Demonstrating Responsibility

It’s common knowledge that Asian parents express their love much differently than their Western counterparts. As far as we their offspring were concerned, there were several ways we knew our parentals loved us.

  • True love was when you got a bowl haircut identical to your older and younger siblings for the sake of practicality.
  • True love was when you were taught a new idiom in your native language for all life scenarios that have happened in the history of life.
  • True love was when you asked for help with a math problem and received a full page of homemade practice problems.

My little sister Jamie had since a very young age tried to test the limits of this love by asking over and over again for a dog. Like all of her fellow pint-sized peers, she swore she would walk the dog, feed the dog, clean up after the dog, clean the dog itself, and so forth. It was a 16-year journey before Mama and Papa Kim cracked and got our current dog Soba, but the path to canine ownership was not an easy one.

I mustache you to feed me...

I mustache you to feed me…

The first time Jamie made a genuine effort to propose the idea of getting a dog, my parents decided to take a more academic route in pursuit of her dreams. This meant that instead of getting an actual dog at Christmas (as noted in caps and highlighted on her wish list), she received the next best thing; obviously, this was an encyclopedia of every type of dog as identified by the breeding community.

Some time passed before she decided to make another attempt. This time around, instead of coming home to a disappointed sibling, I came home to one of frustrated rage.

Me: Ooh. You’re upset. What’s wrong?
My sister: I asked Dad for a dog again!
Me: And he said no again?
My sister: Yes! He said I had to “demonstrate responsibility” so he took me to Home Depot and LOOK WHAT HE GOT ME!
Me: Um, what is that?
My sister: It’s a CACTUS! He wants me to take care of a cactus! I DON’T EVEN NEED TO WATER IT!

Not thrilled. Not thrilled at all.

Not thrilled. Not thrilled at all.

White On Wednesdays

It blows my mind when I hear my friends tell me how unbearable and miserable the idea of living with their parents is.

Not a fan of free rent?
Dislike the idea of a stocked refrigerator?
Hate coming home to cleanliness?

Then YES, living parent-free is the way to be! For the rest of us in the most broke-as-joke time of our lives, it’s not the worst thing in the world if you have at minimum a tolerable relationship with the parentals.

After I opted to relocate to my parents’ humble abode last summer, it was just me and Papa Kim for a few months. As someone who worked from home, he started teaching himself how to tackle chores that my mother otherwise used to do around the house. He picked up cooking faster than I expected, and laundry even quicker than the cooking. In the process, he made the following observation:

“Hello, Sandy. We are not wearing enough white clothes for a full load, so please wear only dark colors from now on. Thank you.”

A few more loads of laundry later, I came home to a new policy and procedure.

“Hello, Sandy. Rather than not wearing white, we should wear ALL white every other week. So what we wear will be based on our laundry schedule. I am a genius. Thank you.”

Time to do the laundry. Literally, the time.

Time to do the laundry. Literally, the time.


Mall Days With Madonna

My grandmother never baked us chocolate chip cookies. She never took us to the zoo. She never crocheted anything for us either.

What she did do, though, was cook up one helluva pot of 滷肉飯, or braised pork rice, and teach us a few things about how a classy lady should carry herself.

  • Every day is a great day to be out with an amazing handbag
  • There is no limit to the number of black cardigans one can have in any season, of which there are only two: the Season to Wear a Black Cardigan, and the Season to Consider Wearing a Black Cardigan
  • Nobody is ever too old for false eyelashes

“Fashion forward.” That’s what you call a woman like my grandmother. So much so that she’s been affectionately been monikered “Madonna” by a few of us grandchildren. But that’s not to mean that Madonna is always putting fashion in front of function. When we noticed that the jeans she wore one afternoon were looking a little mom-ish, we hustled our heinies off to inform her that perhaps her own heinie wasn’t looking too hot in them. But how do you let a fashionista know when she might not have won “Who Wore It Best” that day?

Good grandchildren tell their grandma when her pants are looking like this.

Good grandchildren tell their grandma when her pants are looking like this.

Madonna took it surprisingly well. So well, in fact, that by the next morning, she’d retired her jeans to the burn pile. And all of us know what happens to apparel turned over to the burn pile.

They are worn to the gym.

In the few – but always wonderful – times when Madonna comes to visit the United States, there are always at least a few days devoted to retail therapy. These days are planned out in advance though, because they are physically grueling and mentally taxing – Madonna doesn’t do 5Ks in shopping. She eats them for breakfast en route to marathons.  I was privileged enough one day to be assigned to Madonna accompaniment detail, and spent the better part of the day like this.

Madonna: “What store are we in again?”
Me: “This is Chanel.”
Madonna: “Oh, excellent. What is the store next to it?”
Me: “That’s Louis Vuitton.”
Madonna: “Yes, let’s go in there.”
Me: “Okay, sure.”
Madonna (after browsing enough Louis): “And what does this store name say?”
Me: “Now we’re at Gucci.”
Madonna: “Oh, Gucci! Let me take a look in here too.”

All is fair in love and Louis.

All is fair in love and Louis.

Madonna: “Oh, what is this store?”
Me: “This is Michael Kors.”
Madonna: “Who? We can skip this, I don’t know what that is.”

Riot With the Diet

When genetics forced my father into a doctor-induced, low-fat, no-carb diet a few years ago while my siblings and I were still living at home, it meant we were now ALL on a low-fat, no-carb diet. And for any righteous Asian, this sudden announcement signified we now had a problem on our hands bigger than the possible onset of high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

“‘No rice’!? What do you mean, ‘NO RICE’!? Mayday, MAYDAY!”

My mother took charge right away and overhauled our pantry and refrigerator, transforming our family dinners. Instead of eating a protein and vegetables, now we were eating a protein and a SHIT TON of vegetables. For years my father remained devoutly disciplined. We watched in awe and sympathy as he divorced starches and began dating our elliptical. When he and I became roommates all over again last year, a trip to Costco was just business as usual.

My dad: Did you get your Chapstick and some floss?
Me: Yes. Were you able to find toilet paper?
My dad: Uh huh. Do you think we’re going to need all of these paper tow – oh look, wine!

It didn’t take us long to get everything we needed after following our strategy of “conquer and divide,” so we spent a little more time browsing through the behemoth of a warehouse. As we wandered listlessly through the aisles, I stopped when I realized the sound of our shopping cart had diminished. I turned and saw my father gazing wistfully at an item on the shelf.

My dad: We need to buy Doritos.
Me: Why?
My dad: I miss them. And your mom is not here.

No Dad, that's nacho reality! It's only a dream!

No Dad, that’s nacho reality! It’s only a dream!

How do you say no to someone who never so much as allowed himself a single cheat day? You don’t.

For the Love of a White Shirt

Let me tell you something about being Asian. Amongst the many benefits, including fantastic math and never-aging skin, is the newfound permission to shop in luxury boutiques looking like a complete shmuck and still receiving grade-A service. The sudden economic growth means that our people now have a considerably heftier budget for brand name spending – and aren’t afraid to do so. Long story short, the days of Julia-Roberts-as-Vivian-Ward-in-Pretty-Woman and crappy customer service are over for us even if we come in with Crocs and socks.

If Michelle Obama, the Queen of England, and an Asian walk into Chanel, who is more likely to make a purchase? We are.
If a new Hermes opens up, who is staking out the first 100 spots in line? We are.
If the below outfit is available, who is willing to wear it?

Monday blues, Tuesday pinks, Wednesday greens, etc. Photo credit: Alice Chiang

Monday blues, Tuesday pinks, Wednesday greens, etc.
Photo credit: Alice Chiang

We are.

The concentration of brands like Gucci, Fendi, and Dior in Las Vegas make the city a shopping mecca for my fellow compatriots visiting from the Far East, and my family is no exception. My uncle Andy and aunt Jean make annual trips to Sin City for vacation, and have never once left without at least a few more articles to their wardrobes. I was therefore caught off guard when my aunt called me one afternoon in a frantic panic over a shirt she forgot to buy.

Me: What do you mean, you “forgot to buy” a shirt?
Aunt Jean: I don’t know! I’m on the way to the airport now though and I need you to get it for me. Can you try to find it and give it to your cousin Tiffany to bring back for me?
Me: Sure, what store is it from?
Aunt Jean: See, that’s the tricky thing. I don’t know the name of the store.
Me: What do you mean, you “don’t know the name of the store”?  Can you describe the shirt to me then?
Aunt Jean: Absolutely! It’s a white, button down shirt that ties at the bottom.
Me: You want me to find a white…button down shirt…from a store you can’t remember the name of?
Aunt Jean: Yes, I know it sounds crazy – but, oh! Let me describe the store to you to help you out.
Me: Oh, good.
Aunt Jean: It’s very narrow, and it has a lot of glass. Thank you so much!

“It’s very narrow, and it has a lot of glass”!? OH, WELL THAT SHOULD BE EASY ENOUGH. Armed with those clear-as-crystal instructions, I set off, equipped with nothing more than a cell phone with my cousin at the end of it, suggesting all the female apparel stores that might carry a white button down shirt. How hard could it be? 

Two hours and no white shirt later, I called my cousin back. I couldn’t do it. What sounded ridiculous to me from the get go turned out to BE ridiculous. What the hell was I thinking when I said I could give this a shot? As I held the phone up to my ear and prepared to break the unfortunate news to Tiffany, I suddenly heard a voice behind me.

It was the voice of God. 

“I’m going to have to call you back,” I said in disbelief, dropping the phone into my bag as I suddenly faced a narrow store, with a lot of glass. And like Criss Angel can only dream of doing, I felt a spirit lift and guide my body straight toward a white button down shirt that tied at the end. A summertime miracle! Jesus, forgive me of my sins – I BELIEVE. And with that, I stepped out of the store just as quickly as I had walked in, though this time I left with the goods in hand.

And the Lord said, "Behold. Seek and you shall receive."

And the Lord said, “Behold. Seek and you shall receive.”

My aunt and I saw each other on a number of visits before I finally remembered to inquire about the most important shirt I have ever purchased in my life.

Me: How are you liking that white shirt, by the way?
Aunt Jean: Oh! Funny you should mention it. It was a little big on me so I took it to the tailor but after I got it back I never wore it again!

You’re right, Aunt Jean. IT’S FREAKIN’ HILARIOUS.

(By the way, for those of you wondering – the store was Catherine Malandrino.)

Breakfast Is Served

It is a universally accepted truth that whenever one heads home to the motherland in Asia – whichever country that may be – there are always two questions one is required to field.

The first is what most of us have come to learn to shrug off as a way of life. An unavoidable obstacle. A rite of passage, if you will.

Anyone. Anyone at all: “Do you have a boy/girlfriend?”
You: “No.”
Anyone: “What? Why not!? HOW CAN THAT BE!?”
You: “Oh you know. I’m, um, really focusing on my career right now.”
Anyone: “But you’re so smart/attractive/*insert any adjective that makes it completely offensive to be single*!”

On the flip side however, the second question, though equally overwhelming, is much more manageable and appropriate for beginners.

Anyone: “What do you want to eat?”
You: “Anything. Wait. No - everything.”

The problem isn’t that we’re clueless about cuisine; the issue is that the selection is just too great. It could mean an evening chowing on street food at the night market, slurping the best beef noodle soup in a stall that would be lucky to given a C- by the health department in the U.S., or noshing on juicy pork dumplings marinating in their own broth.

On a solo trip to Taiwan, my grandfather posed question two late on my first evening to me, when obviously at that point we were beyond question one. In the mood to hit my list of eats ASAP, I answered, “Shao bing you tiao,” a typical Taiwanese breakfast that consists of a savory, flaky pastry that envelops a deep fried length of dough, and occasionally sandwiching eggs as well. Hearing this, my grandfather kicked into action, going straight into a game plan for the following morning in which he proclaimed we would go to “the most famous shao bing stand in all of Taichung,” “Taichung” being our home city. With that being said, we set off at 9a sharp the next day to the famed purveyor of all things shao bing, which turned out to be only a brisk walk from the house.

Shao Bing

Look at that glorious you tiao sitting atop the shao bing with an egg, accompanied by scallion pancakes and a glass of soy milk. Just. Glorious.

And delicious the breakfast was. The shao bing crumbled with every bite and the you tiao stayed crispy, even after hugging the egg between my two hands. The delectable cycle would then start all over again after each sip of soy milk I took, cleansing my palate every few moments. The two of us enjoyed the silence as we sat on our rickety, very made-in-Taiwan chairs, chewing in focus and relishing a rare one-on-one meal. 

As the entire experience sadly came to a conclusion, my grandfather and I gathered up our belongings as we prepared for the short trek home. It is important to note that my grandfather is our family’s in-house Ansel Adams. He is therefore committed to documenting each occasion in life no matter how significant with his digital camera, which he has only recently graduated to from the disposable camera. Exiting the shao bing stand, he chirped that I had to get a picture of the most famous shao bing joint in the city.

I obliged, and positioned myself as best I could in front of the place, squinting into the sun, but not before I saw the brows in my grandfather’s face furrowed in a deep frown. I blinked a few times in confusion before finally asking what was wrong.

My grandfather: “This is the most famous place in Taichung for shao bing! You have not visited Taiwan in YEARS! Don’t you think it is more important that when you go back you show them a picture of ME in front of here!?”

Turns out my grandfather and I can't be the subjects in the same photo simultaneously.

Turns out my grandfather and I can’t be the subjects in the same photo simultaneously.

The Luggage Lady

As a long distance runner, I’ve recently started working out at a local CrossFit gym, Decibel, to build some upper body strength that I otherwise had none of. In a span of roughly six weeks, I am happy to report that I am starting to see – but more importantly, FEEL – the results. When I first started, I was able to do zero push ups (God, I feel so vulnerable putting it out there like that). Just last week, however, my coach congratulated me as I can now do two. In a row, I might add.

So what’s a girl to do with all of this new found muscle? What any sensible daughter with a clear conscience would do, of course. Lug the extra suitcases for a mother who has zero concept about the term “baggage limit.” My mother and I are about to embark on a journey to the motherland, AKA the great island nation of Taiwan and as usual, my mother has saved her packing for the last minute, and because we are going during Chinese New Year, her stress is at an all-time high. Mama Kim is a classic example of an overpacker and is always coming up with creative new ways to push the envelope on how to warp this term.

Case in point -

Me: “Why is there only one suitcase set aside for me?”
My mom: “Oh, I took one. You’re only there for a few weeks while I’ll be there for a few months so I am using one of your suitcase allowances to pack more.”
Me: “Do you really need 3 suitcases for all of your things?”
My mom: “I’ll be there for A FEW MONTHS! The weather is going to change a lot!”
Me: “Are you not planning on doing laundry at all while you’re there?”
My mom: “I don’t have time for this. I need to go pack.”

If this act of generosity doesn't get me nominated for Daughter of the Year, I don't know what will

If this act of generosity doesn’t get me nominated for Daughter of the Year, I don’t know what will

I’m not of much help as I watch on, as she divvies up all of her belongings into “only” three suitcases. The thing is, she knows she embodies everything about what it means to be an heavy packer, and yet, there have been zero attempts to stage an intervention. In fact, after returning from a trip to San Francisco last weekend to visit my cousin Tiffany, who is also going to Taiwan for the holiday, I found out just how grave this situation had become when Skyping with Tiffany.

My mom: “So how was the trip? Did you enjoy ‘Book of Mormon’?”
Tiffany: “It was great! We all really had a great time, it was hilarious.”
My mom: “That’s good. OH! You know what I just realized?”
Tiffany: “What’s that?”
My mom: “Well Sandy took Southwest up to see you in SF. Doesn’t Southwest allow for two free checked bags? Darn, I should have had her go with a packed suitcase for you to take back to Taiwan too!”

As I relayed this story to my father, who is already in Taiwan, I laughed as I commented on how my mother must have been kidding.

My dad: “Hahahaha! But NO. She was NOT joking.”

One Bag of Rice

Any participating member of society has heard at some point of the misery the male species has suffered at the hands of their female counterparts when out shopping. Let us not forget, however, of another demographic that remains equally afflicted – if not more – from obligatory participation in retail therapy yet has no voice to champion their cause: children whose parents bring them along for this “pastime.”

As a child, my siblings and I would be frequently taken to the Asian mecca of western suburbia, 99 Ranch Market, under the ruse that my mother only needed “one bag of rice.” 3 pounds of Fuji apples, a 6-pack of udon noodles, a package of pork balls, several sheets of fish cake, enough garlic to ward off Dracula, and multiple bunches of scallions later, we would emerge.

This looks like a cartoon, but it is actually a photograph.

This looks like a cartoon, but it is actually a photograph.

“One bag of rice.” Please.

So when my younger brother Dennis and Jamie sister returned with what looked like every fiber of their core sucked from their beings after a trip to the outlet stores with my mother, I knew exactly what happened.

My sister: “Mom said we were going to two stores, J. Crew and Banana Republic. Two. Stores. Do you KNOW where we ended up going to? J. Crew and Banana Republic, AND THEN to Tumi, Armani Exchange, Gap, Vans, and Nike.”
My mom: “Well J. Crew was closed, so it didn’t count in the quota!”
My sister: “Do you KNOW what Dennis and I did at Gap!? We waited in line. So that Mom wouldn’t have to. And do you KNOW what she bought!? One pair of pants. ONE.”

Looks like shopping with our mother in 2013 is exactly like it was in 1993.


When the reality of living with my father in Las Vegas temporarily without my mother finally hit me a few months ago, I realized that everyone else’s concerns regarding curfews, potential (though currently non-existent) boyfriends, and social decline were petty compared to what was constantly on my mind.

“How are we going to eat!?”

Consider this. I was working a job with slavish hours that had physically exhausted me to the point where I felt like cheese and crackers and scrambled eggs were both fine choices for dinner. My dad, on the other hand, had the culinary expertise of boiling dumplings, heating up ramen, and making scrambled eggs (I got it from him). That being said, we had to do something about our dining dilemma – our house was located in an emptier part of town, so as my dad put it, we “could die here, and nobody will know. FOR DAYS!” With Papa Kim having the luxury of working from the comforts of our own home, however, he was given the mandatory opportunity for the post of Household Iron Chef.

Surprisingly enough, Papa Kim managed to find his way with a knife and wok, and we were able to break bread nightly with no kitchen mishaps at all. It didn’t take me long to learn that my dad had a great love for ginger either. We had ginger-infused cabbage, green beans with ginger, tofu garnished with ginger – until finally, I just had to ask.

Me: Dad. Is this supposed to taste like ginger?
My dad: I put a little ginger in.
Me: I think there might be more than a little ginger in.
My dad: Oh, really? Hmm. Okay, maybe next time I will just add less ginger in.

It turned out that Papa Kim was under the impression that ginger was supposed to go in EVERYTHING. In consulting with Mama Kim about the correct apportionment of the ingredients, he received this less-than-enthused response from the Kim family kitchen goddess.

“Oh. You’re not supposed to put ginger in that dish.”

As my dad got more and more comfortable around the stove, he even mentioned, “You know what? I don’t think cooking is that hard after all!”

My dad: How exactly are you supposed to chop an onion?
Me: I usually slice it close to the core up and down, then left and right, and finally turn the onion on its side to cube it all.
My dad: Oh. I didn’t know that. I just ended up grabbing a second knife and chopping everything up with both hands because it got too messy.

To his credit, my dad has  more than five hairs on his head, but I don't know how to draw good hair.

To his credit, my dad has more than five hairs on his head, but I don’t know how to draw good hair. And yes, in the spirit of kitchen-ness, this was drawn on a paper towel.

So when Mama Kim stopped by for a quick home check on the two of us one weekend, I remembered the onions when passing by La Bonita, a Mexican supermarket in the area.

Me: Oh, the produce here is really cheap. Sometimes you can get up to 20 pounds of onions for $1!
My dad: What can you do with 20 pounds of onions!?
My mom: You can practice chopping.

Several days later, my dad had a new epiphany.

“You know what, I don’t think I actually enjoy cooking that much.”

Bicycle: A True Story

As a member of the United States Coast Guard on active duty, I’d say my sister spends significantly more time working out than the average American. She religiously wakes up at 4:30a during the workweek to exercise, won’t shut up to everyone and anyone she meets about how much she loves CrossFit, and has on multiple occasions brusquely ended phone calls with us to go to the gym. Which I guess makes sense. I mean, if you’re going to be part of a team offloading $19 million worth of cocaine, I suppose you’d need a muscle or two.

If there’s any form of physical activity my sister does not enjoy, it’d be running or anything like it and in fact shares these sentiments openly.

“I would lose a lot of weight running the hills in San Francisco if I lived here because I’d run faster since everyone is always looking at you. Oh, so do people in Charleston [South Carolina]! I like it there, it’s a beach town. But not like Newport Beach [California] where it costs $1 million just to take a shit.”

Not long after my sister moved for a new assignment, she announced her intentions to bike to her base from her home. Naturally at this point, my mother curiously interrogated her about this plan, therefore negating the need for any of the rest of us to ask any questions.

My mom: Wait. So you’re going to BIKE to work?
My sister: Yes.
My mom: How are you going to BIKE to work?
My sister: I’m going to ride to the rapid transit station by my house, take the rail to the closest station by my base, and then ride from there.
My mom: I see. How far is it if you BIKE to work?
My sister: Around 30 miles or so.
My mom: Do a lot of people on your ship BIKE to work?
My sister: Yeah, because parking on the base is really crowded.

Bike ho, bike ho, it's off to work she goes

Bike ho, bike ho, it’s off to work she goes

My dad: Do you even have a bike?
My sister: No, that is the only thing missing from this equation.