Reflecting on 2022

Recently, I came across a good list of retrospective journal prompts on Twitter via The Moon Lists. I thought that this year, instead of a reflection listicle, I’d respond to them instead:

My brain chemistry

Looking back in my camera roll, the difference between December 2021 and December 2022 is jarring. My hair was so blonde! My thoughts were so intrusive! Thankfully, both have abated thanks to a fantastic salon appointment in Shibuya and the Passage of Time, respectively.

They say that your frontal lobe finally develops fully when you turn 25, and honestly, I believe it. However one may explain it, some sort of peace finally descended upon me in the latter half of 2022.

The veil of delusion

Another thing that I think has radically transformed this year is my ability to see beneath what I am calling ‘the veil of delusion’. We all live in a fantasy state of some sort in our heads, but I have chronically dealt with a very strong alternative narrative in my head. The desire for what could be is so strong sometimes that it supersedes the reality of what is. I want to do this less because I am a big fan of reality and using my energy efficiently. Also, it’s not fair to the people in your life, either, to project your image of what you want them to be over who they really are.

Curly, crispy velocity

To that end, I hope to continue honing my skill to perceive people, situations, and the passage of time accurately. It’s not necessarily a divorce of thought and emotion, but rather a further emphasis on pragmatic logic. It’s very easy for me to get mired in emotion and overthinking, which detracts from actions and results. Maybe this sounds too industrial of me, but these days I really feel myself craving velocity–that curly, crispy tongue of change. For once, I no longer want to imagine—I want to execute. So here goes.

It’s cool to try

Less abstractly, I would love to throw more themed parties and take more film pictures of my friends in 2023. I’m entering my extrovert era for sure! Something about this year—maybe all the traveling, being away from home—made me realize that none of this is forever. I want to really document and celebrate my 20s in New York City, because someday my life will look very different. I decided I want to put more effort into cultivating larger gatherings, making things beautiful, and sharing my joy.

From: Me
To: Me

Manifesting is real. It’s a process that I cannot explain very well, but ultimately, I think it’s about confirmation bias—you see what you seek. I am going to take credit for manifesting the following: international travel, pet-sitting gigs, rooftop parties, free concerts, and a lot of “being in the right place in the right time” moments.

Dancing on my own

One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to take 52 dance classes—and while this did not happen (I probably took closer to half), I did definitely dance way more than I ever had this year. I filmed a few professionally filmed choreos and got to a new level of comfort and confidence in my body that I could not have imagined even just two years ago.

I want to continue dancing more this year, with the addition of practicing outside of class in the yoga studio in my apartment building, which I think will really help me put in the hours and get even better.

Reality – expectations = happiness

The purest joys that bubble up in my life are always the ones I didn’t expect, created in effervescent moments of happenstance. In Mexico, meeting the nicest taxi drivers who spent all day carting around us group of girls like we were their own nieces, exploring hidden gems and local cuisine. In Japan, meeting the friendliest group of fellow photographers and expats and instantly feeling like I was at home, exploring the city at golden hour and soaking it all in.

As a fastidious planner, experiencing these things and realize that they were actually the highlight of my trip—things I could not have done by myself or anticipated–encourages me to let go a little more and enjoy things in the moment. The kindness of strangers is something I never want to stop celebrating!

What goes down smoothly

I am always harping on about my desire to be smooth-brained, but beyond the statistical fact that the smarter you are, the more depressed you are likely to be, I’ve found another supporting fact. It’s because the more you expect, the more unhappy you are. Part of being smooth-brained for me is just not thinking, not having any lofty ideals or expectations—thus freeing up the space for delights, surprises, and little joys. (Maybe this is a little black-or-white of me, but let me swing the pendulum for now, okay?)

Portrait snapped by one of my friends in Tokyo


This year, I ran my first 5K, and it felt surprisingly good. I am under no delusion that I am a cardio person, but next year, my goal is to run a 10K under 66 minutes. I signed up for one in May already, so if anyone wants to train with me at a humble pace, let me know!       

Creating video content

Social media made a hard pivot this year towards video content, and I acquiesced accordingly . I had a couple little clips go (relatively) viral this year, which was fun for me because I love creating content. I’ve been trying to vlog since 2015, so the fact that short-form video is easier to create than ever is a good thing, I think. I even made a little money from Reels this year, which is pretty funny—I am living my micro-micro-micro-influencer dreams!

Speaking of stale…

I relaxed some of my old rules around eating this year, primarily around consuming meat or dairy at home. I think it’s been a net positive for me to become more flexible and eat intuitively, but now that I’ve become more attuned to my body than ever, I think it’s time to try reintroducing some healthy boundaries again. Three components to this:

  • More locally sourced animal products: I started tracking macros this year and am still trying to eat a lot of protein, so my compromise for 2023 is to buy mostly ethically sourced or local meat and eggs. My company’s new office is right off Union Square, and I have to start going in a few days a week next year, which means I now have a great reason to be at the farmer’s market on weekday mornings!
  • Less ready-to-eat food: Ever since a Trader Joe’s opened in my neighborhood, I’ve been consuming a lot more packaged meals and a lot less fresh produce. It’s been hard to let go of the convenience factor, but I want to push myself next year to return to my old Whole Foods haunts and only go into TJ’s once a week
  • Less takeout, more cultural cooking: I’ve been the food delivery service industry’s number one hater since day one, but even I will fold now and then on a particularly dark and cold night, or in the face of a $10 off code. What I realized about my food ordering habits, when I do, is that I always crave comfort Asian food—so my resolution next year is to learn how to make easy recipes like sundubu-jjigae or stir-fried garlic eggplant myself.

Horizontal hedonism and other pleasures

Oh boy. I’m sure my Instagram followers/lurkers/haters are sick of hearing about this, but I have to be true to the prompt and tell you. Truthfully, the entire second half of 2022 has felt like eating a slice of velvety chocolate cake—or maybe I should say, biting in a fluffy, chewy, pillowy-soft strawberry daifuku. I’ll try to rein in the verbosity and just name these three things: flying business class, wool blend scarves, and really, really good sushi.

Voice memo mailbox

This one’s a bit tricky, because to some extent the definition of comfort is something old and known that you go back to again and again, like a cozy sweater or a passed-down family recipe. However, I will say a small comfort I found this year is sending voice memos. At this point, I should just start a podcast, because I end up volleying like 20-minute-long messages to my friends (bless their hearts).

Beneath this novel comfort, however, is a familiar one: I get such a sense of stability and peace from talking to my friends. Other than that, all my creature comforts remain the same: taking a hot shower, buying overpriced candles and crop tops, and curling up in a nest of pillows in my own bed.

Dinner parties
Dark Mode
Even more sunscreen
A reasonable amount of glitter
Cultural recipes
Half-up hairdos
Taking care of your fabrics
TikTok captions in Instagram posts
Fruit juice
Most skincare
Most expectations
Thrifting fast-fashion items
Lengthy backstories
Trader Joe’s

I started to jot down potential answers—

Watching a sunset

A notebook & a new place

The gym

—And, although I barely know who I am or where I call home, realized that these three things have one thing in common: they force me to be present. Perhaps self-identity is not found in the act of identification itself, but rather in the being of it all.

Here’s to 2023.


I get the message from my cousin, who I never talk to, while I’m mid-conversation with a coworker at 6 pm on a Tuesday. She passed away in China in the hospital at 4 in the morning. It was unexpected. 

There is no lurch, no shattering, not even a stillness. All I feel is a small stone sinking to the bottom of a well and bumping up against the floor quietly. 

I send a sad face emoji in the chat, and call my mom.

My grandmother, my dad’s mom, lived to be 84. She had kidney disease for the last ten years. When she was hospitalized this summer, she seemed to be making a steady recovery. She passed away with my aunt and uncle-in-law by her side.

My first thought when I heard the news was that I should have called her one last time. I tried to talk to her in June, but by then she was spending most of her days asleep. The last time we really talked must have been Chinese New Year. The last time I’d seen her in person was in 2019.

My dad and his siblings create a new WeChat group in remembrance. The messages come flooding in, in Chinese. From it, I stitch together a patched tapestry of her life.

My grandmother was born around July 9, 1938, in a small village in Shandong, China. We don’t know the exact date because her mother died when she was five. I’d like to think maybe we were born on the same day–me on July 14, my sister on July 13. 

She was the fourth of seven siblings. After her mother’s death, she was raised by her eldest sister, who was 13 at the time. Her brothers were much older and already had children of their own. A few years later, she was taking care of her brother’s children full-time. Her other sisters went to elementary school, but she stayed behind to help the family.

My aunt maintains that if my grandmother had gone to school, she would have been at the top of her class. My dad says all the intelligence in our family can be attributed to her. She never accumulated more than two months of schooling, but later in life, one of her favorite things to do was to listen to audiobooks of the great Chinese classics. 

There she’d sit, reclined in her chair in a sunny corner of the apartment, next to the plants, her eyes closed, her chest rising and falling slowly.

I don’t have a deep relationship with my grandmother because she was never a permanent fixture in my life. She flew to America to help my mom take care of me when I was born until I was 6 or 7. As a result, I know how integral this woman was to my upbringing, but I remember almost nothing. All the countless diapers changed, walks taken, meals cooked shrivel up into a little pool, buffeted away by the timelessness of a child’s mind. Tell me, what job is more thankless in this world than that of a caretaker’s?

I have friends who spend every free weekend that they get with their grandparents, and friends that call their grandparents every week. I have friends who see their grandparents whenever they go home, because home is only an hour or two away, and their grandma or grandpa lives with their parents. Those are the kind of people I’d consider good grandchildren. Not me. Not the child who only calls once a year and doesn’t have anything of substance to talk about with their grandma. 

The night after she dies, when I go to sleep, I dream of nothing. Miles away in Michigan, my dad goes downstairs into the basement guest bedroom.

Before the age of 21, my grandmother had lived through a deadly skin infection (penicillin was introduced to China just in time), the Japanese invasion of China in WWII, and the Great Chinese Famine. It is a statement to say, then, that her life got a lot harder after she married my grandfather, a man she later divorced and whom I have still never seen to this day.

My grandmother had three kids during the Cultural Revolution, starting with my dad when she was 26. She worked in the fields until she had to give birth at home, and then it was back to the fields–no time to heal or rest. 

Conditions were so bad that all the kids were constantly sick. My dad was the worst, suffering from bronchial asthma and malnutrition until he was 10. He and his siblings got to eat meat only once a year, on New Year’s Day. They lived in a hut with mud floors, with the family pig snuffling around outside.

They were sick and poor, but the thing is, they never felt sick and poor, because my grandmother always carried herself with a sense of pride. She was the village elder that people went to whenever they had an interpersonal dispute or needed spiritual guidance. As a result, my dad and his siblings grew up thinking themselves to be rather wealthy–maybe not materially, but rich in wisdom and confidence. 

All by herself, my grandmother raised three small children, doing all of the cleaning, cooking, and farm work by herself. She carried 60-pound water barrels miles up the mountains to the farm plots by herself for years. The labor was so backbreaking that her spine became permanently hunched as she grew older. But she carried on without complaint, so that my dad and his siblings could focus on their education–their ticket out of that little mud village. She made sure they never missed a day of school.

In her last days, my aunt says she would toss and turn in her dreams, calling out for her kids not to forget the lunch she packed them.

I think about how there were no laundry machines, cars, phones, or air conditioning back then. How rough and wizened my grandmother’s hands must be, from nonstop labor since the first baby she held in her arms as a child herself–grasping, cutting, mixing, kneading, spinning, sewing, washing, hanging–

How lonely it must have been. How hollow the pain of my own loneliness seems now.

My dad spends all night compiling photos of her into a slideshow and sends it in the group chat the morning after. It’s jarring to see myself in them–if that even is me, so indistinguishable am I from my sister in infancy.

There 奶奶 is with me/us, grasping onto my chubby legs, pushing my stroller, hoisting me Lion King-style in front of a scenic vista or neighborhood lake. That’s the image of her I want to remember her by–with her closely cropped hair still shiny and dark, her lodestone eyes serious and alert, her arms wiry and tan.

My dad and my sister both take the next day off work, but I don’t. I don’t feel any particularly strong emotion, only a sense of clinical understanding. Like an autopsy, the cause of emotional death is clear: geographic distance, language barriers, cultural stoicism, and maybe, just maybe, me being fucked in the head.

How can I not feel earth-bending heartache for the person who helped raise me when I was a helpless, squalling lump? But I don’t remember any of it.

How can I not grieve my father’s mother, or hurt more for how he’s hurting? But I’ve never seen him express a strong emotion other than anger, and now I don’t know how to respond to this new foreign sadness pouring out of him in waves, like strange tides on a further shore.

“I think I’m intellectualizing my emotions again,” I tell my best friend.

“You’re allowed to feel however you feel.”

The story has a happy ending. All three of my grandmother’s children grew up to successfully escape their poverty. My father and my uncle immigrated to the United States and Australia respectively, and my aunt became a college professor in China, staying close to my grandmother and her relatives.

When her sons had children, my grandmother flew overseas to raise each one of us from infancy to early childhood. In the end, my grandmother raised three children, five grandchildren, and countless other siblings and cousins. It took a village, working alongside her sisters and daughters, but at the same time, she was the village.

In these last few years with her, after I’d gone to the good college and gotten the good job, there wasn’t really much for a grandmother to worry about except the next big thing, marriage. The last few times I called her, she would brief me on the kind of guy I should marry–or rather, avoid. Her voice crinkled like dried tea leaves, rough around the edges with her lilting Zibo accent.   

“You have to make sure you don’t marry a drunkard. And don’t marry someone who’s too flashy, either. What’s most important is how he treats you.”

“Don’t worry, grandma, I know. I don’t even drink alcohol.”

“I’m serious. Don’t get with a guy who’s too charming and good-looking!”

Much to the chagrin of my exes, she’d be glad to know that I never have. That was her–full of wisdom and perspective, perhaps the most remarkable thing about her in a long line of truly remarkable accomplishments.

Don’t feel bad, my mother says. We decided this summer that it would be best if the grandchildren didn’t call her, because the tears would start streaming down her face the second your name was brought up, and that would have caused her more stress, which wasn’t good for her condition. 

But maybe I still should have. Is it really worse to die a little bit earlier, at the end of a long battle with a chronic illness, or die without having heard from the people you love one last time? 

My grandma was in America spending time with baby me when her eldest sister, the one that had been like a mother to her, passed away suddenly. She didn’t get to be by her sister’s side in her last moments or attend the funeral, and she carried that regret with her for the next ten years. 

Now it’s my father who is stuck in America, travel restrictions preventing him from being by her side. The day before she died, he had applied for a humanitarian exemption visa, hoping to get into China to see her in the next few months. 

The funeral happens on WeChat two days later at 10:30 am in China. My grandma is rolled out slowly in a beautiful red and yellow silk casket, surrounded by two tiers of white and yellow poinsettia-like flowers. When they peel back the veil, I can barely see her face on the pixellated square of my phone.

My aunt, my uncle-in-law, and a man I don’t know stand in a line in front of my grandmother’s casket, their shoulders slumped. When they get down on their knees to bow to her, my dad forgets to mute himself before he starts crying.

My aunt doubles over as she watches her mother, the woman she’s washed, fed, clothed, and transported every day since the summer herself, wheeled away on the gurney. The video abruptly cuts off.

We take turns giving short eulogies in Chinese. My cousins manage to make it through relatively cleanly. I almost make it to the end of my two paragraphs without cracking. I’m hyperaware of every emotion running through my voice and theirs–uncomfortable when they are expressed, and uncomfortable when they are not expressed. There’s just no way to win.

When we finally hang up two hours later, the silence is deafening.

“WeChat funerals are not how things were meant to be,” my sister texts me.

I auto-translated every green text bubble that came in this summer when my grandma was hospitalized. Every night starting at 8 pm, the messages would come buzzing in as they woke up in China: my aunt, sending daily updates on my grandma’s creatine levels and treatment plans–some fancy series of expensive shots that the doctors in China swore were the latest innovative, cutting-edge treatment. 

I never said anything in that chat, but my heart broke seeing how small and frail she looked in that miserable hospital bed, curled up in a fetal position, facing away from the camera. She looked no larger than a 13-year-old child. 

Swollen feet, bruised arms, asleep most of the time. Every time we called, she’d be asleep. What is death but a slow drowning of neurons? They said she wasn’t in much pain until the end. I guess I can only take their word for it. 

I wonder if there’s a special word for this griefless grief, the kind of sadness that is attached to the stillbirth of the relationship before it is attached to any human being. I reach into the cavity inside of me to extract anguish for the woman that I knew, but the first thing that comes out is a lopsided sadness for the relationship with her that I never even had.

I wish I had more to offer, more to say, but this is it. The admiration of another distant granddaughter, from the other side of the casket, on the other side of the world. Not a eulogy, not an apology letter, but something in-between. Am I intelligent and hardworking like her? Am I resilient and brave the way she was? Or am I just standing on the shoulders of giants?

In the end, I guess the best way to commemorate her life is to do what I have always done, what I think I still know best, even after all these years–writing about how I feel. 

21 Things I Learned in 2021

  1. How to remember the time you wanted what you now have.  I’ll die on this gratitude hill because it is just so important!  There were times just a few years ago when I wanted some pretty big things but had no clue how to get there. Then, one day, I realized I just had it. Not sure if I can say I learned how to get what I want or if it just happened, but irregardless…
  2. How the toughest part of it all is that you have no proof. You just have to trust. I’m making “trust” a major theme for myself going into 2022. I realized this year just how difficult it is for me to trust that it’ll all just work out. After all, we’re taught to be agents of our own destinies, to achieve achieve achieve, and that we can do whatever we set our minds to. Sometimes it’s like, if I don’t have a 20-step action plan that I can point to right now, how do I really know I’ll get there? I guess the answer is just trusting that you will.
  3. How to make amazing friends post-college. I get asked this often and I think I’ve kind of cracked the code, so here it is: You want to make friends with super-connectors, a term I coined for people with two main characteristics: 1) they are strong extroverts, meaning they gain energy from socializing and they maintain a high level of socialization across multiple spheres in their life per week 2) they are self-motivated to mobilize events and happy to share friends. If they have 1) but not 2), they are more of a super-insulator (social but gatekeeping–I met a lot of these people in college), and if they have 2) and not 1), they’re more of a super-conductor (very friendly/inclusive but the magnitude of the social network isn’t as strong). Anyway, all that is to say that as an introvert, all you have to really do is keep an open mind, know when to recharge, and find 1-2 super-connectors. You can see it as outsourcing, but really what I’m saying is that all of the credit goes to these beautiful, beautiful people out there who are both social and generous–and I’m just happy to be there and be their friend!
There are boatloads of new friends out there, just waiting to be made!
  1. How everything is a coping mechanism. And that it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A coping mechanism, if I were to define it, is anything that transports us away from the current moment. It’s astonishing to realize how most of our vices, and some of our supposed virtues too, are all just escape exits. Let me just list a bunch of them so you can feel personally attacked like I did. The usual vices: drinking, drugs, food, sleep, sex, partying. The virtuous: over-scheduling events on your calendar, overworking, overcommitting and saying “yes” to people all the time. The hobbies: gaming, reading, watching TV or movies, travel. Note that none of these activities that we use as coping mechanisms are inherently bad—it’s only when they become a significant crutch for us addressing and processing things that they become potentially limiting.
  2. How everything is about the ego. And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Ever wondered why someone (perhaps yourself) can be so insecure but also so insanely full of confidence? It’s two sides of the same ego. I imagine the ego as a yolk-like substance inside of us that is jiggly and fragile, sliding back and forth inside some chest cavity or cabinet of the brain. They key is to not allow it to become too big or boss you around. Some may even advocate for ego death, which I am still learning about, but I think is a journey to decentralizing from the “I” (not everything is about you and this is a good thing) and moving closer to a middle ground (“I am no better than anyone else, but I am also no worse than anyone else”).
  3. How people really do throw away anything and everything in New York City. You know what I got this year for free because my neighbors didn’t want it? A West Elm couch, a live edge wooden bench, a media console, a bird of paradise plant, an olive tree, a writing desk…the list honestly goes on. Let’s just say my Facebook Marketplace rating is very good.
  4. How intellectualizing is not enough. You have to feel into your body. As a fastidious thinking type, I’ve lived in my brain all my life. I didn’t realize the sheer power of being able to quiet your mind and just breathe, cry, laugh, shout, jump, shiver, stretch, and grow. I’m convinced we are at least 50% monkeys in a meat suit at the end of the day. Mankind’s greatest folly may just be his hubris at being able to overcome nature through sheer thought, especially the young, whose bodies have not begun genuinely fighting us quite yet.
Yellowstone National Park, August 2021
  1. How to improve my relationship with food. I’m going to go out on a limb here and talk about something deeply personal, which is my relationship with food. 2021 was the year I finally started seeing a nutritionist and made progress I frankly didn’t think was possible. I realized that I had been at war with my body for so long that I didn’t even know how to listen to it or give it what it needed. Learning that the BMI is bullshit, health does not equal skinniness, and that dieting never works was such a radical paradigm shift for me.
  2. How dance parties are very necessary. This might sound wonky, but I think it’s very important for mental health to regularly dance or sing. Energy coaches call this feminine embodiment practice—if you don’t believe in that kind of stuff, basically just think about it as “dance around your room/in the shower and blast your favorite music a few times a week.” I’ve never been a dancer ever in my life, yet even I find that my mood improves when I let go and simply inhabit my body.
  3. How everyone is on a different timeline, and that really is okay. Ah, comparison, you old and familiar poison. It is without a doubt one of the things that makes me feel the worst about myself, and it is entirely unhelpful, I know. Much easier said than done, but here’s something cute my mom sent me this year that I think actually helped bring home the point that you’re not late or behind (and yes, it’s a pixellated WeChat poem that I screenshotted):
  1. How people might be cool on the internet, but it’s still just the internet. The “metaverse” is vastly overrated, and at some point there really is an inverse correlation to how active/happy someone is online and how active/happy they are IRL. Trust, it’s much cooler to be cool in real life.
  2. How to continue to create. I know maybe I assign too much importance to self-identity, but truly, I can’t help but think how central the joy of creation is to my life. Every time I create something new, it feels like a leap of faith, and in that rush I’ve always found inherent value. This year, I created more videos, shot more film (going on a decade strong of just analog!), started a UX design certificate, and oh, randomly started writing a novel/screenplay. So yes, now I will finally be that insufferable New Yorker that’s always talking about my unfinished screenplay. Ha!
  3. How nothing in life is linear. But to that point, how weird is it that I basically didn’t pick up the pen for three years, and then all of a sudden, inspiration struck in the form of 43,000 words in a month? Maybe I absolutely suck at being consistent, but then again, is my life meant to be mechanical, consistent? And just because we can’t see it, does that mean there isn’t a pattern? Perhaps I am less like a straight line in the sand and more like the oscillating waves of a lunar tide.
  4. How New York City is freaking awesome. Sometimes it only takes a multi-year pandemic to realize how great your city is. Safe to say, I am fully drinking the NYC Kool-Aid now. I love the subway, I love little walks in my neighborhood, I love my community farm, I love the farmer’s markets, I love the world-class shopping and thrifting, I love how there’s always more to explore and stumble across, and I love showing my friends from out of town around.
  1. How deeply I cherish my best friends. I celebrated a decade of friendship with my high school best friends this year. There’s something so special about bonds that have persisted through the trials of different stages of life. I love how we’re all such different people and even closer because of it, and I’m so proud to have had the privilege to watch each of them grow into the women they are today. If you’re reading this, hi, I love you!
  2. “Don’t be sad it’s over, smile because it happened.” Yikes, this one is so cheesy, but again, very representative of my year! Some of the things that make you the happiest aren’t meant to last forever, and that’s okay.
  3. How taking care of other living things is hard. This year, I fostered two adorable puppies, Hoki and Fido, and damn, I didn’t realize how much work having a pet actually was (oh, how my parents had a field day when I told them that). I’m talking about being woken at 2 am because Hoki had diarrhea so violent that he developed a fear of going outside afterwards. I’m talking about Fido peeing in every corner of my room, and also pooping a few times in the hallway. I’m talking about tugging 24/7 on a leash, and being scared of all of the following: men, kids, subway noises, cars, etc. Fido also broke off his leash in front of a potential adopter and I had to chase him through the streets. As you can tell, I am getting wartime flashbacks. So yeah, dogs are super cute, but maybe not “I want one of my own right now” cute.
Fido and the puppy dog eyes
  1. How to invest in myself. A random character arc in my early twenties has been my relationship with money. It’s hard for me to justify spending money on “nicer” things for myself, especially as a brand and marketing person and as someone who was raised with an immigrant mindset towards material goods. But this year I’ve taken a much more maximalist approach to money, simply because I think that we are our best asset, and there are some areas that are worth strategically investing into.
  2. How to finally buy shares of the S&P 500. Speaking of investing money. It may have taken me a few years, but I finally moved my money from my savings account, where it was simply languishing and collecting like 5 cents in interest per year, into some stocks. Or whatever. You know what I mean. This is slightly embarrassing, especially when I think about how many years of compound interest I’ve lost, but hey, better late than never.
  3. How it’s important to be humble. I sometimes have a habit of jumping to conclusions like an Olympic hurdler. Fortunately, when we’re too simplistically reductive, life has a way of humbling us. My adversaries will be happy to hear that I have been proven wrong multiple times this year, on topics such as the following: New Jersey, San Francisco, TikTok, K-pop, (some) anime, and drill bits.
  4. Something incredibly powerful my friend texted me the other day: “Nobody wants to be the villain of another person’s story. But if we betray our own hero, then we become the villain in ours. Better a villain to that somebody else than a villain to yourself.”

Here’s to 2022!

As An Asian Woman

With the recent anti-Asian hate crimes that have grabbed the attention of the nation, I’ve been forced to re-confront my own experiences and thoughts on what it means to be an Asian-American woman today.

My personal philosophy in life has always been to focus on the positive, because I know from experience that only seeing and feeling the negative just leads to a downwards spiral for me, which helps no one. I don’t want to oversaturate this space or drum up the despair more to a piercing decibel. But right now, I feel like the helpful thing to do would be to speak up.

In writing this, I have two audiences. For those who are like me, I want you feel seen and less alone. For those who are not like me, I want to help you understand what it’s like.

What I’ve experienced

Walking with my roommate at 4 pm from the park back home:

Walking, talking, and laughing in Koreatown with my best friend at 8 pm on our way to dinner:

Standing at a subway stop or sitting in a park, reading or on my phone, during the daytime:

Stopping at a stand at a Saturday morning farmer’s market to look at some essential oils:

They are always men. They are of all races, alone or in a group. They are old and grisly, in tattered clothing, and they are young, professional, and dressed in suits. They leer, they grin, they lick their lips. Their eyes follow you long after you’ve quickly hurried away from where they stand. Or, you go completely still, eyes to the ground, waiting for them to lose interest and go away.

Imagine having your race shoved in your face every single time you are also verbally harassed on the basis of your sex, in the ugly chant of a language that may not even be yours. Imagine, each time, realizing that to some people you are just a porn category, a foreign conquest, or a TV character who sleeps with and is then discarded by the white male protagonist. The sting never quite goes away. I don’t like to say “hello” in Chinese anymore to friends or family because I’ve heard that phrase uttered in twisted, mispronounced catcalls more times than anything else.

And that, I think, is pretty sad.

On catcalling

What it is, what we should call it, is public humiliation. For these men, catcalling has never been about picking up women–it’s about ignoring boundaries and exerting power over them, and in public, as if to say, “So what? What are you gonna do about it?” How many times have I uncomfortably laughed off the casual verbal harassment with my friend beside me, pretending like it was sooooo strange or that we didn’t understand what “that weird guy said”? Because that is the only way we know how to move on and attempt to reclaim the great day we were just having.

You are stunned, and then you move on. But it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

What happens in broad daylight is a reflection of where a society’s baseline stands–and so when these things happen in a public forum, it is both a challenge and a threat. These men feel comfortable enough publicly declaring their dominion over a woman’s body–to comment on her, to determine her value for her, to elevate themselves above her. Our existence, our sheer nerve to appear in front of them, is an invitation to insert themselves where they have no right.

I realized over time that I would be letting these men win if I responded with equal vitriol, or if I stopped going places or wearing certain (perfectly fucking normal) clothing out of fear of being seen. If I let my shoulders become so tense and rigid every time I stepped out on the street that the slightest crack would cause me to snap, what would my life be reduced to but a small black box of hostility? So I ignore it. I still go out to dinner in the city and transport myself home at night on the subway. I still wear sundresses and skirts. I simply refuse to allow them to take that away from me

There is, I guess, no one correct approach to how a woman chooses to deal with cat-calling. It’s just another burden for us to bear: balancing the line between not letting these violations overtake your mental wellbeing or cast chains on how you live your life, but also not being silent and complacent.

On physical and psychological safety

When we talk about safety, I feel that it’s important to distinguish that a lack thereof doesn’t just mean fearing for my literal life–it’s a more nebulous, psychological fear of being racially and sexually reduced that has not necessarily dictated, but nonetheless impacted, my worldview, interpersonal relations, and persona.

For many women, a physical fear of bad men is either something have instilled in you growing up, or a firsthand defensive mechanism you develop after being taken advantage of. I picked up boxing partially to combat the anxiety I felt about my own categorical weakness, borne out of an urge to do something to protect myself from the humiliation of potential victimhood.

But it’s when I think about psychological safety that I see the deeper harm that this noxious combination of sexism and racism has wrought on me. It’s the deep rage that robs me of my carefree joy, and the fear that robs me of vulnerability. Mentally, I have contorted the soft, gentle aspects of myself to be harder, in order to be what I thought had to be to feel safe–more aggressive, enraged, more “like a man“.

Sometimes it feels like the world expects women to be constantly on edge in order protect ourselves (because it’s our fault if we get harassed or abused) but also be always smiling, delightful, receptive, flirty, and feminine (or else nobody will like you and you’ll die alone). Even more so if you’re an Asian woman, dealing with the harmful stereotypes that all Asian women are petite, childlike, cute (kawaii!!), and submissive. God forbid you ever feel hurt and unsafe, which prevents you from being a bubbly one-dimensional emotional support vehicle for men. God forbid you’re a real, grown woman who’s experienced some shit, and not a pleasant, perfectly happy trophy.

I’m exhausted from having to worry if I’m being fetishized by any man who shows interest in me. I’m sick of the self-hatred that wells up when they end up doing just that. And let’s not even get started about internalizing all of it too, of starting to see yourself the way they see you. Wondering if there’s something wrong with you, if this is all they seem to see when they look at you. Wondering if you’re “too” Asian, or not Asian enough. Implicitly molding yourself to those male fantasies because you’ve come to believe that is the only way you can add value.

There’s too much to say about this topic, and about being a woman in general, that I can’t get into all of it in this post. But this is something, I think, that maybe more people should talk about–about being an Asian American woman. Our culture conditions us to minimize our struggles, compare them to others who “have it worse”, to accept hardship as a given in life–in Chinese, 吃苦. But I fear if we continue to eat the bitterness, we will choke. And if we continue to bear the burden in silence, we will crumple.

On current events

When we see senseless acts of racial violence like what happened in Atlanta, it’s a reminder that this is the worst case scenario of all the little things we experience in our lives. I don’t know what it feels like to lose your mom, sister, or daughter to anti-Asian hate. But I do know my own lived experiences, and these are the few specific things that I have talked about today.

I know that, at the end of the day, I’m still socioeconomically privileged in several ways. I’ve considered just avoiding this topic and not say anything at all, in fear of being seen as an attention-seeking band-wagoner. But I’ve come to realize that even if it’s something that every woman experiences (like catcalling) or it’s something that doesn’t seem as extreme as the other things you see on the news (like being called a racial slur), doesn’t mean I have to be silent about it. If it hurts, I have a right to communicate that–we all do.

Our pain is real, and wanting a world where this pain happens less often, shouldn’t be some sort of audacious demand.

20 Things I Learned in 2020

Another year, another listicle! Yeah, I’m late, but

  1. Better late than never. Here I am, with a generic 2020 reflection post, which I fully am aware is overdue and cheesy. Still, every now and then I like to write publicly so as to convince myself that I still can do more than make 250-character quips on the bird app. So here are 19 preachy things I learned or adapted this year.

  2. Empathy as a skillset cannot be understated. It’s really as simple as what we were taught when we were young. The value of empathy and kindness can often take a backseat in a world that glorifies cage-fights and clap-backs, or when tensions run high, as they have in 2020. However, one more novel realization I had this year regarding empathy was that it was applicable not just in relationships, but in the workplace as well.

    Empathy is a skill that bonds you closer to those you care about, makes more people like you, and eventually actually pays literal dividends. Not that it should be monetarily relevant to be important—but sometimes people only see “niceness” as something that gets you head-pats from acquaintances, instead of a powerful tool that can sculpt success out of all areas in life.

  3. Exercise grace. Grace is a concept often tied to religion, but I believe it’s a universally valuable trait to embody. Particularly in times of high uncertainty, people will behave differently, and it’s easy to be high and mighty until you find yourself doing the same thing. Obviously there are limits to this and some things can be put in the Always Bad category, but I find myself often jumping to judge others moralistically, and it never turns out well for me because I, too, am imperfect. So that’s what grace is for—to give others the benefit of the doubt and sometimes forgiveness, because in doing so, you forgive yourself.

  4. I started meditating. I never thought I’d be able to meditate. Ever. My mind just raced too fast for me to control. I hated even yoga because it was such a painfully s-l-o-w workout and it also left me too much time to think and exist, at rest. I was so uncomfortable with being in the present and in my body—and in many ways, I definitely still am. But an unexpected breakthrough this year came in the form of me meditating for just five minutes after working out in November and December. Maybe it was the 100th influencer I saw using Headspace. Maybe it was this Mark Manson article I read that finally did it for me. But either way, I’m glad I started.

  5. Self-care is sometimes painful. It’s not all face masks, chocolate cake, and sleeping in. Sometimes self-care is working out when you really, really don’t feel like it. Sometimes it’s putting down the phone and journaling when all you want to do is mindlessly scroll and “relax.” Sometimes it’s about ending a relationship with someone even though you’re scared to.

  6. Celebrate what is slow. Slow progress. Slow relationships. Slow living. So much of what we want in life comes slowly by design. In fact, you should probably be wary of anything that promises something fast—love that has yet to be proven, diets that advertise pounds lost in days, and coping mechanisms that make you feel better without resolving the true issue at hand.

  7. Guilt and shame are the lowest vibrational energies. To be avoided, examined, or excavated at all costs!
The vibrational states of energy. Obviously not scientific, but a useful framework.
  1. “Happiness is really just about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (number and depth of your relationships), and vision/meaning (being part of something bigger than yourself).” -Tony Hsieh

  2. Masculine and feminine energies. This one might be too controversial and/or new-agey, but I had to throw it out there. I’ve been on a long journey to feeling comfortable in my feminine and understanding my social identity as a woman in the 21st century. I could probably talk for hours about this, but long story short, 1) femininity is not weakness, 2) you don’t have to act like a man or a “badass” to be valued, and 3) know who you are and what you want or someone else will try to tell you. Oh, and everyone has a balance of masculine and feminine energy—it’s not about gender roles or stereotypes, it’s about your personality and what you want out of a partner.

    Obviously this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re like me and you’ve struggled with feeling comfortable expressing your femininity or questioning if you’re “enough”, it’s a very worthwhile topic to explore and learn about.

  3. I really do have some quality fucking people in my life. I’ve always been moderately insecure about my social life. Everyone else around me seemed to be more extroverted (read: “better”), went to more parties, or had more friends. College really didn’t help with this insecurity either, as I went to a school where Greek life and perfectionism dominated the culture.

    But somewhere along the line between graduation and now, I counted the closest people around me and realized I, as an introvert with debatably average social skills, had created a circle I was actually really proud of. I have a sister I can tell anything to, three best friends who know me better than I know myself, a handful of close friends I can talk to for hours and hours, and some casual friends across the country I can catch up with or support from afar on social media every now and then. Maybe it’s not the Friends or “girl squad” situation I’d always imagined, but it’s my real-ass life, and I am just as happy with that.

  4. Buy nice stuff for your parents. This one goes out to my financially independent Asian children in particular—buy shit for your parents. It seems like a really obvious way to express love to your family, but I just never really did it. This year, instead of overthinking whether my mom preferred words of affirmation to acts of service or gifts, I just clicked a button and bought her a ton of luxury skincare. When it comes to family, who cares which is what—just fire on all cylinders and show them how much they mean to you.

  5. Maybe it really is about the sleep. I have been lectured my whole life by my dad that sleeping earlier is the key to success. In a cruel twist of fate, and as other people have noted, maybe waking up at 5 am does solve all your problems. 2020 was a pretty great forcing function for my sleep schedule. Of course, I had to hit rock bottom spending a few too many sleepless nights in the spring staring at my phone until 5 am, but towards the end of the year, as the sun started to set at 4 pm, I resolved to go to sleep early (10-11 pm) since there was literally no point to be conscious and vitamin D-pressed that late at night.

    Now, I am finding it a lot easier to wake up around 7-8 am regularly, and I freaking love being the only one awake in the morning, enjoying the sunshine on my skin and moving about undisturbed.  

  6. Stress costs money too. I’m that person who thinks about a T-shirt for a week before getting it, calculates the net cost-benefit of a sales heuristic, and believes that paying full price is for chumps. But sometimes this calculus is so draining that it can detract from me achieving my actual objective, which is feeling satisfied from things I buy. Some of the best purchases I’ve made this year have been extremely quick and pricey. Maybe it’s a fine line, but there is a difference between impulsive and just knowing what you want/living in the present. I’m starting to get the hang of it, I think.

  7. Community is key. In 2020, I started to find more community and put down roots in New York City.

    I stumbled across a local co-op farm in my neighborhood during a long walk in April, and now I’m an active member. I started volunteering at an organization for a cause I’m passionate about, and my little routine of going every Saturday morning has brought me a ton of contentment. I even found a few Facebook groups that I really jive with, and it’s brought me happiness to be able to connect with those people too (I swear this isn’t a Facebook ad).

    Community is something I’ve never really had my entire life—between being an introvert, growing up with immigrant parents with no direct family or religion, moving around every 4-5 years as a child, and never really finding my “circle” in college, I’ve never really felt I “belonged” anywhere. But belonging is super important to human social health and happiness, and maybe that was a missing piece I’ve been struggling to fill in this whole time.
The community farm I joined this year finally allowed me to connect to the inner #cottagecore I knew I always was capable of
  1. Some things should be done well, and only well. Such things include gold jewelry, hair coloring, and organic fruits and veggies.

  2. A year cannot be “wasted”. One of my biggest fears in life is time wasted—particularly for things in life that are deadline-sensitive and/or irreversible. When the shit hit the fan in 2020, I thought, “Great, a whole year of my precious twenties in NYC is gone.” However, I’ve also thought the exact opposite—that 23 is the best age to be in a global pandemic, because you’re young, healthy, independent, not missing out on crucial college years, but not at the age where you also need to rush to find a spouse. Also, calm down, Jenna, you’re 23. I know, I know—it’s something I’m trying to work on being less anxious about.

  3. Happiness is just the quotidian—nothing more, nothing less. I watched the new Pixar film Soul recently, and without spoiling it, the montage at the end really struck a chord in me. The animators captured the way moments look in micro so perfectly, distilling silence and sunlight into pixels. Happiness is found in those moments of quiet savoring—the rattle of the 7 train, the slant of sun through concrete-caged trees, that triangular first bite of pie. The practice of gathering these bits and pieces is what makes life so enriching.
Soul (2020)
  1. One gratitude a day: early mornings, city encounters, and long talks with friends. Since high school, I’ve intermittently kept the habit of writing down the highlight of each day of the year (when I can remember it) and putting it into a wine bottle. Then, at the end of the year, I break the bottle open and read all the best moments of that year. It’s more qualitative data than anything, but this year I found some patterns:

    1) I am very proud of myself when I wake up early or work out in the morning
    2) Long, three-hour conversations with close friends who I feel really understand me are the salve to my soul
    3) The smallest encounters on the streets of the city can make my day—an adorable French bulldog puppy taking a liking to me in particular on the subway, an old lady stopping to ask if I was lost, the way the trees looked by the waterfront one afternoon.

  2. On aloneness. I was flipping through my journal and found this entry from my birthday this year:

    Why am I so at peace with myself? I have to laugh a little bit. Three years ago—two years, maybe even a year ago—I was absolutely terrified of the aloneness. My mind was inflamed by it. It really was a terror I felt…terrorized by my circumstances. And now, I could not want anything else.

30 Ways to Boost Your Quarantine Mood

Turns out it only takes a pandemic for me to make a return to blogging! It’s no question that these are unusual times. I’m sure most of us already know about what’s happening in the world regarding COVID-19 and how to protect yourself, but in case you still need to hear it: practice social distancing and go into self-quarantine in the coming weeks

As such, it will be uncomfortable and strange. Last night, I started jotting down any and all ideas I had to alleviate the stress of being stuck in a small space for at least the next 14 days. Now I am sharing them here! Keep in mind that not all the tips may be suited or available to you, but hopefully they will inspire you on what the heck to do to keep from going crazy at home while we wait this thing out:


  1. Make a pennant banner to hang up around your home! This is a fun DIY project to do together with a housemate and also a great way to inject some timely inspiration or humor. I’m about to make one that says “Quarantine Sweet Quarantine.” That one was original, thank you very much, but you can steal many other good quips off of Twitter, Reddit, or Tip #30.
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  2. If you don’t have the materials to be very DIY, consider ordering some fridge magnet letters or a little letter board to display your quotes, coffeehouse style.
  3. Put out some fresh flowers to brighten up your space and bring spring indoors. If you can’t go outside, you can at least look at something beautiful from the outside, right? I wouldn’t usually advocate for fresh flowers all year round because the costs can really add up, but if you’re going to be indoors for the next few weeks, you’ll definitely be getting your money’s worth out of gazing at a lovely spray of hydrangeas or a cluster of seasonal tulips every morning.
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  4. Light some candles. The scion of hygge, the emblem of coziness…candles. If you don’t own any, order some online. Recommended brands include Brooklyn Candle Studio (free shipping right now on all orders) and Diptyque (whatever, treat yourself, it’s the end of the world).
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  5. Take care of a plant. I know it might be a little hard to buy a plant if you have already quarantined at this point, but if you can literally get live baby chickens USPSed to your house (been there done that), I’m sure there’s a way to order a plant online too. In general, plants are great to co-exist with, and also add a little beauty, oxygen, and life to your space. I have a rambunctious little Monstera Ginny growing on my sill right now and seUntitled_Artwork 5eing it unfurl a new leaf like every week is really nourishing for the soul. If you suspect you don’t have a green thumb, start out with a snake plant. They’re really hard to kill, so if you do end up killing yours, I’ll be impressed.
  6. Download some new Kindle/e-Books to read. If you don’t have a Kindle, there are Kindle reader applications for laptops and Internet browsers. And if you don’t like spending money on books, most public libraries have e-books available to loan online!
  7. Create a wind-down/zen/relaxation playlist on Spotify. Here are a few of mine–and here is my yoga studio’s. In terms of particular artists, I especially love Berlin-based ambient mastermind AK, Australian vibe curator Yoste, and London-based electronic songwriter SOHN.
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  8. Buy hand/body lotion or face masks for a spa day in. This is a very basic self-care/pamper tip, but considering how often you will be washing your hands now and how still the air will be inside your home, your skin will likely get super dry.
  9. Now dipping fully into self-care routine territory, diffusers are great. I am a cult user of my small MUJI diffuser, as well as the brand’s super high-quality essential oils. I’ve discovered recently you can do all sorts of other quarantine-friendly things with essential oils, too, like putting them into DIY cleaners and room sprays!
  10. Buy bar soap. Again, since hand-washing is center stage right now, why not make it more luxurious and get some pretty, great-smelling bar soaps? There’s been such a mad bull charge on hand sanitizer, but in self-quarantine we have access to, uh, sinks with water. Plus, bar soap is low/zero-waste. Consider getting some.
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  11. May I add here, all these tips are great in and of themselves, but combine some and that’s where the magic can really happen. For example: Plants + candles + zen playlist + lavender lotion + bath?? Yesssss.
  12. Bake something new. Minimalist Baker and Epicurious are some of my favorite online resources for baking. Here are also some of my favorite food bloggers, many of whom are plant-based and health-oriented!
  13. Lean into self-sufficiency. Obviously, this whole situation sucks, but if we were to find a silver lining in all of this, it is a reminder that we really were (are) living in such lucky, rarified times. And it’s a reminder that everything we take for granted can be shattered so easily, like a ripple across a reflection in a still pond. So take this as an opportunity to learn how to be more hands-on and resource-efficient: learn how to make some dough, store your vegetables properly in the fridge, and only use what you need. We’re not in an actual apocalypse, people, but keep in mind that we very well could be in 50 years because CLIMATE CHANGE.
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  14. Makes plans to watch an episode of a feel-good TV show every 3 days with a friend. The key is to stagger it out so you have a positive routine to look forward to. My roommate and I will be watching Netflix’s “Crash Landing on You”, a gratuitous Korean drama about a woman who gets stuck (one could even say…quarantined) in North Korea and falls in love with a soldier there, in an attempt to finally culture me. If you live alone or with someone you don’t interact with much, you can always set up FaceTime TV dates with a friend!
  15. Cleaning parties. Yes, we are all Corona Cinderellas now. Put on some music, a podcast, or a comedy show in the background, and get to cleaning! Here’s your chance to do all those little things you’ve been putting off forever in the house. My list includes cleaning out some candle jars I’ve finished, washing all of my tote bags, and finding a favorite highlighter I misplaced.
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  16. Yeah, board games are fun and all, but have you considered doing Instagram filter games together with your quarantine buddy? Particularly, the one where you draw something with your nose and the one where you decide who’s more what by tilting your head (iykyk). We’ve already tried both and they’re hilarious, though short-lived–but benefits are you can share the fun with others, and I’m sure there will be more to come.
  17. Read up on Stoicism. This ancient Greek philosophy is all about focusing only on what you can control, while understanding the natural order of the world and man’s often minuscule role in it–a mindset fit for times of coronavirus as any, in my opinion! I have The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday sitting on my bedside table, which contains one bite-size wisdom for each day of the year. Not gonna lie, I’ve been pretty bad about reading it before bed each night, as I told myself it would be great to (like a Bible for the philosophical atheist!), but I will definitely be picking up the habit again over the next two weeks.
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  18. Speaking of book topic recommendations, another subject I’ve been really into lately is hygge, the Scandinavian design philosophy and way of life that prioritizes coziness, connection with nature, and simple comforts. In more concrete terms, think: candles, rustic loaves of bread, and twinkling lights in the window. I think we could all benefit from learning from one of the happiest (and most indoors-bound) regions in the world on how to make our homes more livable, seeing as we will be spending way more time in them. Recommended reads here and here–and remember to check your online libraries first or buy used on Amazon)
  19. Foster a pet. This one is for my ballsier quarantiners. Animals shelters in NYC are currently under heavy stress due to COVID-19, and since many of us will be home anyway…why not? My roommate and I both love cats and have discussed this casually, but in reality, bringing an animal home for even a short period of time requires resources, time, pet-proofing, potential tenant fees, and overall adjustment. I have heard other people bring this idea up, though, so just to put it out there on a potential animal lover’s radar!
  20. Reread some of your favorite novels/short stories. Harry Potter is always a great option. Old reads may be worth revisiting just for the sake of nostalgia–or you can always pick up that stray copy of Eat Prey Love from your coffee table and see if it lives up to the hype.
  21. Look outside (if you’re lucky to have windows/a view) and note what has changed since yesterday. The idea is to find peace in simple observation of nature and how it documents its own passage of time, Thoreau style. My windows used to offer a big, sunny view of the Manhattan skyline, but now it’s nose to nose with a gigantic Great Wall of Construction. Hence, if you’re lucky.
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  22. If you have the opportunity to go outside and take a little lap somewhere in relative solitude, do that. It might be the forest next to your house, your backyard, or the rooftop patio of your apartment building.
  23. Crack a window open if the weather is nice and warm. Chances are coronavirus won’t be riding a zephyr into your house, and you could do with a bit of vitamin D.
  24. Drink more water. Cold water, hot water, water with ginger, lemon, cinnamon, turmeric, honey, Airborne, or just good old water. Drink more water because it’s good for you and easy to forget!
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  25. Create a Pinterest board to plan for something exciting in the future–a dream vacation, a summer wardrobe, or just a new layout for your bedroom since you’ll soon become tired of staring at the same chair and table all day. If you’re a man and you’re like “I don’t do Pinterest boards”…go sharpen your hatchet and prepare for the actual apocalypse or something, idk.
  26. Embark on a 30 day squat challenge, push-up challenge, or just run-up-and-down-the-stairs-of-your-high-rise challenge. I personally hate prolonged body weight exercises and “self-guided” workouts, so I won’t be suggesting anyone go full-on boot camp with a yoga mat in their living room for an hour. But maybe just doing a little something and then continuously building on over the next two weeks will help you count the days with relish, not despair.
  27. Read up on best practices for working from home. Don’t underestimate the impact that a very different work environment will have on your mood and productivity. Everyone enjoys working in their PJs on a Friday every now and then, but if this is our new normal, mixing work time with home time may end up creating more stress. Consider changing into a slightly nicer pair of sweatpants and designate a corner of the room to be your office, to start.
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  28. Along the same line–set boundaries and times for when your workday begins, when you go into the kitchen to rummage for snacks you don’t need, when you FaceTime family/friends, and when you stop reading the news. Yes, it’s a gross amount of self-control and scheduling, but it may be necessary without the luxury of distance and space at your disposal.
  29. Yes, do stop reading the news. And the Facebook posts your family and friends keep sharing too. I know it’s like you can’t tear your eyes away from the hourly Twitter updates and the emails from every single company you didn’t even know you gave your e-mail out to. But that shit’s not good for you after the 50th depressive headline.  Trying to stay as logical and sane as possible sometimes means turning the channels off.
  30. But, if you are going to engage in coronavirus content, consider a curated meme experience. The Zoom Memes for Quaranteens group is exactly that. Thank me later.

My 5 Favorite Pieces of Journalism Ever

When I was young, I used to read a lot of books. Fiction, specifically, of all genres. I’m not sure when the transition happened, but over the years, I started to read more nonfiction and journalism. When I say it like that, it sounds like the soul and spirit of youth were sucked out of me as I became a Serious Adult. But honestly, maybe it’s perfectly fine to like books that discuss the real world, and I’m just overthinking it. I have tried to get back into reading fiction, but the most I can muster is juggling The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and The Rough Guide to Iceland by David Leffman and James Proctor during my daily commute to work right now.

This article, though, is about journalism. Over the years I’ve read many an online story. Here are five of my all-time favorites. I did not pick them based on historical significance or current relevance, but rather on a basis of storytelling and technical skill. I might also just start a monthly “favorites” thing as another way of trying to keep writing. We’ll see.

Without further ado–

  1. The Really Big One by Kathryn Schultz. This long-form article explores the possibility (or rather, inevitability) of a mega-earthquake in the Pacific Northwest in the next 50 years and how we are so not prepared for it. It won a Pulitzer and is an example of science journalism at its best.
  2. A Generation in Japan Faces A Lonely Death by Norimitsu Onishi. A long-form on the painful societal and national impact of an aging population. A great example of multilingual, multinational journalism, with great photos to accompany. I was inspired by this piece towrite my own on the same topic.
  3.  How Anna Delvey Tricked New York by Jessica Prestler. An insane story about how one girl grifted her way into New York’s elite circle, duped big banks out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and ended up locked up at Rikers, all out of sheer force of personality. This is a prime example of entertainment journalism. Shonda Rhimes acquired rights to the movie and I was inspired to do my own mini-dig into the real estate angle of the story.
  4. 8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place To Live by The Onion. Published nearly a decade ago, but still sidesplittingly relevant today. I actually only discovered this article yesterday but damn, is it some good satire.
  5. How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. This article delves into the very polarizing celebrity and science behind Goop!, a wellness empire founded by Gwyneth Paltrow. What makes this unique is the infusion of the author’s personal experience and the skillful way in which she navigates difficult themes like holistic health, economic privilege, and female psychology.

Happy reading!


I Will Take Pictures of My Trash For A Month


Two things I love: alliteration and not condemning our species to extinction.

A few months ago, I had a fun idea: challenge myself to live as close to a “no waste” lifestyle as possible for a month. The original title of this post was going to be “No Waste November,” but then I thought, “How do I employ my twenty-first century journalism skills to ensure a higher CTR?” Mind you, this is not click-bait. I am actually going to deliver. Here’s how:

I plan on producing minimal trash throughout the month of November. What I do produce, I will document (tastefully and aesthetically, of course, per M.O.) to observe the quantity and type of landfill I generate. Things that will be considered trash are any non-organic materials I discard to the landfill.

This idea is not new in the slightest. There have been people who have tried it for days and for weeks, and some who live the lifestyle 24/7. This idea is also not to shame people for creating trash because, obviously, all have to produce waste to exist. Not to mention, most of us have a bunch of other things to direct our physical and mental energy to every day.

My goal in attempting this is, rather, to simply to try and improve myself while hopefully inspiring others to take small steps to do the same. I want to a) become more aware of my own carbon footprint and b) find easy, reasonable ways to decrease it. I believe the biggest barrier to waste reduction isn’t the cost of the action itself, but our mentality around it.

It’s not our fault we were raised with the status quo of no limits and no consequences regarding our contribution to landfill. How could we know better if we never see or experience any of the negative consequences? I was, for the majority of my life, not even aware of how much trash I produced, nor that I had alternatives to producing it. Single-use consumption is as simple and engrained into our daily lives as eating, sleeping, and breathing. Nobody gives a second thought to every takeout box, coffee cup, or paper towel we go through. And why would we?

I want to circumvent shame and jump-start action. It is not our fault, not our personal deficiency, that we were born into this situation. But it is our reality that our only home in the galaxy needs help, and our moral imperative to act. I don’t care if it’s just one plastic straw you save by keeping a metal one beside your desk at work one day. I don’t care if it’s just three plastic bags you save by bringing your tote to Trader Joe’s this week. You have to start small, and once you realize how easy it is to change, keep doing it.

Skeptics will say that it’s all meaningless, and that one person can’t save the world. It’s a deep-cutting ridicule that kills grassroots change. I think about that myself a lot at night, filled with self-doubt, wondering if I should be putting the equivalent mental effort into advocating for carbon taxes or environmental protection law, or not getting on airplanes, or corporate policy change. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have that cost-benefit analysis figured out yet. But I feel like where I currently am at, I can at least spread awareness about the issue, and try to lead by example in my little social circle.

Anyway. Enough with the philosophical rambling and back to taking artsy pictures of trash. I’ll be posting weekly to my Instagram stories of my adventures in low-waste, and I hope you’ll join me in taking on this challenge–officially, if you like, but non-officially for sure. I’ll be posting plenty of examples of the easiest ways you can reduce your landfill. I’ll also try to write weekly updates on the blog about my strategies and struggles. I already anticipate my frequent work-related travel to be a challenge (curse you, travel-size liquids) but you know what? We’re going to make it work.



How To Literally Travel For Free

There are two things I really love: travel and free money. If you’re a human person, I’m guessing you also like travel and free money. Over the years, I have finagled my way into quite a few sweet deals that have allowed me to visit some of the world’s most enviable cities on all expenses paid trips. Now, the time has come where I will teach you how to travel for free.

Of course, there are a few caveats. Firstly, the kind of travel I am referring to is not the “credit card mileage points Couchsurfing” kind of travel–it’s the “application for trip sponsored by public/private entity” kind of travel. Secondly, this article is sadly limited to a specific subset of people. You will find it the most helpful if you are demographically similar to me, aka any of the following categories: an Asian American, a college student, or a college student at the University of Pennsylvania. Still, even if you’re not any of the above, you can read this article to get a sense of how to sniff out the many travel opportunities that lie in wait for you out there in the world. Some of them may sound too good to be true, but trust me, they are both pretty good and pretty true.

  1. The Kelly Writers House (Various Grants)

    Eligibility: Penn undergraduates
    The deal: $2500-3000 to go anywhere in the world

    London, England

    Me, smirking in a chair in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris because I got here for free

    I love the Kelly Writers House. It’s one of the original reasons I really wanted to come to Penn, and though I wasn’t as involved with it as I would have liked to be during the course of my undergraduate career, the resources and opportunities it’s provided me have been priceless.

    One of these opportunities is, of course, free money. KWH has a whopping three grants, totaling up to a sum of $8500, that they give to students each year to support creative travel-based projects. In 2016, I won the Cultural Preservation Writing Project Grant, which gave me $3000 to travel to London and Paris to do a cool independent research project on my favorite author and lifelong obsession, George Orwell. There’s also the Terry B. Heled Travel & Research Grant ($3000) and the Creative Ventures Capital Prizes (up to $2500).

    So how do you win these grants? Well, all I did was send an email with a two paragraph proposal. Next thing I knew, I was handed a check and told to book my plane tickets. I was literally able to travel for three dreamy weeks in Europe, a continent which I had never previously been to, and engage in a creative project that had me poring over rare primary documents in libraries and hunting down old residential addresses in the cobbled streets of the Latin Quarter. And I had a lot of time left over to just be a tourist and hang out with my friends. I’m almost embarrassed to say how much.

  2. The Kakehashi Project

    Eligibility: Asian-Americans under 25
    The deal: An all-expenses paid trip to Japan for a week

    A busy intersection in Tokyo, Japan

    One of the many delicious meals provided to us while on the trip for, you guessed it, FREE

    Each year, the Japanese government pays for 200 young Asian-Americans to visit Japan in a week-long cultural immersion program called the Kakehashi Project. We regular schmegular second gen kids are shocked that we are so valuable to Japan’s strategic foreign policy, but do you hear anyone complaining as we descend upon decadent soba noodles and charge into seven-story stationary stores in Ginza, Naruto-style? No, you do not.

    Should you get accepted, you are bestowed one round trip flight to Tokyo with checked luggage, hotels, meals, and transportation all covered. While in Japan, you get to visit government agencies, chill in an onsen bath in a ski lodge in the mountains, live and bond with an adorable homestay family in the Japanese countryside, and make a ton of new friends. It’s not literally a free trip in the sense that you have a strict itinerary you have to follow and you’re traveling in one big tour group all the time. But I was able to squeeze maybe about 8 hours of free time over the course of the week, most of which was spent shopping for snacks and omiyage to fill up the entire virtually empty luggage I’d brought with me.

    I don’t know the exact monetary cost of this trip, but it must have been at least $10,000 per person, just for flight, hotel and transportation. Add in food, four dedicated bilingual tour guides, and months of fastidious coordination efforts, and wow. You’re basically getting a once-in-a-lifetime tailored cultural experience for free. I also have it on good authority that Kakehashi’s acceptance rate is literally 50%, so please, for the love of God, apply. There are two trips a year, one in December (during many schools’ Christmas breaks) and one in March. Yes, if you’re a college student and you go in March, you do have to skip a week of school, but let’s be honest…a lot of y’all do that anyway.

    I also do want to mention here that while this post focuses on free travel, that’s not the entire point. The most valuable part of my Japan trip was all the amazing people I met, both Japanese and American, and the unique chance I got to engage with everyone from rural farmers to national and local government officials. You can read my most recent Forbes article on Japan’s terminal villages, which was a product of precisely this kind of cultural immersion and engagement, and a deeply touching experience that no doubt would have never happened without Kakehashi.

  3. The Kakehashi Project – Penn Edition

    Eligibility: Penn undergrad studying International Relations, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Huntsman, etc. Or SAS grad student.
    The deal: Same as above

    If you are not Asian, you may have just read my entire summary of Kakehashi above with a mixture of despondency and chagrin. Well, good news: Turns out you don’t have to be Asian to go to Japan for free! Bad news: You do have to be a Penn student studying a very specific major in a very specific year.

    This past January, the Penn Biden Center sent 9 students to Japan on basically a Penn-exclusive version of the Kakehashi Project. The dates vary year to year, as do the requirements (a couple years ago I think it was only open to Wharton students), but the structure is essentially the same. I guess you technically don’t have to be non-Asian to apply, but if you are Asian, your chances are obviously much better with the regular Kakehashi Project.

  4. JACL Youth Legacy Program 

    Eligibility: Asian-Americans under 25
    The deal: An all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles for four days

    Me in SoCal, circa 2015. It seems my film photography skills have only deteriorated since.

    One of my friends from my Kakehashi trip informed me about this program, which is sponsored by the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and the National Park Service. It’s a free four-day trip to sunny Los Angeles, and the point of the program is to expose young Asian Americans to the history of Japanese American plight and their own AAPI identities. You will be visiting Little Tokyo in LA, as well as Manzanar, the infamous Japanese internment camp about an hour away near Lone Pine, CA.

    I didn’t apply for this trip, so I will not be going come August, but I am putting this out here as another chance for free travel if one of my fellow Asian Americans wants to take a swing up to the West Coast. Again, these trips are rarely literal free money being thrown at you to have fun, but, unlike those giveaway vacation raffles, which you have approximately a 0.0001% chance of winning, they are actually legitimate opportunities that you have a good chance of snagging if you submit a quality application.

  5. University of Auckland Summer Research Scholarships

    Eligibility: College students and recent graduates
    The deal: To live and conduct research in New Zealand

    New Zealand has some of the best, most breathtaking natural landscapes I’ve ever seen. So imagine my elation when another one of my Kakehashi friends (yes, this group is intrepid!) notified us of a free travel opportunity that he had previously partook in and greatly enjoyed.

    Basically, the University of Auckland will give you $6,000 to live in one of its biggest cities, Auckland, and conduct research over 10 weeks in the summer, which, remember, is our winter (assuming you are in the Northern hemisphere). I’m not too clear on the logistics because I haven’t done this program personally, but my friend says it was a great time and that he got to do a lot of leisure traveling around the country too. If you graduate in December, are taking a gap year, or just want to do some adventuring and exploring before committing to your next big move in life, this is a great opportunity. I would love to take it myself, but alas, full-time employment calls.


And that’s it! There you have my short but sweet list of free travel opportunities, including every single one that I’ve personally taken over the years. There’s probably a lot more out there that I haven’t heard about. If you’re a college student, I especially suggest you look into the nooks and crannies of your university’s myriad programs and scholarships, some of which are bound to involve travel, or at least productive output whilst abroad. Endowments are so big these days that I am certain there are millions of dollars just floating around right now, waiting to bless whichever opportunistic young thing finds them first.

As for my motivations for sharing my travel secrets, they are twofold. One–I’ve already made the most of my time on these trips, so there’s no point in me hoarding information. I’d love to see more people take advantage of my tips and tricks (and maybe bring me back a snack or two from whichever exotic destination you end up going to). Two–I strongly believe that travel shouldn’t be just an elitist luxury afforded by the wealthy. I want to show that you can attain leisure travel for cheap and, sometimes, for free! And you don’t have to be an Instagram influencer, international escort, or trust fund baby to do it.

21 Things I’ve Learned at 21

Credits: Isa Zapata for Torch Zine


I’m 22 today! This year, my birthday has fallen pretty neatly in-between graduation and the beginning of my adult life, which means extra introspection upon another year of age. I’m spending the weekend up north in Michigan, but thought I’d take the time to write up a post on some of the things I’ve learned thus far in 21 years.


  1. You don’t need to convince anyone of your worth. Unlike the free market, you are not a good that someone needs to be persuaded to buy. As it turns out, human beings are born with a lot of inherent value to each other. I used to think I had to prove that I was good enough, and I ran myself ragged doing it. It took me a while to realize that if someone doesn’t see it, no amount of laboring will ever change their mind. Which takes me to number two…
  2. You are enough. Inherently. Just by merit of existing. I know this might sound all kooky and millennial, but I’m not saying you can be a complete drain on society and be happy about it. I’m saying that if you are a good, decent person, that is more than enough to deserve other good, decent people. A lot of us have been taught that we’re only worthy if we get straight As, if we fit into size 2 jeans, if we make six figures and have all these annotations on our resumes. It can be hard to break out of that utilitarian mindset, but I think once you hit a breaking point, you start to explore the absurdity of other ideas. Why is it such an alien concept to accept that we are worthy just because we are human? It doesn’t mean you should stop trying at things and just coast by. It just means that you should stop doing things in desperate hopes to fill up what only you can give to yourself. 
  3. Don’t wait until you’re fully ready to do something–do it now. In retrospect, the decisions that transformed my life the most were always things that caused me a lot of discomfort at first. Don’t be afraid to fake it until you make it, because most people don’t know what the heck they’re really doing at first anyway.
  4. “The universe has three answers for you at any given time: ‘yes’, ‘not yet’, and ‘I have something better for you’.”
  5. “The universe is not in a hurry; you are. It’s why you feel so tired, stressed, and anxious.”
  6. Speaking of the universe: you need to become comfortable with uncertainty. As an atheist, I’ve definitely gotten a lot more spiritual this year. I’ve always been pretty leery of religion, but I find that as a deeply introspective and existentially despairing type of person, I need to have some sort of faith in the unknown. Whether it’s a coping mechanism or a veil over the godless truth is another issue entirely. In the end, spirituality for me increases utility and leads to a happier, calmer mind.   
  7. The entree your friend orders always looks better. This is my way of refreshing the ragged “grass is always greener” aphorism. Comparing yourself to someone else is just so shitty because 1) you don’t even know the whole story to compare, 2) life operates in ebb and flows, and 3) why do we have to be the same person anyway?
  8. Continuing that thought: everyone is on a different timeline. One of my worst fears in life was/is “falling behind.” I didn’t really know what that looked like, but I just knew that I could not stand to watch all my peers surpass me in the racetrack of life and feeling like doors of opportunity were closing on me, or that I was too late to do something. But the concept of “falling behind” assumes there is some sort of universal blueprint that everyone must follow in the first place. Go to an Ivy League school. Date your first serious boyfriend for four years in college. Get a well-paying job in New York. Collect a graduate degree. Get engaged by 28 and married by 30. When did I get the idea that I needed to do that, and more importantly, whose timeline is that anyway? It seems strange to say, yet a lot of us haven’t actually thought about what we want. It’s easier to just go along with the status quo, not realizing that it sets us up for inevitable failure while distracting us from taking active control of our lives.
  9. Learn to accept and give compliments freely. A lot of us can’t accept compliments very well. Next time someone tells you they love your outfit, don’t downplay their compliment or negate it, forcing them to perform additional emotional labor. Just smile and say thank you. It doesn’t make you vain, or presumptuous, or peacock-y. In fact, the opposite.
  10. Practice gratitude. I spent a couple months writing down five things I was grateful for a day, and it always left me in a better mood. I haven’t reached the level of enlightenment necessary for meditation yet, but I find mindful reflection to be a baby step towards it.
  11. What’s for you will not miss you. This applies particularly to people. Sometimes we’re so busy chasing them that we don’t stop to wonder why we want so badly that which does not want us.
  12. That being said…no good thing comes easy. Pain is inevitable—so which kind will you choose? We spend so much energy trying to avoid pain, but actually, the harsh truth is that you are going to be in pain anyway. Read that again: you are going to be in pain anyway. The real question is, are you going to choose the type of pain that’s good for you? Being in a toxic friendship is painful. Cardio is painful. But there is a difference between challenging yourself to become better (good pain) and living an endless cycle of suffering (bad pain). Remember: short term losses, long term gains. In other words, the sooner we accept that pain is inevitable, the better we can stomach the good kind that will lead to a ton of happiness and self-fulfillment down the line.
  13. Always keep your passport in a safe, zipped place. This year I lost my passport temporarily in a stack of library books, and then spilled half a bottle of hand sanitizer over it in my purse. Yikes! In both instances, it could have been avoided if I had just kept it in a safe, designated holder.
  14. “People underestimate how much they can do in one day, and overestimate how much they can do in one year.” 
  15. Know how to isolate and listen to your intuition. I think it took me like 20 years to learn where my quads and hamstrings actually were. Similarly, I was also wildly out of touch with my intuition. It is, as I discovered, not just some floaty, random feeling that resides in your gut and comes and goes like a petulant muse. It is actually your higher brain recognizing the patterns your conscious mind struggles to see. It’s like, Yo, this is the sixteenth slightly different permutation of the same problem you’ve been experiencing your whole life. Cut it out. But no, your reptilian brain convinces you it’s really different this time, and so onwards you stumble. It’s taken me some time, though, to not only acknowledge the existence of intuition, but understand its power. Just because you can’t see the reason right away for it, doesn’t mean it should be discounted. If you sit with yourself for long enough you will realize that intuition is actually highly sharp and logical: it just takes into account the entire iceberg that you can’t see right now. 
  16. Reapply your SPF (like, every two hours). I use facial sunscreen religiously, but I only found this new tidbit out like a week ago. Maybe I shouldn’t put it on the list until I’ve confirmed that this isn’t just the work of sunscreen industry lobbyists, but I’ve definitely sweated off all my protection before and neglected to reapply. By the way, if you don’t wear sunscreen everyday, do it. 
  17. It is essential to have boundaries. Having limits are the cornerstone of self-respect. Without boundaries, not only do you open yourself up to be taken advantage of, but you end up risking everything else good in your life. If you don’t stick up for yourself, nobody will.
  18. Try a diffuser. They seem unnecessary. They seem like the adult version of lava lamps. But I bought one on sale at MUJI this year, along with a little vial of lavender essential oil, and that stuff honestly brought me so much happiness. I’m not even that big on my sense of smell, but retiring every night to the jovial little bubbling of an aromatherapeutic soft sphere of light by my bedside was…delightful.
  19. The difference between loneliness and aloneness. It’s okay to fear loneliness, but you will never be alone. Loneliness comes from a disconnect in the self. Aloneness comes from when you’re standing on an ice cap in Antartica and there’s nobody around. Learn that no amount of people can be the antidote to the work you need to do within, but that just like you, everyone else is going through it. 
  20. A couple months ago, I was on vacation with a group of friends when one of them asked during a late night heart-to-heart: “What are you addicted to?” That question really made me think. I believe everyone is addicted to something, and that our dependency on these things, people, or concepts makes us fundamentally unhappy. Figuring out what those weak spots are, why we have them, and how to break their control over us is a powerful form of self-care. So what’s your vice?
  21. Drink more water.