Finally using the underwater feature of my camera.

Swimming is a confusing sport, because sometimes you do it for fun, and other times you do it to not die. And when I’m swimming, sometimes I’m not sure which one it is. – Demetri Martin

Can you swim? It’s an interesting question in an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) classroom and one that I took for granted as an American. It seems that all American kids learn how to swim and looking back I can’t remember anyone (although I’m sure there was someone) who didn’t know how to swim. Of course, I grew up in Hawaii and we had to take a water safety and ocean survival course in grade school.

We went to the nearest recreation center and had to tread water in the middle of the pool for some horribly long time, but most of us cheated by touching the side of the pool for a brief relief. Then there was learning how to float properly (who knew, eh?) so if by some crazy chance we got stuck out in the middle of the ocean, we knew how to conserve energy and survive.

While I didn’t grow up far from the beach, it wasn’t part of my family’s regular routine. We enjoyed the beach, many times, but we didn’t live for the beach. My mom never learned how to swim, something that I found outrageous, but she’s from a different generation and world, even today there are still a fair amount of non-swimmers in Thailand.

I have my father to thank for teaching me how to swim, for signing me up for swim classes at our local rec center. I’m not sure what kind of swimmer he was, how much the US Air Force required of him, his passion was golf, but I certainly did not get the feeling that he was uncomfortable in the water. After all, he had the peculiar habit of sinking to the bottom of the pool, cross-legged and timing himself. But don’t ask me what his time was, I always got nervous when he stayed underwater for a long time. I’d yell, “Dad! Dad!” at his watery form, until he came back up.

As a child, I was a strong swimmer because I loved it. One of my main childhood homes was in a townhouse complex with a pool, so I swam often. I used to carry my younger brother to the deep end on my back and then drop him off, watch him flounder, laughing, because every time I carried him, I lied to him, I told him I wouldn’t drop him off and every time he fell for it. Yes, yes, yes. I’d rescue him, too. I wasn’t going to let my baby brother drown. I’d like to think I helped him learn how to swim…in my own cruel sisterly way.

After we moved away from the pool, I stopped swimming regularly. The middle of the Mojave Desert didn’t provide much inspiration, although, it could have, I suppose if I wanted it badly enough. Becoming a teenager and then a twenty-something girl transformed me into a body-conscious ninny who was more concerned about how I looked in a bathing suit rather than simply enjoying the water.

But these days, I’m swimming again. Even though we lived next to the pool at two different places in Chiang Rai, Thailand, I hardly swam. In Siem Reap, Cambodia though, I can’t get enough of the pool. Probably because it’s HOT and dusty here and swimming has cool lasting benefits long after I’ve left the salt water pool.

It all began when, on a lark, a coworker asked if I wanted to join him at the gym because he wanted to get in shape. And on a lark, I said yes because I, too, had been thinking of the same thing. So, we two larks ended up going. I’m grateful. It surprisingly doesn’t take that long for your body to adjust. Now, I’ve got the b/f joining me and it feels like a treat as well because it’s at a fancy hotel.

How the other half lives...
How the other half lives…

I can’t say that I swim correctly or that I do laps. I like to play around and do what feels good. I know the regulars, but I can’t guess the tourists schedules so sometimes I’m around loud Australians and other times loud Chinese. I like it when I have the pool to myself, but I’m never really alone. Red dragonflies hover in clouds and land long enough for me to discover that they actually have purple bodies. Shiny skinks deceptively look like leaves twirling and sliding on the ground, and birds dive and swirl around because the pool is surrounded by greenery.

On cloudy days, I like floating on my back and luxuriating in a life with small-big moments of play and freedom.

What about you? Can you swim?

Foods I love from Hawaii

Foods I love from Hawaii

The SPAM musubi is the sandwich of Hawaii. Couldn’t agree more JR! [at Shirokiya in Ala Moana]
Folks from Hawaii talk about SPAM as if we are talking about sex or something better. I’m fairly certain if we replaced SPAM with the word ‘sex’ the giddy teenage excitement in our voices would be the same. SPAM is our bacon, our beacon of light, our bowl of comfort and a beautiful mess.

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(An expat reflects) here versus there…

All hail the king. [King Kamehameha united the Hawaiian islands and the people]
All hail the king. [King Kamehameha united the Hawaiian islands and the people]
Returning home to Hawaii after six years abroad felt as natural as diving into the Pacific Ocean. It was salty, sweet and refreshing. It was exhausting and revealing in ways that I had forgotten. And it confirmed my decision to stay outside the borders of the United States, coloring outside the lines, looking from the outside in.

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Chinatown, Hawaii

Chinatown, Oahu, 2015
Chinatown, Oahu, 2015

Visiting Hawaii meant not only visiting memories, but places where those memories are contained. Chinatown is one such place. Honolulu’s is one of the oldest Chinatowns in America and probably is one of the smelliest. So, I find it rather amusing that tourists come here and based on their 3 star reviews, visitors possibly find it dirty and disgusting.

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North Shore, Oahu

the urgency of today, going home, gaining perspective


When you go home, regardless how much you think you know a place, there is almost always the unexpected. I was only returning to Hawaii for 2 weeks, what could possibly happen, right?
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I’m going to Hawaii.

What a history, what a State...Hawaii, you are one of a kind.
What a history, what a State…Hawaii, you are one of a kind.

I’m going to Hawaii. I’m going to Hawaii!

Continue reading “I’m going to Hawaii.”

Cast of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat [circa 1991, Mililani, Hawaii]

Why this Asian American never pursued acting.

Grace Rowe’s video message to Asian Americans reminded me why I never pursued acting after high school. She pleas for AAs to get into acting and she’s witty about it, too. I liked the video. But even in high school, I knew I wasn’t the right color for Hollywood or NYC theatre. I knew that I had to be utterly stunning and talented and I knew I was just the class clown.

I was also aware that I would have to literally face endless rejection and I didn’t feel like I had the confidence or the EGO to endure that. So, I was practical. I wasn’t the good dreamer like my other Asian and half-Asian friends who went off to university to major in theatre and then on to the Big Apple to pursue acting.

If my high school years had been peppered with Asian Americans in television, film and music, then perhaps I would have dared, “Why not?” But late 80s and early 90s entertainment was nothing like the revolutionary and original Star Trek where minorities were part of a team exploring space rather than wince-worthy stereotypes.

Because even though I chose not to pursue acting, I stayed in touch with those who did. And nowadays I’m familiar with frustrating phenomena like yellowface and Asian actors, like the great Anna May Wong, getting passed up for Asian roles by Caucasian actors. (If you want to read a hilarious, but heartbreaking story go here.)

One person in particular who I stayed in touch with after high school was my friend, Lena. She’s half Japanese and half British. I thought for sure she would make it in NYC because she’s pretty and passionate about the craft.

When I asked her why she was having a hard time finding work, she confessed that when she did get work, it was ironically, for Asian acting bits. It would seem that theatre wanted their Asians to be hidden behind a whiter fan. Of course, here in Thailand (and much of the rest of Asia), halfsies, hapas and those with mixed Caucasian blood, do very well in entertainment and advertising. And please let’s not get into skin color because I’m waiting for much of Asia to embrace Asians with darker skin on TV, too.

To be honest, I was simply going to post the video on Facebook and write a couple of sentences about not pursuing acting, but since I have theatre friends I didn’t want to receive any, “Oh, but you should have…” well-meaning comments. I still don’t think I should have. I could dance, but I couldn’t sing. I could make people laugh, but I always forgot my lines.

What I should be doing is writing and more writing, and maybe I’ll get the chance to write something for Asian Americans instead.