Just ignorance or racism?

Over the weekend, I worried about recent reports about how customs / immigration at the border to the US would be investigating social media accounts.

“You’ll have to be careful when you come back from Asia,” I said to my sister, warnings for their trip to Thailand, Hong Kong and other Asian countries. “You might want to delete the social media apps from your phone before entering Customs. Then put them back on when you exit the airport.”

“What really?” he said.

“Yes!” Chris added. “There was a report of a JPL employee being held at the border and he was forced to surrender his phone. The phone was JPL property, NASA’s work with confidential information.”

“And! He is a US citizen.” I said.

“Well, I mean, I don’t have a weird name like Ala-bar-kah,” he said. “Nobody will look at my name.”

We paused. “Well, he did have an Indian name,” Chris said.

“You might have to worry about my sister,” I said. “Her last name, after all, isn’t necessarily American. Plus they’re cracking down on the Chinese entering the US.”

This morning, my sister sent me a snapchat story from CNN outlining the facts about mobile device surrender at the border.

Is it pretty straightforward from here?

I am in a bubble of my own making, self-created from my college and postgraduate education. Then of course, living in one of the most expensive cities in the United States, plus my love of not shopping at big box stores (except for Costco) and refusing to watch mainstream TV. I am in my own bubble of liberals freaking out about everything. Because I am one of them too. (You see my calm exterior, but inside I am a big ball of messiness.)

But with all the recent events in the White House and the things overseas, is it possible? Or have we accepted, like my parents have, that there’s nothing we can do? Of course, there’s the phone calls, donations, etc. etc., but are we defeated?

Or with the recent events, is it pretty straightforward from here?

For me, I know this:
1. Massive stuff happens in the White House that I pretend to understand and freak out all about
2. Have another “life” crisis, which on average lasts about 16 months
3. Write and submit another “Modern Love” essay trying to tie the analogy of the American presidential chaos to my life
4. Get rejected and moan (quietly) about it a year
5. Better president in the white house

Do people die from a shower of falling glass?

Nearly an hour had passed, but I was deeply engaged in a conversation with friends about the plights of the world and particularly my strong opinions as we waited in line for a super popular ramen restaurant that had seats for just over 25 people. Who knows what I was being cynical about—whether it was the state of the world (not great) or about whether we should fight back in mugging (consensus: yes, of course while evaluating personal safety, and if the girl with you is deeply appalled, she probably wasn’t the right one anyway). It was chilly so I had the hood of my wool jacket on, hovering near the restaurant windows like a skulking pedestrian. Then we heard the sound of glass shattering. I felt something hit my head—hard, but not that hard because it felt like someone’s hand just smacking my head for attention. But like all my moments of unexpected events, I froze like a deer in headlights.

We looked up to see a shattered window. Being that we were in the tenderloin and in an urban city, the first thing that crossed mind was a fight. A fight that as a voyeur, I wanted to see. But it wasn’t. It was a woman who was trying to open her second-story window of her apartment. It was stuck, so she put some elbow grease and leaned her elbow against the glass. The window frame didn’t budge, but the glass did and it cut her hand.

I felt quite conscious and very alive—although it was later that I fell into an anxiety of whether I could have died as a silly foodie waiting over an hour just to eat ramen customized for San Francisco with kale.

“Everyone okay?” someone said.

I touched my face to make sure that I was okay.

Stunned, we all stepped aside from the glass. Someone pointed to a guy’s face where he was bleeding. “Get some antiseptic!” someone yelled into the crowded restaurant.

A server came outside to sweep the glass. The couple came downstairs to explain the situation. The woman said that they needed to go the hospital. And the guy insisted that if we wanted to sue anyone, we better get the information of his landlord. “I told him for months that our window wouldn’t open,” he said. “It must be the weather that made the glass swell.”

“Your eyelid,” a friend said. “It’s bleeding.”

“Is it?” I said and touched it.

“Go to the bathroom and check,” Chris said.

So I reluctantly dragged myself inside the restaurant. “Sorry,” I said opening the bathroom to find the other bleeding guy staring at the mirror and dabbing his face with a towel. “I am just checking whether I am bleeding.”

I stared at the mirror and just saw a small speck, barely noticeable. Later, after I took a shower, the blood swept away and I couldn’t even find the source of the cut at all.

We carefully brushed the glass shards off ourselves, shaking our jackets and sweatshirts. “Are you okay?” a friend asked again.

The guy told everyone below to move away from the window as he cleaned out all the remaining glass. The woman said, “Wear gloves!”

And we watched as more glass shards fell, crashing onto the pavement below.

I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. Grateful? Numb? Apathetic? Angry? Sad? But surprisingly as we sat down, I was overcome with a feeling of coincidence. I am one of those people who can’t help but click on click-baity headlines. I will read “Ten ways people died from a freak accident including one you never expect”. I have read all of them. The fallen tree during the storm that crushed a woman on a golf course. Then there are the miracles. The time the large screws or metal objects fell from the temporary Bay Bridge, but miraculously didn’t hit any cars. I thought about an irrational fear lately which is being T-boned as a passenger or driver of a car. I echoed all of this suddenly to a friend whose father experienced a debilitating disease and his dog likely diagnosed with brain cancer. “I have been thinking of that too,” he said.

What if a large glass shard had fallen and hit my head with its sharp point? What if? I worried that I could be on tip of losing my mind as I had watched a friend lose his grip on reality after a traumatic bike accident? I didn’t want to be the person who was consumed with anxiety of living a regular life. “That’s dangerous,” that friend said, his voice rising in desperate anxiety.

There are moments that I have felt in the past year where I think that I could stare at home all day. I’ll be fine right here in my bed. I’ll be fine just eating the same thing from my refrigerator. And yet, I would miss the thrill of life right outside. I live in the city not because I am an extroverted person, requiring people all the time. But I deeply enjoy the convenience. The fact that people are outside within reach. I hear the roar of cars whizzing on the street. I hear the click-clakety of heels as people walk down the street. And yes, I still love my bike as I fly down Valencia, weaving, pumping my legs. I love the walk and the discovery of new things.

Earlier that day, a friend and I was feasting on chocolate at a parklet. Somehow instantly, a glass was thrown and shattered. We turned to find the source of the noise. There was the glass, yes. But who threw it? Was it the guy who deliberately dropped it? Or did someone throw it at him? Where did it come from? Nobody was around, but it was all to strange.

This morning, I googled, “Do people die from a shower of falling glass?” hoping that the Internet would answer my question. Instead, I only found stories of people falling to their death out the windows. A lawyer fell to his death as he was showing fellow law students that the glass windows of his high office building was unbreakable. But with his extra run and force, the glass window popped out and he fell to his death. I told myself that I would never be that stupid. But then again, it’s all luck isn’t it? To have been standing under the apartment window right at that moment?

I rarely win anything drawn by the lottery. But yesterday, I was in the right place at the right time. Isn’t that the summary of life anyway?

But I sat alone

“What is that?” the boy sneers at the foreign-looking food during lunchtime.

Among American-born children of immigrants, there’s a common story about bringing a non-American lunch to school. The child at first would be proud of the food, but over time, as they realize that other kids, especially the popular ones, don’t approve, they may go home and beg for a replacement. The Lunchables, please! The PB&J sandwiches. Anything except the stinky tofu. Anything except the fish with its eyeballs and scaly skin. Anything but…

Tonight at my regular book club, the conversations had drifted into that territory. The majority of us were American-born children of immigrants. Stories of sneering boys. Stories of how a friend stood up for someone else. Laughter ensued. Despite being the American-born child of my Hong Kong raised parents and bringing regular Chinese food to school, my lips were thin. Yes, I did remember eating fried rice or other strange foods. And yet I hated sandwiches, because they often surfaced memories of gagging on the soggy dough. Instead, as I heard stories of being ostracized for having foreign food, all I felt was this overwhelming feeling of loneliness.

Because I remember sitting alone during lunchtime, because I lacked friends.

Yes, eventually, there were people that I surrounded myself with, but they weren’t friends at all, but rather people that proved that I wasn’t a loner, the outsider, the outcast. They were proof that I fit in, even thought I didn’t really fit in.

And because of that, nobody saw my lunch. Because nobody was there to see. Sometimes I must have just eaten quickly so that nobody would see that I was eating alone. Just enough to satisfy my hunger. Then I would watch all the other kids.

How did they fit in? How did they figure out how to eat lunch? How did they get so popular? How did they make friends?

All of these thoughts, those anxious moments tumbled through my mind as I watched my friends talk about their struggles. During a pause, I blurted, “I ate alone, so nobody ever saw what I ate.”

One person who had just joined the book club turned and said, “Oh I did too. Well I had one friend.”

To which I mumbled as everyone turned back to their laughter, letting the loneliness yank me to a place of sorrow, which sedated me for the rest of the hour, “I didn’t have any.”

Unspoken privilege

During college, a friend observed (quite bluntly), “You have everything. Yet, it’s not enough.”

Beyond the fact that during that period I moped about everything—state of friendships, my natural non-exuberant personality, challenges of my major, etc., I never really quite appreciated the level of privilege I had.

Not only did I end up traditionally straight and cisgender, I grew up in a household with at least one college-educated parent in an upper middle class suburb with high-ranking public schools. I always had a bed and a roof with three meals and quiet environment. My parents had either shifted their work schedules and workload so that there was always a parent around (often to my displeasure as a teenager). Never did I ever had to seek shelter or suffer from hunger or feel unsafe. I had the privilege of declaring hunger strikes. To imagine, to read, and to write. Drugs and alcohol were wholly absent from my childhood. Friendships, despite the few that I had, were relatively of similar type. And in all that, I developed behaviors and motivations for resourcefulness, intellect, and diligence.

What if I had born in a household of divorce and alcoholism? Or learning from the models of laziness and disengagement? What if then? Perhaps I would have turned out the same, better or worse.

How to not be afraid

1. Because you believe that you’re invincible
2. Obviously the belief of #1 is temporal as you realize that your body is susceptible to many things in life—disease, car crashes, bad food, and heartache. Mortality is truly possible as you read about people who can’t reach their doctor because of the immigration ban. You read the likely ways of death and you worry that you’ll slip and fall, because that’s more likely than someone bombing up your building. You worry yourself (metaphorically) to death. But then suddenly one day, you reach for a helping hand and that lifts you up. Believe in community.
3. Protest. Write. Express. Tell your story. Stand up for you believe in. Attend those events and those town halls. Make the phone calls even though you hate talking on the phone. Communicate.
4. Start to find the light in life. Remember what you loved doing. Maybe it was cooking. Exploring the plethora of wines. Maybe it’s traveling to discover new sights. Maybe it’s the thrill of climbing mountains of America.
5. Realize that you love this country. Awhile ago, you had declared to your trusted circle that you were going to move to Canada, New Zealand, Finland. But today, you know that it’s not possible. Not because the logistics and the immigration would be difficult. But rather you don’t want to leave. There’s more to do. And you want to be part of it. And you want to stay here to fight for it. The country gave you opportunities that you can’t get elsewhere and you’re not just going to let it go.