Saturday, December 31, 2011

to grandmother's house.

I spent nearly half an hour looking at jam yesterday. As my grandmother and I walked back and forth between aisles at Target, we returned to look at the wall of various jellies and jams several times. 

"We'll tell yeh-yeh to look at this later," she said the first time to me in her quiet Cantonese. 

The second time: "What kind of jam should I get?"

"Ma-ma," I responded, and continued in my limited Cantonese, "what kind do you want?"

She shook her head and repeated that we would wait until my grandfather was done looking at pots and pans. We wandered to look at the cereal (again) and then she came back to the jam. 

"Have we looked at the jam yet?" she asked. 

I looked at her, my short, frail grandmother. She looked up at the shelves and pointed to the top. I began to reach for the sugar-free strawberry jam, but she stopped me. "Let's wait for yeh-yeh."

We did this again several more times, each time as if we'd never been to that aisle before. When we finally had a jar of jam and a box of cereal in hand, we wandered back to look for my grandfather and parents. They were still looking at pots and pans (yeh-yeh is picky), so I placed the food in the shopping cart and wandered off. 

Ten minutes later, ma-ma changed her mind again and got a different box of cereal. As I watched her change boxes, I felt a sharp pang of sadness. I realized I was watching one of the women who helped raise me slowly deteriorate in a natural, yet painful, way. 

Growing up, ma-ma was sharp and short--in both height and in demeanor. She used to move quickly around the kitchen, cooking and baking, and she wouldn't hesitate to command us to wash our hands, to stop playing with stuffed animals and eat, to not sit too close to the TV or read while lying down. 

Her motherly ways were demonstrated tenfold with the love and care she showed to her grandchildren. As the youngest of nine cousins, I only got to know my grandmother when her hair was already gray and her hands entirely wrinkled. But despite her age, she always walks and sits upright, like she did in the photos in the albums of her nursing school days. As a child, I remembered following her around the kitchen with my stuffed bunny, watching her cook like I would watch my own mother. I used to sit in the backyard and watch her tend to her garden, and then get scolded when I'd play in the dirt. I think a part of me was always mad that ma-ma stuck my bunny in the washing machine because she got completely destroyed and it took my mother nearly a month to sew her back together, but I know ma-ma only did it because she loved me. That, or she didn't want my dirt-smudged bunny sitting on the counter next to her newly-cleaned vegetables. (I don't blame her.)

Before bed, she used to pray with us, and in the mornings, she would practice her tai chi and wait for us to wake up. We always had breakfast ready at the table, and when breakfast was done, she'd start thinking about what to make for lunch. Occasionally she had friends visit and they would bring pastries and sweets, and sometimes she went out to visit her friends. We would go for walks (she made me leave my bunny at home) and we'd always run into her friends. 

But ma-ma doesn't garden anymore. Dad says she fell twice recently and it was too dangerous anymore. Just a couple years shy of 90, she is slower in the kitchen, and hardly bakes anymore either. Still, she appears young for her age, like most of my family. She still attends church, still visits with friends, still walks when she can. Her full head of gray hair is always clipped back neatly with bobby pins. Her clothing is always neat and organized (she and yeh-yeh just got a new iron). Her smile is still beautiful.

I realized, looking at her go back and forth between cereal and jam, that I never really took the time to observe my grandmother the way I did my grandfather. I knew yeh-yeh like none of my cousins did, and everyone told stories of the way he favored me. But did I really know ma-ma

I watched her, this time around, in every interaction we had--at Christmas dinner, at lunch the next day, at dim sum a few days later. When she walks past her children or grandchildren, she reaches a hand out to touch their arm. It would look like she was using us to steady her balance, but it was a light touch and sometimes the person wouldn't even notice. Her wrinkled hands brush against us as she walks as a display of affection, of letting us know, "Hey, I'm here." Ma-ma has this way of shivering when it's cold that I noticed I do too. She scrunches up her shoulders and gives a quick and violent shake of her arms, as if the chills just attacked her from out of nowhere--and she doesn't just do it once; she does it three, four, five times, and then stops, as if she's suddenly warmer. When yeh-yeh says something funny, she smiles (no teeth) and shakes her head, amused. 

I imagine that when ma-ma wakes up each morning, she already knows what jewelry she's going to wear, what color lipstick she'll put on, and what outfit she might like to put on. She always looks put together, just as she did 10, 20 years ago. Her hair was curlier back then, and she walked a little faster, but she's still so very much the same. She still loves us all very much the same.

Watching ma-ma hold her great-grandchildren is like watching a new grandmother holding her first grandchild for the first time. She cradles them with comfort and ease, as natural as the veteran she is. And the babies are comfortable in her arms--no fussing, no crying the way they occasionally did when one of us tried to hold them. Ma-ma picks them up and rocks them, and they fall into a contented slumber. Of course after caring for four children and nine grandchildren of her own, she knows what she's doing. 

Before I left her house on my most recent visit, she pulled a chocolate bar out of the bottom shelf. It was hidden behind some jars and boxes, and she tapped me on the arm to signal my attention while I was putting her groceries away. "Miu-miu," she said quietly. She handed the chocolate bar to me and tried to get me to take it. I told her no, and that she should take it because she liked chocolate (and my grandfather didn't often let her buy chocolate). She seemed to think about this and then nodded. She handed me the chocolate and told me to put it away for her while she rearranged the refrigerator (because I'm terrible at unloading groceries, apparently). 

I went back to the cupboard she got the chocolate from and dug behind the jars and boxes where she had gotten the bar in the first place. I stopped, then laughed: there were stacks of chocolate bars and various other containers hidden in the back of the cupboard. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

songs about winter.

Right now, every Starbucks on every street corner in every city is piping Christmas music into your daily dose of caffeine. Cities appear to be alive and teeming with holiday cheer: Christmas tree lots are appearing, Salvation Army bell ringers are greeting you outside of Macy’s, and Fifth Avenue in New York City is sparkling with holiday displays. While the weather is unseasonably warm (nearly 70 degrees in D.C. at the end of November! ), now is still the time to curl up in front of a fireplace (or the TV Yule Log channel) and sip hot chocolate as you wait for rain, hail or snow to fall from the sky.

Tinsel and candy canes aside, December for me is more about the end of a year—the end of 12-months of laughter and tears, of dreams and failures. It’s a time to reflect on both the good and the bad, and to embrace all that we’ve endured as struggling, imperfect human beings.

Perhaps it’s depressing or morbid to be drawn to sad winter songs, but there’s something beautiful about the raw, emotional honesty in these songs and the way the artists dare to reveal such sadness during a time when we don’t want to think about sad things.

“River” by Joni Mitchell
Despite only minor references to the Christmas season (and a “Jingle Bell” intro), “River” has grown into one of the most popular songs you might hear at this time of year. It is largely a song about heartbreak and angst, and what better way to weather emotional turmoil during the holidays than with a little Joni? “River” is also one of Mitchell’s most covered tunes, with artists from Barry Manilow to Michelle Branch performing their own versions. The appeal of “River” lies in the melancholy imagery its lyrics evoke, with wishes of “a river I could skate away on” and trees being cut down from their natural homes to be taken indoors and loved in a new way.

“Winter Song” by Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles
If the song doesn’t make you think of snow and peppermint hot chocolate, then the music video will be enough to warm your heart. It’s a sweet and simple collaboration, with distinct harmonies and a sad story. “Winter Song,” like “River,” is another song about heartbreak around the holidays.

“Winter Bones” by Stars
The simple repetition of the instrumentals behind Amy Millan’s airy vocals strips away the traditional holiday cacophony of sleigh bells, carols and the “Auld Lang Syne” fanfare of the season. “The sun settles hard in the south, winter lives in my bones,” Millan sings. It’s as if Stars is begging us to embrace the hardships we’ve endured throughout the year so that we can prepare to begin anew.

“Winter” by Tori Amos
“Winter” is a nostalgic dedication to a father figure, and it’s something that I’m sure everyone can relate to (the desire to make somebody in their lives proud)—especially during the holidays, when everybody is taking the time to catch up with loved ones who’ve spent the year running around busy with work and school and life in general. But for me, there’s just something about Tori Amos’s voice that makes me want to curl up in bed with my unicorn PillowPet and read Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris. That’s really all I have to say about this song.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

revisiting the discussion.

KaDee Strickland in Private Practice
There's an episode of Private Practice I can't get out of my mind, and has been on my mind lately because of the story I'm working on. Perhaps I report on topics that I'm familiar with--not because they're comfortable or easy, but because they're difficult and terrifying, because I feel like talking about these issues will help me understand. "It isn't about moving on," I told Jenny the other day. "It's about moving forward."

I hadn't followed Private Practice at all when the episode came to my attention last November. I had no clue where these characters were because I'd stopped watching the show when life got busy and TV became an afterthought. I didn't care -- the show was entertaining for its ridiculously unbelievable stories and dialogue. I had no reason to take it seriously.

I was reading a blog or saw it trending on Twitter, I don't remember. The episode was called "Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King?" and it contains one of the most graphic depictions of rape that I'm sure has ever been shown on network television.

One of the show's main characters--a very strong female--is brutally assaulted and raped in her office by a disgruntled and unstable man who had come to the hospital. The episode deals with the reality of rape and the aftermath too. Charlotte's reluctance to report the rape and her refusal to be identified as a victim are not uncommon to real life situations. The strength in "Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King?" lies in the show's ability to present something so terrifying in an honest way. There's nothing sugarcoated and they certainly don't shy away from what rape is, and why it's so difficult to report it.

"If you keep this secret, it will eat you alive, I know it," Addison, the show's main character, says to Charlotte when she finds out about the rape. Addison's hesitation to even say the word 'rape' shows on her face and is reflected in her dialogue as she avoids the word, but Charlotte doesn't hold back as she delivers a powerful monologue that describes what rape is really like. And when another doctor asks Charlotte where the pain is the strongest in her body as he treats her wounds, she responds with an answer that every survivor can also identify with: "My soul."

"Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King?" is one of the most important episodes of network television because it does the very thing that is so taboo in our society today: it takes the controversial and horrifying subject of sexual violence and pulls it forward into a spotlight that immediately turns to avoid these kinds of topics. But it makes it a point of discussion and we can ask ourselves, as a society, "Are we turning away?" Because I think we often do. I think we don't want to talk about this stuff, or we don't know how.

I don't know if we'll be able to live in a society someday that will address these issues head on, but, for the sake of all victims of sexual violence, I can hope.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

a white october.

The view from my front door.
It snowed yesterday.

Before I continue, let me say: I've been in snowfall before, but it was a light dust that seemed to almost stop before it really started. It was junior year of high school and I was with a group of about 30 north of Sacramento for a retreat. We were eating breakfast on the last day when the flakes began to fall, and we ran outside with excitement and wonder. (And I also snapped a really great photo of Laura that she says she still remembers.)

The first thing people told me about winters in the east coast was that it would be freezing and there would be snow. My Californian friends expressed worry; other non-Californians laughed prematurely at what they predicted would be horror. But I won't lie: yesterday was kind of thrilling.

You know that scene from Gilmore Girls when Lorelai wakes up in the middle of the night because she can smell the snow? She drags Luke outside for the first snowfall of the season. "It's just my favorite time of the year. The whole world changes color," she says. "Flakes, flurries, swirls, crystals - whatever form it comes in, I'll take it. We got back, snow and me. We have a beautiful history."

I don't have a "beautiful history" with snow. When I was younger, my parents used to take my sister and me up toward Tahoe to build snowpeople and play in the already-fallen snow. When I was three or four, my parents plopped me in the snow and I began to sink. I cried and wailed, and rather than save me, they filmed it for my future embarrassment. Snow and me? Not so friendly.

But yesterday, I rode up the escalator out of TJ Maxx and had to squint. Was that slow-falling rain? What was happening?


It was like a scene from a movie, as I exited the department store to a flurry of snow. I looked around, wondering where the ringing bells and Starbucks holiday cups were. It was too early for this to be the first snowfall of the season, but here it was, and I was caught outside in it like a dream.

I'm sure I'll grow to hate it when it starts to interfere with my workday commute or general well-being, but yesterday was--at the risk of sounding cheesy--magical. Just look at Melissa's photos - you'll see what I mean.

It's sunny today, though still cold, but I'm looking forward to those flakes again. "Welcome, friends," Lorelai says as the snow begins to fall. Come back soon.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

on love and independence.

From Shel Silverstein's "The Missing Piece Meets the Big O."
"I wouldn't want to raise kids in the city," a friend and I agreed on the metro the other day. But, then again, I don't think I'd want to raise them in the suburbs either. At least, not right now, when family living comes at such a price. Though I suppose if I were to imagine life with a husband, white picket fence, granite countertops and a minivan in the driveway for those 2.5 kids and that dog, I would see it in the suburbs--not somewhere like downtown D.C. In the mornings, whenever I ride the metro and see exhausted mothers in business attire accompanied by a crying, screaming baby, I can't help but think that postponing family life for another decade is a wise decision for my generation.

Not that I have wedding envy or baby envy or anything like that. You all know me--I'm a commitment-phobe with a penchant for over-caring. When this point of discussion comes up, as it has surprisingly often lately, I'm firm in my stance: I don't want to get married anytime soon. My parents were incredibly young when they got married, and it isn't that I'm avoiding it because of them, but because I haven't found myself in a position in which independence and a commitment to another person have existed in harmony--at least, not enough to the point where I feel comfortable with it being legally binding.

A recent article by Kate Bolick in the latest issue of The Atlantic takes a look at this perspective and raises an interesting question: "Now that we can pursue our own status and security, and are therefore liberated from needing men the way we once did, we are free to like them more, or at least more idiosyncratically, which is how love ought to be, isn’t it?"

True--we should be marrying for love, not necessity. Not because we want to have children or we're attracted to the security and stability they can provide. Additionally, the institution of marriage is (or, at least, should be) changing as well. But that's a tangent for another time.

Bolick's article is incredibly in-depth and fascinating on many levels (and you should read it, even though it's really long and might not apply to you): from examining cultural and social trends to personal anecdotes, she captures the importance of independence. The point: you shouldn't feel the need to get married.
We are far more than whom we are (or aren’t) married to: we are also friends, grandparents, colleagues, cousins, and so on. To ignore the depth and complexities of these networks is to limit the full range of our emotional experiences.  
Personally, I’ve been wondering if we might be witnessing the rise of the aunt, based on the simple fact that my brother’s two small daughters have brought me emotional rewards I never could have anticipated. I have always been very close with my family, but welcoming my nieces into the world has reminded me anew of what a gift it is to care deeply, even helplessly, about another. There are many ways to know love in this world.  
This is not to question romantic love itself. Rather, we could stand to examine the ways in which we think about love; and the changing face of marriage is giving us a chance to do this. “Love comes from the motor of the mind, the wanting part that craves that piece of chocolate, or a work promotion,” Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and perhaps this country’s leading scholar of love, told me. That we want is enduring; what we want changes as culture does.
There is no clock ticking, telling you your time to connect with others is ending. Don't break your back putting in overtime in relationships that don't contribute to your personal growth because you feel the need to prove something to yourself and to others about the kind of person you want to be perceived as.

A late night conversation with a friend once led her to ask me what I thought the key to successful relationships were. "Being happy single," I answered. Which sounds like it defeats the purpose of integrating your life with someone else's, but I still believe that's true: in order to make a relationship work, you should be content with yourself as a whole person. After all: "You cannot roll with me, but perhaps you can roll by yourself."

Perhaps, indeed.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

let me down.

"Dreams never die, it's the people who give up on them."

A stranger said that to me once, and it's something I never forgot. I don't have a long story about wanting to be a journalist or a writer. Writing was always something I just did, but never considered myself any good at. I would watch the way that reporters on TV got right in the middle of action and knew what to ask, what to say. To me, that was journalism, and an introvert like me sure wasn't qualified to do it. It wasn't until LJ21 during the second year of college that I really began to understand what I could be as a journalist.

The New York Times recently published an article about what they're calling "generation limbo"--us post-grad twentysomethings who aren't entirely sure what the next stage in life is. The "postponed generation," as the article says. I see it, I do. There are a lot of wanderers out there. But I had a really long talk with Al earlier tonight and she kept reminding me that it didn't matter if I felt like shit, I was doing something amazing. And I don't know. I sometimes feel like I missed out on that "post-grad 'life is shit'" phase that everyone told me there would be. It's like I missed out on some important "coming of age" thing.

But then again...the other interns I've met have left me in awe. Their accomplishments and ambitions are all diverse and incredible. They're so motivated, and even though they don't know what they want for sure in life either, they're running into the future headfirst. "Hey NPR," I want to ask, "did you make a mistake by hiring me too? These guys are so legit."

Al is right--I need to get over the insecurities of not being good enough for anything, anyone, anywhere. I'm fucking here and I worked hard, I should feel good about this. I finished the first week of my dream internship, I'll be moving soon, I'm starting over. Ish. It hasn't been easy or very fun, and as wonderful as work has been this past week, there's a lot weighing on me too that I need to force myself to purge. So this is good--it's painful, but really, it's better.

Friday, September 9, 2011

growing up, post-9/11.

Wall of front pages detailing the attacks, as seen
at the Newseum's 9/11 exhibit.
I woke up on the morning of September 11, 2001 to a changed world. The attacks began before I woke up on the west coast, and I had to take the time difference into account as my mother turned on the TV and the New York sky was lit in flames. It was still dark in California and the sun was just rising. As I put on my uniform, no one in the house could turn off the television. We kept the radio on all the way to school and, as my mother drove, I remember looking outside the window of the backseat and seeing people silently in their cars looking concerned as they fumbled with their cell phones. I couldn't understand exactly what was happening, but I couldn't get the image out of my mind of that tall, glistening tower in flames.

At school, the older kids were talking and asking each other what happened. I was in the 7th grade, and us junior high students were considered "the adults" of the school. But the day went on as usual: recess, classes, lunch. We didn't turn on the TVs. We didn't pull up the news online. We didn't turn on the radios. I don't think the teachers or administrators knew what to say or do, and that was the common theme of the day, wasn't it? Nobody knew what to say or do.

That afternoon when we got home, the TV was on again and every channel was streaming the same images. News anchors spoke about when the first tower fell and speculated on when another building would fall. I watched 7 World Trade Center crumble live and there was only silence coming from the screen. And even then, we still didn't understand: why did this happen?

This was all before the "social media age," when Twitter and Facebook took over our lives. We turned to the newspapers and the reporters to tell us what was going on. A few months ago, I learned of Osama bin Laden's death through Twitter and Gchat hours before watching Obama's speech on TV. As I sat on the couch with Amanda, watching the president tell us that this man who had architected one of the greatest tragedies in recent American memory was dead, it felt like a weird closing of this circle that was my academic life. 9/11 affected every aspect of American life, and I can barely even remember a time before all that--before the TSA commanded the airports, before this unspoken fear of "the other" was re-instilled in everyday life. I remember going to the airport as a child and seeing my father off on business trips. Na and I would watch his plane take off from the window of the terminal. Nowadays, you can't get to the terminals without a boarding pass and an intrusive security screening process.

Remains of one of the broadcast towers that
stood atop one of the now-fallen buildings
(also at the Newseum's 9/11 exhibit).
With the 10th anniversary of the attacks just a couple of days away, news has been pouring out about this generation of students who don't remember a world before 9/11. Yesterday on NPR, Michel Martin spoke with a teacher and student from The Living Textbook Project about teaching the events of September 11th to this generation, and at Education Week, the writers have been reporting on this too. The problem, some have said, is that 9/11 is so complex, and something that is still trying to be understood and figured out today. I wonder if children in schools were taught about the Vietnam War as it occurred, but it was different then because children in the 60s didn't have the same tools children of the 21st century have at their disposal (internet, cable television, etc.).

When I think back to September 11, 2001, all I can remember is that feeling of watching the towers fall and the silence that seemed to fill every crevice of the country. I don't remember where I heard or read this, but the issue of the New York Times that came out that day was the least read in the newspaper's history. That gives me chills. The world stood still that day and watched America essentially crumble--at least that's what it felt like. The following years brought rise to moments in a blur: the start of war, the threat of terrorism entering our everyday lives...this is what growing up in the 2000s was like. What stories will I tell my potential offspring? Will it all be tinged with the effects of what happened on 9/11? The more I think about it, the more it feels relevant to every aspect of daily life, and then that leads me to wonder: how can classrooms not teach what happened and is still happening? Maybe we don't have definitive answers behind it all--behind the attacks, the terror and the aftermath--but we can start a dialogue about it so that maybe one day, we can collectively move forward.

Monday, September 5, 2011

a reminder.

The art on one of the benches at a Bethesda circulator stop.
I betrayed my best friend in the second grade, and sealed the secret with a simple agreement between my fellow traiter and me: we pinky swore to never tell anyone what happened. We kept that secret and never spoke of it again, though soon it became forgotten about anyways. But that simple act assured our promise, no matter how trivial it was. We saw it as if it were a matter of life or death. That's what promises mean when you're young. We took things so much more seriously back then.

I made a pinky promise via AIM with Andrea recently. It's one of those promises we know the both of us would never literally fulfill, but it's this assurance of accountability, and I do imagine we'll follow through in some way. I like to think I keep my promises, no matter how ridiculous or random they may seem.

I've made recent pinky promises too that fell apart for...well, you tell me. I had a dream last night in which we made more of those promises, but unlike the me that made those promises six months ago, the me in the dream knew they were false. Whenever I wake up from these dreams, I can't tell if they were nightmares or not. The adrenaline drives me to write, and the words tumble out as awkwardly as they form in my mind. But purging your heart is better than keeping quiet sometimes; there are only so many unanswered moments of vulnerability you can really take. And while it feels like a strong thwack of a hammer and another bit of you me is chiseled away, it's good for you me.

A few days ago, I came across an experience that reminded me why I emotionally over-invest in people: because I have this stupid obsession with the things that make us all unique and beautiful. That inspires me in a way I'd forgotten about, in a way to not be afraid of pursuing my own thoughts "as if they really, really matter," as Cortney wrote to me yesterday. And that's just it, isn't it? To find worth in our words and thoughts when our attempts to share hit walls. I can't make pinky promises the way I could when I was seven, but I can make real promises as a 22-year-old who is absolutely certain that she wants to live a unique and beautiful life, no matter who walks in and out. That is an honest promise, a genuine pursuit that I won't compromise in order to "fit in."

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

of love and family.

On the flight from Sacramento to Long Beach, I sat next to a young mother--only two or three years older than me--who was headed back home to Newport Beach. In the seat next to her was her daughter, Gigi, who was no more than two years old. When I sat down, the mother and I chatted briefly about her job in Irvine and about my job in DC. Looking at her, you'd never guess she had a little girl. Her skin was evenly tanned and her long brown hair was bright with blonde highlights. She looked more ready for the beach than for the hospital where she worked. In small white shorts and a red, striped crop top, she was struggling to keep Gigi in her seat. But she was patient and kind and kept her cool when Gigi would scream. She was strict when she needed to be and did not hesitate to reprimand her daughter for bad public behavior. But Gigi still screamed despite her mother's best efforts. As I watched them on the hour-long flight, I kept asking myself (as I often do when I see misbehaving children), "What would I do if this were that mother?" And everything in my mind was what she was doing, but it wasn't always working. I could feel the frustration coming from her as she tried to read her iPad, only to be disrupted by Gigi every minute. But she was patient and did her best, and I respect her.

I don't think about the idea of having my own family often, if at all. I almost can't imagine that far into the future--hell, I don't even plan what I'm eating for the day until I happen across food that appeals to me in the moment. But this past weekend, being reunited with my (paternal) cousins, aunts and uncles to surprise my grandpa for his 90th birthday and to celebrate two of my cousins' pregnancies with a surprise double baby shower made me think a lot about family and how lucky I am to have this one.

Family (and friends) gather to celebrate Grandpa Lee. (Photo from Mel)

Baby shower brunch--silly picture! (Photo from Mel)

Girl cousin picture! (1995)
"Family" has always been a difficult concept for me to describe to people who ask me about mine. My cousins have always felt more like siblings to me when we spend time together and my grandparents were another set of hands that helped raise us all. I always looked forward to birthdays and holidays because it meant seeing everyone, which became more and more important as we got older and drifted apart geographically. Unfortunately, being the youngest of nine, I didn't grow up with them the way they got to experience growing up, which makes me sad because I don't have those same memories and photos they all do with each other. By the time I was in high school and old enough to wish I had them to talk to, they were all gone and off to college or living their adult lives. I was always the baby of the family. But I do remember the annual visits for a few years out to San Jose and sleeping on the trundle bed in Kimberly's room; the times spent marveling at Mel's super cool room with the decorations that now, looking back, seem soooo '90s (was it you who had the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling? Let's be honest, I totally mimicked your style.); the afternoons spent fighting with Chris over the remote at the grandparents' house because he wanted to watch science programs on PBS but Na and I wanted to watch Power Rangers. All nine of us spent good chunks of time in and out of my grandparents' house, and that house--which had been home to my grandparents and their children after a tumultuous immigration to America that had them living in cramped quarters downtown before finally owning their own home--was practically a second home for my cousins and me.

Na and me with Grandpa (I think 1992?)
When I look back on old family photos, whether they were before my time or included me in them, I start to think about what family would be like for me in the future. Would my potential offspring have the same sense of community I had while growing up? I truly believe the close family upbringing I had helped create the me that exists today. Would I be able to replicate that experience at all?

I'm excited to think about the additions to our family/FamiLee (lols) through marriages and children because the love that already exists is so overwhelming and how could you not want others to be a part of this? Sure, like any family, there are conflicts and disagreements, and I hear too often about so-and-so bickering with so-and-so, but in my opinion, none of that is relevant when it comes to the core of family love. The idea of having children will occasionally find me cringing, but I think I would want to have kids so that they could meet these wonderful individuals.

Grandparents--so elegant...

Grandpa at the house we all call home.
We put together a photo book for Grandpa that had photos from his and my grandma's early days in China to their family in Hong Kong to immigrating to America and adding all of us grandchildren to the mix. Looking at all of those photos makes me yearn for stories of the past. Even though Mom isn't their biological daughter, I'm fortunate that Grandma talked so much to her throughout the years about all of this so that she could pass down these stories to Na and me.

The more I hear, the more I want to hear, but that communication barrier between my grandparents and me exists all too prominently. It makes me wish I'd taken more care to practice my Cantonese so I could talk to my grandpa about his days serving the Nationalist army or I could ask my grandma about nursing school and about how she and my grandpa met during the war. I would ask my grandpa about how things were when they left China after the communists won and I'd want to know about the process and journey by sea to America, and what it was like from his eyes when they first stepped onto shore.

But all I have for now are photos and smatterings of stories passed down. There are so many more photos stored in multiple albums that we've been trying to scan for digital preservation. I love looking at these photos because they tell the story so well. It's probably why I was so obsessed with taking photos all throughout high school and college--because I've always had this secret fear that I'd forget it all and need the reminder. What would I tell my children when I couldn't remember a significant moment or two? But if they could see it...then it'd be like they were living it too.

Far left: Grandma, two friends from the boat, Grandpa and one of my uncles.
A short stop in Hawaii on the way to America (1964).

It's heartbreaking to think about the reality of mortality, and I don't want to even picture that inevitable day. I know I'm lucky to have those shared memories with my cousins of life at my grandparents' house though. It may not have been the most traditional upbringing, but it's all I know and I'm glad for it. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

thinking aloud.

I hate that some people are always trying to "find themselves." As Cortney pointed out during one of our long summer talks, "What are you looking for?? You're RIGHT. THERE."

I went through my Tumblr archives earlier because that's what I do when I'm in a funk: I look for inspiration from the familiar, because if there's anything I've learned from Cheever, it's that we hear the same lessons over and over, yet we are not always prepared to listen when we hear at first.

September 10, 2010: "I'm beginning to realize life is full of moving and searching- the idea of 'finding your place in this world' is so misleading because your place in the world is going to change, or move, or be split between several places." Based on my opening quote and this one from last year, I would say Cortney is the wisest person I know. It's true: nothing is permanent and we're always moving, changing, growing in ways we can't even fathom ourselves in the moment. It's beautiful and terrifying (mostly terrifying) and it should feel like you're floating out there in the universe on an asteroid alone. "What the hell am I doing?" you'll ask yourself, and you won't have an answer.

To sum up my feelings on "finding yourself," I can only turn to one of the most cliché phrases I know: "Life isn't about finding yourself, it's about creating yourself." It isn't about taking who we were in one place and transplanting it into our new environment. It isn't about holding onto those who made you who you were. You're in a new place, kid. Go make something of yourself.

Lately, I've found myself struggling with all of this. Here I am in an environment and place that is completely new to me. I go back and forth between wanting to be a hermit and wanting to be my old social self. But the anxieties I've grown to hide have manifested themselves in ways I sort of expected, and I think what I struggle with most right now is the attempt to purge myself of communications that can't be good for either party. I'm not growing in ways that will help others who are on that path toward creating themselves. I don't want to be the one to hold those people back, so maybe it's best to stop it right here.

This has gotten a bit emo, and I beg you to forgive me if you were expecting some deep philosophical insight into what it means to create yourself, but I've been exhausted lately and deeper in a funk. Maybe that impending thunderstorm will do me some good.

shaken and stirred.

I can't not blog about this earthquake.

USGS website screenshot taken after the quake.

As a native Californian, you can imagine that earthquakes are a normal occurrence in my life. I wouldn't say they happen every month, but when they do happen, it isn't surprising. My earliest memory of an earthquake was when I was three or four years old and the house started to shake in the middle of the night. I could hear the sliding doors of my parents' closets rattling, and I remember getting out of bed and running into the room. My mom was sitting up and assured me things would be okay. I don't remember how long it lasted, what the magnitude was, or if there were any aftershocks, but I went back to bed, and things were fine when I woke up. In schools, along with fire and lockdown drills, we had earthquake drills regularly and learned proper safety procedures of what to do and what not to do. It was just part of the routine to be prepared for natural disasters in California, from floods to wildfires.

Yesterday, a 5.8 earthquake hit Mineral, Virginia and spread along the east coast. It was barely a tremor here in Bethesda and lasted no more than 30 seconds. I was at my desk when the building began to shake and thought nothing at first until everyone around me jumped out of their chairs and someone called out, "Is that an earthquake?" I sat up, put both hands firmly on my desk and said, "Yes, it is." It stopped almost as soon as it started, and when it stopped, I sat back and continued to type, but people around me had started to grab their things as if they were going to evacuate. As I watched the chaos around me, I realized just how rare earthquakes were over here.

Within minutes, news from all over the east coast came pouring onto the web. Breaking news interrupted daily programming and Twitter was flooded with terror. They evacuated government buildings, shut down the metro and airports, etc. I was both confused and amused. I understand the initial fear: "Is this a terrorist attack? Was that a bomb?" were thoughts that ran through peoples' heads, and I can't say I know what either of those things feel like, but to me, it felt like an earthquake. My first instinct was to get under my desk, until I saw everyone try to leave the building and had to explain why that was one of the worst things you could do during an earthquake.

The east coast is not prepared for earthquakes. Many of these buildings have stood here for decades, even a century or two. It's not like in San Francisco, where after 1909, all of the buildings in the state were required to meet certain guidelines and older buildings have since been reinforced for safety. My old elementary school, which was constructed in 1899, was recently forced to relocate because the building was found to not meet certain safety requirements. It would seem that the reason a few buildings suffered damage here would be because they don't meet earthquake safety standards either. I can see why no one would think of it though--there hasn't been an earthquake this big since the 1800s here.

A crowd gathers yesterday at Pearl Street and Foley
Square (New York) after office buildings and courthouses
were evacuated following the quake.
--Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images
As images surfaced online and on TV of terrified citizens standing in the streets, all I could think was, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING??" Because if they were scared of more earthquakes or rolling aftershocks, being outside between tall, unstable buildings is not a good idea. The materials used for buildings and monuments over here are not the sturdiest. If anything is going to come crashing down on your head, it's going to be an ornate stone decoration that's been chilling at the top of a building for centuries.

So, I guess I can see why they shut down the metros and sent everyone home (even though that caused more of a gridlock than anything)--because nobody here is prepared for earthquakes. I'm sure if even a 4.0 hit the east coast, buildings would be damaged, because structures are not reinforced. Monuments and buildings are still closed even today. While this is shocking, I'm not surprised. This earthquake was not "a disaster" (see Haiti, Japan, etc.) and those structural cracks could be prevented had people/buildings been prepared. Also, injuries occur when people run out of buildings en masse (just an fyi for all you folks tripping over each other). Hopefully this is a nice wake-up call to people that natural disasters can happen anywhere and safety precautions should not be taken lightly.

Monday, August 22, 2011

'ban rape, not books.'

Speak, a young adult novel from the point
of view of a high school girl who was raped
and silenced, was recently considered to
be banned in the Republic School District.
The board voted to keep the book, but
banned two others for various concerns.
Ask yourself this: what do you do to protect yourself from rape? Byron Hurt reflected on this question back in March in an article for The Root:
"The following day, I attended a workshop about preventing gender violence, facilitated by Katz. There, he posed a question to all of the men in the room: "Men, what things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?"
Not one man, including myself, could quickly answer the question. Finally, one man raised his hand and said, "Nothing." Then Katz asked the women, "What things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?" Nearly all of the women in the room raised their hand. One by one, each woman testified:
"I don’t make eye contact with men when I walk down the street," said one.
"I don’t put my drink down at parties," said another.
"I use the buddy system when I go to parties."
"I cross the street when I see a group of guys walking in my direction."
"I use my keys as a potential weapon."
The women went on for several minutes, until their side of the blackboard was completely filled with responses. The men’s side of the blackboard was blank. I was stunned. I had never heard a group of women say these things before. I thought about all of the women in my life--including my mother, sister and girlfriend--and realized that I had a lot to learn about gender."
There are a lot of statistics and numbers that can be thrown around from year to year, and I'm surprised if you're surprised to learn that rape is one of the most under-reported crimes. Allegations of sexual abuse or assault are often not taken seriously and it's a shame to acknowledge that we live in a rape culture--one that teaches us "don't get raped" instead of "don't rape;" a system that labels domestic violence as a preexisting condition; a society that victim-blames and questions the victim's behavior before punishing an attacker. Men and women of every age can be a victim and anyone can be an attacker. It doesn't matter if the victim knows the attacker or not and it doesn't matter if the victim takes one day, one month or one year to report it--there is no excuse for rape.

Recently in North Hampton, Missouri, a lawsuit was filed against the Republic School District by the mother of a seventh-grade female special education student who was raped twice on school property. The first incident occurred during the 2008-09 school year. When school officials did not believe the girl after she reported it, she immediately withdrew her claims and was forced to write an apology letter to the boy who she accused. The girl was also expelled from the school. Officials failed to take note of the girl's file in which a psychological report stated "that [the girl] was conflict adverse, behaviorally passive and 'would forego her own needs and wishes to satisfy the request of others around so she can be accepted.'"

The girl was allowed back into school for the following year, where the same boy who had harassed and attacked her the year before raped her again. She did not report the rape in fear of being expelled a second time.

After an examination by the Child Advocacy Center, DNA evidence showed that she had, in fact, been raped. The boy was taken to Juvenile Court where he pleaded guilty. The current suit filed against the Republic School District and school officials was filed at the beginning of July, and the district's response came weeks later: "Plaintiff’s claims against the District are frivolous, and have no basis in fact or law. Therefore, the District Defendants are entitled to an award of their reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs."

The Springfield News-Leader also reports, "The girl failed and neglected to use reasonable means to protect her self, the response says. Any damages the girl may have sustained, 'were as a result of the negligence, carelessness, or conduct of third parties over whom the District Defendants had neither control nor the right to control,' according to the school district response."

Understandably and rightfully so, the community is outraged. "Both times they didn't believe her; that's the bottom line. If it can happen with her, it can happen with another child," said Casey Kaylor Crump, the creator of a Facebook event titled "A Protest Against Republic School's Handling of a Student's Rape."

"These educators have lost their privilege of teaching children in the community," Crump said.

Meanwhile, the Republic school board has banned two books, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer, from library shelves. The board ironically voted to allow Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak to remain in schools.

An ad from Scotland that needs to be spread worldwide.

Every allegation of sexual harassment, assault, abuse and rape must be taken seriously. The more victims are scared into silence, the more endangered we all are. Rape happens. It can happen to anyone and it happens too often. The immediate assumption that every accusation is a false one is ignorant. To exist in a world where the abused are punished and made to feel ashamed of something they could not control is unacceptable. It's time we talk about this violence so that we no longer live in a rape culture.

Friday, August 19, 2011

oublions le passé.

A late exchange led to a simple and sad truth the other night: "Life seems to be about learning lessons a little too late to apply them."

I've been thinking about films and stories that shake a person into realizations and wondering why more of us don't immerse ourselves in things that will "wake us up." Perhaps because there is a danger in drowning and getting lost in those stories, but Cheever always made a point to tell us to stay grounded and not forget to go back into the cave with the knowledge we attained outside.

For the past few weeks, Midnight in Paris has been on my mind--not just because it's a delightful film, but it contains a delightful message that isn't thrown in your face. While some films beat their message into your brain (I'm looking at you, Legend of Bagger Vance), Woody Allen has done something genius by creating an absurd romp through place and time to make you nostalgic and desperate for the days of yore, only to slowly pull that sweet morsel away from your mouth at the last second before you overindulge.

I won't spoil the film for those who haven't seen it (and you really should see it), but the story's hero, Gil (Owen Wilson), stumbles upon another decade in Parisian history when the clock strikes midnight and is tossed into the world of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso. But in the morning, he's back to the present and his less-than-pleasant fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her snooty parents and pretentious friends. Every night, he returns to his 1920s romp and flirts with the beautiful and enigmatic Adriana (Marion Cotillard) and every night he drinks in the freedom; every morning, he yearns for the night. Then he discovers, Adriana yearns for the past as well--except her past is even farther in history for Gil. That's when he realizes that his past, the one he yearns for, is Adriana's present. "Maybe the present is a little unsatisfying is a little unsatisfying," he says to her.

This is the heart of the film, the message Allen is trying to convey. He doesn't need to explain the fantastical time travel and, by the end of the film, that's far from your mind. The realist who is bothered by the lack of explanation has clearly missed the point, and so I'm hoping you can wrap your mind around this realistic point: live in the present moment.

It's another thing Cheever used to always say, and I can point to all the times it was scrawled in large letters in bright ink on the top of my notes for the day. It's so much easier to be nostalgic for the past and think of it as a "better" or "simpler" time, or perhaps a more "interesting" one. We can ignore all of the problems associated with those past decades and focus on the things that interest us precisely because we don't actually live in those times. I'm sure a hundred years from now after we've colonized Venus, citizens will look back to 2011 and say, "I wish we could live in those days!"

Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris.
I think what Gil says is true: we are constantly dissatisfied with our present because it is human nature to be. We're always looking backwards or forward, never appreciating what we have right here, right now because we seem to have a hard time just being happy. And what is "happiness" anyways? We want to believe the grass really is better on the other side of the fence, so we're always searching. I think sometimes we take our own torment too seriously--is life really that harsh?

The general answer, in my opinion, is, "No," but we're so concerned with the idea of "happiness" these days. In last month's issue of The Atlantic, Lori Gottlieb examined this conundrum too in her article "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy": "Nowadays, it’s not enough to be happy—if you can be even happier. The American Dream and the pursuit of happiness have morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way."

Which ties into another Midnight in Paris lesson, despite it having been said by one of the most annoying characters of the film: "Nostalgia is denial--denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is golden age thinking--the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in. It's a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present."

Now to just remember these lessons during the next existential crisis...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

the art of losing.

There are things I love and have taken for granted, yet these are the things that I find (especially now) to be what keep me motivated and strong:
  • Letters in the form of emails--the kind that share truth, wisdom, stories, honesty and advice.
  • Short, medium and long Skype/Facetime/phone calls, because there's something pure and wonderful about face-to-face or voice-to-ear communication. It lets someone know you care.
  • The question, "How are you doing?" and the time to truly care about the other person's response.
  • Text messages from friends on important days, wishing luck and giving encouragement and support.

Relocation brings about an interesting revelation as we discover that the people we make a point to keep in touch with through the above means are the ones who we keep in our lives as we move through each new chapter. At least, I've found this to be true. From high school through college and now out in the "real world," I've found myself working hard to sustain the friendships I've made. Unfortunately, we can't all stay in touch, and I've also found myself losing people who were once important to me. I hate to think that I prioritize my friendships, butI think that we all do that. It's impossible to be close to every single person who's touched our life in some way.

Four years ago, I started to lose touch with someone whom I spoke with almost every single day. Now, we don't talk at all. I haven't spoken to her in about two years. Even now, I'm slowly drifting apart from people I've been close with for the past one to six years. I recognize this, and I'm trying to find a way to deal with it. Because nobody likes drifting apart, but it happens. Some will say this is just how things go, but I want to fight for the friendships who've brought me this far. At least I want to try. It has to be a two-way street, though, and honestly? It's gotten more and more exhausting to tug at the arms of those who aren't meeting you halfway. I think I'm ready to pull over and turn off the engine.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

notes from a monument.

"Is it weird that this is so new?"

Dave posed this question as we walked along the "Garden of Remembrance" in Seattle. The memorial wall was divided by wars and engraved with names of local fallen soldiers. We stopped at the newest addition to the wall: Iraq-Afghanistan. When you run your fingers against the names on this section, you can't help but note how clean it looks. To the right, the names of the Vietnam War have dulled from decades of harsh Seattle weather. What was once "present" has been replaced by a new and unfortunate battle.

History is constantly being added to. This is not a novel concept, but it seems to be groundbreaking when you're standing somewhere that holds a story, when you walk somewhere where millions have before. We are adding to the history of places and things, and that just feels...big. It's crazy to think about. It isn't just our own story we are affecting as we live; it is the world's.

Daunting. Scary. Weird. Everywhere we walk, others have walked it before and others will continue to walk it long after we pass through. Everywhere we sit, eat, talk, breathe... "Sometimes I wonder if all we do is just live lives people have already lived," Cortney wrote to me earlier today. I wonder that too.

Being in DC and surrounded by history every corner I turn is a strange and unfamiliar experience. Irvine was a city with a buried and convoluted history. In Irvine, I could stand in the spot where Chancellor Aldrich led UCI's first protest, but it seems to be a moment in history very few care to care about. Here, you can stand in the spot where Martin Luther King shared his dream, and here, you can circle the shelves of Thomas Jefferson's library collection. It's different. It's still the past, it's still history, but it feels...different.  This isn't to say that Irvine's history is unimportant. We all value different things, and I think what I'm learning is to value the beauty that comes with the privilege to exist in a world with such a rich background--a background none of us can ever truly know everything about. It's like with people: we should take the time to appreciate the small details of a person's life as well as the major things that make them who they are.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

cross-country relocation, part two.

I'm blogging to you, live, from my room!

Step four: Find a place to live.
Clearly, you know I have a place to live because I'm in it right now. I found a place through the NIH listserv, which turns out is a very resourceful tool. At the moment I'm living with medical and science folk, but they will soon be leaving to return to school in the fall. Their replacements are TBA to me, but I believe they are all in a medical-related field - after all, my house is right across the street from the Suburban Hospital. Convenient in case another car hits me, and the way these Maryland drivers drive, I wouldn't be surprised...

Step five: Discover that Californians aren't the worst drivers in the country.
Say what you want about southern California traffic, nothing is as bad as rush hour in the DMV (District-Maryland-Virgina) area during rush hour. Especially when the sporadic thunderstorms begin and rain is dumped on unsuspecting commuters. You'd think that with 55mph speed limits on the freeways (yep, 55), people would be more conscientious. Definitely not true. Oh, and Maryland drivers seem to think that the suicide and turn lanes are regular lanes. Or maybe that's how they actually work here?

Step six: Be charmed by bricks.
Almost all of the buildings in Bethesda are made of bricks. The sidewalks are too. It feels so old and historic. Downtown Bethesda is amazing and I'm already captivated by the area, much in the same way I was instantly charmed by Portland. There are pubs and restaurants (so many!) and thrift stores everywhere. Though there is only one Starbucks (at least, that I saw), there are other coffee locales that I hope are lovely enough to frequent. A free circulator bus drives around downtown every 10 minutes and the metro station is located right in the heart of the area. A Trader Joe's recently opened up downtown too--yay! (Tomorrow will be my day of exploring, now that I'm unpacked...)

Step seven: Be a DC tourist.
"I can be ridiculous because I don't go to school here," Katie once said to Cortney, Al and me as we waffled around Sac State, embarrassing Cortney as she headed to a meeting. The same philosophy holds true for me currently. I'm technically working in Maryland, so I might as well be a typical tourist in DC while my parents are visiting. There are literally millions of things to do in DC all the time, and most of it is free. Everything is historic and everything is grand and awe-inspiring. I have a list of things I want to go back and see on my own time, and I already feel like I need more time! The great thing about the metro system (despite its many flaws) is that it takes you everywhere in the area you'd want to go. The public transportation system in the east coast is brilliant and definitely wins over the west coast on this one.

Step eight: Observe the locals.
Hipsters everywhere.

This is an incredibly lackluster blog entry, but I'm exhausted and it's past midnight. Check for photos on Flickr! I'm off to bed to prepare for tomorrow's (rainy) exploration...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

cross-country relocation, part one.

I'm used to moving, but I've never done anything like this. Three thousand miles is a really long way from home. When I left Sacramento the first time, my last weeks were spent with Cortney, Alex and Katie and doing ridiculous things like camping in the Copelands' backyard. The night before moving out of the dorms, Andrea and I stayed up all night and went to Starbucks at 5 a.m. because of their 24-hour schedule for finals week. Before leaving CV, I had weird encounters with...people. The last night I had the Oxford place, after bottles of wine and campus wandering, a handful of soon-to-be Humanities grads came over and downed more wine by the bottles in my furniture-less living room, followed by more drinks at the pub and more drinks elsewhere after that. My last night in Irvine was a near all-night dance through the Orange County I had learned to love.

But that seems simple compared to the present. What's the best way to start an east coast adventure?

Step one: Say goodbye in style and with love.
Before leaving Rancho, I did the typical outings with my sister soulmates and danced in the dark with bubbles and smiles. You might think I sound crazy, but if you could've only been there...The thing I've learned about moving is to have fun with it. No need for depressing goodbyes. I know that I'll keep in touch with Cortney, Rachel and Alex. It's been eight years so far--how could I not? Follow all this with a morning coffee surprise from Daniel (because what's more surprising than hot coffee!) and a final night with Cortney, and there's all the confidence that I need to fly...

Step two: See the rest of the west.

The west coast, that is. I've been as far south as San Diego and as far north as Portland. There are only three states on this coast and I'd be damned if I missed out on Washington.

Seattle is beautiful, for those who've never been. Downtown Seattle is less shiny than downtown Portland, but it's still got that Bay Area feel. The blocks are filled with coffee shops and rug stores (so random), and the tourist areas don't feel too congested. The Seattle lightrail system is convenient and clean, and the stations remind me of BART. The weather isn't too sporadic, nor does it feel boring and dry. It's breezy, but not cold; warm, but not suffocating. Other major highlight: the central library. Holy. Shit. Ten floors of reflective beauty and books. Plus, art! Music! Maps! I could spend hours there.

The other great thing about Seattle is having the right people to send you off. Ingredients: 1 best friend; 2 amazing cousins; 4 family friends. Stir gently with food (plus a light dose of alcohol) and scenery, and bake at 350 for a couple of days. It's weird to go from seeing someone regularly to being separated by hundreds of miles. But as Dave pointed out Saturday night: even 1200 miles from Orange County, we still lol about the same stupid shit. Of course, I wouldn't trade that for anything. Also, "Hobbits never drink alone." If you're not TFC to be reading this right now, I hope you know I still love you even if you've decided you'd rather be bros with my mom. She's cooler than me anyways.

Seeing Mel and Matt was a lot of fun too. Ever since Kim's wedding last summer, I've missed spending time with all of my cousins. The older we get, the more we appreciate these ties. I love that we don't have to talk all of the time to still have fun together, and still be close to. The more I think about it, the more excited I get for August's reunion. Eight cousins is a lot to have, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Dinner with the Wongs was nice as well. It's good to see the people you practically grew up with in their own environment.

Step three: Fall asleep, wake up on the east coast!
There is nothing worse than a five-hour direct flight and being awake to suffer through the crying children and stuffy businessmen.

Upon arriving in DC, all I could think was, "This airport is really shiny." It's a fucking huge airport, for starters. Second, it's deceivingly chilly for the summer. The second I stepped outside, it felt line Sacramento. But then it started pouring, and it stopped feeling like Sacramento.

The strangest thing so far has been adjusting to the three-hour time difference. All of the usual suspects I text/call/IM on a normal basis feel so far away...

Bonus step: Have an amazing mother.
I can't help you with this one. I just hope you're lucky too.

Coming up next in part two: What the future is like.

Friday, July 29, 2011


I wish my thighs weren't so thick. I wish my nose weren't so flat. I wish my eyes were bigger. I wish I was just a bit taller.

Of course, if all these things were to magically come true, I would probably look like a Bratz doll, which is not flattering at all. It's obvious why these wants and desires arise. It's all a classic textbook case, so cliche that we no longer need to write lengthy articles or delve into complicated research: the youth of America (and I do feel this is specific to this country) are plagued with insecurities about the way they "should" look. A negative body image is almost unavoidable, what with the glossy magazine covers and big rig-sized billboards that bombard us everyday.

But despite all the PSAs and celebrity stories involving eating disorders, it is easy to ignore it all and get caught up in the reflection in the mirror. Which makes this confession hard, because it cannot be told without self-loathing and judgement.

Food is an important part of Chinese culture. It is a symbol of wealth, a luxury to indulge in. Food is a sign of prosperity and having the ability to provide it for your family demonstrates stability and success. Food can also be delicious, so really it's a win-win.

As the youngest of nine grandchildren on my father's side, I have the unfortunate position of being constantly treated like a four-year-old. My grandmother used to make comments about how round and adorable of a baby I was, but those comments continued on into childhood and adolescence. The last thing any seven-year-old girl needs to hear is that she's "round."

I became incredibly self-conscious and obsessed over my weight, amongst other physical things. Appearances became of the utmost importance. But I knew I wasn't pretty or anything of the sort, so I tried my best to be as close to acceptable as I could. I never felt I succeeded.

Oh, this all sounds like first world ramblings, I'm sure, or that I'm fishing for a compliment, but I can assure you that compliments only make it worse. I've never trusted compliments much anyways because they often felt like obligations. But that's straying from the point...The point is: low self-esteem sucks.
I first learned about anorexia and bulimia when I was in fourth grade. I had walked into the girl's bathroom during lunch and caught one of my best friends throwing up. I thought she was sick and asked her if I should get the teacher on yard duty. She said no and told me it was okay. She explained it helped her lose weight and she didn't want to be fat. "I don't want to be fat either," I thought to myself, and considered for a moment the possibility of joining her ritual. You mean I can eat whatever I want and not worry about being "round"? Sign me up.

But vomiting is awful. It burns your throat, makes your eyes water and leaves the worst aftertaste in your mouth. I never had the courage to continually purge. Not that there's anything courageous or admirable about that at all...So I just stopped eating. I would make excuses about being too busy to finish my packed lunches for various reasons, or I would give food to other people. In high school, it was easier to convince my mother of my busy schedule too. I got involved in a variety of things and found myself finally enjoying the starvation because I was being productive at least. I had already gotten into the habit of not eating breakfast because I told my mother food made me nauseus in the mornings. Most days, I wouldn't eat until dinner. And though it may sound like she should've noticed and stepped in, I will not allow blame to fall on anyone but me. Had my mother realized, she would have done something, but I became too good at hiding it due to my own denial.

Going away to college made everything worse. With truly no regulation, I would never have to eat. But meals became social activities, and so I engaged in it for the interaction. And when I found myself in the roughest period in my life, I would eat until I couldn't stand it anymore and then I'd stop and not eat again for days. I did this for six months straight until it became a habit. I've been doing it ever since. In the past four years, I've lost and gained weight in an erratic pattern. As of two weeks ago, I am 11 pounds lighter than I was at the age of 18.

And, to be honest, I don't see this behavior changing anytime soon. The thought of eating three meals in a day (no matter the size of portions) makes me feel sick. But I feel positive that this constant fatigue I'm feeling is due to low energy from a lack of food, though I over-caffeinate in an attempt to give myself a burst of energy. Caffeine, of course, can also make you hungry, and this just becomes a vicious circle.

And through all of this bullshit and hell, I still feel unpretty. I don't think it's worth it, but I don't think I can stop.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

feels like home.

The pastel parlor of Leatherby's is a timeless Sacramento classic. It's an old establishment, though not as historic as Vic's (est. 1947), but Vic's was a place for childhood memories--crisp chips, sandwich-like hot dogs and afternoon sundaes at the counter or in a cozy booth. Leatherby's was a sign of something different. It was bigger and brighter, the Rydell High carnival of my grade school and teenage days. Leatherby's was where we went for cast parties and where we went after choir performances. In high school, it was where we went before or after dances and dates. The best part about Frosh/Soph in '06 was watching Steph guzzle down the remains of a Black and Tan as we rushed to catch our ride to the dance. Anytime you went to Leatherby's, someone from school would be working there or you'd run into someone you knew because--hell, everyone ended up at Leatherby's.

And it was fun. It didn't matter if you were in the mood for ice cream or not. It didn't matter if you didn't even like ice cream. You could get fries or sorbet or milkshakes (oh, Swiss Milk Chocolate...) or you could just sit there and laugh with your friends because nobody goes to Leatherby's to be serious or "grown up." Even in our twenties, we always end up at Leatherby's to laugh and to hold hands and to hug and to exist in a place frozen in time.

But it doesn't feel frozen in the sense that it's stuck. It feels like a place that preserves a part of us that lays dormant in us wherever we go: that sense of adventure and fun that gets buried over time as we learn to be practical and serious. That's the beauty of a taste of familiarity--but it's only a taste I want or really need, I think. I need just enough to truly miss it when I'm gone again.

I think this is what being back in Sacramento this past month and a half has been for me: a place to remember how it felt before so much of life happened. I don't wish to go back to those ignorant days, but there's a feeling that accompanied that time that I do miss, though I know I'll never truly be without the soulmates who created that world with me. Like my philosophy notes told me: "We grow in the bad shit. But you need to know your own roots. People should shift mountains if they need to, but know where you come from."

And for a bit more on hometowns, brought to you by Charlie:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"when you are thirsty, keep moving."

"The universe will conspire for your enlightenment. Everything you need for your enlightenment is RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. Zen is meant for anyone who has the courage to face it. Upaya--be with the people you're with and tell them what they can hear. Don't say what they cannot hear, you cannot force depth. When you speak, speak what can be heard. By giving someone the answer only, it is not helping them. Everything is Buddha nature if you can open your eyes to see it. Essential nature is revealed through something natural. You will see it when your eyes are ready; you will hear when your ears are ready. Everything you need comes to you naturally. You don't wash away pain and suffering when you eliminate dukkha, you embrace it. Everything is here for us to grow. Doors open if you're deep. The more you're afraid, the less they will open. We grow in the bad shit. But you need to know your own roots. People should shift mountains if they need to, but know where you come from. Don't pick up your bow because you are told to; do it because you choose to. When you have a shadow, you're not willing to admit it, so we project it out upon others. Own all of your feelings. Socialization causes you to lose your authentic swing. Everybody has kairos time, but not everyone can access it, so it's just...there. But authentic conversation transcends chronos. Try to live consciously in kairos. Be authentic. Most people don't see the field. Don't attack life; you are ultimately part of a greater whole. Do what you need to do and move on. The field is always changing. Life will ask different things in different places. What swing works for today? We are afraid to see our best self, but if you could see the person you could become...that's scary. Step through the panic, work through the fear. Real friendships contain tension (for growth). Play the game together. Experience the Dark Night of the Soul--the world becomes overwhelming and you want to give up. Come to term with the baggage, 'help me help you' and move to a deeper level. 'To love someone is to love someone at their nethermost beast.' Recognize that some things need to be preserved and some destroyed. You have no control over that. We are habitual people because of memories. Satya-graha: be truthful. Nish kama karma: work against self. We lie because it's better for us. Are you going to dedicate your life to making the world a better place? Or are you going to live in the system for its benefits? You are who you choose to be, so choose to grow. Zen: absolute faith, absolute doubt, absolute perseverance."

"Inside each and every one of us is our one, true authentic swing. Something
we was born with. Something that's ours and ours alone. Something that can't be learned...
something that's got to be remembered." -The Leggend of Bagger Vance
The above is a mesh of notes between November 2005 and February 2006. I was 16 years old and was done dipping my toes into the tepid waters of Cheever's class; I had thrown myself into the water and was practically drowning. By May 2006, I finally started learning how to swim. A year later, May 2007, at the end of my two years of study, I had learned how to breathe underwater for a spell.

And then I forgot and moved 300 miles south with my notes and books in hand. Over the past four years, not only did I forget how to breathe underwater, I forgot how to swim altogether. When I found myself forgetting, I would pull out the life jacket and float for a bit until I thought I was ready again to swim.

As I peruse these two binders full of notes, journals and texts, I find myself surprised by the breadth of knowledge that once floated at the surface of my brain. Here was priceless information, accessible at will. Room 26 was an every day occurrence. And then we left and it was no longer, but it wasn't that learning stopped or it was all forgotten. I just went back to sleep, as Cheever would note. The lessons became scattered and I picked and chose at the knowledge I would throw out on a whim. The learning became...fragmented. But, as I happened upon in my notes, you can't have Zen without Daoism. Everything is connected and to truly understand it, you must truly submit yourself to all of it.

I'm not taking these binders when I move out east, but I'm okay with that because the notes aren't absent or unlearned in my life. I've recently begun swimming again. It feels endless, painful and glorious. It feels like exhaling.