Tag Archives: myself

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 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 30: Finally the Last Day!!!

18 Mar

So this is FINALLY the last day of my 30-Day Project (although I’m posting this a couple of hours after Saturday)! Spending my entire evening packing my luggage –yet again— to head to Singapore (yes, I have a job now), I asked myself why I began and held on to this project over the past one month or so.

Yes, of course, I wanted to do something productive with my time, and I wanted to commit to something for at least for a month (although I don’t think I’m over my “commitment-phobia” issue, just yet). But as I went along, I realized that it was more than that. I was re-learning about what I had been passionate about and who I really was. During the past 2 years or so, I had been studying public policy and utterly confused about how the discipline could actually be connected to my passion, to the things that really mattered to my life, from my home country to academic origin as an anthropologist to social justice and human rights issues. But by writing about something everyday, whether I had something that I was dying to write and talk about, or I was going through internet endlessly seeking some inspiration, I always found something that I could write about. Some postings were over 1,000 words and others were only 200 words or so. But everyday, I thought about what I would write (throughout the day), then sat down in front of my laptop in the evening, then I produced, sometimes to fulfill my “public duty” or other times, to bring my thoughts together.

And I learned how to be myself in front of others. Yes, I promised that I would write on women and gender issues, and I think I was pretty good with following the theme. However, when the whole thing comes down to the essence, I was selfishly and shamelessly writing about myself. I rarely talk about my personal stuff with others, and many of my friends find it difficult to get to know me, because I rarely share anything personal. It hasn’t always been intentional, but it has been more of my personal habit of protecting myself, perhaps overly. But here, whatever the topic of that day was, I always related it to my personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. During the process, I remembered lots of my life stories. My life hasn’t been that long, and my memory can be very selective (just like yours), but I had to collect them together in order for me to survive. I was working on a “storytelling project” for a very, very selfish reason of telling my stories to others via this internet means, and ultimately, re-narrating them to myself, so that I can locate where I am in my life.

Chimamanda Adichie said that she once thought that a good writer/storyteller is someone who had gone through tremendous tragedies in her life, and when she realized that she didn’t have anything standing out in her own life, she mourned for the lack of tragedies (However, she later realized that the power to tell different stories can be much more powerful, while there is always the danger of telling a single story). I was worried at times, too, and even afraid. I don’t particularly feel that I’ve had many challenges in my life that I could tell others with interesting flavors. And because I was like this, I always had the thoughts behind my back, asking “who am I to make comments about the others’ stories as if they are my own?” This was perhaps related to my old habit of self-consciousness that I mentioned earlier. But I chose not to be afraid of judgments, because I know that I (and my thoughts) cannot be loved by everyone, and I want to accept that it is OK not to be part of the harmony that other people demand.

BUT I would like to think that some of my stories were different (from what? I’m not sure), yet genuine. I hope that some people were able to relate to my thoughts and experiences, and find themselves in my stories. This habit of writing is likely to continue (although probably not on daily basis), and I hope that I will have many more stories and dreams to share with others.

And I give a gentle, self-congratulatory pat on my back.

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.

Day 8: Do I Like Being a Woman?

19 Feb

Today, I just felt like making a list of reasons why I like and don’t like about being a woman (and the gender roles that come with my sex).

Firstly, the don’t list. I don’t like being a woman because:

It’s too difficult to pronounce “girl” than “boy” in English. I had to practice a lot to make the perfect “-rl” sound.

I was made fun of because I wanted to play with toy guns with my cousin when I was 4-ish.

My class number in elementary school (which is given to every child in a class in the order of birthday in Korean school system) was in the 40s or even 50s, while the first half, usually between 1 and 25-ish, were all taken by boys, and even the girl with the earliest birthday was number 23 or later.

I was a disappointment to my grandparents, as the first born of the first son of the family was a girl (me!), not a boy.

I have to try to speak quietly, “more like a girl.”

I am afraid of being physically and sexually assaulted.

I have suffered the pain of PMS-ing and period for over 10 years, and the cramps will probably go on for the next 20 years+.

I have felt that I was too chubby, multiple times, while my weight was, in fact, normal or even below average at times.

I have been told once that the greatest achievement in my life would be getting married and being a wife and a mom, instead of becoming the biggest entrepreneur, life saving doctor, kick-ass advocate for a cause, or something like that.

I am “too emotional.”

I am not (supposed to be) good at math and sciences.

I was supposed to wear a pink hat as soon as I was born (and I don’t even like pink).

I have been objectified.

I am always afraid of/ not able to walk around the street when it’s dark by myself.

I’ve tried to be “effortlessly perfect.”

My comments were not appreciated while male colleagues’ comments were.

I still have to “play like a man” in professional world.

I have to always justify myself why I am a feminist.

BUT, I like (love) being a woman, despite all the negatives above, because:

I can wear both pants and skirt.

I have a legitimate excuse to eat as much chocolate and sweets as possible once a month.

I’ve met and got to form meaningful relationships with many more inspiring women than men (and I don’t think the bond would have been possible if I were a man).

I can get three inches taller than my actual height, if I wanted to (but usually don’t).

I am able to see the world from the “woman’s perspective,” which is “minority” but more refreshing and powerful to the patriarchal society.

I got to be interested in many minority issues regarding race/ethnicity, nationality, age, religion, physical and mental capacity, etc. because I have also experienced how it’s like to be a minority as a woman.

I can choose to bear a child, if I wanted to (hopefully at some point in my life).

I still have a shot at being the first Korean female Nobel (something) Prize winner.

I can become a trailblazing woman in improving the future generation’s life in terms of gender relations.

I can become a girlfriend/partner/wife and a mother who will make a great feminist clan one day.

My list could go on. I noticed that it was a lot easier to make the “don’t list.” I love being a woman, and I mean it, but I just have to wonder long and hard why it was so much harder to come up with the things that I like about being a woman.

Day 7: A Day with My Hero

18 Feb

Today, I finally met one of the heroes of my life. I got to meet one of them, Dr. Paul Farmer, when I graduated from college, and today, I met another, Ms. Gay McDougall. You may not know who she is, but in human rights circle, especially regarding women’s human rights during wartime and minority issues, she is the go-to expert. She is a human rights lawyer who has been in the field for very long and has been all around the world, especially Asia and Africa, to advice on legal issues and to support victims of war crime, including systematic rape and genocide.

I encountered her name first a few years into my volunteering at the Korean Council (that I mentioned in my previous post). She was a special rapporteur for the UN Commission on Human Rights, and I translated some of the materials that she produced. I was thoroughly impressed by the width and depth of her writing as it included so many different types of human rights violation against women all around the world, including the military sexual slavery by Japan, and she put the facts and recommendations together impeccably. From that day on, she became my hero that I one day would like to meet.

And today, as I was asked to volunteer for language interpretation for her visit to the shelter that the “Comfort Women” survivors are living, I gladly said yes. I picked her up at the hotel with a Korean Council staff member, and the impression that I had on her was that she is very down to earth. I was not imagining someone scary and stuck up, but simply the fact that her being one of the rock stars in the field could be a factor to act in a certain way, perhaps distant from the people that she will be together only for a couple of hours. The way that she was treating me (and others) was very sincere and kind, and that made me feel less nervous about meeting her.

The discussion with Ms. McDougall, the survivors, head of the Korean Council, and the 2 scholars who were also visiting was very meaningful, and although I was busy catching all the words, taking notes, translating and occasionally participating in the discussion, I was able to feel again why I have become so passionate about the topic to begin with. Although I cannot mention all the details of the conversations, I definitely felt that there are still hopes for the survivors of military sexual slavery by Japan and those whose human rights have been violated in many other war contexts so far. The discussion was rich and forward looking, seeking further solidarity and collaboration in the movement, and I was so thrilled to be surrounded by like-minded people who understand each other’s passion. And yes, I did feel that my legal vocabularies are very limited, not to mention that my understanding in human rights law could be improved. It made me feel maybe I should study law at some point in my life (I know some of you’re saying “nooooo” on top of your lungs).

After the fruitful meeting, I accompanied her back to the hotel, and we had a small chat. I told her that I always wanted to meet her ever since I got to translate her writing, because she is such a big person in human rights. She told me with a smile, “You know, maybe you can be even bigger than me one day,” and encouraged me to pursue what I love to do. She told me that she was in corporate law for 2 years after law school which consumed a lot of time and energy, but after she moved to non-profit sector, she realized that she was putting in even more hours and energy into her work. She put her everything into this work, this time because it’s something valuable, something that she loves to do. I heard from a lot of people that I should do what I love, but since the advice came from my hero, I was touched even more. It makes me hope and dream again.

I don’t know exactly what profession I will be going into in the future. Perhaps I will go through several to figure out what I love to do. But I know for sure that I want to add more values to the community and society that I belong to and work to improve women’s human rights, wherever I am based, whatever I get to do.

And I hope that I do get to inspire other people as well.