[Musing] Evolution of Starbucks orders

I still remember the first time I drank coffee. I was at a nerdy summer camp at age 14 and we were going to watch Citizen Kane (famed for being long, among other things). Before the movie, we stopped to get some coffee to help us through the movie. Being clueless, I ordered what I thought to be most foolproof: an iced coffee, but was horrified to discover it was so bitter. I then drowned the coffee in syrup and sugar… but surprise, it still tasted horrible.

Since then, I’ve frequented my share of neighborhood cafes and Starbucks. I went through phases, in chronological order:

  1. Green tea frappuccino (fraps are where we all ignominiously started)
  2. Iced coffee with extra shots of espresso and sweetener and milk
  3. Iced coffee with coconut milk
  4. Cold brew iced coffee with coconut milk
  5. Iced black tea with a pump of sweetener, when feeling adventurous: iced black tea with lemonade
  6. Iced water with two scoops of matcha

Of course, interspersed with forays in lattes and cappuccinos for those cold days. At first, cow milk, but now it’s coconut/oat milk and never looking back. Looking back, I feel like I’ve just been whittling down from the complicated drinks to what I actually enjoy: matcha. It’s fascinating to even think that my receipts from Starbucks and other places could tell a story about me.


Dear Jonghyun

Dear Jonghyun,

The first time I ever heard your voice was on a Last.fm station in 2008, which played Love Like Oxygen. I remember thinking about your breathy intonations. I followed SHINee loosely afterwards, though I really lost interest in the Ring Ding Dong era since it was a terrible song. I admit, I did admire your bleached orange hairdo (but looking back, it was not a good look after all). But Lucifer changed it all for me in July 2010. I started this blog shortly afterwards in August.

I was first an Onew fan. I watched Hello Baby and thought Onew was so funny. You were really funny too, but Onew’s humor just stuck with me then. But slowly, you started to capture my attention. Your journey of musical maturation struck a chord with me, someone who was also beginning to find her way as a musician. We moved beyond the rote–what we had been taught–and tried to find our own unique style and become more involved in what we perform. We both desired to perfect our craft, in a holistic and thoughtful manner. You were so beautifully emotive as a performer, and looking back, you probably couldn’t express everything that you ever wanted in words. But in music, you could.

We were kindred spirits, in a way.

When you committed suicide, my first raw emotion was disappointment. We would never get to see you again perform anything live, or new. What we had was all you had left us. So many possibilities were instantly gone forever. You were something rare in the kpop industry. We all know there are idols you could swap out and you wouldn’t notice the difference. They are content to do what the company asks, and stay within the lines. But you pushed the envelope, you did your best to create, and you succeeded. You were so good, you were so willing to learn, you were so humble…

You did well, Jonghyun, so much more than I can ever express in words.

Love, Michelle


A deep sadness

Some thoughts

I was raised in a diverse place where I knew plenty of people who looked like me, and who didn’t. I attended a diverse college, where again, I knew plenty of people who looked like me, and who didn’t. I had the opportunity to work in a fantastic agency who valued women and was incredibly international. I then was accepted to graduate school at a top university in which my cohort was diverse and the general student body as well.

I can only recall a few instances of overt racism in my life: things like people asking “What’s my name in Chinese?” or “Since you’re Asian, you must be good at math” or “You must know some good tea!” or “You must know where the noodles are in this supermarket.” Well-meaning, but ill-informed; easily fixable by a firm but friendly statement why such utterances are wrong.

I thought I knew America– a population of generally kind, decent, generous, and tolerant people. After the 2016 election, I am struggling very hard to still believe in this America. An America who knowingly elected someone who is a bigot, sexist, and racist– someone who is guaranteed to work hard to infringe on my rights as a woman, a first-generation immigrant, and as a person of color. An America where 50% of the voting electorate stayed home– this passivity at least as worse as actively voting for the bigot. An America where, even with an amazing and historic choice for President, chose to stay at home or elect one of the most ill-qualified and volatile candidates in history.

With anguish, I realize I lived in a bubble, and now I must come to terms that the America who elected this bigot is the true America that I live in and will continue to. America has come so far in many respects, but there still so much work to be done. As people of color, and as women, we must realize the strength in our numbers. America may still have a small majority of whites, but demographics are quickly changing. We already have powerful voices, if only we would speak up.

What to do next

Over the course of this terrible day, I’ve thought continually what I can do as someone, who only wants to live a normal life, can do to change this. I’m a student, I will never run for political office, I do not have much money. What can I do? There are many things– stand up for those you see being harassed (white allies, we need you more than ever)– keep informed– keep engaged and informed in national and local politics– whenever you can, engage with people who are different than you– volunteer for and donate what you can to organizations that help to protect those whose rights are under attack. I cannot stress enough to be engaged in politics at both the local and national level– vote in every election, contact your state representatives, your state governor, your city mayor, etc. Anyone, everyone. Local government is a vital part of the governing process and affects us, much more deeply, in many respects, than the federal government.

Remember, on November 6, 2018 all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested.

Bless you, and stay safe– especially my fellow sisters and brothers of color. I am always here to talk if you need it, or to lend an ear.

a deep sadness

Change is the only constant. I thought I had accepted those words long ago. I thought I had accepted that my life here in Washington, D.C. was only fleeting, and that whatever would happen here, I’d move on soon. However, the deep sadness I’m experiencing says otherwise.

I’m continuing onto my second year in D.C., while my roommate is around for a few more weeks before carting off to graduate school in South Korea for the next three years. I am very proud of her and her journey, and I know her spontaneity, optimism, and common sense will continue to serve her well. Strange compliments, perhaps, but those are things that I lack, and thus precisely the things I admire in her.

We met in high school and were roommates for a brief summer before our senior year. Even then, she was an amazing roommate and we quickly became best friends. Somewhat eerily, since living together, we have started to think and say the same things– at the same time. I already miss our daily interactions, however small, and our serious conversations on topics ranging from education to manga tropes. Yet, I instinctively know that this is not all there is to this sadness; I still have not cried; still waters run deep, they say.

I suppose to some my strongest point is my tireless drive and ambition, but in these times, I find it crippling. I’m always thinking about my career path, I’m scared how I stack up to my high-performing peers, both from school and work. More than anything, I fear being left behind, someone my parents can’t be proud of. Everything I do needs to be perfect, prestigious, and promising of a better tomorrow. I want to be the orthodox paragon.

I feel guilt having these (irrational) thoughts– objectively, I am a well-rounded, financially stable, and contributing member of society. Yet, I can always see the next rung of the ladder I need to grasp, deftly traversed by many of my peers– including my roommate– and I feel despair. Forever stuck on the bottom rung, forever following others in a lesser capacity.

I cannot shake this feeling of doom. I cannot shake this feeling of despair because I know I will have to return to the vicious circle. I will be again living with the struggle and despondency, just as I felt when I applied to college, when I began looking for a full-time job after college graduation. I know I’m not ready, but I cannot fully understand that I’ll never be ready.

The clock, it runs on.

reflection on 2014

In the background, two humidifiers hum on and soft 2000s pop from the likes of Michelle Branch and Avril Lavigne play. A scratchy cough punctuates the space every so often, threatening to hurt harder every time the afflicted person coughs.

Certainly not the way in which I anticipated in welcoming the new year, bedridden and recovering from a serious cold, for the first time in at least six years.

Graduating from college, giving two instrumental recitals, starting my first real job, amongst other things– 2014 was a mélange of accomplishments, some of which when I look back, I can hardly fathom how I survived. I guess, on the outside, I do not easily betray emotion or stress, I tend to tell people “I’m dying” with a sarcastic smile. If only they knew how many times I came close to unraveling. When I reflect, I wonder about the constant cycle of pressure I’ve become accustomed to putting myself under and why I do it.

In 2014, I have accepted myself more than ever. What is characterized as “ambition” to others, is simply a way of life for me. I’m grateful for where I am, but I’ll always be on the lookout for what’s next. Life without an uphill climb is simply boring. I have accepted that perhaps I can’t get along swimmingly with everyone. I value the straightforward, the disingenuous and likewise strive to be so myself– I recognize that to some, this personality is grating and without tact, but I accept this.

I accept that I am alone.

Here’s to 2015, and our continuing acceptance of ourselves.

inadvertently athleisure-ly

Catching up on my Economist backlog, I read an interesting article on how the sales of jeans have been going down, partly due the fact that women are now embracing athleisure– wearing athletic clothing as leisure wear, even if they have no intention to work out. I was surprised there was an actual term for this movement as that meant I was an unwitting disciple.

In college, I had gone through three distinct phases of dressing. First the awkward I’m-still-wearing-Aeropostale-and-actual-colors-i.e.-wardrobe-from-high-school-that-I-put-together-from-copying-others lasted me for a year until I discovered Zara. Then I spent the next two years looking sharp in blazers and skinny pants. My last year I gave up caring and wore athletic wear pretty much every day; on the off days, I would don a pair of Uniqlo skinny pants and a hoodie. Even now, I am wearing running tights despite the fact I have no intention of exercising.

What changed? I suspect the things that changed for me changed for most of the women in the athleisure lifestyle. First, it is trendy to work out, to be healthy, to down that chia drink with gusto! As such, it is socially acceptable for a woman to walk down the street in tight athletic wear and sneakers without being looked down upon as a mess. She is taking care of her body and she looks great without her makeup on, right? Ah, she’s going into Whole Foods now, her life must be so great. Celebrating the body of woman like the temple it is.

I used to wear athletic clothing only when exercising, too. But after exercising, I realized something: that exercise clothes are comfortable. Sounds stupid, but yes, good exercise clothes are constructed in a way that makes moving very easily and will constrain all of those fat pockets if so needed. Generous amounts of clingy and stretchy fabrics makes it so that sizes fit well even slightly too large or too small. So, two points for exercise clothes: they are comfortable and more universally flattering.

As for styles, shapes, and colors, exercise clothes tend to have less choices and gravitate towards being color-blocked and simple. As someone whose choice of store for real clothes is increasingly now Uniqlo, having a limited set of basics is incredibly appealing. Everything mostly matches and doesn’t have the frills or frightening patterns that regular clothes can have. I do appreciate regular clothes and the people who have the mindset to wear them, but the hassle of choosing them as a set and wearing them is sometimes too much for me. If I wear a patterned dress, I need to be in the pattern mindset, by golly, before I can wear it. Most of the time I’m not in the mood to be orange and blue birds nor Victorian lace. Most of the time I want to be nondescript and low-maintenance, which usually means color-blocked, dark and comfortable.

I do think that athleisure is not simply a style, but it a strong lifestyle statement– I don’t care what people think of me if they see me in exercise clothes all the time (and by extension, how well/poorly toned my bottom is) because ultimately, I want to be comfortable. The same can be said of regular clothes, of course, but wearing mainstream regular clothes mostly does not have a negative connotations of being a slob or a wannabe. I like athletic wear and if I am a slob or exercise-wannabe to some, then whatever. I will work hard to please those that are in my purview, but for those who I may see once in a fleeting lifetime.. excuse me while I go put on my running tights.


I still remember in high school, where I used to be bone-crushingly embarrassed when I was alone– sitting alone in the bus, working alone in a group project, spending lunch eating quietly by myself. I hated it. Everyone moved in cliques and I was so jealous that I never seemed to belong to any. I had a few friends here and there, but that was it.

In college, I still felt the same at first, but something was slowly changing. By my senior year, I openly joked to my friends about being a hermit and suddenly, being alone was a relief. After I’ve graduated college, these feelings only have intensified. I turned down an invitation to hang out, saying vaguely “I am busy this weekend.” If I was telling the whole truth, it should have read, “I am busy doing nothing this weekend.” In fact, if I am not that lazy, I will go out to dinner by myself at a sit-down restaurant– not a fast-food restaurant. I like eating alone, too.

Two weeks ago, one of my friends visited me. In outward appearance, we appear to have the same opinions, but we reach them in very different manners, so we often disagree. We also perceive things in markedly different manners, so we both misunderstand and offend each other, not infrequently, as well. We sat in front of the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the Reflecting Pool late at night, just talking about our personalities and somehow tears started to stream down my face. I willed myself not to sob, just let the tears run, and I fell silent from the effort, and I started to reflect.

No one knows the full Michelle, no one will probably ever know the full me.

While I was reflecting on my personality, my friend kept interrupting me and asking me about my life, like how I liked DC and what about my job, etc. I remained stoically silent for a few moments before asking him more than a few times, “Are you uncomfortable with silence?”

In one of my semesters at college, I took a political science course, in which the professor would not force others to speak, but would let the conversation naturally lapse to silence at times. One of the students eventually asked him about it, and he gave a small smile and said as he was raised by a Quaker community, silence was natural to him. It was comfortable for him.

While talking with my friend late at night, I remembered that again. I remembered the sense of wonder and respect for my professor and his ability to savor the silence, to use it to think and not to worry about what others were thinking. I also remembered the deep sense of self I had developed at college, and I realized that I am who I am, and I’ve since accepted it. I don’t like large groups, I can’t go out for more than a few hours without getting tired, I like eating alone, and I like laughing in empty rooms. I like being alone.

I don’t care if no one ever knows the full Michelle. Having my friends’ and family’s support is enough even if they don’t know all the worries and challenges I am facing. Maybe someday I can find someone who I can share all of my feelings with, all the darkness, all the light, and everything in between. Maybe not. All I know for now is that– I like being alone; I am alone.