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!
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Movies: Summer 2018

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

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“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.

 

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

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.”

Documenting an Inspiring Convo

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.
2018 New Year’s Fears

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?”

 

 

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?”