Underneath my yellow skin

Author Archives: Minna Hong

What to do with my life

Once when I was in my twenties, my mother was probing me about my life goals. Which, that’s a mother thing to do so I can’t blame her for it. At one point, though, she was exasperated at me and snapped, “Do you not want to work?” I, being stupid, took her at face value and said, “I would prefer not to.” The disappointment in her face and tone was heavy. She made it very obvious that she thought I was a failure for admitting that.

Story of my life, though. One of the things my last therapist said to me that turned on a lightbulb was after I was lamenting about all the ways I had failed my mother. I was very much aware of my mother’s checklist of things that her daughter should be. Skinny was at the top of that list (but not skinnier than she was because that made her jealous0.

Side Note: After I came home from the hospital, eating was difficult because my father could not understand my diet. I did not eat gluten or dairy. He and my mom would eat something with one or both of those and he would offer me some. I would decline, which should have been the end of it, but half the time my father would question why I didn’t accept it. He would say, “Don’t you want any?” Not in a nasty way, but in a puzzled tone. I would explain I couldn’t eat it, and  I could see that he didn’t understand. That was fine. Annoying, but fine. It was when he conflated my hospital experience with my diet that it got frustrating. He thought my doctors had put me on the diet and would ask when I would be off it. He couldn’t understand that I had been eating that way for several years, which, again, was fine in and of itself. It just got old after some time.

Anyway, my mother wanted a skinny, feminine, perfect clone of herself. She wanted a daughter who had a career, yes, but also was a mother of two children. Someone who went to church every Sunday and was heavily involved in the church life, and someone who did not swear.

What my recent health scare had done for me was make me see with brilliant clarity that my mother does not like me. I already knew she didn’t love me as a person (I will concede that she loves me, her ‘daughter’)., but it took me longer to realize that she doesn’t like me. At all. She likes nothing about me, in fact. Not that I do Taiji (she thought it would invite the devil to dance on my spine. Which is surprisingly poetic for her, but a bunch of horseshit) nor that I am a writer. The one short story she read from me elicited the only comment of ‘there’s a lot of swearing in it’ and nothing else. She doesn’t like that I’m fat, single/unmarried, and she most definitely does not like that I don’t have children.

She doesn’t like that I don’t have a regular job (which is fair), and she doesn’t like that I have a cat. She wishes I cared more about performative femininity, even though she has a complicated relationship with it herself. Yes, she wears makeup (has eyeliner tattooed on her lids), but she does not wear skirt/dresses much, and she is much more comfortable in pants. Plus, she plays sports. Or used to, anyway. She exercises every day, too.

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Not that you’ll listen, anyway

I was talking to my brother about dating (because he currently is), and he was joking that I should meet the women he liked before he got serious because I’m good at reading people. I laughed and said that it would be futile because NRE (New Relationship Energy) is strong and nobody listens to someone who warns them about a partner.

He demurred, saying he would listen to me because he trusted me. Which, flattering, but I knew better. I said to him that no one listened to their friends when they were in the throes of passion. I wasn’t throwing shade because I had done the same thing myself. It was just human nature to be flooded with pheromones and not thinking straight.

My brother laughed. We moved on to talking about me doing a service for people where I read their dates like a fortuneteller, which, again, there’s no money in that. I mean, not only because it takes time for people’s personalities to fully out (and maybe years before what I predicted would happened actually came true). I said that there was like 5% of people I could not accurately read. My brother asked if I’d even know that I couldn’t read the person accurately. I said yes, so he said I could turned them down from the outset, but thinking about it more, I’m not sure I could. The one kind of person that slips by me at times are charming narcissists. I can peg them most of the time, but those few times I can’t, it’s disastrous.

I am Cassandra. I am extremely adept at reading people, but I am not believed. I gave my brother two instances of me reading someone accurately, but the people around me not believing me. In the first instance, when the person was found out to be rat bastard (for a completely different reason), people were shocked. “Who could have predicted?” they said. “No one!”

Me sitting over there like:: “Uh, me?”

It’s weird to have a revulsion for someone who is held in high esteem by those around you. I thought I was crazy for not liking or trusting this guy. When it was validated, but for the wrong reason, it was even worse. Others thought he was terrible, but the specific reason in that case was not him being terrible. In other words, people suddenly saw him for who he really was, but at the wrong time.

I have mentioned before that I don’t like telling people about themselves. I don’t mind doing it with my brother because he accepts it without getting defensive. Most of the time. THere are a few sore points for him, too, as there are with anyone, but in general ,he’s eager to hear what I know about him.

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My journey in Taiji

I hated Taiji when I first started studying it. I had a teacher before my current one, and he was terrible. Flat-out terrible. I only went to him because a friend of mine was enamored with him (he has a very cultlike personality, and my friend needed a father-figure desperately as his own had been very abusive). All my narcissist/predator vibes were pinging, but I tamped them down because I trusted my friend. And because I have my own extreme biases against narcissists that made me wonder if I was blowing things out of proportion.

I wasn’t. He was sleeping with a student. They  were in a relationship but as he was the teacher in his fifties and she was 27 and the student, could it truly be equal? In short, no. Not only was he scummy enough to sleep with a student, but he was very sleazy in his interactions with other women. He made a big deal about respecting personal space and not touching anyone without their consent, but that was a big, fat lie.

I gritted my teeth the entire time I studied with him which was probably a year or so, but I did not trust him one whit. That’s not a good relationship in Taiji, but I was young and stupid at the time. This was around the time The Matrix came out, and he raved about what a revolutionary movie it was. He said it was the essence of Taiji and removing yourself from the system. The message I got from him was that he was justified in being intensely selfish because nothing he did could help anyone else, anyway. Or rather, what was going to happen would happen regardless of what he did. It was such self-serving twaddle, I internally sneered even though I hadn’t seen the movie. Just by watching the trailer, I was sure that he was spouting bullshit, and when I watched the movie years later, I had my confirmation.

The Matrix is a good action movie, but unconventional and going against the norm? Not hardly. I watched it in a theater with my then-boyfriend who liked the movie and wanted me to see it. That was problematic in and of itself because I had a boyfriend dump me when I told him my views on Pulp Fiction, so after that, I kept my opinions to myself. While watching The Matrix, I kept thinking how hot Keanu was and how hot Carrie-Anne was. I did think back to what my ex-Taiji teacher had said about the movie and rolled my eyes because the movie had very predictable and conventional story beats. Then, Neo died and Trinity kissed him to bring him back to life.

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Platinums are pointless

I’m a PC gamer, which means that technically, I cannot get platinums. Why? Because that is a PlayStation thing. I do have a PlayStation 4, but most of my not-plats as I call them (because I was never going for the plat in the first place. Well, ok, I was. It was how I tricked myself into not freaking out about it). Before the pandemic, I never even thought about them because that was not my thing. At all. Then I watched Krupa do the plat for the original Dark Souls game and decided to check to see how close I was to the plat myself.

I told myself I had no intention of actually getting the plat, which was why I called it the not-plat. But. I was really close. I played the game enough to get all the boss trophies, the two endings trophies, and the covenant trophies as well. I had the bits and bobs trophies as well as the Strongest Weapon trophy. What I needed was the______ trophies, such as sorceries, pyromancies, and miracles. I also needed to max out a weapon of each kind. The kind meaning different material such as crystal, fire, etc., not kind as in rapier, greatsword, etc. And, the biggest pain in the ass for that not-plat was Knight’s Honor, which meant accruing all the rare weapons on one character. This means that I had to go into NG++ because Sif (sob) had three weapons you could make with her soul. By the end, I had a Word doc on the run with what I needed for the hundo cheevo.

I am saying that with my tongue in cheek because when I mentioned getting plats on the PC, where were more than a few people in the RKG Discord who were saying you cannot call it a plat if it’s not on the PS. Which, I mean, yes, they are correct, but they are the same damn achievements no matter which platform you play it on. I think it’s precious to say it’s not a plat on the PC, but whatever.

It was a slog to get the Knight’s Honor because you needed all the boss souls, tail cuts, and other unique weapons. Some of which the drop rate for is abysmal. For example, the Channeler’s Trident. There is something like a .5% drop rate, and people have reported grinding it for multiple hours without success. I was fairly lucky to get it on my fiftieth try or so. By the time I went for the tail cuts on Priscilla and Seath, for example, I was in NG+ and nervous about it. I had never gone for their tails before so I Googled it because I did not want to mess it up. I didn’t mess either up, much to my surprise. That was probably the easiest part of the plat.

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Doing it my way

My brother is great at starting a project. If he wants to do something, he just  jumps in and does it. He may not finish it. He may put it in the reject pile at some point. But he will move on with ease to the next project and not think twice about it.

Me, I agonize about starting any kind of project. I will put more time into planning it than actually doing it. If I start a project, there is a high probability that I will see it to completion. I will bitch about it. There will blood, sweat, and tears–but I’ll get it done. And it will be done well because of my perfectionist tendencies.

I much prefer my brother’s way of being. He stresses way less than I do and gets way more done. It might not be as high a standard as what I do, but most of the time, that doesn’t matter. We’re not talking about bad versus great. We’re talking about great versus really fucking great. The latter just isn’t needed most of the time.

This is where my anxiety rears its ugly head. It’s where the voices in my head whisper, “You’re not good enough.” “You can’t do that,” and other nefarious thoughts. It’s my mother’s voice as she has told me how wrong I am since I was a small child. I shouldn’t laugh so loudly, climb trees, run around, sit with my legs open, eat that dessert, read so many books, or talk. Add my father to that: I should not be better than a boy in anything, think I know anything of use, or contradict what a man tells me. I should get straight As because I’m so smart, but never show a boy how smart I am. Go to college and grad school and have a stellar career. get married and have children, putting them purportedly first. Go to church and put God first. Date, but do NOT have sex before marriage. Bisexual? That’s against God, and what next? Sex with animals? Taiji? You’re allowing the devil to dance on your spine. Writing stories that have any kind of swearing is bad! Don’t eat so much.

Be less was the constant message I got and still get. I want too much. I ask for too much. I AM too much.

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Taiji and me

I have a Taiji confession to make. I do not like the Long Solo Form. This is the basis for everything we do, and it’s the first thing I was taught by my teacher fifteen years ago. I hated it then and resisted it with all my might. I questioned my teacher every step of the way, and I dragged my feet in practicing at home. As in, I didn’t. Practice at home, I mean. It’s the reason I slowly added a second class a week and then a third. I reasoned that if I wasn’t going to practice at home, then I better go to more classes.

The Long Solo Form is the Master Liang form. He was very much into dancing and made everything fit a piece of music. Everything was even counts and the movements reflected that belief. The form hurt my knees and my back terribly. I had to do extensive work to undo both (though, to be fair, I already carried a lot of body pain before Taiji. The Long Form just exacerbated it).

I cursed Taiji. I got my teacher to say ‘Fuck Taiji’ as a way of emphasizing with my disgruntled frame of mind. I had forgotten all about this until my private lesson today. In the backyard in 68 degree weather, by the way. It ‘felt like’ 103 two days ago. Madness! Anyway, we were working on the new Long Form and chatting about how much I hated the old one when I first started Taiji. She said she was working with a new student who was very skeptical about the benefits of Taiji. My teacher said she understood and mentioned she once had a student (me) who was exceedingly skeptical about Taiji, so much so, I drove her to say ‘Fuck Taiji’ about something or the other. I joked, “Did your hand explode? No? Then Taiji can’t be that bad.” That was something else I had said in jest–that I felt like Taiji would make my hand explode.

I have apologized to my teacher for being the biggest pain in her ass about Taiji. She shrugged it off because as she said, she trusted Taiji. She knew it was beneficial, and she trusted that I would realize it at some point. Now, I can’t imagine my life without it, honestly. Yes, it’s mostly the weapons, but I realize that the Long Form is important.

One reason I stopped practicing it is because right before the pandemic, my teacher’s teacher started to drastically change it. Or rather, he started teaching the Medium Form, which is very different. And tweaking the Long Form. I don’t remember how many years ago it was, but I was trying to teach myself the left side of the Long Form.

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Funhouse mirror of flaws

I’ve written about how my self-esteem has skyrocketed since my medical crisis. In general, I am happier with myself. My depression has disappeared almost completely and my anxiety is reduced by roughly 60%. Considering that I first wanted to die when I was seven, this is a massive improvement for me.

In addition, all my body issues disappeared. I can’t overemphasize what a big deal that is. My mother put on my first diet when I was seven. She made frequent comments about how fat I was and what a shame it was. But, because she was an Asian mother, she also insisted on feeding me too much food and making me finish the food on my plate. The conflicting messages did not help at all.

I dealt with two bouts of anorexia with a side helping of bulimia the first time. I’m not the usual person when it comes to eating disorders because…I don’t know how to explain it exactly. But when I decided to give it up, I  swung in the opposite direction and started overeating. It really is a matter of willpower for me and not the disordered thinking that other people get.

I’m not explaining this well. I had the disordered thinking as well, but it was more a byproduct of my willpower and not the central thing. I have read about anorexia and how difficult it is to treat. That it’s distorts a person’s thinking in a way that grooves new brain patterns.

I definitely had disordered thinking while I was dealing with anorexia (thinking I was a fat cow, even when my thighs didn’t touch), but once I stopped being anorectic, well, I stopped the thinking as well. Or rather, I swung in the opposite direction. Which is how I work in general. I swing to the extremes.

After I returned home from the hospital, my opinion of my body changed 100%. I went from being studiedly neutral about it (through many years of Taiji and I wasn’t really neutral) to being positively in love with my body. It might be the drugs talking. In fact, it probably is the reason that I felt kindly towards my body in the first place.

In those halcyonic days (daze?), I could not get enough of my body. It saw me through death–twice–without a scratch. Well, not quite, but close to it. I will sing it from the rooftop all day song. Walking non-COVID-related pneumonia, two cardiac arrests, and a stroke don’t mean shit to me! I can still walk, run, do Taiji, and drive. Presumably (and I’d like to find out soon), sex would be fine as well. I can sing and dance, and I sleep better than I ever have. Seven-and-a-half hours to eight hours a night, which is unheard of for me.

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Out on a limb

My brother is fearless. He has the mentality of ‘why not try?’ If something doesn’t work, he shrugs his shoulders and moves on. He rarely lets a failure bother him, and he takes what he has learn with him into his next venture. The downside to this is that sometimes, he wastes time, money, and effort in a project that he doesn’t take to completion, but it doesn’t bother him at all.

Now. Part of this is the  fact that he is a man and that means he has much more leeway in the two culture in which we live. Boys are heavily favored in Taiwanese culture, so much so that even he has noticed that my parents give his opinion more weight because he’s male (than mine, that of a lowly female (in their eyes). It’s one reason I have gender issues, which is not the point of this post). Ian commented that my mother would ask for my opinion, but then ask my brother without accepting mine. I actually think that’s more an anxiety thing as she’s done the opposite, too. She never accepts the first answer as correct on its own. But, yes, she does give more weight to what my brother says than to what I do.

I can’t tell you how much it means to me that my brother sees this happening, too. It’s one thing to realize it on my own, but it’s another thing to have back-up on my opinion. It’s easy for me to gaslight myself and say that they don’t mean it, it’s just their culture, etc., but when my brother says it out loud, it validates my feelings.

My mother is a Debbie Downer in general. Any idea you bring up to her, she immediately crushes down. K and I have talked about our respective upbringings. Her mom was of the mindset that everything would work out no matter what choice you made (which came with its own issues) whereas mine believed that you were fucked no matter what choice you make. Not that she would use the word fuck, but that’s her mentality. K’s mother always sees the bright side whereas my mother only sees darkness.

I take after my mother in that I can always see the flaws of something, but I’m getting better at realizing I don’t always have to bring it up. And I try to make it constructive and not just complaining. If I want to complain, I do it here!

When I told her I was bi, she asked me what’s next, animals? By the way, I have no idea how that became a thing. Going from same-gender relationships to fucking goats. When I told her I was getting a tattoo, well, let’s just say she voiced strong disapproval. The times when she doesn’t actively say she’s against whatever I’m doing, it’s clear in her tone of voice or her face. Oh, and when I told her I was practicing Taiji, she said it was a way to invite the devil to dance on my spine. And she was being earnestly sincere.

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Learning to live again

It’s been a year since my medical crisis. Over a year. The first year, I was just adjusting to the fact that I was still alive when I should be dead.

I have no problem talking about it, by the way. I have no issue with making it clear that I should be dead. It’s not something that trips me up, but it does occasionally feel weird tripping off my tongue. It’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d say, and it’s weird to look back at what happened to me. I don’t feel like it’s me, but I know it did  happen. It doesn’t help that I was unconscious for all of it so I have no memory of it happening. I can only rely on what other people have told me about it.

I want to find the cops and EMTs who brought me back to life and rushed me to Regions Hospital. This shouldn’t be too hard because I live in a sleepy suburb where not much happens. Brain damage starts at three minutes without oxygen, so I’m pretty sure the cops came before then.

I was not breathing when they found me collapsed in my front hallway. They bagged me with oxygen and waited for the EMTs. I had a cardiac arrest when the latter arrived. They gave me CPR and rushed me to Regions Hospital, which is 20 minutes from  my house. I had another cardiac arrest on the way. They gave me CPR again. During one of these incidents, they jabbed me with an EpiPen. Before we arrived at the hospital, I had an ischemic stroke as well. I was unconscious by the time we arrived at the hospital and remained so for a week.

I write all this easily because I’ve told this story over and over again. It’s just an accepted fact for me by now, but I’m reminded how unusual it is every time I tell it to someone who doesn’t know it. When I got my booster shot at my pharmacy, I gave the pharmacist the rundown to make sure that it was ok for me to get my booster. He stopped what he was doing (typing into his computer), looked at me in amazement and said something about how incredible it was I went through that and that he  was glad I was ok.

That flummoxed me momentarily because I wasn’t expecting him to comment on it. In retrospect, that’s ridiculous because of course he’s going to say something. Every medical person I’ve talked about my experience with has had this reaction. I mean, ‘normal’ people have a similar reaction, but medical people are especially aware of how dire the situation had been.

I didn’t realize it myself until after I went home. I understood that I was very lucky to be alive, but not exactly how lucky until I got home and Googled. I could not find anyone like me. No one. I was joking with my brother that it’s difficult to find a support group for people who have had strokes because most people who survive them are not in much shape to attend a meeting, even if it’s on Zoom.

He replied that looking for one  with cardiac arrest survivors is even more difficult because they’re dead. Macabre? Yes. True? Most definitely yes as well. I’ve said this many times, but the mortality rate for a cardiac arrest is 90%. 80% if you’re already in the hospital when it happens. 70% if you get immediate and sustained CPR right after it happens. So even in the best case scenario, you have a 2 in 3 chance of dying. That’s the BEST case scenario.

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Mary, Mary, most contrary

I am not a contrarian. Not deliberately so, anyway. I know that my mother believes I do it on purpose, but I really don’t. It’s not like I wake up and choose violence. I don’t think, “Hm, what is the most contrary position I can take?” and then voice that.

My mother once said to me in exasperation, “Something isn’t bad just because it’s tradition.” To which I replied, “That doesn’t make it automatically good, either.” She did not like that. At all.

It’s true, though. Just because something is tradition, it doesn’t mean we should keep doing it. I don’t see anything wrong with questioning something in order to time-test it. If it’s good, then continue to do it. If not, then let it go. I don’t think that’s controversial, but I know it is.

The biggest examples in my life are having children and getting married. Let’s add to that being in a long-term hetero relationship. Let’s lump all that together under the umbrella of family shit. I knew since I was young that I was going to get married to a man and have children. My mother made it very clear that it was my duty as a woman to have children and to take care of my husband. In the other order, actually.

When I was 22, I was madly in love with my boyfriend at the time. We were talking about having children and I realized that I did not want them. At all. I cannot tell you how great that felt. My heart lifted and I was free! I didn’t have to have children. It’s still the best decision I’ve made in my life, by the way.

Along with the biggies, though, there are the more medium choices that I’ve made that are weird. Like my hobbies. Taiji isn’t weird in and of itself, though it’s less popular in the States than is yoga. I had to Google that because while it feels true, I didn’t know for sure. Roughly 2.5 million people practice Taiji in America versus 37 million people and yoga. So, yeah, I was right. Taiji is way less popular, which is of no surprise to me. Hm. Another resource says 3.7 million practice Taiji in America. At any rate, it’s roughly 1/10th the amount that practices yoga or less.

I can only guess that those who study Taiji weapons is even less. This makes it a very niche hobby, which isn’t surprising to me. I did not choose it because it’s the lesser-practiced meditative practice, but it’s not surprising that I’m drawn to it in part for that reason.

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