about me · Conflicting emotions · family · parents · ramblings · social anxiety · Thoughts and feelings

Changing Ideals

I have been heavily influenced by ideals of who I wanted to be or what other people wanted me to be, whether those were things I perceived people wished for me or they told me outright.

This is a weird place to start, but as a child, I wanted to be a bride and become a homemaker with 2.5 kids. I was still playing with Barbie dolls and pretending to dress-up as a princess. I had a baby doll who was the size of a human baby and I oftentimes held and rocked her. At least once I was called down by my parents for mealtime and I would promptly drop the doll on the floor or toss her onto my bed. So much for my mothering skills. More than a handful of times my dad told me when I misbehaved, “When you have kids one day, you’ll understand a parent’s struggles.” I can’t imagine I ever will. I’m not sure I ever did as a kid either since I didn’t know the full extent of how much work goes into that sort of thing.

At around 9 or 10 years old, I had semi-knowledge that women push babies out from their bodies. I mimicked a pseudo-birth during playtime once in the presence of my brother and two female cousins. It’s embarrassing to think of it now, how I was huffing and puffing like the women on television dramas did when they were in labor. I jolted out of the fantasy when my brother said, “You know that actually really hurts, right?”

I think I was more in love with the theatrical ideal that all the attention was on the woman. It was the same with the childish scene I had of myself decked out in white and walking down the aisle to get married, having everyone fawn over how spectacular I looked. What strange ideas I had!

Now as an adult, I’m so far removed from desiring children of my own. They’re not inanimate dolls I can just set aside whenever I feel like it and that is what scares me — the responsibility of caring for another living being when I can hardly care for myself.

After I entered puberty, getting pregnant was an unwanted possibility. I even had nightmares about having a big bulging belly. My cousins (the same ones I mentioned in a previous paragraph) and I got an unexpected glimpse of a recorded human birth on Nova, a science television show. One of us was flipping through the channels until the screen flashed the visual of a woman’s diluted vagina as the top of the baby’s head was poking out from it. The three of us reacted with revulsion but looking back, the birth really showed that the miracle of life is not glamorous and is a lot of hard work. It’s also interesting to think everyone came into the world like that too.

My awkwardness as a teenager made me feel like I didn’t have a personality. I adopted a facade to cover up the perceived gap. But all that did was make people misunderstand me.

I was extremely self-conscious of myself as an Asian person and the perceived judgment I got from peers for being Asian. I also had my own prejudice about how I thought I was supposed to act based on my race. You know the stereotype that Asians are timid and obedient? Yeah. That’s basically how I was because I thought it was necessary to fit into a “role” to excuse the instability in myself. I didn’t want to acknowledge my awkwardness wasn’t just awkwardness but actual anxiety that was interfering and impacting my everyday life on a huge scale.

I would try to make up for the fact I was so quiet by doing stuff instead of talking to show my worth. Helping to hang and fold laundry. Doing the dishes. Trimming and washing the vegetables to prepare them for cooking. Assisting with cleaning up after dinner. I got flattery from older relatives, like, “She’s much more Chinese than her cousin who is too American”, meaning the way I acted was their ideal for a young girl my age. In one discussion, there was even talk of my looks which were more in line with how a traditional Chinese girl should look. I cringe remembering this.

I blame my own perception of their comments which I used as validation for fulfilling my “role” but at the same time, their perception was wrong too. For example, rather than saying I was “more Chinese” for helping with household chores, why didn’t they just say I was a good kid? A person’s character doesn’t need to be associated with their race.

For a while, I thought this is who I was supposed to be. It was a double-edged sword of my own making that I exhausted myself with. A pivotal moment where I believe I reached my breaking point was being early 20-something years old. I was still hiding behind the mask, too scared to admit I didn’t know who I was without it. While I trimmed vegetables, an aunt praised me for being “filial”. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned myself hurling the whole dish of veggies onto the floor, knife and all, out of anger. A single phrase rang in my thoughts. That’s not me. Nowadays, I cannot stand it when I am referred to in that way.

Then there was the teenage phase where I went nuts over improving my Mandarin Chinese skills. Part of me did have a genuine interest in learning. That same summer my brother went to a Mandarin immersion camp, which was more for people to have fun and not really for serious studying. Staying in my “role”, I had liked the shower of praises I received but I also saw my brother as competition for our parents’ affection.

I secretly gloated every time my parents spoke of me to their friends or associates about how I could speak Mandarin but also read and write it. But what I did not expect was the pressure. My parents began relying on me to translate for them and soon it became like they assumed I could translate anything. At one time I thought about pursuing a degree in Asian Studies but it didn’t stick. It was a mold that wasn’t me. I used to have “Fluent in English and Mandarin Chinese” on my resume but not anymore. For one thing, I will never be as fluent in Mandarin as English, especially since I only ever use Mandarin with my parents. My reading and writing skills in the language have also dwindled down. Oh well.

It is a struggle to not feel like I am straddling both worlds and I won’t ever truly belong in either one. Sometimes it doesn’t seem I have a conscious choice in the matter by virtue of being around my parents, who are still stuck in some traditions of their culture. It’s hard not to care what they think because I obviously want to please them but not at the cost of not being true to myself.

To be honest, I still don’t really know who I am and what I want out of life. So many times this past year I’ve imagined who I could be and the things I could have done. Every time, the ideals of what I wanted to happen came into play. I got caught up in thinking of what I wished for as opposed to actually experiencing the situations for what they were.


Featured Image by Marc Kleen.

16 thoughts on “Changing Ideals

  1. Omg so much to respond to here. Firstly, this would be an excellent article to try to sell to a site like Bustle, in my opinion. I think you could’ve split this into two or three articles and sold them separately *evil conglomerate laughter whatever that sounds like* Also, I suggest you read Maxine Hong Kingston’s “Woman Warrior.” Secondly, 2.5 kids?! Lmao. Thirdly, that’s hilarious about the baby thing. Ah, the things we do as kids that haunt as as adults. Fourthly, I think the problem is how our environment glorifies and stigmatizes females since our birth. We are made to think about when we want to marry and how many kids we want from a very, very young age. As we grow older, I think our generation is a lot more comfortable now with the idea of not having children–right away, anyway. Fifthly (? I’m just going to stop counting loll) I don’t like how you were referred to as “more Chinese” either. Some people’s derision for the country they CHOSE to live in baffles me, to be honest. Why even come here if you’re going to drink in all the advantages of living here while shit talking everything else about the culture? And so understanding about the whole pressure thing. The better you do, the more they expect. That’s why one of my favorite comic strips is from Calvin & Hobbes when Calvin gets a C and is excited about it, explaining that it’s best to keep their expectations low xD

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    1. Woah, the ideas you give me, gal. 😁 I’ve heard of Bustle but have never read any of their articles before. I’m skeptical anyone on there would read my writing, or even that the submission editors would see an appeal in my writing for a wider audience. That prospect is scary to think about…The possibility more than just a handful of people might read my article and have either a mixed or negative reaction to it, which I think is normal when articles are given a bigger net of readers. I’m most surprised by the three articles suggestion by you. My mouth kinda hung open at that lol. 😮😮 It does make sense since I jumped around with several related topics in one post.

      I’ve been meaning to get onto reading Woman Warrior but I keep forgetting too. Or I get distracted by a horde of other books I start but never seem to finish lol.

      2.5 kids, yes. 😂 For sure as a kid, I already had the concept of a traditional, nuclear family from exposure to television but also my parents’ influence. Another thing my dad said to me a lot when I was a child was, “How are you going to raise your own family one day?” He usually said it out of frustration if I was too timid. Looking back, I really have no idea what he was thinking because I was like 10 years old, how would I be old enough to consider what having my own family meant?

      From what I’ve experienced in my own family and the other Chinese immigrants my parents associate with, it seems like a very common thing to become a citizen of the U.S. but basically still adhere mostly to the culture they are most comfortable with. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but…It’s almost as if they still see non-Chinese as “outsiders” or don’t even talk in English unless it’s necessary. Like, my mom has no friends that aren’t Chinese people have similar cultural ideations as her and/or have similar cultural mindsets. The old values of the culture…They might not mean to cause internal conflict in the younger generation with comments like the “more Chinese” remark but the conflict is there all the same. At least it is for me because it always feels like I can’t ever completely be a person of their culture without going against what I am actually comfortable with.

      Lol I laughed outloud reading the part of your comment about Calvin getting a C. I remember I would get C’s all the time in P.E. class. Xd I often sat out and got low marks for “lack of participation”. A lot of times I wouldn’t play because I was embarrassed by how bad I was at all sports and didn’t want to drag my team down with my terrible skills.

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      1. Aw look into sites like bustle. These days, culture pieces and personal essays are very popular. I think you have a nice voice for them.
        I definitely recommend woman warrior. I had to read it in class for college and got hooked because it was so relatable.
        Yeah that dichotomy between our heritage and the culture we grew up in can clash at times. I’ve always been more “American” in values, but I find myself so lost when it comes to the customs of America sometimes, which makes me very self-aware. I definitely feel like a foreigner in that respect. Perhaps comments they make like that come from defensiveness and protecting themselves because they still feel out of place here. They have to hang on to what they’ve known and what they’ve grown up with. It does make sense. I can get that.
        Calvin is a very wise kid. I kind of wish I thought of that when younger xD the better you do the more expectations and pressure there is… it’s so true! haha but that is the way to keep on improving, I guess.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It could definitely help if I read more Bustle articles to get a feel on what type of content they are looking for. The downside is I don’t feel professional enough to send in a submission. I have almost nothing to show for my past writing history, except stuff on this blog, but I’d say my “work” is more like a personal journal rather than a professional reference for my expertise in writing. I feel your blog would be a better example of writing that is more polished and put-together while expressing your individual voice.

        Some of the customs of America are lost on me too. Politics, for one thing, is not very interesting to me and I know very little about them. And religion is nonexistent in my life. I certainly do have some spiritual beliefs but that’s about it. I have a combination of values from both cultures but it’s just I don’t know everything about each one. “Chinese-American” was a label I thought I used to be confident about but the meaning of it changed for me and that’s why I’m no longer comfortable using it to identify myself.

        I do get a sense that my parents and older relatives who didn’t grow up in America and came as adults stay with what is familiar with them. To me that is what works for them but it’s problematic on a cultural level. The neighborhood I live in, it’s quickly becoming the next Chinatown with enclaves of Chinese owned businesses taking precedence. Maybe I’m just too judgmental since I don’t like it as someone who doesn’t entirely fit in that culture.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Aw well yeah, this blog was made in the hopes of having a more clear, professional voice and samples for writing, but the great thing about writing is you really can get started whenever and without nothing. I mean, well, I guess that applies to everything, but especially with writing personal essays and the like, you can really submit them anywhere without a portfolio. It’s all about having a personable voice, which you definitely do, and your blog shows this!
        I would love to know your relationship with the term Chinese-American for example! Maybe you can try to write an essay on that. That’s a good topic 🙂 I kind of want to drop Korean-American because it seems like… I always forget this word…. pre…. sort of like a disclaimer. Like foremost I’m American. Maybe I’m American-Korean? I don’t know. It’s a complicated, loaded topic, so that’s a great one to write on.
        I agree that it is problematic on a cultural level. I kind of want to… mingle more outside of the bubble Korean immigrants created for themselves. I get that they feel safer or more comfortable there–and it’s definitely a fun environment at times–but I think that’s really just self-harming and fearful? I think I’m messing up with the phrasing there but yeah…. I guess one thing is they can’t keep demanding for representation if they’re not even attempting to assimilate better? At the same time, I guess America, as an immigrant country, is all about that? Another loaded topic haha. I for one wish that everyone would mingle more though.

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  2. I like to think that part of the magic is in the not-knowing who we are and embracing the mystery. It makes the possibilities of who we could become that much more exciting. The challenge of straddling two different cultures will always be present for you, but it can be a gift as well.

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    1. The mystery of not knowing could be an exciting challenge if I stop comparing myself to other people my age who already know themselves so well. Those times, instead of feeling happy for how far they’ve come in their own journeys to find who they are, I automatically assume there must be something wrong in me to not have it all figured out too.

      The two cultures thing is something I think I could, with time, grow to be content with. Perhaps in a few years I will be more apprectiative, not because I think I should, but who knows what will happen between now and then to change things.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The comparison trap is a hard one to get out of. I struggle with it even as I get older. But, I do also think that none of us fully knows ourselves, because we’re all a lot more complicated than we care to admit. Which comforts me, but may also be a scary thought (?). Wishing you a lovely week.

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  3. I think it’s normal to rebel against what your parents expect of you. It’s natural to be misunderstood (sorry, this is life, I’ve learned). I can definitely relate in a number of ways, nothing specifically, but the underlying themes are there. 😛

    I, too, wanted to get married and have kids, and then I became okay with whatever happened. I found my friends who were obsessed with having a kid/s interesting because I wasn’t. And that’s okay, sometimes it’s about the people you meet too. Perhaps if I had dated someone who really wanted kids, I would have been nudged in that direction. I don’t know!

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    1. The normalcy of rebellion is one I was never sure of. I thought I went through that as a teenager and would stop feeling rebellious but I still do because it’s a continued issue that I know now that my parents and I are never going to see eye-to-eye on everything.

      Yep, the being misunderstood thing. 😦 I secretly cringe whenever one of my parents recounts a story of a past incident or when I did xyz (in whatever fashion they remember things happening) and I think, “That’s not what happened, you have it wrong.” That’s the thing about situations anywhere, in fact, that stuff can happen but depending on the perception of who was present to witness or be a part of it, anyone can remember things occurring differently than someone else. In some ways, I think I feel too indignant about being misunderstood and have the urge to speak up to “correct” the person. Or carry that burden around in my mind with the belief the other person is wrong for not knowing the story from my side. Perhaps I just haven’t experienced life enough with trial and error situations to understand (like you said) that being misunderstood is a regular occurence in life and there’s no need to get hung up on it.

      It’s nice that you are okay with not having gone down the marriage and kids road. For me, it’s a no because they are possibilities but not ones I can realistically see myself obtain. At least not right now or even in the next 5 years if I think about where I am presently. I could have a boyfriend but I don’t and I don’t know if that’s a person I ever want to find for myself.

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      1. I had a heartbreaking experience as a Waldorf teacher that forced me to “grow up”. And part of that growing up, not that I thought I needed it, was realizing that I couldn’t control the gossip or perception folks had of me.

        It’s tough. But it got easier, it gets easier, and it might help to think about the fact that you might have a “wrong” or incomplete perception of someone else without meaning to.

        The nice thing about blogging, reading, and reaching out is you can discover that you are not alone 🙂 and that is a nice thing indeed.

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  4. your stories are charming yet deeply personal. I don’t when we (if ever) get comfortable in our own shoes. I took a while. When I declined my 15th HS reunion I responded “I was looking for myself and then I realized I was me all along”

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    1. I was worried about getting too personal but I suppose I could think everything and anything is potentially too personal and still write about it. 🙂 I definitely have never felt fully comfortable with myself… It’s possible I may never or someday I can make peace with that and be fine with just being me. Thanks for sharing your story about how you found yourself.

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  5. I laughed at your childhood stories.
    I was the same. Even with friends, we played like we were moms going into labor.

    That idea that seemed so normal back then, scares me now.
    What if it doesn’t take one try to have a baby?
    How horrible are the 9 months going to be?
    And then the actual moment, how extremely painful.
    Let alone the sleepless nights and then the teenage phase.

    I’d like to believe that I have gained enough wisdom and strength to raise a tiny human, but it’s not that easy.
    I kinda know where I want to be, I know how to get there, but it doesn’t seem to work out for me despite my hard work.

    Luckily you are not supposed to do something like this on your own 😉

    As for “discovering yourself”, for me the only think that worked was being alone for some time.
    Going on a trip alone could work but in the end you will end up in the same situation.
    But once you have a steady income, you hopefully get the chance to move out and start “finding yourself”!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, why did young girls like playing mom so much? 😂 Being a mom for real would be 10x harder, for sure. I can’t imagine myself in labor pushing for hours. I shudder at stories about women being in that state for more than 24 hours. The female body goes through so much…

      The reality can be so different from the ideal of a situation. Perhaps your hard work does have positives but they weren’t what was expected.

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