Exciting Stuff, Mindfulness, NINJA, Perspective, Relationships, Uncategorized

Welcoming the New Year with Past, Present & Future

Every beginning leaves its own unique mark; and what beginning is more universally significant than the start of the New Year?

2019 entered with a perfect synergy of past, present, and future.

It's a magical thing when we can step into our heritage and experience a hint of what life might have been like for our ancestors. Click To Tweet

Or what life might have been for us had our grandfather not taken that boat across the ocean to a new world. I’m referring to my family, but with yours, it might have been your mother, or grandmother, or great-great grandparent. Or, perhaps, you’ve gained a hint at what life for your ancestors might have been like right in your own hometown. Whatever the case…

A glimpse into the past informs the present and grounds us for the future. Click To Tweet

Our family rang in the New Year in Hong Kong with the fabulous family of our eldest son’s fiancé. We met in Shanghai and traveled to Hangzhou before landing in their hometown of Hong Kong. It was an incredible bonding experience that allowed me to experience a small part of China from a local perspective. It also expanded my cultural understanding of my own Chinese heritage.

We began our adventure in Shanghai, where our eldest son currently lives and works. We ate heavenly pork-stuffed mooncakes at Zhen Lao Da Fang, walked to The Bund and gaped at a sea of lights unlike anything I could imagine, learned (and kinda failed) to cook Sheng Jian Bao–pan fried pork buns filled with so much juice they explode if you don’t bite a corner and slurp–learned the intricacies of tea service at a out-of-sight tea house, and celebrated Christmas in our eldest son’s super cool apartment on the top two floors of a converted home. That’s just a taste of the many treats and sights we experienced as we power-walked through the city. (Did I mention the jazz club?)

Then we traveled by train to Hangzhou, The City of Heaven, where we stayed in a historically preserved village, hiked up a muddy hillside through a stone cemetery and the famous Longjing tea fields, ate fish noddle soup for breakfast under tarps in the rain, and took in the sublime beauty of West Lake by night and by day. (I can’t begin to guess the kilometers we walked!) Then we caught a flight to Hong Kong.

How perfect to leave my Westlake home in Greater Los Angeles to visit the picturesque West Lake in Hangzhou?

Once in Hong Kong, we stayed in a tiny but efficient Airbnb, learned the mass transit system, and marveled at the forest of high-rise apartment buildings. We enjoyed dim sum brunch with our future daughter-in-law’s maternal family–her sweet pó po (mother’s mother) and eldest aunt, neither of whom spoke English, and her youngest aunt and uncle who spoke English very well–and slipped into the family ritual with ease, noting the love they already felt for our eldest son and feeling a warm acceptance of expanded family.

Although dim sum brunch in Hong Kong felt familiar to my experiences in Honolulu, where I was born, and Los Angeles, where I live; it also had some notable dining differences.

In the west, restaurants either serve dishes with serving spoons or forks, or leave it to the customer to grab their har gow or siu mai with their own chopsticks. In Hong Kong, and mainland China, serving chopsticks are left on selected platters, usually set upon a rotating table top known in the West as a Lazy Susan. (If you’re interested in the history of this ubiquitous contraption, check out The Lazy Susan, the Classic Centerpiece of Chinese Restaurants, Is Neither Classic nor Chinese.)

In the East, paper is conserved and proper washing of linen is not assumed. Therefore, napkins, cloth or paper, are rarely set on the table. Instead, restaurants occasionally provide a box of multi-purpose tissue or rely on their customers to bring their own sturdy Tempo brand tissue.

Incidentally, carrying a pack of Tempo is also handy when visiting restrooms about town since toilet paper may or may not be provided. I was particularly fond of the jasmine scented Tempo and made sure to bring home quite a few.

Also…cold water is not a thing. Seriously. If you have your heart set on a tall glass of ice water on a hot day, forget it!

The main reason is the quality of the water: It can’t be trusted to drink. As a result, all of the water served in restaurants or in the homes are boiled and served hot. If you want room temperature water, let your hot water sit. If you want cold water, buy a bottle. And if you’re in Hong Kong–according to my future daughter-in-law–if you insist on ordering water with ice, you say, “Add two bucks!”

In fact, an additional charge applies to almost any change in your order even if what you’re requesting would normally be less expensive or an even exchange. Want noodles instead of rice, toast instead of English muffin, cold water instead of hot? Add two bucks! Fortunately, that’s Hong Kong dollars, which converts to roughly twenty-five cents.

Personally, I was happy to see pots of hot water on every table and kitchen counter, since hot water (or room temperature) is my standard drink, augmented by morning coffee and a whole lot of tea. I even learned a new way of drinking tea from my son’s future father-in-law, who gifted me this lovely tea cup.

So, yeah… I was a happy camper when it came to drinking in China.

Unless it involved alcohol.

I would have been in hot trouble at a business banquet, where everyone is expected to down fire liquor in seemingly endless toasts. It’s not only a mark of prestige and local acceptance to keep up, but a hard and fast requirement. As a non-drinker, I wouldn’t be allowed to attend such a business banquet, unless I was someone ridiculously important, which we all know I’m not! But as a hot water and tea drinker, I was in hog heaven.

Culture clash side note: On the flight home from Tokyo to Los Angeles, one of the American flight attendants, an abrasive woman in her fifties or sixties looked at me in surprise when I requested a cup of hot water. “You don’t look Chinese,” she said. “Chinese always order hot water.” After two weeks in Asia, I found the woman’s demeanor and brash comment to be shockingly impolite. Even more so when she snatched a snack box off my table to show the non-English speaking passenger against the window what she was offering!

So, what does all of this have to do with the past, present, and future?

As I mentioned earlier, my yé ye (mother’s father), who died before I was born, came to Hawaii from Canton, where he had a wife and several sons. While on Maui, earning money to send back to his number one family, he married a Hawaiian-Chinese woman and had seven more children. (By the way, this was not an uncommon situation back in the Hawaiian plantation days.)

Ching Family

My mother’s early Ching family portrait

So, you can imagine my interest in visiting China!

Past met future as I took in the homeland of my grandfather while spending Christmas and New Years with our son’s bride-to-be and her marvelous family. Our family has grown, and I am blessed beyond measure.

Which brings me to the present.

I’ve finally caught up on sleep and almost set the house in order. Now it’s time to buckle down for the work ahead–editing (and everything else involved) for the Fall release of my debut novel, The Ninja Daughter!

Out of everything I’ve written, The Ninja Daughter is the closest to my heart. It’s a homage to three (of four) cultures that have informed my personality and the way I walk in the world: my Chinese (and Hawaiian) mother, my North Dakota Norwegian father, and the Japanese art of the ninja. These are also the cultures of my protagonist, Lily Wong, and what makes her such an intriguingly complex character.

I’m excited to dive into the editing process with my publisher/editor, Jason Pinter. And double excited to be one of three launch authors for his new Polis Books Agora imprint, spearheaded by Chantelle Aimée Osman.

So here’s to 2019!

May it continue as it has begun…
with adventure, health, prosperity, family, and joy.

Calming Emotions, Mindfulness, Relationships

Peaceful Compassion without Suffering

When tragedy strikes, as in the case with the recent Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire, the heartache spreads beyond the borders of the affected areas to those with compassionate hearts. Family, friends, neighbors, people in the same state, country, planet (!) feel for those suffering unimaginable—or perhaps, far too imaginable—loss.

We feel for their suffering. We send prayers and good wishes. We connect and donate, We sift, clean, and carry. We bring them into our homes, board their pets, buy them dinner. We do what we can. And even a little is a lot. Because in times of grief, fear, and loss, caring of any kind is a reminder that we’re not alone.

But it can be painful to care, especially for those who take on the pain of others. Therefore, it’s important to remain strong so as not to detract from those in need.

Compassion is not measured by how much we suffer on behalf of others, but by our ability to support and connect with those in the midst of suffering. Click To Tweet

When the comforters become depressed and fearful, they lose the strength of detachment and the clarity of a calm mind. Focus splits, emotional support weakens, and those wanting to help become hindered by their own desire to stop feeling the hurt.

I blogged about Empathy without Suffering back in 2015 after speaking with CSUN graduate students who were studying for their masters in social working. Needless to say, emotional balance was a major concern.

It takes a calm mind and an unencumbered heart to provide meaningful comfort. Click To Tweet

When our minds and hearts are calm, we can be present for our friends in whatever way they need. We can receive their emotions as they journey through grief, anger, optimism, courage, fear, despair, gratitude—sometimes daily, sometimes minute by minute—without feeling a personal need for them to be positive. And that’s important because no one stays positive every moment. No one. Especially in the midst of hardship.

It's not the job of the suffering to inspire others with their courage and resilience. Emotions need to be felt, acknowledged, and processed in their own order, in their own time, and as often or long as necessary. Click To Tweet

Four years ago, when I was hosting the Empowered Living Radio podcast, I had the privilege of speaking with Shamar Rinpoche, the 14th reincarnated Sharmapa, about his new book THE PATH TO AWAKENING and the true nature of compassion. In it, he wrote the following sentence:

“You can help them by powerfully exerting your unemotional, unattached, unborn compassion.” – Shamar Rinpoche

A profound statement and one that resonated deeply with me since I had written about similar concepts in my book EMPOWERED LIVING: A Guide to Physical and Emotional Protection.

Shamar Rinpoche passed out of this lifetime two months after our conversation. I continue to treasure the experience and invite you to listen to the AWAKENING podcast. (Rinpoche speaks about how to embody compassion without suffering at the seven minute mark.)

If unemotional, unattached, unborn compassion seems too esoteric to embrace, then consider this quote from my own humble book.

“It’s not about us, is it? It’s about the one we love who needs our support. The depth of our relationship is not measured by how much or how visibly we suffer. It’s measured by how willing we are to be truly there for the other person. It takes a calm mind to recognize the needs of others and provide meaningful comfort. Suffering is not calm.”

So, please, feel deeply and care for others but do so with a calm mind and a peaceful heart.

Relationships, ShowBiz, Writing

Why I’m Crazy Happy for Crazy Rich Asians

I don’t often cheer in theaters. So when I do, I take notice. Four movies in particular have had that effect on me in recent years, the last of which was the insanely wonderful Crazy Rich Asians. I laughed, I cried, and I went back the next week and saw it again. And you know what? I loved it just as much. But first, let me tell you about the other three.

I was sitting in a fold up chair in the Malibu Jewish Center where the Malibu Film Society was hosting a pre-release screening of Hidden Figures. No IMAX screen. No surround sound. No popcorn and Coke. Just an astounding story about remarkable women, not shown as a side note to the well-recorded achievements of men, but as the heroes in their own right. There they were, captivating our attention and inspiring us with struggle, contribution, and achievement. I gotta say, it made my heart sing. And when the credits finally rolled, I wasn’t the only person in the audience to stand up and cheer. We all did.

The second movie to jolt me out of my seat was Wonder Woman. Weren’t those Amazon warriors a marvel, leaping and slashing with such strength, vigor, and grace? And when little Diana watched her heroes train below then leaped off the turret to join them, well—I soared right along with her. No thought of pain or failure entered her mind. She didn’t even know about her godlike powers at that point in the story. She just leaped off that wall to go after her dream. In that moment, Diana was me. And with that connection, I became Wonder Woman.

I felt that same exhilaration when I saw the women of Wakanda shine in Black Panther. From the smart and spunky tech-genius sister to the fearsome Dora Milaje warriors, they were all so fabulous. Powerful. Spirited. And to have those attributes personified by women of color? Even better.

And then came Crazy Rich Asians. Crazy, right? I mean, Wonder Woman and Black Panther are both super hero movies, so that makes sense. And Hidden Figures is an untold story of American heroes. So what’s the big deal about an over-the-top romantic comedy? What could these films possibly have in common?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

All four movies feature strong, courageous women who think for themselves and act with conviction. Each has their own style, attitude, and expertise. Some of them aren’t even nice. Because you know what? Women don’t have to be nice! Women make awesome villains. And colleagues. And friends. And family. And heroes. Women are inspiring and courageous and confounding. So when I see movies that resonate with who I feel myself to be and celebrates how I strive to live, I cheer.

Hero movies—whether they star women, men, aliens, or talking animals—give us all a chance to fight those great fights, vanquish evil, and right injustice. They remind us of our inner warrior and inspired us to be the best people we can be.

So what about that romantic comedy?

As a woman of mixed ethnicity, I relate strongly to ethnic characters. The Hawaiian in me adored seeing my brown face reflected in those beautiful Wakanda women. I related to their tribal ceremonies and exotic otherness. And while they weren’t created from my heritage, they spoke to me loud and clear.

Crazy Rich Asians, on the other hand, hit close to home. Not because of the ridiculous opulence or soap opera drama. Crazy Rich Asians hit close to home because I saw my mother, her friends, my friends, our families, our heritage—up on that screen. And in that moment a silly romcom became powerful.

Those faces. Those personalities. Those relationships.
I knew them.

Those women, each so different and yet bonded by ancestral heritage, reminded me of my Chinese mother and her friends, some of whom were so closely knit they discovered they were cousins. First, third, eight times removed—it didn’t matter—they, we (I) were all connected. We knew those aunties, friends, and cousins. We had that mother, father, and Ah Ma. We were on the receiving end of those veiled comments, inscrutable looks, and fierce love too often hidden and cryptically conveyed.

Which is why it’s so important to have movies like Crazy Rich Asians, Hidden Figures, Black Panther, and even Wonder Woman—with its empowerment theme and women-centric culture—scoring big in the box office: It encourages film studios and financiers to take a risk. And it empowers writers (like me!) to tell stories rich in culture that celebrate differences and resonates deep in our core. Their success reaches out to an audience that might never have considered them.

Regardless of how different the notes,
commonality always strikes a chord.

night watch
Calming Emotions, Mindfulness, Relationships, Writing

Night Watch

I wrote the notes for this poem on my father’s bed during the wee hours of the night, pen in one hand and his fingers curled around the other. Writing is the best way I know to process emotions and pass through challenging times. It helps me arrange my thoughts and get to the heart of what I’m experiencing. When I arrive at what I feel is a finished poem, essay, or story, I feel a great sense of peace about what has transpired.Read more

Paying back living forward
Mindfulness, NINJA, Relationships

Paying Back & Living Forward: Ninja Travel with Dad

In an ideal world, family relationships are such that parents care for their children and, after time, those children grow up wanting to care for their parents. This isn’t always the case. Some relationships are too toxic to continue or too fractured to recover. Sometimes distance, severe infirmity, or financial strain stand in the way between what the heart wants and what can actually be accomplished. However, when all else aligns, a child’s ability to payback love and care—in whatever capacity—is one of the greatest joys in life. Such has been, and continues to be, my experience.Read more

Hapa girl in bali
Exciting Stuff, Relationships, Writing

Hapa-Girl in Bali

One week home from Bali and I’m still flying high from my visit to the Island of the Gods. It’s more than exhilaration from a grand adventure—although my trip certainly felt both grand and adventurous—it’s that Bali dug deep into my Asian-Hawaiian roots. Six-thousand miles of ocean separate us geographically as our rituals, beliefs, and customs distinguish us culturally. However, both the Balinese and Hawaiians effuse heartfelt aloha and respect for the world in which we live.Read more

Cloudy Skies
Empowerment, Mindfulness, Motivation, Relationships

Generosity of Spirit

What is generosity of spirit? For me, it is willingness to offer meaningful support without fear for self. Sometimes that support will take a financial form, but more likely it will come in the form of praise, thanks, promotion, assistance, compassion, or simply time. I imagine that this half of my definition resonates with most people, but what about the last part? For me, that little tag, “without fear for self,” is the most important part.Read more

Cream no sugar
Mindfulness, Relationships

Cream, No Sugar

CreamNoSugar602How do you like your coffee? Black? With enough cream to give it substance? Or loaded with sugar to cut the bitterness? Perhaps you’ve guessed that I’m not really asking about coffee, or even tea, for that matter. I’m asking about life. How do you like your reality—straight up or sugar-coated? Well, here’s some straight up truism to contradict the soothing sweet cliches we see written on pretty lotus flowers.Read more

Communication, Mindfulness, Relationships

From Here to There

Not only are there many paths from here to there, but Here and There are matters of perception. I’m not talking about MapQuest for the multi-universe where we’re standing on a corner in one dimension but not in another. I’m referring to a matter of perspective where we perceive the experience of standing on the corner to be one way while others perceive it to be another. And how could we not? Perception is, after all, personal.Read more

current
Calming Emotions, Mindfulness, Relationships

Caught in the Current

We are all susceptible to self-delusion, even—and perhaps especially—those of us who actively strive for clarity. Why would this be? Well, the same tools that assist us in tearing down false conditions and manifesting what we desire, are the same tools that can lead us woefully astray. These tools are powerful, but they are also dependent upon the perspective of the one using them. And there’s one thing we can count on regarding perspective—it’s subject to change.Read more