2021 reflections (& the past few weeks)

2021 was a wild ride. From moving out across the country alone to running my first half marathon, the last year was all about pushing my limits.

I have always practiced the art of reflection. Last year, I published my reflection for 2020. This year, I expanded upon that using Ali Abdaal’s annual review template on Notion, and while it’s far too long to post its entirety, there were a few snippets I wanted to share:

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December: Racing the Sunrise

My favorite time on campus is 7:00 am, just before the sun has risen along with the clamor of sleep-deprived college students stumbling to the gym, the dining hall, or class. I have always been an early sleeper and early riser. From 6:30 am dance practices on weekdays to early morning debate rounds on the weekends, you’d think my parents would let me sleep in during summer break. But I never slept past 9:30 am; always too many things to do, someone to meet, somewhere to be.

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November

Being an Asian American woman means living through a series of dichotomies: sometimes the dragon lady and other times the China doll, seductive yet obedient, hypersexualized but innocent. She lives oscillating between visibility and invisibility: silenced when she wants to speak out, spectacularized when she wants to blend in. Hardly ever do people stop and ask her, what is it like navigating a world that tries to force her into predefined boxes? 

I had the delight of reading Oriental Girls Desire Romance by Catherine Liu for my Asian Americans in the Public Sphere course this semester. This novel explores the exogenous factors that set conflicting expectations for how Asian American women should behave, and how these expectations make it difficult for them to identify their supposed role in American society. Through a stream of consciousness style, the unnamed young Chinese American narrator takes us along in her struggle to find her place in the money-obsessed New York City of the 1980’s. 

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August: Scrapbooking Life

A year ago I started the 52 weeks of Self Discovery journaling prompts. Last week, I finished my last entry, exactly one year after my start date. I’ve changed in some ways, but mostly stayed the same. No longer overcompetitive, but still disciplined; not so hung up on high school regrets, still can’t stand it when other people don’t pull their weight on team projects.

I’m trying to record more of my life:

  • What happened: daily Homework For Life and journaling sessions
  • What I think: rants or responses to prompts in my journal, reflection questions on my Notion page, and monthly blog posts
  • What I consume: food and product ratings in my journal, a meticulous Goodreads, meal pictures on my phone, and a Notion media consumption database
  • What I buy: taped receipts in my journal and a Notion expense tracker
  • What I cook: recipe ideas on my Notion
  • How I move: the runkeeper app and my Mi Fit band.

Some of this is public; most stays visible only to me. It is a way for me to revisit a past self, to track my idiosyncrasies and habits. Think of it like lifelong qualitative data gathering: I did X and Y is what happened. What parts of my life are governed by a set of rules? What resembles a random scatterplot? Most importantly, what stories can I share and connect with others over?

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July: Paradigm Shifts

Lachesism n. the desire to be struck by disaster—to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall—which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.

That perverse thought that creeps up on you in the worst moment. At the red traffic light of an intersection—what if I just stepped on my gas pedal? On the top level of a shopping mall, looking down at the first floor—what if I jumped down?

Intrusive thoughts, the “Call of the void,” the “High Place Phenomenon, and l’appel du vide in French, all refer to this feeling of self-sabotage. According to April Smith, an associate professor of psychology at Miami University, this phenomenon is pretty normal. It’s an alarm signal from your brain to be careful.

Lachesism, however, takes it a step further:

And while your brain goes numb trying to shake off your complacency, your heart can’t sit still, and your gut is hungry for chaos—itching to chase after storms and run headlong into the fire. To watch society breakdown and find out what’s truly important and watch everything else fall away.

The apocalypse is one of the oldest fantasies we have, but it’s not about skipping to the end of the story. It’s a longing for revelation, a revealing of what we already know, but cannot see: that none of this is guaranteed and there is no such thing as “ordinary life.”

…But soon the storm will pass, and the world will go on spinning, and we’ll pick up our lives just where we left them, no more urgently than before. After all, it’s just life. It’s not the end of the world.”

Here’s a perverse secret: I used to want to experience a school shooting that left everyone unharmed. For the thrill of it, maybe. But also to understand what true danger feels like without any real consequences, to be awakened from everyday mundanity, to be reminded that existence is fleeting and I should appreciate it more. This scenario—like the apocalyptic, dystopian, and cyberpunk media I consume—is a fantasy, and yet they make me feel so human.

Hamish Dalley, an assistant professor of world literature at Daemen College, would argue that Lachesism is a fantasy by settlers to preserve their own futurity and disavow the violence of settler colonialism:

We dream instead of ends, imagining worlds without us, thinking of what it would be like not to be. But at every moment we know that that the dream is nothing but a dream; we know we will awake and still be here, unchanged, unchanging, living on, forever. Thus settlers persist even beyond the moment of extinction they thought they wanted to arrive.

By imagining apocalypse scenarios, we—those privileged enough to imagine destruction as hypothetical instead of our present condition—assert our vulnerability instead of challenging the “material, political, constitutional, [and] practical” structures that lock us in perpetual inequity.

But what happens when disaster actually strikes? The pandemic has changed our lives permanently. It gave some of us an excuse to cut off the toxic people in our lives, the time to rediscover art, the miracle of collective action. However, I recognize the privilege in this statement. While COVID-19 has awakened us to the reality of mother nature and exposed the hubris of humankind, it has also caused so much destruction and pain for those who have been affected directly and indirectly.

But perhaps this pain was already present, and has now been brought to the surface; many of those hurt were already in vulnerable communities. Vaccine inequity, for instance, has highlighted the gap between the First and Third Worlds, calling for increased international cooperation. Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic was enough to swing some American voters to Biden’s side as the negative effects of his policies began to directly affect them.

Disaster as a precursor for change seems to be the theme of the past year. The killing of George Floyd launched a series of protests and interrogations of America’s anti-black structural racism. The Atlanta spa shootings reflected (and for many, revealed) the complex intersectional experience of being an Asian woman, and its historical legacy. No doubt, we will emerge out of the pandemic with a different conscience.

Yet, if you ask me, “would you rather live in a world without COVID-19 and the recent killings of Black Americans and Asian women?,” my first instinct would be yes. But if I chew on the question for a little longer, there’s that growing inkling of hope within me that things will change for the better.


I like thrill: roller coasters, ziplining, jumping from tall ledges, you name it. I crave the physical sensation of my stomach dropping and air rushing past my body, the awareness that life is ephemeral so I might as well send it. However, I wouldn’t say I love risk. As an introvert, I’m uncomfortable by seemingly minor social situations. Sometimes, I even dread catching up with an old friend—but when I do, I’m always surprised by how smoothly we slip into our old ways, conversation taking its natural course.

Recently, I caught up with two younger friends who are still in high school. Their worries and desires reflected their naivete, bringing me back to my own mindset from a few years back. Having never gotten a proper high school graduation or a senior trip, I used to want closure. I refused to let go of my senior year, and I still feel like I’m seventeen. But growing up is not determined by lavish celebrations, vacations to tropical islands with friends, or the length of your existence. It’s looking back to the last few years and seeing how all your small experiences have accumulated, each nudging your worldview until your paradigm shifts.

In late June, an intense heatwave hit the Pacific Northwest, pushing temperatures up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat literally melted power lines, and my neighborhood’s power went out. Before, my biggest complaints would have been about not having air conditioning because our house was old and not being able to connect with friends both in-person and online. Now, I’m more concerned with the my city’s infrastructure: How will utility companies adopt to increased energy usage when more residents begin to install air conditioning? What more sustainable, resilient cooling alternatives to air conditioning are there? Will officials see the heatwave as an ad-hoc event, or will they prioritize dynamic emergency weather response in resilience planning?

A mass exodus out of my hometown on day 1 of the heatwave

Monthly Favorites

💫 Recent Life Updates

  • I finally tried matcha and have decided that I’m a huge fan. My wallet, however, is not.
  • I’ve been trying to make the most out of the PNW summer. Every weekend my family tries to have an outdoors activity, but it mostly ends up being just my parents and I, since my brother just wants to play video games. Even with friends, our hangouts are mostly outside.

June: The Journey to Neverland

In honor of June, the start of seven week high school debate camps, here is an excerpt from my final assignment (a 5000+ word essay on friendship in high school debate) for my Experimental Essays class:


I have only one pinned text conversation, not with my mom or my dad, but with two girls I met at senior debate camp. As stressed college students, the conversation is usually quiet. However, every few weeks, I’ll get a stream of notifications:

Kelly:

Why can’t u all come to Taiwan so we can get lit ?!?’ 😫🥺🥺
I miss u all

Kristen:

yes

we miss u more

uh also can someone help me with my math really fast

This is the sole chat with people I’ve met through debate that I still keep up with. For most others, leaving debate as part of our high school personas meant our chats desertified and staled, gradually buried underneath new college GroupMe and Slack notifications. But here was the difference with Kelly and Kristen: our bonds were rooted in a soil deeper than this activity.

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May: The Ghosts of Family History

As it’s both AAPI month and Mother’s Day, here is a piece I wrote that combines a few of my past blog posts, a book review, and some new reflections about my relationship with my mom:

The Ghosts of Family History

Trigger warnings: eating disorders and suicide

I have read several memoirs by Asian-American writers in the past year, but none have been nearly as haunting as much The Magical Language of Others (2020) by Korean-American author E.J. Koh. When she was fifteen, her parents returned to South Korea for her father’s work, leaving her alone with her brother and mental illness as her only companions. Through a series of translated letters from her mother, Koh explores the histories of the women in her family — her mother and her grandmothers — and how they shape her own experiences. Despite growing up feeling stifled, Koh begins to heal the relationships — characterized by her mother’s physical absence and her own lack of response — with herself and with her mother through words. Poetry and translation fill the gaps, reaching both inside to her buried emotions and outward to others, creating a memoir that at times feels uncomfortable and raw.

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April: Treasure Hunt

You take after me. Head of dark, coarse hair, a little uneven and frayed at the edges. No matter how I try to smooth it out, a few untamed strands stick up stubbornly from its sides.

Those tall, slender figures on TV—we don’t look like them, but that’s okay. We’ve learned to love being pocket-sized, venturing into spaces they can only dream of going. Who wants to be lanky and stick-like, anyway? Our Chineseness is tattooed on our bodies for everyone to see. On you: 小床刷—little bed brush. On me: slanted eyes like two lines of ink. Behind these artful strokes lies five thousand years of history.

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