My dad has faced many “deaths” in his life - as a nurse he saw soldiers die in the forests from casualties or unsanitary conditions at the time of war; as a brother he saw the sight of his first brother passing away from a motorbike accident; and then years later he carried another brother with broken neck, nearing death, with blood all over his body to the hospital after another accident. How beautiful it is that he still smiles at the start of each day. I got my distinctive laughter and unwavering optimism from my dad. How lucky I am to inherit such positivity growing up.
My dad started his career with empty hands coming out of the military but with so much richness in efforts and perseverance. He became a bus driver, taking lots of struggling, poverty-stricken novice salesman to bordering countries to buy low and then sell higher in local markets, saving day by day to buy the next meal. My mom was one of those bus riders. My mom and my dad fell in love. My mom gave up an opportunity to move to the U.S. to get married to my dad, whom she had only met 1.5 year. My mom often told me that it was probably the hardest decision of her life - to give up the opportunity of pursuing the “American dream” and follow her family - to believe in love and believe in her own belief that staying with my dad was the right decision for her. My mom and my dad got married, started their career with close to empty hands, and gave my brother and me a full childhood, full because we always had enough food and love. Our birthdays were always celebrated with a cake and some oranges for the neighborhood kids. My parents’ grit and resourcefulness in building out careers of their own without a high school degree, their trust in love and in me and my brother to venture out of home early in our teenage years, and their courage in always making decisions that are their own later became sources of inspiration for me in how I want to live my life. I want to live a life with courage - courage to explore the unknown, to believe in myself and others, to understand differences, to fail to then stand up, and to make my life my own.
My 4-year-older brother grew up being very happy - perhaps a bit too happy that he sometimes become viewed as “lazy” and “complacent” by those around him. I think it’s rare to find someone lazier than he is - it may take him a year to hang up a new curtain, or lots of yelling from me to study his SAT vocabulary. By the time he finished memorizing 100 words, I had already finished writing 7 notebooks for SAT vocab for him to study and by repetition had also probably remembered more than what he studied. Despite not being the “role model” Asian brother I pictured, my brother has taught me a very valuable lesson - to fully appreciate the presence and the simplicity side of everything. My aunts and uncles often reprimanded my brother for being too complacent for lacking ambitions and spending too much time playing soccer. However, as I grew up, I slowly realized that he does have ambition - it’s just different. His ambition is playing as much soccer as possible - on the fields, in video games, or through watching others. My brother taught me that ambitions can take many forms, and that we don’t necessarily need to adopt definitions of others’ ambitions to be our own. We simply can know ourselves and do what we want, then we will find joy on our own, regardless of places in which we live. My brother never dreamed of moving out of Jacksonville, Florida to bigger cities with more “opportunities” like typical young people. He is fully content and proud of his lazy demeanor, as long as he can play soccer.
My family has taught me that there’s no “should” or “shouldn’t” in how we make decisions or how we design our lives. Everyone has a different starting point. My parents may have started with nothing but they ended up with something, and that’s what matters most to them. There’s no life that is “better”, there’s just a “life” in which we live in accordance to our true self or not. As I navigate ambiguity in my life, I hope to find anchor in my own growing self-awareness, with full appreciation for what I already have and the courage to pursue what is most meaningful to me.
With deep gratitude,