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you can never go home again

I had the privilege of flying on one of Eva Airlines’ Hello Kitty planes today.

Here's a screenshot so you know what I'm talking about


Everywhere you turn on the plane, you see signs of Hello Kitty: from the pins on the flight attendants’ uniforms, their pink aprons, the pillow covers, to the air freshener in the lavatory.

Eva Airlines is seriously dedicated to Hello Kitty


I started chuckling as I stepped onto the plane. It’s cute and adorable. But soon I grew weary. [Yes, I tend to overthink. Are you even surprised?]

There are obvious social and cultural reasons that girls, and in fact, women under 50, are encouraged to be cute, to find cutesy things desirable, and also to screech in delight whenever such cutesy things are encountered: In a patriarchal, male-dominant society, men prefer women that are dependent and docile (or at least seemingly so) and find them to be more attractive.

A nation of young women marching to the drumbeat of cuteness. Some critics have even gone so far to call it the “infantilization of women”.

There is the voice that many women here speak in. High-pitched and nasal. 

The facial expressions: eyes blinking deliberately with eyelashes a-fluttering, better yet if they appear to be watery & starry. Verisimilitude of manga characters.

I imagine myself a reject from the Hello Kitty factory.

I’ve never been able to be cute – partly because I am 5’7″ and not starving myself. By Taiwan standard, I am enormous. I also cannot fake Jennifer Tilly’s voice. Just imagine Lucy Lawless feigning cuteness. That. Did you throw up in your mouth too?

That being said, I begin to lean towards + on the cuteness scale when I arrive. It’s as if when I speak in Chinese, I assume a different personality. Or maybe they’ve spiked all the food here.

I tilt my head. I blink my eyes. I smile vacuously.

I know tomorrow I will start making a bunny sign when having pictures taken.

This is like an emergency note written by a survivor before the inevitable Borg invasion.






No, really.

Perhaps I am having too much faith in the universality of Internet access, and also in the lasting prowess of my cellphone battery. I am hoping that I could continue to overshare while traveling to/in Asia. I said Asia because I am going to be in Shanghai and then Taipei, and you know, I cannot say China because then we are getting into the realm of political messiness… We certainly can’t have that, can we?

I am very excited because I connected with my second brother finally over the phone. It’s a long story. Anyway, my brother the Japanese chef (is this the right way of describing him? If I say “French chef”, am I saying the chef is French or the chef masters in French cuisine? But “a chef in a French restaurant” sounds so cumbersome and so much less cool…) is in Suzhou right now which is about an hour away from Shanghai, and he is going to pick us up at the airport and put us up in the fancy hotel he works at.

I chuckle at the thought that I will be the FIRST person from my family to visit this hotel, considering how Taipei is only a 2-hour flight away from Shanghai, and in contrast, I am flying from the other side of the globe…

I am getting more and more excited about seeing my brother whom I have not seen for many years. He’s going to be so surprised when he sees my oldest son who is now 6 feet tall. He is probably going to be surprised to see how much I have aged. I know he still sees me in his mind as this snotty-nosed girl who’s 11 years younger, baby of the family.

It’s kind of funny how we tend to remember our siblings the way they looked when we were all much younger. When you see them after many years being apart, you’re caught off guard by the reality of it all, that many years have gone by, what has happened that they now look so old, and the grand finale of your thought process, “Hell, no. That means I am old now too!” Fortunately, things start to look up as soon as you start reminiscing, making fun of the dorky things your parents said or did (including how they beat you with a belt. Ha ha. That’s funny now looking back decades later…)

I am just rambling now. I need to go finish packing and actually work on the projects that I’ve promised to wrap up before I leave for vacation. I am thinking: Well, I will have 12 hours on my flight from SFO to PVG to be devoted to work… (Yeah, right. We all know how that usually turns out…)

Technology. Don’t fail me now!




February 7, 2012

in through the looking glass

Hundreds of Taiwanese release sky lanterns on Saturday, January 28, 2012, in New Taipei City, Taiwan. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Today is the Lantern Festival. I completely forgot about it. It was only when I noticed the headline on The Atlantic, “Chinese Lantern Festival 2012” that I remembered.

Today marks the end of the Chinese New Year.

Looking through the beautiful photos, I wish I could say, “Yup. These remind me of home.”  Of my childhood.

I wish I could say, yup, I am of that beautiful custom and of that exotic tradition.

The truth is?  I grew up in a concrete jungle much like every other cosmopolitan city around the world. Globalization is an overwhelming equalizing force indeed.  The pictures look much better than what I remembered of Lantern Festival back home. Mine for many years were cheap plastic lanterns, with light bulbs inside. Candles were simply too dangerous.

As I am writing this post, I now am remembering a special lantern that looked like a big pull toy dog made of white paper that looked like real furs. I remember now how proud I was of my special lantern. I could not wait for the day to arrive when I could go into the street, joining the children walking around with lit lanterns. (I guess it was fun way back when…) I am crying now because I also remember that my special lantern caught on fire and was burnt down not long after I joined the crowd in an impromptu parade.

I was inconsolable for days afterwards.

Wow. That flashback is rather traumatic…

[Regroup via visiting Twitter and talking to random strangers… ]

[Ok. I am back!]

The funny thing is, this picture showing sky lanterns was indeed taken in Taipei. However, releasing sky lanterns is a tradition fabricated (or perhaps “invented” would be a better, at least kinder, word?)  Taipei, like all cosmopolitan cities, are feeling the erosion of traditions. People are feeling the longing for a splendid past that frankly most of us had never seen. And so we decided to start making our own, and believing in the histories of it.

Self-invention. Us urbanites are experts.



Going Home. Again.

December 26, 2011 through the looking glass

Waiting to get on a plane that will take me to Tokyo Narita, and then onto Taipei. I am making my annual solo trip back home so I can pack 359 days of homesickness, guilt and filial piety into a 3-day visit. (I will spend 3 days traveling due to time zone change and the […]


Conversation with my mother, or, why I dread it

December 21, 2011 therapy in session

The phone rang. At this hour I knew it has got to be from my mother. What does she want this time? Is always my first thought. Then I feel guilty about it. More often than not, however, I get to stop feeling guilty because she is calling to add to my shopping list called […]


Where I’m From

August 16, 2011 therapy in session

I am from sunshine, sweat, and bricks of humid air. I am from have you eaten yet. I am from rice, salted fish, stir-fried greens, from soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, from ginger, star anise, and cayenne peppers. I am from concrete jungle, clothes lines stretched-across the rooftops, the smell of sun in the fabrics, […]


I just want to go home

June 1, 2011 therapy in session

  Sometimes, for no reason at all, I would get a severe attack of homesickness. Without any provocation, my heart would ache and I would get a sensation of emptiness and at the same time heaviness inside my stomach. I recognize that feeling well. It is an intense loneliness that comes from a herd animal […]



March 7, 2011 through the looking glass

    I started getting it, bit by bit, that the thing between parents and children, the thing that ties you together is that all your life, you are forever watching them walking away. [The inadequate, rough translation mine] I read this in a book by Lung Ying-tai, a renowned cultural critic in Taiwan, on […]


My Chinese babysitter is going to FIRE me soon

January 20, 2011 no manual for parenting

I sometimes feel very sorry for my children: because how I am caught between two worlds, they too are caught between two worlds. Many of you have commented on my responses to the Tiger Mom Controversy with great insight, grace and kindness. One comment that made me pause and reflect upon the factual state of […]


Meet Me Halfway. Cute vs. Puke

November 8, 2010 through the looking glass

I am sitting in the United Airlines lounge, home for the famous automatic beer pouring machine, (not quite) halfway back to Chicago, but already I stop talking to people in Chinese, and I am transitioning to my American self again. (My apology for falsely reinforcing the dichotomy of East vs. West. This is strictly personal: […]