Goodbye to a matriarch

This afternoon, we received the sad news that Chris’s paternal grandma had passed away at age 92. Last year, she celebrated her 91st birthday, and about 20 years of living independently on her own in the house she once shared with her husband, who died in 2000 from cancer. Shortly after that, she suffered a fall at home and decided the time had finally come to move out of this home and into an aging care facility. She seemed to have been in good spirits about it all, and from photos we’d seen, she looked to be in relatively good health. But in the last couple of days, she had been hospitalized for a high fluid build-up, shortness of breath, and extreme fatigue. Her heart has a leaky valve, and so the doctors said she needed hospital care. Despite her fluid levels decreasing and her breathing becoming more easy, she didn’t make it. And after requesting a shower, she peacefully passed away on a chair in there, with the nurses finding her.

It is sad that this global pandemic prevented us from seeing her last year. It’s sad that she wasn’t able to see a lot of her loved ones as often as she would’ve liked last year due to COVID-19. Chris always said that each time he saw Nana, he feared it may be the last time he’d ever see her. And in December 2019, it really was the last time we’d ever see her in person again.

Since first visiting Australia with Chris in 2012, I’d seen Nana nearly every year, with the exception of 2017 when we went to Hamilton Island for a cousin’s wedding, and 2020, when we were prevented from going back due to the global pandemic. Every year, I marveled at how healthy, happy, and alert she seemed. Despite her advanced age, she was always so sharp. She knew where the smallest and most insignificant things were in her house. She shared very detailed memories from Malaysia and her time adjusting to living in Australia. She still cooked and cleaned and gardened. She had the help of a family friend nearby, plus all her family. She was fortunate and blessed enough in her 92 years to live in three different countries, raise three children, who each had their own children, and some of those children were able to give her great-grandchildren. She lived a full and happy life and was always so positive. She’s definitely an inspiration not just to her family and friends, but to those who knew her. Every time I saw her, I thought, wow. If I could grow old to her age and feel that accomplished and loved and full of life, I think that will be a life well lived.

I’m sad that this little baby that is growing in my body will never be able to meet Big Nana, and that Big Nana will never have the chance to meet her. But I know for sure that Nana has left quite a legacy behind that this future child will hear plenty about.

5-year wedding anniversary

Today marks five years since our wedding. We technically got together as a couple in January 2012, which is the anniversary that Chris says counts more. That has a lot of validity, but the wedding anniversary still “counts” to me. We don’t really do anything to “celebrate” it, as in we do not exchange gifts or go out to a fancy meal for this anniversary. In fact, if I remember correctly, for our first wedding anniversary, we just got halal food that cost $6 per box from the famous 53rd and 6th Avenue cart. Yum, chicken/lamb and rice, although they have since gotten rid of the lamb as an option because they said it’s too expensive.

It’s made me sad to hear all the stories that my friend’s been sharing when she felt unappreciated, unheard, and unseen by her boyfriend of 10 years. One of the recurring issues seems to be when she’s been in a bridal party at a wedding or performing dance at a wedding, and because of her involvement, she misses some of the drinks or canapes during cocktail hour. While she’s scrambling around, she’s hoping her partner would have saved her some food or at least a drink, but wedding after wedding (and there have been at least 3 or 4, including my own) where she has performed or been in a bridal party, he’s failed to deliver. Even after the first or second time when she’s asked him to do it next time, he would make excuses, get defensive, and say he “had no place to put it!” She would try to brush it off, but after so many times of it happening, she realized that he didn’t even want to try to do something she wanted.

I thought about the one time I was in a bridal party and how Chris saved me food and drinks during cocktail hour while I was busy taking bridal party photos. I had at least one of each canape on a plate ready to be eaten. And when I got into bed this evening, I told him I loved him and appreciated him always saving me food.

“Huh? Ythi, you’re going nuts… talking to your friend and thinking about your own situation,” he mumbles sleepily in his half-asleep stupor.

Well, appreciation also needs to be stated…

When life ends during the pandemic

In the last year, a lot of people around the world have died due to COVID, whether it’s directly or indirectly. But regardless of COVID’s spread globally, there are also people who have died whose deaths had nothing to do with the Coronavirus. A friend’s dad passed away after a multiple years’ long illness last November. And this past week, my mom’s best friend’s husband passed away. He’d actually been sick since 2015, which is why they couldn’t travel to our wedding in 2016. So while his prognosis wasn’t great in 2015-2016, when I look back, it’s at least a comfort to know that he got six more years of life with his loved ones than anyone had originally predicted. It was sad news to hear for me, especially since, regardless of only having seen him a number of times during my visits home, he always held me in high regard and frequently asked about me and talked about me, apparently almost like I was his own daughter. He even used to watch all my YouTube videos as soon as I’d upload them. He and his wife had the notifications on my videos turned on, so they always knew immediately when I launched a new video. His wife would message me every now and then on Facebook, letting me know how excited he was to see me on their big screen TV. It was always so sweet.

Every time someone from my parents’ generation passes that I learn about, I get a little bit uneasy. We all know that in a regular, conventional life, parents will pass before their children, so it’s only in time that I will have to experience the terrible pain of eventually losing my own parents. And that reminder is really scary. Even though they live 3,000 miles away, I still think about them every day, and I still speak with them at least once a week. You can’t predict the future or when events will happen, and that unknown just kind of sits there in the back of my mind. It is not a great feeling. So the next thing I think about is… what am I supposed to do with the time I’ve got left with them? What else can I do?

Treats galore

In a holiday season when a pandemic continues to loom over us and we cannot travel while still being socially responsible, we are unfortunately home bound… with no line of sight into when we will be able to safely get on a plane. Being unable to see family and friends, not to mention travel, has been pretty awful. Yet somehow, they’ve still thought about us and have sent us delicious gifts. Yesterday, Chris’s cousins sent a cheese and cracker gift basket. Today, we received Magnolia Bakery cupcakes and banana pudding from Chris’s parents. I still have Levain cookies and brioche I got with my team bonding credit from yesterday, plus our leftover baked goods that I made for our building staff. We have endless treats in our apartment, but with just the two of us to eat them…. who know when we will ever get through all of this?!

Cash as a gift in Asian households

When I was young, I always thought it was a bit odd that family members, other than my aunt who lavished gifts on me constantly, always gave me cash as gifts. It didn’t matter if it was Christmas, my birthday, or Chinese New Year (well, Chinese New Year is always cash…), but I always just expected to get cash. In my white friends’ and more Americanized Asian friends’ homes, everyone always gave… you know, real physical gifts as presents. They’d choose a shirt, a sweater, a piece of jewelry, a toy… something that they thought the receiver would like and appreciate. I always wondered why my parents didn’t take the time to think about some thing that I could potentially like and give it to me.

Looking back now as a thirty-something adult, I realize that this thought was truly immature and lacking perspective. I had no idea how good I had it then… at all. As an adult, I am still, until this day, given cash by my mom and my dad. My dad would just give it to me (he’s a man of few words, just actions, as you can tell). And my mom would just say, “Well, I don’t know exactly what you like, so you can choose something you like when you want.” It is such a privilege to be given… MONEY. PERIOD. It gives you freedom to do what you wish with it – spend it on something you know for sure you will like and appreciate (or need… hello, groceries and bills?!); save it for a rainy day; invest it to make the money grow. It is a privilege to have family and friends of enough means who actually are capable of giving you money. I don’t know who you are as you are reading this, but how many times have you received an actual gift that you thought was absolutely hideous, or just didn’t fit what you wanted or needed at that time? Isn’t that pretty much all of us? Doesn’t that high potential end up leading to a lot of wasted time, money, and actual objects that would ultimately get wasted and likely thrown into a land fill?

But money? Money never fails. It can always be used. No one will ever throw it away.

I thought of this today as I received a check in the mail from my dad for Christmas. He wrote a short but sweet note, wishing us a merry Christmas in New York. I haven’t seen my parents for Christmas since 2011, but it hasn’t been a big deal since my parents don’t really celebrate Christmas anymore with my mom being a JW. Plus, since 2013, I’ve been coming home at least three times every year. For some reason, this time when I received this gift, I just felt a little empty. I definitely do appreciate the gift. But it made me wonder when I’d actually see my parents in person again with this looming virus and no end of this pandemic in sight.

The little influences

Whether you are aware of it or not, if you have an older sibling, you have probably been influenced in one way or another by this person. Growing up, even though my brother and I certainly fought and didn’t agree a lot of the time, I was influenced heavily by him in ways that I was not aware of at all until reflecting on it as an adult. My first music interests were most obviously influenced by him, as he was the one who exposed me first to tapes, then to CDs, then to mp3s, then to concerts on television and even live. When Ed was interested in Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson, so was I. Whatever CDs Ed bought in the ’90s, I listened to, as well.When Ed got into Shania Twain, I also followed him. And when he would play songs on repeat over and over again… even now, long after his passing, I still do the same thing when I get obsessed with a song. I just don’t openly tell anyone that. Except now, I don’t have to annoy anyone with the same song being played on repeat on the living room stereo; I just do it via my earbuds on my phone.

I was thinking about this a lot while reading The Meaning of Mariah Carey, and after as I got nostalgic for her music in the ’90s and 2000s, especially her live music, which I always thought was so powerful and tear-rendering. Ed was the reason I became so obsessed with everything about her: her personality, her music, her lyrics, her life. Even when Ed didn’t care for her music much after she released Butterfly and later albums from 1997 onward, he still cared. I knew it because he would still buy her albums, and he’d say they were “for me,” even though he still listened to them.

When Ed passed away seven years ago, my parents and I were trying to figure out what to do with all his belongings. Given that CDs are now obviously obsolete (do you even own a CD player anymore?!), I especially wasn’t sure what to do with all these albums… he had CDs. They filled up an entire shelf in the living room. And even if I may never listen to them again, even once, there was really no way I’d want to give up any of the Mariah Carey CD albums just for nostalgic reasons. So I told my dad to leave them all there and that, “I’ll figure it out.”

No, I still haven’t figured it out, even seven years later. I kind of just want them all to stay exactly where they are, just so that I can look back at that shelf and remember the time when he was healthier and a little happier, playing the music he loved that he got me hooked on, as well. I suppose in that way, when I listen to Mariah’s music, it ties me back to him and helps me remember his sweet, generous, loving self.


While I was in Indonesia, I woke up from a disturbing dream, during which one of my close friends called me to let me know that she broke up with her long-time boyfriend, someone who she thought she would marry in the next year or two. Breakups never seem that bad… until the couple has been together a considerable amount of time, have shared assets, a shared apartment, etc. And that’s what this would have been. I had some feelings based on their exchanged behavior in the last few times seeing them that made me think that maybe this wasn’t going to be “happily ever after,” but with friends, you can never really openly share when you think their romantic relationships look like crap; that is judgment best kept to yourself until the appropriate time, when your friend actually comes to you and explicitly asks for your opinion. The latter pretty much never happens until after the relationship is done with, but you know, you have to be respectful. I haven’t always been tight-lipped, and well, I’m growing up and finally learning my lesson to just listen and not say too much too soon.

So tonight over drinks, she told me that they were having issues, and she wanted to chat with me separately about it. He was with us in a small group at the time, so she couldn’t be as open as she wanted, but I could tell just based on the look on her face that it wasn’t going to be good. She looked pretty dead serious. And for another kicker, I could also tell there was someone else in the picture, as well.

Maybe it’s like we’re family after all these years; you just get feelings that things aren’t right. My mom always told me that she would get weird premonitions in her dreams, and I get them, too, occasionally. They’ve been less frequent in recent years, but when they do happen, they feel spooky.

Southern Hemisphere Christmas and the downfall of the Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie

Dear Southern Hemisphere,

Thank you for welcoming me to have Christmas down under (and in South Africa) over the last seven years. I am very grateful for your generosity in hosting me and allowing me to fully experience and immerse myself in a summer Christmas. It has been a true, refreshing delight to see Santas on surf boards and beaches, cars decked out in tinsel, reindeer antlers, and Rudolph red noses, as well as people wearing shorts and T-shirts on Christmas Day whilst barbecuing. Warm weather, “White Sand Christmas” in place of “White Christmas” on my Spotify playlist? Yes, please. “I rather be freezing cold than basking in warmth,” said no one ever.

However, I have a confession, or rather, a complaint to make. In the Northern Hemisphere, I have never really had a problem making pumpkin pie, or most desserts, for that matter. There, I bake in Fahrenheit. I have access to a cold-ish kitchen in the winter time (pro tip: cold kitchen = best pie crusts and anything that has buttery, flaky layers). I have all the necessary tools and guides at my disposal to make my ideal silky smooth pumpkin pie. Here, year after year, things seem to go wrong. Year 1, I discovered that canned pumpkin is not a thing down under. Therefore, there was no pumpkin pie. Then, year 2 and 3, I attempted an all-butter crust for pumpkin pie, and the pie dough was gooey and lumpy. The crust “bled” butter, shrunk, burnt in some places and were raw in others — all the common mistakes of a pie making novice, much to my embarrassment. One year, I had to throw the entire crust out. Southern Hemisphere, why do you fail me? Why can’t you allow me to show my pie crust making skills down here? Now, Chris’s family thinks I just cannot make pie in different environments. On a report card or performance report, they would comment, “Incapable of adapting to change or new environments.” Today, the pie crust was so hard at the rim that we had rip and peel it off the pie pan and discard it. At least the bottom was edible. The part I did try to eat felt like plastic in my mouth, which I immediately spit out.

Then, with the pumpkin custard, we have another issue (because of course, the problems noted above were not enough). The adjustment from Fahrenheit to Centigrade is not exact. 350 degrees Fahrenheit is technically 176.67 Celsius, but there’s no setting that is that exact on a centigrade oven, so you either have to choose: 170 or 180 C? Do you round up or down? I round down, which seems to be the conservative approach. And what ends up happening? The custard doesn’t set in the middle; it never sets in the middle and instead of pumpkin custard, we reveal pumpkin MILK coming out of the oven with pumpkin custard at the edges. WHY?

And for the second round of custard, I round up. What happens? The custard CRACKS, meaning that it has been overbaked. Sure, the custard has set, and it’s no liquidy mess, but it’s no longer pretty to look at. It’s like a reject pie from the pie shop.

So, I’m admitting this now: I have given up on making pumpkin pie, or any pie for that matter, while I am down here. From now on, I will stick with cookies, custards (well, who even knows about that!), and potentially cakes. The battle is over, and you have won. I can’t stand the wasted time and ingredients, so I defer to you. I hope you have a great Christmas knowing you have defeated my pie making down under.



Six years since.

Dear Ed,

As we approached this date, I was in denial that it had really been six years that have passed since you died. I don’t know if it’s my heart and my mind’s way of not getting over you, but I still don’t really think you’re dead. Realistically, I know you are gone, but in my body, I do not feel this is the case. You still feel very much alive to me; maybe it’s just my internal organs’ way of denying the truth of your death. Or, maybe it’s my body’s way of saying that it is fully aware that a part of you still exists out there and is still connected to me.

It was hard this year for me to turn 33. It doesn’t seem like a particularly remarkable age or number, nor is it considered some milestone age. But the core reason is that I didn’t really think it made sense to be turning the same age as you were when you took your own life and died. At age 33, I have lived a very different life than you had, and in many ways, I felt like I wasn’t that worthy of what I had, that it would have been better if you had at least enjoyed half of the privileges and experiences I’ve been so lucky to have. Our lives were not even at all. And how could I possibly be the same age as my big brother? I kept asking myself. None of that makes sense at all. The whole point is that you’re supposed to be my older brother. That means you are older than me. But now, you aren’t. I couldn’t wrap myself around this. I just felt so upset. Logically, it makes sense. But I still didn’t want to accept this.

They say that everything heals in time. Grief eventually is replaced by gratitude, it is often said. Yes, I am grateful for our time together. I am grateful for having you in my life as my big brother. But I don’t think I will ever fully heal from your death… your untimely death, your suffering, your pain. I’ll be honest and say that as time goes on, the more and more I seem to meet people I truly believe are absolutely useless, have no purpose, and are just a waste of space, self-serving, self-seeking, and overly entitled human beings that probably shouldn’t even be called human beings. And then, I think of you, and I think… why do these people get to exist, and you do not? How is that possibly fair? If anyone with half a brain thought about this, there’s no way to rationalize that life is fair. Life is so far from fair that it hurts when I think about this.

Our mom has aged exponentially since your death. I don’t want you to worry about it, but it’s true. It’s like she really just doesn’t care how she looks anymore, puts together the most random pieces of clothing, and walks out of the house. She says, “it doesn’t matter; I’m old now,” as though older people shouldn’t want to look and feel good. She thinks she is somehow undeserving of looking and feeling good. It’s so sad. If you can believe it, she probably worries and panics even more after your passing than before. She really loves you so much, and she occasionally mentions it in quiet moments with me. I know deep down, she blames herself and goes in endless circles thinking about what she could have done differently. I know it doesn’t matter anymore because it won’t change things, but I can tell just from how she talks about you now that she definitely feels this way. She misses you every single day, even if she never fully appreciated you when you were here with us. I am guilty of that, too, though. I think we all are.

You know what is the most frustrating part about all of this? That I know no matter what I say or do, that I will never get to see you again. I still dream that you faked it all and that you never really died, that you faked your death, got a fake dead body and had it stuck in a casket to resemble you. It was never supposed to be like this. I never thought life would end up this way. I never thought I’d be married, living in New York, missing my dead brother who died by suicide. We were supposed to be in it together until the end, Ed. I still remember when our mom used to talk to each of us after we’d have fights when we were little, and insist that we had to find a way to get along and “show love.” Because one day, she said, our parents wouldn’t be around anymore, and we’d only have each other, and we’d have no one else who would unconditionally love us. So we had to look out for each other and stick together. That has been lost now for us, for me. Sometimes, I still feel really lonely when I think about you and how you are gone.

I miss you so much. I love you. I hope you are safe and at peace. I also hope that you still think of me with love. Because that’s the way I think of you, even when you were being annoying and insane like most siblings can be. Please don’t forget me. I’ll never forget about you.

With all my love,

your moi moi Yvonne


I participated in six hours of onsite customer meetings today and am completely drained. Something surprising happened today, though, when I was at a prospective meeting this afternoon with the company Tupperware. I usually do not attend prospect meetings since I work on customers post-sale, but since I was down in Orlando anyway, I offered to come with my colleague to visit this prospect to shed light on what they could expect from a post-sale enablement standpoint. One of my colleagues mentioned how she owned Tupperware products because of her sister-in-law’s Tupperware parties. I shared that my parents owned Tupperware, as well. Towards the end of our two-hour onsite meeting, one of the prospects quietly stepped out of the room. I assumed she left to use the restroom or take a call, but instead, she actually came back with multiple gift bags with Tupperware products – as gifts for us! I ended up taking home a Tupperware microwaveable container, as well as a Tupperware flask that keeps liquids hot for up to six hours. 

I am not used to customers giving gifts to me at all; as a technology company, we are used to treating customers and sending them gifts, much less having a prospect, not even a customer, give usa gift. The other funny thing about this happening was that it all reminded me of Ed. While working at Macy’s, Ed befriended one of his colleagues who hosted Tupperware parties and asked him if he would be interested in buying some. He took a look at the products when she brought them in, declared they were far superior to any of the plastic reusable containers my parents had at home, and bought three different types: black lidded, teal lidded, and dark blue-lidded. He insisted we needed to buy better quality products, and he told us these were much, much better for us to use. These Tupperware are not at all cheap; each of these pieces costs $25. Ed was always far more generous than anyone could know or ever fully appreciate. For someone who didn’t earn much money, he constantly surprised me with his level of generosity. It made me sad when I got to the airport this evening and opened the containers, wondering what Ed would have thought if I told him that I not only visited the Tupperware US offices, but that they even gave me free Tupperware. I’d imagine he would have been really excited and would have wanted to know what they looked like. I don’t know anyone who would have been as thrilled to hear about the Tupperware visit and gifts as much as he would have been. It is a depressing thought.