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Growing up, there were a few things that I was petrified of saying to my parents.

“Mom and Dad, I got in a car accident.”
“Mom and Dad, I got a B this semester in math.”
“Mom and Dad, I started seeing someone.”

And then there were those things I would never, EVER say to them.

“Mom and Dad, what if I didn’t go to college?”

Oh, no. No, no, no. As the offspring of immigrants, we knew from day one that first comes college, then comes love, then comes marriage and the rest of that K-I-S-S-I-N-G song. “Not going” was simply “not applicable.”

Is there ever such a thing as "too much" homework?

How come parents don’t believe in a thing called “too much homework”?

My younger sister Jamie and I both had a pretty clear idea of either where we wanted to go or what we wanted to study by the end of high school, so the college application process for us was relatively painless. Our brother, on the other hand, was as undecided as it could get.

“I’m a great coach and tutor, so maybe I want to be a teacher. But I know I’m also good with people, so maybe I should go into hotel management like you, Sandy. I really like my psychology class that I’m taking now, though, do you think I should major in psych? I have an interest in photography too, suppose I studied art?”

Needless to say, the above conversation was just about what to study. We hadn’t even yet reached the point of where to study. Eventually we made it there, and soon it became the anticipated waiting game for acceptance (and unfortunately, rejection) letters. When the time came to select a campus, Jamie felt it would be helpful to offer some insight into how she ended up at the school that she did.

My sister: “I chose the U.S. Coast Guard Academy for the free education and the chance to serve my country.”
My brother: “Yes, but the University of Arizona will give me a free iPad if I go there.”

Priorities made in 'Murrica.

Keeping it real, only in ‘Murrica.

Neither Here Nor There

The only thing better than shopping at Costco is shopping at Costco with a parent. I refuse to believe that I am the only young adult who conveniently coincides the need for bulk toilet paper, toothpaste, and almond milk with a visit from Mom and/or Dad.

IT JUST SO HAPPENED that on one of Mama Kim’s recent trips to see me, I was out of cotton rounds when she mentioned she would be stopping by Costco. After combing through the appropriate aisles high and low, we finally accepted that this item was simply just out of stock. Luckily for me, my mother was en route back to California not too long after, where she continued The Great Cotton Round Hunt in not one, not two, but three stores. At this point, I wasn’t too sure if the $0.73 per pack we would have saved would have still been worth our while had we found it anyway, but I thanked her for the effort, and said goodbye as she flew back to Taiwan.

A quick trip to Target allowed me to replenish my fizzling supply of the product and the issue was no longer a concern by the time my parents announced they were spontaneously flying to South Korea for a weekend getaway, several weeks after the initial search. Imagine my surprise when I woke up to a text message later from my mother, reading,

“There is a Costco here in Daegu, South Korea and they have cotton rounds! I bought some for you!”

Which would have been wonderful news, truly, if it weren’t for the tiny detail that she and the cotton rounds were only 6,000 miles away from me. Considering it would be some time before my mother came to the United States again, I decided to make peace with the fact that the elusive Costco cotton rounds and I were just not meant to be.

Some time passed and it wasn’t long before my sister was on vacation in Taiwan as well to visit relatives, my parents included. As I caught up with her one afternoon over FaceTime, she brought up something that quite frankly, had fallen off of my radar screen a while ago.

My sister: “Well I’m here for a week or so more, and then I will be flying back to Las Vegas. Can you pick me up from the airport, or will I have to take a taxi?”
Me: “If you don’t mind waiting about 20-30 minutes for me, I can pick you up as soon as I end work.”
My sister: “That’s great! Oh, by the way, Mom brought back a huge box of cotton rounds from her trip to Korea last month. Are these for you, and am I supposed to bring them back for you?”

Cotton rounds flown in from a Korean Costco: the most expensive ones I've ever used in my life

Cotton rounds flown in from a Korean Costco: the most expensive ones I’ve ever used in my life

Thank you, Mom. Now these are only 6,800 miles away. I believe we have officially left the zone of cost-effectiveness.

Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That

When my sister expressed an interest a few years ago in attending the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the rest of us weren’t sure how to process this information. Not because we thought she was crazy, but because all we heard was, “Aakboir42onvbjfl cviornkb 309bkke.” It wasn’t until she returned home for the first time after enrolling that we really begin to see just how different a military school was from a “normal” university.

We listened in horror as she relayed tales of what essentially translated to just a lot of marching and a whole lot more of yelling. We leaned in as she told us about having to turn corners in the hallways at 90 degree angles, eating meals while being able to look forward only, and memorizing the day’s meals for recitation to her superiors. I’m pretty sure we just call this “hazing” as civilians.

To top it all off, we also learned that failure to meet the academy’s expectations would result in, um, coaching opportunities that included staying on patrol duty longer or keeping doors to one’s dorm open later.

My sister: “I had a classmate who played a prank on one of the kids in my class.”
My dad: “Did anything happen to her?”
My sister: “Oh yeah. She was required to stay in uniform until 2200 for three weeks.”
Me, my dad, and my brother (in unison): “Ohhh.”

Only 2008

Timeless. We were literally TIMELESS.

My mom: “What do you mean, ‘until 2200’? But it’s only 2008 right now!”

Sign of the Times

While listening to my grandfather lecture us all about the indecency of this generation’s obsession with tattoos one afternoon, I decided to have some fun and lied that I had one too. My jaw dropped a little when he didn’t even bat an eye, carrying on as if he hadn’t even heard me. And that’s when it hit me – he hadn’t even heard me. While my cousins and I all consider ourselves close to our grandfather, there are just some old school habits that we couldn’t have known about if it weren’t for his overseas vacation this month, making us that much more aware that he is from a pre-World War II epoch.

  • A love of paper. My grandfather has a tremendous infatuation with paper products – swiping free magazines of any kind and anywhere, collecting business cards after every meal, and requesting napkins for almost every bite. “Recycling” and “sustainability” are not commonly used vocabulary words.
  • A need for connection. After years of running his own business as a CEO, mi abuelo is petrified of missing any “super important calls.” This means instead of allowing us to show him how to use free programs like FaceTime or Skype, he would rather let his phone roam and dial people 6,000 miles away to rehash his day’s activities.
  • A passion for fashion. Something about his era meant that every time was an occasion to dress up. There were only three times in the day when pajamas were allowed: right before bedtime, during bedtime, and right after bedtime. Even mealtimes at home meant dashing to the bedroom for a quick costume change.

Speaking of mealtimes at home, it was during my cousin TIffany’s arrival from San Francisco that my mother decided to serve hot pot one evening. Hot pot is essentially like Eastern fondue, except instead of swishing bread and protein into a boiling pot of queso, we’re dipping meat and vegetables into a vat of broth.

A picture may speak 1000 words, but sometimes "gorgeous" is the only one you need

A picture may speak 1000 words, but sometimes “gorgeous” is the only one you need

While my mother prepped the ingredients, Tiffany and I chatted around the dining table with her, all the while my grandfather dozed off in a long nap. Upon waking up – right in time for dinner, conveniently – he shuffled into the kitchen, but not before he had changed from his pajamas into a bright polo shirt and khakis.

My grandfather: “Wow, how long did I sleep for? This is kind of late for dinner!”
My mom: “A few hours. You needed the rest.”
My grandfather: “You’re telling me that an easy meal like this took you several hours to prepare?”
My cousin: “There’s a lot of prep work for hot pot! You have to wash and chop a lot of ingredients!”
My grandfather: “But there were three of you.”
Me: “Well it was mostly my mom – Tiffany and I were reading most of the time.”
My grandfather: “So when you two should be reading, you’re not. But you choose now to crack open a book, is that it?”

My cousin Tiffany and I rebelling - in the kitchen, but not IN the kitchen

My cousin Tiffany and I rebelling – in the kitchen, but not IN the kitchen

 

American History: A Speech

When I was in college, the privilege of studying abroad also meant the luxury of sitting through several cultural awareness classes before heading to a new country. I suppose my attention span was even shorter than it already is back then, because the below was pretty much all I took from these workshops -

  1. Americans think they know everything about the United States.
  2. Lesson #1 is false. Everyone except Americans actually knows everything about the United States.
  3. Lessons #1 and #2 are the reason why people outside of the United States don’t seem to like Americans.

Since returning stateside, I’ve been employed in an industry that allows me to meet people from all over the globe, who remind me daily of the challenges of adapting to a new culture. Folks, the struggle is real.

  • “Why are people speaking English so slowly to me? I’ve had to learn this language since I was 5. That and French, German, and Italian.”
  • “Is there anywhere I don’t need to tip? If it’s not required, why do I have to tip at all? What is WRONG with 10%?”
  • “How the hell am I supposed to ‘dress for the weather’? WHAT THE FUCK IS FAHRENHEIT!?”

On the other hand, there are also those that are looking to passionately embrace our culture of Springsteen, Starbucks, and no soccer. In my grandfather’s most recent visit here, we were stopped at a traffic light when he began a solemn speech.

My grandfather: “‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’ Sandy, Abraham Lincoln said that, you know.”
Me: “Abraham Lincoln did not say that. Patrick Hen–“
My grandfather: “I DON’T CARE! Four scores and seven years ago…! Sandy, this is American HISTORY, okay? Lincoln ALSO said this.”

American Grandpa

I’m not sure if my grandfather was asking for liberty from the seat belt we kept asking him to wear

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.)