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I am chugging along on my 99 Things That Bring Me Joy list train. This next stop brings me to the list of my oldest friend. Growing up, I didn’t have a large group of friends. I was an extremely shy child; so shy to the point where I spent a majority of my Kindergarten year of school cowering in the corner by the door of the classroom. I was so extremely shy & frightened to sit along with my classmates, that I spent the entire class period sitting in the corner between the front door & a table, doing & saying absolutely nothing the whole time. At the urging of my teacher (who was very gentle & kind), my parents tried to encourage me to engage with my fellow classmates, but like I always did when I was that scaredy-cat, little tyke, I bawled my eyes out. (I was an easy crier when I was a little kid.)

It wasn’t until I met a girl in my Kindergarten class who broke me out of my shell, & we became fast friends. Her family came all the way from Japan, & we were both two shy little girls with runny, sniffling noses who were both extremely into Hello Kitty & other cute Japanese things.

I don’t quite remember the details of how the two of us met or became such close friends in such a short amount of time, but we built a close friendship rather quickly. Since this girl came from one of the rare Japanese families to move into our neighborhood, both of our families bonded fast. I don’t know how, but my dad knew all of the Japanese speaking neighbors in our immediate neighborhood, & all of the moms got to know each other very well.

When we first met this family, my dad was thrilled to interact with a fellow neighbor who was also born & raised in Japan, someone he could freely speak Japanese to, who understood him. That’s how both of our dads became fast friends. Both of our moms also became good friends, with my mom teaching my friend’s mom how to speak English. My friend’s mom, in turn, taught my mom all about Japanese culture, & my mom was also able to pick up a few Japanese phrases here & there. I remember my friend had two older brothers who pretty much kept to themselves whenever I would hang out at their house, but like in true sibling nature, both brothers found us girls to be annoying (even though we never really bothered them).

I was super sad when my friend had announced after three years of living close by that her family was moving back to Japan. At that time, I had no idea what was going on or why my friend was all of a sudden moving back to Japan. Back in those days, especially when you’re a little kid, you never heard of the work-abroad program that was so popular in Japan. Big-time companies would send selected employees to work overseas for a maximum of three years, to build work experience & learn more about foreign business. My friend’s dad had come to the United States for his company’s work-abroad program, & the whole family moved to my neighborhood. I got to know this girl through school, & my parents got to know their family through all of the times we would spend at each other’s houses on play dates.

Ever since my friend had moved back to Japan, we have kept in touch over the years. We send each other greeting cards with letters written inside. I’ve traveled to Japan to visit her multiple times, & once stayed overnight at her parents’ (gorgeous & substantial) house in Tokyo. She has come back to visit the Bay Area a few times & take a walk down memory lane, checking out our old school grounds & passing by the house she once lived in.

A lot of time has passed between us, but we still keep in touch. My fondest memory was when my parents had planned a huge family reunion in Japan, & they had extended the invitation to my friend & her parents (her brothers were both studying & working abroad at the time). All of my extended family members came out, & we packed an entire Italian restaurant with our reunion group. My oldest brother (who is my dad’s first biological child) with his wife & two daughters were part of our travel group, along with my brother’s best friend (with wife & two daughters). My dad was extremely generous to invite my brother’s friend with his family to join us on our family reunion trip. It was so much fun interacting with my extended family & all of our friends.

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Here is a photo of my friend & I with our moms during my family’s huge reunion party circa 2006.

All in all, I am very thankful to call this girl my friend. We have both grown up so much from our days of sniffling noses & playing with Hello Kitty toys, but we’ve definitely stayed good friends throughout our time apart. There was another girl that I met in primary school after this friend had moved away, & we also became fast friends. We went through a shit ton of ups & downs (mostly downs), but I will leave that whole can of worms for a different blog post. I want this post to be happy & upbeat. So until the next time, cheers & T.G.I.F.!! (I really need a break this weekend.)

Today’s song of the day:

 

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In my 99 Things That Bring Me Joy journal, I have reached list number 7: listing your closest relatives. I find this list a bit hard to write about, as I have complicated relationships with some of my closest (DNA-wise) relatives. I have a good relationship with practically everyone in my family, including my 90-year old grand-uncle & 96-year old grand-aunt (both siblings of my maternal grandmother). However, in regards to my immediate family, our family dynamic is quite strained/tense.

If I had to make a definitive list based on who I believe are my closest relatives, well, I would definitely put my mom at the very top of my list. I have a wonderful relationship with my mother that continues to flourish every day, even as she lives with Jian & me. I wouldn’t exactly say that my mom is my “best friend” because I believe in parent-child boundaries, but we are extremely close & talk to each other about every subject under the sun.

When I was growing up, I feared my mom so much. She was an extremely strict disciplinarian, who had no qualms with disciplining me in public. I would often get myself into trouble, doing things my mom had specifically told me not to do, & that’s when my mom would really lay down the law…not with time-outs, or sitting in the corner, but with physical punishments (nothing severe, just basic spankings & light paddling with a thick/hard hairbrush). I had ultimately feared my mom’s strict discipline as a child, but grew to appreciate it as an adult, turning what would be perceived as punishment into a learning lesson.

On the flip side, I was super close to my dad when I was a very young child, but as I got older, I would often clash with my dad & we would get into arguments both small & extreme. My teen years living with my dad was especially tenuous. I was going through puberty, & wanted to be like my peers with more lenient parents who let them stay out late & drive to the big city, & go to music concerts. My parents, my dad especially, wouldn’t let me even hang out at a friend’s house on a school night, even though most of my friends lived on the same street as I did. So, that led to more than a few clashes with my dad, but eventually, I learned to stop fighting against my dad’s words, & start to listen to his words more. Gradually, as I further grew into adulthood, I became even closer to my dad, & we built a bond I will treasure forever even though his life was cut short.

I would then say, after listing my parents, that Jian would be the next closest in terms of relationships. He is my absolute most best friend in the entire world, & there is nothing in the world that could break that bond. Jian & I talk about absolutely everything, from internet memes, to our individual hopes, dreams & fears, all the way to bowel movements & flatulence.

Yes, at one point, Jian used to call me every day at work while he was making his morning deposits in the lavatory, & I would sometimes do the same to him, & we would often joke around that we should send each other photos of evidence, a la the “pics or it didn’t happen” meme. THAT is how close we are…resorting to talking about poop. However, aside from our easy banter, we also talk to each other about personal issues, life goals, & everything in between. I don’t even have girl-friends who I can talk to this freely. Jian truly is one-of-a-kind.

And then the next up on my list would be my two older brothers. It’s been a strange & difficult journey, since there is such a huge age gap between the three of us. My oldest brother is 17 years older, & my second oldest brother is 9 years older, but we have grown closer over the years, & we communicate with each other regularly.  It’s a bit difficult to keep in touch with my brothers, as the oldest has a family of his own to take care of (his two daughters are already out of university & into the working world), & my other brother lives in Southern California, but we still call & text each other regularly, & I will always cherish the memories I have of my brothers helping to taking care of me & playing games with me when I was growing up.

Here’s where things get a bit sticky-icky-icky. I do have an older sister, but things between my sister & the rest of our family is extremely strained. Due to many personal circumstances that have occurred throughout our lives, tension has continued to build over the years, & many unresolved issues have resurfaced to become obstacles blocking the path to our family’s unity. We still keep in touch with my sister, albeit limited to her terms, & we try to maintain a close relationship with her two children (my beloved 11-year old nephew & 9-year old niece), but when we get together as a family, the tension boils to the surface, & things spiral out of control. So, we try to keep things on my sister’s terms, in order to placate her hair-trigger temper & to “keep the boat from rocking”.

I’d love to build a closer relationship with my sister. We did not spend a lot of time together when we were growing up. My sister is 6 years older than I am, & when we were growing up she was always steps ahead of me: liking boys, wearing makeup, hanging out with friends. By the time I would reach a certain age, she would already be much older & had moved on to more mature things, which always left me doing things by myself while my sister would be going out with her friends. So that left me with no older sister figure for me to look up to at home.

We never got a chance to build a relationship when we were growing up, & it became even more difficult as we got older, since my sister moved out of the house as soon as she graduated high school & went off to university, never looking back. I had thought we were building our relationship once my sister became a mother, since our whole family centered around her & her kids, but our relationship became strained when I started getting closer to her children, & she thought that was totally inappropriate for an aunt to be so close to her nieces & nephews. Ever since that notion crept into her mind, things between us have not been the same. Our relationship has now devolved into one developed out of her paranoia, & my walking on egg shells around her while trying to placate her…unsuccessfully, to her chagrin.

Overall, things just are what they are. We are all trying to make the best of our situations, & getting by one day at a time. I am so happy & grateful that I have a wonderful & supportive family surrounding me, with three awesome nieces & one cool nephew. We’ll just have to wait & see what happens next. Until next time fam, cheers!

Today’s song of the day:

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In my quest to discover 99 Things That Bring Me Joy, the next list in my journal asks me to describe one memorable family vacation, & there is one specific vacation that pops up in my mind vividly. I’ve been on many meaningful & fun family vacations throughout my life. Some of my favorite family trips were of my family along with my dad’s childhood & lifelong friends (including their respective families) going on summer camping trips in Lake Tahoe, up in Northern California. However, the most memorable trip I can fondly recall was an amazing road-trip my immediate family went on from way back in the mid-1990s.

My dad had taken a serious chunk of time off of work to take my mom, me & my younger cousin visiting from SoCal for the summer, on a really memorable road-trip in his modestly awesome Toyota Sienna minivan. We traveled from the Bay Area, up to & through Northern California, through Oregon & Washington, then ending all the way up to British Columbia in Canada. It was one of the best family road-trips I’ve ever been on, all thanks to the incredible planning by my late father.

Now, a lot of time has passed since then, & I don’t remember every little town we visited. I can only vaguely guess that my dad drove up Interstate 5 from California, through Oregon, then Washington, all the way up to British Columbia, Canada. Some of the little towns we drove through were really quaint & cute. Others were unique & fun. Back then, I was a teenager still going through puberty, & my cousin was barely even in her tween years, & those were the days before the technology boom of smartphones & tablets. So, naturally my cousin & I spent most of our time in the car either napping or playing the Cat’s Cradle string game. (Side note: We once tried to play with cards in my dad’s minivan, but quickly found out we all got carsick super fast & one of my cousins actually hurled into a plastic bag.)

Starting around San Francisco, we rode my dad’s above-average minivan up north, somewhere near Redding. We spent one night in an economy hotel, then continued up further up north, passing through Portland, Oregon & then on to Washington state. I remember one of our main stops along our road-trip being in Leavenworth, Washington. We stayed in a really cool hotel that had individual cottage style lodging. I specifically remember our cottage having an all-white color scheme. All of the wood furniture was light colored (like they were from IKEA or something), & the layout had a cute little kitchen & living room space, a master bedroom, & a separate smaller bedroom…the one my cousin & I shared. The only other time in my life where I had ever visited a Scandinavian-esque town was when my family would drive through the little town of Solvang in California on the way to visit family in Los Angeles. Let me tell you, Leavenworth is a whole other experience. It was a really cool & interesting touristy town.

My mom had a blast shopping for lots of little blue & white porcelain bric-a-brac to clutter up our house, as well as buying yards & yards full of delicate, handmade lace curtains to add just that little touch of gaudiness to our mid-century modern Eichler home. My dad loved sampling all of the delicious traditional German delicacies at the local restaurants. My cousin & I were so excited to have one unchaperoned night all to ourselves in our little hotel cottage, while my parents had a night to themselves to have an adult dinner.

Later that night as we went to bed, my cousin & I had to share one queen-sized bed in our small room. I remember the down comforter on the bed was the most fluffiest, & softest comforter I had ever slept on. It was super thick & pillowy. My cousin & I liked to stay up late (very late according to my parents’ standards) & chat. We tried to keep our voices low, thinking that my parents couldn’t hear us from two rooms away, but we could still hear my dad scolding us to go to sleep. How do you expect two giddy teenage girls to sleep when it’s barely dark outside? I mean, sometimes my dad’s bedtime hours were ridiculous.

After leaving the town of Leavenworth, we continued to travel north toward Canada. Our destination…The Buchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay, somewhat near Victoria. Here’s where my mind is getting a little fuzzy. I can’t remember which parts of Canada we drove through to get to the ferry that would take us to Brentwood Bay. The only part of this portion of our trip that I can clearly remember is the time we spent on the ferry & the time we spent at The Buchart Gardens. My mom easily gets seasick, & I remember there were parts of our ferry ride that wasn’t exactly the smoothest. My cousin & I were so bored on the 10+ hour ferry ride, by the time we got to our destination, we were ready to kiss the ground.

When we arrived at The Buchart Gardens, we were awestricken. The Buchart Gardens is one of my parents’ most favorite places in the world, & it was one of my dad’s goals to take his family there for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I will admit here that my cousin & I didn’t appreciate the gardens as much as we should/could have. For two teenagers who were mostly interested in boys, TV, & hanging out with friends, in the beginning of our tour we weren’t as enthusiastic about looking at bushes & flowers for the entire day. However, as the day progressed, we took a bigger interest in the gardens. We all fell in love with the bright colors & grandeur of the gardens, & had such a memorable experience. I remember my dad taking a lot of photos of the three of us ladies: my mom, my cousin, & me.

We didn’t stay in Canada for very long. Shortly after our day in The Buchart Gardens, we headed back down south in my dad’s trusty minivan. We passed through Seattle, Washington, & I was super excited to be able to see the iconic Space Needle as we drove through the city. We then, took another drive through downtown Portland in Oregon, & I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t stop to look around for a bit. Then, as we passed through Northern California again, we stopped at a little town where we saw a shop selling handmade wooden furniture made by Quakers. My parents ended up buying a wooden China cabinet/hutch for our kitchen that we had shipped to our house. That China cabinet is still sitting in our kitchen, & it still looks as new as the day we brought it into our home.

My  absolute most memorable experiences from this entire road-trip was when we stopped at a cute little toy shop while strolling the downtown area of this town who’s name I can’t remember. My dad let my cousin & I each pick out one souvenir to buy, & I vividly remember picking an alarm clock. Well, it wasn’t just any plain old alarm clock. No. This alarm clock was shaped like a puffer fish. It creeped me out at first because the teeth of the puffer fish represented the numbers on a traditional clock, but the design eventually won my heart over with the little rotating clown fish that represented the second hand of the clock. Let me show you an example of this clock for your reference.

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My dad thought I was absolutely nuts for choosing something so unattractive & weird as my souvenir, & my mom tried to get me to pick something else, but I was determined to get this alarm clock. Ever since I first saw it in the display window at the shop I was completely drawn to it. No matter what else I saw at the store, my eyes kept darting back to this ridiculous alarm clock. I just fell in love with it, & had no regrets ever since buying it. This alarm clock lasted for nearly 10+ years before it finally “clocked out” for good. (Pun intended.)

I initially thought I would get a scare every time I would walk into my room & see this creature staring straight at me, with it’s mouth gaping open & baring its sharp teeth, but it didn’t bother me at all. It took me a couple of weeks to get adjusted to having such a large object, especially a clock, occupying so much valuable space on my small nightstand, but it was a pretty smooth adjustment.

This alarm clock may look kitschy & like a cheap novelty toy (it was not very cheap), but it served its purpose well. I used the alarm function of this clock every day for school, & it worked great until one day it just stopped working & I almost was late for school. I had tried changing the battery, but that didn’t work, & I knew then that the clock was busted & broken. It would’ve cost me more money to repair the clock than it was actually worth, so I ended up tossing it out.

Now, I wish I still had that clock today, even in its non-working condition. It would’ve been nice to keep it just as a sentimental keepsake of our amazing & unforgettable road-trip as a little family. I loved telling strangers that my little cousin was my sister. I never had any younger siblings growing up, & I had always dreamed of having younger siblings. Back in those days, I hated being the youngest child, always getting yelled at or picked on by my older siblings, & being overbearingly over-protected by my parents.

Having my younger cousin around during the summer holidays when we were growing up was so much fun. We made so many great memories together, playing, talking, & learning about life together. Now she’s a mother of two & living her best life. I am currently in the process of expanding & adding parts to my already-in-progress best life ever. So, let’s get on to the next post. Until next time, cheers!

Today’s song of the day:

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