Vacation Vehiculating

While taking a vacation in Asia visiting family in Korea and Taiwan, I thought I would be relaxed and carefree – essentially eleven days of worry- and work-free bliss.


Everything was going dandy in Korea even amidst nuclear threats from our northern neighbors, and then I touched down in Taiwan. No longer relying on a public transportation system of buses and subways like I had in Korea, I was now dependent on my program manager and unofficial chauffeur, my aunt Kimberly, to zip around Taiwan. Suddenly my little quips about female Asian driving as discussed in this blog here and here escalated to a realization that genes don’t lie: I had high blood pressure. Not only was I sitting next to a female Asian driver, but we were also surrounded by them.

I watched as my aunt strategically (or luckily?) loomed in and out of the way of nimble motorcycle scooters, reversed at least 50 yards when she missed a freeway onramp that she later realized she did not need to take, and showed me how an authentic Taiwanese lane change was really more of a slow drift as if one were pretending to either be dozing or distracted.

One breezy afternoon, I held my breath as my aunt drove through an intersection with questionable illumination.

Me: Aunt Kimberly, did you just run a red light?
My aunt: No, I just ran a yellow light.

Getting ready to hit the road. Unless the road hits us.

Getting ready to hit the road. Unless the road hits us.

You know that moment you laugh to cover up your inner sense of fear, awkwardness, or both? It happened. Right about here –

My aunt: I actually did run a red light once though. Your uncle asked me about it just like you did now, but guess what I said? “You know, the light wasn’t THAT red.”


DIY SportsCenter

Dinner one evening in 2010 was like any other, with everyone around the table discussing what was likely to have just been school and work. The conversation came to a sudden halt when my mother mentioned slickly to us between bites that Tim Tebow had been selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Four pairs of eyes suddenly honed in on her to an orchestra of dropped jaws and fallen chopsticks.

Everyone else: WHAT!?
My mom: You know, Tim Tebow! He got drafted in the first round by the Broncos! I’ve been watching the NFL draft on TV the last few days.

"Thank you Jesus for extending my fandom into the Asian female 45-54 demographic"

“Thank you Jesus for extending my fandom into the Asian female 45-54 demographic”

Oh, was that what she’d been up to recently? And just like that the Kims discovered our matriarch’s newfound hobbies.

Fast forward several years to 2013, when the San Francisco 49ers were facing the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional playoff game. As we watched Colin Kaepernick zip around the field, my father turned to my mother, the established household authority on all things NFL, to get some background information on #7.

My dad: Hey Mom, do you know where that #7 quarterback went to school?
My aunt: Oh, please! This is football, how would she know something like that?

Ooh, wrong move. The rest of us watched with wry smiles as my mother turned into a public service announcement, educating her sister about what was actually a tremendous personal interest in televised sports. Of course she rehashed the tale of Tim Tebow’s 2010 draft, and further lamented about the recent end of a year-long free subscription to “Sports Illustrated” and informed us she wanted to renew.

My dad: So…where did the guy go to college?
My mom: Oh, I have no idea.

Weather Alert: Hurricane Madonna

One of the highlights of my grandmother’s West Coast tour of the United States was going outlet shopping while visiting me in Las Vegas. For her, this was a real sport – combining physical fitness of fighting hordes of equally deranged shoppers, as well as mental acumen of how to purchase items for the greatest fraction of the retail price. For the rest of us – “entourage” is the more appropriate term, really – that meant holding her coat and babysitting her handbag while she combed through the entire outlet complex store by store, and watching her decide as to whether or not to she really needed another cashmere anything or leather jacket. There are several reasons why her grandchildren have endearingly fashioned her the moniker “Madonna” as a nickname, and shopping with her is one of them.

After what must have been a lifetime, it appeared we were finally ready to vacate our highly sought-after parking spot in the outlet garage. It was clear that everyone was worn out because the topic of conversation in the car somehow turned to the weather. If my grandmother no longer has the energy to harp about the purchases she made that day, or lament about an item she wished she had bought but didn’t, I usually like to think I did a job well done and thank the Lord I lived to see another day.

My aunt: So about living here in Las Vegas. You guys don’t have…tornadoes…do you?

I was mistaken when I thought that my grandmother had been knocked unconscious from the exhaustion of going to battle with the deluded masses while shopping, because she suddenly scoffed exasperatedly,

“Ugh, no. They have  volcanoes! Hello!”

This is the look of my grandparents, two people ready to handle a volcano at any given time

This is the look of my grandparents, two people ready to face a volcano at any given time

Visa: It’s Everywhere You Want To Be

My grandparents and aunt have recently come to the United States for a visit from Taiwan, and what the rest of us thought was a 3-week vacation ended up evolving into an elaborate tour to see all of their West Coast grandchildren. Following the first stop in Orange County, CA was a lengthy road trip up to San Francisco to visit my cousin Tiffany, an honorary Kim, and my sister Jamie.

As the magnitude of this trip began escalating into enormous proportions, I informed my mother that I wouldn’t be able to fly in and join the festivities. What she didn’t know was that while I held up my phone with one hand to communicate this white lie, I was actually buying an exorbitantly priced plane ticket with my credit card in the other hand. Behold, her reaction when I showed up at dinner straight from the airport.

This is how a mother looks when you show up to a family reunion after politely declining to attend

This is how a mother looks when you show up to a family reunion after having politely declined on account of “work”

It had been decided even before this meal that a journey to my sister’s Coast Guard ship would be in order, and so she scribbled directions to her base on a napkin that of course we ended up leaving behind at the restaurant. She instructed us to call her 5 minutes prior to arriving so that she could call us into the officer stationed at the entrance.

On the morning of visiting what was clearly a more important attraction than Ghirardelli Square or Fisherman’s Wharf – the USCGC Bertholf, that is – we circled around Alameda pretending like we remembered anything my sister had written on that stupid napkin until we somehow made it to the entrance.

We were greeted by a friendly officer who asked to see our photo identification. Sitting in the passenger seat, I asked if he needed just the driver’s, which in that case would be my cousin James, or everyone in the vehicle. The officer nodded and said it would be every individual in the mini van.

This is when the chaos ensued.

Me: All righty, everyone needs to show ID.
Tiffany: Um, I switched handbags the other day and I forgot my license. I only have my college ID.
Me: You graduated over a year and a half ago.
My mom: Grandma and Grandpa left their passports in their hotel safe. Can you ask the officer if it’s really necessary for them to show their ID?

Well all right, let me just ask this federal officer if we can be granted access into federal property without government-issued ID. Frustrated, my mother did what any self-righteous human being who has visited Las Vegas has done – pull the name card.

My mom: Sir, we are here to visit my daughter, Ensign Jamie Kim.

This was the equivalent of telling Joel Robuchon, “Sir, we are the relatives of your dishwasher. Could you kindly squeeze our party of seven in at 8:00p on Saturday evening?” Needless to say, the officer was not impressed. Miraculously, however, my grandfather managed to conveniently find a California identification card, which left only my grandmother. My spirits were lifted when I saw her pull out a card as well from her wallet. Turning to me, she asked me excitedly in Chinese,

“What about a credit card? It has my picture on it!”

The officer shook his head, but eventually we wore him out and he gave us the green light. Once we got on deck of my sister’s ship, however, it was the same scenario all over again, as we had to temporarily surrender identification to be allowed in. My grandmother rolled her eyes in disgust as we explained why a Visa was not an appropriate form of ID, as did my sister, who could not understand how people could even think about traveling without it. Somehow, we won over the crew as well, and the ship instantly turned into an impromptu, albeit lengthy, photo shoot.

"Grandma, you actually can't buy your way onto a government ship."

“Grandma, you actually can’t buy your way onto a government ship.”

My sister: So you’re telling me that only four of you guys could remember to bring photo ID, but you managed to bring seven cameras onboard? Okay.