What are you really doing?

A friend of mine one day came to me with a personal problem.
“Clear, I don’t think I can be with Simon.”
“Why not?”
“He wants us to get married.”
“So?”
“I’m a feminist and I want to be free. You know? I want to be able to go wherever I want, whenever I want.”
“Do you love him?”
“Yes, of course! I want to be with him. But I have to be free. You know? I can’t get married.”
“You are not married right now. Do you think you are free?”


My father always complained how my mother and I always put our coats and jackets on the couch, while we were supposed to put them in the closet.

He used to tidy the living room up, including the couch area, by picking up our clothes from the living room and throwing them on the bed.

The result was obvious. The living room was “tidied up”, while the bedroom became messy.

“It’s like putting a messy bunch of things from one box to another box.” My mother used to say. “It’s just the same mess in another box.”


Sometimes we might think we are doing something while going the exact opposite way, heading to where we didn’t want to go.
We think we are liberating ourselves, as we slowly imprison ourselves in the superficiality of liberation;
We thought we are being productive, as we waste time in not working on the things that move needles.
We thought we were breaking confinements, as we use the bricks we took down to build another wall around us.


Be aware of where we are going. Ask why. And see beneath the surface.

Leaving out the ideologies and the fancy terms. What are we doing?

So to step on a path that we won’t regret.

I will be your home

Today I learnt that newborn babies can have “womb-sick” (homesick for womb) for a period of time after they were born.

And I do have homesick. The real one.

Thanks to the pandemic, I can’t fly home. Being away from my family for two years hasn’t been easy.

Home is never just a place. It’s a combination of everything in an experience.

It’s your closest family. It’s the smell of your newly washed clothes. It’s the taste of your breakfast and dinner.

For me, that home is not where I’m living right now. It’s on the other side of this world, literally.

It’s where I grew up, where I learnt what is love, where my dream started.

It’s where I always go back. It’s where my roots are.

It’s where my mother was. It was, and still is, my mother.

Then I realised, I will be home for my daughter.

She will grow up with me, learn what is love, build up her dream.

I want to be her home so she can always come back, where she can sleep well, regain her energy when she’s tired.

I love my home. But I will be hers. I’m building the space, and being the essence of that home, for her.

Because I’m strong enough to be hers, even if I’m not at mine.

Being there, invisible

Being there. The thing that mothers do.

Last night, my baby daughter was crying, because she didn’t want to go to sleep while being extremely tired.

I was there, standing while holding her. I let her look at the kitchen lights the way she likes.

Watching lights always calms her down.

I rocked my body gently left and right, up and down.

I stood there for I don’t know how long.

Then I thought about my own mother.

She must just have been there for me when I needed her. Just like I’m here for my baby, when she needs me.

Through thick and thin. Awake and asleep. All the time. Non-stop.

Maybe that’s why, motherhood can seem to be unspectacular at times.

Because it is essential, sometimes it’s so invisible.

The belated understanding

We are destined NOT to understand each other. At least not at the right time.

We can try to do that. And we should.

But the only way to fully understand another person is to stand exactly where they are, wearing the same shoes as they are, having the same experience that informs today’s emotion and decision…

Or to put it simply: being them.

So that’s hopeless. Because it’s impossible.

Now I’m a mother myself. Suddenly I can understand my own mother to an extent that I didn’t think was possible.

I used to think my mother might have hated me when I was growing up. Because she forbade me to do so many things that were allowed by my friends’ parents.

“It’s for your own sake,” She used to say, “you will understand me in the future when you become a mother yourself.”

I didn’t believe her. And I didn’t even consider it could be true.

I thought, adults just say the most random things to get me to do whatever they want me to do.

Today I do understand my mother from 20 years ago. She was worried. She had fear. She had fear because of the unknown.

Unknown for her was the scariest thing. She didn’t want something for me that was unknown to her.


Yet understanding my mother doesn’t mean that I would do the same to my own child.

I would try to understand my own fear, and not let my fear dictate the freedom of experience for my own child. I might not do a better job. But I will try.

It was hard for a child to believe the rejections of requests she got from her own mother was out of love.

The truth of that love is what I can fully understand today, standing at where my mother was standing, living as a mother myself.


There is a gap between each of us with others in this world. A gap that makes complete understanding impossible.

Even if we go around mountains, following another person’s footsteps, and eventually getting to stand where they are, they might have left a while ago.

You can still see what they have seen, feel they have felt. Then you can really understand them.

But what to do with that view, those feelings and emotions becomes your own decision.

That’s what understanding each other really means — not to close the gap, because it’s impossible; but to see from where they’ve made their decisions, so that you can better make yours.

A bird and a dandelion

“Let the wind take me wherever”.

It is a kind of life philosophy. Free-spirited. Chilled. No root. Flexible. “Go with the flow”.

The only commitment you will take is “No commitment, thanks”.

But there are still two types of people who own this motto.

A bird. Or a dandelion.

They can both fly with the wind. But the difference is vast:

A dandelion has to fly. But she doesn’t get to decide where she’s going, or where she’s landing. The wind decides her fate. She can’t stop, can’t choose to change the route.

She needs to get away from where she was to survive, to have a chance of growing into something herself. The wind is her only chance. So she lets the wind take her, knowing the risk ahead that she might not land at an ideal place to grow.

A bird also uses the wind. Yet she doesn’t depend on it completely.

The wind helps her fly higher, faster, better.

She’s her own captain; she can fly against the wind if she must.

But she can stop when she’s tired.

So before jumping into the wind and let it take you “wherever”, think about whether you are a bird or a dandelion.

Cooking, a job, and the default role of a woman

My mother used to say: “Don’t learn how to cook. You’d be serving others your whole life.”

She was the best cook I knew.

I’m not pressured to cook like my mother was. She had to cook for my father and me, and for the big family, because she’s better than everybody else at doing it. And it was what her mother told her, that it was the responsibility of the wife to cook good meals everyday, every meal.

In recent years I realised that I actually enjoy cooking. But there’s somehow an inexplainable inner need for me to put a good meal on the table, which feels almost like a “job” and “natural responsibility“. As if I have to cook because I should cook. If I don’t cook once, I feel almost guilty; when my husband cooks a nice meal, I feel thankful and even a bit spoiled.

I’m doing these things, even after my mother told me not to, even when I actively tried to avoid doing them.

I tried to be conscious about the default role of me, the woman, in our family. I let my husband do some things that were “my mother’s jobs”, while feeling guilty in secret for not doing them myself, and judging him for not doing them well enough.

My mother didn’t teach me cooking. She said if I don’t know how to cook, I won’t serve others, but be served by others. But what she didn’t know is that since she passed away, all I wanted to do was to taste the food she cooked again — those tastes of various dishes, smells in the kitchen, and the consistency of those handmade noodles are some of the strongest association I have with her, and her love for me.

I know she felt it was unfair that she had to cook while others were waiting around, chatting and watching TV. I know that at the beginning, she had to do it because that’s her “job” as a woman; but later she couldn’t stop cooking for everyone because she’s the best at cooking. And nobody else was good enough to be up for the task.

When she couldn’t get out of it, cooking for everyone, every time, became a burden.

But I believe she also enjoyed cooking for us.

I believe besides “labouring”, she was also loving us through cooking amazing meals.

I didn’t inherit the “burdened” role of the woman in the family from my own mother. What I’ve learnt is also how she showed us love.

She was not a hugger, nor a very expressive one of her feelings.

But I know her loved me very much.

I guess I will just need to find my own way of expressing my love.

And expressing my love is a responsibility I’m gladly to take on.

Selfish vs. Selfless

My mother used to tell me that she wished for me to be selfish. “As a woman, you can be happier if you are a bit selfish. Getting what you want and caring for your needs should be given priority.”

But she’s also the most selfless person I know.

She always let others eat first. She herself would still be busy in the kitchen when everybody else already finished eating. She put other people’s need before hers. She spent more money for my father and me, while she wouldn’t buy anything nice for herself.

And she’s not the only woman who wishes herself to be more “selfish” but does the opposite in reality.

Why is that?

What my mother meant with “being selfish” actually means giving your own needs priority. In our generation, it’s not “selfish“; it’s called “self-care“.

It’s based on the scenario that everybody’s feeling is acknowledged. In this case, only if one takes care of her own needs, is she able to take care of others’ needs. It means that “I will make myself healthy and happy first so I can take care of others who I love and who love me. If I ignore my own health and happiness they will not be happy. And that’s the opposite of what I want for them.”

Therefore, isn’t the “selfless” behaviour, the one where the other people’s feelings were not taken into account, the de facto “selfish” one?

Why are there still so many women — wives and mothers — putting their own needs and feelings in the last and thinking “that’s the way it’s supposed to be”? It’s in the end the selfish “selflessness” that defined the role of women in a household, a family.

A rock and a river

I used to think that I was a rock with sharp edges. And the world around me was like water and wind. The only thing they’d do was to change me.

All that I wanted to do was to resist that change.

Resisting was the main thing I did. It’s the first reaction to anything that made me uncomfortable and wonder.

I thought I was surrounded by “the norms” — how I was supposed to be — and I was trying to get out of those boxes.

So I rebeled. I kept resisting.

Until resisting became a part of me, my identity, a self-designed box.

When will I be ready to set myself free from that box?

When I finally realise that I can choose not to be a rock that’s almost hostile toward the world. And when I know that I can choose to reconcile and let myself be enriched from the good and the bad, the happiness and the tragedies.

I’m not a rock.

I am a river.

Kraft paper book covers

I thought that was… paper. Thin, wrinkled paper. But it was the wall.

Like one of those chairs that look deceptively comfortable. But when you sit on them, you’d say, “Oh, it’s made of plastic.”

This paper looking wall reminded me of the Kraft paper my grandma used to buy for me. He used them to make covers for my text books and notebooks, so that my books would remain as tidy as possible.

After putting on the cover, my grandpa would use a blue pen, write my name and class number on the cover in perfect Chinese calligraphy.

Some children used to take pride in having tidy textbooks with no rolled-up corners. And I was one of them. It showed how much I took care of those books. With neatly written notes on every page in different colours, my books told people how much I was learning, how much thoughts I got from those pages.

I was a proud kid in school for most of the years.

But I was not proud because of having a well-used and tidy textbook collection. I was proud because my parents and grandparents were proud of my exemplary textbooks and my good scores.

And putting on the Kraft paper cover is the first step of getting there. It’s the ritual towards a deep dive into that book and some learning experience and results that would make my family proud.

This first step is serious, solemn, full of hope and loaded with expectation.

It’s one of my favourite school memories.

Losing contact

Are you losing contact with people from your past?

If yes, then, more importantly, does it bother you?

I guess those who don’t have a problem losing contact with friends have the least struggle with who they are and where they are in life. They are doing ok. Or they are not self aware or reflective.

I’m kind of in between —

I’m not active in terms of writing messages. Or keeping in touch in general.

When I’m with a friend, I don’t check my phone or answer calls. I’m with that person 100 percent. But after we say goodbye, it’s hard for me to keep up with replying messages.

I don’t like to feel like my phone dictates my attention. And I don’t feel bad about it.

But it bothers me when I’m looking back, I haven’t talked to some people, who I really cared about in the past, for years.

Because losing contact with those old friends feels like losing touch with the old version of myself.

Oh yes, I’m involuntarily different with the company of every person. I bet you are, too. You just might not have noticed.

Sometimes talking to an old friend of mine feels like being back in the head of the old me again. And that always makes me smile. Like traveling through time. But more exciting, since we are travelling into the mind of ourselves, when we were wittier, funnier, more stupid, more outgoing, more carefree…

And that’s just wonderful. But it wouldn’t happen so naturally if the person, with whom you shared the past, was not there.

You might remember, once upon a time, you were witty, funny, more stupid, more outgoing and more carefree. But you will never simply “remember” how it was being stupid, more outgoing and more carefree.

That being is the version of yourself that you don’t want to forget. That’s who you were, and part of who you are right now.

So, call someone today. Someone from your past that you have lost contact with.

Someone you are thinking while reading these words. Someone with whom you like the version of yourself.

Call. Don’t write. If you can and are willing, meet for a coffee at the park. That’s what I’d do.

I want to know how I get here, so I want to know where I was. And how I was.

(Oh, and you should genuinely care about how they are doing when you call them. Don’t call just to feel good about yourself. That’s not nice.)