Willpower

My old man calls it “Habit.”

My dad lost some 30 pounds in a year since he retired. He did it by watching his diet and walking some 13,000 steps, plus 150 pull-ups and push-ups, every day.

My dad used to be a chubby driver for a state-owned company. He would wake up at 4:30 every day, made me and my mum breakfast and hit the road by 5:45. His job required him to be in the office by 9 and it would usually take him around 30 to 40 mins en route.

“Why did you get to the office so early?” I asked him one day.

“I have better place to sit in than traffic if I can avoid it.”

That’s my dad. For someone who grew up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, my dad wasn’t terribly well-educated on paper. He fixed it with his air-tight work ethic and street-smart.  Even after he’s retired at home, he still gets up at around 5:30 (my cat, strangely, is his alarm clock) to make us a full breakfast from taro to porridge, and then hit the park (his gym) nearby and exercise for almost an hour and come back to two women (my mum and I) in bed still sound asleep.

Confession time.  I, unfortunately, didn’t inherit daddy’s devilish work ethic, his will power, and his consistency… In my defense, I’ve been having a lot of stress as long as I can remember. My biological clock has been a mess since this summer, if not earlier.

And yet, I want to be able to say, “Like father, like daughter.” But right now, I often stay up late rushing to finish bits and pieces of my day’s work when I promised myself earlier in the day that I would go to bed early, starting today.

I have more respect for myself when I’m discipline and rise at dawn everyday. Who doesn’t? What I see in my dad is this mystery thing called “Willpower.” My old man calls it “Habit.” Some 40 years of stainless-steel habit oiled by fear that he may lose his job if he were even seconds late for work.

I often don’t change until I hit ‘rock bottom.’ But I can’t afford to wait for me to fall that far. I have to start now. I hope it’s tomorrow. But then, after tomorrow, there will be another one.  But, no, YZ, let’s just start.

And I will have my dad to be my alarm clock as long as my cat is punctual. We know who to blame if I don’t rise early.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Chinese Single’s Day

Shopping can be therapeutic after all.

November 11th… 11/11… One-one-one-one…

Aka. Single’s Day, the day where a bunch of single people moped on and offline.

Singles’ Day, or Bachelors’ Day, originated at Nanjing University in 1993. Singles’ Day celebrations spread to several other universities in Nanjing during the 1990s. via Wiki.

Then Taobao (under the Alibaba Group, the Chinese Amazon) started the “Double 11” campaign in 2012, coping its Western cousin Black Friday, where lots of things go on sale at insanely low prices. It did so-so that year. Media mocked Taobao’s wacky marketing strategy even though it sounded rather catchy.

But the following year, the year after that and so on, more and more people, sellers and buyers, joined the party. When word got out that on Double 11 Day one gets the biggest saving of the year, everyone is psyched.

In 2012, I was in Shanghai doing marketing and branding. I saw it from inside out and outside in, as a skeptical consumer and a skeptical marketer. As we come to the end of 2018, it has been going on for six years. Double 11 is only getting stronger.

So much so that Alibaba coined “Double 12” (December 12). It caught up instantly. More online platforms like JD.com tried to emulate the campaign. Lo and behold, the term “Double 11” was trademarked by Alibaba on December 28, 2012.  The company threatened legal action against media outlets that accept advertising from competitors that use this term.  They are fun to play with, but deadly to play against.

By now, 11-11 just doesn’t feel like Single’s Day any more. It has officially become Shopping Spree Day. “The event is now nearly four times the size of America’s biggest shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.” according to Wiki.

Guilty as charged, I stayed up late today till after midnight just so I could join the other hundred million online shoppers in China… Of course, people will complain the next day, “Yeah, I did save a little. But it’s not worth staying up late like this.” And yet, by next year, like every year, people would do it all over again like clockwork.

Why did I do it if I sounded so ‘smart and sophisticated.’

First off, some things I’ve been planning to buy are slightly cheaper on Double 11. So why not wait a little till Nov 11?

Second, there are things I did want to order early but I couldn’t place the order as the dates got so close to Double 11 when the prices were changed ‘back’ to freaking ridiculous high “original price” just so they can make the savings on 11-11 seem even more…

No matter how much you save as a consumer, no matter how much you make as a seller, we are all playing Alibaba’s game.  Since Alibaba is the House, it will report and boast the next day in the news that “this year we have made some trillion yuan” which gives the the country a proper moment to say, “See? Our economy is greater than ever. No worries, people.”

It takes a group of delusional people, myself included, to be willing to play this game. But then, in China, one thing you don’t lack is people. One word that would get you undivided attention and unified action is: discount.

What’s the upside? Well, as a single person, I can speak for us: we don’t feel that lonely on this day anymore. We are so busy buying, we don’t have time to feel melancholy.  Shopping can be therapeutic after all.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

First Amendment

I thought in America, there is a thing called First Amendment. And it’s quite a big deal.

The script that I wrote for a student director got some attention after their chair praised it. Two more students got in touch with me today to work on their stories. It was good news, because I need as many credits as I can get for my artist visa application.

Then, I was on the phone with them, separately, for a total of three hours… Okay, I know if I were a lawyer, I’d a) never made partner; b) got out of business before I had one.  But, seeing it through the twisted lens of a screenwriter, it was actually not unrewarding.

First off, I see myself in them as a fresh film student taking on a mission impossible.

Then, I realized that these two new ‘potential clients,’ especially the latter, hadn’t thought out her story yet. I told her to speak with as many people as possible to get as many ideas as she could to understand her story better. And most important, what kind of ending she wants, what type of feeling she wants to provoke.

With the other slightly more advanced soon-to-be-client, I told her to transfer more stuff into words instead of sending me ‘mood shots’ because I’m not her cinematographer.

With my current client, she shared with me something revealing. Our story’s ending goes against the #MeToo movement. It seems that all men dig it, and all women hate it so much that they almost started a riot. The instructor pitched my client a sanitized version where the heroine rode the high way in the end.

I saw it coming. Hashtag Feminist Saves the Day.

Here is the thing, what do you call a writer who writes off her characters’ own intentions just because her own political viewpoints are just too fucking important?

What about… tyrant writer?

When you have all the setups towards the ending that shall run its course, but you choose get something else totally out of character because “it feels politically correct.”

  • As the audience, you won’t yell: holy shit, I didn’t see it coming.
  • You’ll be more like: this is total BS. Then throw your TV/laptop/iPad etc. off the window like Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook.  Because that’s how mad you are.  I get it.

If I have one thing to be grateful of my UCLA Film School experience, it is that no instructor tells the students what’s more right to write about according to the current political climate, or what character you should be writing because according the instructor’s monologue, she is lonely and she wants you to create more imaginary friends so they can have tea with her and her 15 cats.

But I’m a pro, so I promised my client to write the ending that would please her instructor. Plus, she would show both to the chair…

I thought in America, there is a thing called First Amendment. And it’s quite a big deal.

Okay, these students are from China. But they paid their tuition in full, not on some sketchy loans.  So treat them accordingly, okay?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

 

Asian hair

The most likely to fuck up

Do you know Asian hair is the most difficult to cut?

Four words: Black. Straight. Thick. Coarse.

And I was, all of the above. Plus I have more than three swirls in the back.

Why is it so hard?

  • Because it’s black, it’s heavy visually.
  • Because it’s straight, every cut shows. You can’t afford too many fuck-ups.
  • Because it’s thick, you need to trim a lot without making the client look like he just had a round of chemo.
  • Because it’s coarse, it tends to blow up if you never studied this type of hair cuticle.
  • And lastly, because you are dealing with swirls, you need to engage probably three or more different techniques (concave, overdirection, blending shears) to cut around or along.

 

In Shanghai, finding a legit hairdresser is not so much a scarcity issue, but more of a budget and vicinity issue. However, it was a nearly mission impossible when I moved to LA in 2015.

Why didn’t I grow my hair long like other Chinese women living abroad? Well, long hair was too much work for me because of my cursed greasy scalp. For the record, I did grow out my hair three tries before I called it a total strike-out.

I heard more than a few times how scarce good Asian-hair hairdresser was in the US. Then I arrived. It was, well, by and large the truth.

Here are some observations and lessons-learnt:

  • Unlike Shanghai where men dominate the hairdressing business; in LA, there are many more women cutting hair.
  • At first I went to a hair salon school for my monthly trim. It was cheap, good, although time-consuming. Because the hairdressers there were students who just began to learn cutting hair. I was their guinea pig.
  • Either the students cried for their sensei to save my hair, or I would end up screaming for supervisor to rescue me from some ballsy students’ attempts to be Edward Scissorhands IX.
  • Overtime, I learned a bank full of haircutting jargons, in order to convey what I want.
  • After I started working, I found a new hair salon in Westwood by a Vietnamese American couple, I gave it a try. It was expensive plus tip. But totally worth the money and the time. The hairdressers not only learned their techniques at the Vidal Sassoon Academy that is known for stylizing short hair, they also had trainings in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Before the Westwood joint, the owners used to cut hair in San Gabriel, where the Chinese populated.

 

In order to be the best, you need to cut as much Asian hair as possible. I asked my new Shanghai hairdresser today when a protégé can really start cutting hair that is not off the mannequin heads or their empathetic friends. He replied, “Three years. He can start cutting clients’ hair but it doesn’t mean he’s any good yet.”

Let’s do the math here:

  • You get a steady stream of Asian hair,
  • On an hourly basis,
  • Within a shop that opens from 10 am to 10 pm,
  • You take one day off per week,
  • You work through holidays like the Chinese New Year…

How much better and how much faster would you be comparing to the students in the LA beauty schools who may very well flip the fuck out when I’m assigned to them? And some really did…

The next question I’m thinking is:
So, where is the ‘Asian hair’ in the trade of screenwriting?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

The mid-term

The blessing of choices

So what exactly does a Chinese person residing out of the US should care about the US mid-term election?

The answer is… nothing and everything.

Since the case against Brett Kavanaugh, I found myself more intrigued by the US First Amendment. That is, the freedom of speech, which is something that is not to be discussed from I come from.

From the recommendation of my US friends, I started following Rachel Maddow and late night talk show hosts mostly Stephen Colbert. I’ve been quite updated on a daily basis of the development of the Trump Administration, his latest jaw-dropping actions and their consequences. (My guilt pleasure…)

The more I watch, the more I’m enthralled by the notion that people have the right to voice their counterarguments and the right to elect someone else. Even that person is the dude who runs the country.

That gets us to the mid-term. What I’ve observed as an outsider may sound rather superficial.

Just so you know, I’m over 18. But I’ve never voted in my entire life except for high school or college student body administration seats… I know what you’re thinking, just shut up.

So, knowing that voting can make a huge difference to people’s healthcare, taxation, livelihood is unthinkable from where I come from. We only get to complain about the aftermath, in private, behind closed doors, amongst trusted folks who we know can be trusted. Say, my parents.

With all that being said… That you guys, the American citizens, can exercise your right every two years, is astounding to me. Before Tuesday, I called a friend of mine and asked him to send a photo when he went to the voting booth. I asked the friend and others in detail what it looked like, what was the actual process. If you’re not in the country in person, how can you do it by mail?

I felt just like my podcast guest this week coming to the US as an eleven-year-old going to the supermarket for the first time, seeing aisles and aisles of choices for food, from whole-fat to 2% to none-fat, from whole grains to gluten-free, from paleo to vegan…

Maybe that’s why Chinese don’t have many allergy cases. Simply because we can’t afford to. It’s too expensive to be gluten-free, too ridiculous to be lactose-free. We are not capitalists, but nothing is free.  To get onto Google, Twitter etc., you pay hush-hush premium.

The consequence is, when there is not many choices, you focus on what you have and get on with it. Imagine when all you’ve had in your entire life is whole milk and white bread, and someone, probably looks very strange and nerdy, start questioning whole-milk whole-wheat’s validity, you feel like they are questioning your mere existence. What do you do? Naturally, you flip the fuck out.

Just like with voting, to exercise your right as a citizen, to us Chinese, we are just too busy living. Or like they say,:

Play the hand you’re dealt.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. I care also because a woman’s gotta hope.
PPS. Check out my latest podcast episode featuring an exemplar of first-generation immigrant here.

Worst case scenario

Enough good input will get some not-too-shabby output. 

I’ve always practised my life through the lens of the worst case scenario.

  • What if I would never be enough?
  • What if the shit hit the fan?
  • What if I got too broke?
  • What if I went loco?
  • What if I just didn’t have what it takes…

Well, if I’ve learned anything during my three-year LA sojourn, it is this: if you can’t be your own cheerleader as a writer, nobody else will. You can’t swallow and spit at the same time.

But how to believe that you’re good? It’s like the age-old chicken-or-egg debate. If you don’t have the talent, why even start? But if you don’t start, how else would you know that you’re pretty good actually?

Then, there is something in between. If you keep at it, you will get there. Someday. The next question is: how long is that someday? Ten months? Or ten years?

Sometimes, being a writer or any kind of artist need some level of self-hypnosis in the reality distortion field. You have to be crazy enough to want to be a writer, I think. With all the bleak future and the hard passes without even getting to the first bae, you have to convince yourself to go the extra mile, to write that extra page, to finish something else to call it your own fugly baby. And then, try to pitch it, sell it. In a way, you’re just like an entrepreneur. Time is basically your chips before it ran you out.

After days of distress, I got some good news from the two writing projects I was working on. The result was more than good. My clients were thrilled. And the revision notes would be minimum – so they say.

All my worst-case scenario drills for nothing?! Fuck it then. Going forward, I will replace it with something else: Okay. I know I’m good. What’s next?

I have a feature rewrite gig and two more short film collabs coming up in the next 30 days or so.  Of course, part of my motivation is for my visa credits. But then, it’s going to be good training for my future career as I turned pro, juggling enough projects so I didn’t starve myself to Gandhi.

Come to think of it, all I can do is just write my best as I can. Worst case scenario is nothing but ‘Thank you but it’s not good enough.’  Meaning not good enough for now if I use some reality distortion.  But I will get better tomorrow.

Writing will be then just like math. Enough good input will get some not-too-shabby output.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. I learned a thing or two from my guest this week who is an eternal optimist. Tune in and find out.

RBYZ: Eternal Optimist (#010)

Meet Christopher Li, the serial entrepreneur who seizes the day before it’s dawn.

It started off as an immigrant story. Born in Hong Kong, our guest came to the US with his family. With intelligence and diligence, he went into management consulting and later became his own boss.

Meet Christopher Li, the serial entrepreneur who seizes the day before it’s dawn.

What you’ll hear:

  • What was his “Fresh off the boat” experience like in the ’70s California being the few Asians on the block?
  • How did he deal with culture shock coming to the US at the age of 11?
  • What values did he pick up from his parents as a first-generation immigrant?
  • What did the experience of delivering newspapers at 6 am everyday teach him?
  • What was dating like for him when Asian women weren’t many in the mostly White neighborhood that his family lived in?
  • What did he see in the face of divorce apart from the fact that it was a very public and expensive failure?  What are the silver linings?
  • Is an Eternal Optimist nature or nurture?
  • How did he tackle the bias of “executive presence” and the glass ceilings as a minority while working in management consulting?
  • How does he look at failures in entrepreneurship these days?
  • Being a result-driven entrepreneur, how does he deal with harmony in the Chinese culture?
  • And so, so much more!

Links from the episode:

 

Listen and subscribe to Rock Bottom with YZ:
A weekly podcast for and about anyone and everyone who has spiraled downward and doesn’t know which end is up.

Listen to Rock Bottom with YZ on RadioPublic

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Click here to see ways to help #RBYZ to grow.
PPS. Christopher is one of the most open guests I have had the honor to interview. Kudos!

One more thing – If you are an American citizen in the US, remember to #VOTE today.