Well, would you look at that? 23 years on this earth, on December 23rd. My sister has informed me this is called a "golden birthday" and it's a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. And I'm 8,000 miles away from home, which is a little sad. But reflecting on this past year and on my life as a whole, it's pretty great. I can't even believe where I am in my life right now; it's so unexpected, and I love that. It's amazing what a little gratitude can do (Oprah-approved), and I really think that it's an important part of being a happy and fulfilled person.
The point of gratitude is to appreciate other people and things, so rather than make yet another birthday blog post all about me, I made a list of 23 things I'm thankful for in my life. I feel like it's important to acknowledge them every once in a while, and I loved writing this post because it actually helped me reflect on everything good in my life. A lot of these are things that I miss. But it's not intended to be sad or wistful, exactly. It's more like a list of things I'm excited to come back to.
23 BITS OF GRATITUDE FOR 23
1. My education
I am so, so lucky to have attended a world-class university, and a ridiculously gorgeous one at that. Here's a picture of my senior year backyard, for reference.
I never wanted to go to UCSB. As a naïve high school senior, when I was applying to colleges I didn't think twice about checking the box on the UC application. In my mind (my top choice at the time was UChicago, if that tells you anything about my expectations), UCSB wasn't a good school. When I got my acceptance, my mom was thrilled, but I thought party school, and dismissed it, along with my other "safety school" acceptances. But it became the most pragmatic option for me, after I'd refused to consider UCSD or Davis or any of the non-UC state schools, and not having bothered to apply to Berkeley or LA. I'd declined my spot on the waitlist at NYU, and rejected almost all of my beloved top East Coast schools I'd gotten into, after finding out how expensive they were. So I struggled privately for a couple of weeks between Northeastern, which I adored, and UCSB. Finally, after much consideration, I unhappily committed to UCSB on the day of the deadline.
But the day I really committed to UCSB was the day I visited. I stepped onto campus, and I instantly felt that I belonged. I sat in on a Feminist Studies class, which I took the first quarter of my freshman year and to this day remains one of my favorite classes. I admired the people tabling in the Arbor (little did I know that I would quickly learn to avoid them) and how passionately involved everyone was. In my freshman year, I wrote for the Daily Nexus and Word Magazine, taught piano to elementary school students, joined the executive board of a philanthropy organization, played in the Wind Ensemble, and unofficially joined the Korean-American Student Association. I filled my days with anything and everything, and loved every minute of it.
I miss college for a lot of reasons (see my thoughts on graduation), but one of them is that I really just miss learning things. College was the best four years of my life, in part because I loved being in an environment that facilitated critical thinking and extolled the values of open discussion. I loved the daily revelations I would take away from my classes, sharing them excitedly over pizza with my friends. I loved being genuinely excited to go to lecture, to soak up all of this new information and walk out with a fresh perspective of the world. I loved the concepts of Literature and the Mind, loved uncovering these secrets of human behavior and seeing their roots entwined with all of my day-to-day interactions.
I am so humbled by the four years I spent at UCSB, and I'm not only grateful for the privilege of a college education, but also that mine was such an incredibly rich one.
2. SPOTIFY + SONOS SPEAKERS
I'm not exactly a "music person" (I don't really know that many artists or kinds of music; I just kind of like what I like), so at first I thought I could live without Spotify Premium. Until I couldn't. The $5/month is very worth it for long commutes, I like having playlists to match my moods, and the "Discover Weekly" developers apparently know my taste better than I do. Also this is just undeniably cool (@Spotify if you're hiring any strategists soon...call me maybe?). And we recently got new Sonos speakers in the office and they're awesome. The bass is just...insanely good. My coworker and I have the office to ourselves when we work late nights, and we made a playlist called "POSSIBLE After Dark" with lots of '80s/'90s music and EDM, and we'll play it on full volume to help us stay focused.
3. some really damn good opportunities
If there's anything I learned from Outliers, it is that opportunity and cultural legacy are just as important as intelligence and work ethic in determining the course of success. Sometimes it's necessary to seek out opportunity, and sometimes it simply falls into your lap. Without cultural legacy and opportunity, I would not have attended a great university or had such a supportive family or been allowed to cultivate my love of travel, and I certainly wouldn't be working in Singapore right now, doing something that I love, or flying to Malaysia or Taiwan or Cambodia on the weekends. Part of it is, I'm proud to admit, resourcefulness. My mom once said to me after I'd worked myself out of a jam, "I never have to worry about you, because I know you'll always be fine. Things just work out for you." I was surprised, because I feel like, at least when it comes to the little things, the universe usually works against me. "They do not," I said indignantly. "I'm just resourceful." "That's what I mean," she replied. "You always land on your feet." And I do think that's true. But I think that's yet another thing I owe in part to cultural legacy and opportunity. I was raised to believe that I could do anything and solve any problem I was presented with, and to argue for what I thought was right. And so in these respects, I've been very fortunate. And sometimes it's difficult to decide whether or not you deserve it. But I think the best thing to do is to just be grateful for it, and accept it with humility. I just feel exceptionally lucky. It's why I really want to do something good with my life and to help people. Because where I am today is a culmination of a lot of different factors in my favor, and lot of people helping me. And I've recently received a couple of very exciting new opportunities, so you'll hear about them on here soon, I promise. But for now, let's just say that I am exceptionally lucky. Life is good.
4. Alpha Kappa Psi
Where do I even start? I rushed Alpha Kappa Psi the first quarter of my sophomore year. I was a little bit lost after deciding I no longer wanted to pursue journalism, and for all of the things I was a part of in my freshman year, I didn't love any of them. I wasn't happy with most of my freshman year friends, ones I'd made out of proximity or convenience, because they didn't really appear interested in doing anything other than hanging out in the dorms. I wanted something more. And I found AKPsi.
Honestly, when I joined AKPsi, my résumé was already pretty good. I didn't rush because I had problems writing a cover letter or because I didn't know what questions to ask during an interview. Instead, it was a way for me to take ownership, to take initiative, things I didn't really do in high school. It became a way for me to reinvent myself, and it sparked an immense growth over a short period of time. It wasn't just about professional success or brotherhood for me. The most valuable thing I got from it was the utterly inseparable quality of the two, a sterling Möbius strip I would carry with me for the rest of my life.
I remember my first meeting with the 16 people that would become my pledge brothers. "Look around the room," my pledge dad said. "You're going to be spending a lot of time with each other, and you're going to get super-close." Everyone says things like this. I have not once taken it seriously. I don't make friends easily. It's not that I don't like making friends; it just takes a long time for me to be comfortable around people and to open up to them. My oldest friendships have developed over the course of 21.5 years (more on this later). To get close to a group of people I've never met and have nothing in common with, in six weeks, is not in my nature. "Just wait," my pledge dad told me, after I expressed this to him. "You're going to love all of them." I still didn't take it seriously. I had one goal in my mind: to finish what I started. I only had to work with these people as a team long enough to accomplish it. And looking back, I think most of my pledge class felt the same way. We were all leaders and we were all goal-setters, and we had no interest in making friends.
But the strange thing was, I really did end up loving every single one of them. Staying up until 4 am studying, frantically gathering supplies for our fundraisers, Google Docs on Google Docs...all of it was worth it. We learned how to practice leadership and collaboration, simultaneously. It sounds cold, but prior to AKPsi, I didn't know it was possible for the cutthroat mentality of business and the support and solidarity of a "brotherhood" to coexist.
Being president my senior year was one of the toughest things I did in college. But I can honestly say it was the most rewarding thing I did in college. I learned so much from it, and became a much better person because of it, and I had the opportunity to work with so many great people, people I never would have crossed paths with had it not been for the fraternity. It was probably the single most defining experience of my college career. I devoted more time to it than anything else, and worked hard with the Executive Board to make it something we could all be proud of belonging to, even when that alone was a challenge. And I think we did. It will forever be one of my greatest accomplishments, and something I feel like I really worked for.
5. fuzzy blankets
Honestly, one of the things that upsets me most about living in a tropical place is that there's no reason to own a fuzzy blanket. Did you know that trauma blankets actually simulate the weight of a hug, and that cuddling has emotional and psychological benefits? Therefore, fuzzy blankets are really good for your health. My bed senior year was pretty much just a little nook of cozy blankets and soft pillows. It was divine (it appears that not much has changed).
6. my friends
An obligatory entry in any list of gratitude, I'm always immensely proud of my friends because I think they're very carefully chosen, and I love that. I strongly subscribe to the idea that you are a reflection of the people with whom you choose to spend the most time, so I think you should always surround yourself with positive influences. Those who support you, but also challenge you and can call you out when you're being dumb; those that always have your best interests in mind and inspire you to be a better person. The people in my life are all amazing, in so many ways, and I am genuinely blessed to know them, because they make my life so brilliantly worth living.
I'm so grateful to have friends that I met in Mommy & Me classes and still tolerate me 21.5 years later, for the little traditions my high school friends and I still keep every time we're all in town together, for the people that liked me even when I didn't necessarily like myself. I fully appreciate everyone that deals with my sarcasm and my rambling existential tangents and my OCD, people that coerce me into going out on Saturday nights or validate my impulsive decisions, people that don't judge me for my phone preferences (okay that one is a lie; literally all of my friends judge me for my phone preferences). But mostly, I love that I have truly interesting people in my life that are willing to grow with me, who I can have stimulating discussions about interesting topics with, and who appreciate the little things as much as I do. I am so thankful for each and every one of you.
Admittedly, in 23 years, I've also lost quite a few people that I thought would be my friends forever. And it is sad, but I suppose that's a part of life. And it makes me appreciate those who stayed that much more. The best kind of friends are those who you don't talk to regularly and don't have to maintain, per se, but with whom you can still pick up a conversation you started two months ago. I've also made so many friends unexpectedly—people who I don't even remember meeting, or who I didn't think I had anything in common with, or who I didn't become close to until we hung out in a different capacity. Which is wonderfully serendipitous, to say the least.
(To all my high school friends: I'm really sorry I was always such a brat about taking pictures and I am regretting it now because I can't find any of us together. Thank god for the select few of you that actually force me to pose for pictures once in a while)
7. NARS Audacious Lipstick
Because sometimes you need to indulge in vanity and who would I be if I didn't mention my love for these? Also contouring. Amazing. One of my favorite conversations ever in our EBoard group chat was the following:
Daniel: you contour your jaw
Daniel: why would girls do that
Daniel: serious question
Britt: i can teach you
Britt: pres + vp
Me: HAHAH pres + vp contour session?
Britt: yea jenny and myra you down?
Franklin: wait how do you do it
Keika: franklin i'll do yours
Me: you shade under your jaw so it looks like it's in shadow
Franklin: do u just practice in front of the mirror
Me: that's how you learn all makeup franklin
Franklin: OOH it's a makeup move
Franklin: i thought u just positioned ur jaw some way
David: i would also like a jaw
Me: david we can do yours too
Britt: ok david you're in
(I will forever love my EBoard)
8, genuinely kind and selfless people
I am always still amazed by how sincerely kind and fundamentally good some people are. I'm so fortunate to have experienced so much kindness since I've lived on my own, from my homestay family welcoming me into their home, to my good friend's parents inviting me to spend Christmas with them. But it's also the little things, like the immigration officer wishing me happy birthday on my way into Taiwan, my friend's dad making me toast in the mornings, or the one guy that helped me with my luggage on the subway the day I got to New York because he saw it was heavy. These things give me the most hope for humanity, especially in a time when we frequently struggle to see the good in it.
9. good food
I used to be a very picky eater (and I'm still trying to love vegetables) and it's only now that I realize how much I've missed out on. The food in Singapore is fantastic (chicken rice is honestly one of the best things to ever happen to me) and now I'm in Taiwan (land of boba and excellent street food), so my horizons have expanded considerably. Being in Asia and trying everything without knowing exactly what it is will do that for you. But also I am grateful for sushi, filet mignon, ban mien, curry puffs, and a bunch of other things that I miss from America. I love food in different places because it's like a reflection of the country's heart and soul, infused with so much local flavor, in both the literal and figurative sense. One good thing about "foodie culture" (despite the name) is that there's always something new being invented, something fresh and innovative and exciting. Eating is so much an immersive experience now, and food is to be consumed with all five senses. What a time to be alive.
She has not only been my cousin for 23 years, but also my best friend, partner-in-crime, voice of reason, grief counselor, and resident Oracle-in-Chief of my life since forever. She taught me how to play Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland and James Bond the card game, and is also at least 20% responsible for my makeup obsession by buying me my first MAC lipgloss at age 13. I've never known anyone in my life who so completely understood me (she knows everything from my blog post inklings to my opinions on what to bake for Christmas) and could fully empathize with whatever I was going through at the time, and she has never failed to pick up my 2 am calls to listen to my problems.
But it's not just the way she is with me, either. She's possibly the most thoughtful person I've ever met, she has an infectious sense of humor, and is genuinely kind to everyone, even if they don't deserve it. People like her are profoundly rare, and I'm very lucky to have her. We are never, ever tired of each other and we feed off of each others' energy and are always just really down, which makes us so fun to hang out with (subject to interpretation)(we have the same stupid inside jokes as we did a decade ago and they're never not funny), and I don't think I'm ever not excited to see her. We do absolutely anything and everything together, from going to SF Pride to practicing haggling in British accents in Mexico, from dancing at Extravaganza together to eating everything possible at food festivals in Brooklyn. She's my absolute favorite person in the world. And how many people can say that about their cousin?
11. Amazon Kindle
I've read so many books lately, and it makes me so happy. And thanks to this and a formerly hour-and-a-half-long commute, I've made good progress on my summer reading list. The Kindle I have is the old-school version, the second iteration of the original model, and it's lasted me seven years, a lifetime in an age of fleeting technological relevance. It's still one of my favorite birthday gifts.
12. My POSSIBLE family
The thing that really attracted me to POSSIBLE was its ideology: "Does It Work?" Because it's intriguing. Instead of having a set of principles to work and live by, instead it turns the focus back on ourselves. It requires introspection and self-awareness, something kind of rare in a rather egotistical and self-important industry. And like anything else, an agency is great because of the people, and I would not have survived in Singapore had I not found a second home in the Planning Team at POSSIBLE. From always feeding me to doing a Spartan Race together, my team is, by every definition of the word, awesome. Not only do we work well together and treat each other like family, but we have a lot of fun together. Everyone on the team is super funny and rad, and everyone at the agency actually likes one another outside of work (who else can say that they have their bosses on Snapchat and their CEOs on Instagram?). I have a group chat with my team called "Sephora or Snacks?" which really is demonstrative of true friendship, and we share an undying love of boba and chicken nuggets. They have made the quality of my time in Singapore so much better, and because of them, coming into the office every day is actually fun.
13. korean skincare
Honestly, it’s life-changing. I’m going to have to write an actual post on it at some point, because it will transform your skin. It's definitely a lot of work, and I'm still learning how to be consistent with my routine, but it's so worth it. You go from waking up feeling dull and/or oily to being a glowy magical unicorn in the mornings. It's amazing. Thank god for /r/AsianBeauty.
14. growing up in san diego
Regardless of how many cities I will live in and love, I always know I want to go back home to San Diego when I'm older. "Sunny San Diego," my dad likes to call it, in his news anchor voice. It's not only in the unequivocally best state, but it's such an idyllic place with absolutely flawless weather every single day of the year (being in Asia in a perpetual state of summer has its perks, but it makes me miss sea breezes and crisp winters). Whenever I'd come home from college, my friends and I would go back to the black rock or the glider port at Torrey Pines and sit by the waves, feeling the spray of the salt water and watching the sunset paint brushstrokes in dusty rose and liquid gold across the sky. And we'd always say the same thing: "I can't believe we get to live here." As much as I love Santa Barbara, it's nowhere near as perfect as San Diego.
15. my actual family
Of course this one was going to be on here, but I really can't express exactly how much I love my family. I had a great upbringing and my family was such a central part of my life; I can't imagine it any other way. You know, stuff you only realize after you move out of your house.
My family has never really been the traditional kind, in any sense of the word, something that I forget until I really talk to other people about their families, but I love that about us. I think my family embodied the Chinese-American mindset as well as it possibly could. We have our loud, 30-person Sunday night dinners, platters of food laid out on the counter with everyone helping themselves. We celebrate Chinese New Year's and have red egg parties. We participated in only "academic" summer camps that taught things like creative writing and electrical engineering and anatomy. But we also send family Christmas cards in which we wear color-coordinated outfits and go all-out with decorating, we run 5Ks together and listen to Blondie and Meatloaf and Motown, we go to Broadway musicals and we attend every single street festival and crafts fair in the existence of street festivals and crafts fairs. As a kid, my parents bought me both train sets and Barbie dolls, so as not to enforce gendered play; I was a Girl Scout, did four sports, and played two instruments; we went to church semi-regularly despite my parents being decidedly non-religious. I participated (not entirely willingly) in both symphony and Science Olympiad, but my mom would also make fun of me for staying in on the weekends in college instead of going to parties. I was raised with all the togetherness and richness of Chinese culture, and the emotional support, progressivism, and pursuit-of-happiness attitude of American culture.
My mom taught me the importance of strength and independence, but also that relationships with other people are everything. She's hilariously atypical for an East Coaster—always cold (she carries a spare goose down jacket in her purse...in San Diego), defiant of cultural stereotypes (my grades were fine if I had "done my best," and instead she stressed networking and pushed me to get internships starting the summer after ninth grade), and sends me articles like "Ten Ways to Live Your Best Life!" from the Huffington Post. She's the only person I know who says that the best thing you can do in life is to travel and see the world because experiences are more important than possessions, while maintaining that she cannot get a good night's sleep unless it is in her king-sized Tempur-Pedic bed, and buying us all Ray-Bans because she doesn't trust the quality of cheap sunglasses and is afraid we'll go temporarily blind like Anderson Cooper.
My dad taught me that the mind is a beautiful thing, to fill it with as many things as possible, and that discipline is more important that motivation. He taught us to play chess and Scrabble, refused to let us use any word in conversation we couldn't spell or define (much to our annoyance), and spent long, lazy summer days outside with us while we swam in the pool, feeding us snacks. He's funny mostly because he thinks he's funny, and can still quote lines from old Disney movies a decade and a brain injury later.
My sisters taught me that humor, intelligence, and grace transcend age differences. Unlike a lot of sisters, we never fought, loved going to school with each other, watched Doctor Who together as a Saturday morning ritual, and now still make late-night boba and frozen yogurt runs when all three of us are home. My middle sister is one of the most genuinely delightful people to be around, always. We're very different people with very distinct personalities, but somehow are always on a similar wavelength and are probably the closest thing to twins you could possibly be when you're four years apart (we say a lot of things in unison, and my college boyfriend once described hanging out with us as "hanging out with two of the same person, except Marisa is the happier one"). My youngest sister is ridiculously accomplished and intimidatingly smart; she's nationally-ranked in squash, writes award-winning Instagram captions, and can recite trivia like an almanac.
It's Christmas now, and one of my favorite things is always baking a flurry of sugar cookies with my mom and sisters and singing along to "All I Want for Christmas Is You" at the top of our lungs. It's an annual tradition of sorts, one I miss a lot this year, along with the conventional festivities of the season back home. I miss sweater weather, hot cocoa, and Christmas lights everywhere. I miss sitting around the tree and opening gifts together as a family (we did it via Skype this year). I miss quite a lot of things right now.
16. baby animals
Because just look at them. I feel all warm and fuzzy when I see cute animals. They just bring so much joy into my life.
17. words + language + art
Oh my god, are you, like, an English major or something? Kind of pretentious, I know, but I don't know any better way to articulate my thoughts than to write them down. Words are such beautiful things. Language is cool. I honestly don't know how I would express myself without it. I'm not artistic like my sisters are, so writing was always my medium. And raised with an insatiable curiosity about everything, in an age in which information is readily accessible with the touch of a button, to be able to describe the wonderment of the things I think and feel and learn is the most satisfying thing in the world. Language can be used in so many different ways, its form twisted to fit its purpose, from scientific documentation to literature. I still maintain that art and aesthetic pleasures are invaluable, and it's such a magical thing to create purpose out of ideas, to see beauty in the smallest things. And isn't admiration the most basic expression of gratitude?
I'm not quite sure what I did before I was aware of the existence of Netflix. I actually had to wait seven days before watching a new episode of a TV show, I guess. That's time I'll never get back. The documentaries especially are my favorite. But other honorable mentions are Jessica Jones, Penny Dreadful, Twinsters, Arrested Development, Orphan Black, The Hunting Ground, Bo Burnham's what. and Make Happy, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Black Mirror, and Happy. And if anyone has any recommendations as to what I should watch next, please leave them in the comments :) I am always looking for suggestions.
19. My line
I have the best line in the world. I chose them not out of fraternal obligation, but because they were people I really saw myself getting along with, and it's come back to me tenfold. Before I left for Singapore, they all came down from LA to visit me in San Diego. We went to the beach, ate a lot of food, and forced Michael and Franklin to learn how to contour and do cat-eye liner (they did surprisingly well). A week later, they surprised me by taking me to Disneyland as a going-away present, the first time I've gone in years. We all have so much fun together; I can never stop laughing when I'm with them.
And two new babies just joined our family! I haven't met them yet, but we've had a very amusing group chat going for the past two months, which mostly consists of me micromanaging their sleep schedules from 8,000 miles away. Brugos family still going strong. I am now a proud single mother of twin boys, a grandbig twice, AND a great-grandbig. I'm so grateful to AKPsi for bringing these people into my life.
20. my camera + photos
I have very mixed feelings about taking pictures and blogging, for a lot of reasons, but with age (here is where I start to sound a million years old)(I've caught myself saying "when I was your age" unironically and it's terrible), I've started to really appreciate taking pictures. I love looking back through all of my photos, all of the things I've saved that were important to me at one time or another; tiny little moments frozen in time that evoke very particular emotions and memories of people and places. I love reliving them over again, especially pictures I've taken while traveling. It makes me really happy.
It has so many health benefits and it's so delicious and warm and comforting and there is no downside to it and it's pretty much the best drink ever. The tea in Asia is unmatched omg. I didn't know I was missing it in my life until I moved here. I'm actually preparing to ship a large quantity of it home when I leave (if anyone knows where to find teh in the States, let me know, because I'm already going through withdrawals).
I first thought of this when I was writing my thoughts on the election, but I'm thankful that I am fairly well-traveled, to have learned about different cultures and ways of life, and to have realized that there is much more to the world than just the things I know. I appreciate friends that question my opinions and my perspective of the world (in a constructive way), those who challenge me to think differently and teach me about things I would not have been aware of otherwise. An open mind is such a liberating thing, and I like the feeling of taking steps outside of my comfort zone—physically, mentally, socially, and ideologically.
I had this revelation in my Malaysia post, but it really is so incredible that I can Uber to some of the most historic places in the world and then Snapchat the entire experience. It's amazing that I can find a bed in virtually any country thanks to Airbnb, that I can Skype people from across the globe and talk to them in real time. We are living in the best possible age for connectivity, and the world is so open to us right now. And I'm very conscious of the fact that I could never sustain a 2.5-year cross-country relationship, nor many of my friendships, without the invention of these things.
Thanks to everyone for a great 23 years on this rock. I am so very grateful ♥️ cheers to many more!
writer/creator. problem-solver. curious cat.