Tag Archives: love

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 27: How Is Your Culture (and Are You) Treating Homosexuality and LGBTQ Population?

14 Mar

While visiting my grandparents in the province, I have had to travel to a place where I have limited internet access. I apologize for the delays, but there is no way that I would give up on the last 4 days of my blogging project, so don’t worry J. What I ended up doing, instead of writing, was reading lots of articles, way more than I usually would, because I still had some internet access through my phone. And I thought a lot about how I could connect those to my writing, and here’s one topic that I will talk about today.

I ran into a very interesting article on the LA Times, which featured a Korean actor, Hong Seok-Cheon. He is not one of those Korean drama stars, but he has acted in many series acting in supporting roles. What is so significant about this guy is the fact that he has been an openly gay public figure since 2000.

You may think, so what? If so, good for you, since it may mean that you don’t really feel any prejudice against homosexual entertainers and individuals alike around you. Or maybe you just think that that’s an irrelevant topic to you, although you may feel a slight discomfort with the subject and want to avoid discussing about it. Or maybe you just feel pure disgust by even thinking about it. Within Korean culture, which is still very much conservative at its core (although it has been changing quite rapidly), being openly gay means risking everything in your life. It was even worse about a decade ago when Mr. Hong came out, especially as a public figure.

Hong had to have a press conference as he could not live in the dark (“in the closet”) anymore. He wanted to be someone who he really is, and that is all he asked for, but to make it so public, I am sure it required extraordinary courage. He was on several shows, but he was kicked out immediately. According to the article, he remembers it as the moment where everyone turned back against him, and he even received many death threats. I still remember his “coming-out” event which happened when I was in middle school. It was a shock to me at first, but then I never gave it a serious thought about what kind of impact it would have on the individual and the society as a whole. I was simply too young, while I was living a “normal” life as a majority in which everyone I knew was living a heterosexual middle class life.

Then several years later, I attended a camp called AnyTown during high school in the States. It was a camp to expose teenagers to diverse cultures and social challenges (racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, etc.) so that they can build up more tolerant and vibrant future. I was attending a private school, and it was a privileged environment where I didn’t necessarily experience much diversity. However, AnyTown totally changed my view towards the world as I was exposed to a huge range of social issues besides racism, which I was already interested in. It was my first time to make friends with people who were of LGBTQ origins and to learn about them. Previously, it was not an issue that I had to deal with or was concerned about, because I didn’t have to as a heterosexual female. And the only issue that I had to deal with was mainly related to that of race, being a racial and linguistic minority in the US. But being in the same small group with them, sharing meals, chats and tears, and discussing about intensely personal issues, I became very much aware about the challenges that my friends had to go through in the conservative social norms and hatred-driven (and unreasonable) views towards them. I became a totally different 16-year-old by accepting the diversity that is beyond black and white racial dynamics.

I really believe that anybody can overcome her/his ignorance if s/he is willing to acknowledge the ignorance and prejudices from it. However, I really (and sadly) think that not many people have the ability and courage to do so. Instead, many people learn to dislike/hate others first in the midst of hugely competitive era, where everyone must be a winner of some sort while oppressing those who have some level of disadvantage in the society (whether that be race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical disability, etc). I cannot help but think that we all end up hating ourselves in the midst of the ugly fight, and then hate others even more, just fulfilling a terrible cycle.

Mr. Hong does not have to suffer such extreme hatred anymore. He is now back on TV and is a successful restaurant owner. His restaurant is very famous for the great food and atmosphere, and people want to meet him. He takes picture with the people and proudly walks around the restaurant asking people if the food is alright. Just like a normal person. Nowadays in Korea, I heard that there are even some cable TV channel and social network celebrities who have marketed their “gayness” so well that people actually think that their being gay is actually very “cool.” But there was also an incident about a year ago when a Korean drama series featured a gay couple, many organizations, including national parents’ associations and Christian associations, put a huge ad on a major newspaper saying that “SBS (the broadcasting company which aired the drama) should be responsible if our children die of AIDS.” The advertisement wrongly claimed that the series will make the children want to become homosexual, which is wrong apparently (and where did they get the idea that being homosexual will directly cause AIDS?). Well, have they ever thought that many Korean dramas featuring divorces and couples cheating on each other were actually giving more unhealthy examples of relationships and challenging social norms hence they would be more harmful to their children? Of course, the very same people have not said a word about the influences of such Korean dramas. At least the gay couple in that particular drama actually had a very healthy relationship. What is more family-friendly in this case? Take that.

And for God’s sake, no one has the right to judge someone, because s/he is in love. And everyone should support love, no? Cultures are their to change, so shift your prejudices NOW.

Day 23: Maybe There Is Still Hope for Love

7 Mar

I often say that there is nothing permanent but plastic. Yes, on many things in life, I’m a pessimist, and yeah, maybe I’m jaded. I tend to apply this theory on love, especially when it comes down to the romantic kind. While I do enjoy chick flicks and what not, it has been often hard for me to think and feel that it is something everlasting. Maybe I think it is from the over-commercialization of love that I have observed, or maybe all the breakups and divorces that I have witnessed around me.

But I recently ran into a story that is made into a documentary movie in Korea called “Planet of Snail,” and I saw a tiny possibility that my thought could change. The documentary is observing a couple’s life. The thing that is special about this couple is the fact that both of them are handicapped. The wife had some spinal issues when she was younger, causing her to be very short. The husband cannot see or hear due to illness when he was young, although he can speak. The wife learned sign language, and she communicates her thoughts with him with her fingers, holding his hands. It takes tremendous effort for the couple to change a light bulb, because she is too short and he cannot see or hear. But they make it work together while she speaks to him with hands, and he sees the light bulb (and the world) through her.

The husband is an aspiring writer, and his sentences that are shown in the trailer are simply beautiful (and you will know what I mean if you are someone who appreciates Korean literature and language at all), full of imagination and freedom. And I firmly believe that his words are coming from his connection with his wife. Their words might be limited in human language perhaps, but the love that I saw in these people was something more than tangible words that any “normal” human beings can produce with their limited imagination.

After all, the things that we think are important in romantic relationships (with the potential contractual institution of marriage) –how we look, how much money we have, how well one can express his/her love for the other, how many friends the potential partner has, what kind of talent one can show off— may have nothing to do with love, because they ultimately don’t matter when it comes down to what the two people in the relationship share. What made me want to watch the trailer for more than 10 times was the “love” that I have never seen before. They opened different worlds for each other and saw the possibilities that one could not even dream of by himself/herself. They are completely in love with the universe they are creating with each other everyday.

IF this is not love, if this is not permanent, what is? I heard people say love is all about courage, and these are probably the most courageous people that I have seen in a long time.

(photo from Yonhap News, http://media.daum.net/entertain/enews/view?cateid=1034&newsid=20120307091810906&p=yonhap)

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.

Day 11: On Korean Drama Series…

22 Feb

I have a lot of time nowadays. In fact, I have enormous amount of time that I end up doing the least productive things throughout my days. One of the (terrible) hobbies that I picked up to fill up my time during my “post-school transition period” is watching TV. It’s one of those habits that once you pick up, you can’t get away from it, sort of like an addiction problem (gasp, it might actually be addiction!).

So today, I decided to do something productive out of my mindless hobby: writing about the things I observe and being the critique of it from a gender analysis perspective. I admit that I’m pretty rusty on all the feminist theories and what not, but heck, I’ll just do what I’ve been doing over the past 10 days, and hope you’re OK with my critiquing on K-drama scene.

Living in Southeast Asia for a while, I experienced and lived through the popularity of Korean pop culture. Unlike in the US, I think there are much more common threads between Korean and Southeast Asian cultures, hence Korean drama series are very popular. Trust me, I met so many people who are very much into Korean drama series or Korean novelas as Filipinos call them. It was, in a way, a shock to be reconnected to the culture that I was not a big part of, and hey, I think it actually improves the reputation of Korean people in general in the continent, so I have nothing against the overall positive outcomes and influences.

And now, I’m based in Korea, I get to watch many more of them, and every day, I go in front of the TV at 10pm to watch my regulars. While I watch them without thinking so much, I feel a little bit of guilt, especially looking into the very apparent stories that I know for sure how it’s gonna end, especially in terms of relationships. Yes, the actors and actresses are unbelievably good looking, and that for sure is unrealistic. But what I’m trying to point out is not so much of the unrealistic looks, but more of the gender role that female characters play, and how the media at large is reinforcing how women should be like if they want to have their fairytales and happy endings achieved.

Firstly, I have made a list of female characters that may show in Korean drama series.

Type 1. The beautiful one who has lost everything but has the men of her dreams nearby

This is the most common one I think. As I said earlier, most of the actors are beautiful in the series, but the female protagonist is always the most beautiful one. She often possesses next to nothing (maybe an orphan, or with an alcoholic father, or left with younger siblings that she has to support by herself), but she is always an optimist. She is unbelievably nice, so the world may give her all the difficulties possible, but she always survives, often with the help of a nice guy (that she will end up being together “happily ever after” by the end of the series). She doesn’t know how to be angry, so a jealous girl (who will be explained as a “type 2” character) may do everything possible with her will power and money, but she eventually wins. There are usually two guys, who are very handsome of course and hey, very wealthy as well. They can be cousins or very good friends who end up competing for the unfortunate nice girl.

Female Type 2. The beautiful one who has it all but wants to take away the main male character from the nice girl

She seems to have everything, wealthy family, a good job, and what not. The world envies her for what she has, and she is admired by those who surround her. But she is often very unhappy and bitchy. All she wants to do is taking away the only happiness that the Type 1 girl has: the main male character (who is really nice, good-looking and rich). She does anything and everything possible to get his attention, and he may pity her as a friend, but his heart is always with the type 1 girl. She will never get her happy ending, because she is the “evil” one who pursues what she wants.

Female Type 3. The lovely tomboy who eventually realizes her feminine side eventually (and gets to live in her fairytale eventually)

This is the newest development in K-drama, I believe. More of romantic comedy material character. She is someone who is definitely not perfect in terms of her behavior. She makes a lot of mistakes, and she sometimes acts like boys (and this is supposed to be the proof of her imperfection). She is clumsy, too. Usually, the main male character doesn’t consider her has a potential romantic partner, but hey, it’s OK. The way she acts is so lovely that he will eventually fall for her. She gradually develops her love for the guy and tries to act more “like a girl” so that he will pay attention to her. By going through lots of accidents together, they eventually realize that they are in love, hence, happily ever after.

 

Yes, these are stereotypes, and each story carries different characters, but I think these are pretty much what I have seen over the past years when I have had the chance to watch a series even partially.

As I said in my previous posting, I believe that the media tells the viewers a lot about how they should be like in their everyday behaviors, while the ideal is often impossible. Whether we want it or not, the drama series are of great influence on the society’s imagination of “perfect womanhood.” And the influence that they have on women, especially young women in their 20s and 30s, is rather uncomfortable for me.

Through the unreal characters like the three types above and their romantic and human relationships in general, the viewers unconsciously learn about how their behaviors and relationships “should be.” The shows tell the viewers how women should be like if they want to be loved, whether by a potential romantic partners or by the world. If one wants to be liked, she has to be nice, but it’s OK if she is clumsy and not so smart. She is always in need of help, and the prince will surely help resolve the issue, while she by herself often can’t get out of the mess that she is in. But she should never be assertive, because being assertive means that she speaks her minds, and of course no one likes a girl who is expressive. She doesn’t know how to actively pursue what she wants (whether social status or the love of her life), but she sits there and waits until they come to her. And hey, don’t forget that she is flawlessly beautiful. In other words, a smart, confident, go-getter woman cannot be someone who is loved, but someone who is just foolishly nice and needy can achieve a successful relationship with the man of her dreams and with the world. WHAT?

Yes, it’s easy to tell people, “well don’t watch the shows if you don’t want the influence.” But how could that be even possible while internet portal sites are talking about the stories, the main topic of conversation amongst your friends are about the series, and the current cultural trends simply carry these stories in our everyday lives? Everyone knows that they are not real.  But the shows magically realize our fantasy world as if they can become real, something that could potentially happen. The show producers constantly produce and reproduce the unreal images, and they sell really well, not just in Korea, but in many other countries, too.

But how many more of the three types of women do we have to bear, simply to satisfy our voyeurism for impossible fairytales?