by a heart-to-heart and ending, finally, with a hug, a handshake or a picnic in the park. And scene.

Growing up, I was never able to step far back enough from my family to see where we fit into Hollywood's idea of family. When things went sour in our household, I chalked it up to us being Asian. There were no representations of Asian families on network television and I had no idea what my very few Asian friends' families were like. If we weren't perfect, then we were obviously incredibly flawed and to my childish mind, I saw it as a flaw on all Asian families. Whether that has affected my understanding and acceptance of my ethnicity and background is undeniable.

Obviously, things are different now. Since coming to UCI and becoming a part of the majority, I've gained a better appreciation of my ethnicity. I've always been proud of the family stories hidden in the past generations, but I'd never associated those stories with being a part of my Asian background. As I slowly head toward the daunting real world, I'm more aware of how disconnected I am from an essential part of my identity. I'm a first-generation ABC, the youngest of my large family, an alopecian, a feminine tomboy (oh, the paradox) and a terrible person to cheat off of in science and math classes. So what does it mean to "be Asian"?

I don't know, but I sure as hell want to find out.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

current playlist:

  • "Hallelujah" - cover by Rufus Wainwright
  • "American Pie" - Don McLean
  • "Better Together" - Buena Vista Social Club remix
  • "Hey Jude" - The Beatles
  • "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" - The Smiths
  • "Belief" - Gavin DeGraw
  • "If It Kills Me (from the Casa Nova Sessions)" - Jason Mraz
  • "Hide and Seek" - Imogen Heap

Friday, June 11, 2010

hush, if you must.

I’ve always wondered how self-destructive I can be. How far can you push yourself before you’ve gone too far? What will it take to destroy me completely?

Millie says she’s scared for me because I say I feel invisible. She says I’m distant, not always there, slowly floating away. I guess I never saw it that way before, but she has a point: I’ve always been floating away. Ever since I was little, it was easier for me to be invisible than draw attention to myself.

I’m quiet and I don’t really always like to feel. Suppression has always been my method of choice. It backfires, of course, because then when I do feel, everything feels three times as strong. Sadness, anger, joy, fear – I can’t tell when I’m feeling what until a day later, and then it’s too late. I try too hard to be rational and detached, but that’s really just digging my own grave, isn’t it?

It’s always the same: slowly let myself open up and break down the walls, get too close to others, push too far, watch it implode. After you break yourself open, it’s hard to put yourself together again. It takes time and it takes a retreat to lick your wounds and get back on your feet. And then you rebuild: rebuild the walls, rebuild the emotional guard you were stupid enough to let down.

I waver constantly between being happy to break down and taking pride in standing tall. The two come in waves, one after the other. I wonder if my confidence is a farce though. I don’t think I’m whole enough to be too self-assured. I’ve had a lot in life that has slowly worn me down and I’m afraid I’m about to burn out and fade away entirely.

Friday, June 4, 2010

*throws emotion at you*

Staccato. Forte. Slur. The music notes danced in front of my eyes as my small fingers fell heavily on the ivory keys. Have a hol-ly, jol-ly Christmas! I sang the words to myself, burning them into my brain. It’s the best time of the year…

Mrs. Wentworth said she thought I could learn the song. The sheet music was a level harder than I was used to playing, but she had been my piano teacher for years and I wanted to impress her. That Monday evening after piano lessons, I eagerly sat down at the piano in the front living room of our house, prepared to learn the song before dinner.

Slowly, I played the right hand melody from beginning to end and concentrated on not making any mistakes. E-G-C-C-B-B-A-G. Again and again. I moved to the bottom staff and played the left hand line until the notes were perfect. Now it was time to put the two together.

Have a hol-ly jol—

The clashing notes stopped the lyrics in my mind. I had messed up. Over and over, I would begin the song, only to stop. Why can’t I do this? Twenty minutes passed and the same mistakes continued to happen. I looked at the top of the page where the rhythm suggestion was normally printed: “Moderately bright with a happy feeling.” I started to cry, but they weren’t tears of sadness that were spilling from my eyes.

The sounds of my mother working busily in the kitchen drowned out the sounds of my frustrated fingers banging themselves against the piano keys. I was angry, but not with the music or Mrs. Wentworth; I was angry with myself and with my inability to control the song or the tears that were now flowing from my eyes. If I couldn’t be perfect, I didn’t want to try at all. I didn’t want to struggle. I was tired of struggling.

I took the sheet music and shoved it back inside my music case. I would tell Mrs. Wentworth next week that I hadn’t tried to play it because I was focusing on my other music. I wouldn’t tell her I tried and couldn’t do it. I would just ignore it entirely and pretend the music – the problem – never existed in the first place.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

workshop blog, 06/01/10

“That looks dangerous,” I said with worried eyes. I watched as Na climbed onto a small blue plastic chair and reach for the pair of scissors our mother kept on the kitchen counter.

Na didn’t reply, but grabbed the scissors and jumped off the chair. Her feet landed softly on the linoleum floor and she motioned to me. “Come on,” she said. I followed as usual. Na was almost two years older than I and anything she said, I did; anything she did, I wanted to do. At this particular moment in time, I watched as my ten-year-old idol swaggered from the kitchen to the living room with sharp scissors in her hand and an air of confidence surrounding her.

She bounced toward a bin that was filled with dolls and accessories. We had never been obsessed with Barbie dolls but we had plenty of them and plenty of Barbie-sized accessories: dresses, shoes, t-shirts and skirts. Na put the scissors onto an end table and reached into the bin. She pulled out a brunette doll in a yellow skirt and orange shirt.

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“Cut her hair.”

I frowned. It was technically my doll. My mother bought it for me after an enormous amount of pestering every time the commercial played. The doll was part of a trio of Glitter Hair Barbie dolls. Each doll came with a special comb and a tube of glitter. The commercial for the dolls showed young girls combing glitter into the dolls’ hair and then into their own hair. I used the glitter once before my mother realized how messy it was. She took the glitter away, but I didn’t protest. I wanted the doll for her neon red palm tree earrings and sleek yellow visor.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I told Na.

“I’m not gonna cut a lot of it,” Na replied as she prepared to set up shop. She turned Glitter Hair Barbie upside down and combed her fingers through the doll’s long brown hair.

“Give her to me,” I asked. Na ignored me. “Give her to me!” I shouted. I reached over and grabbed the doll from her hands. I could feel myself beginning to cry and turned away so Na wouldn’t see. Na never cried and I didn’t want her to make fun of me.

“You’re such a baby,” she said, rolling her eyes, and left the room.

I grabbed a Barbie-sized brush from the bin of dolls and sat down on the floor. I ran the brush slowly and gently through the doll’s hair, the same way my mother brushed my own hair. “You have to be gentle,” she instructed, “or you’ll pull more hair out.”

There were no more tears threatening to burst from my eyes and, instead, I felt proud of myself for saving the doll. Poor Glitter Hair Barbie, I thought. There was no reason she should lose any of her hair. She didn’t do anything to deserve it.

“What are you doing?”

I looked up. My mother walked into the living room and sat down on the sofa. Still holding the doll, I went to sit next to her as she turned on the television to resume the videotape of a Chinese drama she was watching.

“Mommy?” I asked after a few minutes of the tape. “Can you braid my hair?” I had seen her braid Na’s hair so many times. She used to braid my hair too, as well as curling it and styling it and pinning it up, but she stopped once my hair started to fall out. Now, she only touched my hair to cover the bald spots.

She tore her eyes from the television screen to smile her warm smile at me. It wasn’t a smile of glee or amusement; it was a sad smile, one she had worn on her face for the past year since my hair began falling out. “Here,” she said, motioning to the floor in front of her. “Chaw.

I sat down on the worn, maroon carpet and my mother took a plastic comb off of the end table where Na had left the scissors. My mother was always careful when it came to my hair because she was afraid that any tension would pull more hair out. She didn’t want to cause any more damage in fear that one day my hair would all be gone and I would finally break down.

With her soft hands, she ran the comb slowly and gently through my hair. I knew that was all she would do. We sat quietly as the television played. I bent Glitter Hair Barbie into a sitting position, put her on the carpet in front of me and began to braid her hair.