Tips on traveling for 40 days in Asia

I was incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to travel to 5 different countries in Asia this summer over the course of 40 days, spending about a week in each country. Here are a few things that I learned:

#1 One should not travel for 40 consecutive days [in Asia] [in the summer].

It is simply too much, and too long, no matter how you break up the time spent in each location, or how much you like the people you are traveling with, or traveling to see.

I had an amazing summer and loved everything I saw and ate and the people I got to spend time with, and I am 100% glad that I did it, but it was nonetheless an overly ambitious endeavor that I would never do again.

There is a good reason why most working people only get 2-3 weeks of vacation a year (besides the needs of whatever industry you work for). We actually cannot tolerate more leisure time than that, at a single time. Whether we are riding elephants, conquering enormous shopping complexes, or simply lounging at home in our pajamas all day, it gets boring, tiring, exhausting, even. Our bodies and minds crave real work! It seems pretty unthinkable that anyone could be wading in an infinity pool in Thailand, gazing at the water sparkling seamlessly into the horizon and think, I can’t wait to get back to work! Yet that is the reality that I experienced after too many days of vacation.

I actually did a lot of work during my vacation, because I was taking a very content-rich online poetry class for teachers and reading books for my new 7th grade class, but it was still unsatisfying because my work time kept getting interrupted by the vacation (people to meet up with, things to see)! And yes, I am a workaholic, but I believe this phenomenon happens to everyone after a while.

#2 One should aim to stay in one place for at least a week, but no longer than 2 weeks (7-10 days is optimal).

Here is the breakdown of my Asia itinerary:

Jun 25 Depart from SFO

Jun 26-Jul 1 Shanghai (6 days)

Jul 1-8 Taipei (8 days)

Jul 9-19 South Korea: Seoul (2 days), Andong (5 days), Ulsan (1.5 days), Busan (2 days)

Jul 19-25 Penang, Malaysia (7 days)

Jul 25-Aug 3 Thailand (Bangkok 2 days–Chiang Mai 3.5 days–Bangkok 3 days)

Aug 3 Return to SFO

The best parts of the trip (for my physical and mental well-being, and general enjoyment on account of the former) were Taipei and Malaysia. I love Shanghai, because it is home, and I love Andong, because it is my Korean home, and there was no end to the fun things to see and do and eat in Thailand, but I really could not enjoy any of those things fully because I was just so exhausted from all the traveling and new experiences (which I’m sure I will still write about appreciatively in my next post, when I have time to reflect on them). In Taipei and Malaysia there was time to relax, hang out at coffee shops, do some work, sleep in, and even get a bit of exercise. Sounds boring compared to touching tigers and swimming with sea turtles (okay, I didn’t actually get to do the latter–I was just going for the alliteration), but it was actually an objectively better experience.

#3 One should eat good food (obviously), but not to excess (everything in moderation!).

Even the best food in the world cannot hold one’s interest if one has gorged oneself for the past 5+ meals. If you are going to eat and enjoy a lot of amazing food over a long period of time, at each meal or snack it is best if you eat slowly, eat sparingly (until you are “not hungry anymore,” not until you are “full”), and eat selectively (I like to try a little of everything once and then go back for seconds only if I really really love that dish). Actually, this is probably a good rule to follow in life in general, just to be healthy and to really pay attention to what you are eating.

School is starting again in less than a week, so I must get back to work now, but I want to make at least 2 more posts for the summer, one on the new things I learned/experienced in each place and one of a poem I wrote near the end of the trip. I am saying this to motivate myself, but please remind me if you don’t see anything a week from now!


10 reasons to keep writing (blogging)

  1. I want to continue the good work that God has encouraged me to start by starting this blog six years ago!
  2. It is summer and I should not have any excuses about time or fatigue from work.
  3. I love writing.
  4. I love rereading past blog posts and reliving these memories.
  5. It forces me to slow down and reflect.
  6. Blogging is a much more curated form of reflecting than my personal diary, and I’m much more likely to reread my blog posts.
  7. It helps keep me connected with the faithful few who read what I write.
  8. It may encourage more people to read what I write in the future… because there will be something to read.
  9. It keeps the creative juices flowing.
  10. Developing more discipline in life.


Great! Now I am feeling more motivated (and hopefully some of these apply to you as well, if you are lacking motivation to keep writing!). I also feel good about myself because I just finished my first post in 14 months (and I don’t mean this one)! It’s a general reflection on my first year of teaching English in the US, so I wrote it on my other blog: recent schooldaydreams post

11. It feels GOOD! 😀 (bonus one, just for you)

I have been doing a lot of school-related reading and planning and visiting/meeting up with different friends for the past 2.5 weeks of summer, which is all very good and meaningful and fun, but not really worth writing about, so we will let these early June weeks pass with just this post. However, I will be traveling all around Asia for 40 days starting on June 25 (until Aug 3), which will be very exciting, so stay tuned! (Yes, I am telling you to stay tuned because I want to imagine that people will be expecting me to write, which will give me some pressure to actually write! 😛 In reality, much of my summer travel plans currently consist of reading and cats and coffee shops, so they may not be that exciting to anyone but myself… but we shall see! Ho ho ho! You may be able to tell that I am writing this very late at night because I do not want to sleep. But sleep I will.)

A beautifully unproductive time

What does it mean to truly rest? To “rest productively”? Or unproductively? What does it mean to spend “quality time” with family? I find myself wondering these things as the holiday weekend comes near its close, and worrying about whether I spent my free time well enough, or whether I wasted too much of the break doing nothing.

I spent the last three days of the Thanksgiving holiday in LA with my extended family: aunts, uncles, cousins and cousins-kids whom I love dearly despite not always knowing what to talk about, despite often feeling like we are familiar strangers. For the five years our family lived in California when I was a kid, I remember visiting these relatives during every holiday season and notable birthday, and random weekends in between. I remember relishing the endearing hubbub of endless family banter, greeting strange distantly-related aunties or uncles at my parents’ beckoning, eating home-cooked or market-ordered American and Cantonese fusion meals, and, between meals, picking at randomly potlucked boxes of cookies, pineapple cakes and alligator (pecan) pie.


Thanksgiving dinner at Aunt S and Uncle L’s house this year–with all the “proper” dishes and sides.


When we moved to Shanghai, our family circle shrank noticeably: only Aunt L and Uncle S lived in China, compared to the dozens of relatives in California, and my eldest sister went off to college. We could no longer be a part of those traditional family gatherings. I remember the first Thanksgiving we “celebrated” in Shanghai–Mom and Dad told us that they were leaving for a conference for the weekend somewhere out of town, and that we should make do with whatever was left in the fridge. Due to the lack of pumpkin spice drinks and turkey-themed decorations lining the not-yet-adequately-Westernized streets of Shanghai in 2004, I don’t think any of us realized it was Thanksgiving Day until dinnertime that Thursday night. My sister and I picked gingerly at the leftover scraps of a steamed fish we found in the fridge, then settled for some cup ramen and rolled our eyes sarcastically as we sniffed, “Happy Thanksgiving.” That was when I realized that our “Americanness” was a lie, and, more importantly, that family traditions were dependent upon family. I missed my parents that night more than the turkey and mashed potatoes.

Later–maybe because we complained about that dismal first Thanksgiving meal–I remember us recreating the traditional holiday festivities at Thanksgiving and Christmastime, now held at our house. If they were a little less grandiose, a little less filled with holiday pomp and cheer than the old family feasts, I hardly noticed, especially since after a few years Aunt M and Uncle HK joined us in Shanghai and doubled our guest-list. Since traditional American holiday food was hard to find in the first few years, we made up our own culinary traditions. We substituted chicken, duck, or geese for turkey (depending on what we felt like–one year I think we had all three) and gan bian si ji dou 干煸四季豆 (pan-fried string beans) for those flavorless steamed veggie mixes that no one eats anyway. We added wasabi to our mashed potatoes because one of Mom’s friends recommended it, and we never turned back. We ate Shanghainese da zha xie 大闸蟹 crabs and drank ginger tea, and invited random Chinese church and work friends who had never celebrated Thanksgiving or Christmas before to join our table. Somehow Mom eventually managed to procure a bag of those classic American s’mores-worthy marshmallows from some tiny corner of imported goods at the local Carrefour market, and she was able to make her famous candied yams.


My mom taught me how to make these last year and I tried my hand at it this year–proud to carry on this tradition, though mom’s still taste better 🙂


When I left for college, I did not realize that I would not spend Thanksgiving at home ever again. Since China was so far, and the break so short, I made plans to spend Thanksgiving with different friends and family friends each year: New York with the Liao’s (I almost cried when I got to their house because it was so home-like and reminded me of Shanghai), Boston with my high-school girl-friends, the Seong family’s home in Pennsylvania for my junior, senior, and TPP years. The one Thanksgiving I spent in Korea alone in my room made me feel so incredibly homesick that the vague familiarity of a cabbage pancake was enough to touch me to tears and poetry. Each Thanksgiving was unique and made me feel thankful in different ways, but I didn’t realize until now how strange it is that I have grown so used to being away from family, until suddenly this week I found it strange to be with family–strange, but wonderful.

Although I ended up growing distant (and distantly) from these Californian aunts, uncles, and cousins, and we run out of topics of conversation once they’ve grilled me about the relationship, work, and health status of every member of my nuclear household, they are family, and I love them without reason. After years of the unplanned sessions of intense family sharing that we do in my immediate family (once all the guests have left), where we alternately pour out our hearts and souls over deep-seated childhood scars and emotional vulnerabilities or scream and cry over religious, political, and moral differences (usually the two discussions are linked), I think I had forgotten what it was like to have “chill” quality time. Don’t get me wrong–I love our intense sharings too, but sometimes it is nice to just rest in the knowledge of love and belovedness.

Even though most of the time we were just watching TV, or just matching puzzle-pieces with the kids–and my type-A, overachieving self groaned inwardly at my lack of productivity or meaningful conversation while nonetheless being unable to overcome the holiday laziness (perhaps for the better)–as I reflect on the past three days, the definition of “quality time” becomes less important to me. I cherish all the time we spent together, even–and perhaps especially–the awkward and seemingly unproductive moments.

I will remember Aunt S and me grimacing at the “fruit jello” we made following a friend’s-recipe-that-we-slightly-tweaked, the strange pastel-green color of the base dotted with bright orange peaches resembling a baby dinosaur with the pox more than any palatable dessert–and I will remember laughing as she scooped generous portions of that jello onto everyone’s plate before they could say ‘no, thank you,’ and repeatedly offering to send it home with a neighbor. I will remember trying (perhaps too logically, as cousin C-P said) to explain to five-year-old T (a cousin of C-P’s kids) how he should group all the puzzle pieces with matching colors, only to have him give up, throw nerf darts at everyone, and return later to destroy the completed puzzle 2 seconds after its completion–and I will remember feeling sorry for him because I learned that his parents are never home and his grandparents talk to him so little that his speech was severely delayed until he started kindergarten this year. I will remember the quiet late nights and early mornings where I sat in the living room or kitchen alone with Uncle L and we barely talked–I will remember how we just read, watched, and ate our respective books, screens, and breakfasts, and acknowledged each other with a smile whenever one of us got up to do something else.

All family time is beautiful, because it has that unique quality of being perfectly imperfect. Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope you spent it (or really any time this year, because family time shouldn’t be limited to the holidays) with someone you love, even if you don’t always agree or know what to say to each other.

Farewell to this familiar place

Today I wandered my way back to the place where once, I danced with God–

On the break of dawn,
just as the crescent moon and Venus winked
their final silver winks and faded into the emerging blue and then–

The Sun
Burst magnificence onto the horizon an all consuming fire blinding glorious and warming
the cool spaces between my
toes as they touched the dewy grass–

God touched my shoulder lightly and took my hand,
twirled me around once, twice
and told me to keep looking,
keep looking in His direction–

Four years and the assurance planted in my heart has blossomed and sprung up
Lush and green like the summer grass upon which I now sit and reflect
Tall and strong like the trees have grown,
Full and whispering with the gentle wind like the voice that says,
You see, I was with you then and I am with you now.
You see, how the promises were fulfilled and how trust grows quietly to smooth all anxiety into assurance like a mother’s hand,
soft, but firm–


The light touch of the summer evening’s sun is golden and quiet too.


Looking at all that has passed between this familiar scene and myself, I love
even the dandelions at my feet that glow quietly, whether trodden or gently woven into bracelets and crowns through the years, they are, like me, nonetheless
grateful to have been here. 

Inhale deeply, and a fresh breeze of thankfulness flutters the curtains
of my heartstrings, the knots having loosened in the wind–
A final look, a slow turn
And a peace that I’ll carry with me as I finally say
Farewell, to this familiar place.
–                                                                                                                                                                                                         –
[June 14, 2017; Princeton, NJ]

Mid-year Check

MAY 1, 2017–I was drowning in a sea of final-week-of-student-teaching grading work, and mildly traumatized by what I still hope was an internet troll’s vicious comment on an anonymous end-of-semester survey that TPP made me give to my students. For both of those reasons and a general lack of sleep/time/energy, I decided not to write a post.

JUNE 1, 2017–I was blissfully lazing about in a cabin on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean somewhere near Anchorage, Alaska, contemplating when we would make another trip to the buffet. My little sister and I were lucky enough to join our parents on my mom’s Taiwanese high school’s 40th reunion trip. I was so physically and emotionally exhausted from the final few weeks of May that I didn’t want to do anything but eat, read (for fun), sleep, and take pictures of glaciers. Also, there was no internet on the ship, something that I was very grateful for.

JULY 1, 2017–“I just moved into my new place in Cupertino five days ago and I am driving down to LA tomorrow” busyness excuses aside, I really had no good reason to not write something at the beginning (or middle) of this month, except writer’s inertia from not having really written anything since April 1. Now it is Wednesday, July 26, and the only real reason I’ve finally found motivation to write this post is 80% because I am procrastinating on continuing to reread Lord of the Flies for my 10th grade class (it’s so dark!!! And all the more so because I already know what’s going to happen this time around), because I am terrified of finishing the re-read and still not having any clue how I am going to teach this novel (or anything else, for that matter), 10% because I have wanted to write for two months now and kept opening up my blog page and then doing something else instead, and 10% because I actually have something to write about, maybe.

This post was titled “mid year check” because I had originally planned to write it on July 1, to reflect on the first half of 2017 and plan how I wanted the second half of it to go. 25 days later, I’m not really sure what I was thinking of writing even just three weeks ago. I think it was a mixture of wanting to share my excitement–from moving to a new place and hoping to settle here for a while… potentially longer than I’ve lived anywhere else–and my determination to not procrastinate anymore (haha) on, well, anything (I tend to set my goals really high so that I can get anything done at all in the end)! More specifically, I wanted to renew my efforts at disciplined regular devotional time in the mornings, to map out how and when I would read all the books and plan all the lessons before New Staff Orientation on Aug 3 (now only ONE WEEK AWAY), how and when I would reconnect with all my old friends in the area, etc.

I find myself panicking because I haven’t really done anything I wanted to do, and there are spiders everywhere (both literal and figurative, in the corners of my house and my heart). I feel like maybe I’ve been in this place before, not the exact situation, but something very similar. I think I do very well when I know exactly what I’m supposed to do, but I panic when the expectations are unclear except for the expectation I put on myself to do it extremely well, whatever “it” is.

I find myself feeling incredibly grateful for the many ways I’ve been blessed this year, whether through my student teaching placement and amazing co-teacher, my temporary living situation at Terhune Rd (tuxedo cat included), new and first-ever job in the Bay Area (teaching 8th and 10th grade English at a private Christian school), housing thanks to family connections, friends from college, high school, and even elementary school who live in the area, family that lives nearby, or the incredibly-hard-to-come-by reunion of myself and S after two years of long distance phone calls.

I remember all the times that I’ve doubted whether I should be where I am or doing what I am about to do, whether I’ll make any friends or do my job well (whether that be studying obscure works of literature or pouring apple cider for wealthy French concert-goers or making laptop registration tutorials for new teachers at a turnaround school in Philly or trying to explain English grammar to Korean country kids in a fun way), and the myriad ways in which the Lord has been with me and reassured me before, during, and after whatever event or new life stage I’ve gone through. I remember the joy that I experience each time when the world does not come crumbling down around me, each time when, on the contrary, things turn out quite well and I am amazed by how much I love whatever and whoever is before me in that season and I wish I could stay longer where I was, do more of whatever it is I’m doing, love whoever I’m with just a little bit more.

I remember all this and still, I worry. I worry that this time, I will still fail. This time, I will be lonely, incompetent, disliked, unwanted, and useless, or simply not good enough. I worry, so I am paralyzed with illogical fears that keep me from planning, because I don’t want to see my plans flounder or fail. Eventually, maybe, the pressure of an impending deadline (like New Staff Orientation or, God forbid, the first day of school) will get strong enough to trigger a LETSDOEVERYTHINGATONCENOW fight-or-flight type response and I will suddenly be able to pull myself together and accomplish the bare minimum necessary to not make a terrible first impression at school or ruin my first full-year students’ lives (insofar as one year of poor teaching in English can ruin their lives), but I don’t know if and when that will happen. Maybe it is happening today. Maybe this post is an attempt to get the ball rolling again on all the things I think I should be doing. I don’t know.

My dad gave a sermon recently at my aunt and uncle’s church in San Bruno about a sermon we heard together on January 1, 2017. The sermon that drove me to start writing here again. The main message was this: Having no plan is akin to planning to fail. It is the total opposite of my usual illogical fear-frozen procrastination “plan.” Yet I am too often immobilized by the sheer thought of “all the things I have to do” so that I cannot even plan to do a single one of the items on the list, cannot even bring myself to make the list.

I have a feeling that no amount of worldly accomplishment or praise from other people is going to make me believe that I can do it, whatever the next “it” is. I just have to go do it. Sometimes I am confident in who I am and what and whom I love and what I want to do with my life, and I am infinitely thankful. Other times I am endlessly insecure about every single thing in my life and the only thing I want to do is get to work because I know that once I start it will be okay and I will be able to do it, but at the same time there are a million other unproductive things that I find myself doing instead.

I don’t really know how to end this post, because as much as I would like to write an uplifting conclusion, I feel like I should just stop and go back to reading Lord of the Flies. There is a darkness inside all of us that manifests itself in different ways. Currently mine is telling me that my success/goodness is a façade that is too tiring to keep up, is something I never really had anyway, is ill-defined and confusing and confused. I trust that God is still watching over me and will get me through this strange transition phase, as He always has.

Later (maybe tonight) I will edit and publish a poem that I wrote on my last day at Pton (sometime in early June). There was an unexpected moment of real thankfulness, and fond recollection, and trust for the future, and closure for this past school year in spite of all the ups and downs. Going over that again might help me with this cloud of fear-ennui.

Thank you for reading. I think it helps me to just have written this honestly, and to know that some of you will read it, as you always do.

A little tribute to daydreams

I stumbled upon a nice quote today, a little encouragement that I would have liked to hear as a child:

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”
– Edgar Allan Poe

To be fair, I also LOVE my night dreams, and am often inspired/disturbed/befuddled/amused by them.. 😛

Just keep dreaming, just keep dreaming, just keep dreaming dreaming dreaming~

I am awed by this work

My current status: 9 weeks into student teaching, up to my ears in student papers to grade, totally sleep deprived, but also totally fulfilled.

I look up from a student’s autobiographical piece about her difficult relationship with her overly demanding mother and her resulting debilitating insecurities which she has learned to overcome through creative writing, and I cannot help but exclaim to myself: Teaching is such an amazing profession!!!

Why? You get to look deeply into and become an integral part of the lives of 80-100+ individuals every year, and see them and know them more closely than you would most of your regular acquaintances or even friends. The range of people you meet and come to know in this way is an incredible mix (in terms of cultural/family background, life experiences, interests/beliefs/ambitions/fears/struggles/etc.) that you could never have chosen or found for yourself.

You get to pour into their lives and are challenged to love and help them unconditionally every day, even though they may never reciprocate, or worse, even if they begrudge you for not doing enough or for being too strict, or simply give you attitude and don’t do their work. Still, you get to see most of them grow and change, some in little ways, some in unbelievable strides.

You get to learn from them and see the depths of their kindness, their delight in little things, their frustrations and loneliness, their insecurities, their strengths and resilience and unbelievable maturity. Fourteen years old, and yet they have already gone through so much more than you can imagine. Your heart breaks at the injustice and unkindness and unexpected trials they have had to face, but it warms at the little connections they like to make from literature to life, and the optimism and grit they show on a day to day basis. They do quirky things like buy jewelry to commemorate a book they like and you think it’s hilarious, but you also rejoice in their apparent interest in what you’ve been teaching. They write outrageous similes and metaphors that make you laugh and cringe alternately (e.g. “The door to the high school creaked open like a screaming child” or “My mom is a warm, freshly baked muffin”), but in the end you are just proud of them for trying.

They are at the same time somehow both more and less than your family and friends combined: you love them like your own children (as far as I can imagine), you talk about them constantly and think of them as your kids, and every waking moment is spent trying to figure out how to get Will to pay attention, how to get Angie to turn in some homework, or how to get Ying to publish her amazing work; yet after this one year they may never come back, never really recall much of what you’ve said to them, never consider you as anything more than one of the many teachers they’ve encountered on the long journey through their obligatory education.

But it’s still so worth it to see the smiles, the eyes lighting up, the ecstatic “Yes!” of a girl who worked really hard on her last paper and achieved the results she desired, to hear the Chinese girl (an English language learner) who never spoke at all confidently presenting on a complex topic in front of a large class, enunciating each syllable of the four sentences she painstakingly crafted during break with your support. It’s worth it to finally see Chris come to class, to see Emma proud of something that she’s written, to see Yur make a friend. It’s worth it for the realizations that strike a few of them here and there that good things can come out of the bad, that yes, 9th grade is difficult, but that nothing that happens here will be the end of the world and that life’s challenges can be overcome gradually. I love seeing them realize that they can connect to other people and break out of their shells of insecurity and fear, to share their stories with one another and to find that everyone is almost equally scared and in need of a friend.

I love helping my students to connect literature to their lives, and to find their own voices in a world that is confusing, stressful, and often intimidating. Some of them already have, and some are still developing, incredible, unique voices with which to tell their stories, and an astounding depth of reflection and optimism with which to write the next few pages of their lives. If I can touch those pages with just a hint of hope, love, and confidence, I will have done my job well.

[If you want to know more details about what I’m doing week to week as a student teacher, go to my school-focused blog,]

The Unrelenting and Re-Lent-ing

Forgive my terrible pun and the forced brevity of this reflection (Ha! Just kidding, I don’t know how to be concise). It is past eleven pm on a school night and I have not slept more than five and a half hours yet any weekday night this week or last. I am bursting at the seams with thoughts about my student teaching so far (that I will share on schooldaydreams when I finally get to writing them, God-willing), but my mind is also constantly barraged by ideas, reflections, regrets, and revisions of the lessons that I have been and will be teaching! I feel like there is not a spare moment in my day when I am not thinking about teaching–it is an unrelenting cycle of questions and concerns about what I’ve been doing well or doing poorly and what I can do tomorrow to make up for my mistakes today, and which student was absent or looked lost and which students do I need to check in with and how can I make time to talk to them discreetly while the others are doing group work and what group work and how long will it be, etc., etc., etc.! says the King in The King and I! That’s all I remember from that movie, actually. That and something about ballroom dancing.

I know that this level of work and stress is really normal at the beginning of any teaching experience, and I have to remind myself that it was actually far worse last year during my first week teaching in Andong. Still, my heart is so ambitious and I want to do so many things for my students that it is frustrating when time runs out, when the conversation is going so well and then one student offers a response that is COMPLETELY wrong or besides the point and I have no idea how to get back on track without shutting him down, or when I spend a whole ten minutes discussing the meaning of a metaphor and at the end the students look more confused and unconvinced than at the beginning.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m actually really enjoying my student teaching experience and classes have gone well enough for the most part, but I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to teach perfect lessons every day and every class and we all know that that’s just not reality. So in the midst of my own unrelenting pursuit of perfection, I need to remind myself to listen to what I tell the students–you don’t have to be perfect! Just try your best!–and essentially, chill out. Go to sleep. Stop overplanning and then being frustrated when you don’t get to all the things you had planned to say or do!

It is very fitting that today, my third day of taking over the class, my first day of feeling like I’m not really sure how long I can keep this level of planning up!, is the beginning of March and the beginning of Lent! My goals for Lent are first to stop watching so many YouTube videos (and by so many I mean I need to stop watching them entirely during this period so that I can actually control my senseless addiction to clicking on video after video with ever diminishing returns…), and to take that time I would have wasted and to channel it into much more important and productive activities, such as prayer, reading my Bible, and SLEEP. I need to re-Lent and relent a little on my crazy self-judging battle plan for teacher perfection. This is probably not entirely coherent, but it is now eleven thirty pm and I am going to sleep.

New beginnings

Every year I am surprised by how many new beginnings there can be in a single year. To put it more accurately, every year I am surprised to find how many times I can give myself a fresh start, a clean slate, a blank page upon which to scribble all my newest (or oldest) hopes and dreams. There’s New Year’s Day on January 1st to make new resolutions or revise old ones; Chinese New Year to remind myself of the new years’ resolutions I’ve forgotten already; my birthday in March as the real start of a new year in my life, where I’ll inevitably learn to follow my resolutions; the beginning of Lent, where I reflect on my idols and distractions and resolve to be a more humble, more faithful, more restful, more diligent, all around better human being; Easter, where I realize that I cannot do any of those previous things well at all and am awed by the grace that saves and loves nonetheless, and I resolve to be all those things still through grace, God-willing; the beginning of the summer, where I resolve to be productive; the first day of the school year, where I resolve to be productive; and… let’s be honest, by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, I’m counting my losses, stuffing my face, and waiting for the next New Year to give me another chance at meeting all my resolutions.

This isn’t the first time I’ve reflected on this personal cycle of renewing promises made to myself; I’ve consciously or unconsciously followed this cycle for many years, and I’ve occasionally joked about it with friends. In all seriousness though, I am glad that there is no limit to the new beginnings I give myself each year. It reminds me of my tendency to fail, but also of my persistence in the face of repeated failure. I need these new beginnings in order to push myself to continue doing or trying to do whatever difficult new task is before me, to tell myself that it’s never too late to start again. Each time this happens, a little bit more gets done, and by the end of the year, after my nine or ten false starts or discontinued attempts, the progress inevitably accumulates and I can look back on something I did not expect to accomplish or create, something of which I can be proud. Pieces of writing, for example, in the form of blog posts or poems or crazy fragments of dreams (I should publish those someday). This is my first (already-strained) attempt to keep my resolution of writing on the first of each month. Perhaps I have rambled a lot about almost nothing, but it is something that I will be thankful for later, and maybe it is something that will resonate with others as well.

On a related note, today is not only the beginning of a new month, but also the beginning of my stay in a new house with a new family (I am renting a room in a family’s house near the high school where I am student teaching this semester), and the third day of the beginning of my student teaching experience! I am incredibly thankful to be here, to be blessed with a great school where I can learn to teach better, to have found a place where I can have my own room and a desk to work at (Finally! Oh how I have underappreciated free college furniture in the past), and to get to know a lovely new family over the course of the next four months.

This is a new beginning. I know it will not be all roses and sunshine, as I am already so tired and it is already past my suddenly-so-early bedtime. However, I am optimistic that when I look back on this two, three, four months (summer!)–or more–in the future, I will smile and say, If only I’d known at the beginning how far I would come! How happy I would be! How much I would live and love and learn! I say this now to myself to brace against the waves of busyness and exhaustion and negativity that are bound to come: Remember yourself on the first Tuesday night in Andong, having taught your first “Terrible Tuesday” and moved into a foreign household, feeling utterly incompetent, lonely, tired, and having no idea what the next day would hold or how you would survive the next four months before Christmas, and crying yourself to sleep. Remember that ten months later you cried inconsolably because you could not bear to leave that place; you loved it so much. That even now you wish you had told those around you more often that you loved them.

In this new beginning, with new students and colleagues and homestay-like family, I want to love harder and regret less, speak up and show up, go the extra mile in every opportunity to serve and hold nothing back.

New Year’s Decision


A New Years’ Decision: I have decided to write a blog post on the first day of every month this year, however unpolished or messy or imperfect my thoughts may be.

The following thoughts are a scramble of new year’s eggs that I am just going to throw out there because otherwise they will rot in my basket and I will never be able to commit to anything (maybe that’s a little melodramatic but I feel this quite strongly right now, at least about writing).

Failing to plan is the same as planning to fail.

This morning at church, the pastor quoted this catchy aphorism and related our general lack of precise planning in keeping New Year’s resolutions to our lack of intention in pursuing a closer relationship with God. How often do we say, “This year I want to know God better!” and then continue on for the rest of the year with our same habits and lack of discipline? It was a simple message but one that I very much needed to hear, not only for my spiritual walk but for my life in general, for all the decisions that I plan to make without really planning how to get there. I often excuse myself for these tendencies by saying, “Oh, I’m just a big P (as in, Myers-Briggs personality type P vs. J),” brushing off any seemingly unnecessary responsibility in my life because in reality, I’m just a lazy perfectionist with a huge fear of failure and inadequacy. What I really need to learn is to have a growth mindset (the one that’s being touted in all my educational psychology and methodology classes, and apparently in all the fancy new design-thinking/entrepreneurship circles), to see my imperfections not as a judgment against my quality or character as a person, but as markers of opportunity to challenge myself and get better, smarter, wiser, kinder, whatever it is I’m currently lacking.

Every holiday season when my family is all back together, we have a great time, because we love each other and eat lots of amazing food and take a million happy photos and post them all over social media to prove to ourselves and others that we are one big happy family. However, every holiday together also inevitably winds up being incredibly stressful, full of conflict and resolutions that don’t seem complete, bitter jabs at each other person’s intentions and tone, something that didn’t strike me the right way, you just don’t understand me, you’re ruining my plans, you’re so inconsiderate, I just want to be heard, we’re all egomaniacs, etc. etc. This season is no different from the others, and I know, conflict is natural and often necessary for smoothing out rough edges and getting us to all understand each other better and to grow closer as a family, yet it seems a little different coming at the end of such a rough year.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised if I say that the year 2016 can be summarized, for me, perhaps most aptly, with one word: Conflict. I don’t mean that in an entirely negative way; like I just said, conflict is often a necessary good masked in angry evil robes. Still, so much conflict is inexplicable and maddening, from global events and trends that I feel powerless to change–war in the Middle-East, race relations in America, the crazy presidential campaign, terrorism and terror and other acts of violence all around the world, bullying in schools–to personal struggles that are equally real and difficult to control–frustration with administrative bureaucracy and unfriendly coworkers, cultural differences and misunderstandings, interpersonal conflicts with friends and family, figuring out where to go, what to do, whom to live with, whom to date or love or marry, whom to talk to, what to say and how to say it, what to buy and what to save, what to eat and what to share, when to assert myself and when to compromise, what I feel and what I need and what I want and what I believe–all these conflicts, external and internal, have shaped an incredibly challenging past year of my life. Of course, many of these difficulties existed before 2016 and may very well continue to exist in 2017 and beyond, but I think that they seem particularly large in my mind because it was also my first full year as an independent adult, post college graduation, out here in the ‘real world.’ I think that I have felt lost and confused and lonely more often in the past year than I have in most, if not all, of the 23 years that preceded it, partly because the world in general seems like a pretty crazy place lately and partly because I had to choose this particular historical moment to pop my head out of the lovely orange bubble of school and take it all in and foolishly, perhaps futilely, try to make sense of it.

There may not be any better time to experience all the conflict or confusion of the ‘real world,’ however, and every historical moment probably seems pretty crazy to the people who happen to inhabit it. What matters most is the decisions that we make in light of all the crazy, the conversations we have, the actions we take, the relationships we invest in. I don’t have any solid answers to so many questions that have arisen over the course of the last year, but I do know that I want to turn 2017’s key word in another direction. 2017 will inevitably have its conflicts as well, but I hope that this year I will not simply be a passive receiver or observer, but really make the efforts needed to gain a deeper understanding of the global issues all around us as well as of the inner turmoil of my personal thoughts and feelings. 2017 is, by nature of the chronological order of life events in my particular moment in history and culture, a year that will necessitate many important decisions such as where I will start my first long-term job as a teacher, in middle school or high school, on the East coast or the West coast; whether I will get married in the near future (and by “near future” I mean in the next three years, so don’t worry, I have no big secrets), and to whom; whether I will adopt a cat (you might laugh or roll your eyes at this but it is a very serious consideration for me), and the list of things I may have to decide but don’t know about yet that goes on and on.

I have always joked about being very very indecisive, but I think that, similarly to the line, “I’m just a terrible procrastinator,” it is simply an excuse to avoid responsibility and potential failure in my own eyes. This year, I want to make a habit of decision. That is, I want to make decisions boldly, whether for large or small things, and to do so without so much fear that any one decision is going to ruin the course of my entire life, because it’s simply not so. Of course, I want to make decisions wisely and carefully, but the point is that I want to make them, to have plans, to follow through, and to look back only to see how I have grown and where I can continue to make amends.

My first New Year’s Decision is to do all the things I keep putting off out of fear, like writing.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, NIV).

If God does not condemn me, then why do I continue to condemn myself?

In 2017, I want to stop worrying and waiting and telling myself, “Whatever, it was never that important anyway.”

In 2017, I want to start writing and working through my worries and telling myself, “Yes, it is worth pursuing, and yes, I will do it, and yes, it will be okay.”