How did we get here? Back to February. The precious final month where we’re allowed to say “this time last year” with wistful nostalgia.
For me, this time last year was my final month in living in California, a frenzied time that was overlaid by the impending pandemic lurking in the background, culminating in a red eye flight across the country.
February 2020 was the first time I started doing monthly round ups. Needless to say I thought it would take a much different trajectory than what I had imagined back then. I’m exhausted in a way that cuts deep. Mentally, emotionally, physically.
As an Aquarius baby, February marks a new beginning right after another new beginning. But this year’s beginning was different from other years. For one, it was less stressful. No need to deal with social anxiety making plans when you’re having a pandemic birthday. On another hand, while this actually wasn’t my first birthday spent in New York City (I almost forgot I turned 23 here which feels like two lifetimes ago?), this was a disruption from a lot of what I had started to take for granted in my own birthday rituals existing in Los Angeles. I couldn’t default to even take out versions of my favorite places. No Petit Trois omelette, no go-to Thai restaurants (I don’t yet have a favorite in this city).
What a waste, for a birthday to land on a Saturday amid a pandemic, but I still ate well.
What genre of meal could be more on-brand than a Japanese-French patisserie in afternoon tea format, but for brunch?
Sure, it was cold as shit, but look at this decadence!
And then for dinner, even though I was still full from afternoon tea brunch, I kept eating (take out, from the comfort of home), in the luxurious form of chicken parm and Nashville hot katsu chicken sandwiches and Milk Bar desserts. And there went all my January health efforts. Also, who needs cake when you can have kouign amanns?
Other than that, I try not to think about being a year older. Does last year even count if I spent 11 months of it locked down?
And of course, on top of the new age refresh there was yet another beginning with Lunar New Year. The year of the Ox. The first time I didn’t get to celebrate with family in some way. Every other year, I’d spend at least a weekend within the 15 days with family. Some years would include a dinner at home. Others would entail a more hectic affair at a restaurant in San Gabriel Valley or Irvine. Many years would also include a day trip out to Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights. Last year’s trip still haunts me, as we drove down towards LA, passing through Calabasas within an hour of the helicopter crash that would shake LA on the very night of the Golden Globes.
This year, the first day of Lunar New Year landed on a Friday ahead of a long weekend. What a waste, to spend it nearly 8000 miles away from my family in Taiwan. If it were any other year, I’d probably try to make my own kind of celebration, like a friendsgiving but with Chinese food. But instead, I made dumplings from scratch, careful to make just enough for one meal. It’s ironic, that this was the first time I’ve ever made dumpling wrappers from scratch. I had grown up with an immigrant mother who opted for store bought, and it took a cross-country move amid a pandemic and limited access to Asian groceries to get me to finally do it myself.
It was cathartic in a way, folding dumplings. It came surprisingly easy, all things considered. It was the least I could do, but the most energy I had. I didn’t feel like celebrating. It felt wrong to celebrate while the community was hurting with growing acts of violence against Asian Americans.
I spent this month consuming and conversing within the spaces of race, identity and activism. Between Clubhouse, Twitter and Instagram discourse, podcasts and films, I lurked in these spaces, spending a lot of time in the darker, sadder parts of my mind. It’s at the same time freeing and discouraging to hear and share stories of struggles among diasporic communities. On the shallow end, it’s empowering to feel a part of a movement, to be in the room as communities push culture forward. But the deeper you go, the more hopeless it feels.
I spent a lot of this month thinking about my own journey in reconciling my identities. Thinking back, I’ve come a long way since my pre-college years, and it was far from a linear trajectory. And as I listened to and talked to more people, I was suddenly struck with the understanding that everyone is at different parts of this journey in their own lives. And while we can relate to each other in many ways, there are also so many nuances in how we speak about things, how we digest our experiences and dissect our pasts that set us apart.
It’s fascinating to find parallels with people who wouldn’t typically be a part of my circles. To talk about race and identity among diasporic Asian communities in Europe. To listen to African students talk about race and anti-Blackness in China. To hear activists from the AAPI and Black communities come together to figure out how to build a coalition. Through it all, it’s intimately personal. The reflection and the progress happens at the individual level, community level and society and cultural level.
It’s an interesting time for this cultural conversation. Like a perfect mix of happenings that allow the conversations to be happening in the way they are.
First, we have a relatively established infrastructure of organizations that have been pushing Asian American issues on a high profile stage with organizations like Gold House, media platforms like Nextshark and at a grassroots level with community initiatives that were created or stepped up this time last year, when a first surge of anti-Asian hate crimes happened in response to COVID-19.
Second, we have a global pandemic compounded by the success of Black Lives Matter cementing a place in mainstream culture and business last summer, creating a momentum and a path as society becomes more comfortable with and more primed to have these difficult conversations.
Third, we have another wave of anti-Asian hate crimes, a reason to raise our voices and tackle BIPOC coalition-building head on. And finally, we have emerging platforms (read: Clubhouse) added to the mix, allowing for real time discourse to go deeper than the now popularized format of IG carousel education and activism. This perfect storm is messy, it doesn’t feel good a lot of the time. But it might just be what it takes to get us somewhere.
Is there room amongst the woke for the still waking?
A reminder that everyone is in a different place on their own journeys, and that we all were once there too, and we still have a ways to go.
You can speak justice for the people while holding individuals accountable.
The first step to healing is to establish separation between the personal and the systemic. To be able to see the humanity and fragility of the individual while working towards reforming society at large.
Everyone wants to change the world, but nobody wants to change their world.
It’s easy to want to be a part of the movement, to want to have an impact and join a revolution. But it’s important to take a long hard look at yourself and recognize what you might not have thought about, or been too uncomfortable to think about, that needs to change in your own world.
So I basically spent all of February on Clubhouse. Which is probably the most “social” activity I’ve had in a while. At least it involved less screen time than my other pastimes. But anyways, even though I’ve technically been on CH since December, I didn’t get hooked until now (nothing like some cancel culture racism drama to pique my interest), and now I have a lot of thoughts about this platform and its role in culture.
My cultural consumption this month has been nothing short of awakening and distressing. The more you know, the more enlightened you feel, the more anxiety and darkness creeps in, the more motivated you become, and then the more helpless you descend. Now the next step will be trying to strike a balance between participating and actively listening to these important cultural conversations and “candy” mindless feel-good consumption. Clearly haven’t cracked the code yet.
Clubhouse Rooms, particularly those talking about race and identity and culture and community.
Minari, such a beautifully filmed and poignant perspective of a family story that is relatable but also so captures the uniqueness of each immigrant story.
Judas and the Black Messiah, incredibly powerful performances that brings to light the nuances of Black American history that are too often painted over in broad strokes.
The Test Kitchen podcast, short lived but made some decent points. Sure it blew up in their face, but there were still some meaningful quotes in there. Hit a bit too close to home.
February 27 marked the one year anniversary from when I first landed in this city. And in honor of that, I launched a new guide page for New York City. Of course, this only went to show how little I know about this place, but at least now we have the infrastructure to get to know it a little better.
took the green curry paste I had stashed in the freezer months ago and put it to good use with this riff on Christina Chaey’s lentil soup
runner up: healthy winter hash starring beets, sweet potato and brussels sprouts
clothes. I forgot how different it feels to actually put on real clothes that you like and feel good in that aren’t some combination of foodies and yoga pants which I’ve lived in for almost a year now.
donate to causes I care about and support the community leaders that are giving back
Heart of Dinner card-writing to send to elders with hand-delivered meals and food.
All the Asians of influence coming together and leveraging the combined clout to raise awareness and donations to #StopAsianHate and facilitate conversations within and between communities.