Handle With Care

Modern-day dating, in my opinion, is very much like going to a buffet. First, you have to pay – most of the time, a lot of – money for this experience (“I hope this works out because I got my hair and nails done, and bought a new pair of shoes”). Sometimes, the pizza that has always been a solid for you everywhere else simply doesn’t taste very good (“He was my type, but there just wasn’t any chemistry”). Most of the time, you spoon a lot of items onto your plate but after one bite realize it’s much different than how it looked on display (“I really wanted it to work because he was cute, but he checked his phone throughout the date/talked only about himself/told me he is soul-searching AKA he is unemployed right now”).

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

The pizza, burger, ice cream, and seafood have not worked out so far. Maybe better for the diet I am starting tomorrow.

There exists a rare breed in our population, however, who never have to experience this god awful process. These are the people who show up to the buffet, fall in love at the host stand, and skip into the sunset never having to consume misogynistic pasta, unfaithful salad, or crab legs that don’t know what they’re doing with their lives.

One of these people is my sister. For almost a quarter of a century, she showed no interest in the topic of significant others, until one day she showed up with a boyfriend who she reminds us often “is obsessed with her.” For the last two years of her three-year relationship with him, the pair has managed living an hour away from each other by spending the weekends together.

So when my sister was away at sea – they’re both in the Coast Guard – Papa Kim announced in our family chat that she had received a package at home, including a photo of said shipment. Zooming in, I noticed that the sender was her boyfriend so like any nosy sibling I asked, “Is it necessary to send things to each other when you guys see each other every four days?”

What does my mother say in response?

Mama Kim: “Are you jealous?”


My! Own! Mom! Said! That! To! Me!



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.

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!”

A Civilian’s Guide to Coast Guard Life

As she neared the end of a Coast Guard deployment, my sister informed me and my mother that friends and family would be allowed to join the crew for the last two days at sea as “tigers,” as civilians are monikered aboard. With two spots available to allocate for Team Kim, our matriarch was the obvious choice for the first slot, and I raised my hand for number two.

Here are a few helpful tips I compiled during my 2.5 days aboard her ship for anyone planning on embarking on a vessel of the US military anytime in the near future. Do so and consider another box on your bucket list checked.

  1. There is no lido deck. Mama Kim had a bit of a rude awakening when we arrived at our our sleeping quarters.

    My mom: Sandy, you and I will be roommates!
    My sister: You’ll be bunking with six other people.
    My mom: Oh, I see. Wait…WHAT!? So we will have no privacy!?

    Yep, it turned out we were in a 4-bunk dorm on the 3rd level below the deck, which I believe 100 years ago was called “steerage.” Waking up to French toast and cinnamon buns in the mornings and then having kalua pig and pulled pork in the evenings, however, led us to come to the obvious conclusion of what my sister’s job entails: Eat. Sleep. Repeat. All the time. Mealtimes were always a perfect balance. You know, between assuring us relatives that these servicemen and women were being fed at all, but not pissing off us taxpayers with any culinary dog and pony show.

  2. It’s not like Hollywood makes it seem. On our first full day at sea, we saw a small sailboat in the horizon floating around that my sister had otherwise assumed was recreationally at sea, until they heard over the radio that the boat’s engine had gone kaput. After hours of staring into miles of blue, it looked like we tigers would finally get to see some Coast Guard action. Here’s what we thought would happen. That my sister would go out to the Johnny Doe, the damaged ship, in one of her ship’s speedboats and attempt a rescue of the stranded folks, returning to the ship with the couple while a James Horner song played in the background, then have them taken back to land via airlift from a Coast Guard helicopter that would have arrived on the ship’s helipad.
    All arms on deck! Time to rescue sailboats to prevent another Jack & Rose tragedy! Credits: www.nydailynews.com

    All arms on deck! Time to rescue sailboats to prevent another Jack & Rose tragedy! Credits: http://www.nydailynews.com

    Here’s what really happened. We listened to a whole bunch of radio communication while watching it from a distance, only for us to later tell the Doe, “Okay! So-and-so will be coming for a vessel assist in about two hours for ya, so have a great day!” End scene. Hashtag anticlimactic.

  3. It is exactly like Hollywood makes it seem. The thing about being a tiger though, is that as much as we love this new life experience on board the ship, we really have no idea what the hell is going on. We couldn’t wrap our heads around how and why it took so much rocket science precision to drive the ship when it appeared that the surrounding vessels were at least eight football fields away. During the start and the finish of the trip when the ship was departing and arriving at port, it seemed like it was all hands on deck with a whole lot of shouting. Remember when Sean Connery speaks Russian in “The Hunt for Red October”? SAME KIND OF CLUELESSNESS.
Exactly like this, except not at all  Credits: www.movpins.com

Exactly like this, except not at all
Credits: http://www.movpins.com

“Holler to Tango Tango, I have an 18-niner-niner and we are approaching at 18 knots. Over.”
“37 to 58 with a Golf-Hotel-Alpha-Alpha arrival, plus some YOLO on the starboard.”
“Roger, home fries. You’ll be seeing an LMAO from port shortly. Approach the Bravo-India with LOL, but be aware of the WTF.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all you will need to get through a few days on a tiger cruise. Happy sailing!

Please Pass the Pepper

As a protector of domestic borders and coastlines, my sister Jamie in the Coast Guard likes to remind us lowly civilians often of how her lifestyle is different from ours. While the rest of us carry on with our lives by going the gym and the grocery store, Jamie keeps herself otherwise occupied in a way we can only pretend to understand.

Where my Mom thinks my sister works

Where my Mom thinks my sister works

My mom: Jamie, do you have a pool on your ship?
Me: She’s in the Coast Guard, Mom. Not on a cruise.

Where my sister really works

Where my sister really works

The rest of us in society cannot even begin to relate to her on even one of her “normal” days.

My sister: I got pepper sprayed for training today!
My mom: Pepper steak!? Was it good?

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.

I Left My Scarf In San Francisco

My younger sister Jamie is an ensign in the United States Coast Guard, and it is public knowledge that my mom is her #1 fan. After graduating from the Coast Guard Academy earlier this year, my sister embarked on a months-long tour of destinations I did not even realize were a matter of national security.

The finest souvenir I have ever received from a visitor to Dutch Harbor, AK

The finest souvenir I have ever received from a visitor to Dutch Harbor, AK

When Jamie began sailing back to the San Francisco Bay area where she is primarily based, my mother began preparing a hero’s welcome for my sister by planning a road trip to meet Jamie when her ship pulled into harbor. After my sister’s commander casually mentioned that they would be sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, my mom’s weekend road trip somehow evolved into an elaborate plan that included stopping on the bridge to see the ship. It is important to note that my sister’s ship is 418 feet long. And that the Golden Gate Bridge is 4,200 feet long.

Your tax dollars contributed greatly to this $641 million beauty, the USCGC Bertholf

Your tax dollars contributed greatly to the USCGC Bertholf, this $641 million beauty of a beast

My sister: So I think the earliest we should cross the Golden Gate Bridge is 0630.
Me: Mom wants to know where near the bridge you’ll be and that she’ll be waving a white scarf but not surrendering.
My sister: Where near the bridge? We’ll be sailing under it, I will be busy so I probably won’t see her.
My dad: Golden Gate is such a huge bridge – I think mom can see the boat, but I would assume it’s hard to spot an individual person.

Jamie's #1 fan reporting for duty

Reporting for duty

Based on the photographic evidence, the trip was a success as far as the whole family was concerned. It wasn’t until after my sister came home to visit my parents in southern California that we learned what truly happened that fateful morning on the bridge.

My sister: So I had four binoculars and everyone looking on the ship. But when the boat docked, all of the families came on board, and I was like “…”
Everyone else: Why? What do you mean? What happened?
My mom: I went to Philz Coffee and we missed the boat pulling in.