Dress up

I’ve never really been that excited about Halloween. I still remember the days when we were expected to dress up for the Halloween parade at school, and how much I never enjoyed it. I always felt like the poorest kid, even though I obviously wasn’t (at least, now I know this). I still remember in first grade, my mom took me shopping at a Halloween store, and she said to me, “Okay, you can pick one costume, any costume. But just remember that you have to wear it every year until the end of elementary school.” She explained that she and my dad couldn’t afford a new costume for me every year (Ed wore the same Garfield mask trick-or-treating until high school. I had no idea how he felt about that because I never asked). I was only six at the time, but somehow, I was still rational even then. So I responded, “But I’ll be bigger then.” My mom nodded. “You will be, so that’s why we’ll have to buy an extra LARGE costume!”

So, I looked through all the costumes. I really wanted to be a fairy or a princess. But I wasn’t sure I’d want to be that five years in a row. So I settled on what seemed “neutral” at the time – a pumpkin/jack-o-lantern outfit. And that’s when I decided I would probably never like Halloween as a dress-up event for myself.

Today, I still don’t get excited about dressing up (and I haven’t dressed up since 2012), but I do admire the care that other people take in doing very elaborate makeup (my favorite I saw on Instagram was a dying woman who painted her neck so that it looked like her throat was split completely open), and I love seeing little babies dressed up in the most ridiculous outfits (this year’s favorite for me was a 2-month old baby in an ostentatious peacock outfit that was three times her size). Maybe I will get excited about it one day when I have a child to dress up, but for now, it’s not really for me.

Hanging out in the South

Last night, Chris and I had dinner, broke through an Escape Room, and had drinks with my friend and her friends in Little Rock. For the first time probably since college, I was surrounded by people who were not from one coast or the the other and who were all in the sciences. Her friends are all specializing in different areas in the same medical residency program, and one of the friend’s boyfriends is a microbiologist working for the FDA. Their places of origin included Kuwait/Baton Rouge, San Antonio, Orlando, and Austin.

We were sitting at a table over drinks until past midnight, talking about everything from what truly defines Tex-Mex cuisine (the guys from San Antonio claim that Austin “Tex-Mex” is “whitified” and not real, and that San Antonio is the only city in the entire South where you can get “real” Tex-Mex) to immigrating to the U.S. as a brown Bangladeshi person from Kuwait, to what “diversity” means in different environments. One conversation I had that surprised me was that one of the women said to me that she found Little Rock far more diverse than Baton Rouge, where her family currently lives and where she did her undergrad and medical school studies. “In Baton Rouge, all I was meeting were people who either didn’t want to do anything meaningful with their lives and stay in their home town forever, or people who were obsessed with work, superficial, and frankly very uninteresting as people,” she said. She expressed annoyances that it was hard to meet someone who was a working professional, dedicated and passionate about what they were doing, who is also interesting and good to have conversation with. “It’s been easier for me to find that here in this residency program,” she said. “People are actually interesting, they’re from everywhere, and it feels diverse!”

We all live in our bubbles. I spend time mostly with people in tech, consulting, and the agency world. They are surrounded by doctors and biologists and others in the medical and science professions every day. I thought to myself that night that it would be great if we could meet people not just from different racial and geographic backgrounds, but also different professions. Some of the conversations I had that night were some of the most thought-provoking and stimulating I’ve had in a while. It was certainly a pleasant break from what I usually hear at my work.



Today, Mai, Chris, and I visited the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site where one day in September 1957, the “Little Rock Nine,” who were 9 black students, tried to attend what was an all-white school in an attempt to end racial segregation in schools. They were prevented from entering the school by a mob of hundreds of whites and the Arkansas National Guard ordered by then racist Governor Faubus. The Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling meant nothing to Faubus and the majority of white people of Little Rock, who insisted integration would ruin their “traditional values” and ways of living. The Little Rock Nine were pushed, screamed at, kicked, hit, and spat on to the point that one of 9 wearing a dress said it was soaked to the point that she had to wring it out when she got home. Almost 60 years after this event occurred, segregation still exists in our neighborhoods and schools, as well as unfair treatment of non-whites in society whether it’s conscious or subconscious. It made me sick to relearn all the things I had learned in history classes growing up — that the police and National Guard did nothing to help these kids simply because of their skin color. They just stood by and watched; in other cases, as with the Bloody Sunday in Selma, they actually beat them, tear-gassed them, and clubbed them. 

The world has changed a lot since the Civil Rights Movement, but I will never say that we’re color blind, that race doesn’t matter, or that blacks and browns and Asians and whites all have the same rights and opportunities because that is just not the case for anyone who has any perspective or keeps up with the news or spends time with anyone who is not the same color as they are. Some people, in their deluded, ignorant thinking, say that race doesn’t matter anymore simply because we’ve had our first black president. Barack Obama is the exception; we all know he’s not the norm of what we stereotypically think of in the black community. Yet, I will also not be the person who is so extreme as to say that nothing has changed since the 60s. Police brutality still exists, but not to the degree that the Freedom Riders experienced. It’s not normal to be black and get spat at and called the “N” word regularly on the streets or in school and have law enforcement or teachers not do anything about it. We also don’t have separate “whites” and “colored” water fountains, bathrooms, or bus sections. I can’t even fathom how bad it truly was 60 to 70 years ago.

I’m still waiting for the day when we can stop discriminating based on the color of our skin or hair and judge people solely based on their actual character. As congressman John Lewis said at the Salesforce Connections conference, we just need to love and support each other. It seems corny, cheesy, and/or trite out of context, but it makes sense. If we cared about each other more, maybe the Little Rock Nine wouldn’t have been so intense. If more black people had supported the Nine, it could have been a bigger success, and the black students trying to integrate could have actually gotten into the school that day and gone to class. If more white people stood up for the students in those mobs and in the classroom, they could have set a better example for their white friends and families. The power in numbers cannot be underestimated. 

Clinton Presidential Library visit

This weekend, Chris and I are in Arkansas, where we will be visiting historical sites, eating what will likely be a lot of fried food, and visiting my good friend from college who lives down here and is doing her medical residency. This will be my second time in Arkansas, as well as my second time visiting the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. After having visited so many presidential libraries in the last four years, it was interesting for me to revisit the Clinton Library with a new perspective. It’s actually an even more interesting time to be visiting the Clinton Library given that Hillary Clinton may soon become the next president of the United States in less than two weeks. It made me look at the First Lady exhibit much more differently and the impact she had during her husband’s administration. At the time, she was the very first First Lady of the U.S. to have had a professional career, a degree higher than a B.A., and a very active role in her husband’s administration. She then became the first and only First Lady to run for office and then become a senator. Times have really changed since the 90s. The world really is moving forward, even if it does feel very slow right now.

Glass Castle

On my birthday ten years ago, a little memoir called The Glass Castle was published and became a national bestseller, which was then translated into over 20 languages. I remember at the time I was intrigued by the book and put it on my mental to-read list, primarily because it dealt with real life family dysfunction and how the author got through it. I thought at the time that maybe something about this book could resonate with me. And this week, I started reading it, and it’s been hard to stop because of how honest Jeannette Walls’s voice is and how much I can actually relate to her sentiments around both her parents and her siblings.

The dysfunction I grew up with isn’t “dysfunctional” from a white person/outsider view because I had all the “basics” for survival that parents are supposed to provide their children: a safe home to live in, food on the table, the ability to go to school. These are the things that Walls and her siblings were deprived of; even though they were able to go to school, they never went with a packed lunch and oftentimes went by for days without a single mouthful of food going down their throats. I can’t relate to these predominantly “white” problems that the average poor Asian American family would probably not have. Walls’s family has all the stereotypical poor white dysfunctional problems: a deadbeat dad with a drinking problem who cannot provide for his family, a mom who is unfit to take care of herself, much less her four children, and is resentful of a mother’s responsibilities, the constant running away from debts for everything from rent to electricity bills. The four kids grew up going from town to town barely knowing what it was like to have running water or electricity in their homes, or a refrigerator with even a loaf of bread in it. Oftentimes, their mother would use her last few dollars on chocolate, which she’d eat by herself while hiding under the bed covers. Her children would eventually find out and take the chocolate away, splitting it into equal pieces for everyone in the house to share. The father stole grocery money and disappeared for days, if not weeks, and spent it all on alcohol, cigarettes, and prostitutes. The kids eventually had to fend for themselves, earn their own money, and find ways to get out of the house on their own. And they all did.

Throughout the book, Walls expresses her anger and frustration, but it’s obvious she holds no grudges against either parent. She makes it obvious that no matter what her parents did, no matter how much they neglected her or beat her with a belt, she still loved them and always would. In interviews, she is constantly asked how she was able to forgive her parents for what they did to her. But in mature adult fashion, she responds that it’s not about forgiveness; it’s simply about acceptance. Without the experiences she had, she wouldn’t be who she is today. That’s kind of how I feel about my own life, as I’ve been asking repeatedly by multiple people how I’m still able to visit my parents so regularly, how I was able to publicly speak so highly of them at my wedding events. One friend said, “You were so nice to say all those great things about your parents at the wedding. You really didn’t have to do that.” It’s true. I don’t have to, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that they weren’t all bad, and I have experienced a lot of life’s greatest privileges because of the sacrifices they made for my brother and me. Sadly, Ed isn’t with us anymore, and he was treated drastically different than I was. But to compare to Walls’s experiences, Ed never knew what it was like to not have electricity or running water, nor did he know what it was like to have a literally empty refrigerator. She says that her parents weren’t perfect, as no parent is, but she thinks they did the best they knew how to for her and her three siblings. And as hard as it is for me to acknowledge, even in light of Ed’s suicide, I feel the exact same way about my parents.

What actually does bother me is how a lot of people have received Walls’s memoir. I skimmed a few reviews of the book, and a number of them have accused her of fabricating information and exaggerating how bad her life really was. How much could she really remember from her childhood, from the ages of 3 to 6 to 9? The people who accuse her of this have clearly led lives within a privileged bubble and just have a complete inability to fathom parents who would feed themselves before their children, drunkenness that results in constantly losing jobs and falling deeper into debt, or delusional thinking on the parents’ parts that they’ve “never let you down, have we?” (I can relate to that. My mom insists all the time, even after Ed’s death, that she is the best mother in the world and no one else can compare. She’s not joking. She really means it). The foster care system in this country is huge because of parents who fall into these exact categories, and it’s so disturbing to think that people are not aware of this. I’ve even been asked myself if all the things I’ve shared with friends are “really true;” in the same way I’m sure Walls responds, why would I ever lie about experiences with my own family — what do I have to gain from this? Neither Walls nor I would share information simply to garner another person’s temporary sympathy; the reason we share stories is so that hopefully, other people can increase their levels of empathy and ultimately understand us and how we think better, as well as people who have had similar experiences. Because isn’t that what all human beings desire — to be truly understood?

Stir-fry analogy

I’m just finishing up The Fortune Cookie Chronicles book by Jennifer 8. Lee and enjoying pretty much every minute of it. This will probably go down as one of my favorite nonfiction books not just because of how well researched, thorough, and informative it is in correcting a lot of falsehoods about Chinese cuisine and culture, but also because it touches upon two of my greatest loves: food and culture.

One of my favorite chapters of this book is most definitely the “American Stir-fry” chapter. In it, Lee discusses how food is the easiest way that we can learn about other cultures. Chances are that three generations down the line after immigrating to the U.S., you may not be able to speak your mother/father tongue, but chances are high that you will still have your beloved grandmother’s or mom’s recipe for your favorite dumplings or soup, or in the very least, a deep and instilled appreciation for it. It also highlights what I’ve already believed for a long time: in general, if you are receptive to trying new foods of different cultures, you are also probably more curious and accepting about others’ cultures and people. “If you can eat the food of a country, it seems less foreign.” This has to be why I can’t stand meeting and spending time with picky eaters. 🙂

It ends by discussing the American “melting pot” analogy. I’ve never liked this analogy very much. My main qualm about it is that in a “melting pot,” what makes each ingredient unique melds together with the rest of the items that get dumped in the pot, and thus what makes each ingredient special is lost. Melding, blending, whatever you want to call it is great — but I don’t want to lose what makes each culture or nationality unique or interesting. Lee then proposes another analogy to replace this: why not a stir-fry? In a stir-fry, she says, “our ingredients remain distinct, but our flavors blend together in a sauce shared by all.” This definitely makes more sense; it would be a stretch for the average American to use in everyday discussion of what America stands for, but it ultimately embraces our “togetherness” while also celebrating what makes each culture special, which is important. In a day and age when white supremacists seem be regaining their “voice” with Trump’s presidential candidacy and the “Black Lives Matter” movement is getting stronger, we really need to keep concepts like Lee’s “stir-fry” in mind to truly appreciate this country for what it is — a country of immigrants and people of different backgrounds who have come together for what is supposed to be a better life for future generations.

Pasta outdoors

Tonight, I enjoyed a delicious Italian meal by myself on an outdoor patio at a restaurant resembling a little cottage in the middle of Midtown Atlanta. I had a beautiful yet simple arugula salad, wild mushroom ravioli, and one of my all-time favorite glasses of Sangiovese. The temperatures were still in the mid-70s in the early evening, so it felt like a warm summer evening as opposed to an autumn evening. There would be zero chances I’d agree to dine outside, day or night, in New York at this time of year.

As I sat and ate my ravioli, I wondered about all the people in the world who are shunning pasta and bread and thought.. what a miserable life. If you cannot appreciate how good something like these morsels are, you must be a very unhappy person. During the food tour I went on over a week ago, one of the women on the tour said that she thought some people waste so much time obsessing over food that it probably makes them miserable people, and that if they just stopped obsessing and just allowed themselves to eat the things they obsessed over not eating, they’d be happier and healthier people. So true. And what a first-world obsession.

Givers, takers, and matchers

Last night, Chris and I watched an Adam Grant presentation for Dreamforce, where Grant discussed the concept of givers, takers, and matchers in life and at work. After a lot of research and data, he found that the best sales performers were givers, but at the same time, the very worst were also givers, too. It wasn’t so cut and dry as to givers belonging in one performance area, matchers in  second, and takers in a third.

In an ideal world, we’d all be givers. We’d expect nothing in return when we give, whether it’s our time, money, or energy. But we do not live in an ideal world. My mom taught to be a matcher. She said whenever people do something nice for me, I need to do something back for them. But she took that meaning to the extreme; if someone took her out to dinner today, she’d offer to take them out to dinner tomorrow, or next week. That always sounded a bit too forward and stupid to me, and it always drove me crazy. But as crazy as I thought it was, in many ways, I mimicked it for better or worse without always realizing it. It’s taken me a lot of time to try to wean myself out of that thinking.

It’s hard to be a giver, though, when you’ve been burned by a lot of people in the past. It’s hard to let another person borrow money when so many people in the past have borrowed and never paid it back. It’s hard to chip in for a birthday cake for a colleague when that colleague doesn’t really seem to appreciate the thought that went behind that. Sometimes, i think, I rather just give money to a homeless person on the street or a charity (which I actually do). In those cases, someone in real need really needs your help. I definitely don’t think I’m a taker, but I’m somewhere between a giver and a matcher depending on the circumstance.

Third fundraising year

It’s hard to believe that over three years have passed since my Ed committed suicide. Sometimes, I still wake up and wonder if it was all a terrible dream, and then I look up at the photos of him on my wall next to my bed and am crushed, hit by the reality that he really is gone. Some days, life just feels so cruel.

I’ve been participating in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Out of the Darkness Walk for the last three years, and somehow I’ve managed to raise just shy of $10,000. It’s a bit surreal to think that I was able to do this on my own, without a team, and just with the sad story of my brother. I’ve oftentimes felt discouraged, even annoyed when less people are donating, fewer people are responding or expressing interest in my fundraising or my cause. But like Tony Robbins says, a lot of our disappointments in life are really just because of us, our own expectations. Maybe we shouldn’t expect so much of others. Maybe if we replaced our “expectations” with “appreciation,” we’d be happier people. And when I heard him say this, I realized how true it was. I shouldn’t expect anyone to donate anything; in fact, why the hell should they care about my loss or my pain? What have I done for them (thinking in the quid pro quo train of thought)? But when they do, I should appreciate it. I do appreciate it. I’ve been surprised so many times in the last three years when colleagues I barely speak to have donated insane three-digit amounts, or when old friends I’m only connected to on Facebook but never speak with anymore contribute donations to my drive. There have been a handful of times when complete strangers, touched by the story I’ve written on my page, have felt compelled to donate something even though they’ve never even met me even once. That feeling of surprise and appreciation has been very overwhelming, sometimes catching me off guard and making me lose my train of thought to just bask in the glow of an unexpected person’s unfounded generosity for me and my little cause.

I try to be optimistic about the future. I hope that the world will be a better place for our future children, the future generations of the world. I want the world to be a more open-minded, progressive, caring, and empathetic place. I think about all the bullying and criticism my brother endured as a young child and then through adulthood, from his misguided classmates to his unprofessional teachers to even our own parents, and I physically feel pain in my body thinking of how insignificant he felt throughout the course of his life to finally decide to put a complete end to it all. I need to have hope, if not for myself, then hope in my brother’s memory to help others. And all the support, whether it’s verbal or monetary, through this drive, has really helped drive my optimism and my desire to continue fundraising and to continue sharing my story. As the delusional Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire once said, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Yes, she was delusional living in her own world, but there is some truth in this statement. As human beings, we depend on others being honest and kind to us, even when we are not in the position to do anything to benefit them in return. So many distant people have surprised me in this fundraising journey, and I know I have a lot to be thankful for. I think Ed would agree.

Role reversals

Up until I was 24, I barely saw any of the world. I barely saw any of this country, and if it weren’t for getting accepted to and attending Wellesley, I probably wouldn’t have seen anywhere as much of the East Coast as I had. If I hadn’t gotten a scholarship to study in China for a month in 2006, I probably would have graduated from college without even owning a passport or having left this freaking country.

This isn’t me complaining; I’m just stating what I know to be facts. I was raised in a house that taught me to think (I never did believe this, though) that travel was only for the *super* rich; everyday people like my family and I weren’t suited for travel. But since I first left the country to see just a dot of China, I was certain that I needed to see more of the world. And then, I fell in love with my long-time friend and now husband who had already been privileged to see so much of the world, and now wanted to share his travels with me.

Fast forward six years later, and I’ve been spoiled enough to travel to Australia four times (and a fifth trip is coming this December), Europe five times, and Asia five times. I’ve visited Canada once a year since 2013, and have seen 38 out of 50 U.S. states. I even went to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014, and in Rio, Chris proposed. And now, here I am, in the Worldly-Wise Wellesley secret Facebook group, giving travel advice and recommendations to other Wellesley alums for cities and regions literally all over the world, and even giving my brother-in-law, an obsessed world traveler, travel advice for Asia and even his own home country. I feel like a role reversal has happened in the last few years, and I never really saw that coming. I never thought I’d be the person giving travel advice to other people who consider themselves well traveled or “worldly.” It’s funny how times and circumstances can change.