The bubble

I met with three groups of friends on Saturday. All career women. They blew me away. I think if I need support group here in Shanghai, they would be the first people I go to.

I saw a pattern in all of their Shanghai lifestyle. I call it “The Bubble.”

If one exposes herself too thoroughly in the Shanghai environment, it’d be like opening up your soul to the Death Eaters.

The mass would judge your taste, your lifestyle, your career choices, your partner, your car, your language… They would tell you that you should change to fit in and think they are doing you a favor.

Women don the same shade of makeup, even have the same face from their latest plastic surgeries. They wear the same style because it’s in and hip. Because some celebrity is making a wave with it. The latest model of iPhone is glued to their palms, bending their neck. People stop judging others taking selfies. Because now it has become the mainstream.

If you don’t want to be taken away by the current, you gotta have some haven, some shelter… some bubble for your soul to breathe and expand.

“Where would you want to end up?” I heard myself ask each one of them.

The answer stays the same: not here.

I suddenly felt a wave of sadness. The place I grew up, the place I call my hometown, has become too fast to strange to me, to us, that only this bubble of our daily life can make the old home liveable again.

So Shanghai, what’s your trait other than new and shiny?


Yours truly,

Sleepless in Shanghai

My LA friend landed in Shanghai two nights ago for a 48-hour visit.

No matter how tight the schedule, we had to go to the Bund, which is must-must-see for any tourist. Along with my friend, I was also blown away by the views.

Three years away from Shanghai is like three decades everywhere else. I still remember the dirty and disorganized Bund when I went there as a child. Fast forward two decades later, I couldn’t find one litter on the ground. New state-of-the-art traffic signals installed for pedestrians to cross the streets. New skyscrapers sprouted out on the Pudong side (aka. Pu Jersey) across the Huangpu River (Think Hudson you’re from the States; or Thames if you’re from Britain). The Pudong Shangri-La building used to be part of the Shanghai skyline.  Now it looks like a spoiled chocolate granola bar that need to be thrown away.

We ended the night at Mr. & Mrs. Bund, a buzzy French restaurant. The food and the price match the standards of the best of Beverly Hills and Fifth Ave.  Since after the anti-corruption campaign, Chinese don’t frequent pricy places like this anymore.  As I roughly surveyed, 80% of the diners were non-Chinese.

By the time my cab arrived, clusters of night owls smoking, vaping, snorting the city’s night vibes, musing on their next stop, some hippiest nightclub that is beyond me, that is out of my league.

When I woke up this morning, my body smirked at me, “You ain’t party animal material.”


Yours truly,


Shanghai skyline
The Bund

Asian hair

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,


You see, when I was in LA, I talked with my parents at least every two days for some half an hour or so each time.  Now I’m home and living with them under the same roof in two separate bedrooms, I go on for hours without having to engage in a single conversation with them.

I’ve only been back for less than three weeks thus far. And two things have happened. One, we have gotten so used to one another that we are practically strangers. And two, we haven’t been engaged in any serious conversations which doesn’t end with me grabbing my cuppa tea and retrieving into my bedroom.

I’ve got friends in Shanghai who scream how much they miss me when I was in the US. Since now I’ve been back, I haven’t yet got on the phone yet. Well, I’ve been sick for two-thirds of the time since I’ve been back. But I don’t see how it’s going to change now I’ve got my voice back. Shh, don’t let them know that I’m well. I just can’t deal with the sudden welcome invitations that are weeks overdue.

Or think this: I’ve been texting and FaceTiming friends back in LA since I got back and we figured out the overlapped waking time we’ve shared. Well, that’s something, right?

But distance, as I’ve discovered lately, is quite a con artist.

My parents aren’t gonna be thrilled about this but I’m trying to be frank here: I just find them more interesting when they are confined in that little frame of my phone.

Just like I don’t feel the least bit of urge to visit all my cousins after missing them for four Chinese New Year’s eve dinners and other excuses for relatives to be eating at the same table. I don’t even know how tall or pretty my nieces and nephews have grown. Honestly, I don’t give a shit except for this: those little schmucks are robbing my lunch money and call it their red pockets for the next decade or so. It’s legal because it’s part of the Chinese culture that we still feel like keeping.

Or my aging uncles and aunties who are going to ask me the same old question: “why are you still single when all your cousins are either married or about to.” Now do you realize why I won’t feel a thing if I hear that you get some weird diseases? Okay, that’s mean. But you get the idea.

To my parents’ credit, they never nag me about being single, not getting married or other things down in the pipeline like me having a baby or freeze my eggs just in case.  But, I can’t stop them from thinking these troubling big life events of their daughter who is now officially behind the curve. If they do, they never discuss it in front of me. That’s enough to give them Best Parents of the Century Award.

To make it even more difficult for them is that, all I do these days is walking around my polka dot PJ and sit in front of my computer when I’m not coughing my head off.

“I thought you were in Hollywood.”

“Sorry, Ma. I assure you that JK Rowling does the same thing and look where she is now.”

I guess that was why I held my chopsticks to the furthest when I heard an aunt say “the further you hold your chopsticks, the farther you would travel, kiddo.” But then, little did I know that distance is also the ultimate photoshop.

Yeah, Shanghai pals, how you like me now?


Yours truly,

PS. I’ve decided to stop the medication the doctor prescribed me after wasting another day today feeling drowsy and heavy even though I clocked in 15 hours of sleep and naps.

Shanghai v. LA

Even before I was back in Shanghai, I knew I would go back to LA again.

It’s part gut feeling; part knowing myself too well.

Shanghai adores money too much to want to curate and cultivate talents.

LA adores money and fame nonetheless, if not more. But I feel that there are creative people daring and brave enough to be able to find a footing there.

LA is large enough to not to be distracted except for the gleefully California sun.

Shanghai is large too. But it’s too crowded to give a damn about craving space for creative people who aren’t the usual suspects: people in advertising and marketing. [Translation: people who work from 10 to 2 am who dress creative, talk creative, act creative because they have a business account to spend on.]

Shanghai is like New York in people density and busyness. But most Shanghai people are busy chasing money to pay off housing, imported baby powder, cars… to prove to their families and friends that they are leading a good life.

LA folks care about cars too. I’ve lived on Wilshire Blvd so I have had my share of vroom vroom symphonies. And yet, I feel okay to not own a car, or to own a second-hand car. Some don’t even care about new furniture. I’ve sold quite a few pieces of furnitures to students and fresh graduates who live on a budget.

In Shanghai, I buy everything brand new. It doesn’t even occur to me to look for second-hand stuff…

In the end, it’s not a race. It’s finding a good fit for oneself.

Some are lucky to be born into the city, the country that compliments their personality. While others have to search a little harder and longer.

And yet, the in-betweens complain about the place they were born into but never try to move elsewhere for a change.

I love Shanghai. It’s my hometown. But I don’t love it enough to want to live here forever even though my family is here.

I love LA. It’s the love of my life. I love it enough to leave my family and friends behind, again.


Yours truly,

Not local person

I’ve been using the Chinese Lyft (aka. DiDi) a lot these days.

The drivers have been really impressive, if not their rides.

Here is the pattern: They are almost always men. They are between 25 and 35 years old. And they are usually not from Shanghai.

How do I tell? Well, only Shanghaiese speak Shanghai dialect, which I assure you, sounds like a foreign language against mandarin.

Like Parisians, Shanghaiese have a special term for folks from elsewhere: Wai-di Ren, which can be literally translated as: Not Local Person.

In China, Han is the most common race. So racism within the nation is almost a foreign term. What do we have instead? Regionalism. It is rather common for people from Shanghai and Beijing to look down upon “Wai-di Ren.”

So what’s the reaction of Shanghai folks when they bump into Beijingers in Shanghai? We Shanghaiese look down upon them just the same. And vice versa.

During the few rides I’ve had for the past few days from my Shanghai apartment to the nearest hospital, I’ve seen and learned something else.

I pointed out to a driver this morning that he had some litter in the back of his car. He said, “Oh, it may have been the aftermath of the previous rider.”

Then I asked him to describe to me what that rider was like. And so he began:

“Oh, he’s from Shanghai. He seems rich and wants people to know that he’s rich. I waited for him for ten long minutes before he appeared. He even asked me to break the traffic law for him to his own convenience. He may have given me a lower rate just because I refused.”

Before I could learn more, I was already at my destination. I thanked him and gave him a Five-Star rating. I would throw in some tip but there is no tipping button on DiDi.

Not local person…

Some fortnight ago, I was one too.

I once used the term “Wai-Di Ren” rather often whenever I saw some not-local people behaving poorly. Now it sounds different after being one myself for three years in LA. Hell, I was not only Wai-Di (Elsewhere), I was Wai-Guo (Another country). All I wanted was to find my footing and grow, like those diligent and kind DiDi drivers. Full disclosure: Before my dad retired, he had been a driver throughout his 40-year career.

And apart from the birthplace, those snobbish Shanghai folks have no right to be here if they don’t even feel like picking up their dogs’ craps.

If only justice is that easy.


Yours truly,

PS. Check out the latest #RBYZ episode where I talked about shame and vulnerability with psychologist Barbara Kiao.

The new norm

I went to the hospital yesterday after four days of being sick…

After the blood test and CT scan, it turned out that I had pneumonia.


How is it even possible to get pneumonia when I only got back for a little more than a week?

I sat there and watched the IV dripping into my veins. Ten days ago, I was in LA bathing under the California sunshine and that was the norm.

As I was standing in the queue to pay for the examination fees, I noticed the one thing I disliked most about my fellow countrymen: disrespect for the personal space. That is, no sense of personal space, which is borderline intrusion.

Before I could get the receipts back from the clerk, the next person was already at the counter a few inches away from me as if I didn’t exist.

“Ma’am, could you step back in line? I’m not done yet.”

She did her Shanghaiese trademarked eyerolling and shot back.

“Mind your own business. I’m waiting here just fine.”

Right, right. I’m not in LA. Now this, is the new norm I’m dealing with.

Against the neck-breaking changing speed of cities like Shanghai, some other things lags behind. Three years isn’t enough to change everything.

You worship Burberry trench coats like a religion, hang Hermès silk scarves around your necks like crosses, sling your Chanel purses like grenades. But the minute you start talking, I know you’re still in the ditch.

“But it’s a ditch full of gold and dinero!”

I have no counter-arguments. Money talks here more than anywhere.

Some things take time. But time is the one thing people here don’t have.


Yours truly,