When the Atkins diet first burst into popularity, it was the most hilarious thing my parents had ever heard. “Who in their right mind can cut out carbs from their life? No bread? No noodles? NO RICE!?” It was, to say the least, a huge joke.
As time progressed, however, this low-carb/no-carb baloney seemed to be more and more of a fixture in American culture. You know that the baguette has turned into Public Enemy #1 when it takes Oprah to convince you that eating bread is OK. And so unfolded another episode of cultural divide in our home.
My dad: “Have some Korean rice cake, Jamie. It’s so good.”
My sister: “It’s not healthy!”
My dad: “It’s just rice. We’ve been eating this for 5000 years!”
Rice: both healthy AND historical
My dad: “You should only have five pieces though.”
Once upon a time, Mama and Papa Kim came to the United States in search of fulfilling the American Dream. Back then, Thanksgiving only meant that we stayed at home for two extra days during a weekend when nothing was open. There didn’t seem to be a point of celebrating a group of people who successfully survived a year in a new land when they had done so themselves.
“What’s so great about crossing the ocean blue? We did it too.” – Mama and Papa Kim
Before my mother discovered she was actually great at making turkey or my father realized just how weird cheese is, we really didn’t do much on Thanksgiving. Well there was this one time. I had just been introduced to mac and cheese and was convinced our local Denny’s was the place to go, so I dragged everyone there only to find out that their claim to fame was not very good pancakes and even less good eggs. We were the only family that was there because we had no idea what Thanksgiving about – everybody else was just there because they were too lazy to cook. Turns out it was the Sizzler’s across the street that had mac and cheese. My palette was clearly very refined for a five year old.
But one day, Mama Kim had an epiphany about the holiday and somehow over the course of one Thanksgiving to the next, she got very Ina Garten on us and pulled out all the stops so that we could be like real white people, eating mashed potatoes, preserving cranberries, and buying Cool Whip for pumpkin pie. And like real white people, she stayed true to all of her recipes, using the same ones year after year once we got into the swing of How Thanksgiving Works. The only thing she switched up annually was her stuffing, which she perused the Internet frequently in search of something new. This year, she tasked me with finding the recipe, and she decided to do something with jalapenos and cheese. I think she was trying to kill my dad.
Mama Kim: “Hi, I am at the store right now and I am buying all of the ingredients. The stuffing recipe though, is asking for a large beer. How big is a large beer, and how am I supposed to know how much to put in?”
Me: “A…large beer? I’ve never heard of that. I don’t even remember seeing that on the recipe I gave you. Does it say what brand? Or mention another unit, like ounce or cup?”
Mama Kim: “No, it just says a ‘large beer,’ but nothing spec-”
Me: “OH MY GOD, are you talking about a lager beer!?”
Mama Kim: “I still don’t know what that is.”
“Add one cup of a large beer. Small beer will not work.”
At one point last year, our family found ourselves spread across five cities in four different countries, making us pros at utilizing group chats to keep us on the same page about life – which usually translated to updates about work and bills. Sometimes relationships. But mostly work and bills. Because you know, my siblings and I wanted to show our parents we were real adults. Real adults that would rather answer 25 questions about our professions than one question about getting married.
All time zones considered, we kept up with staying in touch as best as we could. Each one of us would contribute every once in a while so that the others would be aware of what was happening in our everyday lives.
My dad: “I just landed at the airport. Traveling this week for work.” *Insert commentary about his flight*
My mom: “Came back from lunch with your grandparents!” *Insert 10 pictures of a 45-minute meal*
Me: “Awful weekend at work.” *Insert rant about hotel guests who can’t believe we no longer serve the guava juice they had during their last stay seven years ago*
My sister: “It is so hot here.” *Nothing further to insert*
Everyone’s combined contributions
On more than one occasion, however, my brother would be missing from action. Too often we would sign off for the day and ask each other where he was, as if we could actually know when we were anywhere from 250-6000 miles away from the next person.
Yep, pretty much
After teetering on the brink of filing a missing persons report (“Hello, where are you?” “Has anyone seen him?” “WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME ANYONE TALKED TO HIM!?”), we would finally get a response days later. Sometimes weeks. This usually came after a menacing message from my father about the importance of timely communication and the poor reputation of unreliability my brother was building for himself, thus resulting in a Great American Novel of a text message. All of a sudden, I knew EVERYTHING about my brother. What classes he was taking, how often he was working, when his bowels were moving – more than I’d ever wanted to know.
Apparently, I was not the only one who felt this way.
My dad: “Thank you for getting back to us. Good to hear you are doing well. However, you should know that with the number of keystrokes you used to produce that text message, it would have been more efficient to just send an email.”
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
Me: *Fa la la la insert a Top 40 hit here* Mom, Mom! Did you like my singing?
My mom: I can stand it.
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 –
- My arms and legs were working fine as my pediatrician predicted, and
- 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
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!!!“
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.
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.”
Kung fu – improving hikes one trail at a time
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
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.”
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.
- Become a doctor, engineer, or a lawyer,
- Marry a doctor, engineer, or a lawyer, and
- 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?”
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.
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?”
“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.
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.
As the eldest of three children I’ve always been an advocate against having an odd number of children. Here’s why.
- Disneyland. Space Mountain only has seats in rows of 2. Meaning someone has to either sit solo, or with a weirdo.
- 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.