I am Asian.

“And it’s because you’re Asian,” someone suggested.

I had just described the taunts, the teasing, the pain of childhood growing up in a predominantly white suburbia. I blinked. “No,” I said. “It’s because I was too different.”

I meant that I was different because who I was. My quiet personality, my way of thinking that didn’t adhere to the norms, my creativity that seemed to be lacking in other kids, my innate lack of coordination.

To this day, I always wondered why I never heard racist comments until I was in my mid-twenties. Was it because I only wanted to hear things that were only about me…and if it’s a group, my brain completely filtered it out? Or was the pain so directly to my internal me that I never thought that it was part of how I looked? Or that really my school was 10% Asian and located so close to San Francisco, diversity was so ingrained in the culture that I never really felt different from other kids except that I was socially awkward and intense? Or even worse, did I participate in the racism against my own heritage? I am not sure.

Now aware of the subtle racism toward Asian Americans, my sensitivity has risen to great heights. I cringe when someone yells “Gangnam Style” to an Asian style. I don’t like the word “chink” or any movement to squint someone’s eyes.

I know that I hate being asked “where are you from”, especially when it’s intention is to figure out what my ethnicity is.

Two years ago, I was going through a period where I wanted to live anywhere but the Bay Area. I went on an international trip bouncing from New York City to Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Germany. But to my surprise, I found that I was lucky in the Bay Area. My identity as an Asian American is not perceived as strange, weird, or odd. Whether it’s due to the fact that I grew up this way…or because I was truly lucky, I felt comfortable in the Bay Area. I came to the conclusion that there are very few places in the world that I would feel ok with who I am…on the outside.

Open Mic

They called my name. Once, twice, thrice. I hesitated, surprised that my name was said outloud in the air.

“Oh that’s me!” I finally said.

Then I walked to the microphone and read. With practiced diligence, I read and looked up. I said the italicized words differently. I said the questions differently. Then I finished.

It was over.

It was my first time at open mic.

Fear and love, fear and love

In the past two years, I learned that there are only two true emotions: fear and love.

Out of fear, comes contempt, hatred, anger. It’s the destructive one (when not appropriately) handled. Yet, it’s okay to be afraid, because that’s how we know not to put our fingers on a burning stove. The pain tells us that something is not right.

Then there’s love. This begets happiness. This so internal. When contentment becomes a feeling of everything. Belonging, peace, and support. People change tremendously when they are met with a smile and appreciation. When I walk along with anger festering in my mind and others only meet me with gratitude and happiness, how can I not say “hello! I am so happy to see you!”

Today while I sat in a cafe across from someone in deep pain, I was at a loss. It wasn’t my game to play, and really all I could offer was, “Try love. I believe that will help you.”

Once, I asked him “Why?”

I always hated how he ran up ahead, leaving me behind as we navigated the broken streets and local faces. But I once asked him, “Why?”

He says, “I am a herald. I am Jack Bauer. I am making sure the streets are safe for you.”

I try to remind myself of that. While I admire the century-old buildings and the fresh produce at nearby stalls, I see a color of blue rush ahead in the crowd in front of me. A boy, one might suspect, always wearing a Nike sports visor, carefully visualizing quick exits and following clear sightlines. He mentally notes the shops that have bags I like, desserts on display, and colorful graffiti. People once called him a “teddy bear” for his enveloping hugs. He returns almost in a jog, quickly stepping around the broken tile.

And quickly, he pulls my hand. He says, “I have something to show you.”

My room’s window

For most of the seven years that I have lived in my apartment, the shades remained closed. Usually it was for the benefit of my favorite guest who hated the blinding sunshine in the morning hitting our heads. Not being a morning person either, I closed the shades.

Recently, in an effort to inspire my writing and spectacular (perhaps true?) advice (sunshine kills bacteria with UV rays), I opened the shades again.

My window faces the inside of the building. I see in front of me, my building’s wall, exhaust pipes from water heaters, ovens, and the washer/dryer combo unit in the garage. To the left, the small window from the bathroom. My window and the bathroom’s window are the only un-modern windows in the entire flat, heavy painted window with glass, uneven paint along the edges. A large metal clasp sits at the top of the bottom panel. It never closes quite completely.

And to the right on the adjacent building, I see a window that I never spotted previously. At night, it lights up. The next building is taller than mine. Three stories perching over the two story building of mine.

The sun blares through my window in the morning blinding my eyes. But now, once I have pushed the sleepy moments from my eyes, the words spill easier and faster from my fingers. How did I never notice that before?

But when someone older asks…

A few months ago, a six year old boy asked me, “Why aren’t you married yet?”

At the time, I thought that it was rather cute. And really how can I blame the little boy for asking such intrusive questions? I knew that the parents didn’t teach the boy well to respect other decisions. I wasn’t bothered by it all. I only struggled with what I should say or not say in front of conservative parents.

But then when a friend asked. A friend who has known me for nearly a decade. A friend who I was rather close with when we first met…but then drifted away in the last several years. A pang of pain hit me. It wasn’t the fact that I wanted marriage badly or that I wanted what my friend had (happily married for several years, a 8 month daughter, a large suburban house, a stable corporate job).

Rather it was the implication that marriage is a status of success and worth.

I have been raised in a society where marriage is the norm. It is what you do. Yet unlike going to elementary school or learning to drive, it’s a sign that one has achieved the life goal. Granted, that’s what religion says. That’s what many baby boomers would say. That’s what ancient societies would say.

Yet what about this modern society where people have progressed way beyond their means. That a partner isn’t essential for survival. Where a partner is simply just a witness to our lives, to prove that our life is worth living? And if we choose to find other substitutes for the same need?

There was a time when I imagined my own wedding. That it would all about me. I would have the flowers, the cake (or ice cream), the music, the fancy food, everything. And yes, I still occasionally dream of it—it’s hard not to think of a party that’s just for you.

Yet, I find “why aren’t you married yet” an obnoxious question. Because beneath it all, it’s asking why aren’t you successful yet? do you even care about having a partner? what is wrong with you? why aren’t you normal? when can we celebrate you?

I don’t know how to answer the question of why aren’t you like the rest of us? Because I am not.

At some level, I realize that these people want me to be happy and for some, they are asking the question out of curiosity, they are asking because they want to know.

I naturally surround myself with like-minded people. Most of my friends are unmarried. Some are coupled. Some are single. But most importantly, we don’t ask about the why. We ask how everyone is. Because we are happy for who they are than what they do.

SF Headlines like the Onion

I came across an episode of This American Life of the “Tough Room” at the Onion. Although old, it reminds me of how much I spend scraping my words nowadays like a recent piece I wrote at Medium.

At Berkeley, I desperately wanted to write at the campus newspaper The Daily Cal and the satirical weekly The Heuristic Squelch

But if I had to make a list of headlines speaking about life in San Francisco, what would they be?

  • Fake cronut tricks local hipsters
  • Karl the fog hurt by the sun
  • Cyclists stop at a red light
  • Mission hipsters tell new hip bakery to open in Oakland
  • Google employees ask for shuttle stops on every city block in San Francisco
  • Frank Chu decides only to appear at protests
  • All stop signs removed by cyclists
  • The fast food movement gains momentum
  • Startup employee lives only on company snacks
  • Golden Gate Bakery accepts orders only in Chinese
  • Homeless man sells a cityshare bike for $100
  • Outside, I heard a loud bang

    I love to play my music loud. At least loud in my room. It’s my nighttime ritual when I am alone in my room. I listen to my current favorite tracks. Currently they are the latest from Naked and Famous and the catchy tune from The Knife.

    As I browsed the web and filled my brain with useless information, I heard a bang. I paused and stepped into my dark hallway. Living on a busy street, I hear this kind of thing all the time. Yet several years ago, I vowed not to have a pedestrian effect. Was that a gunshot? I shuffled to the library room, which overlooks the sidewalk from the second floor. I spotted a man standing in front of my house.

    Of course, I stopped myself as I wondered how I would describe him. I thought…black man as I was standing on my second floor. But then I listened carefully and his accent was Spanish…and a few Spanish words sputtered out. I thought that he was waving a black object. A gun? I then watched him throw it into nowhere and it fell into a clatter. I don’t know what it was. But then I saw him bang his fist on the hood of a car. Boom! I couldn’t tell if there was anybody inside the rusty looking blue car. He was yelling, angry about being inferior, about being pushed around. He had a small glass bottle, which clearly was a sign of his mental state.

    I watched several people walk by, who barely gave him a look.

    Hesitant about what to do next, I asked Chris. I called the non-emergency number to report the guy. I sputtered on how to describe him and especially when asked about the race—my politically correctness overwhelmed me. I said that he was bald, blue paid, jeans, and a black backpack. He wandered away, still yelling.

    Last year, I remember a man wailing in tears, cursing the afternoon sunny sky. Waiting outside a popular deli with my broken shoes, I felt sad for the man. Everyone on the street watched him with wariness, fear, and disgust. As he crossed the street, suddenly he sat down in the lane, blocking traffic. For the next five minutes, I tensed as everyone started taking photos of him and pulled out their phones. Whether to instagram, Facebook, twitter. I imagined the line “this is the Mission!” I don’t mean to sound superior, but I didn’t want to pull out my phone. I suddenly knew that I would too lie down in the middle of the street too when in despair…more in act of attention the-please-pay-attention-to-me. Because I knew that there’s nothing like cars going around you to make you realize that you matter. But I watched the man with my hands to the side and my bag closed. Until suddenly the man decided to leave. Not a single person came to help him.

    I am America’s Cup

    Because Chris was driving, I tapped in the text message for him. I am America’s Cup. Alluding to the crazy expensive carbon fiber boats racing in the San Francisco Bay.

    The immediate response was: Lucky bastard.

    “Whoops, I missed the ‘at’!” I said. “You are America’s Cup!”

    In text messages, in emails, in instant messages, in writing, I naturally miss prepositions and articles. Yet when I speak, these words don’t ever disappear in the ether. It’s as if the intention writing doesn’t translate through my fingers.

    Does my writing voice believe that they are unnecessary and useless? Because for simplicity (despite all my run-on sentences and endless babble), I believe that those words don’t really add much? Especially when I have adjectives and adverbs at hand!

    Some people misspell in their quickly written messages. Some say your when they meant you’re. Others too use you and I incorrectly (note that there’s very little reason for you and I, overcorrection abound!).

    I just drop all my inessential words. Because for this purpose, isn’t it better to declare that one is the expensive regatta?