Memory Fails and Successes

What did I do in early October 2013? What was I thinking? Why did I do certain things? What phone did I use? Why didn’t I take any photos? What was I most worried about?

Despite a long history of recording various things online (Foursquare, blog, flickr), in preparation of a potential five-minute storytelling session, I went back to the events of October 2013. Specifically when I was playing Assassins for Come Out and Play. I did win the game later that month, but I couldn’t remember how and who. I remember the hours I spent on 2nd street at the Starbucks watching a building. I remember social engineering my way into a SRO in Union Square and the follow up email that I sent to the game organizer. I also remember how the card slipped out of my pocket while riding and I went back and forth on Valencia to find it, crushed in the pavement 15 minutes later. I searched my email and found some loose artifacts. And even searched my foursquare history. But to no avail.

I needed the artifacts, the actual artifacts of the game. I couldn’t remember who my second kill was. Was it someone who gave up easily? Did I easily get his card? Did he email me? Was I obsessed with who he was?

When I got home, I was obsessed with figuring out the mystery. My room isn’t that big and my possessions are rather organized in certain piles. Formal paperwork. Professional books. Ice cream travel guide artifacts. Paper for shredding. Sentimental papers.

Then I realized how much I loved looking at the artifacts from Assassins. It wasn’t about the fact that they reminded me about the game. But it reminded me about my careful planning, diligence, and…need I say…hunting to win the game. As I went up and down my shelf, I remember how I would stare the cards months later and smile at my glory. Most of my life, all my life, I have rarely won games. I am not physically attuned, so my speed and agility is quite lacking. I would like to think that I am intelligent, but there’s always someone more clever than me. Then the chance games, I never quite feel that I deserve the win because I didn’t quite earn it. So when I gaze on my win for Assassins, I feel pride.

And then like many things that I lose in my room, I suddenly know where to find it and immediately find it. I remember my motivations and goals immediately as I gaze at the photos. I remember standing in the lobby of stubhub, watching a man with a beard. And suddenly, that pleasure of pride fills me up again. I really did work for this and I did it.

Trapped Inside Miitomo Forever

Like the Black Mirror episode, I pointed out to Chris (when he returned from a long period of being unreachable by phone; reason: he fell asleep) how I could always talk to his mii on Miitomo. Because that Mii in particular would always be there, would be always be present.

That mii would always be ready to ask me random (innocuous) questions like:

What is your favorite word that begins with “o”?


What did you do last weekend?

But because of their trivial nature, the questions make me feel like I am being heard even if it’s not Chris actually asking the question. Then I would type in the answer and receive validation once Chris as himself actually taps the “heart” button and/or adds a comment.

“I can go to Miitomo to feel like I am being heard,” I said. “He will always listen to me. He will always talk to me. He will always smile at the right time, frown at the right time, and get angry at the right time.”

Yet I thought about that though. Isn’t that just lifting the best parts of the relationship? I love being heard and understood. And by crafting Miitomo to take care of that aspect, it’s missing all the nuance of a relationship—the particular ups and downs. The fact that some people won’t be present every moment. The fact that people won’t naturally ask certain questions and expect certain responses. The fact that our expressions won’t appear consistently—sometimes we’re too distracted by something in our lives, sometimes we can’t relate it to ourselves, sometimes we simply just can’t understand. And that is part of the human experience. Because I wonder if being heard 100% with the mii version on miitomo would be fulfilling for the rest of my life.

This is the dry cough

I wake up, and it feels like a productive cough. I am pleased as thick phlegm comes up.

But then hours later, it is dry again. The itch in my throat refuses to back down. I coax it with hot tea, lemon, and honey. It comes back. Maybe I don’t notice it at first. It’s a small reaction. A clearing of the throat. The stillness of the moment. But then I began hacking. The itch takes over everything. Then I attempt to douse it with medications. But then it comes back at full force, angry. Cough drop. Water. Hot tea. Please, I think, memories of poor timing of the cough attacks come rushing back in the student library right before finals, right in the middle of an argument (where I was right, of course), and during an important presentation. I tell it, Please recover soon. Please return to where you once were. Just don’t do it during the important conversation. The itch recedes. The air echoes down my throat into my lungs. And the fear recedes. For now.

Being Asian American

Even Steven (despite being born in Korea) doesn’t know everything about living in Korea.

During lunch yesterday, I asked my mom point blank what she thought about the Mission Local profile on me. I had emailed the article earlier to my parents, and my mom responded back, “I never knew that about you. I learned something new.”

“What do you mean?” I asked during lunch.

“That you have confusion,” she said across the round table.

“What kind of confusion?” I said, trying to see if she understood the intent.

“Yes, confusion.”

I falter and give an hint, “Identity?”

“Yes,” she said. “It seems that you’re confused about being Asian and American.”

“No!” I said. “Not about being Asian American. I am satisfied with that. It’s the confusion or really the conflict being an artist and working in tech.”

And that part is true. I am conflicted with the identity of being an artist—the feeling that I should be starving and struggling…that I should have gotten a MFA. That I should be deeply immersed with artist circles. Yet, when I am with them, I don’t feel at ease. When I am surrounded by tech, I feel like myself. But at the same time, it’s likely from familiarity. My body reacts to unfamiliarity and discomfort. So I rest in that middle ground.

But doesn’t that somewhat translate to being Asian American? What I do know is this: I feel even out of my element in Asia, especially in areas where they speak Cantonese. I feel that I should know how to speak the native tongue, but instead awkward words come out and I quickly resort to English. In parts of America, there are times where I feel uncomfortable because there’s this unsaid judgement that I am simply not white. But for most of my life, my obliviousness serves me well in not noticing that.

Several weeks ago, a friend and I ate at the bar of a fancy restaurant. I was quite pleased that we found seats without a reservation. She’s a bit quiet and with her accent, I know that she isn’t born in the states. But a white middle-aged man sat next to us. Without any prompt, he provoked my curiosity as he recommended dishes and drinks. I listened and perhaps enabled him a little too much. At some point, he turned and said, “Where are you from? China? Vietnam?”

I felt my fists clench and spat, “America. I am American”

He paused, his mouth open.

Noticing his surprise, I felt guilty. In the past, I have pressed my whole Americanness onto unsuspecting, naive strangers. It only serves to their confusion as it’s clear that they’re trying to figure out why I am not white. Much like how I am surprised sometimes when a Frenchman is Asian. I admitted, “I was born here in the Bay Area. My parents are from Hong Kong.”

“Oh!” he said, finding his in and I feel a horrible feeling sink inside me. “I love the dumplings and all the food.”

“Uh huh,” I said, realizing that he was trying to find a common subject. I want to say that I don’t like Chinese food, but at that moment, the guilt overcomes everything.

He drones on and at some point as my friend and I are enjoying the second dish, he said, “I am going to say something complimentary.”

“Um, ok.”

“Your hair, what do you use? How do you have so much?”

“Absolutely nothing,” I respond. “And you don’t realize how difficult it is. it means that hair goes everywhere. Everywhere.”

And at some point, it’s a losing battle. So I file this moment under the very few times that I have experienced microaggressions.

I am in a bubble of jennism

It was probably in my twenties when I first heard the word “chink”. What does that mean? I might have thought. Does it mean something about the pottery that I chipped?

But most likely, I probably heard it described as a racial epithet, something that shouldn’t be said. And even to this day, I have never heard it used in a derogatory term toward me. Perhaps it’s because I live in the Bay Area. And even in the short 2 years that I was in graduate school in Pittsburgh, I was still in a bubble there, surrounded by students from all over the world. But how did I never experience it when I grew up in a city where only 10% of the high school student body at the time were Asian?

And even too, whether I was oblivious or not, I never quite experienced overt sexism.

If it was the case, I always thought it was me. That it was because of my social anxiety, developed from years of trying to fit in. I don’t mean around boys—I often was simply invisible. But around girls. The curly-haired ones that pointed out differences in 6th grade. As they flounced around the playground in American brand clothing, I wore clothing that my mom picked up in Hong Kong.

It couldn’t have been race or gender, because even the Asian girls too were distant.

So I wonder now living in a world that proclaims microaggressions and demands sensitivity—do I understand at all? do I get it? Especially when I don’t worry about walking alone late at night. Especially when I am unable to even sense a flirtatious move? Especially when I have no problem being in a room full of the male gender?

Playing Miitomo

In my "home" thinking of my friend, Sasi

In my “home” thinking of my friend, Sasi

I am pretty sure a few years from now, I’ll look back and think: that game was ahead of its time.

That is, that first mobile game from Nintendo called Miitomo.

Unlike other people, I am just on the tip of getting bored of the game.

Rubbing my ego aside (who loves answering inane questions about themselves? I do!!!!), I wonder why I suddenly was obsessed with dressing the mii with various outfits. At first, I thought: I must dress like the way I want to be dressed. Meaning the way that I would dress every day IRL. Meaning that I want to basically blend into the wall. But my desire to be different broke though and I wanted to dress WHIMSICAL. You see, in the land of Miitomo, you can dress whimsical everyday. Your expression can be permanently a cat or dog. You can wear the Mario outfit of suspenders and oversized hat. You can wear a flower of your head, so that your body is like soil. Or you can wear spacesuit (or even just the big bulb on your head). And! You can personalize your mii. Make your voice super high and squeaky. Or low and annoying.

Did I say annoying?

The hardest part of miitomo so far is the friends part. My non-tech-savvy friends (or really the friends who have better things to do) aren’t on the network at all. And so what’s left is the super savvy, experimental type friends. Some I know well, some I don’t. So while I am answering questions about my birthday, the favorite things that I love to eat, what I am doing today…I am wondering if they even care. And whether I can even answer questions about what celebrity they remind me of, what their favorite food is, what I like about them… Especially with distant Facebook friends that i have not interacted with for more than 7 years. Awkward.

But each morning, I lie in my bed and start up miitomo, letting the tinkling music fill my room (pretty sure it is hyper music because I set my mii personality to be outgoing) and I read all the questions and answers. I try to add witty comments. But occasionally, my ideas betray me.

And once again. I return to my phone’s home screen. Tap on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to fill the void.


“Don’t,” the man said to the little boy, no more than 4 years old. “It’s dirty.”

The little boy continued looking at the concrete frame of the window, running his fingers on the outside sill. “Ants!” he said. “Papa, there are ants. Hello ants. You live here.”

The little boy crouched down and started touching the sill.

“What did I say?” the man said. “Timeout, Adam.”

Instantly, the little boy became stiff and turned his face into the wall, his eyes facing darkness. The man continued fiddling with his phone until a woman and another man came out. They poked their black large straws into the drink, piercing the plastic covering and sucking the liquid surrounding round balls of honey. Minutes passed and the little boy was still stiff, looking into the wall. Silent as if he was a ghost that had been there all that time.

Screen Distraction

This is how I would describe the old days:

Back when I was growing up, people actually had to call each other. I hated it, of course, as the next person, but we had to use our words. Our real fighting words and use all the strength that we had to articulate what we wanted or not want. We had nothing with bright screens in our pockets, no mini computers that we could tuck into our bags. We had to use our minds and our faces to communicate. When we are the movies, it was often blissfully silent, minus the crying baby and talking people.

And then things changed. It started first with flip phones—people forgot to turn them off. Then it was the smart phone. It wasn’t the text messages or the phone calls that became disruptive, but rather the addiction to the apps on these phones. The message, the email, the snap…that had to be read. We had to know what was going on. Because our fear then was the fear of missing out.

That’s how it is now.

Case 1: Yesterday, at a show, I suddenly couldn’t help myself but look at a nearby neighbor’s phone screen. It wasn’t a text message, but her browsing Linkedin. Then it was looking at long email. Then it was looking at a website. Then it was her fidgeting with the phone. Turning it on and off. What was she looking at, I had wondered, that was so much more engaging than what was on stage? What was that interesting? So I peered over. So I followed her eye movements with her phone. Minutes passed as she went from app to app until she noticed that I was watching. Then she put it back into her clutch out of my sight. But she couldn’t help pulling it out 30 seconds later and I whipped my head again toward her direction, the bright light distracting me again. It must be important. So I must know.

Case 2: The show was ending, and the performances were becoming lackluster, whether due to the performers indulging in too much alcohol and weed. I couldn’t tell, but they weren’t on top of their game. But then I heard chatter. “Oh my god,” one girl said. I whipped my head around to hear what they were saying. “sssshh,” someone said. The two girls were laughing and looking at their phone, their voices carrying over the audience and hopefully not into the performers ear. Their conversations must be important, I thought, so after several minutes, I got up and marched over to them, standing right in their space. “So I came over here, because I wanted to know what was so interesting about your conversation.” I said. “Because I can hear you about 25 feet away.” One girl walked away immediately and the other continued talking loudly, her voice now clearly slurring. “You know, I am with my best friends and they really want me to be here. I don’t know, I don’t really want to be here. But I am, so you know. Like are you even understanding? Do you know what I am? I am obnoxious, I know….” I didn’t understand her words and said something to the effect, “Did you know that everyone can hear you? Your volume is so loud that it’s rude to the people on stage. I care about the people on the stage and want to be respectful. Do you want to be respectful?”