journey, Uncategorized

Happy Father’s Day: I’ll carry your cello

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Photo by Charlie Hang on Unsplash

It’s Father’s Day in New Zealand, and to be completely frank, I’m 11,379 kilometres away from his grave, I’m constantly sweeping up the broken fragments of memories I have into a paper cup with holes punched in the base and I know I don’t really look like the girl he called his daughter.

Emo #rantover.

A disclaimer, I’m not actively grieving. I had a really amazing day today, and I’m incredibly grateful for where my family is at now and the wonderful additions that I couldn’t live without. It’s crazy to think that families are constantly evolving, and there is alot (alot) of good that can come out of difficult, tricky, awkward situations, if you so choose to let that good grow.

But I was inspired to write this after seeing a couple posts on Facebook about Father’s day.

Okay, so maybe up until last year or so it was a day I would squirm in my seat at church, while children gave balding men paper-cut out ties coloured in with budget crayons and Cadbury roses taped on top.

But maybe I learned something from his death that was valuable.

I played the cello when I was 13. I was 149cm, barely able to go on the rides at Rainbow’s End and too naive to know that the reason why I was benched was because my performance was possibly sub-par, and not because we had too many players on the team.

Somehow, the music department thought a bunch of us were worthy of a “music scholarship”. We had to fill out a registration sheet before class started saying what instrument we played, and nonchalantly I ticked that I was a pianist. I was probably the laziest piano student alive, and when class began and they found out there were 15 pianists out of 25 students, they decided to pass out the other, less popular, instruments. And so 4 of us got cellos, and free lessons. I think minus 1, we all detested the cello. Hence the dubiousness of us being worthy of the scholarship.

The cello is an awkward instrument to play. It’s big, you essentially straddle it, chicken wing-it and attempt to make some music.

I took the cello home every Friday and returned it back to the school on Mondays, so that I could “practise” on the weekends. Because it was heavy and awkward to carry, my mum would pick me up and drop me off in her car every week. It was a hassle and a half because we lived barely 15 minutes away on foot, and traffic around pick-up/drop-off times at school was heavy.

One Monday morning my mum couldn’t take me to school for some reason so my dad was enlisted to complete the task. We headed to his old Toyota Previa van, loaded my cello and hopped into the car.

But it wouldn’t start.

I looked up at my dad who in frustration, turned and twisted and tried to start up the car.

10 minutes passed.

Then he looked back at me and said, “I’ll carry your cello.”

It was ticking now on 8.45am, so I was already late to class. There were two possible ways I reacted to this, and I’ll give you an option to choose what happened.

  1. I thanked my father for his kindness, and we walked all the way up Sunrise Ave together, as we talked about my friends and my teachers and then when we got to school, I thanked him again, gave him a kiss and a hug and he went back home.

or

2. I bitterly stormed off up Sunrise Ave, my father trailing behind with my cello. I tried to hide my face as I saw other students, other parents dropping off their kids in cars, thinking how embarrassing it was to walk to school with my father. At age 13 even. When he handed me my cello I mumbled a thanks (which meant no thanks) and he walked off back home.

It was probably two weeks after this incident, that I saw him take his last breath. And I have spent the past 8 years reflecting on it.

As a child, as a teenager, and even as an adult, for some reason it is difficult to understand or grasp how grateful you really should be. You have an idea of the ideal: that there is something you are entitled to, for being a child, a student, a wife/husband or a parent.

Sometimes you may think:

  • my boss doesn’t treat me right
  • people don’t organise plans as well as I do
  • she doesn’t love me like she used to
  • they don’t drive like I do
  • they should make their bed the way I do.
  • I put more effort into this than anyone else

which all translates to simply:

I deserve better than this. 

And maybe you do.

But maybe you should just appreciate everything you have been given and work with it. How painful, it was to realise this after he was gone. But how sadly beautiful, to realise how lucky I was to have him in my life, maybe only after he was gone.

So to my dad, I don’t know if my blog is read up in the world you rest in but I want you to know that I’ve gone months without feeling sad about your absence and then suddenly it will hit me like a truck running a red light. I want you to know that I will make it my goal to see you again, what that really entails is a mystery to me but I think… it will all work out. Happy Father’s Day.

Love from Kelly

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Uncategorized

Am I hot? The Detrimental Effects of Social Media on Body Image

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credit: Flaunter .com

If you’re anything like me, yesterday might have looked like this. Your alarm went off, signifying a new day and a fresh batch of notifications.  Mmm yes, tastier than poached eggs on rye – and yes I’m going to stand up on my chair whilst I take this photo of my breakfast. During class, you snapped your friends the can’t-be-missed premature bald-spot of your unfortunate classmate Stephen. Lunch was accompanied by another Instagram photo of a wildly #unsatisfying vegan kale juice. The burger-flavoured chips that you demolished the second after, did not get featured for some reason. Alas, the day continues. I checked Facebook four hundred and twenty-two times yesterday. And that was a slow day.

There are 2 billion active users on Facebook, 1.5 billion users on YouTube, 700 million on Instagram, 328 million on Twitter, and 255 million on Snapchat. You could say that social media is a permanent fixture in our lives. Don’t believe me? Just look at all of those people who announce their departure of Facebook via dramatic status update followed by the anticlimactic clicking of “deactivate your account”. They always make their way back (I don’t have facts to support that, only personal experience that I won’t delve into much further). What I’m getting at is that we can choose from a variety of platforms to represent ourselves, to socialise, to voice our ideas and in some way, form an identity. I mean, the internet might as well have its own flag, and we are all netizens. However, while we have more and more people flocking to the land of Facebook and Instagram every day, reports of users experiencing a perception of a distorted body image are also increasing. What we put out on social media paints itself as reality, but it can be a mask and far from it.

Am I hot, or not?  

I’m an avid Instagram user. I post several times a week and post a photo on my story almost every hour. My most liked photos, if I’m being completely honest here, are ones where I’m dressed in my most expensive dresses, with more makeup than RuPaul’s drag-queens and a carefully selected filter that air brushes all the acne that poor dietary choices and genetics entails. Eighty likes never seems to be enough when a previous post has received more, and to my disappointment, I scan my news feed to see hundreds of highly contoured girls candidly poking at their salad and not sweating on breath-taking hikes. All of their photos rack up hundreds, if not thousands of likes.

And what goes on in my head is this:

I’m not good enough.

I’m not famous enough.

Am I even hipster?

My room is legit a tip and I haven’t showered.

I didn’t wear this outfit outside.

Its a pretty dire response, and I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking this.

When you uploaded a new profile picture, how many of you never checked your notifications? A survey was taken in Australia which collected data from 438 young teenage girls in their first years of high school and again, two years later. They were asked if they had a Facebook profile, how much time they spent on the site and how many friends they had to gauge their involvement. Survey participants also filled out a questionnaire about their body image and surveillance (how they look at their bodies) to check for their drive for thinness. It was found that the number of friends greatly affected the girls’ body image as they were able to make greater comparisons with more people against idealised images, including those they did not personally know in real life, but were friends with on Facebook.

If you walk down memory lane a couple of years back you would remember the controversy of how photo-shopping photos in magazines led girls to body ideals that were not only unhealthy, but impossible.

Instagram is the new fashion magazine. Only, the photos are self-selected and there are literally millions of accounts to follow, and photos uploaded Every. Single. Second. And instead of paying 4.99 for a magazine, you get it for free. Straight to your phone sitting in your butt pocket.

On top of this, it could be argued that by constructing an online persona with carefully selected photos, people (girls in particular, but men are not immune to the habit) are advertising their bodies as independent from themselves. They put aesthetically pleasing images of themselves for the purpose of others to like and critique. This coupled with high rates of body surveillance is a recipe for low self-esteem. It forges a culture of looking at our bodies from a viewer perspective, acting and behaving to fit into what we perceive as attractive to the eye.

Comparison with others who seem to have similar resources and lifestyles to users is common because it can seem that a peer’s lifestyle is more personally attainable . We begin to objectify others’ bodies, seeing them as images instead of their lives as a whole. Alarmingly, even the inspirational, age-defying, hugely popular women who post “fitspiration images” and assure us that fitness is purely for health, were associated with a drive for thinness, bulimia, muscularity and compulsive exercise. 17.5% of 101 “fitspo” account holders were at risk for being diagnosed with an eating disorder, because of the nature of their posting style they were driven to eat in a specific way to have results they could post. Extreme levels of exercise and diet can lead to injuries, social withdrawal and fatigue.

 

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Okay, okay, so I’m actually a huge fan of Kayla Itsines. #Goals?!  But the stats are what I look up on the internet when I’m  too lazy to complete the BBG pre-training program…it makes me feel slightly better?

I mean, we could just go back to where it all started. Its October 2003 and Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg hacks into Harvard House websites to compile a series of photos of students that he uploads to a website that he’s created. The programming and algorithms are his main reason behind creating a rudimentary “Hot or Not” website where students can vote which student is hotter, just by the profile photos of his fellow students. The site is visited over 450 times in one day, racking up 22,000 votes. He called it Facemash, and it was the precursor to his much more successful development of Facebook later. But the controversy surrounding Facemash was not just about breach of privacy. It was the fact that students could vote on the level of attractiveness of each other.

And that’s the thing. Essentially, its the evaluation of physique that posting begs for. And if there are 2 billion Facebook users today, whose to know how many Facebook users there will be tomorrow? The harmful impact that social media has on body image is unprecedented, and most likely be proliferated through time. And whilst there are positive aspects to the fast-paced nature of social media such as spread of awareness and mobilization of social issues, only those with the social prowess will be able to beat the algorithm to spread their information.

So just like road signs aim to keep drivers and pedestrians safe, perhaps social media platforms need to form tools for users to use social media in ways that will be healthy. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the United Kingdom conducted a UK-wide study called #StatusOfMind in 2017 which surveyed 1479 teens/young adults asking them about their feelings towards various social media platforms. Questions explored the impact these had on the individuals’ mental and physical health, body image, relationships with others and social life. They suggested that in order to help young people regulate their usage of social media and prevent negative mental health outcomes:

  • a ‘pop-up’ notification could be presented to warn users of heavy and unhealthy usage of social media.
  • social media platforms themselves could also screen their users by their posting style to find out who exhibits symptoms of depression and anxiety, and discretely notify health advocates and communities to support these users.
  • social media platforms could also pledge to highlight when photos of people have been edited to help users realize that what they are seeing is not completely natural.

These tools could greatly improve the way young people approach social media and thus positively affect their mental health, self-esteem and image. But even so, just the way we regulate our own usage can go a long way.

I mean, yesterday night I used Facebook to contact friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I used Youtube to link my friend a video about cute cats, which may or may not have changed her life but probably didn’t ruin it either. I used Instagram to raise awareness of a cause I am passionate for, after tapping through Instagram stories of my friends. And I went to sleep, having clocked 1000 visits to social media.

 

 

 

This post was originally my assignment for my BYU writing class. It was modified from a research paper. All views are my own personal opinions.

 

 

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Mormonism, Uncategorized

When an excommunicated member talks to me about Jesus, I listen

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credit: Evan Kirby

I was touched by a beautiful post that made its rounds with my circle of Facebook friends last week about standing by Elder James J. Hamula. For those of you reading this who aren’t Mormon, have never heard of Mormons or try to avoid Mormons who knock on your door at 8pm in the evening, you probably have never heard of Elder Hamula. He served in my church in New Zealand, and from what I remember, he is a loving, spiritual man who has cared for and led many people to Christ.

Last Monday, Elder Hamula was excommunicated by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He was sustained a member of the Quorum of the Seventy in 2008, served as Assistant Executive Director of the Church History Department and later as the Executive Director of the Correlation Department.

The church confirmed to the Deseret News that the excommunication wasn’t taken because of disillusionment or apostasy. Or in more basic terms, it wasn’t because he lost his faith or taught doctrine incorrectly or the like.

To say I knew him personally would be an overshot because I don’t. At the time that he served in New Zealand I wasn’t the best at paying attention to leadership – not because I was defiant, but more because I was a distracted teenager who never really grew out of that phase when you need to stuff your face with Cheerios during the first speaker or color in something because your fingers start twitching (because you ran out of stale hoop-shaped cereal).

But someone I do know is Ashley.

Ashley was a lover of animals, a mother of two, and an excommunicated Mormon. When I wasn’t eating her Twix she wasn’t supposed to have, or getting scolded for the tears in my skirt, she taught me about Jesus. And I listened.

I met Ashley the day after I turned 20. I was a very fresh, very naïve sister missionary that had been sent to the suburbs of Nottingham, England. I knew nothing about the world except crumpled school reports, part time jobs and overpriced berry smoothies.

It had taken us several visits to Ashley’s place for her to finally be available for us to come inside. She had been taught for over 5 years by squillions of missionaries, and she was sporadic in her attendance at church due to health problems. The plan was that my companion and I (the other sister missionary who I was partnered with) were going to talk about Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a topic we often brought up as a starting point. We were advised by the bishop and ward mission leader to visit Ashley, who needed to be taught all the missionary lessons before she could get re-baptized. Her baptism would be an important ordinance that would turnover her excommunication and mean that she would be received fully back into the church.

We followed Ashley as she shuffled us into her living room that smelt of steak pasties, floral perfume and animals. I fell in love with her affectionate cats that purred to the slow rhythm of her obstructed breathing. She was in her faded fluffy bathrobe, eyes glazed: a sign of fatigue, stress and depression.

Ashley had been excommunicated some many years before self check-out systems at Tesco’s and when Old Market Square was just Market Square. She had always believed in Jesus, and prayed to God everyday. But she had made some mistakes, that cost her her membership in the church.

But that didn’t change her testimony. Ashley was a God-fearing woman, full of hilarious inappropriate jokes and her pet name for everyone, “duck”. Over the course of the next five months I learned all about Ashley- how she joined the church, how she fell in love with the wrong person, how she suffered pain, how she lost her membership. She was brutally honest, full of half-healed wounds and disturbing scars that I would have judged as unworthy had she not taken off her broken shoes and let me walk in them- at least for a minute, to get a glimpse of the heart ache, pain and suffering that she had been through in her life.

One of the best memories with Ashley was reading scriptures with her. We would text her a chapter to read and then catch up with her later and see what she thought. She was always full of wisdom, able to pick out a meaning that struck her heart strings. I was super eager to send Ashley reading assignments and texted her to read from the Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi chapters 22, 23, 24 over three days. After those three days, to my shock and embarrassment, I realized that 1 Nephi ended at chapter 22. When we visited Ashley later that evening, she laid out a feast of sweet and sour chicken (a very Ashley dish) and then proceeded to mime a big flick on my head for being the ignorant missionary I was. This was followed by a huge Mama Ashley hug, merciless teasing and laughter. Ashley never let me forget it.

But apart from my overall lack of scriptural knowledge sub-par for a Mormon missionary, there was something about Ashley that made me realize she knew Jesus a lot better than I did.

Ashley taught me what repentance was. And forgiveness. And she knew it was possible through Jesus Christ. She told me that she was a changed woman. She wouldn’t necessarily go back and undo what she had done, because through her mistakes she was able to gain wisdom and understanding that she otherwise wouldn’t have gained.

She told me, “Sister Huh, God will always find you. He will never leave you. He has always found me, again and again. But its only through Jesus, that you can go back to Him.

On December 12, 2015, Ashley was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I still remember her muttering under her breath that the water was way too fetchin’ hot as she got into the font (an error on my behalf, sorry Ashley) but coming out from the water beautiful and fresh, like the purest person I had ever seen. Her embrace, drenched and saturated and everything, was the sweetest moment of my mission.

Ashley asked my companion and I to wear hot pink because that was what she was planning to wear to her baptism. We turned up in our hot pink outfits, and we should have guessed, but Ashley turned up in purple. This was the kind of person Ashley was, and I loved her to bits.

Sunday morning of December 13, 2015, Ashley took of the Sacrament as a baptized member of the church. Symbolic of the body and blood that Christ sacrificed so that we could be forgiven of our sins and return to God, I contemplated on how eternal, unconditional and ever reaching that love really was.

Sunday morning of October 5, 2014, Elder Hamula gave a talk in General Conference about the Sacrament. He said:

Through mortality, every one of us becomes soiled with sin and transgression. We will have had thoughts, words, and works that will have been less than virtuous…

By the shedding of His innocent blood, Jesus Christ satisfied the demands of justice for every sin and transgression. He then offers to make us clean…

Indeed, the ordinance of the sacrament helps us faithfully endure to the end and receive the fulness of the Father in the same way Jesus did, grace for grace.”

I stand by what Elder Hamula says. Every one of us becomes soiled with sin and transgression. We all make mistakes, some with consequences more costly than others, more publicly ridiculed, judged and misunderstood.

But it is by the grace of Christ, that we are made clean. And everyone is given that opportunity. Let’s refrain from the shock and augmenting the scandal that comes with excommunication, whether or not they are high-profile. Instead, let’s love and celebrate the Atonement of Christ, the ability and gift that we have to repent and to change.

 

 

This post is my assignment for my BYU writing class. The name Ashley has been changed for the privacy of my lovely friend. It was tailored mainly for my Facebook friends, which is largely Mormon. All views are my own personal opinions, and not representative of the Church. 

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Friendzoning my Asian Heritage, journey, self-esteem, Uncategorized

Friendzoning my Asian Heritage Part 3:  Asians…they really do look the same

10900121_10206171513272886_6090044855332663958_oI had walked past the stores many times before. I was fresh off my LDS mission, feeling like an alien in the endless cityscape of Gangnam. Huge buildings blocked out the hazy sky, orange taxis ran red lights and millions of South Koreans were folding away receipts and selfie-stick-ing. What I wore in Korea a year and half earlier was now horribly outdated and needed to be mourned, cremated and scattered in the River Han. Shops were endless and if you wanted to find authentic, true love you would, in the form of deep fried swirly donuts and ttokbukki spicy rice cakes. Love at first sight it was.

Mina and I’s lunch date had turned into a shopping trip, and after an attempt to try a discount outlet store, we headed to the main street where the real shopping could begin. There was no guilt, because this was Korea! Swipe your credit card, breathe in. Grab your purchases, breathe out. Phew.

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“How do we get to those shops up there?” I asked Mina, pointing over to the multi-storey shops with flashing signs. I thought I had visited every store in Gangnam, but had failed to open my eyes just a little bit wider and see that most of the buildings had several levels.

“They aren’t shops, I’m pretty sure most of them are plastic surgery clinics. Do you want to get it Kelly? Maybe for your eyes?”

As a 21 year old this question was getting quite old. But at 10 years old it made me want to projectile vomit at whoever was talking to me. Volunteering to have a middle-aged man in a white coat snip my eye lids and sew them up like it’s Year Seven soft tech?  I can see quite fine, thank you very much.  My eyes do not need any kind of correcting.

However, that didn’t mean I was void of insecurities. And at 4 years old these seemed to bubble to the surface. My peers ensured that I was aware of how different my face was by pulling their eyes, (or for a redundant effect, pulling mine) and blurting out incoherent supposed Chinese.  “I spy with my little eye” had snarky, under-the-breath connotations whenever we played it. But I had looked at myself in a mirror, told myself I was a solid 5 and eventually they got used to seeing a face that didn’t look like theirs.

But it wasn’t just the eyes that were different.

I could see that some people were like Coco Pops, some like the color of my cereal milk Pre-Coco Pops and some like speckled sandpaper. Examining my own body, I looked like my unvarnished wooden fence. A little yellow, a little white, a little dry and flaky. Probably suitable for burning.

But this would not do. No way. I needed to research this more and find out why my looks had so impacted on the quality of my 4 years of life.

My go-to source of all truth and knowledge was my kindergarten teacher. If anyone knew whether chocolate chips or chocolate buttons would taste better in cookies, if there really was a God or whether the universe’s expansion was accelerating… it would be Cris. I studied her face, wondering how in the world did Cris’ nose connect to her eye brows and if this was necessary, why didn’t I have it? No matter how hard I tried to tell lies to all my friends my nose wouldn’t grow and I had to revert back to my honest, God-fearing self.

Eventually my fascination with the differences between my facial features and their facial features became deeply rooted in the ventricles of my heart. It accompanied the thousands of comments I received the next years of growing up about how my body didn’t meet people’s expectations:

 

Age: 4-10 Theme : weight

“You face is too chubby. You look like an onion. You have to eat less if you want to peel those layers off.” (props to whichever Korean person said this to me, it is both rhetorically sound and cutting edge)

Age 12-15 Theme: the woes of puberty

“Those pimples are there because you touch your face. See?” *old woman touches the pimple*

Age 15-16 Theme: weight

“I’m on a plastic cup diet. You should try it. Basically you fill this little cup half with rice, half with something else and that’s what you can eat in one day.”

Age 16-17 Theme: eyes

“If you stretch your left eye with your left hand, and stick your tongue in the side of your right cheek, your eyes will get bigger.”

Age 18 Theme: weight

“I’m sending you a video with a 10 minute daily routine that gets your legs in the ratio of 5:3:2, thigh: calf: ankle. Tiffany from Girls Generation does it.”

It wasn’t too long before I was poking plastic rods into the crevices of my eyes and carefully patting down double-sided strips of tape that increased my eye size by 1 meagre millimeter. Only an all-seeing eye, a fellow Asian eye would notice the tiny sliver of tape holding together two folds of eye lid skin like its life depended on it.

But I got tired of that pretty quick. Purposefully forming an over glorified wrinkle on a face is a lot harder than you think.

And the exercise, all of the space-age routines just weren’t giving me the shape of legs that I was supposed to have by now.

And the weight, it just didn’t seem to budge no matter how hard I restricted my diet and counted my calories.

Maybe, a permanent solution didn’t seem that extreme.

“So what do you think? Are you going to get it?”

 

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journey, Uncategorized

A quarter life catch up with Deity

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If God decided to have a quarter life catch- up session with me next week, I would assume it would follow a similar format to my prayers but the protocol would be to:

  1. firstly meet up in His office,
  2. talk frankly face to face about how I’ve been doing the past 21-22 years
  3. debrief on a couple of things I am very thankful for
  4. ask some questions

and then maybe I would listen to His response.

In terms of a couple of things I am very thankful for, the list is as follows:

  • Letting my skin soak in semi-hot sand in Summer and Instagramming it in winter.
  • Returning to good terms with Auckland Transport when I saw their USB ports on the NEX buses.
  • The silent banter between me and the person on the other side of the pedestrian crossing. We both know we could totally cross it even though the little man is a flushing red, but we don’t want to be those impatient millenials who don’t save unwanted gifts like our parents.
  • Conversations with café customers. They would ask me what the muffin flavours of the day were and I always would have a pointless squint at the cabinet followed by a quick freak-out because I couldn’t keep telling them it was chocolate and pear.
  • Self medication via meme tagging
  • Incredible best friends. Especially a soul sista who let me vent every Sunday night, nap in her room, draft friendzoning messages together and eat non-stop. I borrowed her parents and siblings who treated me like family, and deserve far more than high-calorie brownies.

My interview with God would most likely end then. I would be ushered out. Its not that He wouldn’t want to keep talking, its just that He knew what questions would be asked next and it wasn’t the right time to tell me the answer. So I would walk out of that interview room, take off my heels and half-heartedly wash the makeup I had carefully applied before locking my bedroom door, laying there on the pilling carpet for days. I would ignore the fact that I was putting my face where my feet treaded and yearn for an answer, swallowing my screams at Deity for some sort of sign.

“If I’m supposed to be learning something here, could you please tell me what that is? Because I don’t want to keep doing this anymore. I’ve had enough. Game over. I’m ready to walk out.”

I waited for a couple of minutes. No answer.

That was it then. No more talking to God.

I remember I ran outside to sit on the stretch of grass infront of the property in the middle of the night. Why couldn’t He answer me? He had answered me before. I’m sure of it. I testified of it. I spent 18 months trying to tell people about it!
I leaned into the cool grass, which provided me more security than my room with walls that seemed to be made out of crepe paper. I would watch as one or two cars would cruise by, unscathed by the events of the day, silently passing through neighborhoods that weren’t theirs.

And then I would close my eyes and cup my hands together and try asking Him. Maybe?

Just one more time.

 

 

 

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journey, Uncategorized

Don’t try to become a doctor

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the dream is out of reach

[I’ll write more about Friendzoning my Asian Heritage next time.]

If I could go back in time I would go back to three years ago and shake my younger self. I would tell her just 3 things:

  • Please don’t make awkward situations more awkward by stating the awkwardness.
  • Don’t try to flirt with that guy (its not worth it)
  • Most importantly, don’t try to become a doctor.

[*A bonus point, if I did get a few seconds before my time warp portal got absorbed by the universe, I would tell myself to stop shopping at Cotton On. You will only end up with a disposable wardrobe. And please stop wearing aztec leggings with a shirt that doesn’t cover your butt.]

Being well acquainted with my eighteen year old self I would have tried all the above whether I was visited by a wiser, heavier future self or not. I still would have thought my life was written in the lyrics of a Taylor Swift song and to this day I make it a point to comment on the air density and percentage of awkward it contains.

And I would have definitely still tried to become a doctor.

Contrary to stereotypical Asian parenting of wanting your child to be a doctor, accountant, engineer or lawyer, my mum didn’t plant these career ideals in my head. She was fairly opened minded, as long as it involved hard work. Unfortunately, I did all the planting myself and it would take me a mind-fracturing year to come to terms with the fact that I was a terrible gardener and all my ‘plants’ i.e. dreams would die due to lack of sleep, reading articles en route to class on the bus in a haze of motion sickness and listening to classical study music that I hated.

But I just wanted to be a doctor. It seemed to match my interests in my life and the subjects that I was good at in high school. It was my ultimate goal, and full of hope and confidence I enrolled in my classes as a pre med student.

It took me 3 days to realise that I had made a mistake.

Day 1: was admin. Despite older students telling us the first day wasn’t anything important, my friends and I all showed up half an hour early so that we could get a good seat. Turns out the rest of Auckland thought the same. Out poured the test dates, course outlines, telling you to get an expensive textbook and forewarning you that you are likely to use the counselling service. It seemed easy enough.

Day 2: the lecturer seemed to zip through everything from high school in under 5 minutes. We went through the structural organisation of the body, 11 body systems and their major components, levels of cell organisation and basic tissue types. I think I understood the word ‘body’ by the end of the lecture and gave myself a pat on the back.

Day 3: was just about the same amount of information, only this time it was more indepth about the different tissue types and the cells that make them. I sat next to the summa cum laude of a rivalling high school and I pretended to laugh at his banter and science jokes. It was like his own specialised grammar, for a language that I had never heard of. He was deeply emotionally connected to these cell types, and I was in awe at his indepth notes and sheepishly looked back at my half-asleep squiggles that had managed to barely stretch themselves over a page.

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There were many Day 3’s that year. I sat next to him quite often, probably because I thought I could absorb his genius via osmosis. Obviously I didn’t understand how osmosis worked.

Needless to say he got into med school and I didn’t. We both got fatter though so I guess we all gained something from the experience.

Apart from weight, I gained some other notable things too:

-acceptance: that I can remember heartbreak like a fresh cut and I can forget body parts with a breath of air.

-gratitude: for my incredibly supportive, kind, forever cheerleading friends and family

-loss: you don’t always get what you want, no matter how much you want it.

-an experience of competition: Things are not that different to the Olympics. There will always be someone who will run faster than you despite your raw talent, work ethic, teachers and other resources.

-a knowledge: that sleep is important

-a realisation: that I needed a wider perspective, to other career and life paths

-and last but not least, an understanding: that God loved me, and didn’t care that I got a C- or not.

Okay maybe a little bit.

[disclaimer: I change identifiable information of the people.]

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Friendzoning my Asian Heritage, journey, Uncategorized

Friendzoning my Asian Heritage: When you can’t speak your own language

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This is Part 2 of Friendzoning my Asian Heritage. You can read Part 1 here.


When I was in kindergarten I became fascinated with Legos. At home my brothers had a huge red bucket full of them and I loved to build and make stuff when they weren’t. I picked up some clear neon Lego blocks and assembled them into a crescent, holding it up to my ear and speaking into it like a telephone. I gave it to my mum and asked her to speak into it.

But mid-question I paused.

I realised I didn’t know how to say telephone in Korean. My mouth opened but the word only came out as telephone.

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I ran a command prompt but the word could not be found. It had been deleted from my vocabulary several days before. It was gone. Poof. Goodbye.

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Words have a profound effect on me. But more than the words used is the delivery. What do your eyes say when your mouth says, “I’m sorry, I’m not really interested in you”? Can you feel your hands curl into fists by your side when you want to Make A Point? Do you scan their body first and see if they’re in shape or not? Perhaps this is what got me through being Korean and being illiterate because body language was how I communicated when my words could not.

Being illiterate was something I never addressed until earlier this year. But in terms of most of my speaking life I tried my best to avoid all forms of the Korean language. But life has its funny way of constantly booking me in for tests of language that I didn’t sign up for.

Answering the phone in Korean was probably my worst nightmare. It would start by gauging whether the person calling was Korean before the phone even rang. If I had the courage to pick it up and it was indeed a Korean, I would reply “Ah…yoboseyo!” (and then make a mad dash in my house to find my mum to hear the rest of whatever they had to say. Equally when my uncle or aunty would make their usual once-every-two- years phone call I would struggle to tell them exactly how old I was and make a guestimate. My favourite number and only number I could remember very well was 9, so I was always some derivative of 9.

Sometimes it came in handy. The Jehovah’s Witnesses knew we were a Korean family and for some reason would always send Korean Witnesses to knock on our door after school when my parents were just on their way home from work. I wasn’t allowed to answer the door anyway because I was some derivative of 9 and there were creeps in the neighbourhood. The JWs would knock and I would tell them through the unopened door I couldn’t speak Korean as they stuffed pamphlets through the side window (the irony in this is that this was very similar to what I did on my mission a few years into the future).   

It was only till I started high school when my illiteracy seemed to form an uncomfortable itch on my back where I couldn’t reach.

My first teacher Mrs. Kim in high school was Korean. She was the epitome of what I wanted to be when I was older: beautiful, tall, well-respected, happily married and incredibly intelligent and kind. Like many other Asians I sustained the easiest A in my high school career through my bra size and my teacher told me I had no boobs like her. I had asked her to help me wrap a sarong over my uniform for a luau Youth Dance and she had looked me up and down. From then on she became my mentor, confidante and friend.

But there was something distinctively different between us.

She made spelling mistakes. While she spelled all the elements of the periodic table correctly (she was even named after a scientist) there were elements of her sentences that did not make grammatical sense.

But it didn’t really matter. Everything about her translated well amongst Korean students and English students. I admired that about her, as I had always been the token Asian friend and would play down my ‘Asian’ behaviours rather than be one who celebrated, immersed and blended the cultures and people into one.

One of her responsibilities was to lead the Korean Cultural Night. She put me in the MC/presenter script writing team. I loved writing so this seemed like a great opportunity. They needed Korean and English speakers as the event would attract a non-Korean audience too. But the group texts were always in Korean and at the time my phone was a Nokia brick phone and dealt even worse with receiving Korean messages than I did. All I got was little boxes. I was too embarrassed to admit that a) I had a brick phone in a slide phone era and b) even if I got a new phone I still wouldn’t be able to read the messages. I decided to pull out of the team.

A couple years later I decided to try again, but this time through dance. I was in the dance troupe at school and had always loved contemporary Jazz dance. But I was under the influence of the Hallyu /Korean Wave of K-Pop, Korean dramas and celebrities and the opportunity to do K-Pop dance seemed new and exciting. My friend asked if I could make her trio of dancers into a quad squad for an item for Korean Night 2012 and I gladly accepted. It would be my transition into the Korean community! The girls seemed lovely, and the dance seemed jumpy enough to look cute and outfits edgy enough to look sexy.

But our self-appointed dear leader took it upon herself to never speak to me face to face. Whilst there were only four of us, she spoke to me only via our mutual friend and I struggled to take her seriously. Ten minutes before our performance she turned around to me and for the first time directly talked to me. This was it. I said to myself. After all the countless rehearsals where she wouldn’t speak to me, we would finally unite because of this wonderful moment. We would fist bump and dance like this was the most important night of our lives.

“Kelly. Stand behind me. Don’t move. I don’t want anyone see you dance. Okay?”

What?

I decided not to heed her advice and stood so that I could clearly be seen at all times. I also decided from then on that the Korean entertainment industry was not for me. And maybe the Korean community wasn’t really for me either. I never really clicked with those girls anyway. This was my destiny, forever floating in between two cultures, never part of one, never completely comfortable in the other. But If I couldn’t be comfortable in a culture, then where did I belong? What constituted my identity?

I looked back at my biology study guides across my desk, Korean eyeliners and shadows, my hundreds of tabs opened of NCEA past papers, online clothing stores and Korean celebrity gossip. I stared at my used anatomy books on my book shelf. I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision or if this moment was when I was sure I would become the ultimate Asian career stereotype.

Respectable. Prestigious. Difficult. Rewarding.

I will be a doctor. 

That’s who I’m supposed to be.

 

 

 

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Friendzoning my Asian Heritage, journey, Uncategorized

Friendzoning my Asian Heritage

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This is my seventeenth attempt at a blog. So before I press delete forever again, I’m determined to think of this as a practise corner of the internet where I can try out different writing styles. You have to start somewhere right? Even if it’s super awkward. Feel free to read and criticise constructively (or not). We’ll see how it goes!

This post is about growing up as a Korean-New Zealander.

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Growing up I got confused with all the different Korean greetings. I’d bow and tell the people who invited me over, “Goodbye, have a good trip” and would bow and tell guests leaving my own home “Hello, stay at your home safely”, pink-faced with embarrassment as they corrected my mistakes. Korean culture was never second nature to me, and at times I just really wanted to friend-zone my cultural heritage. I like you… but not enough to keep you around. Let’s just awkwardly say hello when we bump into each other but not take it any further. Yeah? Sound good to you?

To be honest I largely rejected my Korean heritage as a child and at a ripe age of four, I swapped my kimchi and banchan for crust-less sandwiches and tiny boxes of raisins. I stopped calling my mother “omma” and she became “mum”.

My parents were supportive of me always. Mum spoke to me in Korean, Dad spoke to me in English. Pioneers of their own sort, they traveled extensively and already lived in the United States where my oldest brother was born and where Dad studied and Mum worked. They then moved back to South Korea for a few more years where my other brother was born. Finally, they decided to ride the massive immigration wave of Asians to New Zealand in the 90’s. That’s where I came into the picture.

They had great expectations for all of us kids. Most importantly they wanted me to be Christ-like: honest, kind and faithful.

Buuuut a pretty close second to that was to be smart: highly academic, very involved with extra-curriculars, savvy with money and to put in more effort in my work than other kids. “Rich Kid, Smart Kid” and “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” stared at me over my childhood years on the book shelf and whilst I never read them, the titles were enough for me to get the picture. A bit on the competitive side, my parents challenged me to improve every time I brought home my report. My first teachers would write:

Kelly is a delight to teach and is well-liked by her peers. She contributes well in class and cares for her friends. Kelly often struggles to finish what she has started but has potential to excel if she focuses on her tasks. Kelly also struggles with her hand-eye coordination and running during Physical Education. 

“You need to be in the top 3 Kelly,” Dad would say.

“You need to do maths homework 3 pages a day,” Mum would say in Korean, handing me several work books and a skipping rope.

“Also, you should be careful when you are around Sarah”.

Sarah was my best friend. Also a Korean-New Zealander.

It wasn’t Sarah’s fault really. She had confided in me that her sibling took pictures of her naked to make fun of her. We were six. I was alarmed that maybe Sarah’s sibling would take pictures of me and told my parents. They didn’t jump to any conclusions but advised me to play it safe. But it still scared me. Or maybe it just gave me an excuse.

 So as quickly as I traded my words I traded my friends. For some reason the Korean girls always stuck together so not hanging out with that particular Korean friend pretty much meant social suicide on the Korean front. I disbanded myself from one of my only connections to the Korean community and ran (haphazardly, almost out of breath) across the playground to play tiggy with my pale-skinned, round eyed, nose bridged friends.

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