Why I Haven't Been Blogging

Photo of pinkish flower in the foreground against a blurred pond in the background, taken at a park in Stockholm.

I have been blogging on and off for 16 years. Before settling on this WordPress site, I cycled through Xanga, Livejournal, Tumblr, and Blogger, among other blogging platforms. Reading and writing have always been my window into the greater world & my way of finding community.

The first poem I remember writing was a persona poem in response to a piece in National Geographic about forced prostitution in India. I don’t have that poem anymore, but I will never forget the photo of women in cages. As I approached adolescence, I became outspoken about the war in Iraq, LGBT rights, and other injustices. As a young adult, which is more recent than I’d like to acknowledge, I wrote painfully honest and sometimes cringe-worthy blogs about gender, culture, mental health, and of course, my personal trials and tribulations. That was a freedom that I didn’t yet appreciate—to write with such honesty about controversial and sensitive topics without fear or even any sort of self-consciousness.

Of course, it helped that my blogs were largely anonymous, though I didn’t try to hide who I was—I’ve never been particularly adept at maintaining a long-term parallel persona. I relied on blogging throughout my late teens and early 20s to deal with my embarrassing and overwhelming emotions and, most of all, my intense grief and isolation when my mother died. As an anonymous nobody, I could send it all out into the void of the Internet, and sometimes strangers reached back and sent a bit of comfort and encouragement.

Some years ago, one of my completely unpolished writing exercises (another persona poem) went low-key viral on Tumblr, and that was my first encounter with trolling and what we now call cancel culture. It took me by complete surprise, because I wasn’t and continue to be not at all famous, and no one actually read that blog. Afterward, I erased or made private any identifying information, and I became a little spooked by the idea of writing publicly at all.

But I was also ashamed that it had happened and ashamed of being affected by other people’s criticism and ashamed of not being a more private person, and I’d spent so much of my life trying to seem tough and hide my shame that it took me years to admit any of this, even to my partner.

Not too long after this incident, still in my early 20s (read: brain not yet fully developed), I published my first pieces in truly public outlets. I was able to brush off the few negative comments I received in response to my essays, since in general anyone criticizing someone mourning their dead mom comes across as a total troll. I later also received some criticism on this blog that I, as a person living in America, would dwell at all on my family’s cultural background and the complexities of my life straddling these cultures. While I didn’t take any of this criticism too personally, I did feel less safe in my online spaces.

Between these consequences of publishing, the grief-turned-depression that worsened midway through grad school and seemed invisible to everyone else, and trying to build and maintain some sort of professional persona after graduating, I stopped updating or writing very much at all for the last few years.

In retrospect, it’s astonishing that I, anonymous or not, managed to bumble along the Internet for over 10 years without encountering trolls. For that, I’m truly grateful. I can’t imagine what that does to a teenager or younger person or frankly, what a greater level of public vitriol would do to someone at any age. I’m thinking, in particular, of an incident last year, in which a YA writer was criticized so harshly for some detail in her book that she withdrew the book and changed the ending. What made this situation even more frustrating was that she was a young author of color being torn down in what was possibly the greatest moment of her life by other young writers of color. And then, she was criticized by yet more people for not having the gumption to stand up to the people criticizing her. I won’t get into all of it, but what a lack of empathy all around and what a mess that whole thing was.

Anyway, TL;DR I needed some time away. In this last year, I finally feel that I’ve emerged from the fog, I’ve started to find my way in the local literary community and build my creative life, I’m moving on in my non-literary professional life, and it’s about to be a new decade. I’m resolving to continue building on this new life, to write more prose again, to work on letting the light in instead of burying my tiny bits of shame until they grow into something insurmountable.

Until next time, good luck out there.

Why the Chungking Mansions are actually awesome

When I emailed my uncle the address for Delta Hotel, a small budget hotel in the Chungking Mansions, he immediately called me to express his concerns about the safety and cleanliness of the area. “You should cancel the booking and stay with us,” he urged. “A Chinese girl was raped there before. It was all over the news–you can Google it.

I reassured him that I’d done my research, and the place seemed fine. If I really felt unsafe, I would just leave after the first night and stay with them.

Truth be told, I was aware of the Chungking Mansions’ unsavory reputation. It was the site of a 1988 fire that killed a Danish tourist. About a decade later, it was in the headlines again for the murder of an Indian tourist by her partner. That same year, there was a police swoop that led to the arrest of ~50 people from Asia and Africa for failing to provide IDs, overstaying their visas, using false documents, etc. All of this led to its image as a refuge for criminals and undocumented immigrants.

Nevertheless, I was not deterred.

Nathan Road on a rainy Tuesday evening, as seen from the upper deck of Bus A21 from HKG.

Continue reading “Why the Chungking Mansions are actually awesome”

god of beginnings

My dad, who has been hosting on Airbnb for several months, asked me to make some paper cranes as gifts for honeymooning guests. Miraculously, I didn’t feel weird about it, despite the strong connection between these cranes and my mother. I placed a pink crane (her favorite color) in front of her photo and burned some incense, and I carried on without resentment. This feels like the beginning of the nebulous future I was waiting for.

I keep thinking of the phrase “god of beginnings” as I pat the little ears of a Ganesha figurine, the favor from my cousin’s recent wedding in San Rafael and now one of my most prized possessions. It’s perfect.


The wedding was a glorious mishmash of Chinese and Indian culture (and square dancing), and the poet in me can’t get over how momentous the occasion felt. Continue reading “god of beginnings”

Love and light at the end of the tunnel

My essay is out in The New York Times, and in the process, I got to talk to Daniel Jones on the phone, after years of reading his words and edits. Since then, I have been on the receiving end of so much love from friends, acquaintances, and kind strangers. That has filled at least a few dreary days in lab with light.Continue reading “Love and light at the end of the tunnel”

The universal constant

I finally finished reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I also finished putting together the audio for a Bone Lab episode featuring our interview with a bioarchaeologist. Together, these things are giving me a less despairing lens with which to view this strange and tragic era. And can’t we all use a little less despair right now.

Last week felt more than ever like the plot of a dystopian novel. In 2015, we have self-driving cars, inexpensive personal genetic sequencingeyeglass computers guiding surgical procedures, and an apple that is engineered to resist bruising. We seem to have the tools to create a utopia. And yet, people around the world lack food and clean drinking water. Entire villages, countries are raped, pillaged, and murdered. In 2015, North Korea executes its citizens for gaining exposure to the outside world, old men can marry and rape young girls without repercussions, and a Hitler-like Donald Trump is a viable presidential candidate in a country that is supposed to represent freedom. In 2015, ISIS, in spite of its technological savviness, tortures and beheads prisoners, commits unspeakable acts of terror and barbarism reminiscent of the Dark Ages or the ancient Middle Kingdom.

What the fuck.

How can this read as anything other than a work of dystopian fiction or an absurdist play? How can we, on a global scale, be doomed to constantly repeat the same kinds of mistakes, enact the same ridiculous tragedies?

Continue reading “The universal constant”

grief spasms

I know a guy who lost his mother in high school, and he is so even-keeled and unflappable and successful, I don’t understand it. Every day, I see him in lab, and I want to ask him, “How are you so normal and functional? Do you ever dream about her? How can you live without acknowledging that she was alive and without forcing everyone else to acknowledge it too? Why have you been able to carry on as if life were normal?” It’s been about a decade for him, but I’m over four years out, and I don’t think another six will change my constant urgent need to make sure she is remembered or my sense that nothing will ever be okay again, not really. Maybe it’s just that men and women grieve differently. Maybe it’s just us, because he has always been even-keeled and unflappable, and I’ve always been the opposite.

But then I think of Derek Thompson’s article in the Atlantic after he lost his mother, when he wrote about how surprisingly easy it was to move on and be normal, with scientific studies to back up that trend of resilience, and I want to scream because why are all these people able to be normal and functional? What is wrong with me that I still have such intense spasms of grief, four years out, and I have to struggle so hard just to put one foot in front of the other?Continue reading “grief spasms”