Pixar Cover Letter

A beautiful summer, a beautiful internship, a beautiful company, and a beautiful team have come to a goodbye this past August 2018, and it will forever be the best internship I’ve ever had. To be honest, I grew more and more anxious starting from January 2018 about what my expectations of the summer should be: what if I’m coming with too high of expectations and I’m let down? How do I make sure I have reasonable guidelines about what to experience during my internship? The weekend prior, I literally didn’t know what to do with all of my nervous energy. But it was all folly. From the moment I drove through the gates of Pixar Animation Studios to see the Cars Logo emblazoned on the concrete road, I was on Cloud 9. And the summer did not fail. In fact, it so exceeded my expectations of what a 9-5 job can look like, and I was always so excited to see my team of 4, to watch exclusive screenings followed by Q&As with directors, to see Ed Catmull and Jim Morris before my very eyes communicating their vision to the entire company of ~1200 people.

It’s incredibly nostalgic to think back to this summer, but even more nostalgic to see where everything started: my cover letter. My manager actually informed me that the reason my application stood out was for the well written cover letter. Much to my relief that “wow people actually read cover letters!,” I’m reminded about the sincerity and diligence I put into this one pager and how far it took me. So to whoever might find this useful for job hunting or care to know why one person would have so much enthusiasm for Pixar, here you go!

Dear Pixar Hiring Manager:

My name is Da Eun Kim and I am currently pursuing my Master’s in Computer Science at Stanford University, having just graduated with my B.S. in Symbolic Systems at Stanford. As I go to pursue full-time opportunities, I can’t help but wonder how to best combine my two interests: technology and the arts, specifically filmmaking. It’s probably a no-brainer that Pixar fits perfectly into this category.

I’ve always been a lover of Pixar movies. Recently, I read Creativity, Inc., which allowed me to peek at the behind-the-scenes of many of those acclaimed movies. Not only was there the novelty aspect of getting to see the process of creating these movies, but I became filled by a whole other fascination: while Pixar’s unique point is in its 3D animation, the company absolutely refused to settle for less in terms of content, plot, music, and story. It recognized the empathy that its movies had the potential to bring to its now audience of wide age range. People say Pixar is for kids? Even as a 21-year-old, I learn so much from the lessons and subtleties, not to mention I have a greater appreciation for the computer genius that rumbles away in the background. Pixar’s impact on especially the younger generation astounds me, and I am eager to see how Pixar could enact change in the next generation to come. What would happen if we took a step further from the cultural adjustments Pixar made in Inside Out? What if we could even reduce the likelihood of implicit racism by destroying stereotypes that are often so engrained in media? These questions leave me almost begging to be a part of this near-magical process.

I am applying to be an intern this upcoming summer, particularly for the Software Development – Post Production Engineering Internship, because even after several software engineering internships in the industry, I am still longing for the creativity that comes about from being part of the storytelling process as well as the product development process. I believe my work experience speaks to my technical abilities as well as my ability to quickly learn in fast-paced environments. I love solving technical problems and making sure things are pixel perfect on the UI/front-end side. On top of this, I believe that my academic background with several film classes fuels my enthusiasm to be even more hard-working and excited to work at Pixar, and I really hope I get the chance to dip my toes into the entertainment industry while using my technical skills. For more insight to my portfolio, please see my resume below, or my website web.stanford.edu/~daeunk in addition to my YouTube channel youtube.com/user/daeunkim1024.


Regardless to say, I am incredibly excited about the prospect of being involved in Pixar’s mission and community. I plan to find inspiration from the people, from the works, and from my projects at this company. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Da Eun Kim



Movies: Summer 2018

I was lucky enough to intern at a place where it’s socially acceptable to watch a 2 hour movie followed by 30-60 minutes of Q&A with the director in the middle of the workday. This was absolute heaven for the aspiring filmmaker, and I find myself recommending so many movies to my friends, so here’s the list to whoever is wondering:

  1. Eighth Grade – Do you remember those happy days of 8th grade? Yeah, neither do I. This movie perfectly captured the rawness of emotions that happen in 8th grade/adolescence. Even if you don’t want to remember middle school, you’ll definitely be rooting for Kayla.
  2. Blindspotting – A movie that is repping the local city of Oakland and uses the friendship of two locals to unpack the complex issues of police brutality and gentrification through two different perspectives. I would give an air of caution because this movie is hyper-realistic and heavy, but for someone like me wanting to better understand these issues, it does a great job.
  3. Sorry to Bother You – freaking. mind. blown. The perfect complement to movie #2 because they capture similar themes but this one is more fantastical. I won’t say more because it would give away the movie, but just go watch!
  4. Kim Swims – A documentary about a brilliant, resilient woman who conquered the hardest swims in the world. Resonating quotes are “Trust the timing of your life” and “When you’re afraid to do something, that’s when you should do it.” It left me in awe and motivated to go out and conquer my own fears.
  5. Ant-Man and the Wasp – The great feel good movie to come out after that depressing ending of Avengers: Infinity War. Paul Rudd never fails to make my stomach hurt from laughing, and you get to peep the familiar landmarks of San Francisco.
  6. Incredibles 2 – omg how can I not include this movie? Forget the nostalgia factor of having to wait for this movie for 14 years, this was a legitimately great movie. I would’ve expected the sequel to focus more on the kids, but it chose to focus on the mom which was refreshing. Pixar was amazing in playing with Elastigirl’s powers since flexibility is not seen often in media (let’s be real, Mr. Incredible and superhuman strength is way overdone), and the train scene was exhilarating. And the scenes with Jack-Jack and Edna are the best.
  7. Bao – Okay Bao is technically not a movie, but it cannot be ignored. A short that plays before Incredibles 2, it is the first Pixar work with a female director AND she’s Asian American! For anyone who grew up with a parent who shows their love through food, you’ll love this. As for the plot twist, many people don’t get it; but if you are someone who does, then it’s an even bigger heart pang.
  8. Crazy Rich Asians – The movie I at first had many reservations about, but in the end I was rooting for it with all my heart. You don’t need to read the book in order to watch this movie, and the stellar cast speaks for itself. This movie certainly was not meant to tell an Asian American narrative or the narrative of MOST Asians; that’s simply impossible. It certainly could’ve done better in being inclusive of South and Southeast Asians. But a movie can ALWAYS do better, so watch it for the great storyline. Conversations I’ve been having about this movie has been giving me LIFE; we are only able to give praises and harsh criticisms because this movie EXISTS. This work coming onto the big screen IS a feat, whether or not it’s THE win for Asian Americans, and it makes me look forward to where these cast members are next seen and future movies with Asians in prominent positions.
  9. Christopher Robin – I had forgotten the tale of Winnie the Pooh, but once I heard Pooh’s voice my heart melted. It’s another feel good movie about friends and family and it’s easy to digest. Hoping to watch this with my parents soon 🙂
  10. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Another movie based on a book by an Asian American author that just came out on Netflix! It features a half Asian female protagonist and it’s truly one of those hilarious young adult romance novels you might’ve read when you were younger – just on the screen.
  11. One Small StepA short animated film by an up and coming studio called Taiko Animation Studios. It’s about a Chinese American girl hoping to achieve her dream of becoming an astronaut with the support of her father.
  12. Honorable Mention: Kim’s Convenience – First off, this is a TV show. Secondly, this has been out for a while, but I only just watched this on Netflix this summer. I’m totally biased because this is about a Korean-Canadian family, but it’s been greenlit for 2 more seasons so that must mean SOMETHING. The church scenes are so hilarious, I totally get the daughter’s frustrations and quips with her parents, and the parents are totally the stars of this show, which is only appropriate because we all owe everything back to our immigrant parents!

College reflection, part 1: I have become more intensely myself


“How have you changed [throughout college]?”
“…Overall, I think of myself as not having changed, but instead as having become more intensely myself.” – a friend

Reading my friend’s reflection prompted me to dig into the ways in which these sentiments resonated.

I began by recalling not my first moments in college, but the process of getting to college. On June 1, 2013, the Common Application opened, and I was confronted with the daunting task of justifying my intellectual and social value to a handful of wildly different institutions. Many of my peers had been directly preparing for the college application process for /years/; Bay Area educational culture bred the mindset that the value of an experience is derived from its utility in the college app process, and thus many of my peers employed private college counselors to hand-pick every activity with this process in mind so that no endeavor was “wasted” when constructing dynamic, indefeasible narratives for their college applications.

Although I felt less prepared, I was determined to find a unique, unifying narrative that would highlight my passions, justify my qualifications, and demonstrate my values. Throughout six months, I pored over eight years’ worth of journal entries and reflected upon the transformative and transferable lessons gained from thoughtfully pursuing activities that seemed unimpressive upon first glance. I emerged being able to say, for the first time, that I was becoming an unapologetic advocate for my authentic self.

17-year-old Sophia and 22-year-old Sophia share this pursuit of precise articulations of the self and of the intentional / incisive / insistent excavation that is essential for honing these articulations. After all, it was the college application process that inspired this pursuit and enabled me to begin understanding the periphery and core of this self, a self that has been intensified and refined throughout turbulent and joyful college years.

I’m sharing these thoughts for two reasons*.

First, I hope to encourage anyone who is piecing together a personal statement for any sort of opportunity that demands this all-consuming task: I hope you experience joy in articulating how much you have grown and who you have become through the everyday and the extraordinary.

Second, I aim to keep myself accountable for not only continuing to pursue self-understanding, but to act upon what I find.

*If you would like to see my Common App essay, it is included in the Facebook post version of this reflection.

**Edit: See Common App essay below!


Stripped of the dream I pursued, I forcefully twisted the shower knob, begging the scorching water to mitigate my pain. As fog suffocated the glass panes, I raised my trembling finger and violently scribbled “failure,” “worthless,” and “empty.”

Dubbed “the pianist” by my family, friends, and youtube commenters who left trails of exclamation marks, I prided my relationship with my music box, the gold varnish on its pedals eroded by the sweat of my feet. But with each passing year, my thousand pound companion became less of an instrument and more of a pedestal: it showcased my glittering tower of trophies with engravings that dictated my identity as “Sophia Sun, winner of …”. I played piano out of obligation because I could not give up the accolades that came with having just enough discipline and talent to outshine my peers. My ability hinted falsely at the passion others assumed I possessed, but this outward image suppressed an uncomfortable truth: music was simply a chore.

Although I was ranked 17th in California by tenth grade, my yearning to be a winner only intensified at the prospect of one more accomplishment: entering the prestigious Young Artist Guild. With my identity at stake, I practiced obsessively for thirteen months to navigate through an arduous yet near-impeccable seventy-minute audition. I closed eight scuffed scores, filled with meticulously perfected Bach Fugues and Liszt Etudes. My teacher assured me, with a fortuitous wink, that the only thing standing between me and the second round was a confirmation call.

That call never came.

Instead, through the phone, I heard her bitter voice, weary with disbelief. The unfamiliarity of falling short demolished my identity, which fell like a Jenga tower. Pieces scattered to reveal the foundational block that I, convictionless, had been driven merely by desire for distinction.

Because I lost the competition and did not need to be home for the second round, I joined a school trip. While waiting for dinner, I casually swung by a weathered Kawaii to pass the time. Classmates gathered slowly, delighted to hear me play their song requests. As unpracticed harmonies flowed effortlessly from my fingertips, I experienced a sliver of the fulfilling satisfaction that I could have possessed all along had I not made winning my consuming priority. With a taste of joy that sharply contrasted duty to practice, I realized how toxic my bondage to recognition had been, and was compelled to find a genuine bond to music.

I began indulging in anything that brought me contentment instead of confinement: I tinkered blooming childhood tunes and movie soundtracks, danced unashamedly to pop songs, and leisurely sightread chamber music despite pressing deadlines. The unfamiliar excitement was like a rush of rosiness on a blank cheek. Performing my own a cappella arrangements and accompanying foreign exchange student choirs showed me the varied forms of music’s joy. As I energetically played warm-up scales, I heard singers shape every dynamic along with me. Their enthusiastic voices clarified the importance of wholehearted dedication: it enriches my life and encourages others to engage and contribute their best. Pursuing joy over prestige led me to other passionate individuals with whom I crafted didgeridoos and published karaoke soundtracks I tweaked long into the night. Layers of rich instrumental tracks blended together, offering me more joy than my trophies ever did.

The condensation on the shower glass panes has long since dissipated along with my “failure,” but my gratitude towards this experience is permanent. Failure penetrated like a painful scalpel, exposing my disingenuous attitude and the identity I constructed out of hollow bones. External accomplishments shriveled the marrow within, but the stinging realization of my sickly state motivated me to cultivate the life-giving passion I had neglected. After all, I had only lost a competition, but not the discipline, talent, ability and now passion that has regenerated my identity: Sophia Sun, ardent, resilient, and lyrical lover of life.


Documenting an Inspiring Convo

Note to self: bring a notebook around so that you can take notes on things people say that shake you to your ~core~

This past year, I decided to challenge myself: by talking to adults. Yes, I’m an adult as are all other college students. But by “adult,” I mean people who are at least in their 30s, who I wouldn’t find myself talking to at midnight in the dorms. I wanted to do this because for the past 4 or so years, I’ve always been talking to people who are going through life in the same stages as me: figuring out what to do post-grad, trying to apply for internships, etc. And I realized that what I really needed was some new perspective, maybe from seasoned people who have gained wisdom from their years of experience.

I also had another motivation behind doing this: I literally know no one in film. Film is becoming something I want to make more than just a hobby. It’s becoming something I want to keep myself accountable in pushing myself to find stories and document them into something beautiful and relatable. I’ve been able to exercise those muscles more, but I know that it can’t just be in a void of my own room.

I was lucky enough to reconnect with one of my d.school professors in Movie Design, and I finally got the chance to sit down with him on the last day I was on campus actually. (PSA: Scott Doorley is one of the kindest and most affable professors ever!) Here are some thoughts I came out of the conversation with:

  • Film schools have only really been a thing since the 70s-80s. They’re still quite relatively new, so contrary to popular belief, the majority of people in the film industry do NOT have a film education background.
  • The top film schools are USC, NYU, and UCLA. USC is in the heart of Hollywood and tends to focus on funneling people into the mainstream industry. NYU has a greater focus on independent filmmakers, and UCLA is a good mix of both. UCLA being a public school, tends to be underresourced compared to USC and NYU.
  • Networking is key. I’ve gotten this advice from a lot of people affiliated with the film industry, actually. I used to abhor the word, BUT now I do think there are genuine and authentic ways to build relationships around your career. Doorley had a great way of putting it: “Networking doesn’t have to feel like a relationship where you only take. Networking can simply be approaching someone and expressing genuine interest in their work. A simple ‘Hi, I’d love to learn more about what you do, can I come by your desk sometime when you’re not busy to see what you’re up to?’ can suffice. And in fact, you’re helping them by giving them the space to express their passion wholeheartedly, something you can’t always do when your passion is your 9-5 job.”
  • Response to my question “How do you make sure your film/video is able to stay true to your original intent?”: In the d.school, we talk a lot about embracing change and letting the process guide us through. While being malleable is important, it’s also important for you to deliver on your intent. But it’s the balance of being able to adapt and to always have an intent in mind. It may not be the original intent, but as long as you are grounded in an intent, your product will ring true.
  • This quote by Ira Glass is life:

    “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

2018 New Year’s Fears

I now so appreciate the beauty of the digital footprint in that I am so easily able to go back to older posts and read what I wrote and reflect on those to only now have new thoughts about old topics. While it’s still January, I wanted to go back and address last year’s fears, write my new fears, as well as reflect on the year that was 2017 for myself. Let’s go!

Addressing 2017 New Year’s Fears

  1. I’m scared that CS 110 will destroy me/make me feel insecure about my abilities to be a competent software engineer (much like CS 107 made me feel). I still find myself oftentimes paralyzed from starting CS assignments because they seem so daunting. It’s never much of a problem once I get knee-deep in, but the feet have to go in first. It’s also not a pleasant feeling for the deadline to be like a flame under your bottom. I’ll admit that CS 110 did destroy me. I was constantly in office hours (with no fellow peers for that matter) feeling like I was stabbing the problem to death without making any headway. It definitely lived up to my rather lowly expectations, but on a related note, I think CS 110 was just a band aid I needed to rip off in order to realize what I can do. From CS 110, I moved onto more application-based classes, a third internship, and 2 classes that were way outside of my comfort zone. In said 2 classes, I found myself being excited for the parts where I get to code and being excited to see what I develop. I’ve come such a long way from the abyss that was 110.
  2. I’m really excited for 2 of my classes for the winter, a filmmaking class and a UX design class. These are areas I am semi-serious about pursuing, and there is a fear that they won’t pan out to be what I expect and I’ll be back in square 1 of “what the hell am I doing with my life?” UX Design was a wonderful space to explore the field and I definitely don’t regret taking it. But the hours of straining my neck over the small computer screen to make sure everything is pixel perfect drove me a little nuts rather than keeping me excited. Nonetheless, I absolutely loved my filmmaking class. I had a wonderful group with a wonderful idea, and this passion has carried over to my career aspirations. So… no, I’m most definitely not back at square 1!
  3. I’m scared I won’t be in an important position for an organization I’m involved in, and I’m scared that if I am in that position, that I won’t meet my goals and get a lot of hate for it. Hmm, I don’t quite remember what I meant by this, but I did end up taking a back seat from organizations for the first half of this year. I learned that this was actually the healthiest decision for me as I found myself still helping out my organizations in ways that I knew I could be of help rather than doing it out of obligation. I think this helped me relearn my interpretation of doing things that I like versus I need. Ultimately, in a very non-graduate manner, I ended up rejoining an organization that I had joined my freshmen year–primarily because I believe in this leadership and I’m excited to give back to the freshmen and the community that has had such a huge impact on me in my 4 years.
  4. I’m scared that my family will continue to adamantly refuse my relationship. I’m telling myself to give it time, but it’s brought a lot of tears and heartaches tbh… I’m tearing up right now even writing that. I wish they could see the potential of good and happiness it brings into my life rather than the list of differences in background that amount to how communication will be terrible in the long run. This is definitely still an incredibly hard conversation that has not been passed yet. Each conversation brings tears, but I do think we’ve taken baby steps to better understanding one another. Most of the time, we just don’t talk about it, which I think is fine given the emotional exhaustion it stirs up.
  5. I’m scared that I have too high of expectations for my internship this summer after having had an amazing experience in NYC summer 2016. I definitely wouldn’t say this was my favorite internship, BUT it did force me to grow in very different ways from my previous 2 internships. I was given a lot more freedom and independence to make decisions and I was given ambiguous problems to find very specific solutions for. I think I not only grew my technical skills, but I grew my ability to be an engaging part of the team, putting out my ideas and constantly asking for feedback. I would say that I am most proud of my growth from this internship.
  6. I’m scared that I will continue to body shame myself. On top of that, I’m scared that I will be motivated for vanity reasons rather than longevity and health reasons. I’m learning to love myself with the support of many of my loved ones. My theme for 2018 is actually focusing on health in all its forms: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and environmental. I want to be stronger and more confident, which are both physical and mental goals that are complementary and not at odds.
  7. I’m scared that as a grad student in the fall, I will feel lonelier than ever. I am definitely more alone but I think I have grown to be more of my own person with my own agenda.
  8. I’m scared that I will fail at managing money lol. lol always a work in progress!
  9. I’m scared that I will never feel comfortable enough to voice my own political opinions on social media for fear of being not well-read enough. I’ve learned that the most I can say is based on my own personal experiences, and those experiences are what are most valuable and unique to put out. End of last year, I wrote a blog post talking about my name, and I got an overwhelming response to this from friends. Friends opened up telling me that they actually never say my name (which I ironically didn’t even notice), they told me that they have similar experiences, they validated and affirmed me in so many ways that I wouldn’t have even fathomed.

2018 New Year’s Fears

  1. I’m scared for all the changes up ahead: from leaving a place I called home for 4+ years to needing to relearn how to socialize and find my own community.
  2. I’m scared that in my first time ever doing research, that I won’t be able to deliver because the guidelines are so loose.
  3. I’m scared that I won’t be able to make the best use of my time not in school/work. The general idea right now is to travel, but who knows if 1) it’ll pan out and 2) if it’ll actually add value to my life outside of having cool photos for Instagram.
  4. I’m still scared that I won’t learn to fully accept my body for how it is! It’s a constant battle, and I want to slowly develop healthy habits for the longevity and health of my body, which is a gift from God.
  5. I’m definitely scared that my internship won’t live up to my internal hype because everyone knows how excited I am, but I still feel this need to keep myself in check and be realistic.
  6. I’m scared about the potential LDR that will be a reality by the end of 2018.
  7. I’m scared that I’ll just be a big mouth talking about all the terrible things happening in this world and not actually take action! ~time to mobilize~
  8. Still scared about not being able to manage money. Send help pls.

My 2017 Recap

meant to celebrate my successes, however big or small!

  1. Created wayy more video content than ever! a rush video, an intro video for freshmen, and 2 videos for personal exploration of classical music
  2. I got an offer to the internship of my ~dreams~ and secured my full-time opportunity for 2018.
  3. Overcame my fear of driving
  4. Developed a joy for coding
  5. Learned handlettering
  6. Grew distant from friends and learned that it’s OK
  7. Joined a summer orchestra and remembered that joy of being in a musical community
  8. Went to GHC and felt empowered & so inspired
  9. Last but not least, I graduated from the school of my wildest dreams.

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?”



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.

“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.

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.


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




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.