Donor drive, year 4

It’s about that time of the year again when it’s time to start fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The organization has walks throughout the year, but the New York City ones across all boroughs always tend to take place between September to November of the year. I usually try to give myself about two months to fundraise. There are always the early birds, the ones who donate as soon as I send my first outreach email, and then there are always the people who donate at the very last minute because I suppose they like the thrill of being the last ones. I’m grateful to get any last dollar I can get.

I’ve been increasing my goal every year by a thousand dollars. The first year, I was so shocked that I reached my initial goal of $1,000 so quickly. This year, now that it’s at $4,000, it sounds like it will be far more challenging. I work in a remote office now, so I have less face time with the majority of the colleagues I work with. There’s also the weariness to consider of people who have always so graciously donated, but may think that they’ve already contributed “enough” to my cause. I wonder what this year will turn out to be.

I wonder if Ed is watching.


Dear Ed,

1461 – that’s the number of days that have passed since you left us. That’s four years, including an extra day for Leap Year. I’m late this year with writing my annual letter to you. I don’t really have any legitimate excuses other than the fact that Chris and I are moving, and packing takes up a lot of time and energy. I’m not trying to be a jerk about it, but I’m just being honest.

I really miss you. This move has been a lot more emotional than I ever imagined it would be. I’ve been living at this apartment with Chris for over five years now, and for just over the first year of that period, you were still alive. We never had the chance to have you come visit and know what it’s like to be in a real Manhattan apartment. Many moments as I’ve been packing up this apartment, I freeze and get upset, remembering how you never got to see this place, how you will never be able to see the new apartment or any place I live in ever again. That’s a really awful feeling, to know that you cannot share in these experiences ever again with me. You only got to see my roach-infested, non-ACed apartment in Elmhurst. I’m sorry that when you visited, it was the peak of summer, and I only had a fan for you to use. You really hated the heat and humidity of New York. If you came back in May 2012 like I asked you to after you quit your job, I told you I would have given you my bed in my room, which had an air conditioner. You never came, though.

I left a really shitty job this year, the same job that was basically cursed from the beginning because you died just days after I accepted that awful role. Something in my gut told me then that this wasn’t going to be good. And it wasn’t at all; it was probably the worst job I’d ever had in my life at the worst company. I never had a chance to tell you I was leaving that old job to go to this terrible one, and now I’ll never be able to tell you about my new job and new company, where for the first time, your sister actually feels like she kind of belongs here. I get treated fairly well. I have peers and superiors I respect. I think we’re really going somewhere here. We’re not short-sighted or delusional. We’re addressing real problems here. Nine years after starting full-time work, I can finally say all of that and be confident about it. I was never able to tell you that about the last job I had when you were alive.

I packed up all the frames you gave me, and once we move into the new place, we need to figure out what to display and what to put in storage. I still keep the glass frame with the picture of the two of us from the day I graduated from high school displayed – it’s the same picture in the same frame since June 2004. Every time I look at it, it hurts to know that ten years after that day, you wouldn’t be here. I never would have guessed this would have been the future. Sometimes, the future really looks bleak and depressing. It will always be in a prominent place in my bedroom, no matter where I live.

When we were culling things in the apartment in preparation for the move, I’ve refused to give away things you’ve given me. I feel like if I give them away, it’s like I’m giving up a part of you. But, I will admit one thing: I donated Joel Olsteen’s wife’s book that you gave me one year as part of my birthday gift. Sorry, Ed. You know I’m never going to be that religious. I’ve never liked Joel Olsteen. I don’t even like his wife. There, I said it. At least I’m being honest.

Last year, I told you that Trump was running for president. Well, guess what? The dumb fuck is really president of the U.S. now! Can you believe it?! You never cared much about politics anyway, and how could you with your constant internal struggles and your struggles at home. I don’t even know what you would say if you were still around today to read the news. Our mother actually thinks that Trump is better than Hillary Clinton!! What I can tell you is that he has no regard for mental illness, people with disabilities, or pretty much anyone who is not a rich, white male, so that should piss you off regardless of whether you pay attention to politics or not.

You don’t visit as much anymore. Is it because you’re off doing your own thing and don’t need me anymore? The last time I remember dreaming about you, it was over two months ago, and I don’t even remember what happened. I just remember I saw you. I don’t have conflicting dreams of you dying or in pain or being tortured now. Now, I have dreams that depict you happy, or in the very least indifferent or expressionless. I’m not sure if the latter is a good sign, but it’s definitely better than seeing you die every time I go to sleep. Our mom is jealous that you visit me in my dreams but haven’t visited her in her dreams since 2013. She recently told me that still to this day, she’s only dreamt about you twice, both times in 2013. And since then, nothing. It’s okay; you don’t have to do what she wants anymore. You can do whatever it is that you please now. You don’t have to answer to anyone, and certainly not to our parents.

They’re coming to visit us for a week starting next Tuesday. Can you send good vibes over here and make sure she doesn’t harass me over how much we’re paying for rent or what I’m going to be doing with my future? Remember how she always use to taunt you about your future and how frustrating that was? Now, it’s all on me. I’m like her only hope, so if I screw up, it’s all over.

I miss you, Ed. I love you. I try to keep you alive as much as I can. I think about you throughout the day, every day, and hope that you’re in a peaceful, painless place. I have no idea where that is; maybe it’s in heaven. Maybe it’s in a different version of paradise somewhere out in the universe. I don’t know. But I love you. I still don’t fully feel like you have died, especially when I’m back home and I can feel your presence. I wish I could feel your presence here in New York. But I don’t think you bonded with New York enough during your short time here.

I love you. I hope you still love me and think about me, in whatever form you are in, wherever you are, somewhere out there. Your little sister still wishes she could see you again, alive and healthy, smiling those super straight, pearly whites. She even wishes she could see you take off your retainer when you wake up from sleep because those are the geeky, gross things we both do as children who had to wear braces. She still wants you to come back even though it’s selfish. Sometimes it still feels like the world is a big lonely place. You used to try to protect me, and now you can’t protect me anymore. Really, someone should have been there to protect you, but no one did. And I wasn’t capable of doing it. And now you’re gone. I have to fight feelings of regret every day.

I love you. I think about you before I sleep every night in hopes you will come back. I hope to see you every night even when you don’t want to come. Hope to see you soon, my beloved gege.



P.S. The Snoopy you gave me will happily sit on the new couch in the new apartment. Chris keeps threatening to give him away to Goodwill because he says he’s fat and ugly, but I will make sure to protect him.

Mock presentation

Today, after six days of preparing, I did a mock business review presentation in front of my team over video conference. My company takes onboarding very seriously, and they want to make sure that everyone is set up for success properly before delving into their actual jobs. This is my seventh week on the job, and I haven’t done any “real” work yet. But given that this presentation is basically a test to see what I know and how I present and speak in front of customers, it was a little nerve-racking for me. I’m usually not that nervous when it comes to having small group conversations with customers and informal chats since I was so used to it at my last job; presenting internally to your team who you know is full of smart (and very opinionated) people tends to seem more scary because you know they will call you out on something if you get it wrong.

I think overall, it went as well as it could have gone. My peers have been very supportive of me, and it’s a comforting feeling that I definitely don’t take for granted. I’m also in an environment now that is conducive to constructive feedback, so however harsh it may be, at least there’s actually a true feedback loop now that we need to acknowledge rather than my last situation, where only the positive (and fake) feedback was given and taken. It’s not great to tell someone they did a great job when in fact, they did a really crappy job.

High school hell

You know how sometimes, people reminisce about high school and say it was the best time of their lives? Those people must seriously be losers. Why would you ever want to be back in a time when people were going through growth spurts, awkward photo poses, acne breakouts, and SATs?

Four episodes into 13 Reasons Why, and I am feeling so grateful that that period of my life is so far away. Also from my perspective, it was so tiring being around a population of about 80 percent grade-obsessed Chinese Americans, most of whom had no personalities and were generic, and probably still are generic and bland.

Cultural taboos

After a long time with this book on my reading list, I finally finished reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s memoir Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. I think to this date, it’s probably one of the best and most interesting memoirs I’ve read primarily because a) it’s so authentic in discussing the cultural clashes of Asian food in general vs. Western foods, b) her perspective on being a foreigner in China and being an “outsider” actually mirrors how I sometimes feel when trying to understand Chinese culture, though I am three-quarters ethnically Chinese, and c) she very vividly illustrates how she transformed from a (relatively speaking) closed-minded Westerner who wasn’t open to eating a lot of “exotic” ingredients to someone who embraced eating scorpion to dog to caterpillars, and even began thinking like a native Chinese person. And none of it felt disingenuous at all. In fact, she became a bit like Chris is when it comes to embracing both her native culture (she’s originally from England) and her pseudo adopted culture of Chinese: she’s fiercely loyal to both her mother country and her adopted country and will relentlessly defend it when the situation or conversation arises that tries to jab at either one. That’s the way Chris is when someone either criticizes the U.S. or Australia. That’s my baby.

Living in China, formally being trained as a chef in Sichuan, and immersing herself into Chinese culture made her question why Westerners think it’s okay or “civilized” to eat certain animals such as chickens or cow, but not okay and even barbarian-like to eat animals like dog, cat, or insects. It’s a valid question to ask because when people speak down at the idea of eating insects or cat or scorpion, what they are actually and indirectly saying is that they think people who do choose to eat those things are lesser than they are or lower on a totem pole in terms of status. The other assumption this brings up is that we actually have a choice in what we have to eat, and so many people in the world die of starvation every day. Why do we need to be so judgmental of cultures different than our own? Instead, shouldn’t we be questioning why we have such strong reactions to these ideas? Part of understanding other cultures is letting go of our own learned cultural taboos and making ourselves vulnerable. Fuchsia Dunlop has clearly done that to a very applaudable level. I still am in shock that not only did she learn to speak Mandarin fluently, but even picked up Sichuan dialect (she had to, as people in cooking school would try to tease and make fun of her in that dialect), and learned to understand Hunanese dialect, among others, during her travels throughout the country.

While reading this book, I recalled my former white male colleague who recently flew to Beijing from New York City for just four full days to attend his best friend’s wedding. He left his wife and baby daughter at home in New Jersey. Being a token Chinese person in our office, I must have seemed like a good person to discuss China with, and he of course came to me and asked for travel advice (I was useless, though, since I still haven’t been to Beijing). And when he came back, he came to chat with me about his experience. He said it was far more crowded and more chaotic than he’d ever imagined. He said the wedding was massive with endless food, and he did a few touristy activities like the Great Wall. But he’d never recommend Beijing as a destination to visit to anyone. He said it was too crowded, too busy, too much sensory overload.

And that made me sad to hear. It further fulfilled the Western/white stereotype of ignoring China, this great and massive country, as a place that didn’t really need much regard from the Western world. He didn’t want to immerse himself and went in with a closed mindset. So of course, he wasn’t going to leave China with a total 180-change in perception. He’s the kind of person who Fuchsia Dunlop would get angry at and probably sit him down and tell him he didn’t like China because he didn’t properly give China a chance to be liked.

Coffee date

Two weeks have flown by quickly in San Francisco. Between new hire bootcamp, new hire bootcamp homework, 1:1 meetings, team meetings, lunch meetings, and family/friend/colleague get-togethers after work, there’s been very little leisurely time for me to plop myself on my bed and decompress, to think about everything that I’m trying to learn and what all this is going to mean.

On Friday early afternoon, I set aside 45 minutes to catch up with one of my counterparts on my team. What was originally supposed to be a meet-and-greet and work discussion ended up being something I wasn’t quite expecting. Life outside of work had been quite excruciating for her in the last year, and she told me she was dealing with a lot of family baggage… mainly because her mother had suddenly passed away last year (about a month and a half before her wedding), and she was handling all the inheritances and legal aspects of death now. It was an emotional chat, and she was especially upset because Mother’s Day was coming up today, and it made her really miss her mom and the great friendship they had.

“I just feel angry,” she said. “I don’t even know what I’m angry at… maybe the world? I get so pissed when people actually try to say that life is fair. It isn’t. It isn’t at all.” She reflected on the devastation of her mom’s decline and death, how hard it was for her to get through her wedding day, though it was beautiful and memorable, knowing that her mom was supposed to be there. I felt myself aching as she described all of this. Her mom even helped her pick out her wedding dress and went to most of her fittings.

So this became a segway into a discussion about whether life is fair or it (it fuckin’ is not at all), what death actually means, what death means to us who are still living, and how we keep going despite losing those so close to us. It’s one of the rawest discussions I’ve had in 45 minutes with someone I literally just met in my whole life. At her request, we even talked about Ed, and I shared with her general details about him and his passing. And because I’m a crappy colleague, I made her cry even more sharing this.

My colleague apologized for prying, but I told her what I tell anyone who wants to know more about Ed and his life; I actually am very comfortable discussing it (well, I still get knots and choke up, but I end up spitting it all out in the end) and want to discuss it with whomever wants to listen and truly understand. My qualm is whether others actually want to know and understand. So I never get upset or feel taken aback when people ask. When I hesitate, it’s really because I don’t know if people truly want to know or are hoping I will just say my brother died in a freak car accident or a drug overdose or something that sounds more “normal” given his young age. And she said she felt the same and was angry so many times when people she thought would care or at least ask never asked, or never even asked her how she was feeling or doing. This resonated so much with me.

The second thing this makes me think about is my own mom. I was tearing up when she told me about how her mom passed, and how she literally just missed her only child’s wedding day by a month and a half. I don’t even know how I would have gone through my wedding if the same thing had happened to me. I could feel hurt in my own body. My mom, like every mom in every child’s life, drives me crazy to no end. She worries way too much about me and about everything that doesn’t even need worrying. I even tell my mom this all the time: sometimes I feel like she searches for new things to worry about to constantly be in a state of worrying about me. She obsesses over trivial things that I think shouldn’t have so much attention or care. She distrusts everyone and thinks they are out to get her and me. She also insists on feeding me until I could potentially gain 100 pounds and doesn’t understand when I tell her I’m too full to eat anymore (“but you barely ate anything!” even after I have already eaten a full plate of food…). But that’s my mom. She does it all out of love, even though sometimes her level of love and compassion make me want to rip all my hair out, shake her, and yell, “please STOP!!”

“Dads are important, and I love my dad, but my mom… that’s different,” my colleague said between tears. “My mom was like my everything, and I hate to say this, but yeah, I do love my mom more. Maybe all daughters do — who knows. And sometimes I don’t know what I’m supposed to do without her. I just love her so much.”

That’s like me and my mom. And for a second, the fear I had from when I was only four years old came over me again — the awareness that inevitably one day, my mom would no longer be on this earth with me anymore, just as my colleague’s mom had passed and left her. One day, she’ll no longer continue to try stuffing food down my throat. She won’t be here to pack fresh fruit and Chinese zongzi into my carry-on luggage. She won’t call me and ask whether I’ve had enough sleep or eaten dinner yet. One day, I will feel the loneliness that all of us feel when one has lost the human being who gave birth to and physically brought her into this world.

That thought is absolutely terrifying to me.

Local Edition

On Tuesday night, I met with a friend for dinner, and then I joined her at Local Edition, a speakeasy-type bar afterwards, to hear some live jazz, and also see her and a group of her friends dance. The dance floor in the bar is quite small, but she told me that it attracts quite a large crowd most Tuesday nights, many of whom are in her dance class in Golden Gate Park. Their moves were so fun to watch depending on the songs being sung and played; it looked like a mix of both swing and jazz dance.

One of the women who joined our table to watch was really quiet, but we made some small talk that eventually became a lot more serious than I thought it would be. She was asking me a lot of curious questions about my marriage, for whatever reason fascinated that I’ve been married only a year. When she eventually revealed she was also married, but had two children, that was when the melancholy became clear all over her face: her marriage was at its end, and there was nothing either she or or husband could do to save it. Everything was great until they had kids; then they slowly became different people, started fighting more, and eventually stopped communicating about important things completely.

“Don’t ever stop communicating,” she said to me. “If there’s one thing you have to fight against, it’s the end of communication because that will literally be the end of everything, and there will be no going back.”

I also had an Uber driver give me advice the other day to not have children: “JUST DON’T DO IT! IT WILL RUIN YOUR MARRIAGE!”

Yep. Can’t wait to have kids now.

More mutes

My mom’s best friend, who is an amazing gardener and cook, invited my mom and me to her house for dinner tonight. “Women only,” she told my mom. I have no idea why it was women only (well, except her husband, who is disabled and had to be there), but it was really the most awkward dinner party I’d ever walked into. We arrived at their house at around 6pm, and everyone else was already there — about eight other people. They were all sitting in chairs along the perimeter of the room, and no one was talking — no one. It was so quiet that I thought we were the first to arrive… until I realized I was walking into a room full of mutes.

These are all Jehovah’s Witnesses, and one of them is actually one of my best friend’s estranged cousins. Their family is divided because of how Jehovah’s Witnesses religion has infiltrated their family, so everyone is removed from each other. No one was talking. It was like everyone barely knew each other, or maybe they didn’t like each other. Either way, I have no idea what was wrong with them. They all had expressions of hesitation and borderline fear or intimidation on their faces. After about half an hour of extremely awkward small-talk, the room finally became more open and talkative when we started discussing Shake Shack, In N Out, and Five Guys burgers.

Clearly, food unites us all, even those of us who may belong to a cult. We even all left with freshly cut roses from her garden.

Week four

This is my fourth week at my new job, and my second week in San Francisco for work. I realize it’s still early, but I still feel very positive about everything. I’ve been having a lot of meetings with different people and many one-on-ones with people across departments, and among the things that have struck me are how interested people are in me outside of work. What do I like to do? Where I am originally from? Do I have siblings? This seems like such a simple thing, but this wasn’t quite the case at my last company. I found a colleague who is a fellow Seven Sisters alum from Barnard. We discussed at length our experiences going to a women’s college and how it’s affected our lives and perceptions of the world. One colleague originally from Kentucky is also in a mixed marriage, and we talked about family dynamics around culture and color. Another colleague who loves travel and I bonded over our travel in Japan and how delicious the fish and tofu there are. The backgrounds here are so diverse; there are actually a lot of non-white people who work here, people who are not American passport holders or citizens, people who have lived around the world who have worked in industries ranging from education, consulting, finance, nonprofit, and even government. People are freaking smart here – really smart, and not just at their jobs. There’s a lot of perspective here and a desire for healthy and friendly debate. We have a Slack channel that is 100% devoted to discussing diversity issues, and there’s been a lot of healthy debate on it, which I’ve also contributed to. That was not the world I knew in my last job at all. And there’s a level of support and a true desire to support across departments that has been made very clear to me. This is all foreign to me, but it’s at the same time very reassuring. I kind of feel at home and like I can really accept being here, and that I will be accepted.


Tonight, our small new hire bootcamp team left the office a bit early at 5 to enjoy a happy hour together at a nearby bar. Our group of ten has been animated from day 1, and I’ve honestly enjoyed all of their company in some different way. The interaction across the group has been very positive, and it’s been fun to hear about everyone’s different experiences, from where they’ve grown up and lived to their quirks to their prior work experiences.

Two of the new hires on our team had previously worked at Adobe. Adobe is a company that is somewhat related to me because not only did I work for a company that got acquired by them, but I also spent a solid two months interviewing there for a Marketing Cloud position earlier this year. Adobe is oftentimes labeled pejoratively as a “frankencloud,” or a “company of acquisitions” that lacks innovation within itself, which is why it is forced to buy out other companies to then create the facade that it bringing the outside innovation in. What was so amusing to me was how much hatred these two previous Adobe employees had for the company. It was as though our new hire/sales bootcamp was becoming new hire/sales/Hate on Adobe bootcamp.

At the happy hour, they were interested in seeing what my experience interviewing there was like, especially since it was so recent, and both of them had left that company years ago. After interviewing with two internal recruiters and then the hiring manager, all the interviews that followed were easy. They asked basic questions regarding management experience, multitasking, and industry knowledge that any person even half interested in this type of role should know how to answer. But the most intriguing interview (from an over-drinks-conversation perspective) is the very last one I had, and that was with a guy who worked remotely from home, had been with the company for about two years, and clearly did not care at all about the Adobe interview process. He said to me from the get-go when he called that he thinks typical interview questions are bullshit, he doesn’t like that you tend to always have to reiterate the same story to every single person you interview 5-10 times, and he figured that since I had made it this far (and after reviewing my resume), he knew I probably had the aptitude for the job, so what questions could he answer for me that would cut through the crap. “The 8-10 interviews this company makes you go through is so stupid and senseless, and just a waste of time,” the interviewer said to me laughing. “I hate it, I don’t like it, but I went through it. So I know what you’re going through, and I feel for you.”

When was the last time you had an interview like that? He told me about all the politics, the lack of integration of the companies they acquired, but at the end of the day, he was there to do good work, provide for his family, and have a work-life balance. That’s all he cared about. All the other stuff didn’t matter to him.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that what most of us what — a comfortable salary, flexibility and work-life balance, and something at least a bit interesting to work on every day that prevents early onsets of Alzheimer’s?