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.)

Root there, body here

I’ve been dreaming about going home for a while. Every night, I’m back there, at my grandparents’ apartment.

In my dreams, I’m always the child running up and down the stairwell, hiding from other kids and the grownups. When it’s dark outside, I run back in to the apartment and eat with my grandparents.

Even the furniture is arranged in the way twenty years ago.

Having a baby in the time of the corona virus makes going 7500km back home really difficult.

Almost impossible thanks to the travel restrictions and quarantine regulations.

But I have hope.

I have to live on hope because that’s the only reason I’m still functioning as a person right now.

My home is where I grew up, where my families are.

I want to get far, far away from it. But I’m always tied to it. And I need to go back regularly. That’s how I am.

In fact, I’ve been away since more than 10 years ago. I’ve never wanted to move back. I belong out here, in the world, wherever.

But I’m not rootless. I’m not a nomad in that sense.

I can grow anywhere. But I only have one root that I don’t have with me.

It grows deep into the soil of my home. The one and only.

Plan for 2022: write a memoir

Who writes memoirs?

I thought only old and very famous people write memoirs. They must have much to say about their experience. And it’d be interesting for the world to know their side of the story. Because their view matters.

I want to write a memoir next year.

I’m not old. I’m in my early thirties. And I’m not famous either. Nobody cares about my past experience. Nobody cares about my point of view on things.

My view doesn’t matter to anyone…

Any one but myself.

I’m writing a memoir for myself.

I’m writing it because I was lost for a few years. I fell off track and couldn’t come back for a long time. I want to look back at when and how it happened. “Face it,” I hear myself saying, “so that you can grow from it.”

I’m writing it because I start to forget about things. Things that I wish I can keep in my memories forever. Like in the film “Coco”, we live to be remembered; we exist as long as we are remembered. I simply want to keep some people alive in mine, in the only way I know how.

I’m writing it because I’m feeling stuck in my own life. There are things I want that I don’t know how to get them; and doors I don’t want to go in but they were wide open. It feels like I’m standing mid-way in my life but I have to start from scratch anyway. I feel there’s nothing in my hand, since the “me” in the past didn’t earned us anything useful for the future.

I’m writing it for my child. I care about her view on me when she wants to know about me. And I want her to know my side of my own stories.

I’m writing it from the earliest memories of mine. I’m writing about my family, my childhood, my school time, friendships, rebellious time, struggles, persistence, dreams… choices, heartaches, hopes, disappointments, the beautiful and the ugly…

As a storyteller, finally I’m telling my own story.

That’s going to be quite a project. That’s why it’s going to be the project of the year 2022. I will keep this channel posted about the exact plan and record my progress.

What do you deserve?

One question for you: what do you think defines your value?

First, think about a situation where you can say “I deserve XXX.”

And then ask yourself, what do you have, and how much, that makes you deserve XXX?

It’s hard to evaluate oneself for some people. Because it’s about self-knowing and confidence. And whether they match.

For most of us, what we know about ourselves doesn’t match the confidence we allow us to have.

The kind of self-knowing should come from self-awareness and constant self-reflection. Otherwise narcissists and people with very low self-esteem can also call themselves self-knowing.

Your self-value is completely subjective. Even if you think you deserve a promotion but don’t get it, it can only mean that the people who made that decision evaluated you differently than how you see it. It doesn’t mean you don’t deserve that promotion.

This is the season to give each other gifts (sometimes also ask for gifts from each other). Sometimes we get good surprises and sometimes a bit disappointment.

You can try to be moderately happy either way. And don’t think too much about it. Because how you think about those gifts from others doesn’t say much about how their relationships are with you.

It says how your relationship is with yourself. Your self-given value.

So, how much value do you give yourself?

What do you think you deserve on this Christmas?

On “finding oneself”

I bet I’m not the only one here who is (or has been) on the journey called “finding myself.”

Today I’ve decided that I have failed at finding myself in the last thirty years.

“I don’t know who I am.” I thought, “I have been watching other people and wondering how they’ve gotten to where they are today for too long, that I forgot to find who I really am and well… how I really am.”

This is a strange thought, right?

How can I not know who I am?

Why do I need to “find myself?”

What I mean by “finding myself” came from the thought “what am I? A marketer? A writer? A content creator?

I have not been successful doing any of those things. Can I even call myself ‘something’ before getting some positive result first?

Do I even want to be those things?

Why can’t I just live every day and enjoy it?

Why can’t I just give myself one day off — one day without letting myself feel worse than I already feel?”

Or, can I describe how I am with some adjectives?

Even this is too hard for me.

Or, what do I like to do?

I’m not sure. What I do in my free time changes with time, a lot.

You might say, I have some difficulty sticking to only one thing. (Hey that’s an attribute!)

Not all of us ever get to ask ourselves this question. “Who I am?”

Those are the ones who are lucky enough not to have to actively jump on the train called “finding oneself”.

They found it. Stumbled on it, maybe.

But if they are there, they don’t ever need to look back.

I’m not one of those lucky ones.

I have entered my thirties but I’m feeling more lost than I was in my twenties.

Where’s the “clarity” and “calmness” everyone was talking about being in their thirties?

People say we should experiment things in our twenties.

Different jobs, different places to live.

“Go travel!” They say.

“Go have fun trying things out! You will know what you are good at and what you like later!”

Well, I don’t believe everyone was exactly on that schedule.

As if their birthday comes and suddenly they stand firmly on their well-chosen ground and ready to do their best work.

Maybe it took some of us longer to try things out.

Maybe it took some of us longer to realize that something was not for us.

Maybe it took some of us longer to acknowledge that finding adjectives, or labels, to describe ourselves is meaningless. Because the words we use indicate more about how we wish we are than how we really are.

It’s about “wish”, not “fact” anyway.

So there’s no point to do that.

If we really want to find some words to point out to us who we are, we should ask the closest people in our lives. They will give us the answer. (Ask them to be brutally honest though.)

You might be described differently by other people. But only the closest people’s opinion matters to us.

So here I am.

I’m in my thirties and still trying to figure out my place in this world other than a mother, wife, and daughter.

I’m still searching for more things that excite me, move me.

Things that make me not mind having them become certain labels on me.

Labels on me that I will wish to have as well.

Don’t settle for less than true love

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my career is about myself.

About what kind of a person I am.

About what I’m able to and what I refuse to become.

I must work on something I can stand behind.

I need the trust. I want to believe in something before I can work on it.

I don’t want to have a job that’s separated from my life.

I can’t do “a job” between 9 to 5, and then “come back” to my life after that, and hope there’s a balance to be found and kept between the two.

I want to do a job that I love enough to make it a part of my life.

I don’t want to count minutes at my job, so that “I can finally go home and do something that makes me happy.”

I want to actually enjoy what I do at my job, while not minding when and where I am doing it.

Having a job is like having a relationship.

I don’t want to have one just because I should have one. Otherwise “I’d be lonely, weird, and probably be dying from depression.”

I want to have one because of love.

I know. I know.

“Don’t do what you love. Instead, love what you do.”

But it’s like saying “don’t be with someone you love. Instead, love the one you can get your hands on.”

It’s just immoral.

You might say, “marriage is the way to kill the love between you.”

What a cynic?!

True love is never only rosy and sweet, romantic and exciting.

True love is complicated.

True love demands hard work and great patience.

True love is meant to have ups and downs.

True love is a belief. It tests you and also grants you the strength to keep going.

Because true love is much more rewarding than anything that is not it.

I’m not going to settle for anything less than true love, for anything else is waste of time.

And the thing that is worth caring about is time.

The only currency that matters to me.

Let me make it clear: true love is not “the one”.

If there’s no “the one”, there’s more than one possibility to have one love that is true.

I will have many opportunities to build and use my skillsets.

I will have the motivation to do many things.

I’m just waiting for the chemistry to be right.

I’m still searching for some work that I love.

I will find one.

And if you are like me, you can find one too.

Just don’t settle for less.