Thursday, December 24, 2009


Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place.
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All others doth deface...

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlmen

Every Christmas I find myself torn, torn between what Christmas means to me and what I think Christmas should mean to me. But when you think of Christmas and the twinkling lights, the non-recyclable gift wrap, the hordes of bargain-hunting last minute shoppers, and the nativity scenes in malls, what can we really conclude it is supposed to mean? The Catholic Church markets Christmas as a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.... and yet Hallmark tells me it's a time to drink and share gifts with my friends and loved ones. While I was growing up, my family followed the traditions of a Christmas tree and Christmas morning gifts without ever explaining what any of it meant. So I grew up like any other church-going child: completely confused as to what the real meaning of Christmas should be.

I saw a movie a few years ago called "God Grew Tired of Us". The movie itself deserves its own blog but for the purpose of this entry, I'll focus on the part of the movie where the five refugee men from Sudan celebrate their first Christmas in America. They were baffled. What is this tree for? they asked. And what do all the lights mean and why are there so many odd traditions to celebrate the birth of Christ? In Sudan, they celebrated by being with their family and communities, rejoicing in their love for each other and for Christ--a video clip of these small communities with nothing but dishes made of Mealie Meal celebrating with such sincerity and gratitude is so humbling. But in the states, all that meaning gets lost in the marketing, the gifting glory, and the familial drama.

But when you think about it, what "it" all REALLY means--the tree, the stars, the 25th of December--doesn't add up. The so-called "real" reason for Christmas was never real at all; or at least it's as real as the Hallmark reason for Christmas-- marketing. So I've concluded each person has to find their own meaning in Christmas, like most things. Honestly, I still don't know what Christmas means to me. I know what I want it to mean though. And I will spend the next few years trying to re-make my Christmas so it has the meaning that I want-love, family, and generosity. This year was a good start...

For further thoughts on Christmas...
Thanks for your thoughts Kim! May Christmas always mean love, family, friendship, and excellent marketing...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

happy people are silly people

Some people are like Slinkies - not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you see one tumble down the stairs.

Sometimes, you just have to sit back and enjoy the little things in life. For example, I love post-it notes and other ridiculously unnecessary stationary items (i.e. sharpies, especially colored sharpies.) Sometimes I fear being in an administrative position at an office where i might be in charge of the post-it acquisition because... I may just go wild.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Who are we really mad at?

We are never so much disposed to quarrel with others as when we are dissatisfied with ourselves.
William Hazlitt

It was maybe a year ago when I came to a realization very similar to this quote... I think I was lying in bed, worried about something, angry about someone. When I looked up at Clint and said, I think I'm critical of other people because of how critical I am of myself. And for things where I'm a rather harsh critic of myself, I can be even harsher on others. I can get mad at someone for not taking on recycling as a personal responsibility. But because of the doomsday philosophy I have regarding recycling, the devil horns can sprout in seconds if I know someone isn't doing their part to save the fragile earth... Maybe they just don't know how important it is or maybe they're just too lazy to save the garbage to recycle later. But because I failed to save the rainforests, this poor person is going to endure the wrath of Marge.

I take disagreements very personally and this, unfortunately, can be a fatal flaw. This is something I (sometimes) work on. I usually realize too late how far my judgment and criticism can go--something most people are guilty of.

Maybe the real problem, deep down, is how we feel about ourselves. What is it that really matters to us? In a recent correspondence I received, I felt as though the sender was suggesting my purpose in life was to support my husband and his dreams and goals. My initial reaction, completely dismissing the intention of the letter and its context, was that this person must think I have no dreams and goals of my own. "Ummm.. what the fuck?" moment, right? But if that's not what the person meant... why did I read it that way?

Maybe the real problem is I’m scared of my ambitions… scared I’ll never succeed or even attempt them. Other people will acknowledge this and say I’m being a good wife, I'm supporting my bread winning husband. When in reality, I’m just a coward and I’ll resent myself and Clint for it. If I become a housewife, and my goals and dreams fade, I would rather have people look at me as a housewife and think Wow, what a shame... she had so much potential for this, this, this… instead she gave it up? ...rather than say, She is doing what she is supposed to do, she is being an Air Force wife and supporting his dreams… I would rather have people be sad I didn’t push myself in a leading role rather than have people praise me for being in a supporting role… After all, I've worked too hard to let my potential go to waste--I want people to acknowledge my potential and intelligence, even if it's painfully wasted. I don't want my ambitions shoved to the wayside because a family happened, even if I acknowledge it as the priority. I want my dreams to be supported too and if I fail at them I would rather have people be disappointed because they knew I could do it rather than have them sigh and say, 'About time you came to your senses"...

Is that so wrong? Am I right to be upset? Or am I projecting...

Projection is tough to identify and even scarier to deal with... make sure inward anger doesn’t get directed outward inadvertently. Correct it if it does, acknowledge the true problem. It will help all your relationships if you can realize what you are truly angry about...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

this too shall pass

One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah Ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, "Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it." "If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty," replied Benaiah, "I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?" "It has magic powers," answered the king. "If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy." Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility. Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day's wares on a shabby carpet. "Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?" asked Benaiah. He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile. That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity. "Well, my friend," said Solomon, "have you found what I sent you after?" All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled. To everyone's surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, "Here it is, your majesty!" As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words "Gam zeh ya'avor" -- "This too shall pass." At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.
Jewish wisdom folktale

I think that's a really powerful story. Being the season of thanks and giving, I think this is a really important message to keep in mind... that this moment, every moment, shall pass into a new one. So cherish those moments you never want to let go and have patience during those moments where your mind is in another place or another time. This is something I have trouble keeping in mind--that those moments where my mind is somewhere else yearning to be an hour in the future or 10 miles away, will eventually pass. So I should try making the most of that moment, even if it isn't the most joyful. That might be while at work, or riding the bus, or doing daily errands like grocery shopping or doing laundry.

One of the lessons I have learned from Gretchin Ruben, author of The Happiness Project, is that in order to really be happy, you have to be 100% in the moment you're in. Or that moment can never be a happy one.

Right now for instance, Clint is away on a TDY and I would much rather have him here. I find myself grumbling my way through work and finding every household chore doubly tedious because I'm alone in it. But I used to be a single lady before! And I rather enjoyed it... so I'm trying to make the most of my temporary bachelorette-hoodness by doing some of the things I used to love, and forgot that I still do. Like chatting it up with friends, catching up on writing, enjoying some alone time! I get to make bachelorette-meals (Margie-dillas-my version of a cheese-free, low fat quesadilla) and not worry about making a meal for two.

Of course I'm still itching for when he gets back... but I want to enjoy this moment now. Because it too shall pass, and then what would be the point? Enjoy those little moments... make your coworkers laugh, ask your child what she's up to and actually be interested in it... you can never get those moments and opportunities back.

Monday, November 9, 2009

It's starting to taste a lot like Christmas!

There is a remarkable breakdown of taste and intelligence at Christmastime. Mature, responsible grown men wear neckties made of holly leaves and drink alcoholic beverages with raw egg yolks and cottage cheese in them.
P.J. O'Rourke

It's Christmas-time! Well, at least in the UK it is. (In the states, it is Thanksgiving time...) And that means festive holiday decorations in metallic red and reflective silver, Salvation Army bell-ringers, and overpriced Holiday sales! (and the overzealous clearance-hunters too! Wooohoooo!)

But this excess of energy actually helps me get into the festive spirit... and a few of these flavorful treats help toooo...

1) Hot apple cider... spiked?
2) Egg nog. OK, not actually Egg nogg but egg nogg flavored things like ice cream and hot Celestial Seasonings Egg Nogg'n tea.
3) Pumpkin pie
4) Mulled wine
5) Apple streudels
6) Pancakes... always a great breakfast or brunch treat but particularly more filling and satisfying when it's cold out
7) Chai tea lattes
8) Mint chocolates
9) Hot chocolate... with Bailey's?
10) Speaking of Bailey's, Irish Coffee!

So most of these are alcoholic... (but how else do you survive festive family occasions?)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

To have faith... or not to have faith.

"If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him."

I saw an awesome interview of Lewis Black this morning. It was only an excerpt but it was brilliant; he outlined his reasons for why he believed in God; and why he doesn't believe in God. Whether you have a faith in Him or not, I think it's important to understand why you do. I thought I would compile my own list of reasons, trying to stay in Black's lighthearted style...

Reasons to Believe:
1. I'd feel bad for all the men who built those cathedrals.
2. Hiccups are inexplicable without Him.
3. Death is a less frightening thought.
4. Electrons and protons boggle my mind....(except I can feel static. I can't feel God.)
5. Wine.

Reasons I don't Believe:
1. I can feel static.
2. Cats get cancer too. That's just cruel.
3. Animals can be gay. It's natural, not a sin.
4. My mother doesn't.
5. Jared Diamond's books explain anthropological evolution so well.
6. All the bad things I ever did were not because the devil told me to do it.
7. My will has been pretty free.

Monday, October 26, 2009

'finding nemo'?

Fish are very resilient animals you know.
-Veda, My Girl

I’m not sure that quote has any bearing on it but if it does, I do not consider myself a fish. When life gets me down, I get down. Not gonna lie about it. The past two weeks or so have proven I am not immune to a case of the blues. My grandmother died, my work reflected my inadequacies, and in general I felt low in self esteem. I don't know when I last felt so depressed. But whenever I find myself sinking, feeling like the weight of my troubles will not relent, I find strength in my friends and family who have proven themselves as proper fish, resilient despite the children who tap on their glass bowls, despite the loud water filter, despite the toilet bowl looming in the darkness… I think we all need people in our lives who remind us how to get up, how to keep going, how to remember our own strength by finding inspiration in theirs. I dedicate this blog to all the Nemo's I have found in my life, resilient, swimming despite the harsh currents and mean fish out there...

Fish 1: Sunny--She has been through so much with her family and yet she keeps chugging along. Not only does she chug, she does it with classsss, bitches. And she keeps a smile on her face and makes everyone around her laugh. Considering what she goes through in life and the people she continues to support with love and hard work, she would be an inspiration to a lot of us...

Fish 2: Lisa's parents--Lisa herself inspires me with her go-go-go energy and constant smile... but when I think of her parents I feel incredibly humbled. They were refugees from Cambodia and escaped what could have been a tumultuous life for the unknown in America... They came here with $5 and built an incredible life for themselves. They can make anybody's bad day look like a Sundae with a cherry on top.

Fish 3: Mom--My mother has been my most important role model. She always had a tough shell around her when we grew up... because she had to have a tough shell. She was battling so many different obstacles everyday and struggling with so many different problems and she still managed to be a great mother. She learned English by studying the captions on TV when she was alone in a foreign country; her first job in America was at PizzaHut where she put her new English skills to work and scrapped and saved to feed her 5 hungry, whiny kids while gross Hayward guys made sleazy remarks; she helped raise her siblings and manage her household when she was growing up; and on a daily level, she has never let her insecurities get the best of her, nor let her fears conquer her, nor let her sad days envelope her. She's been a pillar of continuous strength and, for being someone to model that for me, I thank her.
She is the ultimate fish.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A life lost, a spirit found.

She never got past elementary school. Actually, she was an orphan and she was passed around from uncle to aunt to uncle. Her mother died, during labor I believe and her father died soon after. I think finally her eldest sister took care of her. No one could afford to put her through school so her education stopped after elementary school and her teenage years were spent working, mostly physical labor and menial work.

One day, when she was 19 or so, she met a charming, smart and sophisticated playboy. He spoke English well and was an engineer. His Germany education and his English speaking background made him quite good looking on paper. He had a promising future. She fell in love and they got married and moved in together in Taiwan.

Together they had four children: Two boys and two girls.

After she gave birth to her last child, she suffered from post-pardum depression. Her children never got to know their mother without depression. As the children grew and the depression didn't alleviate, their father began to fall out of love with her, if he was ever truly in love with her to begin with.

The father traveled frequently while his youngest daughter was a child because a lot of his work was abroad. One year, his small daughter started walking home from school and saw her father walking towards her. For some reason, she was always quite fearful of her father. And this time, as he walked up towards her, he asked "Why do you look so sad?"

She looked back up at him and said, "Because this time, you're not coming back."

"Of course I'm coming back. I have four kids, I have to come back for you."

A man came into my mother's house one day, covered her mouth with a moist cloth probably covered in some anesthetic like ether, and when she woke up she was undressed.

Some time later, that same man came into my mother's house and tried to rape my grandmother. My mom, small and probably 7 years old, helped my grandmother fend him off. The next day they got a rickshaw and moved the entire family. My mom was sent to the train stations to wait for her brothers and sister and to tell them they moved and to go to the new home.

Events like this may have intensified her depression. But my mom always saw something was wrong. Sometimes my mother would walk into a room and find my grandmother talking to no one. And all she thought about was her husband who was in Hong Kong with a new family, having left one fateful day after my mother came home from school. Her broken heart may have pushed her over the edge into schizophrenia.

She is still waiting for him to come back to her.

Half a lifetime later and I am finally going to meet her. This is the woman who inspired me to study psychology. This is also the woman who made me fearful of relationships. And in February, eight months after my grandfather's death, my mother will have to decide whether she will tell her why he really is never coming back to her.

Blog excerpt, December 2007

I wrote that blog entry almost two years ago. A few months later, I finally met my grandmother, a woman whose life came to me in tearful stories and heart-to-heart tales but never in the physical reality until that moment. She had a nervous smile on her face when I walked into her room. I wasn't sure if she knew who I was and felt bashful or if she didn't know who I was and was smiling her way through her anxiety.

Twenty-months after that day, I received cold news of her death. At first I wasn't sure how to react but then the tears came. I am not sure which saddens me more--the sadness of her death or the suffering in her life.

She suffered from schizophrenia. Her understanding of reality was a little different than the communal reality. Or maybe she knew she was never apart of reality at all. Maybe she knew the idea of reality was rubbish and the life she experienced transcended everyone else's. Or maybe she was just crazy. She knew she had a disease though. She refused to depend on medication for the rest of her life, a strength my mom now says she once saw in me. She wanted to deal with her illness by herself and fight through it. She had the type of strength I think most people are never forced to have or discover in themselves. She also had a perception and experience of the world most people only see in movies and never understand firsthand.

Since I was little and knew about her illness, I feared becoming like her. I researched schizophrenia when I was little and I learned about my biological predisposition to mental illnesses. Psychology became an important aspect of my life because of my grandmother. I majored in psychology in college and hope to continue in that field in some way. She may never have been the grandmother who baked cookies with me or spoiled me with birthday presents but her existence and her strength made an impression on my life. Her presence in my life may not have been physical but in a way, her spirit has been and will always be there.

RIP Grandmother Chang

Only in moments when I am alone does her death feel real; when I am lonely, her existence surrounds me...

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Wax on... wax off...
Mr. Miyagi

I read this on the Happiness Project blog today... It's from Desiderata which means "desired things", written by Max Ehrmann. Although everything is so simple and thus assumingly easy to do, it seems none of us are very good at following any of these guidelines without a lot of inner strength. Maybe if we all just focus on the last idea, the others will fall into place...

1. Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.
2. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
3. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
4. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; for they are vexations to the spirit.
5. If you compare yourself with others you may become bitter or vain, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
6. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
7. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
8. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery; but let this not blind you to what virtue there is.
9. Be yourself.
10. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
11. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
12. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune, but do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
13. Beyond a wholesome discipline be gentle with yourself.
14. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here, and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
15. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
16. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, be at peace with your soul. With all its shame, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
17. Be cheerful.
18. Strive to be happy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.

Frederick Keonig

After work, I get off the train in Ely near Tesco and I walk past a little patch of grass on my way towards Broad Street. Yesterday a little family of baby ducks and a mama duck were waddling from the patch of grass across the road stopping traffic. A few other commuters slowed their pace to watch and "Awwww"'ed. Today, a few little duckie families sat in the patch of grass pecking for food and having Thursday supper. Both instances made me smile and feel a bit warm and fuzzy inside, and not cause I stole a duckie...

What little things make you smile? And perhaps make mundane moments (like commuting) a little bit more enjoyable?

1. Talking to cashiers while I checkout at the grocery store and hopefully having a laugh.
2. The feeling of warm laundry, towels in particular, while folding laundry on a cold day.
3. Cleaning and finding things you totally forgot about... feels like Christmas or even an archaeological dig of your own life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The 9-5!

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”
Charles R. Swindoll

OK, actually my new job is the 9-5:30... and tomorrow is my first (half) day! I learned about this organization about 2 years ago when I was in trying to decide if I should apply for Peace Corps. Camfed has a small branch office (by small, about 5 people) in San Francisco and I wanted to have an opportunity with them but it was near impossible. I admired the work this group did but at the time I was in Walnut Creek and my best chance at getting my foot in the door was an internship... in Cambridge. How impossible did that seem at the time?!

A few years later, here I am... with an internship at Camfed! I had applied for a job when I first arrived here in Ely and never heard back. In February I tried again but for an internship. I hoped I would have a better likelihood for hire if it was as an intern. And they were excited about me! But I didn't have the proper paperwork--I was an illegal! But now, with a Residence Visa in hand and another dose of persistence, I applied again... to no avail. The internship I was applying for didn't want me. So I emailed Mari, the woman I interviewed with in February, and she was ecstatic! She knew most of my professional background and felt I might be just the one she was looking for to fill an unadvertised internship. Who knew! Persistence does work!

Although I am incredibly nervous about whether or not I can fulfill my duties and if I have the skills they want, I am also incredibly excited to work for them. We will see how tomorrow goes!

Two years and a move later... I kept my eyes on the prize, baby!

Friday, September 11, 2009


Time is passing. Yet, for the United States of America, there will be no forgetting September the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children.
President George W. Bush, November 11, 2001

Eight years ago this morning, I was getting ready for work at a retail store downtown, waiting for my brother to wake up so he could drive me. It was the summer before I started college--I wasn't a happy camper. My job was menial and I sold overpriced "fashionable" clothes to little girls and their mothers with too much time on their hands. I was saving up to go to Davis, a school I never had any intention of going to. The morning was fairly typical, and I turned the TV on while waiting for Charles and CNN had a "Breaking News Story" playing. Airplanes had crashed into the Twin Towers...

Eight years has given me a lot of distance from that day... and a lot of perspective as well. Since that day we have occupied portions of Iraq, lost 4,343 men and women, and the Iraqi civilian casualty count is somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000. American forces have served in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq serving the American people...
I have spent the last eight years learning more about the world and what it means to be apart of it. I've learned more about what it means to be American: to have freedoms, to have democracy, to have the opportunities to shout back; to have a grocery store fight for our patronage, to have movie theatres liberate us of our mundane lives, to have a Starbucks on every corner. I was incredibly lucky to have been born American and incredibly privileged to have been born to my parents. For many reasons, I feel this way. But when I think about 9/11 I think about the children living in refugee camps in the Middle East sitting in UN tents wondering what life must be like for an American child who gets to go to school. I think about Iraqi children living in fear of the light in the middle of the night... and the American children who find solace because of their light in the middle of the night. It sounds selfish but it makes me realize how lucky I am to have been born in the US, or for that matter to a number of developed nations... I would have been lucky had I been born in France, UK, Canada. Any of those countries would have delivered to me similar freedoms as a child that I would not have had in Bangladesh, Syria, or Saudi Arabia. 9/11 reminds me how lucky I am...

I was incredibly lucky to have been born American and incredibly privileged to have been born to my parents. When I think of 9/11 I think of the terrified mother working in one of the Twin Towers and how lucky I am my mother still comes home to at the end of the day. I think of the sons and daughters who will never get to experience Prom, their first love, their first beer, their graduation because they died on a plane. Because men who had a different faith took power over their lives. I think of the widows who spent the next few years fighting and struggling to keep their lives together when all they want to do is quit. I could have been born to anyone and still have been lucky. But I could have been born into a different life as well, one that met tragedy. 9/11 reminds me how lucky I am...

This piece is not meant to be political or to be righteous. It doesn't even have to be about September 11, 2001. For so many reasons, I am lucky. For so many reasons, you are too. If you have the good luck to be able to read this blog, you are probably lucky for you could be in bedridden with a spinal condition or you could be living in poverty thinking "internet" is a myth you only hear about. We can complain about all the little inconveniences in our lives... but really we should all remember how lucky we are. Everyday reminds me how lucky I am.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Two Years

Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning.

It's been two years since we met and two years ago I thought to myself, he could be the one. If I could be so lucky, I'd marry him. And two years later, he is and I can only fathom will always be the one.

He makes me happy for a multitude of reasons but he makes me feel loved by accepting me. He makes me insane sometimes for all the reasons we shouldn't be together, but he makes me insanely in love for the mere fact none of those reasons matter. He makes me smile for all those silly quirks he has and he makes me feel complete because before I ever met him, I had some of those same quirks too...

There are a handful of points in my life that could have been different--a different choice in college, a different roommate senior year, a different bridesmaid instead of me.... and I never would have met him. But some people say "things happen for a reason" and those things eventually lead you to your fate. If fate exists and it led me to him, then I am grateful for fate. But if life is full of happy coincidences, sheer luck, and happenstance, that I am incredibly thankful for the road happenstance has led me to.
I'm not sure I care about how I got here... I'm just grateful that I am here with him.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Living in the Lap

Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.
Henry David Thoreau
Every luxury must be paid for, and everything is a luxury, starting with being in this world.
Cesare Pavese

So I posted an inquiry on my facebook and I loved the responses I got!

The question: How would you define luxury?
Kim: Something pink ;) Ok no but seriously... Yah no definitely something pink.
Tien: reading a book in bed without being bothered by anyone.
Jeremy: Anything that I can do, but is being done for my by pretty girls.
Crystal: Anything that makes me happy. As simple as a smile of honest gratitude.
Vivien: sometimes 7 dollar banana cream cheesecake from cheesecake factory..
Dan: Extravagant. Unneccessary for survival. But nice.
Tai: living beyond your means...and yes, it is not important for survival.
Bonnie: a pint of ice cream and a foot rub?
Sara: its the pleasuring of one's senses (i think)

This question came to me as Clint and I were strolling down the cobblestone alleyways of Bruges (speaking of luxury) and I can't even remember how the question came about but we started to wonder what luxury really means. Is luxury something that is the same, by definition, for everyone?

The googled definition of luxury is "something that is an indulgence rather than a necessity". Food is a necessity but is the convenience of having 3 grocery stores within 5 city blocks an indulgence or a necessity? Is it a necessity to have a stretch of American farmland dedicated to making corn to create low cost Little Debbies and CocaCola's? Or is that an American indulgence?

Does it have to be something extreme and extravagant like a German sportscar or a ridiculous house? Or in this day and age, can it be something simpler... cookie dough ice cream or cable television? Does it even have to be material--perhaps luxury is having a job? or a choice? Having a choice in the matter of something can be a huge luxury, can it not? If you ask a woman in Afghanistan would she say I'm living a luxurious life? Is luxury something that one doesn't need? We all need water but is clean water a luxury? Or is not having clean water considered flat-out poverty? Is luxury all relative? Or is it just any indulgence...

When I look around me during my travels and when I think back to my travels in the past, I've always felt very lucky. And whenever I return home, I feel like I'm returning to a bit of luxury. Think about your life right now... what luxuries do you enjoy each day just by the mere luck of your birth in the States? Is it luxurious to have a full pantry? Or is that a necessity for life to have food stored? Would the man sheltered by an overpass off Telegraph in Oakland agree?

At what point can we stop asking for more and realize how luxurious our lives might be to someone else?

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Thousand Words

They can't hurt you unless you let them. a picture's worth. Some people see a picture and they see a picture. Other people see the event during the moment that picture was taken. Still others go further to see the meaning of it, the emotions, the consequences. They see the world that is encapsulated in the photo and I tend to compare my world to theirs, either to get an understanding of their world or to maintain a gratitude for mine.

However, sometimes those stories and worlds we see can be overwhelming and at times heartbreaking. This afternoon, I was thumbing through a few magazines when a photography journal caught my eye. One of the headlines on the cover was something along the lines of "Photos that changed History". It was a collection of photos that had an affect on society, journalism, legislation, the world. Some of the photos that were included were "Piss Christ" (a photo of a crucifix submerged in urine, consequently government funding only went to art programs that didn't contain "blasphemous" or "sacrilegious" art after it won an award and angered conservative legislators). Or the photos of Abu Ghraib that showcased US soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners leading to a global outrage. One photo that stuck with me was photographed by Kevin Carter during the Sudan famine in 1994.

The child is crawling towards a UN food camp while a vulture lurks, waiting for him to die. The photographer, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo, committed suicide from depression months after being awarded. The photo speaks volumes of the child's situation, his despair, and the world in which he lives. The result of this photo's unleash are just as haunting.
There is so much to be said about this photo and so much can be construed... should I feel selfish for all that I have? Or should I feel selfish for wanting more? Should I sacrifice more to make up for those who have nothing to sacrifice?
This photo does more than just make us grateful for our own situation in life... but I hope it teaches others empathy, and that the things we are grateful for are trivial matters. The photo is humbling to say the least. Why do people shelter themselves from images like this when it teaches us so much? Because we don't want to feel bad for others--Only for ourselves? Or does it hurt us knowing we can't--or won't--help those.... Does the discussion that ensues from a photo like this... help us? Or hurt us?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Leaders in my Life

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
John Quincy Adams

I used to blog on MySpace and when I did that I had a common theme... gratitude for my friends. I have always been pretty grateful for the friends I have in this world. I am not the most trusting person so those who I manage to trust enough and let into my world... well, they tend to be incredible people with big hearts and open minds. They are oftentimes the source of inspiration and courage in my life.

I'm dedicating my blog today to my friends in whom I have found inspiration and perhaps the courage to follow my own ambitions--I am grateful to them for their presence in my life as a pillar of strength and faith. I am grateful to them for allowing me into their world as much as I let them in mine. Not all of these friends are lifelong friends--some came into my life and left as swiftly as they arrived but will always remain in my heart as someone who inspired me. Those friends are Liv, Colleen and Scott.

Liv is a friend I met in college. She always seemed to be bursting with some type of energy that college just couldn't ocntain. Now she's in DC, working on the hill and helping important pieces of legislature be formed and helping to make important decisions. Talking to her now, she seems to incredibly well suited for where she is. In a time of our life where many of my friends have found comfort in jobs that have led to careers, she is one of the few who has really strived and made the most of herself and her potential.

Colleen and I go way back. Waaaay back. She consistently shows me what inner strength means. Despite her somewhat oppressive parents (yay Asian parents), her rigorous studies and some of the obstacles she has faced, she has graduated from Cal Berkeley and is now finishing pharmacy school at USC and is doing incredibly well--as well as remaining gorgeously smiley, if that makes sense. She is one of my favorite people from our hometown.

Scott is the first person I met in between Madrid and Rome. He had just finished his Bar exam and was "patiently" waiting on a Euro trip for his results. His presence on this trip fortified every moment of Europe for me. His sense of humor about life, his patient perspective on people, and his faith in love helps inspire me to this day, over 4 years later.

Of course I have more friends I could write about--Sara, Sunny, Casey, etc. I should write about family and their heroics. But I can only write so much for now. I was inspired the other day by these friends and I had to mention them. I'm truly lucky to know them and I'll be really lucky if they feel an ounce of that esteem for me.
Their lives are an inspiration to myself, and perhaps others, that faith in our own conviction and hard work, some sacrifice, and perhaps a laugh can pay off. They are leaders in my life by being the leaders of their own....

Monday, August 24, 2009

Practice makes Happy

Practice being excited.
Bill Foster

They say practice makes perfect. I don't think that is true. But practice, of some things, can make habit. And habituation might lead to perfection moreso than just practice.

I learned in a psychology class the mere act of smiling can lead to a boost in one's mood. So maybe, people need to practice being happy. Practice smiling, practice acting cheerfully, practice enjoying life... and maybe we will habituate those things and eventually we will just be good at being happy.

The other night I was talking to a friend of mine... For both the protection of my friend and her downer demeanor and because I have the literary license to do so, I shall call this person Grumbles. The funny thing about Grumbles is that although she has been grumbling about life whenever I talk to her, she is also one of the happiest, perkiest people I know. I love to be with her because it is so easy to make her laugh and that in turn makes me laugh ergo making me happy. But for some reason she has a problem. I once heard of this problem in a movie and I have since adopted the term as part of my vernacular. She, like a handful of my friends and perhaps myself, are afflicted by "chronic dissatisfaction". Although she has many things to be grateful for and many opportunities and blessings in life she can take advantage of, like myself, she manages to find what is wrong with her life instead of looking at what is right. She sees the dead-ends and the closed doors before she sees the detours and open windows.

There is nothing wrong with being chronically dissatisfied... except that it can put a strain on one's own happiness ability as well as their relations with friends and loved ones. People find it tiresome to put up with the chronically dissatisfied. Friends try to help them through their issues but their advice is always met with "but"'s and "what if"'s. Although I am guilty of this as much as Grumbles and I defend myself by saying I am just perceptive of the obstacles, I am also the one who says "every problem has a solution". Because it's true.

Sometimes people just like to vent which is fine. But the problem with venting is it turns into a habit and that habit leads to the tempermant of chronic dissatisfaction. So to counter this, one must practice the habits of a happy temperment. One has to practice smiling for all the little reasons that might make them smile, or to try and laugh at anything that can be laughable (alternatively, making someone else laughs works twice as well because it no doubt makes you laugh but also, it makes someone else happy which makes you happy back.)

One also has to practice finding the solutions. If one's dissatisfaction has real cause, Grumbles for instance needs to learn how to resolve her unhappiness and find hope in opportunities. Practice making opportunities helps too. How many times do you walk along and actually see "open doors"? Pretty rare I find... what happens more often than not is you need to know where you want to go and then knock on those doors and create your own opportunities.

Figure out what doors you really want opened, Grumbles... then find a way to get them to open. <3

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Take Off

It's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. It is the dream afraid of waking that never takes a chance. It is the one who won't be taken who cannot seem to give. And the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.
Bette Middler

Like my CrossFit training and my wedding planning, my blog has taken a bit of a backseat to life. I've been sick for a little while and been busy trying to mend the oddities that have happened since returning home... But things are for the most part back together and I've got to get back to writing. An idea has stuck with me since flying home and I wanted to revisit that idea.

While boarding a United flight back home, without Clint, by myself, I was reminded of a once simple yet bold traveler. An old version of myself? I pulled out my book and began reading while observing my fellow travelers in the corner of my eye. The woman next to me, an older Indian woman from Hayward, revealed by an envelope she pulled out of her purse, had aged fingers with once elastic skin sagging around the knuckles. Around her ring finger was a gold ring that remained the same size but hung loosely around the folds.

After about a half hour the plane was finally in line for takeoff. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this part of the flight-the sudden rush of takeoff, your back being pushed into your seat, and the thrill of going to a new place. You're taking off, the feeling of a new beginning. Life has moments like that. Moments where you feel life is taking off and you're caught up in the momentum of the event and of the voyage to wherever life is taking you. I thrive on those moments and I live for them.

Lately though, those moments have been difficult to find. I suppose I've been in a funk and after arriving back in England, that funk has settled back over me like the clouds over England itself. But I reminded myself... I bought my plane tickets in the past and I made opportunities for every take off I've flown... in life it is the same way. So in the pursuit of takeoffs, I've opened my mind up to the idea that I am traveling and in another leg of my journey in life. I have to make my own takeoff's in life. And so I've reignited my quest for an NGO position at CAMfed. And reaffirmed the ideal that I am my own person: as long as I can accept myself and these choices I've made, no one can knock me down.

You have to pilot your own life and create your own takeoffs...

Monday, August 3, 2009


One of my favorite places in the world is Berkeley... I'm not planning to move there or settle down there or even go back to school there, but every now and then I need to feel refreshed and a bit inspired and I get that in Berkeley.

Last week, I spent the day in Berkeley with my family and future in-laws. Having a different perspective of Berkeley than the average person makes me feel a bit special for having this mysterious appreciation of the city. I'm not sure what the draw is and maybe if I lived there, I would have a different perspective, but as of now, Berkeley is one of the few beautiful cities in this world. You can find any type of cultural treasure there, from the arts and theatre to sports to academics to graffiti "art".

I've traveled to many different cities and many different countries but the strange feeling of familiarity juxtaposed with its raw nature makes Berkeley a bit more special to me. It is one of the few cities where I can walk down its main street and not feel "different". There are so many different faces, ideas, races, perspectives, and backgrounds that you can meet on any given day... that you can feel incredibly unique in comparison to this crowd of people who are all different from you but also feel accepted for being just as different as everyone else. It is one of the few places where I don't feel as immediately judged (or maybe just judged as immediately as any other stooge) for being an Asian, a woman, a student, a non-student, a liberal, a patriot, etc. How many times have you walked down a street or into a room and felt the eyes in your periphery staring at you, sizing you up and down, and judging your for your ideals, for your face, for your color, for your small eyes, for your breast size for your skin shade, for your waistline... ? And how many places can you visit where you don't feel those eyes, where you don't feel judged for being different, where you are just as different as everyone else there and that makes you all the same?

I feel lucky to have a place I can feel like that about. There are many big cities in the world... and there are many small towns... but there is only one Berkeley.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Smiles today... life went well... the world worked out in a way that seemed so seamless and natural like it was just the way life is meant to be.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Airplane Rides

I always have the most interesting plane rides... or maybe my innate ability to people watch and analyze their physical cues just makes plane rides more interesting for me. Like my flight from England to Dulles... (wow, Dulles sucks!) There was a young girl, very pretty but slightly duncecapp'ed with a Carrie Underwood charm to her sat between me and an older gentleman. You could tell he was slightly enamored... he was asking her questions the entire flight, even while she fiddled with her headphones talking about her anticipation for the in-flight entertainment... needless to say, they were my in-flight entertainment.

As for my flight from DC to SF, I was pretty sure we were going to be punished by the stewardess... I mean, flight attendants. I believe we were taxi'ing from the gate and a few passngers still had their cell phones out when this message blasted from the PA: "Excuse me, all electronic devices including cell phones must be stowed! If you cannot do this, it will delay us, I will have to restart the emergency message, we'll lose our place in line for takeoff, and we won't leave on time! So please make sure all your belongings are put away!" Scaaarrrryyyyyy...

But the flight itself was pleasant. I sat between a BioTech marketer and semi-conductor engineer. The engineer was obviously interested in the Canadian brunette marketer... I crushed his dreams and asked if she was married to which she said "Yes! He's amazing, I love him so much..." Mr. Semi-Conductor got really quiet for a few moments. However the 3 of us still managed to spend a good four hours chatting. We started out of course with the inane small talk (oy, small talk.. it can be the lubricant to deeper social discourse or it can just be useless) so I actually closed my eyes for part of it. Then we started to talk about more interesting things... we covered everything from marriage, religion, history, education, psychology, therapy, love, travel, etc. I love deep conversations with strangers. It is probably one of my favorite things about travel: You get an endless supply of strangers and therefore an eternity of various topics to discuss and hash over... at the end of the day, you can choose to keep that stranger as a friend or move along, and just be thankful for the new views and company of a life-passerby.

One of my favorite travel moments was actually on a plane. I was on my way home from Rome and was seated next to a 5'5", 40-something man with Alan Thicke-textured light brown hair. We started talking about our travels at first and he started buying ourselves glasses of wine. He wasn't a fan of planes and actually gets drunk for every flight to help him pass out. He ended up giving me some of the most endearing and important advice of my life. While in a bit of a drunken, reminiscent stupor of a past Brazilian love and the pink dolphins they watched together along the Amazon river, he said this to me: "If the two of you together are better than the sum of your parts... that's when you know it's good."

It took me a few years, but I finally know what he means by that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


My weekend was fairly busy and fairly not busy. Clint and I have found ourselves rather enraptured with our new workout program (CrossFit) and although I am enjoying it and I love that I have a new workout everyday in accordance with the website, it is hard for me to fathom the workouts will be enough to prep me for a marathon or that I will ever be able to do any of these exercises without first scaling them down. I imagine it will take years and I hope this is something Clint and I stick with.

As for the marathon... there is something my friends and loved ones have a hard time understanding. When I am faced with a possible challenge, my expectations of myself are to overcome them. Not just overcome them but be great. Unfortunately, this creates a lot of pressure on myself. In my mind, doing something without doing it well is failing. And I would rather not try than fail. To say, attempt the marathon and then not finish or have to walk a great deal would be a failure to me in my mind. So accepting the challenge of the marathon is not just saying "I'll try", it's saying "I will RUN it all." It has been difficult for me to fully accept this challenge. The idea of running 5+ hours (I'm an idealist but I'm not out of touch with reality--I don't expect myself to finish in under 5 hours) is daunting and even a bit boring. But so long as my feet don't stop moving and don't slow to a walk or trot, I'll be satisfied. If I can RUN it... if my body can reach a fuller potential and allow my lil legs to hit that finish line in under 5 or 4.5 hours... I'll be happy. (If, by the grace of Buddha and the CrossFit creators I can finish in 4 hours or less, I'll be ecstatic....)

These "expctations" of myself create a hindrance in my life of what I am willing to try and how I approach challenges in my life. Perhaps, accepting that I will not always do things well doesn't necessarily mean the attempt was a failure, will help me better embrace challenges in the future.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mix it Up

"If you only do what you know you can do... you don't do very much."
Tom Krause

Some great tips on freshening up your daily routine... It'll do a bit to lift your mood and your health! Some ways to implement these ideas? Cook with your eyes closed? OK, maybe shower with your eyes closed... Watch a foreign language movie and really listen to the words... Try wiping your bum with the other hand... Lots of ways!

Speaking of new things we add to our routine, Clint and I have been trying the CrossFit workout to help us train for our marathon in Athens in November. Is it coming up really soon? Yes. Are Clint and I ready? Not at all, we just started. Do I have faith in my ability to run 26.2 miles on the same path the original marathoner ran? Not really.... BUT, if I am going to fail anywhere, why not in Athens!?
In seriousness though, I am really thankful to be living somewhere where I can even fathom having the time, resources, and proximity to consider running a marathon in Athens! Who knew loving this random pilot dude at a wedding would bring me to England where I can do cool things like that? Granted it is all perspective... someone in England would probably think it's awesome to live in the states and be able to run the Boston Marathon.... I'm pretty grateful I lived in the bay and could run the Bay to Breakers! (And I re-did the math--YES, it IS 12k/7.5 miles... I'm Asian, don't question my math abilities).
Oh and even moreso, I am grateful I have working legs. Honestly, I tear up when I read about Pakistani children getting their legs ripped off in random bombings... I feel like an ass not being more grateful about these things. We should all feel so grateful....

off I go to rest up before another CrossFit workout today! :P


"Dogs have owners. Cats have staff."
--The same is true of children. Teenagers have parents. Toddlers have staff.

I worked at the CDC (on-base Daycare) for about 2 months. In those 2 months, I was completely healthy for about two weeks in June--no stuffy nose, coughing, sore throat, oozing gak-like mucous from my nostrils... My immune system really didn't get along with toddlers who were able to sneeze projectile snot at me in hurricane speeds. Now, I've been out of the CDC for a week and I'm still sniffly, runny nosed and coughing. Lovely, I know. But the lil gremlins got me and left more than just an impression in my heart but a dent in my kleenex boxes as well. So today, I'm incredibly thankful for the time I have to nap and just rest up until this passes over.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I've been reading the Happiness-Project and it amazes me how all the quirky faults she outlines about herself, I totally understand and see within myself. One of them is showcased in her commandment titled "Let it Go". She describes her problem as such.

"I hate to be wrong, I hate to screw up, I hate to forget to do something – and it really bothers me when I do. I want to bore everyone with my endless explanations, justifications, and excuses."

I can relate completely. I grew up thinking I needed to be "perfect" and when I do anything less than perfect, I like to rehash every error elong the wayand explain how that error came to be despite my detail oriented ways. It's just who I am--I am fixated on composure and not looking foolish. (I am a "green" person according to a recent personality test... green people are private, they're perfectionists, they are oftentimes crazy). (If you'd like to take the

And so, today I am grateful to come upon The Happiness Project. I am hoping to come up with my own set of commandments which so far look a lot like the author's. I am hoping these little commandments will help me stay focused on the bigger picture and what really matters in life...

1. Accept yourself... Be Margaret.
2. Be fair... Be understanding.. Be polite.
3. Let it go. Ask yourself, Does it really matter?
4. Be Patient.
5. Act happy. You will be happy.
6. Don't overanalyze--just accept.
7. Do what matters.
8. Be silly.
9. Take it in--each moment only lasts for a moment.

I hope these commandments will help set me up for when I write my DayZero list!

To be cont'd.

The Happiness Project

"Nothing can bring you happiness but yourself."--Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my life, my decisions and choices have been guided more by the ideas of success and failure instead of by happiness and attitude. Now that I am sharing my life with someone, I am learning more and more blatantly everyday where my faults lie in the way I have been thinking and dealing with life. It's funny what happens when you live with someone else and share your lives together--the reflection of yourself you see in them can be quite eye opening...

And so, I am trying to let my guard down more these days... trying to not let me prickly thorns reach so far out, and embracing more of the opportunities I have in my life instead of measuring my life in my successes and failures. I am not a package of grades or percentages but a person with moods, attitudes, and ideas and I need to work on what I do with those moods and attitudes and ideas. After all, Clint fell in love with me for how I make him feel, for who I am, and not for my grades, job accomplishments or bank accounts.

So now that I've survived the past few months in my privacy coccoon, I'm trying to let my guard down more and remember just who and what Marge is. Sometimes I feel like I've left the best parts of me back in the U.S. and instead I arrived with two pieces of luggage and a protective shield instead. I've decided to break that down and reclaim the best of Marge that I remember by remembering what I am grateful for, where my ethics lie, and what my heart loves.

During this reflection I came upon "The Happiness Project" Blog. Inspired by this blog and a few others, I've decided to start a Gratitude Blog. Here I'll write about the things I am grateful for and/or what I have learned. And so far, I have learned that I need to get back to the core of who I am and hopefully, in this quest, I'll let down my ready-to-pounce guard and get back to a zen-state-of-mind...

*my own commandments to come soon*