Singing our praises

It’s been endless customer breakfasts, lunches, random meet ups between sessions, and endless stimulation. There hasn’t been a dull moment in the last three days, and it feels like in every conversation, I am selling our company and product and what we do. And then, there are the moments that surprise me, when I am hearing my customers chat with other customers, and I hear them telling them why our product is important and how it’s helped them, and why it could help that person’s business. Why don’t we have these conferences all the time so that our customers can just network, share learnings, and do my job for me?

No one really wants to hear why we think we’re great. Customers want to hear from other customers about what value they’re deriving from using us. Networking is what these events are actually about. And so hearing people singing our praises (or even singing my praises, which is crazy to me) — it’s so humbling. There’s no other word to describe it.

Goal reached this year

Fundraising four years in a row for the same cause certainly has diminishing value for most people, whether it’s for people who choose to continue donating, or for the person who is actually doing the fundraising. The first year, it’s new. Everyone’s excited that you are raising money to increase awareness and help others in need. All your friends (at least, the ones worth keeping) cheer you on and donate, if even a small sum, to show that they’re supportive of your efforts. Then, the second year comes. You’re asking the same group of people to donate… again. And then you meet new people, whether it’s new colleagues, friends, or acquaintances, and you ask them to donate. Then the third year comes, and the fourth year, and so on. Can you count on people to continue supporting your cause even though the fundraising just keeps going? It’s not like you’re raising the money for yourself, right? It’s going to the foundation to help others, not into your actual wallet. It’s tiring, but I want to keep going. I hope people don’t think I am ungrateful asking every year to donate; I get that not everyone has tons of money lying around. But I have to keep doing this.. partly for selfish reasons because I feel like it’s the only way I can keep Ed alive… for me.

I’ve been increasing my goal by $1,000 each year since I started, so this year, it was $4,000. I felt it was a big stretch for many reasons: it’s four years for the same cause. The story has evolved as life evolves, but it’s still the same cause and the same reasons. I’ve started a new job this year in a remote office, which means that if I’m not sitting in the headquarters being a physical reminder about my fundraising drive, I thought no one would feel compelled to donate or care about my story or reasons for fundraising.

I guess I was really wrong there. So many of my colleagues donated, and in very large sums, as soon as I sent out my outreach email back in August. And today, I posted on my company’s #team Slack channel, which almost everyone in the company across the world checks, and within hours, I exceeded my goal. I had multiple donations of $100, and one from our cofounder of $250. Colleagues I still haven’t even met yet donated generously and sent encouraging messages. It was really humbling.

One of my colleagues who donated who I still haven’t met messaged me and said how much my story touched her. She said she literally cried when she read my message on my fundraising page. “Before I read your page, I never really thought about the significance of sibling relationships,” she said. She said she never thought about suicide on a personal level much or the Golden Gate Bridge in that light until she read the details on my page.

That’s the thing about tragedy. Sometimes, when you share your story, it gets other people to think about the things they take for granted and don’t think much about and really force them to confront their fears and stop avoiding all the things that are painful but necessary to understand. I’m happy to be someone that others can go to when they’re in need. I just wish more people would be open about all the things that aren’t so pretty in life.

 

Cultural appropriation

So many chefs and celebrities over the years have been accused of cultural appropriation. Some of it is legitimate, and some of it may be a bit off base. Famous chef and cookbook writers like Ivan Orkin, the owner of Ivan Ramen, and the British chef and cookbook writer Fuchsia Dunlop, who was educated at the Sichuanese culinary academy and is the author of several acclaimed Chinese cookbooks that vary by region of China, have both been accused of it. The thing about both of them is that they both have made seemingly complex cuisines more understandable to Asian Americans like myself, who oftentimes struggle to understand how to “bridge the gap” between Eastern and Western culture. Ivan Ramen introduces new techniques to the humble ramen bowl by introducing rye as an ingredient in ramen noodles. Fuchsia Dunlop tries to use more modern techniques in Sichuanese and Hunanese cuisine while preserving flavors, and even writes a memoir that helps me understand the nuances of a culture that I’m supposed to claim as my own, even though I’ve grown up here in the U.S. She’s actually studied the language and the history of China, and tried to understand the language nuances and cultural differences in a way that someone who isn’t Chinese in China can understand. It’s people like Ivan and Fuchsia who have helped me better understand these Asian cultures, one of which I’m supposed to identify with. But in China as in the language, everyone outside of China is an “outsider,” even those who are ethnically Han Chinese.

Erratic route

After I checked out from my disgusting hotel yesterday at noon, I had an Uber driver take me from the hotel back to my parents’ place so I could rest for the remainder of the afternoon. The oddest thing about the drive, though, was that the driver took the most erratic route. The quickest way to get from the financial district to my parents’ house from downtown is via Pine, and it’s especially fast when there’s no traffic (and at around 1pm on a Friday, there was none). He did begin by taking Pine, but when we were reaching the end of it, he went on some weird back streets and continued to use backstreets all the way back to the Richmond. And another odd thing: one back street he took brought us right past the Columbarium, right past Loraine Court, where my brother now rests.

I felt guilty this week for multiple reasons — being in San Francisco for work and not being able to participate in our mid-year kick off event, which was the primarily reason I was out here to begin with. I felt guilty being laid up in a terrible hotel bed when I was supposed to be engaging with my colleagues and doing work. I felt bad using company expenses to not work and instead to vomit into a toilet while being sick. And I also felt bad knowing I’d have no energy to go visit Ed at the Columbarium. It would be the only trip I’d ever take to San Francisco since my brother’s passing that I would not have gone to visit him, and it made me feel terrible.

So maybe this erratic route was some strange, other-worldly way to acknowledge my brother, to acknowledge the fact that I wanted to see him and say hello despite falling ill and not being able to do as I originally planned.

More in common

A colleague on my team here in New York has been on paternity leave almost since I started. Despite that, he’s been extremely proactive in reaching out to help me with projects I’ve been working on, and he’s gone out of his way to check in on me to make sure I’m okay and not about to quit (it’s always a concern in a company that is scaling and going through a lot of constant change). We clicked since we first met. He’s the kind of person who just has this warm aura where you immediately feel like you can trust him. You’re not quite sure why, but it’s just a feeling.

Today, he messaged me to let me know that while we have a lot in common, one of the things he recently discovered we also have in common is that we’ve both experienced the suicide of an immediate family member. His father took his own life in the same year Ed did, in 2013, and since then, his family just doesn’t talk about it. I always knew his family wasn’t very close despite all being in the New York area, but now, I finally realized why. “What you said about awareness really hits home. We just don’t talk about it, but we should.”

We have more in common than I thought.

The lives we touch

I sent out an email to a number of my colleagues today, informing them about my AFSP donor drive this year and asking for their participation. I felt a bit awkward sending the email, especially given I am in a remote office, and the majority of people are far away in San Francisco. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Who’s really going to donate to my drive or care about me and my brother when they don’t see me every day?

I’ll be honest. At the rate I sent out this message at my last company, I got a lot more donations, and I’d assume that’s because I worked at that company’s headquarters, thus more people around to see me, but the amount that each person donated at my current company in the last 10 hours has been a lot more. And not only that, one of my colleagues ¬†who donated even shared my AFSP page with his fiancee, who then donated $100 to my drive and wrote me a very personal message, telling me that she was really touched by my story and my courage in sharing, and she had lost her father to suicide about ten years ago. Not only that, both her brothers in the last year had attempted suicide. She felt lost and struggled to discuss it, but she was inspired by what I wrote and how I’ve chosen to move forward. She hopes to work through her feelings.

I get negative about fundraising every year. It’s part of who I am, I guess, because the apple never falls that far from the tree, and I generally don’t always believe in the pure goodness of people. But these responses from total strangers always inspire me to move forward and continue raising money for this cause. It’s the only way I know to keep Ed alive. I think he’d be happy to know that I was touching the lives of complete strangers in a positive way because of the legacy he left.

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.

1461.

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.

Love,

Yvonne

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.