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.