an unexpected interpretation of an unsolicited “Ni hao!”

My mom and I sat in the waiting room at Peninsula Endodontics to meet Dr. Shih, whom my dentist referred me to see regarding a post- root canal infection I had developed. Ever since my family immigrated to the United States 20 years ago, my mom always looked for teachers, doctors, and dentists who spoke Mandarin, and this was the first time we ever visited a healthcare professional and staff with whom we needed to communicate in English.

Wendy, the receptionist, was incredibly warm and patient – she made multiple calls to navigate our out-of-network insurance, and every detail of our interactions, many of which I can’t fully remember, contributed to an overall aura of hospitality.

After our visit, I asked my mom whether she was nervous about needing to communicate with Wendy and with Dr. Shih in English. She shared that ever since she met Dr. Scott, my grandma’s cardiologist at El Camino Hospital, she gained more confidence about her ability to communicate health issues with doctors in English.

When I asked her what made Dr. Scott a great cardiologist, she replied, “When we first met him, he greeted us warmly and sincerely with ‘Ni hao!’ and we instantly felt at ease knowing that he bore goodwill to Chinese people. I’m often afraid that doctors, who know that I don’t know English well, will look down on me and not take my health concerns as seriously. I’m scared that since doctors are so busy and know I can’t ask many detailed questions, they might try to get away with not fully addressing a concern I struggle to express.”

Ever I since starting school at Pomona, many people have shared the ways in which they’ve felt like “perpetual outsiders” when strangers ask “where are you from” or address them with a greeting in a language other than English. While I never personally felt that offended when someone asked about my ethnicity, I never spoke up because I didn’t want my experience to undermine the hurt that others experience when they are greeted the same way.

I shared this observation with my mom, who found the different interpretations of “Ni hao” to be very interesting. She said that although she understands why some people feel “otherized” when greeted with “Ni hao,” that she wasn’t offended, in part Dr. Scott actually knows a bit of Mandarin beyond “Ni hao” and speaks it appropriately. For example, he asks my grandma to “Sheng hu xi,” or “Breathe in deeply,” and when my grandma starts speaking to my mom during her doctor visits, he turns to my mom and says, “Qing wen ta zai shuo shen me?,” or “May you tell me what she is feeling?”

 

 

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an unexpected interpretation of an unsolicited “Ni hao!”

in the end, who will have been with me? for whom should I have fought harder to stay in my life?

I wanted to know: What would she do differently if she had it to do over again. What advice would she offer a young, able-bodied woman considering a relationship with a disabled young man?

“I think I was better off not knowing the challenges,” she said. “Perhaps just the knowledge that we’re still together and best friends all these years later. To know that in advance would sustain me in those times when it didn’t seem possible.”

from “How 30 Blocks Became 30 Years”

I don’t have a secret hunch about how I will die, nor do I really want to know. However, this excerpt made me consider wanting to know something else – who will have stayed with me throughout the triumphs and tribulations of my life, and furthermore, who I wish had stayed with me throughout the years.

The weakness I care most to address this year is how conflict avoidant and prideful I am when I’m hurt by friends. Although I am exceedingly grateful for the friends who have challenged me and shown me grace and thus sustained our friendship for years, I also miss the friends I’ve lost along the way because I wasn’t put together enough, in one way or another, to truly address what was wrong.

in the end, who will have been with me? for whom should I have fought harder to stay in my life?

“How do you know that the other person you’re talking to feels that they’re being heard?”

Many of the people whom I love are applying to medical school right now and have been experiencing an arduous, anxious, and drawn-out few months. The medical school interview is often one of the most intense moments of the process, and I can’t even imagine how vulnerable I would feel if I was asked a series of questions that I knew I was not answering to the best of my ability.

But, as my boyfriend shared with me, it is often during these vulnerable moments when one experiences the greatest potential to learn and to grow. One of the last questions he was asked during his medical school interview was, “How do you know that the other person you’re talking to feels that they’re being heard?” Although the moment of opportunity to answer the question during the interview has long passed, it’s very clear that this question has guided his interactions with everyone around him ever since that moment, and I’m very grateful that his presence in my life has compelled me to be more patient and willing to listen to others.

I’ve noticed that a sad source of conflict between myself and those around me is that we fail to understand that we agree with each other. As soon as one party is inflamed and hurls a trivializing remark, other parties also gear up to argue, and in the mess, everyone fails to clearly distinguish points of agreement from points of disagreement. However, these kinds of interactions are so avoidable if we take the time to humbly make space for others to feel heard before responding. This year, I strive to give others space to fully explain themselves, and to show grace when emotions start heating up, to ensure that others are not only being heard, but feel confident that they are being heard.

“How do you know that the other person you’re talking to feels that they’re being heard?”

下一站, 幸福

One of the most luxurious aspects of winter break is having the opportunity to follow my whims, whether they be reading articles, cooking, or watching movies. Rewatching 下一站,幸福, a Taiwanese drama, was an emotionally draining and fulfilling experience that helped me to really appreciate the complexities of human relationships and make sense of some of the thoughts I had coming out of my trip to Cancun.

I love watching dramas because their narrative structure enables writers to build complex characters and even more complex relationships. Although 下一站,幸福 uses many cheesy plot elements, the complex relationships that result, and the heartwarming and courageous conversations that characters engage in to resolve the complex hurt that they cause each other, work together to create a thought-provoking and endearing story.

Plot

To briefly, BRIEFLY introduce the characters (warning! some spoilers!!) and the plot of the first third of the drama: Liang Mu Cheng (f) and Ren Guang Xi (m) meet because Ren Guang Xi, the son of the president of Shende University, was dared to pursue Liang Mu Cheng and get a photo of him kissing her within 24 hours. Liang Mu Cheng is forced to agree because her family works in Shende University’s cafeteria and her auntie wanted Liang Mu Cheng to gain the favor of Ren Guang Xi and his family. On the date, Ren Guang Xi takes her to a hockey rink, and swoops her into his arms for a kiss when Liang Mu Cheng’s friend, Hua Tuo Ye, suddenly appears and tackles Ren Guang Xi to the floor to tell Liang Mu Cheng that it was all a dare. Instead of storming off, Liang Mu Cheng bravely and calmly stands up for herself and lies to her bully Ren Guang Xi telling him that he was actually the foolish one, because she made a bet with the university students that if he tried to kiss her, they would all buy meals from the cafeteria for a month. Livid, he storms off.

One day, he catches Liang Mu Cheng playing the piano in Shende Hall, storms in, and starts bullying her again. However, as the night unfolds, he realizes that unlike all the other pretty women he was dared to woo, Liang Mu Cheng is deeply thoughtful and wise, and as they grow closer together, he figures out that Liang Mu Cheng often escapes her home because her uncle has sexually assaulted her many times in the past. One night, when Ren Guang Xi is at a fundraising event and wasn’t able to meet Liang Mu Cheng in Shende Hall, Liang Mu Cheng’s uncle shows up instead and assaults her. Ren Guang Xi rushes in just in time to beat her uncle up, and her uncle tells the police that it is Liang Mu Cheng who was seducing him. Liang Mu Cheng’s auntie throws Liang Mu Cheng out of the house because she doesn’t want to face the reality that the man she depends on has been betraying her and preying on Liang Mu Cheng. Ren Guang Xi acts as Liang Mu Cheng’s attorney in court, successfully defending her and finding her a new place to live.

Meanwhile, Ren Guang Xi’s mom wants him to marry He Yi Qian, a beautiful doctor from a wealthy family. Ren Guang Xi refuses, because he loves Liang Mu Cheng. However, Ren Guang Xi soon discovers that he has a brain tumor, and lies to Liang Mu Cheng so that she would not be present to learn about his health condition. Ren Guang Xi’s mother learns that He Yi Qian’s father developed a new procedure that is much less risky than any other procedure, and forces Liang Mu Cheng to lie and tell Ren Guang Xi that he’s going into the riskier procedure that doesn’t involve He Yi Qian’s family, whereas the plan is to wait until he is sedated, and then wheel him into the less riskier procedure that Ren Guang Xi wants to avoid because he doesn’t want to owe anything to He Yi Qian. However, Ren Guang Xi ends up waking up in the middle of the surgery, realizing his mother’s plan, and running out of the hospital to find Liang Mu Cheng, who, in hopes of forcing him back into the surgery that would save his life, lies to him and tells him that she does not love him and that he cannot bring her happiness because he is so sick. Hua Tuo Ye brings Liang Mu Chen to his village, where she raises her son Xiao Le. When Ren Guang Xi wakes up from his surgery, he doesn’t remember anything and has to completely relearn how to walk, to eat, to speak. He Yi Qian patiently stands by his side to help him through his recovery, and she ends up falling in love with him and is forced by his mom to keep quiet his past.

What I love about this story

A really unique aspect of this drama is that the secondary characters, Hua Tuo Ye and He Yi Qian, who are in love with Liang Mu Cheng and Ren Guang Xi respectively, are admirable, brave characters who I really root for. Hua Tuo Ye helps Liang Mu Cheng to raise her diabetic son for 6 years, and has protected her in many critical moments. Although Liang Mu Cheng never loved him romantically, she knows how steadfast of a friend he has been, and does everything in her power to help him when he needs it, which causes misunderstandings between herself and Ren Guang Xin. He Yi Qian stood by Ren Guang Xi’s side every day after his surgery even before she was romantically interested in him, and is a humble, compassionate, and loving doctor. One of my favorite scenes is one in which she arrives at Liang Mu Cheng’s house on a rainy day. Her heels are muddy, and she asks for a towel to wipe her shoes. When Hua Tuo Ye mocked her for being uptight, she, without a word, wipes her shoes and proceeds to wipe the stairs leading up to the door and washes the muddy towel. (This was one of many scenes in which a character quietly diffuses misunderstanding and tension, and for someone as hotheaded as I am, this was a really remarkable scene for me to learn from.) Eventually, Hua Tuo Ye and He Yi Qian are both deeply hurt by Liang Mu Cheng and Ren Guang Xi, but nevertheless, they still choose to help Liang Mu Cheng and Ren Guang Xi to understand how much they truly love each other, despite the messiness of their relationship. Eventually, because Hua Tuo Ye loves and understands Liang Mu Cheng so deeply, and because He Yi Qian also loves and understands Ren Guang Xi, they tactfully and lovingly convince Liang Mu Cheng and Ren Guang Xi to each cherish each other.

Furthermore, this drama is filled with moving moments of dialogue that show how one does not win over someone else through force or strength, but with patience, kindness, and compassion. There are so many moments of the drama during which I had no idea how a broken relationship would ever, ever be mended. But the drama surprised me each time with how a conversation – not some gimmicky plot element out of nowhere – slowly mends the inevitable hurt presented by the inevitable challenges of life. In particular, Liang Mu Cheng and Ren Guang Xi’s son, Xiao Le, infuses the drama with so much innocent but mature wisdom, and made me really reconsider some of the fears I have about having children, given my experiences watching my parents raise my baby (now 10-year old) sister. Xiao Le plays a very unique role in bringing Liang Mu Cheng and Ren Guang Xi together and helping them experience so much more out of life, and I’d really like to think that perhaps having children will be a very fulfilling, and not just a self-sacrificing and difficult, experience. Of course, I recognize that this drama is fictional, but through it, I better understand why for my mom, watching my brother, sister, and I be happy brings her a truly fulfilling and unique happiness.

I also love how this drama portrays many realistic instances when someone lies to protect the one they love, at the expense of themselves. Even though I absolutely resented Ren Guang Xi’s mother throughout the drama, at the end, Ren Guang Xi learns that she made the ultimate sacrifice for him, and it is she who powerfully convinces him that his relationship with Liang Mu Cheng is one he should fight for. As a 21-year old, I’m not often told to persist in a romantic relationship; I’m young, I shouldn’t settle, I should put those who hurt me behind. But I was really, really moved by different characters’ wise persistence in loving those around them and fighting for the happiness of their loved one.

Surprisingly, for such a romantic drama, the lovers don’t show physical affection frequently. I found this to be so refreshing, so rare, and so moving. In many American films, couples kiss and make out and have sex so casually, but in this drama, when Liang Mu Cheng and Ren Guang Xi finally came together in the end and kissed, my heart almost exploded. Their love, their relationship, and this moment of affection, was one they had worked so, so hard for, and that kiss meant so much. aksjladj;akshlj

 

 

 

下一站, 幸福

the complexities of love and sacrifice revealed during a family vacation in Cancun

When my mom first told me that she planned a family vacation to Cancun, I was not thrilled; my impression was that Cancun was for brain-dead college students who just want cheap booze and a chance to let their brains atrophy. However, it turned out to be decently enjoyable. The beaches were indeed lovely – the water was SO warm and it was quite thrilling to see how far into the ocean I could go to play among the waves. As I felt them gush over my body, I looked up at the colorful, expansive sky and tried to absorb all the beauty around me.

However, traveling with my family (age range = 68 years) was really tough and made me think a lot about family dynamics and who has to put in what kind of labor to make everything work together well. One particular type of labor I thought about frequently is the emotional labor of planning a trip, which involves determining 1) the optimal time to do different activities and 2) which tickets, of all the ones that different salespeople were promoting, we should purchase.

How we got manipulated into attending a timeshare presentation

The most aggravating part of our trip was being talked at by salespeople who AGGRESSIVELY followed us and tried to shove different deals our way. Long story short, my family and our family friends met a travel agent at the airport who claimed to offer us the best deal because by purchasing them in a duty free zone, we could avoid additional fees loaded on by other middlemen and by the government. Our $10 deposit per person would be returned if we ultimately didn’t buy any tickets, so we thought there wasn’t any harm to the deal. 

After we agreed to buy tickets for Chichén Itzá and Xcaret, we realized that our itinerary posed a complication. Typically, a family purchases discounted tickets after the whole family attends a timeshare presentation by the hotel who offers the discounted tickets. However, because my dad had to leave Cancun early for a work emergency, we had to go on the different day trips back to back before he left, which meant that we couldn’t purchase tickets at a regular price and receive a $200 reimbursement after we attended the presentation. 

However, we then learned that because my dad would not be able to attend the presentation, my mom had to attend the presentation and lie that she is a single mother (among other lies). The travel agent claimed that he would get in trouble if he sold  discounted tickets to a family but the entire family did not attend the presentation, so he asked my mom all the questions that she would be asked at the presentation, and coached her into saying all the lies that would protect him from trouble.

Having to lie on behalf of the travel agent because he didn’t have the foresight to ask us about our itinerary was annoying, but the more we engaged with him, the more he disclosed details about our deal that didn’t make sense. For example, our family friend got incredible prices on tickets for different excursions, and when we pressed the travel agent to figure out why the rates our two families received were so different, he claimed that it was because he wasn’t allowed to offer great rates to 2 families at the same time (he would get in trouble with the timeshare program folks who employ him to sell these tickets to force people to go to their presentation). However, we suspected that it was because he perceived our family friends to be more likely to purchase timeshare than we were, since it’s easier for a family of 4 with kids ages 11 and 13 to travel, than a family of 6 with an age range of 70 years lol.

We visited Chichén Itzá and Xcaret before my dad had to leave for the States, and then planned to rest at the hotel on the day my dad leaves and to go on one more excursion the day after. That means we only had one free day, namely the second to last day of our trip, to attend the supposedly 1.5-hour long presentation. During the evening that we went to Xcaret, we asked the travel agent for the time of the presentation the next morning so we could get it over with, receive our reimbursement, and go on one more excursion the day after. However, he didn’t get back to us about the presentation, so we pretty much just hung around the hotel for the whole day. My mom suspected that he didn’t want to give us the money back and he knew we weren’t interested in the timeshare program anyways.

In a fit of annoyance, I texted him back, pretending we were super interested in the presentation and that we wanted tickets for another excursion. He texted us back immediately, apologizing for missing our message and telling us when he’d pick us up the next day to attend the presentation. After exchanging many messages to make sure we understood exactly how we would be reimbursed (you never know what loopholes exist unless you ask…), I felt really manipulated knowing that if we wanted to get our $200 back, we had to attend the presentation and thus forego the opportunity to experience a excursion on our last day (most of the excursions take the entire day, so we couldn’t attend the presentation and go on an excursion in the same day). My mom and I debated about whether or not attending the presentation for $200 would be worth not going on another excursion, and we decided that we were all pretty tired and probably wouldn’t enjoy another day-long excursion anyways, so we planned to attend the presentation during the last day of our trip.

Fighting with my mom 

That evening (which was the evening of our second to last day), my mom and I decided to make the most of the trip in other ways, so we left my brother, sister, and grandma in the hotel and boarded a bus to explore Parque de las Palapas. I was really glad that my mom had the energy and interest to explore this pretty downtown area, because I wanted to help her to enjoy at least an hour of not being ensnared by her younger daughter and her elderly mother.

As soon as we arrived at Parque de las Palapas, we were approached by a salesman offering a remarkably good excursion package to explore different Mayan ruins and cenotes for $40/person. We contemplated whether or not we wanted to go: we would forego the $200, we would have to ask my grandma to stay in the hotel (which would make her really, really angry, even though going would be strenuous for her and quite inconvenient for us), and my mom wasn’t that interested in seeing more Mayan ruins because she had difficulty understanding the tour guides. But…we hesitated to walk away because it was an amazing price for going out to see more of Mexico than just our hotel. As always, it quickly became wayy too exhausting to listen to the salesman throw more facts and brochures at us as we tried to process whether we wanted to go because we were truly interested in the excursion, or because we just wanted to feel like we got a good deal on an excursion after being manipulated by our travel agent. We told him that we’d call our family to figure out if they wanted to come, and finally ducked away from him.

We walked around the area and came across another booth that advertised a really cool excursion package with an ATV and cenotes and ziplining, which sounded more appealing to my mom than visiting historical sites. We asked the folks at the booth about the package, and apparently it was one with which they weren’t familiar, so they made some phone calls to determine the details of the excursion. Meanwhile, I swatted away a few mosquitos as my mom called my brother and sister to figure out if they were interested.

My mom realllyyyy wanted my sister to come with us, because my sister was really timid and refused to participate in different water activities at Xcaret. (Long story short, she threw a fit when we were swimming in a cenote with life vests on, so my dad had leave the cenote with her and couldn’t swim with us. This was really frustrating for everyone because my sister’s irrational refusal to be coaxed into doing an easy and fun activity that my parents had hoped would be a meaningful family memory forced my dad to miss out on a really unique activity when his Cancun experience was already cut short. Thus, my mom spent the next day playing with her in the hotel swimming pool for hours in hopes that she’d be willing to participate in future water-related activities.)

My sister said she was not interested, and my brother said he was happy to stay with her so that my mom and I can go on the excursion together. My mom then started hesitating, and said that she wouldn’t feel happy going if my sister was bored in the hotel and not experiencing as much of Mexico as possible. I was confused and frustrated because my brother FINALLY took one for the team to enable my mom to go out and do something FUN, but my mom couldn’t happily go if my sister didn’t go (even though dragging my sister out to doing something she doesn’t want to do is the best way to spoil everyone’s day).

My irritation compounded as mosquitos chewed up my leg while my mom stood there, unwilling to finally take the golden opportunity to do something that would be fun for herself. She then told me that she’s scared of ziplining (which is simply not true; I guess she could be having cold feet but my mom has always been very adventurous), and that the four of us (me, my brother, my sister, and herself) should go and that she and my sister would just watch me and my brother have fun. This made NO sense – (1) the whole point of my brother taking care of my sister was to enable my mom to finally enjoy the trip without having to worry about her elderly mother or younger daughter, and (2) furthermore, my brother and sister didn’t want to go on the trip anyways.

Then, my mom said that she’s scared of ziplining and won’t enjoy it, and that my brother and I should go, while she stays at the hotel with her mom and my sister. I was more confused than ever by her suggestion, so I teased her a bit to coax her into enjoying a precious day during which she would not have to cater to everyone’s needs but her own.

To my surprise, my mom becomes furious that I’m not listening to her plan, and I’m EVEN MORE furious that she’s not listening to my plan, so I said that it would be best if we just attended the presentation, got our reimbursement, and hung out at the hotel for the rest of the day. She called me unreasonable and stubborn for not wanting to go on the excursion with my brother, and at this point I was irritated to the point of tears and scratched my legs so aggressively that I didn’t even notice that I was bleeding quite profusely.

A series of complex emotions

I marched off to the bus as she ran to follow me, and we sat in silence for an hour. At first, I thought I was angry at her for being so irrational and unable to identify an opportunity to make a choice that maximized everyone’s happiness. Then, I realized that I wasn’t angry, but was deeply baffled – baffled that selflessness, which occurs when each person derives happiness from fulfilling others’ interests before one’s own interests, could make me feel so sad and helpless.  

But more than being sad and helpless, I was scared. Throughout the past eleven years, I’ve spent a lot of time taking care of my sister and have thought a lot about my parents’ decision to have my younger sister. As a result, their moment of freedom -– the day their children all leave for college – was extended for another TWELVE YEARS. Thus, time and time again, I’ve seen the ways in which they’ve had to start over, to experience the trying frustration of raising yet another child when they are in the early forties. Not only have my parents had to rethink several key practical decisions (such as retirement), but they have to start all over again when they have much less energy, and when all their friends are now free to do whatever the hell they want. On top of all of this, there’s an added worry that comes with having a child in your early forties: although my parents have much more cultural and social capital after being in the States for 18 years, even the most minor of my sister’s health problems worry my parents and make my mom consistently wonder if she has these health problems because my mom had her at a much older age. 

I was scared, because this trip not only showed me how much my mom’s life has changed, but how much her personality and preferences have changed. Like I said, my sister is very timid person, and my grandma is very needy and not cognizant of others’ needs. Throughout this trip, which was a microcosm of our family’s life, my parents took turns staying behind and missing out on moments they looked forward to en order to coax my sister or keep my grandma company. Like me, my mom was a headstrong, ambitious, and independent young woman, but had to make endless sacrifices for me and my siblings when we were younger and needed to be taken care of. BUT NOW, even when presented with a solution – my brother’s offer to take care of my sister and keep my grandma company – my mom did not let herself have fun and not “miss out” for once. I was sad, baffled, and scared to realize that even if we gave her the time and opportunity to enjoy a day off, she couldn’t enjoy it, because she wouldn’t be fully happy knowing that 1) someone is making the sacrifice for her and that 2) my sister wasn’t brave enough to make the most out of my mom’s ideal vision of the day. Furthermore, my mom spent much of the trip blaming herself for not planning it out better — “I should have revived her swim lessons before we went on the trip…I should have spent the first day of the trip playing with her in shallow water so she’d have the courage to go in deeper water,” etc. It’s noble, sacrificial, admirable…but to me – and she’ll likely disagree – it’s also sad that her happiness is tied up so much in our well-being, and that these new measures of happiness override her former ones. I have no right to claim which form of happiness is more “correct” – in fact, most parents might say that I disagree with my mom because I don’t understand how preferences mature when one has children and derives an unique happiness from seeing one’s children be happy, even at the “expense” of oneself. I couldn’t reconcile how 1) my mom would often tell me that she desires the freedom to travel, with the fact that 2) my siblings and I have seemed to make her  unable to enjoy opportunities for “happiness” when they are actually presented.

And I was scared of all of this, because I know I am very similar to my mom. She always tells me that at 21, she was as headstrong, ambitious, and independent as I am today, but that ever since my family immigrated to the USA, she has relinquished it all in order to raise us. I don’t know if I will as selflessly and happily give up my freedom in exchange for a more profound kind of happiness my mom seeks to experience – the happiness of seeing her kids have fun even if she must miss out. Has she consented to a voluntary shift in preference? Or has parenting us been a form of Stockholm syndrome that disables her from experiencing the kind of freedom she always pursued in her youth, a freedom that has been obscured by living the lifestyle of sacrifice that mothers must live?

This incident – which I guess I could characterize as an incident during which my mom and I fought because I didn’t want to recognize what my mom claimed made her truly happy – led me to experience the strangest kind of sadness that I’ve ever experienced. My mom wants us to all enjoy family time together, but I don’t know if there’s really any one activity that we can enjoy together, and furthermore, I don’t know if my mom will ever experience the freedom to travel that she’s dream to have, given her self-imposed obligations to her elderly mother and her younger daughter.

Last final/random comment: I’m sad we fought so much over the excursion ticket situation: whether or not we should believe the travel agent, whether or not getting the $200 reimbursement was worth it, etc. I recognize that I am so financially fortunate to be able to visit Cancun and argue that a $200 reimbursement was not worth the strife that it caused. But for anyone who finds themselves in a similar financial situation, maybe it would be worth it to think about the underlying causes of these disputes, and avoid the situation entirely by purchasing tickets from street vendors even though they may have been a tad more expensive.

the complexities of love and sacrifice revealed during a family vacation in Cancun

the website that gives you answers to questions you never thought to ask: Quora

To prevent myself from foolishly scrolling through Facebook and Instagram whenever my thumb impulsively grazes over my iPhone home button, I’ve fill phone’s home screen with my news app, a vocabulary learning app, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, my QUORA app (insert heart eyes emoji). Here are links to a few of my favorite questions/answers:

Who was the most interesting person you’ve ever been seated next to on an airplane?

the website that gives you answers to questions you never thought to ask: Quora

when prom askings become engagements

4 years ago, we were all asking each other to winter formal and prom.

as of now, ~10% of my high school graduating class is engaged (some folks to each other, but most to the significant others they met in college)

while i’m happy for my classmates, it’s a distanced happiness, for three reasons:

first, i haven’t stayed in touch with anyone from my high school, and second, i certainly don’t even remotely understand what it’s like to be in a relationship in which engagement is the proper next step.

third, it further emphasizes to me just how different i was from most people from my high school. the fascinating and rare experience of stepping out of the world in which i grew up — a world full of 2nd-generation asian americans — catalyzed a discipline i only later understood to one called theoria (thank you, Susan McWilliams!). however, while i deem it worthwhile, it was undeniably challenging and isolating.

there’s an unique guilt that comes from disliking my private christian high school. there’s the vague religious guilt (“if you’re so christian why did you dislike your christian community and why do you feel uneasy about some of its religious teachings?”), and the biting guilt that comes with being the first child of chinese immigrants (“mom and dad are paying so much for me to go here i should try to like it more WHY DON’T I LIKE IT MORE”).

i’ll share a snippet of my Watson application essay:

My tiny, pudgy hands meticulously sorted the 500 puzzle pieces sprawled before me, until Lin ah yi’s voice broke my trance. “Look at Sophia’s focus — she’s only 4 but she could become an incredible scientist. I recently heard that Stanford admitted an international puzzle competition winner — that could be Sophia!” she gushed, framing something in which I had intrinsic interest in terms of its utility for the venerated college application process.

Lin ah yi had welcomed my family to the US when we immigrated from Singapore 3 months prior. Although my parents had always known the importance of academic achievements, their arrival into the immigrant population of Cupertino, California threw them into the frenzy of ensuring that every academic and extracurricular opportunity was given to me, so that I could eventually seize admission into globally-renowned universities.

The narrative of success touted by surrounding immigrant families focused intensely on measurable outcomes that are relevant in the college application process and directly feed into the most stable, prestigious careers in engineering or medicine. This narrative is unsurprising; after all, most immigrant parents endured and succeeded in hyper-competitive education systems, relied on their academic abilities to escape unimaginable poverty, and were permitted to immigrate to the US because they possessed serviceable technical skills. However, when I was in 8th grade, my parents noticed some unhealthy manifestations of the narrow narrative of success that was perpetuated by my peers from my church, public school, and musical communities. Thus, they transferred me to a private high school.

Although my parents intended to remove me from intense academic and extracurricular pressures, I experienced a growing, irreconcilable tension between the values of my former community of predominantly middle-class, 2nd-generation Chinese-American peers, and the values of my new community of wealthier, non-immigrant Caucasian classmates. Before transferring, I had always experienced a disconnect between myself and my childhood friends, most of whom, due to cultural and familial influences, perceived the value of an experience to be primarily derived from its utility in the college application process.

However, transferring schools provided me with the unique opportunity to view these deeply-ingrained values from a distance, and this unique opportunity further prompted me to explore my own educational values…

attending my private christian high school gave me the invaluable opportunity to think, for myself, about what my educational values are — values that reflect, more broadly, my perspectives on success and how one’s time (and life) should be spent. however, i think i ultimately felt too different from most people in my high school to really internalize aspects of many admirable values that i witnessed. i think i had a radically different hs experience than most of my peers, and my inner world developed very differently.

i wish all my friends well, and will always remain distantly admiring of and curious about them.

when prom askings become engagements