chinese names and friends

Last night while putting my baby to sleep, I went over the Chinese names of my friends the way you count sheep in your head. I went to a school in England that had a lot of overseas students from Hong Kong like me. We were known by our English names in school; as friends, we also tell each other our original, Chinese names. Pammy’s Chinese name is “Treasure of the Family”. Candy’s name says “Seductive Fragrance” and Chloe’s is “Sunshine”. My husband Galen’s is “Mountain Range of the Family”. James’s is full of aspiration: “Reaching the Sun”. And Ken’s parents hoped that he would be “Intelligent and Conscientious”.

Not all Chinese names have coherent meanings and there’s no one way to come up with names. Parents may start with a word for its meaning. Or they may start with a favorite sound, then choose a character/word based on its meaning, kind of similar to choosing the spelling of a name. For instance, will it be Lisa with an “s” or Liza with a “z”? In Chinese, the “s” and “z” not only looks different but may also have different meanings.

My friend Phoebe’s Chinese name sounds like it could be a man’s name, until you see it on paper, where the characters chosen are all floral-based. My dad’s name literally is “Metal People”. When the internet came along he called himself Iron Man as his email address. For his children, he wanted to carry on the metallic element, so while my given name sounds feminine, on paper it looks like “Armor Flame”.

I had to think hard to recall some of those Chinese names of my friends in school. I counted them in my head like you would count sheep, but the second time around each of them had become shiny jewels and interesting pebbles. With fifteen years of distance between us, I now see that without exception, every one of them is a part of my life. What is there in your past if there was nobody in it? Friends, non-friends and enemies alike, they all make up the color and story of our lives.

leave or stay

In Diner Escargot, Rinko left her small village home at the age of 15 for Tokyo and lived with her mother’s mother in the city. Her mother ran the village nightclub and made ramen from a packet for meals. Her grandmother, on the other hand, was very traditional, elegant, reserved, quiet, gentle and yet stubborn in her own way. It was through her grandmother’s incredible cooking that Rinko discovered her own talent and passion for preparing food. In the absence of husbands and fathers, Rinko concluded that her mother acted out to defy a traditional mother, while Rinko herself acted out against a frivolous and wild mother and became exactly like her grandmother.

A year before reading this in Diner Escargot, as a struggling and exhausted new mom, I had wondered if I’d just made two of my life’s biggest mistakes. What people say turned out to be very true, that when you marry someone, you are also marrying their family. That was the first mistake. Then the second was to have a baby with this man, which was literally handing his family a piece of my own flesh and blood and beating heart. It turns out that letting them take a piece of me killed me. It turns out that we have known each other for years but we barely knew each other, because we’re masters at acting nice and acceptable.

When I was little, I learned that the reason I didn’t have a maternal grandmother is because she left. She left and abandoned her six children while they were still young. I thought about this grandmother. Might some things like personality trait and fate pass on every two generations? How much did it take for my mother’s mother to leave her children?

In the movie Anna Karenina, Anna’s husband pressured his unfaithful wife to stay in the marriage, not just for social and economical reasons, but also for their young son. Anna replied, “I can die for [my son], but I won’t live like this for him.”

Just as not every woman wants to have children, not every woman likes being a mom above being a woman and being an individual. Fathers and husbands who walk out seem to get away easier than women would. Mothers and wives are held against an impossibly high standard that can drive women crazy and possibly away from their families.

After Rinko’s grandmother and mother died, she found out that her grandmother lived in the city because she abandoned her young daughter to elope as a politician’s mistress. She loved Rinko dearly, perhaps to compensate for leaving her own daughter. Rinko’s mother, on the other hand, was, deep down, the opposite of the woman she knew. When she became a single mom, she accepted the job at the village club so that she could live a simple life there together with her daughter. Rinko also learned that her mother had never given herself to the man who was widely known as her boyfriend, because she devoted herself only to the first man she’d ever loved and sworn to marry.

At a young age, I didn’t care much about the absence of my maternal grandmother because I have a loving mother. As a new mom, I ache for the little girl who lost her mother. I don’t know that mother’s story but I did have a glimpse of a desperate impulse to leave.

like it came from nowhere

Coconut cream body wash splattered over her palm ungracefully like it dropped from a bird. She added some peach shower gel and rubbed the mixture over her body as quickly as she could. The goal was to leave as little time as possible for it to stay on her skin and for her mind to be skeptical and feel disturbed by the act. As soon as she realizes her mind already does both and this is a daily occurrence, she found it absurd to perpetuate. She thought, what if someone is using this for the first time? Someone who has never used a body wash. Someone who has not bathed for days and weeks. The peach gel works up a great lather and covers her body with bubbles. Just in that moment she felt like a young woman taking a hot shower in a nice house with a foaming, fragrant body wash for the first time, and she was overcame with joy for the luxury.


Right at her desk, leaned back in her chair, she slipped into the music in her ears. The half-written email can wait. Music circulates her body, waking up her muscles, which she used to enliven her joints. Right there in her chair, she lifted her knees, circled her head, arched her back, and took long breaths. That was easier to do with the music concealing her breathing sound from herself. Take another few seconds, and another few, because she felt such relaxation and joy, with not a care in the world. In the middle of a work day in the middle of an email, the music, the moving and the breathing carried her to her home within herself.

pleasure reading: Diner Escargot

Too much positive and self-help reading gets very draining, because collectively the authors sound like they’re urging you to get better, as if you are not enough already. There are also different names, theories and strategies for the same things so I’m getting off that hamster wheel to enjoy some fiction.

Just the opportunity to turn a beetle back on its back, to me, is a blessed encounter. Holding a fresh laid egg and feeling its warmth on my face; to find tiny jewels of morning dew on the leaves sparkling more brilliantly than diamonds, and tasting a miso soup made with the kind of bamboo fungus, found at the entrance of the bamboo forest, that is adorned with a beautiful white lacy skirt that gives it the nickname of ‘veiled lady’ – these are moments of joy that makes me want to give God a kiss on the cheeks to thank him.

– an excerpt I translated from a very lovely Japanese novel “Diner Escargot”

If it feels right I might be sharing more like this!

what movie are you?

I was brainwashed by too many blockbuster superhero or romance movies before I remembered the obvious truth: there are as many stories as people in the world. Only few stories get made into movies. I used to think most people’s lives, my own included, are “not special” enough, until I saw a movie called Hope Springs on the plane. It’s played by Meryl Streep and it’s about an older married couple going into counselling, trying to find their affection and intimacy back. They are us, the ordinary people with a common mid-life phenomenon. The movie was nonetheless very cute and moving. The movie was possibly very cute and moving because of how we can relate.

So, what movie are you? And how many movies can we make of your life?

Remember, play the hero in your movie, not the villain, victim, sidekick or spare-parts in other people’s.

— Rebecca x

positive change is still Change

Positive Change is still Change. Change is disruption of the status quo. For us to have more loving relationships, a more fulfilling job, to achieve our highest potential, etc, the status quo cannot remain. Your routine does not stay the same. What you say and do starts to be different. Change is disruption and it can be uncomfortable. The action and process to something better can be disruptive and uncomfortable, perhaps especially for your friends and family.

What if wanting a more loving relationship leads to ending your current one? Perhaps it calls for a lot of deep and awkward conversations? Or it leads you to a lot of trying and getting disappointed?

What if getting a more fulfilling job means you must commit to taking the new job even though your parents tell you it’s a bad idea?

You’re probably rolling your eyes because these are not what-ifs. These are all inevitable and necessary.

It is a bit scary. Results are not guaranteed. Things may work out differently than you expected. Things probably will get worse before they get better.

Are you ready?

today insisted to be good

donuts and coffee make the best morning

I was sure I was going to have a bad day today because the Little Precious kept me up between 3am to 5am. However, the day just didn’t let me.

The alarm didn’t go off at 5:45am so I slept in ‘til 6:30am.

I got washed and dressed uninterrupted by the Little Precious who was still sleeping in her little crib (she better be, after being up for 2 hours)

The sky was painted orange and pink by the sunrise.

Father-in-law gave me a ride to the bus stop and the bus came right away.

Coworker bought donuts for work, yay!

One last thing, as I sat down on the bus I actually felt HAPPY it caught me off guard. “Wow, what are you happy about?” I asked. While I listened to music, made a new playlist of favorite songs and wrote my Morning Pages, I knew. This was the best alone time I’ve had ALL WEEK.

how to change the past

There is one way to change the past and it is the only meaningful way to do it.

It is to change the way we think about the past, thus altering how the past affects our present and future.

It is to reinterpret the past and come up with a better story. It is to figure out what you learned from those past incidents that continue to haunt you. It is to see each mistake, failure, disappointment, break up, betrayal, as a chapter, not the end.

When it comes to relationships, what I’ve read is this: in your memory, go back to the times you were still together. Remember the joy and love you shared with each other. Go back to that place, enjoy, feel all the warmth, and stay there. This alters the frequency between you and eventually, the conflict and hurt melt away, and you might be back in a relationship with them again.

quit your part in other people’s movies

The time life drove home the point that we are each the hero, heroine and director of our own movie was when I got lost in somebody else’s. You’re lost in somebody else’s movie when moment to moment, day to day, you only see yourself through the eyes and judgment of other people. You’re “the loner”, “the unattractive one”, “the one who can never get a date”. A lot of these can sound very harsh. Or maybe you’ve done something terrible that made you fall out with your best friend, or your girlfriend/boyfriend. Maybe you’ve made a mistake, let your employer down. Then you’re “the let-down”, or “the disappointment”.

You’re lost when you’re living those roles and you no longer feel joy, optimism or otherwise remember that you still matter the world to some people. And whether positive or negative, you’re making a difference to the world just by being alive.

It wrenches our heart when we’ve done all that we can to make amends but what’s broken stays broken. When it becomes too much to bear, it’s the perfect time to remember you still have your own show to create. You might have played a great villain to someone’s life, and maybe that’s who you’ll ever be to them. But their movie continues and so does yours. You no longer have an active part in their movie, so come back to your own. Your movie is not finished. You are still the hero in it: not the villain, not the supporting actor. Your character now has a new depth because of her mistakes and failures and what she’s learned from it. If you were to tell the story of your life in twenty years’ time, this incident might not even make the cut, or it might be the pivotal point where the story starts to get very interesting.

lesson from a lobster

I remember a few weeks after a break up I dreamed of an armored lobster that taught me a great lesson. It was one of those very vivid dreams that I wish I could go on and find out what happens next. As I woke up, it evaporated into a purple wisp of smoke. I couldn’t hold on to it. It’s gone. I blinked and sighed, still curious. I realized that for once, I was not waking up feeling miserable. It showed me that what’s passed is passed. No matter how much it hurt or how much I wish I could go back and change it, it was only as present today as that armored lobster (who even had wings).