Dec 12

Parental update

As you may know, my dad had a small accident during a Taiwan vacation in October and fractured his pubis bone. When I visited last month, he was still wheelchair bound, but could stand for short periods of time and, more importantly, was in good spirits. I’m happy to say that he’s improved enormously since then.

My brother visited earlier this month, and by that time, our dad was already out of his wheelchair and using a walker. (At first he was resistant about using a walker because he thought it would make him seem “old,” but hey Dad, you’re in your 70s. You’re old!) The doctor told my father that he’s healing really well, and was actually surprised that he was healing so quickly. The X-rays told the same story, and now my father needs to walk as much as possible to regain the strength in his legs.

Later that week, my mom said that Dad has been able to walk short distances, ie around the house, without the walker, and longer ones with. He’s ordered a cane for when he graduates completely from the walker. This week they went to the mall together for the first time in over a month. In a couple of weeks, they have a karaoke party.

It’s such a relief! I had also thought his recovery would be much longer, though it’s been about eight weeks, which was what the doctors said.

In other news, it turns out my parents do indeed have mice. During my visit in November, I told my mother my suspicions – the noises sounded just like the last time we had mice, years and years ago – but she didn’t believe me. She kept insisting the noise was coming from outside, and that it was squirrels or birds.

During his visit, my brother investigated the attic and saw mouse droppings everywhere (I admit: my mother asked me to look in the attic, and I wouldn’t, imagining a stream of mice running at me; plus I was annoyed she didn’t believe me). The exterminator came and confirmed, and set traps in the attic, basement, and garage.

My mother told me that when the exterminator was in the basement, he called up to her, “Come look at this!” She went down and he pointed out a dead baby mouse near the water heater. She had seen it before, but from far away it looked like a dust ball. “I didn’t know that was a baby mouse!” she kept saying.


Anyway, I’m glad they took care of that.

Nov 12


Although it was for a bad reason, I had a very nice visit in New Jersey.

If you’re behind on the whole parents-saga, you can catch up here. The short version is that while on he was on vacation in Taiwan, my dad tripped, fell, and fractured his right pubis bone in three places. This means his mobility is pretty limited. I wanted to go see him and my mom right away, but there was the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to deal with, then winter storm Athena. Finally, last week, I was able to go.

Here are all the things I’m thankful for from that visit:

An 11 AM flight. I discovered it’s the best time to fly. You’re not getting up ridiculously early, or waiting around all day to go.

Economy plus for $60. “Economy plus” are seats with more leg room. I really had no choice: there were only middle seats left by the time I checked in, and one aisle in the very back row (which I’ve sat in before and which totally sucks, between the cart bumping into the seat, and people feeling perfectly fine leaning on your seat while they wait for the bathroom, and then pseudo-apologizing with, “Well, you’re right there,” as though you moved the entire row in front of them).

A working computer. I added a lot to my novel.

Free airplane TV. Helped pass the time quickly. I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was beautiful and sad, but not depressing.

Being near the front. Quick deboarding!

Having no checked luggage. Quick exit!

Working trains. I expected the trains to be a mess. My dad sent me an email saying I’d probably have to take one train to Rahway, then change for another. Turned out there were trains going directly to my town (as told to me by the very put out guy in the booth – sorry to disturb your sitting there doing nothing!). Even the 20 minute wait went quickly.

My mom’s food. This is one of the highlights of visits home. I inhaled delicious dumplings and many bowls of chicken soup with Chinese herbal medicine, which, I swear, cured my cold. My dad, the skeptical scientist, also said it seemed to be helping his leg.

My parents’ wireless internet. For a long time, they resisted, but a few years ago we managed to convince them to set it up.

Netflix and Hulu Plus. Hours of entertainment for me as my mom watched her Chinese and Korean shows on the main TV, and I was up at all hours from jet lag.

A workplace that makes it easy to work remotely. I spent much of my time at my parents’ working, which was enjoyable and kept me busy (ie, no boredom).

My parents let me help them with some household chores. Since I couldn’t do anything directly for my father, I was glad to be able to fix the ceiling light in the kitchen (even with my mom yelling at me the whole time I was on the ladder), change a ceiling light bulb in the living room, bring the recyclables out, unjam my dad’s printer, and some other random things my parents weren’t able to do.

My friends. Unexpectedly, I had the opportunity to see a bunch of friends while I was there. One night I had dinner with a college chum whom I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. We went to Ruth’s Chris Steak House, my first time. It was very good and the decor was lovely.

Saturday I went into the city and saw my college roommate and former Upper East Side homegirl, SB, for a lovely, chatty breakfast; and former co-worker YP and library school classmate AK for a tour of the Brooklyn Museum.

Sunday I had coffee with high school friend AY, and during that time long-time bud ES texted that she was on her way home. Woot! ES and I had great time grabbing dessert that night in Princeton. Afterward we hung out in my room like we were still in high school, and I showed her my krav maga moves (totally at her request).

Good weather. While it was freezing at night, when I was in the city, it was sunny and not too cold, perfect for walking around.

A good night’s sleep. After a few restless nights, one of almost no sleep, and a busy day in NYC, I was finally able to sleep for a good long stretch Saturday night, and promptly got on east coast time.

My dad’s spare laptop. Unfortunately, my work computer went kaput.

A good memory. Also unfortunately, I hadn’t backed up the latest version of my novel, so everything I added on the plane ride and since then is probably kaput as well. But I had dumped some of it in a Google doc, and I think I remember the gist of the rest. Not word for word, obviously, but sometimes that’s better. It’s like revising.

A three PM flight. Again, I didn’t have to get up too early or rush out.

A thick book. I was worried that I’d be bored on my flight back because 1) my computer was busted, and 2) my TV didn’t work. For some reason, on this flight it wasn’t free, and I was willing to pay five bucks, but my TV couldn’t read my credit card. Luckily my book kept me pretty occupied.

Good headphones. I borrowed MB’s headphones, which while aren’t noise canceling, do a good job muffling outside noise. Luckily for me because across the aisle was a crying baby. He slept a lot, but he also screamed to hear himself scream and cried. As we deboarded, the lady who sat next to the baby complained to me in Chinese about it, which I thought was rude. I mean, it’s a baby. He can’t help it. It’s not like a bratty kid who should know better.

Time zones. Gained back three hours! Was in my apartment by 6:30 PM. Ate the food my mom had packed for me, and passed out by 9 PM.

Part of me feels like I wish I stayed at my parents’ for Thanksgiving, but another part is glad to be here. I love how the city clears out for a holiday.

Oh, and another thing I’m thankful for:

Electricity. Last night I came home to half the lights in our building out. I panicked, but discovered our lights worked. However, all the clocks and other things plugged into outlets didn’t work, so I thought some power surge had shorted out everything. I called the building manager, and he said power on half the block had been out all day, which sucks but made me feel better. It wasn’t just our building. I called the electric company, and got a recording that they were aware of the problem, and it would hopefully be fixed by 10 PM.

MB came home and further discovered that actually the outlets on one side of the apartment worked. He thought it was a blown fuse, but we didn’t know where the fuse box was. So we just grabbed some dinner, and took a walk to Union Square and back. Because some outlets worked, we were able to watch TV.

Then at 10 to 10, all the power came back on. For about five minutes. Then all the power went out. ALL. Fuck. Then a minute later, half the power came on again, the other half of our apartment. Ridiculous. Finally, everything came back on.

All of that means we weren’t able to get Thanksgiving stuff yesterday (because our fridge wasn’t working). But luckily Whole Foods is open today, and MB has volunteered to go on his own to get provisions, for which I am perhaps most thankful of all.

Nov 12


Hurricane Sandy hit the very day that my parents were scheduled to return from Taiwan into JFK. My mother called from Taiwan that night, but for a whole week afterward, I had no idea what their status was. They don’t have a smart phone, and while my father emails regularly from home (and even, briefly, joined Facebook, quitting after he realized how “boring” and “stupid” it was), I doubted he’d be able to figure out how to email from abroad. So I waited.

Finally, the night I wrote that Survivor Guilt post, my mother called. They had returned the night before at midnight to a house with no power, and that day still had no power. Then my mother said, “We had a bad trip.”

“What happened?” I asked, expecting her to talk about the nightmare of flying into JFK so soon after Hurricane Sandy. But that wasn’t it.

“Your dad broke his leg!” she said.

“Oh no! What happened?”

My mother explained: on their second day in Taiwan, my father tripped and fell. This has happened before. While he walks three miles a day, I think that when he’s someplace unfamiliar, he has a tendency to trip easily. On a different China trip, he fell but only got a little scraped up. At my grandmother’s funeral, he tripped over a curb and got some abrasions on his face. This time he fractured a pubis bone. A fracture, not a break, but my mother didn’t make this clear.

The fall and injury happened two weeks earlier, but my father insisted my mother not tell my brother and me, for fear we would worry over nothing. So when I talked to my mom that night she called from Taiwan, they had already been holed up in the hotel for six days. (Luckily at least my parents had a problem-free week in China first.)

“He can’t move!” she said. “And we have no power.” Luckily they had a friend nearby with power so at least my mom could drive there and charge their phones. But no power also meant no running water or heat. “And it was so cold last night.”

“Oh, no,” I kept saying. I pictured my father flat and immobile on the couch, as he would have to remain for six to eight weeks. “I think you should go to the emergency room! He should be in the hospital!” An ambulance could come get him, I thought, and he’d at least be in a place with power and where he could be taken care of, without the whole burden being on my mom.

“We went to the emergency room in Taiwan,” Mom said. “The doctor said all we can do is wait six to eight weeks.”

Painfully, slowly, I got it out of my mother that my father’s regular doctor would be calling him the next day and would advise him about what to do. My mother kept saying “the doctor,” referring to the doctor both in Taiwan and his regular doctor, making no distinction.

She also told me not to worry (imagine that! the Queen Mother of Worrying), but I couldn’t help but be worried sick. What I was most anxious about was that they had no power. I wanted to do something but there was nothing I could do. So I tweeted. I tweeted at my parents’ electric company that “my elderly parents still have no power or running water,” and their road and the cross street. I searched on Twitter for the name of my parents’ town, and saw that some people had power and some didn’t.

I went to bed around two, but couldn’t turn off my brain. If only they had power, I kept thinking. Then my dad’s injury wouldn’t be so hard so deal with. Then, If only my dad weren’t injured, then the power outage would be nothing. They could go to a friend’s house to shower and hang out. But they couldn’t. The image of my dad trapped and immobile in the cold and darkness kept replaying in my head.

I finally fell asleep around 3, and was up again at 7. The first thing I did was check my email, and lo and behold, there was an email from my dad. They had gotten their power back just that morning, and he very calmly gave the details of his injury. He had a fracture not a break, and it was his right pubis bone. He had spoken with his regular doctor, who confirmed that all he could do was rest right now and let the fracture heal naturally. In six to eight weeks, he should make a follow up X-ray appointment and an appointment to see the doc.

Holy shit, I felt so much better after that.

Of course I wanted to fly out to New Jersey right away, but I didn’t know how feasible that would be in the aftermath of Sandy. Finally, I decided a week should suffice, and found a reasonable flight.

But then came word of an impending nor’easter. I sort of ignored the warnings, and hoped that it would pass the east coast, or wouldn’t be so bad. But two days before my flight, my dad asked me to postpone my trip. The idea of my dealing with bad weather was too stressful for him. So I canceled my flight (again luckily in time for a full refund).

Then I found another flight for the week after, which flew into Newark rather than JFK (which was my original flight’s destination), and was even slightly cheaper. Hooray!

Then I got a cold. No biggie. But when I talked to my mom on Tuesday, she tried to convince me to change my flight again. I really didn’t want to. This would be just getting ridiculous now. Then it turned out I’d have to call to change. Forget it. I can survive a flight with a silly cold. Leave it to my mom to stress me out over nothing.

Anyway, so I arrived last night with surprisingly no problems. In fact my flight was kinda great. It helped that I forked over $60 to upgrade to “economy plus.” The only regular seats left by the time I checked in were middle seats, or an aisle in the very last row. An aisle seat with more leg room was worth it to me. Gonna do it again on my way back.

My cold also didn’t bother me. I had a cough, but I was more worried about grossing out the people around me. I read, worked on my novel, and watched Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was so very good but so very sad. We landed 10 minutes early. I had a 20 minute wait for the train, but at least there were trains going to my town. And an express no less!

It’s been good to see my dad in person. While his mobility is pretty limited, he sounds and looks like his regular self. He can stand for short periods of time, but can’t walk much yet. And my parents are bickering as usual.

Sep 12

A jiayou weekend

Yesterday at work, even after a solid eight hours of sleep, I was still tired. Then it occurred to me that I’ve been running around non-stop since last Tuesday.

Last week, because of the holiday and the fact that my mother and brother would be in town on Friday, I went to the office Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Oh my God, three days in a row! So exhausting. Plus because I’d be at a family gathering all weekend, I had to get in krav maga and KO bag during the week. I was successful Tuesday and Wednesday, but by Thursday, the weird cold I’d been fighting all week (painful sinuses, post-nasal drip, and queasy stomach) came to a head, and I decided to skip. Luckily a good pal called so I had that excuse too. :) I did however work on my novel after two days off.

Friday morning I got up early to get in some day job work and more novel writing before meeting my brother for brunch. Afterward we walked out to the train station to pick up our mom who had come in from San Jose, where she was visiting my aunt and uncle (my mom lives in NJ).

I guess it’s been a while since she’s seen me and my brother together. It might have been as long as two years ago, at our grandmother’s funeral, although she’s seen us separately a few times since then. At the train station when she saw us, she gave us a big hug and said, “I’m so happy!” and got all teary. Awww. If MB were around and not away for work, she’d have probably lost her shit completely.

We grabbed a cab back to my place, and hung around until dinnertime. We were all sort of exhausted. For dinner we hoofed it out to Japantown (a lot of walking for my mom) and had Korean barbecue in celebration of my brother’s birthday. It was very tasty.

While my mom crashed at my place, my bro took off for a friend’s. I was a bit nervous, tell you the truth, of being alone with my mother, and thought she’d start bugging me about the usual stuff, but surprisingly she didn’t, or not as much as expected. I think she was distracted by being in a different place, traveling, and overall feeling tired. We found a Korean channel on our Roku box and watched several episodes of some silly Korean show.

The next day we were up early again. While waiting for my brother to come over, we watched one and a half episodes of The Amazing Race: China Rush. Why? My childhood friend Henry and his wife Jennifer are on it! Jia you, Henry and Jennifer!

After a birthday brunch with my bro, my mom and I were off to the train station again to head out to San Jose for my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary party that night. But first we had the suckiest cab driver ever. He kept saying, “San Francisco is very difficult to drive!” and had to use his GPS to figure out how to get to the station. You’re cab driver and you don’t know where the fucking train station is? He took the route with the most traffic, both car and pedestrian – instead of the less populated Tenderloin – and let us out several blocks away, insisting it was a two-minute walk. It wasn’t. At least we made it on time and the train ride was nice and relaxing.

In San Jose, my cousin picked us up, we drove out to the airport to get another aunt and uncle who were flying in from Los Angeles, and just hung out at the house all afternoon before the party.

The party was perfectly lovely. Beautiful flowers and candles everywhere, great food, nice speeches, and dancing. Two downsides were that my brother and some of my cousins weren’t there – my brother because it was his birthday that day and he preferred to spend it with his friends, and my cousins because of various obligations – so I basically had no one to hang out with except my mom. I mean, there were other young people there, but they were from my uncle’s side of the family, who I don’t know at all.

The second downside was that I got sick from a glass of wine. That’s right, one glass of wine. First I got a headache, which isn’t unusual. I take a couple of aspirin and I’m fine. But I hadn’t brought my travel Advil, and no one had any. My headache got worse and worse. While everyone else was having fun, I just desperately wanted to go home.

We didn’t even leave that late, around 10. The drive back wasn’t long but it was very winding. I got all carsick but thought it would pass. It didn’t. I lay in bed, trying to sleep and willing myself not to barf. Then I suddenly felt like I would feel so much better if I did barf so I went to the bathroom and I did.

I was afraid it was going to be an all night thing, but it was just a few times. Then my headache lightened up and felt a hell of a lot better. I was even hungry the next morning. Dim sum tasted good.

While it’s good to see family, I was sorta bummed that I wouldn’t be able to write (or go to krav maga) all weekend. However, I also knew it would be a good time to keep my eyes and ears open for story material, and that’s what I got over dim sum. Some stuff I didn’t know:

  • My grandmother tried to give herself a miscarriage. She was only 17 when she got pregnant with my aunt (Puo-puo and my grandfather were already married of course) and she wasn’t ready for motherhood. My aunt said Puo-puo tried to give herself a miscarriage by riding a bike and probably other things as well.
  • My elder uncle was so sick as a baby, he had seizures for three days. It was the dead of winter when he was born, and according to my mom and aunt, that was how he got a fever. Plus later as a toddler, he fell out a second story window (I knew that story) and was hospitalized for months afterward.
  • During the Communist Revolution, not only was my grandfather imprisoned, his family’s possessions were taken away.
  • After six months of being imprisoned by the Communists, my grandfather escaped prison, only to be caught again immediately when he returned to the family compound.
  • The reason my grandfather didn’t want to return to China ever again was only partly because he hated the Communists. More so, he was afraid they wouldn’t let him leave. I had the same fear when I was there, though mine was unreasonable. I seriously thought they’d look at my passport, say, “You’re not really American,” and make me stay there forever.

After dim sum, we drove out to the cemetery where my grandparents are buried, and paid our respects. Back at the house, my aunt and uncle opened their gifts, and then it was time to leave.

Again, while I love my family, I was glad for some quiet time on the train. I pigged out on salt and vinegar chips (maybe I was a little hungover), and read my book. Back in the city, I caught a cab (with a driver who knew what the hell he was doing) and was home by 7 PM. I was pooped but so glad to be back at my own place, I had the energy to do two loads of laundry, unpack, and do a small amount of work on my novel. Conked out at 10:30.

Today is a work-from-home day and I’m relishing it. I have to go to krav maga at 5:30 but that still gives me several hours to catch up and sit around the house.

Jun 12

New York: Been There, Done That

In a recent post, I made a big to-do about blogging more regularly, but then I got really busy with work and went on vacation. Oh well.

MB was away on a business trip so I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit New York and New Jersey over the long Memorial Day weekend. Tickets were pretty cheap but that meant flying at 6 AM on Wednesday. The last time I traveled so early to New York, I didn’t sleep at all and felt like shit the whole day. But this time I slept like a rock for almost six hours on Tuesday since I hadn’t slept well on Monday, and so was fresh as a daisy for traveling on Wednesday.

My flight was good in that I had an aisle seat and a good book to read. But it also sucked because we were late taking off. We taxied for what felt like forever and then sat on the runway for what felt like forever. It wasn’t forever but felt like it because the captain made NO ANNOUNCEMENTS. Even if he had come on and said, “We’re not sure what’s going on,” everyone would have felt better. You hear that United? Have your captains make announcements even if they don’t know what’s going on.

Then before we landed, we circled New York for another 45 minutes. Luckily this time the captain did make an announcement. Something about the weather. My seatmate was a German woman who, while nice, kept looking to me to repeat the announcements the captain had made, and then would say incredulously, “Weather? What weather?” I don’t know lady! I didn’t make the announcement.

We ended up being 90 minutes late but that was okay because YP, whom I was staying with, wasn’t getting off work till later. When I finally got into the city, I picked up his keys and made myself at home by raiding his fridge and watching TV.

That night we grabbed dinner at this Latin place, which we both thought kind of sucked. I got a couple of tapas dishes: little chicken-avocado sandwiches, which had almost no flavor, and four measly shrimp for $12. After dinner, we walked out to the High Line, which is my new favorite New York activity, but by the time we got there, it was closed. D’oh! But we were more than happy to head back to YP’s, sit on our asses, and watch TV.

The next morning YP had to go to work so I hung out like a lazy bum, then went uptown to meet SB for lunch. By this time, it was pouring buckets. I thought I’d leave a half an hour early, catch a cab, and be there in 10 minutes. It took me an hour. I should have known: rain + noon + the Thursday before a three-day weekend + the most timid driver in the world = an infuriating travel experience.

Finally, at around 59th Street, I couldn’t take it anymore. It was basically a parking lot. I got out and started walking, and after a block, the traffic seemed to clear so I hopped in another cap since I still had nearly 20 blocks to go. Unfortunately it seemed as soon as I got in the cab, traffic stalled again, and after a few blocks, I ended up walking the whole way. Luckily SB still had time for us to have a nice leisurely lunch.

Afterward, I met YP at the Whitney to see their Biennial Exhibition.

Whitney Museum

Whitney Museum, from their permanent collection

It was crowded but actually not too bad. I always have a good time at the museum. My favorite installation was of this super creepy mannequin boy that breathed and blinked. For some reason, the blinking, which brushed against his long blond bangs, made him seem real, to the point that I had to peer closely to see if he was. (He wasn’t.) There was also the sound of an adult male whispering in what sounded like a German accent. I couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from, but had a feeling it was supposed to come from the bloody puppet the boy was holding, which upon occasion the boy would move, scaring the bejeezus out of me. It was fantastic.

By the time we left the museum, it had stopped raining so we walked across Central Park.

central park

Central Park is one of things I miss most about NYC.

That night we had a delicious risotto dinner downtown, and for dessert went to Big Gay Ice Cream in my old ‘hood and got a couple of Salty Pimps, “vanilla soft-serve sprinkled with salt and covered in dulce de leche and chocolate sauce.” Then we took our time walking back – more hanging out and watching TV, which I loved. The next day we got some brunch and hit the High Line again. This time we actually got to walk on it. It was rather crowded and getting hot, but I still had a good time.

the high line

high line billboard

emo ken doll

Then I was off to the ‘rents.

Overall that was nice, though I was tense the whole time that my mother would start harassing me about something or another. She didn’t but I could tell she was resisting. We did our usual eating and shopping. I tried watching Glee with my mom one night, thinking she’d love the singing and dancing, but she just kept talking over the show. Not even about the show but making conversation, which she doesn’t do when watching her Chinese or Korean stuff. Then she kept making comments like, “They’re dancers? But they’re so fat! Her mouth is so big! Her mouth is really big! They can all really sing! They’re like professionals!” Finally, I gave up and went to my room to watch the show on my own.

I was both sad and glad to leave them on Sunday.

My rest of the time in the city I hung out with my pals ES and AY. We went out to Brooklyn and walked all over, which was fun but it was so freaking hot, and I hadn’t brought the right clothes. I packed for a San Francisco summer, not New York. Anyway, we had a late lunch in Park Slope, walked out to DeKalb Market, which was closed by the time we got there but it was still neat to see, then out to Dumbo (which was awesome because it was by the water) where we had a lovely Italian dinner.

The next day we went to, guess where, the High Line! My third time in one long weekend, a record. And again, it was so damned hot. Like in the 90s I think. Although I had a wonderful time with my friends, I was really looking forward to heading back to San Francisco weather and my own apartment.

Not so fast! My flight was supposed to leave at 7:40 PM but then because of “weather” again (ie, thunderstorms) it was delayed to first 9:23, then 10:23. I went through the four stages of delayed flight grief: disbelief, almost crying, anger, and acceptance. Once I had accepted the delay, I was okay. I read, laughed at a toddler pushing his own stroller, went to the bathroom (which was a whole process because of my all my stuff), ate, wandered around, charged my phone, played Words with Friends, ate again. Then before you know it, we were finally boarding the fucking plane.

Unlike my flight out, this plane had little seat TVs. It was such a scam though: they showed previews of all these shows and channels, then after 10 minutes said, “Your free preview is almost over, shell out some cash to actually watch these shows.” Not those words exactly but you know what I mean.

And guess what? I paid the eight bucks. I knew I’d be too tired to read or write, and the idea of a six hour flight with nothing to do seemed unbearable. And you know what? I fell asleep after two shows. Oh well.

At least the flight felt fast. I’d watch some TV, fall asleep for a while, watch more TV, fall asleep again. All of a sudden we were getting ready to land. I fell asleep again, and then we were on the runway. Arrival time: two AM, three hours after schedule. But I was just so glad to be home, in cool jacket-necessary weather, that I didn’t care.

Because it was so late and because not just ours but all flights had been delayed, there were a lot of taxis waiting around, and then no traffic. I was home by 2:30, in bed by 3, and awake by 8 the next morning and off to work. But because I love job, I actually liked going, although by after lunch, I was pooping out.

I’m still thrilled to be back home, especially now that MB has returned from his trip. And although I miss all my east coast friends, I don’t know if could ever live in New York again. That fucking New York summer.

No mosquito bites though.

May 12

Happy Mother’s Day!

I realized today that I write a lot about my mother. Since I can’t be with her today, I thought I’d celebrate her with a round-up of my mom-related writings.

Dear Mom, You Were Right About Everything (Almost). I originally wrote this for The Frisky a while back, but they’re running it again.

Striving for Imperfection. My contribution to the My Tiger Mom and Me anthology.

An Old Man on the Frontier Loses His Horse.  My award-winning essay for the Bellingham Review.

Writing For My Mother. My guest blog post at Wisdom Has a Voice.

And if you want to be amused, here’s some of the crazy stuff my mom has said.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there. Now to call mine and hope she doesn’t grill me about anything.

Mar 12

Researching my novel: War in China and escape

My novel-in-progress is based a lot on my family’s history. There are two voices, one in present day (the adult granddaughter) and the other in the past (the grandmother as a young woman). I’ve heard my grandmother’s stories so many times, I thought it would be easy to put them in fiction form. Not so much.

When I was attempting to write on my train trip, I realized I didn’t know enough about China in the 1930-40s, especially the Sino-Japanese War. I knew a few events but hadn’t gotten straight how important dates in the war lined up with important dates in the grandmother’s life. I was going along, writing about the grandmother, the children she had, the traditional holidays the family celebrated, and her personal tragedies, when suddenly I remembered, Oh shit the war!

At a panel at AWP last month, the writer Ha Jin said something I found very interesting. He said there are three kinds of stories, private, social, and political, and that American students are very good at writing private stories while non-American students mostly write political stories. His words rang true as I was writing: I was focusing on the private and social, and almost completely ignoring the political.

So I stopped writing and went into research mode, which is where I’ve been for the past 10 days. I researched Chinese history before, during, and after the Sino-Japanese War. I learned that China and Germany were actually allies before and in the beginning of the war, and that in the end Hitler sided with Japan because of China’s no-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. I learned about John Rabe, sort of the Schindler of Nanjing. I was highly disturbed by details about the Nanjing Massacre. I learned that Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists seemed to be partly to blame for the Nanjing Massacre, that while officials and the military could leave, citizens were blocked from living due to the “scorched earth” strategy of causing floods and other natural blockades in order to deter the Japanese troops. I learned that Chiang and his men often high-tailed it out of cities right before Japanese attacks, leaving ill-trained troops and citizens to fend for themselves.

I learned about the Japanese Three Alls Policy in the early 1940s, Kill All, Burn All, Destroy All, which involved:

burning down villages, confiscating grain and mobilizing peasants to construct collective hamlets. It also centered on the digging of vast trench lines and the building of thousands of miles of containment walls and moats, watchtowers and roads. These operations targeted for destruction “enemies pretending to be local people” and “all males between the ages of fifteen and sixty whom we suspect to be enemies.”

I guessed it was around this time that my grandfather was imprisoned by the Japanese. As I started writing about that, I kept wondering why he wasn’t killed. The Japanese were so brutal during the war – why was he spared?

I asked my mother, but unfortunately she couldn’t really tell me why. “Puo-puo went to the prison every day,” she said, which I already knew. “She begged and she cried.”

“But was that why he wasn’t killed?” I asked.

My mother didn’t know.

I was telling MB about this, and he thought maybe my grandfather’s family bribed the Japanese. This could very well be. His family was the richest in Weihai, my grandmother always said, and owned half the town. Bribing seems the most plausible explanation for why Gong-gong was suddenly released after just a few months when so many others were killed.

I also kept getting mixed up about when all my aunts and uncles were born. Mom straightened that out for me, as well as reminding me that my grandmother actually had three sons who died, not two like I kept thinking. Two before my mother was born, and one after. The first two died shortly after birth, but the third lived to be over a year.

“I remember Puo-puo cried a lot,” my mother said. “She always talked about how cute he was.”

Mom also told me more about my grandfather’s escape during the Communist Revolution, that he snuck off in the night and, along with some other escapees, hired a boat to row them across the Yellow Sea to Qingdao, where his older sister lived. What would have taken a few days took a week because of a hurricane. For three days, they hid in a cave, waiting the hurricane out. In the meantime, they had lost their food and their shoes, and barefoot and nearly starving, they reached Qingdao.

I already knew about the week-long wagon ride my grandmother took with three kids in tow, my elder aunt, my mother, and my elder uncle who was about one at the time; the year they hid out in Qingdao (during which my younger aunt was born); and the terrible, month-long boat ride to Taiwan. But I didn’t know that they first lived with my grandmother’s brother who had moved to Taiwan a couple of years earlier, around 1946, for business. I didn’t know the house was Japanese-style, and they’d move twice, first to Taipei, then Jing Long.

In my research on the Chinese civil war between the KMT and the Communists, and the subsequent experiences of the Mainlanders who fled to Taiwan, I stumbled on this New York Times article, which lead to me this excellent lecture from Lung Ying-tai, “a Taiwanese essayist and cultural critic.” (I wanted to get her book, Big River Big Sea—Untold Stories of 1949, but unfortunately it’s not available in English.) In the lecture she talks about growing up as on “out-province” child, a foreigner and refugee among the Taiwanese. She didn’t speak the language. The other kids had ancestors and huge family networks while those from the Mainland had nothing.

This isn’t to say “aw the poor Mainlanders.” I also learned about the 228 Incident:

an anti-government uprising in Taiwan that began on February 27, 1947, and was violently suppressed by the Kuomintang (KMT) government. Estimates of the number of deaths vary from 10,000 to 30,000 or more.

Lung also talks about the Chinese civil war in her lecture, specifically the Siege of Changchun, in which “large numbers of civilians starved,” estimating between 150,000 to 330,000 (about 250,000 to 300,000 people were killed in the Nanjing Massacre).

I do want to ask my mother more about growing up in Taiwan, if she felt like an outsider, and how she experienced martial law. I’ll save that for our next conversation.

Mar 12

Way to go bro!

You may know that my brother Greg has been doing one scary thing a day for a year, and he just finished! Congrats! To celebrate he made a compilation video summarizing what he did and put it on Reddit. It ended up on the front page, and now he’s getting press like crazy!

He’s gotten press from Huffington Post (who had also mentioned his No Pants on Metro post), The Daily What, and elsewhere. And today – Yahoo news! For now at least, his video is on the front page under Must See Videos.

He’s right up there with Cozy the 40-pound cat.

I got to do a couple of scary things with Greg over the year. I sat in the audience while he read at Mortified San Francisco, where everyone kept looking at me while he talked about reading my diary as a kid (guess what, I already know!) and bullied encouraged him to get his photo taken at Hot Cookie in the Castro.

I’m totally proud of him and am living vicariously through his fame.

More importantly, his project inspired me to start doing more scary things, such as battling my driving phobia and getting behind the wheel for the first time in years (so it was a go-cart, a license was still required so there); breaking out of my shy shell and being more social; and learning krav maga.

Today I’m reminded and re-inspired. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day, and to use excuses like “I’m too busy” or “It’s not a big deal” to not do scray things. For instance, this week at AWP, I should have been a lot more social (more on that in another post), and while I did meet a few new people, I could have done a lot more.

While I don’t think I’ll be doing a scary thing every day, realizing when I’m entering a “scary” situtation and being more systematic about breaking out of my shell are good first steps to conquering my fears.

Thanks, Greg, for reminding me of that.

Jan 12

No Resolutions

Last week my yoga class was extra crowded with newbies. I’ve nothing against yoga newbies – I was one not too long ago (and still feel like one most of time) – but I know that by the end of January, most of them will have dropped out. The same thing would happen at my company gym: in January it would be crowded with poseurs, and by Valentine’s Day, it would be back to us regulars plus maybe 5% of poseurs.

I stopped making New Year resolutions a while ago. Why wait till January to start something new? Also, resolutions tend to be vague. “This year I’ll be thin! I’ll be more productive! I’ll stop worrying!” Vagueness, for me at least, is a guarantee of failure.

I’ve tried New Year goals, but that hasn’t worked for me. Last year I kept them up for a while then fell off the wagon. I hated not meeting my goals from week to week, so much so that I just gave up entirely.

So what’s a girl to do? This:

  • Adjust my expectations.
  • Set short-term goals – but don’t write them down.
  • Remember my accomplishments.

And here’s how I’m applying them.



I used to do hard cardio five times a week, which was easy with a company gym and Central Park just a few blocks away. I’d run at least four miles, and as much as six. Once a week I’d run between eight and 10 miles.

For a while I beat myself up for doing cardio “only” three times a week, for running “only” three or four miles, or “only” walking. But now I’ve accepted that’s okay, and remind myself that running three miles or walking one or two is better than nothing.

Goals & Accomplishments

You’d think writing down my goals for the week (cardio three times, yoga/weights twice, etc.) would be a good idea. NOT. Like I said, most weeks I wouldn’t meet my goals, and hated that so much, I stopped trying all together.

Now I tell myself my goals but don’t write them. For instance, my goal for October was to start walking to and from the train station on the days I worked, about two miles each way, three times a week. It was very easy to meet this goal because I enjoy walking, it took the same and even less amount of time as the bus, it’s much more relaxing than the bus, and the weather is good out here. Now the walk is not only a habit, but something I look forward to every day.

My goal for the month of December was to go to yoga class twice a week, every week (a class pushes me much harder than I push myself) and to do hard cardio (running or the elliptical) three times a week, every week. I didn’t write these goals in a spreadsheet. I mentioned them in my blog, but otherwise just held the goals in my mind.

And guess what, I made my goal! There was one day I missed yoga class because I had to go into the office (boo!) but at least I did an hour of yoga at home.

What’s also helped is tracking my progress after the fact. I love filling my spreadsheet with what I’ve accomplished, which encourages me to do something, no matter how small, every day.

My January goal is to continue what I’ve been doing, and also to do burpees/weights/yoga at least once a week. Right now I did that sometimes, but not consistently.



I continue to struggle to have no expectations about my writing. I try to concentrate on the task at hand, and not worry about being successful (whatever that means) or comparing myself to other writers. Staying busy helps.


These past few months I’ve felt blah about my writing. I haven’t published much outside of work, and have totally neglected The Nervous Breakdown, where I’m supposed to post once a month. Then I looked back at what I’d done over the year, and now feel re-energized and re-inspired. Here’s a totally self-indulgent recap of my writing accomplishments from over the year:


I wrote about my war with rats. Some Frisky readers gave me some love.


I wrote about what I think about when I should be thinking about nothing while doing yoga.


At The Nervous Breakdown, I was the featured author and also wrote about childhood and death. For The Frisky, I wrote about why I stand by Planned Parenthood. I kicked off the publicity campaign for my memoir by asking you guys to help me pick a cover and held a contest giving away copy of my book.


For Dark Sky Magazine, I wrote about vampires, tattoos, and divorce. I continued to market my memoir by giving all contest participants a free copy. I got some awesome new author photos. For The Frisky, I wrote that I’m really bad at being wrong, and for The Nervous Breakdown, about caring for someone with Parkinson’s disease.


I updated my website and published my memoir, woot! I wrote about the curse of the imperial roll. These cute little dictionaries I edited last year were published.


I started tweeting a lot for work, beginning with a live tweet of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. My piece that won Bellingham Review‘s 2010 nonfiction contest was published, and the contest judge wrote something very nice about it. I received my first real review (thanks Ed Lin and Giant Robot!). For the anthology Wisdom Has a Voice, I wrote about my dear grandmother. For The Nervous Breakdown, I wrote about things I’ve found on the sidewalk.


I got some more Nervous Breakdown love. For the Frisky, I wrote that I’m neither a trophy nor a tiger. I started blogging a lot for work.


I kicked off my 12 months, 60 Rejections project (I’ve made 16 submissions and have had three rejections and one acceptance so far). At The Frisky, I wrote that I’m divorced, get over it. I won first place in Hyperink’s My Tiger Mom and Me contest, and was published in their anthology.


I wrote a shit ton for work, including words about work, words in fashion, pirate words, punctuation rules, and drinks: wine, tea, funny drink names, coffee, and beer.


For work, I wrote all about Halloween as well as Hangul Day, and started writing a bi-weekly series called Word Soup, in which I round up funny and interesting words from TV (and you know I watch a lot of TV!). I got invited to speak at the BlogHer Writers’ Conference and had a great time. I finished reading John Truby’s Anatomy of a Story, went through all the exercises, and planned my novel. I finished compiling and editing a book of essays to enter in a few contests (the essays are a mixture of stuff I’ve published and a couple of newish ones).


For work, I wrote about Saintly Words for All Saints’ Day; Words on Plot and Treason for Guy Fawkes’ Day; Palindromes and Other Word Play for 11/11/11; and turkey words for Thanksgiving. I decided to do NaNoWriMo differently this year, and while I didn’t complete it, I continued to work on my novel.


I continued to work on my novel, and submitted a story pitch, my first in months – yay!


My goals for writing are even shorter-term than for fitness. In general I want to work on my own writing every day, even if for a little bit, whether it’s my novel, my blog, a pitch, or a shorter piece. For a couple of months (which felt like several), I really neglected my own writing. What’s helping so far is writing before I turn on my computer. With my novel (for which I spent September and October planning out the characters and all the scenes), I’ve been handwriting a few scenes, then typing them up. When I type, I also edit and add.

My goals for my novel are day by day. For instance, today I want to hand write a few scenes. I usually need a little breather after I write a few scenes, to sort of let them clear from my head so that when I type them, I can see them with a fresh eye, so then I’ll work on something else the next day, either my blog or a pitch. This week I went to turn in another story pitch.

I don’t really have a drop dead date for when the novel should be done. Right now I’m just going day by day.

Other goals I’m keeping in the back of my mind are to catch up on my reading in The Nervous Breakdown, and to write an essay for January.

So no resolutions for me. No “From now on, I’m going to be X.” All I can ask of myself is to continue these small goals, which if you think about it, add up to bigger ones anyway.

Nov 11

Remembering Thanksgiving

I used to fantasize about having a big family gathering for Thanksgiving. I pictured a house full of people, a big shiny turkey, and all the fixings. Instead, it was just me, my parents, and my brother, a dry chicken, and Stove Top Stuffing.

Every year I asked my mom, “Why don’t you invite everyone to our house?”

“Because I don’t want to cook for so many people,” she’d say.

After my brother Greg moved to California for college, Thanksgiving became even more pathetic with just me and my parents. But at least we had convinced my mother to give up on baking fowl, and we began the tradition of Mongolian hot pot.

After I got married, I finally got my big family gathering, but along with that came a lot of stress. Every year my ex’s aunt would offer to host, but somehow the big day always ended up my in-laws’, despite the fact that my mother-in-law was bedridden with Parkinson’s disease. It was a pride thing: my father-in-law, the eldest in the family, didn’t want to lose face and so felt compelled to host 10 to 12 people every November.

What made things worse was that he was obsessive about cleanliness. At eight AM, he’d wake us up to wash dishes, cups, and utensils that were already clean. My ex, who was a good cook, was in charge of the food, which he resented with every ounce of his being while his parents considered it his duty.

Rather, it should have been my duty, as the daughter-in-law in a traditional Korean house, but I can’t cook. I’ll wash all the dishes in the world, but you don’t want me in charge of an elaborate meal. Of course my ex knew this about me before we married, but still he thought I would miraculously change. As for me, I had buried my head in the sand about my in-laws’ expectations.

Throughout the day, my ex and his parents would fight. About a week before any big family gathering, my eye would start to twitch in anticipation of all the fighting that would occur. I guess my ex felt put upon having to be in charge of stuff all the time. My mother-in-law would become very stressed out. Like her husband, she worried a lot about losing face, and while she couldn’t do anything, she’d hover and worry about what we were doing.

By the time the guests arrived, everyone would be calm and happy, as though nothing had happened. But my eye would still be twitching.

After four years of these kinds of Thanksgivings, I grew to detest the holiday. That first one after my divorce, I was still burning with anger and resentment. I ran away to L.A. and had Thanksgiving with my brother, who cooked a big and yummy meal for the two of us and a friend. We had many multiple servings.

The Thanksgiving after that one my mother and I had a huge fight. Basically, she was hurt that I had distanced myself from her and my dad after my divorce, but guised it in the fact that I had neglected to bring a hostess gift. But the turkey days since that one have been much better. By November 2007, I was dating MB, and the following November, he joined me at my parents’ house.

In 2009, our first in California, was that festive Thanksgiving I had always dreamed about. MB and I flew down to L.A. since my parents and aunt were staying with my grandmother in Orange County while my uncle and his family were away. My brother Greg was also there, along with my cousin, her husband, and their daughter. Greg single-handedly cooked a delicious meal for 11 people! You can feast your eyes on the pictures in the linked post.

I loved that day because it was fun and low-stress. Everyone who was there wanted to be there. Greg wanted to cook that meal (I presume!). My aunt and mother buzzed around him, not really believing that he could cook, and everyone was (overly) surprised at how delicious everything was.

Last Thanksgiving was quiet but peaceful. My grandmother had just died, and MB and I were exhausted from traveling down to L.A. for the funeral, then back up to the Bay Area for the burial. While the funeral and burial were sad, it was also weirdly fun to be around all of my family. But a couple of days of that was enough. By Thanksgiving, I only wanted to be around MB.

The city was so quiet (except of course for the grocery store). Our building seemed empty. It was almost like this little world of just me and MB.

Tomorrow is more of the same. I can’t wait.