Old friends, old feelings

It’s funny how when you are physically distant from friends, you can feel emotionally distant, but when you are put together in the same space once again, everything feels normal and like you get each other again. Over the years given that I’ve been away from home for 12 years now, I’ve gone through fluctuations in feelings regarding how “close” I feel with a number of my friends, but I know deep down that when we’re together, everything feels comfortable and good again. Maybe that’s the test of real friendship that can withstand time and distance, that the feeling you have when you are reunited is the familiar warm, happy feeling you had when your friendship was seemingly at its best and shiniest.

It’s comforting to return home and know that I will have familiar faces of friends and hear similar laughter each time I come back. It helps me think of home as a potentially happy place versus a place that harbors a lot of negativity and impending arguments and explosions.

Bad service

It’s very rare that I have bad service at restaurants. But the sad part is that when I do have bad service, most of the time, I tend to be with my girlfriends. Why would this be the case? Is it because restaurants don’t take young women dining together seriously? They think that couples dining together are preferable as diners at their restaurant, which is why when Chris and I go out together, we rarely get poor service? My friends and I were at The Progress in San Francisco last night, and not only were we seated in this terrible alcove area at the front of the restaurant by the bar where we couldn’t even share a full table (my second friend had her own half table in our dumb alcove), but our server was constantly asking us if we were ready to order when it was clear we were not. We were being rushed to order everything from drinks to mains to dessert. The rush was very obvious, and the snobbery of our server was undeniable. He really just couldn’t wait to get us our bill and get us out of the restaurant.

To get back at him, we tipped him only 12 percent. He was a jerk, and while he may just stereotype us as being cheap Asians for not giving him at least 15 percent (really, 18 to 20 percent seems like the expectation nowadays as annoying as it is), what he really should know is that he was unnecessarily snooty and did not exhibit a good server attitude. The food was good, but fairly overpriced as most new restaurants in San Francisco are now, and not good enough to warrant even considering a second visit. We won’t be back there.


I think everyone, once we become adults, has at some point felt embarrassed publicly by their parents. It’s inevitable, right, that they will do something, anything, that will annoy you and make you feel awkward to be seen with them in public. Well for me, that happens almost any time I’m in a place with my parents where something is “all you can eat” or “all you can grab,” and they make sure to take advantage of that to no end.

Yesterday, I took them to the hotel lounge at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco, where Chris and I will be staying this week, and they were wide-eyed when they saw all the snacks, full dinner spread, and fresh cut up fruit neatly laid out for guests to take. Needless to say, they wanted to take advantage of it, even if that meant stuffing a few bags of potato chips and a handful of apples into my mom’s reusable shopping bag. My dad took the liberty of filling a plate of food with pork loin, Israeli couscous, and sautéed spinach, and eating it, even though we had dinner plans at a Vietnamese restaurant just an hour later with Chris. “Why are we going out to eat if there’s free food to eat here?” my dad mumbled between bites.

I feel bad about my embarrassment. Really, I do. I was reminded countless times growing up (and still occasionally, now) that my dad grew up in a Chinatown ghetto with barely enough food to eat, which meant he oftentimes ate leftover spoiled food and got sick. My mom grew up in rural, poor central Vietnam with mostly rice and only rice to eat — not many vegetables, and meat was a luxury item rarely seen or even smelled. I’ve never had to worry about having enough food to eat, or a variety of dishes to eat, and now, I get to stay at hotels where the food and variety overfloweth, and my parents only get to experience this when they’re with Chris and me. I get why they would want to take as much as they’d like. To them, the world could end any second, all their life savings could diminish tomorrow (that’s what happens when you don’t trust the world at all), and so they want to take as much as they can and save everything “just in case.” Granted, my parents are financially comfortable enough to travel at their leisure; they just have zero desire to do so and find travel and enjoying life’s pleasures wasteful. They live like paupers, and when they see a lot to take, they will take as much as they can get.

My mom is aware of my feelings of embarrassment. That’s why she scolded my dad when he suggested getting a few more bags of potato chips. I overheard her say, “Don’t do that. Yvonne doesn’t like it.” I feel conflicted about it, but I guess this is probably what will happen with every subsequent generation to some degree. Maybe we’ll just never understand each other, or worse, maybe they’ll never really know me the way I wish they could. I just don’t think they have the capacity to know me and what I’m really about.

And that makes me sad because then I think: what if my future kids end up feeling the exact same way about me? 

Loaf on a plane

I had left over sour cream from muffins I made a couple weeks ago, so I decided to use it up by making my favorite banana bread recipe from Boston’s Flour Bakery today. Chris asked me why I was baking the day before we’ll be away in San Francisco for a week and a half, and I said we’d just bring the loaf to my parents. He seemed displeased. He loves banana bread. “They’re not going to appreciate it, anyway,” he muttered.

He’s not all wrong in saying that. My dad’s been trying to pretend he’s super healthy since his heart surgery a year and a half ago by publicly fussing over foods like red meat and pastries. Last January when I came home, I bought scones from the Irish bakery down the block in our neighborhood, and he got mad and refused to eat them, saying they were bad for his health. Instead of eating a pastry or eggs in the morning like he might occasionally do, he’s been mixing about five different types of seed, oat bran, flax, and who knows what else, along with a heaping teaspoon of turmeric into his oatmeal. This is every single day. It looks just like vomit. Yes, I told him this.

What I want to know is – if we are all striving to have a long, healthy life, isn’t part of that life being healthy, as in, not just my heart and brain are functioning properly, but my mind is healthy and happy? Otherwise, what are we living a long life for? What are we waiting for?


“Have so much fun at home!” a few of my colleagues exclaimed as I was heading out on Friday. “It will be so nice for you to spend time with your parents and family!”

Home means different things to different people. Oftentimes when you tell others you are going home, it conjures up the idea of going back to the familiar, to the house or neighborhood in which you were raised in all of its relative sheltered glory. It can mean getting pampered by your parents with all of your favorite home-cooked meals, getting your mom to do your laundry for you since you’re a “special” temporary guest at the house for a finite period of time, and having whatever errands you don’t like doing done for you by your parents or siblings. It means seeing all your family and friends you grew up with again.

Usually, these feelings that “home” conjures up are happy. Colleagues think it must be happy. Friends from where you currently live think it must be relaxing for you. Well, “happy” or “relaxing” are not necessarily the first words that come to mind when I think of going back home. In fact, better adjectives to describe my feelings about going home include “conflicted,” “stressed,” “anxious,” and “torn.”

I love San Francisco. I love it even with how increasingly expensive it is becoming, despite the increasing homelessness problem that the city refuses to acknowledge or take care of, despite that neighborhoods I used to walk through look completely different today than what they were twenty years ago. What I do not love are all the unnecessary and completely made up conflicts of my family, immediate and not immediate, the senseless arguments I know will happen within days of arriving because of my mother’s twisted, negative way of looking at the world and assuming everyone is out to get her (and me, for that matter), and the awareness that every single time I go home, I know I will never see my brother again. It is a constant and inevitable reminder that he is dead, gone from this world by his own hand, and likely to get the hell away from all the undeserved, incessant criticism and torture he endured in that house on the hill we grew up in. Every moment I am there, I feel like I am waiting to get accused of doing something wrong or not doing something I should have done, or getting criticized for something about Chris or his family or both. I try to deal with it for a few blows by not saying anything, by being silent, but I’m not weak, so I cannot just sit there and take it. So of course inevitably, I will yell back and let her know I’m not going to take her made up lies and perceived hate.  I know most people say that all other (Asian) parents are kind of like this. After speaking with different families and therapists for most of my life, I know that what I face, and what my brother used to face, is quite a bit different.

What is scary, though, is that oftentimes when kids feel this way about their parents, their parents have no clue they have these feelings. Mine are included here. They think we must be excited to come home. They’re temporarily excited to have us home for the first few days. They don’t have the awareness that their excitement is temporary, though. They cannot imagine why we would not want to visit. I mean, they raised us and brought us into this world, right? We owe them. How could we not want to visit? That’s… being ungrateful. The least we could do is visit, especially since in my case, we’re not… supporting them. Maybe it’s the immigrant Asian thing. Immigrant Asians think they gave their kids a “better life” by immigrating to a Western country with supposedly better opportunities and privileges. Because they made these sacrifices, they think their kids owe them. I’ve had to think about this almost my whole life, and I still cannot quite wrap my head around these two generations reconciling this conflict fully. It doesn’t seem like it has a resolution. It’s one of those things that just goes with you to the grave.

So, all of the above is why the concept of “home” is so conflicting for me. It’s why when other colleagues who live away from home tell me they are going home, I don’t immediately make comments like, “That’s so great!” or “That’s so exciting!” or “It will be so relaxing for you!” I don’t really mind hearing comments like this directed to me because they’re just generic, and I don’t expect everyone to be aware of my dysfunctional home, nor do I expect others to be sensitive to the fact that “home” is not a happy place for everyone. When others tell me they are going home, I usually respond with a comment like, “Are you looking forward to it?” Funnily enough, a lot of times, I don’t get a positive response to that.

There are more unhappy families out there than people realize. Or, maybe people just want to live in their tiny ignorant bubbles and believe that most families are happy and seemingly functional.


Dear Ed,

Today marks 37 years since you were brought into this world. Happy birthday to my loving, generous, warm-hearted brother, the one who left this life too soon, too quickly. It’s the third birthday of yours that you’ve missed because your life was cut short. This world can be such a painful place to be some days. Today is one of those days for me.

You know what it is kind of funny, but not funny in the literal sense? People think that the anniversary of your death or your birthday every year are my worst days. Those days serve as terrible reminders of the loss, but I think we all know that people who have loved and lost too soon, we think of those we lost every single day. A day never goes by when we don’t think about you or miss you. It’s just a fact. Some people say it gets easier over time. My sadness and anger over your premature death haven’t subsided, though. I still have so many conflicts over your life and how you were treated by everyone from your church ‘friends’ to our relatives to even our own parents. I am haunted in dreams by them because I don’t think those feelings will ever go away. In these nightmares, I am always yelling at our parents and expressing anger over how unfairly they treated you, how they ignored your illness and struggles, and even how they ignored your birthdays when you were alive and overall human feelings. No one really understands this, and most people, even my seemingly closest friends, don’t want to know all these truths. Your life is an enigma to them. It’s not an enigma to me, though.

I’m still struggling to have faith in the world and hope for the future. Every day is a struggle against cynicism for me, before your death, and even more so since your death. I try to be strong every day, but some days, the struggle is harder than others. Some days, I have little motivation to do more with my life. But then I think of you, and I think that I can’t fail your memory. It’s an ongoing thought that sits on my head throughout all my days.

To honor your birthday, Chris had kouign amann delivered to my office today. I know you never got a chance to try these when you were here, but they are a pastry from the Brittany region of France that are like the crispier, sweeter, and slightly denser version of a croissant. They were really tasty. I know you would have really liked them. You probably would have eaten all four in a single sitting if no one stopped you. There’s so much you never got a chance to eat when you were here — here in New York, back in San Francisco, and all around the world.

We went back to Elmhurst and had knife-cut noodles, dumplings, and cumin lamb in your memory tonight. It made me remember how I never got a chance to take you to my favorite hand-pulled noodle place in Elmhurst, and I didn’t even take you to have New York pizza when you were visiting New York in 2011. It was just too dramatic that time because of our mother constantly picking fights with me that trip. They really ruined that trip for you. I’m sorry. I was in survival mode at that point. But at least I took you to the original Shake Shack when you were here?

The world is dim today for me as I look through our childhood photos together and realize that we’ll never take another photo together ever again. As adults, we really didn’t take enough photos together. I really regret that. We didn’t celebrate or memorialize our everyday moments together, even after I got my iPhone. The worst thing is that I thought about taking more photos together in March 2013, but again, our mother was in such a sour mood for the two weeks I was back in San Francisco that year that the idea of taking a photo altogether really irritated me. That was the last time I saw you alive.

What are you doing today, anyway? Are you looking down at the earth, wondering what the future is going to be like after the presidential election has ended, wondering when I’m going to produce your future niece and nephew? Do you ever think, I wonder what life would have been like if I just moved out of that terrible house and struck it out on my own?  Well, I wonder that. I think you’d still be here today. But those are useless thoughts.

I don’t know when I’m going to see you again. When are you going to come back? I really miss you. Visiting your niche in San Francisco isn’t enough, especially since every time I go, I have to go with our parents. Do you ever miss them?

Life is going by really quickly. We’re already five months past our wedding that you were watching from above. The worst thing is that while life passes by quickly, the slowest moments are when I am thinking about you and how I’ll never see you again. That’s when life really, really sucks.

It’s okay, Ed. I’ll be okay without you. I think I’ve been doing decently well since you’ve left us. The rest of the world may not acknowledge you on your birthday, but I do. I acknowledge you every day in my heart and in my mind. I don’t really care if other people think it’s obsessive on Facebook or in person. They can continue living their miserable lives. You never forget the people you love most, regardless of whether they are still living or have passed on.

Fundraising time is about to begin. I’ll be thinking of you and our happy memories together, and hoping that your life now is far more peace-filled than it was on this earth. I love you.

With love and longing,

your little sister Yvonne

“Singledom” in New York City

I went out to lunch with a group of colleagues today for a going-away celebration. The one who is leaving — she’s my age and in a semi-long-term relationship with a guy that so far, has lasted eight months (I say that because she said she doesn’t know how long this will last, and their upcoming five-day trip to Iceland together may be a maker or breaker of their relationship). An Australian colleague of ours asked if she thinks he may propose during the trip. My colleague responded and said she highly doubted it and would be completely shocked. In addition, she didn’t really care to get married anytime soon.

“The greatest thing about New York City is that you can be 48 and single, and no one cares!” the Aussie exclaimed, who is around 32 or 33. “You don’t need to get married! It’s so great here!”

We talked about friends or friends’ friends of ours who have gotten married much younger, anywhere from 18-25, many of whom are already divorced but with kids. “I just got bored of those people back home (in Brisbane, Australia) and outgrew them,” my Aussie colleague said. “That’s not the life I wanted, and I never want to go back, ever.”

To contrast this, I had dinner with a good friend of mine who is 38, single, and having really terrible luck finding someone just to date regularly. “What is wrong with women?” he said to me over dinner tonight. “They are so hard to read.” This friend really wants to get married…. like, five years ago. I wish had some normal, single girlfriends to set him up with, but unfortunately, my network is too small.

The last girl he saw is now officially history. They had two seemingly strong dates, which ended with her making comments like “I had an amazing time” and “That was the greatest date ever,” which somehow transformed in a few days to “I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

Sometimes, I would think it would be harder to be single and female given societal norms that men have to initiate everything from the first date to the marriage proposal. But when I see my friend flailing, I feel so sad for him and don’t know what to do. He’s a great guy — ultra successful in his career, progressive and egalitarian, has many hobbies including world travel and film producing, donates and contributes personal time to charities he is passionate about. To add to that, he’s also white and pretty darn tall (as sexist as this sounds, what woman doesn’t want to be with a tall guy?). There’s my Aussie colleague on the one hand, 33, single, and loving the New York City dating scene. Then, there’s my Pittsburgh-raised male friend, 38, single, and about to swear off women forever.

Human relationships are way too complicated. Maybe arranged marriage wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Food contamination and when it’s supposedly okay

My parents are very much stuck in their ways. They like certain cuisines (really, 2 – Cantonese Chinese and Vietnamese), they like certain restaurants, and they don’t like to try anything outside of those unless I come back home (and force them to go, which one or both of them will typically express dismay about). My mom was set on having our first meal together at a restaurant in the Tenderloin district that has received the poorest health scores in the city. It’s made even more evident to me by the fact that when I go to their Yelp business page, a pop-up warning shows up, advising me of their extremely dismal health score and to check back frequently for health score updates. That is not comforting to me.

After seeing this, I told both my parents, and my mom expressed annoyance I didn’t want to go there. “You know, no one is perfect,” my mom said defensively. “Some days will be better than others at this restaurant. It’s the same at your own house: your own house will be cleaner some days over others.”

“Yes, some days my house will be cleaner than others,” I said in response, “But I have not been known to keep contaminated meat lying around to get people sick!”

“Well, then, you can pick another restaurant that will be more expensive if you have the money for it!” she said in response.

Is that what this is about — money? Yes, this Tenderloin restaurant is cheap, and the last time I was there, the food was definitely tasty. I’ll pay for the damn bill at whatever restaurant I end up picking. That’s really not that big of a deal, otherwise, why go out to eat at all?!


My mom has asked me to print some wedding photos for her when I go home next week. I asked her why she didn’t have my dad do it because it would be simple and probably cheap at Costco, and she said she originally had him do it there, but they messed up, and she doesn’t trust my dad with these tasks. I asked my dad what went wrong, and he insisted nothing was wrong with the photos; what was wrong was that there were pictures he printed where one or both Chris and me were not looking at the camera. I told him that’s the style of the picture that my photographer was trying to do, and those were not mistakes (sigh).

“Your mom is old-fashioned,” my dad grumbled. “She needs to have photos printed and in albums. Most people nowadays don’t even print photos anymore; they just view the images on their computers or tablets!”

“Daddy, that may be true, but wedding photos are different,” I insisted. “People still like to print special pictures like that, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s nice to display them in the house and in albums.”

“I guess,” he responded. “But that is just so much clutter. There’s too much clutter in the house already, and now you want to add more clutter? It’s just too much stuff!”

The conversation went on as insipidly as you can imagine, but the general gist was that I said that wedding photos, and photos in general, are not clutter; they are memories, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to display memories of happy times.

I can’t believe he implied my wedding photos are clutter.

No, wait. Yes, I can.


My boss is on vacation this week, which means I am taking over most of her usual tasks and responsibilities, including approving last minute paid-time-off requests from her direct reports. One of them came to me today asking me if it would be all right to take two days off next week when he originally planned to work remotely. He gave a long-winded rationale as to why he needed to take the days off instead of working remotely, and I paused for a second, thinking in my head, why is this guy coming to ask me if it’s okay? And why does he feel the need to tell me a long explanation? I don’t care what the explanation is — just take the time off!

I’m clearly a product of my generation. In my parents’ active working days, they always had a very fixed (ten days, yep) number of days off in a year, and they always had to give a reason to take time off. Working remotely was not an option then (how do you cut a client’s glass remotely, in my dad’s case?), and in my mom’s very traditional company, she could never have done her secretarial duties from home. From an intuitive perspective, we’re all adults here, so why do we feel a need to explain why we are taking time off to our employers when it’s a right to take time off? It is so strange to me, and I always feel a little strange when people who report to me feel like they need to explain every single day off. Sure, if you want to tell me you’re going away for a wedding or for an African safari for conversational purposes or because you want me to get to know what you’re up to, I understand that. But to tell me as a reason because I need to think it’s “valid” is so odd to me. Everyone knows what work they have and don’t have and how much time they have to get things done. I just don’t think managers should make their employees feel like every day off needs that level of scrutiny.