The Sound of Music

I knew most of the other Asian kids growing up, and for those that I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting, Mama Kim knew their mamas. And of these Asian kids I knew, everyone played an instrument. The formula was always as follows –

Piano + String Instrument or the Flute

Once in a while there would be some curveball who played something weird like the oboe or the saxophone. Which was cool, because you know, they were trying to “be an individual,” or something, but those kids usually ended up being the first to declare themselves as pre-med, pre-law, or engineering, so in the end they still managed to lower their parents’ blood pressure.

Music education pretty much came to a complete and total stop as soon as I shook my principal’s hand while receiving my fake high school diploma on stage for an overpriced stock photo. So when my sister decided a few years after college to purchase a “Learn How to Play Guitar in 15 Days” kind of kit for what could not have been more than $24.99, she decided to put her lesson to good use.

My sister: Mom, Mom! Did you like my song?
My mom: Yes. I don’t know what you were playing, but I liked it.

I write regularly about how my parentals do not verbally express their love with “I love you,” and how I genuinely have no idea how to refer to someone as “sweetheart,” “pumpkin,” or any other type of diabetes-inducing sweet treat, but I know Mama Kim loves me. I know this because one time, this happened.

Is that music to one's ears, OR WHAT

Is that music to one’s ears, OR WHAT

Me: *Fa la la la insert a Top 40 hit here* Mom, Mom! Did you like my singing?
My mom: I can stand it.

Sharing Is Caring

Growing up, trophies for places other than first and ribbons for participation were acknowledged but otherwise overlooked. When my sports team earned a 3rd place trophy, the only reason it was kept was because the cost of the thing was built into the enrollment fee. When I received a finisher’s ribbon for completing a 50-yard race of butterfly, it meant only two things –

  1. My arms and legs were working fine as my pediatrician predicted, and
  2. I was not fat, as my pediatrician was concerned about.

Being successful in such endeavors had several benefits –

  • Fulfilling expectations for personal enrichment and growth,
  • Assuring that my parents’ time and money were not completely wasted, and
  • Making my parents look at least okay when comparing their kids with their friends’

Recently, however, Mama Kim has started to become more involved in the B+ kind of moments in my and my siblings’ lives. It used to be about informing the parentals about just the topic sentence, but for once we were starting to be asked about the filler “fluff.” This sudden 100-degree change (let’s be realistic – it wasn’t like the three of us were screwing up so much we needed all 180) had us slightly alarmed, but we attributed it to the fact that we had all flown the coop in a short period of time and she was making an effort to keep us close.

My mom (to my sister): Hi! How has your vacation in Australia been?
My sister: Pretty good. We’re leaving Sydney early to go to the Maldives.
My mom: Oh, really? How come? What time did you wake up? When is your flight? How are you getting to the airport? Do you have a hotel booked in the Maldives already since you’re getting there early? What is Sydney like? Is it a direct flight? Will there be a meal served on the flight? What is the food like in Australia? Did you only eat Western food? What language is spoken in the Maldives?
My sister: We are leaving in 15 minutes. I have to go now, bye!

Keeping open the lines of communication

Keeping open the lines of communication

As I consoled my mother and tried to convince her that my sister had been in a rush and wasn’t ignoring her, I tried to empathize and asked her if maybe playing 20 Questions was not the most effective form of communication.

“We are family! Family is supposed to share all of the details in each other’s lives, even if it is not important! Just think, if we only talked about the important events in our lives, your brother would never have anything to say to us!!!

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

I’m not sure exactly how or when, but one day I woke up to find I had reached my 20s and all of a sudden, I was supposed to be flushing out toxins with juice cleanses, finding my alleged “inner zen” in yoga classes, and sipping latte art I really couldn’t afford. Not too long after, some former queen bee Instagrammed a selfie while hiking, and suddenly everyone had to wear Lululemon all the time, all over the place. Since I couldn’t afford the latte art to begin with though, I just bought whatever ass-kissing replica of a capri pant Target produced.

To be honest however, I’ve been enjoying the hiking part of being in one’s twenties. It was refreshing to disconnect from my phone and appreciate the nature I normally couldn’t find living in suburbia. Before I knew it, my mother was hopping on the hiking bandwagon as well and transformed into a trail enthusiast, inviting girlfriends to visit us in Las Vegas so she could introduce them to the free and sober side of Sin City no tourist would have ever expected to find.

Our inaugural guest was one of my mother’s best friends of almost 30 years, and one of the more athletically-inclined. We decided to take a field trip about an hour away to Valley of Fire one morning, and wow. Toto, we certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore. And so the three of us roamed the state park, the only Asians not having to stop every 17 steps to document our adventures with an obnoxious iPad.

Fuego!

Fuego!

While making our way through the trails, my mother commented,

“Imagine how fun it would be to rock climb across these canyons!”

And in true best friend fashion, her gal pal responded without even missing a beat,

“The only thing better than rock climbing across these canyons is if you were to Wuxia kung fu across.”

Ain't nothin' like a kung fu thang

Kung fu – improving hikes one trail at a time

“His Computer Password Is ‘Password.'”

My colleagues had a few things to say when I finally upgraded my phone to the new iPhone 6+.

“How does it feel not to be using a rock anymore?”
“Oh, you can actually make calls now!”
“Are you enjoying your new tablet?”

Okay, okay. So I’d been toting an iPhone 4 around for a few years, though in my defense, it was a 4S, I might add. But the upgrade was not as glamorous or remotely sexy as I’d been envisioning for the last year or so. In fact, I found it tedious, exasperating, and a downright pain in the ass. My contacts were in disarray, my text messages were no more, and my apps were memoryless of their passwords. Watching videos on the bigger screen was nice, though.

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one suffering from New-iPhoneism. My dad called me in a minor depression the week after my mom upgraded her cell phone as well, describing a tragic family dinner where everyone was engrossed in their own phones, unable to partake in true human interaction. This was apparently the time my mother chose to reintegrate her apps back onto her new iPhone 6+.

Ain't nothin' but an iPhone thang

Ain’t nothin’ but an iPhone thang

My mom: “I can’t seem to figure out the password for this app.”
My dad: “Do you have a different password for each app?”
My mom: “Yes. But I’ve already tried everything. ‘ilovedennis [my brother],’ ‘ilovejamie [my sister],’ ‘ilovesandy [me].”
My dad: “Are those all of the choices?”
My mom: “Oh! Wait, maybe ‘ilovesoba [our dog]!’ Oh. That’s not it.”
My dad: “Don’t you think you’re missing one more? What about me, maybe it’s ‘ilovekris’!”
My mom: “Oh, it is definitely not ‘ilovekris.’ I’m sure.”

Tough love.

Dazed and Confused

As my mailbox begins to exponentially fill with romantic postcards to save the date, militant agendas for bachelorette parties, and wedding invitations with more layers of paperwork than my health insurance, I am often reminded of the three objectives every parent I know has for their children.

  1. Become a doctor, engineer, or a lawyer,
  2. Marry a doctor, engineer, or a lawyer, and
  3. Produce children that become doctors, engineers, or lawyers.

Disappointingly enough, I have yet to attain any of the above. And as I am nowhere close to accomplishing so much as even one of these goals, I can always look forward to the 137% chance that my seemingly perpetual singledom will be brought up for discussion.

In fact, just a few weeks ago during Thanksgiving, my sage uncle stopped himself mid-chew to look at me and ask a few probing questions.

My uncle: “Do you have a boyfriend now?”
Me: “Nope!”
My uncle: “Are you looking?”
Me: “No, I’m not LOOKING.”
My uncle: “I think you need to start looking.”

So not only have I failed to fling myself into the social circles of doctors, engineers, or lawyers, I am apparently not even trying hard enough to see these circles.

The general consensus appears to be that my future boyfriend is taking forever to arrive.

The general consensus appears to be that my future boyfriend is taking forever to arrive.

I consider myself pretty lucky though. Given that I’ve managed to make it all the way to my mid-twenties before encountering this inquisition into my perceived shamble of a personal life, I’m a lot more fortunate than some of my peers, whose own families have made it clear that the time to get hitched was yesterday. Even so, there were hints leading up to this moment; it’s my own fault I missed the red flags, starting from my college days whilst studying abroad in South America.

My dad: “How is your Spanish coming along? Are you ready to come home?”
Me: “It’s amazing! I’ve met some truly wonderful people and my Spanish is much more fluid now.”
My dad: “That’s nice. I think you need to start dating when you get back.”
Me: “Come again?”
My dad: “‘Dating.’ Daaatinggg. How come you never bring anyone home for us to meet?”
Me: “Are you aware I’m in another continent right now?”
My dad: “ARE YOU A LESBIAN?”

Let’s Chat About Fat

“We’ve missed you!”
“How was your trip?”
“Glad to have you back!”

There’s nothing like returning home and being greeted by the hugs and faces of loved ones at the airport. After time away from your own bed, home cooked meals, and your slobbery dog, homecoming never felt so sweet.

For us Kims though, it doesn’t quite work the same way. The idea is there, but the dialogue is tweaked just a little bit.

My dad: “Hi, good flight?”
Me: “Oh, my God. Worst flight ever! There was horrible turbulence and I was stuck in the middle between a crying ba-”
My dad: “I think you got fatter. Welcome home. Your mom made dinner.”

“I love you” isn’t a phrase used often in our household, or really at all, but the feeling is given and taken just as frequently in homes where our counterparts do. It just comes in different forms. Think sizzling potstickers after school. Or boiling hot pot brimming with meats and vegetables in the winter. Or a hot bowl of congee to kick off the morning. We don’t say it, but we taste it.

My mom: “Jamie, maybe you should try to lose weight.”
My sister: “I’m in the military, I work out all the time. This is muscle.”
My mom: “I know, but maybe just a few pounds? It’s just a matter of cutting down carbs.”
My sister:  “UGHHH. Okay.”
My mom: “Are you hungry though? Here’s a bowl of rice.”

Food is love. Love is food.

Food is love. Love is food.

Since deploying on a tour abroad, communication with my sister is infrequent yet savored. Her schedule is spontaneous, so we FaceTime and Skype around her schedule when possible. After one particularly long period without having heard from her, my sister did the right thing by calling my mother first, who quipped some dear words of affection in conclusion of the conversation.

“Jamie! It doesn’t look like you got any fatter! Great!”

The struggle is real.

One of a Kind, With Three In Mind

As the eldest of three children I’ve always been an advocate against having an odd number of children. Here’s why.

  1. Disneyland. Space Mountain only has seats in rows of 2. Meaning someone has to either sit solo, or with a weirdo.
  2. Ski lifts. While these are designed to seat up to 4 people sometimes, I’ve seen pairs of siblings zip down the mountain with no regard for the progress of the last sister (um, or brother).

I’m not saying that either of the above have happened to me SPECIFICALLY, but I may or may not have had personal experience in witnessing these scenarios with my own two eyes. On top of all of this comes the problem of a lack of identity. At work, I’ve managed teams of up to 1,100 employees, so to keep track of three offspring doesn’t seem to be too much to ask, but sometimes, maybe it is.

My dad: “One of you, please get me the TV remote. Hello? Um, um…JENDY! The remote!”

None of us is named Jendy. I’m Sandy. My sister is Jamie. And my brother is Dennis. Our dog’s name is Soba.

Now that our family of five is spread across three continents, staying in touch is a combination of messaging, emails, and FaceTime. After a few weeks of limited communication due to everyone’s work and travel plus the time differences, an alert popped up on my phone, notifying me of a new message from my dad.

My dad: “Happy birthday.”
Me: “Wrong kid.”

Some time passed before I get another message.

My dad: “You are <insert my correct birthday here>? So sorry…”

Life goes on.

Life goes on.

 

iStudy for iPads

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!”