Fresh Perspectives

As I write from Prague on this New Year’s Eve, I can’t help but wonder how I ended up here. Not literally… I mean I bought my ride here. But how in the world this year’s end has brought me to this current state of mind. I don’t have a particular name for it, but I just know that it’s filled with fresh perspectives…

On music. On how much I love it day in and day out, again and again. How my joy of making music has allowed me to grow my kids into musicians who will continue to be pushed (by the world, and me of course). How incredible it is to fall in love at first sight with each piano I see, and how enamored I am by each piano’s sound as I play and continue to play on countless pianos all over the world. But also on the impending urgency in recommitting to practicing and performing – beyond real, and something I need to stop brushing off. But on how regardless of everything else happening, music absolutely is the most powerful passion I have known and will continue to know.

On education. On learning from life’s book of everyday experiences and people. On the increasing importance of what I do with each day that I teach my children. Continuing to absorb knowledge because the thirst can never be truly quenched, and spreading curiosity to all those around me. Making sure that I am the best learner that I can be, and never relenting from the mission to expand my mind and thoughts. Stimulating and challenging myself, and everyone that I know for that matter. And on my kids, for pushing me to be not just any educator, but their educator.

On travel. On seeing more than I have ever imagined seeing in my whole life, let alone at the start of the year. Experiencing near deportation and actual pick pocketing, and keeping (relatively) calm in dire situations. Getting by with English, a not as universal language as I had previously thought. Reading somewhere that travel is the only thing that makes you feel like you’re 5 and unable to communicate beyond the bare minimum, and precisely feeling that way. Indulging in where wanderlust takes me to meet both kind and just different people. On opening my eyes to familiar historical landmarks and new cultures simultaneously. Learning to be alone with my thoughts in a foreign land. And that that time by oneself is limited, but precious.

On love – lost. On experiencing something I believed so much in, gone in a fleeting moment. Revisiting heartbreak in intense and painful bouts. On lusting for the slightest sense of security. Reminiscing and recollecting old thoughts and feelings only to be spoken to myself on the darkest of 2am dreams and nightmares. On listening to the fragility of my heartbeat in silence. Wondering where the future will bring me, but being in a state of uncertainty that is scary yet strangely okay. For now.

On family. Knowing that the brutal whip of my family’s words, both spoken and unspoken, remind me where I came from. On remembering that “I love you’s” are still a far, silent anomaly presented in warm, home cooked dinners. Seeing more breakdowns and loss of loved ones, and the harmful effect of living in the past. Realizing that I am not even close to being the daughter my parents want to love, but understanding deep down that they care. On hiding many truths, and hoping that perhaps one day they can be shared – even though it is not today. Thankful for the constant reality checks, in secrecy.

On friendships. On renewing those I have loved and always will. Seeking comfort in empathy for my failures, and celebrations for accomplishments of one another. Making new bonds with those who show the greatest generosity in the most challenging of times, without question or judgement. On confiding in old and new ears who lift me up with hope and break me down through laughter, silliness and bitter truth. Bringing me smiles and food, syncopated with ridiculousness beyond comprehension. On being warmed and feeling appreciated (aka fuzzy) by all of you reading this right now.

On myself. On loving who I am, and acting upon all means necessary to remind myself of that very fact. Exciting myself to explore and venture to all different corners, countries and continents. Lulling myself through musical lullabies played with one hand, but often two. On voracious eating and exercise, and sometimes sleep when affordable. On taking time as I remember from my cousin that one must make time to have time.

On time itself, because as one year ends, the next is simply a continuance of the old juxtaposed with the opening of the new. New thoughts, new ideas, new experiences. Or just, new. And perhaps even more fresh perspectives – for both me and you.

No FOMO, just real YOLO

Don’t miss out. But don’t have the “Fear Of Missing Out” FOMO syndrome that everyone seems to have nowadays. From the music festivals to the latest food trends to every new “cool thing” that comes out on Instagram, people have the desire to be in the IN more than actually experiencing whatever is trending. Did you really get the Cronut to eat it or to post the fact that you had it on social media (hoping for at least 50 likes with your witty hashtags)? Are you checking out the latest art exhibit to take that new profile picture or to be immersed and emotionally moved by the art?

In other words, do you “suffer” from FOMO, and as a result YOLO? To be fair, I think we all have a bit of YOLO and FOMO within us, and sometimes a little FOMO can push us to try new experiences we wouldn’t otherwise. But it’s when they cross paths for the wrong reasons that one should tread carefully. Here’s my breakdown:

YOLO: You only live once so therefore do whatever the heck your heart desires
Warning: Can lead to or become reckless behavior in matters of the head, the heart and the body.

FOMO: Fear of missing out so you have to do this THING, whatever that thing is
Warning: Can lead to YOLO to compensate for this phobia.

How much are you really YOLOing because of FOMO when you need to snapchat everything and find the perfect filters for your photos?

I challenge us all to live more in the actual moment, one captured by our physical beings, emotional reactions and our senses. To be in the space of our REAL and not digital world without our screens all the time. To interact with one another in the simplest and deepest ways possible. To see, feel, hear, touch, taste the world and just enjoying doing that without any need to feel good about it – it being the most natural human idea of experience. Now that’s real YOLO. Don’t miss out.

The hard days

Thursday was one of those hard days at work. You know what I mean – those days that you’re just trying to get through for the sake of getting through. I just wasn’t feeling in the mood to teach or be particularly energetic about what I was doing. And it wasn’t the snow, because I love snow. Really!

Anyway it was late already but I was still teaching a private lesson. In the middle of this lesson, my 11-year-old student had encountered octave chords for the first time and kept complaining about how much his hand hurt. Now FYI, I have grown up with tiny hands and was only able to reach an octave for the first time when I was 16 (yes you read that right). So you could only imagine how dismayed I was at him for giving up so easily when I KNEW he could do it. And for the next 30 minutes my ears heard nonstop complaints of “I can’t” and “it hurts.”

But I could not just move on. I would not. Here was a boy who could play octaves, but just believed that he couldn’t. I tried everything I could: talked about how he should not give up, how I want him to trust me and that I would never ask him to do something that would physically hurt him, how I was super jealous of anyone who could play octaves as a kid because I physically couldn’t, how I’m only tough on the students I really care about and I expect only the best, how he CAN do it and not to give up, and so much more. In all this talk though he actually played all the octaves probably close to 50 times. But he didn’t realize this, and instead I kept pushing for him to do it again. I told him I would not give up on him, that I absolutely refused to.

When he finally did play the octaves without stopping in between, I gave him a little praise. But only a little. “I’m proud of you for not giving up and I’m glad you are trusting me. And I’m not saying that this will be easy next time or the time after that, but it will get better over time.” And I think it finally got to him. I hope so.

Moments like these are huge for me. I can’t promise to be excited for what I do all the time (although I must say I usually am pretty excited), but if in my time with children I can show them and have them understand the unlimited potential of willpower, then not only am I am lucky to be the person who gets to do that, but I also feel a deep responsibility to do this to the fullest. If I can do that for even just one child of the hundreds I see each day, then all the hard days are worth the grunt and sweat.

Can I do it for more than one kid? How about for myself? Now the real challenge begins.

(For my classical music enthusiasts and fellow musicians, the piece tackled was Leopold Mozart’s “Minuet in F”)

What “Fresh Off the Boat” Means Tonight.

Tonight is such an important night in Asian American history as “Fresh Off the Boat” premiered on ABC as the first TV show about an Asian American family in 20 years. It is so exciting that the Asian American community – MY community – is unifying and watching our own lives played out on television.

“Fresh Off the Boat” was and is ME. I was that child who was made fun of for my foreign, “smelly” lunch that was not lunchables. My mom always questioned me when I was trying to be “too American.” My good grades were always scrutinized. Racial talk of white people and black people were and are typical conversations. Shopping in an American supermarket made no sense. My parents did not understand why I liked listening to black people’s music. Free meant FREE. School was always the number one priority. My mom would yell at and about everything no matter when, where or why. All my friends went to CLCs after school and learned an instrument… plus 2834056129384 other things. And my parents never expressed “I love yous” verbally, because that was sappy and meant nothing.

I don’t want to give it all away, but just know that for the first time I felt like I truly related to what I saw on mainstream media. To me, that means I wasn’t the only one who had to go through my struggles, and not only can others finally begin to understand that but we, as an Asian American community, can also start to EMBRACE them. It’s cultural, part of the Asian American story of growing up and therefore part of the American childhood – a part that is finally unfolding for the public’s eye and our own eyes like never before.

I really am finding difficulty describing the excitement I have about this show being out there for everyone to see, and it must be even a million times more amazing to be an Asian American child growing up right now and watching this show! It isn’t perfect, but we’re still figuring it out – it being our identity in life, and in the media. Just like our parents did when they came here – fresh off the boat.

On a new year

Throughout the holidays, new year’s celebrations and through my birthday three days ago, I’ve reflected a lot on who I have been, what I’ve accomplished thus far and the unknown of what’s to come. While I’m someone who can get trapped or lost in my thoughts for hours on end, I really do believe that taking the time to think about yourself is important for self growth.

With that said, here are some New Year’s/Birthday Resolutions I have for this year:

Be more fearless. I have some pretty irrational fears (heights, roller coasters, and any sort of thrill really) that I feel only developed as I got older and just more “scared” of things I don’t have control over. But why should I be? That’s not to say that I am suddenly going to want to ride Kingda Ka (though for the record I did ride it once), but to be more open to adventure. I recently took my first aerial yoga class where my instructor ended by asking all of us to reflect on how we felt when we were trying some of the new things today, and if that feeling we had is how we want to navigate the world. I won’t be absolutely fearless right now, but I’ll be more fearless than before.

Commit to calmness. In our busy lifestyles, we really do need to set aside time for calm and inwards soul-searching. For some people that may be daily reflection (I know I can think endlessly), and for others it may just be at the end of each month. Regardless, I believe that it is essential to set aside time specifically for purposeful reflection and calming ourselves down with deep breaths. It sounds simple – so we should simply do it!

Have serious fun. I’m stealing this one from a workshop I attended, where I had fun engaging with the material but also knew that it was serious work. I try to embed this into my teaching in my students, but I also need to remind myself this as well. Life is hard… but it is also FUN! The pursuit of my passion shouldn’t always be so serious and uptight, but a fun and enjoyable journey as well. I want to celebrate more of the little wins, in both my teaching and my playing, and in all the other things I want to do as well. I will have serious fun!

Be youthful. I’m not sure why people my age are always saying “I’m getting old” and whining about it. Being in our mid-twenties is such an exciting time! We are no longer bound by college; we are working and earning money or continuing to pursue or studies (or both), and we are able to explore the world. While we have the responsibilities of bills as all adults do, we are still such YOUNG adults with so much uncharted territory – for us to waste or to make the most of. We are the present and the future, and we need to step out of the routine and climb that mountain as fast as we can. The kid in me is still here – time to bring her out to play!

Treasure loved ones. Last but not least. It goes without saying you think, but I really need to appreciate everyone more than I do right now. A few years ago I experienced a moment where I felt like I was on the top of the world, but the people I wished were there to share that with me were not. If I ever experience such a moment again, I want to be surrounded by the people I love – but that requires me to first give so much more. I give a lot to my students everyday, but I need to give my love to my friends and family even more. And that’s not to say I want to give to get, but I want to give – to give only. Teaching has made me understand humility at a level I would have never otherwise, and in being humble and giving I hope that I can help the loved ones in my life understand how much they mean to me. Always.

Fearlessness. Calmness. Serious Fun. Youth. Love.

NOW.

Not for Sale

Very rarely do I watch anything anymore that makes fun of race, heritage or identity. But today I saw a movie that really made me furious.

Everyone knows the stereotypes. The model minority, the exotic Asian chick, the subservient woman to the man. But I am sick and tired of seeing any race portrayed negatively, for the sake of humor. Why should you make money off of what I look like? Why do you have to make offensive comments at my expense to perpetuate the “hilarity” of our identity in society?

I’m no angel and I may unintentionally speak certain stereotypes, but when such words are used with intent, albeit non-malicious, then the reaction I have is one of fuming rage.

I, as a simple human being, deserve better than to have my race made fun of. All of us do. I’m not sure why who I am or who anyone looks like is still a joking matter, especially with all the violence around us. And I am unsure of what action plan to take to help defy such socially accepted racially-based humor.

But all I know is that my race is not for sale. No one’s race should be. Not today, and not ever.

Silence

I live and breathe my work as a music teacher. It is so important to me, and it is completely okay to me (for now at least) the sheer amount of time I spend planning lessons, tuning instruments and building new ways for my students to access resources. I feel like I’m giving so much of my soul to my job, as most people are at my age, but I want so badly for my kids to be the best that they can be, to develop a love for music as deep as mine.

Never more in my life has silence been more golden at night. So I’m told it’s okay that at the end of a long day, I don’t particularly want to talk to many people. That it’s okay that on my “freer nights” that I just stay in and rest myself out of exhaustion from the work week as opposed to going out to “let loose.” I don’t know when exactly this happened, but a gradual shift to this lifestyle of my own R&R (rest and recovery) brought me to where I am today.
When I do have the energy though, I want to meet up with my friends. I used to think that a friend I could count on was one who I could call up on a Friday night to grab a drink and he/she would be there. Why does it have to always be a drink or a shot? So when instead it’s to grab a cup of tea and chat about life, suddenly where are the friends? Where are the people who enjoy talking about life goals and what their actions are in attempt to achieve them instead of wasting their time frivolously by going to a club to get  “wasted” (pun in the word much)? In fact, why is that how we celebrate birthdays? Why do you want to forget the one day of the year you are mentally ingrained to remember the most? Where are those friends you can count on to talk to when you are feeling frustrated with a job you love so much instead of those who are constantly obsessed with gossiping yet claim not to be talking crap about others? It’s not to say that I’m looking for work-obsessed people who don’t have fun at all, but I want to be spending my time with people whose main focus is not fun but on achieving success in their lives.
On a daily basis I am that anal person who is constantly thinking about my next steps, how to get to point #728264891, and if I’m doing the best I can to get there. I am constantly reevaluating myself and trying to be the best person I can be. But who can I share that with? Insert silence – the lonely kind. I have tried to be there for so many people in the past, but have those people been there for me? Do those people truly know what makes me tick, turn and rejoice? The fact is that most don’t. Instead I feel that I have so many convenient friendships with people who I have just known for a long time, but who I am starting to drift away from because of my own self development and focus on my career and priorities.
So perhaps I should look for some new friends, people who are as driven as I am and who will do everything possible to achieve their dreams. But it’s true what people say about being friends after college; it’s very difficult to meet new people who genuinely want to get to know you, because like a romantic relationship, a friendship takes time, effort and investment, and we want that instant gratification that just doesn’t come. But it also doesn’t mean that I need to just settle for how I feel right now.
I don’t have any particularly clear next steps, except that I will try to make new, true friendships. I want you to think about your own friendships. Are you truly happy with the friends that you have? In the wise words of the honey-loving bear,
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
– Winnie the Pooh (A. A. Milne)

Minds Deserve Better, Hardships Should Be Harder

A few weeks ago I went to see Aziz Ansari perform live at Madison Square Garden. Opening for Aziz was another comedian whose name I don’t remember. It took roughly 3.25 minutes until this man went for the stereotypical, crude and racist jokes. While the audience laughed at most of the cheap shots he made, I sat there in silent fury. I couldn’t believe that this comedian who was having his “moment” in Madison Square Garden in New York City, was making these jokes for his debut! I was also in shock with the audience who just cracked up at each low blow. I’m no angel and while a few bits did make me smile, I could only feel guilty with my own reflexes at condoning it all. Immediately after his set I turned to my boyfriend and asked very adamantly:

Don’t we deserve better? Don’t our MINDS DESERVE BETTER?!

My peace-loving boyfriend didn’t have much to say in response, though I figure most of the audience would not have a response to my demanding question… So alright then. I had paid hard-earned money for the seat I was in but this comedian surely set Aziz up for failure and I was just have to deal with another 1+ hour of shameful comedy.

Boy/Girl, was I quick to judge! Aziz hit home on so many topics, and in a thoughtful way. My favorite bit was when Aziz talked a lot about his immigrant parents – especially about how they truly worked hard and sacrificed loads for his upbringing, because my parents did too. I’m no comedian, but I’m sure Aziz could have easily defaulted to the “model minority” myth in the form of jokes with his routine. He didn’t though. We should reject humor that jabs negatively at race. It is outdated and offensive, and no one’s skin color alone should be the subject to gain a few laughs. As a society, we need to reverse the norm that racial jokes are okay. They are not.


Aziz kept his standup current and humorously made commentary on our “first world problems” today. “But what hardships would I have to share with my children?” Aziz asked himself. Aziz then went on to imagine telling a story of how his iPad died on an airplane from NYC to LA but luckily there was on-flight entertainment, though he would still have to endure the twenty minutes total of takeoff and landing time when he couldn’t use any electronics. What. A. Problem. We, the audience, were all cracking up so hard – knowing that that is so real and probably will be a pitiful “hardship” of ours to share with the future generation.

Aziz made me ask the same question to myself. Some of my students don’t have homes or enough food to eat or money to spend on extraneous things, but what really do I have to go through? While I supposed I lead a relatively luxurious life when it comes to the things I own, the food I eat and the devices I use, my current generation suffers from selfie obsessive compulsive disorder and definitely misses living in the moment in order to capture it instead, often for the purposes of sharing with others and showing off our lives. That, is our generational hardship. Simply living in the moment.

As for me? Hmm… I’m still trying to define the word hardship in terms of my own life. But isn’t it a bit ridiculous? That I have to think so hard about a hardship in my life? A true hardship should just come to mind immediately, and I almost feel like nothing I’ve endured is a “real” hardship. My hardships should be harder – and maybe that in itself is my hardship.

No Subject

Yesterday, I found out that one of my former students at the elementary school I teach at had passed away from an asthma attack. Today, I found out that one of my friends who I was very close to in middle school had passed away from an accident. I feel like I’m writing a “No Subject” email to the universe about my thoughts and emotions on these losses. The consecutiveness of the deaths certainly add to the weight of what I feel right now.

While I may not have known my 7-year-old student too well for the short time I taught him, it is incredibly tragic to think that I had outlived one of my students. My immediate reaction is that this isn’t the way life is supposed to be! People die when they’re old, not when they’re young! But I think we know all too well the reality of death, and its instantaneousness. Yesterday was the International Day of Peace and today at school, third graders put up Pinwheels for Peace outside the school gates to promote peace in our community and our world. I hope you were able to see these pinwheels and they were able to provide you with all the happiness and peace wherever you are now.

I still don’t know how to feel about my friend who I used to be so close to. So far, I can’t help but reminisce all those moments we had together, and while they were back in middle school/early high school, I remember all our talks and hangouts so fondly. From subway rides home to walks by the bay and late night AIM chats, but most importantly to me, your kindness and care. Hanging out with you was always so much fun. And you made me fall in love with rock music and even some metal. I always think of you when I hear “By The Way” (and other Red Hot Chili Peppers hits) or “Here In My Room” (and other Incubus songs), or pretty much anything in those genres of music.

I remember at one point I think in 8th grade, you were trying to figure out how to play the melody line of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” I’m sure you’ve got it now.

I’m not sure what else to say. In the same vein as this article, all I know is that sometimes we are so obsessed with following each other’s lives on Facebook without any intention of having an in-person real life meetup or conversation with that same person who we keep checking up on. It’s how connections die and friendships fade, even if we are wishing those people well. So here’s an open “I love you” to all of my friends I’ve had, still have, and will continue to make. I’ll be seeing you soon.

Recalibrate and Reset

Last week I started my second year of official full-time teaching. After a fun and restful summer, I was excited to get back into the swing of things and especially to see my returning students as well as meet 160+ new students I would be teaching this year.

I started off teaching this song called “Unlimited,” an absolutely fantastic back to school song. The first verse goes like this:

First day back
Here we go, here we go
I’ve got this new backpack
And this little part of me that wants to know
What am I gonna be?
What am I gonna do?
And will I fit inside this puzzle I’m about to walk into?
Am I gonna be alright?
Can I take a deep breath instead of only listening to the hundred million questions in my head?
First day back
Here we go… here we go…

Aside from literally talking about the first day back (to school, specifically), I thought about how appropriate it is for the month of September for everyone. When the hazy summer days start to drift away and instead comes the crisp autumn air and cool breezes, I feel like I, and many others I know, reset. It’s also an anxious time of starting anew with school, work, family – as marked by the changing season and environment.

With only four months left in the year it’s a great time to recalibrate one’s priorities and reconsider our usage of time. We often complain that we do not have enough time to do all that we want, but let’s take a moment to figure out how we can make time for everything we want to do. (Let’s not forget that time is human-made, malleable and only a marker of the day.) It’s a time to put a halt to all doubts getting in the way of success. It’s a season of “let’s do this” and committing to whatever “this” is. It’s a final push to accomplish anything that will satisfy the questions “Did I do my best this year?” and “Did I make the most of everything on my pathway to achieve?” It’s a chance to concentrate that inner drive and channel it into all that you do for yourself and for others, without any limitations. I taught my kids that being unlimited means that you can do ANYTHING.


I’m reaching up through the top of the sky today
I’m changing things till I finally find my place
Wanna go and get it
I’m gonna be unlimited
Turn up the sun let me see what it’s all about
Light up the stas till they dream away all the doubt
We’re just beginning
I’m gonna be unlimited

My kids will, too. Will you?