Tag Archives: 20s

Surviving and Loving Me

10 Sep

I have been so mad at myself recently. It’s not that there has been a single incident that made me feel this way, but I’ve been very… well, unhappy.

Recently, I met up with my friend Dika, whom I have not seen since her wedding in Jakarta. She is now back to Singapore and started a new job. We were catching up on chitchats that we have not shared for a while, and I was telling her about the rough patches that I’ve been going through recently. She is one of those really grounded and gracious people, so maybe I was just seeking some sort of advice from her. She also talked about some of the challenges that she went through over the past couple of months, and I guess we both found comfort in the fact that both of us have been (in my case, I still am) on the same boat.  One thing that she said really struck me and made me think about it for days. “you know it was really difficult when I constantly compared myself to others, so I stopped doing that, and I think I’m happier now.”

Happiness. Happy. Happier. Aha, maybe that’s why I’ve been so mad. It’s a concept that I’ve avoided thinking about for a while. Really, while I have been feeling like Sisyphus (the king in Greek mythology who tried to full with Hades, the god of underworld, hence punished to constantly push up a boulder only to realize that it’s gonna be pushed down), it’s something that I haven’t given much thought about, because “everyone else in the world” has seemed to be happier than me.

In the age of hyper-voyeurism, it’s become impossible for me not to know what is going on with the people that I care and most importantly (and very unfortunately), people I don’t care about. The girl who used to sit next to you in the econ lecture in college is all the sudden this big shot investment banker in New York (or wherever). The guy whom I used to work with is now a big shot consultant in so-and-so company. This girl I sorta know is now a CEO of a startup company. Ex-boyfriend is in med school and married (true story). And the story never ends. Everybody seems to be moving on and most importantly, happy, except me. Everyday is just a constantly competition (for what?), because I’m not meeting the expectations that I’ve built up based on what I see in others.

Yeap, I’m so mad at myself.

And I panic. What have I done while they’ve achieved all that? Really, what have I done wrong? Why the heck am I the only one in the world who’s freaking lost and unhappy? Where am I driving myself to?

Then I catch my breath. How do I know that they are happy? Why do I even care? Where is I in the midst of all this nonsense? As Dika mentioned in our conversation, I’m never gonna be happy (and always exhausted) if I don’t stop. So I tell myself.

I have the right to get lost and take the roundabout route. I have the right to enjoy and hate various moments of my life in order to find out my true passion. I have the right to survive the most difficult version of me during challenging times. I have the right to love myself with all my heart. And most importantly, I have the right to be happy with even the most imperfect, clueless and lost version of me.

So I decided to build myself a survival guide. Perhaps I can place happiness at the center of it then I can probably filter out all the noises, one day at a time. After all, “Happiness is equilibrium” and I just need to “shift [my] weight” as Tom Stoppard said (thanks Sarah for your favorite quote). And maybe, it will get easier for me to say, “Hey, I’m so in love with myself and happy with every moment of my life.” And until then, I keep adding a line a day to the survival guide.

On Invisibility

17 Jul

“For God’s sake, can you just TAKE compliments?”

On one fine evening out on Arab Street with my friend Yvette (the official “last” dinner in Singapore for her, before she went back to Rwanda), she told me she liked my outfit, and I probably said something like, “Oh, I just got it for really cheap.”

“You know what my aunt says when people tell her she looks good? She says, ‘Oh, you should have seen me yesterday!’ with her attitude.”

I didn’t particularly know what to say. So I just told her it was an Asian thing. We Asians are not supposed to show up, we are programmed to be “modest” in our actions and words. Then the whole conversation really made me think of the aspect of Asian womanhood, at least to my life so far.

I “became” Asian when I went to the US as a 15-year-old girl. That was the first label that was given to me. An Asian chick. The label came with many other tags, such as being quiet, a hard worker, genius in math and really, having not much of character at all. In one word, I was automatically considered an “invisible one,” just like all the other FOBs at my school.

The thing is that I didn’t choose to be invisible. My English was not great and I didn’t know how to socialize in the language and the particular social structure, so I couldn’t talk much and I didn’t have any other choice but working hard. I was good in math because that was about the only subject that didn’t require much English.

I was invisible by default.

It was a very painful period of my life, but I did well. I excelled in my high school career, graduated at the top of my class, and went to a decent university. But what many people don’t know is that I stayed up many nights in the bathroom after the light-out time in my boarding school dorm, I practiced English pronunciation that I couldn’t quite get during the day (and often was made fun of) hundreds of times so that I could speak it right the next time, and I woke up 6am every morning so that I could do more studying than others. Eventually I started to become more active. I was able to speak up.

I did all these so that I could become visible. But even then, I was still a hardworking Asian girl who is good at math (and maybe in other subjects, too, but only good in academic sense). I was still invisible.

Now, I feel very comfortable with English (which is my working and social language everyday these days), and people know that I have a sarcastic, biting sense of humor along with my “attitudes,” and maybe I can thank my American education for that. I tried really hard not to be “that Asian chick” who rarely speaks out her mind, who studies a conventional discipline (econ, biology, engineering, etc) really hard and dresses too well. I chose to speak out (often very nervously I admit), chose an unconventional major (although I did study hard), and ran around in my sweatpants with no makeup on purpose. I tried hard to prove myself different. I tried to be visible.

But the funny thing is that I still find myself “choosing” to be invisible often unconsciously. Maybe it got started after I came back to Asia a few years ago while I was struck with a sense of reverse culture shock. But then thinking about it, I’m not sure about that at all. Looking back, in the States, I deliberately “oppressed” the Asian side of me, because it was too painful to be one. In a way, I chose not to see a part of me that I associated with invisibility. And now, I come back to my “home” culture, I feel a sense of displacement, and I’m not sure how to position myself. Gradually, I became invisible again. I am afraid of how people may judge me, because I act “too American” and “too White.” My dad used to yell at me for being “too loud” and “too all over” when I was younger, and the same voice is ringing in my head again. The culture that brought me up for the first 15 years of my life is creeping back in and the confusion that I probably should have had as a teenager is hitting me hard.

From all the voices of the past and present, I hear clashing things: Be modest.  Don’t be afraid to express yourself. Be quiet. Talk out loud. You are not supposed to think that you are beautiful (and you are kinda ugly). You are beautiful in every way. And I become buried in all these voices, then again, I become invisible. I choose not to express, because I don’t wanna be judged in one way or another, and this time, such invisibility brings me a temporary comfort, but maybe a deeper cut.

I don’t think it’s simply about a confused individual’s confidence issue, although to a certain extent, it is. It is about certain social constructs and how they may affect an individual (or many individuals) of certain origin, let’s say an ethnic minority (in American context) woman whose cultural diversity should not only be celebrated but also be reconciliated. And even as an ethnic “majority” in Asia, the same individual still feels the cultural pressure and ambiguity, now faced with the “home” culture, because she would hear the society dictating how a good Korean woman should be while maintaining the invisibility at the same time.

When will I become visible by default? When will I be able to take those compliments without feeling the necessity of being modest? Will I be able to love myself truly without being able to truly see herself?

On Goodbyes

31 May

It has been very hectic several weeks recently, mainly because I’ve been running around to say goodbyes to everyone leaving Singapore. Yes, I do know that Singapore is an ever changing economic hub that is more or less transitory destination for many people (sadly), and a lot of my friends have been here for graduate school education for 2 years, so there was nothing unexpected. But after several trips to the airport (which is on the opposite side of the town from where I live, by the way), I got to think more about what this human ritual that I can never get used to is about.

Really, there’s nothing “good” about goodbyes, and nothing “fair” about those farewells.

You may already know that I’m not such an expressive person (my Asian upbringing, hint hint) when it comes to emotions. I’d rather hide behind my strong, tough facade, and many people have found it troubling (and hopefully fascinating too), because I appear to have the bubbly, loud, “American” personality at first. But I really stink at how I truly feel and care about the people that I love, and it has been an interesting journey with many of my close friends due to such personalities of mine. But the only time that I actually express my feeling is when I cry. I get embarrassed by it a lot, but often I can’t help it. In Korean, they say that I “have lots of tears.” Yes, I do. I have lots of tears, partly because of the regrets from not showing the others how much I care and love them, partly because I am not sure when I’m gonna see them again.

But the biggest reasons why I can’t help but being extremely sad is my fear of being detached. For someone who identifies herself as a “lost child of the world,” I feel very attached to the sense of attachment, if this makes sense at all. I always try to create a “home” wherever my next destination is, and the home, the family, happens to be the friends that I make. I attach myself to them, and I dwell on the sense of belonging. The whole appearance of independence that I pull off actually comes out of the security that I have from this home, and it is the only reason why I am not fragile. In many ways, they have become a part of me.

So no, a piece of myself leaving me is not good and not fair. I hate it so much.

Then I look back at all the goodbyes I was forced to say. Tons and tons of them, with my own family in Korea, best friends from middle school to go to the States, college friends that I bonded over intellectual and not-so-intellectual conversations with Chinese food and cheap drinks, ex-boyfriends who wanted too much or too little from/of me, people that I loved so much but never managed to let them know fully, and most importantly, the person I used to be. I leave a piece of me behind whenever I have to say goodbye to my homes, my people, my loves.

And over the pain of not-so-good, unfair state of things, I still stand straight, chin up, and walk on, hoping that it will be a new day tomorrow that brings me a bit of healing.

Day 25: Growing Up to Be a Woman, Not a Girl

10 Mar

While I have been online aimlessly, looking for some sort of inspiration for my posting today, I ran into this “call for submission” on the Huffington Post. It was a call for video on “The moment I knew I was a woman, not a girl.” Really, when did I become a woman from a girl? Interesting question to ask myself. I mean, there is no clear boundary in between, but I know for sure that I’m not a girl anymore (well, I still have my kid moment time to time). So I started to look back in my life.

I would say that it was the time when I learned that I had almost no money left in my bank account during graduate school. I declared to my parents that I would not get any more money from them unless I was desperate and borrow some (to be paid back later), and other than the money I received for the initial settlement in Singapore, I refused any monetary help from them. It was horrible to think that I had to count every single penny in my wallet while the grad school stipend was not enough. Often, I was looking for the cheapest product at the grocery store, and there was absolutely no possibility for shopping just for fun. I have had a part time job or two since I was 16, but this time, I really needed every single dollar that I earned for mere survival. In times of emergencies, I did borrow some money from my parents, though, and until now, I owe them about 3,000 dollars for the period that I had been in graduate school, which I’m planning to pay back after I start working (very soon!).

Now I ask you. When was the time that you became a woman, not a girl? When was the time that you became an individual who is fully responsible for your actions and thoughts without depending on or blaming others? It is still terrifying at times to think that I am the only person with all the duties, but I guess we all would have to face the exciting and challenging times.

Day 16: Being a 20-Something Woman Is…

28 Feb

When I was little, maybe when I was 5 or 6, I fantasized a lot about being a grown up, being 25 ot 26 perhaps. I thought, how great would it be to have a job I love, earn money and spend however I want? How awesome would it be to wear make-up and high heels? How happy would I be to be married and have 2 kids, hopefully a girl and a boy? How would it be to be a woman, not a girl? Well, these were the images of adults that I got from TV and my surroundings.

And 20 years later, here I am. I am pretty far away from the person that I dreamt of when I was 5 or 6.

I haven’t had a full-time job until now because I have been in school, basically just spending money and barely getting by to pay my bills, thanks to some of my part-time jobs. A job I love? I would be happy for any job at this point, because I know that I should not be depending on my parents. I’m too old and proud for that.

I wear make-up a handful of times a year, part of it because I am too lazy to put it on and remove it at the end of the day. I mean what’s the point? I wear my high heels fewer times than I wear my make-up, because they hurt my feet that happen to be slightly wider than they should be.

I am, not very surprisingly, still not married and not intending to get married anytime soon. For this, I have yet to get into a decent relationship where I can be happy and confidant about my commitment (“trial and error” they say, although I would have preferred fewer of them). Of course, I’m not intending to have children any time soon.

And despite my age of 20-something, I still feel like a girl, and I chuckle a bit when I think of myself being a woman. I don’t feel that much more different than when I was 16, in terms of recognition of my own age.

Basically, I haven’t achieved anything that the society has expected out of 20-something year olds.

But am I unhappy for not being able to be that woman that I wanted to be (or others said that I should become) 20 years ago?

Looking back, I am actually rather happy about the unexpected outcomes in my 20s so far than being disappointed about the things that I haven’t achieved (yet). I mean there is room for improvement always, and I am not a model citizen anywhere, but I think I’ve done alright.

I did not expect to live in and travel through various different countries. I have eaten different types of food from East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Americas, and Africa, and honestly enjoyed all of them. I have become an aunt to many babies, whether they are my cousins’ or friends’ kids, and felt that I am really not just a kid anymore. I re-learned how to eat with my hands in Ghana (First time? It was when I started to eat some solid food, probably when I was 1 or 2, just like yourself) and practiced the same habit for Indian food. I got to speak and appreciate two languages and have enjoyed literature in both languages. I became friends who are of different countries, cultures, and religions and shared so many different views towards the world that we are living in (and really, it’s quite mind-blowing). I reconnected with my own culture and have made peace with myself that I can belong to all as long as I am proud of them all.

And I achieved all of the above without achieving any of the things that I imagined 20 years ago. My 20s has been filled with much more unexpected joy and learning, although some were more challenging than others. I haven’t had as much money as I would have worked, but hey, the extent of relationships that I have developed, all the food that I’ve tried, all the books that I read, and all the places I’ve traveled to enriched my experience tremendously. I am not a professional woman, not a beautifully decorated woman, and not a partner/wife/mother that I imagined I would be, but I wouldn’t give up all the experiences that I had for anything.

And most importantly, I still dream of more journeys that I can learn more about myself, about others, and about love, regardless of what others have to tell me what I should do. Being a 20-something woman has been awesome like that, and I hope I can say the same 20 years later reflecting back on my 20s.