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.


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?”


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!

Long layovers in Korea and Thailand

When your life is up in the air or taking a nose dive

We made the announcement about a week ago on FB that we would be returning to the US of A after eight years abroad – and now I’m not so sure. It feels like announcing I’m getting married and then having to tell everyone that the wedding’s not taking place after all.

Continue reading “When your life is up in the air or taking a nose dive”

Staff at Banteay Kdei

Has living overseas + travel made you more patient?

“Time, time, time, see what’s become of me.” – Hazy Shade of Winter, Simon & Garfunkel

Since moving abroad, I’ve taken on a different perception of time. I’m convinced time moves slower. Concepts like a “long time” and “being on time” are completely relative to the landscape, the people and the mode of transportation. Living overseas, specifically SE Asia has rubbed off some of my time-sensitive Americanism. My sanity, frankly, can’t afford it to be any other way.

Childhood was an endless ocean of waiting: waiting for my mom, waiting for appointments, waiting for adults to get their shit together. We’d regularly arrive at the dentist at what felt like an hour before our appointment and then we’d wait some more because, you know, doctors are always running behind schedule.

Sitting, I’d swing my lanky legs out in frustration and start pacing, “Ugh. Why are we here so early?”

“Because they might be able to see us early,” was always her explanation and I think that happened once or twice under a Smurf-blue moon.

After living in Thailand for a while I started to notice how many Thais cued up early at government offices, clinics and hospitals. You are almost better off going later in the day when the lines have thinned out, when the grandmas and families have already been seen. I began to wonder if “getting there early” was part of a cultural kickback that my mom did not fully understand, but did out of habit.

Looking back, I marvel at her ability to remain seated, calm and patient during the longest of journeys or waits. In fact, I’ve never seen her impatient, unless it was with us kids. She’s a country girl raised on a diet of “take it easy” and “all the time in the world”. She’s walked along the road with her water buffalo and sewn homemade mattresses for sale. She knows how to be patient.

She’s so un-American.

Angkor wat monk waiting to give blessings.
Angkor Wat monk waiting to give blessings.

I, on the other hand, am very American, so I’ve had to unwrap the tightly wound time bandages that keep most Americans loosely held together. I’ve learned to “kill time” during insanely long layovers just in order to save a few bucks. (Never again.) I’ve learned to sit still because the crowded bus afforded me no other choice. And I’ve learned to people watch, read a book, listen to music and not-so-simply w  a  i  t during immigration check-ins and hospital visits which felt like colossal wastes of time. Although, when I was back in Hawaii after 5 years in Asia, I did surprisingly well sitting in exasperating traffic…

But I still get upset when I’ve been waiting too long, when my patience has reached its arbitrary limit. It’s not like living in Asia has turned me into a meditating monk or something. I’d like to say getting older has made me more patient, but I’ve seen plenty of folks older than me throw big tantrums like little children. So I have to attribute this “new found” patience to living overseas – waiting because waiting needs to happen and waiting needs to be done.

Which is ironic when I think about cue-cutters: Ecuadorians, Laotians and Thais alike slipping in front of me and other foreigners (and me) sneakily sliding between people because we’ve seen the locals do it. There’s a scarcity belief, a hunger for me-first, and a lack of patience despite living in societies that require you to wait.

Looking down and around at Preah Khan.
Looking down and around at Preah Khan.

What about you? Has living overseas and/or travel made you more patient?

am I a feminist?

What they never told you about bra shopping in Thailand

feminism rocks
Burn them all.

Ah, the joys of womanhood, eh? Every one of us ladies can remember our first visit from Uncle Payne and Auntie Flo. Or that time, you didn’t know you were going to have it and how you decided to wear light pink pants that day. Or that time in Bangkok, the city of grit and sweat, you saw that tourist wearing shorts soaked in her own blood and you were mortified that no one told her, so you did. It’s a really hot city.

Continue reading “What they never told you about bra shopping in Thailand”

What kind of reader are you?

There are writers who write within a genre and those who write outside of them, too. But what about the readers? How do you read? What do you read? Why do you read?

Continue reading “What kind of reader are you?”

My Ubon Ratchathani Story

My Ubon Ratchathani story

My uncle's house. [Lamphun, 2014]
At my uncle’s house. [Lamphun, 2014]
Have you ever chased a dream? And if that is too dramatic to say, have you ever chased down something that didn’t hold much of a chance, but you decided to give it a go anyway? Because that is where my Ubon Ratchathani story begins, with a pursuit.

Continue reading “My Ubon Ratchathani story”

Was it really stealing? Stealing is wrong.

First of all, let me say that I’ve never stolen anything before. Well, that was what I truly thought until I started to write and then I began to remember my dishonest and theiving past. I was astonished, really. It’s funny what we forget and what we remember once we start writing. Forgive me and my mother, dear readers, forgive us.

I was probably around 10 years old, my brother 7. My mom would take us fishing somewhere past Wahiawa, but before the North Shore on Oahu. I found the whole process mysterious because she would drive our gray Isuzu Impulse through Dole’s pineapple fields until she hit a line of trees. Then we would grab our fishing gear and walk out to the edge of Lake Wilson.

One day as we were leaving, our little car driving fast and furiously over the red dirt roads, my mom stopped the car. The engine was still running.

She looked over at me, “Take a pineapple.”

“What? That’s stealing!”

She gave me one of her notorious dirty looks, “Do you think anyone is going to miss it?”

I reluctantly opened the car door and peered out at the sea of pineapples. There were fields of them – golden pineapples sitting on top of the dirt in haphazard positions ripe for the picking.

“Do you wanna get caught?” She hissed. “Take one!” My mom quickly scanned the area for an imaginary policeman.

I was confused by the many pineapples sitting before me, “Which one?” I cried.

“Any one!” She cried back.

I grabbed the ripest-looking one and shut the car door. From the backseat my younger brother Larry admired our latest catch of the day. A cloud of red smoke followed us until the car hit the pavement. My mom started laughing.

The PX (Post Exchange) are department stores located on military bases. And because my father died while serving in the US Air Force, we were able to enjoy base privileges. My mom would have them for the rest of her life, while Larry and I would have them until we turned 18. It was in the PX that this particular incident occurred.

My mom and I were looking at dresses for me. She never wore dresses. I saw her in traditional Thai skirts at Buddhist celebrations or parties from time to time. Somehow after we arrived at our destination she would magically reappear in one. The strangest thing. I guess she borrowed them from friends.

We were able to narrow down our search to two dresses. This was when baby doll dresses were in fashion. I couldn’t decide between the two. Well, actually I liked the more expensive one – the pink one.

I bit my lower lip. Held the dresses against me, “What do you think mom?”

She tilted her head. “I like the black one.”

Since my mom’s wardrobe consisted primarily of the color I was disappointed in myself for asking. I sighed. These were difficult moments for a teenage girl.

My mom started looking through the clothing racks again when a price tag hanging off one of the dresses ended up in her hand. The rectangular shaped tag was torn right where the plastic fastener previously held it in place. The rip was hardly noticeable. She could have easily put the tag back on the plastic. Like a three hole punched page – when one of the holes rip, but you can still slide it back into your three ring binder? The tag was like that.

As soon as the price tag ended up in her hand she made a surprised sound, “Hmmp.” Then she read the amount $6.99. A tiny smile appeared on my mom’s face. Swiftly she ripped off the price tag off of the pink dress. The $6.99 tag found itself dangling from a pink dress. The $19.99 tag magically made its way to the dress on the rack.

“Mom!” I scolded as quietly as possible. I scanned for surveillance cameras or people watching us.

Her grin was wide now and she was giggling, “Come on. Let’s get both dresses.” She patted the dresses in my arms.

“What if we get caught?” I couldn’t believe she was doing this.

We continued to walk to the cashier.

“How will they know?”

I gently placed the dresses on the conveyer belt.

“Hello,” the cashier said, “How are you?”

“Fine.” My mom replied with a smile. Then she gave me a slight nod.

I realized I must have been wearing the fright on my face like a Halloween mask so I tried to act calm as she scanned the first dress through.

When the pink dress’ tag fell off the plastic loop I felt like Winona Rider when she got caught for shoplifting. I waited for the cashier’s reaction. My mom’s face a picture of serenity. No one would ever suspect this sweet-faced Thai woman who barely was 5 feet tall with short black (dyed) curly (permed) hair.

“Oh!” The cashier exclaimed. She ran the price tag through and gave us a smile. “$26.89”

My mom handed her cash. She gave us change and I grabbed the plastic bag. As soon as we walked outside I breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn’t believe we got away with that. I couldn’t believe my mother.

When I was about 9 or 10 years old I started to steal money from my mom’s purse so I could buy candy. Whenever she took a nap on the couch or in her bedroom I would tiptoe around her and open her purse. She always kept her purse near her during these nap times. Perhaps it is an old school way of thinking. Perhaps this is just poor people’s version of an alarm system.

When my mom is exhausted, tuckered out and plum tired, she snores. Depending on how hard she worked and how worn down she was, there were variations or levels of snoring. There was the deep heavy breathing variety. There was the occasional snore variety and then there was when she snored so loud she sounded like a cow mooing.

Obviously cow mooing was a-go-go since this meant she had entered the deepest sleep. These rare moments meant that I could open her purse and unzip her pocketbook with more confidence. Nevertheless, my heart raced whenever I went for her purse. And I constantly stopped my actions to stare at her to make sure she hadn’t moved or heard me.

When I did open up her wallet I was faced with several bills and the important choice of how much to take. I wasn’t stupid enough to take a $20 bill and I knew I needed to make sure the amount was insignificant enough for her not to notice, yet enough for me to head over to the white van of hope.

Candy was my crack and I needed my fix on a daily basis. How did other children get the money? Exactly. I could not have been the only one who chose this dark route. Allowances were for white kids. We never got an allowance. We got an allowance of spankings and beatings. Generosity then knew no bounds.

Whenever my brother and I walked home after school and got past the high school (where the distinct smell of marijuana lingered), there our friendly white van awaited. The black van with the tinted windows took children. The white van with the open sliding door embraced children.

There we would wait our turn as we pondered what to buy today. I felt like Wile E Coyote rubbing his paws licking his chops over the mere thought of a roasted Roadrunner. Behind that plexiglas those shelves were lined with candy after candy. My favorites: Nerds, Jawbreakers, Fireballs, Chicko Sticks, Fun Dip, Sixlets, Big League Chew, Tootsie pops, rolls, Pop Rocks, candy necklaces, candy cigarettes, Now and Laters, Smarties, Sugar Daddy suckers, Sweet tarts and the original gummy bears.

gummy bears

I was a connoisseur of candy willing to explore new territory. “What’s this?” I pointed to the black and white nondescript confection.

The man behind the counter touched the item in question. “That!” he said excitedly, “That is gum from Japan. It’s black.”

“What does it taste like?” I was practically shaking with anticipation.

There was a glow in his eyes, “Coca-cola.”

Steady. Steady girl. “How much does it cost?”

“A dollar. But it’s worth it.”

“I’ll take it.”

My mom never caught me because I was too clever. I’d pluck a few dollars here and a few dollars there. When there was a lot of cash I could steal a $5 bill with daring ease. There were a few times when I tiptoed around my mom, opened her purse, dug around for her wallet, slowly clicked it open to find nothing but a couple of $1 bills or a lonely $20 bill. I would look at my unsuspecting slumbering mom with disgust.

There were close calls – which required quick reflexes. I was in her bedroom creeping towards her purse when she rolled over. Originally her back was towards me and I thought I was home free, but when she rolled over I crouched down behind the bed and waited and listened. I was too spooked to continue so I crawled out of her bedroom.

But the first time I stole was in the first grade. And I got sent to the principal’s office. I was in the cafeteria for lunch. My mom always gave us lunch money. If we had a field trip, I remember having to make one up with whatever was handy in the cupboard.

Lunch cost 25 cents and it tasted like it. (Although, I remember the due-to-inflation-45 cent lunches tasting better) As soon as I sat down with my lunch tray, another kid from kindergarten sat next to me with his brown-bagged lunch.

Kid junior probably pulled out a shiny bag of chips, Jell-o pudding pops and a bologna and cheese sandwich on honest white bread. I looked back at my lunch which suddenly looked like prison gruel.

“Hey. You wanna trade lunch?”

He sniffed at mine like a dog. “No, thanks.”

“Oh c’mon. Look how much more I have than you. I have all this.” I waved my hand over the lunch tray, “including milk.”

“Well,” he began to waver.

“Please!” I could smell and taste potato chip victory.

“Okay.” He put the items back in his bag and gave it to me.

I slid my tray triumphantly over to him.

Then he peered down at his new lunch, “I don’t like it. I want my lunch back.”

“No way. You traded it fair and square.”

Kid junior’s face crumbled. “I want my lunch back!”

Hugging the brown bag lunch to my chest I retorted, “No!  It’s mine.”

“Give it back to me!”

“No! Eat your lunch and shut up.”

He started crying. “I want my lunch back. I want my lunch back.”

I panicked. He was causing undue attention to the situation.

“I’m telling…”

Oh, god. “Okay.” I shoved the brown bag back in his chest. But he continued to cry. So I started to pet him like a dog and looked around. “It’s okay. Here’s your lunch.”

He got up from his seat.

I sat there forlornly, waiting for the inevitable. Seconds went by and I start to wonder if he must have decided not to tell. I began to eat when a lunch monitor tapped me on the shoulder. “You’re going to the principal’s office.” Kid junior was smiling behind her.

The principal’s office is a dirty place where all foul little thieving children go to be punished. There were cobwebs, sewer rats, vultures and even a blind boy with no hands sitting on a pile of unfinished homework begging for change. I bravely stepped over him and walked into the principals’ office.

I must have blacked out momentarily or fainted because I don’t remember much. I remember being thankful that there was no parental involvement and I remember the principal was kinder than I thought he would be. But what I remember most was leaving his office, seeing the sun again, breathing in the fresh free air and thinking, “I never want to do that again.”

And now it’s your turn. Have you ever stolen anything?