All the worries of the world on your shoulder, child.

(This post was inspired by the episode “Kid Logic” of the podcast This American Life)

Every time I see kids crying or whining or doing any sort of kid-thing, I fail to demonstrate any sort of human sympathy, mostly due to my general lack of empathy and the fact that I am not a kid-person. But I guess there is also some sort of envy there, because they don’t have to worry about paying the bills, about whether or not they should spend $80 on the Victoria Secret semi-annual sale they probably shouldn’t, or about their PhD prospectus – life, in general. They, in a word, have nothing to worry about.

But as I was listening to this episode on This American Life about how children have their own way of dealing with logic and the world around them, I could not help but remember how I too was, once, a child, with “no worries”. And I remember that being a child doesn’t necessarily mean your world is actually void of worries. Quite the opposite. Maybe I was an especially anxious child, who knows, even though I don’t remember being one; it would explain many things I am going through as an ‘adult’.

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I remember being worried that humanity was destined to live ‘forever’ (although that may not be now, thank you Climate Change). I could simply not understand the idea that although my mommy and daddy will die, and I will die one day, life was to go on on this planet earth, until the year 3,000 and more and more. It scared me that life was endless. Life was not a happy story that could end with a firm ‘The End’ that I was so accustomed to.The book of Life did not have a last page. Life was going to persist, and although individuals would eventually die, humanity, as a race, would just go on forever. I remember my mom laughing, telling me I wouldn’t be alive to witness it anyways, so why the concern? But what was I to do with this baffling and disturbing knowledge? Just go on, like a naive creature without reason? I just couldn’t.

Maybe I indeed was on the higher end of the anxiety spectrum, when I think about all the diseases I was afraid I might catch. One of the many ‘dangers’ you become aware of when growing up Catholic and with the Bible around you is leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease. The bible is filled with stories of Jesus healing the lepers, and that is all good and beautiful, but I was mostly concerned with the fact that there were lepers in the first place, and that they were inevitably shunned by all (except by Jesus of course). I was terrified at the idea that I too, might catch this disease, and I could see my finger-less and toe-less future, for sure. Jesus had been here once already, and he couldn’t possibly come back and heal me, so what was I to do? Then, with the whole AIDS phase in the 90s, I was afraid I might catch that too. I knew it was a sexually transmitted disease, but there had been cases, after all, of transmission through blood transfusions, and so on. What if I needed blood transfusion and was pricked by a contaminated needle? The horror!

I had this blue booklet when I was in my early teens, given by an acquaintance of my mom. This person was a fervent Jehovah’s Witness and apparently her goal in life was to convert us – which she still pursues today. I don’t remember the title of the booklet, but it basically masqueraded itself into providing all the possible answers teenagers could have and ‘guide them through the right path’. I guess my mom thought if it meant it could keep us away from trouble, a Jehovah’s Witness book was as good as any, and had no qualm giving it to my sister and I. There was the usual ‘obey to your parents’ and ‘no promiscuity’ (why are religions so obsessed with sex, I don’t know) chapters, but I especially remember the one on how masturbation was an absolute sin. As a prude teenager, I had no idea what masturbation meant. My mother, as a good Asian mother, wouldn’t give me a satisfactory answer, so as the diligent student that I was, I turned to the huge dictionary we had at home (this was pre-Internet, also known as the Dark Ages). I don’t know what definition it had, but either because the definition itself was unclear or because the idea of sexually pleasing oneself couldn’t have possibly crossed my mind back then (I know, let’s laugh together at this idea), I remained in ignorance. And that, of course, was another major point of concern. I mean, if I didn’t even know what masturbation meant, how could I possibly avoid it? What if I were to fall into the depths of sin and hell without even realizing?

Let’s not forget the time I watched a movie where one of the characters died after stepping into quicksand (I don’t even remember the plot, I just remember that scene). This did not bode well for a kid living in a country that is literally in the middle of the Saharan desert. I was terrified I would one day step into an innocent-looking dune only to realize, too late, that it was quicksand and not even my parents would be able to save my body engulfed by sand.

At least, problems that we face as adults often do have solutions – we will pay our bills if we wisely choose not to spend $80 on the unnecessary (albeit so beautiful) Victoria Secret sale, and well, we just have to make that goddamn prospectus happen, once and for all. So let’s give some credit to all the kids out there with unspeakable concerns weighing down on their shoulders, disheartened, without a single viable solution on the horizon. Let’s hug them (and by ‘let’s’, I mean the rest of you, because, let’s not kid ourselves (pun intended), I remain a no-kid-person) and reassure them that they will grow up to face very mundane problems and that everything will be all right in the end.

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Records of memories (Collector of memories #1)

What is the difference between a hoarder and a collector? I would think that a collector keeps things that have certain values, sentimental or monetary, instead of piling everything that comes in hand. But if the hoarder actually feels and believes that everything he/she gathers has sentimental or significant value, who’s to say he/she is not actually a collector? And if a collector feels like there’s an item he/she just can’t let go, doesn’t that make him/her just as compulsive as a hoarder? Do you draw the line when the act of accumulating stuff completely takes over your life?

Before leaving for the States, I’m about to organize and box away my precious belongings that I can’t take with me. That way, if Mom and Dad were to move apartments or use my room, they can have more free space and won’t make the horrible mistake of throwing away things they thought was useless but actually wasn’t (although they wouldn’t, I think we’ve scared them enough on that point that they know it’s safer to keep things when having doubts). I’ve already packed one large box, and still have one middle-sized (hopefully) to go, and it is in such process that I came to wonder about my predisposition to…hoard collect.

As I opened my drawers, I was first faced with my academic history. I’m not talking about score reports, which were actually used when applying to universities, so they would be categorized as ‘actually useful’. I’m talking about my drawing/activity book in kindergarten, my homework notebook in elementary school, and my high school papers and exam sheets, stacked, of course, in separate plastic folders with labels on them.

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My activity book in kindergarten. Drawing short lines in color in the ‘coquillage’ (shell) and coloring the fish.

Separate sheets from first grade. I remember wondering what the heck an 'anorak' was and why anybody would need to wear that huge and thick of a jumper, as a kid knowing only of the sunny days of Mauritania.

Separate sheets from first grade. I remember wondering what the heck an ‘anorak’ was and why anybody would need to wear that huge and thick of a jumper, as a kid knowing only of the sunny days of Mauritania.

My notebook of 'poesies' in second grade. We used to stand in front of the class reciting those poems...

My notebook of ‘poesies’ in second grade. We used to stand in front of the class reciting those poems…

My French notebook in 4th grade. No, I didn't choose a specific page that had full scores solely for this purpose, haha.

My French notebook in 4th grade. No, I didn’t choose a specific page that had full scores solely for this purpose, haha.

Then came the stack of diaries, ranging from ‘drawing journals’ of when I was 5 years old, to diaries starting with ‘Dear…’, where the name of the journal keeps changing over the years, filled with how much my sister annoyed me and how Mom and Dad would only take her side, with the finishing touch of the more recent journals, not as regular as they used to be. I guess that’s one of the things I’m thankful to Mom for, for instilling the discipline and the fun that is writing; pushing us, and then, encouraging us to record our daily mishaps and … most of the time, just… well, stuff… I can’t find a better way to describe the entries of three or four lines that talk about what I ate and how tasty it was, or how I played a new game with my friends. Of course, the entries would get longer and (I think) more interesting with the years.

Diaries from first grade to about 4th or 5th.

Diaries from first grade to about 4th or 5th.

As the good Asian daughter and studious child that I was, my diaries from the above period always have two separate entries for each day, one in Korean and one in French. A plan to make me retain the first and study the second, only imaginable from an Asian mother, I think.

But as the years pass by, the diaries underneath are longer entries, going on for pages at times, in only one language at a time, depending on my mood.

I remember writing about a certain boy when I was in 6th grade or something. A few weeks later, going back, I was so embarrassed at the idea that I would be embarrassed when I would perhaps see it later, when ‘I grow up’, that I began erasing all of his names… replacing them with his simple, one-letter initial. And this is how this crush will remain… a simple letter of the alphabet on a piece of paper.

Sometimes, an event was so memorable or had made such an impact I was under the absolute certainty I would remember it for the rest of my life, and would only write about my ‘feelings’ ensuing from it. Naturally, today, I read it, and have no idea whatsoever I was referring to. I now make sure to write down all the details.

There is also, of course, my Buffy the Vampire Slayer period, and my tiny Tweety diary (see underneath for said diary) is filled with transcripts of the episodes… What Buffy said, where she was when she said it, Angel’s response, and how his brooding and dark look was breathtaking. Ah, yes, the good old days. Some things don’t change. 🙂

Diaries ranging from 6th grade to present day.

Diaries ranging from 6th grade to present day.

And of course, let’s not forget my agendas (planners/schedulers), a whole new world I was introduced to a couple of years before coming to Korea. I had my uncle ship me those agendas from Korea, since there was no way I could find them in Mauritania or anywhere else. One of the many things I am grateful to Korea is its extensive set of pretty stationary items. Koreans sure know what attracts teenagers and in my case, adults, with simple stuff as cute pens, stickers, notebooks, and the list goes on.

My agendas, in chronological order, from bottom to top, which I started around 1999-2000.

My agendas (schedulers), in chronological order, from bottom to top, which I started around 1999-2000.

Next list of hoarded collected memories coming up.

“Fresh Off The Boat” by Eddie Huang

I’m a girl, he’s a boy.

I’ve never lived in the States, he’s lived there since 1982.

I’m Korean, he’s Chinese (Taiwanese) American.

My so-called encounter with hip-hop is limited to club music (which I guess he would never consider as ‘true’ hip hop). He would tell you the history of hip-hop in a beat.

I’ve never dealt drugs, never even been close to any (hopefully it will continue being so), he was a major (or so it appears, to me) dealer in marijuana.

I don’t get the rules of American football, to me it’s just a bunch of overly equipped male high on testosterone hitting into one another with no particular purpose. He’s been in football teams at school.

The only adjective I can find to describe food is ‘delicious’ and sometimes, I can go as far as ‘yummy’ if it’s really good. He can talk and analyze food as much as, or more than, I can talk about and analyze Nikita I guess.

As you can see, Eddie Huang and I are worlds apart, but strangely enough, I could connect to much of what he was talking about in his book.

True, when I saw that the book was a memoir of some Asian American dude, I thought to myself, it’s going to be a typical success story from an Asian American, surviving the pressures and ‘discipline methods’ imposed by his Asian parents, and ‘making it’ to the top, and achieving the American dream. Not that I don’t enjoy those books, even if it is merely for getting the satisfaction of knowing that my parents are definitely not the worst you could ever have as Asian parents, but come on, we all know the story of the Asian-American dream. But Eddie Huang is not your ‘typical’ Asian American (and yes, I’m aware of the stereotype I am setting here already). He’s a guy full of controversies and diversities, as much as an Asian guy could ever be. Or maybe he is simply one of many Asian Americans like him, and simply the first one who was able to talk about his atypical life. A life that may be shared by all these Asian Americans whose journeys have been over shadowed by the success stories of the ‘model-minority’ type, represented by lawyers and doctors, and definitely not by a ‘former drug dealer/former lawyer/hip hop connoisseur/restaurant owner’.

But I guess the reason I was able to connect with him is that, despite all our differences, we are both/all searching who we really are and want to find our place in this world; we want to connect with those around us and belong to some group or community, all the while trying to differentiate ourselves from the rest through our uniqueness.

“I saw that my interests in hip-hop, basketball, food, comedy, and writing were symptoms of a larger interest: finding a place for myself in the world or making one. School helped me give that larger interest more precise names – racial identity, social justice – and I was determined to figure it all out.”

For him, finding that place was a road paved with struggle, fight against discrimination, and efforts not to be seen and labeled as a stereotype, and I admire and respect how he managed to always fight his way back, against the system and the people that we hardly recognize or acknowledge as discriminatory because we are too busy trying to fit in.

“It was all about Uncle Chans and how they fucked up the game up for Asian people. For too long, I wrote, we’ve been lapdogs. The people who don’t want to offend anyone. We hide out in Laundromats, delis, and take-out joints and hope that our doctor/lawyer sons and daughters will save us. We play into the definitions and stereotypes others impose on us and accept the model-minority myth, thinking it’s positive, but it’s a trap, just like any stereotype.”

By doing so however, he also falls into stereotyping the other, the ‘white man’, and the ‘model Asian man’, of whom he already has a certain idea of, and whom he judges according to his own prejudices, and I guess my biggest criticism of his book would be that discrepancy. But I’ve never lived in the ‘white world’ that the US sometimes can be, despite all its myths of ‘melting pot’ or ‘salad bowl’, so I guess I can’t really criticize his experience with racism. I’m kind of dreading living in the States in the very near future, in that sense. I still have this naive hope that living in the same country, especially one as big as the US, will not necessarily lead to the same unpleasant experiences, and dearly hope, on the one hand, I won’t have to go through this subtle discrimination and racism every country kind of holds against foreigners. On the other hand, I feel like I should prepare myself for such encounter, instead of holding on to a futile hope, and think of smart ways to overcome them and perhaps, learn a thing or two.

And that’s the other thing about his book that is atypical and refreshing. His clear and bold voice denouncing the blunt and subtle racism that exists in the States (and probably any other country) to this day. We have all become somewhat race-conscientious today that we are afraid of being called as a ‘racist’ whenever we talk about race. So we’d rather overlook certain things concerning race and be satisfied with the superficial talks on this issue, to be on the safer side. Ironic, isn’t it, that the more we become aware of certain issues (race, gender, etc), the less we are encouraged to actually seriously discuss them?

Anyways, Eddie Huang’s way of dealing with such prejudice while growing up was to always ‘fight back’, and not be the docile, weak and polite Asian kid who, after being on his knees to find the glasses on the school playground, glasses knocked off from his nose by the white bully, only dreams of his vengeance in the future, when he’ll be the successful lawyer that will sue that kid’s ass off. I felt small learning of this distinct way of fighting, wondering whether I myself had not been that ‘docile, weak and polite Asian kid’ who preferred to be quiet instead of barking back. I don’t think I was that docile when I was little, back in Mauritania, although, technically, primo, I don’t think I ever faced ‘racism’ back there, and segundo, little as I was, I was always more comfortable using words than fists. But I think I’ve become more docile when I grew up, mainly because I just don’t like confrontations. Especially when it comes to certain images and perceptions foreigners have of Korea. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I can list you a hundred things that I think this country is clearly doing wrong, but Korea is, in a way, like my mom. I can spend days and nights about how she/it annoys the hell out of me, but don’t you dare trash talk about her/it. It may be a fucked up country, but well, and I hate saying this, it is my fucked up country, you know? It’s one thing to have both foreigners and Koreans hold a critical point of view about Korea, and carry on a civilized and sensible discussion, for instance, about how many Korean companies have insane working hours. But it is another thing to have a foreigner ‘criticize’ the drinking culture in Korea and complain about how Koreans love drinking, when that very same person is clearly having tons of fun drinking with his other foreigner buddies, and nobody is forcing them to. And just because I didn’t want to be seen as that ‘nationalistic Korean kid’ who will defend her country against the big white evil, I nodded along most of the time. But, just like Eddie Huang puts it,

“Whether you accept it or not, when you’re a visible Asian you have a torch to carry because we simply don’t have any other representation.”

At first, I felt as I I had been betraying the ‘Asian race’ because I didn’t have the physical strength to fight back with punches like he did. I felt as if I was the spitting image of that ‘Asian stereotype’ he was so clearly against, because, well, I’m a nerd who likes studying, I have never even dreamed of doing, let alone, dealing drugs and I don’t have the energy or the time to be that invested in hip-hop. I absolutely hate sports, especially when they involve a ball of any sort, because I always feel like the balls are just rushing to hit me, and only me. And in a way, I was jealous that he got to be both cool and smart. As much as the ‘good Asian’ in me was saying ‘Gosh, he’s such a bad Asian, and a bad son! His parents are working their butt off to educate him and what does he do? Deal drugs? Shame on him…’, the ‘rebel Asian’ in me was simply envious of his genuine love for food and cuisine and passion for something besides studies. But Eddie Huang is not telling us to be exactly like him. Au contraire. He is telling us to find our own way to stand out in the dominant system and culture, to find something proper and unique to us and be proud of it. To make your own culture and your image and own them. And this is the biggest lesson I draw from Eddie Huang’s memoir.