Learning to be happy

Long time no blog. I don’t know if anyone still reads this. However, looking over my previous posts, I find myself wondering, “Do I really whinge that much?”

I’ve never been what I would call a ‘happy’ person and this is both due to external and internal forces. Externally, enjoyment and happiness weren’t a big part of my childhood growing up with the pressures of culture, religion and academic excellence. Sometimes I wonder if it’s in my blood. Throughout history, Chinese women haven’t had a lot of agency or control over their lives, so they turn to nagging as their only avenue to get what they want because everything else is taboo. A daughter learns this from her mother, it gets passed on from generation to generation. My grandmother is a great complainer. So is my mother. And so am I. If something isn’t exactly as we want it, we lose the plot and we talk about it incessantly with such melancholic tones and sighs that we cause other people to lose the plot. Usually, that means children and husbands.

But I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to nag. If I do become a parent, I don’t want to be the mom who nags, nags, nags about the most minuscule and trivial of things, such as not putting the dishes away in the right place, using too many bowls, having one crumb on the bench top overnight etc. Complaining, however, is like breathing or drooling in my sleep; it’s something I fall into naturally and it’s so normal in my life that I’m afraid I won’t be able to catch myself falling into the habit.

How do you learn to be happy? Perhaps ‘happy’ is the wrong word. Perhaps ‘content’ is more of what I am after and more achievable; being in a place where I’m not always miserable, not always wanting something else because my current situation is not bearable. Content in myself, my life.

I’m going to try and focus on the little things that make me feel good, like the wind on my face, the clear sunlight and blue sky on a winter morning when I drive to work, rain on a tin roof, the smell of incense, candles at night, a warm bowl of soup to put my cold hands around, a good story, a soft blanket, laughter with colleagues, a conversation that goes beyond the smalltalk, a job well done, pants that don’t squeeze in all the wrong places, soft fluffy socks, relaxing yoga poses, a beautifully crafted sentence, a smooth pen on creamy paper, the smell of my favourite shampoo. In short, I’m going to try a little Hygge.

Because I have got to make some changes in my life. I can’t continue that spiral of negativity, not when I have depression and not when it makes me so despondent and so crazy. It doesn’t mean I have to stop being angry about the injustices of the world. A part of me will always regret what could have been if I had been born to a liberal westernized family that doesn’t treat bad science as gospel or think breaking a child is as good as raising a child. But maybe I can start accepting it and moving on and away from it all.

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Call it by its name

Learning the term ’emotional abuse’ has been a revelation. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to understand why I am the way I am. I’m anxious around people, I put on an act in public, I have a hard time letting people get close to me, and I’m always so angry. Anger is my natural state. I’ve been that way for so long I don’t know how else to be. Because anger was my sword and my shield. It stopped me from breaking, stopped me from getting hurt as badly as I possibly could have been. Realizing why may be the key to me finally becoming a little less angry. Still, it gets me so mad when the same people who emotionally abused me as a child still try to do the same thing by telling me what a horrible child I was — to justify their own behaviour — and how I’m a horrible, selfish person now for “expecting perfection from everyone except myself”. Her words.

To be honest, I don’t even know where to start with this. Some of my earliest memories as a kid involve being stuck down a toilet, feet first, and being absolutely terrified. My feelings about all of this is so messed up, such a jumble, and to add to that, my abuser accuses me of abuse when I confront her about all the times she threatened physical violence or manipulated me.

It’s not okay to threaten an eight year old child with breaking her arm.

It’s not okay to slap a five year old who’s complaining about her little brother taking her colour pencil until the five year old’s lip is split.

It’s not okay to try and destroy your daughter’s dreams and passions by denying her the opportunity to ride, trying to tear down the pictures she drew of horses — because who has time or money for posters, right? Let’s ship half a ton of maths textbooks over from Hong Kong to New Zealand instead.

It’s not okay to threaten to burn your teenager’s novel manuscript.

It’s not okay to take away the pictures she cut out from newspapers of her favourite actor, the only person who ever inspired her.

It’s not okay to expect your kid to be three years ahead of all her peers in mathematics.

It’s not okay to call your kid stupid and lazy every time she can’t do a maths problem.

It’s not okay to deprive her of sleep until she redoes them until she gets them right.

It’s not okay to always belittle and denigrate your kid, comparing her unfavourably to anyone and everyone.

It’s not okay to try and gaslight that kid when she’s grown up and confronting you about your behaviour.

It’s not okay to attribute your obsessive compulsive over-cleaning of everything everyone in the house owns to ‘love’ and trying to manipulate everyone into feeling guilty when they point out that you should probably stop because nobody likes living to your cleaning schedule.

That’s not parenting. That’s not love. That’s emotional abuse. And it’s no excuse to say that you did it out of love because you didn’t love me. You thought you did. What you really wanted to do was possess me, saddle me, put a bit in my mouth and yank on the reins to have me dance to your tune.


Some days are better. Some days are worse. I’m 28 now, and I still feel like that kid sometimes. I’m riddled with self-doubt, suffering from imposter syndrome, checking OCD, and a paranoid fear that I might have hurt somebody. And I’m angry that I feel that way because I now know why I have these feelings, but I can’t seem to rid myself of them.

Not finishing my Goodreads challenge

I’m not going to finish my Goodreads challenge this year and I’m not sure how I’m coping with it. Actually, I don’t really think I’m coping since I’m angsting about it.

In 2017, I thought I could do 60. It’s only a few more than 52, right? In previous years, I’d gone for one book a week. That wasn’t unmanageable if I regulated my social media times and made reading a priority.

But then work got crazy, I started books but didn’t finish them. My book slump spiralled. I panic-read some comics and graphic novels to keep up, and then, towards September, the only thing I felt like reading was the next book in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series, Oathbringer. The usual types of books that kickstarted my reading didn’t work. I found romances to be too shallow, even when the premises seemed promising. Same with YA. There was one book that I wanted and it wasn’t in my grasp. Continue reading “Not finishing my Goodreads challenge”

Celebrating Jolabokaflod on Summer Solstice

I hate Christmas. I’m not just bah-humbug about it. I really hate it; the sentiment of it, the disgustingly cheerful music that goes down like lukewarm fake blood made of cherry and cola syrup, and the panic and rush to get everything done before then.

Above all, Christmas reminds me of how a certain religious cult massacred people of other faiths and appropriated all their winter solstice traditions from their pagan cultures and called them ‘Christian’. In this day and age when everything and anything seems to be cultural appropriation, I’m surprised nobody has mentioned this. (I mean, people can’t really say that 25th December is about the birth of a certain unemployed carpenter with narcissistic tendencies when they’re surrounding themselves with pagan trees, pagan cakes with coins baked into them, pagan popcorn chains, pagan gift giving traditions, pagan use of mistletoe and holly, and so on and so forth. It would be nice to get some recognition for the pagan past.)

There are, however, certain aspects of Winter Solstice celebrations that I do enjoy, like eating lots and having days off. These past two years, I’ve been reading about the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod (literally: Yule Book Flood).

Hodges and Figgis, Dublin
Sci-fi and fantasy section in Hodges & Figgis bookshop in Dublin, 2016

Continue reading “Celebrating Jolabokaflod on Summer Solstice”

Art post: Fan art for Dragon Age

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Desire demon in the Fade. Dragon Age fan art. 

I’ve just started getting back into drawing again. I don’t think I have much skill but it’s calming and works another part of the brain. I consider it therapy for myself when I need a bit of zen or perspective. Pastel is good because the thick lines force me to not be perfect and to colour outside the lines, so to speak.

 

What failing the Classics Club challenge has taught me.

I failed the Classics Club.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, the Classics Club is a challenge to read 50 classic titles in five years. It’s up to the participant to determine what a classic is.

Here is my list of books.

My process for picking them was pretty simple. Firstly, I browsed through what I already owned and put them all down on the list.

I started in 2012, during my first year of working as a journalist as something to take my mind off how out of place I felt and the quarter-life crisis I was going through. As a kid, I’d been an avid reader but subsequent high school English classes, complete with snobby teachers who told me Tolkien was ‘just fantasy stuff’ and to get my head ‘into the real world’ (side note: is historical fiction not fiction based on the real world? Apparently not, according to one teacher who forced me to write things set in the modern era.). Added with the required reading (one novel every year, short stories, poetry, all of one genre: literary), and I was almost put off reading forever. The Classics Club was a way to get me back into reading and also to challenge myself.  Continue reading “What failing the Classics Club challenge has taught me.”

An Open Letter to Someone Who Knows Who She is

J,

I have pondered whether I should write this. Is there any point? But since you are reading my blog, which I had not updated since the first half of 2016 until you reminded me that it existed, I thought it worthwhile getting this off my chest.

A bit of background to those of you who have no idea what I’m on about:

J and I “met” on Facebook early this October. We both followed the same actor’s Facebook page and she commented that he had inspired her interest in history, so I replied, “Me too!” She later reached out to me and asked if we could be friends.

“Sure,” I replied, or something along those lines.

We started corresponding via Facebook messenger. In two months of correspondence, she told me:

* She suffered from self-diagnosed Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

* How she and her mother had pooled resources to buy her a house.

* How she suspected her mother was a narcissist.

* How her mother was stressing her out because she was a narcissist.

* How she didn’t work but was living off an inheritance but was worried about it running out.

* How she wanted to do all sorts of shopping, hairstyling, and travelling.

There were also multitudes of other personal details that she revealed to me over the course of our correspondence which I do not think are prudent to mention here.

She also asked me to be her beta reader, to help her with finishing her novel (I said no to the first and yes to the second), and, once I revealed I possibly could be able to afford the down payment for a house, to help her buy out the other half of her house from her mother. That was about a month into our correspondence. Eventually, I reached out to her mother to ask for advice about what I should or should not say. Yes, I know I crossed a boundary and I had thought about it for a long time, but I didn’t want to be a trigger to some event. (As an aside, J, you told me I was creepy for reaching out to your mother before you blocked me on Facebook. You didn’t think it was creepy to ask a total stranger to buy one half of your house?!)

Continue reading “An Open Letter to Someone Who Knows Who She is”

On Leadership Values in Chinese culture

The different concepts of leadership have been milling around in my mind for a little while. Not that I am a great leader of any kind, but it surfaced in a discussion around Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and what she said when she took up the position. She said something along the lines of: “Thank you to my husband for his support and I’m sorry I’m going to have to continue to sacrifice you and our family to pursue my political career.”

This only popped up on my Facebook due to the fact that I have a lot of family in Hong Kong, and my cousin had commented on it, joining the hundreds of people who were criticizing her for her lack of family values.

Just to clarify, I am not a supporter of Carrie Lam. She’s a PRC stooge and she’s in this for herself and her own gain. She has little vision and is completely oblivious to her own privilege. (A while back, she defended herself saying, “I have no chauffeur. I drive myself to church!” This is to a population that lives in a city where a permanent car parking space costs upwards of $1 million, and lots of people live in coffin sized bunks.)

However, I responded to my cousin’s comment, saying that of all the things that Lam could be criticized for, not spending time with her family because of her need to take care of official business shouldn’t be one of them. Would you rather have a leader who neglected their work to be with their family, or neglected their family to do their work?

My cousin (and some others) came back saying that a good leader had to be a good private citizen  and a good family person (I disagree), and eventually my cousin cited the oft used phrase in Chinese (Confucian) philosophy:

修身齐家治国平天下
xiu shen qi jia zhi guo ping tian xia

Continue reading “On Leadership Values in Chinese culture”

Banana and Proud

Recently I’ve been reading up accounts of people’s interpretations and experiences of being a ‘banana’. AKA, ‘yellow on the outside; white on the inside’.

My sojourn in Hong Kong in 2014 has taught me how different I am to the rest of my family and people who, in general, look like me, and I can say that I am truly a ‘banana’. From my reading, it seems that my experience as a banana is different from many other bananas as well. I can speak both Mandarin and Cantonese, read and comprehend traditional and simplified Chinese, I can type in Chinese with Pinyin and I can recite all the dynasties in order and tell you approximately what their durations were and where they occupy chronologically.

I’ve had exposure to many Chinese classics like ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ and ‘Journey to the West’. I know some Chinese proverbs and can use them. The only thing I fail at is slang, which changes every year, and even my Chinese-speaking parents can’t keep up with it.

My ‘whiteness’ is purely cultural and sometimes it is something I have chosen because I dislike many traditional Chinese values. At other times, it just so happens that my values and ideas do not gel with the current predominant Chinese way of thinking.

Some things that I have chosen to reject in Chinese culture: Continue reading “Banana and Proud”

A struggling, recovering tiger cub – winning the war against overbearing and controlling overseas Chinese parents

You’ll probably have heard of the phrase “Tiger Mother”. And, based on anecdotal evidence, I feel that the phenomenon is most common amongst overseas Chinese/Asians. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen within Asian countries but the diaspora seems to take it to a new level.

Then again, maybe my parents were always just intense from the start. I want to be able to forgive them but I can’t let it go. I can’t just ‘forget’ it. I feel so angry on behalf of the little girl that I was. Today, the NYT published an article on how some young Chinese were talking to an app on their phone about their troubles instead of a real person. I wasn’t surprised at all that they found an app to be more sympathetic than the people who were supposed to love them the most. We’ve all been raised in an environment of so much judgement and condemnation. To show weakness or unhappiness would be seen as ‘complaining’ or ‘whining’.

Without context, none of this would make any sense. I don’t claim to speak for all overseas Chinese parents and children. Maybe there are those who have normal loving families. But I didn’t, not really. And maybe my story will resonate with some of you. Continue reading “A struggling, recovering tiger cub – winning the war against overbearing and controlling overseas Chinese parents”

Draconian appearance policing at schools.

Student suspended from school because of personal style choices — the revolutionary and controversial BEARD. 

This illustrates an issue I’ve had with schools in general for a very long time and one of the reasons why, if I ever have kids, I want them to go to school in the USA.

Honestly, the beard is not going to stop the kid from learning, nor is it going to stop his classmates from learning. If school rules make no sense then they should be changed, just like laws. Personally, I think school uniform rules are basically educators flexing the tyrant muscles that they’ve longed to exercise for the sake of their own egos. This is not about the students. This is about the adults who like to rule over students being all whingey because someone stood up to them and said no, I’m not doing what you say because what you say makes no sense.

Education is supposed to make people rational. What schools these days do is emulate a production line that does not value individuality or the individual. They only value what the school looks like to the public.

Beards don’t stop learning. Nail polish doesn’t stop learning. Make up doesn’t stop learning. Track pants and sneakers don’t stop learning. You want to know what gets in the way of learning? Pulling a student out of class because they left their school shoes at one parent’s house and came to school in the wrong type of black shoes, then making them sit in the school office until said working parent can bring their shoes from home; curbing self-expression; expensive uniforms that make sure everyone knows who the poor kids are and are absolutely useless at keeping people warm during winter and cool during summer; stopping a kid from attending school because he dared to be a little different; teachers too busy policing students’ appearances to actually teach.

What lessons are these schools teaching their students? Difference is bad; conformity is good. Are these the values that you want the younger generation to learn? Because this is the REAL sort of education that they’re getting.

Book slump

Not the easiest of reads but definitely wintry enough in some parts to make up for the lack of cold weather recently.
Not the easiest of reads but definitely wintry enough in some parts to make up for the lack of cold weather recently.

I think I’ve been having a bit of a book slump (and a blogging slump, too, by the looks of things, since my last post was in February). The last book I finished was The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and it was a really short book. Granted, I’m currently making my way through Dr Zhivago and Wuthering Heights and neither are what one would call ‘light reads’. It’s not that I’m not enjoying them but I feel like I’m not enjoying them as much as I should be. I feel the urge to start another book but I’ve already got far too many on the go. All I really want, right now, is a long weekend with lots of rain and maybe a bit of thunder and lightning, when I can curl up with a blanket and read the whole day away. It feels like the ideal kind of holiday. I daren’t hope for snow. We never get any snow.

There really wasn’t much point to this post. I just felt like writing something here and pondering about the state of my life. In that way, it’s like one of my journal entries except it’s legible. In this time that I’m using to write this entry, I could be reading Pasternak or Bronte. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m focusing too much on my reading challenge and not on the books themselves. But I must say, without the Goodreads Reading Challenge, I probably would still be stuck in my total reading hiatus when I read nothing but fashion magazines and chicklit books. (Nothing wrong with chicklit, but they’re like sugar; you can’t have a healthy diet with just sugar.)

Turning Over a New Identity

Four years ago today, Christchurch reeled from the effects of a powerful earthquake. For four years afterwards, the entire city struggled to define itself and what made it – us – unique and Christchurch.

It’s a struggle I’m not unfamiliar with, on a personal level. Four years ago and before that, I identified very strongly as Chinese. It was what made me who I was. I would have been lost without it. My earlier posts on this blog will attest to that. I was staunchly pro-Beijing, pro-government. I had a map of China on my wall and I taught myself to speak Mandarin. Just thinking about it makes me want to shake that girl now. (Not that I regret the Mandarin. That has always been useful as a tool.)

Four years later, I no longer consider myself Chinese. I just happen to have been born with a certain DNA and in a certain place. What has happened? What has changed? Nothing. And everything.  Continue reading “Turning Over a New Identity”