Asian Girl Problem #139: No Straight Arrows

The best fuel for a big ego: having someone you appreciate give compliment you, unexpectedly, on a personal virtue you’ve worked hard to achieve, and know to be true.

Imperfect example: One of my best friends told me she admires how I easily make up my own mind and go forth without asking for others to chime in their opinions. Imperfect, because this isn’t something I’ve worked at so much as a personality trait that comes with having hands-off parents and a strong gut reaction to all of life’s stimuli. Also, it can rear its head as a negative trait, as I expect the same self-sufficiency in others and can overlook useful life advice when it comes my way.

But at the time she told me, my ego was happy. I hoped she spoke some truth that would inspire me to be the person she saw. Since that day last week, I keep thinking of instances where I’ve been the complete opposite—weak and shallow and unsure of my next step. I’m in a confessional mood today.

  • I thought about this post on my morning run, when I do a lot of thinking. I’m embarrassed to admit that I chose the neighborhood I live in for its easy access a great running route. Endorphins are fine, but the main reason I run is to avoid gaining weight and the awful body image that brings up for me.
  • I’ve convinced myself that I’ve become a hot mess since China. Some days, I feel myself becoming my mother, who is the most shallow and vain person in my life. I still love her, which is why this is such a complicated issue for me. When I hear myself sounding like her, I check out lots of books at the library to remind myself I’m not just a shell.
  • I signed up for creative writing in college to impress a guy with whom I went on one date. I’m not sure I’d be in the same career if that hadn’t happened.
  • The only way I successfully quit biting my nails was to get a boyfriend and start taking better care of them.
  • I’m compelled to smile and nod at every black male that I pass on the sidewalk, because a guy once told me that he felt people avoided him and he felt invisible in a way he never did in other cities. My white guilt is real.

Asian Girl Problem #138: Never Been A ScarJo Fan

A lot is going on in the world. Prince died and everyone wants to tell their personal story of how the legend influenced their lives. As usual, I’m silent on social media (mostly because I’m over most platforms) and have no childhood memory of the musician. My parents played communist music from a cassette until I was old enough to commandeer the radio, and I stumbled across pop culture making arbitrary connections with whatever resonated.

As with Bowie, Prince appeared on my radar well into my 20s, through a combination of oldies radio, karaoke and movie soundtracks. Both seemed like artists in the purest definition—visionaries who made their fresh perspectives accessible to the masses through constant output of impeccably-honed skills and substance. It’s nice to see people sharing and reminiscing, even though I’m yet again a bystander. But honestly it’d be cool if no more famous people died for a while—it’s making me realize that 30 is just around the corner.

28 is supposed to be a big year of change for me. Yep, I decided that when I was 21 and in graduate school, because 28 was the average age of my classmates, and they were miles ahead of me in terms of accomplishments and maturity. The guy I had a crush on was also 28, and he would assure me that my anxieties would chill the fuck out once I got to my late 20s. So I’ve essentially been seeing the past several years as the last gasp of my youth and forgiving myself for all blunders and neuroses because there would be an end date to it all.

This sounds like the part where I debunk this whole philosophy and realize no one ever grows up and it’s ~just a number~ but actually, I do feel more mellow. I do have simpler pleasures, and I do have a stronger self-identity and values less prone to compromise. So yay for that. I’m starting a new job soon, which has been a priority since I got back from China. I hope to see the effects of this inner calm on a professional level.

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Now that it took me four paragraphs to clear my throat, I wanted to mention something in the media that I do feel compelled to sound off on, which is Scarlett Johansson’s leading role in a movie based on a Japanese manga. This happened a week ago, hence already a passé topic, but the fact that the story’s publishers recently strongly defended the casting decision and was proud to get the “chance for a Japanese property (the manga story—not ScarJo) to be seen around the world” makes me feel even more hopeless for cultures to represent themselves in mainstream media.

Essentially, his comment shows that a decision-maker is choosing Caucasians instead of reps from his own race under the assumption that a story resonates more when presented through someone who is more approachable, profitable, relatable, whatever to the people who matter in media. Way to keep the system chugging. If he doesn’t even have the faith to give badass Japanese roles to Japanese characters, how does that bode for all the “little people” who fight every day to get a modicum of realistic representation on the screen?

Up until I was 12, all I saw around me were white (and a few black) people. I wish I could say that race wasn’t a factor and I was colorblind, like we were taught to be (which was problematic but the best people could do at the time). But worse than that, I thought of myself as white, because that’s what I spent 95% of my day seeing. The other 5% was reserved for my two parents, and my own reflection, which I avoided because it jarred me out of the comfort of my white mindset.

Twenty years ago, and that message seems to be going strong—someone who looks white is going to elicit a deeper response than someone who looks like an other. Everyone else should get used to remarkable, laudable stories being told from a white mouthpiece because even a great story runs the risk of being looked over if told by a fresh (different) face. Keep the Asian actors for the uber-Asian stories and indie movies that only draw an Asian crowd, anyway.* Forget authenticity for a big budget films, even when an Asian actor just makes fucking sense. Instead, choose an actor who literally plays the same character in every movie.

*While I enjoyed all the movies I saw at CAAMfest, I walked away wishing there were more stories that didn’t solely focus on ~being Asian~ but rather on great characters and plots that could transcend culture. The kind of movies usually only reserved for white actors.

Asian Girl Problem #137: A Bit & A Bite of China

Did anyone expect the 10-day trip I was taking in China shortly after my last post to turn into a month-long immigration nightmare, and then a radically sweet vacation? Talk about an Asian Girl Problem.

Over the course of February, I spent quiet days in the hospital with my grandma, slept through most of Chinese New Year due to jetlag, and felt isolated and uncomfortable. However, once I found out I’d be staying for another two weeks, my itinerary changed and I explored fabulous cities I’ve never been to before, found common ground with new friends, and grew closer than ever with my parents (my dad was with me most of the time, and my mom showed her love from afar.)

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Jet-lagged, but stoked to be trawling the malls with family. PSA: Asian Uniqlos continue to offer a great pants selection for a shawty.

My perspective on my culture and family have continued to change, inevitably also affecting my views toward work and life goals. Per the new year’s resolutions, I’d been consciously working on changes, but at the same time, I was very depressed and unmotivated all through January. It was only during the tail-end of my trip in China that I could feel my new intentions pick up steam. There was a distinctive “click” amidst the long, dreary grind of progress.

For example, I feel a newfound adoration for my family and Chinese culture, particularly traditional values, which is definitely going to affect my dating approach. But micro-changes, like my lack of interest in sugar after eating only Chinese food for a month, and improved ability to speak and read Chinese, are also good habits I plan to keep up. Fodder for many more AGP posts.

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Friends have noticed my changed attitude since I’ve been back, but motivation is a limited resource, so I’m not wasting any time getting back into a healthy routine and finding a new job.

Before I peace out, I gotta share that CAAMfest is happening around the Bay this week! I’m seeing at least a few films this year, one including a favorite blogger and actress. And also, I got hooked on this gorgeous food show in China. It’s on Youtube, in both English and original versions if you’re so inclined.

 

Asian Girl Problem #136: Fancy Feast

Today I’m fighting a cold and need some lighthearted reading and writing in my life. So I present to you this list of Chinese delicacies and their many applications, inspired by my friend who was thoroughly disgusted at my eating some mochi from a Korean store on our visit to NYC last year. (She’s the least adventurous eater I know.) She ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I enjoy all of these foods in the right context…which is generally once a decade.

When a food both looks a macabre and has a challenging texture, it’s never going to win a popularity award in America. But in Asia most of these are revered for their taste and nutrition while signifying wealth.

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First up is chicken feet. Battered and fried or made in a soup, these are terrifying in a fabulous way, especially the ones made from black chicken. One of my life goals is to throw a goth Thanksgiving, where I serve only black food, which is almost too easy to find in Chinese cooking.

Also topping the list of black, gelatinous and sinister-looking foods is century egg. I think I came around to this when I was 15 at my grandparents’ house, where it was diced and thrown into a rice porridge like this. It smells like sulfur and tastes like it met its maker a very long time ago–a bland jello egg “white” and a pungent yolk that carries an acidity and vague bite not unlike wasabi. Do you like soft cheeses? Then you can’t give me crap about century eggs.

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Seaweed in all its forms are glorious. Thick and meaty, thin like pasta, or crunchy curly like kale. When our planet reaches critical mass and have to resort to eating sea vegetables and bugs for survival, I’ll be first in line.

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Sea cucumber is a gelatinous blog that absorbs any flavor you put on it. It’s one of the highest protein, lowest fat foods around. At this point Asians have eaten so many that they’re going extinct. Way to miss the memo, western hemisphere.

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Moving away from black foods, we have pork (and other meat) floss. I mean, this is truly an engineering marvel. It smells like pork, feels like fur, and tastes like salty shredded hemp, but of the most addictive sort. It’s like jerky with a fun texture–do not be scared.

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Pig ear in spicy chili oil. Imagine a porky and delicious rubber band. This is way better than that. One of dozens of Awkward Pig Part + Spicy Chili Oil cold appetizers you can find in any Szechuan restaurant, and they’re all great.

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To round out the list is the only food I still have trouble with, bitter melon. I probably just need to try it prepared the right way, which is stir-fried with egg and a lot of seasonings. When it’s simply boiled and salted by my mom, this physically beautiful vegetable is vile. If this makes it to goth Thanksgiving, it will be for symbolic reasons.

Well, I feel a little nauseous right now. That’s all for today!

Asian Girl Problem #135: Boys & Dads

This one goes out to M, whom some would call my “ex boyfriend” but always and forever a friend–a label that transcends time and change. And I know he be lurkin’ my blog.

I think one of the reasons two people like ourselves who are quite awful at traditional dating made it work is because we respected our friendship. Even when we were knee-deep in crap and crying to Alanis Morissette, we always knew our compatibility and love for each other as an individuals would be there, preserved, when we were ready.

Some people tell me it’s not common to be able to talk about new loves, sex, and the past with an ex without the slightest emotional baggage. Totally true, which is why I don’t often meet people I want to date. I don’t feel any pressure or self-righteousness in staying friends, but it’s just easy. Which I suppose is the case for every good relationship.

Anyways, this isn’t called Asian Girl Cupcaking. Today I remembered this time when we were dating when I had a really disappointed face on and M good-naturedly said he could imagine exactly what my dad looked like when I came home from school as a kid with an A-. And that that would also be the same face my dad would have if and when they DID meet (spoiler: they didn’t) and he discovered I was not dating a Chinese medical professional.

 

My dad dated one person in his life, ever. Doing more would’ve gotten in the way of his focus on his PhD so yeah he’s a real romantic. Never having introduced him to a boy, I don’t know how he would’ve acted if he met M–white, bearded, towering 10 inches above him. Would he crack the dad jokes I could barely understand under his thick accent, as he did with my girl friends, or would he have become a dad I’ve never seen, the dad of TV shows, who sits at the head of the table and grills the guy about his future goals and family history?

I hope I find out one day. I hope I get to introduce my parents to at least one Asian guy and one non-Asian guy at some point, just so I can compare their behaviors in a future post. Also for a future post: I’ve never seen him kiss my mom on the mouth, not even a peck, which I hear from friends is typical in Chinese families. Confucian propriety? Loveless marriage? Extreme hygiene?

 

Asian Girl Problem #134: Climbing The Creative Ladder

A few years ago I gathered some of my Asian beezies to go to an all-female Asian-American (both loosely defined) comedy showcase called Disoriented. It was everything I’d hoped for: incredibly positive vibes, and a mind-blowing range of humor. These weren’t the personas and jokes I’ve seen in the media–even in “fresh” shows like Master of None (though there’s nothing wrong with it).

Lately, in my efforts to get myself to an open mic night as soon as possible, I’ve fallen in love with one of the ladies who started and produce Disoriented, Jenny Yang. Her path to comedy is rad, from growing up a rambunctious child to burning out on her 9-5 job to taking comedy classes and ultimately producing her own show. Maybe when you grow up seeing “your people” always succeeding in a certain field, the magic is dampened. But until the market is saturated with Margaret Cho’s, imma be worshipping the few, the proud, the Asians.

In one great podcast episode, Jenny mentions how it took a leap into the unknown to quit her job and get into comedy–because that never seemed like a realistic option for Asian girls, and I can strongly relate. I had so many talented Asian friends who are now teachers, business people, or medical workers, despite winning accolades for art, music and writing throughout our childhood. Consider this: every Asian parent I know wanted their child to be a virtuoso at painting, chess, piano, what have you, but not a single one wanted their child to pursue it THAT hard, love it THAT much. Those hobbies should keep children out of drugs and sex, but once college admissions rolled around, all focus switched to earning those white collar degrees.

I don’t blame the parents. What our families lacked in creative gumption, they made up for in financial security, job stability, and sacrifice. Instead of “pursuing his passions” my dad made sure I would never have to worry about money in my life. Instead of moving us around the country or chasing his thrills, he came home at the same time every night to listen to my day, play cards, and teach me everything he knew. My mom…well, she was kind of absent, but also did her best to prioritize the family unit. It’s easy to think about our parents as yes-men who cling to the corporate ladder, and stodgy weaklings who have to eat out of the hands of their bosses while their white peers always get the promotions, but it was all for us.

And now I have the remarkable privilege of choosing whatever I want to do thanks to their persistence. I get to think about me me me all day, whereas every generation before me thought of “they” or the collective “us.” And I want to both be happy and make them proud–but it’s obvious that I can’t use their lives as a blueprint. They made all this possible, but I will not be finding role models of the creative hustle or self-employed writer in them.

What I can glean from them is their pioneering spirit, fearless resilience, and work ethic. Although the creative lifestyle might not have been nourished in us at a young age, we Asian-Americans do have badass parents who forged independent lives in a new country, and braved the loneliness, ostracism, and hard work that creative people similarly endure in their artistic struggle.

Practical or creative. Stable or wild. Is it possible to have both? I’m stuck in between values–but hey this is where I get to write from.

Reflections & Resolutions

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As I’ve probably mentioned before, my approach to resolutions is to make and forget them, at least consciously. The time apart makes for a nice surprise when I look back a year later and see how my goals have changed–which is essentially, how I myself have changed.

On the surface, 2015 was not an eventful year. My relationship ended and I took a while to bounce back (and forth between the dudes and duds who followed) before I felt back in my element. It’s funny that what took eight months to come to a peaceful close can now be wrapped up into a tidy sentence.

And it’s been peaceful in every sense–all those adults who used to tell me I’d mellow out in my late twenties were right. This year I learned about saturn return and took comfort in uncertainty. I decided that I’d rather not know what’s going to happen in my career than know exactly which awful desk and task my ass will be working on until retirement. There will be other desk jobs in the future–that’s for sure–but taking a break reinvigorated and set my priorities straight.

Without a 9-5, I resolved to use the time to tackle some of my health concerns–I got a handle on my sugar/coffee/soda consumption and my food anxieties. It’s a work in progress but with the first couple months over, new habits have taken root. This year I don’t have any of the typical resolutions in regards to diet, exercise or dating. I have a pretty good handle on these, which frees up more focus and energy to:

1. Be a good daughter. A switch literally flipped last month where I realized that I’m over being bratty and surly to my parents. I’m improving my attitude, keeping less secrets, and making an effort at quality time/conversations. It probably had to do with my mom seeing one of my tattoos and hey, she’s still alive.

2. Be a good friend. I’m good at putting friends first, and thus reap the benefits of having super inspirational, rollicking, and rock solid friendships. I want to keep this up and do more–champion my friends’ personal goals and start projects together so we can create something together.

3. Find a good company fit. Maybe it’s having more experience this time around, but I’m not anxious about finding a stable job. There’s one in particular that I hope works out in January.

4. Visit my family in China, and at least one other new place. I hate being a tourist, but it’s high time I left the glorious bubble that is Oakland.

5. Perform 5 minutes of standup comedy. It’s happening in 2016.

Maybe being in such a state of calm isn’t conducive to making resolutions, but I’m still excited. 2016 and my 28th birthday both around the corner!