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

 

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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.)

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.”

Vegans in Vegas on Vacation

In too many ways, junk food is like an ex-significant other.

It’s familiar.
It’s comfortable.
It’s easy.

As you get older, though, you realize how toxic it is having this in your life and one day you have an epiphany: “I can’t keep letting mac and cheese solve my life problems anymore.” And just like that, you sit down your bags of Doritos, your boxes of Frosted Flakes, and your cases of Top Ramen for the inevitable.

“I’m sorry – it’s not you, it’s me. I just feel like we’re going down two different paths, and for me, that path is broccoli and green beans.”

Bye bye, Skittles. Hello, cherry tomatoes.

Bye bye, Skittles. Hello, cherry tomatoes.

But just like an ex that you can’t write off completely, junk food still continues to find ways into your life. It’s the thing you turn to after a particularly bad day at work with complete nincompoops, or a great night out with Johnnie Walker and Don Julio. Either way, you know it will respond at all hours of the day or night, even without an illiterate text message. You sneak into the dark with them, doing your best to cover up your crumbs tracks, and leave feeling guilty and dirty, but shamefully satisfied.

When my cousin Tiffany decided to fly into Las Vegas for vacation on the spur of the moment from San Francisco a few weekends ago, the topic of eating cleaner came up in conversation while in the car, and we confided in each other how our dietary habits had evolved.

Me: I’ve been starting to eat less and less meat recently. I’ll still eat it if it’s there, but I don’t seem to crave it much anymore. I think I could consider vegetarianism, but I’d say veganism is too challenging for me because I like eggs and cheese too much.
Tiffany: Me too! I definitely couldn’t become a vegan. I don’t think I could give up dairy completely.

If I had known there was a purple option, I might have jumped on the cauliflower bandwagon a little earlier!

If I had known there was a purple option, I might have jumped on the cauliflower bandwagon a little earlier.

As I nodded in agreement and continued to drive in silence, I looked over at Tiffany in my passenger seat as I let the significance of her words sink in.

“‘Become a vegetarian’? How are you going to do that when your favorite food is STEAK!?”

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.