Green plant patch growing out of concrete

The problem with creatives, Asian daughters, and non-conformists.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” – as attributed to Mike Tyson

OK. Here’s what I’ve told you. I had to come back to the US of A. We were not sure for how long, but we thought we’d give it a go, you know, return to America for good, regardless of Trump-apocalypse, blah, blah, blah, and see what we could make stick.

Staying with my mom in Hawaii was part of the short-term plan, but when our long-term plans fell spectacularly through the roof, we were tail-spinning, reaching for whatever vines or debris was there to grab on to.

Yeahhh.

You think I’m exaggerating.

The biggest problem with having to scramble to form a new plan has centered on my mother. She’s not the stereotypical Tiger Mom (a strict or demanding mother who pushes her children to be successful academically by attaining high levels of scholastic and academic achievement); she’s a different animal all together.

She’s a Snake mother. Snakes strike, strangle, spit venom, slither, and whisper insulating remarks under your ear (you know, because they’re short). Now, that might sound harsh and unfair, but snakes also leave you alone most of the time. They don’t bother you unless you bother them. Snakes are survivors, smart, and apparently one of them tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Life. Not bad for a snake.

Being back “home” has been like a battleground and I didn’t think it would be this way. Otherwise, why would I ever have chosen this route? My mom and I have always been very different people, yet our relationship had only gotten stronger and better since I left the nest for college. But what I’m realizing is mother-daughter relationships, like others, go through ebbs and flows, and we’ve hit a snag, got a flat-tire, and we’re arguing about how to drive.

What has become obvious is we have different values. Yes, we both were raised in different countries, our native tongues and cultures are very dissimilar and there’s a generational gap, also wide. But my goals in life, what I consider important – self-development, creativity, freedom and independence – could not be more different than hers. She values hard work, material goods and money.

In some ways, she reminds me of my former students back in Thailand or Cambodia.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Rich.”

And there’s nothing wrong with her values or desiring wealth and money. I totally get it. Sometimes I wish I had a bit more of that fire, but I took another path in life.

One of the hardest things to communicate to her is that I’m a creative person pursuing an alternative lifestyle. But right now she’s upset that I’m not staying. She’s lonely, but she won’t admit it. She thinks I’m choosing a dead-end and even if I was, does that mean I deserve the silent treatment?

But I know I’m not the typical Asian daughter. I’m not the conventional daughter. I’m not what I should be and that’s an unbreakable thing to live down. I’ve got all of the American individualism coupled up with all of the shame and guilt of Asian collectivism.

My mom introduced me to one of her neighbors, a Japanese American a little older than myself. I was embarrassed because I was being pulled out of the house still in my jammies while we made small talk, but it got worse when she shared how she likes to spend her Saturday or Sunday visiting her mom, taking her shopping or getting her out to visit one of her siblings.

It was hard not to blurt out, “Hey, Colleen, you wanna go easy on being the perfect Asian daughter? My mom doesn’t need to be reminded that I live on the other side of the globe, okay?”

Of course, I just smiled. I’ve been compared to other Asians, specifically Thai daughters, all my life. I know who got pregnant “too early”, which had kids, who married well, where they live and in what kind of house. And I know who can cook. My mom still thinks I can’t cook. I even know who’s taller than me. Maybe this is what parents do in their spare time: match their kids against one another or the siblings.

Since I’ve been under my mother’s microscope I’ve come to realize that I will never make her proud or please her. No, I’m not feeling sorry for myself or asking for your pity. It’s simply a conclusion I’ve reached and maybe in the future things will change, but I’m not going to wait for that sun to come up. It’s okay. It’s a bracing strong shot of reality.

Being creative is considered a rare trait and yet it’s often not considered a valuable one. In some cases, like when looking for employment, it’s the kiss of hiring death. Companies want people who follow orders, not think outside of the cardboard box. Sure, this has changed, but not to the degree that we think it has.

It’s actually quite painful to not follow the herd, because there is this insane desire to be accepted, liked, and appreciated. I want my mom to accept me, but I’m not going to change my values in order for her to do so. This is a timeless struggle where the road forks and you have to decide, “Do I follow my desires or do what my family/community/etc. wants me to do instead?”

You’re considered selfish, naïve, and blind until you become successful or achieve extrinsic goals that the rest of society recognizes. And let me tell you, being excommunicated, judged, and looked down upon this way is emotionally taxing and heartbreaking. I can’t believe that my mom has built this wall between us because she’s angry, disappointed and disapproving of my choice to live abroad.

While I was updating the emergency contact information with the manager of the apartment complex my mom lives in, he said when I told him we were going back abroad, “So, you came out here for nothing?” I stared at him for a few long seconds because I was surprised that someone who doesn’t know me or my situation would say that, and that this is a narrative that flows through some people’s minds.

“Sometimes doors that you think are open, close. I don’t know why.”

I wish I had been more elegant.

The problem is I’m also a risk-taker. And during the last month or two, I’ve taken risks that have not paid off. Well, maybe they will, but so far it’s looking dungeon-dark. And to hear, “You’re an idiot,” in so many words, is not exactly lifting.

My boyfriend has been a counterweight, a rock, a friend who has stood by me during all this. He’s recognized my accomplishments, he’s told me that I’m actually a good daughter, he praises me for my problem-solving and my proactive attitude. We’ve been going on long walks. I probably haven’t thanked him enough for being so wonderful.

What I’ve learned so far:

  • First, I don’t belong here. I don’t know where I belong, really, but being an expat has given me a defined community, worldwide friends and a life that I’ve enjoyed, for the most part, living.
  • Second, I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m a gypsy, a wanderer, a nomad, and I’m learning to accept who I am. I’ve found it hard to come to terms that I’m different than society.
  • Feeling grateful for kindness from strangers is magnified when you’re trying to do things the old-fashioned way without Internet or a phone.
  • Friends who have understood me and reached out were not the ones I expected.
  • Your values are a big fat deal. It’s helped me pan out and given me perspective on my relationship with my mom, as well as the way culture influences us.
  • Understanding the ‘whys’ doesn’t make it hurt any less. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.
  • To the close friends that I still do have left on this island, thank you. I wish I had stronger, better words. This has been a dark spot in history and you’ve been part of the lights that have given me love along the way.
  • I’m trying to figure it out and I know I have a long way to go. Here’s to still kicking around, new beginnings and starting over.

Thailand, here I come.

P.S. I finished another draft of my book!

P.P.S. My friends rock! Love you!

46 thoughts on “The problem with creatives, Asian daughters, and non-conformists.

  1. I really envy your lifestyle and felt disheartened when I knew you were coming back to, what I feel lately, is a disaster of a country that could be and should be so much better. You are experiencing life in a way that I wish I had had the courage to do myself. Keep writing about your adventures because that’s what I see them as, and I get joy out of the stories that unfold from your experiences. Your values are, in my opinion, just what everyone’s should be. They’re the root of TRUE happiness. Good luck Lani! 🌻💞~Anne

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much Anne. I really appreciate your kind words of encouragement. Yes, the country is in such a state. After all, we were in Hawaii when the ‘ballistic missle’ message was accidently sent out. I mean, WHAAAAATTT? So, yeah, maybe the timing is not right.

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  2. For what it’s worth, living life your way is incredibly courageous. Being a non-conformist is a tough life, constantly being challenged by friends, family, and society in general. I am also an atypical Asian daughter and totally relate to the Asian “let’s compare our kids” game, being that I was always the black sheep of the family (no degree, unconventional career, no desire to have kids… the list goes on). I hope the next chapter in Thailand inspires you to keep on doing you, because the world needs more Lani.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Cindy. It doesn’t feel courageous right about now. It feels just damn hard, but I suppose that’s what makes life worth interesting and living, right? Can’t always be smooth sailing and when the seas are rough we appreciate the calm even more.

      When I read this back in Hawaii, “the world needs more Lani” it made me tear up. I swear I’ve been getting more encouragement and positive feedback from my friends than I ever have from family. Damn Asians. Hahahahaha. Glad you understand. Hugs from Thailand 🙂

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  3. Lani,

    Thank you for this post. Being an expat myself (Heck we both even lived in the same town in Ecuador) I truly believe that composing this post took much more courage than saying goodbye to home and moving to another county.

    Somehow I felt that you were exposing more than you thoughts and feeling. It was I was seeing how your soul at this point in your life. Also I agree with all of your bullet points. I too, am sometimes frightened by knowing that I am a gypsy/nomad. Hey, I’ve got an idea; let’s exchange Asian American with Married Older Gay Guy. LOL!!! In any case I think that I understand you very well.

    Also Hats Off to your boyfriend!! All the words that you use to describe him also befit my husband, (we have been together 20 years now, but married only about 4. Husband still sound weird to me) all of these journeys and adventures absolutely would have been lesser experiences without his presence. Something tells me that your “ole boy” has a bit of magic about him. Try to hang on to him. 🙂

    Lani,, all of these shit times you are experiencing now will only make you adore and cherish the new happy life that awaits you. Mark my words; things will improve. You will see!!

    Sending you only love and uplifting energy from Mexico City. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 🙂 Thanks Goldielock’s Much Older Cousin! Your words made me smile. And did my boyfriend put you up to this?

      “I truly believe that composing this post took much more courage than saying goodbye to home and moving to another county.” Yes. Nailed it. Felt bad for saying anything contrary about my mom, but it needed to be said. I couldn’t scream, so this was the next best thing.

      xxoo

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  4. I feel you on this one. And I’m cheering you on — fly, Lani! Alight on international shores and fly again!

    I’m not an Asian daughter, but I am the one artistic sibling — out of many high-functioning, traditionally successful siblings. It sucks. When I danced competitively, no one wanted to hear about it. Now, no one in my family wants to hear about my writing. My brother tried to convince me to become an accountant. I guess I can be grateful that it’s all passive, though — no one is screaming that I’m a failure. They’re just thinking it (LOUDLY), and that’s probably why I like them best 3,000 miles away.

    But my Chinese-American husband raised in Hawaii? He took the path of least resistance and became an engineer, just like his parents wanted. And he kind of hates it. I’m the one telling him to chuck it, to do something else, but he’s addicted to his paycheck…and possibly some parental approval. I think you have to be strong to escape those snares. Good for you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Autumn. After reading your blog for so long, I suppose now that you point it out, you did swim the other way. But it’s unpredicable how families treat those who are different. I’d be thrilled over your competitive dancing! Hello, Dancing with the Stars!

      Yes, what Andy did is very old skool Asian. Parents tell their kids what to major in and they do it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this from my students.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yup, being a creative and a non-conformist is definitely not easy & it doesn’t help that people either think we’re weird or slackers or have some sort of charmed, idealistic life. But it’s not like we really have a choice, do we? Kudos to you for being your genuine self, no matter how difficult it can be at times. Hope things look up for you soon, Lani.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Naomi. Yes, I don’t feel like I have a choice. I mean, not really. If I did I certainly would not choose this. It’s too hard, swimming against the current. Ha! Slackers – nailed it. I hate ppl thinking that I’m just napping all day or something. Hahha. Hugs.

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  6. Dear Lani, I appreciate your urge for freedom and living by your own values, which don’t seem to match with your mother. I also like your adventurous spirit and wish you all the best in your new endeavor. At the same time, I would like to mention that a mother’s love is always invaluable and unconditional…nobody and nothing can repay what mothers do for their children. We understand that love and concern only when we have our own children. Stay blessed and wishing you great success.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I understand what you are trying to say, unfortunately, my mom chose to love conditionally at this point in time. Hopefully, time will heal. If I’m honest, there is more behind what shared. It’s the santized version. Nevertheless, I hear what you are saying and thank you. xxoo

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Well said, Lani. Accepting who we are as people can take a long time, and be quite tiresome, but life certainly becomes easier on a certain level, when we do. Wishing you a smooth transition.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This came across as very opinionated post – and one where you emphatically stand up for yourself, what you like to do and what you actually do. My sentiments echo the others who have commented. It is not easy being non-conformist, it is certainly not easy being the odd one out especially among your family. Your heart says one thing, and it’s not pleasant when you keep hearing around you others telling you otherwise. Like you, I grew up in a different generation from the folks, and they don’t like talking about my writing at all, let alone acknowledge it. Over the years I’ve learned that keeping what I really like doing to myself and talking about my writing with the few who are really interested helps. In other words, I learnt that you don’t have to tell everyone everything. Good luck with Thailand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. I don’t bother telling my family anymore about what I’m up to – and I certainly don’t expect them to look at my blog. In fact, I’m still embarassed to share my posts on FB. Isn’t that funny? How long have I been blogging??? For instance, this post DEFINITELY did not make it up there.

      Ah, well. I’m here to fight another day 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. First things first……..Hugs, Hugs, and More Hugs!

    Having to deal with people that poo poo you as a human being really sucks. You belong where your heart is and no where else. Home is on the planet, not a city, building or country. I know it is heartbreaking to realize there is nothing you can do to change her mind and attitudes and that, for your own sanity you have to move on. Send her loving energy and leave it at that because you need all the energy you can muster now to be strong and move toward your place of peace and happiness.

    You will be settled sooner than you know and the right doors will open for you. Vince and I send you and Eric our love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lin. I’ll happily accept virtual hugs from you both.

      Yeah, the mom thing still floors me. I feel like I lost her and maybe that she’s gone forever.

      I was talking to a friend who is going through a similar experience with her mother. She mentioned how some folks don’t age well, disappointments hit harder, accumulate, it’s like they don’t know how to manage emotions and have a harder time getting older and feeling vulnerable.

      In any case, we’re building our lives back up, one day at a time. Thanks.

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  10. Big squishy hugs, Lani. While our lives couldn’t be different I have come to love your adventuresome and courageous spirit. While my life may have taken a somewhat more conventional path, (and no regrets), I admire and commend your independent and creative spirit. You are one of the blogs I have tried to keep up with (as I’ve allowed mine to languish). I was so sorry to hear that you had to leave and return home but hopefully this will just be another learning and regrouping spot along the way. Please keep posting and Instagram to let us know how you are doing. I love your heart and caring attitude and wish you the absolute best in whatever choices or paths that lie before you. Thank you for sharing such open and painful emotions. It makes me pause and reflect not only as a woman but as a mother that I might never stand in the way of my kids and their choices in life but to only offer support and unconditional love….. and that I continue to welcome all that life has before me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I could just read these comments over and over again, especially when I’m feeling down.

      Right now, I’m listening to rock and reading catching up on my blog and I must say this is the first time in what feels like a long time that I’ve been able to do this.

      Thanks for all your amazing words that really cut through the sharper times. Hugs back from Thailand.

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  11. Everything is ever changing, no situation can be planned ahead as too much will turn out completly different.
    I never imagined all those years ago to move back to Germany and in case I would move back I had some big cities in my mind and all those ideas…turns out I moved right back into my hometown after 10 years away into the very same building I grew up!!
    My mother has also very different ideas about life from family to work and how to spend your free time as she grew up in a completly different age and she hates anything new (except the TV program).
    All the best for you and your future plans 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love the picture you chose for this. I love the quote. I love your bravery in sharing. Yes, living life your way is freeing, but also terribly, terribly lonely, most of the time. I’m glad you have someone with you, and a few good friends at least. That can make all the difference.

    It’s never easy when problems stem from family. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, we know, but even that has gotten trite over the years. I saw a lot of unhappy kids when I was teaching in Korea. I talked to a lot of parents who just didn’t get it. I wanted to shake them hard enough to knock some sense into them, to make them see what they were doing to their kids, but then I remembered that they had probably been the same unhappy kids not long ago.

    But every now and then I met a parent who made me hope. They threw failure parties and celebrated mistakes, they told their kids it was okay not to go to college, to dream, to hope for freedom…it was wonderful.

    What you’re going through is awful. It is. I’m sorry it sucks. I wish you could have had a better time at home, a better response to your self-expression…a better everything! I wish you all the best back in Thailand, and I hope you continue to live as bravely as you have, and never, ever let anyone tell you what’s good for you.

    Love you!

    *PS, the podcast you sent me is fantastic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Audra. Even though we have never officially met, you get me. Isn’t that crazy?

      The whole thing back home just left me shattered. Why? Why? Why?

      And why do we need things to make sense? Why does there have to be a REASON? Sometimes shit happens, right?

      I suppose it’s human nature. I want to understand. I want to know that this will make sense sometime in the near future.

      Until then, I’ll borrow your excellent expression, “to build a ladder”.

      Love you too!

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  13. Oh Lani, my heart goes out to you. I don’t know the details of what you are going through, but it sounds like a really dark and turbulent period. I hope you’re hanging in there. I know how hard it is to move back, and I know how awful it can be to live with family (and consequently relive old memories). I visited my mom over Christmas and we had a scream fest. I think it’s the same sentiment as your mom: My mom’s values are so Vietnamese, but I’m so American, and we clash so hard.

    “I’ve got all of the American individualism coupled up with all of the shame and guilt of Asian collectivism.”

    Golden quote.

    I live in the USA and I still get guilt about not living in Utah to take care of my aging parents. It sucks, but you know, we gotta live in the way that makes us happiest. No use living near family if it makes you miserable.

    Good luck to you dear, you’re going to be fine 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. We can never be the exact people our parents want us to be. Even if our parents aren’t opinionated and Asian, they all have expectations. And even if they don’t voice their expectations, we know what they’re thinking. My mom and dad didn’t like the fact that my husband and I lived abroad for twenty years (and took the three granddaughters with us). They seldom complained, but I knew what they were thinking. Still, there’s no other way but to live your life your own way. It’s the only life you’ve got.

    It’s good that you learned early that you’re a creative person, and it’s good that you’ve have made good use of your creativity and also your teaching skills and your love of your students. Your boyfriends sounds like a real gem.

    Good luck on your move back to Thailand. Enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Nicki. I know it’s hard to watch family (and friends) make decisions that seem wrong, and we give our advice whether it is wanted or not, but I hope at the end of the day, we still stand by our loved ones and support them.

      I don’t know if I figured out anything early. I feel like I’m running behind in many ways, but we do the best we can and that’s all we can ask of ourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Parents are weird creatures. They can have such rigid and defined images of what they want their children to be or how they want their lives to be. My parents never imagined I would have the life I have right now—I threw one curve-ball at them after the next: Chose not to become a doctor, turned to web design after throwing in the IT consultancy towel, then moved to the Middle East! And they still try to “encourage” me to do certain things, but for the most part they’ve accepted what I’m doing and where I am in my life. Which I’m grateful for.

    Being a creative is a fantastic thing to be! You think a little differently, which is 100% a good thing. Your creativity’s probably the one thing that’s helped you get through this tough time.

    Hang in there, Lani. You’re doing the best you can and that’s all anyone can ask of you. Good luck with your move back, and I know you’ll land on your feet wherever you end up 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Welcome back to Expat World. There are a lot of us. As hard as it is at times. there something pretty damn vital about waking up in the morning and knowing that you are living the life you were meant to live, not the one you were told to live.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Forgive each other. Tell your Mom you love her before she dies. Feel no guilt, you have left your homeland just as your mother did.

    I left home when I was 16. Go visit and hug her now and then. Write her sweet handwritten letters.

    Stu

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Been off the grid so to speak because of work (don’t worry, your Word doc is being read regardless lol) but I’m sending you all the hugs and support, Lani. I so understand the whole Asian daughter / family thing, and I too have complicated relationships with my parents because of my own nonconformist tendencies. It IS hard but I often think to myself that it’ll be harder going the opposite way: making them all happy while being miserable everyday.

    I don’t think you wasted your trip back to Hawaii btw. I think you can reframe it as a visit that was almost closure: a solid reminder that that option’s not in the cards for the foreseeable future. It answers that “What if?” with a “definitely not”, and lets you focus on where you do want your life to be headed. My two cents, anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are wise, o’ Daisy. Yes, wise indeed. It does close that door for now, doesn’t it? And that’s okay, it seemed like one heck of a way to learn that, but I’m sure there were multiple reasons why it happened the way that it did.

      And yes, I couldn’t live the life my mom wants me to live just to make her happy. I think there are too many already making that sacrifice, I don’t want to add to that misery.

      It seems to be getting better every day. Step by step. Thanks Daisy! For EVERYTHING! XXOO

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      1. Eh, if nothing else, the way it happened makes for a good story! And glad it’s getting better. Hope your relationship gets stronger – or at least, you both know more about what to agree to disagree about.

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  19. HUGS for you, Lani. Like I said in your next post (I started from the latest post and just keep hitting “Previous”), I can relate so much. Not about being an expat or being of a different race, but about being different and…basically just being the Me people don’t always understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s tough, isn’t it? We glorify the different and yet, we don’t always show it through actions. We’re a species that rewards different, but only if you’ve reach a particular level of different that is the kind of remarkable that makes $$$. Otherwise, you’re just difficult.

      Liked by 1 person

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