Tiny footsteps into a strange, new world.

I wish I could begin this story with “Once upon a time.” But, if you follow my tale—you know it’s not about happily ever afters. It’s about a girl who had to forget about rainbows and unicorns altogether and grow up err…when she was already an adult.

You see there were no glass ceilings for me to shatter. Only a bubblegum version of real life stuck in my head. May be, it was the way I was brought up?

Growing up I was never friendly with my parents, even though they were super cool, liberal professors who allowed me to do whatever I wanted.

I grew up in a freethinking university campus in the heart of my city, on a delectable hill dotted with trees.

The campus included libraries, debating societies, theater and art.

I grew up with friends, colleagues and family who were like me.

I became the lion of my cubbyhole. The freedom, love and support I got were so omnipresent, I had no idea what life was like without them.

With no real battles to fight, I was keen to fight my parents. I always believed I was right, and was forever suspicious of their safe ways.

But my dad, a social scientist in the best university back home, grew up in a part of the country infested by rioting, corruption and poverty. His childhood was spent in a tiny room, overstuffed with brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles.

They were all being supported by his father.

My mom grew up in a tiny, insignificant village, where girls are married off at the age of 16 and go to school just to pass the time. She is now a professor of Japanese language and literature, as well as a writer and translator.

I was intelligent and hard-working. That made me want to chase my dreams in art, literature and writing in America. I had also recently married a guy I loved who lived in the US.

I was so excited to enter this new phase of life that I didn’t know I would continue to look back for a long time.

Just to get started, there were many “firsts” to encounter.

I had never traveled independently, lived alone, cooked for myself on a daily basis, did laundry, figured out my finances, figured out medical insurances, thought about loans or been married.

Here I was, in an alien land, about to learn the ropes of life in a completely different culture.

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I had a crash course in becoming an adult in the first few months after I moved to Syracuse to pursue a professional digital journalism program.

I had to find an apartment to live in, but I didn’t know what to look for. I was impatient, so I ended up going for a bad, expensive option.

The roof leaked, sanitation was substandard, my bedroom window opened to a dumpster and before I knew it, I had a bedbug infestation. I had to find a lawyer to break my lease and get me out of that living hell.

The thing is, I was terrified of what would happen if I couldn’t fix it.

I was living away from my husband, so I would take a five-hour Greyhound bus ride to Brooklyn every Friday to meet him. Between a hectic graduate school schedule and travel, I had no time for him.

The worst Syracuse winter—coupled with unsafe city grounds where poverty and homelessness are serious concerns—made staying outdoors after dark dangerous. I would think back to the days when I would shut my parents up every time they offered advice on night outs.

During this strenuous time, it was my parents’ phone calls that gave me the strength to continue on.

I was so overwhelmed with my daily trials and tribulations, that I couldn’t see beyond my selfish needs.

It was then that I realized my parents had always been there for me, battling through their lives, fears and doubts, without ever letting me notice their tired eyes.

I was entering a new phase of my life.

It started with a phone call to my mom, asking her how she was. Understanding her existence, her hopes and her fears gave me a fresh perspective.

My dad and I started writing long emails to each other, and often connected on Skype in a way we had never connected in person. I began to understand the struggles of a man in his 50s.

I finally got to find out his dreams and anxieties.

It was in these moments that I pushed myself to actually listen.

It’s not important to figure everything out and speed through your days. It’s important to stand still and assimilate who you are and where you are headed.

Conversations with my parents opened that door.

After one year of staying away, I went back to my country for a short visit.

I felt eternally grateful for the twinkles in mom and dad’s patient eyes as they sat there, listening to the stories of my life in a new country.

Then, I quickly shut up and made them talk.

This time, I listened.

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This story was first published on Elite Daily under the title “Why you can’t begin to know your parents until you know yourself,” authored by me.

Where are you from?

My friend and I had just stepped out of the cinema hall. It had been a perfect evening—a good movie, wind in the hair, popcorn—lots of it.

We’d watched Crazy Rich Asians, starring Constance Wu, my latest crush. She’s featured in Time’s 100 Most Influential. I forget which year. But, they say she waited tables for many, while auditioning for roles she never got.

“When Eddie Huang’s book was made into a TV show called Fresh Off the Boat, Constance got famous.” I fill my friend in with Hollywood trivia as we look for a taxi in the middle of the night.

“So, she really waited tables?” My friend asks, surprised.

“Yep, for eight years!” I reply.

“She’s a brilliant actor. Funny how no one could see that?”

(I think my friend feels bad for her. I don’t.)

“May be, because she’s Asian?” I try and answer his question. “But that’s not what she likes to tell herself. She’s a proud woman, who hates making excuses.”

I admire the choices Constance has made in her life. She is fierce. She speaks her mind. And even though she’s a big star, she chooses every role to shine light on people forced to live in the shadows.

I have watched her every interview. Perhaps, in the hope that some of her magic will rub off on me.

Fresh Off the Boat—is it?” My friend interrupts my reverie. He is new to the States, full of many questions. He doesn’t get what the expression means.

A pedestrian standing right behind us butts in.

“How was the film?” The eavesdropper is curious.
“Good. I enjoyed it.” I give him a funny look. “Was just telling my friend here what ‘fresh off the….” I am quiet for a moment.

I am trying to explain the word used for people like me to a person who could’ve prolly used it. I don’t want to point fingers at the stranger. The situation is a comic paradox. I cannot help but laugh.

“Just telling him what I am,” I say with a wink. Then I look at the stranger’s face, trying to figure out where he’s from.

Before I can gather my thoughts, he breaks into laughter.

There are reasons why I love New York City. This is one of them. Everyone here is from someplace else. We are a city of FOBs—and proud of it.

22

 

Beauty and the Beast

The dog park is a great equalizer. I know that now. I have a dog that I take to a park everyday. I’d say he’s a rather cute looking Goldador who manages to turn heads wherever we go. I won’t be lying when I say I treat him like arm candy, every time I step out.

Ravishing blondes and gorgeous men routinely stop to pet my dog. But he’s not always that lucky in the park. In the dog world, the fattest Corgi could charm the sexiest poodle. The laziest retriever could interest a dominating pug. The noisiest Yorkie could chat up a sober Shiba. The rules are a bit uncanny. So, my dog despite his adorable looks and athletic wit, is sometimes left bouncing in the periphery of a canine carnival.

Sometimes through my dog, I encounter emotions I’d never understand as a human. I’m sure, I’m not the only one. Like that other day when a beautiful young man was trying to socialize his dog at the park. He knew how to chat everyone up. His dog, not so much. It was a beefy Pit-bull. Deep brown eyes, broad shoulders and all—but then I have a soft spot for Pit-bulls. I wasn’t sure how others in the park felt. They kept their pooches at a wary distance.

The man in any social scenario would’ve been the center of everyone’s gaze. But here he was circling the group of dogs…umm…like a creep. May be his dog was too strange for the other fellows. Dare I say a little on the ugly side? Though relentless in his pursuit, his pit-bull faced constant rejection.

The man was clearly new to the experience of being left out. Good looking men with the gift of gab are rarely so awkward. He had no rehearsed lines to wiggle out of the situation. All he could do, was stand in the corner, pretending it didn’t hurt at all.

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