Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

How many places have you lived?

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , ,
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Seems like an innocent question, no? And for most, it’s pretty simple to answer.

But for me, it requires some clarifying: what do you consider a place? A town, a region, an actual building/unit? And what do you mean by “lived?” A place you consider a home? A place you spent a certain amount of time at? A place where you had a bed?

See for me, each of those results in a different answer. This question is laden with possible answers, much like the similar “Where are you from?” Things aren’t so straightforward when there are moves abound in your life. In different contexts, I use different ways of identifying with a place I’ve been. For example, Penn State University at State College in Pennsylvania, where we lived on Apple street in two graduate apartments. I choose to use any of the five potential ways to identify with that part of my life depending on what I’m connecting with. Is it the memory of fishing with my dad in the first apartment? The cooking I remember my mom doing and the teaching I remember my grandma doing in the second apartment? Is it the fact that Pennsylvania was the first area we lived in (in America) and because of that we had Amish friends who invited us to their home Christmas? Is it that we’d enjoy delicious ice cream and I enjoyed perusing the cool gemstone exhibit at the university? The one I connect least with is State College, but it comes up when discussing connections to cities.

So the next time you ask someone about the places they’ve lived, pay attention to how they express themselves. Do they talk about the general area, perhaps by country/state/province? Do they instead focus on the actual city, or even the town? These are interesting clues to which part of their experiences and memories they connect with more strongly. And when you answer the questions, consider how you feel most comfortable discussing it. You might learn more about yourself than you had paid attention to before.

In case you’re curious, here’s my tally…

If a place is a town: Shenyang, Jieshou, State College, Topeka, Ballwin, Brewster, Valencia, Westwood, York, Singapore (Clementi?), El Segundo, Centreville, Chantilly. 13

If a place is a region: Northeastern China, Anhui Province, Pennsylvania, Topeka, St. Louis, New York/Connecticut, the Greater Los Angeles area, Northern UK, Singapore, Northern Virginia/DC Metro. 10

If a place is a building or unit: dozens! Laolao’s home, Nainai’s home, Apple St. grad housing, across the street housing, Topeka townhouse, Topeka house, Laolao’s new place, St. Louis apartment, St. Louis house, Connecticut hotel, New York house, Valencia apartment, Valencia house, first year dorm, second year dorm, UK dorm, summer apartment, fourth year dorm, summer dorm, final quarter apartment, Singaporean friend’s, Singaporean coworker’s, Panda’s apartment, Panda’s summer dorm, El Segundo apartment, Virginia apartment, and Virginia condo. 27

If lived means where I’ve considered home: Shenyang, Jieshou, Penn State, Topeka, St. Louis, New York, LA, and Virginia. 8

If lived means where I’ve spent more than 6 months: Shenyang, Jieshou, State College, Topeka, St. Louis, New York, Valencia, Westwood, York, El Segundo, Centreville, and Chantilly. 12

If lived means where I’ve had to be since I couldn’t crash elsewhere: I’d say that pretty much is exactly the same as the building interpretation of “place” as mentioned above. 27 again

Of course, different combinations of the “place” and “lived” concepts yield different results. I went with what I felt most comfortable with. What would your lists look like?

Three decades

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , ,
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1985 – The year I was born. My dad had left China to go to grad school at Penn State. Not much else happened since it was quickly a new year!

1986 – The year my mom left to join my dad at Penn State.

1987 – The year I was raised by my grandparents and extended family. Of course I have little recollection of this, except for a vague memory of my grandma chasing me around the sandbox trying to feed me rice.

1988 – The year my future husband was born! Little did I know that there was this boy on the other side of the world.

1989 – The year I immigrated to reunite with my parents, who were basically strangers to me at that point.

1990 – The year I was studied by education grad students at Penn State as part of my child care. My mom even clipped an article about the research with a picture of me in it. I remember they had really awesome ice cream for a special event each year and I thought the minerals display was magical because the stones all seemed to glow in the dark.

1991 – The year we moved to Kansas and I started kindergarten. I learned that I was really good at memorizing the Peter Rabbit play. I believe this was also the year that my mom made me an awesome lion mane from yarn, so I could be a lion in a play.

1992 – The year we moved from a townhouse to a house house and I changed schools. This was just the beginning of being the new kid at many places!

1993 – The year I made my first best friend, who was a year younger than me. I loved going to her house to do something crafty like those baked art things. I believe this was also the year my dad got in a really bad car accident and I drew him a picture of us and our pet snapping turtle, which he had caught fishing at the lake.

1994 – The year my parents sent me back to China to stay with my other grandma for a year. I went to class with my cousin, who’s a year older than me, and was basically lost in most topics except for English (where I was far too advanced). I ended up never going to third grade in either China or the US. My language skills improved immensely according to my parents, though I feel I’ve always been pretty good! 😛

1995 – The year I returned to Kansas and went on to fourth grade as if I never left the school district. I had a special tutor who taught me cursive because that was really the one thing I missed in third grade. So I’m really good with cursive (if you can tell the difference between the Q and Z then you probably are too), yet who even uses it? I journaled in cursive for awhile just to keep practicing. Speaking of, this is the year I started my daily journal because I reeeeally wanted a diary that was being sold at the Scholastic Book Fair and my dad made me promise to write in it every day. Little did he know I’d keep doing that for 13 years, even when he and my mom would figuratively roll their eyes and question why I spent so much time doing it.

1996 – The year we moved to Missouri because my dad decided to leave his local government job and move to the private sector. I was doing well in school, so I was chosen to be a traffic monitor for the kindergarteners and I got to miss part of class each day to walk the kids to the buses. I think I still have the silver badge and orange belt I wore. I played a Native American in a school play about Lewis & Clark. Around this time I got my first cat Tom/Mimi in Kansas and then Jerriey in Missouri.

1997 – The year I had a pseudo boyfriend over the summer (this guy I had a major crush on who I told on the bus the last day of school – was started calling each other and I walked to his house to take walks with him and his bouncy ball). I started middle school that fall (and maybe this is TMI but I got my period after two years wondering when this whole puberty thing would hit). I think this is when we found a Chinese school for me to start attending on the weekends. Or maybe it was the following year?

1998 – The year I moved during winter break and the only time my education was split in the winter rather than the summer. My first half of seventh grade was in Missouri and my second half was in New York. This led to some incongruency in the classes I was taking and what I learned. At this point, I had chosen French for my foreign language after testing out Japanese, Spanish, and I think German. My school in Missouri had us learn all four language options in 6th grade so we could better choose one to continue with in 7th.

1999 – The year I settled in New York, found friends with a group of girls, and decided to join track & field. This was the stage when I decided that of my three career options, I most liked businesswoman. The other two options were doctor or engineer. I don’t know if my parents said this to me or I inferred that they’d want one of those. Well, this is when my dream to get an MBA was born! We got Jerriey a friend, my third cat Simon.

2000 – The year we all thought Y2K would shut down the world, so my parents and I went to Times Square for NYE to watch what would happen… and of course nothing did. Alas, it was still historic! I started high school and joined the founding swim team as well as NJROTC.

2001 – The year I took 11 classes – one on Monday nights, two alternated days, and the other either were during the remaining 8 class periods in the day. I did not have a lunch period (is that still legal?) so I’d grab something right before ROTC class. Usually a sandwich or Gatorade and Rice Krispies. Yeah, I’ve always had a penchant for junk food. One Tuesday morning, I was in math when the principal came in and said something to our teacher. I remember she was young and a strawberry blonde type. The shock on her face as she told us about the Twin Towers did not help me grasp the situation. I think she cried. We were all so stunned and in the next class, we just huddled and watched the TV looping awful footage. One of my classmates found out his aunt had died and many others weren’t sure of their impact. One of the planes must have flown right over our area just an hour earlier. I was grateful my mom was home and my dad was on business. We waited as the buses came to take us all home and then we sat glued to the TV, watching the same horrific scenes. I later learned that my mom felt she got lucky because she had nearly taken a job in one of the towers. Meanwhile, my dad had heard the plane flying way too low over his hotel on its way to the Pentagon. Closer calls than I ever expected, but thankfully still plenty out of the way for us all.

2002 – The year my parents and I moved from New York to California and I felt miserable. I did not like this new state at all and I was forced to choose between track and swimming. Swimming won out because my dad’s coworker had a daughter on the team. I also had to switch to AFJROTC because there was no Navy unit in the area. Luckily, I got to keep all my ribbons so I ended up having more than anyone else!

2003 – The year I learned that I was deterred by guys who showed interest in me. When my crush asked me to winter formal, I balked and never liked him again. I felt awful, but we reconciled and now he’s married to one of my best friend’s sister. I also had a foray into Christianity, but it turns out my “faith” was a feeling I couldn’t figure out and it was actually my feelings for said crush. Simon got lost while out playing and we never saw him again. 🙁

2004 – The year I graduated high school and started college at UCLA! I had the longest summer since we were the last school to start and I ended up joining Facebook to get a head start on making friends.

2005 – The year I interned on a movie, Wristcutters. I mean, it’s LA. I did enjoy it, but didn’t feel the need to make a career of it.

2006 – The year I pledged AKPsi and then interned at Smith Barney for the summer before moving to the UK to study abroad.

2007 – The year I absolutely loved being abroad, making international friends and living such a different lifestyle. I returned after a year and attended Monster DLP before interning at UCLA Live! and working as a product demonstrator (more about those jobs if you like).

2008 – The year I met Panda, became an Orientation Counselor, and graduated from UCLA. <3 Jerriey had been moved to Beijing with my parents and he died while we were on vacation in Cancun. </3

2009 – The year I moved to Singapore for a stint out there that was my first job out of college. When I returned in the fall, I interned for Opportunity Green and really got into sustainability.

2010 – The year I got my first “real” full-time, salaried job. I stayed with Panda in his apartment by UCLA most of the time and got to stay close to Bruin life.

2011 – The year I moved close to work and began to take yoga. Panda moved out to the greater DC area, though he was able to visit almost once a month. I got Missy and Molly!

2012 – The year I quit my job and decided to strike out on my own. I didn’t have much opportunity for growth at work, so they had kind of seen it coming. I was also struggling with not being able to see Panda as much anymore (he was traveling less) and I had long wanted to be an entrepreneur.

2013 – The year I transitioned from self-employment back to working at a company and officially moved out east. I learned that my entrepreneurial bug is something best satisfied with a co-founder. Solo work is so very lonely and not the type of environment I find invigorating. Panda got his Master’s degree and proposed to me on commencement day! We then found our dream condo and got the keys in December.

2014 – The year Panda and I got married with a simple ceremony at the courthouse with my parents, his parents, and his brother as witnesses. We’re not much for hoo ha. Early in the year, we moved into our first home and got Smokey from the shelter.

2015 – The year Panda and I had our 1-year anniversary “wedding” celebration with some extended family: my aunt and cousins and his uncle, aunt, and cousin. In January, I flew Missy from LA so she could live with us and Smokey would have a fur sister.

And that brings me to my 30th! This is the only time in my life when the dates match my age: on the 29th, I was 29 and on the 30th, I was 30. Fun, huh? Or am I just a numbers nerd? Whatever the case, I hear the 30’s are a time when you get into a rhythm of life and become more in tune with who you are. I certainly hope that I make good progress towards my goals and better understanding myself. I plan on making 2016 the year I went off to start my MBA. And there will be so much awesomeness to follow. 🙂

Language precision

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , ,
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If you speak more than one language, how do you feel when you speak the languages that are not your primary one?

I’ve always been a proud Mandarin and English speaker, with native proficiency in both. I started off speaking Chinese as a child, then learned English when I immigrated before I turned 4. Around the age of 5, my grandmother came to visit and taught a Chinese class in our living room. When I was 8, my parents sent me to China for a year, where I attended school and was immersed in the culture and language. That helped my Mandarin a lot! I came back with stronger language skills and would return to China during summer breaks up until middle school. Meanwhile, I had been attending Chinese school since 4th grade or so.

In high school, all that dwindled as I focused on my classes, extracurriculars, and preparing for college. My junior year, I had moved from New York to California and could not find a suitable Chinese school in the area. My education in Mandarin was paused until I took a class in college. Since then, it’s been 10 years! Unbelievable. I only speak Chinese for a few hours a year now and I find myself more and more shy about it.

One of the things I was proudest of as a child was my near flawless accent. I sounded basically like a native Chinese person and did not have the accent that many of my peers had. But after years of dormancy, my language skills have been slipping. I’m perfectly fine to use Chinese when I’m in China, but in the states I often use English when Mandarin would have worked. A few days ago, I suddenly realized that this was totally silly. I’ve been trying to speak to myself in my head to practice. I didn’t want those speaking to me to judge any misuse of phrases or slight pronunciation variations I might have.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter. They don’t care if I’m fresh from China or born here. In fact, I’ve always found that Chinese people get really excited when they see that I can converse with them in the language they are more comfortable with. It doesn’t matter if I stumble over reading Chinese or if I use slang that give away some of my background. I hear plenty of people speaking English with poor grammar and strong accents, but the only way to get better is to keep going. I’m going to take the same eagerness to practice Chinese that I have when speaking to my mom and extend that to any others who understand me. Screw speaking “perfect” Mandarin! Pretty soon, I might speak far too little if I chase too high a standard.

The creators, the inventors, the doers

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
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I’ve always admired people who can make something. Maybe it’s gadgets or maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s art or maybe it’s crafts. It just amazes me when they can take their skills to produce an end result that we can use or enjoy again and again.

For years I wished I could be a creative. Come up with things, produce things that others would admire me for. In fact, recently I’ve been contemplating YouTube videos. Putting content out there that people could listen to and relate to, now that’s creation! I looked in admiration at all types of people who had found their passion as a child, couldn’t stop creating, and eventually followed a path to put out amazing things. “What about me?” I thought as I reflected on skills I wish I had, like making soap or cooking or singing or dancing.

Yet all this time, I never realized that I have been creating. This very blog, in fact.

For some reason, because it’s not something I can open up an Etsy shop for or record a video or audio file of, I never considered it creating. Why did I not see it earlier? This IS content, and truly one of the original forms. And I (*gasp*) am creating it! Whoa.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been writing for so much of my life that it became the norm. I don’t even notice all I’ve written. At 10 years old, I began keeping a daily journal. 13 years later, I stopped upon meeting Panda, but by then I had been blogging on the side. So then blogging started to take hold until it became the primary way I kept track of my life. I’d share thoughts and experiences and now it’s become a place for my memories. Whenever I want to share something with friends, I can easily do a search of the 2300+ entries on my blog to pull up a post. It’s very much a part of me and an extension of me.

This is what I’ve realized: I am creative. I write blog posts. I am inventive. I constantly think of new topics to share. I am a doer. I built and manage the website for it all.

#proud

On not feeling good enough

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , ,
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We all get to a point where we feel like a failure. Maybe you haven’t gotten there yet. But the longer you sail through life without smacking into a wall, the harder it will be to adjust and overcome.

That’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

Academically, life was pretty much a breeze up until high school. It got a bit tougher then, but I still graduated in the top 10% of the class (or was it 5%?). I got into a respectable college – UCLA – and began my undergraduate career. The first year, things were pretty good. I managed to get over a 3.5 GPA so I made the Dean’s Honor List and joined ALD/PES (the National Honor Societies). My second year, the grades slipped a bit. Perhaps I was distracted by pledging for my fraternity, AKPsi. My third year, I studied abroad in the UK and my grades kept going down. I figured that the different grading system and structure might have contributed. When I came back for my fourth year, the trend only continued. At this point I might have begun to realize that as classes got progressively harder, I wasn’t adapting.

It took me a long time to figure out what was happening. The lesson I learned about myself is that all those years of doing it on my own and having learning come easily did not prepare me to know how to handle adversity. In one of my last classes before graduating, I was actually afraid of failing the class. An absolutely scary prospect for someone who spent most of her education getting A’s. So in desperation, I asked my roommate for some help. She was also in the class and got the concepts way better than me. And you know what? She was able to explain things to me in a way that really helped my understanding! It was amazing.

Ironically, when I was younger, I tutored and mentored children. I did not realize the impact that could have had on them. I figured I was just helping out, spending some time with them and sharing some knowledge. It wasn’t until I was on the other side of the table that I learned the power of extra help. I’ve never been tutored in my life. I’ve never gone to the teacher for help. I can’t really remember truly engaging in a study group either. I thought study groups were for people to sit in the same area and do their own work. After over 15 years of schooling, I finally began to see the impact of having support.

It’s not like I didn’t know about support being out there. I just never associated it with myself. I had never learned how to reach out and use the resources out there. I hadn’t known to ask for help.

Is that strange? Am I alone in this? Or perhaps it is more commonly an Asian thing?

Whatever the case, looking back at my college track record makes me feel pretty awful. Had I known how to empower myself with better learning, what would I have gotten? Could I have graduated with honors, with distinction? Panda’s college story tells almost the exact opposite story. He started off a little lower than me, but as he got into the upper division courses, he got better. He was hitting his stride with classes in his major that was really fit for him. I wasn’t finding the joy in diving deeper into my chosen majors. Maybe I should have double majored in something else. Maybe I should have majored and minored instead. But maybe it was that one factor all along, that I just didn’t know how to ask for help or how to identify when I needed it in the first place.

I’ve learned since then and I hope it’s not too late to apply that to my next academic pursuit. I still find it hard to reflect on how I’m doing and get help when I need it. Being aware of the issue is only half the battle. It takes a conscious effort to continually address it so it’s not neglected.

Now I certainly hope that you don’t have to face extreme adversity in your life. Yet by experiencing that low in life, you learn a lot and you grow from that. So in a way, I hope that you do face challenges, so you can build up your resiliency.

In fact, that reminds me of when Panda failed for the first time. It was a training program and he made a mistake that meant he didn’t pass the course. He had to do the whole program over again at a later date. I remember he called me sounding so dejected. He did not handle it well. The amount of stress and worry was far more than necessary, but I think because he hadn’t really experienced failure before that, he didn’t know how to deal with it. It just made him feel like he couldn’t do it at all. Luckily, we talked through it, did not let it get out of proportion, and built up his confidence again so he could pass the next time. It really takes experience to go through something like that and learn the hard-won lessons of how to be better.

So if you ever feel like you’re a failure or you’re not good enough, remind yourself of what you can learn by pushing through it and growing with it. The lessons from the experience will be more valuable than the ultimate outcome. That’s what I’m doing now as I apply for b-schools. It’s tough but it will be worth it!

Touching

laelene Posted in general blog, relationships,Tags: , , ,
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Monday night I was chatting with my dad about how grandpa was going to be visiting him in Beijing in a few months. He mentioned that grandpa had given me a ton of money for my wedding and that he’s so happy I’ll be married. That was so sweet of him. In my family, money is not really important – it exchanges hands rather freely and nobody hoards it all selfishly. Everyone earns their keep and family members help each other out as needed. The giving of money is really more symbolic than anything. It’s such a touching thing for my grandpa to give me money because he wants to celebrate. It’s completely unnecessary but a really nice gesture. I don’t know why it affects me so much, but it had me gushing tears.

For some reason, whenever I talk to my dad about my grandpa, I get all teary. It’s this crazy weird emotional thing where all the joy of unspoken love is just too much to keep inside.

My grandpa is undoubtedly the patriarch of our family. He is the father to four grown children, each with 2 kids of their own (well, except my father, with just me). We grew up having family gatherings each summer to celebrate his birthday. It was always a big deal, and we’d so some of the traditional Chinese things, like offer a peach bun. My cousins and I would sit at the children’s table as the adults marveled at the years gone by (and how big we were all getting). I always was meeting new relatives at these things (someone from each family including his nieces and nephews had to send a representative to be respectful to my grandfather, after all).

As a child, I would only spend a few months in China before returning to my American life. Most of my time I did not get to spend with family. What precious time I did have I wanted to hang out with my cousins (they were more fun, you see). I never sat with grandpa and had long chats or got to know what was in his mind or heart. We just aren’t that type of family. I have a deep respect and love for him that doesn’t require me to spend tons of time with him or say certain things just to feel or express it. He sits in the tenderest part of my heart.

One year when I went back to China, I was presented with an essay he’d written. In his 80s, he decided to put together a little summary of our family history. He outlined his family lineage all the way through to my cousins and their children. It was such a precious thing. My aunt sat with me and patiently helped me read through it (my Chinese isn’t great, but manageable). Maybe I get my sentimentality from him. That’s exactly the sort of thing I like, knowing some of our past. Now I have a full account of his parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren. It was then that I learned that I would have had another uncle, but he drowned as a child. Wow – the quietest bombshell ever.

Sometimes I do ache for the time that we could have spent together. What would it have been like to grow up being able to visit all the time? What I do know of him is that he loved raising birds. Whenever I was there, he was always checking on his birds, making sure they were doing well. He was enterprising too – in retirement, he found activities to keep his mind sharp even as his body started to weaken. He’s a bit deaf and his eyes are getting droopy, but he’s still got his mind and that’s a blessing.

I see him clearly in my dad and uncle, and maybe that’s why I have similar feelings about my dad. As the only male I grew up with, he was somewhat intimidating but a strong figure I respected. We are not much into expressing ourselves, but in adulthood we’ve started to explore ways to be more affectionate. Funny enough, digital interaction has allowed us to open up more. When I see him I see all the sacrifice, the hard work that he has given. It’s so touching how much he has done to make my life far less difficult. I don’t see him much, but he’s certainly in my heart too.

My father and grandfather’s actions are so subtle in their love that many may miss or dismiss it. But for me, they speak volumes. Ours are not relationships of hugs, praise, and hoopla. It is a quiet, joyous love that touches the heart deeply. And sometimes that’s a little overwhelming.

Where are you from?

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , ,
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It starts off as an innocent (and usually simple) question. “Where are you from?” asks the person meeting you for the first time. For most people, a city or country name will suffice to bring about a certain level of understanding regarding their background.

But for me, this is a truly complicated question. Do you mean where am I from ethnically? Do you mean where I am from as in where I’m living right now? Do you mean where I am from as in where I grew up? Do you mean where I am from as in where I identify with most and consider home? I mean, really, this is a loaded question dressed up in innocence. The poor people asking me that question never know what’s coming until they’re knee deep in my explanation. So let’s break this down bit by bit.

To start, the easiest answer I have is when I am traveling abroad. Then I can say either the US or China, based on if the asker wants to know where my family heritage is or where I grew up. Since I’m in another country, I don’t have to explain in as much detail and general answers like that work. But when I’m in the US and people ask me, it’s too broad to just say “United States” – they’ll want to know what state, what city even.

Where am I from? If you mean my ethnic background, my familial “roots” then the answer is China. More specifically Northern China and even more specifically, Shenyang in Liaoning Province. This drills down enough that those familiar with Chinese geography and culture will know right away some basic things: I am from a Mandarin-speaking area, I probably have some Mongol in me, and there are certain slang terms specific to my region that I may use. This also explains why I often get mistaken for Korean – we are very close to (both) Korea(s) and people living in the same region tend to look alike. However, this doesn’t mean I’m truly Chinese. I’m certainly nothing like those who grew up there.

Where am I from? If you mean where I’m living now, then I would have said California, Southern California, Los Angeles, or Valencia. Do I feel like I am Californian or an Angeleno? Yeah, by now I do, since I’d been in the area on and off for a decade. I didn’t grow up here though, so I don’t consider it anything more than my most recent home that felt like it. For now, I’m still not connected enough with Virginia to think of this as my real home, even if my beloved condo, husband, and cat are here.

Where am I from? If you mean where I grew up, oh boy. I didn’t grow up in one place – which do I choose? I really can’t pick, since I spent an average of 3 years in each throughout my childhood before moving on to the next. First, 3.5 years in China, then about 2 years in Pennsylvania, then 3 years in Kansas, 1 year in China, 1 year back in Kansas, 2.5 years in Missouri, 3.5 years in New York, 4 years in California (2 in Valencia, 2 in Westwood/UCLA), 1 year in England, 2 years in California, 0.5 years in Singapore, 2 years in California again (El Segundo), and then back and forth between CA and Virginia for 1.5 years until my most recent 1 year in Virginia. Do I feel Mid-Western, as my 7 years there would suggest? No. Do I feel like an East Coaster? Certainly not. Do I feel like a West Coaster? Only in more recent years.

Where am I from? If you mean where I identify with the most, where my childhood memories are, where I consider home… I really don’t know. I can’t pick a single place, whether a city, a state, or even a region. For my adult life, it has mostly been the greater Los Angeles area, within about 50 miles. But my childhood? There is just too much of a story there to give a simple answer. And then of course I am now officially moved to Virginia, giving me yet another piece to the identity puzzle.

Who knew such a seemingly straightforward question would create so much havoc in my attempt to answer.

It’s lonely at the top

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , ,
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Or the edge or the outskirts, or whatever you want to call it. Anyone who’s an outlier can tell you how lonely and alienating it can be. No matter what sets you apart, if you are extraordinary, it’s hard to find others like you. Maybe you’re exceptionally talented at a skill. Maybe you’re super duper smart. Or maybe you’re gorgeous to most of the world. While on the surface these seem like great things, they can really take a toll on someone.

Take prodigies, for example. They rise to the top quickly and find themselves with few peers to understand them at their level. How do you connect with someone when your thought processes are so different from each other? When your interests don’t include pop culture and sports, but quantum physics or chess strategy? Or maybe you are interested in sports, but not in following this and that team because you are hardcore focused on training for your sport, be it diving or gymnastics. The best of the best often find themselves further and further from mainstream society.

Ever hear the song Lucky by Britney Spears? It kind of reminds me of that. People see some big star who “has it all” but behind closed doors, you’ve got a sad, lonely soul. Things are rarely as they seem, are they?

Even in attractiveness, being better than normal can be a bad thing. You’ll likely be victim to assumptions that aren’t true, or at the least be overshadowed by your own looks. You can use that to your advantage, but then the focus is more on you as a thing and not so much as a person. People lose sight of your personality, intelligence, work ethic… and just see you. Then they start ignoring you when your good looks fade.

I think my mom was right when she never wished for me to be exceptional beyond my peers (just among them). I mean, it’s good to be better, but when you’re surpassing everyone… you lose your chance at a normal life. And really, don’t most people just want to be “normal”? It’s so rewarding to have deep, true human connections. There are the few who will rise to the top, but for most of us, what greater happiness is there than a sense of belonging? It brings satisfaction, it creates valued relationships, and it boosts your self-confidence. It’s easy to get distracted chasing big dreams only to find that they don’t provide that same sense of satisfaction. That when the spotlight dims, the money is gone, and the looks fade, you’re left with nothing.

I’ve never truly wanted to be at the top. It’s a wonderful fantasy, but when it comes down to it, I value other things far more. It’s just too lonely up there.

The one I didn’t know

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , ,
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It came as quite a shock to me.

My grandmother had given me a stack of photos to share with my mom and as I flipped through the oldest ones, I found myself staring face to face with a joyous man. Earlier pictures had shown him as a young man in black and white, but this picture… it was thirty years later, just months after I was born. And suddenly it struck me that this was my grandfather, the grandfather I had one vague (possibly fake) memory of. The one who saw me off when I was three and a half, headed to a great new world to join my parents in Pennsylvania, and never saw me again.

grandmother holding granddaughter and grandfather holding on to grandson

Hi gramps. That’s grandma holding me and grandpa holding onto my cousin.

I sat there absorbing the shock as I realized… I never really knew what he looked like. Here I am 28 years old; how did I get to this age without ever knowing his face? Of course I must have known him briefly when I was a baby, but I have no memories of that. The one fleeting memory I think I have was when I was leaving. He sent down a basket from the second floor, I think with something we had forgotten. He was alive when I was born and still alive when I left China for America as a toddler. Maybe I could have known him then. Now that I think of it, was the reason that my grandmother was the only one who came to visit us at Penn State because he had already died? I had no impression of time back then. I vaguely remember watching my parents receiving the news when I was around 5 or 6. Phone calls to and from China were a rare commodity. We couldn’t afford long distance, so it was a pretty big deal. The news wasn’t good – a heart attack. And just like that, any hope of knowing grandpa was gone.

What happened after that? It’s all a blur to me. All I know is that when I was almost too young to remember, my grandfather passed away and I never got a chance to really build memories with him. It was about four years later that I first returned to China again, long after he was gone. In my family, we don’t really talk about the past, so I never asked about him. I didn’t even know who to talk to and I figured I’d learn more over time. Many years ago, my mother took me to his grave. I remember taking a bus far away from the city, to a neat cemetery lined with headstones. I don’t know how my mom made her way to his headstone through the long rows, but I think she had a map. Since then, I haven’t been back. Next time I’m taking notes so I can find it again (though I think that year I actually wrote down some notes in my journal, if I can dig it up).

black and white photograph of young chinese couple

My maternal grandparents in 1956, probably soon after they got married.

Now that I actually think of it, it’s so very sad that I let all this time go by without trying to know him. I had no idea there were any pictures of him. We don’t have many pictures from the 80’s and earlier, so I thought I’d seen them all. But now that these have surfaced, I’m realizing that I could have known his face all this time. This smiling man who looks so kind, so amicable. I wish I knew what his personality was like, what he sounded like. I know that he was an excellent student and accomplished professional, but what about home life? Was he a good cook? Did he enjoy playing chess? Did he love animals too? I wonder if I got my smile from him, and perhaps my penchant for reading as a child. Now that I have a face to put with this fuzzy idea of my grandfather, his death seems so much more real. I’ll have to figure out when the 30th anniversary of his death is, so I can make it out to see him.

 

The academic cost of moving

laelene Posted in stories,Tags: , , , , , ,
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When I was growing up, my parents and I would move every few years (no, I’m not a military brat nor are we missionaries – the two most common guesses). As a kid, this was never really an issue – I’d just help pack up my stuff and settle into another new room. I’d go to a new school with new teachers and new friends. Life would continue on its merry way and my experiences expanded further. I even went to China for a full year of schooling when I was 9 and came back without skipping a beat. But then came 7th grade.

We were living in St. Louis at the time. I’d been there for 5th and 6th grade. I don’t know when I found out, but sometime in 7th grade my dad found a better job out in New York. We’d be moving over winter break. In a way, I was glad – there was one class I was really struggling with and I was convinced I’d get my first C in the class. That’s a seriously awful grade for a straight-A student with a Chinese-American upbringing. I don’t know if I would have actually done so poorly, but I was glad I’d never have to know! The move to the New York school system meant that that particular class would get lost in the shuffle; there was no equivalent course at my new school, so it wouldn’t transfer and count for a grade.

I thought my problems were over with this fresh start, but boy was I wrong. My counselor at the new school was concerned with placing me in the advanced track in case I had a gap in education (this was only for science and math classes). She convinced my mom and I that the best course of action would be to take the classes for the normal track and then test out of it before starting high school. So I finished up 7th grade and the next year came and went as well… my counselor had left by that point, so when I went to find out how to test back into the advanced track, I hit a wall. There was no such test to be found. I was stuck taking algebra while my peers in advanced placement had moved on to trigonometry (or something like that… the details are fuzzy now).

girl sitting at hotel desk studying with textbook, homework, and graphing calculator

Studying in our Houston hotel room.

What I do remember clearly was that I blazed through my freshman math class with 100% on all homework and an infuriating 98 or 99% on the final. My teacher loved me, probably because I made him feel good as a teacher. At the end of that year, I went to him and asked what I needed to know for the follow year’s math. He got me a book and told me which chapters I’d need to focus on and my mom spent the summer tutoring me. I even brought all my materials with me when we went to visit my dad down in Houston, where he’d been working for awhile. His company headquarters had moved and we were planning on moving there to join him eventually (though we ultimately ended up going out to Los Angeles instead).

Before I started my sophomore year, my mom and I went to the principal and counselor to present all the work I’d done (fully documented in the form of homework and tests). We convinced them to let me take the next level of math with a compromise: they said I still had to sit in the class I was “skipping” due to New York state laws that force you to spend a certain number of hours in that classroom. So I doubled up on math that year and “caught” back up. I don’t remember what happened in science. I wonder if ultimately it made all that much of a difference in my education. The one main component was that I was surrounded by less motivated peers in the normal track, whereas when I got back into the advanced track classes, I was surrounded by overachievers.

Sooo the moral of the story is not to move your kids around in the middle of a school year if you care about high academic performance. Between the different school systems in America, you never know what a transition will do. At least try to hold off until the summer so there’s a much more clean break. I’m going to plan on not moving anytime during the middle and high school years for my kid(s). It’s a whole lot harder to get caught up after the fact and with each step you miss, it could set you back that much more.

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