What LC Read: Vol. 2

Thursday, May 31, 2018

I've been busy (relaxing on holiday), so this week yields only two reads: The Great American Tragedy and one of the shittiest books I've read all year. As an aside, I spent the last two weeks in London and thought I'd share my favorite reading spots, in order of preference.

1. My boyfriend's couch. Advantages: extremely comfortable, he will tuck you in and fetch you water. Disadvantages: exclusive to me, as far as I know.
2. St. Paul's Cathedral. My favorite public space in all of London, a little bit of classic grandeur in the financial district. Unoccupied bench best accompanied by flat white and a Pret wrap. Fairly quiet before and after lunch.
3. Southbank. I'd only recommend this if you can concentrate with children running around, but it's a generally sunny area with plenty of cafes if you get bored, and they have a used book market every day! I also used to live in this area, so perhaps I'm partial to how lovely it can be when the weather's warm enough.
4. Kew Gardens. I didn't actually get to read here, but during our walk around the park, I wished I'd been able to. Many pockets of shade under the trees, and it's spacious enough to get plenty of peace and quiet.
5. Foyles Bookshop at Charing Cross. My weekly haunt when I was a student in London. They serve wine.
6. The British Library. A pretty obvious choice.
7. On the train. Preferably to Paris. It's me. I went to Paris.

Okay but actually, here are this week's reads, starting from the peak:

A Little Life | Hanya Yanagihara
I've read Yanagihara's The People in the Trees (which I recommended for recent grads), so I knew her work could get dark, but this was pathologically, passionately, horribly, beautifully sinister. I took notes throughout, and it started off playful enough, so I jotted down that it was "like Sex in the City with only a little of the sex and without the women," so really just ambitious men in an ambitious city. But it evolves quickly into a jarring consideration of childhood trauma, of men loving men (in both platonic and romantic ways), of hope and how very often hope fails. It is a moving tribute to how adult friendships can resurrect you, but only if you let them, and letting them is the hardest part of a life unloved. There is sometimes no salvation, no redemption, and no wonder. I admit that I cry easily, but I have not genuinely felt this shell-shocked and utterly bewildered since reading All Quiet on the Western Front many, many years ago. A Little Life is not a war novel, but it absolutely left me battered and defeated. I cried the entire way through. Please do not let the promise of devastation deter you from reading this book. It has changed me, and I will remember it always.  As someone who reads greedily and quickly, I do not say this lightly. This is scar tissue, as literature. Do pursue.

"People who don't love math always accuse mathematicians of trying to make math complicated," Dr. Li had said. "But anyone who does love math knows it's really the opposite: math rewards simplicity, and mathematicians value it above all else. So it's no surprise that Walter's favorite axiom was also the most simple in the realm of mathematics: the axiom of the empty set. "The axiom of the empty set is the axiom of zero. It states that there must be a concept of nothingness, that there must be the concept of zero: zero value, zero items. Math assumes there's a concept of nothingness, but is it proven? No. But it must exist." 

The Wedding Date | Jasmine Guillory
It was my fault. I needed a frothy, light read to recover from Yanagihara and in a post-Royal Wedding daze chose this shitty piece of work. For context, I like my decadent books too, especially the sickly sweet British ones where the poor PR girl lands the hot finance guy (life imitates art, stay tuned). But I also think there's a way to do "beach reads"/"chick lits" well, and this one forged its own path towards becoming, frankly, one of my least favorite books in the last year. I try to be generous with other authors, because I am an unimportant one and exceedingly fragile, but The Wedding Date tried to address interracial relationships in the cringiest of ways (the dialogue read like a parody of social justice warriors, whom I generally respect), and the sex scenes were boring. And that was basically the bulk of it. Two immature adults (a hot commitment-phobic doctor and a curvy self-deprecating woman, groundbreaking) who could have bypassed 99.9% of the plot by just fucking communicating like people old enough to date and bone and, idk, drive. Do not recommend. No quotes worthy.

With great love still,

The Catalogue: No. 4

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Three books to get you back into reading! 

Unlike LC, I basically stopped reading “for fun” in college. When classes had me reading Silencing the Past: Power and Production of History by Michel Ralph Trouillot or The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, I not only didn’t want to read any other books, but I couldn’t seem to make the time. 

After taking the GMAT (more on this at another time), I decided I wanted to pick up reading again. Here are the three books to start when you’re an ex-reader trying to get back into reading:

Pachinko | Min Jin Lee

This book honestly blew me away and gave me “reading feels” that I thought I had lost. It was so good that I was on vacation in Toronto and couldn’t stop reading it on the bus/train/at dinner/etc. The author spent 4 years living in Japan to do research for this book and it definitely paid off. The novel is a historical fiction about several generations of a Korean immigrant family living in Japan. Told from different perspectives, the book draws the reader into each character's feelings. If I had to choose one book for any of my friends to read, I’d recommend this one! It's by far at the top of my mental favorite books list. 

A Man Called Ove | Fredrik Backman

This is a simple read, but one that keeps you turning the pages. I recommend this book for anyone trying to get back into reading because of the simplicity of the writing style. If you’ve been out of college for a few years, this is a easy book to begin with and it doesn’t take very long to complete. You will laugh at the main character, feel frustrated with him, and feel immense sadness for him. BONUS: If you want to read a darker, slightly Riverdale-esque novel of his, check out Beartown.

Men Without Women | Haruki Murakami

If you’ve ever read any of Murakami’s other works, you know already how whimsical his writing and stories feel. This collection of short stories is quite literally about “men without women”. The characters have either lost women to other men or to death, but each story is different. If you don’t have that much time to spend reading, I’d really recommend this collection of stories. You can spend 15 - 30 minutes a day and read one of his short stories each morning/night. 

Let good books back into your life.


4 Dates to Bond With Your (Asian) Grandparents

Monday, May 21, 2018

I’ve always been really, really close to my grandparents. In Taiwan, my late maternal grandparents (referred to below as Agong and Amma) were around when I was much younger, so we pretty much just did whatever they wanted to do. Now that I’m an adult, I assume a little more responsibility in planning outings and experiences for my paternal set of grandparents, who live in the states with my parents. I find myself often Googling “Things to Do With Old People” but get pretty frustrated because there aren’t very many guides on entertaining your grandparents, much as you’d like to. There are also other considerations: they dislike the outdoors, have limited walking mobility, don’t speak much English, have dietary restrictions, and can’t travel without medical accommodations. But with a little creativity, I’ve found four reliably fun ways to spend the day with my Asian grandparents.  

When my paternal grandparents visited me in London, I was really concerned that there wouldn’t be much for us to do since it’s a pretty disability-unfriendly city. Luckily, most museums have wheelchair access and we spent most of the trip wandering around some of the world’s best (free!) exhibits. If you go to a particularly photogenic museum, like the V&A or pretty much any contemporary art museum, take candids and portraits of them for their Facebook photo albums! Museums have the most flattering lighting, and if your grandma doesn’t have a picture posing next to a naked marble statue, she’s likely feeling left out. I think we also underestimate how much our grandparents like seeing pictures of themselves, especially if they grew up without photography technology/equipment. If you're multilingual, translate the placards for them (or make it up, I do that all the time because my Mandarin is great, but I'm not sure how to say "birthing tools of the slaves of the Ottoman Empire.") If your grandparents are like mine, they'll be bewildered and lightly amused by your storytelling. Make sure to take a few coffee/tea breaks as the larger museums can get overwhelming.

Game Night
My favorite memories of my Amma are of seeing her viciously competitive personality during game nights. The woman was ruthless when it came to Jenga, and a sadist who liked taking ages to poke out the side pieces in the lower layers. It drove my sister and me crazy. We’d run around her apartment burning off nervous energy while she tapped the pieces out a quarter of a millimeter out at a time. Another favorite is Rummikub, which sorta resembles mahjong and for some reason really unleashes the craziness within. We also like Tangrams, Mancala, Bilingual Charades, Operation, Uno, Othello, and Chinese Checkers.

Movie Theaters
My paternal grandparents had never been to a movie theater in the states because of the language barrier. But I took them to see San Andreas three years ago, which is just one of those films where you can miss out on 80% of the dialogue and still have a peachy time. We indulged in the works: the 3D glasses, the big-ass tub of popcorn, the reclining seats. A peachy time was had by all.
If English isn’t a problem for your grandparents, I’m sure they’d appreciate the occasional traditional movie outing. In Taiwan, my Amma regularly took us to the cinema, though she had a penchant for horror movies and we’d often see separate films. But it checks off a lot of the criteria that grandparents want: indoor (no sun!), plenty of comfortable seating (no walking!), snacks, and some quality time just being with you. Our tradition is to pair movie dates with a post-cinema sweet treat.

Afternoon Tea
Hosting afternoon tea at home helps accommodate dietary restrictions (diabetes, dialysis, etc.), but elegant touches and arrangements can still make it feel like an elevated experience. Invest in some cute props, like this Lorelai Cake Stand, this set of Latte bowls, this Paint & Petals cheese board, and these painted dessert plates. Plate an assortment of homemade or store-bought snack-sized foods really nicely and pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers. Prepare their favorite tea.
Lately, my grandparents have really liked Stroopwaffles (likely because of their recent debut at Costco Taiwan), but other favorite dessert options are macarons, Beard Papa cream puffs, Chinese egg tarts, and mini cheesecake bites. For those monitoring sugar intake, we’ve also done dim sum and mini sandwiches (Japanese mayonnaise + pork sung, cucumber + cream cheese, nova lox + cream cheese, tuna + corn, ham + cheese, etc.). A fruit platter is always nice!

Alternatively, host brunch! Do a congee bar with toppings or a European-style breakfast (an excuse to whip out these egg cups). Whatever combination of finger foods you choose, putting together a nice spread for your grandparents and their friends will make you Filial Grandchild #1 and creates a really lovely environment for chatting, since they also tend to have the best gossip.

And finally, some ideas that are more obvious but aren't always practiced:
- Take them out to eat. I know grandmas are fussy about making you a home-cooked meal, but they also tend to be creatures of habit who don't often experience trendy new restaurants. If your grandparents live with your parents, as mine do, they're also constantly conceding to whatever restaurant your parents pick. Introduce them to Korean-Mexican fusion food, or that expensive-ass gelato that's somehow equal parts authentic and gentrified as fuck. My grandparents associate my visits with the opportunity to eat Taco Bell and Olive Garden, two places my parents would never take them. So they're always extra excited to see me.
- Run errands with/for them. I'm the firstborn of their only son, so a lot of duties naturally get delegated to me, but because I'm not home very often, I'm able to make a day of it. Refill their prescriptions, drop off their dry-cleaning, spend a couple hours at the laundromat stuffing their bedding into XL washing machines. Take your grandma for her much-overdue perm appointment.
- Send snail mail. If your grandparents live in a different country, write letters to them! My maternal grandparents never really got the hang of email, and this was before Skype, so we'd painstakingly write letters to them in Chinese, which they'd keep and make corrections (my Agong was an educator) to show us the next time we visited. I'm also just an all-around fan of snail mail; I send letters and postcards all the time to my sister, who lives in Taiwan, and my boyfriend, who lives in London.

I know these suggestions are informed by very specific criteria (language barriers, health conditions, etc.) but I hope their spirit can inspire some other date ideas.

I also sense an extraordinary pressure on Asian Americans to be filial in ways that are complex. It's a common narrative for second, third, or fourth-generation children to grow up without sharing their grandparents' language. I hear it often in heartbreaking poetry and memoirs, about these moments where you are witty and articulate and interesting in ways that your grandparents do not understand. At a summer poetry slam four years ago, I heard a girl say that the only Chinese words she'd learned by brute repetition were 我不懂 -- I don't understand. This has stayed with me always. In many immigrant families, important relationships can seem conditional upon multilingualism. I understand why we often struggle to feel close to the people we love, or the resentment that sometimes grows in the unappreciated corners of filial piety and obligation. But I also think about the relationship I would want my future kids to have with my mom, and this makes me want to be good. To every other Filial Grandchild #1, I see you and I acknowledge how much it takes to try.

Do all things with great love.

What LC Read: Vol. 1

Friday, May 18, 2018

This week yields a flattering total of five books, four of which deal primarily with death and dying; the odd one out recounts sexual violence. I didn't mean for this to be such a morbid collection, but here we are. In other unsolicited news, I was gifted a brand spanking new Kindle for graduation (I also graduated), so the voracious reading charges forward. If you only have time for one book, or are caught between this list and my recommendations for recent grads, please feel free to ask your local lit nerd, available by Instagram DM @theofficialCL. Like matchmaking, but between friends and books, and it brings me unequivocal joy. 

The Border of Paradise | Esme Weijun Wang
This book reminded me that accepting unflattering portraits of the people and places I hold dear -- like Taiwan -- is part of championing diversity of representation. The Border of Paradise remembers a Taiwan that is poor and hopeless, with prostitutes hanging around the ankles of white soldiers that might whisk them off to a better life. But it’s also a tender, grotesque examination of a strange family, of downward mobility, of miscegenation, of mental illnesses. It is a dark, dark book -- like a gothic novel in sepia, its terror complicated by how very awkward each character is.

But there is too much quiet beneath the sound of Mussorgsky, and I know. I push the door open and in, violating our contract, and here are her things, her animals, sketchbook strewn. The spinning and tinny turntable. I search the rest of the house. I look in the closets and the bathrooms. Half deliriously I look in the cupboards. Back in her bedroom I break into tears, kick over the turntable, which exclaims and dies; and then I plead to every familial ghost to bring my girl home.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory | Caitlin Doughty
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read this, because everybody I know, including me, has been or will be cremated. And I didn’t exactly want my illusions about that process dispelled. But that’s Doughty’s point. We have such a fragile and sheltered understanding of death and what happens to the body, which ultimately prevents us from finding closure. She mentions a Japanese tradition my own family practices, where you use chopsticks to move the bone fragments into an urn, starting from the toes, and it’s a process that allows us to “usher” our loved one to the afterworld. Such traditions give us a closeness that sterilized processes -- the drawn curtain, the perfect embalming -- don’t. I really enjoyed this one, and it was a quick-ish read.

Exposing a young child to the realities of love and death is far less dangerous than exposing them to the lie of the happy ending. Children of the Disney princess era grew up with a whitewashed version of reality filled with animal sidekicks and unrealistic expectations. Mythologist Joseph Campbell wisely tells us to scorn the happy ending, “for the world as we know it, as we have seen it, yields but one ending: death, disintegration, dismemberment, and the crucifixion of our heart with the passing of the forms that we have loved.”

Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon | Henry Marsh
I’ve loosely compared this to When Breath Becomes Air, sans impending death and with more commentary on the ethics of medical care. I stand by that. Marsh also has a particular humility and self-deprecation to him that’s endearing and so British and trustworthy; his Admissions is earnest and moving in a way most people of his pedigree couldn’t accomplish. I think what’s really lovely about reading memoirs is that you absorb so much wisdom without the inconvenience of small talk and prolonged human contact (spoken like a true introvert). But this is truly why I prefer memoirs over self-help books; they are insightful without the lofty ambition of making shitty generalizations about life from this one thing that happened to them. As an aside, I particularly like memoirs about/by mothers, because I can imagine no greater example of unconditional, infallible love (except Rilke’s for God, and that is untouchable). If you need career advice, or a bit of guidance on life, read a memoir or five. Recommendations forthcoming.

We do not (and will not) have the resources to properly care for our increasing elderly population, yet we insist on medical intervention to keep them alive. To allow them to die would signal the failure of our supposedly infallible modern medical system.

It is never too early to start thinking about your own death and the deaths of those you love. I don’t mean thinking about death in obsessive loops. But rational interaction, that ends with you realizing that you will survive the worst, whatever the worst may be. Accepting death doesn’t mean that you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions like “why do people die?” and “why is this happening to me?” Death isn’t happening to you. Death is happening to us all.

Dark Chapter | Winnie M. Li
I struggled with this book because I knew it was based loosely on the author’s own experiences of sexual assault, so it would have been shitty of me to accuse the narrative of being “predictable” and “reliant on stereotypes” because such things often do play out in horribly unoriginal ways. I think I would have preferred it as a memoir, which would have been more generous with the narrator’s introspection; rather than a presented work of fiction, which felt pressured to accelerate plot and character development. Other reviews of Dark Chapter laud Li’s unflinching honesty in revealing previously obscured realities about pursuing criminal justice for rapists. I don’t know whether it’s good or bad that after four years of university confronting the failures of Title IX, I’m nearly desensitized to sexual assault cases that are traumatizing to report and often fail to secure real results. But that’s a topic for another post, and I digress.
That being said, the author is brilliant and brave, and these qualities radiate in her work. Please do give this a chance, as it touches upon the sexualization of Asian women, the difficulty of reporting assault, and how some (though not all) perpetrators come from difficult backgrounds, which doesn’t excuse their actions but does force us to consider how our actions shape others’ behaviors.

Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History | Tori Telfer
I’ve had this on my radar forever, because it’s just such a delicious, sassy response to the misconception that violence is darkly, exclusively masculine. Lady Killers profiles fourteen female serial killers, of which I was only familiar with one: Erzsebet Bathory, who allegedly liked to bathe in her victims’ blood because it kept her young. (According to Telfer, this was an exaggeration.) Each woman is thoughtfully examined for both what she did and how she is remembered, and we are thus able to see how public anxieties about femininity and sexuality are projected onto the memory of these  female murderesses.

The paper Pesti Naplo speculated on the “strange combination of causes” that led to such familiarity with death, and such willingness to cause it. “It was cultural nihilism, living at the animals’ level, the primitive nature of their souls.” Cultural nihilism, yes, certainly. But living at the animals’ level? Primitive souls? These murders were birthed from very human emotions - uncomfortable, ugly emotions, to be sure, like desperation and lust and anger and irritation, but human ones nonetheless. These women killed to lessen their despair and improve their lot in life.

There are poor women and unimaginably rich women, ugly women and beautiful women, cunning women and desperate women. An exciting read, though best consumed in intervals, because there’s only so much arsenic you can read about again and again without feeling a bit ill.

The Catalogue: No. 3

This week in the feels.

1. Canon Fodder | The Washington Post
"Books by immigrants, foreigners, and minorities don't diminish the 'classic' curriculum. They enhance it." Another stunning piece by Viet Thanh Nguyen (who was also featured in Catalogue No. 1), the literary world's echo of Uzo Aduba's "if they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka." 

2. "The duty of the writer is not to be tricked, seduced, or goaded into verifying by imitation or even rebuttal, other people's fantasies. In an oppressive society it may well be that all fantasies held by the oppressor are destructive to the oppressed. To become involved in them in any way at all is, at the very least, to lose time defining yourself. To isolate the fantasy we must cleave to reality, to what we know, we feel, we think of life. Trusting our own experiences and our own lives." | Alice Walker

3. Speak Now, or Forever. Hold Your Peace | Patricia Smith
"Two weeks after 17 students were gunned down in Parkland, Fla., hundreds of worshippers clutching AR-15s slurped holy wine and exchanged or renewed wedding vows in a commitment ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pa." 

4. Father's Touching Letter on Daughter's Wedding Day | South China Morning Post
The video that had all the women in my family in tears. If you've never seen an Asian wedding, there's a private ceremony in which the bride and groom kneel at their parents' feet to thank them for their upbringing and promise continued filial obedience. Then the parents exchange a few touching words, and this Taiwanese father killed me: "if there comes a day when you don't love her anymore... tell me. I will take her home." 

5. When I was applying for prestigious jobs and getting rejected (more on that later), my boyfriend sent me a Star Trek quote: "it is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life." It gave me, who spent a lifetime tethering self worth to achievement and accolades, solace. May you find some in this too, should you need it.

With great love,

7 Ways to Maximize Your Internship

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

All your hard work for getting that internship has finally paid off, but now what? Whether it’s a 10 week summer internship or a part-time internship while you’re studying, follow these tips below to impress your employer.

1. Do research before your first day.
Research your position and duties and make sure you’re capable of doing what you’re responsible for. If you don’t know how to use Excel and are supposed to, take a Udemy class. Brush up on skills you told your interviewer you had such as SEO or using social media tools like Hootsuite. You can also reach out to interns who have previously interned at the company or friends who have done a similar role at a different company for advice before the internship starts.

2. Connect with other interns on LinkedIn when you meet them. I interned with Southwest recently and met so many other amazing interns during my 15 weeks there. While I did not want to go around adding 50+ people on Facebook and did not feel close enough to most of them to add them on social media, LinkedIn is a great way to stay connected in a professional setting. It’s also fun to see their LinkedIn posts on what amazing things they do during and after the internship. It’s also great to connect with other people in the office such as your recruiter or supervisor after a couple weeks of working.

3. Formalize meetings with your supervisor or manager.
Have weekly or bi-weekly check-ins to make sure you’re on track, especially if you want a return offer. This really shows initiative. Invite your supervisor to a recurring meeting on their calendar. Some weeks you may not need to meet with them, but it’s better to block off that 15 - 30 minute slot early on in the internship. This is a great way to get feedback before it’s too late and to make sure you are meeting expectations.

4. Ask questions and ask why.
This seems obvious, but so many interns don’t speak up when they don’t understand something. Always ask questions when appropriate (obviously, don’t ask questions that undermine your project or your team if the client is in the room). Ask why or what the reasoning behind something is. An internship is an incredible learning opportunity. The questions I’ve asked during my internships have led me to making edits in projects that my team otherwise would have missed.

5. Dress to impress.
Figure out the dress code before your first day of work. Usually it’s written in an email, or you can email your supervisor and ask. Better safe than sorry aka always dress more formally if you’re unsure of acceptable workplace attire. Don’t be the first one in your office to wear sneakers or sandals. Wait a week or two and look at the others in the office before deciding what’s really appropriate versus not appropriate work clothes.

6. Ask for more, but also know your workload.
If I am ever not busy during an internship, I ask for more work from my immediate supervisor. If my immediate supervisor doesn’t have more work for me, that’s when I turn to other members in the office or ask my supervisor if they knows who needs help on the team. I love getting my hand’s metaphorically ‘dirty’ and learning as much as I can during an internship. However, be cautious that you do not take on more than you can reasonably do. There have been a couple times where I had stacked deadlines after saying yes to helping multiple people and had to work through lunches. I’ve never not finished work, but let’s just say I’d prefer to not have to inhale my Wendy’s in less than 5 minutes or eat my Pret while sitting in front of my computer.

7. Track your accomplishments!

I always keep a list of all the projects I work on and complete during an internship. Usually a simple word document with bullet points is enough. This is so helpful for updating your resume, but is also a great reference in the future when you have to speak on your internship experiences. Your employer will also appreciate an itemized overview of your work when it is time to write your reference letter.

As my dad would say, “Work hard, but also work smart.”


Asian Americans & Mental Health: Part 1

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Part 1: Introduction, Racialization of Mental Health, and Shame

My friend Helen recently reminded me in her debut poem on depression and bilingualism that in Mandarin, we indicate we are fine by saying 我沒事 -- which roughly translates to having nothing wrong. The opposite, then, is the very rarely expressed 我有事 -- there is something wrong with me. And it carries heavy connotations of fatalism, of unwellness as an identity rather than a byproduct of a full life. It’s the kind of thinking that forces us into false binaries: nothing wrong or nothing right, healthy or unhealthy, success or failure.

I’m not saying Asian Americans have an inherently toxic culture, but I do believe a symptom of hybridity is feeling overwhelmingly misunderstood, a mindset that can breed toxic behaviors. We feel distinctly unlike our black and white friends, but a generation and culture away from our parents and families. All of this contributes to an awful sense that we are absolutely alone in our suffering.

Beyond our inability to untangle feelings of inadequacy, though, are heavy stigmas more closely concerned with having brought our parents shame. Of having burdened them with concern, or the affront of thinking they’ve raised unhealthy children. I think a tenet of filial piety is wanting to give our parents everything and taking little in return, never mind that in practice, parents will always find something to worry about, whether or not we share our concerns with them.

Racialization of Mental Health
I read a lot of studies about the racialization and colonization of mental health, about how mainstream approaches to wellness are often violent or unsympathetic to patients of marginalized identities and conditions. Which I 80% get, but am 20% suspicious of, because it too easily suggests bullshit like “therapy is for white people.” Or the nonsense that anxiety has been monopolized by fragile white Tumblr girls. On a macro level, yes yes, psychiatric and psychological care have histories of being really shitty to minority groups. On an individual level, do not let that stop you from seeking the right kind of care. You are worthy and deserving, and you will find someone or some resource that can help you.

There’s also the “immigrants tough it out” narrative, in which Asian American children are expected to privately deal with their mental unwellness because their parents had much harder lives. We feel privileged for the stability that came at great sacrifice for the generations above, and thus “undeserving” to have our own suffering legitimized. This is concerning on two levels: one, it selectively validates trauma and disallows the immigrating generation from confronting their own mental illnesses, and two, posits that mental health is entirely a function of circumstance. In case it wasn’t obvious, both are fundamentally incorrect.

Body Dysmorphic & Eating Disorders 
I think one of the clearest examples of (the necessity of) culturally-informed approaches to mental health is the relationship between the assimilation/success obsession and a vulnerability to eating disorders, which is often borne out of a preoccupation for control and perfection. On a cultural level, the pressure is real and there are many families who believe that they must be the one to break you, and not a country or society that does not inherently love you as they do:

It was my mother who told him that there exists a sort of love that only survives as long as no one ever speaks of it, and that was why he was never going to have to worry because my grandmother was never going to be the kind of mother who held her children in her arms and told them how smart and beautiful and talented they were. She was only going to scold them, make them feel diminutive, make them feel like they were never good enough, make them know this world would not be kind to them. She wasn’t going to let someone else be better than her at making her children feel pain or scare them more than she could, because to her, that was a form of protection. Sour Grapes | Jenny Zhang

On a family level, we all have aunties who show their concern for us by criticizing our weight, our height, our skin color, and the proportion of these. We also come from countries with recent histories of famine, so leaving food on the table is a mortal sin. It’s a familiar Catch-22: eat less, okay, but finish your food.

I think one of the greater risks of issues informed by cultural values is that we tend to normalize really awful practices. We think it’s normal for mothers to introduce laxatives to their young daughters (I’ve heard this so many times), for our aunties to swap extreme dieting plans, and to develop a really strange relationship with food. Just as we normalize a hypermeritocracy and the model minority myth, we accept these dysmorphic attitudes as a condition of growing up Asian. And then we complain that our culture is really suffocating because we believe it to be fixed and impermeable.

My first thought is to seek therapy, and not necessarily for any specific issue. Therapy can also take many forms: informally, in social networks, and professionally, with a licensed psychologist. The former is like extra-institutional Asian American studies: gather your peers and just complain about shit. Seeing how other people are raised and the values they hold will go a long way in helping you assess cultural and personal differences. The latter is something I recently came to terms with. I started receiving professional grief therapy as a college freshman because I felt like loss was something I could validate. We are generous with our sympathies and condolences for the bereaved, and so seeking grief counseling didn’t feel like a personal attack on my character.

ps, I also don’t personally buy the whole “Asian Americans are obsessed with having Caucasian features (blonde hair, blue eyes, white skin)” thing. I know there has been social studies research affirming this, but they feel outdated and a little oblivious to the fact that our parents have their own notions of beauty from back home, which are arguably more salient and more difficult to confront because weight loss and eyelid surgery are more realistic than being transracial. That being said, diversity of representation for Asian Americans in the media will go a long way in deflating “white worship” (which is an awkward term, but one that gets tossed around a lot in the discourse.) In my opinion, that the 50 sexiest whatevers every year is predominantly Caucasian has more to do with visibility and opportunity than literal standards of attractiveness. I will fight anyone who does not believe people of color can have their own models of influence without catering to Westernized ideals of beauty.

Shame & Fear of Failure
I’ve heard a lot of people describe Asian cultures as those that are “shame-based,” and I think that’s an incredibly belittling presumption. First of all, if you want to see real shame, take a little stroll through the history of Catholicism. Second of all, there can be no guilt without love, and no shame without concern. I’m not going to justify the really awful ways that people can be forced into social harmony through the concept of “face,” but I also think what mainstream discourse often gets wrong is that “just saying no” to our parents is not a fucking option! Of course we want to protect ourselves and our spirits, but I personally very much respect a culture that values relationships and relational morality. My approach, then, doesn’t tether self-care to telling my parents to fuck off (though that can sometimes be appropriate).

I think the real work isn’t living within a dichotomy of success and failure, but understanding the strange ways our parents try to love us, the ways that often feel unbearably conditional but, at their core, are fiercely protective. I say this because academic papers and research studies about guilt and shame still do not answer the question that matters most: how can I live a life on my own terms while still pleasing my parents?

Because it does matter. It matters a lot. The whole point of culturally-sensitive mental health isn’t to dismantle attitudes based in the Confucian tradition, which most psychologists believe is the source of our “shame.” Rather, it is in understanding how acutely we hold these values and then working within them to identify healthier practices and relationships. I’ve heard friends testify that, in the face of extreme mental unwellness, they have pushed through every impulse for self-harm for the very fact that they owe it to their parents to live. Not graduate with highest honors, or become dual doctors and engineers, but live. To do their best, at their scale.

And I genuinely believe that despite all the sensationalized rhetoric about Asian tiger parents, if one more day or one more year is all you have to offer, it is all they will ask of you. For the daughters and sons like me who would literally use their last breath to make their parents happy: please take care of yourself, that is your highest obligation to your family and those you love.

So that’s a lot. Believe it or not, I do try to keep these entries short.

The forthcoming Part II  will deal more seriously with mental illnesses and resources for psychological and psychiatric care.

Go forth, and do all things with great love.

The Catalogue: No. 2

Friday, May 11, 2018

This week I wanted to touch upon how to best use Yelp, my favorite easy recipes for college students or lazy “young adults”, and a couple of my favorite cheap eats in Chicago. Can you tell that I’m obsessed with food? I am frequently on Instagram not just looking at beautiful women, but at food. And sometimes I stay up an extra hour at night because I lose track of time on Yelp.

How to Best Use Yelp: 

1. Open Now
Whether you’re on your phone or computer, make sure you click the “Open Now” button. There’s nothing worse than finally picking a place to eat at only to realize it’s not open or it’s closing soon. If you’re online, click “All Features” and click “More Features” in the Features column to select the time you’ll be dining. On the phone, click “Open Now” and then you can modify the time.
2. $$
Always clarify the price point of the meal you’re about to eat. $ indicates under $10 and $$ indicates $11 - $30 per person for the meal. (Not going to bother including the rest of them because why are you going somewhere so expensive anyways??)
3. Wait Time
If you’re going somewhere popular with a ton of reviews, use Yelp’s review search function. Before my Saturday brunches, I always use the search to figure out what time I should get to the restaurant to avoid a long wait.
4. Parking
If you’re eating in LA or somewhere like Downtown Chicago, figuring out the parking situation near a restaurant is necessary. Whether it’s figuring out the valet price or if there’s a parking lot, use the Yelp search function to help you and your friends out.
5. Most Reviewed
When visiting a new city, it's always great to go to the city's most popular restaurants. That's why I love the "order reviews by Most Reviewed" function. While it's great to order the reviews by highest rated, sometimes places are rated highly because they only have two or three reviews which might not provide the most accurate representation of the restaurant's food. Most Reviewed gives you an opportunity to see a place's most popular eats and makes sure that you don't miss out on places like Los Tacos No. 1 when you're in NYC.

Here are two of my favorite simple recipes:

Roasted Broccoli
Once in a while, I like to eat healthy and when I do this is my go-to vegetable dish. It’s super easy to prepare in bulk if you want to meal prep or if you’re hosting some friends.
  1. Buy fresh or frozen broccoli, garlic, and other seasonings (salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, etc.) 
  2. Cut your garlic! Also preheat your oven now. 
  3. Put your broccoli and garlic into a large bowl (or a pot if you’re like me and don’t have super large bowls). 
  4. Season it! Personally, I love adding cayenne pepper to give it a little kick. Sprinkle olive oil and lightly coat all the broccoli. 
  5. Now mix it all. 
  6. Put it on some aluminium foil and into the oven at 425* for 17 - 25 minutes. If you want it evenly crispy, make sure to flip all of them over when the timer is halfway done. 
Scallion Pancakes and Eggs (lazy version of Dan Bing 蛋餅) 
  1. Buy frozen scallion pancakes from a nearby Asian supermarket. (Choose I-MEI if you can, L and I swear by their Green Onion Pancakes. Also, we love supporting Taiwanese brands.) You can even find scallion pancakes now at HMart and American grocery stores though.
  2. Lightly oil the pan and make sure the oil is spread all over. 
  3. Throw the scallion pancake into the pan until it looks brown and crispy. 
  4. Flip it over and continue cooking the other side. 
  5. Now, crack an egg onto the bottom of the pan and gently spread it into a circle. Sometimes I use two eggs. (The reason we can’t just put the egg onto the scallion pancake is because unlike the Taiwanese Dan Bing/crepe version, the pancake is too thin for the eggs to get cooked) 
  6. Drop your cooked pancake onto the egg, so it sticks! 
  7. Make sure it’s cooked all the way/to your liking and you’re done! 

Chicago Cheap Eats

Seoul Taco | $ | Korean-Mexican, Asian Fusion
Seoul Taco started out as a food truck in St. Louis. Now, there are 5 locations in the Midwest. Korean food is good. Mexican food is good. And the combination of both for a pretty cheap price is even better. Each item on their menu comes with a meat of your choice. I recommend getting their Gogi Bowl, Nachos, and newer menu item Sweet Potato Waffle Fries with Bulgogi Steak or Chicken!
BIG & little’s Restaurant | $/$$ | Burgers, Fries, Seafood Tacos, “Gourmet” Fast Food
BIG & little’s not only has poke tacos, but has fried fish, grilled shrimp, kimchi fries, cheeseburgers, and more. Every item I get there is good and I love their cajun fries. There are three different locations in Chicago, but one of them is cash only! Check out their menu here.
P.S. They currently have a Groupon where you can pay $12.50 for $20 to spend.
BONUS: Chicago French Market | $/$$ | Food Hall, Not French At All
I love food halls, because there’s always something to eat for everyone. The Chicago French Market isn’t huge and doesn’t have the most interesting hours, but they do have Happy Hour prices at some of their vendors (for the food). There’s boba, korean food, vietnamese food, lobster rolls, poke bowls, crepes, empanadas, gnocchi, and more. If you and your bff can’t decide what to eat, go here and walk around and just pick something. You can’t really go wrong.

Good food doesn’t just nourish the food, but also nourishes the soul.


The Congee Revolution: Oatmeal Toppings of the Diaspora

Thursday, May 10, 2018

One of my many dream alternative careers is to open an Asian-inspired oatmeal cafe. My favorite breakfast growing up was congee, which is a rice porridge. There used to be this old-school joint in Fremont that always had dirty water glasses (the translucent brown kind), but the most amazing congee with Chinese donuts, which are like a savory, puffy churro. I also remember my cousin’s grandfather making really soupy congee with fat golden chunks of yam, and though it’s a pretty basic recipe (literally water, rice, and yam), his was my favorite and I never liked my mom’s as much (lol sorry). Once I moved out, my dad’s tradition whenever I visited home was to pick up a tub of preserved century egg congee from Ranch 99 for breakfast.

In college, I really missed my weekend congee ritual, so I started buying plain oatmeal and adding my favorite toppings - a poached egg, furikake, dried pork flakes, etc. I actually liked it better than congee, because it’s so much thicker and you don’t get random mouthfuls of starchy water. I then invested in the love of my life, a Crock Pot, which allowed me to make giant batches of steel-cut oatmeal cooked in chicken stock or almond milk.

Anyways, the Asian-inspired oatmeal cafe is a far-off dream, but it’s a dearly cherished one and I think about it often. Below, my envisioned menu with my tried-and-true recipes and toppings combinations, which I’ve also named after Taiwanese (and one Korean) phrases, because of course. If any venture capitalists or actual chefs see potential in this, though, hit me up.

The Mei Mei (8 oz)
The Ayi (12 oz)
The Amma (16 oz)

Signature Bowls

The Taipei
Oatmeal cooked in chicken broth with a poached or fried egg, pork sung, scallions, soy sauce, toasted sesame seeds, and drizzled with sesame oil. Option to add salted preserved egg.

The Little Okinawa
Oatmeal cooked in chicken broth with a poached egg, bonito flakes, salmon fish sung, shredded dried seaweed, dried shrimp, furikake. Option to add shredded smoked salmon flakes or uni.

The Gugimsua
Oatmeal cooked in chicken broth with shredded chicken, scallion, sliced Chinese sausage, ginger, and chili oil. Drizzled with sesame oil and bacon. Option to add salted preserved egg.

The A Gong Beh Zu Giam
Oatmeal cooked in chicken broth with minced pork, fried garlic, scallions, roasted garlic, soy sauce, chili oil, and spicy bean paste. Drizzled with sesame oil. Option to add salted preserved egg.

The Sainai
Oatmeal slow-cooked with black sugar, goji berries, dried jujubes, dried longan, and barley. Topped with toasted sliced almonds.

The Onglai
Oatmeal slow-cooked with rock sugar, ginger, and diced fresh pineapple. Topped with toasted walnuts.

The Hal-abeoji
Oatmeal slow-cooked with diced Korean pears, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, rock sugar, and dried jujubes. Topped with toasted pine nuts.

The Obasan
Oatmeal slow-cooked with black sugar and diced purple yams. Seasonally substituted with kabocha squash. Option to add pork sung.

The Ti O O
Oatmeal slow-cooked and baked with black sesame mochi and black sesame paste. Topped with fresh black sesame cream.

From my experience, any combination thrown into a crock pot has a fairly high success rate. I use a 1:4 oats to liquid ratio and cook on low for eight hours. I prefer steel-cut oats over rolled oats for a bouncier texture, and certainly over instant or quick cook oats. The sweet recipes can also be modified (less moisture, more raw eggs) for baked oatmeal bars. I like to bake them in muffin tins so they come out real cute, like flourless muffins. Finally, the chicken broth can be substituted for vegetable broth or water, or even bone broth. Let me know if you try any of these, or if you have any other recipes to recommend (oatmeal, crock pot, or otherwise).

Do all things with great love.


The Official CL Instagram

© The Official CL. Design by FCD.