Sharing Is Caring

Growing up, trophies for places other than first and ribbons for participation were acknowledged but otherwise overlooked. When my sports team earned a 3rd place trophy, the only reason it was kept was because the cost of the thing was built into the enrollment fee. When I received a finisher’s ribbon for completing a 50-yard race of butterfly, it meant only two things –

  1. My arms and legs were working fine as my pediatrician predicted, and
  2. I was not fat, as my pediatrician was concerned about.

Being successful in such endeavors had several benefits –

  • Fulfilling expectations for personal enrichment and growth,
  • Assuring that my parents’ time and money were not completely wasted, and
  • Making my parents look at least okay when comparing their kids with their friends’

Recently, however, Mama Kim has started to become more involved in the B+ kind of moments in my and my siblings’ lives. It used to be about informing the parentals about just the topic sentence, but for once we were starting to be asked about the filler “fluff.” This sudden 100-degree change (let’s be realistic – it wasn’t like the three of us were screwing up so much we needed all 180) had us slightly alarmed, but we attributed it to the fact that we had all flown the coop in a short period of time and she was making an effort to keep us close.

My mom (to my sister): Hi! How has your vacation in Australia been?
My sister: Pretty good. We’re leaving Sydney early to go to the Maldives.
My mom: Oh, really? How come? What time did you wake up? When is your flight? How are you getting to the airport? Do you have a hotel booked in the Maldives already since you’re getting there early? What is Sydney like? Is it a direct flight? Will there be a meal served on the flight? What is the food like in Australia? Did you only eat Western food? What language is spoken in the Maldives?
My sister: We are leaving in 15 minutes. I have to go now, bye!

Keeping open the lines of communication

Keeping open the lines of communication

As I consoled my mother and tried to convince her that my sister had been in a rush and wasn’t ignoring her, I tried to empathize and asked her if maybe playing 20 Questions was not the most effective form of communication.

“We are family! Family is supposed to share all of the details in each other’s lives, even if it is not important! Just think, if we only talked about the important events in our lives, your brother would never have anything to say to us!!!

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Dazed and Confused

As my mailbox begins to exponentially fill with romantic postcards to save the date, militant agendas for bachelorette parties, and wedding invitations with more layers of paperwork than my health insurance, I am often reminded of the three objectives every parent I know has for their children.

  1. Become a doctor, engineer, or a lawyer,
  2. Marry a doctor, engineer, or a lawyer, and
  3. Produce children that become doctors, engineers, or lawyers.

Disappointingly enough, I have yet to attain any of the above. And as I am nowhere close to accomplishing so much as even one of these goals, I can always look forward to the 137% chance that my seemingly perpetual singledom will be brought up for discussion.

In fact, just a few weeks ago during Thanksgiving, my sage uncle stopped himself mid-chew to look at me and ask a few probing questions.

My uncle: “Do you have a boyfriend now?”
Me: “Nope!”
My uncle: “Are you looking?”
Me: “No, I’m not LOOKING.”
My uncle: “I think you need to start looking.”

So not only have I failed to fling myself into the social circles of doctors, engineers, or lawyers, I am apparently not even trying hard enough to see these circles.

The general consensus appears to be that my future boyfriend is taking forever to arrive.

The general consensus appears to be that my future boyfriend is taking forever to arrive.

I consider myself pretty lucky though. Given that I’ve managed to make it all the way to my mid-twenties before encountering this inquisition into my perceived shamble of a personal life, I’m a lot more fortunate than some of my peers, whose own families have made it clear that the time to get hitched was yesterday. Even so, there were hints leading up to this moment; it’s my own fault I missed the red flags, starting from my college days whilst studying abroad in South America.

My dad: “How is your Spanish coming along? Are you ready to come home?”
Me: “It’s amazing! I’ve met some truly wonderful people and my Spanish is much more fluid now.”
My dad: “That’s nice. I think you need to start dating when you get back.”
Me: “Come again?”
My dad: “‘Dating.’ Daaatinggg. How come you never bring anyone home for us to meet?”
Me: “Are you aware I’m in another continent right now?”
My dad: “ARE YOU A LESBIAN?”

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.

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.

 

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.

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

 

American History: A Speech

When I was in college, the privilege of studying abroad also meant the luxury of sitting through several cultural awareness classes before heading to a new country. I suppose my attention span was even shorter than it already is back then, because the below was pretty much all I took from these workshops –

  1. Americans think they know everything about the United States.
  2. Lesson #1 is false. Everyone except Americans actually knows everything about the United States.
  3. Lessons #1 and #2 are the reason why people outside of the United States don’t seem to like Americans.

Since returning stateside, I’ve been employed in an industry that allows me to meet people from all over the globe, who remind me daily of the challenges of adapting to a new culture. Folks, the struggle is real.

  • “Why are people speaking English so slowly to me? I’ve had to learn this language since I was 5. That and French, German, and Italian.”
  • “Is there anywhere I don’t need to tip? If it’s not required, why do I have to tip at all? What is WRONG with 10%?”
  • “How the hell am I supposed to ‘dress for the weather’? WHAT THE FUCK IS FAHRENHEIT!?”

On the other hand, there are also those that are looking to passionately embrace our culture of Springsteen, Starbucks, and no soccer. In my grandfather’s most recent visit here, we were stopped at a traffic light when he began a solemn speech.

My grandfather: “‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’ Sandy, Abraham Lincoln said that, you know.”
Me: “Abraham Lincoln did not say that. Patrick Hen–”
My grandfather: “I DON’T CARE! Four scores and seven years ago…! Sandy, this is American HISTORY, okay? Lincoln ALSO said this.”

American Grandpa

I’m not sure if my grandfather was asking for liberty from the seat belt we kept asking him to wear

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.)

Breakfast Is Served

It is a universally accepted truth that whenever one heads home to the motherland in Asia – whichever country that may be – there are always two questions one is required to field.

The first is what most of us have come to learn to shrug off as a way of life. An unavoidable obstacle. A rite of passage, if you will.

Anyone. Anyone at all: “Do you have a boy/girlfriend?”
You: “No.”
Anyone: “What? Why not!? HOW CAN THAT BE!?”
You: “Oh you know. I’m, um, really focusing on my career right now.”
Anyone: “But you’re so smart/attractive/*insert any adjective that makes it completely offensive to be single*!”

On the flip side however, the second question, though equally overwhelming, is much more manageable and appropriate for beginners.

Anyone: “What do you want to eat?”
You: “Anything. Wait. No – everything.”

The problem isn’t that we’re clueless about cuisine; the issue is that the selection is just too great. It could mean an evening chowing on street food at the night market, slurping the best beef noodle soup in a stall that would be lucky to given a C- by the health department in the U.S., or noshing on juicy pork dumplings marinating in their own broth.

On a solo trip to Taiwan, my grandfather posed question two late on my first evening to me, when obviously at that point we were beyond question one. In the mood to hit my list of eats ASAP, I answered, “Shao bing you tiao,” a typical Taiwanese breakfast that consists of a savory, flaky pastry that envelops a deep fried length of dough, and occasionally sandwiching eggs as well. Hearing this, my grandfather kicked into action, going straight into a game plan for the following morning in which he proclaimed we would go to “the most famous shao bing stand in all of Taichung,” “Taichung” being our home city. With that being said, we set off at 9a sharp the next day to the famed purveyor of all things shao bing, which turned out to be only a brisk walk from the house.

Shao Bing

Look at that glorious you tiao sitting atop the shao bing with an egg, accompanied by scallion pancakes and a glass of soy milk. Just. Glorious.

And delicious the breakfast was. The shao bing crumbled with every bite and the you tiao stayed crispy, even after hugging the egg between my two hands. The delectable cycle would then start all over again after each sip of soy milk I took, cleansing my palate every few moments. The two of us enjoyed the silence as we sat on our rickety, very made-in-Taiwan chairs, chewing in focus and relishing a rare one-on-one meal. 

As the entire experience sadly came to a conclusion, my grandfather and I gathered up our belongings as we prepared for the short trek home. It is important to note that my grandfather is our family’s in-house Ansel Adams. He is therefore committed to documenting each occasion in life no matter how significant with his digital camera, which he has only recently graduated to from the disposable camera. Exiting the shao bing stand, he chirped that I had to get a picture of the most famous shao bing joint in the city.

I obliged, and positioned myself as best I could in front of the place, squinting into the sun, but not before I saw the brows in my grandfather’s face furrowed in a deep frown. I blinked a few times in confusion before finally asking what was wrong.

My grandfather: “This is the most famous place in Taichung for shao bing! You have not visited Taiwan in YEARS! Don’t you think it is more important that when you go back you show them a picture of ME in front of here!?”

Turns out my grandfather and I can't be the subjects in the same photo simultaneously.

Turns out my grandfather and I can’t be the subjects in the same photo simultaneously.