Saving Face- Mental Health in a Patriarchal Society

Let’s face it.
APIAs have a very bad record at managing mental health as a community. As a whole, we’d rather save face as opposed to admitting we have a mental illness. Mental illnesses are considered ‘weak’ and ‘shameful.’ This stigma continues to be pervasive in our community, preventing people from seeking help or finding support. We constantly rank high in illnesses such as depression, but we are also reported to rarely seek professional help. It’s an issue. So you can probably guess the apprehension I felt when I moved to Malaysia for a year where it is considerably more patriarchal and conservative.

At the beginning of my placement, I was struggling with my alopecia.  At the same time, I was making connections with my community. One uncle brought me everywhere to meet the community and once he heard about my alopecia, he began to tell everyone and asked for advice. I couldn’t fathom why he was doing such a thing and I was so embarrassed. Who wants to tell strangers that they’re losing hair?

Several months later, this uncle became a sort of godfather to me and invited me to come to a doctor’s visit with him in Singapore. Perplexed, I decided to follow because I had nothing else to do and I could get a new passport stamp. Upon arriving to the hospital, I realized that we were going to visit the doctor because my godfather had experienced anxiety attacks the past year. Then, on the way back he told me his story. My godfather was a very busy man- he is president and chairman of multiple associations and organizations. Oftentimes, he puts his own wellbeing on the line for the community’s benefit. As you can tell, this can be extremely taxing. As a result, my godfather started having anxiety attacks. But instead of hiding it and acting like a typical patriarch, he began to ask everyone and try everything suggested. From doctors to Eastern medicine to Western practices, he ended up finding proper help in Singapore from a psychiatrist. He told me that there is no shame in trying to be healthy. There is no shame in being sick. We are only allotted so much time in this life and it would be a waste to spend it unhappily and unwell.

I was shocked. Not only had this pillar of the community- the very definition of a Chinese patriarch- actively made himself vulnerable and sought for help, but he also went to a whole other country to find proper treatment. This was absolutely fascinating to me. Him along with his wife, my godmother, continued to talk to me about their thoughts regarding mental health. They told me that if there is a solution, then why must you keep yourself suffering in silence? The world has changed, so have humans. In the past, we had different diseases and threats to contend with, and now for our current age, this is a new problem people face. As a result, we must adapt and treat it accordingly. There is no reason for shame. We all have problems and it helps no one if we leave them unsolved.

So there’s this man in this incredibly patriarchal society, espousing all the values of traditional Chinese families, the epitome of a community pillar, and he doesn’t see admitting to sickness as losing face. So why should we?

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Ikigai

Ikigai (生き甲斐) is a Japanese term that roughly translates to ‘ reason for being.’ It is the intersection of four things: what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs.

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I know I haven’t been in the ‘official’ work force for more than a few years, but I’ve already done quite a bit (or I’d like to think so). I’ve spent a year in Malaysia as a Community Development Office; I spent some time doing social media and marketing for the international NGO, Africa Development Promise and local magazine, Asian Avenue; I’ve hosted a few events like the Asian American Hero of Colorado award ceremony, and two large scale fundraisers totaling over $350,000. And most recently, I have been a database manager, exploring how data can tell amazing stories. This entire time I’ve also put myself through graduate school and received my Masters in Development Practice. It’s safe to say that it’s been a busy past few years.

It’s been very packed and I haven’t had a lot of time to breathe. Growing up, the idea of success meant constantly being busy, making your ambitions come true, and having a stable and ample income. Working in the nonprofit field, I’ve already forsaken that last point. However, I worked hard to be as successful as possible nonetheless.

And then, two weeks ago, I quit my stable job with great benefits and a mission I loved. There were a lot of reasons for this, but one of them was that I simply wasn’t happy. I didn’t have a back up plan and that scared the shit out of me, but I made the decision to choose myself first. Luckily, I have the privilege of having some money saved so I can spend this time to take care of myself as well as to find my ikigai, to find what truly feeds my soul. I’m taking a break from this constant race for success, spending time getting involved in my community and giving back, and finding the right path for myself.

Life is too short to dread waking up and going to work daily. And it’s okay to take a break to focus on yourself and on what can not only sustain your body physically, but your soul spiritually. It’s a hard decision to make, but if you have the privilege to make it, it’s worth a try.

An Open Letter to Those Who Support the Censorship of the EPA

Yesterday, the Trump administration instructed the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) not to give any press releases, publish blog posts, or release anything on social media. In the meantime, the administration will look through the agency’s website to determine if any information should be discarded, despite its scientific validity. There are also conversations about the cutting and vetting of grants that go towards scientific research. In response to the looming threat, I must underline two things.

  1. Science is, hands down, non-partisan.

Science is neither liberal nor conservative. It is not opinion. It is not a feeling. Science is an iterative process that consistently proves and disproves past experiments in order to reach some semblance of objective truth. Yes, there are scientists who have their personal agendas, and yes science has been used as an excuse for oppression in the past (like the creation of ‘race’ as a way to separate those in power and ‘others’). But guess what stops psuedo-scientific studies with agendas- more science. Good data is good data, and data does not lie. Data does not have an agenda. Data is not out to get your conservative values. Data does not care how you vote.

An attack on science is not just a political move, it’s a refusal to accept the rigorous research it takes to come up with anything of substantial significance. What you do with scientific findings is politics, however, the objective nature of science itself is non-partisan. Research methodology consistently strives to be objective or account for any subjective influence.

Please understand that 2 hours of internet research is not more valid than literally thousands of years of rigorous research done through scientific methods, peer reviewed by millions of other scientists, and validated by thousands of similar studies that achieve the same results. Not to mention the interdisciplinary studies that are able to corroborate those same findings from different entry points. People spend years of their lives fighting to get closer to the truth, and believe me when I say that their findings are much more valid than your Google search.

Yes, scientists are fallible. They have their own agendas and motivations. But good science is the closest we can get towards objectivity. Trust the data.

  1. Anthropogenic climate change is already happening now. And people are literally dying.

Let me get this straight, we’re not going to experience the effects of global warming hundreds of years in the future when we’re all dead and gone. It’s happening now. Beyond the fact that over 97% of scientists from all different disciplines believe anthropogenic climate change to be indisputable, there is still a considerable amount of doubt from politicians (I wonder which group has the most vested interests and personal agendas: scientists or politicians?). Although difficult to measure because of the absolute enormous amount of direct and indirect effects of climate change, according to the incredibly comprehensive report by DARA and the Climate Vulnerable Forum, the “combined climate-carbon crisis is estimated to claim 100 million lives between now and the end of the next decade”. And those that are worst affected are those in the poorest countries. Isn’t it funny how our rampant and unchecked capitalism and development is affecting the poorest countries the worst? Maybe in the past we didn’t know better, but now we do.

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Number of Deaths in the year 2010 and the year 2030 due to the Climate-Carbon Crisis (Climate Vulnerability Monitor).

But it seems like those realities are not relevant. In the international development field, thousands of NGOS are scrambling to mitigate and adapt to the looming threat of climate change. Even in programs focused on just women and girls empowerment, there is usually a section that explores the threat of climate change and how it can be met. One only needs to spend a few weeks in the Sahel, a Ghanaian coastal fishing town, a low lying area in Bangladesh, or the sinking Maldives to see the damage already being done. Or check out these comprehensive reports to see the effects of climate change in your home state now (thanks EPA!). 

Look, you can believe what you want in terms of your values and religions. But, the data does not lie. You can erase its traces on the internet, you can pump more money into fossil fuels, you can ignore the impending threat. You can do all of that, but whether you like it or not, anthropogenic climate change is real and some day you will regret not leaving a habitable planet for your children and grandchildren.

Photo: A picture of the beautiful Cameron Highlands that I took during my travels. It is of utmost importance that we preserve the beauty of our land and the safety of all that lives on it. 

For All Those Wandering Souls

I cannot help but feel I like I am on the periphery of life whenever I stay stationary for too long.
That I am not allowing my life the richness that it craves.
It’s not that I don’t strive for home.
It’s that I can’t stay home for more than a little while before my heart aches for elsewhere.
I can’t really explain it, but I feel restless when I’m resting too long.

I don’t know why.
Maybe it’s because I’m running away from all my demons and when I slow down, they catch up.
Maybe it’s because I’m still a kid and don’t want to settle.
Maybe it’s because I only truly feel alive when I escape monotony and embrace true spontaneity.
I’m not sure.

But this is a shoutout for all those wandering souls,
for those that embrace the discomfort of being in a place where nothing is familiar, and your tongue forms weird shapes and noises that no one else understands.
For those people that love to get lost in the diversity and confusion of life,
that lose themselves only so they can find themselves.
This is for those that feel anxious when sitting still, but free when faced with uncertainty.
This is for those creative souls that fall asleep to the lullabies of morning bird song.

I can’t help but miss the chaos of not knowing where I’ll sleep nor what direction to go.

This is for you wandering souls,
For you thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies that find pause and peace on the edges of cliffs.

For those of us that are constantly searching for something…more.

Picture: Throwback to when I was in Japan. 

Can White People Eat Pho?

Of course they can! Pho is God’s gift to this world, it descended from the heavens in brothy and delicious goodness to enrich our lives. I love pho and I can eat it everyday. When I was in Vietnam, I did eat it everyday…in fact, I ate it several times a day. I wish everyone can experience the greatness of pho because the more people that eat pho, the happier our world will be. So why is there all this backlash to the the Bon Appetit video of Tyler Akin telling people how to eat pho?

Well, let’s start with some basics.
First, food is culture. As an anthropologist, I study culture and food culture is incredibly important in maintaining identity and tradition. Just think about all the biggest American holidays and think about how central food is to creating the atmosphere. Think about Thanksgiving and the glazed turkey and creamy mashed potatoes. Think about Christmas and your mom’s amazing casserole or your grandma’s jam. Think about the feelings it can evoke. Food isn’t just nutrition and supplement. Food carries meaning, history, tradition, values, and more. It’s why we crave comfort foods when we’re sad, it’s why we often go out to eat lunch with friends to catch up. Our lives revolve around food and believe it or not, it is incredibly important in building identity and pride in communities of color.

Second, appropriation is a real thing. I know a lot of you still question it and wonder why everyone can’t enjoy all the nice things about all cultures, but that’s not really what appropriation is. For those of us who are proud of certain aspects of our culture, of course we are excited to share it with new people so they can be just as excited about it as we are. Appropriation is when you take an aspect of someone else’s culture and pretend to know everything about it despite knowing nothing. It’s when you might mock the people of one culture, and then cherry pick the aspects you like and tout it as your own ingenuity. Think about it this way, pretend you’re Native American and your father owns a headdress, but this headdress wasn’t just something he found at Wal-mart or learned how to make by doing a DIY etsy project. This headdress had meaning and each feather and embellishment was earned and had a deeper significance. This headdress is one of the most important objects in your family and in your culture. And then all of a sudden headdresses are popular with a ton of teenage girls going to EDM concerts, but instead of each feather having meaning, each feather is neon green and covered in sweat. And instead of worn for special occasions, it’s worn while doing drugs and is probably covered in spilt beer. And none of them actually know what any of it means. So even if you can’t fully understand appropriation, you can probably imagine how frustrating it can be. Same with people who wear dashikis and think Africa is just one country, or people who wear slutty geisha costumes for Halloween and claim they’re dressed as China dolls (geishas are Japanese).

So let’s loop this back to our main point. Why are people so angry at Tyler Akin and Bon Appetit? If you haven’t seen the video, Bon Appetit features chef, Tyler Akin, at his Vietnamese-Thai restaurant. Throughout the video, this white chef explains how to eat pho. He says not to add sriarcha and hoisin in your soup, to add jalepenos in it, and twirl it like spaghetti. Oh and it seems like some of the broth is made with chicken (the central flavor of most pho is made by boiling beef for hours at a time). So what’s the problem other than inauthenticity? The problem is Bon Appetit packaged pho as a trend and interviewed a white man’s perspective and used it as the de facto way to eat pho. Look, I’ve been eating pho since I was born, hell, my mom probably ate pho several times when I was in the womb. My mom’s been eating pho since she was born, my grandma’s been eating pho since she was born. So can Tyler Akin eat pho? Yes, of course! Can he cook it and put his own spin on the recipe? Absolutely! But is he the authority on how to eat pho authentically?  Hell no. So we have this white man telling tons of Asian people- who’ve been eating pho their whole lives- how to eat pho. And so you can probably see why a white man acting as an authority on our culture without really knowing our culture can be incredibly baffling. Just imagine if those girls wearing the headdresses went and told a Native American elder how to make headdresses or if someone had told me that they wore a Chinese kimono for Halloween (god forbid) and maybe you’ll understand why there was such a negative response.

Thanks for reading y’all! I know this was a longer post than usual, but I did want to shed some light on why people were all up in arms about this. If you have any questions or comments, let me know!
PSA: I don’t think Tyler Akin is a bad guy, the way he ate pho isn’t wrong. You can eat pho however you want. But, I think Bon Appetit did him wrong by the way they packaged the video. Tyler Akin, you do you and cater your fusion recipe to other white people (because we know most Vietnamese people are going to eat their authentic pho elsewhere). Bon Appetit, get your shit together.

A Fair Warning to ALL Travelers

Here’s something that all travelers need to be aware of- wherever you go, PLEASE DON’T be a pretentious dick. Just in case that wasn’t clear, DON’T BE A PRETENTIOUS DICK.

As the world gets smaller, more people have the opportunity to expand their footprint and step all over the world (especially to ‘poorer’ countries). But with that power, comes responsible tourism. You may roll your eyes at me, but it’s a real problem. Really, some of you are ruining it for everyone.

Let me get this straight- just because you might have more money than the local people and you might have been afforded more privileges in your life doesn’t make you royalty. No, you don’t get to just grab local girls and sexually assault them. No, you can’t just throw money at people to do what you want- they are people too, not some subhuman servant. And yes, maybe you can go ride that elephant or visit those tiger temples, but I hope you know that it’s because of people like you that these animals are literally dying from exhaustion and being tortured to please you.

I hope you know that when you go see those ping pong shows where pretty girls stick odd and unnatural objects in their vaginas for your entertainment, that you’re supporting human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of young girls who didn’t want to be there in the first place. I hope you know that when you touch ancient artifacts that the tour guides plead you not to touch, you are putting your oily fingers on something that will probably deteriorate faster due to the chemicals on your skin. I hope you know that when you scuba dive drunk and touch the coral with your clumsy limbs, that you’re the reason why the coral is being bleached and that these beautiful ecosystems are being destroyed.

So if you don’t know, now you do. And if you know and you keep doing these things, you’re just an asshole and I hope you get confined to your home and are never allowed out again.

PSA: I’m not condemning anyone who has made these choices unknowingly, but those that make these choices who know full well what they are buying into. Either way, make sure wherever you go, do ample research and support ethical tourism. Speak with your money- together we can show there is a demand for treating people and animals right. 

Related Articles:
Regarding Sexual Exploitation: Economics of Sexual ExploitationThe Price of Sexual Torture? USD $181/Month
Regarding Animal Endangerment: Angkor Wat Elephant Dies from ExhaustionIs Enough Being Done to Protect the Asian Elephant?Tiger Temple ReportWhat Really Happened at the Tiger Temple?

Picture of Bangla Road taken from Asia Web Direct.

The Art of Living Minimally

Realizing Excess-

When I left a year ago, I brought a small carry on and duffel bag. In these were just a few t-shirts, pants, and other necessities. Then, when I went for a Southeast Asia tour the last three months, I narrowed everything down to one duffel bag. When I came back to Colorado and entered my old room, I noticed my completely full closet and drawers. I just had so much stuff. To be real, it was quite overwhelming. How could one person need so many things? The truth is, we don’t.

I think we all just get so caught up in the ‘just in case,’ or the ‘I wore that three years ago, so I would definitely wear it again,’ and the ‘it has sentimental meaning (but I would never truthfully use it again)!’ But it takes living with only a few clothing items and necessities to realize, you really don’t actually NEED all that stuff. So while I was in this perspective, before my materialistic mind came rushing back, I packed two full garbage bags of clothes to be sent off for donations and hand me downs. It was quite refreshing honestly. We get so caught in what he have or what we don’t have, we don’t realize that what we need is really…not so much.

So don’t be afraid to throw things out and reduce all the clutter in your life.

P.S. Or don’t. It’s your life. Some people thrive in their own created chaos.

P.P.S. I also didn’t give away my prom dress. Even though I will never wear that pink fluffy princess gown ever again. So you know, you do you. 

To the Community that Saves

I have been contemplating on what to write for a long while now. Distilling my experiences and thoughts from one year into one post has proven to be quite difficult.

I’ll be honest. The last year of my life has been one of the most difficult years I have ever undergone.

To start, I was basically sick the whole year.
If you read my past blog posts, you’d know some of what I’ve been through. At first, I had a severe case of gastritis caused by bacteria or an ulcer and my esophagus burned every time I walked. My alopecia was also greatly exacerbated by the sudden changes. Then I had dengue. This was one of the most trying moments of my year. Dengue is a mosquito-borne virus that gets exponentially deadlier each time you contract it. It was by far one of the most terrible things I’ve been sick with. I laid in bed and sweat through all of my sheets, switching between burning hot and absolutely freezing. I could not look around unless I wanted to risk a piercing pain in my eye sockets and a throbbing in my head. I couldn’t move my body unless I wanted to feel a pain both sharp and deep in my joints and muscles. Paired with an environment and community I was not familiar with and an absolutely non-supportive organization- it was at this time that I considered going home. I was lonely, I was sick,  I was tired of being sick, and I just wanted to go home.

But then, I didn’t. Much to my surprise, the community that I knew so little about took time out of their day to take care of me. A young man took me to the clinic and brought me porridge to eat. Even though I rudely kicked him out because I desperately needed to lie down, he ended up being one of my best friends in Malaysia. Quite soon afterwards, a nice lady rushed over to bring vitamins and noodle soup, and she ended up being my unofficial god mother.

What I’m trying to say is, what made my experience meaningful and worthwhile amidst all the challenges I faced, was the people. I travel a lot (or at least I try to), I eat all the great local foods and see the famous sights. But in Malaysia, it wasn’t the delicious Nasi Lemak or the breathtaking Cameron Highlands that made my year, it was the people. Hands down.

As I continued to flounder my way through the year, unsure about how to proceed, someone was always there to help me. Whether it was through small fruits and snacks gifted to me at the beginning of class, several much needed fixes to my home, or the several delicious lunches and dinners I was invited to- I am forever grateful to all of my students and friends that have supported me the past year. To the beautiful strong auntie class that taught me a fierce quiet feminism full of dignity, to the Kim Tong Har class that taught me that we take care of our own, to all the crazy children that drove me insane but also allowed me to play tons of games and release my inner kid, to the Wawasan class that showed me lifelong learning, and the list goes on…thank you, I miss you.

Photo: Graduation day for my students! Sorry for the grainy quality!

10 Characteristics of a REAL Woman

Ladies, we need to talk. When did empowering oneself become about putting each other down? To be honest, I put the ’10 Characteristics’ in the title just to get your attention- this isn’t one of those lists. But I HAVE been reading some 10 reasons lists that need some improvement. They always start out strong…

Example 1: Alpha girls are tough and know how to handle their own life! They are independent and can tackle any challenge head on!

Example 2: Girls who travel are always up for adventure! They have a deep wanderlust to explore everywhere

Example 3: Girls who read have tons of imagination and creativity!

And I’m like, yaas, girl! You be you!… But then it turns to sh*t.

Example 1: Alpha girls can’t stand to look anything other than their best, so you can always expect them to be on point with their makeup, no sweatpants or smeared mascara here!

Example 2: Girls who travel won’t settle for the ordinary, monotonous life of marriage, children, and white picket fences. If you can’t keep up for their thirst of adventure, don’t bother!

Example 3: Girls who read won’t busy their time with trivial things like parties and meaningless social outings, but will instead prefer to stay in and challenge your intellect.

Wait a second, y’all are throwing mad shade! What’s wrong with women who want to stay in? What’s wrong with women who like to wear sweatpants and not care so much about their appearance? What’s wrong with women who literally gift the world with life and spend their time caring for their children? What’s wrong with girls who like to drink and party? I’m an awkward social hermit and love books more than people, but sometimes all I want is to surround myself with the hustle bustle of a big city. I love sundresses that blow in the spring breeze, but I also love Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai and feeling like I have the power to take on any challenge. I throw myself into academics and find intellectual conversations invigorating, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself some worldstar videos and cat pictures. Why can’t women be all of these things and more? We are complicated, we are contradictory, and we don’t have to fit into these boxes and labels.

Women are women. They can wear makeup, they can wear sweatpants, they can read, they can party, they can travel, they can have children, they can watch the Kardashians, they can love Nietzsche- AND NONE OF THIS makes anyone less of a woman. So yes, empower yourself and what makes you, you, but stop putting others down- that’s the least womanly thing you can do.

*Comic ‘Why Female Friendships Are Important’ thanks to Sarah Scribbles Andersen. Sorry, the title and copyright got cut off!*

Hashtag Wanderlust

Lesson in Resiliency- What they don’t tell you about working abroad

#wanderlust #jetsetter #travel
There’s been a growing fascination with traveling in our generation, of throwing off all responsibilities and burdens and leaving it all behind for sand white beaches, snow tipped mountain tops, and authentic interactions with locals. These hashtags are used in travel blogs, twitter, and more (I’ll admit, I use them too). They encourage us to explore the world and seize the day and, “to suck out all the marrow of life!”, but they only tell one part of the story.

Here’s what they don’t tell you about working and living abroad (especially in a rural area in a developing country).

  1. Your health will go to shit. Honestly. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happens to most people. Your body just isn’t prepared for the new climate, diet, standard of living, and cleanliness levels. In response to my deteriorating health, I’ve amassed quite an arsenal of mismatched pills of all sizes and colors to the point that I should just open my own pharmacy. I’ve been through the whole gauntlet: ulcers, unexplainable and extreme weight loss, hair loss, skin conditions and infection, and the dreaded dengue. Dengue is a mosquito borne tropical virus that is, for lack of a better term, f-cking hell. Fortunately, I wasn’t bad enough to end up hospitalized, but I did sweat feverishly through several blankets while feeling like I was freezing in an arctic tundra. All my muscle and joints felt like I had fallen down 3 flights of stairs and every movement I made, even if it was just my eyes glancing elsewhere, sent piercing pain through my head and body. Even now, my knees still ache when it’s cold.
  2. The loneliness. There’s a fine line between independence and loneliness. Some days you feel like a lone adventurer bravely and contently carving out your own path, other days you just want to lay in bed missing all of your family and friends wondering what the hell you’re doing here. Even when you are surrounded by a room full of people, there seems to be an insurmountable barrier made up of language and culture between you and them. No matter how long you’ve been there, you’ll always remain the forever foreigner. I’ve never valued my friends and family more than I do now. I still teeter between the two when I travel alone, but it’s something you must balance on your own.
  3. An overabundance of oddly placed free time leading to boredom. Time starts to slow and the boredom becomes excruciating as you hope for some divine intervention. It’s not like what they say, it definitely isn’t adventure 24/7- maybe just once every few weeks. So all of this odd free time starts to pile up and you start planning all of the things you’ll do and learn- you’ll read that book, you’ll start working out, you’ll practice your art, you’ll write this proposal. But it ends up all the same, stuck online looking at pictures of cats and promising how tomorrow will be different (Well at least this is true for me. I love cats). I guess some things remain the same no matter where you are in the world.

This is the truth. This is the other side. This is what they didn’t tell you.
But, what they did say is also true. You do see breathtaking sights, pristine nature, and mind-opening cities. You do get thrown into a new culture, interact with locals, wrestle with unfamiliar concepts and paradigms, and as a result, really learn how to live different lives. It is enlightening, but it is also heartbreaking and at times seemingly impossible but if you persevere, you’ll have an experience that you’ll never forget. It will challenge you, but it will change you. Happy and safe travels.

-Joie

Picture taken of most of my drugs, yikes!