Monday, June 6, 2016

Traveling Rat

I'm traveling tomorrow, for a long journey abroad. But  somehow I'm really not eager to travel like I used to be. I realized it's because I've finally woken up to how beautiful "home" is when you love your place. I've always loved my house with my parents, but ever since living on my own, there was something that made me feel like I wanted to get out of there, like the room was too cramped, too messy, the location sucked, or weird roommates.

Right now, I'm very happy with where I am. I love being able to make tea for myself, walk around the block, cook, and drink clean, fresh water. None of that will be available when I go...which is why I shocked myself by trying to change flights to come back earlier by just two days. I was really on the verge of shelling out $800 for this. I haven't done it yet but feel like I just might.

But I can never keep secrets from my husband. Or rather, the second I face him, I want to tell him everything that I'm up to, even if it's stupid sh*t like trying to spend $800 to change my flight. He talked me out of it for now, but we'll see...our conversation went as below.

Unrelated, I have always thought about a bilingual comic that might serve as a tool for people learning either language. So it's in English and Japanese, below.

Monday, May 2, 2016


Scenes from a dream. I saw three dead animals today and was crushed at how terrible humans are at coexisting. Animals are beautiful when they're alive and kicking.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

balance with nature

I'm not an environmentalist. I'm really not an animal rights activist. But the other day, I felt so heartbroken at the sight of a large pink goldfish in a generic Chinese restaurant. It was swimming the whole time at the edge, the corner of the too-small tank, as though it just wanted to break free. At the same time, so vacant and flat, no end to its existence of being confined in such a small space just for display, just as a backdrop for human beings eating their meals. And the crabs, their pincers tied up with grotesque green rubber bands in the tank. As if it's not enough to be crammed by the dozen in a tank, they have to be tied up to boot? How does anybody find it appetizing to eat in such a cruel setting?

It's so hard to say what a good balance for animals and humans is. Life in the wild is merciless and harsh, too. The dogs I came across once in Wadi Rum reminded me of a balance. An energetic, dusty yellow dog kept barking at a herd of camels, and I asked someone if that dog belonged to anyone in the group. The young man said it didn't, but since it followed them, they fed it daily, and it was free to do whatever it wanted, go where it wanted. I can't vouch for the well-being of the other animals there, but what animals I saw there had space to roam, to socialize, and to breathe. Domesticated, but not among the living dead. They were not like those depressing animals in a Vancouver water tank.

Below is a drawing of someone who lived full time in that kind of balance. I have to remind myself, in this culture that pushes us to express our personal empowerment through material consumption, opening wallets and owning luxuries, that there's a better way of being alive. After long consideration I parted with my black, expensive, corporate-looking dress, the only one in my wardrobe I've ever bought brand-new, under some mistaken impression that it would help when trying to blend in with powerful people, wealthy individuals with grand homes and domestic helpers. I've always instinctively hated such environments and a mere dress can't disguise that.  Humanity's pursuit of privilege is precisely why we are so out of balance, so unable to fit in with life on this planet. 

That dress cost hundreds of dollars, but every time I wore it they made me feel like I was in a morbid uniform for an ego-centric consumer culture that isn't healthy for the planet. It feels better to see the black block of cloth gone from my closet.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Baby steps

I sketched for two hours straight, with a live model, for the first time in six years today. I almost cried that I didn't find the courage to do it earlier. But baby steps.

Am slowly, finally getting back in touch with these things.

Friday, February 19, 2016


While I was working in Japan, a fortune-teller (who, thank God, was cheap) told me my big obstacle was spoken communication. I don't speak in a way that people understand what I'm saying, so that's my biggest challenge, she said.

That was it. No forecast about my career, my relationships or health: just "you have a big barrier for communication. Nobody understands what you're trying to say. Work on that."

It sounded more like a personal observation based on two seconds of interacting with me, so initially I was insulted. What the hell, Lady, I thought. My spoken Japanese, while perhaps not 100% native-level fourth generation born-and-raised Tokyoite perfect, is perfectly fluent. 

What I didn't realize was how right she was, how spoken communication was a constant obstacle, in very specific circumstances. Family and friends were fine. But anything relating to imbalances in power became extremely difficult for me, where spoken communication became like pushing a car through three feet of snow.

In Japan, because I wasn't 100% sure I was using the correct keigo (polite Japanese) to important people in important conversations, I'd hesitate and deliberately muddle my words, or stop mid-sentence and never finish. 

In English-speaking countries, there was a different relationship to language altogether that I've found a lifelong challenge to overcome: the language of authority and certainty. 

Be concise, well-meaning advisers say. Cut straight to the chase. Don't add uncertainty to your phrases with "maybe" and "probably" and "perhaps." 

Some people will see this as a gender thing, of girls and women being taught to be less certain of themselves. 

Other people, like some Japanese linguists (it's a trend in Japan too,), it's a Gen Y thing—it's the terror of being proven wrong, so one speaks in a certain way that something could turn out to be the opposite of what you just said, and you'd still technically not have told a lie/be totally wrong. 

For me, I think it's a mix of the linguist theory and an extreme personal distrust of people who speak in absolutes. To me, you have to add the "maybe" and "probablys" and "most likelys" because it's the reality that nothing is ever 100% for certain. The same "fact" could have completely different context depending on how you framed it.

Not even the things that at one point in history appear to be utterly certain to be impossible (e.g. a black President in the White House). The more certitude a person exhibits when they speak, the more they cause me to doubt them. I start to question whether such people are unable to grasp the whole picture, or do grasp it, and are just deciding to ignore the complexity of things.

I use vagueness and uncertainty in language because I actually trust people who acknowledge this shakiness of reality. I feel my defences come out like quills, whenever I listen to people who talk with great certainty and confidence and constantly talk in a way that projects dominance over others.

However, just about everyone around me believes this general way of thinking and talking makes people less trustworthy, and they encourage an end to it. I'm asked to project power, this very thing I happen to be viscerally uncomfortable with having done myself. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Stars and Stripes

This has nothing to do with the drawing below, but a note about the "can-do" attitude.

I am a bad cook. I don't measure things properly. My sense of taste is terribly off.

Today, I bought ingredients to buy pancakes for Valentine's Day, but they were all turning into a watery, gluten-y, chewy, awful mess. My partner was hanging up the laundry, as he said he'd do while I cooked. I had ruined five small pancakes (which I ate, but regardless) and lost my confidence in successfully making the pancakes I'd dreamed about. Frying them felt like a Russian roulette: an over 50% chance I'd fail, no matter how hard I tried to get the heat and consistency right. I just had no talent for this, I thought. Some people have a gut feeling and sense about how to cook, but I'm completely missing this talent.

Turning off the heat, I walked into my room and started helping my partner with the laundry.
"What are you doing here? Aren't you cooking pancakes?"
"I can't do it," I whined. "Pancakes are really hard to get right. I don't know how -- It's beyond me. Let me help you with the laundry instead."
My partner pointed to the kitchen and said firmly:
"No. Go back and get it right."

And just like that, almost as if a switch had been turned from off to on, I marched back into the kitchen and attacked the pancakes with renewed fervour. I looked up and read the recipe. I used a metal whisk to mix instead of two chopsticks (my mother's method) and measured ingredients to the tee.

Almost as if by magic, the pancakes turned out beautifully, fluffy, golden, soft but cooked.
I marvelled at the result. I didn't even know how to do it, but just by telling myself I had to do it, no way out, I went from total failure to resounding success.

Nothing changed when my partner told me to go "get it right." I was still a horrible cook, with no talent for making food. I still didn't know what on earth I was doing. But the minute he closed the door to my "way out," I shoved the thought of failure out of my mind, completely shut off the thoughts of self-doubt and uncertainty. Almost by default, I succeeded.

I wondered what else I may succeed in if only I were able to shut the door to "I can't" and told to "get it right."

Sunday, February 14, 2016


There's something great about confrontation that earns people's respect precisely because of the inherent risk it carries: injury, shame in the event of of defeat, burned bridges. The moment of confrontation is when what someone stands for is put into sharp focus.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

If 2016 were the last year

Contemplating death apparently makes people happier because it makes their actions more in line with the things that matter to them most on this earth. So instead of Facebook, meditation. Instead of paying for a spin class, a dinner date. Here are the things I came up with:

- Travel widely
- Write
- Draw
- Take good care of my loved ones
- Eat apple pie unrepentantly, chocolate without a shadow of remourse
- Give to the causes I vigorously support in my soul
- Journal
- Write letters that express outrage over injustice
- Long, ambling walks, ideally but not necessarily by the sea
- Accessories and jewelry. Shallow, but a huge source of joy.
- Own a pet

The stuff that seemed important at some time, which I now feel trivial and emotionally less meaningful:

- Regular daily exercise in a gym (on my deathbed, will I regret not having done more pushups? No.)
- Connecting with people from my distant-ish past, overseas relatives and friends (we've all moved on and no longer talk. Plus, I'm sick of sending un-returned emails)
- Having "good taste" style
- Own property (whatever)
- Have kids (still on the fence, but my desire to have kids is almost purely based on desire to please others, not because I feel any love for children)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Occupying space while black

I was on the train the other day when I noticed a young, tall black man, dressed in a striking fashion with a large black hat, glittering gold earring, dark leather coat and a suit, talking on his cell pone on the SkyTrain. From his conversation, you could glean that he'd just started a new job, and that it involved being at the court house downtown.

He was a little loud on the phone, and kept moving around with shuffling steps on the train, but what I noticed most was not him, but the way people kept staring at him. Especially this one old woman, who turned back a couple of times to look at him, and overtly rolled her eyes and shook her head after the third time, as though his very existence offended her senses.

What exactly were they trying to say? What was that headshake supposed to mean? If it was just "ugh, damn young people and their annoying phones," I'd think nothing of it. But her annoyance seemed to be amplified by his skin colour, which, due to this little thing called genetics, no one is even able to do anything about anyway. 

What about him offended her? His suit? His gold earring? His hat? The fact that he was working in court? And what kind of clothes would they have him wear, to be a less unsettling presence? 

It struck me how very little leeway there is for African Canadians in terms of how they are perceived. The old woman would have probably disapproved of him if he were in jeans and a hoodie rather than a suit, and would have been annoyed if he were wearing Islamic religious attire instead of Western clothing. She may have been annoyed that he was talking on the phone. The only way for him to escape judgment, it seemed, was to dress in a preppy and neat but not overly formal way, to wear clothing that was neither shabby nor expensive, to be neither overly tall nor short, to not move as he spoke, and to generally attempt to be as invisible as possible in public.

For some people, it seems there is an extremely narrow, acceptable way in which they'd tolerate a black person taking up space on the earth.

That's why you have Sarah Palin blaming Obama for her son. That's why a black (actually, half-black, half-white) football player gets death threats from total strangers  for daring to propose to his obviously delighted girlfriend—for no other obvious reason than occupying public space while black, even though people will vigorously try to make it about something else.

It's subtle, thankfully, in Vancouver. But it's these small things, like the eyeroll and shake of the head, that can distort a person's perception of him or herself and ultimately can influence the course of his or her life.

I might be wrong. But I know what this is like. In Vancouver, the context is very different, and the times having changed very much, I'm privileged not to have to feel fearful of offending people. It made me think of what a maddening balance it must be, to not carry oneself to be judged as poor or idle, but to also not be so wealthy or well-dressed so as to draw suspicion and resentment. 

I think of how stifling it must be to live like this. And of how important it is to be actively anti-racist, not just a non-racist. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New mother

I have a feeling I'll end up posting some consecutive "Mom" illustrations, even after having professed my desire to never have children. Forgives.

I am still very annoyed at how society treats mothers in general. The patronizing attitude toward them, the stupid Vancity bank ads that seem to depict a career woman's entire financial plan as revolving around babies. But even I'm starting to realize there's something very gripping about a mother's love for her children.