5/29 Special Report: Shoulderspeaker’s apprentice

Co-written with Karen Sanchez, Vivian Chiang, and Amanda Chan

They stand together outside the girls’ locker room, right in front of the lower field. His hands fly in front of him as he touches the speaker on his shoulder and then motions to the phone he’s holding in his right hand. The girl next to him listens intently, obviously focused, but also a little confused. Her own speaker, slightly smaller than his, is also slung about her shoulder. They talk until the bell rings, signaling the end of brunch and the end of their meeting. Walking down the path between the girls locker room and the fieldhouse, they part ways towards the C building.

He walks away, and for the first time in two years, his speaker stays silent. However, there’s still a rhythm in the air, music echoing not from his speaker but from the girl’s.

Senior Andrew Hsu has found his successor — a prodigy to carry on his legacy.

And despite terms that have been used in the past to name what he has been doing, such as “Music Man” or “Speaker Boy” — both gender specific terms he wasn’t necessarily fond of — he prefers the official title of Shoulderspeaker.

“Shoulderspeaker … is not just for the privileged people,” Hsu said. “It’s not for the person that everyone likes … it’s [something]everyone should relate to, and I think that’s why I wanted it to be Shoulderspeaker.”

Most know about Hsu, or have at least heard his music blasting through the hallways during passing periods. For some, it is a source of relaxation — a break from grades, competition and stress. For others, it’s entertaining. When he first began Shoulderspeaker, his primary goal was to unite the students through music and to make them happy.

“[MVHS] is a very negative environment,” Hsu said. “It’s very competitive and there’s a lot of negativity that’s associated with this school … Basically, what I’m trying to do is to use something that almost everyone enjoys and try to just make this environment and this negativity seem less vile.”

He first began to think about finding a successor when he realized how big the Shoulderspeaker role had become and was convinced the majority of the student body approved of his actions.

Hsu likens the self-confidence in being Shoulderspeaker to standing on stage and giving a speech one knows nothing about. Understandably, he considers freshman Shreya Patibanda as a stroke of luck who approached him herself.

“At first, I wasn’t very good at finding people that would actually do what I do,”  Hsu said. “[Because] it takes a lot of guts to play music really loud in front of a lot of people.”

Patibanda remembers being “mind blown” the first time she heard Hsu’s music because she never thought something as bold as this would exist; akin to Hsu, she commends the guts it takes to play loud music.

Before coming to MVHS, Patibanda was already wary of the school’s reputation as stressful and depressing and references how school spirit simply decreases after the welcome rally, pushed aside by fretful thoughts of academia and colleges for the rest of year.

“It’s not just about grades,” Patibanda said. “It’s about living your life to the fullest extent.”


Spotify playlist compiled by Andrew Hsu.

Patibanda came to know about the open position for Shoulderspeaker at Challenge Day. Both Patibanda and Hsu were present, and it was at this time Hsu announced that he was looking for a successor. Patibanda leapt upon the opportunity — to her, it was a chance to liven up the dreary school atmosphere. She immediately approached Hsu one day and expressed her interest in following his lead. She simply told him that she was going to be the next Shoulderspeaker no matter what.

They agreed to meet the next day, March 24, a Friday, to talk about what the role of Shoulderspeaker means. Patibanda quickly learned that being Shoulderspeaker was much more than just blasting music.

“First he shared with me a document … that’s a list of 15 things Shoulderspeaker should do,” Patibanda said. “The point was to play music that makes people feel lit. Another thing was that in addition to just playing music when you walk, you have to smile to others – it brings a more personal connection and it makes them happier.”

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Hsu and Patibanda strive to respect all the varying student opinions of Shoulderspeaker. As certain teachers are more conservative and sensitive about profanity, Hsu firmly emphasizes the importance in considering teachers’ different tolerance levels — especially for song selection, a considerably delicate and tedious process. He cites the weather, time of year and day of the week all as factors swaying song selection, with holidays like Christmas or Halloween bringing in more of a festive touch. For Patibanda, the student and teacher reception has been a little unexpected: rather than teachers, it is her fellow students who are startled by the profanity and who dissuaded her from playing particular songs.

“I walk into a classroom and then [the song has]swear [words]every five seconds,” Patibanda said. “And the funny thing is that all the students that are around me … [they]say ‘no Shreya, don’t play that song, you’re going to get in trouble’ but all the teachers are chill with it.”

Occasionally, students have confronted Hsu and Patibanda for “disturbing” people, yet Hsu genially dismisses the negativity, choosing instead to highlight the positive experiences the Shoulderspeaker has offered students and the grateful hands he has shaken — laughing, he remembers an anonymous student’s comment by the B building.

“She ran all the way down the stairs,” Hsu said, “and [came]around a corner just to shout that my speakers are sexy.”

He recalls a freshman who previously perceived the “high school experience” as a “kind of hell,” a degree of pessimism echoing Patibanda’s eighth grade self. Luckily, the freshman’s outlook immediately brightened after seeing Hsu and his speaker: there’s some good to find at MV.

“Winning hearts and changing opinions is definitely one of the most powerful things in the world,” Hsu said.


5/24 Special Report: Popping the K-pop bubble

Co-written with Elizabeth Han and Emma Lam

The concert begins. Suggestive winks summon screams from the crowd. The performers, along with their signature look — defined cheekbones and hair dyed various different shades— are singing and dancing energetically for their international fans. Fans, who, in terms of physical exertion, are just as exhausted as the performers, having screeched themselves hoarse and then continued to scream silently even after their vocal chords give way.

Tomorrow, on July 12, Rao will leave Los Angeles and fly back to Cupertino with two other friends, and if it were even possible, she’ll be even farther from Got7, one of her favorite K-pop boy groups — who are most likely already on the next flight to another country. They’re gone as quick as they come, and she, like many other international K-pop fans, are left behind in Southern California, a once-a-year pit stop for most Korean idols. And while it may be a year later, Rao still clearly recalls the overall silliness and exhilaration the concert aroused.

Three girls waiting in line for over six hours, famished and sweating buckets under the merciless rays of the sun. Perhaps the songs are sung in Korean — with the occasional English word belted in the chorus — but for fans like Rao, language isn’t a barrier anymore. There are subtle details that bring significance to the entire three hours, elements of the concert atmosphere she’ll cherish for days to come: feeling the pumping bass in her chest, being so flustered she didn’t know where her phone was and seeing the raucous crowd swarming.

The concert trip may have been only three days among her entire lifetime, but the experience reigns as one of her top five memories.

“Some of the songs have really nice beats and tunes,” Rao said, “and [the songs]sound really unique to me, at least how they produce their music.”

As an international fan, Rao considers it especially hard her to keep tabs on idols’ activities. For instance, V-Live, a live broadcasting app specifically catered toward idols and their fans, primarily has broadcasts at around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m — a time when most American fans like Rao are sound asleep. And regardless of whether broadcasts happen to align with Western time zones, live broadcasts are entirely in Korean and unsubbed. In essence, it is a testament to the dedication of any international fans watching live instead of  waiting for subtitles.

“They already get a lot of negative comments, as any artist does,” Rao said. “So I feel like if you just stop giving them positivity, then you’re opening them up to negativity.”

Thanks to the many hours spent in Korean School — an American school dedicated to teaching the Korean language — junior Kathleen Ra jumps over such language barriers with ease. Yet even Ra doesn’t run free from the financial burdens of K-pop merchandise. Almost everything, from albums and clothing to fandom light sticks, comes with a heavier price tag once they travel across the Pacific. As companies concoct more elaborate packages to ramp up their albums with exclusive photos and posters of the artists, K-pop albums can range from 10 dollars and more. Concert tickets are no exception, ranging up to several hundred dollars. According to Ra, it takes serious devotion, or a matching financial capacity, for an international fan to enjoy the luxury of seeing their favorite artists in real life.

As Rao has dedicated over five years of her life to K-pop, she believes it would be a waste of time, effort and commitment if she were to suddenly relinquish K-pop. In fact, her lime green bedroom wall has vanished underneath the explosive colors of her K-pop idol posters. And there’s not just the music to deliberate — as one out of numerous, feverish fans supporting these groups, in brutal honesty, her “leaving” the fandom wouldn’t evoke even as much of a ripple — but nevertheless, she still considers the idols’ personal feelings.

“They already get a lot of negative comments, as any artist does,” Rao said. “So I feel like if you just stop giving them positivity, then you’re opening them up to negativity.”

Like Rao, Ra tries to maintain more personal interactions with her artists. Even while she traverses multiple music genres in her free time, she relays relentless support for idols in her own ways. For one, she escapes the lure of illegal downloading, as she pays for the albums with her own money. Her thumbs sometimes scurry across the keyboard for a brief warm comment on an artist’s Instagram selfie. As a student artist, she even sketches them on paper as fan art, posting them online for further support.

But she tries her hardest not to cross the line between support and obsession, as some extreme fans often do. In fact, such fans compose a radical subsection of a fandom, gaining the ugly name of “sasaeng” fans by the Korean public. While sasaeng fans objectify their artists as simple possessions— resulting in illegal actions like sneaking into the idol’s dorms— Ra firmly denounces such invasion of privacy.“I’m sure all the support motivates them to create all their music,” Ra said. “As long as they’re happy, and they’re happy with what they’re doing, that’s enough for me.”

Ra calls herself a “supportive audience,” rather than the artists’ “best friend,” as she has no personal connections to the artists themselves. Yet her emotional ties with certain artists have surely thickened as she grew up with them for a long period of time. She delved into the depths of K-pop with the popping beats of “Fire,” the group 2ne1’s debut song in 2008. Wonder Girls shook the grounds the year before with “Tell Me,” embodying the group’s namesake with a Wonder Woman inspired music video. Girl’s Generation’s “Gee” followed suit, catching all eyes with their thin rainbow colored leggings in 2009. Two years later, 2ne1 swallowed the charts yet again with their electric tunes of “I Am the Best.” Many groups emerged later on, in hopes of emulating the success of those stars at that time. But those very first artists she listened to still hold a special place in her heart.

And then, last year, the inevitable happened. A chain of various groups she loved started to disbanded one after another — 4minute, Wonder Girls and 2ne1, among many others. Some were lucky to have more than the said 15 minutes of fame in the increasingly competitive K-pop industry. But even the most recognized groups could not withstand the test of time.

2ne1’s disbanding hit Ra the hardest. Ra accompanied them since their inception, and for eight years she deemed them as her favorite artists, even role models.

“2ne1 was just a big part of me so when they disbanded…I told all my friends [about the news]– I even told my parents, I told my sister and I listened to all of their old songs,” Ra said.

As it is with any fandom, there are the seasoned veterans, like Rao — stanning for a considerable amount of time — and the novice, typically wrangled into the K-world by K-pop familiar friends.

“The song was catchy, the dance was great and the faces were attractive, Yu observed, and in summation — what’s not to like?”

At first, junior Kendall Yu solely associated K-pop with the industry’s “systematic training”: idols usually train under a company such as SM Entertainment or YG Entertainment for several years before debuting. While Rao has noticed strangers to K-pop may mention how “gay” or “feminine” male idols appear, Yu, fortunately, never held any misconceptions or judgements and simply listened to several songs. While she couldn’t quite match “handsome face” to “idol name” just yet, a friend’s birthday party exposed her to variety of K-pop music videos and daily spams of idol photos. Around October of 2016, watching Got7’s “Hard Carry” music video sealed the deal. The song was catchy, the dance was great and the faces were attractive, Yu observed, and in summation — what’s not to like?

“My friend gave me a whole rundown on all of their names, music personalities and music videos and an whole entire crash course on this group,” Yu said. “But I actually ended up liking them and bingeing a bunch of stuff on my own.”

Yu appreciates the catchiness and diversity of K-pop melodies and also the “calculated” concepts, choreography and fashion of the music videos — aspects which she believes differentiates it from Western music. Yet at the end of day, like Rao, it really is the idols’ personalities themselves that are truly undeniable.

“You can really see the differences in their personalities and how funny and caring they are, so it’s just all of this stuff combined [that]really, really makes me like them,” Yu said.


4/5 It’s a date: April 2017

Sure, I’m free that day, what do you want to do?

With the temperature on the rise, it is a shame to miss out on the summery weather and lounge around at home. Instead, head outside and experience Cupertino’s Cherry Blossom Festival, or “shake it up” during Bay Area National Dance Week. Whatever you do, get some fun in the sun and don’t come back home until you do!

 April 6: LAUNCH Festival

Time: 8 a.m.- 6 p.m.

Location: Innovation Hangar

Head to San Francisco and attend LAUNCH festival, a gathering dedicated to new startups. Listen to informative lectures by seasoned company founders or view over 100 startup demonstrations.

April 8: Fantasy Faire

Time: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Location: Discovery Meadow Park

They say time travel is impossible, but the San Jose Fantasy Faire begs to differ. Dress up in themed costumes and take part in this Renaissance-era, fairy-themed festival with live shows and book signings galore!

April 15: Big Bunny 5K

Time: 7 a.m.- 11:15 p.m.

Location: Civic Center

Instead of moping around indoors, sign up for the annual Big Bunny 5K race. You’ll be killing two birds with one stone: getting exercise and taking in some fresh air.

April 21: National Dance Week

Time: 8 a.m.- 7 p.m.

Location: Various Bay Area Cities

With over 600 free performances, classes and workshops, Bay Area National Dance Week should have you up and doing the salsa! Visit www.bayareandw.org to sign up for free events to attend, all which vary from city to city.

April 22: Earth and Arbor Day Festival

Time: 11 a.m.- 3 p.m.

Location: Civic Center

Dust the lint off of your yoga mats and get ready for the Earth and Arbor Day Festival. Participants can relax in a yoga session, enjoy a neighborhood tree walk and a “Pedal 4 the Planet Bike Ride.” No tickets are required to attend this free event.

April 29: Cherry Blossom Festival

Time: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Location: Memorial Park

In honor of Cupertino’s sister city Toyokawa, Japan, come out to Memorial Park for tasty Japanese food and beverages, cultural exhibits and all-day entertainment at the Amphitheater.

4/5 Cat’s out of the bag: The subtle art of being evil

Until last Thursday, I never had a reason for self-cannibalism.

Yes, my dearie, you read that correctly.

Essentially, that Slow-as-a-Slug Sally was walking so darn slow in front of me, I had to gnaw on my own vocal chords and digest ‘em, or else I’d have let fly a scream of irritability hibernating in my lungs, a mad howl to be heard round the world.

Reincarnated as a human, Sally (anonymous identity for the sake of her undeserved safety) was certainly a bumbling, lethargic sheep in her past life and thus incapable of brisk walking. She sported pearly white Converse — an unmarked and unblemished “shoe version” of what I wished my bloodied-by-red-pen math tests could attain — and walked ever so slowly, plodding one shoe in front of the other.

At her rate of walking, I, the poor schmuck stuck behind her, would arrive at school approximately nine years late.

It became the sole desire of my life to bungee jump on her shoes like the cannibalistic hooligan I was — I mean, I am — and dirty ‘em to a mud brown.

I did not.

Effectively, I was hyper-effective at being ineffective — on the outside, that is. I had smiled at her quite enthusiastically and happily, trotting off on my merry way.

Yet being the high-functioning sociopath I am, I lurked under the eaves of the D building, biding my time … and am still biding my time to this very day, having done absolutely nothing to her. I have not confronted her. I have not trashed her shoes. In fact, I have been a smiling, civilized and cultured lady. However, in reality, the inside of me still churns with the cannibalistic insanity and anger — a controlled, oppressed evilness which never has and will hopefully never bubble to the surface.

Still, that girl had better watch out.

To most, I am not a terribly obnoxious or vile person, although specific people on the El Estoque staff refer to me as “Spawn of the Devil” or “Loan Shark.” I do not have the slightest inkling why.

To those who knew of me in middle school, I say, with enough conviction to bash the stronghold that is the Great Wall of China, I must have been a — no, good reader, not a sheep, I have always walked at a respectable, considerate speed — cat in my past life, claws unsheathed 24/7 and tail up in indignation.

An all-around prissy ditch! Oh, my bad. Apparently, “b” has reflected itself to a “d” for a day.

I despise emotion-wrought confessions and reliving horrendous memories, which is why I’ll boil it down to the basics: As a middle schooler, I was the so-called “mean girl” of my class; I delighted in interrupting people, embracing the ideas they volunteered and promptly pushing said ideas off a cliff — you scallywag, we’re outlining the title in Sharpie, not pen, capiche? — and into Oblivion, a pithole of rejection. As I grew older, the disgustingness of my behavior grew apparent to myself, and as I’ve mentioned many a column, I morphed into a reserved, more polite girl.

Illustration by Michelle Wong

Here’s the cat-ch.

Unfortunately, I’m still half a ditch. Again, the “b” has decided to be a “d” for the time being. I say “half,” because I still have a fondness for ordering people to walk the plank. Luckily, the splishin’ and splashin’ of the victim is mental, the “evilness” confined to my imagination (although it occasionally trickles into my writing) and expressed solely through a tight-lipped smile.

Trust me, if I were still in middle school, I’d be screeching my insults like a boiling kettle if you so much as shook your head at me, instead of containing them to my consciousness. I’ve simply improved in on-the-surface anger management; under the surface, I’m evil, with a heart like a muddy ditch.

My fellow adolescents often grapple with becoming so-called “good” and responsible adults. I say “so-called,” because the adults we look up to may appear composed and polite, but they certainly aren’t wholly “good” or completely inline with their moral compasses.

They’ve just got a tad more self-control, a little more skill at hiding their emotions and a tidbit more composure in plastering on a fake smile. Yes, they may only utter a quiet, exasperated cough or simply grit their teeth when children mouth off to them or some barbaric brute cuts them off in traffic. But, my dear reader, adults are just as “bad” and “evil” as us.

They simply swear themselves hoarse and unleash their insanity or temper behind closed doors — out of our sight. Or like me, a half-adult, instead of physically swearing at someone to their face, they may quarantine their evilness and mentally curse the person to a thousand lifetimes of extreme dandruff. And then imagine flinging the person into a nearby trashcan, who is hungry for trash.

And if that’s not the case, well, consider this. Why am I, a supposed half-adult, also a secret devil child?

3/8 Cat’s out of the bag: Holiday Hatin’

Valentine’s Day has long passed.

The only leftovers we’re savoring are bags of Hershey’s Kisses slashed with “50 percent off!” in black Sharpie.

Christmas is already an impervious oil stain on a paper bag, which was previously bloated with red and green sprinkle donuts. Thanksgiving? The turkey’s spirit is at rest in heaven, all chummy with the deceased mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.

A disclaimer before I begin upchucking my words: I do not hate Valentine’s Day, Christmas, or Thanksgiving. I-I just-don’t exactly-well, I feel like it’s rather excessive. Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.

And here’s how it went down, in my plumb-tuckered-out mind’s eye. (If the following paragraphs are rather incoherent, blame the 2:00 a.m. black coffee jitters. According to this wannabe coffee connoisseur, “caramel lattes” and “PSL’s” are wolves in sheep’s coffee-stained clothing.)  As per usual, the phone alarm was yowling its charger off at 6:00 a.m.

As a no-owl (I am productive neither during the morning, night, breaking dawn, eclipse, or any title of the “Twilight” Saga, because all I aspire to do is sleep, nap or try to sleep), I blurted permutations — or is it combinations? — of swear words, pulling out my hair until my alarm wondered if I’d developed epileptic shock and retreated into a respectful silence.


Visual by Michelle Wong 

(Anything after the pulling-out hair is purely imagination, actually. And yes, I do swear quite vibrantly and melodically, inside my head of course, because I’d never be so uncultured as to blurt “schist” aloud.) When Valentine’s Day concluded, it wasn’t any different from Christmas, Thanksgiving or a regular school day. Here goes the cat.

Just as I boycotted New Year’s Day and every single holiday with an emphasis on “loudness” and “togetherness,” I sat out on Valentine’s Day. Oh, I’m not a hater, I’ll have you know. I’ve just always impeached the necessity of Valentine’s Day. Simply stated, isn’t it a tad bit loud? And so touchy-feely and extroverted?

Every holiday, I feel claustrophobic from an overdose of “fuzzy-and-warm” emotions. The Christmas carols. Thanksgiving thankfulness and the counting of “blessings.”

It’s 2:00 p.m. on a lazy Tuesday, and I’ve huffily regressed into a rant instead of a column.  You’re reading “salty” cat out of the bag, as the hip kids on the block with their Skechers light-up shoes say. Or Adidas. I’m not quite clear myself.

Perhaps, my extreme introversion has spurned my dislike — or lack of endurance — for holidays and social gatherings in general.

I’ve always had a fondness for doing absolutely nothing “productive” and just be by myself, to simply sit and dream of the miscellaneous: the most creative metaphor possible, me as the heroine of the never-to-exist fifth season of “Sherlock,” and whether or not there is actually an afterlife or just a black hole of nothingness.

There’s something magical about sinking into the embrace of a misshapen, lumpish sofa, lulled to half-sleep by the aroma of coffee and whittling the Sunday afternoon away — with a pair of headphones for company — that so entices me.

Alone, mind you. That is my kind of holiday.

And no, I’m not spinning some haphazard argument to defend my laziness. I am not lazy. I am merely a daydreamer, and again, no, not in the sense of dreaming for a cause or an unattainable goal of being a Kpop idol.

My dear cat owners,

I’ve entrusted a total of four secrets to you. By now, you can dissect my style of writing.

I love to dream through 90 percent of the column in flowery word throw-up, and for a scant 10 percent, I “reflect” upon my secret. Unwillingly and stoically, I dissect the secret from head to toe according to the “Guidelines of Reflection.”

First, please summarize your secret. Be concise and detailed (a paradox in itself).

Second, please provide evidence and quotes by a dependable source to prove this secret.

Lastly, tie the first and second steps above with some universal, relatable aspect of human nature.

Reflection, or the “under-the-surface” thinking literature teachers so adore is … inescapable.

And for a dreamer like me, “reflecting” and dwelling upon my daydreams is pure torture. It’s an extra step, an extra two minutes that toughens the filet mignon, a succulent secret or daydream, from medium rare to well done.

As you can see, I’ve happily and unintentionally “dreamed” off the beaten path and ventured into nonsense again, much like the introduction of this column.

Where was I again? Oh, my boycotting of holidays. Holidays are a reflection, are they not? A reflection, an attempt to solidify our meant-to-be-messy-ball-of-yarn feelings of family, love and all that good stuff through tangible gifts and Valentine’s Day chocolate.

There I go again, forcing myself to analyze.

Except for the paragraph above, this column was really just an excuse for me to daydream. And if you’ll pardon me, I must leave before I’m impounded for “lack of evidence” in my daydreaming.

I’ll catch you later.

2/8 Blobbing, blobbing, 1-2-3

I have a confession to make: I’m really half-blob, half-human. Mentally, that is. I lack definition and structure. As a high schooler, my brain is gleefully mucking around in no particular direction whatsoever, sporting fuzzy slippers and a plushy bathrobe!

I lack passion: a driving force to mold my future or “life goals” into concreteness. Honestly, where am I heading? After all, nothing strikes my fancy.  Of course, I certainly have interests! I like to write, play cello and bake cookies. However, in the jargon of a flustered pre-teen, I don’t really “like like” anything. Much less love.

What does one define as love?

Traditionalists feel electrocuted, hyper-alert: Benjamin Franklin in the roaring storm, clutching an iron key and whipping a kite. Golly gee willikers! I’m in love! How outlandish. As a post-millennial, I’m attuned to the 21st century.

What does one define as love?

If I truly loved something, I’d take the pains to exit the Netflix tab for said person or thing. That being said, I am simultaneously writing this column and streaming Season 4 of “Sherlock.” Thus, this column has taken five hours to lovingly churn out.

It’s not as if I dislike writing or cello! That isn’t the scroungy cat I intend on releasing. My interests and I, well, we’re interlocked in the first stages of an arranged marriage — awkward and grudging! Which very much irritates my parents, or it certainly seems like it.

At first, my engineer father was miffed that I was interested in the humanities, something he’d assumed from my column writing.

“To be good at math is to be good at everything!” he proclaimed, hands flailing like a tipsy conductor with a chopstick batons. He paused to inhale two-thirds of his dinner. “If you know math, your writing will have another dimension! Have a touch of clean-cut STEM reasoning!”

I haughtily turned up my nose, slurping a satisfactory ratio of ramen to beef broth.

“Well, fine,” he replied, his feathers ruffled by my obnoxious slurp. As long as you’re happy and doing what you love. At least, his daughter had a calling, a direction in life. His daughter liked English, out of all things – she wasn’t constructing mobile houses for street urchins in London – but hey, her life had some grit and substance to it.

Or so he thinks, I spluttered to myself, counting the green onions pooling in the ramen.

Bloib34 Roimen

Again, it’s not as if I have no interests. Our mutual  “affection” is simply labored.The story of my arranged marriage follows: I’m a hot-blooded youth who dilly-dallied the morning with Netflix, an endless TV show provider. At 1:00 a.m., I’m abruptly wedded to a blank Word document! It is a drastic plunge in exhilaration: from TV-binging to writing an essay.

Before my fellow writers scorn me for eternity — write a novel about a girl who works hard but dies in the end, they holler — I do enjoy writing! Writing is therapeutic and meditative. I can sulk here for hours on end, pruning flower gardens of metaphors to asphyxiate the reader with my floweriness.

I rest my case.

Of course, there’s a catch. As much as I have interest in something, I’ve never loved anything (besides Netflix) enough to approach or “propose” to it first. Also, if I truly loved — with a passion — to play cello, couldn’t I happily practice for four hours? Why, then, was finishing an hour of cello practice like completing a chore?

Writing is therapeutic and meditative. I can sulk here for hours on end, pruning flower gardens of metaphors to asphyxiate the reader with my floweriness.

My lack of passion twisted my father’s head right round, his anxiety apparent in dinner conversations.

“What do you want to do when you’re older? English? I know you’re interested.”

I’d mumble two-syllable gibberish: “Uh-huh” and “Huh? Yeah.”

That’d light his fuse. He craved clear answers and a stable train of thought. After all, he’d immigrated from Taiwan when he was 25 years old, the homely engineer who chased his American Dream. 30 years later, he had four daughters and lived in affluent Cupertino. Previously, he had lived in three states and undertaken five jobs, charging forward with a mindset to succeed. Very unblobish, if I do say so myself.

And here, his blobbish daughter, goggling at him with ramen noodles dangling from her mouth. Didn’t I understand how fortunate I was? Where was the youthfulness, the heady ambition? The hunger to warp, to bulldoze the world with my radical actions? I should be establishing my passion in such a liberal community, using Cupertino’s abundance of opportunities to feed whatever the monster of a passion.

“Because you’re going into English, right?” He asked. “You must have an idea of what you want to do in life.”

I didn’t answer. And I still can’t.

12/7 Column: Sister, Sister, Sister. Sister?

THE INSTANT I MENTION MY, “three older sisters,” I am swamped with surprise, acknowledgement and at last, the listener’s envy, echoed by a “Oh, you’re sooo lucky!”

I’ll nod, reflexively, and reply with the default: “Yeah, I am lucky!”

Ensue their onslaught of assumptions.

“I bet they do everything for you. You guys must be really close. You can talk about anything with them, right?”

Well, not exactly. In my opinion, we used to be rather distant (emotionally and physically). I had harbored a peculiar grudge against my sisters. A toxic feeling, festering, as I was reminded of my position as the “part time” sister. It was unjustified, I grumped, for all three to scamper off to college or graduate school for nine months, with a melodramatic sunrise as a backdrop. They’d return to unload boatloads of gossip and stories until two o’clock in the morning, without me.

Yet in thick and unforgiving black sharpie, I read their hypocritical birthday cards that said, “Happy Birthday! Remember, you can tell me and ask me about everything.”

We were vastly apart in age and distance, considering one sister was out-of-state for college and the other two were in California colleges. While I understood age and distance were unalterable, I hid a resentful loneliness. Granted, it was a grand old time during Christmas break — yet to me, it was a reunion between the three old pals, and me, their little sister and still a measly preteen, an entertaining spectacle on the sidelines.

At 9 p.m., I sat in the midst of their whirlwind, “college girl” conversation, enthralled by this distant world of underage drinking and partying, a world laced with the stench of weed (a nickname for a friendly garden plant, I assumed?) and couches tie- dyed beer-brown. The clock flashed 11 p.m.; the conversation stopped.

“You should go to bed. It’s sorta time for you to sleep now,” all three of them said. Conversations with school friends were earnest and giggly. Yet among the sisters I’d conversed with for thir teen years, the hubbub and gossipy atmosphere slackened to one- word answers. When a sister confided in me — about serious things, too — sometimes, only to me, the conventional transaction of a secret for a secret fell short. I was still in this
ring around the rosie of gossip.

Actually, I’m talking blasphemy.

While I feigned indifference to the gossip, I did have an urge to lasso my fleece blanket, cowgirl style, and yodel away all my secrets. Am I not the crazy lady who traps all her “cats” in bags, the writer of this column? Heavens, it’d actually be a relief to pan all my secrets out, casino dealer style. Take your pick, I’d sniff at my sister and pick disinterestedly at my fingernails. I’d exhale my burdens in a nonchalant sentence.

While I feigned indifference to the gossip, I did have an urge to lasso my fleece blanket, cowgirl style, and yodel away all my secrets.

Prior to the beginning of sophomore year, my greatest talent was my facade of a happy-go-lucky girl binging on a diet of rainbows and pixie dust. Throughout eighth and ninth grade, unbeknownst to the rest of my family, I struggled religiously and thus emotionally. I became accustomed to concealing and refusing to speak of my emotions, independent in the worst way possible — if my stress was at all noted, I related it to school.

Some battles, I reproved myself, you must fight for yourself. Squeeze your gut and collect that scattered wit yourself, escort the psychiatrist to the exit before they try to sweep it up themselves. Solve your own problems and you’ll truly learn. So I kept the grumbling to myself.

As I grew older, the 11 o’clock bedtime blurred. I was acknowledged as a high schooler and offered admission to this exclusive sisters’ club.

“Come to brunch with us,” they said. “Watch a movie!” “Another brunch place!”


It was unnerving, to say the least. I was rejecting their offers for sisterly bonding, and they found themselves with a sister who refused to have fun or confide in them. It was certainly better off that way. The worries purveying me were truly personal. It’d take copious amounts of self-reflection, but I’d take on my midlife, excuse me, adolescent- life crisis myself—no sisters allowed.

I’d take on my midlife, excuse me, adolescent- life crisis myself—no sisters allowed.

My personality molded itself to my epiphany, and I became reserved and introverted.
Unfortunately, sisters are annoying. Persistent. All three latched onto me as overenthusiastic, uninformed sidekicks. Through a sisterly “sixth sense,” somehow, they recognized how stressed I was.

So what if I was unwilling to divulge my problems?

After all, my struggles didn’t matter, in the grand scheme of things — it was if my sisters could make me happier. Badgering for me to lay off the homework and go for a boba run, aiding me in their own ridiculous way. My cumulative rejections didn’t deter their Sunday brunch offers in the slightest. In a teasing way, they despaired of their little sister’s avoidance of outside sunlight — only to drag me out to face the rays and meet a teetering pancake stack, with all three sisters looking at me expectantly. I dug in.

Well, we all dug in, chatting between forkfuls of pancake.

We still do to this day.