life purpose


For years I’ve been looking for that little thing called Purpose and Meaning in life. Finally, I’m starting to feel that perhaps one of the purposes of life is simply and bravely to blossom, expand and become more of who we are. Because that’s been my yearning.

Life’s purpose and meaning are different for everyone. Tell me, Friends, what are you here (in this life) for, and what makes you feel your days are worthwhile?

it’s how the light gets out


There’s a Leonard Cohen lyric that goes “There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in”. It beautifully speaks of grace and love. But I’ve believed in its opposite ever since I heard it from Susan Telford: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets OUT”.

I am thankful for the outbursts of anger I’ve had over some tough times. While the explosion isn’t ideal (lol) it is nonetheless our suppressed emotions breaking forth to give us important messages from our true selves. When we lose it, break down, flip out, I used to think it’s our inner monster breaking loose because that’s what it looks like on the outside to other people. But it is our light and truth breaking through our usual mask.

assertiveness 101


When you have a child you get to learn to do things all over, like how to be assertive.

One day I found her in tears by the window.
“Grandpa sprayed the window!” She’d been watching grandpa water the garden. The glass next to her face was wet on the outside. He’d pointed the hose at her for fun.

I patted her back, stroked her forehead, told her grandpa was just playing. But she kept crying and repeated what happened over and over. It occurred to me that more was needed to reconcile her; to reconcile this.

The fact that grandpa was playing and meant no harm did not justify or lessen the fact that she was upset by it.

In all my conflict-averse introvertedness I’d do anything to avoid dealing with this kind of thing.
“Liliu, how about you talk to grandpa in the morning? It’s bedtime now.” She’d probably forgotten it by then, which would be perfect.

Seeing her little sad face though, another part of me said: Why can’t she tell him now?

An internal debate ensued. The Brave One pushed arguments about how I’d fail my daughter now if I let this go and make her deal with it alone tomorrow; how it might teach her that her upset wasn’t important or legitimate enough because the offense wasn’t intentional. Or worse, that she was making a fuss and just needed to get over it.

The Whining One rolled her eyes and said, “But it’s not a big deal.”
“Or is that just an excuse because you’re actually scared to do anything about it?”

The Whining One rolled her eyes again, like she couldn’t be bothered with repeating how much I hated confrontations. Which is right. We’d heard them all too often.

In that gap of silence the Brave One inserted herself: “Liliu, you know what, let’s tell grandpa now.”

I still didn’t know what to say, but I opened the window and shouted him to get his attention. To my surprise, Liliu knew exactly what to say.

“Grandpa, don’t spray me again!”

And with that she gave me a lion’s mane and war paint on my cheeks. Riding on her courage I added, “It scared her when you shot water at her!”

“Oh! I’m sorry Liliu!” He shouted back. “I was only playing! I’m sorry!”

The world had stopped when I decided to speak up; and now it moved again. The evening birds sang again. The air was alive again, and so was I.

When you have a child you get to learn to do things all over because she’ll have lots to teach you. As I lay next to my daughter’s little body at night I’m humbled by the greatness of her being.

wrong choice

art, POEMS

(Wrote a poem to go with this painting I made)

Wrong choice of color

on the wrong choice of line

This is a labyrinth

of errors and design.

It’s an accomplishment

to stick to a plan.

But it’s a gift

to lose your way

and find

a new landscape.

The map was only

drawn in sand.

It’s gone the second

you leap.

Snails in Little Saigon


*Hey Friends: This is not a restaurant or food review at all. I love that it gave me an experience that was fun to write about! The authentic snail meal, ăn ốc, sounds delicious.

Last week we had dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in our city’s Little Saigon known for its snails and shellfish. This great blogpost tells me that it’s a nationally beloved social meal in Vietnam. The restaurant’s Yelp photos boasted greasy shimmery shells, fleshy clams and generous toppings of chili, garlic, cilantro, peanuts and green onion, and we got excited for our foodie adventure.

It’s okay for the real thing to look slightly less appealing than the photos; that happens to all of us. But the blood clams arrived in a grayish hue that made me think of nothing better than a dead vampire’s skin, which is not quite a color I find appetizing. I kind of looked away and slurped one into my mouth. Then I tried a second to be sure: Each one suggested hope but ended in regret. Instead of evoking the ocean, I thought of wet mud (which to my dismay may be the snails’ true and rightful place of origin). Even the peanuts in the topping tasted like old Tupperware.

I don’t think our party of five had ever been this quiet during a meal. I think we were all baffled by the divide between ours and other diners’ merry experience. My mother-in-law didn’t even complain much. Though if she did, we wouldn’t argue with her this time.

That night I missed my mom. Not because she cooks great seafood, or any food for that matter. But for many years she worked near the source of all the freshest seafood in Hong Kong: Sai Kung. Funnily enough, Sai Kung in Cantonese sounds just like Saigon. And I just learned that it is written with the same Chinese characters (西貢)used by the Vietnamese in their former writing system.

obsessing about the best stuff

art, BLOG

When I was still an exclusively Cantonese-speaking ten-year-old I memorized a Japanese name, written in English letters, because it was printed on the covers of the Sailor Moon manga. Naoko Takeuchi. In my head I would pronounce it like English words, truncating the double vowels into one syllable. I didn’t know how to say her name or what she looked like, but I knew she drew the best art I’d seen in my ten years on earth.

I read all the mangas, watched the anime on TV. I fed hundreds of HK$1 coins into a machine to trade for collectible Sailor Moon cards. I saved up pocket money for Sailor Moon stickers. I had learned the English names of the planets in the solar system before I knew what a solar system is, because Sailor Moon had friends like Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Jupiter, and so forth. So when I started going to school in England, I was the Chinese kid in a British classroom who didn’t speak but wrote the names of all the planets when the teacher was still at Venus.

Come to think of it, isn’t it amazing when we get to obsess about the best thing we’ve seen in our lives? If we always obsess about the BEST things we know, won’t that make for a fantastic quality of life?

What’s the best-of-something you are obsessing with right now?


painting and me 02

art, BLOG

The thing I struggle most with painting is not technical ability, though that is a trigger, but the uninvited guests who pull their chairs right up to me the moment I sit down with a blank piece of paper and brushes at my desk. The perfectionist hovering above and under my brush, the art school graduate who’s scared I’m going to ruin her reputation any further, the art gallery staff who will decide that nothing I make is interesting enough, and the inner critic who identifies each mistake in the painting as the reason I’m failing in life.

“I’m not blind!” I shouted back in my mind. “I can see how this looks like a child’s drawing compared to what I had in mind! Just go away and let me be.” But don’t turn around. You just can’t engage them like that.

Despite the gnarled fingers on my shoulders, hot angry breath, sighs of disappointment, I labored at the painting until I couldn’t fix it any more. When I gave up, my inner Monet came out and took over the should-have-been-OCD-precise mandala painting. In my resting state (as Monet was doing the work) I asked, apart from ignoring those “guests” as best I could, what am I supposed to learn from them?

It said: The opposite of their assaults. Self-compassion.