The Coolest Thing in the World

I have been drawn to babies for as long as I can remember.  I can’t be around a baby without making a funny face and trying to get them to laugh or capture their attention. When I was seven years old, my uncle and his wife had their first child, a little girl.  They called her Bambi. I adored her and took her under my wing as my new best friend and favorite play companion. We’ve remained close throughout her life – and she’s in her 30s now! In my teens I thought I would get married and become a mother in my 20s because that’s what people did back then. As I chased one dream after the next in my 20s and 30s and valued travel and experiences over settling down, I pushed that thought down the line.

I inherently knew that the more experiences I captured and fulfilled, the less restless and happier I would be as a mother and partner.  I knew that having a child would be the end of one life and the start of another. Boy was I right.

My pregnancy was relatively easy as pregnancies go. I didn’t have any morning sickness or cravings, but Paul likes to tell me that I was “emotional”. I’m not one of those women that loved being pregnant. I’d be happy to have a stork drop a baby on my doorstep that bares some resemblance to me.

The best thing about the pregnancy is it helped me understand what women all over the world endure and experience through pregnancy and childbirth. It gave me greater appreciation and empathy for womankind, and a sense of achievement for birthing this incredible child that we made.  While the delivery was surely painful, I was in labor for only ten hours, including two very hard hours of pushing. It wasn’t as god awfully bad as I thought it would be, so I was able to do it naturally without any meds.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 9.23.47 PM

The coolest thing in the world — this guy!

Being a mom is both harder and more rewarding than I imagined. As I watch Finn grow and as I savor each developmental stage, the coolest in the world was when Finn started taking his first steps at 10 months old. All of the sudden he went from being a rather helpless baby to a human with free will.  Finn taking his first steps towards me made me so deliriously happy. My baby is choosing to walk towards me, into my open arms! I’m not sure it gets much better than that.

The next mind-blowing experience I had as a mother is when I realized that Finn, at the age of 13.5 months, had empathy.  Oh my goodness, did I melt when he acted on it.  One day while I was working from home, I entered the living room to say hi to Finn, thinking he would be excited to see me. He wasn’t. He looked up at me like I was nobody.  It actually really hurt my feelings, and I turned around to go into my room. Not 20 seconds later, Finn came running in to give me a hug.  I was so confused. Did he know that he had upset me and was he coming to cheer me up? I looked up at his nanny, and she said to me “He understands everything.” That is the pinnacle of the boy and man I want him to be. Someone who is aware of his actions and others, is empathetic and expresses affection.

Now that Finn is 17 months old, the new cool thing that he is doing is giving kisses. That, and running back and forth between me and his papa as we sit on the floor on opposite ends of a room while he throws his arms around us both. Since he turned one, he becomes a hugging machine before bed. What better gift is there than that? It tires him out and we all have a good laugh.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 9.44.02 PM.png

At Finn’s 9 month old checkup. This is everything.

The good stuff keeps getting better. This is the biggest job I’ve ever taken on and I get it now. It is totally worth it. Now I understand why my parents have generally been so loving, devoted and protective of me for all of my life.  Even when I was miserable, stubborn and insolent.

Let the games begin! I am so thrilled to be experiencing all of these incredibly heart-warming firsts with our little Finn. I am also very thankful to have a partner who is an awesome papa to Finn – he has strong parenting instincts, is loving and caring, and he delights Finn (and me) with laughter and feats of physical fun that is unmatched. We have so much fun together as a family and I can only imagine it getting better with time.

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 9.14.58 PM

Finn’s first Thanksgiving in Hawaii

A Note to My 40 Year Old Self

Coming on my 38th birthday, I don’t feel 38, I feel like a kid inside an adult’s body. I wonder how these next two years will be. I have so many wishes and questions.

I am grateful for the experiences I’ve had so far. And I’m ready to perhaps finally lead a simple life – one with meaning derived from a healthy family, a loving relationship and little ones. I’m excited to experience a love that is brand new to me.

Up to now, I took on new continents and new industries. I faced my biggest challenge yet when my heart broke wide open, and I was more vulnerable than I’ve ever been in my life. I have had the joy of wonderful friendships, the excitement of new romance, and the heartbreak of unmet potential. I am at peace with where I am today. I am grateful for the life and privileges I have. I am still learning to soften my edges, be more patient, more accepting, and manage expectations. I’m judging less, and open to more. San Francisco, my life here has really evolved who I am. Will I start to shift my focus to my deeper passion of helping those in need?

To my 40 year old self:
I hope you are taking care of yourself. Don’t be so tough on you. Be gentle. Be kind. Be open. Remember what is most important: friendship, family, love, trusting my higher calling, enjoying the simple pleasures in life. Take risks. Go beyond the everyday. Transform. Bring others with me. Make an impact. Be of use.

I wrote this 3 years ago… and am only now hitting the publish button! What a wonderful reminder to my about-to-hit-41 year old self.

Simple pleasures

Simple pleasures

The Rapture

Zipping through the streets of Buenos Aires on the way to the airport, a song by Griffin House starts to play.  As if being in the city that my old flame and first love called home wasn’t enough, Missed My Chance had to come on. Surely it was a sign. As my three traveling companions yap in the back seat of the taxi, I’m sitting in the front next to our 70-year old taxi driver, quietly tasting the sweet salty tears that sometimes come when I remember this particular person – the one that got away I ran away from.  I think to myself, what a fool I was.  How was I suppose to know way back then, at the age of twenty-something, just how special it was.

We met during my senior year at UCLA when I finagled my way into “Japanese for Business People 1A”, a class at the Andersen Business School. Arriving late, I stepped into the 70-seat auditorium, quickly scanned the room, and sat down next to the cutest boy I saw. I had missed the first class of the course, and promptly asked if I could borrow his notes to get caught up.  Turns out he was both cute and an excellent note taker. We slowly became friends during the 10-week class where he mercilessly teased me for my lack of Japanese language acumen. He had big blue eyes, a thick head of soft brown hair, rosy pink cheeks, and a wonderfully shy, mischievous smile. His look reminded me of the character from the restaurant chain Bob’s Big Boy. With his polite yet sharp and cheeky manner, he was like no one I’d ever met before.

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 11.15.11 AM

We both signed up for another ten weeks of Japanese for Business People and started a habit of walking home together after class.  Soon we were playing tennis, and the teasing ensued as he grossed me out by pulling up his t-shirt to wipe the sweat off his face while simultaneously flashing his abs tummy and pushing out his gut to its full glory.  How does a girl not fall for that?  Every moment we spent together was joyful.  Whether he was mocking me for wiping my plate clean at dinner, then telling the waitress he wasn’t sure if I was done eating yet, or I was suggesting that he was vertically challenged at 5’10, there was a delightful energy between us that was palpable. Our budding friendship bordered on romance, but for one detail: I had a high school and college sweetheart of seven years who was waiting for me to join him in New York, where he was working on Wall Street.

We never spoke about our growing feelings for each other and never acted on them.  We both knew that if we were going to be together, we would do it right.  I interviewed for management consulting positions in New York while he made plans to move to Quito and Buenos Aires during his second year in business school.  Even as I celebrated getting a job offer as a culmination of the hard work I’d put into school and painfully figuring my way through the management consulting interview process, a part of me was disheartened. I knew I was letting momentum and a standing commitment take me to a place where this person who lit up my imagination and made me giggle endlessly would no longer be a part of my life.

As the school year wrapped up, he came to my graduation to give me a present, his favorite book, Atlas Shrugged, and a beautiful hand written card.  A week later, we spent a long warm day together in L.A. packing up his apartment and moving his things into storage before his trip to South America. As we finished up the last bits of packing, he hopped into the shower to clean up before his long flight home to Richmond, Virginia. I sat waiting in his living room. Feeling like it was my last chance to take a stand, I pondered making a move. I couldn’t do it.

At the airport we embraced for a quiet hug and exchanged smiles tainted with a hint of sadness and wonder.  As I pulled away from the curbside at LAX, I started to weep. I always knew I cared for him. It wasn’t until then that I realized it was much deeper. It was love that I felt, and it hurt so much to see him go.

Loss

Grief does not change you. It reveals you. – John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Loss has been on my mind recently. Human loss. The loss of a friend’s vibrant wife to cancer. The loss of lives and limbs in Boston. The loss of a good relationship with my brother. The possibility of losing my parents’ love and support for a period of time.

Alongside the experience of loss is a sense of appreciation and perspective. Loss is a lesson in appreciating the things I have — my health, my family, my dear friends. It initially hardens me as I rev up for a fight, then it softens and opens me up to new sensations. Loss brings quiet reflection and a spectrum of feelings. While I spend most of my days pursuing happiness, it turns out that loss is more meaningful than a bundle of rainbows and unicorns combined.

This song by Jack Johnson speaks to appreciating the important things in life. 

Napping before Sleeping

No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap. – Carrie Snow

At the start of spring, after a barbecue at Fort Mason on a rare, warm, beating-sun day in San Francisco, I retired to my flat with a friend. He and I had only recently started spending time together. Our earlier outings consisted of a few tennis matches in the park, a backyard barbecue, and a dinner party. All very casual and friendly. My close friends know that I am passionate about several things, among them are: the outdoors, napping and eating. When I’m not outdoors, my favorite place to be is in bed. And this day was no different. I suppose it can be a bit charged when you find yourself in the bed with an attractive person of the opposite sex. But I kind of love it when it’s not.

In our case, we settled on top of the covers and laid on our sides facing one another as we chatted and flipped through the Wall Street Journal. Then I let my eyelids drop and fell asleep. The only thing that woke me was the sound of a snore. I slowly opened my eyes and smiled before nudging him awake and teasing him for snoring. In an age where hooking up seems to be the norm, there’s something magical about two friends napping beside one another on a warm afternoon. Now that’s intimacy.

Mom’s Little Teacher

I’d rather live with a good question than a bad answer. —Aryeh Frimer

Pulling warm cushy socks on while sitting in my comfy PJs, I think of how similar I am to my mother. I can visualize her sitting in bed doing the same thing. It’s the first time I really think I’m like her. We are different in so many ways. She is patient, constantly puts others before herself, and is forgiving when people step on her toes. In one word, I’m rambunctious.

Mom at the age that I am now
photo (14)

Over time, we’ve learned from our differences and grown closer as a result. When I was in grade school my mom called me her little teacher because I would help her with the pronunciation of difficult English words — like scissors! These days I’m still her little teacher, but in a new area. I’m teaching my mom life skills, specifically how to be assertive and set boundaries. She’s so sweet that sometimes people take advantage of her good nature. I want to protect my mom just as much as she wants to protect me. To do this, I’ve equipped her with a few key phrases, “Don’t talk to me like that” being one. If I can’t be there to speak up for her, I want my mom to channel me and speak up for herself. She’s taken amazing care of me my entire life, coaching her to look after her own well-being is payback.

I first came across the phrase “Don’t talk to me like that” in college. I was mouthing off to a friend when he admonished me with just those words. It caught me by surprise, no one had ever been so firm with me before. I thought, “Oooh, I like that.” And just like that I fell for him. It’s hot when people stand up for themselves.

Assertiveness aside, there is another big attribute that sets my mom and I apart. She’s a mother and I’m not. It just happens to be where I am. I value my autonomy, and with the deep friendships I have, I’m fairly happy on my own. But I want more, I welcome it, and I love children. It’s ironic that “the girl that you marry” is not married, and seemingly far from it. There’s a sadness that I feel for my mom. Societal norms influenced her to marry, perhaps before she was ready. She didn’t have the choices I have. And I choose to hold out. It’s a different time and place today where I can do that.

Mom on her wedding day

But I still get the questions, asking, “How are you not married?” Because I don’t want to settle, I don’t want to get divorced, and I’d rather not see an ex for the rest of my life because we share a child together. All those things sound hard. Much harder than taking my time to find the right relationship — one with equal parts attraction, compatibility, fun and respect. I’ve learned from my parents that marriage is a big commitment with innumerable compromises. From my own experience, I know that being in love and having good intentions are hardly enough. While they’re a fine start, things that are out of one’s control play a big role. These things are otherwise known as life in general, and other human beings in particular! That said, when the stars line up, anything is possible. And I hope to have my own little teacher one day.

This lovelyl song by Glen Hansard sums up the feeling of waiting for that perfect love.

Valentine’s Day Past and Present

He walked in with flowers and a red box of artisan Recchiuti chocolates. We looked at each other in silence. I let out a heavy sigh. We were both wiped out from trying so hard to make something work that wasn’t meant to work. After a year together he knew that I valued the unique and disliked the ordinary. I wanted a present that displayed thoughtfulness, not a present that played into the unimaginative trappings of Valentine’s day. Picking up flowers for V-day is like picking up milk from the grocery store. It’s uninspired. We split up a few weeks later. It wasn’t the present that did us in. It is the sentiment behind actions that screams volumes. The way I see it, you’re either inspired or you’re not. One of my favorite presents is a riddle/poem I received for my birthday from a friend titled “Tina Tran or The Earth’s Sun?” I keep it on my nightstand. Now that is inspired. While I don’t value Valentine’s day, it can sometimes make or break a relationship. Similar to other high-profile holidays, it raises the stakes and often magnifies the strengths or cracks in a relationship.

photo (49)

Fast forward one year — I spent this Valentines day with my gay BFF because his husband was out of town for work. It’s so beautifully San Francisco, and it was so much more enjoyable than last year! I’m happier being single than being in a topsy-turvy relationship that brings more stress than fleeting moments of joy. That’s when you know it’s time to pull the plug. Unless you’re into the feeling miserable thing. Call me simple, I like feeling good.

My most memorable Valentines day took place four years ago on a first date. We met the week before at an event at O’Neil’s Irish Pub in North Beach. Our friends organized a charity date auction to benefit their non-profit, SF FunRaisers. We were both on the auction block. We had looked at each other’s auction profile and date package on the charity’s event website prior to meeting each other. Most of the twenty singletons on auction had posted specific date packages — a night on the town, a day in Napa, a Mt. Tam hike and gourmet picnic. His date package was more mysterious. “I’ll ask you three questions, and put together the perfect date package just for you.” Our first interaction looked like this:

Girl walks up to boy. “So Walter, what three questions are you going to ask me?”
Boy smiles amusingly. “Well, you’re going to have to buy me first.”
Girl smiles back. “We’ll see about that.”

As it turns out, he went up for auction first and I didn’t buy him, although I did bid him up. He had no intention of buying me either. That changed when he saw the desperate look on my face as I saw the person that was about to win a date with me — a scruffy looking stranger who had just walked into the bar. He jumped into the bidding and saved me. I was grateful. We left the auction with my friends for a bite to eat and couldn’t stop smiling as we traded stories and got to know one another. Before the end of the evening, he asked me out for the following Thursday, which happened to be Valentine’s day. I said yes with the caveat that we should treat it as a Thursday night date, not a Valentine’s day date, since I loathed V-day. I half-jokingly warned him not to show up with red roses, or I might smash them over his head.

As we chatted on the phone days before our date we both agreed that it felt like the longest week ever. I baked chocolate chip cookies on date night so the house would smell delicious when he arrived to pick me up. He came to the door with a mischievous grin and a colorful bunch of beautifully wrapped organic carrots from Whole Foods with the wild green tops still on. It was a carrot bouquet. +100 points for creativity. I was smitten. We kept it simple and walked around the corner to my local Italian restaurant.

Three months later, as a romantic gesture, he took me on the date I didn’t buy from him when we first met. He planned an elaborate day involving friends and a scavenger hunt of sorts around the city — and asked me the three questions I had wondered about when we first met. Question #3, hidden in a shoe box, was “Will you marry me?”

Ah, but it takes more than creativity, romance and thoughtful gifts to make the forever-type of commitment work. He pushed for an end-of-year wedding. I demurred, saying we should take our time to get to know each other deeply and see how we handle the highs and lows of life together. We didn’t make it through the testing period. But we’ll always have that first V-day date and a magical carrot bouquet to look back on.

This soulful song by Griffin House speaks to how relationships don’t always work out. 

And Dad Makes Four

In 1981, our family was reunited when my dad joined us in the U.S. after his boat was rescued by an American Navy vessel following its interception by pirates.

My mom dressed us in our best clothes to greet dad at LAX. I had no memory of my dad from childhood, and suspiciously gave him the once over as I met a gaunt-looking, shaggy haired man with a broad grin for the first time. After my dad’s arrival, we moved out of my uncle’s house and into our first family home — a one bedroom apartment in Whittier. Our rent was $400 a month. Two beds and a mattress lined the floor from wall to wall. I was happy, we had everything we needed — enough to eat, decent hand-me-down clothes from my mom’s siblings, and an old beater station wagon in which to get around. Best of all, we were all safe and together, a small miracle given the journey.

Greeting dad at LAX for the first time
photo (46)

It took me a little while to get to know my dad and to trust him. On the rare occasion when it was just the two of us in the car heading to a destination I was unfamiliar with, I would wonder if he was trying to kidnap me. My early experiences in the refugee camp had left me in a state of high alert. At the same time, my dad was also getting accustomed to having us around. Early on, he took me to a grocery store, and promptly drove off without me, forgetting that I had accompanied him on the trip. My M.O. was to park myself in the toy aisle, and after a while search out my parents or peak outside to make sure our car was still parked in the same spot and they hadn’t left without me. To my surprise and sheer panic, our car was no longer there. My dad quickly realized something was missing and came back to get me before mom was the wiser.

The apartment building we lived in was filled with other young families, many of them refugees from Laos, and some from Eastern Europe. We were surrounded by people with similar experiences of displacement. My brother’s best friend was Todd, a Laotian boy, while my best friend was Ysumi, a girl from Yugoslavia. We had a swimming pool in the apartment complex, something the other kids enjoyed immensely, while I mainly looked on from the sidelines. My mom did not want me to get dark. In Vietnamese culture, girls are valued for the light tone of their skin, and for being demure. My mom does not know how to swim or ride a bike. If I had not pushed the boundaries and pestered my parents to the degree that i did, I might not know the joy of riding a bike or swimming in the ocean. Luckily, my persistence prevailed.

Truthfully, there was no stopping me, I was such a tomboy and had a mind of my own even then. When I came home one day with a bloody gash on my knee after falling off a bike, my mom made it clear from the steely look on her face that I would get no sympathy or help from her. Through her lens of growing up in Vietnam, it was more important for me to be pristine than to play or enjoy new experiences. Girls were valued for their appearance and not necessarily for their ability. You can still see the scar on my right knee today.

Meanwhile, since my dad was a scholar, he inherently valued smarts, and proficiency in mathematics in particular. He started his career as a math teacher before becoming a lawyer and was notorious for tossing his students’ books out of his classroom if they were caught not paying attention. When I was eight years old, I asked for my dad’s help in his area of expertise. I knew to pay attention and try my hardest. Still, I got the answer wrong to a math problem we were working through together. He was so incensed that he snapped and slapped me hard across the face. My cheek stung from the slap while my face burned with the injustice of being treated so harshly for what was hardly an offense. I went to my mom for comfort and announced that I would never again ask dad for help with homework. And I didn’t from that day forward. I learned how to set boundaries that day and to stand up for myself. Those skills have taken me a long way.

These clashes were born from the patriarchal culture in which my parents were raised. It is a tribute to how much they loved me and how flexible they were with their own beliefs that these are the two biggest beefs that I can gripe about as an adult. In the attempt to bridge the gap between two generations and two vastly different cultures, so much more could have gone wrong. I’m thankful to my parents for always putting our family first and raising a strong-willed daughter, even if they didn’t mean to.

America!

After nearly a year in Malaysia, my brother, mom and I boarded a plane to L.A. We had my Uncle Phuong and Aunt Ma Hai to thank for sponsoring us. They both put every penny of their $2.90 an hour minimum wage earnings towards our family’s freedom. Uncle Phuong worked as a gas station attendant in downtown Los Angeles, and Aunt Ma Hai sold towels and bedding in a retail shop in Hollywood. Working on the graveyard shift, Uncle Phuong was robbed at gunpoint several times, but remained in his job to get us to the U.S.

As we sat on the plane I daydreamed about a yellow brick road made of gold that awaited us in America. In my four-year-old mind, we were headed for the good life. My brother didn’t think about such things, he was too busy dealing with motion sickness and throwing up. When we stepped off the plane, my numerous aunts, uncles and cousins greeted us with two gigantic stuffed animals — a yellow pig for my brother and pink elephant for me. Both were as tall as I was and we kept them for years to come.

Our family of three moved into my Uncle Ngoc’s house in La Mirada, a suburb of L.A., with his wife and five teenage children. He was the eldest of my mom’s siblings in the U.S. and was the most established with a five-bedroom, two-story brick house. His family was extremely gracious and made us feel at home. My mom started going to school to learn English, while my brother and I enrolled in kindergarden and third grade. We quickly assimilated, picking up English without much effort, learning arithmetic at home before it was taught at school, and easily making friends. Learning was no joke. I became good at math, not only because I enjoyed it, but because my uncle reviewed my work with a wooden ruler in hand, and I received a smack on the hand for every wrong answer.

I went from being constantly hungry and the first to gobble down every meal at the camp, to being the last to leave the dinner table because I couldn’t finish my meal and wasn’t allowed to get up until everything was eaten. They were embarrassed by how skinny I was and wanted to fatten me up. I celebrated a slew of firsts. I finally had some meat on my bones for the first time in my life. I splashed around in my first swimming pool at a neighbor’s house. I played in my first American-style park with lots of grass, swings and a jungle gym. I loved throwing my body down the park’s grassy hill in a rolling race to the bottom.

What a difference a year makes
We celebrated our first Christmas with a little tree and loads of presents — mainly clothes since we had none. I cherished my warm white coat and twin cotton summer dresses, one yellow and one red. My cousin’s girlfriend introduced my brother and me to Easter by putting on an Easter egg hunt for us. Finding eggs filled with candy and treats all over the house BLEW our minds. It was like nothing we could have ever dreamed up. Easter quickly became my new favorite holiday. We were with family who loved us, and for the first time that I could remember, life wasn’t a struggle or scary. We finally found a semblance of stability. We’d come a long way.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow perfectly describes the magical feeling of coming to a new place, filled with hopes and dreams. 

A Lesson in Forgiveness

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” —Unknown

When we first landed on Bidong island, I was terrified. I wasn’t familiar with my surroundings, and if my mom was out of sight when I woke up I would cry and cry. I had a terrible fear of being abandoned in the chaotic refugee camp that was my new home.

Ominously, the name of the island, Bidong (bee-dong), phonetically sounds like a word that means “get spanked” in Vietnamese. When we escaped, my dad stayed behind and my mom’s younger brother came with us. He was often left to look after my brother and me when she was getting supplies or lining up for food. When I woke from a nap and didn’t see my mom anywhere in sight, I would immediately start sobbing, fearing that she was gone forever. A crying kid can be annoying, so her brother took to hitting me to get me to stop. For good measure, he also hit my brother who was four years older and couldn’t do anything to help me or himself.

Practically speaking, how is a child going to stop crying if you’re hitting her? I tried my best to comply to his commands by choking back my sobs. That was possibly the worst part of being on the island. Dead bodies would wash ashore every once in a while, and there wasn’t enough to eat, but being terrified and abused on a regular basis was a special kind of torture. It shifted something inside of me. That’s when I first learned to hate someone, and it’s the fire behind my disdain for cowards and bullies. As a child, it’s hard to protect yourself. As an adult, you can be darn sure that I surround myself with only the best people, as a means to make sure I’m safe.

With my mom’s brother before the voyage

I didn’t tell my mom what was happening while this was occurring because I thought I was being bad and assumed he had the authority to discipline me. In Vietnamese households, you’re raised with the belief that adults are always right, and I was too young to know differently. One day, a neighbor told my mom that whenever she was away, I would cry a lot and something wasn’t right. That was my mom’s first clue. When she bathed me and saw fresh welts on my body, she put one and one together and confronted her brother.

My mom is possibly the nicest, most non-confrontational person I know. Confronting her brother was incredibly hard for her, but she didn’t have a choice. She loved us too much to allow anyone to hurt us. Confronted, he admitted to hitting me. To which she replied, “Don’t ever lay a hand on my children again.” To this day, he’s the only sibling she isn’t close to. She’s never forgiven him.

Fortunately, her brother immigrated to Paris while we immigrated to Los Angeles. I didn’t have to see him again until I was a teenager, during his first visit to the U.S.  When we learned he was coming, my brother and I openly talked about our revenge fantasies. Meanwhile, my mom’s extended family prepared a welcome party for him.

My brother and I begrudgingly come along. At the gathering, mom feels the pressure to pretend the three of us don’t all hate him, and asks me to greet him. Though I certainly don’t want to, the dutiful daughter in me, who finds it hard to say no to my mom says, “Fine, I’ll do it.” Instead of the more fitting, “Huh? You crazy.”

I tentatively walk over to him and welcome him in Vietnamese. He pulls me close and whispers in my ear, “Can you still feel it?” I’m stunned speechless. I think to myself, somebody get me a gun. I pull away from him and walk off without making a scene. Asian children are taught early and often never to make a scene in public. Somehow it stuck.

Fast-forward twelve years. I’m fulfilling my dream of living and working in Europe. I’m based in Heidelberg and preparing for my company’s annual conference in Paris. Ah, Paris, the home of croissants, the Eiffel Tower, and the monster from my childhood. At this point in my life I start to feel that continuing to hate this man is sucking up energy that could be better used elsewhere, so I decide to reach out and forgive him. I ask my mom for his phone number and call to tell him I’d like to meet for dinner while I’m in town.

A week later, he and his wife pick me up from my hotel and take me back to their tiny apartment in the outskirts of Paris. We enjoy a delicious homemade Vietnamese meal that his sweet wife has especially prepared for me after she learns of the dishes I miss from home — catfish in a clay pot, caramelized pork, and sour soup. I meet his raucous four year-old son. He is roughly the same age I was when we were on the island together. His son is not able to sit still at the dinner table, and he yells at him to stop misbehaving or else he’s going to hit him. I flash back to the same voice issuing the same threat to me. My heart skips a beat. I make my excuses and leave soon after the meal is over.

Back in my hotel room, I feel a wave of compassion for him and his family. The economic and social system in France makes it very difficult for immigrants to work hard and move up the ladder like we can in America. His family is poor and they live in the neighborhood where rioting took place several years ago. My revenge is being successful and well-adjusted. It doesn’t feel all that good. I hope for him and his family to have a chance at a better life. It’s then that I realize I’ve truly forgiven him.

Follow the Sun is a gorgeous, uplifting song that reminds me that while darkness exists, there’s also light and hope.