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.


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.

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.”

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.)

You Are My Sunshine

Despite our naturally olive-toned, yellow-based skin complexions, we Asians have always had an unusual fascination with Caucasian appearances and have used it as a benchmark for true beauty. Hence, the resulting products designed specifically for the Asian market:

  • Whitening face masks
  • Whitening face creams
  • Whitening face powder
  • Whitening night cream

…you get the idea. This obsession with staying “white,” however, goes beyond the aesthetic. The fear of sun exposure and disdain for bronzer is not just about looking pale, but preventing skin damage.

In the Kim household, sun protection is a serious, SERIOUS business. Our cocktails of choice, Coppertone and Neutrogena, are available not just in the summer months, but year-round. Sunblock can be found on the shoe cabinet in the garage, on the bookshelves in the office, in the medicine cabinets in the bathroom – again, you get the idea.

I took the liberty of ensuring even our pet canine Soba is properly equipped for the hottest season of the year as well, especially because he is primarily an outdoor dog.

Soba is ready to go and prepared to face any heat wave coming his way

Soba is ready to go and prepared to face any heat wave coming his way

And as Soba is my mother’s son, it’s only natural that Mama Kim is just as on board about skincare as he is. In testing out a new product recently, it was important that sun exposure was minimized but my mother, being a fitness FANATIC, couldn’t bear the idea of not being able to go outdoors. So behold.

Hello there, June, July, and August - consider yourselves HANDLED

Hello there, June, July, and August – consider yourselves HANDLED

How Deep Is Your Love

Young love.

Those are the words that cross my mind when I listen to my brother discuss his romantic dates at Chipotle, stay up to an ungodly hour texting, or ask for permission to go to Disneyland. For the parentals, however, this is a new and unorthodox form of courtship that in conjunction with the cultural differences, is helped even less by the generation gap. Both my brother and my father learned of this harsh reality recently when they managed to be in the same vicinity at the same time.

So I wasn't a graphic design major in college. This was the best I could do.

So I wasn’t a graphic design major in college. This was the best I could do. I call this piece “Young Love.”

My dad: What’s that on your neck?
My brother: A bruise.
My dad: What happened?
My brother: I fell while dancing (my brofus is big on b-boy dancing).
My dad: Oh. Well it doesn’t look like a bruise. It looks like someone…pinched your neck or something.


My dad (to nobody in particular): Oh. I think I know what that is.

As my sister rehashed this encounter to me, she mused, “In retrospect, I’m not sure if he figured it out, but I’m guessing he did because he just never talked about it again.”

My, What Clean Teeth You Have!

My parents are infatuated with proper dental hygiene. No, on second thought – they are obsessed with the maintenance of their pearly whites.  The only reason Costco continues to annually generate a profit is because my parents spend so much time in the dental products aisle. In fact, my dad swears so religiously by his Waterpik system that he even bought a portable one to take with him on his business trips.

My mother, on the other hand, is an avid flosser. If her dentist gave out gold medals for the top patient every six months, she’d be on the medal stand twice a year. And for those of you who have to ask why a dental visit is every six months and not annually, don’t worry – that alone has already put you out of the running for this award. Cavities, however, are no joke, and this hobby comes at the expense of the floss itself. Growing up, we kids would watch as she pulled miles of floss out of the pack at a time, most of which had shortened lifelines if they fell into her hands instead of another Kim’s.

Bye bye Glide: the end is near. Literally.

Bye bye Glide: the end is near. Literally.

In a recent trip to visit my grandmother in Korea, my dad decided to be efficient and visit a dentist during his downtime. He so thoroughly enjoyed this experience that following confirmation of my own trip to Korea this spring, he sent me the serious email message below:

“If you have enough time, your aunt will schedule a dental check up appointment for you.”

Hair Tutorial 101

People describe my sister Jamie as “a girlie girl” the same way as they would say, “Honey Boo Boo embodies elegance,” or “I enjoy the music of Nickelback.” She has only recently acknowledged the difference between pencil and liquid eyeliner, regularly gets manicures about once every never, and her idea of dressing up is by not wearing a hoodie. My mother frequently laments my sister’s refusal to partake in any type of retail therapy but has slowly come to terms with it.

My mom: When we need to buy clothes for Jamie, she goes to the store with us and waits around while the rest of us – her servants – pick out things we think would look nice on her. All she wants to do is leave!

As the least qualified person to commentate on personal appearances, my sister felt it was necessary to make known her opinion of my mother’s.

My sister: Now, Mom. I realize it is extremely hypocritical of me to be saying any of this, but don’t you think you’ve had the same hairstyle for long enough? Have you ever thought about, you know – changing things up?
My mom: I don’t want to grow my hair out long. And what do you know about hair, anyway? At least your sister knows how to style hers, but what can you do?

This would probably be the zenith of my sister's style

Look at that hair, getting all crazy

My sister: Wrong! I can style my hair seven different ways. I know how to

  • Put it in a ponytail,
  • Put it in a military bun,
  • Put it in a messy bun,
  • Blowdry it,
  • Straighten it –

Me: Wait. You know how to straighten your already straight hair?
My sister: Yes. I can also

  • Brush it, and
  • Not brush it.