The Girl I Used to Be

This is the house I will call home in a few short months.

This is the house I will call home in a few short months.

WTF is adulthood? This question has been on my mind probably since I graduated college, but lately it’s become more and more apparent that I’m losing the struggle against adulthood. That sets off all kinds of alarms in my head. The reality is that, for most of my life, 22 years precisely, I was not an adult. The life skills that people tend to correlate with adulthood — paying bills on time, texting back your friends, washing your sheets, paying for parking — I lacked miserably as a teenager and college student. For years, I avoided getting a credit card for the sole reason that it made me nervous. Thanks to my hesitance, Dan now has a better credit score than me. That and he had 7 more years to accumulate good credit, so I’m pretty sure I win in the end. I’m still bad at texting back my friends. Washing sheets was not something my family did regularly growing up, and I still don’t know how often an “adult” is supposed to do that. Now, I draw the line when the sheets have been exposed to someone’s — human or cat — bodily fluids. In high school, I liked to arrive at school two minutes before class started, so I would park in the visitor’s lot and dash to the auditorium. Every once in a while, I would get ticketed, but it was worth the ten more minutes of sleep to me. Even now, I never pay meter parking on the street where my therapist’s office is because 1) I never have coins and 2) I’ve never gotten ticketed.

I guess what I’m really saying is that I’m irresponsible. But it’s more than irresponsibility. It’s hard for me to keep enough tissue, toilet paper, lotion, etc. around the apartment. This whole year, I’m proud to say that yesterday was the first time I completely ran out of tissue. This morning, I had to use a tampon as a cotton ball, which is what I typically use tissue for because purchasing cotton balls is way above my skill level. This year is also the first time I’ve started getting good about taking out the trash. Even then, it takes me several days to take out the trash. First, I have to notice that it’s getting full. Second, in a peak of mental strength, I gather up the drawstrings and set the bag outside my door. Third, on a day when I’m not rushing to class, I’ll take the trash down to the dumpster on my way out the apartment.

It might surprise you that my apartment is always clean. I can’t stand having tissue paper or dirty plates lying around. When the floors start getting dirty and I can feel lint sticking to my bare feet, I have to sweep it. I don’t mind having books, notebooks, shoes scattered around, but I contain them to various corners. The litter box gets cleaned every day because Blueberry deserves to poo in peace. This cleaning habit is also a recent development, though. The first time I even owned a mop was when I moved in to my own apartment after graduating. You don’t want to know how disgusting our apartment was my junior year when we didn’t clean the floors at all for a whole year. I’ll give you a hint: four girls, hair.

I dressed up as an adult so that the realtor would believe that I'm the kind of person who leases a house.

I dressed up as an adult so that the realtor would believe that I’m the kind of person who leases a house.

Given my history, other things might surprise you. The past few weeks, I’ve gotten myself a job, found an apartment in Omaha, applied for rental furniture, drove out to Norwalk to sign a lease on a house for next year, set up my own health insurance for the first time, found out what my credit score was, bought Blueberry an airline-approved carrier, figured out how to certify her as an emotional support animal, and hand-washed all my bras. These things are all good, things that I want, but I can’t help but feel that they’re not me. I can’t help but feel that I’m falling down a slippery slope of adulthood, and the next thing I know I’ll have a mortgage and a husband and commingled finances. You might ask what’s wrong with those things. There’s nothing wrong with them — they are what I want for myself, eventually. But I can’t help but feel that by getting everything I’ve ever wanted, I’m betraying the girl I was for 22 years. It’s hard to move on, because the truth is that I feel so sorry for her.

She was irresponsible because she’d never been taught differently, because she was experiencing the onset of mental illness, because she was in so much pain. Let me say something to you that I’ve never been able to say before: I love her. I love her because she never gave up, she never stopped trying, she made it possible for her to finally cease being. But my heart breaks for her, that she will never be able to experience the happiness that I will have. I almost don’t want to be happy, because I feel so guilty. It’s not fair that she had to suffer so much. I hate that I have to leave her behind now, to move onto what she wanted so badly for me. I’m afraid that she will be forgotten. I want her to know that I haven’t forgotten her, and I will never forget her. Now, as I walk slowly down the path of adulthood, I’m stopping to cry, to grieve her. Maybe when I get up again, then I will get around to being happy.

Goodbye, 18-year-old me.

Goodbye, 18-year-old me.

I Did It

Growing up as an only child of a single immigrant parent, I knew certain truths. First, I would go to college. To this day, it surprises me that going to college isn’t the norm for many Americans, not just for That Guy in high school who runs over baby chicks with his Hummer. Second, I knew that going to any school lower-ranked than the University of Michigan was failure. It was always assumed that I would get in to Michigan — Michigan State University never passed through my mom’s lips. Third, I knew that getting in to college was the sole purpose of everything I’d done for the first 18 years of my life. Especially after my mother and I realized I wasn’t going to skate in the 2010 Winter Olympics, all the years I’d spent on the ice now served another purpose: the line on my resume that read “Huron High School Figure Skating Team, Co-Captain and Two-time State Champion”. I never thought about what would come after I got in to college. My first semester at Michigan, for God knows what reason, I decided that I wasn’t going to graduate school (ha), and I would maintain a 3.0 GPA. Thanks to a B- in Econ, I achieved a perfect three-point that fall.

My confusion about the point of college continued. As my grades languished, I let my chances of getting into business school slip away. I randomly applied for a State Department internship just because the counselor said it was the most competitive. When the Chief of Mission told me how he had to justify the Iraqi war, I realized that I was too irreverent to be a diplomat. At some point, I decided to apply to law school. As I’ve said repeatedly in recent job interviews, yes, I did apply to law school because I wanted to make an impact on people. But it was also to buy myself time to figure out what the hell I wanted to do with my life. I thought that law school was the one graduate program that wouldn’t force me to specialize and would allow me to change my mind every other month. Thank God I was right about that. Since starting school last fall, I’ve bounced from career path to career path. On December 1st, in the midst of my complete confusion, I emailed out five summer job applications.

Yesterday, I flew to a city I’d never visited before, in a state I never thought I’d end up in, and I came home with an offer from my dream company.

Somehow, after starting my summer job search looking for a job, I ended up with the job I’ve always wanted. It wasn’t an easy road to get there. In the past few months, I’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching, shedding a lot of naïveté and idealism along the way. I weighed all of the things I thought I cared about — “saving” the world, prestige, money, location, work-life balance.

I never want to drive to New York ever again.

I never want to drive to New York ever again.

Some of those things began to matter more, and some less. As I passed in and out of New York’s BigLaw offices, money surged ahead of work-life balance. Then, in a moment of clarity, I bopped myself in the head, “Rebecca, your goal in life is not to work more than 40 hours a week. Are you crazy?” My first offer was for a public interest organization, but it would force me to relocate to D.C. with no pay. When I found out I was ineligible for Yale’s public interest funding, I put my foot down on that one. My second offer was in the perfect location, but would involve liaising with the NRA. I was open to doing that as an intellectual exercise, but I certainly wasn’t excited about it.

And then I hit the jackpot. It’s an in-house position at a Fortune 500 company that will hire me back next summer and the summer after I graduate, assuming everything goes well. The actual work combines everything that I’ve loved in law school — Property, Contracts, and Torts. I get my own office in the 82,000 square foot building.  My coworkers are amazing. The first attorney I met won a reality TV cooking show, and I’ve been promised cookie dough samples. Another attorney is also horse crazy, and she offered to give me recommendations on the many barns in the area. All of the attorneys assured me that they worked no more than 40-50 hours a week. The office is heavily bipartisan along pro-dog and pro-cat lines, with healthy sparring from both sides. I get the feeling that I won’t ever need a professional catsitter again. Did I mention this is a city where you can buy 7-bedroom mansions for half a million dollars and the school districts are top-notch?

This house is half a million dollars?!

This house is half a million dollars?!

Before I started my summer job search, I was told that this job didn’t exist. Even now, it’s hard to believe that it’s real. I could never apply for a job again. I could never interview again. I still haven’t earned a real grade in law school yet, and I may never be asked for my transcript again. That blows my mind. It seems almost unfair, a “windfall” as law professors would say, but I know that I have worked for this. This is why I didn’t drop out of law school, even though the past eight months have been the most challenging ones I’ve ever faced, in terms of mental health. I have felt like the pain and suffering would never end, I have wondered if law school would literally kill me, I have questioned my judgment in continuing it. Even my mom asked me why I didn’t just quit. But I held on, in the hope that it would all be worth it in the end. This summer, that hope could become a reality.

I did it — I figured out why I went to college.

Spring Update

It’s been a while since I blogged. Life has been surprisingly hectic as of late. I haven’t been busy in the traditional sense — after all, I only had 13.5 credits this semester. My earliest class was at 1 pm. Yet I feel like I’ve been running around without a moment to breathe in weeks. And now, I’m at the espresso bar and it’s slowly starting to sink in. Yesterday, when I left painting early because I was sick of my mandala, that was the last class of my life. As an undergrad, at least. I’m not sure what kind of classes await me in law school, but I know I’ll never again get to analyze medieval Cult of the Virgin Mary mystical poetry. I’ll never again get to argue the merits of African feminism. I’ll never again see my openly gay professor grab her crotch in an imitation of Celestina, the first pimp in history.

My professor wanted to know what "personal narrative" the squirrel symbolized. I stared at her blankly.

My professor wanted to know what “personal narrative” the squirrel symbolized. I stared at her blankly.

A few minutes ago, I went to see an apartment on Kingsley because I just found out I’ll be staying around for another year. Oh right, I should probably update you guys on that! As you may remember, unfortunately I didn’t get the two scholarships I applied for, the Fulbright and the Princeton in Asia. After job hunting across the continental United States, I ended up finding the perfect internship here in Ann Arbor. For my gap year, I’ll be working at MIRC, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. Their Ann Arbor office focuses on doing legal work for victims of violence, which could be anything from divorce to citizenship. I’m incredibly excited to be exposed to immigration law and to work directly with Spanish and Mandarin speaking clients. My translation skills in Mandarin are null, as I’m illiterate (even after nine years of Chinese school), but I can interpret. Hopefully, this will be an awesome way to keep up and improve mi español.

As I slip off the cloak of safety that is being an undergrad, my search for an apartment perfectly embodies my reluctant yet inevitable descent into adulthood. You see, when I started looking for a place, I thought it would be simple. After all, historically I have not been picky about living situations. The dorm life was, for me, amazing. I loved communal showers, building block furniture, dirty roommates. When I half-lofted my bed sophomore year, the stands holding up the bed frame were uneven. To resolve the rocking issue, I stuffed tissue paper in one of the corners. NBD. On some level, I even enjoyed the house parties that woke me up every Saturday morning and the fire alarms that would go off in the dead of the night. Though I complained about the food, the dining hall was a haven for me — no matter what was going on in my life, I could go there and feel safe. Junior year, I had an apartment at Corner House with three other girls. Though I had to share a room and living space, I didn’t mind. This past year, I’ve been living at home, something I never thought I’d do.

So yeah, when I started apartment hunting recently, I thought I’d done it all. I could live anywhere — there was nothing that would faze me. Boy, was I wrong. In just a few weeks, I’ve gone from anything-goes to picky as hell. Unfortunately, that means that 1) I still haven’t found a place, 2) my budget has increased $400, and 3) I now need a paying job to support my unpaid job.

Story of every recent grad’s life: how do I make rent while working a job I can actually stand? Recent grad life lesson #1: you are not as employable as you think you are. Recent grad life lesson #2: go back to school. Recent grad life lesson #3: you are still dependent on your parents.

Yup, I think I’m officially an adult. What’s something you learned/are learning as a recent grad?

Ciao ciao!

R

I Can’t Afford to Have Senioritis

Rebecca Pumpkin Picking

What a beautiful time to have senioritis. If only.

Remember back in high school when people would talk about senioritis when they were still juniors? That was me. Right now, as I’m in class learning about the outbreak of World War I (so fascinating and tragic), I just heard a girl (presumably a senior) say that she had a bad case of senioritis. Realizing I hadn’t thought about senioritis since I was 16, I wondered why that was. Well, when I was a senior in high school, I had the comfort of knowing that a spot in the University of Michigan Class of 2014 awaited me. Now, only a heavy uncertainty awaits. That’s a nice way of putting it. The other way to put it is this: I’m freaking the fuck out. I don’t have a job and five-figure salary lined up after graduation. I won’t find out until the spring whether or not I’ve been accepted into the Fulbright or Princeton in Asia programs. I’m writing my third novel with no guarantee that it will ever get published.

Although it sometimes feels like I’m working for nothing, pouring my efforts down the drain, of course it’s not true. With every reading I finish, every homework assignment I complete, every exam I take, I am closer and closer to my college diploma. I used to think that a college diploma was matter-of-fact as a high school diploma but I know now that a college degree is no small deal. Growing up in Ann Arbor, a sheltered town, I took it for granted that everyone would go to college. The truth was that in 2010, my senior year, only 68.1% of students were admitted to college. Of those people who went on to attend college, many would not graduate. Of those that did graduate, few would do it in the traditional four years. The road to college graduation is different for everyone — some have children, some take time off for mental health issues, some have to work to finance their studies. The fact that I’m one and a half semesters away for graduation is not something I take for granted.

As a LSA student, I am well aware that my job market is smaller and more competitive than, say, the computer science market. A few weeks ago, I got excited about the Fall Career Expo and even ordered a special U of M name tag. I never even went to pick it up, but I did show up at the Michigan Union in business casual. After flipping through the descriptions of companies (marketing, insurance, oil companies…and Little Caesars), I gave up and left. They should have renamed the damn thing Ross Business School Career Expo. At this point, until I get into law school, my options are to apply for scholarships. Thank god for programs like the Fulbright and Princeton in Asia.

Speaking of those scholarships, I am happy to announce I’ve submitted both. Both application processes were quite a fiasco. For the Fulbright, I had to teach myself Arabic and pass a placement exam. For Princeton, I had to write four essays, shoot a video, and take four passport photos. But now all my materials are out in the cyber world and the US Postal Service. I know I might not get either scholarship, but I’m hoping that as long as I put a penny in the piggy bank every day, I’ll end up okay.

Anyway, here’s something for your viewing pleasure: bloopers from my awe-inspiring Princeton in Asia video that will guarantee me the scholarship. Not. In retrospect, maybe I should’ve sent in this one.

[youtube http://youtu.be/2gDpY18pIx8]

Ciao,

R

Privilege and the National Debt

I am of Asian ethnicity and I am female. Just those two seemingly insignificant facts ensure that I will never be in the highest echelons of society. But in all other aspects, my life is about as privileged as it gets. Of all the places in the world, I was born in the United States to highly educated parents. I have no physical conditions or abnormalities. Though I get a -1 for having divorced parents, both my mother and my father are highly involved. I’m about to graduate from the University of Michigan. While it’s not Ivy League, John F. Kennedy said himself that Harvard was the Michigan of the East. When I visit China, I am still hampered by my lack of male genitalia, but through my father’s connections, I am firmly entrenched in the top 1%.

What does the government shutdown mean for someone like me? Since neither I nor anybody in my family works in the government, it’s not likely to affect me much. When shit hits the fan on October 17th, and the country and possibly the world goes into financial crisis, I will most likely still be able to graduate and do a Fulbright. If the government shutdown continues until next year (highly doubtful), maybe there’s a slim chance the Fulbright will be temporarily suspended. In that case, I’d just do Princeton in Asia or a similar program. After that, I’d probably go to law school at Columbia or NYU or (a bit of a stretch, but hell I wouldn’t turn them down) Yale. By the time I graduated and chose from the most elite jobs, I’d be so completely enveloped in this so-called ( by Domhoff) “ruling class”, I would neither care about nor relate to the working class. I’d probably want to keep my “hard-earned” money and pressure lawmakers for more tax cuts. I’d say that the national debt was an issue, but secretly want to pass it down to the next generation, just like climate change. If I was wealthy and powerful enough, my children would attend boarding schools, Ivy Leagues, and continue in my footsteps.

If you don’t believe that this “privilege trap” exists, look at our government in recent years. How the hell did George W. Bush become president with a straight-C undergrad average? How was he allowed to spend $1.8 trillion on tax cuts? While it could be argued that Bush was an exceptionally bad and dumb president, even our highly intelligent supreme court justices are nonetheless susceptible to social pressures. For example, the Hollingsworth v. Perry Decision (over California’s Prop 8) can only be explained by the judges’ alma maters. Harvard voted 5-1 in rejection of Prop 8; Yale voted 3-0 in affirmation of Prop 8.

Supreme Court Diversity ComicFellow people of privilege, don’t fall into the privilege trap. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to Harvard or Yale, but if you do, for God’s sake don’t keep sitting with your friends like you’re still stuck in elementary school cafeterias. If you happen to get rich and sit on the board of directors at a Fortune 500 company, don’t use your influence to continue the hegemony of the 1%. If you enter politics, don’t vote on party lines like you have no personal opinion. Pressure lawmakers to do something about the national debt. According to my political psychologist professor, we have three remaining solutions. First, we could default, which is the only option that politicians would even touch. But this would likely cause a global economic crisis. Second, we could print more money, which would result in so much inflation that $16.7 trillion wouldn’t be that much. Unfortunately, that would put the vast majority of Americans under the poverty line. Third, we could apply 100% inheritance tax and solve the inequality issue. Except this would never happen.

I leave you with a timely quote from Warren Buffet.

“There’s class warfare, all right. But it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Salut,

R

Life in 10 Years

In a decade, this painting will have launched my long and illustrious artistic career.

In a decade, this painting will have launched my long and illustrious artistic career.

Preface

The universe seems to be telling me something. First, I went and wrote this blog post about all the things I want before I’m 30 years old. Then, when I sat down with my Tall Iced Caramel Macchiato at Barnes and Noble this morning, the first book I happened to read was titled Adulting. I’ll admit I was a little skeptical when I opened it, expecting a lot of flowery bullshit like “Find your inner peace through mindfulness”, “You are in charge of your own happiness”, and “Don’t be afraid to take risks”. Instead, through Kelly Williams Brown’s no-nonsense voice, I discovered very practical advice that I never knew I needed. Apparently, sinks need to be bleached, I’ve been washing my dishes wrong, and I don’t launder my sheets nearly as often as I should. I shudder to think of what else I’m doing wrong.

After flipping through the book, I started wondering how I could ever achieve adulthood, if that meant doing all 468 steps that the book suggested. Good God, it would be a miracle if I could just start flossing. But then…a lot of things change in 10 years, right? Ten years ago from today, I was an 11-year-old eagerly awaiting the first day of middle school. Clearly, I didn’t know shit then. The only thing I could cook was, what, scrambled eggs? So, maybe (just maybe), I could be a full-grown adult in 10 years. If everything goes really, really well, this might be my life in a decade.

Fast Forward 3650 Days

I’m awake an instant before he paws my right jaw and lands a lick somewhere between my eye and my nose. I know it’s Blitz, our five-year-old Husky, because of his weight. The summertime heat in Pennsylvania has kept Blitz mostly indoors and he’s gained a pound too many off his high-protein, fresh meals I cooked daily. On the other hand, our six-year-old rescue greyhound Quinn seemed to never gain weight no matter what I did. Rolling out of bed, I try not to wake Phineas. After four years of marriage, I’ve realized that it’s better to let him sleep in. Tiptoeing past the nursery (there will be even more hell if I wake the youngsters), I grab Blitz and Quinn’s leashes and head out the front door.

By the time I’m back, Papa Phineas has not-so-gracefully roused Sebastian and Clementine, who are three and two respectively. While I take over breakfast duty, which consists of me insisting that they feed themselves, Phineas goes to take a shower and get dressed for work. When he finishes, he offers to drop off the kids at daycare, since I’m running late anyway. In the shower, I rinse off the run from my fit body, the result of daily workout sessions with my personal trainer. I take note that I need to pay the daycare bill soon, which always takes a chunk out of my paycheck. The damn place is a money sucker, but it’s worth every penny, since they are teaching my children the Mandarin I cannot.

With that, I hop in my BMW X1 (which runs on hydrogen) and drive myself to the station. A half-hour on the cross-continental high-speed train later, I’ve arrived in New York City. The Big Apple. I flash my badge and enter the United Nations building. My secretary greets me before I get to my desk and informs me that the Secretary-General would like to see me immediately. That’s fantastic. I head to the Secretary-General’s office and tell him again that there are no legal loopholes in the UN charter that will allow us to “nuke the hell out of Pyongyang”. Instead, he should focus his efforts on getting China on board with military action. These days, anything has to be approved by the Chinese.

In the afternoon, I take the rail again to Washington DC and head straight to the Department of State. I demand to see Huma Abedin, who is now Secretary of State and has long since abandoned her Weiner of an ex-husband. I need to know by the end of the day if the US is going to vote for military action against North Korea at the next security council meeting. She hems and haws like a good diplomat and tells me she will call again before the day is over. I know that means around 3:00 am. There goes my good night’s sleep.

After leaving the Hill, I return to New York to sit in on the executive council meeting, which nearly bores me to tears. I finish up some paperwork and get out of the office by 6:00 pm. Taking one of the UN vehicles, I swing by my agent’s office on W. 24 Street. She informs me that I’ve topped the New York Times bestsellers list with my newest novel, a thriller about a diplomat who is torn between her country and her lover. I tell her that I’m weeks from finishing up the sequel — just need to add some finishing touches.

Another half-hour later, I’m home and our personal chef has prepared an all-natural, organic, GMO-free, and gluten-free meal for us. My intellectually precocious children tell us about everything they learned in school. Apparently, they know every province and capital of China by heart. I guess that’s…important? After dinner, they start their homework without being told. I peek over their shoulder, awed that they are more literate in Chinese than me.

Flipping open my laptop, I check my online Etsy store. My paintings have not been selling as well as I would like, and I’m considering doing another exhibition or getting my best friend Ainsley’s gallery to show my works. On cue, she calls me to ask if Phineas and I are free to attend a gala for painters in the New York area this upcoming weekend. She insists that I come, since many famous faces are rumored to attend. Laughing, I agree, knowing that Phineas will happily oblige for access to free wine and cheese. Ainsley suggests that I wear white, since Labor Day is just around the corner.

At last, I’ve finished my work for the day. After putting the kids to bed, Phineas and I head to the dark room, the one from which all others are forbidden. We call it the Forbidden City. It’s 9:00 pm and three others are other waiting for us. Together, we form the PGC, the Prehistoric Gamers’ Coalition, a professional League of Legends team that has held the World Championship title for three consecutive years. We practice nightly when it’s championship season — regionals are being held the following weekend and we will be ready. After winning two games and recording a live Q&A with our millions of fans, we retire from the Forbidden City.

At exactly 10:30 pm, I fall asleep, exhausted and satisfied. Phineas will join me in an hour or two.

Back to Present

Why does this life sound so terrible? God, I want to be a kid for eternity now.

30 Things I Want Before 30

Now that I’m steadily creeping into my 20s, I’m getting nervous. You see, when I was in my teens, I thought a lot about my future. I didn’t have the smoothest ride through teenagerdom, so I was eager to be independent. An adult, emphasis on the first syllable. Little things like swinging my car keys around my index finger while making a run to the grocery store excited me. I imagined my future boyfriend sweeping me off my feet with his CD collection in his cozy New York City apartment. Yeah, this is back when people collected CDs. Fun fact about me: the only CD I ever purchased was Weezer’s Red Album. I don’t know where it went, but I still love me some Weezer.

Although I’m only 21, I feel like I’m so caught up in the responsibilities of being a near-adult that I’ve forgotten to focus on the goals I once had. The last time I made a list like this one, I was 18. I even know the exact date (Aug. 20, 2012), because it was posted on my last WordPress blog that is now private because it’s incredibly embarrassing. I just read through it now, and while I’m surprised by the things that haven’t changed, many things certainly have. So here’s take two of my goals for the second decade of my life.

30 Things I Want Before 30

  1. Some form of continued higher education. I’m not completely set on law school yet, but I know I’m not done with formal learning.
  2. Fluency in two more languages. I’m on my sixth now, Arabic. I like to think I have two more in me.
  3. Literacy in Mandarin. I can only read about half the common characters currently.
  4. A horse. Pretty self-explanatory if you know me. On another note, look at the pretty horse ring I picked up yesterday in St. Augustine!Copper Horse Ring
  5. Two adopted dogs. Named Blitz and Quinn.
  6. Turtles, housed in giant outdoor pond. Must redeem myself for mistreating turtles in my younger life. I’ve already given up on my fish karma, so I’ll just feed those little swimmers to my turtles.
  7. A weekly exercise routine. Well, it doesn’t have to be routine, but I’d like to keep playing squash, riding horses, and taking walks.
  8. Ability to sleep on my back. This is probably the hardest one on the whole list.
  9. Ability to sleep less than 9 hours. This might be the second hardest.
  10. Ability to drink alcohol. Forget what I said before — this is the hardest.
  11. Ability to apologize. Oh wait, no, this one is.
  12. My three favorite piano pieces, memorized. That’d be Beethoven’s Pathétique, one of the Bach fugues, and…hmm, not sure about the third.
  13. A painting, finished. This is where I left off with my first.Horse Painting
  14. Mad cooking chops. I think my chops are pretty good right now, but certainly not mad.
  15. A budget. Well, I sort of have one now, which consists of spending all my money. 😦
  16. Environmental consciousness. Which is why my dream car is the BMW X1, one of the most fuel efficient SUVs.
  17. General geographical knowledge. Why don’t they teach this in American schools?!
  18. A fabulous collection of lingerie. I’m stealing this one from my last list. Why? Because you know your life is going pretty well if you can spend time and money on lingerie.
  19. Community involvement. Whether exercising my voting rights or working in the government, I’d like to perform my civic duty.
  20. My novel, published. Hopefully I’ll get here before 30, but you never know.
  21. A year working abroad. I’m planning for Morocco in 2013-14.
  22. A year in Asia. I want to know my parents’ native countries better.
  23. A year in New York City. Probably more, but not too many.
  24. A job that I enjoy and serves a greater purpose. To me, that means nonprofit work that benefits lives around the world.
  25. A salary that gives me a comfortable life. Money isn’t everything, but it is important.
  26. A nice home somewhere that snows. That includes: a chalkboard-paint wall, a fireplace, a record player, a furnished basement, a fenced backyard, and a four-poster bed. Porch swing preferred.

    Chalkboard Wall

    Photo courtesy Apartment Therapy.

  27. A kid. Alexander Sebastian or Clementine Astrid. I believe in syllables.
  28. A best friend. Sometimes, I feel like these are harder to find than husbands.
  29. A wedding. Just one, please. I’d like it in the fall because my favorite season is winter, but I want an outdoor wedding, and my sensitive skin wouldn’t last a lick in subzero temperatures.
  30. A marriage. I’m not in a huge rush to be married, and I may have some commitment issues, but it’d be nice to have a husband before I have an Alexander.

I’m probably missing a lot of other important things, but oh well. If you are over 30, what advice would you give us 20-year-olds? If you are under 30, what are some of your goals?

Au revoir,

R

AATA: China (Part Three)

Asian American Takes Asia

At long last, I’m wrapping up the travel series with Part Three of China. Last time, I told you guys about extravagant meals with the mayor and my father’s #1 and #2 companies. This time, I’m going to tell you about our leisure trip turned business trip to Guangzhou.

It was with a bit of shock and panic that I realized I had two weeks remaining in China. I’d promised myself that I would finish my novel by the end of my stay. At 60,000 words, my novel was nearing the finish line but not quite there yet. In order to complete it, I’d have to write more than I ever had before. After berating myself, threatening myself, bribing myself, I stepped up to the plate and faced the most daunting task yet. My daily morning routine consisted of chatting with Phineas, sending him off to bed, and gluing myself to my keyboard for however many hours it took to write 2500+ words. I felt bad for my grandma, who kept urging me to eat her cooking and tried to get me to go shopping with her. I didn’t give in until the very last day, when I — by some miracle — finished my novel a few days early.

Sometimes, my dad would take me to his company with him, and then I was writing while he met with government officials, discreetly coughing from second-hand smoke. When we went out to meals, I gulped down the food and went back to my corner, typing furiously. My father had previously mentioned a trip out to Guangzhou, where he would meet a healthcare representative to discuss collaboration on a future project. For the most part, though, he said we would be free to travel and dine at yummy restaurants. Little did we know.

I was told to pack for four days and we were off to the high-speed train station. My father’s #2 and #3 in command were apparently accompanying us. The #2 took my passport and my dad’s ID, and he hurried off to pick up our tickets. It was still surprising to me how much this man was willing to do for his boss. I understood that, in China, there was little separation between the professional and personal realms, but this guy had a Ph.D. for god’s sake! And he was still doing more ass-wiping than the average butler.

My daddy, talking to someone important.

My daddy, talking to someone important.

When we arrived at the hotel, I realized that it wasn’t quite a hotel. First of all, its lobby looked…funny. There were stairs heading up to a dining area, there was a little convenience store in the corner, and there were cubicles in the opposite corner. The place was thoroughly mismatched. It was also, like everything else in China, so new that there was still plastic wrap around the new furniture and elevator buttons. My dad explained to me that this place was both a hotel and apartment complex. The government had “granted” him one of the rooms to use permanently. I would get my own separate room for the night. After having dinner with this healthcare rep, who was fairly boring, I retired to my room. Happily, I found that there were no mosquitoes, the air conditioning worked well, and the internet was fast enough to support my How I Met Your Mother habit.

The next morning, I chose to stay in instead of heading over to my dad’s company for an early meeting. I was on my laptop writing until my dad’s #2 man came to get me for lunch. When I arrived, my father, the healthcare dude, and another government official were already seated in a suite. I found the food mostly inedible (too spicy, oily, and fried for my taste) and drank a lot of this special flavored water. I still haven’t figured out what exactly the beverage was made from. It had these reddish prune-like thingies floating around that gave it the unique taste. In any case, I grew especially fond of this drink while in China. Last night, I found it again at a Chinese restaurant, but as usual it was sweetened 10 times more than necessary.

I excused myself from lunch early to go to the convenience store and stock up on snacks. I’m absolutely in love with anything green tea flavored and found the perfect crackers with green tea filling. Then, I headed back to my room and returned to my writing. That was my most prolific day of writing — I think I ended up with more than 3500 words for the day. In the afternoon, someone rang the doorbell. It was the #2 dude again, telling me to pack up all my things. I was confused, since I just overheard him booking my room for two additional nights at the front desk. He tried to explain what had happened, but I didn’t understand him fully. And so I packed, muttering under my breath about my dad’s inability to forewarn me on important developments. I still remembered how I found out about my youngest sibling, Kevin. On the way to Publix, the local grocery store, my other brother Justin (who was six at the time) asked loudly, “So Dad, we’re having a baby next year right?”

It was after I’d packed up and followed #2 honcho down the hall that I saw the most astonishing thing. #3 honcho was finishing packing up my dad’s belongings. He asked numero dos, “Did the boss say he wanted to pack this up or not?” To which the first guy replied, “I don’t know, but pack it to be safe.” My eyes were bulging.

After a few more minutes of scrambling, we got into a taxi that took us to my dad’s company. I found my father there, chilling out like he was hanging out with friends at a bar. Smiling, he told me that we had to go back to Wuhan immediately because some important government official wanted to talk to him about potential funding.

Smiling back, I said, “Okay.” Within an hour, we were back on the high-speed train. I guess everything in China is high-speed these days.

Ciao,

R

How to Find Your Life’s Passion

What's the flame in your heart that can't be extinguished?

What’s the flame in your heart that can’t be extinguished?

When I woke up this morning, I felt sad. There was an emptiness inside me that I couldn’t quite explain. I’d gone to bed happy, I’d had a good day, I’d had a good few weeks. I had nothing to complain about. In terms of my summer goals, all except for one was going swimmingly. Last week, my Fulbright adviser told me that my essays were amazing and there was nothing more to improve. On Monday, I gave my presentation on the Chinese Cultural Revolution for my Honors Summer Fellowship group. If I may say so myself, I kicked some ass — since I was on set for 13 hours on Sunday filming Transformers 4 (!), I had to finish my Powerpoint hours before my presentation. Yesterday, I met with my Romance Languages thesis advisor and he was extremely pleased with my progress. I think his exact words were, “You’ve already done so much work. Are you sure you want to do more? You really don’t have to.”

So why was I unhappy? As the moody Gemini I am, sometimes I’m struck with the blues for no reason. This morning, though, there was a specific reason. My book. I haven’t given you guys an update for a while because I haven’t received any definitive news. All I can tell you now is that the road to publishing is not going as smoothly as I hoped for. Though my agent is still optimistic, I’m feeling less and less hopeful for the fate of this particular novel. While I’m more experienced with rejection this time around, I also had higher expectations for this book. It was better written, the concept was extremely marketable, and my agent loved it. I just want to scream from the rooftops, “Why the hell won’t anybody publish this damn book?!” The feedback’s been all the same: Rebecca Cao is an extremely talented writer, she has a great future, I loved the concept, but didn’t love the novel as much as I wanted to. Everyone seems to think that I will inevitably be published and have a long and successful career as a writer, but right now that feels so far away. 

My point is this: today, I realized once again that — despite what I might tell myself — my writing career matters more to me than the rest of my life put together. Well, I guess I mean my professional life (sorry Mom and Dad). And guess what? This really sucks sometimes. Because I can’t be happy with all the things that are going well because the one thing I want the most isn’t. I know what you want to say. Hello, Rebecca? Stop being such an ungrateful bitch, will you? Appreciate your life more. I know, I know, ‘kay? I’m working on it. Slowly. One thing I’m very grateful for is the fact that I am more certain than ever that I’ve found my life’s passion. So, here is a guide to finding your life’s passion. Let’s hope that yours is kinder to you than mine has been to me. 

Steps to Finding Your Life’s Passion

  1. Take the pressure off. This is an odd first step, but I promise you it works. When you try too hard to find your passion, you take the fun out of everything. It’s very difficult to turn an entertaining hobby into a serious career without making it feel like work. So, just relax and stop overanalyzing your every interest.
  2. Self-reflect. After taking the pressure off, you should still do some thinking. Ask yourself: throughout your life, has there been one pastime or one academic subject that you’ve always enjoyed? Something you haven’t gotten sick of? Something you always go back to?
  3. Increase your involvement gradually. The key is to avoid overdoing it at first. For me, I found my first major — Romance Languages — when I decided languages was something I couldn’t get enough of. So, I enrolled in a French class, loved it, and went from there.
  4. Stick to it. You’re never going to find a “perfect” career where you never have to do anything you dislike. That’s a myth. There’s going to be times that suck and work that bores you or even offends you. This step is the real litmus test to determining whether or not you’ve found the right passion. Do you want to quit when times get hard or do you hunger for success even more? 
  5. Fail. You’re also going to fail. This is part two of the litmus test. Does it break your heart? Good. It should. Do you get back on your feet quickly? Do you handle each failure better and better?
  6. Succeed. If you’re doing something you really love, then you’re going to work hard. If you work hard, inevitably success will follow. Not every writer can be J.K. Rowling and not every scientist can be Albert Einstein, but everyone can achieve various degrees of success. 
  7. Work harder. If you succeed and stop striving for more, then you were just lucky and you really haven’t found your life’s passion. But if you succeed, and you still want to achieve greater things, you’re on the right track. 
  8. Be flexible. Remember that you can have many different passions in life. Probably not all at once, but don’t be afraid to jump ship once you’ve had enough of one career. 

Have you found your life’s passion? If yes, did you always know or did you fall into it? If not, did you find my list helpful?

Salut,

R

AATA: China (Part Two)

Asian American Takes AsiaThis post is part of the Asian American Takes Asia series, in which I chronicle my three-weeks-long journey to the motherland (Taiwan) and the fatherland (China). Hilarity ensues. 

When I arrived in Wuhan, China this May, a few things were different. I was used to visiting in July and August, during which Wuhan was quite literally a sauna — a 100-degree humidity that clogged every opening of your body. Of course, like every normal human, I used to hate it. I would gasp for air until the nearest taxi came and bemoan the particular driver’s affinity for saving gas by rolling down the windows. At last, I would duck into our apartment or a restaurant or a hotel and demand that the AC be turned on immediately. Then I would face another sort of problem. I’ve discovered a flaw in the Celsius system. Sure, it’s neat that water freezes at 0° and boils at 100°. Cool story, bro. But let me tell you this: it’s impossible to get the AC at the perfect temperature because 27° is a smidgeon too hot and 26° a smidgeon too cold. I’m always switching between the two.

This time, though, I arrived in mid-May, which meant that it was still on the chilly side. Surprisingly, I found myself a tad nostalgic for the sauna days.

The second thing I noticed was that my father was actually working. Well, my father has always worked hard. After all, he’s one of the most successful people in his field and is taking over the Chinese tech world. Currently, he has a primary company working on femtosecond lasers that are a fraction of the cost and much more powerful than what’s available today. This company is now housed in a much nicer complex, which he uses completely free of charge, courtesy of the Chinese government. In the same building is his second company, which does something I don’t quite know. Then there are third and fourth institutions that we’ll get to later. In short, when I’d visited previously, my dad could always take off work whenever he wanted. But now, he was working 9-5 five days a week.

The third change was the fact that the Chinese government was all over my dad. The first man I met was a very strange top official in the Huangshi municipal government. Huangshi, an hour away from Wuhan, is where my dad was born and is sponsoring many of his projects. Anyway, I had a preconception in my mind that all Chinese officials were power-hungry, materialistic, corrupt, chain-smoking, drinking dudes. This guy was, from what I could see, only the latter two. I asked my dad and he agreed that yes, he was one of the good guys. Our first meeting was at a restaurant that resembled a botanical gardens and, of course, the official footed the bill. I played a lot of Temple Run and inhaled a lot of secondhand smoke that day.

For our next meeting, we drove out to Huangshi to meet the whole gang. We were seated in a fancy conference room in a five-star hotel and I was told that the important-looking man was the mayor of Huangshi. Instead of trying to follow the difficult conversation (which probably involved a lot of ass-kissing), I hammered away on my laptop, bringing my novel closer to completion. Then, we entered a private dining room. These are the newest big thing in China — you get your own waitstaff and a separate restroom and you’re served a 10-course meal. I was surprised to see my name card on the table.

My Chinese name! Cao Sushin.

In the middle of lunch, the mayor had to leave to attend his second and third lunches of the day. What a busy man. After we’d finished eating, everyone scattered, but we had to stay at the hotel for another meeting. Seeing that I was tired, just like that, one of the officials opened a hotel room for me and I was free to use it for the time being. I took a nice nap, and then we were headed back to Wuhan. Before we move on, let me tell you about Huangshi. In the past, I’d always thought of it as the poorer, smaller version of its cousin, Wuhan. Though all my relatives lived in Huangshi, I much preferred Wuhan for its nice department stores and relatively cleaner streets. This time, though, I was utterly shocked by Huangshi. I didn’t recognize anything except for my grandparent’s apartment. My dad told me that the apartment’s worth had skyrocketed tenfold since he purchased it years ago. The development that had occurred was incredible — it was as if someone had cheated at Roller Coaster Tycoon, had billions of dollars stashed away, and built whatever he pleased. Technically, this someone was the Chinese government.

Within months, a new five-star hotel arched over the lake water. With a snap of the fingers, a beautiful ancient-style restaurant was erected by the shore.

Ancient Chinese RestaurantWhen we dined at this place one sunny afternoon, we were the only guests. As I continued to type furiously on my laptop while trying to escape the secondhand smoke, one of the officials kept chasing me. I don’t really like my ass being kissed, but I was grateful for the gifts I received. A very expensive bracelet I don’t know when I’ll ever get a chance to wear and an awesome water bottle I later gave to Phineas. My dad also got a soccer ball signed by the entire Chinese national team, but he doesn’t even watch soccer and, as far as I know, the Chinese team isn’t very good…

Our next voyage to Huangshi contrasted greatly with the lunch with the mayor. It ended up being one of the most incredible experiences and I will remember it forever. We were escorted into a strange-looking complex guarded by a stern man in uniform. The rows of buildings appeared old and unused, and I wondered why anyone would need to protect this place. It seemed like something out of a James Bond flick, where the next action sequence would take place. I whispered to my dad, “I thought we were going to lunch. Is this some secret government hideout?” My questions wouldn’t be answered for awhile, since my father had no clue either.

We pulled up to this warehouse and I walked in to find graffiti on the walls and random statues scattered about. On the other side of the warehouse was an open space shaded by a roof made of vines. A man came out to greet us and began to pour us tea at a mosaic table. I felt like I’d just traveled back in time. A few men came out of a kitchen to speak to the tea guy and he gave them orders. I was thoroughly confused. When we were served a lavish, home-cooked meal that was better than any of the restaurant dishes, I had lost my patience. What the hell was this place? Laughing, the men began to explain to me. One of them was the odd official whom I’d met first. Apparently, we were in what used to be a Communist storage warehouse. The area we were currently in was their old barracks. Looking up, I saw a portrait of Mao on the wall. 

As I spoke briefly of Mao with these officials who, many would say, are still Communists, it was absolutely surreal. None of them began to chant a Communist hymn or whisper a prayer to their deceased leader. They just mentioned Mao matter-of-factly and continued to explain that this complex would soon be torn down to make room for something new. Nowadays in China, everything newer was better. I told them that I would be sad to see this place go, however. No matter what had happened here in the past (executions? Torture? Brainwashing?), it was a piece of history and I’m a sucker for old things. To immortalize this Communist warehouse, I took a few photos.

Can you imagine them blowing up this statue? Poor guy.

Can you imagine them blowing up this statue? Poor guy.

Not only did the officials not mind, the funny dude insisted that I take his portrait. Voilà:

This guy had a peculiar sense of humor.

This guy had a peculiar sense of humor.

During this day, I was reminded again that I love China for its history. While I’m amazed by the speed of development that is happening there every second, I am also saddened that places like this will be eternally lost. China is enamored with change, but I hope that it one day learns to appreciate its past as much as its future. But then again, it’s hard to preserve historical sites other than to turn them into tourist havens who will be both annoying and destructive. When I was in Rome, I was shocked to see ruins everywhere, fenced off from construction sites as if they were mere weeds.

To those who haven’t yet seen China, I encourage you: please visit before pollution and tourism ruin its exquisite scenery and before development and business turn the big cities into scenes from a sci-fi film.

For more about companies #3 and #4 and our business trip to Guangzhou, stick around for Part Three!

À bientôt,

R