Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The downside of immigrating

There's a thought that rips me apart when I think about it.

Usually every day there are songs playing in my head, songs my father loved, songs my mother loved. All songs in Japanese, lovely songs that showed the children what their culture was. They would often sing them in the house.

I realized these last 10 years I've not heard music in the house, aside from what's played on TV.

The frightening thing about being an immigrant is that you lose the common ground and culture. If you happen to play a traditional instrument, or any instrument, the songs and their lyrics only have meaning inasmuch as an audience. If there is no resonance and no demand to hear the songs, they go away.

It's all well and good if you are part of a strong community of the same culture. But if you are not - or if your community is a hodge-podge of different people from everywhere else in the world -- the commonality disappears. You may have a common language (English). But not the music and not the literature and not the culture.

No one is there to sing along or understand the lyrics, once the kids move out. So the songs stop being sung. I'm not sure why but because I know how beautiful the songs are, it saddens me to no end to think of the moment they stop being played.

Some people might say, "oh, well why don't you just sing Canadian songs." It's not that simple. It's something you have genuinely identify with and feel in your heart; it's like if someone told me to become a Catholic or Hindu tomorrow, it would be physically impossible for me because the names in the Bible don't have the same meaning to me as they would to a devout Christian; it doesn't resonate.

The thoughts of what we've gained keep us going, but I am always disturbed and anxious to think about the things that were taken away by circumstance, was it worth it. I think it was a net positive but it always haunts me deeply. Is any of my work even worth the sacrifices they made?  Am I even creating anything that resonates on any level with them? When I think about the countless ways in which I fall short, sometimes I can't even breathe.

Even though Vancouver is a successful immigrant story, I think many residents feel some variation of this disconnect.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Class: a construction worker, cocaine and caviar

I hear the most interesting conversations sometimes from construction workers. This time, though, the guy wasn't saying anything -- it was more just the contrast between two young men of the same age sitting beside each other on the SkyTrain, one covered in dust and working in construction, the other, a university student in a "Cocaine & Caviar" t-shirt, spending time with other university friends, talking about evening plans.

It made me think of the issue of "class." I could be wrong and construction workers could be making a lot better money than white-collar university grads, so this is not about income. It was more like the conversations I'd been having with people who'd had to drop school to support their single moms or developmentally disabled siblings. There's some kind of unspoken divide between those who go straight to work and those who go to university at age 17.

After the student and his gf left, the construction worker pulled out a tattered spiral notebook, and I saw that it was covered in notes made in multiple pen colours, blue, green, red. There were paragraphs starting off with "Last Saturday, I went to the park..." and numerous words crossed out. I thought he might be a poet or a writer, then looked at the left side of his notebook, where there were words written in careful pen, like "verbs" and "noun." I took it he must be from another country, painstakingly writing notes and learning new words.

 I stood corrected. They are both students. I hope he goes far.

BTW to the Ted1580 guy and others who ever for some reason want to get in touch or ask for a commission (again, being untrained, I can do my best but am not the artist Junggi Kim) , reach me at plasticcastle575(at)gmail(dot)com.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Drawing and intimacy

Today, when I was sketching, my partner leaned in and tried to take my sketch book and see the drawings I'd done inside. I became incredibly embarrassed and flustered—my partner looks at professional, extremely talented artists' work for a living, and a lot of my drawings have incorrect proportions, haphazard shading, dubious composition, etc.

So I grabbed my book away and tried to vet my drawings to make sure there was nothing overly crazy or shoddy in there, and planned to rip out any drawings that were incredibly embarrassing before showing it to him. But by seeing me so embarrassed, my partner apparently lost interest, and when I handed my book to him, he just didn't want to see it anymore.

"No. It's too late. I'm not interested anymore," he said.

I rarely feel emotions in an intense way, or rarely have since my teens, but this made me feel deeply ashamed and unhappy. It was just one incident, but I felt like it was a metaphor for my entire life -- that I'm too ashamed and embarrassed to let others see me, especially anything creative, so I hide away and try to edit and fix mistakes until it's ready to view.

But by that point, people have lost interest or moved on, even those people who are close to me. Even the father of my friend was mystified, and told me I should be less shy and self-conscious about these things.

Perhaps this is why I'm not suited for the creative field, even though I've dreamed about it incessantly as a child. Having this one thing criticized is as uncomfortable as having my eyeballs stroked with a sponge. I'm not sure when it all started or why it's lasted so long.

I'm far less sensitive to having other aspects of me mocked or critiqued (I couldn't care less what people think of my appearance or morality, for example), but somehow, the very idea of my partner looking at my stories or drawings and feeling disappointed makes me want to jump out the window.

"Are you annoyed because it seems like I don't trust you?" I asked.
"YES," he said, glaring.
"It's not's just that you look at really talented people's art all day, and..."
"So? That doesn't mean I don't want to look at your work," he said. "I mean, I'm aware that it's a sketch book. I'm not expecting fully completed art works."
"Yes, but--I just want to make sure it's good enough before showing you. You know how it's embarrassing when people look at your writing, and it has typos in them, and you know you can fix them, but--"
"So fix them!" he shouted.

I started to stammer about how for some reason I'm not very good at what I do, but still incredibly touchy about people's opinion, but he cut me off, saying "I'm busy right now."

I don't know why, but my partner seems to really hate when I have things I don't share with him.

This is a problem, because I've always had a deeply secretive, guarded side to me.

I assume everyone in the world has things they don't want to share with even their most trusted friend or family member or significant other, and don't pry for that reason.

But with my partner, every secret, every attempt I make at hiding is like a massive violation of trust. He sees it as evidence I don't have confidence in him. Since this has already happened many times, I don't know how I can remedy the situation.

It's strange, because even though I think I'm being completely open about even bad things, I keep a lot of personal things from people all the time. It's not that I mean to be untrustworthy. I just don't have the confidence, for starters, and on top of that I'm a hopeless lover of mystery and the unknown, and speculation. When human beings landed on the moon, at least some people were likely angry that the mysterious, unknown parts of the moon were gone, replaced by cold hard certitude -- I'd be one of them.

But I'm realizing that it wins me no sympathy from my partner, perhaps he even is disgusted with me over it, so I'm going to try to develop some thicker skin.

My goal for 2016 -- it's one that requires a lot of effort -- is to be less shy and less embarrassed about people's judgment. There was a time when I was able to change many aspects of my personality through sheer practice and effort. From not being able to talk to a single stranger for many years, practice and more practice has made it almost completely natural, to the point I don't even think about it anymore. Eating disorders and other conditions are not completely gone due to conscious efforts to change.

Will this fear be something I can radically alter? Or is it a core element of personality that some might just call fate?

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.