Fish out of water in the water

Externally, I would have expected that my parents would have been amenable to the experience. Familiar Chinese food. Check. Servers who speak Chinese (sort of, but a different dialect). Check. Close to a familiar area. Check.

But I knew that this wasn’t going to be them. Not only was it restaurant week. Not only was it so very clearly Americanized Chinese food. Not only was that the website was full of words like “karaoke!” and “lounge!” And not only did the photos show huge gaudy decoration of gates, red, and enormous Chinese scrolls, and furniture that suggests an older era, completely absent in actual popular restaurants with Chinese people.

But I thought that with my parents, it could be possible. Some experience was possible. Some experience that would make up for all the guilt of not being a good enough daughter. And perhaps, just perhaps, the awfulness of restaurant week wouldn’t be present.

But the expectations from my parents and their frugality often don’t add up to a typical frequent diner experience. Especially a place where there’s a menu made specifically around liquor. You know those places.

We have no idea what happened before we arrived. Did the server say something? Did they say something to the server? My parents were already sitting at the table. As we arrived, a server quickly dropped off the menus and within minutes, I asked for the restaurant week menu. With the way that the server gave the restaurant week menu with a sour attitude, I knew this wasn’t going to end well. And with how my mom asked obnoxious question of whether the chefs were on strike after the server warned us that their kitchen was short-staff—”we have only one chef so dishes will come out slowly.

It took forever until someone took the order. The dishes did come out slowly. Well at least, one dish from the menu arrived. Then we noticed that several things were missing. The sauce for one dish. At least three house soups. Then the spring rolls. This was awful. Was it because we were the only table that didn’t order any alcohol save for a pot of tea? Was it because we were the only “ethnic” Chinese there which some would assume that we wouldn’t tip well? (To be honest, I would have except for this kind of level of service.) And so much more.

It was as if our table didn’t exist. Who knows. On the way out, the hostess said good night cheerfully and thanked us for coming. I thought about writing a yelp review, but I already knew when I had previewed the restaurant previously. And there was so little to choose from.

2018: Everything’s Ok

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

In 2017, it was giving advice in hopes of inspiring others. In 2016, it was the moment that when immersed in the election aftermath that anything could change. In 2015, it was the moment when I realized that I could finish Ice Cream Travel Guide. In 2014, it was when I wrote a well-crafted piece (that I read to a live audience 11 months later). In 2013, it was when light shone in the face of despair. In 2012, it was when I stood up for myself. In 2011, it was a moment of clarity, sincere belief and friendship. In 2010, it was an action of commitment.

There are others like me. There are others as scared as me. There are others who struggle. And to my surprise, they don’t look down at me. I am like them. I want to give back.

Earlier this afternoon, I was scrolling through instagram and saw friends recounting their year. Of course, as much as I am happy for them, I sensed a part of me grow envious. But then I reminded myself, they probably would felt the same way if I recounted my accomplishments. Everyone did so much. Everyone can do so much. It’s all framing. They are all scared as I am. But they are also as hopeful as I am.

It’s the moment that fellow writers at a retreat said that they appreciated me. It was in the meeting that I was someone important. Even though so many times, I thought of myself as lesser.

Next year, I will not let my sense of inferiority keep me down. I will help others. I will let that drive to be the inspiration for others and myself.

2018: Moments

Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2018 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2018.

2017 5 minutes, 2016 5 minutes, 2015 5 minutes, 2014 5 minutes, 2013 5 minutes, 2012 5 minutes, 2011 5 minutes, and 2010 5 minutes

  • Visiting my sister in Arizona just over a month before her due date
  • Visiting New York City and eating all those desserts, viewing the immersive show As She Fell, watching Max Richter, visiting Storm King, having fancy dinner with non-alcoholic pairing
  • Staying in a BnB in Tahoe as we went to ski at Squaw Valley at the end of the season
  • Writers Camp at Big Sur in Esalen, meeting all these people but realizing how very white it all was
  • Doing hot spring one time at Esalen and deciding that truly it wasn’t for me
  • Going to the Brave Magic thing at 1440 Multiversity
  • Staying at Joy’s place with the family in Los Gatos and doing all the assorted things with the boys
  • Playing pokemon go with Chris
  • Setting up the apartment with Chris. In a better way
  • Hosting not one, but two BBQs in the backyard
  • Setting up the backyard for the above, particularly the jade plants and the failed things that we should have not gotten from Buy Nothing
  • Watching Chris haul more things from Buy Nothing, some good (like router) and some not great (like foot spa)
  • That washer/dryer discovery thing
  • Attempt to do laundry at my parents’ place
  • Getting my novel in progress critiqued by an editor, a real one
  • Reforming my people of color writing group and actually having litcrawl
  • Having a writing retreat up in Ukiah with that group and meeting great people
  • Hot springs at Orr Hot Springs and that incident of dropping the car key into the water
  • Letting Chris actually enjoy his time in the hot baths of the hot springs

2018: Writing

Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

In 2010, I said everything. In 2015, I said fear. In 2016, I said that it’s sitting down and doing it.
In 2017, 2017, I said that it was work.

I would like to say that it was the lack of true support. Or more specifically, the lack of support from writers of color. I did change that as much as I could during the year in creating my own writing group, but because there’s less of us, it was not as much I wanted.

And so I would like to say that is to blame. But it’s a certain amount of accountability and trust. So again, it’s the support of a community, a community that I want for myself. At times, I find myself at a disconnect with other writers. I have a day job with an ample salary that pays well. I had at one point thought that I would not want to do it, but the investment that I had put into it (grad school, building connections) and the fact that I didn’t hate it…wasn’t enough. With a community of people who I could trust, I believe I would naturally write more.

In brand new areas, especially an unknown network of people, it’s completely scary to me. I need an introduction. I need someone to guide me through it. At least initially. I am considering joining the Ruby although I don’t really need the space. But the women there I hope could be people to bond. I hope that they will respect that I am just a burgeoning writer. I hope that they’ll take me seriously. I hope that I can just be more than this writer on the side.

I hope that it’s so much more than that.

Maybe next year, I can do so much more. Keep on writing. Keep on chugging. Keep finding that community.

2018: Travel

How did you travel in 2018? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

In 2017, I traveled to Minnesota for work, LA twice for “fun”, Las Vegas for a not-so-good fun, and Thailand/Myanmar! Also somehow forgot to mention Cincinnati for MidwestUX! And did I forgot to mention Phoenix? In 2016, I traveled to Finland/Sweden for my first big speaking gig, Portland for a “bachelorette” party, road trip to LA for my sister’s wedding, and Minnesota for work. In 2015, I went to Brazil for a conference, multiple work trips, and a midwest trip. In 2014, I went on multiple weekend trips, increased business trips, and found a destination for ice cream and writing. In 2013, I finished off the bulk of the travel for the Ice Cream Travel Guide. In 2012, I started the journey of a life and went to what I thought was unfathomable (in my life) — six domestic destinations and eight international destinations — for professional and personal reasons. In 2011, I went on one international trip, one domestic…and one super local. In 2010, I went on one international trip and multiple domestic trips.

In 2018, I traveled to:

  • Tahoe trip to Squaw Valley. We made it work! And stayed in this “romantic” bed and breakfast. Although technically, it didn’t even come with breakfast.
  • Some ridiculous last minute trip to San Diego for work, which was more of a meet and greet than anything useful. I expensed an expensive dessert meal after the meeting.
  • Big Sur! Which wasn’t really a trip as much as a 3+ hour drive for Writers Camp at Esalen. The roads were repaired! Yes, amazing, but wouldn’t do it again.
  • Twice to Ukiah, one for a writers retreat and another with Chris to the hot springs.
  • Scotts Valley for a “writing retreat”.
  • Then this crazy 10 day trip to Chicago and NYC. Which I have to admit was fun, fancy, and cool. Not only because the weather was acceptable by our standards, but because I didn’t need to do any of the Bell and Whistles. Also I wasn’t overburdened by seeing people as I have in the previous times. (But I was irritated by the overly grammable foods all over the city. We did the best shows. Oh yeah and in Chicago, I spoke at a conference!

Apparently only domestically! Sadness. I never made it to Minsk for work (yay!), but that also meant that I never made it to Budapest or Paris to visit Callie. No film festival. It’s a hope, but not sure if it is something worth a trip.

But this coming year? Well there’s a quick trip to Phoenix to see my sister before she pops a baby. Then I wouldn’t be surprised if there were additional trips that I would make to see the new nephew. If I get into a conference, then I’ll also be in Phoenix too. Then I have booked a trip to Japan in February for the snow festival in Sapporo and of course some time in Tokyo! Also hoping to get into a writing workshop in the east coast, which would mean a trip to New York. Who knows what else may come? Would I be going to Grand Rapids if I get convinced again for MWUX? I am not entirely that interested, but we shall see! See Callie in Paris? Go to Vancouver for eats? Maybe go to Nashville for the conference? Maybe maybe.

2018: Entertainment

I recounted the most impactful entertainment pieces for me in 2014. Then I did it again for 2015, 2016, 2017. Now 2018.

Movies I Saw

  • Blindspotting
  • Sorry to Bother You
  • Crazy Rich Asians
  • Searching
  • Eighth Grade
  • TV Shows I Watched

  • Barry
  • American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace
  • Atlanta
  • Killing Eve
  • The Good Place
  • Books I Read

  • Little Fires Everywhere
  • An Excess Male
  • Playing Big
  • Factfulness
  • Ice Cream Travel Guide (obviously!!!! again!)
  • Ways to Pass the Time

  • Cleaning and reorganizing randomly in the household
  • Always reading news on Twitter, but putting more attention to long form and thoughtful pieces
  • Finding writing workshops or classes to apply
  • Planning foods for an upcoming social event
  • Checking on Chris
  • Technology

  • Bespoke clothing! Or really just anything that I can thinkin of—there appears to be some savvy business out there already
  • Google Drive
  • Google Assistant and Home
  • Pixel
  • …and also I realize that it is Google dominant, more because I am less interested nowadays in exploring new technologies, but grounding myself in real things
  • “You’re spicy!”

    Last year during Thanksgiving, after hearing an uncle’s comment that was clearly a rant against kneeling—”shouldn’t employees be fired if they don’t follow their bosses’ request?”, I was incensed. Before I could start an all-out debate, my mom unknowningly intervened with some obtuse topic. The conversation was forgotten, but I didn’t forget.

    For this year’s Thanksgiving, my aunt sent an email requesting a list of dishes that each family would bring (as it was always potluck style) and a suggestion that we share a 2 minute video of what happened in the last year.

    That was my chance to flex my creative muscle. AND speak to the unspoken topic of last year. People should disobey their employer if it doesn’t fit their moral standards and build up a movement within. Because that’s how society changes.

    With a subtle nod to the recent Nike commercial, I created a 2 minute video of snapshots from Chris’ life and my life in the last few years where we defied expectations and most importantly, spoke up against hate in a way we never had. Beyond the fact that it was particularly self-serving, I wanted to send a message: I disagree with what you’re saying about Kap.

    Then time came to present it as each family cast through the Apple TV. First my uncle and aunt showcased their recent experiences through a photo slideshow—people they met, being grandchildren, and everything else. Then my cousin did a photo slideshow of his kids and wife all against a default Apple music. Then my dad showed photos from his trip to China, highlighting the photos he took of his childhood home and his father’s home. Then I offered to show ours. Sensing the atmosphere in the room and a slight tinge of regret, but an urge to make a stand, I said, “My video is a bit different. So be prepared.”

    In silence, my family watched my video (albeit with one buffering issue). When the last screen fading to a “Just do it”, my mom declared that the theme of videos should be “just do it” without being aware that was Nike’s catchphrase. My cousin declared that I got an A for the effort in the vieo.

    In the moments that followed, I realized that nobody got the reference. I felt disappointed, but almost partially relieved. I wasn’t sure how I would respond to people disagreeing with the sentiment.

    But in the following days, perhaps in an attempt to get approval, I showed it to trusted friends. People who would know the Nike commercial. To my surprise, most people didn’t even know. I showed it at work while I described why I did it. To which end, I received a reply that probably validated everything with a “You’re spicy!”

    So this is what it feels like to have social media affect you

    I don’t remember how I started following her or why I even chose to follow her. Perhaps it was through that facebook group of women writers. Perhaps it was because she popped up as someone to follow in someone that I followed. It’s unknown.

    But I have become more vocal online about my discontent of being a person of color. Which oddly prior to 2016, I never was quite visibly vocal.

    And yet, of course, having ignored much of that myself, I didn’t have a really strong opinion or knowledge.

    And of course, that means that I am quite behind in everyday issues.

    So I may absentmindly respond to posts and replies especially if they’re to mine. And after I wrote a post that was firey in response to the recent news on birthright citizenship, she responded. Then I responded. Then she responded. But before I knew it, it seemed like I was being attacked. I didn’t bother looking back at my replies, because I knew immediately that something was misconstrued. Especially with who I was suddenly to blame for Trump. I representing all of America. But rather than detail out the disagreement, I knew that this was going to turn into a back-and-forth where nothing would be resolved.

    I sent a few private messages and replies in order to get it cleared up.

    But by late evening, it was simply clear that she was going stand her ground and didn’t even bother to respond at my attempts to reconcile.

    And for what?

    It made me wonder if this is what social media has become. The downfall of social media where flame wars start accidentally. Sometimes one-sided. When it doesn’t matter if people are civil any more. With the limited text, with the design intended for quick short conversations, with the limited attention spans, it’s easier to spar than to have a full discourse. It’s easier to jab and attack, then to thoughtfully consider with a full cohesive discussion. It’s easier to say that someone is wrong than to consider fully if someone understands.

    But perhaps that’s what social media is. It’s about getting a quick read on people. It’s about getting a quick connection. and in doing so, we have forgotten our true selves again.

    On the 17 to Cheryl and Elizabeth

    Although I had driven up the 17 on my own several times, this time—perhaps because I had to do it for four days roundtrip—was so knuckle-baring. There was the one time that I drove down to see the Pixies, but my fellow concertgoer forgot the tickets on the kitchen table in San Francisco. He said that he would drive my car back up, but I insisted on going back (since it was my car and he didn’t really drive). That was at least four trips in my car. Then there were the times that I drove to see a friend at UC Santa Cruz when I was crazy enough to just drive everywhere in the Bay Area to see people and confirm to myself that the friendship was true and real.

    This time though, it was a self-inflicted impulsive move when I discovered that a retreat was happening at 1440 Multivarsity. I had already booked a writing workshop with Cheryl Strayed and other established writers at Esalen. But in the middle of increasing stress at work and a feeling that I was losing touch with my writerly self, I called the phone number frantically in the morning and booked myself a spot.

    I wanted to cancel after I met someone at Esalen who went in 2017, hating the impersonal aspects and the lack of intimacy. “Esalen is better,” she said.

    But it was too late. Losing a deposit just for a free weekend wasn’t enough. So I went, placing my expectations low.

    As I rounded around the corners in Scotts Valley, the campus revealed itself in new modern rustic glory. Women walking along the streets. Nearly all white women as expected (and in the usual disappointing fashion). The conversations began both among the women and in the room. Then the letters to ourselves, our fears, our future selves, redefining our internal DNA. Forgiving those who trespassed against us. Forgiving ourselves. Finding clarity. Establishing realness in all of this.

    But despite all of that and my reluctance to fully be satisfied with the hippie culture of whiteness (yoga, tai chi, qigong without a single Asian instructor present), I still found my clan. This time, I found myself drawn to the fellow Asians. Unintentionally.

    They were all beautiful. They also saw the lack of color among the attendees (but there were even fewer men in general). But maybe it was only me who too aware of my non-whiteness was acutely aware of the rules of things I couldn’t say. But in the midst of the letter writing and sharing of those letters with a “stranger”, I couldn’t stop my thoughts.

    “And when I entered the campus, I felt a blinding whiteness,” I read from my hastily written letter, scrawled in pen in my moleskine journal, formerly given from a venture firm I worked for only 3 weeks and now covered with writerly material. “I thought that it could be different. But then although I chatted freely about the lack of PoC, a white woman asked me about my roots. When I tried to dodge the question, the white woman insisted and so I relented with ‘Hong Kong’. She immediately said that she loved Hong Kong. I said that I don’t know the city and had barely been there. That I was more Asian American. I thought that I could just be American.”

    I could hear the audible draw of the breath from the fellow white woman who had enthusiastically clapped and shouted in glee when Elizabeth walked on stage.

    And with the women who mattered.