Different Strokes for Different Folks

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

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

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.”


“His Computer Password Is ‘Password.'”

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

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.”

Tough love.

One of a Kind, With Three In Mind

As the eldest of three children I’ve always been an advocate against having an odd number of children. Here’s why.

  1. Disneyland. Space Mountain only has seats in rows of 2. Meaning someone has to either sit solo, or with a weirdo.
  2. 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.

Life goes on.


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


White On Wednesdays

It blows my mind when I hear my friends tell me how unbearable and miserable the idea of living with their parents is.

Not a fan of free rent?
Dislike the idea of a stocked refrigerator?
Hate coming home to cleanliness?

Then YES, living parent-free is the way to be! For the rest of us in the most broke-as-joke time of our lives, it’s not the worst thing in the world if you have at minimum a tolerable relationship with the parentals.

After I opted to relocate to my parents’ humble abode last summer, it was just me and Papa Kim for a few months. As someone who worked from home, he started teaching himself how to tackle chores that my mother otherwise used to do around the house. He picked up cooking faster than I expected, and laundry even quicker than the cooking. In the process, he made the following observation:

“Hello, Sandy. We are not wearing enough white clothes for a full load, so please wear only dark colors from now on. Thank you.”

A few more loads of laundry later, I came home to a new policy and procedure.

“Hello, Sandy. Rather than not wearing white, we should wear ALL white every other week. So what we wear will be based on our laundry schedule. I am a genius. Thank you.”

Time to do the laundry. Literally, the time.

Time to do the laundry. Literally, the time.


Just Visualize It

We can do your taxes to the IRS’ liking, we can design high-speed rail systems of epic proportions, and we can crush the living daylights out of you in a round of badminton.

Ask us Asians about interior design, on the other hand, and the buck stops there. “Having a home” is generally considered to be more important than “decorating a home,” so until Martha Stewart learns to speak Mandarin, we are otherwise on our own. I’m not sure what happened to the creative drive that allowed us to invent paper and porcelain a zillion years ago, but it seems as if now all Asians just fill their homes with the same things:

  1. A piano. Could be a grand, baby grand, upright – doesn’t matter. Everyone has to have one because without it, your child will automatically be rejected from UCAC: University of California, Any Campus.
  2. Lighting. We are obsessed with illumination. Floor lamps, ceiling lights, desk lamps – you name it. Remember: physics homework can’t solve itself in the dark. Generally these do not match.
  3. Bedding. Most families I know have guest room bedding, bedding for guests, extra bedding for when guests come, and also emergency guest bedding. There is never a shortage of bedding. These definitely do not match.

Now that we have relocated to Las Vegas, though, my mother is determined to break this cycle of unremarkable home decoration. She tells my father in great frequency that we can now only purchase “beautiful things,” and we all must work harder to “maintain the house” so that it stays in Pinteresting shape. “Visualize it! We have to visualize it!” is the mantra. With that in mind, here are some ways that my father and I have managed to spruce up our house:

Welcome to la cocina de los Kim

Welcome to la cocina de los Kim

Help yourself to a napkin. Please.

Help yourself to a napkin. Please.

The most epic TV room in all of the land

The most epic TV room in all of the land

Enjoying the view on a summer afternoon

Enjoying the view on a summer afternoon

The only kicker is, my mother is not here. By “not here,” I mean she is still in our home state of California enjoying temperatures 20 degrees cooler than Las Vegas, while my father and I otherwise have no one else to cling to for survival in this wilderness of a new neighborhood. The problem with being “not here,” though, means that we are not allowed to make any permanent alterations to our abode because according to my mother, she is not here to “visualize it!” That’s a big thing for her. So let’s take this time now to deconstruct the temporary decoration from the above photos.

The beautiful new kitchen with granite countertops?
That’s a piece of cardboard acting as a backsplash for any hoppin’ and poppin’ oil while we cook.

The striking round napkin holder contrasting with the square napkins?
That’s a springform pan used to bake cakes that I brought from my old house.

The sprawling openness of our living room?
That’s every unused chair in the house because we’re not allowed to get a couch.

The dramatic windows that allow us to enjoy the desert sunset every evening?
That’s butcher paper covering said windows because we can’t get window treatments.

My dad: We need a clock. Can I hang a clock on the wall?
My mom: No drilling holes anywhere! I HAVE TO VISUALIZE IT!!!

La Música de la Pandora

My mother has an insatiable appetite for learning about new cultures, which is only further fueled by her exponentially high interpersonal communication skills. For example:

  1. Amish society. The idea of living without electricity and getting around without cars FASCINATES her. As in, mind blown.
  2. Guatemala. One of her coworkers is Guatemalan and my mom loves to tell us how she learned that TOMS is not as well-received as we American consumers have been led to believe. She usually tells us this while she’s wearing her TOMS, and I’m wearing mine.
  3. Louisiana. One of her dream vacations is to visit New Orleans and see the home of Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, and crawfish. The idea terrifies my father.

So when she and Papa Kim were getting ready to move to Las Vegas and she saw that the moving company they’d hired had sent a team of primarily Hispanic employees, she was right there trying to connect with them and utilizing the one phrase in Spanish that she uses on anyone who even looks Latino/a from the two semesters of college Spanish she’d taken:


That morning, I received an urgent text message from her following the arrival of our movers who were getting ready to pack up our house in California before trekking out to southern Nevada.

My mom: Which Pandora stations would you recommend to our movers?
Me: What? Adele obviously, the one you love.
My mom (in exasperation): No, SPANISH SONGS. They are all Spanish speakers!!!
Me: Alejandro or Vicente Fernandez, Jesse y Joy, Camila, Jenni Rivera.
My mom: I only know Shakira…anything else?

Since I was not there during the truck-loading process, I wasn’t quite sure if she had heeded my suggestions. A few days later when the truck arrived in town, however, I heard her iPad blaring from the kitchen. Correction: I heard her iPad blaring from the kitchen playing SPANISH SONGS. Looks like she did listen to me after all.

Individual stations for all of the artist recommendations I gave Mama Kim

Individual stations for all of the artist recommendations I gave Mama Kim, and then some

Don’t Bother Me. I’m Crunching.

A man races to beat the clock as he wakes up trapped in the horrors of a virtual reality. As he plots his daring escape to return home he finds himself suddenly barricaded. Standing between him and his return are roadblocks that line a multi-level race course. He makes a breakthrough in his journey when he unintentionally shifts one of the obstacles into small groups, and suddenly the passage appears to clear faster. Knowing his survival depended on reaching the end of the road, he works quicker to plow through in order to avoid what could only be impending death.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the epic story of how millions of global citizens have become addicted to Candy Crush. My father is one of them.

Before the creation of Candy Crush, my dad allotted the same kind of focus in selecting a VHS film

Before the creation of Candy Crush, my dad allotted the same kind of focus in selecting a VHS film

Having not yet had the privy of enjoying the unique obsession and delusion afforded by this game, I have slowly come to realize that unless I give into the grips of this newfound craze, I simply will not be able to relate to those who do.

Me: Dad, I’m going to go walk the dog now. What are you doing?
My dad: I’m playing Sugar Crunch.
Me: (Blink, blink.) What?
My dad: Bye, see you later.

Now, I’m not a parent myself – nor am I anywhere close to becoming one – but I have been told by various sources that parenthood is one of the most fulfilling life achievements one can attain and that children are the most important part of one’s life. Granted, these sources include the following –

  1. Grown ups with kids.
  2. My friends with kids.
  3. The Duggars.

So imagine my frustration one day when I frantically contacted my dad with an urgent issue and received zero communication from the man who is generally very responsive between the hours of 8a-10p. Apparently my problem was urgent enough for me to have been flustered at his lack of an answer, but not enough to remember what it was about.

Luckily, he finally responded to my text messages.

My dad: Hi Sandy, this is Mom using your dad’s phone.
Me: Hello, Mom.
My dad’s phone: Dad says he will call you back later. He is busy playing Candy Crush right now.

I think the meme says it all Credit: www.crushingcandies.com

I think the meme says it all
Credit: http://www.crushingcandies.com

One and a Half Men

Growing up, my mom’s frequent trips to Taiwan usually meant a few things:

  1. Unsupervised TV for as long as my siblings and I wanted until our eyeballs fell out
  2. Contests with the aforementioned people to see who could go the longest without taking a shower before our dad noticed (I know, we were so gross)
  3. Candy with our packed dumpling lunches everyday because our father didn’t want our classmates to keel over from our ensuing garlic breath

In a recent return home to visit my dad and brother, I observed the details in the house that suggested they were trying to function as best and as normally as possible without our family matriarch present, as she was again visiting Taiwan, this time to celebrate our grandfather’s 80th birthday.

Peering over the kitchen table, I saw a series of back-and-forth handwritten messages between my dad and my brother as if the text message had never been invented.

My brother: Took the dog out for a walk. April 3
My dad: Fed the dog. April 3
My brother: Can I go to [our cousin] James’ house to play video games? I will be back by midnight. April 4
My dad: Yes. Don’t forget to walk the dog though. April 4
My brother: I walked the dog. See you later. April 4

On my first night back, my dad came to chat with me in my room, holding a wine bottle in his hand. Just as I was getting ready to tell myself how good it was to be home, I realized he’d only brought glassware for himself. Well all right then. While setting the bottle down, I saw that his drink ware of choice, however, was a mug.

Me: Why are you drinking wine out of a mug!?
My dad: Because then I don’t have to wash another glass. When your brother and I are home alone, we are very efficient.
Me: What are you talking about.
My dad: For example, we just keep using the same plate until it needs to be washed. And we feel very good about it.

As I listened to my father continue about the science of his eco-friendly approach to dishwashing, I used the opportunity to document his nightcap for posterity, and I think he sensed that this was likely to be blogged.

Mugs: for all of your tea, coffee, and wine needs

Mugs: for all of your tea, coffee, and wine needs

“Can I use another bottle of wine!? People know this bottle is only $1.99! Wait – just tell them it is $199!”

Breakfast of Champions

My parents occasionally make sporadic visits to Las Vegas to visit, which usually mean at least one of several things.

  1. Having more dinner options than just turkey vs. PB & J sandwiches for dinner on account of my being too exhausted to cook a substantial meal.
  2. Free delivery of Costco products for everything I need in bulk so that I don’t need to buy toilet paper or Q-tips for another 3 years.
  3. Reminders to consume more vitamin C, apply eye cream, and wear my retainer because paying for orthodontics wasn’t just about flushing several grand down my throat.

A practically naked pantry and refrigerator whose only truly full shelf contains beer, wine, and soju means that as long as I’m at work, my parentals are relatively limited in their culinary selections in my home, which I share with my 6’4″ (or 6’5″? Not sure – once I have to crane my neck, it’s pretty much all the same) roommate Cam.

One morning when I had the luxury of sleeping in, I slipped downstairs to eat breakfast while my dad kept busy on a conference call. I suddenly tore myself away from the kitchen table and ran upstairs in a sheer panic as I realized I wasn’t even aware as to whether or not my dad had eaten as a result of my pitiful excuse of a kitchen.

Me: Dad! Did you eat yet? Sorry, I already started eating downstairs!
My dad: Yes, I ate a while ago before my call.
Me: Oh! Well what did you eat?
My dad: Your pink Mini Wheats cereal. I was actually going to eat the Oatmeal Squares cereal I saw in your pantry, but it was on the very top shelf, so I knew it was your roommate’s and not yours because you’d be too short to get it.

I COULD reach it. I just choose not to.

I COULD reach it. I just choose not to.