personal

3 lessons from my grandfather

Instead of building homes for those poor Guatemalan children or “teaching” Laotian villagers English, I’m going to be seeing my grandfather back in China in a few days. It’s always the highlight of my year since we’re so similar, and since he likes to show off the English he has learned over the past year to me. I’m thrilled to see what I’ll look like in seventy years–complaining about my back every morning, walking around a tiny courtyard over and over, and feasting on any greasy dish I can get my hands on. Recently, I’ve thought about what I have learned from him, and here are three lessons I’ve come up with.

  1. Learn to laugh a little, and play the cards you’re dealt.

My grandfather’s only child is half a world away; he lives right next to the bathroom of his nursing home (he tells me he finds it convenient) that releases putrid odors on an hourly basis; he can barely walk; he eats food that may be the worst I’ve seen in my life. However, he isn’t one to complain. My grandpa enjoys whatever life throws at him. He finds joy in the simple tasks he still can perform, such as reading the news every morning, watching TV shows about health and international affairs, and brushing up on his English by reading some books my mom brought over. He takes quick walks whenever he can, watching the laundry gently bristle in the breeze and hearing the birds chirp life-affirming morning hymns. From him, I’ve learned to appreciate whatever I have, because it could be much worse.

2. Move on, move on, move on.

When my grandmother passed away five years ago, he remained calm, yet I had nightmares for a month straight. If I were in his position, I don’t know how many chocolate bars and soap operas I’d go through as self-imposed therapy, how many tissue boxes I’d use up in my daily bouts of tearful remembrance. My grandfather took it quietly, slowly. He began to re-arrange their shared room, stored some of their mementos from years past under his bed, and started going about his daily routine. Even when faced with his own eventual death, he remains effervescent, hopeful, and sagacious. It’s amazing to see someone so cool-headed that’s related to my mother, whose caprices I can barely handle at times. I truly admire his resilience to adversity–he remains my muse to this day.

3. Don’t bother others.

One of his defining personal philosophies was to not bother others. He never asked anyone for help with errands or events he could take care of himself. If he fell down, he picked himself back up, no matter how painful or how slow it took. He’s always been a fighter: daring, self-reliant, boldly independent. It’s this trait that has permeated throughout our entire family. In this way, I’ve learned to solve my own problems, find out my own answers, and see things for myself before I believe them. My grandfather has molded me to become a more inquisitive, thoughtful, and reliable person, for which I am forever grateful.

These days, I’ll keep on thinking of the inconspicuous, comforting grin he bears daily; the methodical way he darns his socks; his dazzling eyes that scan the paper for interesting articles to discuss with us. I can’t wait to be home.

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opinion

A Southerner’s Shield

As a nation of 320 million, we Americans tend to think of ourselves as celebrating diversity, but diversity inherently brings along conflict. Some of that conflict lies in political differences; as tribalism makes its stake on the Hill, we have settled into a land of two extremes.

What shocks me is the deliberate infusion of religion into politics. Go to any church in the Bible Belt and you’ll hear a lecture on the “correct” definition of marriage. Ask any grits-eating pastor how we started off and you’ll get a tale of a busy seven days; then he’ll tenuously trace that to how tree-hugging libtards are falsifying information about climate change.

Where is the love?  Where is the profundity?

A Christian myself, I often wonder what my religious role models mean by denying pure, unequivocal fact. I have been taught that facts, anthropological, archeological, literary, and historical, all corroborate my religious beliefs. I have also been taught about the importance of love and humility. However, here we are in the modern age, refuting some of the most basic tenets of Christianity. Instead of preaching tolerance for our neighbors, we exude hatred and bigotry, shutting off immigrants with different skin tones and religions, shutting off our brothers and sisters with different sexualities and gender identities. Here we are in the modern age, relentlessly morphing friends into foes; science and religion used to be compatible, and now they are seemingly destined to battle for the minds of the future. On one side, unadulterated zeal for discovery. On another, jaded parochialism. There is no doubt that evolution and climate change are here to stay rightfully, given centuries worth of data and logical analysis.

This is why religion is fading into the background in Western industrialized nations; because we’ve fallen from our moral ideals, the religious establishment presents itself as a relic of a bygone era. By refusing to rethink old arbitrary notions, many obstinate churches across the U.S. are facing a gradual, painful death. Educated bicoastal millennials are shunning Sunday service in droves. In some circles, there’s even a social stigma attached to piety; religion for them belongs on the archival shelves of humanity.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Religion and marriage equality can coexist. Religion and science can coexist. In fact, the underlying principles of Christianity, universal love and fact-finding, also buttress gay pride and the burgeoning STEM sector. Furthermore, religion in this modern era provides, as researcher Philip Schwadel states, “community…friends…psychological support and economic support…a lot more than simply an understanding of where they are in the world in relation to the afterlife.” That’s the church I imagine: not one of angry white people preaching about the downfall of an open-border, sex-positive, multifarious nation, but of radiant smiles in dark nights, open arms to those who need to be loved the most, and of a gathering space for people from all walks of life, to break bread and seek shelter from anxiety-inducing social media and the surrounding vacuity. It’s a place of acceptance and understanding, a haven for those who have nowhere else to go. It’s a place of deep thought, of probing, of truth-finding. It’s for the forever-single adventure-seekers, wine-guzzling housewives, and unemployed college graduates. Christianity is for everyone.

Traditional church leaders need to undergo a serious period of introspection and a heartfelt transformation in order to win back its future… including me.

personal, time capsule

*Junior Reflections!

What a year! I haven’t been blogging lately because I was crushed under a mountain’s worth of homework and activities. Now that AP exams are over, it’s time to dissect this year, one piece at a time. An overarching buzzword to describe this past school year: fatigue. I have thoroughly enjoyed everything that I have done, from AcDec to UIL science to schoolwork (yes, I enjoy school), but there is such a thing as too much. I constantly felt the burden deep down within my heart of overloading myself. Maybe six AP courses were too much to bear in one year! However, I can’t imagine myself in a different lifestyle in terms of my academic load; I can’t stand being bored in class, filling in inane worksheets and completing using bubble maps or outlines or annotations. Perhaps I would have toned down my involvements outside of school–only through the agony of junior year have I figured out the ineffable, inherent beauty behind reading endless articles on

An overarching buzzword to describe this past school year: fatigue. I have thoroughly enjoyed everything that I have done, from AcDec to UIL science to schoolwork (yes, I enjoy school), but there is such a thing as too much. I constantly felt the burden deep down within my heart of overloading myself. Maybe six AP courses were too much to bear in one year! However, I can’t imagine myself in a different lifestyle in terms of my academic load; I can’t stand being bored in class, filling in inane worksheets and completing using bubble maps or outlines or annotations. But perhaps I would have toned down my involvements outside of school–only through the agony of junior year have I figured out the ineffable, inherent beauty behind reading endless articles on The New York Times, drinking a cup of tea on the balcony, munching on a five-dollar picnic on a breezy lawn, or stargazing on the high school track. The beauty of life lies in its simplicity.

I’ve met some truly wonderful people this year. AcDec has proved to be even more rewarding that I would have thought. The ironclad bonds that I have formed with my teammates and coaches will last a lifetime; in the deepest of despondencies, I found laughter, joy, and hope through our various shenanigans. For this, I missed Area C (a local classics competition) and prom, but AcDec was definitely worth it. There’s something about a week-long “hotel arrest” that creates friendships and memories any other activity will never even begin to attempt. Within school hours, I sought refuge in the Davenportian cove on a daily basis. Those dim lamplights harbor me from my worst anxieties and fears, my problems and conflicts on the outside world. Inside lies a comforting, motherly warmth, stocked with wit, sarcasm, and empathy. I’ve been shaken to my core time and time again from the conversations, some more profound than others, that took place in WC105. Nothing else has made more of an impact on my transition into adulthood.

Friendships: some wither, and some grow. It was only natural that I strike up new camaraderie with completely new peers and lose the kinder that lighted my past few years. I not only kept up but also strengthened my relationships with most of my peers, and this provided solace for the torturous path of high school. One remarkable shift is my detachment from the drama of my peers; this change has improved my mental health and my outlook on the future. Fewer love triangles and catfights mean less myopia obscuring my vision of the world around me.

Some lingerings of apprehension about the summer ahead haunt me: I’m doing a lot. Research daily for 8 weeks, once-a-week hospital volunteering, Camp CAMP… I am not afraid to let some of these commitments grow in order to more passionately pursue a few interests. There need not be a sampling plate of amuse-bouches, but rather a hearty steak to dine on. Regardless of what I manage to do, I remain optimistic about where I am heading.

opinion

Here’s to 2017!

Well-known by now, 2016 was dubbed the worst year in recent history. There’s plenty to support this claim, from the unprecedented “Brexit” referendum and U.S. election outcomes to the horrific terrorist attacks in Europe to an unending string of celebrity deaths. Many, including myself, are looking forward to the new year, but there is some room to despair: how will Trump’s nascent and capricious administration change the course of the U.S., if at all? What will happen to ISIS and Syria? How will U.S.-Russia and U.S.-China relations play out in the near future?

2017 is definitely a clean slate, yet it is also shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. The tribulations that racked our world in the past year will probably proceed into this fresh one, as problems don’t follow the arbitrary human definitions of time. What we must imbed into our mentalities looking forward is a sense of hopeful optimism and tenacity–it may seem like pandemonium now, but decades and centuries down the road, humankind will look back and find that we, as a global community, will grow together and discover that, underneath the masquerades of labels and pretenses, we share more similarities than diverge in our differences. Through these troubling waters, our mast will inevitably guide us to dry land. It is critical to the benefit of all the world’s citizens to take part in healing and loving in times of despondency and hopelessness. Stepping into this new liminal state on a dreary and cloudy day, I carry a slight smile on my face and an umbrella to battle the rain.

opinion

2017年,一定要沉住气

今天,我决定换语言来表达我的心思。我的中文水平虽然不强,但是我觉得这语言才能恰当地表示这些感想。

如今,美国收了巨大的刺激——在这个一团乱糟的竞选,一名变幻莫测的候选人,特朗普,赢得了总统任期,西方最有权力的高官,而大部分的美国选民没有为他投了票。希拉里夺了多数民众投票(近于290万票超过特朗普),却遭到输掉选举团投票票数 (304票比227票)。这次公举在美国历史当中算最接近的选举其中之一。 此外,30%的大众不认为特朗普会满足选民的期望或完满地完成索要的任务。他的异乎寻常的胜利也已经引起了全国增多仇恨罪,向穆斯林、西班牙裔、非裔、华裔的歧视,一次一次更恶略,更卑鄙无耻。我们的国家标出破散的心态,彻底失去了此国上百年的和谐的“胶”。

我用中文是为了传达这个意思:美国是在一个本质上多元文化,旷达,宽容的基础创立的。我们的本性并不是在于种族歧视,交恶,分裂。由于保持我们共和国的志向,我们一定要沉得住气,一定要欢迎从四面八方来的移民,一定要做为包容,厚德,彬彬有礼的人民。在这关键的测验中,美国必须记得我们祖宗的至理名言;1787年,当我们国家刚通过宪法,有一位公民问 Benjamin Franklin 美国该拥有那种政府制度,他回答:”A republic, if you can keep it.”

personal

“Breakfast / Desayuno”

Whoa! I’m back!

It’s been a rough semester, and I haven’t had the time to blog until now, so I’ll try to compensate this unplanned hiatus by blogging more frequently than normal during the break.

Back when I had free time, I used to write short stories in my free time. I didn’t develop them well enough, but here’s to it… I just hope a future English professor doesn’t find this!

Breakfast / Desayuno
“Hija, cómetela!”
“Sí, mamá.”
Right before the microwave oven, who had a severe case of arthritis, popped out my cinnamon Pop Tarts, my older brother walked into our kitchen. We could barely fit in the closet-sized room–it was meant for three pairs of shoes, not people. A single lightbulb hanging down on a single copper wire flickered as we walked past each other in silence, already accustomed to bumping our heads. He grabbed a slice of pound cake. Seizing his weary, wrinkly backpack from the ground, Pedro startled it from its easy sleep and ran off to the high school two blocks down the street. “Don’t be like your hermano when you grow up,” my mother used to say. “Not even a word to his own mother todos los días!”
“Sí, máma.”
That day I had just started second grade. They said that I was the smartest one in my family, destined for great things outside of our dingy subdivision in East Harlem. They said that I wouldn’t have to beg the supermarket ladies to let us use our expired food stamps or eat Uncle Ben’s rice and canned beans for three weeks straight or have to be late to work because the buses weren’t running on time. With this hope, after brushing my teeth and putting on my uniform, I let mi mamá walk me to school.

————————–

“Hija, cómetela!”
“No, mom. I’m already late!”
Now it was tenth grade. With much difficulty, I had tested into Stuyvesant High, some two hours away by subway. I rattled my way around the box for the last Pop Tart, still in its shiny wrapper napping comfortably, and gripped my backpack before slamming the door shut and hopping down the stairs two at a time, all while peeling away the wrapper and voraciously biting into the cinnamon filling. My mother, with a vacant look in her eyes, stared out the window onto our ever-so-familiar 132nd Street we knew and loved. Facing away from me, she always held her daily companion, a mug of watery coffee, and said not a single word for four years as I did this todos los días.

————————–

“Hey, wanna grab a bite at the commons area?”
“Sure.” I shut my Macbook and went downstairs.
Maneuvering through the chairs pulled out, I swiftly headed toward the usual line, now snaking around the breakfast nook. It was a typical Saturday morning. Pajamas replaced the usual jeans and sweatshirts. Thick gusts of syrup and jelly circulated the room, and the old-fashioned heater in the middle smiled with his orange glow.
“The usual, Marcia?”
It was then that I noticed a new offering. Hiding in the very back of the kitchen, I could barely make out the blue box, coyly tucked behind some neon-green Nutri-grain bars. There he was–cinnamon pop tarts. My whole childhood, with Pedro and mi mamá and that pesky light bulb, flashed before my eyes.
“I’d like those pop-tarts, please.”
That night I called my mother for the first time. After a short pause, I spoke my first “hola” since I started college. My heart fluttered when I heard the tears streaming down her worn face, the wrinkles carved in stone now dancing in delight, smiling at the crackling sound of my familiar voice.
“Te extraño, hija.”

————————–

It’s been three months since my mom moved to Florida, twenty since I graduated from college. When I got the word that she was nearing her end, I flew down to Miami immediately.
My flight was delayed for three hours, and when I got to Miami, my phone experienced the worst seizures in its life, all from phone calls from family members worried sick.
Some time later, I rush into her room straight out of a cab. The driver’s still yelling at me, insisting that I give him a tip.
She says nothing, her face a crossword of multifarious expressions and her body a raisin in the sun, and slowly lifts her hand up to reach for a box of dulce de leche Pop Tarts on top of her drawer. I carefully cut open the wrapper and place them into a brand-new microwave oven Pedro bought her the other day, just like how mi mamá tucked me into bed each night.
After a suspenseful few minutes, the oven, in its last call to duty, enthusiastically shouts out, “Ding!” My mother, hands shaking with every inch closer to the radiating oven, lifts out of that time machine the pastries of my long-gone years. Carefully, the capsules glide onto the small table next to the dense forest of translucent orange medication bottles. The brilliant rising sun beams down into my mother’s room, the effervescent scarlet and honey and fire heralding a new era.
Finally, with one last breath of air and a slight smile, my mother set her hands on her laps and forcefully whispers, “Hija, cómetela!”
“Sí, mamá.”
I couldn’t help but smile as well.

personal

Pop! goes the bubble

I’ve lived in a bubble for most of my life–first in an Asian bubble in my old suburban town, then in my current top 1% community. This summer, I’ve had the chance to escape North Texas and headed for a camp down south near San Antonio.

The two weeks I have spent there were at first incredibly scary, as the prospect of a sea of strange faces daunted this little introvert. Out of my emotional destitution, I clung onto my classmates, who also went to my camp, like algae on a rock. I believed that I was inept at making new friends; others counselors’ smiles morphed into jeers in my mind.

However, as I slowly started to become weary of my old friends, my self-induced paralysis lost all its power over me. I started sitting next to new people during lunchtime and introduced myself. Through this, I found out that new doesn’t have to be bad, that familiar warmth can burn. I broke free from my own trap and stepped into the cold water whose waves were greeting me the whole time, nipping at my reluctant toes. The new friends I’ve made are similar to some of my friends here at home, but it’s nice to meet new people nevertheless.

The second week went by much smoother after I learned my lesson the week before. I immediately opened myself up to others and their weird inside jokes (which I also got into). Even though we were all counselors, we had two breaks throughout the day, and through these precious few hours, we got to know each other a bit too well. We shared ramen. We found a bucket of ice cream together and shared with everyone in the dining hall. We laughed. We cried. We learned to love one another.

One moment that I remember right now is the last few moments of my first week. The dining hall was filled up by a tortuous snake of eager counselors ready to feel some real AC. I pulled out a deck of playing cards that I stuck in my pocket since the first day of camp and asked someone I met the day before to play a game of cards with me. She called some of our fellow counselors, and we settled down and started to play gingerly. It wasn’t until fifteen minutes into the game that all the walls between us were finally smashed down; we let loose and ended up staying until the last of the last finally checked out for the week. It’s moments like these that I’ll keep in my pocket… along with a deck of cards.