Saturday, December 12, 2009

Beware of the Bus

At work, we like to joke around about not pushing anyone under the bus. It's a phrase that has become uncomfortably common among the work environment but alas, still brings a snicker to my face everytime I hear it. Truth be told, we avoid situations where someone might actually get thrown under the bus because it's a selfish sacrifice for one's own safety or well being and nobody wants to be the person pushing someone under or being thrown under.

I often think of this phrase when I'm taking the bus, which has been my normal mode of transportation for the majority of the week. It helps to take my mind off the fact that it is indeed a bit ghetto, that all my important belongings are tucked away safely in my backpack which I refuse to take off throughout the 25 minute ride.

At first, I attempted to read on the bus - quickly realized how motion sick I get and instead observe those around me. For me, the bus is a luxury because it alleviates me from the congested crawl to work on the 10. But for many, it is the only mode of transportation available. For the most part, the demographics are Chinese and Hispanic while the bus drivers are mostly the latter. The reason I noticed this is because often times, when someone gets on the bus who doesn't speak English, it is easy for him or her to communicate with Spanish since the bus driver most often speaks the language. Unfortunately, I can't help but ponder that for the little Chinese grandmas or grandpas who get on the bus, there is not this same luxury. I can help out if the situation arises but thus far it has not and until then, I sit tightly in the front (also cuz I'm too chicken to walk towards the crowded back).

Lately, I have been brought back to the memories of my own wai-puo (grandmother on my mum's side) who passed away in December 2005. She used to take the bus a lot from Monterey Park to Arcadia, mostly to visit us and because she did not want to always be a burden to my parents after wai-gong (grandpops) passed away. Often, we would also go to Monterey Park to visit her, but once she moved to Arcadia with us, she longed for the companionship of her friends and her days spent playing mah-jong. So.. she took the bus to visit her cronies! Just like me (except I go for work since LA parking prices are a nightmare)! But... as she grew older, her memory often slipped. She forgot that grandpa had passed away and yelled at my mom for joking about such a matter. She forgot that I had grown up, saw my little cousin who was 3 at the time and called her by my name. She forgot recent things, but held on tightly to the past memories. And one day.. she forgot where to get off from the bus.

This was pre-cell phone world we live in today. All we knew was Wai-Puo was not at her bus stop, had not returned home, and was nowhere to be found. The entire family freaked out, split up into troopes to scour the greater LA and all the potential bus stops she could have ended up at. We asked all the bus drivers if they saw an old Chinese lady who seemed lost. We eventually located her and she was a good hour away in some city I had never heard of.

I sit on the bus often and think about Wai-Puo and how scared she must have been that day. How lost she must have felt, not able to understand anything everyone was saying to her, just wandering around, hoping her family would find her, knowing that they love her and would not be relentless in locating her. I wonder if anyone offered a kind smile to her, if anyone tried to ask her where she was going, if anyone noticed. Then... I think back to the stories wai-puo and my mom both told me of her past. her right ring finger was crooked because it was shot by a gun when she was only a toddler (even when she was almost not completely there in the family photos we took a year before in which she instinctively tucked that had under), how she had escaped to Taiwan as a refugee with three kids since her first husband had gambled off all their money and didn't live to endure, how she would cook meals of grandeur for all the people in the village, how wai-gong, a handsome and educated engineer would fall in love with her despite her three kids and how she would raise her five kids despite being dirt poor, how she had no fear when killing a chicken on the farm for dinner.... I think about the counseling she gave my mom, aunts and uncles, how she would have been in this situation.. and I realize..she was probably really scared on the inside but on the outside, courageous and determined.

So everytime I'm on the bus.. I think of wai-puo. I think of the strength she had, the faith she had, and the understanding she had when she was lost and am reminded of the same strength I must have when I might feel lost, alone or scared and remember that Heavenly Father is watching after me and that I am never lost, never alone, and never should I fear for faith and fear do not coexist.... if only I could remember that in everything that I do.

Wai-puo didn't live to see my join the Church, didn't live to hear the gospel, didn't live to see any of her grandkids get married or have kids. But wai-puo has been waiting on the other side of the veil and recently, I was able to perform her baptism. As I prepared the name files for wai-gong and wai-puo, I felt a flood of warmth overcome me, a sense of approval from both my grandparents and a sincere thank you for the work I was about to do and I knew, 100%, that was them telling me thank you, guai hai zi

Wai-puo and wai-gong are proud of me. This much I know.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Red Rock Canyon

Thanksgiving for the Phillips this year happened in the city of sin; however, thankfully that which gives Vegas that nickname isn’t what drew us to the city. Instead the plethora of buffets and promise of warm weather made it a destination of choice.

The food was great, the sunshine was nice, but as is the case with all holidays, being with family was the best part of the week. We did our ritual Thanksgiving movie marathon, looked around looking for good Asian food, took lots of pictures, caught up, and had an all around good time. I was able to see my pops show my mom he wasn’t cheap. I saw my mom relish the day off from preparing the lavish dinner we typically have. I got to see my two little cousins who aren’t so little anymore. Sadly, I wasn’t able to see my family walk away from Circus Circus’ dump the chicken in the pot, but I was able to see the fruits of their evening. Apparently they are as good as they said they were; I will doubt no more.

My favorite activity was hiking in Red Rock Canyon. It’s essentially a huge playground for adults; there are multiple peaks, no paths, and you can go wherever your heart desires. Some places it was easy hiking, other places you have to use all fours, and there were a number of people using full rock climbing gear. The path down to where the red rock began was covered in gravel and many people, including myself, were slipping down the somewhat steep slope. Walking down the path, I was worried about how dangerous it must be to hike up the mountain if we were slipping so much just on the path to the start of the mountain.

After getting on the actual red rock, I realized that it would be that dangerous. There was no gravel, it was solid rock, and with decent shoes there was little chance of slipping. The realization that climbing wouldn’t lead to sure death, my dad and I decided to ditch the women and children and be a little more adventurous. We had a blast as we crawled through little crevasses, slide down our butts and made my mom nervous by posing for pictures on high ledges. After exploring a good portion of the mountain, my dad and I returned to the trail head, and waited for the rest of our group. As I waited, I kept seeing all these people slipping as they were walking down the path covered in gravel. Some looked as if they wanted to turn around, as all the slipping made everything seem so dangerous. I wanted to reassure them that once they made it past the gravel, and got on solid ground, things would be much better.

It’s been said that when we choose to ignore what the prophets say, that we change the very ground that we stand on. Sure, we may choose to obey other aspects of prophetic counsel, but the act of picking and choosing what commandments we follow puts us on shaky ground. My experience at red rock reminded me of that quote. When the red rock is in one full piece, it gives you good traction and stable footing. However, when broken up into little pieces, the rocks provide little traction and cause people to slip. Same material, but when taken in pieces instead of as a whole, the outcome is very different. Such is the case we when choose to break the fullness of God’s gospel into little pieces that are most convenient for us. However, when are willing to show faith, and act on prophetic counsel, we will soon find ourselves standing on solid ground, as we gain testimonies of the principles they teach.

Just Another LA Asian Girl?

Most people know that I grew up in a predominantly Asian suburb within Los Angeles County, that I then went to college in a small town just 20 miles east of where I grew up, and that I began working immediately after graduating in LA. That mere synopsis is enough to convince everyone that I'm indeed a LA Asian gal. Why else would I not have left?

Upon taking time to get to know me, the intricacies that outline my life and the parental restrictions placed upon me while growing up come to surface and that perspective often changes.

First, I am proud of the fact that I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. So proud that in fifth grade, while everyone was fighting about who go to do their state project on Hawaii, California or Texas, my selection of Missouri immediately stood finalized since I was the only one. So proud that the miniature St. Louis arch was among one of my prized possessions growing up and I often went to admire it and ask my dad about the time he took me up in the elevator of it when I was a kid. So proud that when I saw a trucker hat that said Missouri, Show Me Yours (because it's the "show me" state), it became part of my weekend gear to represent my birthplace. So proud that when I saw an ugly orange t-shirt that said Missouri Loves Company with a picture of the state and its neighboring states next to it, I exclaimed I want that shirt! ...and subsequently my brother bought it for me as a surprise (but it was too small so I haven't worn it yet) which made me squeal with delight upon receipt. So proud that when the NCAA March Madness final game was in St. Louis, I boasted of that being my birthplace at which point, I heard - that sucks, it's the crap hole of the US. Hmmmm.......

Second, I never had the option of leaving California. As all my friends surveyed all the colleges and universities they would apply to, I was instructed not to apply to any out of state schools by mummy dearest. At the time, I didn't understand and vowed with all my might, to apply no matter what she said. And then I realized there was a hefty application fee and since I was also not allowed to work (even though at 15 I could easily obtain a working permit), it did not seem doable with all my extracurricular activity demands. Years later, I would come to realize this simple restriction was to prevent me from applying to the same school as my high school boyfriend who was one year older, and from using work as an excuse to interact with the rebellious kids all hanging out at the mall and meeting older college guys who preyed on the high school girls working the booths in the center aisles of the mall. That all makes sense now but at the time, it just felt like my parents were clipping my wings and preventing me from flying which meant I would never soar since I could never even fly. Then, when college ended, and my grades bleakly stared back at me, hauntingly indicative that I would not be able to obtain a reputable job, I tried using my vivacious personality to get my foot in the door. Miraculously, it worked, but asking for a starting position anywhere outside of Los Angeles seemed stupid since my connections had been made here. So stay I did.

I didn't actually discover LA until I moved there two and a half years ago and actually lived in LA, LA. I say that because Arcadia is not LA. Arcadia is a suburb, a community of homes, full of peacocks by the Arboretum, a beloved racetrack where we graduated high school and the Santa Anita Fashion Park, which despite the changes over the years, still feels like the same mall as it did in 1992. And then there is LA which is ... well... odd. Busy. Different. Judgmental. (or so it feels...) Similar to how it's portrayed on television - LA is the place where people come from afar to try to make it as a star, materialistic to the nth degree and not somewhere my kids will ever grow up! As I think about it more, the more urgent getting out of LA seems to be. The traffic is horrible, the housing prices are ridiculous and the smog is gross. Here, obsessions over worldly matters of prestige, materialism, success, wealth and fun collide with good ol'd traditional values of honor, loyalty, faith, integrity, chastity, and kindness. And so with that said, it's easy to declare "I hate LA!" without any remorse and feel justified by such a statement.

I was reminded of how detrimental such a resentment can be when my BFF, who went to Berkeley for school and then moved to San Fran where she began working and has been ever since, was staffed in LA for a project. She began complaining to me about how rude everyone in LA was, how despicable the traffic was and how much she missed SF for its public transportation and easy going people- basically everything opposite of what made LA such an awful place to live. Attacked by my own BFF, I strongly felt the urge to defend my city. I explained that traffic wasn't that bad if you knew when to navigate where, that the people she encountered was a one time occurrence and NY people were worse, and that LA was awesome for other reasons. I reminded her of the beautiful sunny weather, the nearby beach, and the cheap and diverse but authentic food options. She slowly softened and agreed there was truth in my rebuttal but stubbornly stuck to the fact that the ugly traffic still outweighed the beauty the city had to offer. I sighed and let her be.

Six months later, as she came to an end of her project in LA, she told me how much she was going to miss LA. She raved about the food, the weather, the proximity of her family, and told me... I think I'm done with SF and ready to come back to LA for a bit. She was done with SF and I was ecstatic at the idea of her moving back! And then... as fate would have it, I ended up in San Jose for a special project of my own, and I too fell in love with SF, at the lack of traffic, the kind people, and slowly, I too welcomed the slightly colder weather, fell in love with places I discovered to eat at, and started to forget that my family was not with me.

So... it got me thinking.. this mentality I had is not good and what have I learned? And this is what I came up with....

1) The grass is always greener on the other side.. so don't take for granted what you have or always wonder about what you don't have.

2) We human individuals adapt well... maybe not immediately, but eventually so persevere and be patient.

3) Avoid negative complaining and strive for positive thoughts of remembering what you are blessed with.

Be that of good cheer.

I may be just another LA Asian girl for now.. but that doesn't mean it won't change some day later and if it does, I will cope and adjust. LA is part of me... but there is always room for more.