The spell

Ever since I was little, I was told that I was short and dark. Short is fine, but what you don’t want to be in China is a dark girl.

Here’s the thing, Chinese women have to be Size 00 skinny, as pale as ghosts in Japanese films, having eyes as big as Anne Hathaway’s, wearing a chin as chiseled as a Swiss knife, and at least five foot five to be a pretty candidate… Worse yet, nobody was my ally. My mum shrugged it off. My dad simply asked me to study hard. So I accepted those words to be my truth.

As young as ten years old, I cast myself aside as the Fugly Girl. So I had no other choice but to be smart. I don’t even recall anybody say I was pretty. I got uncomfortable when people called me that. I thought they were teasing me. I had glasses since third grade. I wore baggy clothes to hide my body in puberty. I slept on my stomach and prayed for a flat chest. I even got a crew cut just to keep out the boy problem – as if there was any. I denied my femininity flat out when it was to sprout off the ground. I stampeded on it hoping it would never see the sun. You see, people give us the bullets, but we pull the trigger.

Years later, I fell in love.
He said, you was beautiful.
I flinched, no, no, no. I was not. You like me because I’m smart.
Yeah, but you’re beautiful.
I looked at him in disbelief.
He kept on going, listen to me, you’re beautiful. You’re beautiful. Don’t let anybody else talk you into anything different. 

In the bathroom, I wiped tears away from my eyes. In the mirror, I saw her standing right in front of me. For the first time in a long time, I noticed her symmetrical face, her exquisite eyes, her refined nose… And her gentle soul. 

That day, I unlearned my habit to look away before a mirror.
That day, I learned it’s okay to appreciate her beauty without turning into a narcissist.
But most importantly, that day, I fell in love. With her.
I promised her that I would love her regardless of her relationship status, her bank statement, her level of success… because “I’d love you til the end of the Universe.” 

During our domestication, our parents and siblings gave their opinions about us without even thinking. We believed these opinions and we lived in fear over these opinions, like not being good at swimming, or sports, or writing. Someone gives an opinion and says, “Look, this girl is ugly!” The girl listens, believes she is ugly, and grows up with the idea that she is ugly. It doesn’t matter how beautiful she is; as long as she has that agreement, she will believe that she is ugly. That is the spell she is under. 

Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Oftentimes when we are in the thick of it, we can’t see past our own hands in the fog of the falsehood. We might need someone else to break the spell for us. Because of him, I got lucky.

I hope you get lucky too someday if not already. But if you don’t yet, it’s okay. Just ask yourself: What is my spell? And follow the yellow brick road.

Yours truly,
YZ

How do you spend the day

Is how you going to spend your life.

This quote often sends chills down to my spine especially when I’ve not been productive, or when I’ve squandered the day not accompolishing something meaningful.

When I was on the phone with a dear friend in LA the other day, friend asked whether I had gone to movies, dined with friends, had fun and what not apart from working.

I suddenly grew sheepish, because I hadn’t watched a single movie in the theatre lately. I blamed the lame movies that got imported. I hadn’t met many friends either except the ones I really wanted to meet because the deadlines had been hovering above my head since I got well from pneumonia.

It was as if everything I do, or plan to do, I had to give it some kind of meaning. Otherwise, it was not worthy of my time. It even haunted me in my dreams.

When dad asked me to help him to fix a phone app, I spent almost half an hour on it due to the app’s stupid user interface. Dad later apologized for wasting my time, for interrupting my writing. At the time, I did complain a little, explaining that it takes a person 30 mins to actually get into the groove to do anything creative.

Later, Dad, the busiest and earliest bee of the family, said without any context, “you know, a day passes by so fast. I don’t even know what I’ve done and then day has turned into night.” At the time, I was winding down watching Frasier. I looked up from my laptop and said, “Yes. I feel the same way.” Suddenly it struck a chord and made me meloncholy.

As of now, I am close with my loving parents, my needy cat who has to nap on my lap. Sometimes I admit I feel a bit overwhelmed. But soon, maybe a year or so, I will pack up my things up and leave again. This time, I will bid farewell and try to make my own home in LA, again.

You see, before we know it, our parents will be older. So are we. We dash through days, months, years, brushing shoulders with people zipping in and out of our lives.

By now, I don’t have a single junior or senior high school friend that I’m still in touch with. By uprooting my career some four years ago, I’ve made myself obselete in most of my old Chinese acqauintances’ memory drive while trying to squeeze into my American friends’ life, who may already have one friend too many… Such is a pickle of hard fact that I must chew and digest.

I only hope that when I take my last breath in this lifetime, I can say that I have had a brave life. I’ve done whatever I can to become the best version of myself with whatever resources that are available to me. I’m a good daughter, a sincere friend, a fun companion. And most important, I stay true to my heart.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Dear parents

Since I moved back to China, I’ve moved into my parents’ apartment, which for the record, I played a big role in paying off our mortgage before I left for LA three years ago.

Excuse my ego, it finds it crucial to point this out. But no matter how much I want to spin this, I’m living with my parents as a fully functioning adult.

It is also crucial to point out that in the Chinese culture, especially in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing that ‘kids’ don’t move out until they get married due to a) strong family tradition; b) devoted parents who are terrible at calculating their ROIs; c) the wacky housing market and unpredictable species called landlords.

Since I’ve had my fair share of landlord sagas (from negotiation to small claims court), I find it almost therapeutic to not to worry about rent and lease and among other things.

And yet, mum and dad can sometimes love me a little too much to my likings. Mostly, my mum…

“Go to bed. It’s almost 10.”

“Finish your rice. We ain’t rich.”

“Why are you throwing away this bag when it’s in perfect condition? Are you out of your mind?

“Why don’t you take a shower now? So you don’t wipe your greasy hair onto my floral pillowcase?”

“Why isn’t my phone working? I’ve done absolutely nothing.”

In some portions of my dreams back when I was in LA, I begged hearing those lines from my parents. “If only I could be there with you in person. I will never get bored.” I remembered crying myself to sleep on that Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Well, as it turns out, be careful what you wish for.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Far, far away from home

Picture Credit

I got a credit card bill notice stating that a large sum of money was spent in a Shanghai hospital. It had to be my parents, I concluded. Only they have access to that card.

But the hospital?

It was 8 o’clock in the morning in Shanghai. What could go wrong? What was going on? And most important, who was in the hospital?

My heart was pounding. My thoughts were racing. My body was quivering. I began praying, please, please, please…

I tried to call their cells. No one picked up. I called one of my aunties. No answer. I then texted a friend in Shanghai giving her both of my parents’ numbers.

“Could you check on them for me? Please?”

I waited. No reply. I then tried calling another auntie, my Mum’s eldest sister. She picked up. Thank God. And thank Chairman Mao for not implementing the One-Child Policy.

— Talk to me!
*I demanded. My voice was shaking.

— Oh, it must be your dad.

— My dad?!
*Last year in January when I was still in Shanghai, it was Mum who was hospitalized.

— What happened?

— Just a minor surgery.

— A surgery?! What kind of surgery? Be specific!

— Oh, he’s been having this condition for well over two years now.

— Two years? Why don’t I even know?!

My tears poured out. I felt I had failed as a daughter.

I want to be filial. But me in Los Angeles, and them back in Shanghai, how filial can I be when all I do is to call them once a week at random and strange hours?

My savings are now dried up and I haven’t been employed since last August. I now practically live on my parents’ meagre savings while they haven’t seen much of the world yet. And they are pushing into their sixties. The clock is ticking.

I want it so bad to give them back, give them the best. To thank them for their nurturing, for their teaching, for their selflessness, for their understanding, for their encouragement and for their support. I want to become rich and famous — Not because I want them for myself. But I can stop worrying about money, stop missing my parents in the darkness of the night. So they can start to enjoy their life and worry less about me and my expat life in the U.S.

This has become part of the source of my drive — To give them a better life. I don’t really care what people think about me, how I dress. But I care how people view my work. Because that’s what defines me now, that’s what will bring something tangible and meaningful to me.

But what about love?

Love is only so transient. Another cousin of mine is getting married this June. I am going to miss her wedding. She is one year older than I am. I am 28, and I haven’t yet had a boyfriend till today. Pretty pathetic, right? I feel that no matter how sincere, friendly, gorgeous, put-together, versatile I am, no one is ever going to get serious about getting into a relationship with me. I’ve met four guys since I arrived. None were serious players. I think next time, I might just cut to the chase and ask, “Are you serious, or are you just fucking around? Because if you belong to the latter, please just fuck off.” I just can’t afford to waste another ounce of my energy on chicken shit like this.

My parents won’t say it, but I know what they are thinking. They want me to find someone who deserves me. They want me to start a family so my significant other can take some burdens off my shoulder. And unlike my rebellious younger self, I want to be their trophy daughter. I want to exceed my parents’ wildest expectations of me — even though all they ever want for me is my happiness.

All I want for them is their happiness, and to join with me here in the U.S.

If God’s design for me is to live alone, work alone, and die alone. So be it. I will then gear all the energy to work till the last breath I take. I will work my damnedest so I can show my parents the world they’ve missed out while supporting my life here. That’s the least I can do.

— A wish from a child who’s far, far away from home.

 

Yours truly,
YZ